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Update on #OperationPUSH in Florida Prisons

By IWOC - It's Going Down, January 19, 2018

Photo from @IWW_IWOC, features banner that was put up at solidarity demonstration at facility where two ex-prison Florida guards who were found guilty of belonging to the Ku-Klux-Klan, and were plotting to kill a black inmate after his release. 

It’s been a hard silence for the past 5 days since Operation PUSH launched a statewide prisoner strike in the FL Department of Corrections prison system (FDOC or FDC) coinciding with Martin Luther King Day.

Information from prisoners is coming in at a much slower pace than people on the outside had anticipated, but reports are slowly and steadily making their way through the walls, despite many obstacles.

Thus far, we’ve heard from prisoners that there has been active participation or repression of some sort in the following prisons: Santa Rosa, Jackson, Gulf, Hamilton, Avon Park, Franklin, Holmes, Everglades, Reception and Medical Center at Lake Butler, Liberty, Lowell, Columbia, Florida State Prison, Suwannee, Calhoun, and Martin. (The list is growing by the day.)

Strike Repression

A common theme among report backs is the attempt by the DOC to sever communication in order to create the perception of inactivity and break the spirits of those participating in the strike. Key contacts inside have reported being threatened by administration with harsher retaliation if correspondence with advocacy groups such as Fight Toxic Prisons and Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee continues.

According to prisoner reports, some facilities have shut off state phone service as of Tuesday, January 16. A Security Threat Group (STG) investigator employed at a prison in the panhandle confirmed that multiple prisons across the state were placed on lockdown in preparation for the strike. Shakedowns have occurred where independent means of communication were confiscated and their alleged owners/users were thrown in solitary confinement.

We’ve heard reports that widespread investigations are occurring for anyone who has received or sent mail to organizations offering support on the outside and certain individuals are being labelled a “security threat” for doing so which can result in heightened custody levels, which means a loss of privileges, and continued harassment by the STG unit. One prisoner was told, “As long as you communicate with these people you’re always going to be labelled a security threat and you’re always going to be put under investigation.”

Given the past two years of prisoner organizing in Florida, it’s understandable that there is an expectation to hear of something distinct on the inside marking the start of the strike.

Inmates Launch Month-Long Strike to Protest 'Slavery Conditions' in Florida Prisons

By Julia Conley - Common Dreams, January 14, 2018

Inmates in Florida's prisons launched a month-long strike on Monday in protest of the state's use of "modern day slavery" within its correctional facilities.

In a statement released by the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons, one of several advocacy groups supporting the movement, the state's prisoners urged the prison population to refuse all work assignments during the strike:

We are encouraging prisoners throughout the DOC to band together in an effort to demand payment for work performances...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.

African-Americans make up about a third of Florida's prison population, despite accounting for only about 17 percent of the state's overall population. Calling their movement Operation Push, after Rev. Jesse Jackson's 1970s campaign to improve the economic status of African-Americans, the state's inmates are fighting against the Department of Corrections' price-gouging practices and Florida's elimination of parole as well as its use of unpaid labor by prisoners.

Florida is one of five states that offers no payment to inmates for their work—from washing prison uniforms and cooking meals to completing maintenance work and serving on cleanup crews after Hurricane Irma hit the state last September.

"There's a word for that, it's called slavery," Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, told the Guardian. "Some states might say they pay 10 cents a day, or 15 cents an hour, or whatever, but here they make it pretty clear they don't pay prisoners anything, they're not going to, and prisoners are totally enslaved at every level."

On top of receiving no compensation for their work, inmates—and their families—have to come up with money to afford food and other items sold in prisons.

"We can no longer allow the state to take advantage of our families' hard earned money by over-charging us," wrote the inmates in their statement. "Take for example: one case of soup on the street cost $4.00. It costs us $17.00 on the inside. This is highway robbery without a gun. It's not just us that they’re taking from. It's our families who struggle to make ends meet and send us money—they are the real victims that the state of Florida is taking advantage of."

Black Lives Matter, several local chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America, and Florida State University's NAACP chapter are among more than 100 groups that have announced their support for the movement. Many of the groups planned to hold a rally with inmates' friends and families at the state's Department of Corrections on Tuesday.

Florida Gears-Up to Offer Solidarity to #OperationPush

By staff - It's Going Down,

On January 15th, prisoners in Florida are set to take action against prison slavery across the state.

