This August we’re expecting a firestorm of resistance and rebellion to rage through US prisons. Jailhouse Lawyers Speak (JLS), The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), and other groups in and out of prisons across the country have joined in another call for a national protest from August 21 to September 9, 2018. This will be the third call in as many years for national-level action against prison, and we think it will be the most significant and impactful.
Whether seeking abolition or reform, decarceration or policy change, the struggle against mass incarceration advances most when driven by direct action inside prisons. In recent years the prisoner resistance movement has been shaped by national-level coordination. Massive numbers of currently incarcerated people mobilize in response to these calls, despite communication restrictions and great risk for retaliation. This year, the call is already spreading widely and outside support is poised to rise and meet it. Ignoring or downplaying this call will leave the narrative of the anti-mass incarceration movement in the hands of people other than those most immediately and directly impacted.
The Fire Inside was inspired by the September 9, 2016 nationally coordinated strike and protest. We are a project of strategic development, collecting and circulating reflections, analysis and best practices from prisoner rebels and their supporters. Our support for the current call comes without hesitation, and should be no surprise, but it is not routine or casual. We want everyone to understand, we believe August 2018 is going to be lit. By that we mean: massive, transformative, world-changing.
We want to provide here not only our endorsement, but also some historical context, careful thoughts, and the reasons we believe this summer will see the stars align behind the rebels. This call can strike a blow like no other to the prison society and the US capitalist system in general. Please, get on it.
HISTORY AND STRATEGY
The call originated with Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, a national collective of incarcerated people providing legal assistance and support to other prisoners. As of this writing, incarcerated rebels from 17 states have committed to participating. JLS had considered waiting until the next summer, but after the deadly uprisings at Lee correctional facility in South Carolina that cost seven prisoners’ lives, they decided it was important and urgent to take collective action. Doing so allows imprisoned rebels to refocus the struggle onto degradations, oppression, and torture by the prison system, rather than horizontal violence between prisoners that has been sensationalized by the media and prison authorities.
Jailhouse Lawyers Speak chose August 21 – September 9 for its historical significance, but this choice also shows developing strategy. In 1971 George Jackson was assassinated by San Quentin guards on August 21st, and prisoners across the country responded with protests and defiance that culminated in the infamous September 9th take-over of Attica. This year, prison rebels will use those same dates for a sustained and equally transformational protest.
Nineteen days of facility or state-wide work refusal, sit-downs, or lockdown will cost the system dearly, in terms of both money and legitimacy. Replacing 19 days of prisoner labor can cost millions, not to mention the cost of breaking occupations and repairing damaged facilities. This action can bankrupt not only prison systems, but entire state budgets. Exposing retaliation and drawing attention to horrendous conditions and routines also corrodes the prisons’ public legitimacy. By the end of this protest period, any impacted government is likely to grant substantive concessions to prisoner demands, and to open their minds to harm-reducing reforms, alternatives, and policy changes. This is how direct action on the inside rapidly advances every aspect of the multi-pronged struggle against mass incarceration or for abolition everywhere.
FUELING FIRES, STOKING FLAMES
A month after events at Lee Correctional led JLS to issue the call, 4 different factions at a prison in Missouri signed a truce and took action against the prison. They staged a sit-down protest, which then escalated to hot-wiring a forklift and using it to break into a prison factory the size of two football fields. There they destroyed the machines they’re normally forced to work on. The connection with JLS’s call was overt by “August 21” graffiti on the prison’s walls, and a public statement that said “we are calling on all Gs to join us as one around the Nation on August 21. Stage more sit ins. Make peace for this…” In Angola (a former slave barracks turned notorious prison in Louisiana), prisoners also engaged in a massive strike.
Prisoners in Texas have also issued a call for outside support on Juneteenth (Tuesday June 19) of this year. Requesting “outreach activities [that] aim to put pressure on the prison system and build community support for ending mass incarceration,” leading up to Juneteenth, a national abolitionist holiday. This call is reminiscent of the Free Alabama Movement’s requests for outside demonstrations at McDonalds in March of 2015 or the Millions for Prisoners march in August of 2017. Building and visibly mobilizing outside support is essential to prison-rebels’ tactical decisions and participation options.
Events in Missouri, Angola, Texas and other locations parallel the momentum building we saw preceding the history-making strike on September 9th, 2016. Starting in March of that year we saw multiple uprisings at Holman Correctional in Alabama, and an April strike in Texas. These events underscored a call for national action which resulted in the largest prison strike in history and the first to be nationally organized, with intense participation on both sides of the fences everywhere from Florida to Michigan to Oregon.
LESSONS FROM 2016 AND 2017
Between September 9th 2016 and this year there have been multiple attempts to repeat and escalate national protest actions which had limited success for multiple reasons. Most notably, there was and continues to be intensive state repression against prison rebels and incarcerated leadership, but the J20 cases, trumpism, and fighting the alt-right additionally overshadowed other struggles and detracted from our outside support base. Despite those factors, the Millions for Prisoners weekend on August 19, 2017 led state prison officials in Florida and South Carolina to preemptively lock-down their entire state system, impacting over 121,000 prisoners, which actually doubles the nation-wide numbers from September 9, 2016. This event didn’t gather as much national attention because it was limited to two states, it was unclear what would have happened inside if not for the lockdowns, and because it went down a week after the deadly Unite the Right conflagration in Charlottesville, VA. The weekend of August 19th saw Movement for Black Lives call for solidarity with Charlottesville actions nationally, and a massive anti-fascist counter rally in Boston, which overshadowed the media attention that Millions for Prisoners was designed to generate.
