pastor and founder and national president of The Ordinary People’s Society (TOPS), a faith-based organization focusing on criminal justice reform and rehabilitation of repeat offenders.
co-founder of the Free Alabama Movement. He is currently serving his 28th month in solitary confinement at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Alabama.
We continue our interview with an Alabama prisoner about the end of a 10-day strike to protest severe overcrowding, poor living conditions and the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which bans slavery and servitude "except as a punishment for crime," thus sanctioning the legality of forced, unpaid prison labor. We speak with Kinetik Justice, who joins us by phone from solitary confinement in Holman Correctional Facility and is co-founder of the Free Alabama Movement and one of the organizers of the strike, and with Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, founder and national president of The Ordinary People’s Society (TOPS), a faith-based organization focusing on criminal justice reform and rehabilitation of repeat offenders.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we continue Part 2 of our conversation.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Prisoners in Alabama at several prisons have ended a 10-day strike over unpaid labor and poor prison conditions. Their coordinated strike kicked off on May 1st, International Workers’ Day, when prisoners at the Holman and Elmore Correctional Facilities refused to report to their prison jobs, and later expanded to three other prisons. The strike focused on severe overcrowding, poor living conditions and the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which bans slavery and servitude, quote, "except as a punishment for crime," thus sanctioning the legality of forced, unpaid prison labor. Alabama operates the country’s most crowded prison system, holding nearly twice as many people as it’s designed to contain.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Kinetik Justice, who’s joining us by phone from solitary confinement in Holman Correctional Facility, co-founder of the Free Alabama Movement, one of the organizers of the strike, currently in solitary for more than two years, in the 28th month of solitary for organizing a similar action in 2014.
And we’re joined from Montgomery, Alabama, by Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, founder and national president of The Ordinary People’s Society, or TOPS, a faith-based organization in Alabama focusing on criminal justice reform and rehabilitation of repeat offenders.
We’re welcoming you both to Democracy Now! In Part 1 to Kinetik Justice, and we’re going to go back to him, but we want to go now to Pastor Kenneth Glasgow. Pastor Glasgow, can you talk about what you’re doing on the other side of the bars, free, to help the people inside?
PASTOR KENNETH GLASGOW: Well, what I’ve been doing for the past 15 years is fighting for prison reform and actually looking at laws and different things that prevent not only people from getting out, but people from getting what’s called prerelease, that rehabilitation, that education and all that they need, and the re-entry preparedness, in order to get out. What we have been doing, we’re the first ones to ever win a lawsuit, in 2008, where people have the right to vote or never lose their right to vote, depending on what felony they have. In the Alabama Constitution, they have the Moral Turpitude Act. So if you have a crime not involving moral turpitude, then you never lose your right to vote, whether you’re in prison or not. What we are doing actually now—
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean by "moral turpitude"?
PASTOR KENNETH GLASGOW: Moral turpitude, in the—to define it in layman’s terms, you would put it as something that causes hurt, harm, danger or suffering to someone else. That’s what mainly you would actually say a moral turpitude is, something that infringes danger or suffering, or imposes something on someone else besides yourself. Like possession would be a crime not involving moral turpitude, whereas sales would be a crime involving moral turpitude, because you include others.
What we are doing concerning the Free Alabama Movement is just being the arms and legs and the voice for them. I am actually going into a meeting, when I leave here, with the commissioner, Commissioner Dunn, along with other commissioners in the Department of Corrections. I went to the governor yesterday and tried to meet with him and others concerning the decrepit buildings that they—the prisons that they’re in, mold everywhere, concerning the bird feeding, concerning those demands that Kinetik Justice just told you about, along with adding three of our own demands. And that is that we do a fact-finding committee, a fact-finding mission, inside the prison with me and some more colleagues. I’ll probably try to take some legislators and lawyers in there with me, as well as advocates, as I did in 2012 and 2013 in Georgia, when they had the Georgia prison strike.
I’m also look—try reaching out to labor unions about them not getting paid. Every other state around here pays their inmates more than what we’re getting or what they’re getting paid in Alabama. We have already addressed the parole board, which Kinetik mentioned earlier, but we have not addressed the—we have addressed them in the part of them explaining why they denied somebody or given an explanation, but not in them addressing the person. And what we have to realize is that people that are in prison are people. That’s the first and foremost fact that we’re trying to convince not only those in Alabama, in Florida and Georgia, but we are back and forth every three months as part of the Super Eight with the Department of Justice and the Reentry Interagency Council.
