Yesterday I got a message from a friend who lives out in Tumwater out by the airport. They told me that a couple days ago an employee of the Port of Olympia came to their door with a courtesy notice that they’d be clearing brush in a field that the Port owns behind their house. My friend noticed them out their window yesterday morning and something odd struck them about it. The workers were wearing bright jumpsuits. They went out to get a closer look and sure enough, the jumpsuits were emblazoned with DOC – short for Department of Corrections – these were prison laborers.
My friend, being braver than I would have been, actually approached the guard and chatted him up. The guard told them that the prisoners were from Cedar Creek Correctional Facility and that they “work with the Port of Olympia all the time.” Meaning the Port of Olympia, as a standard practice, contracts for prison labor.
If you know nothing about prison labor today, let me tell you clearly that it is the remains of slavery in modern society. As plantations were disbanded, work camps were instituted throughout the south and new laws were created to make it easier to incarcerate black people and force them to work off their crimes, sometimes sentenced for decades for modest infractions. Modern day private prisons have a direct lineage to these early chattel-slavery work camps. This isn’t a conspiracy theory, it’s not hyperbole, it’s plain fact.
I spoke with Commissioner EJ Zita on the phone and she seemed very concerned, and very much in the dark about this business practice of our port. I then emailed her, which she sent a long to Executive Director Ed Galligan and Airport Director Rudy Rudolph. It’s been about 24 hours since then and I’ve heard no response yet.
We’re in the middle of a campaign season that could change our port dramatically. 2 out of 3 seats are up for grabs. That means we can take the majority and make some real changes and that can include banning this practice. I hope that people will make this a campaign issue, and speak up about it at Port of Olympia Commission meetings. I also hope our cities will consider passing ordinances banning private prison labor from being used within their city limits. I’m sending an email to them right now, I hope you will too.
Read this Seattle Times article if you want to learn more about the shady private prison labor program in Washington State – the fourth largest in the US, raking in $70 million in product sales alone while still costing you and me $20 million a year in tax money.