Florida Prisoners Set to Strike January 15th Against Prison Slavery

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This January prisoners in Florida will continue to build on the momentum of nearly two years of uprising and rebellion, launching a statewide strike on January 15th. We had the opportunity to speak with one of the organizers from within a Florida facility. The interview is brief but powerful.

According to Fight Toxic Prisons

[T]hese prisoners plan to initiate a work stoppage or “laydown” beginning Monday, January 15th, coinciding with MLK Day, in nonviolent protest of conditions in FL prisons. They are calling it Operation PUSH.

Their primary demands are clear and concise: end prison slavery, stop price gouging, and fully return parole. They believe these issues have directly created the overcrowding that is responsible for the deplorable conditions in Florida prisons.

Their statement also raises other major issues that need to be grappled with, including the death penalty, voting rights and environmental health conditions.

From the communication we have received, these prisoners claim to represent thousands in at least eight facilities already. And say they are prepared to “stay down indefinitely” until someone addresses their concerns. 

Among many grievances, the strike centers on several demands:

1. Payment for our labor, rather than the current slave arrangement
2. Ending outrageous canteen prices
3. Reintroducing parole incentives to lifers and those with Buck Rogers dates

In our engagements with prisoners it is important to remember their self determination and approaches to resistance may not always mirror our own on the outside. Our conversation below included a question about previous uprisings in the Florida prisons and the answer may not reflect our own ideas about what is or is not the best approach to resistance. At the end of the day, we’re on the outside and they’re on the inside. It is for the people within the prison walls to determine how best to approach liberation and it is for us to find ways of supporting them, looking for where our struggles for liberation intersect.

Please support Fight Toxic Prisons in spreading the word about Operation PUSH, you can donate to Operation PUSH on YouCaring.

We’re extremely excited to continue to share interviews with people from inside prisons and without any further ado:

Bloc Party: Start by telling us a little about the network of people organizing this protest without giving up anonymity, to help us understand who you are and what experiences you had that lead you here?

Florida Prison Organizer: Operation PUSH, is the network of people organizing this protest. We are a newly founded group who set out to educate all inmates within the FDOC. Most of us inmates, if not all, are aware that we’re being taken advantage of, but some of us don’t know the extent. You’ll do us no injustice if you address us as veterans who has been in the system for quite awhile and has experienced all hardships unimaginable.

Bloc Party: The call out for the upcoming protest on January 15th, calls for prisoners to lay down on MLK day this year. What do you mean by that? What does the protest entail?

Florida Prison Organizer: 
It means to willfully give up our privileges, like making phone calls, buying canteen, visits, and not attain to work assignments.

Bloc Party: We have heard that you are coordinating this protest among prisoners at eight prisons in the Florida prison system. What kind of participation are you expecting?

Florida Prison Organizer: We’re expecting all inmates throughout the state to be in one accord, and act as a unit. Also to be determined to bring changes no matter the cost by standing around doing nothing.

Bloc Party: Earlier this year, we saw uprisings across Florida prisons that resulted in the whole corrections system being put on lock down on Sept 2016. During the national prison strike, prisoners at several Florida facilities participated with media reporting that hundreds at the Holmes facility caused infrastructural damage to almost every dorm in the facility. How has the repression that has followed these uprisings impacted your current planning and tactics?

From SPARC, Supporting Prisoners And Real Change, a platform for Florida prisoners and their families to support each other and organize for change.

Florida Prison Organizer: Violence and destructions is not the answer so we’re taking a different approach. Our intentions are to have a peaceful demonstration and simply refuse to work, and buy canteen, visitation, and phones. Use our economical power. These “privileges” are a facade which help them more than it does inmates by boosting their revenues. Boycotting them may temporarily seem like creating burdens for ourselves, but that sacrifice now is worth having a better tomorrow. Or future.

Bloc Party: In the call out for the strike, you say, “If we show them violence they will have a legitimate excuse to use brute force against us and explain to the public that they had to use brute force in order to contain the situations. However, their weakness is their pocket.” Will you elaborate on this tactical decision?

Florida Prison Organizer: In the past violence and destruction has not achieved the desired results. It has only afforded the authorities an excuse to use brute force and portray a negative picture of the inmate population making us appear to be uneducated, violent, and our issues frivolous redirecting the focus of the demonstrations to their advantage. Our power lies in economics, if we Boycott work and give up our so called privileges, it will have a negative impact on the revenue inmates generate through Labor and excessive fees and force change.

Bloc Party: You call for “all organized groups as well as religious systems to come together on the same page.” Are you having any success in convincing prisoners to set aside their racial differences, religious differences or affiliation differences? How divided is the prison population there and what are you doing to build unity?

