Slavery in the Lone Star State

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[Prison Labor] [Texas]
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Slavery in the Lone Star State

Forcing humans to work for free - a term better known as slavery - was abolished in America almost 150 years ago. Most know slavery still exists in 'less civilized' parts of the world, but to consider this abominable treatment of people to be ongoing in our country is unheard of. Perhaps it's because few know. Well down in Texas, the business of slavery is brisk. When told of this fact, the average American is certain to express shock and demand to know the details. Upon being informed that prisoners in Texas work for free, most are happy to let out a sigh of relief and lose interest in the subject. So, in essence, forced labor for no pay is tolerated. Because the ones involved are convicted criminals seems to make this practice okay.

But is this really okay? Shouldn't prisoners be compensated for their labor like everyone else is? Prisoners in other states are, so why not Texas? Shouldn't they be able to provide for themselves while in prison and their families on the outside? As a prisoner(or "offender" as we're called) in a Texas prison, I well know that if you're not fortunate enough to have someone sending you money to purchase items from commissary, you're SOL, as the state only provides the bare essentials. Concerning hygiene, once a week (if you're lucky), you get one roll of toilet paper, a disposable razor, tooth powder and soap. Maybe four times a year toothbrushes are issued. That's it! Deodorant, toothpaste, shampoo, t-shirts, shower sandals, writing paper, etc., you gotta buy. Even a personal cup to drink out of and a bowl and spoon to eat with are not free. But how can you buy something if you don't have the money? For those who pay child support the fees don't stop when they become incarcerated. But how do you pay when you work for free? Something to think about.

In addition to maintaining the prisons themselves, offenders toil long hours in TDCJ (Texas Department of Criminal Justice) sweatshops under the guise of TCI (Texas Correctional Industries), which manufactures everything from furniture to mattresses to cleaning supplies. Many of these products are sold to outside agencies and the private sector at a profit, not to mention the t-shirts, shorts, socks, thermals, shampoo and liquid detergent offenders make, that TDCJ turns around and sells to us through the prison commissaries. Considering their labor is free, it's safe to assume the state's profit margins are great. What Wal-Mart, or say, IBM, wouldn't give to have a complimentary workforce.

TDCJ officials will be quick to say that offenders may not receive actual money to work, but are paid with good time and work time. Not entirely true. Those serving sentences for aggravated crimes are not eligible for good time and work time (even though they work like everyone else). Nonviolent criminals such as myself do earn these time credits, but they are often not honored. So what's the point in even allowing them to be earned in the first place?

It's like working for someone who says they're going to pay you so much for your labor at the first of every month. You work all month for this employer and fulfill your end of the agreement. At this time, your boss says "Oh, I decided not to pay you. But keep working for free, maybe I'll pay you next month." For the most part, that is what's happening to prisoners in Texas. What a shame it is. With my earned time credits, I have five and a half years done on a three year sentence, yet I'm still in prison. My projected release date was February 1st of last year (when my total time credits equaled a hundred percent of my sentence), but it was still denied by the parole board - despite being a model prisoner. Rumor has it, the parole board often denies prisoners who stay out of trouble and demonstrate reform. Why? For "manipulating the system." So I guess those who act up have a better chance of getting out early. Perhaps I should start being a troublemaker, might help me make parole the next time I come up.

Many prisoners in the Lone Star State put in years, and decades even, of thankless free labor for the state. Upon release from prison they are rewarded with a bus ticket and one hundred dollars. Some of these ex-cons have no family and no place to go. How far can one get towards rebuilding a new life on a C-Note? In this year of 2011 I wouldn't say very far. A one night's stay in a cheap motel, set of thrift store clothes and a few fast food meals at the most. I suppose us in the big house can consider ourselves lucky. Those serving state jail time in such TDCJ facilities, must work for free also, and all serve their sentences day for day; but when released, they get not a dime. If they have no one to pick them up, they are dropped off at the nearest homeless shelter. Broke, unemployed, and with nothing but the clothes on their back, they're basically being set up for failure. What are the odds of them returning to crime? Great I'd say.

There's the saying, "Texas is like a whole other country." I agree completely when it comes to criminal justice. Not only do other states pay their prisoners to work, good time and work time is guaranteed. Is there a correlation between the Texas prison mass slavery operation and its high recidivism rate? Highly likely. This too is something to think about.


MIM(Prisons) responds: This prisoner points out some important facts about the labor situation in Texas. As we've reported elsewhere the labor situation in prisons throughout this country is similar to what's described here. But the prison system in this country is not the same as the economic system of slavery. Prisons are a tool of social control rather than a way of exploiting labor.

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