Tag Archive: Texas

Forget hunger strikes. What prisons fear more? Labor strikes.

Via PRI and Yes! Magazine.

June 08, 2016 · 8:00 AM EDT
By Raven Rakia

On May 1, prison labor came to a halt in multiple prisons in Alabama. Starting at midnight that day, prisoners stayed in their dormitories — refusing to show up for work at their assigned posts: the kitchen, the license plate manufacturing plant, the recycling plant, the food processing center and a prison farm.

The prisoners’ demands were pretty simple: basic human rights, educational opportunities and a reform of Alabama’s harsh sentencing guidelines and parole board.

The strike in Alabama was just the latest in a series of strikes at US prisons. On April 4, at least seven prisons in Texas staged a work strike after a prisoner sent out a call with the help of outside organizers. About a month earlier, prisoners in states such as Texas, Alabama, Virginia and Ohio called for a national general strike among prisoners on Sept. 9. That’s the 45th anniversary of the Attica Rebellion, where guards and inmates died during a prison revolt in upstate New York.

The labor strikes are a turn from the most familiar type of political protest behind bars: the hunger strike.

While hunger strikes pull at the moral heartstrings of the public, work stoppages threaten the economic infrastructure of the prison system itself.

The strike in Alabama was organized by the Free Alabama Movement, a nonviolent grassroots organizing group created by prisoners that focuses on the human rights of Alabama’s imprisoned. Not only does Alabama have one of the highest incarceration rates in the United States, but it also has one of the most overcrowded prison systems. The system’s current population sits at about 80 percent over capacity. With nearly double the inmates that the prisons were designed to hold, the packed prisons produce violence, unsanitary conditions and medical neglect.

“We view prison labor as real slavery … [in] 1865 when the 13th Amendment was ratified … they started the first wave of mass incarcerating black people,” said Melvin Ray, co-founder of the Free Alabama Movement. In the years after slavery, a formal prison system formed in the South. Some plantations were bought by the state and turned into prisons. “They use [these prisons] as a tool of control. They target African-American communities. They target politically conscious people, politically conscious organizations. And they use these prisons as a form of social control in addition to a plantation [that’s] generating revenue.”

In 2014, when Ray, along with Robert Council, founded the Free Alabama Movement, they organized a work stoppage at the Holman and St. Clair prisons. The strike at Holman prison, where Council was incarcerated, lasted from Jan. 1 to 22. Immediately afterward, both men were thrown into solitary confinement. Ray stayed there for more than a year and was just recently released to general population. Council remains in solitary confinement to this day.

Prison officials list a number of reasons for Council’s segregation, including that he allegedly administered the Free Alabama Movement Facebook group, and he was a leading and significant factor in the work strike.

In the past, hunger strikes have targeted solitary confinement. The well-known hunger strike in 2013, where tens of thousands of prisoners across California refused to eat for 60 days, protested the state’s use of indefinite solitary confinement. It was coupled with other political organizing, including lawsuits and another smaller hunger strike in 2011. Two years after what was called the largest hunger strike in US history, California agreed to limit its use of solitary confinement.

From Robben Island to Guantanamo to San Quentin, the hunger strike and the penitentiary seem attached to each other. Yet the organizers of the Free Alabama Movement have intentionally moved away from the practice.

In an essay titled “Let The Crops Rot in the Fields,” Ray and Council laid out a plan for tackling mass incarceration. The essay argues that the old ways of protesting in prisons—including hunger strikes and letter-writing campaigns — are not sufficient. Instead, organizers should attack the economic incentive of prisons. The answer, then, is to stop working—and remove the corporate profit from the prison industrial complex. The title was a reference to work strikes conducted by people who were enslaved in the South.

Members of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, the prison-organizing group of the Industrial Workers of the World labor union, started sending copies of “Let The Crops Rot in the Fields” to prisoners in other states. The labor union, apparently the only current union that welcomes prisoners, has about 800 members behind bars across the country. The essay has inspired prisoners in Virginia, Ohio, and Mississippi to organize to participate in the National Day of Strike in September 2016 and, for Texas, to have organized a work strike of their own in April.

Ray and Council haven’t always held these views. “Over the years we’ve tried a few other different things. We’ve tried letter-writing campaigns. We’ve tried marching, protesting, filing complaints in the court. We’ve tried basically all of the avenues that can be used that are made available to people who are incarcerated,” Council said.

