A Lie of Creative Rehabilitation in ‘Vacationland’

At The New Inquiry, Chelsea Hogue has an expose on the Maine Department of Correction Industries (MDOC) woodshop and other prison-based businesses like it, which frame their exploitive inmate manufacturing programs as rehabilitative when in reality they’re more like state-sanctioned slavery — or, as Hogue puts it, “rebranding carceral slavery as ameliorative.”

MDOC profits from various wares made by inmates as part of their mandatory, low-wage labor, selling them at at The Maine State Prison Showroom, something of a feel-good souvenir shop.

Maine has sold its program to tourists as a form of arts-and-crafts nostalgia: Where cottage industries for handmade items have shrunk or evaporated, the story goes, these men work together to produce interesting objects. But the state’s labor program is no different from any other; its artisanal veneer may even make it more insidious. The majority of men are fulfilling monotonous duties. They aren’t learning marketable skills.

At the MDOC, the chosen method of rehabilitation is conveniently braided with punishment. Moreover, such punishment provides direct material benefit to the MDOC, those who are responsible for these men’s captivity in the first place. And yet we on the outside are told to think it is good to feel purpose—and that a task, however extractive, is one kind of purpose.

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