Prisons in Georgia are plantations
The old master and slave mentality is alive and kicking, writes Brandon Astor Jones.
Two officers came to take me to the medical prison, in Augusta because I needed a new hearing aid.
After handcuffing, chaining, shackling, electronic-shock-devicing and black-boxing me, the officers escorted me to a large enclosed area that was being sheetrocked – putting in new walls and a number of new compartments into what was once a vast open space.
There were four young White prisoners working with a White maintenance man who appeared to be in his early- to mid-sixties. One of the younger men was finishing a large doorway.
As I watched I was reminded of days gone by, when I used to hang drywall/sheetrock, paint and more. I was part of a five-man-remodelling-crew: two Blacks, two Whites and one Latino in Washington DC more than 40 years ago. I made a mental note that the man doing the finishing work was not very good at his job and more than a little slow – a no-no in the sheetrock-hanging business. Eventually he felt that he had finished.
The four prisoners gathered around the older man and their rock-carrier and big red tool box. As soon as the older man made eye contact with me, I asked him: ‘Do all of these guys work for you?’
He replied with one word: ‘Yep.’
Since the prison has so many Black guys in it, I felt obliged to probe deeper and asked: ‘How come you don’t have at least one Black guy working with you?’
He looked up and away from me and then looked back at me. His face took on a near-crimson hue before he declared: ‘None of ‘em wanna work, or they don’t know how to do this kinda work.’
I sat in silence for a moment as I briefly remembered that it took me all of three hours, 40 years ago, for a fellow worker to teach me how to hang and finish sheetrock the right way. ‘I see a lot of Black prisoners working in this joint,’ I said, ‘but mostly they have mops or floor-buffers in their hands – I have never seen Black sheetrockers here!’
He replied: ‘It takes a long time to learn drywallin’ and we ain’t got much time.’
‘Much time?,’ I said. ‘Man, this is a prison. Everybody here has time!’
The two escort officers – one White and one Black – and I sat in silence as we waited for someone to bring the van for our trip to Augusta. Only then did I let them know that I made $9 an hour, 40 years ago, hanging sheetrock. They seemed amazed. The White officer did not give me enough time to tell them that for those $9 an hour, I also had to paint, build kitchen cabinets and drove back and forth to the lumber yard several times a day. When I asked how much hanging drywalls pays in Georgia today, the White officer looked up at the ceiling before saying: ‘I don’t know, but it sure ain’t $9. Them damn Mexicans do it down here cheap!’
I should not have been surprised, but I was taken aback by the utter contempt in his voice and on his face as he made it clear how much he did not like people of colour, Black or Brown. His racism sounded like a badge of shameless-honour.
As we passed through the city of Jackson, just before we crossed a set of railroad tracks, I noticed that a pile of fist-sized, dark-grey rocks had been deposited about 3 metres to the right of the crossing. There was clearly enough to derail a moving train. I reasoned that since much of the pile was directly on top of one rail, some good citizen would see to the rocks’ removal in due course of the day’s passage.
When we came back some hours later, we were forced to sit motionless in a traffic jam for at least half an hour. At some point the driver of our van decided to turn onto a side street and take an alternate route to avoid the railroad crossing.
The next morning I heard on the National Public Radio/aka BBC newscast report that ‘a prison bus in Odessa, Texas, had been involved in a train derailment that [left] six prisoners and two officers dead.’ There were a number of seriously injured as well. It was determined, at the scene, that none of the dead and injured had been secured with seat belts.
That is when it occurred to me how easily I could have been one of those casualties a mere 16 hours ago: the van I rode in to and from Augusta had 9 seats that I could see with seat belts. There were two officers with me in that van; and, while I could not discern if the driver had a seat belt on, I know that I did not, and neither did the other officer. No officer asked to buckle me up and, of course, there was no way I could buckle myself up.
I have shared this experience so that the reader can more clearly see and understand:
a) White men come out of prison with bits and pieces of a means to earn a living (welding, plumbing, bricklaying, electrical engineering and yes, even lesser trades such as hanging sheetrock);
(b) most Black men come out having learned mostly how to operate a mop or floor buffer;
(c) how blatantly racism influences certain decisions in prison and how meaningless MERIT is.
Prisons in Georgia are plantations…nothing more and nothing less.
Mr. Brandon Astor Jones, UNO No. 400574; G3-81)
Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison
Post Office Box 3877
Jackson, Georgia 30233, USA.
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