Thursday, March 25, 2010

From Slave Pens to the Penitentiary: America’s JUST US System

"I'M BEGINNING TO BELIEVE THAT `U.S.A.' STANDS FOR THE UNDERPRIVILEGED Slaves of America" ), wrote a 20th-century prisoner from Mississippi in a letter detailing the daily violence he witnessed behind prison walls. His statement resounds with a long tradition of prisoners, particularly African-American prisoners, who have used the language and narrative of slavery to describe the conditions of their imprisonment.” 1 Esposito and Wood, 1982

As of 2005, there are 2 million people locked up in federal, state, and county facilities. Though crime rates are down, that's up more than 600% since the 1970s. More than 6 million people are under state supervision in the form of parole or probation. The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. Black men are 6% of the U.S. population but over 40% of our prison population. Every day in the United States 200 new jail cells are constructed.

As a Capitalist System, America depends on cheap labor to expand. After all it is a country built on the labor of slaves and the land of Native Americans. Therefore, it is not surprising that such a system would spawn a Prison Industrial Complex, which includes private and Super Max Prisons. Instead of educating young people, they are being locked away like animals, with no rehabilitation. The funds used to imprison these young people could be used to pay for Vocational and or College Training. The schools no longer offer counseling, nor anything above the most basic education. The money used to run the prison systems comes from the same pool used to fund education.

Most prisoners come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Most have not completed high school. Many can barely read. Roughly one-third were been unemployed before imprisonment. Another third had annual incomes of less than $5,000. Children of incarcerated parents have increased risk of anxiety, depression, aggression, truancy, attention disorders and poor scholastic performance. Black people are 7.8 times more likely to be imprisoned than whites, when convicted of the same crime.

Prisons cost taxpayers more than $32 billion a year. Every year that an inmate spends in prison costs $22,000. An individual sentenced to five years for a $300 theft costs the public more than $100,000. The cost of a life term averages $1.5 million. States are spending more money on prisons than education. Over the course of the last 20 years, the amount of money spent on prisons was increased by 570% while that spent on elementary and secondary education was increased by only 33%. 2

Prisons in California

As much as most of us would like to believe that we as a society have finally reached a state of equality and equal opportunity, the fact is that racism is still very much alive. The fact that for instance, arrests of African-Americans have been about five times higher than arrests of whites, although whites and African-Americans use drugs at about the same rate, shows just how racialized crime arrests actually are. Parallel to the enrollment of minority students in the University of California system, there are hundreds of thousands of more minorities in prisons than there are in college. For instance, the enrollment of Hispanic students in the UC system has gone up from 6.5% in 1990 to 7.8% in 2001 (University of California Enrollment Statistics). Comparatively, currently more than 23.6% of California state prisoners are Hispanic.

Looking only at the statistics, it is clear that California views imprisonment as more important than education in that, "California's prison population now rivals the UC and CSU systems in absolute numbers. Since 1965 [to 1994] the UC and CSU systems added one campus each. Between 1983 and 2004, the number of prisons in California will jump from 11 to 60, an increase of 445 percent (Prison Activist Resource Center). With so many Hispanic youth going to jail, particularly in California, why isn't the government doing more to keep them out of jail and get them on the path to higher education? The answer, unfortunately, comes once again back to money. Public education costs the government money while prison is profitable. To put it simply, an incarcerated person is simply worth more to the government than an educated one.3

Some History and Background

“There are more African Americans in Prison today than there were in 1850, prior to the Civil War. In California, the Three Strikes law has filled the Prisons to bursting. The decisions made by lawmakers has brought the state to the brink of bankruptcy. At the same time that Prisons are being funded money for schools are being seriously depleted. This is not a new phenomenon, but the continuation of the enslavement of African Americans, which has expanded to include some Hispanics. The inclusion of Hispanics should not be surprising since they are remnants of Native Americans. The laws are passed not to protect Americans, but to control the movement of People of Color. If that were not the case, why would those who rape, brutalize, and kill be allowed to roam the streets freely.”

“Jails were among the first public structures built in colonial America. Besides serving as a necessary receptacle and staging place for reluctant emigrants, jails were an integral part of the system of bondage that existed in America. Virtually every American city and county was legally required to establish its own jail at public expense. Over the years, these structures became more pervasive, more secure, and more permanent. Some were built of stone and brick, equipped with iron bars. Colonial America had more jails than public schools or hospitals—almost as many jails as churches and taverns. Massachusetts Puritans also used jails to detain Quaker heretics who challenged Puritan hegemony or witches who were waiting public burning.

