Commentary: The Prison Industrial Complex

By Josh Ramirez

Detroit, FIST

We have all heard of it. The words have slipped over our tongues and crossed our lips before, yet I wonder how many people in our generation understand the utter brutality of the Prison Industrial Complex. As conscious beings, we all understand there is something fundamentally wrong with our society when over one out of every 100 eligible persons in the united states (u.s.) is currently incarcerated. Rage Against The Machine in their song New Millennium Homes said:

“…Cover the spreadsheets the Dow Jones skying, Cell block livestock the bodies they buying. Old south order new northern horizon.”

The ‘Spreadsheets’ being the financial profit/loss records of corporations. The ‘Dow’, or Dow Jones Industrial Average as it is properly titled, is an average of the corporate and industrial publicly traded companies. Yes, we are talking about stocks traded on the market. Prisons are a commodity to be bought and sold for a profit. The corporations involved with the prison system, and corporate owned prisons themselves, are booming.

We used to have massive cattle farms in the u.s. Currently the majority of our cattle farming is done in countries south of the u.s. border. The jobs were outsourced, like everything else, to maximize for the Rich Ruling Class. While cattle can only be sold once, a prisoner can be resold over and over again every year until they are released from the system entirely. This makes the human cattle confined in prison a valuable “commodity”.

Prisons generate profits from many sources. Support industries profit in the millions of dollars from the food service, waste removal, sewage, water and electricity contracts to local municipalities. In the u.s., profit is king. If there were no profit in the prison system there is absolutely no way we would currently have more people in the prison system than any other country in the world.

We do have a large country, bigger in land mass than most other countries. However, our population is only roughly 308 million with more than 230 million of adult age.  Even 230 million is insufficient to satiate the capitalist greed of prison profiteers and so witness the barbaric expansion of sentences to include children as young as 12 years old. Prisoners are a commodity—a source of profit. Currently more than one out of every 100 adults in the u.s. is in jail or prison.  With over six billion people on this planet, we have less than five percent of the world population, yet we incarcerate more people than any other country in the world. So is it difficult to understand what really is driving the most massive documented incarceration rate in the world?

The new cattle farms of this country are prisons, and the new cattle are human beings. The old south order (i.e. slavery), has been renewed with coerced prison labor and knows no boundary at the Mason-Dixon Line. Here in Michigan we have an industrial manufacturing corporation called Michigan State Industries. MSI manufactures office furniture, mattresses, license plates and prison issue clothes.  The prisoners who work in these industries do so under the coercion of perpetual lockdown if they refuse to work. This lockdown, imposed on them for refusing slave labor, is a twenty-two hour a day confinement to their cell.

The perfect illustration of the rich profiting off of the incarceration and slavery of humans is a juvenile prison in western Michigan. This prison was run by the Wackenhut Corrections Corporation. The prison was a nightmare in every aspect, except for the stockholders. So much so that the state of MI was forced to stop sending their juveniles to the horror of concrete and razor wire that was carved out of the beautiful woodland area on the west side of the state.

A lot of the information on the prison is virtually impossible to access because of the fact that the place is a private corporation and not subject to public scrutiny. Wackenhut is not subject to public information request laws. This corporation further hampers any form of transparency by hiding behind the age of the prisoners they are exploiting. There was a horrific suicide rate at the prison, even from the little information they reported. And as we are all too familiar with the methodology of corporations: it does not suit them to report information detrimental to their bottom line. The most compelling argument against Wackenhut in particular and the privatization of the prison system in general is the level of brutality the juveniles faced at the hands of prison guards.

I can attest on a personal level to the brutality I faced in the Wayne and Oakland county jails as well as in the Michigan Department of Corrections. I was beaten for minor offences, thrown in solitary confinement for periods of six months, 10 months, without any due process. I know prisoners who were driven insane from extended stays in solitary. My friend Samuel Dunham-Bey did over 15 years in one stint in solitary confinement. I was held in a maximum security prison for over four-and-a-half years. For two-and-a-half of those years, I was held there because I was running an anti-racial profiling campaign to fight the racist labeling of left leaning Hispanics to be gang leaders.

I was released from prison 15 months ago at the age of 30. I never saw a day of my twenties out in the streets because of the greed and brutality of this aspect of the capitalist system. I’ve heard comrades talk about the Prison Industrial Complex here and there. Perhaps you have as well. The only thing that saved me was years of studying Socialism. This fostered the hope that one day I can stand as an equal amongst my peers in a Socialist society, and see all the people who are locked up be given a fair tribunal, and all the people who imposed the brutality, who profited off of the slavery, who became enriched because they suckled at the teat of the warehousing of human beings pay for their crimes.

Why does this matter, why does it matter if I was sentenced to three years, yet robbed of over eleven-and-a-half years? It illustrates the reality of Prison as an Industry. I was worth money to the state (and other prison profiteers) as a maximum security prisoner. All prisoners held in MI in solitary confinement are also worth money. I was denied parole seven consecutive times because it’s all about money. The system from top to bottom is all about profit…how much money the profiteers and the state can squeeze out of their new livestock…human livestock.

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1 Comment

  1. Josh R.
    I have seen the reality of what you speak. I spent 8 months from Austin Tx to Atlanta GA in county jail. I have never been so dehumanized nor have i ever seen men do evil to other men like i did there. AND, i know it was only a tiny taste of how things are in all prisons. You have experienced and are enlightened to it but what does one DO?
    I dont understand how money is made by keeping men locked up or HOW they can lawfully do it. nehemiahpaul


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