03 November 2010

Voices and Soul

26 October 2010

by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Tuesday's Chile, Poetry Editor

The Prison Industrial Complex insists that it is a growth industry; and it's hard to argue with that assessment. With the building of ever more prisons, both by Government and Private Industry, with mandatory sentencing and inflexible drug laws; the resonant cadences of chain gangs past can be heard echoing from sea to shining sea.

It is presumed that Drug Prohibition began with the Harrison Act of 1914, but California enacted the Nation's first anti-narcotics law in 1875 in response to anti-chinese sentiment. Ostensibly enacted to crack down on opium dens, the law was used to incarcerate or banish Chinese nationals deemed as unfair competition with white workers. When several boatloads of Punjabi Sikhs landed in San Francisco in 1910, it sparked an uproar of protest from Asian exclusionists, who pronounced them to be even more unfit for American civilization than the Chinese. Immigration authorities capped the influx at little more than 2,000 in the state, mostly in agricultural areas of the Central Valley. Even so, the Sikhs remained a popular target by racists of the times; and were accused of many crimes, all while under the influence of hashish or marijuana. In the 1920's and 1940's, when Braceros and other workers from Mexico were no longer needed, even harsher laws were enacted to hasten their exodus. Anti-narcotics laws were also enacted in the South to intimidate the black population and used as an excuse to deny them the vote.

To ignore the racial animus that drives the Prison Industrial Complex, is to ignore the obvious; it is to ignore the history of our nation.

Divide and Conquer is a strategy used by military and political professionals alike. If people can be divided by culture and race, the job of the General or the Oligarch runs smoother. It runs smoother still, if the divisions extend within those very cultures and races, as well.

A Fable

Once upon a today and yesterday
and nevermore there were 7 men and women all locked
up in prison cells. Now these 7 men and women
were innocent of any crimes; they were in prison
because their skins were black.

Day after day, the prisoners paced their cells,
pining for their freedom.

And the non-black jailers would
laugh at the prisoners and beat them
with sticks and throw their food on the floor.

Finally, prisoner #1 said,
“I will educate myself and emulate
the non-colored people.
That is the way to freedom
c’mon, you guys, and follow me.”

“Hell, no,” said prisoner #2.
“The only way to get free is
to pray to my god and he will deliver you like
he delivered Daniel from the lion’s den,
so unite and follow me.”

“Bullshit,” said prisoner #3.
“The only way
out is thru this tunnel i’ve been
quietly digging, so c’mon, and follow me.”

“Uh-uh,” said prisoner #4,
“that’s too risky.
The only right
way is to follow all the rules
and don’t make the non-colored people angry,
so c’mon brothers and sisters and unite behind me.”  

 “Fuck you!” said prisoner #5,
“The only way
out is to shoot
our way out, if all of
you get together behind me.”

“No,” said prisoner #6,
“all of you are incorrect;
you have not analyzed the
political situation by my
scientific method and historical meemeejeebee.
All we have to do is wait long enough
and the bars will bend from their own inner rot.
That is the only way.”

“Are all of you crazy,” cried prisoner #7.
“I’ll get out by myself,
by ratting on the rest of you
to the non-colored people.
That is the way, that is the only way!”

“No-no,” they
all cried, “come and follow me.
I have the
way, the only way to freedom.”

And so they argued, and to this day
they are still arguing;
and to this day they are still
in their prison cells,
their stomachs
trembling with fear.

-- Etheridge Knight

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