Published in the SF Bay View on July 25, 2014
by Anthony Robinson Jr.
“The slave went free, stood a brief moment in the sun, then moved back again towards slavery.” – W.E.B. Du Bois, “Black Reconstruction”
In 1973, the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals issued a report which stated in part:
“The prison, the reformatory and the jail have achieved only a shocking record of failure. There is overwhelming evidence that these institutions create crime rather than prevent it.”
This same report stated directly:
“No new institutions for adults should be built and existing institutions for juveniles should be closed.”
It is interesting to note that since the 1980s, California has built 30 new prisons and only one new university, blatantly revealing the state’s intentions for poor people of color.
In an America where commodification is the new religion, a few have sold the public on the need for prisons while selling actual prison labor to corporations. Crime and punishment have become a necessitating cycle of control and disenfranchisement of poor people, measuring the will, grit and audacity of its victims on one hand, while also measuring the hope, nerve and humanity of the public on the other hand.
CCA was founded on the principle that you could sell prisons “just like you were selling cars or real estate or hamburgers,” according to a statement by Tom Beasley, one of the co-founders of Corrections Corporation of America. Since the company’s founding in 1983, the incarcerated population has risen by more than 500 percent, to more than 2.2 million people.
The 2005 annual report for the Corrections Corporation of America matter-of-factly explained the vested interests of private prisons in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission: “Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities. This possible growth depends on a number of factors we cannot control, including crime rates and sentencing patterns in various jurisdictions, and acceptance of privatization.”
The damning report went on to say: “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction and sentencing practices, or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.”
In 2012, CCA’s revenue exceeded more than $1.7 billion. We would be foolish not to assume that an efficient amount of this revenue isn’t being utilized to ensure that for-profit prisons are perpetuated as relevant commodities woven into the fabric of America. Prison profiteers are writing laws, signing bills, passing legislation and handing out sentences that take us back to the auction block as they price and sell our humanity.
As I said in Part One of “Two slaves for the price of one”: “If they can convince you that speaking out against injustice” – even in the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility (TCCF) workplace – “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,” even employment policies and regulations, “will break themselves against it in a rebellion out of the desperation of seeing no other option.”
CCA is the villain they follow out of that desperation. CCA seeks to train the humanity out of their employees to the point where poor people of color become so confined in their thinking that they adopt such a meager perspective and vision of the world, their aspirations in life rarely step outside the gates of the plantation.
Prison profiteers are writing laws, signing bills, passing legislation and handing out sentences that take us back to the auction block as they price and sell our humanity.
CCA shareholder Alex Friedman denounced an executive decision by CCA board chairman John D. Ferguson to refuse his request for a moment of silence to remember 24-year-old CCA employee Catlin Carithers, who was killed May 20, 2012, during a riot at CCA’s Adams County Correctional Facility in Natchez, Miss. Friedman said the denial “speaks volumes about how the company thinks of its employees and how it treats them,” according to a Clarion Ledger article reprinted in Prison Legal News.
What else are we to expect from this master vs. slave relationship?
CCA’s cost-cutting measures have frequently resulted in practices like reducing employee benefits and salaries, operating on routinely low and dangerous staff-to-prisoner ratios, and not offering sufficient staff training.
In 2011, CCA purchased Lake Erie Correctional Institution from Ohio for $72.7 million. According to Chris Kirkham’s Feb. 2, 2013, Huffington Post article, “Lake Erie Correctional Institution, Ohio Private Prison, Faces Concerns About ‘Unacceptable’ Conditions,” state audits found staff mismanagement, widespread violence, delays in medical treatment and “unacceptable living conditions.”
Neither Part One nor Part Two of my essays, “Two slaves for the price of one,” was intended to be an attack on the poor and oppressed prisoners who found themselves auctioned off and sold out of state, or the employees who migrated to the plantation seeking employment inspired by the need to escape the shackles of impoverished circumstances, opportunities and job markets.
This work is intended to resurrect the rebellion of Harriet Tubman and Nat Turner situated somewhere deep within the heart of both slaves, so that they measure their lives against the index finger of God, which directs them towards a purpose and gives value to their lives by allowing them to be of service to themselves and each other.
CCA has perfected the art of selling the downtrodden the masquerade of the veneer of success on a material basis alone. People will butcher their lives and the lives of others in order to “get theirs” by any means necessary, even if it means selling prisons to their own brothers and sisters. We have become so used to tasting blood from being hit in the mouth by oppressive realities that we are the tangible vampires – of our people’s blood – that were only mythical in origin.
We have seen in Part One that slavery is about cheap labor rather than race. So if you refuse to prepare your mind for the opportunity to earn a “living wage,” forcing yourself to work for others as cheap labor, aren’t you, and will you not remain, a slave?
CCA, whose power, prestige and interest rely on slave (cheap) labor, has created a system which entices its employees to submit to the idea that the bondage, oppression and exploitation of other poor and oppressed people are acceptable. My question is this: If you work at a prison for over 12 hours a day, go home for a few hours to eat, rest, bear children, etc., only to come back to the slave plantation or prison day in and day out for years upon years, how free can you be?
This perspective is analogous to the Nazi slave camps, or internment camps. Do you really think that those who worked in the Nazi slave camps could claim to fit the humane definition of freedom that Americans take pride in – just because they were allowed to go home and rest a few hours? Would you consider a Nazi free?
To the employees here at TCCF: You must ask yourselves, is this the fate you wish for your children? No longer is it feasible to hang onto the excuse that “I’m doing this so they won’t have to.” Children often follow in the footsteps that their parents thought they covered up.