According to Fight Toxic Prisons:

[T]hese prisoners plan to initiate a work stoppage or “laydown” beginning Monday, January 15th, coinciding with MLK Day, in nonviolent protest of conditions in FL prisons. They are calling it Operation PUSH.

Their primary demands are clear and concise: end prison slavery, stop price gouging, and fully return parole. They believe these issues have directly created the overcrowding that is responsible for the deplorable conditions in Florida prisons.

Their statement also raises other major issues that need to be grappled with, including the death penalty, voting rights and environmental health conditions.

Prisoners themselves have also issued a statement about their reasons for organizing the action:

We are currently forming a network agency within D.O.C. We are asking all prisoners within the Department of Corrections to take a stand by laying down starting January 15, 2018, until the injustice we see facing prisoners within the Florida system is resolved.

We are calling on all organized groups as well as religious systems to come together on the same page. We will be taking a stand for:

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.

Also, Haitian prisoners in Florida have issued a statement in support of Operation PUSH, both the Final Straw and Kine Line have released interviews with organizers involved with the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) about supporting the strike, and IGD’s Bloc Party was able to conduct an interview with an incarcerated organizer, which you can read here.

Paperwrenching Prisons and Pipelines

By Panagioti - Earth First! Journal, October 28, 2017

AUTHOR’S NOTE: If your the type who likes to cut to the chase, here it goes: There are two open comment periods for Environmental Impacts Statements (EIS) that you should know about. One for the Sabal Trail Pipeline and another for the Letcher County federal prison. So take a few minutes to submit a comment ASAP using those links embedded up there. For those who prefer some background and deeper analysis, read on…

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Last year I co-authored “From Prisons to Pipelines” with a former-prisoner and Lakota friend from the Pine Ridge Reservation. We were moved to write by the #NoDAPL and #PrisonStrike grassroots organizing efforts that were sweeping the nation, particularly in ways that hit close to home for us.

Since that was published, a prison in Appalachian East Kentucky and a pipeline through the springlands of North Florida both became hotspots on the unofficial map of eco-resistance. Right now, there are opportunities in both of these efforts to significantly broaden the base of support for these two fights and build the long-term foundation for effective resistance.

“Paperwrenching” an EIS approval is the one of the most effective strategies for securing environmental victories, and it is essential groundwork for campaigns that escalate to direct action (especially for folks who might try to use a necessity defense in court following an action, and want to show documentation of their efforts prior to facing criminal charges).

The Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons goes International!

By FightToxicPrisons.org - Earth First! Newswire, September 16, 2017

We’re Hitting the Road with the U.K. “End Toxic Prisons” Tour. Check out dates and details below.

This Autumn, the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons will be touring the UK with Community Action on Prison Expansion.

All over the world prisons are toxic environments causing social and ecological harm. Folks from the US have been organizing resistance at the intersection of mass incarceration and the environment, successfully delaying the only current Federal prison construction for over 2 years!

Through grassroots organizing, advocacy and direct action they have been challenging the prison system which is putting prisoners at risk of dangerous environmental conditions, as well as impacting surrounding communities and ecosystems by their construction and operation. Learn about their strategy and tactics, as well as broader struggles of prison abolition, anti-racism, and environmental justice.

Information will then be shared about resistance to the six new mega-prisons in England and Wales, which themselves are proposed for toxic sites, including radiological contamination and asbestos pollution, as well as habitat destruction at every site. Learn how you can get involved!

Eco-Prisoner Marius Mason is out of Administrative Segregation!

By staff - Fight Toxic Prisons, May 12, 2017

On May 8, Marius Mason was moved out of the Carswell Federal Medical Center’s (FMC) Administrative Unit, into general population. While this is a far cry from freedom, for the first time in nearly seven years, Marius is able to see the sky and feel the grass beneath his feet.

This welcome news comes weeks before the Fight Toxic Prisons convergence, to be held in the city of Denton, Texas, near FMC Carswell. The environmental activists and prison abolitionists organizing the conference have identified Carswell, located on a Fort Worth military base, as a prime example of a “toxic prison” worthy of national attention. Carswell has long been the subject of complaints about general conditions, as well as being of special concern due to its Administrative Unit, which has housed political prisoners and individuals suffering from serious mental illness. Anti-nuclear activist Helen Woodson was held in the facility until her release in 2011, and other political prisoners, including Aafia Siddiqui and Ana Belen Montes, remain there today.

