URGENT UPDATE - Solidarity Needed! Shortly after this interview with inmate activist Shawn Whatley was recorded, he was subjected to brutal retaliatory violence and solitary confinement by prison authorities for his communications with us and other outside support groups, as well as his continued attempts to advocate for prisoner rights. Please take a few moments to read this urgent solidarity appeal, and make the suggested calls of protest. In this interview Shawn Whatley adopted the pseudonym "Freedom Fighter" out of security concerns. Now, after discussion with his family, we have chosen to reveal his identity. Shawn Whatley is an important voice for justice and prisoner rights, and all persons of conscience must urgently come to his defense! - Ty Moore, 1/26/2011 On December 9th inmates in six Georgia state prisons began a historic week-long strike to protest systemic human rights abuses, profiteering, and slave-like labor conditions. The following interview with an inmate activist was recorded December 30th and provides an insiders account of how the strike was prepared, carried out, and its consequences.
Interview with Shawn Whatley from inside Telfair State Prison, Georgia
TM: Welcome, listeners. My name is Ty Moore, and I am the Editorial Coordinator of SocialistAlternative.org. With me on the phone is an inmate and prison organizer in one of the six Georgia prisons where an historic week-long prisoners’ strike began Thursday, December 9th. Now the strike was organized, in part, through the use of contraband cell phones. It is on one of these phones where we are able to speak with our guest today. Due to security concerns, our guest speaks publicly using the pseudo name of “Freedom Fighter.” Welcome, Freedom Fighter, and thanks so much for speaking with me today.
FF: Thank you for inviting me here, Mr. Ty.
TM: Why don’t we begin just by you introducing yourself a little further, what brought you into this movement.
FF: OK. My name is Freedom Fighter. I’m an inmate in the Georgia prison system, and I am serving a life sentence for murder. And I happened to be involved in one of the prisons in which the strike was targeted, or the lockdown was targeted the night of, before the day of the strike. What brought me into wanting to be a part of the Socialist organization was the fact that I’ve served over twenty years in prison, and I’ve seen numerous injustices take place, from staff to inmates, inmates to inmates, that type of thing, etc. And the biggest thing that brought me in, and wanting to be a part of a movement of something going forward, is the fact that I’m also Muslim. And we don’t support injustices or oppression of any kind, whether it be against one of our own religious or way of life followers or whether it be against someone whose atheist; right is right and wrong is wrong. And when I saw that there was a band of people joining together for one common purpose, to try to instill and ensure that human rights were granted or given whether deserved, then I felt it was my obligation to become a part of this movement.
TM: Some of our listeners will be probably familiar that the strike happened. But I think that it would be useful, nonetheless, for you to outline what the main grievances afflicting the prisoners were, that led them to take a strike action.
FF: Most of the main grievances were instituted – the strike was actually being propagated back in August, due to the fact of them taking the cigarettes, tobacco products out of the prison. And however, although the strike is not targeted with the tobacco products, it was the tobacco product discussion that made the intelligent, or the intellectual individuals of prison say, “Hey, if we’re going to do this movement, let’s do it for something that makes sense, something that we can benefit from,” other than a toxin-like cigarettes. And the intellectual individuals came together and, through the use, as you mentioned earlier, through the use of contraband cell phones began to send text messages and notify people in other prisons that have influence ability, maybe for a lack of words, but someone who is listened to in the other facilities, “Hey, we need to organize this sit-down.” And during the course of this, one of the intellectual individuals had a family member who did some research of the Georgia Department of Corrections prison system, and the fact that the labor that inmates do would in fact cost the state a great, great deal of money if they had to hire someone to perform these tasks. So in that light, we began to look at things of the older prison system in Georgia that have transpired over the years, and one of those being the fact that society – the tax payers of Georgia as well as the typical American – doesn’t really grasp or understand what goes on inside the walls of a prison. Oftentimes, they have the mentality that, “OK, you were convicted of a crime so you get what you deserved” and which we understand - those of us that are rational-thinking people - that is not the purpose of a prison sentence, per se. Nevertheless, during an in-depth study, we discovered that there are many human rights that many of us even incarcerated did not even know that we had. One of those human rights is the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which specifically states that at no time shall you be punished for a crime with involuntary servitude or slavery. This is something I took upon myself to research and understand and try to get a minute insight of this particular constitutional amendment. And one of those is the fact that when the state receives profits off of an inmate’s labor, then it becomes involuntary servitude or slavery, because the inmate is not granted any compensation for his work. Nevertheless, the State of Georgia saves money, with the inmate working, so in that aspect it does benefit from the inmate’s labor, because it does not have to pay an outside entity for that.
