Series: Being a Black Man

Ben de la Cruz and Hamil R. Harris Post
Tuesday, December 19, 2006; 2:00 PM

On Tuesday, Dec. 19 at 2 p.m. ET, video journalist/producer Ben de la Cruz and Washington Post reporter Hamil R. Harris, responded to questions and comments about their mini-documentary, "The Jailed," which examines black men and incarceration. The video is the latest installment in the "Off the Cuff" feature of the "Being a Black Man" series.

The transcript follows below.


Hamil R. Harris: Hello Everybody. I just want to thank people for taking the time to view our video. I am excited about doing this. Please excuse me if I mispell a few words.


Northeast Washington, D.C.: Class is an important issue when discussing the black community. You have a thriving middle class, buying homes, sending their children to college etc. and there's this other group of people who either had fewer opportunities or failed to take advantage of those opportunities that were available to them. The result is our current prison population.

That said, do you find that class is also an issue in trying to solve the problems? I know my initial thought at seeing at the video was, here we go again, people making excuses and pointing fingers when they could have done something differently with their lives and didn't. But then...I thought, well, I had parents who held college degrees and I knew from an early age I would go to college after high school. It never occurred to me that I might have another option besides attending college. Doesn't seem like that was the expecation for these young men sitting in jail in your video.

Hamil R. Harris: I believe class is so closely linked to opportunity until you can't ignore it. This is not to say that people from prominent families don't commit crimes, the problem is the fewer resources you have the more likely you are to make bad choices


Washington, D.C.: Do the prisoners ever regret doing what made them go to jail and not seeing their families grow up?

Ben de la Cruz: I think the obvious answer is that yes of course there are inmates who regret their actions.

When I went to the barbershop program in Jessup, one of the first inmates to come up to me was Robert Mookey Smith. He handed me a four-page handwritten letter that he had prepared for my visit. In it the former high school football star recounts how he landed in jail because of drugs. But more importantly the letter explains how much he wants to turn his life around now that he has a young daughter waiting for him when he gets out.

He writes: "Like a running back on the football field I have plenty of daylight because of Mr. Mozzen [head of the barbershop program], hard work and dedication."

"I believe experience is the best teacher even though I have a ways to go."


Washington, D.C.: I found this mini-documentary to be very interesting. This past weekend, I went to Detroit to visit my father-in-law. He has been incarcerated for 27 yrs now. In support of my husband, I decided to allow our two young children (1 and 3) visit their grandfather for the first time. During the visitation it was disturbing to see that 90% of the men there were African American. I also noticed that there were an abundant number of children, ranging from newborns to teenagers (mostly males) visiting their fathers in jail. There was one little boy in particular that caught my attention. Lets call him Tony (6 yrs. old). Tony had a toy in his hand that resembled a gun. During the entire time I spent there, I watched Tony mimic shooting this gun. He would run around yelling "Bang, Bang, Bang", aiming at other kids who would play dead. I watched this go on for hours. I watched Tony do this while his mother cared less about his actions.

It bothered me so much that I asked Tony to put the toy down and I also pulled my oldest son away from this area. I don't allow my child to play with toy guns or mimic the activity. After we left I explained to him that what Tony was doing was bad and not to mimic him.

My point is, I'm no psychic to determine Tony's future, but from his actions, it appears that he is heading down the same path as his father. There were other kids there cursing and swearing while the mothers paid them no attention. The mothers were only concerned about comforting the inmates, while the kids went wild. All these behaviors are learned from home or like some of the inmates in the documentary said, "They learned it from the streets, because they didn't have a father figure to teach them right from wrong."

You can't shelter your kids but you can teach them right from wrong. Reality really settled in after my visitation this weekend and watching this documentary. It's hard being a black man, but if you make your bed then lay in it.

Ben de la Cruz: an interesting post.


Washington, D.C.: Is the Post on some sort of mission to promote the plight of the African American male? What exactly is the purpose of the series of articles? Why this one with the dreadful statistics? When is the series going to be published on all of the GOOD things that are coming out of the African American community? Please let me know because I don't want to miss that one!!

The purpose of the series --

At the Corner of Progress and Peril by Michael A. Fletcher (Post, June 2, 2006)

Q&A Transcript: Behind the Project

Hamil R. Harris: The Post is on a mission to cover every aspect of the community that we live in. The stories that we have told are about people from all stages in their lives. I encourage everyone to read the entire series before making a judgment


Reston, Va.: Does your research include and share how many of those incarcerated were guilty?

