Contrary to popular belief, slavery was never outlawed in the United States. This statement is not a debatable, half-twisted analysis or a cynical opinion. It is a fact.
The 13th Amendment to the Constitution does not outlaw slavery; it only prohibits slavery in certain situations. It is entirely constitutional to turn drug dealers, gangbangers and thugs into slaves. It is perfectly legal for corporations to use legions of slaves to increase their profit and pass them along to shareholders. Even though it seems like the opposite of freedom, America is totally cool with it.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
—the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America
When Hillary Clinton stood at Keene University and called black men “superpredators” in January 1996, it was only a few days after the New Year’s Day release of her book It Takes a Village. In the book, Clinton spoke about her days in the Arkansas governor’s mansion and the long-standing tradition of using convicted felons as free labor.
Clinton could relax and have her dark-skinned dishwashers clean the mayonnaise residue off her finger-sandwich plates because Arkansas is one of the few states that still use prison labor without compensating the prisoners. She was cool with it, though—except when she was forced to send “back to prison any inmate who broke a rule.” Clinton lovingly referred to the felons as “emotional illiterates,” which is a little demeaning, but apparently not as much as the ones she hadn’t locked up yet, whose powers allowed them to grow into “superpredators.”
America has the largest prison population in the world. According to the Washington Post, about half of the 1.6 million people in state or federal prisons are black, even though African Americans make up roughly 13 percent of the population. “Black Americans were incarcerated in state prisons at an average rate of 5.1 times that of white Americans,” The Guardian reported last year, “and in some states that rate was 10 times or more.” Even when convicted of the same crime as whites, black convicts, according to a 2014 study (pdf), were even more likely to serve time in private prisons.
The untold, secret story of America’s criminal-justice system is that there are large corporations benefiting from free black labor, and under the Trump administration, business is booming.
The Profit in the Policy
In August 2016, former President Barack Obama announced a push by his administration to end the federal use of private prisons. This directive sent private-prison stocks into a downward spiral. One of the first decisions Jeff Sessions made as the current attorney general under President Donald Trump was to reverse this order. The second move by the Sessions-led Department of Justice was to end the Obama administration’s practice of not seeking mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses. When the DOJ released the memo rescinding this policy, private-prison stocks soared to an all-time high.
Perhaps Sessions’ decision was based on Republican ideals of “law and order.” Maybe it was because all conservatives believe that private companies do a better job running prisons than the government (data shows they don’t).
However, it might be because Sessions’ investment portfolio is filled with thousands of dollars in private-prison stock. It’s likely because GEO Group Inc. and CoreCivic, two of the nation’s largest private-prison operators, gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Trump’s fundraising efforts.
The New Slaves
There are prisons and companies all across the country who use free or barely paid prison labor to make a profit. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, these prisoners make between 12 cents and $1.14 an hour. The products and companies that benefit from this slave labor include the following:
- McDonald’s uniforms stitched by inmates in Oregon
- Office furniture made by Unicor, which starts prisoners off at 12 cents an hour
- Microsoft products
- Honda automobiles
- Victoria’s Secret lingerie
This list doesn’t include the states, like Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas, that don’t pay prisoners at all for labor. Places like Angola State Prison are known for the cruel and inhumane treatment of their prisoners, forcing them to live in tents and work for free.
In February, immigration-detention-center detainees filed a lawsuit against GEO, the private-prison operator that made it rain on the Trump campaign. According to the lawsuit, the corporation used as many as 50,000 federal detainees to work for free, or for as little as $1 a day, even threatening some with solitary confinement for refusing to work as a slave.
As harsh as this sounds, there will be more. With the DOJ’s directive to use mandatory minimums and the renewal of the war on drugs, slavery will make a comeback under the Trump administration.
But this is all legal and constitutional. No one argues that these prisoners aren’t slaves—or even that blacks are more likely to endure this indentured servitude. The only argument for this system of slavery is that it is profitable. It remains a stain on the American flag because we live in an oligarchy. The only reason it exists is that without it, the multibillionaires at Honda, Microsoft and McDonald’s might have to live life as regular, run-of-the-mill billionaires. How else is Jeff Sessions supposed to line his pockets with the bloody dollar bills he’s earned off the backs of the oppressed?
Slavery is still legal in the U.S. because there is apparently one thing that has always trumped freedom, equality and justice: white people’s money.
... and to the Republic, for which it stands
, with liberty and justice for all.