“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with the proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free…” When Major General Gordon Granger issued the order above in Galveston on June 19th 1865, the Executive- President Lincoln was already assassinated but there was no twitter hashtag trending on their smart phones to let them know. Thus June 19th has become the most distinguished day on the American calendar that acknowledges the partial abolition of slavery.
When i speak of the partial abolition of slavery, i speak to the language of the 13th Amendment which actually legalizes slavery for those “duly convicted” of a crime.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Things become questionably murky in American juris prudence when we examine the word “duly”. Duly: accordingly, properly, correctly- When we examine the statistics of the largest prison population in the world, we unmask disproportionately populations of people of color, the poor, and the less educated. Words like, accordingly, properly and correctly no longer seem to apply to Americas prison population— in fact when we examine prison statistics of the 21st century we suddenly time travel to a period predating the partial abolition of slavery. Tragically the forced labor of chattel slavery has been collectively transmuted, reorganized and assigned to those duly convicted of a crime in contemporary, profit-driven America.
Recently I had the privilege of joining the book club inside Oregon’s maximum security prison (OSP). The book club is organized by the prisoners and supported by various student organizations at University of Oregon, Eugene. Entering the prison was identical to my experiences in Louisiana (mostly) hardened guards with truncated patience and weathered faces who hate their jobs as much as prisoners hate the system. The same set of metal detectors, X-ray machines, background checks and most notably, the same mechanically operated prison gates that i have seen in every prison i have visited which really drove home the concept of “Prison INDUSTRIAL Complex”.
Prison gates are not like fashion, to the best of my knowledge you don’t go to the black market to build them, although you go to the Black market to fill them. So seeing the bars, poorly painted and automated by an invisible system in Angola, Elayn Hunt, David Wade, OPP, Maine State and now- OSP really drove home how interconnected the economics of prison are. My experience at OSP drove home the principle value of those duly convicted, and what they are contributing to the economic blue print of the United States. Similar to every system of punishment and control i have been privy to there is a profound beauty of resistance in the population of OSP. Men, (in this case) who are educated on the politics of incarceration- who deeply understand the history and economic structure of US prisons, who are articulate and kind, find solidarity amongst each other. These men have used their time to transform their existence and their relationship to the world— with so much to offer experientially most of these human beings are serving life sentences with out the possibility of parole- permanently filling the quotas for those duly convicted, these men are permanently relegated to involuntary servitude despite their personal metamorphosis.
The book club at OSP is reading Are Prisons Obsolete, by Angela Davis-a seminal book in my personal understanding of the Prison Industrial Complex. Its a book that positions the possibility of an American landscape with out prisons— a conversation more commonly known as Prison Abolition. As a gift for Juneteenth I ask that you pick up a copy of Are Prisons Obsolete, engage in the greater conversation about alternatives to punishment and continue questioning the landscape of your own environment. I truly believe that only until prisons and cruel and unusual punishment like solitary confinement are no longer the default solution for poverty, addiction and mental illness can we celebrate the abolition of slavery.— And, when that happens I will surely tweet General Granger and let him know!
May all beings have equal access to land, bread water, housing, education, healthcare, technology, and end to police brutality an end to foreign wars of oppression. May all beings be seen equal in the eyes of the law and the minds and hearts of each other.
Power to the People