In the beginning of his novel The Scarlet Letter (1850), Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote: "the founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion of the site as a prison . . . . In accordance with this rule . . . the forefathers of Boston . . . built the first prison house."

Moreover, some colonies were established as a haven for persons who had suffered imprisonment and other persecution in Europe or as a receptacle for undesirables. By the end of the seventeenth century, a class system had developed in America. In addition to masters, a class of overseers was quickly developed to rule over the other inhabitants. Below indentured servants and convicts, who served for terms ranging from six to seven or fourteen years, black slaves occupied the lowest rung in perpetual slavery.

South Carolina authorized racial slavery from the early days of the proprietorship. So did Virginia. Even Puritan Massachusetts allowed slavery for a time. Connecticut never established slavery in law although it allowed it in practice. Rhode Island (sometimes referred to as "Rogue's Island") acted early to limit bondage to ten years, but that restriction was often flaunted. Slavery in New Hampshire was officially acknowledged in 1645. Shortly after the British took over New Netherlands from the Dutch, New York adopted hereditary slavery. So did Delaware. Pennsylvania employed slavery at its inception. Georgia lifted its ban against slavery in 1750 to become a major slave power.

All of those bound were subject to severe punishments that could be administered directly by their masters, or they could be punished by an authorized government. Many servants, convicts, and slaves attempted to run away or engaged in other acts of rebellion. Virtually every colony adopted its own slave code and control apparatus, including a system of slave patrols and networks of jails and other means to detain and punish runaway or recalcitrant slaves and servants. Under this arrangement, even free blacks were subject to tight controls and their movements were limited. In the South, the plantation system developed, creating a vast network of prisons without walls.” 4

Back To The Future

As of mid-2001, Wisconsin was the state with the highest incarceration of blacks, at a rate ten times higher than for whites. Iowa was second and Texas third for the highest incarceration for African Americans. Nationally the black incarceration rates were six times higher than for whites. One in nine black men aged 18-24 is in prison, or has been in prison. There are a myriad of reasons given for why. Some explanations have to do with criminalization and police control, and some offer cultural explanations. The Police mention, gang culture, a lack of morality and values, and social workers mention the lack of father figures. Often when white males are involved in Crime, such as rape, child murders, they are described as intelligent and coming from good families. These descriptions were given to John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, and Jeffrey Dahmer. They are portrayed, as good Middle Class white males, gone bad, a description that never attributed to young black men.

Employment plays a part in the incarceration rate of African Americans as well. They are twice as likely then whites, to be unemployed, and there are few industries, willing to train, or hire this group. Most of the industry, which hires skilled workers, brings foreigners in to fill positions. The schools do not offer training that will lead to college, or even vocational skills. In 2010, the unemployment rates for adult men (10.0 per-cent), adult women (8.0 percent), whites (8.8 percent), blacks (15.8 percent), Hispanics (12.4 percent), and teenagers (25.0 percent).

Just as the gains made after the Civil War, the gains of the 1960’s were short lived and easily retracted. Those who benefited were not able, or willing to make sure that the gains continued. They cannot be blamed, because it is the duty of society to see that all citizens have equal access. We are supposed to be a Democracy, whose citizens enjoy all of the benefits there of.

Grizzly Crimes Light Sentences

Juxtaposed to African American males are the white males, who are Serial or spree killers. Victim’s families ask repeatedly, why were these men not in prison. The short answer is because they are part of the dominant group. One of the victims was an eleven-year-old girl who was kidnapped and held captive for eighteen years in Northern California. The accused, fathered two children with her before his capture. He was previously, on parole for beating and raping another young woman. He was given fifty years, but only served eleven years before being paroled. Although on Federal Parole, he was allowed to move freely throughout California and Nevada. While on parole, he and his wife kidnapped the eleven year old, and vanished. He was never seriously looked at as a suspect in the girls kidnapping, even when Parole Agents visited him over the years. He and his wife and victim lived openly in a Middle Class community in Northern California. He violated his parole during that time, and served three years. During his stay in Prison, his wife made sure that their captive did not leave.

He practically gave himself to law enforcement by parading the children he bore with his victim around. There were two Campus Officers credited with capturing him, but my belief is he wanted to be caught. In his sick mind, he believes people are going to pat him on the back for his actions. However, that is not the point, the point is, that he was given all of the benefits of a white man, as are most serial killers, rapist, and child molesters. Yet, they are on the outside continuing to offend, while young African American Males are locked behind bars, under the guise of, “A War on Drugs.” Apparently, the drug war does not apply to those who use methamphetamine, Cocaine, and Prescription Drugs. My belief is that when crime goes down, so does the law. In fact, during an economic turn down, the laws become more stringent, against low-income groups, and African American men. There are even jokes about how differently whites are treated by police as compared to African Americans.

