Georgia Prison Hunger Strike Highlights an "Invisible" Population

Ralph Ellison wrote in his seminal classic of American literature, The Invisible Man, that "I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me." The recent prison hunger strike in the state of Georgia over the treatment of Miguel Jackson has highlighted the plight of a segment of the American population that has been rendered as virtually invisible. Nine prisoners at Jackson Diagnostic Camp have been on a hunger strike for 15 days to protest the treatment of Jackson, who was allegedly beaten by correctional officers and not given adequate medical treatment. The prisoners are also requesting for Georgia's standard operation procedures with regards to visitation and exercise allotment to be adhered to.

With the unprecedented level of incarceration that currently exist in the United States, the plight of those who are or have been imprisoned has often been discarded. Ultimately, these individuals are brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, sons, daughters, and grandparents who have made a mistake (overwhelming majority are non-violent offenders) and are given a lifetime scarlet letter in the form of the "felon" label. The scarlet letter comes with a heavy price. In many cases former felons are not eligible for pell grants, student loans, public housing, and food stamps among other significant barriers including being disenfranchised from the right to vote and enhanced difficulty in securing employment at a living wage.

Pastor Kenny Sharpton Glasgow, President of the Ordinary People Society, has been a leading voice in bringing the circumstances that lead to the Georgia prison hunger strike to the light. After fourteen years of incarceration, Glasgow has devoted his recent years to advocating for the expansion of rights for formerly incarcerated felons. Glasgow's story is not the norm for many former felons who have an increased propensity to recidivate due in large part to an extremely limited spectrum of educational and employment opportunities. In a period of massive cuts to education, the average cost per year to incarcerate a juvenile is 88,000 dollars. This massively dwarfs the average cost of $8,244 to send a student to an in-state public university (tuition) for an entire year. Glasgow has called for a march on June 29 at 10:00am on the steps of the Georgia State Capitol Building in Atlanta to highlight the treatment of Jackson and to advocate for a more rehabilitative approach to criminal justice that will expand the realm of opportunities for felons and former felons.

The plight of the increasing number of felons and former felons in our society has been shunted to the sidelines of political discourse to a point of virtual invisibility. The incarcerated and impoverished are amongst those individuals living at the margins of society who often aren't visible in a major way until a crisis like Hurricane Katrina thrusts them into the spotlight. Many middle and upper class Americans drive into the downtown area of cities from their affluent suburbs and ignore the blight and destruction that they see on their way. Concrete walls have been erected alongside many major expressways for the very purpose of hiding the effects of poverty and social oppression from view. It is a futile attempt to block out the dilapidated buildings, inadequate infrastructure, and sense of hopelessness that lurks on the other side of those walls. The efforts of Glasgow and many others are shining a much needed spotlight on those who had been previously deemed as invisible.