Inmates in Georgia Prisons Use Contraband Phones to Coordinate Protest

New York Times
By SARAH WHEATON
Published: December 12, 2010

The prison protest has entered the wireless age.

Inmates in at least seven Georgia prisons have used contraband cellphones to coordinate a nonviolent strike this weekend, saying they want better living conditions and to be paid for work they do in the prisons.

Inmates said they would not perform chores, work for the Corrections Department’s industrial arm or shop at prison commissaries until a list of demands is addressed, including compensation for their work, more educational opportunities, better food and sentencing rules changes.

The protest began Thursday, but inmates said that organizers had spent months building a web of disparate factions and gangs — groups not known to cooperate — into a unified coalition using text messaging and word of mouth.

Officials at the Georgia Department of Corrections did not respond on Sunday to phone and e-mail messages seeking comment.

Smuggled cellphones have been commonplace in prisons for years; Charles Manson was caught with one in a California penitentiary this month. Officials worry that inmates will use them to issue orders to accomplices on the outside or to plan escape attempts.
But the Georgia protest appears to be the first use of the technology to orchestrate a grass-roots movement behind bars.

Reached on their cellphones inside several prisons, six participants in the strike described a feat of social networking more reminiscent of Capitol Hill vote-whipping than jailhouse rebellion.

Conditions at the state prisons have been in decline, the inmates said. But “they took the cigarettes away in August or September, and a bunch of us just got to talking, and that was a big factor,” said Mike, an inmate at the Smith State Prison in Glennville who declined to give his full name.

The organizers set a date for the start and, using contact numbers from time spent at other prisons or connections from the outside, began sending text messages to inmates known to hold sway.

“Anybody that has some sort of dictatorship or leadership amongst the crowds,” said Mike, one of several prisoners who contacted The New York Times to publicize their strike. “We have to come together and set aside all differences, whites, blacks, those of us that are affiliated in gangs.”

Read the rest here.

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We received this comment:

One way to start downsizing the prison-industrail complex is to call for an Intermediate Sanctions Bill (BDR 509) in the 2011 Legislature. The plan could reduce the prison population by 400 people next year. Please email Assembly Judiciary Chairman William Horne at william@williamhorne.com and tell him to support the Bill. Or better yet, call him at (702) 457-6963.

http://www.democracynow.org/2010/12/14/prisoner_advocate_elaine_brown_on_georgia

Black Agenda Report

http://prisonministry.net/NARPR
(sent in by Dahn Shaulis)
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Here are the demands of the Georgia Prisoner Strikers:

A LIVING WAGE FOR WORK: In violation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, the DOC demands prisoners work for free.

· EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES: For the great majority of prisoners, the DOC denies all opportunities for education beyond the GED, despite the benefit to both prisoners and society.

· DECENT HEALTH CARE: In violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments, the DOC denies adequate medical care to prisoners, charges excessive fees for the most minimal care and is responsible for extraordinary pain and suffering.

· AN END TO CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENTS: In further violation of the 8th Amendment, the DOC is responsible for cruel prisoner punishments for minor infractions of rules.

· DECENT LIVING CONDITIONS: Georgia prisoners are confined in over-crowded, substandard conditions, with little heat in winter and oppressive heat in summer.

· NUTRITIONAL MEALS: Vegetables and fruit are in short supply in DOC facilities while starches and fatty foods are plentiful.

· VOCATIONAL AND SELF-IMPROVEMENT OPPORTUNITIES: The DOC has stripped its facilities of all opportunities for skills training, self-improvement and proper exercise.

· ACCESS TO FAMILIES: The DOC has disconnected thousands of prisoners from their families by imposing excessive telephone charges and innumerable barriers to visitation.

· JUST PAROLE DECISIONS: The Parole Board capriciously and regularly denies parole to the majority of prisoners despite evidence of eligibility.

Prisoner leaders issued the following call: “No more slavery. Injustice in one place is injustice to all. Inform your family to support our cause. Lock down for liberty!”

Also see this website run by Thousand Kites: Support Georgia Prisoners and this interview on DemocracyNow.org with Elaine Brown, co-ordinator:

Here is a follow up on the website of Change.org.

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