In This Episode
DeRay, De’Ara, Kaya, and Sam dive into the underreported news of the week, including predatory payday lending, job losses, COVID-19’s targeting of the Black community, and Kim Janey. Netta Elzie gives updates on what’s happening with the nationwide protests. DeRay sits down with Bianca Tylek of Worth Rises, who is working to dismantle the prison industry.
DeRay [00:00:01] Hey, this is DeRay, and welcome to Pod Save the People. On this episode it’s me, Sam, kaya and De’Ara as usual, talking about the news that you didn’t know for the past week. Then Netta comes and gives us an update about what’s happening with regard to the protests across the country. Then I sat down with Bianca Tylek to talk about her work at Worth Rises and what she’s doing to dismantle the prison industry. I learned so much from her. It’s a topic that people talk about all the time, but there’s always more to learn. My advice this week is advice I think I’ve given before, which is tell the people in your life that you love, you love them.
DeRay [00:00:33] Just tell them you love them. Tell your friends you love them. Tell your family you love them. Tell your partner you love them. Tell the people you love them, You love them. That’s it. Tell them you love them. Life is short. It’s not guaranteed. Those moments pass. Come on, ya’ll. Tell them you love them. Let’s go.
De’Ara [00:00:53] Loved ones. Welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. I am De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @DeAraBalenger.
Sam [00:01:02] I’m Sam Sinyangwe @samswey on Twitter.
Kaya [00:01:04] I’m Kaya Henderson @HendersonKaya on Twitter.
DeRay [00:01:08] This is DeRay @deray on Twitter. So today’s a big day because it is De’Ara’s birthday.
De’Ara [00:01:20] I knew this was a trick.
DeRay [00:01:23] So De’Ara because it’s your birthday, we have a surprise for you. Two people just joined us, hi, hi people who just joined.
De’Ara [00:01:31] Oh, man.
DeRay [00:01:32] Hey! Can you tell us who you are?
De’Ara’s partner [00:01:35] Do you recognize this voice?
De’Ara’s partner [00:01:37] Oh, no, is this a voice you recognize, De’Ara?
De’Ara [00:01:39] It is. And I also see my mom’s phone number down there, too. So now I’m like, oh, Lord. This is really for her.
De’Ara [00:01:46] This is for her birthday, not me.
De’Ara’s Mom [00:01:50] Yes. Hey
DeRay [00:01:51] So we wanted to invite your mom and your partner on the pod so they could wish you happy birthday, too. So everybody can hear because we love you De’Ara, so we love you.
DeRay [00:02:02] Mom, please take it away.
De’Ara’s Mom [00:02:04] Well, first of all, 40 years ago, I was in significant pain. So I’m just blessed right now that I’m sitting here having, feeling all right. But it was all worth it. De’Ara I just want to say, you know, we’re so proud of you and the person that you are and the people that you help. And it’s all kind of just now full circle. I’m so proud of you. I was thinking about Maya Angelou’s quote, “A friend may be waiting behind a stranger’s face.” I think De’Ara that that’s De’Ara’s thing, right. Those of you that know her, every stranger becomes a friend. This this is so exciting that you’re going into another year of wisdom and opportunity and all with loving support behind you. So have a wonderful birthday year.
Kaya [00:02:46] Yes, Mom.
DeRay [00:02:47] Yes!
De’Ara’s Mom [00:02:47] And I want to.
De’Ara [00:02:49] She’s trying to steal my job.
De’Ara’s Mom [00:02:53] Are you all hiring?
DeRay [00:02:58] Yes, are ya’ll hiring.
De’Ara’s Mom [00:02:58] I want to thank you and thank you all for thinking of me.
De’Ara’s Mom [00:03:02] And it just goes to show that all of you people that do the work that’s so needed to bring our people forward is you all you guys are just so supportive to each other. And I’m just so excited that you guys do what you do and you do it with love and friendship. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you to all of you.
DeRay [00:03:18] Thanks mom!
De’Ara’s Mom [00:03:18] And with that, I will get on my phone. All right. You all have a good one. Have a great show. All right.
De’Ara’s partner [00:03:23] I’ll just add two words because she she said it all. But I know the country is lucky to hear your voice once a week. And I get to hear that every single day and see your face every single day.
De’Ara’s partner [00:03:37] So I feel I’m lucky. That is the privilege that hold. So Happy birthday and thank you to your crew for always being so incredibly helpful. Love you.
De’Ara [00:03:49] Take the dog outside she need to go for a walk.
De’Ara’s partner [00:03:52] I will bye.
De’Ara [00:03:53] All right, love you.
DeRay [00:03:55] De’Ara you better receive this love, you better receive this love.
Kaya [00:03:58] Get it girl.
DeRay [00:03:59] Don’t be defelctivive talk about the dog.
DeRay [00:04:02] Happy Birthday, De’Ara.
De’Ara [00:04:02] Thank you!. You all are so sweet. You know, my mom was probably looking for quote all day to use.
DeRay [00:04:13] Well, she nailed it. That was great execution. I’ll stop talking now. We can turn it back over to you De’Ara?
De’Ara [00:04:19] All right. All right. Well, I’m glad we had that joy.
De’Ara [00:04:24] So thank you. Thank you, friends, for that. You know, gives us a I don’t know. I don’t know what it gives us. It gets some strength and some joy because you know, what I plan to talk about, obviously, is what’s been on our mind all week is a white mob violence.
De’Ara [00:04:39] So, you know, it’s hard to transition from that to to to this.
Kaya [00:04:45] you don’t have white mob violence on your birthday?
De’Ara [00:04:47] You know, I don’t typically that’s not typically what goes down during my birthday week.
De’Ara [00:04:51] you know, so it was it was an interesting thing to see, you know, troubling. One of one of our clients is actually the Tulsa Centennial Commission.
De’Ara [00:05:02] And so we’ve been in so many deep conversations about, you know, the massacre in Tulsa, what happened in Greenwood to black Wall Street.
De’Ara [00:05:09] And it’s also just got us thinking and doing research on, you know, all the other massacres, whether it’s Red Summer or it’s what happened in Elaine, Arkansas, or whether Rosewood.
De’Ara [00:05:20] And so I think there’s been, you know, kind of a paradigm of those who are shocked and those who aren’t shocked about what happened on Monday. Clearly not shocked, understanding the history of white mob violence and how it’s been such a part of our political landscape in this country. You know, whether it’s Andrew Jackson inciting it or Donald Trump inciting it, I think what I’m thinking mostly about post Monday is the fact that we’re going to be left with these angry mobs. They’re not going anywhere. Trump may be leaving office, but we’re still left with all these folks. I read a study recently that two thirds of domestic acts of terror in 2019 in leading up to 2020 were by right white supremacy groups. Clearly not a surprise, but like, what do we do with this? And do we think we’re going into an administration that actually has the leadership that can lead us through this, that we can finally have a reckoning that we need to have around race, that we can, you know, really hold the folks accountable on Monday, but also hold law enforcement who are also complicit in this and have always been complicit when it comes to white mob violence, whether it was Tulsa or whether it’s now, it’s easy to state the obvious. They’re racist, but it’s just like, what do we do now and how do we what is the plan to move forward?
DeRay [00:06:35] It’s been interesting to see how this story evolves. At the beginning, it was like, wow, they broke into the Capitol. I’m like, how do they break into the Capitol? I think it was like they didn’t break into the Capitol. They were allowed into the Capitol. Police removed the barricades. The police allowed them and ushered them into the Capitol. And you’re like, well, that is not what I thought.
