This country for centuries developed as a white-settler colonial project. It murdered and dispossed the First Nations people from the land, repopulated it with labor it could attempt to more easily control and put to us for its means — second tier aristocracy, craftsmen, and plenty of indentured Europeans. It also kidnapped people from the continent of Africa and brought them here as slave labor. Its development continued along these lines, further wars and ethnic cleansing of the land, the creation of the institution of chattel slavery and the cotton trade, and resettlement of the land with Europeans. It took a vast section of Mexico in a war even its own generals called disgraceful and imperialistic (Ulysses S. Grant). Throughout this process it armed its white settler population and put it on the frontlines of the suppression of the oppressed nationality people, they were the frontlines of centuries of this process. The class contradictions between them and the bourgeoisie, though at points in particular localities had grown antagonistic, simply was resolved through further primitive accumulation on the basis of national oppression and imperialist exploitation.

What does this history matter in relationship to the police and other armed bodies of the State? This must be drawn out very clearly to be understood. First we recognize that the development of the repressive state apparatus is informed and carried forward by the whole history, the political policy of the settler-expansionism, the legacy of chattel slavery, colonial occupations, and imperialist exploitation of the u.s. Empire. That with this more thorough-going exploitation of whole peoples, white settler people of all classes were purchased off or compromised through the super-profits provided by imperialism and national/racial oppression at home. One section of labor bought off through employment as the thugs of the State. For more than a century oppressed nationality people have known both the paramilitary and military/police oppression of the State. The collaboration of the two forms have had consistent coordination with each other—settlers and calvary to KKK and sheriffs. Even in midst of civil rights struggle, its local and state levels joined white reaction in murdering leaders, in repressing the people. This is the relationship of white supremacy, of white Amerika, with the State and the police in particular.

Have any of these relationships been transformed? Between white Amerika and the State? Between oppressed nationality people and the State? Between oppressed nationalities and white Amerika? Of course, but it hasn’t transformed in simple progressive terms. There is in fact still holdover practices throughout the system—the continued incarceration of political prisoners, the retention of the death penalty, the collaboration of white supremacist vigilantes and local authorities (Minutemen). It has more truthfully transmutated to new shapes of the same essential relationship. The mass incarceration of black and latino men (and growing number of women as well) through the drug war has created a prison economy which amounts to nothing more than the reintroduction of chattel slavery; a prison economy where prisons are being privatized, where the organization of slave labor for commodity production is a new model of a sustained housing of a section of labor, oppressed nationality proletarian people, for super-exploitation.

Incarceration carries forward implications of an actual dispossion of political rights of the people. It further economically deprives much of the oppressed nationality people with stability in their community; families are broken up through mass incarceration, people are now virtually unemployable. Everyday is the experience of an occupation, everyday is the experience of an open air prison as the people are harrassed by the pigs.

I’ll tell you the most believable thing about [Orange Is The New Black] is the idea that Piper only got 15 months for running dope money…I’m a white blonde girl who went out and willfully fucked up and committed armed robbery, and I got five years. There were tons of black girls in my prison who were holding onto a bag of dope for a couple of days, and they always seemed to get, like, 10 years. If you ever find yourself in prison and wonder why there’s tension between white and black, shit like that is probably one of the reasons.

I’m an OBGYN and I practice at a jail, where I take care of incarcerated women.

People often ask me, how did you come to work with incarcerated women? I was in the middle of my first year residency, delivering a baby. Everything was very familiar about the delivery scene; the nervousness, wondering if everything was going to be okay, helping the woman to push. But the one thing that was different is that she was shackled to the bed; she was a prisoner. And that moment troubled me so deeply that I developed an interest in learning more about these women.

Women make up a much smaller proportion of the correctional population than men — about 9% of everyone who is incarcerated. And 62% of [those] women are mothers to children who are less than 18 years old. Because women comprise such a small proportion, their gender-specific needs have been neglected. That’s particularly salient when it comes to their healthcare.

In theory, women do have the choice to have an abortion if they learn they are pregnant when they are in prison. There are constitutional guarantees — the 8th and the 14th amendments — and a number of judicial precedents, so it’s very clear that incarcerated women should have access to abortion. However, in practice, the people who are making the decisions have incredible discretion and many women lack access to abortion if they choose it.

About 1400-2000 births occur every year to women who are behind bars, and what they get for prenatal care is highly variable. There are standards that require prisons to have prenatal care onsite, but on the ground, some women have to be transported offsite and some women don’t even get prenatal care.

