Slavery Is Still Legal in the US: Striking Against the Prison-Industrial Complex
September 26, 2016 The Intercept & The Cato Institute & Newsweek & What Does It Mean?
The largest prison strike in US history began on September 9, but there's a good chance you haven't heard about it. Some 20,000 prisoners in 24 states and 40 to 50 prisons pledged to join a work strike against "slavery in America." Slavery was never abolished in the US. The 13th Amendment contains a waiver for prison employment. It's no coincidence that today's slaves (forced to labor for major US corporations) and primarily people of color.
The Largest Prison Strike in US History Alice Speri / The Intercept
(September 16, 2016) -- The largest prison strike in US history has been going on for nearly a week, but there's a good chance you haven't heard about it. For months, inmates at dozens of prisons across the country have been organizing through a network of smuggled cellphones, social media pages, and the support of allies on the outside. The effort culminated in a mass refusal to report to prison jobs on September 9, the anniversary of the 1971 Attica prison uprising.
"This is a call to action against slavery in America," organizers wrote in an announcement that for weeks circulated inside and outside prisons nationwide, and that sums up the strikers' primary demand: an end to free prison labor. "Forty-five years after Attica, the waves of change are returning to America's prisons. This September we hope to coordinate and generalize these protests, to build them into a single tidal shift that the American prison system cannot ignore or withstand."
Since Friday, details on the strike's success have trickled out of prisons with some difficulty, but organizers and supporters have no doubt the scale of the action is unprecedented, though their assessment is difficult to verify and some corrections departments denied reports of strike-related activities in their states.
Prisoners in 24 states and 40 to 50 prisons pledged to join the strike, and as of Tuesday, prisoners in at least 11 states and 20 prisons continued the protest, according to outside supporters in Alabama. Tactics and specific demands varied locally, with some prisoners reportedly staging hunger strikes, and detainees in Florida protesting and destroying prison property ahead of the planned strike date.
"There are probably 20,000 prisoners on strike right now, at least, which is the biggest prison strike in history, but the information is really sketchy and spotty," said Ben Turk, who works on "in-reach" to prisons for the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, a chapter of the Industrial Workers of the World union helping to coordinate the inmate-led initiative from the outside.
Small rallies and demonstrations in support of the strikers were staged in dozens of US cities and a couple of foreign countries, but so far the coordinated strike remains largely ignored on the outside.
"The strike has been pulled off, but we're not quite breaking through to getting mainstream media," Turk told The Intercept, noting that the strike was widely covered by independent media. "I talk to people who aren't in that milieu and aren't seeing it on their social media, and they'll be like, 'We didn't hear about it, there's nothing about it anywhere.'"
That's bad news for the strikers, who rely on the support of outsiders to push for more radical reform but also depend on their outside visibility to mitigate retaliation by prison officials.
A week into the strike, a couple of groups were providing updates on the action, which organizers say will carry on indefinitely, as well as outside demonstrations of solidarity.
The information blackout is largely due to prison officials' ample discretion in the details they choose to disclose. As the strikes began, reports emerged of several facilities being put on lockdown, some preemptively, but the only way for outsiders to get updates would be to call each facility and ask, usually getting no explanation about the reasons for a lockdown. Reports also emerged claiming that prison leaders in Virginia, Ohio, California, and South Carolina were put in solitary confinement as a result of the strike, according to the Alabama supporters.
The Alabama Department of Corrections did not respond to a request for comment, while corrections departments in Virginia, Ohio, and California -- three of the states where strike-related disturbances were tracked by outsiders -- denied that inmates in those states participated in the strike.
A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Corrections said that prisons there had resumed normal operations after several hundred inmates staged protests and work stoppages at four facilities. The spokesperson added that several inmates identified in the disturbances were transferred to other regional institutions and will be disciplined "in accordance with procedure."
At the Kinross Correctional Facility in Michigan, some 150 prisoners identified as "ringleaders" of the protests were also removed to other facilities after prisoners assigned to kitchen work declined to report to their jobs on September 9 and some 400 prisoners staged a peaceful protest.
The situation there grew more tense a day later when prison guards went through the facility to remove suspected leaders, the Wall Street Journal reported, and the prison remains on lockdown.
Retaliation against strikers is also hard to track, but outside advocates said that several leaders were put in isolation and denied communication privileges, making it even harder for information to come out.
In one instance, at the Ohio State Penitentiary, Siddique Hasan, a well-known prison activist sentenced to death for his role in a 1993 prison uprising, was accused of plotting to "blow up buildings" on September 9. Hasan, an organizer with the Free Ohio Movement, was confined to isolation and denied access to the phone for nearly a month before the strike -- a deliberate effort to prevent him from communicating with the outside about it, supporters said.
