Groups Across Florida Join Juneteenth Call to Action Against Prison Slavery Amidst Reports of Lockdowns, Strikes, Walkouts and Possible Resignation of FDOC’s Secretary
Alachua County, FL – The Gainesville chapter of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) and the national Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons (FTP) have joined the call, initiated by prisoners in Florida and Texas, for actions demanding an end to mass incarceration and prison slavery surrounding the Juneteenth holiday, June 19, 2018.
Juneteenth is a celebration of the official end of chattel slavery in the United States. It marks the day when, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, news of freedom reached slave-owners who fled to Texas.
Prisoners in Texas and Florida, many of whom have been at the forefront of the massive, prisoner-led movement to bring about desperately needed changes in the U.S. prison system, have called on allied groups fighting for prison reform “on the outside” to organize community events and direct actions in solidarity with plans for sit-downs, strikes and other actions by prisoners in both states and around the nation.
In keeping with FDOC’s repressive stance against calls for desperately-needed reforms, prison activists report word from prisoners that the they have been told the state may go on lockdown this week in order to prevent protest activities in its facilities, as it did in August 2017 during the Millions for Prisoners’ Human Rights March in Washington DC.
Prisoners also worry that widespread disciplinary confinement and facility transfers may occur to preempt Juneteenth activity, as occurred surrounding MLK Day in January of this year, where an anonymous group of Florida prisoners calling themselves Operation PUSH declared a statewide prisoner strike that received international attention.
Despite threats and intimidation, prisoners across the state have indicated plans to participate in a variety of actions on and around Juneteenth to highlight the horrific abuses and conditions that FDOC wishes to prevent coming to light.
This news of possible widespread lockdowns comes amidst rumors of a resignation by FDOC secretary Julie Jones, following on the heels of the federal Bureau of Prisons director resigning last month. There are also reports of prison staff planning walkouts in coordination with the strikes as recent talk of program and visitation cuts have some guards fearing an increase in violence against state employees.
IWOC and FTP have begun holding solidarity actions at various locations around the state. On June 17, demonstrations occurred at Lake Butler’s RMC prison, Palm Beach County Jail and Martin C.I. near Indiantown. Pictures can be found in the links above.
Locations of other planned protests are not being announced in effort to lessen retaliation against prisoners in certain facilities.
The Juneteenth 2018 organizing highlights the current intensifying climate of struggle around issues of brutal conditions and forced, uncompensated or minimally-compensated labor (i.e. prison slavery) in Florida’s prison system. It will also address ongoing repression against organizers affiliated, or alleged to be affiliated, with Operation PUSH, a growing movement of Florida prisoners which called for a work stoppage in January 2018 to protest the exploitation and abuse of incarcerated people. The specific demands of Operation PUSH include making slavery illegal once and for all, putting an end to the price gouging that targets prisoners and their families, reinstating parole and stopping the proposed visitation cuts that the state of Florida is attempting to impose.
In recent months, an atmosphere of censorship and repression has increased in Florida as the state Department of Corrections has labeled activity by advocacy groups on the outside and whistleblowers on the inside “gang activity.” Additionally, since Operation PUSH started FDOC has conducted lockdowns, major sweeps, transfers, investigations; has revoked the visitation privileges of people on the outside who are critical of the prison system; have brought charges against people on the inside with phony disciplinary reports in order to silence them in segregation and Close Management.
In the wake of multiple lawsuits costing the FDOC millions in payouts to victims of the abuse and medical neglect their officers have become known for, the state has decided to cut programs and contact visits. FDOC’s new proposal of shifting away from live, in-person visits to video visits is seen by activists inside and outside prison walls as a direct retaliation against the kind of “inside/outside” activism that has led to the increased pressure for change in recent years. The proposed video visits plan is seen as an effort to further separate and silence people, while also profiting off an already vulnerable population.
Karen Smith, an organizer with IWOC, says, “We are calling on all people of conscience to join us in standing with prisoners and their families to force the state to change these outdated, egregious, and inhumane policies and conditions.”
She continued, “Juneteenth will be one more step forward in an ongoing struggle that is growing, and whose organizers are determined to win, for the good of our families, our communities, and our society as a whole.”
For more information about the prisoner resistance movement in Florida and beyond, follow these links: