Who’s Getting Rich Off the Prison-Industrial Complex?
You likely already know how overcrowded and abusive the US prison system is, and you probably are also aware that the US has more people in prison than even China or Russia. In this age of privatization, of course, it’s also not surprising that many of the detention centers are not actually operated by the government, but by for-profit companies. So clearly, some people are making lots and lots of money off the booming business of keeping human beings in cages.
But who are these people?
Using NASDAQ data, I looked through the long list of investors in Corrections Corporation of America andGEO Group, the two biggest corporations that operate detention centers in the US, to find out who was cashing in the most on prisons. When we say “prison-industrial complex,” this is who we’re talking about.
The individual who’s invested the most in private prisons is Henri Wedell, who started serving on CCA’s board of directors in 2000, when the company was struggling with scandals related to prisoner abuse and mismanagement. He now owns more than 650,000 shares in the company, which is far more successful these days. Those shares are worth more than $25 million.
I called Wedell to ask him what it was like to make a fortune from the incarceration of others, and whether it bothered him to profit off a system that puts more people in prison than any other country in the world.
“America is the freest country in the world,” he told me. “America allows more freedom than any other country in the world, much more than Russia and a whole lot more than Scandinavia, where they really aren’t free. So offering all this freedom to society, there’ll be a certain number of people, more in this country than elsewhere, who take advantage of that freedom, abuse it, and end up in prison. That happens because we are so free in this country.”
Presumably, when he’s referring to all the freedom Americans have, he’s not including the 80,000 inmates in 60 prisons operated by CCA.
Beat Your Meat: New Law Lets Factory Farmers Choke Their Chicks in Private
The hidden camera worn by an employee at a Butterball turkey farm in North Carolina recorded workers stomping and kicking birds, throwing them by their necks into metal cages, and beating them with metal bars. The animals had festering wounds on their bodies and eyes. Some writhed in pain on the ground. For three weeks, the employee, an undercover investigator for Mercy For Animals, documented abuse after abuse in the milking barn, which is where semen is manually collected from the toms; the birds have been bred so large and deformed that they can no longer reproduce naturally. After the investigation, the nonprofit turned over the video footage to prosecutors.
Within days, cops prepared to raid—something unheard of when it comes to factory farms. But Butterball had friends in high places, including the government agency in charge of overseeing its operations. The director of Animal Health Programs called a friend at Butterball hoping to thwart the raid.
The tip-off didn’t work. The raid led to national media exposure, the conviction of a top-level Department of Agriculture official for obstruction of justice, and criminal charges against five employees for animal cruelty. Two of the employees have pleaded guilty, marking the first felony conviction for cruelty to factory-farmed birds. On February 22, two more former Butterball employees were found guilty of animal cruelty.
Industrial agriculture executives and lawmakers have responded swiftly to undercover investigations like this one, but not in the ways you might expect. Rather than improving animal welfare, enhancing criminal penalties, or increasing oversight of the industry, there’s a national campaign to criminalize anyone who brings these abuses to light under the guise of protecting the farmers and their food supply from animal- and environment-loving “terrorists.”
Living in a border city means that you may have to occasionally smuggle some drugs between countries. Don’t worry! We’ve got some tips.
NYC Cops Will Arrest You for Carrying Condoms
The woman asked Officer Hill why he was stopping her.
She wore jean shorts and a tight red shirt and had stood outdoors for half an hour. She’d had a conversation with a passing man. When Officer Hill searched her bag, he found a condom and $1.25.
He arrested her for “loitering for the purpose of prostitution.” On the supporting deposition, he filled in the blanks for what she was wearing and how many condoms she had.
When I read over the deposition in the PROS Network’s Public Health Crisis (PDF), a study of how the NYPD arrests folks for carrying condoms, I thought of all the tight shirts I’d worn while idling outside on delicious spring days. I thought, She sounds like me. She sounds like my friends.
The NYPD will arrest you for carrying condoms, but that depends entirely on who you are. If you’re a middle-class white girl like me, you’re probably safe. But say you’re a sex worker or a queer kid kicked out of your home. Say you’re a trans woman out for dinner with your boyfriend. Maybe you’ve been arrested as a sex worker before. Maybe some quota-filling cop thinks you look like a whore.
