Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Slave Labor - A Calm Revolt in Georgia Brings This Issue to the National Spotlight

From my Dkos Diary post on 1/19/11

Last month a few inmates in several Georgia prisons stood up against being used as slaves by the state and private corporations involved in prison industry. Mainstream media mostly ignored the "strike" by prison inmates - as they so often do, being owned and run by large corporate interests that may or may not be involved in prison labor themselves.

Corporate interests saw this quiet protest as a challenge to the established order of prison for profits that have ruled for the past two or more decades now. If this protest was allowed to continue there was a possibility it would spread to other Georgia prisons - as well as a real likelihood that prisoners in other states working under the same conditions might see this as an opportunity to join in the protest.

This action in Georgia by inmates of all classes, race and ethnicity demonstrated two important points. First that inmates overcame the race separation that prison staffers have long encouraged and fostered, and; a willingness of prison and non-prison state authorities to use violence to enforce the slave-like conditions under which inmates are forced to live and work to produce profits for corporate interests.

The strike began on December 9, 2010. In the days leading up to the planned target date, quiet discussions via cell phones were made among those involved. Their main concern was that the demonstration be multi-racial and involve whites, blacks and Latinos and that the demonstration remain peaceful and non-violent.

What was the purpose of this "strike" by inmates in Georgia? They were calling for decent wages, better social services and respect for their civil liberties. The prisoners also were protesting the quality of the food and the lack of fruits and vegetables, the quality of medical care, the availability of education and job training programs, parole decisions and overall conditions including having to pay for medical treatment and care while not being paid for their work. Many of the things the rest of us take for granted but are being denied to 2.3 million of us incarcerated - mostly for drug and drug related crimes.

It was a demonstration planned for a single day but continued for six anxious and tense days until called off by the inmates themselves as more and more oppressive tactics were applied by their captors. Hot water was turned off, all phones in the cell block were switched off and prison guards began searches - apparently looking for the cell phones being used to coordinate the strike - and taking "contraband" they found in the prisoner's cells.

The strike ended on December 15th but during those tense 6 days the inmates - many who were not involved in planning or setting up the strike - paid a heavy price for being an inmate in the Georgia prison system:

"Though the protest has reportedly remained non-violent, guards have allegedly used violent measures to force the men back to work. Prisoners report that at the Augusta State Prison, several inmates were ripped from their cells by CERT Team guards and beaten, resulting in broken ribs.

‘At Telfair, the Tactical Squad roughed up prisoners and destroyed all their property. At Macon and Hays State Prisons, Tactical Squads have menaced the men for days, removing some to the “hole,” and the wardens turned off heat and hot water.'

Other reports came in naming some of the participating inmates and describing what had happened to them because of their "peaceful participation" in the strike:

"Like thousands of inmates scattered in prisons across the state of Georgia, Terrance Bryant Dean participated in an eight-day peaceful protest to highlight inhumane conditions in the prisons.

"Days later he was brutally beaten by guards at Macon State Prison, his family and a coalition of supporters charge.

"When his mother, Willie Maude Dean, and members of the Concerned Coalition to Respect Prisoners’ Rights attempted to visit him at the Atlanta Medical Center on Dec. 31, the hospital claimed her son was no longer there and the corrections department claimed he was moved to Jackson State Prison the night before, according to an alert The Final Call received from coalition co-chair Elaine Brown.

"Ms. Brown said the coalition found out about the beating during its second fact-finding visit to Smith State Prison on Dec. 30. Its first prison visit was to Macon on Dec. 20.The coalition asserts the beating was in retaliation for the protest, which began in early December.

"In addition, Ms. Dean said the Georgia Department of Corrections has given no information about her son’s condition or his whereabouts.

"The mother told coalition leaders after their latest visit that Macon State Warden Gregory McLaughlin told her that Terrance was in an isolation cell, but the mother believes he was already in the hospital.

