Prison is big business, and working prisoners are a corporation’s dream. Prisoners are being contracted for work right now on a massive scale, and despite the alarming and unsustainable growth of inmate numbers in the United States, incentive to lock people up is only increasing. This is the income that prisons — comprising one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States, backed by Wall Street — depend on:
Now prison labor based in private prisons is a multimillion-dollar industry with its own trade exhibitions, conventions, websites, and mail-order/Internet catalogs (Pelaez 2008). . . . The industry also has direct advertising campaigns, architecture companies, construction companies, investment houses on Wall Street, plumbing supply companies, food supply companies, armed security, and padded cell manufacturing, all of which rival those of any other private industry (Pelaez 2008). Furthermore, private prisoners at the state level produce a variety of goods and services, from clothing to toys to telemarketing and customer service (Erlich 2005). The private federal prison industry also produces nearly all military goods, from uniform helmet to ammunition, along with durable goods ranging from paint to office furniture (Pelaez 2008). (source)
Did you know that corporate stockholders who profit from prison labor lobby for longer sentences? They do this to expand their workforce, and so, according to a study done by the Progressive Labor Party, “the system feeds itself.” The PLP also accuses the prison system of being “an imitation of Nazi Germany” with regards to forced slave labor and concentration camps.
If we look at the history of prison labour in the United States, it becomes immediately apparent that the entire system is birthed out of racism. After the civil wars of the mid-to-late 18th century, the system of hiring prisoners was established in order to continue the slavery that had dominated previous years. This was, of course, a time when racial segregation was legal across the United States:
Prison labor has its roots in slavery. After the 1861-1865 Civil War, a system of “hiring out prisoners” was introduced in order to continue the slavery tradition. Freed slaves were charged with not carrying out their sharecropping commitments (cultivating someone else’s land in exchange for part of the harvest) or petty thievery – which were almost never proven – and were then “hired out” for cotton picking, working in mines and building railroads. From 1870 until 1910 in the state of Georgia, 88% of hired-out convicts were Black. In Alabama, 93% of “hired-out” miners were Black. In Mississippi, a huge prison farm similar to the old slave plantations replaced the system of hiring out convicts. The notorious Parchman plantation existed until 1972.(source)
Vicky Pelaez, a Peruvian journalist and columnist for The Moscow News, points out that dozens of states have legalized the contracting of prison labor to corporations, which include such names as: IMB, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Dell, and many more. Some of these inmates are getting approximately $2 a hour. She also outlines how inmates are commonly imported and exported.
A surprising number of well-known corporations are making a killing off of the prison industrial complex, as you can see below.
The state allows inmates to work for the profit of a private corporation, and Whole Foods is one of many companies that takes advantage, buying fish and cheese produced by prison inmates and paying them a rate of .74 cents a day. They then increase the price of the product astronomically – tilapia raised by inmates, for example, sells for $11.99 a pound at Whole Foods — and enjoy all the profits. (source)
It’s no secret that McDonalds is suffering right now; in a world where people are steadily waking up and moving towards a healthier lifestyle, there is no place for such heavily processed and unethical ‘food.’ Yet despite being the world’s most successful fast-food chain, they still source many of their goods from prisons, including their containers, uniforms, and cutlery. The inmates who sew the uniforms hardly make anything. (source)
Although their company policy expressly outlines that forced labor, as well as prison labour, is unacceptable, a large portion of products sold in their stores have been supplied by third-party prison labor factories. Wal-Mart purchases its products from prison farms, where workers are put through several hours of intense labor, in difficult conditions, without sunscreen, water, or food —not to mention, basically working for free. (source)
Undergarments and casual wear are sewn by female inmates for Victoria’s Secret. In fact, in the late 1990s 2 prisoners were placed in solitary confinement for telling journalists that they were hired to replace “Made in Honduras” garment tags with “Made in U.S.A” tags. (source)
This is a surprising one. When BP spilled several million barrels of oil into the Ocean (Gulf Coast), the company sent a workforce of prison inmates — almost all of them African-American — to handle cleanup, despite there being scores of displaced coastal residents desperate for work. The move sparked considerable outrage, particularly since BP not only saved money by hiring inmates over locals, but also through the significant tax breaks they received as a result. (source)
In 1993 the company laid off thousands of telephone operators, who were all union members, in order to increase their profits. Despite being vocally against prison labour, they went on to hire inmates to work in their call centres, paying them a mere $2 per day. (source)
This is a company that provides food to hospitals, schools, and colleges. They also have a monopoly on food served in approximately 600 prisons. They have a history of poor food service, a problem which led to a prison riot in Kentucky in 2009. (source)
Even though various social, political, and human rights organizations have condemned the United States’ prison system, it remains one of the biggest businesses in existence today. Did you know that America has four percent of the world’s population, yet still carries approximately twenty five percent of the world’s prison population? That is a staggering number. America has the highest incarceration rate in the world and it is increasing exponentially each year. Almost half of American juveniles will have been arrested before they reach their 23rd birthday, and children as young as 13 years old have been sentenced to die in prison. The cost of this system? Approximately $75,000,000,000 a year…
These are just a few startling statistics outlined in the video below. Check it out.
