13th on Netflix. At Once Damning AND Encouraging

black Image of scales on white background with the words, "calibrate the scales" overlaid. As with any set of scales, the scales of justice must, from time to time, be recalibrated. Total balance is never achieved, but all in the criminal justice and legal systems must strive for it as much as possible.





For anyone who cares about the direction America is going; for anyone who cares about American families; for anyone who is concerned about police brutality; for anyone concerned that America has become more like a Soviet Gulag than America…the new documentary film 13th should be seen. The documentary from filmmaker Ava DuVernay explores crime and punishment in America. It does so in a way that is reminiscent of Alexander Solschenizyn’s famous book, The Gulag Archepelego.

The film is as daming as it is encouraging. In fact, Fortune Magazine called the film, “incindiary,” which it may yet prove to be.

In this, my first ever review of a film on this website, I will share why I believe every American should see 13th. I will also share a solution I gathered from the film…something I have been saying for years, but did not see as a means of revolutionizing criminal justice in America.

13th on Netflix. More Than History.

Although 13th provides a lesson in history, it is far more than that. Exploring the roots of the prison problem now facing the nation, DuVernay captures the essence of the struggle for liberty among a growing segment of our populace. Following the political moves made by political elements seeking personal gain, the film demonstrates how the modern prison-industrial complex came to exist.

The documentary 13th seems to be divided into three parts, interwoven into a single, cohesive fabric. This could likened to a mirror of America with one part white, one part minority, and one part politics dividing all.

  1. Part One focusses on explaining how since the end of slavery after the Civil War, the 13th Amendment provided a foundation for a new form of slavery–the prison industry. With images from archives, the story is told how one clause of the 13th Amendment in particular was used to create the nation’s first prison boom.
  2. Part Two then explores how popular media, such as D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation was used to divide Black and White communities. The tool used then was fear and the film examines how fear and intimidation continued to be used into the modern age for the same ends. This part makes a strong and sound argument that African American men in particular were singled out as “dangerous,” and “criminal.” The result of that was fear with the goal being control.
  3. Part Three then considers the rise of the modern prison system. Starting with Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy, the film exposes the cowardly and insidious maneuverings of that adminstration. It further explores how Ronald Reagan expanded the Drug War as a means of further entrenching the fear used to maintain political power for his party. Finally, the documentary explains how various laws, such as those passed under the Clinton Administration, caused further growth in prison populations.

Yet, 13th is about far more than the struggle facing African Americans

If we accept the idioms,

Richard Milhous Nixon, 37th President of the U...
Richard Milhous Nixon, 37th President of the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia). The man who set about building power on the backs of Blacks while simultaneously setting in motion events which treaten the very fabric of America vis-a-vis the Drug War.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link

and,

A house divided cannot stand

Then all have an obligation to fight a criminal justice system gone awry. Why?

Because the modern Drug War has so weakened our nation that financially, we are on the road to collapse. If the United States goes bankrupt, the United States ceases to exist as a national entity. The Drug War, we now know and is highlighted very well in 13th, was started by Nixon and expanded by Reagan solely as a means of consolidating power.

These terrible men cared not for America, but rather their own hunger for power. They created a system which is now costing us to the point that only the most obtuse ignore the facts. One glaring fact is that we simply cannot sustain such a prison population any longer without serious repercussions to our economy.

Yet, there is more at stake than the Economy.

That more is the harm done to millions of innocent children forced to grow up without a father. Psychology tells us that to develop to our fullest potential, we must have both parents. There is no escaping that fact. ‘

Yet, by incarcerating millions, that is what we are doing. Thus, the problem only continues to worsen. We are now feeling the effects. These are…

  • shrinking middle class

    Official Portrait of President Ronald Reagan
    Official Portrait of President Ronald Reagan (Photo credit: Wikipedia). The man who grossly expanded the Drug War, causing further long-term devastation to America.
  • rising poverty
  • failing educational scores
  • fewer American youth entering engineering and such fields
  • civil unrest
  • antagonism towards law and law enforcement
  • and much, much more

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link means that we are destroying ourselves from within. We are damning future generations to senseless strife and struggle. Really, anyone with children, who claims to love their children, should consider the burgeoning prison populations a national disaster. By allowing it to continue, we are destroying their future. So what is the solution?

Money Rules America–Strike at the Pocketbook

In 13th, the filmmaker touches briefly on something that could turn the tide. It is a revolution of income. It is a revolution of time. It is a revolution of justice.




For decades, I have opposed plea bargains. I was once arrested on false charges. I was fortunate. I knew an attorney would did not require a retainer. So I hired him. Still, this attorney has made his living by advising most of his client to accept a “deal,” a plea bargain. Naturally, he pressured me to make such a “deal.”

However, a plea bargain is no bargain. In fact, plea bargains are only a bargain for politicians, namely District Attorney’s who enjoy victories based more on their win-loss ration than how well they meet justice. I will be writing more on this soon, but for now consider this.

In 13th, we learn a shocking, yet very real statistic. 97% of all those incarcerated accepted a plea agreement/bargain. It tells the story of one young man who refused such a deal and could not afford bail. Instead, he remained in prison three years at which time the charges were dropped because he was in fact innocent. Disgusting. He was penalized because he would not accept a deal. In America no less.

I bring this up because I, a white male, had a very different experience. I was able to get bail money and the next day, all charges were dropped. I refused to accept a “deal” when I was not guilty–same as the young man in 13th, but with a very different result.

But this also demonstrates how we can transform the criminal justice system without relying on political promises (which never transpire as they should). The solution is simple.

If everyone who gets arrested in America would refuse a plea “bargain,” the criminal justice system would grind to a stand-still. Politicians would have no alternative than to make serious changes to the system. The system is already backlogged in most communities; judges and courts cannot handle the caseload they now have thanks to politicians like Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton. All it would take for the entire criminal justice and legal system as we know it to implode would be if only another 3% decided to fight charges rather than lay down and let the system take them out.

Think about that.




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