I also believe that simply training some people to do farm work is not the
solution to the world's ills. I believe along with working on a farm
there should be social support groups and programs to help the prisoners
with whatever issues they are dealing with, along with educational
programs. I was envisioning more of a holistic approach to the problem of
an industry in need of affordable labor and a population of people to
easily dismissed by most of society.
I have visited prisons and attended a program run by inmates only, with no
guards present. At one point I was sitting inbetween a rapist and a
murder. I spoke with the inmates in small groups of 3's and I have to
say the experience made a profound impact. I listened as they spoke about
the cut backs in the system, turning off the air conditioning, turning
lights out early and cutting library hours. Many of the reasons why these
people are in prison do not begin at the crime, but start much earlier
in thier lives. Of course we need to start earlier to prevent people from
turning to crime. But we also need to deal with the existing prison
population we have now.
I 100% agree with your sentiments and am also opposed to labor
exploitation in all its forms. I never intended for this huge gap in
communication to occur, but I hope this helps to clarify it.
On Fri, 12 Mar 1999, Michele Gale-Sinex/CIAS, UW-Madison wrote:
> Howdy, all--
> I had way too many things to do today to respond to this thread...but
> here, late on a sunny Friday afternoon, with the office quiet and the
> downy woodpeckers zooming around singing spring, I had to.
> Shoshannah Inwood, at Oberlin, floated the idea of using prisoners
> for organic farm labor, as free labor, rather than other forms of
> labor, which cost money. Her justification was that organic ag
> requires more labor, and therefore to make it more economically
> viable, free labor was needed.
> As with any idea, the devil is in the details.
> Shoshannah posed this as an "economics of organic agriculture"
> issue. My heart froze when I read that. Solutions to the problem of
> low or suppressed wages for agricultural workers (a reflection of our
> not being able to afford to pay them what they deserve) do not, in my
> mind, include finding someone yet cheaper to do the work. For me,
> that economic view is part of what we in sustag and org-ag are
> fighting. Bottom-line thinking. Profit above all.
> > "There is a free labor source waiting to be tapped."
> There is no such thing as free labor--there are people we choose not
> to pay for their labor, or whom we choose to pay little. Labor is
> time and effort. Some people get remunerated for it. Some people
> don't. Farmers are among them. Prisoners are among them. Women.
> Already-poor people.
> Is this the vision we seek in sustainable and organic agriculture?
> Can we hope to build an alternative agriculture on the concept that
> is the linchpin of industrial/postindustrial mainstream ag (and
> economics): the devaluing of agricultural labor? Of people's time
> and effort?
> Is the suggestion that we can grow the organic farming movement on
> free labor performed by incarcerated citizens? Doesn't that
> institutionalize incarceration even further--for how could we
> sustain the movement in the long term without that source of free
> labor to support it? And if we sustain it on free labor, and the
> economics adjust themselves to require even cheaper means of
> production, then what?
> One of the ideas behind organic and sustainable agriculture is social
> justice. Social justice does not mean finding people who can work for
> free, while enriching others and putting other wage-earners out of
> work. It doesn't mean choosing a good idea like organic ag and doing
> Whatever to make it work. Social justice means fighting the long,
> hard battles and doing the tedious, boring work of finding policy,
> education, and social solutions that raise *everybody's* boats. And
> the means are every bit as important as the ends.
> Removing people's liberty, and making them do agricultural work for
> free--while saying it's the best they can do, being illiterate, and
> will make them better people, and grateful for the opportunity--dear
> gods in the green ground, but I thought that ended with the Thirteenth
> And lest you think race has nothing to do with this solution, I want
> to take a look at "prisoners"--put some statistics behind this
> mythic mother lode of free labor. Who are these incarcerated people
> that everyone--from the Corrections Corporation of America, to our
> own Gov. Thompson, to people in ag--is trying to Find An Economical
> Use for?
> Michael Isensee wrote of prisoners in Cathrine Sneed's prison garden
> > I do not know what is happening to these folks as they have moved
> > on, but the entire idea seems a lot better than just locking people
> > up in a cage and then, after they've served their sentence, think
> > they will become contributing members of society.
