This article is based on an excerpt from Beyond Vengeance, Beyond Duality
In the US, we are hooked on punishment, retribution and revenge and mistakenly call that justice. The result? We have duly earned the title, the "Incarceration Nation." With 5 percent of the world's population, the US now has more than 25 percent of the world's prisoners. In 1980 we incarcerated 474,368 people.  Now that we have over 2.3 million people locked up, one in every one hundred adults in this country is presently in jail or prison!  We incarcerate one in every fifty-three of our young people in their twenties. Out of every fifteen African American men, one is living in a prison or jail cell. The numbers are staggering.
What about the people at the center of this misery, the men and women behind bars? Each has a story that reflects our diversity and the entangled events of life. I got to know one of them, Daudi Beverly, when his mother called me for advice. She was desperately trying to find ways to help her son who was being swallowed up in a criminal system that she didn't understand but which she knew could destroy him.
She called me because I'm an attorney, but I don't handle criminal cases. Nonetheless, as a mother, or perhaps because I am part of the system that was the cause of her terror, her plea was one I couldn't refuse. I offered to walk with her through this process and, as I did, I saw firsthand how interwoven and complex the misery has become. Daudi has a lot to teach us about the depth of our nation's systemic failures.
Daudi falls into the category of the one in nine black men between the ages of twenty and thirty-four whom we incarcerate--then largely forget. He is also one of the millions of mental patients, many released from state and county facilities in the 1950s1980s, who represent the majority of people now behind bars in the United States.
According to Mary, Daudi's mother, he was a premature baby, born somewhat developmentally disabled. Mary is a strong woman with shiny dreadlocks down to her waist, the central pillar of her extensive family. Two of her children have master's degrees, and one is a teller in my local bank. Mary raised them well.
When Daudi was ten, his father was beaten to death during a weekend when Caribbean immigrants and drugs were targeted by the Washington, D.C., police. Mary was told that certain officers called such weekends a Caribbean cruise. She describes her former husband as deeply spiritual, a health-conscious vegetarian, and law abiding, just like she is. He wore dreadlocks as a symbol of wisdom and honor, to feel connected to his roots. He was not an immigrant and did not do drugs. But he was black, and his dreadlocks signaled to the police a questionable profile, based on common stereotypes. Mary reports that Daudi's dad and two other black men were beaten to death that weekend.
Daudi had been close to his father. He turned inward and refused to speak of his father's death. Within a few years, having lost the most important anchor and role model in his life, Daudi dropped out of school.
At age eighteen, Daudi was sexually assaulted by a leader of an African American church during a weekend outing. Mary was devastated. She had hoped the trip would be good for her son. Angry, hurt, and dealing with complex issues beyond his comprehension, Daudi threw a burning wooden penis into his abuser's house. Though reacting as a traumatized child crying out for help, he was convicted of arson and joined the league of young black men with criminal records.
A year after the sexual assault, Daudi had his first psychotic episode and was hospitalized in a mental ward. Unable to afford private treatment, he received public mental health services and thereafter was repeatedly institutionalized by order of the officials.
As he struggled with mental illness, limited ability and easily influenced by misguided peers, Daudi got into trouble. He was convicted of minor offenses such as trespassing, smoking marijuana, stealing a CD and potato chips, and car theft when the kids who had stolen the car left him alone in the vehicle.
Medications are critical to managing Daudi's illness, but many have negative side effects. It was several years before his treatment finally allowed him to at least perform yard work. Even then, Daudi found it difficult to remember directions or scheduled appointments with his therapist. Mary called repeatedly to help keep him on track. She says this seemed to annoy the mental health agency staff. Someone told her that because Daudi was an adult, she had no right to his medical information, so she should stop calling. Although he had been institutionalized in mental wards seven times, no one advised Mary that she could be named her son's legal guardian, and thus have a say in his treatment and care.
The system we set up to help people like Daudi continued to fail. After he missed several appointments, the agency closed Daudi's file for noncompliance, which cut off his medications. Daudi again began to have psychotic spells.
On his twenty-fifth birthday, after he had been off his medications for months, Daudi was doing yard work for an elderly white woman. When she denied she owed him for his second day of work, saying she'd agreed to pay him for the overall job, not for each day, he reacted with anger. Feeling cheated, Daudi later returned to her house and demanded another day's pay. They argued. When he entered her house, she picked up a stick or a cane and hit him. He took the stick and beat her severely.
It was a traumatic and terrifying event for this old woman. Daudi was guilty and readily admitted he beat her up and took seventy-five dollars from her purse, which he felt was due him. His victim claimed he also took a diamond ring, but Daudi didn't mention a ring, causing Mary to wonder at the validity of that allegation. This made a big difference in the criminal charges, because the value of the diamond made the robbery a felony instead of a misdemeanor.
Daudi was plagued by severe emotional problems and attempted suicide while he was being held in jail pending trial. The jail staff assumed Daudi was faking his distress and denied him access to mental health care or medication, despite the fact that the psychiatrist who examined Daudi found he was not mentally competent to stand trial.