Nationwide US Prison Strike: 8/21 – 9/9

The following was posted on another site I frequent and only recently received permission to re-post it, albeit it late, I still think it’s important to be aware of.

 

There is a nationwide prison strike organized by prisoners in the US that kicks off tomorrow. I’d like to give a little bit of background on the carceral system and then some more information on the strike. My main purpose is to spread the word that this strike is happening, as the prisons are going to try to prevent information from getting out which makes it difficult for the media to cover it. I’m also interested in hearing what people here think about the situation, especially people in other countries, but will probably not engage in further discussion.

 

The Prison Population

 

The USA’s prison population has quintupled since the 70s. It has the highest incarcerated population in the world, both by sheer number and per capita. We beat out Russia and China by a long shot. There has been some talk of the incarceration rate (the rate, not the population) going down over the past couple of years, but this has not made a dent in the massive size of the incarcerated population.

Prison populations of most populated countries
The US prison population per capita is staggering

This rise in the US carceral system came at the end of the civil rights movement and there is a major racial disparity in incarceration rate (black people make up on 13% of the US population but 40% of the prison population). There are more black men in prison today than there were enslaved in 1850 (although this statement doesn’t account for overall population growth).

 

Incarcerated Americans 1920 - 2014
Incarcerated Americans 1920 – 2014

 

 

 

 

United States incarceration rate by race and ethnicity
United States incarceration rate by race and ethnicity

 

Prison Slave Labor

The Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) is a term that describes the overlapping interests of governments and industries in incarcerating people. The phenomenon of private prisons are an extreme example of this, but private prisons are actually a small minority of prisons and the problem of the PIC is much bigger and is rooted in slavery and the 13th amendment.

Here is the text of the 13th amendment:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

As you can see, the constitution still allows slavery as long as the slave has been convicted of a crime. At least half of the prison population have jobs. Many states also have laws that require prisoners to work and authorize punishment for not working. The vast majority of these jobs involve running the prisons themselves; cooking, cleaning, laundry, serving food, doing paperwork, etc.

Others work for Unicor (unicor.gov), which is a government-owned corporation that produces products that it markets to the private-sector. They produce things like clothing, furniture, and electronics. It also provides call center services.

Another very small portion of prisoners work directly for private companies. Prisoners make uniforms for McDonald’s and they used to make lingerie for Victoria’s Secret until they got a lot of bad press over it. In 2013 during the Pelican Bay hunger strikes, I remember hearing a story about prisoners sewing “Made in USA” tags on t-shirts that were made in China, but I couldn’t find a source on that. Here’s a list of some companies profiting on prison slavery.

Not only can prisoners be forced to work, but they work for little to no money. Most people don’t make over $1.00/hour and I haven’t heard of anyone making over $5.00/hour. Many states have laws that actually cap the amount prisoners are allowed to be paid. There are also “good time” scams where prisoners get very small amounts of time reduced from their sentences instead of being paid money. The prisons can then turn around and take away any good time you have earned from working as a real or fake disciplinary action.

Predatory Goods and Services for Prisoners

While most prisons aren’t privately run, most of the services provided in prisons have been privatized. The canteen where prisoners can buy food items like ramen and honey buns and supplies like tampons is provided by private companies. Phones that prisoners use to call people are provided by a private company. These services have a high markup for their captive audience. There are companies like JPay (jpay.com) which provides digital services such as email. Prisoners (and people on the outside who want to correspond with prisoners) have to buy “stamps” to use JPay email, which cost $0.40 per page.

JPay also sells electronic devices which prisoners can use to spend their money on digital content like music (which can then also used as leverage by the prison who can take away people’s access to these devices as punishment). JPay also lets you deposit money into a prisoner’s commissary account (after taking a fee).

Some jails have been implementing video visitation systems (I think most have implemented them at this point). If you travel to the facility for a visit, you are not allowed to see the person you’re visiting face-to-face. You have to sit in front of a terminal and chat with them over a video screen. This service is also provided by private companies profiting off of the prison system. Some of these facilities also offer remote video visitation for high prices ($1.00/minute plus set-up an account-deposit fees).

Why not Exploit Prisoners?

