We’ve put together a pamphlet that includes:
- the press release for the prison strike
- contact information for media and support coordination
- 4 things you can do to support the strike
- strike guidelines set by inside leadership
We’ve put together a pamphlet that includes:
In solidarity with McCormick Prisoners, some that have been protesting for weeks are requesting the following persons to be called:
1. DOJ Civil Rights Division, Assistant Attorney General, John M. Gore
2. South Carolina Senator Karl Allen
3. South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED)
4. South Carolina Department of Corrections Agency Director Bryan P. Stirling
Requesting a formal investigation for possible criminal and civil rights violations relating to the rationing of one cup of water a day and to the use of excessive force for the past 3 weeks at McCormick Prison.
McCormick prisoners are also requesting that normal operations be allowed to resume without delay and the inhumane living conditions be rectified immediately.
Prisoners are currently confined to their cells 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Sick call medical neglect is routine, showers are being provided at most once a week, prisoners are being served small proportions of food, prisoners are forced to live in two men cells for weeks without being allowed to clean them, and excessive force is used at every meal.
To add another degree of psychological torture, steel plates are being used to cover all windows. Natural sunlight is being eliminated in the cells at McCormick Prison.
Please use the above information when placing these calls.
1. Assistant Attorney General, John M. Gore
DOJ Civil Rights Division 202-514-4609
2. South Carolina Senator Karl Allen (Corrections and Penology Oversight subcommittee member)
602 Gressette Bldg, Columbia, SC 29201
Business Phone: (803) 212-6008
4. SCDC Office of the Director.
Agency Director, Bryan P. Stirling, 803-896-8555.
We RESIST! We DEMAND our HUMANITY! Abolish prison slavery!
Jailhouse Lawyers Speak
The following report was posted Nov. 1, 2017 on sccondemedvoices.wordpress.com by a prisoner inside McCormick. We’re mirroring it in full as backup and to increase circulation.
Lets start with some facts, aprox 6 different institutions in the state of South Carolina experienced prisoners uprisings in the last year, aprox 15 prisoners murdered in same year, Atleast 35 correctional officers assaulted in year, including 88 prisoners assaulted. On Top of all them facts lets add the fact that South Carolina department of corrections is also dealing with the worse staff shortage in the nation.So these facts onliy could easily equate CRISIS.
“A Crisis”ok, the department of corrections will step up and address the crisis, right? Well what if the department is not equipped with anyone to properly address the crisis, so logically next step will be a disaster,right? Something like the recent prison headlines , “SOUTH CAROLINA CORRECTIONAL OFFICERS MURDERED IN PRISON UPRISING”( headlines in Delaware, North Carolina).
Now claiming the department isn’t equipped to address the crisis could be argumentative, but lets go to the facts again the facts beinging with Fact 1: The commissioner of the department of corrections, Bryan Stirling does not have any experience/education in corrections nor penology, Fact 2: Absolutely no member of the ten member judicial committee South Carolina corrections and penology committee has experience in the committee they sit on CORRECTIONS & PENOLOGY( profiles at sc.gov.doc.com) So, I stand by the claim,that the state of South Carolina has no-one educated to address their current Crisis.
Sadly with the detiration reaching down to the core of the prison system a systematic failure has occurred. At this point a professional or educated person might have a difficult time saving South Carolina from failing in thier governmental responsibilities .
So lets take a look at some of the consequential effects that are currently unfolding within the South Carolina prison system, due to not having a educated leader. Lets begin with the devils head “STAFF SHORTAGE“.
Not having an educated leader the, judicial committee was ill advised on the measures needed to sufficiently address the staff shortage. Relying solely on, pay increase as their only move in addressing crisis, they quickly came to learn that obtaining recruits was not the underlining problem, KEEPING THEM BECAME THE NEW DEVILS HEAD. Unfortunately even with pay hike and a steady flow of recruits the department is experiencing 8 out of 10 dropout of new recruits.
One of the uneducated moves of Mr.Bryan Stirling’s commission, was that of bringing the standards of being a correctional officer in the state of South Carolina down to the lowest level of a simple HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA with PASSING A URINE TEST/Criminal backround check. Meeting these requirements laymen recruits were then immediately placed within high level maximum security prisons to work.
With lowering the qualifications and professional standards of becoming a correctional officer Mr.Stirlings directed his strategy at recruiting new recruits in the black communities by utilizing a black owned television station BounceTv of SC to force feed commercial after commercials with the slogan, “SCDC NOW HIRING,Medical Benefits.” For anyone who resided in SC experienced the bombardment of these commercials while watching BounceTv.It was these laymen recruits that Mr.Stirling was going to utilize to rescue his department from the crisis.
REALLY MR.STIRLING DID YOU BELIEVE YOU COULD MANAGE THE PROFESSION OF CORRECTIONS/PENOLOGY WITH NONPROFESSIONALS?
It is ludicrous for Mr.Stirling to think that he can place laymen on the FRONTLINE OF SOUTH CAROLINA PRISON CRISIS.
