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The number of different social movements over the last 10 years have brought forth a lot of significant change. Many members of the elite have been held accountable for their wrongdoings. In the beginning, I applauded the snatching open of closet doors, dragging the bogeymen out into the light. 

But it also made me think more deeply about how it can harm freedom of speech. What does this new awakening actually accomplish? Can I no longer express my true opinion or beliefs without having to worry about whether or not it is socially acceptable today? Am I the only one who anticipates the danger of this current movement?

The problem is that current movements do not necessarily hold the right people accountable. If one takes a deep dive into the history of oppression in this country, there are many other individuals who should be held accountable for atrocities against socially-marginalized groups but have continued to profit from these horrific acts.

Prisons are a good example of what happens when individuals are held accountable indefinitely and mercilessly without a chance to redeem themselves. We prisoners live by their past whether they like it or not. As a person in prison, everything I’ve done in my entire life is constantly subject to scrutiny. Prison officials use my history to decide who I am today. Something I said 30 years ago could derail my chance of parole today.

The Board of Parole Hearings (BPH), made up of commissioners who are appointed by the governor of California, are endowed with the authority to decide whether to release someone after they have served a certain amount of time. Usually, the people who appear before the BPH have received a life sentence with a certain number of years they must serve. Typically, that’s 15 to 25 years. In my case, it was two 30-year-to-life sentences under California’s three-strikes law. 

On multiple occasions, these commissioners have denied people freedom because of an act or a comment they made more than 20 years earlier, unrelated to the reason for incarceration. The individual is damned if they do not attempt to defend their actions and damned if they don’t. Ultimately, it gives the BPH another reason to deny someone’s request for parole.

This is not to say that people should not be held accountable, but we should be more cautious about how we approach that accountability. The way social media has ousted people does not seem like an effective way to create social change, rather it feels more like the act of a bully.

As we venture further into these social movements, proclaiming a new era of tolerance and acceptance, we must be vigilant and mindful that many atrocities in our past history are more deeply rooted and systemic than past comments made by individuals. 

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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Artemus Blankenship

Artemus Blankenship is a contributing writer of African, French, Italian and Indian heritage. He is the youngest of three children and was born in Hartford, Connecticut. He has been incarcerated for more than four decades and is currently at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility, and State Prison, Corcoran. He is a representative in the Inmate Advisory Council there.