About a month ago, wading through my vast vacation email, I came across a story about a nationwide prison strike: incarcerated people across the country were uniting to protest the inhumane conditions that pass for our prison system. Here’s a short video from last week.
The prison strike demands included:
1. Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women. Yes, and while they’re at it, getting rid of for-profit prisons.
2. An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.
As MoveOn noted, “Many incarcerated people are often forced to work with minimal or no pay in strenuous jobs. Just this past summer, there were incarcerated individuals fighting fires in California for just $1 an hour — though they won’t even qualify to get jobs as firefighters in California once they’re out of prison.” In states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, and Texas, incarcerated people receive no pay for their labor.
Everyone assumes that slavery ended with the 13th Amendment, but the amendment reads as follows:
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
The 13th Amendment to the Constitution actually created a loophole that legitimized slavery—and is used to this day to force people in prison to work with little to no pay, a strategy that allowed slavery by another name, starting shortly after the Civil War.
3. An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in southern states.
4. The voting rights of all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so-called “ex-felons” must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count!
Oliver showed people thinking that the issue doesn’t matter to them because of the feeling that people in prison must have done something wrong – which may not be true. But even those who did the crime, once they’ve done the time, STILL can’t participate in the democratic process.
Logic suggests one would want those rehabilitated citizens “to participate democratically in the fundamental act of how we shape our society,” to have a sense of ownership in their communities.