The Fruits of Their Labor

This issue was published in collaboration with Southerly.

For at least a decade, the University of Florida has depended on the labor of incarcerated people to run their agricultural research farms. That labor has been essential to powering research on specialty and commodity crops — information that eventually lands in the hands of farmers across the state.

Relying on prison labor has saved the university millions of dollars, and, in the past, the university emphasized that these work programs also benefited incarcerated people as skills training. But in June 2020 — at the height of protests demanding racial justice — UF announced it was ending its contracts with prisons and jails.

While many activists and students breathed a sigh of relief, university researchers and prison officials were left scrambling to replace the essential workforce. Incarcerated people who worked the fields are caught in the middle — no longer a part of what activists call an exploitative program, but without access to the freedoms that came with a day outside on the farm.

This four-part series by The Marjorie and Southerly investigates the complicated and entrenched relationship UF and some other public universities in the U.S. South have with prisons and jails. We examine the conflicting messaging from officials and experts, the severe lack of data available to assess the benefits universities and prison officials tout, and the ways in which work programs for incarcerated people could be more beneficial to them.

fruits of their labor

Part I: The ‘Symbolism’ of Slavery

Part I: The ‘Symbolism’ of Slavery

Universities are facing mounting pressure to stop using the unpaid labor of incarcerated people. In June, the University of Florida announced it was ending the use of prison labor on its agricultural research farms, a practice once praised by administrators. Questions remain on whether other universities in the U.S. South will follow suit.

Part II: Powered by Prisons

Part II: Powered by Prisons

The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences has relied on incarcerated people from state prisons and county jails for at least a decade to keep some of its agricultural research stations running. As the practice comes to an end, administrators are reallocating funds and finding new ways to power the state’s agricultural research.

Part III: A Lack of Data

Part III: A Lack of Data

Proponents of prison labor programs say they provide valuable job skills for post-incarceration life. But there is insufficient data to back up these claims from universities and correctional institutions.

Part IV: ‘A Greater Systemic Problem’

Part IV: ‘A Greater Systemic Problem’

Across the South, students are pressuring universities to address entrenched racial inequities. But because of the institutional and budgetary challenges universities and prisons face, finding solutions will not be straightforward.


Shifting Power

Over 1.6 million people in Florida have been convicted of a felony. That’s 10.4% of the state’s population, according to a 2017 report. The moment they are convicted, Floridians lose rights that many of us take for granted: the right to serve on a jury or in a public office, the right to purchase a firearm, the right to hold many professional licenses, and the right to vote.

In 2018, Florida voters passed Amendment 4, also called the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative. With the passage of Amendment 4, ex-felons regained one method of civic power and influence: voting. But critics have not left the measure unchallenged.

This three-part series follows three Florida women’s paths to being charged with felonies, their challenges to reentry, and their efforts to fight for Amendment 4 as a way to reclaim their identity and their right to vote.

shifting power

Part I: Becoming Invisible

Part I: Becoming Invisible

As it does for many, Latashia Brimm’s pathway to a felony conviction started at a very young age. For her, it began with a sexually and emotionally abusive stepfather and a pattern of domestic violence. The fight to pass Amendment 4, also known as the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative, spoke to Brimm’s need to regain her civic power and personal independence. With the…

Part II: Stifled Progress

Part II: Stifled Progress

Tequila McKnight is one of many former felons who joined a grassroots movement to campaign for Amendment 4. Voters ultimately passed the bipartisan measure by a majority in 2018. Since then, mounting legal battles and extensive barriers to reentry have stifled the amendment’s intended impact: to re-enfranchise over 10% of Florida’s population.

Part III: ‘You Don’t End at the Victory’

Part III: ‘You Don’t End at the Victory’

Women like Latashia Brimm and Tequila McKnight are a growing segment of the U.S. electorate and an increasingly impactful force when it comes to supporting, organizing and speaking for the needs of their communities. Their efforts can be seen in new, creative collaborations and initiatives that work to shift civic power to low-income neighborhoods and communities of color that have been historically disenfranchised.


Hog-Tied

More than six million feral swine are estimated to inhabit the U.S., occupying 38 states and three U.S. territories. When loose in the wild, their impacts can be so great on natural resources and agriculture that many states have resorted to gunning down groups of them by helicopter.

But at the same time, humans have a soft spot for pigs. Their intelligence, sense of free will and resemblance to ourselves inspires some to place even feral pigs into human care.

This three-part series investigates our relationships with feral pigs — those who hunt them, those who fear them and those whose life’s purpose is to save them.

hog-tied

Part I: Protecting the Family Farm

Part I: Protecting the Family Farm

As wild pigs root around searching for food across the nation, their thick snouts destroy an estimated $1.5 billion in crops each year. Trapping, aerial gunnery and dog hunting are just a few ways the feral animals are removed and ultimately euthanized by state and federal agencies. But some Floridians take hog management into their own hands. For Amos Townsend, hunting hogs is a means…

Part II: ‘Florida Will Never Be Pig-Free’

Part II: ‘Florida Will Never Be Pig-Free’

Florida is likely home to more than estimated 750,000 feral pigs. To cool off, they dig muddy wallows that serve as the perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes and, in large numbers, can change the hydrology of the landscape. They carry dangerous pathogens that can be passed to humans, pets, livestock and other wildlife. But methods to manage them are not so clear cut.

Part III: Hog Heaven

Part III: Hog Heaven

Wild pigs are among the most intelligent animals, native or exotic, in the United States. From pot-bellied pets to feral hogs to the large farm pigs that become the bacon on your plate, Americans have a complex relationship with swine. Even though their impacts are well documented, at least fourteen rescue groups in Florida have committed to rescuing wild and domestic pig populations.