Prison Radio
Sergio Hyland

I’m Uptown Serg, and this is a message to the leadership of Black Lives Matter. For years now, you have courageously taken on the burden of being representatives of the black community and our struggle for self-determination and freedom. You have an awesome platform at your disposal and even more cumbersome responsibility of maintaining your ideological integrity so that all of mankind can one day be free from the brutal inhumane clutches of capitalism and patriarchy.

With recent episodes of unarmed black men being murdered by racist police, you have consistently supported the call to defund the police and end the terroristic occupation of black and brown communities. And the fact that you placed a focus on defunding means that you understand how economics is the driving force of our oppression.

With that said, I want to use this opportunity to implore the leadership of Black Lives Matter to make the deeper economic connection between capitalism, slavery, police, and prisons. As you know, the police were a creation of slave owners in the early 1700, when they needed help capturing slaves who liberated themselves. Without their forced free labor, slave plantation owners would die in a state of abject poverty.

The newly created police had a singular purpose of recapturing those slaves, thus maintaining the economic security of this young nation. As time passed, slavery was abolished, but a new form of slavery had taken its place, a more acceptable system: the prison system. Over the brief course of a couple of generations, mass incarceration has formed a very profitable prison industry where prisoners’ forced free labor is even traded on Wall Street. I have no doubt that the leaders of Black Lives Matter are familiar with this tragic history, which is why it pains prisoners such as myself, who are mostly minorities, to see you focus almost exclusively on a simple defunding of police.

Day and night, we talk about slavery and police brutality. But the prison industrial complex gets very little attention. We call it a success to see statues of Christopher Columbus and Robert E. Lee and other racists and slave owners torn down. But is it a success really? How much of a success is it for these relics to be removed while the Constitution still firmly upholds the practice of slavery?

The Punishment Clause of the 13th Amendment states that a human being can be placed into slavery if they’re convicted of a crime. And that’s exactly what has been happening on the inside of prisons across America. Right here in Pennsylvania, African-Americans make up only 11% of the state population while 47% of state prisoners. Black men are six times more likely to go to prison than white men.

And as we speak, women are the fastest growing demographic of new arrests and prisoners. Moreover, because of our forced free labor, the prison system stands on sturdy ground, maintaining itself, right in line with Wall Street and other venture capitalists who daily exploit prison labor.

The Punishment Clause of the Thirteen Amendment must be removed. If it isn’t, all of us are wasting our time, energy and resources. This isn’t a Black Lives Matter problem. It’s a problem for all of us who seek to replace this deadly inhumane system with one of equality, love, and community. It just so happens that Black Lives Matter is at the forefront. Your leadership on this issue is critical.

You’ve already made the economic connection. Removing the Punishment Clause would destroy the prison industrial complex and make untold funds available to be put back into our communities where they’re needed most. This issue is one for the grass roots though. We need legislation that will effectively remove this clause.

How can slavery still legally exist in 2020? So, for the leadership of Black Lives Matter if you’re listening, remember these words, as you fight on our behalf. Remember that symbolism is just that. It means nothing without tangible actions which produced results. And when you see another statue of a slaveowner being removed, remember that it means nothing if the Punishment Clause isn’t removed as well.

Thank you for listening. I’m Sergio Hyland, and you can follow me on Instagram @UptownSerg.