Greetings comrades! I am writing to you today to first and foremost thank your organization for all the work being done to educate the sleepers.
I received your notice and letter about the pigs refusing the literature you sent to me. I was not even issued a copy of the rejection slip by the prison mail room. They are by policy required to notify prisoners of any and all mail refused by the facility, but following policy is not of concern to the oppressors! I am glad to have received ULK #7. There was plenty of good info in there and I have passed the newsletter around to others.
In regards to money being made by the prison, I am a witness to the way prisoners are performing cheap labor in this hell hole as the prison gets contracts with outside corporations. For example, UCI (Utah Correctional Industries) employs prisoners to make products for any corporation including the united states military. The prisoners are paid anywhere from 90 cents to $5.45 to work for UCI an hour. They must give back 60% of their total pay to the prison. So each prisoner is roughly making $1,144.50 a month, but they only bring home roughly $400 bucks after the prison gets their cut off top.
Then the prisoner must turn around and buy food off of commissary, which is extremely overpriced. So the prison is again making money. The UCI job is the best one as far as pay, that a prisoner can get.
The section jobs (in house stuff like food handler, section cleaner) only pay $62 a month. These jobs are what keep the prison functioning and the pay is a joke to say the least. There are not enough pigs to fill the positions prisoners hold and if the convicts would stand in solidarity to demand higher pay it would make some changes have to be made or the institution would not function.
Yet problem number one is the lack of solid convicts who will stand as one against the oppressors. Number two is that only a handful of prisoners have any income from family or friends, so they must work and accept the low pay, just to purchase general needs such as soap, deodorant and other hygiene.
The system is well designed to stay with a full belly at the expense of the poor, oppressed prisoners it houses. Prisons are huge money makers for somebody, and its time for the people to come to power and take control of our environments to live righteous lives!
Keep up the good work MIM!
P.S. Here’s a list of some more jobs that prisoners perform to keep this place running: laundry services, food prep, grounds keeping, plumbing, and the UCI makes all clothes issued to prisoners and for purchase of commissary.
Being confined in this new millennium has caused me to wonder about the intelligence of prisoners who receive benefits from the theft, conversion and criminal actions of those charged with enforcing laws, rules and regulations. Here you have prisoners who accept from correctional officers magazines, books, and other items of value that belong to other prisoners and smile and grin saying they came up. Basically at the expense of another prisoner. It's the same old practice used by law enforcement time after time on unsuspecting prisoners they see as potential sources of intelligence and are used until they have no further use and are tossed back to the lions with the customary amusement.
I can not, for the life of me, understand why a prisoner will go out of his way to provide correctional staff and officials intelligence that establishes that a prisoner has membership or association with a prison gang, street gang, or other disruptive group which automatically requires special attention and placement considerations which could include being indefinitely confined in a security housing unit until that individual rats out his comrades, dies or paroles, yet there seems to be new acceptance.
It's amusing to me when I see some of these characters bragging and boasting being validated by the prisoncrats as a gang member while making it a point to ask others, typically around the picklesuits, "are you active". It's as if the new concept of the penal system is to not only tell on yourself but trick others to tell on themselves! It's as if prison agent provacateurism has gained tacit acceptance, and some new status symbolism.
When asked if I am active, I have to ask "active in what?" Since as with so many other English language concepts the word has been coopted into supposedly meaning one thing for the dumb down prisoner but in reality meaning something significantly more onerous to the prisoncrats. And it's no secret but many in the prison population have yet to understand or realize the significance and these concepts and ideas are becoming interwoven into the fabric of prison social structure, forcing many real men to adopt anti-social positions in order to stay out of the cross.
Being a general population prisoner of consciousness, I do not miss much. However I have noted that there are so many idiots who are sycophants to an old concept that has morphed and changed into something that is truly malevolent. One has to go back to the number one concept of "trust no one" with anything of any import. Those who are real you will be able to tell, and those who are not will eventually expose themselves. Educate yourselves and pay attention is all I can advise you in this CDCR trap in which many do not seriously consider the reality of the struggle, but instead practice acceptance.