Ben de la Cruz: Our story focused on individual stories and did not emphasize statistics. One great resource for prison statistics is The Sentencing Project, headed by Marc Mauer. Here's the link:


Washington, D.C.: Regarding your response about the link between fewer resources and bad choices, my grandparents came from Russia in the 1920s, had no money, and could not speak English. Somehow they stayed together and raised four honest children--two of whom went to college. Neither of my parents went to college, funds were very short,and our family life was miserable. Nevertheless, my brother and I studied hard, got loans, worked part time, and managed to make it through college. My point, of course, is this: Something else is at work besides money and "resources."

Hamil R. Harris: I do believe something else is at work. I speak Russian. I wish I had the proper fonts, but you know that in Russia the bobushkas or the grandmothers had a lot to say about the raising of children and there was a certain expectation. I studied that people in Russia live in small apartments but they respect each other. It is about respect and that respect starts in the mirror. We must learn to respect and appreciate ourselves


Largo, Md.: Whenever we are confronted with the reality of black men in prison - the actual numbers, the footage of life behind bars, the understanding that it is a new enslavement of men - we look at tangibles like education, workforce preparation, and the like. Would you agree that there are also intangibles, such as expectations, goal setting, and just plain self-esteem that need to become part of our investment in the lives of young black men?

Ben de la Cruz: I don't think one can separate expectations, setting goals and building self-esteem from education and job training. All of these have to be part of the solution in helping young black men steer clear of a life of crime. The refrain we heard from people working with high risk youth is that much of the above has to come from role models, black men in particular. They are the ones who can make the biggest difference by helping young men understand that manhood doesn't equate to crime and jail.


Queens, N.Y.: It seems to me, unless America begins to confront our violent and racist history of oppression of every minority and especially black America, then the problems in that community will continue to plague all of us. Poverty and crime are linked to 400 years of slavery. Unless every housing project is torn down and reparations paid to black America to join the American dream, how will we break the cycle of a racist judicial system that preys on the poor and uneducated?

Hamil R. Harris: You make an interesting point, but isn't time to move ahead? Isn't it time to find a new model? Why is it that other groups come to this country with far less resources and advance and African Americans still seemed to be plagued with problems? Somebody needs to stand up and say "I am the example. I am a leader, follow me."


Wheaton, Md.: I have to wonder, if given the opportunity to speak with, or hear from, administrators within the penal system in the U.S., what their thoughts would be about the fiscal disparity between how much (and in what manner) money is used for the betterment of the educational system and the betterment of the penal sysyem, and what correlations they see between education and prison (or the lack thereof...on both sides of the equation).

Hamil R. Harris: You bring up a profound point. I do believe it is about resources. It seems like the more resources that are poured into a facility the better the outcomes. For example we filmed inside the patuxent institute, a maximum security facility that has been modernized and things seemed to be under control while things across the street at the Maryland House of Corrections have been problematic. The guards complain about an old antiquated facility where locks break open and guards have lost their lives. I know there are dedicated people at the House, but this is also an issue of resources. One facility is part of the Maryland Department of Corrections and the other, Patuxent comes under the Department of Public Safety. A crime is a crime, but the outcomes can be very different


Washington, D.C....How Many Murderers Walk free?: I wonder, out of all the unsolved homicide cases in this region, how many murderers walk the streets freely? Out of every 4 black men, one has committed murder and gotten away with it. Is that true, do you believe that?

So when I'm in a room with at least four other black men, someone among us is a murderer? Please tell me that is not true. I don't want to believe that, but most likely it is true. Are they most likely to kill again and again?

That really scares me man.

Ben de la Cruz: I don't have an exact answer to your question. But PG County State's Attorney Glenn Ivey explains in the video that the majority of the people in jail are there for drug-related offenses and not violent crime. One source you may try is The Sentencing Project.


New Haven, Conn.: This is more of a comment vs. a the risk of being a cynic this piece seems more of an excuse piece than a responsibility piece. Why not take a moment a discuss the why's. Do you not think that the black population is in prison because of an overwhelming number of illegitimacy? I would be very curious to know how many of the prisoners in that piece have children as well.

Ben de la Cruz: Thanks for your comment. What we tried to do with this piece is to present a number of views on the issue from people in the penal system to inmates former and present to community groups to people like Michelle Lawson, who exemplifies how prison culture impacts family life. Yes, there are some folks who do make excuses but there are many others that understand that they are responsible for their actions. Dre Bender,a DC WASA worker, says he got into crime because "it was fun." But he finishes by saying," I was responsible for my actions nobody else." There are other voices in the piece like John Lawson, who also talk about the need for them to take charge of their life.

