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

 

 

 

Oh, Just Forget It


The mind is an amazing thing. Having dealt with the effects of epilepsy all of my life, the gringa finds the subject of memory particularly fascinating. Amnesia is a typical side effect of intense seizure activity. Not only have I experienced amnesia, but often I will have some limited recall which is like taking a memory and making  a meal of scrambled eggs. I get it all wrong.  Having a blank space of time may sound frightening but I have learned to live with it. I simply have to shrug and move on. It even comes in handy from time to time if I have behaved particularly bad because I can then always say, “Really? I had no idea. I’m terribly sorry. I was simply not myself at the time.” I’m not sure the caveman is buying that line after all these years but, at the very least, he usually goes along with it.

So, the gringa has experienced the effect of seizure related amnesia as a cause for my creating false memories. Fortunately the caveman is understanding and does not believe that his little wife is a big, fat liar but just sick and confused. I am happy to know that I am not alone. In fact, none of us are. According to research by Shari R. Berkowitz and Jennifer Sumner, both assistant professors at California State University, all humans create false memories. Their studies revealed that it is actually very easy to implant false memories through different suggestive methods:

  • People were given a list of words that had something in common: pillow, sheets, bed, nap. The common link, sleep, was not on the list. Once the list was removed, the word sleep was suggested as being on the list and subjects agreed that they remembered seeing the word sleep on the list.
  • Participants had a dream interpreted. Days later it was suggested that the events of the dream were a real occurrence. The dreamer would recall the event as something that actually happened.
  • Study participants listed 4 interesting events like football games, political speeches, etc. and then read corresponding news stories related to the events. Of the news stories offered, one was bogus yet the participants invariably remembered the event occurring. Having a strong interest in a particular subject actually increased the chances of creating a false memory. Consequently, because the person considers themselves well-versed in the subject, they are also less likely to accept they are believing a false memory.
  • Rich memory events are false memories of something fantastic happening like being possessed or kidnapped.

Now, for the gringa, this rich memory theory is of particular interest. When I was a little girl the earliest memory, or, at least, what I thought was a memory, was of being a toddler and playing on the back porch of our home with our cat. I distinctly remember a group of Native Americans crossing the creek beside our home, entering our backyard and shooting me with an arrow.

As a child I was convinced this was a real memory. It was not until I was a teenager that I would recall this “memory” and realize I was wrong. But what made me believe such a thing? And why did I have no fear or animosity toward Native Americans? In fact, it was quite the opposite. I was fascinated with their history and fantasized of a romantic alternative life as part of a tribe. This would seem contrary to the typical psychology that would have resulted from a trauma. So what the heck happened to the gringa?

I blame my father. He was always making up fantastic stories to drive my sisters and I crazy. For example, I was very freckled as a youngster. He told me they were bird spots. That, because I liked to play outside all the time as a little girl, I was always getting pooped on by birds and those were the stains left behind. He even had a favorite bird species to mention in this explanation of freckles, buzzards. Not very nice, I know, but in my Daddy’s warped mind he thought he was simply hysterical and clever.

So, as for getting shot with an arrow, the gringa’s dear readers must understand that my Daddy grew up in an era of zero political correctness many years before the passage of the Civil Rights Act. He grew up in an America where white supremacy was the law of the land. So, he thought nothing of it when accusing Native Americans of shooting his little girl to explain why I had a navel. As a lover of old western movies, of course he would tell such a tale. That fantastic story had such an impact on my young, impressionable mind, I actually believed that I had a memory of a Native American Indian tribe raiding the back yard of my family home during the era of the Vietnam War.

And that, my dear readers, is why such research is so very important. Not just to get history correct, but to recognize that eye-witness testimony in criminal cases is often very flawed. Often times young people who undergo therapy to re-capture memories are not remembering actual events. This could result in ruining the lives of not only the falsely accused but by creating a victim who is actually not a victim.  If we can rely on anything when it comes to memory, it is that it is simply not reliable.

Consider that the gringa can remember the telephone number of her childhood home and several childhood friends yet I cannot remember the caveman’s telephone number at work. I can list the titles of the first three novels I read from cover to cover as a little girl but I can’t remember to buy dog food if I leave my shopping list at home. I can recall the words to a song I have never performed and haven’t heard on the radio in over ten years but I can’t keep the birthdates of my children straight. What is up with that? Science says it is because there are different types of memory and they each have their own special mechanism that causes forgetting.

Doorway Memory

If you find that you walk from one room to another, forgetting why you made the trip, this is the problem of doorway memory. Walking through a doorway into another physical setting is like hitting a reset button in your memory bank.

