Thanks for sending the Power to New Afrika booklet. I am still studying and understanding the knowledge within it. Before I pass it along, I would like to speak about some stuff I read today in ULK 81. It’s about inflation and commissary prices.
I have been incarcerated for 15 years for seeing people get killed and refusing to give information to detectives. Anyhow, prices for the basic things a human being needs I have seen skyrocket over these 15 years. #1 I am in solitary confinement, which means I do not have a job and I can only spend $60 at the prison’s canteen [in California]. This 60 bucks can’t go too far when generic brand or no name toothpaste is 5 bucks, one top ramen noodle is 50 cents, a deodorant is 4 bucks and some change, purchasing bags of chips for 3 bucks and half the bags are empty. The items that the prison sell we can purchase at the 99 cent store for a $1.07. It is simply robbery. Prior to me being sent to solitary confinement, back in 2019, Top Ramen soups were 20 cents and a Dial roll of deodorant was a dollar.
I have been a cook in the kitchen, yard crew, building and education porter. I worked for free in each job I had except as a cook in the kitchen I was paid 11 cents an hour. I work from 12 noon until 8pm five days a week. I had to prepare food for over 600 inmates in four buildings. We were getting payed once a month and my checks after 55 % was deducted for restitution was only between 10 to 13 bucks each month. If I still had this job, all I will be able to get from the prison canteen is a deodorant, toothpaste, and maybe a bag of chips. Ridiculous. Most jobs in California prison are not paying jobs. I shoveled snow at 5AM at High Desert State Prison. I cleaned building at North Kern and cleaned bathroom and police offices at Salinas Valley, I cleaned showers and Corcoran State Prison and couldn’t even receive an extra dinner tray. I was payed 0 dollars.
When we refuse to work for free, cops, they take our privileges; no phone, no yard, no packages we receive a write up which also messes up our board hearings. What some in society do not understand is just because I am in prison doesn’t mean I should be degraded, humiliated, and worked to death for free labor. These are all extra punishments. When the punishment is being incarcerated away from our family. This is the actual punishment.
Due to inflation and being in solitary for 4 years, even though I spend my $60 at commissary once a month, that $60 truly doesn’t amount to anything due to the high prices for items that are not truly worth it. Being in here we still are forced to spend because the prisons do not give hygiene products and we are not allowed packages as if we were on the yard. In the SHU you get 1 bar of soap a week, 5 sheets of paper, 1 toilet paper roll, and some tooth powder. So as you see we truly need to purchase items from the prison and I know that they are truly aware of what they are doing. And in order to even spend 60 bucks my family has to send me $120 and I still owe restitution. I’ve been in prison on different plantations for 15 years and still have not paid off all this restitution. I am not rich.
This is why they need to pay more for every prison job. This prison industry can afford to pay us minimum wage. Before my incarceration, I was receiving $6.25 an hour working retail. And a prison can never run without prisoners who are incarcerated. But this is how we are treated. Prisoners cook, clean, do construction, pain, tutor, clerks, grounds keepers, and so much more.
Observing the day-to-day operations within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), it’s as if someone hit the rewind button on the worst movie ever made. A half century ago David Ruiz, then a TDC captive, filed a civil lawsuit against the state agency while suffering in one of TDC’s many solitary torture chambers (cells). That humble complaint, after being joined with others’ suits, became the widely known Ruiz v. Estelle litigation, which initiated over 25 years of litigation, scrutiny, federal oversight, and reform in prison policies.
One of the many aims of the Ruiz litigation was the destruction of the internal, neo-colonial structure, known then as the Building Tender System (BTS). In summary, the BTS was a mechanism designed by the state to handpick certain inmates, then utilize them to maintain order and control among the masses of prisoners. Compensation of these hand-picked inmates services came in the form of ultimate power and authority in the prison, as well as extra work time and goods, in a time when these things meant something. This allowed them to go home faster. Furthermore, BT’s, with the complicity of the state, were allowed to make slaves (male sex slaves referred to as ‘punks’) of other inmates on a whim.
The BT’s were an essential part of the prison economy because their presence and services allowed the agency to cut costs and limit its budget by not having to pay as many guards as other states. As such, Texas had the lowest budget for any state prison system throughout the 1960’s, 1970’s, and 1980’s.
Today the state does not boast the lowest budget. Despite this and multiple pay raises, TDCJ can not maintain a necessary number of staff members to adequately run and operate its institutions. This reality is currently creating the foundation of conditions similar to the Ruiz days BT system.
Case in point, reports from Coffield, Ellis, and Beto Units narrate how prisoners have complete control of the unit. Prisoners conduct counts, feed, clothe, discipline, and even act as suicide watch for other inmates. Some prisoners reading this may say ‘that doesn’t sound bad’, and on the surface that may even be correct. However, the sad truth is that most prisoners are still operating with corrupt intentions. As such, when corrupt people are placed in positions of authority and responsibility it is the most marginalized and oppressed people who suffer at the hands of a corrupt power structure. This was true in the days of Ruiz, and it is true today, as it is also true in neo-colonies around the globe.
Under pressure from inmate litigation, over fifty years ago, Texas legislatures, enacted the following law:
Tex.Gov.Code Paragraph 500.001
Supervisory or Disciplinary Authority of Inmates
"(a) An inmate housed in a facility operated by the department or under contact with the department may not act in a supervisory or administrative capacity over another inmate.
An inmate housed in a facility operated by the department or under contract with the department may not administer disciplinary action over another inmate."
Despite enacting this law, state officials didn’t initially, and still don’t, abide by it. Only the most recent example is the wide-spread use of life coaches as suicide watch sentry. Despite their best intentions, life coaches aren’t equipped to deal with a serious suicide attempt, and neither are correctional staff, if we’re being honest. Instead of channeling their budget towards more and better medical and psychiatric personnel, or releasing more people, TDCJ’s executive director Brian Collier has begun to implement a portion of his so-called 2030 plan. The portion important to this topic is his professed desire to initiate ‘new positions’ for inmates, so that they can allow this institution to function smoothly, ‘with less dependency on correctional staff’.
Since I’ve been released from solitary, and been housed on Ellis Unit’s CTIP, I’ve witnessed and experienced the new wave BT system up close and personal. Here inmates operate in-and-outs, feed, and other duties reserved for paid officers. As you can imagine, this situation causes tensions among the hand-picked, and the masses of prisoners. These tensions have their fall-outs and all this is instigated by the illegal policies and practices of the state. In 2023, we’re still being (neo)colonized and enslaved in Texas.
All too often, horrific incidents have to occur, lives have to be lost and tarnished before the public and people in positions to alter things begin take notice. If the incidents of 50 years ago are any indication we cannot afford to lose so many lives, for any more people to be physically violated, before we begin to bring these conditions to the attention of the public, and simultaneously organize liberation armies behind the walls to combat what will ultimately become a battle of control and influence between reactionary and revolutionary power.
DARE TO INVENT THE FUTURE
MIM(Prisons) adds:This comrade notes the very relevant history of the BTS in Texas and how those conditions are being repeated today. But there is other history to look at, like the 1973 takeover of Walpole prison in Massachusetts. Guards went on strike and the prisoner union took over running things smoothly and peacefully. This was only possible however because prisoners had spent years organizing into a union. As staff shortages seem widespread in prison systems across the country, opportunities for organizing can arise. But it will take preparation, education and organization to properly seize such opportunities.
For many months we’ve been hearing some grumblings from our readers about sky-rocketing commissary prices. Last issue we put out a call for more reports on this price inflation. But this inflation is not unique to prisons, and in recent weeks we’ve seen its impacts on the imperialists with a number of banks in the United $tates and Switzerland failing.
The cycles of boom and bust, which lead to instability, are inherent to capitalism and how it works. While the imperialists have adapted in many ways to keep things going, they can never solve these problems or prevent these cycles.
“since the prices of commissary has gone up due to inflation I think that all prisoners with jobs should be given pay rate raises to help with the new higher costs of living in the prison population. It is much harder to keep up with the financial strain. …I know that out in society whenever the cost of living goes up due to inflation so does our income and of course I am referring to low-income people – people on Social Security Income (SSI) or Social Security(SS) or struggling on Welfare. Well in prisons we don’t make anywhere near what is made on SSI or SS or even Welfare for that matter.”
"At the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis President Trump warned us against price gouging but that never stopped the jail system. The criminal injustice system put people in jail for stealing but then they turn around and steal from the same people they accuse of stealing. County jails are full of homeless people, drug addicts and indigent people who have limited means or no family or friend to help provide those means, yet the canteen prices for commissary are outrageous. These same products can be bought at the Dollar store.
