Sioux Falls Free Thinkers

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An Open Mind by Megan Godtland

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Sioux Falls Free Thinkers endorse American Chain Gang
for showing how Americans Brought Slavery Back.

American Chain Gang

American Chain Gang (2005) - 56 minutes
American Chain Gang at

Some Chains Are Broken, Others Are Put Back Together

Director Xackery Irving's award-winning documentary America Chain Gang profiles the experiences of the prisoners and officers of the recently revived male chain gangs and the world's first female chain gang. It examines the impact of participating in these intense and highly controversial programs of chaining inmates during forced labor. Irving's cameras follow two officers and five prisoners before, during and after their release from the chain gang. This insightful film reveals the inner workings of the modern day prison system and the trials of the chain gang in a way that is brutally honest and eye-opening.

10-19-18 American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey Into the Business of Punishment
Just two years ago, the private prison industry was in serious trouble, in part because of the work of Shane Bauer, said Gabriel Thompson in the San Francisco Chronicle. In 2014, the young journalist had gone undercover as a guard in a Louisiana prison, and after his 35,000-word exposé was published in Mother Jones and he shared his findings with federal officials, the Justice Department announced it would begin phasing out privately run federal prisons. “Change seemed to be on the horizon.” But then the White House changed hands, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed the decision, and with the surge in the detention of undocumented immigrants, “the private prison industry is booming once again.” If you care to learn what that means for the prisoners, detainees, and underpaid guards most affected, “American Prison is the place to begin.” “Bauer brings a unique perspective to incarceration,” said Aram Goudsouzian in Nashville Scene. Before applying for work as a prison guard in Louisiana, he had spent two years in an Iranian prison after he and two other American hikers wandered off course into Iran and were arrested and charged as spies. He arrived home wanting to investigate how U.S. prisons treated inmates. When he landed a job at a medium-security facility run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), “Bauer saw scenes that came straight out of hell.” In his four months on the job, he witnessed a dozen stabbings. Inmates set protest fires and made constant threats. One mentally ill prisoner starved himself down to 71 pounds before committing suicide. And the $9-an-hour, poorly trained guards responded—when they responded at all—with pepper spray and anger of their own. American Prison shares many of the conversations Bauer secretly recorded while inside, and “the sheer number of forehead-slapping quotes from Bauer’s superiors and fellow guards is alone worth the price of admission,” said Nate Blakeslee in The New York Times. Still, Bauer places most of the blame for the deplorable conditions in corporate-run prisons on the pressure to generate profit, a feat usually accomplished by slashing costs on niceties like inmate counseling and dependable cell locks. Not much is likely to get better in private federal lockups now that the industry has been given a pass on past failures. But at Bauer’s old place of employment, some things have changed. LaSalle Corrections, the company that replaced CCA, no longer accepts payment from the state of just $34 a day per prisoner. “LaSalle agreed to do the job for $24.”

6-14-18 Is research in jails the way to end wars over dietary guidance?
US researchers say studies in prisons could firm up evidence on salt intake and health. The doubters will still doubt, say Mike Lean and Alastair Campbell. The science of nutrition has been with us for a long time. So why are there so many apparent uncertainties over dietary advice today? The nutrients in our food may have inherent effects on metabolism, but proving so requires tightly controlled experiments in lab-like conditions that are difficult to conduct in groups of healthy people. Evaluating how diet influences diseases or defining the optimal diet for good health, where effects are small and long-term, can only occasionally be done under such conditions. Instead, most dietary studies involve large-scale observational research to identify associations – whether causal or not – between health and what we eat and drink, and research on the impact of dietary advice in people going about their daily lives. The problem is that adherence with dietary prescriptions is rarely perfect and many other factors can interfere to produce indecisive or conflicting results. Dietary guidelines can be issued only if the totality of evidence, including that from animal studies in which full control is possible, is sufficiently consistent. So how to provide more of the stronger, lab-like evidence? Some US researchers have come up with one possible way to resolve any remaining uncertainty about the harmful effects of dietary salt on blood pressure, heart disease and strokes. They suggest studying prisoners, whose diets and activity could be tightly controlled for long periods. Using prisoners in medical research is highly contentious, not just because of the appalling experiments on Nazi concentration camp inmates and Japan’s Chinese POWs during the second world war, but also because of inherent ethical and scientific problems. These include selection bias, uncertainties about the validity of consent in such a vulnerable group, the risks of harm from other inmates resenting their perceived preferential treatment, and the prevalence of mental health problems, concealed substance abuse and volatile behaviour among prison populations.

8-23-16 Ramen noodles 'are most valuable US prison commodity', study suggests
Ramen noodles 'are most valuable US prison commodity', study suggests
Noodles can be exchanged for goods and services, the research found. Ramen noodles have overtaken tobacco to become the most valuable commodity in some US prisons, a new study suggests. The research said the shift was a response to a decline in the quantity and quality of food on offer. "Because it is cheap, tasty, and rich in calories, ramen has become so valuable that it is used to exchange for other goods," said study author Michael Gibson-Light. US prison data shows spending has not kept pace with the number of inmates. (Webmaster's comment: We are starving our prison inmates so badly that food has become a black-market commodity in prisons. How could we as a nation sink so low? The private prison system works strictly on profits. If making more money means less and lower quality food for inmates to increase even higher executive salaries for private prison executives, then less and lower quality food there will be.)

6-20-16 Corporate America has a secret slave labor force
Corporate America has a secret slave labor force
What if I told you there was an army of workers in this country, probably over 2 million strong, that is forced to work for next to nothing? If they're lucky, these workers get 40 cents an hour. They get no Social Security benefits, no workers' compensation insurance, and certainly no overtime. They often are threatened with punishment if they refuse these terms. You'd probably say that this system sounds akin to slavery. And you wouldn't be wrong. But this is also the reality of America's federal, state, and local prison system. When Congress put inmate work programs in place in place in 1979, the goal was giving people in prison marketable skills to help them reintegrate into society. But as state governments also climbed on board with their own programs, and the private prison industry boomed, inmate work programs have turned into a massive supply of incredibly cheap and involuntary labor for everyone from Walmart to McDonald's to Victoria's Secret to the U.S. military. Even Whole Foods' cheese was produced by prison labor, until public outcry shut it down.

11-9-15 The US inmates charged per night in jail
The US inmates charged per night in jail
A widespread practice in the US known as "pay to stay" charges jail inmates a daily fee while they are incarcerated. For those who are in and out of the local county or city lock-ups - particularly those struggling with addiction - that can lead to sky-high debts. (Webmaster's comment: Outrageous! This is a FINE charged to a person without a court order or even necessarily being found guilty. Outrageous!)

Sioux Falls Free Thinkers endorse
the following period pieces
Hell's Highway and I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang
for showing what serving in a chain gang was
really like. It was brutal and deadly.

Hell's Highway (1932) - 62 minutes

Chain gang prisoners forced to construct a "liberty highway" for their overseer chasten under his brutal stewardship, causing Duke Ellis to mastermind a mass riot.

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) - 92 minutes

Wrongly convicted James Allen serves in the intolerable conditions of a southern chain gang, which later comes back to haunt him.

There is no other way to say it. These movies were made when blatant racism and brutality was widely accepted by white Americans. Back them Hollywood would often make realistic movies on location about these social issues. Not so today. Today it's mostly about money and how to appeal to the sexual insecurities and sexual inadequacies of young American males.

These movies will be hard to find but they are worth it. Look closely at the living conditions portrayed. This was real. This is what it was really like.

American Chain Gang

Sioux Falls Free Thinkers endorse American Chain Gang
for showing how Americans Brought Slavery Back.