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© Javier Mendoza


In Conversation with Joe Paul Jr. Part Two

by Joe Paul Jr.
June 7, 2018

Above: August 12, 1986. "About 500 men, women and children carrying signs and shouting "No prison in L.A." march up and down Olympic Boulevard, protesting the proposed site of a 1,700-bed, medium security state prison. L.A. Councilman Richard Alatorre, carrying a sign that read "No jail. Protect our children." 

This interview with Joe Paul Jr., the Vocational Services Administrator at SHIELDS for Familieswas conducted and condensed by frank news. It took place May 23, 2018. This is part two of an ongoing conversation between frank and Joe Paul Jr.

What do you think about the rise in female incarceration we’re currently experiencing?

I read a Million Dollar Hoods article that spoke about this bail reform issue – it talked about how there's $13 billion in set bail amounts. The predominant quote-unquote victims in this are black women and Latino women because they're generally the ones that post the collateral and put the bail money up to get these guys out of jail. It's such an alarming rate of disproportionality. That's one of the factors pushing around we have to find a different process. You create this financially based justice system. If you have money you get a different justice system; if you don't have money you get a different justice system. That's a different story.

The fact of the matter is that women are typically the individuals that are most impacted by the financial consequences of the system as it is.

This institution was established as a result of the crack epidemic and babies being exposed prenatally to crack cocaine.

That was a result of women trying to manage the fact that their men were snatched off the streets behind criminalizing substance abuse. They're left in the aftermath of their men being incarcerated.

Now you have a whole generation of kids that were labeled as crack babies that are suffering from all of the physical and mental illness that was a result of the exposure. SHIELDS for Families has grown its proportionality to service as a result of adapting the initial services of substance abuse to all of the other systems that are attached to that – the child welfare system, the mental health system, the criminal system, and all of these other roles that we saw, if we don't get into this, we're going to fall behind, and if we don't have access to that we're going to fall behind. We're not going to adequately provide services if we don't tap into this.

It was only a matter of time before you started seeing this spike in female based increases in the criminal justice system because it's become such a norm for men, that those same cultural behaviors in impoverished communities — you know, if a soldier falls down and his rifle still works, then the one who's still standing has to pick it up. The women are picking up the proverbial rifle. Then you think about the other issues around HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis, and other communicable disease or sexually transmitted diseases that are spiking in women, particularly black women. It's all the same effect.

Once you exhaust one group or gender because you don't have anybody else to deal with, but you don't impact the actual cultural process, then the next group steps in.

The process is like gravity – once you fall into this realm you're going to get those outcomes. 

A person told me a long time ago – she said Joe Paul, you're going to burn out in this business. You're going to burn out. You just go too hard. I was like, you can't go too hard. There's a lot of work to do. She said, let me paint a picture for you – you see a person in the water and you swim out with a life-vest and you put it on the person and you swim back to shore, you see another person in the water and you swim out you put a life-vest on him. You can do that individually, but you're not looking at the big picture that there are thousands and thousands of people out here drowning. Are you going to swim to all of them? She said, why don't you just fix the hole in the ship that they're jumping out of? You could salvage those who are in the water, but prevent the rest from even needing to jump out of the ship.

And that was policy and legislation: fix the hole in the ship. That opened my eyes. I share this example to say, we won't stop this trend – where women are now becoming a greater part of the system, and all of the elements that make it what it is, until we really reform the practices of the system itself.

You don't have to just accept that this is inevitable, that you're going to ultimately fall into this place just because you grew up in this area.

The intentionality is overwhelming. We’re just coming out of Urban Planning that spoke to a lot of systemic issues.

Gentrification is huge. Gentrification is a bitch.

I saw–no disrespect–a gay white man walking his dog on Slauson and Western! I wouldn't have walked on Slauson and Western — but gentrification is real.

No one can afford anything.

Absolutely. You can't afford it. Go live in Apple Valley. Go live in Paris. Find somewhere else to live. Here's the bottom line, if I may: There's nothing new under the sun. America was predicated and based off of slavery. The system itself is working the way it was designed to work. There always had to be an underclass, there always had to be a subservient group of people for this capitalist society to work. Blacks were just convenient.

The system morphed to more socially adept and acceptable forms of the same mentality from the time of the emancipation, through the reconstruction, through the black codes, through Jim Crow, through segregation, through mass incarceration, the war on drugs. It's the adaptation of the same thing. 

I just had this conversation with Alex Padilla, our Secretary of State. That's the context no one wants to have a conversation about. Trump made it quite apparent that this mentality and culture still exists. He just brought it from the back to the front. We're going to make our country great again just meant that "you guys are going to fall back into this subservient role that you always played, stop acting like you fit in. Even though the last guy in here did a better job than me and he looked like you guys, we're going to erase all of that". 

Without being angry and without being retaliatory, accepting the facts of the matter as they are and finding healthy solutions to make sure our posture is presented in a way where we eliminate the stereotypes that make middle class and upper middle class white Americans subscribe to this idea that blacks are violent or that Mexicans kill people – we can't reinforce that. We don't have to accept it either.

The way we do that is to produce and accomplish and detract from the ideas, versus reinforcing them.

I used to ask all the time, how does a community stay in this plight seven generations? How does this happen? We've met guys who say "we've been here 17 years," proudly. No problem. But they’re in low income housing, it's a stepping stone. It's not supposed to be perpetual. I see firsthand how that happens now.

There's a handful of people in the community that are stakeholders of the community that only have the intention of managing the flow of their piece of the money as it comes through. That's what's been the consistent thing: opportunity after opportunity, in every decade, a situation like this arises, a small group of people control all of the opportunities and impose their will on everybody else.