TM: Can you give some examples of what kind of labor the inmates are doing, that would otherwise have to be outsourced, or done or paid for by the Georgia prison system.
FF: Some of the minor ones are things such as the inmate fire station, where you have in Georgia inmates who are certified state firefighters, and they respond to car accidents, fire calls, house fires, missing people, to civilian homes, civilian car wrecks. When the tornados hit in Georgia, in the mid-90s, the inmates responded to the tornadoes, in helping to search and find people, and were out for days, typical brush fires, typical wood fires, anything that a normal civilian fire department would respond to, the State of Georgia has got inmates that respond in the place of that.
FF: That’s just one. Another one is, inmates are used to clean downtown areas that belong to private organizations that are not related to the state or connected to the state in any form or fashion. And if the inmate didn’t go clean this private place, this private park, this private building, or what have you, the owner would have to pay someone else. Instead, he gets the prison to send a detail out there, and they clean it at no expense.
FF: And the only thing that the owner may give the detail, they may give them a hamburger or something, from the local restaurant, you know, to compensate. And the mentality of the inmate is, that “I’m serving a prison sentence, and I have to get an already unproportionate meal inside the prison, so I’m fixing to get me a Big Mac, fries and a drink!” And so his mentality is, “I’m fixing to eat me some good food” but he’s not understanding that it’s really demoralizing, as well as it is placing a burden upon his family member that is a taxpayer in Georgia.
TM: Well, of course every job that the inmates do is depriving what would otherwise be a public sector job to help support the communities that often the inmates come from, you know, good union jobs, like firefighters, are quite precious to the communities they exist in, and when an inmate is doing that for no pay, as you said effectively as a slave job, that deprives the community of a job as well, doesn’t it.
FF: Absolutely! If an inmate does the job of someone that would have to be hired, then why would I have to hire him, if the inmate is going to do it for free? I mean, you have inmates that are in prison that are some of the most skilled people upon the planet. You have licensed mechanics, licensed electricians, licensed plumbers, heavy equipment operators. You have all of those types of people that are in prison, some already with private certification. Others have learned it on what we call “the jackleg method” which means you’ve learned it through the course of time of being in prison. And so, what the state will do is take you, for you to build a pain center downtown, you’ll do it for a hot meal, whereas another man may do it for $20-$25 an hour. Inmates fix all the Georgia Department of Corrections buses, the warden’s cars, even people’s personal cars are pulled in to the inmate mechanics area, and they work on civilian people’s cars. Where, if you took it down town to have your motor rebuilt, it would cost you into the thousands of dollars.
FF: But this inmate does it, and all the person bringing the vehicle in has to buy is the parts.
TM: In the media reports that did come out about the strike, there were also numerous complaints about the food, about lack of family access, about over-charging for weekly phone conversations with family, and a number of other grievances, some of which were in trying to come up with demands that came out in the press releases. Do you want to speak to any of those other issues around which the strike was organized? I’m not sure all our listeners fully understand what the character of the strike was, what did it look like, and how did the lockdown relate to that?
