America has discarded 2.2 million humans for the purposes of their crimes or criminal behavior. Legally, its been a conceivable idea that those who are errants should be warehoused in prisons and never thought of again. Extra time given for those who don’t show “remorse” in two to three minutes to a judge who has no psychology degree to look for such a thing. A mental health epidemic that’s become unmanageable to the point that half a million prisoners have been diagnosed as mentally ill. State and federal lawmakers have ensured further class ism by way of public shaming the post incarcerated (for the ones who do get out) all for more funding. While some states tout “Ban the Box” as a success, let’s not talk about the felons who do find jobs and modern gladiator clad corrections agents “visit” his workplace, “just to make sure he’s there”. Let’s scare the natives, shall we? Damn those throwaways!

Socially, this shift has been happening for decades. Just in pop culture alone, the 60s brought about shows the likes of Perry Mason, who with a will and want to make a defense for his public against an accuser, made defense lawyers noble and distinguished. The 70s entered and the age of mass incarceration came to exist. Any defense lawyers on TV then were only abstract and on the fringe of obscure practices such as Benjamin Matlock in the 80s. By the millennium, the public knew only of the work of Dick Wolfe and his long running Law and Order shows. The likes of NCIS have held number one spots on television for decades now. The bad guy wasn’t just bad, he was awful, a psychopath, a deviant, a good media sales point because it scares the shit out of you. Today’s TV’s defense team consists of the likes of “Better Call Saul” and the other “ambulance chasing slimeball” types. What this brought was absolution to the public to discard a human, because he or she is now a wild animal and unworthy of public want. He’s society’s discards and rightly so. Quite simply, trash and never treasure.

So, for the guy in prison, he knows that his community has erased the need for his participation in it. The social climate ensures he is a monster. But, his momma knows best. Family and friends become the cornerstone of his sense of worth. It wasn’t until I witnessed it first hand that I realized the “five year falloff” was an actual phenomenon. At the five year mark of a person’s sentence, many family and friends have grown so used to the incarcerated being removed from their world that they, in turn, disconnect from his. The people that could cut through the judge’s condemnations, the TV’s typecasting, could see past the law’s psychology and know that seconds to minutes of a man’s life do not define him, suddenly turn away. The incarcerated are suddenly shoved in a bag marked Hefty and now belong to Waste Management. To the curb, you trashed animal!

For the man, or woman, in state and federal prisons, they are not trash. They are not animals. They are fathers, mothers, children, brothers and sisters. They know their wrongs and most have worked hard at righting them. They are worthy of society’s restoration through the sentencing and serving process and they damn sure should never be forced into believing that the ones who say they love them can just throw them away. We are not trash. We are not defined by seconds to minutes. We are American children and worthy of the American Dream, now in its restored glory. In the 60s, nobody knew a felon. Today, everybody knows one, or at least a family who has one. Remember that the next time you see your neighbor taking out the trash. People don’t belong there on his curb waiting to be whisked away. Love them because they are people. They are friends. They are family. They are worthy of your love, because many struggle to love themselves. Love them and let them know their worth. Do your world a favor and help end the practices that impact the American Throwaways…

Rory Andes