Deborah G. Plant explores mass incarceration and modern slavery in “Greed and Glory”

In 2016, Deborah G. Plant, renowned for editing Zora Neale Hurston’s unfinished manuscript, embarked on a personal and contemporary journey with her latest book, Of Greed and Glory. Drawing inspiration from her brother Bobby’s experience as a long-term inmate at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, Plant delves into the intersections of the criminal justice system, late capitalism, and modern-day slavery.

According to the LA Times, similar to the works of Michelle Alexander and Douglas Blackmon, Plant’s narrative connects the historical legacies of slavery and the Jim Crow era to the present-day phenomenon of mass incarceration. Greed and Glory goes beyond the confines of prison walls, exploring how the master-slave dynamic persists in contemporary workplaces, from electronic devices resembling ankle bracelets to media that pacifies society.

Plant emphasises the individual stories within the broader discussion, echoing Ta-Nehisi Coates’ insight that enslavement involves the dehumanisation of specific individuals. Her brother’s voice serves as a poignant illumination of the dehumanising impact of mass incarceration on individuals and their dignity.

The book expands its scope to the essence of enslavement, transcending race and socioeconomic status. Plant argues that understanding the core dynamics allows readers to recognise how these issues manifest in their own lives. The conversation on justice and incarceration, she contends, necessitates continuous reinforcement until society addresses the unjust practices entrenched within the system.

Plant also sheds light on the personal toll of incarceration, emphasising that when one family member is imprisoned, the entire family is affected. Additionally, she draws parallels between her brother’s experience and the broader trend of dehumanizing American workers, linking the objectification of labor to the historical notion of people as property.

Rooted in her career studying literary figures like Hurston and Alice Walker, Plant’s perspective in Greed and Glory emphasises living on one’s terms and embodying ideals of freedom. She suggests that these writers, by seeing their communities through their own eyes, offer valuable insights into preserving creativity, joy, and a sense of self amid adversity.

As awareness of the consequences of slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration grows, Plant sees potential for meaningful change. She highlights political efforts to amend state constitutions and the 13th Amendment, viewing these as movements towards universal freedom. However, she underscores the importance of continued consciousness-raising to effect lasting change in societal actions.

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