The nature of CCA implicitly wants your children to enter its gates as well; but if you think CCA would rather have them as employees instead of convict laboring slaves, then you need to educate yourself on the prisons-for-profit corporation that you work for. While Blacks make up about 14 percent of the U.S. population, we are over half the prison population. Look at your child; is he or she Black?
CCA is currently lobbying politicians and writing legislation to ensure that the prison population is comprised of more, not fewer, Blacks. Do you think they have any sympathy because it’s an employee’s child? Of course not. They hope that they have trained you so well that you will be working right alongside your child: one a ward of the system and the other an employee of the system, both slaving away to protect the corporate interest.
To the other slave who comprises the inmate population, have the courage to get serious about your life. Stop contributing to the “death blossoms” by watering the seeds of your own oppression by shooting up, throwing up and essentially giving up. Make the decision to no longer be a cog in the wheel of the prison industrial complex. “It is our duty to fight for our freedom,” said the sista Assata Shakur. “We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Will you continue to applaud a system that sends you to a plantation hundreds of miles away from your community, strips you of basic human rights, brands you a slave, exchanges your natural name for a prison number and provides you with fewer calories a day than what was given to slaves on plantations in the 1700s during chattel slavery?
It is time for the slaves to wake up and see that you are standing in the crossfire with your neck in a noose. Only you can decide enough is enough and save yourself through constructive, practical application. As a result of choosing not to market death and imprisonment, you save not only yourselves and immediate family, but generations whom CCA and CDCR would prefer to be the slaves of the future.
“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.” – George Lester Jackson
The noose has you in its line of sight. Will you voluntarily walk up and put your head in it just to experience what it feels like? That’s what you are doing with your actions every day that support the continuity of this system of mass imprisonment of poor people of color for profit.
“Because slavery is the basis of the U.S. prison system, as embodied in the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, this same resort to brutality and violence to exert ‘control’ pervades it,” writes Kevin “Rashid” Johnson in “Razor Wire Plantations.”
“So as was done with the slaves, U.S. prisoners are projected to the public as objects of suspicion, fear, ridicule and hate. In this sense, we are the new ‘niggers.’ And when guards wish to demean us, we’re often told we’re only ‘inmates,’ ‘offenders’ etc., which means something less than human. …
“Once U.S. prisons are recognized to be a system of enslavement and the lie is exposed that slavery in America was ever abolished, the abusive conditions that pervade them make perfect sense.”
The “American dream” for an inordinate number of Black men and other people of color is becoming a pipeline to prison. They have devised a system through policies, regulations and laws that allow them to hunt, stalk, round up and target poor Black and minority men and women at will, shackle them and ship them off to plantations hundreds of miles away from their communities. All in the name of capitalism!
It is interesting how we can be so disenfranchised from our humanity as a people that we can watch “society” celebrate a movie like “12 Years a Slave” and not make the connection to the fact that Solomon Northups are still being hunted and placed into slavery, considering the number of Black men who are put into prison every day.
In order for CCA to profit, they need to maintain the ability to build or buy prisons. But more compelling than their need for prisons is their need to fill these prisons with not only poor, uneducated prisoners, but poor, uneducated staff to operate and facilitate these plantations. And because it is easier to train the humanity out of a people who never had a high estimation of themselves to begin with, CCA builds its plantations in rural areas where the pool of potential employees is desperate for work of any kind that can provide some sustenance for their families.
“Men are so constituted that they derive their conviction of their own possibilities largely from the estimate formed of them by others. If nothing is expected of a people, that people will find it difficult to contradict that expectation.” – Frederick Douglass
Will the two slaves continue to allow CCA to profit off of them by selling them such a low estimation of themselves that they labor to perpetuate an inhumane system profiting from the imprisonment of poor, oppressed people of color who look, act, talk, walk and pray like you?
We can help get rid of the lawmakers by making the necessary adjustments in our lives that make it difficult for them to create the outlaw.
Employees of TCCF: Please unwrap the Confederate flag off your mind and consider the fact that when you write up an “inmate resident” for minor offenses like clothing lines, window covers and crossing red lines, you are adding 30 days or more to that man’s sentence; this not only extends CCA’s profit by perpetuating the imprisonment, but it also increases your own oppression by extending the lease of your cheap labor on the plantation.
To the “inmate residents” at TCCF, stop putting yourself in the mouse trap by not being organized enough to control your behavioral patterns which allow you to be targeted for “serious rules violations” that add days to your sentence. You must keep in mind, “It is impossible for us to break the law. We can only break ourselves against the law.” – Cecil B. DeMille
Not all employees at TCCF are so enslaved that they take pride in extending the oppressive measures of inhumanity that CCA trains them to applaud – just as not all prisoners here at TCCF contribute to the degradation and oppression of this environment.
We each must decide individually the impact we would like our conduct and humanity to contribute to in freeing or further imprisoning future generations. Until a people can see themselves in the context of how their behavioral patterns reveal the direction their lives are headed, they will never have the intellectual and emotional courage to truly march towards freedom in the exercise of their daily lives!
My hope is that the two slaves will take an introspective look in the mirror of reality and determine if their conduct has contributed to the solution of seeing a society not reliant on profiting off of imprisonment or the problem of policing plantations, which carry on the work of the racist plantation owner Willy Lynch.
The slaves went free, stood a brief moment in the sun, then refused to move back again towards slavery.
Send our brother some love and light: Anthony Robinson Jr., P-67144, TCCF MC67, 415 US Hwy 49 North, Tutwiler MS 38963. 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 plans to include it in a documentary on private prisons.