The Free Alabama Movement has declared their recent organizing a success, with over 15,000 prisoners participating and prodding response from the governor during the campaign season.(1) They have announced the next phase of their struggle for reasonable paths to parole and release. It involves the drafting and proposal of a state bill. The Alabama Legislature opens on 3 March 2023, and prisoners have planned to launch a campaign to promote and support the proposed bill at that time.(2)
Following the recent actions, a damning report came out substantiating the prisoners demands:
“July 2022 was the deadliest month on record in Alabama prisons. Thirty-two people died in Alabama prisons in July — the most since at least January 2000, the earliest month for which data is available online. More people died than were granted parole that month.”(3)
The Free Alabama Movement concludes in their recent statement:
"On September 26, over 15,000 people stood up for freedom in the Alabama prison system. That’s 10,000+ new soldiers, warriors and generals to the ranks who had NEVER participated in a shutdown before. Most of them didn’t know they would be challenged by the ADOC at the core of our most basic human need: food. This is a real struggle against a system that is well funded and has been in existence for over 100 years. We gotta act like we want freedom, and move with the understanding that that will be a test of your will and spirit to achieve something great.
"Understand the mission brother and sisters. A call has been made for us to stand again. We cannot miss our assignment and expect change.
Since Monday, 26 September 2022, Alabama has struggled to keep its prisons operating as prisoners across the state have not been performing work in their facilities until their demands for reform of the parole system, sentencing, and oversight are met. Organizing around this campaign began back in June among prisoners and their families, after years of protests and litigation over the escalating brutality of the Alabama Department of Corrections failed to make the state budge.
In the state of Alabama, prisoners manufacture license plates, furniture, clothing, while maintain the prisons themselves by working in the kitchen, laundry, or doing yard and road work. Without this work the prisons are dramatically short-staffed and can barely even keep prisoners fed. Meals being served to prisoners in recent weeks are basically slices of bread and cheese, a powerful indication of the willingness of the state and its employees to run the basic infrastructure prisoners need to survive.
The prisoners’ demands are not centered on overcrowding or the fact that Alabama doesn’t pay its prisoners anything for their labor, or specific acts of brutality by correctional officers, as galling as all of that is. Instead, they are targeted at the parole and sentencing systems, which have led to “more people coming out in body bags than on parole,” in the words of outside organizer Diyawn Caldwell of prisoner advocacy group Both Sides of the Wall.(1) The prisoner’s demands are:
Repeal the Habitual Offender Law immediately.
Make the presumptive sentencing standards retroactive immediately.
Repeal the drive-by shooting statute.
Create a statewide conviction integrity unit.
Mandatory parole criteria that will guarantee parole to all eligible persons who meet the criteria.
Streamlined review process for medical furloughs and review of elderly incarcerated individuals for immediate release.
Reduction of the 30 year maximum for juvenile offenders to no more than 15 years before they are eligible for parole.
Do away with life without parole.(2)
The sentencing and parole systems in Alabama have always been bad and have been getting worse in recent years. In mid-October while prisoners in some facilities were still refusing to work, the Alabama parole board granted two paroles out of 124 cases, a rate barely above one percent. Whether this was conscious retaliation or just the day-to-day brutality of the system is unknown at this time.
An investigation initiated by the Justice Department under the Trump administration identified horrific overcrowding (182% of capacity) and neglect that has led to some of the highest rates of homicide and rape among prisoners in the country.(3) Following this investigation, the Justice Department then took the extraordinary step of suing the state of Alabama over the conditions of its men’s prisons.(4) According to prison organizers, nothing has changed in the almost two years since the lawsuit.
Because of the prisoner participation across the state, the government wasn’t able to ignore it like they normally prefer. Governor Kay Ivey called the demands ‘unreasonable’ while also admitting that the building of two new mens’ prisons (with misappropriated COVID-19 relief funds) would meet the DOJ’s demands to end overcrowding.(5) Regarding parole and the basic fact that the state is putting more and more people inside with longer and longer sentences with no end in sight, she had nothing substantial to say.
