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The Prison Military/industrial-Complex and the Effects on Young Latino Males

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The Prison Military/Industrial-Complex and the Effects on Young Latino Males

Mike Gutierrez

EDA 391K – Gonzalez

The University of Texas at Austin

        Recently President Obama released a new initiative to assist the professional growth and personal development for males of color titled My Brother’s Keeper. This issue is deemed important in that he stated: “There are a lot of kids out there who need help, who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?” (Obama, 2013). This new program along with rising literature on the need to address the issue of males of color in higher education has gained precedence in the last decade. When examining the enrollment rates of males of color, researchers have found that they are essentially “Vanishing” and are underrepresented at these institutions across the nation (Saenz & Ponjuan, 2009). If they are not attending college after graduating from high school, where are these students going? What alternative pathways are there for males of color, specifically young Latinos that affect their educational achievements?

By looking at the social factors that affect young Latinos during high school and the educational pipeline leading to college one can see why some of these young men end up in other avenues outside of higher education. Predominantly these men have a strong representation within the prison and military industries, which propels the extortion and oppression of young Latino males. Investigating how the economic constructs, social values, cultural intricacies and institutional oppressions present in these young men’s lives is paramount in assessing the growing numbers of Latinos who are sectored into these hierarchal systems. From this research, policy makers and university administrators can use this material to assess critical theory and pedagogy and how to establish the best practices for college attainment, retention and degree completion of young Latino males. Even though this issue is one that affects the country as a whole, it is prevalent in the southwest and especially a disconcerting issue in the state of Texas. By comparing and contrasting the high school drop out rates, high school graduation rates, college enrollment rates to the rates of Latino men in the military and prison systems, it is clear that this issue bears a severe burden for several avenues of higher education and beyond.

The book that completely challenged me this year when it came to my views on the military and prison institutions was Abolition Democracy by Angela Davis. In this book, composed of interviews with her, Davis delves into the social constructs of a wide range of topics including sexual coercion, discrimination, gender roles/norms and stereotypes that minorities battle with in America. Being a woman once on the Top Most Wanted list truly gave her an insight into the hierarchal and oppressive institutions that the U.S. has to offer. There were instances in the book that I had to step back and say “Wow” at some of the great experiences she shared. Her insight on how the military and prison are two closely similar institutions was one I never had thought about before. Her description on the prison/military industrial complex is something I will keep with me forever.

One of the reasons I was so enamored by her discussion on this topic was from my military lifestyle background. I was raised overseas in southern Spain on an American Naval base for the majority of my childhood and adolescence. Thereafter my stepfather began working at a prison and moved up the ranks to becoming chief amongst the prison guards. This would strongly reinforce the notion Davis presents of the two industries being aligned with similar values and almost worked in her favor in establishing a pipeline between military and prison employability. As Davis discussed the intimate details of prison systems including Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and her first hand experiences with prisons, I couldn’t help to wonder what my stepfather would say if I gave him this book (Davis, 2005). I believe it is necessary to examine one’s own past and influences with this topic, if any exist, in order to better understand what Davis was trying to accomplish by dissecting the prison/military industrial complex. By intimating my personal ideologies of these systems, I have a clearer picture of the effects these institutions have on Latino males.

There are two quotes Davis used to illustrate the prison/military industrial complex exponentially well:  “…both complexes earn profit while producing the means to maim and kill human beings and devour social resources, then the basic structural similarities become apparent.” And “…the striking similarities in the human populations of the two respective institutions. In fact, many young people—especially young people of color—who enlist in the military often do so in order to escape a trajectory of poverty, drugs, and illiteracy that will lead them directly to prison.” (Davis, 2005). It was with these quotes that my whole perspective on these systems was challenged and opened my eyes to a new worldview.

This reminded me of several attributes in my daily life including my own trajectory through school as a teenager, my graduate assistantship in working with the Austin area high schools and the ways in which the media treats the news when it comes to prisoners and their rights. There was also another question posited by Davis in that she wondered whether or not our society could survive without prisons. I had to step back for a little and digest what she meant by this because surely there must be a way to use correctional facilities on people who have committed crimes. However, her argument is that with the oppressive institution of a prison these people are no longer seen as citizens and are tore down to their most basic element, many times lacking human decency.  This notion was only given even more of an impact with the graphic descriptions of Abu Ghraib and the ways in which prisoners are not even seen as humans, but objects for the oppressors to use as their toys. How do we as university administrators then teach young students, specifically young Latinos of their worth and ensure that they avoid these kinds of circumstances? Having a smaller representation on campuses throughout the nation makes it a difficult task to adhere to their needs, but through several student initiatives and other task forces these students can seek out the help they need.

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