New recruits quickly realized that FRONTLINE was attempting to control prisoners that were being forced to live in grave conditions such as, solitary population, ie.,
thousands of prisoners isolated to one housing unit, very limited movement within unit, majority time prisoners confined to individual cells, no job opportunity, nor structure, nor purpose, nor hope.
The experience needed to manage so many men in a prison environment that lost all structure for a prisoner to obtain rehabilitation/productive growth, was to overwhelming for a simple laymen recruit and thus they abandoned their post or simply showed up to thier post and stayed out the way.
Mr.Stirling, it is frightening to think that you believe it’s appropriate to have non-trained, non-qualified individuals to handle and deal with people’s wellbeing. Your recruiting tactics do not involve anyform of psychological testing for these laymen. Mr. Stirling do you honestly believe that your department’s mission can be upheld using laymen and laywomen, A MISSION SUCH AS;
Safety, Service, Stewardship
The mission of the South Carolina Department of Corrections is: Safety–we will protect the public, our employees, and our inmates. Service–we will provide rehabilitation and self-improvement opportunities for inmates. Stewardship–we will promote professional excellence, fiscal responsibility, and self-sufficiency.
SO HERE WE ARE STILL IN CRISIS WITH NO STAFF.
With the shortage of staff crisis baffling Mr.Stirling, he has now been forced to deal with a prison environment that is hostile and grasping for air. Sadly with the staff shortage crisis the mission to provide every prisoner an opportunity to rehabilitation has been abandoned and in turn he has began isolating thousands of prisoners to isolation cells.
In panic Mr.Stirling has reduced all management of prisoners services (ie.,Clothing,Feeding & Housing) to levels that raise question to whether or not they are of a constitutional minimal or even humane.
Clothing of prisoners:
No longer will indigent prisoners be provided Bo-Bos (tennis shoes) to participate in work or recreational activities,instead prisoners will be provided foam clogs to wear for all- purposes, including showers. ( note that the clogs are designed with openings all throughout the clog therefore during incliment weather prisoners feet are wet and exposed)
. The Health question to this new policy of only clogs, is prisoners are experiencing heavy cases of fungus due to foam clogs not being antibacterial material. Also consequential to the all foam clogs is that prisoners can no-longer participate in recreational activities. The new policy of foam clogs is discriminate in nature as well due to the fact that prisoners with financial support from family and friends can purchase tennis shoes or boots.
The discriminate nature of this policy has caused an increase in violence within the prison environment due to poor clog wearing prisoners robbing prisoners that are privileged with tennis shoes. Also concerning is the fact that poor prisoners with clogs must defend themselves from a possible assault from privileged prisoners that are wearing tennis shoes or boots, a task almost impossibe. It is appalling for Mr.Stirling to think that a man shouldn’t be given or need proper footwear in facing a difficult task/journey, such as doing year after year in prison. South Carolina is the only state to place thier condemned in clogs, other then another country such as North Korea.
Thousands of prisoners being unable to participate in recreational programs are clearly being denied the opportunity to learn very valuable lessons to assist in their rehabilitation, such as sportsmanship, focus, & physical therapy.
Another policy of clothing that has been allowed to deterate and cause a disruption within the prison population is that of coats. No longer are South Carolina prisoners afforded insulated coats. Instead prisoners are issued a “material coat” ie, a coat made out of two layers of clothing material absent hoodie,or pockets,or insulation.
With prisoners being required to stand in line outdoors basically for all service regardless of weather conditions, including server weather, a prisoner should have a moral right to have protection let alone a constitutional right. Yet Mr.Stirling, wonders why prisoners have so much hostility toward his staff. YOU ARE FORCING THOUSANDS OF YOUR MEN TO STAND IN RAIN, SLEET, AND SNOW WITH OPEN TOE FOAM CLOGS AND A SHEET FOR A COAT. NO DIGNITY, NO PEACE.
Also indefer to clothing that Mr.Stirling has shown is that of presentation. No longer does the department wash prisoners clothing in detergent, instead prisoners clothing is washed with a odorless soapwater and processed through a machine designed to kill bacteria by way of vibration. The result of this process is body oil remains within clothing and bodyoil excubs from clothing. With no other clothing issued, prisoners live sleep and play in uniforms. No longer are prisoners issued longjohns,T-shirts, or shorts.
FEEDING OF PRISONERS;
South Carolina department of corrections website states that prisoners are fed in accordance with a master menu that is prepared by a nutritionist. Reading it, one will see that it says prisoners are receiving meals like, spaghetti with hot rolls,butter,string beans,cake,tea,or something like meatloaf,steamed rice, blackeye peas,cornbread,juice,cake.
Well not only is this very misleading, but it very much a lie. The state of South Carolina department of corrections no longer adheres to any master menu especially with the staff shortage crisis. Currently prisoners are being fed grounded up bird carcass inwhich they purchase for 30 cent a pound from chicken companies. It is purchased by the prison in bulk and stored in prison warehouse for up to six months and distributed to their prison throughout the state.
