Prisoners Across the US Strike to End Modern Day Slavery

Prisoners organized through prison walls to strike, demanding an end to work with no pay, voting rights and for rehabilitation, training, and Education Programs. Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, President of the Ordinary People Society talks about the prison strike

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Story Transcript

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you with us.

Prisoners across these United States began a three week-long strike to protest modern day enslavement of people in U.S. prisons. The first day of the strike marked the anniversary of the murder of George Jackson in 1971, in San Quentin Prison in California. George Jackson, of course, was a prisoner who led a radical movement inside the walls of those prisons. The strike is scheduled to end on September 9, which marks the anniversary of the Attica rebellions, where prisoners seized the Attica Correctional Facility in New York in 1971. Previous strikes have ended with leaders of those strikes being put in solitary confinement, and many times when strikers were met with a violent response by prison officials.

The prisoners, led by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak and supported by the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, are demanding an end to the death penalty and dying in prison; an end to labor without pay; an end to solitary confinement; reinstitution of Pell grants, education programs, and instituting plans for rehabilitation; and the right to vote, and more. And we’ll be following all this up and following the strike, and hoping that prisoners’ efforts will not lead to their persecution, nor their prosecution.

We’re joined today by the Pastor Kenneth Glasgow. He’s the founder and president of Ordinary People Society. He’s convener of the National Criminal Justice Coalition, and cochairman of the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples Movement. Pastor, welcome. Good to have you with us back on The Real News.

PASTOR KENNETH GLASGOW: Thank you for having me.

MARC STEINER: So the first major strike that took place in this country among people inside, incarcerated, was in 2016, September 2016. So tell me, from that movement to this point on, almost two years later, what are the difference is and what’s happening at this moment.

PASTOR KENNETH GLASGOW: Well, basically there is not too much of a difference because of the fact that none of the demands were ever met. The Free Alabama movement call to action, 20 different states joined in, 40-50 prisons across this country. Men and women that’s incarcerated. We, as the Formerly Incarcerated Convicted Peoples Movement supported them, stood in solidarity with 40-50 different organizations across this country. And we have yet to see some of the results of them locking up children, of them with the [habitual] offender act, of what’s going on with our rights to vote all across the country, and different things that are going on.

So that’s why what we have declared now, and what has been declared by the Free Alabama movement inside Alabama prisons is the fact that they’re asking that we redistribute the pain. And in redistributing the pain, they are doing peaceful strikes all across the country, again to say, hey, you need to stop brutalizing those that are incarcerated, treat us more humanely, and you give us our rights. And so they are asking us and putting more pressure on those of us who are outside who are directly impacted, just as they are formerly incarcerated, currently incarcerated, to come together and say, hey, we are clearly the ones that fit the category of no taxation without representation. OK? So why are we being taxed, and we don’t have a right to vote? Because when we don’t have a right to vote, we are considered noncitizens or second-class citizens.

So their action is to redistribute the pain, and tell them no election, no re-election, as long as you’re taxing us. And so these are the things that’s going on. We’re looking at the Innocence Inquiry Commission that’s supposed to be in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, and these prisons in South Carolina, that is looking at death sentences, but not looking at any other sentences to see if those people are innocent. We’re looking at juveniles being targeted even younger now than they were in 2016. In 2016 we were looking at 17-18 year olds, and some of our 16 year olds. Now it’s become predominant all across this country that once you’re 16 you’re classified as an adult. And they’ll drop it now to 14-15 year olds.

We’re looking at these habitual acts and these habitual sentences that are coming across the mainstream. We’re looking at police brutality that is happening on the inside as well as on the outside. So we have a collective voice that we will not be erased, and our voices will be heard. And so this is what we’re doing on the inside with the first wave. And of course, you know, just like the first national strike, the second wave is those of us outside. And we started with the Free 2 Vote- I launched the Free 2 Vote campaign, Free, number 2, to Vote campaign, across the country where they go inside the jails and register people to vote who have not been convicted yet, and who have not been sentenced. And those on the inside across the country who are not like Alabama, where they can vote, you know, inside prisons and jails because of my lawsuit in 2008, they are doing- and as you see the picture of Kinetic Justice- they’re doing what’s called the Vote for Me campaign. The Vote for Me campaign is going to be very, very significant in Florida, because we have a [inaudible] on the ballot.

But in other places it’s going to affect their elections in 2018 because each and every person that is inside prison, that’s a prisoner, has at least 10-20 people that’s a friend, a family member, or a supporter that will be influenced to vote for that person that is locked up inside, that has lost their votes. One of the significant things that people need to understand is that inside prison they have time they even do the candidate opponent research. So we’re there directing us and we’re out here directing them on who’s best that’s fighting for our rights, that’s fighting for our humanity, and that is looking at criminal justice and reform, and prison reform, and all that.

