In 2018, North Carolina prisoners answered South Carolina prisoners' call out coordinating amongst each other in multiple states alongside outside supporters, agitators and Anarchist Black Cross by organizing their POW movement (prisoners of the world).
Three prisoners [names removed] staged a peaceful protest with the support of over 300 prisoners and outside public supporters. They even hung signs on the prison fence made out of sheets. Meanwhile nearly 100 public protesters piled out of dozens of cars, vans, and SUVs, armed with bullhorns, signs, and drums in solidarity with the prisoners while perimeter guards trained loaded firearms at the prisoners and the supporters. Then prisoners submitted a list of demands:
- Establish parole for lifers who demonstrate rehabilitation
- End life sentences
- End all 85% mandatory minimum sentences
- End long-term solitary confinement
- Abolish article 1, section 17 of the constitution of NC which permits slavery to those convicted of crime through the 13th amendment of the U.$. constitution
- End $10 administrative fees for the guilty disposition of a write up or rule violation
- Better food with real beef
- Better health and dental care
- Allow prisoners to purchase JP4 players/notebooks
- End security threat group policies that restrict contact visits with their wives, children and fiances
- Fair wages for our slave labor
- End exaggerated censorship policies
- More meaningful rehabilitation and educational opportunities
The following day, on 21 August 2018, prisoners at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Raleigh went on strike, refusing to eat our work, followed by prisoners at Craggy Correctional Center. Then reports began flooding mainstream media that thousands of prisoners across the U.$. were joining the international prison strike in solidarity with the POW movement.
The organizers were then each transferred to separate super maximum security prisons and charged for inciting a riot with the exception of [name removed] who was sent to Butner, NC to a prison that is so violent and popular for 5-on-1 fascist beatings that prisoners call it "baby Guantanamo Bay." After 8 months of cruel and harsh treatment with reports of fascists putting glass in food and feces in another, prisoners [two names removed], with the help of public support, organized their national grievance day calling on all NC prisoners and any similarly situated prisoner in other states who are affected by this oppressive rule to join them and file grievances against their director in their state to end the oppressive rule that prohibits anyone in the public from sending a prisoner money unless that person is an approved visitor on the prisoner's visit list.
As a result of this new restrictive discriminating policy, many prisoners whose families are poor and of color, who don't have identification or transportation to visit a particular prisoner to show em support, now cannot send the prisoner any money. This has resulted in a scarcity of funds to go around resulting in an uptick of gang violence and rule violations. For example, prisoners who can't hustle for money due to no artistic skills or other lacking reasons and whose family can't send them any money for hygiene, food, stamps or phone time now are forced to have their families send money gram, western union, square cash app or greendots to pay inside drug dealers for K-2, CBD, marijuana, suboxone, heroine, or other drugs that they can easily sell in order just to survive.
So in response to this intrusive rule, on 21 May 2019 both men and women prisoners stood together in solidarity and sent in more than 15,000 administrative grievances against the NC prison director. Then on 1 June 2019 North Carolina Department of Public Safety (NCDPS) reported receiving more than 100,000 phone calls and emails from angry families and supporters internationally backing up email servers and phone lines nearly causing their site to crash, urging the director to repeal his 5 February 2019 Jpay rule. One outside organizer spoke with the public affairs office and reported that "there was an ongoing investigation and the director will be looking into it."
Outside activists and supporters are reporting good feedback from the NCDPS, and folks behind bars. Also an art gallery in New York contacted organizers from itsgoingdown.org and is asking for NC-specific art around this extension of our POW movement and wants to get behind NC prisoners to support them.
With the 21 May 2019 national grievance day, in addition, prisoners are beginning to coordinate amongst each other in multiple states, and working with outside supporters; word of the coordinated action has now spread all over the country.
Supreme Court shut down Prisoner Organizing
For nearly 40 years, prisoners in North Carolina have avoided the political arena surrounding prisoner rights ever since the United $tates Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision in Jones v. NC prisoners labor union, inc. 433 u.s. 119, 129 97 S.ct 2532, 53 L.Ed 26, 629 (1977), preventing NC prisoners from unionizing, meetings and solicitation of membership.
The union formed in late 1974 with a stated goal of "the promotion of charitable labor union purposes" and the formation of a "prisoners labor union at every prison and jail in NC to seek through collective bargaining... to improve... working... conditions..." It also proposed to work towards the alteration or elimination of practices and policies of the Department of Corrections (DOC) which it did not approve of and to serve as a vehicle for the presentation and resolution of prisoner grievances. By early 1975 the union had attracted some 2000 prisoner members in 40 different prison units throughout NC.