Issue 8 of Under Lock and Key takes on the topic of Amerikan prison economics and prisoner labor. Prisons in the United $tates are funded by the states and the federal government, and they are quite expensive. The United $tates spends about $60 billion a year to house over 2.3 million prisoners and yet, as readers of Under Lock and Key well know, these expenditures result in no reduction in crime rates. Instead this is the high price tag for the most elaborate prison system of social control in the world.
Prisoners are useful as workers because they can be paid very low wages or none at all, they are always available and can be employed when needed without the difficulty of having to lay off workers in downturns, and they are literally a captive workforce who can be punished if they refuse to work. In many respects prisoners are similar to migrant workers who take the jobs that Amerikan citizens don't want except that migrant workers are at least free to move on or go home at night or pick between jobs.
There are many aspects to the topic of prison economics and prisoner labor, but they all tie back to the question of who is making money off all the prisoners who work for free or for very little money, and the bigger question of whether there is profit to be made off prisons in general. The main position that we challenged in ULK 2 was that the prison boom is motivated by a system of modern day slavery that is exploiting the masses through forced labor. In this issue we will further demonstrate that exploitation in prisons is not a source of private profit and discuss how profiteering on mass incarceration really evolved.
Profiteering Follows Policy
The importance of our point that prisoners are not generally exploited for economic profit is in understanding the real motive force behind the U.$. prison boom. Fundamentally, prisons are a money losing operation. It costs more money to run prisons than is generated from prisoner labor or any other aspect of the "industry." If prison labor was a gold mine for private profiteers, then we would see corporations of all sorts leading the drive for more prisons. On the contrary, though the fifth largest prison system in the United $tates is the private Corrections Corporation of America (CCA),(1) the government still runs over 95% of the prisons overall.(2) So if Amerikans didn't build the largest prison system in the history of humynkind for slave labor profits, then why did they do it?
As a parallel example, consider the war-profiteering of Halliburton and KBR through the military industrial complex; it was the government who started wars, and then the contractors appeared. In fact, the stories of most of these contractors start with people with political connections, not with any particular interest or knowledge of the product or service in demand.(3) War was created for the overall economic benefit of the imperialist system, but not by the companies that most directly profited. Once the profits start flowing, the intertwining of interests between politicians and their private benefactors creates conflicts between the imperialist interests abroad and those who are just trying to make a quick buck. Hence, we see some backlash against Halliburton and, their former subsidiary, KBR's corruption within the White House and the Senate (including the Senate hearing on May 4, 2009).
Similarly, the prison boom originated in government policy, and then new companies formed to profiteer, or in the case of telephone and commissary, old companies adapted their product to a specific opportunity. Prisons serve U.$. imperialism in controlling the local population, while placating the demands of the oppressor nation as a whole. Only now, with the emergence of mass incarceration, the demands of Amerikans for more prisons are more economically oriented, rather than just social. And most of that economic interest is among state employees and unions, not private corporations.
In Ohio, the Department of Corrections had to go to the state Supreme Court in order to close prisons over the protests of the guard union.(4) The California Correctional Peace Officers Association, notorious for being the strongest in the country, has applied similar pressures preventing the state from cutting anything from the CDCR budget except for education programs in recent years.
Private industries are making lots of money off prisons. From AT&T charging outrageous rates for prisoners to talk to their families, to the food companies that supply cheap (often inedible) food to prisons, to the private prison companies themselves, there is clearly a lot of money to be made. But these companies' profits are coming from the States' tax money, a mere shuffling of funds within the imperialist economy. Some companies like AT&T or some of the prison package services are selling goods or services directly to prisoners at drastically increased prices from what you'd get on the street. But even then, they are not exploiting the prisoners' labor, they are merely extorting their money. The private prisons are the only example where prison labor that is used to run the prisons may come into play in determining corporate profits.
Some activists see opportunity in the current capitalist crisis; perhaps states will be forced to listen to arguments claiming that prisons are a money pit for tax funds. However, Governor Quinn of Illinois responded to the crisis in his state last month by canceling plans of the previous governor to close Pontiac Correctional Center, citing "fiscal responsibility" and the protection of 600 local jobs and $55.4 million in local revenue.(5) Pennsylvania is continuing down its path of prison expansion with plans for 8,000 more beds in the next 4 years for the same reasons.(6)
These governments could generate jobs and revenue in countless ways. The reason that prison guards are generally funded over teachers is initially a question of the government's goals and priorities. While there is much public pressure to fund schools over jails, this battle is one for the labor aristocracy's unions to fight out. Revolutionaries have no significant role to play in such debates. We can combat national oppression with institutions of the oppressed, not by more jobs for Amerikans in one government sector or the other.
Meanwhile, the capitalist will invest in operations based on where the funding goes, so it is not really the evil corporations that are directly to blame for the U.$. prison boom. The government decides whether prisons are built. The U.$. government serves the overall interests of the imperialist class first and then must answer to its Amerikan constituency. It is the combination of these two interests that have led to the largest mass-incarceration in history. Currently, the strategy to dismantle this massive humyn experiment must recognize these two forces as the opposition, and then mobilize forces that have an interest in countering both imperialism and Amerikanism.
After publishing an article entitled Amerikans: Oppressing for a Living, we received some criticisms from comrades of our position that corporations are not profiting from prison labor in a significant way. We then made a call to our correspondents on the ground across the United $tates to research this issue further. Not only did we receive much data to back up our position, but many wrote in to say that our analysis was right on.
In this issue of Under Lock & Key we are printing data on the prison labor going on in New York, Texas, California, Florida, Colorado, Oregon, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Washington, Utah and the Federal system. These systems represent over half of the U.$. prison population, so we feel confident that our conclusions are fairly accurate for the system as a whole. We still welcome reports from correspondents in other states and prisons for future research.
In summary, all states have industries that produce goods for sale. Most if not all of those products are sold back to other state agencies, mostly within the Department of Corrections itself. Workers in these industries usually make more than those doing maintenance and clerical work, with a max of a little over a dollar an hour. While we don't have solid numbers, these are generally a small minority of the population and not available at most prisons.
Maintenance workers are also universal across all prison systems. Even most supermax prisons have lower security prisons adjacent to them, providing a labor source for running it. In many places such work is not called a job, but "programming." In some states, like New York, your programming can be pseudo-educational or rehabilitative programs instead of labor. Programming is often required. When it is paid it is usually less than fifty cents an hour.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons has one of the largest prison industries selling goods outside of the prison system, but it is selling mostly to the Department of Defense — another government agency.(7)
The UNICOR annual report boasts the benefits of prisoner labor: "With an estimated annual incarceration cost of $30,000 per inmate, FPI's programmatic benefits represent significant taxpayer savings, while restoring former inmates to a useful role in society." They claim "a 24% lower recidivism rate among FPI participants."(8) There is no information on how this number is calculated but we suspect that it is flawed because the selection of UNICOR workers from the general prison population is not random. On the other hand, we do know that there are few opportunities for prisoners to acquire any useful skills prior to release. If UNICOR training truly reduces recidivism, this should be an obvious and compelling argument that prisons need more such programming. It does not have to be tied to low pay and forced labor.
Jobs related to running the prisons (cleaning, library, administrative roles, etc.) help reduce the costs of running prisons but clearly don't create any new wealth. UNICOR and its parallel industries in the state systems merely allow the Departments of Corrections to obtain money from other state agencies that they were going to spend anyway, or directly benefit the DOC by providing it with supplies. Even with requirements that state agencies purchase from such programs, they do not come close to covering prison expenses.
It is a dangerous proposition to tie financial benefits to prisons as this gives those who profit an interest in growing the prison population. However, at this point in time only a small minority of prisoners are actually employed, so prisoner labor does not appear to be a major drive behind the ongoing rapid growth of the U.$. prison population.
Modern day slavery or exploitation?
Many prisoners raise the question of whether forcing prisoners to work for no pay violates the constitutional amendment that abolished slavery. The 13th amendment abolished slavery "except as a punishment for crime." The article by some New York prisoners in this issue of Under Lock & Key does a good job of explaining the history behind this exception.
