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Indybay Feature
New KPFA morning show
by repost
Friday Dec 17th, 2010 10:36 PM
A locally produced Morning Show returns to KPFA with an a diverse all volunteer staff.
A reprint of a PACIFICA press release.
New KPFA Morning Show

December 17, 2010

For Immediate Release

KPFA Set To Launch New Morning Show With Diverse All-Volunteer Staff

Daily One-Hour Program With Local Emphasis Will Join Al-Jazeera News and Democracy Now! In Revamped Drive-Time Lineup

Berkeley-Radio station KPFA (94.1-FM), the Pacifica Foundation's Northern California outlet, is bringing back its Morning Show next week, anchored by veteran programmers from the station's unpaid staff together with other Bay Area progressive journalists.

The restored one-hour Morning Show will run every weekday at 8:00am, filling out a revamped drive-time lineup that includes Al-Jazeera English news at 6:00am, and Democracy Now!, the award-winning national news magazine at 7:00 and 9:00 am. The Morning Show will focus primarily on local Bay Area news and culture, while incorporating diverse voices from communities marginalized in the mainstream media.

"The Morning Show is part of the local landscape," said Adrienne Lauby, one of the unpaid programmers putting the show together. "It helps cross-pollinate activists and cultural workers and brings critical information to people as they start their day. I'm thrilled our all-volunteer host teams could bring it back to KPFA's air."

The show's rotating hosts will include:

--Tara Dorabji, who has co-hosted La Onda Bajita Friday evenings on KPFA for five years and currently runs arts education programs for youth in disenfranchised communities in San Francisco and Oakland

--Leslie Stovall, who first appeared on Bay Area radio with KMEL-FM in 1985 and served up music and
stimulating topics for twelve years at KBLX-FM in San Francisco

--Dr. Peter Phillips, professor of sociology at Sonoma State University, President of the Media Freedom
Foundation and long-time director of Project Censored, a unique investigative news project that enlists students and faculty from more than thirty colleges and universities to expose media censorship and under-covered stories and Mickey Huff, associate professor of history at Diablo Valley College, the new director of Project Censored and a Media Freedom Foundation board member.

--Anthony Fest, a KPFA News Department producer since 1994, and a current host of KPFA's Sunday and holiday evening newscasts.

--Adrienne Lauby, a member of the collective producing Pushing Limits, KPFA's ground-breaking disability rights program for seven years and a co-coordinator of outreach and fundraising for Free Speech Radio News, a global grassroots news-gathering team serving Pacifica and hundreds of other community stations.

"A new day is dawning at KPFA," said Dorabji. "As volunteers, we are committed to bringing the back the Morning Show and keeping the heart of KPFA alive".

"We aim to deliver professional radio that informs, entertains and interacts." Stovall added. "We hope to illuminate what makes the Bay Area so special and vibrant."

The show will begin on the heels of an emergency fund drive, which produced a strong and gratifying show of support from listeners who want to help KPFA survive a severe financial crisis. Recently in an effort to bring expenses into line with revenue, seven KPFA staff members took voluntary layoffs and two staff members, the former hosts of the Morning Show, were laid off involuntarily.

A new general manager is expected to begin work at KPFA in the next month.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Dickie Felps
Friday Dec 17th, 2010 11:59 PM
Wow. the culture of patronage and cronyism persists big time no matter who is calling the shots.
Were these positions made available to all volunteers, or opened to the community so non-insiders could apply?
The new boss is worse than the old boss.
Patronage, cronyism and payback are running rampant.
Adrienne, Anthony, Gabrielle are all scabs. Peter Phillips loses all credibility, the saddest of all. "project censored" censors.
You will kill KPFA.
by Three Cheers for Arlene Englehardt
Saturday Dec 18th, 2010 4:11 AM
The above press release may be found, along with lots of other announcements and resolutions, at:

Peter Phillips is good on the 9/11 Inside Job and of course his Censored annual book is a ringing indictment of the entire bankrupt capitalist press. Anthony Fest clearly has more intellect and sense of what is news than Thug Hallinan Gang friend, Aileen Alfandarry. Hopefully all will be able to attract the workingclass communities of the Bay Area to KPFA, who are all non-European descendants who combined, constitute the overwhelming majority of the population of California, and even more so, of the people under age 18, the future of any society.
A few weeks ago, Brian Edwards-Tiekert, along with Mitch Jeserich and Lewis Sawyer, teamed up with a law firm headed by an important Republican Party activist, Harmeet K. Dhillon, to sue Pacifica over its response to the blatant violation of the rules regarding the Local Station Board Election by Edwards-Tiekert, Jeserich, and others. This suit is likely to cost Pacifica tens of thousands of dollars -- perhaps enough to have paid the salary of one of their 'union' buddies for a year! Is the (now former) KPFA staffer most responsible for this alliance with the enemy somebody you want to hear when you turn on your radio in the morning? (page linking to the actual lawsuit complaint) (direct link)

Aimee Allison, BTW, is a clueless liberal Democrat wearing a Green cloak. But at least she's not a cynical operative like Edwards-Tiekert.

