Inmates Raise Fish for Whole Foods

Coloradans buying tilapia from Whole Foods in Colorado Springs can take an extra bit of pride in knowing who is raising the fish for the vendor supplying Whole Foods: Inmates at Arrowhead, a minimum security facility for drug/alcohol and offenders.

About 95 inmates-turned-fish-farmers earn 60 cents a day, plus bonus. It amounts to a paycheck of about $40 a month. The fish biz started small six years ago and is now the biggest industry at Arrowhead.

The fish are raised in 12,000-gallon fiberglass tanks built by the inmates, located in a greenhouse, without hormones, “in water, baking soda and salt."

"Relaxing music" is piped in to make the fish mellow. Amount sold: 100,000 pounds a year. [More...]

There's a little sex discrimination going on: Only the male tilapia are sold. The females are just used for breeding because they are smaller.

How do the inmates react? Obviously, it's better than being cooped up in a cell. Still, they see similarities with themselves:

Inmate Lay, incarcerated since he was 18, can relate to the fish. “They are trapped,” he said. “I kind of feel the same way.”

My favorite tilapia recipe which I learned from Firedoglake's Jane Hamsher: Almond encrusted tilapia:

Squirt fresh lemon on tilapia fillets. Dip in beaten eggs, then flour (or vice versa) then press both sides into a plate filled with sliced almonds. Put butter in the frying pan, medium heat, cook the fish till almonds are crispy, then finish them off in the oven at 350 degrees. Really good. Especially with mashed potatoes and steamed spinach and an arugula and goat cheese salad with strawberries and balsamicvinaigrette.

If I were doing budgeting for the state corrections department, I'd suggest paying the inmates in days off their sentences for good behavior instead of money. Then the state could keep the pay and since they'd be gone early, pay less for their incarceration.

I hope Whole Foods will consider hiring the inmates when they get released.

< Monday Afternoon News and Open Thread | Report: David Headley Cooperating in Chicago Terror Probe >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    Prison Labor (5.00 / 3) (#7)
    by ricosuave on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 08:52:30 AM EST
    I imagine this could be a good program that helps the prisoners become rehabilitated, but who could tell from this article?  Generally, though, it is a bad thing to turn prisons into profit-making factories--especially private prisons.  If we really want to rehabilitate prisoners (which we should want) then lets spend the money and do it.  But it strikes me as odd that so many people in our country (I am talking to you, future president Dobbs) are opposed to immigrants (legal or illegal) taking away jobs from "real americans" for lower pay, but are happy to cede jobs to cheap prison labor.

    I'd prefer they get rehabilitated (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by Inspector Gadget on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 09:02:06 AM EST
    doing work that would otherwise be done by volunteers. Charitable work is much more rehabilitating than being used as slaves for a major corporation.

    I still think that (5.00 / 3) (#12)
    by Militarytracy on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 09:14:51 AM EST
    training dogs for disabled work is one of the best programs out there and it does teach responsibility and decency to other living things.  I also sent one of my very very bossy dogs through a program at Canyon City when my husband was in Iraq.  This dog was so dominant that a male presence was needed.  He was gone for a month.  I was told he constantly barked at the guards in the towers when he first got there.  It cost around $300, and that included his food....and he was a dog with manners enough to live in the house after that.

    Agree completely (5.00 / 2) (#14)
    by Inspector Gadget on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 09:31:32 AM EST
    That's a program I think is really wisely given to the prisons. The inmates benefit so much from this kind of work.

    Rehabilitation (none / 0) (#25)
    by MKS on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 11:56:38 AM EST
    is better pursued outside of prison.  Putting someone in prison makes him or her less likely to be rehabilitated and more likely to re-offend.

    whole foods isn't (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by cpinva on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 08:59:12 AM EST
    hiring these inmates, their tilapia supplier is. that said, it does present something of an issue:

    if the prison/inmates aren't being paid at market rates (including payroll taxes, etc), then the supplier's competitors have a legitimate complaint.

    if the pay is market, including taxes, and most is going to victim/state compensation, then the supplier is gaining no unfair advantage, aside from a captive (literally) labor force. it would seem like a winning situation all around.

    if the supplier hires some of these people after their release, all the better.