For people who think it’s okay to exploit prisoners, I just want to throw out a few points as food-for-thought:

The first is that the carceral system serves very diabolical roles in the US economy:

  • Prisons are absorbing the excess population of a capitalist society which can’t employee the whole population but which also refuses to provide for the basic needs of people who aren’t employed.
  • The prison workforce undercuts the ostensibly free market. When you have a high captive workforce that can be forced to work for free, it drives down wages and removes jobs that would otherwise be available.
  • Prisons often create prison towns in rural areas where the only jobs working for prisons (or police). This creates economies where local populations are dependent on sustaining and growing the imprisoned population in order to have work. These jobs are low-paying and dangerous. These low-paying jobs also provide incentive for corrections officers to get involved in other forms of income, such as selling contraband in prisons. Most contraband comes in from COs who run prisons like a gang. If competition comes in from inmates trying to get contraband in, they put a stop to it.

The second point is that the US prison system is probably one of the biggest atrocities in history. It is slavery. Slavery involves a lot more than working for free. It involves dehumanization and brutalization. Prisons are totally in the dark and unaccountable to anyone. The only time we get to see videos of fires, flooding, or dead people inside is when prisoners sneak them out via illicit cell phones. Guards organize beatings and killings of prisoners. Guards rape prisoners. The system is beyond redemption or repair. Some people shudder at the idea of abolishing the prison system because they think they need to imagine an alternative first. I don’t think it’s ethical to wait. As far as I’m concerned, the evil of the system necessitates its destruction.

The final point is that the US prison system is extremely volatile and unsustainable. As pointed out before, prisoners run the facilities. COs are vastly outnumbered by prisoners. What do you think will happen when a bunch of prisoners get together and decide they aren’t going to be prisoners any more?

The End Prison Slavery Movement

The End Prison Slavery Movement is a model of organizing against prison that focuses on the fact that prison labor keeps prisons running. Here’s the general idea:

  • It’s organized by incarcerated people. There is no leadership that can be taken out to destroy the movement.
  • Ending prison slavery would mean that prisons (as they exist today) could no longer function.
  • Mass scale actions can be coordinated across facilities.
  • Nonviolent tactics such as work strikes, hunger strikes, and boycotts both disrupt the function and result in heavy repression from the prisons. In other words, nonviolent actions of prisoners generate a violent response from the prisons, bringing attention to how horrible they are.
  • Demands are intended to bring attention to terrible prison conditions, slavery, and the level of dehumanization that prisoners face.

Deceptive Language and Prison PR

Prisons and police manipulate language to have a better public image. This is why prisons and jails are all called thing like “correctional institutions” and “detention centers”. Prisons also use extremely deceptive language and policies to punish prison rebels.

One such tactic is marking prisoners as part of a Security Threat Group (STG). STG basically means gang or criminal organization. When a prisoner is designated as part of an STG, they’re subject to harsher restrictions. They may not be allowed to communicate with anybody aside from their lawyer or be put in administrative segregation (solitary confinement). Prisons have started classifying anybody they think is interested in striking or who might be communicating with outside organizers as part of an STG. In addition to directly repressing rebels, to the media this makes it sound like these prisoners are just gang members.

When the strike kicks off tomorrow, there are going to be reports of riots. Many facilities have already gone on lock down in anticipation of “riots”. Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron in Missouri has been on lockdown since May in anticipation of the strike. Lockdown means that all prisoners are confined to their cells and communication is restricted.

So what’s a “riot”? From Merriam-Webster:
2. a : public violence, tumult, or disorder
b : a violent public disorder; specifically : a tumultuous disturbance of the public peace by three or more persons assembled together and acting with a common intent

The word “riot” generally implies violence. However, this is not the definition prisons use. Prisons definition of “riot” includes not working and encouraging other not to work. Prisoners will get riot charges which result in heavy-handed disciplinary action for refusing to work during the strike. Prisons then get to tell the media that the reason they’re on lockdown is because of riots, which sounds violent and scary. You can call up just about any prison that I’m aware of and ask them if a work stoppage would be classified as a riot and they will tell you yes. Imagine if you got arrested and charged with rioting for calling in sick to work.

2018 Nationwide Prison Strike

Jailhouse Lawyers Speak issued a press release calling for the strike, listing demands, and naming ways people on the outside can help, after COs locked several members of two rival gangs in one unit to fight in a South Carolina prison, resulting in seven deaths. Below is the full text of the press release:

Men and women incarcerated in prisons across the nation declare a nationwide strike in response to the riot in Lee Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in South Carolina. Seven comrades lost their lives during a senseless uprising that could have been avoided had the prison not been so overcrowded from the greed wrought by mass incarceration, and a lack of respect for human life that is embedded in our nation’s penal ideology. These men and women are demanding humane living conditions, access to rehabilitation, sentencing reform and the end of modern day slavery.

