From 1998 to 2001 I worked at the St. Augustine Maintenance Yard for the Florida Department of Transportation. I truly hated that job. There is something off about that place, like it was cursed. The morale there was abysmal, and many of the people were just this side of criminally insane. It felt dangerous, in an inmates-running-the-asylum kind of way. It’s what turned me into a bridgetender. I needed peace, after that horror. So I suppose something good came out of it after all.
One of the things that made me squirm the most in that place is that we had a contract with the Department of Corrections. We paid them. They provided us with slaves in the form of prisoners who not only had no choice, but also were not paid for their labors. They dug ditches in the hot Florida sun. They cleared underbrush, using machetes, in amongst the snakes and scorpions and spiders. They picked up trash on the side of busy highways. They did all the grit labor that our other crews didn’t do. Prison Crews are chain gangs without the chains, and field hands without the field.
Were they treated well? In front of us, yes. But some of the guards were thinly veiled Neandertals, and I have no doubt a lot happened out there in the boonies that we were not made privy to. They used to tell us that the prisoners enjoyed this work, but I don’t see how that’s possible. Yes, they got out in the fresh air, but they were sweat-soaked, underfed, and not doing anything that would give them work experience that they could employ upon release. And after all that unpaid labor, they often still had to pay restitution. After digging ditches for about 4 hours, they were treated to a baloney sandwich, and then were expected to work another 4 hours. If some emergency came up and they had to stay late, the prison didn’t hold dinner for them. They simply went without.
One of my coworkers used to long for the good old days. Back then, when a prisoner got “uppity” and refused to work, they’d be locked in a small metal box in the oppressive heat, and the guards would beat on the box with sticks. “That would straighten them right up.” Now, they only get written up and thrown into solitary confinement. Happy to work, my butt.
I have no doubt that that coworker voted for Trump. He wanted to make America great again. He used to make my flesh crawl. And he was free to go home at night, after standing around not doing a thing all day.
According to this article, entitled “Work Forced”, Florida is but one of several southern states that use unpaid prison labor. In these states, the vast majority of prisoners are African American. Without these P Crews, many rural communities would not be able to function, as they’d actually have to pay people a living wage, and they’d be hard-pressed to find people willing to do this scut work.
Is it any wonder that more and more people are locked up for petty crimes? What a boon to the economy when you can snatch someone off the streets for carrying a small bag of weed, and you can work him for years. Slavery still exists, folks.
And it’s not just those Southern states that are culpable. Other states employ prison labor as well. They just pay them. After prison fees and expenses and fines, some of them are lucky to get 90 cents an hour, which isn’t even enough for them to buy a bar of soap in the prison commissary. In many states, if prisoners have a hundred dollars or more in their prison account upon release, the prison doesn’t give them any further money. Just a bus ticket. Thanks for all your hard work.
Lest I entertain the fantasy that this stuff was a thing of the past, I saw P Crews on a daily basis maintaining the grounds of Indian River State College when I was a student there in 2011-2012. These “hardened criminals” were allowed to move around campus, unsupervised, amongst the co-eds.
And that same article really gave me a shiver when it directly discussed some abuses that were happening out of the same prison that we had our contract with when I worked for FDOT, and in the same area where our maintenance yard worked, so it had to be some of the very crews I used to work around. It said:
The Times-Union reviewed all 105 disciplinary reports issued for “refusing to work” from July 2018 and identified at least nine that were written for work squad members. Two of those were written by the same officer, Steven Holmes, who policed a Department of Transportation work squad based out of Putnam Correctional Institution.
In his response to an infraction, Derrick Harmon insisted that he wasn’t refusing to work, but that he simply felt unsafe on Holmes’ work squad. For a week, he said, he had been suspecting Holmes and another officer were plotting to set him up with a disciplinary report for refusing to work.
The disciplinary hearing team, made up of other officers, found Harmon guilty based on Holmes’ statement, which quoted Harmon saying, “I ain’t getting in no ditches today.”
“When Officer Holmes asked Inmate Harmon if he was refusing to work, he said yes,” the disciplinary report said.
