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 Stephanie Wilson was walking out of a ritzy Saks store in New York a few years ago with a brand-new, overpriced handbag, when she noticed a handwritten note in the bottom of the bag.
 The note, signed by Tohnain Emmanuel Njong, said: "We are ill-treated and work like slaves for 13 hours every day producing these bags in bulk in the prison factory."
   A passport-sized photo of a man in an orange jacket was also enclosed.
"I read the letter and I just shook," Ms Wilson told DNAinfo.
 This was no urban legend. The prison slave who wrote that letter was real. Fortunately he is no longer in prison.

  The dirty little secret of today's global capitalist system is that it continues to rely on slave labor.

  Most people think of slavery as something in the distant past. In fact, there are more slaves today than at any time in human history.
 Kevin Bales, lead research on "The Global Slavery Index," published by the Walk Free Foundation, says despite anti-slavery laws in almost all the world's countries, 29.8 million people are trapped today in debt bondage, slave labor, sex trafficking, forced labor or domestic servitude.
   This compares, according to an article in The Manchester Guardian, with 12.5 million human beings sent as slaves across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas and the Caribbean in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  Earlier this month Brazilian police rescued 11 crew members who were living in "slave-like conditions" aboard an Italian cruise ship.

  The troubling thing from the slavery map above is that it's not correct.
It shows slavery as a thing of Africa and Asia.
   In fact, slavery is still a very American thing.

 “We have to stop this slave system,” says Melvin Ray “we already went through that institution one time before.” From inside a segregation cell in St Clair Correctional Facility in Melville, Alabama, Ray is trying to organize a strike against unpaid prison labor and for better conditions. Ray and other prisoners involved in the “Free Alabama Movement” announced earlier this month that they would refuse to work prison jobs this week. It would have been the second time this year that Alabama prisoners organized a work stoppage; a similar strike in January began at St Clair and spread to at least two other prisons in the state.
 In 2012 Alabama's government passed a bill allowing private businesses to contract prison labor. The AFL-CIO calls it "quasi-slavery".

The business of slave labor

   The private prison industry is one of the fastest growing industries in America.

 According to California Prison Focus, “no other society in human history has imprisoned so many of its own citizens.” The figures show that the United States has locked up more people than any other country: a half million more than China, which has a population five times greater than the U.S. Statistics reveal that the United States holds 25% of the world’s prison population, but only 5% of the world’s people.
 
Ten years ago there were only five private prisons with 2,000 prisoners. In the coming decade the number of prisoners in private prisons is expected to reach 360,000.
    The crime rate has been falling for decades now, but the prison population keeps climbing.
   Federal law hands out 10 year sentences for possession of 2 ounces of crack. In Texas,  possessing 4 ounces of marijuana can get you 2 years in prison. 13 states have "three strikes" laws, and they don't have to be violent felonies. In fact, other laws automatically kick misdemeanors up to felonies.
     Ninety-seven percent of 125,000 federal inmates have been convicted of non-violent crimes. Two-thirds of the one million state prisoners have committed non-violent offenses.
 “The private contracting of prisoners for work fosters incentives to lock people up. Prisons depend on this income. Corporate stockholders who make money off prisoners’ work lobby for longer sentences, in order to expand their workforce. The system feeds itself,” says a study by the Progressive Labor Party.
 All this is good news for The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). They've seen their revenue increase by 500% in the last two decades.
CCA saw $1.7 Billion in revenue in 2011. The Geo Group saw $1.6 Billion in revenue. Together they have spent about $20 million in lobbying, and another $5 million in political donations.

 The federal prison industry already makes 100% of all military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet-proof vests, ID tags, shirts, pants, tents, bags, and canteens.

 Along with war supplies, prison workers supply 98% of the entire market for equipment assembly services; 93% of paints and paintbrushes; 92% of stove assembly; 46% of body armor; 36% of home appliances; 30% of headphones/microphones/speakers; and 21% of office furniture. Airplane parts, medical supplies, and much more: prisoners are even raising seeing-eye dogs for blind people.
"Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors."
  - Charles Bukowski

 However, the real trick is how the contracts are written with the 48 states they are offering their business.

 what made CCA's pitch to those governors so audacious and shocking was that it included a so-called occupancy requirement, a clause demanding the state keep those newly privatized prisons at least 90 percent full at all times, regardless of whether crime was rising or falling...
   In the Public Interest found that 41 of those contracts [out of 62] included occupancy requirements mandating that local or state government keep those facilities between 80 and 100 percent full.
 Of course these private prison companies have been big campaign donors for "three-strike" and "truth-in-sentencing" laws, which just proves the claim of the Progressive Labor Party when they say "The system feeds itself".

 

 This is all very familiar. We've seen it before in post-Civil War south.
   It was called Convict Leasing. The prisoners would work for companies during the day outside of prison, and then return to their cells at night. Neglect, brutality, and abuse of the prisoners were rampant, as was official corruption. The conditions were so harsh that prisoners rarely survived longer than 10 years, but everyone was making money from it (except for the prisoners, of course) so the system remained.

  In fact the system was so successful that there was a need for more labor. In many states simple assault carried sentences of seven and eight years of hard labor. Larceny could get you twenty years in prison. Stealing five dollars worth of goods could net you twelve months. Even the theft of a rail fence could put you in prison stripes.

   Of course, this reality wasn't true for everyone (read: white people). If it was then there would be a political backlash. Instead these inhumane laws fell disproportionately on the recently freed black community.
   At Tennessee's main prison in Nashville, African-Americans represented 33 percent of the prisoners in October of 1865. In 1866 Tennessee passed it's convict leasing law. By 1869, 64% of the prison was African-American, and it kept climbing in the following years.

  This abuse of prisoners by so-called capitalists ended in the early 20th Century only because of the efforts of the labor movement, sometimes with violence.

  The decline of labor unions has witnessed the return of the private prison industry and once again african-Americans are the primary victims.

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