Thursday, January 18, 2018

#OperationPUSH: Florida prisoners begin labor strike with mass support


by Michelle Renee Matisons, Ph.D

“But now with the living conditions deteriorating, and with the sure knowledge that we are slated for destruction, we have been transformed into an implacable army of liberation.”

--George Jackson

Phone calls, canteen purchases, visits from loved ones, and work assignments are all part of Florida prisoners’ daily routines. But so is massive coordinated resistance to incarceration conditions that, in Florida, includes the 2012 torture and subsequent death of Darren Rainey. Rainey was incarcerated in the Dade Correctional Institution in South Florida when guards “punished” him by pouring boiling shower water on him for two hours. Unfortunately, his death has become emblematic of general Florida prison conditions many are courageously resisting.

In a 101-page report released last spring, officials ruled Rainey’s death an “accident,” and blamed it on his poor health condition that includes schizophrenia and heart disease. Others investigating the death point to an incomplete investigation into Rainey’ death… You know: business as usual for the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC).

It's treatment like torture, solitary confinement, medical neglect, and exploited labor and living conditions that have us witnessing sustained prisoner resistance efforts in the face of serious administrative repression. The most recent campaign is Operation PUSH (#OperationPUSH), which was launched on January 15, 2018 to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This is a statewide prisoner strike to end inhumane, even deadly, Florida prison conditions.


Florida’s Prison Plantations

It is one thing to refuse to purchase services or take visitors, it’s quite another to refuse work. This is exactly what the savvy organizers inside, and their outside supporters, know well. Hitting the industries profiting from prisoner wage theft can serve as a wake up call to the FDOC. Not only do inmates perform the grunt work that keeps the prison running-- laundry, cooking, cleaning-- but they also participate in a state-approved non-profit program called P.R.I.D.E. This organization has prisoners working in all kinds of industries like furniture and garment manufacturing--for very low pay and in frequently dangerous conditions--under the auspices of inmate vocational training that makes communities safer and saves taxpayer money.

Redefining the meaning of the word “pride,” striking prisoners in 8 facilities started a laydown/ work stoppage and refusal of other privileges for at least one month, or until demands are met.

Theft of prisoners’ wages is a growing topic of concern in the liberal media, like PBS and NPR. Recently, we saw coverage of California women prisoners earning a mere $2.00 to fight deadly toxic wildfires. In Florida, the average hourly wage is from $0.00 to $0.32. This wage theft reminds us of Florida’s status as one of a handful of states where prison jobs can go unpaid altogether. Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Texas are the other states with literal slavery conditions: there’s no other way to describe mandatory free labor.

This no and low pay condition for mandatory labor has a cascade effect hindering other quality of life issues for prisoners, such as inability to pay exorbitant fees for canteen items and phone calls.

One organizer explains in an interview with It’s Going Down, as published on the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) website: “These “privileges” are a facade which help them more than it does inmates by boosting their revenues. Boycotting them may temporarily seem like creating burdens for ourselves, but that sacrifice now is worth having a better tomorrow. Or future.”


Meet the F&$%*@! Demands

This widely supported and extremely well-coordinated effort has three major demands: “payment for our labor, rather than the current slave arrangement; an end to outrageous canteen prices; and the reintroduction of parole incentives to lifers and those with Buck Rogers dates.” (Buck Rogers dates are release dates set so far in the future as to seem fictional in nature.)

Other more specifically stated goals include: stop the overcrowding and acts of brutality committed by officers throughout FDOC which have resulted in the highest death rates in prison history; expose the environmental conditions we face, including extreme temperatures, mold, contaminated water, and being placed next to toxic sites such as landfills, military bases and phosphate mines (including a proposed mine which would surround the Reception and Medical Center prison in Lake Butler); honor the moratorium on state executions, as a court-ordered the state to do, without the legal loophole now being used to kill prisoners on death row; restore voting rights as a basic human right to all, not a privilege, regardless of criminal convictions.

The idea is to laydown and refuse work until Governor Rick Scott faces the harsh financial reality of hiring outside of his precious walls for labor to run daily prison operations. This “could cost millions of dollars each day the strike continues, which the state of Florida relies on incarcerated workers to do for a fraction of that cost.”

Haitian strikers currently incarcerated in Florida are connecting their presence as laborers in Florida facilities to Trump era detention policies. A solidarity statement from Haitian prisoners explains: “Prisons in America are nothing but a different form of slavery plantations... There are so many Haitians, Jamaicans, and Latinos in the FDOC serving sentences that exceeds life expectancy and or life sentences who are not being deported. They use all immigrants, for free Labor and then deport them.”

