When the summer sun in Florida pushes temperatures past 100 degrees, state prisoners — the vast majority of whom are stuck in jail without air-conditioning on drug charges — feel it. When those inmates work (they were forced, for example, to clean up after Hurricane Irma), they typically don't get a dime in return. When their mostly poor families send them money for food and necessities, a $4 case of soup costs $17.
So next Monday — the holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday — a large number of prisoners say they will lay down their tools, sit, and refuse to work for 30 days to demand, in the short term, better living conditions, actual wages, an end to the death penalty and prison-guard brutality, increased access to parole, and restored voting rights for former felons. In the long term, the strikers are demanding an end to a criminal justice system that virtually enslaves poor, mostly black people.
"It’s time we reverse the psychology and STAND together," the prisoners wrote in an online statement. "The way to strike back is not with violence as this is what they want! If we show them violence they will have a legitimate excuse to use brute force against us and explain to the public that they had to use brute force in order to contain the situation. However, their weakness is their wallet."
The strikers, calling their rally "Operation PUSH" (perhaps for Jesse Jackson's group that transformed American politics in the 1970s), hope to persuade every worker in the Florida Department of Corrections to lay down on the job for a full month. They're asking nonprisoners to help by donating to the cause and attending solidarity rallies across the state from 1 to 3 p.m. Monday, January 15. Miami's demonstration will be held outside the state office building at 401 NW 2nd Ave. (The Miami Herald also wrote about the strike at the end of December.)
Since the prisoners announced their plans, they've received organizing help from numerous left-leaning and labor organizations in Florida, including the Miami-Dade and Broward County Chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons, Supporting Prisoners and Real Change (SPARC), and the national Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), which is run by the International Workers of the World, informally known as the "Wobblies."
Bean Blackett, a Miami DSA member, told New Times yesterday that prisoners and volunteers hope the size of this year's protest eclipses that of 2016's massive, IWOC-organized strike September 9, 2016, which commemorated the anniversary of the infamous 1971 Attica Prison riots in New York.
"We expect it to be even bigger this year," Blackett said.
According to the prisoners, many people living in the Florida corrections system say Americans have become numb to the concerns of the nation's prison population and aren't aware the state is forcing inmates to work for no money, overcharging them (and the families that fill their prison accounts with donated money) for basic items, and subjecting them to regular rape and abuse at the hands of prison guards.
In a separate statement provided to labor activists, a group of Haitian prisoners in the Florida correctional system accused the prison-industrial complex of profiting unfairly from prison labor and said they want to hit prison owners and managers in their wallets to force change:
Prisons in America are nothing but a different form of slavery plantations and the citizens of the country are walking zombie banks. There are so many Haitians, Jamaican, and Latinos in the FDOC serving sentences that exceeds life expectancy and or life sentences who are not being deported. They use all immigrants, for free Labor and then deport them.
Why flood the system with immigrants waiting to be deported after serving their entire sentence? Because of the benefit. The undeniable truth is Florida prisoners are slaves who work and do not get paid. New age slaves within the prisons system!!! [sic]
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In their statement and in an interview with the anarchist news website It's Going Down, Operation PUSH organizers have demanded that prisoners in Florida reject violence and rioting for the 30-day stretch. Instead, the inmates say they'll be more effective if they can hit prison profiteers in their checkbooks.
"Our goal is to make the Governor realize that it will cost the state of Florida millions of dollars daily to contract outside companies to come and cook, clean, and handle the maintenance," the organizers write. "This will cause a total BREAK DOWN."
Here's the full statement:
FL Prisoners Call for Operation PUSH to Improve the Lives of Incarcerated People and the Communities We Come From
Sending out an S.O.S. to all parties concerned!
We are currently forming a network agency within D.O.C. We are asking all prisoners within the Department of Corrections to take a stand by laying down starting January 15, 2018, until the injustice we see facing prisoners within the Florida system is resolved.
We are calling on all organized groups as well as religious systems to come together on the same page. We will be taking a stand for:
1. Payment for our labor, rather than the current slave arrangement
2. Ending outrageous canteen prices
3. Reintroducing parole incentives to lifers and those with Buck Rogers dates
Along with these primary demands, we are also expressing our support for the following goals:
• Stop the overcrowding and acts of brutality committed by officers throughout FDOC which have resulted in the highest death rates in prison history.
