Former Tennessee prison inmates from a private Nashville jail say they were put to work making cheesy items for prison workers to sell at flea markets for profit, leaving notes inside the items to prove it – including the number 412148, a section of Tennessee code that states it is illegal for jail officials to force an inmate to perform free labor for the officials’ gain.
Larry Stephney and Charles Brew allege that they were forced to build bean-bag “cornhole” games which the official sold for around $50 a piece, plaques shaped like footballs that went for $10 to $20 as well as birdhouses, dog beds and other items during their incarceration. The items they made were for “Stand Firm Designs,” which is run by two jail employees and a former employee of Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility .
Inmates are often used as cheap or free labor making everything from office furniture to lingerie, but prison officials are not allowed to profit personally.
To prove that this was happening, Stephney and Brew would write their names along with code which states the work was illegal on a piece of wood attached to the back of the items.
Rob Hill, a building trades instructor, and Steven Binkley, the computer instructor at the prison, are also accused of taking orders for items to be produced in the wood shop from other workers at the prison, which is run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest private prison operator.
“All I can tell you is it’s really just a bogus thing. There’s not really any slave labor going on over there,” Roy Napper, one of the partners of Stand Firm Designs and former prison worker told the Associated Press.
“Since it’s under investigation, I can’t really tell you anything else.”
Ironically, as AP points out, the Stand Firm Designs website calls the company a “Christian-based organization” and the company’s logo is its initials inside a Christian fish symbol. The site has since gone offline.
When asked why the inmates did not pull out from the program and refuse to work, they explained that they did not want to face retaliation, such as having contraband planted in their cells.
“You do anything there as an inmate, you get put in the hole,” Stephney told AP. “If they do something wrong, they should get in trouble too.”
An investigation has been launched by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation at the request of the district attorney.