The warehousing of predominately oppressed nation men, with no opportunities for rehabilitation or release is why we charge genocide against the U.$. criminal injustice system. Alabama is part of the Black Belt south, with 26% of it’s overall population being Black/New Afrikan. Yet, 54% of prisoners were New Afrikan across the state in 2010!(6) Alabama is in the top 6 states in the United $tates for overall imprisonment rates, with most of those states being in the Black Belt.
Caldwell discussed the despair prisoners in Alabama feel because of the lack of opportunities in Alabama prisons:
They’ve taken all the exit and second chance options away from these men and women in Alabama. There’s no hope for parole because the parole board is practically denying everyone and sending them off [with] five [more] years with no explanation, even though these men and women meet the set criteria that has been established.
They practically have a living death sentence, if they don’t have an EOS date, so all the hope is gone. They have nothing to strive for there, they feel like they’re not worthy of a second chance, they’re not given a second chance. And no one has any type of trust or hope in them to come out and reintegrate into society and be a stand-up citizen.
People incarcerated in Alabama face excessive force from correctional officers, a high risk of death, physical violence and sexual abuse from other prisoners and are forced to live in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, according to the DOJ.
The prison authorities have responded to the work refusal by cancelling all visitation, cutting programming back to nothing, and serving next to no food. The Alabama Department of Corrections is one of many prison systems across the country struggling to function without enough people to run its operations. While prisoners are the primary people to suffer under these conditions, this also indicates a contradiction in the United $tates use of prisons to control large populations that could offer opportunities for change. As Under Lock & Key goes to print, the prisoners have faced the state of Alabama down for three weeks. We will continue monitoring the situation and try to extract lessons for the rest of the country.
This letter is being sent to you on behalf of Texas TEAM ONE, a prisoner-led organization committed to organizing us captives of Texas as a class, and collectively struggling for human rights. While We do not believe that the fight behind enemy lines is Our end all and be all, We do believe and hope that by inspiring the masses of TX captives to collectively organize, learn and demand their rights, along with establishing independent institutions for Ourselves, that We can slowly but surely develop Texas Department of Criminal Justice(TDCJ) into a quasi-university, turning masses of socially alienated delinquents into empowered activists for change, productivity, and revolution.
To begin this process of ‘transforming the criminal mentality into a revolutionary mentality,’ We need YOU to join your fellow prisoners in mobilizing the masses for collective direct action.
As you may know, Juneteenth has now been made a federal holiday in amerika. On this day many will sing the praises of Our oppressors or otherwise negate the reality of the lumpen (economically alienated class), that according to amerika’s 13th amendment We are STILL SLAVES. While We do not wish to nullify the intensity of the exploitation and oppression that New Afrikan people held in chattel slavery faced, We must pinpoint to the general public, those upcoming generations of youngsters looking to follow Our footsteps, that to be held in captivity by the state or feds is not only to be frowned upon but is part and parcel with the intentions of this amerikan government, and its capitalist-imperialist rulers. We say NO CELEBRATING JUNETEENTH until the relation of people holding others in captivity is fully abolished!!
Furthermore, as you may also know there has been in recent years a national push to end all forms of extended isolation/solitary confinement. As usual Texas remains stubborn, still holding thousands of us in cages in an inhumane and illegal manner. We, TX TEAM ONE, seek to work with all Our fellow captives to finally bring the torture that is long-term isolation to an end.
Strategically, if We are to ever be able to utilize these prison colonies as cadre-development schools/universities, it is of paramount importance that We remove this tool of repression out of the state’s toolkit. For decades this environment now called Restrictive Housing Unit(RHU) has been used to strategically alienate the best of the best of Our lumpen class. Those who will not capitulate to the destructive and oppressive roll of the state. Political prisoners, writ writers and socially influential captives find themselves in long-term isolation as a form of retaliation, and to maintain the ignorance perpetuated within the daily prison environment. It is past time now that We all, no matter our affiliation or way of life, We must NOW begin to work together to the detriment of Our keepers.
