Guitarist and singer-songwriter Moe Shinola of Kansas City, Missouri, produced a protest song to coincide with the launch of the national prison labor strike on September 9.
Called “Abolish Legal Slavery,” it specifically highlights what Shinola described as the “corporate exploitation of prison labor” and the “prisoner exception to the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
The chorus names Lucasville, Menard, and Pelican Bay, which are facilities where prisoners have engaged in resistance in recent years. It notes the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising, and that the same struggles back then continue today. Then it declares, “Strike in solidarity/Abolish legal slavery!”
In the first verse, working for 15 cents an hour in the plantation states is highlighted, and in the second verse, Shinola sings, “Hope you don’t need no doctor today/not without a hundred bucks co-pay,” noting the abysmal state of healthcare in prisons.
The song also acknowledges the hot conditions in prisons contributing to deaths at facilities because of no air conditioning. As Shinola puts it, prisoners are “ridin’ that heatstroke straight to Heaven.”
“Abolish Legal Slavery” is a kind of a folk blues work song. It has a clap that could be considered the metronome, which keeps the prisoners on pace while they do their forced labor. Slide guitar gives it that down south on the plantation feeling.
For those interested in the technique behind the music, Shinola shared, “Made in Energy XT 2.7 with a beat using public domain hits and claps I found on freesound.org, Dim Pro, home-made slide guitar loops, home-played lead guitar, and my vocals. Plugins used included Blockfish, Buzzmaxi 3, ThrillseekerXTC Blue, Acon Digital Multiply, and CM MFX-Rack.”
One person who commented on the song likened the track to the work of Ry Cooder in 1980s, and whether intended or not, there certainly are elements from the track that evoke Cooder’s style.
The prison labor strike—work stoppages—continues in several facilities, especially at the Holman Correctional Facility in Alabama where the Free Alabama Movement recently reported guards walked off the job in protest of conditions and in support of nonviolent protest from prisoners.
Listen to “Abolish Legal Slavery”:
For a full playlist with all the “Protest Songs Of the Week” that are available on YouTube, go here.
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