Op-ed: Government at fault for prison system’s role in cyclical poverty

By: Nate Sikora – Sophomore, History

A cycle exists in this country that is destroying the fabric of America. A cycle that is driven solely by profit and nothing else. Ironically, that is the poverty cycle. The United States government and the private sector in the last fifty years have transformed poverty into a business, where profits today are at an all-time high.

This cycle has multiple stages, but let’s begin at one of the most pivotal places in the poverty cycle: the prison. The U.S. makes prison a time capsule where we do not rehabilitate, educate, aid, or stabilize inmates to become productive members of society. Instead, prison is where time equals punishment. Once that time is completed, we open the gate and say “good luck.” What kind of system is that? Even worse, recidivism is so high that common opinion habitually places blame on the offenders for not “learning” from their time in prison. Why might that be? It all starts with the system. The system America works under systematically sets the odds against the poor and minorities because we as a nation demonized them on the onset of our nation’s existence. If you are poor, you do not work hard enough. But the reason many people are poor is because the capitalistic addiction the nation’s leadership adopted only offers low paying jobs for starving wages for 40+ hours a week.

But poor people must not work hard enough.

Another assumption is that welfare is abused and makes people lazy. But Walmart, the largest employer in the United States as well as one of the wealthiest businesses in the country, receives the most welfare money for their employees.

But their employees must be lazy, right? Why don’t they get educated and rise the economic ladder?

It may be because we have allowed college prices to escalate uncontrollably where a year of college costs more than most people earn in a year. What real choices does the lower class have? It must be the poor people’s fault for not trying.
American society has inherent classes according to birth. Statistically, if you are born poor, you are more likely to stay poor and vice versa for wealthy individuals. But what we instead do is demonize the poor who get exploited for no fault of their own yet at the same time we promote and idolize the rich and wealthy who were born into their wealth. Many will not see these statements to be true, but facts are stubborn things.

Private prisons, the DEA, police, and the U.S. government have profited from destroying the lives of millions of Americans. We have tagged a profit motive for arresting and incarcerating human beings. The proponent for this motive is the criminalization of drugs, specifically marijuana. Why is this herb that is impossible for a user to overdose on, less dangerous than alcohol, and holds medical benefits illegal? It is because the Nixon administration pinned it as what African Americans, “hippies,” and poor people abused because they were his political enemies in the 1960s.

The American people bought into the “drug war.” A war that has costed this nation trillions of dollars and millions of lives. For what? America is now the land of the free, home of the incarcerated. The US has 5% of the world’s population but holds 22% of the world’s prisoners. Again, facts are stubborn things. The American public today has accepted the inhumane, illogical, and targeted system of poverty that is slowly suffocating the American economy, eliminating the middle class, and destroying the validity of the American Dream. The poverty cycle will forever continue unless marijuana is decriminalized, prisons cease to be private, and access to education and living-wage jobs increases.

But people don’t deserve help; they should simply work for it because the odds are totally not set against them.