“Jails and prisons are designed to break human beings, to convert the population into specimens in a zoo – obedient to our keepers, but dangerous to each other.”
Earlier this year in my U.S. History class, we were going over the constitutional amendments. A strict part of our standards, we had to have a thorough knowledge of each amendment and the affect it had on American society in the past and present. Our attention was quickly turned to the thirteenth amendments, a clever play on words that tricks many into believing that slavery was actually abolished. The thirteenth amendment states:
“Section 1. 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.”
In plain text, the thirteenth amendment clearly states that slavery is abolished except when punished for a crime. I brought this up in our class discussion and was thoroughly crucified. My teacher and fellow peers in a class that was mostly filled with African-Americans argued me down about the current issue of slavery in the United States prison infrastructure. While they didn’t disagree with the fact that the thirteenth amendment doesn’t completely abolish slavery, they took the stance that prison slavery was justified.
I brought up the fact that black and brown men make up the population of most of the prisons in the United States. I even brought up the cruel reality that many of these prisoners are auctioned off and traded just like back in the 1800’s. Prisons are even a part of the stock market. There’s big business in prison labor and it’s documented. Still, the members of my class proceeded to try and debunk all of my statements.
I’ve noticed that when you get to a point where your realm of knowledge gets too deep with people, they shut you out. You immediately become self-centered and arrogant, the proverbial “Uncle Tom” of your high school or college. I’ve learned to navigate around the ignorance but it’s so prevalent in my environment that it gets hard. How can you argue for an issue that’s as inhumane as this? Honestly, I don’t even get mad anymore. I’ve went through a major maturing process this year. I now take on the philosophy recited in the Lauryn Hill song Forgive Them Father off of her legendary album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill:
“Forgive them father for they know not what they do
Forgive them father for they know not what they do”
Speaking of music, rapper Killer Mike covered the prison conspiracy in his song Regan:
“The end of the Reagan Era, I’m like ‘leven, twelve, or
Old enough to understand the sh*t’ll change forever
They declared the war on drugs like a war on terror
But it really did was let the police terrorize whoever
But mostly black boys, but they would call us ‘niggers’
And lay us on our belly, while they fingers on they triggers
They boots was on our head, they dogs was on our crotches
And they would beat us up if we had diamonds on our watches
And they would take our drugs and money, as they pick our pockets
I guess that that’s the privilege of policing for some profit
But thanks to Reaganomics, prisons turned to profits
Cause free labor is the cornerstone of US economics
Cause slavery was abolished, unless you are in prison
You think I am bullsh*tting, then read the 13th Amendment
Involuntary servitude and slavery it prohibits
That’s why they giving drug offenders time in double digits”
It’s a reality that black and brown men are the subject of severe racial prejudice. We’ll even go to prison for no reason at all! Just look at the Troy Davis story and many of the black men that have been released after years in prison, only to be released after it’s realized that they were wrongly incarcerated. Their lives were altered off of a lie! How are they just going to recover after missing twenty to thirty years of their lives?
This is an aspect of the prison conspiracy that many people don’t think to look in to. That’s why it’s so important to have scholars, journalists, media personalities, authors and writers in the community that bring these cruel infringements to human rights. Some are widely known like public scholar Dr. Boyce Watkins and author of The New Jim Crow Michelle Alexander. However, there are others standing in the gap educating the masses about the prison conspiracy as well.
When I first got in contact with my author mentor Benjamin Janey, he said that he was making it a priority to make sure that I didn’t make the same mistakes that he did. Mr. Ben has had a horrible past with the prison system that’ll be told in the form of a non-fiction book and the prequel to his first novel Up The Way called Up The Way-Reloded.
If you read my various articles and novels, you know that I like to put a positive spin on things. We tend to love tearing down each other! However, my author mentor’s story once again shows you that success is always obtainable, no matter what your circumstances are. Never give up! Earlier this month, I got a chance to catch up with Mr. Ben and talk to him about various topics dealing with his new book and the prison industrial complex.
Randall: Your novel Up The Way, released in 2009, was your big time break into the publishing industry. It was also the first book released under DC Bookdiva Publications. How much has changed for you in the past five years?
