The wealthy bribe their way in the world; the poor just go to jail

Tanya McDowell addresses reporters

The newest college admissions scandals bring into focus the distorted and privileged ways the rich bribe their way to make sure their children get into prestigious colleges and Ivy League schools. Some of the more ridiculous attempts included a teenage girl who did not play soccer becoming a star soccer recruit at Yale for $1.2 million; a high school who was falsely deemed to have a learning disability so that he could have a proctor at a standardized test to get the right score to attend the University of South California for $50,000; a student whose parents paid $200,000 so that she could win a spot on the U.S.C. crew team, without any experience in rowing, by having another person in a boat submitted as evidence of a nonexistent skill. 

The outrageous attempts go on and on, in a scandal that led federal prosecutors to charged 50 people to buy spots in the freshman classes at Yale, Stanford and other major-leagued schools. Those wealthy parents included Hollywood celebrities and prominent business leaders, with more indictments to come. Top college athletic coaches were also implicated for accepting millions of dollars to help admit those undeserving students to those high-profile schools. And while the theoretical punishment carries a penalty of 20 years, it is highly unlikely that these wealthy people will face any serious prison time. They’ll get lighter sentences or alternative punishments: “The judge could actually impose a sentence of probation in cases like this. He could impose community service, public work service, or home confinement. There’s a wide range of options available to the judge.” 

Meanwhile, we continually imprison Black and Brown parents for longer periods of time for lesser offenses, including nonviolent drug offenses, minor misdemeanors, or something as simple as not being able to post bail, despite having committed no crime (16-year-old Kalief Browder was held at Rikers Island for three years because, accused of stealing a backpack, he couldn’t afford the $3,000 bail to get out).

Where is the sympathy and compassion for these individuals? Where is the leniency for those who have not committed a violent offense? If you’re not rich, there is no sympathy, compassion or leniency. None.

Consider Tanya McDowell, a homeless Bridgeport, CT mom who was arrested and charged with first-degree larceny for enrolling her son Andrew in a better school in neighboring Norfolk. McDowell eventually took a plea deal and was sentenced to five years in prison for sending her child to a better school district. To give her child a better education. In a hyper segregated country where there is nearly $23 billion more in state and local funding for white schools than predominantly nonwhite districts.  

It’s time for us to acknowledge that both prison and education have been set up so that only the wealthy and white get the best services. Wealthier members of society can “donate” their way into having children attend, even if they don’t deserve it; the wealthy can leave prison and serve house arrests in large mansions or pay lawyers to never “suffer” any kind of punishment whatsoever. To be poor means to be imprisoned for wanting your child to succeed and never being able to pay your way back out. 

(Photo Credit: Kathleen O’Rourke / Stamford Advocate) (Image Credit: A Different Drummer)

Education cannot be stolen, handcuffed, or imprisoned

Tanya McDowell addresses reporters

Forty some years ago Paulo Freire argued against what he called the banking model of teaching and learning. That was then. Today, the bank  is gone, and a prison stands in its place.

Ask Tanya McDowell or Mireya Gaytan.

Tanya McDowell is a Black woman, a single mother, living with her 6-year-old son. She lives, officially, in Bridgeport. `Officially’ because in fact McDowell is homeless. Or she was last April when she was arrested, in Norwalk, for stealing education. Stealing education is a first-degree larceny offense.

McDowell registered her son in Norwalk, using the address of her babysitter. When this was `discovered’, McDowell was charged with theft. Two weeks ago, she pled out, and was sentenced to five years in jail and five years probation. That’s almost a year for each year of her son’s life.

The public story is `complicated’ by McDowell’s arrests and convictions for selling drugs. Thus, the trial in Norwalk, despite her attorney’s protest, was for both the sale of narcotics and the first-degree larceny, because, somehow, these have to be taken together. That way, it can be demonstrated that Tanya McDowell is not a woman trying to get a decent education for her child. No. She’s a bad mother. She must be. She sells drugs. And she’s not only a bad mother and a drug dealer. She’s Black, homeless, unemployed, underemployed.

The story hearkens to that of Kelley Williams-Bolar, the Black woman in Ohio who was found guilty of stealing education. The story is complicated by the ongoing narratives of the national and regional campaigns to criminalize Black women, and women of color, more generally.

And to criminalize their daughters as well.

Yajira Quezada is eleven years old. She lives, and goes to school, in Colorado. Earlier this week, she got into some trouble with the administration in her schooling, mouthing off or not showing proper respect or deference. So … they called in a counselor. That didn’t work. So … they called in “the school resource officer.” He handcuffed the eleven-year-old girl, took her into his squad car, and delivered her to the juvenile holding facility. As explained by the local sheriff, this is standard operating procedure for `transport’ of juveniles.

This public story is `complicated’ as well.  Children across the United States are subjected to such treatment regularly. School `resource officers’ routinely handcuff children; routinely take them off to juvenile `facilities.’ Children across the country are routinely dumped into `seclusion rooms’. Solitary confinement.  In Georgia, in Wisconsin, children have met their deaths in school-based solitary confinement.

Yajira’s mother, Mireya Gaytan, is outraged. She doesn’t want her daughter to be allowed to misbehave or show disrespect … to anyone. But she also doesn’t want her daughter to be treated as a criminal. In short, she wants her daughter to receive an education.

Tanya McDowell, Mireya Gaytan, two women in America who want their children to receive an education. Not a prison sentence. Not a death sentence. Not a criminal record. Not a trace memory on the wrists. Not a sense of overwhelming vulnerability. Not an indictment based on the color of skin, not a conviction based on where you live … or don’t.

An education.

Education is not merchandise. Those who seek education are not `clients’ or `customers’. They are human beings who know that education is always shared, always social. They are women and girls, and especially women and girls of color, who know that education cannot be stolen, handcuffed, or imprisoned.  Education is a human right, a civil right, a women’s right. Period.

 

(Photo Credit: Kathleen O’Rourke / Stamford Advocate)