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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.

Climate Change Meets Mass Incarceration: California's Incarcerated Firefighters

By Ryan Harvey and Sammy Didonato - Truthout, December 27, 2017

The intersection of climate change and mass incarceration is not unique to California, but as the state experiences its deadliest and most destructive year on record for wildfires -- including the second-largest in the its history -- the state's incarcerated firefighter Conservation Camp program has come firmly under the microscope.

With fresh air, no walls and better treatment than prison, these "fire camps" have been commended as a model for rehabilitation. However, with wages at a fraction of minimum wage, they have been condemned as an exploitative labor practice.

Often missing from this debate are the voices of the firefighters themselves, whose perspectives offer an important nuance of criticism and possible solutions.

"What worries me when I hear too much discussion about fire camp as a form of slavery, is that they're focusing on perhaps the best part of the whole prison system," formerly incarcerated firefighter Matthew Hahn told Truthout. "The firefighters are in the public, that's why they are getting the focus. At the same time, they are living in perhaps the best conditions in the California prison system."

Selena Sanchez, an incarcerated firefighter until last year, describes an experience far better than prison but full of hard work, false promises and extremely low pay. "I'm not going to paint a pretty picture of it," she says. "They ran us like dogs."

Still, Sanchez says she would return to fire camp if she found herself back in prison.

The Conservation Camp program, joined at times by other local county prison so-called "Honor Camps," began in 1946 as a partnership between the California State Detentions Bureau -- now the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) -- and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (Cal Fire). It quickly grew to become a staple of fighting California's wildfires, and has long been destination number one for prisoners serving time in the state prison system.

A nuanced look at the dynamics of this program, and the small percentage of prisoners eligible for participation, reveals that even though fire camps offer alternatives to prisoners being behind bars for all of their incarceration, the model has its shortcomings and should not be seen as a panacea to mass incarceration.

Frackville Prison’s Systemic Water Crisis

By Bryant Arroyo - Earth First! Journal, November 5, 2017

On September 19, 21, 24 and 27, 2017, we prisoners at Pennsylvania’s SCI-Frackville facility experienced four incidences with respect to the crisis of drinking toxic water. While this was not the first indication of chronic water problems at the prison, it seemed an indication that things were going from bad to worse. This round of tainted water was coupled with bouts of diarrhea, vomiting, sore throats, and dizziness by an overwhelming majority of the prisoner population exposed to this contamination. This cannot be construed as an isolated incident.

The SCI-Frackville staff passed out bottled spring water after the inmate population had been subjected to drinking the toxic contaminated water for hours without ever being notified via intercom or by memo to refrain from consuming the tap water. This is as insidious, as it gets!

SCI-Frackville’s administration, is acutely aware of the toxic water contamination crisis and have adopted an in-house patterned practice of intentionally failing to notify the inmate population via announcements and or by posting memos to refrain from tap water, until prisoners discover it for themselves through the above-mentioned health effects.

In general, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) knows it has a water crisis on it hands. The top agencies like the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and EPA know about this open-secret and have conspired to deliberately ignore most, if not all, of the prisoners’ official complaints. DEP has received four drinking water violations from the EPA. But the underlying problem is money, money, and more money.

Earlier this year, federal officials warned DEP that it lacked the staffing and resources to enforce safe drinking water standards. That could be grounds for taking away their role as the primary regulator of water standards, and would cost the state millions of dollars in federal funding.

In a letter dated December 30, 2016, EPA Water Protection Division Director Jon Capacasa stated, “Pennsylvania’s drinking water program failed to meet the federal requirement for onsite review of of water system operations and maintenance capability, also known as a sanitary survey.” He added, “Not completing sanitary survey inspections in a timely manner can have serious public health implications.”

One example in the City of Pittsburgh led to the closure of nearly two dozen schools and a boil-water order for 100,000 people. State environmental regulators had discovered low chlorine levels, after testing the city’s water as part of an ongoing investigation into its water treatment system. The city has also been having issues with elevated lead levels. The EPA also told DEP that the department’s lack of staff has caused the number of unaddressed Safe Drinking Water Act violations to go from 4,298 to 7,922, almost doubling in the past five years.

This leaves us with 43 inspectors employed, but, to meet the EPA mandates, we need at the least 85 full-time inspectors. That means Pennsylvania inspectors have double the workload, and this has resulted in some systems not being inspected. Logically, the larger systems get routine inspections, and systems that have chronic problems get inspected, but smaller and rural system like ours may not be because we are the minority that society doesn’t care about. Persona non grata!

To top it off, Frackville is in Schuylkill County, near a cancer cluster of the rare disease known as Polycythemia Vera (PV). While there is not definitive research on PV, it is believed to be environmental in origin and could be water borne. There’s no telling how many of us may have contracted the mysterious disease caused by drinking this toxic-contaminated water for years without being medically diagnosed and treated for this disease.

