Activist and co-founder of Campaign Zero, Samuel Zinyagwe, took to Twitter on Friday to share his recent visit to Louisiana and his shock over the experience.
Through his tweets, Zinyagwe shares how he was unaware of how regularly prison labor is utilized in government. “I thought I understood racism and mass incarceration. But nothing prepared me for what I saw in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (1/x),” Zinyagwe begins. He shares a little background history. After sharing these infographics showing how Louisiana’s incarcerations rates ranks amongst other states and the world. See below.
He goes on to tell how while visiting the state capitol he learns most of the service roles from food serving to maintenance are filled by prisoners. Zinyagwe points out, “And then I noticed that all the people serving food, cleaning, printing papers IN THE STATE LEGISLATURE are prisoners.” He describes the overweight, White corrections officer who oversaw the prisoners and compared the sight to a scene out of a movie, but he is more surprised by discovering that it is considered a privilege to work in the governor’s mansion.
“It’s all right there. In 2017. In the governor’s mansion. In the state legislature. In the fields. Slavery, by another name.”
He tweeted links that supported his observations, revealing how prisoners were chosen to work in certain positions. Going further, Zinyagwe shares how the residents are “unfazed”.
Zinyagwe asks, “How do we change these systems when they’re all so entrenched? The people in power are all part of it, benefiting from it.”
Good question. As I have lived in Louisiana for seven years and returned last year, I too have witnessed prisoners working and thought nothing of it. As I am originally from Mississippi, which is basically like a more rural, much slower Louisiana, usually last in everything good and within the top of everything bad or uneducated, I’ve watched so many I know enter the prison system and grown comfortable. We read and sometimes talk about the pipeline to prison culture, yet look right over the green eyed monster when it’s glaring us in the face.
I remember sharing a post about a prison strike, and an online friend commenting that inmates have committed crimes. 20 years ago, before learning of wrongful imprisonment so frequently, I would have agreed. After learning it is a systematic, profitable scheme I don’t look at the situation the same.
As one who lives here in Louisiana, I too wonder how do we expect change from a modern day slave system. Zinyagwe description of the residents being “unfazed”, is how I described what I saw after the ruling of the Department of Justice for Alton Sterling’s case.
How do we change these systems? I personally think first people need their eyes unveiled and then explained why they should feel insulted and be mad or at least concerned, but in a way that resonates with them. I say all the time that we live in such a self-absorbed world, therefore it’s important to show them just how situations can or do affect them on a personal level. That’s not just inmate 768234 but rather your brother, sister, cousin- whoever, but someone you actually know. Who is to say who could be the next Sterling? Then we demand better in an organized fashion, a collective voice, but first we have to wake up and know we are susceptible to the system in many ways.
Zinyagwe tweets were a wake up call for many. Fellow activist Angela Rye and many others called Zinyagwe’s tweets the “must read” for the weekend.