In 2007, the entire population at Holman prison, including Council, participated in a hunger strike. The prison was in a deplorable state — backed-up sewage issues, mold on the walls, collapsed and rusted pipes. The prisoners demanded that internal affairs and reporters be allowed inside the prison to document the conditions.

Ray and Council met in prison when they were both jailhouse lawyers, assisting other prisoners with filing lawsuits and complaints about the issues in the prison while also writing their own. As their incarceration continued and their lawsuits and grievances against the prisons went nowhere, Council, Ray, and other prisoners began to have a change of heart on how to bring about change.

“We were begging [officials] to please follow the rules. Please have mercy on me. We’re asking some people to have mercy that just don’t have any mercy,” Council explained. “That revelation brought us to the fact that you can’t appeal to the moral [part] of a system that doesn’t have morals.”

The sentiment echoes the thoughts of the late Stokely Carmichael, a civil rights leader and organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which led the civil rights movement among youth in the South.

“In order for nonviolence to work, your opponents must have a conscience,” he said in 1967, two years after the assassination of Malcolm X and a year before Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. “The United States has none.”

Alex Friedmann, the managing editor of Prison Legal News, a publication of the Human Rights Defense Center, said in an email that prisons would “grind to a halt” without the use of prison labor. “The work strikes in the Alabama and Texas prison systems are a natural and predictable result of treating prisoners as slaves and often benefiting — and often profiting — from their labor. If prison officials treat prisoners as slaves, then they should not be surprised when there are occasional slave revolts,” Friedmann said.

For the rest of the article, please check out Yes! Magazine!

“Operation Streamline”: The New Prison Boom

Efrain Alejandro, a Mexican who has twice served prison time in the United States for illegally crossing the border, at the Kino Border Initiative shelter in Nogales, Mexico, January 28, 2014. Migrants like Alejandro are meant to be discouraged by the special courts known as Operation Streamline, but the resulting mass deportations have led to accusations of assembly-line justice.

Efrain Alejandro, a Mexican who has twice served prison time in the United States for illegally crossing the border, at the Kino Border Initiative shelter in Nogales, Mexico, January 28, 2014. Migrants like Alejandro are meant to be discouraged by the special courts known as Operation Streamline, but the resulting mass deportations have led to accusations of assembly-line justice.

From Truth Out/ By Leticia Cortez

What is “Operation Streamline”? It’s a U.S. Border Patrol Operation that began in 2005 under G. W. Bush. This law makes jail time mandatory for people convicted of illegal entry or re-entry into the United States. The plan was designed to get tough on illegal immigration by arresting and prosecuting those crossing the border, instead of simply deporting them or placing them in a civil detention center. This made the private prison industry a very profitable sector since they started incarcerating these immigrants. According to a report released last year by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 80 percent of immigration defendants convicted in federal court since 2010 received a prison sentence. This has had a dramatic effect on the makeup of the criminal justice system.

The immigration issue in this country is complex on many levels from the personal, political and economical. If one looks at it from the perspective of a woman, man or child caught crossing illegally, then held in jail up to 15 months, one must ask what is going on with the new prison industrial system. The war on immigrants is replacing the previous war on drugs that filled the jails and made obscene profits for private prisons. This new prison boom is foremost in states along the border with Mexico such as Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico. In Texas it costs the state $266/day to house a person not including food. That’s $97,090 per year paid for by taxpayers.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced reforms to the nation’s drug sentencing laws in an attempt to reduce the number of federal inmates held on non-violent drug charges. “It’s great that Eric Holder is talking about over-incarceration, but the actions he’s taking are not tackling the full scope of the problem,” said Carl Takei, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project. “There’s this whole other population that’s looming in the background, and growing.”

Advocates for reducing incarceration say that true reform of the prison system must also address the criminalization of immigration since reducing punishment for drug offenders is unlikely to affect the private prison industry.

