Randy, Who Owns a Private Prison

Randy, Who Owns a Private Prison

I know Randy from growing up in Pennsylvania.

We went to the same homeschool group, and during high school, I worked for his father who owned a company that installed and maintained railroad tracks. I recently saw on Randy's Facebook that he bought franchise rights to a private prison, which he had set up on his family's property.

The United States imprisons more people than any other nation in the world, and the federal government is in the midst of a private prison expansion, due in part to the ever increasing inmate population. I wanted to look first hand at this controversial practice.

Randy’s prison is located in a town called Peach Bottom (yes, he's heard all the jokes about it). Across the street from the prison is All Things Through Christ Church. Down the road there is a local public school. 

The prison break happened near the beginning of the interview. I kept the recorder running, and Randy agreed that I could come search for the escaped inmate.

JOEY

What was it like to set up your prison?

RANDY

It was easy to set up. I thought there might be a bunch of paperwork and rules but you just have to sign a few forms and pay the franchise fee—somewhat hefty but manageable—and when you’re approved they come out and set up the fences and beds and solitary confinement quarters and all that. You just need the space. They bring out the trailers and set up everything you need. They even provide the prison guards. You just need the desire to transform your space into a prison. 

JOEY

How does it work out financially?

RANDY

You have to give them a share of the profits. You pay the initial fee but you promise to turn over a share of what you earn. I'm not legally allowed to say how much.

JOEY

What kind of work do you have the inmates do here?

RANDY

We have a lot going on here so I keep them busy. There are the farm operations, we have tobacco, soy, some corn, and we have the railroad business. My dad's retired but I took it over for him.

JOEY

Do you employee anyone else besides the inmates?

RANDY

We have some foremen, but luckily I was able to get rid of everyone else. The great thing is, I get money for having a prison. And then they work for me. So it’s a win-win situation.

JOEY

For the inmates too?

RANDY

They’re here because they did something wrong, they messed up their life through their own choices. I mean, they’re not violent but they’re here for a reason. The good thing is they can learn job skills.

JOEY

Like what kind of job skills?

RANDY

Farming. Repair work. Railroad maintenance and installation.   

[THE GUARD RUNS IN]

GUARD

Whitman's gone, sir.

RANDY

He just got out of solitary.

GUARD

Yeah, he jumped the south fence.

[WE RUN OUT AND GET IN RANDY'S TRUCK]

JOEY

Should we call the police?

RANDY

I don’t want to involve them yet. This could affect my licensing so let's take a look ourselves. We have GPS trackers on all the inmates so it should be easy.

JOEY

Trackers?

RANDY

Yeah, we implant trackers in their hands now. Just a little microchip.

JOEY

What do you know about Whitman?

RANDY

He was in solitary for two weeks, some behavior problems. He didn’t want to work with the rest of the crew, so that’s not acceptable. Good worker too, before he decided not to be.

He said he was striking, but no one else was striking so it was just a one man strike. Not very effective.

JOEY

What was he striking over?

RANDY

Better pay. Said we were taking advantage of the inmates paying them shit. I mean we do charge them for being here.

JOEY

You charge them?

RANDY

Yeah, they’re taking up my space, eating my food.

JOEY

Doesn't corporate headquarters provide you food?

RANDY

Yeah, but if they want fresh vegetables that grow here, I charge them for that. I charge them for renting their bunk bed, for TV time, for sick days. I have to make a living.

JOEY

But the government pays you for housing them?

RANDY

Sure, but I’m allowed to charge them. That’s how this whole thing is set up.

JOEY

So you charge them and they work for you? How much do you pay them?

RANDY

Two dollars per hour. I know it’s generous compared to other private prisons. Some places only pay them a dollar an hour but I try to be fair. 

JOEY

But it costs them?

RANDY

Sure, I charge them back.

Okay, the tracker says he should be near this gas station. Maybe he’s in the bathroom.

[RANDY GETS OUT AND GOES INTO THE GAS STATION BATHROOM WITH THE GUARD. HE'S CARRYING A TRUNCHEON AND ALSO HAS A CONCEALED HANDGUN. THEY COME BACK TO THE CAR.]

RANDY

Son of a bitch dug out his GPS with a knife. Jesus. It was in the toilet. I had to get it out since these things cost money.

JOEY

Should we call the police yet?

RANDY

Not yet. Let's go to one of his listed addresses, I think his brother lives close.

JOEY

We're going to the address he gave you?

RANDY

No, he doesn't know we have this address. We have a background file on all these guys. 

JOEY

Does this happen often? People escaping?

RANDY

No, the inmates are happy at my prison so far. It's only been a few months but we haven't had many problems. This isn't like some big corporate prison, I know all the inmates by name pretty much. Is that him?

GUARD

It's hard to see.

RANDY

No, that's not him.

JOEY

Many people have criticized the prison industry for exploiting people of color, in particular, calling it modern day slavery.

RANDY

I don't know anything about that. I haven't been racist to anyone, so no, I don't think that's true. I'm not making a ton of money. I mean I'm doing fine, Thank God, we've been blessed, but I'm not making a killing or anything. There he is. Guess he didn't have anywhere else to go.

[RANDY RUNS AFTER HIM WITH THE GUARD. I FOLLOW CLOSE BEHIND. THEY TACKLE HIM.]

RANDY

Listen, Whitman. Let's take it easy. I don't have the police with me, so if you come back now we can forget the whole thing ever happened.

WHITMAN

We want better pay. We need better food, the shit you serve us from corporate is disgusting. The only way we get fresh vegetables is giving you half a paycheck for a carrot.

RANDY

Okay, sure, I promise you we'll work something out.

WHITMAN

Solitary confinement--you need to stop using that as retaliation.

RANDY

Okay, we'll review our guidelines for use of solitary. C'mon, let's go and discuss this. Or else I'm going to have to call the police.

[BACK IN RANDY'S OFFICE]

RANDY

The good thing is I can add time onto his sentence, so he has to stay longer. Might add another year or two. Judge will sign off on it, no problem.

JOEY

Are you going to increase his pay?

RANDY

Hell no. I'm docking him pay for a month. He's going to owe me money after all this.

JOEY

What's going to happen to him?

RANDY

I'll put him in solitary for a while. Let him think about it.

JOEY

Are there any rules about using solitary confinement?

RANDY

Rules? You're funny. You should be a comedian. Didn’t I always tell you that you should be a comedian? That's the great thing about this, there are no rules.

JOEY

Really?

RANDY

Rules, regulations only stifle businesses. Okay, there are some rules, but they're more like suggestions.

JOEY

Suggestions?

RANDY

Yeah, that's how I think of them. We can't be made to follow every single rule. How am I supposed to make a living? We're not socialists. Are you a socialist? You probably are since you live in New York City.

But, hey, one more thing. Do me a favor, since we're friends. Don't publish anything about the prison break. Probably not a big deal but I don't want to lose my license for anything. This is the first year that we're going on vacation and my wife is excited about it.

She'll kill me if we have to cancel it. We're going to Mexico. I hear it's beautiful down there, sandy beaches, clear water. That's just what I need, a vacation. Don't tell anyone about this, alright?