“The degree of civilization in a society is revealed by entering its prisons.”
Today, after months of preparation, many prisoners in the United States will go on an unprecedented work strike in protest of inhumane treatment and exploitation within the penal system. Starting today and ending on September 9th, the anniversary of the 1971 Attica uprising, it’s likely that many inmates will face absurd and unjust retaliation for their organizing work (some already have), supported primarily by the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, a branch of the IWW, which I was a member of for several years. It’s important that the public is aware of the gravity of this situation, the issues being raised, and that as “citizens” we turn as much focus as possible towards this struggle in an effort to protect some of the least visible human beings in society from further violence at the hands of the institutions that hold them. Their demands are not lofty:
- Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women.
- An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.
- The Prison Litigation Reform Act must be rescinded, allowing imprisoned humans a proper channel to address grievances and violations of their rights.
- The Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act must be rescinded so that imprisoned humans have a possibility of rehabilitation and parole. No human
shall be sentenced to Death by Incarceration or serve any sentence without the possibility of parole.
- An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in southern states.
- An immediate end to racist gang enhancement laws targeting Black and brown humans.
- No imprisoned human shall be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender.
- State prisons must be funded specifically to offer more rehabilitation services.
- Pell grants must be reinstated in all US states and territories.
- The voting rights of all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so-called “ex-felons” must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count.
In Colorado, several inmates at the Sterling Correction Facility reported to the Denver Anarchist Black Cross (disclosure: I was also a member of this organization, a prisoner support group, for a number of years) that they have begun a hunger strike in response to punitive policies that have placed several dozen prisoners in administrative segregation in a collective punishment practice. Inmates are citing a settled case that is supposed to place restrictions on solitary confinement in Colorado, as well as demanding crucial commissary restitution after prison-issued tablets were recalled and outstanding subscription money wasn’t refunded. The men in Sterling are also fighting for correspondence courses to strengthen ties with family on the outside.
I’d also like to use this space to bring attention to the case of Eric King, incarcerated for actions taken in support of the Ferguson Revolt and sentenced to ten years in federal penitentiary. Eric was moved to a Secure Housing Unit (solitary) last week and then transferred to the high-security SHU in Florence, Colorado. The reasons for this punishment is unclear, and it remains to be seen if this is connected to the larger prison strike struggle, as Eric is a vocal political prisoner, but has also been put in the SHU before after filing complaints about a guard who threatened Eric and his partner’s children during a visit, and the authorities blamed his correspondence with people on the outside. You can learn more about Eric King here, and he loves receiving mail! His updated address is posted here alongside guidelines for writing him. His partner was recently in a car accident and is fighting health issues. She is a friend of mine, and if you feel so inclined, please donate to help offset the costs of her medical treatments and automobile repairs.
On the outside, active solidarity to support prisoners is springing up across the United States and the world. It’s Going Down is constantly updating a page with news and ways to help, including call-in campaigns, rallies, and other actions to take to support the strike. The despicable “Silent Sam” statue was toppled last night at UNC-Chapel Hill in North Carolina and demonstrators held banners in support of the strike. Widespread graffiti murals have been reported and photographed as far away as Lisbon, Portugal and Indonesia.
I’ll be writing as much as I can about the strike as news breaks, likely trying to keep my focus on local facilities and solidarity actions here in Colorado in the next few weeks. Until all are free, strength to the prison rebels.