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Kurtz, S.A. (2003). Analysis Behind Bars. Free Associations, 10(4):498-504.

(2003). Free Associations, 10(4):498-504

Analysis Behind Bars

Stephen A. Kurtz

What Prompted Me to disrupt a lazy retirement to correspond with three lifers? My former work with children in Harlem is what immediately comes to mind (Kurtz, 1996). During that time when The Children's Storefront school became my second home, the mother of three children there died. I attended the funeral at a scruffy storefront parlour — dignity and pathos combined, as in a Walker Evans photo. All of Jocelyn's younger children were there, teachers, neighbours, other relations. Then, suddenly, a car drove up and prison guards brought in one of her older sons. He was shackled hand and foot — unable to wipe away the tears that ran in rivers down his face. It's an image I will never forget.

In the most concrete way, that scene revealed what can happen — what so often does happen — to poor kids who get neither a decent education nor a response to their suffering. It was because I came to understand that the pain of inner city childhood and a compromised capacity to learn can be so closely linked that I founded The Harlem Family Institute — the subject of the article referenced above. Eventually, the Institute spread to eight Harlem schools and has helped hundreds of kids.

Yet, years after, the image of that weeping boy in chains would not fade.

Along with most of the neighborhood around East 129th Street, Tyrone was black, as is more than 50% of the entire prison population in the US (Abramsky, 2002). Indeed, according to the Bureau of Justice statistics, ‘28% of black men will be sent to jail or prison in their lifetime’ (Butterfield, 2003). Racism is an undeniable factor in imprisonment, but classism even more so. With the exception of a few Wall Street headline grabbers, inmates in American prisons are uniformly poor (Irvine & Xu, 2003).

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