Prison Labor at the Port of Olympia

[Follow up to The Port of Olympia Uses Prison Labor]


A spokesperson for the Port of Olympia responded today to my inquiry on the 14th.

Here’s the response:

Mr. Richards,
A Port Commissioner referred your August 14 email to me for response. Thank you for your questions regarding the Port’s use of Department of Corrections (DOC) Community Work Program.

The Port of Olympia was approached by DOC and invited to participate in their Community Work Program, which helps prepare individuals for employment prior to their release.

Please see the Department of Corrections response to your question.

The Washington Department of Corrections’ statutory duty as well as its own stated mission is to ensure public safety. The prescribed manner by which the department should achieve its public safety mission is by positively impacting those individuals within its custody by stressing personal responsibility and accountability. The community work program, as set out by state law in RCW 72.09.100, provides that incarcerated individuals can provide community services “to public agencies, persons who are poor or infirm, or to nonprofit organizations.” This work allows incarcerated individuals to adopt a work ethic and in an effort that benefits both themselves and the community.

The current work accomplished by those who have been convicted and sentenced to the department’s custody by a court of law provides the opportunity “to grow and expand their skills and abilities so as to fulfill their role in the community,” as prescribed by RCW 72.09.010. Currently, the work accomplished at the Port of Olympia airfield includes landscaping work and protective grounds work that avoids risks to the property, which if not accomplished could yield higher costs for taxpayers in the long run. During calendar year 2016, the work achieved by the community work crew amounted to approximately 1200 hours of service. This is vocational work that trains the men for potential skilled labor and employment post-release.

It should also be noted that, by state statute RCW 72.09.010, the Washington Department of Corrections should work to avoid idleness among the incarcerated population as idleness is “wasteful and destructive to both the community and the individual.” Idleness is also a known factor that affects facility operations. By working toward reducing idleness through the provision of meaningful work, the agency and community partners are contributing toward increased facility safety for both correctional officers and the inmate population.

Thank you.

My question to them was, “Does the Port use prison labor?”

This is a very long way for them to answer: Yes.

There are no data to support any of the assertions made by the DOC in this response. We don’t see lower recidivism rates among prisoners who participate in this program. No proof that they’re being prepared for life outside of prison, or that they’re developing skills, or that they get jobs when they get out. Zero. It’s just taking advantage of them for public benefit.

I urge you to reach out to the Port and ask them to end this practice. It’s exploitation, and it’s conducted at a huge cost to taxpayers while the profits are being reaped privately.


The Port of Olympia Uses Prison Labor

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.

Transgender Protections in Olympia NOW

It’s always a difficult thing to think of the right response when a friend is hurting or scared. It’s another thing when the actions of our government cause it. Our federal government feels like an ocean that we can’t fight lest we risk drowning.

But here in Olympia, we CAN do something.

Do our municipal codes explicitly protect trans folks from discrimination?
Do they explicitly require Public Accommodations?

According to Human Rights Watch, Olympia doesn’t have those protections explicitly including trans people in our ordinances.

Can our response to Trump be to protect OUR people?

Write your city council members an email asking them to act on this. Reach them at – a draft of a message is below.

Dear Council Members,

Once again, the Trump administration has targeted Olympians. Proud members of our community who serve in the military are facing a ban from that service, which they perform out of love of country and community, willing to give their lives in defense of our right to the pursuit of happiness.

In the past, we’ve stood up as a community, and you as council members have stood with us, to offer sanctuary and be a safe place for immigrants, Muslims, and other groups targeted by this administration. It’s another one of those moments in time where we will be judged by our response.You can do this by drafting an update to our anti-discrimination ordinance so that it explicitly covers trans people, and by creating public accommodations requirements explicitly written into our city codes.

We can do the right thing in Olympia by drafting an update to our anti-discrimination ordinance so that it explicitly covers trans people, and by creating public accommodations requirements for trans people, explicitly written into our city codes.



The Olympia City Council Says Your 1st Amendment Rights Stop Where Their Comfort Zone Begins

“First Amendment… more of a guideline…right?”

Tomorrow night (7/18/17) the Olympia City Council will have First Reading of a new section of the “Offenses Against Government” Ordinance (Chapter 9.08 of the Olympia Municipal Code) that will make it a misdemeanor to disturb, disrupt, or interfere with a city council meeting. It doesn’t define any of those terms leaving it wide open to charges being pressed anytime a council member squirms in their seat a bit because somebody is expressing dissent.

Where to begin?

