Modern-Day Slavery

Although it may be considered to be an honor for Juneteenth to be acknowledged as a national holiday, there is still an underlying horror and injustice operating within our U.S. establishment, operation, and Constitution.

Indeed, slavery was abolished with the establishment of the Emancipation Proclamation. However, slavery continued illegally, mainly within the 13 southern colony states (one being the state we currently reside in, Florida). States, law enforcement, judiciary circuits, citizens… All of the above operated wrongfully and illegally, continuing in the unlawful practice of slavery despite the order of Federal law and the Constitution to stop these practices. The same individuals who were supposed to uphold law and order willingly and boldly broke the law.

So here we are in the 21st century. The U.S. is the leading country in mass incarceration. And in its step to end slavery, our country created a loophole that enables itself to continue using slavery only in a different form. Slavery is now being practiced “legally” within U.S. prison systems. Although this form of slavery does not outright target black and brown individuals as chattel slavery did, black and brown individuals are the majority held in cages across the U.S.

A clause within the 13th Amendment makes “servitude” legal for those who commit crimes. Immediately after Emancipation, southern lawmakers started making laws (particularly Jim Crow and the Black Codes) that targeted black and brown individuals. The same people who were supposed to be free were now held back in captivity for violations of laws and the creation of “crimes” that were custom-made to keep them in chains.

The plantation owners of the past are now the prison landlords or Wardens of today. His sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, brothers, sisters, mothers, aunts, and uncles are your correctional officers, sergeants, lieutenants, captains, majors, colonels, classification officers, and assistant wardens. They are your maintenance workers, transporters, and private contractors. These are the descendants of the Confederate army, which held a rebellion against the U.S. government. These are the same people who unlawfully do as they please still today.

These descendants are making MILLIONS upon BILLIONS of dollars in the business of prison slave labor. Florida prisoners maintain and manufacture clothes, shoes, tables, carpentry, weld, cook, clean, and maintenance for the prison. Prisoners are doing all this work for free. Only certain “privileged” jobs get paid pennies on the dollar. Jobs like boot shining for staff, car washing for staff, barbering for staff, managing the canteen warehouse and doing canteen operations… Doesn’t that remind you of the privileged jobs of “house slaves” compared to “field slaves?” Of all the thousands of inmates doing hard, free labor on a (plantation) compound in Florida, only a handful actually get paid. And that pay is no more than $50 a month, lol! But you’ll never see a lawmaker or politician speak about these atrocities. Why? All of them and the state benefits from the business of the legal slave trade, just like all the Confederate states benefited from the free manufacturing of cotton, sugar, tobacco, rice, and grain in the early 19th century.

So, I’d like you to ask yourself: How far have we really come from slavery? Because if you look at the state of Florida and its prison system, it’s operating a strong, legal prison-slavery operation. Florida prides itself on maintaining “Law and Order” and being “tough on crime.” But no matter how many prisons they build or how many “tough laws” they create, nothing ever changes. Crime rates are still the same, and prisons remain understaffed and overpopulated. FDOC is constantly having to cover up prison guards and officials assaulting or killing prisoners, bringing in contraband, creating their own corrupt profit streams, and operating organized racist cults within the prison system.

This legalized prison slavery system is failing miserably. But nothing is being done about it because it’s a lucrative business for those who operate it and those with business relationships with those who operate it. However, just like in the 19th century, the system is destroying the people held in captivity and their families. Until this changes, there is no real emancipation.

Julius T. Smith