[Pnews] The Free Alabama Movement - America’s Slave Empire

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jun 22 14:11:04 EDT 2015


    America’s Slave Empire


            Posted on Jun 21, 2015

*http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/americas_slave_empire_20150621*

By Chris Hedges <http://www.truthdig.com/chris_hedges/>

Three prisoners—Melvin Ray, James Pleasant and Robert Earl Council—who 
led work stoppages in Alabama prisons in January 2014 as part of the 
Free Alabama Movement <http://freealabamamovement.com> have spent the 
last 18 months in solitary confinement. Authorities, unnerved by the 
protests that engulfed three prisons in the state, as well as by videos 
and pictures of abusive conditions smuggled out by the movement, say the 
men will remain in solitary confinement indefinitely 
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Uek3tz_Tp8>.

The prison strike leaders are denied televisions and reading material. 
They spend at least three days a week, sometimes longer, without leaving 
their tiny isolation cells. They eat their meals seated on their steel 
toilets. They are allowed to shower only once every two days despite 
temperatures that routinely rise above 90 degrees.

The men have become symbols of a growing resistance movement 
<http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/boycott_divest_and_sanction_corporations_that_feed_on_prisons_20150405> 
inside American prisons. The prisoners’ work stoppages and refusal to 
co-operate with authorities in Alabama are modeled on actions that shook 
the Georgia prison system 
<http://www.southernstudies.org/2010/12/georgia-prisoner-strike-comes-out-of-lockdown.html> 
in December 2010. The strike leaders argue that this is the only 
mechanism left to the 2.3 million prisoners across America. By refusing 
to work—a tactic that would force prison authorities to hire compensated 
labor or to induce the prisoners to return to their jobs by paying a 
fair wage—the neoslavery that defines the prison system can be broken. 
Prisoners are currently organizing in Arizona, California, Florida, 
Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

“We have to shut down the prisons,” Council, known as Kinetik, one of 
the founders of the Free Alabama Movement, told me by phone from the 
Holman Correctional Facility in Escambia County, Ala. He has been in 
prison for 21 years, serving a sentence of life without parole. “We will 
not work for free anymore. All the work in prisons, from cleaning to 
cutting grass to working in the kitchen, is done by inmate labor. 
[Almost no prisoner] in Alabama is paid. Without us the prisons, which 
are slave empires, cannot function. Prisons, at the same time, charge us 
a variety of fees, such as for our identification cards or wrist 
bracelets, and [impose] numerous fines, especially for possession of 
contraband. They charge us high phone and commissary prices. Prisons 
each year are taking larger and larger sums of money from the inmates 
and their families. The state gets from us millions of dollars in free 
labor and then imposes fees and fines. You have brothers that work in 
kitchens 12 to 15 hours a day and have done this for years and have 
never been paid.”

“We do not believe in the political process,” said Ray, who spoke from 
the St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville, Ala., and who is 
serving life without parole. “We are not looking to politicians to 
submit reform bills. We aren’t giving more money to lawyers. We don’t 
believe in the courts. We will rely only on protests inside and outside 
of prisons and on targeting the corporations that exploit prison labor 
and finance the school-to-prison pipeline. We have focused our first 
boycott on McDonald’s. McDonald’s uses prisoners 
<http://atlantablackstar.com/2014/10/10/12-mainstream-corporations-benefiting-from-the-prison-industrial-complex/> 
to process beef for patties and package bread, milk, chicken products. 
We have called for a national Stop Campaign against McDonald’s. We have 
identified this corporation to expose all the others. There are too many 
corporations exploiting prison labor to try and take them all on at once.”

“We are not going to call for protests outside of statehouses,” Ray went 
on. “Legislators are owned by corporations. To go up there with the achy 
breaky heart is not going to do any good. These politicians are in it 
for the money. If you are fighting mass incarceration, the people who 
are incarcerated are not in the statehouse. They are not in the parks. 
They are in the prisons. If you are going to fight for the people in 
prison, join them at the prison. The kryptonite to fight the prison 
system, which is a $500 billion enterprise, is the work strike. And we 
need people to come to the prisons to let guys on the inside know they 
have outside support to shut the prison down. Once we take our labor 
back, prisons will again become places for correction and rehabilitation 
rather than centers of corporate profit.”

The three prisoners said that until the prison-industrial complex was 
dismantled there would be no prison reform. They said books such as 
Stokely Carmichael’s “Ready for Revolution” and Michelle Alexander’s 
“The New Jim Crow,” along with the failure of prison reform movements, 
convinced them that the only hope to battle back against a prison system 
that contains 25 percent of the world’s prisoners was to organize 
resistance. And they find no solace in a black president.