  1. OPD – you think Chief Roberts wants his officers to make it a habit of arresting people on TV at City Council meetings? Seems like a national news story all wrapped up with a bow on it.
  2. Anything they’re going to cite as a reason why they need this is either already against the law, or something they signed on for when they ran for office. Making physical threats, intimidation, etc – those are all already against the law.
  3. Disrupting a public meeting as an expression of dissent should never be against the law – I know it’s a bummer sometimes, and it can get uncomfortable, but it’s your job.
  4. If we had a mayor who was more popular we wouldn’t even be talking about this. If our mayor didn’t publicly insult people, talk down to them, or look down on them, people wouldn’t be so angry and ready to lash out.

City Council – meet me at camera three… Hi there… Listen…This is your JOB. It’s what you signed up for when you threw your hat in the ring. If you don’t want to do it anymore, then resign or don’t run again. But you can’t suppress the voices of people who disagree with you or communicate in a way that makes you uncomfortable. Period. The Constitution says so. Also, there’s no faster way to escalate this than an ordinance like this one. Once again… you don’t want to talk to people, you don’t want to listen, you just want all those “others” to go away and leave you to your nice little town-building-happy-fun-time. Shutting people out never fixed anything and it’s not the kind of attitude about people that I want from my city council.

It’s not too late for you though. You can just take this terrible law and put it in the shredder and maybe next council meeting you come out from behind the dais and walk right up to one of those people who freak you out so much and extend a hand to them. Introduce yourself. Smile. Try to MEAN IT but fake it if you have to. That little act will get you way closer to what you want than a million ordinances ever will.

LINK TO PDF: Ordinance Relating to Interference with a Public Meeting

A Little Bit about Privilege

Things We as White People Take for Granted Expose People of Color to Terror
I can’t get it out of my head so of course, I’ll put it down here for you…
Yesterday I was talking to a black woman I know. Her son is getting his driver’s license. He’s older than most kids who get theirs for the first time because he’s been afraid to drive. Because he knows he’ll get pulled over. Because he sees what happens to people who look like him.
Close your eyes and think back to when you got your driver’s license for the first time. What do you feel? Freedom? Excitement? Accomplishment? Is that a warm, fuzzy memory?
Now imagine you’re scared to drive. You’re not scared because your parents bought you a stick shift and you’re nervous about it, or because you get freaked out on the freeway. You’re scared because driving opens up another avenue to your death. Nearly every day you see people who look like you killed for driving. Not driving leaves that avenue closed, exposes you to less risk.  This is, in the definitive sense, terror. You can’t, if you’re white like me, really even begin to imagine the feeling, so don’t try too hard here today.
Just ask yourself where you are right now after reading this. Have you ever thought about the difference in how you approach something versus how a person of color does, or why?
Tell this story to a white friend and talk about ways we can start to dismantle this. Don’t stay in the abstract, only talking about systems of oppression. Don’t point the finger at anyone but yourself, YOU (and ME) perpetuate this if we’re not constantly working against it. What are some things you can do, today or this week or month, or every day, in the community or among your peers to start to chip away at the blinders we wear, and the complicity we share?
We live in a society where a young man who is well down the road to becoming a doctor is scared to get a driver’s license because he knows it exposes him to violence. 

Independence Day

“Today is a national holiday commemorating July 4, when American colonies declared their independence from England in 1776. While many in the U.S. hang flags, attend parades and watch fireworks, Independence Day is not a cause of celebration for everyone.

For Native Americans, it is a bitter reminder of colonialism, which brought disease, genocide and the destruction of their culture and way of life.

For African Americans, Independence Day did not extend to them. While white colonists were declaring their freedom from the crown, that liberation was not shared with millions of Africans who were captured, beaten, separated from their families and forced into slavery thousands of miles from home.” – Amy Goodman, Democracy Now

Draining The Swamp, Thurston County Style

Thurston County commissioners oust director of public defense

Thurston County to hire public defense director this summer

If you’re not following this story you should be, and here’s a quick-quick recap:

Daryl Rodrigues was the Director of Public Defense for Thurston County. Then we had an election last year and a couple Trump acolytes got elected. They immediately started “draining the swamp” and that meant firing people as if our county government was The Apprentice. Daryl is a spectacular individual who worked for tribes and as a mental health professional BEFORE he attended law school. He took that spirit of service into his work and championed alternative courts such as those for drugs, mental health, and veterans in order to prevent the cycle of people through the system and ultimately onto our streets with no way to get a leg up. This obviously wasn’t the approach our Cowboy Commissioners wanted to take to criminal justice in Thurston County… being of the “lock ’em up and throw away the key” ilk.

What’s the point?

The point is we should be paying close attention to who they hire. Be ready to head to the meetings, give testimony, and break out the torches and pitchforks if they hire someone with any less commitment to restorative justice. We don’t need privatization and more cells, we need jail diversion programs. We don’t need tougher laws, we need programs that break the cycle of incarceration.

I hope you’ll join me in urging our County Commissioners to do the right thing.