How To Help Former Inmates Thrive

handcuffs-308897__340

When I recently read the article below it really hit home. It is a subject that has been on my mind a lot. When Jamie, or any of the inmates I’ve come to know, is released, let alone the ones who have been released and are struggling so hard, how can we, as supposedly a caring society, continue to avert our eyes because we think it is not our responsibility to help them, Christian nation we are supposed to be. We are all linked. Helping this part of society helps us all. When vou take into consideration the large percentage of inmates who aren’t even guilty of a crime, and those who were driven insane by extended lockups in solitary confinement and af seg, often caused by our government and the push to lock up as much of the black population as possible through the made up “War on Drugs”, they deserve to have us help them reclaim what is left of their lives.

Judging by the comments left, there are still so many people who need to be educated about our prison population because they think ALL of them are criminals who are deserving of nothing even though they are capable of reading the news about the exonerations because evidence shows their lack of guilt in many cases. Putting them on the street with no help will create a criminal where there wasn’t one.  So please, read this carefully and help when you have the opportunity to make a good cause.

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New York Times – The Opinion Pages | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

How to Help Former Inmates Thrive
By ROBERT E. RUBIN JUNE 3, 2016

I RECENTLY gave a talk at the state prison in San Quentin, Calif. At the event, a former inmate said, “I don’t understand why over the 18-year period of my incarceration, over $900,000 was paid to keep me in prison. But when I was paroled, I was given $200 and told ‘good luck.’ ”

He’s right. For our economy to succeed, we need to equip every American to be effective in the national work force. But the more than 600,000 people who leave prison every year are not getting the support they need. That fails them and fails the economy for all of us.

To prepare for my talk at San Quentin, I spoke with some of the people incarcerated there. I was trying to understand what I had to offer them in a speech — and I discovered how much they had to offer me. They are individuals — with a whole range of strengths, weaknesses and, yes, contributions still to make. And while there’s been a rightful focus on ending mass incarceration, there has been little public discussion of how we reintegrate this growing population.

Criminal justice reform is not just about being fair to the individuals who will be most directly affected, but it’s also about doing what’s right for our nation’s well-being. A 2009 study estimated that the official poverty rate would have declined by 10 percent for the years 1980 until 2004 had it not been for our incarceration policies. And while there hasn’t been a large-scale study of the economic effects of criminal-justice reform, most experts in the field agree that preparing people for life after prison is a critically important public investment that would alleviate poverty and increase worker productivity.

In California, incarceration policies have already changed, and the San Quentin inmates I spoke to said that the increased chance of freedom has changed the way they behave in prison. They said they were more focused on increasing their chances of parole and preparing for life after San Quentin by trying to learn the skills and behaviors that can lead to productive lives

When you witness the powerful effect the prospect of release has on changing behavior, it helps you realize how badly we are analyzing the effects of the current system on the outcomes we want for society. And when you analyze the economic effects of our current system, it becomes clear where it is failing.

How is giving a former inmate $200 and not much else — no suitable place to live, no help finding work, no help adjusting to life outside prison walls — preparing him for a productive life? Society imposes a stigma on former prisoners that makes all of that harder. All of this decreases the probability of success.

Inmates at San Quentin. Credit Max Whittaker for The New York Times
There are five key areas where we could make a significant difference in improving the chance that individuals released from prison can make a successful transition to mainstream society.

First, we need to enhance educational opportunities for people inside prison and just out of it. Many prisons offer some level of basic education and G.E.D. preparation, but it is often inadequate, and higher education is almost entirely lacking. Fewer than one in 10 inmates has access to college-level classes. Inmates who are interested and qualified should have the opportunity to pursue a college education; it will only improve their chance to succeed when released.

Second, we should remove unfair barriers to employment. Many jobs now require professional certification, like being a barber in Connecticut or a truck driver in Texas, and state certification boards often bar former prisoners. We should eliminate those blanket prohibitions.

Third, we should support transitional assistance efforts across the country. For example, the New York-based Center for Employment Opportunities provides work in four states for people as soon as they are released, and couples those opportunities with skills programs, training and job placement. Efforts like these have proven records of success and should be deployed nationwide.

Fourth, we need to help the formerly incarcerated have access to secure and stable housing. Currently, many states ban former prisoners from living in assisted housing. We should instead give individual housing authorities discretion so they can protect the safety of residents but also offer housing to people leaving prison who are ready to start new, productive lives.