"For example, items such as V05 shampoo, which you can purchase at the dollar store for $1.25, commissary price is $3.99. One ramen noodle can be purchased for $0.25 at the store, will cost you $1.19 in commissary. Also a 10 pack of SweetNLow costs $0.99. For generic denture glue it’s $7 in commissary compared to $1.25 at the Dollar store. The list goes on and on. Is that not price gouging?
“Prisoners are forced to accept it. They have no choice. They have to pay it or go without. Hygiene and medications they desperately need. My question to you – how do we change this and stop jails from stealing from prisoners?”
Price gouging or extortion is common in U.$. prisons where the state allows private companies to come in and prey on prisoners and their families with legally enforce monopoly pricing systems.
A comrade in New York responded to our call with some of the price increases seen there since July 2022.
Most price increases in New York seemed to be in the 10 to 20% range. As a member of the Incarcerated Individual Liaison Committee, this comrade wrote the Deputy Superintendent about the troubles they were having with getting items on the commissary list. They responded in September 2022,
“The commissary contract allows the vendor to bid items and the price is allowed to rise (or fall) based on the real world. They are not required to lose money. Our stocking situation reflects the real world supply chain issues and inflation.”
The comrade told us,
“the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has raised the commissary buy limit from $75.00 to $90.00 to compensate for the inflation and changes to the package from home/vendor program that was implemented last year (2022).”
Unlike in the free world, not only do prisoners face limits on how much they can earn but also on how much they can spend.
Inflation is Real
Above, the NYSDOCS refers to the “real world” as being the cause of the rising prices in commissary. The fact of the matter is that inflation rates in the United $tates have been higher than we’ve seen in many decades for everyone. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) in December 2021 had increased 7% year-over-year, and in December 2022 it was 6.5%. That means over two years the inflation rate is around 15% for all consumer goods. In this context, the price increases in New York commissaries look pretty typical for the economy overall. That does not mean that this is inevitable, it is only inevitable in the type of economy we live in.
And it is only if we are slaves to the capitalist market forces that we must accept these price increases on necessities for some of the poorest people in this country. Even capitalist countries use subsidies to alter the market.
Socialist China had no inflation
The Communist Party of China seized state power in 1949 after over two decades of people’s war waged against the imperialists and their Chinese lackies among the comprador bourgeoisie and landlord classes. Immediately following liberation there were speculators
“still trying to manipulate prices and stirring up waves in the economy… who ignored the repeated warnings of the People’s Government, gold and silver prices kept soaring, pushing up all other prices. So on 10 June 1949 the Stock Exchange – that centre of crime located in downtown Shanghai – was ordered to close down and 238 leading speculators were arrested and indicted. The 1,800 gold and silver coin peddlers were released on the spot after being enjoined to lead a more honest life. At one stroke, the headquarters of speculation vanished forever from Shanghai.”(1)
Unfortunately that last statement proved untrue, as the Shanghai Stock Exchange was re-established on 26 November 1990, following over a decade of capitalist restoration in China.(2) This is why China has it’s own economic woes today. But for a quarter century, China had no inflation.
During the socialist period of 1949-1976, the Communist Party never resorted to bank-note issue as a solution for fiscal problems, relying on raising production and practicing economy instead.(3) This remained true through the Korean War and periods of famine in the 1950s.(4) During the Covid-19 lockdown period the capitalist economy suffered greatly because it cannot adapt to decreases in production. The solution in the imperialist countries was for central banks to print a lot of money and give it to the capitalists as well as their labor aristocracy, to keep consumption up and prevent economic collapse. The solution to the bank collapses in recent weeks has been similar, providing more liquidity from the U.$. Federal Reserve on loan to banks that can’t cover their balance sheets.
The communist approach in China was the opposite. Rather than putting as much money out into the world as needed, and encouraging banks to loan more than they have, the Communist Party forced banks to hold most of their currency, forced agencies to keep most of their money in the banks and prohibited securities, bonds, precious metal trade and foreign currency. Remember, mortgage-backed securities were at the center of the last recession in 2008. Today we are seeing a similar crisis in high-risk loans for automobiles in the United $tates that happened for home loans in 2008.
Bond prices are at the heart of the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and others. Socialist China didn’t issue bonds, because they didn’t take on federal debt.
Prior to liberation, in 1935-37, the Chinese currency was pegged to the USD. As a result, when inflation spiked in the United $tates, that inflation was amplified in China. In ULK 79 we discussed the current inflation crisis in Ghana. Because Ghana does not control its currency and does not keep out foreign currency and speculators, their currency (the Cedi) is manipulated by the imperialists. This is true across the Third World, where inflation will continue to be felt much more harshly than it is for us here in the belly of the beast.
The other problem in countries like Ghana is the foreign debt. Inflation is playing a big role here, as the USD becomes more expensive compared to local currencies, larger and larger portions of the money supplies in exploited countries are going to pay the same interest rates on loans from the imperialists. Debt forgiveness in these countries needs to occur to protect the lives of millions threatened with starvation today.
According to the World Food Program, “An expected 345.2 million people [are] projected to be food insecure in 2023 – more than double the number in 2020.”(5) The recent increase in famine is mainly in the poorest, exploited countries, and triggered by a combination of inflation, war and climate change.
We know there is enough food in the world to feed everyone. The problem is capitalism cannot be efficient enough to distribute it to places where super-exploitation occurs. And super-exploitation is necessary to maintain profit rates. Without positive profit rates, capitalism grinds to a halt.
When socialist China had actual shortages in essentials, they would ration them instead of increasing prices and making the problem worse. Then they would focus on increasing production of those essentials (rather than decreasing production like the capitalists do when there’s no profits to be had).(6) Contrast this with prisoners (and everyone else) in the United $tates who are now paying higher prices for food and other essentials because the commissary is operated on the capitalist market. The anarchy of production under capitalism means we constantly have too much or too little of various goods as individuals decide what to produce based on their own profit interests. And this is particularly noticeable when the economy starts to slow down or shows volatility as it has been lately.
Socialist China focused on production to manage and drive the economy, whereas imperialist United $tates focuses on money supply to do so. In socialist China the banks were merely a tool to manage and allocate resources to manage production for the people’s needs.
Why Banks are failing
As mentioned above, Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) had a big problem due to the value of its federal bonds dropping in value. They had bought the bonds when interest rates were much lower, so as the Fed continues to increase interest rates these old bonds drop in value. They cannot cash in the bonds until their term is due and they can only sell them at a loss. Some big players began pulling their money out of the bank, perhaps related to this knowledge. Soon SVB could not cover the deposits they owed people. The U.$. government has stepped in to cover it, and now the FDIC is covering infinite deposits if your bank fails, instead of the previous limit of $250,000. This is another sign of the willingness of the imperialists to throw newly printed cash at the problem.
One interesting point here is that federal bonds are a “safe” investment. SVB didn’t fail because of garbage mortgage-backed securities as happened in 2008. So the financial system is failing firms that play it safe this time around. In addition, according to the FDIC, SVB was not in the worst situation.(7) In other words, other banks in the United $tates have worse balance sheets than SVB and will fail if there is a run on their money. “The total unrealised losses sitting on the books of all banks is currently $620bn, or 2.7% of US GDP.”(7)
The biggest failure this year, at the time of this writing, was the 165 year-old bank Credit Suisse. Meanwhile the market is jittery around many large imperialist banks with stock prices seeing big dips and credit default swaps (CDS) spiking in price. CDSs going up means other institutions are not confident these banks can pay off their debts and are charging more to insure bonds from these banks. The differing interests of these major financial institutions are beginning to show on the markets as they bet against each other.
Prisoners are on some of the most fixed budgets of any population in this country. In order to get their basic needs related to nutrition, hygiene and outside contact, prisons need to increase pay rates and limits on how much money prisoners can spend and receive from the outside. In some states these reforms have already occurred, and this is in the interests of the commissary companies, which the prison systems want to keep satisfied.
The solution to the bigger economic contradictions playing out now is obviously replacing capitalism with socialism. The report from socialist China cited above succinctly explains why this is the case. Capitalism doesn’t just put profit over the need of people and life on this planet, capitalism actually requires profit to function. When profits dry up, as we’re seeing some evidence of right now, capitalism can’t produce what people need. Of course, we’re also seeing various forms of state intervention to ensure that this does not happen by providing more money and creating profitable situations using the central banks. But these contradictions continue to exist, and different interests are acting in anarchic ways, so that state intervention cannot always work as it does in a socialist economy.
It is with immense frustration that I write to you on the behalf of ALL offenders that are in the Indiana Department of Corrections (IDOC) prisons that are run and operated by The Geo Group Inc. (a private prison corporation). Prisoners here are receiving “State Pay,” which consists of the following:
The level of unequal wages from The Geo Group Inc. regarding this effort is appalling. Indiana Government Officials have unfortunately failed to address the problem and have allowed the “State Pay” wage disorder to continue.
