Dickens Suddenly Relevant Again

There’s a great piece today in the NYT by Barbara Ehrenreich about the criminalization of the poor.

But will it be enough — the collision of rising prison populations that we can’t afford and the criminalization of poverty — to force us to break the mad cycle of poverty and punishment? With the number of people in poverty increasing (some estimates suggest it’s up to 45 million to 50 million, from 37 million in 2007) several states are beginning to ease up on the criminalization of poverty — for example, by sending drug offenders to treatment rather than jail, shortening probation and reducing the number of people locked up for technical violations like missed court appointments. But others are tightening the screws: not only increasing the number of “crimes” but also charging prisoners for their room and board — assuring that they’ll be released with potentially criminalizing levels of debt.

As more Americans become this kind of poor, maybe we’ll finally pay attention.

(h/t to Kate Bornstein for tweeting it)

One Reply to “Dickens Suddenly Relevant Again”

  1. Thank you for taking up the issues in Ehrenreich’s piece. When I read it, my mind immediately raced to the transgender people I have known who have encountered homelessness. We have a perverse need in this culture to punish those who don’t measure up. Forget handout and hand-up, it seems all we can do in this country to avoid the open hand slapping of the faces of those who dare to fail, those whose “Americafail/genderfail” confront the illusion of prosperity we have stitched into what it means to be an American. “I have a dream. I have a dream…” The best of us once intoned.

    In the aftermath of that expressed hope lies a lifetime of doing. Barbara Ehrenreich’s editorial reminds us how far we have to go. From Little Dorrit: “From these cities they would go on again, by the roads of vines and olives, through squalid villages, where there was not a hovel without a gap in its filthy walls, not a window with a whole inch of glass or paper; where there seemed to be nothing to support life, nothing to eat, nothing to make, nothing to grow, nothing to hope, nothing to do but die.”
    But it will not go this way. We are here. We are queer. We are suffering. But we will speak truth-to-power. In the eddy of this realization are tears and a reminder we must be fierce: Fierce for our own, fierce for the disenfranchised. As always, thank you Helen.

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