BTW, I put 'union' in quotes because it is controlled by the same entrenched staff clique that has, at least till very recently, also controlled local station management. And Mark Mericle, who, as News Co-Director, is really part of management, is also 'Contractual Vice President / KPFA' (whatever that title means!) of the CWA Local that includes KPFA staff. (Fortunately, the 'union'-management clique don't control the Unpaid Staff Organization, UPSO, which is the organization representing those who do a majority of the work at KPFA.)
by A Listener who says BASTA !
Saturday Dec 18th, 2010 10:08 AM
I would like to extend a warning to whomever posted the previous comment smearing various programmers as '' scabs ''.
I would strongly suggest that you cease and desist such comments that are not only grossly inaccurate and slanderous but dangerous . Are you trying to incite physical violence towards those who are determined to preserve KPFA AND Pacifica ?
If Not Be careful with your electronic ''mouth '' .
by Eric Brooks
Saturday Dec 18th, 2010 11:37 AM
The accusation that volunteer workers coming in on their own time to produce the new Morning Show are somehow 'scabs' is absurd on its face. The definition of a scab is a worker who (usually out of desperation) crosses a strike line in order to make a paid living.

It is obviously impossible for a volunteer to be a 'scab'.
by ukexica
Saturday Dec 18th, 2010 12:33 PM
My, when did semantics become a required consideration before applying epithets on Indybay? I seem to remember anyone voicing any support for the Sustainable Budget, and subsequently the reinstatement of Brian Edwards-Tiekert and Aimee Allison as hosts of The Morning Show, was labeled a 'shill' without exception, and without regard for the implications.

I guess the ends do justify the means, don't they?

Clearly, the charge of 'scab' is made in opposition to the the frame posited by Arlene Engelhardt, Tracy Rosenberg, et al regarding the layoffs of the former Morning Show hosts. Given the amount of posts on Indybay that have evinced an interest in removal of said hosts for reasons other than the current financial morass at KPFA, and that much of this line has been repeated by Local Station Board and Pacifica National Board reps aligned with the Independents For Community Radio slate, this latest move has the appearance of merely making good on campaign promises, inre: ICR priorities 2011.

It is ridiculous, on its face, to assert that the use of 'scab' as slander is anymore nefarious than 'shill', or conducive to physical violence.
by Go back to the UK
Saturday Dec 18th, 2010 12:48 PM
Scab means an individual who crosses a picket line to take the jobs of individuals are on strike for better working conditions.

No one is on strike, this isn't about working conditions and there is no job to be taken.

The CWA said none of their members still on staff could accept a transfer to Morning Show hosting duties. As they wish.

The only alternative is that other people host instead.

They are.

Get over it.
by ukexica
Saturday Dec 18th, 2010 1:14 PM
but you miss the subtext: strictly defined, the mutual charges of 'scab' and 'shill' are unqualified. Much as you have done in the past, I was mere giving my take on what could motivate such an accusation to be made. In the UK, as is my understanding here in the States, this is called context.

Americans are slow to hate, such fun!
by Basta !!!!
Saturday Dec 18th, 2010 1:44 PM
Despite what the ''shill '' for the CL /Entrenced sez ''Scab ' is a fighting word . When Scottish Anarchist-businessman Ramsey Caanan , Hubby of Sasha Lilly , screamed ' You're a fucking scab '' at a supporter of the necessary decision to layoff two staffers He was trying to provoke a fight . He didn't get one because the victim of his spittle drenched rant didn't respond as many Union men and women might have done .
Now by by falsely labeling those who really want to save KPFA/Pacifica as ''strikebreakers /scabs '' (What Strike ? ) this 'concerned Listener ''is trying to whip up a frenzy so that a outraged (due to ignorance ) KPFA supporter may attempt in a time honored way to prevent such ''scabs ''from helping a Morning Show survive .
Don't even think about it ? More and more people are becoming educated about the real situation at Pacifica. Any attempts to escalate this battle even more will fail badly for you though it will hurt the station that you purportly love .
by Basta !!!
Saturday Dec 18th, 2010 1:51 PM
I wrote a ? instead of a ! after my line ' Don't even think about it ! ''
by ukexica
Saturday Dec 18th, 2010 2:17 PM
Cheers for proving my point, Basta. Please continue to curry favor among those predisposed the prejudices of so-called 'community radio', and otherwise speaking smugly, all of which has been par for contingent partisans throughout these past few months here on Indybay regarding recent trouble at KPFA.

Really, I thought Richard Phelps took the cake when it came to utilizing childish rhetoric, with his (I'm paraphrasing here) 'your silence proves the validity of my position' rant, but this is a new low,

"Any attempts to escalate this battle even more will fail badly for you though it will hurt the station that you purportly love."?

Suffice to say, we do create our own reality.
Saturday Dec 18th, 2010 9:25 PM
Real unions will have stood for nadra foster and nora barrow friedman > Real unions stand for social justice .But what you got in usa is mob run unions.
by Richard Phelps, KPFA LSB member
Sunday Dec 19th, 2010 9:16 PM
How ironic to have an anonymous poster, Ukexica, accuse people of childish rhetoric when she/he isn't proud enough of what he/she says to stand up and claim it and be accountable. Now back to Ukexica's ignorant comment. In law it is called an "admission by silence", in daily life when some one states some facts and you can't rebut them, with anything but an anonymous personal attack, it simply means you can't defeat the others position. Personal attacks to try to distract people from the truth. Ukexica, any time you are willing to debate these issues in a public forum let me know, and bring all your dishonest CL allies. You won't and they haven't despite previous challenges since you are all afraid of the truth! And you know your BS can't stand the light of day when put next to the real history of what BET and CL and their allies have done to KPFA and Pacifica.
by George
Monday Dec 20th, 2010 8:47 AM
Ironically, the first program (now only an hour!) is devoted to Intersection of the Arts (boring!) and a glorification of the appeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell!

