All in all, 2022 was a banner year for organized labor. Thousands of workers in a wide variety of industries unionized; they pushed back against union-busting campaigns from oligarchs and corporate hit men; they went on strike and protested unfair treatment, from California to Alabama and everywhere in between. Public support for unions shot up to 71 percent, and the worryingly under-resourced National Labor Relations Board was inundated with more union election petitions than it could handle. Members of Gen Z, the youngest generation of workers, are even more pro-union than their millennial parents, and they aren’t shy about speaking up. All of that combined momentum isn’t slowing, either. The coming year is already poised to be another big moment for the working class.
An estimated 80% of prisoners from Alabama’s “major male facilities” went on strike on September 26th, in response to a wide range of conditions and grievances. Inside organizer Kinetik Swift Justice stated, “Basically, the message that we are sending is, the courts have shut down on us, the parole board has shut down on us. This society has long ago shut down on us. So basically, if that’s the case, and you’re not wanting us to return back to society, you can run these facilities yourselves.” The strike has now entered its third week, and at least five facilities, each with around 7,000 prisoners, continue to participate. Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has punished prisoners by drastically reducing their meals, essentially attempting to starve them off the strike.
Montgomery, Alabama – On the 19th day of the statewide prisoner work strike on Friday, about 100 people gathered in front of the Alabama State Capitol Building in support of the thousands of prisoners currently striking. On Oct. 7, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) confirmed that five facilities remained at a standstill due to the historic statewide work stoppage. Posts to a private Facebook group run by family members of striking prisoners confirmed that prisoners at five facilities continued to strike as of this week. The ADOC admitted the ongoing strike has caused significant disruptions to the functioning of the prisons. “All facilities remain operational,” the department wrote in a press release on Sept. 28, 2022.
Across the state of Alabama, where the state’s longest-ever strike is currently ongoing at Warrior Met Coal after over 18 months, another historic labor stoppage is in its second week. Thousands of incarcerated people at every major male prison in Alabama have refused to report to their work assignments. “The message that we are sending is, the courts have shut down on us, the parole board has shut down on us,” a strike organizer who goes by Swift Justice told a reporter for independent news site Unicorn Riot. “This society has long ago shut down on us. So basically, if that’s the case, and you’re not wanting us to return back to society, you can run these facilities yourselves.” “It makes no sense for us to continue to contribute to our own oppression,” Kinetik Justice, another striking prisoner, told Unicorn Riot.
Prince George’s County, Maryland - Nine people who were recently held in the Prince George’s County jail say they were detained illegally, even after courts ordered or allowed their release. They’ve filed a lawsuit that suggests as many as a third of people in the county jail may be in custody illegally. The lawsuit, which lawyers are seeking to certify as a class action, was filed in federal district court in Maryland this week. It alleges that county judges unlawfully deferred to county officials in final decisions about the release of people before trial, shrouding the decision making process in bureaucratic mystery and leading to lengthy delays in giving people who have not been found guilty of a crime their freedom. “Every night, hundreds of people are jailed awaiting trial in Prince George’s County, Maryland, despite the absence of any legally sufficient order that they be detained,” the complaint reads.
Since 2013, Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and host of The Chris Hedges Report, has taught college courses in drama, literature, philosophy, and history at East Jersey State Prison (aka “Rahway”) and other New Jersey prisons. In one such course, after reading plays by Amiri Baraka and August Wilson, among others, Hedges’ students wrote a play of their own. The play, Caged, would eventually be published and performed at The Passage Theatre in Trenton, New Jersey, for a month-long run in 2018 to sold-out audiences. In his latest book, Our Class: Trauma and Transformation in an American Prison, Hedges chronicles the journey he and his class embarked on together. Joining Mansa Musa on Rattling the Bars, Hedges speaks about his book and the transformations he witnessed among the men he taught behind prison walls.
The contemporary US prison system incarcerates people — largely Black, Native, Latinx, disabled, and working-class and poor folks — and hides them from society for years, decades, or lifetimes. This is true across the United States generally and in Massachusetts, specifically. These days, when discussing the case against incarceration and the prison system, there are a few different arguments one tends to hear: (1) the first is that incarceration is immoral and reprehensible in both its conditions and treatment of incarcerated people; (2) a second, appealing to economists and technocratic policymakers, argues that prisons are a drain on taxpayer dollars and the money wasted there would be better spent on social services and alternatives; (3) another argument that centers racialization is that the prison system is a direct continuation of chattel slavey, chain gangs, and Jim Crow forced labor; (4) a final common refrain is that degenerate investors in private prisons and detention centers, as well as other perpetrators of gross injustice live off of turning prison labor into private profit.
