prison Archives - The Jose Vilson


Our Children: Arrested Developments

by Jose Vilson on August 14, 2012

in Jose

Yesterday, Think Progress reported that administration in Meridian, MS sent children (predominantly special needs and / or Black) to prison for infractions as small as dress code violations. Read:

After months of investigation into claims of such a pipeline, the Justice Department released Friday a definitive letter revealing that the Meridian Police Department “automatically arrests all students referred to MPD by the District. The children arrested by MPD are then sent to the County juvenile justice system”:

“The system established by the City of Meridian, Lauderdale County, and DYS to incarcerate children for school suspensions ‘shocks the conscience,’ resulting in the incarceration of children for alleged ‘offenses’ such as dress code violations, flatulence, profanity, and disrespect.” The Justice Department findings letter noted.[...]

“The systematic disregard for children’s basic constitutional rights by agencies with a duty to protect and serve these children betrays the public trust,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division. “We hope to resolve the concerns outlined in our findings in a collaborative fashion, but we will not hesitate to take appropriate legal action if necessary.”

How many times do you refer to your students as animals, and your classroom a zoo? How often do you already assume their disposition because of the masks they wear? How many of those boys and girls in your classroom used to believe in magic, wonderment, and possibility? When you look at your boys, are you OK with those children wearing handcuffs?

Would you like your disciplinary style applied to your own kids, or is that too far for your kid?

I get it, too. Teachers are human. Sometimes, we can’t stand some of the actions of kids take. Frankly, they can piss us off. But our feelings shouldn’t determine their path (because often they do).

Plus, most educators I know have an obligation towards a child’s learning; the other stuff comes secondary, if not tertiary. Teaching them life lessons implicitly comes with that territory, and educators (that includes administration and support staff) ought to demonstrate some integrity in helping to develop better people. Most of the other stuff, including chewing gum and dress code, don’t take precedence over their learning.  That’s why I’ve only had seven write-ups in the last two years, and I still think that’s too much. I rather handle it myself. Once I’ve assumed that the law will catch them later on in life, I might as well give up teaching now.

Actually, if this is what’s happening in Meridian, MS, all those teachers should as well. We don’t need more prisoners. We need more students. The kind that will keep asking questions, and arrest themselves in trying to solve problems rather than internalizing them.

Jose, who has one more to go before he gives away these limited edition and signed books!



by Jose Vilson on May 31, 2012

in Jose

Dear disciplinarians and other enforcers within our school communities,

Please note: you’re trying to keep kids in school, not keep them out of it.

Let me first admit my own biases in this topic, of which I have a couple. As a teacher, I readily admit that I can reasonably reach 90% of my given class, given that my classes aren’t considered “magnet” or “gifted and talented” by most academic measures. I tend to get the classes people forget, the ones that have to fend for themselves in the swarm of adult confusion, the ones that no one human being can nurture at one time. The other 10% simply fall through the cracks for reasons I haven’t comprehended yet. I always blame myself, but it could be an issue between us.

There’s a difference between a child being my student and being someone’s child.

While it’s true that academically, I have to seek ways to motivate them (some I nudge harder than others), I don’t interact with students to embarrass them or show them I’m the top dog. That’s what scares me about some of the people I see and hear schooling our children. They think that just because they have a certain title or station in life that they can talk to kids a certain way.

Let me take this one step further: you’re not in the business of prepping kids for jail time. When you antagonize students just to get them out of the school and threatening to call police, you’re asking for them to self-identify as criminals. When you give a child a huge punishment for a minor offense, you’re telling them that schools and thus life can’t be fair. When you yell at a child in the middle of a test or quiz while disrupting everyone else from When you even give a look to a child for no real basis trying to initiate a reaction, you’re telling them that they have to be on the defensive at all times, even in a supposedly safe environment.

I won’t even get into the topic of metal detectors here, but looking at a child and instinctively pushing him towards jail does you no favors.

Instead, try pulling a student aside without the humiliation of everyone else knowing. Try getting to know the kids that do well, volunteer a lot, and try hard in their studies. Try working with adults in the building who do have a good relationship with the child and, wherever possible, emulate those behaviors. If the teacher constantly sends someone to you who you know can do better, see if the child needs help adjusting to that classroom or give the teacher some management tips for that child.

On my end, it’s great to have another adult who helps enforce things like uniform policy and excessively disruptive behavior, but I know I have to deal with the majority of it on my own. I also don’t think I need to send students out of the classroom when my primary purpose in the building is to ensure that my children learn. I couldn’t care less whether the student has on shorts and a durag or a three-piece suit, I will teach him or her.

Because as hard as I try to push my students, they understand I’m a teacher, not a prison guard. It’s also why I advocate for rehabilitation of prisoners, not severe punishment. Same with our kids.

Provoke change in the system.

Jose, who kept it way real …


The Question Is: Are You Part of the Conspiracy?

by Jose Vilson on March 5, 2010

in Jose

Pedro Noguera

Reading through the plethora of feedback given not only to this blog, but the rest of the blogs out there, I noticed a big part of the Teach for America event missing in all of our posts. For the purposes of this post, I’m glad we did since I’ve mulled it over so many times, it’s made me stop dead in my tracks twice since Wednesday.

Dr. Pedro Noguera made good mention of the schools-to-prisons funnel system, highlighting how so many schools are structured like prisons and how people have looked at 3rd – 4th grade test scores to determine the need for more prisons. My biggest takeaway in his rant was the following:

“I’ve been to prisons before, speaking in front of the inmates with guards all around the premises, and I’ve said, ‘There is a conspiracy to keep you in prison, and there are people whose jobs and income depend on keeping you here. There are policymakers planning to build more prisons right now, and whole towns in upstate New York that rely upon their prisons for jobs and economic development of those towns. There are corporations that run prisons for profit, taking advantage of the low wages prisoners receive for the work they do. Even the guards in this room understand their jobs depend on you being here. But my question to you is: are you part of the conspiracy?’”

The whole room paused. Most people in the audience had never read Noguera’s work , but even those of us who did stood silent while he struck that question. What’s often missing in the questions about responsibility is whether or not we’ve actually addressed that conspiracy. How do we play into the very stereotypes and limits set for us? How do we build bridges that address the needs of communities of color from a perspective of self-empowerment?

For that matter, when do the high-brow people in our communities stop talking down to those communities and integrate them into their work? Those of us who’ve had an opportunity to get enlightened act more like the Illuminati than illuminated: privileged and exclusive versus humbled and inclusive, as if the work we do gives us a certain holier-than-thou-art status instead of making us de facto servants for others.

And does that make us, those of us with Internet access who can read at a high school level or above with connections and a certain level of income, part of the conspiracy too? Let me not ruffle any feathers, though.

Mr. Vilson, who doesn’t mean to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but he is, so that’s how it comes out …


A Clear Message to America’s Disadvantaged Children

November 11, 2009 Jose
Baby Dolls Locked Up

This morning, The New York Times reported that 25 Chicago children were arrested (ARRESTED) for a middle school food fight. At first, I wanted to scream at my Mac. I couldn’t believe that we have another story worth reporting that just gets brushed under the rug, for some fortunate activist to try and dig up […]

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Plaxico Burress and The Inverse of Prisons

September 22, 2009 Jose
Plaxico Burress with Son, Elijah

Today, Plaxico Burress, former wide receiver of the New York Giants, was sentenced to 2 years in jail (with good behavior, it’ll be brought down to 20 months or less). My stance on the matter hasn’t changed much since the last time I’ve ruminated on the topic. I agree that bringing a gun to the […]

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