This week, we released an email that is part of our extensive research into the handling of food service in Michigan’s prisons by Aramark, a private corporation that was contracted by the Snyder administration to provide meals for prisoners. I’ll stop you right there if you’re thinking, “Who cares? These are prisoners. They deserve every last indignity bestowed upon them.”
You’re wrong. I’ll counter with a message I received from a good friend of mine, Anna, who has spent more than her fair share visiting with people serving time:
“People’s fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers sit behind bars – not savages. A prisoner’s rights should never be associated with a prisoner’s wrongs! These rights should apply to anyone who is a citizen of this country.”
So let’s all agree that prisoners deserve to serve their time in prison without being served food that is beneath the dignity of Michigan’s citizens. That’s just one reason why the Aramark scandal matters, here are a few more:
The Aramark scandal matters because it is a window into the values of Governor Snyder. Since taking office, Snyder has pushed an agenda that benefits the wealthy and well-connected (including special interests like Aramark) over the hardworking people that built Michigan. The scandal, and Sndyer’s unwillingness to truly fix it, shows that Rick Snyder values the profits of the well-heeled more than he values the hard work of Michiganders, accountability for contractors and the health and well-being of human beings.
This scandal matters because Aramark serves more than prisoners. Aramark is in our schools, our hospitals; they even serve food at sporting events. Some staff that work in Michigan’s prisons also rely on the food prepared by Aramark. In each case, we should pay attention and make certain that Aramark’s problems are not isolated to Michigan’s prisons. A look at the hastag #ThanksAramark tells me that the problems extend beyond this contract.
Government accountability must extend to those profiting from tax dollars. We often focus exclusively on elected officials. But with a campaign that’s heavily funded by privateers attempting to turn our government away from “for the people, by the people” to a government that is nothing more than a line item on corporate profit and loss statements, it’s increasingly important to hold them accountable too. That’s why Aramark’s scandals matter. If we are ever going to live up to the ideals of the Founding Fathers then we must hold the privateers like Aramark and the bevy of “think tanks” and “centers for public policy” accountable and call them what they really are – moochers that could care less about making sure our representatives work for everyone.
Finally, the Aramark scandal matters because it forces us to think about our own values. Do we value working together to better our communities, build an economy that works for the middle class, and guarantee dignity for everyone or do we only expect to create a society that is the equivalent of the marked down items in the bargain bins at Wal-Mart? Since the Reagan era, the lie that government can’t do big things, that it’s broken, that government is the problem has been the rallying cry of those that aim to create a government that only works for out-of-control capitalists. Aramark and its ally Governor Snyder have sold us this narrative in order to turn public services into private corporate profit ventures. This matters now because “maggots” and “rat cake” are only two small examples of the damage that Reagan’s negative, self-defeating vision has wrought.
In the end, it’s up to us to demand better. I have long since stopped waiting for Rick Snyder to show leadership on behalf of Michigan’s citizens. We might not like to hear that Aramark served “rat cake” to prisoners, but in a way we’ve all been served an inferior product – a thirty-year conservative vision that’s only purpose has been to promote corporate greed at the expense of average citizens.