Peace Action of Staten Island (PASI) is a grassroots organization dedicated to promoting the nonviolent resolution of conflict, the abolition of nuclear weapons, and the promotion of culture based on human rights and economy rooted in human needs. To us, violence, and in particular state-sanctioned violence, is not simply the act of war and expanding militarization. It also encompasses degradation of our environment, policing which criminalizes, harasses, humiliates, and brutalizes communities and people of color through the bogus War on Drugs, and the deprivation of freedom through surveillance and imprisonment. It is also the economic exclusion of exploitative wages and wage theft, which are exacerbated within prisons and prevent people from meeting their basic needs.
It is a tragic fact that our country has chosen to value corporate interests over the well-being of its residents. That it supports the profitability of privately-run prison industries over the ability of individuals, both incarcerated and within low-income communities, to make a fair living and fully participate in society. That it willingly undercuts the lives of millions of people in order to drive corporate profits through a system of forced uncompensated or barely-compensated labor.
Many states contract out the management of their prisons to private for-profit corporations, often with a guarantee that the prisons will remain at a given percentage of capacity at all times, or else subsidize the corporation for loss-of-income. This is to the detriment of the children and adults who, whether through the school-to-prison pipeline or the police terror that blacks, immigrants and poor are subjected to daily, are funneled into a system that was designed to profit off their misery. Incarcerated people in the United States are often made to endure substandard living conditions and subjected to various cruel reprimands. This includes toxic food, starvation rations, abuse, including verbal or sexual assault by guards or other prisoners, and the denial of visitation rights and parole. Prisoners are also often forced to work for little or no pay, despite the fact that the prison commissaries charge extortionate prices for everyday necessities and basic medical services come at prohibitively expensive cost. Private corporations have been making exorbitant profits off of prisoners’ misery as some items sold with the label “Made in the USA” are made using forced and/or unpaid prison labor. A Call to Action (https://iwoc.noblogs.org/post/2016/04/01/announcement-of-nationally-coordinated-prisoner-workstoppage-for-sept-9-2016/) was written by prisoners in Alabama, Mississippi, Ohio, and Virginia, in which they rightly labeled this practice as slavery. This is no accident, as the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution did not abolish slavery and involuntary servitude when used “as punishment for a crime.” Slavery continues to this day in the form of forced prison labor.
Slavery in the United States will end, and prisoners will be the ones to end it. In April of this year, prisoners affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) led a three week prison strike in Texas. In May, the Free Alabama Movement led a 10 day prison strike which culminated in the state of Alabama rejecting a bill that would expand the prison system. In June, prisoners in two prisons in Wisconsin went on hunger strike against the use of long-term solitary confinement, which the United Nations has determined constitutes torture, and they did so with the support of people on the outside. This momentum will carry on.
Peace Action of Staten Island is proud to join many organizations across the country in a Call to Action for a Nationally Coordinated Prisoner Work Stoppage on September 9th, 2016, and we encourage other groups to also give their endorsement!!