Editorial: New Millennium Slavery

by shawnna d. and the Fire Inside Editorial Collective
Just as newly freed Africans were convicted of minor offenses and then used as cheap (free) labor for industrial capitalists, poor people and people of color are similarly targeted and incarcerated at disproportionate rates today. Once incarcerated, California prison laborers are paid almost nothing for their labor. In addition they are regularly exposed to extreme weather conditions, abusive supervisors, and unsafe work environments.
Over the past two decades incarceration has become one of America?s top growth industries?an industry replete with Wall Street investors, trade exhibitions, conventions, and scholarly journals. Most prisoners work in running the prisons: as clerks, porters, or kitchen and yard workers and earn nothing or as little as 8 cents an hour.
Prison Industry Authority (PIA), the state agency that operates California?s prison industries, employs approximately 6,000 California prisoners and provides over 60 types of goods and services. Prisoners working for PIA make dentures, glasses, American flags, clothing, and office furniture used by state institutions. They earn from 30 to 95 cents per hour.
A few work for Joint Ventures?a collaboration between California prisons and private corporations which utilize prison labor?and they earn the ?prevailing wages.? These prisoners are required to pay toward their room and board, restitution, and mandatory savings. Only a small portion can be used for purchasing needed items from canteen. The corporations earn huge profits. Allwire Electronics operating out of CCWF reports $10-15 million in annual sales, yet pays most prisoner laborers a minimum wage.
The job skills acquired by those participating in prison labor programs, for the most part, are not marketable in today?s workplace. Prisoners working for PIA are using obsolete equipment and outdated techniques. Those few who do acquire a marketable skill, may still not get a job because of the stigma of being a former prisoner.
Although prisoner work assignments are supposed to be voluntary, prisoners who either refuse or are unable to work suffer significant consequences: they can be out of their cells for only 2 hours per day, they are allowed to spend a maximum of $35, they are ineligible to earn half-time credit.
Workplace injuries are common. Yet neither PIA nor Joint Ventures provide any insurance. If a prisoner insists on receiving medical attention, she will risk possible retaliation from CO?s and free world staff.
A history of prison labor
Prior to the emancipation of the enslaved African, penal institutions were to rehabilitate criminal offenders based on a belief that the offender could be reformed. At the close of the American Civil War, the purpose changed from rehabilitation to providing a virtually free labor source for capital. Emancipation of the slaves created a demand for cheap labor.
The link between slavery and incarceration is clear. Article thirteen of the U. S. Constitution states: ?Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist in the United States?.? Thus, today?s penitentiary is nothing more than a new millennium plantation and prison laborers are the new millennium slaves.
The ever-increasing incarceration rates could be reduced by investing in programs that prevent incarceration as well as those which promote successful re-entry to society. Shockingly, California spends over $30,000 per capita for incarceration and less than $6,000 per student for education. The average level of education for California?s prison population is 7th grade.
CDCR?s premise for prison labor is “to reduce prisoner idleness and violence, and increase successful re-entry for prisoners.” The reality is that in California, on any given day, the number of parole violators can easily exceed that of new commitments, which speaks to the failure of that goal and shows the ways poor people and people of color are targeted under America?s newest form of enslavement. The prison system remains complicit in this evolving form of new millennium slavery.

