By Maurice "Big Moe" Bell
I am now speaking on behalf of myself, my fallen brothers who were once incarcerated (RIP), and on behalf of all the other brothers and sisters who are still in the struggle. Stay strong!
1971 — Attica
Wow, 35 years. Just in case you don’t understand what’s going on, let’s do a short history lesson: Attica. In 1971, I was 2 years old, but I remember hearing stories about the uprising at Attica Prison in New York. Once known as one of the most dangerous and notorious prisons, mostly for its torture and killing of unarmed prisoners/men, there was this massive riot and prison takeover, one of the biggest in the history of the prison system. A lot of people died during that prison riot/massive takeover. The takeover was so extensive that it got a lot of media coverage and lots of exposure of the deplorable and inhumane treatment of human beings/prisoners. These men came together in solidarity and risked their lives (some gave up their lives) in support of overthrowing a corrupt system, leading up to one of the biggest prison riots in the history of prisons in the United States.
2016 — Mass Incarceration
Moving forward to present time, on September 9th, 2016, there will be an all-out sit-down strike nationwide. This sit-down strike is huge and could also be labeled monumental. These men and women who are taken a stand against mass incarceration and cruel and unusual punishment, including deplorable living and working conditions, are brave and courageous, and should be considered heroes. This sit-down strike is very important, and can change the corrupt prison system as we know it. So it is extremely important that we get behind these men and women and stand side by side with them in honor and in solidarity.
As a man who was once incarcerated, I fully support these men and women in their struggle. The reason this sit-down strike is so important to me is because I was once involved in a prison sit-down strike in 1996. Not only was it powerful but it was liberating as well.
It was in 1996 when then Governor Pete Wilson took the family visitation rights away from lifers (prisoners serving life sentences who would never get released from prison). As a prisoner who was not a lifer and was getting family visits, I knew how important it was to receive family visits. Even though I was not a lifer, I felt compelled to participate in that sit-down as an act of solidarity. Even though the lifers did not get their family visits back, we still took a stand and said all in one voice, “NO MORE!”
Today we are still taking that stand and we are still saying in one voice, “NO MORE!” We are now only adding demands:
NO MORE mass incarceration!
NO MORE putting our kids away for life!
NO MORE slave labor!
NO MORE 3 strikes!
NO MORE death penalty!
NO MORE mental, physical or sexual abuse!
NO MORE forced sterilization!
NO MORE inhumane treatment of prisoners, men and women alike!
NO MORE unhealthy food!
NO MORE deplorable living conditions!
NO MORE inadequate medical treatment!
The list goes on and on but I am sure you get the gist of things.
Now I know the term “slave labor” might have startled you or went over your head, or maybe you don’t get it or know anything about it in general, so let’s do some education.
Slave Labor Is Still Alive & Well in the U.S.
“Slave labor” is a commonly used phrase in the prison system, which means you have a man or a woman doing a job that normally pays $10–12/hour, but the prison pays a person $0.08 or even no pay to work just hard as if you were making that $10–12/hour. They expect nothing less, and sometimes you are required to work on your days off.
“The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution maintains a legal exception for continued slavery in US prisons. It states, ‘Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude except as punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted shall exist within the United States.’ Overseers watch over our every move, and if we don’t perform our appointed task to their liking, we are punished. They may have replaced the whip with pepper spray, but many of the other torments remain: isolation, restraint positions, stripping off of our clothes and investigations of our bodies as though we are animals.”
- THIS IS A CALL TO END SLAVERY IN AMERICA (NATIONAL PRISON STRIKE, SEPTEMBER 2016)
You are required by law to work in the prison system, and there are only so many paid slots in every prison, which is given on a first-come, first-served basis, and everybody else has to wait their turn for a paid position. And if that requires you working for free, then so be it.
The paid jobs in prison range from 1 cent/hour to up to $2.50/hour, and every able-bodied person is required to work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, no matter what. If you refuse to work for free, at any time, you will face stiff penalties which could include:
- Loss of good-time credits
- Solitary confinement
- Loss of privilege (canteen, phone time, yard time)
- Loss of visitation rights
- The list goes on and on
All of this I am speaking from experience, so am I going to support these brothers and sisters in their sit-down strike? YES, you better believe it! All I ask is for you to also stand up and support these brothers and sisters, men and women, whichever you prefer, in their time of need. It is never too late to be a part of something big.
As of today, please mark your calendars for 9–9–16….a day of reckoning.