Saturday, October 10, 2009

An Inmate's View Of Federal Prison

As I have written before, we live and function in an official economy which is run by a very small group of very rich people. Their goal is the continued growth of their profits; yet because of emerging constraints on the earth's natural resources, the rich can no longer grow their profits by unlimited industrial expansion. Increasingly, the only way for the rich to maintain or grow their profits is by robbing the poor.

One way of robbing the poor is by depriving them of their liberty and turning them into extremely cheap slave labor. I discussed this in an earlier post, The Replacement of Petroleum Slaves, which described how the state and Federal prison systems of the United States were being turned into a pool of slave labor with the potential to replace cheap foreign labor for industry in the event of a breakdown of globalism. In this present post, I will expand a bit on that theme, based on some confirming information I received relatively recently.

Several weeks ago I was introduced to a person who had been incarcerated in a Federal prison in the American Southwest around decade ago. I had heard something of his background before we met, and I also had an extensive body of knowledge regarding the prison-industrial complex in various American state prison systems. I wanted to see if my conclusions also applied to the Federal system, so we did an interview.

He told me that there is most definitely a “prison industry” at the Federal level, named UNICOR, also known as Federal Prison Industries. UNICOR is a “wholly owned government corporation created in 1934,” shortly after the creation of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. (Source: Federal Prison Industries, Inc. - Wikipedia) UNICOR produces goods and services from the labor of inmates of the United States Federal Bureau of Prisons. According to Federal law, UNICOR is ostensibly restricted to selling its products and services to Federal government agencies, and cannot sell to the commercial market. (More on that later.)

UNICOR produces many products, including clothing, textiles, electronics, and office furniture. My former inmate acquaintance mentioned that UNICOR's labor rates were cheaper than Chinese labor, and said that back when he was in prison, an inmate earned between 11 cents and 26 cents an hour. He also informed me that UNICOR is publicly traded – thus capable of being influenced by the profit motive.

This profit motive, and the opportunity to use the Federal prison system as an instrument of private profit, has had a predictable effect: Federal prisons try as hard as possible to find excuses to keep inmates imprisoned for as long as possible, since all able-bodied inmates who are not security risks are required to work in prison, either for UNICOR or to support prison operations. Also, according to this former inmate, many people sent to Federal prison are framed, including a highly disproportionate number of minorities. Those who are framed are easy for the other inmates to spot, because in conversation it soon becomes obvious that these people do not know how to commit a crime. Native Americans accused of crimes are predominantly judged under Federal law which is much harsher than state laws, and leads to much harsher sentences.

According to my interviewee, prisoners working for UNICOR are not provided with many of the worker safeguards common in private industry. He told me of times where he and other inmates had to dispose of or recycle old electric power transformers containing PCB's, without any protective clothing or safety measures. (By the way, this statement about inadequate worker safety is corroborated by other sources, such as “UNICOR Continues To Use Prisoners To Recycle Electronics,” The Real Cost Of Prisons Weblog, 20 April 2009; and “Prisoners and Workers Poisoned By Prison Recycling at UNICOR Are Suing,” The Real Cost Of Prisons Weblog, 11 August 2009.)

As for prison culture, my interviewee told me that gangs are largely in control at the various prison units, except for the maximum security units. However, the prison guards regularly try to instigate trouble between prison gangs. We discussed the impact of prison culture on the broader American culture. At this point, the interviewee was joined by his spouse, who talked about how with many people from minority neighborhoods being singled out for lockup, the culture and families in these neighborhoods were being ruined. Children in these neighborhoods were now being conditioned to grow up as criminals, due to corrupt and excessive application of police “enforcement” in the places where these children live.

This led to a discussion of ways in which minority culture could be repaired in the United States. My interviewee had two immediate suggestions: first, get rid of mandatory sentencing laws for non-violent crimes; and second, stop the American “war on drugs” as it is now being waged. The interviewee's spouse had suggestions for how concerned and caring volunteers could go into minority neighborhoods to provide exposure to opportunities for learning that would not otherwise be available.

