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Alabama Guards Stage Work Strike Months After Prisoner Uprising at Overcrowded Holman Facility

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Prison officials in Alabama have confirmed a group of correction officers refused to report for the evening shift Saturday at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore. The apparent work strike comes as guards have been walking off the job amid safety concerns and overcrowding throughout the summer. Prisoners say there are stabbings on a regular basis, and call the facility “The Slaughterhouse.” We speak to incarcerated organizer Kinetik Justice and Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, founder and national president of The Ordinary People Society.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show in Alabama, where prison officials have confirmed a group of correction officers refused to report for the evening shift Saturday at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore. The apparent work strike comes as guards have been walking off the job amid safety concerns and overcrowding throughout the summer. Prisoners say there are stabbings on a regular basis, and call the facility “The Slaughterhouse.” A guard stabbed by a prisoner earlier this month died last week. The warden was stabbed in March.

This is incarcerated organizer Kinetik Justice speaking from inside the Holman prison on Saturday. Listen closely.

KINETIK JUSTICE: It’s official. At 6:00, no officers came to work. None came to work. None of the officers came to work. We have Deputy Commissioner Culliver, Warden Peterson, Sergeant Franklin from across the street. Who else? Yeah, Warden Peterson from across the street, Warden Stewart, the captain and a white guy, Wilson. Who else? And one other. Those are the only ones here running the facility. Right now, the commissioner is passing out tray. Warden Peterson is pulling the cart. Deputy Commissioner Culliver passed me my tray. Every cell, he’s passing out the tray. I can’t believe it. To my black sliding shoes, brown knitted pants, white tweed shirt with the collar bust open, sweating at the temples. It’s real. No officers came to work. They completely bucked on the administration. No more will they be pawns in the game. Nighttime it’s going down.

AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now! reached out to the Alabama Department of Corrections to confirm reports of the strike by correction officers at the Holman Correctional Facility in Alabama. The department described the reports as unofficial and erroneous, but the department did confirm nine officers did not report to work on Saturday.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The events at Holman come as the largest prison work strike in U.S. history has entered its third week. Organizers report that as of last week at least 20 prisons in 11 states continued to be involved in the protest, including in Alabama, California, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, South Carolina and Washington. The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee says at one point about 20,000 prisoners were on strike. With the protest has come punishment, however. Several facilities were put on lockdown, with prisoners kept in their cells and denied phone access both before and during the strike. Organizers were also put in solitary confinement.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by three guests.

Pastor Kenneth Glasgow is with us, founder and national president of The Ordinary People Society—that’s TOPS—a faith-based organization focusing on criminal justice reform and rehabilitation of repeat offenders. He’s also founder of the Prodigal Child Project.

Azzurra Crispino is with us, media co-chair of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee. She’s joining us from Austin.

And Kinetik Justice is also joining us, co-founder of Free Alabama Movement, currently serving his 33rd month in solitary confinement at the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Alabama. He’s joining us by phone from inside the prison, inside Holman.

Kinetik, let’s start with you. Can you describe what’s happening inside the prison right now? We just heard a clip of what you had to say about what happened Saturday night. What’s happening with the guards? What’s happening with the prisoners?

KINETIK JUSTICE: First of all, thank you for having me on the show, Ms. Goodman. Actually, I want to address some things. On Saturday, on the second shift, no officers reported to work. That was confirmed by the Department of Corrections spokesperson yesterday. However, they came back and tried to retrack and to spin the story, and said, no, only nine officers on the third shift didn’t come. But that just goes to show how out of touch the DOC spokesperson is with what’s going on at Holman. Holman has had two shifts for the last decade. Officers work 12-hour shifts, from 6:00 to 6:00. There is no third shift, to clear that up.

As regards to what’s going on now, obviously, there were some concessions and some compromises made, as yesterday there was almost an entire shift with extra officers from other facilities overtime. So, they actually had yard call for the first time in weeks. They actually ran the store. So, they’re trying to make some kind of concessions with the officers, so I can’t speak directly to what those compromises were, but they did have almost a half shift yesterday, a whole shift with extra officers from other facilities.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And has there been any communication from the officers to the inmates in terms of why they are taking these actions?

