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It's January of 2013, a Jewish man named David Weisman is arraigned in front of a German criminal court. A few days before his arraignment, Weisman set out to find a fix for his family's financial pickle. His plan was to rob Commerzbank, one of Berlin's most established financial institution. He obtained a weapon, and during the commission of his crime, things went awry. His robbery failed, the act thwarted by the superior risk management policies recently added by the company's loss department.

He's in court on charges of aggravated robbery, a violation of section 250 of the German criminal code. His lawyer's not so hot this time, and the jury finds video evidence very convincing. There's no question that Weisman did the crime; the only question remaining has to do with the length and type of punishment. In this story, the German system allows for some discretion, and the penalties for robbing a bank can range from lenient to unbearable depending upon a person's good or bad luck.

It is late afternoon and the judge is ready to announce a sentence. For Weisman, the penalty is eight years of hard labor in Auschwitz-Birkenau. While there, he'll be asked to line up at 4:30 in the morning, stark naked, alongside his fellow prisoners. He'll be issued wooden shoes that may or may not fit, and he'll be directed to a work detail completed under the sound of an irrationally cheery musical accompaniment. While there, Weisman will see many of his fellow prisoners die, and he'll find himself surrounded mostly by other Jews.

He will be asked to accept his plight and to undergo certain moral rehabilitation. The effort will be led by an Aryan group asserting moral authority, and he will be coerced into accepting new moral precepts to gain approval from those running the historic camp. If he happens to break any of the prison's rules, he'll be moved to one of the camp's many standing cells, where he and a few others will stand for hours on end to break their will and spirit.

The German government stands in approval of this practice, and German profit arm benefits from a significant amount of revenue from the wage-less work of Weisman and others. Around Germany, this result draws little media attention, and when brought to the attention of the public, it's seen as anything but atypical. Some even believe Weisman is getting what he deserves. After all, he was a morally inferior Jew putting property and limb in danger in downtown Berlin.

As you might have guessed, David Weisman is not real. He's a fiction and the described German system is a fiction. But it's a fiction motivated by America and Angola Prison, the Louisiana plantation that both recalls and celebrates America's legacy of human ownership.

Germany wouldn't think of turning the site of its ugliest history into a for-profit prison exploiting Jewish people through the same kind of treatment that's stained the country's history. But we do it here every single day. Angola is now a prison, but it wasn't always that way. Before the state of Louisiana owned the land, it was a part of a larger plantation, where slave labor was used to create a southern financial empire.

And on Angola, we've simply recreated a scene right out of the early 1800s. Once on Angola, few men get out. A combination of brutal sentencing and substandard parole procedures leaves most men on the plantation with de-facto "life" sentences. While there, these men are forced to work in fields. In some cases they work hours and jobs much like the ones that used to take place right on those grounds - they pick cotton and do manual plowing.
The numbers on Angola tell much of the story. More than 18,000 acres cover the Louisiana countryside. More than 5,000 men call the plantation home, and almost 80% of those men are black. Recent numbers suggest that only 12% of men who come to Angola will ever breathe free air again. There, they depend upon four staple crops to turn a profit - soy beans, corn, cotton, and wheat. The plantation features a metal fabrication plant and a license plate recycling facility. For those prisoners who are lucky, it's possible to snag a job as a mop factory worker.

To call it slavery might be an overstatement. Of course, these men are paid. For their minimum of 40 hours per week, the slaves on Angola make somewhere between two and 20 cents. And business is good on Angola. They've recently built a public golf course, and the prison has its own 11,000 seat arena. There, the prisoners are displayed in a manner so disgusting that it should cause widespread revolt.

A few times per year, people can buy tickets to the prison rodeo. The prisoners compete in bull riding, much to the delight of the crowd. They lack training and, most of the time, the proper equipment. They compete in a game where bulls are released on a table of brave prisoners. The last one to leave the table wins. How about the "sport" which asks prisoners to pull a poker chip off of the forehead of an angry bull? You can see all of this and more at Angola, where the line between animals and people is too often blurred.
These "games" are all-too familiar to those who have studied slavery. Owners often coerced their captives into games, enjoying the show while sitting comfortably on the sidelines. One historical record recalls the life of a slave:
on Christmas we had all we could eat and drink and after that a big party, and you ought to see them gals swingin' they partners round. Then massa would have a few good niggers wrestle. Our sports was big fun for the massa and his family. They'd sit on the gallery and watch the niggers put it on brown.
People who break the rules in Angola are often placed into solitary confinement, where they spend 23 hours per day in a cell no larger than the average airport bathroom. These and other prisoners are reminded of their moral inferiority on a regular basis, as their captors supply them with all of the religious materials a man could want. The numbers suggest that 30,000 copies of religious materials are distributed on a yearly basis. Gospel music breaks the silence and Biblical paintings adorn the walls. The prison's warden is proud of his efforts to "reform" these men, and he considers the prison to be a very spiritual place.