As far as inmates with children. I know of definitely one: Robert Mookey Smith.


Manassas, Va.: I am a Canadian working here in the DC area and I noticed a huge difference in the black culture. In Canada I believe that black men do not experience the same issues they have here because of better resources and because of a very supportive culture. No one looks down on you no matter where you're from (and I know this being an immigrant myself). Do you believe that perhaps a partial solution to the problem is a change in society's expectations of the black community? And in turn, perhaps the black community could work from within to improve upon itself. I think this cycle can be broken; it just takes time and willingness to change. Stubborness and pride usually will only hinder progress.

Ben de la Cruz: another interesting point of view.

BTW, in our third Off the Cuff piece that will be published as part of the Being a Black Man series, we plan on looking at outside perspectives on black men.


Westlake, Ohio: I have followed your series with great interest. I applaud your efforts at showing the multifaceted nature of the African-American men today. From Dr. Lefall, who was my professor of surgery, to the gentlemen who are incarcerated, the series has certainly opened my eyes to the multi-levels of problems.

I grew up in D.C. in a time when anyone on my street would correct my behavior and then inform my parents who would thank them and continue the "corrections" for me. There was never a question of my not acting with respect for any fellow human. I always knew my boundaries and had a healthy respect for right and wrong. It seems than many of these men, young and older, have not had the benefit of having the involvement of caring adults in their lives.

If nothing else, I realize how blessed I was to have the guidance that I received and now, as a trauma surgeon, I pass it on. Many of my patients that end up in my trauma bay have never had anyone address them with simple respect.

Hamil R. Harris: I really appreciate your comment. As a trained and certified surgical technologist I am sure you are familar with the knife and gun club. I have seen so many people coming into places like Medstar or the old D.C. General before I came to the Post shot and stabbed for simple stuff. I did the article in the Post about Bill Cosby who talke about people being shot in the back of thehead for things like pound cake or somebody looking at them wrong. I would like to talk to your further. Isnt it amazing in the field of trauma that people from higher income groups come to the ER/OR because of car accidents and those in lower groups are admitted often because of knife and gunshotwounds or very critical chronic diseases because they dont have adequate heath care. I do beleive that the caring environment makes a big difference

_______________________ VIDEO: Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall


Washington, D.C.: Mr. Cruz,

First I want to say that I thought that "Being A Black Man" is a phenomenal series, it makes the reader look at the individual in each story rather than the statistic behind it. However, each story highlights the fact that there are a lot of programs to help these young men and it is only their personal choices that make them quit a job, quit school, have a child, commit a crime, etc. Is there a point where society needs to stop taking blame for the poor choices that these men made and the men themselves need to take on that blame? I think that black men are unwilling to do so yet, as evidenced by the backlash Bill Cosby has faced from the black community when he expressed this same opinion.

Ben de la Cruz: Thanks for your kind note. During the four months we worked on this story we interviewed many inmates and former inmates who are taking responsibility for their actions. The inmates in the barbershop training program in Jessup, Md., for instance, all spoke about starting anew and accepting their role for how they ended up in jail, even if they thought they were victim to racial profiling.

At the same time, there were a fair number of folks who believe the system is rigged against them. Which would support your point. Eddie Ellis of the Prison Moratorium Project, for instance, represents those who think the prison industrial complex is in part driven by economics and as he says in the video "a tool of social control for black men."


Fairfax, Va.: Hi Hamil and Ben.

My question pertains to the community and politics. What can remedy this worrisome trend? Do solutions have to come from within the community or should there be more of a political engagement? Also, do you guys feel that this issue is ignored to an extent? Why the silence? Thanks.

Hamil R. Harris: I think it has to come from within. Deep within. But the problem in who are the people in the community who have the resources and know how to make change. We have a generation of babies raising babies. Too often the wisdom has been lost and maturity has been replaced with emotion.


Washington, D.C.: I think the phenomenon of single teenage mothers is the root cause of so much crime among young black males--mothers who offer their children no love, security, or guidance. And, of course, it's a vicious, generation-to-generation cycle. What do you think of the idea of sterilizing some of these women before they have second and third children? Yes, I'm serious!

