I would not last a day in prison


If you want to see what the capitalist ideal for America is, just look at our for-profit prisons. They exploit prisoners ruthlessly.

Last year, West Virginia contracted with a company, Global Tel Link (GTL), to provide free tablets to prisoners. These kinds of initiatives are rapidly becoming more popular, as states grapple with the legacy of four decades of tough-on-crime policies and renewed public calls for more rehabilitative prisons.

And it sounds great. Until inmates realize the company charges users every time they use the tablets, including 25 cents a page for emails and 3 cents a minute to read e-books. By that calculation, most inmates would end up paying about $15 for each novel or autobiography they attempt to read. To people who have little to no money, that’s not a benefit. That’s exploitation. The only beneficiary, aside from Global Tel Link, is West Virginia, which receives 5% of the profits.

I imagine some team of piggy middle-managers in a corporation that realizes they’ve got the capitalist ideal: captive customers who have to buy what you’re selling, in an environment where competition is not allowed, and they get to charge whatever they want for whatever service they offer. They go hog wild. Let’s charge them for reading! After a trivial investment to pay the ridiculous demands of authors and publishers for royalties, the greedy bastards, we can demand a reasonable recompense for allowing them to view a book.

What else can we charge them for? How about taking the Vimes theory of socioeconomic unfairness and cranking it up to 11?

Many prisons now ban in-person visits, then allow companies to charge $12.99 or more for video calls. Prison phone calls can cost up to $3.99 a minute. Prison shoes fall apart within weeks, and replacements are only available from a special catalog. Only sweatshirts are provided for the winter. Meals are nutritionally insufficient and, over time, must be supplemented to maintain good health.

All these necessities — shoes, jackets, phone calls, canned tuna from the commissary — rack up fees well above the market rate on the outside. But they often aren’t paid for by prisoners, who have little or no means to earn income. They are paid primarily by families who are often among our poorest. This hidden tax drives already vulnerable communities deeper into poverty and hopelessness.

Oh, yeah, let’s punish people by depriving them of their liberty and gouging every penny we can out of their families, and disincentivize that absurd idea of “rehabilitation”. Prison serves the leeches.

This company, Global Tel Link, calls itself the “Corrections Innovations Leader”. Their only innovations, though, involve coming up with new ways to suck profits out of the pockets of those on the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder. They see a poor person, they see someone they’ll have power over to steal their last dollar. This is their lying mission statement.

At GTL, our mission is to create impactful connections and provide industry-leading service. We give incarcerated individuals the ability to stay engaged with their support networks by making meaningful connections through our products and services.

If you work for GTL, I hope you are deeply ashamed. If you work for GTL, you’re probably not…because you have to lack a conscience to work for that soul-sucking evil company.

Comments

  1. Akira MacKenzie says

    Oh, yeah, let’s punish people by depriving them of their liberty and gouging every penny we can out of their families, and disincentivize that absurd idea of “rehabilitation”.

    To may Americans, all of that are features, not bugs. According to them, incarceration is about punishment and “rehabilitation” is just soft-on-crime liberal nonsense. No, prisons are supposed to be hellish and cruel places where the “bad” people go to be locked away and potentially raped of killed. Making the “scum” pay for the room and board while they’re locked away is all sweeter. Why not rack up some nice fat profits off of all that human suffering? What’s more American than that?

  2. says

    I heard a scary thing the other day, which is that there are more black men in prison in the US now than were enslaved during the height of slavery. I’m not sure how to check that figure, but we passed “too many” a while ago.

  3. Dunc says

    Marcus, @ #2: I believe it’s “total correctional population”, which includes those on probation and parole, in which case it’s entirely plausible. The total correctional population was around 7 million in 2016, and black men account for around 40% of the US prison population. Meanwhile, there were 3,953,762 slaves recorded on the 1860 census. I don’t know what the gender ratio was, but 50% would be a reasonable starting point. (All numbers culled from wikipedia.)

  4. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Welcome to the capitalist paradise, where corporations are the real “people,” and humans are domesticated animals to be fleeced bald, milked dry and cast aside once they are no longer “productive”.

