The Face of the 13th Amendment We Don't See


It’s only October and it’s easy to say 2018 has been full of controversy, debates, and skewed narratives to say the least. From Bill Cosby’s sentencing (the latest thing to divide us) to Nike’s Colin Kaepernick, which has lead many to look at the move as a chess play rather than one toward a better future, to a certain Klayton Bigsby reincarnated speaking on the 13th Amendment.

While the latter’s opinions and clear lack of articulation has become the topic of discussion, other conversations on the understanding and comprehension of the 13th Amendment have followed as a result: the complexities, the underlying issues, and the shape it takes in 2018.

A recent interview on Ebro in the Morning with Ify Ike, Monifa Bandele, and Ashley Sawyer, the team behind #MassBailOut, touches on the face of the 13th Amendment we don’t see nor hear including undertones of mass incarceration and how bail has been used as a tool to further injustice.

During the interview, Ike, Bandele, and Sawyer explain the mission of #MassBailOut while explaining the many ways in which the system has been built to hinder (poor) people, specifically looking at the implications of cash bail; this is what led Kalief Browder to be detained at Rikers Island for three years without a conviction.

Why is bail such a threat to the opposing side? According to Bandele, detainees that aren’t able to make bail helps the prosecution in making their cases easy in telling the narrative they want to tell.

“A lot of time, bail, jail and incarceration are used as an incentive to get people to make a plea, to testify against others,” Bandele said. “People are building their case not just around the facts of the case, but also around the pressure that they can put on somebody and someone’s livelihood to go along with the story they want to tell.”

Bandele mentions personal pressures and coercion used to get people to plead guilty to criminal charges because of their family dynamic (wondering what happens to their children), housing, and employment. All of these and more become leading factors for accepting plea deals: the thought, and fear, of missing out on everyday routines and responsibilities.

Kevin Gates, who is a husband, father of two, and was recently released from prison earlier this year, sat down with Sway for the first interview out of a series to discuss his experience with being incarcerated and why he opted to plead guilty and accept a plea deal.

“I was innocent, but I plead guilty [to that charge] because a lot of times you can beat the charge but you can’t beat the rag*,” Gates said. “I probably would’ve sat another 3-4 years just fighting the charge.”

He further explains the details of his plea stating he was offered a 30-month deal, which was below the guideline, and was given “leniency” by the judged because he had previously been detained in another jurisdiction in Florida for 6 months: his plea deal was supposed to be for 36 months.

Gates, who stated he spent most of his adult life in the system and hasn’t been free for more than two years at a time, is an example of why accepting plea deals has become popular: 30 months is less than possibly four years.

While plea deals seem to only benefit the detained, #MassBailOut explains how the prosecution benefits from these deals as well.

“We know police have quotas. Prosecutors, D.A.s have quotas,” Bandele said. “They want to win and they’re using people’s bodies and their lives as a tool to coerce.”

As we continue to see headlines, clickbait titles, and Op-Ed pieces (including this very one you’re reading) involving a certain controversial, problematic red-hat wearing artist from Chicago speaking on the amendment, it’s crucial we have these larger, informative, mature conversations: with or without him.

*-Gates doesn’t explain what rag is, but from the context it seems to be a reference to the system.