Land of Extraction: How Prison Industry Settled in Central Appalachia

02-09-18 03:02:00,

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Driving the roads of any small coal town settled within the central Appalachian Mountains, it is easy to see the beauty of the landscape. However, this beauty is concealed by lasting embodiments of capitalist ideals, including rusting coal tipples or large swaths of mountains destroyed by mountain top removal mining, built on the bodies of the region’s inhabitants who have been continually abandoned and exploited. Well documented is the level of destruction and exploitation residents continue to face following over a century of reliance on the coal industry.

Less evident is the alarming shift in the idea of “extraction” taking place. As mining operations in the area continue to fade, prisons now fill the void. This expansion furthers a level of labor exploitation documented since the earliest days of colonial practices in the United States. The mining industry capitalized on the external ownership of the region’s resources, forcing the population into a state of constant economic precariousness. Maintaining a high level of economic control dissuaded potential non-coal-related wealth from entering the area, demanding Appalachians rely on the industry as a singular economic savior. This economic dominance perpetuates the institutionalized generational poverty in the region, and supports the construction of demonstrative labels for the purpose of maintaining such control.

To some outsiders, this population falsely represents a region of “trash” used for the progress of others. Research documents the existing intra-racial tension housed in the white population of Central Appalachia. The use of the term “trash” in tandem with the power and privilege associated with “whiteness” creates a historical anomaly for the purpose of cultural separation. The connation of such language forces these individuals to the edges of the construction of “whiteness” and labels them as a lesser working class.

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