Slavery is much worse than prison. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here are three reasons why it’s not.
1. American Slavery is over
Yeah, I guess in an existential sense we are all slaves to consumerism and technology or whatever. But in the “I have chains on my ankles and someone just sold my nephew” way, American slavery is over. Slavery legally ended in 1928. I’m going to retype that sentence extremely slowly so it really sinks in. Slavery legally ended in 1928. That worked better in my head.
Why 1928? Because in 1865 Abraham Lincoln didn’t just fly down on his unicorn and magically set everybody free. Slave owners took YEARS to comply with the 13th Amendment of the Constitution which abolished slavery. When they finally had to release their slaves, the South brilliantly made a series of laws called Black Codes that basically made being Black a crime worthy of imprisonment. Black people would literally get arrested for being able to read, or standing too close to other Black people. Once they were incarcerated, the prisoners would be sold back to plantation owners and used for labor. Sound familiar? This ‘slavery loophole’ wasn’t outlawed until 1928, but by then it had already started the trend of Black prisoners becoming ubiquitous and profitable in the United States, a trend that has continued to this very day. So slavery is over, but US prisons are still in the business of incarcerating Black people for profit.
Slavery: 1, Prisons: 0
2. Racial Profiling Was Straight Forward
During the Slave Trade, slave traders showed up to Africa looking for Africans. There was no debate; no uncertainty about their intentions; no groups defending them saying that maybe it was a “coincidence” that all 12,000,000+ captives happened to share a certain pigment. You know how much respect I’d have for American police if they just showed up at night clubs and honestly declared, “Ok, we’re here for the Blacks!” I’d have zero respect for them. But that’s still double their current amount.
Now that slavery’s gone, the number one place to find Blacks in shackles is in US prisons. And the prison system is more profitable than ever because of it. Many prisons have contracts in place that demand a quota of inmates is maintained. So even though crime has GONE DOWN in the past decade, the number of inmates has experienced an “unprecedented increase.” Optimists and idiots would say that crime has gone down because there are more criminals off the streets. The reality is prison cycles through inmates, and recidivism is extremely high. Prisons are constantly creating career criminals, with new and improved skills. So why has crime gone down? Well, downward trends in the economy mean people have fewer opportunities to steal. It’s also become harder to commit crime due to the ubiquitous presence of surveillance cameras, cell phones, and proactive citizens. Increased social programs and unemployment benefits have resulted in fewer people needing to resort to crime as a way to survive. And most convincingly, the median age of Americans has jumped way up to 37 years old in recent years, primarily because we don’t crank out babies like we used to. Young people are far more prone to commit crime, therefore fewer young people means fewer criminals. But thanks to the prison system, having fewer criminals somehow doesn’t translate to meaning fewer inmates.
Compare that to good ol’ slavery. When slavery ended (in 1928!), the number of slaves disappeared with it. Unfortunately history repeated itself, and since most black people were in poverty at the time, and most law enforcement officials were (and are) white, Blacks became an easy target. That trend has continued today, except that now judges, police officers, and even jurors get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their rationale for disproportionately targeting, arresting, convicting, and sentencing minorities. They’re targeted because they have dark skin. You could at least be as honest as a slave trader and admit it.
Slavery: 2, Prisons: 0
3) Freedom Could Be Purchased
One thing has almost always trumped slavery– cold hard cash. Slaves could buy their own freedom, or have their freedom bought for them by wealthy Whites. It didn’t happen too often, but it wasn’t unheard of. And at least slaves knew exactly what was standing between them and their autonomy. Today, most Blacks still aren’t in a position to buy their way out of trouble, although wealthy Whites do it all the time. That means the threat of imprisonment is always a possibility. Because law enforcement officers are prone to target minorities, those minorities have a much higher chance of being incarcerated for crimes committed equally or more-so by White offenders. The best example of this is the war on drugs.
I went to a suburban house party once. There was a bowl of pills on the counter, a mound of cocaine on the dining room table, a brick of weed next to it, and a few of the girls in attendance were claiming to have vodka soaked tampons in their vaginas. If my imagination serves me correctly; three fights broke out that night, in addition to a bonfire, and mosh pit; then everyone drove home drunk to plan for the next weekend. In short, White people party better than any people on Earth, and the police don’t really seem to mind. By contrast, I remember being at my cousin Jerome’s apartment complex one summer when the DEA burst through the door with a battering ram, only to find us watching Soul Plane and drinking malt liquor. Poor Jerome should be getting out any day now.
Having a well-connected family, with access to lawyers and money, deters the criminal justice system from going after White offenders. That doesn’t mean most White people are wealthy and well-connected. In fact, most White people are poor as fuck. It just means that when you’re trying to reach a quota of inmates to fill a private prison, you’re probably better off going after non-Whites. That’s how we end up with weird statistics, like the one revealing most crack users are White, yet 82% of those incarcerated for crack use are Black. Having dark skin is a pretty good indicator that you don’t spend your weekends golfing with the District Attorney or swimming in your money pit like Scrooge McDuck. Have you ever seen a Black duck with a money pit? Have you ever seen a White duck in Slavery? I rest my case.
Slavery: 3, Prisons: 0