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The 13th Amendment, as ratified in 1865, says: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” 

For all of you that flunked high schools, American History because the constitution was boring, this means that if you get locked up… the government legally can make you work for them and not pay you the value of the labor because you technically considered a slave.

It is called penal labor. 

They say that its aim is to mitigate recidivism risks. It is really about helping the prisoners by training them and providing valuable work experience to inmates. In exchange for these skills that they provide these “convicts,” the incarcerated men and women provide a labor pool that benefits the states, local economies, major corporations or presidential candidates like Mike Bloomberg for little or no wage.

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But wait… is that fair? Nah… but it is the American way.

Which is why when New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, announced that in the face of this Coronavirus madness and the price gouging being down in the pharmaceutical and cleaning industries, he would have prisoners create a better and cheaper product, justice advocates lost their minds calling it ‘slave labor.’

The Legal Aid Society was one of the first to respond, sending out an email that condemned the governor for “exploiting incarcerated New Yorkers to produce cheap hand sanitizers.”

Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Criminal Defense Practice, and Adriene Holder, attorney-in-charge of the Civil Practice at The Legal Aid Society crafted the statement that continued:

“This is nothing less than slave labor and it must end. From fighting dangerous forest fires to now mass-producing vital hand sanitizer, government and big business continue to force the labor of incarcerated individuals – for pennies on the dollar – for a political purpose or to line their own pockets.”

“These individuals work for less than a dollar a day under threat of punishment – including solitary confinement – if they refuse, Albany must pay these individuals the minimum wage and lawmakers must legislate to eradicate forced labor across our state for good.”

“It would be even more shocking if prisons and jails were to deem this Corcraft product ‘contraband’ and deprive incarcerated New Yorkers from possessing effective hand sanitizer because of the alcohol content. The same individuals who produce this product should not be prohibited from using it.”

Say it isn’t so! Should these inmates actually have the product that they are making with them during their bid, they would be disciplined for “contraband.”

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) took to Twitter to wake some of you up to a process that is not only ironic and exploitive but what she believes is also demeaning.

Questions need to be asked or maybe our eyes need to remain open.

Either way, it’s time to crack open those dusty textbooks, holler at old Professor Google and maybe start writing letters to the governor. Having our eyes wide shut and our anxiety on high can’t be a reason why our people are further exploited while being on lockdown.