Updated Info- Feb 21 Legislative Hearing on Video Visitation

The Tuesday, February 21 hearing is being hosted by the Senate and Assembly Budget Subcommittees on Public Safety. It will be in Room 4203. See below.

JOINT HEARING
PUBLIC SAFETY AND BUDGET AND FISCAL REVIEW

CA SENATE  SUBCOMMITTEE NO. 5 ON CORRECTIONS, PUBLIC SAFETY AND THE JUDICIARY AND CA ASSEMBLY SUBCOMMITTEE NO. 5 ON PUBLIC SAFETY

  • 10:00 a.m. — John L. Burton Hearing Room (4203), CA State Capitol, Sacramento
  • OVERSIGHT HEARING SUBJECT: Looking Through the Screen: The Effects of Video Visitation on County Jail Inmates and their Families
  • SENATOR SKINNER AND ASSEMBLY MEMBER WEBER, Chairs

 

Feb 21 Legislative Hearing on Video Visitation in Jails

This post was updated Feb 16, 2017

On Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 10am in Sacramento, there will be a Joint Legislative Hearing on video visitation in county jails. It will be hosted by the Senate and Assembly Budget Subcommittees on Public Safety.

JOINT HEARING
PUBLIC SAFETY AND BUDGET AND FISCAL REVIEW

CA Senate Subcommittee No. 5 on Corrections, Public Safety and the Judiciary and CA Assembly Subcommittee No. 5 on Public Safety

  • Hearing Subject: Looking Through the Screen: The Effects of Video Visitation on County Jail Inmates and their Families
  • 10:00 a.m. — John L. Burton Hearing Room (Rm 4203), CA State Capitol, Sacramento 95814
  • Chairs: Senator Nancy Skinner and Assembly Member Shirley Weber

Help protect in-person visitation! We believe that there will be an opportunity for public comment. Please consider speaking or providing a written statement if you have experience with in-person or video visitation.

We are in a period when many counties are building or seeking to build new jails.  Some counties are building jails without facilities for in-person visiting.  Instead, they are setting up video-visitation as the only visiting method.  There are many problems with video visitation. In-person visitation is crucial to the well-being of incarcerated people and their families.

Last year, the legislature passed SB 1157 (introduced by Senator Holly Mitchell), to require in-person visiting in county jails, but unfortunately Gov. Brown vetoed the bill. SB 1157 would have allowed counties to install and use video visitation as a supplemental option, but would have protected in-person jail visits from being eliminated and sacrificed to the video visitation industry.

It is important to protect in-person visits for incarcerated people and their loved ones in California jails. We are glad that the CA legislature remains concerned about this issue.

• Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity members will be carpooling to Sacramento on Feb 21st.  Contact: 510.426.5322

• Also, Bernadette Rabuy of the Prison Policy Initiative invites you to contact her if you would like to provide public comment at the hearing  brabuy@prisonpolicy.org.

Below is an extensive list of articles and reports about video visitation from the Prison Policy Institute.

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PRISONERS UNITED of Silicon Valley Thank Each Other & Supporters for a Largely Successful Hunger Strike Against Solitary Confinement

Read full article in SF Bay View (includes video from a TV interview with hunger striker inside the jail)

January 25, 2017

by Mary Ratcliff

In late September, prisoners in the Santa Clara County jails who are part of what they then called the Prisoners’ Human Rights Movement sent a letter to Sheriff Laurie Smith with a list of demands and a notice that in October the inmates would initiate a hunger strike to continue their “peaceful protest to end this torturous practice of solitary confinement and inhumane treatment until there is tangible and meaningful change for all prisoners – most whom are un-convicted pretrial detainees,” they stated.

santa-clara-county-main-jail-yard-by-robert-galbraith-reuters-webIn prisons and jails, prisoners classed in general population are the freest, allowed to exercise on the yard together, as these men are at the Santa Clara County Jail. Solitary confinement is the least free classification and has been identified as torture by the United Nations. The issue was central to this hunger strike. “They isolate me by removing any form of social oxygen,” one prisoner told San Jose Inside. “I come out by myself, I do not interact with nobody else, no card playing, no nothing. When we go out in the yard, we come out one person at a time. We’re in our cells by ourselves. But they’re saying this isn’t solitary.” – Photo: Robert Galbraith, Reuters

The letter begins by recalling the Ashker settlement, the 2015 resolution of a lawsuit against solitary confinement in the state prison system that was initially filed by prisoners and fueled by a series of hunger strikes, the largest in history. Though it didn’t end solitary confinement, it severely limited it and released thousands of prisoners who had suffered the torture of solitary confinement for a decade or more into the relative freedom of general population.

