Friday, December 17, 2010

Why Has the Media Ignored the Prison Strike in Georgia?

Prison Cells
Prison Cells by Dana Gonzales
Sometimes I lie in bed questioning the career path I've chosen for myself. Journalism is a hard industry to get into and I start freaking out when I think of the school loans and all the uncertainty. There's something really scary about trying to find a career rather then just a job. But then I read about something that no one seems to care about, and I remember why I made this decision in the first place. Information is my favorite currency and I don't understand why some stories are overlooked for no reason at all.

One example of this, is the prison work strike in Georgia that started on December 9th. Lasting for one week, the strike is the largest prison strike in American history. Spanning ten different prisons, the prisoners were able to coordinate a non-violent work strike by thousands of inmates. And yet, where has the media coverage been? Where are the statements by the Congressional Black Caucus? While President Obama felt the need to get involved in a squabble between one man and one officer, the actions of thousands of people doesn't seem to warrant any attention at all. Not if those people are inmates it seems.

The prison industrial complex is one of the most disgusting enterprises in America and our habit of disenfranchising inmates once they do leave prison ads insult to injury. The prisoners in these prisons are fighting for basic human rights. Their list of demands is simple and reasonable.

The full list of demands:
* A LIVING WAGE FOR WORK: In violation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, the DOC demands prisoners work for free.

* EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES: For the great majority of prisoners, the DOC denies all opportunities for education beyond the GED, despite the benefit to both prisoners and society.

* DECENT HEALTH CARE: In violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments, the DOC denies adequate medical care to prisoners, charges excessive fees for the most minimal care and is responsible for extraordinary pain and suffering.

* AN END TO CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENTS: In further violation of the Eighth Amendment, the DOC is responsible for cruel prisoner punishments for minor infractions of rules.

* DECENT LIVING CONDITIONS: Georgia prisoners are confined in over-crowded, substandard conditions, with little heat in winter and oppressive heat in summer.

* NUTRITIONAL MEALS: Vegetables and fruit are in short supply in DOC facilities while starches and fatty foods are plentiful.

* VOCATIONAL AND SELF-IMPROVEMENT OPPORTUNITIES: The DOC has stripped its facilities of all opportunities for skills training, self-improvement and proper exercise.

* ACCESS TO FAMILIES: The DOC has disconnected thousands of prisoners from their families by imposing excessive telephone charges and innumerable barriers to visitation.

* JUST PAROLE DECISIONS: The Parole Board capriciously and regularly denies parole to the majority of prisoners despite evidence of eligibility.
Inmates are currently forced to work for free, are living three to a cell in cells made for only one person, and given no education opportunities. Anyone who knows someone in prison knows how racially devided the prison population is. Racism is rampant in a way that doesn't compare to our everyday lives. And yet these inmates found a way to come together. That alone should say something about how bad the conditions are.
“They transferred some of the high Muslims here to max already,” one prisoner told Black Agenda Report this morning. “They want to break up the unity we have here. We have the Crips and the Bloods, we have the Muslims, we have the head Mexicans, and we have the Aryans all with a peaceful understanding, all on common ground. We all want to be paid for our work, and we all want education in here. There's people in here who can't even read... They're trying to provoke people to violence in here, but we're not letting that happen. We just want our human rights."
In response to the strike, prison officials cut off the hot water and transferred inmates they thought may have been leaders in the strike. They also confiscated cell phones, that inmates bought from correction officers, and forced the prisons into lockdown.

The Black Agenda Report said it perfectly when they said:
It's simple. With one in twelve Georgia adults in jail or prison, parole or probation or other court and correctional supervision, prisoners are us. They are our families. They are our fathers and our mothers, our sons and daughters, our nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles and cousins. Most prisoners will be back out in society sooner, not later. It's time for us all to grow up and realize that warehousing, malnourishing, mistreating and abusing prisoners does not make us safer. Denying prisoners meaningful training and educational opportunities, and forcing them to work for no wages is not the way to do.

It's time to fundamentally reconsider prison as we know it, and America's public policy of mass incarceration.
We have to ask ourselves what it is we think our prison system should be doing. Is it punish people and teach them the "error of their ways?" If so, then how does dehumanizing and demoralizing these men and women turn them into better citizens? Far too many prisoners are poor and black for us to refuse to believe there's not a fundamental problem with the way our prison system is currently set up. The United States incarcerates more of its citizens then any place in the world. The line between us and them is thin and tenuous. While I agree that these inmates should be held accountable for their actions, we can't forget they're people.

And in all of this, just another example of how the mainstream media is failing us. But that's okay. Let's talk about Michael Moore and Julian Assange some more.


  1. Wow, I didn't know this - and I live very close to Georgia.
    I have seen people go to prison, only to come out hardened. It seems the only thing they can learn there is how to become a better criminal. That is sad.

    As an aside, we, as a society, need to seriously consider changing our draconian drug laws. It's estimated that 34% of Amercans smoke we really think all hose folks are criminals??? Do we have room in the jails for that many stoners?

  2. I know. It's ridiculous. Plus most drug users are white and most people in jail/prison for drug related crimes are black.

  3. I have become a strong believer in rehabilitation through education, work and compassion. I've been saying for a while now that we ought to introduce more programs (starting in juvenile facilities) where the inmates do farm work, help train companion dogs for the disabled, etc. There have been programs where prisoners work with guide dogs that are hugely successful.

    There should also be vocational training. Teach these men and women to channel their energies into something they can do FOR the world--construction, welding, mechanics, whatever--and help them earn a certificate they can use when they are out. But then, I think we should also be promoting more vocational education in our high schools, too.


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