This is SUPPOSED to be a pacifist station!
by Close Observer
Monday Dec 20th, 2010 9:05 AM
A the New Morning Show did have a slow start but so what ? Christmas week programming is often slow paced, sentimental and all that . One interesting note is that for all the scurrilous ranting about ''scabs '' CWA member and Loyal member of the Concerned Listener group on the Station Board Laura Prives reported for work today on the Morning Show .So either Loyal Laura is a ''scab '' or she and the CWA leadership decided to back off from their dangerous rhetoric .
by Laura Prives reported to keep her job
Monday Dec 20th, 2010 9:41 AM
As we know Laura Prives reported for work today on the Morning Show, and is showing that her solidarity could be bought by a check which is called her job. Yes she is still staff, and is not a volunteer. So officially she would be a scab because she crossed the relationship with her slave kpfa members who where fired. So since Laura Prives reported for work today on the Morning Show, she is the scab of slave kpfa. While everyone else is volunteering she definitely is taking the money and running with it, since she already betrayed her friends what else can she do but betray the listeners.
by Maureen
Monday Dec 20th, 2010 10:34 AM
I wouldn't pick on Laura Prives, If she is acting like an adult and doing her job, then good for her.

I thought the show was listenable and pretty enjoyable. Intersection for the Arts is always interesting and the repeal of don't ask, don't tell is of vital importance to the LBGT community and all who care about issues of representation and privilege.

It was also nice to hear about local activist events in prime time. That is how you build a movement.

I thought it was considerably less pompous and annoying than much of the former Morning Show content and look forward to hearing more.

Good job!
by FedUp !
Monday Dec 20th, 2010 9:46 PM
So they were glorifying the repeal of don't ask, don't tell? Wonderful! That's the same thing the sheep were doing on Twitter. They all fell for it. They think it's going to actually happen. I-don't-think-so. The military is very slow to change & I don't think they give a damn what the senate says. They'll do as they please, perhaps covertly. Because already I have read 2 articles which say that the military is not sure how long it will take to implement this change (wink, wink) and for the meantime, the ban stays in effect and that LGBT people should keep their sexuality to themselves. I won't be at all surprised to see articles 2 years from now saying that essentially that don't ask, don't tell is still in effect. I also witnessed people completely praising Obama on Saturday. They seem to be ignoring all that he has done to continue the Bush/Cheney agenda. All it took for the sheep was this repeal from the senate and with the sheep it seemed to erase Obama's despicable record since he's been in the White House. The sheep are something else! So easily manipulated. So gullible.

It's wonderful that the sheep fell for the idea of supposedly open LGBT people now being able to go and kill innocent people in other parts of the world in the name of continued U.S. imperialism and the PNAC agenda under war criminal Obama. Wonderful. (sarcasm intended).

by ukexica
Monday Dec 20th, 2010 10:38 PM
LSB Chairman Emeritus Phelps, long time no chat! Attempting to find fact via admission of silence is well and fine, but the norms of the court translate poorly on the outside, and given the context, made you look quite the amateur.

"Ukexica, any time you are willing to debate these issues in a public forum let me know, and bring all your dishonest CL allies. You won't and they haven't despite previous challenges since you are all afraid of the truth!"

This on the other hand, is really quite priceless, Richard. You do realize that you're not the only person on this planet familiar with the postmodern condition? I think you are confusing a decline of your invitation with being unimpressed by your polemic. The underpinnings of your sophistry are embarrassingly base, evinced by this histrionics inre: public debate and action taken by Indybay against you for repeated repostings.

There is also the tiny detail that I don't represent SaveKPFA in any official capacity, so any ukexica vs. former chairman Phelps debate would be pure PR for you and your chums.

As a barrister, you are well aware that the sword of propaganda is twin faced.
by Three Cheers for Arlene Englehardt
Tuesday Dec 21st, 2010 6:49 AM
On Monday, December 20, 2010 and on the morning news insulting blurb at 5:55 a.m. on December 21, 2010, Alfrandarry's Republican-Democratic Party news department at KPFA did not bother to mention the serious threat to the life of people's attorney, Lynn Stewart, in the transfer on December 18, 2010 of her from a New York City jail to a federal hellhole prison at Fort Worth, Texas, Carswell (near Dallas, Texas, thousands of miles from her attorneys and family). WBAI had it on its main website page on Monday, December 20, 2010 at
Here is more on Carswell from Assata Shakur's site, linked to WBAI's site:
It is below, but a word on the 12/21/10, 5:55 a.m. repeat of the previous night's news by the lickspittle of the Thug Hallinan Gang, Aileen Alfandarry: She continues to viciously attack the outstanding Arlene Englehardt who acted on orders from the Pacifica National Board which consists at least in part of elected members of the 5 Local Station Boards to stop the draining of funds by KPFA from the entire network as KPFA's costs exceeded its income and refusing to recognize that all Pacifica stations are community radio, staffed at least 80% by volunteers, and since it is a non-profit, there is no exploitation of labor to maximize profits. Therefore, Ms. Englehardt layed off the staff who had the least seniority, the Morning Show. Only 2 whined, and only 1, Brian Edwards-Tiekert, the ally of the Republican Party, supported by the Wellstone Democratic Club, has gone beserk with NLRB complaints and at least one frivolous, expensive lawsuit filed by a Republican Party law firm, Dhillon & Smith, over the staff elections to the KPFA Local Station Board. Since the group of voters is very small, about 200 or so (not thousands or millions as in government elections), and the elections dispute is easily remedied in-house, the reason for the lawsuit can only be to drain Pacifica of much needed funds. This is criminal. Alfandarry still refuses to provide the name for the 8 a.m. show, namely The New Morning Show. It is common for volunteer programs to be a collective as volunteers can only do such programs in their spare time. This writer easily remembers the highly regarded Freedom is a Constant Struggle, a Sunday news magazine at 6 p.m. of the 1970s, produced by a collective. See the Program Grid for the name, The New Morning Show, at

