Inside a CCA private prison: Two slaves for the price of one, Part Three

Published in the SF Bay View on November 8, 2014

The People vs. CCA

by Anthony Robinson Jr.

“How frightening it is to see people choose not to see what’s in front of them.” – Stuart Grassian, Massachusetts psychiatrist

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) pulls the slave straight from the cotton field and gives him a whistle, badge and uniform with a slave wage that convinces his conscience that he’s been promoted to the prestigious status of “house nigga.”

The symbolic vestige of these trinkets that come with employment places the chattel employee of CCA in a peculiar predicament: They know that they’ve been bought and sold to the plantation owner but their desperation and fear of going back to being an old cotton pickin’ nigga in one of the many fields in Mississippi – literally – convinces them to be agents against human rights, justice and God.

CCA doesn’t value its employees enough to pay them a living wage but uses their pay as a collective bargained incentive to convince the employee to sell CCA not only their labor, but their morals, ethics and education. The interesting thing about this dynamic is that most of the employees you talk to here at Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility (TCCF) – who have the courage to be honest in the moment – will tell you that they don’t agree, nor can they make sense of a lot of the policies CCA forces them to follow.

This is analogous to the Willy Lynch syndrome where the plantation owner was taught to pit one slave against the other. But here, the chattel employee of CCA (at least the one of color) is pitted against other people of color and is convinced and trained to disregard the humanity of his shackled and chained brothers and sisters and go against his God-given right and liberty to pursue happiness in a self-determined way.

Some people would say that I am taking a risk exposing the truth about CCA and TCCF in particular; but as a revolutionary for humanity, I must place my heart in the eye of the storm and look oppression dead in the face and articulate the sentiments of the people of true merit.

Like Ferguson reaching the tipping point in order for the rally cry and war song of the people to be heard, my “Two Slaves for the Price of One” articles empathize with that same tipping point to express to both the slave and the slavemaster that CCA is on the wrong side of history. And the day is coming when they will be held accountable for marching against King’s Dream and becoming what Langston Hughes referred to as “a raisin in the sun,” i.e. the consequences of a dream deferred.

We as a society have to face the audacity in the question: Is the rehabilitation of American prisoners a right or a privilege; and who is it that we owe this right or privilege: the prisoner, society or both?

As Michelle Alexander so eloquently stated in “The New Jim Crow”:

“If Martin Luther King Jr. is right that the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice, a new movement will arise; and if civil rights organizations fail to keep up with the times, they will be pushed to the side as another generation of advocates comes to the fore. Hopefully the new generation of advocates will be led by those who know best the brutality of the new caste system – a group with greater vision, courage, and determination than the old guard can muster, trapped as they may be in an outdated paradigm. This new generation of activists should not disrespect their elders or disparage their contributions or achievements; to the contrary, they should bow their heads in respect, for their forerunners have expended untold hours and made great sacrifices in an elusive quest for justice. But once respects have been paid, they should march right past them, emboldened, as King once said, by the fierce urgency of now.

“Those of us who hope to be their allies should not be surprised, if and when this day comes, that when those who have been locked up and locked out finally have the chance to speak and truly be heard, what we hear is rage. The rage may frighten us; it may remind us of riots, uprisings, and buildings aflame [think of Ferguson]. We may be tempted to control it, or douse it with buckets of doubt, dismay, and disbelief. But we should do no such thing. Instead, when a young man who was born in the ghetto and who knows little of life beyond the walls of his prison cell and the invisible cage that has become his life, turns to us in bewilderment and rage, we should do nothing more than look him in the eye and tell him the truth. We should tell him the same truth the great African American writer James Baldwin told his nephew in a letter published in 1962, in one of the most extraordinary books ever written, “The Fire Next Time.” With great passion and searing conviction, Baldwin had this to say to his young nephew:

“‘This is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it … . It is their innocence which constitutes the crime. … This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. … You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. … But these men are your brothers – your lost, younger brothers. And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means; that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it. … [W]e can make America what it must become. It will be hard, but you come from sturdy, peasant stock, men who picked cotton and dammed rivers and built railroads, and, in the teeth of the most terrifying odds, achieved an unassailable and monumental dignity. … “The very time I thought I was lost, my dungeon shook and my chains fell off.” … We cannot be free until they are free!’” (Pages 260-61; Baldwin quote comes from “The Fire Next Time” (New York: Vintage, 1962, 1993), 5-10.)

This is what the American populace must resonate within their own conscience. “The criminal justice system was strategically employed to force African Americans back into a system of extreme repression and control, a tactic that would continue to prove successful for generations to come.” (Alexander, p. 32.)