Florida Prison Organizer: Absolutely! We’ve seen tremendous success on bringing everyone together. Actually, it was easy to convince those organized groups, because anyone who is affiliated has rules to abide by, convince their leaders and the rest will follow. That’s why we spend most of our time educating others , help them see pass their own blindness. After all, the inmates population within the FDOC are not divided as they portrait them to be, all of us knows that we’re all we got, it’s always us against them

Bloc Party: What can people on the outside do to help you with the protest?

Florida Prison Organizer: Help us reach other prisoners with this plan, because it’ll take all of us as a whole to create this platform so our voice can be heard.

Bloc Party: What else do you want us to know?

Florida Prison Organizer: Basically we are open to helpful suggestions and are very appreciative of all support.

For updates on the Florida Prison Strike, keep an eye on Fight Toxic Prisons and It’s Going Down and follow SPARC on Facebook.We also encourage you to share these images posted in this article on social media.

Now we have some news from the bloc.

On Christmas eve, a prisoner in Texas started a fire in his prison cell after his mother was turned away from visitation for wearing “tight jeans.” This beautiful and tragic act of desperation and rebellion, as well as the thousands of others that took place in prisons across the country that day that we will never hear about, have a lot to teach us out here. It is easy to sensationalize these acts of rebellion, but we hope people can step back and take an honest look at these deeply human moments that we often only catch glimpses of through the bars.

Kite Line, a podcast focusing on prison issues in Indiana, the Midwest and beyond, focused in its most recent episode on a 2016 book called Rightlessness by Naomi Paik. “Her work addresses the most pressing contemporary issues, drawing together the brutal state of exception imposed on Haitian and Muslim prisoners in Guantanamo with the historical experience of Japanese internment camps and the current anti-immigrant drive.” Paik states, “Rightless people and detainees speak out all the time, but we are not hearing them. And I think that is the essential kind of core component of what constitutes rightlessness.”

In their first two episodes of the month, Kite Line focused on PREA (the Prison Rape Elimination Act) in a two-part series on the law and its impact on prisoners. With in-depth interviews with prisoners who have been affected by the law which effectively bans all forms of touch between prisoners, they explore the harmful implications of this seemingly progressive legislation.

“PREA is used more harshly against people who are willing to show affection toward each other inside of here than it is for the actual prison rape. I’ve just seen it be used as punishment. I’ve never seen a situation where the person who is considered the ‘victim,’…they’re not treated like the victim. They’re pretty much treated like…you did something wrong.”

Meanwhile, Prison Legal News recently released an article analyzing a 2016 report from the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault and the Prison Justice League (PJL) which found that Texas prison staff often ignore reports of rape. In one particular survey conducted by the PJL, “58.9% of the survey respondents [who reported being sexually assaulted in prison] said they had been sexually assaulted by staff.” Read the full report for details.

Over in North Carolina, the prison system is continuing to show signs of instability. Following a riot at the Pasquotank Correctional Institution in October that resulted in the death of four prison employees, those in power in the state are attempting to reorganize their unstable control mechanisms. Bob Steinberg, a Republican lawmaker in the North Carolina House of Representatives recently wrote an op-ed piece for the North State Journal alleging that employees of the Department of Corrections in his state have been reporting to him about “what amounts to a ‘secret society’ that exists within a closed circle of management…that protects the misdeeds of those in power from ever being reported.”

Steinberg goes on to report that “there is little or no trust by correction officers in management. Correction officers and other prison staff are beyond frustrated by the continuing downward spiral within the system, including the lack of adequate security and support for them to do their jobs properly as well as a lack of training for newly recruited officers.”

Two elements that contribute to the destabilization of a prison are poor relationships between the administration and guards and, secondly, prison administrations that function without transparency, accountability and clarity of purpose. In the book States of Siege: U.S. Prison Riots 1971-1986, a study of U.S. prison riots and collective action, the authors write, “Well-managed prisons, with adequate staffing and physical resources, perpetuate a feeling among inmates that the system conforms to reasonable standards of imprisonment.”

On the other hand, they continue, “When stability and uniformity are not present, inmates look to other standards to judge their conditions…” These “other standards” can be those purposed by politicized elements within the prison population, or outside political elements attempting to spread their views within the prison. They go on to say, most notably, that “perhaps most important, where administrators and guards are powerful, unified and competent, the conditions of imprisonment themselves seem more legitimate; the captors are seen as authoritative rather than merely powerful. On the other hand, where various actors in the prison structure are, or view each other as, fools, incompetents or rascals, the appearance of legitimacy and the competence (and the two always go together) dissipates.”

Based on these indicators, it would appear that the North Carolina prison system is facing some potential threats to its stability and is vulnerable to external factors which might have the capacity to take advantage of that instability.

