Inmates across Alabama's notoriously macabre prisons are on strike: 'I'm just a slave'

Convicts at the Limestone Correctional facility are placed back onto the chain gang when they leave the prison grounds for their daily labor as road crews in July of 1995 outside of Huntsville, Alabama. The state of Alabama brought back the chain gang to demonstrate to the media and the public that they were tough on crime, even though it is an impractical relic of the past for prison work crews
Convicts at the Limestone Correctional facility are placed back onto the chain gang when they leave the prison grounds for their daily labor as road crews in July of 1995 outside of Huntsville, Alabama. The state of Alabama brought back the chain gang to demonstrate to the media and the public that they were tough on crime, even though it is an impractical relic of the past for prison work crewsAndrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images
  • Thousands of Alabama inmates are choosing not to work in an effort to protest the state's prison system.

  • Swift Justice, who is incarcerated, argues that ADOC doesn't rehabilitate inmates as it should.

  • Organizers of the labor strike say there is no end in sight.

Alabama's correctional system is known for its egregious conditions and overflow of inmates. And now, thousands of prisoners at each of the 15 Alabama state prisons have decided enough is enough.

Inmates have abstained from unpaid labor inside the prisons since September 26, forcing prison staff to take on the work the inmates would normally do.

As the Marshall Project notes, inmates can be required to cook, clean, and do laundry — or in some cases, work non-facility-related jobs like call centers.

Inmates are demanding that sentencing and parole measures are reconsidered — including nullifying the habitual offender law and establishing and maintaining fair parole criteria. Prison reform organization Both Sides of the Wall organized the strike and they've previously held demonstrations protesting the conditions of inmates inside Alabama prisons.

"I'm just a slave. I'm inside the prison system," Swift Justice, an inmate at the Fountain Correctional Facility in Atmore, a small town bordering Florida, told Insider.

Swift says their demands could ease the burden on the system by releasing inmates that have served their time. Approximately 90% of parole requests are denied in Alabama, according to the state's ACLU, as the presence of new inmates compounds poor conditions in the already crowded prisons.

Swift told Insider that "those who participated in this historical event are tired of being treated as less than animals and are demanding their humanity to be given back."

Going to prison in the state is an automatic death sentence, according to Christina McGee, whose husband is incarcerated in an Alabama prison.

"These people have no chance of rehabilitation," McGee told Insider. She said it's more likely that inmates "will wind up in a body bag" than get out of the system. "Because Alabama Department of Corrections, no matter what your sentence is, has become a death sentence, automatically. These people have no chance of doing anything and they've given up hope."

Diyawn Caldwell, another organizer of the strike whose husband is incarcerated, sent several videos to Insider showing the conditions of some of the prisons. One video depicted guards hitting, chasing, and then beating a handcuffed inmate at the St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville, Alabama. And another video showed a facility pervaded with trash bags and litter at Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore. A third video showed a flooded cell at St. Clair with an inmate saying "second day my shit been like this, man. Goddamn pipe bust."

McGee said she connected with Caldwell when her imprisoned husband was stabbed in May.

 

Swift said some inmates have faced retaliation for not working, including his mentor, Kinetic Justice. Kinetic had been beaten by officers and placed in solitary confinement for his influence on the strike and inmates, Swift said.

Swift added that inmates in his facility are being "bird fed" meals twice a day. When combined, both meals don't measure up to 1,000 calories, he added. Other facilities have reported similar circumstances.

"We need to be rehabilitated, and we need to leave out of here differently," Swift said, but argued conditions inside make that impossible.

The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit in 2020 against the State of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Corrections alleging constitutional violations — more specifically, the violation of the eight amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.

The Department found Alabama prisons are at 182% capacity and experience an excessive amount of rape and killings.

"We are not saying that we have not committed a crime and that we deserve just to walk out, but we are demanding that not only lawmakers, but society, look as human beings and not to consider us thrown away," Swift continued.

He said that by protesting peacefully the inmates hope to show society and lawmakers that "we are civilized."

"That is the reason why we choose to do what we're doing in a peaceful manner. Because as anybody knows it, we outnumber any staff amount, even if it was fully staffed. We outnumbered that," Swift continued.

A spokesperson for Gov. Kay Ivey's office said Monday that the prisoners' demands "are unreasonable and would flat out not be welcomed in Alabama" but organizers of the strike say they see no end in sight.

"Their constitutional rights are being violated daily and no one's doing anything about it. We're standing up and we're letting them know. They're standing up and letting them know 'We will no longer tolerate the system as it is,'  Caldwell said.

"We wanted to fight for everybody behind the wall, men and women, all of them. Because it's not just happening to our husbands, it's happening to everybody," McGee added.

Gov. Ivey's office did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

Read the original article on Insider