Harmon spent two weeks in administrative confinement before he was reassigned to a different squad.
Two weeks later, another prisoner on Holmes’ squad, Henry Summerlin, complained of personal difficulties and other safety concerns. Summerlin, who told officials he was distraught after recently finding out his wife had died, complained of being forced to work in the middle of a “very busy intersection at St. Augustine Beach.” A couple of days later, Summerlin said, Holmes denied his request for a new pair of safety glasses and gloves.
“He stated that he already told us that we needed to start keeping up with our equipment better and that he could not keep getting us new ones every day,” Summerlin wrote in his statement.
“You know that I have been taking it real easy on your ass,” Holmes warned the men, according to Summerlin’s statement on the disciplinary report.
After spending a week in administrative confinement, Summerlin lost 10 days of “gain time,” or time earned off his sentence. He was then reassigned to food service.
I can’t believe this is happening in the 21st century.
As a matter of fact, the documentary that I recently blogged about, 13th, mentions that prisons nationwide have also forced their inmates to work in sweat shops for some very well known companies. Microsoft. Boeing. Victoria’s Secret. JC Penney. Seattle Fish.
Do you eat Idaho Potatoes? Odds are very good that your potato was planted, harvested and packaged by inmates. In fact, more and more farmers are using prison labor because now that we have such an anti-immigration stance, they’re finding it impossible to employ anyone else for that back-breaking work. So, like it or not, we’ve all eaten off the backs of an involuntary farmhand at some point or another.
It kind of makes you think, doesn’t it? Government sanctioned slavery. Here and now.
I know I’ll never look at an Idaho potato the same way again.
I know it can be a hard sell to get people to watch documentaries, but if you watch only one documentary in your life, it should be this one. 13th can be seen on Netflix. I’ve had the good fortune to see it twice. Once on my own, and once as a part of my Race and Social Justice Initiative training at work. Each time, it brough out a storm of emotions within me.
This movie discusses a very shocking loophole in the 13th amendment to the US constitution. The amendment reads as follows (italics mine):
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
We’d like to think we’ve abolished slavery in this country, but that’s not at all true, as this movie makes blatantly obvious. Once “official” slavery was abolished, this country had a big, sucking vacuum where all that free labor used to exist. The solution to that problem became obvious rather quickly. After emancipation, convictions for petty crimes began to rise, and they’ve been rising steadily ever since. As it stands, America has 5% of the world’s population, and 25% of the world’s prisoners. There are 2.3 million Americans in prison today, and the majority of them are African American. And oh, are we ever good at putting them to work.
We’ve criminalized drug addiction. We’ve waged war on crime. Politicians began to talk about “getting tough” and “law and order” as a backlash against the civil rights movement. We’ve had harsher sentencing for crack than we do for cocaine, and these drugs are divided along racial and economic lines. We’ve called these people super predators and beasts. They are considered enemy combatants that we should be able to stop and frisk with impunity.
We’ve perpetuated the myth that black men are rapists. Something we rarely think about is that the history of interracial rape is far more white male/black female. Which makes a creepy amount of sense, given the unequal power dynamic.
We created a three strike policy in this country that requires mandatory minimum sentencing. This means that judges can’t dispense justice with any type of discretion. For example, if someone had been convicted of two petty crimes as a brash young teenager, and then lives an upstanding, crime free life for another forty years, and is then talked into plea bargaining for a crime he didn’t commit to avoid this mandatory minimum situation, that person will practically be thrown under the jail, as the saying goes. 97% of those locked up have plea bargained for that very reason. Which means they aren’t really getting any justice at all.
Even former President Clinton now admits that his Omnibus Crime Bill was a mistake. It has militarized our police departments, and funded a lot of prisons which then needed to be filled to remain profitable. It has doubled the prison population.
This has decimated the African American community. Black men have a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison, whereas for white men, the statistics are 1 in 17. It has left a whole generation of leaders incarcerated. African Americans comprise 6.5% of the US population, but 40.2% of the prison population. This makes it difficult for the black community to defend itself.
