Prison Industrial Complex

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This article has a lot of good things to say: Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex, Color Lines by Angela Y. Davis (09/10/1998)

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Prisons thus perform a feat of magic. Or rather the people who continually vote in new prison bonds and tacitly assent to a proliferating network of prisons and jails have been tricked into believing in the magic of imprisonment. But prisons do not disappear problems, they disappear human beings. And the practice of disappearing vast numbers of people from poor, immigrant, and racially marginalized communities has literally become big business.

Many corporations whose products we consume on a daily basis have learned that prison labor power can be as profitable as third world labor power exploited by U.S.-based global corporations. Both relegate formerly unionized workers to joblessness and many even wind up in prison. Some of the companies that use prison labor are IBM, Motorola, Compaq, Texas Instruments, Honeywell, Microsoft, and Boeing. But it is not only the hi-tech industries that reap the profits of prison labor. Nordstrom department stores sell jeans that are marketed as “Prison Blues,” as well as t-shirts and jackets made in Oregon prisons. The advertising slogan for these clothes is “made on the inside to be worn on the outside.” Maryland prisoners inspect glass bottles and jars used by Revlon and Pierre Cardin, and schools throughout the world buy graduation caps and gowns made by South Carolina prisoners.

My Immigrant Ancestors: History and Genealogy

Last Sunday I posted the last of my Immigrant Ancestors. Every individual who left their home country to live in the United States has been documented (to the best of my knowledge).

While researching the finer details and filling in gaps of information (to the best of my ability) through Ancestry.com I noticed an interesting trend – my French Canadian/Creole ancestors all left Canada in the late 1800s. Some left with children and babies, which was no small matter during that time. Many settled down in French Canadian/Creole communities with similarly recent French Canadian immigrants, some of whom were blood relation. This made me wonder what, exactly, was happening in Canada during the following years: 1864, 1865, 1869, 1871, 1873. Why were so many people risking everything and moving their entire families into the United States?

A bit of online research led me to resources that clearly differentiate this period from the Great Expulsion that occurred between 1700-1750.

I am a product of the American public school system, which is not known for its lessons in either geography or history (or any other number of topics, depending on where in the USA one might be living). Therefore, I was very surprised to learn that the Great Expulsion occurred at all!

Here are a few details from the history books…

Great Expulsion (1700-1750)

The British wanted to control Canada and the United States. (In the United States this same period of time is known as the French and English war, the Seven Year War, and/or the French and Indian War.) When they managed to secure control of the eastern edge of Canada they proceeded to forcibly remove all French, French-speaking and Acadian people. This mass forced migration adversely affected large numbers of European, Native Canadian (first nations) and Metis/Creole (mixed) people. The following TheCanadianEncyclopedia.ca quote sums up this terrible event:

“Of some 3,100 Acadians deported after the fall of Louisbourg in 1758, an estimated 1,649 died by drowning or disease, a fatality rate of 53 percent.

Between 1755 and 1763, approximately 10,000 Acadians were deported. They were shipped to many points around the Atlantic. Large numbers were landed in the English colonies, others in France or the Caribbean. Thousands died of disease or starvation in the squalid conditions on board ship. To make matters worse, the inhabitants of the English colonies, who had not been informed of the imminent arrival of disease-ridden refugees, were furious. Many Acadians were forced, like the legendary Evangeline of Longfellow’s poem, to wander interminably in search of loved ones or a home.”

As I read about the Great Expulsion, I couldn’t help but compare it to the forced removal of Native Americans from the southern United States. The following History.com quote about the Trail of Tears makes for a sadly (disturbingly) similar story:

“At the beginning of the 1830s, nearly 125,000 Native Americans lived on millions of acres of land in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Florida–land their ancestors had occupied and cultivated for generations. By the end of the decade, very few natives remained anywhere in the southeastern United States. Working on behalf of white settlers who wanted to grow cotton on the Indians’ land, the federal government forced them to leave their homelands and walk thousands of miles to a specially designated “Indian territory” across the Mississippi River. This difficult and sometimes deadly journey is known as the Trail of Tears.”

