by Everett D. Allen M.D.
From 1971-1973 I worked with an assigned group of seven “juvenile delinquents.” My college roommate and I approached the Youth Services Department in Boston with a plan to mentor, tutor and impact these seven Black teenage males from the projects in the South End of Boston to help improve their lives and to decrease the likelihood of their capture by the criminal justice system.
This proved to be an overwhelming task. All but one had very bad outcomes during the time we worked with them despite our best energy and efforts.
They were in and out of jail, and this was the first time that I had any awareness that juveniles were placed in punitive solitary confinement. One of them was isolated and mistreated by the system so much that he died in City Jail at age 17 of tuberculosis, a treatable disease.
One of them we did help get into prep school, then into college. The rest entered the prison system via minor street crimes or through the functional school to prison pipeline that existed at that time. The overall experience induced very heart-sickening reflection.
In the state of Missouri, a recent law was enacted that criminalizes and felonizes bullying, harassment and school fights, interpreting them as “criminal assaults.” Teachers and school officials are mandatory reporters under penalty of the law.
Of course, the genesis of this law comes from a statehouse that continues to criminalize activity that will more profoundly affect inner city schools of color in lower income areas than other schools. Prosecutors will decide selectively when to bring charges.
Anna Deavere Smith, in her new HBO documentary “Notes From the Field,” very adroitly and with tremendous creative artistic impact, absorbs the school-to-prison pipeline epidemic. She characterizes the pipeline through real characters that she has met and channels them in her one-woman show.
I cannot imagine that if DMHN, of Parkland, Florida, were Black, that he would not have been captured and controlled by some aspect of law enforcement. The unfortunate and overplayed fear of Black students misbehaving has been very much on display in the media with various police student classroom encounters available for all to see.
In addition, there were a large number of police visits to the home of DMHN because of complaints about his behavior by his adopted mom before she expired. These police encounters with mentally ill patients at the request of the family tragically and in increasing numbers can end in lethal over-reaction by the police.
Usually the killed victim is a low-income person of color. It is unclear how such an amazing amount of restraint of lethal force was exercised by this police force in these visits in Parkland. A police officer of the NYPD was just acquitted of the November 2016 slaying of known mentally impaired Dorothy Danner in this type of tragic case that keeps occurring.
And finally, I cannot imagine any Black or Muslim of any age, under the kind of FBI scrutiny we now know happened with DMHN, who would not have been contained, blamed or framed by security and intelligence forces in this country. The jails and prisons are holding them – some for decades now – and ultimately they are proven factually innocent.
I am proud of the bravery, energy and outspokenness of the surviving victims from Parkland. I hope that we can take adequate total care of all of the survivors, and I hope that we never forget about those young souls and others who suffered such throughout the centuries of the history of America, who are no longer with us.
Everett D. Allen, M.D.
About Anna Deavere Smith, Dr. Allen writes: “Anna Deveare Smith acts out the characters and the topics that she encounters. She has performed “Notes From the Field” as a one woman show all over the U.S. for at least three years now and incorporates new significant material as she visits and learns it.
“She has been absorbed into the Yurok tribe at a deep and profound level as an honorary artist and communicator up here on the Rez [the Yurok reservation is in Del Norte and Humboldt counties in northwestern California]. This came about from her long term relationship with a most prominent and famous female judge and lawyer in the Yurok court and judicial system, which also has its own drug and alcohol courts.
“She did a performance here at the Yurok tribal headquarters [in Klamath, California] about two and a half years ago that I attended. She spends significant and quality time with the Yuroks.”
Everett D. Allen, M.D., who worked as physician and surgeon at Pelican Bay State Prison from 1999 to 2006, for two of those years as chief physician and surgeon, testified to Sen. Richard Durbin’s United States Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights at its hearing on “Solitary Confinement as Torture” on June 19, 2012, and again at the second hearing, held Feb. 25, 2014. Read a tribute to Dr. Allen by Pelican Bay SHU prisoner Pablo Pina, “Everett Allen, MD, discredited for being sympathetic to prisoners’ medical needs.” Dr. Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.