In labor, they usually get transported to an outside hospital. They can’t have any family support members in the room, and only 15 states have laws restricting the shackling of women in labor and delivery. A woman in labor, shackled, is what inspired me to work with this population. It’s inhumane and unnecessary, and it poses a lot of medical risks to the mother and the fetus. It also interferes with our ability to do emergent interventions if necessary.

People think prisons and jails are far away and we forget about the people who get locked up inside; we think they have nothing to do with us. So I hope I’ve given you some things to consider about what it’s like to be a woman when you’re in the grip of the prison or jail system.


From Dr. Carolyn Sufrin’s talk on incarcerated women and reproductive healthcare. Filmed at TEDxInnerSunset. 

Watch the full talk here »


Using Jailed Migrants as a Pool of Cheap Labor

"As the federal government cracks down on immigrants in the country illegally and forbids businesses to hire them, it is relying on tens of thousands of those immigrants each year to provide essential labor — usually for $1 a day or less — at the detention centers where they are held when caught by the authorities." - (NY Times 5/24/14)

This is, quite simply, slavery.

Like the rest of you, we’re incredibly excited to binge watch the second season of “Orange Is the New Black” this weekend. Who knew a show that shines an important spotlight on the hardships and indignities of prison life could be so fun.

But if you think OITNB shows it all, you’re about to find out a disgusting truth. While the women in OITNB face miserable conditions and abuse, it’s nothing compared to what real people experience in the jail where they film as well as other jails in Suffolk County, New York.

Riverhead jail in Long Island – just a hop, skip, and a jump from the white sands and posh life of the Hamptons – is notorious for its inhumane conditions. Raw sewage bubbles from the floor, toilets explode, rodents and roaches infest the kitchens, black mold covers the walls, and drinking and bathing water runs brown and stinks of sewage.

The “ping-pong” toilets at Riverhead are NSFTV (Not Suitable for TV) because they are too wildly disgusting. Let a former prisoner, 23-year-old Paul Alver, explain why:

Because the plumbing doesn’t work, when someone flushed his toilet in the cell next to mine, the human waste would bubble up in my own toilet, feet from where I slept. Sometimes we woke up with sewage flooding our cell floors.

These stories are just two of hundreds shared by people housed in Suffolk County’s jails. And there’s precious little they can do about it. Prisoners who try to file grievances often face retaliation. One formerly incarcerated person said officers cut off heat until he agreed to abandon his request for grievance forms.

Before OITNB became a hit show, the New York Civil Liberties Union and Shearman & Sterling LLP filed a class-action lawsuit in 2012 on behalf of current and future prisoners in Suffolk County jails. The suit demanded that the county clean up its jails for violating people’s constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment and for showing deliberate indifference to the harms incarcerated people are suffering.

But more than two years later, Suffolk County has refused to make even basic fixes to its jails – even now that Riverhead is in the spotlight.

Join the New York Civil Liberties Union’s call to tell Suffolk County that instead of wooing Hollywood, it should stop violating the law and clean up its jails.

There’s something seriously wrong when Hollywood can film a show at a jail, but actors can’t drink the water that real people living there are forced to drink.

Fans of Orange is the New Black and people who believe in basic human rights are standing up against the outrageous conditions at the real OITNB jail by posting photos in orange to demand that Suffolk County fix its jails. They are flooding county officials with emails demanding the protection of basic human rights. And former prisoners are speaking out about what they’ve had to endure.

Ray Jasper is about to be unjustly executed under Texas’s racist Law of Parties. Take the time to read his brilliant, insightful, heart-breaking letter. It may be his last living statement. As Michelle Alexander wrote on her FB page, “If he is not worthy of life, none of us are.”

A Letter From Ray Jasper, Who Is About to Be Executed

4 March 2014 | Ray Jasper was convicted of participating in the 1998 robbery and murder of recording studio owner David Alejandro. A teenager at the time of the crime, Jasper was sentenced to death. He wrote to us once before, as part of our Letters from Death Row series. That letter was remarkable for its calmness, clarity, and insight into life as a prisoner who will never see freedom. We wrote back and invited him to share any other thoughts he might have. Today, we received the letter below. Everyone should read it.


The Intensive Management Unit, or IMU, at Monroe Correctional Complex, is where the most high-risk and violent offenders are kept locked away. For 23 hours a day, they have no contact with other humans, save the occasional guard or the shouts of the inmates in neighboring cells. The new Reintegration and Progression Program at Monroe’s IMU uses group behavioral modification classes to transition offenders out of solitary confinement and back into general population. One study found about 45 percent of offenders in Washington’s IMU have serious mental illness or traumatic brain injuries.

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Images by Bettina Hansen for Seattle Times; Caption and article by Jonathan Martin. Follow @brookpete (from Prison Photography) on Twitter for more prison photojournalism.