The horrors of Carswell are here:
Corporations are getting rich using federal prisoners as captive labor pools.
Unless she’s dying or recovering from surgery, a patient at the Federal Medical Center-Carswell must work. The hospital out on the banks of Lake Worth is run by the Bureau of Prisons, and its patients are women who have been convicted of federal crimes. Bureau rules require all prisoners — even those in wheelchairs — to work at whatever jobs their infirmities will allow, from scrubbing floors to cleaning toilets.
Just across the street from the hospital complex is a camp for minimum-security women prisoners who are not ill. They get most of the hot, hard jobs — cleaning boilers, welding, mowing. The pay is a lousy 12 cents an hour with no raises. That’s why a job that many on the outside would take only as a last resort is the most coveted in the compound: Ernestine the telephone operator.
So when you call directory assistance using, say, Excel Telecommunications, chances are good your inquiry might be answered by a federal prisoner. At Carswell, a fifth of the prison workforce — most from the camp but a few from the hospital as well — get to sit in cubicles in an air-conditioned building, start at almost double the pay of the regular prison jobs, and, if they behave and don’t make mistakes, get regular raises until they reach the maximum pay of — hold onto your hat — $1.45 an hour. Of course, they have to work seven and a half years to reach that maximum. And since this center hasn’t been open long enough for anyone to make the maximum, the highest pay at Carswell is $1.15 an hour.
With toothpaste at $5.95 in the prison commissary, inmates who take those calls for Excel have to work between five and 25 hours to earn enough for one tube. But by comparison, they’re lucky: Women who work at other prison jobs have to sweat out 49 hours for the luxury of brushing their teeth.
The math on the other end is even simpler, if grander in scale: Excel, a $2.5 billion global company, comes out the clear winner. If the 19-year-old Irving-based long-distance carrier had to pay no more than minimum wage to non-prison U.S. workers to field calls from its worldwide network, it would cost the company $900 a month per worker, plus benefits and payments to Social Security. The 370 prison workers in Excel’s call center at Carswell make $180 a month at most, with no benefits.
But the Carswell prisoners are far from the only ones participating in this exercise in government-assisted capitalism.
How many people know that when they dial 411, the operator at the other end of the call is often a federal prisoner? Or that when they call to reserve a camping space at a national park, the person taking their personal information may be sitting in a cubicle in a maximum-security prison? Or that the body armor for the soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan is being manufactured by federal inmates?
In what critics call slave labor and advocates call job training, more than 100 factories and service centers in federal prisons across the United States employ inmates in jobs such as those above and hundreds more, making everything from underwear to military gear to intricate electrical components, all under the umbrella of a near-billion-dollar corporation known as the Federal Prison Industries, Inc., trade name Unicor.
This little-known and wholly owned arm of the BOP has come under fire in recent years from environmentalists, prison reform groups, and congressional investigative committees for, among other things, exposing inmate workers to dangerous levels of lead and other toxins in its computer recycling centers. The company has also been investigated for profiting from sales of tens of thousands of excess Defense Department computers that were supposed to be given free to low-income schools around the country and, what may be worse, failing to remove sensitive data from the computers it resold. Unions and even the U. S. Chamber of Commerce are up in arms over its use of dirt-cheap prison labor to take jobs from the private sector.
The prison workers are just as unhappy. Unicor and the companies it contracts with “are making a killing off of us here,” one of the Carswell workers wrote recently to Fort Worth Weekly. “And then we leave prison and have nothing to fall back on. Just think how beneficial it would be if they paid at least minimum wage, paid into Social Security ... So that we would have something when we leave, old and broken down.”
There’s another Carswell prisoner who may be in a better position than most to help shine a spotlight into this dark corner of the federal prison system. “This prison is making huge profits off of nothing more than slave labor and then marking up prices by as much as 50 percent in the commissary, making even more profit off of all us,” Karen Lucchesi Lewis said.
Lewis has been a lot of things in her 42 years. She has known fame as the daughter of legendary Texas Rangers baseball manager Frank Lucchesi. She has owned and managed a multi-million-dollar spa and wellness center. She has been an honored volunteer fund-raiser for charities in her hometown of Colleyville. And, as a sufferer from lupus, she has been a proponent of naturalized medicine. What she never dreamed of becoming was an advocate for women in prison — especially one advocating from inside the walls. But that is exactly what she is these days, turning a shattering life change into a “mission from God,” as she calls it.
For the last three years Lewis has been doing time at Carswell, after getting caught up in a money-laundering sting aimed at the man who at that time handled legal matters for her business and who got off with a light sentence after testifying against her. In court, her criminal lawyer presented a defense so weak that even the sentencing judge commented on it. Still, Federal Judge John McBryde sent her to prison for 78 months.
While her new attorney, her family, and supporters such as North Side businessman Mike Costanza are working to get her conviction overturned, Lewis is on another quest. She wants to expose the injustices that she said she has witnessed since she entered the Carswell compound in 2004 — everything from “terrible medical neglect to women being used as slave labor for the prison to make millions in profits.”