• Expose the environmental conditions we face, including extreme temperatures, mold, contaminated water, and being placed next to toxic sites such as landfills, military bases and phosphate mines (including a proposed mine which would surround the Reception and Medical Center prison in Lake Butler).
• Honor the moratorium on state executions, as a court-ordered the state to do, without the legal loophole now being used to kill prisoners on death row.
• Restore voting rights as a basic human right to all, not a privilege, regardless of criminal convictions.
Every Institution must prepare to lay down for at least one month or longer: No prisoners will go to their job assignments.
Our goal is to make the Governor realize that it will cost the state of Florida millions of dollars daily to contract outside companies to come and cook, clean, and handle the maintenance. This will cause a total BREAK DOWN.
In order to become very effective we must use everything we have to show that we mean business. This is our chance to establish UNITY and SOLIDARITY. This is the strategy of Operation PUSH! A voice locked up is not a voice unheard!
We are encouraging prisoners throughout the DOC to band together in an effort to demand payment for work performances.
One of the main reasons why we’re demanding payment as opposed to gain time is because the DOC is bent on taking something we’ve earned away and using it against us to restructure new release dates.
Another reason is that $50 and a bus ticket to parts unknown is not working for us, especially if we have conditions that require us to pay out of pocket cost.
The system knows that the odds are heavily stacked against us when we reenter into mainstream society, so they make it look like they’re helping us by giving us $50, but the reality is it’s not enough to do anything with!
With even a modest amount of payment we will be able to save up something to survive outside with; for those with lengthy sentences, they would be able to support themselves inside.
At any event, once we win establishment of payment, this would be the one thing the system won’t be able to take away from us.
While this will be the strongest “Push,” our next concern will be on price-gouging us with items we buy out of canteen.
We can no longer allow the state to take advantage of our families’ hard earned money by over-charging us, they’re taking food out our mouths! All prisoners and their family members are getting pimped with these outrageous canteen prices. We want regular market value.
Take for example: one case of soup on the street cost $4.00. It costs us $17.00 on the inside. This is highway robbery without a gun. It’s not just us that they’re taking from. It’s our families who struggle to make ends meet and send us money—they are the real victims that the state of Florida is taking advantage of. We got to put a stop to this!
The federal government has given every state in the country a choice as to how they wish to use incentives to reward their prisoners. Florida decided to offer gain time as an incentive, however, those who have life sentences and Buck Rogers dates don’t have any incentives.
We are now demanding that the State of Florida bring back parole and come up with a payment for prisoners work performances, as the law required.
Let us demonstrate why these two issues are so important. Take for example someone who has done a ten year bid. In the process he loses all family support and money stops, the letters stop. He finds himself supporting himself the best way he can. In short, the system robbed him of ten years of labor.
He has nothing to show for it so now even if he does his ten year bid with no probation or parole, he’s still a convicted felon, and finding a job is very difficult.
These are the things we’re protesting, and we are currently trying to mentally prepare Florida inmates throughout the DOC for January 15.
WE HAVE TO STRIKE BACK AND STAND FOR WHAT IS RIGHT!
What do you do when there’s no body giving you jack shit and you’re hungry? Add to this you wearing hand-me-downs, looking like you can’t be trusted? This is enough to drive you off the edge and try your hand at stealing, robbing, or selling drugs to make a dollar.
This is not a joke! In fact it’s our reality and for those who do have strong family support, we salute you, but please understand you are the few that are blessed with the foot hold that you have. This is not the case for the over-all majority, and this is the cause of high recidivism rates.
It’s time we reverse the psychology and STAND together. The way to strike back is not with violence as this is what they want! If we show them violence they will have a legitimate excuse to use brute force against us and explain to the public that they had to use brute force in order to contain the situation. However, their weakness is their wallet.
By sitting down and doing nothing, each institution will have the responsibility of feeding, cleaning, and all the maintenance. DO THE MATH.
The more institutions that have to employ outside contractors, the sooner we will see results.
Welcome to Operation PUSH.