Waupun: “Pride For Sale”

Letter from someone previously incarcerated at Waupun Correctional Institution and describing labor conditions there, name provided to public posting by the author:

“6/10/2019 CHARLES DOWNING (99690)

Pride for Sale.

by Charles C. Downing

May 22, 2019

In August 1998 and while incarcerated in the Waupun Correctional Institution, I was hired by the Bureau of Correctional Enterprise’s Badger State Industries’ (BSI) Metal Furniture Annex department.

My supervisor, Wally, hired me on to create a clerk position due to the increase in product output.  I was hired on as an assembler so I become familiar with parts and processes in order to be a more productive clerk.

Our shop was a small, five to seven man crew and we performed best with six men.  Our shop was designed to receive parts from a Canadian company and assemble vertical, lateral and pedestal filing cabinets and kiosks.

In pedestal and lateral cabinets, counterbalance weights are installed to prevent the cabinet from tipping over onto the user to prevent injury and limit damage (if properly done, if the cabinet’s front feet were adjusted so that the front of the cabinet is higher off level than the back feet, gravity would preclude its tipping over, and, if more exact, the angle could be set in order for the drawer to slide closed).

The counterbalance weights were parts that came within the package of parts that usually accompanied the cabinet’s kit.  To install the weight, an assembler wound use double sided tape and, depending upon the cabinet, three styles would use self tapping screws and another style would use nuts and bolts to secure the weights.

After about a year or two, I noticed the cost of the weights and related parts and stated to Wally that we can not only eliminate the cost of the weight itself, we can erase the tolling weight, cost of the nuts and bolts, the self-tapping screws and the two-sided tape by manufacturing the weights in the metal furniture shops next door to the Annex.

Wally took that to his supervisor and within six months our metal furniture shops started building counterbalance weights and ordered the installation parts that we needed to install the weights and I was happy to see that the installation parts were purchased from Wisconsin companies.

I also recommended that we can reduce our costs by finding a supplier to purchase pedestal wheels and Wally took that idea to his supervisor and we started purchasing them from another Wisconsin company.

About another year after those cost saving processes started, Wally started stating that he thought up the above cost-saving ideas.  What crap!

I also started to attempt to convince Wally that we can create and design our own metal filing cabinets which we can make better profit margins even if we lower our purchase price for our customers.  Between Wally, two other Annex workers and I could have, at least. attempted it, but Wally nixed that recommendation without pause for thought (which leads me to a suspicion of which is without evidence and this is another writing).

He was my supervisor and because prison employment in an industry shop is highly valued due to a higher wage.  Decent prison or correctional staff will readily give prison workers earned kudos, but, some staff sees a prisoner’s truth as a challenge to their authority, so I let it go.  It wasn’t worth losing my highly coveted job. My pride was bought.

I also rarely worked overtime by turning it down to allow other men with lower pay to earn a decent paycheck.  The only times I worked overtime was if Wally said he needed me there due to the importance of the order, the customer and potential for problems.

Wally became especially worried when he went on a two week vacation to Mexico and the shop ran like a fine tuned machine, mostly without a technician on site.  If a problem arose we brought it to the attention of a technician who was close in another shop. When Wally came back from his vacation and saw how smooth the shop ran.  He was present for a day or two and then had to take another two weeks off for a medical situation. Before he left, he hid his shop binder which kept track of which received parts were for specific outgoing orders and with note pads, with unnecessary headaches, we still met all deadlines we possibly could (sometimes we had to take from one order so as to make the delivery date of another).  Upon return, Wally was surprised that we made everything happen on time and still ran the smoothly.

In 2009, I was shanghaied by WCI’s Program Review Committee and sent to the Green Bay Correctional Institution in a retaliatory move because I spent too much time at WCI and knew it too well (at the time of this writing, there are at least two other men in WCI that were also placed into WCI BEFORE me and are STILL there; I know it to be retaliatory because when the Program Review Committee intends to transfer a prisoner, it requires the prisoner to be present at the hearing and I wasn’t called to be present; this is to be another writing).

Things like this rarely make it to the public’s eye.  Things like this doesn’t make it into our files for consideration.  Things like this disappear and our shop of five to seven ought to be recognized as workers of solid character who got the job done, albeit, not perfectly, but close.”