The uprising at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in February, 2016 offers another recent historical example of how these elements can lead to prison uprisings. For an in-depth analysis of these factors and others, see the State of Delaware’s full report on the security issues that led to the Vaughn uprising.

Political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz has recently been transferred to SCI-Dallas in Dallas, Pennsylvania.  According to the blog New Afrikan 77, “At 3:30 AM on December 12th, Maroon was told to pack. He was on the road by 5am arriving at SCI-Dallas at 7:30pm. Sharon spoke with Maroon yesterday and he was doing very well. The reason given was that Maroon has a single cell status and there are no new single cells in at the new prison – SCI-Phoenix. Family and friends are disappointed by the long distance it will now take to visit.”

Maroon’s new address is below. Drop him a letter of encouragement during this time of transition.

Russell Maroon Shoatz #AF-3855
SCI-Dallas 1000 Follies Rd,
Dallas, PA 18612

Malik Washington, a Texas prisoner, wrote an informative and touching article both carefully documenting and also memorializing the suicide of a friend of his named Benjamin Larue  at the Eastham Ad-Seg Unit in Lovelady, Texas. Malik was housed in the cell directly above Ben and witnessed the negligence of the guards and mental health staff to this suffering and mentally ill prisoner. Malik writes, “Remember, I had a bird’s eye view and I was fully awake, watching and listening, because Ben was my friend and his life mattered!” Although the article is long and detailed, it is worth taking a moment to slow down and absorb.

Take a minute to reach out to Malik and thank him for his powerful essay and for looking out for his friends:

Keith “Malik” Washington #1487958
Eastham Unit
2665 Prison Rd 1
Lovelady TX 75851.

The new episode of Rustbelt Abolition Radio spotlights a new book by Kelly Lytle Hernández, abolitionist writer and professor of History and African American studies at the University of California-Los Angeles. Her book is entitled City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles. In it, Hernández “reveals the underlying logic of elimination and conquest that is foundational to our settler colonial society by interrogating the construction of the settler-carceral state over two centuries.” Check it out.

In Delaware, there has been some progress on two civil suits that came in the aftermath of the uprising there in February. On December 15, it was announced that the State of Delaware had settled a lawsuit with guards and staff injured during the riot, including the family of officer Steven Floyd, who was killed by prisoners. The 11 plaintiffs in the case will split the $7.55 million settlement.

According to Delaware Business Now, in the lawsuit specific named administrators within the Delaware Department of Correction “were accused of failing to properly fund and operate the Department of Correction and its facilities.” They were also accused “of ‘dereliction’ that led to extreme understaffing, inadequate training and overreliance on overtime by guards who often worked 16-hour shifts, creating dangerous conditions at Vaughn, the lawsuit said.” The Delaware Department of Corrections admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement and continued to allege that the lawsuit against them “lacked legal merit.”

Following the settlement, some have expressed concern that the way the lawsuit was resolved may prevent many important details related to the uprising sealed from the public.

Connie Runyon, the mother of an inmate at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, at a protest weeks after February, 2016 uprising (Photo: Christina Jedra/THE NEWS JOURNAL).

The second civil suit filed in the wake of the riot is a class-action lawsuit on behalf of prisoners at Vaughn. According to Delaware State News, the suit was filed by a prisoner,  Donald Parkell, in late February, and alleges that Parkell and others “were beaten during the hostage rescue and suffered property damage…Additionally, it claims that inmates were unconstitutionally denied medical treatment and religious diets in the wake of the incident.”

On November 9, Deputy Attorney General Joseph Handlon, who represents the state, argued that the 14 page, hand-written civil suit should be thrown out. One of the state’s main arguments was that “state officials named as defendants in the lawsuit are protected from civil liability in the reasonable performance of their jobs.” He writes, “Qualified immunity protects state officials from civil liability when they perform their duties reasonably, and allows them to carry out their duties without the ever-looming fear and distractions inherent in litigation.” We will continue to report on this case as it continues to unfold.

Delaware Law Weekly recently published a detailed article about criminal justice reform legislation expected to be considered in Delaware this year, including the possibility of re-instating the death penalty in the state.

In 2004, Cyntoia Brown was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of a man who hired her as a “child sex slave” when she was 16. Her case has recently gained national attention as the hash tag #FreeCyntoiaBrown spread word of her case and gained such momentum that Kim Kardashian’s lawyers have taken up the case and Rhianna posted something about it on Instagram. Her case is just one of many examples of women sentenced to long prison terms for acting in self-defense against their abusers.

Tuesday, December 19, Brown’s lawyers filed a formal petition with the Tennessee parole board asking for her sentence to be commuted. Additionally, many people have written letters to the parole board in her defense and almost 500,000 have signed an online petition for her release. Petition signers include a judge, a state representative and the mayor of Nashville.

Until next time!


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