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Alabama Prison Strike

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Prison strikes are rare. They require very difficult coordination and just getting information out about them is hard. I’ve written about this before. Now, there is another one, this time in Alabama.

Thousands of Alabama inmate workers began a labor strike this week to protest poor prison conditions across the state, where facilities are overcrowded, understaffed and notoriously dangerous.

The protest, which also calls for broader criminal justice reforms, began on Monday. Diyawn Caldwell, the president of Both Sides of the Wall, an advocacy group, said the organization is coordinating the strike with inmates across the state and predicted that about 80 percent of the roughly 25,000 people in prison would participate in the strike, forgoing their usual jobs as cooks and cleaners.

The strike, an uncommon occurrence in prisons, is intended to draw attention to the overcrowding crisis in Alabama prisons that has long shadowed governors and correctional officials. It also threatens to disrupt the prison system as officials take on the work that inmates usually do.

Ms. Caldwell’s husband, Cordarius Caldwell, 34, who is incarcerated at Ventress Correctional Facility on a murder offense, said by phone on Tuesday that inmates had received two sack lunches on Monday and Tuesday, rather than the normal three meals.

The Alabama corrections system has drawn the ire of the Justice Department, which released a report in 2019 that outlined “severe, systemic” conditions across the state’s prisons that violated constitutional protection from cruel and unusual punishment because they were in danger of being raped or murdered.

The report found that major prisons were at 182 percent of capacity, and that prisoners in the Alabama system endured some of the highest rates of homicide and rape in the country.

Why not strike in these conditions? Hardly different than Jim Crow.

What’s interesting here is the role that Zoom has played in allowing different prisoners to speak to each other.

Advocates from Alabama Prison Advocacy and Incarcerated Families United and other groups had been scheduling Zoom calls with inmates since late June, asking them to persuade other incarcerated people to participate in the strike, Ms. Caldwell said. The calls were mostly with inmates who had influence among prisoners.

“We set a date and, you know, got the message out and got it clear that, ‘Hey, this is what we’re going to do; if you guys want freedom, you know, you have to walk in unison,’” she added.

The strike comes a week after photos of an emaciated inmate, Kastellio Vaughan, captured the attention of thousands online. His sister posted the photos on Facebook, writing, “Get Help.”

I imagine the response will be to isolate prisoners even more, as we turn them into non-humans in our vindictive, cruel, and racist society.

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