Saturday, May 18, 2019

Angola Prisoners Refuse To Be Slaves

Ten days ago, on May 8th -- the same day a work stoppage occurred just last year -- thirty-eight men in a working cell block at Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana refused to go to the fields for their work assignment. The men were loaded on a bus immediately and sent to Camp Jaguar, where prisoners are placed in extended lockdown 23-hours per day. To make room for the ones coming in, thirty-eight men who had been housed in Camp Jaguar for punitive reasons were sent to replace the missing workers so the fieldwork could continue as planned. Apparently, this is the new Standard Operating Procedure for such occurrences.

The administration and staff at Angola are heavily populated by second and third generation prisoncrats, not a few of which represent members of extended families whose professional and economic well-being have been built on the backs of the 6,300 incarcerated citizens they presently ride herd on. A goodly number even live on the prison property itself, raising families in the shadows of the gun towers. Guards are called "freemen" (as opposed to "slaves," one must assume). And their future security seems to be assured since the numbers at Angola have risen 1200 since 2010.

Prisoners who have been at Angola for decades have told me that the administration is working hard to suppress organizing activities inside the prison, but that there is more such activity now than there ever has been and it appears to be slowly but surely building. One prisoner suggested that this could be at least partly because "these new young guys coming in have no regard for rules. They're not built for work, so you definitely can't slave 'em. They won't have it."

Asked what might help to address this issue, the prisoner suggested giving them incentives: "More money, more training, more education -- so they can help their families as well as themselves. Putting them into the fields picking cotton in the hot sun just gives them plenty of time to think about how the 13th Amendment of the Constitution actually legalizes using incarcerated citizens as slaves."

Reports from prisoners also suggest that overuse of solitary confinement, health care that amounts to torture, desperately inadequate mental health care (often exacerbated by long-term solitary confinement), and excessive force by guards has created a hostile environment that results in an increasing level of prisoner-to-prisoner violence. Mainstream media rarely are allowed to hear about it, they say. But one prisoner reported this morning that fifteen incarcerated citizens at Angola have been stabbed in the past three weeks alone. "One paranoid schizophrenic prisoner stabbed five people in one day," he said.

Hopelessness haunts the institution that uses solitary confinement at four times the national average and is well known to have kept Albert Woodfox in solitary confinement for forty-three years because of his Black Panther activism in the 1970s. Before he re-entered the free world in 2016, Woodfox forced the Louisiana DOC to sign an agreement not to use solitary confinement punitively in the future, but as he's noted since his release, an agreement and the follow-through are far from the same thing.

Use of the "life without parole" option also creates hopelessness for many at Angola, since Louisiana uses that option at four times the national rate, as well, with the current tally being 5000 incarcerated citizens, many of whom would have been eligible for parole in most other Southern states. This increases their sense that there's nothing to live for and no reason to care about consequences for crimes committed inside the institution. It also increases the likelihood of suicide attempts. "One guy went out to the field this spring and tried to hang himself on the fence," reported a prisoner. "If the other guys hadn't brought him down, he would have died out there."

Decarcerate Louisiana, a movement that's been trying to organize the prisoners in Louisiana for nearly twenty years, has been severely hampered by the lack of public support for the human rights of the state's incarcerated citizens. Members say they've been inspired by the Free Alabama Movement in the past year. Still, members hit the national news a year ago when word of a work stoppage at Angola on May 8th, 2018, leaked to the outside world. And it now appears that at least some of those inside still remember, are still committed, and are waiting for the rest of us to get on board.

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