This strike emerges on the heels of what has been a few serious years of prisoner resistance and organizing in the state, coordinated with national efforts. August 2016 saw prisoners placed on lockdown in anticipation of the national prisoners’ strike commemorating the Attica prison uprising’s 45th anniversary on September 9, 2016.

Prior to #OperationPUSH’s January 15th kick-off date, on January 13 it was reported that facilities began to retaliate against strike leaders and organizers by placing some in solitary confinement.


An Implacable Army of Liberation

On the strike’s first day, communication from inside ceased. Outside, supporters, including 100 organizations, organized solidarity actions including a protest at Norfolk City Jail in Virginia and a solidarity demonstration in Tallahassee, Florida where one demonstrator, a Dream Defender, was arrested. Supporters also rallied outside Miami’s Florida Department of Corrections building, outside the Lake Butler facility, and in Jacksonville.

It’s no shock that Angela Davis has thrown her enthusiastic support behind the strike, exclaiming that: “There’s no better way to keep the legacy of Dr. King alive than by supporting the prisoners’ strike.” Her speech was delivered to a packed audience at Florida State University, Tallahassee on Wednesday, January 16, 2018.

IWOC has merely heard rumors of what is currently happening inside, and the organization initially waited to verify rumors as facts before releasing information. As of January 17, there’s verification of pre-emptive organizer sweeps and facility lockdowns: collective punishment, if you will. Given the brutal conditions that characterize U.S. prisons, jails, and detention facilities, we should not be surprised to hear about prison administration crackdowns on strikers-- yet we should remain outraged.

On the Supporting Prisoners and Real Change (SPARC) Facebook page, it’s reported as of January 17 at 10 AM that: “Info coming in... key organizers being held in confinement ‘under investigation’ with no reason being given. Strong possibility they do not have access to certain personal property such as writing materials or extra clothing to deal with the extreme low temperatures in these prisons without heat. Details will be updated as we receive them.”

The temperature throughout the state is no joke this time of year. January 17, 2018’s evening temperatures dropped below freezing in Florida’s panhandle.

By January 18, the UK’s Daily Mail has covered the strike, reporting that Florida prisons have the highest death rate in history. Also, in 2017 alone, the FDOC confirms prisoners performed 3.15 million hours of outside labor as “community work squad members,” worth $38 million. Part of the arrangement is that instead of getting paid, inmates can work off sentence time. Of course, this also produces a sinister culture whereby guards can place time onto prisoners records-- especially if they are strike organizers and participants.

Speaking of sinister, Florida eliminated parole for non-capital felonies in 1984, and strikers are demanding the return of the parole option, which would reduce overcrowding, illness, suicides, and deaths.

Some prisons have already cancelled visitation and phone calling privileges in retaliation against strike demands. This is nothing other than pre-emptive collective punishment as this new round of serious struggle commences. Under collective punishment, every prisoner is a political prisoner. SPARC reports that Avon Park prison has shut off all facility phones. Prisoners who once planned to boycott phone use are now being denied the privilege pre-emptively by Polk County’s Avon Park administrators. What the hell are they planning to do to strikers?

In the meantime, as more news trickles in about the strike climate, there are many things you can do as an individual or a group to support #OperationPUSH. You can organize and attend solidarity demos; coordinate your organization’s endorsement of the strike (email fighttoxicprisons@gmail.com); use the #OperationPUSH hashtag to publicize the strike; write prisoners; and donate to supporting organizations.

Relevant and informative websites following the strike include:



Addendum: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson’s Invaluable Perspective

Amidst the general organizing efforts inside Florida prisons, there’s a recent addition to the Florida system, and officials can’t be happy. Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, co-founder and Minister of Defense for the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (Prison Chapter), and author of anti-prison organizing book, Defying the Tomb, Kersplebedeb: 2010) was transferred from Texas to Florida State Prison in Bradford County six months ago.

Since this is Johnson’s fourth state prison system in six years (he’s also done time in Virginia and Oregon), he is one to adequately compare state systems. He has gone down on record as stating that he “can personally attest that conditions [in Florida] are among the worst I’ve seen.”

In addition to slave labor, Johnson also describes other travesties of justice: “On a literal daily basis prisoners are gassed, tortured and/or brutally beaten by guards with the full complicity of medical and mental health staff.  As part of this culture of abuse, grievance officials routinely trash prisoners’ attempts to grieve their mistreatment.  This to eliminate any records of the abuses and to frustrate any potential attempts at litigation.”

Other shocking examples of more routinized economic exploitation include Johnson’s list comparing Texas prison canteen prices to Florida. Highlights include price-gouging for ramen, oatmeal, and other anti-starvation necessities: “One Top Ramen soup is $.30 (TX); $.70 (FL); ten individual packs of oatmeal are $1.50 (TX); $5.30 (FL)...”