KINETIK JUSTICE: Yes, yes. They’re clearly communicating. For weeks we’ve been communicating back and forth. This administration really has no regard for human life. And they’re beginning to see that it’s not just directed at the men that are incarcerated here, that the violence that they’ve created actually spills over to the officers, as well. And a lot of them are terrified of what’s going on, and refuse to go into the dormitory. A lot of times when they’re calling codes for officers to respond to altercations, they’re not coming. And these altercations are being broken up by people inside the dormitory. And there’s a growing consensus in this place that if you don’t have somebody that loves you or cares about you in the dormitory, then you’re almost guaranteed to be a dead man, because the officers are not coming to save you.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what do you mean by the violence that the administration has created?

KINETIK JUSTICE: Exactly what I mean when I say that. Earlier in this year at St. Clair Correctional Facility, the violence was out of control. Officers were being assaulted. Inmates were being stabbed every day. There were several lawsuits filed about it at St. Clair Correctional Facility. What they did is they sent all of the people who were incarcerated at St. Clair they deemed to be problems to Holman. In over a process of maybe 45 days, they sent maybe 50 to 60 people here.

In March, they had an uprising. The warden was stabbed, and another officer was stabbed eight times. After that, they had another uprising maybe two days later. And about a month after that, we had the May Day work strike. And that lasted for 10 days. Immediately after that, this administration handpicked every person in this prison that they felt was influential, that was moving in the direction of the movement, and they transferred them to other institutions, while simultaneously, in the segregation unit, releasing, you know, those people who had already had assaults and stabbing cases, and they brought in others. And they pulled the officers back and told them to step back out of the dorms, and they allowed them to sit there and stab each other up, rob each other and, you know, just a whole bunch of foolishness.

And it began to get out of control, to the point where, you know, officers were being threatened. And they were reporting this to the administration that they were being threatened, and the administration was brushing them off like it wasn’t nothing. So they realized that after this spilled over and Officer Bettis was killed, that they realized that their lives was in danger just as much as these people who are incarcerated here. And on Saturday, they all came together in order to force this administration to live and work in the environment that they had created for these officers, to give them a taste of their own medicine, so to speak.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we’re talking to Kinetik Justice inside the Holman corrections prison. That’s about, what, 55 miles north—northeast of Mobile near the Florida Panhandle. I wanted to turn to a clip of former Holman corrections officer Curt Stidham, who was speaking to the local Fox affiliate in Alabama. Stidham resigned his position after the March riot inside the prison. He’s now speaking out about the conditions for guards at Holman.

CURT STIDHAM: Just because an inmate had a bad day, Officer Bettis lost his life. I think he’s dead due to lack of security with inside that prison. It’s impossible to follow the rules that you’re given, or the regs, because there’s absolutely not enough security there to complete those tasks.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Kinetik Justice, can you respond to that? And then also talk about what the prisoners are doing right now.

KINETIK JUSTICE: Yes, I agree with the former officer, to a certain extent. And it’s clear that you can’t run a maximum-security prison with 17 people. It’s undeniably—it’s highly impossible. But that—those are numbers that they’ve given, the 17 people—

AMY GOODMAN: How many prisoners are there?

KINETIK JUSTICE: One thousand. You have 200 men that are in solitary confinement. You have 172 that are on death row. And you have approximately 640 in the general population. And these men are supposedly being provided services and protection and their well-being secured by 14, 15 and 16 officers. And like governor said, it’s impossible. And that means that a lot of things are going on that can’t be controlled by them, to the point that there is no basic services being provided, there is no true security.

As the situation at Holman is, most of the security is being provided by the street organizations. In affiliation with Free Alabama Movement, we had a peace summit, and we agreed that the administration was not going to protect us or, you know, make sure that the elderly were being protected and so forth. So we took it upon ourselves to try to instill some type of discipline within our own structures to maintain some type of order, until we could get some help from society in the form of creating a task force to do a fact-finding mission to come up in here, to get someone like an advocate like Pastor Glasgow, an attorney like Bryan Stevenson, Senator Vivian Figures, Senator Hank Sanders and some reporters to actually come up in here and tell the Department of Corrections to let us see your transfer logs, let us see your segregation release logs, let us see the body charts, let us see the officer sign-in logs—let us see documentation that proves that it is what you say it is, in contrast to what you say the propaganda of the Free Alabama Movement says it is.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, you mentioned Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, who’s also joining us from Montgomery. He’s the founder and national president of The Ordinary People Society. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Pastor Glasgow. Can you tell us about the situation of the prisoners in Alabama right now, what you’re seeing, as a member of a faith-based group, about the responsibility of those on the outside?

PASTOR KENNETH GLASGOW: Thank you for having me. And what we’re seeing is that the prisoners—first of all, they did a yeoman’s job. We want to give them all the credit and all the applause we can. They have overcame religious barriers, racial barriers, geographical barriers, and also they have overcame incarceration barriers. And by overcoming those barriers, Free Alabama Movement and Kinetik Justice, that you have on now, they were able to organize, lead and initiate this prison strike over 24 states in 40 to 50 different prisons.

