This week, The Oklahoman and Reveal News, a California-based investigative journalism group, both released independent reports that examine how Oklahoma drug courts are sending people to work long days and nights in chicken slaughterhouses – with no compensation – to help "recover" and "rehab" from drug addiction and other non-violent crimes.
Naturally, the programs are administrated and organized by non-certified, Christian-based organizations that promote "faith-based recovery." The programs require laborers to attend church, sleep six to a room on bunk beds, and do other important things like help remodel their bosses houses in exchange for room and board.
The drug courts send people to these programs thanks to prison overcrowding, and because forcing people to work long hours at chicken slaughterhouses – and worship supernatural deities – is the best way to treat and combat the chemical and psychological processes that lead to addiction and substance abuse.
In fact, I believe it's in Matthew where Jesus preaches on the mountain – "And blessed are the drug addicts, for gutting chickens with no compensation is their path to recovery."
The worst day of Brad McGahey’s life was the day a judge decided to spare him from prison.
McGahey was 23 with dreams of making it big in rodeo, maybe starring in his own reality TV show. With a 1.5 GPA, he’d barely graduated from high school. He had two kids and mounting child support debt. Then he got busted for buying a stolen horse trailer, fell behind on court fines and blew off his probation officer.
1.5 GPA? Dreams of starring on a reality show? Two kids and child support debt by the age of 23? Stolen horse trailers? I bet all those things looked good on his Farmers Only dating profile! I can't see why life isn't working out for this guy.
Seriously, though, kudos to these reporters for finding the embodiment of rural Oklahoma stereotypes for this report.
Standing in a tiny wood-paneled courtroom in rural Oklahoma in 2010, he faced one year in state prison. The judge had another plan.
“You need to learn a work ethic,” the judge told him. “I’m sending you to CAAIR.”
McGahey had heard of Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery. People called it “the Chicken Farm,” a rural retreat where defendants stayed for a year, got addiction treatment and learned to live more productive lives. Most were sent there by courts from across Oklahoma and neighboring states, part of the nationwide push to keep nonviolent offenders out of prison.
Aside from daily cans of Dr Pepper, McGahey wasn’t addicted to anything. The judge knew that. But the Chicken Farm sounded better than prison.
A few weeks later, McGahey stood in front of a speeding conveyor belt inside a frigid poultry plant, pulling guts and stray feathers from slaughtered chickens destined for major fast food restaurants and grocery stores.
There wasn’t much substance abuse treatment at CAAIR. It was mostly factory work for one of America’s top poultry companies. If McGahey got hurt or worked too slowly, his bosses threatened him with prison.
And he worked for free. CAAIR pocketed the pay.
“It was a slave camp,” McGahey said. “I can’t believe the court sent me there.”
You can read the rest of McGahey's story, and other shocking revelations about the program, at Reveal. It's a great, eye-opening read, especially if you want to be even more dumbfounded by the arcane stupidity of our state's draconian criminal justice system.