[Ppnews] Writing by Kalima Aswad (CA Prisoner)

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sun Jun 4 16:23:35 EDT 2006

caps at riseup.net

greetings! we are circulating this at kalima aswad's request. he is a
prisoner at the medical correctional facility in vacaville, ca...he would
love to have it reprinted, if you have a publication. if you are
interested, just let us know so we can alert him. you can also write him
directly- please contact us for his newest address as it may be changing
shortly. thanks! CAPS


Prisons Strangle Us Economically Too
Kalima Aswad
April 27, 2006

         Most of our conversations about prisons 
putting a drain on our community
focuses on the manpower it sucks up.  That’s just part of it.
         One of the most clear-cut examples of the dire economic condition in
black communities all across America can be found right here in the
California prison system.  It is by no means the only avenue by which
this economic strangulation occurs.
         The process by which it happens helps 
explain how the black community in
New Orleans (as well as other cities where there are large concentrations
of black people) got left behind when Hurricane Katrina struck last year.
         The black businesses in our communities 
are not primarily manufacturing,
but sellers of goods produced by others (shoes, clothing, appliances,
furniture, etc.)  This means there are not enough jobs available for
employing the full community.
         Roughly 55,000 blacks are locked away in 
California prisons.  Most of us
own TV’s, radios, CD players, CD’s, wear Nike or Reebok shoes, etc, and
many of us get packages with coffee, food items, shoes, etc., every three
months.  A lot of us are also fortunate enough to have people who care
enough about us to send money every month to go to the canteen with.  All
in all, that represents enormous sums of money coming out of the
         With blacks comprising fully one-third of the prison population, black
businesses only get the right to sell perfumed oil and food spices for
which they are said to earn less than one half of one percent of the
business selling goods to prisoners.
         It means that black-owned businesses are 
prevented from growing.  It also
means that the few businesses are prevented from growing.  It also means
that the few businesses that do exist have to employ fewer people, which
in turn means more people in these places.  Latinos have the same
problems with this issue, which is much bigger than it appears on the
         There are a lot of other forces that could make this a legal and
political battleground.  Who benefits from forcing people in our
communities to order from outside companies?  How did they come by those
benefits?  The answers to these and other questions may help us
understand why prison building is on the increase at the very time
school, libraries, and other services are closing.
         Not long after the policy of minority or female owned businesses being
part of the bidding requirements under affirmative action ended, there
began a gradual squeezing out of small businesses in our communities from
supplying goods we could get from them before, such as CD players, CD’s,
radios, among other things.  They said it was for prison security ­ to
keep drugs and other contraband from coming in.  There were some
objections to this being a racist policy because it stopped black
businesses from selling to people from the black community and because it
stereotyped minority-owned businesses as being involved in crime.
         We were forced to order from "approved 
vendors."  Changes continued to be
made restricting what can be send in until families now have to even
order quarterly packages from these same approved vendors.
         Even if these vendors may still be classified as "small business"
ventures, the bar has been set so high for being able to compete for
doing business that most can’t make the grade.  There is somewhere in the
neighborhood of a L$ million minimum inventory in stock at all times, and
no vendor can have had any parolee or ex-felon on their payroll and a
host of other requirements.
         Again, this takes small community 
businesses out of the competition and
we think it violates the law by discriminating against ex-felons by
forcing companies not to hire them as a condition of doing business with
the state, which could in turn lead to someone returning to prison to
keep the place full.
         The state established a set of rules that squeezed small neighborhood
enterprises out of the opportunity to compete on an equal footing with
the favored, well-to-do ones.
         What this reveals is one of the 
processes by which the black community is
held in a perpetual state of deprivation and we can see that in this case
it is being done with the weight of the government setting the standards
that make it happen.

The Freedom Archives
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