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Products Sold by Companies using Prison Labour

Products-sold-by-companies-using-prison-labor-from-letter-from-imprisoned-man-by-Jahahara, Celebrating International Workers’ Day!, Culture Currents News & Views

Other side of the walls! Several months ago, i received this powerful copy of a hand-written graphic from a young incarcerated brother. Please take a good read, act in truth and with justice and share with others. Amen. Asé. – Photo: Baba Jahahara

Jail Inmates Worked for a $16 Billion Company Without Pay. Now They Want Their Wages.

“They’re making money off of using us prisoners and we’re not getting anything in exchange.”

The Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, CaliforniaSalwan Georges/Washington Post/Getty


The last time Bert Davis was booked into Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, California, he was assigned to Housing Unit 31, the pod for inmate workers, and promptly sent to work in the facility’s industrial kitchen.

This was routine for Davis, who had cycled in and out of Alameda County’s main jail over the years, either awaiting trial or serving sentences for minor charges like drug possession and joyriding. He had a reputation as a hard worker who was willing to volunteer for extra shifts or stay overtime.

He never had an opportunity to say no to the kitchen assignments, Davis says, but in any case, he didn’t want to. Working gave him a little freedom of movement and a chance to spend days outside the cramped cell where he bunked with about 30 other men. He got to walk in the sun on his way to work, and swipe whatever extra food he could grab—maybe an orange or a packet of Kool-Aid with ice. “Ice is a big thing in there,” Davis, now 49, tells me. “A piece of ice and you’re living like a king.” These minor perks made it “better to be slave than it is not a slave,” he says. 

When he was arrested in October 2018 and couldn’t afford bail, Davis was sent back to Santa Rita. He spent the next four months working eight hours a day in the kitchen. Monday through Friday, he prepared trays of food that were wheeled on robotic carts to the housing units or shipped to jails in nearby counties. The work was overseen by employees of Aramark, a $16.2 billion multinational food and facility services conglomerate. Since at least 2006, Aramark has held contracts worth more than $94.5 million to feed Alameda County’s inmates. Neither Aramark nor Alameda County paid Davis for his labor.

Now, Davis and seven other current and former Santa Rita inmates are suing Aramark, Alameda County, and Sheriff Gregory Ahern in federal court, arguing that the company “receives an economic windfall as a result of the uncompensated labor of prisoners confined in Santa Rita Jail.” The plaintiffs claim that their unpaid kitchen jobs were forced labor, a violation of the Constitution, the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and a 1990 California law that requires private companies to pay prisoners fair wages. They’re suing on behalf of all Santa Rita inmates who have worked for Aramark, including people awaiting immigration proceedings.

“Santa Rita and therefore the county are stealing the wages that have been earned as a result of the work of the prisoners,” says Dan Siegel, one of the lawyers representing the kitchen workers in their class-action suit. “We speculate that it’s at least millions.” Siegel and the plaintiffs argue that they should have received wages on par with Aramark’s non-incarcerated employees and could be eligible for overtime pay under California’s labor code.

Inside the Santa Rita Jail kitchen Alameda County

In a legal filing, Alameda County has said that if anyone is on the hook for inmates’ unpaid wages, it’s the “private business” that employed them. “The whole operation is run by the Aramark corporation,” says Sgt. Ray Kelly, the sheriff’s office spokesperson. “We just kind of facilitate.” (The county has also argued that the inmates did not follow the proper steps for filing grievances before suing, as federal law requires.) Kelly explains that the county’s arrangement with Aramark is less expensive than paying wages and benefits to non-incarcerated employees. The county also makes money by selling meals made in the Santa Rita kitchen to jails in Amador and San Joaquin counties. (Aramark did not respond to a request for comment.)

The lawsuit is part of the growing movement against a prison labor system which pays inmates cents on the hour (or nothing at all) for doing mandatory cooking, cleaning, and maintenance, or work for private companies. While the 13th Amendment bans slavery, it makes an exception for work performed “as a punishment for crime,” essentially permitting forced labor in prisons. During national prison strikes in 2016 and 2018, prisoners in several states stopped work, refused food, or staged sit-ins to draw attention to injustices they likened to modern-day slavery. “Overseers watch over our every move, and if we do not perform our appointed tasks to their liking, we are punished,” strike organizers wrote in 2016. “They…have replaced the whip with pepper spray.” A series of recent lawsuits has made the case that immigrants locked up in for-profit detention centers, most of whom have not been convicted of a crime, are illegally forced to do menial jobs for little or no pay to maximize private prison companies’ profits.