FF: OK. Well, Brother Ty, as in every organization, there is always going to be some type of infiltrator. No matter what the organization is, whether it be religion, the American military, the CIA, there’s always somebody in there that has infiltrated the ranks. And someone sprung a leak to certain officials of the Department of Corrections, or facility, or whatever. And some wardens of the facility, the overseer of the facility, took heed and notified the Commissioner, Mr. Brian Owens of the Georgia Department of Corrections. And on the night of December 8, 2010, at the typical 11:30 weekday lockdown, the institution I’m at, along with five other facilities, when they went into the room that night, or, again, the standard lockdown time, we were placed on indefinite lockdown. Thus, not technically, did this facility or the other facility actually participate in a strike, per se, as far as refusing to come out, because they locked us down and didn’t allow us to come out.
TM: But my understanding was, that was the plan of the prisoners originally, which was not to participate in the work schedule, was to do a sit-down and refuse to go about the normal mandatory routines of work life in the prisons.
FF: Yes, sir, that was true. On the morning of December 9, 2010, when the doors opened at 500 hours, 5 am, the inmates that were desiring to participate in the lockdown were going to get up and secure the door back and refuse to go to breakfast, refuse to go to chow at lunch, refuse to get up on inspection, were going to refuse the normal operating day. And the institutions, or the Department of Corrections, did not give certain facilities that opportunity, because they were in fear of physical violence and/or retaliation. So what had happened, in the planning up to this morning of December 9, those inmates who were financially able began to go to the commissary months in advance and collect food to be able to feed others who could not afford not to go to eat because they don’t have family support or monetary support or what have you. So when the Department of Corrections discovered this, they tried to lock us in our individual rooms, forcing you to have to go eat. However, we have – the prisoners, when I say “we” – we have designed a way to be able to steal – get food out from under the doors to other people who did not have, to eat. So we came together in one unified body and said, “OK, we’re going to take care of ours, since you all are going to do this. We’re going to take care of ours by any means necessary.”
TM: Now, that leads me to another question I had. I think sometimes people make the assumption that this is sort of spontaneous, or spread spontaneously, but clearly as you’ve indicated with the preparations in terms of food provision, it was not; it was organized in advance. How was a leadership developed, and especially given the racial and other divisions that exist within the prison system, how were those overcome? How was unity built up in advance of the strike?
FF: Well, when it started, by word of mouth, most every ethnicity that is incarcerated in the Georgia prison system - I think it’s safe to say that they thought it was a hoax, just a joke that somebody would do, perhaps trying to get something started or what have you. But once the moment that we saw that Sister Elaine Brown, the former Black Panther chairperson, and Mr. Bruce Dixon, had begun to get involved, then we understood then that it was not a plaything. And so, what you have in the Georgia Prison System, is that the majority of the prison population is either Black or Hispanic, and that’s a proven fact: the majority. And most of the European inmates in the Georgia Prison System are extremely scary. It’s sad to say, but they are extremely scary. Sometimes, you have a handful of European inmates that will stand up for what’s right; the others get talked to any kind of way, by staff and inmates, they get treated any kind of way by staff and inmates, and they just succumb to whatever the most powerful authority is, whether it be Black, or Hispanic, Asian or what have you. And you had those African-American voices that people listen to, by word of mouth it spread to the Latinos who are a unit, or a unified body, by themselves; they cling together separate from anybody. It spread by word of mouth to the European voices that are listened to at times, or what have you. And now what you have is “OK, well, I’m going to see what you all are going to do. And then once we see you all are going to do something, then we are going to do something.” It kind of began to roll down hill and now was a “show and prove” type of thing. So there really was no – no one had to wait for this to completely move, just once they saw the first step taken, then the next ethnic group took a step. And then the next ethnic group, and the next. And then religious groups began to step, and you had Blacks and Whites and Asians and Hispanics and Muslims and Christians and Atheists and White