Slavery is a system characterized by the capture or purchase of humyns for the purpose of exploiting their labor. As Marx explained "As a slave, the worker has exchange value, a value; as a free wage-worker he has no value; it is rather his power of disposing of his labour, effected by exchange with him, which has value." Marx is clarifying the distinction that slaves, as objects to be purchased, have exchange value. While capitalist workers are not purchased, they are selling their labour instead.(9) While prison labor is similar to slavery in that it involves workers who are receiving virtually no pay for their labor but are being provided with housing and other basic necessities, there are a few factors in prison labor that distinguish it from slavery as we use that term to define a system of exploitation. First, states have to pay other states to take their prisoners, implying they have no exchange value. Prisons are used as a tool of social control, with the use of prisoners' labor only as an after thought to try to offset some of the operating costs. Which leads to our second point: there is no net profit made off the labor of prisoners - because of the cost of incarceration, the state is only able to offset a portion of the cost of providing for a prisoner by using his/her labor. Because of these features of prisoner labor, we do not call it slavery.
Even if prisoner labor is not slavery in the economic sense of that term, it is still possible that prisoners are exploited. Exploitation means that someone is extracting surplus value from the labor of someone else. The profit or surplus-value arises when workers do more labor than is necessary to pay the cost of hiring their labor-power. This is the way that capitalists make a profit — they pay people less than their labor is worth and then sell products for their full value. The difference is the profit.
In the United $tates, the imperialists are paying workers more than the value of their labor. They can do this because of the tremendous superprofits stolen from exploiting the Third World workers. And they want to do this because it maintains a complicit population at home which has a material interest in imperialism and keeps capital circulating with its excessive consumption. Amerikans support their imperialist government because they benefit from it. They may not all earn the same as the big capitalists, but even in a recession they can look to the Third World and see that they don't want to share the wealth around the world evenly because that would mean a step down for First World workers.
There are some notable exceptions within U.$. borders: non-citizens are often forced into jobs that pay far below minimum wage (or often don't pay them at all) as they are in a shady sector of the economy. Many migrants in the United $tates are exploited, but they make up a very small portion of workers in this country.
Using the term exploitation to describe prisoner labor is complicated. Prisoners certainly earn very little for their labor, but we also have to include the cost of providing prisoners all of their necessities (although with very poor quality that leads to many unnecessary deaths). Of course much of what is being provided "for" prisoners is not part of their cost of living but rather part of the cost of keeping them captive and providing a high standard of living for their captors.
It is fair to say that prisons are stealing the labor power of prisoners. They have made it impossible for prisoners to refuse to work and the actual pay prisoners receive is far less than the value of their labor. By stealing labor power, the U.$. prison system also prevents the self-determination of the Black Nation and First Nations whose people are vastly over-represented in the system.
To the extent that the states can't continue to run prisons on tax money they don't have, prisoner labor is a valued part of the money going to the many labor aristocrats working in the prison system. An offset to the cost of running prisons is useful, even if that offset does not come close to covering even the cost of those prisoners doing the work. But it's important to remember that this labor is only useful because expensive prisons existed first.
A number of articles in this issue include calls from prisoners to take actions against the prison industries that are making money off prisoners, and to boycott jobs to demand higher wages. All of these actions are aimed at hitting the prisons, and private industries profiting off relationships with prisons, in their pocketbook. This is a good way for our comrades behind bars to think about peaceful protests they can take up to make demands for improved conditions while we organize to fundamentally change the criminal injustice system.
Prisoners are employed by the DOC, and most do maintenance and clerical work. No Florida DOC inmates are paid for work, with the exception of inmates assigned to work in the inmate canteens(making $65 a month) or the few locations in the state where they have PRIDE factories, which are manufacturing-type businesses run by DOC to make goods for correctional use (clothing, cleaning supplies, etc). Even these inmates are paid a few cents an hour.
Denver Women’s Correctional Facility has a capacity of 900. Everyone is assigned for work unless they have medical excuses. Those not assigned to a job make 25 cents a day, 7 days a week. Those assigned to standard prison work make 60 cents a day, 5 days a week. Prison Industries jobs are a sewing factory, print shop, and dog training program. These jobs may pay up to $40 per month. All salaries are automatically docked 20% if restitution, court costs, or child support is owed.
