This is the 3rd installment of Brett Roman Williams’ My Brother’s Keeper series, in which he relays the experience of being the younger brother of and supporting a former convict (a member of Philadelphia’s Junior Black Mafia [JBM]) that’s done over 18 years in prison.
“If I don’t know a thing, one thing that I do know…is coke. I know drugs. I can sell some drugs.”
“I can do the time. I just need to get out of here. Get to somewhere with a program. So I can walk the yard at least.”
“Jail…it’s nothing. I get to see a lot of people who I haven’t seen in awhile.”
Those were actual statements expressed to me from my brother. When I heard my brother’s sentiment about his experience of being an inmate; my heart sank. My mind was blown. My body froze but the nerve in me wanted to shake my brother to the point that his brain would scramble and expel all of the remnants of him being an institutionalized being. Instead, the little brother in me appeared and I just listened, thinking that big bro would just shut me down. Instead, I decided to research ways in which I could help him. The first thing that I Googled was black men returning to jail which, in turn, led me to the word “recidivism.” According to the National Institute of Justice:
“Recidivism is one of the most fundamental concepts in criminal justice. It refers to a person’s relapse into criminal behavior, often after the person receives sanctions or undergoes intervention for a previous crime. Recidivism is measured by criminal acts that resulted in rearrest, reconviction or return to prison with or without a new sentence during a three-year period following the prisoner’s release.”
My brother has been back to jail three times since he has been paroled in 2005. Three times! It’s deeper than him being another statistic in terms of the stereotypical, young Black men being dead or in jail by the age of 25 (he was arrested at 25 years old). Statistics from a 2014 report, from the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Recidivism Study of State Prisoners released in 2005, tracked a sample of former inmates from 30 states for five years following release in 2005. Some highlights were:
- About two-thirds (67.8%) of released prisoners were arrested for a new crime within 3 years, and three-quarters (76.6%) were arrested within 5 years.
- Within 5 years of release, 82.1% of property offenders were arrested for a new crime, compared to 76.9% of drug offenders, 73.6% of public order offenders, and 71.3% of violent offenders.
- More than a third (36.8%) of all prisoners who were arrested within 5 years of release were arrested within the first 6 months after release, with more than half (56.7%) arrested by the end of the first year.
- Two in five (42.3%) released prisoners were either not arrested or arrested once in the 5 years after their release.
- A sixth (16.1%) of released prisoners were responsible for almost half (48.4%) of the nearly 1.2 million arrests that occurred in the 5-year follow-up period.
- An estimated 10.9% of released prisoners were arrested in a state other than the one that released them during the 5-year follow-up period
- Within 5 years of release, 84.1% of inmates who were age 24 or younger at release were arrested, compared to 78.6% of inmates ages 25 to 39 and 69.2% of those age 40 or older.
Wow! My brother fit in 6/7 categories given in this report. My brother was never arrested in another state other than the one that released him (Pennsylvania). Keep in mind that this report highlights the exact years in which my brother was released on parole. In the words of Arsenio Hall, “Things that make you go, Hmmmmmm.”
The pattern in which my brother seems to return to jail is about every 12-18 months since being paroled. At this moment, my brother is back in jail for an instance in June 2014 which he encountered a “routine traffic stop” with the Philadelphia police. This “routine stop” turned into him being arrested for making terroristic threats to a police officer, by allegedly uttering “What is this? Fuck-a-Nigga-Over Day?” According to my brother, the police pulled him over for false registration stickers. The question that comes to my mind is, from a far or while in motion, what indicator is there for a police officer to be able to see that two stickers about two inches by two inches at the left hand corner of a vehicle’s windshield is real or fake? As an FYI, this traffic stop happened a month after the two of us were pulled over and detained by the 35th Philadelphia Police District for 2 hours in front of his house for absolutely nothing. Well, they said that our car matched the description of a shootout in our neighborhood. So we were warranted to be placed under investigation. Now, if you’ve been pulled over and harassed by the police, that’s one of the typical “probable causes” that they pull for the typical racial profile, or in this case, criminal profile. The intent behind this stop was fucking scary and intimidating as Hell. I’m talking guns drawn. Threats to be tased, “if [we] tried any funny shit,” which happened to be the exact words of one of the present officers. We were illegally searched (Warrantless), which was a complete violation of our 4th Amendment Rights. Even a K-9 unit was dispatched to search and tear through my brother’s car and our personal belongings. They even pulled the separation tactic where they detained my brother and me in two different squad cars because we knew what to say in terms of our rights. I also think that they knew that I was a college boy with a record clean as baby poop. So they put me in the SUV with the cushioned seats and they kept my brother in the squad car with hard seats. At that point, I knew I had a hunch that I wasn’t going to jail that night.
At the end of this “bullcrap” (my brother censors himself with words like that to refrain from using profanity) and background checking, they let me go and took my brother in to be questioned. Now, keep in mind, I was the driver! Don’t you think that they would take both of us in, including the car if we were really “under investigation?” Well, that’s what I thought until they realized that they had a former JBM member in custody with a nice sum of money on his person. The officers actually tried to reason with me on why they were taking my brother, as if they were appeasing me! No! My brother, a convicted felon, was on his way to a police station for absolutely nothing! Kiss my North Philly raised, Howard University educated ass! I’m my brother’s keeper! Please excuse me. I got outside of myself as a storyteller, but at the end of this rainy and harassing affair with “Philly’s Phinest,” they took my brother’s money to be “investigated.” They saw money and assumed drug dealers! Although half of their assumption was theoretically correct, we did nothing to break the law. They saw money and they seized it! Money! That’s it! No drugs or weapons! Money! I remember my brother pleading with the officers to let him go inside of the house to show documents and deeds proving he had a reason to have such a large amount of money. I wonder what they would’ve done had it been Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Meek Mill, James Blake, Floyd “Money” Mayweather, or the “6 God”, Drake? The results would be the same! Nah. Drake would’ve gotten off because he’s Canadian, Jewish, and a Meek Mill enemy. Not to mention he’s “light skinned,” but I digress. Well not really because each one of these successful Black men have been either profiled, targeted, and/or arrested at some point of their respected and successful lives. Goes to show that it doesn’t matter who you are, especially if you are a Black man, but that’s another story.
In all, I assume, just like many other people who this story has been told, that my brother has been targeted and followed by the Philadelphia Police Department. This isn’t a farfetched assumption, since this is the third time my brother has been arrested from “routine traffic stops” since being paroled in 2005. It also makes me empathize with my brother because he once told me that he doesn’t think he can live a normal life in Philadelphia without being harassed or targeted by the police. Furthermore, he can’t leave Philadelphia due to his parole constraints. However, after researching, witnessing, and experiencing serious encounters with law enforcement, I believe him. It is clear for me to see why the rates of recidivism are so high. It makes me empathize with the ex-con and question the intent of our criminal justice system and our “correctional” facilities. It also makes me want to find out how to lower the rates of recidivism so that “released prisoners” can rehabilitate and adjust to society to become productive citizens. They can no longer vote and it is very difficult for them to find legitimate work with livable wages. It seems like a trap or revolving door. I’ve typed resumes for my brother. I’ve seen him apply for jobs. I’ve seen him take menial jobs. But to no avail he keeps on ending back behind the wall. Now, let me be clear. (In my best President Obama voice) I am not telling this story to vividly paint this perfect picture of my brother or any other person who has committed a serious crime.
To be continued…
Brett Roman Williams is now in pre-production for his short film initiative, Warrantless. He currently resides in Harlem, NY.