Where Time Isn’t Money: The Human Costs of Prison Labor

For all of Block 6, the Colorado College Prison Project group will have art installations in various buildings and an interactive audio exhibit in Worner Campus Center. As listed on CC’s website, “The mission of the Prison Project is prison reform advocacy and education on our campus. We believe that every person is complicit in the injustices of incarceration, so we must utilize our power and resources to make change in our community.”

Photos by Nick Penzel

In Worner, students have the ability to listen to the accounts of formerly incarcerated individuals discussing their experience of living and working in Colorado prisons. This installation is the product of several Prison Project members’ work since this past October; the purpose is to better understand the prison labor system and its flaws. Many everyday items, from goat cheese to building materials, are made by incarcerated people. The Prison Project hopes that giving students the chance to hear the pained experiences of these individuals will help them to better understand the inmates’ conditions. The project hopes to provide insight on how this abuse is perpetuated and to inspire students to initiate change.

“Not only are inmates required to work—in fact, they are punished if they do not—but prisons operate with the expectation that inmates will be able to purchase products in the commissary (prison store),” said Clara Houghteling ‘18. “They are not given toiletries or adequate food because they are supposed to buy their snacks and hygiene products themselves. This level of self-sufficiency is nearly impossible on a wage of $0.84 per day or less. To make matters worse, low wages mean that incarcerated people often have no savings upon release, yet they are expected to pay for treatment programs and restitution right away. Since most prison jobs focus on keeping inmates busy rather than teaching them marketable skills, formerly incarcerated people tend to struggle to find work on the outside. Exploitative prison labor thus makes life difficult both in prison and on the outside, contributing to pernicious cycles of recidivism.”

Students who have already visited the exhibit have had positive reactions. “I found the exhibit to be very eye-opening with how it gave a voice to people I would never have heard from otherwise,” said Jenny Ross ’19.  “I will definitely be reevaluating how I contribute to the pain these individuals go through.” The exhibit in Worner will be up for the remainder of Block 6, and all students are encouraged to try it out. If anyone is inspired after listening and would like to challenge mass incarceration and advocate for inmate rights, they should email Clara Houghteling at c_houghteling@coloradocollege.edu.

“Prison Project has meetings and exciting new projects every block, and we are always thrilled to welcome new members,” Houghteling added.

Josie Kritter

Josie Kritter

Josie is a junior Political Science major from Culpeper, VA. She began writing for the News section of the Catalyst this year. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, reading, and scuba diving (which is unfortunately almost impossible in Colorado).

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