For many people, Labor Day is an occasion to celebrate the fruits of their labor, push for better workplace conditions, or simply join friends and family at their favorite lake for a three-day weekend of festivities. For some, their job is a labor of love, a source of identity and pride. For others, it may simply be a way to survive. But for all, motivation comes in the form of a paycheck.
Incarcerated workers however, working for pennies on the dollar, must find sources of motivation other than their paycheck. Work ethic, service, and satisfaction for a job well done motivate incarcerated laborers.
Acknowledgment for such work ethic and unselfish kindness in life can be transforming.
“Going above and beyond, going that extra mile makes a difference,” said San Quentin resident Alan Brown, a Health Facilities Maintenance worker.
Another incarcerated worker who takes pride in his labor is Pablo Salinas, one of a team of landscapers who tends the grounds of San Quentin’s Garden Chapel. Salinas uses his creativity to beautify the area.
“The compliments from staff and guests on how wonderful the garden looks makes me feel excited and happy,” Salinas said.
Incarcerated worker Robert Cole enjoys a sense of accomplishment by working hard and building a relationship of trust with his supervisors. In his job as a porter at the Maintenance and Vocational Building, Cole’s duties include cleaning staff offices and state vehicles.
More than just cleaning, Cole is spending his days building respectful and meaningful relationships — something that will help him succeed when he paroles.
“Just knowing the free staff and administration trust me, gives me satisfaction and purpose,” Cole said.
For Brown, he finds purpose in showing his incarcerated peers how much he cares for them, which gives him a sense of meaning and helps him build empathy.
“I am making a living amends, being of service to my brothers in the hospital,” Brown said. “The parallels of our journey coincide when two people find healing from helping each other get through tough challenges.”
For these incarcerated workers, like so many others, Labor Day is not about a paycheck, it’s about service and hope for a better future.