Whole Foods makes weenie move

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Yesterday, the New York Times reported that Whole Foods was ceasing its sales of products made by inmates

A Whole Foods spokesman was quoted as saying "the company decided to end the practice because some customers were uncomfortable with it."

Today, we received a rebuttal statement in a press release from Colorado Correctional Industries, the source of items like tilapia, trout and cheese. You may read it in full below.
Dear Whole Foods, we'll miss you. - SHUTTERSTOCK
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  • Dear Whole Foods, we'll miss you.

 I would like to weigh in with my own opinion, based on my visit to a couple of Colorado's prisons in question, back in early 2008, when I was reporting on CCI's dog-training program

In that article, I mainly spoke to inmates taking part in that training, whole on the whole voiced that it was an honor and privilege to be accepted into the program, where they lived on a separate cell block devoted to the animals' behavioral improvement. My own dog was testimony to the program's success. I spoke with a man who landed a job post-parole based on what he learned in the training. I also met inmates working with the goats in the dairy, and I visited the tilapia farm too, observing a typical work day. 

For my part, PR handlers aside, I felt that I witnessed an effective program based on what I saw and what the prisoners told me directly.  

To address the comment made by the prison-reform advocate in the NYT's story, where he insisted Whole Foods was "enhancing their profit off of poor people," I would like to make some simple points: The program is voluntary, and the people being paid (74 cents to $4 a day) are serving time for crimes committed — some might say that any pay is fair, given the offenders could otherwise sit in a cell and do little to nothing productive.

This is a much larger philosophical debate, of course, but Whole Foods was supporting productivity and training programs that purport to reduce recidivism by giving inmates valuable skills they can employ upon release. Speaking as an occasional Whole Foods shopper, I would consider that a commitment to engaging in their respective stores' local communities, not just by buying local, but investing in a larger cause. I supported them in that decision, and feel they've abandoned that cause over a fuss in Texas (which lets be honest, should be messed with way more often). 

I say bring back the fish, stand behind your core values (minus the overcharging) and support CCI's mission. Educate your consumers and make a stand instead of backing down to appease what may likely be a minority opinion. 

Simple put, don't be weenies. 

Here's that CCI press release:
The Colorado Department of Corrections is disappointed to hear of Whole Foods’ decision to stop selling products manufactured using labor obtained through Colorado Correctional Industries (CCI). CCI prides itself in providing enriching and diverse job training opportunities for offenders within the Colorado Department of Corrections.

CCI offender employees learn valuable, marketable, job, and social skills. CCI offender employees are taught the value of a hard day’s work. They learn accountability and integrity. The slightest misstep can mean the removal of the offender from the program. These offenders learn to work as a team, to accomplish a mission, and they receive pride of accomplishment in knowing their efforts are impacting the outside world around them. An offender from a CCI assignment may not enter the work force in a similar job, but the dedication and commitment to performance learned while working for CCI are invaluable to any industry. These “soft skills” are marketable skill sets that employers consider of critical importance; team-building, customer service, and good work habits.

For successful re-entry an offender needs to be able to obtain employment; CCI provides the foundation for more stable offenders returning to our communities. Over 80% of former CCI offender employees with at least 6 months of CCI experience remain unincarcerated after release. This is a significantly better rate than the national average of 61.1%. (Colorado Correctional Industries Annual Report (2014)).

Below are testimonials of some former CCI offender employees:

“My experience gained while working in CCi’s print shop using — QuarkXPress, InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop — helped me land a position as a Marketing Assistant, designing flyers and promotional materials. My success after release is a tribute to CCi and their efforts at teaching me a new trade.” — Reichert, Past CCi Print Shop Employee

”After release from prison, I began work installing public utilities, water, sewer and gas lines. I am now a crew leader having passed my CDL test. I attribute my success to the K9 Companion Program. I cannot express in words how working with dogs and CCi has truly been a life changing experience.” — Brogan, Past CCi K9 Companion Program Employee

Despite yesterday's announcement, CCI will continue to provide excellent service to our communities and support the continued use of CCI offender employees for the betterment of our prisons and our societies. 


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