"What people have to realize is that these men and women inside prison -- they expected to be retaliated against, but they sacrificed," said Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, a former prisoner and a supporter of the Free Alabama Movement, the prisoner-led group that first called for the nationwide strike.
"People on the outside are not understanding they are being bamboozled," he added, expressing disappointment that the strike hadn't garnered more attention. "A lot of people are not realizing the value in what's going on, they don't realize that it's slavery, that slavery still exists."
While the most ambitious to date, the September 9 strike was hardly the first such effort by prisoners. Prison protests have been on the rise in recent years, following a 2010 strike during which thousands of prisoners in Georgia refused to work, an action that was followed by others in Illinois, Virginia, North Carolina, and Washington.
In 2013, California prisoners coordinated a hunger strike against the use of solitary confinement that at its peak involved 30,000 prisoners. And this year, prisoners rioted at Holman prison in Alabama -- one of the facilities most actively involved in the current strike -- and went on strike in Texas.
Across the country, inmates are protesting a wide range of issues: from harsh parole systems and three-strike laws to the lack of educational services, medical neglect, and overcrowding. But the issue that has unified protesters is that of prison labor -- a $2 billion a year industry that employs nearly 900,000 prisoners while paying them a few cents an hour in some states, and nothing at all in others.
In addition to work for private companies, prisoners also cook, clean, and work on maintenance and construction in the prisons themselves -- forcing officials to pay staff to carry out those tasks in response to work stoppages.
"They cannot run these facilities without us," organizers wrote ahead of the strike. "We will not only demand the end to prison slavery, we will end it ourselves by ceasing to be slaves."
Prisoners on strike are calling for the repeal of an exception listed in the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which bans "involuntary servitude" in addition to slavery, "except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted."
That forced labor remains legal in prison is unknown to many Americans, and that's something strikers hope to change with this action. But it's also a sign of how little the general public knows about the country's massive prison system.
"A nation that imprisons 1 percent of its population has an obligation to know what's happening to those 2.4 million people," Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, wrote in a blog post about the tepid response to the strike. "And right now, we don't know."
But while information on prisons is notoriously hard to obtain, a potentially larger problem for the striking prisoners is the seemingly limited interest in their plight, which remains confined to a few activists, family members, and formerly incarcerated people, even at a time when criminal justice issues and prison reform are high on the agenda of social justice advocates and politicians alike.
Prisoners themselves have been largely excluded from the last few years' debate on mass incarceration, but the very fact that they were able to coordinate a collective protest of this scale, with all its limitations, is testimony to their determination that the prison system needs radical change, strike organizers say.
"When you have people who are inside, locked up, who have overcome all these obstacles and barriers and have organized in 24 states, 40 to 50 prisons," said Glasgow, "that means all of us out here need to start stepping up."
The Racket of Racism:
The History of US Slavery Told in 20 Minutes A Video by Romany Malco
(August 25, 2015) -- When most Americans learn about the 13th Amendment in high school, the teacher will cursorily remark that "the 13th Amendment ended slavery in the United States," and move on to the 14th Amendment.
This oversimplification is a fiction. Slavery is still legal in the United States, so long as it is pursuant to a criminal conviction and if it is limited to compulsory uncompensated labor -- and indeed that is precisely the system America maintains today.
The 13th Amendment, as enacted, reads "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
Slavery is neither a cruel nor unusual punishment according to the Supreme Law of the Land, nor historically has it been considered that. In the 1700s and early 1800s, Americans viewed compulsory labor as a way to fight vagrancy and to rehabilitate such idleness.
However, the states began to understand the potential for revenue generation from prisons in the 1800s -- compulsory labor and the sale of prison products became a means to offset state costs. To be sure, the Virginia Supreme Court in Ruffin v. Commonwealth (1871) declared that prisoners were the "slaves of the State" within a compulsory labor system.
This "Punishments" clause allowed for the birth of the "convict-lease" system in the South after the war. Many Southern states passed anti-vagrancy "black codes," criminalizing the status of being unemployed. Citing cost reasons, states would then lease out their prisoners to private persons to work under slave-like conditions.
As Frederick Douglass noted, "companies assume charge of the convicts, work them as cheap labor and pay the states a handsome revenue for their labor. Nine[-]tenths of these convicts are Negroes."
Since the 1860s, courts have interpreted the 13th Amendment as it plainly reads. "Once individuals have been duly tried, convicted, sentenced, and imprisoned, courts will not find 13th Amendment violations where prison rules require inmates to work."
