I ran across this piece (article) about Whole Foods buying tilapia from a prison fish farm. The article slams the practice because the farm uses inmate labor who receive $1.50 and hour and have very few “rights”. First, $1.50 an hour in prison is pretty good. During my five years in Federal prison the MOST I received was around 25 cents an hour. There were guys making up to $1.50 an hour working in Unicor or the commissary, but that is the exception.
Second, I think the author of the article is being short-sighted as the inmates are receiving valuable training in a skill they may actually be able to use once they are released. I saw this every day with guys working in the print shop, landscaping and other skill jobs in prison. They may not be getting rich, but they were earning some money for the commissary or to send home and they were also learning a trade to help them succeed on the outside.
So I applaud Whole Foods for supporting the training of these inmates and I encourage the author to step back and consider the full picture before judging. Most inmates enter prison with very little education and few honest skills. Anything that helps them gain valuable training offers them a better chance and a reduced risk of recidivism.
In most prisons inmates are required to hold a job unless they are physically unable. During my 5 years I held many different jobs. I cleaned tables in the cafeteria, worked in the chapel and held the always glamorous job of cleaning toilets. You can also work in the laundry, landscaping, barber shop, and recreation. Federal prisons also have the opportunity to work in UniCor, which produces various good and services delivered specifically to the government. They manufacture clothing for the military, process patents for the patent office, sew clothing for inmates, run print services for government offices and other similar services.
Pay for non-UniCor jobs ranges from about $5 to $200 month (starting at about 15 cents an hour) depending on the job. The most desirable jobs with the best pay are in the commissary and cooking in the kitchen. In Unicor, you can make up to $300 or so a month. As the cost of phone is up to 26 cents per minute (around $70/month) and use of email is 5 cents per minute, the money can disappear quickly.
I recommend finding a job as soon as you hit the compound. It takes time and effort to get into a good position, but it is possible. You will need to get to know the corrections officer in charge of that work detail and show up regularly and persistently to demonstrate your reliability and dependability. It also helps to get to know the head orderly on the detail as they tend to have some say in who is hired. At times, it is possible to pay a little homage to them with some ice cream or something to grease the skids a little.
Ultimately, work helped me learn some discipline and humility. It taught me to serve others and not get caught up in my own pride. It also helped me stay busy and active. God used the time to teach me lessons I didn’t learn when I should have learned them earlier in life. I tried to live by Colossians 3:23 – “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”