Recently, hubby and I watched the biopic Lincoln on Netflix, which is about the civil war president’s efforts to get the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed. That’s a fine film, indeed, but it isn’t nearly as good nor as timely as this documentary on the social problems associated with a phrase within the amendment which prohibits slavery: “except as a punishment for crime.” This documentary makes a well documented case for how America has used that phrase against various populations.
The film isn’t as hard to watch as it might be, but for anyone who loves America, it is sobering. Many nations have struggled to put the past behind them: Modern Germans certainly tend to not view the Holocaust as part of their heritage, but it is. Slavery is America’s historical black eye. However, from the Jim Crow era to the civil rights movement to modern times, The 13th shows how prison has become the new plantation.
Older Americans will remember the black and white images of protest marches in the 60s meeting with hostile police, but younger ones may be shocked. However, Americans of every age may be shocked by the private prison contracts that require that prisons remain filled to capacity. Can this actually be true in the “land of the free and the home of the brave”? Yes, it can, and it is true.
Years and years ago, I had a friend whose son committed a crime. He was certainly guilty and did deserve some punishment. For whatever reasons, the judge “threw the book” at this young man, and he spent many years in prison. His mother told me about the various ways that the state punishes the family. A simple phone call from prison must be made “collect” and the charges are exorbitant. She also told me how glad her son was when he was allowed to perform work details. Prisoners gladly work for pennies, just to alleviate boredom, and that’s where the phrase “except as punishment for a crime” comes in. Across this nation, prisoners work and their products are sold for a profit. I used to believe the phrase “made in U.S.A.” but I don’t anymore, because that nifty pair of jeans may have been sewn in a prison.
If you haven’t seen The 13th, you should. Yes, it is troubling, but it should be.