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Taking Another Look:

Through a Restorative Justice Lens

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by Karima Amin

Several years ago at one of our monthly meetings, we screened the film “Prison Song,” a 2001 film, produced by B.E.T. (Black Entertainment Television), starring Mary J. Blige (R&B diva) and Q-Tip (rapper from “A Tribe Called Quest). Upon viewing, our follow-up discussion centered upon the factors that promoted juvenile incarceration, and by extension, mass incarceration. The film’s prologue states these undeniable facts that have only been exacerbated over the years:

·7 million children have a parent in prison or jail or recently released on probation or parole;
·Black children are 46 times more likely than whites to be sentenced to juvenile prison;
·4.6 million Black men out of a voting population of 10.4 million have lost their voting rights due to felony convictions;
·Newborn Black males have greater than 1 in 4 chance of going to prison during their lifetimes.

Although this film is not a classic and may not receive a 5-star rating from everyone, it does a very good job of describing a community that is struggling with multiple social ills on a daily basis. Miseducation, weak community relations, poor health care, inadequate youth intervention, disrespectful and inhumane community policing, drug abuse and a criminal justice system that ignores the fact that victim and offender my both be victims.

Our most recent meetings have viewed Restorative Justice as an “umbrella theme,” directly and/or indirectly related to community policing, reintegration following incarceration, and community building. Since BaBa and I have had the opportunity to train core teams at various community spaces, I thought it would be interesting to view this film again now that Restorative Justice and Restorative Justice practices have been introduced. The dysfunction and sadness depicted in “Prison Song” might have been avoided if the community had been strengthened through peace circles and community conferencing, leading to community empowerment. In this film, locking up people is the ultimate solution to everything. The main characters are institutionalized in the mental hospital, juvenile detention, the group home, and finally, the state prison. This film offers a clear description of what can go wrong when criminalization trumps restoration.

PLEASE NOTE: This film is rated R for violence and language.

Our next meeting is scheduled for Monday, November 24, 2014 from 7:00 – 9:00pm at the Pratt-Willert Community Center, 422 Pratt Street in Buffalo. This is our final meeting for 2014. We will reconvene on January 26, 2015. Happy Holidays!

MORE INFO: Visit our website- www.prp2.org for more information about Restorative Justice. Go to the “Brother BaBa Speaks” page. Also contact us via e-mail: karima@prisonersarepeopletoo.org; g.babaeng@yahoo.com. Like us on Facebook. This program is supported by The Circle of Supporters for Reformed Offenders and Friends of BaBa Eng.

“God has not called us to see through each other, but to see each other through.” (Anonymous)

Karima Amin is a longtime Buffalo Activist, Educator, and Storyteller as well as founder and director of Prisoners Are People Too (PRP2).

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