Friday, July 03, 2009

What to the Prisoner is Your Fourth of July?

In this video, Danny Glover recites Frederick Douglass' speech on the 4th of July in 1852 titled "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?"

A few years ago, death-row prisoner Howard Guidry wrote a commentary on this subject entitled “What to the Prisoner is Your Fourth of July?” that was widely disseminated. His taped greeting was played to the crowd of hundreds at the annual Texas March to Stop Executions in Austin.

What to the Prisoner is Your Fourth of July?
By Howard Guidry
July 1, 2006

To commemorate the independence of the United States of America, Texas prison kitchens are fired up earlier than usual. The traditional Fourth of July meals are prepared by unpaid prisoners (can you say slaves?) whose only incentive for the extra work is leftover mashed potatoes and an extra oven-barbecued soybean patty, if they are lucky.

By afternoon, Texas prisons are bustling with activities. But today the activity is not the thousands of slaves in the cotton fields. No, the hoe squads, which are normally sweating in the fields while being watched by their armed overseers on horseback, are resting today.

Instead, volleyball nets are brought out and tournaments are organized around the basketball and handball courts. The big men work up a sweat on the weight pile, encouraged at times by female prison guards proudly displaying American flag patches on the shoulder of their confederate-colored uniforms.

The American flag itself is flown at high mast along side the Texas flag for all to see. Even the men living in super max segregation, isolation, and sensory deprivation—the death row population who is not privy to the day’s celebration--can climb up to the small slit of a window high in the back wall of their individual cage and watch those flags rip in the wind.

Despite the irony, not enough of Texas’ 150,000 slaves seem to question the purpose of a celebration of independence in a prison.

Prisoners were obviously not a consideration when the Declaration of Independence was written.

In fact, the reality is that prisons are neocolonial concentration slave camps. For the plantation to run smoothly, the master is dependent on the docility and ignorance of the inmates/slaves.

In Texas prisons, where the population is disproportionally Black and Latino, rehabilitation and educational programs are rare to nonexistent. The only thing a prisoner is guaranteed to learn how to be a better criminal, guaranteeing their return to enslavement, again and again.

For most prisoners, the July 4th holiday signifies a moment of relief, a day to eat, drink and be merry.

For the 400 Texas death row prisoners, the Fourth of July is simply a day closer to our impending execution.

God Bless America?

In 1995, an 18-year-old Howard Guidry was coerced by HPD to sign a confession to a crime he knew nothing about. A federal judge threw out the confession and overturned his case. Guidry is off death row and back at the Harris County jail, waiting to be retried or released. He is appealing for support. Like Malcolm X and George Jackson, Guidry has educated himself in prison. Now 30 years old, he possesses knowledge, courage & integrity. He is ready to join the struggle on the outside.


dudleysharp said...

There is no irony with incarcerated criminals and independence day.

The freedom of a democracy requires that criminlas who violate the social contract be sanctioned by law. One sanction is incarceration.

By incarcerating those who would do us harm, it afords independence and freedom for those who respect the social contract.

Seemingly, you do not understand that a democracy without criminal sanction would either become a tyrranical despotism, anarchy or a weird amagam of the two, as we see in, seemingly lawless or tribal/gang territories, offering neither freedom or peace.

I am not saying that democracies, as all governments, do not have many problems with criminal sanctions.

I am saying that it is cruelly naive or willful ignorance to speak of incarcerated criminals, without the context of their innocent vicitms and additonal injury to society.

Don't be so extreme as to avoid reasoable context and perspective.

dudleysharp said...

pardon my misspellings/typings

Anonymous said...

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