[Pnews] Are Florida prisons suppressing an inmate strike or just lying about it?

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jan 24 13:36:03 EST 2018


  Are Florida prisons suppressing an inmate strike or just lying about it?

By Dan Berger - January 24, 2018

/*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that 
prisoners paid $17 for a can of soup, rather than a case of soup.*/

In the weeks leading up to Martin Luther King Day, prisoners in Florida 
promised to celebrate in a manner the slain civil rights leader would 
have appreciated: by going on strike for a month. Along with the abuses 
they highlight in their statement, the prisoners demanded payment for 
their labor, an end to overcharging for food and other supplies sold at 
the prison canteen (including $17 for a case of soup) and the 
reintroduction of parole for those serving lengthy sentences.

Yet the Florida Department of Corrections claims the promised strike is 
not happening. “Prisons and institutions across the state had no 
interruption to daily operations,” the FDC wrote 
<http://www.dc.state.fl.us/secretary/press/2018/01-17-Statement.html> in 
a terse response to a Jan. 15 protest at its headquarters in solidarity 
with the strike. “There were no reports of inmate work stoppages.”

A Facebook page 
for Florida prisoners and their family members offers insight as to why 
that might be. It reports that strike organizers in at least 15 prisons 
were placed in isolation and denied their property, including writing 
instruments, to forestall the strike and limit their ability to 
communicate. Some facilities have allegedly denied prisoners any access 
to the telephone, cutting off the only form of immediate communication 
available to prisoners — regardless of whether they were participating 
in the strike.

The lack of clarity about whether the strike was suppressed or whether 
it is happening amid FDC’s denials exposes the truth about prisons: It 
is not just people who are locked up, but information itself. For 
decades, prison officials have implemented increasingly punitive, 
isolating treatment. Prisons have become not only more plentiful but 
more remote. Yet many Americans know little about these changes because 
prisons have long deployed a mix of censorship 
and distortion to hide dramatic abuses that reveal the extreme 
injustices found inside the country’s many prisons, jails and detention 

Prisons, as the journalist Tom Wicker once wrote 
“have a dual function: to keep us out as well as them in.” Although 
state governments and the federal Bureau of Prisons operate 90 percent 
of prisons in this country, the public has almost no access to them. 
What little information trickles out comes either from officials eager 
to portray a smooth-running institution or from prisoners desperate to 
improve their conditions.

This information blackout stems from extensive efforts by prison 
officials to keep the world inside of prison walls shielded from the 
public, so as to avoid scrutiny of their questionable, brutal tactics.

The dramatic 1971 Attica prison rebellion in New York was perhaps the 
clearest example of how prisons create alternate realities. The four-day 
uprising came to a bloody end on Sept. 13, 1971, when, as historian 
Heather Thompson recounts in “Blood in the Water 
state troopers retook the prison with savage force. Troopers killed 29 
prisoners and 10 guards who had been taken hostage during the uprising, 
and then tortured many of the surviving prisoners.

To justify such violence, various state officials said prisoners had 
castrated guards. Even when that claim was proved to be false, the 
government spent decades protecting the troopers who killed and abused 
the men at Attica.

Attica was not an isolated incident. Throughout the 1970s, the country 
witnessed scores of uprisings and other political conflicts over the 
dire state of prison conditions. In nearly every case, prison 
administrators or other state officials cast prisoners as violent 
aggressors and reduced their already limited access to media, family 
members and the rest of the outside world. The Supreme Court enabled 
such censorious behavior. In 1977, the court ruled that prisoners had no 
right to form labor unions and that prison officials could eliminate 
other First Amendment protections in the name of institutional security.

In an effort to further curtail the spread of information, states and 
the federal government began building increasingly austere prisons. The 
test case came at the federal prison in Marion 
Ill. In 1972, the Bureau of Prisons shipped dozens of dissident 
prisoners from around the country to Marion and placed them in a new 
kind of isolation called a “Control Unit.”

A control unit is a kind of administrative punishment: You could be sent 
there without having violated a law or rule. Inside the control unit, 
prisoners are locked down for 23 hours a day in small cells with no 
programming. From 1983 to 2006, the entire prison operated under these 
severe conditions. During that time, a U.S. Department of Health and 
Human Services report 
found that the prison’s water supply was also contaminated.

The Marion experiment served as a model 
for mass incarceration. Since 1973, the American prison population has 
exploded from 204,000 people 
<mailto:https%2525253A//www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p2581.pdf> to more 
than 1.5 million <https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2017.html> 
(with another 630,000 people incarcerated in jails and 41,000 in 
detention centers). But not only were more people being sent to prison — 
once there, they also found themselves in more punitive environs.

Some people are quick to blame the expansion of private prison companies 
over the past three decades, including the Florida-based Geo Group, for 
the deepening brutality of America’s prison boom. But the problems 
originate in state and federal governments. Ninety percent of prisons 
are government-run and some of the most severe forms of punishment take 
place there.

In 1986, the federal government opened a control unit for women 
prisoners in Lexington 
Ky. In addition to the 23-hour lockdown, prisoners were under constant 
video surveillance — including in the shower — and only had minimal and 
completely monitored contact with people outside. The prisoners were 
also held in all-white cells in an underground unit. The intense sensory 
deprivation and routine strip searches caused a variety of physical 
ailments. Amnesty International labeled 
the unit “cruel, inhuman, and degrading,” tantamount to torture.

Although that unit was closed in 1988, the model persisted at other 
prisons. A spate of so-called supermaximum prisons opened around the 
country throughout the 1990s, each one promising to reduce human contact 
in more severe ways.

Between 2006 and 2008, the Bureau of Prisons also opened two 
“Communication Management Units 
Prisoners in the CMU have severe limits placed upon their contact with 
the outside world. Equally distressing, they are not given a reason for 
their placement there nor an indication of how they might get out. 
Critics allege that the unit is a tool of racist and political 
repression, filled largely with Muslim prisoners.

This rampant abuse within prisons has generated labor and hunger strikes 
across the country in the past decade, most recently in Florida. A 
year-long investigate series 
by the Miami Herald found violence to be a routine and sanctioned part 
of the state’s prisons. Among the revelations were guards who had killed 
one prisoner by leaving him in a scalding shower for two hours; another 
one was gassed to death in his cell while begging for medical 
assistance, a third was killed after she reported threatening behavior 
from the guards. Last year 
428 people died inside of Florida prisons — a record, and 20 percent 
more than died in custody in 2016.

With almost 100,000 people incarcerated, Florida’s bloated prison system 
is surpassed only by Texas and California. The MLK Day strike is the 
latest sign of discord in the state’s prison system. Last August, the 
state preemptively locked down 
all 50 of its prisons, work camps and reentry centers for four days to 
prevent a protest. Prisoners at three Florida institutions participated 
in a nationwide prisoner strike 
<https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/11/prison-strike-slavery-attica-racism-incarceration/> on 
the 45th anniversary of the Attica rebellion in September 2016.

“We need to shine a light from the outside in on this system,” said 
<http://www.wmnf.org/florida-prisoners-strike-protest-conditions/> one 
of the prisoners who called for the MLK Day strike. He said it 
anonymously for fear of reprisal. Yet the reprisal may have come anyway. 
“Democracy dies in darkness,” The Washington Post boldly averred after 
President Trump’s election. The darkness enveloping American prisons 
shows how tenuous our nation’s democracy has long been.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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