There are other important aspects of the Aug. 21st – Sep. 9th 2018 call-out and plan of action that differ from the September 9th 2016 nationwide strike. In 2016, prisoners expressed frustration over not knowing how long to maintain their strikes and struggled with determining their own locally relevant demands. In an effort to correct that, the strike organizers have issued national-level demands, as well as a distinct time frame. Most of the demands are not actionable items that prison authorities are able to grant, but rather they require deep legislative and cultural changes. We should not think of these as negotiation goals to pursue state by state with prison authorities, but rather as demands made by prison rebels of the racist Amerikkkan plantation system. Their demands include, but are not limited to:
An immediate end to prison slavery.
Rescind the Prison Litigation Reform Act, allowing imprisoned humans a proper channel to address grievances and rights violations
Rescind the Truth in Sentencing Act and the Sentencing Reform Act, allowing for the possibility of parole
An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and brown humans.
An immediate end to racist gang enhancement laws targeting Black and brown humans.
No imprisoned human shall be denied access to rehabilitation programs at their place of detention because of their label as a violent offender.
State prisons must be funded specifically to offer more rehabilitation services.
Pell grants must be reinstated in all US states and territories.
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.
The call to action has more clarity and direction compared to the ambiguities of September 9th, 2016 (see attached appendix for the original call). The goal is not to hold out and win negotiations with officials, but to last those 19 days and punch the issue to the top of national political consciousness and agenda. JLS also cite the goal of turning political attention away from prisoners fighting each other, like the deadly riot at Lee correctional in South Carolina, and to use this moment instead to turn energies towards fighting the establishment.
OUTSIDE SUPPORT AND WHAT YOU CAN DO
1. Talk with and establish inside contacts.
Though Jailhouse Lawyer Speaks and other incarcerated rebels have spread the word through their networks, there are countless facilities in about 33 states that have not yet heard of the planned actions. Getting word in to folks on the inside will require some creativity to bypass mailroom censors. Ask your local IWOC branch or other groups doing prisoner support, they will have tips and ideas.
Provide your inside contact with this legal observer affidavit and legal contact
We’ve included a legal observer affidavit (see this embedded attachment), provided by the National Lawyers Guild PLAN team that all inside contacts could use. PLAN is asking everyone in a correctional facility who is witness to state repression, use of force, or violation of rights in response to collective protect action to fill out this form and return it to the address indicated on the form. They will keep people’s names and contact information confidential and will be compiling the reports to establish patterns of violations and for use in any legal action taken against a facility or prison system.
Inside contacts should establish legal mail with the attorney listed on the legal observer affidavit before August 21st
At the bottom of page 2, there is an attorney listed with NLG PLAN. Inside contacts can establish correspondence with him through legal mail which is protected from most mailroom scrutiny, empowering inside contacts to safely write out about their experiences.
2. Follow JLS on Twitter and other alternative media projects.
Jailhouse Lawyer Speaks and affiliated outside support groups have a presence on twitter. You don’t need an account to stay informed. Be sure to keep following these accounts, as they are particularly active in reporting: @jaillawspeak, @iwoc_oakland, @MI_Abolition, @IWW_IWOC, @SlaveryPrison, @IGD_News, @FightXPrisons,
We also want to call your attention to Support Prisoner Resistance’s updates on various prison uprisings and revolts at supportprisonerresistance.net. This site will soon launch a timeline of contemporary prisoner-led actions from 2010 to the present, which is the first initiative of its kind and will demonstrate the scope and breadth of prison resistance among the world’s largest prison population.
3. Support Juneteenth call to action.
Incarcerated rebels in Texas and Florida affiliated with #OperationPush and the End Prison Slavery in Texas movement are calling for actions on Tuesday, June 19th 2018, also known as Juneteenth, to commemorate the abolition of slavery. Juneteenth marks the end of chattel slavery, but because white supremacy and racial terror have shifted to enactment through policing and prisons, we still struggle against antiblack racism and racialized capitalism. Our imprisoned comrades are fighting for: an end to slave labor, a stop to the profiteering off of prisoners, a decrease in the prison population, and environmental justice in the prison industrial complex. They are asking that communities plan outreach activities and build community support against imprisonment and torture, while simultaneously putting pressure on the prison system.
4. Create and nurture strong support networks.
Tell everyone to watch for prisoner actions leading up to and during August 21st to September 9th. Publish prisoner letters on local conditions. Write up an analysis on prisoner support initiatives and your state or region’s prison regime. Offer teach-ins about resistance to prison terror and incarceration as a tool of social control.
This is the moment to establish more connections and to build strong networks with which to resist the repression that will surely come August 21st to September 9th. We’ll need to organize phone trees to coordinate call-ins on behalf of targeted prisoners. We’ll need to plan local events leading up to and during the 19 days of prisoner resistance. We need to be prepared to organize specific solidarity rallies and actions with national-level activities to gain attention and excitement. We’ll need to prepare and better understand what the mailroom policies are in our state or region’s prison system. Some locations won’t participate and we need to understand why and in what ways the prisons are restricting prisoners’ access to these events or otherwise preemptively locking people down.
Let’s make these prison walls quake and tumble,
Until they all fall down,
Signed in solidarity and fully endorsed by, The Fire Inside Collective
Read our zine online: https://incarceratedworkers.org/fire-inside