In the State of Washington, on 27 October 2021, a Federal Jury ordered The Geo Group Inc. at the ICE Processing Center (formerly the Northwest Detention Center) liable under the State Minimum Wage Act (MWA). In Washington, Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit alleging that The Geo Group Inc. was violating the state minimum wage law. The U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan ordered The Geo Group in Tacoma, Washington to pay their detainees $13.69 hour. These are immigrant detainees. These immigrant detainees were represented by four (4) law firms. Names of the law firms are as follows;
Schroeter Goldmark & Bender – Seattle, WA
Open Sky Law PLLC – Kent, WA
Menter Immigration Law PLLC – Seattle, WA
Law Offices of Robert A. Free – Nashville, TN(1)
We believe that our pay here, less than 2% of the pay received in Washington, is discrimination by The Geo Group Inc. here at the Indiana Geo Facilities.
On 26 January 2021, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr (D) signed an order and stated… “to stop corporations from profiting off of incarceration that is less humane and less safe”. We believe that The Geo Group Inc. is violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in the workplace. State prisoners may not be entitled to State Minimum Wage, but there is NO exception for private for-profit detainees, prisoners, or offenders here. The Geo Group prioritizes profits over rehabilitation, making us ALL less safe.
Indiana Government Officials and The Geo Group Inc. have to remember that we are in an inflationary economy. Us prisoners here at The Geo Group Inc. facilities here in Indiana are getting overwhelmed, over-worked, and frustrated simply because we do not have the same income or access to resources as others. We have material needs such as hygiene, property, food, etc. that cannot be met due to the “State Pay” wages that have NOT kept up with the exorbitant price of living.
At the Indiana Department of Corrections commissary from the Indiana Correctional Industries Plainfield, IN Distribution Center, the prices of our needs are increasing dramatically due to the inflationary factor. NO prisoner in The Geo Group Inc. private run prison(s) who gets State Pay should ever cower in fear of his/her employer‘s power to silence legitimate points of view of their wages.
The State of Indiana and/or The Geo Group Inc. needs to raise the starting pay wage significantly to a reasonable wage. It is time for the State of Indiana and/or The Geo Group Inc. to make the financial adjustments and changes.
We believe that there are laws, ordinances, policies, rules, acts, statutes, procedures, or even regulations that have been violated or criminalized by our Constitution in the Fair Labor Standards Act (F.L.S.A), Administrator of Wages & Hour Division, U.S. Deptartment of Labor, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Labor Management Relations Act, etc. We know Indiana Government officials Governor Eric J Holecomb, Commissioner Robert E Carter Jr, Deputy Commissioner/Chief Financial Officer Dan Brassard, are the individuals who control our scale wage that makes the financial adjustments and changes in our “State Pay” for the The Geo Group Inc. to pay our wages.
A raise in starting pay will be a positive thing allowing more offenders to find satisfaction in their careers and it can allow more workers to make a living wage and contribute to the broader economy. Our facility jobs are not a free pass to wipe our slates clean, they are an acknowledgment that we have to change our lives to be more accountable and the State of Indiana and/or The Geo Group Inc. is what will allow us to do that. A productive offender in the Geo Group facility with a fair wage will perform better work ethics, do things properly, and have better responsibility.
We as prisoners are entitled to be paid minimum wage or a fair wage for our labor keeping The Geo Group Inc. facilities up and running, like preparing and serving food, running laundry, maintenance, landscaping, mowing, sanitation, administration clerks, etc. We are not asking to be put on an indefinite leave of absence means or that ALL Geo Group contracts be terminated. We are exercising our rights, which are workers rights, and show that we have a right to stand up for each other and for justice for Geo Group Inc. prisoners who work at their facility and receive state pay wages.
Please take into consideration, when we do get our “State Pay” the I.D.O.C takes 15% right off the top. This money goes into our re-entry account which we receive back upon our release back into the community. This gives us a little financial assistance. Now here is this Geo Group Inc. offender who has a C-Pay job, which is $0.15 an hour, works 6.5 hours a day, 5-days a week, comes out to be $19.50 per month. Now the State takes 15% for re-entry which comes out to $2.89. This leaves you only $16.32 a week to buy hygiene, property, food, paper, pens, etc. And if you went to go to medical or dental, that’s a $5.00 charge and the medication is $5.00.
Please also investigate the Geo Group Inc. in Tacoma, Washington where they are paying immigrant detainees $13.69 an hour. This is discriminating against us offenders and manipulating us due to what they pay us as “State Pay” here in Indiana.
State of Washington Attorney General – Bob Ferguson filed lawsuit against The Geo Group Inc. in 2017 [Washington v. Geo Group, USDC, W. Dist. WA. Case No. 3:17-cv-05806RJB]
Detainees filed lawsuit in 2017 with assistance of Schroeter Goldmark & Bender and Robert Andrew Free [Nwauzor v. Geo Group, USDC, W. Dist. WA, Case No. C17-5769RJB]
Thank you for your time and patience.
MIM(Prisons) responds: First, we want to remind our readers that a very small percentage of prisoners in this country are in private prisons, and most of them are immigrant detention centers like the one in Washington discussed. As the author above argues, there are potential legal differences in how labor is considered in private prisons compared to most prisons. And economically it is very different because corporations like Geo Group are making money running prisons for the state, but using basically free labor to do much of that work. This is a very dangerous combination that economically incentivizes mass incarceration.
In our 2018 survey of prison labor across the United $tates we found that wages for maintenance work typically ranged between $0.14 and $0.63 per hour. Though of course in some states prisoners do not get paid at all for working to maintain the prisons. This puts Indiana at the low end of states that do pay. But as this comrade and others have recently pointed out, inflation is hitting hard in the form of commissary prices. Therefore to have wages at the low end from 5 years ago is far from adequate when most prisoners need to buy supplemental hygiene and food, not to mention minor comforts.
Based on the information we can find online, the Geo Group stopped having prisoners work right after the court decision, so no prisoners are getting paid minimum wage. In addition they appealed to delay back-paying those who had already worked in the past.(2)
I was told that commissary prices went up here in Oregon, but wages for prison jobs have mostly remained the same. At least the administration in Oregon pays prisoners for labor, because back home we don’t get paid shit, as is the case for most southern prisons. I’m curious to see how inflation is effecting other prisons in the United $tates. Is there anything that we (prisoners) can do about inflation? Do we just sit back and let it slide?
On another tip, I’m actually gettin’ ready to file an Americans with Disabilities Act class-action to try and get disabled prisoners, like me, disability checks in prison, because non-disabled prisoners get paid for working, but disabled prisoners, who can’t work, aren’t able to participate in such monetary programs and services. A $50 disability check, per month, would work. Fifty bucks is probably the average amount of money that non-disabled prisoners earn per month in Oregon.
Let Under Lock & Key know how inflation has affected prices in your prison. And what is being done about it by prisoners or the administration? [We’ll be covering this issue in more depth in ULK 81 if we can gather more info from you.]
A report from South Texas: In the wake of another mass shooting in nearby Uvalde, the pigs and their masters are engaging in the usual finger-pointing and recrimination but one thing is clear: the cops are cowards who are quick to shoot unarmed people, but become conveniently “policy-orientated” when they are faced with a disturbed young man wielding an AR-15 assault rifle slaughtering defenseless children.
I’m not really in the habit of blaming the consumers of this toxic system called “democracy”, but these poor children were already the “walking dead” after only a few years in the classroom. The lame-ass governor and the fascist Ted Cruz and their clique call it a “massive system failure”, but those who have been paying attention will immediately see the system works exactly as it was designed to operate: the state of Texas is the NRA torchbearer but ranks dead last in mental health treatment. In fact, the single biggest mental health care facility in the state is Harris County Jail.
Those who are waiting for a legislative solution better stop dreaming and open your eyes to the reality nobody is going to save us or free us unless we liberate ourselves and that can only happen if we organize and think and act strategically with our comrades and fellow travelers. It all begins with educating ourselves and arming ourselves with the necessary facts and tools to accomplish our goals and make the world a better place.
Here in Texas among the prison class it’s a real challenge to create solidarity as the cell blocks are constantly flooded with mind-numbing substances along with the disputes and rivalries and materialism that comes along with it. I’ve made very little progress in my effort to “kill the ‘bossman’ in your head” – not actual physical violence, but to actually banish the word “boss man” from our vocabulary when addressing these pigs.
I’m attempting to show the direct line from slave plantations through “convict leasing program” all the way to the modern system of mass incarceration, and how the term “boss man” helps keep us linguistically and psychologically in bondage. So we need to banish the term, thought, idea of “boss man” from our hearts and minds if we ever want to be free.
