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What we’re reading: Prison strikes then and now

Photo: / AFSC

September 9 marks the 45th anniversary of the Attica uprising, when about 1,000 people incarcerated at the Attica Correctional Facility took over the prison yard to demand dignity and basic human rights. Forty-five years later, the U.S. prison population has increased from around 200,000 to 2.4 million, and people in prison face draconian sentences, rampant human rights violations, and wages that are less than $1/hour. This year, on the anniversary of the Attica uprising, prisoners across the country have launched a nationwide work strike. Here’s what we’re reading to learn more:

This Week May See the Largest Prison Strike in US History, by John Washington, via The Nation

"Planned for the 45th anniversary of the Attica Prison uprising, the actions of September 9 will shed light on the often decrepit conditions suffered by the 2.4 million people in what is the largest carceral system in the world. They will also mark a new point in the fight against mass incarceration, and likely stand as a harbinger for further actions and strikes to come. Malik Washington, an inmate in the H.H. Coffield Unit in Texas and the chief spokesperson for the End Prison Slavery in Texas movement, wrote to me in a letter: 'Prisoners in Amerikan prisons are sick and tired of being degraded, dehumanized, and exploited.'"


Remembering Attica, by Heather Ann Thompson, via Jacobin

“In the immediate aftermath of Attica, there were in fact very important reforms, but because of the lies told about Attica, the American public had a quickly convenient excuse to become more punitive. That punitive moment truly begins by 1972 and only increases thereafter.

It not only resulted in prisoners doing more time than ever before in American history, more solitary than ever before in American history, but also having more lockdowns — and, that is to say, less movements in prisons, less freedom of expression in prisons.”


How inmates are organizing a nationwide strike from behind bars, by Regina Willis, via Waging Nonviolence

“’We make products for every type of business you can think of,’ said Ray, who is being held in the St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville, Alabama, which was ranked one of the deadliest prisons in the nation just two years ago, due to overcrowding and an indifferent warden. ‘[The businesses involved] understand that this is an operation of slavery and everyone is exploiting the free labor out of the prisons.’" 


Nationwide Prison Strike Launches in 24 States and 40 Facilities over Conditions & Forced Labor, via Democracy Now!

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