Prisoners in America suffer at the hands of their captors; the only group of people who remain under the brutality of compelled work. Their master is the state. It is an evil and capricious master, whose goal is to break the spirit and reduce to an automaton (the better to be a wage-slave in society) a human being.
The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the united states, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
The reality of this in prison, is that a prisoner will be assigned a job which will be institutional drudgery - the kitchen, laundry, farm labor, etc. He will then be made to perform his job under the gun - literally, in the case of outside work squads. Something about a correctional officer with a gun is very unsettling - these are very base people who couldn't get a job with the Sheriff's Department, and who don't have to pass a psychological exam or rigorous requirements to get this job.
Even if not under the gun, officers, and sometimes civilian employees, hold tremendous power over the prisoners in their custody, which they usually abuse. What's more, they expect a fully honest days work out of you like you owe them something. If they don't like the job you're doing, or just don't like you, they can send you to the box for 60 days and take all your gain time for refusing to work. Most people get gain time, so an officer has the power to hold a prisoner in prison several months longer at his whim and subject to no real oversight.
Needless to say, you are working at no benefit to yourself. I can speak from the experience of the kitchen, where myself and my fellow prisoners serve the disgusting state food, clean up, and attempt to look busy so as not to incur the ire of the man. After we serve, we are often fed a regular tray, getting only what the compound gets. And some staff like to threaten us with throwing away the rest of the food instead of serving it to us. Also they can legally make us work 70 hours a week.
A few days ago, I was threatened for my grievances about the boots they make us wear over our shoes and all the menu changes. I'm not worried about it, and actually feel good because they ended up on the warden's desk and I got the man's attention.
The boss made a remarkable statement today, in one of his daily speeches: "You're here by choice. I've got a family to feed." First of all, I'm here by force. Second, I didn't make him work in the prison system as a guard.
The supposed compassion of our boss man is overwhelming. I was told today by a friend that he personally witnessed the boss pepper spray two people. This was not for fighting or trying to attack him, but for trying to finish their meal after they were told to throw their tray away for some bogus disciplinary reason.
Prisoners who have medical conditions or are mentally ill are still pressed into labor, with no real way out except to go to the box. The box may look like a pleasing alternative sometimes, but it is not - sensory deprivation, no property or canteen, meager state meals. It's de facto physical and psychological torture, something that surprisingly still exists in this country. Plus there is so much that goes along with it, like a later release date and transfer to a worse unit in the same prison.
I find consolation in the packet of legal material I got from the Panama City Division of the U.S. District Court tonight. Soon I will be out and able to file my 42 U.S.C. §1983 lawsuit against an officer and a captain who fabricated disciplinary charges against me. I encourage every prisoner not to forget this time when he reaches freedom, but to speak up for our struggle and report their crimes against us. This can often include filing a lawsuit based on something that happened in prison, because every convict has a story and many have good cases. Know that most of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) does not apply to you as a released prisoner, so you do not have to show physical injury or have filed grievances (although you always should, it establishes a paper trail and potentially incriminating responses) before filing suit. Keep that same spirit alive that made you a stronger man when you get to the streets, whatever you do. That will make you an adversary worth fearing.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We agree with this comrade's assessment of the importance of organizing and fighting back both behind the bars and on the streets. And the message of continuing the battle once you hit the streets is particularly important. But we would not call this system of prisoner labor "slavery." As we explained in our article on the prison economy, prison labor does not produce a profit for the prisons, rather it is used to offset some (but not all) of the costs of imprisonment. Prisons are primarily used as a tool of social control, with the prisoner labor only a minor aspect of this. The term slavery refers to the system that captures humyn labor for the purpose of exploiting and profiting from it. This is not the case with the Amerikan prison system today. It is important to understand the real motivations of the oppressor if we hope to change this oppressive system.