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This ‘modern-day’ slavery isn’t all that modern

March 29, 2018

by Swift Justice for Unheard Voiced OTCJ

In the January 2018 edition of the San Francisco Bay View, my brother Bennu Hannibal Ra Sun, formerly known as Melvin Ray, started his article off by stating: “Fire burns off the dross of the hidden gem to reveal the precious metal.” Brother Ra Sun was hinting at the struggle we have been fighting for years. This article being Part VI of the Campaign to Redistribute the Pain 2018.

Today as I write this article I am sitting in one of Alabama’s prisons looking around at the many lost, confused and content slaves who occupy the overcrowded slave quarters called ADOC (Alabama Department of Corrections). Many of these men are walking around in a fog, high on flaka and/or swerve; others are laughing and joking, seemingly happy.

Then you have those getting on the wall phones calling family and friends collect via Century Link, asking them to send money to their books. Next, you have others asking the correctional officer – or Turn Key – “Are ya’ll gonna run the snack line?” because the dope man is putting pressure on the junkie for his money.

I am sitting here confused, dispirited and angry as well as all-out sickened by the picture I am seeing. Why? Because like Ra Sun and Brother Robert E. Counsel, aka Kinetic Justice, I have struggled hard to educate the men around me to what we struggle against and how we fight it. At times like this, I feel defeated and in a state of dejection. Then I am reminded of these words, “The fire burns off the dross!”

What is dross? According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, dross is the scum that forms on the surface of the molten metal: waste matter, refuse. The process of purging gold is the removal of the dross or trash.

Thinking about Brother Ra Sun’s words gives me the strength to remain inside the fire of this struggle. As Brother Ra Sun went on to say, “In the struggle, it is the call to action that burns off the negative habit, distorted values of those who answer that call to reveal the precious jewels of humanity.” So I will remain in the fire.

I had concluded that my task to continue in educating and rallying these men in our concrete jungles of Alabama would be no easier nor different than the days of 1860-1913, when Harriet Tubman attempted to convince thousands upon thousands that they were slaves. It will be neither different nor easier than the days of 1965-1968 when Martin Luther King Jr. attempted to convince all they were just as equal as the next man no matter the color of their skin.

The task that I, Brother Ra Sun and Kinetic Justice have before us is to convince these brothers on today’s modern day plantations; they are still slaves, made applicable by the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution, and are contributing to their enslavement. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to find the best way to do that.

Unfortunately, my faith does not consist of getting through to the content, happy-to-be-here individuals who do not want to feel the heat of the goldsmith’s fire. Nor does it rest in convincing the junkie to leave the dope alone long enough to fight for his freedom, or the dope man from profiting off his brothers, all the while financing his enslavement.

Sadly the categories listed above are the majority of those in Alabama’s prisons. Those of us who see the truth behind today’s justice system and penal system and for what it is truly for are a minority. The truth of the matter is we are hated by the DOC administration and are even hated by our fellow slaves.

The task that I, Brother Ra Sun and Kinetic Justice have before us is to convince these brothers on today’s modern day plantations; they are still slaves, made applicable by the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution, and are contributing to their enslavement. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to find the best way to do that.

Where am I at in this struggle to defund and bankrupt the Alabama Department of Corrections? I am currently in agreement with the Campaign to Redistribute the Pain of 2018. I agree with Brother Ra Sun’s theory on “how” it can be done. Boycotting the canteen or store, incentive packages, collect phone calls and visitation will no doubt cripple the finances – the budget used to house every slave in Alabama and other states across America.

However, we can only accomplish the “unity” needed “in a perfect world,” and Alabama’s prison plantations are filled with slaves who cannot be made to believe they are slaves. Where am I? I am close to the point of feeling the only way to get the attention of the slave is through violence and bloodshed.

I think back to the historical stories of Harriet Tubman that say she would bring up the rear of the line during her escape from slavery and place a bullet in the head of any slave who felt the need to return to the plantation. Sister Tubman was not in a “perfect world” either.

Today I am only sharing how I feel and where I am at mentally. I’m exhausted, not as a soldier, but as a teacher. However, as I said before, I am willing to stand in the fire and continue being purged. So I’ll move on.

Beginning before the Civil War we had chattel slavery, and then came what we call modern-day slavery. However, this “modern-day” slavery isn’t all that modern nor is it named properly. The correct term is industrial slavery, and industrial slavery was in full swing by the year 1866, hardly a year after the end of the Civil War.

