From the Editor
by Paul Wright
Since its inception, Prison Legal News has been reporting on prison slavery and the exploitation of prison slave labor. This month’s cover story continues that tradition. As we have repeatedly noted, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution did not abolish slavery; rather, it limited it to those who have been convicted of a crime – creating what the Virginia Supreme Court once called “slaves of the state.”
It is important to remember the 60,000 prisoners toiling in prison industry programs for little or no pay, and the less than 5,000 prisoners who perform work for private companies. But even more important are the 2.2 million prisoners who have been removed from the U.S. labor market entirely. If these prisoners were counted as part of the labor market, unemployment rates would be far higher than they are today.
The American fixation on prison slave labor is difficult to understand from a ration-al perspective, since financially it is a money loser. It does a poor job of fulfilling its stated goal of reducing recidivism, and for a police state that constantly whines about the need for total control, passivity and surveillance of the population, both in prison and out, prison industries are a constant source of weapons which contribute to a steady toll of dead prisoners and staff alike, as well as assaults and escape attempts. Yet prison and government officials defend prison industry programs to the death – just not theirs. Meaningful alternatives, such as offering prisoners real world-type employment that pays at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, and allowing them to keep all of their earned wages, are not even discussed.
The downside of having published PLN for over 24 years is that with time many of our friends pass away. On July 24, 2014, Edwin “Eddie” Ellis, 72, died in New York City. Eddie was one of PLN’s first subscribers. A Black Panther Party member who was framed for a murder he did not commit and who spent 25 years in prison, he never lost his sense of justice, outrage and humor.
When I met Eddie in the mid-2000s for the first time, he told me that one of the highlights of his incarceration was getting PLN in the mail each month. While he was in prison Eddie educated and organized other prisoners. Once he was released he started a non-profit organization called the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions, which advocated for ending mass incarceration and also harnessing the potential of prisoners and ex-prisoners to be part of the solution to American social ills. For many years he hosted On the Count, a weekly radio show on WBAI, which was the only radio show – at least in New York – produced by, for and about prisoners and ex-prisoners.
Eddie was a private person and for a number of years struggled with health issues, which he did not let slow him down. While many will mourn Eddie’s passing, and I am one of them, I believe his greatest wish would be not that his death be mourned but that his life be celebrated by continuing the struggle for justice that he spent his life fighting for. Everyone at PLN offers our condolences to his friends and family.
As fall approaches we will be sending out our annual fundraiser, and this year we are mailing our annual report to all PLN subscribers with our request for donations. The Human Rights Defense Center, PLN’s parent organization, does much more than just publish Prison Legal News. We advocate for prisoners and their families in the media, the courts, legislatures and other venues, and for a small non-profit organization we have a major impact. Yet for many people, especially our incarcerated supporters, much of this work is invisible.
We document our efforts in our annual report, however, which gives a good overview of the depth and breadth of our activities. Please make a donation to support HRDC and the work we do to protect the human rights of prisoners in the U.S. There are very few organizations doing the work we’re doing, and few if any manage to get as much bang for the advocacy buck. All donations to HRDC are tax deductible.
Lastly, our Subscription Madness campaign is continuing until the end of the year (see the ad on page 17). Please help us boost our circulation if you are unable to make a donation; expanding our readership helps keep our costs down and increases the influence and impact we have. Enjoy this issue of PLN, and please encourage others to subscribe.
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login