I am on vacation today, a paid vacation, in prison; just one day, but one day needed to compose my thoughts and celebrate having lived to see the age of fifty-eight. I earn one-day per month but I don’t take too many at a time because of my position at work with others who rely on my vast amount of knowledge that I obtained through years of experience. 🙂 At any rate, as a child my Mother and others used to tell me I would never live to see the age of sixteen if I didn’t change my ways, then their prediction on my life expectancy went to eighteen when I proved that one wrong, then it went to twenty-one, and then they gave up. My personal predication of my life expectancy was thirty-years-old, and so I was wrong too. Life goes on.
My primary position is as the document control clerk at the UNICOR factory in the Federal Correctional Institution, Edgefield, South Carolina. UNICOR, which is the trade name for the Federal Prison Industries, Inc., provides various services and products to their customers. Those customers used to be military and other government agencies, but now a pilot program called the Repatriation Act allows UNICOR to provide goods and services to private sector companies who would otherwise be sending the work overseas to a labor market UNICOR can compete with, whereas American companies cannot due to the differences in pay scales. In 2012 I wrote an unpublished essay titled “UNICOR & SOCIETY” and gave a copy to the Associate Warden of Industries & Education and told him I didn’t care what he did with it, to use it any way he could to help UNICOR. In it, I showed the beneficial value of society having UNICOR factories to provide federal prisoners with marketable job skills in order to prepare them for release into society, so that the prisoner can become a taxpaying citizens, rather than another tax liability. I also showed how UNICOR competed with overseas labor rates such as China paying its apparel workers up to $0.80 per hour, and companies in countries like Bangladesh paying their apparel workers a measly $0.22 per hour. I compared that to UNICOR starting its inmate workers at $0.23 per hour, and allowing only a limited few to progress to the hourly pay rate of $1.15 to a maximum of $1.65 for those who have worked there for seven years or longer and qualify for what is known as Premium pay, which I do not get paid due to the political aspect of the grading system at this particular facility. Nevertheless, only a few receive the upper figures for hourly pay–most work for incentive pay, which is where pay is based on production numbers. No production, no pay, unless the inmate performs some task approved by their supervisor to allow them to be paid at the hourly rate. For the overseas labor rate numbers, I relied upon Ken Silverstein’s article in Harper’s Magazine, January 2010, “Shopping for Sweat – the Human Cost of a Two-Dollar T-Shirt.” Now the factory I work in makes T-Shirts for the military and the Federal Bureau of Prison, but the T-shirts cost much more than two-dollars.
The cheap overseas labor rates allow American companies to buy goods and services from oversees companies and still make a substantial profit after paying the shipping costs for the goods to come from across the oceans or borders. In my essay I wrote, “One argument against UNICOR is that it takes jobs away from American citizens, which is partially true, in the sense that if inmates were not performing the jobs, someone in the free society could be. On the other side of the equation, UNICOR workers are American citizens, because illegal aliens being deported are prohibited from working in UNICOR by law and policy. Furthermore, inmate labor can compete with overseas labor rates in the textile industry, whereas American workers paid minimum wage cannot.” Now, whether or not my essay ultimately sprouted the Repatriation Act does not matter, even though the facts do suggest that it did, since UNICOR had never mentioned the idea until about six months after I had given the A.W. my essay. Whatever the case may be, I am just glad to see some work now staying in America to provide me and my peers with an opportunity to learn marketable job skills.
The Post-Release Employment Project (PREP) study on inmates who worked for UNICOR showed a 24% reduction in recidivism, compared to those who did not work in UNICOR. In my opinion, those statistics justify UNICOR’s existence and should have stopped the politicians from complaining about UNICOR and trying to shut it down, but it hasn’t. (For the Bureau of Prisons actual report, see http://www.bop.gov/resources/pdfs/prep_summary_05012012.pdf). UNICOR does have its faults and flaws, since it essentially became a “good-ole-boys fraternity” that wastes millions of dollars through poor management principles, such as targeting inmate pay and run-hours to reduce deficits instead of focusing on the larger more obvious issues, but even if a private company was to come in and take over the reins, that would be a better alternative than closing the doors, as has happened at several UNICORs across the United States, thus putting prisoners in the unemployment line. UNICOR is supposed to be an Inmate Work Program, so why are doors being closed on factories that fail to generate profits? Read more about my employer at http://www.unicor.gov.
Personally, I’ve learned to operate wood working machinery; how to manufacture electronic cable products; how to write instructional documents (technical writing); how to perform numerous office related skills, including how to audit procedures and processes in an ISO (Internal Organization for Standardization) certified factory. I help this factory to maintain their certification by being knowledgeable in the ISO 9001: 2008, Quality Management System requirements and by performing internal audits, teaching others how to do the same, and by participating in external audits performed by the National Standards Authority of Ireland. As a result of obtaining that knowledge and in learning those skills, my chance of obtaining employment or of starting a successful business upon release has increased significantly. Upon release I will be a productive member of society by using the skills I have learned while working for UNICOR at slave labor rates, and will become a taxpayer instead of a tax liability. I say slave labor rates because inmate employees have not had an across the board raise since 1990. However, the State of Georgia doesn’t pay prisoners for working, so I am grateful for what I do earn, which allows me to take care of my personal needs. It is amazing what one can do earning $1.45 per hour compared to zero.
