Monthly Archives: May 2016

How to Support Prisoner Resistance

What support means now:

See up to date detailed suggestions and ideas at It’s Going Down and their one month out update.

1. Spread the word into prisons.  – Send word about the strike and the upsurge in prisoner resistance activities in to as many prisoners as you can. Find various things to mail in at our resources page. If you are connected with a prisoner newsletter, prisoners’ families, a books to prisoners or prison pen-pals project, get word to those contacts. If prison mailrooms are practicing censorship, contact us and we’ll give you suggestions on how to fight back.  If you aren’t connected to any such groups, contact us and we’ll either plug you in with folks we already know are active in your area, or help you get something off the ground.

2. Spread the word outside of prisons. -stories of prisoner‘s struggles are starting to break through the typical informal media embargo / hostility against prisoner perspectives. The more we circulate these stories, engage in solidarity actions, organize events and workshops, the harder it will be for society to ignore these struggles. Find articles and stories to share here. Join and share the event on Facebook. Sign up for our contact list, forward our emails to friends and encourage them to sign up as well. Endorse the strike, and encourage any organization you are a member of to do the same.

3. Build and demonstrate outside support. -the prisoners have called for rallies at DOC offices, McDonald’s and other companies who profit from prison labor. Visible protests and actions let prisoners know who and how many have their backs, and helps them determine tactics and strategies. Here’s a list of dates and opportunities to mobilize.  If there aren’t people in your area already engaged with this work, contact IWOC, who are devoting significant resources to branch building and establishing a strong nationally-networked outside support infrastructure.  If you support this work, but cannot engage with it yourself, please donate to IWOC or another prisoner support project.


What support means on September 9th

1. Direct action at prisons. – The strategy of the Free Alabama Movement calls for demonstrations at prisons themselves, ideally at a timing or level of engagement that joins the prisoners in disrupting the routine operations (ie the slavery and torture) of the institutions.

2. Demonstrations. – If you can’t make it to a prison, or risk direct action, showing up in visible protests at DOC central office, government buildings, politician’s offices or the headquarters or franchises of companies who profit from prison slavery is a great way to show support. If your demonstration gets mainstream media attention, that presents a larger challenge to prison mailroom censors. You can also help control the narrative, which typically blames and villainizes prisoners out the gate.

3. Oversight. -Prisoners who protest their conditions are routinely put into worse conditions. They are punished, beaten, transferred, stripped naked and held in restraint positions for hours. They are electrocuted, pepper sprayed, thrown in “observation” or “suicide cells”, sometimes force fed, sometimes assaulted with hammers. Prison staff are given broad leeway to torture their captives. If we can get lawyers, politicians, reputable non-profits and investigative journalists asking questions, representing prisoners and providing oversight, it will check the retaliation.

Hundreds of Inmates Across Alabama Have Gone on Strike to Protest ‘Prison Slavery’

From Vice

By Raven Rakia

May 13, 2016 | 12:45 pm

In late March, a prisoner named Johnny Lee Spears was stabbed to death at Alabama’s Elmore Correctional Facility. Soon after, his fellow inmates began plotting a protest. Many believed that Spears died because he did not receive proper medical care after the attack, and the incident — combined with longstanding complaints against the state’s prison system about overcrowding, frequent acts of violence, crumbling facilities, and medical neglect — was like dropping a match in a keg of gunpowder.

Weeks earlier, similar gripes at the Holman Correctional Facility, another Alabama prison that houses inmates on death row, prompted a riot that saw prisoners seize control of their cell blocks, stab a guard and the warden, and set several fires. This time, the inmates at Elmore wanted their grievances addressed through nonviolent means.

The Elmore prisoners reached out to Melvin Ray, an inmate at the state’s St. Clair Correctional Facility and the founder of the Free Alabama Movement, a prisoner-organized human rights group. Ray told them he could help organize a work stoppage. Dozens of Alabama inmates possess contraband cellphones — some told VICE News they bought the phones illegally from guards — and on April 30 they received a text message.

