u.s. prisoners strike to demand more humane conditions in this new form of slavery

August 22, 2018
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The reason we as a society don’t just throw our prisoners into some dark pit at the end of the world is because we acknowledge that rehabilitation is the best course of action when punishing an individual who will likely re-enter society. When we look at the state of the American prison system, it might as well be as dark pit because the industrialization of the system has resulted in the inhumane treatment of prisoners. Incarcerated people have rights too and the neglect of those rights defeats the point of rehabilitation, which is why prisoners across the nation are striking in protest of the dire conditions faced in American correctional facilities.

The strike is in response to a riot in Lee Correctional Institution that took place on April 15th of this year, claiming the lives of seven inmates. It alleged that the riot was provoked by prison officials and multiple reports state that prison guards and EMT’s made no effort to intervene or help from the moment the riot broke out to hours later, leaving prisoners to be beaten and stabbed to death. In addition to the seven murdered inmates, dozens of prisoners were injured with at least twenty two needing to be hospitalized.  The riot may have been the catalyst but the state of corrections in the US has been in a steady decline since Bill Clinton’s Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996. According to one of three South Carolina prisoners (going by D, S and E to protect their identities) interviewed about the hopeless prison conditions, in 1996 “ was no such thing as a natural life sentence in the department of corrections. There was no such thing as a forever-type sentence, where individuals thought that they weren’t going to be able to get out.” The introduction of the “Super Predator” by Hillary Clinton in addition to her husband’s bill, was a response to the “War on drugs” that resulted in prisoners being stripped of basic needs.

“We found fences starting to be wrapped into the prisons, we found prisoners that was labeled as violent offenders, was sent into these fences, and caged into buildings all day. We found that the food started deteriorating, we saw the clothes removed, we saw the ways that [imprisoned people] could make money removed out of the system. There was no longer any type of state pay. Even though state pay was very minimal, it was still an opportunity to buy a bar of soap or a Honey Bun or something like that. We saw that visitation was being restricted.” – Prisoner D in Shadowproof

Prison officials have even started cracking down on the use of cellphones because they help prisoners expose mistreatment just like they’ve “helped” victims of police brutality out in the world. Prison officials link the use of phones to the violence in prisons but one prisoner notes, “SCDC’s main reason for not wanting the phones inside the prison system is because the phones got camera access, video access, and the phones can expose the things that they do.” The prisoner also went on to say, “When they’re using extreme force – the same way people are using cell phones out on the street when they’re catching certain things that cops aren’t supposed to be doing and stuff like that – see they can be exposed, they can’t hide when we’ve got the phones.” There is a lot of talk around the how inhumane the prison system is but to receive firsthand accounts from prisoners of how police brutality on the outside mimics the brutality faced on the inside provides a clearer and more terrifying picture of the prison pipeline.

“We had in the Super Max Units out in Columbia, South Carolina maybe about a year or two ago, guards bumrush a prisoner inside his cell, stab him up. We’ve always had a number of incidents with regards to them cuffing prisoners, then cut prisoners up, slamming prisoners on their heads. In some cases we’ve had some mysterious deaths, some hangings that prisoners are clearly not comfortable with labelling them as hangings on these maximum security prisons.” – Prisoner D in Shadowproof

The three prisoners mentioned earlier also spoke about ‘gang culture’ and how joining what they call a ‘tribe’ or ‘street formation’ is form of survival when you can’t trust anyone, let alone prison guards to ensure that your life is protected. One prisoner mentions that “If an incident goes on, there’s no officers there to protect anybody. That’s another thing about the gangs.” The prisoner continued by saying “Nowadays, you don’t know, these young brothers might need protection. They can’t look at the officers and say these officers are going to protect me and keep me safe. You gotta fend for yourself back here. So I look at that, that’s another reason why people are joining these gangs like that.”

“I feel that the violence is stimulated by the overt oppressive nature of the beast and what they’re doing. Like y’all already had mentioned, they’re constantly taking [things] away and keeping us confined to a box.” Prisoner E in Shadowproof

On top of the terrible conditions faced by these prisoners, the pay the receive for work is so minimal that it could easily be compared to slavery. There was considerable outrage over the dollar-per-hour being paid to California prisoners helping to fight the fire ravaging the state. As heinous as that number sounds, those prisoners are still getting paid. “Only prison industries workers get paid for working. Everybody else’s work is free labor,” Mentions one prisoner. “But we’re looking at these other prisoners going to work, knowing that they’re getting a paycheck, they even file taxes. They can pay child support and provide for their families on it. All prisoners should get paid for all work, not just prison industries.” Prison canteens consistently price gouge prisoners, essentially preventing inmates who don’t have an income or a family to send money, from feeding themselves adequately.

When we talk about the food, we don’t get any fruit, no real fruit anyway. At one time they actually had salad bars; they removed all of that over two decades ago. Now you get nothing. Some of the food is labeled “not for human consumption.” So these are normal things that we are actually dealing with inside the prison system. – Prisoner D in Shadowproof

The list of grievances feels endless as prisoners mention issues with dwindling visiting hours that have increasing restrictions to lack of medical intervention that leads to deaths not listed in the official count of prisoners who are killed in the system. The prison system is a moral wasteland that repeatedly infringes on the human rights of a population we all should be concerned with. This comes as no shock owing to prison industrial complex, as maintaining a violent and miserable environment prohibits the kind of rehabilitation that keeps Black and Brown bodies out of prison cells. We have spoken on numerous occasions about the move towards prison abolition but the time has come and gone for mere conversation.

Follow the strike here and help out where you can.