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It’s going to be hard.” However, I’d interviewed her fisherman boyfriend seven months earlier in Boston over malted milks, and it was eminently clear they were committed to each other and to making a clean break. We toasted their future over blueberry pie and glasses of milk. Another time, to interview one person, I had to eat dinner with four. The two men had been partners in prison; so had the two women. When they got out, the two women hooked up with the two men in two closely-connected, mutually-supportive straight couples. An hour away, in the living room of a yellow Victorian home worthy of Currier & Ives, a woman who emanated having her act together told me, “My husband knows nothing about my prior life—the drugs, hooking, having a girlfriend. That’s behind me and where it stays.” There was wide agreement among the women that women’s prisons offered almost no programs to help them develop marketable skills they could apply out “in the free” to find legitimate work with growth possibilities. That compounded their dearth of solid work experience before prison. Hooking was often the only form of work that ever brought them “good money.” Many gravitated back to “the life”—a form of piecework—precisely because they had limited coping skills and that’s all they knew. Some said they felt so out of sorts living in the community that that they actively sought and celebrated their return to prison. Such women felt they had a place, role, job, and relationships in prison that they could never dream of duplicating out “in the free,” where life placed too many decisions on their shoulders. Piecework worked for me because (1) I was naïve

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enough (and correct) to believe I could get away with repeatedly placing myself in harms way; (2) the adrenaline rush fueled me, (3) each project morphed into an adventure, and (4) I was motivated to experience research “on the ground.” However, piecework seemed to work for hardly anyone else. After the prison follow-up studies, I got my first salaried job. I never worked piecework again or used piecework to pay people I hired. My experience tells me the motivational rationale behind piecework is fundamentally flawed. The real reasons employers promote piecework are to predict costs and avoid paying benefits. Piecework doesn’t work because many workers to take shortcuts that undercut the integrity of the work product; and, harvest low-hanging fruit rapidly, while leaving more inaccessible fruit for someone else. It fosters resentment and pits workers competitively against each other. Instead, workers paid appropriate wages should be provided with necessary training and continuing supports to instill necessary skills, build teamwork, and enhance intrinsic motivation. I treasure the opportunities I had to become a visitor in the lives of people who truly lived dayin-and-day-out in harms way, who struggled to find and keep work, and often to break the chains of intergenerational poverty, racism, gender discrimination, drug addiction, grossly deficient coping skills, and barriers to employment associated with drug use histories and criminal records. Thanks to piecework, for the first time in my life, I had money in the bank to give me a small cushion in case the bottom fell out. Would that they were so lucky.

Profile for Apeiron Review

Apeiron Review | Summer 2015  

The summer issue of Apeiron Review, a Philadelphia-based literary magazine, is ready for you and a glass of your favorite beverage. Cool off...

Apeiron Review | Summer 2015  

The summer issue of Apeiron Review, a Philadelphia-based literary magazine, is ready for you and a glass of your favorite beverage. Cool off...