Prison Strikers Across Alabama Demand Change Despite Severe Retaliation

Across the state of Alabama, where the state’s longest-ever strike Warrior Met Coal is currently in process after more than 18 months. Another historic labor stoppage is currently in its second week. Thousands of men in Alabama’s major male prisons have refused to report to work.

“The message that we are sending is, the courts have shut down on us, the parole board has shut down on us,” a strike organizer Swift Justice, a person who spoke to a reporter at an independent news site Unicorn Riot. “This society has long ago shut down on us. So basically, if that’s the case, and you’re not wanting us to return back to society, you can run these facilities yourselves.”

“It makes no sense for us to continue to contribute to our own oppression,” Kinetik Justice, another striking prisoner, told Unicorn Riot. “We finance our own incarceration through our free labor and spending every dime we get in the canteens and so forth. It is our money and our family’s money that is used to keep us incarcerated and oppressed like this.”

The strike is rooted in years of inside organizing. In 2016, the Free Alabama Movement was able to lead a successful strike. 10-day nationwide strike The purpose of the article was to show how the 13th Amendment has allowed slavery to change despite its abolition. (The 13th Amendment banned slavery and involuntary servitude, “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”) That strike spanned at least 40 facilities in 24 states.

The deplorable conditions across the state’s prisons also make them particularly dangerous. According to a 2020 lawsuit filed by the Justice Department, the Alabama prison system “fails to provide adequate protection from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, fails to provide safe and sanitary conditions, and subjects prisoners to excessive force at the hands of prison staff.”

Organizers have designed a list of demandsThe demands were primarily directed at Republican Governor Kay Ivey as well as the Alabama legislature. These demands include:

  • To guarantee parole to all who are eligible, it is necessary to establish mandatory parole criteria
  • Repealing Alabama’s Habitual Felony Offender Act, which requires stricter punishment for those with prior felony convictions among other mandates
  • Eliminating life-without parole sentences
  • Ensuring eligible persons receive “good time”—incentive time shaved off a sentence earned through good behavior
  • To investigate possible wrongful sentences, establish a statewide convict integrity unit

Unbroken Line to Slavery

Swift and Kinetik argue for an unbroken line from slavery in its antebellum form to today’s prison industrial compound.

“Alabama wishes for its slaves to remain passive and obedient to continue bringing millions of dollars of profit from our backs and blood,” Swift said in an October 1 press release.

Orlando Patterson, sociologist, asserts that slavery is characterized primarily by social deaths. A person who becomes an inmate receives a number for their name, is denied access to communication channels, is often moved far away from their family and lives according to the guards’ dictates. some of whom They have been convicted or charged with assaulting the caretakers. Death, in its literal sense, can also be a constant feature Of Alabama’s prisons, and the full extent of the violence is hard to measure given ADOC’s tendency to provide no updates.

Brutal System

Politicians and administrators continue to look for new ways to make an already brutal system even more brutal. For example, the parole board has drastically reduced grants for conditional release. In 2017, 46 percent of applications were rejected. skyrocketed to 84 percent In 2021. The average of the decade before 2021 was 37 percentThis is in part due to the fact the board frequently refuses to follow their own guidelines and chooses instead to lock up more people, even though the Department of Justice found that the prisons were constitutionally overcrowded.

While the criminal justice systemdisproportionately targets communities that are of color at every stage, the racial disparities among parole denials is still increasing; Montgomery Advertiser Article reports “grants for Black applicants dropping at a much faster rate in 2020 and 2021 than for whites.” As officials strip away any remaining hope many have of ever seeing the outside world again, what remains for inmates to focus on is the trauma the carceral system inflicts.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, ADOC’s strikebreaking tactics are extreme. Warrior Met Coal, for example, is where the hedge funds that own it have made it very clear they intend to metaphorically “starve out” Brookwood miners, ADOC are using actual starvation. A so-called “Adopt a Habit” is also being used. “holiday meal schedule” Prisoners claim that only two meals are served at state facilities. They say the meals are made from trays that contain little hot food and very limited nutrients. Numerous images of items such as two “sandwiches” constructed from only cold slices of bread and cheese Have been making the rounds on social networks.

ADOC claims that this is because they have lost most their supply of free, forcible labor. However, it is not clear how much additional labor it would take to make a larger serving of mush or add more bread slices onto a tray.

Prison officials have made it mandatory for inmates to work as scabs, even if they are starving. Work release is when someone (i.e. those allowed to work outside the prison, returning when their shift is complete) declines to cross the metaphorical picket line, prisoners say they are at risk of immediately losing their release status and being moved to Donaldson, a prison notorious—even by Alabama standards—for its extreme violence.

Kinetik was contacted by a person from North Alabama Work Release Center who was brought in to tell the story of the strikers at Limestone. Kinetik was contacted within two hours. beaten by guards and locked in solitary confinement—not for the first time. Even for those who are ready to face violence from guards or lose their hard-earned work release status, it is difficult to find out about the strike from the inside.

These are the most unlikely circumstances that thousands of people have found solidarity with. The labor movement relies on everyone realizing that there is more than divides us and that there are more people willing to fight for their rights than bosses or oppressors.

“Regardless of where we are,” Swift said, “we are humans.”

This piece was originally published in Labor Notes