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Durham Herald-Sun: New Wave of Prison Revolts Likely

(originally printed in the Durham Herald-Sun)

By Neal Richards
Guest columnist

Sometimes big news can happen right under your nose and you won’t hear about it. I spend much of my free time working with an organization called the Prison Books Collective, a Chapel Hill-based group that sends reading materials to prisoners and publishes their writing. And yet it took a hurried text message from a friend to hear about what is probably the biggest prison strike ever to occur in the United States.

Starting on Dec. 9, thousands of prisoners spanning six different facilities across Georgia refused to leave their cells to go to work. In protest of forced work without pay, poor food and health treatment, and a variety of other grievances, prisoners united across racial, religious and gang loyalties to self-organize a massive rebellion coordinated primarily by word of mouth and phone.

After six days of lockdown, during which guards turned off the prisoners’ heat and water and beat up suspected leaders, the prisoners decided to end their strike. The strikers have pledged to take further action if their demands are not met soon. One prisoner was quoted in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as saying, “We did it peacefully and tried to do it the right way. But these guys are to the point that if this [the protest] don’t work, they’re going to go about it the way they know best [with violence].”

Despite relative media silence around the strike, word has spread, and supporters around the country have expressed solidarity with numerous demonstrations outside prisons. On Dec. 17, a demonstration occurred outside Raleigh’s Central Prison, with protesters banging on drums and holding signs that read “Love for All Prison Rebels” and “Solidarity with the Georgia Strikers.”

The Georgia strike is not just a rebellion against inhumane conditions, but also against a society that locks up more of its inhabitants per capita than any other country in the world. Historically, and particularly in the South, systems of incarceration and policing have been directly inherited from chattel slavery; two of the oldest prisons we send books to literally started as plantations. These systems thus extend beyond prison to the methods of policing and surveillance that permeate our daily lives. The solidarity demonstrations are not surprising: A rebellion against prison is bound to expand in a society in which workplaces and neighborhoods increasingly resemble prisons.

Every week, I correspond with prisoners around the South as part of my work with the Prison Books Collective. Based on what I’ve seen, this strike represents the beginning of a new wave of prisoners’ self-organizing. Considering that the American prison population has grown from roughly 300,000 to nearly 2.4 million people since the last wave of prison rebellions in the early 1970s, the next wave of revolt is bound to be deeper and more widespread.

For those of us who are troubled by this prospect, it is high time to reevaluate everything we think we know about crime, punishment and policing.

Neal Richards is based in Chapel Hill.

Action Alert: Call In to End the Long Term Solitary Confinement of Russell Maroon Shoatz

After being on 23 hour lockdown for the past 21 years, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has recommended that BLA Prisoner of War Russell Maroon Shoatz be released into the prison’s general population.

Russell has not had any infractions in the last 21 years and everyone is on board with his release except for the Superintendent of SCI Greene, Louis Folino.

Russell’s supporters are urging people to call Mr. Folino and ask that he support the decision to release Russell into general population.

The Program Review Board meeting is January 5th so time is of the essence!  Here is the number and a sample phone script.  Also, RSVP for the call-in on facebook and spread the word to others!!

Superintendent Folino- (724) 852-2903 (ask for Tracey Shawley if he is not available)

Sample Phone Script

Caller: Hi, can I please speak with Superintendent Folino.

Prison: May I ask who is calling.

Caller: My name is ______ and I am calling in regards to the upcoming Review Board meeting for Russell Maroon Shoatz.

Prison:  Just one moment.
(Or more likely) He is not available. Can I take a message?

Caller: Hello Mr. Folino/Mrs. Shawley.  I am calling to strongly encourage you to move prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz from 23 hour lockdown into the general population.  My understanding is that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has recommended his release into general population and given his clean record over the past 21 years I think it is without a doubt the just and right thing to do.  Thank you for your time.

You can also write a letter  to:
Supt, Folino, 169 Progress Drive, Waynesburg, Pa 15370

Scott Sisters to be Freed After 16 Years in Jail for $11 Robbery

jamieandgladysscott

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has suspended the life sentences of a pair of African American sisters who had served 16 years in prison for taking part in an $11 armed robbery. For years civil rights advocates, including the NAACP, have called for the release of Jamie and Gladys Scott, often known as just as the Scott Sisters. One of the sisters, 38-year-old Jamie Scott, is in need of a kidney transplant. Her sister Gladys Scott has agreed to donate one of her kidneys as a condition for her release from prison.

