Amerikkka: Sentenced to Live and Die in Hell



The way “criminals” are tried, convicted, sentenced, and imprisoned in this country reveals something deep about Amerikkka.

In the past 50 years, the prison population in the U.S. has grown 690 percent. to 1.4 million. Add people in jail and you get a total of two million people behind bars.1 

This by itself shows the utter cruelty and barbarity of this system. But now, a new study by the Sentencing Project2 reveals a particularly ugly side of mass incarceration in the USA:

  • Today, more than 200,000 prisoners are serving a life sentence.3
  • This is more than the total number of people in prison in 1970.4

The study also found that:

  • More than two-thirds of people serving life sentences are people of color. Nationally, one in five Black men in prison is serving a life sentence.
  • Some lifers were juveniles, as young as 13 and 14, when they were convicted of the crime. And the number of lifers who are 55 and older, which was more than 61,000 as of last year, has tripled since 2000.
  • From 2008 to 2020, the number of women serving life sentences without parole increased 43 percent (compared to the number of men serving such sentences going up 29 percent). One in nine Black women in prison are serving life.

The U.S. has four percent of the world’s population—but 83 percent of prisoners serving life without parole—a sentence that by and large does not exist in other countries.

Why have so many human beings been given what has been called “death by incarceration”—condemned to live and die in U.S. hellhole prisons?

The desperation this system puts people in—of poverty, unemployment, and drug addiction—are factors. But a major reason for the growth of mass incarceration—AND the number of lifers in prison—is the “war on drugs,” which began in the early 1970s.5 The government officials who led this war claimed it was about combating “crime and drugs,” but in reality it was about ramping up social control, especially over Black, Brown, and other oppressed people. It gave rise to expanded police powers and the militarization of the police.

In 1986, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which left no doubt, if there ever was any, that the U.S. prison system has nothing to do with “rehabilitation” or “helping people get out of a life of crime.” It is about “locking people up and throwing away the key.”

New laws for incredibly harsh and unjust penalties were introduced, like the “three strikes you’re out” laws—which mandated life sentences for someone convicted of a third felony. For example, a man in California was convicted of stealing a slice of pizza. “Three strikes” allowed prosecutors to upgrade this misdemeanor to a felony—and then because of two earlier felony convictions, the “third strike” meant a sentence of 25 years to life. A man in New Orleans was convicted of stealing a $159 jacket from a store, an offense that carries a six-month sentence. But because of two earlier “strikes”—a simple robbery when he was 17 and two car-burglary convictions—the judge was mandated to sentence the man to life without parole.

A New York judge recently threw out the convictions of three Black men who had been unjustly tried and convicted of murder.6 They had been sentenced to 50 years to life and had already served 24 years. How many others are locked up and dying in prison after being unjustly given a life sentence?

In his January 2021 New Year’s Statement,7 A NEW YEAR, THE URGENT NEED FOR A RADICALLY NEW WORLD—FOR THE EMANCIPATION OF ALL HUMANITY, Bob Avakian discusses how the situation of Black people has dramatically changed since the end of World War 2:

Unable to provide a positive resolution to acute contradictions bound up with these changes—unable to end systemic racism which involves degrading discrimination against even economically better-off sections of Black people—unable to integrate large numbers of Black people into the “formal” economy—the ruling forces in society have responded to this situation with mass incarceration of millions of Black males (and growing numbers of females) with arrests, trials, convictions and sentences embodying yet more discrimination and injustice, and by unleashing and backing systematic police terror, which is especially directed against Black people in the inner cities but can target any Black person, anywhere, at any time.

This is Amerikkka—a system that needs to be overthrown at the earliest possible time.


1. No End in Sight—America’s Enduring Reliance on Life Imprisonment, The Sentencing Project, 2021.  [back]

2. No End in Sight—America’s Enduring Reliance on Life Imprisonment.  [back]

3. The Sentencing Project study counted life sentences imposed with a chance for parole, sentences of many decades that amount to “virtual life” terms, and life sentences without parole.  [back]

4. There were close to, but less than, 200,000 people in prison in 1970 (this number does not include people who were in jails).  [back]

5. American Crime Case #66: The “War on Drugs,” 1970 to Today at  [back]

6. “24 Years Later, Freed Over Prosecutors’ Missteps,” New York Times, March 6, 2021.  [back]

7. A New Year, The Urgent Need For A Radically New World—For The Emancipation Of All Humanity,, January 2021.  [back]

8. “Life Sentences for Non-Violent Crimes?”, by Sam Ben-Meir, professor of philosophy and world religions at Mercy College, New York City, August 31, 2020.  [back]

“Pig Laws” and Life Without Parole

A life sentence without parole is the harshest sentence, short of the death penalty, for a nonviolent offense. In over 80 percent of cases where life without parole is issued, the judge has no choice because the sentence is legally automatic and mandatory.

Fair Wayne Bryant, a Black man, was sentenced to life in prison for trying to steal hedge clippers from a Louisiana carport storage room in 1997. Bryant has already been in prison 23 years and is now over 60 years old. On July 31, 2020, the Louisiana Supreme Court denied a request to review his life sentence, upholding a lower court’s decision that Bryant’s life sentence “is final.” Only one judge dissented, Chief Justice Bernette Johnson.

Professor Sam Ben-Meir, in an opinion piece, notes that Johnson argues that “Bryant’s case is a modern manifestation of ‘pig laws’ which were ‘largely designed to re-enslave African Americans’ following the Civil War, targeting such actions ‘as stealing cattle and swine—considered stereotypical “negro” behavior—by lowering the threshold for what constituted a crime and increasing the severity of its punishment.’” Ben-Meir points out that Bryant is in the Louisiana State Penitentiary—once the site of a slave plantation: “Like the prison, the plantation was also known as Angola, after the African country from where the slaves originated. The Angola plantation was acquired by a major in the Confederate Army following the abolition of slavery. Inmates living in former slave quarters were subjected to a penal labor system in which prisoners could be leased out to private individuals, effectively maintaining slavery by other means. As Paul Gardullo, a curator at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, stated: ‘People—mostly young black men—were rounded up for petty crimes, and they were put to work as a way to control the newly free.’” 8



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