Life On The Inside – Part 5

My040 Digging Ditches

By law all federal inmates must have a job within the institution in which they are incarcerated. I’m sure there are exceptions to this like death row inmates and those deemed too dangerous to be among the general population but for those who are able they must have a job of some sort.

My first job was being a weekend orderly within my housing unit. I’d get up every Saturday, Sunday and holiday at 4:00am and scrub the showers. It was an okay job as it left the rest of the day and all week to myself to do with as I please. However, it was also a dirty job that quickly became an “icky” job. I did this for nearly two years. And for the work I put in I was paid $17.04 per month. Now I have a new job.

I was approached by an orderly working in the medical services building about taking a position there as an orderly. I jumped at the chance as it would mean not cleaning showers anymore though I imagined I’d be cleaning bathrooms instead. Anyway, I applied and got the job. My responsibilities now include dust, wet and dry mopping the waiting room and entrance hall, disinfecting all surfaces anyone might touch in these same areas, vacuuming the rugs and washing the windows in all the doors and the front entrance. There’s a lot of surface area to care for but it’s not a tough job. Thankfully, I only do the bathrooms when the two orderlies responsible for the bathrooms are busy with something special; it’s been a month now and I’ve only done one bathroom. For this job I am paid $27 per month.

So what’s the downside to this orderly Utopia? I start at 7:00am and am done cleaning everything by 8:30am if I work diligently and non-stop. Sounds okay on the surface but the hook is that I must be there until 10:30am so I end up sitting for about two hours. I try to make busy work because my work ethic is that if I’m being paid then I’m working but you can only wash the windows so many times before there’s nothing really to clean. Yes, people put their hands all over the glass – it’s like being with a bunch of 3rd graders in here – so I can wash the windows a dozen times and still not keep up.

And I am not the only one who ends up sitting. ALL of we orderlies end up sitting. The two others have the responsibility for cleaning the hallways and offices. This takes the two of them about two hours to complete so we often finish at about the same time. When I ask them if I can help them they look at me and say, “no, we’re trying to keep busy too.” The fourth orderly checks people in as they arrive for their appointments, so his work is “on” during about ten minutes at the top of each hour and “off” for the remaining 50 minutes.

So why the waste of paying for the three of us to sit for two hours and the fourth to sit for nearly three?

Part of it is that there are nearly 2000 men here that need a “job.” And so every area (medical, facilities, education, plumbing, HVAC, etc.) has to over staff in order to allow the institution to say that every man here has a job. The waste is built in by the Fed’s own law. I feel fortunate to have a working job because those who have a “job” like sitting in the facilities building all day doing literally nothing are only paid $5.25 a month – not even enough to keep them in hygiene products each month. At least I have some extra cash left over after buying shampoo, soap, toothpaste and deodorant. (I should say here that my mother puts money on my account each month and so I am blessed with not having the monetary challenges so many in here have – thank you Mom! I try to help someone not getting any money from outside and on the $5.25 pay grade by buying them one or two of their hygiene products – my way of giving back and helping those really in need.)

Part of me wishes there wasn’t this waste and that I could work for the full 3.5 hours I’m at work but part of me sees the need for others to take part in the better pay pool. Yes, there’s waste of the human resources but in the end more will benefit from this waste.

My thinking is that if the Feds are going to incarcerate the world’s largest population of inmates then they should also find meaningful work for them to do. Some locations have something called UNICORE which is an internal company that turns out commercial products. Examples include clothing, steel lockers and patent write ups. There are others, but you get the idea. Personally, I think they should seek ways to increase UNICORE’s size and output so that every man has a “real job” to perform. Together with the areas I outlined previously there should be ample opportunity to employ all so that NO ONE is only making $5.25 per month (I also know of people making $0.00 per month but how this happens I’m not sure).

So while you’re at work over the next few days, stop and think how it would be to have to sit for more than half your workday, or even you entire “work” day, doing nothing. I know that there are times when it’s all people can think of but when put into practice it quickly becomes burdensome. Idleness is not an easy thing to live with while at work.

~jdoe

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