By Jason Renard Walker, Deputy Minister of Labor – NABPP
The legislative record on the 13th Amendment excludes any interpretative argument on the language concerning forced prison labor. Therefore it is illogical to run to the federal courts and legislators seeking recognition for fair wages.
The origins of the 13th Amendment can be dated back to Thomas Jefferson, who was the chief author of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. This document was put into effect eleven days before the start of the Constitutional Convention on July 24th, 1787, for the purpose of establishing and governing the newly-created territory north of the Ohio river, in Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Ohio.
The sixth and final article of the Charter states: “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” Right from the start, Jefferson was a lobbyist for forced labor as a government-imposed form of legal slavery, to provide an alternative to capital punishment. Even he saw that one day, mass incarceration would affect the state’s economic progress, and that merely spending capital to capture and kill slaves, without generating any profits, made no sense. So within the U.S. Constitution he made sure a clause existed that would allow slavery to have a continuing effect on any slave who one day won some rights and freedom.
The shameless language of the 13th Amendment has created a virtually insurmountable legal battle. That is because neither the Federal government, or any individual state, can contravene the U.S. Constitution. In order to begin the legal battle, the 13th Amendment has to be amended. Article V allows the Constitution to be amended by the exact same text of a proposed change passing both the House and Senate with a two-thirds vote, and then adoption is contingent on ratification by three-fourths of all the states.
An example of this can be seen in the Equal Rights Act, which was written by the revolutionary feminist Alice Paul, and bars the prevention of civil rights based on one’s sex. The ERA passed both chambers with the requisite supermajority on March 22, 1972. But as far as the amendment is concerned, only thirty-five of the required thirty-eight states have allowed it to pass. Sadly, a constitutional amendment is the only way of attacking the legitimacy of the use of prison labor.
Being that we cannot dissolve any of the states, a tactical approach to extending the movement against prison slavery would be to conduct an analysis on those states that haven’t passed, initiate a game plan for those states, then apply maximum pressure on their economic interests. Thus forcing those states to join in and meet the thirty-eight state threshold. It still wouldn’t require them to end prison slavery, but it would give us our class action day in court. This is only one step of the many we have to take in order to end the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) and abolish slave labor once and for all.
Being Conscious Is The Key To Liberation
Public support for the end prison slavery movement hasn’t always been as great as it is now. There was one point in time when exposed abuse in prisons created little more than a benign “shock and awe” buzz that was only picked up and circulated by off-beat media.
I can remember seeing a seven or eight second segment on an Oakland-based news channel back in the early 1990s. It spoke about a prison-initiated hunger strike for whatever reason. I sat there eating candy thinking: who’s stupid enough to starve themselves? I was only a child, I had no idea how inhumanely prisoners are treated and how such torture can instigate rebellions. Many people are still unaware, which makes their assistance non-existent. Let’s raise their consciousness.
After being incarcerated in the Texas prison system for over ten years, I have witnessed events that not only coax men and women into starving themselves, but to cut, hang, mutilate and kill themselves. Just so they could escape the madness of the inhumanity and torture of prison life in general and solitary confinement in particular.
As irrational as it sounds to refuse to eat and work at the hand of reprisals, it has given prisoners, both American and foreign, currency in manufacturing public opinion to assist us in having our problems exposed and addressed. In regards to this, we need to stick to the script, seize the time and avoid falling victim to government-sponsored reform trends, falsely held under the banner of movements and revolutions.
The hooded sweater wearing in the wake of Trayvon Martin was a trend; hands up don’t shoot posing to commemorate Michael Brown’s death was a trend; Kaepernicking, or kneeling during the national anthem was a trend; the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s was somewhat of a trend; hashtag whatever lives matter is a trend; Bernie Sanders as President is far from socialism.
But what sparked these trends? What caused them to spread like wildfire? What caused them to wither away? Was a goal reached that made the trend moot? Why do people jump from one trend to the next?
Police killing kids is still going-on unchecked. Kaepernick and Reed privately settling their lawsuit out of court didn’t resolve the NFL blackballing him, or future prospects, and the civil rights of colored folk are still being violated and covered up.
From a realistic viewpoint, should we believe that without some united mass-based practical resistance, just trending, condemning, and a funky-ass progressive legislative bill every twenty years is giving us maximum progress, growth, and development as fledgling underdogs?
As prisoners, isn’t it wise for us to lay out and set out our own wants and needs rather than leaving it to snake-oil salesmen and their pop-go-the-weasel limelight shucks, who show up, attempt to derail our movement, then vanish? The only voting right I’m interested in is the right to amend the U.S. Constitution, which furthers the exclusive interest of prisoners and the end prison slavery movement. Voting has done nothing and will do nothing.
Governmental prison profiteers and other opponents of prison abolition are well aware of our progressive activities, they will never sit back and let us do our thing without a little razzle-dazzle shenanigan of their own. I’m beginning to see a connection between our progress as activists and the sly reprisals being handed out. I’m speaking of those whose artwork, writings, poems, organizing and work put in are key factors in this thing. Those who aren’t deterred by prison-sanctioned setbacks. Those who aren’t motivated by commissary or pig friendship. Those who ain’t scared to check themselves and stay on course.