Supremacists and Black Supremacists. I mean, you had all of these groups saying, “OK, we’ve got to participate right now. The emphasis has got to be put aside right now. The emphasis has got to be put aside at this moment, because now they are talking about something that is going to affect all of us.” Because, see, when the Tactical Squad came in – and for those listeners that are not familiar with the word ‘Tactical Squad’ it’s like a small SWAT team. And when they come into a facility, they don’t come in and look what color you are, they don’t care what gang you’re from, what religion you are, they don’t care who’s you mother or father, or who any of your kinfolk are. They have one objective, and most of the time that is to apply physical pressure upon you. Or, they apply enough verbal pressure to where you now physically act, and it’s called “bucking” in the system. Meaning, that you are going against the administrative order, and now what they use, they use this thing called ‘use of force’ where they now are legally, by an unwritten policy in the State of Georgia, can apply and inflict bodily damage upon you and they will be justified. At the facility I’m at, the Tactical units came in, and was comprised of a couple of different prisons’ Tactical Squad members – each prison has 18 to 25 Tactical Squad members per facility. They came into this facility, and they went into the so-called ‘Disciplinary’ end of the facility. When they went into those buildings, they went in privately from the time they entered the door. Brothers in that end of the facility, or in those buildings, said they [the Tactical Squad] came in and just went destroying, destroying their property, and pulling things out of their lockers. Just doing things that were humanly immoral, making you strip completely naked – you know, stand out in the hallway completely naked, while this happened. And if you had any slight resistance, they physically applied pressure, doing any little thing to try to make them have to use more pressure than what they were doing, as though they were trying to provoke a riot. You see, the Georgia Department of Corrections labeled it as being a riot, but the intellects that spoke to those that were subordinate for that moment, had already told them to stand down and “Hold your peace. Do not give the Georgia Department of Corrections the right to call in the Georgia State Patrol or the National Guard units as Georgia has been known to do.
TM: So, in the end, the Tactical Squad attempts to provoke the prisoners did not succeed in their goal of trying to provoke the prisoners, did not succeed in their goal of trying to provoke a riot. The strike held solid. And the Tactical Squad, how long did they continue the campaign of harassment?
FF: They stayed in the first building all that day. And the very next morning, they were right back in, to another one of the disciplinary buildings, and they stayed all day. They were marching in and out of the dormitories, you know they had this little cadence that they were saying: the Tactical Squad commander would say “Thunder!” and the Squad members would say “Boom!” It would be “Thunder! Boom! Thunder! Boom!” and they were chanting “We’re here to party!” and “anybody want to dance?” You know, just trying to provoke, in any kind of possible verbal way, kind of like the military does in cadence-wise, forcing somebody to be in opposition to what they were doing. They would tear up your room, in the entire dormitory, and then they would get in formation outside, and give you a certain amount of time to get it fixed back, according to our so-called “military” style inspection. And then they would come right back in and tear it up again. Just doing things trying to provoke, and this lasted from December 9, which was that Thursday; December 10, that Friday; December 11 that Saturday. That following Sunday, which was December 12, we had got a visit from a gentleman by the name of Mr. Johnny Sacks, who was a higher authority representative from the Department of Corrections who came. When they heard he was coming, they dispersed away from the facility. But for three days, they slept in our visitation room, on the floor in sleeping bags, you know, just in case something was going to happen. But the stupidity part of that being, with the Georgia Department of Corrections is, how can someone riot when you are secured in lockdown in a cell? It was just showing that they were evidently trying to provoke some type of physical violence from the inmates, so that they would be justified in their actions.
TM: My understanding is that the strike lasted, in different facilities, between 6 and 8 days, for the most part. In your own facility, and throughout the six prisons that participated, what was it that brought about an end to the strike? How did that come about? Was that a negotiated settlement, or was it obviously an indefinite strike, quite difficult? Explain to me how the strike ended, and what’s become of it.