Aramark prompts 1,000 Ohio inmates to dump their food over inhumane maggot infestation
August 9, 2014

Since Michigan turned over food services at its prisons to a private contractor in December, the state has seen a spate of maggot infestations in and around prison foodoutbreaks of food poisoning, and meal shortages. In Ohio this week, inmates facing the second maggott infestation this year at their facility dumped their lunch trays in the garbage en masse in protest.

The mother of one of the inmates at Ohio Reformatory for Women reported the protest to the local ABC affiliate, telling the news outlet, “People make mistakes, it doesn’t mean you have to be treated like a dog.”

In both states, the problems have come since they turned over their food services to private contractor Aramark. In the latest in a series of moves toward privatization of prison services, Michigan signed the three-year, $145 million contract with Aramark last year. The contract displaced some 370 prison workers, according to the Detroit Free Press, and the company pays workers about half as much as the state had been paying its employees for food service.

Aramark was fined $98,000 in March for violations related to food substitutions and workers getting too friendly with inmates. In video footage, several staff members were seen kissing and inappropriately touching inmates. More than 80 Aramark employees have been fired and banned from prison properties over these and other infractions. The firm has also been charged with lax security that has allowed knives and other contraband to enter the prison through the food service. And in Ohio, state officials say they’ve already fined the company more than $270,000.

Even. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) told reporters in July that the maggot infestations were “unacceptable” and that he would consider incidents like this when mulling whether to terminate Aramark’s 3-year contract with the state Department of Corrections.

According to MLive columnist Steve Miller, “the state almost shelved the idea of privatizing food service for the state’s prisons when it determined that its savings would not be enough to justify it. At the last minute, though, several Republican lawmakers insisted that the deal be made.”

In 2009, Aramark terminated its relationship with Florida’s prisons after six years of disputes and fines by the state.



Pep, The Cat Murdering Dog — Sentenced to Life at Haunted Eastern State Penitentiary

Inmate C2559, better known as Pep, “The Cat-Murdering Dog”, was admitted to the Eastern State Penitentiary on August 12, 1924. Prison folklore says that Governor Gifford Pinchot sentenced Pep to Life Without Parole for killing his wife’s cherished cat. Governor Pinchor said Pep was a mascot for the prisoners. Pep lived among the inmates for about a decade.

The Eastern State Penitentiary is a former American prison in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was operational from 1829 until 1971. Notorious criminals such as bank robber Willie Sutton and Al Capone were held inside its innovative wagon wheel design. At its completion, the building was the largest and most expensive public structure ever erected.

Many people believe Eastern State Penitentiary is actually haunted with records showing that, in the early 1940s, inmates and officers reported supernatural phenomena, including seeing the ghost of Al Capone. Since Eastern State was abandoned in 1971, the number of reported ghost sightings has increased. Paranormal TV shows such as Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, and MTV’s Fear explored the paranormal at Eastern State. Ghost Hunters captured footage of what they believe to be a ghost.

The prison is currently a U.S. National Historic Landmark which is open to the public as a museum for tours. Guided tours are offered during the winter, and during the warmer months and self-guided recorded tours with headphones are also available. The recorded tour is narrated mainly by Steve Buscemi, with former guards, wardens and prisoners also contributing.

sources 1, 2, 3

More than 3,200 people nationwide are serving life terms without parole for nonviolent offenses.

According to Democracy Now:

“Of those prisoners, 80 percent are behind bars for drug-related convictions. Sixty-five percent are African-American, 18 percent are white, and 16 percent are Latino.”

read more…

i just #cantmakethisshitup

Traditionally, it’s been suggested the way lawbreakers pay their debt is to sit in jail, and perhaps pick up some trash or hammer out a few license plates for pennies a day. But rather than developing skills as contributing citizens, most prisoners, after being imprisoned for a few years, simply become habituated to their new environment. In short: they become good convicts. Without proper job training and work placement programs, many prisoners turn to public services, from public shelters to SSI, food stamps, etc., to make ends meet. So we exchange one kind of public support for another, while adding nothing to the tax base. And since a federal law in the nineties was passed barring drug offenders from receiving food stamps or cash assistance, many former inmates turn back to criminal activities such as theft or prostitution, thus starting the cycle of recidivism in motion.

“The deplorable conditions of detention that take place in different parts of the world are an authentic inhuman and degrading trait, often caused by deficiencies of criminal law, or by a lack of infrastructures and good planning,” he said. “In many cases they are the result of an arbitrary and merciless exercise of power over persons who have been deprived of freedom.” - Pope Francis 

Pope Francis speaks truth again. | Follow ThinkProgress