On January 15th (Martin Luther King, Jr., Day), the prisoners in the Department of Corrections in the state of Florida kicked off a mass multi-prison month-long work stoppage to protest their conditions. They have called the action #OperationPUSH and their demands are: "(1) payment for our labor, rather than the current slave arrangement; (2) an end to outrageous canteen prices; and (3) reintroduction of parole incentives to lifers and those with Buck Rogers dates." According to The Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons, 150 organizations coast to coast now stand in solidarity with #OperationPUSH and the Florida prison strike. But such actions always create a backlash and this one is no different.
Kevin "Rashid" Johnson (#158039), a prisoner who has been moved from prison to prison in state after state because of his history of speaking truth to power, wrote an article about the impending strike that was published online January 6th. The following day, Warden Barry Reddish retaliated against Johnson's use of his 1st Amendment rights, ordering that he be given a disciplinary infraction for "inciting a riot."
On January 19th, Johnson wrote to his lawyer:
"Need your and folks' immediate mobilization. Am being literally tortured in retaliation for article on prison strike and conditions, by the warden. No heat. Cell like outside, temp in 30s. Toilet doesn't work. Window to outside doesn't close and cold air blowing in cell. Copy everyone with this letter! Just put into this cell. It's daytime and so cold I can barely write. This is obvious set up [...] This is a genuine emergency! Take care, Rashid"
Florida State Prison Warden Barry Reddish can be reached at 904-368-2500. He needs to move Johnson immediately to a climate-controlled cell with a working toilet. He needs to give Johnson continuing contact with his lawyer. And he needs to stop all retaliation against Johnson for reporting on conditions at the prison. Now.
Most prison wardens are notoriously agitated by any sense that they are not in complete control of everything in their purview. (One can only imagine what the lives of their spouses and families must be like.) So when a prisoner challenges their power -- however reasonably and Constitutionally-mandated that challenge is -- it must be brutally addressed. This is what Barry Reddish is doing. But Reddish needs to be reminded that when a person in a position of authority tries to "make an example" of a human being just because they claim their human rights, it threatens all of us.
It appears that not only does Reddish, as a representative of the Florida Department of Corrections, want complete control over "his" prison, so that he can implement policies and practices that are both inhumane and illegal, but he wants to operate in secrecy while he does it. We will not allow that to be an option.
NOTE: Report back to email@example.com on your actions and anything you may learn in the process.
UPDATE: Rashid Johnson was able to see one of his lawyers on Friday. There are no specifics released as yet, but he is okay and his conditions have improved. On Thursday afternoon (before I published this post), I