by Tifanny Burks
Yesterday signified the one month mark of the largest prison strike in history. September 9th of this year was the 45th anniversary of the Attica uprising. In 1971, prisoners protested their extremely low wages and poor living conditions. Strikes sparked up again this year to show that although it has been a few decades since the uprising, poor prison conditions around the country have not changed significantly. Over the last four weeks these strikes have been intentionally disregarded by major media, which is to no surprise because the government, the prison institutions, and several large corporations rely heavily on practically free prison labor for a variety of things. It would be to the advantage of the entire prison industrial complex if media outlets did not cause any attention to the protests and strikes.
To help combat that, activists in South Florida organized a solidarity noise demo outside of the Broward County Main Jail on September 9th. It was beautiful as everyone made their own music with flutes, pots, pans and other miscellaneous items. The connection we made with the prisoners behind bars was amazing.
Considering that being an activist can be taxing and often times stressful, the noise demo was a reminder of how it is all worth it at the end of the day. The prisoners banged on the windows, made hearts with their hands, raised their fists, and danced to let us know that our outside presence with them was welcomed and appreciated. We were one that night.
“New Jim Crow, Old Jim Crow, Modern Slavery Has Got to Go” was a chant that echoed through the night. The chant is symbolic of the irony within the 13th Amendment which claimed to “abolish” slavery. However, the amendment was written with a loophole because the abolishment of slavery excluded those who have been convicted of committing crimes. So that means that prisoners oftentimes work for little to no pay and they do not receive any benefits, overtime pay or social security. And the little pay they do receive usually goes towards things that aid in the prison industrial complex like making expensive calls and writing letters to family and friends. Prison wages cannot cover basic necessities such as health insurance.
These are just some household names that have used prison labor in the past and present to decrease their bottom lines and increase their profits: Whole Foods, Wendy’s, Starbucks, McDonalds, Sprint, Boeing, Verizon, Victoria’s Secret, JCPenney, American Airlines, WalMart, BP, AT&T, Nike and Honda. Work for these industries include making apparel, printing, being call center representatives, etc.
The federal prison industry produces 100% of all military helmets, ammunition bullets, bullet-proof vests, ID tags, and military clothes. The government secures this labor oftentimes at less than a dollar per day at the expense of our tax dollars.
Other than fair wages in prisons, prisoners are also demanding an end to long-term solitary confinement and overall fair treatment.
So we danced, chanted and sang for hours outside of the Broward Main Jail to show our solidarity with local prisoners and prisoners throughout the country who are no longer accepting this modern day slavery conditions as their reality.
I will continue to demand reform/transformation, highlight the stories of this marginalized a)nd often times forgotten group) of people, educate myself on this grave injustice in our country and write to prisoners.
And dance to the beat of my own drum the next time to we congregate outside a jail to show our solidarity again.