Over 8 million pot arrests were made between 2001 and 2010 in the U.S., according to this June 3rd, 2013 HuffPost blog.
Most of them are black. Most of them are poor. And what's the difference between biding time in prison and becoming president of the United States? According to Bill Maher, it comes down to getting caught. If you don't get caught, getting high on weed is just a fun characteristic of quirky you, or something you share to prove that you have a colorful past. "Oh, I used to smoke like a chimney when I was in college." Ha ha ha. Only it's not that funny if you get caught.
It's even less funny if you get caught and you are poor. And if you are a young, black male? You may just pack your bags and report to prison. While current political tide is moving towards legalization, at least decriminalization, for those who are incarcerated the situation is pretty bleak. And there are so many!
Since 2002, the U.S. has held the trophy for having the highest incarceration rate in the world. We have four times as many people locked up as other countries who hold prisoners. In the U.S., young, black men are at least six times more likely to be incarcerated than those who are not black. And, though overall crime rates have dropped, incarceration is up, as a result of the mandatory minimum sentencing laws enacted in the 1980s. Nonviolent drug offenders now account for one-fourth of all inmates, up from less than 10% in 1980.
Got caught with pot?
Changing the laws now isn't going to open the doors for all those locked behind them. I visit incarcerated men at CCA Davis Correctional, in Holdenville, Oklahoma. Not every inmate deserves to be released. We are better served keeping the really scary guys separated from the rest of us. However, there are a lot of people in prison who are there because they got caught with pot. And, without enough money to tip the scales of justice. Even in prison, you can clearly see a separation between those who have money and those who do not. The ones who got caught and have lots of money? They often don't land in prison. A good (read: pricey) lawyer can cut a better deal. Some of the inmates had some money until shady lawyers took it all, and from their mammas, too. Now they are in prison with no money and fewer options.
I teach a business planning class at the facility. Mostly, I applaud the terrific plans that the students have put together. One of the students is a gentleman has been incarcerated for more than 20 years. He has never held a cell phone. He has never been on the internet. He has been working on his business plan for a commercial cleaning company. And he is going to launch that plan when he gets out -- he hopes -- in six months. A business may be his best shot. Somehow, he has to improve his financial position. A job... well, that may not be an option.
A lot of folks wouldn't hire an ex-con. Would you? Interestingly, lots of people who would never hire someone with a criminal record choose not to drug test their employees. Some of those people do drugs themselves. After all, smoking pot is this close to being legal. An ex-con isn't going to get prosperous working a minimum wage job. And he probably won't get hired anyway. He will be background checked into a, "No, thanks, we don't need anyone right now."
If you got caught, this is my encouragement: Study up while you are incarcerated. Imagine ways to put your "entrepreneurial experience" to a legitimate use. Dream, plan and step boldly out into that free world on the day you are released. You could plan this business, work out the kinks, think it through, craft the marketing concept and be ready to launch. You may have something to prove. And you might just prove it very, very successfully. I hope so because you got the short straw getting caught before we loosened the chains on marijuana use. I hope you get out there and make some money and make up for lost time.
I'm happy to help. It's the least I can do. You got caught and I, well, didn't.
Money buys options.
Money greases the skids of life. When you are wealthy, you have more options. The best way to make money is to sell stuff for more than it costs and manufacture your own. Note that an illegal business, like selling pot, is bound to end up with you getting caught. Especially if you are not white. Especially if you are not rich, because poverty is so often where this deep hole begins. The best way to even things out, to get out of the financial pit
While I will vote and vote again to decriminalize pot, the ones-who-got-caught are well served to hone their business skills. Figure out assets from elbows. Study accounting, and marketing and business planning. Identify entrepreneurial skills and how to create a new, legitimate business once released. Because while there is a saner day dawning for our pot-smoking citizens, the night is long and dark for the ones with bad timing. And when they emerge, they are going to need some money.
Interested in what the fellows at CCA Davis Correctional are doing to get businesses planned and started? Take a look...
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