    60 cents a day... (5.00 / 3) (#11)
    by kdog on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 09:06:05 AM EST
    is a crime.  I understand the prisoners like the work, anything to kill the boredom and pass the time...but that is no reason to allow Whole Foods or anybody else to take advantage of them paying slave wages.  Pay 'em minimum wage...maybe then the inmates could have a small nut together to help upon release, and it talks away the unfair advantage of prison labor over free labor.

    They are getting free room and board (none / 0) (#13)
    by Inspector Gadget on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 09:27:26 AM EST
    at pretty high prices to the taxpayers.

    I'm wondering who is liable for the quality of the fish. Farm raised has risks. It's only a matter of time before lawsuits begin and/or warning labels will be mandated. They already have mandated the fish be labeled Wild or Farm Raised because of the dramatic differences in quality.


    Free room and board? (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by kdog on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 10:06:29 AM EST
    Thats a funny way to describe a cage Inspector...if we don't wanna pay for their room and board, fair enough, we should let them go.  

    And if we don't wanna pay them minimum wage, we should have them doing charity or community service work, optional of course.

    As for liability, I wouldn't be surprised if the powers that be held the prisoners liable in our kick the dog culture.


    Now, kdog, you know (none / 0) (#17)
    by Inspector Gadget on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 10:32:42 AM EST
    I have a former step-son living in Yankton. I don't know what level of offenders are in the Colorado prison raising fish humans should not eat.

    I've put enough comments in that I believe they should be given the opportunity to do charitable work, and that they would benefit greater from doing good for others than being the underpaid prey of major corporations.


    No worries... (none / 0) (#18)
    by kdog on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 10:41:40 AM EST
    I just couldn't let that "free room & board" comment slide without comment Inspector...you know me as well:)

    not enough charitable work (none / 0) (#19)
    by diogenes on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 11:22:34 AM EST
    1. Factory based work is ideal for prisoners; charitable work has security problems.
    2. No one is coerced into working for the fish farms.  Or is it freedom only when people do what you think is good for them?  

    Gimme a break... (5.00 / 1) (#22)
    by kdog on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 11:46:08 AM EST
    if you think these wages are acceptable, and the fish farm outfit isn't taking advantage of exploited labor...I can't help ya diogenes.

    I wonder if those who like (none / 0) (#24)
    by MKS on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 11:53:04 AM EST
    having the inmates work for peanuts are also opposed to immigration and amnesty for undocumented workers?

    at the moment, (none / 0) (#26)
    by cpinva on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 12:03:25 PM EST
    if you think these wages are acceptable, and the fish farm outfit isn't taking advantage of exploited labor...I can't help ya diogenes.

    you don't know this to be a completely factual representation of the situation. conceivably, the prison may well have contracted for prisoner services at the going fair market rate, and what the prisoners are getting is the net, after subtracting for victim/state compensation.

    i don't know that to be the case, but i don't know that it isn't either. it would have been nice if they'd included a bit more information about that.


    "acceptable wages" (none / 0) (#36)
    by diogenes on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 07:45:25 PM EST
    We have minimum wages in society presumably to keep people from being paid so little that they starve.  In prison, you get your basic needs met (room, board, health care), so an acceptable wage is whatever the market dictates.  Perhaps if no inmates chose to do the work then the wage would go up.

    It's better to raise the fishes... (none / 0) (#1)
    by EL seattle on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 02:50:10 AM EST
    ... than sleep with the fishes, I suppose.

    I wonder if there are any private fisheries that have complained (yet) about competition from prisoner labor.

    Farm Raised Fish (none / 0) (#5)
    by Inspector Gadget on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 08:29:17 AM EST
    is not healthy food. These fish are not fed the ocean greens that give fish the omega fat that makes them so good for us. Wild fish is the only way to buy healthy.