For example, in Mikeska v. Collins (1990), the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals held that "any unjustified refusal to follow the established work regime is an invitation to sanctions."
The compensation of prison labor today reflects this history. In Georgia and Texas, the maximum wage in dollars per day is $0. In Nevada, prisoners make $0.13 an hour. The average wage is between $0.93 a day and $4.93 a day -- less than an hour of work at minimum wage. Conservative estimates put the value of output from prison labor at $2 billion annually.
Indeed, much like the Southern states claimed after the Civil War, "states facing growing budget deficits are increasingly turning to inmate labor to produce additional revenue, or at a minimum, offset the cost of imprisonment." "At least 37 states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations that mount their operations inside state prisons."
While amending the Constitution to fix a $2 billion a year compulsory labor industry is politically unlikely, Congress may take measures to ensure that rehabilitative compulsory labor is not uncompensated, like compelling the payment of a federal minimum wage. State legislatures also could apply minimum wage rules to prisoners.
Prisoners are often indigent upon release; allowing them to save money for their transition back to society seems only logical if the goal is the reduce recidivism. Paying prisoners fair wages allows them to afford housing and sustenance while transitioning back to being a productive member of society. Additionally, the availability of compulsory, cheap labor to private companies undercuts domestic industry itself.
America must change its practice of not compensating prisoners for their labor. While work has rehabilitative benefits, rehabilitation of the wards of the state should not convert them to the "slaves of the State." Fair wages should follow compelled work.
Randal John Meyer is a legal associate in the Cato Institute's Center for Constitutional Studies. Obama Becomes World's Biggest Slave Owner
As Largest Prison Strike In US History Continues Sorcha Faal / What Does It Mean?
(September 22, 2016) -- A new Security Council (SC) report circulating in the Kremlin today on the largest prison strike in American history stunningly reveals that President Barak Obama has now become the worlds biggest slave owner -- and that contrary to what many believe, is still legal in the United States. [Note: Some words and/or phrases appearing in quotes in this report are English language approximations of Russian words/phrases having no exact counterpart.]
According to this report, unlike any other developed country in the world, the United States still maintains the practice of legal human slavery that is allowed under their Constitutions 13th Amendment that says "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." -- and that US Supreme Court has upheld by their ruling that "slavery is neither a cruel nor unusual punishment".
As President Obama is the chief law enforcer in the United States, this report continues, the 2.3 million slaves he rules over are held in barbaric conditions and reside in 1,719 State prisons, 102 Federal prisons, 942 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails, and 79 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the US territories.
To how President Obama's slave numbers have been able to increase so shockingly large, SC analysts in this report note, has been due to the United State's nearly fifty years "War On Drugs" that was begun in 1971 and still continues today -- and that the Obama regime itself admits has been "an epic failure".
With the actual crime statistics proving that violent crime in the US has dramatically decreased from 1971 to the present, this report says, in 1971 the US prison slave population was 143,000 -- but its rise to today's shocking number of 2.3 million has nothing to do with crimes, but the free labor these slaves are forced to perform for some of America's largest corporations -- including Whole Foods, McDonalds, Wendy's, Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Sprint, Verizon, Victoria's Secret, Fidelity Investments, JC Penney, Kmart, American Airlines and Avis, just to name a few.
The massive US corporations making billons-of-dollars from the Obama regimes modern day slave racket, this report continues, has, likewise, benefited both President Obama and Hillary Clinton as they've received hundreds-of-millions in campaign donations from them to continue this practice -- and should Hillary Clinton win the US presidency would be insured to continue.
Standing alone against their present owner, President Obama, this report notes, are these slaves themselves who for months have managed to engineer the largest prison strike in American history "that began with dozens of prisons across the United States organizing through a network of smuggled cell phones, social media pages, and the support of allies on the outside -- with the effort culminating in a mass refusal to report to prison jobs on 9 September, the anniversary of the 1971 Attica Prison Uprising" and whose organizers wrote: "This is a call to action against slavery in America," organizers wrote in an announcement that for weeks circulated inside and outside prisons nationwide, and that sums up the strikers' primary demand: an end to free prison labor. "Forty-five years after Attica, the waves of change are returning to America's prisons. This September we hope to coordinate and generalize these protests, to build them into a single tidal shift that the American prison system cannot ignore or withstand."
Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, a former prisoner and a supporter of the Free Alabama Movement (the prisoner-led group that first called for the nationwide strike) this report continues, called upon the American people to understand that "a lot of people are not realizing the value in what's going on, they don't realize that it's slavery, that slavery still exists" -- but whose voice has been silenced by the same US corporations who, along with slave owner Obama, are keeping the truth of what is happening from being heard. . . . RELATED
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