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Between Inmates: with Chandra Bozelko

Two ex-inmates, both forced to work while incarcerated for less than a dollar-per-hour. And our stories, different as they may be, reveal the cruel nature of the prison-industrial complex.

On this episode (Season 1, episode 13) I sat down with author, activist and ex-inmate Chandra Bozelko to talk about all things prison.

Jobs: inmates are required to work any job they are assigned, even though many of them pay just pennies per hour (or nothing at all). Chandra's stories as a kitchen worker in a maximum-security prison provides a glimpse into how important these jobs are to inmates. Check our her Op-Ed in the LA-Times, "Think Prison Labor is a Form of Slavery? Think Again."

Power: In prison, power is thick and palpable. But that doesn't mean it is any less fluid (upset-able) than it is in the regular world. Inmates find all sorts of ways to tactically overcome the odds against them. One of my favorites stories of tactical agility is told by Chandra in a bog post titled, "Why I Faked a Suicide Note," originally published on her prison-diary blog.

Money: Prison works just like the regular world when it comes to capitalism. Inmates decide on a currency and then trade things, or gamble, or make loans. But since dollars are not available (cash is contraband), inmates use regular items available at the commissary (the prison store) as a stand-in for cash, including tobacco (before it was restricted), snacks, and in my prison, bars of soap.

But now Ramen Noodles are taking over as the updated currency of choice in many prisons, since tobacco can no longer be purchased. Check out Chandra's article, "How Ramen became the Unlikely New Symbol of Prison Neglect," for more on what this reveals about our prison system.

Post-Release: If you are (or know) an ex-inmate who was recently released from prison and is looking for a job, there are companies who will hire you, and there are websites devoted to collecting job postings from companies who will hire felons. Denver, Colorado has the which is updated daily. Look for similar posts in your area, and remind prospective employers that they can get a check from Uncle Sam if they employ a felon.

And a shout out to Dave's Killer Bread, and all the other companies who are making a name for themselves by vocally offering ex-inmates a decent job with promotional opportunities.

First-Step Act: We talked about this piece of legislation briefly at the end of the episode. For more about it, and the next logical steps, check out the Marshall Project's description here.

For more on Chandra's work, check out her column, The Outlaw. Some of her recent articles are at the bottom of the page.

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