Regardless of whether one believes in her innocence, Lewis is a high-profile inmate who is unafraid to speak out about a culture of abuse at Carswell that has been reported by the Weekly in an ongoing series since 1999. Now, to the prison’s litany of well-documented medical horror stories, rape, and sexual misconduct cases, are added allegations that the inmates are being exploited by a government industry that few citizens have ever heard of — even though it has been around since 1934. Someone’s making millions off the labor of the women at Carswell and thousands like them across the country — but it sure isn’t the inmates.
During the depths of the Great Depression, U.S. federal prisons were filling up with men and women who in many cases had done nothing more heinous than stealing bread to feed their families or hopping a freight train to search for work. In that swelling population, President Franklin Roosevelt saw not only a need but an opportunity. With a stroke of his pen, the Federal Prison Industry/Unicor was born, designed as a work program to teach inmates skills they could use when they were released. The presidential order, later made into law, carried with it a requirement that all federal agencies would have to buy from FPI when they needed any of the products manufactured by the prison industry. The initiative got $4 million in tax-revenue seed money but was required to be self-sustaining from then on. Private businesses could not bid for the work, even if they offered lower prices and better quality. Conversely, Unicor was prohibited from selling to private businesses — a limitation honored more in the breach these days, thanks to Bureau of Prisons legal maneuvering.
Prison industry advocates say the “factories with fences” train inmates for jobs on the outside. They say the work reduces recidivism and boredom and gives inmates a source of income to help pay their court fines, support families, or spend at the commissary. Critics, on the other hand, describe them as Dickensian places where laborers have no workplace protection, are routinely exposed to cancer-causing toxins, and are exempt from federal labor laws, which means they can be forced to accept wages lower than those in Third World countries. Private companies seeking government business complain they are forced to compete unfairly with Unicor.
For the last several years, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, labor unions, and prison reform groups such as FedCure have all pushed for legislation that would outlaw Unicor’s preferential treatment and require the corporation to pay minimum wage. Members of Congress from states whose manufacturing businesses have lost millions in government contracts to Unicor have taken up the cause, but to date the corporation has been able to fend off all such efforts.
By 2006 Unicor had come a long way from that initial $4 million. Last year, according to its annual report, the corporation held assets of $730 million in 108 factories and service centers at 79 prisons across the country. Its gross sales were $718 million with profits of $71.2 million. Those profits were produced by more than 21,000 inmate laborers who made, on average, $1,700 for a year’s work. The profits aren’t, as one might suspect, plowed back into the prison system to, say, improve healthcare services at Carswell or reduce the inflated prices for basic personal hygiene supplies at prison commissaries. Instead, it is plowed back into Unicor.
One its harshest critics is U. S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican who has been trying since at least 2000 to get legislation passed that would reform Unicor and force it to compete with private companies. He said that the requirement that federal agencies must buy from Unicor allows it to perpetuate itself without regard to whether that is the best option for agencies and for prisoners themselves.
One congressional aide, who asked for anonymity, said that Hoekstra has found no evidence that those who run the corporation are enriching themselves. But, he said, it’s a “giant Ponzi scheme,” that requires more and more millions to feed its ever-expanding enterprises.
In recent years, Unicor has added to its list of factory-made products what it calls “services”: computer recycling centers, industrial laundry services, printing shops, and call centers — all for sale to private, for-profit companies in spite of the law’s prohibiting language. BOP Director Harry Lappin, who is also head of Unicor, maneuvered around that little obstacle in the law, apparently successfully, when he testified before a congressional committee last year that the corporation’s new offerings are “a service, not a product” and that therefore the law does not apply. Unicor now advertises its call centers on its web page and in its catalogs as “domestic outsourcing at offshore prices.”
Three major national communications networks use the “domestic outsourcing” call center at Carswell for their directory assistance services, according to FPI program director Todd Baldau. Baldau refused to name the clients, citing “proprietary information.” However, two inmates who currently work at the center, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, said the companies are Excel Telecom, Cricket Communications, and Metro 411. Calls and e-mails to the three companies were not returned. Baldau would not say what the companies pay Unicor for inmate labor for their call centers, but the corporation’s 2006 annual report listed sales of $27.8 million from its 18 service centers, including Carswell, with profits of $2.5 million.
The policy that all prisoners in federal lockups must work, including the less critically ill patients in prison hospitals, is designed to keep prisoners occupied as much as anything, bureau spokesman Mike Truman said in an interview for an earlier story. “Life can get very boring in prison,” he said, and reducing boredom reduces the potential for trouble among inmates.
Working for Unicor “is a privilege for good inmates with a smidgen of education,” said a former Carswell prison employee who asked not to be named. “They are monitored heavily, are lectured frequently, and really do their jobs in fear of losing them if they mess up. ... The work is easy, conditions are better [than any other jobs there], and the work is useful on their resumés once they get out. ... That’s why jobs with Unicor are coveted.” The call center at Carswell has been open for more than five years. Women sit in a small, guarded, air-conditioned building near the center of the compound, taking directory assistance calls in eight-hour shifts, 24 hours a day.