And finally, we should help people take advantage of health care coverage for which they are already eligible. Twenty-eight states expanded Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and while most people just out of prison are eligible for it, too many are unaware or need assistance enrolling.

Of course, these investments cost money, but come with a significant return. Because efforts to help people make a successful transition back to mainstream society both reduce recidivism and equip former prisoners to be effective parts of the work force, it will help our economy over the long term.

Solving this problem begins with people outside prison recognizing the humanity of people inside prison. As one man incarcerated at San Quentin said to me: “Nobody is just the crime they committed. We are all much more than the worst thing we have done.”

People in prison are part of America, as are those who have been released. They are part of our society. And we have a powerful stake in their success.

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Robert E. Rubin, the Treasury secretary from 1995 to 1999, is a co-chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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A version of this op-ed appears in print on June 3, 2016, on page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: How to Help Former Inmates Thrive. Today’s Paper

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The Fallen – The Battered

This music. was originally posted on my other blog Watch and Whirl You can also find it below at Sound Cloud. I wrote this during the Fall as I looked out the window watching the wind blow the leaves from the trees. Swirling around and gently falling to the ground, battered and torn with the color dying out of them.

This is for every person who has been abused by our injustice system. Every life who has been taken away. Every one caught up in the quest for mass incarceration. Every family who has been destroyed. Every child who has lost their parent. Every parent who has lost their child. I actually wrote a different post for this music because it makes me angry when people – or corporations – who profess to care about our country but who really do everything they can to line their own pockets and care nothing about the people they destroy. Enough said. The information is there for you to find if you choose to find it instead of listening to the choir sing to the choir. I will continue to try to make a difference and do what I can to help those I can.

This makes me so emotional. I get frustrated because I want to change things and I don’t know how or I don’t think it is enough. Prison has needlessly destroyed so many people that should not have been destroyed. Depression in prison for those who are caught in an unbelievably cruel and inhumane box is devastating. It needs to change. Massive prison reform is needed. Profit should not be the number one focus of the prison industrial corporations. There are bad people inside, but the majority are not. We need to help the ones who need to be let go. Prisoner mental health should not be destroyed. Reintegration into society is extremely difficult because it creates a fear to be near people.

THE FALLEN   by Sonni Quick.   copyright 2015

If you have heard my music before, you know I do not “compose” the music I record. There is no plan. It is not written down. I don’t think about it. I just play it. My fingers play what I feel. Everything is improvised. I couldn’t play it again. My fingers have a mind of their own. It is a language. When you speak, do you think about each word and put a sentence together before you speak it? Do you write down each word so you know what you said? Can you just make up sentence after sentence because you know the language? Of course you can. Most people, when they learn an instrument, they learn through method books that teach them how to read the notes and play it. Just like we learn the alphabet and learn how to make words. We learn to improvise with those words and it becomes a language that conveys thoughts and emotions. But most music teachers that are hired only teach their students how to play the written notes written by other people. They don’t learn how to play those notes as a language that conveys how they feel or how they think.

The piano changed from being an instrument to play, to an instrument that understood what I was feeling and I crawled inside it. I became a bystander and separated myself from the act of playing the piano and instead listened to the music as it played itself. What you hear today I can do for hours going up and down the piano keys playing the emotions I feel. If I try to manipulate it, it doesn’t work. My fingers know the piano keys, like an artist knows his paints and a dancer feels the music and his body know what it can do. It’s a wonderful feeling. I also know I haven’t reached the end. I’ve just begun.

Thanks for listening.

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YouTube 18 1/2 Years in Solitary

There is much I could say here about solitary confinement, but you can find many other posts and pages on my blog that speak of it. There are links on the right side of the page that can take you to other sites that will give you many more examples of it. The best one is Solitary Watch Between the story of the man this blog is about, who has spent a combined 5 years in Solitary confinement, and 10 years total in prison, first offense, with 7 years to go, and Armando Macias, who has 3 pages here and one post of his writings I have published, who is on death row in San Quentin, I have learned more than I ever wish there was a need to know.