"The family of a second inmate, Miguel Jackson, alleges he was severely beaten by upwards of 20 guards Dec. 31 during what is called a “shakedown” at Smith State Prison near Glennville, Ga. in which corrections officers search prisoners’ cells. Upon finding nothing, said Mrs. Delma Jackson, Miguel’s wife, the officers accused Mr. Jackson of having “something.” Mr. Jackson was pepper sprayed, handcuffed and beaten repeatedly with hammers resulting in a fractured nose and 50 stitches to his face, said Mrs. Jackson. Guards also attempted to throw him over the railing from the second floor, she said.

"And because the family has not been allowed to see him, his wife said they worry whether or not he may have a concussion or internal injuries. Upon seeing pictures of her husband, Mrs. Jackson said she and other family members drove New Year’s Day three and a half hours from Atlanta to check on his status.

"Their visit was denied by corrections personnel, she said. This was after the family waited 90 minutes to be given a sheet to fill out, requesting a visit. “We didn’t even want to sit there and visit, we just wanted to see that he was okay and they denied us that right,” Mrs. Jackson told The Final Call.

"When she asked prison officials why visitation was denied, all officials said was that there was an “incident” and the only one authorized to approve a visit would be the warden, who was not there, Mrs. Jackson continued. Mrs. Jackson said her husband’s fractured nose as of Jan. 3 still had not been reset and she worried the violent encounter will affect him psychologically.

"Coalition spokespersons said that beating occurred around the same time it was negotiating access to certain prisons to investigate conditions. And even as the delegation visited Macon State, the corrections department was apparently covering up the inmate’s reported retaliatory beating by several CERT (Correctional Emergency Response Team) members.

"Witnesses reported to the coalition that CERT officers restrained Terrance Dean after an alleged dispute with a guard, dragged him from his cell in handcuffs and leg irons, removed him to the prison gym and beat him unconscious.

"The beating remained unreported by corrections officials even though the coalition specifically raised questions about reports of retaliatory beatings, said the group. Questions were also asked about the status and whereabouts of 37 – or more – men the corrections department identified as strike “conspirators,” the coalition said."

The response by Georgia Corrections officials was the standard action taken when riots or other violent events take place. In the instant case, there was no violence by the inmates, merely a refusal to work for nothing, receive inadequate medical care (and forced to pay for it), a parole program that actually did what it was supposed to and proper amount and quality of food provided.

By planning this strike and making their intentions known to those on the outside, prison officials learned about the impending activity and they also began planning their response. Prison facilities were placed on lock-down to keep inmates confined to their housing units. Staffing was increased and the prison CERT teams put on standby. This team of officers Corrections Emergency Response Team are trained to handle most situations encountered in the prison environment - except response to non-violent protests. The standard response? Violent and immediate action to maintain control. In this instance it resulted in unnecessary brutality at more than one facility.

I write about this for many reasons; the racial disparity in prison populations, the real lack of adequate medical treatment, parole boards who receive huge salaries without actually granting more than a handful of paroles a year, poor food given to the inmates and for a dozen more reasons.

Chief among those remaining reasons is the basis for the strike in the first place - the slave labor atmosphere created by making those incarcerated labor for free or pennies on the dollar. They labor daily to manufacture products we use daily. Sure, many work to keep the prisons running; maintenance, food service, laundry, cleaning and other daily work that allows prisons to function. But a large segment of those imprisoned who have the skills needed by prison industries, are put to work making money for those industries and many corporations they're partnered with.

As I've written previously, hundreds of corporations are involved in prison industries, prison privatization and peripheral profits garnered from canteen sales, clothing sales to inmates, healthcare contracts to provide "adequate" healthcare to inmates, food service, chemical spray agents, tasers, chairs to immobilize, pharmaceuticals, prisoner transport, data capture...and dozens more.