The origins of the Alameda County suit can be traced back to a former inmate named Scott Abbey. Last February, Abbey read an op-ed about alleged civil rights violations by the county’s Sheriff’s Department. With Davis’ help, Abbey, who was serving a sentence in Santa Rita at the time, convinced about 30 inmates to sign a letter (below) to the article’s author in which he described poor working conditions in the jail kitchen. Abbey’s letter eventually made its way to Siegel’s law firm. “They’re making money off of using us prisoners and we’re not getting anything in exchange except for one better meal per day, and maybe easier living,” Abbey says.


The suit—which its lawyers believe could be the first of its kind involving a county jail—alleges that sheriff’s deputies forced inmates to work by threatening them with solitary confinement or longer sentences if they refused, or with firing if they needed take a sick day. Davis says that when he tried to take a day off to attend a GED class, he was threatened with being “rolled up”—fired from his job and transferred to another housing unit. Both Davis and Abbey say they know inmates who refused to go to work who lost up to 30 days of “good time” credits, extending their time behind bars.

Kelly, the sheriff’s spokesperson, says inmates were allowed to quit their jobs or turn down kitchen assignments without punishment, but those who refused to go to work could face disciplinary action including losing good time credits or commissary access. “This is not a free society,” Kelly says. “You’re in jail, under jail rules. You have to comply with those rules.” But he stresses that inmates who volunteer for kitchen jobs “really do enjoy the work” because it offers a way to pass the time and socialize.


Prison, Profits And The Black Community

prisonsAs major cities move towards decarceration and are closing jails and prisons, smaller cities and rural communities are incarcerating people at higher rates. Image: MMG

  • Incarceration can cost an average of $60K per inmate in some states
  •  In 2017, there were 1,549 black prisoners for every 100K black adults

On any given day, U.S. jails now hold more than 730,000 people. While most of the urban poor are susceptible to harsher treatment from law enforcement which has resulted in the high incarceration rate of minorities, it is in small cities and rural communities where the prison population is growing. As major cities move towards decarceration and close jails, smaller cities and rural communities are incarcerating people at higher rates, and investing heavily in jail expansion at the expense of taxpayers.

Why This Matters: The United States is the global leader in prison population, which has implications on taxpayer spending.  In 2011, it was reported that the U.S. Department of Justice estimated that local communities spent $22.2 billion on jails. In some states, it’s as much as $60,000 per inmate and is often the case that taxpayers foot the bill for meals, housing and securing people in state and federal penitentiaries.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimated that local communities spent $22.2 billion on jails

The prison system has become a big business. Did you know that for-profit prison companies started in response to the government’s inability to handle the skyrocketing incarcerated population? The government uses these private companies to build and manage local jails. Private companies earn billions of dollars for services to incarcerated people often with little oversight, ranging from phones, to medical devices and facilities.

It’s especially stunning when you breakdown the  racial makeup of U.S. prisons that continues to look substantially different from the demographics of the country as a whole. African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at a rate that is 5.1 times the imprisonment of whites. In 2017, blacks represented 12% of the U.S. adult population, but 33% of the sentenced prison population. Whites accounted for 64% of adults but 30% of prisoners.

Situational Awareness: In 2017, there were 1,549 black prisoners for every 100,000 black adults, nearly six times the imprisonment rate for whites (272 per 100,000) and nearly double the rate for Hispanics (823 per 100,000). Though Blacks have long outnumbered whites in U.S. prisons, there has been a significant decline in the number of Black prisoners in the last decade. Even with the decline, in 2017, blacks still make up one-third of the prison population, and are still continuing to have a detrimental effect on our communities, in terms of employment opportunities, education and even infant mortality.

This article by Christopher Pitts was originally published by CultureBanx. It is reposted here with permission. Read the original.


Comrade Malik in Texas forges strong solidarity with the POW Movement in North Carolina

A major goal of prison activists in North Carolina in recent years is to stop the funneling of youth under 18 into adult prisons, where they are more likely to be raped and to commit suicide.