These efforts are not dissimilar from the things that happened with slaves in the early 19th century. Slaves had few rights under the command of Southern-style plantation dictators, but one right they did have was the right to surrender their spirit in the name of the spirit. Religion in those times was used to justify slavery, and the Christian brand was often used to keep slaves right in line. On Angola, captives are given a similar right. If they choose, they can learn from the morally superior prison executives - those upstanding souls who make their money on the backs of cheaply acquired labor.

And yet, our sense of moral repugnance is not there. Given our country's history of human exploitation through slavery, it seems almost impossible that we'd use a former slave plantation as the site where we punish people through slave-like labor.

David Weisman is not real, and the fiction of his punishment would never exist. But for many men in Louisiana and states like it, the American version of this fiction is disgusting reality. Used to clean up the BP oil spill - without proper clothing to protect against the known dangers - and used to produce profit in an oppressive, coercive environment, these prisoners are America's new slaves. The industrial prison industry is largely to blame. This industry holds significant power and it's out there lobbying. The laws of our states reflect this political capital, as people are being punished longer for less serious crimes. And few people seem to care.  

Originally posted to Coby DuBose on Criminal Injustice, Race, and Poverty on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 10:13 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thank you so much for sharing this. n/t (14+ / 0-)

    If "elitist" just means "not the dumbest motherfucker in the room", I'll be an elitist! - David Rees from "Get Your War On". //"Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest." - Denis Diderot

    by Oaktown Girl on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 10:46:09 PM PST

  •  I think LA has one of the more draconian (19+ / 0-)

    criminal justice systems in the nation coupled with a prison system that is rivaled in fiction only by Georgia.  (heckuva distinction) http://en.wikipedia.org/...

    However the reality of the prison outstips any fiction.  For additional information (some of it extremely brutal in its details)
    http://www.redpepper.org.uk/...
    http://en.wikipedia.org/...
    http://solitarywatch.com/...
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/...
    http://louisianaprisonwatch.blogspot.com/ (scroll down)
    http://www.november.org/...

  •  My great fear is that this is just a prelude to (23+ / 0-)

    what the plutocrats want to see happen to the rest of society. How can smaller businesses who provide the same goods and services compete against this kind of business model? Cheap labor under the absolute control of corporate owners turns a pretty profit and forces competitors out of business or into the same model. For some time they have found their cheap labor overseas, but as that becomes more and more expensive, they are looking for it here at home, whether through prisons or systematically tearing down the worker protections and wage structure that allowed the growth of a middle class. Unfortunately they see a healthy, prosperous, and educated middle class as a direct challenge to their position at the top of society and will do anything to keep us all down under their boot heels.

    A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit. - Greek proverb

    by marleycat on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 01:17:48 AM PST

  •  You are writing important stories (21+ / 0-)

    I feel nausea reading this. We haven't come very far at all.

    L'Amistad Mutiny took place in July 1839. At the time it was illegal to transport slaves. But the ship was Spanish and the occupants had sailed from Havana (before the mutiny), but navigators didn't heed their new master's instructions to sail toward the sun, and instead directed the ship north along the US coast, where they eventually landed on Long Island, New York.

    It was illegal at the time to transport slaves from Africa to the New World. A court case was filed in New Haven, CT, petitioning for the men to be set free. A key question involved the question of whether the men belonged to Spain (it was a Spanish ship, that was technically shipwrecked, and there were laws about salvage), or whether they were men.

    None of the men spoke English.

    J. Willard Gibbs, son of Josiah W. Gibbs, (the Father of Thermodynamics), was instrumental in learning some of their language and came to New York to locate a translator, who was able to interpret and translate for the prisoners.

    The case eventually went to SCOTUS and brought a former president out of retirement to help prepare and argue the case (John Quincy Adams). The men won their freedom and returned to their native land in Africa.

    It still took a full generation before the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863.

    Now here we are 150 years later, 6 generations and one civil war later, and the new boss is the same as the old boss.

    I feel sad, disgusted, and ashamed of my countrymen. And considerable dismay at my current [relative] impotence on the matter.

    •  That was the thing that came to mind here. (2+ / 0-)

      I had forgotten Amistad and was thinking it might be Angola, so I very much appreciate your post.  I was thinking that maybe there was a site commemorating the history and that it was somehow celebrating slave history.

      I'm glad that's not the case, but this is awful as well.  I'm visiting Louisiana later this week and I'm going to be careful the whole time so I don't get to experience this from the inside.