Because 40% of those incarcerated are African-American, they are the ones who are most adversely affected. Some say they've even been targeted by one of our political parties - Republicans. However the color or race of an inmate, though of important note, is not the issue. Rather it is the way in which all inmates are treated through imprisonment and from the attitude and actions of those who "guard" them:

"This mass incarceration comes out of racial politics stirred up by the Republican Party, attorney Alexander argued. Essentially, she said, the GOP exploited the fears and anxieties of poor working class Whites by launching a movement promising to “get tough” on “those people” and built a campaign around crime and welfare to mobilize poor and working class White voters to defect from the Democratic Party and join the Republican Party in droves.

“But now that the war on drugs and mass incarceration has gained such steam, there’s a whole range of interests that has found that they can profit from caging human beings. And it’s not just the private prison companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange, but it’s a whole range of corporate interests,” she said.

“You know, taser gun manufacturers, phone companies that gouge prisoners and their families, the private health care providers that provide typically abysmal health care to prisoners, and prison guard unions,” all of whom now lobby for harsh criminal justice policies to try to ensure their profits and jobs will continue for a foreseeable future, attorney Alexander said."

The Prison Industrial Complex (PIC)is a huge conglomerate comprised of industries, private prisons, food service, healthcare, commissary and other services related to and profiting off of prisons and the inmates they house. It has grown to such size in great part due to the labor they extract from those inmates they profit off of. As I've written previously, there are billions generated in sales of products made by these men and women we've imprisoned. Because of these profits those involved in exploiting prisoners to the fullest extent possible, were threatened by the actions taken in Georgia by the inmates.

This kind of an "uprising" by those working to ensure money is made for the corporate interests can not be allowed to happen! This was a direct threat to the corporate "way of life" they've grown used to. Thus it had to not only be put down, but quelled in such a manner that it set an example to inmates in Georgia and all other states. Profits and stock prices were put in jeopardy by this brief demonstration last month.

Because many corporations involved in prison industries, and peripheral operations are publicly traded, stocks are impacted by the smallest ripple affecting prison operations and privatization. One aspect most of us are not cognizant of is this; prison workers, staff, administrators, industry personnel and even the lowest guard working in prison, all have the benefit of employee stock options. Many buy stocks or receive stocks in CCA, Geo Group, Aramark, GE, Microsoft,and hundreds of other corporate stocks that are involved in profiting off of inmate labor and prison privatization. Guards who reduce food given to inmates, or deny necessary healthcare are not simply being hostile or vicious, he is protecting his stock prices. Sometimes it is not simply a matter of abuse, its a matter of profit that causes abusive behavior.

An inmate represents a number and expected profits for the length of his/her sentence to those profiting from incarceration. It is important to those playing this game to know precisely how long an inmate is expected to remain in prison and represent the potential for profits. This is why the "Truth in Sentencing" (TIS) laws developed by ALEC and proposed by their members to state legislatures was so important to ALEC corporate members such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Geo Group. They wanted to be able to calculate the "life" term of the sentence of those they house for states. Truth in Sentencing made it mandatory that every prisoner serve "at least 85% of the sentence imposed" upon conviction of a crime.

Many also are unaware that in 1994 a federal law was passed that provides federal funding and grants to states that enact and enforce TIS laws. Thus we see the influence of ALEC and their lobbyists upon our federal lawmakers to get this kind of oppressive laws spread throughout the country. Currently 35 of the fifty states took advantage of and participate in TIS laws and receive grant funding.

"Follow the money trail" as I've been told over and over again has led me down many paths - from courts through prisons to the corporate interests involved from beginning to end. One of those paths led me to a site that claims prisoners are assigned product numbers and traded as individual stocks:

"Now that corporations with the help of the federal government had successfully converted prisoners into commodities to be traded globally, prisons saw an almost immediate end to actual punishment as prisoner labor was now sold to profit the corporation. Because the corporations owning and running prisons have only one duty, to make a profit, it is not uncommon for these prisons to be understaffed and for security to be less than desirable to keep costs down. Medical treatment is in short supply.

