Slavery and Mass Incarceration
The institution of slavery dates back before written records. The term slave was originally a derivative from the historical French and Latin medieval word for Slavic people of central and Eastern Europe. [ (wikipedia, 2010) ] In North America, the class system is systematically at the root of every socioeconomic and political issue resulting in Super companies, multibillionaires and the formation of lobbyists and special interest groups; there always has and always will be the have and have-nots. Unfortunately, for African Americans who have historically been the have-nots, that does not seem to have changed as evidenced by recent events like the Jenna 6. African Americans have a history uniquely intertwined with American civilization. Concerning chattel slavery in America, Blacks are still living through remnants of it redesigned to reflect a modern day perspective. An unknown author wrote if we are not careful history will repeat itself. This is true regarding the Prison Industrial Complex. After the Emancipation Proclamation, very few slaves were free, only those slaves in states or territories under rebellion were freed. [ (PBS) ] After the south fell to the north at the end of the civil war all blacks were free from chattel slavery as it existed before the war but a new slavery quickly took its place. Black Codes and vagrancy laws took the place of slavery in the south after the civil war. Black codes were based upon black labor or the lack there of. Vagrancy laws were black crimes punishable by forced labor, in short, any behavior deemed inappropriate by whites. Any white person could enforce these laws, these laws transformed into criminalization that led to legal segregation. During the introduction to my Race and Incarceration class, I learned that prior to the abolition of slavery 99% of Alabama prison population was white. After the black codes, the majority became Black. According to Wikipedia, whites make up only 30% of today’s prison population. This can be attributed to modern day Vagrancy laws and Black codes such as disenfranchisement laws, three strikes, and other disparities of the war on drugs. For many slaves Christianity was a consolation from the torment and anguish of oppression. This would later be used against them rather than in their favor. Slavery in the Bible is sanctioned as an established institution. The very book that promised deliverance also encouraged servitude. Initially blacks were forbidden from even learning Christianity, especially reading the Bible. Slave owners feared the Bible would be misinterpreted as assuring equality for all. Christianity was used against them to keep order and rebellions down by appealing to their spirituality. [ (Frederick Douglass Introduction and Background on American Slavery) ] In Harriett Jacobs’s book, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, she tells of how the slave masters would put on a show for clergyman visiting the south for the first time and the clergyman despite having some thought that slavery was wrong playing right along with the slaveholder and the slaves themselves. The clergyman runs and tells the abolitionists in the north that it is not all that bad in the south, the slaves are fine, they are receiving spiritual guidance and actually do not want to be free. She calls it a patriarchal institution”. (Jacobs, 2004) In the documentary The Farm Angola where the warden personally takes a paternalistic approach to the reformation of prisoners under his care as well as with the overall day-to-day operation of the former slave plantation this is demonstrated more clearly. The warden, Burl Cain is similar to the clergyman in Jacob’s analogy. He reduced inmate on inmate violence and expanded the Bible College. He states, “We can teach them the skills and trade, read, write and all that, but we just made a smarter criminal unless we have a moral component with it”. “We should live free as...
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