What You Desperately Need to Know from SAPIC’s National #PrisonStrike Teach-In


Last night, Students Against the Prison-Industrial Complex began their teach-in on the national prison strike against prison slavery with a simple disclaimer: “If you are the Brown Daily Herald, we do not give you consent to cover this event.”

In an effort to let the information bestowed upon us in List 120 reach as many students as possible, Blog proudly presents a two-part series in collaboration with SAPIC. The second part, coming next week, will be a Q&A with members of SAPIC. We invite you to fill out this Google form to let us know what questions you have about the prison-industrial complex and prison slavery.

Here’s part one: a guide to all you need to know from a Cool Thing You Might’ve Missed. We know that with midterm #szn currently ablaze and Parents Weekend lurking heavily on the horizon, your free time is minimal. That’s why we’ve compiled the most important information from last night’s teach-in in an easy-to-read (albeit difficult to digest and troubling to confront—this is an incredibly complex and heavy issue) format.

NOTE: All of the information below comes from the teach-in on Monday , October 17th.


Prison-industrial complex (PIC) – The vast networks of institutions and systems promoting the overlapping interests of government and industries that use surveillance policing and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social, and political problems.

Things to think about:

  1. SAPIC is missing the voices of those who are currently and formerly incarcerated. Those voices are important to remember.
  2. Much of Brown’s funding stems from the slave trade.

Some objectives of the teach-in:

  1. Examine the history of the PIC.
  2. Learn about past prison uprisings.
  3. Understand the current national prison strike.
  4. Learn about alternatives to prisons and our current model of policing.

Another thing to think about: We should avoid “carceral language.” Words like “prisoner,” “inmate,” and “convict” are examples of carceral language. Carceral language should not be used because it reinforces damaging stigmas against incarcerated persons. Instead, use words and phrases such as:

  • Person who was/is incarcerated
  • Incarcerated person

A quick history lesson:

Modern day policing comes from a deep-seated history of violence against people of color. The institution of slavery in the United States had “slave patrols” and “night watches,” which were essential to keeping white supremacy intact. The runaway slave patrol badge is eerily similar to the deputy sheriff badges we see today. Another example of antiquated policing was the appointment of Indian constables to police Native Americans by New England settlers. Troubling policing practices weren’t just an issue in the South.

In 1863, slaves were freed with the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1865, the 13th Amendment was passed. In 1865, Brown University had already existed for 101 years. The 13th Amendment formally abolished slavery, but still writes into law the right of the state to legally place someone under the inhumane conditions of slavery as a form of punishment.

Following the 13th Amendment, people of color were still subjected to unequal treatment through the Black Codes and convict leasing. The Black Codes, passed in nine Southern states, mandated that black people be employed at all times. Otherwise they would be subject to arrest. ‘Convict’ laws allowed ‘convicts’ to be leased to work for little to no pay. These policies were briefly repealed during the Reconstruction Era and later resurrected in the form of Jim Crow laws.

Jim Crow lasted from 1877–1965. Jim Crow laws were local laws that enabled racial segregation.

And that leads us to today, where we can look at mass incarceration through three lenses:

  1. Stop and frisk policing
    1. Police stopping people they deem suspicious on the street
    2. The school-to-prison pipeline
      1. Instills ideas of controlling behavior through punishment at a young age
      2. Involves placing law enforcement and metal detectors in schools, taking money out of budgets for art, music, and after school programs
      3. 3 million students receive out-of-school suspensions each year
      4. There is evidence that increasing law enforcement in schools leads to increased arrest rates (five times higher)
    3. The War on Drugs
      1. Began in 1982 with the Reagan administration
      2. From 1981 to 1991, federal funds for the DEA rose from $86 million to $1,026 million
      3. By 2001, incarceration rates for blacks had become 26 times what they were in 1983
      4. In seven states, black people make up 80–90% of people incarcerated on drug offenses

Thing to know: Prison Slavery

Incarcerated people can be forced to work a job, often in sweatshop-like conditions, for pay less than a dollar an hour. Sometimes they aren’t paid anything at all. Because incarcerated people are not technically employees (the method of employment is known as “insourcing”), they go unprotected by labor laws.

Companies that use insourcing include Kmart, JC Penny, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Boeing, Starbucks, and Victoria’s Secret.