So my Juneteenth Freedom Initiative direct action is only days away and I will be peacefully protesting the lie that "slavery was abolished when in fact it’s alive and well in forced prison labor programs all over the United Snakes of America. As you can see from the enclosed denial forms, almost all your subsequent mailings have been denied. I am appealing the censorship and will keep you posted. At this point I am largely in the dark with regards to progress in other facilities, but I ask your assistance in helping me to challenge this censorship. In the meantime, I await further info/instructions.
PS: It is increasingly clear to me that so-called “Aryan” white supremacist groups are expanding and enjoying cover from prison officials. We need to focus on this and build Brown and Black alliance/solidarity along with white fellow travelers (very few of them), but I’m sure they are around. But my point is, these Aryan reactionaries are tools of the state and should be viewed as such. Recent headlines about “Right-Wing Domestic Terror Threat” are propaganda designed to increase even more police/surveillance state apparatus that will be used to control us, not them. That’s how they justify this shit with headlines to “combat neo-nazi terrorists” when in fact the plan all along is to keep their foot on our necks.
Texas has been overtly operating a slave trade for decades. You may be surprised to know that people still wrestle with distinguishing the difference between being incarcerated and being enslaved. This is why after the countrywide prison demonstrations of 9 September 2016, Bennu Hannibal Ra Sun of the FREE ALABAMA MOVEMENT said that he noticed a dragnet pattern after 15 to 20 interviews where they kept asking why we refer to incarceration as slavery. From that point on he required media to read the 13th Amendment before he would allow an interview.
Incarcerated, Imprisoned or Enslaved?
To be clear, incarceration is the act or process of confining someone; imprisonment. To imprison simply means to confine (a person) in prison. So far, we haven’t delved into treatment that would call for the loss of the right to vote, bear arms, live in certain communities, adopt a child or be forced to provide free labor.
Both incarceration and imprisonment utilize confinement as a form of punishment. Slavery, on the other hand, is 1) A situation in which one person has absolute power over life, fortune and liberty of another; and 2) The practice of keeping individuals in such a state of bondage or servitude.
Here, the word servitude comes into play and involuntary servitude is: The condition of one forced into labor – for pay or not – for another by coercion or imprisonment. This is where you see that the imprisonment is a means to the labor.
Under the first definition of slavery provided above was the usage of a word that most only know to refer to a human being. However, according to Black’s Law Dictionary, an entity (such as a corporation) that is recognized by law as having the rights and duties of a human being is the second definition of person.
We now know that slavery can be a scenario in which one corporation has absolute power over life, fortune and liberty of a human.
The word corporation would usually bring to mind Amazon or Walmart but those are small fish in a bigger pond. A corporation is sort of a person and a government is a sort of corporation. The city/county you are from was incorporated into your state which was incorporated into the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA through its Articles Of Incorporation. This is why the corporation, which is the U.S. of A. has an office for the president, vice president, secretaries and staff members etc., who are members of the EXECUTIVE branch of our governments which are corporations that have absolute power over life, fortune and liberty of others via their institutions of slavery.
Felons Are The New Niggers
As the author and educator Claud Anderson, Ed. D. stated on page 66 of his book Black Labor, White Wealth:
"Black enslavement must be a constant reminder of the ramifications of a lack of collective unity, strength and self-determination.
It is incumbent that you come to discern that those who are economically challenged are subjected to prosecutions at a far higher rate than the upper class, imperative for us to acknowledge that though those subjects are predominantly Black, as a class, they are multi-ethnic and as such, convicted felons of all backgrounds have become the new Blacks; ones relegated to niggerdom.
For example, in Texas in the year 2000, Latinos were nearly twice as likely as whites to be incarcerated,(1) but shocking is the fact that in 2002 Latinos were a larger portion of new prison arrivals than either Blacks or whites (33.9% Latinos, 32.8% Blacks, 32.2% whites)(2) yet sadly, a smaller portion of the releases. They were going in at a higher rate but coming out at a lower one.
These numbers for Latinos are alarming in light of how bad Blacks were treated during the period from 1986 to 2000 where spending only increased 47% for Texas Higher Education but a whopping 346% for Texas Corrections.(3) This maneuver caused Blacks to be sent to prison 7 times more than whites for drug offenses, making Blacks 81% of the whole state’s prison growth for drugs.(4)
Additionally, the number of Black youth imprisoned for drugs during roughly the same period rose by 360%, however, for young whites imprisonment for drug offenses declined by 9%.(5) With that knowledge it becomes apparent that the 360% increase in Black bodies was the Return On Investment for the 346% accretion in correctional spending.
The result was that in 2003, Black Texans were incarcerated 5 times as much as whites.(6) Texas had managed to have 66,300 Black males in prison and only 40,800 in the Texas Higher Education system.(7) This, regardless of the fact that in 2002 whites and Blacks, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, reported to be dependent on a substance at similar rates. (9.5% of Blacks and 9.3% of whites).
I say that this is a result because the increase in Black bodies to the plantations ensured a decrease in their eligibility to become any part of the legislature that makes laws or police officers, prosecutors, grand jurors, trial jurors, parole or probation officers, judges or justices.
On the flipside of that, and just as significant, is that if the Black man and the law collide, the institution has created a system to where as he interacts within the criminal justice machination there is a lesser likelihood that the police he may come into contact with is Black. Or the prosecutor who decides to charge him or the grand juror who decides to indict him or the judge who calls the shots in the courtroom or the trial jurors who convict him or the appellate justices or the parole/probation officers; the last three who are in the business of ”keeping individuals in a state of bondage or servitude”.
We went from being either a free (white) or enslaved (Black) man in the slave era to being either an upstanding citizen or a convicted felon, ethnicity be damned. The poor white and Latino populations, who are more likely to be convicted than their upper-to-middle-classes, are subjected to the same societal pitfalls and social stratification.
This is what Claud Anderson meant in his warning about not forgetting about the lack of unity and strength during Black enslavement, if we don’t bind together to stop this institution, the system will chain us together to feed it.
Monopoly Money (All Around The Board)
For all the prison stockyards that overpopulated Texas in the 1990’s there were mainly two styles: a maximum security template that holds three to four thousand prisoners and a medium security template that holds around two thousand. So, whereas these prisoners couldn’t vote, they became a part of the hosting county’s population, a sure gerrymandering and census incentive for when the federal government doles out X amount of dollars to districts based on population.
These prisoners are paid nothing though they produce many goods that are sold. They are paid nothing but they spend millions of their families’ dollars on commissary. There is only one place for prisoners to purchase hygiene, food, correspondence materials and a few articles of clothing, all of which are produced by prison labor, like shorts, shirts, thermals, socks and shower shoes and then sold back to them at exorbitant prices.
Prisoners who want to make a phone call are not afforded the luxury of choosing a carrier. They provide free labor and their family spends millions accepting overpriced phone calls contracted with a corporation called Securus.
These prisoners can also receive emails and funds from their families who Spend millions to send both through a company called Jpay who is owned behind the same corporate veil as Securus.
Imagine if Walmart could lock its customers in the store. To hell with a discount, they could price gouge and be certain that those suckers would fight each other to get on the phone to have their families send millions for them to buy every item in the store. They wouldn’t be able to keep anything on the shelves, no matter that most is of poor quality.
There simply isn’t a more loyal consumer base or promising commodity where the institution has created for itself a way to circumvent the free market to monopolize on the misery of the involuntary but free labor force.
We, the Texas Liberation Collective, are not lost on the fact that Texas has the expense of feeding and housing its prisoners because all slave owners have had to do the same. All livestock has to be alive to produce, be sold or traded. we are more focused on the fact that the prison population of Texas exists by design. As stated in Part One of this series, there was not a crime wave in the decade of the state’s prison boom to account for the expansion of the slave state itself.
What we endured was a bull market in the stock exchange and guess who orchestrated it? We could say that politicians and corporations were responsible but it would be saying the same thing as the two are mutually inclusive. State Senator Ted Cruz (R) works to advance the interests of the corporation he works for, it’s called Texas and its enslaved Latino population is of no concern to him.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) has a subsidiary of sorts called Texas Correctional Industries (TCI) which the Lone Star State created in 1963 during the Civil Rights era. TCI is governed by the Texas Board Of Criminal Justice (TBCJ) and has nine members who are appointed by the governor, five of whom are currently lawyers.
Based on the legislative language that created the TCI, the board is endowed with the authority to determine prisoners’ pay for their labor, though to date they have opted for NO PAY and involuntary servitude:
“The board may develop by rule and the department may administer an incentive pay scale for work program participants…Prison industries may be financed through contributions donated for this purpose by private businesses contracting with the department. The department shall apportion pay earned by a work program participant in the same manner as is required by rules adopted by the board under section 497.0581.”