Prior to South Carolina prisoners consumeing the bird carcass this product was shipped to pet companies(known as pet grade meat). This bird carcass is served everyday except occasionally when once out the month prisoners may receive tuna, or actual chicken.
Though the USDA approves human consumption of this product, it insists that this product be cooked at higher temps then normal and more thourghly due to high risk of bacterial matters. This important necessity is often forgotten or disregarded due to no supervision of food preparations with the staff shortsge. Untrained prisoners often cook the bird carcass thus many times its raw. When prisoners complain to much about rawness of carcass, prison staff will then gravitize it so one can’t tell color of carcass. With no staff to supervise food the department of corrections no longer includes ingredients such as sugar,salt, or pepper. With staff shortage feeding prisoners has become a free for all with bird carcass and cabbage.With no staff supervision inside chowhall it has become the most hostile spot in the department, with many prisoners not getting fed and conflicts arising. The department nolonger serve its prisoners real beef, or fruit.
As the commissioner of the department Mr.Stirring is aware that a third of his population is at a 6th grade level in education but yet the prison school building that can seat hundreds of prisoners is basically empty with ten or twenty privileged prisoners. Its heart breaking to see so many men grown men who can barely read but desire to but theres no outlet. The state of South Carolina is giving young teenagers 30 40 years then send them back in the hole and deny their mind and soul, growth other then the growth in hostilities towards the ones who stand in their way of ever changing his life for the better. In the thirty years I’ve been incarcerated have I never seen the prison be out of supplies of books for prisoners to read. Now the only books that floataround the ppenitentiary are held together with tape. This abandonment of books and prison library is stsyematic with staff shortage. At all five of South Carolina’s maximum prison their library and school building is serving less then 5% of its population. Each day in South Carolina prisons thousands of men wake up each day with nothing but solitude with the spot they find amongst the chaos around them within the units. With no staff to support any programs the only activity a prisoner will get is the pacing back and forth in the units.
Never in thirty years until now have I ever seen a problem with prisoners having a chance to participate in playing basketball or hand ball, or just sitting under the sun reflecting on self. With no staff, recreation within the entire system is only ever blue moon..
The important fact here is that everybody understands that we are talking about thousands of men with idle hands each day in the belly of the beast and Mr.Stirling is scratching his head asking himself why all his max institutions have uprisings.
Before I get into this topic lets put what ive said in perspective somewhat. Mr.Stirling doesn’t properly cloth his prisoners, he doesn’t properly feed his prisoners, and he doesn’t give them nothing but solitude life, and now he wants to force prisoners in their cell indefinite and while he is forcing you in, he is sealing your only window up,only sunlight out, with steel a piece of slab.O’Yeah lets not forget he just hired Bob off the couch to to be in control of this environment of making sure prisoners stand still while they bury them their sunlight and strip any hope they might have had of change.
The darkness that Mr.Stirling is creating within these units through out his state max prisons has created so much chaos with so many uprising that four of his 5 max prisons are barely standing up and are infested with mold,crabs,stalph,lice and shit I can’t spell.
Picture of prison cell vent in cell where mold and excessive amount of dust blows out that it coats the walls around vent with layers of dustLights,plumbing and air haven’t been repaired. At the McCormick prison they have yet to put lights in any of their showers for the last five years. Thousands of prisoners are issued used stained molded mattress as seen in this photo from a prisoner at McCormick prison.
Bites of bed bugs is a norm for prisoners in SC. they see them as mosquito bites,.In conclusion to this dilemma I can only ensure you Mr.Stirring that your attempt to manage a prison as if its a county jail and have prisoners standing to wait to die in the dark just as if a county prisoners waiting to leave county to go to prisonet then I can ensure you that four of your prisons will be stripped to the ground and i can pretty much predict Bob isn’t going to get off couch to help you pick up the pieaces.
Words by Cole Dorsey of Oakland IWOC:
First, I’d like to say, on behalf of the Oakland Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, how honored we are to be here with you all today and standing up on behalf of the millions of people caught up in the prison or “justice” system and detention facilities within the United States.
We’re out here in conjunction with all the people that are marching in DC on this day with the same message. We have a “justice system” that perpetuates the institution of racism in this country through its targeting of the most marginalized communities: people of color, woman, and the LGBT community.
Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, or IWOC, is a project of the Industrial Workers of the World labor union and is an organization that is a couple of years old now. We now have over 1000 prisoners as union members and as many contacts that we communicate with in prisons across the country. As outside members of IWOC our job is to facilitate the formation of inside branches of the Union. Also to publicize and amplify the voices of prisoners as they relay their conditions and their fights for justice on the inside to those of us on the outside.
We like to think we are picking up the torch of the prisoner union movement that began with celebrated black revolutionary George Jackson when he called for a union for all prisoners.
In my several years in prison I came to realize many things. One of which being that the punitive actions enforced within prisons are designed to break your spirit. From years of solitary confinement, to constant threats against your parole. Also, I realized how greatly the prisons benefitted off the divisions that prisoners create by breaking up into racial gangs which is typical.
