The American Prison System

Racism, Propaganda, Oppression, Incarceration, Dehumanization, Genocide, and Capitalism

Stephen Bau
Dec 10, 2016 · 21 min read

After binge watching Oliver Stone’s The Untold History of The United States, I like to read the book of Ecclesiastes as an antidote to the inescapable nihilism.

Meaningless. Meaningless.… Everything is meaningless.

That’s the wisest man in the world telling it like it is.

The President-elect has not been telling it like it is. One cannot trust a con man to tell anything remotely resembling the truth. So, it is refreshing when ancient scriptural wisdom is not afraid to tell us the disturbing truth that things are not what they seem. I would venture to say that, if this Teacher in Ecclesiastes was the absolute monarch of the ancient kingdom of Israel, the one we know as Solomon, then he had built an empire that truly warranted the respect and tribute that the Queen of Sheba brought to him from afar. Yet, even his empire fell. Solomon built his empire by oppression and slave labour. Because he broke the laws ascribed to the king, the kingdom was taken away from his descendants and eventually handed over to foreign empires. As we know, history tends to repeat itself.

Redeeming the time, because the days are evil

I have been fighting off an influenza virus for the past week, so the coughing has been keeping me awake. As an antidote to the insomnia, I try listening to podcasts. I was born into an overachieving Chinese family. When I was about 14 years old, our family travelled to Hong Kong to visit our grandmother. This was the first time I had been able to put a face to the name. We always seemed to be in a hurry. I often have my grandmother’s words ringing in my ears.

That is “Hurry up!” in Cantonese. Then, she would add in English:

So, when I am listening to podcasts, I can learn something whether I am awake or asleep. It may not cure the insomnia, but it can redeem the sense of wasted time.

Last night, I was listening to the David Cayley archives, selected from the thousands of hours of radio shows amassed over 30 years of broadcasts for the CBC program, Ideas. I thought I would fire up the six-part series first aired in 1994, Beyond Institutions.

Beyond Institutions

An Introduction by David Cayley

Beyond Institutions, Part Six

Beyond Institutions, Part Five

In Part Five of Beyond Institutions, Jerry Miller begins:

The failed product of a century and a half’s dependents of custodial institutions haunt us.

America, You Have Options

Michael Moore: Where to Invade Next

White, Born-Again/Evangelical Christians

Now, think of what America has turned religion into. When 80% of Evangelical Christians in America were voting for their law and order candidate, we know exactly what they were voting for: the continued subjugation of the slaves they stole to work the land they stole from the original inhabitants who died from disease and genocide so they could get rich off the backs of the oppressed around the world, unnecessarily drop atomic bombs on civilian populations, take credit for the defeat of Nazi Germany bought with the blood of tens of millions of Soviet soldiers and civilians, split Korea in two, bring the earth to the edge of nuclear winter in the Cuban missile crisis, napalm Vietnamese civilians into oblivion, and use Agent Orange to render the country a wasteland, all to defend a form of democratic capitalism that has dehumanized all supposed opponents in all its forms by any means possible, including deception, fraud, theft, surveillance, violence, incarceration, torture, assassination, and war.

We may continue fanning the flames of moral outrage by remembering the various wars the U.S. has benefitted from and perpetuates by the sale of armaments in so many countries around the world, that we have lost count. No Canadian expresses this outrage better than our very own Bruce Cockburn:

Bruce Cockburn: If I Had a Rocket Launcher

Conjecture and Speculation

I do not know of these things, nor do I understand much of prophecy and eschatology. All I know are the Christian horror stories that I was told when I was young, that kept us obedient and fearful, about hell, the rapture, the late great planet earth, the thief in the night, and those who would be left behind.

I think of the fictions that some American people tell themselves about their own identity, finding it so difficult to deal with the truth that they would rather believe a man who constantly spouts fictions to suit his mood.

The American Prison System, Revisited

In a nation that pledges allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, the American prison system stands as a glaring reminder to the nation of its ongoing failure to stand for God, for unity, for liberty and for justice. The words of Jesus are a ringing indictment against the U.S.A. for abdicating its responsibilities as citizens of a constitutional democracy.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lordʼs favor.

