Tag Archives: news

Forget Hunger Strikes. What Prisons Fear Most Is Labor Strikes

Prisoners throughout Alabama and Texas reclaim their humanity—and power—by shutting down the economic infrastructure of their prisons.

Raven Rakia For Yes!

On May 1, prison labor came to a halt in multiple prisons in Alabama, including Holman and Elmore prisons. Starting at midnight that day, prisoners stayed in their dormitories—refusing to show up for work at their assigned posts: the kitchen, the license plate manufacturing plant, the recycling plant, the food processing center, and a prison farm.
The prisoners’ demands were pretty simple: basic human rights, educational opportunities, and a reform of Alabama’s harsh sentencing guidelines and parole board.
The labor strikes are a turn from the most familiar type of political protest behind bars: the hunger strike. 
The strike in Alabama was just the latest in a series of strikes at U.S. prisons. On April 4, at least seven prisons in Texas staged a work strike after a prisoner sent out a call with the help of outside organizers. About a month earlier, prisoners in multiple states including both Texas and Alabama, as well as Virginia and Ohio, called for a national general strike among prisoners on Sept. 9, 2016, the 45th anniversary of the Attica Rebellion, where guards and inmates died during a prison revolt in upstate New York. Continue reading

Wisconsin hunger strikers to take aim at long-term solitary confinement

From WisconsinWatch.org

About a dozen inmates at Waupun vow to bTalib Akbar at Wisdomegin refusing food June 10 to protest administrative confinement, in which prisoners are held in isolation for years, even decades


Dee J. Hall/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Talib Akbar, who spent several years in solitary confinement in Wisconsin prisons, speaks during a Feb. 4 listening session in Madison sponsored by Wisdom, a statewide faith-based prison advocate group. “Believe me it was torture. When you are released, you are dysfunctional.”

About a dozen Wisconsin prisoners plan to launch a hunger strike beginning next week aimed at ending a form of indefinite solitary confinement that officials use to keep order in the institutions, according to an inmate advocacy group.

Laron Mckinley

Wisconsin Department of Corrections

LaRon McKinley Bey has sued the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, alleging his 25 years in a form of solitary confinement constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

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sIgnOtHeTiMeS Blogtalk w/Queen Tahiyrah and Guest Benjamin M. Turk INSURGENT

Listen here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/nupowerradionetwork/2016/06/02/signothetimes-blogtalk-wqueen-tahiyrah-and-guest-benjamin-m-turk-insurgent

Tonight Thursday June 2 2016 6pm est 5pm central Benjamin Michael Turk, from Insurgent will speaking on the Nationally Coordinated Prisoner Work Stoppage for Sept 9 and on Friday we are featuring the Brothers of the Sun Free Alabama Freedom Movement with Bob Witnek of Decarcerate the Garden State. Mass Incarceration and over prosecution is a systemic, social, economic and political problem, that has allowed for the legal enslavement of generations of black, brown and economically challenged individuals and families. Please join in the solution . LISTEN and Participate via the web at www.blogtalkradio.com/nupowerradionetwork or call in 917-889-8059! Don’t forget to push 1 to come into the conversation! See you on the airwaves!!! QT See you on the airwaves!

Waupun Inmates To Engage In Hunger Strike To Protest Illegal Prolonged Solitary Confinement In Prison System

From Hispanic News Network.

Inmates hunger strike protest planned against illegal prolonged solitary confinement used in the Wisconsin Department of Corrections prison system as punishment for minor violations resulting from 180 to 360 days and even up to 13 years in solitary confinement of inmates resulting in psychological defects.

By H. Nelson Goodson
Hispanic News Network U.S.A.
May 30, 2016
Waupun, WI – Inmates at the Waupun prison (Waupun Correctional Institution-WCI) plan a hunger strike on June 10 to bring attention to what they say is the illegal prolonged solitary confinement for minor violations, which can result with 180 to 360 days and decades of isolation in a small cell 24-7 with one hour to stretch outside of the cell per day. The solitary confinement is known as Administrative Confinement (AC) and inmates can be placed on AC for long periods of isolation for falsely accusing prison staff of violations, disrespect, poor personal hygiene, loitering and the misuse of federal or state property, which inmates once accused have no recourse to appeal or challenge alleged discipline charges by prison staff. Prison staff (guards) can file inmate violations without any merits and compile alleged violations to add solitary confinement time as punishment to cover-up guard mistreatment, harassment and human rights violations of inmates, according to inmates in isolation. Prison guards are not mandated to wear body cameras in Wisconsin.
Hispanic News Network U.S.A. (HNNUSA) has learned that even state inmates who become witnesses and testify in criminal cases and are placed under the witness protection program also endure prolonged solitary confinement simply because the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (WDOC) has no facility to keep witness protection inmates in a safe environment. In one case, an inmate who testified in a gang murder was placed under the state witness protection program and spend more than six years in isolation until parole.
The inmates involved in a planned hunger strike are requesting for the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI to investigate the illegal practice of AC in the state prison system and for the immediate release of inmates from AC that have been in isolation for more than one year. The United Nations has determined that prolonged solitary confinement is torture and studies have shown that it causes psychological defects, which inmates once released on parole have no access to mental health treatment and most can’t adjust within society and return to prison for committing other crimes.
According to WCI inmate in Waupun, Cesar Deleón, 33, in a press release indicated that, prisoners in solitary at WCI are never allowed to go outside or see the sun. The one hour per day of recreation they’re allowed out of their bathroom-sized cells is spent in an indoor recreation cage, which is often filthy with urine and feces because once a prisoner is moved to the cage, requests to be allowed access to a bathroom are ignored by staff. Prisoners in administrative confinement (AC) are not only extraordinarily isolated from general population, but also from loved ones and spiritual leaders. AC prisoners are allowed one 15 minute phone call and one 15 minute video visit per week, the calls and conferences are closely monitored and can be cut off with very little pretext. Spiritual leaders who regularly visit other prisoners are not allowed to visit the AC unit, which is a clear violation of the constitutional right to religious practice.
The WDOC holds over 100 people in administrative confinement, some have been in one form of isolation or another for decades. Last August, WDOC announced an 90 day limit on their use of segregation as punishment for all but the most severe cases. Those changes did not apply to AC prisoners though, because according to WDOC, Administrative Confinement is “non-punitive.”
The prisoners are calling for an end to the practice, entirely. Their six demands include a legislative cap on the use of AC, compliance with the UN Mandela Rules on solitary confinement, increased oversight, one year limits, mental health treatment and a federal investigation of harassment by staff, which the prisoners describe as a mind control program, designed to “break and recondition” anyone staff perceives as a threat.
Several public rallies are scheduled in Madison and Milwaukee to bring attention to the WDOC illegal prolonged solitary confinement under Administrative Confinement practices in the state prison system.
The Madison rally is scheduled for Friday, June 10 at 1 p.m. at the Capital building and the Milwaukee rally on Saturday, June 11 at noon at the Milwaukee County Courthouse.
A replica of a small isolation cell in which inmates spent years incarcerated will be in exhibition at both rallies including families of inmates in isolation will also speak.