You can send them a welcome home greeting here.

The Worst of the Worst: Supermax Torture in America

“They beat the shit out of you,” Mike James said, hunched near the smeared plexiglass separating us. He was talking about the cell “extractions” he’d endured at the hands of the supermax-unit guards at the Maine State Prison.

“They push you, knee you, poke you,” he said, his voice faint but ardent through the speaker. “They slam your head against the wall and drop you on the floor while you’re cuffed.” He lifted his manacled hands to a scar on his chin. “They split it wide open. They’re yelling ‘Stop resisting! Stop resisting!’ when you’re not even moving.”

When you meet Mike James you notice first his deep-set eyes and the many scars on his shaved head, including a deep, horizontal gash. He got that by scraping his head on the cell door slot, which guards use to pass in food trays.

Read the rest here.

Locals Show Solidarity with Georgia Strikers

(from the News and Observer)

RALEIGH — About 30 protesters gathered Friday outside Central Prison to show support for the prisoners inside and to draw attention to a prison strike in Georgia.

Members of various Triangle activist groups, including the Chapel Hill Prison Books Collective and Raleigh F.I.S.T., banged drums and blew whistles in an effort to make enough noise that prisoners inside could hear them. They carried signs with messages that included “Support Georgia prison rebels” and “Free all prisoners, jail all cops.”

According to news reports, prisoners at several Georgia prisons this week used smuggled cell phones to coordinate nonviolent protests against their conditions. Prisoners refused to leave their cells or show up for work, with a lack of pay at the top of their list of complaints. In Georgia, prisoners are not paid for their work.

Editor’s note: This demonstration was one of many that have occurred all over the country outside of jails, prisons, and other state facilities.

Eric McDavid Update: 9th Circuit Court Denies Appeal

From Sacramento Prisoner Support:
On Wednesday, December 8, the 9th circuit court of appeals denied Eric’s request for a rehearing en banc. This means, in theory, that 11 judges reviewed Eric’s petition for a rehearing and not a single one of them found any merit in the arguments detailed within. After nearly 5 years of political maneuvering on the part of the government and a complete and total lack of any sanity or logic in the court’s decisions, this came as no surprise to Eric and his loved ones.

However, that fact does not lessen the blow of this cruel decision by the 9th circuit. This was, in effect, Eric’s last available option in the appeals process (other than appealing to the extremely conservative supreme court). Hope has proven to be a fleeting, evasive creature throughout this whole process. Many of us knew better than to fall for its seductive overtures. But hearts are so often blind to what our minds know to be truth – even when we knew what the outcome would be, our hearts had trouble letting go. We wanted Eric out here, with us. Free to wander in ancient forests, to play in the swirling, roaring ocean. To live outside a cage. But now, whatever traces of hope may have remained have been scattered in the wind.

For some of us, our biggest mistake was believing that we ever had any options in the first place. It became all too easy to fall into their trap of successive illusory next-chances. Every time we lost bail, or a motion, or trial, or at sentencing, or at the appeal… there was always something waiting in the queue that could possibly save us from our imminent hell. But the state created that queue – not us. And it was set up to keep us on the hook – to keep us invested in a system (a system that many of us never believed in to begin with) that would never deliver what we most wanted = our friend, uncaged. As long as we believed that something might change somewhere on down the line, we had to keep putting time and energy into this behemoth of injustice. (more…)

Georgia Prisoners Strike for 5th Consecutive Day

Read the writing on the wall.THOUSANDS OF prisoners in at least four penitentiaries across the state of Georgia continued a non-violent strike for the fifth consecutive day yesterday in a showdown between the Department of Corrections and inmates over forced labour and poor living conditions.

The strike is unprecedented in at least two ways: it was organised by mobile phones that were smuggled into the prisons, and it has united prisoners across ethnic and religious lines, in an environment where racially-based gangs often fight each other.

“They have set aside their differences,” said Elaine Brown, a former Black Panther leader and adviser to the prisoners, whose 27- year-old adopted son is incarcerated at Macon State prison. (more…)