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Massive Prison Strike Against Slave Labor Expands To 46 Facilities

UPDATE: Holman Correctional Facility in Alabama is home to some of the original organizers of the national prison labor strike, the Free Alabama Movement. The facility saw a one-day strike on September 9.

While local news outlets report prison administrators have seemingly held back from punishing resisting prisoners, organizers say there has been ongoing retaliation.

It’s Going Down is now reporting that prisoners at Holman may be renewing their action after an incident with guards. An anonymous prisoner sent them a message, which read, “Just ten minutes ago members of the riot team and warden entered c dorm and attempted to confiscate a cellphone from a prisoner and whole c dorm rose up and forced them out of c dorm.”

The prisoner indicated that prisoners at Holman have felt the solidarity being shown on the outside, and that guards are quitting and refusing to work amid a staffing crisis at the facility.

A prison strike against slave labor, which is entering its third week, has spread to at least 46 prisons and jails, according to the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee.

Lockdowns, inmate suspensions, and full-unit strikes lasting at least 24 hours were reported at 31 facilities, housing approximately 57,000 incarcerated people.

Restrictions on prisoner communication and a lack of transparency in corrections departments make information on the strikes hard to obtain. Much of what is known was smuggled out through a grapevine of family, friends, and advocacy groups, as well as clandestine prisoner communications, like contraband cell phones and social media accounts.

Some new information has trickled out since the strike began. A member of the Anarchist Black Cross (ABC) in Austin, Texas, reported what they learned during a visit with a friend at the Alfred Hughes Unit in Gatesville:

While I was waiting for them to be brought to the visitation booth, a woman sitting next to me mentioned inmates at this unit being retaliated against. She was visiting a woman from Hobby, who had been transferred to the medical building at Hughes due to overpopulation. I asked if I could join the conversation and ask some questions.

The incarcerated woman explained that she overheard on a guard’s radio that inmates in building 8 were striking. She later learned that these inmates had rigged their doors to open at the the same time for the nationwide strike. Guards in riot gear showed up and blasted tear gas and physically restrained and assaulted several inmates.

The visitor pointed out another family she overheard talking about the strike as well. I approached them and with their permission, got on the phone with their loved one who only wanted to talk briefly and didn’t have a lot of details to share, but did confirm that building 8 went on strike and were brutalized by guards as a result.

Finally, my friend showed up for our visit. They also confirmed all of this information, including the use of pellet guns. They also said that they overheard on a radio that 13 units were on lockdown. They said that a notice had been posted to all inmates that told them any information on the strike was forbidden and would be denied.

The Austin ABC said they are “waiting to hear back from contacts in other units but due to continuing lockdowns and censorship word is coming slowly.”

The group has called prisons for updates, and through that work they learned of lockdowns and suspensions in 10 units: Barry Telford, Beto, Clements, Conally, Ferguson, Gib Lewis, Jordan, Smith, Torres, and William Hobby. They call on the public to spread these stories to media, loved ones, and fellow organizers to overcome efforts by the state to “cover up retaliation.”

A post on the Support Prisoner Resistance blog shared similar difficulties in uncovering prisoner resistance.

One volunteer was able to learn of partial lockdowns at Arizona State Prison Complex Yuma and Douglas. But the volunteer said, “Nearly every prison I called was immediately suspicious of my call and seemed to have a canned ‘we’re not allowed to share that publicly’ line ready. Most asked me repeatedly who I worked for.”

The strike may still be ongoing at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, California. At the Washington Correctional Center for Women, three women refused to go to their work assignments in the library and were taken to solitary confinement by an emergency response team. They were then sentenced to 20 days in solitary and face reclassification and the possible loss of their jobs.

Prisoners continue their hunger strike at the Wapun Correctional Institution in Wisconsin, some of whom went on strike in June. They report more inmates are joining the strike.

At the Merced County Jail and John Latorraca Correctional Facility, inmates paused their strike around September 19 and appeared to negotiate with the sheriff. However, on September 21, a post on the Live Free Merced Facebook page stated, “Due to the continued misinformation from Merced Sheriff’s Administration and County Counsel, detainees are gearing up to resume their strike in full effect.”

“A lot of things are said behind closed doors but it’s time for the public to take note,” they wrote. “There is tactical oppression taking place here and it’s been going on far too long!!!! The detainees in good faith and for negotiation purposes began consuming breakfast, lunch (packaged by General Population at Sandy Mush), and making court movements ONLY on Monday. Those hoping for resolution are on Blocks 1 & 3 at Merced County Jail and dorms 501 & 502 John Latorraca Jail.”

“As of right now Lt. Moore has continued to strategically place himself in CONFLICT at the center of these matters,” Live Free Merced continued. “4 block is not making any movements or eating at this time. They do not believe Corrections staff are going to follow the law, they joined the strike on 9/16/2016.”

Other uprisings took place in Florida at the Columbia and Jackson prisons. Inmates at the Kulani prison in Hawaii went on strike for about a day on September 20.

A brief lockdown took place at the Iowa State Pentientiary. An action may have taken place at the Newberry prison in Michigan.

A short partial strike took place at the Federal Correctional Institution at La Tuna in New Mexico.

Inmates went on strike for two days at the Nassau County Jail. News Day Long Island reported nine corrections officers suffered “mostly bumps and bruises in the jail dorm incident.” The entire facility was placed on lockdown.

The Oregon State Penitentiary reportedly went on lockdown. The Deer Ridge Correctional Institution (DRCI) saw a partial strike. Solidarity organizers reported several prisoners were “placed on a preemptive lock-down to repress potential striking activity” on September 9. “Similarly all of the inmate kitchen workers were placed in the hole,” they added.

Prisoners went on strike because “the administration’s Food Service Coordinators are systematically employing methods which put the health and safety of inmates at risk. Inmates report that DRCI is serving under-cooked food despite being told by inmate kitchen staff that it is not ready and using unsanitary food substitutes to save money and ensure bonuses from superiors.”

They also reported the prison is using “food products marked to be unfit for human consumption and that are expired.” The prison is cooking “rotten and moldy food” and “not serving inmates full portions.” Such practices are occurring on a daily basis. 


Brian Nam-Sonenstein

Brian Nam-Sonenstein

Publishing Editor at Shadowproof and columnist at Prison Protest.