RBG Street Scholars Think Tank                                                       November, 2010Written by Neelam Sharm...
RBG Street Scholars Think Tank                              November, 2010The African slave trade of 16th-18th century did...
RBG Street Scholars Think Tank                                November, 2010The Triangle of InterestOn May 12 1994 the Wal...
RBG Street Scholars Think Tank                             November, 2010A Social Environment That Creates CriminalsIt was...
RBG Street Scholars Think Tank                                November, 2010have been is the acceptance of prison as a par...
RBG Street Scholars Think Tank                                November, 2010financial supporter of Lamar Alexander, the fo...
RBG Street Scholars Think Tank                               November, 2010shocks between two and six. An examination of N...
RBG Street Scholars Think Tank                                November, 2010entire 10 hours, it felt like I was being boil...
RBG Street Scholars Think Tank                               November, 2010documented case of Frank Hunter, who died in an...
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The Triangular Trade and Prison Slavery, by Neelam Sharma and Jalil Abdul Muntaqim


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The Triangular Trade and Prison Slavery, by Neelam Sharma and Jalil Abdul Muntaqim

  1. 1. RBG Street Scholars Think Tank November, 2010Written by Neelam Sharma using material submitted by Jalil Abdul Muntaqim, apolitical prisoner currently held in Auburn Correctional Facility in Auburn, NewYork and Bonnie Kerness, associate director of the American Friends ServiceCommittee in New Jersey, a prisoners rights advocate for the past 20 years. Image and Link embellishment RBG Street Scholar for enhanced learning / teaching purposes.The Triangular Slave Trade and Prison Slavery Page 1
  2. 2. RBG Street Scholars Think Tank November, 2010The African slave trade of 16th-18th century did not appear suddenlyovernight; it grew over a period of time driven by the "economic interests"of merchants and businessmen; and it was sanctioned by theirrepresentatives in government. This is precisely the process that is unfoldingtoday with the creation of a "prison industrial complex" on a scale neverbefore seen. There are two very disturbing aspects of the growth in this"new industry": the contracting out of penal institutions to businessinterests, and the increasing use of physical and psychological torture onprisoners as a form of "control".Ten years ago there was just five privately run prisons in the country,housing a population of 2000. Today, 20 private firms run more than 100prisons with about 62,000 beds. That is still less than 5 per cent, but theindustry is expanding fast, with the number of private prison beds expectedto grow to 360,000 during the next decade. Already 28 states have passedlegislation making it legal for private contractors to run prisons; more areexpected to follow suit. Companies like Goldman Sachs and Co., PrudentialInsurance Co. of America, Smith Barney Shearson Inc., and Merrill Lynchand Co., are among those competing to underwrite prison construction withprivate, tax-exempt bonds (where no voter approval is required). Why sucha scramble for these contracts? Consider the growth of CorrectionsCorporation of America (CCA), the industry leader whose stock price hasincreased from $8 a share in 1992 to about $30 today, and whose revenuerose by 81% in 1995 alone. The Nashville-based CCA, which runs 46 penalinstitutions in 11 states, controls roughly half of the industry. It took tenyears for the company to reach 10,000 beds; it is now growing by the samenumber every year.The Triangular Slave Trade and Prison Slavery Page 2
  3. 3. RBG Street Scholars Think Tank November, 2010The Triangle of InterestOn May 12 1994 the Wall Street Journal featured an article entitled: "MakingCrime Pay-Triangle of Interest Created Infrastructure To Fight Lawlessness-Cities see Jobs; Politicians see a Popular Issue and Businesses Cash In- TheCold War of the 90s". In other words, the media creates a climate of fearabout rates of crime, politician’s campaign on this issue demanding newlegislation and get tough measures like "three strikes"; businesses step in tosnap up the lucrative prison contracts. Of course, it is precisely big businessand their representative in government who control the media.This "Triangle of Interest" has set the stage for the resurrection of slavery inAmerica since this peculiar institution was never in fact abolished. From thetime it was written, the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which ispopularly known to have abolished "involuntary servitude" and "chattelslavery" of Africans, has had an exception clause: "except as a punishmentfor crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted." This clause hasbeen consistently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, meaning that prisonersare to be considered no more than "slaves of the state."The Triangular Slave Trade and Prison Slavery Page 3