Prison and the arbitrary punishments they use is a tool to break your spirit and will to fight. Where any perceived infraction of “the program” that they design for you to adhere to will be swiftly met with severe repercussions that range from: denial of parole, more charges, beatings, and even murder. These are just some of the threats prisoners face when they attempt to confront the system on their own.
Despite this while i was in prison there were several collective actions that we prisoners took. They were all relatively spontaneous though and a reaction to an injustice like not receiving commissary one week so we all refused to lock down after dinner. Or when they refused to let my 8 man cell out for rec time and we decided to flood the whole cell block. Historically prisoners have taken collective action to better their conditions or to fight back. Prison officials always responded the same way by acting as if they would listen and heed our grievances but they only did that to get us back in our cells or stop what we were doing like flooding the cell block. Once all prisoners are locked up again and they feel they have the situation under control they try to single out and identify the “leaders” and use them as an example through severe punishment.
That was exactly why they executed George Jackson. As an outspoken black man, revolutionary, and leader in the Black Panther Party he was considered very dangerous to this system by advocating for a prisoners union that cut across racial divisions. George Jackson knew that prisons only functioned because prisoners went to their prison jobs which predominately are jobs that keep the facilities running from laundry and maintenance, to food production and assembling prouducts for the state or other facilities to use.
The IWW has always advocated that the working classes greatest strength is at the point of production. Thousands of prisoners across the country proved this fact by shutting down 24 prisons across the country last year on Sept 9 which coincided with the 45th anniversary of the Attica uprising. It was the largest coordinated action by prisoners in us history. Led by leaders of the Free Alabama movement, free Ohio movement, and IWOC.
Strike leaders produced a document titled, “Let the crops rot in the fields” in the lead up to the prison strike last year which equated the institutionalization of slavery with the “exception clause” of the 13th amendment. So as slaves were forced to harvest crops by ‘letting the crops rot in the fields’ they meant “don’t go to work” and don’t prop up these institutions of our confinement. That document laid it out in real terms. Whereas during chattel slavery the landowner collected the profits and administered the punishments. After the Civil War and with the addition of the 13th amendment they codified slavery into law. Armed vigilante groups, which evolved and became the police as we know them today, would capture freed slaves on fabricated or wholly made up charges just to return them to the plantations they had supposedly just been freed from. only now they weren’t plantations they were called prisons and administered by the state. That was the back room deal made between northern industrialists and southern landowners so they didn’t lose their workforce. The landowner became the warden and the overseer became the guard.
While the majority of prison jobs are to keep the facilities operating we’ve now increasingly seen large corporations getting into the prison game by seeing the potential profit margins they can secure with a workforce that they pay pennies and in some states don’t pay anything for the work they do. We’re talking about major corporations like the Bank of America, Exxon Mobil and McDonalds. At&t has been outsourcing their unionized workforce since the 90’s not to Mexico, not to India, but right here in the us to prisoners.
One of our leaders, Kinetic Justice, who was a co-founder of the Free Alabama Movement broke it down like this: there is a reason they don’t offer these jobs that they do in prisons to people on the outside in those most affected marginalized communities. Its because they’ve realized these communities are more easily controlled inside prisons. Kinetic’s observation on control is that we are now in an age of increasing “surplus” populations and the government has been using prisons as their solution to that problem.
A notable theorist recently pointed out that “”The purpose of prison is not to reap profits from people’s labor but to warehouse those for whom no profit-making work exists.”
We must see prison, juvenile halls, and immigrant detention centers for exactly what they are, which is a part of the institution of racism in this country and a vital component of the carceral state.
So, with that being said while we support this effort at reform as it was called for by prisoners we also see it as only a strategy in the ongoing war against prisons. So we support reform efforts like this when called for by prisoners at the end of the day we are prison abolitionists. We are revolutionaries.
Through our mutual political education classes and our collective analysis we recognize the prison and detention centers are used as a weapon to continue to subjugate Black and Brown people and women and to continue to perpetuate the institution of racism in this country.
While we’re able to bop white supremacists in the head when they try to rally, combating racism as its codified in the “justice system” will require the mutual aid and support of all of us on the outside by supplying material support when it’s needed, and also by amplifying, and publicizing the voices of all of our brothers and sisters being held in prisons and detention centres and attempting to fight back collectively. Same goes for the over 5 million people on some type of monitoring e.g. probation, house arrest etc. They need our support and solidarity just as well.
While we’re here today in solidarity with you all and the fight to repeal the “exclusion clause” of the 13th amendment let me conclude with this.
Even if the “exception clause” is repealed The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee will continue communicating and organizing with prisoners. We’ll continue building inside union branches and we’ll continue hitting the streets loud and hard when our incarcerated members call on us to. We’ll continue in our work until every single prison, every immigrant detention centre, and every juvenile hall in this country is completely empty.
At Oakland IWOC we are constantly seeking improvement in communication in all forms: online, organizationally, in outreach strategy. Here we are presenting our Bus Stop FAQ – a quarter sheet to hand out in more casual spaces, in plain language. We present this here to share some of our tools towards our vision of a world without prisons, and to make available a format that organizers of other groups might want to use/read/replicate/improve upon.