FF: Well, Brother Ty, the strike initially was to be a one-day sit-down, a peace strike. As you stated in the beginning of this interview, that it was the largest peace strike in U.S. history, in prison. And it was a one-day event. It was done in hopes that we, the people in the struggle, could gather outside outside entities’ attention. Someone that would speak, whether you were White, Black, or whatever. Those that have a voice, that when they speak they’re heard. The objective was to get somebody’s attention, to show that prisoners in Georgia – and I’m sure other prisons – are being treated unfairly and unjustly. And the public is ignorant to this fact, because when a family member calls a facility, and says “How is my family member?” the first thing the representative, or the secretary or whomever the delegated authority is going to say is “Sir, or Ma’am, we’re not at liberty to give you certain information due to security risk.” Or, they can say, “Well, I want to see my visitor, why can’t I see my visitor?” And they have these frivolous questions that they ask a visitor, that you don’t even go through to get governmental clearance on a military post! It’s to discourage the prisoner as well as it is to discourage the family member. And as well as it is, to keep this stigma that “We’re tough on crime.” That “the State of Georgia is harder than anybody else on crime.” Thus, it shows why the State of Georgia has 1 in every 13 Georgia residents are on prison or are on some kind of parole supervision by the Georgia Department of Corrections. Now, the strike, again, was to get outside attention, and once that attention was gotten, we were to resume back to our normal operations. However, when the Georgia Department of Corrections locked us down, as I mentioned earlier, they kept us on lockdown, some facilities for 5 days, some facilities for 6 days, some for 7, etc., before they began to let them back out. They did that as a psychological warfare attack. “OK, if you are going to do this against us, this is what we can, will, and are going to do against you!” They didn’t allow you to notify family members, to say that visitation was cancelled. We had one Brother of the struggle whose family flew from California to Atlanta, to get here to hear “You can’t visit him, because the prison is on a massive lockdown.” Well now, who is going to pay or reimburse this family for this rental car and this airline ticket from California to Atlanta and back? When you didn’t give the prisoner time to notify his family, nor did the counselors care, or were concerned enough, to say, “Hey, make one massive call to these families of the people on your caseload, since the prisoners are on lockdown.” Instead, they said “That’s how the ball bounces.” So, when it was discovered that you had Sister Elaine Brown, you had The American Prison Rights activists, you had the Southern Center for Human Rights, the ACLU, the Southern Baptist Coalition, the Georgia League for Justice, the Nation of Islam, the American Muslim Society, the New York Times, the Irish Times, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Socialist, and numerous others, had begun to get involved, now what happens is, the inmates say, “OK, well, we can get back from the 4 or 5 days that we were locked down, and we enjoyed the peace and quiet!” Now what happens is, these officers that you never see, staff members that you’ve never laid eyes on, all of a sudden are at your door with a pack out, handing you this stack line [?]. And you had education teachers, counselors, mailroom personnel, administrative clerks, ward secretaries, they now had to come on a side of the institution that they had never been. And it was strange to them to even know what this side of the facility looked like. So now what happens is, they have to go into the dining area, the kitchen, and they have to hand-make the sandwiches, and they have to get our meals, and they have to bring them to every door of a prison that has 1400-plus inmates. You had to do this, where normally inmates would fix the food. So now, after about 3 or 4 days, the word of ear begins to travel, “Staff is getting tired.”
TM: I was going to say, it’s clear that the strike had an impact and has shaken the prison authorities in Georgia, the political institutions in Georgia and beyond. It’s clear that they are now going to have to tread more carefully in their various approaches. But have there been any concrete victories that can be felt by the prisoners themselves on a day-to-day basis, coming out of this strike?