  •  This particular system hasn't moved far, if any, (14+ / 0-)

    from what is described in Slavery by Another Name. There are real criminals in Angola, but the system by which it is run appears to be corrupt.

    Of course this is the state where once even progressives rallied to the slogan "Vote for the crook. It's important" because the choice of corruption was between Edwin Edwards' more routine type and that of David Duke with his KKK hat.

    The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

    by pelagicray on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 04:43:30 AM PST

  •  the right of liberty is revoked by criminal (4+ / 0-)

    conviction, the basis for Jim Crow labor. The 8th amendment is still interpreted from a barbaric standard.

  •  Lost the civil war, but still create the divide (22+ / 0-)

    We all know the story of the victory of the civil war.
    As kids and beyond we may have heard "The South Will Rise Again!" and other similar crap.

    The problem is, it did exactly that.   Statehouses are filled with people who are enacting laws as though they were in a confederacy, not a union.   States enact policies and practices to go after minorities, whether it's immigrants, African Americans, etc.

    We are slowly building an environment of two nations...  and that's why I'm a big believer that a 50 state strategy is crucial.   The longer these things go on, and the more we say "it's just those wacky people" the more we resign people to this kind of fate.

    Change has to come to places like these.   The indifference of doing nothing, or resigning it as "ground we can't win" just doesn't work for me.

    Gandhi's Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle

    by Chris Reeves on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 05:52:50 AM PST

  •  13th Amendment watch (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jplanner
    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.
    And yet, our sense of moral repugnance is not there. Given our country's history of human exploitation through slavery, it seems almost impossible that we'd use a former slave plantation as the site where we punish people through slave-like labor.
    Of course there's no moral repugnance; because there's no real equivalence between imprisonment of a limited term for crime and a lifetime of servitude because someone kidnapped you from your home country.

    Are we to spare black prisoners labor imposed as a general sentence because their ancestors may have been enslaved?  That's ridiculous.  

    •  Maybe I'm too idealistic, but the diary feels (9+ / 0-)

      sensible to me.

       there's no real equivalence between imprisonment of a limited term for crime and a lifetime of servitude  

      A lifetime is a lifetime:

        Recent numbers suggest that only 12% of men who come to Angola will ever breathe free air again.  
       

      A lifetime is a lifetime,
      by whichever means a man is held prisoner,
      for his entire lifetime,
      or his lifetime starting at 20 something years old,
      the age at which I suppose most of them are convicted.

       Are we to spare black prisoners labor imposed as a general sentence because their ancestors may have been enslaved?  That's ridiculous.    
       

      To avoid the feeling
      of repeating abuse
      long considered unwise and cruel,
      yes.

      We should spare all prisoners hard labor.

      How can we tell ourselves
      that hard labor by prisoners
      is not slave labor?

    •  Well that's not really the point (16+ / 0-)

      Although I could present a compelling argument that forced prisoner labor is wrong and should be scrapped in favor of a system that leads to lower levels of recidivism.

      There is a difference in forcing prisoners to work and forcing them to work in former slave plantations to produce profits for corporate prison owners. Because this creates perverse incentives for the people who make criminal laws and enforce those laws. When prisoners are the oil that lubricates a private profit center, we're incentivizing a system that seeks more prisoners rather than more justice.

      The subsidiary point is that our willingness to subject our (mostly) black prison population to a setting that houses the worst of American horrors is a sign of how unashamed we are of our slave history. The title of this diary reflects that, and I believe it to be a central point here.

      "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

      by Grizzard on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 07:09:14 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  You have have a point, built on a flawed (5+ / 0-)

      assumption.

      The assumption that all of the men are lawfully convicted. No doubt some of them are.  I'd even venture a guess that many are guilty of crimes, perhaps not the ones for which they were convicted.

      But the number of false convictions are astonishing, many who are black, and false convictions happen even in liberal states like New York, can you accept that some of those men are probably innocent, and may be exonerated, if there case ever draws the attention of a talented and dedicated civil rights team?

      And on the other hand, in the same state, we have a medical team who decided to euthanize more than a dozen people after they had previously made a flawed triage decision.

      A group of middle class medical professionals collectively decided that they could break the law and decide for themselves what is justifiable homicide. None of them are in prison, working on a farm for the rest of their lives.

      •  Everyone in there is lawfully convicted (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ColoTim

        as it stands. That's what we do in our judicial system. You have to be lawfully convicted to be sentenced to anything.  Factually, some of these people may indeed be innocent and that is unfortunate, but that's not really the issue here, as even if we did alternative sentencing, you'd still have false convictions.

