While #FreeKodak and #FreeX have become rallying cries of the past six months as the two fight their respective abuse charges, some people aren’t letting their actions slide — for good reason. Micah Peters recently wrote an editorial in The Ringer noting that XXXTentacion, recently released from jail to probation on home invasion and aggravated battery charges, has shown no remorse for his behavior towards the pregnant woman he allegedly assaulted and deserves no sympathy from his fans. Since getting home, the Florida rhymer has had plenty of vitriol for Drake. After saying he needed a break in an Instagram Live stream, he’s spent time lecturing Chicago Rapper and Drake affiliate 600 Breezy on how to “beef” and threatening to cut Rob Stone in a graphic, anatomically impossible manner.
Based on what he’s offered the public, it seems XXXtentacion is skrrt-skrrting down the same self-destructive path as Kodak Black, Soulja Boy, Chris Brown and other artists who prey on women and/or continue to use violence as a resolution to their issues. As members of a genre that gives artistic license to examine and even glorify personal demons, it’s proven difficult — if not detrimental — for many of these MCs to figuratively exorcise them. Through their impulsive, often violent misdeeds, they court scorn and contempt from fans, specifically those within the social mediasphere who can potentially determine their livelihoods. It seems the worst place a public figure can be these days (besides the sunken place) is in the social media “trash” bin, unsupported by fans and losing opportunities due to anything, from something as serious as domestic violence to a minor infraction like a dumb tweet from the past.
But when the the social media pleas begin — to get this or that person “outta here” — where exactly are they supposed to go? I feel like our plugged-in youth associate the phrase as a corollary of the block button, effectively erasing someone from our collective consciousness, even if they still exist. It’s vital to hold people accountable for their actions and rally around victims — but leaving abusers without the help they need to redeem themselves is a form of victimization.
Of course we all have the right to stop supporting whoever we want for whatever reason, but I also think that cries for the world to “cancel” a human being is exhibit A of our lack of regard for each other in 2017. No one should be afforded a life of privilege while engaging in predatory behavior, but I believe we all deserve chances to rehabilitate ourselves from the traumas of our lives. And no, American correctional institutions don’t represent true rehabilitation.
Putting someone in the average American jail or prison will merely stagnate them until they get the chance to offend again — or expose them to the horrors someone like Kalief Browder faced and make them worse. And remember, Browder was completely innocent of any crime. The Jay Z-produced Browder documentary showcased the physical and mental abuse Browder received on New York’s Rikers Island, and though Rikers is one of the worst places, psychological abuses are commonplace for inmates. A$AP Rocky recently told a story about being on Rikers with Brooklyn newcomer Casanova years ago and having to defend himself while carefully navigating his violent surroundings to avoid being jumped by other offenders. XXXTentacion also told a story on a podcast about a bloody fight that arose over an errant stare. Is a person who comes home from those surroundings going to make better decisions than when they went in? Remy Ma and Gucci Mane are the exceptions that prove the rule – and both were imprisoned in their thirties, a life stage that offers more opportunity for reflection.
America spends more than the next eight countries on war spending, but our criminal justice system is woefully behind that of other countries like Norway. The European country manages to reform even murderers and sexual deviants through an institutional stay focused on “restorative justice” — in other words not treating the prison experience as a punishment for criminals, but as an opportunity to help them change. Because they refuse to treat offenders like animals, their recidivism rate is 20% to America’s 76%. There are myriad racial and socioeconomic factors that separate America from Norway, but the drastic difference is evidence that their system can work.
There are American programs like this in place in various states: Common Justice in Brooklyn, New York that successfully raises accountability in youth tried for certain violent crimes, the Insight Prison Project which offers a “certified violence prevention class, critical thinking courses, professional crisis-intervention training, a therapeutic artistic ensemble, and pre-parole training” for offenders in fifteen state prisons, three county jails and other venues, and a program for sexual offenders in Hawaii that has helped 780 of 800 participants stay out of jail in the past 28 years.
Hawaii’s sex offender treatment program influences its participants to acknowledge their predatory pathology, empathize with their victims, and hold themselves accountable for their actions. Though there are considerable variables at play when it comes to sex offenders, going through rehab has a higher possibility of mending someone like Kodak Black than leaving him in a cell for years until it’s time to be released.
But programs like Hawaii’s are rare because prison populations are ignored, banished from society and prey to stigmas that justify their abandonment and mistreatment in jail in the minds of people who’ve been socialized to do such. Over two million people in American prisons have in effect been “canceled” and literally gotten “outta here.” The thing is, over 90% of them are coming back home. Do we want them to be redeemed, or acting worse than ever toward a society that forgot they existed?
This is why we should be more cognizant of our desire to toss someone to the curb — especially a person who hasn’t been privvy to opportunities to truly correct themselves. By dismissing wayward youth as lost causes, people of color especially play right into the hands of private prison investors eager to continue the modern-day slave trade, and the law enforcement officials they collude with to shoot us down and construct an easy story of past or present criminalization for a populace that already holds people of color in low regard.
To be clear, I’m not saying that sexual assault or any other kind of violence is acceptable because of someone’s past, or that good music overcomes predation. I’m just proposing that we allow ourselves the nuance to understand that seemingly unforgivable actions often come from people experiencing significant traumas who haven’t developed the emotional intelligence to cope with them. I’m letting everyone know we have the power to figuratively recycle the trash by advocating and pushing for prison reforms in our state. People can recover from the afflictions that have compelled them to do abhorrent things, it’s just a matter of society doing its part to consistently offer them the opportunity to. That way, the next time we holler that someone should be tossed in jail, we do it because we know it’s a pathway to their freedom.
Andre Gee is a writer, poet and artist in Queens via DC. You can find him on Twitter.