According to the NAACP:
- The US is 5% of the world's population and has 25% of the world's prisoners.
- African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites.
- Prison has not been proven as a rehabilitation for behavior, as two-thirds of prisoners will re-offend.
Sadly, by now these stats have been recited so many times they feel like dull blows. The system doesn’t work, and it's designed to punish lives, not improve them. But these are just numbers, and numbers alone don't carry any real power. So let’s put a face on them. Let’s put a human story behind the two-thirds:
Almost a decade ago, Aaron “Shep” Shepard was sentenced to one year as an accessory to armed robbery. Since then, he has spent more time in prison on petty parole violations than for his original conviction. A vivid illustration of the “revolving door” aspect of recidivism, Shep has no one on the outside and finds little help in the seemingly endless line of parole agents he must visit on a weekly basis. “My friends are few, and my world is cold,” he confides, waiting on a street corner notorious for drug deals—the last place in the world someone like Shep should be waiting. —Watch "A Hard Straight" video from PBS
Or Bilal Chapman:
The system is “set up for you to fail.” So it’s no wonder it failed an 18-year-old Robert Williams. The Philadelphia native was arrested in 2008 for illegally possessing a firearm and assaulting a police officer. It's a claim that Williams says is a lie. It’s easy to dismiss him, but regardless of his guilt or innocence, think about Laquan McDonald or Walter Scott, who also “charged” police officers. In that sense, Williams is lucky to be alive.
One night, armed while walking to a corner store, he was swarmed by police. They cuffed him, dragged him inside his house and "beat the shit out of me," he alleges, displaying a mugshot of his swollen, bandaged face that he has on his phone. "[I had] a concussion, stitches, braids ripped out. My blood was on the ceiling, on the floor." He still has handcuff scars on his wrists.
The wounds have healed and he served eight months, but almost a decade later Williams is still paying the price. Like Bilal Chapman or Aaron Shepard, Williams knows first-hand, the issues regarding recidivism and rehabilitation. Since the incident, he has failed to meet the guidelines of his probation multiple times and has served six more months and now, as 2015 comes to a close, he may be going back again. Unlike Bilal and Shepherd though, his struggles have been well documented and even made fun of. Why? Because you know him better as Meek Mill.
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When it was announced last week that Meek might be facing more jail time, Meek largely wasn’t given sympathy, prayers, well-wishes or even a sympathetic “damn.” He was mocked, scorned, and became the punching bag for Twitter fingers fists.
“Meek faces jail time and takes another L” is a catchy, pageview-grabbing headline. A fire tweet about it from those itchy Twitter fingers is good for a least 5 retweets. For Drake fans, it was another chance to get back at him for starting "beef," so Drake fans called the Philadelphia DA, begging for her to arrest him. Yes, people went so far as to ask for an actual person to get arrested over rap "beef." Still, I didn’t really care. Under my rap lense, Meek’s jail time doesn't affect me because I'm not a fan. I didn’t click the articles or craft a tweet. Not because I felt morally superior but because I didn’t care. Go ahead, make fun of Meek, call the DA, it doesn’t affect me.
But then a weird thing happened...
I started to view Meek not as a rapper or beef starter but as a father. I viewed him as another example of how ill-equipped the system is. I viewed him as a human being and my perspective shifted.
It’s easy to get into that hashtag mentality, that “Meek takes an L” discourse. It’s fun, easy and seemingly victimless. Shooting the shit with your friends it’s fun to pile on. I’m no stranger to it, but let’s not get carried away.
There’s a difference between talking shit over a rap beef and mocking someone potentially facing prison time. Reducing his plight to an “L” reduces his family, his kid, his career, and his mental health to nothing more than a meme. There’s a difference between Meek shooting off an ill-advised tweet about Drake and him allegedly turning in water for a piss test. Separate Meek the rapper and Robert Williams, the man, who has been struggling with a sentence he served a decade ago. Put yourself in his shoes. A fake piss test reeks of the desperation of a man who will try anything to not go back to prison.
If you think of Meek as a human, you have to think of him as someone who is capable of mistakes, and he’s certainly made his fair share of them. Yes, the system is flawed, yes it fails two-thirds of its population regardless of label deals or minimum wage jobs, but Meek bears personal responsibility for his actions. Regardless, it’s not something to laugh about.
Meek’s legal troubles aren’t part of his beef with Drake, they aren’t things to mention in a laundry list of fails next to a tweet, a tour, or a Drake line. Unlike “Back to Back” his legal troubles have real consequence and affect real lives; like his son’s lives. Calling a DA demanding an arrest on behalf of your favorite rapper isn't funny, it's the worst example of the internet disconnecting us from reality.
"Shackled to our ankles it was like a nightmare / You ever wash out your drawers on the same water you shit? / Doing your push ups right on the floor where you piss? / Cellies with niggas that went to war with the strip? / You got to rumble from night time down to the morning and shit — "Ambitionz"
It can be hard to treat superstars, these god-like figures, as human beings, but we need to try harder. Look at Meek not as Drake’s adversary, not as a hashtag, but as a human being who is flawed and has been paying for those flaws for a decade. A human who is scared. A human who doesn’t want to lose his kid. A human who is asking for prayers and blessings not inviting scorn ridicule and snitching. Look at Meek Mill as a human and I think it will change how you look at Meek Mill.
It's certainly changed how I look at him.