Georgia Prison Strike, One Year Later: Activists Outside the Walls Have Failed Those Inside the Walls

From: Black Agenda Report:
Dec 21, 2011
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

In December 2010 inmates in up to a dozen Georgia prisons either refused to leave their cells for work assignments, or were pre-emptively locked down by prison officials. They demanded wages for work, access to educational programs, fairness in release decisions, along with decent food and medical care. An ad hoc coalition sprung up to negotiate with state officials, and gained privileged access to Smith and Macon State Prisons. But the coalition has long since withered and died, without even issuing reports from its December 2010 fact finding visits. What happened? And what happens next?

The Concerned Coalition To Respect Prisoner Rights was supposed to issue public reports of its fact-finding prison visits. That never happened.

A year ago this month, black, white and brown inmates in a dozen Georgia prisons staged a brief strike. They put forward a set of simple and basic demands — wages for work, decent food and medical care, access to educational and self-improvement programs, fairness and transparency in the way the state handles grievances, inmate funds and release decisions, and more opportunities to connect with their families and loved ones. A short-lived formation calling itself the Concerned Coalition to Respect Prisoner Rights came together, and met with the Georgia Department of Corrections. In the last weeks of 2010 teams of community observers were allowed to visit Macon State and Smith prisons, where they examined facilities and interviewed staff and prisoners.

The Concerned Coalition To Respect Prisoner Rights was supposed to issue public reports of its fact-finding prison visits. That never happened. It was to have initiated a long-term dialog with state officials in pursuit of the inmates’ eminently just and reasonable demands. That never happened either. It should have called public meetings and begun to organize a lasting campaign to educate the public on the meaning of Georgia’s and the nation’s prison state, and the possibilities for radical reform. These are the things the prisoners expected of their allies and spokespeople on the outside. But compromised and undermined from within and without, the coalition was unable to make any of these things happen. Thus the trust that Georgia prisoners placed in activists outside the walls to organize in support of their demands was betrayed.

From the beginning, members of the coalition uncritically deferred to a single one of their number with extremely limited local availability. That leading person vetoed public meetings, the establishment of an interactive web site or even a steering committee listserve, insisting that nobody else could not be trusted to manage or access the coalition’s contacts. So apart from the limited interactivity of a seldom updated Facebook page, the coalition maintained no easily found point of public contact. This leading person, in sole charge of calling meetings simply stopped emailing or telephoning this reporter and others who contributed significantly to the cause of the prisoners.

State authorities did their party to gut the coalition as well. Georgia got a new governor at the beginning of 2011, who took a keen interest in his own right wing vision of “criminal justice reform.” Taking his cues from an ultraconservative think tank called “Right On Crime”, Governor Deal is one of those who believes the main thing wrong with mass incarceration is that it’s too expensive. Aided by the Pew Foundation and a major state contractor, Deal created a commission on “criminal justice reform” composed of judges, prosecutors and state legislators to approve what his consultants cooked up — a hodgepodge of recommendations to shrink the state’s maximum and medium security institutions while greatly expanding probation, home monitoring, workfare, closely supervised “diversion” and misnamed “re-entry” programs, all under the profitable guidance of well-connected “not for profit” entrepreneurs.

True to his name, Deal reportedly made a deal with some leading figures in the Coalition to Respect Prisoner Rights, who bolted the coalition with the expectation that if they help line up black Democrats behind the white Republican governor’s “criminal justice reform” proposals, they’d get some of the state’s new “re-entry” money. A senior national civil rights leader quietly flew in and out of Atlanta the same day to quietly meet with Governor Deal about his deal. So the Concerned Coalition to Respect Prisoner Rights, withered and died.

And so, a year out from the December 2010 prison strike, it is clear that activists outside the walls have largely failed to honor their commitment to those inside the walls. In the past year, not much has changed. Scores of prisoners alleged to be strike leaders were punitively transferred and locked down in the wake of the strike. Dozens more who were not strike leaders were savagely beaten, as exemplary reprisals for the strike, and denied medical attention afterward. State officials conspired to hide from his family and the public the whereabouts of one man they beat into a coma for nearly two weeks as he hung between life and death. A handful of guards were charged, but local prosecutors and grand juries refused to indict. The federal Justice Department, under its first black attorney general, and president has thus far expressed no interest in protecting prisoners from the arbitrary and brutal retaliation inflicted upon them by Georgia officials.

