James T. Ingram

Five years ago I introduced you to St. Clair County Circuit Judge Mike Cook. You’ll recall that while presiding over drug court he was, hypocritically and ironically, a heroin addict himself.

He was also present when his friend and fellow judge Joe Christ died from a cocaine overdose at Cook’s family’s hunting lodge in Pike County, Illinois.

Cook’s fall from grace eventually culminated in a two-year federal prison sentence on drug and weapons charges.

Given the wealth and political influence of his father, attorney Bruce Cook, it was considered a mere slap on the wrist, especially given that he served his sentence in the “Four Seasons of prisons” in sunny Pensacola, Florida, which looks more like a college campus than jail. This “prison” has no barbed wire, guard towers or walls. Brunch is served every weekend and holidays, and it has its own movie theater, sports and recreational outlets. Prisoners are allowed to wear civilian clothing, style their hair as they choose, and make visits off prison grounds. Prisoners (and I use the term loosely) can even work a day job and open a bank account.

Fast forward to 2018, and we now find that Cook participated in an online master of arts degree program in addiction studies during his incarceration and has been approved, via a motion by his attorney Clyde Kuehn, to travel, during his release and three-year probationary period, to complete a 700-hour clinical internship at the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies in Center City, Minnesota.

The U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of Illinois and Cook’s probation officer agreed to these terms, as well as allowing Cook to visit his wife and children on weekends. Ahhh, the luxuries of unearned white privilege in America.

I say this because I hardly think that Pookie, Man-Man or Rashad Jenkins – minus the wealth, influential daddy and uptown attorney – would have had the means or wherewithal to reinvent themselves and rebound in such glorious fashion.

No, the brother would have served his time in a less-than-comfortable prison environment and wouldn’t have had the access to the funds to complete a master’s degree and clinical program in drug addiction studies. Nor would he have been allowed to travel, as he pleased, upon release.

This isn’t a condemnation of Mike Cook, but it is a glaring example of the blatant disparities in the criminal justice system and also illustrative of how one may totally reinvent themselves, during incarceration, given the proper environment and access to educational opportunities, which Cook’s unearned white privilege and wealth afforded him.

What would happen if universities and colleges partnered with the federal bureau of prisons to offer such opportunities, free of charge, to drug offenders and others who have the will, but lack the means, to reinvent themselves through education?

It would be a major paradigm shift, from the profit-oriented prison-industrial complex mentality, to one of true prison reformation and transformation of individuals, versus simply warehousing them and repeating the cycle of recidivism. But I won’t hold my breath on that vision.

Email: jtingram_1960@yahoo.com; Twitter@JamesTIngram.

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