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  August 22, 2016

Rattling the Bars: U.S. Prison Strikes

In this episode of Rattling the Bars we examine various prison strikes in the U.S. and the common thread of inhumane prison conditions
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EDDIE CONWAY: Hi I’m Eddie Conway and in this episode of Rattling the Bars, we examine various prison strikes in the US and the common thread of inhuman prison conditions.

Before we go there, according to a report by the Prison Policy Initiative, the American criminal justice systems hold more than 2.3 million people. In 1,719 state prisons. 102 federal prisons, 942 juvenile correctional facilities, 3283 local jails and 79 Native American reservation jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers and prisons in the US territories. Despite state repression, prisoners still challenge the prison industrial complex and its inhuman policies. States such as Georgia, California, Alabama, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin, prisoners organize hunger strikes and labor strikes in response to issues including indefinite solitary confinement, brutal attacks by the guards, lack of education opportunities and slave labor.

Prisoners recently spoke about their experiences in solitary confinement in the Wisconsin state prison system.

SPEAKER: It’s really atrocious when you put somebody in a situation where there’s in the box literally and they’ve got ex amount of space to move around, you’ve really put them in a condition where they can no longer differentiate between what’s going on outside or who they are and what’s going on inside of their own mind. That barrier that exists there is no different from a wakefulness and a sleepfulness barrier. And just like when that barrier breaks down in people and they sleepwalk and crash into things.

That same kind of barrier falls apart and you can’t just replace it in a person in solitary confinement who’s already more or less labeled a social deviant with certain disenfranchisements attached to them when they come home. So added to that another mental disability or mental dysfunction, I mean we’re talking a major problem. And all of the resources that are given from tax dollars, from schools, from kids’ educations, go toward this very system that are making the very people that they’re entrusted to house, worse.

SPEAKER: My personal experience in solitary confinement, it is a shock to be there and to find out that you have nothing to do, they don’t give you anything to do and they make it worse on you in the situation, giving you sheets that you can read a newspaper ad or giving you an insert of a pen. Taking all of your personal belongings away from you when you get there and seeming like forever to put you on step where you can get them back.

They give you old outdated books, nothing to stimulate your mind that you haven’t read probably a few weeks ago that’s now a hand me down book that so many other people read and filthy. The conditions are cold. People don’t understand how cold it is and how unclean it is in there. And so it’s worth that fight to be able to speak for them and help them in any type of way that’s necessary to change these conditions because they can’t do it themselves.

I served 10 different stints in there. And I’ve never had a visit throughout my time that I was there. So I know what they’re going through. Those who do have family members, they are potentially preventing them from coming there to see them for any little reason. That’s wrong.

SPEAKER: First of all, look it is a fact that solitary confinement is considered torture under international law. The UN repertoire on torture Juan Mendez has categorically stated that holding people in solitary confinement in excess of 15 days is completely illegal under international law.

Furthermore, there have been studies that have been done and at most have been mixed in regards to whether this has any impact on violence whatsoever. And whether it was effective in stopping violence or not, it is completely illegal and inhuman to treat people in these conditions. Its torture, period. Absolutely no justification for the systematic practice of torture that is happening in California and to over 80 thousand prisoners across the United States.

But people don't realize Victoria's Secret, oh I'm sorry females, all your Victoria Secret, yea made in prison. Got stock in prison. All your uniforms, most of your furniture, all that is made in prison. And people don't realize that [inaud.]. In Alabama you got 1.5 million dollars of budget, and cable and all, that they produce out of these prisons. All of this work is being done by inmates.

So this is what they mean by ending slavery type prisons or ending indentured servitude because that still exists in our 13th amendment. No man can be held under slavery or involuntary servitude except if by for felony conviction.

SPEAKER: The cellphone played a part but the other part was that there are leaders of different factions in the prison and they were able to sort of discuss what could they do instead of fight among themselves was there anything that they could do to try to change the conditions of being just constantly bombarded with violent attacks with idol time and so forth and so on. And they at some point a number of them just decided that we just shouldn’t work. And it just became a prairie fire.

It was truly the spark that lit the prairie fire and everybody was just saying, well I’m down with that we’re not going to get up. And each group you know you have blacks and various subsets and you have Muslims, you have Mexicans, and other Latinos, you have whites, you have Rastafarians, you have Christians. All of them, for reasons I cannot explain, have suddenly understood how to be unified and decide yea we’re not working and we’re not down with this and we’re going to get up and we’re going to stay united. And across the prisons in the various sets they called each other, sent text messages and all agreed to do it and they agreed on the date and that was December 9.

SPEAKER: There were a lot of issues with medical neglect that were happening inside of the state prisons. One of those things that came about what was a separate issue from the [Platt and Homan] case was this standardization. Recently last year, our member organization Justice Now, was able to pass an anti-sterilization bill to make sure or to create safeguards so that this won’t happen to women in the future. What we heard from many of the women that were sterilized was that they would go into the healthcare facility with maybe some issues of cramps or any type of issue that they were experiencing.

Many times, some of them didn’t know that they had actually been sterilized until they were released from prison and were actually trying to have children and realized when they went to the doctor again or their medical practitioner that they had been sterilized. There is documentation that Justice Now was able to get a hold of. That was really able to be the fuel to focus this bill and really pass it unanimously.

Right now Justice Now and I believe it’s the Boarder State and Community Corrects, are responsible for making sure that this doesn’t happen in the future. And it’s a really unfortunately thing that happened to many women. I mean 214 and those are the only ones that are documented. So who knows if it happened to additional women that the documentation got lost. We’re not too sure if it happened to more women than that.

CONWAY: With 1 of 100 US adults incarcerated, it’s important that they receive true rehabilitation to ensure positive entry to the communities they return to. If profit and punishment are the only purpose of US prisons, then they should be abolished because they don’t make the community safe. In the meantime, prisoners need a [inaud.] and outside support to ensure justice for themselves and the community they return to. Thank you for joining us with Rattling the Bars.




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