Forgotten Faces

06Apr07

A full day of classes in your last semester can leave anyone a bit worn and emotionally edgy. ‘Twas my state as I exited the newest addition to campus, Katzen Arts Center. I was immediately struck by the exhibit on display in the foyer; the multimedias screamed with intriguing pain, the unnecessary title hidden from direct view. Engrossed for several moments in “Interrupted Life: Incarcerated Mothers in the United States”, I pulled myself away only to see a flyer informing me of “Death Penalty Week” (or something a bit more eloquently phrased).

Is it true that when you begin to think of something you notice it everywhere? Or is life simply not a coincidence?

While the focus of this art centers on women and the impact of incarceration to their lives and roles in society, I was struck by the profoundly humanistic aspect of the work. As lives are removed from free citizenry and placed into a captive, controlled environment, unfilled gaps are produced but remain positioned in someone’s reality. These lives, both on the inside and outside of grey cement, do not end but are changed irrevocably. What is left are empty human vessels, uncared for and incomplete, vulnerable and perhaps unrehabilitable.

So sad.

As I look into criminology and justice, I have begun to realize the focus on control and prevention look into statistics and actions, divorcing these subjects from their creator: people. We have a war on drugs and a war on terror; we have laws against objects and ideas. We can theorize and analyze and problematize crime to no end (or to an end with failed answers) but until we view these subjects of study as people, we will continue to be void of “criminal” rationality.

Anthropology as a social science has come to terms with its lack of “hard science” stature; criminology and justice has not. Thus, much of the theory work in these arenas depend other social analysis (such as anthro and sociology) to critique and create frameworks. In Justice Quarterly (sadly not available for linkage, though published in June 2006) Peter Kraska’s article “Criminal Justice Theory: Toward Legitimacy and an Infrastructure” states “traditional criminological theories, despite their obvious interconnection with criminal justice practice, are not designed to function as explanations for criminal justice system or crime control behavior.” What then, do they use them for? And why the disconnect between theory and practice?

I feel a bit off point. Meandering back…

Washington DC. A nation’s capital full o’crime. Some say it is changing, but residents are aware it’s only shifted…to just past the city line. In 2005, the District housed 550, 521 inhabitants and 6,206 incarcerated people. Current crime prevention strategies seem to include (and focus around) the installation of red-light cameras and security cameras in somewhat obscure downtown (i.e. Federal) areas. Hm.

At the same time, the city is making money off “crime ridden” areas through the accumulation and then turn-over of once public property. Gentrification is widespread; some residents are creative in maintaining control over their homes but the neighborhoods on the whole are not able to uphold their character. Ivy City is one such spot. While the loss of the Alexander Crummell School is long in the past, the vacancy has been a looming, everyday presence. But instead of using the building for community purposes, the city is entertaining private investors. In many ways, this is a disinvestment in the area; by pulling out city funds, the city essentially washes its hands of the community. A similar story resides in the Benning Library.

Before the defense of improper funds comes up, I would like to point out that the new mayor, Adrian Fenty, walked into office in 2006 with a $325 million budget surplus.

So let’s go back to analyzing humans in a criminal context. Actually, let’s not. Let’s look at logic.

Invest in people. Invest in schools, libraries, social programs. Invest in children, mothers, and fathers. Or ask the people what their problems are and what they need to stay a resident and not another depressing statistic. Crime reduction does not come simply by reducing numbers.

Use the surplus. Stop feeding off the disadvantaged and disenfranchised. And don’t get me started on the lack of voting rights within the district….

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