Thanks to the 13th Amendment, a person convicted of a crime can be forced to work as punishment. And thanks to widespread racism in society, law enforcement, the courts, and the prison system, Black people are vastly more likely to wind up in prison. (See the two highly-recommended films listed at the bottom of this post.)
In addition to working in the laundry or serving meals, many states sell prison labor to private corporations: prisoners staff call centers; make office furniture, shoes, and clothing; and run slaughterhouses. Their labor is sold to AT&T, Bank of America, Bayer, Caterpillar, Glaxo, J&J, Koch Industries, Microsoft, Sprint, Starbucks, and Walmart, to name just a few. In some states the prisoners are paid nothing; in others they may make a dollar or two per day. (Take a few minutes to read ‘The Slaves Rebel’, by Chris Hedges.)
Prisoners in at least 17 states have gone on strike, refusing to work for corporate exploiters or do internal work for the prisons. The strike is expected to continue through September 9 (the 47th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising).
Why does the U.S. have more people incarcerated than any other nation in the world?
Why are our mainstream media complicit in silencing their voices?
As Hedges notes in his article:
Prison authorities seek to mute the voices of these incarcerated protesters. They seek to hide the horrific conditions inside prisons from public view. We must amplify these voices and build a popular movement to end mass incarceration.
The strike began Aug. 21, the 47th anniversary of the 1971 killing of the Black Panther prison writer and organizer George Jackson in California’s San Quentin. It will end Sept. 9, the 47th anniversary of the 1971 Attica prison uprising. It is an immensely courageous act of civil disobedience. Prison authorities have innumerable ways to exact retribution, including placing strikers in solitary confinement and severing communication with the outside world. They can take away the few privileges and freedoms, including the limited freedom of movement, yard time, phone privileges and educational programs, that prisoners have. This makes the defiance all the more heroic. These men and women cannot go elsewhere. They cannot remain anonymous. Retribution is certain. Yet they have risen up anyway.
How many of these people belong in prison? (You might be interested in these two articles that show people who are incarcerated in a different light, especially when you consider that the maximum sentence in Norway — for any crime — is 21 years.)
The prisoners have issued 10 demands in connection with their strike:
- Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women.
- An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.
- The Prison Litigation Reform Act must be rescinded, allowing imprisoned humans a proper channel to address grievances and violations of their rights.
- The Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act must be rescinded so that imprisoned humans have a possibility of rehabilitation and parole. No human shall be sentenced to death by incarceration or serve any sentence without the possibility of parole.
- An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in southern states.
- An immediate end to racist gang enhancement laws targeting black and brown humans.
- No imprisoned human shall be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender.
- State prisons must be funded specifically to offer more rehabilitation services.
- Pell grants must be reinstated in all U.S. states and territories.
- The voting rights of all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so-called “ex-felons” must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count!
Two highly-recommended films:
- 13th, a documentary by Ava DuVernay
- I Am Not Your Negro, on the life of James Baldwin