Monday, May 7, 2012 / 7:00 am

Private Prisons, Hip Hop, Conspiracies and Truths

Private prison advocacy met with the hip hop community in the 90s, and made music more violent to reinforce their bottom line.

by Tony Chavira

Blacks in Prison
Conspiracy: An agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime or accomplish a legal purpose through illegal action.

The other day, this was posted on the blog Hip Hop Is Read:

After more than 20 years, I've finally decided to tell the world what I witnessed in 1991, which I believe was one of the biggest turning point in popular music, and ultimately American society.[…]

Between the late 80's and early 90’s, I was what you may call a “decision maker” with one of the more established company in the music industry.[…] [E]arly 1991, I was invited to attend a closed door meeting with a small group of music business insiders to discuss rap music’s new direction. Little did I know that we would be asked to participate in one of the most unethical and destructive business practice I’ve ever seen.

The meeting was held at a private residence on the outskirts of Los Angeles. I remember about 25 to 30 people being there, most of them familiar faces.[…] Our casual chatter was interrupted when we were asked to sign a confidentiality agreement preventing us from publicly discussing the information presented during the meeting. […] A few people refused to sign and walked out. No one stopped them.

Quickly after the meeting began, one of my industry colleagues (who shall remain nameless like everyone else) thanked us for attending. […] The subject quickly changed as the speaker went on to tell us that the respective companies we represented had invested in a very profitable industry which could become even more rewarding with our active involvement. He explained that the companies we work for had invested millions into the building of privately owned prisons and that our positions of influence in the music industry would actually impact the profitability of these investments. I remember many of us in the group immediately looking at each other in confusion.

[…] The more inmates, the more money the government would pay these prisons. It was also made clear to us that since these prisons are privately owned, as they become publicly traded, we’d be able to buy shares. […] My daze was interrupted when someone shouted, “Is this a f****** joke?” At this point things became chaotic. Two of the men who were part of the “unfamiliar” group grabbed the man who shouted out and attempted to remove him from the house. A few of us, myself included, tried to intervene. One of them pulled out a gun and we all backed off. They separated us from the crowd and all four of us were escorted outside.

[…] I remember word for word the last thing he said, “It’s out of my hands now. Remember you signed an agreement.” He then closed the door behind him. The men rushed us to our cars and actually watched until we drove off.

Now this was an anonymous letter sent without any supporting information over 20 years after this event supposedly happened. At the time there was no internet, so it was a lot harder to access relevant information regarding any of the parties involved in this meeting (if it happened) and so far no one has been named or come forth to discuss what happened or why aside from this anonymous letter-sender.

But let's not ignore a few simple, verifiable facts. First, that George Bush Sr. was the former head of the CIA during the time in which Che Guevara was murdered (ergo, the decision to kill someone who fought to socialize all of South America's natural resources largely involved strategies he oversaw). And, given his inclination to meddle in South American capitalism, he probably put someone he could trust in charge of the CIA during his presidency (and, likely, Reagan's). You would if you were president.

Second, that the San Jose Mercury News exposed that Freeway Rick Ross was working with the CIA to ensure cocaine imports from Oscar Danilo Blandon, further ensuring cash for the Nicaraguan Contras (ala the Iran-Contra Scandal). To refresh your memory, Oliver North (appointed by Reagan) wanted to swap up military arms to Iran to fund Nicaraguan Contras (who were primarily paying their way by exporting cocaine to us up to that point). The free market at work! Then Freeway Rick Ross was set up when he found out too much and he was taken down, only to serve less than 20 years for running a gigantic crime syndicate. The system at work.

But take into consideration that another group, the Private Prison System, were trying to open up prison corporations and strip the public of that responsibility at the same time, and now you have a intranational free-market reaction to Iran-Contra and Freeway Rick Ross: if people are violent and drugs plentiful, we can ensure prison inmates for the foreseeable future. Thus, prisons = profits.