The Secret’s Out! PostSecret: The Show is an emotional experience.
by Erika Thrasher
Two couches. Three stools. One guitar. One spotlight. This is everything that you see on stage at PostSecret: The Show at the Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts Center’s Bank of America Thaetre. Three actors and one musician, who scores the show with his guitar, eventually join the stage. There is not much movement rather than the actors shifting from sitting to standing, and I can say without hesitation this is one of the most powerful and poignant things I have seen onstage.
While waiting for the show to begin the audience is seated, looking at the bare set. A projection screen lights up and the tweets from anyone using the hashtags #postsecretshow or #psrichardson are being live fed to screen. Some are audience members tweeting their excitement and others are secrets that are already being released.
Having interviewed creator Frank Warren a couple weeks ago, I was eager to see the show he described. There are no costume changes, scene changes or set changes, yet none of that was ever needed for this show to serve its intended purpose. There was however an intermission, and thank goodness for that because I don’t think I could have held it together for act two without it. One piece of advice: bring tissues. Lots of them.
Frank had described how close of a community PostSecret was, and that was proved to me when the sweet lady and her husband sitting next said “How long have you been reading PostSecret? I have been up every Sunday checking new postcards for the past 10 years.” They then proceeded to ask if they could buy me a glass of wine, and would not accept any payment. Clearly I was in love with the PostSecret community already.
PostSecret is not just a show, it’s an emotional experience. Just looking around at the diversity of the audience is shocking. At times I held my breath, and at others I began to run out of breath from the sheer laughter that some of the secrets evoked. I laughed and cried and at moments I was in fear. Seeing this show will get you in touch with your full emotional spectrum; I did not know I was capable of experiencing so many different feelings in such a short period.
The show starts off with narration from creator Frank Warren telling a story about a call he received one night while working for the national suicide hotline. The actors create that scene, and they’ve got you hooked from that point on.
This is not just entertainment, but healing. Throughout hearing multiple secrets, you hear the stories of how these people overcame or are overcoming things like mental illness and dealing with autism. The spectrum ranges from funny little anecdotes to downright heartbreaking confessions. Many secrets heard in the second act are from people sitting in the theater. Some of the secrets make you desperately want to seek out the writer and hug them and tell them things will get better. I found myself looking around trying to match a secret to a face, and then I realized that this was an impossible task.
Watching this show truly makes you understand the human connection and gives you insight into basic human decency. I have never felt so close to a group of strangers. Simple, kind gestures are so important, as you never know what people are going through and how your actions towards them could affect them. Sniffles were heard all over the theater.
One of the most important points that can be made about this show is that everyone will have a different experience. There will be no consensus on what was most important or the impact it will have overall, because it is based on what you are going through. Go see it alone, or bring your family or a loved one. You will thank yourself for the rewarding and unique experience.
The motion that Frank Warren and his co-creators T.J. Dawe (also acting), Kahlil Ashanti, and Justin Studds, along with actors Maria Glanz, Kerry Impema and musician Ben Singer, have put forward is such an important contribution to any community. You learn about others and even more importantly, about yourself.
Many people might wonder why I write so much about the cultural experiences of Blackness on The Wild Hunt. Besides this helping to provide a clear understanding of my own Blackness, it is also a subject that is so under-represented within the overculture within modern Paganism and polytheist communities. Even though our circles are becoming more and more reflective of differences than years ago, there is still a huge disconnect in how people of different cultures experience our religious circles, groups, practices, and ancestral connections.
