During a recent interview with Hazard Independent Schools Superintendent Sandra Johnson she noted that her district has, and is again going to buy furniture made by inmates in Kentucky prisons. She said that she just recently found out the full scope of work that these inmates do for the schools in Kentucky, including making lockers and desks all the way to sewing sports uniforms.
When I heard this I was amazed at how little I knew of the work being done in Kentucky’s prisons. Through talking to people and watching documentaries I had heard of people in prisons having telemarketing jobs, working in metal and wood working shops, and doing laundry for the prison, but I never understood the extent that they can do.
A quick Google search led me to the Kentucky Corrections website where I was surprised to see a familiar face, the art curator for the University of Louisville, John Begley. Begley had been my professor while in college for my final art show. He helped to curate an exhibit of art created in prisons at my alma mater, the University of Louisville.
The art created at the prisons is improvised from scraps of whatever people can find and is made out of desperation and sheer need to express one’s self. The work was incredibly well done and emotional, showing the true talent that lies in our prisons.
The potential in these inmates is endless both for those living in the prisons and for the people in regular society that can use the labor and skilled workers.
With so many government agencies looking for ways to better use money and cut down on spending, utilizing America’s prisons for affordable, American-made goods seems like the a win for all involved. A person with a past is not devoid of talents, and putting those talents to use can be both therapeutic for the inmate and useful for a struggling American economy.
With so many of the manufacturing jobs leaving the United States in favor of cheaper labor in other countries, and so many Americans looking to what are considered better jobs, having the nearly unlimited workforce of a prison could be the answer to some of America’s financial woes.
Creating products at a severely discounted rate and making them available to non-profits, schools or even private individuals, and then using any profits to run the jails and train new inmates, seems like a no-brainer. Giving America’s inmates a chance to learn a skill they can use in the real world as well as giving them something positive to do during their time in prison could teach them a sense of responsibility.
While some of these programs may exist in various prisons, expanding them even to the level of county jails could help the community, and even the county budgets. In Perry County some of the food for the jail is grown by the inmates and some work done cleaning the county is done by inmates on work detail. But if the entire force of the people in the jail could be used to cultivate not only a garden but a farm, they could grow enough for the jail and possibly even enough to sell to offset some costs while offering affordable fresh food in the county.
The possibilities are endless, and there are no wrong answers when it comes to buying in to our inmates as well as our community.