On December 9, 2010 several Georgia State prisons were effectively shut-down when inmates went on strike to improve their living and working conditions and to demand compensation for the free labor they are forced to provide. This display of solidarity across the state prison system (accomplished with the ingenuity of using cell phones purchased from guards) made this the largest prison strike ever in the empire.
Laundry workers refused to report and wash linens, kitchen workers refused to go to food service and prepare meals. Outside crews did not report to the fields to cut grass or perform construction for local towns. All job descriptions, which are known as “details” ceased being performed. Inmates carried out sit-ins and many refused to leave their cell to denounce the various forms of repressive demands made upon them. Inmate “jobs” don’t provide any pay and is more closely related to slavery anyway according to the thirteenth amendment of the US Constitution. This was one of the chief concerns the strike was meant to address. Other conditions included issues of food provision, both the lacking of any real nutritional value of prison meals and the small amounts served. From Friday thru Sunday (and on so-called holidays) inmates are fed a notoriously small breakfast and one other meal at night. Another major concern is over population. Like slave ships men are packed in tight in their living quarters. Cells that are 6 x 12 and designed originally for one person are now packed with three men to a cell. Inmates also protested medical services and co-pays, disciplinary report fees, and the new ban on tobacco products.
The strike was organized from the inside while support was gathered from various local and national community groups. The corporate media did its best to play down the story of a rebellion inside the prison. While Georgia Sate Correctional authorities (some included black men acting as overseers) attempted to strip these men of their humanity referring to strikers in a meeting I attended as “trouble makers” and “perps”. As the state continues to perfect its system of low/no wage labor for public and private corporations of imprisoned men and women it also further engrosses itself on profits from inmate families on overcharged collect calls. It all depends on quiet family members and inmates who can’t muster support from the outside world.
However this first attempt hopefully is just a beginning as these men stood up across racial lines and gang ties to send a larger message. Yes some are guilty of crimes and need separation and access to a rehabilitation regimen, the latter really does not happen in these institutions. But some of these same men confined and brutalized understood that they are human beings and not just people to be thrown away. Outside of the pubic eye the state authorities have created conditions that no human being should have to accept, and for a few days people who are not expected to stand up did. They have now been separated and given individual penalties for interrupting the states revenue streams both to public and private entities. For those of us who had some contact with these men and their families, who ourselves have friends and family members locked up in state and federal institutions across this country this strike has made us all stand in solidarity because the inmates themselves have reclaimed their own humanity by demanding in words and deeds that the state recognize their human rights.
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