It is especially significant this month when I am attending the yearly pan-Pagan convention of PantheaCon, which happens to be on opening weekend of the groundbreaking movie Black Panther during Black History Month.
In the community celebrations that are so significant to Pagan conventions like PantheaCon, I have come to recognize the importance of speaking power to truth concerning the significant role that my ancestors hold in my connection to spiritual practice and community. It is also important to note the current momentum of activism that has contributed to a strong and relevant shift in culture and the ways that Black and Brown circles are embracing generational power.
For those of us standing in both spaces of community, the relevance has a huge impact.
While Black history is so often trivialized in greater society, the significance of honoring the ancestors that lived and died for freedom is so empowering and necessary. There is a lot to be said for why the contributions of Black people throughout history is often separated from “American” history and how that contributes to the disconnect in our ability to see Black ancestors as part of our Mighty Dead in current Pagan overculture.
However, there isn’t enough time in one article to truly give justice to that entangled web of cultural threads. Yet it is important to make space for the sheer significance of Black History month within the interconnected communities of Paganism and how that very important concept can be pivotal in how we see people of color’s importance in our current community construct.
In previous Wild Hunt article’s we have highlighted some of the magnificent voices of Black people talking about the significance of Black History month in their personal practices and in their lives. In 2015, we looked at the significance of Black History Month from a Pagan perspective. In 2016, we “amplified voices” on the subject.
Part of the incredible story of the ancestors of African decent is the triumph of circumstances that inherently hold a spiritual message of survival, hope, heroism, strength, wisdom, vision, and ego strength. So many of these qualities are ones that we look for to gain or expand in our own walk toward personal sovereignty and self-actualization.
These many threads that come from the power of the African and Black diaspora are ones that gives us many opportunities to grow, learn, and survive in today’s times.
The damage of historical oppression in Black culture means that concepts of ancestral reverence are vastly different than other cultures due to the disruptions of family, traditions, cultures, and connections to native lands that held many of the stories of our people. American chattel slavery was one of the vehicles utilized to disrupt and destroy generations of Black people from being able to access lineage, language, and cultures of familial ties.
Despite the ongoing challenges that Black people experience in trying to identify and connect to ancestral knowledge from a land that we have been disconnected from, our ancestors reached far beyond the stories of Africa and onto the shores of America drenched in blood. The complications of celebrating Black history and ancestral reverence becomes an important piece to seeing how Black people conceptualize ideals of family, pride, community, and spirituality.
In reflection of these very complexities, I took the time to think through some of the Black figures of history and those of my own personal lineage to honor the month of Black history beyond the commercials and yearly television specials. I decided to hold space for four Black woman this year, all of whom hold some of the many pieces of power that makes our history a part of our spiritual lessons.
From my family’s home town of Abbeville, Alabama, Recy Taylor was 24 years old when she was abducted and raped by 6 white men on her way home from church. Despite admission of guilt by at least one of the 6 men involved, the NAACP had to put pressure on local officials to seek criminal charges against the men.
They sent a young Rosa Parks into the community on behalf of the NAACP; this is often referred to as one of the defining moments that sparked the civil rights movement. The men who victimized Recy were never successfully tried for the crimes they committed. Recy finally got some recognition for the pain experienced in 2011 when she was given apologies from the mayor, county, and state government officials.
Recy, who passed away in December 2017, exemplified the shear concept of survival and perseverance through the worst of circumstances, isolation, and ignorance. She showed her community the power of strength and recovery despite the external forces of racism and harm.
Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha was an African American trans woman that fiercely advocated for the rights of trans women of color. She was steadfast in her actions, working on behalf of LGTBQ rights. Marsha was one of the main activists that helped to ignite the movement that became Stonewall in 1969.
She went on to do amazing things within the community, including being a co-founder of the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) where she worked to support a wide variety of needs among the LGTBQ community. In July 1992, Marsha was tragically killed. However, through her fight for life, she exemplified the necessity of speaking truth to power despite the continuously silencing pressures of society.
