Peeling Back the Layers of the Prison Industrial Complex

This past Labor Day weekend, the core members of the Asian Prisoner Support Committee traveled to Bodega Bay for our annual retreat. The retreat is a time for us to review our organizational goals and accomplishments from the past year, reflect on challenges we’ve faced, and set collective goals for the coming year. More than anything though, it’s a chance for us to get away and build community with each other. For a group focused on supporting the growing Asian and Pacific Islander prison population and challenging the prison industrial complex, it was fitting to hold our retreat over the Labor Day holiday. In the words of the famous labor and political organizer Eugene Debs:

“While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

In the capitalist system that we live under, prisons are an instrument to maintain social control so that a small ruling class can exploit and profit from a large working class. The US prison system has always been used to suppress social justice movements perceived as threats to the ruling class: from the radical union organizers of the Industrial Workers of the World, to the marches and sit-ins of the Civil Rights movement, and the heavy police and FBI infiltration of the Black Panthers and other revolutionary organizations of the late 1960’s to early 1970’s. With the huge boom in prison construction over the last 40+ years and the rising intersection of corporate and government profiteering that makes up the prison industrial complex, the situation clearly boils down to economics and labor.

During breakfast at the retreat, it was interesting to hear formerly incarcerated APSC members Eddy Zheng and Harrison Seuga share stories of their time in prison. They both remember how the guards would often give food to some prisoners as incentives for essentially doing many of the tasks the guards themselves were supposed to fulfill. “They wanted to know that the prisoners would be doing all their work while they took naps,” Seuga recalled.

In a group discussion on accomplishments from the last year, Eddy wrote one accomplishment was, “We’re still alive.”

It’s a blessing to be given another year of breathing, so we give thanks to all the workers on the outside and the inside. We’ll continue to work for a better future for us all.