If you’ve been told that some prisoners do earn wages if they work for private companies through the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program(PIECP) please be aware that the conversation isn’t held without an exaggerated depiction. Truthfully, in 2017 though TDCJ had over 145,000 prisoners, according to Jason Clark, TDCJ’s Chief of Staff in 2019, there were only about 80 prisoners who were allowed to partake in the PIECP, a number that was well below a waning one percent of the Texas prison population.
The TCI sweatshops are dispersed throughout 37 prison plantations and its free labor force – or free labor by force, shall we say? – manufactures a plethora of goods from wooden state signs, license plates, police utility vests and bedding, steel kitchenware, up-to-date ergonomically designed office furniture, park equipment, security fixtures, food service equipment and they also refurbish school buses and computers, grow crops and tend to over ten thousand head of cattle.
In the spirit of Texas, TCI’s total sales for fiscal year 2014 were valued at $88.9 million, FY 2017 it was $84 million. Outside of the minute headcount of laborers in the PIECP, the state makes these hundreds of millions from the blood, sweat and tears of a forced-into-labor labor force who is subjected to some form of penal castigation should they refuse to relinquish their labor upon demand.
The punishment may be a combination of the following restrictions:
No access to the phones, no access to the recreation yard, commissary restriction, cell restriction, personal property restriction, loss of good time and/or work time credit, loss of visitation privileges, loss of custody level which can result in being removed from general population and placed in 21 or 23 hour lock down housing. Receiving any of this retribution could result in being denied educational programs and most significantly, parole.
Juneteenth and Dale Wainwright
How ironic, yet not surprising, that Texas is shamelessly known as the last state to free the slaves —— a disgraceful fact that spawned the celebration called Juneteenth, its own holiday - yet they still haven’t freed the slaves, thus deeming Juneteenth and its celebrators a farce.
Texas and its misled sympathizers have no justifiable reason in acknowledging Juneteenth today in the same spirit that the slave negroes of the Frederick Doug- lass era had no justifiable reason in acknowledging Independence Day.
Here, we dare raise other ironies but how ironic is it that just as millions of slaves parted Africa from a slave port called Goree Island, many of us enslaved here after inception and diagnostics were shipped to and through a slave port called Goree Unit? But even more.sickening and insane is that just as some Africans sold their own into slavery, the TBCJ at one point was chaired by (Wait! I refuse to call this man Black, but he is definitely…) an African-American!
That’s right, you eased on down the red bricked road to peek behind the corporate veil to see who whitey was that refused to pay the slaves and when you raised the curtain there stood Dale Wainwright celebrating Juneteenth with a fat slave- raised burger. He made Texas history by becoming the first African-American elected to the Texas Supreme Court, but he will go down in history for being the Supreme House Negro of the twenty-first century.
He was managing partner in the Austin office of Bracewell & Giuliani, the firm where former NYC mayor and Trump prop-man Rudy Giuliani is a partner.
Another former member, Eric Gambrell, contributed to the campaign of and was appointed by Governor Rick Perry. He’s a corporate lawyer and partner at Akin Gump, a large lobbying and law firm whose clientele has included big dogs like Amazon, Pfizer and even the slimy privatized prison giant formally-known as Corrections Corporation of America.
Whether you make them or break them, law is big business in the Texas organizational construct and some of the biggest capitalists.are…lawyers.
In Part One of Exposing The Lone Star Chamber (Of Enslavement) we detailed how district attorneys bypass and usurp the authority of Texas grand juries to rubber-stamp what is purported to be an indictment but fails to constitutionally vest a district trial court with subject-matter jurisdiction. Thus, the lives that filled the stockyards were kidnapped under the watchful eyes of congress and company.
Here, we have hopefully assisted in helping you know slavery when you see slavery in the same way that you would know that a pig with lipstick on is still a pig.
In Part Three of this series, we will examine some intricate details of the Texas slave trade and question how in the age of Black Lives Matter, the age of Prison Lives Matter, and with all the professed social and criminal justice warriors and reformists, the Lone Star Chamber continues to broker these bodies shamelessly and unchallenged.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We welcome comrade Ice Immortal Askari to the pages of Under Lock & Key. This well-researched piece touches on some recurring themes in our newsletter. The first is the interplay of class and nation in the U.$. prison context. As our comrade points out the disproportionate targetting of New Afrikans and Raza, as well as First Nations, by the injustice system, ey sees prisoners of all nationalities in the same boat. This is generally our line as well, we must unite the imprisoned lumpen class across boundaries. But we also must recognize the particularities of different nationalities in this country, and recognize the importances of national liberation struggles in the dismantling of U.$. imperialism.
The author defines slavery as:
“1) A situation in which one person has absolute power over life, fortune and liberty of another; and 2) The practice of keeping individuals in such a state of bondage or servitude.”
The author attempts to distinguish slavery from imprisonment. But we find this distinction not useful as the expressed purpose of imprisonment is to impose state control over the lives of individuals deemed to have committed a crime. The American Heritage Dictionary provides one definition of slavery as, “A mode of production in which slaves constitute the principal work force.” This is a simple summation of the Marxist definition. We’ve written extensively on this question of prison slavery in the past. And a new summary of our research on prison labor and economics will be available in the next edition of The Fundamental Political Line of the Maoist Internationalist Ministry of Prisons. In short, the motivation for imprisonment is not profiting off of prison labor as was the motivation for slavery in this country or any other country in the world.
The realm of prison labor is a realm where tactical action and organizing can occur. We agree that it is important to the running of these institutions and as such can be used as a means of exerting political pressure.
Telling people they must cook or clean to help maintain the facility they are living in is not an injustice. Having people do productive labor as part of the punishment for a crime against the people is not an injustice. The injustice is who is being put in prison, and for what reasons, and how they are being treated in there.
Amerikans oppose prison labor for the same reason they oppose migration, they don’t want to dilute their inflated wages. So we caution those in the prison movement who try to unite with the labor aristocracy on this issue, when they have consistently stood with the cops and the prison unions throughout history. As we unite along common class interests in prison, we must recognize that our support base on the streets is in the national liberation struggles of the oppressed.
Notes: 1. Coyle, Michael J. Latinos and_the Texas Criminal Justice System: NCLR Research Brief. (2003) Washington, D.C. : National Council of La Raza 2. Findings Of The National Council Of La Raza – (NCLR) 2003: Racial And Ethnic Minorities Over-represented in the Criminal Justice System 3. Cellblocks or Classrooms, The Justice Policy Institute (2002) 4. Findings Of The Justice Policy Institute – Analysis of the National Corrections Reporting Program on Race and Drug Admissions in Texas (2003) 5. Findings of the Steward Research Groups – Commissioned by the NAACP Texas State Conference and NAACP voter Fund 6. Findings of the Justice Policy Institute – Analysis of the National Corrections Reporting Program on Race and Drug Admissions in Texas. 7. ibid
Some of those familiar with Our organization, who’ve read Our Tx TeamOne Primer, and Our other numerous articles, or followed us on Twitter, may ask what is the purpose for this writing. For you would have already known that Texas TeamOne is not a nationality-specific organization.
The articulated reason some have become confused and muddle-headed is because a comrade here decided to initiate campaigns on dates some associate with New Afrikan revolutionary nationalism, and have taken exception to this.
The campaigns in question were initiated on Black August 21st and ended September 9th. The other campaign is one We’re working on now, and have promoted in Under Lock & Key (ULK) which is Our Juneteenth Freedom Initiative.
First let’s look at Black August 2st - September 9th and why We chose that. These two dates are associated with George Jackson’s assassination and the Attica uprising. What were Jackson’s politics? Jackson, at the time of his death was a Communist. Jackson expressed his desire to eradicate ‘racism’ and the necessity to differentiate himself and others as Black, or whatever color. Jackson said “Black, white and Brown are all victims together.” i say this to say that Jackson was more than just a Black man; to see him as such is to showcase one’s own limited perspective. Jackson was and is a paragon for imprisoned people entering the realm of revolutionary ideas and practice, he was a living legend to an entire state prison system, even to those who did not like him. Telling of all this is that on his death date the other prisoners who rose up in defense to smite their enemies, and were charged and came to be known as the: San Quentin Six, some of these comrades were Chican@s. Hugo Pinnell, one of this group and also a supposed Black Guerrilla Family member, was Puerto Rican.
So when We take these hystorical facts into account We have a better understanding that August 21st isn’t merely about George Jackson but also solidarity to the death, shown by those comrades that day. Furthermore, August is also the month of the Chicano Moratorium, and is commemorated each year, as Chican@s learn of their hystory of revolutionary struggle around this time.
September 9th, the day of the Attica uprising, is clearly a day of multi-national prisoner solidarity, when New Afrikan, Amerikan and Puerto Rican comrades occupied the prison compound as one body. This is held up as the ultimate example of multi-national unity among prisoners.
