A few years ago, while working on the Second Chance Act, I was asked by some policymakers to write my story.
Personal Story of L. Dara Baldwin: Why Reentry work is of Importance to me.
My maternal grandfather was born February 13, 1911 in the USA, to two loving parents, but due to family commitments he was unable to graduate from eighth grade. He demanded that each of his five siblings complete high school and then put each of them through college. He married my grandmother and they had three children of their own, whom he put through college as well.
None of Generation I or II of my family went to jail or prison for offenses other than participating in the movement – “No Justice!! No Peace!!” The children of Generation II were not so blessed. They became victims of “the streets”!!! Out of approximately thirty only four attended college and only three graduated and only one has a graduate degree. Only three have ever owned a home and only two have traveled outside of this country. One was born in Europe and has remained a constant traveler. Most of them have never left the NJ/NY area and some have never left the city of Newark. Two have been married and have children. The others have multiple children and a number of “baby’s daddies” and “baby’s mamma’s”. Most have been drug abusers; are alcoholics and are supported by “the system”, usually never holding a job long enough to obtain stability to create a purpose driven life. At one time twelve of them, both male and female, have been incarcerated. A few remain incarcerated and those who have made it out, constantly return, are missing not having been heard from in years or dead.
This is not a phenomenon or unique to my maternal family it is worse on my paternal family side and my good friends have this history with their family members as well. I have been asked, “Usually once a family leaves poverty with education they never return, such as immigrants who come here. How did this not happen in your family?” This is my analysis.
My mother’s generation educated themselves and changed their lives, but they remained in Newark. It was the late ‘70’s and Black’s were still not able to move into a community and be accepted. I remember being the first Black family on an East Orange street. A year later all the white families had gone. That was the time when families stayed together and so my aunts and uncles bought homes in the neighborhood where they were raised. The community changed in the 1980’s and crime was ramped in Newark, especially among young people. I was blessed my parents sent me to private school in Upper Montclair, NJ but I came home to the ghetto. My cousins had to walk through the crime ridden areas just to get to school. “The Life” was more exciting than the books and provided instant gratification for money, drugs and sex once they learned the significance of those things in their lives.
“The Life” consists of pimps, drug dealers and in Newark, NJ the mafia. There were several areas that my cousins thrived in because of their great talents and brain power. These “crime lords” sit on the benches outside the school playgrounds and conduct their “needs assessments” with a recruiting talent search that out shines any school lessons plans. They decide who will be their “drug runners, cash collectors, dealers, whores, recruiters, numbers runner, debt collector and all around villain”. These people lured my cousins into their world through their Scheherazade stories of making fast money, “being in charge of their lives” and “not working for the ‘white man’”. Needless to say, they were “hood winked” and became the victims of these most horrific criminal minds. Then they were made victims of the prison world and the rest is as they say history.
I don’t blame my family for this, I blame a society that has broken down and become so self serving and full of immoral and unethical ways to raise families and to “not” be involved; a society who never goes next door to greet the new neighbor, but will go out and purchase a better car than the new one on the block; a society that glorifies star power and vilifies brain power and civic duty; a society that exemplifies having money and degrades people who are content with being comfortable with themselves; a society that encourages people of leadership to be villains and then denies good people of ethics to hold those villains accountable. I blame a prison system that preys upon the poor, the innocent and people of color to fulfill their business plan to make themselves wealthy.
L. Dara Baldwin, MPA – Fall 2008
The Second Chance Act – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Chance_Act_(2009)
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