Book Club – Chapter 5 summary

By Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud
March 22, 2016

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Chapter 5 – The Rebel Caged

 Hedges starts this chapter talking about his discussion with prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, America’s best-known political prisoner. Hedges was not permitted a pencil or paper during his four and half hour conversation with Abu-Jamal, but he wrote down his quotes immediately after he left the prison. Hedges says that these restrictions mirror the wider pattern of a society where the poor and the destitute and especially those who rise up in rebellion, are rendered invisible and voiceless (pg. 110).

Abu-Jamal says that television in prison is a great pacifier. Prisoners get caught up in celebrities and soap operas, but they don’t know their own history. “They don’t know what is being done to them. I tell them they have to read, and they say, ‘Man, I don’t do books,’ And that is just how the empire wants it. You can’t fight power if you don’t understand it. And you can’t understand it if you don’t experience it and then dissect it (pg. 110).”

“Abu-Jamal’s venom is reserved for liberal politicians such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, whom he excoriates for callously disempowering the poor and working class on behalf of their corporate patrons. And he has little time for those who support them (pg. 110).”

“This prison system is here to stay. The poor and the destitute feed it. It is the empire’s solution to the economic crisis. Those who are powerless, who have no access to diminishing resources, get locked away. And the prison business is booming. It is one of the few growth industries left. It used to be that towns didn’t want prisons. Now these poor rural communities beg for them. You look down the list of names of the guards and see two or three with the same last names. This is because fathers, brothers, spouses, work here together. These small towns don’t have anything else (pg. 111).”

“The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world – 743 adults per 100,000. Of the 2.3 million adults incarcerated in federal and state prisons and local jails, nearly 60 percent are non-white. He who has not been in jail does not know what the state is, Leo Tolstoy said (pg. 111).”

“Obama used [Martin Luther] King’s Bible during his inauguration, but under the National Defense Authorization Act, King would be detained without due process. He would be under surveillance every day because of his association with Nelson Mandela, who was the head of a ‘terrorist’ organization, the African National Congress. We see the richest prophetic tradition in America desecrated in the name of a neoliberal worldview, a worldview King would be in direct opposition to. Martin would be against Obama because of his neglect of the poor and the working class and because of the [aerial] drones, because he is a war president, because he draws up kill lists. And Martin King would have nothing to do with that (pg. 116).”

“We are talking about crimes against humanity – Wall Street crimes, war crimes, the crimes of criminal justice system in the form of Kim Crow, the crimes against our working poor that have their backs pushes against the wall because of stagnant wages and corporate profits going up, West explained (pg. 116).”

“We are living in the age of the sellout (pg. 116).”

“What kind of person do you choose to be? People say, ‘Well Brother West, since the mass of black folk will never be free then let me just get mine.’ That is the dominant response. ‘I am wasting my time fighting a battle that can’t be won.’ But that is not what the black prophetic tradition is about. History is a mystery. Yes, it doesn’t look good. But the masses of black folk must be respected. Malcolm X used to say, as long as they are not respected, you could show me all the individual respect you want, but I know it’s empty. That is the fundamental divide between the prophetic tradition and sellouts. (pg. 117).”

“With corporate media and the narrowing of the imagination of all Americans, including black people, there is an erasure memory. This is the near-death of the black prophetic tradition. It is a grave issue. It is a matter of life and death. It means that the major roadblock to American fascism, which has been the back prophetic tradition, is gone (pg. 117).”

Bonnie Kerness says, “Until we deeply recognize that the system’s bottom line is social control and creating a business from bodies of colour and the poor, nothing can change (pg. 119).”

“She noted that more than half of those in prison system have never physically harmed another person, but that “just about all of these people have been harmed themselves.” And not only does the criminal justice system sweep up the poor and people of colour, but slavery within the prison system is permitted by the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, which reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been dully convicted, shall exist within the United States (pg. 119).”

“Neo-slavery is an integral part of the prison-industrial complex, in which hundreds of thousands of the nation’s prisoners, primarily people of color, are forced to work at involuntary labour for pennies an hour (pg. 119).”

“The bodies of poor, unemployed youths are worth little on the streets but become valuable commodities once they are behind bars (pg. 119).”

“The criminalization of poverty is a lucrative business, and we have replaced the social safety net with a dragnet (pg. 120).”

