Prisoners at multiple facilities in Alabama initiated a work stoppage on Sunday May 1st. Prisoners at Holman, Elmore, and St Clair announced the strike, there are reports of shut downs elsewhere in Alabama, and the administration denies that any facility other than Holman is on strike. Holman Prison, outside of Atmore Alabama has been the site of ongoing resistance since two back-to-back uprisings took over the facility in early March.
Holman houses the tag plant, a factory that produces license-plates for the State of Alabama with coerced labor of prisoners.
Perhaps more impact than shutting down the tag plant, striking prisoners are refusing to do the various jobs needed to maintain the prison itself. Everything from menial tasks of laundry and cleaning to preparing food and skilled maintenance jobs are typically done for free by prisoners themselves.
When they refuse, ADOC is forced to pay people- either correctional officers, or scabs, to maintain the prison and feed the prisoners. As a result, already unsanitary and substandard conditions at these prisons are degrading further. Paying staff overtime, or hiring outside workers will strain the already tenuous budget of the Alabama prison system. ADOC can hardly afford to operate it’s prisons with the help of compliant prisoner-slaves, so by refusing to work, the prisoners render their continued confinement impossible.
Retaliation against the prisoners is widespread and varied. From the top, Alabama’s knee-jerk response to prisoners standing up for themselves is always focused on increasing control and violence against the prisoners. From below, correctional officers and staff’s disrespect for their captives is palpable. Prisoners have sent out photographs of food trays hastily prepared by resentful correctional officers, some of which were picked up and shared by journalists and mainstream media.
The ADOC spokesperson Bob Horton denies the scope of the work stoppage, claiming that Holman is the only facility affected in an interview with local media. Prisoners from Elmore, interviewed by AL.com maintain that Elmore, St Clair, Donaldson and Staton were on at least partial shut downs, and that the strike is likely to spread.
Horton also claimed not to know why the prisoners were on strike. He said “the inmates have not given any demands, or any reason why they’re not working.” Prisoners have been presenting demands to ADOC for years, which have been steadily ignored. The Free Alabama Movement has published a Freedom Bill, expressing specific modifications to Alabama laws they would like to see, following their three week long work stoppage in January of 2014. After the Holman uprisings this March, a list of demands came out, focusing on lack of oversight, horrific conditions at Holman, and habitual offender laws that keep prisoners trapped and hopeless within the system.
For this action, after years of having demands ignored, the prisoners have gone silent in addition to refusing to work. “There is no need for us to say a word, as everything is in writing,” the FAM strike announcement states.
On the morning of May 2nd, prisoners in Holmen sent out this extended update:
“Good morning Comrades. The Shut down is going as planned here at Holman Prison. We woke up today with the mutual, unified understanding that we are in an unprecedented stage in our efforts to challenge, in a much more controlling manner, the Institution that has plagued us as a people far longer than any disease any of us have ever had. No words Have had to be spoken amongst any of us. It’s just a quiet day. Quieter than most. We are demonstrating only one thing. We challenge only one thing. That is the abolition of laws that support the continuation of slavery through what we have come to know as the Criminal Justice System. Slavery, which has always been a legal institution, has always remained one. And it has been clearly kept legal by the United States Constitution. Specifically, the Thirteenth Amendment . We have evidence that slavery still exists in the U.S.and that is has merely taken on a more acceptable form in the guise of making America safe, while in disguise enacting laws that would assist in the building of the institution. Conviction=Slavery That’s simple equation. The difference now is that it has become autonomous due to the fact that those enslaved have voluntarily provided the state’s the means by which it is to continue as an enterprise. That means has been to provide free Labour to the States. We have made a vow to no longer cater to what we know to be inhumane and barbaric in its essence. We make this stand now and we will remain here.”
The prisoners need support and broad public awareness to make ADOC take them seriously.
Friends, family and supporters on the outside have come out in solidarity with the prisoners. In New York The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) and Anarchist Black Cross held a noise demo and “walk the pigs” march.
Protests also hit Chicago, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Tucson, Austin, Portland and elsewhere across the country.
Protesters made prison slavery a visible part of May Day marches, and made noise at local jails and downtown correctional facilities. Milwaukee IWOC turned out for prisoner support at an 8000+ person immigrant rights march hosted by Voces de la Frontera. They distro-ed hundreds of handbills about the May Day strike and upcoming solidarity events, flew signs and banners, and then kicked off for a second march focusing on prisoner resistance, which included a noise demo at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility and a tour of nearby corporations who exploit prison labor. Tucson ABC created a May Day newsletter that focuses on prisoner struggles. Follow up actions have been called for this coming weekend. If you participated in these, or other solidarity actions, or if you’ve got any planned, please let us know via email at: email@example.com
The strike in Alabama follows a rolling work stoppage in Texas which kicked off April 4th, and held down half a dozen facilities off and on for most of a month. These work stoppages are just the start. Prisoners have called for a national strike and protest on Sept 9th, shutting down prisons all across the country at a same time.