FF: Yes sir, somewhat. On the 6th day of the strike, when the facility I’m in came out, they had the Tactical Squad outside the compound and they were marching, the first parts of the dormitory that were given a hot tray, it was sent around and propagated to those dormitories, “OK, we’re going to give you all a hot tray tonight.” And so forth and so on, and “You all do what you are supposed to do.” You know, they had this little “pep talk” type thing. So when you came out to eat, the very first night, there was so much on the tray you could hardly eat it all. It was almost double portions of everything. The food had black pepper and salt, butter, things that didn’t even exist prior to then, with meals. There had been no seasoning whatsoever. No type of additional seasoning that you could put on your meal, unless you took one of those sodium packs from the Ramen noodle soups, to the chow hall to use s your seasoning. They put the TVs on, the so-called ‘military-style’ intense inspections began to decline, the officers’ verbal abuse began to subside somewhat. Those things lasted for about 2 days, due to the fact that the Atlanta Representative had stayed here within those 2 or 3 days after they resumed operations. And I’m sure outside entities as well were what inspired them to come off the lockdown. The only concrete thing that is still evident at this moment: the food has kind of gone back to the way it was, and the only thing that is still ongoing, from initially was achieved is the fact that the staff abuse has still somewhat subsided, there’s not much staff jumping on inmates anymore, or provoking, because that was kind of everyday activity around here. You know, somebody was provoking somebody in some form or fashion. And prior to this strike agreement, there were multiple stabbings that happened every week, between Hispanics and Whites, Hispanics and Blacks, Blacks and Whites, Blacks and Blacks. And when a family member would call about that relative, who they had heard through an inmate, through a contraband cell phone, that their loved one had been stabbed, the prison would say it was a lie. But yet, they would call the hospital and he had been admitted and he was in surgery. So, who’s lying, the hospital or the State? That’s what really scared the State of Georgia. Now, all of a sudden, all the stabbing stopped, all the robbing stopped, all the racial fights, all the gang fights, everything stopped. When they saw one unified body, they began to be terrified. They began to be terrified, and they just were surprised that unity came together, and it scared them and they did not know how to react.
TM: You may have lost the element of surprise, but you’ve gained probably the confidence of a number of prisoners, you’ve gained the attention of outside organizations. Going forward, what do you think the next steps in the struggle are, and what is the morale of the prisoners inside? Is there potential for future actions, for strike actions, amongst the prisoners?
FF: I think, the thing is, now we see that there are people out there, again, that will support us. All we have to do is to be man enough, and ‘Man Up.’ And let it be known. Those who don’t understand, or who have never been inside this environment, OK, you can call it “telling” you can call it “whining “ you can call it “crying” you can call it whatever you want to call it. But if you were on this side, going through the same thing that some of us have to go through and have been through for over 20 years, you would be crying, too – if that’s what you want to call it.
TM: I think you have seen, the reality is most people don’t understand the scale of abuse, the scale of dehumanization, the scale of human rights abuses that exist on a systematic level in most prisons in this country. I think what you guys have done is to bring some of this to light, is to help make the wider public understand, and to me, that is the most powerful element of this. Yes, these outside organizations, they can come to help against big obstacles, but the new ingredient in the situation is that the prisoners in Georgia, themselves, have organized and have taken mass action. That’s been the changed situation, I think, that has inspired a lot of people on the outside to take this issue more seriously and to think there is the potential for really improving conditions.
FF: Oh, absolutely! You had asked earlier in this interview what were some of the demands. One of them was that you be paid for your labor; that was one. One of the other demands, or one of the other topics that we wanted to bring to the public’s attention, was the lack of medical attention, medical care. We have to pay $5 every time we go see a nurse, and then if she deems that it is serious enough for you to see a doctor, then you go see a doctor. And if they give you medication, it costs you an additional amount, if for some reason you are allergic to the typical generic medication. Well, if you’re not working, and you don’t have any family support, or even if you do have family support, when your family gives you money, which is considered a gift, its charity, they turn and take $5 out of that charity that your family sent you, so you can see the doctor. And that was one of the demands. And education, the majority of the public relations does not care whether you get an education or not. That is a crutch they use so that the federal government will grant them just a little bit more money, just a tad, tad, tad more money, for so-called “educational purposes.” But they could really care less whether you got an education. They stopped vocational trades because they wanted to discourage you. And what did they want to discourage you from? If you’ve given me a free college education, or a vocational trade that I can take back to society, and become a productive tax-paying citizen, that would encourage me to do good, and when it encouraged me to do good, to want to get out so that I can apply this, for my family. And to become a productive person and then show that I have been rehabilitated. So what does the State do? They take away the vocational training, they take away the college classes unless you can afford to pay for it yourself, and you can still get a correspondence class from Ohio University. They take all of that away from you, that they were giving you, to discourage you, now you do wrong and they are going to keep you here. So why would I keep you here? See, we have to be the devil’s advocate here, we have to think what would want to make the State want to keep somebody in prison? Well, at $28,000 a year, roughly estimated – the rough number – per inmate, to stay in prison, that you are given by the federal government. So, if I was in the State to get $28,000 to hold you here, I’d hold you here, too!