Economics, Community, and Religion (1850-1900)

As for the late 1800s, the reasons for migration were more complicated. The Metis/Creole,  French-speaking and Catholic communities were not treated well under the British government. The opportunities for securing land, running a farm or business and/or getting a job were limited at best. People left Canada looking for better wages in the United States and settled in this country with full intention of returning to Canada. Many sent money back to families while living here. Most chose to remain after spending a few years in (comparative) financial security.

In other words, they were financial refugees – not unlike the current financial refugees entering the United States from South American countries (and other places around the globe).

Politics of Settlement

Another key historic event is the removal of Native Americans from the Midwest (during the mid-1800s, this was considered ‘the west’). The US government was aggressively recruiting European people to move into the frontier regions, with the full intention of keeping…and continuing to take…lands from their former inhabitants. Light-skinned French-speaking Canadians were considered to be white European, which meant the opportunities for economic security were greater in the USA than in Canada.

Conclusion?

Personally, I have taken two key lessons from all of this:

  1. Genealogy makes for an excellent history lesson. Being able to connect historic events to the experiences of your ancestors has a way of turning boring and seemingly irrelevant facts into something very personal and (therefore) interesting.
  2. The more things change, the more they stay the same – and/or those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

The Culture of Complicity

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“But I think there is something deeper going on here, and it turns on the very nature of bureaucratic systems. Such institutions always create a culture of complicity. It’s not just that some people get to break the rules—it’s that loyalty to the organization is to some degree measured by one’s willingness to pretend this isn’t happening.”

“Career advancement is not based on merit, and not even based necessarily on being someone’s cousin; above all, it’s based on a willingness to play along with the fiction that career advancement is based on merit, even though everyone knows this not to be true. Or with the fiction that rules and regulations apply to everyone equally, when, in fact, they are often deployed as a means for entirely arbitrary personal power.”

The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy by David Graeber

Burden of Convenience

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“It’s not that I abhor convenience. It’s that I feel slathered in it. It no longer feels like a privilege, but like a burden…”

Animal, Mineral, Radical: Essays on Wildlife, Family, and Food by BK Loren

Misery of Poverty

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There is only one class in the community that thinks more about money than the rich, and that is the poor.  The poor can think of nothing else.  That is the misery of being poor.

The Soul of Man Under Socialism by Oscar Wilde (Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wild)

Higher Education and the Caste System

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“As anyone who has been to graduate school knows, it’s precisely the children of the professional-managerial classes, those whose family resources make them the least in need of financial support, who best know how to navigate the world of paperwork that enables them to get said support. For everyone else, the main result of one’s years of professional training is to ensure that one is saddled with such an enormous burden of student debt that a substantial chunk of any subsequent income one will get from pursuing that profession will henceforth be siphoned off, each month, by the financial sector.”

The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy by David Graeber

The Iron Law of Liberalism

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“This apparent paradox—that government policies intending to reduce government interference in the economy actually end up producing more regulations, more bureaucrats, and more police—can be observed so regularly that I think we are justified in treating it as a general sociological law. I propose to call it “the iron law of liberalism”: The Iron Law of Liberalism states that any market reform, any government initiative intended to reduce red tape and promote market forces will have the ultimate effect of increasing the total number of regulations, the total amount of paperwork, and the total number of bureaucrats the government employs.”

The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy by David Graeber

Name Needed for System of Regulatory Abuse

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“This process—the gradual fusion of public and private power into a single entity, rife with rules and regulations whose ultimate purpose is to extract wealth in the form of profits—does not yet have a name. That in itself is significant. These things can happen largely because we lack a way to talk about them.”

The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy by David Graeber

Proper Objectives

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The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible.”

The Soul of Man Under Socialism by Oscar Wilde (Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wild)

Desperation and Obedience

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… there are a great many people who, having no private property of their own, and being always on the brink of sheer starvation, are compelled to do the work of beasts of burden, to do work that is quite uncongenial to them, and to which they are forced by the peremptory, unreasonable, degrading Tyranny of want.  These are the poor, and amongst them there is no grace of manner, or charm of speech, or civilization, or culture, or refinement in pleasures, or joy of life.  From their collective force Humanity gains much in material prosperity.  But it is only the material result that it gains, and the man who is poor is in himself absolutely of no importance.  He is merely the infinitesimal atom of a force that, so far from regarding him, crushes him: indeed, prefers him crushed, as in that case he is far more obedient.”

The Soul of Man Under Socialism by Oscar Wilde (Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wild)