    •  Yes, an excellent defense of the indefensible. (4+ / 0-)

      Well played, well played.

      Now, explain to me again how Rodney King was asking for it.

      To put the torture behind us is, inevitably, to put it in front of us.

      by UntimelyRippd on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 09:32:06 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  So, "slavery lite" is OK because: Legal and not (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mythatsme, bigjacbigjacbigjac

      chattel bought and sold. OK. treated as such with a harsh regime that makes life worse than that in other prisons is acceptable?... is there a minimum level of decent treatment in prisons? And if not why not. And the regime at Angola is below what the minimum set of standards should be in an advanced country.

      A prisoner should not be at risk for worse punishment than the crime deserves. Prisoners also die under suspicious circumstances there and as a rule these kinds of deaths are blamed on other inmates... regardless of whether it is true or not. At some point "Cruel and unusual punishments" will be applied or should applied without labeling what should be "unusual" as perfectly acceptable because they make it "usual".

      Does a sentence these days whether in Angola or anywhere else effectively include inflicting physical abuse, pain, unhealthy conditions, overwork, being at risk for being raped, severely injured or killed?

      A de facto death sentence or effectively a life sentence of involuntary servitude should not be part of the punishment if that is not the legal intention of the court. Why are institutional "enhancements"  to the punishment that go well beyond the intentions of the law allowed and condoned?

      Pogo & Murphy's Law, every time. Also "Trust but verify" - St. Ronnie (hah...)

      by IreGyre on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 01:14:37 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Poor comparison (10+ / 0-)

    Is the mortality rate at this prison 50% or more? Has it been established with the explicit purpose of literally working to death its prisoners? Does it house minor offenders and petty criminals? Did Auschwitz provide literacy education and TV?

    Angola Prison sounds horrible, but comparing it to Auschwitz shows just plain poor judgment on multiple counts.

    •  I agree (7+ / 0-)

      The reality of Angola is horrible enough, and the connection to slavery is clear enough that the Auschwitz comparison is unnecessary, only remotely analogous, confusing and in the end, offensive.

      I would take it out.  It detracts from the main point about the renewal of slavery in prisons.

      The GOP: "You can always go to the Emergency Room."

      by Upper West on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 07:02:22 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I disagree (9+ / 0-)

        America is not nearly ashamed enough of its slave history, especially in places like Louisiana, where you can still hear plenty of people tell you that "in many cases, slaves weren't treated all that poorly."

        America, and specifically those who practiced human ownership in the South, should be reminded as often as possible that the atrocities of slavery are as horrible as the Holocaust. America is willing to deal in reality on every other country's sins without dealing with its own.

        Your attitude here is complicit in that.

        The "confusing" point seemed to be clear to a good number of people. And this being my diary, I choose to leave it there for the explained reasons listed here and above. If that's dissatisfying to you, then I can assure you that your sense of offense will pass with time.

        "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

        by Grizzard on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 07:13:36 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  American slavery has been devastating. (4+ / 0-)

          Its effects, which persist into the present day, are atrocious. Yes, we DO need to talk about slavery, as a formative influence in American society. If your analogy with the holocaust is imperfect, it conveys the urgency this discussion should rightly have.

          Racial discrimination is rife. It's justified by crackpot best-sellers about "lower average IQs" of dark-skinned races supposedly resulting in their academic and vocational under-performance. Thugs shoot up poor neighborhoods every day.

          Let's put it out there on the table.

          It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

          by karmsy on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 08:13:16 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  I believe the inapt analogy (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          cks175

          detracts from your point.  You write "America is not ashamed enough of its slave history."  I totally agree, but an inapt analogy to Auschwitz isn't going to achieve the consciousness raising goal you seek.  The fact that people here are "clear" as to what you mean doesn't make it convincing to those who are less aware than they are.

          There are similarities between the atrocities in both slavery and the Holocaust, but your hypothetical detracts from, rather than emphasizes those similarities.  The hypothetical is unconvincing because it misstates what happened at Auschwitz -- People were not imprisoned and executed at Auschwitz because they committed crimes, but because of who they were.

          And because I point that out, I'm "complicit" in America denying the barbarity of slavery?  That's wrong and unfair.

          Your point is trenchant enough -- Angola today replicates many of the horrors of slavery, just as voter ID and long lines replicate the horrors of Jim Crow.  

          The GOP: "You can always go to the Emergency Room."

          by Upper West on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 12:46:20 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  What's your point? (4+ / 0-)

            I'm the diarist; I'm the tenant here.

            And as my headline notes, "I DISAGREE." That is, with you, on your point that my "inapt" analogy "detracts" from my point.