"Corporations have perpetuated a growth industry which must be profitable. To be profitable requires a continuously new population of prisoners sentenced to lengthy terms. In many cases these terms are drug related, or consist of other non-violent crime. With the extended sentences the prison population of the US has grown from 225,000 in the early 80’s to more than 2.5 million currently.

"Prisoners now answer phones for corporations, make 36% of all appliances sold in the US, license plates, road construction, and various other jobs, all performed for the profits of the corporation. The corporations also collect from the states and federal governments while at the same time profiting from the contracting out of prison labor. The higher the prison population the greater the number of prisoner bonds sold on Wall Street. This is organized crime perpetuated by private corporations who treat the prisoners as commodities.

"C.J.T.S. is a corporation dedicated to the tracking and coding of prisoners and provides the software to do it. Using this system and one called CUSIP:

'a nine digit number (called Ordnance Number) is issued for the Certificate of Stocks going internationally to ANNA (Lynn’s note: see link for ANNA which is in Brussels, Belgium at ). These Securities are sold through the Commodity and Security Exchange. The bottom line is they are selling stocks in the prison system. The jails are referred to as Warehouses and the prisoners are called Goods.'

'From the moment a person is arrested for any reason, the prisoner cash register starts ringing. This can be for something as simple as a traffic ticket. The law enforcement department making the arrest assigns a pre-defined code to the charges being made. This code has a monetary value and the money starts rolling from this point on all the way through the system. Publicly traded prisoner stocks, took a tumble in 2008, but look as if they will rebound as the Obama Administration along with Senators McCain and Lieberman, and others such as Graham and Shumer devise plans to increase ever greater numbers of US citizens under the false flag of national security.'

Are U.S. Prisoners now being traded as public stocks? Are they being assigned a nomenclature number to identify them and to use in trading among stock brokers and investors? I haven't been able to completely research this claim, but from what I've discovered about corporate involvement in prison privatization, I would not dismiss this claim as not worthy of more investigation.

As all of the foregoing demonstrate, prison is big business in America. It has grown and spread as a disease while our attention was focused on other matters. Those involved in the PIC have purposely kept as much of their activities of manipulating our laws under the radar as possible, to avoid our objections and refusal to support such a system of abuse. From Microsoft and McDonald's to CCA and Geo Group,none of the corporate executives and their investors want any of this made public. God would forever tarnish their image among the classes.

If inmates ceased to work behind those prison walls, this nation would be brought to a near standstill. Many of you find that hard to believe, I know but you have to understand the depth of the involvement of prisoners in our everyday lives. Millions of products sold on the open markets today are made by tens of thousands of inmates working for hundreds of profitable U.S. and foreign corporations. If inmates simply decided to quit working and stay in their cells...what would happen? Food would have to be brought to them by the corporation providing food service. Canteen sales would cease, production would grind to a halt. Trucking companies hauling the products from prison industries would stop running and commodities we buy for our homes and businesses would increase in price as they became more scarce.

In addition to all that described above...corporations would scramble to locate manufacturing facilities in the civilian markets and hire more civilian workers to replace the inmates they've used for years. Jobs would be created, money made and our economy - the economy of the people would grow exponentially as the corporate profits shrank due to the necessity to pay higher wages, benefits, vacation packages. In the end, our economy and some of the wealth that has handed over to the corporate elite would return to the working and middle classes of America.

How would this be a bad thing to all concerned - except of course those who have profited off slave labor for more than 30 years? For one single voice, I say we should encourage all inmates to cease working in the prison industries for pennies. If they do this it will cease to be profitable and force lawmakers and Courts away from incarceration, in favor of alternative programs, probation etc. The biggest winner would be us, as taxpayers who would gain our jobs and dignity back from those profiteers who have ruled for far too long.

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