I sincerely hope you keep on reading while you are here, and return often. Jamie’s story is one that needs to be told. Please share these posts as much as possible. If you go to the page that starts out with, “I want to encourage you . . .” You will find out the important places to start reading first that will give you a better understanding of the purpose of our prison system, which serves a purpose that is different from what most people realize. Prisons are full of more than just bad people or we wouldn’t be locking up more people in America than any other country. There is much money that can be made for the prison industrial complex. People often do the wrong thing for the right reason, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a bad person. So many people are locked up in mass incarceration for the wrong reasons and little is done to get him out because he can’t pay an attorney. Why should he should lose so many years of his life because of that unless there is financial motivation. During the eight years we have been writing it gave me a clear understanding of how necessary it was to help him. He mattered to me. This one human being, younger than the age of my daughter, father to my grandson, wants to have another chance at life.

Prisons are kept full using the backdoor method – mostly parole violations, not new crimes, although they do exist. Actual rehabilitation is not a priority. The fact that Jamie also has epilepsy and has had a multitude of seizures while inside, will only make it that much harder to find work. The fact that he spent over 4 years in juvy on a bogus charge from late 16 to 21, and not being able to get an education will also make it harder.

If we just sit back and read about these problems but do nothing to help, it will continue. Help me help him. Share this blog.

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Why Solitary Confinement? What Did Jamie Do?

Solitary confinement Cell

SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

(Sonni’s note: In my last post I was concerned because I found out Jamie was back in solitary confinement. After I posted it I found a letter from him in my mailbox. He explained what happened, but didn’t mention any cardiology appointments, so maybe it’s not time for it. He said it was “next month”, but the month has just started. He should not be going months without the necessary medications for his heart problems.)

10-28-15

HELLO MOM,

Sorry for the wait. I received the letters you sent. Please tell your mother I said hello. Tell her I’m sorry I haven’t written to her. I just didn’t know what to say. I don’t want to say nothing wrong. Well, not say nothing wrong, it’s just that I’m nervous, just like the first time you and I met. But please let her know I am very thankful for the encouragement that she sends to me, as well as the love.

So how are you doing? Well yes that really was a crazy question. It’s always good to know you’re doing better. I know you can’t stand being in bed all day. I’m glad the side effects from the Hep C drugs has lessened. Don’t worry about coming to see me this month. Your health always comes first.

I’m sure you want to know what’s happening with me. Remember the situation that happened with the dude who worked in the cafeteria who was putting his hands all over people’s food and didn’t wear gloves? https://mynameisjamie.net/2015/10/18/there-are-no-judges-here-and-some-things-you-cant-let-fly/

Well, it never ended until now. On October 15th, the officer this dude worked for retaliated against me. He walked up to me and started pushing and shoving me trying to provoke me. However I just smiled at him because there was another officer there. He was telling this officer to stop and trying to hold him back. Shit, that didn’t last long. because the officer tried to grab me by my shirt and slam me into the wall. However, I jerked away from him.

If he had managed to slam me into the wall it would have been face first. After that he reached out and put his arm around my throat. He told the other officer to take me down. He didn’t want to do it at first. I hadn’t done anything. But he ended up doing it. He grabbed my legs and I went down. The Officer  who started this had me around the neck. While I was on the floor he was choking me. Long story short I got an assault case and 15 days in solitary. I have 8 days left as of now.

The officers came up with a story and blamed everything on me. Even the officer who watched the other officer do all this blamed me – to cover his own ass. It’s against the rules, they say, for officers to side with inmates on anything. But he ended up getting into trouble anyway because he had me handcuffed in the front instead of the back. I was being moved to a different block at the time this all happened.

I told the Major warden that the officer did this because I beat up a  worker of his who jumped me when I reported his violations in the kitchen. I also told him that this officer had threatened to get me which he did. They are supposed to be doing an investigation but we both know how that will turn out. The Major even told me if everyone sticks to their story there is nothing he can do about it – even if he knows the truth he can’t prove it.

But get this – another officer – an African – told me he saw what was done to me. I write his name down and told the Major. I told him to question this officer because I didn’t trust the Sgt or the Capt-Lt. They don’t like me because I speak my mind and I speak up for others when their officers are in the wrong. Anyway, the Major goes and tells the Lt. Then the next thing I know they can’t get ahold of this officer to get his statement.

When he comes back to work the statement he gave me and the one he is saying now are completely different of course. He told them I pushed the officer. The next time I saw him I was hot. I aked him why he lied. He said, “Because”. I said, What the hell is, “Because?” But I know they probably threatened to give him probation or take away his job. The African officers here will kiss ass to keep their jobs. They come over here and take a lot out on blacks. Really. They are just about everywhere in the system. If only would work in the system to see how their families are being treated

(Sonni’s note: Jamie said something here I want to find out. He mentions Africans and blacks separately, like two different people. Are Africans being brought into the country to work as guards?)