And have you ever thought about the injustice of the Stand Your Ground laws in some states? Stand your ground allowed George Zimmerman to hunt down and kill Trayvon Martin. Where was Trayvon Martin’s right to stand his ground?
And then, you have to think about all the convicts who pay their debt to society and never have their rights fully restored. It can be nearly impossible to find a job when you get out of prison. And 30% of the black male population in Alabama has lost its ability to vote. Is that democracy? Really?
Two other issues that this movie discusses in depth are ALEC (the American Legislation Exchange Council), and Prison Labor. Those issues are so intense that they’ll each have a blog post of their own.
The frustrating thing about the modern day slavery in this country is that I feel personally helpless to do anything about it. And if I’m honest, most of the time I get to not think about it. I can sit in my white privilege comfort zone and focus on other things, like my next vacation or the fact that my dog wants to go for a walk. It’s a big source of shame for me.
The very least I can do is blog about this issue in an effort to signal boost the voices of the less privileged. So here I am, doing the very least I can do. But it sure doesn’t make me feel any better.
One of the things I love most about this blog is reader feedback. I enjoy reading the comments on the blog itself, and also on my Facebook Group Page. Often I learn quite a bit, and I do my best to respond to everyone.
In my recent post about Ghost Fishing, James suggested I watch a documentary entitled Drowning in Plastic. I was very excited to see that it was available for free on Youtube.
Even so, I have to admit that I was hesitant to watch this documentary. It was fairly obvious to me that it wasn’t going to be upbeat or lighthearted. We have a huge problem with plastic waste on this planet, and this film was going to shine a big old ugly light on it. Did I really want to bear witness to something that I feel so helpless to combat?
But in the end, watch it I did. And yes, it was heartbreaking. And sobering. And scary. But it was also really fascinating to see all the innovative ideas people are coming up with to combat this problem. I can’t possibly do those ideas justice. I suggest you watch the documentary for more details.
But I can share with you some of the many scary facts that I learned while watching.
Every minute, around the globe, we buy a million plastic bottles, a million disposable cups, and two million plastic bags. Every minute.
Every minute, an entire truckload of plastic ends up in the ocean. Over a year, this adds up to 8 million tons.
The vast majority of the plastic that has ever found its way to the ocean is still there.
By the year 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is currently 3 times the size of France, and it’s not the only garbage patch on the planet. It’s just the most infamous one.
By 2050, annual production of plastic will have increased by 500 percent.
Every time you wash synthetic clothing, more than 700,000 microplastic fibers are released into the environment, and these fibers have been found throughout the food chain, from plankton to walruses in the most remote parts of the arctic. (And if that doesn’t get your attention, this article states that “the average adult consumes 2,000 pieces of microplastic every year from salt alone.”)
But there really are some simple things you can do to reduce your plastic usage:
Use a reusable water bottle.
Use reusable grocery bags.
Use a reusable coffee cup.
Stop using straws entirely.
Provide your own container and cutlery for takeout food.
Pack your own lunch.
Choose ice cream cones instead of cups. (No cup waste, no spoon.)
Avoid buying synthetic clothing.
Don’t buy plastic toys for your pets.
Use bar soap and bar shampoo rather than liquid soap and shampoo from plastic containers.
Refill printer cartridges.
Get a water filter and drink from the tap instead of buying bottled water.
Don’t chew gum. Gum is made of a synthetic rubber, which is a plastic.
Encourage manufacturers to reduce plastic packaging for their products.
Use a razor with replaceable blades instead of a disposable razor.
Buy detergent and soaps that come in cardboard boxes rather than plastic.
Use matches instead of a plastic disposable lighter. Better yet, don’t smoke at all, as cigarette butts contain plastic.
Buy food from bulk bins, using reusable bags, to avoid packaging.
Participate in river and shoreline cleanup efforts.
Shop locally to reduce plastic packaging.
Talk to your friends and family about our plastic problem.
Together we can make a difference. We can, and we must.
Well, I just had a very emotional evening. I saw the documentary entitled Blackfish, and a part of my childhood shattered like a crystal glass being thrown against a concrete wall. This documentary came out in 2013, and while I was aware of some of the controversy sparked by it, and saw SeaWorld scramble to repair its tarnished image in its aftermath, I didn’t see the film until just this month, so I had absolutely no idea how horrified I should be by the state of captive Orcas.
