Book Review; Freeman’s Challenge – The Origins of Prison For Profit.

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(ThyBlackMan.com) The system of incarceration in the Unites States is known to be inhumane, and Black Americans know that it is another form of slavery. Many of us have been taught that the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution allowed slavery to exist in the form of incarceration. Everyday we can be introduced to a different aspect of the American nightmare regarding the enslavement, and its continuation, of Black people. However, some books are simply hard to read, and digest, because in giving a proper historical account it shatters what one understands to be the truth. “Freeman’s Challenge” by Robin Bernstein challenges our understanding of the origin of the prison for profit ideal, and it would be attached to racial injustice. This book reminds us that incarceration in this country can make a sane person insane, and it can drive the innocent to violent behavior. It reminds us that the North and South divide in terms of race was never simple.

Book Review; Freeman’s Challenge - The Origins of Prison For Profit.
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“He demanded wages. His claim was simple, but it threatened Auburn’s defining idea: he insisted he was not a slave but a citizen with rights, a worker. The assertion triggered violence first against him then by him.”

Robin Bernstein has crafted a historical narrative against a dark history. As the reader unravels the history of William Freeman, and his family, we learn how the enslaved were freed in the state of New York, but truly were not. They went from slavery to indentured servitude that bound their children into adulthood. While any of us were taught that the North was free for Blacks, we often were not talk how individual states issued this so-called freedom.

“The Auburn State Prison was never a prison. It was a state prison that partnered with private companies for the purpose of making money.

This book shatters the readers’ understanding of the origins of how prison labor would begin in the Unites States, and it could be seen as mind blowing that it began before the Emancipation Proclamation, and in a Northern state. While coming to terms with the history of the birth of this particular kind of prison that has become the standard of incarceration…we witness the story of a man that refused to be treated as a slave. The reader is introduced to a man that is willing to take a stance even at the cost of his own sanity. The reader embarks upon a journey that is painful, but there is dignity, and the consequences of the stance William Freeman took are still with us today.

“But as this book shows, private companies were but one aspect of a much larger system involving state-funded capitalism, businesses outside the physical boundaries of the prison, reform societies, churches, intellectuals, political parties, and more.”

This is a book that must be read to understand how prisons for profit began, and how it would grow from one prison in one state to every state in the nation. It will make the reader question their understanding of the North in terms of the abolishment of slavery…or did they just want a form of slavery that was not in the hands of private owners. It can make the reader ponder how this factors into the seat of economic wealth in this country at that time, and how we are affected by it today.

“It was a monument to power”

Though this was a difficult book to read, I highly recommend it. It is important we understand what we know as the Industrial Prison Complex, or Mass Incarceration, did not begin after the Civil War per se. The reader is left to wonder how those of the past would react to today’s prison system. The plantations of the South would eventually become…the prisons, and some of the largest in the country. One could argue that was not what was intended. This book leaves much to discussed and would definitely leave the reader wanting to research more on how incarceration prior to the Thirteenth Amendment affected prison system, and the freedom struggle of Black people in America.

“Today, profit-driven, racialized incarceration is often called “slavery by another name”. This phrase can refer to the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, which abolished slavery “except as a punishment for a crime.” But as William Freeman’s life reveals, profit-driven, penal slavery emerged fifty years before the Thirteenth Amendment and in the context of Northern, not Southern, abolition. The Sout did not invent convict leasing, but instead adapted the Auburn System.”

““Freeman’s Challenge” by Robin Bernstein can be found at your local bookstore, Amazon, and anywhere books are sold.

Staff Writer; Christian Starr

May connect with this sister over at FacebookC. Starr and also TwitterMrzZeta.

Also via email at; CStarr@ThyBlackMan.com.