Like Betsy Ross, I sew American flags. But I do my work for 55 cents an hour in an assembly line inside the Central California Women's Facility, one of the largest women's prisons in the world.
I was sentenced to prison for 15 years after being convicted of selling $20 worth of heroin to an undercover cop. I sew flags to buy toiletries and food.
From the time I was a little girl I was taught to put my hand over my heart when pledging allegiance to the flag. I emphatically believed in the values of independence, freedom and equality the flag represents. But as time went on and I grew older, I learned that these values do not apply equally to all Americans.
As an African-American girl, I attended segregated schools without enough resources to provide a quality education. As an adult, I struggled continuously with drug addiction, but there were no resources available for me to get help. Instead, I was sent to prison.
My experience resonates with the historical reality for black people. We always have had unequal access to resources that would have allowed us to provide for our families and make our communities prosper. Nearly one-fourth of all black folks in America live below the poverty line, twice the national average.
America has become a country that imprisons those it fails, blaming poverty, drug addiction or homelessness on individuals, rather than recognizing and addressing the conditions that give rise to them.
In California, more than 70 percent of women in prison are serving time for nonviolent, property or drug-related offenses. The 3,000 women in my prison are disproportionately poor and persons of color. Prison marks the separation in our society between the haves and the have nots, between those who walk free and those of us held captive.
Instead of using prisons as a supposed solution to social problems, we should reallocate our resources to invest in every person in America so that each one of us can have access to food and water, to housing and health care, to quality education and well-paying jobs.
Betsy Ross, who was born on Jan. 1, 1752, sewed a flag that represented a vision of an equal and just society.
And we, as Americans, pledge allegiance to a flag I sew, dedicating ourselves to "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
To honor this flag at the start of this year, we must resolve to make America a country where all people can thrive.
Beverly Henry, originally from Los Angeles, is in prison at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, Calif. She is a peer health educator and board member for Justice Now (www.justicenow.org), a human rights organization that works with women in prison. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.