    You go right ahead and eat it (none / 0) (#21)
    by Inspector Gadget on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 11:43:24 AM EST
    to your heart's content.

    Capitalism's Dream (none / 0) (#2)
    by pluege on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 06:00:55 AM EST
    having access to the slave labor of prisons.

    And in the incarceration culture that is America, h-o-l-y  c-o-w, talk about your symbiotic relationship - the American Wet Dream! Almost as good as incinerating innocent brown people with depleted uranium munitions.

    Not for nothing, but as I understand it, (none / 0) (#3)
    by tigercourse on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 08:04:49 AM EST
    inmates love these jobs. It's a chance to actually do something other then sit around counting the minutes of your life ticking away.

    Honestly (none / 0) (#4)
    by nyjets on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 08:18:42 AM EST

    I would prefer that Whole Food would hire people who did not break the law to do there work.
    Now Whole Foods has less incentive to hire people. They can let the inmates do the jobs for pennies.

    That's a good point. (none / 0) (#6)
    by tigercourse on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 08:31:10 AM EST
    Labor typically hates (none / 0) (#23)
    by MKS on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 11:51:10 AM EST
    having inmates do work like this....It gives the company an incentive to hire inmates rather than union members.

    I like Jeralyn'a idea of giving the inmates time off.

    The best answer is of course to have the inmates live at home and do charitable work for the state during the day.  If these inmates are in a minimum security facility and are able to do this type of work, they should be let go.


    how is that (none / 0) (#29)
    by cpinva on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 12:10:29 PM EST
    I like Jeralyn'a idea of giving the inmates time off.

    going to give the company more of an incentive to hire union members, vs contracting with prisons? i believe jeralyn was suggesting the time off, in lieu of cash, as payment for their services, not eliminating the contracted services entirely.

    they're still getting paid, it's merely the form that compensation takes that would be different.


    Assuming you (none / 0) (#30)
    by MKS on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 12:19:02 PM EST
    are going to have such a program of hiring prison labor by private corporations (which I disagree with), the best alternative is to get the inmates out of jail sooner.

    Another reason to not shop Whole Foods (none / 0) (#9)
    by Militarytracy on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 08:59:34 AM EST
    for me, big price + slave labor....thanks but no thanks.  The Piggly Wiggly here has a new high end inventory.  Lots of organic and gluten free foods and a work force that has worked there for years and seem to be able to keep themselves well.  They couldn't compete with Walmart discount so they are going high end.  I bought a standing rib roast for us stateside and a bunch of high end mustards and meat sticks and crackers and even a smoked salmon that doesn't need to be refrigerated until opened, and that is boxed up to send to husband and any others he can share with.

    slave labor! (none / 0) (#16)
    by Salo on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 10:22:44 AM EST

    In California, the prison industries (none / 0) (#27)
    by oculus on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 12:04:15 PM EST
    employer is required to meet federal wages and hours requirements.  But 80% of the wage goes to the state for taxes, room and board, and inmates family obligations.  By law.  The inmate who was lead plaintiff in class action to establish the employer must pay minimum wage was incarcerated for his third armed robbery conviction.

    Is there any data assessing the effect (none / 0) (#28)
    by oculus on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 12:06:00 PM EST
    of the "relaxing music" on the inmates?

    Michael Buble? (none / 0) (#32)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 12:25:34 PM EST
    Is he related to John Denver? (none / 0) (#33)
    by oculus on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 12:43:00 PM EST
    From Wiki:  link

    In 2000, Bublé's career breakthrough came from a surprising chain of events. Michael McSweeney saw Bublé's performance at a business party[12] and received a copy of Bublé's self-financed independent album from Michael. McSweeney, an aide to former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, showed the album to Mulroney and his wife. Subsequently, Bublé was invited to sing at the wedding of Mulroney's daughter Caroline, where he sang Bobby Darin's "Mack the Knife".[12]
     [Emphasis added.]

    I have never ever heard Mack the Knife sung at a wedding!!!


    Whaddya expect from a Conservative? ;-) (none / 0) (#34)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 12:53:00 PM EST