After 12 years, I was released with $40 and a bus ticket. The state did not even give me an ID.’ Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA
I was paid 10 cents an hour to do menial work that taught no skills or life lessons. Without a college-in-prison degree, I’d probably be back in prison today.
lmost immediately after I was sent to prison, I was assigned to a “program”, the term American prison officials use for a job. I was to sweep the prison hallways, alongside roughly 30 other men. Together we pushed brooms across gray corridors hour after hour, day after day.
No matter how many hours I worked, I couldn’t afford toilet paper, soap or toothpaste. We had to pay for basic hygiene products at exploitative markups, way more than they cost in free society, and I was paid 10 cents an hour. To survive in prison, even with a full-time job, I was forced to rely on family, who struggled to support me financially.
There’s a misleading narrative pushed by officials about prison labor, one that falsely frames prison jobs as rehabilitative. Nothing could be further from the truth.