Georgia inmates began returning to work Dec. 16 after state correction officials lifted a five-day lockdown at four state facilities Dec.14, following prisoners refusal to leave their cells or report for work assignments.
Georgia inmates staged what they are calling a prison strike in protest of grievances that they said include insufficient health care, poor educational opportunities, limited access to families, no pay and maltreatment at the hands of Georgia prison officials.
The protest, which began Dec. 9, crossed boundaries of race and personal affiliations–Blacks, Whites, Hispanics and even those from opposing gangs joined in, according to The Black Agenda Report.
When the strike began, men in at least half a dozen Georgia correctional facilities refused to leave their cells or engage in work assignments.
Authorities responded by locking down facilities—keeping prisoners in their cells throughout the day– throughout the state.
While the strike appeared to end on Dec. 16, the Pacifica radio show Democracy Now reported that some inmates are continuing to strike and others have temporarily halted their protest to negotiate with prison officials.
The statewide protest, coordinated at the prisons through contraband cellphones, has been non-violent but, an inmate who was identified as Mike at the Smith State Prison in Glenville told the Atlanta Constitution Dec. 15 “We’ve ended the protest.”
“We needed to come off lock down so we can go to the law library and start … the paperwork for a lawsuit,” said the inmate, a convicted armed robber.
A news release posted on The Black Agenda Report’s Web site calls the incident the “biggest prisoner strike in U.S. history.”
According to the release, the thousands of prisoners involved demanded that the “Georgia Department of Corrections stop treating them like animals and slaves and institute programs that address their basic human rights.”
Inmates reportedly used cell phones acquired from prison guards to coordinate the strike.
According to another release issued the second day of the protest, guards pulled strikers from their cells and beat them, trashed inmate property or turned off heat and hot water.
One prisoner told The Black Agenda Report, “They want to break up the unity we have here. We have the Crips and the Bloods, we have the Muslims, we have the head Mexicans, and we have the Aryans all with a peaceful understanding, all on common ground. We all want to be paid for our work, and we all want education in here. There’s people in here who can’t even read.”
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Peggy Chapman told Newsone.com there had been no “major incidents or issues” at any of the Georgia prisons. But they did confirm Dec. 13 that some prisons were locked down.
Men in at least four participating prisons continued the strike through Dec. 16. One inmate told a news outlet, “We’re going to ride it until the wheel falls off. We want our human rights.”
Striking prisoners covered their cells with blankets, hindering prison officials from getting an accurate count of protesters. As the protest continued over several days, some left their cells to shower or eat, but refused to engage in other duties.
In response to the protest, civic leaders and prison advocates formed the Concerned Coalition to Protect Prisoner Rights. Members of the group, which include the national NAACP and Nation of Islam, held a press conference in Atlanta Dec. 13, urging Georgia officials to halt violence against the prisoners.
“This isn’t Attica,” one representative of the coalition said. “No violent acts have been committed by any of the inmates involved. We hope state corrections officials will be as peaceful and respectful as the prisoners have been, and start a good faith dialog about quickly addressing their concerns.”
A woman named Elaine Brown, who published the news releases on behalf of the prisoners, told Democracy Now that the conditions in the prisons are overcrowded and violent. A close mentee, whom she calls her son, was involved in the strike.
But public opinion on the prison strike was divided. On comment boards and other social sites, some said prisoners deserve clean, safe and productive conditions, while others argued that inmates lost those rights when they committed crimes.
A person with the screen name zarisun1979, posted on The Black Agenda Report Dec. 10, “Contrary to the power structure and the confused citizenry’s beliefs, they are human beings who should not be forced to live in degraded conditions.”
Another internet user named Peon urged strikers to, “At least read the 13th amendment…Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”