by Josh Wolf, independent journalist in prison for over 170 days for refusing to comply with a Federal Grand Jury
[More about his case at www.joshwolf.net]
It’s been purported that not a single prisoner will admit they are guilty. My experience at the FDC completely contradicts this assertion. In fact, very few of the people I’ve spoken to have professed to be innocent. This does not mean that our justice system is reasonable or effective; almost everyone’s story demonstrates how brutal and disturbing the sentences handed out by the Feds really are. Amongst all of these victims of state oppression, the most appalling stories are of those convicted of illegal re-entry.
Not that long ago undocumented immigrants would simply be deported if their presence was discovered by the authorities. Today a far more treacherous fate awaits those whose only crim may be crossing an imaginary line to return to their familiies. Within the system they call themselves Paisas and their numbers are astonishing (I’ve heard they make up as much as 60% at many institutions) The sentences being handed out vary, but 30 months seems to be the most prevalent; the maximum penalty is 20 years. Once they have completed their sentences, they are immediately put on a bus and dropped off in Tijuana.
Many of them have no family in Mexico; some of them have lived here since they were young children. Given this, it should be a foregone conclusion that they will return; and almost all the guys I spoke with plan to do exactly that. Many of them have a wife and children here and are not about to abandon their families. If they are caught again in the United States, they will likely spend 60 months in prison, but relocating to Mexico just isn’t an option.
We like to think that slavery in America ended with the passage of the 13th Amendment, but it is alive and well in our prisons – this is especially true for the Paisas. Every convict in prison must work, and, although the federal system does pay its inmate workers, the rates are so abysmally low that it can rightfully be called slave labor. Wages start at 10 cents and hour and peak well below minimum wage.
Furthermore, many convicts are assessed a restitution fee they must pay back. In the case of embezzlers, this is supposed to equate to the money they swindled, but in the case of illegal entry, the restitution fee just adds insult to injury. Denied the pennies they would otherwise receive, these immigrants trule become slaves in every sense of the word.
And so, in this New American Century, what was once referred to as a peculiar institution has reared its ugly head again. Whereas the issue of aging slaves created a considerable dilemma before, today the slaves are on loan from Mexico and returned before they are old and frail and in need of expensive medical care. A new wave of able-bodied immigrants will always be coming across the border in the hopes of building a better life for themselves and their families; likewise, the government will always have a pool to populate its prisons and perpetuate a peculiar institution, which was, is, and always will be nothing more than a euphemism for inhuman slavery.
Perhaps incarceration does serve a legitimate purpose in rehabiliting those who have committed a crime. Perhaps it does not. What is clear is that locking people up for crossing an imaginary line and making them labor on behalf of the state, which will then eject them from the country is a barbaric practice that should be abolished immediately. It’s time that we as a country come to our senses and realize that no one is illegal.
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