Nationwide prisoner strike includes Florida

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The national prison strike has reached Florida; according to the Gainesville Chapter of Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee prisoners at five Florida facilities are striking: Dade, Charlotte, Holmes, Franklin and Apalachee.

Friday in Sarasota there is a rally in support of an ongoing national strike by prisoners and inmate workers; it starts at 4:00 p.m. and goes until 6:00 p.m. at 1844 17th Street, outside the Florida Department of Corrections’ Sarasota circuit office.

Update Friday: News 4 in Jacksonville is reporting that Florida Highway Patrol troopers from across north Florida are responding today to a report of what one agency called a “riot situation” at the Hamilton Correctional Institute in Jasper. Later, the Florida Department of Corrections told News4 ‘”there was no riot,” and that no staff or inmates were injured.’

WMNF News interviewed Jhody Polk, executive director of the Florida Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, about the ongoing prisoner strike.

“I actually attended a meeting a few days ago. Our local IWOC chapter, which is Incarcerated Workers [Organizing] Committee, and Fight Toxic Prisons, actually had an information session. And I remember when they did the first Operation PUSH [prisoner strike] in Florida. Honestly, Seán, I was scared to death. I didn’t want to have anything to do with that. I thought it was crazy that individuals would be protesting and supporting individuals who protest that. I was just scared.

“So, this time around when I saw the actual list of demands that incarcerated people were asking for, it really changed my perspective about what this prisoners strike means. And while it may not mean the same thing to everyone who’s incarcerated, I’m very proud of the individuals who are willing to put their lives and their time on the line to stand up for better and humane treatment.

Demands of the prison strike

“When you look at the demands of the prison strike, I mean, individuals who are engaging in it – they’re only asking for resources and tools that can help them to be better citizens after they’re released and also do their time and actually make it out safe, in good health and in a good mind and the skills to move forward. So one of the things for me is – when you think of a protest, we just typically think about the uprising of it. But there are so many different ways that we can support.

“So, I just really think that it is important in the State of Florida, especially, where we have one of the most violent and vicious and unaccountable systems of corrections that we as citizens and community members at least get the information. I’m not a protester, I’m not a prison abolitionist. But the information that I was able to receive helped me to understand that these are real people that are literally standing up and asking for help in a system where for them to do that could literally cost them their lives. So for us to not support these individuals who are not asking to be let go – they’re asking for education, they’re asking for better conditions, they’re asking for skills, they’re asking for access to the law library.”

Listen:

“I’m a 2018 Soros Justice Fellow and my project includes redeveloping and enhancing law libraries in prisons throughout the United States. And one of the things that struck me odd in all of the research that I’ve been doing about the prisoner strike is – although the individuals who are directly impacted, who are standing up for their justice, although this is their fight, they don’t have any other tools other than their bodies to carry it out. So, how can we empower those who are inside [prisons] to be able to stand up for their freedom? And one of the things that I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to do due to the Open Society Foundation is to connect with law clerks [in prison].

Prison law clerks

“Law clerk programs are not a privilege, it is a right. Every incarcerated individual has access — a right to access to the court. Our Department of Correction in Florida satisfies that by having a law library in each institution with certified law clerks that the Department certifies. We should be insuring that those certified law clerks have the necessary materials and resources and access to not just be able to look at criminal cases, but to be able to have things in place for even issues like this. For disciplinary issues on the inside and as well as vehicles for them to challenge their rights as well as their privileges on the inside.

“So, I’m just proud of the support, but it’s not enough. When we think of the number of people who are incarcerated in the state of Florida, we can’t have 15 students sitting around a table asking what we can do. These are our loved ones. These are the children that we say we love – these are their parents. So it’s time that – even if we don’t look at the protest and the strike itself, look at the people who are incarcerated. Look at demands that these people are asking – ask ourselves why they’re asking these things. And make sure that we don’t just protest, but we hold the Department accountable for being able to take care of our loved ones and our community members who are currently incarcerated.”