Black prisoners are now nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated Americans. Black Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of people who are white. We are on Day 22 of a national prisoner strike. These prisoners – in juvenile, county, state, and federal prisons across the U.S. – are refusing to work, hunger striking, and resisting against the prison system.
The prisoners’ reasons for striking vary, but they are united in their desire to halt the system that incarcerates people, especially people of color, as a way to take advantage of cheap labor.
The strike began on Sept. 9, the 45th anniversary of the prisoner uprising at Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, New York. Here are five things you should know about the prisoners and why they’re striking:
- Ending prison slavery
The 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution didn’t abolish slavery completely – it disallows slavery and involuntary servitude, “except as a punishment for crime.”
- Prisoners make products in your daily life
From Starbucks coffee, according to Atlanta Black Star, to Victoria’s Secret bras to AT&T call centers, according to U.S. Uncut, prisoners make products in your home. Salon reported in 2015 on industries that profit from mass incarceration.
- Demand for minimum wage
Most prison workers are paid pennies an hour, according to Foundation for Economic Education, or are not paid at all. If prisoners were paid minimum wage, it would make prisons less profitable, according to the Government Accountability Office. Prisoners could use earned income to make phone calls home, pay restitution to victims, pay child support, or save up for deposits and rent when they get out.
- Improved living conditions
Prisoners suffer from toxic mold, rats and roaches in the kitchen, maggots in food, lack of air-conditioning, arsenic in the water and guard brutality, inadequate medical care and many are in long-term solitary confinement, which the United Nations calls torture.
- Risk of retaliation
Prisoners rightly fear retaliation for their participation in the strikes. Outside support is crucial to ensure their efforts are not in vain.
The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) has been the web between many groups organizing the strike on the inside and supporting the strike on the outside. The ultimate goal is to abolish prisons. You can help by calling prison officials, writing prisoners, organizing your own protests outside of prisons or at stores that use prison labor, and boycotting prison labor.
Azzurra Crispino, is the Media Co-Chair for the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee. She co-founded Prison Abolition Prisoner Solidarity (PAPS) and is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Austin Community College.