After Successful Strike, Minnesota Prisoners Think Bigger

Submitted by R Totale on December 20, 2018

In the wake of work strikes by at least 157 prisoners, Minnesota’s Rush City Correctional Facility has reversed a policy change that would have doubled the time prisoners must wait to receive canteen items they purchase. The change would have increased delivery delays from one week to two for items including hygiene products, over-the-counter medication, and food. Prison staff announced this reversal in an internal memo December 6, and the prison modified its daily schedule on December 10 to allow staff to catch up on canteen deliveries.

Information from prisoners in Rush City reveals that the number of participating strikers was higher than initially reported. According to prisoner Demetrius Dobbins, the 155 day and night shift Anagram Balloons workers who stopped work were joined by "a number of kitchen workers.” Moreover, many "workers who did show up for work… gave low production” on the job.

Strikers are pleased to see the reversal of the policy, but say that the canteen issue was only the final straw leading up to the action. According to Eric Johnson, the work stoppages were due to “a buildup of abusive behavior from some correctional officers, poor medical treatment, a lack of programming… and [an] employer who continues to make it harder to make a dollar.” James Jemming agreed, adding “it would have been nice if over 200 people did not have to put their safety and relative freedom on the line for someone to see or listen to just how [the change] would affect the population here.”

Following the canteen policy reversal, Rush City prisoners we spoke with are looking to the future, and to bigger goals. Dobbins argues that “the overcrowding problem should be central right now.” Because of overcrowding, “a majority of the prison population are not provided adequate healthcare and rehabilitative programs.”

Some see policy changes like good time and decreasing time served in prison, including for those with life sentences as central next steps, while to others continued conversation with administration is a prominent theme. To Kashaun Pierce, it is crucial “for now and the future [to come] together to build a good, peaceful, and respectful relationship between the Rush City correctional officers/staff and inmates.” Adds Jemming, such a relationship would “remove a huge percentage of the violence in the system.”

“For years the Department Of Corrections and especially Rush City Prison have suppressed our voices, our ideals, but not our thoughts,” says Pierce. “We are just fed up with being treated like our voices doesn't matter… some of us have said enough is enough.”