Former inmate Sekwan R. Merritt told a group of Georgetown University Community members on Nov. 28 that prison labor is exploitative.
“When you have access to 50 million dollars and you’re paying workers 15 cents an hour 2 dollars a day it seems a little exploitive,” Merritt said.
Merritt who was recently released after spending about 5 years in prison for selling 2.5 grams of heroin, said some prisoners had no choice but to accept the low pay because they did not have other means of income.
“Some guys just had no other means of income and the state does not provide soap, they don’t provide deodorant, they don’t provide food unless it’s the meal of the day,” Merritt said.
Merritt also told the audience that most times he and other prison workers would go twelve hours without food.
For former prisoner Chandra Bozelko, prison labor was good because it gave her discipline and taught her humility.
“I learned to humble myself.. I was a real B before I worked in that (prison) kitchen and having to be that smelly person that I didn’t want to be really made me reevaluate how I saw other people and saw myself.” Bozelko said.
Bozelko who served more than six years at maximum-security York Correctional Institute told the audience she was not who one would expect to go to prison because of her academic accomplishments. Describing herself as an “unlikely inmate.”
“I was what you would call an unlikely inmate, I had two professional parents… I was probably considered one the least likely people to go prison and yet I was serving more than six years for non-violent crimes in a maximum security prison,” Bozelko said.
According to Prison Policy Initiative, the average wage to pay prisoners who work in a non-industry related work is 93 cents. The policy initiative also reports that the average amount paid to average prisoners per day is $4.73.
The prison reform conversation that took place on Nov.28 at Georgetown University came together after the strike against carceral facilities in Alabama where prison workers in Alabama did not get paid received attention.
Although Bozelko agreed that prison labor was good for her, she said it was inhuman for people not to receive basic hygiene needs because they were imprisoned.
“The idea that prison wouldn’t supply anything you need quality cosmetics…the idea that you have to buy those to maintain a minimum level of hygiene that is wrong.. Whether a prison has work program or not,” Bozelko said.