Time for all Amerika’s prisoners to rise up

by Keith ‘Malik’ Washington

“The essence of slavery was coercion of the most primitive kind. The relationships between master and slave were characterized by mutual distrust, fear, hatred and undisguised force. All slaves, whether the proverbial Uncle Toms or Nat Turners, recognized that production could not take place without the daily use of physical or psychological violence.” – Manning Marable, “How Capitalism Under-Developed Black America” (Haymarket Books)

Revolutionary greetings, Comrades! Now, y’all see I always be finding some of the livest quotes to share with y’all as we begin to embark on the next chapter of our struggle to throw off the yoke of modern day prison slavery from around our damn necks. As that brother said in the movie “Amistad” – “We want free!”

The 86th legislative session ended in the state of Texas, and these folks in the state Senate didn’t do a damn thing to address the conditions down here in these slave kamps and gulags run by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

We down here still dealing with this fraud ass “good time” and “work time credit” scam. We still workin’ for free and gettin’ treated like some modern day Kunta Kintes and Kizzee. At 1east Kunta had sense enough to fight back.

You know what, I think a lot of sisters and brothers down here with me are finally tired. I think we may be ready, y’all, and what better time to stand up than on Oct. 1, 2019, when prisoners from all over the United States will be joining our comrades in North Carolina who are with the Prisoners of the World Movement?

Today I am making an official call to all prisoners in all states across the U.S. to get it on they mind! Y’all already know that for us who are trapped in the numerous prison systems across the U.S. that First Chance Act didn’t do a damn thang for us.

In fact, there really ain’t a lot of people who are going to really benefit. All of them are in federal custody, and if you really analyze the financial backing of the law, it comes up lacking horribly. I guess Donald Trump and his son-in-law don’t think we can read! They talked all that big talk and didn’t get enough funds to support all that rappin’.

In my opinion, it was a propaganda move to pacify the growing number of citizens who are sick and tired of the love affair America has had with targeting and locking up the most vulnerable and disadvantaged populations.

I ain’t going to rap y’all to death. Let’s look at the platform of our comrades in North Cackalacky. I know some of y’all have seen this already, but let’s look at their 10 demands – I think you’ll agree they are worth standing up for.

Prisoners of the World Movem ent Demands

1) Offer parole opportunities to all prisoners, even lifers who demonstrate rehabilitation

2) End long term solitary confinement and administrative fees for rule violations

3) End 85 percent mandatory minimum laws

4) End JPay practices that only allow persons on the prisoner’s visitors list to send the prisoner money

5) Provide better food, health care and dental care

6) Pay fair wages for prisoner slave labor

7) End unreasonable mail censorship (hell yeah to that!)

8) Amend the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as well as Article 1, Section 17, of the North Carolina Constitution, to remove the slavery clause

9) End SRG (Security Risk Group) rules that prohibit gang members from visiting with their wives, fiancés and children

10) Provide more meaningful job opportunities, rehabilitation and education

Well, last year it was the comrades in South Carolina who made the call. This year, North Carolina and Petey Pablo are making the call.

Y’all know what it is – North Carolina! Rise up! From the Bay Area to Texas! From Georgia to VA! From New York to Washington State and all those in between!

It s time, y’all! Every year this thang keep getting’ bigger and bigger. Last year we had prisoners from 17 different states stand up. All I can say is, “Come on, Texas! It’s time to represent!”

I’m going to end this with a shout out to Jay-Z, Meek Mill and Van Jones with Reform Alliance! And of course I must send out mad respect to the big homey J. Prince, and all the go-getters and change-makers at #MOBTIES.

But I would be wrong as hell not to pay my mad respects to Brooklyn, the Bronx, Harlem, Strong Island. Yeah, y’all! I got to give it up to the homey Hocus45, French Montana, Cardi-B. Unity and solidarity – we up in here inside the belly of the beast. We need y’all, all of y’all to come check on us. Support our movement!

Dare to struggle, dare to win, all power to the people!

RIP Nipsey Hussle! Your legacy and spirit will be kept alive.

Keith “Malik” Washington is co-founder and chief spokesperson for the End Prison Slavery in Texas Movement, a proud member of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, an activist in the Fight Toxic Prisons campaign and deputy chairman of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party Prison Chapter. Read Malik’s work at Send our brother some love and light: Keith “Malik” Washington, 1487958, McConnell Unit, 3100 S. Emily Dr., Beeville TX 78103