These are who the administration fears the most, because they don’t see the prison as their home, they see it as an animal’s cage they will spend their life (if they have to) clawing to get out of, destroying everything in their path that tries to keep them held hostage. They can’t be bought, they can’t be tamed, they can only be expected to do what they are doing, which is to help their body follow their mind to freedom.
Just because a brotha or sista is the most intelligent or knowledgeable of history among their peer group doesn’t make them conscious. Reading a book on Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, the Black Panther Party and agreeing with them doesn’t make you conscious. Educating others about the history of their race’s past and present oppression doesn’t make you conscious – it makes you a teacher. It might make you wanna do something, it might make them wanna do something.
Picking up a gun and shooting “the white man” because of racism won’t solve the problem. Wilding out and shooting the pigs won’t do nothing either, that’ll give them legal ground to further the killer cop epidemic.
But what we can do is figure out who’s the mastermind behind these ills, who’s allowing the protectors of the ruling class to do as they please without being punished and then come up with a strategy. A failure to grasp the contradictions between an organic grassroots movement, and government reform bills, and the politics of oppression, leaves one doomed, and easy pickings to further their own oppression.
The road to liberation ain’t a walk down the yellow brick road, there’s more than one person behind that curtain pulling strings and levers that twist, manipulate and shape the reality we live in. When you see for yourself, you’ll see men and women of all races, creeds, religions. There’s gays, lesbians, racists, reverse racists, evangelists and the like. There’s some who grew up impoverished and some who’ve never experienced a lack of any want or need.
Despite their personal disagreements, they have an unbreakable bond. It’s not driven by the will to survive or to make the world a better place. This bond stems from greed and their desire to build on the billions and millions they already have.
What prevents them from launching an economic attack on each other relates to the billions of citizens all over the world who provide them with the wealth they want through the exploitation of workers’ labor. As soon as the source depletes, they’ll feed on each other, ultimately destroying the earth or causing a third world war in their race to consolidate the wealth of one country, and then the next, into their coffers.
Jails, prisons, the police state and the military play as a buffer between the string pullers and those trying to remove them. The top-down authority is manipulated into manipulating each other into serving the interests of the ruling class. So each branch is acting for a different specific reason, with the result being a disguised form of max protection for the rulers.
The military is acting under patriotism; the police state is acting as protectors of the law and its citizens; the prisons act as a reformatory for the law-breakers and the jails being holding institutions until all due process of law rights have been satisfied. This is merely a front, even those exploited by and operating these institutions are mainly unaware of this.
When was the last time an active politician or presidential candidate was attacked or killed? When was the last time one has been a victim of violence? Why are those supposedly protected by the police and military state victims of society?
Actually these institutions aren’t protecting those they claim to protect, because the so-called protected are really the oppressed. You, me, and everyone else that are economic bottom feeders, dregs of society and so on are who I’m speaking of.
Making this small qualitative leap in thought allows us to come up with meaningful ideas, put our theories into practice and learn from any mistakes or errors made. This is when we begin to wake up our consciousness.
If it’s not on your mind and in your theories and practice that liberating an oppressed people will only come by overthrowing the ruling class through an armed revolution, you are merely a fraction of the way there, still half-asleep. But still a key component of support.
When you have come to the conclusion that you are ready to die for the people, die with the people or spend your life in the struggle, doing what you can to assist those that will, knowing no progress will be made if you let up. Not only are you a comrade of mine, you are a reason why the oppressed nation will prevail.
Prisoners being bound by any form of slavery serves no penological objective. It’s an obvious tactic drawn up by the oppressor, designed to villainize, ostracize and profit off of those who refuse to conform to its deeply ingrained developmental pattern upon their release into a manipulated society. These individuals are grouped with the standard criminals.
Every person has a different level of reach and assistance. Some can go no further than writing or doing lectures, while others can’t do the former or latter, but can organize the masses. To be conscious is to learn your reach, understand what you are fighting for, and who you are fighting, then meet or surpass the standard. There is always someone waiting for you to pass the baton so they can take it further. This is a step towards advancing the end of prison slavery!
Dare to struggle, dare to win! All power to the people!
Send our brother some love and light: Jason Renard Walker, 1532092, Allred Unit, 2101 FM 369 N, Iowa Park, TX 76367.
How we can help
Jason Renard Walker has become a first rate investigative journalist as he courageously documents and reports one atrocity after another. Of course, guards and prison administrators constantly retaliate. So supporters have set up the “Civil Rights Defense Fund for Jason Walker” at https://www.gofundme.com/f/civil-rights-defense-fund-for-jason-walker. Please donate as generously as you can. Learn more at https://instagram.com/p/Bu0Ajwch77F/.
Received March 24, 2019