"Find the means that work best for you and the people you're in community with, and grab hold of what is yours. We have nothing to lose but our chains." It is a time of uncertainty and panic in the world
The loudest voices discussing the criminal justice system often aren't the voices we should be listening to. Three returning citizens share their stories here. In September 2019, the 34th Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, John Fetterman, stated plainly and clearly that his
The prison industrial complex looms large as one of the single biggest institutions which perpetuate and exacerbate unequal access to reproductive care. “From forced sterilization to family separation, the carceral state itself is an act of reproductive violence,” writes long-time
Without mass actions like the current nationwide prison strike, which bring direct awareness to the issue, these stories go largely underreported.Note: Due to the safety of the incarcerated individuals, some names were changed to allow anonymity. We speak carefully on the phone, fully aware that anything said can become grounds to get him sent to ‘segregation’, so we talk in non-absolutes and coded language. The phone line is fuzzy, distant, and unstable today—sometimes it sounds crystal clear, other times I think he may be underwater—but still, we speak with covert passion. “I’m sure you heard the news of what’s happening all around, yeah?” he asks me, not saying the words but still conveying the conversation to me. “It’s really fuckin’ courageous for people, what [they’re] doing,” Charlie, an immigrant who has been incarcerated in Georgia for almost six years and is now at Stewart Detention Center, the fifth facility he’s been transferred to, tells me. “I keep my faith, but niggas go crazy in here,” Charlie says with a voice that’s increasingly shaky. We quickly change the subject. The topic of resistance can be fleeting and constricted for incarcerated people like Charlie, but it’s often present nonetheless. The “news” that Charlie was referring to is the nationwide prison strike, which was announced in April and began last week. https://twitter.com/JailLawSpeak/status/988771668670799872 Earlier this year, incarcerated people across the U.S. announced plans to hold a nationwide prison strike from August 21st to September 9th. The dates are not random: August 21st invokes the day that comrade George Jackson was murdered by prison guards in San Quentin State Prison, and September 9th marks the day incarcerated people began the Attica Prison Uprising, one of the most notorious prison uprisings in history. Lead by an abolitionist collective including groups like Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, and others which culminate incarcerated and non-incarcerated organizers, this strike, now several days underway with many reports of involvement across the country and over 300 organizations endorsing it, could be the largest prison strike in U.S. history.
The DemandsThe strike is in response to an uprising at Lee Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in South Carolina where seven incarcerated people died on April 15, 2018. Based on multiple reports, the violence and subsequent deaths at Lee Correctional Institution was provoked by prison guards and then sustained by prison officials who turned their backs on the incarcerated people as the violence increased, not attempting to break up the fighting or give medical aid. “The demands were issued in direct response to the violence at Lee Correctional Institution,” said journalist and prisoner advocate Jared Ware. “Jailhouse Lawyers Speak is a human rights organization inside prisons, and the language and the choice of their demands in many ways reflects the way they work, they deal in policies, they examine laws, they write writs, they help with appeals, they file grievances against abuses in prisons.” The strikers’ demands are both straightforward and complex, with the crux of them calling attention to the need for “humane living conditions, access to rehabilitation, sentencing reform and the end of modern day slavery.” While organizers have noted that their demands don’t illustrate or tackle the totality of problems they face as incarcerated people, they do cover much important ground that we on the outside should pay close attention to and appreciate.
The demands are crafted as calls to uphold human rights standards, and intentionally so.In a recent interview with Ware for ShadowProof, a representative from Jailhouse Lawyers Speak said the creation of the demands came from “talking to a number of prisoners in a number of different locations”, narrowing them down from over 30 demands to the ten we see today. They wanted the demands to be specific in their aims, but speak to as much of the incarceration as possible, from women’s prisons to immigrant detention centers. Of the demands, the first two may be the most general: immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women, and an immediate end to prison slavery by paying incarcerated workers ‘the prevailing wage’ in their state for their labor. The demands are crafted as calls to uphold human rights standards, and intentionally so. Utterly inhumane conditions are a permanent fixture in most jails and prisons across the country, and have been the catalyst for many prison uprisings. In the Atlanta City Detention Center (ACDC), incarcerated people have reported the spreading staph infections and other diseases due to the unsanitary, dirty environment. In other cases, incarcerated people have died from heat exhaustion due to lack of air conditioning, have been denied access to clean drinking water, or have had minor health problems become life-ending occasions due to medical neglect. Following Hurricane Harvey last year, reports piled in that incarcerated people in Texas were left with no electricity, no running water or working toilets, and no ventilation for several days.