The Modern Day U.S. Slave


While most Americans spent this past weekend focused on memorials of the tragedy of 9/11, the gringa found herself getting educated at a prison protest Saturday on the anniversary of the Attica Uprising 45 years ago.  I’ll give you a rundown of a bit of history and then share some details of today’s U.S. prisons that shocked the gringa when she came to a fuller understanding.

Attica Maximum Security Correctional Facility, New York, September 9, 1975

  • 1,281 prisoners take over D yard, an exercise field.
  • 39 prison employees & guards are held hostage.
  • 13 state police & prison officers launch a raid.
  • During the raid 10 hostages & 29 prisoners are killed, 89 seriously injured

Why did this happen? Frustration over deplorable living conditions:

  • Overcrowding
  • Censorship of mail
  • 1 weekly shower
  • 1 single roll of toilet paper for an entire month (the gringa goes through a single roll PER DAY)

Personal perspective of the prisoners began to change in the radicalized climate of the late 60’s and early 70’s. They began to see themselves as political prisoners rather than just convicted criminals. After all, isn’t our nation’s law enforcement, judicial and prison systems highly politicized? Aren’t convicted criminals often used as political pawns? Of course they are. And Attica’s inmates decided it was time to participate in the political system the only way a disenfranchised citizen can, through radical, attention getting protest.

Once the more than 2,000 inmates mobilized, a riot quickly ensued that included beating guards, acquiring weapons of any sort, and torching the chapel. One guard was thrown out a second-story window after a beating and died from his injuries days later. As state police struggled to regain control of the prison, D yard became the final scene of the showdown with a hostage situation that lasted four long days.

The prisoners requested U.S. Representative Herman Badillo to lead negotiations and offered their list of demands:

  • Improved living conditions.
  • Religious freedom.
  • No more censorship of personal mail.
  • More phone privileges.
  • Amnesty for prisoners in D Yard.
  • Safe passage to a non-imperialist country for any who desired to go.

Although negotiations were on-going and none of the hostages were being harmed, Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller mobilized hundreds of state troopers and the National Guard which all soon descended upon the prison. Civilian observers who were present were dismayed by the Governor’s overt show of force and asked for him to personally appear as a sign of good faith. Rockefeller refused. Instead he gave the order for an act of force that resulted in a massive and tragic loss of life. The gringa thinks this was totally unnecessary and quite typical of the cowboy mentality that seems to take hold of the wrong kind of people who come into positions of power over other people.

Many would argue that strong leadership means being forceful and making a powerful display of strength and authority when challenged. The gringa disagrees. When in a role of managing the care of fellow human beings, even if they are convicted criminals, a strong leader must be a wise and humble benefactor. Human beings are complicated creatures with complex needs. Rockefeller was wrong to do what he did. Going in with guns blazing is absolutely the wrong approach to solve any crisis where human lives are at stake.

Rather than continue negotiations Rockefeller demanded the inmates’ surrender. They responded to his challenge by holding knives to the throats of their hostages. In short order 3,000 rounds of bullets tore through clouds of tear gas and killed not only inmates, but one fourth of the hostages. Emergency medical responders testified that some of the prisoners were shot and killed as they lie on the ground after surrendering or being wounded.

In light of this disastrous plan implemented by New York’s governor, Rockefeller tried to deflect blame with false stories fed to the press that the inmates had slit the throats of the hostages and even castrated one. Rockefeller was either extremely ignorant or extremely arrogant if he thought autopsy reports would not expose his lies. There was an eventual Congressional investigation into this cover-up and frame job of the inmates as brutal executioners.

The final aftermath of the Attica riot has reserved its place in history as the worst prison riot the United States has ever seen:

  • 43 people killed.
  • Weeks of reprisals against prisoners with torturous treatment involving nightsticks, broken glass and other measures.
  • Substandard medical treatment if it was administered at all.
  • $2.8 billion class-action lawsuit filed by 1,281 prisoners against Attica & state officials.
  • $8 million awarded to prisoners in 2000 & divided among 500 inmates.
  • By accepting death benefit checks or paychecks, prison officers & their survivors unknowingly forfeited their right to sue the state for its debacle of a rescue plan.

