About Time for Prison Reform?

After watching Malcolm X this most recent time, I found myself most interested in the positive transformation of Malcolm X. We see Mr. X go from a child who was forced to endure the experience of watching his family become decimated by both racism and the state. Then we view his time as a young man enticed to join a criminal crew, before becoming a petty burglar, which then leads to his incarceration.

During his incarceration, Mr. X is lucky enough to meet Baines, a man acting with full devotion towards spreading the Nation of Islam and the teachings of Elijah Muhammad to all the prisoners truly willing to listen and learn. Mr. X, hesitant at first, eventually seizes this opportunity and transforms himself into one of the greatest thinkers, who utilizes his newfound mental and oratory prowess to join the fight for fixing the race problem in America. A problem that affected him from his birth.

For me, the most notable aspect of his transformation, was that it was catalyzed by his time in prison. Prison, at the time in the film and even true today, is not seen as a rehabilitative institution; its purpose has been to carry out punitive measures. But if Mr. X could transform from petty gangster to the ultimate charismatic intellectual, what about the other prisoners?

Mr. X found his opportunity for growth through Baines. Many prisons in America have side programs that provide a certain level of education, depending on the type of prison and location. But what if we reoriented the absolute purpose of prisons? What if we turned the institution into one that not only takes in criminally guilty people, but is also meant specifically to provide those people with the opportunity to better themselves? There are many prisoners who do not have a Baines, and as a result, they do not have an opportunity to transform the way Malcolm X did.

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