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.
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).
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.
For the Media: Inquiries should be directed to
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:
The National Layers Guild has endorsed the strike: