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Prisoners Strike Across The Country To Protest 'Modern-Day Slavery'

Guard towers at Florida State Prison in Raiford, Fla. Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012. (Phil Sears/AP)
Guard towers at Florida State Prison in Raiford, Fla. Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012. (Phil Sears/AP)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

Prisoners go on a nationwide strike to protest what they call “modern-day slavery.” We’ll unpack the fury and the facts.


Amani Sawari, prison strike organizer and spokesperson for Jailhouse Lawyers Speak. (@SawariMi)

Heather Ann Thompson, history professor at the University of Michigan. Author of the Pulitzer-Prize winning book “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy.” (@hthompsn)

Chandra Bozelko, writer of the award-winning blog “Prison Diaries.”(@ChandraBozelko)

From The Reading List

Vox: “America’s prisoners are going on strike in at least 17 states” — “America’s prisoners are going on strike. The demonstrations are planned to take place from August 21 to September 9, which marks the anniversary of the bloody uprising at the Attica Correctional Facility in New York. During this time, inmates across the US plan to refuse to work and, in some cases, refuse to eat to draw attention to poor prison conditions and what many view as exploitative labor practices in American correctional facilities.”

From Amani Sawari: “Prisoners On Nationwide Strike Demand End to Inhumane Treatment” — “Prisoners within various institutions nationwide will be on coordinated work stoppages, sit-in strikes, commissary boycotts, and hunger strikes from August 21 – September 9, 2018, demanding ‘humane living conditions, access to rehabilitation, sentencing reform, and the end of modern day slavery.’

“Jailhouse Lawyers Speak (JLS) is a network of incarcerated self-educated legal advocates. On April 22, 2018, JLS issued ten strike demands and a call for actions to be spread nationwide. The call for action was made in response to an April 15, 2018 riot at Lee Correctional Institution (Lee CI), a maximum security prison in Bishopville, South Carolina. Seven prisoners were killed in what was the deadliest prison riot in 25 years. No guards were injured in the incident. While the Lee CI riot was the largest of prison uprisings in recent memory, the Lee CI riot was not unique. System wide and longstanding practices of cruel and arbitrary abuses, the creation of hostile conditions, and demonstrated lack of regard of human life by corrections facility officials has been documented for decades.”

Los Angeles Times: “Think prison labor is a form of slavery? Think again” — “When a prison inmate prays for release from her cell, prison industries can be her first salvation. I couldn’t wait to head to work in the kitchen of the maximum-security women’s prison in Connecticut where I did six years for identity theft and related crimes. I was paid 75 cents to $1.75 a day to make and serve a lot of casserole. Yet I consider most of the criticism lobbed at prison labor — that it’s a form of slavery, a capitalist horror show — unfair, and even counterproductive in the effort to reform the justice system.

“Among the firefighters on California’s fire lines this fall, 30% to 40% are inmates, paid $1 an hour to work side by side with crews making a lot more money. Some inmate firefighters have gone on the record saying they feel the same way I do about prison jobs. It’s people on the outside who rail against prison work assignments, particularly hiring prisoners to fight fires.”

Mother Jones: “Prisoners Are Getting Creative to Pull Off a Massive Strike This Week” — “One recent afternoon in a pizzeria in Oakland, California, Cole Dorsey pulls out an LG flip phone to explain how he’s helping organize a strike in the country’s harshest workplace. The phone is small and black, with a busted interior screen. Occasionally, he says, the cover lights up with a Texas area code and a number associated with Global Tel Link, which means a prisoner is calling. When the calls come in, Dorsey picks up, takes a message, then hangs up and waits for the phone to ring again. Then he passes the original message along to an inmate held in another part of the same facility.

“Dorsey’s makeshift messaging system connects prisoners who may be separated from each other by just a few hundred feet, as well as walls, fences, and rules that prevent them from congregating. The prisoners are members of the Industrial Workers of the World, the militant union that is backing a prison strike that’s set to begin this week. Starting on August 21, prisoners in at least 17 states are expected to refuse to go to work, launch sit-ins in common areas, boycott commissaries, or go on hunger strike, according to Dorsey, an electrical lineman who’s a member of the IWW’s Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee. Since the strike was first announced in April, its imprisoned organizers have struggled to coordinate with each other and the thousands of prisoners they hope will join their protest. They’ve often relied on the IWOC and outside activists like Dorsey who have found creative ways to get messages into the black box of the prison system.”

Prisoners in at least 17 states are on labor and hunger strikes. They’re protesting living and working conditions. The 13th Amendment allows states to pay nothing, or pennies on the dollar for prison labor. Advocates say it’s “prison slavery.” But paying more would cost more, and states say they can’t afford it. America already spends more than $80 billion per year on prisons.

This hour, On Point: A major prison strike calls for change. And, we’ll ask Pennsylvania lawmakers what they’ll do after the devastating grand jury report on clergy sex abuse.

— Meghna Chakrabarti

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