Would it not be the greatest of ironies if the U.S. were themselves the victims of the ultimate self-deception, having imprisoned themselves by their own idolatry to ideology? What if the U.S.A. turned out to be Babylon the Great, the very enemy they thought they were fighting abroad, on distant shores, and in faraway lands? Which nation on earth sounds most like the embodiment of evil depicted in the Revelation of the Christ?

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

An apocalypse is an unveiling, the revelation of what was once hidden. Could it be that the surprise at the revelation will be that American White Evangelical Christians thought that they could be saved by their own good works and their “racial purity,” only to discover that they were selling a false gospel, preventing others from coming to know the Creator because they have themselves been taken prisoner by their own self-righteousness and self-deception?

For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.

Who is now ignoring the pleas of Jesus himself by refusing to help the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the poor, the sick, and the prisoner?

They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

It seems to me that 80% of those who would call themselves Christ’s benefactors are the very ones who just crucified Christ all over again by voting for a person who embodies the opposite of everything they claim to value: goodness, purity, and truth.

He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

To be sure, the one world government that the Christians fear is more likely to be the corporations who have taken on human form, at least from a legal perspective, without the human conscience required to prevent the lust, avarice, and reckless disregard for life that they embody. Really, what sort of self-deception would lead people to ignore reality and mindlessly continue along the same self-destructive path that continues to feed the economic Gods of growth and prosperity?

Standing Rock

The First Nations of the world streamed to Standing Rock to fight the Black Snake. The Army Corps of Engineers had the sense to call off the confrontation. While the battle may have been won, the fight is far from over. The collusion of corporate and government power in the President-elect threatens to bring the earth to the threat of extinction on all fronts, whether we stand on the brink of economic crisis, social upheaval, world war, or environmental devastation.

Forgiveness Ceremony: Veterans Kneel at Standing Rock

Faith, Hope, Love

The Creator has gathered his people, united in faith. With hope in their hearts, they stand together, in solidarity, for love.

There is a remnant who have taken up their crosses, who have sacrificed their lives to be the image of their Creator to their neighbours, to lay down their lives for their friends, to embody patience, kindness, and love. They protect, trust, hope, and persevere. They stand to protect the water of life from the dark serpent who wants to banish them from the garden.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

The struggle over our watersheds is a global effort. The victory won at Standing Rock is only the beginning. We all need to change the way we live, for ourselves, for our neighbours, for our planet.

As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay.

From the day the message of Christ was corrupted by Constantine, when he mixed the iron ore of the sword with the clay of faithful belief, Christendom has being spreading a false gospel of the rule of violence as the constant companion to the life of faith. This has never been good news. And it is this division that we most clearly see in the results of the recent U.S. Presidential election. The checks and balances that were put in place by the founding fathers to achieve an effective separation of church and state are crumbling beneath the weight of a leader with a head of gold, but feet of clay.

Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.

We may indeed see the end of the great empire as the United States of America breaks into pieces. We hope not. We hope for peace, for unity. But that will require the hard work of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation, between genders, ethnicities, religions, and classes, to heal the deep divisions of this land. That is what I long to see, and what I hope for. Prayer is necessary, but it must be preceded with humility, and followed with repentance.

…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

I pray that my own eyes have deceived me, and I have mistaken visions of a far distant future as much nearer than they actually are. “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” My perceptions deceive me, and I hope I am wrong. This is just wild conjecture and speculation.

Still, while we breathe, we can be transformed by the sweet fire of love.

Robbie Robertson & U2: Sweet Fire of Love

God bless America.

Wildly Inclusive Love

In the meantime, I will be listening to the voices of those who are leading by example, through demonstrations of wildly inclusive love.

This is a kingdom where everyone belongs. This is a kingdom where no passports are needed, where there is no border agency, and no immigration detention centres.

— Sally Smith

Stephen Bau

Written by

Designer, writer, educator, social architect, founder, Builders Collective, Leading with Design.

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