Thought slavery ended in america in the 1800's? Think again. The prison industrial complex has cleverly turned their inmates into slaves with the lie that they are learning a skill for when they leave. Yeah right. I know slavery when i see it and we arrest far too many people in this country for almost nothing. This system needs new customers you see because it is privatizing. And private industry needs profit. They get paid by the farmers who's crops these slaves work on. They get paid by tax payers. but only if they keep up the inmate population by keeping draconian laws on the books like prison for a joint of pot. or a gram of coke. riduculous reasons for locking humans in cages. Our prisons should be saved for real criminals who are hurting others. not for people who like to get high.
On an expanse of 18,000 acres of farmland, 59 miles northwest of Baton Rouge, long rows of men, mostly African-American, till the fields under the hot Louisiana sun. The men pick cotton, wheat, soybeans and corn. They work for pennies, literally. Armed guards, mostly white, ride up and down the rows on horseback, keeping watch. At the end of a long workweek, a bad disciplinary report from a guard - whether true or false - could mean a weekend toiling in the fields. The farm is called Angola, after the homeland of the slaves who first worked its soil.
This scene is not a glimpse of plantation days long gone by. It's the present-day reality of thousands of prisoners at the maximum security Louisiana State Penitentiary, otherwise known as Angola. The block of land on which the prison sits is a composite of several slave plantations, bought up in the decades following the Civil War. Acre-wise, it is the largest prison in the United States. Eighty percent of its prisoners are African-American.
"Angola is disturbing every time I go there," Tory Pegram, who coordinates the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3, told Truthout. "It's not even really a metaphor for slavery. Slavery is what's going on."
Mwalimu Johnson, who spent 15 years as a prisoner at the penitentiary and now works as executive secretary of the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana, concurred.
"I would truthfully say that Angola prison is a sophisticated plantation," Johnson told Truthout. "'Cotton is King' still applies when it come to Angola."
Angola is not alone. Sixteen percent of Louisiana prisoners are compelled to perform farm labor, as are 17 percent of Texas prisoners and a full 40 percent of Arkansas prisoners, according to the 2002 Corrections Yearbook, compiled by the Criminal Justice Institute. They are paid little to nothing for planting and picking the same crops harvested by slaves 150 years ago.
On land previously occupied by a slave plantation, Louisiana prisoners pick cotton, earning 4 cents an hour. (Photo: Louisiana State Penitentiary)
Many prison farms, Angola included, have gruesome post-bellum histories. In the 1950s, '60s and '70s, Angola made news with a host of assaults - and killings - of inmates by guards. In 1952, a group of Angola prisoners found their work conditions so oppressive that they resorted to cutting their Achilles' tendons in protest. At Mississippi's Parchman Farm, another plantation-to-prison convert, prisoners were routinely subjected to near-death whippings and even shootings for the first half of the 20th century. Cummins Farm, in Arkansas, sported a "prison hospital" that doubled as a torture chamber until a federal investigation exposed it in 1970. And Texas's Jester State Prison Farm, formerly Harlem Prison Farm, garnered its claim to fame from eight prisoners who suffocated to death after being sealed into a tiny cell and abandoned by guards.
t r u t h o u t | Slavery Haunts America's Plantation Prisons