Back to the basics

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[Organizing] [Holman Correctional Facility] [Alabama] [ULK Issue 15]
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Back to the basics

Not too long ago, prisoners at the Holman Max Security prison in Alabama staged a work/hunger strike in protest of the horrendous and deplorable unsanitary living conditions (open sewage around the toilets and sinks, gaping holes in the shower walls, exposed plumbing, leaking roof in the living and sleeping area and in the kitchen, and the constant arbitrary lockdowns).

There had been grumblings about these conditions from most prisoners. Complaints had been filed but no action was ever taken to correct any of the above problems.

A few prisoners got together, chopped it up and came up with a strategy and tactics to correct the conditions. We knew that this was a winnable battle because the conditions were right to galvanize the entire prison population and we had family and friends on the outside.

The conditions in the dorms and kitchen were so deplorable that there was no way for prisoncrats to dance around the issues of willful neglect and the callous disregard for sanitation and prisoners health.

We also knew that they couldn't afford to allow the prison industry (tag plant/metal fab) to be closed down too long. We were hitting them in their pockets. Plus, the pigs are so lazy that we knew there would be friction among them about having to prepare hot, cooked meals for those prisoners who were exempt from the hunger strike, and to wash the trays, pots and pans.

We made a list of all the people and agencies we want to notify about what was going down and why we were staging a peaceful work/hunger strike. We had our people outside to bombard the commissioner's office with faxes and phone calls, call the local media to notify them of the strike and express their concern and outrage about the conditions.

We then sent kites (notes) to prisoners in the other four dorms about what we were getting ready to do and why, and asked that they take the leadership in their dorms. Word came back from the other dorms giving the ok. Then simultaneously, all four dorms placed all TVs and microwaves at the front gate. TVs have always been used as a weapon to pacify prisoners for years. So, we were letting them know that no longer could they control us with them.

Instantly, the pigs who were in the dorms fled. We addressed the entire dorm laying out what we were doing, why and how we planned on proceeding. We asked that everyone join in the strike. Only the elderly and those with medical reasons were allowed to go and eat, and they acted as reconnaissance scouts while out of the dorm. With everyone's input we drew up a list of demands and declared them non-negotiable. The first demand was that we wanted to talk to the commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) and not the warden of the prison. We knew that eventually the riot team would be called in so we discussed how we were going to handle that. The consensus was that we keep the strike peaceful and there would be nothing they could do. On more than one occasion, the pigs tried to provoke violent confrontations. We refused to play into their hands.

Over 18 hours into the strike, the commissioner made his way from Montgomery, Alabama to Holman prison at Atmore, Alabama. He requested to speak with our spokesmen. We had selected a spokesman from and for each dorm. The spokesmen informed the commissioner that there would be no dealings with the warden since he had years to address our concerns and that there would be no private talks. The commissioner was forced to enter the dorms. We made our complaints and demands. The commissioner tried to dodge and use the same old crap they always use about budgets and allocations of funds for the ADOC. We let him know that we've heard that before and that we were not willing to end the strike until we got some guarantees and changes. The commissioner eventually agreed to all our demands.

The following day inspectors, contractors, etc. visited the prison and prisoners were temporarily moved from each dorm for renovations to begin. Within a year all dorms were renovated and a new roof was put in place.

We read the conditions right. The population was angry and thoroughly dissatisfied with the conditions. The population was just waiting on someone to take the initiative and move out front, to take the leadership role.

Some did just that.

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