Since Mason’s confinement in the Administrative Unit, advocacy efforts from his community and his lawyer have been ongoing. Advocacy work has included not only efforts to have him moved from the overly restrictive environment of the Unit, but a successful campaign to secure gender-affirming hormone treatment, making him the first known prisoner authorized to begin female-to-male gender transition in federal custody. Also during his time in the Admin Unit, the BOP has adjusted its policies on solitary confinement. Carswell administrators gave no explanation for Marius’ redesignation. Needless to say, friends and supporters believe the move is long overdue.

Shortly after his sentencing in 2010, Marius was moved from FCI Waseca to the highly restrictive administrative unit at FMC Carswell. After litigation, a FOIA request yielded a document indicating that his redesignation was due to his “radicalizing and recruiting other inmates.” No specific information was provided about why an inmate might be placed into the unit, or how Marius might be able to transition out of it. Indeed, more information is available about the BOP’s Communication Management Units (CMUs), created with the stated purpose of monitoring alleged so-called terrorists, than about the administrative unit at Carswell.

For several years, Marius’ lawyer, Moira Meltzer-Cohen, attempted without success to get the BOP to provide a written statement justifying the decision to keep him in the Administrative Unit. According to Meltzer-Cohen, the few written documents about the facility’s Administrative Unit state that it exists in order to coerce compliance with institutional safety. Upon successful behavioral modification, the inmate presumably is to transition back to general population. Marius remained in the administrative unit for years with an almost flawless disciplinary record. The facility’s redesignation of Marius into general population therefore seems to be a belated, but welcome compliance with the BOP’s own stated goals.

We are hopeful that this move may mean better control over his diet and more reliable mail service.

Meltzer-Cohen stated, “We wish Marius a lot of luck in this transition. While we may never know the reason for it, this does draw attention to the fact that the BOP finally seems to be acting in accordance with its own policy on administrative segregation in Mason’s case, after years of avoiding it.”

The Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons (FTP) sends love to Marius in this move and extends solidarity to all people in administrative segregation as a penalty for their beliefs or mental health conditions which the BOP doesn’t want to deal with. We support the call to immediately close Carswell’s Administrative Unit entirely.

We also call on the BOP to address the long history of abuses in general population which Marius is entering. The Carswell Federal Medical Center has been the subject of more than a decade of scrutiny by groups such as the ACLU, which released an extensive report calling it a Hospital of Horrors.

From Pipelines to Prisons: The intersection of native rights, mass incarceration and environmental justice

By Panagioti Tsolkas and Nicholas Todd - Earth First! Journal, September 30, 2016

Over the past month, two seemingly disparate issues of prisons and pipelines have captured the attention of activists and independent media across the country. On September 9, as a judge ruled to halt construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), prisoners around the country began a work strike coinciding with the anniversary of the famous Attica uprising.  As we write, demonstrations are continuing nationwide to express solidarity with native tribes resisting the DAPL and for prisoners who launched a coordinated nationwide strike against slave labor in the American prison system.

Now, perhaps more than ever before, the spotlight is on the pushers of pipelines and prisons. Despite a void of coverage by mainstream outlets, social media is ablaze with independent articles covering these two topics. Pipeline opponents who’ve been amassing in North Dakota are now also looking south as drilling under the Mississippi River begins and nearly 340,000 gallons of gas spilled in central Alabama from one of the region’s major pipelines; likewise, prisons in at least 11 states all across the country remain on lockdown in response to the strikes and detailed reports of the strike are only now trickling out.

Just as the U.S. has the largest prison population in the world, with 25% of the world’s prisoners held in its 5000 detention facilities, it also has the world’s most vast network of energy pipelines, with more than 2.5 million miles of pipe which is reported to suffer hundreds of leaks and ruptures every year.

pipeline_line_map-630x420

Pipelines in the U.S. as of 2012

While battles around indigenous land rights have a long history of overlap with the environmental justice (EJ) movement, there is a developing body of research and activism placing prisoners’ rights in the EJ context as well, since prison populations in every state of the U.S. are populated disproportionately by people of color. Only establishing common ground over the conventional concept of “environmental” angles surrounding these issues offers too shallow of an analysis; deeper solidarity requires understanding the bigger picture: the history of a social ecosystem surrounding broken treaties and toxic prisons alike. Doing so can only increase the effectiveness and long term success of struggles to defend the Earth.