TM: There’s all these other private corporations now, that are being brought in to administer phone service, and they’re getting what I understand is $55 a month for 15-minute weekly conversations between families and inmate. There’s the other private entities that are benefiting from inmate labor, where they otherwise would have to pay entire wages on the outside, for the work.
FF: That is correct. Georgia has an industry called ‘The Georgia Correctional Industry.’ They make everything from the mattresses we sleep on, to the clothes you put on your back, to the chemicals that you clean your rooms and the facilities with, all the way down to the bars of soap, towels, wash rags, they even make all the office chairs, the office desks, every state organization all the way down to the Georgia Department of Corrections main office, Commissioner Brian Owens’ personal desk is made by an inmate, free of labor. The tag that goes on every Georgia resident’s car is made by an inmate at a facility. Every sign on the streets of Georgia is made by an inmate. So, really, Georgia is made by inmates!
TM: In the U.S., over the last 30 years, as I’m sure you are well aware, we’ve grown the prison population, now 2.3 million people. While the U.S. is only 5% of the world’s population, U.S. houses a quarter of the world’s prisoner population. And of course, that’s not equally proportionate, when you look at the racial breakdown, where African-Americans that are only 1/8 of the nation’s population but make up almost half of the prisoners, similar numbers when you look at Latinos as well. So we see a situation where the U.S. prison system, the prison-industrial complex, is a growing industry that a lot of people are profiting off of, but it’s creating this massive incarceration rate that I think a lot of people are now characterizing as a massive injustice.
FF: Absolutely! I agree 100 per cent! They would rather for you to sweep the sidewalk and pick up a piece of paper, or ride a lawnmower, or make a tag, before they would prefer you to go get a high school GED. They’d much rather prefer this. Why? Again, because they would have to pay for someone to do that, if you didn’t do it. And why pay someone when here’s an idiot – that’s just how they look at you – here’s an idiot that I can trick with a big-screen TV, or I can trick with a DVD movie once a week and a bag of popcorn, or a 5-piece bucket of chicken is what the Georgia Correctional Industry feeds, if you make production, on the production line. Once a month they give you a 5-piece bucket of chicken, is your reward for making 400,000 Georgia tags in a month, and they say that that’s just! But the taxpayers are blinded, because they do not realize that every taxpayer – even in the state that you are in – you have a right, as a tax-paying citizen, to go to a facility and demand a tour through that facility. You have that right. Just like today, a gentleman goes from facility to facility, and he inspects all around, today and yesterday and the day before yesterday, the NAACP is what I am referring to, went to a prison. Well, don’t you know, before they went there, word leaked that they were coming. So they came inside the facility, cut the grass, they quickly painted the dormitory for what needed to be painted, and when they get here, the prison is perfectly clean, everybody’s clean-shaven, you had good haircuts, the kitchen is clean. You know, the rats in the kitchen had been put up in little cages, whatever, so they can’t run free – you know, and I was being facetious there, but everything was done because you let them know you are coming. Why don’t you just pop up in the middle of the afternoon, and you will see how inhumane some of the living conditions are. At one facility, during the lockdown, they put the inmates in a cage, like an animal, with a pair of boxer shorts and no socks, a pair of flip-flops and no shirt, and it is single-digit temperatures!
TM: This is in the midst of the strike, you are saying?
FF: During the midst of the strike. They were pulling the so-called leaders out, placing them into a cage and stripping them down to their boxer shorts, and it’s sleeting and snowing.
FF: With a pair of flip-flops, when it’s snowing!