If you like what you’ve read thus far, We ask you to join us in mobilizing the captives on your unit, We are looking forward to Juneteenth 2022. On that day We wanna statewide general strike. Depending on ones level of custody We will organize different plans of action.
If you’re interested in this campaign and wish to take a stand, We need you! Female, Male, LGBTQ, Black, [email protected], [email protected], White, multi-ethnic! We need all of you!
As We scribe this message We are and have been on hunger strike for two weeks in protest against those above mentioned injustices, along with others. Those of Us Souljahs on the Allred RHU have been battling this system and building our level of experience and organization. We summed up the many lessons learned, and the main one is that We must GET ORGANIZED on a statewide level, pop city to the isolation tombs, as one strong and organized body We can effect change and build Ourselves and those of Our peer group into NEW PEOPLE. If you wish to organize with or under the banner of TX TEAM ONE We encourage you to connect with us directly at the following address: TX TeamOne, 113 Stockholm #1A, Brooklyn, NY 11221.
We Look Forward to Hearing From, and Working With, YOU
Dare 2 StruggleDare 2 Win
Tx TeamOne Allred Committee
Texas T.E.A.M. O.N.E. 12 Point Program
An end to racist practices and policies that allow prisoners to be held indefinitely in conditions of solitary; Restrictive Housing Unit.
We want ALL STG confirmed prisoners to be allowed the opportunity to return to general population if and when they have maintained a satisfactory disciplinary hystory.
We want a mandated LIMIT on the amount of time one can remain in RHU-solitary confinement; We want this mandate in line with the international standard put forth by the U.N.’s ‘Mandela Rules’, which limits said confinement to fourteen days.
We want those who are in RHU to be allowed the opportunity to stimulate their intellect through literacy programs, education programs, life skills, job training, parenting classes, drug & alcohol treatment, arts/crafts programs, support groups, and the building of unions and political formations, all in accordance with Texas state law (Tx.Gov.Code§ 501.009 - Volunteer Organizations), captives should be free to exercise these rights without state interference or obstruction.
We want ALL discrimination against prisoners to CEASE; this is in accordance with Texas state law (Tx.Gov.Code§ 501.001).
We want an independent agency established that will fully investigate grievances and citizen complaints against the governmental institution of TDCJ and its agents.
We want an end to unpaid labor in TDCJ.
We want parole requirements capped off at 35%.
We want captives to be afforded meaningful goodtime/worktime.
We want an end to death by incarceration (death penalty, life without parole, virtual life sentences).
We want life terms capped off at 25 years.
We ultimately want an end to the social and economic relations and political policies that create the conditions of mass class control and national oppression (mass incarceration).
We are asking that any TX prisoners who wish to commit themselves to Our program, to use the above 12 points to inspire activism, and to develop peers in a revolutionary manner via trial and error, to contact us:
TX TeamOne/ 113 Stockholm, #1A/ Brooklyn, NY 11221
Today we Raza and Natives/others kicked off the new year by exercising unity here in C Yard by not going to work or education at work center (head quarters) of this yard. Other factions decided not to participate because they care too much about the 5-10¢ paying job they currently have (Lumpen Aristocracy?).
This campaign we currently put into motion is to stop the form of harassment these pigs use thru daily body searches, i.e. x-ray body scan, strip search, etc. before we go to school/work and before we leave. We know that we can stop at least the x-ray scan from taking place for we will continue to refuse the x-ray scan and therefore work/education. This is the recent flow here.
Persynally I believe that we should shut down all movement but still go to Yard, programs and accept our food. Just make the pigs do all the work. That is the only way to make these pigs fly. Even then, these forms of campaigns are at a beginner step and might not be fully successful. We should still engage and get a feel of the opposition. The only way we know how to deal with an opposition is thru the motion of our resistance. It is then that we'll know what we're up against and to what extent they'll go. Not only this but we learn on how to combat the beast. New views and forms of tactics come from this. It is what we call the dialectical-materialist theory of the unity of knowing and doing.
