Money is the reason incarceration policies won’t change

MSR Editorial By Naomi Gaines

Contributing Writer

I am writing in response to the editorial piece by Lowell Oates entitled “Questions for Commissioner of Corrections Tom Roy.” It was in the issue May 29 — June 4, 2014.

I know I’m not the one you were hoping to respond to your article, but I felt ablazed by your wonderfully written and provocative article. Although you posed these questions to the commissioner of corrections, Tom Roy, I will give you the “real” reason as to why things will remain the same. Further, I will argue as to why those two policies, 106.202 and 206.101, will have trouble being activated. The answer is simple: money.

My name is Naomi Gaines and I am an inmate at MCF — Shakopee Prison for Women. I’ve been incarcerated for 10- plus years and have watched things — meaning programs, incentives and privileges — being taken away. As I learned more about the “system” and how it works, I began to understand the why as to the reason these things happen. Or more appropriate why they don’t happen.

One afternoon I was watching Moyers & Company, hosted by Bill Moyers on Channel 2, which is PBS (Public Broadcasting Station) for the Twin Cities. Although the name of Mr. Moyer’s guest escapes me now, I do remember the topic and area she is an activist of: ending the prison industrial complex (PIC). This is her passion!

What is PIC? It’s the belief that the mass incarceration, housing and controlling of people actually makes society better. Activists for ending PIC counter this ruinous ideal with the argument that basic necessities such as proper food, shelter, education, and gainful employment opportunities are what it takes to make our communities better and thus safer. However, this is not why those two policies won’t be activated. I have recently learned that the game is much deeper.

The guest on Moyers & Company, told of a corporation called Corporation for Corrections, that sent out letters to prisons across America trying to establish commercial deals that involve “hiring” prisons (or rather the inmates) as workers that create goods and services to achieve a lucrative profit for both parties. Of course by both I mean the corporation itself and prison officials, and possibly even the heads of state the prison is located in. The catch? The prisons would have to agree to keep their prisons filled at 90 percent capacity, at minimum.

Could this be the reason why Minnesota’s DOC does not allow inmates families to send care packages to their incarcerated loved ones like some other states prisons do, providing that proper security measures are taken? Could this be why proper security measures are taken? Could this be why the MINNCOR canteen is the only place inmates can purchase personal hygiene products, food, shoes, clothes etc. at an almost 200 percent mark-up for even generic items. Could this be why the average top pay is $1 an hour for back-breaking work that remains profitable to our friendly neighborhood corporation MINNCOR who runs mostly all of DOC’s canteen, worksites, inmate needs?

Ever played the game Monopoly? The definition of this word is a company or groups having exclusive control over a commercial activity. I think you get the point.

I guess some could argue that it costs the state more money to house an offender than they make from their labor. Perhaps. However, if that is indeed true, why are these two policies Mr. Oates asked about not being activated?

Why house so many people if it costs so much? America incarcerates more human beings than any other place on the planet! And yet streets are no safer.

One time I asked my mom to send me money to buy things (again only from one source) I needed. She said, “Baby, I just can’t right now. But it’s not like “they” gonna put you out if you ain’t got no money”.

Recently it was rumored that DOC was in debt. Then I thought, it’s not like they will let us go home if they (the DOC) don’t have money either. I wonder why. Touché mom, touché.

Naomi Gaines is an inmate at Shakopee Correctional Facility.