In 1866, Alabama Gov. Robert M. Patton, in return for the total sum of $5, leased for six years his state’s 374 state prisoners to a company calling itself “Smith and McMillan.” However, don’t misconstrue this as the beginning of industrial slavery, because many states in the South and North attempted to place their prisoners in private hands during the 18th and early 19th centuries.

The state of Alabama was long predisposed to the idea, rather than taking on the cost of housing and feeding prisoners itself. Alabama experimented with turning over convicts to private “wardens” during the 1840s and 1850s but was ultimately unsatisfied with the results. The state saved some expense but gathered no revenue. Thus, something needed to change.

Beginning before the Civil War we had chattel slavery, and then came what we call modern-day slavery. However, this “modern-day” slavery isn’t all that modern nor is it named properly. The correct term is industrial slavery, and industrial slavery was in full swing by the year 1866, hardly a year after the end of the Civil War.

Although in 1866 Gov. Patton revived the idea of industrial slavery through the use of convicts, this transaction was a sham, as the partnership was controlled by the Alabama & Chattanooga Railroad. Gov. Patton became president of the railroad three years later.

The burgeoning iron and steel industry in Birmingham, Alabama, was fueled by coal, which was mined by leased prisoners. This photo was taken in 1907. – Photo courtesy Birmingham Public Library

Such duplicity would be endemic to convict leasing like a disease for centuries to come. However, for the next 80 years, in every Southern state, the question of who controlled the fates of prisoners – particularly Black prisoners; few of the Black men and women among armies of defendants had committed true crimes – and who was receiving the financial benefits of their re-enslavement would never be truly answered.

Later, in 1866, Texas leased 250 convicts to two railroads at the rate of $12.50 a month. In May 1868, Georgia & Alabama Railroad acquired 100 convicts, all of them Black, for $2,500. Later that year the state sold 134 prisoners to Selma, Rome & Dalton Railroad and sent 109 others to the line being constructed between the towns of Macon and Brunswick, Georgia.

Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee all followed by the year 1877. Industrial slavery became revenue for the state and acceptable to society that has turned out today to be a multi-billion-dollar industry. Men who believed that African Americans under the lash were the key to building an industrial sector in the South to fend off the growing influence of the Northern capitalist succeeded in their goals and spread such ideology all over this country.

Sadly, people say that today’s prisons are nothing compared to the 18th and 19th century prisons and hold no comparison to what we see today. I tend to disagree wholeheartedly.

Answer me this question: What would be revealed if American corporations are examined through the same sharp lens of historical confrontation as the one then being trained on German corporations that relied on Jewish slave labor during World War II and the Swiss banks that robbed victims of the Holocaust of their fortunes?

Sadly, people say that today’s prisons are nothing compared to the 18th and 19th century prisons and hold no comparison to what we see today. I tend to disagree wholeheartedly.

Again, I tell you nothing has changed today except the evolving of the prison industrial complex. I’ll give you a few examples that are easily compared.

In 1862, an Alabama engineer named John T. Milner convinced the Confederate government to finance the construction of a blast furnace on Red Mountain in Jefferson County to produce iron for the war effort. The plant was constructed and operated primarily by slaves.

Milner took center stage in Alabama’s new industrialization, urging Southerners to “go to work … eradicating the diseases that are destroying us.” Part of that eradication would be to successfully re-regiment freed slaves.

He went on to say, “I am clearly of the opinion, from my observation, that the negro labor can be made exceedingly profitable in rolling mills” – Milner had written of steel production in 1859 – “I have long since learned that negro slave labor is more reliable and cheaper for any business connected with the construction of a railroad than white.” (John T. Milner, “Report to the Governor of Alabama on the Alabama Central Railroad” Montgomery: Advertiser Book and Job Steam Press Print, 1859, pp.44-45 ADAH).

The above John T. Milner is a mirror image of today’s lobbyist. One lobbying group that stands out in my mind is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that hides under the cloak of a nonprofit organization, whose headquarters are in Arlington, Virginia, and chairman is Jim Buck. Note John T. Milner “convinced” the Confederate Government, in 1862, to finance the construction of an industry built and mainly operated by slaves.

“ALEC” has had its hands elbow deep in convincing the government for years to utilize convict leasing to major industrial complexes such as Walmart, McDonald’s, Verizon, Whole Foods, Victoria’s Secret and so on. The only difference in today’s message from lobbying groups such as ALEC and yesterday’s message of Milner is, “Working these men and women in these workplaces is for the great interest of the public. It provides for job training and rehabilitation.”

However, until today, no one has called this spreading of information or ideas for what it is: “A LIE!”

