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

 

 

 

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Good Guy/Bad Guy – Who Needs ’em?


The good guy/bad guy narrative is a literary classic. It seems rooted in religious beliefs of good and evil and non-religious esoteric beliefs of Yin & Yang. For every good guy there seems to be a universal need for a counterbalancing bad guy. Is this realistic? Is this necessary? The gringa would like to believe that bad guys and evil are simply obsolete. I mean, haven’t we reached that point yet in the evolution of humanity that we don’t need the contrast of the bad in order to recognize and appreciate what is good? And if we are basing our good guy/bad guy theory on ancient teachings that use real world examples of good and evil, what if those past histories are incorrect? After all, aren’t historical records always skewed according to the perspective of the author, whether they be the victor or the vanquished?

Take, for example, one of the earliest examples of good guy/bad guy: Egypt and the ancient Israelites. According to the religious teachings of Judaism and Christianity, it is widely accepted that the Egyptians were the “bad guys”, enslaving the Hebrew people who were eventually chosen by God to be the “good guys”. However, historians and archaeologists who specialize in Egyptian history, not to mention Egyptians themselves, argue that this is an unfair depiction of the relationship between the ancient Egyptian empires and the surrounding less powerful nations and peoples. Can science and historians reveal the truth?

David Wolpe is a rabbinical scholar who argues that archaeological evidence simply does not support the biblical notion that ancient Egypt practiced widespread enslavement of the Hebrew people, or any people for that matter. But just because evidence hasn’t been found doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. So let’s look at the historical facts that are known and the science of archaeology to understand these facts.

1700 B.C.

Before their enslavement, the Hebrew people migrated to Egypt to survive a famine. The biblical record maintains that they were there for several generations. There is basically a 300 year gap between the appearance of the Joseph story and Moses.

1400 B.C.

The earliest possible date suggested by the Jewish and Christian religious texts for the enslavement of the Hebrew people by Egypt would have been 1400 B.C., in other words, about 300 years after the era of the pyramids.

So what was going on in Egypt from 1700 B.C. to 1400 B.C.? Why would Egypt need widespread enslavement if the grand monuments had already been constructed?

14th Dynasty

Egypt’s 14th Dynasty ruled anywhere from 1725-1650 B.C. or 1805-1650 B.C. depending on which historian you talk to. Regardless, this would have been the dynasty in power when Jewish and Christian texts claim that Joseph took his family to Egypt in order to survive the region’s famine. His family would grow to become the Hebrew people. Does the known history and archaeological science support that a famine occurred in the region during this time? What kind of science might be used to find out?

Interestingly enough, an examination of pollen buried deeply in Egyptian soil around the Nile reveals that a devastating drought occurred at this time in history. This region was dependent upon the annual floods of the Nile Delta to enrich their agricultural lands. A drought would have, indeed, resulted in a famine.

So what would life have been like as an immigrant in an ancient Egyptian kingdom?

Archaeology reveals that rulers during the 14th dynasty had names that indicated Canaanite or Western Semitic origins, with one king and queen with Nubian names. So, it seems that at this time Egypt was an ethnically mixed bag. These kings and queens would be involved in conflicts with neighboring rivals to control the strategic area of the fertile Nile Delta. Control the agriculture, control the food. Eventually a prolonged period of famine and disease weakened the kingdom which then fell to a takeover by the Hyksos. The Hyksos takeover would have occurred after the suggested time of the Hebrew Exodus story.

