Sunbeams  July 2013 | issue 451

I am an invisible man…. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.

Ralph Ellison

Racism, which leaves a shadow on one’s sense of accomplishment, can make one feel like a perpetual outsider.

Alvin Ailey

For many black youths prison replaces the family as a primary source of socialization.

Joe Johnson

The civil-rights generation feels like this younger generation has no drive, is suicidal, especially black males. But think about this generation coming up with almost no jobs, access to firearms, thanks to the nra, and no hope. Imagine people saying you’ll never get the kind of jobs our parents had, and by the way, here’s some malt liquor and crack cocaine.

Robin D.G. Kelley

We make our own criminals, and their crimes are congruent with the national culture we all share. It has been said that a people get the kind of political leadership they deserve. I think they also get the kinds of crime and criminals they themselves bring into being.

Margaret Mead

Those who are racially marginalized are like the miner’s canary: their distress is the first sign of a danger that threatens us all.

Gerald Torres and Lani Guinier

Given the ethnic and racial hierarchies of American life, there are those who dish it out and those who have to take it. Some get to dish it out without ever having to take it, some take it from those above and dish it out to those below, and some find themselves in the position of always having to take it. Such a position is, psychologically and emotionally speaking, almost unbearable. Rage and despair accumulate with no place to go.

Elizabeth Stone

If some folks have buried their racial prejudices, the chances are that they’ve got the graves marked and will have no trouble disinterring their pet hates.

Josephine Lawrence

Corn can’t expect justice from a court composed of chickens.

African proverb

All people make mistakes. All of us are sinners. All of us are criminals. All of us violate the law at some point in our lives. In fact, if the worst thing you have ever done is speed ten miles over the speed limit on the freeway, you have put yourself and others at more risk of harm than someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of his or her living room. Yet there are people in the United States serving life sentences for first-time drug offenses, something virtually unheard of anywhere else in the world.

Michelle Alexander

My greatest hero is Nelson Mandela. What a man. Incarcerated for twenty-five years, he was released in 1990, and he hasn’t reoffended. I think he’s going straight, which shows you prison does work.

Ricky Gervais

Order derived through submission and maintained by terror is not much of a safe guaranty; yet that is the only “order” that governments have ever maintained. True social harmony grows naturally out of solidarity of interests. In a society where those who always work never have anything, while those who never work enjoy everything, solidarity of interests is nonexistent; hence social harmony is but a myth. . . . Thus the entire arsenal of government — laws, police, soldiers, the courts, legislatures, prisons — is strenuously engaged in “harmonizing” the most antagonistic elements in society. 

Emma Goldman

It must surely be a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit that even a small number of those men and women in the hell of the prison system survive it and hold on to their humanity.

Howard Zinn

Characteristically, it is when a man is at the end of his strength and endurance, but nevertheless holds on, that the transforming symbol floats into consciousness.

P.W. Martin

As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.

Nelson Mandela

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. 

Lewis B. Smedes

I nod to a passing stranger, and the stranger nods back, and two human beings go off, feeling a little less anonymous.

Robert Brault