Answer me this, how can the exploitation of slave labor be in the best interest of the public? Have you who are reading this article and pay taxes received a check in the mail from Walmart, Verizon etc. that use prisoners (slaves)? Have you received any tax breaks or cuts in California or other states for the exploitation of slaves used daily as firefighters? I can safely say, NO, in answer to that!

Now tell me this: How can we believe the propaganda that the exploitation of using prisoners as slaves in these settings is job training and rehabilitation? More often than not the majority of the companies or workplaces that use inmate labor during a man or woman’s incarceration will refuse to hire them upon release.

For example, here in Alabama, an inmate shared his experience while at Frank Lee Work Release. He stated, “I worked for Budweiser Packing Co. in Montgomery loading trucks on the back docks. I asked the management how to go about getting on with Budweiser once I get released from prison. He told me right then: ‘Ya don’t; we don’t hire ex-convicts!’”

Again, in California, you see how inmates are used daily, sent out to fight fires. But, upon release from prison, after learning a job skill and placing their lives on the line time and time again as slaves, they are told “NO, you can’t continue being a firefighter.”

More often than not the majority of the companies or workplaces that use inmate labor during a man or woman’s incarceration will refuse to hire them upon release.

How about inmates trained as “hospice” care workers while incarcerated, and slaved taking care of other inmates inside the many infirmaries inside these prisons? Are they going to be able to go into medical care upon release? No, as a matter of fact, for the most part, they can’t even go to college for such a field.

Am I making my point yet? These companies, lobbyists and politicians say it’s “job training” for the slave and in the best interest of the public. But yet the only ones benefiting from these arrangements are private corporations, government entities and political agendas, as well as individuals in our governments such as Gov. Robert M. Patton in 1866.

Now, let’s look at the propaganda that the ideology of forced labor and convict leasing is rehabilitation. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, rehabilitate is defined as “to restore to a former capacity, rank, or right.”

Now, from my knowledge, before I came to prison at the age of 16, I was eligible to live life like any other citizen. I was able to join the military, own a firearm, become a doctor or police officer – or become the president of the United States.

I could also go to college to study what I wanted, live where I wanted, and be eligible to get any job I wanted, if I was qualified and had the skill and/or education. My capacity, rank and rights, before I came to prison, had no limit.

But once released from prison, my oppression knows no boundary. I was eligible to do and become whatever I wanted according to my former capacity, rank or right, before being “duly convicted of a crime.”

But, there is no rehabilitation or restoration to that state, capacity, rank or right once I am released. I will always be branded and bear the marks of a slave, and I will remain in the capacity of a slave in the eyes of society due to the beliefs and propaganda that has been circulated throughout American history.

However, let’s look at another example of mirroring images from the 18th and 19th century prison and today’s. In 1865, with the Southern economy in ruins, state officials were limited to the barest resources, and county governments with even fewer, the concept of reintroducing the forced labor of Blacks as a means of funding government services was viewed by whites as an inherently practical method of eliminating the cost of prisons and returning Blacks to their appropriate position in society.

Beginning in the late 1860s and accelerating after the return of white political control in 1877, every Southern state enacted an array of interlocking laws essentially intended to criminalize Black life. Although, later on, many such laws were struck down in court appeals or through federal interventions, many new statutes followed embracing the same structures on Black life to replace them.

Laws of those days, such as those against vagrancy, required African American workers to enter into labor contracts with white farmers by Jan. 1 of every year or risk arrest. African Americans also could not legally be hired for work without a discharge paper from their previous employer, and it was a criminal act for a Black man to change employers without permission. I could go on and on.

Today the laws that exist and are passed yearly are intended to have the same results on Blacks and evolved to include the entire social status of impoverished citizens regardless of race. Let’s look at a few laws that reflect such things.

For example, this year Alabama is placing before the Senate a bill that will criminalize smoking in a vehicle occupied by a child. Last year a bill was placed before the Senate to criminalize driving and getting into a vehicle accident because you were deemed tired. (The latter example is a perfect example of targeting the middle-class citizen.) These are only a few examples, and I could go on but what is the need?

State representatives and lobbyists chant, “This is in the best interest of the public.” I’ve yet to comprehend how. How is it that our government is dictating that the citizen can no longer work 16-plus hours on a job, become tired, and return home to their family? Or choose to smoke a cigarette in their vehicle?

Just as in the 1800s, the government is systematically creating avenues to imprison the impoverished, uneducated and ignorant. Men such as John T. Milner believed that white people “would always look upon and treat the negro as an inferior being.” Nonetheless – indeed for that very reason – Blacks would serve a highly useful purpose as the clever mules of an industrial age.

