Prison labor. It’s a pretty uncomfortable topic to discuss, but it is a reality in many parts of the world. Many of the products we all use on a daily basis were assembled by someone who is an inmate. Having prisoners make items in bulk is a significant part of what makes some of the companies you’re familiar with pretty rich.
The products that are made available to the public as a result of prison labor are quite varied. Some of these items are even beneficial, and some are created to help those who suffer from health problems or disabilities. Some companies sub-contract other countries to make their clothing products, hygiene items, books and other essentials that are an important part of your everyday life. There are also certain fixtures you see in your neighborhood that are possibly the finished products of prison work.
We’re pretty sure that after you read this list, you’ll look at your next shopping trip a little differently. Or, you could develop a new brand loyalty. After all, reinforcing hard work in prison could keep inmates from repeated offenses. Here are 10 things that are made by prison labor.
10 Picnic Tables and Park Benches
If you live in Florida and enjoy visiting the parks every now and then, you may be sitting on a park bench or enjoying lunch on a picnic table that was built by a prison inmate. Most people think of these park fixtures as “government property” and this is part of the reason why. This is made possible by the PRIDE program. PRIDE, which stands for Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises, is a program that trains 4,000 inmates. The inmates create more than 3,000 services and products, and 69% of the inmates who enter the program find jobs after they are released from jail.
9 Human Silhouette Targets
A number of people are incarcerated because of crimes that have to do with a gun. That’s why it’s pretty ironic that prison labor is often utilized to create human silhouette targets. Some of the convicts at UNICOR create the targets so that law enforcement professionals can use them during their training. UNICOR, which is also known as Federal Prison Industries, is entirely made up of convicts who work at 89 factories. Members of U.S. Customs, the FBI and Homeland Security also use the targets to perfect their weapon-handling skills. We’re not sure how good of an idea this is, but someone’s got to make the targets.
8 “Vintage” IKEA Products
If you got furniture pieces like tables, chairs or sofas from IKEA in the 1970s and 1980s (let’s face it, lots of people did), some of the items in your home were built by prisoners. The pieces were built by individuals who had been taken as prisoners during the Cold War, and most of the work was done in East Germany. The prisoners were paid just 40 German marks every month. This is about 4% of the monthly salary that most East Germans were making during that time. These days, IKEA doesn’t use prison labor to get its products to you, mainly because you have to put most of the furniture together yourself.
7 Baseball Caps
If you’ve ever gotten tickets to a baseball game to cheer on your favorite team, you’ve likely worn a baseball cap, sporting the team’s logo to the event. Baseball has long been considered the great American pastime, and is often centered around a fond childhood memory. Did you know that prisoners are often responsible for making the baseball caps you wear to games (or when you’re having a bad hair day)? Prisoners at UNICOR make the caps, and are legally able to sell them to private companies and customers. This is a rarity, since UNICOR goods are usually not available to anyone who doesn’t work for the government.
Outdoor sports like hiking, sledding, skiing and canoeing are big in Colorado. That’s probably why inmates at the Fremont County Jail have the task of building canoes. The canoes are lined with fiberglass and are created by using the leftover scraps from the prison’s furniture shop. The canoes sell for about $1500, which indicates the canoes display some pretty skilled craftsmanship. Fremont County Jail is part of Colorado Correction Industries, which also utilizes prisoners to build a number of other furniture pieces. For instance, inmates in Colorado often build the desks and bookshelves that go in college dorms as well.
5 Blue Jeans
That’s right. Some of your favorite closet staples were likely made in jail. The Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution has a 47,000 square foot facility called the Prison Blue Jeans Factory. In this factory, blue jeans, as well as jackets, hats and T-shirts are made. Ever heard of Prison Blues? These are the jeans that come out of the east Oregon prison factory. The denim is pretty stylish, and when you visit the website, you’ll find vests, button-downs and even aprons made out of denim. We’ve got to admit that making clothing is an impressive skill for anyone to learn, whether they’re locked up or not.
4 Knick Knacks
You’ve likely seen more than your fair share of knick knacks at your grandma’s house or an old aunt’s house. It’s hard to imagine that these innocent-looking small pieces of home decor are actually created by people who are doing hard time. Knick knacks are often produced by the inmates at San Quentin State Prison in California. The facility is known for being a pretty scary place, since some of the most ruthless criminals are serving time there. San Quentin is also known for having the United States' largest death row. At the gift shop, you can buy a variety of knick knacks, including music boxes and skilled drawings and paintings. Some of the inmates on death row even create greeting cards for you to give to an inmate you’re visiting.
Okay, so prisoners don’t create the horses themselves (obviously), but their hard work with the animals does prepare the horses for adoption. WHIP, or the Wild Horse Inmate Program in Colorado, has been in operation since 1986, and the inmates have trained more than 5,000 mustangs. There’s also a facility in Maryland, called Second Chances Farm, that takes in thoroughbred race horses that have “retired.” The horses are rescued from being slaughtered, and inmates in Maryland are able to learn how to care for animals, which can help them work through emotional issues. These types of programs can provide inmates with the right mindset for success before being released from prison.
Remember when everybody was obsessed with Victoria’s Secret in the 1990s? Well, part of the reason why the lingerie from the company was in such abundance is because prisoners were making a lot of the pieces. Victoria’s Secret hired a company called Third Generation, to make some of their intimate wear and lounge pieces. Third Generation then hired inmates from South Carolina to sew the pieces. JC Penney did the same thing with their lingerie during the 90s: they originally out-sourced their pieces to Third Generation, who got prisoners from South Carolina to finish up some of the work. Interesting, indeed.
1 Books For The Blind
The United States actually has 36 Braille writing programs for prisoners. Through the American Printing House For the Blind, inmates help to write Braille textbooks for children in elementary, middle and high school. The Center For Braille and Narration Production in Missouri employs just over 100 convicts, some of which are even certified through the Library of Congress. The convicts are skilled at transcribing a number of things, including music and novels. Learning how to produce Braille books is an interesting skill that not many people possess, which could result in some pretty interesting jobs after the inmates have served their sentences.