    It isn’t just the prison system. Our healthcare system doesn’t even try to prevent or cure disease any more. Managing it is so much more expensive. Also, lose your job and lose your insurance.
    Transport is on a profusion of toll roads if you don’t want to spend hours in traffic or on public transport.
    You eat what the corporations serve you in your particular market. If you are poor, you can’t afford fresh fruit and vegetables anyway.

    We still have government of the people, by the people and for the people. We just changed the definition of people.

  5. alkisvonidas says

    It’s like someone took the 19th century idea of a debtors’ prison and “improved” on it to make it a million times worse:

    Through the mid-19th century, debtors’ prisons (usually similar in form to locked workhouses) were a common way to deal with unpaid debt in Western Europe.[1] Destitute persons who were unable to pay a court-ordered judgment would be incarcerated in these prisons until they had worked off their debt via labour or secured outside funds to pay the balance. The product of their labour went towards both the costs of their incarceration and their accrued debt.

    Once sent to these hell-holes, people would accumulate additional debt fed by the cost of living there – which they were forced to do; imagine not even being allowed to be homeless! Their families, mostly women and children, would break their backs toiling to work off the debt.

    Charles Dickens’ father was sent to one of those, which gave us a lot of great literature, I guess. Now, if only we could put this literature to good use, and charge some unfortunate sod $2.99 a minute to read it… Ain’t capitalism great?

  6. harryblack says

    This entire system is beyond morally bankrupt.
    I dont think though that people who work for the company but do not make such decisions have anything to be ashamed of. We live in a system that forces us to go and find paid work at the cost of our values and dignity. A worker who had to take such a position has nothing to be ashamed of. The system also makes entry level positions humanly intolerable over long periods of time and so likewise, someone who felt so broken by such a position and took one the next step up the ladder has nothing to be ashamed of.
    The ones who should be ashamed are the shameless executive class who create this environment and with all the options open to them decide to go into such an industry.
    I do however think that anyone who supports capitalism should feel ashamed for these kinds of results in this and other similar situations. The suffering of the people you pass every day in the street and who bring you your lunch is in a tiny part, because of your consent to this monstrosity.

  7. fusilier says

    @#6 alkisvonidas

    The US was not behind Europe, at least in demanding that prisoners “earn their keep.”

    Look up the Ohio Tool Company. Starting about 1850, they used prisoners at the Scioto penitentiary to make woodworking planes. I dunno when they stopped that, but they were still in business as late as 1920’s

    fusilier

    James 2:24

  8. vucodlak says

    @ harryblack, #7

    I dont think though that people who work for the company but do not make such decisions have anything to be ashamed of.

    I do. I’ve run out of patience for the excuses of people who work for blood-money companies.

    Yes, yes, they “have families to feed.” And the people they’re helping to rip off don’t? By working for a company like this, they’re stealing the food out of the mouths of prisoners’ families.

    I have more respect for people who rob convenience stores than I do for people who work for outfits like Global Tel Link. I have more respect for most drug dealers than I have for people who work for outfits like Global Tel Link.

    We live in a system that forces us to go and find paid work at the cost of our values and dignity.

    It’s not the workers dignity that suffers here, is it? It’s the people who already have nothing who suffer. They shake down the most vulnerable of citizens with the threat of torture, and you dare say they have nothing to be ashamed of?

    “I was just following orders” is the excuse by which the worst atrocities in human history are committed. Yes, the people who give the orders are worse, but the people who give the orders only have power as long as people are willing to follow them.

    It’s not that the people who work for these companies don’t have choices. They absolutely do. It’s just that their other choices are harder, more unpleasant, and require more work. I get taking a shitty job that you’re slightly ashamed of because you need the cash and you don’t feel up to fighting for a revolution. As long as it DOESN’T HARM OTHER PEOPLE I won’t judge.

    But once you decide you’d rather take blood money than scrub toilets or strip or do telemarketing or one of hundreds of other potentially-demeaning jobs that doesn’t involve extorting the desperate, then I lose all sympathy for you. You become part of the problem, and you belong up against the wall with your bosses. I’m not saying it’s completely and forever unforgivable- you can still change, to work to atone for your crimes, but unless and until you do you are one of the baddies. In my book, there are few things that are truly unforgivable, but you have to make an effort, not excuses.

