[Pnews] Prison Labor Strike in Alabama: “We Will No Longer Contribute to Our Own Oppression"

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu May 5 10:59:17 EDT 2016


  Prison Labor Strike in Alabama: “We Will No Longer Contribute to Our
  Own Oppression"

    Jack Denton <http://solitarywatch.com/author/jack-denton/> - May 5, 2016

Despite being held in solitary confinement for the years, men known as 
Kinetik, Dhati, and Brother M, primary leaders of the Free Alabama 
Movement, have been instrumental in organizing a statewide prison work 
stoppage in Alabama that began on Sunday, May 1. Currently, the prison 
labor strike has begun at Alabama’s Holman, Staton, and Elmore 
Correctional Facilities. St. Clair’s stoppage will begin on May 9, with 
Donaldson and other correctional facilities to follow soon after. The 
current plan is for the work stoppage to last 30 days, although the 
Movement’s leaders said the length of the strike is contingent on the 
cooperation of legislators in regard to reforming the prison labor 
system and the conditions of the prisons. The Free Alabama Movement is 
an activist network of incarcerated men, spanning numerous state prisons 
across Alabama.

Participants report that, apparently in retaliation against the work 
stoppage, the entire populations of the striking prisons have been 
served significantly smaller meal portions this week, a tactic called 
“bird feeding” that is sometimes used by prison guards to put pressure 
on prisoners through malnourishment. “They are trying to starve a nigga 
into compliance,” said one man, who estimated that his meals had been 
reduced by more than 60 percent of his normal serving size. Prisons that 
have not begun striking, but are soon scheduled to, like St. Clair, are 
also allegedly being bird-fed. “The food is always garbage,” said one 
man, “but it’s usually a lot more than this.”

Additionally, the entire populations of Alabama’s striking 
prisons–including the general prison population not usually in 23 hour a 
day segregation–have been placed in indefinite solitary confinement. A 
statement released by the Alabama Department of Corrections calls this a 
“lockdown with limited inmate movement” that will persist “while ADOC 
investigates the situation.” Holman was also placed on lockdown in March 
following an uprising in which a correctional officer and the warden 
were stabbed after intervening in a fight, and prisoners briefly set 
fire to hallways.

The prisoner work stoppage is a nonviolent protest against many of the 
conditions in Alabama’s prisons, especially against the unpaid prison 
labor that makes money for private companies and the state of Alabama. 
During the stoppage, Alabama’s incarcerated will refuse to leave their 
cells to perform the jobs that they usually perform each day for little 
to no pay. These range from the many jobs that allow the prison to 
function (such as serving food) to “industry” jobs (which allow private 
companies to profit off of prison labor). These “industry” jobs are the 
only jobs in Alabama prisons that pay at all, though the pay rates are 
negligible, ranging from $0.17 to $0.30 an hour.

At Holman, the industry jobs are done at the tag plant that makes 
license plates for the state of Alabama and the sewing factory that 
makes sheets and pillowcases for Alabama’s state prisons. Elmore 
contains a canning and recycling plant, and St. Clair contains a vehicle 
restoration and chemical plant that, according to the Free Alabama 
Movement, produces more than $25 million worth of chemicals a year.

The use of prison labor in Alabama by private, for-profit companies was 
legalized by the Alabama state legislature in 2012. “We are going to put 
our prisoners to work. They are going to be paid a reasonable wage,” 
Alabama state representative and bill sponsor Jim McClendon told AL.com 
at the time. Since then, Alabama has developed 17 different prison labor 
industries at correctional facilities across the state.

Alabama’s incarcerated are regularly charged what they call “outrageous 
fines” and fees, despite the fact that they are paid nothing, or only a 
few cents an hour, for their labor. “Our mass incarceration is a form of 
slavery, because we’re not being paid for our work, but we’re being 
charged outrageous fines,” one man told Solitary Watch. Required fees 
include $4 for armbands, $4 for identification cards, and $31.50 for a 
urinalysis test. Prisoners are charged $200 to petition a court, which 
is their only way to file a complaint, since Alabama’s prisons have no 
grievance procedure.

Incarcerated individuals are also charged $25 dollars for being caught 
with a cell-phone the first time, $50 the second time, and $75 the 
third. The fine goes up by $25 each time, despite the fact that 
correctional officers sell the phones to prisoners, and that the phones 
are primarily used by the incarcerated to contact their families. These 
families are required to cover the costs of these fines and fees 
incurred by their loved ones inside, since prison labor is unpaid or 
barely paid. “This is extortion; there’s no other way to put it,” said 
another man.

The Free Alabama Movement is not just hoping for change in the practices 
of their individual facilities, but for legal change in Montgomery. “Our 
problem is with the legislature,” Dhati told Solitary Watch. “No one 
within these facilities can resolve these issue for us. We have a 
spokesperson outside of prison that will give our demands to the state 
legislature for us.”