            I think it adds to my point. A lot of people agree. Among those that agree, most have rightly identified the central thrust of my point, which you continue to struggle in identifying.

            In the rambling you've done above, you continue to miss the main point of my diary, where others have not. And because of that, I don't think your opinion holds as much weight as those who did manage to get the point.

            This:

            There are similarities between the atrocities in both slavery and the Holocaust, but your hypothetical detracts from, rather than emphasizes those similarities.  The hypothetical is unconvincing because it misstates what happened at Auschwitz -- People were not imprisoned and executed at Auschwitz because they committed crimes, but because of who they were.
            is nonsense, because it misstates my point.

            I will break it down for you in the simplest terms possible, so as to not have to deal with this again, because I feel myself straying into condescension, and that is not a feeling I enjoy.

            Angola in 1850 was a horror, where people were enslaved on the basis of their skin color, and forced to work for the betterment of their disgusting owners.

            Auschwitz in 1940 was a horror, where people were enslaved on the basis of their ethnicity, and forced to do a lot of terrible things for the "betterment" of their disgusting "owners" (in this case, the Nazi party).

            Angola in 2013 is a place where we honor the legacy of that initial horror by reproducing its scene. Rather than acknowledging the abhorrent history that took place at Angola in 1850, we use the plantation in much the same way, filled with many people of the same race we once owned there. The difference, of course, is that the captives on Angola are now there because of their criminal convictions.

            Angola is in no way ever compared to Auschwitz. The example is instructive, and designed to illuminate the American unwillingness to confront the disgustingness of its own history.

            As I noted before, it is designed for the the following purpose: to make you think of what it might be like if Germany used the site of its nation's greatest sin as a holding ground for many of the same (types of) people it once tortured there. What if Germany used Auschwitz as a prison for its criminals today - those people the country has a lawful right to punish? And what if, short of gassing and mutilation, it utilized some of the same practices that Auschwitz used to see in order to punish those people?

            Would you be ok with that? Would Americans? Would the rest of the western world?

            If so, then that's odd.

            If not, then why is America any different? Why does America use one of the hallowed halls of its disgusting, tortuous, racial past as a place to house black criminals, forcing them to engage in a ceremonial brand of punishment not indistinguishable from the field work done by 1850s slaves?

            In order to argue that Germany's potential use of Auschwitz is wrong, while the American use of Angola is alright, you would have to believe that slavery is a stain on American history less dramatic than the Holocaust is a stain on German history. I see these two things as substantially similar - the systematic removal, torture, and in many cases, killing of huge numbers of people based upon little more than the color of their skin.

            Both disgusting. And both deserving of the harshest historical treatment a society can muster. The difference, of course, is that one society actually musters the requisite historical outrage (Germany), while another (us) does not muster the appropriate amount of moral outrage.

            It's typical American horseshit - holding other nations to a standard higher than one we live up to ourselves. As one person noted, "Yes, America DID that, but America wouldn't DO that."

            And the point is important, in my estimation. And lots of people agree over the dissents of only a few. The bottom line is that this diary is mine, and I think you're wrong. The use of the German example was intentional and well-considered, and by mutilating the central point of the diary, you've failed in whole or in part to change my opinion here.

            "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

            by Grizzard on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 01:06:41 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Well, you're right about the straying into (0+ / 0-)

              condescension part.

              Although I wrote "I would take it out," my primary goal is not to change your mind (obviously quixotic), but to express my view of the diary for others that might read it.

              The GOP: "You can always go to the Emergency Room."

              by Upper West on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 01:23:25 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  Use of the German analogy was poor judgement. You (0+ / 0-)

              wrote a really good diary that was informative, but the analogy just didn't work, and I'm not the only one who found it offensive.

              There are other analogies you could have used that would have been more to the point.  The choice to use the German analogy doesn't highlight your concern for the depravity of the US prison system, but it implies that you think your issue is more important than any other, and more important than facts, and more important than the sensitivities of those who were both victimized and horrified by the Holocaust.

              Dont Mourn, Organize !#konisurrender

              by cks175 on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 02:49:33 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  You're entitled to your opinion (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Chi

                I happen to think you're wrong.

                You can disagree with the effectiveness of the analogy, but to call it "poor judgment" suggests that I in some way wrote something offensive.

                Which I did not.

                Unless you believe that conflating the Holocaust with slavery somehow detracts with the atrocity of the Holocaust - an opinion that I believe smells of horseshit.

                And if that is your opinion, then I have the same right to take offense with yours as you do with mine (which is, 0).

                "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

                by Grizzard on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 03:07:25 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

              •  I should say (0+ / 0-)

                that I could see where it might be very easy to be offended by that portion of the diary if you were unable to process both the purpose and the thrust of the analogy.

