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Slavery, Civil Rights, and Abolitionist Perspectives Toward Prison

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Shawn Garrett

Professor Wesley Sims

English B1A

31 January 2011

Slavery, Civil Rights, and Abolitionist Perspectives toward Prison

In chapter two of "Are Prisons Obsolete?" author and antiprison activist Angela Davis, tries to frame and demonstrate the connection between prison and other similar institutions, for example, hardships of blacks, in early America. Davis argues that people of the time of slavery, segregation, lynching, and convict lease systems and such, thought those normality's would never come to cease. Furthermore, Davis considers that prisons have become as natural to the society. Similar to these earlier establishments, Davis concludes that prisons could possibly face the same result: abolishment.

Davis refers to three abolition campaigns mentioned in this chapter to further support her argument: slavery, lynching and segregation. Davis displays relevant examples of these "racist institutions" and how they go hand and hand with prisons. Davis points out that these institutions at some point were considered abolished. Yet, traces of slavery, segregation and lynching were still present. Davis provides the examples of the Thirteenth Amendment and the Black Codes. Black Codes were a revision of the Slave Codes in which blacks peoples lives would still be manipulated as if they never left slavery. Davis illustrates things such as absence from work, insulting gestures or acts, and etc as crimes that only blacks were persecuted for. Davis also mentions the exception of involuntary servitude in the Thirteenth Amendment. This exception stated that if someone, particularly blacks, were to commit any crime, they were subjected to involuntary servitude. Davis points out that racism towards blacks never really diminished. Davis then asks "Is racism so deeply entrenched in the institution of the prison that it is not possible to eliminate one without eliminating the other?" (26). Davis' question offers a beneficiary aspect to the world. She is possibly suggesting one step to doing away with racism is to end prisons overall.

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