Kaya [00:06:51] The police were like with them as they broke into the Capitol taking selfies.
DeRay [00:06:56] And then it’s like you killed a police officer. I’m like, who? You ought to kill the cop. And then you sort of smushed another cop, that cop that got sort of smushed in the process in the door. And then I look at the numbers and they have five hundred police officers on duty. It’s a two thousand person force and they just understaffed on purpose. You know, when black people are out there, it’s like ten of us. It’s the most secure building in America. The white supremacists come. And when the videos came out, they show just how many of them it was. I was even more shocked. And then you learn that the DOJ denied the request from the Maryland governor, denied the request from Virginia, denied the request from DC for the National Guard. They had to do runarounds to to get the National Guard mobilized. That was sort of wild. And then to think what if they had gotten AOC? What if they had gotten to Pelosi? What if they had gotten to Schummer? like they would have hurt them. There is no doubt in my mind that they were not ready to kill them or hurt them or hold them hostage.
DeRay [00:07:57] It’s like a level of whiteness that I can’t even fathom to break into the speaker of the House’s office, to put your feet up on her desk, to steal her mail, to leave some other stuff behind and then go do an interview with The New York Times. I mean, that is if that’s not the whitest thing I’ve ever seen, that is truly amazing to be able to walk out like that.
De’Ara [00:08:20] And I actually heard from some of my friends that are congressional staffers that they had locked themselves like barricaded themselves in offices and could hear the anger and the violence right outside their doors.
De’Ara [00:08:32] They heard people using the restroom in the halls of Congress. I mean, like but now what? And how are those people being held accountable? And it’s just it’s crazy to me that there were only twelve arrests made that day. Twelve. And that now we’re finding all these people in all these places that they’re that they’re in, but it’s like what a black person do you know has committed a crime and then goes home and goes to sleep?
De’Ara [00:08:56] I can’t think of one.
DeRay [00:08:57] Committed a crime on TV,.
Kaya [00:08:59] On TV, gave your name a day and your town.
De’Ara [00:09:03] And I’ll make the video all in the video gave your name. My favorite one was the girl that gave her name. I’m Elizabeth from Tennessee.
Sam [00:09:12] Did you hear about the guy with the bombs?
DeRay [00:09:13] No. No.
Sam [00:09:14] So this guy got out of his, I think was a red pickup truck he had in that pickup truck, like something like 11 molotov cocktails. He had guns, ammo,.
Kaya [00:09:24] Homemade napalm.
Sam [00:09:25] Yeah, like a whole arsenal in his truck that he had left parked. He came back to get back to his truck and it was barricaded because of the riot in the capital and the insurrection. And so he goes up to the police and they’re like, you know, what’s your car? He’s like a red pickup truck. It’s like, what’s your name? They gave his name. They matched his name to the pickup truck so they knew it was him. And then he goes, Did you find the bombs? He asked the police, did you find the bombs? Like before, And he didn’t even know if the police knew about the bombs.
DeRay [00:09:55] That’s amazing.
Sam [00:09:55] He asked Did you find the bombs? And then, of course, they asked him for further questions, blah, blah, blah, and they ultimately detain him. But like this contrast between how how deadly serious this is and also like how ridiculous it is. Like the people like they’re all like doing this based on lies and propaganda and just obvious falsehoods that they saw online and that were whipped up by Republican politicians and Donald Trump. But I mean, it’s this is deadly serious. Like, this is an insurrection that, as you said, DeRay, like their plans were to hurt people, to hurt lawmakers. At some point they were saying hang Pence. So they brought out a Gallow’s and they were talking about hang Pence so like they were actually trying to attack Pence, too. So, like, all of this is just like wild how quickly they immediately turned on Pence, they turned on whoever they viewed to be standing in their way of just taking over the entire country and ending democracy as we know it.
Kaya [00:10:51] I think we can’t though. There are those people who are out in the crowd and who did all kinds of things in the Capitol. And then we got to watch the lawmakers who are so committed to democracy moving forward that they came back and and all of those people in the Senate who previously were going to challenge Arizona’s, you know, electoral votes all of a sudden were denouncing the violence. And, you know, I call them the elected insurrectionists because we cannot allow just the people who showed up outside to take responsibility for this. When those people inside the Capitol and inside the White House and inside, you know, conservative media and whatnot have actually been fueling this fire for four years for more than that. Right. And so we we have to deal with all of these folks who all of a sudden, you know, well, when it shows up violently, we don’t deal. You have stoked the fires of this. You have picked the kindling. You have laid it out nicely. You have, you know, added fuel to it. You created this thing. And so these lawmakers have to be held accountable too. And you getting up and saying you denounce the violence because it happened and because you felt a little afraid is not enough. White people are going to have to get their white people right. Like this is at the end of the day, you asked De’Ara, like, what is this about? People call me from all over the country. All over the world. Are you alright? Are you alright? Yeah. That’s not my thing down there. Right. These people are going to have to get their cousins, their friends, their brothers, their sisters. There’s now all these reports about how many police, off duty police, off duty fire people,.
De’Ara [00:12:33] Firemen, that’s right.
Kaya [00:12:34] People who are supposed to protect and serve who were actually part of the mob, recently elected officials and whatnot. Listen, this is not just about a mob. This is about people who are employed in positions that are supposed to take care of all of us. Lawmakers, public servants and people are going to have to get their people.
Sam [00:12:55] You know, it was clear that this was not a situation that the police were just under funded or under equipped or unable to deal with. A rapidly evolving and new situation like that was not what happened at all. Like the police. First of all, the Capitol Police Department, their budget is almost five hundred million dollars, about five hundred million dollars. That’s almost the same budget as the D.C. Police Department. So like the whole city of DC has about the same amount of money going into policing as is being spent on this small, narrow area to protect a building. And then they didn’t protect the building. They simply just open the gates and let them in. So, I mean, this is not a lack of resources or wherewithal. This is simply a not only a refusal to actually protect the building, but like actively being engaged in helping, assisting opening doors for we’ve heard stories of folks getting access to information that. They never should have had that seems like this could be an inside job, right? So access to information about where folks offices were inside there, even if it wasn’t marked, maps of the place, like they just came in clearly with the plan, clearly with help, and caused as much damage as possible. The one thing that did work, which we’re all thankful for, is that the lawmakers appear to be have been quickly sort of ushered away and put into some sort of a secure area because like everything else that was happening outside seemed to be happening so quickly that when they did get to the floor of the House, fortunately, lawmakers weren’t there.
DeRay [00:14:23] And the last thing I’ll say is, I don’t know if you all saw Clyburn talk about this when he was like I was in a separate location and how did they know where I was? I wasn’t where my name was, that this was an inside job.
Kaya [00:14:34] And you’re the same thing with Nancy Pelosi’s office apparently is not on a main artery. You got to go over the river and through the woods in order to get to it. And they got to it in record time, which also indicated that they knew where they were going and what they were doing.
DeRay [00:14:50] And, you know, just to sort of follow up on something Sam said, I think about the number of black and brown people that we’ve incarcerated for not far less doesn’t even do justice like that. We’ve incarcerated for, like, the mere accusation of something, you know, like I think about my own Supreme Court case. The police officer just said he thought I was the cause of him getting hit by rock and I was in litigation for four years. These people are on national television in real time, breaking through the glass.
