Solidarity: Dead in the Feds
There are certain "rights" that are made into "privileges" in the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP): our right to adequate clothing, adequate sunlight and fresh air (outdoor rec), calorically adequate meals, and peaceful assembly.
On 17 June 2013 at United States Penitentiary in Pollock, Louisiana, in the SHU we were fed a lunch that consisted of a one-ounce spoonful of pasta and a half-ounce scoop of green beans. On every meal we are to have at least two ounces of protein (meat, peanut butter, cheese, soy, etc) according to the BOP program statement. When asked about our protein we were told to not eat if we did not like the meal. The following ensued (taken from a prison report):
"On the above date while feeding Range 1 of the Special Housing Unit (SHU), inmate [X] received the noon meal in his assigned cell. He instantly ordered staff to give him a dessert and some 'protein.' The range officer instructed the inmates that there was no dessert or protein. Inmate [X] started chanting 'we want dessert, we want protein.' Inmate [X] told all the other inmates on the range to 'start bucking' and 'we need to be a group on this and not give up our trays and we will get what we want.' He began to call to cells and other inmates by 'nicknames' and saying 'come on y'all, don't bitch up.' Before SHU staff could exit the range, inmate [X]'s disruptive behavior had spread throughout the range and the range above. The result of which caused a security issue due to 53 inmates covering cell windows and refusing all orders given by staff. After several attempts had been made to collect the food trays, 46 inmates complied and were placed in 'alternative clothing' and three cells (including inmate [X]'s cell) required an 'immediate use of force team.' All actions taken by SHU inmates acting as a group were a direct result of inmate [X]'s disruptive actions."
Our clothing was taken away and we were all placed in paper boxers and a paper gown. This "alternative clothing" is reserved for prisoners on suicide watch and not to be used for disciplinary purposes. Me and my cellmate (along with five other prisoners) refused to give up our clothing while the other 47 prisoners gave their clothes up. I was gassed five times, and when the gas proved ineffective I was "sting bombed" twice. A sting bomb is a bomb full of rubber bullets and "ghost pepper" gas. Our peaceful assembly was met with force.
We are all also on "disciplinary meals" which consists of two sandwiches and a half of an apple, hardly meeting our 2,200 daily calorie needs.
If everyone would have refused to give up their trays and clothing the police and administration would have had to negotiate with us. Instead, the majority folded up like lawn chairs, making our collective stand futile in the end. It pains me to say it but solidarity is dead in the feds. The sheep are ready to be sheared.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We get a lot of letters of frustration from prisoners about the lack of unity and organization among prisoners. This letter actually demonstrates a relatively high level of unity as so many prisoners joined in a spontaneous protest action. The fact that most did not stick it out is no doubt disheartening to the organizer, but this points to the potential for greater unity. Organizing is a long slow process, and it requires the background work of education and building of unity that does not happen overnight. We don't know the back story to this incident but we urge our comrades to take lessons from these events and move forward to educate and build greater unity for the future.