Prisons are for Profit: What to Do?

The Black Myth Podcast is an informative conversational show analyzing popular myths about Black culture of a sociopolitical nature.

In this episode, we examine the myth that prison is built for profit. That is, the myth that mass incarceration is driven by private profit above all else. Although there are certainly profiteers within the prison industrial complex, prisons operate at a loss. Therefore, in part 1 of this series, we explore what does not drive mass incarceration.

When you listen to our podcast, it should be resoundingly clear that the myth itself is not the point. None of this matters if the only point is to just debunk shit for the sake of debunking.

Therefore, we investigate myths because at the core we quite simply want to know what to do. How do we respond to the troubles of this world? How do we empower others who are trying to figure out similar questions? Myths stand in our way of locating the ever evolving answers. They send us down unnecessary rabbit holes and trespass upon our ability to reason. They reroute the circuitry of the problem. 

Thus, we contend that if we do not have a sober analysis of what we are facing, whatever our means of facing it will fall on its face. We all can identify problems in this world but our ability to address them constructively and place them where they belong, relies in part upon the strength of our diagnosis. 

True story, I once took my car to an auto shop for a diagnostic on my transmission. For those who don’t know, a transmission is “what makes sure that the appropriate amount of engine power goes to the wheels to drive at any given speed.” My car had been struggling to accelerate in speed so I assumed the transmission was on its way out (which means the car was on its way out if you know how much it cost to replace). The auto shop confirmed my assessment, and said I would probably be safe to drive my car for another year before the transmission completely went out. After about a year and some change, I was still having the same problems so I took my car to my ally mechanic for a second opinion. After further investigation, he found that my transmission was in fine shape, and that it was not fully firing because my exhaust pipes were clogged. This meant the transmission could not transfer the power correctly throughout the car because it was clogging in the exhaust. In the end my mechanic saved me about $4000 to $5,000 had I wanted to fix the transmission. It would have been a total waste of resources because nothing was wrong with the transmission, but I needed the proper analysis to know that. One mechanic just hooked my car up to a machine to diagnose it, the other one (shout out to Veron) went under the hood and found the root of what was truly wrong.

This finally brings us to today’s myth: prisons are built for profit. Our fundamental question for this episode is what is the driving force of mass incarceration? Are the profiteers of prisons a bad transmission or are they a symptom of a broader clogged exhaust system? If we remove profit from prisons will that resolve the fundamental problems prisoners face? Or will it be another misdiagnosis that fails to identify why we can’t accelerate towards freedom?

We contend that narrowly focusing on profit motives of a few corporations inside the prison industrial complex fails to recognize the scale of the problem. Even if all profit motive was removed, solitary confinement will still exist, guards will still abuse prisoners like they do the Pendleton 2, prisoners will still abuse prisoners, medical neglect will still paralyze health, families will still be separated, communities will still be devalued by the State, and we will all be caught up spending our so-called “tax dollars” on a new transmission nobody needed.

Maybe the mechanic that day knew my transmission was not the problem but understood they could benefit from my confusion. Maybe the State knows if we place the primary blame on a few leeching corporations, and not the entire predatory state apparatus, that they can maintain the counterinsurgent socio-political control that actually drives them.

Maybe.

Or maybe we should look under the hood and see what the fuck is actually going on. Not just to debunk it, no, but because we want to know what to do. Now, let us investigate.


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Too Black is a poet, host of the Black Myths Podcast on Black Power Media, member of Black Alliance For Peace, communications coordinator for the Defense Committee to Free the Pendleton 2, co-director of the documentary film The Pendleton 2: They Stood Up and author of the forthcoming book Laundering Black Rage. He is based in Indianapolis, IN and can be reached at tooblack8808@gmail.com or @too_black_ on Twitter.