The Thread Interviews Kinetik of The Free Alabama Movement

From The Thread. go there for links to everything mentioned.

EPISODE 1: June’s episode of The Thread featured interviews with Kinetik Justice, the leader of the Free Alabama Movement and the recent Alabama prison strike, and Cheri Honkala, the founder of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign and former Vice Presidential candidate.

Kinetik Justice is currently incarcerated at Holman Correctional Facility, and because of his involvement with the prison strike, is being held in solitary confinement. For more information about Kinetik Justice and the Free Alabama Movement, check out their homepage. You can also read their Freedom Bill that Kinetik mentions in his interview. You can also see Kinetik in the news.

Cheri Honkala continues to fight for the rights of people living in poverty across the nation. You can see more of the work she does on the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign homepage. Cheri continues to be on Front Line USA’s danger list for her work as a human rights activist. You can read about Front Line’s work with Cheri and other human rights defenders, click here. Cheri and her running mate in the 2012 election, Jill Stein, are currently suing the Commission on Presidential Debates. If you want to read more about their arrest, click here. If you want to read more about her lawsuit, click here.

The Struggle Inside & Out: Supporting Prisoner Strikes

From Prison Pipeline on KBOO radio.

Free Alabama Movement May Day Work Stoppage Interview

From Truth-Out.org

Free Alabama Movement May Day Work Stoppage Interview

Friday, 27 May 2016 00:00 By Ben Turk, Speakout | Interview

From May 1 to May 9, 2016, prisoners at multiple facilities across Alabama engaged in work stoppages, refusing to labor for the Alabama Department of Corrections. This strike was the second major work stoppage in prisons this spring. In April, prisoners in Texas refused to work for most of the month. The striking Alabama prisoners, along with revolutionary prisoners in other states, have also called for a nationally coordinated work stoppage and protest September 9 of this year, the 45th anniversary of the Attica rebellion.

At the end of the strike, we interviewed Free Alabama Movement (FAM) cofounder Kinetik Justice Amun to get a deeper understanding of the context and strategy of their work stoppage, as well as a better understanding of the state’s response and possible strategic lessons going forward. Kinetik has been held in solitary confinement at Holman Correctional since 2014 as retaliation for FAM’s work stoppage that January.

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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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Media Roundup

Some updates on media coverage of prisoner resistance movements.

1. Free Alabama Movement Blogtalk radio call-in show May 6th episode was devoted to the strike: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/freealabamamovement They do these shows twice a week, you can listen on line, or call in to express support.

2. Atlantablackstar.com published an article connecting the current action to past FAM actions and corporations who profit from prison labor.  http://atlantablackstar.com/2016/05/09/alabama-inmates-organize-multi-prison-strike-in-protest-of-prison-labor-we-wont-contribute-to-our-own-oppression/

3. The Final Straw an anarchist radio show out of Asheville, NC did an episode on the June 11 Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons and rebroadcast a prison-radio interview with Ben Turk about the Sept 9th action.

4. Local Alabama media frames failure of a prison reform bill in he context of the work-stoppage.  http://whnt.com/2016/05/06/failure-of-alabama-prison-bill-sets-the-stage-for-federal-intervention/

5. This Jack Denton article for solitarywatch.com has been reposted widely, as has the Incarcerated Workers Take the Lead article from UnityandStruggle.org.

Anything we’re missing? Let us know: prisonerresistance@gmail.com

Alabama Strike Coverage Round Up

alabamamoldThe May Day Strike in Alabama is getting attention from many media outlets, some with more thorough coverage, some with broader reach. We’ve collected and summarized these stories here so our readers can find the info they need.

1. SolitaryWatch.com did a great article and interview with some of the founders of FAM about both the strike, and about conditions in seg units. Read it here: http://solitarywatch.com/2016/05/05/prison-labor-strike-in-alabama-we-will-no-longer-contribute-to-our-own-oppression/

2. Listen to FAM members speak from behind the walls on their weekly show, here:  http://www.blogtalkradio.com/freealabamamovement You can even call in and join the conversation. Email prisonerresistance@gmail.com to find out how. You’ll be asked a few questions to make sure you’re not a cop or troll.  Continue reading