The state of NC, unhappy with these developments, set out to prevent prisoners from forming or operating a union. While the state tolerated individual "membership," or belief, in the union, it sought to prohibit prisoner solicitation of other prisoners, meetings between members or the union, and bulk mailings concerning the union from outside sources. So on 26 March 1975 the DOC (now North Carolina Department of Public Safety - NCDPS) prohibited that activity.
Since prisoners were on notice of the proscription prior to its enactment, they filed suit in the U.$. Federal District Court for the Eastern District of NC. That was on 18 March 1975, approximately a week before the date upon which the regulation was to take effect. The union claimed that its rights of its members to engage in protected free speech association and assembly activities were being infringed by the no-solicitation and no-meeting rules.
The district court felt that since the defendants countenanced the bare foot of union membership, it had to allow the solicitation activity, whether by prisoners or by outsiders and held "we are unable to perceive why it is necessary or essential to security and order in the prisons to forbid solicitation of membership in a union permitted by the authorities. This is not a case of a riot. There is not one scintilla of evidence to suggest that the union has been utilized to disrupt the operation of the penal institution." The warden appealed to the fourth circuit who also agreed with prisoners. The warden appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States who reversed the 4th circuit's decision.
The court deferred to the warden's conclusions that the presence and objectives of a prisoners' labor union would be detrimental to order and security in the prisons. The court held those conclusions had not been conclusively shown to be wrong in this view, and that when weighed against the First Amendment rights asserted, these institutional reasons are sufficiently weighty to prevail. In sum, the court's decision established that the institutional interest of the prison outweighs a prisoner's constitutional rights. The rulings in Jones, in hindsight, defined prisoners' status as "prisoners" and eliminated prisoners' rights to free association and essentially paved the future for correctional czars to place iron curtains between the First Amendment and prisoners with impunity.
Punished for writing a letter to organizers
Update: On 12 June 2019 and still claiming actual innocence as to why ey's in prison. Prisoner [name removed] was in eir cell writing organizers when a sergeant and two prison guards entered eir cell for a search. During the search one of the prison guards picked up the letter and began reading it. The prisoner was handcuffed and charged for inciting a riot for simply stating in his letter to outside supporters and organizers "thank you for helping put NC prisoners on the map and for giving prisoners a voice on May 21, 2019 and June 1, 2019 as we continue to bring our collective struggles to the battlefront. I look forward to the 2020 strike calling on all us prisoners to stand in solidarity to demand an end to slavery in prisons and to restore our freedoms."
At this time, this prisoner was scheduled to receive eir first visit in 11 years from eir sister who has no criminal record and who had been unapproved for no reason and was finally approved. Unfortunately, eir sister drove over 8 hours to visit and took vacation time plus a portion of eir husband's disability money to cover the expenses. What's worse is that eir son was just accepted at university which puts an even worse financial strain on the family. Meanwhile this prisoner remains in administrative segregation and faces another 8 month long-term lock up. While in lock up ey accused prison guards of putting feces in eir tea and poisoning eir food. Ey reported having diarrhea, vomiting blood, inability to hold down food, weakness, shakes, hallucinations, hot-cold sweats, stomach pain and dry heaving. Ey has since recovered after two weeks on a self-induced diet of milk.
MIM(Prisons) responds: There are some important lessons in this report from North Carolina. First, the restriction on organizing and even just basic free speech of prisoners is pervasive. It takes the format of transferring or charging with crimes prisoners who initiate protests or even complaints against conditions behind bars. But it is also codified by the courts in rulings like the prohibition of union organizing. These laws and actions amount to telling prisoners that they must accept any and all oppressive conditions, that the so-called "rights" of U.$. citizenship do not apply to them.
We can take inspiration from this oppression. While the threats and retaliation will scare some out of taking action, revolutionaries will understand that our actions must be effective if we have frightened the prison and legal system into enacting rules and policies to stop our organizing work. And so we must continue! These organizers in North Carolina are continuing in the face of serious repression, and providing an example of determination and perseverance for others.
Whether your work is focused on educating others, or directly taking on repressive actions by the administration, it can all contribute to building the United Front for Peace in Prisons. This United Front challenges the criminal injustice system through the unity of the oppressed behind bars. We need more stories like this one about the battles being waged. And for those looking to get involved, write to us for resources, educational materials, and support for your struggles.