Benjamin Janey: In the past five years, I’ve learned to believe in me. I just don’t dream without making that dream my new reality. Signing autographs still tickle me to this day. Who would have ever imagined that someone would ask for my signature on good terms? Dc Bookdiva and I have been grinding for day one and we’re still in it to win it.
Randall: What was your inspiration behind creating a novel like Up The Way?
Benjamin Janey: When I wrote Up The Way I was forty years old facing twenty years in prison. The story came about when a friend of mine, Barry, had me wait to read one of his urban novels that he just received in the mail. We playfully argued about why I had to wait because he couldn’t read two books at the same time. Then, I told me I’d write my own book. Sarcastically, he slid me a writing pad and pen under my cell door, the rest is history.
Randall: On your social media accounts you keep saying that your next book Up The Way-Reloaded is going to be a classic. Why do you say that?
Benjamin Janey: Up The Way was a story that I wrote to escape reality. I amused myself and let my imagination run wild. Some of it may have been too farfetched. Yet, the complexity of my mind and the bad situation I was in made it all good sense to me. Now, Up The Way-Reloaded will tell the true story of the police corruption that I had to face; the frame work that I refused to picture. The nightmares were vivid and real. The names, police reports, court transcripts and truth will be included in this next work.
Randall: Do you believe that there’s an agenda to railroad young black men into prison?
Benjamin Janey: Absolutely, there’s an agenda to railroad young and old black men into prison. Our intentions being brought to America was to be a slave and never an equal. The original Constitution and very fabric that this country was built on still explains why the scales of justice are imbalanced. We would like to believe that things have changed. But, when the enemy influences what we see, do and learn are for the better, then there’s no fact to that which has defined better. Why would a country see fit to spend to spend more money on incarceration than education? Yet, have the most prisons while calling America the land of the free.
Randall: In your opinion, can we accurately call prison the new form of slavery?
Benjamin Janey: Prison is the new plantation and mis-education has always been the most severe form of slavery. We are given heaven in the sky after we die, but the green pastures and golden gates where rivers flow they have today.
Randall: How were you able to make the transition from inmate to author and entrepreneur?
Benjamin Janey: The transition from inmate to author was simple. Once I saw that someone else believed I could do it, I was on my way. Becoming an entrepreneur came from that same inspiration. Why would I beg another man and give him the privilege to tell me no? To define my worth, I had to pay myself. Our elders always said for us to mind our own damn business. So, I had to get some business of my own to mind.
Randall: How instrumental is faith to your success?
Benjamin Janey: Failure is no longer an option in my life. I feel as though I can do anything that has a realistic plan in order to achieve such a thing.
Randall: Did your stay in prison inspire the content in Up The Way?
Benjamin Janey: The content in Up The Way took me to another place. I let the book write itself. I felt as though anywhere was better than where I was.
Randall: What advice would you give to the young people, especially the various young black men, reading this article right now?
Benjamin Janey: Stop seeing each other as niggas and become embracers of your brothers and sisters. Know that when you win, we win. You must read, write and recite where you want to go in life and get there. We cannot afford to go with the flow or waste time complaining about how someone else is doing their thing. We must do our own thing. It’s not about being racist, it’s about being real. Look at the falsehood presenting and representing as the truth. Know the difference and be prepared to make a way out of no way. Pull your pants up, respect yourself and find a reason worth dying for. Strive to become a good man and not “that nigga”. When you don’t know, ask someone that knows and surround yourself with people that will be beneficial in your journey.
Randall: Where can we find you?
Benjamin Janey: I keep it simple. On all social media websites I use my government name, benjaminjaney.
Check out Benjamin Janey’s novels at Amazon.com!
Do you have any questions or comments for me? Is there someone you’d like me to interview? I would love to hear from you! Contact me directly at:
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @AuthorRandallB & @TeamYGB25
Check out a preview of my debut novel “The Diary of Aaliyah Anderson” on Wattpad today! It’s coming soon!
PUBLIC NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the Urban Intellectuals, affiliates or partners.