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President Joe Biden signed a major $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that provided funds to cities and states around the country to recover from devastating effects of the pandemic. Regardless of widespread condemnation and criticism, Alabama’s Republican Gov. Kay Ivey and the state legislature have pushed through plans to use a significant portion of those federal COVID-19 relief funds for the construction of new prison complexes. In this episode of Rattling the Bars, TRNN Executive Producer Eddie Conway speaks with Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, founder of The Ordinary People Society, about the shocking move by the state of Alabama to divert desperately needed relief funds to build up its carceral system.

Pre-Production/Studio/Post-Production: Cameron Granadino


Eddie Conway:    Welcome to this episode of Rattling The Bars. Recently, there’s been newspaper articles about the Alabama government using COVID-19 relief funds to build new prisons, to build a couple of super prisons. So we want to look into that. So joining me today is pastor Kenneth Glasgow of the Ordinary People Society, to bring us up to date on what’s happening in Alabama. Kenneth, thanks for joining me.

Kenneth Glasgow:    Man, thank you for having me. I consider it an honor, you know that anytime you can be with Eddie Conway it’s me who gets the honor. Thank you.

Eddie Conway:    Okay, so this is some scary kind of stuff going down in Alabama. It’s got the highest COVID-19 rate in the world, I believe, and one of the highest poverty and illiteracy rates and so on. Why is the governor using COVID-19 funds to build prisons?

Kenneth Glasgow:    Well you know, even worse than that is the fact that no one… I mean that they feel like they could do that. That’s the worst, that’s the bad part about it. Not only are we looking at the Department of Justice have a lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections at, right now, since 2019 and 2020, they just said that they’re going to continue with their lawsuit and enhance it because of their inadequacy of management, inadequacy of security. There are violations of the 8th and the 14th Amendment. And at this particular time of having to deal with the Department of Justice lawsuit, you would turn around and violate even more laws and more rules by wanting to use allocated funds, earmarked funds for COVID-19 and people’s health.

And you want to build three new prisons, two new prisons for men, not doing anything for the women. There’s only one women’s prison in Alabama. This just shows the mindset of the leadership that we have. And what’s so disturbing about it and disheartening, is that the lawmakers agreed with the governor to do so. Now that’s the scary part to me.

Eddie Conway:     Yeah, I noticed the vote was like 29 to one in the Senate. It was pretty much full support in the House of Representatives with a few Democrats speaking out. Why is the Democratic Party and Black representatives [crosstalk] supporting this?

Kenneth Glasgow:    And that’s the scary part Eddie, because it shows you the mindset that we have here. and so it goes across racial boundaries, it goes across religious boundaries, it goes across party boundaries. It’s just a mindset of lock them up, throw away the key, and let’s enslave them and get us some free labor. We are doing the thing across the country with our abolition of slavery, and we’re going and telling them to take away the exception clause out of the state Constitutions and out of the federal Constitution, that states that no man should be enslaved doing voluntary servitude except [inaudible] as a means of punishment. But at the same time while doing so, we are asking our Democratic friends, our progressive and liberal friends, to be on that side of the board with us. But how could we ask them that when they’re on the side of the board to use COVID-19 money? Now listen, that in Alabama where I’m at it’s called ultra conservative, right?

But we have a governor, our former governor, a governor before that, Riley, that refused to take the Obamacare for healthcare. Then, we had a governor that refused to take any kind of healthcare, right? Which was Gov. Ben, Bentley, and they call him the death doctor because he was a doctor. Now, we got a governor who wants to take the healthcare funds, and build three new prisons, which started back with the same governor, Gov. Riley, that didn’t want to take Obamacare. So, this is a continuous thing, and it’s a continuous mindset of taking away the healthcare and locking people up inside prisons. And that’s what you have to realize is going on in the state of Alabama. So it’s like the South never stopped its mindset of enslaving people, not giving them healthcare, not producing any kind of progress when it comes to the literacy rate, and keeping us in control and those manners of being in poverty. Yeah.

Eddie Conway:    I understand that [CoreCivic], which is one of the largest building builders of private prisoners and operators of private prisoners, are there and deeply involved, and they just recently lost $600 million worth of funding because of an effort down there by a group to defund them. And now, they’re pushing for the use of the COVID funds, and they got a commitment of keeping the jails either at capacity, or either they’re going to sell the private prison that they had to Alabama. Do you know anything about that?