                But I refuse to take responsibility for any offense caused by a comprehension-less reading of what I wrote.

                "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

                by Grizzard on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 03:09:56 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  It's actually quite easy to comprehend your (0+ / 0-)

                  intended point, and recognize a flaw in it's delivery.  You're a good writer, but that doesn't make you immune from criticism.  And if you really want to become a better writer, first thing you might want to work on is being a little less thin skinned when it comes to honest critique.

                  Dont Mourn, Organize !#konisurrender

                  by cks175 on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 01:50:23 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

    •  Well (11+ / 0-)

      I did not compare Angola to Auschwitz. I compared Angola of today to Angola of 1850. The German example was designed to be instructive, and it was designed to shine light on the absurdity of the idea of using an old slave plantation - a place where many of this country's most disgusting crimes took place - as a base for a mode of punishment akin to slave labor.

      It was to point out the repugnance of such an idea. To say - if Germany did this to its convicted offenders, would we have a sense of moral outrage? And to serve as a reminder that America's history of chattel slavery is every bit as detestable as what took place in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s. That reminder is necessary because, unfortunately, we don't treat it as such. If we did, we'd be uncomfortable using a place like Angola in the way it's used today.

      I would normally abstain from throwing around pie, but amidst questions of my "judgment," I will note that my diaries are designed to be thought-provoking, and many of the points I make require a dedication to thought that goes an inch or two below the surface. It seems that your capacity to comment on this diary and my judgment has outpaced your ability to parse the diary for the (pretty) obvious point it was making.

      "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

      by Grizzard on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 07:04:44 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's your diary (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dr Swig Mcjigger, cks175

        I think it would be more effective to close with the analogy, rather than open with it.

        But your intent was to provoke, and for that purpose the order of you examples does provoke more than if the order was reversed. The structure will cause some readers to ignore your message.

      •  Should reread yourself (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Upper West

        Looks to me like you do, in fact, portray Angola today as a direct continuation of Angola of 1850, and thus comparable to Auschwitz.

        Some phrases you use: "To call it slavery might be an overstatement...These "games" are all-too familiar to those who have studied slavery..These efforts are not dissimilar from the things that happened with slaves in the early 19th century…we punish people through slave-like labor..."

        Let me suggest that if you intended otherwise, it could have been more carefully written.

        •  I never compared Angola (3+ / 0-)

          of 1850 to Auschwitz at any time.

          Perhaps my writing could have been more clear, but I can't compensate for those who will willfully miss the point.

          I compared Angola of now to Angola of then. The German example is meant to illustrate the absurdity of our system, which fails to truly recognize the wrongs of the past. It's meant to illustrate what Germany might be like if they followed our example, and to make the reader consider what he/she might think of Germany if it employed such a system. And then the reader might question why he/she doesn't have the same sort of outrage over America's unwillingness to deal effectively with its own racial demons.

          "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

          by Grizzard on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 10:58:21 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  American unwillingness (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Upper West

            I dunno. We passed the Civil War amendments, the Civil Rights Act, and have enacted a host of anti-discrimination laws, erected a large anti-discrimination bureaucracy, and have spent tens of billions on attempts to ensure a more equal society. If that isn't recognition of the wrongs of the past and an effort to redress injury, I don't know what is. Is there room to improve—sure. But IMO you paint an unjustifiably bleak picture with way too broad a brush.

            •  Well (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              bigjacbigjacbigjac

              I see it on a daily basis. Until you've walked into a holding tank outside of a court, it's difficult to fathom exactly what I'm talking about. Try to find a respectable looking white face in those tanks; you can't do it. It's young and old black men, a large number of Latino men, and black women of all ages. If you see a white woman or a white man, they're poor, homeless, or both. But maybe Houston is different from everywhere else. My suspicion is that it's a lot like other places, especially in the South.

              Frankly, I think one of the reasons why institutionalized racism continues to persist is precisely because of responses like yours. Even well-meaning people like yourself believe that things like the "Civil War amendments, the Civil Rights Act, etc." have done substantial work in ensuring justice. That's a nice thought, but it's an unrealized dream.

              Laws only register as a "recognition" of past wrongs if their wording AND their effect take action to correct those past wrongs. As it stands, we have facially neutral laws that are far too easy to manipulate and apply in a racially disparate way. And we're too busy patting ourselves on the back for the empty promises of racial reform to see that those reforms haven't taken hold in the criminal system.

              "I believe that, as long as there is plenty, poverty is evil." ~Bobby Kennedy

              by Grizzard on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 12:38:17 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  I married a black woman, and she tells me (0+ / 0-)

                stories,
                such as her day in court,
                when she was in a car crash,
                and her car insurance was not in effect,
                since she was a day late on her premium payment,
                and she was not given any leniency.