> What makes anyone think they weren't contributing members of society
> to begin with? What is this idea that, if someone is in jail, they
> must be career criminals or Really Bad People? Some of them are. And
> some of them are workers, parents, homemakers, students, farmers--and
> their reasons for being in prison equally complex.
> Cathrine's program is not designed as a for-profit entity, to bolster
> the economic viability of any commercial enterprise. It is a
> horticultural therapy project. What I saw in Shoshanna's posting,
> Michael, was a suggestion that prisoners be used to bolster the
> economic viability of organic farming. That translates as somebody
> making money off of free labor.
> Why are people in prison? Who are they?
> There are 1.7 to 1.8 million Americans behind bars. One in every 154
> citizens. As much as 80% of them are there for involvement in some
> violation of drug law. Corporate lockups hold about 80,000 citizens.
> And they are disproportionately African-American men and women.
> Only 11% of the nation's drug users are Black, however Black citizens
> constitute almost 37% of those arrested for drug violations, over 42%
> of those in federal prisons for drug violations, and almost 60% of
> those in state prisons for drug felonies. 
> Fifty-four percent (54%) of Black citizens convicted of drug
> offenses get sentenced to prison versus 34% of whites convicted of
> the same offenses. Forty-four percent (44%) of Blacks get prison
> sentences for possession versus 29% of whites; 60% of Blacks are
> sentenced to prison for trafficking, while 37% of whites are
> sentenced to prison for the same crime. 
> The United States incarcerates African-American men at a rate
> approximately four times the rate of incarceration of Black men in
> South Africa. 
> All major Western European nations' incarceration rates are about or
> below 100 per 100,000. In the United States, in 1995, the
> incarceration rate for African-American women was 456 per 100,000,
> and for African-American men 6,926 per 100,000. 
> 1.46 million Black men out of a total voting population of 10.4
> million have lost their right to vote due to felony convictions. 
> Given current rates of incarceration, three in ten of the next
> generation of Black men will be disenfranchised at some point in
> their lifetime. In states with the most restrictive voting laws, 40
> percent of African American men are like to be permanently
> disenfranchised. 
> One in three Black men between the ages of 20 and 29 years old is
> under correctional supervision or control. 
> Whatever the U.S. prison system is, it incarcerates African-American
> men at an outrageously disproportionate rate. At the same time,
> society lambasts them for not conducting middle-class, nuclear
> family lives as heads of households. (Note also that more than 2/3 of
> women behind bars in state prisons have children, as well.)
> The logical conclusion of what you're suggesting, Shoshanna, is
> drafting incarcerated African-American men and women to do
> agricultural work in order to support the economics of agriculture.
> As I said above, I thought that formulation, and the moral and
> economic justifications for it, ended on 6 December, 1865.
> Loren spoke of "those who have not turned to crime as a lifestyle."
> A lot of people in prison have NOT turned to crime as a lifestyle. A
> lot of people in prison are there because they were named as
> accomplices or designated as co-conspirators in drug cases, under
> new mandatory sentencing and "substantial assistance" rulings. A lot
> of people in prison are there because they could not afford
> representation to counter that of those prosecuting them. A lot of
> people in prison for drug-related offenses are there because there
> are no treatment programs to help them beat their addictions and
> empower them to build different lives.
> In the case of people convicted of drug transactions, some are there
> because they were named as accomplices or conspirators by
> higher-level drug-law violators, and mandatory sentencing has landed
> them in jail. Some of them were very low-level offenders who received
> far harsher sentences than the big dealers, who named them as
> conspirators in return for lesser sentences.
> If you'd like to read about that:
> PBS's /Frontline/ had an episode on this topic recently, called
> "Snitch," which investigated "how a fundamental shift in the
> country's anti-drug laws -- including federal mandatory minimum
> sentencing and conspiracy provisions--has bred a culture of
> snitching that is in many cases rewarding the guiltiest and punishing
> the less guilty. "
> Is this a system that we in sustainable and organic ag would want to
> ally ourselves with? Or is this part of the overall system that we
> are trying to change, at the level of food and land?
> Recently, folks on this list have been taking appropriate umbrage at
> Monsanto's use of Pinkerton detectives to get farmers to snitch on
> each other regarding the use of Monsanto products. We call can easily
> see what a violation of the social fabric and social contract this
> is, in our rural communities. Making spying, questioning, and
> second-guessing the norm.