The DOC refuses to test the inmate population, in spite of the on-going water crisis. What would happen, if the inmate population would discover that they have contracted the disease PV?! Obviously, this wouldn’t be economically feasible for the DOC medical department to pay the cost to treat all inmates who have been discovered to have ill-gotten the water borne disease.

Many Pennsylvania tax-payers would be surprised to know that our infrastructure is older than Flint, Michigan’s toxic water crisis. Something is very wrong in our own backyard and the legislative body wants to keep a tight lid on it. But how long can this secret be contained before we experience an outbreak of the worst kind.

Silence, no more, it is time to speak. I could not stress the sense of urgency enough. We need to take action by notifying our Pennsylvania State Legislatures and make them accountable to the tax-paying citizens and highlight the necessary attention about Pennsylvania’s water crisis to assist those of us who are cornered and forced to drink toxic, contaminated water across the State Prisons.

If you want to obtain a goal you’ve never obtained, you have to transcend by doing something you’ve never done before. Let’s not procrastinate, unify in solidarity, take action before further contamination becomes inevitable. There’s no logic to action afterwards, if we could have avoided the unnecessary catastrophe, in the first place.

Let’s govern ourselves in the right direction by contacting and filing complaints to our legislative body, DEP, EPA, and their higher-ups, etc. In the mountains of rejection we have faced from these agencies as prisoners, your action could be our yes; our affirmation that, though we may be buried in these walls, we are still alive.

Kite Line: Appalachian Prison Resistance

By Kite Line - It's Going Down, November 3, 2017

Listen and Download Here

This week, we speak with Lill, a resident of Whitesburg, Kentucky. Whitesburg is located in Letcher County the proposed home to a new federal prison to be built on a mountaintop removal site. We have previously covered the strong local organizing in Letcher County that had helped put a stop to this toxic proposal. In light of recent efforts by the Bureau of Prisons to put the prison back on the table, we wanted to go in depth with a local organizer to help us understand the current situation and how others can support the struggle there.

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).

What fueled the inferno?

By Ragina Johnson and Nicole Colson - Socialist Worker, October 20, 2017

THE DEADLIEST wildfires in the state's history ripped through large areas in Northern California this month, terrorizing residents, causing mass evacuations, and leaving behind catastrophic destruction.

Described as a "hurricane of fire," the web of interconnected blazes, centered primarily in Napa and Sonoma Counties, north of the Bay Area, had killed at least 41 people--many of them elderly residents who could not escape--and forced more than 100,000 people to evacuate as this article was being written.

The wildfires have burned more than 220,000 acres across wine country, but what distinguished this disaster from others is that the flames didn't stay in the "wild." Hot winds whipped the fires back and forth, sending them a mile or more into urban and suburban areas. At least 6,700 homes and business have been destroyed, with an estimated loss of at least $3 billion.

While the exact causes for the blazes aren't yet known, and may not be for years, if ever, we do know that the scale of the devastation was unquestionably magnified by man-made factors like climate change and exacerbated by things like poorly maintained infrastructure.

And as is the case with all "natural" disasters--from Hurricane Katrina to the more recent Hurricanes Harvey and Maria--the devastation isn't hitting everyone equally. Poor and working-class families--especially undocumented immigrant workers who make up a large portion of the agricultural workforce in wine country--will face an uphill battle to rebuild their lives.

Why Are Women Prisoners Battling California Wildfires for as Little as $1 a Day?

Jaime Lowe and Romarilyn Ralston interviewed by Amy Goodman and Juan González - Democracy Now, October 18, 2011

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we end today’s show in California, where raging wildfires have killed at least 41 people and scorched more than 200,000 acres—roughly the size of New York City. The fires are now the deadliest in California since record keeping began. At least 100,000 people have been forced to evacuate, with about 75,000 displaced after their homes and businesses were destroyed.

More than 11,000 firefighters are battling the blazes, and a number of them are prisoners, including many women inmates. In this clip from the film The Prison in Twelve Landscapes, an inmate with an all-woman crew describes being sent to fight a raging fire in Marin County.

INMATE FIREFIGHTER: My first day here, when I first got to camp, I got thrown on a fire. We had just got through orientation, and the horn went off. And I got thrown on the bus, and off we went, chasing the smoke. We’re driving up the mountain and seeing dirty burn everywhere. All of a sudden, there’s a 40-foot wall of flame on both sides of me.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s a clip from PBS’s Independent Lens, The Prison in Twelve Landscapes.

To find out more about these firefighters, we’re joined by two guests. In Fullerton, California, Romarilyn Ralston is with us, of California Coalition for Women Prisoners, the L.A. chapter, program coordinator for Project Rebound at Cal State University. Romarilyn experienced 23 years of incarceration. While she was incarcerated, she was a fire camp trainer and a clerk for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

And in Los Angeles, journalist and author Jaime Lowe is with us. Her recent story in The New York Times Magazine is headlined “The Incarcerated Women Who Fight California’s Wildfires.”

Romarilyn, if you could start off by telling us who is on the front lines? People might be surprised to hear that prisoners, among them women prisoners, are fighting California’s wildfires right now.

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!

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