Wearing an orange ribbon daily is a potent reminder that the United States incarcerates 25 percent of the world’s inmates, even though we have 5 percent of the world’s population.
You can make a pile of orange ribbons to wear and share with friends and fellow activists. See here for an illustrated guide to making orange ribbons.
I came up with the idea of wearing a ribbon after hearing the story of a man I’ll call “James” while volunteering in a prison. James had careers as a dancer, a character on Sesame Street, and in a show in Las Vegas, where he owned a nightclub. Unfortunately, his boyfriend at the time insisted that James receive packages in the mail. James resisted, and his boyfriend threatened him, as is often the case with drug dealers, who specialise in illegal lethal tactics.
James received 2 kilograms of crack in the mail from abroad, which lengthened the sentence, and 40 years in federal prison. “If I had murdered someone, I would have gotten only 25 years,” he said from prison, where James teaches others, with 22 years to go on his sentence. His boyfriend escaped any charges, as is often the case. Many dealers benefit by offering “substantial evidence” (to convict others from their testimony) while others serve lengthy mandatory minimum sentences.
James’ story spurred me to think, “What else can I do?” And the orange ribbon was born, to raise awareness of myriad injustices that comprise mass incarceration. Wear an orange ribbon in his honor, and for the tens of thousands of men and women incarcerated on low-level, non-violent drug charges that makes the USA the top incarcerator in the world.
Michelle Alexander’s landmark book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” has launched a nationwide movement to correct the inherent racist bias in the profiling, targeting, arrest, jailing/bailing, trial, sentencing, imprisonment, probation and parole toward poor, black and brown people accused of drug crimes. This book informs and then motivates people to join the movement.
Wear your orange ribbon, make some for others, and shed light on the problem, which is the first step to criminal justice reform.