• Chantal Canales

13th: Prison Boom in the United States

25 percent. The percentage of the world's incarcerated population that stands behind bars, just in the United States alone. The statistic made my jaw drop and my heart swell.


13th, the 2016 documentary analyzing the incarceration of African Americans over the course of the 20th century shook me to my core. Before watching the documentary, I was aware that the 13th amendment abolished slavery, but I never knew that it excluded slavery as a form of punishment for a crime. From "The Birth of a Nation" and the beginnings of lynching to today's Black Lives Matter protests, Black people have been subject to an incredible amount of injustice, and they have been the subject of mass enslavement in prisons for petty crimes.


The documentary educated me on how messed up the prison system is. Not only are the conditions horrible in our country's jails with men and women being shackled hand and foot, physical fighting and deteriorating mental health, but the number of "criminals" imprisoned has also skyrocketed over many years. Mass incarceration in this country is not a solution. It is merely another way to enslave African Americans in a legal way, as they "serve" more lifetime sentences than any other race.


One thing I was aware of before watching the documentary was life after prison for former prisoners. Having one of the first questions on every job application being "have you ever been charged with a felony" automatically eliminates former prisoners from any opportunity to reform their life. They are instantly denied from turning their life around despite paying their time for their crime.


13th is the perfect demonstration of how fragmented our country is. It pains me that many people in our country can't see the brokenness of the system that dehumanizes African Americans and punishes them for the color of their skin. But I remain hopeful that someday and somehow, people will be elected into power that can instill actual change so our country can heal.