Prison Abolition & Immigration Justice Committees Endorse Operation PUSH

DSA Los Angeles’ Prison Abolition and Immigration Justice Committees stand in solidarity with the Florida prisoners undertaking Operation PUSH. We hope that shining a light on the conditions in Florida and the prisoners’ modest demands for humane treatment begins to expose the fundamental inhumanity of the U.S. prison system.

On Monday, January 15th, prisoners across Florida’s carceral system began a work strike and boycott of in-prison purchases with three main demands:

  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 [release dates far in the future]

They also express support for the following goals (emphasis ours):

  • 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, like 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.

Ways to support Operation PUSH

  1. Call Florida’s Department of Corrections to demand they negotiate with the prisoners and accept their demands, and let them know that people from across the country are paying attention to how they will handle this situation. DOC phone numbers can be found here: http://www.dc.state.fl.us/orginfo/facilitydir.html and a call script can be found here: https://itsgoingdown.org/operationpush-phone-zap-monday-january-22nd/
  2. Spread the word about Operation PUSH to both people inside and outside the walls of Florida’s prisons: prisoners are purposefully cut off from society as much as possible, so any messages of solidarity or news that others are striking that can slip through to them can make a huge difference in their spirits and the strike’s ability to spread and be effective. Follow and share news using #OperationPUSH
  3. Write letters to prisoners in Florida in support, with messages of solidarity, while being careful not to single them out for possible retaliation by guards who read their mail. Addresses: https://docs.google.com/document/d/15Je4K5LB55AiWUolZlIkq5hUqksV_H42bEuKfhAbMXg/edit?usp=sharing

So far, multiple Florida chapters of DSA have signed on in solidarity, including Palm Beach, Broward, Miami/Dade, Tampa, and Central FL. While it makes sense that local chapters would be the first to voice their support, we believe that an assault to one is an assault to all, and so wish to extend solidarity from wherever we may be. In addition, we hope that by spreading the geographic spread of vocal supporters, the Florida Department of Corrections will see that there is national pressure and attention on them to accept the strikers’ demands.

This strike intersects with many of our chapters’ priorities, from prison abolition, to worker solidarity, to climate justice, to immigration justice, to socialist feminism, to electoral politics.

Prisons are frequently built in toxic environments, and prisoners are used as slave labor to perform disaster relief and cleanup efforts when major environmental events hit. Prisoners in Florida were forced to provide cleanup services after Hurricane Irma. As climate change increases the frequency and severity of such weather events, prisoners will be on the front lines unless the state changes its behaviors.  

The status of Florida's prisoners affects their families and their whole communities, and disproportionately the women in them as the majority male prison population must rely on families to provide money to purchase the necessities the state sells to prisoners at inflated prices and inferior quality. As the strike announcement says, “It’s not just us 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.” The strike announcement lists many examples of price gouging, such as packaged soup that can be bought for $4 in Florida’s stores being sold for $17 inside the state’s prisons.

Our electoral system includes a giant carveout of our would be electorate: incarcerated people and those marked as felons continue to be disenfranchised, even as they are counted for allocating electoral college point and legislative representation. Due to the state of Florida’s overreaching felon voting laws, it alone accounts for 27 percent of the country’s disenfranchised population. It is one of twelve US states that restricts voting for people throughout prison, parole, probation, and post-sentencing, and one of seven states in which over 7% of the adult population is disenfranchised. Due to these restrictions and the racialized disparities inherent in the criminal justice system, 21% percent of its African American population is disenfranchised. Florida has the largest disenfranchised population and disenfranchisement rate of all 50 states.

Cartogram of Total Disenfranchisement Rates by State, 2016Source: http://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/6-million-lost-voters-state-level-estimates-felony-disenfranchisement-2016/

“The cartogram provides a way to visualize the current state of American disenfranchisement, highlighting the large regional differences in felony disenfranchisement laws and criminal punishment. Cartograms distort the land area on the map according to an alternative statistic, in this case the total felony disenfranchisement rate. Southeastern states that disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of people who have completed their sentences, such as Florida… appear bloated.”

Many of the Florida prisoners’ demands are also applicable in LA County jails and throughout California and the rest of the country. The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world and California is one of the top states in the US in terms of prison population. Many of California’s firefighters in the recent wildfires are prisoners who are severely underpaid, working in life-threatening situations. When they serve their sentences they can’t be firefighters because of their prior convictions.

A group of Haitian prisoners in Florida released a statement in solidarity with the strike demonstrating how the United States’ immigration policies are used to create racialized pools of slave labor in order to enrich corporations:

“Prisons in America are nothing but a different form of slavery plantations and the citizens of the country are walking zombie banks. There are so many Haitians, Jamaican, and Latinos in the FDOC serving sentences that exceeds life expectancy and or life sentences who are not being deported. They use all immigrants, for free Labor and then deport them.

Why flood the system with immigrants waiting to be deported after serving their entire sentence? Because of the benefit. The undeniable truth is Florida prisoners are slaves who work and do not get paid. New age slaves within the prisons system!!!”

The work stoppage is intended to draw attention to the ways the Florida carceral system relies on prisoners’ slave labor to sustain itself. In addition to outside corporations’ contracting with prisons for free or sub-sweatshop wage labor, the state itself uses prisoners to keep the prisons running, and to provide public services for the state at large, such as Hurricane Irma cleanup. Thus, in addition to the usual effects any strike has, the strike will force the state to pay the full cost of running so many prisons, by using and compensating actual contractors and staff rather than free prisoner labor to perform everything from cooking, to cleaning, to building maintenance.

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