Oct. 2 – Crying “We will no longer contribute to our own oppression,” thousands of incarcerated workers in Alabama’s prison system began a massive strike on Sept. 26 to protest brutal conditions, racist sentencing and harassment. exploitation of their work.
About 25,000 people are in the state’s 14 main prisons. They do all the life support work in the facilities – cooking, cleaning, production of uniforms, repairs and equipment work.
Organizing for the strike began in June through the Free Alabama Movement (FAM), Inside the Walls, and the advocacy group on Both Sides of the Wall. These groups have estimated that about 80% of people in Alabama prisons are on strike. (New York Times, September 28)
On the first day of the strike, both sides of the wall held a rally of former inmates, family members and supporters at the Department of Corrections in the state capital, Montgomery. Speakers called for improvements in medical care and prison conditions and reforms to sentencing and parole laws.
In a September 28 press release, the Alabama Department of Corrections took the unusual step of confirming that there was a “work stoppage” in most prisons. The ADOC statement broke with the usual denial of political action by prisoners and reinforced the likelihood that participation would be widespread.
In an attempt to break the strike, prison authorities reduced food to cold meals, twice a day, and brought in prisoners on labor release from outside the prisons, forcing them to do the cooking. The state is also mounting riot squads, according to messages from FAM:
“Day 5: As Alabama’s historic prison strike winds down in the final days of its first week, it seems pretty clear that ADOC wants violence. Over the past 72 hours, ADOC has started calling riot teams to prisons in full CERT [correctional emergency response team] uniform, even though labor strikes have represented the most peaceful periods of incarceration in troubled Alabama prisons.
Demands of incarcerated workers
In 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the state, alleging that conditions in men’s prisons violate the Constitution due to a failure to protect men from inter-prisoner violence, sexual abuse, and misuse. excessive force by staff and failure to maintain safe conditions. The report found that Alabama’s major prisons were at 182% capacity.
The nine demands issued by the striking prisoners, through the Free Alabama Movement, address these issues and more, going to the heart of racist and labor injustice perpetrated by the state. (youtube.com/watch?v=E8_A2CLjiO4)
An important demand of the FAM is “to immediately repeal the law on repeat offenders”. This act punishes a prisoner who has three felony convictions, even if one or more are decades old or are for non-violent offenses, with life in prison without parole. Of those given this horrible sentence in Alabama, 75% are black. (alabamasmartjustice.org/reports/hfoa)
AMF demands include “mandatory parole criteria that will ensure parole for all eligible individuals who meet the criteria,” “a streamlined process for medical leave and review of incarcerated seniors for immediate release” and “a return to good time credit earned for all Phrases.”
Other demands seek to repeal or change laws to prevent racial bias in enforcement, such as presumptive sentencing, the ‘drive-by shooting’ law or the 30-year parole minimum for juvenile offenders. .
The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles grants almost no pardons; at its September 28 meeting, it heard 40 requests and granted only three. Alabama has the highest state prison death rate due to COVID-19 in the United States (Brennan Center for Justice, October 23, 2021)
According to Interrogating Justice, Alabama has the most dangerous prison system in the country. The average death rate in US prisons in 2018 was between 200 and 300 deaths per 100,000 people incarcerated; youThe state’s death rate was over 600 deaths per 100,000. Physical and sexual assaults were equally high. (tinyurl.com/397peh9x)
Now, Alabama plans to invest $400 million — nearly 20% of its federal COVID-19 funding — to build two mega-prisons for men with 4,000 beds each. Governor Kay Ivey made the move after her Republican administration was thwarted by the community, Black Lives Matter and the abolitionist organization signing contracts with private prison companies.
Slavery behind prison walls
In Alabama prisons today, the forced labor, dehumanizing conditions, and disproportionate numbers of black people are a continuation of slavery by any other name. In letters from inside, incarcerated organizers sign themselves as “the slaves of Alabama” and say the strike is “to protest against the continued institution of neo-slavery.” (tinyurl.com/2bk43x3a)
Alabama began renting prisons to private companies in 1842. With the emancipation of slaves in 1865, the state then initiated the “convict rental system” designed to re-enslave black people by criminalizing them and selling their work.
This system has continued to this day in the state – and in the United States – as it was legalized by the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution. It still allows “slavery” or “involuntary servitude. . . as punishment for a crime for which the party has been duly convicted.
Alabama is one of seven states that pays incarcerated people nothing at all for their work, along with Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas – all former states. of the Confederation.
Rebellion, resistance, liberation
But the state is home to a long history of black-led resistance against all forms of slavery, from the unfinished uprising of 1864 in Troy, called by Herbert Aptheker “the last slave plot” in the United States, to the organization activist by Alabama prisoners. from 1969 to the end of the 1970s. (“American Black Slave Revolts,” p. 367)
Conditions in Alabama prisons 50 years ago were the same as they are today: overcrowding, denial of basic needs like clean water and cooking utensils, unchecked violence and long periods of solitary confinement .
Prisoners then organized as Inmates for Action and engaged in work stoppages and strikes at Atmore and Holman prisons. The IFA also held classes for prisoners on revolutionary theory and black history. IFA leaders Chagina (George Dobbins), Yukeena (Tommy Dotson), and Frank X. Moore were killed in prison, and the Justice for the Atmore-Holman Brothers campaign fought to expose state complicity in their murder. (search.freedomarchive.org)
This line of resistance continues. In April 2014, members of the Free Alabama Movement went on strike to demand wages for the unpaid prison work they did for the state, and they staged another strike in 2016. (“Alabama Prison Uprising , Workers World, March 24, 2016)
“A twinkle turns to flame” from FAM said: “Mass incarceration, overcrowded unconstitutional prisons and inhumane treatment are more about economics than people’s humanity. . . . The numbers support our assertion that “MONEY” is the single most important motive and factor in explaining policies and conditions within the Department of Corrections. (www.freealabamamovement.com)
Alabama’s incarcerated workers continue the fight to end slavery and forced labor. They join thousands of other Alabama workers — like the Brookwood United Mine Workers in their second year on strike and the Bessemer Amazon workers who are still fighting for a union — and billions of other workers in the world, who struggle for liberation.
At night, Pratt can see the lights of Bibb Correctional Facility in Alabama, located four miles west of where she lives in Centerville. The companies profiting from people trying to maintain contact with the more than 1,800 incarcerated people are: Access Secure Deposit, Access SecurePak, Securus Technologies and Union Supply Direct.