In Massachusetts, These Inmates are Starting their Own Cooperatives

Policing and the industrial prison complex are a main topic of conversation in cities and towns all over the country. #BlackLivesMatter supporters have brought conversations to the forefront about the police and our prison system, especially within the black community. In addition to justice for the ongoing murders of people of color, queer and transgender folks by police, many are calling for changes to how inmates currently serving time are treated, and redefining what successful re-entry can look like.

Andrew Stachiw is a worker owner here at TESA, and through his time with TESA he’s gotten involved in some powerful work changing the system at a local level. Since 2012, Andrew has been teaching a course with Greenfield Community College (GCC) in Greenfield, MA. The course, called Inside-Out, offers a satellite (off-campus) co-op class twice a year. Inside-Out classes have a ratio of 50% students from GCC, and 50% students from a local jail. Furthermore, Stachiw also co-facilitates a group of students that meet weekly at the jail called the Think Tank.

This Fall semester, he’ll be teaching at the Franklin County House of Corrections, where black men are devastatingly overrepresented.

Over the course of the semester, students form co-op groups, develop cooperative ideas, and design their own cooperative business models. Stachiw has students practice the principles of cooperation in their co-op groups while also supporting them in developing their own bylaws and business plans. Students then continue to cultivate their plans throughout the class.

Stachiw is currently developing a composting co-op for male identified inmates after they get out of jail. This effort is a result of connections made between Stachiw and students during class, as well as with other educators at the jail and in the community. A worker-owned cooperative dedicated to employing formerly incarcerated folks in Massachusetts could be a game changer, due to the incredible barriers to employment people usually encounter after coming out of jail.

The Alliance for a Just Society has recently written a report called Jobs After Jail covering a state by state account of injustice in the prison industrial complex, especially for people of color. Stachiw says the compost co-op is planning to open May 1, 2017 and TESA will be sure to keep you posted as it unfolds.

Stachiw says:

It’s unique in terms of impact because of the content focus on co-ops, but really, so much of the power of the class is just about the exchange between two groups who don’t (usually) have contact with one another, especially for the folks on the outside. It’s an amazing experience to challenge assumptions and notions about folks in jail and not only share the class together, but develop cooperatives together. The practice of cooperation and workplace democracy have an added importance and urgency when working in this class. The students are motivated by the experience, and can develop some transformative connections.

One student said, “What is workplace democracy? Economic democracy? I’ve never been asked that question before and when you gave the assignment and I actually wrote, I started to think and develop my own ideas in the process.”

Here’s a sample list of co-ops past students have designed in the class:

Composting cooperative
Cooperative treatment and rehabilitation farm
Cooperative food hub and distribution center
All bulk worker-co-op grocery store
Co-op Traveling farm market and food delivery service
Co-op restaurant and farm
Co-op re-entry farm and butchery

Below are some more articles about the program as well as some by folks Andrew has worked with at the Jail:

“The Gang Trap” is based on recorded conversations with Ricky Aviles and Christian Lopez, both from Holyoke, when they were incarcerated at the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. They talk about their lives in and out of gangs, jail, and prison. Their words are accompanied by Phoebe Helander’s powerful illustrations, a striking layout, and beautiful portraits by Carol Lollis.

Here is a powerful piece by Erykah Carter, “An Honest Smile,” documenting her transition while incarcerated in a men’s facility.

Here’s an article written by TESA about Inside-Out programs and training.

Further resources on this subject and cooperatives:
Starting Cooperatives While Behind Bars
The World’s First Prisoner Worker Co-op
Your Study Guide to the Cooperative Movement
The Cooperative Movement Study Bundle
Co-opoly: The Game of Co-operatives

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