Marcus Kelley on the existence of slavery in Michigan’s prison system

April 24, 2024

Marcus Kelley (Leading with Conviction™ 2024 participant) writes:

“Slavery was supposed to have ended with the end of the Civil War and the creation and ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865. It was supposed to enshrine a promise that this great nation would no longer put someone in chains and hold them in captivity. However, beneath its seemingly liberatory surface lies a dangerous distortion of that promise which allows for the continuation of slavery into present day at both the federal and state level.

“Many of Michigan’s citizens are not aware that slavery and involuntary servitude still exist in our state, but it’s true. Article 1, subsection 9 of the Michigan Constitution clearly states, ‘Neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude unless for the punishment of crime, shall ever be tolerated in this state.’ [emphasis added]

“Maybe you’re thinking those are just words on a really old document and not actually a practice we uphold on an everyday basis. Or maybe you’re even thinking, ‘Hey, they did the crime so now they have to face the consequences!’ But this kind of denial, of both reality and our shared humanity, is where to continue to uphold such practices puts all of our liberty at peril. And, I truly believe that though as individuals with varied life experiences, we may not agree on all things, I know in my heart my fellow Michiganders don’t want to continue to be a slave state, don’t want to base our own freedom upon the dehumanization of others, don’t want to be complicit in perpetuating a system based upon violence.

I’m a victim of wrongful conviction. I spent nearly 10 years enslaved to the state of Michigan.

“There are approximately 32,186 people currently incarcerated in the state of Michigan, and make no mistake, they are not serving their time in luxury. Rather, far from it, cast to the fringes of society, they are more often than not being abused, traumatized, and living real life nightmares. Many times, incarcerated people are being served spoiled food sometimes filled with maggots, feces, or other dangerous materials. There are prisoners being raped by those who are paid by the state to watch over them, inmates facing extreme racially motivated violence and some dying due to dismissive and inhumane institutionally sanctioned policies and practices.

“In addition to these abuses, as prisons across the country have increasingly become privatized for-profit institutions, the rampant exploitation of prisoners has only gotten worse over time. The list of corporations which earn millions off exploiting prisoner forced labor is exhaustive and documentation of the financial incentives to incarceration that come along with forced labor is comprehensive. Given that the U.S. has the highest incarceration rates in the world, for both juveniles and adults, this understanding should make all of us extremely uncomfortable as it shouldn’t be hard to understand why it is extremely dangerous to base our economic production on a model that literally needs to lock people up and force them to work essentially without wages in order to keep production and consumer prices low.

“Personally, I experienced all this firsthand, because I’m a victim of wrongful conviction. I spent nearly 10 years enslaved to the state of Michigan. During that time, I fought for my life and freedom, witnessed and suffered atrocities first-hand. Now that I’m a free man, I have decided to use whatever resources I can to act as an advocate for all those who are unable to do so, in order to work towards the full restoration of basic human rights and the enfranchisement of the justice impacted.”

Read the full story at

Listen to a full interview with Marcus Kelley on the Riverwise Podcast:

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