Inmates with debilitating and life threatening conditions are still mostly untreated. Educational programs are available to less than 5% of prisoners, and thousands of Georgia’s prisoners as young as 14, 15 and 16 years old, continue to be confined in adult institutions with adults. Bank of America still has the exclusive contract to handle inmate accounts, and levies a parasitic fee each and every time a family member sends an inmate a few dollars, and deducts another monthly charge as long as any funds remain in an inmate account. This year as last, thousands of prisoners who speak mainly Spanish are not afforded interpreters at disciplinary hearings, and with no transparency at any level it’s impossible to know whether there is any hint of fairness in these proceedings. Politically connected companies like J-Pay and Global TelLink are still allowed to siphon millions each month from the families of inmates by collecting tolls on the money transfers going into and phone calls coming out of prison. Food ranges from bad to merely inadequate, vermin infestations abound, and of course Georgia inmates still work every day without pay.

On Wednesday December 14, a year after the strike, Rev. Kenneth Glasgow of TOPS, The Ordinary Peoples Society showed up at the Georgia state capitol with some of the families and supporters of prisoners savagely beaten by wardens and correctional officers in Georgia after the strike.

“We are here to reaffirm our commitment to the prisoners who made a principled stand for their own and each others’ human rights a year ago this week. We know the ball was dropped. TOPS and the National Organization of Formerly Incarcerated Persons, along with some others, are picking it up. Over the past year we’ve worked to secure legal and other assistance to the families of some of the prisoners who suffered beat downs in retaliation for the December 2010 strike, and we’ve expanded our work with the National Organization of Formerly Incarcerated Persons. But we know that much more has to be done to fulfill the promise of last year’s coalition.

For our part, we can promise that the next twelve months out here won’t be like the last twelve. Decent food and medical care, wages for work, educational opportunities and the like are ordinary human rights to which everybody is entitled. The Ordinary Peoples Society is ready to work with whoever is willing to advance the human rights of Georgia’s prisoners.”

Read the rest here

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Georgia prisons on fire

From: SF Bay View
December 6, 2011
by Eugene Thomas

Written Nov. 28, 2011 – On Nov. 25, Hancock State Prison in Sparta, Georgia, erupted into a full scale riot, as prisoners ran off the guards in several of the cell houses (euphemistically called dormitories, as though this was a college campus) in protest over abuses by guards and grievances unresolved by administrators.

[photo: Prisoners donned guards’ jackets after the guards fled]

On Nov. 25, at about 9:45 p.m. EST, while I was in a political education class with Sis. Kiilu Nyasha, a report came in that Hancock State Prison’s prisoners were rioting. Not knowing whether this report was true – or at least an accurate representation of the facts – I began doing some investigative work. And to my amazement, Hancock’s prisoner populace was indeed in full riot – or revolt.

I was told by a comrade there that the spark that ignited this fire was a young female guard calling the prisoners there “bitches and hoes.”

These verbal abuses and disrespect caused this female guard to be “run out of the cell house.” It’s reported that she called for emergency backup, which is standard policy. The team of officers that came as backup were likewise “run out the cell house.”

All the guards were told by their supervisor to leave the prison compound, so that no officers would be present when the State Troopers stormed the compound. I’m told that from 6 o’clock in the evening until about 2 o’clock in the morning, no guard was working on the inside compound grounds.

Prisoners thus set several of the module living units on fire and donned guards’ jackets, danced, sang and celebrated. At around 3 or 4 a.m., State Troopers and local police took back the prison while the local fire department put out the blaze. Prisoners have warned, “This is only the beginning.”

As I write this, I’ve learned that five prisons are locked down. They are Ware, Hancock, Telfair, Valdosta and Smith state prisons. Mind you these were five of the major prisons that participated in last year’s Dec. 9 protest.

Dec. 9 is just around the corner. It’s been almost one full year – and no changes to date.

Tupac said it best in his song, “Changes.” He said, “They didn’t listen until my niggas burned it down.”

If rioting gets the Georgia Department of Corrections, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, the state of Georgia General Assembly and the racist, unjust judiciary to listen, then I say, as H. Rap Brown (now Imam Jamil Al-Amin) said back in the day, “Burn, baby, burn!”