These are the NATIONAL DEMANDS of the men and women in federal, immigration, and state prisons:

1. Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women.

2. An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.

3. The Prison Litigation Reform Act must be rescinded, allowing imprisoned humans a proper channel to address grievances and violations of their rights.

4. The Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act must be rescinded so that imprisoned humans have a possibility of rehabilitation and parole. No human shall be sentenced to Death by Incarceration or serve any sentence without the possibility of parole.

5. An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in southern states.

6. An immediate end to racist gang enhancement laws targeting Black and brown humans.

7. No imprisoned human shall be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender.

8. State prisons must be funded specifically to offer more rehabilitation services.

9. Pell grants must be reinstated in all US states and territories.

10. The voting rights of all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so-called “ex-felons” must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count!

We all agree to spread this strike throughout the prisons of Ameri$$$a! From August 21st to September 9th, 2018, men and women in prisons across the nation will strike in the following manner:

1. Work Strikes: Prisoners will not report to assigned jobs. Each place of detention will determine how long its strike will last. Some of these strikes may translate into a local list of demands designed to improve conditions and reduce harm within the prison.

2. Sit-ins : In certain prisons, men and women will engage in peaceful sit – in protests.

3. Boycotts: All spending should be halted. We ask those outside the walls not to make financial judgments for those inside. Men and women on the in side will inform you if they are participating in this boycott.

4. Hunger Strikes: Men and women shall refuse to eat.

We support the call of Free Alabama Movement Campaign to “Redistribute the Pain” 2018 as Bennu Hannibal Ra – Sun, formerly known as Melvin Ray has laid out (with the exception of refusing visitation). See these principles described here.

How You Can Help

Make the nation take a look at our demands. Demand action on our demands by contacting your local, state, and federal political representatives with these demands. Ask them where they stand.

Spread the strike and word of the strike in every place of detention.

Contact a supporting local organization to see how you can be supportive. If you are unsure of who to connect with, email here.

Be prepared by making contact with people in prison, family members of prisoners, and prisoner support organizations in your state to assist in notifying the public and media on strike conditions.

Assist in our announced initiatives to have the votes of people in jail and prison counted in elections.

Donate to strike’s official fundraising page here

For the Media: Inquiries should be directed to
prisonstrikemedia@gmail.com

Why Prisoners Across the Country Have Gone on Strike (Mother Jones)
‘I’m For Disruption’: Interview With Prison Strike Organizer From Jailhouse Lawyers Speak (Shadowproof)
After deadly SC prison riot, prisoners nationwide may go on a hunger, labor strike (The State)
Ohio Prisoners Face Crackdown For Speaking Publicly About National Strike (Shadowproof)
America’s prisoners are going on strike in at least 17 states (Vox)

Also, here’s an interesting report on a similar nationwide prison strike that took place in 2016:
https://www.themarshallproject.org/2016/09/27/a-primer-on-the-nationwide-prisoners-strike

The National Layers Guild has endorsed the strike:
https://www.nlg.org/nlg-endorses-the-august21-prison-strike/

Philip K. Dick’s ‘The Great C’ is coming to VR

A VR adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story “The Great C” is headed to the Venice Film Festival, Variety reports. First published in 1953, the story centers on a human tribe living in a post-apocalyptic world set in the future. Each year, the tribe must send a human sacrifice to a computer called the Great C that rules the world. In the VR adaptation, created by Secret Location, a woman named Clare grapples with whether to accept the tradition and let her fiancé be sacrificed or take a stand against the cruelty.

Source

Finding and exploiting hidden features of Animal Crossing’s NES emulator

While looking for ways to activate the developer menus left over in Animal Crossing, including the NES emulator game selection menu, I found an interesting feature that exists in the original game that was always active, but never used by Nintendo. In addition to the NES/Famicom games that can be obtained in-game, it was possible to load new NES games from the memory card. I was also able to find a way to exploit this ROM loader to patch custom code and data into the game, allowing for code execution via the memory card.

Source

Unix as an IDE

Newbies and experienced professional programmers alike appreciate the concept of the IDE, or integrated development environment. Having the primary tools necessary for organising, writing, maintaining, testing, and debugging code in an integrated application with common interfaces for all the different tools is certainly a very valuable asset. Additionally, an environment expressly designed for programming in various languages affords advantages such as autocompletion, and syntax checking and highlighting.

With such tools available to developers on all major desktop operating systems including GNU/Linux and BSD, and with many of the best free of charge, there’s not really a good reason to write your code in Windows Notepad, or with nano or cat.