Sweatier non-Unicor jobs basically cover maintenance work at the prison camp and hospital, including groundskeeping, floor-scrubbing, plumbing, welding, carpentry, and cleaning the boilers that provide hot water and heat for the compound. “They even work on the elevators,” said former inmate Dana Corum. “And that’s a full-time job because those dang elevators were always out.”
Prison officials also refused to discuss details of Unicor pay scales. But one of the inmates who provided the names of the Unicor client companies wrote to the Weekly that the pay starts at 23 cents an hour with incremental raises that top out at $1.15 an hour. She said that after 18 months on the job, the women get an additional 10 cents an hour for “longevity” and another 5 cents an hour for each 18 months after that up to 80 months. At that point, they will have “maxed out” at around $1.45 an hour. “There are a few ‘premium pay’ positions that rate an extra 25 cents an hour ... For being extra important to the operations — or the most liked,” she wrote. It takes “political ... Shit to get these spots.”
The Spokane Area Journal of Business reported last year that regular call center jobs in this country start their workers at more than $11 an hour, plus benefits. Call center personnel in India, by comparison, make between $159 and $204 a month, although those salaries are expected to rise soon, as other offshore costs of business have already begun doing. Then there’s Carswell, where monthly pay ranges from $36 to $180 a month.
And since the prison laborers receive no benefits: and no Social Security, the private companies that contract with the prisons save on those substantial costs as well. Average cost to an employer for health insurance for a family of four in 2007 is around $9,000 a year according to Towers Perrin, a global business financial management firm. And then there’s that 9.1 percent matching contribution to Social Security and Medicare for each employee.
Unlike Indian workers, American inmates don’t have to pay for all their living costs from those salaries — but Indian workers, on the other hand, don’t have to pay almost $2 for soap. Inmates are required to buy all personal items, and often meet some dietary needs, from the prison’s commissary.
Most can’t afford just the basic things that are necessary for their health and hygiene, said Lewis, who is one of the few who has a family able to put money into her prison account, to a maximum of $300 a month. A commissary price sheet lists a bar of bath soap at $1.65, deodorant at $2.80, and a box of regular tampons at $5.30. For diabetics, who must buy their own non-sugar products, a 50-count box of Equal packets costs $3.80. Many of the women at Carswell come from poor families. Some have been abandoned by their families, and only a few have loved ones who can send them money for such basic needs.
Corum, a diabetic, spent five years at Carswell, off and on. She was sent to Marianna, Fla., for a year midway in her sentence as retaliation, she believes, for speaking to the Weekly for an earlier story about the hospital’s poor medical care. Her condition deteriorated so badly at the Florida facility that she was finally sent back to Carswell. She finished her sentence two years ago. She did not work in the call center but had friends who did.
Even though the women work under strict guidelines, which forbid them to ask callers for personal information or tell them their calls have been routed to a prison, the jobs can be enjoyable and provide some relief from the rigidity of prison life, Corum said. “They had some fun, but the pay is still lousy,” she said, “and the whole thing is a racket that’s making money for the prison and unfairly competing with legitimate businesses.”
Unfair competition with private business is high on the Communications Workers of America’s list of concerns with the federal call centers because of the resulting loss of jobs for its members, said Candice Johnson, a spokeswoman for the national union. “Generally, outsourcing has been the big issue” with American communications workers, she said. “But if those [outsourcing] companies are now bringing back that work to the federal prisons, and still paying the same low wages, that is still an unfair advantage over the other companies that have stayed here and are trying to provide good-paying jobs and good service.” Johnson said the CWA believes the prison jobs do not provide the training that such work requires in order to give good customer service. “Good companies value good customer service,” she said. That was a big problem with the call center jobs that were sent overseas in the first place, she said: Foreign workers read from scripts, and if the customer’s problems didn’t fit the script, the employee was stumped and the customers ended up angry and frustrated. For that reason, she said, companies like AT&T and U. S. Airways are in the process of bringing their call centers back to this country. “People [in prison] need the opportunity to learn skills” but Unicor is not the answer, she said.
The system has its defenders outside the prison system. Journalist Harry Sheff, in an article for a web-based business magazine, wrote in July that “Unicor call centers don’t compete with American jobs — they only take on contracts that were about to be outsourced overseas.”
Other voices of protest are coming from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose director of legislative affairs told National Public Radio in September, “We do not believe Federal Prison Industries should continue its unfettered expansion into the commercial marketplace. ... The business community is extremely concerned about this.” Future expansion by Unicor is possible because of the enormous increase in the prison population in recent years — an involuntary workforce numbering close to 200,000 now and increasing by about 2.5 percent annually.
Unicor now offers more than 140 products and services for sale to other government agencies, with more than half its output bought by the Department of Defense — by far its largest customer, especially since the beginning of the Iraq war. Like every other defense contractor, Unicor has benefitted from the war and dislikes competition. “While we expect the continuing war effort [to] provide another year of excellent work opportunities for our inmates, that situation will not last indefinitely,” Unicor directors wrote in the 2006 annual report. “We are positioning to a post-war environment.”
Another similarity between Unicor and other military contractors has been its propensity for corruption.
