Inmates at Florida state prisons prepared to strike Monday to protest brutal living conditions and working for little or no pay. The strike, which has been coordinated by the inmates across 10 prisons in the state, is expected to last one month or longer. Participating inmates plan to stop purchasing goods from prison commissaries and not to show up for work assignments. A message released by strike organizers said that the prisoners will demonstrate “noncooperation in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.”
According to a report in The Intercept:
Incarcerated organizers of this week’s strike have chosen to remain anonymous to prevent retaliation, but they shared a statement outlining their demands with outside supporters. In an audio message from prison shared with The Intercept, one of the organizers described the action as a “nonviolent protest to get what we deserve from our government.”
“They use word play and deceive the public about what really goes on inside the system, and we want to expose those things,” he said.
Prison officials regularly retaliate against organizers by restricting their visitation rights and contact with other inmates, and sometimes even moving them to different facilities, which makes it harder for reports of protests to reach the public. But despite the challenges, “prisoners are pretty well organized and coordinated inside the prisons and throughout the prison system,” said Panagioti Tsolkas, an organizer with the prisoners’ rights and environmentalist group Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons. Tsolkas, who communicates regularly with activists inside, said that some of the upcoming strike’s organizers have already been placed in solitary confinement in retaliation for their efforts.
Asked for comment, a Florida Department of Corrections spokesperson told The Intercept that “the department will continue to ensure the safe operation of our correctional institutions.”
Strike organizers also are pushing for Florida to reinstate voting rights for released felons, place a moratorium on executions and reinstate parole, which the state eliminated for non-capital felonies in 1984. According to The Miami Herald, lack of parole has contributed to skyrocketing crowding, violence and even deaths in Florida prisons. The paper runs a series titled “Cruel and Unusual: Deadly Abuse in Florida’s Prisons,” which documents deadly brutality, death threats from guards, gassing inmates as punishment and an array of other abuses.
Florida is one of several states—along with Kentucky, Iowa and Virginia—to impose lifetime disenfranchisement for felons, leaving 1.5 million state residents without voting rights. A proposed consitutional amendment could challenge that policy this year.
In a report on the strike, The Nation says:
“We intend to sit down and refuse to work, have an economic protest,” one inmate organizer, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of recriminations, said to an IWOC interviewer. IWOC organizers shared the audio with me. “We want to create an environment where someone can do their time, be rehabilitated, and enter into society with some type of hope.”
“We want to emphasize that this is a nonviolent protest,” he continued, noting the influence of Martin Luther King Jr.’s strategy of nonviolent resistance. But King is only one of the inmates’ inspirations: Another is the Haitian Revolution, in which slaves overthrew their French colonial subjugators and established a free nation by 1804. A statement from Haitian inmates in Florida prisons in support of the strike reads, “Prisons in America are nothing but a different form of slavery plantations and the citizens of the country are walking zombie banks. There are so many Haitians, Jamaican, and Latinos in the FDOC serving sentences that exceeds life expectancy and or life sentences who are not being deported. They use all immigrants, for free Labor and then deport them. [sic]”
The prisoners’ statement also referred to President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric in comments last week in which he allegedly condemned immigration from Haiti.
Emily Wells is an Ear to the Ground blogger at Truthdig. As a journalist, she began as a crime reporter at the Pulitzer-winning daily newspaper, The Press-Enterprise…