20 Marks of a Criminal Record [Poem] - A Tribute to Devah Pager

20 Marks of a Criminal Record [Poem]

-- A Tribute to Devah Pager (1971-2018)


I have to 
write: 
Devah Pager died 
of pancreatic cancer 
two days ago, y'all — 
a write up in the Times spells out
an in-depth obituary of some type called, 
“When a Dissertation Makes A Difference” — 
Wow. 
Pancreatic cancer. 

I need to eat better, 
one
Which one 
will take me out? 
Two
Why live? 
Three. 
Because you have so much 
to give 
with only one 
lifetime to give it, 
four

It is ok 
to feel these ways, 
right now — 
she was that enormous 
for everyone, 
five
Why I have to be Ok 
with getting up at 3am 
and trying to write -- 
papers do not write 
themselves, 
six

Because she still with us 
through the work she created, 
seven
And, she will always be 
because the work lives on 
in 
and outside 
of us, 
eight
I am scared I need 
a serious break 
from teaching 
because I get sick 
after sustained contact 
with the students -- 
communicable diseases can kill,
cancer mostly does,
everyone around me 
gets cancer,
nine

But, I must go on 
because teaching is the work too, 
and it must be done, 
just like the articles 
and the peer reviews 
and book reviews 
and editorial boards 
and the conferences 
and the you can’t stop, 
you cannot stop, 
you can not stop it, 
ten
Because, 
eleven
Devah never did. 
She was everything 
they say, 
I didn’t know her. 
I wish we had shaken hands.
Someone said she sent 
mentorship emails 
between 2 and 4am — 
I do that, 
eleven. 
Because, 
when I am in my element, 
as she was in her element, 
you are special 
as she was special, 
twelve
Because she gives us a moment 
to reflect on what all this means 
and where all this ends, 
thirteen

Because in a simple cross tab, 
she found that black men 
without a record 
were less likely 
to get a job 
than white men 
with a record, 
fourteen
Yes, 
fourteen percent of Black men 
without a criminal record 
in the Milwaukee audit study — 
the phenomenal Figure 6
reprinted over and over 
and over again, 
got a job, 
fifteen
While 34 percent of White men 
without a criminal record 
got a job, 
sixteen
And, seventeen percent of white men 
with criminal records — 
that two to one ratio 
that always bent the staunchest 
of white supremacist 
in my classrooms, 
got a job,
seventeen
But the most damning 
number of the cross-tab 
was “five". 
Just five percent of Black men 
with a record 
got a call back, 
creating a near three to one ratio, among Blacks 
comparatively — as opposed to 
the two to one ratio among Whites, 
eighteen

She found, 
in a dissertation 
that would change us, 
that criminal records matter, 
yes, but so does anti-blackness 
on the part of institutional gatekeepers too, 
nineteen
And, that, her work, 
her presence on this earth --
for as long as we were blessed 
to have it, 
and her legacy 
is something that we will never 
be able to run away from:
because she showed up 
before we were prepared to listen
and, through walking in her light,
she forced us to see 
the world different,
realistically,
empirically-grounded,
science at its best 
regarding the way 
racial inequality looks at its worse.
She is an angel called away 
to do the work
on someone
else, 
right now
and forever
and more,
twenty.

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