Bennu Hannibal Ra-Sun looks at the economics of prison labo[u]r. This article first appeared in the San Francisco Bay View.
The power of economics: One message, one mind, one movement
Greetings to all of the freedom fighters, warriors and honorable supporters in this struggle to End Mass Incarceration and Prison Slavery. Two thousand and seventeen has been a year of incubation for the Free Alabama Movement. Many of us have been subjected to intensified repression, cast deeper into the recesses of solitary confinement, causing us to merge into a new, stronger and more powerful incarnation of the original.
Sometime last year, the ADOC (Alabama Department of Corrections) erected what amounts to a SHU (Special Handling Unit) at Limestone Correctional Facility. Brother Dhati Khalid (“Freedom or Death”) was the first freedom fighter to be transferred there from here at Donaldson Correctional Facility in approximately May 2016. Brother Kinetik Justice, who has now served approximately 40 consecutive months, was sent there late last year. These remain the only two men who have been sent to SHU-Limestone for political reasons.
As for me, I am personally on my 10th month after returning to seg (segregation, or solitary confinement), which makes 36 of the last 41 months. At present, I am being held on “isolation” status – no contact, “Walk Alone,” no phone, visitation, books, magazines etc. supposedly under INVESTIGATION for unspecified reasons. Nevertheless, life moves on.
Many of us are excited about Aug. 19, 2017. There will be an event in Montgomery, Alabama, in addition to the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March in Washington, D.C. We MUST seize this moment in our movement.
Stokely Charmichael pointed out in his book “Ready for Revolution” the important distinction between mobilizing people versus organizing people. As organizers, it is extremely important that we seize upon the opportunity that #A19 will bring, to organize our supporters.
How do we do this?
First and foremost, we must stay on message. And what is that message? We are uniting to End Mass Incarceration and Prison Slavery. In doing so, we have to keep at the forefront of our heart, mind and spirit that slavery – which predominates over mass incarceration – is an economic enterprise system that is mathematically put together and thus capable of being scientifically taken apart.
The basic premise of this deconstructive science is simple: “There can be no slavery without the slave.” As I state in my forthcoming book, even if 1 million people do attend our events on #A19, it won’t do much good if 1 million prison workers – slaves – get right back up and continue to answer that “work call” year in and year out.
People in society are not the ones working these prison slave labor jobs, so we can’t afford to allow them to EVER entertain the impression that they can free us simply by marching. We have to put a plan in place for them to support.
The ultimate job of deconstructing slavery remains on us, the slaves. Simply stated, we have got to stop the slave labor, and our movement has to organize our supporters around our plan to launch our next round of massive strikes, whenever that date is set.
Social, political and ECONOMIC education must be ramped up
One thing I have noticed about our writings behind these walls is that, while we have written enough to fill up several universities with social and political content, we have very little material on economics. It is going to be next to impossible to build awareness around the true nature of our movement if we don’t start the process of educating on the economic factor of slavery.
Solitary confinement has its origin on the plantation as the “nigger box.” Our water has always been contaminated. As slaves, we never had health, dental or prenatal care on the plantation. Sabre Red and Cell Buster spray have merely replaced the whip.
These are but the residuals of slave plantation life. As long as there is the economic enterprise of slavery, these residuals will always exist. Furthermore, if we stopped any of them or all of them, so long as we continue to provide slave labor, slavery will remain intact.
We have to make a much more concerted effort to put the focus on the economic factors at play. When people understand how $$$ is the driver, we have to then help these same people understand how “their” money or “their” labor is what is keeping this system of slavery alive. In economic terms.
Information needs to be organized so that our loved ones can see just how their money is fueling the system; then we have to help them organize boycotts and the withholding of funds at strategic moments. For example, when our families send us commissary money, they need to know 1) how much money they are sending collectively each month, and 2) how the prison system is using this money to keep the prison system intact.
In Alabama, commissary profits are used to purchase batons, mace, handcuffs etc. When our loved ones and supporters gain awareness of this, they can better see where their power lies and how they can use it effectively.
If a prison profits $20,000 each month, that’s $240,000 each year. If they were to organize, say, rolling boycotts of every other month, that’s six months – January, March, May, June, September, November – and $120,000 that they have removed from a prison’s operating budget. These types of deficits are very disruptive to a prison budget.