In regards to Juneteenth, i believed that in 2022 the connections would be clear to everyone, but apparently not. Apparently some think that only New Afrikans were and are slaves. This is not the case. According to the U.$. constitution all those in prison are slaves. The contradiction is that Juneteenth commemorates a day when slavery was supposed to have ended, and Biden’s regime has made this a federal holiday now, while millions of ‘slaves’ still exist in this kkkountry, and their colors vary like the rainbow. The Juneteenth actions are so set in order to raise the visibility of this flagrant contradiction, a method used to tell the public, to showcase that while most are busy incorporating themselves into amerika INC, We, the lumpen-prisoner class are among the last unincorporated people, or class resident to North America. This is the most basic ideal behind Our Juneteenth Freedom Initiative, but not the only. The J.F.I. consists of three stages, the first mentioned above, is to publicize, the second acts to bring the issue of targeted mass incarceration and its role in the genocide of oppressed nationalities domestic of N. America, to the federal level.
The third stage acts to bring these two issues to the international level. We’ve released a more in depth communique surrounding the J.F.I. Please write in to MIM(prisons) to obtain it and be sure to provide postage via stamps.
In political struggle there are many forms of oppression and exploitation. However, these many can summarily be broken down into three primary forms of oppression, and these are national, class and gender.
In Our quest as people to undermine and ultimately devour this oppression We formulate specific types of organizations and organizational methods that We infer will best allow us to meet Our goals, and do so swiftly. Some organizations are organized around gender, for example, the National Woman’s Organization, while others are organized around nation(al) issues, like the Black Panther Party, NAACP, UNIA, RNA, Black Lives Matter and many many others. And still there are some which organize around issues of class, United Struggle from Within, Socialist Workers Party, Prison Lives Matter, and such organizations are examples here.
After much discussion within the Texas TeamOne organizational body it has come to Our attention that We must make Our position clear on the question of the basic purpose of Our organization. Some within and without the organization seem to assume that Texas TeamOne is a New Afrikan-based organization, and thus is organizing on the question of nation and nationality and this has subsequently alienated some, or at least been an excuse for their inactivity. Therefore, i would like to use this platform to publicly declare that although some in Texas TEAMONE are New Afrikans, We’re not a New Afrikan-based organization. Some of Our comrades are Chican@s/Mexican@s, but We’re not a Chican@-based organization either. Texas TEAMONE is focused upon uniting the prisoner(lumpen) class, as a class statewide, guiding this class in asserting its class interest in a manner aligned with proletarian internationalism, and working within the masses of this class to develop political cadres (professional revolutionaries) to send out to the ‘free world’ to assist in freeing Our peoples. This is Our long-term mission.
So to be clear, what is a ‘class’? Marx didn’t see classes as simply economic groupings. Instead, Marx gives-us indispensable criteria, which could be listed as: 1) that class members must share a common position in their relations to the means of production, i.e., common economic conditions, relative to their labor and the appropriation of the social surplus; 2) that they must share a separate way of life and cultural existence; 3) that they must share a set of interests which are antagonistic to other classes; 4) that they must share a set of social relations, i.e. a sense of unity which extends beyond local boundaries and constitutes a ‘national’ bond: 5) that they must share a corresponding collective consciousness of themselves as a ‘class’ and; 6) they must create their own political organizations, and pursue their interests as a ‘class’.(1)
So while Texas prisoners are ‘naturally’ a ‘class-in-itself’, by meeting the first above criteria alone, We at Texas TeamOne are about leading the charge to make the Texas prisoner class develop into a ‘class-for-itself’, “which will depend on the acquisition and development of the remaining elements. Meaning the group must develop consciousness of itself as a class; create political organizations engage in unified action to oppose and defeat class enemies; begin to build a new society free from all exploitation and oppression and: eliminate all class division”.(2)
Texas prisoners already share a definite and distinct way of life separate from the rest of society’s classes represented in Texas. As many of you already know, despite Our inability to unify strongly in massive numbers, We do have common interests, however We get in Our own way. Numbers four, five, and six are the role Texas TeamOne shall occupy for prisoners in this state, and We will contribute to the countrywide lumpen/ prisoner class organizing being done by USW, and groups like Prison Lives Matter. The key is to build solid cadre state-to-state, then organize these cadres across the country to actualize the mighty reservoir of revolutionary potential that lays dormant behind these walls.
Before i close this out, i would like to express the importance of an in-depth study and comprehension of WORLD hystory. The oppressed nations in the United $tates have an extended hystory of organized unity. Remember Santa Anna? Why did the General call for the war against Anglo-Texan colonizers? Was it not to force them to abolish slavery? Why do people celebrate Cinco De Mayo? When the French, led by Maximillian I, invaded Veracruz, Mexico to re-institute slavery, didn’t the Mexican people fight admirably to repel the French? Didn’t free New Afrikans stand in solidarity with their/ Our Mexican counterparts? Cinco De Mayo was initiated by the Mexican Amerikan Union Army veterans in the SouthWest(Aztlán) to commemorate the Mexican victory over the european invaders who were hell-bent on re-enslaving the people. It was a holiday symbolizing national independence, resistance to imperialism, and the abolition of slavery. What is telling is that the Mexican Amerikan Union was actively fighting in the Amerikan civil war on the anti-slavery side while they called for the Cinco De Mayo celebration.
What’s my point here? In case you’ve missed it, the point is that Chican@, Mexican@, Indigenous, and New Afrikan people have been intrinsically connected throughout Our hystory. We would do well to remember this, to not see Our struggles as separate but see them as Our ancestors did. For they always knew that if one allowed an Indian to be colonized, a Mexican would be colonized next. If the African was mired in slavery, the Mexican would be returned to it. Thus their unity was one of anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism, and international abolition.
As a final note, in recent years, because of the legacy mentioned above surrounding the days of Aug 21st & Sept 9th, comrades within the countrywide prisoners movement have utilized this period of time to mobilize outside support and action, as well as inside. This call has already gone out to mobilize for this year’s ‘Shut ’Em Down’ demonstrations, as they’ve come to be called. This adds to the reason why comrades have chosen those dates, and We hope that this brief piece dissolves any assumptions, myths regarding Our work, and that many others will actively join us in our level of commitment.
MIM(Prisons) adds: We want to acknowledge that a comrade in Anti-Imperialist Prisoner Support, the MIM(Prisons)-led organization for outside supporters, also contributed to this confusion by posting an image on social media promoting last year’s hunger strike against RHU in Texas calling for support for “New Afrikans.” Once we noticed this we asked the comrade to change it, which took some days to happen. This is a lesson to the outside supporters of anti-imperialist prison organizers who may not be aware of the sensitivities among the oppressed nations to these questions.
What Team One is experiencing is something MIM(Prisons) has experienced for many years. To an extent it is unavoidable in a country where the oppressed nations are constantly pitted against each other, we will continue to alienate some readers when we support national liberation struggles. But we can be careful in how we do this, be clear on our politics, do our best to promote a diversity of voices and campaigns when they exist, etc. As the definition of United Struggle from Within on p. 2 reads:
“USW won’t champion struggles which are not in the interests of the international proletariat. USW will also not choose one nation’s struggles over other oppressed nations’ struggles.”
As the local representation of USW in Texas, Texas Team One shares this line as they describe above. Likewise, they echo the spirit and line of USW in this statement.
Sources: 1. Meditations On Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, James Yaki Sayles; pg. 286; citing Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire; Karl Marx, The Holy Family. 2. Ibid, pg.287
A few weeks ago lots of Black folks were celebrating Juneteenth, which they claimed was about the banning of slavery in the U.$. Say what? Apparently none of these folks have read the actual 13th Amendment, which only banned plantation slavery, while opening up far more slavery with its Exclusion Section, which basically said “slavery as punishment for a crime is just peachy.”
…how about you get the May 2021 issue of Prison Legal News and read the main article, “The Punishment Economy: Winners and Losers in the Business of Mass Incarceration.”
A fact not mentioned in the article was that businesses (owners) in many foreign countries are making money “servicing” U.$. prisoner needs.
Until just a couple of weeks ago, me at 75 years old, with various health problems, was forced under threat of write-up to work as a kitchen slave. So I get to read the labels on the products used there.
Oranges and mixed vegetables from Mexico. Cut carrots from Spain. Franks (weenies) from Canada. Cucumbers from Mexico. Broccoli from Mexico. Pineapple from Indonesia. Heat sealed plastic gloves from China. White plastic “sporks” from Vietnam.
Do you think the owners of these businesses make donations to U.$. politicians that always vote for more laws, more prisons, and more money to cops?
Wiawimawo of MIM(Prisons) responds: We share this writer’s concerns about prisoners being used as a source of exploited value by capitalists. When Third World countries begin to delink from the united $tates economically, Amerikans will face serious crisis and imposing fascism on segments of the u.$. population in the form of slavery is a likely outcome as we saw fascist Germany do.