Editorial: La Esclavitud del Nuevo Milenio

por: shawnna d. y el Colectivo Editorial Fire Inside
Así como los Africanos liberados fueron convictos por delitos y luego usados como mano de obra barata (gratuita) para la industria del capitalismo, hoy la gente pobre y la gente de color son igualmente el blanco para ser encarcelada en cantidades desproporcionadas. Una vez encarceladas, prisioneros en las cárceles de California trabajan y no reciben casi nada por su labor. Se suma a esto que regularmente son expuestos a condiciones extremas del clima, supervisores abusivos, y un ambiente de trabajo muy inseguro.
Durante las dos pasadas décadas el encarcelamiento ha sido uno de las principales industrias crecientes de Estados Unidos. Una industria repleta con inversionistas de Wall Street, exhibiciones de comercio, convenciones y de publicaciones académicas. Muchos de los prisioneros hacen trabajo para que las prisiones funcionen: tales como empleados, cargadores, y trabajos de la cocina y de áreas verdes por lo cual no ganan nada, tan solo 8 centavos por hora.
La Autoridad de Industria de Prisiones /Prison Industry Authority (PIA), la cual es una agencia que opera las industrias de prisiones en California, emplean aproximadamente 6,000 prisioneros de California y proveen mas de 60 tipos de productos y servicios. Prisioneros que trabajan para la PIA hacen dentaduras, lentes, banderas de Estados Unidos, ropa, y muebles de oficina que son usados por instituciones del estado. Ellos ganan de 30 a 95 centavos por hora.
Parte del trabajo para Joint Ventures- una colaboración entre las Prisiones de California y corporaciones privadas las cuales utilizan la mano de obra de los prisioneros-y ellos asu vez ganan los ?salarios imperantes.? Estos prisioneros son requeridos de pagar su cuarto y su tablero, la restitución y a hacer ahorros obligatorios. Solo una pequeña porción del dinero puede ser usada para comprar cosas necesarias de la cantina. Las corporaciones ganan enormes sumas de dinero. Las operaciones de Allwire Electronics para el CCWF reporta ventas de 15 millones anuales, aun pagando a los prisioneros por su labor un salario mínimo.
Las habilidades del trabajo aprendidas por aquellos que participan en los programas laborales, para la gran mayoría no son de fácil venta en la actualidad en los lugares de trabajo. Los prisioneros que trabajan para PIA usan equipo obsoleto y técnicas desactualizadas. Aquellos pocos que aprenden habilidades vendibles, puede que todavía no puedan conseguir un trabajo por el stigma de ser un ex – prisionero.
Aunque el trabajo asignado a los prisoneros es supuestamente trabajo voluntario, los prisioneros que se oponen o se resisten a realizarlo sufren graves consecuencias: ellos pueden estar fuera de su celda solamente por 2 horas al día, ellos solamente están permitidos de gastar un máximo de $35 dolares, ellos son inelegibles para tener un crédito de medio tiempo.
Las lastimaduras y daños en el lugar de trabajo son muy comunes. Ni PIA ni Joint Venture provee ningún tipo de aseguransa. Si algún prisionero insiste en recibir atención médica, arriesgará su posible relación de CO?s y con el mundo afuera.
Un poco de historia del trabajo en las prisión
Antes de la emancipación de los esclavos africanos, las instituciones penales fueron creadas para rehabilitar criminales basados en la creencia de que el ofensor podría ser reformado. Al termino de la Guerra Civil en Estados Unidos, el propósito cambió de la rehabilitación a proveer una fuente virtual libre para el capital. La emancipación de los esclavos creo una demanda para la mano de obra barata.
El vínculo entre la esclavitud y el encarcelamiento es totalmente claro. El artículo 13 de la Constitución de los Estados Unidos: ?Ni la esclavitud ni la servidumbre involuntaria, excepto como castigo por un crimen donde la parte tendrá que ser debidamente convicto, existirá en los Estados Unidos…? De esta manera, las penitencierias de hoy en día no son nada más que una plantación del Nuevo Milenio y los que trabajan en ella son los nuevos esclavos.
Las cifras en aumento de los encarcelamientos podrían ser reducidas invirtiendo en programas que sean de prevención, tales como aquellos que promueven una exitosa re-inserción a la sociedad.
Resulta impactantemente, saber que California gasta encima de $30,000 por persona que es encarcelada y menos de $6,000 para la educación de cada estudiante. El nivel promedio de educación en la población de las prisiones de California en de 7º grado.
La premisa del CDCR para la mano de obra en la prisión es ?para reducir la ociosidad y la violencia, y aumentar exitosamente la re-inserción para los prisioneros.? La realidad es que en California, cualquier día, el número de violaciones a la libertad condicional puede exceder al número de nueva gente que entra en este rango, lo cual crea un círculo vicioso donde la gente pobre y la gente de color son el blanco perfecto para las nuevas formas de esclavitud en los Estados Unidos. El sistema de prisiones nos recuerda la complicidad y las formas de involucramiento para una esclavitud del nuevo milenio.

It’s All About Us: How did you survive your time inside?

by Yvonne/Hamdiya Cooks
How did you do it? I am often asked this question referring to the time I spent incarcerated in a federal prison. Although I may seem as if I?ve got it all together, I often answer, ?I?ve been damaged?. Long-term incarceration affects the human mind. There is so much time spent planning life after prison that you can?t possibly accomplish it all.
We try to make up for time spent inside as we emerge into a world replete with advanced technology that encourages and allows us to work without stopping. I often reflect on how I spent my time inside and what was it that allowed me to possess a willingness and desire to succeed after 20 years behind cell doors. It was my spirit that didn?t suffer the damage. God blessed me to retain my soul. The system, no matter how brutal, cannot take your spirit.
I recently read an article that memorialized African Americans whom we lost in 2006. BeBe Moore Campbell was among those I was shocked to read about. Ms. Campbell wanted “to give racism a face” when she told in Your Blues Ain?t Like My Blues, a fictionalized story of a young Chicago-born teenager who was murdered in the South after saying the wrong thing to a white woman. I knew this woman was not that ?old?. It made me truly think about my own mortality and my desire to live the remainder of my days on this earth planting seeds of righteousness. I remember being inside sometimes feeling as if therre was no hope. Reading BeBe Moore Campbell?s inspirational writings in Essence Magazine gave me hope and feeling of empowerment. She was truly a blessed woman I hoped to emulate. Reading my Holy Qur?an and her positive words elevated my spirit and allowed me many times to endure another day. I felt as if she was talking to me and knew what I needed. I pray her family knows how much impact her words had on a young Black woman who sometimes didn?t think she could survive.
Too often women carry burdens that aren?t ours to bear. We weren?t taught how to take care of and nurture ourselves. New Year?s resolutions aren?t something I generally make, but if I were to make one I would make a ?new life resolution? and I would vow to make an honest attempt at taking better care of ?me?. By this I mean to take time to enjoy life as we work through it. I pray my comrades inside those cages would do the same. Let?s begin taking better care of ourselves wherever we are. Love ourselves enough to nurture our spirits as we feed our bodies. As we position ourselves in the world attempting to resolve social justice ills, we must not forget our own needs. Let us continue to remind ourselves that we are worthy of being loved and nurtured as we work to nurture and protect those we love. Let us always remember sistahs like BeBe Moore Campbell who gave so much in her short life to so many of us. Take care and God bless.