Recently two bodies were discovered in San Diego California, one was that of Chelsea King, who was Seventeen, and the other Amber Dubois fourteen. The accused killer, John Gardner served five years for beating and raping a thirteen year old. He was given a light sentence after a plea bargain with the District Attorneys Office. Prison records show he was moved in and out of solitary confinement, had privileges taken away and restored, and was involved in at least one "mutual combat," according to the Union-Tribune. The victim, nor her family were notified when he was released from jail.

There is another Serial Killer, Rodney Acalla, who is on Death Row in California, and is believed to have raped and murdered several women. He is another white male, who probably has more victims out there. His death penalty sentence was overturned twice by a sympathetic Jury. There are any number of Serial Killers, and rapists operating throughout America on any given day, who are mostly white American Males. They are glamorized in the media, and made in to Folk Heroes, who are Mentally Superior to society as a whole.

That was the case with Jeffrey Dahmer, who came to the attention of the police when a young Asian boy was running from him. The boy was naked and drugged when he sought help from the Police. They ignored the Boys pleas, and turned him over to Jeffrey Dahmer. It was after several more deaths, and overwhelming evidence before the police apprehended Dahmer. Jeffrey Dahmer has been portrayed as a troubled man, and few people even remember the name of his victims. The same with the Green River killer, who killed over twenty women, before being captured. Who remembers the names of the victim? Yet this white male, was not sentenced to death, because he took a plea deal.

Anthony Sowell is a black man, accused of killing eleven women, and who understood the legal system. He told one of his victims that she could scream all she wanted to, as the Police did not give a sh*t about her. He knew that the crime he was committing was low on Police Priority list. He was committing a crime against African American women, who he believed would not be missed. He may not be a white man but he knew enough to go after victims in a neighborhood long ignored by Police.

They are allowed to offend and repeat their offenses, and blend in with the dominant society. There was a case a few years ago, where a black man committed a crime in Louisiana, and went to Africa to hide out. The Police hunted him down, and brought him back to the states. Yet they have sex offenders in the same city and county, who seem to be out of their reach. The fact is that the Penitentiary System was set up to incarcerate and enslave blacks after the Civil War ended. The prisoners were to work on honor farms, usually run for the benefit of some large farm owner. That is why most prisons are not in Urban Areas, nor near cities where most were arrested. The Movie Sounder was a perfect example of the JUST US System. The main character stole a chicken to feed his hungry family, and was sent to a Prison hundreds of miles away.

Work For Pay

“Convict labor is another way to make crime pay. In 1995, prison administrators came under fire when chain gangs reappeared along the roads, breaking rock or picking up trash. In Limestone County, Alabama, prisoners in groups of five, shackled together with three-pound leg irons secured by eight-foot lengths of chain, worked 12-hour shifts. Sixty percent of them were African American, reflecting the fact that Black men are 7.5 times more likely to be incarcerated than white men. So who says that slavery is over? Officials are trying to balance budgets by making inmates pay for room and board, soap, socks, and medical/dental care.

Prisoners may end up working for either the prison or an outside company. They make circuit boards, waterbeds, and cars. They raise hogs and slaughter ostriches, whose meat is sold in Europe for $40 per pound. They have worked the night shift stocking shelves at Toys R Us. They package everything from Starbucks coffee to JanSport gear. They sew garments: An Oregon prison exports blue jeans to China, whose use of captive labor the U.S. is constantly bemoaning!

Prisoners may be paid wages by the piece or as little as two dollars hourly. Eighty percent is typically garnished for their maintenance costs, restitution to victims, taxes, etc. For their part, businesses who employ these caged workers so inexpensively also get tax breaks and save the expense of health benefits, vacations, and sick pay.

The horrible model for the ultimate abuse of prison labor is fascist Germany, where Jews, gays, Gypsies, communists, and others in the forced labor camps made products including enameled mess kits for the Nazi army. As yet, there are no reports of U.S. prisoners being worked to death -- but tuberculosis and other health problems are on the rise.”5

The question is whose job are the prisoners taking? They are already building furniture, working the fields, and making license plates, what next. The prisoners are working at little or no wages. A thinking person will know where this is going, and who will benefit in the end. It is certainly not going to be the taxpayers, who taxes go to support prisons. The person who benefits is the one who contracts for the labor, and not only do they receive the profits, they are guaranteed a certain amount in the contract. They receive contracts with little or no competition as in the case of Global Tel Link, (the former MCI), a company awarded contracts throughout the United States. Although they are not employing inmates, they depend on them for millions of dollars a month. They handle the service for all of the collect phone calls coming out of the prisons. They are not regulated and have no loyalty to the customer, who is in most cases inmates families.

