Double Fisting Dogs for the 4th? Here’s Why That’s a Rare Feat for the U.S. Prison Population

Ah, July 4th. Independence day. A weekend of grilling, corn husking and socially acceptable intoxication amongst the booming and banging of colors galore. What an illustrious day in America! One to celebrate your much-earned freedom amongst your equally liberated friends and family before you soon must fret about dealing with your post celebratory hangover on your drive to work the day after.

Yet through all these celebrations of our victorious freedoms, 2.4 million Americans remain so invisibly enslaved within the prison system. A prison system built upon greed, corruption, brutality and the viciousness of both power and the ability to take it away from so many.

As I reflect on the meaning of this national holiday I would be blinding myself to ignore the perspectives of the individuals who don’t have the choice to be with family; whose experiences are the precise opposite of why we idolize living in this country. While we sit back and soak our privileged feet in Walmart kiddie pools, other human beings living in this same country “built on freedom” will be beaten, antagonized against each other and distanced from the spaces needed to excel and rehabilitate.

I ask of you, to pause the festivities and reflect with me the nuances of this national holiday amongst what American culture truly perpetuates. I share with you two reads to help put this into perspective and I share with you in solidarity with the 2.4 million Americans who are currently incarcerated today.

First, I encourage you to weigh the words of Frederick Douglass in his 1852 speech What to the Slave is the Fourth of July. You can also listen to it being read to you by Danny Glover here. 

As it is a lengthy speech and knowing our lives are vastly busy and our attention spans are at times, far too small, here are some excerpts from the speech that particularly spoke to me:

“I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony.

Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world.

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour. ” 

Artist Unknown

I also share with you the writings from prisoners when asked: “What to the Prisoner is Your Fourth of July”, by Revolution media.

A DAY TO FORGET” (NOT REMEMBER)_
A Celebration For A Country That Is Rooted In Violence,
The Truth About This Country Many Still Want To Hide It…
A Celebration For Some, A Nightmare For Others,
Memories Of What Was Done To Their Fathers And Mothers…
Never Before Recorded In The Pages Of History,
Kidnapped, Enslaved, And Beaten Is What Was Done To Me…
Segregated, Isolated, And Treated Unequal,
Locked Up For Minor Crimes, Over 2 Million People…
What To Me Is The 4th Of July?
When I Think Of All The Killings And All The Lost Lives…
Endless Wars, Drone Attacks, And Sexual Exploitation,
Poverty And Low Wages… Destroying A Generation…
What Is The 4th Of July To An American Prisoner?
A Day I Choose Not To Acknowledge Or Even Remember…
“Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death,” So Tired Of These Conditions,
Every Issue Of “REVOLUTION” Is Like My Declaration Of Independence.
The 4th Of July, A Day Of Sorrow And Regret,
A Day You Want To Remember, But For Me,
A DAY TO FORGET” (NOT REMEMBER)”

-Written by an unnamed inmate in 2013