Published on March 3rd 2014 in the SF Bay View
by Anthony Robinson Jr.
“We will now criticize the unjust with the weapon.” – Comrade George Jackson
I write this essay with a gripping ambivalence: Admittedly I am both haunted and inspired, desperate for solutions, yet hopeful. I am a new found political prisoner within the grips of one of CCA’s slave camps, Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility, here in Tutwiler, Mississippi. [CCA, Corrections Corporation of America, is the largest private prison owner in the U.S. – ed.]
For years now I’ve known that prisons are the new legalized plantations wherein the institution of slavery is celebrated. The 13th Amendment states in part: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist, except as punishment of a crime.” But CCA has trumped the 13th Amendment by creating “employment opportunities” and policies that implicitly state: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist except as punishment for a crime or desperation for employment.”
As the sister Michelle Alexander so eloquently stated and proved in her book, “The New Jim Crow”: the system of slavery has always been about cheap labor rather than race! CCA, knowing this in the fullest extent, has purchased two slaves for the price of one.
Their contract with CDCR allows them to earn about $23,000 for each “inmate resident,” as they have coined it. In addition to the $23,000 they receive for inmate residents, they profit inordinately by marking up commissary prices, serving cheap byproducts of food in scanty portions with little or no nutrients, using run down facilities with haphazard utilities and, most of all, employing cheap labor.
CCA, especially here at TCCF, has mastered the art of purchasing two slaves for the price of one – the two slaves being the inmate residents and the bottom rung correctional officers, providing cheap labor at minimum wage.
“The entire colonial world is watching the Blacks inside the U.S. wondering and waiting for us to come to our senses. Their problems and struggles with the American monster are much more difficult than they would be if we actively aided them,” wrote George Jackson.
“We are on the inside. We are the only ones who can get at the monster’s heart without subjecting the world to nuclear fire. We have a momentous historical role to act out if we will. The whole world for all time in the future will love us and remember us as the righteous people who made it possible for the world to live on. If we fail through fear and lack of aggressive imagination, then the slaves of the future will curse us, as we sometimes curse those of yesterday.”
So from the inception of this facility, created according to the blueprints of the plantation, CCA sought to exploit warehoused commodities legally designated as chattel – at the same time seeking an opportunity to exploit cheap labor in the form of poor, disenfranchised Mississippi residents desperate for employment. In perfect similitude with plantation dynamics, CCA has cast the “inmate residents” as the field nigga and the correctional officers, sergeants, lieutenants and captains as the house niggas who will put their lives and livelihood on the line to oversee what CCA has trained them to secretly consider us, the “inmate residents,” as their true interests.
When I arrived at this facility on Aug. 8, 2012, pulling up to the institution – plantation – I could see the confederate flag proudly flying high over the front lawn. My disbelief at such a blatant showing of racist, oppressive, emblematic colonialism made me attempt to create a mythical rationalization for the reality I was facing: “Maybe I was seeing things; they’ll probably take it down in the morning,” I tried to reason through my confusion.
But the reality is this: CCA knows exactly what it intends to convey by making an employee population composed of 90 percent Black workers salute a confederate flag every day they drag their poor spirits in poor bodies in poor health to work in assisting tradeoffs of humanity for minimum wages. As Michelle Alexander observes in “The New Jim Crow”: “Before democracy, chattel slavery in America was born.”
CCA has positioned itself nicely in gaining a controlling interest in one of the oldest businesses in America, i.e., slavery through cheap labor. And the icing on the cake for them is that they get two slaves for the price of one: one to be kept chained and the other grateful for the opportunity to watch, control and oppress the first.
The downtrodden must be careful not to be so caught up in their gloom that we can’t organize within our own conscience the tools needed for our own self-determination. We have depended and continue to depend on a system which sets the parameters of our freedom by criminalizing our acts of defiance and demands for social equality.
If they can convince you that speaking out against injustice is against the law, then they have effectively turned the law against you. And a people who are raised with the belief that the law works against them will break themselves against it in a rebellion out of the desperation of seeing no other option for salvation.
“You have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the Blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to,” said President Richard Nixon.
As God is my witness, as many times as I’ve read over the above quote by Comrade George, it never impacted my spirit so hauntingly until I witnessed the context of that quote in the actions of these correctional officers here in Tutwiler, Mississippi. I’ve been in prison 15 years and have never witnessed such unprofessional indifference and incompetence. I’ve been in the world 33 years and I had no idea that Black people could be so uncouth, ignorant and vile. I’m talking about the behavior of the majority of employees here at TCCF – not all, but the majority.
There is such a culture of Black ignorance and uncouth behavior that you would wonder how a corporation would allow such a dynamic in the work environment. Upon my arrival here in Tutwiler, the first person I heard use the word “nigga” was a correctional counselor. The first groups of people that I ever witnessed literally shooting dice on their knees with money on the ground were correctional officers. I promise you, the reality here at TCCF is so devastatingly colonial that I can’t make this stuff up.
Beyond being embarrassed and shocked by the behavior I’ve witnessed on the grounds of this plantation, a question began to burn in the revolutionary canals of my spirit. How can Corrections Corporation of America not know of the devastatingly virulent behavior of its employees? And upon knowing of such behavior, why doesn’t CCA take active measures to change the environment?
Then I came to realize that CCA allows such a vile work environment to exist for two reasons: One, 90 percent of the employees here are Black and CCA has never utilized resources to save Blacks from acting out the haunting behavioral narratives of slaves; two, CCA keeps cheap laboring slaves as employees by allowing them to create a subculture of conduct that is familiar to them so that not only do they stay happily – although not very gainfully – employed, but they recruit their family and friends into the haunting gates of the plantation as well.
Mississippi is one of the poorest states in America. The poorest in health, poorest in education and, although in the Bible belt, poorest in spirituality. From the vantage point from which I am able to view the actions of many residents of the state of Mississippi, I can honestly say that it is no wonder Mississippi is failing not only in the areas that make a state prosperous, but also in the areas that history has proven are essential for a people to have any chance at self-determination and a progressive vision.
I think we can all agree that CCA expends a lot of research before they allocate millions to build their prison industrial complex plantations. So I’m sure CCA knew Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the union. Tutwiler is in an area not only poor in education, health and resources, but it also lacks opportunities for employment, especially gainful employment.
The prison industrial complex plantation has become that system. And CCA and CDCR not only recognize and pay homage to such a system, but recruit, employ and train neo-slaves – i.e. cheap labor – to guard and perpetuate such a system.
Ignorant parents will most likely raise ignorant kids; and an ignorant Black man or woman in America is a death toll waiting to be rung. Will we as Black people not wake up and demand back our inheritance of self-determination before it is too late?
“Blacks here in the U.S. apparently do not care how well they live,” George Jackson wrote, “but are only concerned with how long they are able to live. This is odd indeed when considering that it is possible for us all to live well, but within the reach of no man to live long!”
We must reverse this genocidal mentality by seeking first to live well amongst each other and refusing to live long enduring lives of imprisonment, suffering and self-hate. Black history is not a month; it is a lifestyle that can’t be paraded on screens and transfigured on posters. It must be lived and lived well within the mind, body and soul of each of us who will see the progress of humanity.
Send our brother some love and light: Anthony Robinson Jr., P-67144, TCCF G12-212, 416 US Hwy 49 North, Tutwiler MS 38963.
Also, Anthony is an outstanding poet and the author of “Incarcerated Tears: Book of Poetry, Vol. 1,” which can be purchased from your local Black book store or on Amazon, at http://www.amazon.com/Incarcerated-Tears-Book-Poems-Vol/dp/0741455390.