I was given a 30-year sentence and fined over $200,000 for nonviolent cannabis offenses. I was a young, white male, hauled off to prison to serve nearly 15 years before being released. I am currently at Stanford University, making use of my second chance, and many have used my situation as reasons for policy change.
After George Floyd cried out for his mother, and took his last breath, some pointed to my situation to criticize the existence of white privilege. “Where was his privilege when he got 30 years for cannabis?” they said.
I cringe, realizing the separation between reality and appearance. White privilege is not something that means you do not have to work hard. It doesn’t mean you won’t be unfairly treated. It’s simply not having to work harder due to your skin color. As someone who spent 15 years incarcerated for something that is no longer illegal in Illinois, I assure you that there are barriers within the Black and brown community that I have not had to face.
Let me be unequivocally clear: Black lives matter. To say that is not to support an organization; it’s an acknowledgment of the hardships others face. I was harshly treated by the justice system, but do not point to me as evidence of an argument which I know is incorrect. I am dedicated to moving Illinois forward, and society openly recognizing that people of color face challenges that whites–including myself–do not is paramount to our future.
Jason Spyres, Stanford University (See Community Word article on Jason Spyres’ conviction.)