Today’s Prisons

The gringa can’t speak on behalf of prisons in every state, but will share two distinct and troubling characteristics of prisons in her home state of Texas:

  • Prisoners are expected to work for zero pay & can expect retribution if they refuse, often being placed in solitary confinement.
  • Prisoners must pay a $100 co-pay in order to receive medical treatment.

The gringa is struck by many shocking conclusions upon becoming aware of these facts:

  • A for-profit prison system benefitting from productivity from enslaved Americans creates a society where there are incentives in place for the justice system to generate as many arrests and convictions as possible.
  • The common thread among prisoners is financial status. Whereas the slaves of America’s past were defined by race, today’s slaves are defined by lacking the funds to launch an aggressive legal defense, which still results in minorities being over-represented in U.S. prison populations.
  • By targeting the poor as easy to imprison & profit from, a capitalist society is further growing the impoverished slave class by fracturing families and extracting breadwinners. The fractured family is further burdened by creating a single parent who needs to provide for herself, her children and her imprisoned loved one who, because enslaved and performing prison labor without pay, cannot provide for his commissary needs. The loved one on the outside must also pay for their imprisoned loved one’s toothpaste, socks, toilet paper, medical care, etc.
  • The ugly laws of the 1920s, designed by America’s elite class to rid public streets of the unsightliness of undesirables by criminalizing behaviors typical to impoverished people, have simply been reinstated through various other laws that target the poor American.

The gringa has no solutions. I have only just now had my eyes opened to the complexity of this disturbing issue. Like a good, little patriot I have been conditioned by my society to believe it is acceptable that prisoners should have, at the very least, an uncomfortable time of it. I have also been conditioned to believe that complaints by prisoners are always a con job, they are simply not to be trusted. However, by conditioning Americans to ignore the plight of prisoners, capitalists have been empowered to pursue policies that have targeted the weakest among us in order to create a slave class they can profit from.

The gringa heard the story of one mother who was visiting her 19 year-old son on the one day weekly he is able to see his loved ones. I listened in horror as she told me a tale that could have happened to my own son. A tale of a teenager arranging to purchase some expensive sneakers he had seen online. However, when he met the individuals to exchange his money for the shoes, they took his money and basically ran. It was a scam. Incensed, he tracked down the individuals and gave them a beat down to get the shoes he had paid for. He was charged not just with assault, but also with robbery. Being high end sneakers, the sale price constituted a felony. This young man was facing 8-25 years of hard time and having to place his trust in a court appointed attorney. Unlike many others like her son, this mother was very fortunate to work out a deal with a youth program yet he will still serve 6 months in prison that will certainly be a harrowing experience that will change him forever. Because he beat up a con artist and took back his shoes.

Might an affluent teenager with a hotshot lawyer have gotten off with a fine and probation or perhaps even an aquittal? It’s highly likely. However,  a low-income, minority teen is advised by a court appointed attorney to work out a plea deal, securing, at the very least, 6 months of free labor for a capitalist prison system model to profit from. And the young and strong are who the for-profit systems want for slave labor. Even a minimal sentence is a good thing for prison profiteers. It increases the chances that a 6 month slave will return for a longer stint of labor in the future. The system is ensuring that as much of the poverty rabble as possible is kept off of America’s streets and enslaved for the profit of corporations. This is outrageous.

What is the interest of a court appointed attorney who takes on a case for free? His interest is to get the case over with as soon as possible so he can get back to jobs that pay. This is not justice. Consider just a few very telling statistics and see if the gringa is right when she says that the United States should be very ashamed:

  • U.S. population of nearly 320 million.
  • In 2014 more than 2 million Americans were in prison & nearly 5 million were on probation or parole.
  • 1 in 5 prisoners are convicted of a drug related offense.
  • The underprivileged are disproportionately imprisoned, marked by the following factors: income status, race, & level of education.

The gringa does not believe any of this is an accident. Re-designing prisons as modern day plantations is purposeful. In 1964 the Civil Rights Act was passed. This had an incredible economic impact for bad or good depending on where a person stood. For minorities it was an economic boon, finally having their right to equal job opportunity and equal pay protected. For businesses that had enjoyed the freedom to pay as little as they pleased to minorities, they suffered. Imbittered, it did not take long for American businesses to devise a work around.

