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The logistics of human warehousing

By Rodney Morgan II

Two pairs of pants, five pairs of underwear, three pairs of socks, two sheets — all once every six months. One small green bar of soap per month. One hundred percent mark-up prices. An average of $.12 per hour wage. A prisoner in the Michigan Department of Corrections receives only the barest minimum of care, services and necessities as the laws require.

Prisoners are forced to wear their clothing (both outer and undergarments) for days on end, to go to work, to yard, to visits, to school, to chow, to health care and anywhere else they are told to go, without the benefit of laundry. Even handwashing clothes becomes problematic because of how little soap is passed out and rules against hang drying clothing and linen. Disinfectant is occasionally distributed, but is so watered down that little potency is left.

Bathroom facilities are overcrowded with 60 prisoners to one bathroom, 20 to one toilet, 15 to one sink, and 30 to one shower. With the four daily lockdowns for count and the housing unit closings from midnight to 6 a.m., this causes facility crowding overload, lines of prisoners waiting to shower, brush their teeth, or eliminate waste — all in the same immediate area.

prisonThe Department of Corrections and private food service contractor Aramark take great pride in just how little it costs to feed us prisoners. As part of the recent bidding war over the food service contract, Aramark was required to reduce the cost to feed prisoners by 10 percent. Now they claim to be able to feed prisoners on less than $2 per day while meeting daily calorie requirements as determined by policy directive. Aramark makes no such claim about daily nutrition. Three chocolate honey buns can provide more than the needed daily calories, but none of the vitamins, minerals and other assorted essentials for good health.

There is almost no concern for education. Adult Basic Education and General Educatiuon Development students are crammed into small rooms, 15-20 students per teacher for an hour a day, working at a pace mostly set by themselves — a pace most incarcerated students have already demonstrated a lack of concern for. As soon as some program starts up, whether it’s a re-entry class, a private-funded college prep class, or some other news-gathering, money-making venture, the ABE/GED classes get shoehorned into other ABE/GED classes with dividers cutting the room space in half.

Communication with friends and family can be problematic, depending on the means and technological know-how of those friends and family. With one phone in the housing units for every 30 prisoners, it can be a challenge to get one. The price averages around 20 cents per minute, depending on if the call is debit or collect. If the prisoner is paying the bill on his own wages, he would have to work two hours just to call home for one minute. The cost of postage to send out a letter, increasing every year, in a world of email, text and twitter, is becoming an increasingly less viable option. And concerning instant messaging, prisoners and their friends and family are forced to use a single provider, JPay, contracted to exclusively provide accounting and messaging services. In order for a prisoner to send anyone a message online, the reciever must have an account set up with JPay. Email accounts and other services they may already have are inaccessible to the prisoner. And if the friend or family member wants to send the prisoner money digitally, JPay levies a surcharge which increases the more money sent. If the funds are sent by money order, for which there is no surcharge, it could take up to 2-3 weeks to process.

Lastly, health care services has been an ongoing atrocity for many years now. Patient care has been based on cost-effective treatment. The prisoner store sells allergy pills, aspirin and cold medications and over-the-counter items. The first response of prison health care professionals is that they will not give away any items available for prisoner purchase — without taking into account whether or not the patient can afford these items and despite charging a$5 co-pay. Another serious issue is the misdiagnoses of illnesses, of which there is on-going litigation addressing this problem, a problem that has not only destroyed some prisoners’ health, but has cost some their lives.

It is said that the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by the way it treats its prisoners. The United States treats its prisoners as though they were commodities to be wrung dry of pennies for the pockets of the very few. For those that maintain and fill prisons, it’s less a matter of indifference, humanity, or even justice, and more a matter of greed, hatred and vindictiveness that motivates people. Michigan incarcerates massive amounts of people, including its children, despite the enormous cost to taxpayers and the defunding of public transportation, education and the welfare for the poor. It’s like a doctor who gets paid by the amputation, telling the patient to cut off his own arm because of a hangnail.


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