Alabama inmates have begun a labor strike to protest the poor working and living conditions; one inmate says, "Trust me, it's catching like wildfire."
A labor strike coordinated by several inmates is being held in up to five Alabama correctional facilities to protest the inhumane conditions and systemic deprivation, resulting in two of the prisons being put on lockdown.
Three inmates are being dubbed as the main organizers and are now being held in solitary confinement, according to Solitary Watch. The organizers, Kinetik, Dhati and Brother M, are part of a coalition called the Free Alabama Movement and hope to carry on the strike for 30 days, or until authorities agree to negotiate.
Kinetik told Solitary Watch:
“We will no longer contribute to our own oppression. We will no longer continue to work for free and be treated like this. “
The oppression they are referring to is the little to no amount they are paid for labor while the prisons make money off of the work because of the prison-industrial complex that the United States allows for. Inmates are paid $0.17 to $0.30 per hour for their work, which ranges from aiding correctional employees in tasks to industrial jobs that are administered through for-profit companies.
Though some money is better than none, the income that the inmates earn is often taken from them because of the heavy fines they must pay for their crimes.
Additionally, their work generates revenue for the prison, which the inmates claim are not investing that money back into making the prison better and safer.
Complaints from the inmates include a lack of access to reading material, dangerous living conditions, tainted food, negligent treatment of prisoners in solitary and poor health services. The prisoners are also against the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which bans slavery and servitude “except as a punishment for a crime,” which allows for forced, unpaid prison labor.
This is not the first demonstration to take place in protest to the prison’s terrible conditions. Earlier this year, a riot broke out at a facility in Atmore and consisted of 100 people participating in violent fights and setting fire to a part of the penitentiary.
Alabama is ranked as the state with the third-highest prison population per capita and has a disproportionate number of incarcerated white and black people. Whites make up 38% of inmates as of 2011 even though the U.S. Census Bureau reported that Alabama is 70% white.
An inmate at William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility explained:
“Trying to make people work for free all day, every day does not serve anyone’s interest whether it’s the citizens, the person who made the mistake, or his family members,” the inmate said. “I can work for eight hours a day and my child will still go to bed hungry at night.”
As far as why the inmates chose to strike rather than explore other options as a means of protest, the inmate also said:
“The work strikes are simply the only source of power we have. We don’t have political power. We don’t have voting rights. We don’t have political action committees. We don’t have lobbyists. We don’t have anything.”
Though the Alabama Department of Corrections has said that its response to the strikes is to continue to provide its normal daily meals and appropriate health services, those incarcerated at the facilities have said something different. They claim that the prisons have engaged in “bird feeding,” which means serving the inmates meals significantly smaller meals and essentially using food as a weapon.
One inmate told AL:
“This isn’t just an isolated issue, it’s statewide. Before long each prison will participate. Trust me, it’s catching like wildfire.”
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