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Modern American Legal Slavery

October 16, 2016

The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1865, reads as follows:

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Contrary to popular opinion, the United States Civil War, Emancipation Proclamation and Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution did not end legalized slavery in this country. Convicted criminals are eligible to be subject to the condition as a part of punishment for their crimes. With the advent of prison privatization and the constant search for cheap labor, this glaring loophole in the 13th Amendment has been used to improve the bottom lines and profit margins of private businesses – not the least of which includes the private prison industry.

After all, prisoners don’t need to be paid a living wage (not that workers outside of prison don’t deserve one either – in the opinions of many corporate executives and shareholders). Their needs for shelter, clothing and sustenance are paid for by the taxpayers. It’s only fair that they work to repay their debt to society, right? Except for the fact that cheap prison labor is actually a way to funnel taxpayer dollars into private profits for those corporations, their executives and shareholders – at the expense of the taxpayers and the exploitation of the labor of a captive labor force.

Our criminal justice system has become bloated to the extent that our prison populations have become the largest in the world. The War on Drugs and preponderance of extremely harsh mandatory minimum sentences, often for less serious non-violent offenses, has led to prison over-crowding in many states. Extremely low pay for prisoners’ work, combined with harsh prison working and living conditions, has led to prisoner uprisings in the past. The most famous of such events was the one in Attica, New York in the early 1970’s. More recently, strikes have taken place in several states involving many prisoners. These events have been largely ignored by mainstream media.

Slavery was legal in this country from before it became an independent nation. It remained so through the Civil War in the Southern states whose economies were largely dependent on the forced labor of people who weren’t considered citizens, were owned as property by the slaveholders who bought or inherited them, and had no voting rights. They weren’t even counted as complete human beings for the purpose of representation in Congress by the US Constitution. Race relations have been forever tainted in this country as a result of this lengthy era of subjugation of blacks by whites.

Why was the prison loophole included in the 13th Amendment? Hasn’t the US berated forced labor camps in the former Soviet Union and other totalitarian regimes? How is our system superior to those which we seemingly abhor? The private prison industry has been under fire, particularly at the federal level, in recent years. Making imprisoning people a profit-making enterprise is increasingly seen as a horrid use of taxpayer money, not to mention inefficient and inhumane. Judges have even been convicted and sent to prison for taking kickbacks for ensuring that prisons maintain a certain level of occupancy. This has even been the case in juvenile detention facilities in my own state of PA.

The makeup of our prison population is another glaring problem when it comes to the state of our criminal “justice” system. Why are our prisoners so disproportionately Black and Hispanic, from poor rather than wealthy backgrounds. Are we to believe that this is merely a coincidence or have our lawmakers managed to find ways to enslave many of the same people who would have been born to slavery in an earlier time? I don’t necessarily think this was all orchestrated in an elaborate charade by our ruling oligarchs to excuse their continued mistreatment of members of minority racial and ethnic groups along with impoverished whites in order to maintain their own privileged socio-economic status.  I surely can see why many of those being stepped on by the system would see it that way, however.

To me, coming up with new ways to force people to labor for the material benefit of others with little or no personal incentive to do so other than to maintain their ability to breathe is on the same moral level as willingly to allow people to die because they can’t afford to pay the going rate for a medical procedure. Regardless of the reason someone is in prison, they should be afforded more human rights than our system used to afford slaves. The fact that we have reached a point in our society where most would agree that, in way too many cases, the punishment for an infraction far exceeds the severity of the crime committed, demonstrates a drastic need for reform in our criminal justice system.

Committing most crimes should not mean that a person will never again be able to get a good job once their sentence is completed, nor vote, nor do most of what someone never convicted of a crime can expect to be able to do. That is obviously currently not the case. The prison loophole permitting convicts to be used as slaves or involuntary servants needs to be taken out of the Thirteenth Amendment. Creating such a large force of cheap labor helps to drive down the wages of workers as a whole, leads to unfair exploitation of some people for the unwarranted and unearned benefit of a few and leads to an exacerbation of social and economic inequality that is not fitting the moral values of a democratic society which we are taught from a young age to venerate. That includes the guilty as well as the untold numbers of people unfairly convicted when innocent of any wrongdoing or those sentenced to life for a third strike caused by a relatively minor offense.

