Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


Prison, Labor, and Race

Early in his 2006 young adult science fiction novel Rash, Pete Hautman wrote of the year 2076:
I never found out why my aunt and cousins were locked up.  Most people don't like to talk about their jailed family members.  It's embarrassing.  But having five close relatives in the prison system is not that unusual.  According to USSA Today, 24 percent of all adults in this country are serving time.  My family was only slightly more criminal than average.

Dad got sent to a prison aquafarm down in Louisiana.  He wrote to us that by the time he is released, he will have shelled twenty million shrimp.  That message included a thirty-second clip of him standing at his workstation, blue gloves up to his elbows, ripping into a bin of crustaceans.  Sam was on a road gang in Nebraska, middle of nowhere, patching holes on the interstate.

Of course, without people like us Marstens, there wouldn't be anybody to do the manual labor that makes this country run.  Without penal workers, who would work the production lines, or pick the melons and peaches, or maintain the streets and parks and public lavatories?  Our economy depends on prison labor.  Without it everybody would have to work--whether they wanted to or not.
Prison culture is far from the only thing Hautman critiques in his book, but it is a central theme that is all too relevant already to U.S. society already today.  It's surprising and alarming, in fact, how little exaggeration was necessary for Hautman to create his future society.  Not much work is required at all to find a wealth of facts and statistics supporting his projection; for instance, the U.S. now has 25% of the world’s prisoners even though it comprises only 5% of the world’s population.  As to his vision of prisons providing the bulk of the economy's manual labor, consider:
9 Surprising Industries Getting Filthy Rich from Mass Incarceration

It’s no coincidence that the United States now imprisons more of its people than any other country in the world: mass incarceration has become a giant industry in the U.S., resulting in huge profits not only for private prison companies, but also, for everything from food companies and telecoms to all the businesses that are using prison labor to cut their manufacturing costs. . . .

1. Food Supply Companies . . .
2. Telecommunications . . .
3. Healthcare Companies . . .
4. Telemarketing and Call Centers . . .
5. Clothing Manufacturers . . .
6. The Technology Sector . . .
7. The Bail Industry . . .
8. Food Processing and Packaging . . .
9. Agriculture . . .
Follow the link for the details.  While some of the industries mentioned make their money selling to the prisons and prisoners, others rely on incarcerated labor.  In a similar vein as Rash,* for example:
The prison-industrial complex not only uses companies like Aramark that bring food to prisoners, it can also use prison labor to process food for people on the outside. In 2008, Mother Jones’ Caroline Winter reported that in California alone, prisoners were processing “more than 680,000 pounds of beef, 400,000 pounds of chicken products, 450,000 gallons of milk, 280,000 loaves of bread, and 2.9 million eggs.” Winter reported that Signature Packaging Solutions, a Starbucks subcontractor, was using prisoners to package holiday coffees.
Even with such realities in the present, Rash remains science fiction clearly exaggerating an outrageous future, right?  Well . . . mostly.  But it's less an exaggeration for some than others.  I'm creating this post at this moment in light of something John Legend said during his Oscar acceptance speech a few nights ago.

Again, it's very easy to find the evidence to back this assertion an many similar ones, such as:
More than 60% of the people in prison today are people of color. Black men are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white men and Hispanic men are 2.5 times more likely. For black men in their thirties, 1 in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day.
That comes from Fact Sheet: Trends in U.S. Corrections, as does this graphic:

Critics, of course, will try to say if this is so, it is because they must be deserving.  Yet, once again, not factually accurate.  One of the 19 Actual Statistics About America's Prison System at the link is:
African-Americans comprised 12% of regular drug users, but almost 40% of those arrested for drug offenses.
There are many problems with our current prison culture in the U.S., not the least of which is the way it is creating and perpetuating a permanent underclass of laborers with minimal, at best, chance of escaping to better circumstances.  The fact that the system's institutionalized racism is disproportionately trapping people of color indicates that our legacy of slavery is far, far from over.

*It takes four team members to create a Luigi McDonald's Hand-Tossed Original Pepperoni Pizza Pie: the tosser, the saucer, the cheeser, and the shooter.  Everything before and after is done by machine.  I was the shooter.

They called me the shooter because I was the guy with the pepperoni gun.  Here's how it works: Four guys stand at a conveyer belt.  The tosser is at the far left, then the saucer, then the cheeser, then the shooter.  Every twelve seconds a Doughmaster B720 about the size of a bus plops a disk of warm dough onto the belt.  The tosser picks that dough up, gives it a few quick tosses and spins, and drops it back on the belt.  Since the dough is already pizza-shaped when the tosser gets it, his job is to just give it that no-quite-round hand-tossed look.  It's harder than it sounds.  The belt lurches forward, advancing the naked pie to the next station, where the saucer squirts 200 milliliters of tomato sauce from his overhead dispenser onto the dough disk.  He then spreads it using a thing that looks like the blade of a plastic spatula.  The belt advances, and the disk gets cheesed by the cheeser, who uses a cheese gun to cover the sauce with squiggles of mozzarella.  Then it's my turn.  A pepperoni gun looks like a handheld hair dryer, only there's a long rope of pepperoni coming out the back end and going up to a giant pepperoni coil hanging from a spool above me.  One spool of pepperoni is enough to top 1,800 pizzas.

I pull the trigger on my pepperoni gun.  Disks of pepperoni shoot out as fast  as you could blink.  One pull of the trigger delivers twenty-six thin pepperoni disks.  When I was in top form, I could shoot them where I wanted them, but most times I had to quick make some adjustments to their placement.  You want them to look hand-placed, but you don't want them too lopsided.  After twelve seconds, which is not as much time as you might think when you're topping the pizza goes straight into the freeze-and-packaging unit.

Not quite on the topic of this post, but related:
The Disappeared: Chicago Police Detain Americans at Abuse-Laden 'Black Site'

 . . . The combination of holding clients for long periods, while concealing their whereabouts and denying access to a lawyer, struck legal experts as a throwback to the worst excesses of Chicago police abuse, with a post-9/11 feel to it.

On a smaller scale, Homan Square is “analogous to the CIA’s black sites,” said Andrea Lyon, a former Chicago public defender and current dean of Valparaiso University Law School. When she practiced law in Chicago in the 1980s and 1990s, she said, “police used the term ‘shadow site’” to refer to the quasi-disappearances now in place at Homan Square. . . .


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