“One in three young African American men will serve time in prison if current trends continue, and in some cities more than half of all young adult Black men are currently under correctional control – in prison or jail, on probation or parole. Yet mass incarceration tends to be categorized as a criminal justice issue as opposed to a racial justice or civil rights issue (or crisis).” (Alexander, p. 9.)

What is on the table, specifically and generally, is the value of Black life in America. In America a Black man, woman or child is killed by law enforcement every 28 hours and arrested by the police every 45 seconds. This fact is more than a statistic – it is genocide!

Why isn’t the mass incarceration of Black men, women and children a civil rights issue? One reason is that CCA and CDCR expend a lot of resources in making sure that their need to fill prisons is fulfilled. And what better commodity to exploit than an ignorant, cotton pickin’ nigga raised under a Confederate flag?

Since CCA’s founding in 1983, the incarcerated population has risen by more than 500 percent to more than 2.2 million people. It seems that the chattel employees of CCA are so desperately destitute that they do not have the courage to step off of the auction block and seek more self-determined employment opportunities or to create opportunities for themselves.

Just as Harriet Tubman had to rescue her own husband from slavery at gunpoint, I am attempting to rescue the chattel employee of CCA here in Mississippi with the canon fire of my “Two Slaves” articles.

But even Harriet utilized the assistance of the Underground Railroad, and so I am calling on the American people of true merit to make a restitution to humanity and support this new underground railroad!

We are the new generation of activists emboldened by the fierce urgency of now. We are those who best understand the brutality and inhumanity of the system. We are those who have been swallowed by the monster – the prison industrial complex – but who have not gone down easily into the belly of the beast but have become lodged in his throat. And we recognize now that we are in the best position to take the monster’s pulse and gauge his strength, preparing for the day when we are organized and disciplined enough to cut the head off of the monster.

This is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen: For too long you have supported the disproportionate imprisonment and slaughter of African Americans at a rate which is genocidal in act, degree and implication. Those innocents who believe that our imprisonment makes them safe are losing their grasp on reality. As Cornel West said, “There is no doubt that if young white people were incarcerated at the same rate as young Black people, the issue would be a national emergency.”

Until we understand and admit that African Americans have been intrinsically tied to the negative connotations associated with the word “criminal” in order for the private prison profiteers to earn more and more from this recycled commodity, we will fail to see this as a civil rights movement and the arc of American history will continue to bend towards injustice.

“The fate of millions of people – indeed the future of the Black community itself – may depend on the willingness of those who care about racial justice to re-examine their basic assumptions about the role of the criminal justice system in our society,” according to “The New Jim Crow.” (Alexander, p. 16.)

“Sociologists have frequently observed that governments use punishment as a tool of social control, and thus the extent or severity of punishment is often unrelated to actual crime patterns.” (Alexander, p. 7.)

It doesn’t take much research to discern that criminal “justice” policy is not motivated by an interest in a crime-free society; in fact, a crime-free society would cause CEO profits and shareholder returns to plummet. So the interest in public safety is not the determining factor behind criminal justice policy.

In fact, CCA and corporations like it would see crime and punishment increase as a direct investment in assuring more profits.

Justin Jones writes in Prison Legal News: “Here’s how the scheme works: Private prisons create demand for their services much like drug dealers ensure that their customers are addicted … [The lawmaker comes to need the outlaw and, in needing him, he creates him.] These companies [such as CCA] inject their lobbying dollars and campaign contributions into the political world, contributing to a climate in which no one can be reelected by appearing soft on crime. The result is a machine that passes laws to ensure more and more people flow into prisons, regardless of whether society actually is made better by having these people behind bars.

“The bottom line is that private prisons’ current business plans simply cannot coexist with meaningful evidence-based sentencing reform. If we want a fair and smart system, we have to cut these dangerous pushers out of the deal entirely. We need to replace profit-seeking policies with proven, evidence-based ways to end mass incarceration while keeping our communities safe.” – Justin Jones, “How to Starve the For-Profit Prison Beast” (Prison Legal News, August 2014, p. 20.)

“Peddle pushers” is the perfect word to describe these CCA employees, and even the policies and rules can be traced to peddle-pushing tactics and transactions because CCA only enforces the rules that make them a profit. (The practice of incarcerating one state’s prisoners in a private prison in another state is sometimes called “peddling” prisoners. – ed.)

In fact, CCA and corporations like it would see crime and punishment increase as a direct investment in assuring more profits.

