On August 21st, inmates across the country began perhaps one of the largest prison strikes in national history. Spanning 17 prisons and three weeks (ending on September 9th), the strikes aimed at drawing attention. They want to put an immediate end to what they have termed “modern-day slavery.”
To drive change, inmates turned to forms of nonviolent protest:
- Hunger strikes
- Boycotts on:
- Commissary snacks
- Collect calls
- Package purchases
- Electronic visitation
The goal of the strikes was not to be killed or thrown into solitary. According to the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), a prison labor advocacy group, inmates experienced backlash from the very beginning.
Punishment for The Inmates Striking
In Florida, two men were sentenced to 18 months of “close management”. This is a Florida term for a type of solitary confinement. A third inmate claimed he was also confined, subject to multiple room raids and had his personal mail confiscated.
Julius Smith, who is serving a 20-year sentence at Santa Rosa Correctional Institution was also sentenced to close management for alleged participation in the strike’s organization.
The charge comes from a cell phone and a homemade weapon the guards claim to find near the inmate’s bunk. Julius insists the items were planted.
At the Union Correctional Institution, Ezzial Williams was also placed in close management. This happened weeks before for “inciting a riot” related to the protest.
Close management consists of an inmate being confined alone to 9X7 foot room 23 hours a day. For the extra hour, the inmate is let out into a caged enclosure outside. They can walk around but not have additional interaction with others.
Other Inmates Who Must Remain Silent Out of Fear
These are only a few inmates who have come forward about their experiences. According to IWOC spokesperson Karen Smith, there are likely many more who can’t share their experiences. Doing so can put them in worse danger.
It’s dicey game to make people’s names public. Once their names are out, they can get more heat on them. And if they’re in a position where they are fighting an allegation it can be pretty difficult.
More information will come out as time moves forward. We can expect delays. Getting information from prisoners, officials, and FOIA requests are nothing if not difficult. “Especially since the prison administration’s first response is usually to deny activity,” Smith offered.
Currently, many of the prisoners are attempting to combat their strike-related charges. Incidentally, this is among the 10 demands that began this strike. Specifically, inmates are seeking an end to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA).
The PLRA is a 1997 law that made it more difficult for prisoners to file federal lawsuits. It denies inmates any method of recourse for the inhumane treatment they often receive.
Has The Strike Worked?
With the prison strike ending, people are asking a new question: did it succeed? Unfortunately, the answer to that question isn’t as clear. Has everything changed? No. Have they achieved all of their 10 demands? No.
Still, there have been successes. The end goal might have been to achieve all their demands. But, initiating change begins by influencing the dialogue surrounding the issue.
To say people have noticed the strikes is an understatement. Additional strike activity is confirmed in states:
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
Solidarity actions took place in 21 American cities and several foreign nations, including Germany and Palestine. Inmates in Canada have jumped in on the strikes.
Still, as the media turns its attention to other stories and other issues. The incentive falls on us to keep the dialogue going. Spread the word and make sure the largest national prison strike can have the impact we need.