Alabama Inmates Organize Multi-Prison Strike in Protest of Prison Labor: We Won’t Contribute to Our Own Oppression

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Shutterstock images.
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Three Alabama inmates have organized a prison work strike spanning at least five state prisons, all from the confines of solitary.

Solitary Watch reports Kinetik, Dhati and Brother M, while held in isolation, are leading the Free Alabama Movement, which aims to expose the unfair work conditions in prisons inmates have likened to “slave labor:” little or no payment for jobs that make millions for the state and private organizations.

According to Solitary Watch, the strikes began at Alabama’s Holman, Staton, and Elmore Correctional Facilities on May 1, with additional stoppages scheduled to follow this week at St. Clair and Donaldson, among others. Organizers plan to stretch the protests for 30 days, but say the length ultimately depends on the response of lawmakers.

Kinetik told Solitary Watch,”We will no longer contribute to our own oppression. We will no longer continue to work for free and be treated like this.”

The Alabama Department of Corrections confirmed Holman and Elmore were on lockdown in a statement released on May 2. Department officials said inmates at the facilities did not help prepare breakfast Sunday and failed to report to assigned tasks the next day. The DOC also indicated it was not aware of prisoners’ demands or “reason for refusing to work.”

The Movement held similar labor protests two years ago, as the U.S. Justice Department investigated conditions in Alabama prisons. Salon held an exclusive interview with one of the group’s founders in 2014.

“We decided that the only weapon or strategy … that we have is our labor, because that’s the only reason that we’re here,” Melvin Ray, an inmate at the St. Clair correctional facility said at the time. “They’re incarcerating people for the free labor.”

Ray described the prison as “a hellhole” created “to destroy men.”

He told Salon the movement was fighting to help inmates understand they had nothing to lose and everything to gain by joining the effort.

“You’re not giving up anything. You don’t have anything. And you’re going to gain your freedom right here,” he said.

The state of Alabama is ranked third in the nation for number of people per capita sent to prison, and Blacks make up 38 percent of its prison population, according to AL.com.

Alabama has a long history of mistreatment toward Black convicts. The state forced Black inmates to labor in coal mines through its convict-lease system during the Reconstruction era. Wall Street Journal reporter Douglas Blackmon detailed the horrific policy in his 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War Until World War II.”

The Birmingham News interviewed Blackmon for a PBS documentary produced as a companion to the book. Alabama was one of many southern states that frequently arrested African-Americans on trivial or made-up charges and subsequently sold them to mines for a life of back-breaking labor under inhumane conditions. The U.S. Steel Corporation was the biggest beneficiary of convict mining labor.

Alabama was the last state to end the policy in 1928.

As Atlanta Black Star has reported, many of America’s biggest corporations directly benefit from prison labor through a process known as insourcing. U.S. employers receive a $2,400 tax credit for each work release inmate hired via The Work Opportunity Tax Credit.

Walmart, McDonald’s, Starbucks and Sprint are just a few companies that regularly employ inmates to evade costs associated with traditional employees, i.e., health insurance, paid vacation or sick leave.

Whole Foods Market announced that it would no longer sell food produced by prison labor last year.

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