Send our brother some love and light: Eugene Thomas, 671488, G-2-148, Autry State Prison, P.O. Box 648, Pelham GA 31779.

Here is what the Atlanta JC newspaper writes:
http://www.ajc.com/news/inmates-set-fires-in-1247967.html
Dec 1st 2011
Inmates set fires in Georgia prison fight

Guards briefly lost control of a part of an east Georgia prison after a series of fights broke out and rampaging inmates destroyed dormitories, set fire to furniture and broke into an administration office, according to prison records.

The fighting at Hancock State Prison in Sparta on Friday left 12 inmates injured, including one who was stabbed multiple times in the back. Two inmates suffered injuries so severe they had to be airlifted to nearby hospitals. No guards were hurt in the violence, which wasn’t quelled until backup units arrived.

Details of the fight were obtained by The Associated Press through an Open Records request. Prison officials did not immediately return calls seeking additional comment on Thursday.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Kristen Stancil has said the fighting was gang-related and was organized using cellphones smuggled illegally into the prison, a facility with about 1,500 beds that houses many violent prisoners serving long sentences.

Much of the fighting took place in a medium-security tent city on prison grounds that houses about 250 inmates in tents that have solid walls, similar to military tents. Several assaults were also reported in the main prison. No inmates attempted to escape, and the names of the injured inmates or those involved in the fighting were not disclosed.

The report documented a frenetic situation, with simultaneous fights in different parts of the facility.

Read the rest here.
Note: how were these cellphones smuggled inside?

Here is the story about Smith State Prison as told in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Inmate killed in third prison system incident in a week
Nov 29th, 2011

An inmate was killed at Smith State Prison Monday but prison officials said it was not part of a wider disturbance.

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Kristin Stansil would not say how the inmate, whose name was not released, was killed.

No officers or other inmates were hurt, she said Tuesday.

All details were being withheld because “it’s all part of our investigation,” Stansil said. She said she did not know when the internal investigation would be completed.

Smith State Prison is a high-security prison in Glennville, west of Savannah, that holds more than 1,350 men.

The incident at Smith was the third in a week in the prison system, which has already put several institutions on heightened alert or lockdown because of inmate violence.

Over the weekend 12 inmates were hospitalized because of injuries suffered in a gang fight Friday night at Hancock State Prison in Sparta. The disturbance started in temporary structures where 250 medium-security inmates are housed, but it quickly spread to the main facility where violent inmates with long sentences are held.

On Nov. 21, a guard was injured and three inmates were hospitalized after a fight at Telfair State Prison in South Georgia.

Prison officials have said inmates are fighting each other over cellphones that are smuggled in.

But inmates who called The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Monday said the disturbances are only being coordinated with the help of cellphones and are protests of new prison rules.

Here is the third story, reported on Nov 22nd 2011 by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Telfair prison locked down after large fight
Authorities say two of the dormitories at Telfair State Prison in south Georgia were on lockdown after a large fight Monday night.

Georgia Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gwendolyn Hogan tells WMAZ-TV (http://on.wmaz.com/uKvS1a ) that three inmates were taken to the hospital, but their conditions were not available.

Hogan said no staff members were injured and no inmates escaped.

She said investigators were at the prison late Monday night and the prison was under control. Hogan says no other information about the fight was available.

Officials from the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office say their agency was called to help quell the disturbance.
———
Information from: WMAZ-TV, http://www.wmaz.com/

Prisoners In CCA Georgia Prison Charged Five Dollars Per Minute For Phone Calls

From:
The Huffington Post by Harry Bradford
First Posted: 11/18/11
Via The Real Cost of Prisons.

For inmates at one Georgia prison, a one minute phone call could cost them five times more than they earn for a day of work.

The Correction Corporation Of America’s Stewart facility, a private prison in Lumpkin, Georgia, is forcing prisoners to pay five dollars per minute to use the phone, Alternet reports (h/t ThinkProgress). The exorbitant rate would break most people’s budget, but it’s especially costly for inmates that the prison who make just one dollar per day to work at the facility.

