I read The New Jim Crow in jail. It changed my life | Jason Hernandez

The book was banned by New Jersey prisons, and I understand why: it showed me the injustice of our criminal justice system

When I heard that The New Jim Crow– a volume by Michelle Alexander about how mass incarceration in America is a new sort of racial control- had been banned by New Jersey prisons, I was shocked, angered and saddened. That’s the exact same style I felt when I first read the book behind bars.

At the time, I was serving a sentence of life without parole for a nonviolent drug crime in a Oklahoma federal prison. Reading the book transformed my life. It built me aware that all the racial inequities and disparities caused by the” war on drugs” aren’t an accident.

Before I read The New Jim Crow, I thought it was normal that people in my neighborhood were routinely pulled over, searched, arrested and sent to jail. Just about everyone I met in prison was either black or brown, but that didn’t seem unusual to me. Nor did the fact that we were serving life sentences for non-violent narcotic crimes while white people were doing far less time for far more serious crimes.

The New Jim Crow showed me there was nothing normal about that at all. There was nothing normal about the fact that I had considered black and brown parents locked in prison so long that their sons grew up to be humen in their absence- men who would often go on to be arrested themselves and sent to the same prison cells as their fathers.

The book set my personal experiences into a bigger view for me. It taught me that there are more African Americans under correctional control( in jails, prison, parole, probation) now than were enslaved before the start of the US civil war. And more African Americans are disenfranchised today due to felony convictions than in 1870, the year the 15th amendment– which prohibits laws denying African Americans the right to vote on the basis of their race- was ratified.

With AfricanAmericans and Latinos building up nearly 60% of the prison population but merely 30% of the US population, it is hard to deny that mass incarceration is racially motivated, as the book persuasively argues.

This realization inspired me to start my own grassroots organization called Crack Open the Door, an organization I dedicated to freeing first time non-violent crack cocaine delinquents serving life without parole.

To further this cause, I reached out to civil right organizations, men and women in Congress, reporters- but no one answered my screams for help. That’s when I contacted Alexander, the author of the book that had set everything in motion.

Alexander reacted and said she believed in my cause. If there was ever a more egregious repercussion from the war On drugs, it was, in her position, the sentencing of people to life without parole for non-violent offenses.

She then connected me with the American Civil Liberties Union, which produced a report on life without parole in the United States, in which I was featured. The report was released in November 2013, and I was granted mercy a month subsequently .~ ATAGEND

The New Jersey prison system never offered a reason for why they banned The New Jim Crow, a decision which they undidafter an outcry this week. The country administrative code lets prisons to ban a publication, among other reasons, if it