Without mass actions like the current nationwide prison strike, which bring direct awareness to the issue, these stories go largely underreported.Note: Due to the safety of the incarcerated individuals, some names were changed to allow anonymity. We speak carefully on the phone, fully aware that anything said can become grounds to get him sent to ‘segregation’, so we talk in non-absolutes and coded language. The phone line is fuzzy, distant, and unstable today—sometimes it sounds crystal clear, other times I think he may be underwater—but still, we speak with covert passion. “I’m sure you heard the news of what’s happening all around, yeah?” he asks me, not saying the words but still conveying the conversation to me. “It’s really fuckin’ courageous for people, what [they’re] doing,” Charlie, an immigrant who has been incarcerated in Georgia for almost six years and is now at Stewart Detention Center, the fifth facility he’s been transferred to, tells me. “I keep my faith, but niggas go crazy in here,” Charlie says with a voice that’s increasingly shaky. We quickly change the subject. The topic of resistance can be fleeting and constricted for incarcerated people like Charlie, but it’s often present nonetheless. The “news” that Charlie was referring to is the nationwide prison strike, which was announced in April and began last week. https://twitter.com/JailLawSpeak/status/988771668670799872 Earlier this year, incarcerated people across the U.S. announced plans to hold a nationwide prison strike from August 21st to September 9th. The dates are not random: August 21st invokes the day that comrade George Jackson was murdered by prison guards in San Quentin State Prison, and September 9th marks the day incarcerated people began the Attica Prison Uprising, one of the most notorious prison uprisings in history. Lead by an abolitionist collective including groups like Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, and others which culminate incarcerated and non-incarcerated organizers, this strike, now several days underway with many reports of involvement across the country and over 300 organizations endorsing it, could be the largest prison strike in U.S. history.
The DemandsThe strike is in response to an uprising at Lee Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in South Carolina where seven incarcerated people died on April 15, 2018. Based on multiple reports, the violence and subsequent deaths at Lee Correctional Institution was provoked by prison guards and then sustained by prison officials who turned their backs on the incarcerated people as the violence increased, not attempting to break up the fighting or give medical aid. “The demands were issued in direct response to the violence at Lee Correctional Institution,” said journalist and prisoner advocate Jared Ware. “Jailhouse Lawyers Speak is a human rights organization inside prisons, and the language and the choice of their demands in many ways reflects the way they work, they deal in policies, they examine laws, they write writs, they help with appeals, they file grievances against abuses in prisons.” The strikers’ demands are both straightforward and complex, with the crux of them calling attention to the need for “humane living conditions, access to rehabilitation, sentencing reform and the end of modern day slavery.” While organizers have noted that their demands don’t illustrate or tackle the totality of problems they face as incarcerated people, they do cover much important ground that we on the outside should pay close attention to and appreciate.
The demands are crafted as calls to uphold human rights standards, and intentionally so.In a recent interview with Ware for ShadowProof, a representative from Jailhouse Lawyers Speak said the creation of the demands came from “talking to a number of prisoners in a number of different locations”, narrowing them down from over 30 demands to the ten we see today. They wanted the demands to be specific in their aims, but speak to as much of the incarceration as possible, from women’s prisons to immigrant detention centers. Of the demands, the first two may be the most general: immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women, and an immediate end to prison slavery by paying incarcerated workers ‘the prevailing wage’ in their state for their labor. The demands are crafted as calls to uphold human rights standards, and intentionally so. Utterly inhumane conditions are a permanent fixture in most jails and prisons across the country, and have been the catalyst for many prison uprisings. In the Atlanta City Detention Center (ACDC), incarcerated people have reported the spreading staph infections and other diseases due to the unsanitary, dirty environment. In other cases, incarcerated people have died from heat exhaustion due to lack of air conditioning, have been denied access to clean drinking water, or have had minor health problems become life-ending occasions due to medical neglect. Following Hurricane Harvey last year, reports piled in that incarcerated people in Texas were left with no electricity, no running water or working toilets, and no ventilation for several days.
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Shackling isn’t about safety. It’s about punishing those deemed unfit and undesirable for exercising the choice to become mothers.To be a woman in this society is to be vulnerable physically, financially, and politically. 33 percent of women have been the victim of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. Women, on average, earn less than men in nearly every single occupation for which there is sufficient earnings data for both men and women to calculate an earnings ratio. Hundreds of thousands of women are positioned to lose access to birth control without a copayment after the Trump administration rolled back an Obamacare regulation that required employers to provide birth control in their health insurance plans. Additionally, women in jails are the fastest growing incarcerated population in the United States. This rapid growth is linked to trauma, sexual violence, and mental health issues. Of the over 200,000 women in jail or prison, around 6 percent are pregnant while incarcerated. Only 22 states and the District of Columbia have laws against shackling pregnant incarcerated women, but this inhumane practice still takes place in these states because of nonspecific language about shackling pregnant women during transportation to medical facilities and first, second, and third trimesters. Essentially, pregnant women are being illegally restrained, and it’s difficult and often dangerous for these women to speak up for themselves. Often times, these women have already grown accustomed to maltreatment and abuse of power from prison employees.
This Labor Day all activists, organizers, advocates, and progressives need to remain cognizant of the plight of the incarcerated, whose labor often is left out of the discourse.By Devyn Springer While Labor Day has become synonymous with simply being known as the long weekend filled with barbecues, cheap cocktails, and laughs with friends, it is historically much more than that; it is meant to be a celebration of the radical trade unionists and organizers of the early Labor Movement which is responsible for many of our worker’s rights today. Moreover, it should be a celebration of the worker, the contributions to the world the laborers make, and a transgression against current abuses and exploitations workers face. This year massive protests and demonstrations across the country have taken place to demand high minimum wages, particularly the #FightFor15 organizations call for a $15 minimum wage. In other parts of the country immigrants folks are also marching for the rights of immigrant workers, especially in relation to the recent news that Trump has declared war on DACA recipients. While these causes are important, noble, and timely, there is a population of workers whose plight and labor is overlooked each year: the incarcerated. In our conceptualization of “labor,” “laborers,” and “workers,” we often naturally overlook the labor of incarcerated people, which is not a coincidence. Not just their labor, but their conditions and lives as well are often overlooked in most public discourse, as the prison system is this way by design. In most states, the geography of prisons alone is enough to create this erasure; state and federal prison facilities are often places on the outskirts of towns, hour-long drives away from cities. Incarcerated populations are, often quite literally, out of sight and out of mind to the general public, thus the plight of their struggles and their labor is naturally disregarded.
Most women in prison are the victims of abuse and suffer from mental health issues–inhumane prison conditions aren’t helping.By Andie Park Earlier this month, Senators Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren publicly introduced the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, a landmark bill to improve living conditions for female inmates who are also the primary caretakers of their families. Some of the provisions of the bill address fairly straightforward and common-sense needs such as creating better access to feminine hygiene products and expanding visitation policies for the families of inmates. Other provisions, however, reveal a more horrifying system of abuse in federal facilities for women. Until the introduction of this bill, the shackling of pregnant inmates was still legal. In federal facilities, several women sacrifice the decision to make a phone call to family members in order to buy box a tampons from their commissary – or vice versa – due to the exorbitant costs tied to each choice. The alarmingly vast lack of protections stems from the institutional inability to include women in legal discussions for reform. Whether it be solitary confinement or going into childbirth while shackled, these actions were still technically legal mainly because legislative measures never accounted for the difference of struggles between female and male inmates. Ultimately, the bill is a push for the Bureau of Prisons to confront its own gender bias and make concentrated efforts to not only protect female inmates but also restore a semblance of human dignity during their incarceration.
When mothers and caretakers are locked in cages, families and communities suffer devastating consequences. We need to join the movement to help bail them out. No mother should be separated from her children because she can't afford bail. Unfortunately, the prison-industrial complex thrives