Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude . . . except as punishment for a crime . . . shall exist.
–13th Amendment (1865), U.S. Constitution
YES, it’s true! The 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution still permits slavery for anyone convicted of a crime and imprisoned. Locked up now for over 17.5 years, I wrote “The 1865 Burden” as a poem to provide a behind-the-scenes peek at America’s 1865 slavery legacy — as it’s “being” applied in 2020 to me and other Washington state prisoners, and similarly to prisoners across the country.
The 1865 Burden
KNOW YE, future objects of vengeance
Your enslavement was decided in 1865
As criminals, you are Property of the State
HENCEFORTH, we authorize WA DOC to:
Strip away the dignity of your humanity
Assume control over your personal affairs
Yoke you tautly as fitting beasts of burden
Commoditize you by way of menial labor
Set a minimum grazing gratuity of 42¢/hr
Your day’s labor shall not exceed a meal tip
Lawfully deduct up to 95% of your monies
Of $100 from loved ones, pay you only $5
For 30+ years, deny cost OF living increases
Yet annually increase your costs FOR living
Ergo, increase your medical copay fees
Rec fees, and food and property prices
Feed you comestibles suitable for animals
Labeled, “Not fit for human consumption”
Offset budget cuts by reducing food quality
Supplement meals with pricey food packages
Provide offerings that exploit your loved ones
Design and benefit from the below offerings:
Phone company contract kickbacks
Deductions of money from loved ones
Jpay media contract kickbacks
Food and property program kickbacks
Misusing the Offender Betterment Fund
Signed and executed by:
WE THE PEOPLE of 1865
Slavery Pacifists / Slave Owners
Today’s blog post comes from Shawn Ali Bahrami, who is serving his 20th year in a Texas state prison (since he was 17 years old). Shawn has always proclaimed his innocence, and you can read his story here.)
Shawn agreed to write a post for us about the harsh working conditions of Texas inmates.
Group singing: Hard work-work,
Hard work-work … Lead man counting/singing: and you – four-step <the line steps forward> Group singing: Hard work-work …
I used to work at Mickey D’s,
Now I have to chop the weeds — four step
On time and in a straight line!” shouts the armed, gray-uniformed prison guard, who supervises his Field Squad of roughly thirty inmates from atop his snorting beast.
“And if you can’t talk and work at the same time, then shut the fuck up, or I’ll write you a case!”
“Fuck-you, Bitch, and that case!” shouts back an anonymous inmate from the work-line.
“Alright, just for that, I want them aggies head-high, and anyone who isn’t flat weeding head-high gets a case.” The guard looks at his work roster and puts a mark next to two names.
The bunched-together, rhythmic, straight line of white-uniformed inmates swing their aggies/hoes in unison, doing work in the scorching Texas sun, yet moving with the precision of a school band.
“One-two-three,”the squad hits the grassy ground three times, “and you — four step.” On the lead man’s command, the squad steps forward on the fourth count.
The Field Squad’s blade-tipped sticks lift head-high, then bang the drum of the ground, repeatedly and manually, they mow down all the waist-high grass in their path. Clods of disturbed, dry dirt billow into a cumulus dust cloud around them. Snakes shoot scared through the grass. Huge ant piles are sidestepped. Critters are pocketed and later taken back to cells as pets. The chorus of singing continues over the drumbeat of the aggies.