UPDATE (3/14 @ 11:22 AM EDT): Members of the Free Alabama Movement tell Shadowproof that Robert Earl Council has ended his hunger strike “with an agreement from ADOC Commissioner Jeffery Dunn’s attorney that he will be placed back in general population.” Original story below.
An Alabama prisoner, who has faced retaliation for organizing incarcerated workers for years, began a hunger strike on March 7 after he was transferred to another prison and thrown in solitary confinement in the middle of the night.
As of March 13, Robert Earl Council (aka Kinetik Justice Amun) had refused food and liquids for one week. He said he will remain on hunger strike until the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) releases him back into general population and the “ADOC is held accountable.”
“ADOC’s actions amount to a violation of our due process rights and the Eighth Amendment’s ‘Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause,’” he argued.
On the afternoon of March 12, after days of phone calls to ADOC by supporters in Council’s defense, officials transferred him again to the infirmary at Kilby Correctional Facility.
Council’s hunger strike started when a squad of officers from the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT) and local police SWAT team members entered his cell before dawn at the St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville, Alabama on March 7. He was placed in zip ties and transferred to Holman Correctional Facility, where he was placed in solitary confinement.
Council said his possessions were stolen and/or destroyed in the process, and he is being punished “without any altercation, investigation, or disciplinary infraction.” His hunger strike was a “last resort.”
“I have personally questioned all three Wardens (Stewart, Raybon, and Mitchell) in regards to why I have been placed and continuing to be held in solitary confinement indefinitely. All three affirmed that they are just following orders from the Commissioner,” Council said.
Days before, news outlets reported the ADOC enlisted 300 police officers to find contraband “ranging from drugs and illegal cell phones to makeshift weapons” at St. Clair.
Council’s lawyer, David Gespass, told a local news outlet that officers found a phone in Council’s cell, and his cellmate claimed it belonged to Council. He was allegedly told he violated the terms of “a probation,” but Council apparently did not know he was under “probation.”
Gespass filed a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Council in 2017 in an attempt to bring ADOC to court to explain why it held him in isolation for years up to that point without the ability to challenge his confinement or a pathway back to general population.
ADOC released Council from solitary confinement right before a court date for that petition last August, rendering it moot. Now, he is back in isolation.
“If we could ever litigate the habeas corpus, maybe we could know their reasons,” Gespass told WHNT. “Right now, I just don’t know.”
Gespass said he is waiting to act on Council’s behalf for this recent bout of isolation until he can meet with his client, but ADOC has delayed his ability to do so.
ADOC has been quite evasive in their responses to journalists. ADOC would not confirm or deny Council’s hunger strike or his isolation when reporters from WHNT or AL.com asked.
Shadowproof contacted ADOC to inquire about Council’s isolation and asked when he would be released. They did not respond by press time. We will update this article if ADOC responds.
Council is a member of the Free Alabama Movement (FAM), a group of prisoners and outside advocates organizing against slave labor and other abuses in Alabama’s prison system.
FAM organized labor strikes in Alabama prisons as early as 2014 and were a leading voice behind the first wave of nationwide prison strikes in 2016.
As a result of the 2014 strikes at Holman, Council spent 54 months in solitary confinement.
He also faced extensive repression in the aftermath of the prison strike in 2016. He was sent to Kilby at that time, which prisoners call a “bully camp” for its reputation as a place where prisoners experience violence in retaliation for disobedience.
He engaged in a hunger strike, and prison officials responded by shutting off water to his cell.
In December 2016, Council said he was “in fear of his life” after he was beaten in a shower while at Limestone—notorious among prisoners for its “behavioral modification program,” known as a “hot bay” dorm.
Prisoners are forced to share a small, hot, and unsanitary solitary confinement cell with another person. Advocates claimed prison officials cut the water off to Council’s cell in retaliation against his hunger strike.
Alabama prisons have the highest homicide rate in the nation and have been under federal investigation since 2016.
In addition to violence, prisoners suffer through crumbling architecture, a lack of programming, and extreme overcrowding. Rather than seriously confront these conditions, the state has opted to leverage them in an attempt to drastically expand the state’s capacity to incarcerate people.
“What ADOC is doing by placing Kinetik in solitary after letting him out is multifaceted,” Swift Justice, an incarcerated organizer with FAM and Unheard Voices OCTJ, told Shadowproof.
“One, they were dodging legal address through the courts when Robert Earl and his attorney filed the habeas corpus in relations to being confined a solitary without cause. Secondly, very intentionally [they removed] him because Robert Earl has a lot of respect amongst the confined citizens inside St Clair, Donelson, and Holman, meaning his influence for peace and protest without violence is very, very impactful.”
“ADOC right now does not want positive impact inside of his population. ADOC wants chaos in order to build these new prisons. You can look at Robert Earl’s resume. He’s always been about peace. He’s always been about standing together in unity for the right thing. He’s never been about violence, since he’s been on Alabama’s plantations. This is a strategic move by [ADOC Commissioner] Jeffrey Dunn to implement chaos.”
Supporters warned “a protest will convene at Holman Correctional Facility on March 26,” if Council is not returned to general population.