"What about us?"

By Ronald (X) Minor & Al-Malik Sharieff Karriem Wright, prisoners of the drug war

We are the criminals who made mistakes, the drug dealers of yesterday who will never be able to live free as young men, a second chance at life is years or decades away, if at all. Because of our youthful actions of the past, of which most were carried out in ignorance, we are deemed to rot in federal prisons across America.

More specifically, many of us are a select group of drug offenders. We are punished 100 times more severely than the average "powder" cocaine dealer and 20 times harsher than a heroin dealer.

We are punished more harshly because the cocaine that we sold or possessed contained baking soda. "Crack" is cocaine and baking soda and nothing more, yet we are sentenced 20 to 100 times the years in prison that other drug defendants receive. Most of us are also African-American.

Sit in any courtroom in America, and you will see young brother after young brother sentenced to decades to life for "crack" cocaine. A racially-motivated law that the government has initiated and continued for well past a decade is the primary "drug conspiracy" of the drug war. It is a war waged primarily in the black community, not because blacks use more drugs, but because most of our laws are selectively enforced. Police tactics used daily in poor communities would cost a mayor his job if practiced even once or twice in an upper-middle-class community.

As I sit in my prison cell, I read like never before, and I'm learning just how ignorant I have been. I say "never again", but when I'm finally released I'll be 17 years older than when I came in. I was convicted of distributing 60.7 grams of "crack" cocaine, a small amount. Sixty grams would fit in a small cereal bowl.

The United States Bureau of Prisons has a multi-million dollar industrial business that is thriving off the backs of prisoner's hard labor and slave wages. An intelligent guess is that some of the biggest supporters of this "get tough on crime" atmosphere are also some of the biggest supporters in the prison industry called "Unicor".

Unicor is a privately-operated business which receives contracts from government agencies to manufacture products. Unicor has first bid on these contracts regardless of whether they provide the services or not. This unfair monopolization of government contracting causes small entrepreneurs to suffer and be ultimately forced out of business. The same politicians who create legislation to show the taxpayers that "crime does not pay" are being paid handsomely in stock dividends. Huge investment opportunities have been created within the prison industrial complex. Crime does pay for those who write these "get tough" laws and then make a call to their stockbroker.

I'm asking our members and readers to help some of these young men in prison have a second chance at life and their youth, not to look the other way, or be so divided that we are left prey. Problems will not go away just because we ignore them. Racism needs to be refuted vigorously. United we stand, divided we fall.

I am well aware that due to our ignorant actions we have totally disgusted our elders. Forgive us for making bad choices, and please realize that now, more than ever, we need you all. The majority of us are beginning to become aware of the wrong that we caused and are making a gallant effort to change. As I research carefully, I have had a rude awakening to my surroundings. I must conclude that we are being locked away for disproportionately long sentences.

We are human beings with families who care about us, but we are virtually powerless against the mighty U.S. government without your assistance. I am in no way trying to avoid responsibility for my actions, but the punishment should fit the crime. The nonviolent "crack" users and dealers do not deserve the harsh penalties they are receiving. Black people are not in this terrible position by mere coincidence. Just view the situations as they evolve, especially in the poor, black communities, and bear witness that the conspiracy goes on.

I urge you to assist us by acting on this truth; stand up and be outspoken. Too many young black men and women, by design, have been killed or jailed disproportionately to our crime. It is time to come together and make a change in our drug laws.