Thus, strikes are a crucial form of resistance. If you want to learn more about some of the most important prison strikes, look into the Attica prison riot of 1971. Half of the incarcerated population refused to report to work, and used the threat of violence to hold 40 prison staff members hostage. Gov. Nelson Rockefeller called in the National Guard, leaving 39 protesters and 10 guards dead.

To learn more about some very recent prison strikes, look into the Pecos Insurrection (December 2008), the Georgia Lockdown for Liberty (December 2010), and the Pelican Bay Strikes (2013).

Here’s what you need to know about the CURRENT national prison strike:

  1. The strike officially began September 9, 2016, the 45th anniversary of the Attica riots.
  2. It addresses prison slavery.
  3. There are other demands, too, that vary from prison to prison. These might relate to prison conditions, violence against incarcerated people, and other grievances regarding the treatment of those incarcerated.
  4. Some of the primary groups organizing the strike are the IWOC and the Free Alabama Movement (FAM), which has been working towards the strike since 2014.
  5. It is difficult to track the strikes because there is limited communication between those outside of prisons and those incarcerated. Prison officials are forced to downplay the strikes. However, we do know that there are strikes in 29–50 prisons across 12 states, with at least 24,000 incarcerated persons involved. As of October 3rd, movements were still active in 11 states. Some incarcerated persons have contraband phones with which they tweet, use Facebook, and share videos and photos.
  6. Tactics used against those on strike include denying phone access, giving them additional charges, using tear gas, bird feeding (allowing only very small, tasteless meals), and moving incarcerated persons’ locations without their notice or consent.

The solution presented by SAPIC: Prison Abolition

There is a difference between prison abolition, a movement that seeks to reduce the use of prisons and looks for alternatives to the prison system, and prison reform, though there are some overlaps in the solutions each approach proposes. Thus, we must consider non-reformist reforms. In other words, we need to think about reforms that are actually transformative, and not just transactional. An example of a non-reformist (and transactional) reform for the PIC might be proposing the decriminalization of drug possession with the implication that this reform would increase sentences for other offenses non-drug related. If you want to learn more about this, look up Ruth Wilson Gilmore.

Some solutions brainstormed by the student attendees that can help us imagine a future without prisons: ending the War on Drugs, abolishing police, providing free mental health care for all, providing equal opportunities for education, transforming current welfare policies, providing affordable housing, new comprehensive immigration reform, and giving incarcerated people the right to vote. Of course, this list is just the beginning.

An alternative to prisons as systems of “justice” are restorative and transformative justice practices. Restorative justice involves alternatives to imprisonment for criminality, while transformative justice is a general strategy for conflict-solving that can be applied to all facets of life. Transformative justice creates systems of accountability, where everyone’s needs are accounted for.

To see a living example of restorative justice, check out the VERA Institute of Justice in Brooklyn. Schools are using conflict resolution rooms and meditation practices to implement transformative justice at an early age. You can also look up the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

Want to learn more? Support the cause? Check out the links and resources below.

ACTION STEPS (links to donate):
+ IWOC: https://rally.org/endprisonslavery
+ FAM: https://freealabamamovement.wordpress.com/
+ Free Bresha: https://www.gofundme.com/BreshaM
+ Charlotte Bail Fund: http://durhamsolidaritycenter.org/bondfund/
+ please support local community organizations: Black and Pink PVD, Behind the Walls, Direct Action for Rights and EqualityPrYSMProvidence IWW

+ Providence IWOC is having a noise demonstration this Saturday (October 22nd) outside of the ACI from 2–4 p.m. Please show up to this action if possible!
Captive Genders: Reina Gossett, Chris Vargas, Eric Stanley (October 27–28th)

https://itsgoingdown.org/ (news and analysis of current prison strike and other liberatory uprisings)
https://supportprisonerresistance.noblogs.org/ (helping people shine a light on prisoner resistance)
https://iwoc.noblogs.org/ (Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee of the IWW)
+ Golden Gulag, Ruth Wilson Gilmore
+ Captive Genders, edited by Eric Stanley & Nat Smith
+ Are Prisons Obsolete?, Angela Davis

This is part one of a two-part series. 

Image via Students Against the Prison-Industrial Complex.

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