Away from D.C. circus, prisoners in 17 states began a three-work strike last week, refusing to eat or work to protest horrendous conditions within U.S. prisons. This story is not getting enough attention but all-of-us must face the grim fact - everyday thousands of prisoners are or have been paid less than a dollar per hour to do jobs ranging from to stitching underwear for Victoria’s Secret to manning call centers to fighting fires.
We have nothing against work - but work without just compensation, with no guarantee of safety is nothing less than modern slavery. It fuels mass incarceration by creating an incentive to imprison and exploit, and degrades the humanity of the inmates doing the work.
But as former prisoners and Equal Justice Initiative Fellows Chandra Bozelko and Ryan Lo eloquently write, “Conditions of modern prisons - tiny, overcrowded cells, lack of sanitation, infestation, lack of ventilation - make people inside so desperate for respite that they’re sometimes willing to accept even unconscionable deals, like working for little to no money.”
That’s why the act of peacefully striking - even though it risks leading to solitary confinement and disciplinary actions - is so important. Domestic prisoners have been joined by ICE detainees as the momentum builds. All-of-us must use our voices on the outside to join the call to end prison slavery.
1 Read this USA Today op-ed by former inmates about why this strike is so important2 Use this toolkit from strike organizers to make calls to prisons (scripts and numbers provided), send supportive letters to prisoners, and donate to the cause.