In 2016, actions on and around the 45th anniversary of the historic Attica prison uprising were the most widespread we've seen. For the last five years, September 9 has been a day when comrades in the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP) come together to commemorate Attica by fasting, striking, studying and building peace and unity for the anti-imperialist movement. The UFPP was initiated by a number of prison-based lumpen organizations across the United $nakes in 2011, with dozens of organizations and cells signing on to the statement since then. This year's activity was so great because another protest was also underway on September 9th in prisons across the United $tates. This one, initiated by the Free Alabama Movement (FAM) and promoted by the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), a project of the Industrial Workers of the World, affected at least 57,000 prisoners in 31 prisons where lockdowns or strikes lasted at least 24 hours.(1)
All of this comes on the heels of a summer in which we reported on the hunger strikes in Wisconsin, Ohio and Louisiana calling for an end to the torturous practice of long-term solitary confinement. In addition, a North Carolina hunger strike gained some concessions around mail censorship. These impressive displays of unity and activism are a good sign for the prison movement.
Events this September 2016 have been historic in themselves. As we continue our reporting on the Day of Peace and Solidarity, here we will highlight some of the events not led by UFPP signatories. The work strike and peaceful protest at Kinross Correctional Facility in Michigan was the largest incident the Michigan Department of Corrections has seen since 1981.(2) We had received a report from Hiawatha Correctional Facility in Michigan, which was also locked down on 9 September, though there were no actions there:
"Ever since 9am we have been on a lockdown. The comrades in Level II [most of the prisoners] in Kinross have done a protest because of the living conditions, the food, and no fans and heat, and this actually started on September 9. Prisoners walked out of their job assignments, so the unsecured Level I prisoners who work in the kitchen served the Level II prisoners brown bag meals."(3)
The action at Kinross started as a peaceful march of 500 people protesting conditions. After the prisoners had returned to their housing, 100 pigs attacked them with shotguns firing pepper spray.(4) This led to substantial property damage and Michigan DOC are now moving about 250 activists to higher security prisons to repress their protests.(5)
Holman Correctional Facility in Alabama was the origin of the work strike against "slave labor," initiated by the Free Alabama Movement. MIM(Prisons) has been cut off (censored) from Holman for some years now, despite attempts to reach comrades there. On September 1st a pig at Holman was murdered by a prisoner in an act of rebellion. The unsafe conditions led to staff going on strike while the prisoners were still on strike in late September. Many guards have since quit, leaving the camp short-staffed to manage the population. We have often pointed out that if there is one thing that pigs and prisoners might have unity on it would be safety. While often times the staff takes up the state's position that pitting the prisoners against each other is a good management strategy, this does take a toll on the sadistic pigs who do such things and sometimes the violence is turned on them. The CO must ask emself, do i really want to die over a plate of food? This is exactly what happened at Holman, where it is reported that striking COs notified FAM ahead of time and expressed support for their peaceful demonstrations against human rights violations at the prison.(6) This is a rare occurrence in the United $tates and speaks to the disfunctional status of the Alabama prison system.
In South Carolina, prisoners at Turbeville Correctional Institution reportedly fought back, gaining control of the prison for some hours. Triggered by an uppity pig, it came the day after a prisoner was murdered by staff.(6)
In California it's reported that, "Over 100 prisoners have gone on hunger-strike starting September 9th, demanding the firing of a brutal guard, access to basic food, and an end to solitary confinement at two county jail facilities in Merced, CA."(6) We do not have any contacts at either Merced County Jail. In recent years California has decentralized its prison system due to overcrowding in the state prisons, sending many people to local county jails. Overall, this has reduced the connectedness of the California prison population and made accountability more difficult. As these facilities are often less prepared to house the growing populations of long-term prisoners, we might expect conflicts there to continue to increase.
We are currently fighting an apparent ban on all mail from MIM(Prisons) to prisoners held at Chuckwalla Valley State Prison. The CDCR has not yet acknowledged an official ban, but rumors there are that it is a result of September 9th organizing.
A comrade in Pelican Bay State Prison in California sent documentation of censorship of mail from the IWOC because it included "Plans to disrupt the order." This comrade, along with others, began a hunger strike on September 9th. They submitted a list of demands signed by 12 prisoners on B-yard including oversight of rules violations, a wage increase, and a number of demands to improve conditions of the oppressed nations outside of prisons.