Oh believe it or not two inmates died of heart attacks in the last two months. Medical is not here around the clock. They go home at 5:30 pm and don’t come back until 2:30 -3:00 am. There are too many sick people here to not have medical care available. If something bad happens the inmate has to be sent to another unit or the hospital depending on how bad the situation is. If I was having chest pains after 5:30 they would take me to a medical room with a computer and I would talk to a nurse in another unit at least 30 minutes away. She would tell me to drink water or some shit like, “You don’t looklike you’re in pain”, like she can tell by looking at me on a computer. (Sonni’s note: That is their answer for everything. Drink water. Does that work for you when you feel sick enough to need medical care?)Then she’ll send me back to my cell. They do that all the time.

http://www.fairwarning.org/2015/07/jail-medical-care/

(Sonni’s now: I still often hear people sarcastically talk about inmates getting free medical. They don’t understand what inmates have to go through to get treated and how often they don’t get it at all, or they aren’t given their meds. Often, medical conditions are left untreated until it’s too late. They die of “natural causes” when they often don’t need to die at all. Who cares except the families who often don’t have the money to pursue filing against the prison and proving negligence. Very very few times has an inmate won a medical suit against a prison. It also costs money to treat inmates and that cuts into their profit)

I need to get this in the mail . Love you
Love always, Son {{smile}}

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Releasing 6000 Federal Inmates Is Not What It Seems

A big to do was made about this announcement. It seemed the government was serious about actually doing something about the prison system. It got a lot of press. Our president was going to start releasing prisoners. 6000 sounded like a great first step. So many politicians were jumping on the bandwagon, although each party blamed the other for causing the problem in the first place. Since the people want change if politicians didn’t at least pretend to want it, it could cost them votes.  But what they tell people during their campaigning they could always change later. No one is really obligated to follow through with their campaign promises.

I waited. There was something missing from this story. Something vital, and I wasn’t hearing anything about. Today I started hearing the truth, but not all of it. They aren’t really releasing 6000 locked up United States prisoners. Almost 1/3 are illegal aliens they’d been holding. And they politely call them “Foreign Citizens”. That’s a switch. They’ll be sending them home. Many of the rest were already scheduled for release.

An article written by Jeff Pegues of CBSnews.com wrote an article that voiced some of my concern.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/both-sides-speak-out-about-todays-mass-release-of-6000-federal-prisoners/

“This is all going to be dropped into the laps of the American police,” said New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton. “We are letting them out of jail, but treatment is not there. Job training is not there. Housing, for many of them, is not there.

Asked if he believed his concerns have been heard at the Federal level, Bratton answered, “No.”

An earlier article stated they would be sent to halfway houses because inmates are supposed to have a step down program – rehabilitation programs. It’s hard to go from prison to the street, especially if you are in for drugs. You need treatment. It’s easy to get drugs in prison. If you don’t have a support structure on the outside how will you make the change? There will be no jobs for them, and no housing. There are not enough halfway houses as it is and there is no housing for these inmates. Many families of inmates are low income. If they live in section 8 housing or government subsidized housing a former inmate can’t live there or they will kick the entire family out.

There is a box on job applications asking if you have ever been convicted of a felony. There are people working to get that eliminated, but it’s still there now. Even though businesses aren’t supposed to discriminate, they do.  Jobs are hard enough to get. How successful will these people be when they have been dumped on the street and have no programs to help them assimilate into a society that really doesn’t want them – those that say, “Once a loser always a loser.”  People will not want them living next to them. There is no help for these people. It’s hard to follow through with having a better life when the shackles are still on their ankles. Many will fail. I think it is intentional. Even the police know this. They feel the problem is being dumped on them.

There is another important point and I have yet to see this discussed. The Prison Industrial Corporation that owns so many of our state prisons or has contracts with the government for 20 years that promises those prisons will be kept full is never going to agree to give up their profit. Maybe that is why only a small percentage Federal prison inmates will benefit from having 2 years of their sentence shortened, as long as they didn’t have previous sentences that included a weapon. But of the 2.3 million inmates only 800,0000 are in Federal prisons – less than 25%. The other 75% are in state prison. So most of the inmates can’t even hope to be included.

