“This Ain’t What You Want” is a series of opinion articles written by author and keynote speaker Willie Spears. Learn more at www.williespears.com.
Every month I visit the prison to spend time with my cousin, and I speak in prisons from time to time. Do you have a relative in prison? Do you visit them? Do you write them?
Several of my former players have spent time incarcerated, and none of them enjoyed their experience. I am writing a book titled “This Ain’t What You Want.” This book will consist of testimonials from men and women who spent time in prison. There will also be a podcast where these men and women can elaborate on their experiences.
From a race standpoint, all the Black people I know have or have had a family member incarcerated. They will read these articles and hear these familiar stories in a whole new way. Those of other races will learn from the experiences of these current and former inmates.
My goal is to give young people a look behind the curtain of what it is like to live inside a prison. My cousin tells me to let young people know that this ain’t what they want. I hope families can read the articles and regurgitate them to their loved ones. The podcast can potentially change how a young person sees themselves and hopefully help them make better decisions.
The statistics concerning incarceration are alarming. Bay County Florida Sheriff Tommy Ford said there are a little over 1,100 beds in the county jail but more than 1,200 prisoners. When you factor in the mental health element, it is easy to see that, according to sentencingproject.org, the United States is the world’s leader in incarceration.
There are two million people in the nation’s prisons and jails—a 500% increase over the last 40 years. Changes in sentencing law and policy, not changes in crime rates, explain most of this increase. These trends have resulted in prison overcrowding and fiscal burdens on states to accommodate a rapidly expanding penal system, despite increasing evidence that large-scale incarceration is not an effective means of achieving public safety.
We have significant problems in our country, and I think there are two ways to solve the problem. Number one, we must educate people who are not incarcerated, and number two, we must take the medicine of joy. The opposite of joy is incarceration. We must find activities in our everyday life that will bring us joy. This will help us never to want to jeopardize that joy or our freedom.
I am looking forward to sharing these stories with you in an effort to help young people make better decisions.