“Slavery and rehabilitation cannot coexist. The application of one will diminish the other.”
– El Presynt

Imagine a young woman who is addicted to heroin. Judging from her broken spirit and the marks on her features, she looks as if she has been abusing this drug for quite some time. Now consider that this young woman is pregnant, and throughout the course of her pregnancy she continues to inject heroin. She gives birth to a son who inherits her eyes, her sense of humor, and her addiction to heroin. This young man then happens to meet a young woman who is also addicted to heroin. They have a child together and this child is born addicted to heroin, living under the control of the drug in a continuous cycle, generation after generation…

Then, imagine that the government decides it could administer heroin as a punishment, ruining a life and introducing that cycle of addiction and destruction into a family line. Unjust, unfair, or cruel, you may think.

I challenge you to question your own understanding as to what incarceration really is–what it means and what it does when all the framing is stripped away. Most of us are blind to the fact that we are programmed to think and behave in a manner which promotes servitude. But a lot of us are all too aware that we are a part of a broken system, a system that is designed for us to fail.


One need not be a scholar in American History or even have a college-level education to grasp the effects slavery imposed upon the people subjected to it. Hardships, inhumanity, torture–these elements have always laid on the surface of our history for all to see. The true sources of these elements, however, are often minimized if not neglected entirely.

Consider to what magnitude black people were dehumanized in slavery. It was an establishment that was as taxing as it was brutal, cruel, and unusual. Slavery diminished man mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically. Slaves were murdered, raped and literally treated like animals solely for the purpose of establishing control through fear. As time progressed, the barbaric methods implemented by these slave masters became more strategic, as they began to purposefully create animosity between slaves. They accomplished this by, among other things, highlighting the differences between them, like the differences in their skin tones or age, in order to prevent them from uniting with one another against the true enemy: the system itself. 

Imagine how black people took these perceptions of their own into their tomorrows. Or take, for example, the reality of a man being “owned” by a slave master; the idea of a man, a human being, being someone else’s property. It was once written in the United States Constitution that Negros were only 3/5 of a man. Take a moment to truly inhabit this reality and consider how this would affect the character of a man or woman–or of you yourself. Would this not distort how you viewed yourself? Would this not destroy your understanding of what it means to be a leader, a provider and a protector of yourself and your family when you aren’t even considered to be a whole human being? When all that you are is someone else’s property?

Even when slavery was abolished altogether, this dehumanization never stopped. In 1865 under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, slavery was abolished and Negros, as a people, were freed by the 13th amendment. However, black people were still being knowingly hunted, tortured, and hung by whites, and they were seen as inferior to whites for all time thereafter. Through segregation and Jim Crow, black people were separated from whites in everything from restaurants and schools to restrooms, water fountains, and seats on the bus. It was never about an equal class of people who just couldn’t see eye to eye. This was about a race of people who were disgusted with the idea of sharing anything with a black person – even a toilet.

Separated from their heritage, disconnected from their beliefs, detached from their identities and broken by the slave masters of America, no black life is spared from the jaws of this dark, black history. The plants that stemmed from these seeds of subjection and division are planted into the subconscious minds of black people.

Even in abolition, there’s a catch. That very same 13th amendment of the United States Constitution, which abolishes slavery, has an exception for cases where a person has been convicted of a crime. In such cases, slavery may be reimposed as a punishment, give or take a few legal parameters. Slavery being appropriate on any level is a bus I missed. However, slave masters still exist today behind the veils of “legal slavery.”

If one wished to indulge in slavery, which includes but is not limited to owning slaves, engaging in the slave trade, and profiting from slave labor, then one would only have to invest their resources into the prison system. One would have to be elaborate and meticulous in his vision, for in order to continuously reap the benefits of legally owning slaves and building plantations to house them, there would have to be problems within society. Problems such as poverty, drugs and ignorance. These problems will cause those of that society to display certain behaviors, which those in power may define as criminal. More crime, as a result, will lead to more slavery, as crime is slavery’s bridge to legitimacy. 

It is difficult to believe that the continuation of slavery, in its essence, was not consciously planned. It is even more difficult to believe that it is coincidental that the United States has more of its citizens incarcerated than any country in the world, considering U.S.’s long history with slavery. There are a lot of unlikely coincidences: the disproportionate sentences for crimes born from hardship. The preference for punishment over true rehabilitation for these crimes. How it takes such a small amount of evidence to subject someone to servitude, but an abundance of evidence, money, and influence to overturn a wrongful verdict.  

I believe that these are not coincidences, but instead all of this reflects a want for continued slavery. Though incarceration programming is not explicitly limited by race or ethnic background, it is not a coincidence that 1 in 9 black men between the ages of 18 and 35 are incarcerated in Virginia compared to 1 in 30 of non-black men of the same age group. No, coincidence doesn’t haven’t anything to do with it at all.

It leads one to wonder who really benefits from warehousing human beings. The engineers of this well-oiled machine would argue that society does, but incarceration programming isn’t causing crime to diminish. Aside from the rare cases in which prisoners dedicate the time and effort in rehabilitating themselves, the rest of the prison population returns back to society to fall victim to a program that is structured for them to return. In 1995, the Commonwealth of Virginia abolished parole and required felons to serve 85% of their sentences. Yet, this method of increasing incarceration did nothing to decrease the crime rate. In fact, since parole was abolished, the Commonwealth of Virginia had to build more prisons due to overcrowding.


Those who have broken the law are described as outcasts or plagues on our communities. We’re considered enemies of the U.S. and/or the state (i. e. “John Doe v. Commonwealth of Virginia”; United States v. JohnDoe”). Law enforcement, politicians and the like call us the problem and say that society needs to solve this problem by locking us up. They send us away to these plantations called prisons, and in that process they separate us from our families and disconnect us from our roles in society.

None of us are born criminals. No one looks at a 2- or 3-year old little boy and sees a murderer, a drug dealer, or a burglar. So us black people being the problem with society is no truer than a black person being 3/5 of a man. Nonetheless, these ideas are planted into our subconscious.

There is a better way to handle social issues than by reviving slavery. Imagine in the next century, the youth are no longer neglected and misguided and incarceration becomes obsolete. With better social structures in place, fewer people break the law. The 65% or more incarcerated who suffer from mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, depression, personality disorder, etc. receive the appropriate medical treatments and are housed in medical facilities (not prisons) when deemed necessary. For those who do go to prison, equal access to education and true rehabilitation means that prisoners are no longer seen as ignorant and uneducated and upon their release they fall in line with the progress of productivity. Recidivism drops. Imagine why this isn’t our reality now. Understanding the dark history of America, that answer is a given.

In conclusion, I do not dare wish to diminish or undermine the leaders and heroes of our history who stood up, fought and even sacrificed their lives for equality and justice on this beautiful land of America. Moreover, there are numerous examples of black success in America that derive from seeds planted by our enlightened elders. Salutations to the men and women who recognized themselves for the kings and queens they truly are: who utilized the necessary time and resources to educate themselves and were mindful enough to pass that knowledge down to the youth.

However, do not misconstrue black individual success with black collective rehabilitation. Let it be understood that we, as a people, still suffer from a complex. We still bleed from infected wounds of inferiority, emasculation and disenfranchisement. Incarceration Programming does nothing more but reinforces these maladies.

So ask yourself who wins and who loses from whatever incarceration is supposed to be? And if it’s not an advanced, modern form of slavery, then… what is incarceration, really?