Most of the inmates are black. Only 1/6 are white. There are more Hispanics than whites but there is still a huge gap between both of them compared to black inmates who are the ones who have been aggressively targeted. I’d like to know how the percentages fare when compared to those released. It is a fair question considering white privilege in this country. If it shows up in those released as well, it will cause a problem.

It seems to me that this is, to a large degree, a smoke screen that looks like a good thing until you take a closer look at it. Because of the shoddy way they are dealing with the inmates there will probably be a high recidivism rate. If that is the case then they will have their proof that they really should have never let them go. Time will tell.

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Reflections, Caused by the Late Disturbances in Charleston: “White men will be as cheap as slaves.”

It was said it was beneficial to get rid of the black man because if there were too few to revolt then they would be saved from being caught and tortured – so it was for their own good to be removed – unable to earn a living in a trade a white man would enjoy. The more I learn, the more ashamed of my race I become, because it is these men who destroyed lives. This deep-rooted racism eats away their decency. Their objective is to keep the black man down – remove him from caring for his family.  Continue slavery in the prisons.  How dare the black man assume they are on the same level of intelligence as the white man! So sad that there are still vast numbers of men who still think the same way

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American Slavery, Reinvented

This goes along with several recent posts about slavery and the 13th amendment. People need to realize slavery is not a dead issue in America. People just choose to look the other way so they can pretend this is a “Christian” nation. Angola Prison touts itself as a Christian prison with chapels all over the grounds and inmates carrying bibles so they show they comply.

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A Special Place in Hell Just For Them

Slave trade

As of 2012 one in 27 Texas Adults were in prison, jail, on probation or parole. Read that carefully. One in 27, and that was the years ago. Understand, this is mostly blacks and second, Hispanics. The system is out to get then one way or another. This represents a lot of profit for the prison industrial complex and the corporations who use free prison labor. Texas prisons DO NOT pay inmates for any work they do. They supposedly give then “good time” which they take away using “infractions”; inmates standing up for themselves protesting deplorable working and living conditions.

3.4% of Texas adults were in prison, on probation and on parole as of Aug. 31 2012 based on data from a recent Texas Criminal Justice Coalition Report (pdf).

To complete the picture, 67,000 people were locked up in Texas county jails.

Adjusting the calculation, around 3.7% of Texas adults were under control of the Texas justice system in 2012, not including those caught up in the federal system. That’s about one in 27 adult Texans; still a large number, but down from one in 22 just a few years ago, when the state justice system supervised some 4.6% of Texas adults.

By that measure, the proportion of Texas’ adults under control of the justice system has dropped around 20% [(4.6-3.7)/4.6] in the last five years, with incarceration levels plateauing, then dropping slightly, as the overall state population continued to rise. We still imprison more people than any other state, even California, whose population is much larger than Texas’, but the ever-upward trend witnessed over the last two decades has been at least momentarily checked.

The next challenge: Texas needs to direct more funding to diversion programming and adjust sentencing categories downward for certain low-level nonviolent offenses. The 2007 investments worked but aren’t enough by themselves to reduce incarceration further without additional reforms.

(Much of the above information I saved from an article I read several months ago but I forgot to save the source, so at the risk of plagerism I wanted to state that it wasn’t intentional.)

I believe the prisons are at a crossroads and I have only seen one article address this. There is a lot of clammer for prison populations to be reduced and politicians who are up for election or re-election are all trying to position themselves as wanting this to happen because the people are demanding change. Politicians really do not care what we want or don’t want. They never have and they never will. We aren’t the ones who fund their campaigns. Think about that. How pissed off are people because Obama didn’t keep his campaign promises? We trusted him. We believed in him.

Still, we listen to the next person and determine whether to elect this politician based on HIS supposed beliefs that change as soon as he is elected. How can any politician be serious about changing anything when they accept campaign money from the very corporations who profit from the status quo – in this case, the prisons being kept full? That is quite a dilemma. When I read that arrests are down, then it has to be compensated with fewer people paroled, which translates into longer sentences. To these corporations, the only thing that matters is profit.

What has changed? Tell me what has changed?? Nothing!

Kidnapped slaves through the centuries

I watched a movie yesterday called “Freedom” with Cuba Gooding Jr. It was about the slave trade. 400 years of America going to another country, kidnapping their people, torturing them, raping the women, starving them, branding them like cattle, selling family members and treating them like dogs, all while calling themselves good Christian people. Kinda makes you want to throw up, doesn’t it? Sadly, there are still people today who think they are “better” people because they are white. The exploitation of people, be it Black, Hispanic, American Indian, GLBT or control of women’s reproductive system by mostly White men – and largely Christian men is disgusting. The prison population is proof that the idea of enslaving blacks and minorities is alive and well. If the ruling class of mostly old white rich men think they truly are Christian, I’m sure there must be a special, separate place in hell just for them.