                The very next case
                was a white woman,
                nearly the same facts bearing on the case,
                late on paying her premium,
                was in a crash.

                The white woman was let off.

                At that point,
                my Tonia shouted at the judge,
                "That's fuckin unfair.  The only reason you're in the position you're in, is that you never got caught.  Or maybe you got leniency, like you gave this bitch.  You wipe your ass the same way I wipe mine!"

                The judge said,
                "You shut up!"

                Tonia said,
                "No.  Fuck that!  If anything's supposed to be happening, we should both be walking out of here today, not her getting let out on O.R., and me getting six months probation."

                Tonia got and a week's worth of jail, for contempt of court, and lost her job.

                Anyway.

                Thanks again.

    •  You are correct, the two prisons were/are not (6+ / 0-)

      very similar.

      But it seems to me,
      the diarist is still correct,
      since the diarist was not claiming the two were/are similar.

      The diarist was stating
      that the German people
      would likely not accept the idea
      of treating Jews,
      now,
      in a way similar to treatment during the holocaust,
      not just because so many were killed,
      but also because it would feel so much like a repeat
      of policies long considered way too brutal.

      Once a nation has closed a chapter of its history,
      and declared the policies of that chapter
      simply way too brutal,
      one would think that that same nation
      would be careful to avoid any policy
      even somewhat similar
      to the policies of that old, shameful chapter.

      But the USA finds new rationalizations
      for old, shameful policies.

      That seems to be the point of the diary,
      and the young diarist makes it well,
      seems to me.

    •  In the diarist's analogy, the modern prison (8+ / 0-)

      does not correspond to Auschwitz; rather, the 19th-century slave plantation corresponds to Auschwitz.

      The point is that it would be unthinkable to transform Auschwitz into a prison camp, but somehow it's A-okay to transform a slave plantation into a prison camp, and a pretty damned awful one at that; and that what makes it A-okay is that, regardless of the progress we've made, Americans really still have not faced up to the reality of the Peculiar Institution and how it continues to inform and instruct our power elites (and in particular, our southern power elites) in the matter of what is and is not acceptable in the treatment of human beings who are put under the control of state-sanctioned institutions.

      To put the torture behind us is, inevitably, to put it in front of us.

      by UntimelyRippd on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 09:30:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Shameful! Sadly many "leaders" (3+ / 0-)

    of the GOP ilk have no shame. In "the People's House" in Wisconsin citizens tried to shame leaders acting in a shamefully undemocratic manner, but they could not be shamed. It appears that they and the even more undemocratic "leaders" in LA who perpetuate such terrible practices as those in Angola prison are cut from the same cloth.

    As long as undemocratic acts are allowed to stand unchallenged these "leaders" throughout the country will feel no shame. We must change that. Let it start with Angola.

    "The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

    by Lily O Lady on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 06:41:32 AM PST

  •  This is a great diary, but (5+ / 0-)

    you shouldn't have compared it to the Holocaust.
       Just comparing it to American slavery is more than convincing enough.

    ¡Cállate o despertarás la izquierda! - protest sign in Spain

    by gjohnsit on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 07:36:49 AM PST

    •  I have to disagree. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      marsanges, bigjacbigjacbigjac

      More detailed comment below.

    •  its actually not a holocaust comparison (8+ / 0-)

      I happen to be German, and I was half bursting in flames when I got started on this diary, until I realized its point, which is a very good one.

      It´s not a Comparison of anything with the holocaust. It is a comparison of how the memory of an evil deed (here: slavery) is treated with somewhere else (Germany) and about what that says about how serious that history is really taken.

      the point could also have been made using the Netherlands, where I live, and their history regarding the camp Westerbork. Westerbork was a camp where Germans collected and shipped Jews rounded up in occupied Netherlands during the second world war. Then after the war, the new Dutch government blithely proceeded to use it as a prison camp for prisoners from the "police actions" a. k. a. Indonesian independence war, and later, as a holding camp for Moluccan refugees from the time when Moluccans found themselves homeless between Java-dominated Indonesia and ex-colonial Holland, neither of which wanted them. It took right up into the 1970s before the Dutch realized that it wasnt making them look good to store Moluccans in the old Nazi transition camp. The generation of the war was so convinced of its a priori goodness, certified by war victimhood, that they were unable to see the historical injustice. A new generation (the 60´s) had to grow up to see and understand.

      For the US, the trend seems to go the other way apparently. That´s to me the message of this diary.

  •  Might be worth (4+ / 0-)

    looking at Mississippi's Parchman Farm, too.

