13th Amendment and the Prison Industrial Complex

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.

13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Section 1

Over the past couple of years, there have been many conversations and projects that center mass incarceration and the thirteenth amendment of the United States Constitution. There’s Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow and Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th to name just a couple. Celebrities like Matt McGorry and John Legend have helped to start conversations about these issues and support organizers that work to support incarcerated folks and change policy.

I was always taught that slavery ended with the end of the Civil War, with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and the ratification of the thirteenth amendment. And I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one, as schooling here in the US generally tends to not provide a full context and understanding of history. This subject in school was always a whitewashed overview, just the bland highlights of a complicated and deeply contextual history.

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#NoDAPL

In the midst of Thanksgiving and Black Friday this week, much of the US is deep into traditional meals, gatherings, and shopping but the camps and water protectors in North Dakota are still standing against the Dakota Access Pipeline. These protectors are frequently met with violence and intimidation from police and others. Just a couple days ago, those on the ground were sprayed with water cannons in the middle of the night and in North Dakota at this time of the year, that can be fatal. One medic shared his story about that night and many others countered the police’s narrative and shared that the protectors have been nothing but peaceful.

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#NoDAPL – the Dakota Access Pipeline.

By now, you have probably heard about the protests and fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline lead by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota. The pipeline is proposed to run near the tribe’s land, through a sacred burial ground, and through the Mississippi River. Many have cited not only environmental concerns (particularly over potential leaks to surrounding rivers and water supplies) but also concerns over treaties with and the right to self-determination of the indigenous peoples and tribes here in the US.

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Learning about the Prison Industrial Complex.

I’ve been spending a lot of my free time reading books over the past few weeks and the last couple ones have in some part been focused on the prison industrial complex (PIC) and police harassment and brutality. My own experience and knowledge about the prison abolition movement has been only cursory and thus, learning more about all of this has been incredibly eye opening. So I thought I’s start a list of books and films to learn more about both the prison industrial complex and related abolition movement.

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Zoos, SeaWorld, and Exotic Pets.

I love animals so the rare chance of going to the zoo was always so much fun when I was growing up. Like so many others, it was my only chance to really see many of the animals in the flesh rather than on a screen or in a book. But on my last trip to the zoo a few years ago, I remember looking at a caged bald eagle and just feeling sad. Here are these amazing animals – caged in part for the entertainment and profit for people.

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My Own Self.

There are so many things that depression and anxiety has changed about my life and it took years for me to fully realize this.  I’ve lost friends, missed out on parties and events, spent most of my time watching shows than in the real world. Some of my habits have stemmed from anxiety while depression drains any interest I might have in something.

But one of the things I’ve lost is my own sense of self – more than anything, I just feel empty. I don’t know who I am really and where I should go in life and it constantly feels like everyone else knows what they’re doing. And in a culture of being busy and one where work seems to tie too closely with work, I just feel weird and shameful for the fact that right now I’m actually doing something I love?

My life feels like a weird venn diagram where there’s barely anything that I love and excel at that also happens to be deemed acceptable and productive by our capitalistic society. And dealing with social anxiety severely narrows down my potential next job – consistently dealing with people for 8+ hours a day for at least five days a week is not something I could deal with. I would literally spend most of any job involving a high amount of people interaction crying in the bathroom.

There are constants in my life that do help me at least partially define who I am and privileges that afford me this time to really take off from the “real world”. But I’m also ready for the day where I don’t feel like my depression and anxiety has robbed me of myself or my life. I’m ready for the day where I can stop comparing myself to others, to really truly feel comfortable not only in my own skin but also where I am in life.

Service Trips, White Savior Complex, and Voluntourism Revisited.

A question to all those going or have gone on international service trips – if you could go with no camera, would you? If you weren’t able to share stories from your trip with people back home, would you still go? If you knew that the people you’re going to help may not want you there, would you still get on that plane?

I’ve gone on service trips before and I’ve spent a summer in Kenya volunteering so I do have some involvement in the voluntourism industry. And I’ve been really thinking about those questions and how much I got out of the experience versus the people I was supposed to help. Who benefited more? Whose life is better because of my trip – me or the people I worked with?

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Quote from Angela Davis.

Put simply, this is the era of the prison industrial complex. The prison has become a black hole into which the detritus of contemporary capitalism is deposited. Mass imprisonment generates profits as it devours social wealth, and thus it tends to reproduce the very conditions that lead people to prison.

Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?

Super Bowl Displacement.

Today is Super Bowl 50 and many are excited to watch the game, halftime show, commercials, or some combination of all three. But something not usually talked about with this major sporting event is the impact it has on the hosting city. This year, the game is in Santa Clara but San Francisco has had week long festivities celebrating the game – something that the city’s taxpayers have footed the bill for.

These festivities have also displaced the homeless population of San Francisco and protests have occurred in reaction to the proclamation from the city’s mayor that the homeless in the area would have to relocate. And there are other Bay Area residents who have been protesting against the Super Bowl for additional reasons – some including police brutality and gentrification.

This year’s game isn’t the first time that protests have occurred surrounding the biggest football game of the year. Last year, a coalition of Native American groups, organizations, and activists protested the name of the Washington DC team, domestic violence, and violence against native women. A protest in 1992 happened because of the DC team’s name – meaning that there’s still so much work to be done with very little progress.

Myths of Low Wage Work.

I am so on board with all people having a living wage, along with other fair and consistent working conditions like regular hours/scheduling, paid sick leave, parental leave, etc. If I’m really wishing for things, it would be the destruction of capitalism but in the mean time, I think that it’s incredibly important for a minimum wage increase to happen and to unlearn some of the myths that work against low wage and entry level workers.

There have been numerous cities all over that have been fighting for (and some have won) $15 an hour minimum wage, although full implementation will take some time. And while there have been some wins and major political support, the Fight for $15 movement has been met with some resistance. A part of that are the myths that still exist around low wage and entry level jobs.

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