We should also mention a series of actions on the outside, in many cities, organized by those supporting the prison-led strikes to both attract attention to the strikes and to pressure the administrations to listen to the reasonable demands of the prisoners.(6)
In the last issue of ULK we discussed our lack of interaction with those in wimmin's prisons. It is worth pointing out that the one state-run prison in California that has reported participating in the work strike was the wimmin's prison at Chowchilla where a strike with full participation was carried out. Events over the last month point out that wimmin's facilities are not our only gap in coverage. We have long been aware of our lack of access in prisons that hold migrants because they are so segregated from the general population, often face more repressive conditions, and face a language barrier. On top of that there are whole segments of the men's prisons that we are not plugged into. Sometimes repression and censorship, like at Holman, can cut us off. And if mail is cut off to us, then people can fall off our mailing list quietly. This demonstrates the need for more volunteers to work with MIM(Prisons) to better focus our efforts regionally so censorship isn't allowed to persist due to lack of administrative capacity.
In California where county jails have suddenly become long-term prison facilities, and they are institutionally separated, USW comrades working on the inside to spread ULK and other materials can play an important role in reaching more populations.
While there are common threads that connect the whole criminal injustice system in this country, conditions vary from state-to-state and prison-to-prison. Because of how the government is structured, focusing on statewide organizing is important. That means identifying the principal contradiction within your state and developing campaigns that will mobilize the masses there. We expect states to have similar campaigns, but as we can see from the list of actions above, some populations are motivated by ending solitary confinement, others see a need to focus on breaking down divisions between prison organizations, others over mail censorship, and others over wages. We must assess what will move the masses, as well as what battles are strategic in gaining ground towards liberation.
We have great unity with those trying to demonstrate the continued national oppression of New Afrikans by Amerikkkans today, and demonstrating the historic linkages with slavery. However, when FAM says "The State and the [Alabama] DOC are profiting hundreds of millions of dollars off over the approximately 10,000 free labors who report to work each day inside of their prisons, to jobs in the kitchen, maintenance, runners, road squads, laundry, libraries and gyms, to stores and sandwich shops, yard crews, infirmaries and dorm cleaners etc." we have to disagree. How can the state profit off of prisoners preparing food for other prisoners when no money is exchanged for that food; when the food is paid for by the state itself?
It can be a good tactic for prisoners to engage in work strikes as that will impact the operations of the prisons: many do rely on prison workers to keep things running. And it certainly would increase the cost of incarceration if prisons could no longer use free (or super cheap) prisoner labor. But we shouldn't mislead people to think that prisons are profitable. They are a huge waste of government money! Money that the imperialists and the Amerikan people have agreed for decades now is well-spent. If we fool ourselves into thinking this is just about economics and not about national oppression and population control, we will end up on the wrong path.
We did not get much first-hand reporting on the actions inspired by FAM's call to end prison slavery. But it is inspiring to hear of all the organizing that has been happening lately. There's more going on than we can keep tabs on. This reinforces the need to expand the number of people working with USW and MIM(Prisons)! We need our volunteers to continue to step up. We need our released comrades to come out and support those left behind. We need comrades behind the walls to build independent institutions of the oppressed, and reach the broad masses so that all of these struggles can be better connected and we can continue to strategize to win!
[CORRECTION: The comrade making the original inquiry updated us to say that the problems of having to pay for visits and the DOC taking 10% of our accounts did not happen at Moore Haven Correctional Institution, but rather at South Florida Reception Center (SFRC), Desoto Correctional Institution and Dade Correctional Institution. They were charging prisoners $1.00 for every disciplinary report and $5.00 for every prisoner that was put in confinement or segregation.]
[In November a USW comrade in Moore Haven Correctional Institution in Florida reported that the prison was taking 10% out of prisoners commissary or trust fund accounts each week and that they were being charged for family visits. The article below is a response to that report.]