DeRay [00:15:22] Now, the only funny part I saw were the people trying to scale the wall. It’s like, OK, first of all, you’re not a climber. Second of all, the stairs are right there.
DeRay [00:15:29] Like, I don’t even know what this moment is supposed to be, but like come on.
Kaya [00:15:33] The funniest about that is somebody put that Donkey Kong or a Super Mario Brothers music, which I thought was pretty hilarious.
De’Ara [00:15:42] Well, the Mexican side of my family was sending it with the meme, see how walls don’t work?
De’Ara [00:15:47] And so we were like, right, exactly. Exactly.
DeRay [00:15:52] It is great.
De’Ara [00:15:55] But I think the last thing I will say, too, is that I think this is what we need to be looking for with this new administration is really what the national strategy is for dealing with white supremacist terrorists, but also their relationship with law enforcement, like somebody needs to be looking into that and develop a plan for it. And as somebody who my crew spent so many hours and days and months being investigated when it had to come to Benghazi and obviously nothing was there, can those same techniques be deployed to looking at these other elected officials and what their complicity was? Please?
DeRay [00:16:31] And did you see that Biden just came out in support of two thousand dollar checks, not just came out, but he reaffirmed his support of the two thousand dollar checks.
DeRay [00:16:39] So we’ll see and hope hoping to like I don’t know much about Joe Manchin, but we need him to get it together.
Sam [00:16:48] He does need to get it together. It is like thinking about the response to it. And to your point, De’Ara, there have been calls and I think the Biden Harris administration proposed strengthening some of the laws, potentially passing a new law with regard to domestic terrorism, which I think rightly got a lot of pushback because, you know, it’s clear that there was it wasn’t an absence of sort of legal authority to hold those accountable who are involved in this.
Sam [00:17:13] It wasn’t an absence of resources or police or whatever. It was actually an unwillingness to actually enforce the law equally, to actually find those who are responsible and hold them accountable to the to the extent that they can be held accountable under existing laws for causing an insurrection which is already a crime. So, again, I think I’m hopeful that this can really continue to generate a discussion about racism within the police, the connection between the police and exit and other white supremacist groups and and actually begin to crack down on removing those officers, removing those at the top in terms of politicians, police chief state who were involved in helping support the insurrection. So, I mean, everybody involved needs to be named. They need to be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law so we can deter and prevent this from ever happening again.
Kaya [00:18:01] My news this week is from ProPublica, and it’s an article entitled “How covid-19 Hollowed Out a Generation of Young Black Men” by Akelah Johnson and Nina Martin. Many of us are aware of the disparate impact that covid-19 has had on communities of color, especially on the African-American community. But this article was really interesting to me because it really focuses on the impact of covid-19 on black men. And in fact, while covid-19 has killed one out of every 800 African-Americans, it’s actually targeted black men. And we’re seeing many, many, many more young black men die from covid. And as folks started to dig into this and interesting theory emerges from a social epidemiologist named Dr. Sherman James, which is the theory of John Henryism and effectively John Henry, if you know anything about folk tales, John Henry was a big black steel driving man who in a, you know, long held American fable, was such a hard worker and so fierce and so determined and so strong that, in fact, he went up against a new steam powered drill.
Kaya [00:19:28] And this big competition where John Henry put his human power against this machine, John Henry wins the contest and then drops dead with his hammer in his hand, ultimately felled by the physical and mental strain of all of this hard work. And the theory of John Henryism effectively says that there is wear and tear on black men’s bodies, not just from living in poverty, but in fact, for striving to get out of poverty. In fact, they work so hard, they are so determined that that compounds that has physical ramifications that then create a faulty foundation. And when you add covid to that, it just makes things worse. There’s a quote that says “the effort of confronting that machine day in and day out, the machine of racism, the machine of poverty compounded over a lifetime, leads to stress so corrosive that it physically changes bodies, causing black men to age quicker, to become sicker and to die younger than nearly any other U.S. demographic group. Covid-19 is a new gear in an old machine.” And so it talks about how many of our young men suffer from diabetes and hypertension and obesity, that years of working nonstop and taking care of other people and trying to get out of poverty. All of the things that black men do to try to get out of poverty actually ensure that their life spans are shorter and that they are more susceptible to things like covid-19. We often blame these kinds of underlying health disparities on failures of personal responsibility. You know, people make bad choices. They eat the wrong things. They live in a wrong neighborhood or black on black violence. But in fact, Dr. Sherman James says that it is not that, in fact, that this striving to make something of themselves, to live their lives with dignity and purpose and to be successful against extraordinary circumstances, that is the thing that is killing black men. The article was really enlightening and that it lifted up stories upon stories of black men and how it starts. Even when our men are young and they try to do everything right, they try to go to the right schools, they try to make good grades. And all of these things ultimately have physical effects on them. And the study of black men’s health is under examined and underfunded because black men are not viewed as sympathetic. So you have these men who are in this cycle of striving and and succumbing, striving and succumbing. And we we don’t actually even have all of the research that we need to be able to create smart policy decisions. And yet and still, we continue to blame black men when in fact, many of them are doing exactly what we asked them to do to try to get out of poverty. And it, in fact, is killing them. And so check it out. It was a fascinating article.
Sam [00:22:32] This article was something that caused me to think a little bit deeper around this extended, extended, extended sort of period that we’ve been going through for about a year now of lockdown down, you know, coronavirus economic catastrophe and how that that crisis has exacerbated a society that was already grossly unequal and exacerbated those inequities. There’s no reason why, you know, rates of coronavirus infections or deaths should be higher among black people or white people, except that the society is so inequitable and it is structuring your proximity to coronavirus in a structure in your likelihood of surviving coronavirus Once you get it. Your access to health care, quality, health care type of health care, you actually get its structures, your likelihood of coming in contact with the criminal justice system. So I think about how many black men have been arrested, have had contact with law enforcement, have in some cases been incarcerated, in some cases for a few days or a few weeks or even a few months in a context where coronavirus is spreading rapidly through U.S. prisons and jails and then folks are released without health insurance and some. These folks are released from prison and they have trouble getting access to Medicaid immediately afterwards, and so all of these systems are grinding down, populations are grinding down black and brown people and exposing them to a virus that the outcome simply shouldn’t look like this except for the social construction of racial inequity in our society. This also sort of dovetails with my news, which is around unemployment. As we see the covid crisis having disproportionate impacts on black and brown communities, those impacts sometimes look a little bit different depending on community.
Sam [00:24:24] And so one of the things that you see in the jobs report, the most recent jobs report for this past December, is that women, and in particular black and brown women, had the highest job losses of any group.
Sam [00:24:37] So overall, there were one hundred and fifty six thousand jobs lost by women in the U.S. and sixteen thousand jobs gained by men in December. But all of those job losses were black and Latino women and women and other women of color. All of those job losses, white women actually gain jobs in December along with white men, while black and brown women lost jobs.
Sam [00:24:58] So we’re seeing the economic inequities exacerbated, particularly and disproportionately hitting sectors that are disproportionately employing black and brown women. So through the economy, through our health care system, through all of these different aspects of society, we’re seeing the outcomes get worse. We’re seeing the broader expansion of existing inequities by race and by gender. And that makes it all the more urgent and imperative for the Biden/Harris administration on day one to be thinking boldly in terms of legislation that directly confronts and corrects for those inequities because they’re just going to keep getting worse if we don’t do that.