Within 7 years President Nixon announced the U.S. War on Drugs. Within another 7 years America’s prison systems were privatized to deal with exploding prison populations as a result of the War on Drugs. A war that has been effectively proven to disproportionately incarcerate poor, non-violent, drug offenders that are more of a threat to themselves than society, and most are capable of complete rehabilitation. American business preserved their slave class despite the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil Rights Act. And it continues today.

Although the average citizen is conditioned to point the finger at inmates for their less than humane living conditions, what of the creators and enforcers who have the power and resources to implement change that would be decidedly better? What about other first world countries who are successful with humane, rehabilitative prison systems that are minimally populated and experience extremely low rates of returning inmates?

The gringa believes this is all by design as well. By creating and enforcing conditions that dehumanize even a non-violent drug offender who originally was no real threat to the public at large, for-profit prisons can damage a human so badly that person is incapable of living successfully and independently as a free man or woman. They ensure their slave workforce by intentionally designing living conditions that psychologically ruin a human being’s ability to ever have healthy emotional and working relationships. In the gringa’s opinion, this places every prison official in the category of guilt of crimes against humanity. And it seems that the United Nations agrees with the gringa, making it very clear that the United States is not living up to UN standards of humane treatment of incarcerated peoples.

I urge my dear readers who are as alarmed and as concerned as the gringa to use whatever is your gift or talent to help bring about awareness and change. The U.S. model of how criminals are dealt with is barbaric. No other civilized, first world nation operates in such a way. Human beings that are poor, or of the wrong ethnicity, are considered disposable in the United States. You only get one chance and if you make a mistake and end up in the prison system, there is no rehabilitation, only living conditions that reduce human beings to their basest instincts for survival. U.S. imprisonment is modern day slavery that creates a social stigma that prevents any success once free, only recidivism just to survive, where a person is then guaranteed a return to the plantation.

The gringa has provided below some video and photos from the rally.

Chants of the protestors:

Judy Kotun who told me the story of her 19 year-old son:

Samsung
Samsung

 

Sources:

www.history.com

www.prisonpolicy.org

Incarceration on Wikipedia

www.bloomberg.com

stanford.edu

www.un.org

Image Credit: tse1.mm.bing.net

 

 

 

Advertisements

1798, Immigrant Until Death


The 1740 Naturalization Act was normal operating procedure for creating a new nation. New nations need new laws, and lawmaking is a very complicated process. First, legislators have to become aware that there is a need for such action. If even one legislator takes up a cause to propose a new law, or repeal or amend an existing law, the next step is extensive research before the writing of an introductory bill can even begin. Once the bill is finally composed and introduced to Congress, lawmakers then have to reach a consensus in order for it to become the law of the land. Thus, any change in immigration policy is preceded by a significant event, whether social, political or economic, that would motivate lawmakers to invest such time and effort in order to bring about change. Therefore every immigration law reflects the motivating public sentiment, political benefit or economic incentive that was originally behind it.

On June 18, 1798, the Congress of the United States passed legislation that repealed the 1790 Naturalization Act.  Now, rather than have a simple immigration policy, the United States embarked on the path of detail, detail, detail, by creating a citizenship policy that had many more conditions.  The only requirements of the 1790 act were to (a) be white, (b) be “free”, (c) live in the United States for two years, and (d) live in a particular state for one year. The new legislation created a completely new path to citizenship with more documentation, fees, demands of much longer residency and the creation of a new waiting period. According to United States Congressional Records (www.memory.loc.gov), The United States 1798 Naturalization Act stipulated:

