On January 16, 2018, Martin Luther King Jr. day, a series of nonviolent protests across the state of Florida (#OperationPUSH) were coordinated. Prisoners decided that on this day they would lay down their tools, barricade themselves, and once again protest the unfair treatment they faced in the Florida correctional prison system.
We’ve all heard this story before, or at least we’ve seen it.
We’ve seen this very corruption and mistreatment played out in prison dramas like Orange is the New Black. Things like homicides covered up by officers or prisoners being unfairly singled out and punished. We watch and learn about these injustices through scripted entertainment but forget that it highlights a very real American prison system.
Last week’s protest, actually the third in the past year, had a massive following across the state. Unfortunately, the consequences of this demonstration included prisoners being confined to their rooms, losing visitation for the rest of the week, and consequently being let out for meals only.
It was a powerfully significant protest that pushed the state with the third-largest prison system in the US to put every prison on lockdown.
And yet, there has been little coverage.
When there is coverage of these protests, they’re often painted as large-scale riots by unruly inmates despite their peaceful initiative while the actual demands of the prisoners are rarely ever heard. Activists are shuffled around, arrested, ignored and even placed in solitary confinement so that we never hear their words on the outside.
The correctional officers can then paint the narrative they want the public to believe.
One prisoner states, “they use wordplay and deceive the public about what really goes on inside the system, and we want to expose those things.”
There was coverage by the Miami Herald this past week and they revealed just how dire the Florida prison system is. They paint a picture of many of the facilities with staff stretched so thin and hundreds of prisoners left in solitary confinement without basic necessities like toilet paper and soap. They also reveal the multiple mysterious deaths and mistreatment of mentally disabled prisoners that have led to countless lawsuits in the state.
People who break the law deserve to pay for their actions with prison time.
They do not, however, deserve to be denied their human rights and treated like enslaved cattle, which is exactly what is happening to our prisoners right now.
It is most apparent in their list of demands which includes the return of visitation rights, real pay for their work, and no falsified promises of reduced sentencing that is often taken away in the next breath. They explain that they want, “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.”
They also demand a cease of the price gouging in the commissary, so that they could have a real chance of purchasing the items that are being denied to them.
The biggest demand though is for criminal justice reform.
The state of Florida is one of the four states in the U.S. that denies prisoners’ rights for life. Meaning that after they serve their sentence, they are still not permitted to vote. This is a huge issue in the state of Florida because it also has one of the largest prison-to-pipeline systems.
A disproportionate 20% of black Floridians, approximately 1.6 million people, have lost their right to vote for petty and nonviolent offenses (i.e. possession of marijuana). Their civic power to enact and push for change has been stripped from them unjustly, and it drastically affects the communities that need change the most.
This re-purposed slavery in the prison industrial complex is only furthered by gerrymandering, a manipulative method of redistricting that results in disproportionate representation in the state’s voting process. Politicians are all too aware that if ex-prisoners could vote, life in Florida would be a whole lot different.
The Florida prison problem is a statewide issue representing an even larger national problem and will only worsen in the upcoming election year.
But it’s not hopeless. If you’re wondering what you can do to help, vote.
After gaining over 700,000 signatures, this issue finally made it on the Florida ballot as of January 23, 2018. Use your constitutional right to vote for better leaders in the state of Florida. Go out into your communities and encourage others to vote and educate them on the issues present. Aside from your own communities, venture into those of the marginalized to help combat gerrymandering and ensure that every voice is heard. Call and write to your representatives, especially if you live in Florida or the other states that have this law (Kentucky, Iowa, and Virginia).
If you live outside of Florida consider donating to the organizations like the Florida Dream Defenders who are out doing this work every day.
Together, we can work to abolish the new age slavery so entrenched in our prison industrial complex.
So let’s get to it.