I agree with Lucas that “the argument for human decency toward incarcerated people should not depend upon their innocence or guilt.” Whether a person has committed a crime, whether they have been convicted of a crime, whether they are currently imprisoned for that crime: in every case, the person should still be treated as a human being.
Which poses a larger question: What is the role of prisons in our society? And an even larger question still: Should prisons exist at all?
Some argue that prisons exist to deter crime and criminals. But a crime is not a fixed thing. What counts as criminal, what constitutes a crime, changes over time and is different in different places, across the United States and the world. In the state of California alone, the population of prisoners grew by almost 500 percent from 1982 to 2000. But this did not correlate to a rise in crime. In fact, as the prison population exploded, crime rates were on the decline.
In order to break the cycle of violence, we cannot pile violence upon violence and expect that violence to stop. When a person is locked away for as long as Russell Shoatz, when someone is placed in solitary confinement for a total of almost thirty years, it doesn’t just irrevocably change his life. The continued effects are felt by his family, his community, and the society at large. The tragic irony in Russell Shoatz’s case, and in the case of many Black people working for revolution, is that in their efforts to fight for Black freedom, they lose their own. And in some cases, their lives.
Ashley Lucas’s “The End of Rage” is complex and challenging. As readers we are faced with our own traumas: the times we experienced or were witnesses to violence; the times where, whether we understood it or not, we were complicit in a system of racism and violence.
For me, “The End of Rage” is not only thought-provoking, it is a reminder that remaining indifferent, or simply not doing anything, has its own effect. We need to actively work to make the world a better place. It is important that we engage in conversations that may be difficult, surrounding race and justice. That we look at the way policing happens in our communities. That we acknowledge both the times where racism is fueling violence and the moments where officers are standing up in the name of protecting everyone in a given community.
The conditions that shaped Russell Shoatz, that radicalized his thinking and led him toward violence have not dramatically changed. Police brutality still exists. Racism and discrimination still exist. The hope is that the root causes and the root conditions can change.