However, there’s a minor meme among devotees of Unix and its modern-day derivatives that “Unix is an IDE”, meaning that the tools available to developers on the terminal cover the major features in cutting-edge desktop IDEs with some ease. Opinion is quite divided on this, but whether or not you feel it’s fair to call Unix an IDE in the same sense as Eclipse or Microsoft Visual Studio, it may surprise you just how comprehensive a development environment the humble Bash shell can be.

vim
Using vim

Source

Doing Windows, Part 1: MS-DOS and Its Discontents

Now Microsoft Does Windows
Infoworld November 1983
“Now Microsoft Does Windows”

Has any successful piece of software ever deserved its success less than the benighted, unloved exercise in minimalism that was MS-DOS? The program that started its life as a stopgap under the name of “The Quick and Dirty Operating System” at a tiny, long-forgotten hardware maker called Seattle Computer Products remained a stopgap when it was purchased by Bill Gates of Microsoft and hastily licensed to IBM for their new personal computer. Archaic even when the IBM PC shipped in October of 1981, MS-DOS immediately sent half the software industry scurrying to come up with something better. Yet actually arriving at a viable replacement would absorb a decade’s worth of disappointment and disillusion, conflict and compromise — and even then the “replacement” would still have to be built on top of the quick-and-dirty operating system that just wouldn’t die.

This, then, is the story of that decade, and of how Microsoft at the end of it finally broke Windows into the mainstream.

 

Source

Let’s build an MP3 decoder (2008)

Even though MP3 is probably the single most well known file format and codec on Earth, it’s not very well understood by most programmers – for many encoders/decoders is in the class of software “other people” write, like standard libraries or operating system kernels. This article will attempt to demystify the decoder, with short top-down primers on signal processing and information theory when necessary. Additionally, a small but not full-featured decoder will be written (in Haskell), suited to play around with.

The focus on this article is on concepts and the design choices the MPEG team made when they designed the codec – not on uninteresting implementation details or heavy theory. Some parts of a decoder are quite arcane and are better understood by reading the specification, a good book on signal processing, or the many papers on MP3 (see references at the end).

A note on the code: The decoder accompanying this article is written for readability, not speed. Additionally, some unusual features have been left out. The end result is a decoder that is inefficient and not standards compliant, but with hopefully readable code. You can grab the source here: mp3decoder-0.0.1.tar.gz. Scroll down to the bottom of the article or see README for build instructions.

With that out of the way, we begin our journey with the ear.

Source

How We Reverse Engineered the Cuban “Sonic Weapon” Attack

Throughout last year, mysterious ailments struck dozens of U.S. and Canadian diplomats and their families living in Cuba. Symptoms included dizziness, sleeplessness, headache, and hearing loss; many of the afflicted were in their homes or in hotel rooms when they heard intense, high-⁠pitched sounds shortly before falling ill. In February, neurologists who examined the diplomats concluded that the symptoms were consistent with concussion, but without any blunt trauma to the head. Suggested culprits included toxins, viruses, and a sonic weapon, but to date, no cause has been confirmed.

We found the last suggestion—a sonic weapon—intriguing, because around the same time that stories about health problems in Cuba began appearing, our labs, at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor, and at Zhejiang University in China, were busy writing up our latest research on ultrasonic cybersecurity. We wondered, Could ultrasound be the culprit in Cuba?

On the face of it, it seems impossible. For one thing, ultrasonic frequencies—20 kilohertz or higher—are inaudible to humans, and yet the sounds heard by the diplomats were obviously audible. What’s more, those frequencies don’t propagate well through air and aren’t known to cause direct harm to people except under rarefied conditions. Acoustic experts dismissed the idea that ultrasound could be at fault.

Then, about six months ago, an editor from The Conversation sent us a link to a video from the Associated Press, reportedly recorded in Cuba during one of the attacks.

Source

The Power of a Nintendo Handheld

The Nintendo Switch was the hottest selling “console” in December of last year and there shouldn’t be any questions as to why. While it quickly outpaced it’s predecessor, the Wii U, the similarities of the two diverge just as quickly. Where the Wii U had to remain nearly within sight of its base station, the Switch can be carried outside the home. Its dock only acts as a hub for your home usage, and can improve performance for games. Once out of the dock though, you are free to take the Switch with you and enjoy where you please.