What we’re going to do today is address those demands and come with some resolution, because they want to say, "Well, the strike has subsided. We got everything under control." OK, for security, I understand that, but what they have to look at is that these young men organized beyond any barriers that we would have on the outside. They organized beyond any barrier of race, beyond any barrier of religion, beyond any barrier of classism. And they did it in a fashion that exceeded outside of Holman prison, but into Elmore and other prisons. Their demands are something that really need to be looked at, and they need to be looked at emphatically.
And all—they kept peace. Holman prison had a strike, and an officer was hurt. These men got together, said, "No, no one will have violence amongst each other. No one will have violence with officers. We will have a peaceful protest for our demands, for our safety and for our better treatment as human beings." That is what I am going to represent, and that’s why thousands and thousands of organizations across this country have signed the petition that I will be taking to them, as well, showing them about 3,000 different organizations and supporters who are coming forth. And we’ll come down here and do whatever we need to do in order to get the commission, in order to get the governor and all to start treating our people who are incarcerated better and more humanely.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me go for a minute to Kinetik Justice inside solitary confinement. Explain, as you did in Part 1 of our conversation, why you ended this work stoppage. A lot of people might be asking on the outside, "What do you mean, work stoppage? What are you doing inside prison? What do you mean by work? Are you getting paid? Are you being forced to work for free? What’s happening?"
KINETIK JUSTICE: Actually, well, in the state of Alabama, everyone works for free. The ones—you know, you have maybe 25 to 30 who run the kitchen. You have maybe five to 10 whose assignment is mopping floors and cleaning windows all day. Then you have a group that does the yard work, you know, landscaping. And there are two industries in this institution. And one is a tag plant, where they make every single tag in the state. They have a sewing factory where they make clothes.
AMY GOODMAN: You mean—Kinetik, you mean license plates?
KINETIK JUSTICE: Yes, license plates, motorcycle plates, RVs, trailers. Anything in the state that requires a license plate, it is made at Holman Correctional Facility. And it is a billion-dollar industry. However, they pick and choose a handful of people who have been gone for 25 and 30 and 40 years, people who have no outside help, people who have been left to be a ward of the state. And they take these guys, and they pay them 15 cents to 30 cents per hour to produce thousands of tags. I think the last number was that they produce 20,000 tags per day, and that’s at 100,000 tags per week. And the state can take two of those tags and pay everybody who works there for a month. And that’s just hyper-exploitive of these people who work eight to 10 hours a day, yet have no money to be able to take care of their basic needs and so forth.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, on the outside, you know, unions and workers should be protesting, because they can’t compete with free labor or someone who is working for 15 or 30 cents an hour. In a sense, they’re taking their jobs, and they don’t want to be, right?
PASTOR KENNETH GLASGOW: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, on the inside they’re being forced to work. But before we lose Pastor Glasgow, our satellite—we only have you for a few more minutes—you were inside, is that right?
PASTOR KENNETH GLASGOW: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about forming an organization inside, the organization you founded when you were in prison, and what you tried to do there, and what you’re trying to do now on the outside.
PASTOR KENNETH GLASGOW: Well, I formed TOPS, The Ordinary People’s Society, while serving 14 years in prison. I was in Florida, after I left Alabama prison. And in 1994, we formed. And what we were trying to do was to get people to look at people that were incarcerated as prodigal children, and not as criminals, not as ex-offenders, not as ex-felons, not as ex—you know, ex-anything, convicts, but to look at us as people, because when you call me that, you’re putting me in a racial epithet, you’re calling me something racial, you’re calling me the N-word. And people say, "Oh, it’s not racism." But it’s classism. It’s just the same, just a different category. And so, what we tried to do was get the churches and all of the people that were in these organizations to start focusing more on the needs of those of us who were incarcerated and those of us who were getting out of incarceration, in order to provide the food, clothing and shelter and the stuff for us to become productive citizens of society.
One of the things that Kinetik Justice, you need to ask him about, is they formed an organization in there, Convicts Against Violence. That’s what they just displayed in those 10 days. And for some reason, the Alabama Department of Corrections stopped it, because they wasn’t in control of it. And I guess they have to have their control, custody and all that insecurity.
But yet and still, if it’s about rehabilitation, you must realize that you, first of all, cannot rehab someone who haven’t been habilitated. So what we did with TOPS was we started educating our people in order to change society. We came out. We started lobbying. We started getting people to get more engaged in the political process of voting. And we starting setting up different processes for people that were getting out that have the availability to become those productive citizens that everybody claim they want them to be, but don’t provide any opportunity for them to be.
AMY GOODMAN: Now—
PASTOR KENNETH GLASGOW: Another thing that I want you to reach out to Kinetik Justice, before I go, is that they are inside. And, Kinetik, I need you to tell them about this. They are paying for them in their disciplinary actions. They’re paying $4 for administration. They get caught with a phone, it’s $25 the first time; second time, $50; third time, $75. So they are being totally exploited, not only working for free, but [inaudible] and being coerced to pay for everything they’re getting, food and all. And he’ll tell you more about that.