So, pre-Hyksos Egypt was noted by industrious multi-ethnic rulers who jealously defended the Nile Delta with military might and concentrated on building extravagant monuments to demonstrate their success as rulers. Rulers during the time period 1800 B.C. to 1650 B.C. contain a series of non-contested figures as well as controversial names:

  • Yakbim Sekhaenre (contested): 1805 B.C. – 1780 B.C.
  • Ya’ammu Nubwoserre (contested): 1780 B.C. – 1770 B.C.
  • Qareh Khawoserre (contested): 1770 B.C. – 1760 B.C.
  • Ammu Ahotepre (contested): 1760 B.C. – 1745 B.C.
  • Sheshi Maaibre (contested): 1745 B.C. – 1705 B.C.
  • Nehesy Aasehre (uncontested): 1705 B.C., name means “The Nubian” inscribed on 2 known monuments.
  • Khakherewre (uncontested): 1705 B.C.
  • Nebefawre (uncontested): 1704 B.C.
  • Sehebre (uncontested): 1702-1699 B.C.
  • Merdjefare (uncontested): 1699 B.C.
  • Sewadjkare III (uncontested): 1698 B.C.
  • Nebdjefare (uncontested): 1697-1694 B.C.
  • After this there is a list of names established as Egyptian kings of the 14th Dynasty but without designated dates for their reigns.

What do we know about these kings and the conditions of their kingdoms that might have any affect on the good guy/bad guy designations in the Jewish and Christian religious texts?

  • Majority of the cartouches excavated refer to each reigning king as “son of Ra” in addition to whatever the king’s individual name was.
  • During Sheshi’s reign 1745-1705 B.C., seals with his provenance have been discovered in archaeological digs in Egypt, Nubia and Canaan suggesting that his kingdom enjoyed widespread trade and relations outside the immediate borders of Egypt. Some scholars believe this to be the Sheshai mentioned in Jewish and Christian religious texts as being of the Anakim of Hebron when the Hebrews conquered the land of Canaan.
  • If Sheshi had good trade relations with the people of Canaan and was the ruler of Egypt when the Hebrew people conquered Canaan, it would only be natural that Egypt might then take a posture of hostility toward the Hebrew people.

It is then possible that the ancient Hebrew people were not victims of the ancient Egyptians. They may have been viewed as nomadic invaders who disrupted trade with allies. It reminds the gringa of European history and stories of Viking raiders. The Hebrew people also practiced a foreign religion that was monotheistic. It is easy to see even today how religion can play a big part in hostilities between cultures that can lead up to oppression and even war.

I mean, think about it. The Hebrew people first show up needing a place to survive a famine. Egypt graciously takes them in. Then, after weathering the storm, growing fat and happy as well as increasing in population and herds who need grazing land, the Hebrews, within one generation, rise up and attack a trade ally, Canaan, a rich land for Hebrew herds of sheep and goats. The Hebrew people take over the nation by slaughtering, according to the biblical account, every man, woman and child because God “told them so”. The gringa can imagine the horror of Egypt at these actions. I can also understand how the polytheistic Egyptians would decide that the single God of the Hebrews was a backstabbing baby-killer. No suprise then, that there would be no love loss between Egyptians and Hebrews that continued to live together in Egypt. Hebrews were probably eyed suspiciously and discriminated against, though probably not enslaved.

These resentments, deep in the heart of the Egyptians who saw their trade allies vanquished by people they considered to be dangerous heretics, would have most likely been an attitude that would have been passed down for generations. Just as politicians have used such emotions and history to stir up support for their cause throughout my own country’s history, the gringa thinks it is very possible the same type of politics were at play when it came time for the Hebrew people to rise up, claim oppression, revolt and march out of town. They just seemed to forget that they started it all.

The natural result would be for the Hebrew people to villainize Egypt, victimize themselves, then paint a heroic picture of their escape to inspire their own people and motivate them for noble purposes. On the other hand, the ancient Egyptians would have historians creating records for the pleasure of their rulers. They would depict their nation as benevolent and tolerant. Factions such as the immigrant, nomadic, heretical Hebrews would be painted as radical rebels stirring up unrest and not wanting to work.

So, in the end, the gringa does believe that, much as I would like to think that humanity has evolved to the point where we no longer need the good guy/bad guy narrative because people know better now, that’s simply not the case. As long as we have politicians who have something to gain by exploiting the differences in groups of people, we will always have the good guy/bad guy narrative. But it is a human creation, not a spiritual reality. And for kids who adore science as much as they adore truth, the science involved in archaeology can help resolve many divisive differences that exist today because of politicized religious teachings of yesterday. Become an archaeologist and change the world.