This is the second time that the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) has tried to impose these despotic demands that I know of. The last time they tried to steal prisoners' money three ways: 1) charging prisoners $1 for every disciplinary report (D.R.) we get, 2) charging prisoners' families to come visit us, and 3) taking 10% out of prisoners' commissary or trust fund account. This was attempted at Okeechobee Correctional Institution.
In response to prisoners' complaints the captain went around to all the dorms and lieutenants at count time and claimed they did not know where the proposed memorandum came from but FDOC headquarters in Tallahassee told them they know nothing about that memorandum, they did not circulate it, and it's bogus and will not stand.
Rest assured that Tallahasse does know about the memorandum at Moore Haven CI. They tried it at one prison and it did not work so they are trying it at Moore Haven because (a) it a private institution run by Corrections Corporation of America, and (b) are short-timers. They are trying Moore Haven because they feel they have more to lose and don't know this trick has been tried at Okeechobee CI before.
Here is how we defeated Tallahassee and the institution. At least 98% of the prisoners filed grievances saying that their family was being subjected to robbery and racketeering. This is organized crime against prisoners and their families under the RICO Act, committed by the government against its own citizens. Then prisoners had their families on the phone to the secretary of FDOC, Governor and state representatives raising pure hell about the way they were being unjustly treated via extortion and harassment by FDOC. The last powerful thing we did was had a sit down strike like good old Martin Luther King Jr. Thus everybody would not leave the dorm. That worked so good because 1) it's non-violent, 2) it stopped all work production, 3) there are not enough confinement cells to lock everybody up in, and 4) it's hard to justify locking a bunch of people up because they and their families refuse to be abused by the government. The sit-down strike got FDOC minds right real fast.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade asked about the progress on the grievance campaign in Florida as well. Yet h story above seems like the greatest example of a grievance victory we've heard from that state. Turning grievances into campaigns is about mobilizing the imprisoned lumpen as a group. That is the only way justice can be enforced. It is part of building unity of all oppressed people to end the injustice that is inherent to the imperialist system, and creating a better world for everyone.
We had another support strike here on Calipatria's A-Yard from Aug 26 to the 28th. The July 8th support strike went on for 7 days and involved all races. There was also broad refusal to go to work or school. This time around, however, only Mexicans refused food and people still went to work. On top of all that, the food strike was called off right after a race riot broke out on the yard between us (Mexicans), and the whites. We skipped 9 meals but I'm not even sure that the pigs reported this as a hunger strike.
The pigs have clever ways of manipulating our numbers here. During normal program we get a sack lunch as we exit the chow hall after breakfast and I believe they lump this together as one meal because during the July strike they didn't come around to acknowledge that we had skipped 9 meals and ask if we were participating in a hunger strike until after we skipped breakfast on the fifth day. By then about half of the strikers had started eating and going to work. They also followed their question of whether we were on hunger strike by asking if we would allow them to take the food we had in our cells. Many answered "no," others answered "yes." The following day the pigs came around and only bothered with the cells that answered "yes," going right by the cells that answered "no." CDCR claims that confiscating food is done in order to monitor our food intake. They can say that they couldn't start monitoring our food intake until they confiscated the food. If they start counting how many meals you skipped after they took the food then you're not even counted as a hunger striker because we only lasted a day and a half after that.
When they asked if they could remove food items they only accepted yes or no answers. I told the pig over and over that there was no food for them to take but that wasn't even a question. If you answered no then they could say that you acknowledged having food in your cell but wouldn't allow them to take it. They pretty much don't have to count anybody by using these tactics.
We need to go on an indefinite work strike that should last as long as they insist on having indefinite SHU terms, but there's not enough people with jobs in level 4 yards making it easy for CDCR to target those few inmates who refuse to work and replacing them with people from lower levels or PC yards.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This discussion of the latest action in Calipatria underscores the importance of our work to build unity and a United Front before engaging in serious actions. We commend everyone who stands up against the system and puts their lives and health at risk, but without unity we end up with small numbers of protesters and struggle to present a united position to the prison system. As we discussed at length in our article summing up the strike suspension, we don't anticipate the state will meet the strikers demands, but the struggle against torture continues.