‘This is slavery’: U.S. inmates strike in what activists call one of the biggest prison protests in modern history
LosAngelesTimes, Oct 29, 2016
In his 29 years in prison, David Bonner has mopped floors, cooked hot dogs in the cafeteria and, most recently, cut sheets of aluminum into Alabama license plates.
The last job paid $2 a day — enough to buy a bar of soap at the commissary or make a short phone call.
«This is slavery,» said Bonner, who is 51 and serving a life sentence for murder. «We’re forced to work these jobs and we get barely anything.” He was speaking on a mobile phone smuggled into his 8-by-12 foot cell in Alabama’s Holman Correctional Facility, where he and dozens of other inmates were on strike.
They’re among a growing national movement of prisoners who have staged work stoppages or hunger strikes this fall to protest dismal wages, abusive guards, overcrowding and poor healthcare, among other grievances.
Prisoners’ rights activists say the coordinated effort is one of the largest prison protests in modern history, drawing in at least 20,000 inmates in at least 24 prisons in 23 states. In California, at least 300 inmates have been involved in hunger strikes at jails in Santa Clara and Merced counties.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, who visited Holman earlier this year, has described the state corrections system as being «in crisis” and has pushed for funding to build additional prisons.
Known by inmates as “the slaughterhouse” for its death row, the maximum-security Holman prison is considered one of the most violent facilities in the South. Nearly 1,000 inmates occupy a space built for half that many. Tensions have been escalating throughout this year.
In March, riots broke out. In September, a prisoner stabbed a corrections officer to death. In October, after an inmate committed suicide, prisoners said guards had ignored their screams to come and help the man.
“I’ve been doing this work for four years, and we’ve never gotten this kind of attention to prisoners’ rights,” said Azzurra Crispino, an activist based in Austin, Texas. “There’s a momentum.” Crispino is a spokesperson for the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee.
Some inmates have reported being transferred to other prisons or confined in cells as retaliation for organizing.
Putting prisoners to work is standard practice, but many states don’t pay them, pointing out that although the 13th Amendment of the Constitution outlaws “involuntary servitude,” it makes an exception for work done “as a punishment for crime.”
The work goes far beyond maintaining the prisons or producing goods for the government. Prison labor often benefits private enterprises. According to prisoners, the strikes this fall included inmates at the Perry Correctional Institution in South Carolina who work without pay for a furniture company that operates a factory there.
Until it bowed to pressure from prisoner-rights activists last year, the grocery store chain Whole Foods bought tilapia and goat cheese from a supplier that raised its animals using inmate labor in Colorado.
By some estimates, prison workers save individual states and U.S. companies billions a year in wages.
“The prison system right now is just a big old business,” said Carlos Sanders, who helps lead the Free Ohio Movement from the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown.
“We’ve tried hunger strikes and filing grievances with courts,” said Sanders, who entered prison for robbery and was subsequently convicted of helping plan the murder of a corrections officer during a 1993 uprising. “But since super-economic exploitation is what keeps these prisons alive, we decided a labor strike is the way to go.”
The strikes began on Sept. 9, timed to the 45th anniversary of the deadliest prison uprising in modern American history — a five-day standoff over living conditions at the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York that left 33 prisoners and 10 guards dead.
The issue of prisoner rights has periodically garnered public attention over the years, fueled most recently by debates over race and justice that have gripped the country.
A 2010 work stoppage involving thousands of prisoners in Georgia was quickly followed by similar strikes in North Carolina, Washington, Illinois and Virginia. Three years later, 30,000 California inmates refused food — some of them for close to two months — protest the state’s use of long-term solitary confinement.
But the strikes this fall have a breadth that has seldom been seen. That can only translate to increased awareness for a cause that has rarely enjoyed much sympathy from the public.
One recent question for activists inside and outside prisons is where prison guards stand on the push for reforms. They spend more time with the inmates than anyone else and have a close-up view of prison conditions. They also naturally have a strong interest in maintaining peace at their workplaces. Last month at the Holman prison when nine guards didn’t show up for a work shift, inmates took it as support for their strike.
Правительство США жестоко нарушило мои права человека при проведении кампании террора, которая заставила меня покинуть свою родину и получить политическое убежище в СССР. См. книгу «Безмолвный террор — История политических гонений на семью в США» — «Silent Terror: One family’s history of political persecution in the United States» — http://arnoldlockshin.wordpress.com
Правительство США еще нарушает мои права, в течении более 12 лет отказывается от выплаты причитающейся мне пенсии по старости. Властители США воруют пенсию!! Всё это — ещё доказательство, что настоящий действующий закон в США — Закон джунглей.
ФСБ — Федеральная служба «безопасности» России — вслед за позорным, предавшим страну предшественником КГБ, выполняет приказы секретного, кровавого хозяина (boss) — американского ЦРУ (CIA). Среди таких «задач» — мне запретить выступать в СМИ и не пропускать большинства отправленных мне комментариев. А это далеко не всё…
Арнольд Локшин, политэмигрант из США