  4. 4. RBG Street Scholars Think Tank November, 2010A Social Environment That Creates CriminalsIt was this same clause in the 13th Amendment that was used, after theemancipation of African slaves, to sentence Africans who were once slaves,to new forms of slavery. In a new book called Prison Writing in 20th CenturyAmerica, the editor H. Bruce Franklin begins with an Autobiography of anImprisoned Peon. A brief extract from this essay, which was originallypublished in 1904, shows clearly how slavery was continued using theexception clause. "One of the usual ways of securing laborers for a largepeonage camp is for the proprietor to send out an agent to the little courtsin the towns and villages, and where a man charged with some pettyoffenses has no friends or money the agent will urge him to plead guilty,with the understanding that the agent will pay his fine, and in that way savehim from the disgrace of being sent to jail or the chain gang! For the highfavor the man must sign before hand, a paper signifying his willingness to goto the farm and work out the amount of the fine imposed. Every year manyconvicts were brought to the Senators camp!" The writer, who to this dayremains anonymous, goes on to explain that most of those "convicts" hadbeen "set-up for the crimes" they were convicted of with the collusion ofstate officials, plantation owners and paid "agents" in the Africancommunity.What is different about the situation existing today? High proportions ofpeople of color are filling this countrys prisons for drug-related crime,specifically offenses related to crack-cocaine. The truth about the U.S.governments complicity in introducing crack cocaine into the Blackneighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles, through its agency the CIA, isonly now emerging. Since the release of Gary Webbs articles in the San JoseMercury-News in 1996, detailing how the CIA used the Nicaraguan Contrasto flood the Black communities with cheap drugs, the CIA has consistentlydenied these allegations. However, in July of this year, CIA officials spokeanonymously to reporters about an internal agency report relating to thesecharges. It is interesting what one of them said, "In some cases, we knewthat the people we were dealing with would not qualify as Vienna choirboys,but we dealt with them nonetheless because of the value they brought." It isalso interesting that this 2-volume report is still classified.The Criminalization of Youth of ColorThis is simply one method that has been used by those with power tocriminalize poor and oppressed people, especially young males of color, butincreasingly also women of color. Some of the processes used to createentire communities of "criminals" are very subtle; this subject could warrantan entire article by itself. But a measure of how successful these attemptsThe Triangular Slave Trade and Prison Slavery Page 4
  5. 5. RBG Street Scholars Think Tank November, 2010have been is the acceptance of prison as a part of life among large sectionsof our youth. While Black people, conservatively, comprise only 12.5% of theentire US populations; we make up 48% of the prison population. Thefastest growing ethnic group being imprisoned today is people of Mexicandescent. This country imprisons more of its citizens than any otherindustrialized nation: 1.7 million people are currently in state and federalprisons. This number does not reflect those in childrens facilities,immigration detention center, or county and city jails.Could it be that these figures in some way reflect a growth in crime? Well,none other than the FBI recently reported that crime in America is in factdecreasing (the one exception is crimes of violence by police officers!). Thetruth is that to be profitable private prison firms must ensure that prisonsare not only built but also filled. Experts in the "industry" claim that 90-95 %capacity is needed to guarantee the hefty rates of return required luringinvestors. Prudential Securities, for example, issued a wildly bullish report onCCA a few years ago, but cautioned, "it takes time to bring inmatepopulation levels up to where they cover costs. Low occupancy is a drag onprofits."Businesses and Politicians - "Working" TogetherIt is hardly surprising that all the major firms in the field have hired big timelobbyists to push for the type of "get tough policies" needed to ensure theircontinued growth. When it was seeking a contract to run a halfway house inNew York City, Esmore (the number 3 firm in this new industry) hired aformer aide to State Representative Edolphus Towns to lobby on its behalf.The former aide won the contract, as well as the support of his former boss,who had been an opponent of the project. In 1995, the chairman ofWackenhut (which has a third of the "private prison market") testified beforethe Senate Judiciary Committee urging support for amendments to theViolent Crime Control Act. The amended provisions of the Act subsequentlypassed, authorizing the expenditure of $10 billion to construct and repairstate prisons.CCA has been especially adept at expansion via "political payoffs." The firstprison the company managed was the Silverdale Workhouse in HamiltonCounty, Tennessee. After Tennessee Commissioner Bob Long voted toaccept CCAs bid for this project, the company awarded Longs pest controlfirm a lucrative contract. When Long decided the time was right to quitpublic life, CCA hired him as a lobbyist. The company has been a majorThe Triangular Slave Trade and Prison Slavery Page 5