However, we think the concern about foreign companies selling cheap produce to u.$. prisons is misled. In fact, most of the value created in producing that food in the Third World is stolen from those who make the food and realized in the First World (see our recent review of John Smith’s Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century). Even those Amerikans reaping the profits on these food sales to Amerikan prisons are not likely backing prison construction. Food is about $2.1 billion of the $182 billion spent on mass incarceration each year in this country.(1)
But what about this question of prison labor? The persyn above has written us numerous times to challenge our line on prison labor. In 2018 we did a survey of ULK readers to further research this subject. And we have extensive articles on the economics of the U.$. prison system available to those interested. But we are always keeping an eye out for new info, so let’s look at this Prison Legal News article.
As it turns out, this article does not offer much information on prison labor at all, far less than our research does. The article is a thorough documentation of many ways that companies are making money by offering services to the government related to prisons and to families of prisoners; what we might call profiteering or even extortion in the case of fees charged to families.
1 in 8 U.$. jobs rely on prisons - Big if True
Daniel Rosen doesn’t cite the source of this one in eight jobs estimate towards the beginning of eir article. Regular writers for ULK have long called Amerika a pig nation. Then why does Rosen turn around and ask, “are we just producing greater corporate profits at American families’ expense?” It is Amerikan families who are getting payed labor aristocracy wages to work these 1 in 8 jobs that relies on this system of punishment. Meanwhile, the majority of people suffering from the injustice system are members of internal semi-colonies, not Amerikans. And this is the exact contradiction we try to bring to light every time we get into this debate.
After citing the exorbitant amount spent on staffing prisons, Rosen offers a section on how employees are underpaid. In states like California, prison guards start at salaries that most reading this newsletter will never see in their lives. To make eir point sound reasonable, Rosen claims “pay for starting prison guards is usually in the range of $25,000-$35,000.” This range actually represents the lowest 10% of prison guards in the country, with the median actually being at $45,000 per year starting salary.(2) Is this underpaid? As regular readers of our work will already know, employed Amerikans are generally in the top 10% income earners globally, including those that make $25,000 per year. An individual living on $45,000 per year is in the top 2%.(3) And as many of our readers know, overtime and hazard pay are a regular occurrence in that line of work, easily putting annual prison guard salaries into six figures.
Our writer contacted us about prisoner labor, not prison guard labor. The reason this is relevant though is that it represents the economics of those who see prisons as a product of corporate interests. It often comes hand-in-hand with those who see $50k/year pigs as the oppressed and exploited opposed to the corporate interests. Even if they’re in the top 2%, they are still in the bottom 99% that the left wing of white nationalism sees as allies. This idealism wants to see all people come together for a common cause, ignoring the different material interests of different groups in the world today. We focus on prison organizing because there is a greater consciousness in prisons that these pigs are part of the imperialist system and that they serve the enemy because they benefit from that system.
I Pay Your Salary, Buddy
Rosen starts off his article with the message that U.$. taxpayers are paying $80 billion per year to lock people up. While there has been an upsurge of concern about spending on incarceration in the halls of Congress, why is it that the same “fiscal conservative” voters who don’t want social services are quick to yell “lock them up” when it comes to so-called “criminals”? Our explanation is that the system that is trying to control the rebellious oppressed serves them. It serves them with some of the highest incomes in the world, from which they pay taxes. These incomes, and taxes, are superprofits stolen from the international proletariat.
We know many in the prison movement are not Marxists, and therefore may not accept the labor theory of value. With such people we are working from different theoretical models and different terminology. It is not a coincidence that such people are predominately reformists. We need to be debating Marx vs. bourgeois economics. Even many self-described “Marxists” in the imperialist countries think there is an infinite amount of wealth to go around.
Rosen writes, “Recidivists are the primary ‘product’ of the punishment economy and the real source of its profits.” It’s true, unlike the military-industrial complex, there is no real product being made here, just ancillary services like phone calls and food delivery. But are recidivists the source of these companies profits? No, the only source of profits is surplus value from surplus labor time. And as we’ll reiterate here, that is coming from the Third World proletariat.
The Endless Road to Reformism
Of course, most of the concerns about mass incarceration that Rosen mentions in this article are ones we share. One that we’ve been discussing lately is how for-profit communication services are replacing in-persyn visits and mail under the guise of reducing drugs. Yet the drugs magically keep getting into prisons, and now prisoners communications are being digitized for easier monitoring and censorship, while valuable resources and family connections are being cut off. We’ve also helped expose the issue of a second-class system for migrants, the vast majority who haven’t even committed any anti-people crimes, being stuck in poorly run, privately-owned prisons on behalf of Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE).
We just don’t agree with Rosen’s economics and where it leads us strategically.
We agree with Rosen that there is a whole slush economy around incarceration, that’s the nature of the United $tates mall economy in general. And in the case of imprisonment, the result is buying people off to support it. There’s too much money, corruption and greed in this system. But this is nothing particular to incarceration, and incarceration is just a tiny drop in the bucket that is this problem. Do we want to make this tiny corner of the imperialist economy a little less gross? Or do we want to end mass incarceration? liberate oppressed nations from imperialism? end exploitation of the proletariat? We are aware that a majority of our incarcerated readers might lean more towards the first option. And while we appreciate our prison reform allies who stand with us in many campaigns, this newsletter is not a forum to promote reformism.
Rosen writes “[t]he most important way that mass incarceration fails prisoners is by all but guaranteeing that they’ll come back.” This is one of the true crimes of the system. Socialist countries like China showed the world how prisons could be used to integrate former oppressors into a new people-focused society. Yet, “corrections” in the u.$. has always taken a much different form, one of punishment. And this is why we prioritize our Re-Lease on Life Program for those released from prison to help comrades continue to reform themselves and integrate back into society as servants of the people, and avoid getting locked back up. Our humble program is a precursor to a system that will serve to rehabilitate the real criminals on this continent in a socialist future.
This country not only institutionalizes disparities between the oppressed nations and Amerikans in the united $tates, it is a tool of genocide in how it affects the productive and reproductive years of a vast segment of oppressed nation men. These problems beg the solution of liberation and independence.
Rosen closes eir article with a number of examples of progress in reforming the ills ey discusses. We agree these are progressive things, and yet they do not address the problem. Which is why you won’t see these campaigns in the pages of ULK. See recent discussions between USW comrades on how to organize prisoners in a way that keeps our eyes on the prize. Sometimes our campaigns will overlap with the reformers. Even then, we must promote the proletarian line and not succumb to coalition politics.
There is zero question that Kansas is using prisoners for cheap labor and profiting tremendously from multi-year sentencing of first-time drug offenders like myself.
I “earn” sixty cents per day to perform a skilled labor sewing position full time. If I refuse to work I will receive a disciplinary work report resulting in my custody security level to rise.
There is a 30-person crew that works at the Kansas State Fairgrounds year round. These prisoners also receive 60 cents per day. The fairground complex could not operate without prison labor.
These jobs are not maintaining KDOC prisons. They are part of the state prison economy, for the profit of the state.
Also, this prison takes 50% of the earnings of all private industry job income prisoners earn. At the private industry jobs, prisoners make minimum wage ($7.25/hour). Incarcerating probation-eligible offenders to minimum-custody facilities to work is proof that in Kansas, exploiting prison labor is a motivating force for mass incarceration.
In almost every other state I would not have been sentenced to prison for possession of medical cannabis.
I understand the point of the article was to look at medium and long-term goals. As a non-violent, non-victim, first time drug offender I believe cannabis decriminalization is a goal worth pursuing. Thousands of people in Kansas have been incarcerated by a corrupt, prison labor motivated criminal justice system.
Is the author agreeing that non-violent, non-victim, first-time cannabis offenders should be working for 60 cents a day to assist the state economy and provide cheap labor for giant factory farms in Kansas? When I see corrupt judges play in to this state economy, there are no myths in my first-hand facts. If I am misinterpreting Wiawimawo’s writing, please clarify what the author intended.
Wiawimawo of MIM(Prisons) responds: First, thanks for the details on how prison labor works where you are in Kansas. We regularly publish such reports on our website and use them to keep tabs on the realities of prison labor over time. You are our on the ground reporters for everything going on in U.$. koncentration kamps.
One thing you don’t specify is who you are making clothing for at your job. That is an important factor. Usually people are working on clothing and sheets and now face masks for other prisoners to use. That would be work for the prison system, not for profit. Similarly, running the fairgrounds is for the state. These are parallel to the examples of fire fighters given in my original article.