Then you’re not safe at all.
Like most laughably cruel tricks of the justice system, you probably wouldn’t know that you could be arrested for carrying condoms until it happened to you. Monica Gonzalez is a nurse and a grandmother. In 2008, Officer Sean Spencer arrested her for prostitution while she was on the way to the ER with an asthma attack. The condom he found on her turned out to be imaginary. Gonzalez sued the city after the charges were dropped. But if the condom were real, why should she have even been arrested at all?
I Spoke to the Author of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill
David Bahati’s anti-homosexuality bill, which, depending on who you ask, may or may not included language that would sentence gay people to death and a bunch of other stuff that sets society back by about 200 years, is due to be tabled in Uganda’s Parliament any day now. This, obviously, is terrible news for gay people in Uganda and human rights in general.
Clare Byarugaba, co-coordinator of the Civil Society Coalition for Human Rights and Constituional Law (CSHRCL), is mentally exhausted with the “mind-fuck” of checking parliament’s order papers every day, and pessimistic. “Hope for gay rights in Uganda is like expecting corruption in Uganda to end. It will never end. The population is behind the bill and MPs go with the majority.”
I recently met up with Morgan, Bad Black, and Joseph, friends I made in August while covering the country’s first Gay Pride, and they’re terrified about the consequences of the bill passing. They have already been chased out of the one-room house they all shared in the Bwaise slum because the police believe that they’re “recruiting” young people into homosexuality. The issue of “recruitment” is one of the Ugandan government’s principal concerns, with David Bahati telling Clare that he believes homosexuality is an addiction and that people, particularly children, are lured into it.
It took David two weeks to get back to me, but the day before I left Uganda, he granted me an interview.
VICE: Hi David. Can you run me through this bill?
David Bahati: The bill basically has four components. The first component is to outlaw homosexuality. The second component is about the emerging issues within homosexuality we’ve seen over time, including the promotion of it. The bill also concentrates on the inducement of children. There’s no law that stops same-sex marriage, so we want to outlaw and prohibit it and see rehabilitation and counselling for the victims of this grave, evil practice.
Has the death penalty been taken out?
Yes. [NB: according to Clare Byarugaba / CSCHRCL the bill that will be tabled still has the death penalty in.]
What evidence has been taken to the Legal Affairs Committee that people are recruiting children into homosexuality?
The committee has considered the bill and passed it and got all the necessary information it needed to make a decision. We have abundant evidence of what is happening in our community—parents and children have come to us. We’re in the business of defending the family between man and woman, as the holy scripture and Qur’an dictates.
What research is the bill based on?
We have enough information about how our society works. Family is between man and woman. Anything beyond that should be outlawed. Most of the research we have is just from life. My mom was with my dad. I know the Bible and the Qur’an are against homosexuality. When an anal organ is used for things it’s not supposed to be used for, it’s hazardous. I don’t need to be taught anything beyond that.
Measure B Is a Pain in the Dick
Let’s not bullshit ourselves, condoms flat out suck—both in one’s private life and in pornos. They’re uncomfortable boner-ruiners and girls are always trying to put holes in them to get my babies. In porn, from a fan’s perspective, it’s just not stimulating to see a plastic bag going in and out of a girl’s mouth/butthole. I understand the need for them, but I just don’t like them and I am thankful I’m married and no longer forced to use them. Recently, a law was passed in Los Angeles that is so preposterous it could send porn stars and porn industry people to jail if they don’t use condoms, dental dams, and all sorts of other forms of safe sex in their films. The law is called Measure B (or Measure Bullshit to the folks who will be pummeled by its iron fist).
Measure B, which is really just a witch hunt and a means to run pornographers out of LA County, was proposed by the well-financed AIDS Healthcare Foundation President, Michael Weinstein. The language on the ballot was so deceptive it led voters to believe it was a law to protect the performers in the porn industry. The reality is that Measure B calls for pornographers to purchase health permits and it opens their shoots up to random inspections from the Health Department to make sure they are complying with the law. This goes for everyone, even the lowly cam girls who are in the safety of their own homes doing solo shows to help put themselves through college.
