With little to no attention from the mainstream media, the biggest coordinated prison uprising in American history has been going on since September 9, 2016.
The idea for the mass strike started with prisoners who are part of the Free Alabama Movement, who circulated a pamphlet that encouraged prisoners in each state to list their own demands for improving prison conditions. The kickoff to the prison strike started with a coordinated effort by prisoners in 21 states, including eight hundred prisoners in California alone, refusing to show up for their prison jobs to protest what they called “modern-day slavery.”
The revolt has gotten underway with prisoners using smuggled cellphones, social media pages, and with the help of allies on the outside. The prisoners understand that a coordinated refusal to perform prison jobs will result in change because “they cannot run these facilities without us.” Although details of how the prison strike is progressing is sketchy and hard to pinpoint, Ben Turk of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) has said,
“There are probably 20,000 prisoners on strike right now… which is the biggest prison strike in history.”
There isn’t much information coming out from the correctional facilities because the prison officials use ample discretion in the details they choose to disclose. There have been reports that prisoners who are considered strike leaders, have been placed in solitary confinement for their strike activities. Other correctional facilities are also transferring possible strike leaders to various regional facilities in an effort to disrupt the coordinated peaceful prison uprising.
A prisoner in the Ohio State Penitentiary, Siddique Hasan, who is known as a prison activist, was placed in isolation and denied phone access for nearly a month before the September 9th strike in an effort to hinder his communication with the outside world. Just prior to the start of the prison strike on September 9th, Mr. Hasan was accused of plotting to “blow up buildings” to mark the start of the strike. Siddique Hasan who is a prison Iman, skilled writer, mentor and friend to other inmates, was sentenced to death for the 1993 Lucasville prison rebellion, which occurred right before he was scheduled to be released in 1993.
While prisoners have several issues that they seek to have addressed with this current strike, the biggest issue is that of the virtual free labor system which exist in American prisons. Prisoners today are truly modern day slaves because in Texas, Arkansas, and Georgia, they are not paid anything for the labor they perform. A former California prisoner, Phillip Ruiz, who spent nearly 10 years in jail and now works with the (IWOC), said he was paid 9 cents per month baking bread while incarcerated. Some of the other issues prisoners are seeking to have addressed are: harsh parole systems, three-strike laws, lack of access to education, medical neglect, and overcrowding. The prisoners are sending a message to prison officials and corporations who benefit from the $2 billion a year generated by having 900,000 prisoners work for free or almost free in American prisons. The strike is placing a financial burden on the entities that depend on prison labor because they are now having to pay other staff to do the work they’ve been getting done for free.
The striking prisoners are asking to have people on the outside help to spread the word about what they are hoping to accomplish by refusing to participate any longer in providing free labor. One of the end goals the prisoners are hoping to accomplish is having a repeal of an exception listed in the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The exception bans “involuntary servitude” along with slavery, “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”