(more…)

AN ALVARO LUNA HERNANDEZ UPDATE

alvaro-luna-hernandezFrom Sacramento Prisoner Support 

On June 27th Alvaro Luna Hernandez was moved to the  James V. Allred Unit in brutal fashion. About a month later Sacramento Prisoner Support received a very welcome letter where he updates us on the conditions of the move, and his current situation. He wanted this update to be shared with the world. Let’s pass this along, and make sure Alvaro’s voice is heard. If you click on these two images they’ll be much easier to read. (more…)

Voices from Solitary: 144 Years for Prison Escapes

A cell at Polunksy. Minutes Before Six

A cell at Polunksy. Minutes Before Six

From Solitary Watch

The following comes from widely known, multiple prison escapee Steven Jay Russell, 56, who is currently serving a 140-year sentence in administrative segregation at the all-solitary Allan B. Polunsky Unit on Texas death row. Robert Perkinson, author of Texas Tough, describes Polunsky as “the most lethal [death row] anywhere in the democratic world” and “the hardest place to do time in Texas.” Russell, who is the first person in U.S. history to receive a life sentence for prison escapes, has spent the last 17 years in solitary confinement, where he will likely remain for the rest of his life.Russell painstaking orchestrated each of his four escapes – all non-violent, executed without a hostage or gun – by forging documents which he planted in the system, manipulating prison officials and impersonating court system officials and doctors. And all four times, he simply walked out of the prison doors, embarrassing the Texas prison system in the process. Russell has stated that he did it all in order to be with his lover, Phillip Morris, whom he met in 1995 while both were incarcerated at the Harris County Jail. His story is recounted in the movie I Love You Phillip Morris, in which he is played by Jim Carrey. He can be reached by writing: Steven Russell, 00760259, Allan B. Polunsky Unit, 3872 FM 350 South, Livingston, TX 77351–Lisa Dawson

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

Steven-Jay-Russell-001For more than 17 years, I’ve lived in a concrete box no larger than my late father’s closet. Most likely, I will continue to live in this concrete box until I’m granted parole or die. Living among other offenders in general population will never occur based on the opinions of at least 10 Texas Department of Criminal Justice wardens who have supervised me since my convictions for theft by embezzlement and non-violent escapes. My total term of imprisonment is 144 years. No, I have never committed a violent act or ever possessed any type of weapons in either my criminal or institutional history. I’ve never damaged state property by digging a tunnel or knocking a hole in the wall of my cell. I always walked out the front or back door of the jail or prison without taking any hostages. So, I am writing this essay from my cell which is located in the death row building at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas. Death row building? Yes. I share a pod with Texas offenders who are sentenced to death.

Remember George W. Bush? He was the president who told the nation and world that the United States of America does not torture our prisoners. Did I miss something last week or did I actually hear FBI director-designate James Comey admit to Senator Al Franken that prisoners at Gitmo were shackled in a standing position for seven days at a stretch to deprive them of sleep. TDCJ does things a bit different. They have what’s called the “Intensive Cell Searches” wherein an inmate cell is searched every hour of the day and night subsequent to that offender assaulting a guard. This little program goes on for months at a time right here on the Polunsky Unit. For those of us who walk out the front door, TDCJ has “Intensive Cell Moves.” For my first five years of solitary confinement in the concrete box, I was required to exchange cells with another inmate at least once every 72 hours. With more than 17 years of Solitary Confinement or Administrative Segregation now done, I graduated to cell moves once every two weeks. Why is moving around a big deal? Try moving into a different cell behind a mentally ill inmate who leaves special little treasures of poop in the cell. I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. That’s a great combination with the poop left behind. (more…)

The Texas Death Row Occupy Movement

by Tony Egbuna Ford

Polunsky Unit/Death Row, Livingstion, TX

November 1993 was the beginning of what could be called “The Texas Death Row Occupy Movement.” A plan of action was planned for years by myself and other Texas Death Row inmates to protest an execution date if one was set for certain individuals, namely John “Jazz” Barefield Bey, Sam Miguel, Emerson “Young Lion” Rudd and Ponchai “Kamau” Wilkerson.

Schooled in the revolutionary teaching of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, all of us were committed to protesting an execution in the way deemed best for us as we saw it. Any action taken by us in protest would be justifiable self-defense. After all, the State of Texas would literally be trying to kill us! However, before any one of us received an execution date, another inmate would take the vanguard and protest his execution. He would be gassed. A team of guards would forcibly extract him from his cell. Beat him. Then take him to the death house in Huntsville, Texas. The name of the first was Desmond “Lil’ Dez” Jennings and he wouldn’t be the last. This happened in the mid-90s. (more…)