Education is one of the few rehabilitative options available to incarcerated people, yet all across America prisoners are prevented from pursuing their education. “Atiba” Demetrius Brown, for instance, has been dedicated to improving himself and his post-incarceration prospects by taking correspondence courses while incarcerated in Maryland, but thanks to a draconian new decree by the Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services (DPSCS), Atiba can’t take his exams. In this installment of Rattling the Bars, Victor Wallis joins Mansa Musa to discuss the case of “Atiba” Demetrius Brown and the calculated cruelty of the prison-industrial complex. Victor Wallis is a professor in the Liberal Arts Department at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
In the conclusion of The Long Road Home, Chris Hedges looks at the numerous hurdles faced by prisoners released into society, the toll of reentry on their families, the importance of educational programs in restoring self-esteem and setting goals, and the difficult process of parole. Hedges begins by speaking with Russ Owen, who spent 32 years in prison, on the day of his release from East Jersey State Prison. Owen, who graduated summa cum laude from Rutgers University and earned a doctorate in Pastoral Care in prison, began work recently as a community organizer with New Jersey Together. He says that although he is free, he struggles to cope with the deep loneliness that defined his life in prison.
As Wendy Sawyer and Wanda Bertram recently wrote for the Prison Policy Initiative, “Over half (58%) of all women in US prisons are mothers, as are 80% of women in jails, including many who are incarcerated awaiting trial simply because they can’t afford bail… And these numbers don’t cover the many women preparing to become mothers while locked up this year: An estimated 58,000 people every year are pregnant when they enter local jails or prisons.” In this edition of Rattling the Bars, Mansa Musa speaks with Debra Bennett-Austin of Change Comes Now about the shocking number of incarcerated mothers in the US today, the barriers keeping incarcerated mothers from staying connected with their families, and the irreparable damage those severed connections cause for everyone involved.
The United States has 25% of the world’s prison population, some 2.3 million people, most of whom are poor, although it represents less than 5% of the global population. Its prisons are notorious for their violence, overcrowding, and human rights abuses, including the widespread use of solitary confinement. But what is often not examined is what happens to those released from prisons into a society where they face legalized discrimination imposed by numerous laws, rules, and policies that result in permanent marginalization, thrust into a criminal caste system. These former prisoners are often denied the right to vote, can lose their passports, are barred from receiving public assistance, including housing, and are blocked from a variety of jobs.
As time moves on and the seasons change, we approach once again the June 11 International Day of Solidarity with Marius Mason and All Long-Term Anarchist Prisoners. Another year has passed, and many of our dear comrades remain captives of the state, subject to its daily subjugation, isolation, and brutality. June 11 is a time to stop the ever-quickening rush of our lives and remember. Remember our imprisoned comrades. Remember our own histories of revolt. Remember the flame – sometimes flickering, sometimes blazing – of anarchism. With June 11, we desire to deepen a critique of prison that challenges the distinction between prisoner and supporter. For us, these differences are conditional: we, as anarchists, see ourselves as potential prisoners. Some of us have been, some of us will be.
Israeli forces carried out fresh attacks on Palestinian worshipers inside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem on Sunday, April 17. At least a dozen worshipers were arrested and scores were wounded. The attack was carried out despite widespread global condemnation of the Friday attacks inside the mosque compound in which at least 150 Palestinians were injured and over 300 arrested. Attacks on Palestinians were also carried out in different parts of the occupied West Bank by the Israeli forces and settlers. The Israeli forces carried out several raids inside Palestinian villages in the West Bank on Monday as well and arrested at least 16 Palestinians, Wafa news agency reported. Amid the widespread violence and oppression, Palestinians observed a day of solidarity with Palestinian prisoners who have been incarcerated inside Israeli jail for fighting against the occupation.
By law, people in prison have a right to get the health care they need. In the late 1970s, the U.S. Supreme Court decision Estelle v Gamble set the standard for medical rights of prisoners. But prison authorities are being criminally negligent in not providing adequate health care to incarcerated people. As the jailed population ages, 40% have chronic health conditions. The cost of providing health care has skyrocketed and local, state and federal governments have contracted with for-profit prison health care companies as a way of tightening their budgets. Private companies give a per diem rate for basic and specialty care – which would be lower if services were publicly provided. The negotiated per diem rate creates a huge profit incentive.
Jericho Movement Boston, United American Indians of New England (UAINE), and Boston BDS called for a standout in front of the JFK Federal Building in Boston on Monday, February 7, 2022 at 4:00 pm to call attention to international calls to free Native American prisoner Leonard Peltier, now 77 and ill with COVID-19. Known internationally as the most famous and longest-serving Native American political prisoner in the US, Peltier has been imprisoned since 1976 on charges that he shot two FBI agents on Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975. Peltier was framed up for a crime he did not commit. Witnesses perjured themselves at the behest of federal authorities, and the FBI suppressed ballistics evidence that would have exonerated him.