Published in the SF Bay View on June 23rd 2015
By Anthony Robinson, Jr
“One of the gravest obstacles to the achievement of liberation is that oppressive reality absorbs those within it and thereby acts to submerge human beings’ consciousness. Functionally, oppression is domesticating.” – Paulo Freire, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”
The mass of prisoners have become domesticated by the paternal instincts of the rules and regulations that purport to govern them, but actually are implemented to carry out the results of their enslavement.
As a prisoner class, it is our labor that carries out the cause and effect of not only the inordinate sentences we are given in the kangaroo courts of America, but the perpetration of laws and policies that keep us in prison and bargain on our return to prison via high recidivism rates.
The “prison industrial complex,” through the multifaceted contradictions socially constructed into the regulating tendencies of its agenda – inflicted upon the prisoners’ consciousness – acts as the agency which keeps him domesticated towards his own demise.
“I must intervene in teaching the peasants that their hunger is socially constructed and work with them to help identify those responsible for this social construction, which is, in my view, a crime against humanity.” – Paulo Freire, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”
The prisoner finds himself in the same reality – our hunger, our oppression, our imprisonment is socially constructed, and identifying those who are responsible invites the most humbling rebellion into our lives as we look into the mirror of reality and realize that it is we, the mass of prisoners, who are responsible for our hunger. It is a hunger that roars throughout the belly of the beast and is perpetuated rather than satisfied by the toil of the prisoner, which is offered to the prison industrial complex like slaves sacrificed to some pagan god of old.
What we as a “prisoner class” must understand is: Each prison facility produces $250,000 to $500,000 worth of prison labor per month by way of the many domesticating jobs that maintain the facility – inmate porters, painters, plumbers, cooks, line servers, gardeners, dishwashers, tutors etc.
With the prison inmate making from 13 cents to 35 cents an hour for positions that on the outside pay from $10.50 to $35.00 per hour, it is clear that the prison industrial complex utilizes the apparatus of its authoritative agency and socially constructed domestication to convince the inmate worker to “stay in his place” within the context of his own labor and to agree and be grateful for pennies for his sweat, even when he knows his work is valued in dollars.
For me it is always mystifying to see the inmate worker putting every ounce of his energy into work that maintains the status quo of his class as “inmate worker” but won’t dedicate 16 ounces of energy towards work that confronts the reality of his own liberation, such as researching case law, earning a degree, organizing his class, interpreting his value etc.
Why would we as a prisoner class ever want to do work that helps corporations like CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) pass audits? They utilize the certification of such audits to invest in more prison building and legislation to keep us in prison.
“A particular problem is the duality of the oppressed (prisoner class): They are contradictory, divided beings, shaped by and existing in a concrete situation of oppression and violence.” – Paulo Freire, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”
The majority of out-of-state prisoners (the private CCA prison in Mississippi where Anthony is incarcerated houses “overflow” prisoners from California and other states – ed.) seem to be the most demoralized and voluntarily enslaved lump of clay in the lot. The contradictions that the mass of out-of-state prisoners seek – doping over doing, aiding the administration over the convict, gaming over educating, loitering over legalizing; – these are the contradictions that shape CCA environments and have enabled over 7,500 California “inmate workers” to be shipped out of state and readily exploited by corporations lined up in the collective bargaining for the prisoner’s soul.
It is interesting how this same mass of prisoners expect to share in the spoils of battles fought for prisoners’ rights. This same mass of prisoners are jolted out of their slumber, lined up in the aisles of their uncertainties, hands shaped into begging bowls, hoping that propositions like 47 fall into their laps, freeing them of their chains. This absurdity places the mass of prisoners into a catatonic state that paralyzes any chance they have of freedom for the simple fact, as Hegel testifies:
“It is solely by risking life that freedom is obtained … The individual who has not staked his or her life may, no doubt, be recognized as a person (or in case of the prisoner, a slave), but he or she has not attained the truth of this recognition as an independent, self-conscious being (a free man).” – “The Phenomenology of Mind”
The attorney general of California in her speech against Proposition 47 gave the inmate worker a glimpse at their value to the system when she posed a question as the basis of her argument for why thousands of nonviolent offenders shouldn’t be released from prison: “Who will do the work and fill all the jobs?”