I was fortunate enough to purchase one last October, a believer in the product since Nintendo first announced the long-rumored hybrid console/handheld, and in fact share my birthday with the release date (March 3). Due to its relevance in what I think will be proven to be a track back towards improving the general medium of video games, I want to share my thoughts on what they got right, where they can improve, and how they could begin a trend akin to the Wii.

To do that, first we will take a look at the past. The Nintendo Wii can easily be pointed to as a successful product, but doing that would be ill-advised. The lifetime sales of the Wii reached over 101 million units in March of 2016, but had reached 100 million units in June of 2013 when the Wii U was launched. There was a surge of buyers when it first released in 2006, but by mid-2009 it seemed that the market was completely saturated and everyone who wanted one would have one. From my personal experience, it also seemed that many who didn’t want one also had one as well. For more in-depth information on these numbers, there’s a Wikipedia article detailing that information.

Nintendo followed this up with what many consider to be a flop, the Wii U. It didn’t have near the success of the Wii, and at first what I thought was an add-on for the original Wii. Many others thought the same, and both of these consoles lack third party support. It’s widely known Nintendo is capitalizing on what they learned with the Wii/Wii U eShop, allowing third parties enter the platform with ease, and have sought after powerhouses like Bethesda to release earlier games the previous platforms couldn’t handle.

This is what intrigued me the most about the Switch, we’re seeing games released like Skyrim that I originally missed in the sixth and seventh generations of gaming consoles, which I can see as a good and bad thing. It’s good because they’re typically including the remastered version, and a portable version of the game. A big reason I missed out on these games to begin with is I don’t spend as much time at home, but have always had the interest without a console to match it. The others I’m most excited about are DOOM, and the recently announced Diablo and Dark Souls ports.

The games that have been released are killer as it is, and the games only seem to be mounting up even after new major releases from Nintendo every month last year. I’ve only been able to play The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8: Deluxe, Super Mario Odyssey and Rocket League. Those have cemented my belief in the system enough, and my only problem now is choosing what to pick up next.

A primary drawback to the Nintendo ecosystem is its online play. Finding matches is fairly easy, but when trying to communicate you’ll need to use another app and I haven’t felt a need to put the time into finding the players I’ve met in-game, but I’d like that to be possible. Nintendo is supposed to be ramping that up, but with how much focus they have on privacy and locking things down we probably won’t see too much of a change on this front. I think I speak for the collective Switch audience when I say that we’re all hoping the probable $20 paid online service should include a Virtual Console game pass, but I like many would rather purchase games individually. Hopefully they’re able to figure this out, because it’s the only glaring pimple besides a lack of other streaming apps aside from Hulu. Oh, yes, Hulu has been on the console since last November, and many still aren’t aware of it.

This brings up my final point, for the most part Nintendo has learned from their past mistakes and have a much clearer focus than in the past, and have been effectively communicating via Nintendo Directs (their sometimes stream that replaced their E3 showing). If they can continue this into the future, they have all the makings of success. That and a rumored Pokemon franchise reboot will have me golden for ages, and I think the same can be said for Nintendo’s target demographic.

It is rare that we see a perfect product, and the last I can say I wholeheartedly loved was the iPod (without touchscreen). It’s odd, but the Switch reminds me of that launch and I think we’ll see that continue to flourish into the future.

Inside Amazon’s quest to make a different kind of Echo

Amazon making another Echo

Oall the devices Amazon announced last fall, the one that got the most attention was the Echo Spot. A smaller, spherical version of the Echo Show, the Spot exuded an adorable style that was distinct from the rest of the Echo lineup. And judging by the reviews it received, it’s clear that the Spot’s form factor helped make it something of a surprise hit. In an exclusive behind-the-scenes look, Engadget had a chance to find out just how the Spot became one of Amazon’s most unique products.

 

Engadget provides some insight on these products and is worth the relative quick read: source.

ACLU: Debt Collection Companies Have Hijacked the Justice System

Denise Zencka, a mother of three in Indiana, had to file for bankruptcy because she couldn’t afford to repay her bills for treatment for thyroid cancer. And because she was unable to work, she had to stay with her parents in Florida while she recovered. She didn’t know that during that time, at the request of a debt collector seeking to collect outstanding medical bills, a small claims court judge had issued three warrants for her arrest. When she returned to Indiana, she was arrested by local sheriff’s deputies for the private debt she owed. Once at the jail, and being too sick to climb the stairs to the women’s section, she was held in a men’s mental health unit. Its glass walls allowed the male prisoners to watch everything she did, including using the toilet.

ACLU.org