Building on that precedent, the Santa Clara prisoners write: “Currently there are over a hundred prisoners held in solitary confinement throughout Santa Clara County jails.” Then they list their core demands:

  • End meaningless classification review and the biased appeal process;
  • End placement in solitary confinement when there exists no serious rule violation to merit such placement;
  • End the policy and practice of denying prisoners sufficient clothing;
  • End jail profiteering and exploitation of prisoners and their families through contract bidding of commissary vendors based on kickbacks and political incentives for campaign contributions;
  • End recidivism and misappropriation of prisoners’ welfare funds.

In calling the strike, which was inspired by the nationwide prison strikes that began Sept 9, 2016, they wrote to their comrades: “Said hunger strike will begin at 12 midnight on Oct. 17, 2016, and will go on for two weeks, or 14 days. It will end on Oct. 30, 2016, at 12 midnight. This strike is not mandatory, but instead it is highly encouraged to all who are concerned, willing and able.

“We especially reach out to those who are healthy and influential. We lean upon you and ask that you utilize your influence to help further push and inspire this movement through your words and actions by leading through example.

“For those who might not be able to hold up for the full 14 days, it’s OK; just do your best. But this county does not acknowledge a hunger strike until you refuse nine straight meals through the course of three days, so we ask that at a minimum you hold out for four days so that your sacrifice and efforts are acknowledged.”


Santa Clara County Main Jail is the main lockup in Silicon Valley, which is booming economically. So why would a large jail be needed where jobs are plentiful? Silicon Valley is notoriously reluctant to hire people of color regardless of their skills, so, as in nearly all the rest of the country, the wealth gap between rich and poor is huge.

Three hundred prisoners, including many held in solitary confinement, joined the strike. And after only four days, jail officials held a meeting with about a hundred prisoners that resulted in suspension of the strike, which continues.

Three hundred prisoners, including many held in solitary confinement, joined the strike.

“In an unusual turn,” the San Jose Mercury News reported, “the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, the union for the rank-and-file enforcement officers of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, publicly sided with the inmates and released a statement lambasting Sheriff Laurie Smith for not being responsive enough to the protest of conditions ranging from how solitary confinement is doled out to inadequate clothing.”

Now, under their new name, Prisoners United of Silicon Valley, the strikers have issued their own newsletter and topped it with this statement:

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PRISONERS UNITED OF SILICON VALLEY Newsletter #1

Link to full newsletter: http://tinyurl.com/gwhq2hp

PRISONERS
UNITED

OF SILICON VALLEY

December 22, 2016 – Newsletter 1

LETTER OF APPRECIATION

Greetings and solidarity to each other and all who participated in our initial Hunger Strike to end the arbitrary use of solitary confinement and inhumane treatment in Santa Clara County Jails.

Before we set off into the body of this letter we would like to extend our respect and appreciation to all who participated and sacrificed to provoke change. Although we came from diverse backgrounds be it race, religion, color or creed we set out differences aside, inter-locked arms forming a formidable force through civil disobedience in solidarity.

Allow the sacrifices each participant has made be inspiration to others to join in our struggle, allow our peaceful protest to demonstrate the power of unity and the positive changes that can be effected when we view each other not as classification of inmates defined by the color of clothing issued to prisoners by administration but instead as human beings who share the same oppressive conditions.

For decades prisoners have been slammed down in solitary confinement, locked away from education and rehabilitation programs or barred from participating in fellowship of their faith due to administration beliefs … Meanwhile our families are being exploited with practices that amount to price gouging through exorbitant commissary and phone rates. While they survive in a region with rising rent cost plagued by a homeless epidemic in city with ordinances that throws people in jail for having no place to live… Let’s be thankful we have religious leaders and community organizations like De-Bug who rally behind us to champion our cause and see us different, who are the difference, who see us as human beings, who are not persuaded by those in positions of authority whom define us by our allegations and classification rhetoric to pump fear in the heart of the public in their effort to kill our support base when they are preoccupied beating us to death like Michael Tyree … In the spirit of thankfulness perhaps one might consider reaching out to their family and friends letting them know they are appreciated; we appreciate you and yours for your support so Thank You!

Before we bring this letter of appreciation to a close we would like to abreast the prisoner population that our hunger strike has not ended, it has been momentarily suspended. We gave administration (30) days to bring about tangible changes for the benefit of all prisoners. We will continue our efforts until all of our core demands have been met. We will not be duped by the superficial such as movie night and a snack, we must persist as a collective that stands firm on principle. We must not be deluded by a carrot on a stick offered to us by an oppressed system that is fueled by greed and political ambitions.

To prevail in our struggle for prisoners human rights we respectfully ask the prisoner population to exercise diplomacy for it is not in our own interest to engage in combat with one another when we are fighting together to improve our conditions of confinement. We ask those of you who sway influence in our housing unit to work with each other to resolve conflict peacefully by promoting prisoner solidarity. Let’s try not to provide ammunition to the administration that allows them to justify the reasoning for the use of solitary confinement. Our goal is to promote our cause by unifying like-minded people to support our next planned Hunger strike.

In closing, we thank you for your time.

Truly,

PRISONERS UNITED OF SILICON VALLEY

 

Newsletter #1 contents:
Letter Of Appreciation
Official Updates
Recommended Reading
We Are the 13th Amendment! by Jose Valle
Recommended Resources
Write to De-Bug San Jose
Prisoners United of Silicon Valley
Notes
Questionnaire

Download, Read, or Print entire newsletter:
https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.files.wordpress.com/2017/01/prisoners-united-1.pdf

Santa Clara Co. Jail Hunger Strikers Released from Solitary! Hunger Strike Suspended Pending Sheriff’s Fulfillment of Demands

hs-suspended-oct-222016

HUNGER STRIKE SUSPENDED.

Hunger Strikers have been released from solitary with handshakes and hugs. In 90 days, Strikers will be able to downclass in to general population. Additional clothing has been ordered. The sheriff’s department has agreed to subsidize lowering Commissary prices through the Welfare Fund. The Hunger Strike will continue its suspension until lasting changes are met.

The community can still put pressure in the form of a petition to insure lasting change in classification, administration, and Gang Intel both in policy and practice.

Be a part of the process to have lasting change!

Share & Sign the Petition: https://www.change.org/p/support-the-santa-clara-county-jail-hunger-strikers

#debugsanjose #protectyourpeople #hungryforchange

Previous Post- Hunger Strike Announcement/More Info: http://wp.me/p1BB1k-2Ot

“Security/Welfare Checks” – UPDATES and CONTINUED CALL FOR LETTERS, Oct. 2016

STOP SLEEP DEPRIVATION in CA Solitary Units
End the “Security/Welfare Checks”

from the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition (PHSS) Committee to End Sleep Deprivation

Please read the below update and write letters to Lindsay Hayes, the suicide expert who’s endorsed this harmful practice by CA Dept. of Corrections. Hayes can stop the “security/ welfare checks.” We want Hayes to hear the voices of the women and men affected by these torturous checks, and we ask you to be the messengers.

Use these templates and prisoner quotes, and send to the listed addresses:

Write to:
Lindsay M. Hayes

40 Lantern Lane
Mansfield, MA 02048

Copy to:
Matthew A. Lopes, Jr.
Pannone Lopes Devereaux & West LLC
317 Iron Horse Way, Suite 301
Providence, RI 02908

If possible, send us a copy of your letter, either by U.S. mail or email:
PHSS Committee to End Sleep Deprivation
P.O. Box 5692
Eureka, CA 95502
phssreachingout@gmail.com

The negative health consequences of inadequate sleep ha[ve] been extensively documented and nowhere in the literature is there a report on as severe a disruption in sleep as is occurring in the Pelican Bay SHU.”
– Dr. Jamie Zeitzer, internationally recognized sleep expert, Oct. 2015

October 14, 2016 UPDATES and CONTINUED CALL FOR LETTERS
to people inside and out prison walls

Guards are jarringly waking prisoners in solitary confinement every 30 minutes in the name of “security/welfare checks” throughout all CA prisons’ isolation units. Loudly disturbing and waking people every 30 minutes is serious, ongoing sleep deprivation, a debilitating, internationally-condemned form of torture. These “security/welfare checks,” purported to be for ‘suicide prevention,’ are being used as a blanket practice, whether prisoners are suicidal or not, and despite the fact that denial of sleep is devastating for the human mind and body.

We know that the “checks” began in Central CA Women’s Facility (CCWF) Condemned Units on May 18, 2014 and in Pelican Bay State Prison Security Housing Units (PB SHU) on August 2, 2015, despite the fact that suicide rates are low in those units; none in over 20 years and one in 11 years, respectively. Considering the harm and agony of sleep deprivation, the effects of these checks run counter to their purported purpose. Sleep expert Zeitzer and psychiatrist Kupers concluded people suffering from them may be at a higher suicide risk than before these checks began.

Our Committee to End Sleep Deprivation has received a flood of letters from people enduring the checks in California’s SHU’s, Ad Seg, and Psychiatric Units, explaining their suffering and trauma. Letters have come from Calipatria State Prison, CCI Tehachapi, Central CA Women’s Facility, CA Institution for Men, CSP Corcoran, Deuel Vocational Institution, CSP Sacramento (“New Folsom”), High Desert State Prison, Pelican Bay State Prison, SATF Corcoran, and Salinas Valley State Prison.

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Oct. 15 Merced, CA: Day of Action in Support of Hunger Strikers

ON SEPTEMBER 9TH, people incarcerated in the county jail in Merced, California, located in the Central Valley, in conjunction with the nationwide prison strike that began on the 45th anniversary of the Attica Uprising, issued a set of demands to jail staff. They demanded the firing of a brutal sheriff, Lt. Moore, access to baseline calories per day and proper legal resources, an end to forced dress out in gang colors and classifications, an end to solitary confinement, and much more.

Inmates at Merced County Jail have long had to live with brutal staff and horrible conditions. Almost monthly, guards have carried out raids which have left various inmates injured from projectile weapons. Many inmates at the county jail haven’t even been found guilty of a crime and are simply waiting for court and cannot afford to bail out. For many locked up in Merced, their only crime was being poor.

Day of Action in Support of Hunger Strikers
Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016
12 Noon – 2:00pm
Merced Main Jail, downtown
700 W. 22nd St.
Merced, CA 95340
Caravan from Bay Area

The response to the historic hunger strike, which quickly spread throughout the facility, from jail staff was more repression, lockdowns, and cutting off access to phones. When asked for a comment on the hunger strike, Sheriff Vern Warnke replied to people standing up to his department’s attacks on basic humans rights, “This isn’t a country club. If they don’t like being here then quit getting arrested!”

After a series of negotiations with prison staff that went no where and was designed to end the strike ended, inmates again went back out on hunger strike in early October. Some inmates have also remained on strike since mid-September.

As people on the outside, we need to show solidarity with those on hunger strike in Merced. Towards this end, people across Northern California will converge in Merced on Saturday, October 15th at 12 Noon, at the downtown Merced Jail located at 700 W 22nd St to show support with the hunger strikers and connect with friends and family of those locked inside.

For people in the Bay Area, a carpool/caravan is being organized at the West Oakland BART station starting at 8:30 AM and will be leaving at 9 AM for Merced.

Support the #PrisonStrike. Victory to the hunger strikers in Merced!

Contact for more info: victoria@mopmerced.org

Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/313453359035353/

Caravan from Oakland to Merced: https://www.facebook.com/events/316195602089381/

DYING TO LIVE Wisconsin Hunger Strike 65th day, Prisoners Justice Day Aug 10th, Nationwide (U.S.)Work Stoppage Sept 9th

DYING TO LIVE Hunger Strike Continuesdying to live flier for july 5th.png

The Dying to Live Hunger Strike in Wisconsin has gone on for 65 days! Strikers demand an end to indefinite solitary confinement, what the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (WI DOC) calls Administrative Confinement (AC). On June 17 the DOC requested and got approval to force feed the hunger striking prisoners. Cesar DeLeon and LaRon McKinley began refusing food on June 7, and the WI DOC has been force feeding them in retaliation since June 17.

A coalition of supporters led by Milwaukee IWW Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee are mounting a big solidarity demo on Aug 13th and calling for support actions elsewhere. Read about that here.

Prisoners’ Justice Day – August 10thjustice-day

Today, August 10, hundreds of events across Canada and the world, in solidarity with the Canadian Prisoners’ Justice Day, a day of mourning, remembrance, advocacy and protest.

Prisoners’ Justice Day is a day set aside to remember all the men and women who have died unnatural deaths inside Canadian prisons. August 10th marks the anniversary of the suicide death of Edward Nalon in a segregation cell in Millhaven Penitentiary on Aug. 10, 1974. History here.

Advocates as well as prisoners themselves have also marked the day to bring much needed attention to issues such as the conditions inside prisoners, the harmful practice of segregation or solitary confinement, the unnatural deaths, lack of access to medication and mental health services, and other justice and rights issues.

The day helps bring a voice to some of the stories of injustice and human rights abuses that occur within the prison system and may otherwise not receive much attention. The day brings critical attention to the fundamental rights of prisoners.

Some of the issues that are advocated for include access to proper heath care, fair legal representation behind prison walls and standing up against the inhumane conditions of solitary cells, often referred to as Special Handling Units.

What started as a one time event behind the walls of Millhaven Prison has become an international day of solidarity. On this day, August 10th, prisoners around the world fast, refuse to work, and remain in their cells while those of us on the outside organize to show our solidarity with those struggling behind the bars, to show that they are not forgotten and to draw attention to the conditions inside prisons.

Read More here: http://www.cdnaids.ca/prisonersjusticeday-august10th

SEPT 9, 2016 Prisoner Work Stoppage

Sept9Strike

Prisoners across the US have called for a nationally coordinated work stoppage and protest starting on Sept 9 2016, the 45th anniversary of Attica. The safety of these prisoners and the effectiveness of the protest depend greatly on outside support. There is a robust and expanding outside support network that you or your organization could join to participate in this, the first prisoner protest of its kind.

People throughout the country are mobilizing for the upcoming September 9 strike (work stoppage), from NYC to Durham to Oakland. This week, at Ohio State Penitentiary, Imam Siddique Abdullah Hasan, one of the key spokespeople for the Sep 9 movement, was visited by Ohio State Highway Patrol.

In Spring of 2016, prisoners from across the U.S. released this call to action for a nationally coordinated prisoner work stoppage against prison slavery to take place on September 9th, 2016. Get their full announcement as a zine PDF. En Espanol or mailroom friendly

This is a Call to Action Against Slavery in America

In one voice, rising from the cells of long term solitary confinement, echoed in the dormitories and cell blocks from Virginia to Oregon, we prisoners across the United States vow to finally end slavery in 2016.

On September 9th of 1971 prisoners took over and shut down Attica, New York State’s most notorious prison. On September 9th of 2016, we will begin an action to shut down prisons all across this country. We will not only demand the end to prison slavery, we will end it ourselves by ceasing to be slaves.

Read Full Announcement here: http://tinyurl.com/oa7m2vt

If you’re planning something in connection with the September 9th work stoppage and protest, please share it with prisonerresistance@gmail.com

 

LETTER WRITING LAUNCH to end harmful “security / welfare checks”

STOP SLEEP DEPRIVATION in CA Solitary Units in Pelican Bay SHU and Women’s Death Row

Please write letters to Lindsay Hayes, the suicide expert who’s endorsed this harmful practice by CA Dept. of Corrections.  Hayes can stop the “security/welfare checks.” We want Hayes to hear the voices of the women and men affected by these torturous checks, and we ask you to be the messengers.

