The largest prison strike in the nation's history is happening right now, but you probably haven't heard about it, thanks to a mainstream media blackout.
45 years after the infamous Attica prison riots, prisoners in 24 states have organized the largest prison strike in US history. Since September 9th, over 24,000 prisoners in 40 prisons across the country are striking and refusing to follow orders until their demands are met. These demands include an end to low wage or unpaid prison labor and deplorable working conditions, as well as the use of violent punishments if prisoners don’t perform in the way that their overseers expect. Some are also demanding access to clean water and an end to solitary confinement. Inmates are putting themselves at great personal risk by participating in the strike. Some have been threatened with guns, dogs, solitary confinement, and transfer to higher security facilities. Several prisons have been on lockdown over prisoner’ refusal to work, including several in Florida and South Carolina, in the days since the strike began. After trying to organize a similar strike in 2014, Melvin Ray remains in solitary confinement. Despite the threats, prisoners have decided to move forward because they have “reached their breaking point.”
Many of the prisoners involved in the strike as well as one of the main groups organizing the strike, the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), have said that the movement’s goal is “to end prison slavery”. Is this a justifiable comparison? As the 13th amendment bans the practice of slavery “except as punishment for a crime,” forced prison labor is a literal and unjustified continuation of one of the darkest stains on America’s past. Considering that the US has the highest number of prisoners in the entire world, holding 25% of all prisoners worldwide, one could say that the 13th amendment actually allowed slavery to expand – there are 6.85 million prisoners in the US today, 58% of which are either African-American or Hispanic, while, in 1860, there were 3.95 million slaves. This nationwide strike, then, seeks to challenge a system that even the Civil War couldn’t end.
Prisoners in the US are forced to work if medically able and are paid paltry sums for their labor, ranging from 12 to 40 cents an hour. Some prisoners in several states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and Texas, are not even paid for their work. They are also supervised by overseers who punish inmates if tasks are not done to their liking. Punishments can include isolation, mechanical restraints, and degrading, invasive strip searches. Though prisoners gain little from the work they perform while incarcerated, many corporations benefit handsomely from their astoundingly low wages. McDonald’s, Nintendo, Wal-Mart, Starbucks, and Whole Foods are among the most well-known businesses who are making record profits by taking advantage of low or non-existent prisons wages, despite rising unemployment among the general population. Private prison corporations (i.e. modern-day “slave owners”) are also striking it rich with the current system. In Texas, where prisoners remain unpaid, Texas Correctional Industries, a for-profit, private prison corporation operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, made almost $89 million in profits in 2014. In addition to these massive profits, private prison corporations receive $70 billion dollars a year in subsidies from the US taxpayers.
Despite the historic size of the protest and the injustices being protested, a majority of mainstream media outlets have entirely ignored the strike. Leading TV news channels such as ABC, NBC, Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC have remained silent as have public networks such as PBS and NPR. Leading newspapers also offered no coverage of the prison strike including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and USA Today. The most well-known newspapers to cover the strike were the Wall Street Journal and the Guardian. The mainstream media blackout is not surprising since major movements in the past year, such as the Dakota Access pipeline, have also gone largely uncovered by the corporate media. Despite the media blackout, you can help make sure that the voices of striking prisoners are heard by sharing this article and getting the word out. These prisoners need our help to end prison slavery.
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