A burgeoning movement for change has been birthed within prisons across the nation. Inmates in at least 17 states were participating in a widespread strike from Tuesday through Sept. 9 as rallies have ramped up for jail reform.
Prisoner groups said they were looking to raise awareness and push for action to address several incarceration issues: forced labor for low wages, poor living conditions, jailhouse deaths, disenfranchisement, limited access to rehabilitation and more. Protest methods — including sit-ins, boycotts and hunger strikes — have been suggested by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, a South Carolina group of prisoners who give help and legal training to other inmates, according to The Guardian. What the strike can mean in real-time is the absence of prison labor in jail kitchens, laundry rooms, corridors and outside lawns.
The strike could potentially become the largest in U.S. prison history, but that came with a high risk of punishment. Prisoners, however, were moving forward by issuing a list of demands, hoping that the end justifies the means.
“Fundamentally, it’s a human rights issue,” a pre-strike statement from Jailhouse Lawyers speak said. “Prisoners understand they are being treated as animals. Prisons in America are a war zone. Every day prisoners are harmed due to conditions of confinement. For some of us it’s as if we are already dead, so what do we have to lose?”
The group also has something to say to other inmates.
“Our collective message to prisoners, stop the violence against each other,” its statement read. “Regardless of race, class or label, we are one. And yes, we are by our very interest a class. We support all prisoners. We support prisoners’ rights to self-defense, but we are promoting a line against senseless collective violence against each other.”
The prisoners have let past events fuel their protest, as well. This year’s strike was spurred by the Lee Correctional Institution riot in South Carolina in which seven inmates died in April. They also have marked the protest dates for Tuesday — the 47th anniversary of the death of well-known Black Panther member George Jackson who was killed while trying to escape prison in San Quentin, California — and Sept. 9 — the 47th anniversary of the Attica prison rebellion in upstate New York.
They said they hope the strike will spur solutions for better conditions behind bars.
“Let this nationwide strike be a wake-up, prisoners will destroy the crops, we will not comply, we will not allow you to exploit our families’ hard-earned dollars anymore,” the statement continued. ” … On behalf of the prisoners nationwide, we thank every supporter out there that’s making our voices heard through their actions of solidarity. Stay vigilant, we will need you more than ever during the strike.”
The group will continue to lobby their demands and organize until solutions come, it said.