Prison Labor Hierarchy

Joint Ventures are at the ?top? of the jobs for prisoners. Here are a few facts about Joint Venture:
Proposition 139, passed by California voters in 1990, allows private businesses to contract with the CDC to hire people incarcerated in CA state prisons to produce on prison grounds goods for sale.
Participating businesses get a 10% tax credit. Businesses do not have to pay overtime, worker?s compensation, vacation or sick leave.
Wages are comparable to wages earned on the outside. However, deductions are made for taxes, room and board, restitution and family support. The prisoner only receives 20% of wages. Training is unpaid.
In 2004, only 150 people incarcerated in California state prisons were employed though Joint Ventures and only 6 out of the 32 prisons have a Joint Ventures program. Both CCWF and VSPW have Joint Ventures. CCWF?s is with Allwire Corp. which manufactures cables, circuit boards, and other electronic components.
In 2002, 167 prisoners at Donovan State Correctional Facility won a class action lawsuit against CMT Blues which produces clothing for brands including Mecca, Seattle Cotton Works, Lee Jeans, No Fear, and Trinidad Tees, and were awarded $841,000 in back pay because of the company?s violations of wage and hour requirements.
In 2004, A San Diego Superior Court judge assumed control over the Joint Venture program in response to complaints that employed prisoners were not paid fairly or even at all. The stipulated injunction required that the director of the CDC Joint Venture program report to this judge on the status of compliance for two years.
Prison Industry Authority (PIA) are the second ?layer? of jobs for prisoners. Pay starts at 30 cents per hour and goes up to 95 cents. At CCWF, for example, PIA jobs consist of:
PIA farm: cultivate almond trees and grow alfalfa
PIA warehouse: warehouse for prison supplies
PIA fabric: sew jumpsuits for county jails, men’s underwear, men’s T-shirts (for men’s prisons). flags, silk screening. The shop looks like 19th century sweatshop, no a/c in summer, no heating in winter, lots of lint, which has caused fires when it gets into the machines, the preservative on the fabric causes women’s hand to break out in hives, etc.
PIA dental lab: make dentures, partials, night-guards for state prisons and some veteran homes. It is a good skill. People are able to get a job outside after working there and getting experience. There used to be a training program, but it was cut a few years ago.
Bottom of the pyramid: the mostly unpaid, though sometimes paying 8 cents to 37 cents per hour jobs such as:
* central kitchen: various aspects of food preparation
* dining room: serving food, cleaning after meals, etc. Women in those jobs are sometimes burned by the heavy hot pans
* porters: mop, sweep, clean cop-shops
* yard crew: maintain the outside: have to work in all kind of weather with no protection (no sun-screen in the summer, little protection from the cold and rain in the winter)
* maintenance of electrical appliances: lights, fans, washers and dryers.

CCWP?s celebration

On November 5th, 2006, CCWP hosted a powerful event to celebrate ten years of publishing our newsletter by and for women prisoners. ?The Fire Inside brings light into the hearts of thousands of people each year? wrote Director Yvonne/Hamdiya Cooks in her greeting inside the Program Book for the event. This theme reverberated throughout the entire afternoon as each guest offered their unique energy and awareness to illuminate the brutal conditions which women are subjected to behind bars.
Alice Walker, our honored guest, addressed the enthusiastic crowd which was gathered for the afternoon at the African American Art and Culture Complex in San Francisco. Ms. Walker read excerpts from her new book titled We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For and engaged the audience in thought provoking reflections on the state of the planet earth today.
?It is the worst of times because it feels as though the very Earth is being stolen from us, by us: the land and air poisoned, the water polluted, the animals disappeared, humans degraded and misguided. War is everywhere. It is the best of times because we have entered a period, if we can bring ourselves to pay attention, of great clarity as to cause and effect.?
Ms. Walker also spoke of the cases of political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal and the Cuban Five as well as a wide range of other subjects.
The feedback about the event has been tremendously positive. Many people have said that the event raised their spirits and made them want to become involved in CCWP?s work for women prisoners.