The Eugenics Connection

Is there a connection between Planned Parenthood and who is in Prison? The Eugenics Movement sought to limit the birth of so-called undesirables (people of color), by sterilizing them, and making sure they did not mix with whites. In Colonial Virginia, laws were passed to deal with Mulattoes, who were born free. The laws stated that this group were to be Indentured Servants, in order to keep them from moving about freely. The length of the servitude was thirty years for females and twenty years for males. The laws applied to the offspring of Indentured Servants as well. This meant that a steady stream of free labor would come from this group. This was another form of imprisonment, and a way to control the offspring of the bourgeoning Mulatto Population.

Under Eugenics, many African American women have been subjected to nonconsensual forced sterilization. Some did not even know that they were sterilized until they tried, unsuccessfully, to have children. In 1973, Essence Magazine published an expose of forced sterilization practices in the rural South, where racist physicians felt they were performing a service by sterilizing black women without telling them. While one cannot blame Margaret Sanger for the actions of these physicians, one can certainly see why Sanger's words are especially repugnant in a racial context.

Is this the final solution? To lock up the descendants of African Slaves until they are too old to procreate. It sounds a lot like the Eugenics Project, which was used to sterilize blacks and Natives in the early 1900’s. The founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger was a believer in Eugenics. Eugenics is a means of selective breeding, to improve the Human Species. The Nazis notoriously engaged in negative eugenics by genocide. This is one of the reasons that there is so few pure blood, Native Americans in existence. I am not against or for abortions, but I am against forced sterilizations. I do not support young girls having babies (that they are not ready for), but do support a woman’s (fully informed), right to choose.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America has been protective of Margaret Sanger's reputation and defensive of allegations that she was a racist. They correctly point out that many of the attacks on Sanger come from anti-choice activists who have an interest in distorting both Sanger's work and that of Planned Parenthood. While it is understandable that Planned Parenthood would be protective of their founder's reputation, it cannot ignore the fact that Sanger edited the Birth Control Review from its inception until 1929. Under her leadership, the magazine featured articles that embraced the eugenicist position. If Sanger were as anti-eugenics as Planned Parenthood says she was, she would not have printed as many articles sympathetic to eugenics as she did.

From the very beginning, the motive behind the eugenics laws had been to eliminate ethnic minorities, especially “Negroes.” Writing in an infamous 1893 “open letter” published in the Virginia Medical Monthly, Hunter Holmes McGuire, a Richmond physician and president of the American Medical Association, asked for “some scientific explanation of the sexual perversion in the Negro of the present day.” McGuire’s correspondent, Chicago physician G. Frank Lydston, replied that African-American men raped white women because of “hereditary influences descending from the uncivilized ancestors of our Negroes.” Lydston’s solution to this problem was not lynching, but surgical castration, which “prevents the criminal from perpetuating his kind.”6

In 1935, a decade after the passage of Virginia’s eugenics laws, Walter Plecker expressed the desire to use forced sterilization on minorities in correspondence with Walter Gross, director of Nazi Germany’s Bureau of Human Betterment and Eugenics. Plecker described Virginia’s racial purity laws and requested to be put on Gross’ mailing list. Plecker commented upon the Third Reich’s sterilization of six hundred children in Algeria who were born of German women to black fathers. “I hope this work is complete and not one has been missed,” he wrote. “I sometimes regret that we have not the authority to put some measures in practice in Virginia.”7

Despite lacking the statutory authority to sterilize black, mulatto and American Indian children simply because they were “colored”, a small number of Virginia eugenicist in key positions found ways to achieve their end. The Sterilization Act gave State institutions, including hospitals, psychiatric institutions and prisons, the statutory authority to sterilize persons deemed to be “feeble minded” — a highly subjective criterion.

On March 20, 1924 the Virginia Legislature (United States) passed two closely related Eugenics laws: SB 219, entitled "The Racial Integrity Act" and SB 281, "An ACT to provide for the sexual sterilization of inmates of State institutions in certain cases", henceforth referred to as "The Sterilization Act".

The Racial Integrity Act required that a racial description of every person be recorded at birth, and made marriage between white persons and non-white persons a felony. The law was the most famous ban on miscegenation (anti-miscegenation law) in the United States, and was overturned by the United States Supreme Court in 1967, in Loving v. Virginia.

