* Written in 2010 (I will followup with an update with links to current Prison Related Pages, available on the internet.)
American Prison Beds for Sale:
The Sinister Convictions of Our Golden State
by Jessica HolterWhen I first conceived the idea that American citizens with family members in prison should consider investing in the fast growing industry, to raise money for legal defense, I fear my friends thought I was just ranting. But just today, I found out that even church folks are becoming stockholders.
Welcome to the new age plantation.
For those of you who are not aware that the prison system is fast becoming a privatized, extremely lucrative business, let us take a look at how this is possible.
On January 31st, 1865, The United States, having exhausted their use for black slaves, proposed the Thirteenth Amendment in such a way that would allow the practice to continue today, through our prison system.
In case you have not read the constitution lately, the Thirteenth Amendment does not actually abolish all slavery. It reads as follows:
“1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
In the 1980’s someone conceived the great idea to privatize the prison system, and the US government has been appropriating young men to legislate ever since. To be exact, there are 2 million prisoners in the United States at any given time. About 3 quarters of them are African American and Hispanic. In fact, statistics expose that the United States holds 25% of the world's prison population, but only 5% of the world's people. We have more prisoners than China, which has five times more people!
But relax my friends. It’s just business. A business run by a country that found no fault in slavery, until it was no longer economically viable. So, while your sons and brothers, cousins and friends are being rehabilitated, let us talk a little business.
What is a Private Prison?
The privatization of the American prison system involves building new prisons, and shifting control of existing public prisons to private companies. The private companies receive money from federal and local governments for every prison bed that is filled with the body of a prisoner. The prisoners are then taught a craft and employed at sweat shop labor wages to create product which will be mass produced and distributed on the international market.
In 1983 Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a private company based in Nashville, Tennessee, was founded, revolutionizing the business of incarceration. Three years ago CCA won contracts in California and has seen the value of its contracts with our golden state soar from nearly $23 million in 2006 to about $700 million three months ago. Even in a state accustomed to inflated budgets for contracts, the 31-fold swell over three years is striking.
Companies that are have financial ties to the prison industrial complex include American Express, General Electric, Goldman Sachs & Co, Merrill Lynch, Smith Barney, AT&T, 3Com, Microsoft, Motorola, Boeing, Nordstrom, Compaq, J P Morgan Chase, Vanguard, Nortel Eddie Bauer, Pierre Cardin, Honeywell, Revlon, IBM, TWA, Jostens, Texas Instruments, Kaiser Steel, Toys R Us, MCI, McDonald's and even our beloved Victoria's Secret.
The Golden Business
Contemporary slaves don’t pick cotton. They produce 100% of all helmets, ammunition belts, bulletproof vests, ID tags, shirts, pants, tents, bags, and canteens used by the US Military. They assemble war supplies, body armor, paints and paintbrushes, stoves, home appliances, office furniture, airplane parts, cooking supplies, medical supplies, headphones/microphones/speakers and much more. Prisoners are even raising seeing-eye dogs for blind people. Today, the trade of prison goods and services in California alone, has grown into a $234 million annual industry. So, if you think these brown brothers are just pushing numbers into the metal plate you sport on your car or SUV, you are mistaken. In fact, more than 20 California prisons operate more than 60 manufacturing, service and agricultural industries. And whether to like it or not, we all consume, wear or otherwise use prison made products.
Picture the twisted plot of young men, who began in the late 70’s rapping over synthesized beats about the sinful plight of their neighborhoods, morphing into the very image the songs depict. Within the lyrics of even the first hood mantra Rappers Delight, you can feel the pain and hear the call to combat against the perils of poverty. But instead of salvation, these young men, became the catalysts for a hip hop clothing line that that insultingly boasts the tag line “built on the inside to be worn on the outside”. Prison Blues has found a market in the United States, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, where a fascination with hip hop and “gangsta” lifestyles has elevated the price of these jeans to one comparable to Levi’s… often reaching more than $80 a pair. In the first year of business, Prison Blues grossed over $1.2 million in export revenues.
All American Store manager Jessi Purvis sets up a display of Prison Blues clothing, a line of work clothes made in U.S. prisons, at the Brookville store. The store sells hardware only American-made (or assembled in America) – there are no power tools except for two models of specialty saws because none are made in America any more.And now, even you, my friend, can invest in this new age slavery that offers per diem payment for every California prison bed that is filled. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association study alleges that California spends a $162 per prisoner per diem, per day; the highest in the nation. A poor man is worth more in prison that on the outside. Since the mid 90’s there has been public outcry to criminalize immigrants. Not to send them home, but to incarcerate them. The number of immigrants imprisoned increased from 256,842 (2006) to 311,169 (2007). The next time your underpants are in a bunch about Hispanics taking your jobs, think about how many of them are taking your place in jail.
For the tycoons, politicians, businesses and other citizens who have invested in the prison industry, it has been like finding a pot of gold – especially in the “Golden State”. Investors don't have to worry about employee strikes or about paying unemployment insurance, vacations or comp time. All of their workers are full-time, and never arrive late. Nor are they absent because of family problems. They are absent from their families, and available to work whenever the prison guards say they should. If they don't like the pay of about .25 cents an hour and refuse to work, they are locked up in isolation cells.
The PIA (Prison Industry of America) is a state-operated organization created by the Legislature in 1982 to provide work and job skills for inmates. The intent was "to operate a work program for prisoners which will ultimately be self-supporting by generating sufficient funds from the sale of products and services to pay all the expenses of the program, and one which will provide goods and services which are or will be used by the California Department of Corrections (CDC), thereby reducing the cost of its operation." The PIA's programs are supposed to help inmates in finding employment upon parole, reduce prison violence, reimburse crime victims and save taxpayer dollars. (I am still looking for information on how much money is being returned to taxpayers by these private corporations.) The PIA has a great con going, using slave labor to make quality products that are guaranteed to sell by mandate of California Penal Code Section 2807. The code requires state agencies to purchase from the Prison Industry Authority (PIA) “all products and services provided by PIA at a price fixed by the Prison Industry Board.”
Now, grieving mothers, families, friends and young lovers can even forget about putting money on their loved ones books. We can simply request a catalog of items that are available for purchase and return it with a Green Dot card number. We can simply visit www.jpay.com.
Today, even churches are in on the investment. Inspired by the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., they say, "Strength to Love" is a movement to re-imagine the incarceration system and end the injustices of incarceration and re-entry. The Church of Christ, Right Now, says they have been called to bring about change and hope to the prison system. They bought shares of stock in the privatized prison industry, and assigned ownership of those shares to ex-offenders. Now the formers slaves are owners of the plantations that once held them captive. The church members chronicle their trip to the annual shareholders' meeting of the Corrections Corporation of America online HERE.
Now, you too, can invest and experience the powerful embrace of the almighty dollar as you accept rewards like those available from Corrections Corp of America CoreCivic (NYSE: CXW), Cornell Companies (NYSE: CRN), Geo Group (NYSE: GEO).
by Jessica Holter
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