Hamil R. Harris: I think we both know that treating people like animals is not realistic. You are talking at a problem and not dealing with the person. The problem in this country is that so many times we try to change people with policies and platforms and party identities. People need to see a way to change and feel that they can change. SO many people dont know they can change or have that desire


Washington, D.C.: I'm looking for resources. Where do I turn, what do I do? Many people say it starts when they are young, well my young son was all-American, good grades, athlete, handsome and well-mannered. That changed, not his environment, just him. I provided, he attends schools in "good neighborhoods" but something happened, I didn't notice the subtle change and now he's a 12th grader, has never stayed back but is now skipping classes and failing everything. He's still not disrespectful but lacks the desire to succeed in school. Help Me!

Hamil R. Harris: I believe it comes down to your will verses the will of his peers. It seems like his environment is having a big impact on his actions. The key to helping your son is starting with the man inthe mirror. Don't get overwhelmed. Take it in small chunks.


Foggy Bottom: The first poster is absolutely correct in that class, and here I'm substituting economic opportunity for some hazier notion of birth right, is vital to stability and avoidance of "negative" behaviors. Internationally it's clear that people with greater opportunity or even just percieved opportunity tend to act in accordance with the societal norms that provide those opportunities. When I work with kids living in poor areas who are just as smart as those living in wealthy areas, and can see their world view shrinking by the day as they percieve the barriers arrayed against them, I can't accept the simplistic notion that they chose this. I would challenge anyone to be a child in those circumstance and come out of it unscathed. Undoubtedly, some would, but I'd bet that it would be the same proportion of African Americans who have in fact, come out of poverty to do well. In other words, don't hold out the exception and claim that it's the rule. Transplant a bunch of white or other group of kids into the same environment with the same historical disadvantage and the proportion of those that ended up incarcerated would probably be very similar to the rate you cited among African American men.

Having said that, there was a report done by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Detention, I think, about 3 years ago. It examined rates of punshment for adolescents in Maryland. It came up with a startling finding, when you examined the punishments for adolescents by race, and made sure that you were comparing adolescents with the same criminal histories, African American teens were far more likely to be incarcerated compared to European American teens who were more likely to get counseling, behavioral treatment and probation. The shocking thing, to me, was that when you looked at the judges passing these sentences, they were predominantly African American. I won't presume to understand this, but it raises some serious questions in my mind.

Hamil R. Harris: You bring up very serious concerns and stunning observations. I was particularly struck by the point that African American judges are handing down long sentences to African Americanj crime suspects. I think there is a fatigue factor in the African American community today. People are simply tired of being victimized by crime. My van was stolen last week and when I went to the shop the back log of vehicles to be fixed was incredible and most people were there because their cars had been stolen. Those who stole my van were teenagers who left their video games and hot sauce in the vehicle. What does that say. They didnt take money or property they went on a joy ride. Why were these teens able to do this on a Sunday afternoon ?


New Carrollton, Md.: There is self-hate that exists in our black culture, and no one is saying anything about it, not even the preachers at church. Why is that?

Why is being a man or masculine in our culture defined as being a thug or street gangster? Why is it that when a black person uses proper English, we say they are "talking white?" What we are really saying in essence is that blacks are incapable of using correct English. Why do we do that?

Why do we hate ourselves so much? Why do we hurt each other so much? Why has it become the norm or the acceptable way to be if you're black? Why aren't the Churches and Schools tackling this issue? Why doesn't anyone say anything?

Why is it when crime happens in the white neighborhood, people report it in order to stop it; it is considered protecting their investment, homes, family; but in the black neighborhood we call it snitching and label it a bad thing? That must be why their property values are more than ours.

Could someone please tell me why? I'm trying to understand.


Hamil R. Harris: You raised several key points. I know all African American men dont hate themselves. I believe the biggest problem is that there is a critical shortage of role models who are working with young people. The churches can do more. Many churches have programs, but it comes down to resources and committment


Washington, D.C.: Why do YOU think so many black males are in prison?

Hamil R. Harris: I really believe it comes to environment and the choices that people make in the environment where they live. If a child from a good home with two parents makes a mistake, one of the parents will talk with the child, but who talks to the child who doest have a father in the home. Where does the man go when he gets into trouble and there is nobody to turn to


Fairfax, Va.: What percent of black families are the victims of crime?

Hamil R. Harris: I dont know the exact number, but I do know that blacks are more victims of crime committed by other blacks than whites. There is a big problem with black on black crime and domestic violence


Waco, Tex.: What pressures can be put on both public and private sector think tanks to end funding of additional social research and start using the data that already exists to implement viable solutions that can reverse these trends? The mere studies themselves are by nature racist, and do not produce answers to the root cause(s) of why these men are in jail (or re-jailed)in the first place. It's all about what is valued most in our society today: money, money and more money.