DeRay [00:25:37] Obviously, we know there are health disparities with regard to race insert the pod, started the pod because they are inequity and we want to fix the inequity. But in reading about your news, Kaya, I was like I just didn’t know The health disparities for black men were just so dire. You know, I did some additional research, learned that the rates of prostate cancer and related deaths in African-American men are among the highest in the world. I didn’t know that. And one of the reasons is because black men are less likely to get preventative care and have access to quality health care when they get sick. I also didn’t know that black men are 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease and 60 percent more likely to die from stroke like they had no clue. So you think about how these things compound when we think about something like covid. You know, I also just assumed that there was more data out about disparities. Like, I just thought that this is, you know, because we’ve talked about it so much. And what the article talks about is that because of the lack of data on the disparities that Hopkins professor co-founded the Black Men’s Health Project, which is the first large scale national study focused solely on black men’s needs, it is wildthat it’s the 2000s and we’re having the first large scale national study and the sample size is 5000 like that is I mean, shout out to the project. You should go to the project Black Women’s Health Project. But one of the things they had there that was interesting is they talk about a study that that it showed that health checks at the barbershop actually helped cut black men’s risk of heart attack and stroke, that there were a group of black men who took part in a trial where trained pharmacists offered health checks while they were getting a trim and two thirds managed to reduce the high blood pressure down to healthy levels. So it just makes me think about how part of our commitment is to just be more imaginative and not assume that, like the doctor’s office is the only place that people can experience care and if anything, should push us to do that. I mean, we’ve talked about this with education a lot, but we should actually be rethinking all of the delivery models for services that, like people had said, the only way to learn was in a classroom. That’s not true. The only way to get care is in a in a hospital. That’s not true. Right. We should actually use this moment to be much more imaginative than we’ve been.
Kaya [00:27:44] Yeah, we talked a little bit about that last week when we were looking at how different demographics were responding to the vaccine. And I’ll just say again, you know, community health works for us. We trust our community leaders. We trust our community practitioners. And so, you know, there is a way to reach the black community, relying not on the institutions in government that have that clearly don’t represent our interests and that we have a right not to trust. But there are a trusted, incredible people, your barbers, your beauticians, your and we see the same thing. I mean, you’ve you know, this DeRay. there have been book sort of reading clubs and book sponsorships in barbershops and beauty salons. And we see kids reading more. Right. Like the government and policymakers have to recognize that the methods of distribution within the black community may look different, but they are tried and true intrusted and we can actually see good results when we rely on them. As I was thinking about Sam’s. First of all, like mine blown that all of the jobs lost in December are women, but again, like to the intersectionality of these things, right? When schools and daycare are closed, women can’t work right. They don’t have places to send their kids. And if they are working in education, if they are working in retail, if they’re working in hospitality, in restaurants, we lock down restaurants. And so folks don’t have jobs. If I mean, we make these decisions separately, like they don’t all impact folks. But a lot of the decisions that we’re making around corona are actually working together to disproportionately impact women. So it’s not surprising when you really step back and look that all of the job loss is women and women of color, low income women of color. Well, I mean, we can’t catch a break, y’all. We can’t catch a black men, black women, women of color, men of color. What are we going to do?
DeRay [00:29:50] I was thinking, too, I hadn’t even thought about restaurants and bars being cut the most. And also in places like New York where, you know, everything got shut down until March. Right. So you get a lot of women who might be working in the restaurant industry or the bar industry. You get a lot of low income men and all of a sudden you’re like just out of work and to something Sam already sort of hinted on that white women are doing fine. Right. That like everybody else got screwed in this and white women actually made significant gains. Another thing and we sort of talk about this in the interview that’s associated with this pod, is that I also didn’t realize that things like grocery spending were increasing. I get it because there are probably more people at home. You know, your feet like school isn’t happening. And there’s some places I have figured out. I know in Delaware they have a program where just a lot of people got food stamps, whether you whether you were a traditional person that qualified or not like that was a way of thinking about food access differently. But you think about how some of the costs that people aren’t anticipating are like don’t seem commonsense, actually are increasing dramatically, and our families are just screwed, you know. And who’s really hiring in mass right now? I don’t know. And who if you have to make a choice between sort of going outside or staying at home. And I was talking to somebody about Telehealth the other day. They’re like, telehealth is great, but in a lot of our houses, where can you go and be private on Zooe and talk to your doctor? Like who has. There are a lot of homes where like even like forget income. Were like you don’t have like a private space where it’s you, your partner, the kids, whatever, where you can just like hold off. And there’s like nobody interrupting you. I mean, that’s actually like not so that’s like hard to. Yeah, that is. And that’s a rare privilege, you know.
DeRay [00:31:32] So that’s what I was saying is this made me think about,.
Sam [00:31:35] You know, it also made me think of the things that are happening right now that are contributing to exacerbating these inequities that we just haven’t heard of or haven’t yet really fully considered or appreciated, because there’s what’s happening economically with jobs, which is tracked pretty consistently month over month. We’re tracking what’s happening with covid fairly well in terms of, you know, infections and deaths. But there’s so much happening under the surface that might get on track that isn’t counted. Like you mentioned, DeRay, there’s very little data available on black men’s health writ large. And so I think as we continue over the next year or so to grapple with and try to rebuild from covid, I’m sort of interested in what are those things that are not being fully understood or tracked in the data that data scientist can step up and play a role like citizen journalist, citizen data scientists can play a role in beginning to collect data on it, beginning to do research to better evaluate the effects of the current crisis and to inform policy making, because ultimately we do need to make sure that policymakers have the facts, have the data they need to make the investments where they need to be made to correct for these inequities.
DeRay [00:32:45] So mine is about payday lenders. There’s a lot about payday loans that I didn’t necessarily know. I remember going to a check cashing place when I got my first job and I had I didn’t have a bank account and I would go across the street to the little corner store and I would give them my check. And I had no clue that they were scamming me. I thought this was like easy money.
DeRay [00:33:03] I was like this better than a bank because it’s like right across the street. And this is my like DeRay, you know, they’ve taken a part of it. I’m like, but I get the money right that this is the fee. And they’re like, you know, if you deposit that, you get the whole check.
DeRay [00:33:16] I’m like, I didn’t know any like I was like, I don’t fifteen. I have no clue that I was being scammed. And I came across some research recently about payday lenders, and I didn’t know that there are twice as many payday lenders in the United States as McDonald’s, which is wild,.
Kaya [00:33:31] And Starbucks.
DeRay [00:33:32] And Starbucks nuts, and that payday lenders are actually preying on young people. So people without a college degree, renters, black people and people making less than forty thousand dollars a year and people who are separated or divorced, are more likely to get a payday loan. So what a payday loan is like on payday, you’ll get alone like around five hundred dollars, and then you’ll have to pay it back at the next payday. The catch, though, is that some of the interest rates are so high they average at around 300 percent or more. 300 percent! That is wild. And what was also interesting that I didn’t anticipate is that people use payday loans more for ongoing cost than emergencies. I would have said people are coming into hard times. They go to an emergency. Any money. And no, it’s actually ongoing costs. And it’s a lot of young people and it’s a lot of people who are already facing unprecedented debt, like people with college debt, things like that. And as you can imagine, the Trump administration did very little to rein this in. The lobby for the payday lenders is strong, which is how this industry remains so robust. But this is one of the parts that, like, sort of makes an underclass of people permanent. Like these are the things, the mechanisms. When you think about banking deserts, which we talked about before, it’s these sort of things. And I was one of the people who had no clue that I was being scammed by those check cashing places. But this is quick money. You don’t need a credit check to get a loan, but you’re paying three times as much as the loan, and that is wild.
