By Ila Wilborn
The United States has a prison population that far succeeds any of the other countries in the world, with a little over 2 million people incarcerated. Over the last 40 years, this population has increased by 500%.
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, there are 68,000 people that are incarcerated in the state of Virginia, which has steadily increased in the last 40 years. Compared to the rest of the world, Virginia’s incarceration rate stands out to be above the national average.
In 2016, The Norfolk City Jail announced it would become an all-male facility to help combat the overcrowding epidemic. The jail was housing its inmates in triple bunk beds. Currently, the jail houses over 1,000 inmates, according to the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office official website.
With a population of 245,116 from the latest census, the Norfolk City Jail inmates represent less than half a percent of the population, making them a large minority.
The New Journal and Guide sends its papers all around the city of Norfolk, and the inmates at the Norfolk City Jail are given the opportunity to read the weekly paper. As a result, some of the inmates have written letters to the publication.
It is a commonality for us “free citizens” to look down on inmates, not open to the similarities we may share. We are all still human; the only difference is, these inmates have made some mistakes.
Unbeknownst to many, the inmates’ letters contain poetry, stories, questions about their community and letters of gratitude. These letters show that even though their bodies are contained, their minds are still free to go beyond where they are.
Writing letters give the inmates hope in allowing them to be a little more human with the people here on the outside of jail. The poetry they create serves as a way for them go into parts of their mind that we may discount on the outside.
“Why all the hate, must our colors separate, for we didn’t choose the colors of our skin…Whether born in Birmingham Alb., or Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the real person comes from within…:” an inmate wrote in his poem entitled, “Love Indestructible.” This particular inmate would write two or three poems almost weekly to send to the publication until his release from jail.
Other inmates ask for more information in their letters, “I’m not familiar with any black banks, let alone Brick and Mortar ones,” one inmate wrote as he asked for more insight on the subject of black banks in Norfolk.
“The New Journal & Guide is the highlight of my week,” the inmate wrote. “I’m into news and politics and my community and it helps me with my debates.”
The purpose of the black press is to serve as a platform for those who are voiceless. In this case, these inmates are the voiceless and long to be heard. It’s about time we listen.