Hamil R. Harris: There is a big issue or values and materialism. People still kill for the dollar, but there are more and more churches going up and some folks think that church has become all about the dollar


New York City: It seems that America's racial prejudices are always just below the surface. Each generation has to deal with our violent oppressive past. It's no suprise that black America would have so many problems, when the white majority have spent 400 years controlling their fate. The only way this problem would begin to get resolved is if white America actually faced it, which is extremely hard to do without real leadership and honest media representation. How do you get white America to act to change the problems of the racist judicial system?

Hamil R. Harris: Henley wrote Iam the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul in the famous poem Invictus. Despite what one group has done or been responsible for, things are better today and if someone wants to make it they can and will depending on the desire. How is it that we can succeed in the area of building mega churches or excell in areas ranging from sports to entertainment and then fall short in the other areas. I believe because we know that nobody can out church us or out sing us or beat us on the ball field. Is it not time to to know that we can excell in what ever we want to do


Columbus, Ohio: I wanted to comment on the gentleman that made reference to his hard work and effort to finish school. I applaud your effort and in no way am I trying to discount what you are saying. I think the story of pulling ourseleves up by the bootstraps is very much a part of how Americans describe themselves, but when are we going to recognize that in America that these stories of individual achievement happen far less than we think.

We all have choices but some choices may be limited by the structural constraints that we find ourselves. For example, in Ohio, the majority of urban schools are in academic emergency (lowest rating). Where do you find the majority of African American students in Ohio -- in the urban districts. If you think that class, race, schooling and prison are not linked, then we are fooling ourselves.

Ben de la Cruz: I think one thing we learned from reporting this story is that there are a tangle of reasons why black men are in prison. And there are no easy answers. Do prisoners need job training? yes. education? yes. role models? yes. two parents? yes.


Greensboro, N.C.: Did the mother of the young inmate featured in the video ever acknowledge that even though the father to this young man was uninvolved in his life, her heroin addiction was also a major a great factor in his downfall? There are women who raise wonderful young men; however, the mother has to be on point. She has to be the strong and nurturing figure and stay on top of her children. When you have neither parent and both are on heroin, then it would be a miracle for a child to grow up stable themselves.

Hamil R. Harris: She did. She has turned her life around and now working hard to keep her youngest child on the right track. She displayed a lot of courage. We all can turn things around


Washington, D.C.: Good afternoon,

As today's video attests, it is certainly fashionable to continue to blame white people for the high incarceration rates of black men, or to parallel the perceived socioeconomic lag in the black community as a method of explanation for these rates, or to cry racism yet again.

What I didn't hear any of the interviewees discuss was how the proportion of blacks in prison system mirrors the rate at which blacks commit crimes, nor the reality that the percentage of blacks living in poverty is less than 25% and dropping steadily, nor that the increase in blacks entering the middle class annually is nearly twice that of whites.

In the history of the world, there have been many groups who have been tragically oppressed and have done well. And they do this not by playing the 'victim', but by taking responsibility for their own actions, using the opportunities given to them and creating opportunities where there are none. It is time to raise our standards.

I look forward to your response.

Hamil R. Harris: We did asked the question in our final video about responsibility. It is easy to play the blame game. But some people really believe that others are responsible for their plight


Washington, D.C.:"You make an interesting point, but isn't it time to move ahead? Isn't it time to find a new model? Why is it that other groups come to this country with far less resources and advance and African Americans still seemed to be plagued with problems. Somebody needs to stand up and say I am the example. I am a leader, follow me"

In response to your statement, I think one important issue that gets ignored and that is always pushed to the side is that we are not immigrants; we were kidnapped to be in this country to become slaves. So yes reparations should be paid, why not? It's always easier to say move on, but how can one move on when we are reminded everyday that we are just another n-word?! How can we move on if the judicial system is set up for the black man? Point in case, a black man with crack gets way more time then a white man with powdered cocaine. The last time I checked cocaine is a drug too. Why is that a white woman who goes missing gets national coverage and the black woman maybe gets local news coverage? Until there is truly an even playing field then maybe we can forget about certain things but until then....

Hamil R. Harris: Do we have a choice not to move ahead? If the iron is burning your hand do you continue to get burned or do you fund a source to eliminate the pain?


Resources and hope: Yes, we tend to do better with more family resources, but anyone can theoretically succeed.