Use these templates and prisoner quotes, and send to the listed addresses:

 Write to:
Lindsay M. Hayes

40 Lantern Lane
Mansfield, MA 02048

Copy to:
Matthew A. Lopes, Jr.
Pannone Lopes Devereaux & West LLC
317 Iron Horse Way, Suite 301
Providence, RI 02908

If possible, send us a copy of your letter, either by U.S. mail or email:
PHSS Committee to End Sleep Deprivation
P.O. Box 5692
Eureka, CA 95502
phssreachingout@gmail.com

The negative health consequences of inadequate sleep ha[ve] been extensively documented and nowhere in the literature is there a report on as severe a disruption in sleep as is occurring in the Pelican Bay SHU.”
– Dr. Jamie Zeitzer, internationally recognized sleep expert, Oct. 2015

Guards are jarring prisoners awake every 30 minutes, all day and night, in Central California Women’s Facility death row and in Pelican Bay SHU with noisy so-called  “security/ welfare checks,” causing severe sleep deprivation. These checks are purported to be ‘suicide prevention,’ yet are being used as a blanket practice, whether prisoners are suicidal or not, and despite the fact that denial of sleep is devastating for the human mind and body.

This is torture. We are being emotionally, mentally and physically battered by the security checks throughout the nights.” 20 death row prisoners in Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF)

People need sleep for survival, mental and physical health and well-being, and to organize for their human rights.

Continue reading

Prison Labor Strike in Alabama: “We Will No Longer Contribute to Our Own Oppression”

Prison Labor Strike in Alabama: “We Will No Longer Contribute to Our Own Oppression”

http://solitarywatch.com/2016/05/05/prison-labor-strike-in-alabama-we-will-no-longer-contribute-to-our-own-oppression/

Jack Denton – May 5, 2016

Despite being held in solitary confinement for years, men known as Kinetik, Dhati, and Brother M, primary leaders of the Free Alabama Movement, have been instrumental in organizing a statewide prison work stoppage in Alabama that began on Sunday, May 1. Currently, the prison labor strike has begun at Alabama’s Holman, Staton, and Elmore Correctional Facilities. St. Clair’s stoppage will begin on May 9, with Donaldson and other correctional facilities to follow soon after. The current plan is for the work stoppage to last 30 days, although the Movement’s leaders said the length of the strike is contingent on the cooperation of legislators in regard to reforming the prison labor system and the conditions of the prisons. The Free Alabama Movement is an activist network of incarcerated men, spanning numerous state prisons across Alabama.

Participants report that, apparently in retaliation against the work stoppage, the entire populations of the striking prisons have been served significantly smaller meal portions this week, a tactic called “bird feeding” that is sometimes used by prison guards to put pressure on prisoners through malnourishment. “They are trying to starve a nigga into compliance,” said one man, who estimated that his meals had been reduced by more than 60 percent of his normal serving size. Prisons that have not begun striking, but are soon scheduled to, like St. Clair, are also allegedly being bird-fed. “The food is always garbage,” said one man, “but it’s usually a lot more than this.”

Additionally, the entire populations of Alabama’s striking prisons–including the general prison population not usually in 23 hour a day segregation–have been placed in indefinite solitary confinement. A statement released by the Alabama Department of Corrections calls this a “lockdown with limited inmate movement” that will persist “while ADOC investigates the situation.” Holman was also placed on lockdown in March following an uprising in which a correctional officer and the warden were stabbed after intervening in a fight, and prisoners briefly set fire to hallways.

The prisoner work stoppage is a nonviolent protest against many of the conditions in Alabama’s prisons, especially against the unpaid prison labor that makes money for private companies and the state of Alabama. During the stoppage, Alabama’s incarcerated will refuse to leave their cells to perform the jobs that they usually perform each day for little to no pay. These range from the many jobs that allow the prison to function (such as serving food) to “industry” jobs (which allow private companies to profit off of prison labor). These “industry” jobs are the only jobs in Alabama prisons that pay at all, though the pay rates are negligible, ranging from $0.17 to $0.30 an hour.