SCI Fayette has about 1800 to 2100 prisoners, of those 1200 to 1400 work for the DOC doing various work assignments. Jobs are related to running of the facility, such as maintenance, commissary, grounds crews, schooling, laundry, barber shop, library and janitors. Some also work for "Correctional Industries." The pay scale is as follows in $/hour:
People usually work from 120 to 160 hours per month, so top pay would be $50.40 to $67.20. Correctional Industries (CI) makes 51 cents or about $81.60 a month. Like similar programs that exist in all 50 states, Pennsylvania Correctional Industries produces things such as furniture, clothing and personal care products primarily for purchase by state agencies.
Washington State Penitentiary holds about 2240 people. Of those around 250 work for correctional industries . Most of those sew clothes for inmates, the rest do welding of furniture for cells and make license plates. They pay up to $1.10/hr.
"Inmate duties" pay from $35 to $55 a month, and include cooking, cleaning, serving food and washing clothes.
In MacDougall-Walker CI only about 25% of prisoners have jobs here. Some pay rates here are:
In Texas, every general population prisoner is required to work. They either work in the service of prison upkeep (i.e. maintenance, food service, field labor, support service inmate, etc.) or they work in one of the various factories owned by TCI (Texas Correctional Industries). There is no pay for work.
For wages between 8¢ and 34¢ an hour prisoners do normal maintenance work as well as produce clothing, food, bedding, cleaning products, tables, chairs, modular offices, license plates and the tags that go on them for the state.
Wisconsin pays for programming including educational programs, prison maintenance and Badger State Industry jobs. The pay ranges for non-industry work are: 12 cents ($9.60 every 2 weeks) to 42 cents ($33.60). At Green Bay CI, with about 1050 prisoners, about 300 work maintenance and only 18 prisoners work industry, which makes from 79 cents to a dollar an hour. They make clothing for outside vendors and to sell to prisoners around the state.
Utah pays $7 a month and has thrown out a lot of work positions that use to be available. The prison does manufacture houses in their carpentry program, and UCI commisary has convicts making sweats and shorts down in Gunnison, then selling these products back to the U.$ and community.
In Coleman II, 90% of prisoners work, most of them do facility maintenance for $12 a month to work 8 hour, 5 day workweeks. A minority get to work for UNICOR.
The private industries run by UNICOR employ 21,836 prisoners across the country, with pay ranging from 23 cents to $1.15 per hour. In 2007 UNICOR showed profits of over $45 Million, with most of their products being military supplies for the Department of Defense.
I am a Vietnamese immigrant. I’ve been living in Amerikkka since 1985. I came to this country when I was a kid. My father passed away so I grew up in a foster home. My life is not colorful, I had my ups and downs. This is the second time that I’ve been locked up. My life is changing as I grow older.
Upon discharging my first sentence, I was picked up by INS. A court date was set, I was ordered deported by a federal judge. While waiting for a travel visa I was sent to different county jails. I met people who were waiting for 5 or 10 years just to be deported. Some people can’t go back to their birth home due to persecution, and yet they can not be released because they committed crime in Amerika. All of us have to pay our debts to society.
After a few years I was released back to society with various conditions. I have to check in monthly, to pay for a work visa yearly, pay taxes, and go back to my birth home once they have a visa ready for me. I have children who were born here.
I worked and had a job. Some of the work I did was harsh, only so-called illegals and non-citizens work at such places. Jobs that are not done by Americans, yet they sit and cry about us "illegal" and non-citizens taking up jobs.
Every month I saw INS come through and do a sweep, checking people for work visas. Those who didn’t have visas were picked up and arrested. Some were thrown in federal prison because of re-entry. Families are being torn apart because of these reasons. Some come back because of family ties. They come back because they want to see their sons, daughters, mother and father. Some relatives are too old to travel or too young to understand.
Recently Oklahoma has passed a new law called House Bill 160U. It specifically targeted "illegal" or non-citizen people in Amerika. We get pulled over for no reason so that they can check for ID. If any person or company hires or harbors "illegals," there will be fines and imprisonment. Some small businesses are closing down because "illegals" are afraid to work.