Prisons in the U.S. as of 2015

At first glance, drawing a relationship between struggles surrounding prisons and pipelines may seem a stretch, but 45 years ago, activists were readily making these connections. Organizations like the American Indian Movement (AIM) and the Black Panther Party arose and co-existed in a very similar setting. Their bold direct actions inspired the solidarity of many people outside their respective communities as well. One example being activist-attorney William Kunslter, with the National Lawyers Guild, who went from negotiating on the side of the predominately Black prisoners of Attica to representing AIM members after the Wounded Knee stand-off at Pine Ridge. Activists today must know this history and continue to build on this tradition.

Thousands of prisoners strike ‘to end slavery’ across the United States

By Ann Montague - Socialist Action, September 18, 2016

Sept. 9 saw thousands of incarcerated men and women go on strike to take a stand against civil and environmental injustice in their respective prisons. The multi-state strike was organized both inside and outside of the prisons.

Some unions have begun addressing the twin issues of racial justice and economic justice with all their members. These discussions have moved from mere individual solutions to the need to end “institutional racism.” There is no clearer example of institutional racism than the prison system.

Michelle Alexander, in her book “The New Jim Crow,” wrote, “I came to see that mass incarceration in the United States had emerged as a stunningly comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized social control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow. No other country in the world imprisons so many of its racial or ethnic minorities as the U.S.” Since the beginning of the so-called drug war in 1982, the U.S. penal population exploded from 300,000 to more than two million in less than 30 years.

The National Prison Strike calls attention to the 13th Amendment of the Constitution—generally believed to have ended slavery in 1865. But there was a loophole, which says, “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” It was a common practice in 1865 for plantation owners to lease Black convicts out of the prisons to work their fields, and today prisons are a multi-billion-dollar industry.

Inmates in federal and state prisons run recycling plants, fight fires in California and Georgia, and run call centers for state agencies. They make uniforms for McDonalds, prepare artisanal cheeses for Whole Foods, run call centers for AT&T. Think of a major corporation, and they are getting free labor from prisoners. That is why the National Prisoner Strike was a “Call To End Slavery In America.”

Rally at Coleman Prison in Support of Prisoner Strike Amidst Riots and Lockdowns across Florida

By Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons - It's Going Down, September 11, 2016

Activists from across Florida, including GJEP’s own GE Trees campaigner Ruddy Turnstone (who is operating the megaphone in the video below), attended a demonstration Sept. 9, focused on calling attention to the modern-day slavery conditions, rampant abuse and toxic conditions that occur in prisons around the country. The address of FCC Coleman is 846 NE 54th Terrace, in Wildwood, located half-way between Orlando and Tampa.

The event occurred as part of a nationwide strike on Sept. 9, the anniversary of the Attica prison uprising in New York, was initially announced earlier this year by prisoners in various states, including Alabama, Ohio, Virginia, Texas. It is still unknown how many prisons had people participating in the strike, but over 50 events and demonstrations were planned outside prisons in dozens of cities and rural towns across the U.S.

Riots, work refusal and administrative lockdowns of entire facilities in Florida have already been reported. Other state and federal facilities have reported similar situations around the country.

The Coleman prison complex houses over 7,000 prisoners and is home to the largest prison factory in the entire country, primarily producing material goods such as furniture for government agencies nationwide.

Federal Prison Industries, also known as UNICOR, has over $34 million in contract obligation coming out of Bureau of Prison (BOP) facilities in Florida. This is three times higher than any other state in the country.

These workers are subjected to slave conditions based on the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution, which exempts prisoners of protection from slavery.

Over the past 10 years, UNICOR facilities have repeatedly been cited for unsafe working conditions and environmental hazards across the nation.

Additionally, FCC Coleman is surrounded by an industrial waste land of rock mines and their water storage pits, which have been known tocontaminate regional water supplies in other areas of the state. Tainted water is a common problem in prisons around the country as well.

“Prisons all over the country are coupled with environmentally hazardous land uses that threaten the health of prisoners and local ecosystems,” said Panagioti Tsolkas, an organizer with the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons. “There is no way to justify forcing people to live in these conditions.”

