During early 2018 prisoners across Florida are gonna “laydown” in nonviolent protest of the intolerable conditions in Florida’s prisons.
The objectionable conditions being protested include unpaid slave labor, compounded by outright price-gouging in the system’s commissary and package services, and the gain-time scam that replaced parole, which, coupled with extreme sentencing, has created overcrowding and inhumane conditions.
The “laydown” will consist of a prisoner work stoppage and their refusal to participate in any state-sanctioned or related activities, and is planned to last for several weeks, or perhaps indefinitely, until their concerns are addressed.
It is imperative that the public be aware of the prisoners’ need for resolutions and of their abuses.
A Culture of Abuse, Corruption and Inhumane Conditions
Having been confined in the Florida Department of Corruption (FDOC) for six months at the time of writing this, and being able to contrast conditions here with those in other prison systems (Florida’s is my fourth state prison system in six years), I can personally attest that conditions here are among the worst I’ve seen.
In fact, the past four months have passed without me writing any articles, and during that time I have fallen behind in my own legal pursuits because I’ve been overwhelmed trying to help others’ efforts and needs to counter and challenge the extreme levels of abuse occurring constantly around me here at Florida State Prison (FSP).
On a literal daily basis prisoners are gassed, tortured and/or brutally beaten by guards with the full complicity of medical and mental health staff. As part of this culture of abuse, grievance officials routinely trash prisoners’ attempts to grieve their mistreatment. This to eliminate any records of the abuses and to frustrate any potential attempts at litigation1 .
These and attendant conditions illustrate the inhumane and unjust outrages that Florida prisoners are protesting.
Take for example that FDOC prisoners are forced to work without pay. Only one job pays a token wage (namely the prison commissary), which, at $50 a month, is lower than 3rd world sweatshop rates.
The enforced slave labor in the FDOC is a literal continuation of the old antebellum slave system, selectively enforced against people of color and the poor and based upon the 13th Amendment which only modified slavery at the end of the Civil War in 1865, to permit enslavement of those convicted of crimes. It was under this reformed slavery that Blacks were targeted for re-enslavement and the FDOC was established three years later in 1868 which the FDOC proudly boasts on its seal2 .
Coupled with Florida prisoners receiving no wages, they must purchase basic hygiene supplies, seasonal clothing, shoes and supplemental foods and beverages from a grossly overpriced commissary and package system, which weighs heavily on their loved ones. Otherwise prisoners must do without.
Again, by contrasting the FDOC with other prison systems that I’ve been recently confined to, I can readily illustrate and attest to this pricing scam. In fact, those on the outside can compare the prices between FDOC’s packaging system with that in Texas, by visiting access.com and FloridaPackages.com for Florida prices and going to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s (sic!) website and going to Ecommdirect.com for Texas prices.
FDOC prices are literally double or more the prices of the same or similar items sold to Texas prisoners. Here are some random examples comparing the 2017 prices of the same or similar items sold to FDOC versus TDCJ prisoners:
1. A Speed Stick deodorant is $2.50 (TX); while a generic Oraline Secure roll-on deodorant is $4.00 (FL);
2. One AA battery is $.27 (TX); a pack of two AA batteries is $3.02 (FL);
3. A roll of toilet paper is $.50 (TX); $1.00 (FL);
4. Ten letter size envelopes are $.30 (TX); $.80 (FL);
5. Multivitamins—100 count—are $2.30 (TX); $7.21 (FL);
6. A 16.9 ounce bottle of water is $.15 (TX); $.99 (FL);
7. A 3.5 ounce pouch of mackerel fillets is $.85 (TX); $1.59 (FL);
8. A 4 ounce bag of coffee is $.85 and $1.90 (TX); $6.03 (FL);
9. One Top Ramen soup is $.30 (TX); $.70 (FL);
10. Ten individual packs of oatmeal are $1.50 (TX); $5.30 (FL);
11. A bottle of nasal spray is $1.85 (TX); $8.75 (FL), and so on.
Again, these are only random samples showing the comparative overpricing of items sold to FDOC prisoners. It should also be kept in mind that the quality of goods sold by prison vendors are typically inferior to those sold to the general public.