    It’s true that the system and the execs deserve more of the blame, but the rank and file are who make it all possible. You don’t have to be a revolutionary, but you also don’t have to be a footsoldier for the oppressors.

  9. says

    The obscenity of private prisons also exists in Australia. During the recent bushfire crisis one of these was in the direct path of a major fire front. The prison was evacuated except of course for the prisoners. Now you might think government run prisons would respect their duty of care and be accountable. Not so. When this story surfaced a former inmate of a government run prison reported a similar experience several years ago. With a bushfire bearing down on them the guards were preparing to evacuate when a prisoner asked what would they do. The reply was “escape or burn.”

  10. VolcanoMan says

    @10 vucodlak

    I agree with you…in principle at least. But “as long as it doesn’t harm people” is, when taken to its logical conclusion, pretty expansive. One could make the argument that participating in most capitalism is harmful to SOMEONE. Buy a computer – harm the people who are getting underpaid and overworked in lousy conditions to make it. Shop at any of the massive conglomerates that now monopolize the retail industry (Amazon, Wal-Mart, etc.) – harm both their exploited workforce, and the people who, due to the various predatory business tactics of the aforementioned companies, and economies of scale, cannot compete in that market anymore. And considering that the consent we give to at best, endure capitalism, and at worst, to further its goals is 100% manufactured by the people who benefit the most from this globalist hellhole that they’ve created, how is someone who chooses to work for this company any worse than you or me? Short of disengaging entirely from the world of consumerism, which is more or less impossible in certain localities (and possible, but incredibly difficult elsewhere), the only choice people have, provided that they know enough to understand the VAST empire of exploitation they’re supporting, is to participate in movements with the ultimate goal of tearing this all down.

    And even if you do this, you have to be careful that you’re not actively INCREASING the suffering of people in the present (and short-term future), in the service of some unknown distant future utopia (…he said to the people who voted for the Green party in the last US Presidential Election, rather than biting their tongue and voting for Clinton). White people like myself are the least affected by the Trump regime (and me even less, since I’m Canadian…though his actions have arguably harmed billions of non-Americans) – some people don’t have the luxury of investing their time in “changing the system” via normal electoral means, even if they would benefit more in the end would they do so. Merely surviving in Trump’s America is hard enough. The amount of harm Trump has caused, and the DECADES of time it will take to counteract some of his worst actions (if it is even possible to do so in the case of the urgent climate change crisis) speak to the pragmatism we need in politics today (we can work towards tearing down capitalism WHILE voting for the lesser of two evils…the two things are not mutually-exclusive because there is no current path to dismantling capitalism BY ELECTORAL MEANS in America). And mitigating people’s suffering in the short term is important – it is in fact a matter of life and death to so many people whose voices we aren’t hearing (yes people are dying because of Trump…just one tiny example is the global gag rule, which harms potentially hundreds of millions of women of reproductive age over dozens of countries). Furthermore we all know that for every step forward Americans take, they GOP will be right there trying to pull everyone two steps back. Obama did a lot of terrible things as president, but at least he tried to improve the health care of people who had no insurance, and still, even though the ACA is a treasure trove of bureaucracy, half-measures, and pandering to massive corporations, the GOP is trying to dismantle it. So it makes sense to get the best deal possible for the largest number of people, in anticipation of corporatist douchebags reversing so many of the policies that are levelling the playing field (this is in fact the INVERSE of what Republicans always do…they overreach intentionally, knowing that it makes it harder to reverse their work completely), WHILE working towards a true revolution.

