An American Odyssey

I like a good story, one reason why I like Greek comedies and tragedies, and I fancy myself a storyteller.  So, I’ll tell you a story. . .

Once upon a time (1973), Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York State signed off on a draconian “drug” law that bears his name.  At the time, it was the harshest drug law in the nation, with many states, and the Federal government, following suit.

The Rockefeller Drug Law was like a fast-moving brush fire, devastating urban areas inhabited by Black people and people of color.  There were so many casualties in this War on Drugs, which escalated President Nixon’s War on Crime, declared in 1968 when he was running for the U.S. presidency.  These drug laws, in large part, fueled “mass incarceration” (I only use that term here because people have not yet wrapped their thinking around the accurate term, “hyperincarceration”).

Often, when we think about hyperincarceration, we think of Black and Brown men.  The prison-industrial complex, though, also disproportionately imprisons Black and Brown women.  Black and Brown women are the connective tissue that keeps our families together.  When a woman is locked up, a family is also locked up, and the consequences are different and far more devastating than locking up men.  In fact, the whole family structure is impacted.  Liz Gaynes, the outgoing President of the Osborne Association, where I once worked, for 11 years, once stated that mass incarceration created the largest separation of families since chattel slavery.  This is sad, but true, and not hyperbole. . .

Today, I uplift a woman, Elaine Baretlett, impacted by the criminal legal system.

Elaine’s story, in part, is told in her book, Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett, by Jennifer Gonnerman.  Elaine is just one of many women who have experienced the trauma and the tragedy of imprisonment because of the Rockefeller Drug Law.  As in the classic story told by Homer, The Odyssey, after a war, it is hard to make one’s way home.

During my odyssey I have met many amazing women impacted by the criminal legal system. They are not tragic figures. They are heroines.

Read this American story, which gives you a glimpse inside the tragedy, but also the triumph, of a woman who experienced an odyssey of her own after the Drug War.


About William Eric Waters, aka Easy Waters

Award-winning poet, playwright and writer. Author of three books of poetry, "Black Shadows and Through the White Looking Glass: Remembrance of Things Past and Present"; "Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats"; "The Black Feminine Mystique," and a novel, "Streets of Rage." All four books are available on
This entry was posted in crime, ezwwaters, Family, Justice Chronicles, Lest We Forget, Life Sentences, Mother's Messages, Osborne Association, Politics, race, Reentry, Relationships, urban decay, Urban Impact and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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