> It's no different elsewhere--Main Street or the streets of the
> barrios, slums, and projects like where I grew up. When law or
> commerce are built on force, on violence, on the bottom line, and on
> mistrust, we end up with a society whose word is not its bond. And
> where there is little or no incentive for people to follow that
> standard. And where people are motivated by fear, rather than love.
> That is not to say there aren't decent and effective prison programs
> involving agriculture. Cathrine's is one. She is one of my heroes,
> and one of the highlights of my career in sustainable ag was getting
> to meet her last summer at the Second International Conference on
> Women in Ag.
> We (CIAS) reported in /the wisconsin foodshed/ last fall on a
> Walworth County, WI, project to supply its prison's kitchen with
> produce grown on-site. This was in collaboration with the Michael
> Fields Agricultural Institute. In that case, as per Loren's
> suggestion, prisoners are feeding themselves. They are supplementing
> an absurdly low prison system food allowance--78 cents per inmate
> per meal is what kitchen manager Steve Sylvester had to work
> with--with nutritious, organically grown produce.
> But nobody is profiting from their labor but themselves.
> Finally, Shoshanna wrote:
> > Much of the prison population is illiterate, farm work is a learned
> > low skill profession that does not require literacy. Individuals
> > would be outside growing food which would provide emmence
> > psychological and self esteem benefits as well as practical job
> > skills for their futures after prison.
> In my experience, working as an organic and sustainable farmer has
> required a higher level of thinking, judgment, and management
> skills, literate or otherwise, than many other kinds of work I've
> done in the past 25 years. Including some of the literate work I've
> done at universities, colleges, a law school, a state bar
> association, and in the media.
> I'm open to having my thinking challenged on this. But this idea has
> to be the worst one I've heard since a cluster of technocrats in San
> Francisco suggested that we could engineer life to patentable
> commercial specifications...and set out to do so. This isn't
> cyber-bashing, Anita--this is my strong reaction to an idea that was
> not very well thought through, IMO. I welcome dialogue on it.
> Below are sources and citations for my statistics above.
> For those of you who'd be interested, here is a dissenting opinion
> in a drug case, from the /Federal Register/, by Eight Circuit Federal
> Judge Myron Bright, with critique of mandatory sentencing and its
> effects on people of simple means who have committed small crimes:
> Sources for the prison statistics:
>  Sources: SubstanceAbuse and Mental Health Services
> Administration, National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Population
> Estimates 1996, Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health
> Services Administration (1997), p. 19, Table 2D; Bureau of Justice
> Statistics, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 1996, Washington
> D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office (1997), p. 382, Table 4.10, and
> p. 533, Table 6.36; Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 1996,
> Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office (1997), p. 10, Table
>  Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sourcebook of Criminal
> Justice Statistics, Washington D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics
> (1996), p. 501, Table 5.50.]
>  Source: Craig Haney, Ph.D., and Philip Zimbardo, Ph.D., "The Past
> and Future of U.S. Prison Policy: Twenty-five Years After the Stanford
> Prison Experiment," American Psychologist, Vol. 53, No. 7 (July 1998),
> p. 714.]
>  Source: Currie, E., Crime and Punishment in America, New York, NY:
> Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, Inc. (1998), p. 15; Bureau
> of Justice Statistics, Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics 1996,
> Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office (1997), p. 510, Table
>  Source: Thomas, P., "Study Suggests Black Male Prison Rate
> Impinges on Political Process," The Washington Post (1997, January
> 30), p. A3.]
>  Source: Jamie Fellner and Mark Mauer, Losing the Vote: The Impact
> of Felony Disenfranchisement Laws in the United States, Human Rights
> Watch & The Sentencing Project, (1998).]
>  Source: Mauer, M. & Huling, T., Young Black Americans and the
> Criminal Justice System: Five Years Later, Washington D.C.: The
> Sentencing Project (1995).]
> Michele Gale-Sinex, communications manager
> Center for Integrated Ag Systems
> UW-Madison College of Ag and Life Sciences
> Voice: (608) 262-8018 FAX: (608) 265-3020
> Pressure? Pressure was when I was a shoeshine boy
> trying to make it to America. --Sammy Sosa
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