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Crippling court costs force poverty-stricken people to ‘plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit’

Adult court does not want to take time and money to cases that are being heard by public defenders, who actually work for the DA. They get paid on average, $75 an hour for maybe three hours work to convince you take a plea. They try to stack as many offenses on top whether they are true or not and scare you with unusually long sentences. If you don’t have a paid attorney to defend you, you don’t know what to do. Out of fear you take the plea.

In Jamie’s case he wasn’t innocent. It was his choice to go with his cousin that night. But having no attorney to help him made it worse. He had no priors. But a public defender isn’t interested in doing a good job for you. He’s only interested in being done with you so he can go on to his next “client”. At first Jamie was first told he would get 99 years if he insisted on going to court. The second offer was 45 years. When he continued to refuse they offered him 17 years and told him if he went to court he wouldn’t get that. It would surely be much higher. He was scared. He took the 17 years. He has now almost done 10 of that. They don’t like to parole blacks so he is afraid to get his hopes up. He does have an uncle that works in the parole system in his area so there is hope he can somehow intervene. But since they keep him in ad seg, and can’t show he has improved himself there is still only slim hope. The prison system sets them up to fail.

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Dr. Angela Davis – Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex

Angela Davis
(Sonni’s note: I read this article today. Look at the date. It was written seventeen years ago. Do you think there has been any positive change or has the problem has only got worse? There are so many people who don’t pay attention because they don’t think it affects them. But it does. It affects everyone. It affects the job market, it adds to the greedy nature of many of our leaders in government. It affects our communities and the way we think about those people. The media brainwashes people into thinking that somehow black people has less quality than white people and they deserve to be locked up because they are a danger to society. If you, or anyone you know has that attitude, be sure to send this article to them. Post it on your social media pages and reblog it onto your own blogs. If you go to the pages section near the top of this blog tap on the menu button. You will find a YouTube video of a more recent TED talk of Angela Davis.

Read this entire article. It’s worth it. It says everything I’ve been trying to explain over and over.  We need more people who think this change is important to our society and to our country.

 Dr. angela davis

by Angela Davis

Thu, Sep 10, 1998 12:00 PM EDT

What is the Prison Industrial Complex? Why does it matter?  Angela Y. Davis tells us.

Imprisonment has become the response of first resort to far too many of the social problems that burden people who are ensconced in poverty. These problems often are veiled by being conveniently grouped together under the category “crime” and by the automatic attribution of criminal behavior to people of color. Homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, and illiteracy are only a few of the problems that disappear from public view when the human beings contending with them are relegated to cages.

Prisons thus perform a feat of magic. Or rather the people who continually vote in new prison bonds and tacitly assent to a proliferating network of prisons and jails have been tricked into believing in the magic of imprisonment. But prisons do not disappear problems, they disappear human beings. And the practice of disappearing vast numbers of people from poor, immigrant, and racially marginalized communities has literally become big business.

The seeming effortlessness of magic always conceals an enormous amount of behind-the-scenes work. When prisons disappear human beings in order to convey the illusion of solving social problems, penal infrastructures must be created to accommodate a rapidly swelling population of caged people. Goods and services must be provided to keep imprisoned populations alive. Sometimes these populations must be kept busy and at other times — particularly in repressive super-maximum prisons and in INS detention centers — they must be deprived of virtually all meaningful activity. Vast numbers of handcuffed and shackled people are moved across state borders as they are transferred from one state or federal prison to another.

All this work, which used to be the primary province of government, is now also performed by private corporations, whose links to government in the field of what is euphemistically called “corrections” resonate dangerously with the military industrial complex. The dividends that accrue from investment in the punishment industry, like those that accrue from investment in weapons production, only amount to social destruction. Taking into account the structural similarities and profitability of business-government linkages in the realms of military production and public punishment, the expanding penal system can now be characterized as a “prison industrial complex.”

