Report back from community members in North Carolina who showed up to support a prison strike action organized by prisoners across racial lines on the inside.
On August 20th, 2018 at 2:00pm, supporters rallied at Hyde Correctional Institution in eastern North Carolina to make noise in support of the strike actions of prisoners and to let them know they are not alone. Dozens of supporters gathered outside the prison’s barbed-wire fences with pots and pans, drums, whistles, and held signs and banners while chanting to the prisoners who were outside in the yard.
August 21st begins a nationwide prison strike set to last until September 9th. In at least 17 states, people in prison will participate in work strikes, sit ins, boycotts and hunger strikes in pursuit of national and regional demands. North Carolina prisoners are participating in the strike across the state, including at Hyde, Lanesboro and Central prisons. Statewide, outside support events are scheduled for August 21st, 22nd, and 23rd in Asheville, Durham and Chapel Hill. Supporters emphasize the importance of publicity for protecting prisoners from repression from prison authorities, and demand that no one face retaliation for their participation in the strike. Nationally, 158 organizations have publicly endorsed the strike and committed to support those inside prisons who participate.
“Many of the prisoners gathered on one side of the yard and began waving their hands as protestors waved back. Supporters later heard that many of the prisoner’s eyes welled up with tears at the strong show of support from people outside the fence.”
Demands made by people in prison in North Carolina focus on the use of solitary confinement, the treatment of prisoners with mental health diagnoses, policies on mandatory minimum sentences and parole eligibility, the SRG (Security Risk Group) policy and the extreme restrictions it places on classified prisoners, a $10 fee for write ups, private contract companies working with NC prisons, and the lack of educational and rehabilitation programs. Issues regarding compulsory and low paid prison labor, described by prisoners and outside supporters as slave labor, are central to the prisoner strike, both nationally and in North Carolina.
During the rally, the ten demands of the Hyde prisoners joining in the nationwide prison strike were read aloud. Chants and cheers filled the air. Drums and horns echoed loudly across the yard. Protestors held signs reading, “Solidarity with strikers” and “End long-term seg.” Long-term segregation is a policy used in North Carolina prisons and nationally, which can lead to solitary confinement for long periods of time. These cells are typically sound proof and inmates can remain in those spaces for 23 hours per day. This sign expressed a central concern for North Carolina prisoners, who demand an end to “all forms of long-term solitary confinement.” Another sign held was in support of the prisoners plan to refuse forced and under-compensated labor within the prison, which many view as an extension of slavery.
Many of the prisoners gathered on one side of the yard and began waving their hands as protestors waved back. Supporters later heard that many of the prisoner’s eyes welled up with tears at the strong show of support from people outside the fence. Hyde prisoners had prepared three banners on bed sheets and hung them on the yard fences. One banner said the word ‘Parole’ in black and red ink, expressing prisoners’ desire to re-establish the possibility of parole for all NC inmates.
It was an incredibly moving experience to connect with prisoners in this way. While some prison guards tried to silence and direct the demonstrators off the grass, the protestors only yelled louder. After about a half hour, prison guards slowly moved prisoners inside, and the caravan of supporters left feeling stronger together, knowing that prisoners on the inside felt stronger too.