Allow me to note the obvious: a story about furniture and prison officials isn’t exactly the easiest sell. But this one out of Ohio is worth sticking around for.
The Ohio Inspector General released a lengthy report on Thursday making the conclusion of a year-and-a-half long investigation into the cozy relationship between Ohio Penal Industries and Republican state Rep. Larry Householder. While the 87-page report can be a bit dry to start, it also included some patently hilarious and damning revelations—chief among them was the report’s finding that OPI manager Dan Kinsel used his power to force prisoners to craft and deliver Householder an engraved wood table-and-chair set worth $9,313.
Kinsel had clearly meant for the set to serve as a gift, a wink of sorts, to curry favor with the conservative legislator. In January 2017, he wrote an email to John Lyon, a furniture sales manager in the OPI program, about the construction of the table.
“Please move forward,” Kinsel wrote, according to the report. “I will work on the logo for you. I would like to see the sample when it comes in. We need the support of the Ohio House of Representatives on OPI’s side if you know what I mean!!”
The table and chairs were put together by a bevy of Ohio prisoners—the frames for the chairs were made by folks serving at the Warren Correctional Institution; the embroidery was completed at the Ohio Reformatory for Women; and the upholstery for the chairs was worked on by prisoners at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution, the report found. The table was made by an Amish craftsman.
Despite receiving invoices updating him on the progress of the desk throughout the coming months, Householder told investigators he believed OPI was gifting him the setup for free. Similarly, Lyon told investigators when he asked Kinsel about the table being free, Kinsel responded, “Don’t worry about it, it’s just a showroom item, and that’s the way we’re going to handle it.” After several games of Telephone, OPI and the inspector general’s office finally realized Kinsel had been stalling when asked about who, exactly, would be paying for the expensive-ass table. When investigators reached out to the Ohio House financial officials to inform them that, actually, the House would have to pay for it, they refused and had the table moved from its new home in the Vern Riffe State Office Tower.
“I agreed to display the table in the Riffe, as a way to promote the good work that the inmates at OPI do,” Householder told the Columbus Dispatch. “When we learned that OPI had acted improperly, my office asked that OPI pick up the table immediately, which they did.”
The table is now sitting in a warehouse, where it is available for purchase.
The investigation first started in July 2017, just a couple weeks after an anonymous phone call to the Inspector General reported that employees of Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction were using or possibly stealing farm equipment being used on state prison work farms, according to the report. In addition to the exploited labor and purportedly free furniture, the report also revealed that OPI condoned unsafe workplace practices, including this metal-as-hell example of an OPI worker standing about 10 feet from a skid loader being swung around by an excavator.