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Being Poor - From the War on Poverty to the War on the Poor. The System of unWelfare

By       Message J.P. Whipple     Permalink
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From Housing Project in Bradford
Housing Project in Bradford
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I sat at the metal table and read the "rules" a couple of times. Not a very good read. It was just a half page of unpleasantness to go with an otherwise unpleasant experience. The others were spreading their bedrolls on the concrete floor. The bunks were already taken by the residents. It was easy enough to tell who they were. They had jumpsuits. We didn't. Even if they didn't have jumpsuits it was still easy to tell who they were.

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Almost all of them were black.

Most of them were from a housing project like the one near where I was staying at the time. It was easy to get to jail from there. I knew that first hand.

That was why I was there.

The cops swarmed the projects almost every night looking for trouble. It was easy enough for them to find. No doubt trouble happened there but the cop's presence made it worse than it was. The projects were a de-facto half way house. If you lived there, chances were very high you would wind up in jail. Then they would dig their claws into you. Rather than making any effort to rehabilitate you they would make as hard as possible for you to ever get out. They would burden you with fines and fees you couldn't afford to pay. Then they would limit your movements so you couldn't get away from the toxic environment that brought you to prison in the first place. If you made any small misstep you would be brought back and likely have to stay even longer.

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Prisons are big business. It is one of the best ways to make money off of people who don't have any. It is industry with tremendous potential for growth and profits. Your "customers" have no rights. You don't even have to deliver the services you are paid for. Prisoners can't complain about the inedible food or any of the other unlivable conditions they are subjected to. What a great business model! All you need is return customers and they are easy to find.

They are called "The Poor".

It is easy to tell that the real crime that those men in jumpsuits committed was being poor. Sure, they were likely involved in some black market dealings. Some may have committed more heinous acts but, whatever their crime, they were all guilty of poverty.

No one grandstands about the money we waste housing the poor in the prisons even though that money has little prospect for any positive returns to the society that is footing the bill. Instead, people step up the podiums to rail about all the money we spend on feeding, housing and educating the poor even though those investments have a much greater chance of being paid for in the form of productive citizens who can contribute to society. So why are our self-proclaimed financial hawks so against using our money more wisely?

Because they don't believe in welfare. They believe in "burden-fare" or to use a more familiar term:


It is not with the interest of society that these policies are codified. These politicians are anything but interested in acting on behalf of the citizens who elect them. They are acting on behalf of investors' needs for direct returns. If you are supplying the police departments and prisons your profit depends on creating more prisoners. That is an easy two-step process. Make prisons easier to get into and impossible to get out of.

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It was easy for me to wind up there. I would sometimes take walks in that neighborhood on those mild Floridian evenings. Because those walks took me near the projects, the police would stop me. They would demand an ID and insist on searching me.

Being brought up in outer white suburbia, I wasn't used to be treated like a criminal. I was educated and I knew something about Constitutional Amendment that forbids unwarranted searches. When I brought up the Fourth Amendment the cops would always ask if I was a lawyer. If being able to remember my "Introduction to Civics" class makes me a lawyer then I am clearly in the wrong line of work.

As a result of my awareness of The Bill of Rights, I would raise hell whenever I was stopped and frisked. Our last encounter turned into a public debate after I fled into a local bar. The cops were not so skilled in debate. I was given a scholarship for my debating skills but they still won by slamming me into a wall and taking me to county jail.

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J.P. Whipple is a vagabond, outcast, sleeping in a truck and staving off starvation on the outskirts of the American Dream by playing music and selling books and other artworks. Among his chief hobbies is writing political and economic essays for (more...)

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