I grew up near Orlando, Florida, and went to its many theme parks dozens of times. After a while, Disney began to seem rather dated and repetitive. I frankly could care less if I ever go there again. But SeaWorld… oh, how I loved SeaWorld!
I love animals, in general. I love watching them and learning more about them. I really do believe, even now, that certain types of captivity have value in the aggregate. Animals that have been rescued after injury, that can no longer survive in the wild, who are housed in locations that are spacious and as much like their natural habitats as possible, and are given proper stimulation and care and are able to maintain social structures, while not being required to perform for our viewing pleasure, can act as ambassadors for their species.
I genuinely believe that seeing animals close up makes humans appreciate them more. I think the more we learn about them, the more we tend to care about the state of the planet. But this movie made me realize that we’ve crossed a line.
Whales should not be kept in concrete pools, with only 1,100 square yards of space, when they require a minimum of 300 times more than that to thrive. Mothers should not be separated from babies, which would normally stay by them for life. No one should be isolated in a pool with no stimulation, only to be called out a few times a day to perform like a puppet on a string.
I did not let myself see that as a child. I got caught up in the whole spectacular show. The good-looking, enthusiastic trainers, who obviously loved the whales, but in truth, had absolutely no control as to how they were treated. I chose to see joy, rather than angst. Playfulness, rather than desperation. I wanted those whales to love their lives.
But they don’t.
As I grew older, I saw other captivity red flags. Orangutans all alone in darkened rooms, looking listless and profoundly depressed. A dolphin with a broken jaw, at a swim with the dolphins place in South Florida. (He had never experienced a wall before his capture, and had slammed right into it.) A walrus, in a pool way too small, swimming in a vertical circle, over and over and over again. (I watched him for 20 minutes, with tears in my eyes.) Tigers pacing in tiny cages. And any creature at all, in a circus. Circuses should be outlawed.
The sad thing is that SeaWorld still has its Orcas, and they still have their shows. They’ve repackaged them to make them seem much more humane, organic, and educational, but those whales are still floating in those wretched pools, their lifespans 1/3 as long as their wild brethren.
What we need is another documentary, Blackfish II, to show how SeaWorld has attempted to rebrand itself, while not significantly changing the quality of life of its whales. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad they’re no longer breeding whales in captivity, or capturing whales at sea. I’m glad they contribute to conservation causes, and do make some efforts to educate people. But they are doing so while holding these animals prisoner and profiting from it. There is nothing, nothing at all, that justifies that. We need a second documentary to increase the pressure so that SeaWorld and similar companies will finally do the right thing.
While all these Orcas, who have been in captivity for so long, would probably be incapable of being released into the wild, there are those who think that a whale sanctuary is the most viable option. They would still be enclosed, but they’d have 300 times the space, and they’d be in the ocean, with its natural ebb and flood. They’d have room to move and socialize and feel the sun and the rain and the most natural habitat possible, while remaining safe and cared for.
It’s not ideal. We can’t repair all our damage. It’s way too late for that. But it’s a heck of a lot better than what they experience now. If you agree, please join me in supporting the mission of The Whale Sanctuary Project.
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Several years ago, I wrote about the fact that Fred Rogers was really the only father figure I ever knew. That post was entitled, “Fred Rogers Was My Father”, and I really meant it. I genuinely believe I wouldn’t have made it to adulthood without Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood.
Recently I went to see a documentary that’s in some theaters called Won’t You Be My Neighbor? I learned even more about this amazing man and what a positive impact he had on the world. He spoke to children about the Vietnam war, and about the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, and about 9/11. He explained divorce and death to us. And most of all, he talked about kindness and decency and the fact that we’re all okay just the way we are. He made us feel safe. That’s all most kids really need, isn’t it?
I’m so glad that he wasn’t alive in 2007 when conservatives tried to blame him for an entire generation’s sense of entitlement. They claimed that because Mr. Rogers told children that they were special, they grew up to be lazy and didn’t feel like they had to work for their achievements. I was outraged. Many people were.
