A group of anonymous Florida prisoners recently published a statement announcing their plan to organize a strike against unpaid labor and inhuman conditions. Florida has the third-largest prison system in the country and has seen an increase in protests over the years, both peaceful and violent.
The prisoner’s demands are extremely reasonable, and were listed in their statement as follows:
1. Payment for our labor, rather than the current slave arrangement
2. Ending outrageous canteen prices
3. Reintroducing parole incentives to lifers and those with Buck Rogers dates
Along with these primary demands, we are also expressing our support for the following goals:
• Stop the overcrowding and acts of brutality committed by officers throughout FDOC which have resulted in the highest death rates in prison history.
• Expose the environmental conditions we face, including extreme temperatures, mold, contaminated water, and being placed next to toxic sites such as landfills, military bases, and phosphate mines (including a proposed mine which would surround the Reception and Medical Center prison in Lake Butler).
• Honor the moratorium on state executions, as a court-ordered the state to do, without the legal loophole now being used to kill prisoners on death row.
• Restore voting rights as a basic human right to all, not a privilege, regardless of criminal convictions.
The statement went on to say that, “Our goal is to make the Governor realize that it will cost the state of Florida millions of dollars daily to contract outside companies to come and cook, clean, and handle the maintenance. This will cause a total BREAK DOWN. In order to become very effective, we must use everything we have to show that we mean business. This is our chance to establish UNITY and SOLIDARITY. This is the strategy of Operation PUSH! A voice locked up is not a voice unheard!”
The organizers of the protest also addressed the issue of using prisoners for slave labor.
“We are encouraging prisoners throughout the DOC to band together in an effort to demand payment for work performances. One of the main reasons why we’re demanding payment as opposed to gain time is because the DOC is bent on taking something we’ve earned away and using it against us to restructure new release dates. Another reason is that $50 and a bus ticket to parts unknown is not working for us, especially if we have conditions that require us to pay out of pocket cost. The system knows that the odds are heavily stacked against us when we re-enter into mainstream society, so they make it look like they’re helping us by giving us $50, but the reality is it’s not enough to do anything with! With even a modest amount of payment we will be able to save up something to survive outside with; for those with lengthy sentences, they would be able to support themselves inside,” the statement read.
The use of prisoners for slave labor has gained national attention in recent months after it was reported that nonviolent offenders were fighting wildfires in California for no pay.
There are many people in our society who have a hard time developing any sympathy for inmates, but it is important to remember how fallible and corrupt the legal system is when reading stories about people in prison because many innocent people end up behind bars. Even among those technically “guilty” of breaking some law, a vast majority (nearly 70% according to some statistics) are peaceful people or so-called nonviolent offenders who don’t belong in prison, to begin with. These people are not guilty of any transgression, and they are in fact themselves victims of state violence.
Since 1991 the violent crime rate in America has dropped at least 20%, while the amount of people in prison has increased by 50% in that time. These numbers show that the rapid increase in prisoners is largely due to over prosecution of nonviolent crimes. This has nothing to do with “cleaning up the streets” or making our society safer, this is about controlling society and turning human beings into a cash crop.