Eugenicists strongly espoused racial supremacy and “purity”,” particularly of the “Aryan” race. Eugenicists hoped to purify the bloodlines and improve the race by encouraging the “fit” to reproduce and the “unfit” to restrict their reproduction. They sought to contain the “inferior” races through segregation, sterilization, birth control and abortion
Pen or Penitentiary

A Penitentiary is place where prisoners are sent to do penance, or reflect on their crimes. It is a state or federal prison usually for persons convicted of serious crimes. In Colonial America, it was an office or tribunal headed by a cardinal (Grand Penitentiary) and dealing with matters of penance, confession, dispensation, absolution, all matters handled by the Anglican Church. The original overseers of the courts in America were clerics of the church, who were white males. For those convicted of Capital Crimes, their sentence was swift, usually death by drowning, burning, hanging or by firing squad.

Here is an accounting of the Arrest of Caesar, a Slave:

“Tens of thousands of newly enslaved Africans poured into England's American and West Indies colonies in the 18th century. Horrible living and working conditions meant that only constant imports of still more thousands could increase the black population in the Carolinas and Georgia. Meanwhile, slaves made up only about four percent of the total population of New England. Most lived in urban areas and coastal towns. Relatively few numbers and geographic dispersion made group insurgency against slavery difficult for northern blacks living in rural towns. There exists evidence, however, that many slaves resisted white masters and the slave system in general. Running away was the most obvious form of individual resistance to slavery. This legal complaint against "Cæsar a Laborer & Servant" of Nathaniel Dickinson of Deerfield, Massachusetts, suggests that resistance to slavery took on other forms. A Hampshire County Justice of the Peace issued a warrant for Caesar's arrest for stealing and for committing "other enormities" in November 1771.”

To Thomas Williams Esq. one of his Majesty’s
Justices of the Peace for the County of
Hampshire Complains John Williams
of Deerfield in sd County Gentleman against
Cæsar a Laborer & Servant of Nathaniel Dickinson of Deerfield aforesaid
that on the last day of November AD 1771
he said Cæsar did at Deerfield aforesaid
feloniously take steal & carry away one
gallon of West India Rum of the Value of four shillings
Lawful money the property of yr Complainant & other enormities
then & there did against the Peace & Contrary to
Law wherefore yr Complaint prays that a Warrant
may issue against sd Cæsar that he may be
apprehended & dealt with according to Law & as
in duty Bound prays &
John Williams

Hampshire ss To the Sheriff of the County of

Hampshire his Under Sheriff or Deputy or either
of the Constables of the Town of Deerfield in
said County Greeting--
In his Majesty's Name you are commanded
forthwith to apprehend the above named
Caesar & him Convene before me or some
other Justice of the Peace for sd County to answer
to the above Complaint & that he may be
dealt with according to Law given under
my hand & Seal at Deerfield the Second day of
December AD 1771 & in the twelfth year of
his Majesty's Reign
Thos Williams Just. [of Peace]8

Are we afraid to ask the hard questions? Is assimilation so important that those who fall by the wayside are abandoned? Netanyahu, the Head of the Jewish state, made this promise at Graves in Auschwitz, “I promise, as head of the Jewish state, that never again will we allow the hand of evil to sever the life of our people and our state.”

It is time for African Americans to make that same promise, to our young people, and future generations. It is not a statement against any other group, but one to stop the genocide against our young people. We are a people on the move, but as we focus on our goals, remember those words, “Never Again.” Those who enslaved our ancestors, and continue to move forward with their Master Plan, should meet a wall of resistance. Our ancestors would expect no less of us.


[1]Esposito and Wood, 1982: 149

[2] Fortunato, Manny; Prison Facts,, retrieved March 26, 2010

[3] Prison Activism in California, retrieved:, retrieved:

March 26, 2010

[4] Prisons: History - Early Jails And Workhouses, The Rise Of The Prisoner Trade, A Land Of Prisoners, Enlightenment Reforms,, March 23, 2010
[5] Sutherland, Janet, Freedom Socialist • Vol. 17, No. 4 • January-March 1997,, retrieved, March 24, 2010

[6] Warren Fiske, "The Black and White World of Ashby Plecker: Part 1", The Virginian-Pilot, August 18, 2004

[7] Dorr, Gregory M. (October 2006). "Defective or Disabled?: Race, Medicine, and Eugenics in Progressive Era Virginia and Alabama". Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (Fremont, OH: Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era) Retrieved 2010-24-03
[8] From Digital Connections, Complaint against slave Caesar for Stealing, htp://