We’re being punished for breaking the law, and punished again by federal court. We’re guilty for not being Amerikan citizens. Some of us don’t have a voice. Sometimes I wonder, does kindness have any value in Amerika?
Since I last wrote to you I’ve been studying with MIM(Prisons) cell study course and had the privilege of seeing one of these punk pigs here at the Utah Supermax solitary unit fired. Not only was Feikert fired for sexual misconduct, but it seems he’s pursuing a lawsuit himself against the DOC. Let them bite each others swine throats I say. He’s back at work though on some form of legal matter but hopefully not for long.
The interview with Mfalme Sikivu in ULK 7 was right on and I respect what he and the UFD are doing. Though the comrade from Texas’s words were the most heartfelt I believe. I think we should all try harder to see things for what they really are instead of putting our own personal slant on issues. Being a realist for sure isn’t the easiest way to be but it’s the truest.
Take for example my comrades here in UINTA One solitary. Day in and day out these pigs taunt and seek reactions so they can keep us here longer or take all our stuff and place us on strip cell. Most comrades are wise to that approach but it’s when these pigs turn us against ourselves that most convicts become tricked into acting out.
I don’t see how some people can become friends and sit there talking to these pigs. You see my friend just hanged himself and the next day I hear ”I don’t care about you pieces of shit, I never lost a single moment of sleep over you scumbags” or “Spider went home, 4a, Hoopers on early release” as they laugh like it’s funny.
To my comrades in neighboring cells no matter if they’re white or black, I will be beside all you comrades when revolution is necessary. I see the economic recession as just another sign the U.$. is weakening and I can feel the anger turned to knowledge in each of your ULK submissions. I’m glad to be a part of MIM.
Imperialism is the enemy first, all this other shit second but it’s not time to just wait for a movement. We are the movement, every time one of us wins a lawsuit or cracks a law or history book we win. Slowly we’re winning, growing, learning.
Just keep your heads up out there, especially those sitting in these solitary dungeons. It’s not east-side west-side, it’s the oppressed-side. We are all family in this and we are going to take the power back because we speak truth, we bleed justice.
I am alive today because of MIM and the ideals I’ve learned there. The anger's not focused inward anymore, but outward towards learning how to better myself instead of destroy myself. Because they want us to go off, they want us to die. It’s what they don’t want that scares them, that gets through to them. They fear real equality, justice and peace. I mean their minds can’t grasp the possibility of liberty for all. It’s our jobs to blaze a trail, to show the way.
Budget cuts here at the USP have knocked indigent envelopes down from 5 a week to just one a week which is hateful. The fact that paper got cut too from 25 pieces a week to just 5 is a matter I’m grieving (freedom of expression) because we here in the hole aren’t allowed to buy any writing materials other than 15 envelopes a week. So we (some of us) have 15 envelopes but only 5 pieces of paper.
Here at Utah’s plantation they’ve cut jobs that used to pay $60 a month to just $7 a month and thrown out a lot of positions. So one guy does the work of what used to take several. The prison does manufacture houses in their carpentry program, and UCI commisary has convicts making sweats and shorts down in Gunnison, then selling these products back to the U.$ and community. I’ve been out of population for a year now but the above is what I was seeing at that time.
To my komrades at MIMs, I would like to thank you all, firm and true to our cause members, seeing and making progress with the lumpen and other oppressed groups. I just received your Under Lock & Key March 2009 issue, and I was pleased to read the many different views and struggles around Amerika (prison system) which not only inspire me but allow for me to understand that this octopus of a capitalist system is still at war oppressing people and nations. The revolutionary mindedness that I have built upon since receiving your publications, going on two years strong, has given renewed strength and encouragement not only to me but to all those seekers wanting to be and who are a part of your movement. My highest respects!
I myself have been reaching to the masses in here and out in the free world trying to maintain unity and strength and by doing so I’ve come to see that so many prisoners who are locked up with me don’t have that kind of support from outside people. So what I have come to do in light of that has been giving your information so that they may find encouragement and mental support through your organizational work.