Sam [00:35:07] I had no idea that there were that many, like payday lenders in the US, like twice as many as McDonald’s is like mind boggling. It is important to know that the federal government can and should play a role in addressing this and they can cap those rates. They can say that you cannot charge above, I don’t know, like five, 10 percent, like they can cap this so you’re not getting charged three hundred percent on a loan. So this is something again, the Trump administration clearly didn’t care about us and didn’t care about this. But the Biden Harris administration can step in, can play a role in making life easier for folks in reining in this industry that clearly is making so much money off of people right now to even afford to have that many locations all across the country.
Kaya [00:35:55] One of the things that was really interesting to me is the identification of student loans and transportation costs as being the things that the young people are using this quick money to pay for. Again, both of which are addressable by the federal government. There’s we’ve already had lots of conversations and there’s an ongoing conversation about the student loan crisis in America. But I think transportation is an under examined industry. When I was at D.C. Public Schools, we were looking at our truancy rates and we had pretty astronomical truancy rates at one point. And our city council wanted to put parents in jail and do all put kids in jail if they were truant and whatnot.
Kaya [00:36:43] And I said, have have you ever sat down and asked kids why they are truant? I did that with our highest fliers, our most truant students. And what we found was that the vast majority of them were truant because by the middle of the month, they had run out of transportation funds to get to school. And so what we did was we created a kid’s ride free program so that your student I.D. actually got you onto the Metro busses and Metro trains and you could ride the city, actually put up the money to pay for student transportation. And we saw our truancy rates plummet. Transportation is a huge issue that is both locally and nationally controlled. And in the same way that we’re now tackling things like student debt, we need to look at transportation as, again, it’s another one of these things where even if you have a job, you know, if the transportation costs are too high, you know, you’re in a permanent underclass. And so I thought this transportation piece is another unexplored portion of a very complicated conversation.
De’Ara [00:37:51] Ya’ll, my news is from The 19th, and it’s about Kim Jany, who is right now Boston’s president of their city council. And it’s looking like she’s going to become Boston’s first black and first woman mayor. So historic on two levels. And this is happening because the current mayor, Mayor Marty Walsh, has been nominated to lead the Department of Labor by Joe Biden. So essentially what’s happening is that since Kim Janey is president of the city council, she’ll then ascend to mayor as the Boston city charter specifies. Janie was elected to city council in 2017 and became its president last year. And so with this, she will join, you know, a small but mighty group of black women who are leading the nation’s largest cities. You know, we have Keisha Lance Bottoms in Atlanta, Mayor Bowser in D.C., London Breed in San Francisco. Latoya Cantrell in New Orleans, Lori Lightfoot in Chicago, and Vi Alexander Lyles in Charlotte, North Carolina. So, you know, the number of black women serving as mayors in the nation’s 100 most populous cities has increased. A recent report by the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers and Higher Heights, an organization that works to elect more black women in August, released this report in 2018. Also, y’all if y’all don’t know Higher Heights get to know them. So several of these women, obviously, there’s been a lot going on, particularly in 2020, and they’ve been leading their cities through global pandemics, through, you know, the uprisings of the summer. And, you know, not all things perfect, but I think what we’re seeing is that, you know, these women in office and I think this is one of the things that this this report is trying to point to, too, is that the more black women we see in higher office, it really helps to build the narrative that it’s normal to see them there and therefore will have when other women of color and black women run for office, it’s not a stretch of the imagination that they’ll be great leaders. It also makes sense and hopefully this increase will continue to happen. You know, as we know, black women are among the most active voters, most active organizers as well. Hopefully what we’ll see is that, you know, the uptick in black women as mayors will also lead us to an uptick in black women that are running for governor because we have yet to see a black woman elected governor. It also means that, you know, hopefully we’ll also get more black women and women of color and women running for Senate right now with Kamala rising to VP, that leaves no black women in the Senate. So all that to say, you know, keep your eyes on these local elections and how you can support local women, women of color, black women running for local office, but also, you know, once they, you know, are working to ascend to those kind of higher, more executive leadership positions and city governments, whether that’s, you know, Governor, AG, etc.. So check out The 19th keep, you know, keep reading up and, you know, check out Higher Heights as well. That’s what I got.
DeRay [00:40:53] Don’t go anywhere, more Pod Save the People’s coming. Pod Save The People is brought to you by Norco ’80. In May of 1980, The sleepy streets of Norco, California, were turned into an all out war zone and what was one of the most violent bank robberies in American history. From the LAist Studios comes the newest podcast, Norco ’80.
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DeRay [00:42:20] This episode of Pod Save the People is brought to you by Magic Spoon. So I love cereal.
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DeRay [00:43:57] And now I check in with Netta as She gives us updates on what’s happening with regard to the protests.
Netta [00:44:01] Hey, what’s up everybody, it’s me, Netta, thanks for tuning in again this week. I just have to let you know, I have no personal updates about myself, about Saige, about life, none of it, because this week we are going to talk about what happened last Wednesday in the capital.
Netta [00:44:19] You all know that I recently moved back to the DMV area.
Netta [00:44:23] So being this close to all this action, yea, my nerves are too bad for any of this, but like for real, what did we just watch.
Netta [00:44:32] How many times have black people just sat and watched whiteness on display in such a violent and ridiculous manner. Time and time again like that in this country. How many times has this racial caste system that rules this country been reinforced simply by the way we watch agents of the state handle grown white people like children versus watching the police of nearly any jurisdiction shoot tear gas or rubber or wooden bullets into a crowd of black and brown protesters. Ya’ll, I just want to start this with a story like this is something that you all wouldn’t know for me, because I haven’t been here long enough to tell you.
Netta [00:45:13] So the FBI, the FBI, the alphabet soup boys are a joke. I will tell you why.
Netta [00:45:22] On July 12, 2016, the FBI showed up to an old address of mine looking for me, knowing full well that I was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at the time, protesting the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling. How would I know this? One, We know every agency in this country is watching every major player who is in this movement.
Netta [00:45:44] We also know that the FBI is probably tracking or not even just the FBI, them and any other agency is probably tracking my phone.
Netta [00:45:54] I gave away the idea of privacy in 2014, so I just make every move assuming that this phone is completely loaded.
Netta [00:46:03] Any random person is featured on any conversation that I’m having, which I know that they’re upset about, because when I tell you I am so boring in real life, but not only would they know all of this because you can track phones and et cetera, et cetera, you would know it because DeRay McKesson was just arrested in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the day before. So where did you think I would be? Where else would I be?
Netta [00:46:28] But the FBI show up to an old address and homes of several other black activists claiming to have inside Intel on a planned attack we were allegedly planning for the Republican National Convention that year. And after what we all just saw play out last week, phase one of this planned coup, it is truly laughable that the FBI decided to use its resources to go visit family members of mine who did not answer their out of pocket questions, looking for my location in the first place. Instead, the folks inside of that home troll the FBI by asking them how were they involved in Martin Luther King Jr. being killed back when they were kids? And why were they at their door looking for little ol’ Netta right now when their hands were still dirty? But who would knock on anyone’s front door related to me and expect not to get trolled? Good luck. The evidence that brought the FBI to a past address looking for me, fake tweets posted on an unverified Twitter account, pretending to be me. And what was the plan, you ask? Some takeover of the RNC or interrupting the RNC or caring way too much about the RNC than I ever would do. It makes perfect sense, though, very American sense that the FBI took the tweets of trolls that were pretending to be me, not typed in the tone or cadence that I even speak as real threats. Yet when a wild group of racists, treasonous traitors, raided the Capitol building, you had no smoke for them whatsoever. And like I said online last week, in my response thread to all of this chaos happening, everyone in this city had the same information that the ProudBboys were coming to DC on January 6th.
