On Sept. 9, 1971, a riot occurred at the Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, N.Y. The riot is one of the most well-known and significant uprisings of the Prisoners’ Rights Movement. It was based upon prisoners’ demands for political rights and better living conditions and was sparked two weeks after the killing of George Jackson, a Black Panther and organizer at San Quentin State Prison. During the Attica uprising, about 1,000 of the institutions’ approximately 2,200 inmates rioted and seized control of the prison, taking 42 staff hostage. They were able to maintain control of the prison for four days until they were overtaken, and 43 individuals (33 inmates and 10 correctional officers and civilian employees) wound up dead.

Attica 45 years later

Although no reports of anything that drastic have surfaced this year, thousands of prisoners across the nation chose the 45th anniversary of the Attica Prison Riot to launch their own nationwide prison strike, and it is already being recognized as the largest in American history with at least 24 states and 44 facilities confirming some sort of participation.

The chief complaint: “slave-like” labor conditions. Prisoners are also protesting mass incarceration overall, prison overcrowding, unhealthy/unsafe living conditions, mistreatment by prison guards and lack of access to rehabilitative resources.

At the forefront of this demonstration, are the Industrial Workers of the World – Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWW-IWOC) and the Free Alabama Movement (F.A.M.) which describes itself as a prisoner’s comrade’s solidarity organization which advocates for human rights, dignity, and respect while inmates serve their debt to society. The group’s motto is “to Educate, to Elevate, to Liberate.” F.A.M. works in solidarity with families outside of the prison walls to implement change on the inside.

A plan of action

After launching its movement in 2014 with the first coordinated work stoppages and shutdowns in Alabama prison history, F.A.M., building on its success with subsequent strikes, issued a call in 2015 with its document titled F.A.M.’s 6-Step Plan of Action 2015 for the first coordinated nationwide prison work strike in U.S. history. This plan, along with its publication, “Let The Crops Rot in The Field,” were then circulated throughout F.A.M.’s nascent network of supporters for its “National Freedom Movement Against Mass Incarceration and Prison Slavery.”

The plan called for supporters to do the following:

Step 1. Draft a Freedom Bill for your state, identifying the laws and changes that need to be made to address mass incarceration and prison slavery in your state.

Step 2. Find a prison in your state and make it the headquarters for your “Free (your state’s name) Movement.”

Step 3. Identify a list of McDonald’s storefronts in your city/county/state that you will organize awareness rallies/protests in front of. (McDonald’s was likely chosen because the fast-food chain is one of the largest companies contributing to the exploitation of inmate labor, by using prisoner’s services to produce its plastic cutlery and employee uniforms.

Step 4. Start organizing at the prisons with other family members on visitation days.

Step 5. Announce a “National Shutdown Day” for ALL incarcerated laborers.

Step 6. Shutdown.

National shutdown

According to reports, the national shutdown is turning out successfully. Prisoners have reportedly refused to work and at Holman Correctional Facility—F.A.M.’s headquarter prison in Atmore, Ala.—a source inside the prison reports that the correctional officers have had to pick up the slack on some labor tasks.

With assistance from many organizations and individuals, including Bro. Lorenzo “Kim’Boa” and Sis. JoNina Irvin of the Ida B. Wells Coalition against Police Brutality, Brianna Peril and David Boehnke of IWW-IWOC, Annabelle Parker and Mary Ratcliff of San Francisco Bay View, Free Mississippi Movement and Free Mississippi Movement United, Queen T of SignofTheTimes, Free Ohio Movement, Anthony Robinson of The New Underground Railroad, Mississippi Southern Belles, Anarchist Black Cross and many others, F.A.M. began organizing, leading and directing this national action.

F.A.M. has reiterated its call—first made Jan. 1, 2014 with its first coordinated work strike and peaceful demonstration both inside and outside of prisons—for the solution to the exploitation and abuses that take place in America’s prisons, including forced prison slavery.

F.A.M. has often stated that the solution to mass incarceration and prison slavery must be lead by the men, women and children who are incarcerated and who are contributing to prison slavery and their own oppression by continuing to produce goods and provide services and purchase products that generate billions of dollars in revenue each year to support prison slavery

Overlooked in 13th Amendment

The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution continues to permit slavery to exist in this country “as punishment of crime, whereof the person has been duly convicted,” and the institution and enterprise of slavery was legally transferred to the state government’s prison systems.

According to F.A.M., these protests are designed to expose the nefarious economic motives of individuals, state and federal government, and corporations like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Starbucks, John Deer, the ALEC Corporation, Victoria’s Secret, the U.S. military, Whole Foods, Wal-Mart, Keefe, AT&T and Verizon call centers, and many others behind laws like mandatory minimums, three strikes, prosecution of juveniles as adults etc. These statutes reportedly are used to incarcerate people under oppressive, inhumane conditions for extended periods of time, solely for the use of free prison labor for profit—all in the name of crime and punishment.

F.A.M. has issued its “Freedom Bill,” which contains the demands that they are asking the Alabama legislature to correct in addition to the problem of mass incarceration and prison slavery. It can be viewed in its entirety at https://freealabamamovement.wordpress.com/our-freedom-bill.

How is this possible?

Many are surprised at the success of this movement so far, and the burning question is: How is nationwide coordination possible, when it’s prohibited to even organize on prison grounds?

According to Wired.com, the answer is technology.

A surprising number of inmates have access to cell phones, which in many cases have been smuggled in by visitors. It’s also become more popular to purchase them from guards. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, nearly 9,000 phones were confiscated in California in 2011 alone.

