What To Know About the 90-Day Prison Strike Happening In Alabama

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The Alabama Department of Corrections is currently facing a federal lawsuit declaring that the state’s prisons are unconstitutionally packed and dangerous. UAB and the ADOC are facing a lawsuit from families whose loved ones were returned to them posthumously with organs missing from their bodies. Alabama faced international condemnation by becoming the first state to use nitrogen gas to carry out a death penalty sentence.

These are three recent stories that have come out of the Alabama prison system. One of these statements should be enough for public outcry, yet it seems that many people are unaware of how to best speak up. Fortunately, those inside Alabama prisons have the answers – and the experience in organizing that could make all the difference. 

The Free Alabama Movement (F.A.M.) was founded in 2014 with a nonviolent strike in two prisons that eventually spread throughout the state and included over 4,000 people incarcerated in the Alabama prison system. In the decade since this initial protest F.A.M. has organized multiple successful protests, and more footage has come of the inhumane conditions inside the prisons and abuse done at the hands of corrections officers. 

The recent news headlines – along with the Yellowhammer State’s alarmingly sharp declining parole rate – have put a lot of focus on Alabama prisons, and there is one issue that F.A.M. has fought for since Day 1: the prison labor system. With this in mind, organizers at St. Clair Correctional Facility orchestrated a 90-day prison strike centered around 5 demands and called on incarcerated workers across the state to join in. The five demands are: 

  1. Repeal the Habitual Offender Act
  2. Make sentencing guidelines retroactive  
  3. Create mandatory parole criteria  
  4. Abolish the sentence of life without parole
  5. End all gas chamber executions

However, there are followers of F.A.M. and those who have loved ones inside the prisons that continue to show up outside of St. Clair prison (with one trip to Staten Correctional Facility in Elmore where the new billion dollar mega-prison is currently being built). 

Parole rates in Alabama dropped to under 10% for the first time in 2023, as prison overpopulation grows as a problem in Alabama. Image from al.com

Communicating injustices to the outside world is a tough task from Alabama prisons – especially during an ongoing strike. However, there are multiple groups dedicated to amplifying the voices of those inside. One is the F.A.M. Queen Team and multiple Facebook groups where family members of those inside share details and go to gather information. But there’s another group around this specific 90-day strike campaign that may surprise you at first: the Tennessee Student Solidarity Network (TSSN). That’s right, a group of college students from Nashville are leading the charge in amplifying the voices of those fighting for basic freedoms in Alabama prisons. 

As I was first meeting the students coming down to Alabama from Tennessee every weekend, I was also reading a biography on John Lewis. Lewis was a student at Fisk University when he and other students traveled to Alabama to participate in the Freedom Rides. Lewis was famously from Troy, but what did the other students have to prove by traveling to an unfriendly state to risk their lives to ride a bus? The answer had to be somewhat similar to why students where traveling to Alabama in 2024. I wanted to learn more about the thought-process of those currently leading the outside movement supporting F.A.M. I was able to speak with Cecilia Prado, a Nashville-based movement leader and mentor to TSSN, and Indu Kumar, a student at Vanderbilt and member of TSSN. 

“The significance of the Free Alabama Movement is that this is an organization that has a long-term history of deep organizing and successful shutdowns at the state and national level inside of the prisons. That’s one part that makes this significant,” Prado explains, “The other is the significant role in the U.S. economy that prison labor actually has. It turns out the impact is a lot bigger than previously thought. We’re talking about the fact that over $400 million a year ADOC takes in revenue for itself from prison labor, and that’s not counting the private corporations and how much they are making. A lot of manufacturing goods get made through prison labor. One out of three defense contractors in the U.S. uses prison labor. This is at the national scale. A large variety of companies – around 575 companies – use prison labor in the United State. So why (are we) in Alabama? On top of the fact that prison labor is wrong, it is generating massive profits for corporations who are the same corporations that are profiting from genocide. The same corporations that are lobbying for anti-trans, anti-queer, anti-worker laws in our state legislations – especially here in the South.”

TSSN and supporters of F.A.M. outside of the prison in Elmore. A new billion dollar prison is being built across the street. Image taken by Tim Majors

While F.A.M. fights the prison on the inside, the Tennessee Student Solidarity Network and their list of caring collaborators in Alabama and across the Southeast continue to show up on the outside – and extend the invite to all who are unhappy with the morbid headlines coming from Alabama prisons. “I have learned to believe in the power of Southern organizers and communities to be able to turn people out,” TSSN member Indu Kumar shares of her experience collaborating with F.A.M. and leading protests at St. Clair, “We’ve had students that are part of our solidarity network, from Vanderbilt to Fisk to Nashville State, come out weekend on weekend in support of F.A.M. We’ve seen organizations from Birmingham to Atlanta to Louisiana to Florida come out and mobilize. WE can build solidarity across state lines in the face of repression, we just need to be willing to sacrifice our time and follow the lead of people with a strategic vision for the future.” 

When asked what Free Alabama Movement organizers would communicate to those on the outside, the response is clear:

“FAM wants people to know that they are not striking or organizing to increase their wages or benefits while they are in prison. They are trying to abolish prison labor altogether, because they see prison labor as a key incentive for their being such a high level of incarceration in the United States and particularly in Alabama.” 

A final key focus is Alabama’s abysmal parole rates, which are among the lowest in the nation, especially for Black men. “Most of the applicants for parole are in work release programs. They are deemed to be safe to work with people on the outside, but somehow they aren’t eligible to be released. (F.A.M.) wants people to know that prison labor is a type of modern day slavery, and no amount of reform to wages is going to change that fact. They also want people to know that in order to show support and call yourself an abolitionist, you need to look at the prison. Most abolitionists out there don’t have relationships with people on the inside. We need to be building some legitimacy. In order to show your support, the first step is to be at the prison. To see what is happening. To be in relationship with folks on the inside.” 

A movement is happening, and the invite is sent to all who are concerned with the state of incarceration in Alabama, USA. The 90-day strike continues, and so does the collective call for justice.

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