Often ignored in historical accounts of the times, Marsha’s story continues to demonstrate that, when you work for the good of other maginalized people, one’s contributions cannot be white-washed in society despite the best efforts. Her fierce and unrelenting Black womanhood will stand the test of times as one of the pioneers of civil rights and an extension of love in action.
Fannie Lou Hamer
Civil rights organizer, voting rights activist, and community organizer are just a few of the titles that Fannie Lou Hamer held in her 59 years of life. As one of the organizers of Freedom Summer, co-founder and vice-chair of the Freedom Democratic Party, and co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus, she was one of the movers and shakers of the liberation movement during the Civil Rights.
Fannie was most known for her speech at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. It was in her testimony that she talked about being arrested and beaten severely after attending a voting workshop. The incident left her with kidney damage, a limp, and damage eye.
“All of this is on account of we want to register, to become first-class citizens,” she said. “And if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?”
Fannie Lou Hamer died in 1977 from cancer at the age of 59. She electrified her audience with the sheer weight of her experience, passion, and dedication to the human rights of Black people.
Iconic, majestic, beautiful and talented Billy Holiday is one of the most brilliant Black entertainers in history. Through a traumatic childhood and an adulthood filled with turmoil and sadness, Billy Holiday was still able to create some of the most memorable songs in music. Her career spanned 30 years, starting as a teenager in local clubs. After falling victim to abusive relationships, drugs, and alcohol, Billy’s career and voice began to fizzle. She died in July 1959 from Cirrhosis of the liver.
In 1972, Lady Sings the Blues, a movie about her life, was released and has since become a classic. A year later, in 1973, she was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Despite the ongoing tragedies and experiences of her life, Billy was able to gain even more recognition for her work after death and exemplifies the power of redemption. She continues to show us that, regardless of talent and beauty, our powers are limited when we do not care for ourselves as needed.
The lessons we learn from our connection to ancestors are vast and ever changing. There is so much to explore and so much that we will never be able to conceptualize within the limitations of our own humanity, but seeking ongoing connections to the lessons of our people are always necessary.
The significance of celebrations like Black History Month will always have a different importance to different people inside and outside of the Black community. Opening a dialogue about how the Pagan community can make space for the ancestors of Black people can add to the ever growing understanding of the Mighty Dead in general.
I was recently able to offer devotional that honors the ancestors of Black History Month for Solar Cross Temple’s newsletter. I share this devotional here for those who are looking for ways to honor, hold space, acknowledge, and celebrate the contributions of Black people during February, this month of power.
In Remembrance during Black History Month
By Crystal Blanton
Standing in the present, on the ground of history, I hold the significance of this time in my heart and my mind.
To be a part of the change and our future, I acknowledge the size of the step before me, and shine a light to see the path forward.
As my past is as important as my future, the ancestors are as relevant to my story as my children will be.
I light this candle in remembrance of the souls that died in physical, spiritual, social and mental pain….
I light this candle in remembrance of the children who watched the horror of slavery become their future.
I light this candle for the Black women who were taken again and again.
I light this candle for the Black men that were broken time after time.
I light this candle for the generations of Black people that have carried this pain in their psyche, a part of their unconscious schema.
I light the candle for those who fought and died before tasting freedom.
I light this candle for those who STILL fight.
I light this candle for all that experience the horror of history manifest throughout time, and through generations.
I light this candle for the awakening of all people who are fighting today for our collective liberation.
I light this candle for the Black who are fighting through a whitewashed world to find the root of their souls.
I light this candle to honor the beauty, sacrifice, contributions, culture, love and joy of the Black people throughout time and space.
I light this candle for JUSTICE.
I light this candle for TRUTH
I like this candle for liberation.
I light this candle for the revolutionary then and now.
I light this candle for them.
I light this candle for you.
I light this candle for our children.
I light this candle for me.
I light this candle for healing.
And so it is… and it shall be.
ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE
So mote it be
May we all continue to expand our ability to honor the people in history who have contributed to the liberation of power, equality, and love throughout time and space. Through these connections may we experience a change to heal ourselves, our futures and our pasts individually, as a community, and as a society.
As we honor the ancestors of our fellow and past communities within every convention and space, we should truly consider the impact of the celebration of those ancestors of the African diaspora and their contribution to the liberation of all people.