When she was at the Federal Correctional Institution Marianna in Florida, “there was a big Unicor scandal,” Corum said. “They were selling stuff, government stuff, out of open-air sheds on the grounds, just like a flea market.” Corum said she witnessed huge trucks pulling up and unloading all kinds of computers and electronic equipment: “There was a real racket going on. People who worked there were buying the stuff dirt cheap.”
Corum wasn’t exaggerating. In 2000, Rep. Hoekstra, chairman of the House subcommittee on education and the workforce, opened an investigation into the “racket” that Corum had witnessed, albeit a small part of it. The FPI “has been taking tens of thousands of items in excess federal government equipment, especially computer equipment, and using them to fuel an entry of unknown scope into the commercial marketplace,” he said at the opening of the subsequent hearing. In other words, they were selling used government equipment, improperly and in huge quantities.
According to Hoekstra’s office and transcripts of the hearings, Unicor acquired the computers through a process that allows federal agencies that are replacing equipment to pass along outdated but still operable items for use by other agencies. If other federal agencies don’t need the hand-me-downs, the equipment is supposed to be dispersed, free, to nonprofit groups, schools, or state governments. It is never supposed to be sold.
In this case the computers were destined to be sent to poor school districts under a presidential order of Bill Clinton. Somehow, FPI got to them first, hauled them out of the warehouses, and began a huge, illegal, garage sale, Hoekstra said. He noted that at the time the U.S. Department of Justice was conducting a criminal investigation of Unicor. “It is high time,” he said. “FPI has been out of control for years, exceeding its statutory authority and running wild through the marketplace without any Congressional ... Authority.”
Hoekstra’s evidence showed that during 1999 FPI took almost 60,000 excess items from the Defense Department alone, worth $481 million, and in 2000 added 83,000 more excess items with value estimated at just under $89 million. The company would have topped the $1 billion mark in illegal sales, the chairman said, if not for the “vigilance of a dedicated public servant” who blew the whistle. FPI’s defense was the “dubious claim” Hoekstra said, that it did not break the law governing its existence because selling the equipment was a service and not a product, the same justification echoed by Lappin last year when Congress questioned the call centers.
As a result of his own investigation, Hoekstra introduced legislation that would have reined the corporation in. It didn’t pass that year, but his spokesman said Hoekstra will keep reintroducing the bill for as long as it takes to get it passed.The most recent scandal involved Unicor’s recycling centers. A single personal computer contains a toxic cocktail of cancer-causing chemicals, including up to eight pounds of lead, according to a report by the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. In 2002 SVTC found that prisoners at a maximum-security prison in Merced, Calif., were “recycling” computers there by smashing them with hammers or raising them over their heads and slamming them on a metal table. They were being showered with glass and toxic chemicals. None was issued protective clothing or face or eye protection, the coalition reported. Air quality tests in the room showed high levels of toxins just a few feet from a food-processing area. Prison personnel refused a supervisor’s repeated requests for improved safety measures. The supervisor went public, ultimately filing a whistleblower lawsuit.
By 2005 the BOP had admitted that in at least three of its factories, prison workers had been exposed to higher than safe levels of toxic chemicals — but officials said the problem had been fixed. Not true, said the government’s Office of Special Counsel and called for an investigation by the Justice Department. The investigation is ongoing. In the meantime, Unicor clients such as Dell and the state of California have cancelled their computer recycling contracts with Unicor under pressure from environmental groups, labor unions, and prison reform advocates. Dell chief executive Michael Dell was met at a computer industry gathering by protestors in striped prison garb accusing him of hiring “a high-tech chain gang.” Still, the scandal did not deter Arkansas from giving Unicor an exclusive contract to recycle all of the state’s used computers.
Worker exposure to deadly lead, followed by denials and cover-ups, is not new in the prison agency. The Weekly reported on a similar incident that happened at Carswell in 1999, when three federal maintenance workers and a half-dozen female inmate workers were ordered to dismantle a lead-lined medical radiology room at the hospital. They were given no protective clothing or breathing equipment, even though they were working in a small room and had to crawl into some of the lead-lined cabinets and grind the lead out. Three of the civilian workers suffered such serious and irreparable lead poisoning that they can no longer work, and their doctors have said it will shorten their lives. Even their wives and children had high levels of lead in their blood.
Karen Lucchesi Lewis wishes that the same kind of pressure brought against Dell could be brought against the telephone companies under Unicor contract at Carswell. But she is realistic enough to know that it is unlikely to happen. Women in prison, she said, are forgotten by the public and the Congress — and that includes a woman who ran an $8 million business before her conviction.
Lewis has much more outside support than the average inmate. Nelson Thibodeaux, editor of a Colleyville online newspaper,, has written extensively about her case.
But others from the Colleyville business community and women’s groups she once participated in have abandoned her. She was a major fund-raiser for many charities in Colleyville and North Texas including the Colleyville Woman’s Club, the Christ Haven Shelter for women, the North Texas Cancer Center and the Bobby Bragan Foundation that provides college scholarships. Lewis said that when she asked a prominent woman from one of the charities if she would be a character witness for her at her trial, she declined.
At Carswell, Lewis was at first put to work mowing the grounds. “They never considered the fact that someone with lupus is supposed to stay out of the sun,” she said. Later she was moved inside to help clean the boilers. She has not applied for work with Unicor, she said. Instead, she has established a health education and exercise class for the women. That takes up “all of my spare time,” she said. Her lupus is currently in remission, she said.