“To say that we have a black president does not say anything,” Ray said. 
“The politicians are the ones who orchestrated this system. They are 
either directly involved as businessmen—many are already millionaires or 
billionaires, or they are controlled by millionaires and billionaires. 
We are not blindsided by titles. We are looking at what is going on 
behind the scenes. We see a coordinated effort by the Koch brothers, 
ALEC [the American Legislative Exchange Council <http://www.alec.org/>] 
and political action committees that see in prisons a business 
opportunity. Their goal is to increase earnings. And once you look at it 
like this, it does not matter if we have a black or white president. 
That is why the policies have not changed. The laws, such as mandatory 
minimum [sentences], were put in place by big business so they would 
have access to cheap labor. The anti-terrorism laws were enacted to 
close the doors on the access to justice so people would be in prison 
longer. Big business finances campaigns. Big business writes the laws 
and legislation. And Obama takes money from these people. He is as 
vested in this system as they are.”

In Alabama prisons, as in nearly all such state facilities across the 
United States, prisoners do nearly every job, including cooking, 
cleaning, maintenance, laundry and staffing the prison barbershop. In 
the St. Clair prison there is also a chemical plant, a furniture company 
and a repair shop for state vehicles. Other Alabama prisons run printing 
companies and recycling plants, stamp license plates, make metal bed 
frames, operate sand pits and tend fish farms. Only a few hundred of 
Alabama’s 26,200 prisoners—the system is designed to hold only 13,130 
people—are paid to work; they get 17 to 71 cents an hour. The rest are 
slaves.

The men bemoaned a lack of recreational and educational programs and 
basic hygiene supplies, the poor ventilation that sends temperatures in 
the cells and dormitories to over 100 degrees, crumbling 
infrastructures, infestations of cockroaches and rats, and corrupt 
prison guards who routinely beat prisoners and sell contraband, 
including drugs and cell phones. These conditions, coupled with the 
overcrowding, are, they warned, creating a tinderbox, especially as 
temperatures soar. There was a riot in St. Clair in April. There has 
been a rash of stabbings and fights in the prison. Prisoners have 
assaulted 10 guards in St. Clair during the last four weeks.

“The worst thing is the water 
<https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2007/nov/15/prison-drinking-water-and-wastewater-pollution-threaten-environmental-safety-nationwide/>,” 
said James Pleasant, a St. Clair prisoner who has served 13 years of a 
43-year sentence. “It is contaminated. It causes kidney, renal failure 
and cancer. The food causes stomach diseases. We have had three to four 
outbreaks of food poisoning in the last four months.”

He said that the prolonged caging of prisoners and the closing of 
rehabilitation programs, including education programs, guarantee 
recidivism, something sought by the corporations that profit from 
prisons. An estimated 80 percent of prisoners entering the Alabama 
prison system are functionally illiterate.

“Sleeping on a concrete slab is not going to teach you how to read or 
write,” Pleasant said. “Sleeping on a concrete slab will not solve 
mental health issues. But the system does not change. It does what it is 
designed to do. It makes sure people are driven back into the system to 
work without pay.”

“For years we were called niggers to indicate we had no value or worth 
and that anything could be done to us,” Ray said. “Then the word 
‘nigger’ became politically incorrect. So they began calling us 
criminals. When you say a person is a criminal it means that what 
happens to them does not matter. It means he or she is a nigger. It 
means they deserve what they get.”

Prisons, the men said, have increasingly placed larger and larger 
financial burdens on families, with the poorest families suffering the 
most. Prisoners, too, suffer as a result.

“If you don’t get money from your family, your poverty blocks you out 
from buying items at the commissary or making phone calls,” Council 
said. “You can’t communicate with your family. If you don’t have someone 
to send you money you can’t even buy stamps to write home. They 
[authorities] are supposed to give us two free stamps a week, but I have 
never seen them do it in my 16 years of incarceration. We pay a $4 
medical co-pay if we make a sick call. Every additional medication we 
receive is $4. If you have a cold and you get something for sinuses, 
pain meds and something for congestion, that becomes a $16 visit. And if 
you get $20 from a family member, the state will take $16 off the top to 
pay for the visit. You end up with $4 to spend at a jacked-up canteen. 
There are a lot of brothers walking around in debt. ...”

“It takes brutality and force to make a person work for free and live in 
the type of conditions we live in and not do anything about it,” Ray 
said. “The only way they made slavery work was to use force. It is no 
different in the slave empire of prisons. They use brutality to hold it 
together. And this brutality will not go away until the system goes away.”

The men described numerous horrific beatings by guards.

Pleasant said, “They stood me up against the wall [with my hands cuffed 
behind me]. There were about 10 officers. They started swinging, 
punching and hitting me with sticks. They knocked my legs out from under 
me. My face hit the floor. They stomped on my face. They sent me to the 
infirmary to hide what they did, for 30 days. When I looked in the 
mirror I could not recognize my facial features. This was the fourth 
time I was beaten like this.”

I asked the three men, speaking to me on a conference call, what prison 
conditions said about America. They laughed.

“It says America is what it has always been, America,” said Ray. “It 
says if you are poor and black you will be exploited, brutalized and 
murdered. It says most of American society, especially white society, is 
indifferent. It says nothing has really changed for us since slavery.”

-- 
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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