SLEEPING JUSTICE: PRISON OR RENEWED SLAVERY

Brett D. Burgess, first year writing UNC Asheville student

The Burton Street Community Peace Garden is home to various art installations that provide thought provoking realizations about the society that we live in. The art installations are created out of upcycled and repurposed trash that was left within the community’s area. Many of the art installations that are in the garden represent relevant issues that are ongoing today. Each art installation is different and covers a topic on a local level and or on a national level. “Sleeping Justice” is the name of the particular installation that expresses the mass incarceration and oppressive issue remnant in our society today and the topic of this paper.

As I approached the art installation I recognized it as a ship. The front of it was constructed from reclaimed pallets. The two side of the ship also have quotes written on them. The quote on the left side (if facing the front ship) of the ship is “How we treat each other, is how we treat the Earth” and on the right side (if facing the front of the ship) the quote is “Is our water safe. Surrounded by water that no one can drink!”. The second quote is relevant to another art installation. Also, the figurehead attached to the front of the ship is a tribal mask that I believe to be of African origins. Furthermore, the mast of the ship has two flags, the American flag and a “Sale!” flag. For me I was confused on why these two flags were placed together on this piece, the meaning behind these pieces couldn’t be more different. Then as I approached the rear of the ship (the stern) it contained a constructed cage of sorts with pictures of modern inmates. That is when I realized what this specific installation represents within our society in the peace garden. It represents a dark part of our society’s history and how it still looms over us and manages to suppress people. This new leading industrial system as we know it is prison. “Sleeping Justice” represents the growing problem of mass incarceration and its effects on individuals, but also on the economic issues within the country. This issue can be seen at both levels nationally, and locally.


Slavery… Continued

Slavery is a dark part of almost all societies and cultures. Since America is roughly a new and young society, its unjust and inhumane past is still fresh on its soil and the minds of its people. For centuries slavery was used as a way to obtain and maintain cheap or free labor on large plantations or other needs of the slave owners. Most of the work that was done by slaves were labor intensive or demanding work that others thought that they were above. Eventually, slave ownership came to its end with Lincoln’s 13th amendment except, “slave” labor of sorts can be considered a punishment for a crime (Liburd, D. A., 2017)


However, that made it a most important task for the ones in power to find a new source of cheap “legal” labor, labor that they could still enforce to work and to suppress. Which gave birth to prisons allowing their incarcerated inmates to be hired out. The labor tasks could range from working on a prison farms to answering phones at a call center. If you were found guilty by the courts judgement then it’s likely that you could become the victim of these cheap labor efforts. And unlike slavery, it wasn’t limited to categories like someone’s ethnicity, social class or state, it was a free for all anywhere.  


Concerning numbers

There are roughly two million incarcerated inmates in the United States. That number is rapidly increasing on a yearly basis. That statistic isn’t including the couple million that are on parole or probation. For the U.S. to have such a small population there are a lot of people imprisoned: “U.S. Statistics reveal that the United States holds 25% of the world’s prison population but only 5% of the world’s people” (Pelaez, 2014).

If those numbers are not enough then maybe the profit margin that major business tycoons are acquiring in revenue is. There are dozens of multibillion dollar companies that are taking advantage of the prison industrial system (RTN, 2016). The companies are able to acquire cheap labor with no added benefits, no labor regulations and certainty that their product will be made. The business companies that manipulate and maintain the incarcerated inmates pay them as low as 16 cents a day (Weisbach, O’Connell, Roberts, Newlin, 2017). Like mentioned before there are roughly two million incarcerated inmates in the U.S. and they work daily for huge corporations, yet there’s a consistent 4.1% unemployment rate in America because these corporations would rather exploit people then to help (BLS, 2018).


Another aspect that is adding to the increasing incarcerated size is Nixon’s “War on Drugs”. Nixon’s policy claimed that “drug abuse is public enemy number one” (Vulliamy 2011). The policy purpose was to locate, stop and imprison the kingpins. Unfortunately, that’s not how the policy was followed, many individuals were incarcerated for simple possession charges. So instead of focusing on major violent crimes, practically harmless possession crimes were the focus.


National and Local Reentry

After serving a period of incarceration or facing a criminal record adjusting to life can be difficult. With that known, there have been a rise in reentry programs to support people’s transition back into their community (Buncombe Reentry, 2018).  These people and programs assist in finding basic needs and requirements such as housing, healthcare, and jobs. They make it possible to have a life after incarceration and help put a stop to the reoccurring cycle of re-imprisonment. There are many organizations locally and nationally that support this.


Conclusion

In result “Sleeping Justice” brings many things to light still the most effective thing that it brings is the topic of incarceration and oppression. Incarceration or a felony can play a detrimental issue for someone when they are looking for housing or a job because many employers see it as a red flag and will refuse them. Which happens to causes a domino effect on the aspects of society. Because someone may have a felony, that results in them staying unemployed, adding to the country unemployment rate, causing an increase in demand for government-funded assistance taking away funding for another and so forth.

References


Bureau of Labor Statistics Data. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000

Home. (n.d.). Retrieved April 8, 2018, from https://www.buncombereentryhub.org/

Liburd, D. A. (2017). The New American Slavery: Capitalism and the Ghettoization of American Prisons as a Profitable Corporate Business.

Pelaez, V. (2008). The prison industry in the United States: Big business or a new form of slavery. Global Research, 3(10), 08.

Return to Now. (2017, October 07). How Prison Labor is the New American Slavery and Most of Us Unknowingly Support it. Retrieved April 8, 2018, from http://returntonow.net/2016/06/13/prison-labor-is-the-new-american-slavery/

Vulliamy, E. (2011, July 23). Nixon's 'war on drugs' began 40 years ago, and the battle is still raging. Retrieved April 8, 2018, from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/jul/24/war-on-drugs-40-years

Wagner, P., Rabuy, B., & Sawyer, W. (2018, March 14). Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2018. Retrieved April 8, 2018, from https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2018.html

Weisbach, A., O'Connell, C., Roberts, J., & Newlin, T. (2017). Prison Labor.