FLORIDA PRISONERS ARE calling for a general strike to start this week — marking the third mass action over the course of a year in protest of inhumane conditions in the state’s detention facilities. Detainees in at least eight prisons have declared their intention to stop all work on Monday — Martin Luther King Jr. Day — to demand an end to unpaid labor and price gouging in prison commissaries, as well as the restoration of parole, among other requests.
Coordinated, nonviolent prison protests as well as spontaneous uprisings amid deteriorating conditions have escalated in recent years both nationwide and in Florida, which has the third largest prison system in the country. Prisoners in the state were among the most active during a nationwide strike in September 2016, which was quickly dubbed the “largest prison strike in U.S. history.” At least 10 Florida prisons participated in that action, which was planned to coincide with the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising but started a day early when tensions flared at Holmes Correctional Institution in the Florida Panhandle. Then, in August, in response to prison activists’ calls for another show of dissent, Department of Corrections officials placed the entire state system — 143 facilities and 97,000 people — on lockdown, an unprecedented move.
Incarcerated organizers of this week’s strike have chosen to remain anonymous to prevent retaliation, but they shared a statement outlining their demands with outside supporters. In an audio message from prison shared with The Intercept, one of the organizers described the action as a “nonviolent protest to get what we deserve from our government.”
“They use word play and deceive the public about what really goes on inside the system, and we want to expose those things,” he said.
Prison officials regularly retaliate against organizers by restricting their visitation rights and contact with other inmates, and sometimes even moving them to different facilities, which makes it harder for reports of protests to reach the public. But despite the challenges, “prisoners are pretty well organized and coordinated inside the prisons and throughout the prison system,” said Panagioti Tsolkas, an organizer with the prisoners’ rights and environmentalist group Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons. Tsolkas, who communicates regularly with activists inside, said that some of the upcoming strike’s organizers have already been placed in solitary confinement in retaliation for their efforts.