Sources:

www.biblicalarchaeology.org

www.ancientegypt.co.uk

wikipedia.org

Image Credit:  flashtrafficblog.files.wordpress.com

 

14th Amendment, Equal by Law, But Law Can’t ChangeThe Heart


July 9, 1868 the United States formally adopted the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (www.ourdocuments.gov). This particular piece of legislation is considered to be the first Civil Rights legislation ever instituted by the United States and was in direct response to the social climate of Reconstruction after the Civil War ended in 1865. Considering all conditions of the naturalization of immigrants according to the Naturalization Act of 1802, the specific changes rendered by the Fourteenth Amendment are:

  • Section 1 declares that all persons born in the United States are citizens. This inclusive statement finally makes citizenship attainable for women and non-whites who are born on U.S. soil after the amendment is adopted. Such citizens enjoy equal liberty and protection. However, naturalization of immigrants is not amended so citizenship through naturalization is still exclusively for free, male, white immigrants.
  • Section 2 establishes the ratio of State Representatives with respect to population, making a point to exclude Native Americans from the population count. Phraseology also indicates that adult males who are considered criminal or involved in rebellion are not considered a part of the voting population.
  • Section 3 denies government office to people who have engaged in insurrection or rebellion or given aid or comfort to the enemies of the United States.
  • Section 4 establishes that lawful debt incurred by the United States shall not be questioned. United States assumes no financial responsibility for any act of insurrection or rebellion against the United States. The United States accepts no financial responsibility for the financial loss created by the emancipation of a slave.
  • Section 5 empowers the United States Congress to enforce through legislation the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment.

What was the social, political and economic climate of the United States leading up to the adoption of this legislation? The United States was in the midst of reconstruction, the Civil War having ended three years prior to the date of the Fourteenth Amendment’s approval. The Emancipation Proclamation and Thirteenth Amendment resulted in thousands of people freed from slave status yet left to wonder what exactly that meant.

In the 1857 case, Dred Scott v. Sandford, the Supreme Court ruled that American descendants of African slaves could not attain U.S. citizenship. Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment definitively overruled that Supreme Court decision. The Southern states vehemently opposed the Fourteenth Amendment and only ratified the amendment in order for their states to continue being represented in Congress. In the December 1, 1866 issue of Harper Weekly, editor George William Curtis responded to the resistance of the Southern States acceptance of the Fourteenth Amendment by posing this question, “After a tremendous struggle to overthrow a Government in which you fail, how can you be humiliated by accepting, as the condition of resuming a share in that Government, that it shall be upon equal terms with others?” The common social perception of the Fourteenth Amendment is that it established equality amongst all United States citizens regardless of race or gender (www.14thamendment.harpweek.com).

For the first time in the history of the United States, Congress had enacted citizenship legislation that was not motivated by deceptive exploitation, power or greed. The Fourteenth Amendment was the first step taken by America to create an equal society. By granting citizenship status to thousands of freed slaves who continued to live in the Southern states, a dramatic shift in power would be created in the House of Representatives where power was population-based. The Southern states would have the advantage. Knowing this, Congress still acted to grant citizenship to these Southern freed slaves and accept the political fall out. Considering the political implications it is then truly indicative that the U.S. Congress approached this legislation from a humanitarian perspective.

In the years immediately following the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, there were several civil rights cases that were brought before the Supremem Court. The Supreme Court held that the amendment did not outlaw racial discrimination by private individuals or organizations, but, rather, was a “state action”. It would then seem that, although the United States can pass laws to create a nation that grants equal status to all citizens regardless of race, there is no law that can compel personal opinion. That would take the work of generations to bring about such social change. And, as the gringa  can see for herself within her own barrio, the work ain’t finished yet.