‘That’s Being Black in America’ – Lives of the Incarcerated

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Lives of the Incarcerated

Roar writer Laura Maxwell continues her series of interviews with incarcerated Americans in this follow-up with the subject of her first article, Kevin Payne.

Two months after our initial correspondence I received a second response from Kevin Payne, a current inhabit of California’s Correctional Facilities. This brief but precise interview centres on President Trump, the murder of George Floyd, and what it means to be Black in the American Correctional System. It should be said this interview was conducted prior to president-elect Biden’s election victory in November.

Roar: What are your thoughts on Donald Trump?

Kevin Payne: Donald Trump… LOL… well that pretty much sums it up. But on a serious note, most people don’t call him our President because we don’t respect him. I will say one good thing about him because I do believe [all people] have some good in them, so I’ll admit I loved watching his speeches. They made me laugh so hard. I think his election was important because it showed folks who thought we were living in a time when racism doesn’t exist anymore that it’s just not true.

Donald Trump brought the racists out of the cupboard and made [racism] normal again. I can write a whole book on how fake our “Presidency” has become over the years. The US president is only a puppet. He is a mask for the public to see. The illusion that he has power is misconceived. He can only make the changes his party wants him to. I don’t think we should have one person who can rule over all of us. It never seems to work out. I’m hopeful for change. I believe the American public will make the right decision come election season.

R: How do feel about voting registration disparities in regard to race in America?

KP: I think voting is yet another illusion to trick people to believe they are still in control [sic]. It reminds me of when I was younger and I was playing video games, and my little brother really wanted to play with me so I’d give him an unplugged controller. He really believe he was playing the game. America is my younger brother. Democracy is an illusion. We will be satisfied with the unplugged controller until we mature and realise that we’ve been bamboozled, tricked, duped. Afterwards, the only solution we’ll have is to really plug ourselves in. For this reason, I don’t vote. I don’t believe in these crazy conspiracy theories about voter fraud, but I don’t think enough people want to sympathise or look beyond themselves for real change. So I think, what’s the point?

R: What do you think is the greatest threat Donald Trump has posed to America?

KP: He has created real division. Of course, the division was always there. But now it’s so obvious, so out in the open. It’s become acceptable to hate black people publicly again. As long as there are different colours of skin there is always going to be racism. But Trump uses such vicious hate speech it’s almost impossible to connect with folks who agree with him. The best way to change someone’s limited views is through education. Believe it or not, most hate stems from fear and most fear comes from the unknown. Being educated about them when one lands on you is so important [sic].

R: What did you think about the George Floyd incident that took place earlier this year?

KP: I thought what most other black people thought: “not again”. This isn’t new to us. I know this isn’t new to most non-black people either. But now it is unavoidable. You can’t shut your eyes anymore. You can’t not listen. It’s on everyone’s TV, everyone’s social media. I’m glad more people are starting to care. But sometimes caring isn’t enough. I don’t want people to care for a month or two then forget about it. Black folks are being murdered every single day. George Floyd just happens to be who got recorded, he’s this generation’s Rodney King. We need real results and real punishment to murderous police officers. To answer your question, it was like a numb blow to the heart. But I was absolutely not shocked.

R: How does the racial landscape affect your time in prison, if at all?

KP: Believe it or not, it feels safer in here than it does out there. There aren’t many white folk in here with me. There’s fights and conflict. But there’s also this unsaid mutual understanding that we’re all black, and we shouldn’t be fighting each other. We have a common enemy. They want us to fight. They want us to disagree so we can’t unify. There are men in here I’m never going to be friends with. But I respect them as black men living in America. We know when there’s a fight it’s not because of the colour of our skin. When we see a correctional officer attackin’ one of us we make sure we say somethin’. At least I do. What upsets me is I’m okay in here, but I can’t protect my family on the outside. The weight of helplessness is awful. I pray every day that the experiences of George Floyd or other brothers on the street don’t happen to my family. But it’s an anxiety I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of. That’s being black in America.

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