  6. 6. RBG Street Scholars Think Tank November, 2010financial supporter of Lamar Alexander, the former Tennessee governor, andfailed presidential candidate. In one of many "sweetheart" deals, Lamarswife made more than $130,000 on a $5,000 investment in CCA. TennesseeGovernor Ned McWherter is another CCA stockholder; he is quoted in thecompanys 1995 Annual Report as saying "the federal government would bewell served to privatize all of their corrections."The young male of color who is worth less than nothing in this economicsystem is suddenly worth between $30-60 thousand dollars a year in the"justice" system. About three-quarters of new admissions to American jailsand prisons are men of African and Mexican descent. Jerome Miller, a formeryouth corrections officer in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, says, "The racecard has changed the whole playing field. Because the prison system doesntaffect a significant percentage of young white men, well increasingly seeprisoners treated as commodities. For now the situation is a bit more benignthan it was back in the 19th Century, but Im not sure it will stay that wayfor long."Controlling These New SlavesIn July of this year, a judge in California ordered a defendant in hercourtroom to be zapped with a "stun belt" because he would not keep quietwhen told. In a September 13th 1997 Peoples Weekly World article by JuliaLutsky entitled "Torture in America," the writer describes stun belts. "Arelatively new restraint device is the stun belt, in use since 1993. It deliversan eight second 50,000-volt shock to the prisoners kidney area, oftenleaving him writhing in pain on the floor. Some states are considering it as apossible alternative to chaining work gangs. It leaves prisoners free to moveabout, and can be activated by a guard from 300 feet away. Stun belts arecurrently used in the federal prison system, the US Marshalls Service, over100 county agencies and the corrections facilities of 16 states." Thenonchalant use of this device in a courtroom against someone who was nophysical threat whatsoever merely reflects the increasingly common use ofsuch means of torture within the prisons.There are also "stun guns," "tasers" and "electric riot shields," which like thebelt are all electronic shocking devices. In 1996, the Phoenix New Timesreported the death of inmate Scott Norberg at the Maricopa County Jail.Allegedly, he died while fighting with officers who were attempting to confinehim in a "restraint chair," while strapping a towel around his mouth to "keephim from spitting." During the struggle, Norberg was shocked multiple timeswith stun guns. Inmates who witnessed his death estimated that he hadbeen shocked between 8 and 20 times. Guards estimated the number ofThe Triangular Slave Trade and Prison Slavery Page 6
  7. 7. RBG Street Scholars Think Tank November, 2010shocks between two and six. An examination of Norbergs corpse,commissioned by his family, puts the number at 21.Donald Blosswick, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering at theUniversity of Utah, contends that the design of the "restraint chair" isunsafe, because it forces prisoners into a stressful position and does notinclude directions to move the prisoners limbs regularly. Richard Swart, asocial worker incarcerated at a Utah State Prison, provided testimony foranother inmate. Scotty Lee Yocham. He wrote: "Yocham was directed toleave the strip cell and a urine soaked pillowcase was place over his headlike a hood. (He) was then walked, shackled and hooded to a different cellwhere he was placed in a device called the chair. The chair is a restraintdevice designed for mentally ill persons who pose a significant danger ofharming themselves or others. The inmate is stripped nude, placed in thechair with their buttocks several inches below their knees. The arms and legsare then cuffed or shackled to the legs of the chair to prevent the inmatefrom moving. The design of the chair forces the inmates back against thechair. Mobility is almost non-existent. The inmate cannot relieve himselfwithout soiling himself. He is left uncovered and unprotected, in pain, andshackled. Yocham was kept in the chair for over 30 hours."The Colorado ACLU is engaged in a federal suit against the El Paso CountyJail concerning the death of a prisoner who was strapped to a device knownas the "restraint board.” This board is 7 feet long and 1 foot wide. Prisonersare strapped face down in seven places from the ankle to the head-makingmovement impossible. The inmate in question, Michael Lewis, died onFebruary 7, 1998, after being strapped to the board for several hours for thesecond time that day. The lawsuit alleges that several hundred prisonershave been strapped to the board in the last few years, some for as long as12 hours. The ACLU alleges, "the restraint board is a terrifying experiencethat causes pain, psychic pain, mental distress and physical injuries."Another restraint device is "the motorcycle." Its use has been reported byprisoners in South Carolina being held in isolation units. It is similar to the"board," in that prisoners are strapped down at several body points.However, the use of this particular board is accompanied by a motorcyclehelmet, which is placed on the prisoners head to prevent the prisoner fromrepeatedly and deliberately banging it.The use of "pepper spray" is perhaps one of the most frequently reportedmethods of torture. Ronnie Stewart, prisoner at the Arizona State prison inFlorence states: "The use of pepper spray and beatings is a part of everydaylife within the system here at the Special Management Unit #1 if it is notbeing sprayed directly on you, then the entire wing is being sprayed. Thishas occurred 3 times in the past 2 weeks. It is not uncommon for theofficers to use up to eight cans on a single inmate. I myself was sprayed andit was about 10 hours before I was allowed to wash off the chemical agent.This resulted in burns and blisters to my arms, face, chest, and feet. For theThe Triangular Slave Trade and Prison Slavery Page 7
