Before we begin, just a little reminder that my short story was published in an anthology late December and is now available for purchase at select retailers.
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Just last month, I wrote a post about prison labor. Apparently, some prisoners in China were working for a private company to produce Christmas cards that would later be sold in England. One of the workers managed to sneak in a note inside a card, which was later discovered by a British girl. What is so potentially controversial is that it seems that prisoners are forced to work while serving their sentences. I am not sure what kind of compensation they received (if any) while working on those cards. The message on the card asked that whoever found it get in touch with human rights groups.
In the comment section in my December’s post some of you spoke against forced labor, while others thought it was a good way to rehabilitate inmates. What we all agreed on was intolerance of abuse. After all, prisoners are humans, too. We are not excused from treating others badly just because they committed a crime. If you were wondering if there was a continuation to the prison-tainted Christmas cards story, then keep reading.
Once the whole world heard about the note in a card bought from Tesco, multiple ex-prisoners came forward to speak their truth. Leo claims that he spent three years packaging sticky notes, face masks, gift bags, and labels. If he were to refuse, he would be punished by being banned from making phone calls home. On top of that, he would not be eligible to get his prison sentence reduced. To me, that does not sound like a terribly demanding job. And should any prisoner just be able to get their sentence commuted because of their right to freedom? I thought reduction in the length of your sentence is obtained mostly through good behavior. As far as I know, simply not committing any new crimes while you are in prison is not sufficient.
Other former prisoners confirmed Leo’s version of the story. They said that if someone did not want to work, they would be tortured. Moreover, they complained about being deprived of “so many things” if they chose not to work. I do not want to work, either, yet somehow I arrive at my desk every single morning five days a week. If I refused, I would be tortured by my landlord who would throw me out on the street, by the electric company who would cut my power, and by restaurants by not providing me with food. Life just is not fair. Do you agree?
These poor prisoners had to work five to six hours a day. Supposedly, they only earned about 3.5 pounds a month. Now, I agree that is not fair. I definitely could not live off of that. But what do these prisoners have to spend their money on? Everything that I have to pay for (housing, utilities, food), they get for free. Leo goes on to say: “Nobody wants to do this kind of work. Some people want to learn new things.” To me, that is degrading and disrespectful towards the honest people that perform those tasks on their own “free will.” Yes, I would rather do something else than what I do Monday through Friday, but I still do it. Not many people want to work in the waste industry, but someone has to do that. It is a job like any other.
It turns out that it was Leo, half a year ago, who wrote that note found in a Christmas card last December (according to The Guardian). He is now out of prison, but is glad to hear that his message made it out and that it might help others still imprisoned. Oddly enough, another source names the author of the message on the card as Antoine. Tesco suspended the Chinese supplier due to the “forced labor” performed by prisoners. They launched an investigation into their practices.
Today, I bring to you another prison story. This time, straight from the U.S. Even thought the general premise is similar to the one above – working prisoners working, it is a very different story. The article I read is about a woman who has to work to pay off her debt. Ridiculous, right? No one should ever have to do that. I say that as I look at my credit card statement. The ideas people get… I swear…
Back to the story. The woman works at a fast food restaurant and lives in a restitution center. She shares a room with seven other women in a building converted from a motel. Why does she have to do it? She embezzled $13,000 a decade ago. She has been paying her way out by earning minimum wage. Aside from paying for her crime, this woman also has to pay for “room and board,” which takes the burden off of taxpayers. While the Chinese prisoners were forced to work, people at the restitution center do not have to do anything. The caveat is that they accrue more debts by staying there (“rent”).
You must be curious how this woman came to be at the restitution center. Well, one day, while at work, she saw her car being repossessed by the dealership. What that means is that she was driving a car and not making the payments to which she agreed when she bought the car. Many people live paycheck-to-paycheck. I understand that. But when are people going to start making logical decisions? If you are struggling financially, think about getting a used car instead of the newest TRUCK model. How did this woman react? She created fake loans where she worked and basically stole thousands of dollars from her employer. This woman was also known for writing bad checks and stealing.
She got seven years in prison for embezzling. The judge was merciful and cut that down to five years of probation if she would pay $200/ month to pay back what she owed, plus $50 to the state for monitoring her. Because she fell behind on the payments, she decided to stop reporting to her correctional officer. That was a violation of her probation and it landed her in jail. It was then that she was ordered to the restitution center.
There is more. Dressed in a Nike T-shirt, one day, after being dropped off at work, the woman asked her co-worker to drive her downtown. There, she bought a bus ticket and went home. Needless to say, this woman’s former employer was unable to recover his stolen money. The woman ended up being apprehended and serving a prison sentence. Her time in prison was shorter than the time she would have to spend in the restitution center.
Mississippi is the only state in which the judge is able to lock you up for an unspecified time until you pay your court-ordered debt. The article claims that half of the people at the center have a debt of less than $3,515. The lowest debt is $656.50. The average time spent in the restitution center is four months, although some stay there even up to five years. Who goes there? People that owe money. One woman spent nine months there paying off $5,000 for wrecking her friend’s car. She complained that during her stay she struggled with depression and alcohol withdrawal. There was no one there to help her. I do not know if she still struggles with alcoholism now, but it seems to me that nine months in a mock prison should have helped beat it. Some people complained that the restitution centers do not help with getting a high school diploma. Why do we always demand, demand, demand? All we do is take, take, take. Do we give as much?
The good thing is that the restitution center assists people in finding jobs. On top of that, you do not go to prison. That should be something people should be grateful for. By finding them jobs, the system helps them prepare for the real world. It teaches them useful skills that can be applied in the future to lead a successful life. It almost seems that going to prison is easier than paying off a debt. In the latter example, you actually have to work for what you did. Think what you would do if someone stole $13,000 from you. Would you prefer them to go to prison for a few months, or have them repay you? There is no doubt in my mind that the second option would be better for me and more productive for society. The problem is that we seem to choose the easy way out. If there is no punishment, how will we ever stop crime?
How much do you think a prisoner should be paid?
What do you think is the best way to reform prisoners?
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