The Color of Imprisonment

Almost two million people are currently locked up in the immense network of U.S. prisons and jails. More than 70 percent of the imprisoned population are people of color. It is rarely acknowledged that the fastest growing group of prisoners are black women and that Native American prisoners are the largest group per capita. Approximately five million people — including those on probation and parole — are directly under the surveillance of the criminal justice system.

Three decades ago, the imprisoned population was approximately one-eighth its current size. While women still constitute a relatively small percentage of people behind bars, today the number of incarcerated women in California alone is almost twice what the nationwide women’s prison population was in 1970. According to Elliott Currie, “[t]he prison has become a looming presence in our society to an extent unparalleled in our history — or that of any other industrial democracy. Short of major wars, mass incarceration has been the most thoroughly implemented government social program of our time.”

To deliver up bodies destined for profitable punishment, the political economy of prisons relies on racialized assumptions of criminality — such as images of black welfare mothers reproducing criminal children — and on racist practices in arrest, conviction, and sentencing patterns. Colored bodies constitute the main human raw material in this vast experiment to disappear the major social problems of our time. Once the aura of magic is stripped away from the imprisonment solution, what is revealed is racism, class bias, and the parasitic seduction of capitalist profit. The prison industrial system materially and morally impoverishes its inhabitants and devours the social wealth needed to address the very problems that have led to spiraling numbers of prisoners.

As prisons take up more and more space on the social landscape, other government programs that have previously sought to respond to social needs — such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families — are being squeezed out of existence. The deterioration of public education, including prioritizing discipline and security over learning in public schools located in poor communities, is directly related to the prison “solution.”

Profiting from Prisoners

As prisons proliferate in U.S. society, private capital has become enmeshed in the punishment industry. And precisely because of their profit potential, prisons are becoming increasingly important to the U.S. economy. If the notion of punishment as a source of potentially stupendous profits is disturbing by itself, then the strategic dependence on racist structures and ideologies to render mass punishment palatable and profitable is even more troubling.

Prison privatization is the most obvious instance of capital’s current movement toward the prison industry. While government-run prisons are often in gross violation of international human rights standards, private prisons are even less accountable. In March of this year, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest U.S. private prison company, claimed 54,944 beds in 68 facilities under contract or development in the U.S., Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Following the global trend of subjecting more women to public punishment, CCA recently opened a women’s prison outside Melbourne. The company recently identified California as its “new frontier.”

Wackenhut Corrections Corporation (WCC), the second largest U.S. prison company, claimed contracts and awards to manage 46 facilities in North America, U.K., and Australia. It boasts a total of 30,424 beds as well as contracts for prisoner health care services, transportation, and security.

Currently, the stocks of both CCA and WCC are doing extremely well. Between 1996 and 1997, CCA’s revenues increased by 58 percent, from $293 million to $462 million. Its net profit grew from $30.9 million to $53.9 million. WCC raised its revenues from $138 million in 1996 to $210 million in 1997. Unlike public correctional facilities, the vast profits of these private facilities rely on the employment of non-union labor.

The Prison Industrial Complex

But private prison companies are only the most visible component of the increasing corporatization of punishment. Government contracts to build prisons have bolstered the construction industry. The architectural community has identified prison design as a major new niche. Technology developed for the military by companies like Westinghouse is being marketed for use in law enforcement and punishment.

Moreover, corporations that appear to be far removed from the business of punishment are intimately involved in the expansion of the prison industrial complex. Prison construction bonds are one of the many sources of profitable investment for leading financiers such as Merrill Lynch. MCI charges prisoners and their families outrageous prices for the precious telephone calls which are often the only contact prisoners have with the free world.

Many corporations whose products we consume on a daily basis have learned that prison labor power can be as profitable as third world labor power exploited by U.S.-based global corporations. Both relegate formerly unionized workers to joblessness and many even wind up in prison. Some of the companies that use prison labor are IBM, Motorola, Compaq, Texas Instruments, Honeywell, Microsoft, and Boeing. But it is not only the hi-tech industries that reap the profits of prison labor. Nordstrom department stores sell jeans that are marketed as “Prison Blues,” as well as t-shirts and jackets made in Oregon prisons. The advertising slogan for these clothes is “made on the inside to be worn on the outside.” Maryland prisoners inspect glass bottles and jars used by Revlon and Pierre Cardin, and schools throughout the world buy graduation caps and gowns made by South Carolina prisoners.