“We will no longer voluntarily participate in this slave system where economics are placed over our humanity,” the message read. “All [that] is required is for industry workers, kitchen workers, and hall runners to sit down.”

Related: Whole Foods, Expensive Cheese, and the Dilemma of Cheap Prison Labor

On May 1, when protesters around the world marched for workers’ rights on May Day, inmates throughout the Alabama prison system went on strike. Prisoners refused to show up to their assigned jobs, where they are paid a maximum of 30 cents per hour to manufacture license plates, serve food, and clean. One Alabama prison has an inmate-staffed recycling plant, and another has a farm where prisoners grow and harvest all of the crops.

“Prison systems could not operate without exploiting prison labor; prisoners cook the meals, do the laundry, provide maintenance work, cut the grass, work as clerks and teachers’ aides, and much more,” said Alex Friedmann, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center, a nonprofit that publishes Prison Legal News. “Without the use of low-cost or free prisoner labor, our prison system would grind to a halt — and prisoners are increasingly coming to that realization.”

‘Without the use of low-cost or free prisoner labor, our prison system would grind to a halt — and prisoners are increasingly coming to that realization.’

The strike included at least 300 prisoners at Elmore alone, according to the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) spokesman Bob Horton. The facility was placed on lockdown, meaning prisoners could not leave their cells or dorms, but the restrictions were lifted on Tuesday after about 90 percent of the prisoners returned to work.

Holman remains on lockdown because of the strike, and prisoners told VICE News that the work stoppage has also spread to the Staton Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison that houses around 1,300 inmates, and to St. Clair, which was also placed on partial lockdown last week.

“The main reason that we’re striking is because there continues to be problems inside of the prison and the state’s focus is not on solving the problems — it’s on finding new ways to make money,” said Ray. “They’re not affording us the opportunity to make our concerns known. They’re not listening to our complaints. The only way we have to get their attention is to do these shut downs.”

Related: Hard Labor: Here’s the Weird Shit Inmates Can Do for Work in US Prisons

The strike in Alabama began exactly one month after a similar inmate action in Texas, where prisoners demanded that the state put an end to “prison slavery,” reform parole guidelines, and eliminate a mandatory $100 co-pay for medical care. The Texas strike ended without the state meeting any of the demands.

The Alabama prisoners have also been coordinating with inmates in Mississippi and Virginia to call for a nationwide prisoner work stoppage on September 9, 2016. The day marks the 45th anniversary of the Attica Prison riot, a landmark moment in the prisoners’ rights movement where more than 1,000 inmates at the notorious New York lockup seized control of the facility and demanded political rights and better living conditions.

‘We will no longer voluntarily participate in this slave system where economics are placed over our humanity.’

The major grievance in Alabama is overcrowding. The state’s prisons are holding nearly three times as many people as they were originally intended to house, according to the latest ADOC statistics. A lawsuit filed in 2014 by the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that litigates on behalf of indigent inmates, blamed the overcrowding problem for high levels of violence across the state prison system. Seven people were killed while in ADOC custody last year.

On May 7, the striking prisoners emailed a list of demands to the media that included abolishing sentences of life without parole for first-time offenders, and repealing the Habitual Felony Offender Act, Alabama’s version of the “three-strikes law,” which has led to life sentences for some repeat offenders convicted of drug charges and other low-level, nonviolent offenses. Other demands include implementing education, rehabilitation, and reentry programs, expanding the Alabama Innocence Inquiry Commission, which works to exonerate wrongfully convicted individuals, and ending “prison slavery.”

Attempts by Alabama lawmakers to address overcrowding and other issues have either stalled or proceeded slowly. Governor Robert Bentley signed a prison reform bill into law last year that is expected to cut the prison population by at least 4,200 people, bringing the prison population down to about 150 percent over capacity.

Footage from the inmate riot at Alabama’s Holman Correctional Facility on March 11.

