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Prisons Are Already Retaliating Against Inmates Protesting ‘Modern Slavery’

The Daily Beast logo The Daily Beast 8/26/2018 By Tarpley Hitt
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Inmates are already experiencing retaliation for alleged participation in the nation-wide prison strike that launched August 21, representatives from the prison labor advocacy group Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) told The Daily Beast.

The strike, organized by a prisoners’ rights group called Jailhouse Lawyers Speak and backed by IWOC, started Tuesday and will run until September 9. The strikers are calling for an immediate end to what they call “modern slavery,” a prison labor system that forces inmates to work for as little as four cents per hour, as well as nine other demands, detailed in a statement from April.

As part of the protest, participants are implementing a range of nonviolent tactics, including boycotts on work, collect phone calls, commissary snacks, package purchases, and electronic visitation—the major economic drivers of prison budgets.

But only three days into the strike, inmates are already facing backlash from correction officers.

Two Florida incarcerated men have been sentenced this week to 18 months of “close management,” a Florida legal term for a kind of solitary confinement, according to IWOC spokesperson and organizer Karen Smith. A third inmate was placed in “disciplinary confinement,” a slightly lighter sentence, Smith said.

Julius Smith, a 30-year-old man serving 20 years at Santa Rosa Correctional Institution was sentenced to close management on Wednesday, for alleged participation in organizing the strike. Santa Rosa Correctional Institution did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

The charge against Julius stems from a cell phone and homemade weapon that guards allegedly found in his bunk, which the inmate claims were planted. The cell phone was on the ground, just thrown near his bunk, Smith told The Daily Beast.

Ezzial Williams, an inmate serving 10 years at Union Correctional Institution, was also placed in close management in the weeks before the strike began for “inciting a riot” related to the protest.  

“Close Management is akin to solitary confinement and Ezzial is held in a 9x7 cell for 23 hours a day,” IWOC wrote on their website. “Ezzial would greatly appreciate mail and could use stamps and writing supplies.” For one hour per day, Williams is allowed to leave his cell to walk around in a caged outdoor area, Smith said. Union Correctional Institution did not respond immediately to requests for comment.  

A third inmate, Corey Sutton, a 21-year-old housed at Franklin Correctional Institution, was sentenced to 58 years at the age of 14 for a sexual battery charge he says he didn’t commit. Tuesday, Sutton was placed in “confinement,” for charges of alleged gang activity and participation in the strike. Franklin Correctional Institution did not respond immediately to requests for comment.  

The allegations against Sutton were based on an email he sent to his mother earlier this month which made reference to “black August,” a month-long celebration of black history started in the 1970’s by black liberation activists, Smith told The Daily Beast.

The group has so far only made the three individuals names public on their website, but there are likely more out there, Smith said. Inmates face substantial risks for coming forward with their stories.

“It’s dicey game to make people’s names public,” Smith said. “Once their names are out, they can get more heat on them. And if they’re in a position where they are fighting an allegation it can be pretty difficult.”

More details on the strikes will likely appear in the coming weeks, she said, as there can be substantial delays in getting information from prisoners, officials and FOIA requests.

“We’re just starting to get some word. It can take weeks to get a clear idea of what’s going on,” Smith told The Daily Beast. “Especially since the prison administration’s first response is usually to deny activity.”

Already, IWOC has confirmed five Florida prisons on lockdown. Another Florida prison, Smith said, has not declared lockdown status, but is limiting inmate movement in parts of the facility. A family member reported to IWOC that inmates are being held in a shower.

In a press release Wednesday, representatives from Jailhouse Lawyers Speak and IWOC confirmed additional strike activity in prisons ranging from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Washington, and California, as well as solidarity actions in 21 American cities, and several foreign nations, including Germany and Palestine.

“Today, we extend our solidarity to the prisoners in the jails of the United States participating in the national prison strike beginning on August 21,” wrote the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group of imprisoned Palestinians in Israel, in a statement released Wednesday. “Black communities, Latino communities, Arab communities are under attack, facing mass incarceration and a system that seeks to imprison and exploit rather than support and nurture youth and elders.”

Smith says some of the inmates are fighting their strike-related charges. Julius has already filed grievance paperwork, Smith said, although the officials cited in the report are likely to be the individuals who will hear his case and decide it.

“That’s one of the demands of the strike,” Smith told The Daily Beast. Among the ten-point list of demands, activists are calling for an end to the Prison Litigation Reform Act, a 1997 law that makes it more difficult for prisoners’ to file federal lawsuits. “This system leaves no recourse for people like Julius,” Smith said. “That’s what leads to situations like this strike. It’s the only action they can take.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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