By the way, what’s the deal with those corrupt judges, corporate executives, and the like who are convicted of doing real harm to real people getting sentenced to country club prisons while people convicted of the mere possession of drugs do hard time under less favorable conditions? So many ills beset our criminal justice system. Ending the slave labor loophole and covering prisoners under minimum wage laws and other labor legislation would be a step in the right direction. Ending Prisons for Profit, something that has begun at the level of federal prisons, is another way to improve our system of justice, the goal of which should be to make society safer and people more productive, not to line the pockets of greedy capitalists by shifting wealth to the benefit of those already wealthier than most of us. I think most of us still prefer Robin Hood to Romney Hood (or, in this election season, Trump Hood).

Further Suggested Readings:

American Prisons: Protest Dog Food, Go to Solitary Confinement

The Largest Prison Strike in U.S. History Enters Its Second Week

Sonali Kolhatkar: Inmates Launch Series of Work Stoppages to Protest ‘Slave Labor’

Colorado Could Ban Convict Labor This November

"We’re Freedom Fighters": The Story of the Nationwide Prison Labor Strike

Trump-Loving Firefighter Canned After Advocating to Make Slavery Legal Again

Nationwide Prison Strike Against ‘Slavery in America’ Rolls on—Despite Media Blackout

US Prisoners Strike To End Prison Slavery

Understanding the Legacy of the Attica Prison Uprising

Why Prisoners Across the Country Have Gone on Strike

Prison Guards in Alabama Join Inmates on Strike

Thousands Of Inmates And Prison Staff Nationwide Are Nearing A Month Of Strikes

Ava DuVernay’s ’13th’ Is a Devastating Look at America’s Long History of Criminal Injustice

After Exploiting Prisoners for Years, MSNBC Still Won’t Cover the National Prison Strike

The New Slave Revolt


From → Uncategorized

  1. Slave labor, in one form or another, has always been imposed upon the lower classes.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Amen to that Robert. Still is with minimum wages, no benefits, no holidays, under 25 hrs a week and more. However we are a proud capitalist society sharing it with the world.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Reblogged this on Journalism as Art and commented:
    Slavery today is the abundant supply of human worker bee’s. Minimum wages, no benefits, no holidays, under 25 hrs a week and much more. However we are a proud capitalist society sharing it with the world. If they don’t like it we execute their leaders and turn their countries into rubble.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. When the government starts to corral – be it mass incarceration, FEMA camps, or by skin color, I’m pretty sure we’re looking at future oppression.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Heather Awen permalink

    Right now there is another one percent of Americans – the population in prison. People don’t seem to understand that Americans have the highest rate of the population in prison than anywhere else. One in 100 people. Unfortunately prison does not pay for food and clothing. There is minimal of that given but actually people have to pay quite a lot at the commissary prison store to get more socks, pants , shoes, even if they were real and when doing mandatory work. Or if they were “lost” by guards being transferred or when they were in solitary confinement. The prison store of course is a 35% markup for the things that they have to buy – toothpaste, shampoo, hair products including rubber bands, stamps, paper, phonecards – the three companies that are the prison from companies charge up to one dollar per minute, envelopes, antacid, laxatives, lotion, magazines , greeting cards, so it’s basically the company store. And of course the most expensive email provider in United States is the one that federal prisons use – I am soon to speak to a friend in prison using a video Internet way that costs her an insane amount. She makes $0.70 per hour 10 hours a day as a telemarketer and she has seizures a lot so she will miss work and that means no money and the other thing that they have to pay for our drinks and snacks because prisons have cut down considerably on what they consider the size of a portion of food . A way of saving them money but unfortunately the people in prison have to then spend 35% more to get Ramen noodles. If you look at the prices – and you can get those from any person website and you if you look at the items for sale is a toxic disaster that in no way has anything to do with health.

