By Rosie McMahan

My friend Donald wears an ankle bracelet. I’ve not seen it. He keeps it hidden because he is not proud of it; having to wear it, a source of constant humiliation and social stigma. The origin of the term ‘bracelet’ is from the Greek ‘brachile’ meaning ‘of the arm’. The history of bracelets is as old as 5000 BCE. Starting with materials like bones, stones and woods to serve religious and spiritual interests.

The bracelets that Donald wears on his wrist are like these. They have personal meaning to Donald, and they express strength and beauty and fortitude. He wears them with pleasure and explains their meaning to anyone who asks.


But the bracelet that Donald wears on his ankle is a new kind being used by the criminal justice field with the promise to cut down on prison populations. We see how well that is working. These bracelets are equipped with GPS capabilities and are intended to track a person’s movement and location in near real time. Ankle bracelets were initially used with pre-trial offenders who were out on bond and waiting for their final case. Now they are being used to monitor people who are out on parole. Thus, the ankle bracelet that Donald wears. Those chosen to wear them must also comply with a series of requirements such as notification by phone at any time, day or night, constant explanation of whereabouts and home visits by a parole officer with or without prior warning.

Donald describes it this way. “Two to three times per week, we get calls from rude folks at the Monitoring Center…according to them, they’ve lost the signal like dropped cell phone calls…the irony of these instances is I’m usually sitting at my desk at work or sleeping early hours of the morning or like last week I was standing outside in the middle of a city park during a community event.”

I refuse to call these GPS devices bracelets. That would be a lie. I use the word shackles. That is more truthful. And their use raises all sorts of questions. Who is profiting? Are they working for the purpose they were intended? And do they cause bodily harm?

ankle-braceletDonald says, “My left calf (above where he wears the shackle) is swollen…there’s a constant ache, like bone marrow ache under band.” Who cares about this aspect?

And even if they work, given the percentage of those wearing them of African-American descent, what does a shackle do to contribute to the shame of a person having to wear one? And even if they gather data about the formerly incarcerated, keeping him or her within a circumscribed area and providing automated detention, who keeps watch? Unless that data is carefully analyzed, it reveals little about what the wearer is actually doing. The other issue is what effect does wearing a GPS device on the physical body?

I am appalled and insulted that anyone has to wear a shackle in the 21st century United States of America, let alone, my friend Donald. It is yet another move on the part of our capitalistic and colonialistic economy to place chains, electronic though they may be, on a people historically the objects of such initiatives. There has got to be a better way, a better world, one where Black lives are no longer systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.