This past Monday’s newest national holiday, Juneteenth, was certainly a day for celebration and jubilation, closing a decadent chapter in American history by marking the end of two and a half centuries of one of mankind’s worst episodes of man’s inhumanity to man, the African Slave Trade.

However, history continues to record a legacy of inhumane treatment towards the offspring of former slaves in contemporary America by individuals and institutions who clearly would have chosen the side of the confederacy in the Civil War that liberated our ancestors.

Unfortunately, intentional or not, there are some influential changemakers whose otherwise ambitions provide tacit support to interests that are counter to the fulfillment of Juneteenth’s promise, as Martin Luther King Jr would say, to reach the Promised Land.

Despite the panoply of strategies and conspiracies employed against African Americans in the 158-years since Juneteenth intended to sabotage our efforts to enjoy the full blessings of citizenship and liberty, which have included narcotization, and employment, housing, education, medical, and financial discrimination, perhaps the most heinous has been mass incarceration due to the scale and the ancillary effects.

In a 2023 Black History Month editorial reexamining an iconic analysis of mass incarceration authored by this writer for a Minneapolis publication entitled, “A Retrospective Review: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander – Sounds More Like the New Slavery,” the intricate, expansive, highly profitable, commercial labyrinth known as the prison industrial complex was revealed as a substitute system for antebellum slavery quietly operating in all 50 states.

Sadly, in Maryland, this policy and practice thrives. It is more sad when you consider that an effort to address solutions that might stem the dual scourge of mass incarceration fed by mass illiteracy, The Baltimore Times, in an editorial earlier this month encouraged Governor Wes Moore, the entire Baltimore City state legislative delegation, Mayor Brandon Scott, Baltimore City States Attorney Ivan Bates, and Congressman Kweisi Mfume, to offer opinions on our suggestion to make literacy a condition for release and reentry of Maryland inmates, with no affirmation from any of them, despite ongoing communication with most of their offices.

We take no comfort that all of these officials have been equally silent on the issue of continuing exploitation of virtually free prison labor for the benefit of most, if not all, Fortune 500 corporations and large regional companies at the expense of incarcerated Marylanders. Although none of the office holders The Baltimore Times asked for comment on the idea of compulsory reading, writing, and math proficiency for inmates, not as a punitive measure but as a benefit, it is compulsory that every able-bodied state prisoner must work.

However, the current starting wage for state inmates is only $2.16 per day. Moreover, the state is entitled to deduct for housing, meals, restitution, fines, child support, and other expenses, while prisoners perform mandatory work providing services and manufacturing products for extremely wealthy businesses. Tax dollars have built a massive bureaucracy to support an essentially free labor operation no different from slavery in its practice, utilizing promotional techniques similar to any large private sector commercial marketer.

Maryland Correctional Enterprises, MCE, (formerly known as State Use Industries) operates this system that advertises itself as a program to benefit inmates but seems eerily similar to a recent Baltimore Times editorial describing the wholesale/retail slave industry operated in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor prior to the Civil War. Check out their website: 

Does this description from their catalogue sound like a state government agency? “MCE is a major supplier of meats and food products in the state of Maryland. MCE provides the highest quality beef, turkey, pork and processed food products which serve institutional and correctional facilities, schools, hospitals, and non-profit organizations.” 

Consider this partial list of products and services made possible by inmates:

Furniture Restoration
Design, Printing & Digital Copy Services
Data Entry & Redaction
Laundry Services
Embroidery Services
Mailing & Distribution
Apparel & Accessories
Bed & Bath
Food Products

Consider this partial list of more than 4,100 companies exploiting prisoner labor:

Western Union
Microsoft Corp
Nationwide Insurance
General Electric
American Airlines

It doesn’t require much imagination to recognize that compulsory literacy proficiency as a condition of inmates’ release and reentry, perhaps requiring hundreds of hours of commitment from people who have nothing but time on their hands, might interfere with Maryland Correctional Enterprises’ business model. Political leaders who apparently support the status quo for inmates in Maryland prisons leave it to our readers’ imaginations why they won’t speak at all to the issue of how to help those inmates become better positioned for successful lives upon their return home, when these same companies offer them no jobs. 

Regi Taylor
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