Documents & Articles which concern Catholic and Labor Issues
We strongly invite all those who visit this page, and who share a common interest in issues effecting the Catholic Church and the Labor Movement to subscribe. Occasionally, notices will be sent when this page is updated. When important events happen, we will pass on the information through the e-mail list, and most of all, the e-mail list is a means by which we can pray and support each other.
Some Catholic and Labor Links
Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness: Prison Labor At Sheridan
REFLECTION FROM PRISON
Bill Bichsel, S.J.
I've seen people such as Bush, Reagan, Clinton, Albright, and Strom
Thurmond, who are neat as a pin and responsible for the deaths of untold
scores of people. And I've seen people such as Keith Harrison and
Oscar Grice who sleep under a bridge and wear clothes soiled with smoke
and grime and share their last bit of change with another homeless man
for a cup of coffee at MacDonald's. No, I don't think cleanliness
is the characteristic by which we recognize God's
The play on cleanliness is a device used in prisons, the militaries
and their academies, and like institutions to control people. The
emphasis is on how square that bed is made and not on what that person
needs to lead a better life. The focus is strengthened by a compulsive,
national trait to cleanse ourselves. Maybe to cleanse ourselves of
untold horrors of which we, as a people are guilty. Wash the hands over
and over and wonder with Lady MacBeth whether these
In our prison camp at Sheridan this detergent driven ploy is mandated
in our prison manuals and by our "counselors", prison officials, and guards
that we are to keep the window sills spotless and free of any objects,
the tops of our cupboards free of any objects, the bunks made military
style, one pair of khakis hanging from the clothes hook, and the floor
waxed spotless clean. My first day in the camp my "counselor" screamed
at me because a pair of sweat pants were hanging on the bunk post.
Any infraction of cleanliness can lead to incident reports which affect
whether a prisoner will get half-way house time, furloughs, or enrollment
The emphasis in the camp is certainly not on what a person needs to
improve the self. There are relatively few educational opportunities
here. A good percentage of the limited classes that are offered are
taught by prisoners with minimal or no expense to the Bureau of Prisons.
Pel Grants, which enabled a person to receive a college education in prison,
have been cut out by the get-tough-on -criminals congress. The righteous
indignation of a respectable
Prisons have always been bad; in many cases dungeons where prison officials
prey on inmates and inmates prey on each other. In the last 15 years
the prison industry has let fall any pretext of rehabilitation. It's not
in the federal glossary anymore. Prison is for doing the time for the crime.
The system is punitive and in no way restorative. The get-tough-on
criminals propaganda has brought about mandatory sentencing which translates
into much longer terms for many more people. Very many of today's
convictions revolve around drugs. New categories of crimes are added.
My crime was to trespass onto government property at Ft. Benning, Georgia and to put my red-painted hand-print on the entrance sign of that institution. For these offenses I was sentenced to 18 months, a $3,000 dollar fine and two years probation period.
Well, like I said, the prison industry is booming and it looks like a clean sweep in our national life. Representatives in Congress fear too much for their political lives to do anything about it.
So that this article might end where it began, I want to point out,
that whenever there is an inspection of our facility by the 'Big
Suits', the first thing that happens before the visitation is the
compulsive scouring and mopping and cleaning and waxing of all areas.
Before the fateful days, officials, counselors and guards are on each inmate
that not a wrinkle on the bunk or a woolly on the floor be in evidence.
All living and working areas are judged by their cleanliness. The
whole place becomes sanitized- and thus sanctified. Perhaps we would
do well to ponder Matthew 23, Verse 25.
Bill Bichsel, S.J.
Papal Social Encyclicals Other Catholic Social Teachings General Articles of Interest Catholic Worker Connection
Msgr. George Higgins Home Page
E-Mail: Fr. Sinclair Oubre