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The Company Store

An editorial by Donovan, Prisoner of War in America

Tennessee Ernie Ford sang a song a couple of decades back called "Sixteen Tons," a ditty about coal miners working for The Man. In it was a lament about "I owe my soul to the Company Store." I remember that song and recall that line when Work Call blares over the compound at seven-thirty sharp every morning and the files of magpie chattering chumps, the New American Slaves-joking, laughing and yukking it up- step briskly out on their way to the local UNICOR factory.

I sip my tasteless instant java, which cost me half my monthly pay, and watch with wonder. How in the heck do the Feds do it? But then again, they have a couple of hundred years of experience, don't they? All of these institutionalized drones hurrying on over to the factory-they can't be late, no sirree Bob. Lines and files of them stepping on out like they were about to make $37 an hour with four coffee breaks and a twenty year retirement plan. Fact is, they hustle out there to make on average, 37¢ an hour; they beat feet to fuel an ever expanding prison industry that exploits their situation, their labor and ideas, literally for peanuts... Or is it Doritos?

Within each Federal prison-and I assume it is the same with State run joints- is what is called a "Commissary." But what it really is, is the Company Store. Each store coffers what cannot otherwise be had: pints of ice cream, transistor radios, a limited selection of grocery items, a few things like: handballs, gloves and jock straps. There are cookies and bags of candy and, wouldn't you know it, nacho flavored Doritos by the ton: Sixteen tons, to be exact.

Once a week, in rotation, the units issue passes and the same chip chomping chumps who hustle out to UNICOR, hustle back in to the Company Store-owned, stocked and operated by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. It is here they spend their 37¢ an hour wage; because, here are the peanuts they work for.

I watch them stuff their laundry bags with the largesse of the Outland, that place beyond the razor wire: Milky ways, potato chips, six packs of Pepsi and cases of Coca-Cola; blocks of cheese, cigarettes, pretzels and saltine crackers - all the goodies that meet the nutritional requirements of modern America. They heft their plastic-crackling loads with sly expressions, like they've really gotten away with something, and go chattering off, one hand of the neck of the laundry bag, and one clutching a pint of chocolate ice cream. The invisible money they have earned is moved from one Bureau of Prisons column to the next. No one ever sees it.

What's wrong with this picture?

I'm going to tell you, and this is addressed personally from me to all you soda pop guzzling chip-chomping fools who help keep The Man solidly in business-and by doing so, help keep the rest of us locked up. The Company Store is the carrot at the end of the stick, and you are buying into it wholesale: or should I say, retail? Sure, some of you send money home, but don't shovel that line on me: it's not that much and not that often and that slender amount you send isn't worth supporting the same prison industries that keep your sorry, duped souls locked up. We all know about the hidden profits of UNICOR, the fact that there's one in every federal joint. Why do we want to make it work for those secret stock holders, the New Plantation Owners? Why provide positions for all those well heeled factory managers leeching off the work you do, who treat you either condescendingly or like dirt and can toss your Dorito fattened rears into the Hole on a whim? How important are potato chips by comparison to the years of your life?

You are being conned out of existence, cons, and you don't even know it. It's time to end this happy crap and tell the Bureau of Prisons to go pound sand where the sun don't shine. If they want to keep those factories open, they can, at the very least, give you minimum wage and make social security available. If they can't do that, then let them run the plants themselves. Take the profit out of UNICOR and the other prison industries and we all might get a break, otherwise its Sixteen Tons and what do you get: you get laughed at for being so stupid. But enough Doritos to put you in an early grave-which is also probably part of the plan.

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