That spokesperson is Kenneth Sharpton Glasgow, a Dothan, Alabama, pastor 
and the younger brother of Al Sharpton. Glasgow is the director of The 
Ordinary People’s Society (TOPS), a nonprofit that serves as a halfway 
house for many people recently released from Alabama prisons, providing 
them food, housing, addiction counseling, and job training. Glasgow has 
long been an advocate for incarcerated people, having once served 15 
years himself on drug-related charges. During the work stoppage, Glasgow 
said, “I am the advocate for the Free Alabama Movement…I am here to make 
sure their voices are heard.”

Last Thursday, Glasgow visited the statehouse in Montgomery to speak to 
state legislators about the work stoppage and the Movement’s demands. 
Glasgow told Solitary Watch that he will also be back in Montgomery 
later this week. He said that he had already received supportive 
comments from the state legislature’s Democratic caucus.

When reached for comment, the Alabama Department of Corrections refused 
to answer specific questions, but pointed to a press release sent out on 
Monday, May 2, that alleged, despite Glasgow’s advocacy as a 
spokesperson for the Free Alabama Movement, that the DOC had not been 
“given any demands, or a reason for refusing to work.”

A statement from the Free Alabama Movement, that they said was sent to 
the Alabama DOC on Monday, makes it clear that their chief demand is the 
abolition of unpaid prison labor, which they consider to be slavery. The 
work stoppage is “about the 13th Amendment, the Alabama Constitution of 
1901 and the Statutory Laws discriminatorily enacted from both,” the 
document states. Currently, the text of the 13th Amendment of the 
Constitution outlaws slavery for all “except as a punishment for crime 
whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” Other demands include 
the improvement of the unsanitary living quarters and drinking water in 
Alabama’s prisons, and the creation of a grievance procedure in 
Alabama’s prisons. “We will no longer contribute to our own oppression,” 
Kinetik said. “We will no longer continue to work for free and be 
treated like this.” Dhati called the nonviolent work stoppage “an 
economic solution to an economic problem.”

What the movement calls their “deplorable conditions of confinement” 
refers not only to the cleanliness of the cells, but also to the 
negligence those in solitary confinement experience. Every cell in the 
solitary confinement unit at Alabama’s Holman State Correctional 
Facility is equipped with a call button, to be used to summon prison 
guards for help in an emergency. Despite their apparent function, these 
buttons fail to send a signal to the guards or elsewhere, so prisoners’ 
requests for help often go unheeded.

“In 2001, I was the very first person in the segregation unit, and I 
actually cleaned the white chalk off the walls after they built this 
place. The buttons have never worked; they serve no purpose,” said 
Kinetik, who has spent the last 27 consecutive months in Holman’s 
solitary confinement unit. “There is no ability to communicate 
emergencies with officers and staff without kicking on the door, 
screaming and hollering, making as much noise as you can so someone will 
come out of the cube and assist you.”

The 200 men in Homan’s solitary confinement unit, which has experienced 
three suicides in recent months, are not only isolated from the general 
prison population, but also from administrative supervision and medical 
attention. Allegedly due to funding-related short staffing, guards are 
rarely present in the solitary unit, and only pass through to deliver 
meals, and for “pill-call,” three times a day. The lack of supervision 
means that medical emergencies like the recent suicides frequently go 
unattended to for several hours.

At St. Claire Correctional facility, on the other side of the state, 
conditions are similar. Dhati, who has also been in solitary for 
twenty-seven months, recalled a recent incident in which a prisoner had 
been stabbed in the lung and was bleeding out in his cell. Without any 
guards present, concerned prisoners in the solitary unit started a fire 
and broke a window so the guards would notice the smoke and come into 
the unit. Dhati and the other men in the unit had to be treated for 
smoke inhalation, but the stabbed man survived after the medical 
attention that followed the fire.

At prisons across the state, the water is said to be badly contaminated 
and unsafe to drink. “You can actually taste the chemicals in the 
water,” one prisoner said. “The water looks like fog. You cannot drink 
it,” said another. People at multiple prisons across Alabama spoke of 
numerous incarcerated individuals developing stomach problems form 
drinking the water, which the correctional officers apparently never 
drink, opting to bring in bottled water by the case.

In fact, the guards allegedly encourage the men in their charge to avoid 
drinking the prisons’ water, for their own safety. But the only 
alternative offered to prisoners is a sickly red juice that “leaves a 
stain on stainless steel for years.“ Since Kinetik, like most of the 
men, refuses to drink the juice, he sips only enough of the prison’s 
dirty water to stay alive. “I drink it very, very sparingly, as 
necessary, he said. “I’m constantly dehydrated, my lips are always 

The living conditions being protested by the Free Alabama Movement also 
include extremely dirty cells and a lack of cleaning materials. 
Incarcerated men across the state claim that it has been over eight 
months since they have received any soap or cleaning materials to 
cleanse their tiny living spaces, where those in solitary spend their 
entire days. Many attempt to use their own clothing and bathing soap to 
clean their cells, to little effect. Officers blame the dirty cells on 
budget issues and short staff, yet the hall floors that the officers 
work on are reportedly cleaned three times a day. “On a day to day 
basis,” Kinetik said, “this is one of the most unsanitary and most 
dangerous places in the state of Alabama.”

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