what you can do to support the national #prisonstrike

September 4, 2018
By Arielle Gray, AFROPUNK contributor


If you haven’t heard of the Nationwide #PrisonStrike, that’s probably because our system doesn’t want you to. Slave labor doesn’t look too good on the United States’ long list of grievances against the marginalized and disenfranchised. Prisoners are striking to force the hand of the prison system to give them basic human rights, including increased time for phone calls with family, the right to vote, and the right to basics such as clean water, food and an increased wage for prison jobs. And even though prisoners are striking in 17 states across the country, our media has remained deceptively silent about the movement.

Many strikes at correctional facilities have gone unreported by the prison system, in the interest of keeping prisoners isolated from the aid of the outside world. Some prisons have even lied, claiming that there is no strike, despite evidence from those incarcerated that they’re participating in the #PrisonStrike. It is a way for the system to control the perception of what’s happening. Don’t be fooled — prisoners across the country are fighting for their basic human rights as we watch the new season of “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix.

The strike ends in less than a week, on September 9th, the anniversary of the 1971 Attica Prison uprising that left 39 people dead. Almost 50 years later, prisoners are still asking for the same demands that Attica prisoners were asking for in 1971. While past prison strikes have rarely ended with all demands being met, the most important part of these strikes is changing the perception of the general public. For so long, prisoners have been “othered,” by both our legal system and by American citizens; strikes are a stark reminder of the humanity of imprisoned peoples and the hypocrisy of our prison system.

Sometimes, not knowing how to help paralyzes us into not taking any action at all. Here are some simple steps you can take to spread the word and break the silence around the #PrisonStrike.

Contact your local and state representatives and ask them where they stand on the #PrisonStrike

Call and ask them what their position is on prison reform and if they’ve heard of the #PrisonStrike. If they have, directly ask what actions they’re taking, and demand that they stand in solidarity with imprisoned peoples. A script has not been circulated yet but key talking points can include the current list of demands from prisoners and prison reform as a whole. You can use this site to find your representatives.

Share frequently and widely across social media platforms.

Prisoners have created a list of demands and organizations standing in solidarity with them have also created easily shareable images that can be used to spread awareness and pique interest. Use the hashtag #PrisonStrike to track what’s going on.

Find out which groups in your area are standing in solidarity with the prisoners and reach out to them to help.

Activist Amani Sawari has put together a comprehensive list of organizations supporting the #PrisonStrike—many of them are already involved in prison reform. Find which ones are in your area, and send them an email to see how you can use your skills to help push forward their work.

Follow Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) and participate in their Phone Zaps.

IWOC stays updated via their private networks on prisoners striking and the retaliation they face from the prison system in response. Phone calls make a huge difference by letting the prisons know that we’re watching and holding them accountable. The current call is for Phone Zaps to be made to prisons in North Carolina, where prisoners are facing retaliation for striking. You can find a script and more information here. Make sure to report on the status of your calls to You can also set up your own Phone Zap group.

Become a PenPal to an inmate.

A longer-term way to assist, writing letters to prisoners can be an extremely effective way to humanize inmates, and to stay on top of any human rights infractions experienced within the prison system. Too often, prisoners are silenced and denied communication with the outside world, which means that any grievances they experience while behind bars go unnoticed and unpunished. Writing letters gives them a voice and opportunity to share their story with you and others. You can find resources on becoming a PenPal here, here and here.

Boycott companies that exploit prison labor for profit.

Boycott and call out companies and organizations that use prison labor for the production of their products or services. Companies use prison labor because it’s cheaper and increases their profit margins. The government also employs prisoners to do incredibly dangerous jobs—many of those fighting the California wildfire were prisoners. Some companies that use prison labor are Whole Foods, Victoria’s Secret, Sears and Starbucks. You can find longer lists of companies here and here.