I was once incarcerated for almost two decades in the Department of Corrections of the state of Georgia. Everything that I touched and ate was produced by prisoners incarcerated in the state of Georgia, and not one prisoner was compensated for their labors. At present we have a problem with producing mask and ventilators for the people of the United States of America. And part of that solution is right within our grasp.
In the state of Georgia, prisoners produce the food that is served by prisoners. The prisoner's milk cows for milk. They plant, tend, harvest the farms which produce food to serve over 50,000 inmates. Prisoners cook the food. The produce the uniforms and boots prisoners wear. Prisoners manufacture the soaps. Prisoners clean the clothes. Of course, there are civilian, non-offenders supervising them. Prisoners make the furniture through PrisonIndustries. And some of the desks and chairs are shipped off to the courts and to the governor’s mansion.
Prisoners use tools. They build the prisons. In Georgia, the prisoner labor force is referred to as Mobile Construction. There are prisoners whose details require that they be transported on vans and Blue Bird busses to different venues. Again, prisoners do not receive on penny for their labors.
Moreover, in many Georgia municipalities and small towns, prisoners are marched to a van or bus and do roadside services such as pick up garbage and debris, clean public parks and tend to cut grass.
My proposal is that America can put prisoners to work producing the masks and ventilators for the entire population under strict supervision. There are 2.5 million prisoners in the UnitedStates in federal and state prisons. They are a labor force. Pay them a wage – not necessarily commensurate with what they make on the street – and allow them to produce for themselves and for their fellow citizens the masks and the ventilators and the other equipment the nation needs to fight this pandemic.
Yes, the masks are not made by unionized workers with the union label. Yes, a corporation may not be gaining huge profits. But it is time to put away our narrow concerns and look towards the greater good. Prisoners working on this program for producing masks and ventilators can be separated much like they do with the Mobile Construction program in Georgia. Then together America will fight this dreadful disease together.