However, it is mainly those with resources who know this.

Kids in poverty truly don't believe they have resources, hope, chances or a future. Choices are very different when you don't think you have a future.

Hamil R. Harris: people can succeed and people can fail. It seems to be all about the environment and the circumstance. Life is not always fair. But we all get a crack at this thing call life.


Washington, D.C.: Have you all ever had a topic where you asked the black males in the D.C. area what they expect of themselves or their black sister or brother?

Hamil R. Harris: We are working on that right now for our final video. We asked the question about perception and expectation


Southern Maryland: Don't do the crime if you can't do the time. Simple as that. Those in jail get three hots and a cot while the rest of us are working our tails off to support them.

Ben de la Cruz: While some inmates we interviewed did give an impression that jail life isn't so bad, for the most part this seems to be a misconception that jail is free and easy living. As John Lawson points out in the video, "This ain't living at all."


Silver Spring, Md.: Thank you for an excellent series. A couple of points to note: In this country, we have miserably failed to "define" class and "succeeded" to define racism at times wrongly. It appears to me, all the black men & their mothers are not victims of racism as most of us would like to assume, but rather they are victims of wrong "expectations". We also blame black men for not being there, but we hardly point to women for not being able to understand that, a careful judgement in a day could save generations i.e not getting pregnant. We have proof that, in developing countries, if a girl gets access to basic education, there is a big chance that her kids will live past the age of 5. My question is, why then, has America failed to educate young black women not to have sex and have babies who will populate prisons??? Let's look at the supply side too.

Hamil R. Harris: I think that there is plenty of educating going on but the question is what do you see most prominently in the media. What you see and read in the tabloids is not education it is information. Education comes with a desired result and goal in mind. Information is just that you are informed. We see the images of the young ladies and people talk, but this is not always education


Ann Arbor, Mich.: Why do people such as Jesse Jackson complain about there being more Black men in prison than in college when it is not society's fault that these men commit crimes? Also, aren't a majority of their victims Black, so what about the victims? Lastly, most of these people never graduated from high school so the fact that there are more Black men in prison than in jail is somewhat irrelevant don't you think?

Hamil R. Harris: You have to be careful about making broad strokes. I guess you are not a big fan of Rev. Jackson. Victims do have a voice that must be heard. What is life like for you in Michigan? How would you feel if a majority group was all at a football game or at concert would it matter? Maybe, maybe not. Thanks for your comment


Washington, D.C.: I just wanted to say that where you live has a big impact on your life, what you see growing up can have a big impact on your life and how you use these things you see while you're growing up will help you make better choices because you don't want it to be you. For instance my brother he has been in prison every since I was 7 yrs old. I am now 22 years of age. I don't know my brother. Yes my mother was a drug abuser, yes my brother's father was not in his life so he turned to the streets, so I understand where they come from when they say they didn't have a father, but I am young black female I have sold drugs I have been arrested yes I dropped out of school but I learned from those mistakes and now I have my GED, I am going to school for an associates degree in science and I work for the Department of Agriculture. It's about what you want to do. My brother is a very intelligent man, but to me, he wanted to be in prison. He was arretsed as a minor and he knew how it was to be locked up, he wanted that -- he needed that -- in his life for him to feel like a man. I know young black youth who think it is cool to get arrested that's what they think makes them a man and I think that's what my brother thought. Don't do the time and think oh it's time to change my life, learn from the first mistakes because if you don't you will have a lifetime of mistakes. Selling drugs and murdering doesn't have a pension plan, our black men need to wake up. thank you

Hamil R. Harris: I appreciate your comments. It is time for men to wake up.


Washington, D.C.: If economics is an excuse for black men not taking responsibility for their offspring, what about the relatively low rate of single-parent (i.e., single mother) families among Asians? And the low crime rate? They usually come to this country with no money and no ability to speak English. The same for Russian emmigrants--as my grandparents were.

Hamil R. Harris: You make a strong point. It clearly goes beyond economics


Washington, D.C.: Reparations?

PLEASE, more government handouts aren't the answer. I am a white Jew, should I get a check from Egypt for building the pyramids, or Germany for the Holocaust? Should I have to pay someone whose ancestors were slaves? That would have the reverse effect and create more racism.