Lucchesi said that her memories of growing up as Frank and Kathy Lucchesi’s youngest child sustain her. “We had a very old-fashioned Italian upbringing,” she wrote in one letter. “I used to love to go to the games to watch Papa on the field and then eat late at night.” But her famous dad, who was manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, the Chicago Cubs, and the Texas Rangers, kept her away from the players he managed, she said. “I was never allowed to date them.” After Frank retired, the whole clan lived near one another in Colleyville.
All of that familial happiness came to a crashing end in 2004 when Karen was taken in handcuffs and leg-irons through the clanging prison gates of Carswell, bringing her to a cramped, four-person cell in the austere prison where she was destined to spend the next six and a half years.
“I was in shock. I couldn’t believe it was really happening,” she said. “I have never even had a traffic ticket.” But in October 2003, a traffic ticket was not the issue. Dirty money was. That month Lewis was found guilty by a federal jury in Fort Worth of laundering $20,000 for an assumed cocaine and marijuana dealer through her business bank accounts for an alleged eight percent fee, about $1,600.
Her long-time friend and business attorney Anand “Ani” Alloju had introduced her to a wealthy Mexican citizen and supposed drug dealer allegedly interested in investing in her business. Lewis said she was never told by Alloju that the man was a dealer. In fact, he was an undercover agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration working a sting operation aimed at Alloju. The lawyer, who had access to Lewis’ bank accounts, laundered the $20,000 through those accounts without her knowledge, she said, even forging her signature on some checks.
The DEA agent claimed she was a willing participant. On the stand, Alloju’s testimony about Lewis’ knowledge of the scheme was vague and contradictory. The jury believed the agent. And even though Alloju was the primary target of the sting and admitted in court that he had washed $200,000 in what he clearly understood was illegal drug money through various other phony accounts he set up, he was sentenced to two years and spent only 11 months in prison, getting out early after completing a drug rehab course. By pleading guilty and testifying against Lewis, Alloju got a reduced sentence and a pass for his psychiatrist wife Lisa Alloju, who, according to her husband, deposited the drug money in Lewis’ accounts. Lisa had just completed a probated sentence for drug possession and was never charged in the money-laundering case. The 41-year-old Alloju did not enjoy many days of freedom; he died of unknown causes a little more than a month after his release in 2005.
“Even if you don’t believe [Lewis] was railroaded — and I do — the trial was a farce,” said Costanza. “Then she gets three times the sentence that the slime-bag who set her up got. It makes no sense.” He and other supporters of Lewis think that the undercover agent went after her as a trophy. “A big name gets more print and more glory for the undercover guy,” Costanza said. “Karen wouldn’t be in prison if her name had been Smith.”
The pain her incarceration has caused her close-knit family seems to weigh heaviest on Lewis these days. “When a family member goes to prison, the whole family goes to prison,” she said. “Everyone’s life is put on hold.”
But she seems to have come to terms with her imprisonment. She’s campaigning to let the world know of the injustices she has witnessed there. The most recent, she wrote to the Weekly, was the death of Genevieve Ramirez, 64, who on Aug. 1 fell in her room and hit her head around 1 a.m. Lewis and several other inmates “couldn’t find or get medical help till after 3 a.m.,” she wrote. “She had a brain aneurysm. They took her to [an outside] hospital and she was put on life support for two days, then they pulled the plug.” The BOP has not returned calls requesting information on Ramirez’ death.
Weekly reporters, except in rare instances, have been banned since 1999 from entering the prison to interview women such as Lewis. But she is one of the many who have managed to be the eyes and ears for reporters in keeping tabs on what goes on there. It takes courage. Many who have done so say they have suffered retaliation — including Corum, who suffered such gross medical neglect that when she left two years ago, her kidneys were near failure and her heart was critically damaged. She has had multiple surgeries since she got out. Other women have been sent to solitary on trumped-up charges or transferred to other prisons where they could not get the medical help they needed.
Lewis said that, even when she gets out, she won’t give up on her efforts to help the women at Carswell. And others, including current and retired judges, are working to focus congressional attention on the conditions there.
Congressional attention apparently is what it will take to change anything in U.S. federal prisons. Prison officials routinely turn down journalists’ requests for information into their operations. A decade of pleas and inquiries by family members of women who have died — including one who may have been murdered — due to inadequate medical care or worse at Carswell have produced no apparent reforms. A General Services Administration investigation into FPI’s theft of the computers concluded that officials of the prison industry “demonstrated a pattern of deceit” and that its officials lied and obtained and sold federal property under false pretenses. But the subsequent Justice Department criminal investigation on that topic “went away,” according to one Hoekstra aide. No one was ever prosecuted.
And then there were the women prisoners who also worked in the lead-contaminated rooms at Carswell eight years ago. They, too, showed signs of higher than normal levels of lead in their blood. But they were scattered to other prisons, and the bureau refuses to release information on their whereabouts.
by Jack Straw
Tuesday Dec 21st, 2010 11:34 PM
The crew delivering the Morning Show has changed. The content hasn't. It continues to be "green capitalism" (a total oxymoron) drivel and sweet nothings while the real crises threatening the very existence of humanity and the planet grow.
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