As I sit in an un-airconditioned prison and watch the news, I see a lot of college kids talking about criminal justice reform. That’s all well and good, but as they tuck themselves in their dorm beds at night from a day of hard studying(or just hard drinking), know those beds were probably made by prison slave labor. Sleep well.
Before I became a tutor at the plumbing school here at Buckingham Correctional Center (BKCC), I worked for several years in a Virginia Correctional Enterprises (VCE) metal/wood shop. There we made metal and wood furniture for various state and local agencies, but the ones that VCE made the most money off of were state colleges and universities.
They had at VCE what they called “dorm season”. This is when all the colleges and universities would place their orders for new furniture. The slaves(umm…I mean “prisoner workforce”) would then make all the stuff during the late spring and summer so it all could be ready for mom-and-dad’s pride and joy in the fall.
Now the prison shop I was in was not a pleasant affair. It was not air conditioned and, with the heat being thrown off the machinery, it was often well over a 100 degrees most days in the summer. The slaves (there I go again… I mean “prisoner workforce”) worked hard while the slave drivers(oops…I mean “supervisors”) sat inside an air conditioned office and watched YouTube videos. What made it worse was that the exhaust from their office AC units discharged into our workspace, making it even hotter than it already was.
What did us slaves(darn it… I mean”prisoner workforce”) get for our hard work? Between 55 and 80¢ an hour. Generally–at top pay–that meant you’ll probably make less than $120 a month working your ass off.
So what’s a liberally-minded college kid to do?
It’s often not as simple as petitioning your dean to stop buying VCE’s (or your state’s prison industry) furniture. In the state law of Virginia, for example, if VCE can make what a college/university wants in the time period specified, they must buy it from VCE.
I know. Crazy, right?
So here’s what I suggest. You and your fellow college students find out who your state delegate and state senator are. Next, pressure them to put forth a bill that says state colleges and universities (as well as other state and local agencies) don’t have to buy from VCE. And finally, once the law is passed, tell your dean that the decor doesn’t suit you and you want furniture that doesn’t smell like sweat and suffering.
So how about it kids? Do you want to change the world?
Well first change your living arrangements.
And your sheets every once in a while. They’re disgusting.