Why Prisoners Are Calling for a Strike After Grisly Tragedy in SC

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On April 15th, at the Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina, prisoners were locked inside various units for hours as deadly fights broke out. Guards refused to break up altercations or allow for medical attention, and soon, “gladiator” brawls were taking place across the facility. On inmate that spoke to the Associated Press described the carnage:

An inmate who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity, said that bodies were “literally stacked on top of each other”.

He explained that many cell door locks were already broken before the riot and that prisoners roamed around freely.

Hours after violence broke out, no correctional officers or medical personnel attended to the dead or dying.

“It’s been over two hours, but no COs (corrections officers) have responded to this unit, and no medical personnel have attempted to render any kind of aid,” the inmate wrote to AP.

“The COs never even attempted to render aid, nor quell the disturbance. They just sat in the control bubble, called the issue in, then sat on their collective a**es.”

As the SF Bayview wrote:

On April 15, [violence] erupted at South Carolina’s Lee Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison, where 44 officers were guarding 1,583 prisoners. A quarter of all prison jobs in the state are unfilled.

Seven prisoners died – Eddie Casey Jay Gaskins, Joshua Svwin Jenkins, Michael Milledge, Cornelius Quantral McClary, Damonte Marquez Rivera, Raymond Angelo Scott and Corey Scott – and 22 were seriously injured. Ironically, this is being called the deadliest prison violence in a quarter century, since the Lucasville Uprising on April 11-21, 1993. Lucasville survivors on death row are currently on hunger strike.

“After every incident, prisoners are locked down longer, which leads to more resentment and unrest and more violence, a vicious cycle.”

ABC reports that prisoners cannot even escape the violence by locking themselves in their cells. “ALL of the doors to the cells are broken,” a prisoner wrote.

With deteriorating conditions, lack of access to mental health programs, and growing anger and violence, corruption from guards and other prison staff has exploded, as prisoners fork over massive amounts of cash for access to cell phones, alcohol, cigarettes, or simply food. Moreover, this combination of carrots and sticks is designed to stop prisoners from coming together and fighting back against the prison system, as in recent months prisoners in South Carolina have done.

As the SF Bayview wrote:

A quarrel over contraband having been blamed for sparking the rebellion, on April 18, 14 former guards, a nurse, a groundskeeper and service workers were indicted for taking bribes, wire fraud and smuggling cellphones and cocaine, methamphetamines, marijuana and alcohol into prisons from April 2015 to December 2017.

But beyond just making money off of prisoners, a recent lawsuit also singles out several South Carolina officers, and also charges that they are in-fact gang members themselves, using their positions of authority to force prisoners to engage in sexual acts with them:

Michael Stephen, the prison’s warden, two correctional officers and a department official were sued for violating the prisoner’s civil rights, according to the suit.

Prisoners also claimed two correctional officers were affiliated with a gang and trafficked drugs into the institution, according to the lawsuit. The same officers are accused of engaging in sexual acts with inmates, which at times are not consensual.

In the wake of the bloody massacre, prisoners inside have had enough, and called for a national prison strike to begin on August 21st until September 9th, the anniversary of the Attica Prison uprising.

Currently, the call for a prison strike is making the rounds on social media and in various news articles. Many prisoners making the call remember the 2016 national prison strike, which began on September 9th, and grew to involve tens of thousands of prisoners across the US, Mexico, and Greece and shut down various facilities.

On the outside, groups across the US and the world held solidarity demonstrations, noise demos, dropped banners, and more. A chief demand that came from those inside, was for the abolition of “prison slavery,” which under the 13th amendment, allows for the legal forcing of someone to work for free, as long as they are an inmate. Already, prisoners have put forward 10 demands:

  1. Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women.
  2. An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.
  3. Rescission of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, allowing imprisoned humans a proper channel to address grievances and violations of their rights.
  4. Rescission of the Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act so that imprisoned humans have a possibility of rehabilitation and parole. No human shall be sentenced to death by incarceration or serve any sentence without the possibility of parole.
  5. An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing and parole denials of Black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in Southern states.
  6. An immediate end to racist gang enhancement laws targeting Black and Brown humans.
  7. No denial of access to rehabilitation programs for imprisoned humans at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender.
  8. State prisons must be funded specifically to offer more rehabilitation services.
  9. Reinstatement of Pell grant eligibility to prisoners in all US states and territories.
  10. Recognition of voting rights for all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees and so-called “ex-felons.” Their votes must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count!

Towards this end, organizers have called for sit-ins, boycotts, strikes, and hunger strikes. The organizers have also asked those on the outside to help in getting the word out about the strike.

Wanting to know more about the conditions in South Carolina prisons, what had led to such horrific prisoner murders, and more about the call for prison strike, we reached out to the group, Prison Slavery 276, to try and find out more.

IGD: So what all went down in South Carolina prisons a week ago? Our hearts go out to those killed and injured. The images were hard to look at. People want to know what could have caused such a thing to happen?

“From there, blood poured. If you’ve watched the recording, you’ll see that some wounded would have lived, but bleed out hours later from wounds and no medical attention. No instant deaths initially, bleed out literally.”

Prison Slavery: What went down in South Carolina prisons is a tragedy beyond words. A tragedy that could have been totally avoided if not for the, “Let them fight it out,” attitudes of the staff. Its became a monstrous act when prison officials denied any responsibility, then spinned it to fit their own profiteer agenda goals.

