tws blog

Prison Product Detox

by Ebony Edwards-Ellis
on October 07, 2016

I've been thinking about going on a diet. Not because I'm overweight or because I fetishize thinness or because I suffer from some sort of bizarre disordered eating pattern. In fact, this diet has nothing to do with my weight or my physical health at all. In fact, the diet that I am considering is more of a detox. I want to stop consuming products that were made with prison labor.
You see, I, along with nearly every other American, have been tricked into purchasing products and/or services that were made by prisoners, people who are disproportionately 
black, brown, and non-violent. Unfortunately, the practice of insourcing, paying a prisoner dollars less than the federally mandated minimum wage per hour, is one thousand percent legal due to a loophole in the Thirteenth Amendment. On top of that, prisoners in many correctional facilities are required to work and face punishments as severe as solitary confinement if they refuse. 

Consequently, corporations, ever mindful of the bottom line, get away with ruthlessly exploiting the two million people currently incarcerated in the United States. And if you've ever eaten a Big Mac at McDonald's, ordered Biggie fries at Wendy's, or bought prepackaged coffee at Starbucks, you are indirectly responsible for perpetuating this exploitative labor system.Unfortunately, it doesn't stop with the fast food chains. Prisoners, either directly or through subcontracting, work for a long list of multi-billion dollar corporations. 
While I have always nursed a pathological hatred for Starbucks, I do have a weakness for McDonald's Filet-O-Fish (hold the tartar sauce and cheese,  please!) and the Sour Cream and Chive Baked Potato from Wendy's. I also have an addiction to Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, Lay's Potato Chips, and Nacho Cheese Doritos; these products are made by PepsiCo, a major in-sourcer. I've also been known to eat Chef Boyardee and Marie Callender frozen dinners (
ConAgra foods, another in-sourcer) when I am feeling too lazy to cook. I will happily give those foods up, though. I can happily live the rest of my life without that junk. It's bad for me, anyway. 
I also suppose that I could switch my pre-paid cell phone plan from 
AT&T to yet another pre-paid plan. Come to think of it, I don't have a baby or wear gaudy overpriced lingerie, either, so Johnson and Johnson and Victoria's Secret are out, too.
However, as an asthmatic, I don't have a choice about taking 
Flovent HFA, my maintenance medication,  or Ventolin HFA(albuterol sulfate), the rescue inhaler. I could literally die if I don't take those medications. For that matter, I am not in a position to refuse antibiotics if I develop an infection or to pass up the flu shot (I'm at risk for complications). But guess what? GlaxoSmithKline, a corporation which uses in-sourcing,  makes those products, too.
I also can't give up over-the-counter analgesics. With a herniated disk in my lower back, occassional headaches,  and sometimes twice-monthly menstrual cramps, I wouldn't be able to function without mild pain relief from time to time. In order to detox from prison products, 
however, I would have to eliminate Bayer products from my shopping cart; that company makes Bayer Aspirin and Aleve. I would also have to replace Claritin (another Bayer product) with a less effective generic drug when my allergies flare up.
I also indirectly support insourcing whenever I patronize The
Bank of America; many of the production companies that hire me for background acting draw checks on accounts from Bank of America. While I don't have to cash my paychecks at the bank, depositing my check at my bank and waiting for it to clear still requires me to do business indirectly with Bank of America.
So what's a girl to do short of going completely off the grid and moving into a cave? That's what I am trying to figure out. Even the most committed modern-day abolitionist would tear their hair out trying to avoid collaborating with and supporting the virtual enslavement of American prisoners. Knowing is only half the battle and unknowing what's been learned is an impossibility.
Until I can find a way to completely avoid prisoner-made products,
I will support the national prisoner work strikes that started early last month on the forty-fifth anniversary of the Attica uprising. I will inform friends and family of their unwitting complicity with modern slavery. I will ask my doctor if it is possible to switch me to asthma meds that aren't made by prisoners. And I won't drink another Pepsi or eat another Dorito until PepsiCo divests itself of prison labor.