Hamil R. Harris: You have articulated a long held frustrations. I think people are crying out for programs and resources. Hand outs dont come with a mandate of responsibility. What is your solution


Baltimore, Md.: I applaud the mother in the documentary who raised the important issue(s) of parenting. If we are to expect our childern to be successful in life, we are responsible for teaching them how to make good choices. Just like talking/speaking is taught, so is responsibility, respect, the importance of education and spiritual growth. For a variety of reasons, parents are failing to equip their children with the necessary skills to become a productive member of society. I know that there is no parenting handbook, but one needs to be created. In the future, do you plan to further address the correlation of childrearing/childhood and crime?

Ben de la Cruz: I'm not sure if we'll cover this topic specifically. But my colleague Pierre Kattar and I just produced a video story about young black men who don't have their fathers in their lives. What struck both of us is that how ready they are to forgive their fathers for being missing all of these years if only they come back into their lives.

Here's the link: Fatherless

and thanks for your comment.


Foggy Bottom, Washington, D.C.: I've been following this series and keep wondering where the articles are on hardworking men like my husband. He has never been in jail, works everyday, takes care of his family, values education and has drive and goals. There are thousands of men like him in the D.C. Metro area yet there appears to be an unfortunate focus in this series on men in jail, men with no drive and no interest in holding down a full time job more than a few months at a time. Please explain why.

A Chance To Get Into The Room by Keith L. Alexander, (Post, November 17, 2006)

His Last, Best Cause by Darryl Fears (Post, October 6, 2006)

VIDEO: One Man's Success

You can find other stories and interactive features from the "Being a Black Man" series here:

Hamil R. Harris: I want you to make an effort to check out the video that captured Jonathan Shanks a hardworking man who spends his days fixing water mains for the DC government. On the weekends he can be found singing for the Lord with the Southern Gospel singers. Men who do their jobs everyday don't often get in the paper. But there are examples of good men included in this project.

Ben de la Cruz: Hamil's right. There are many hardworking folks out there and Jonathan Shanks is a great example of one of them.


RE NYC "White America": Why do we have to rely on white America to solve our problems? I encourage you to read White Guilt by Shelby Steele. He discusses in his book that blacks and whites destroyed the work of the civil rights movement since we as blacks continue to play on the guilt of that white America feels. It is good to know the past but when do we move on and start making progress? We need to work to ensure that the dream of the civil rights movement finally come to pass.

Ben de la Cruz: I don't think anyone would say that "White America" has to fix the problem. The people we spoke with in the community and individuals know they also bear responsibility.


Winston-Salem, N.C.: Might not the high rate of crime and incarceration in black communities be largely due to a relative lack of the larger culture's core values, i.e., what's basically right and wrong, good and bad?

Hamil R. Harris: I guess right and wrong is on the eye of the individual


Washington, D.C.: The statistic that more black men are in prison than college is flawed and is one of those myths seemingly impossible to stamp out. The stat originated from a study that compared the total number of blacks in prison and jail over the total black population and compared it to the number of college-aged blacks enrolled in school over the total college aged black denominator. This is inherently flawed and needs to stop being the citation pulled out whenever race and incarceration are discussed.

Hamil R. Harris: thanks for the information


Reply From Ann Arbor, Mich.: No, I am not a Jesse Jackson fan. His promotion of the victim mindset among Blacks is partially to blame for this feeling of helplessness amongst Blacks. I have no problem with being in attendance at a football game where the majority is white. This is the world in which we live and no matter how much race-baiting the good reverend does, nothing will change it. Either we adapt or we are left behind to collect welfare and steal.

Hamil R. Harris: thanks for your response. My grand father worked in the Chrysler Plant and my uncle worked in RIver Rouge. Please forgive my spelling, but when my grand father died he was buried in the veteran cemetery in Battle Creek Michigan. There are strong black role models in this world. I come from a family of role models and I do believe that people of different races can get along. We must adapt toeach other


Bowie, Md.: How many of the inmates seem proud of the fact that they've been a thorn in the side of (white-dominated) society?

Hamil R. Harris: I think people of all races and groups can be troubled by criminals and wrong doing, not just white people. What do you really think ?


Bowie, Md.: Why do so many Black women continue to have relationships and children with these men? Why can't they see what they are doing to the Black race by becoming single parents with a father that is on a crash course to either life behind bars or death?

Hamil R. Harris: People are hungry for relationships and sometimes they make tough choices


Monroe, Mich.: I live in a community where ex-convicts are looked upon with an almost celebrity status once they are released from prison. Many of the women can't wait to get ahold of one of these brothers because they have gone without women for years. Please discuss the correlation between the high incarceration rate of young Black men and the spike in HIV/AIDS rates among Black women.

