Boycott, Defund, Bankrupt – Say NO to canteen, incentive packages, collect phone calls and visitation during February, April, June, Black August, October and December in 2018
Part VI: Campaign to Redistribute the Pain 2018
by Bennu Hannibal Ra-Sun, fka Melvin Ray, Free Alabama Movement
Published in the January 2018 issue of SF Bayview
Fire burns off the dross of the hidden gem to reveal the precious metal. In struggle, it is the call to action that burns off the negative habit, distorted values and laziness of those who answer that call to reveal the precious jewels of humanity. With 2018 just a few days away, the call to action that is the Campaign to Redistribute the Pain 2018 is set to kick off Feb. 1, 2018. Let the fire burn bright.
Queen Tahiyrah of the National Freedom and Justice Movement, F.O.M., and Sign o’ the Times blogtalk radio has created a flier for the campaign, in addition to our https://redistributethepain.wordpress.com blog, and our firstname.lastname@example.org email. Queen T can be reached on Facebook in the SignOTheTimes group (https://www.facebook.com/QueenTahiyrah), by email to email@example.com, or call 513-913-2691. You can also write to her at 1623 Dalton St. #14393, Cincinnati, OH 45250.
As 2018 draws near, over 2.5 million people remain behind bars, walls, steel and cages. The burden of changing our circumstances remains squarely on our shoulders. We have to change our thoughts about how freedom is possible to attain, then change our actions.
Many of us know about completing our sentence as a way to freedom, or an appeal, post-conviction petition or parole. We have to amend this paradigm to include the collective actions that we can take as a unified body to bring about freedom as well.
There is no escaping the fact that we, as a body, constitute a significant sector of the economic pie chart that funds and fuels mass incarceration and prison slavery. For purposes of this call for a nationwide boycott campaign, we have identified four sectors of the Prison Industrialized Complex that serve as some of the main economic drivers for prison budgets, which generate billions of dollars annually to fund prison operations:
- Collect phone calls
- Canteen / store / snack line
- Incentive package purchases
Visitation vending and electronic visitation
The collect phone call industry is, by far, the most exploitive monopoly of the four enterprises. I don’t want to speculate on the amount of money we spend nationwide on phone calls, other than to say that this figure has to be in the billions of dollars.
The prison companies contract with the phone companies to carry out this extortion scheme through legal kickback schemes. We are locked up in these closed environments. If we want to maintain contact with our families, we have to pay a ransom to the phone company.
The prison system charges the phone company a cut (kickback) for being able to set up shop inside of the prison. The prison system’s cut or kickback percentage becomes part of the overall operations budget used to pay salaries, buy equipment, pay for water, electricity etc.
So, not only our slave labor, but also our financial contributions are helping to keep this empire running. Therefore, we have to boycott these ventures to help defund prison operations budgets.
Just as easily as a habeas corpus or appeal can free you, so, too, can you gain your freedom if a DOC has to close down prisons due to insufficient funds in their budgets to fund operations.
The fact that these industries generate billions of dollars each year merely attests to the enormous power that our families have over U.S. prison operations. Every time that they reject a collect call, they empower themselves by sending a message to the phone company that they will no longer assist in funding prison operations costs.
For those of us on the inside, when we stop picking up those phones, we send the message that we are ready to talk to our families at home in the living room and on the porch. These conversations are free and priceless.
The distinctively unique feature about these prison monopolies, as I’ve stated before, is that as incarcerated and enslaved people, we are their only customers. This makes it clear, without any doubt, that as much as organizations and groups grapple and fight with the FCC and the phone companies over prices, the POWER to effect change, immediate change, lies exclusively in our hands alone.
And always keep in mind that while it may cost $5, $10 or $20 to make a call, it don’t cost a penny to boycott for a month.
Casting a wide net!
Many of the owners of these cottage industry companies are former corrections officials. They either own the companies outright or are major investors. Others are family members, business associates or political contributors.
So, boycotting incentive package company Union Supply, for example, has ripple effects on many balance sheets. In addition, the employees of these companies feel the heat from participating in this evil industry. There’s plenty of pain pent up and caged inside these prisons, and we need to #RedistributeThePain in 2018 so that others can feel its intensity.
