Self-made prisoner fights for justice

Former convict Michael Tabon is fighting to decrease the number of prisoners in the US by building and living in a prison cell in a vacant Philadelphia parking lot for 30 days.

A parking lot. A prison cell. A man inside.

The inmate, Michael Tabon, moved in of his own free will. But first he spent 30 hours building the prison cell. It’s made of plywood and even parts of his own home’s rooftop. This generator strategically placed right behind the self-made cell, keeps the place lit and warm throughout the cold winter month.

The main goal of the man once convicted of armed robbery is to bring down the number of prisoners in held throughout the US.

Slavery does still exist in the United States of America,” Tabon believes.

To him and his supporters, enslaved are over 2 million prisoners packing jails across the US; the country with the highest prison population in the world.

You have to eat, sleep and use the same restroom in the same area where you are laying your head. It’s disgusting to me. It’s atrocious,” said Philadelphia artist Elgin Groove.

The ex-con has been teaching children about the horrors of prison life to deter them from crime in the future. This is also a message Tabon hopes to get across to the masses, writing a book of the same title.

From inside his cell, Michael lends support to those for whom crime is part of everyday life.

They are dragging me through the system right now,” said one visitor.

The self-made convict said one of the biggest problems is American prisons is big business.

When you are getting 33 thousand dollars a year to incarcerate a human being – it’s kind of like if I told you – go out onto this parking lot – and for every rock you bring me, I’ll give you five dollars – how many rocks would you bring me?” asked Tabon.

And in this dire economy many youngsters are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

You can’t lock the whole country up. Especially during the recession, crime and poverty are synonymous. If you got poverty – you’re gonna have a crime,” he remarked.

Tabon cites a flawed justice system for the high conviction rates especially of the poor, with lawyers selling freedom to the highest bidder.

If you can’t afford to pay for the case – you’re going to get crazy time. Whereas the counterpart that does have money is going to get a little bit of time. That’s not justice,” said the activist.

Locals are attracted to Mike like bees to honey. In their town the problem is too large to ignore.

Six, seven and eight hundred are getting arrested each day,” said one Philadelphia resident.

With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the US boasts almost a quarter of the prison population of the planet.

Haircuts are Tabon’s biggest talent – a talent he acquired behind bars, where his creativity was born, and later led him here.

The man will remain in his cell until the end of the month by which time he hopes his message will have hit home.

Until then, he believes, “we are all in a hole”.

Glen Ford, the editor of the Black Agenda Report said the visual protest sends a great message to those who may be unaware of America’s prisons issues.

He argued the US has a problem with mass incarceration and targets poor minority groups overwhelmingly.

Mass black incarceration is not a priority item,” he said. “This problem probably proposes the greatest threat to black societal cohesion.”

He added the black community sees the mass incarcerations as pay back for the black freedom movement of the 1960s.

You can see it in the numbers,” Ford said. “From 1970 to 2005 the prison population in the United States has increased 700 percent. That’s two and a half times the increase in the population of the United States. And the ratio of white to non-white prisoners has reversed. In the 1960s the US prison system was 70 percent white and about 30 percent black and other non-white. Now it is the reverse.”