The situation in Alabama’s prisons was largely overlooked until the riot at Holman on March 11. The incident attracted national media attention after inmates used their contraband cellphones to post footage of the uprising on Facebook. Bentley used the riot to push state legislators to approve a bill that would borrow $800 million from the state’s educational fund to build four new “mega-prisons,” which would have room for far more prisoners than the current facilities.

Prisoners who spoke with VICE News argued that the new “mega-prisons” wouldn’t solve the state’s problems or even alleviate overcrowding. They argued that instead of building new facilities, the state needs to reform its harsh sentencing laws.

Related: These Inmates Won $85,000 Because Their Prison Is on Lockdown Too Often

“They were going to build a new $800 million prison complex in the state of Alabama. For us on the inside, we know that’s really an $800 million corporation,” Ray said. “We view prison labor as real slavery.”

Multiple prisoners at Holman claimed that guards have retaliated for the strike by reducing the amount of food served at each meal. Inmates provided VICE News with photos that appeared to show paltry meals, including one that consisted of two small hot dogs, a slice of bread, and corn, and another that was just beans and two cupcakes. Typically, inmates who work in the prison kitchen prepare and serve meals, but correctional officers have assumed those duties during the strike.

Prisoners in Alabama claim guards have retaliated for a work stoppage by withholding food. One inmate sent VICE News this photo of a recent meal he was served. (Photo via Raven Rakia/VICE News)

Horton did not directly comment on the allegation that guards are withholding food to punish inmates for the strike. However, in a previous statement, he said, “Correctional staff are responding by delivering the basic services to all inmates at both facilities. The facilities are secure, inmates are receiving their daily meals, and their healthcare needs are being met.”

VICE News spoke with one 40-year-old prisoner with diabetes who claimed that the food situation at Homan has put him and other diabetic inmates at risk. Diabetic prisoners are usually offered a special menu with items that help them avoid hypoglycemia, a sometimes fatal condition caused by dangerously low blood-sugar levels.

Related: Alabama’s Governor Used Oil Spill Funds to Renovate His Coastal Mansion

“We’re supposed to get a minimum 2,400 calories a day and a minimum of 125 grams of protein a day and the meals that they’ve been feeding us are not adequate enough to keep our blood sugar up enough to take our insulin,” said the inmate, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation from guards and prison officials.

A lawsuit filed by Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in June, 2014 alleged that medical neglect is rampant in Alabama prisons due to inadequate medical staffing. In 2014, according to the SPLC, the ratio of medical staff to prisoners was 1 to 51 in 2014, resulting in “delays, failures to diagnose and treat problems, failure to follow up with patients, errors and decisions to not treat seriously ill prisoners.”

Ray said the strike at Holman is expected to last through the end of the month, but the prisoners will keep pushing for reform even after it ends.

“We’re not going to stop fighting back against the system… until these walls come down,” he said.

Follow Raven Rakia on Twitter: @aintacrow

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NLG Stands with Prisoners in Struggle, Endorse IWOC National Prison Strike in September

May 13, 2016

Today, prisoners across Alabama have ended a 10-day strike that started May 1 (International Workers’ Day) to protest unpaid labor and horrendous conditions, already reporting retaliation by prison officials. On September 9, 2016, the National Lawyers Guild will join Support Prisoner Resistance, The Free Alabama Movement and The International Workers of the World (IWW) Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) in a Call to Action Against Slavery in America. On that day—exactly 45 years after the Attica uprisings—we will support a national work stoppage led by prisoners across the nation. Join us in supporting their freedom from forced labor!

