What do you see in this photo? What did the hapless social media editor who decided to put this photo on the California Corrections department’s facebook page see in it?
It’s been shared 489 times as of this moment — which is 489 more times than a CA Corrections facebook post is typically shared — and if you judge from the comments, it seems fair to guess that most people are sharing it with some variation on “WTF.”
I imagine the fact that she looks relatively well and healthy, and is not wearing the usual prison attire (what’s with the jewelry and watch?) allows the fact that American flags are being made by essentially forced labor to scan as normal. In certain sense, it may even scan as a kind of opportunity for her, to “correct” herself through virtuous labor, and in doing so, cover up the fact that most prisons are simply warehouses for human suffering. Indeed, the photo originally comes from this story in the SF Chronicle, which has the same caption (except instead of “A female inmate,” they wrote “One inmate”) and puts the best possible spin on the program.
Many — indeed most — of the commenters are horrified. “The prison industrial slave complex is showing it’s muscles!” is a common sort of sentiment, and the words “slave” appears 18 times.
“I don’t know why everyone is getting all bent out of shape over this. America was built on the backs of slaves and the CA corrections is acknowledging that by sharing a photo of one of the many forms of slavery still prevalent in America.”
A few of the comments are economic. “A lot of flags were made in China, til people realized the hypocracy and wouldn’t by them,” someone notes; another: “So I guess THIS is how we get “made in America” stickers on them? We can’t even pay a worker minimum wage to get a damn flag made?” Someone else proclaims: “Pretty fucked up. Pass laws making almost anyone a criminal so you can get cheap slave labor.” And another: “every job done behind bars (for a for profit enterprise, no less) is one less job available outside of prison. Our penal system is supposed to focus on rehabilitation, not maximizing private profits.”
Some defend the system; One asks, “So what should those who are incarcerated do? Nothing? I was always taught that work is good for the mind and body.” Another commenter notes that “These systems are often voluntary” and links to a site describing the purpose and functioning of the CALPIA program:
“CALPIA’s job assignments are voluntary-offenders are not required to work; however, offenders are generally eager to participate, as waiting lists are common for many CALPIA assignments. The CALPIA work assignments can help offenders learn work skills and habits to become productive members of society.”
But most of the commenters reject this line of reasoning. One demands that:
“It’s just bizarre to me to call that “voluntary.” If I were to keep you in a cage, charge exorbitant prices for you to have phone conversations with your loved ones, and kept you in a constant state of fear of sexual assault, then offered you a chance to step out of your cage to make a flag, you might take it, but I wouldn’t call you a volunteer.”
While another notes the Amendment abolishing slavery:
The 13th amendment makes two exceptions to INVOLUNTARY servitude – people in the military and people in prison. What kinds of “work skills” does someone master making less than $2 an hour in a prison sweatshop (besides pride, of course). The site linked above gives the reasons for this program. #1 is taxpayer savings. Slavery is inexpensive.