Every day during the week I teach black and brown kids at a school in the ’hood. Then every Saturday or Sunday I visit my husband in prison, where all I see around me are black and brown men. No doubt all of them were students once, too.
These two worlds in which I live intersect often.
This unlikely, yet all too common, juxtaposition of education and incarceration – better known as the school-to-prison pipeline – has become an even more relevant part of my life since I fell in love with and married my husband John two years ago.
It jolts me every time those metal doors slam behind me as I walk to visit my husband – more so than when I first learned the term as a new teacher, and definitely more than any report I might read on the school-to-prison pipeline stretching from where I live in New York to Missouri and further west.
Understanding and eradicating this pipeline has become a huge part of my life’s work. I’m not telling you something I read about. I’m telling you something I live every day.
And, from one wife and mom in the city to another in the heartland, hear me when I say: fight the school-to-prison pipeline with everything within you. I know I wish someone would have done so for my husband.
Being a teacher who is also married to John, a man who is often defined by his status as a prisoner in a New York state correctional facility, gives me a nuanced, in-depth view into the direct correlation between education and mass incarceration, one that has steadily grown in the United States over the last 30 years.
Prison is damaging. Prison is dehumanizing. Yet our children are being tracked for prison.
I believe that there is a diabolical, direct, orchestrated attack at work against poor, inner-city children of color. They are not being prepped for college- and career-readiness. Instead, black and brown children, especially those who reside in certain zip codes, are being prepared to supply free labor to the prison-industrial complex.
That’s why they live in projects that are organized like prison blocks. That’s why they live in heavily-patrolled police states. That’s why, from as early as kindergarten, they must have their person and their belongings searched by metal detectors in order to get into school. That’s why their energetic creativity is deemed a disruptive abnormality that disproportionately relegates them to special education classrooms.
I witness this desensitization and segregation in the education-to-incarceration pipeline every day.
That’s why I teach black and brown kids. That’s why I write about the school-to-prison pipeline and bring awareness to this genocidal phenomenon. The billions of dollars spent bolstering the prison industry would be far better spent bringing equity to the education of students and communities that continue to be marginalized and disenfranchised.
Every warning I give my students about what awaits them if they do not take their education seriously is grounded in the observations and conversations I have in Sing Sing every weekend. I’m fighting for my students’ lives – and everyone else who is teaching and raising black and brown children should be, too.
Without vision, a people perish. I am a visionary for my community. I teach and I write and I speak and I rally as forms of social activism. And, those of you who are mothers, wives, and teachers in Missouri can do all of this and more in your own neighborhoods.
I do it for my husband. I do it for my students. Who are you fighting for?
Vivett Dukes is in her seventh year as a middle- and high-school English Language Arts teacher. Currently, she is teaching in a College Board middle and high school in Jamaica, Queens.