What’s next? Drop kicking puppies into active volcanoes? I mean, seriously. What were they really saying? That it would be better to tell kids that they were worthless, and that they need to man up? Here was a man that gave millions of people the self-esteem to rise up from their dysfunctional circumstances and have emotionally healthy, productive lives, and Fox News and their ilk were attacking that legacy. It was disgusting.
When the lights went up in the theater, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. And when I got to my car, I really let loose. I am just so grateful for all that Fred Rogers did for me. He knew me so well, without even meeting me. And I needed that. So very much.
He claims to want to expose a Hollywood child pedophile ring. To do this, he’s got an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign going on. He’d like to raise 10 million dollars so he can make a documentary about this ring. So far, he has actually gotten 230,000 dollars’ worth of stupid people to participate.
Evidence of Corey’s lack of sincerity:
His campaign is named after his latest album.
If he had any honest-to-God proof of a pedophile ring, and genuinely wanted it stopped, he’d turn this evidence over to the police and to the media immediately. Instead, he’s been hinting at it for years, while, one assumes, more children are being abused. In other words, he’s positioning himself to make as much profit as he can from this tragedy.
If he genuinely was anti-abuse, he wouldn’t be teaching women that in order for them to be a success, they must prance about in public in lingerie. He’d instead be teaching them to rely on their own agency: their intelligence, and also that their talents don’t require soft porn to prop them up. (That’s probably difficult to grasp when you’ve grown up in Hollywood, but there you have it.)
Seriously, Corey, how do you expect people to believe you care about children when you have such a low opinion of women? The unequal power dynamic and the demonstrated subservience alone is enough to indicate that you are no white knight. And that’s a shame, because protecting children from sexual abuse is a great cause. If you weren’t pooping all over your message, you might just make a difference.
Do I think pedophilia exists in Hollywood? Most definitely. I doubt it’s so organized that there’s a “ring”, mind you, but scumbags abound, and in an industry where looks matter, they’re no doubt attracted to these child stars like moths to a flame.
So, yes, I think these slime balls need to be outed, but not so that Corey Feldman can bring in the money that allows him to continue to mislead women into eating nothing but fruit while wearing wings and a halo. He really must enjoy watching them wander about his house, scantily-clad, light-headed, and in heels. Because doing so isn’t furthering their careers.
Shame on you, Corey. You are the worst kind of hypocrite, acting like the low-rent lovechild of Hugh Hefner and Michael Jackson. You could so easily do better than this. Prove it to us.
In my timeworn tradition of being years behind trends, I just saw an amazing documentary from 2015 on Hulu. It’s called Racing Extinction, and it’s both beautiful and horrifying. It has forever changed the way I look at the world.
The cinematography is stunning. Many of the people involved in this documentary also worked for National Geographic. That pretty much tells you all you need to know about this film’s quality.
It moved me to tears more than once. The first time was when they played the recording of the very last O’o bird singing a mating song that would never, ever be answered. Then there were the views of hundreds of thousands of shark fins on a roof in Hong Kong, and footage of sharks with their fins chopped off, struggling to swim to get air through their gills, only to eventually suffocate. And the sight of majestic manta rays fighting for their lives in hour-long battles with fishermen made me want to scream.
At this point I’ve probably convinced you not to see this documentary, but I urge you to change your mind. It will open your eyes. It shows you incontrovertible evidence of the methane we release into the atmosphere every day. It shows how this methane is making the oceans more acidic, and how this acid dissolves seashells. It demonstrates how this is killing the phytoplankton that produces more than half the oxygen we breathe. As the film says, “Your life depends on the oceans breathing.”
It also says that “if every American skipped meat and cheese just one day a week for a year, it would be like taking 7.6 million cars off the road.” (I’m managing to be meat-free 3 to 4 days a week, but that doesn’t let you off the hook.)
But more than anything, it shows the gorgeous way they are educating all of us about this crisis. Check out their website to see the videos they have displayed on the side of the Empire State Building, for example. Absolutely stunning. The website also suggests ways you can help slow down this man-made mass extinction that is happening all around you, even as you read this. Please help.