“For private business,” write Eve Goldberg and Linda Evans (a political prisoner inside the Federal Correctional Institution at Dublin, California) “prison labor is like a pot of gold. No strikes. No union organizing. No health benefits, unemployment insurance, or workers’ compensation to pay. No language barriers, as in foreign countries. New leviathan prisons are being built on thousands of eerie acres of factories inside the walls. Prisoners do data entry for Chevron, make telephone reservations for TWA, raise hogs, shovel manure, make circuit boards, limousines, waterbeds, and lingerie for Victoria’s Secret — all at a fraction of the cost of ‘free labor.’”

Devouring the Social Wealth

Although prison labor — which ultimately is compensated at a rate far below the minimum wage — is hugely profitable for the private companies that use it, the penal system as a whole does not produce wealth. It devours the social wealth that could be used to subsidize housing for the homeless, to ameliorate public education for poor and racially marginalized communities, to open free drug rehabilitation programs for people who wish to kick their habits, to create a national health care system, to expand programs to combat HIV, to eradicate domestic abuse — and, in the process, to create well-paying jobs for the unemployed.

Since 1984 more than twenty new prisons have opened in California, while only one new campus was added to the California State University system and none to the University of California system. In 1996-97, higher education received only 8.7 percent of the State’s General Fund while corrections received 9.6 percent. Now that affirmative action has been declared illegal in California, it is obvious that education is increasingly reserved for certain people, while prisons are reserved for others. Five times as many black men are presently in prison as in four-year colleges and universities. This new segregation has dangerous implications for the entire country.By segregating people labeled as criminals, prison simultaneously fortifies and conceals the structural racism of the U.S. economy. Claims of low unemployment rates — even in black communities — make sense only if one assumes that the vast numbers of people in prison have really disappeared and thus have no legitimate claims to jobs. The numbers of black and Latino men currently incarcerated amount to two percent of the male labor force. According to criminologist David Downes, “[t]reating incarceration as a type of hidden unemployment may raise the jobless rate for men by about one-third, to 8 percent. The effect on the black labor force is greater still, raising the [black] male unemployment rate from 11 percent to 19 percent.”

Hidden Agenda

Mass incarceration is not a solution to unemployment, nor is it a solution to the vast array of social problems that are hidden away in a rapidly growing network of prisons and jails. However, the great majority of people have been tricked into believing in the efficacy of imprisonment, even though the historical record clearly demonstrates that prisons do not work. Racism has undermined our ability to create a popular critical discourse to contest the ideological trickery that posits imprisonment as key to public safety. The focus of state policy is rapidly shifting from social welfare to social control.

Black, Latino, Native American, and many Asian youth are portrayed as the purveyors of violence, traffickers of drugs, and as envious of commodities that they have no right to possess. Young black and Latina women are represented as sexually promiscuous and as indiscriminately propagating babies and poverty. Criminality and deviance are racialized. Surveillance is thus focused on communities of color, immigrants, the unemployed, the undereducated, the homeless, and in general on those who have a diminishing claim to social resources. Their claim to social resources continues to diminish in large part because law enforcement and penal measures increasingly devour these resources. The prison industrial complex has thus created a vicious cycle of punishment which only further impoverishes those whose impoverishment is supposedly “solved” by imprisonment.

Therefore, as the emphasis of government policy shifts from social welfare to crime control, racism sinks more deeply into the economic and ideological structures of U.S. society. Meanwhile, conservative crusaders against affirmative action and bilingual education proclaim the end of racism, while their opponents suggest that racism’s remnants can be dispelled through dialogue and conversation. But conversations about “race relations” will hardly dismantle a prison industrial complex that thrives on and nourishes the racism hidden within the deep structures of our society.

The emergence of a U.S. prison industrial complex within a context of cascading conservatism marks a new historical moment, whose dangers are unprecedented. But so are its opportunities. Considering the impressive number of grassroots projects that continue to resist the expansion of the punishment industry, it ought to be possible to bring these efforts together to create radical and nationally visible movements that can legitimize anti-capitalist critiques of the prison industrial complex. It ought to be possible to build movements in defense of prisoners’ human rights and movements that persuasively argue that what we need is not new prisons, but new health care, housing, education, drug programs, jobs, and education. To safeguard a democratic future, it is possible and necessary to weave together the many and increasing strands of resistance to the prison industrial complex into a powerful movement for social transformation.

Angela Davis is a former political prisoner, long-time activist, educator, and author who has devoted her life to struggles for social justice.

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Earlier written post: Upfront and Personal About the the Prison Industrial Complex