    40% of women in prison are disabled. One in eight people in prison are there for marijuana . Most people are there because of drug-related incidents – crimes that they probably would not have committed they were not intoxicated . For what they were driven to do because of addiction. In the United States addiction is considered a disease so with that logic then we should be sending people with cancer to prison.

    The “justice system” is inherently racist . Separates fathers from children first of all, creating a community literally without men. When they are released they cannot get jobs so they cannot contribute to their families financially . Because of how antisocial services are set up the family is penalized financially if the father lives with them and is not working.

    In prison you have to pay to do your laundry. I don’t know if people know about these things.

    Money is being saved by not having staffing so instead the people in prison have to do all of the maintenance, cleaning, landscaping, laundry, and much more and for that work they get paid five dollars a month. Five dollars a month working full-time usually with toxic without ventilation. That is how the prisons are maintained. Five dollars when the company store is 35% markup and you are hungry – it’s a lot worse in there then people think.

    Also the government lies flat out – solitary confinement is very common and actually Chelsea Manning formerly Bradley Manning, amazing heroine, attempted suicide and is being threatened with life in solitary confinement because of that. Evidently the way that she attempted suicide was a “misuse of property”. By recently going on a hunger strike after her suicide attempt she did win the right to medical care for being transgendered . However there is still the threat of life in solitary confinement because of her suicide attempt. She has been missing for several days. Nobody knows what is going on with her or where she is.

    That’s another really scary thing people in prison if you care about them . When they disappear. There’s no way of knowing where they are , the prisons don’t have to tell you anything . So you just have to pray and tell people about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Heather Awen permalink

    Sorry, I am really disabled from lime disease and babesiosis/malaria that is very hard to treat because of having severe multiple chemical sensitivity – although Lyme disease is very hard to treat alone anyway and they know almost nothing about babesiosis although it is epidemic in China. So I’m using really crappy dictation. It leaves out words. Or it makes ones. So it should say that if your clothes are ruined when you are doing maintenance work or landscaping as your mandatory job that pays you five dollars a month you have to pay for getting new clothing and boots from the company store of the commissary where everything is marked up 35%

    If anybody is interested in harm reduction for LGBT people in prison, black and pink is an organization that has a penpal program . We know that if people get mail because Millcole is done publicly the guards and other people are aware that that person is not forgot and is not alone and that does provide some measure of safety. LGBT people are more likely to be raped . So literally sending a postcard once a month to somebody you could be preventing more trauma.

    The Unitarian Universalist website has information about their penpal program and if you are concerned about safety with your address etc. they take care of all of that for you. You just need to be a member of a congregation or join the online one which has a fee associated with it.

    And if you want a list of American political prisoners including Black Panthers in there since the 1960s you can download the guide from the anarchist black cross nyc. It also gives everyone’s birthdays so you can send birthday cards. It is kind of surreal to be sending birthday cards to members from MOVE.

    I mention these kinds of things because people complain a lot and they don’t realize that they can be part of the solution by doing very little sometimes – I’m probably dying and I am still contributing quite a lot and I can’t even get out of bed.

    There are also prison book programs. You can actually donate used books those . Most rprisons will not let you send a book to someone it has to come from the publisher or Amazon. However they can get used books into the prisons through these programs and you can Google or however you search for them – there is one specifically for women’s prisons. The number one book that people want : English dictionaries. Also Spanish to English dictionary. People love in general it seems to be the last place where the written word is appreciated. So anything that you donate will be read by many people.

    Radical publishers like AK PRESS and PM PRESS give significant discounts on books if they’re being sent to prison.

    And if you want to make your own postcard to send to somebody in person – where you choose your own image and have 20 lines writing the website inmate aid will let you do that for one dollar. It’s nice because you can choose the image yourself and you don’t have to even deal with getting stamps. Helpful for shut-ins. Jmail allows you to write 3000 words on your computer or cell phone or whatever and they print and mail it with the postage included to somebody in prison for you and that costs one dollar. Both of them provide other services and you can have your free address book etc. so it’s very easy. The latter one will give you a special address for people to write to if you are not comfortable giving your own for a yearly fee and they actually will scan the letters and email them to you as well as physically forward them. Inmate aid will help people find the cheapest price for getting phone calls – so if you are very close to somebody in prison and sending them money so they can make phone calls that cost the greatest amount of money they can check to see if having a local number to the prison which is only six cents per minute would benefit you. The person in prison is making a local call but it gets forwarded to your phone number . There’s a monthly fee and they do the math to tell you if it’s worth it .