Netta [00:48:22] I call bullshit. I call it clearly and loudly. And I really could go on and on about this. But let’s get into some other news.
Netta [00:48:31] Speaking of Missouri’s national embarrassment, more than five thousand law school alumni and students have signed a petition calling for the disbarment of Senators Josh Hawley, a Republican out of Missouri, and Ted Cruz, Republican out of Texas, over what the alumni say were their efforts to undermine the peaceful transition of power after a free and fair election. Specifically to stop counting electoral votes in order to certify Joe and Kamala’s win as the country’s next president and VP. The two Yale Law School students who started the petition said they’re just condemning Hawley and Cruz is not enough.
Netta [00:49:09] They’re about that action and I’m here for it. In D.C. two black Capitol, police officers told BuzzFeed News that their chief in upper management left them totally unprepared and were nowhere to be found last Wednesday. One officer said he found out about the plans to take over the Capitol when a friend texted him a screen shot. Another officer described the group as heavily trained group of militia terrorists that attacked them and were prepared to kidnap and kill Congress members. The officers were outnumbered, called the N-word multiple times and betrayed by police officers from other states who are part of this mob. That news was found on BuzzFeed last week.
Netta [00:49:53] The search continues to arrest some of the terrorists responsible for last week’s failed coup. Larry Randall Brock, a Texas Air Force veteran who’s photographed in tactical gear on the Senate floor, surrendered to the FBI last week. Brock’s ex-wife was one of a few people who contacted the FBI after recognizing photos of him on TV.
Netta [00:50:16] Talk about it being your own people. Sometimes it’s your own ex-wife. And I could only imagine what she went through that inspired her to pick up the phone and immediately dial the FBI and say, hey, I know him. It really be your own people. Well, the police chief of Troy Police Department in New Hampshire will not be asked to step down after attending the Washington rally that quickly turned into a riot that then turned into a coup. Though some people are calling for the chief to resign, he allegedly has the support of the entire town of Troy. Come on now. How does the whole town support a police chief attending a coup? Oh, all right. So in closing, hey, look, you know what America gone do, what America gone do and white folks are going to do what white folks want to do and for the most part, get away with it and stay alive. That’s what any and every person who is nonwhite living in this country knows to be true and was just reinforced to us last week.
Netta [00:51:30] For seven years, I’ve been told maybe if you had a different approach.
Netta [00:51:36] That’s literally been the only suggestion that folks make to me all the time. Whenever the demands get a little higher, whenever the stakes get a little higher, and whenever protesters are not reacting the way that the dominant white narrative would like us to act, we’ve always been told maybe you should try something else.
Netta [00:52:02] And each year we get example after example of how black people in this country are living in a different America. Nothing about last Wednesday’s treasonous act surprised me. I’ve called out the possibility of a coup a few times on this very podcast. I’ve warned about the glaring fascism rising in this country more than a few times. And here it is, guys. We’re living through a live coup orchestrated by God knows who, but definitely involves the head Orangeman in charge at the White House. I do hope we soon have leadership that won’t lead us to being an even bigger international embarrassment. I also hope for our sake that this week is better than the last. Talk to you later.
DeRay [00:52:47] Hey, you’re listening to Pod Sabe the People. Don’t go anywhere. There’s more to come.
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DeRay [00:54:41] And now my conversation with Bianca. Bianca is the ED and founder of Worth Rises, a nonprofit advocacy organization working to dismantle the prison industry. She’s working in the inside out in so many ways. She’s been trying to break down the privatization of prisons, the predatory prison industrial complex. She wants to not only scale it back, but really push to a place where it doesn’t exist at all.
DeRay [00:55:04] I learned a ton. You’ll learn a ton. Let’s go. Bianca, Bianca, thanks for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
Bianca Tylek [00:55:11] Thank you so much for having me.
DeRay [00:55:12] Now, we met a while ago, but we’re finally having you on the pod. I appreciate you saying yes. And I’m excited about your work because, you know, I feel like I’ve been in the criminal justice space long enough that I’m rarely surprised by new work. And then I saw the report you all put out and I’m like, oh, my God, I got to talk to these people. I need to talk. I want to learn. This is amazing. So before we jump into that, can you help us understand how you got to the work of criminal justice? Like, why was this important for you? Like what? What was the lead up to your work on mass incarceration?
Bianca Tylek [00:55:45] I had my own experiences looking at the system or within the system when I was a youth and juvenile and also watched really a lot of other folks have experiences that were far worse than mine. And over time, really, just as a young person at the time, I felt like I didn’t really have the words to be outraged or to express my outrage in a productive and effective way and over the years really mustered up with that language was and came around to understanding what my experiences were about the experiences of those that I lived around me were about and really then dove into knowing criminal justice is the work that I wanted to do in the long term and just some time to just figure out exactly what my role would be. And I had a few forays into some other spaces that may have felt very, very random at the time, but all aligned. And to really have me in the particular place that I am now, which is focusing on the prison industry, dismantling the industry, those who have a financial interest in maintaining our carceral state and our crisis of mass incarceration and mass surveillance.
DeRay [00:57:08] Now, you went to Columbia and Harvard? Was was law schol. What you thought it would be? Is law school the thing that made you want to sort of fight the system in this particular way? Was law school. I don’t know. I’m always interested in people who get professional degrees. And like did that help you think about these these things differently? I don’t know. What was that like?
Bianca Tylek [00:57:27] I think law school is such an interesting educational choice. If you’re not actually going to be a attorney, which I don’t necessarily practice as an attorney, I’m not in courtrooms and not reading cases like to never read another case if I don’t have to. But, you know, if I said, like, how I stepped into my particular role, it was really actually from my experience for law school. I said before law school, after I graduated from undergrad, I was working actually on Wall Street. And I spent about four years working on Wall Street as a financial analyst in various different roles in the bystandard, south Side of the market. And I really looked at that experience as what was the building blocks for what I started to do now within with a social justice lens, essentially. And so what I sort of joke and say sometimes and I was in investment banking, I used a lot of the skills that I developed to build companies. And now I use those same skills to essentially dismantle them. Those companies that, you know, we largely don’t believe should necessarily exist or the industries that we don’t think should exist. And I went to law school and in law school, I think there were a number of things that were important learnings. I learned a lot more about, obviously, the criminal legal system, very technocratic like perspective, and also I think so got to really meaningful opportunities. And one was to actually defend people in our system that are facing charges in our system as a public defender, student, public defender in that space. And that was, you know, a powerful experience, I would say, and then secondly, to organize. So I will say that law school, where I feel like I was radicalized by my peers, by my classmates, by my friends while I was there and where, you know, I really started to do the first to leaning into not technical skill sets, but political education and things of that sort that helped me really understand not just the system we’re in today, but how we got it.
