The following has been transcribed (with minimal edits for clarity and format) from hand-written letters by our correspondent “Leather,” who is currently serving a sentence in the Orleans Justice Center—a.k.a. Orleans Parish Prison, or OPP—for charges related to a family dispute, subsequent warrants, and the labyrinthian carceral state in general.
MODERN DAY SLAVERY
This is a very interesting topic I’m writing today because for me it’s touchy and real close and dear to my heart, and it’s how jails make money off their inmates and keep revenue flowing. There are various ways jails make money, and the one I’m writing to you about today is the New Orleans inmate workers program, which is funded by taxpayers’ hard earned money. It’s supposed to help inmates, business owners, and the economy of the city by using inmates, and that’s a perfect word, using. People who own businesses participate in this program by promising to hire inmates to work for a little more than 10 dollars an hour, and the jail takes 65% of that. I’m sure the businesses get some type of kickback from the city or state or both.
Now let me explain how the inmate program works. OK, there’s a company called Summit Food Service and how it works is, this company rents the jail’s kitchen for who knows how much. They hire very few free people and the rest are inmates. We are supposed to get paid 3 dollars a day which is 18 dollars a week. The jail picks certain inmates with minor charges, puts them all together in one dorm, works them 6 days a week, 10 hours a day. The work is hard as hell, and you’re standing up 9 hours straight under awful working conditions. But unlike slaves we do have a choice; we can work in the kitchen, earn 3 bucks a day, and get to leave our dorm for 10 hours, which helps the day go by much faster. Or we can go to OJC [Orleans Justice Center] where you just sit in a dorm all day everyday, where time seems to stand still. The days in OJC are long, hot, and boring so it’s much better to work in the kitchen, but it’s still wrong and unethical to be treated in this way even if you are an inmate.
Today (January 29, 2020) was one of the best days ever in the inmate worker program because today all the kitchen workers went on strike, because we haven’t been paid in 6 or 7 weeks. It’s crazy that as far as I can remember jails and prisons have always used inmates. But on January 29, 2020 I myself witnessed and was part of one of the greatest acts I’ve ever seen in my life in jail, and that was all the inmates stood together and refused to work. It was beautiful because the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office depends on us inmates to feed the whole jail, 1,200 inmates, and at 3 a.m. when they came to get us for work we all refused to turn out for work. This caused all the sheriffs to panic because they had to do all the work without aid from the inmates. There’s only two deputies and maybe three Summit workers, they had to attempt to do the work of 12-14 inmates theirself. It was funny because at that point they realized not paying our 18 dollars a week really made us come together as one and stand up for our rights.
They sent Major Ruiz down to talk to us and try to resolve the matter. All of a sudden they produced a check and showed it to us. We proved our point, and all went back to work. It’s obvious the money was there the whole time. The reason I say this is paid slavery, our forefathers went through the same thing. Back in the days it was only Blacks, now it doesn’t matter what color you are, you are just a number. I know a lot of you think slavery doesn’t exist but it does. They don’t trade us on the open market but slavery is still real. It’s crazy that after everything this country has been through we still have the highest incarceration rate in the world. Something has to be done about the way our judicial system handles its cases. Jails get paid every day for each inmate they house, this is the reason they hold you so long on simple charges. I myself been locked up a whole year on a simple assault charge because the longer they hold you the more they make. The D.A. is not worried about the well being of a person or his human rights, to them it’s just modern day slavery.