This Call to Action was written by prisoners in Alabama, Mississippi, Ohio, and Virginia who are calling attention to contemporary exploitation of their labor as prisoners. Their choice in using the language of slavery reminds us that the Thirteenth Amendment did not abolish slavery and involuntary servitude when used “as punishment for a crime.” Acknowledging that slavery invokes a specific history of oppression and anti-Blackness in the United States, the prisoners consciously address the racism of contemporary policing and prisons, which disproportionately impact communities of color and especially Black and Native American communities. The IWOC Call to Action reminds us all that “Certain Americans live every day under not only the threat of extra-judicial execution—as protests surrounding the deaths of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and so many others have drawn long overdue attention to—but also under the threat of capture, of being thrown into these plantations, shackled and forced to work.” Continue reading

Organizing the Prisoner Class: An Interview with IWOC

Originally posted to It’s Going Down April 30th, 2016

The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, or IWOC, is a committee within the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), that is working to offer support for workers already self-organizing from behind prison walls. As we speak, actions in Texas prisons are ongoing, while riots and resistance continues at Holman Prison in Alabama. This May Day, prisoners with the Free Alabama Movement (FAM) are calling for a strike, anarchist and anti-prison groups are organizing demonstrations in solidarity, and IWOC and other groups are building for national actions on September 9th. Wanting to know more about how a small group has managed to sign up hundreds of prisoners and build for large actions, we caught up with IWOC to learn just how it’s going down. 

It’s Going Down: How did IWOC form? What was the inspiration for the group?

Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee: Prisoners have been fighting for the right to unionize since probably as long as workers in the free world have. In the 1970’s these efforts hit a high water mark, George Jackson and many other prisoner advocates were agitating for the right to unionize. Eventually, in 1977 The US Supreme Court decided in Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners’ Labor Union, 433 U.S. 119 that prisoners’ right to organize unions is not protected under the first amendment to the constitution. Continue reading

Democracy Now! Interview with FAM

Part 2 gets into broader organizing, including the Sept 9th Call for Nationally Coordinated Workstoppage and Protest.

We go behind bars to get an update on the end of a 10-day strike by Alabama prisoners to protest severe overcrowding, poor living conditions and the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which bans slavery and servitude “except as a punishment for crime,” thus sanctioning the legality of forced, unpaid prison labor. “These strikes are our methods of challenging mass incarceration, as we understand the prison system is a continuation of the slave system, which is an economic system,” says Kinetik Justice, who joins us by phone from solitary confinement in Holman Correctional Facility. He is co-founder of the Free Alabama Movement and one of the organizers of the strike. He says organizers tried petitioning their conditions via the courts and lawmakers, but when they were unsuccessful, “we understood our incarceration was pretty much about our labor and the money that was being generated from the prison system, therefore we began organizing around our labor and used it as a means and a method to bring about reform in the Alabama prison system.”

Transcript:NERMEEN SHAIKH: We end today’s show in Alabama, where men at several prisons have ended a 10-day strike over unpaid labor and poor prison conditions. Their coordinated strike kicked off on May 1st, International Workers’ Day, when prisoners at the Holman and Elmore Correctional Facilities refused to report to their prison jobs—and later expanded to three other prisons. The strike focused on severe overcrowding, poor living conditions and the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which bans slavery and servitude, quote, “except as a punishment for crime,” thus sanctioning the legality of forced, unpaid prison labor. Alabama operates the country’s most crowded prison system, holding nearly twice as many people as it’s designed to contain.
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Alabama Prison Strikes Ends After Work-Release Strike Breakers Brought In Failure of Prison Expansion Bill Seen as Small Victory

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)

Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC)

