The Precipice

Author’s Note:

Today’s offering was written and first put online back in 2012. I have shared it via social media several times since then, however, until it ceases to be true, I shall not cease discussing it.


We stand upon a precipice in the modern age-not just here in the United States, but across the globe, on each piece of land, between each ocean and sea made by a common creator. We stand upon the edge of a new day, a time to choose to lead or be led, a time to choose to be free or be oppressed. We stand upon the precipice of being truly united-through the heart, mind and spirit, as humans sharing a planet together or of continuing to be held back, controlled, and dictated to, not by our governments, but by the economy, by the holders of massive resources, by our own fear that without someone to make sure everything happens, nothing will. We stand in a moment when we must look at each other and choose which future we are looking forward to.


In the United States-there is this feeling that we have come so far: we have forgiven ourselves for the atrocities of our fathers to the Native People’s of this land, we have forgiven ourselves for slavery, we have even allowed ourselves to believe that these problems have ended. We have come so far that our President can be African American. We have not come far enough. Mumia Abdul Jabar, still sits in a jail cell. Leonard Peltier still sits in a jail cell. These men have been convicted of crimes they did not commit on shoddy evidence-to which challenges have been brought-they sit in a cell because those who control the resources do not want them to make the rest of us think critically about our world. We seem to believe our children are becoming educated, when they are really being taught simply how to work well in a government/corporate controlled world-critical thinking has become a skill of past generations. We believe that the TV, Radio and Internet have given us such control over information-however without the critical thinking to help discern the truth-we are merely being programmed more directly and succinctly all the time.


History, being written by the victors, never tells the whole story, and a once a problem is declared over by those who decide such things, the media and historians tend to turn towards new and exciting topics-leaving the resolution process to the same powers, persons,  and governments that started the problem in the beginning. This has been evidenced throughout time, including the treatment of native people’s and the continuation of forced labor past the ratification of the 13th Amendment.


The native peoples of the Americas are still here. Their histories and beliefs now obscured by the interference and mistakes of the past-a very recent past by any real account.  They now struggle for the right to take part in ceremonies, rituals, and hunting rights that since time immemorial were their way of being. They are not free in the US to live a way of life that was once all they knew and all they needed.  Their freedoms have not been included in our protections-instead they have been forced into isolation, and taught that they way of their forefathers was wrong. This is still going on, and today there are still those in prisons for fighting for their right to be all that their people have always been. At the time of the atrocities, people thought they were doing the right thing. At the time the reservations were made-it seemed like a good idea to those who were trying to stop wars between cultures.  Little over 100 years later, the issues of religious freedom and national identity still exist for many in this group.


We also have been taught to believe that history removed slavery from the United States-we have been taught that the Reconstruction made the US a more equal environment. We have been taught that in 1865, with the 13th Amendment, we abolished slavery. We have not, though, been taught the whole truth.  In the true story, there would be a massive labor shortage if the slaves were made truly free. There would have been an increase in overhead in industry that would have been difficult to overcome. In order to make sure we had an Amendment that could be ratified, in order to please all sides and alter our course, we included an exception under which slavery and involuntary servitude could not only exist, but thrive, under a Constitutionally allowed framework. The exception is even written in such a way as to make it seem perfectly legitimate.

The 13th Amendment reads:  Section 1: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime which one has been duly convicted, shall exist in the United States or any Territory subject to its jurisdiction.”  Today, this has a vastly different meaning than it did in 1865. At the time this wording was put in place prison privatization had not occurred, corporations did not own huge portions of them, the use of prison labor was intended for public works, and laws were made and enforced in direct relation to public safety. At the time, most crimes were directly related to harming another individual-rape, murder, thievery (in a variety of forms). Another thing that was different at the time was the original wording, which was almost the same, it just said “or any US territory”, yet another change that has been used to expand the use of forced labor.  What could not be seen at the time of ratification was the misuse of the exception. While most people are familiar with the idea of “Jim Crow” laws, most are taught that sometime in the late 1930s or early 1940s, we overcame this as well.

If one takes a closer look at the history, it becomes apparent that the misuse of this exception did not really end so much as become remade in a new image that is easy to accept to this day. While states that had relied heavily upon slaves in industry prior to the ratification were struggling with ways to fill the needs of the labor market, by exploiting the exception, other historical things were happening to lay the framework for today’s prison industrial complex. In 1870, the National Prison Association was formed, ostensibly to help with the problems caused by the prisoner leasing programs that began in 1868. In 1906, the Department of Agriculture passed the Pure Food and Drugs Act, which began an era of prohibition which continues to this day and feeds the ‘corrections’ system a large percentage of its ‘clients’. By this time, Jim Crow laws are beginning to be called into question and are failing in most places, so there is a need to pass laws to keep this relatively hidden labor force in place.

From the time the Amendment was ratified, there was growth in efforts at prohibition of various activities.  At first it was alcohol, then cannabis, then cocaine, then other drugs, and today in some places it is felonious to be a farmer with the incorrect breed of pig or to sell raw milk-even to a neighbor who requests it. There are other laws that are publicized as being for “public safety” that are really nothing more than rules that if broken, can put a person in a jail cell-because it is profitable. It is profitable only because the 13th Amendment has set up a framework for there to be a prison industry that utilizes convicts as labor.

To see this from the surface many US Citizens say “Well they broke the law, they deserve what they get”, when in fact what has happened is that we have created a monetary incentive to restrict behavior. Every CEO of a for profit corporation has agreed to make decisions that improve the profit margins and feasibilities of the company. Not for profit CEOs sign a document that says they will ensure the mission is met and that there is money in the budget to complete their goals. To me these are the same and when coupled with a prison industry that is Constitutionally allowed to utilize free labor from the prisoners, we have a dangerous situation. When you also allow the corporations and private individuals to hold stock options in such a prison, the situation can quickly become dire. Add in the fact the American Corrections Association-started in 1870 as the National Corrections Association to help the prisoners-is now one of the larger lobbying groups in the country and the situation is something that can only be described as a democratic emergency.

One example of how this situation affects all of us and not just the prisoners is to look at Sodhexo-Marriot Corporation, who at one time owned more than 13% of Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison operator in the United States. The corporation benefited from adding a nice profitable company to their portfolio, and they benefitted from the prison labor at a nearby prison, by sending out the hotel laundry to the women’s prison an hour away in and had them laundered and returned. Here is where the real savings and profit came in-without having to pay hotel staff to do the laundry they were able to avoid a few minimum wage employees, which saved wages, workers comp, insurance costs, or any other government fees, etc associated with a regular free citizen as an employee. So, free labor costs, less labor regulation and as long as the prison remains profitable-they get some of that too.


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