Yesterday we awoke on Mackinac Island for our last day as Road Scholars. After a quick breakfast, we hopped on the ferry for mainland U.P. and drove to Kinross Correctional Facility in Kincheloe. KCF is a "level two" (i.e., medium security) prison for men. Prisons consitute a big industry and major employer in the U.P. and we were especially lucky to see the inside of KCF, given that the place doesn't normally give tours. In fact, U of M is the only group of outsiders they've ever let in.
The place used to be an air force base, so prisoners live in barrack-style housing as opposed to cells. Four prisoners per room, two sets of bunks. Common bathrooms and "day rooms" on each floor. We walked through a "dorm" during one of the counts, so we were able to see everything. Really interesting to see so much. Really disturbing to know we as a society invest so much money and so many resources in keeping people locked up.
Prisoners have debit accounts in which friends and family can wire as much money as they wish. Prisoners can buy stuff (toiletries, snacks, batteries, and such) at the prison store and order periodicals, electronics, and so forth from approved vendors. The newest luxury item prisoners can access are mp3s from a special in-house music download service. In addition to what the prisoners get from family/friends, all prisoners must either work one of the prison jobs or take classes. If they opt out of this nearly mandated labor, they lose priveleges and must stay in dorm much of the day. If their debit accounts get too big, they must pay "rent" to the prison. Jobs include kitchen duty, greenhouse duty (they grow stuff for various state properties--e.g., flowers at rest stops), or sewing duty at the prison factory that makes, among other things, uniforms. Many jobs start at around eighteen cents an hour.
After prison, a long drive south. Box lunch, good conversation. Q.T. on the bus. We made a quick stop at the Hemlock Semiconductor, a chemical plant near Saginaw that produces silicon. A lot of the science went over my head and, sadly, we couldn't do much hands-on stuff there due to safety issues and corporate security issues. Still, interesting to see (relatively) up close what goes on in that sector. Back to Ann Arbor by 8:00, exhausted, camera full of pics (see facebook!), head full of thoughts about the state.
Listen up, Dearborn colleagues. Apply for this cool opportunity. Do it next year. Put your name in the hopper because it's a great experience. The program wants faculty from Dearborn and Flint to be represented, so take advantage of the chance.