What they have done is made us on the outside, who are organizers and advocates, we have to step up, because they have proven to us that, you know, we didn’t look at, even ourselves, being the formerly incarcerated persons—we didn’t look at prison slavery and prison labor. Now, since this prison strike has happened, we on the outside are looking at who we’re going to target, who we’re going to boycott next. Whole Foods has already put out a media blitz last year, and we’re checking on it right now to make sure that they’re not still using prison labor. We’re looking at Starbucks. We’re looking at McDonald’s. We’re looking at Victoria’s Secret. We’re looking at all the different industries and companies.

And what’s happening inside the prisons right now is that there—whenever a people comes up—Bryan Stevenson said it best. Whenever we deal with the proximity of the situation, those who are incarcerated are looking at the fact that people that have paid taxes for them to be rehabilitated, for them to be educated, for them to be trained, in order to come out into society—because 98 percent of the people in prison are coming out, 98 percent, and in order for them to come out and be able to be productive citizens, they need to have these skills and education and all. What they’re looking at is that they’re just being housed. Their families are being exploited by Alabama Department of Corrections and department of corrections in all of the different states, because their families are sending them money for commissary, sending them money for them to use the phone. And yet, the taxpayers are paying anywhere from $31,000 to $80,000 per year, depending on what state you’re in, for them to get this rehabilitation and education, and they’re not getting it.

What they’re getting is being used for free prison labor. And, you know, so most of the industries and companies that own the high-level national media, that’s supporting and paying them off, got us believing that they’re outsourcing jobs, they’re outsourcing their products, outsourcing the manufacturing, and that’s why we have an unemployment rate. But actually, they’re not outsourcing; they’re insourcing.

So what those brothers and sisters are doing inside the prison is something that we all need to look at and look at our society and say, “Wait a minute. We’re still producing slavery and still producing slaves. We’re still producing indentured servitude,” and look at the 13th Amendment and change it. I think what they are doing is very, very necessary. And what they’re doing, in a very, very peaceful way, shows us that our Department of Corrections, in no matter what state you’re in, need to be revamped, revisited and relooked at, holistically.

AMY GOODMAN: Kinetik Justice, inside Holman, what does a prison work strike look like? What are people refusing to do? You’re in solitary confinement, so—is that right? So you wouldn’t be working?

KINETIK JUSTICE: That’s absolutely correct. I am in solitary confinement, and, no, I’m not working.

But what a work strike looks like in prison is that, usually, around 12:30, 12:45 at night, they sent for the kitchen workers, those who will prepare the breakfast meal. And when those people don’t report to work, they initiate a prison lockdown to do an investigation to see what’s going on. Nine times out of 10, they already have advanced knowledge that there’s going to be a work strike, so they come around to confirm that there is a work strike, no one wants to go to work, no one is being forced not to go to work, etc. Once that happens, the warden is dispatched here, and maybe then allocating officers in the kitchen to prepare these meals.

And in the morning time, you know, the prison is locked down, because the officers are trying to feed over 600, 700 people. And it’s not something that they’re usually doing, so this is a kind of awkward and frustrating process for them. When work call comes in the morning for the tag plant, the industry, no one reports. And that day begins just like that, with the officers on a lockdown. The officers are struggling to provide the basic necessities, such as preparing meals and trying to get the medical list done and get the sick call and so forth done.

So, it’s a slow process throughout the day for the officers as well as for the men incarcerated, because we’re forced to be in dormitories with 115 people all day long, and, you know, that can get taxing, because, you know, due to overcrowding, you’re already dealing with tensions and frustration. So, throughout a work strike, leadership is really required, because you have to try to keep a balance inside these dormitories to keep violence from erupting, because one sign of violence inside these dormitories, the administration will use that as an excuse to bring in a CERT team and try to assert violence, or they’re trying to say that we’re having a riot or, you know, something outside of the character of what we’re actually doing on the work strike.

AMY GOODMAN: Kinetik, we have to break. We’re going to come back to this discussion. Kinetik Justice is speaking to us from solitary confinement inside the Holman prison that houses a thousand men, very few guards. Pastor Kenneth Glasgow is joining us from Montgomery, Alabama. And we’re also going to speak with Azzurra Crispino about the nationwide prison strike. She’s going to be joining us from Austin, Texas. Stay with us.

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