Inmates around the U.S. are organizing one of the largest prison strikes in history today
"Work is good for anyone," says Melvin Ray, an inmate at the W.E. Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer, Alabama, and a member of an organizing group called the Free Alabama Movement. "The problem is that our work is producing services that we're being charged for, that we don't get any compensation from."
In at least three states—Texas, Arkansas, and Georgia—prisoners are not paid anything for their labor. In federal prisons, inmates earn about 12 to 40 cents an hour. Nor can prisoners opt out of working, says Paul Wright, an editor at Prison Legal News. "Typically prisoners are required to work, and if they refuse to work, they can be punished by having their sentences lengthened and being placed in solitary confinement," Wright says.
Phillip Ruiz, an organizer with the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), was incarcerated in California for nearly 10 years. He recalls having a job baking bread that earned him just nine cents a month, while a can of soda at the commissary cost around $2 and a packet of ramen cost $1. "You have to save up for six months just to buy some food products," he says.