From Syria to the U.S.: Fasting, Weeping, and Wailing

I have written and then deleted several thoughts on our country’s response to Syrian refugees. 27 states, and counting, have refused  to accept these people within their borders. While states cannot legally ban refugees, their refusal to cooperate with the … Continue reading

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Neither Slavery Nor Involuntary Servitude… Except As A Punishment For Crime

Female chain gang marching to a bus that will transport them to a work site outside Estrella Jail in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

Some are attempting to add a new name to the list of trafficked persons that make up the modern slave trade: the incarcerated American.  In the past, media outlets and activists have denounced prison labor practices in areas in such as China but the light is now being shone on  the U.S. prison system.

Currently, Federal and State laws do not acknowledge inmates (in labor programs) as trafficked persons. Human trafficking  is the illegal trade in human beings for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor. In the case of adults, Federal and state laws require that there be evidence of force, fraud, or coercion.

Section 1.of the 13th amendment states “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.”

In other words…

“The state has the authority to enslave you simply by convicting you of a crime and sending you to prison or requiring community service through state approved agencies.”

What rights do incarcerated persons have? Should there be reform of the American prison system, federal and state laws, and the U.S. Constitution to address potential acts of slavery?

Though it is not the focus here, it should be acknowledged that there are government-run companies that use this prison labor to turn huge profits by underbidding everyone. UNICOR is a government run company inside the federal prison system that makes everything from drywall to office chairs in factories on prison property.

 The specific issue being addressed here is what happens once private prison companies such as Corrections Corporation of America and G4S are in control of these prisons and they sell inmate labor, at sub-minimum wages, to Fortune 500 corporations like Chevron, AT&T, IBM and Martori Farms. Would you be shocked to learn that Martori Farms is a leading suppliers of agricultural produce to that paragon of corporate virtue, Walmart?

The first concern is “who should be served by the practice of prison labor?”. Would it be best for these projects to be government-headed projects that serve the needs of the country, rather than giving massive (sometimes corrupt) corporations cheap/free labor and taking jobs away from the unemployed?

Do we want prison labor to continue to be a private industry, mostly benefiting the rich, or is it better for prison profits to help pay for all costs associated with maintaining inmates, compensating victims, increasing public revenue, financing needed programs etc…?

Imprisonment costs taxpayers billions of dollars. If we are limited to private corporation labor programs, wouldn’t the government and the people be best served by having companies pay minimum wage (or perhaps a slight reduction for contributing to this program) and then pay a portion to the inmates, using the remainder to pay for the inmates incarceration costs.

Once we’ve answered the aforementioned question we must consider the issue of punishment versus rehabilitation. If all of these private corporations start using prison populations as their work force and making huge profits, where is the incentive to rehabilitate the prisoners? America already incarcerates more people than any other country on earth. If the company starts depending on prison labor then they will find ways to keep the prisons full. This is a slippery slope. Forcing companies to pay something comparable to minimum wage could assist in eliminating the desire to keep prisons heavily populated.

Ninety-seven percent of 125,000 federal inmates have been convicted of non-violent crimes. It is believed that more than half of the 623,000 inmates in municipal or county jails are innocent of the crimes they are accused of. Of these, the majority are awaiting trial. Two-thirds of the one million state prisoners have committed non-violent offenses. Sixteen percent of the country’s 2 million prisoners suffer from mental illness. Who is benefiting to keep these people imprisoned? They are after all, a captive (pun intended) audience for the greediest of our government and our corporations.

Is there and should there be any return for the inmate when it comes to prison labor? Perhaps prison labor could amount to sentence reduction. Then the door would be open to rehabilitation and recuperation, with incentives going towards work that has to do with bettering society. Education could be included in order to qualify inmates. And if you obtain degrees from those studies it could be commensurable with time taken off your sentence.

In 1979, Congress created the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (known as PIE; pdf) to provide employment opportunities. Theoretically, this program addressed all the concerns found here. It provided prisoners a chance to contribute to their own upkeep, gave them a chance to gain necessary job skills, and allowed them to engage in productive activities while incarcerated. Theoretically…

Reblogged: Man candy – Gregory Stevens

Friend, teacher, and past guest writer of BEA, Greg Stevens gives a frank and refreshing interview about gender norms, the church, and societal constructs. A MUST READ.


The Strange Paradox – A Presidential Inauguration


Setting up chairs in front of the U.S. Capitol Building for the 2013 inauguration (Getty Images)

In the annals of equality and progress there are two momentous dates whose anniversaries we celebrate this year. It is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington when Martin Luther King, Jr delivered his “I have a dream” speech, and the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Today we honor the legacy of one of those men. A man who is arguably one of the greatest civil rights leader in U.S. history. There’s a serendipitous beauty in that today is also the ceremonial inauguration of of our 44th President’s second term in office (official inauguration occurred on Sun. Jan, 20, 2013).

President Barack Obama will be sworn in using two bibles. The first is the Bible used by former President Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, when he took the oath of office for the first of his two terms in 1861. The second Bible belonged to Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

President Obama’s legacy has not been cemented yet. Depending on who’s words you lend your ear to you will hear of his supposed  incompetency and arrogance that will surely lead to our economic and moral downfall. Or you will hear of his perceived efforts to secure economic justice as well as equality for women and the LGBTQIA community. Regardless of these perceptions, he is in fact a symbol of the forward motion in the movement for racial equality – a movement that took root in men like Lincoln and MLK Jr. There’s an undeniable beauty in that fact.


President Barack Obama officially takes the oath of office for a second term on Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013

Political leanings aside, there is a potent reminder of the work that is left to be done – particularly in the atrocity that has touched the professional and/or personal lives of each of these men.


150 years after Lincoln’s America and our country (and the world) can not boast of a sweeping movement for equality or the relentless eradication of all forms of slavery. Instead we carry the shame of nearly 21 million slaves worldwide and the culpability in that we permit slaves to fight our wars, grow our food, make our products, provide us with sexual entertainment, and provide us with bodily organs. We are all touched by the modern slave trade and NONE of us are exempt from the call to end it.

Laying aside our politics, that is what today ought to represent. It is a glaring light on the strange paradox of a country that has had such a racial evolution that it can claim a two-term President of African-American descent and yet also can currently claim the presence of thousands upon thousands of slaves within its own borders. How can this be?

How have you and I allowed this to be?

“Slavery is founded in the selfishness of man’s nature – opposition to it, is his love of justice.” – President Abraham Lincoln

“Why have you and I allowed this to be? “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people. ” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name; modern slavery. It is barbaric and it is evil and it has no place in a civilized world.” – President Barack Obama

MLK, Jr. is also quoted as saying, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

If you have not yet taken your first steps in the fight to end human trafficking, please honor MLK by taking it today…

Sign the “Help make freedom Real” petition asking President Obama  to use his second term to help make freedom real for children and families around the world waiting for rescue. Join me in asking the president to lead on a comprehensive plan to eradicate slavery at home and abroad.

Sign the petition to pass Safe Harbor laws in 2013. As a result of the passing of these laws, children will be recognized, not as criminals, but as victims. These laws define child victims of sexual exploitation as kids, not criminals, and provide funding for the services they so desperately need.