Incarceration Nation

Plantation Nation

By Kevin Cooper

I have read that the very first plantation was built on the North American continent in the year of 1619 when the first of millions of captured African people were brought to the land and made slaves.

When the European people, who took this land from its indigenous people under the guise of manifest destiny, started to build plantations, they never stopped.

Here in the 21st century, those plantations of yesteryear have become the penitentiaries of today.

These modern day plantations are just as Black-faced in terms of the type of people who are the inhabitants of them, as were the plantations of history.

Working for no wages, or in some cases, very small wages; living in a constant state of stress, fear and inhumane conditions; being tortured, starved, separated from loved ones and having little or no real healthcare; as well as knowing that at any given minute your life can be taken by the people who control this system—these conditions haven’t changed. There are many, many other negative things that come with being locked up against your will within these plantations that at times have driven people to commit suicide, or to go insane.

These plantations are meant for one thing, and one thing only, and that is punishment. So America, in order to punish its poor people who have been convicted rightly or wrongly of a crime has had to build more and more, and yet still more, prisons, penitentiaries, plantations. No matter what they are called, they do the same things.

While punishing the convicted, they also make money—lots of money—for the entities that finance, build, maintain, control and fill up these places with people. This has gone on for so long that it’s safe to say that the United States of America has become a Plantation Nation.

This continuation of building places by the rich in order to lock up the poor has been taken to a whole new level in this modern day era. Yet, at the same time, it’s history repeating itself. For example, during chattel slavery from 1619 to 1865, most, if not all, plantations were privately owned. The states took over for the most part after the end of chattel slavery when it came to the building of prisons. Today however, that trend has been reversed to a degree because private prisons seem to be the newest thing to hit the criminal justice system, though this is not the case in some places. In some southern states, or “former” slave states, old school plantations have been made into modern day prisons. For example, in Louisiana, Angola Penitentiary was once Angola plantation. In Mississippi, Parchment Penitentiary was once Parchment plantation. Throughout America’s southern region this fact repeats itself.

There are many different reasons why America continues its history of building prisons to lock up its people, especially its poorest, even though all the data from every department within the criminal justice system shows that crime rates in every category have declined.

So the truth behind the why and how of this reality needs to be examined by all people who are truly concerned. How can a country that says it’s the very best place in the world to live; a place where all people want to come and live; a place that is supposed to be the best educated and moral, as well as all the other adulations that it goes by; how can this be the same country that locks up as many of its own citizens as it does?

It doesn’t take brains to lock up people, to torture them, to keep them in inhumane conditions, to deny them healthcare, to execute them, or do all the rest that we know is being done to Americans in these plantations.

No, it doesn’t take brains to do these things; it takes a cold heart! An “I don’t give a damn” attitude, greed, and a will to go against humanity. That sounds like a slave master mentality doesn’t it?

So maybe they aren’t as educated, moral, and everything else that they claim to be. Maybe they are just capitalists who have a tried and true method of making a living by exploiting others.

Maybe they are even racist and classist and even a little sexist, with no concern for others. Only for their own kind do they have concerns.

If this was a sport—and to some it probably is—then this prison system would be right up there with America’s other favorite pastimes like baseball, football, capital punishment and life without parole.

To build, maintain and keep these old school and modern day penitentiaries filled to capacity with men, women, and children is why this place is now a nation full of plantations—a plantation nation.

Write to:

Kevin Cooper C-65304 4-EB-82

San Quentin State Prison

San Quentin, CA 94974