WHAT IS THE INCARCERATED WORKER’S ORGANIZING
We are workers, students, community and labor organizers,
ex-incarcerated folks, and family members of prisoners who
act upon our share vision of share a common vision of a world
without prisons. We help California inmates build power,
form a union that reaches over the wall, and fight to abolish
prisons everywhere, inside-out and outside-in. IWOC has
chapters across the country, in nearly every major city, and
nearly a thousand prisoners as members.
WHAT IS THIS ABOUT?
We believe that prisons exist to uphold a system of white
supremacy and suppress mass discontent under capitalism.
Prisoners are on the front lines of a war by the “haves” and the
“have-nots”. We believe that a strong, prisoner-led movement
is necessary in order to both fight back in that war, and to end the hyper-incarceration of black, brown, and poor people.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
As outside members we write prisoners, to hear their
concerns, to collaborate on actions, and to project voices into
the outside. We also:
Promote solidarity with prisoner actions, such as with
phone blasts and demonstrations;
Directly support releasees on our jail support nights;
Produce research and writing critical of the U.S.
Organize mutual education workshops, panel
discussions, and social events;
Meet with other groups dedicated to organizing in and
around prisons and the communities they most affect.
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom,
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other,
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
-Assata Shakur, Former U.S. Prisoner
On Friday, March 31, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio advocated the closure of the city’s notorious Rikers Island facilities. The mayor’s decision comes on the heels of a rise in political scrutiny surrounding Rikers. A 2015 civil case resulted in increased federal oversight within the facilities, and stricter measures regarding the use of force. Despite the DOJ’s intervention, at least 35 staffers have faced criminal charges over the last three years.
We recognize that local jail reform activists have a vision beyond the closure of Rikers, and see this as a step forward in their greater plan of bail reform, decriminalization of their communities, and ending mass incarceration. However, setting aside the likelihood of the Lippman Commission’s plan for the closure actually even being fully executed, this move from the establishment is part of an ideological, political and development strategy. It is just the most recent example of the state successfully shifting public opinion without creating actual systemic change. Like realignment in California and the federal order to end private prisons, both of which just moved prisoners around, the Rikers closure is a well-designed smokescreen. It recuperates the political stability and palatability of incarceration while leaving intact all of its violence, injustice, and tragedy.
Over the course of the last year, de Blasio has been one of increasingly few defenders of the facilities. His change of heart preempted Sunday’s release of a 97-page report produced by an independent commision headed by former chief judge Jonathan Lippman. The Lippman Commission has spent the last year trawling data, producing a plan for criminal justice and incarceration reform in New York that is centered on the closure of Rikers. Per the Commission’s report, titled A More Just New York City, closing Rikers would take at least ten years, and involves the construction of a new jail in each borough of the city. Construction of these state-of-the-art new facilities would constitute a 10.6 billion dollar project.
Currently, the ten facilities on Rikers Island are home to over three quarters of New York City’s incarcerated population. Thus its closure will require the city to cut its incarcerated population in half, from around 10,000 to below 5,500. This is to be accomplished, according to the commission’s recommendations, through diversion programs, pre-trial supervision, simplified bail, and raising the age of criminal responsibility. Proponents of the new jails argue that their benefits will include safer conditions for inmates and COs, easier visitation, transportation savings (the facilities will be adjacent to the courthouses that they serve), and also according to the report, will ultimately save the city $1.6 billion annually.
Thus, we see, the closing of the Rikers Island facilities is a strategic position taken by a popular progressive politician in an election year. It is ostensibly motivated by the political weight of the Lippman Commission’s report. However, it is important to understand the historical place of this move, as it plays a larger role in the state’s maintenance of control through carceral violence.
The substantial material motivations of the Rikers closure are profit-driven from several angles. First, the island is prime real estate; development of an airstrip is being explored, plus surrounding and connected development. The Lippman Commission report makes vague reference to each of these development potentials. Given the housing economy in New York, it is easy to see that the land Rikers’ ten facilities sit on is a gold mine for local developers. Second, each site of the new jails will constitute a financial windfall for the city and local investors. How? The city/county will finance these projects through bonds. These bonds are a special kind of financial instrument. They are backed by the “full faith and credit” of the state. This means that they are zero risk investments for the finance capitalists who will be investing in this project. When and if the city reaches the point of planning and financing, it is likely that $10.6 billion will in actuality become a much greater sum. This will result in the necessity for emergency bonds, which will prove even more lucrative.
As we well know, prisons and jails function primarily as part of a system of social control. What we are less apt to recognize is that they also function as investment opportunities for finance capital; part of a ubiquitous flow of money from communities and cities into the hands of private investment firms. Thus the financial burden of prison infrastructure, in this case the new borough jails, is offset and shifted on to the taxpayer and the community at large. The community, mind you, that now has a brand new jail in it, perpetually signifying and reinforcing the universality of carceral control. Not only are Black, Brown and poor white people locked up and strangled as a class, we are also saddled with the cost of that control through convoluted subsidization to the financial sector, landholders, and developers, as well as through austerity.