Many of my friends are both up in arms and fearful of what is to come. Director Kimberly Kane, who you know from my recent episodes of Skinema and her VICE magazine feature on Zak Smith and Mandy Morbid, is now a criminal under Measure B. She was uncharacteristically speechless when I asked her for a quote about the law. She didn’t know what to say for days. She finally told me, “Technically they’ll penalize you for breaking the law even if you’re married and performing with your spouse without a condom. Everything I do now is illegal without a permit, a condom, and probably someone on set from the Heath Department making sure that everything is up to code. I don’t know what we’re going to do. They say it’s a First Amendment violation and it could be litigation for a long time. But no one knows. Everyone is very worried. Measure B basically runs us out of town on a moral stance. They say Vegas or Nevada is an option [for relocating the industry]…”
How I Pulled Off a $300 Million Drug Deal
From 1972 until the late 80s, Brian O’Dea was one of the world’s most successful drug smugglers. Then he got addicted to coke, and although he cleaned up following an overdose and a heart attack, the DEA tracked him down. So, throughout the 1990s, while everyone else was enjoying grunge (and coke), Brian was in prison.
Nowadays, he’s a big, reformed hit on Canadian TV as a host and producer, and he continues to work with addicts while advocating the legalization of drugs. Far from being a grizzled ex-con, Brian’s an erudite, hip kind of guy. Apparently, as he told me, guys like him used to be the norm in the smuggling game. Nowadays, it’s all cartels and guns. I caught up with Brian to talk about the golden days of drug running.
VICE: I wanted to ask you about the process of drug smuggling, because it’s obviously a very complex operation. I was wondering if you could sort of talk me through it a little bit. First though, it was mainly marijuana that you were smuggling, wasn’t it?
Brian: Yes. From time to time I smuggled small amounts of coke just to get a stash of money when I was broke, but pot was always my choice because I loved it.
How were you bringing it in?
The last deal we did was ultimately 75 tons split over two loads, and we used fishing boats in Alaska. All of our crews were known in the area as fishermen, so we were hiding in plain sight. Do you want me to give you the anatomy of that last deal?
According to the recent proliferation of sensational reporting, popular books, and made-for-TV movies, the sex industry is an international crime syndicate exploiting hundreds of thousands of women and children every year. The sex industry’s nemesis, the rescue and reform industry, is experiencing considerable growth—witness Kony 2012, and columnist Nicholas Kristof’s hysterical op-eds. The latest target of the rescue industry’s wrath is Backpage, an affordable escort ad site that filled the void left by the Craigslist erotic services section. Village Voice Media, which owns Backpage, has responded to the rescue industry’s attacks by running a series of articles debunking the more egregious trafficking myths, an act that cannot begin to fill the void of critical perspectives on these myths in popular culture and the news. As high-profile hotel escort raids become increasingly common in the U.S. and Thai women are dragged out of their brothels and dumped into sewing classes, the rescue industry and its Hollywood representatives pump hysterical stories of horror and redemption out to politicians and the press. These well-intentioned altruists estimate that 50,000 women and children are brought to the U.S. each year for “sexual slavery.” This dubious number is culled from an estimate of the total number of migrant workers who enter the country with the help of an extralegal party.
To be fair, there is some cause for concern: women (and men, and young people) have indeed being coerced into working off debts, through prostitution, to those who have helped them emigrate. However, there are many more who have been coerced into working off debts in clothing factories, in agriculture, and as domestics in private homes. This is an abhorrent, exploitative practice, but as the severity of anti-immigration laws increases, migrants are increasingly dependent on smugglers and coyotes. Victims of debt slavery are hindered, not helped by a national discourse against “sex trafficking.” The vast majority of people lumped into trafficking statistics are workers looking for work, in prostitution or in another industry, not victims that have been duped into an unsavory job against their will.
Prostitutes need to have social services and other employment options made available to them if that’s what they want. They don’t need to be arrested and treated like victimized children.