This was a momentous shift from the usual propaganda of letting out “violent offenders” who will commit crimes. Because they were focusing on a class that couldn’t be labeled “violent,” they were forced to partially unveil the value of the “inmate worker” to the prison industrial complex.
This gives the prisoner class a momentous opportunity and obligation to recognize the value of our labor to the system and to use that value as a collective bargaining chip and to demand a restructuring of the prison system, based first and foremost on the recognition that we are human and because of that sole fact, Incarcerated Lives Matter.
“The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption.” – Paulo Freire, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”
We have an opportunity to be paid an honest and fair wage, an hourly wage where at the end of the month we make enough to pay for our basic food and hygiene needs for the following month until the next pay period.
We have an opportunity to demand fair and up to date education and rehabilitative programs with certificates that are valued in the larger society, enabling us to get out and make positive and constructive transitions into our communities. We have an opportunity to be provided decent and nutritious meals that will not only be healthy, but will taste like something meant for human consumption.
If slaves, during chattel slavery, were provided 5,000 calories a day for their labor, how is it that the “inmate worker” can’t be provided 3,000 calories per day for his labor?
We have an opportunity to be seen and treated as human beings and demand that the code of regulations, policies and the law recognize that Incarcerated Lives Matter. This recognition should not be more lip service or written as a parchment barrier with no weight of law, but should be exacting in its consequences of fines, penalties and termination for any peace officer, counselor, warden or employee found to allow or perpetrate violence upon any member of the prisoner class – violence as defined from the following perspective:
“Any situation in which ‘A’ (the prison industrial complex) objectively exploits ‘B’ (the prisoner class) or hinders his and her pursuit of self-affirmation as a responsible person is one of oppression. Such a situation in itself constitutes violence, even when sweetened by false generosity, because it interferes with the individual’s ontological and historical vocation to be more fully human. With the establishment of a relationship of oppression, violence has already begun. Violence is initiated by those who oppress, who exploit, who fail to recognize others as persons (Incarcerated Lives Matter).” – Paulo Freire, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”
The struggle begins with men’s recognition that they have been destroyed. The “inmate worker” – through neglect of confronting his value – has destroyed himself by engaging in work that deprives him of his vocation to be more fully human and instead keeps him in the category of a domesticated dependent.
We have an opportunity to confront ourselves realistically, to have a stake in a real opportunity for freedom. We have an opportunity to measure our value by putting down the hoe, putting down the broom, by putting down the domesticated labor and picking up the labor of our humanity. We must leave the crops in the field!
The only way we can have an impact on the system is to make their oppression of us a financial burden that diminishes their profits rather than increases them. One month of lost “inmate labor” throughout CCA and CDCR alone will cost them over $3 million due to their having to either contract with outside laborers, pay and fill positions utilizing corrections officers, teachers and other staff to do the work.
I am calling for the organization of a work labor strike of all prisoners, in all job positions: Don’t go fight fires, don’t report to education, to kitchen or yard crew, or as porters, painters, clerks, plumbers etc. If they use the profits from your labor to write laws to keep you in prison, what does it profit you to work for them?
If they intend for you to rot away in a cell, then let their crops rot away in the fields! If they cannot see you, then they will not free you. Make them see the value of your labor by putting away your labor – at least for two weeks, or until they raise the inmate pay a fair wage according to the value of the work that we see fit.
In Solidarity We Stand!
Send our brother some love and light: Anthony Robinson Jr., P-67144, TCCF MC-67, 415 US Hwy 49 North, Tutwiler, MS 38963.