MARC STEINER: So from what I’ve been reading, that, that I know the right to vote is a part of the 10 demands that people are making across the country. There are a lot of demands inside this movement. And from my understanding, in some ways this was triggered by the killing of a number of inmates in South Carolina at one prison that they’re trying to call a gang movement, but in reality was a great deal deeper than that. And that, and that this is being spread across the country at the moment. There are people who are incarcerated in Nova Scotia, California, New York, other places around the country. And they think four or five other states, though they can’t really get the information out at the moment about where it’s really happening, that this is spreading across country.

PASTOR KENNETH GLASGOW: Well, it’s also in Alabama, Florida especially, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee, in all the Southern states. And you should see quoted as [inaudible] as well as Kinetic Justice, as well.

MARC STEINER: So the question is- I mean, so this this move is supposed to last until September, on the anniversary of Attica. And I wonder how you see building a movement from the inside and the outside that ends the kind of modern slavery that takes place inside of a prison.

PASTOR KENNETH GLASGOW: Well, our ultimate goal- another thing you must look at is when it ends on September 9 we’ll be having a national conference, the Formerly Incarcerated Convicted Peoples Movement, we’re going to our national conference in Orlando, Florida September 13-15. And you can go to FICPFM.org to learn more about that. And in our national conference our national goal for all of us collectively, currently incarcerated and formerly incarcerated, is to address the 13th Amendment. We need to ultimately get the exception clause out of the 13th Amendment that still have slavery written in our Constitution.

MARC STEINER: Pastor, for our viewers, I’m going to, I want to read the 13th Amendment. And then before we have to leave each other for this first segment we do together on this prison strike that we really want to cover here at The Real News, let me read this 13th Amendment. And then let’s talk a bit about what this means, because many people don’t realize what it really says. So let me just do that. Here we go.

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime where the party shall then be duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

So this is really, this is really a very important point, I think, here, that we have- that people who are incarcerated historically have been shopped out to people for free labor all throughout the South- and the North, and the West. Everywhere. Now, this is, at the heart of this, that this is really enslavement by another name.

PASTOR KENNETH GLASGOW: Yes. Yes. And so what we have is still written in our Constitution as an exception clause to slavery. You know, convict leasing in all these, a lot of these counties and different parts of the Southern states, you would use convict leasing. That’s how a lot of black folks got to a lot of different areas. But now we still have it in our Constitution. But also, if we want to get real technical and go into it we’ll do a different time. But there’s also a contradiction to our Constitution, because it says no one can be held in involuntary servitude or slavery, except as a means of punishment. But then it says in the Eighth Amendment, according to Brother Abdullah, it says in the Eighth Amendment there should be no cruel and unusual punishment. What is more cruel and unusual than slavery and indentured servitude?

MARC STEINER: I mean, this is actually- the historical roots of this have to do with the end of Reconstruction in 1877, and then that, that swelling of a mass incarceration of black people throughout the South that actually used this Amendment to renew slavery in the South. And now it’s moved across to the prison system all over America.

PASTOR KENNETH GLASGOW: Yes. And the reason they connected it and we put it so much with voting rights is because of the fact that when Dr. King got voting rights in 1965, then Nixon came out in 1971, six years later, with the drug war to get more black people locked up with slavery. Because we can look at the disparity and see that white people use drugs 15-20 times more than black folks. But black folks go to jail in prison 15-20 times more than white folks, who use more drugs. And so what it was was set up to disenfranchise and take away those voting rights. One of the biggest things that one of my colleagues say all the time is that he would hate to leave California, where he gained his rights, and become a noncitizen when he comes to Georgia.

And that’s the kind of stuff that we have to do. You know, people want to try to make this a blanket situation and look at, oh, these are prisoners. They committed- well, let’s look at it like- we are human beings. We are people with convictions. I’m not your ex-convict, I’m not your ex-felon, I’m not your ex-offender. That’s just like calling me the n-word. You know, and people say, well, oh, Glasgow, how’s that relative to racism? Well, it may not be racism, but it’s classism. The same hurt, the same pain, the same effect. And this is what we’re feeling inside prison as well outside prison, and that’s why they’re having the peaceful strikes right now.

MARC STEINER: Well, Pastor Glasgow, I really appreciate the time you took with us today, and we’re looking forward to covering the strike over the next two weeks that takes place in prisons around this country. It is moving across America and into Canada. And thank you so much for your work, and we look forward to talking to you again soon.

PASTOR KENNETH GLASGOW: Thank you so much for having me. And don’t forget, September 9, when it all ends, you’ve got a look at we’re going straight into our conference. We need to all come together, all allies, all families, all friends. Everyone is affected by prison. Everyone. Either you work for prison, or you work for a company that is getting stuff out of people that work for prisons. One of the biggest fallacies to me, and the hypocrisies, is the fact that we will work in prisons, they will use us for convict leasing, to work in their industries, work in their companies to make uniforms, to make furniture, to make lockers, to make even Victoria’s Secret, and all these different things that women wear. And then when we get out, they won’t give us a job. But we can work for them for 25 cents an hour in prison. God bless you.

MARC STEINER: And we’re going to continue to cover the strike here on The Real News through September 9 to let you know what’s happening in the movements inside of our prisons. And I’m Marc Steiner for The Real News Network. Thank you so much for watching. Take care.