At Holman, the industry jobs are done at the tag plant that makes license plates for the state of Alabama and the sewing factory that makes sheets and pillowcases for Alabama’s state prisons. Elmore contains a canning and recycling plant, and St. Clair contains a vehicle restoration and chemical plant that, according to the Free Alabama Movement, produces more than $25 million worth of chemicals a year.

The use of prison labor in Alabama by private, for-profit companies was legalized by the Alabama state legislature in 2012. “We are going to put our prisoners to work. They are going to be paid a reasonable wage,” Alabama state representative and bill sponsor Jim McClendon told AL.com at the time. Since then, Alabama has developed 17 different prison labor industries at correctional facilities across the state.

Alabama’s incarcerated are regularly charged what they call “outrageous fines” and fees, despite the fact that they are paid nothing, or only a few cents an hour, for their labor. “Our mass incarceration is a form of slavery, because we’re not being paid for our work, but we’re being charged outrageous fines,” one man told Solitary Watch. Required fees include $4 for armbands, $4 for identification cards, and $31.50 for a urinalysis test. Prisoners are charged $200 to petition a court, which is their only way to file a complaint, since Alabama’s prisons have no grievance procedure.

Incarcerated individuals are also charged $25 dollars for being caught with a cell-phone the first time, $50 the second time, and $75 the third. The fine goes up by $25 each time, despite the fact that correctional officers sell the phones to prisoners, and that the phones are primarily used by the incarcerated to contact their families. These families are required to cover the costs of these fines and fees incurred by their loved ones inside, since prison labor is unpaid or barely paid. “This is extortion; there’s no other way to put it,” said another man.

The Free Alabama Movement is not just hoping for change in the practices of their individual facilities, but for legal change in Montgomery. “Our problem is with the legislature,” Dhati told Solitary Watch. “No one within these facilities can resolve these issue for us. We have a spokesperson outside of prison that will give our demands to the state legislature for us.”

That spokesperson is Kenneth Sharpton Glasgow, a Dothan, Alabama, pastor and the younger brother of Al Sharpton. Glasgow is the director of The Ordinary People’s Society (TOPS), a nonprofit that serves as a halfway house for many people recently released from Alabama prisons, providing them food, housing, addiction counseling, and job training. Glasgow has long been an advocate for incarcerated people, having once served 15 years himself on drug-related charges. During the work stoppage, Glasgow said, “I am the advocate for the Free Alabama Movement…I am here to make sure their voices are heard.”

Last Thursday, Glasgow visited the statehouse in Montgomery to speak to state legislators about the work stoppage and the Movement’s demands. Glasgow told Solitary Watch that he will also be back in Montgomery later this week. He said that he had already received supportive comments from the state legislature’s Democratic caucus.

When reached for comment, the Alabama Department of Corrections refused to answer specific questions, but pointed to a press release sent out on Monday, May 2, that alleged, despite Glasgow’s advocacy as a spokesperson for the Free Alabama Movement, that the DOC had not been “given any demands, or a reason for refusing to work.”

A statement from the Free Alabama Movement, that they said was sent to the Alabama DOC on Monday, makes it clear that their chief demand is the abolition of unpaid prison labor, which they consider to be slavery. The work stoppage is “about the 13th Amendment, the Alabama Constitution of 1901 and the Statutory Laws discriminatorily enacted from both,” the document states. Currently, the text of the 13th Amendment of the Constitution outlaws slavery for all “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” Other demands include the improvement of the unsanitary living quarters and drinking water in Alabama’s prisons, and the creation of a grievance procedure in Alabama’s prisons. “We will no longer contribute to our own oppression,” Kinetik said. “We will no longer continue to work for free and be treated like this.” Dhati called the nonviolent work stoppage “an economic solution to an economic problem.”

What the movement calls their “deplorable conditions of confinement” refers not only to the cleanliness of the cells, but also to the negligence those in solitary confinement experience. Every cell in the solitary confinement unit at Alabama’s Holman State Correctional Facility is equipped with a call button, to be used to summon prison guards for help in an emergency. Despite their apparent function, these buttons fail to send a signal to the guards or elsewhere, so prisoners’ requests for help often go unheeded.

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