Beginning Feb. 1, 2018
When the campaign kicks off, I recommend that we invest approximately 25 percent of whatever you/we save into a fund to purchase books, stamps, newspaper subscriptions and office supplies to help print material, all to support the campaign. IWOC has indicated that their main body has donated $4,000 for book purchases.
Free Alabama Movement is contributing $750 to T-shirts, plus $250 to help purchase ink. If you have a submission for a T-shirt design, please send it to: Free Alabama Movement, P.O. Box 186, New Market, AL 35761 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If we choose your design, you’ll win $50 for books or newspaper subscriptions, tuition payment or other educational need.
Book of the Month – February 2018:
“Prison Profiteers: Who Makes Money from Mass Incarceration” by Tara Herevil and Paul Wright
Newspaper Subscription of the Month – February 2018:
SF Bay View, one month $2, one year $24
Publication of the Month – February 2018:
Prison Legal News, six months $18, one year $30
These are just a few of the recommended reading materials that you will find on our WordPress blog. I suggest that those who can, make these purchases, and those who can’t, reach out to FAM, IWOC, Queen T or Bay View, and collectively we will try to handle the request or send it to someone who can.
One other request that I would like to put out there personally is the need of assistance in developing an app that helps us to better analyze and break down each state’s prison system, each individual prison, and each prison’s industry and labor force, just to name a few. A person should be able to click on an app and at least get the following information at any time:
- Total jobs worked by incarcerated
- Each job description
- Paid jobs / amounts
- Unpaid jobs
- Total canteen sales
- Total collect calls
- Total incentive packages purchased
- Total visitation vending
- All products made by prison labor
- All services provided by prison labor
(Other factors may be included)
Creating our own app in aid of our movement is not cost prohibitive. We already have the funds to pay for it, but we are spending it on potato chips, cookies, candy, collect phone calls and processed food instead. For the most part, all of this is public information that is available to us through Freedom of Information Act and Open Records Act requests. In addition, we can use survey questionnaires, civil litigation, and other methods to start culling information out of these prisons and start painting a picture of what the business of prisons is really all about.
Wherever there is unity, there is power. So, let’s utilize 2018 as the year to continue to strengthen our unity, so that we can make 2018 a very powerful year for our movement, while also making it a very painful year for prison profiteers, human traffickers and the institution of slavery.
Our circumstances absolutely will not change until our thoughts and actions change. We have been spending, funding and enriching the system long enough. Now it is time to Boycott, Defund and Bankrupt.
Stop financing our own oppression. It’s time to Redistribute the Pain in 2018.
Bennu Hannibal Ra Sun, Free Alabama Movement
Send our brother some love and light: Melvin Ray, 163343, Limestone CF D-70, 28779 Nick Davis Rd, Harvest AL 35749.
A small but increasing amount of attention over the past decade is being paid to the increased use of private prisons in the U.S. Statistics are now showing that locking people up for profit is overriding the concept of jailing people in the name of justice.
A recent Associated Press investigation has determined one of the causes for a sharp increase in private prisons is the rise in the number of people locked up on immigration charges. In reaction to the 9/11 attacks, the country made changes to immigration laws that made it easier to detain more people and ended up being a major source of increased revenue for the country’s private prison companies. The federal government uses contractors to keep nearly half of the 400,000 people being held on immigration charges. The AP also reports that “nearly every aspect” of a huge budget increase to house those charged with immigration violations in 2005 was given to private prison companies.
There exists a “mutually beneficial and evidently legal relationship between those who make corrections and immigration policy and a few prison companies,” the report concluded, adding that there’s essentially no cost savings being achieved, the main selling point used by those advocating for private prisons. The cost to house a prisoner being held by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has risen from $80 per person, per day in 2004 to $166 today, with the government refusing to provide details explaining the difference.
According to the AP report, “A decade ago, more than 3,300 criminal immigrants were sent to private prisons under two 10-year contracts the Federal Bureau of Prisons signed with [Corrections Corporation of America] worth $760 million. Now, the agency is paying the private companies $5.1 billion to hold more than 23,000 criminal immigrants through 13 contracts of varying lengths.”