Hamil R. Harris: I dont know about a specific correlation but AIDS is a growing problem in the African American community. I dont know if we can say that the love interest of exoffenders is spreading the AIDS virus, but I do think people are hungry for heroes and there and movie images of the charming bad guy didnt start yesterday. We all remember the Al Capone stories and the love of Bonnie and Clyde. In this world everybody can find a heroe somewhere


Columbus, Ohio: Has anyone examined the relationship between self-esteem, racial consciousness, and prison? Studies have shown that students in higher education tend to achieve higher than other students because of their high level of self-esteem and racial consciousness.

Hamil R. Harris: absolutely. I think folks in these groups beleive in themselves


It's Culture Not Race: African American males of U.S. birth today are not suffering because of the color of their skin, the shape of their noses and lips, the texture of their hair, or even "white" society's reaction to these physical characteristics.

What's destroying African Americans is the content of their culture. African American culture continues to produce communities suffering from willful ignorance, self-disrespect and destruction. How else does one explain sentient human beings cultivating communities where males are allowed to father children out of wedlock-without shame or dishonor-to a degree where involved fatherhood becomes the rare exception rather than the norm? How else does one explain sentient human beings cultivating communities where young males are as likely to be killed by their own community members or incarcerated for predatory crimes--perpetrated mostly against their own--than graduate from college? How else does one explain sentient human beings cultivating communities where males are denigrated as "acting white" or being sellouts when they do educate themselves, act honorably, and show respect for themselves and kindness towards others

The explanation to self inflicted destruction is found in what types of behaviors African Americans value and how African Americans act to achieve what they value--in other words, the answer to what ails African American males is the content of African American culture.

Hamil R. Harris: I dont know about that. It is dangerous when you make broad stokes at an entire group of people regardless of who the group might be


Ben de la Cruz: Thanks everyone for participating.

See you next time.



Largo, Md.: Hamil - in agreement with your last posting. Thinking of an initiative where every able-bodied working black man would 'adopt' a young black man, say, between 14 and 24, and provide support and guidance. Not money. Not things. Just plain old-fashioned mentoring. Black folks know how to do it, but because of classism, black flightism, materialism, and all the other things talked about this afternoon we seem to have put that behind us. Would the Washington Post assist with the building of such an organization?

Hamil R. Harris: I would hope.Folks higher than my pay grade make those kinds of decisions


Capitol Heights, Md.: I write in response to an earlier post about sentencing by African American judges. They are damned if they do and damned if they don't. If a white judge hands down a light sentence on a criminal he is said to not really care about what we do to each other. When an African American judge hands out a stiff penalty he's viewed as being hard on a brotha. Is it possible that black judges give stiffer penalties because they want to protect the community, i.e. the black victims, from criminals.

Hamil R. Harris: Great point. African American judges like other professionals often carry a heavy burden. But people from many races carry burdens.


Chappell, N.C.: Any comments on how hip-hop glorifies the thug mentality and prison life? It amazes me that BET continues to air these videos that are detrimental to Black youth. Yes, the record industry is also to blame, but they are about making money. What is BET's excuse?

Hamil R. Harris: I remember the late C Delores Tucker challenging the record industry and threats were made on her life. There is avery strong record industry lobby but the bottom line is people purchase the items and it is popular


4th Floor: Here's a problem. I am a professional Black Man. When I apply for a Professional job the question always comes up:

Have you been convicted of a Felony over the past 8/10 years. Sometimes it just asked if you have ever been, regardless of the date.

I got a felony by saling weed to people at the college I went to. I did my time and went back to school and earned my degree the right way. But, NO one will give me a chance in this professional world, except if its a black women doing the hiring. I am on my 3rd job since college, and EACH and EVERY time I was hired by a Black Lady. Not once was I interviewed by a White Person was I offered a position. Every job I work/worked/interviewed at is a high paying professional job. Can you tell me that is just coincidence? Please....

Look beyond the record and see what hard working guys like me have done since there incarceration time, would ya?

Hamil R. Harris: I know this story. I have a family members who know this story. You cant quit, you cant stop trying. You must know that the word of God talks about falling short of the glory of God and then getting up and living a different life. We are a people must strive to be our best and when we fall the only optio is to get up


Hamil R. Harris: I have really enjoyed this opportunity folks. There is so much to say. I feel like I have skipped across the country today and never left my chair. Please continue to read the series and remember that we all have a story and we all are on a journey to understand this big world. We might not always get it right, but we must keep trying. Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas everybody


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company