DeRay [00:59:49] So let’s jump into let’s jump into the meat. There’s so much to learn from you. Can we start with Tom Gores? So I saw that full page ad you all took out around Tom Gores and the private prison industry. Can you use that as a way to help us both understand, like, why you are pressuring him, but also like, what is the story around privatization of prisons? We know that, you know, we’ve talked in the past before about private prisons as a sort of collective, are not a huge part of the castle system, but the privatization of prisons is a big part. And you were the first guest we’ve ever had on in four years who is an expert on this. So, yeah, let’s start with Tom Gores and help us understand what’s what.
Bianca Tylek [01:00:30] So the first thing I want to say is that you’re right, private prisons only make up a very small segment of the system. And I should say really specifically, just because we want to be an ally ship with our brothers and sisters working in immigration detention, private prisons make up eight or nine percent in the beds criminal legal system, but actually over 70 to 75 percent of the beds in the immigration detention system and so in that world definitely are more prevalent. But what our report goes to show, what our campaign even against Tom and other shows is, it is actually not really about private prisons. We don’t send the large majority of our time necessarily focusing on the privatization of prison operations, which is technically what these companies do, but rather privatization, corporatization, commercialization of the entire system. And so what people often don’t understand is that you don’t need to be in a private prison to be exploited by private corporations or other types of financial interests. What do I mean by that? Almost everything and even publicly operated prisons is privatized in many cases.
Bianca Tylek [01:01:44] So take a publicly operated prison that is run by staff, paid by a state or a local agency in that prison or that jail facility you will likely still have privatized phone service, you will have privatized commissary services, you might have privatized health care services, you will likely have privatized food services, as you name sort of one or look at one service after another that has to exist within a facility for it to operate. You realize that, in fact, even in our publicly operated prisons and majority of services that happen on a day to day are actually privatized. And so we spend a lot of our time on that specifically. And in the campaign, against Tom, we are specifically talking about the privatization of prison telecom. And that phase, we can say, is almost ubiquitous, that it is privatized with 100 percent of telephone services inside of prisons and jails is in one way or another contracted with a private corporation. And that industry, which is a one point four billion dollar industry, is dominated, in fact, by just three companies that own 90 percent of it. Two companies, own just 80 percent of it. And those two companies, one is Securus, the other is GTL. Securus is owned by Tom Gore, who is also the owner of the Detroit Pistons, and he owns that company through a private equity firm by the name of Platinum Equity. So without getting too far into the weeds, as you can see, there is actually really complicated and deep financial structures that exist in order for people to invest in these corporations because who does Tom actually get investment dollars from? Our pension funds, public pensions, university endowments, insurance institutions, all of these type of big institutional investors, invest with private equity firms that in turn own companies like Securus. And so, in fact, GTL, its biggest competitor, is owned by another private equity firm. And so our campaign that we’ve been running for some time now against Tom is really about exposing the business, the predatory prison telecom business that Tom and some of his peers are in and demanding better for our communities. And so we started our work really almost as soon as he bought the company, he bought the company in 2017, the end of the year for one point six billion dollars. Since then, he has tried to acquire other companies. In fact, we blocked one such acquisition in front of the FCC in April of 2019 and, you know, spread their predatory practices across the country. And so we’ve been really coming for that business. We issued him our first real demand letter back in March of twenty nineteen and in March of twenty nineteen, we issued a demand letter with three very concrete and very clear demands. One, reform the company to stop the predatory practices as much as possible within a private corporation of that sort. Secondly, sell the company and we gave them a twenty month runway to both reform and sell the company. And that deadline was the end of 2020. And finally, once you sell the company, don’t ever invest in the prison industry again. And where we are and where we were sort of right at the end of twenty twenty was, you know, frustrated by the fact that very little had been done. You know, I personally spent almost a year in conversation with Tom and his team. So it wasn’t for lack of trying, wasn’t for lack of effort, that we just simply couldn’t get them to actually make any meaningful reforms to the company. And by the end of twenty twenty, as they were coming up on that time clock, we decided to escalate our efforts to really pressure those changes. And that’s when we had him removed from the LACMA board in just twenty nine days. And when we demanded that the NBA also remove him from ownership of the Detroit Pistons, because at the end of the day, he is exploiting a racist policing system, a racist criminal legal system to build wealth. And he’s funneling a tremendous amount of the seven hundred million dollars that his company pulls from communities largely black and brown indigenous communities that are disproportionately Impacted by racist policing and our criminal legal system and funnels that back into the hands of law enforcement, sheriffs, prisons and jails. And yet he is the owner of this, the team that represents the city with the highest percentage of black residents in the country. And we just don’t believe that he should be allowed to have that type of position as a cultural purveyor in our society, so long as he continues to build his wealth and help others build their wealth off of this wretched system.
DeRay [01:07:37] That is that’s both a helpful entrance to what’s going on with Gores, but also the system at large. Now, there are a lot of people who would say on the surface privatization would help, right? That like you get a vendor who this is what they do best. They provide medical services. They’re the architect. They run a phone company that the government has never proven to do those things really well. So a private company is probably better suited to do that.
DeRay [01:08:03] So what would you say to people who say that?
DeRay [01:08:05] Actually, nothing about the private market is innovation or competition and that capitalism promises us is actually repeated within the correctional or carceral system. So, for example, if you take telecoms so we can stay on the same, you know, industry, if you take, for example, in our world, you have a choice, right? We have a choice between Verizon and AT&T or T-Mobile. And, you know, we decide on the service that best suits us, that’s priced in our price point or whatever it may be. But we have these choices, right. And these corporations then compete. That’s not the way it works inside. Inside, it’s actually the prisons and jails or the wardens, and sheriffs and commissioners that make the decisions about what company will serve at their particular facilities. And then everyone inside who is actually subject and dependent on those services is then forced to use whatever single provider they select. So essentially, it becomes like a monopoly system inside of prisons and jails, which is ironic because it is the very thing that we have entire agencies, federal agencies that exist and bodies of law that exist to protect us from on the outside. So you have people inside prisons and jails and their families who are trying to communicate with them that only have the choice of one particular provider. And as I was mentioning earlier, that provider is often not selected based on the service they provide, whether, you know, strong services, weak services, whatever they might be, but instead based on how much money they will funnel back into the prison or jail. And so we we typically describe these contracts not as competitive, negotiates contracts with the government, but instead as profit sharing agreement. Between the private sector, So these few companies that service prisons and jails and the telecom services and the government, these prisons and jails, and so together, rather than actually going into a competitive negotiating process that would drive down the costs, as is the case everywhere else outside of the correctional environment. Instead, this relationship is profit sharing relationship actually increases the cost of services and drives down the quality of those services because they’re simply not important to the equation. So I think the thing that is really important for people to understand is that the market forces that, you know, some may suggest are good parts of our capitalistic structure are not replicated inside of prisons and jails. And for that reason, everything costs more and everything is of a lesser quality when you introduce privatization.
DeRay [01:11:15] So can you talk about third party staffing? So I knew that we outsource phone calls. I knew that prison labor and I knew like tablets, for instance, like those are the things I was like, got it. I know these are bad, but things like food and commissary and third party staffing, like totally. I didn’t know them. Can you explain that to us?
Bianca Tylek [01:11:33] Sure. I think there’s so I think one thing that you definitely raise is, you know, the report is one hundred and thirty odd pages. I think it really incorporates so much about the system that people weren’t aware of.
