thus bad begins, and worse remains behind


I am going to state one simple fact, and then you can be on your way. When I first heard this fact, I was sure I’d misheard it, because it doesn’t compute with anything I understand about our country. Here it is:

If you are convicted of a drug felony in the United States, you are banned FOR LIFE from receiving any food stamps, public housing, or monetary assistance.

Bear with me here. That means that even after you serve your ten years for selling marijuana, you are driven to a bus station, dropped off, and you can’t receive assistance for food and shelter for the rest of your fucking life.

That bit of punitive, cruel, sadistic bullshit was shoehorned into the 1996 Welform Reform Act under Clinton by Republicans who wouldn’t let it pass without it. If any of you think conservative savagery is a recent invention, you weren’t paying attention. I know I wasn’t.

This bit of barbarism is hard on everybody without bootstraps to pull up, but it’s especially brutal for African American women getting out of prison, who have NOTHING and NO HOPE WHATSOEVER. I mean, I thought “serving your time” meant that once you served your time, you served your time. Doesn’t this law just march people back to prison?

Enter Susan Burton. She started A New Way of Life Reentry Project, which is basically a group of houses where women can go after they’ve served their sentences, to regroup, look for work, and survive. And for those of you asking what Tessa has been doing lately, here you go.

She and Emma Hewitt have been trekking down to South Central LA to shoot a documentary about Susan for WIGS, the #1 channel for scripted drama on YouTube, all featuring female leads. Last night was a red carpet gala for the whole enterprise, and it was pretty smashing.



above, Emma and Tessa at the benefit; below, with Susan being interviewed by MTVu

I don’t think I’ve ever asked for charitable giving on this blog, because it’s not the place for it, and I don’t like telling anybody what to do. All I can say is that we sure as hell are giving to them, because Tessa has first-hand experience about where every dollar goes.

And if you’ve got a few minutes to spare, please watch Emma and Tessa’s documentary – and leave comments both here and on YouTube. Because this is the difference between me and my wife: I hear some injustice like this, and I get furious; she hears it, and makes a movie.

10 thoughts on “thus bad begins, and worse remains behind

  1. craighill

    perhaps i’m missing something, and if so, pls explain…
    unless these women were wrongly convicted and incarcerated, is it not our civic and moral duty as law abiding citizens to direct funds (personal or otherwise) to the VICTIMS of the crimes that sent these felons to jail instead of rewarding the bad guys/girls who’ve supposedly “seen the light”? i’m all for helping the felons trying to get back on the right track, but if the criminals are receiving funds ahead of the victims, that’s just plain wrong, right?
    to wit – do we reward an innocent with monetary reparation for said crimes, or should those monies be directed at convicted felons with hostorically (very) bad behavior who bring noting but empty promises to improve?
    think i’ll side with the 55 yr old widow whose kids were killed by drug dealer X in need of monetary assistance rather than drug dealer X who asks for the same.
    needless to say, if you’ve been caught dealing drugs, you should be embarrassed to ask this government for money, help, bus pass, whatever! be glad you’re not in a turkish prison. ask dr. unks.

  2. Ian

    Folks, these are non-violent offenders, and in the case of marijuana, not even the dealers can be said to have harmed a single living soul.
    Once they have done their time, they are no longer “criminals”. They are normal human beings just like you and me, and are thus deserving of government help when needed.
    You give yourself away when you say “convicted felons with historically (very) bad behavior who bring nothing but empty promises to improve.” That’s a scorched-earth mindset that brings nothing but mercilessness to the table, and just sends people back to prison. Also, pre-judging somebody to have “historically bad behavior” and “empty promises” is just plain classist at best, and more usually called “racist”.
    A person commits a crime, then is sentenced to prison for a number of months/years. When they have paid for their transgression with entire years of their lives in a cage, they are let free. Crime committed, time served, justice.
    If you think they should be further penalized for the rest of their lives, you’re basically saying that “time served” doesn’t count. If so, let’s just throw the whole fucking system away, because it no longer makes any goddamn sense.

  3. craighill

    judging someone on past behavior is not “pre-judging” – in face, it’s the opposite. apologies for calling these people criminals, is “convicts” better? prob not.
    what tessa’s doing is admirable – let’s just hope the victims are being treated equally as well.
    as for the “classist” comment, all i said was that people are logically judged by their behavior, and these people have behaved badly. as for the “usually called racist” comment – who the fk brought race into it? nobody. for once, can we leave that part out of the discussion since it’s not a part of it? jeez.
    lastly, we should throw the system away – the recidivism rate (70% of males being sent back to prison within 3 yrs) in this soft country is ridiculous. maybe we should take a page from the turks. they’re fkn scared to go to prison over there!

  4. Sef

    The piece is just fantastic, and I am so proud of Tessa for devoting her incredible skills and powers toward a project like this.
    The American public is so unreasonably invested in penalizing over rehabilitating our criminals. And Craighill’s and mh’s comments demonstrate that all too well. Craighill, don’t you think that a small investment in creating real opportunities for these women is less costly to society than the enormous investment in a lifetime of repeat incarcerations? I mean, your first thought is that the pittance required to support a program like Susan Burton’s would be better directed toward reparations for the victims? Really? While we, meanwhile, spend yet more money on sending these women back to the prison because the system provides so few reasonable alternatives for them? Which, of course, means still more victims?
    I don’t mean to focus on you, because yours is clearly a widely-held perspective, but what kind of sense does that make? Instead, you think the solution could be making our prisons more scary. I guess we could try that. I just got back from Turkey last week, incidentally — it’s an outstanding place, and the cradle of civilization! — and you’re right, I didn’t want to go to prison there. Not because Turkey’s prisons are scarier, mind you. But because NOBODY WANTS TO GO TO PRISON. ANYWHERE. And if you think that a statistically significant portion of people commit crimes *because* they’re not sufficiently afraid of prison, I’m sorry, but you really don’t understand the way the world works.
    I used to work for a program in San Diego, previously called San Diego Youth and Community Services (since reorganized a bit), that helped provide life skills and opportunities for young people just out of juvenile prisons — a concept somewhat similar to Ms. Burton’s. It wasn’t a cheap and quick fix, by any means, and didn’t work for everybody. But holy shit, throwing a little money at programs like this can be so much more effective than money spent doing just about anything else in the system. As the film demonstrates so effectively, once you’re in, it’s just so hard to get out.
    Go Tessa; please do more work like this.


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