Commentary #109: Thoughts on “13th”

Image Credit: The Maine Campus

As part of my continuing education on Black Lives Matter and becoming a better ally, I wanted to sit down and watch this documentary on Netflix.

Immediately after finishing it, I wanted to watch it again. I was overwhelmed, horrified, and angry.


Ava DuVernay is a master. The interviews that were conducted spanned from activists, to authors, to former Presidents!


Saturday, July 25th

I need to write more after I watch it again tomorrow. More to come. Thanks for reading!


Update – Monday, July 27th

I sat down and watched this again yesterday. I had my phone out and took proper notes this time. Keep in mind – This was originally released in 2016.

The United States makes up five percent of the world’s population, but has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

The documentary is very much a timeline from the Civil War through 2016. One of the key points was D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” (1915) film. The burning cross symbol was created by Griffith, not the KKK, because Griffith thought it was a good cinematic image.

The Nixon era (1968-1974) was the beginning of the “War on Drugs.” Nixon took drug addiction and drug dependency and made it a crime issue, rather than a health issue. I also learned a lot about the Southern Strategy – Taking Democrats on multiple southern states and leading them to the Republication Party.

The Reagan era (1981-1988) was the modern war on drugs. Nancy Reagan embarked upon the “Just Say No” campaign. Crack cocaine came on the scene – It was in small doses, and cheaper than powdered cocaine. Mandatory sentencing penalties were enacted that were harsher for crack cocaine. Black communities were virtually decimated – Men started disappearing from the homes and neighborhoods overnight and not coming back for years because of getting arrested and convicted for possessing crack cocaine. At this point, economic inequality, hyper-segregation, and drug abuse were all criminalized. It turned into a war on communities of color. Black people have been (are still are) over-represented in the news media as criminals. The “super-predator” label was thrown around constantly. Black parents ended up, inadvertently, supporting policies that were criminalizing their own children. The Central Park Jogger case in New York City was absolutely awful.

The George H.W. Bush era (1988-1993) was affected during the campaign for President. The Democratic candidate, Michael Dukakis was holding a commanding lead, until Willie Horton was let out of prison on a weekend pass, and went on a horrific crime spree that included kidnapping, assault, rape, and murder. The Bush campaign used Horton’s story as part of a campaign ad on crime.

The Clinton era (1993-2001) sent a strong message of “Democrats are not soft on crime.” More police were put on the street, federal funding for law enforcement was upwards of $100 million dollars. Polly Klaas was murdered. The massive 1994 crime bill ($30 billion dollars) included the “three strikes law” – Three felonies and you’re put in prison for the rest of your life, mandatory minimums for sentencing, truth in sentencing where prisoners serve at least 85 percent of their sentence, parole was virtually abolished. This led to a massive expansion of the American criminal justice system, including prisons and law enforcement. Even the smallest police forces were militarized with military-grade weapons and equipment. Years later, Clinton admitted that “I made the problem worse.”

The documentary then goes into the case of Trayvon Martin, who was gunned down by George Zimmerman in Florida on May 26, 2012, and the issue of “stand your ground” laws since then.


One of the most fascinating segments was about the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC). It’s a private club that brings together politicians and private corporations. Walmart eventually left ALEC, but the American Bail Coalition and Koch Industries remain. One key stakeholder for years was the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). They make contracts with states to build private prisons, and then the states are required to keep those prisons filled. CCA has made $1.7 billion in profit – They’re getting rich off punishment. In addition, CCA holds contracts to detain immigrants. In essence, CCA has merged the immigration system and the prison system. After a major story from NPR in 2010, CCA left ALEC.

However, the Prison Industrial Complex continues to make money. Companies such as Corizon Healthcare, Aramark, and the National Correctional Industrial Association are involved with supplying healthcare, food, and “jobs” to prisons and prisoners. I say “jobs” in quotes because what I really mean is prison labor.

Another problem is the issue of bail and bond. Kalief Browder was arrested for a crime he did not commit. His bail was set at $10,000. He couldn’t afford the bail, so he sat in jail. They offered him a plea deal, but he said no. He wanted to go to trial. After three years, all the charges were dropped. However, by that point, he’d been in Rikers Island and in solitary confinement multiple times. The system is designed to break you in 30 days. Browder died by suicide at 22 years old after he was released.