What we are doing on the inside is that we are appealing to all these labor unions, to these churches, to administration, to legislators in all of the South and abroad, and asking them to look at us as people.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ve just lost Pastor Kenneth Glasgow through the satellite in Montgomery, Alabama, founder and national president of The Ordinary People’s—the organization that he founded, The Ordinary People’s Society, or TOPS, which is a faith-based organization focusing on criminal justice and rehabilitation of repeat offenders. He started his organizations in prison, and now he’s outside. But he’s given us some good questions to ask Kinetik Justice. Now, one of them—Kinetik Justice, co-founder of Free Alabama Movement, currently serving his 28th month, more than two years, in solitary confinement for organizing a past protest at Holman, where he is right now, the most overcrowded prison in the United States. The penalty is for, well, what you’re doing right now, right? Talking on a cellphone. How do you speak on a cellphone. I asked you this in Part 1, but let me ask you again how you do this and what you risk.
KINETIK JUSTICE: Actually, like I was saying earlier—you know what I’m saying—engaged in the struggle for freedom, justice and equality, we understand that there are risks involved in any endeavor for freedom and justice. And, you know, the consequences of having a cellphone, as Pastor Glasgow said, they have codified it to where it’s an economical penalty, to where each time you’re caught with a cellphone, it’s a $25 fine, or on second time, it’s a $50 fine, and $25 each additional time. However, mainly, you know, it’s a racket, where—you know what I’m saying—they’re brought into the institution and then sold, and then if you’re found with one, you’re charged again for it. So it’s mainly just a racket, where money is being exchanged hands and so forth. But yeah, that’s the penalty for having a cellphone, is a $25 fine, and $25 more each additional time.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Kinetik Justice, you’ve also been working with prisoners in Texas? Could you talk a little bit about that?
KINETIK JUSTICE: Yeah, over the last year, we’ve worked consistently with members of the IWW and the IWOC and different groups that I’ve been meeting with. And they’ve helped extremely, extremely, like in distributing literature that we’ve written, that we have on the part of the Free Alabama Movement. And we created an educational awareness campaign where we mail different information to different prisons across the country. And as a result of that, we’ve been able to link up with prisoners in the state of Ohio, Virginia, Georgia, Mississippi and, as of late, with people on the inside in Texas. As we were laying out the format for combating mass incarceration through work strikes, it was appealing to a lot of people that are incarcerated across the country, as it is a nonviolent means in order to have your issues addressed—you know what I’m saying—to redress your grievance, because a lot of these prison systems don’t have a grievance process. They don’t have an adequate vehicle in place for us to have redress for grievances. Therefore, turning the work strike into our lobbyists, our politicians and our political machine to have our voices heard has caught on like wildfire with prisoners across the country. And they’re beginning—
AMY GOODMAN: Kinetik—
KINETIK JUSTICE: Yes, ma’am.
AMY GOODMAN: Kinetik, we only have a minute to go, but I want to talk about what your plans are for September 9th. Forty-five years ago, on September 9th, 1971, the prisoners at Attica, not far from where we are, but upstate New York, rose up. They were protesting prison conditions. And for four days, they took over the prison. On September 13th, then-Governor Rockefeller called out the state troopers. They opened fire, killing 39 men—prisoners and guards—wounding something like 88 others, seriously injuring hundreds of others. Can you talk about your plans for September 9th, 19—2016, 45 years later?
KINETIK JUSTICE: Actually, I am a part of a group, with a few brothers from different states, who have engaged in a call, a national call, for a peaceful, nonviolent work strike in commemoration of the Attica rebellion, as well as an attestment that 2016 is collectively the end of prison slavery, of slavery, period. And that is what we are embarking on, a collective effort on behalf of all the state prisoners to come together in a peaceful and nonviolent protest and bring an end to slavery once and for all, and have the 13th Amendment re-amended.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, the shape of this protest, what it’s going to be?
KINETIK JUSTICE: It’s pretty much looking like the shutdown in Alabama recently, the 10-day strike there, where we’re setting out for a peaceful and nonviolent work strike throughout the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank so much for being with us, Kinetik Justice, again, co-founder of the Free Alabama Movement. He is currently serving 28 months in solitary confinement at William C. Holman prison in Alabama, the most overcrowded prison in the country. Again, yes, he is speaking to us from solitary confinement, redefining cellphone. Thanks so much for being with us, Kinetik Justice. We will be back in touch with you.