Until now, I had no idea that this community existed. If I gave quicksand any thought at all, it was as an old-fashioned plot device from another era. But looking around on the web, I’ve come to find out that a lot of people are into quicksand, if you’ll pardon the pun.
They seem to divide themselves into two groups: “Sinkers” and “Watchers”. Naturally it’s usually the women who get to sink. In the sinkerhood community, one of the all-time stars appears to be a woman who calls herself Loch Ness Nessie. She has been in many a video. But she’s not so young anymore, and worries that very few millennials are coming along to take up the figurative baton.
There is a company called Mud Puddle Visuals that makes a lot of videos for your viewing pleasure. Personally, I don’t see the appeal. I guess it has something to do with the helplessness aspect, or the rescue fantasy. To me it seems like mud wrestling without the opponent.
True confessions: I did once fall into quicksand up to my waist. It was during a junior high school field trip to a swamp with my science class to study that ecosystem. When I was pulled out, one of my shoes did not come with me. (One wonders just how many shoes are left at the bottom of quagmires. An untapped archeological resource?) I came home that afternoon half barefoot and muddy. It’s not an experience I’d care to repeat.
Whatever floats your boat, I suppose. (Or sinks it, in this case.) Maybe I’m just not dirty enough to hang with these folks. I do try to avoid activities that require me to be hosed down after the fact. It’s one of my many quirks.
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One of the things I love about being a City of Seattle employee is that I am required to do at least two hours of race and social justice training per year. As part of that this year, I had the distinct pleasure of viewing a documentary called The Cats of Mirikitani. In keeping with my tradition of reviewing things that came out years ago, I will review this amazing video, which came out in 2007.
First of all, if you have the opportunity to see this documentary yourself, I couldn’t recommend it more highly. Second, if you have yet to see it, I should say that the rest of this entry requires a spoiler alert.
This documentary, by Linda Hattendorf, is about an amazing guy named Tsutomu “Jimmy” Mirikitani. She found him sleeping on the streets of Soho in New York City. He would not take any money from anyone. He was 80 years old, and survived by selling his art to people.
As the documentary progresses, you learn more and more about him. He was born in Sacramento, but raised in Hiroshima. Needless to say, he was highly impacted by the bombing of that city. Fortunately he had returned to America in 1937. Unfortunately, that also meant that even though he was born in the US, he got thrown into a Japanese internment camp and lived there for 3 ½ years.
Then, while he was still living on the street, 9/11 happened. The creator of the documentary found him all alone on the street, in the dark, coughing in a toxic cloud of twin tower dust. She took him in. And that’s just the beginning.
This documentary really made me assess how I react to the homeless. I probably pass people by every single day who have hidden talents, and have witnessed history and have amazing stories to tell. The fact that this man lived for decades on the street without being connected to social services is just another in a long line of tragedies that Jimmy Mirikitani experienced in his lifetime. There really is no excuse.
It’s always a weird feeling when my long-held views about how the world works are set ever-so-slightly askew. It makes me wonder what else I’ve taken for granted that, well, shouldn’t be taken on faith.
That strange sensation happened yet again today when I was watching a documentary about the dark ages. This was a really well made documentary, and it gave you a strong sense of what it must have felt like to live during this period. Between wars and plagues and ignorance, it is astounding that anyone survived with the strength and perseverance to procreate and make our existence possible.
But what really shook me to my foundations was that these people were living on the crumbling ruins of cultures that came before them that were more sophisticated, educated, and healthy. They were living in tiny parts of large, crumbling, once thriving cities. They could tell that the people of the past had more knowledge than they possessed, whether it be in the realm of science, engineering or medicine. They had to know that it used to be there, and now it was gone. Just watching the Roman aqueducts crumble around them while they got their water from fetid pools must have driven them to despair.
Here’s where my foundation crumbles. My whole life I’ve lived quite comfortably with the “fact” that progress is inevitable. I have felt safe in the knowledge that in the future we will have made even more medical breakthroughs, will have invented even more things that will make our lives easier, and that we will move steadily forward.