Rodriguez Deconstructs Prison Pipeline

ASUCI hosted Independent party California governor candidate and writer Luis J. Rodriguez on Wednesday, May 28 to speak about his views on the flaws of the California prison system.

Boya Ren | Photography Intern

Boya Ren | Photography Intern

Rodriguez’s candidacy is motivated by his unhappiness with current governance regarding prisons and claims the war on crime is a “war on poverty.” He names his campaign “Imagine a New California,” in which there will be no poverty, less money will be put into a “failing prison system,” people will be offered a free education and healthcare and there will be more community events in neighborhoods.

“I believe we can make changes,” he explained.

Rodriguez is most known for his his memoir, “Always Running,” and his book, “It Calls You Back.” He has been named as one of the 60 most fascinating people by LA Weekly. In his talk, he reviewed his past and how he became involved in gang-life when he was 11-years-old and started using drugs when he 12. He was heavily involved with gang-life until his first prison sentence when he was 17. “I was heavy into heroin,” he said.

He recalled that in prison, he received counseling and became an actively involved in and motivated by the Chicano Movement in the 1960s and vowed to change his ways.

One of his biggest critiques of the prison system is that the California system does not act as a rehabilitating institution, but provides a place for criminals to continue operating. He said, “[Prisons] train a whole new level of criminals.” In these types of prisons without programs, he argues that criminals become more organized and more tied to other prison gangs.

California is one the one the world’s largest jailers, and making up only five percent of the world’s population, Rodriguez sees that there is something inherently wrong. He believes that prisons are overcrowded with prisoners serving long sentences, many of which continue gang lives while in prison. Rodriguez believes that the government is filtering money into a broken system. He stated that many programs that educate prisoners that allow inmates to earn degrees have been cut. “How do you change young, troubled people’s lives?” he asked.

He advocated for more job training and education and an “opportunity to live.” Inmates spend decades in prison but some only return to the streets without any prospective plans to improve their lives. Prisoners have a roof over their head and three square meals a day, and according to Rodriguez, “70 percent of prisoners return.” He believes that these inmates need more tools.

“We can’t disconnect them,” he said, “These are human beings and they need help … I got mentored out of heroin and out of gang life [but] some of my homies don’t get no help.”

He recounted a visit to a prison where he was reading poetry to inmates. He recognized one of his old friends from one of his prison sentences years ago. His old friend had been in prison for nearly 30 years and had his correctional facility numbers tattooed across his neck suggesting to Rodriguez that he’d never get out. “I owe these people [inmates] my life,” Rodriguez said.

“You are a citizen of this world and you should participate in making it a better place.”