Prison documentary sheds light on modernized slavery


The Netflix Original Documentary “13,” is an in-depth look of the 13th Amendment to present day. The 13th Amendment is the abolishment of slavery in the United States. Even though the act of slavery is gone in reality, through policies it has reinvented itself in different forms since the passing and ratification of the bill on Dec. 6, 1865.

Director Ava DuVernay explores a relationship between the abolishment of slavery to the mass incarceration of the prison population today.  History needs to be discussed before a person fully understands how the problem exists today.

Slavery ended with the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution: Abolition of Slavery (1865).  The law has a huge loophole that has exploited many Americans over the years. Per the law “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duty convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Slaves were used in the South from an economic standpoint. The South needed to find a way to help them after the law was passed.  No one could be a slave or be in servitude unless they were a criminal.

Over 150 years have passed since that law has been put into effect, but some can wonder, “have we gotten into a new form of it?” This new form is not just targeting African-Americans, but people of all colors including white Americans. It became an issue of “Can you afford to stay out of jail?” The Netflix documentary “13“ focuses on this problem.

DuVernay worked over two years to get interviews with various people. She shows both sides of the argument without making the documentary seem like a biased one. She interviews activists, liberal and conservative law makers and scholars. DuVernay doesn’t just tackle abolishment of slavery, mass incarcerations and racial inequality, she explores the different terms that are given to colored people through the years of history.

In the documentary, the viewer sees interviews along with film footage taken over the years showing each progression of history where slavery ended to “convict leasing,” when it faded, the Jim Crowe system; when African Americans become a permanent second class status.  During the Civil Rights era and the collapse of Jim Crowe system, a new title now began to emerge: criminals.

As each U.S. President comes into power, laws are passed to handle the criminals and the reform of the prison system.  There is not a problem with being tough on crime, the problem is how once the criminal is locked up, they are forgotten. The treatment of prisoners is what needs to be investigated. Daily beatings and companies have prisoners make their products for pennies on the dollar compared to paying a minimum wage worker in the United States. In 2003, according to Prisoner Policy Website the maximum wage paid to prisons in Texas and Georgia is $0. The corporations are making millions and paying nothing for labor. This is a new form of slavery. There is an incentive to keep people in the prison system, and it’s all legal.

DuVernay explores the Alec Group which benefits off prison reform. This group consists of companies and law makers who pass laws in their best interest. In the documentary, it is explained how this group operates. This is not widely known to the American people, but it affects them daily with bills being voted into laws in our country.

DuVernay’s film also discusses the violence in America, police brutality, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

People may think they have an idea about the prison system, but after watching the movie “13th” a person will be enlightened and realize they may not have a clue. Before I watched this documentary, I had some idea about the end of slavery and the prison system, but when I finished I learned so much more than I originally thought. It opens your eyes — the way it is laid out, to see how DuVernay can connect the end of slavery to mass incarceration, while using the laws which gave freedom has been exploited and it’s all legal.