Letters From Prison 2006 #5- “Get a Job”

“Get a Job”
by Steve Clemens, FPC Duluth. April 24, 2006

Occasionally, while vigiling for peace at the Lake Street/Marshall Ave bridge between St. Paul and Minneapolis or at the headquarters of Alliant TechSystems in Edina, makers of cluster bombs, land mines, depleted uranium
munitions and other weapons of mass indiscriminate destruction, someone will drive by and yell "Get a job!" The assumption is one that "working for peace" is not a "productive endeavor." Peacemaking should only be a
secondary activity because it doesn't help boost the GNP, provide more consumables, or produce a paycheck.

Some of my friends have found a good middle ground: they work for nonprofits building homes for needy families, provide social services for immigrants, teach peace studies or conflict resolution, help children with increasing communication skills... All of these "jobs" bring in income (often lower than typical "market economy" jobs) and simultaneously make our world a better place.

I took a less conventional path to "get a job"--federal prison. But now I'm "gainfully employed" at a whopping 12 cents an hour. I have both great "job security" (these prisons can't afford to "outsource" my job) and good
co-workers. Most of my fellow inmates have been friendly, helpful, and generous. There are always the exceptions to this, like in any work place.

The biggest downside is 'the boss.' While some prison guards and other 'staff members' try to maintain their humanity, the caging of humans, coupled with legalized slavery is bound to take a toll on the oppressor as
well as the oppressed. (I say legalized slavery because the 13th Amendment, which prohibited slavery in the U.S. made one exception: local, state and federal prisons).

I have been assigned to the 'dish pit' in the Food Service at FPC Duluth. All meals are served through a food line on stainless steel trays divided into 6 compartments. We have plastic 'silverware,' plastic drinking
'glasses' (for both hot and cold beverages), and plastic bowls. Inmates are encouraged to eat quickly, as there are seats at tables in the food service for only about 250, with a prison population of 902. When finished eating, you take your tray to a window-opening into the dish pit. Glasses are placed in a rack, silverware is tossed in a separate tray, and the stainless food tray, with any paper or food left on it, is dumped into a trough with
running water, to carry the debris away to a machine that pulverizes it for disposal. The now empty, soiled trays are racked in plastic racks designed for our Hobart dish washer. At the next station, an inmate hoses off the
soiled trays to remove as much remaining debris as possible. Then the rack is pushed into the automatic dish washer. Other racks of glasses, silverware, and other kitchen utensils follow. We also washed the plastic
compartments that are used to send food to those inmates locked in the SHU--the hole.

We re-supply the serving line with glasses and silverware as needed. Clean serving trays and bowls are brought to the serving line as well. The work area is cleaned up and sanitized when we finish all the dishes for the meal.
The officer on duty allows us to brink a book to read during the 'down time' between breakfast and lunch following the count at approximately 7:30 am. Food service inmates in the morning can eat their breakfast at the beginning of the shift and we can eat lunch before the other inmates start to arrive at 10:45 for lunch. After the noon count is completed, usually by 12:30, my shift is free to go. Because we have so many inmates here, there is a completely different pm shift for the dish pit.

Working helps pass the time 'inside' for some inmates who don't wish to spend their time reading, writing, or exercising. Working side-by-side with other convicts helps one get a sense of the others as well. Working for
peace inside the federal prison means learning more about what Dorothy Day has called "this filthy, rotten system" and getting the word out to pressure our political leaders to find better, more humane ways to deal with those our society has chosen to "punish."

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