Monday, May 4, 2009

Am I My Brother's Keeper?

Did I ever tell you I have a brother who is currently incarcerated? In fact, I have two brothers on lock down. I never told you? I suppose it just never came up in conversation. It’s funny how family dynamics work. Out of my mother’s children, four went on to college and then professional careers, while two ended up in jail.

It’s that it suddenly comes up because my brothers are due to be released soon. And my mother is just beside herself with worry. I mean, she is glad that they are to be released, but she is worried that they will just end up right back behind bars. This is not the first time they have been in prison. And it is almost pretty much assured that if someone does not step in, they'll go right back.

And my mother is really worrying me to death about this thing. She’s begging me to talk to them. She’s begging me to be ready to help them when they finally hit the streets, and give them whatever support they need, whether it be emotional or financial. In fact, she has all but said, you are responsible for your brothers; you are your brothers’ keeper.

And I get angry at Mom. I get frustrated. After all, I attempted to talk to them even before they got involved in the foolishness that got them locked up. I supported them emotionally, and often financially, before they got into trouble.

But, of course, the guilt sets in. I know they aren’t all that different from me. We are brothers after all. We all grew up in the hood. We all got into all kinds of foolishness coming up, nothing crucial, mind you, but for young African American men growing up in the ghetto, the temptations are great and many. To tell you the truth, most of the early foolishness they got into, they were simply following me.

That brings up the question, why. Why them and not me? At some point I set aside the foolishness and went off to college and then grad school. I always knew I would. They went to jail. For me the foolishness was just momentary distractions, but for some reason, they chose to make a life of it.

Guilt drives me to go out and buy more money orders so they’ll have money on their books even though I promised my wife I’d cut back on the money I was sending them. Guilt drives me to accept more collect and third party calls even after I’ve already accepted too many.

One of my brothers even suggested he come live with me when he gets out so he can stay out of trouble. I promised him I’d discuss it with my wife, but I never did. I know she won’t go for that shit. That negro is straight hood!

But I feel I should be doing something to help them, to keep them out of prison yet another time. After all, they are my brothers. But just what is my responsibility to them? I’m simply lost as to what I can do. How do I save grown ass men from themselves? Perhaps I’m just absolutely horrible in my role as my brothers’ keeper.

But let’s take the time to make the necessary extrapolations. Right now there are almost 1,000,000 African American men and women in prison. And before you look down your nose at them, before you wash your hands of them, they are much more similar to us than we would like to admit. Some of us have been involved in all arrays of foolishness; we just didn’t get caught. As my grandmother was fond of saying, “If only for the grace of God.”

And keep in mind, the majority of these African American men and women currently incarcerated are someone’s brother or sister. They are our mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts, sons and daughters. What is our responsibility toward these people? We always talk about the African American community, so what is the community’s responsibility toward these people?

Do we simply shake our heads and dismiss them? Do we escape to the suburbs inside our gated communities so that we don’t have to look them in the eye on a daily basis? Just what do we do?

You see, my individual, personal dilemma is very similar to our collective dilemma. My solution then becomes our solution. So allow me to ask you again—Am I my brother’s keeper?


Kim said...

Thanks for sharing you personal fam stuff.

I have brother who is incarcerated also and a mother who is beyond grieved. You know it's something about black mothers and their sons that's such a by-product of slavery. My brother has been imprisoned four years with six more to go. I love my brother and I visit and write and send money and give him all the support he needs. I think that's important. Being in the system is not easy. Their freedom is lost, even though by their own hands, I'm sure they feel devalued and thrown away by society. Family is really all they have once they come out "marked". But you should not let it disrupt your household. You wife and family needs should come first. As long as there is trying, I personally could not turn my back on a family member that I was able to help as long as I see that he is traveling down another road and my family life was not disrupted.

Max Reddick said...

Thanks for the encouragement. My mother always says, "I've given them up to the Lord." Meaning, whatever happens, happens.

The key to their continued freedom is in their own hands. I'm sure that I and the rest of my family will work to assure they have an easy road to redemption. But what about all those other brothers and sisters who are locked up? Who will they turn to when they get out?

This problem belongs not only to me but to the community. We need to reclaim more of our own!

El Nuyorican said...

I work in the field of re-entry, having been involved in a project I helped create stressing a community-based approach to re-entry.

Re-entry is difficult and over 2/3 of those released end up back in prison within two years of release. This isn't solely predicated on individual behavior. people continue to pay for crime even after having served time and I know plenty of ppl who had wanted to do the right thing, but after having so many doors closed to them, they revert to tried and true 9and dysfunctional) behavior. i don't know where you live, but i would encourage your brothers to seek help from non-profits who serve the formerly incarcerated population. there are a lot of them across the country, but even then, the road is hard.

I know this from personal experience, having served time myself a long time ago. I don't think we can save those we love, but the best we can do is be supportive in a "smart" way and not allowing out guilt to get the better of our good judgment.

I wish you and your brothers luck, bro.


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