Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Can T.I. save Clifford?

A few nights ago, I was talking to my happily married cousin and she claimed to have the secret to all of Black women's dating problems. "Date a White man." Although she's married to a Black man, she stressed that Black women could not depend on their male counterparts to provide them with the stable family life they were looking for. While I am open-minded in this regard, I believe everyone is entitled to their preferences and it makes complete sense to prefer to date someone of a similar culture/ethnicity background as yourself. So of course I defended Black men and will continue to do so.

Interestingly enough, about 6 hours later, I heard on the radio that TI and his wife Tiny were arrested for a controlled substance. I shared the news with my cousin, and she proclaimed, "See!!! I told you! You can't depend on them!"

I simply refuse to believe that T.I. is representative of Black men everywhere. That would mean that I think Black men everywhere are irresponsibly stupid, ungrateful for the blessings God grants them, poor stewards of aforementioned blessings, and possibly addicted to living life illegally and without any regard for the consequences of their actions.

As we all know, T.I.'s sentence for federal weapons charges was drastically reduced from 10 years to 1 year and a day. This wouldn't have happened for Clifford Harris. Cliff would have been hit with 10 years and forced to accept the fact that his wife had moved on to probably his best friend. But T.I. , entertainer, rapper, and actor, with Billboard Hits on the Pop Charts, was blessed to resume his role as husband, father, and member of the unprisoned society much earlier than traditionally deemed appropriate. And truth be told, T.I. has the kind of charisma, acceptable amount of remorse, and intelligence that made us all believe he deserved it. We forgave him. We truly believed that he was on the Road to Redemption. Even my dad,who is decidedly conservative on these issues, said, "That T.I. is a good brother; he deserves a second chance... he just had a rough start."

On December 22, 2009, T.I. was released into a halfway house and in March 2010, he was released from there. The conditions of his release included that he be subject to a financial audit, DNA testing, drug testing, and random searches of his property. (I mean.. that's fair... considering he'd previously been known to have machine guns without membership in the Men in Black.)

September 1, a mere 6 months after his halfway house release, T.I. and his wife were arrested for possession of a controlled substance (later revealed to be ecstasy), while driving in Los Angeles. The immediate reaction by most, was, "Is this guy stupid?!?! Is he crazy? What about his kids? What do they do while Mom and Dad are in prison?!? Why does he need ecstasy in the car? Why isn't someone else holding it for him?"

You'd think T.I. wouldn't be caught ripping a tag off a pillow or jaywalking, much less cruising with ecstasy in a weed-scented vehicle. But then again... why not? His easy smile and seemingly bottomless pockets worked before, why shouldn't they work this time?

It's easy to make this a cut and dry case of "Another man being stupid, who just can't get right." But I don't think it's so simple. T.I.'s not alone. Research from the Department of Justice shows that over 67% of former inmates return. Apparently, time in the big house doesn't do a good job of deterring people from more time in the big house. The reentry rates are even higher for African-Americans. Is it like a Brazilian wax where the more often you go, the less it hurts? I can't imagine so.

The United States, land of the free, has both the highest incarcerated population in the world and the highest percentage of incarcerated people in the world. In America, 1 in 31 adults are in prison. And once these adults leave, over two thirds of them are smoking, stealing, and raping their way back. With these kind of stats, I find it hardly safe to consider American prisons a place for rehabilitation where inmates learn to become productive members of society. So, yes... TI failed his family, his fans, and the judicial system who gave him a chance to do his life the right way. Most importantly, he failed himself.

But did the penal system and judicial system fail him as well? Did the break he got afford him the right to think he had an unlimited "Get Out Jail Free" Card? Was there something about his prison experience lacking in such a way that made him feel ok with heading back?
We can't possibly know the definitive answers to these questions, but I welcome your conjecture and speculation. While Black men represent less than 7% of America's overall population, they represent 40.1% of people imprisoned. These are serious questions that have to be answered for the sake of our progress.

Bonus Questions:

a) Does he deserve to receive the full brunt of the judicial system as a result of this most recent transgression?
b) Is his wife to be admired for her "Ride or Die"ness? I'm not going to jail for anyone. Or do her actions suggest that she's a proponent of his tomfoolery?