I was sentenced according to the “Delivery of Heroin Resulting in Death” sentencing guideline range of 262–327 months. But I was sentenced to 60 months. How is that possible?
Well, I’m white. I could feel the institutional racism the moment I stepped foot inside the criminal system.
It’s not as reductionist as the judge gave me less time solely based off the color of my skin. Racial privilege runs much deeper.
I received a slew of sentence reductions, some standardized and some fabricated. The thing that most fell in my favor was the fact I had graduated high school, tried to join the Air Force, gone to college, and got my EMT-basic certification.
Let’s talk about racism. All of those things that I worked so hard for that ended up getting me years less in prison, those were thanks to racial and class privilege.
My grandmother, a white woman, graduated from Russell Sage College in 1944 with a Bachelor’s in Physical Education and English. Her father owned a music store and funded the education of all three of his daughters at a time when that was not common for women.
In 1944 black and brown people were systematically excluded from these opportunities, both owning such profitable businesses and attending most institutions of higher education, especially for women of color.
If my grandmother had not been white, she never would have been able to go to college in 1944. She wouldn’t have learned to articulate and write well and value higher education. She wouldn’t have passed those values down to my mom who then passed them down to me.
My mom was raised in Florida under segregation. She told me a story of her brother daring her to drink out of the “colored water fountain.”
My mom was gay in the military before “don’t ask don’t tell.” She didn’t get dishonorably discharged despite some close calls. She was able to serve a full 20 years with much pride. She got her Bachelor’s and then a Master’s degree, to posthumously make her mom, my grandma, proud. (Do you see how racial privilege affected her life and choices?)
I managed to get a high school diploma. Until I was 16 I was squarely middle class, thanks to my mom’s education, continued military service, and later her military retirement. My basic needs were provided for, I could focus on my education. Which she wouldn’t have got had…