    So I hope Bernie gets elected, and wish him well in his quest to reform capitalism. But I don’t think the change America (and the world) needs is available through the normal democratic process represented by a two-party system in which there is no reasonable alternative that would ever stand a chance of going up against the dual MACHINES of the DNC and RNC. I hope I’m wrong, and that things can change for the better without drastic measures being taken. But it doesn’t seem to matter what politicians actually accomplish (at least in the USA). There is a cycle…you give Democrats power, now you give it to the GOP. A president wins an election, his party loses seats in the next midterm. The politics of balance, of seeking some ideal middle ground, has capitivated the country (well…it’s captivated the media at least, and people still trust the media…or at least THEIR media), plus there is the reality that different cohorts of people have high turnouts in different elections (a backlash against a president and his party is far more effective at getting out the vote than that president re-affirming their committment to the things they’re already having trouble getting accomplished). And through all of this morass of bullshit is the base reality: when there is massive disagreement on what our goals should be, and how to prioritize them, it’s basically impossible for a society to progress towards achieving one particular goal in some rational, linear fashion (and I’d argue that this one goal NEEDS to be destroying the fossil fuel economy, ensuring that at least non-renewable fossil fuels remain locked up in the ground forever). So…this all makes me pretty damned depressed. Sorry for being such a downer.

  11. vucodlak says

    @ VolcanoMan, #12

    And considering that the consent we give to at best, endure capitalism, and at worst, to further its goals is 100% manufactured by the people who benefit the most from this globalist hellhole that they’ve created, how is someone who chooses to work for this company any worse than you or me?

    There’s a difference between serving in the German army because you were drafted, and volunteering to be a guard at Auschwitz. Both, ultimately, serve evil ends, and the truly moral thing to do would be to refuse to serve at all and join the resistance, but I don’t fault people for doing what I can’t find the courage to do.

    I willingly do evil. I do a great deal of evil. I am an evil man. I freely admit all that, but I still have standards. There are lines I will not cross. I’ve been tempted, because it would make my life so much easier if I just said “fuck it” and sold whatever shriveled bits of soul I have left, but I won’t do it. Further, I’ll spit on anyone who does. Evil, remember.

    So I’ll use the products of slavery. I’ll keep money for my selfish pleasures, rather than giving it all to charity. I’ll participate in exploitation, and I won’t make it my purpose in life to seek out and make war on the slavers and torturers, even though I know what they do and where they are. I hate myself for it. I can’t even look at myself in the mirror. I tell myself “what could I do against an entire world economy based on evil?” but that’s just an excuse.

    But I won’t wield the lash. I won’t enslave someone for my personal benefit, and I will free slaves if I believe it is within my power. I won’t risk further harm to those I consider truly innocent. Those are my lines, and if someone as evil as I am won’t cross them, then I feel no compunction to spare those who do. If that’s evil of me, well, I’ve done far worse.

    And even if you do this, you have to be careful that you’re not actively INCREASING the suffering of people in the present (and short-term future), in the service of some unknown distant future utopia (…he said to the people who voted for the Green party in the last US Presidential Election, rather than biting their tongue and voting for Clinton).

    Yeah, um…. no. Any substantial change is going to increase the suffering of people in the present and short-term future, regardless of whether the change is for better or worse. People, by and large, don’t deal well with change. If it’s any consolation, most of the people who will suffer in a change for the better aren’t innocent, and those who are tend to be resilient.

    We should try to minimize suffering, of course, and never cause suffering for suffering’s sake, but cutting out a vicious and pervasive cancer like exploitative capitalism is always going to cause some hurt. It’s unavoidable, and the longer we wait the worse the pain will be. The thing to keep in mind is that leaving it alone guarantees an agonizing death.

    Trump himself is a particularly malignant tumor, and the thing to have done would have been to remove him with a scalpel before he had a chance to dig in too deep. Now it’s far too late for that. The cancer has metastasized and spread throughout the body. A knife won’t be sufficient, anymore, and the treatments necessary to purge the body of malignancy will be ugly indeed. Suffering is guaranteed; survival is not.

    As for the Greens: My only objection to those who voted to ‘burn the system down’ is that there was no chance it would work, and they knew it. If you want to burn it all down, then you mix up a bunch of Molotov cocktails and head for the business district. I’m not advocating this course of action, mind you, but if you really want shit to burn you’d best bring a real fire.

    Maybe we should just get it over with, and burn it all down. Whatever happens from here, it’s going to be painful. I don’t like our chances for survival, but survive is what I intend to do, and hopefully without crossing any of my lines. I hope to help other people survive, somehow, someday. For now, I’ll just keep muddling through, because I haven’t the faintest idea of what I can do in the current mess to make things better.

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