  • All white persons and aliens (except for foreign ministers, consuls, agents, their families & domestics) who continued to live within United States territory after arrival, and were at least 21 years old, were required to report to the clerk of the court that was within ten miles of the port or place in which they arrived in the United States and register as “free” immigrant arrivals (if the immigrant was younger, or a servant, they had to appear with a parent, guardian, master, or mistress)
  • Immigrant registration must be completed within 48 hours of arrival to United States territories
  • The immigrant must pay a fifty cent fee to the court for registering (fifty cents would be equivalent to about $10 today)
  • After registration, the immigrant is admitted into the United States with a 14 year period of residency required before application of citizenship can be made
  • After the 14 year residency is completed, the immigrant must make a declaration of intention to become a U.S. citizen and wait another four years
  • The application of intention to become a U.S. citizen must include proof to the court that the minimum 14 year residency has been fulfilled
  • The immigrant applicant cannot be a citizen or native of any state or country the U.S. is at war with
  • The immigrant applicant must pay a $2 fee (equivalent to about $40 today) to the court for the “abstract of such declaration” document to be filed and recorded with the court
  • After the immigrant applicant successfully fulfills all residency, waiting period and documentary proof requirements, United States citizenship is granted
  • Another $2 fee is paid to the court to file a certificate and record the court decree of the proceedings regarding the alien

What did all of this really mean to an immigrant in 1798? Why such a significant change in the period of time for residency? Why was a new waiting period of five years created? What happened in the eight years that transpired from the simple Naturalization Act of 1790 to this new, complicated process of 1798 that increased the residency period by 700%?

1790 census reports reflect a dramatic increase in immigration. Pre-1790 immigration numbers were 950,000. Post-1790 immigration numbers totaled 3,900,000. This is a bit more than a 400% increase. The following countries and ethnic and religious groups are representative of the new arrivals to the United States of America:  African, British, Scottish, Irish, German, Netherlands, Wales, France, Sweden,  and Jewish (www.wikipedia.org).

Passenger lists from ship manifests bound for the United States in the mid 1770s reflect an average age of 21 years for the typical immigrant arriving to the New World (www.olivetreegenealogy.com). According to the Proceedings of the British Academy, Volume 131, 2004 lectures, “We know now that in 1798 life expectancy in Britain was around 40”. The website, Stokesfamily.org, confirms this finding by stating in reports that in the 1750’s the “average person would live to only 36.9 years of age”. If, then, the average immigrant arrived in the United States at the age of 21, by the time the residency and declaration waiting period requirements were fulfilled, this same immigrant would be approximately 39 years old. It would seem highly likely that death would then prevent many immigrants from ever becoming United States citizens.

Did the United States Congress design an immigration law that created a substandard class of people to be exploited for the benefit of the upper classes? Did this same law engender a false hope that inspired many people to immigrate to the United States never understanding the New World’s open arms received them as laborers who had no hope of ever having rights, representation and property? Did these immigrants truly perceive that this new law would probably mean they would die before ever achieving their dream of becoming an American? Does the dear reader see the same thing I see: the first step of a suspicious pattern in the United States where citizens of means and property exploit immigrants of all races and both genders in order to profit from their labor? Did the government of 1798 America intentionally design legislation to create the illusion of possible citizenship to hopeful immigrants when actually the design was to achieve national prosperity on the backs of an imported labor class who could never hope to change their lot in life, most likely dying before they gained the right to vote? If so, why would the United States do such a thing?

Although slavery was alive and well in the southern settlements, African enslavement was on its way out in New England by the 1780’s (www.wikipedia.org). This translated into a great need for cheap labor in the northern states. This economic need could then very well be the mitigating factor for a new Naturalization Act. The enslavement of the African was switched for a more politically correct form of enslavement. Create a labor class of immigrant who, without citizenship, has no rights, no vote, no property and no hope of ever having such until the day he dies. This was a very clever plan, indeed.

In a nutshell, the simple “whites only” Naturalization Act of 1790 is replaced in 1798 with a new “whites only” naturalization formula that prevents the likelihood that the people who comprised the immigrant labor class would ever have a voice and be represented in government through the power of casting ballots as legal citizen voters. It seems the Congress planned it this way. This gringa is very disappointed with her country. I can only hope there is a change in how the immigrant is perceived by the powerful and influential within the United States. As I observe the people of my barrio, their work ethic, their desire to have a better life than the one they left behind in their native country, and I see how they are affected by current immigration law, I’m not so sure that much has changed.

(photo by fincher.house.gov)