Faced with huge budget shortfalls, states are increasingly relying on privatized prisons to house criminals in their state and the for-profit corporations behind those prisons are coming up with various ways to maximize revenue. The money the Stewart prison is collecting from its 2,000 prisoners to use the phone helped the prison net profits of $35 to $50 million a year, ThinkProgress reports.

Compared to the total earnings of CCA that sum may seem small, however. Last year, the private prison company raked in $1.7 billion in revenues, according to FOX Business. GEO Group, another for-profit prison corporation headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida, saw $1.3 billion in revenues in 2010.

The telephone rates are just one way private prisons are maximizing revenues. To help keep their facilities stocked with inmates, the private prison industry helped to draft Arizona’s tough immigration law and lobbied aggressively to get it passed, NPR reports. Indeed, while they make up only 10 percent of prisoners nationwide, according to a separate NPR report, the number of prisoners in private prisons has increased 1,600 percent from 1990 to 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union reports.

An even more controversial private prison source of income is the what federal prosecutors are calling “Kids for Cash,” — owners of private juvenile detention giving kickbacks to judges to sentence minors for benign offenses in an effort to boost revenue — FOX Business reports. In Pennsylvania, two judges were recently sentenced to over 40 years in prison combined for accepting kickbacks from the owner of a juvenile detention center.

The judges sentenced minors for offenses that included a 10-year-old girl accidentally lighting her room on fire and a 13-year-old boy throwing food at his mother’s boyfriend, according to Fox Business.

Meanwhile, government-run prisons face dire budget constraints forcing them to take unprecedented measures. A prison in Riverside, California announced that it will start charging prisoners $142.42 a day to save an estimated $3 to $5 milllion, CNNMoney reports. The Texas, thousands of prisoners are two meals a day on weekends, after the prison system made cuts to deal with budget constraints.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/17/prisoners-in-private-georgia-prison_n_1099669.html

Georgia retaliates against prison striker, now on hunger strike

From: SF Bay View
by Hamim Abdullah Asadallah, aka Shawn Whatley
Oct 8th 2011
It’s been a while since I have written you due to retaliation by the staff here in the Special Management Unit (SMU) at Jackson State Prison in Jackson, Georgia. When the administration was served notice of the court date for the first lawsuit, a CERT (Certified Emergency Response Team) team was sent into my cell and began rambling through my legal documents and miscellaneous paperwork. Since they didn’t find what they were looking for, they were instructed to harass in other ways.

When this still didn’t provoke me, the administration decided to tamper with my incoming and outgoing mail and withholding legal mail for weeks. I notified my attorney, who emailed the warden and the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC). Then my mail was brought in a brown paper bag, at least 15 letters. Then the administration blocked all my phone numbers – again trying to provoke me with another form of retaliation and harassment. Still, I’m remaining steadfast, trusting in Allah (God).

What I’m writing at this time is that GDC officers are quitting. Here at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison (GDCP) on weekends, sometimes there’s only five officers at the entire unit – with no officer in the dorm for hours, which violates their own policy, SOP IIB09-0001 segregation rights, which states that 30-minute security checks are supposed to be made, but they aren’t. This jeopardizes each inmate in lock-down.

However, if you attempt to utilize the grievance procedure, the grievance is intentionally discarded and the griever is moved to a disciplinary wing, all property taken, placed on strip-cell – no clothes, no blankets, no sheets, no mattress, nothing – and often times physically beaten, as just happened recently and then covered up with lies.

Inmates are suffering because of staff shortages. Showers are being denied, as are recreation yard call, cell sanitation etc. It’s not our fault staff are quitting because they too are tired of the injustices.

Recently two officers got into a fist fight against each other – in the dormitory – about a woman that both were indulging in. No disciplinary action was taken against them.

With all of the foolishness that’s going on, many of us are tired. Therefore there’s six of us here that started an indefinite hunger strike on Aug. 1, 2011, in solidarity with our brothers in California and to stop the inhumane treatment. A letter was sent to the Governor’s Office and Commissioner’s Office with a list of demands, such as provide adequate food, health care, access to families and out-of-cell recreation, stop police and staff brutality and many other requests.

In closing, we need your support and love just as we are sending ours.