Forced to work without pay and to purchase goods at usurious prices, while most come from poor communities, prisoners are especially vulnerable to such pricing scams, and most obviously cannot afford to purchase basic necessities, supplement the inadequate prison meals and nutrition, and acquire the few allowed amenities at the prices set by the FDOC.
This is particularly problematic where, as the Florida media has exposed, the FDOC has been caught denying its prisoners such basic necessities as toilet paper, toothpaste, soap, etc. and have issued and forced them to wear clothes that are threadbare and literally shredded. They are also made to live in housing units that are falling apart around them.3
And while prison officials love to profess their function to be that of “rehabilitating” those they confine so that they might become productive members of society upon release, nothing be further from the truth. Slavery does not teach one work ethic nor how to be free.
With little to no outside support, most prisoners are forced to hustle and scheme as a means of acquiring necessities and amenities. Forcing people to work without pay while denying them needed and desired things, only teaches them to becomes thieves, predators and swindlers. So officials are actually teaching criminality. Which is only reinforced by the culture of corruption that pervades the FDOC, which is beyond the pale.
Some of that corruption began to come out in the media during and after 2014 when outside protests and litigation exposed patterns of FDOC prisoners being killed by officials and covered up at the highest administrative and investigative levels. Particularly the murder of a mentally ill prisoner, Darren Rainey, in 2012 by guards scalding him to death in a rigged shower at Dade Correctional Institution which was swept under the rug until exposed in 2014.
The public exposure of this incident and the attempts to cover it up opened a can of worms, leading to the exposure of numerous other killings, routine malicious beatings and gassings of prisoners by guards, systemic denials of mental health care, and more, as a deeply entrenched statewide culture (which continues)4 .
Also exposed was a system of retaliations, firings and harassments against investigators and other staff who tried to report or expose such abuses, engineered at highest levels of power in the FDOC.5
This abusive environment has been made all the worse by such staffing problems as frequent guard turnovers, low pay, chronic understaffing, and a generally inadequately trained and unprofessional staff body.
These are among the many inhumane and intolerable conditions and abuses that FDOC prisoners suffer every day with no voice or help, and which they are protesting for relief from. They need and deserve all possible support.
Dare to struggle, dare to win!
All Power to the people!
Originally posted on the Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee website.
- 1Under federal law prisoners must exhaust any existing prison grievance procedures before filing suit. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). This requirement is however invalidated when officials obstruct a prisoner’s grievances. Turner v. Burnside, 541 F. 3d 1077, 1083—84 (11th cir. 2008).
- 2See, Jessica Lipscomb, “Unpaid Florida Prisoners Forced to Clean Up After Hurricane Irma,” The New Times, Sept. 28, 2017.
- 3Mary Ellen Klas, “Florida Prisons Have Toilet Paper, But They’re Not Supplying it to Some Inmates,” Miami Herald, July 19, 2017; Paula Dockery, “Inspector General Fiasco Adds to Prison Woes,” Florida Today, May 9, 2015.
- 4A series of many , many reports covering these issues have come out in the Miami Herald from 2014 to present, many written by journalists Julie K. Brown and Mary Ellen Klas. These reports are too numerous to list here but can be reviewed online by interested readers.
- 5Julie K. Brown, “Top Cop Accused of Thwarting Investigations Quits Florida Prison System,” Miami Herald, December 21, 2016; Mary Ellen Klas and Julie K. Brown, “New Prison Policy Punishes Investigators Who Speak Out,’ Miami Herald, February 5, 2015, Mary Ellen Klas, “Florida Prison Inspectors Detail Alleged Interference in Their Investigations,” Miami Herald, June 1, 2016