Milner’s intuition that the future of Blacks in America rested on how whites chose to manage them, whether in slavery or out of it, would resonate through the next half-century of the national discourse about the proper role of the descendants of Africa in American life.

Milner was no mere theorist. He was the dogged executor of his vision. There were and still are men like Milner who would seize and continue to seize the opportunity presented by convict leasing to reclaim slavery from the destruction of the Civil War. The only big difference from the 1800s to today’s prisons is the focal point; the targeted individuals have evolved from African Americans to impoverished Americans – albeit African Americans still feel the blunt end of this more than white Americans.

You cannot argue the point that today’s prisons are different from the slavery of the 1800s and be logical or correct. You cannot argue the prisons are more “humane.”

Even in 1883, when one of Alabama’s first prison inspectors, Reginald Dawson, began to visit prisons populated with men convicted of state crimes and a commission of the state Legislature undertook an investigation to ensure that the prisoners were humanely treated, I assure you these moves or efforts were made not out of humanitarian concerns but as acts of preservation for the system.

The only big difference from the 1800s to today’s prisons is the focal point; the targeted individuals have evolved from African Americans to impoverished Americans – albeit African Americans still feel the blunt end of this more than white Americans.

In some other states, notably Tennessee, public criticism of barbaric conditions among prison laborers had threatened the entire practice of convict leasing. In Alabama, the system was already proving uniquely well suited to the needs of mine owners, coke oven operators, foundries, and lumber and turpentine camps. The men in charge were committed to “preserving” the system against criticism.

Today in Alabama, federal Judge M.H. Thompson said, “Alabama’s prisons are horrendously inadequate” in relation to mental health treatment of inmates. Can you see the evolution here? Nothing has changed.

Now, in closing, I want to address the contentment, acceptance and lack of movement from those incarcerated within these concrete jungles and those who are family to those already confined and enslaved as well as those who can easily become one of those enslaved tomorrow.

Facts have been shared in the many articles published in the San Francisco Bay View and shared all over social media, even in the form of books and movie documentaries. The knowledge is out there.

I can’t make you grasp it, though. I can’t force you to yearn, hunger, thirst, or long to leave the plantation. I can’t force you to step into the fire and be purged. That’s something you have to be willing to do and want for yourself, your children and grandchildren all on your own.

Instead of seeing Soldiers, Kings and Queens like I so often hear individuals refer to themselves I see “house niggas” who are content with scraps from the “massa’s” table and more than happy to sacrifice their dignity as well as their sons’, daughters’, mothers’ and fathers’ dignity.

I see junkies who want their fix over their freedom.

“Until nearly 1930, decades after most other Southern states had abolished similar programs, Alabama was providing convicts to businesses hungry for hands to work in farm fields, lumber camps, railroad construction gangs and, especially in later years, mines. For state and local officials, the incentive was money; many years, convict leasing was one of Alabama’s largest sources of funding.” – Douglas Blackmon, author of “Slavery by Another Name”

In this, I see a mirror image of the 1865 slaves who worked under forced labor at the “Wares’ Shelby Iron Works,” under the control of a white overseer, mostly in gangs of men assigned to a specific task. Under terms of the contracts, owners received quarterly payments, and their slaves were allegedly provided with basic food, clothing and shelter.

As an incentive to work hard and follow the rules, slaves were permitted to earn small amounts of cash for themselves – typically less than $5 a month – by agreeing to perform an extra task such as tending the furnace at night, cutting extra wood or digging additional ore. Contentment!

In today’s time, however, things have evolved. Today, the incentive is to fund your incarceration and have your family and friends help facilitate it by sending you money, accepting collect calls, purchasing shoes, clothes, food etc. from companies, visitation and purchasing food from vendors during visits. Today the incentive is to allow you access to every drug available – which allows you temporary escape from the reality of the plantation.

Today’s slave is so programmed and molded to confine himself that I have witnessed firsthand where perimeter fences that separated slave from society were blown down to the ground, and the slave would rush to report this breach to the security. Not one attempted to leave.

I have witnessed firsthand a fight break out between two inmates; later, correctional officers who find out the fight occurred come to the dorms and yell out, “I want the guys who were fighting, or there will be no snack line,” then leave. Instantly these slaves turn on the two for fighting and threaten to do them bodily harm if the snack line is taken away.

I have seen firsthand slaves live day by day deprived of basic human needs such as adequate food, sanitation, health and mental health care, and shelter, and as soon as the “feds” are to come to inspect, administration demands a quick cover-up in exchange for TV and snack line.

