The Slavery to Prison Pipeline: Some Things Just Never Change

No matter how beautiful and well crafted a coffin might look, it will not make anyone wish for death. — African proverb

I recently began watching the show "Underground" and some of the scenes made me realize something that may often go overlooked. From slavery to the current times we live in, the system, slave owners, and the people who control the prison system all have one thing in common: controlling the mind. Slaves were not allowed to read, learn how to write, or have anything to possibly protect themselves while they were owned. Within prisons/jails, the inmates are treated the same way in a sense. Things have changed within the prison system over the years where inmates are allowed to read books, write letters, and even get an education while inside, but on the prison's terms. These things are often looked at or given to as rewards while in jail, which is another control tactic. While watching the show, I noticed something that is still used in today's prison system: the "shu"(don't quote me on how it is spelled). Even in a few other series I've watched centered around slavery, I saw sometimes where slaves would be put into this little box in the ground, naked, which was a punishment tactic used back then and it is now advanced in today's prison system for people who have misbehaved. The only difference is that they do not get put outside the jail, but put somewhere else in the jail, in a boxed room, isolated from everyone else. Stripped from sunlight, outside time, and anything to keep them occupied. Slaves would be in there for days sometimes if not longer depending on what they did. In prison, this is practiced as well. Inmates are left in there for days or weeks at a time.

When I was younger, I used to go to a summer camp called Freedom School. One of their main focuses was to "break the cradle to prison pipeline." Knowing and learning about this from such a young age really helped me learn about society and how it really worked for people like me. So the question now is, what do we do to change this? It went from slaves getting whipped to us being in jail and getting beat with batons. It went from us having to sneak letters and newspapers to try and teach ourselves how to read and write, to getting it taken away if we misbehave while in jail. This can become problematic for people who go into jail at a young age because they are not getting the proper education or knowledge they deserve. This is how some people come out of jail with the reading level of a middle schooler even though they are 35 years old. So the main question is, how do we reform prison and jail for the modern day person? How do we change the ways of the prison system so that even though you are locked inside of a cell for however long, you are still treated with human decency? Its not as simple as we want it to be, it may not even be achievable as soon as we want it to, but it can happen.

While watching Underground, it felt so realistic as if it wasn't acting, but these people were real. Seeing them get whipped, seeing them get sold, hung, and killed for just wanting a better life, it made me hurt. Knowing that my ancestors had to go through that, and it wasn't so far ago, it got me angry. Knowing that these same tricks are being used in today's prison system, gets me mad. Guards are purposely taking away things from prisoners, beating them, tearing their rooms apart, and whatever else they come to mind with just because they have the authority to do so. Another analogy I found from watching the show and other documentaries, shows and movies regarding slavery, is the "house n*gga." When the Black men would get put into the big house, their whole attitude towards everyone else would change. They felt like they were better than everyone else, talked to the other slaves like they were nothing, and even sometimes whipped them. Forgetting that they were also still slaves, too. You can reference the Black prison guards with this too. They get into these positions and start to abuse their power and title. They end up beating on the prisoners and laughing about it because they feel like they have one up on them in life due to them having the position they do. They will call them names, take away their food, and their freedom just because they know no one will say anything to them. They try to do this so that the white guards will take a liking to them and "have their back" when in reality, if things hit the fan, it'll be every man for themselves. Why get into this position to do harm instead of good?

The only thing that has changed is the names of the positions. The people behind them are still the same. The scenery has changed as well, but it isn't much better either. The slavery to prison pipeline is very real and very alive. You would think over time things would change, but I guess not. I'm pretty sure there are a lot of other similarities that I didn't pick up on or maybe didn't see yet, or just overall in other films I have seen, but it wouldn't be hard to catch these references and compare them to modern life either.

Stay safe, stay aware, and stay woke.


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