From the perspective of abolitionists operating in California, we see the Rikers closure as part of a highly effective appeasement strategy. In moments of rising public consciousness about injustice, the state engages in such strategies with the goal of recuperating public complicity. We saw this recently in California’s ‘prisoner realignment.’
Since the 1980s, California has seen an explosion in its incarcerated population due to a variety of legislative moves, most notably its unforgiving ‘three strikes’ law, mandating life sentences for three-time felony convictions. Overcrowding and systemic neglect were a natural result. In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the California system was so overcrowded it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. The case (Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Governor of California, et al., Appellants v. Marciano Plata et al., May 2011) centered on shortage of health care treatment, which in many cases, amounted to outright denial of mental and physical treatment. An average of one inmate per week was dying as a result these conditions. Among other things, the decision required the state to reduce the prison population (then 168,000) by 30,000.
The state’s solution was to pass the Public Safety and Realignment Initiative (AB109) in October of that year. Rather than providing a viable solution, this legislation shifted overcrowding to county facilities, a process referred to as ‘prisoner realignment.’ This legislation, in tandem with a reform to ‘three strikes’ the following year, and the ‘Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act’ (Prop 47) of 2014, created a sufficient picture of progress. Thanks to realignment, Merced county, for example, was able to report an increase in early releases while the average daily population of its two jails remained constant. They continue to operate at 113-146% of their approved capacity. In 2016, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation even had the audacity to boast a drastic decrease in the state’s recidivism rate over three years; but CDCR being California’s state prison system, this data was wholly blind to the drastic increase in people housed in county facilities.
Simply put, realignment was an illusion. Data framing and statistical shades create a false picture of reform by hiding the numbers in other systems. The casual observer finds in realignment all of the trappings of real change and systemic reform — and thus political pressure is alleviated. Meanwhile, in reality, the rate and conditions of incarceration remain the same, or even in many cases worsen. Pretrial detainees in Merced county lament that they would rather be in state facilities where there are a variety of programs available. Many county facilities are unable even to maintain regular AA meetings.
We remain highly critical of the de Blasio administration’s recent political shift, because, to us, it smells the same. Rikers is an institution so legendary in its institutional violence that its maintenance and defense has simply become politically untenable. Its closure, however, changes nothing of substance. This tactic of political subterfuge can actually be seen more easily in the case of the Rikers Island closure than in California’s realignment strategy.
The Rikers Island facilities gained increased scrutiny in recent years through the tragic case of Kalief Browder, a Black teenager who spent three years in jail for allegedly stealing a backpack. During his time at Rikers, Browder was repeatedly beaten and harassed by COs and other inmates, and spent most of his long ordeal in solitary confinement. While incarcerated, Browder also attempted suicide at least 5 times, and was never given psychiatric care. Having maintained his innocence and never been tried nor convicted, he was released in 2013, shortly after his 20th birthday. Painful trauma surrounding his confinement stuck with him, and on June 8, 2015 he took his own life.
Browder’s case would later become the rhetorical center of a movement to reform criminal justice practices in New York. Mayor de Blasio responded to this case by advocating reform in trial procedure, and eventually ending punitive solitary confinement for teenagers. “The death of Kalief Browder was a wake-up call to this city,” de Blasio said. “The number one reason we lost Kalief Browder was because he was held in solitary confinement… and that doesn’t exist anymore.” To city officials, Browder’s case illuminated the atrociously violent conditions of the facilities on Rikers Island, but not the routine criminalization and violence enacted against Black and Brown people, and not the nightmare of incarceration in general. Their strategy and rhetoric shows this clearly.
Browder took his life in the same summer that Michael Brown was murdered by police in Ferguson, Missouri, sparking the wave of uprising that birthed the Black Lives Matter movement. Race and the criminal justice system became increasingly present in popular consciousness. More recently, documentaries like 13th and the forthcoming Kalief Browder Inc. continue to force discussion of white supremacy, and to expose the american system of policing and prisons as an extension of slavery. Thus a political moment arises wherein the closure of the Rikers Island facilities becomes most politically advantageous. The single story of Kalief Browder draws attention not to incarceration, but to Rikers Island. And ultimately its emotional weight becomes something maneuverable to the ideological advantage of political officials. This comes to pass by allowing them to locate systemic violence within this particular institution, thus obscuring its historical necessity as part and parcel to the entire carceral system. As a result, the closing of Rikers is able to signify in the American consciousness a strike against systemic violence, even though it will not result in any change in the conditions and treatment of incarcerated people, and there is no evidence that it will affect rates of incarceration.
In Nov. 2016 Kalief’s brother Akeem Browder told Democracy Now! about the campaign to close Rikers that, “while we’re focused on Rikers what they’re doing is they’re abusing other human beings at other facilities.” In reality, the horrors that Kalief faced are not unique, and are certainly not limited to particular institutions. In the Washoe County Jail in Reno, 13 people have died from either suicide or force exercised by guards in just over two years. Four inmates died in Los Angeles County Jail within nine days just this month. The circumstances of these deaths are kept under wraps. The story of Kalief Browder is not a story about Rikers Island. It is a story about jails and prisons everywhere: a story about the ubiquitous criminalization of Black bodies, and how every facet of the criminal system functions to that end.
