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Prisoner Workers Are Striking Across America



On the third day of a 19-day nationwide prison strike, in response to a brutal prison brawl that left seven inmates dead earlier this year in South Carolina, solidarity rallies have popped up all over the United States aiming to pressure the criminal justice system.

With the 19-day-long protest where prisoners have conducted both hunger and labor strikes, commissary boycotts and sit-ins in at least 17 states, potentially creating one of the largest such rallies in the history of the United States.

The goal of those protesting is to end what they refer to as “modern-day slavery,” where inmates are paid slave wages in return for their labor. For example, in California, prisoners who are assisting in fighting wildfires and being paid only $2 a day. The average worker, according to Axios makes 63 cents a day.

August 21 is a significant day to start the strike since it’s the same day that Nat Turner led a group of slaves in a rebellion in 1831. The end of the strike will be on September the 9th, the same day as the Attica prison uprising in 1971 where more than 40 people died after police stormed in to take the facility back from prisoners.

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“I think the outcome is likely to be greater public awareness about the difficult and inhumane conditions that many prisoners face across the country — an elevated public attention to the broad issues as well as some of the more specific concerns that prisoners themselves have raised,” said Toussaint Losier, assistant professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts and author of “Rethinking the American Prison Movement.”

Losier added, “One of the difficult problems is that many of the issues that they [inmates] are looking to address are issues of legislation and policies enacted at a federal level. It’s difficult for prison officials to make headway on that level.”

Those outside the penal system are working to try and raise awareness by holding rallies across the country in various city squares and also outside correction facilities. All while inmates peacefully protest inside the walls of detention centers.

In South Carolina on Tuesday, one such rally took place. Comprised of prison experts, former prisoners and family members of those involved in the Lee County prison incident delivered a list of demands to Gov. Henry McMaster and Department of Corrections Director Bryan Sterling, according to USA Today.

“Prisoners have been organizing themselves for years in anticipation of this very moment,” said Efia Nwangaza who attended the rally. Nwangaza, age 79, is the director of the Malcom X Center for Self Determination–an organization providing support services to prisoners.

The well known activist said that many South Carolina prisons do not meet the federally ordered standards for mental health and rehabilitation programs, outraging the local community. “We want them to recognize the humanity, dignity and worth for the people for whom they are responsible,” Nwangaza said.

An inmate-based organization by the name of Jailhouse Lawyers Speak made a list of 10 demands. These demands included an increase in prisoner wages, rescinding laws that prevent imprisoned persons from having a chance at parole and immediate improvement of prison policies.


1. Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women.

2. An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.

3. The Prison Litigation Reform Act must be rescinded, allowing imprisoned humans a proper channel to address grievances and violations of their rights.

4. The Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act must be rescinded so that imprisoned humans have a possibility of rehabilitation and parole. No human shall be sentenced to Death by Incarceration or serve any sentence without the possibility of parole.

5. An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in southern states.

6. An immediate end to racist gang enhancement laws targeting Black and brown humans.

7. No imprisoned human shall be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender.
8. State prisons must be funded specifically to offer more rehabilitation services.

9. Pell grants must be reinstated in all US states and territories.

10. The voting rights of all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so-called “ex-felons” must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count.

Since the inception of prisons, there have been stories of abuse, violence, rape and horrific and inhumane living condition within the jail and prison system. The prison strike isn’t only about the alleged slave-labor but also the overall need for reform in the prison industrial complex.

True Leap Press posted a video on Twitter Tuesday showing an inmate refusing food,”Imprisoned radical intellectual and revolutionary artist Heriberto Sharky Garcia declares a hunger strike today in solidarity with every other prisoner participating in the nationwide . He’s currently incarcerated at “New Folsom” prison in Repressa, California.”

Rallies also took place outside of Hyde Correctional Institution in eastern North Carolina, the Atlanta Detention Center, and inside and in front of the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles, according to videos shared on social media. Other rallies are scheduled to take place in both Milwaukee and Boston later in the week.

Other participating cities include, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Boston, Seattle, San Antonio, Portland, Philadelphia and Portland, among several others.

Learn more about the human rights prisoners are fighting for at Human Rights Watch.

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