Much has been done to keep them out, but it’s a large battle to fight. According to Wired, prison officials have tried the roundabout solution of petitioning the Federal Communications Commission for permission to install “jamming” technology that would make the phones inoperable, but haven’t had a lot of success. Not-surprisingly, the cell phone industry is against it.

A recent New York Times article identified a system in Mississippi called “managed access,” which has seen success with monitoring calls and texts. Callers using cell phones that are not on an approved list receive a message saying the device is illegal and will no longer function.

At the Mississippi State Penitentiary, which houses about 3,000 inmates, 643,388 calls and texts going in and out were intercepted in its initial trial phase from July 31 to Dec. 1, 2010.

However, no system is perfect and working phones still make it into prisoner’s hands by the thousands. And, nowadays, with the growing popularity of smart phones, more often than not if you have a cell phone, it is equipped with access to the internet.

This enables a number of prisoners to maintain a social media presence on popular sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. Some inmates use the assistance of family members on the outside to manage their profiles.

This level of coordination and the countless family members, activists, and supporters of the Prisoner’s Rights Movement, enabled activists to spread the word rather impressively leading up to the day of the strike.

Mask Magazine has acquired inmate sources involved in the demonstrations and is providing live updates on the happenings at a number of prisons. Updates can be followed by visiting, http://www.maskmagazine.com/the-prisoner-issue/struggle/live-updates-prisoner-strike.

The numbers

With 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prison population, the United States has the largest incarcerated population in the world. No other society in history has imprisoned more of its own citizens. Approximately 1 in 100 adults in America were incarcerated in 2014. According to Global Research, out of an adult population of 245 million that year, there were 2.4 million people in prison, jail or some form of detention center. The vast majority—86 percent—of prisoners have been locked up for non-violent, victimless crimes, many of them drug-related.

If that doesn’t offer enough shock value, research shows that crime in America, and especially violent crime, is on a steady decline, and has been since the turn of the new millennium. So, why are we incarcerating more Americans than ever? According to the Public Eye, political research associates, it’s all part of the Prison Industrial Complex.

The Prison Industrial Complex is a term used to describe the rapid expansion of the U.S. inmate population due to the political influence of private prison companies and businesses that supply goods and services to government prison agencies.

In other words, prison is profitable.

Prison is profitable

“The private contracting of prisoners for work fosters incentives to lock people up. Prisons depend on this income. Corporate stockholders who make money off prisoners’ work lobby for longer sentences, in order to expand the workforce. The system feeds itself,” says a study by the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), which accuses the prison industry of being “an imitation of Nazi Germany with respect to forced slave labor and concentration camps.”

The prison industrial complex is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States, and its investors are on Wall Street. “This multimillion-dollar industry has its own trade exhibitions, conventions, websites, and mail-order/Internet catalogs. It also has direct advertising campaigns, architecture companies, construction companies, investment houses on Wall Street, plumbing supply companies, food supply companies, armed security, and padded cells in a large variety of colors,” says PLP.

Likening the practices of prisons to slavery may seem extreme, but it isn’t a new practice. According to an article published by Global Research, prison labor has its roots in slavery. After the American Civil War (1861-1865), a system of “hiring out prisoners” was introduced in order to continue the slavery tradition. Freed slaves were charged with not carrying out their sharecropping commitments (cultivating someone else’s land in exchange for part of the harvest) or petty thievery—which were almost never proven—and “the guilty” were incarcerated and then “hired out” for cotton picking, working in mines and building railroads. From 1870 until 1910 in the state of Georgia, 88 percent of hired-out convicts were Black. In Alabama, 93 percent of “hired-out” miners were Black. In Mississippi, a huge prison farm similar to the old slave plantations became the mechanism for the system of hiring out convicts. It was called the Parchman plantation and it existed until 1972.

So who is in?

In California, women—one of the fastest growing segments of the prison population—may be leading the fight. According to Mask Magazine, women at the Central California Women’s Prison have joined the strike, and the facility is allegedly on lockdown for “fear of an uprising.”

Additionally, women at the Merced County and John Latorraca jails continue their hunger strike and those facilities have been placed on lockdown. Women at an unnamed facility in Kansas joined the strike, and the IWOC reported incarcerated women at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Virginia are also participating.

Mask Magazine wrote, “Block 1 of Merced County Jail had corrections officers lined up to shoot, they threatened to shoot and brought dogs in threatening to unleash them upon detainees. Inmates were pulled out of their cells by force and after searches placed back into their cells.”

There have been reported lockdowns at St. Cloud Correctional Facility in Minnesota as well as at the Franklin Correctional Facility in New York, the Perry Correctional Institution in South Carolina, Unit P of Miami Correctional Facility in Indiana, and Clallam Bay Corrections Center in Washington.

There were reports of demonstrations at the Gulf Correctional Institution, the Mayo Correctional Institution Annex, and Holmes Correctional Institution, all located in Florida, which prompted the Florida Department of Corrections to cancel weekend visitation at multiple facilities.

According to Shadowproof.com on Saturday morning, about 400 prisoners marched at the Kinross Correctional Facility in Michigan. Officials said they returned prisoners to their cells around 12:30 p.m., and 150 of the prisoners (believed to be instigators of the action) were transferred to other facilities.

Civilians in solidarity with the prisoners have held protests in the streets and in front of several Wendy’s, McDonalds, Aramark, and Starbucks locations across the nation. The movement has even had an international influence. According to teleSURtv.net, activists in Serbia, Lithuania, Spain, France, Britain, Greece, Germany, Sweden, Australia and Canada held sit-ins, waved banners and banged on prison walls bringing light to the companies in their nations that rely on prison labor. They are also trying to add pressure to end U.S. prison labor and highlighting prison conditions at home and detention policy for immigrants.