None of these jobs are making profits for anyone, which you seem to have confused. Multiple times you refer to Kansas as profiting from prisoners. States do not make profits. They have revenue and expenses, and they can run over budget if they want with expenses being greater than revenue by issuing bonds. Now the bourgeois definition of profit is netting more money coming in then you put out in expenditures. But even bourgeois economists do not use this terminology in regards to states. As Marxists, we define exploitation as paying workers less than the value that they produce and then selling the product (or service) to realize the full value. This is the source of wealth accumulation in capitalism.
Now to the prisoner sewing clothes for 60 cents a day, it matters little whether those clothes are to be used for state-issued use or sold in a store. So i can understand where you’re coming from. But if we want to explain how the prison system works in this country this becomes an important distinction. It is not profits for big businesses to accumulate capital that drives the system. It is a combination of financial self-interest of the people who work in these institutions, people who some would have us see as the oppressed proletariat themselves, and the broader interests of the oppressor nation to control the oppressed nations in this country. Through this control of the oppressed nations by Amerikans through criminalization and imprisonment, they can further gentrify the places oppressed nations reside and create further economic control for themselves. This is the heart of our analysis. And it is why we have a very different orientation than the petty bourgeoisie who is opposed to private prisons for profit and favor drug decriminalization as discussed in my original article.
“Is the author agreeing that non-violent, non-victim, first-time cannabis offenders should be working for 60 cents a day to assist the state economy and provide cheap labor for giant factory farms in Kansas?”
No, i do not argue that. We argue for more change, not less. We are not reformists, and we don’t think drug decriminalization in the United $tates will eliminate national oppression nor drug addiction. If done well, it could reduce these problems, and the specific expression of drug problems such as marijuana consumption. Therefore the reform is progressive, but it does not solve the problem of national oppression and the criminal drug economy. We have much better solutions for national oppression and drug addiction, and they certainly don’t include imprisoning people for victimless behavior. They do include eliminating profit motives in all aspects of our lives. In the meantime, we support an international minimum wage that would apply to prisoners.
A California Prisoner: The Covid and imperialism article in ULK 72 sparked my interest because I am already vaccinated and I had to ask myself why I, a prisoner, was vaccinated before tax payers? The answer was pretty simple logic. Prison is huge profit for California and the cash cow has been closed for Covid crisis, the sooner California can reopen the prisons, they can continue to rake in the profits they make from our suffering.
Wiawimawo responds: There was a significant effort in California by lawyers and activists to get prisoners to the top of the vaccination list. And this is at least part of the explanation as to why you got vaccinated early. It made sense from a public health standpoint, but this did not happen across the country because many Amerikans don’t care about prisoners’ lives.
It is not clear why you argue that profits dried up in prisons during the shelter-in-place, so i would need more information on that to respond. But as i explain above, states don’t profit from prisons. Prisons are a huge financial expense and do not create any economic value. Prison labor is one way to slightly reduce some of the expenses in running these prisons.(1)
All that said, i want to address this comrade’s talk about the “tax payers.” The vaccination campaign across the United $tates is being paid by the Federal government. The government has now passed a series of bills in the trillions of dollars to address the fallout from the pandemic. This is not “tax payer money.” They are just printing money, or creating money out of thin air to fund these programs. Since the dollar is the global currency, they can do this with some confidence that other countries and investors will buy up the bonds to cover the expense. It’s all funny money that we benefit from here in the United $tates, even those in prison benefit at times, thanks to our position as the premier imperialist power.
This is in stark contrast to countries like India and Brazil that are now being hit hard by the pandemic and the people are being offered little relief. One reason is that these countries can’t just print $1 trillion worth of their currency without causing massive inflation and damaging the conditions of the people more.
To the extent that it is “tax payers” who are helping to balance the budget deficit in the United $tates, we must also be clear where that money is coming from – the Third World proletariat. The above is just one demonstration of how value can flow from the periphery to the imperialist countries. This is reflected in the incomes of all U.$. citizens, who must give some of those super-profits to the state to keep the imperialist system running.
So let us not shed a tear for the poor “tax payer” in this country because California actually made some efforts to vaccinate people in a way that made sense in terms of promoting public health. There is no shortage of vaccines in the United $tates. In fact, we have far more than we need, while other countries have not even begun vaccinating their populations yet. If we were really working in the interests of public health, we would have a more equitable distribution of vaccines across the globe. We’d be prioritizing hotspots, which the United $tates is. And we’d be sharing the technology needed to make vaccines freely, releasing the intellectual property that is holding back progress in the fight against COVID-19. Failure to do so means that the virus will continue to evolve and likely continue to be a problem.
A New York prisoner: In response to ULK 72 (2021) article “Help Fund MIM(Prisons), Donate Now!”, I would like to offer a suggestion outside of charity from donations which seems to be a necessary form of income for the production, maintenance & shipment of ULK’s. What if MIM took some of its donations and invested them in the stock market? I know that seems pro-capitalist, but as the old adage goes you gotta fight “fire with fire.” Making a few short-term trades could possibly boost revenue for expenses (solely), and make donations a welcomed part of production but not so necessary. This would keep MIM’s line of no foreseeable future in capitalism by not becoming long-term investors in the stock market, but instead looking for quick returns in order to fund revolutionary work (i.e. short selling, which is basically betting against the U.S. market, which is still in some ways inherently communist behavior). I am enclosing an articled dated 11 January 2021, “Jay-Z Fund to Help Minority-owned Cannabis Businesses.” What do you think about this venture? I don’t really believe lumpen have the luxury of investing in non-essential production/consumption as cannabis right now, when they don’t even have land to cultivate on. But financial freedom is nonetheless a form of independence… so keep on keeping on Jay-Z!
Wiawimawo responds: First, we agree with using the oppressors’ tools against them, and have no moral qualms about the stock market. Proletarian morality means we do what will most benefit the liberation of the exploited and oppressed. Whether it is a wise investment is another question. Conventional wisdom is that it is a good long-term bet, but unpredictable in the short-term. As for shorting, well hedge fund Melvin Capital Management lost 53% in January in its infamous shorting of Gamestop.(2) They lost about $6 billion on that bet. That’s what the stock market is, gambling.
Now cannabis businesses, that might be a more sound investment. As the article points out, and as i discussed in my article on Tulsi Gabbard mentioned above, the legalization of weed has been a bonanza for white petty bourgeois interests trying to get small businesses up and running before the large corporations dominate the market. New Afrikans are under-represented in business ownership overall at just 10%, but in the states listed that number was 3-6% for cannabis businesses.(3) Jay-Z, and New York State are correctly recognizing this gap and trying to do something to not let it happen in New York.
What do we think about this? More equal opportunity for the petty bourgeoisie just reinforces imperialism. When it was illegal, oppressed people selling weed were targeted by the state and potential allies to the anti-imperialist movement. People running successful weed businesses aren’t likely to be our allies, regardless of their skin color.
The weed game is in a major transition. It is still in a semi-legal state, where the Feds could crack down on you (and they have). Getting access to loans and bank accounts can be difficult as a result. One group that is proving successful as early pioneers in the trade are former law enforcement. They are less likely to be targeted by the state than a former felon, and they have clout to deal with the pressures from extortion rackets and the lumpen organizations they are competing with. Therefore as revolutionaries, the weed business might be risky.
You suggest that we need to invest in stocks to free us from our reliance on donations. On the contrary, we are trying to become more reliant on donations so that our cadre don’t have to worry so much about funding everything ourselves, which we do by working or investing or whatever. Maybe some of us are investing in the stock market to fund this work, but that is not a reliable source of income. We want to be going strong when the market collapses again. And that is why we want to be reliant on the financial support of the masses. Only by relying on the people is our future secure.
As i said above, legalization of weed will not eliminate national oppression in the forms of cop killings and disproportionate imprisonment rates. It will make pacifying substances more readily available to the masses. And for better or for worse it will undercut the underground economy in favor of public tax revenue. And that is what this is about of course, it is providing tax revenue to maintain government funding at the local and state levels.
Until the import of weed is legalized by the feds, this shift of production to the United $tates will be undercutting a source of profits in the drug trade – the Third World farmer. Historically the farmers who grow and process weed are the ones being exploited in Third World countries. As production shifts to the First World, wages will have to increase to exploiter-level wages, with the possible exception of using migrant labor from the Third World. This means the profits must come from other sectors in the Third World instead, to pay the farmers, marketers, sales people and accountants in the First World running the new weed economy, as well as the state taxes. If the exploited weed farmers are eliminated, then the profits must now be squeezed from the banana farmers or copper miners, and all the other exploited workers of the Third World. This puts more pressure on the already dangerously low international rate of profit.
Finally, we agree with your point about land. Without land there is no power. National liberation means liberating the territory of the oppressed. Owning land as individuals is not it. Oppressed nations must control land as independent nations, and be able to defend that land. This is a central task of the New Democratic movement.