And in the case of the anonymous-commentator, music is also a weapon (copyright Fela Kuti). Violent music begets violent action, and it explains situations like this one:

Wu-Tang Clan's Ol' Dirty Bastard was “heavily involved” in “murder, car-jackings … and the sale of drugs [and] illegal guns”, according to a newly released FBI report. The FBI's 93-page file on ODB, revealed in a Freedom of Information request, connects the rapper with a litany of serious crimes in the late 80s and 90s.

But if the FBI had so much on Ol' Dirty Bastard, why wasn't he taken down? Simple: he was reinforcing a status quo that our CIA was totally cool with. You know, this CIA:

Plane that crashed in Yucatan with 3.2 tons of cocaine was CIA rendition aircraft.

The same CIA that thought the Bay of Pigs and torture in Guantanamo were awesome ideas.

Private prison companies have a spotty reputation at best, don't save the taxpayer any money, don't have to report their recidivism rate, are rewarded with cash for keeping people locked up (instead of rehabilitated/fixed) and didn't do so well in the U.K.

Still, check this out:

U.S. Incarceration Rate

versus this…

Crime Rate Graph

Now you could make the argument that the crime rate has dropped because the incarceration rate has gone up, (a.k.a. that more baddies in jail means fewer on the streets). But that was be wholly unrepresentative: both our crime rate and our incarceration rate were lower than they are now in the 1960s, so that should pretty definitively prove that these numbers have nothing to do with each other.

So why so many more prisoners now? Well, obviously, because Americans are afraid and have begun using prison as an answer to most social problems. On top of that, know that some politicans need to begin ensuring a high incarceration rate or else the prison system (private or public) can't be as profitable.

Look, you don't have to believe in this stuff, but I feel that its pretty self-evident simply because of how simple-minded it is. There isn't really much “conspiracy” to this conspiracy; there are no dark overlords controlling anything, no Illuminati-types pulling the strings behind the scenes or dark kingpins secretly manipulating our political system. Instead, just a bunch of different groups of people are trying to make money the way that our system is currently structured, and doing their jobs to ensure profits for their bosses. It just so happens that this system encourages crime, drug abuse and the denegration of a whole segment of our society.

And perpetuates the sterotype that crime is their only real option.

You can dismiss all of this are overly-complicated conspiracy-nuttery and scoff that the crazies on the internet can claim anything anonymously 20 years after the fact. But I'm not saying Puffy/P-Diddy deliberately hyped a rivalry between both coasts and ensured the deaths of Tupac and Biggie. I'm also not saying that authorities deliberately ignored multiple instances of Master P gun running throughout the American south. I'm not inclined to believe that these guys also had meetings with the prison-industrial complex (unless they state it on the record), so those are not hard-and-fast facts we'll take into consideration.

However, the above-mentioned facts about the CIA, the Wu-Tang Clan and George Bush Sr. are historically true as separate points of information. I'm not in the business of constructing conspiracies, but it's difficult to look at so many disparate facts and not see them as a societal trend now that we have 20/20 hindsight.

And it's not hard to see how 20 years of hip hop that focused on joining gangs, committing crimes, and selling and taking drugs while deliberately excluding a similar dialog about drug legalization, community redevelopment, prison reform and police-community involvement directly reinforced Freeway Rick Ross's profitability, directly funded Nicaraguan Contras, directly benefitted the private prison system and deliberately kept a population of Americans under the control of a CIA that shoddily tried to manipulate them from the inside.

Tupac Shakur once asked “Is it a crime to fight for what is mine?” and the answer is yes. This is how we keep our revidivism rate so high. And maybe why he's now gone.

Tupac Shakur
“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside while still alive. Never surrender.”
Tony Chavira is the President of FourStory, a nonprofit organization that promotes fairness and social justice through strong writing and storytelling. He is also the Program Developer at RACAIA Architecture, writes and posts comics at Minefield Wonderland, and teaches Business Report Writing at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.


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