When we imagine carceral violence as exceptional and temporary, we are already under a spell. Realignment wove the illusion that carceral violence was a result of bad practice, something that can be fixed with time and electoral politics. The closure of Rikers also perpetuates this fiction, with the added fantasy that carceral violence is specific to the ‘worst’ facilities. But these facilities are not worse. They are the ones that simply happen to have gotten the most attention. Places like Rikers are part of a mythology that the horrors of incarceration are unique to these places that are known for their violence.
This phenomenon becomes perfectly clear in the words of New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm, who says of Rikers Island that, “It has become emblematic of all that is wrong with our criminal justice system.” The simple message at the heart of all this is: when Riker’s is closed all will be well. The rising awareness of racist institutions and systemic violence will then have every reason to recede. If de Blasio’s plan comes to fruition, in fact, there will be a memorial on Rikers Island (surely to be renamed) to commemorate “the legacy of harm inflicted by Rikers Island, especially on people and communities of color.” People will visit this memorial and marvel at our progress, while those very people and communities memorialized continue to face the same atrocious conditions in thousands of nameless facilities across the country. This is how reform operates.
From “All Prisoners are Political Prisoners”:
“The notion that Black political action can be regulated or controlled through an amelioration of material conditions is an old conversation, perhaps the oldest in the world made by imperialism. In every corner of this hemisphere to which our ancestors were brought in chains, slave masters wrote at length about the possibility of preventing rebellion and uprising by providing adequate rations, clothing, rest, and accommodations. A foundational assumption of white supremacy and capitalism is that Black and Indigenous people have no political personhood, and merely react spontaneously to material deprivations. Generations of novelists, scholars, and filmmakers, well into the present, have dutifully replicated the assumptions of slavemasters”
The Oakland chapter of IWOC just keeps growing and deepening. And on the inside? Prisoners stay on the move. Here’s our newsletter on recent developments and upcoming events with the bonus of an original essay sent to Oakland IWOC from inside a CA max facility.
Prisoners in a county level facility yet again take the initiative and organize to press their demands. And in every facility we find demands that are nearly identical, not due to some coordination or conspiracy, but due to the systemic and near uniform disregard for basic living conditions across the state.
Adequate clothing and food. An end to commissary profiteering by vendors. Behavior based solitary as opposed to arbitrary and indefinite solitary. Educational, self-help and religious programs.
From the Riverside organizers inside:
The following is in regards to a peaceful protest in the form of an organized hunger strike in the Riverside County Jails. Said hunger strike will begin at breakfast April 13, 2017 and end at breakfast May 1, 2017 a total of 17 days.
First off, allow us to stress the fact that by no means is this to be considered an attempt to promote or benefit any form of gang, nor is this to be considered gang activity. This is a peaceful request/call for action to all, regardless of race, creed, and classification. This pertains to all prisoners held in Riverside County Jails. We all serve to benefit from any success that may transpire as a result of our collective efforts.
With this in mind we are now reaching out to all like-minded prisoners who are willing and interested in banding together in a united stance of solidarity in order to bring about meaningful forms of change. We respectfully ask anybody that is not taking part in the strike to respect our efforts and show other forms of support by not accepting extra county food. We all have a stake and common interest. In preparation we encourage you to inform and involve your friends and family, have them show their support by calling the jail during our hunger strike to voice their concerns, ask that they get our message out to social media and traditional media and by reaching out to prisoners support organizations to help further push and inspire our efforts.
For their full statement and demands: https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/2017/03/28/hunger-strike-in-riverside-county-jails-begins-april-13-2017/
The Delaware powers that be continue to double down on repression in the wake of a prisoner uprising that involved the taking of hostages and a guards death on February 1, 2017. Brian Sonenstein of the Shadowproof project follows up on the state response as well as speaking to Kim Wilson, (an active abolitionist, scholar and mother of two sons incarcerated in Vaughn) on the history at the facility, the community’s response, and the ongoing organizing.
From the article:
A closer look at the treatment of prisoners post-uprising provides insight into officials’ posture and response to date. Wilson’s sons were not in Building C when the uprising occurred, but she shared some of the things she learned from the community network of families, friends, and loved ones, that exists on the outside.
People were beaten, bones broken and bodies bruised, after law enforcement bulldozed through a barricade of footlockers to retake the dorm. There was little-to-no medical treatment provided to those in need. Some people were unable to get their diabetes medications.
Housing units were occupied by “response teams” of officers clad in riot gear. Cells were searched and property was confiscated, destroyed, and strewn about as officials combed for contraband and potential evidence. One mother told Wilson of strip searches, in which the incarcerated had to stand naked and face taunting officers for hours.
Tues, April 18 , 7pm
The New Parkway, 474 24th St., Oakland
The good folks of Critical Resistance are sponsoring the showing of this acclaimed film at the New Parkway as a benefit for their work as well as leading a post-film discussion. A few IWOC folks will definitely be there to support as well as take part in the post film discussion.