Three companies receive the bulk of the prison contracts in the U.S.: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), The GEO Group, and Management and Training Corp. Private prison companies now house about half of the country’s prisoners, up from only about 10% a decade ago. The money these companies have spent on lobbying and campaign donations is estimated to be at least $45 million over the last decade, the AP found. The result has been hundreds of millions of dollars in yearly profits.
Despite industry assurances to the contrary, a report from the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) last year indicated that lobbying efforts and campaign donations by private prison companies and their employees are done in order “to make money through harsh policies and longer sentences.” Similar to the conclusion of the AP investigation about the relationship between lawmakers and private prison companies, the JPI report concludes “the relationship between government officials and private prison companies has been part of the fabric of the industry from the start.”
A primary fear of this kind of relationship—a direct connection between those with power to send people to prison and the prisons themselves—has already happened. In Pennsylvania a judge has been given 17 years in prison for sentencing juveniles to a private facility in a “cash for kids” scandal. Many of those sent to private facilities were locked up for minor offences not normally subject to incarceration.
In another instance of abuse, it was reported that CCA was charging inmates five dollars per minute for phone calls at one facility in Georgia.
It’s not only immigration and juvenile detention scams that are allowing private prison companies to record millions of dollars in yearly profits. Drug users are another huge source of people to fill the growing number of private prison cells.
In a 2008 New York Times story titled “U.S. prison population dwarfs that of other nations,” it was pointed out that there were about 40,000 people in jails for drug offenses in 1980, much less than the 500,000 that were currently in jail on drug charges at the time. According to The Sentencing Project, those in federal prisons on drug charges have risen from 4,749 in 1980 to 97,472 in 2010. Over half of all people in federal prisons are there for drug crimes.
The Times story puts the number of prisoners at 2.3 million and points out it is even more that the 1.6 million people China has in prisons, despite the fact that they have a population four times as large as the U.S. The reasons given by the Times for the huge numbers of people in U.S. jails and prisons are varied, but they include “higher levels of violent crime, harsher sentencing laws, a legacy of racial turmoil, a special fervor in combating illegal drugs, the American temperament, and the lack of a social safety net. Even democracy plays a role, as judges — many of whom are elected, another American anomaly — yield to populist demands for tough justice.”
Stevenson adds that the increases also come from our response to poverty, mental illness, and race, among other factors, including “misguided three-strikes laws” and harsh penalties for minors—things hardly any other country does. The Times story points out that Canada’s incarceration rate has remained stable while its crime rate has closely paralleled the U.S. For example, the average prison term for a burglar in the U.S. is 16 months while in Canada it’s only five months.
In addition to investors in private prisons pushing for their increased use to increase revenues, prison guard unions are lobbying to stop reforms that would allow for more early release eligibility and shorter sentences. If there are fewer prisoners, there is a reduced need for guards which reduces the size and strength of the unions, providing a motivation to work against any move that would reduce the number of those behind bars.
There are efforts to challenging the move toward private prisons and maintaining long prison sentences for more people. The National Prison Divestment Campaign, launched in 2011, is one example. It is a coalition of groups pushing to get investors to pull out of private prison companies. The campaign is made up of religious groups, immigrant rights organizations and others with a criminal justice focus. The campaign has seen some successes in getting financial managers to pull funds from the private prison companies, as well as getting other companies, such as food suppliers, from not doing businesses with them.
A profit motive is always going to influence public policy, which means justice and simple fairness can easily be overrun by those looking to make money, especially when lawmakers are looking out for a company’s profits, not its country’s citizens. With our country being a world leader when it comes to the numbers of people we put in prisons and jails, it’s an obvious target for those looking to make money, the same as it would be for any growth industry. Because businesses are in place to make money for its owners, any conflict with other factors—like justice and fairness—are secondary at best.
If we want to save money in the prison system while working to advance a system of reasonable justice, the answer is not to privatize our prisons—adding the additional costs of maintaining large profits and funding lobbying costs—but to reduce the number of prisoners and the sentences they serve. It is immoral to create a system that has within it the motivation of money when it comes to taking away anyone’s freedom. No matter how many safeguards are promised, the greed brought to life by guaranteed profits paid for by taxpayers will always win. The only solution is to remove greed as much as possible from the structure.
Brian Magee is the communications associate for the American Humanist Association.