TM: I understand that there’s been “The Concerned Coalition to Protect Prisoner Rights”, which is a coalition of outside groups who have come around in solidarity with the prisoner strike, are now, as you were saying, taking tours of some of the prisons. But several of their representatives, a recent article by Bruce Dixon of The Black Agenda Report pointed out, several of their representatives have complained that they are being given tours not where they demand to go, but where the prison authorities themselves say “You can visit this prison, on this day” and on another day, they are going to have them visit another prison, but it’s all prepared. So they are complaining themselves, exactly as you were saying, that they are not being given a real picture of ordinary day-to-day life in the prison, when they are doing these inspections.
FF: And that is true, and they’re not going to allow these groups to go where they want to go, because they are afraid. See, they holler, or they scream, that cell phones are contraband and illegal due to the fact that the inmate will use them for purposes other than contacting family and loved ones, that he will use them to organize crime, or some type of illegality perhaps, want physical harm done upon an inmate, when that may be, on a small scale. The biggest reason the State of Georgia, and any other prison, I’m sure doesn’t want you to have a cell phone where they can’t monitor your conversations, or charge you an outrageous price to talk, is because they don’t want you to expose to the public what they’re really doing.
TM: I wanted to – I know probably your time is short – and I wanted ask one broader political question about how to take this movement forward. Now, I’m going to read a quote from Bruce Dixon, who is a writer for Black Agenda Report, who has been one of the most notable journalists following this struggle for the last several weeks. He says, “A movement has to be built, on both sides of the prison walls. It will demand an end to the prison industry and to the American policy of mass incarceration. That movement will have to be outside the Republican and Democratic Parties. Both are responsible for building this system; both rely on it to sustain their careers.” What would you have to say about that quote, and also can you elaborate any further on your view of what kind of movement needs to be built, going forward?
FF: Well, I respect Mr. Bruce Dixon’s insight, or his statement in that fashion, and I would like to add that the movement that needs to be built is not just the fact of comprising coalitions, that I am a coalition against Georgians, or for Georgians, or prisoners, and that’s all you do. Or you create an organization for educational purposes, like you are a part of, an organization that says, “OK, I am going to help a Georgia prisoner” and you publish online, and that’s all you ever hear about it. The movement needs to be, people need to take a stand, and they need to begin to physically and verbally begin to challenge and attack the elected officials, even the congressional Black Caucus, the Black leaders in America, the White leaders in America, in Georgia. See, the American people need to stop taking their word for fact. They need to take more of a stand and say, “OK, I want to know, what’s going on? I put you in this position, with my electoral votes, and you are not doing anything you said you were going to do! You’re not even trying to do what you said you were going to do!” Now, grant you, there are certain things you can and cannot do. Nevertheless, don’t be afraid to stand up to the government. You’re not being anti-governmental, you’re being human! You’re having humanistic values. And many times, in America, there have been prison movements that have been halted because of lack of sincerity. And the last thing that we want Georgia to come to is another Attica, or San Quentin, you know, where people begin to die for no reason, due to the fact that nobody listened to what was being said. See, the society is our voice. You, Brother Ty, are our voice. There is only so much we can do from in here. There’s only so much we can say from in here. And at this point, this sit-down, we said everything we can say to let people see that we’re tired. Now is the time for somebody on the outside to pick us up and say “OK, Brother, I got you!” and move forward. Anybody could have supported the movement in Georgia. Anybody still can support the movement in Georgia, just like I encourage people from Georgia to support movements in other countries that are going on! Right is Right and Wrong is Wrong, no matter where you’re at in the world. God doesn’t like Ugly. I know everybody has heard that statement, “God doesn’t like Ugly”. And you definitely reap what you sow! Definitely.
TM: Well, if there’s anything else you want to add to this, to the comments, and let our readers know, feel free to do it. Hopefully, this will be just the first of several opportunities, through SocialistAlternative.org. As the struggle continues, we will absolutely continue to feature the voices of those, like yourself, who are leading and organizing the resistance inside the prisons. Are there any last words you’d like to say?
FF: No, sir, other than, We the people of the struggle, appreciate with the utmost gratitude, everyone that is supporting us, and prayerfully we pray that this support will continue. We’re not going to give up, and we ask you not to give up.
END OF INTERVIEW
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