 

Here at TCCF (CCA in Mississippi), they are literally committing fraud and embezzlement in every department, from religious services to the kitchen (unregulated Kosher diets due to theft), to job assignments (where Jobs Coordinator J. Brady is denying inmates pay in order to receive a bonus). Due to the specific intent of this article, I will not go into specific details until speaking with attorneys, but I will be detailing these crimes in future articles!

As fantastic as the realities described herein may seem, is it any wonder (when you think about it) that a corporation which has expended so much time and resources in passing laws and regulations to induce a criminal state of nature in society – is it any wonder that this same corporation would allow that same criminal state of nature to exist in the workplace?

We have been convinced to perpetually pay homage to CCA’s interests by depending continually 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 – as in Ferguson – 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 the law in a rebellion out of the desperation of seeing no other option for salvation.

CCA is the corporation that sent Kamala Grant to Mississippi as a cost-cutting measure, which further exposes their cancerous peddle-pushing intent and policies. Kamala Grant, as warden over inmate programs, has instituted some of the most draconian and debilitating program regulations and policies ever. Kamala Grant has been the most oppressive Assistant Warden (AW) at TCCF in regards to religious programs; she has made numerous attempts to take away our college program.

Grant is attempting now to deny religious groups who are paying for their own feast the right to choose what food items they spend their money on, attempting to limit religious feasts while at the same time applying no limit to corporate sponsored food sales where she illegally solicits funds directly from inmates.

Kamala Grant has also caused Chaplain Jacque Steubbel to have a heart attack while being bullied and harassed by Grant. Chaplain Steubbel is an elderly white veteran and ADA patient who has had to endure constant attacks and harassment by AW Grant because she attempted to bring some much needed humanity to the chaplaincy department here at TCCF.

The world needs to know about people like Kamala Grant and oppressive acts that not only inflict detriment on the lives of prisoners and their families but also the innocent civilians who work with these types of people. For this reason and this reason alone, I will start including the first and last names of these chattel employees of CCA.

With so many movements and campaigns organizing with a hands up strategy, you’d think the sky is falling, but the reality is the sky is fixed in its station due to divine order; but what is falling, what has fallen is American civil liberties. If you flip through the pages of American history – knowing that governments are instituted by the people and for the people – how is it that the American people through the consent of their raised hands are not guilty of crimes against humanity?

The biggest civil rights issue we are faced with today is the race to incarcerate millions of Americans for profit. Not law and order, but profit. Mothers are being torn from the arms of their babies, sons are following the cold links of shackles and chains, meeting fathers for the first time in a prison, grandparents grow old in houses they’d envisioned leaving to grandchildren only to find themselves isolated and alone.

Their only company: the words of grandchildren, sons and daughters written from prison. All this turmoil, all this suffering, not for the sake of law and order but to enslave and profit off of people. Is this the America we salute?

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”

America has been guilty, and suffering in its guilt, for too long, for coddling the system of slavery. Rather than seeking to be totally exonerated from such an abomination, America sought to preserve slavery via the penal system. It is time now that we as a people bend the arc of history towards justice and say no to slavery in any form.

The new underground railroad needs all the energy, love and support of those citizens who will not pass on to the next life with bloodstained hands. Take action now: Starting with the re-evaluation of how you see the prison industrial complex and “justice” system, dare to question why prisons are being built and bought more rapidly than colleges. Last but not least, STOP supporting the profit margins of this system: Demand that your taxes be put to better use.

Boycott all companies, businesses and corporations that do business with CCA, CDCR, Trinity, HIG, Swanson etc., if only for a week.

Until we put more value in rehabilitating human beings rather than exploiting them, the system of slavery will go on. And for those who don’t deem it a problem because ethnically you feel you are exempt: how long once all the niggas and minorities are locked up until CCA comes for you and yours? The system has to feed itself if the people won’t starve it.

How frightening indeed it is to see people choose not to see what’s in front of them.

Until we put more value in rehabilitating human beings rather than exploiting them, the system of slavery will go on. And for those who don’t deem it a problem because ethnically you feel you are exempt: how long once all the niggas and minorities are locked up until CCA comes for you and yours? The system has to feed itself if the people won’t starve it.

Send our brother some love and light: Anthony Robinson Jr., P-67144, TCCF MC-67, 415 US Hwy 49 North, Tutwiler, MS, 3896. Anthony is also the author of “Incarcerated Tears: Book of Poems Volume 1,” which can be purchased at buybooksontheweb.com or by writing to him. After reading Part One of this story, “Inside a CCA private prison: Two slaves for the price of one,” a filmmaker contacted Anthony and they are working together on a documentary on private prisons. Read Part Two here. This story was edited by Tynan Krakoff.