In the United States, there has been 100 years of Jim Crow, terror, and lynching. If you’re a convicted felon, you can’t vote and you can’t get a job. How do you re-enter American society? You can’t. Some progress has been made in “removing the box” to take the felony conviction question off job applications, but there’s a long way to go.

The lifetime likelihood of imprisonment for white men in 1 in 17. For black men, it’s 1 in 3.

Black men make up 6.5 percent of the U.S. population. Yet, they make up 40.2 percent of the U.S. prison population.

There was footage of riots in Watts (1965), Detroit (1967), Newark (1967), Los Angeles (1992), Ferguson, Missouri (2014). The common thread? Police brutality.

The overarching message from the interviewees is that people of color want to have human dignity. And to live in the United States, the supposed greatest country on this planet, and there’s a significant number of people who don’t have human dignity? That’s not okay in my book. We need to do more work, America.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth ๐Ÿ™‚

Book Review #89: “The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity”

When I did a recent Tag post, I picked this book as “An intimidating book on your TBR.”

I wrote: “The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity by Axton Betz-Hamilton. I know the backstory behind this book, Betz-Hamiltonโ€™s memoir, from the Criminal podcast. (Make sure you listen to Episode 51 first, then Episode 125). I want it to be as amazing as I think it is, based on the podcast episodes that were so masterfully produced.”


As soon as I heard about Betz-Hamilton’s book on Episode 125 of the Criminal podcast, I added it to my wish list. I was so thrilled when I opened it as part of my Christmas gift from Al at the end of 2019.

It took me nearly six months to get to it, but I knew I was avoiding it. I had so many high hopes for this book, and I did not want to be disappointed.

Thankfully, this was not disappointing.


It’s hard to talk about this book without giving away certain things. But, I will say that I hope Betz-Hamilton writes more books. She did an incredible job with this. It’s such a personal story, and she truly turned it into action. She has done incredible work with helping identity theft victims for many years, while simultaneously trying to solve the mystery of identity theft in her own family.

If you’ve wanted to learn about identity theft, and its interesting history, this is a great book to read. Betz-Hamilton started her investigation with hardly any resources, and little law enforcement involvement. Times have certainly changed, and she helped educate many people along the way. Without her work, I don’t think identity theft would be as widely known or investigated now.

I related to this book in a few ways. Axton and I were both only children. I struggled with my relationship with my mom, especially as I became a teenager. But, I realize how good I had it. Axton lived in a version of hell under her mother’s roof until she went to college. I recognized so many signs of abuse, sadly.


The chapters were the perfect length. I flew through multiple chapters every night, and struggled with putting the book down.

It was so interesting to read about her life. This book spanned from before she was born up through the early 2010s. I really enjoyed the personal anecdotes, mixed in with academia and identity theft history. I’ve found myself searching for presentations she’s given. I’m hoping she’ll offer a course on identity theft. I want to learn more from her.

This is currently my favorite book of 2020. I’m already planning to re-read it next year.

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth ๐Ÿ™‚

Book Review #33: “The Devil’s Dozen: 12 Notorious Serial Killers Caught by Cutting-Edge Forensics”

The Devils Dozen

Image Credit: Amazon

Much like the last book I reviewed, I found this book at a bargain price! I actually bought it late last year, but I didn’t pick it up and read it until the last two weeks.

I’ll admit it – I love almost anything that deals with true crime. I saw this title and knew that I wanted to read it.

Or, so I thought.

The one thing that took me aback, and bothered me throughout the book, was how academic it was. I felt like I was reading 12 short research papers. Trust me – That’s not exactly what I want in a book. I certainly appreciated Ramsland’s attention to details and her use of sources, but it was a very dry read.

Other than that issue, reading about these 12 cases was fascinating. There were some cases I had already read / heard about, but there were 5-6 that were completely new to me. I appreciated that Ramsland explored a wide range of cases, both in historical context, and throughout the globe. It was really cool to see how other countries use and have used forensics to accomplish the same goal – Stop these criminals forever. It was also interesting to learn about how these various forensic techniques were developed as early as the late 1800s, and how they were utilized then, and now.

The academic style was the biggest detractor for me, and it was tough to keep reading. But, I’m glad I finished it. If you’re interested in a heavily-research-based series of true crime stories, I recommend it. Ramsland is a talented author and researcher!

3 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth ๐Ÿ™‚