Alabama Prison Strikes Ends After Work-Release Strike Breakers Brought In

Failure of Prison Expansion Bill Seen as Small Victory

IWW General Headquarters, Chicago, IL. May 12, 2016 Prisoners at Holman Correctional Institution have ended their ten-day shutdown of the State of Alabama’s auto license plate plant. Their work stoppage, initiated on May Day, spread to Elmore, St Clair, Donaldson and Staton facilities over the following week shutting down Alabama Department of Correction’s (ADOC) canning plant, fleet services, and chemical industry as well as the license plate plant. “That was our leverage, that was our power to negotiate with” said Kinetic, a member of both the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union and the Free Alabama Movement (FAM). In an interview with media representatives of the IWW-Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee he explained how the strike achieved one objective but was broken by the unexpected employment of work-release prisoners as strike-breakers.
The strike achieved its first objective after only two days when the Alabama State Legislature killed the $800 million “Prison Transformation Initiative” that would have greatly expanded Alabama’s prison system, which is plagued with overcrowding, violence, deteriorating buildings and budget shortfalls. The defeated law tried to allocate ADOC $800 million to build four 3500 bed super-max facilities. Prisoners initiated their strike to draw national attention to ADOC’s problems and propose other solutions. On May 1st the prisoners stopped reporting to their work stations, and activists organized rallies and solidarity protests according to journalists who interviewed the prisoner’s spokespersons via clandestine cell-phones. On May 3rd, the ADOC’s new prison bill died on the state senate floor. Prisoners contend that their strike tipped the scales against the bill. Continue reading

One Month till June 11 Convergence Against Toxic Prisons

From -Fight Toxic Prisons

In one month, people from across the country will converge on Washington DC for the Convergence to Support Eco-prisoners and Fight Toxic Prisons <>
June 11-13 . Over 25 organizations from across the country <> have endorsed that Convergence, including prison abolition, eco-defense, anti-police violence, environmental justice, and anti-authoritarian groups  for a weekend of
workshops, strategizing and direct action <>.
We are excited to announce that several former political prisoners and supporters including Eric McDavid, Ramona Africa, Peg Millet, Jihad Abdulmumit, and more, will join us to share there Continue reading

Alabama prisoners strike to end slave labor, unjust conditions Prison officials retaliate with inhumane tactics as prisoners issue demands


Inmates at three Alabama prisons have issued unified demands after initiating a widespread work stoppage on May 1, 2016. They are protesting exploitative labor policies and horrific prison conditions caused, in part, by overcrowding; Alabama’s prisons are operating at close to 200 percent over capacity.

Prison staff have attempted to suppress the civil disobedience by significantly reducing prisoners’ meal portions, a tactic known as “bird feeding.” Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has brought work release prisoners from other facilities in an effort to undermine the strike.

Strikes are taking place at St. Clair Correctional Facility, Holman Correctional Facility, and Staton Correctional Facility.

The Free Alabama Movement, an organization comprised of inmates at numerous prisons, recently released demands through their advocate on the outside, Pastor Kenneth Glasgow. Glasgow is the founder of The Ordinary People Society and a leader in the Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People and Families Movement. He announced the demands in a press conference on May 7, 2016.

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Striking Prisoners in Alabama Accuse Officials of Using Food as Weapon

From The Intercept
Alice Speri May 10 2016, 2:24 p.m.
Alabama prisoners who have been on strike for ten days over unpaid labor and prison conditions are accusing officials of retaliating against their protest by starving them. The coordinated strike started on May 1, International Workers’ Day, when prisoners at the Holman and Elmore facilities refused to report to their prison jobs and has since expanded to Staton, St. Clair, and Donaldson’s facilities, according to organizers with the Free Alabama Movement, a network of prison activists.

Prison officials responded by putting the facilities on lockdown, partially to allow guards to perform jobs normally carried out by prisoners. But prisoners told The Intercept that officials also punished them by serving meals that are significantly smaller than usual, a practice they have referred to as “bird feeding.”

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Job Opportunity: Prison Branch Builder – Traveling Organizer


IWW Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee

Job Opportunity: Prison Branch Builder – Traveling Organizer

IWW Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee

Open until filled: First Review June 1st, 2016

The IWW’s Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee is incarcerated people and their allies organizing to transform prison conditions and end mass incarceration. We work in solidarity with all human beings behind bars. Our purpose is to organize prison labor to make the current prison system unprofitable, unmanageable, and unattractive. We stand for revolutionary democracy in the free world as well.   Continue reading