by Kenray Sunyaru
From 1987 thru 2008, I was a volunteer teacher at the Michigan Department of Corrections. Over this 20-plus year period teaching fatherhood and male responsibility. Often some Black males attending my classes would comment to me that I could not relate to the stressors and challenges of them being incarcerated.
I would immediately respond to them by saying that I face more daily stressors than they did; that they did not have to worry about mortgages, rent, or utilities. They did not have to worry about foreclosures, evictions, or homelessness; they did not have to worry about food costs or going without eating, they did not have to worry about not being able to afford health care – because it is provided for them. They did not have to deal with the daily stress of women and children. While incarcerated they did not have to stress about child support payments.
Indeed, I would highlight to them that Black males not incarcerated faced much more stress than they did. Black men not in prison face daily ‘cost to live’ pressure; the stress of racism, job discrimination, high levels of unemployment, and poverty that drives many Black men into crime and prison. Though I’ve been saying for years that non-incarcerated Black men face more challenges and stress than Black men who are in prison, a recent study substantiates my claim.
According to a recent report by the University of North Carolina, authored by Dr. David Rosen; found that Black men live longer in prison than Black men who are not in prison. Indeed, the report reveals the survival rate of Black males is actually improved by prison. The report cites that Black men who are in prison are less likely to die of diabetes, alcohol and drug related causes, airway diseases, accidents, suicide, and murder – that Black men not in prison.
One of the major findings of the report was health care, Black men in prison have health coverage while most Black men not in prison don’t have health coverage. Because of having no health care coverage, Black men outside of prison don’t seek it when they really need it; Black men outside of prison generally see a doctor in the emergency room when their health problems become acute.
From my perspective of why Black men in prison live longer than Black men outside of prison is they are healthier as they engage in much more daily physical activity, they run, walk, and exercise. Though Black men outside of prison are under much more psycho-socioeconomic stress; they rarely run, walk, or exercise – moreover they have poor diets, smoke, drink, and use drugs. It’s a shame that it takes imprisonment for Black men to take up healthy habits. Look at all the weight Kwame Kilpatrick ex mayor of Detroit has lost while he was in prison, he looks good – healthier!
The University of North Carolina report found that Black men are the only group in America that live longer in prison. For me the report’s findings are grim, but not surprising as I mentioned in the beginning of my speech. Not only does racism keep us broke, it causes Black men to be sick.
Regarding ‘sick finances’ and no jobs, Black men’s current unemployment rate is close to 20 percent. There are over 1.4 million Black men currently out of work nationally. Sadly, as more and more Black men are being incarcerated, they will live longer and receive health care. According to Ohio State law Professor Michelle Alexander: “There are more Black men now in prison or jail, on probation or parole, than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began”.
To say Black men live longer and healthier in prison is ‘sick’ to say. Black men, we need a healing - internal reparation movement.