For me, this interview was yet another confirmation of the deliberate breaking of poor neighborhoods and minority communities by the dominant holders of power and wealth in the U.S. It was also a confirmation of the corroding, corrupting nature and effect of growth capitalism. Truly, “the love of money is root of all the evils.” (1 Timothy 6:10) In research that I did following this interview, I found more information on UNICOR's status as a publicly traded company, as well as the efforts of state prison systems to imitate UNICOR. Here are some links:

One last note. We live in a time of severe economic distress, with falling tax revenues at the State and Federal levels, and states that are unable to balance their budgets. Yet you can just bet that next year, in states where the private prison industry or the prison-industrial complex has gained a foothold, there will be lobbyists pushing for an expansion of harsh mandatory sentencing laws for non-violent crimes – even though there's no longer any money to enforce such laws. I think of the mess these people have already made in California, or of the mess that people like Bill Sizemore and Kevin Mannix would like to make in Oregon.


Antinomian said...

One need not travel to China to find indigenous cultures lacking human rights or to Cuba for political prisoners. America leads the world in percentile behind bars, thanks to ongoing persecution of hippies, radicals, and non-whites under prosecution of the war on drugs. If we’re all about spreading liberty abroad, then why mix the message at home? Peace on the home front would enhance global credibility.

The drug czar’s Rx for prison fodder costs dearly, as life is flushed down expensive tubes. My shaman’s second opinion is that psychoactive plants are God’s gift. Behold, it’s all good. Canadian Marc Emery sold seeds that enable American farmers to outcompete cartels with superior local herb. He’s being extradited to prison, for doing what government can’t do, reduce U.S. demand for Mexican.

Only on the authority of a clause about interstate commerce does the CSA (Controlled Substances Act of 1970) reincarnate Al Capone, endanger homeland security, and throw good money after bad. Administration fiscal policy burns tax dollars to root out the number-one cash crop in the land, instead of taxing sales. America rejected the plague of prohibition, but it mutated. Apparently, SWAT teams don’t need no stinking amendment. Father, forgive those who make it their business to know not what they do.

Nixon passed the CSA on the assurance that the Schafer Commission would justify criminalizing his enemies, but it didn’t. No amendments can assure due process under an anti-science law without due process itself. Psychology hailed the breakthrough potential of LSD, until the CSA shut down research and pronounced that marijuana has no medical use, period. Drug juries don’t seat bleeding hearts.

The RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993) allows Native American Church members to eat peyote, which functions like LSD. Americans shouldn’t need a specific church membership or an act of Congress to obtain their birthright freedom of religion. John Doe’s free exercise of religious liberty may include entheogen sacraments to mediate communion with his maker.

Freedom of speech presupposes freedom of thought. The Constitution doesn’t enumerate any governmental power to embargo diverse states of mind. How and when did government usurp this power to coerce conformity? The Mayflower sailed to escape coerced conformity. Legislators who would limit cognitive liberty lack jurisdiction.

Common-law must hold that adults are the legal owners of their own bodies. The Founding Fathers undersigned that the right to the pursuit of happiness is inalienable. Socrates said to know your self. Mortal lawmakers should not presume to thwart the intelligent design that molecular keys unlock spiritual doors. Persons who appreciate their own free choice of path in life should tolerate seekers’ self-exploration.

TH in SoC said...

Antinomian, your comment illustrates a point of view held by many in America today. However, I must disagree. The reason why I am against the American war on drugs is not because I think psychoactive drug use should be condoned, but because I think the "War on Drugs" has been turned into a pretext to destroy minority neighborhoods.

With the present people in power in America and the present mindset of these people, I am afraid that if 'recreational' drug use was legalized in the United States, those in power would try as hard as possible to get as many minority people hooked as possible. This in turn would also destroy minority communities, making their residents incapable of taking care of themselves, of becoming self-sufficient or of advancing their economic status.

There is abundant historical precedent for this fear of mine. Two cases come to mind immediately: the pushing of drugs onto the black community by the CIA as part of the effort to finance the Nicaraguan Contras in the 1980's, and the pushing of opium onto the Chinese population by the British empire during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Addictive drug use is evil and self-destructive.