Bianca Tylek [01:11:49] I think, as you said, you know, you are familiar with prison telecom and in some prison labor. And obviously we’ve already talked about prison privatization more broadly, of private prisons, and those are typically actually the three areas where we see even those advocates or allies that we have in the field has really like knowledge about. And then beyond that, it gets pretty dark, you know opaque. And our goal with this report was to bring light to just the magnitude of ways that privatization has impacted our criminal legal system and our personal faith. And so, you know, the two examples that you just raised are like and commissary and what we describe as personnel, but, you know, also described as third party staffing.
Bianca Tylek [01:12:43] And so just to touch on these really quick food and commissary, you know, I think that it’s the kind of thing you don’t think about until you think about it and then you’re like, oh, that definitely makes a lot of sense that there’s problems there.
Bianca Tylek [01:12:55] The relationship is actually one of the most interesting piece of the relationship between food and commissary. So food services are provided by litany of orporations inside of prisons and jails.
Bianca Tylek [01:13:10] And one of the biggest is Arrow Mark. And Arrow Mark is a name that many may actually recognize because it’s a government provider in many other types of institutions. But generally, Arrow Makr just provides food service and large scale operations like stadiums, universities, corporate buildings and also prisons and jails.
Bianca Tylek [01:13:29] And it has been routinely, along with others in the field, sued for things like serving food with maggots, rodent body parts, feces in them and time and time again, they deliver food to prisons and jails with the label low grade but edible and, you know, require that incarcerated people actually do the food preparation, seeing this coming in for them and for their peers.
Bianca Tylek [01:14:02] I mean, that in and of itself is incredibly degrading. But then when you actually understand the business model, when you add in commissary, you start to see something really dark, which is that these food providers are in fact often the same providers that operate commissary. And why is that important? And that’s important because food service providers are paid from the taxpayer dollar.
Bianca Tylek [01:14:28] They’re paid directly by the correctional system. And so when they provide food, no matter how subpar that food is, they will be paid their daily per person or per meal rate. Now, commissary is where people go when the food that is being served, among other things, is completely inadequate. And yet you have sometimes the exact same service provider. And so Arrow Makr, which has its commissary business, is called iCare. It could provide completely rotten disgusting food that is inedible in the mess hall or the cafeteria, driving everyone to its other business in commissary where they pay directly, they or their families pay directly out of pocket. And so their business model, because of the monopoly they have on the facility, because of the way these two different services are paid for one out of the taxpayer pocket and one out of directly out of the pocket of individuals actually incentivizes them to produce really poor products. And I think that these relationships between these providers is something or these different services or something that I think most people don’t really think about until you hear it. And then you go, oh, that makes so much sense.
Bianca Tylek [01:15:58] On the other side of things, you also mentioned third party hiring. So Third party hiring is used throughout the system to essentially fill vacancies. Unfortunately, many of our system’s prisons and jails across the country suffer from a significant number of vacancies. That’s largely because positions are underfunded and there’s high turnover. These are difficult roles to be in due to the way in which systems actually operate. And that’s both public and private, lack of training, lack of resources, lack of benefits, lack of actually just economic compensation. And so what a lot of these systems will do is actually look to third parties to hire temporary or just put in actual staff, and these private agencies will go out looking for staff and often fall pretty significantly short in the work that they do to screen staff moving into these facilities and one of the examples we talk about in the report is the incredibly detrimental impact that third party hiring has on health care, for example, in prisons and jails, and in one situation in Georgia, where a third party hiring firm brought in a doctor who had already been penalized by another state, lost their license, had multiple cases against them for wrongful death, and brought that person in to be a doctor in the prison facilities in Georgia and specifically in a women’s facility where as a result of his negligent care, multiple women in that system also died. That company was never really held liable for having brought in and staff to that particular doctor or, you know, sham of a doctor that had been brought in at that time. And so third party hiring is used routinely, not just in medical care, which is actually one of the biggest areas it’s used in, but also in security services to replace public staff with short term private staff, but in a number of different ways where we just bring in, yeah, underqualified staff through these third party hiring systems.
DeRay [01:18:38] So, like, I hear that. And again, these are things I didn’t know that well until you just said it. So say, for instance, what if the government is like, well, we can’t make the food like we need to hire somebody to make the food or we don’t have enough resources to run the commissary, but we think people should like I could hear people making those arguments and to set the case for privatization, what’s the fix like? How do we I could imagine a lot of people are going to listen to you and be like that is really screwed up and the government probably can’t do it any better.
DeRay [01:19:08] What do we say?
Bianca Tylek [01:19:09] So the first thing I would say is that’s actually not true at all. There’s actually there are systems that you take, for example, food services and commissary. Right. There are many, many systems across the country that run their own food services and they run their own commissary. In fact, one of the best examples is out in Michigan and Michigan did a I mean, they really tried they did a full experiment with privatized food services over the course of a few years, they had three different food service providers that they brought in and ended up going back to state run food services. Again, this is covered in the report and we encourage people to read about the Michigan experiment. But it was, by all accounts, a remarkable failure of privatization that almost every single stakeholder in that system attested to from the government administrators, the governor himself, even the correctional officers who are saying this privatized food system is absolutely horrendous and they recycled these three largest prison food vendors. And trust me, those vendors weren’t doing anything different in Michigan that they were doing anywhere else. And after that trial, Michigan decided to go back to running its own food service. So it’s actually not really about whether or not the government can do it. In many cases they can.
Bianca Tylek [01:20:49] It’s about whether they’re willing to do it, want to do it, take on that responsibility and take on that cost. At times it is a higher cost, but it’s also because they are not taking the same shortcuts, hopefully, that many of these private corporations are. Now, I should be very clear, privatization does not make things cheaper in all cases. Actually, far from the case in one sector and one service after another, we have seen that not be the case. So the other examples are the commissary. Again, many, many states jails across the country run their own commissary. Why do these facilities actually often bring in outside vendors to run their commissary? Again to offload responsibilities. But more importantly, because so many of these services come with money for the system. So commissary, for example, when is outsourced often to an outside operator, it’s not that the government’s paying that outside operator. Is it the government actually going to now get a kickback from that operator? And so in many cases, you take Swanson for an example, it’s a subsidiary of a company called Trinity Food Services, which is one of the largest food services companies that offer commissary companies in prisons and jails and, you know, to be on , also owned by a private equity investment firm. But Swansons, for example, will operate a jail commissary. And in exchange for being able to operate that commissary, it will pay a commission or a kickback to the jail in which is operating off its commissary sale. So that’s the real reason that many of these facilities move towards privatize services, is because there’s something also in it for them. And it’s not often in the savings, but it’s actually in the revenue. And again, brings us back to these profit sharing agreements and arrangements between private service corporations and our government agencies. And that really is pervasive throughout the entire system. This notion that these are things that the government can do in many cases and yet has turned to the private sector for promises of cost savings and more importantly, for promises of revenue generation.
DeRay [01:23:22] Well, we consider you a friend of the pod. Can’t wait to have you back.
Bianca Tylek [01:23:24] Amazing. Thank you. And if I could actually just one last plug. Just say, if you are interested in supporting our campaign around Securus, and specifically challenging Tom Gores, we please invite you to visit PistonsDeserveBetter.com and learn more about the campaign and how you can get involved.
DeRay [01:23:50] Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning in to Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out. Make sure that you rate it wherever you get your podcasts with this Apple podcast or somewhere else. And I’ll see you next week. Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media.
DeRay [01:24:04] It’s produced by Brock Wilbur and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our Executive producers Jessica Cordova Kramer and myself. Special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Sam Sinyangwe and our special contributor, Johnetta Elzie.