“America, the land of the free,” read the famous words that Francis Scott Key penned for our National Anthem. But what would he think now to see those stars so divided, the stripes hardened into prison bars?
It’s a stark and bleak image, but unfortunately, one that has become emblematic of America’s justice system. During the past 30 years, the United States has witnessed an unprecedented surge in incarceration due to a racially-discriminatory War on Drugs and millions of dollars in profiteering from the rise of private prisons. While all of the citizens in the United States comprise less than five percent of the world’s population, we account for nearly 25 percent of all incarcerated people on the planet. But the big question remains: what happens to all of these prisoners when they are released back into society?
As Recidivism Takes Its Toll, Medical Marijuana Industry Offers Hope
In short, the same disregard for justice that pushes convicted citizens on their way into prisons rears its ugly head to greet them when the cage doors finally slam open. A recent study on recidivism found that 77 percent of state prisoners who were released in 2005 were arrested again by 2010. There’s a laundry list of seemingly insurmountable obstacles and prejudice that formerly incarcerated men and women are pitted against when they reenter society; they include but are certainly not limited to, sparse employment prospects and employers who judge based on criminal records, scant public housing assistance, and limited social services. Even mortality rates are higher for newly released inmates.
If the aim of correctional facilities is to rehabilitate those who inhabit them, then the system is unequivocally broken, and it’s up to us if we want to fix it and seek true justice.
But there’s hope yet to remedy such misfortune, and it comes in the promise of an unlikely yet powerful… well, medical marijuana.
The same recreational drug that so many people of color have been discriminatorily jailed for can now hold the promise not only for rehabilitation opportunity but the prospect of flourishing in a booming industry that can offer a second chance to those that are often left behind and forgotten.
Waging War on the War on Drugs
Established in July 2013, Freedom House Reentry Education and Employment Corporation (FREE) is a nonprofit with sights set on battling recidivism head on through providing reentry programming and creative social enterprises for formerly incarcerated adults, veterans, and their children. Over the next six months, they’ll be raising money for a new initiative called 2 Million Square Feet of Hope, which is the first-of-its-kind marijuana grow facility that will employ people of color who have been formerly convicted of marijuana-related offenses.
The FREE mission statement aptly states, “We’re waging a war on the war on drugs by hiring the very people who have been disproportionately affected by it.”
The campaign will seek to establish two million square feet of commercial marijuana grow sites, along with retail establishments, distribution outlets, and the manufacturing of marijuana-based products. As a result, FREE hopes to create 2,500 high paying jobs for former inmates (more than half of those employed will be women) that include 401(k) with savings, health benefits, and tuition reimbursement programs. Additionally, 50 percent of the $500 million projected annual revenue will go towards programs like FREE that help tackle recidivism.
It is unfortunate that we are still in the middle of a society that unjustly and disproportionately jails people of color for nonviolent drug offenses,” says Dylan Hood, founder of 2mfeetofhope. “We are going to stop this cycle by providing opportunities.
The time is nigh for the draconian legislation that for decades has needlessly targeted minor offense drug users (most often people of color) to go up in smoke once and for all. It’s time that each of us should reflect on the way we perceive former offenders, to eradicate the faux-moralistic dogma that has been spoon-fed to us by the authoritarian powers who seek to divide rather than unite.
We can have even more than two million feet of hope in this country if we believe in giving those who have wronged a second chance. America can be the land of the free once again if we’re open to providing a home for the brave if we can just reach out (or hell, maybe even pass a joint) and lift one another up. That’s freedom.
About the author:
Dylan Hood is an entrepreneur and founder of Freedom House Reentry Education and Employment Corporation (FREE), a nonprofit organization that provides wraparound services to formerly incarcerated adults, veterans, and their children.