These self-proclaimed “Soldiers,” “Kings” and “Men” compromise their pride, dignity and true being for treats used to reward children, such as sundae cone ice cream, honey buns, soft drinks, BBQ chips etc. These same “Soldiers and Kings” claim to be the elite of their “Hood” – ballers, leaders, kingpins – the same individuals that proclaimed daily on the streets, “I’ll die for mines!”

If this is true and you will “die” for yours, please write an article to the San Francisco Bay View and request Queen Mary Ratcliff to publish your article titled, “I’ll Die for Mines.” Be sure to educate me, Brother Bennu Hannibal Ra Sun, Brother Robert Earl Counsel, Brother Shaka Shakur and many others across the nation what exactly it is you are willing to “die” for and what is “mines.” That way we can join your cause, your “mines” with our “freedom” and our true “equality.”

We lack one thing: Family! We do not lack numbers; we do not lack strength or knowledge. We lack fire and unity!

We can accomplish bankrupting the Alabama Department of Corrections and every other DOC in America … if we stop funding our incarceration via your money and your labor! If we do this on top of these prisons’ current conditions, we have to receive relief.

If you don’t want to believe Brother Ra Sun and myself, take heed to these words coming from Chief Justice Moore in Ex Parte Cook, 2016 ALA. Lexis 30 (ALA. 2016): “C.J. Moore in Ex Parte Cook, held: Prisoners may seek release from their incarceration as a form of relief; our Legislature clearly intended the distinction between procedures set forth in APLRA and prisoners’ petition for habeas corpus.”

In C.J. Moore’s Footnote 11 he says: “In a case in which the continuation of custody would be a violation of the Eighth Amendment … the continuation of this custody would be unauthorized.” For those who can’t quite understand what Judge Moore was saying, I’ll break it down. Your incarceration will be unauthorized and illegal if they don’t have money to facilitate a constitutional incarceration!

We can accomplish bankrupting the Alabama Department of Corrections and every other DOC in America … if we stop funding our incarceration via your money and your labor!

Brothers and Sisters who share the oppression of concrete jungle enslavement: STOP being the Kings and Queens of Fool and take your rightful position. Brothers and Sisters who have family inside the concrete jungles: STOP sending your money to facilitate their enslavement through the months of April, June, August, October and December 2018 and Redistribute the Pain!

Unheard Voices 2018 School Supply Campaign

Now, to end this article, I’ll be reaching out to you, the taxpaying citizens, to join Unheard Voice OTCJ in reaching out to children with incarcerated parents across Alabama and our nation. As you are already aware, the nation enslaves over 2.3 million people in the prisons and jails spread all over this country.

Children who have parents incarcerated face an 80 percent chance of landing in prison in their lifetime. It is our duty to try to break this curse as parents. I personally have children and cannot stand the thought of living in prison with my child.

However, the system is designed to separate and alienate us from our children. In doing so they harm the child by destroying any form of love being expressed and bond being maintained.

You can help build a bridge between child and parent! We here at Unheard Voices are going to take the year 2018 and build a program that will help in building a relationship and maintaining a bond between child and incarcerated parent in order to prevent children from becoming enslaved within the system.

You may ask what are our plans in doing this? Phase 1 is to start a program similar to the Angel Tree Program that provides Christmas presents for children from incarcerated parents. However, instead of Christmas presents we’d like to promote the education of the child by allowing the parent to provide the child with “2018 Back to School” school supplies.

As you are aware, over 75 percent of today’s confined citizens do not have a high school education, and this is one of many factors that contribute to one’s incarceration. This campaign to support a child’s education from the concrete jungle sends two main messages from parent to child: One, “I love you, and you are on my heart and mind every second that I am absent”; two, “I want to see you become successful and I support your education.”

If this program is a success, and I know it can be with your help, I plan to put in motion another program in the future that will give college scholarships for children who have incarcerated parents.

You can contribute to the 2018 School Supply Campaign by donating either money or school supplies. If you are interested in what we are doing in this area and would like to donate to this cause, please contact us. Be sure to mention the 2018 Back to School Campaign on any letter or email.

Donate to the campaign through GoFundMe, at https://www.gofundme.com/58nqirs. To discuss the School Supply Campaign or any other topic, contact Unheard Voice OTCJ via co-founder Nyesha M. Jones, P.O. Box 10056, Longview TX 75604, by phone at 903-309-0813, by email at Unheardvoices78@gmail.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/unheard.voices.79 or https://www.facebook.com/groups/343586319355814/.

IRS has officially declared Unheard Voices OTCJ a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, so donations are tax deductible.

Your Brother,

Swift Justice

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