On the film:
A film about the prison and its life in the American landscape.
More people are imprisoned in the United States at this moment than in any other time or place in history, yet the prison itself has never felt further away or more out of sight. The Prison in Twelve Landscapes is a film about the prison in which we never see a penitentiary. Instead, the film unfolds as a cinematic journey through a series of landscapes across the USA where prisons do work and affect lives, from a California mountainside where female prisoners fight raging wildfires, to a Bronx warehouse full of goods destined for the state correctional system, to an Appalachian coal town betting its future on the promise of prison jobs.
For more on the film: https://www.prisonlandscapes.com/
For more on Critical Resistance: http://criticalresistance.org/about/
We’re developing on a lot of fronts…
regularized meetings: 1st and 3rd Tuesdays, (1st Tuesday is open, 3rd is members only)
getting the correspondence work sorted out, developing each others’ skills as writer-organizers
about to have our second internal political education session, “LifeInside”: ex-incarcerated people sharing their knowledge and educating on just what daily life is like inside in a variety of different level facilities (sorry, this on is members only for now)
working groups!: folks are sorting out into the areas to put in that work – outreach, fundraising, media/research, political education
Santa Rita support: we’re about to kick off offering direct material support to releasees and visitors on regular evenings outside Alameda county’s main jail, Santa Rita: hot food, drinks, charged phones, rides to BART, etc. and no proselytizing. Solidarity first! Survival program, mutual aid, building relationships…
And this work we do takes financial support. We’re growing and this work that we have taken on takes money. WE GOT THE HANDS. YOU CAN GIVE US THE TOOLS TO BUILD.
by “Lucio Cabañas”, an Oakland IWOC contact inside a CA max level facility
Salutes and respects to all the members of this society working for a better world. I read your ad at the prison focus newsletter. (Summer 2016)
It seems to me that the prisoner movement in California for real reform is stagnated. We have become dangerously pacified, comfortable, and content.
A few trinkets and privileges were thrown our way and we believed that to be a victory. However; what about real changes?; the California Parole Board (PBH) is still up to its old tricks of denying parole; under false pretences with no hope of a change.
Something that we need to realize is that the “PBH” WILL NEVER REALLY CHANGE: because its whole existence depends in the perpetual slavery of tens of thousands of society’s most marginalized segments of the population. And that is why it keeps denying parole to thousands of eligible slaves. There are plenty of cases where 70 year old men are denied parole; because they represent a danger to society. The irony of the situation doesn’t doesn’t escape my mind; that these same hypocrites turn a blind eye to the killings of brown and black men at the hands of corrupt police.
As long as we the slaves keep showing up to work for free or for an extra lunch bag, we will always be doomed and die as slaves; easily replaced by future lumpen generations. We need to wake up and realize that we are slaves. And second, that we have the keys to our freedom; without our cooperation to willingly provide our free labor the beast will starve to death. Truly speaking, no matter what we did, we don’t deserve a lifetime of slavery, decades of isolation (CDC’s segregation units); and the occasional execution in the killing fields. (At prison yards and the ghettos)
They can twist it any way that they want and sing the same old song: that we are the worst of the worst. But that is the propaganda specifically designed to feed the ignorant masses. At no point in history has this country and racist ruling class had such an obedient, peaceful, ignorant and comfortable slave population where they willingly get up every day to work the fields and sweat shops for free, or for a ridiculous $0.15 cents an hour. Where is our pride, honor, power of reasoning and right to live and die as free men?
What are we waiting for, to be 70, 80, or 90 years old? No fascist regime in the world has ever conceded nothing without a struggle. When every single slave says in one voice “Enough!” I won’t work for free any more as our ancestors did. “Let the crops rot in the field.” That will get their attention, and they will come to the negotiating table; because the plantation can’t afford to be in lock down and lose money.
The U$A’s ~slave~ has been so brainwashed and manipulated that he looks forward to get out of his cage to go to his “work.” And when the master doesn’t open his cage’s door, the slave gets upset and yells. Because he doesn’t care any longer, his warrior spirit has been broken. And if someone comes along and tells him that it doesn’t have to be this way and that he can be “free” of perpetual slavery, the slave would consider this to be dangerous talk. And he will be scared to lose his electronics, jobs, visits, commissary and telephone calls. He has become officially and comfortably institutionalized as a slave.
The slave has been dependent for most of his life; that sometimes, it doesn’t register that he has been treated and spoken to as if he were a child. This is why real history books and TV documentaries with some intellectual value are banned at all these plantations. This information may give the slave the wrong ideas about equality, freedom and justice. The state can’t afford to educate the enslaved population.
So garbage is played 24/7 in our TV sets and the purchase of tablets with unlimited children’s games is encouraged. Those who try to wake up the masses are eliminated or isolated. It all depends on the individual’s capacity to lead and inform about his understanding of the predicament in which we have become entangled. One thing is for sure: he knows that his enemy is not the slave in the cage next door.”