Worse than Slavery , by David Oshinsky tells a sensitive and graphic storyline about the South. My first impression from just looking at the book made me think, what could be worse than slavery? Is it even possible for something to be just as gruesome as slavery? To be completely honest, before reading this book, I didn’t know all the ins and outs about slavery, let alone about the Parchman State Penitentiary but reading this book really opened my eyes to how in detail and horrendous white southern wanted nothing to do with blacks. They did everything in their power to use the criminal justice system to ensure they could dominate over freed blacks. The end of slavery was the rise to the Black Codes. The books start off talking about slavery and transitions into slave codes, black codes, and Jim Crow laws. Many people don’t know that once slavery was abolished due to the 13th amendment in 1865, laws such as the Black Codes were passed. Learning about the Black Codes really put my thoughts about slavery from a whole new perspective.
Even though slavery was abolished the south still managed to find ways to control what slaves could and could not do. Most southern states had the idea that even though slavery is now abolished they could still find some way to put former slaves back to work. These codes restricted their freedom and after the civil war, there was an economic competition. This is when convict leasing system arose, once the war ended it really put a toll on the prison system. There was no money to repair or to even house the number of criminals that were coming in. Edmund Richardson exploited the federal authorities by saying he would work the felons outside the prison walls and guaranteed to take care of them, feed them and guard them. We would soon realize that these black prisoners would suffer and die in far worse conditions then they had ever experience as slaves. Looking at our prison system today and how it has changed from back then, our prison population is the largest in the world and most extreme.
During this period, in the South, the state governments began leasing out criminals being held in prison to various companies and businesses. This was known as the convict leasing. Convict leasing essentially was the rich white people against blacks and former slaves. This system is hard to grasp and understand because these people didn’t have anything, they barely had any food or water, their clothes were torn to pieces and they were working in hard environments. Imagine being chained by your feet all day, being abused by guards and being held in cages all night like you were some sort of animal. The idea behind convict leasing literally had African Americans working so hard and in extreme conditions that due to these harsh conditions they died. One line that stood out to me was on page 37, A white Democrat described the political campaign of 1875 as a revolutionary crusade. A black Republican called it the most violent time that ever we have seen. That being said, it was strange for me to read that a white Democrat would think the idea of convict leasing was radical and was life changing but even a black Republican knew that this was a gruesome act of hatred towards black people. It shows that not just upper class, rich white people agreed upon this but whites from different classes and backgrounds could unite by a simple appeal to race.
The movement of convict leasing ended around 1928 and it resulted in the creation of the Parchman Farm. The man behind this whole idea was James Kimble Vardaman, better known as the White Chief. Mr. Vardaman would use the fear of blacks and criminality to gain power over them. He was convinced that prison farm, such as Parchman was necessary enough to provide young African Americans with proper discipline, strong work habits and respect for white authority even long after slavery had ended. As bad as Parchman Farm was, Mississippi had way bigger problems than just this. At the time Mississippi had a history of cruel violence and a corrupted system that would tolerate this stuff. The logic of allowing whites to exploit blacks without any legal limits baffles me and really shows the hatred people had just because the skin color and race someone was. Everyone would automatically assume that since you were a person of color you were a criminal, a thief and that you were a violent person. Even if we think about the world today, 2018, almost 150 years ago, we still have people being racist and perceiving people of color as if they are some type of violent person. What catches my eye the most in today’s society is how people can be so uneducated and still feel hatred over people of color. That’s one reason why I want to be in law enforcement, to educate and to give people that are less fortunate a fair game in life. Life truly is all about a game and playing the cards you were dealt to have in life. For example, social location is something I learned about in one of my theories classes and it always interested me on how social location can affect certain crimes people commit. Personally, I came from the hood but by looking at me, you wouldn’t think that. I grew up in a neighborhood that wasn’t the best in Dallas. For that reason, my parents enrolled me in a private, Catholic school. Going to this school, at first, I didn’t realize I was an outcast because I was still so young. But the older I got and the more I realized, there wasn’t that many people of color that went to my school, it was predominantly white students. Whenever you’re a kid, you don’t really pay attention to small details like that, but once you become cognitive to the stuff around you, you realize you’re not like everyone else. I remember a time where I wanted to have friends over and my friends couldn’t come over due to the neighborhood I lived in. I felt as though the neighborhood I lived in and my family were being judged because of our social location. Also, the time where I overheard two girls talking about how my family could afford certain things and how my parents could afford to pay for school. People automatically assume the worst in people of color and judge them based on the perception of others or what they hear.
I chose this book because some of the things this book touched upon, I could relate back to my CJUS 2600 class, Diversity Issues in Criminal Justice. Reading this book while taking another class that I could relate back too gave me another perspective on the views back in this time. You would think that in high school, you would learn a couple things about something as huge as Parchman farm once was. For me, it’s crazy to think that even though slavery had been abolished, white people still felt the need to somehow find a way to incorporate something like slavery just without calling it that. Overall, I think society has really come a long way from where we were in the early 1950s. Yes, we still have racism existing and obviously, I don’t think racism will ever end just because there will always be discrimination in society. We are far done with slavery and the many gruesome entails that came along with it. Our criminal justice system has always been broken and I think today our prisons are something that we still suffer with. The United States focuses on getting tough on crime and incarceration rather than focusing on rehabilitating inmates. More than likely in society now, people who have been in jail as a juvenile tend to repeat the actions that got them into jail in the first place. Juveniles think they are invincible, and they believe that they can get away with any consequences. It wouldn’t be in their best interest to send them to jail or even prison at such a young age. If our criminal justice system enforces rehabilitation more than the punishment itself as a juvenile, they should be able to understand what they did was wrong and why it was wrong. Even in adults, if we focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment it helps move us forward and breaks the cycle of recidivism.