  8. 8. RBG Street Scholars Think Tank November, 2010entire 10 hours, it felt like I was being boiled alive. When you are forced tostand in the sun with no shelter the sweat from your body continues toreactivate this chemical agent so that you remain in extreme pain the entireday."Reports of the use of these various devices of torture within the prisons arecoming almost exclusively from prisoners being kept in isolation, which initself is increasingly used as form of control and torture. In two landmarkdecisions U.S. judges have recently sentenced people to life in solitaryconfinement, perhaps marking a new era in the use of "sensory deprivation"as a condition of imprisonment. These sentences reflect the U.S. criminaljustice policy, which increasingly encourages the use of “control units,”“security housing units,” and "super-max" prisons.The first official "control unit" was opened in Marion Federal Prison in Illinoisin 1972. It was a "behavior modification" experimental unit. Other similarunits began opening in state prisons across the country around the sametime. In 1983, the entire prison at Marion was "locked down" (an action inwhich all prisoners are locked in cells 24 hours a day without humancontact) in response to an isolated incident of violence. This lock-down hasnever been lifted. In 1995, a new federal high tech prison in Florence,Colorado, took over the "mission" of Marion; according to authorities, ithouses the "most predatory" prisoners in the U.S. Prisoners are kept innearly total isolation for years; there is little intersection with anyone otherthan prison staff. Visits and telephone calls from family and friends areseverely restricted, as are educational, recreational, and religious services.Currently over 40 states throughout the country have adopted the federalmodel of control units; these often take the form of "supermax,” or "maxi-maxi" prisons. While specific conditions in these units vary, their goal is to"break" prisoners through spiritual, psychological, and/or physicalbreakdown. Supporters of these units claim they are necessary to deal with"hardened criminals." In fact, the development of control units can be traceddirectly to the years of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements whenmany activists found themselves in prison. The use of sensory deprivation asa form of behavior modification was extensively used on members of theBlack Panther Party, Black Liberation Army, Puerto Rican IndependenceMovement, and American Indian Movement, as well as white politicalactivists, jailhouse lawyers, Islamic militants and prison activists.In recent years, the rapid growth of these "control units" has beenaccompanied by an insane duplication of their controls and restrictions. Forexample, when a control unit prisoner leaves his cage, he is strip-searched,even when he has only been in contact with prison staff. Oscar Lopez, aPuerto Rican political prisoner, reported being searched rectally 3 timesreturning; one time he hadnt been in the direct company of anyone else formonths. Increasingly, mentally ill prisoners are being put into isolationrather than receiving the treatment, they need. In New Jersey, there is theThe Triangular Slave Trade and Prison Slavery Page 8
  9. 9. RBG Street Scholars Think Tank November, 2010documented case of Frank Hunter, who died in an isolation unit after beingforced to commit sexual acts for food; he didnt know who or where he waswhen he died.How will a government, which today sanctions such barbaric conditionswithin its prisons, take seriously a demand that it apologizes for pastatrocities, never mind repairing the damage? A distinguishing feature of thetrade in Africans, which first brought Black people to this continent, was thatthe slave was seen as a "commodity", nothing more than "chattel" to beused for profit. Today, would-be profiteers rub their hands in glee when theysee the potential profits to be made from this modern version of the slavetrade, as characterized by a headline in USA Today: "Everybodys doin theJailhouse Stock." The forces that seek to benefit from this new slave tradehave formed a "triangle of interest."The time has arrived for African-Americans, and all poor and oppressedpeople, to form our own "circle of interest." It is only by putting aside ourdifferences, our egos and our sectarian interests, and concentrating on thecommonality of our oppression, that we can wage an effective resistance tothis new effort to enslave us. Certainly there can be no doubt that today,more than ever, the poverty and oppression within our communities isinextricable linked to the situation in the prison system. We cannotsuccessfully challenge either one without challenging the other."The difference between successful and unsuccessful movements is in thepeople who lead them. Successful ones are led by persons gifted with adelicate balance of both mental and physical forcefulness. Brains are uselesswithout the nervous equipment and the muscle required to execute theirorders.” -George Jackson, Field Marshall, BPPIn Struggle,Neelam Sharma525 E. 55th Pl. N.Tulsa, OK 74126The Triangular Slave Trade and Prison Slavery Page 9