The event at Coleman is being organized by the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons and the Gainesville branch of the IWW labor union.

The Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons aims to develop ties between the environmental movement and the movement against mass incarceration.

The IWW is the only labor union in the country which actively accepts prisoners as members.

While There Is A Soul In Prison

By Colin Bossen - Colin Bossen: Writer, Preacher, Organizer, August 28, 2016

Note: I recently have become involved with the Industrial Workers of the World's Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee. I am serving as their contact person for faith-based organizing. It is a volunteer role and one of things that I am doing as part of it is preaching some in support of the September 9, 2016 National Prisoner Strike. The following sermon was the first I preached in support of the movement. I presented it at the First Parish in Needham, Unitarian Universalist, on August 28, 2016. 

It is a pleasure to be with you this morning. Your congregation features prominently in one of my favorite books of contemporary Unitarian Universalist theology, A House for Hope. John Buehrens, your former minister and the co-author of that book, has something to do with me being here today. He was a strong advocate for youth ministry when he was the President of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I had the good fortune to meet him when I was sixteen. He encouraged me both along my path to the ministry and my path to the academy. I also have fond memories of the worship services your present minister Catie Scudera led during her time at Harvard. And I congratulate in calling someone who will no doubt be one of the guiding lights of the next generation of Unitarian Universalists. So, there is a strange way in which even though I have never spent a Sunday with you before I feel as if I already know you a little.

Such familiarity, I suspect, is rather one sided. Most, of maybe all, just know me as the guest preacher. The last in the long line of summer preachers trying to bring a little spirit to Sunday morning before your regular worship services resume next month.

Now me, I am something of circuit rider. Right now I preach at more than a dozen congregations a year while I am finishing up my PhD at Harvard. As I travel around I have the privilege of getting something of the breadth of our Unitarian Universalist tradition. I think since I started in the ministry more than a decade ago I have lead worship at close to a hundred Unitarian Universalist congregations in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Those congregations include the some of the largest and some of the smallest in our tradition.

My peripatetic career causes me to divide Unitarian Universalism crudely into two wings: the liberal and the abolitionist. Unitarian Universalism is occasionally called a liberal religion. This label refers to our understanding of human nature. Historically we have understood human beings to contain within them, in the words of William Ellery Channing, “the likeness to God.” As contemporary Unitarian Universalist theologian Rebecca Parker has explained, this does not mean that we think human beings are necessarily godlike. Instead, it suggests that rather than being born innately flawed or depraved, as orthodox Christianity has long taught, we are born with the capacity to choose and to become. Reflecting upon the suffering that we inflict upon each other Parker writes, “We are the cause and we can be the cure.” In this sense liberal religion means a recognition that much of what is wrong in the world was wrought by human hands. By joining our hands and hearts together we can, and we do, heal much of that harm.

I am not thinking of the liberal religion of Channing when I say that Unitarian Universalism can be crudely divided into two wings. I suspect that if you are here this Sunday morning your view of human nature is at somewhat similar to Channing’s and Rebecca Parker’s. Whether politically you are a Democrat or a Republican, an anarchist or a socialist, a liberal, libertarian or a conservative, if you are a Unitarian Universalist are a liberal religionist.

My division of our community into the abolitionists and the liberals focuses on our attitudes towards social reform. The majority liberal tradition believes in incremental and pragmatic social change. The social institutions and practices that exist, exist. When confronted with the intractable problems of America’s justice system liberals think the key question is: how can we make this system work better for everyone? How can we ensure that police are not racist? That everyone gets a fair trial and that prisons are humane?

Abolitionists demand the impossible. Rather than seeking to reform existing institutions they dream of creating new ones. Instead of asking how existing social institutions and practices can be reshaped they ask: what are those social institutions and practices for? In the face of a justice system that appears patently unjust they ask: Why we do have the system in the first place? What is its essential social function? Is it meeting this social function? Is this social function something we want met?

I place myself in the abolitionist camp. The essential difference between the two wings is that abolitionists see social institutions and practices as historically constituted while liberals take them as more permanent. A less fancy way to put that is that abolitionists think that the things we do and the institutions we create come from somewhere, will only last for so long, and will eventually be replaced by something else. Liberals focus on fixing what is now. Abolitionists imagine what might be.

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