Working for the P.I.A.

by Edaleen Smith “Mama Sherrie”, Central California Women?s Facility
I’m writing from behind the wall in Chowchilla, CCWF. For the record, incarcerated women have no equal opportunity or support working in Prison Industry Authority (P.I.A.)
It’s no secret that they slave drive inmates all day long in uncomfortable positions. Spending 8 to 10 hours a day on the sewing machine, in chairs that are not up to date, at the end of the day you hurt so bad. On other stations you find women on their feet working physically so hard that they bleed from the pressure on the body, which must burn out.
It’s a disgraceful business, you work so hard on the sewing machines and you don’t even get minimum wage. You don’t feel your work is valued, because all you get is chump change. My pay is 30 cents per hour or $2.40 per day. I work my tail off for a little bit of nothing. The state takes out 44 (now 55) percent for restitution. It’s a form of abuse.
For real, we have no rights here. One day I had such a bad headache I felt dizzy. But I could not leave to get medication, my supervisor said I was needed on the sewing machine. There is no mercy or grace.
And you better not get sick or get hurt, because they will find a way to say you are in the wrong, write you a 115 and you may be out of a job. I had a stroke on the job and the only thing that mattered to them was that I stopped putting out the product according to their quota.
We don’t have any control over the working conditions, which are unbearable. It’s real dusty in the shop. The fabric is treated with chemicals that irritate your skin, cause itching, redness and bumps, which develop into sores and lesions.
You come in here with a sentence to do your prison time. But being a P.I.A. slave you pick up other charges. The money you earn is so little, it’s not enough for basic hygiene items or food you may need from the canteen?the prison does not supply enough of either. So you end up taking the boxer shorts, or anything, to trade for things to take care of yourself. When caught, you get more charges against you and you lose your job. You feel guilty all over again.
I don’t understand what are they teaching us? That it’s OK to work in sweat shops, be underpaid, and get new charges against you, otherwise you’re selfish? They make it as though PIA is so great?they hold job interviews, etc., as though it was an important position. But the pay is so little you might as well stay in and not work. The only real incentive to work is to earn half-time if you’re eligible.
I don’t see how it’s benefiting the women to work for the P.I.A. If they ever see the free world they won’t be good for anything in society. Their bodies are used up: swollen feet, misshapen behinds, irritated skin. Their minds are broken, too, from the mental abuse suffered every day. They walk around like human robots, machines waiting to fall apart. They are scared to put up a fight. I have no patience to deal with P.I.A. again. The inmates don?t’ help one another. It’s a disgrace. This is the reason the state keeps getting away with the things they do to us.
This is my story. Is anybody listening?