By: Elois Freeman
Shvonne was raised in Minneapolis in a loving, two-parent home with her sister, but her nourishing home environment clashed with a community that was racially segregated and economically isolated. In her community, police brutality was a common occurrence. She witnessed young, unemployed Black men getting beat down and arrested in public by police in broad daylight.
Shvonne often heard that only one in ten girls survives the ghetto without getting pregnant or involved in prostitution. Shvonne said, “I am the one.” Because of her excellence in academics, she went to private schools from the third grade through high school graduation and went to college out-of-state to study history with an emphasis in African American Studies.
Today, Shvonne is a poet, an educator and a writer. One of her passions is closing the achievement gap for students of color, and she works to teach professors at Metropolitan State University how to better deal with inequality in our education system. In addition, Shvonne is the Assistant Dean of Students at St. Catherine University and a board member with Urban Homeworks, a Christian community development organization dedicated to providing equitable, quality housing to all.
Shvonne has also remained passionate about ending mass incarceration and barriers to employment for former prisoners. Although Shvonne and her sister escaped getting involved with the criminal justice system, two of her four male cousins and many people in her community are currently incarcerated, and she has witnessed the way incarceration of young Black males has affected her community.
“Our criminal justice system reflects a slavery system that never stopped,” she said. Shvonne explained that as a result of Reagan’s “War on Drugs,” prison populations have quintupled, and more and more people, and especially people of color, are incarcerated for nonviolent convictions. In addition, people are jailed longer, partially as a result of harsh mandatory sentencing laws for drug-related offenses that were increased during the Reagan and Clinton administrations.
Shvonne explained that the injustice doesn’t end after the sentence is served. “Although prisoners learn skills to work while incarcerated,” she said, “these skills either aren’t transferrable outside, or aren’t helpful anyway, since having a conviction record means you will not be able to find work.”
“People don’t understand the injustice prisoners and ex-prisoners face,” Shvonne continued. “We must name the problem. Part of sickness is not naming. We have to discern a level of accountability. The attitude is that because one has committed a crime, it justifies any kind of treatment. It is a seriously unjust practice that must be changed.”