Read my essay, “No Sympathy”, free on this site or you can download for free by going to my website (http://www.straightfromthepen.com) and clicking on the Smashwords.com link. You will see that you are reading the writings of a million-dollar man, who may not have cost the American taxpayers so much money if he had not become a recidivist. If I had learned marketable job skills while in prison and learned how not to shoot dope in the process (not mentioned specifically in my essay), I would have stayed out of prison, but I didn’t learn how to keep the needle out of my arm. In prisons as a young adult, I learned how to commit more crimes, and then became a recidivist after I got out and failed to succeed as a so-called, career criminal.
Anyways, let me explain to you from where I live and write. In my April 3, 2015, Blog post (“My Life in a Prison Cell in an Overcrowded Prison” at https://www.straightfromthepen.wordpress.com/2015/04/03/life-in-a-prison-cell-in-an-overcrowded-prison and waynedowdy.weebly.com), I gave a general idea about the bathroom where I live with another man. To be more specific, the particular bathroom in which I live, is about ten feet high, twelve feet long, and eight feet wide; has a white porcelain sink and toilet, a stainless steel mirror that is virtually useless due to being scrubbed with abrasive cleaning powder, thus making it user unfriendly. Inside the cell is an array of battleship gray items: small table with a swivel seat in the rear of the cell, one bunk bed, two storage lockers adjoined by a shelf, all mounted to dull-white walls or bolted to the floor to attempt to deter the vandals from destroying them; two sturdy, hard plastic foot lockers, stored underneath the bottom bunk. Other than those foot lockers and two small bulletin boards on the wall, everything else is concrete and steel. If you walked in the cell, which I hope you don’t, all but two wall-mounted lockers, table, and a large fluorescent light are on the left side. The cells to the right of me have opposite fixture configurations. I could complain about living conditions, but I know I am not in a Five-Star Hotel. I’m in prison; furthermore, I realize that many state prisoners have it much worse, so I won’t whine, much.
The administrative color of choice around here is battleship gray. Maybe it is preferred because of its dull and gloomy look, like fog, or maybe it is to give the place the feel of a war zone. I failed to mention the battleship gray door; steel plated, equipped with a vertical observation window and a bean hole for guards to push food and other items into the cell during lockdowns, when prisoners can’t come out to play or battle with each other. Also in the rear of the cell is a screened window so course that one could use it to sand concrete. Three, thick, tubular bars enhance cell decor. Each cell has two powerful water sprinklers capable of filling the cell within minutes with a black, foul-smelling, oily substance mixed in water. Each cell also contains a duress button for medical emergencies that many refer to as a Panic Button. If someone is trying to kill you, or if you are in need of prompt medical care, don’t expect to be saved. You’d die waiting for rescuers to arrive.
So much is the life I live. Myself, I have never depended on prison staff to protect and keep me safe. I am a man and know how to survive in the insane world of incarceration, and believe me, it is an “Insane” existence at times. Fortunately, I get along with most people because I treat them the way I want to be treated, staff and inmates alike. Reading my essay collection (Essays & More Straight from the Pen) will give you an idea about my life inside of prisons. Medically speaking, I bought several hundred dollars worth of medical books over the years so I could keep the medical personnel at various prisons from killing me with malpractice. Seriously, the medical knowledge I obtained has kept me alive. A pharmacist once put a medication in my hand that could have killed me if I had taken it, and that was after I had told the prescribing Physician’s Assistant that I was allergic to it. And even though my file is labeled as so, that pharmacist still handed me a drug that could have ended my prison sentence in 1991 when it happened, but, that wasn’t what was meant to be. Anyway, that incident started my survival crusade and has saved me numerous health-related problems that would have occurred if I depended totally on my keepers. It’s a miracle I didn’t succeed at killing myself with self-induced-abuse. My essays contain lots of incidents to prove we only leave this world when our time is up, and that bell just hasn’t rang for me, at least, not as of today. Maybe it won’t for a long while so that I can keep you covered with my life straight from the pen, even upon my release.
In my next post I will write about the Quality Assurance Apprenticeship program that I am a tutor in, as well as a writing class a friend asked me to set in on to help teach other prisoners the Art of Creative Writing. Stay tuned. Post comments or contact me if you like and I will answer all questions. Thank you. Let me get back to vacationing, now. Unfortunately, I can’t go to the beach or lake, out on a date with a lover, or go out to eat at a steak house, because my keepers would miss me if I were gone. Hopefully, by 2018 I will be able to do all of the above without having to worry about hound dogs chasing me down. 🙂
Wayne T. Dowdy, 39311-019, B-3
P.O. Box 725, FCI
Edgefield, SC 29824-0725
Follow me on Twitter: @DowdyFromThePen