Kenneth Glasgow:    Well I started laughing because I loved the way you said a group that stopped their funding, and that group happened to be us and the coalition that was with us. We arranged to send like 5,000 emails a day to Barclays and stifle [crosstalk] finance and all, that was going to fund them, and stop the funding. Because CoreCivic actually not only played a role in the part, but CoreCivic was kind of like, down here leading the legislators and advising the governor on what to do. And we found that out, took it to court, filed a lawsuit. our lawsuit got thrown out because they stopped the funding and all, and so they found to be moot on the fact that the funding had stopped anyway. But now they coming back for that.

So we definitely know about that, but we also know one of the highlights that you just pointed out, is the fact that they wanted, in order for them to have the contract. Right? First of all, Alabama would not own the property. Let’s get that. First of all, Alabama would not own the property. Second of all, [inaudible] CoreCivic would own the prisons, and not Alabama. But Alabama, the state of Alabama, would have to pay CoreCivic for housing its citizens within CoreCivic prisons. So here you got the property owners, and you got CoreCivic that the state of Alabama would be responsible for paying for. Now, if there’s no accountability there, and you own the property, and you own the prisons, then you can pretty much charge me whatever you want for rent for my citizens being in there.

And then the contract also said that you got to have what? A 130%, 120%, 130% capacity at all times. So what that let you know is that Alabama is not only concentrated on locking people up, but they’re projecting that for the next 30 years… these are 30 years contracts. Eddie, these are 30 year contracts. So they’re projecting for the next 30 years that they’re going to keep it at this capacity. This is the contract. And who do you think is going to be the target of keeping that capacity? I’ll just leave that question right there.

Eddie Conway:     Yeah, well I will answer it, because right now you can see in the present day that the population of people of color is less than 25% down there, but the jail capacity of people of color is approaching 50%. So, it’s clear that they’re going to be locking up Black and Brown bodies into this foreseeable future, and causing them to be unemployed, causing the families to be broken up, causing the families to be forever impoverished and causing a continued recidivism rate. So I mean, that’s institutional racism in the criminal justice system, but who can – Is it the federal government? – Who can do anything about the use of those funds to stop it?

Kenneth Glasgow:     Yeah. So we have appealed to [inaudible] who is the secretary of treasury, the secretary of treasury would have to be the one that would have to be that would address it. The use of those funds, how you can use, would have to sue them about the funds. But then, you know, we are hoping that he acts a little bit more firmer, and holds them a little bit more accountable than the DOJ has. The DOJ and their lawsuits have let it linger on for almost two years now, and these are the results thereof. So it’s clearly showing that the state of Alabama has no regard for the Department of Justice.

They don’t care about getting sued by the secretary of treasury. And they’re just like okay, come on with it, we’re ready for the fight. You know, we have to look at the fact that, that mindset when I keep going back to. Because surely if me and you was to get some funds, and our funds were earmarked, and they were allocated towards a certain project or certain thing that we have to use them for, the federal government would come in to me and you, if I ever want to see the receipts for, they want to see whatever we got.

And they will surely charge us criminally, or either the IRS, you know, for misuse or misappropriations of those funds. If they are earmarked, listen to me good now, if those are earmarked, are allocated funds. So I’m trying to figure out, and the rest of the country is trying to figure out, how could you take earmarked allocated funds that’s from the federal government? We’re not talking about from your friends, and your campaign. We are talking about from the federal government, sent to you for you to use at COVID-19, when you have a state with the highest death rate of COVID-19, not only in the country, but across the world. And you use 20% of those allocated funds, 20% of it, to build three new prisons and not what it’s earmarked allocated for. If that was somebody else, they would be charged.

I’m trying to figure out what kind of standards do we have? It shows our double standards. But what example, what is it really, really showing to the people, to our children, and to the other countries around here, about how we operate and how we function? What is it saying about us?

Eddie Conway:     That’s a good question, because as you were saying it I was thinking that Alabama was the last to desegregate. You know, Alabama is like the first to incarcerate. Alabama is setting examples for the red states in the South all the time, and I’m concerned that this might spread to other red states. This might spread, other states might misuse those funds like that. And maybe the Treasury Department or somebody somewhere must have the ability, is it Biden maybe to say, you can’t use those funds in that manner?

Kenneth Glasgow:    It has to be Biden or it has to be the secretary of treasury, but I love what you are saying. I mean I hate that it’s happening but I love what you’re saying. Maybe Alabama is trying to say, hey, we got 2024 coming up. Everybody knows what we are trying to do. Everybody knows who we are trying to push and what we are trying to push. That was made very, very evident on Jan. 6. Nothing came about from that, so Alabama is saying, hey, we’ll be the example to show you how to make America great again. And we all know what that means. Who is it being made great for? Because those of us that are still in poverty, still being in prison, still being locked up.