Hamim Abdullah Asadallah, aka Shawn Whatley, participated in the historic Georgia prison strike, the largest prison strike in U.S. history, primarily protesting the Georgia practice of forcing prisoners to work for no wages whatsoever. He describes the conditions that gave rise to that strike in an interview that can be both heard and read at http://socialistalternative.org/news/article10.php?id=1510. Send our brother some love and light: Shawn Whatley, 556484, GDCP-SMU LF-101, P.O. Box 3877, Jackson, GA 30233.

Link: http://sfbayview.com/2011/georgia-retaliates-against-prison-striker-now-on-hunger-strike/

I Ordered Death in Georgia: The state’s former D.O.C. commissioner on ‘rehearsed murder.’

From: The Daily Beast/Newsweek

I Ordered Death in Georgia
Sep 25, 2011
By Alan Ault
The state’s former D.O.C. commissioner on ‘rehearsed murder.’

I can’t always remember their names, but in my nightmares I can see their faces. As the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections from 1992 until 1995, I oversaw five executions. The first two were Thomas Dean Stevens and Christopher Burger, accomplices in a monstrous crime: as teenagers in 1977, they robbed and raped a cabdriver, put him in the trunk of a car, and pushed the vehicle into a pond. I had no doubt that they were guilty: they admitted it to me. But now it was 1993 and they were in their 30s. All these years later, after a little frontal-lobe development, they were entirely different people.

On execution days, I always drove from Atlanta to the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson. I knew death row well: 20 years earlier, I had built it. The state had hired me as the warden of Georgia Diagnostic in 1971, where I renovated a special cell block for especially violent offenders. After I left Georgia in 1977, the state reinstated the death penalty and turned the cell block I had developed into death row.

The state executed Stevens first, in June 1993, and then Burger in December. In both instances, I visited them in a cell next to the electric-chair chamber, where they counted down the hours until they died. They were calm, mature, and remorseful. When the time came, I went to a small room directly behind the death chamber where the attorney general worked the phones, checking with the courts to make sure that the executions were not stayed. Then we asked the prisoners for their final words. Stevens said nothing, and Burger apologized, saying, “Please forgive me.” I looked to the prison electrician and ordered him to pull the switch. Last Wednesday, as the state of Georgia prepared to execute Troy Davis despite concerns about his guilt, I wrote a letter with five former death-row wardens and directors urging Georgia prison officials to commute his sentence. I feared not only the risk of Georgia killing an innocent man, but also the psychological toll it would exact on the prison workers who performed his execution. “No one has the right to ask a public servant to take on a lifelong sentence of nagging doubt, and for some of us, shame and guilt,” we wrote in our letter.

The men and women who assist in executions are not psychopaths or sadists. They do their best to perform the impossible and inhumane job with which the state has charged them. Those of us who have participated in executions often suffer something very much like post traumatic stress. Many turn to alcohol and drugs. For me, those nights that weren’t sleepless were plagued by nightmares. My mother and wife worried about me. I tried not to share with them that I was struggling, but they knew I was.

I didn’t grow up saying, “I want to work in prisons.” I had never even been in a prison or a jail before I became warden of the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison. The commissioner at the time hired me to revamp the system, to implement case management, and work with inmates to make them safer. I had always worked in helping professions, and my main goal in corrections was always to reduce recidivism, so that inmates would leave prison better than they arrived. Over this course of time, the death penalty figured larger and larger into my work. I never supported it, but I also did not want to let it distract me from improving overall prison conditions. Death-row inmates are, after all, only a tiny fraction of the prison population.

When I was required to supervise an execution, I tried to rationalize my work by thinking, if I just save one future victim, maybe it is worth it. But I was very aware of the research showing that the death penalty wasn’t a deterrent. I left my job as corrections commissioner in Georgia in 1995 partially because I had had enough: I didn’t want to supervise the executions anymore. My focus changed to national crime policy and then to academia, where I could work to improve the criminal-justice system without participating in its worst parts. Today, I am the dean of the College of Justice & Safety at Eastern Kentucky University.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/09/25/ordering-death-in-georgia-prisons.html

"This struggle is for all the Troy Davises"

Here are Troy Davis’s words relayed earlier yesterday:

“The struggle for justice doesn’t end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me and all the ones who will come after me. I’m in good spirits and I’m prayerful and at peace. But I will not stop fighting until I’ve taken my last breath. Georgia is prepared to snuff out the life of an innocent man.”