    "Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government" T. Jefferson

    by azureblue on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 08:07:18 AM PST

  •  End it now (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Grizzard, bigjacbigjacbigjac

    We could stop this today.  First of all, the men in that prison  have to stand up for themselves, come what may.  The CBC can try and show some worth by exposing the state and it's law makers for human rights violations and creating a slave state.  A violation of the constitution.  I just don't see where, in this case talk is a sufficient substitute for action.

  •  I understand the commenters above (9+ / 0-)

    who think that regardless of the horror of Angola, implicit comparisons to Auschwitz are uncalled for. It is certainly true that far too often we see comparisons of modern events to the crimes of the Nazis in the Holocaust, when in fact there aren't many instances in human history that truly can compare in scope (the erasure of Khwarezmia, Stalin's purges, Mao's Great Leap Forward, a few others). Usually comparisons to modern day events are overblown to the point of offensiveness.

    However, I think the diarist is making a valid point here. The ugly history of American slavery over more than two centuries and many generations is at least as great a blot on our history as the Holocaust is in Europe, whether the crimes are exactly comparable in other ways or not.

    But whereas we could not read the fictitious Weisman/Auschwitz example in the diary as anything but fiction, because such a punishment would have historical resonance that would make it unthinkable in Germany, it is not necessary to imagine Angola prison. It is all too real, has no resemblance to anything that could be called "justice", and has a nauseatingly evil historical background that differs only trivially from its present.

    Important diary. Tipped and recced.

    My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.
    --Carl Schurz, remarks in the Senate, February 29, 1872

    by leftist vegetarian patriot on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 09:21:48 AM PST

  •  I think too many folks above (5+ / 0-)

    are getting hung up on the Auschwitz comparison.

    There's an important difference: Germany's taken great pains to deal with what it did during the 30s and 40s. We've NEVER dealt with our slaveholding past.

    I don't know if any nation really has.

  •  Godwin's Law Exemption Recommended (9+ / 0-)

    Speaking as a Jew, and as someone who works in the field of Holocaust reparations and education, I have to say this:

    While I usually object strongly to Holocaust comparisons, I think this one is right on the money.

    Using the site of an atrocity for a prison, when a massive majority of its inmates are descended from the victims of the original injustice ... well, at a screamingly optimistic best, it sends a message so mixed as to be toxic.

  •  Have you been or talked to any of the prisoners? (0+ / 0-)

    I have, and its not quite what you paint it. Much of the profits go to charities related to the prison, including ministries and after prison programs. I can't say there wasn't resentment for being there for many, but I did not get the resentment for the programs they run, but then I didn't interview everybody, as clearly you did not.

    Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber. ~Plato

    by marko on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 11:53:21 AM PST

  •  We know a lot about Angola prison (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bigjacbigjacbigjac

    because Wilbert Rideau, a convicted murderer, became an award-winning  newspaper reporter while serving a 50-year sentence there.

    His writing in the 70s helped reform many of Angola's most odious practices, including the prison administration's encouragement of sexual slavery among the prisoners.

    But by 1995 a new warden took over and began cracking down, according to Rideau, who was since released.

    Authorities periodically order Angloa "cleaned up,"  in the 1940s and again in 1975 and 1989.

    "I got lucky last summer when I got my time, Angola bound
    Well my partner got a 100, I got 99, Angola bound."  (Angola Bound, Aaron and Charles Neville)

    Orly, it isn't evidence just because you downloaded it from the internet.

    by 6412093 on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 12:11:31 PM PST

  •  Excellent diary. I'm glad to see the RC (2+ / 0-)

    put this in community spotlight.

  •  Just FYI - German TV has had a long 30 minutes (3+ / 0-)

    piece about these prisoner rodeos in May 2007.

    I picked up the tape from the archives and look at it right now. I can't find the film in our online archives though.

    A lot of prisoner interviews, excellent images. The scene with releasing the bulls on the table with four prisoners, yep we filmed it, close-up, the way the bulls almost kill the prisioners as well. There were a lot of prisoner interviews in it and they show the emotions the prisoners have and go through. Nothing to loose, but a lot to gain (money-wise) for these men, almost all of them life-sentences.

    The correspondent, who produced and has written this piece, did without any hint of sensationalism.

    Sigh. I wished it were online somewhere and I wished the Germans would produce some of their longer pieces also in English and sell them.

    And BTW I like your non-fictional part of the diary better than the fictional one ... but I get what you are hinting at.  

  •  RIP Gil Scott-Heron (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bigjacbigjacbigjac

    The lady was enchanted and said they ought to see. So they charged her with subversion and made her watch TV -Spirogyra

    by Taget on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 03:01:03 PM PST

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