Flashbulb Memory

Emotionally vivid events often cause people to create flashbulb memories. These accounts become so vivid that they believe they will never forget, like remembering where you were when you heard the news of 9/11 or that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. The gringa must inform you that although one would think these memories would be etched forever upon our minds, it simply ain’t so.  Although we will never forget that those events happened, we will, indeed, eventually forget where we were when we got the news. We may recall with effort where we were, but it won’t actually be a memory of the place and conditions surrounding us. It will be the remembrance of a fact we know to be historically true. Unless, of course, we were one of the victims. But traumatic memory is also tricky.

Traumatic Memory

If you were a victim of 9/11, or any other trauma, one of two things might happen with your memory. You will never forget anything, not even the smells or particular sounds. The other option is that you could forget absolutely everything, complete amnesia. If a trauma is so extreme that the brain determines that the person cannot emotionally bear the pain, the brain disposes of the memory with a deep burial process. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may very well be the result with certain events, words, colors, smells, sounds, etc. triggering an anxiety attack of dangerous and epic proportions where the person begins to relive the experience of the trauma.

Mind Erase

Certain activities can cause what is termed “transient global amnesia”.  This doesn’t mean that world travelers forget stuff. No, the gringa breaks it down like this: Transient (temporary) global (affecting a particular part of the brain) amnesia (forgetting). There is no telling who may be affected by this condition or why it happens. Basically, a person can have experience a temporary amnesia event, forgetting the entire previous day for a few hours after certain types of activity like: sex, migraines, mild head trauma, exposure to sudden temperature extremes.

Life After Access

It is not uncommon to have a memory recall event of something you believe never even happened. Something may happen to trigger the memory and suddenly a person remembers something that they didn’t even know that they knew. This can be disturbing and cause some people to believe they have been reincarnated as another person. Consider the case of a woman who suddenly remembered the words to songs she had no memory of learning. No, she was not an opera singer in a previous life. Neurologists explained that at some point in early childhood, before her brain was capable of remembering events (typically before the age of 4), she was exposed to the music and it imprinted on her mind. Later in life, something related to that event triggered the memory of the music.

Brain Injuries & Insults

This cause the gringa knows only too well. Most people think a brain injury is when a person hits their head and injures their brain. Actually, that could also be a brain insult. You see, an insult to the brain is not forgetting things because someone called you stupid. It is an injury that is so traumatic that brain matter is physically displaced.

A physical blow to the head is also not the only thing that can cause a brain to receive an insult. Certain diseases can cause swelling of the brain or fluid to fill the sinus cavities of the brain. Both events can cause physical displacement of brain matter, thus an insult to the brain.

Whereas the electrical storm of a seizure is a brain injury, it does not physically rearrange the structure of the brain like a catastrophic blow to the head. However, both injuries and insults will affect memory. And there can be seizures that have the potential to do just as much brain damage as a traumatic brain insult.

What’s The Point

So, then, what’s the point of knowing that memory cannot be relied upon? For the gringa, I have learned the importance of journaling. Not just to be able to remember the personal details of my life, but it has proven critical in managing important aspects of life, such as getting an insurance claim processed. The most common method of journaling performed today, and most people may not even realize that is what they are doing, is posting status updates to Facebook. The average American probably takes their memory for granted. Not the gringa. I post status updates frequently as well as keep an actual, personal journal.

In matters of law, it is entirely possible that there are people sitting in jail for crimes they did not commit because of flawed eye witness testimony. This is simply a travesty now that we understand the human mind better. Wherever possible, physical evidence should always supersede eyewitness accounts.

As for those poor souls that believe they have been abducted by aliens, the gringa can only point to her navel  and offer  a facial expression of raised eyebrows. Really? Abducted by aliens? If I could believe I had actually been shot by an arrow, a victim of a Native American raid in a small town in Texas in the 1970’s, I can assure alien abductees that they, too, have been duped by their memories. Chances are they had a Daddy like mine who enjoyed titillating their imagination with fantastical stories. Like me, their impressionable minds were imprinted with a fantasy story delivered by someone they absolutely trusted as faithful and true, so, in childlike innocence they never questioned the veracity of the story and grew up believing it to be true. Alien abductee? No. Victim of a fantastic storyteller? Most likely.

Sources:

www.livescience.com

www.csudhnews.com

www.mayoclinic.org

www.neuroskills.com

www.livescience.com

Image Credit: lymeinside.files.wordpress.com