Not everyone I’ve come across understands the oppression that they face because for some reason they truly believe they are given this life of pain and slavery behind the choices they have come to make. I try my best to express to them that it is the fucked up politics of this government that has us doing these things, and some come to see and understand and others choose to ignore and accept everything that comes their way. Man! It’s crazy how some people think in here.
I am a federal prisoner confined to the Coleman II United States Penitentiary. In most federal penitentiaries there are approximately 1500 prisoners in the general population. Approximately 90% of general population prisoners hold prison employment working jobs that range from being cooks in the kitchen, providing janitorial work throughout the prison, working in the maintenance department as electricians or plumbers, or in the most coveted of prison jobs: the UNICOR factory.
Prisoners are compelled to work in two ways. First, the administration utilizes the Financial Responsibility Program to coerce prisoners to work. All convicted Federal prisoners are assessed $100 per count for the crimes for which they are convicted. Many others are given fines, restitution and other "criminal monetary penalties" at sentencing. When a prisoner arrives to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, s/he is required to pay these "financial obligations" during incarceration through the Financial Responsibility Program or face loss of privileges such as commissary, telephone, visitation access, etc. A prisoner must obtain prison employment to meet these so-called obligations in order to keep his/her ability to maintain community contacts through visits and phone calls and to supplement the horrid diet through the commissary.
The second means of lawful but unjust enslavement of the prison population is through disciplinary action. A prisoner who refuses to work is, under prison rules and regulations, "refusing to program." Violating this rule also results in loss of privileges but has additional adverse consequences such as loss of "Good Conduct Time," time in disciplinary segregation, impoundment of personal property, and other sanctions.
It is without doubt that if the federal government had to pay wages to unincarcerated laborers, the cost of cleaning, maintaining and repairing prisons would be extraordinary. It is much easier to run the gulags of America when you prey upon the incarcerated poor and offer them $12 a month to work 8 hour, 5 day workweeks.
This does not account for the UNICOR laborers. UNICOR, also known as Federal Prison Industries, manufactures uniforms, kevlar helmets, furniture, armored cars, and other materials for the U.S. military. Prisoners are paid a maximum of $125 a month but can make hundreds in overtime. To the average prisoner such wages are too tempting to pass up. They don't realize they are fuel for the capitalist military industrial complex which saves hundreds of millions of dollars making military material and products in prisons.
Prisons may not reap profits but they do save costs with prison labor which, considering the amount saved, is tantamount to profits. It is certainly a basic tenet of the criminal injustice system and helps the government run its oppression camps by not having to tax the average citizen to run these torture chambers. Nothing grabs the attention of Americans more than taxes, more prison labor means more prisons without more taxes.
I got a hold of your March 2009 No 7 issue. It was the first time I ever saw a MIM(Prisons)'s Under Lock & Key newsletter. One of your articles really reached out to me, about the administration being the real gang. I’m in the feds at USP Florence. I’m currently going through the administrative remedy process for 2 reasons. #1 is my case manager not doing his job. I was supposed to be out February 12th but my case manager has messed my paperwork up so bad, and on more than one occasion, so that I won’t be out until May 14th. The only reason I’m even getting out in May is because my family on the street applied pressure to the proper offices. And my derelict case manager doesn’t even have so much as a reprimand in his file. Just to give you an example of his shoddy work, check this: I’m from Washington DC, and when Mr. Pacheko presented me with my initial release papers they were for an address in Southern California.
The second grievance I’m filing is in relation to a shakedown. I’m currently in SHU on admin-seg. The captain and riot squad came and took everybody to the rec cage area and made us all strip and spread eagle. This took place on 3-25-09 when the temp was below 30 degrees. This strip search was in direct violation of FBOP program statement 5521.04, the 6th circuit ruling in Cornwell v. Dahlberg, and the 4th amendment to the US Constitution. Since I’m in SHU I have to wait for a member of my unit team to respond to get administrative remedies. Since I filed the first remedy, nobody from my unit team has been to see me. Effectively they are killing my ability to file anything further.