    With 1% of the population in prison and one in 27 children having a parent in prison somebody reading this blog probably knows someone who could use the information . Thank you for reporting on this – as someone who is in basically solitary confinement because of having MCS, although it’s more like house arrest without any visitors ever , I have found that my penpals that I email with see on video talk to write to etc. care a lot more about friendships than people on the “outside”. You’ll get amazing art gifts.


  6. vancitydissident2 permalink

    I actually considered replacing the death penalty with it.


  7. NavyDad0007 permalink

    Reblogged this on @ILoveMyWife0007.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I would like to reblog this as soon as i figure out how to do it properly so credit is given where credit is due.

    I am ashamed to admit that I never gave prisons or prisoners much thought until about a year ago. I had no clue what was going on. I et a wonderful woman here who opened my eyes to this mess. She also hooked me up with her grandson’s father who is in prison. I mean that we are writing each other as friends. I am married and far too old for him.

    I would like to reiterate something I saw in one of the comments below. Jamie has been a much better friend to me that most people I have been friends with. He is a big ole teddy bear who got a raw deal because he is black and couldn’t afford an attorney. Slavery is alive and well in America. We must find a way to stop this.

    Jamie has a couple of serious medical conditions. He is forced to pay a $100 medical deductible at the beginning of every year if he wants to be able to see the doctor. There is still no guarantee. They deny him some of his meds. His medical care is less than adequate, to say the least. His family can not afford to help him on any way.

    Many, many prisoners have no one on the outside. No birthday cards. No Christmas gifts. No get well cards. No visits from a loved one. No phone calls. Nothing. What I didn’t know or understand until last year is that many, many prisoners are non-violent offenders 20 years to life over a bag of weed or a few crack rocks. Their biggest crime is being black. A black man can get 20-life for one ounce of weed a the white rapist in y neighborhood served less than four years. I am not condoning selling drugs but I would much rather have a pot dealer in my neighborhood than a rapist or sex offender.

    Unfortunately, we have too many people in this country who believe the lies the are told growing up so they think black people are bad. I thank my mother every day for not raising me that way. I just wish I had a magic wand so we could make it all better.

    Christmas is upon us. If you really want to give a gift that will mean something, please become a friend to someone in prison a write them. There are organizations which can hook you up with someone (you can tell them no sex offenders or whatever) and give a prisoner a reason to live. Your friendship may give them the strength and courage they need to turn things around for themselves. Your kindness may give them the incentive to go ahead and work on their GED. I can’t begin to imagine how hard it would be to turn my life around if I had no one and no one cared about me. What about you?

    Love and hugs,


  9. You mention that the federal government has started to cut back on using for-profit prisons, but that’s no longer the case. AG Sessions has reversed that:

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are correct. Unfortunately, another example of President Trump moving this country in the wrong direction. No good will come from this.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Dreamer9177 permalink

    Prisons are indeed a booming industry that are propped up by a judicial and legal system that seem to operate on the principle that providing labor to these prison industries is their main motivation. This is a troubling, but not recent, development.

    When I was in the Navy and visited places overseas I heard about “debtors prisons” and was reminded of my history classes when we learned that the US and Australia in particular were used as “plantations” for profit of the mother country.

    History repeats itself.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I think it is deliberate by the oligarchs to keep working class people and prisoners enslaved. And since the United States is a corporation while states and cities are small corporate entities within this huge corporation, it’s no surprise why the 13th Amendment was written the way it was written. Why else during the Reconstruction period we had the convict lease system as the precursor to the private prison industry?? Put everything together and it would all make sense to you. Also I recommend the documentary 13th on Netflix on how Democratic and Republican presidents have kept the private prison industry going by arresting nonviolent drug dealers, meaning the ones who sell crack rocks for very cheap.


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