The Executed God: The Way of the Cross in Lockdown America

By Mark Lewis Taylor | Go to book overview

1. lookdown america:
A Theater of Terror

Short-term terror or revulsion are more powerful than long-term wisdom
or self-interest.

—Molly, prison educator, Rikers Island, in Jonathan Kozol,
Amazing Grace

In my own church in Trenton, New Jersey, Tamika rises, with all of her thirteen years of age, to share a concern before the adults go to their “Prayers of the People” during Sunday morning worship. “We had a hard week in school,” she says. “For two days we were on lockdown.” Her metaphor of lockdown was applied to her classmates’ being denied study hall privileges, but it is derived from the world of prison life.


Out of the Mouths of Babes and…

Today’s children and youth routinely use the metaphors of prison life to portray their own lives outside of prison. Twelve-year-old Jeremiah, interviewed by Jonathan Kozol for his 1995 book, Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation, contrasted his own poor community (Bronx, New York) with the more northern and wealthier one of Riverdale.

“Life in Riverdale is opened up,” observed Jeremiah. “Where we live, it’s locked down.”1 When asked by Kozol to elaborate, Jeremiah and his friends pointed to city parks they can’t play in, schools without learning where the police teach them how to walk the halls, libraries they see but cannot go into because the buildings are locked down and falling apart, shopping malls they can’t get into because they cannot get past security vigilance, Bloomingdale stores in Manhattan at Christmastime that chase them away because they look African American, Latino/a, or poor.2

Then there is the homeless street poet that Kozol encountered in a Bronx city park, who, amid his own life of struggle dared language to interpret the whole metropolis. “I see New York as a symbolic city. These buildings are our concrete prisons piled up like Babel. A Satanic technology surrounds us. What we see is apparatus not humanity.”3 Whether from the mouths of youth or of homeless elders, today’s prison-speak is not just the result of metaphorical dexterity or poetic license. It is rooted in the material, economic, political, and social conditions of our times. The Bronx children

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