To any prisoner anywhere who reads this, I want you to know that prison guards and administrators don’t care if you have a violent outburst to staff misconduct. That’s exactly what they want you to do. So then they can gas you, assault you, and then write you an incident report. The only things these people care about is filing paperwork. I’ve been put out of two institutions for “disrupting the orderly running of the institution” because I file lots of paperwork on behalf of myself and others. Remember, if you do something wrong they write you up. So you have to write them back up.
MIM(Prisons) adds: We agree with this comrade that it's important we use the legal system to fight the abuses of the criminal injustice system. When you take on the system you can also use the pages of Under Lock and Key to expose the injustice and publicize your battles.
It is a sincere pleasure to receive the open letter detailing the progressive actions you all have been taking. As we see with Obama, it is not enough for us to continue down the line of just using titles such as capitalism, racism, imperialism, fascism, colonialism, classism, and oppression. We must call them out one by one. For example: when capitalist/fascist Dianne Feinstein presents legislation that further targets the lumpen/proletarian class, we must send out operatives in the area to challenge her by contradicting the very policies she’s introducing. We have enough public record information to use against these politicians who continue to draw up policies that line their pockets with corporate profits at the expense of humanity.
We have New African politicians such as the Congressional Black Caucus who are affected by the fraud and control. They must be sought out and called out on the very oppressive policies that they support like when Rep. Maxine Waters was in support of legislation that authorized a one million dollar bounty on Assata Shakur, who is in exile in Cuba after escaping from the imperialist state that sought to murder her. When she was called on it she said that she didn’t know her by that name!
We are dealing with spineless individuals who not only support all these draconian laws but don’t inform their constituents of what these racist policies will do to them, like when Bill Clinton was made to be seen as the first Black President. He is responsible for passing the Prison Litigation Reform Act which is an extremely anti-prisoner policy. Lawyers' incentives were taken away which had encouraged lawyers to take prisoners cases. He was also responsible for the Death Penalty/Terrorist Act in 1996 sealing the fate of thousands of poor disenfranchised New Afrikans, Latinos and poor whites to life in prison. This made it next to impossible to challenge criminal cases in the courts after one year.
We must challenge each and every one of these sell-out politicians when they support policies that are anti-human in nature. We must hold them accountable by voting them out of office.
Most of my life I’ve been incarcerated. I had a reputation as one of the “leading Bloods” in the prison system. My fate was sealed until my mother was killed in a car accident in 1996 and it was a letter she wrote to me that I received about 3 days after finding out she was killed. This letter was ironically a brief biography of her life that revealed to me all these things I didn’t know about her, like she was a Sgt. of arms in the Black Panther Party, and that she was responsible for introducing the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program. She assisted in the escape of Angela Davis. It was an honorable surprise because it explained why our childhood was so radical for my brothers and I, where the FBI kicked in our doors routinely and we moved constantly. Therefore my disdain for authority that abuses its position is strong.
I was already questioning my past actions because even as a misguided youth I tried to be rooted in a moral sense where I would justify my actions by saying that those individuals who I wronged were wrong. Yet looking back, I never liked what I saw and it’s really crazy because I found out my mother was a revolutionary when I always thought she was a gangster of some sort because of what I saw with the FBI and others constantly harassing her and my step-father when I was a child.
I learned that law enforcement does’t just go after bad guys, but also good ones. This led me to redirect my energy toward the interests of my people. If you could see my past history in the penal system, where I was extremely destructive from 1976 to 1996, it wasn’t until I became productive/constructive from 1996 until now that I became a threat. All the stabbings, assaults on prisoners, and a couple of staff, didn’t seal my fate in these gulags. It wasn’t until I became a progressive in organizing prisoners towards their own interests that I was validated as a prison gang member and placed in SHU indefinitely in 2000.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This letter is yet another excellent illustration of why we say that revolutionaries are the real advocates of peace while the criminal injustice system punishes those who oppose violence. We also agree with this prisoner that it's important to point out the bad policies enacted by politicians, but we disagree with his suggestion that we vote these politicians out of office. Voting won't change anything, because the only people who can get elected are those who serve the interests of the system. Changing the face of the oppressor will not put an end to oppression. Only the overthrow of the oppressive imperialist system will truly bring peace to the majority of the world's people.