When we combine these types of maneuvers with phone boycotts and incentive package boycotts, these types of tactics add up fast. These are the types of methods that we need our family members and supporters organizing year-round, non-stop.
Of course, the Great White Whale remains the workstrikes. Why? Because this is easily a $100,000,000,000 industry that WE control. That is the one thing that has to penetrate through to our consciousness: We actually control a $100 billion industry through our labor. If you don’t think that slave labor has power, just think about all of the wealth that it has created.
These are just some of the companies that we produce products for and provide services for, or who make money off of us: Abbott Laboratories, ALRT, AutoZone, Bayer, Caterpillar, Costco, John Deer, Eddie Bauer, Exxon Mobil, Fruit of the Loom, Gelco, GlaxoSmithKline, Glaxo Wellcome, International Paper, Jan Sport, J-Pay, K-Mart, Koch Industries, Mary Kay, McDonalds, Nintendo, Pfizer, Proctor & Gamble, Quaker Oats, Sarah Lee, Sprint, Starbucks, Victoria’s Secret, WalMart, Wendy’s.
There are many thousands more, and even more institutional investors. But these are just the products and services. We also have to look at the labor costs. Not including work releases, in Alabama there are approximately 10,000 laborers. This is the math on just one eight-hour workday at minimum wage:
10,000 x $8 per hour = $80,000 per hour
$80,000 per hour x 8 hours = $640,000 per day
$640,000 per day x 20 days each month = $12,800,000
So, just by going to work each day, five days a week, even at a minimum wage rate of $8 per hour, we are giving the state $12,800,00 each month in free slave labor. This is barbers, runners, kitchen, yard, road squads, infirmary workers etc.
Multiply that by 12 months, and the state is getting approximately $163,600,000 in free labor. And remember, this is just the cost of labor. These figures don’t include what that labor is producing. In Alabama, we are producing agricultural goods, tags, furniture, chemicals, beef, fish, recyclings, sand mines, print shop and more.
And these figures are before we ever get money sent by J-Pay, which transacts about $1 billion a year, and before we draw canteen, make medical co-pays, make phone calls etc. These are billion dollar entities, and we are the capital.
We have … got … to … get … these … numbers … before … the … people so that everyone can see our power. No state’s prison budget can withstand the loss of our collective economic might, but we have to put this shit in its proper context. Slavery is ECONOMICS! So the solution must be also.
I will close with this. In 2015, I drafted a document called FAM’s Six-Step Plan of Action 2015. What I consider to be the most important step in that plan is the establishing of one central detention facility jail prison in each state to serve as a “headquarters” for organizing – by our outside, free world support. Just go, set up shop, and start organizing. Collect contact info, pass out newsletters and pamphlets, set up conference calls etc.
Establish shifts around visitation days. It could start out as just one person, but don’t stop until that entire place has the message. Then, set a test date for a phone boycott. Set another for a canteen boycott, and another for a short workstrike. The plan is to organize that one institution, both inside and out. When that one is done, then reach out to the next one.
We can’t be grassroots with no boots on the ground. This is how outside support can help those on the inside organize under any circumstance. But these posts have to become permanent. More details of this plan will be forthcoming, but for now we have to get on to the discussion about economics. There truly is power in numbers, especially when it comes to economics.
Free Alabama Movement (FAM) Economic Challenge
What products are produced at your place of incarceration?
What service industry (e.g., call center) is located at your place of incarceration?
How many people provide labor at your place of incarceration?
How much money do loved ones send to prison accounts each month at your place of incarceration?
Approximately how much money is spent on canteen at your place of incarceration each month?
Approximately how much is spent on collect calls at your place of incarceration each month?
Would you be willing to participate in and/or help organize a bi-monthly phone and canteen boycott for the year 2018?
Send our brother some love and light: Melvin Ray, 163343, Donaldson CF 1-3, 100 Warrior Lane, Bessemer AL 35023. If you are responding to the FAM Economic Challenge at the end, send your response to Unheard Voices OTCJ, P.O. Box 10056, Longview, TX 75604.