Thursday, November 7, 2013

The House We Live In: The Beginnings of the Northshore New Jim Crow Task Force

"Louisiana is the world's prison capital," writes Cindy Chang in an in-depth investigation of Louisiana's prison-industrial complex in 2012.  The statistics are somber: "One in 86 adult Louisianians is doing time, nearly double the national average. Among black men from New Orleans, one in 14 is behind bars; one in seven is either in prison, on parole or on probation."

It was statistics such as these that prompted the Northshore Unitarian Universalist Church in Lacombe, Louisiana, to host a filming of the documentary The House I Live In, in January of this year, and to invite the public to attend. This film--directed, written, and produced by award-winning filmmaker Eugene Jarecki in 2012--won the Sundance Grand Jury prize for documentary. The film provides viewers with an up-close and personal investigation into the War on Drugs and its devastating effects on individuals, communities, and our nation's collective soul.

Right away we are introduced to individuals caught up in the complex net of this failed war on drugs: small-time drug dealers, prisoners, former prisoners, police, investigative reporters, former reporters turned film makers, physicians, advocates, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers--all part of the larger family, our country, the house we all live in.

The film juxtaposes interviews with experts and the stories of individuals with startling statistics such as these: "Since 1971, the War on Drugs has cost over $1 trillion and resulted in more than 45 million arrests. During that time, illegal drug use has remained unchanged."

And tragedies of the War on Drugs are made manifest by Jarecki's comparison of his white privileged life (although overshadowed by his family's history in the Holocaust) with that of the African-American woman who worked for years for his family, Nannie Jeter (her real name). The trajectory of Jarecki's life compared with that of the Jeter children, play mates from childhood, serves as a pointed reminder throughout the film of race and class differences that profoundly affect the experiences of individuals and communities in our country.

The House I Live In served as an introduction to a longer discussion on the war on drugs and its consequences and inspired the formation of the Northshore New Jim Crow Task Force. Over the next few months, members of nearby communities met to discuss Michelle Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness; to listen to speakers such as Rosana Cruz, representative for VOTE (Voice of the Ex-Offender), describe how civil rights are denied those who have been incarcerated and returned to society; to hear the stories of individuals caught up in the legal morass of the War on Drugs; to watch films such as The Long Shadow of Incarceration's Stigma, which provides a stark picture of the struggles ex-offenders have to live successfully in a society that throws up legal roadblocks to successful reintegration.

Of the over 40 people who attended the January showing of The House I Live In, only a handful remain to carry the flame of the Northshore New Jim Crow Task Force, but we hope to gain more and more active members as the team continues to explore ways to illuminate the dark corners of our justice system--locally and nationally--and to work toward the dream of uniting in love and concern all the members of this house we live in.

Our mission can be found on the About page of this blog.

And, please, watch The House I Live In (available on Netflix and on demand through other media outlets) and explore some of the links we have provided and will continue to provide on our other pages.

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