YOU MAY ALREADY BE A SLAVE... recognizing 21st Century Peon Camps
"That's silly! I'm not a peon and I don't live/work in a camp," you say. "I'm an American with guaranteed rights of citizenship, free to buy stuff and come and go as I please whenever and wherever I want to."
How many people do you come in contact with each day who are actually enslaved? Whose daily actions reflect things they are compelled to do, though they are nonetheless American citizens just like you, who appear to be free to come and go as they please? How long will it be until the choices you make are restricted, just like theirs, though you think YOU are free right now?
The phrase "peon camp" cannot be found on Wikipedia or other popular online search engines, but the practice of convict leasing was popular in the American South for over 60 years. Convict leasing is a double euphemism: A convict is someone who has transgressed moral or civil law or has been found guilty of an offense or crime, whereas a peon (historically Black or Latino) is an unskilled laborer or any very poor person bound in servitude to a landlord creditor. Euphemisms are dangerous in the English language when you fail to see yourself in the situation represented. It is certainly no crime to be poor or unskilled, though at points in history it's been a crime to owe someone money... the concept of debtor's prison will come into play here.
The word "leasing" suggests that the individual being compelled to render service is somehow in control of his or her servitude or is the ultimate beneficiary of his or her labor, whereas the word "camp" suggests that the worker is confined to the location where his or her labor is performed, i.e., confined or imprisoned. Wherever you see the phrase "convict leasing" "forced labor" or "unfree labour" below or in the links I've embedded in this essay, mentally replace them with the words "peon camps"--here, YOU try it:
Convict leasing was a system of penal labor practiced in the Southern United States, beginning with the emancipation of slaves at the end of the American Civil War in 1865, peaking around 1880, and ending in the last state, Alabama, in 1928.
Peon camps initially began as a way to control the Black labor force in the South post-emancipation, and even though they were made illegal in Florida in 1923 and discontinued in Tennessee mines in 1966 (if you click on this link, scroll all the way down past the codes), major U.S. and international corporations contract with state and federal prisons today for "the cheapest possible labor". Convict labor is rumored to be one reason why goods imported from China are so inexpensive, and even WalMart has profited in Louisiana in the past few years from forced labor (also called unfree labour).
In this series on 21st Century Peon Camps, we will be comparing the privatization of U.S. prisons with several local Rochester institutions supposedly designed to help the poor. Are they really exploiting low income Blacks, Latinos and whites by undermining their ability to buy and sell, thereby impoverishing local businesses?
Two of the organizations I will be investigating are: Volunteers Of America Community Corrections Center and Mercy Residential Services, Inc.
I am hoping to receive reader comments and suggestions on this series of articles. If we are going to reform Rochester now, we can't do it alone, we must cooperate and work together.