Prison & Slavery - A Surprising Comparison

by John Dewar Gleissner

Prison & Slavery - A Surprising Comparison

Prison & Slavery - A Surprising Comparison

by John Dewar Gleissner

Published Nov 18, 2010
458 Pages
Genre: HISTORY / United States / General


Book Details


* The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners. * In 1840, the U.S. had 2,487,455 slaves. * In 2009, the U.S. had 2,424,279 prisoners of all races. * Today, African-Americans in the correctional population, including those on probation and parole, outnumber all U.S. slaves in 1850. * The modern American prisoner is 20 times more likely to commit suicide than the antebellum slave. A surprising comparison using thorough research proves that modern mass incarceration is an unrealized social and financial disaster of mammoth proportions – while antebellum slavery for most U.S. slaves was not as inhumane as many believe. This historically accurate book contrasts the modern American prison system with antebellum slavery. You will hear from hundreds of ex-slaves in their own words and learn the gruesome facts about our modern correctional population of 7.3 million Americans. In the Old South, outlaws were generally white people, while slaves were considered safe and never incarcerated – race and crime are not truly related. The author proposes racially neutral reforms to reduce and improve incarceration through discipline and hard work, substantially helping taxpayers, victims of crime, our “new age slaves” in prison and the American economy. This book contains the only practical market-oriented, faith-based solutions to what the NAACP’s president now regards as the greatest major crisis in our democracy, mass incarceration. Forget stereotypes. The facts will surprise you.


Book Excerpt

Prologue: Prisoners are the least popular segment of society and prison the most disreputable place. As a result, few think or talk about prisons or prisoners. Most of us never see the inside of a prison or talk with anyone who readily admits to having lived there. Offenders deserve punishment, so why should we care? The United States now has over 7,300,000 people in its correctional population, an economically and socially debilitating number of convicts and offenders. With only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25% of its prisoners. If the correctional population were a state, it would be America’s thirteenth largest state by population. Grossly inefficient state slavery, which is what incarceration amounts to, is worse than people think, and is bad for the public, taxpayers, crime victims, prisoners, the economy and the families of the victimized and incarcerated. We can reduce the number of Americans in prison and fight crime at the same time, but our tactics need to change. History and science will reveal a different way of thinking. Antebellum slavery (chattel slavery in the U.S. before Emancipation, “before the war”) succeeded in a number of ways and was less gruesome than failed “new age slavery,” a name for mass incarceration or state slavery. The plantation regime did not incarcerate antebellum slaves. Colonial officials disciplined whites with methods other than incarceration, too. Antebellum slaves had more virtue than is recognized today. Slaves were usually non-violent, hard working, polite, sober, spiritual and safe: the opposite of criminals today. Antebellum slaves created and lived in a much better private enterprise world than new age slaves. We should admit our modern failures and pay proper attention to successful people and organizations throughout history, especially in American history. Because the institution of slavery did not meet American standards of constitutional liberty, and because a racist rationalization pervaded most writings saying anything positive about antebellum slavery, we ignored and repudiated the antebellum methods of promoting work and keeping people out of prison. This book asserts racial equality and proves race and crime are not truly related. From a strident moral perspective, the absolute condemnation of antebellum slavery holds that antebellum slavery had no humane aspects. You will hear from 400 slaves and ex-slaves, original sources, whose names are in bold. The ex-slaves quoted in this book do not say what politically correct modern experts want them to say, but those who endured slavery are the real experts. After stripping away the multiple and opposing biases, political agendas, contradictions, myths and exaggerations about the subject of antebellum slavery, we can see antebellum life from a new perspective. Isolating the positive aspects of slave life allows us to spot methods that will be of value today. No one can deny the inhumane side of slavery. I do not advocate resurrecting any unjust aspects of antebellum slavery. My burden of proof is low. All I have to prove is that American antebellum slavery was more productive, benign and comfortable than modern mass incarceration – and without question, in most instances, it was. Antebellum slavery was inhumane and humane at the same time, but profoundly unfair. What if we could fairly apply its methods? Instead of applying procedures to oppressed slaves on a racial basis, what if we applied those same methods in a racially neutral way, to those who deserved it? Justice for a change. Many think we abolished slavery, but it survived in grotesque forms. Antebellum slavery first relapsed into a brutal convict leasing system and much later into what we have today: state slavery through mass incarceration. Numerous modern slaves of the state, prisoners of all races, live horrendous lives compared to white colonial offenders and antebellum slaves. Twenty-first century state slaves fare worse than privately held antebellum slaves did, for the same reasons free enterprise triumphed over communism. Millions of Americans caught up in slavery today need better direction. The United States pays a very steep price for new age slavery and cannot ignore the workable solutions in this book. By no means is this book an effort to “bring back slavery” – just the opposite. New age slavery is already here – big-time – and it’s growing. Over 2,300,000 Americans are now incarcerated slaves of the state, more prisoners in absolute numbers and as a percentage of our population than any other nation in the world. The number of living Americans in the U.S. correctional population, including those on probation and parole, far exceeds the American slave population in 1860. America’s wasteful penitentiaries subject forgotten prisoners to concealed punishment, an ineffective crime deterrent. This time around, slaves stay inactive, sleep, scheme with their gangs and watch TV more than they work, are isolated from family and friends and cost their slaveholders billions of dollars. In the last five years, California’s budget for corrections shot way ahead of their spending for higher education, and California is still in a crisis while spending 45% more on prisons than universities. After prison, prisoners enter a lower caste of convicted felons and face what some now call a New Jim Crow regime. Most of us do not equate prison life with antebellum slavery, but the words of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery do. The Thirteenth Amendment did not really abolish slavery, but merely restricted “involuntary servitude” to convicted criminals: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. I never set out to be an advocate for prison reform. It was the surprising consequence of historical research into colonial and antebellum practices, although winning methods appear in many settings. Famous reformer of inner-city Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey, Joe Louis Clark, depicted by Morgan Freeman in the 1989 movie Lean On Me, demonstrated the same things that made Southern plantations successful, including unquestioned leadership, starting work early, removing troublemakers, encouraging work and making it fun, firm discipline of young people, working six days per week, keeping bad influences out, spiritual and musical encouragement, cleanliness, constant supervision, ownership of problems, addressing family problems that interfere with work and having a clearly defined goal. The reforms suggested in this book would increase public safety, save billions of dollars for government at all levels, compensate crime victims, reduce the prison population, improve the lives of prisoners, weaken gangs and boost the American economy. This book is a way forward to solve the current prison crisis, by keeping younger people out of prison, providing hard labor for prisoners and teaching felons how to work. Only through private enterprise and a work orientation will prison reform achieve political and economic viability. Leaders have issued calls for frank debate about race, mass incarceration, reparations and our criminal justice and prison systems. This book is just such a discussion. Successful societies over time eventually find economically viable ways to punish their criminals. After over a century of failure, change is coming. What we are doing now does not make sense. We can fundamentally change our criminal justice and penal systems in ways that will help the United States preserve its exceptional place in the world.


About the Author

John Dewar Gleissner

John Dewar Gleissner graduated from Auburn University (B.A. with Honor, 1973) & Vanderbilt University School of Law (J.D., 1977). Mr. Gleissner lives in Birmingham, has two daughters, is well read in historical, behavioral, and legal topics, and is a successful trial attorney. He hosts the blog "Incarceration Reform" @ and has published 50 e-zine articles to support prison reform in addition to Prison & Slavery - A Surprising Comparison.