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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 Demands

The 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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The truth is profit-driven exploitation and trafficking of people of marginalized identities is not only state-sanctioned, it is foundational to the US.

State-sanctioned labor exploitation, slavery, and human trafficking are bedrock institutions of the colonial US nation-state, to this day. The trafficking and enslavement of millions of people of African descent was abhorrently abused by every industry for profit. The US then used slave/slave-like labor and human trafficking for its prejudiced, violent settler-colonialism such as the forced relocation and internment camps of people of Japanese descent, the brutal forced removal of Indigenous Americans and later the abusive and exploitative “adoptions” of Indigenous American children, leading to up to 35% of Indigenous children as recently as 1974 being ripped from their families and cultures, as well as reconcentrados or concentration camps of Pilipinx people during US colonization, contributing to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands. Today, these institutions continue as intersecting systems of profit-driven oppression that target and exploit people of different marginalized identities for profit. The US continues to empower profit-driven human trafficking and labor exploitation, such as through guest-work visa programs. Despite numerous reports of labor violations and exploitation and the administration’s previous pledges, guest-work programs were recently increased through Congress and the Department of Homeland Security after industry lobbying. Corporations contract "labor brokers" who, often deceitfully, solicit labor for the visa program from around the world. Migrant or “guest” workers are then underpaid or unpaid in poorly regulated and dangerous conditions, and often have identity documents stolen or destroyed to manipulate and detain workers. Workers who have their documentation stolen or destroyed are then vulnerable to further exploitation. Across the country, undocumented migrants captured and placed in immigration detention centers are also made to do unpaid or underpaid labor in a system plagued by slow processing due to immigration court backlogs. This then contributes to multi-billion dollar profits reported by detention corporations and booming industry for bail bonds companies that also intrusively GPS track their clients. All the while this system of capture and exploitation is facilitated by a government enforcing procedures mandating 34,000 beds in detention centers be filled everyday while allowing failures in basic procedures leading to the government placing migrant children with human traffickers.
Related: THIS LABOR DAY, DON’T FORGET ABOUT INCARCERATED PEOPLE.

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