“Once you disappear behind prison walls, you become prey. Rape. Torture. Beatings. Prolonged isolation. Sensory deprivation. Racial profiling. Chain gangs. Forced labour. Rancid food. Children sentenced and imprisoned adults. Prisoners forced to take medications to induce lethargy. Inadequate heating and ventilation. Poor health care. Draconian sentences for nonviolent crimes. Endemic violence (pg. 120).”

“Prisons function in the same way the military-industrial complex functions: the money is public and the profits are public (pg.124).”

“Kerness said that the for-profit companies have created and entrepreneurial class like that of the Southern slaveholders, one “dependent on the poor and on the bodies of colour as a source for income,” and she described federal and state departments of corrections as “a state of mind” (pg. 126).”

“As long as profit remains an incentive to incarcerate human beings and our corporate state abounds in superflorous labour, there is little chance that the prison system will be reformed. Our prisons serve the engine of corporate capitalism transferring state money to private corporations. These corporations will continue to stymie rational prison reform because the system, however inhumane and unjust, feeds corporate bank accounts (pg. 126).”

“Until we slay the beast of corporate capitalism, until we wrest power back from corporations, until we build social institutions and a system of governance designed not to profit they few but to foster common good, our prison industry and the horror it perpetuates will only expand (pg. 126).”

“The US government is concerned about human rights in China and Iran. I wonder about Fahad’s rights, and how they have been blatantly violated in this great land. It seems like ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is only a saying. My son was treated guilty until proven innocent – states Syed Anwar Hashmi father of Syed Fahad Hashmi. Syed Fahad Hashmi is serving a 15 year sentence charged by the government with two counts of providing and conspiring to provide material support to al-Qaeda and two counts of making and conspiring to make a contributions of goods or services to al-Qaeda. His father goes on the say that, “As a citizen, I now have developed fear of my own government (pg. 131).”

“The extreme sensory deprivation used on Hashmi and other political prisoners is far more effective in breaking and disorienting detainees than physical abuse is. It is torture as science, the dark art of gradual psychological disintegration. By the time Hashmi was hauled into court, it was questionable whether he had the mental and psychological capability to defend himself or make rational judgments (pg. 132).”

“Constitutionally protected statements, beliefs, and associations are now a crime. Dissidents, even those who break no laws, can be stripped of their rights and imprisoned without due process. TI sit he legal equivalent of preemptive war. The state can detain and prosecute people not for what they have done, or even for what they are planning to do, but for holding religious or political beliefs that the state deems seditious (pg. 132).”

“The Occupy Movement was not only about battling back against the rise of corporate oligarchy. IT was also about our right to peaceful protest (pg. 134).”

“The violence, carried out against nonviolent protestors, came amid draconian city ordinances that effectively outlawed protest and banned demonstrators from public spaces. IT was buttressed by heavy police infiltration and surveillance of the movement. When the press or activists attempted to document the abuse by police, they often were assaulted or otherwise blocked from taking photographs or videos. The message the sate delivered was clear: Do not dissent. (pg. 134).”

“[McMillan] began to openly question and challenge the conventions and assumptions of the white community around her. She read extensively, falling in love with the work of Albert Camus (pg. 137).”

“Existentialism to me was beautiful. It said the world is shit. IT said this is the lot humanity is given. But human beings have to try their best. They swim and they swim and they swim against the waves as personal attacks against you and give up, or you can swim. And Camus said you should not sell out for a lifeboat. These forces are impersonal. They are structural. I learned from Camus how to live and how to die with dignity (pg. 137).”

“Her case stood in contrast with the blanket impunity given to criminals of Wall Street. Some 8,000 nonviolent Occupy protestors were arrested across the nation. Not one banker or investor went to jail for causing the 2008 financial meltdown. The disparity of justice mirrored the disparity in incomes and the disparity in power (pg. 140).”

“I am deeply committed to nonviolence, especially in the face of all the violence around me inside and outside the prison,” McMillan said. “I could not accept [the plea deal]. I had to fight back. That is why I am an activist. Being branded as someone who was violent was intolerable (pg. 140).”

“The focus of happy thoughts pervades the prison. There is little analysis of the structural cause of poverty and oppression. IT is as if it was all about decisions made, not that were made for us. And this is how those in power want it. This kind of thinking induces passivity (pg. 142).”

“Oppression is rampant. Take a moment to try & really see, hear, feel the suffering of the many around you. Now imagine the power of your collective love ethic to stand against it. Only through the pervasive spread of such a love ethic by the many for the many – not just the privileged few – will we finally have ourselves a movement (pg. 142).”

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