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Slave Labor

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Ugly Prison Chain Gangs Return To American Scene


By James Donahue

June 2005


It is interesting how predictions by psychic Aaron C. Donahue begin to make news headlines within days after he mentions them on his Internet radio show.


Not long ago Donahue spoke about America’s overflowing prison population, criticizing the nation’s leadership over the past decades for investing in prisons instead of universities and thus destroying the future of America’s youth.


The prisons are the result of a national drug war that has only one purpose . . . to block a natural quest to achieve an altered state of consciousness. Reaching that state, or opening the third eye, even if for only a brief time, allows us to catch a glimpse of the reality that exists beyond our veiled existence.


The new-found benefit from having so many people in prison will be to generate a veiled form of slave labor for industry, Donahue warned. He said he foresees thousands of young men and women in prisons being utilized for public service and even to manufacture products for world distribution and sale.


Indeed, the concept of using jailed inmates for public service work is not new. It has been around for a very long time. The old chain gangs of men in  white and black striped prison uniforms, all working at the end of a ball and chain and clearing brush along public roadways, digging trenches and swinging sledge hammers to break up rocks, dates back to an earlier and dark time in American history.


Watching over these gangs of men engaged in brutal, heavy labor, were armed uniformed guards.


Not only was the work brutal, the position of being forced to labor along open highways, wearing prison garb and bound by leg irons was a form of public whipping. There was nothing pleasant or socially constructive about the chain gangs.


A few years ago, while working as a bureau reporter and covering county government in a rural area of Michigan, an enterprising social worker in the District Court presented a “new and creative plan” to the Board of County Commissioners for easing a problem of an overcrowded county jail.


Jim Merriman suggested establishing a jail work force, with armed guards, to allow convicted felons to work off jail time through public service work. His suggestion was to use a jail work force to clean brush along county roads, clean and maintain cemeteries, county and township parks and other public facilities.


The commissioners bought the plan. A special prison bus was purchased and a deputy hired just to run the program and stand guard over his pack of workers. The prisoners got a lot of public work done. Township buildings got painted. Parks were cleaned and beaches raked free of broken glass and beer cans. Cemeteries were mowed.


Soon other counties were adopting the program. Merriman was invited to travel all over the state, talking about his wonderful work program and how it was not only saving the cost of housing prisoners, it was providing free labor for a lot of towns and townships. Merriman was lauded for coming up with such a wonderful idea.


The judges in both the District and Circuit courts found innovative new ways of utilizing the county work program as part of the sentencing of prisoners, not only for felony crimes, but for misdemeanors. Some sentences involved only a few days on the work bus with no time spent in jail.


The striped prison outfits weren’t being worn, and nobody was in chains, but the prison work gangs were clearly visible, with armed guards standing by, and folks driving past always knew what they were.


After I retired from that bureau job, my wife and I lived for a while in Phoenix, Arizona. I was shocked to read about Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the man known for making his jail inmates wear pink underwear, who was bringing back the old prison chain gang. He actually put his inmates to work on chains along public roads, just like the bad old days.


It didn’t take long for Jim Merriman’s idea to spread from Michigan to Arizona and evolve to this, I thought.


This week I read a story about a chain gang at work near Cincinnati, Ohio. There were pictures of the workers, all dressed in black and white stripped prison uniforms. They were chained together in groups of five while they worked.


The story said the prisoners liked the program because it gave them a chance to get out of the jail and enjoy fresh air and sunlight. Somehow I have my doubts that the inmates really liked it that much. But then, there are a lot of zombies out there. They might really believe working on a humiliating chain gang is good for them.


I wonder how long it will take before these inmates start getting used by big industry.



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