Yet despite my accomplishments, my redemption is constantly being called into question. Aside from the have-you-ever-been-convicted-of-a-crime box I must check on every job application, there are the reviews of my first book, a graphic memoir published in 2012. The collective grievance among critics is that I defrauded both Columbia and the Big Banks by lying to them about what I was going to spend some of my financial aid on, even though the practice was widespread among students, especially at Columbia. The price of surviving in New York City, particularly during the summer months, often made these little frauds necessities.
The reviewers took the side of Columbia and the Big Banks; the same banks whose pervasive fraud was so prevalent it had nearly bankrupted the planet a few years before. They were the innocent victims and me the scamming ex-con. Yes, I was taking financial advantage of an Ivy League school and those poor, poor banks.
So it’s a shame that I’m not a Bernie Sanders supporter. He’d try to have my loan forgiven his first day in office and the banks boarded up by the second. Redemption complete. But the truth is, I neither want nor need his help. I make my loan payments every month, thank you, and I have relatives who earn a decent living working for a bank. Moreover, I’m an ex-con, which means I’ve done my time. Every day of it.
The Clintons have done their time, as well, and earned their shot at redemption. It was last July that former President Bill Clinton, talking about his role in mass incarceration, said, “I signed a bill that made the problem worse and I want to admit it.” It’s the closest any politician has ever come to telling me and millions of other nonviolent drug felons that he or she is sorry.
The bill mentioned by Clinton was the “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994,” and Bernie Sanders voted for it. In fact, Sanders was a senator for four of my five prison sentences. Not once do I remember him rattling my cage. Or indeed, any prisoner’s cage.
Nor have I been kind to the Clintons. In an article published in The Baltimore Sun last May titled “Lunch with an ex-con: How about it, Loretta Lynch?”, I took both Clintons and President Obama to task for failing to do enough to not only end mass incarceration, but to humanize felons in the same manner as Pope Francis is wont to do. Criticism, however, should always be constructive. As I told the Clinton Campaign in an email recently: “Dissent is the highest form of flattery.”
Which brings us back to the lily-white candidate from a lily-white state and his cadre of (mostly) lily-white upper and middle-income followers, none of whom can figure out why African Americans in the south aren’t feeling the Bern. Indeed, the rhetoric has taken on a we-need-to-go-down-there-and-teach-them-whom-they-should-vote-for tone, and that scares me more than Trump’s open racism. Indeed, Sanders is actually aping Trump: America sucks, the black guy and the bleached blonde screwed it up, and only he can save it.
What Sanders and his supporters are missing, aside from their collective whiteness, is that these folks have also done their time. They are African Americans, in the south, where they likely had to work harder than everybody else every step of the way. And yet along comes a career independent on the democratic ticket telling them that their hard work is unnecessary. He would get them stuff for free. Moreover, the stuff-for-free mantra is based on the premise that Sanders, as president, will be able to magically accomplish (massive tax hikes, for instance) what President Obama could only dream about, which isn’t saying much for Obama.
Indeed, the implication echoes a time, one year ago this month, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lectured a cheering Congress on what a simple-minded yet well-meaning president we had. Netanyahu was pointedly aggrieved that Obama had made a deal with Iran; that our duly-elected commander was being duped by evil Muslims and that we all needed to come together as a nation and convince him to mend his obvious obtuseness.
The lesson, of course, is that Netanyahu’s speech is reiterated in the cry of Blue-State white folks preaching to Red-State African Americans about what a great president their maple-syrupy democratic socialist would be. More effective, certainly, than a Wall-Street bought but slightly dim Obama, and scads more than an emailing, war-monger, free-trading capitalist such as Hillary Clinton.
What Sander’s followers fail to acknowledge is that both of the Clintons (not to mention Obama) are covered with battle scars from a vindictive and arguably fraudulent Republican Party. Scars that African Americans down south are all too familiar with. When covered with such welts forgiveness comes hard, but it comes nonetheless. This is especially true among kindred souls, along with the fact that full redemption is nearly impossible without it.