Prison is big business

Uncapher, Kenneth J.



Prison is big business. If it were legal it would be listed as a fortune 500 company. But this conglomerate is not supported by shareholders or a board of trustees. Instead, its funds are generated by the hardworking middle class and lower class citizens of anyone that is unfortunate enough to have a loved one incarcerated (or I should say warehoused), in the Michigan Prison System. Which puts a huge strain on an already failing economy. There is a common misconception that prisoners get everything for free. This could not be further from the truth. Most people think that we sit around and watch free cable on free t.v.'s. Or that we have free gym and sport equipment. Another is that we have access to free college. These, however are all false. Everything I have mentioned is paid for out of the Prisoner's Benefit Fund (PBF). The PBF is generated by our prisoner store, fund raisers, and vending machines in the visiting room. The common thread in all of these? They all depend on money from people in the free-world, or from the State pay we make at various jobs, which unfortunately have not been raised in over 30 years. The average pay a prisoner makes is around $20.00 to $25.00 a month. So lets do some comparing. Well say the person in the free-world is making around $35,000 a year (before taxes) or about $17.00 an hour. At an 8 hour day that's about $136.00. We'll start off with a couple of basics. So for example an essential item such as deodorant costs about $3.75 + sales tax (yes we pay sales tax). After tax the deodorant is about $4.00. The average prisoner making around $1.14/day would have to work for 4 days to buy one deodorant (and no there isn't a cheaper one). That's the equivalent of our free person paying $544.00! A better example would be our $5.00 co-pay on medical visits. When we get sick or injured and need to see a nurse (not a doctor), we pay $5.00. That's the equivalent of the free person paying $680. A t.v. costs $150.00 and an electric typewriter costs $200.00. The free person would pay $22,176 for the t.v. (a 13" LCD) and the typewriter would cost a whopping $29,000. This list could go on forever, but my point is that the State ensures that it would be impossible to live in here without even a modicum of comfort, without the help of our loved ones. Which in turn the State reaps the benefits. An ingenious way our State government devised to save money was by out sourcing to a private, out-of-state company for the food service. When they took over the quality of the food took a nose dive (such as maggots in the food). The portions were also cut which forced more people to buy food from commissary, which forced more people (free world tax payers) to send money. Do you see a pattern here? But if the name of the game is money saving, how about this? A self sufficient prison system. This is not just a fantasy. There is huge potential to make this a reality. The biggest costs for any business is labor, right! Well, the highest paying jobs in the MDOC are at Michigan State Industries (MSI). An average worker makes around $70.00 - $80.00/mo. That's less than 50¢/hr! Do you know anybody that would not only be willing to work for that wage, but would also stand in line to do it? I know about 40,000 of them. That's the number of incarcerated people in Michigan. A huge potential work-force that is willing to do the job no one else wants to; for mean slave wages. So, we've got the work-force ready and willing to report for work. But where will they work at? As I mentioned already the MSI factories already in existence only employ a small fraction of the prison population and are only at a few prisons. Well the thing is, most facilities have enough room to put up a small factory. Plus there are a number of facilities that are closed. These could also be used by building a new factory and housing less prisoners. Which in turn would reduce the total unemployment level. These new factories could be used to make just about anything, from boat hulls to license plates (cliche I know). We could build furniture or cabinets. The possibilities are endless. Maybe it doesn't have to be a factory. Why not a produce or dairy farm? We already make our own clothes and mats to sleep on, why not grow our own food? And this should be State-wide, not some personal 100 sq. ft. garden. We could turn the closed facilities into small farms. There's enough of them and enough property to do it. Granted, the start up costs might hurt in the beginning, but the money saved (not to mention the skills that would be taught to the prisoners for dare I say the "R" word - "Rehabilitation"), would more than outweigh the start up costs. Now if we really want to think out-of-the-box, lets try this. Make it an option to work for good time days. You just eliminated the most costly aspect. Some would opt for the cash, but I guarantee that the majority would choose good time over the money. Unfortunately good time is just a faded memory of a bygone era. But just for a second imagine how much the State would save with a self-sufficient prison system. Imagine the relief the tax payers would feel. I guess my point is that while there are cities filing for bankruptcy and a governor crying that the State is broke, why not try? There must be a very good reason why nothing is done, right? Alright, lets get back to the "R" word. Rehabilitation seems to be a taboo concept in Michigan. Some classes are offered I'll give you that. Such as Thinking for a Change or Violence Prevention. That's all well and good, except classes like that won't help you get a job when you get out. So say you are an employer and this guy hands you a resume. On that resume you see that he took Thinking for a Change during his 5 years of incarceration. Maybe your reaction would be better if it said that he earned an associates degree in whatever job he was applying for. The vocational classes that are offered have a waiting list so long most guys can't even enroll, and those classes for the most part, are unaccredited. So what good does it do to take them at all? I know that the public was in an uproar the last time free college credits were offered to prisoners. But you have to figure, "this guy is potentially going to be my neighbor," wouldn't you rather have him educated and better rehabilitated? Or maybe just warehoused tor years and pushed through a class that the State gets a federal grant tor? I know which one I would rather have near my family. And if you're a lifer, forget about it! Lifers are literally put at the bottom of every list for every class. That is if they are even put on it at all. As a lifer myself, I have tried to take as many classes as I could such as Cage your Rage and Violence Prevention, but I was told that the spots in those classes are reserved for prisoners close to their release date. Which is totally understandable, but wouldn't it make sense to offer some kind of classes like that to lifers? I mean, by definition they are the most violent offenders, right? Instead of warehousing lifers (and long term offenders), why not offer classes just for them? Or leave a few slots open in the other classes? They say that idle hands are the devils playground. Well just think that a person gets convicted for life or long term years, and he is literally doing nothing for years (as far as the State is involved). If you're lucky you get a job and exercise a little, and watch more t.v. than any person should. Now lets say that some person gets a commutation after doing nothing for 30+ years. Would you want to live next door to him? I'm in that same category and even I wouldn't want him near my family. It reminds me of a comic I once saw. There's a conveyor belt with normal dogs on it leading to a box labeled MDOC. When they come out on the other side of the box they look like rabid pit bulls. Then a crane picks them up and puts them back on the conveyor belt. And that is exactly what happens in prison. I'll give you that some are rabid before they even get here. But most just made a stupid mistake that they will have haunt them for the rest of their lives. How many people do you know that have made a bad error in judgment? Probably more than a few. The difference is that prisoners are forced to sit around for years and think about how they are going to stay out and make it when everyone has given up on them. To literally just sit for years and get pushed through a useless class and thrown back into society. No skills or education other than how to be a better criminal. In with the normal dog and out with the rabid pit. But according to the State government, that system works. Well at least it does for the people that stand to make money from a swelling prison population. And we're right back where we started. The rich few getting richer off of the other 99%. Just like any other company except that this one affects everyone in so many different ways. Just remember the next time you drive past one of Michigan's many prisons or parole offices, there's a State-made rabid pit bull coming to your neighborhood courtesy of your local DOC.

Author: Uncapher, Kenneth J.

Author Location: Michigan

Date: October 24, 2016

Genre: Essay

Extent: 5 pages

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