Still being, living up under these double standards, and all of these different demeaning factors, we know it was never great for us. So, maybe Alabama is saying we’re the example to show you how to just totally defy our government, our rules, our regulations, policies, and procedures that’s in place. And we are just going to do what we want to do. And we’re going to continue to lock people up, even if we have to use healthcare money to save their lives, we’re going to use that to lock them up and take it away from healthcare to keep them living, and invest it in death traps so that they could die.

Eddie Conway:    Okay, well, one final question. You know, pastor Glasgow, I know they have been harassing you for your organizing effort and so on. So, what’s happening with The Ordinary People Society, and what’s happening, well with you ,because you, like you said, that coalition that took away that $600 million, that was a brilliant and a good effort. You know, and then the state is trying to make a run around it.

Kenneth Glasgow:    That’s right.

Eddie Conway:    How is the society and how are you, what’s happening?

Kenneth Glasgow:    So TOPS, The Ordinary People Society, is being ran by Ms. Rodreshia Russaw, she’s running it very well. She’s executive director, new board chairman, everything. I’m in a semi-retired state, standing back, that has nothing to do with daily operations or anything, I’m just standing in an advisory state, for more to speak and advising during the transition and all. And top stands on its own, I stand on my own. I’m starting now, pastor Kenneth Sharpton Glasgow ministries, KSG ministries. And what I’m doing is, I still got some court proceedings I got to deal with, still got some investigations that’s coming forth and all.

And you know, you’ll be hearing a lot about that, depending on what they do, how they act, because this is one of the things that’s going to be really, really highlighted. How could you come at people like me and say this and that and the other, but here you have your governor that’s doing the same thing you might want to accuse somebody else of, and there’s no standards there, but there are standards for us but not for them. And you know, I get confused at that sometimes, you know, are we living in America? Are we living in a third world country? Are we living in a communist country? Or, where are we?

Eddie Conway:     Mm-hmm, mm-hmm (affirmative). Okay, all right. On that note then, is there anything you want to say to the public in relationship to supporting this effort to stop the building of the new prisons in Alabama? [crosstalk] is there any kind – Go ahead.

Kenneth Glasgow:    I would say to the public that there’s a lot of people that claim that I talk to, why did they build, or why did they support the building of the new prisons? When I talk to somehow comrades in the Democratic Party, and those that’s supposed to be aligned with us. And they said, because of the dilapidated buildings. I said, so why wouldn’t you use money to fix up the buildings, instead of trying to use the COVID money to take away from the healthcare? No one was able to really give me that answer. So what I would say to some of you that’s across the country, if you know anybody, have anybody, is anybody that lives or knows somebody in Alabama, whatever. Call these legislators, call some of your family members and all and have them call the legislators and call and find out and ask them what’s going on.

Why would you support something like this, of this nature, when you are already under a lawsuit from the Department of Justice? And why are you allowing or participating in contributing to the Alabama Department of Corrections in the state of Alabama government treating people inhumane? And those are not my words, from pastor Kenneth Sharpton Glasgow. Those are the words from the Department of Justice itself. I will also ask people to call the secretary of treasury, call the federal government and say, hey, how did Alabama use this kind of money? Because you wouldn’t let no one else do it. You would lock anybody else up for doing it, so how are you allowing them to do it, and why they are not being held under the same standards and enforcements rules, regulations, policies, and procedures, as everybody else in America? Either this is America and it’s a fair and equal country, or it’s not.

Eddie Conway:    Okay, That’s the final word there. Thank you for joining me, pastor Glasgow.

Kenneth Glasgow:     And thank you for having me, God bless y’all so much, man. And if you are not listening to Eddie Conway, then you ain’t getting the real information, you getting part of it. God bless.

Eddie Conway: And thank you for joining this episode of Rattling The Bars.

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Executive Producer
Eddie Conway is an Executive Producer of The Real News Network. He is the host of the TRNN show Rattling the Bars. He is Chairman of the Board of Ida B's Restaurant, and the author of two books: Marshall Law: The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black Panther and The Greatest Threat: The Black Panther Party and COINTELPRO. A former member of the Black Panther Party, Eddie Conway is an internationally known political prisoner for over 43 years, a long time prisoners' rights organizer in Maryland, the co-founder of the Friend of a Friend mentoring program, and the President of Tubman House Inc. of Baltimore. He is a national and international speaker and has several degrees.