Wake up, who's missing?

By Kelly Haber-Ali, TNC Regional Leader, Cleveland, OH

WAKE-UP" is what Rev. Edwin Sanders cried out to nearly 1,000 attendees of the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation (DPF) conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He didn't shout-out because we were asleep; he shouted, "Wake-Up!," because there was something dramatically missing in the room, something that he wanted us to note, and then correct. What was missing were black and brown people. Out of 1,000 people, only a few dozen were people of color. In a "war" that incarcerates African and Hispanic Americans at a rate 11 times higher than Euro-Americans, it remained a puzzling, disturbing fact.

As a white woman married to a black man, I have been close to and experienced the destruction that the drug war's "collateral damage" inflicts on people of color and those who love them. During visits with my husband, the room fills mostly with black and brown faces. You see a few white families here and there, but within the walls of all of our state and federal prisons, being white in 2001 is to be the minority group and it's been that way since we started building prisons over 350 years ago.

My husband is not the only person serving his 17-year sentence; so is his family. Our story is not unique. In fact, on his case alone, there were 40 other people of color that suffered a similar fate. That only includes his co-defendants. Figuring in family members, at least 200 people were affected. Where are those 200 people today?

Personally, I could not let the pain, anguish, anger and fear destroy me, but I couldn't accept what had happened to Danish, Brittany and me. I was not about, without objection, to accept the fate the government had handed my family. My family was, and is, worth fighting for. But I still know that this is a fight I cannot win alone. That is why I joined The November Coalition (TNC). Through TNC's national network, I have found a renewed strength from unity we have in our struggle for justice. I am not the only drug war victim standing up, and I know that if we continue linking efforts in solidarity, our voices will be heard louder and louder - sort of like Reverend Sanders' shout -but a national shout!

At the DPF Conference, James Forman Jr. said, "Challenge yourself to fight the complacency of the familiar." Chances are high for those reading this newspaper from the confines of prison, and you have been sentenced for a drug crime, your skin is black or brown. In a moment of reflection, ask yourself, "How have I, my family and my friends, challenged the reality of black and brown men and women filling United States' prisons? What can I do so that massive, racist incarceration becomes a horrible part of history rather than a dismal future for our children?"

If you click here, there is a list of contacts for The November Coalition. I urge you to contact either the Colville home office or the regional volunteer in your area. Tell us you are sick of the war on drugs, and you want to help make a difference. In the Cleveland area where I lead Coalition work in Ohio, the summer months are my busiest. If you or your loved one in prison can volunteer even a little, I can use all the help offered. If you are not comfortable with front line activities such as working a booth at a summer street event, perhaps you can help write letters to senators. Whatever your skills and interest, I promise, we can find room for you in the November Coalition.

There is satisfaction in the struggle, but I want the glory of victory. We have all experienced the struggle, but what role will you play in the victory?