After 10 Days, Prison Strikes Spread to 11 States to Demand End to “Slave Labor”

Prisoners across the country join work stoppages, hunger strikes and commissary boycotts in at least 11 states to protest prison conditions and demand the end of what they call “prison slavery.” Organizers report prisoners in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Indiana are demonstrating. Individuals in Texas, California and Ohio have gone on hunger strike, including some in solitary confinement. Meanwhile, at least six people have been hunger-striking inside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, for more than a week. We speak with Amani Sawari, prison strike organizer working on behalf of Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, a network of prisoners who are helping organize the nationwide strike.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We end today’s show with the nationwide prison strike, as prisoners across the country join work stoppages, hunger strikes and commissary boycotts in at least 11 states to protest prison conditions and demand the end of what they call “prison slavery.” Today marks the 10th day of the strike. Organizers report prisoners in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Indiana are demonstrating. Individuals in Texas, California and Ohio have gone on hunger strike, including some in solitary confinement. Meanwhile, at least six people have been hunger-striking inside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, for more than a week. This is one of the hunger strikers, Murat, speaking yesterday from jail.

MURAT: I’m on hunger strike, seven days, five days without water. I know what the nationwide situation now, everybody on a hunger strike.

AMY GOODMAN: For the latest, we go to Seattle, Washington, to speak with Amani Sawari, a prison strike organizer working on behalf of Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, a network of prisoners who are helping organize the nationwide strike.

Amani, welcome back to Democracy Now! Well, we just played that clip of Murat in the prison in your state, Washington. Why don’t you begin there and take us across the country, what you understand is happening behind bars? It’s getting so little coverage in the corporate media.

AMANI SAWARI: So, Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, the incarcerated group of individuals who are organizing the strike from the inside, have received reports from at least 11 states of what’s happening with the actions that prisoners are taking on the inside. In Washington, 200 of the detainees in the Northwest Detention Center kicked off the strike on the 21st, and at least six of them are still going strong today.

In Colorado and New Mexico, there are prisoners that started striking prior to the 21st date. On August 9th is when Lee County correctional facility started in New Mexico. And every day since the 20th, those prisoners have been on lockdown. The lockdown was a statewide lockdown in New Mexico, and prisoners are still on lockdown in Lee County. And then, in Colorado, on August 7th, Sterling Correctional Facility had their hunger strike.

There is also Florida. There are five institutions there that are on strike. Charlotte Correctional Institution has at least 40 prisoners that are refusing to work and a hundred prisoners that are boycotting there. In Dade Correctional, there are at least 30 prisoners, reports have said up to 40 prisoners, who are hunger-striking there. Franklin Correctional reports 60 prisoners. Holmes Correctional reports 70 prisoners participating. And there’s also activity in Apalachee correctional facility in Florida.

In Indiana, we’ve got Wabash Valley Correctional Institution. They’re hunger-striking.

In South Carolina, we have six institutions. So there’s the most activity in South Carolina. We’ve got Broad River, Lee, McCormick, Turbeville, Kershaw and Lieber Correctional Institution hunger-striking and doing commissary boycotts.

In North Carolina, we have at least one facility, Hyde Correctional Institution. There are also prisoners that are suffering in solitary confinement there for participating in the strike.

In Georgia, Georgia State Prison is on a hunger strike.

In California, we’ve got New Folsom Prison. They’re also hunger-striking in Lancaster State Prison.

In Ohio, we have Toledo Correctional Institution on hunger strike.

In Texas, we’ve got at least three facilities there — Stiles Unit. Also, Jason Renard Walker in Telford Unit and Comrade Malik in McConnell Unit are both in solitary confinement. Comrade Malik hasn’t been allowed to take showers. They are hunger-striking there. Jason Walker hasn’t been allowed to have toilet paper paper, towels or have access to taking a shower or having clean clothes, in retaliation to his organizing of the strike in Texas.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Amani, can you talk about what we know about the levels of violence in prisons? Is one of the goals of the strike to end violence between different prison gangs and ensure the security of prisoners who are involved?

AMANI SAWARI: Prisoners are striking against an innately violent climate. The way that prisons are operated do incite violence, due to understaffing, also the lack of rehabilitation programs. Prisoners are calling out against these sort of conditions that incite violence. There isn’t much to engage the mind. There is no emotional services, no mental services, no mental health services, things that could occupy the prisoners’ time and help them with their development while they’re in prison. They want to have access to jobs that are valuable, jobs that give them the skills that they need and prepare them for being on the outside. The lack of these types of funding and rehabilitation programs towards that types of funding keep violent conditions going. And staff are complicit in this, either because they’re too tired or too overworked to respond effectively to incidents of violence, which keep violence going on, which is what happened in Lee County in April of this year when violence went on for over seven hours. When a conflict arises or when there’s abrasion or tension in the prison, that easily sparks off into violence, because there is no other outlet for these tensions in high-negative-energy circumstances that prisoners are forced to live within.

AMY GOODMAN: Amani, can you talk about if there has been retaliation against prisoners who are engaging in these strikes across the country, and then respond to Governor Brown signing off against cash bail, and your response?

AMANI SAWARI: OK. So, yes, like I mentioned earlier, Comrade Malik is suffering from retaliation. His retaliation started around August 15th. He was moved into solitary confinement. He is in a concrete cell that’s over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Texas. There’s soot covering his cell from previous fires that happened in that unit. He’s not allowed to take showers. He’s only escorted out in handcuffs. He’s not allowed to have easily communications with the outside. He can’t talk on the phone. And this is the type of retaliation that prisoners are suffering that have been organizing and taking the lead in the strike.

Also, Jason Walker, he wrote an article about the conditions of Texas prisons. And after that article was written, which raised awareness about what was going on in Texas, he was moved to solitary confinement. But even in groups, like in South Carolina, prisoners in McCormick have been having daily strip searches done on them since August 20th, the day before the strike began. Also, David Easley and James Ward, they are in Ohio, Toledo’s correctional facility, and they have no contact with the outside. They’re not allowed to have contact with the outside. And they’re also in solitary confinement.

So we can see that retaliation is happening against individual organizers. Usually, the individual organizing happened in the beginning. And then, now we’re seeing when individual inmates are standing up and choosing to strike, that they’re being moved in solitary confinement as a repressive force for what’s happening with the strike to try to keep prisoners from joining into what’s happening. But this is usually spreading the fire. It’s getting something ignited in prisoners. So, prisoners know that this is — this is a climate where they can actually step up and feel supported. There have been solidarity marches and rallies and events happening in at least 21 cities across the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Amani, we just have 20 seconds.

AMANI SAWARI: So we’re showing our support on the outside.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have 20 seconds, but your response to California Governor Brown signing off a bill saying they’re ending cash bail?

AMANI SAWARI: A lot of people are afraid and saying that prisoners might be in jail longer due to the lack of access to cash bail. We don’t see this helping the people that are already overpoliced in black and brown communities. And there is a bias towards the people that end up there. So we just see this causing more restrictions and more friction on the inside. This doesn’t look like the savior bill that we’re supporting.

AMY GOODMAN: Amani Sawari, we want to thank you so much for being with us. Amani Sawari is a prison strike organizer working on behalf of Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, a network of prisoners who are helping to organize the nationwide prison strike. The strike began August 21st, the 47th anniversary of the killing of Black Panther George Jackson in San Quentin prison, and ends on September 9th, the 47th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising here in New York.