A Nova Scotia jail has joined the U.S. prison strike that has lasted just over a week and rallied inmates into hunger, work, or commissary goods strikes.
Despite publicity challenges, prison advocates have confirmed small or large-scale protests across multiple states and now Canada.
Inmates in California’s Folsom State Prison, Washington’s Northwest Detention Center, South Carolina’s McCormick Correctional Institution, and Ohio’s Toledo Correctional Institution have communicated with family members and others to confirm their participation in the strike that began on August 21.
Prison Strike Grows Despite Attempts to Deny It
National media attention has shined a light on the complaints and demands of the movement, but prison representatives have denied that inmates are participating. Strike organizers released a roundup of inmate resistance on Tuesday, after one week of protests had passed.
In Tacoma’s Northwest Detention Center, more than 200 inmates participating in hunger strike declared their solidarity with other prisoners and their personal advocacy against wrongful detainment and separation of families.
One inmate in New Folsom State Prison in California filmed himself refusing food, and the video spread via Twitter.
Imprisoned radical intellectual and revolutionary artist Heriberto Sharky Garcia declares a hunger strike today in solidarity with every other prisoner participating in the nationwide #PrisonStrike. He’s currently incarcerated at “New Folsom” prison in Repressa, California. pic.twitter.com/wJ4m0xG5nT
— True Leap Press (@true_leap) August 22, 2018
“Before the strike started Jailhouse Lawyers Speak heard commitments to the strike and its demands from prisoners in 17 states,” the latest press release reads. “Prison authorities may prove successful in concealing or even deterring participation in some of these states, but they cannot refute the righteousness of the ten prisoner demands.”
Prison Strike Demands Reforms to a System of ‘Modern Slavery’
The nation-wide strike was planned by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak (JLS), a group of currently incarcerated individuals who offer legal advice and training to fellow prisoners. Through voluntary spokeswoman Amani Sawari, they released a written, anonymous manifesto for a 19-day, nationwide protest to combat the conditions and meager pay given to inmates for their labor.
This statement detailed ten core demands to repair a system often referred to as “modern slavery.” It addressed the right inmates have to vote, receive equal pay, and access rehabilitation programs. It also addressed the racial inequality of incarcerated individuals and the denial of their parole.
Prisoners Paid in Pennies Per Hour of Work
There are 2.3 million incarcerated men and women in the US, and around 800,000 are put to work daily. In some prison facilities, this work is compulsory.
Recently, this work included fighting wildfires in California, for the payment of only $1 an hour, on top of $2 a day.
Even lower still, inmates in Louisiana receive only four cents per hour.
Inmates participating in the strike are refusing to work, eat, or buy goods from the commissary stores.
“The main leverage that an inmate has is their own body,” Amani Sawari, spokesperson for the protests, told Vox. “If they choose not to go to work and just sit in the main area or the eating area, and all the prisoners choose to sit there and not go to the kitchen for lunchtime or dinnertime, if they choose not to clean or do the yardwork, this is the leverage that they have. Prisons cannot run without prisoners’ work.”
Sawari was asked by JLS to assist them in media contact and to publish their list of grievances online. The authors wished to remain anonymous, as there could be substantial penal repercussions.
Striking in Solidarity
The strike’s website homepage declares that the page was “Developed in order to connect, inspire and empower all members of the black diaspora.”
The statement declared that the protest would begin on Tuesday, August 21, on the 47th anniversary of the death of George Jackson, a Black Panther figure who was shot as he attempted to escape from prison.
Also significant is the ending date of the strike, which will fall on September 9. On this day in 1971, inmates in the Attica prison in New York rebelled for basic political rights and humane living conditions. This violent protest ended in a riot which left 29 inmates dead.
This is not the first protest to be supported by the organizers at JLS. In 2016, a group called the “Free Alabama Movement” demonstrated against their low wage and exemption from the 13th amendment More than 20,000 inmates refused to show up for work during this strike.
This year’s protest was expedited after a violent and fatal day in the Lee Correctional Facility this April when seven prisoners died and nearly 30 were injured in a gang-related riot that JLS says was aggravated by their lack of work compensation.
“Prisoners have to provide for their health care, their dental care,” Sawari explained. “They have to buy clothes like jackets and boots, hygiene products, cosmetics, books, study materials, paper, tape, scissors. Any little thing they need, they have to buy that.”
Prison officials have argued that an increase in pay is not within their budget and that the expenses of housing, food, and security make this labor force an exception from workers in the free world.
But Sawari has pointed at the employers of inmates who are “exploiting” this system.
“If these same jobs were offered to people on the outside for minimum wage, those people most likely would not have ended up incarcerated,” Sawari said.
A list of employers of prisoners is posted on the website.