To be brief without being specific, arguments broke out in a housing unit between prisoners. From there it quickly escalated to a fight, then stabbing. Other prisoners who were obligated to fight, jumped in. The pigs watched for a little while before locking everyone in. Everyone knew this was now a gladiator match. SCDC is known for this. From there, blood poured. If you’ve watched the recording, you’ll see that some wounded would have lived, but bleed out hours later from wounds and no medical attention. No instant deaths initially, bleed out literally.

Once it was noted people were dead, there was a nothing to lose attitude that kicked in. Other units got word and started fighting to the death. This was once again hours later. I have to emphasize here, SCDC set the conditions for this to happen. Everyone knew this day was coming based on the living conditions being enforced by the prison and SCDC policies.

IGD: Broadly speaking, what are conditions like in SC prisons? 

Prison Slavery: SC prisons are one of the most inhumane prison systems in the country. It houses prisoners with little to no rehabilitation programs, limited fresh air activities, recreation to any degree is becoming none existence at level 3 prisons, no meaningful way to address grievances, and eating diets that has prisoners malnourished. It’s a zombie like existence. The majority of prisoners days are spent idly. Getting high, fighting, drinking, or trying to come up with food to eat.

IGD: We often hear about overcrowding in in the media, is this the only reason that such things explode as they do? 

Prison Slavery: No, overcrowding is not the only reason prisons blow up. Prisons blow up because of conditions created by prison officials. This can be over food, housing, physical abuses, denial of basic human necessities repeatedly, not addressing prisoners grievances, and the list goes on. So lets just say, you handle or treat prisoners fucked up for too long, you can expect a major problem to eventually develop.

IGD: What is the role of the guards in all of this? 

Prison Slavery: Those pigs are full of shit. Prisoners already know staff are as dangerous as the most dangerous prisoners.

In the SC Lee tragedy, they refused to end it when it was stoppable. Or even when it calmed down. You see, it would calm down then crank right back up after everyone rested up. Lee staff will claim immunity. They maybe covered by a policy they have in which security can make an on the spot call to abandon their posts. They’ve been doing this for years. The worst cases to be noted was at Lieber correctional in 2012 and 2014. Prisoners were left and locked in for 8 hours in gladiator matches. When prisoners complained for medical treatment, it was denied. These prisoners were threaten by prison officials with worst treatment if they filed complaints. It was all swept under the rug. I hear since this incident, those cases maybe being reopened by investigators.

The entire prison system is at fault for creating policies that created inhumane conditions for humans to socialize in. Conditions that breeds anger, desperation, and violence.

IGD: How does the prison authorities react when something like this happens on the inside? 

Prison Slavery: The usual routine is to lock us in cells, search everyone, investigate, place on lock up those involved, then back to routine in a few days or weeks in the same conditions or with further restrictions. This may play out different. Too many pictures and recordings taken by prisoners made public of dead humans that died brutally. Not to mention the prison director and governor’s narratives have been challenged by pictures and recordings.

IGD: What would a prisoner led movement against these hostilities and violence look like inside? 

Prison Slavery: We have to have clear lines of communications, know we are not each other enemies. Prisoners currently are more unified on reactionary activities than those actions that make a difference. We do have better communications with each other, but we will not stop each other from acts of criminal violence against each other. This has been a long standing problem in prisons. I’m not so sure it can be overcome, prisons very nature nourishes this violence. This is why we have to think beyond prisons.

IGD: The Pelican Bay Hunger strike called for an end to hostilities across racial lines as a way of uniting the prisoner class against the institution. What do you think about such a call? 

Prison Slavery: Such calls are made at varying degrees in prisons across the country by prisoners. None of us want to live in slaughterhouses. Prisoners make pacts, but at times those pacts are violated. SC groups and races have understandings. But there is always a violation that action on is viewed as justified. You see the cycle? But without agreements in prisons, responding actions to violations would be Lee county everyday in this nation of prisons. That’s why these agreements are absolutely necessary, and encouraged. Now if we can organize and educate prisoners on a mass level against the prisons, this could change the the face of unity in prisons overnight. This is why struggle, revolutionary for me, must be popularized.

IGD: Any other thoughts you want to share? How are prisoners planning to respond to the Lee Tragedy?

Prison Slavery: In the wake of the tragedy in SC, prisoner organizers called a national prison strike.This strike will begin August 21 to September 9.

This serves two purposes, it lets prisoners know we are tired of the violence against each other, and it tells the prison officials we will no longer remain silent in hostile living conditions they created. Let the dates be a lesson from prison past history. Not every prisoner is asleep, we will organize to be treated as a human. We are excited that federal prisoners will be joining and had a say in the national demands.

“Resistance is building everywhere. Prisoners and their families around the country feel the pain and frustrations of SC prisoners. SC is not an exception, it’s a prime example in the spotlight of what’s happening in these prisons nationally.”

This is another reason the feds want to jam federal prisoners phone signals. The feds are aware of the connections that has developed within the prison movement. Resistance is building everywhere. Prisoners and their families around the country feel the pain and frustrations of SC prisoners. SC is not an exception, it’s a prime example in the spotlight of what’s happening in these prisons nationally.

Supporters are asked to spread the word in communications to prisoners. Share the national demands. There is not a prisoner doing time that will not be able to identify with those demands. Two group of prisoners have me smiling, they are going to the yard at a certain hour and refusing to return to their cells until they get a certain understanding with the prison officials. No worries, this is not the first strike prisoners have took it to the yard and demanded an audience.

We expect peaceful actions everywhere. The only violence we ever hear of is the repressive violence of prison officials. We are asking everyone to read our demands and get them to elected officials and community organizers.

Thank you for giving us a voice on your platform.

We fight because we have no choice.

To see our previous interview with Prison Slavery, go here.


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