When Florida is outdoing other monumental prison states like Texas and California for exploitation and corruption, we have a serious situation on our hands that will not simply go away.

While striking prisoners portray their resistance as deliberately non-violent in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the state remains complicit in running a violently racist, class bludgeoning death chamber that is receiving international attention.

Even an imperialist U.S. president like John F. Kennedy can tell you that “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

Governor Rick Scott and Company: it’s probably a good idea to heed this warning.



Michelle Renee Matisons, Ph.D. is an adjunct philosophy professor and writer living in the Florida panhandle. She can be reached at michrenee@gmail.com.

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Coalition of Medical Marijuana, New Jersey (CMMNJ)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Coalition of Medical Marijuana, New Jersey (CMMNJ)
Contact:
Peter Rosenfeld (856) 495-5824 or jprosenfeld@yahoo.com
New Jersey Medical Marijuana Patients To Governor-elect
Murphy: We Need Home Cultivation
Trenton:

Registered medical marijuana patients in New Jersey will gather in front of the State House Building Annex on January 9th from 10:30 AM to 1 PM to call on New Jersey legislators and Governor-elect Phil Murphy to allow home cultivation of cannabis.
Peter Rosenfeld, a board member of the Coalition of Medical Marijuana
New Jersey (CMMNJ), pointed out that caregivers and patients were expecting home gardens until the provision was removed in 2009 from the Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Act. Almost a decade later, and the promises of a robust medical marijuana program have been broken.
“Home Cultivation is STILL needed for three reasons, Mr. Rosenfeld said:
1) Cost - the cost of medical marijuana exceeds half the income of the 50% of patients who are on disability
2) Consistent supply - many patients need specific strains for their conditions, but the dispensaries often stop providing them for cost and other reasons. Supply, in general, has been an issue.
3) Empowerment - allowing those patients who can to grow their own medicine lets them take control of their disease.
The recreational marijuana bill that Senator Scutari may be introducing today will make the specific strain supply issue much worst, to the detriment of patients. Home cultivation is one way of alleviating this issue."
Ken Wolski RN, Executive Director of CMMNJ, who will be speaking
at the press briefing said, “Home cultivation empowers patients to take charge of their own healthcare, to grow their own medicine for pennies and to choose the specific strains that best helps their medical conditions.”
Rosenfeld added, “As New Jersey moves on to full legalization of
marijuana we want legislators and Governor-elect Murphy to consider the needs of our state's medical marijuana patients.”
CMMNJ also extends an open invitation to Governor-elect Murphy to attend our January 9th meeting in Lawrenceville.
Contact:
Peter Rosenfeld
(856)495-5824 or jprosenfeld@yahoo.com

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Resist the Deportation Machine Letter to Joe D / Essex Freeholders

Resist the Deportation Machine, a coalition which Decarcerate the Garden State supports, sent the following letter to the Essex County Freebolders as a follow up to their recently coordinated protest at an Essex County Freeholders meeting.

According to Jay Arena of Resist the Deportation Machine organization:

"This letter is a followup to our November 9 demonstration at the Essex County Freeholders. After the demo we went into the meeting and demanded that the county break the contract with ICE to imprison immigrants at the Essex County prison. Enclosed above is a formal letter, sent this week by email, making that request."

This effort to close the detention facilities should be widely supported and linked to the struggles to end mass incarceration and oppose US wars at home and abroad.  Stay tuned for an announcement of a protest that will take place on January 27 around these issues.

For more information, join: https://www.facebook.com/groups/143490942937260/

Dear Essex County Chosen Freeholders and Essex County Executive DiVencenzo,

We are writing to strongly urge you as  members of the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders and as County Executive to immediately act to end the contract with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) to hold 850 immigrant detainees at the Essex County Correctional Center in Newark.

ICE’s detention centers throughout the country are a crucial part of its cruel and illegal deportation machine that is spreading terror and disrupting the lives of millions of immigrants.  Without ICE’s ability to hold up to 41,000 immigrants in detention, it would be impossible for it to deport the 400,000 or more immigrants per year it is now expelling. Most of the 100 detention facilities are, like the Essex County Correctional Center, leased from local authorities.

Shutting Down detention centers will force ICE to free immigrant detainees. The ICE system is full to capacity, and ICE is requesting Congress authorize 5,000 more beds. Detainees that are no longer housed at ECCC can’t, in general, be moved elsewhere because there is no room for them. ICE will have to release many of them. We are as well demanding that Hudson County and Bergen County close their detention centers and we expect that shutting down one of these centers will inspire other campaigns throughout the country. Multiple shut-downs will cripple ICE’s entire deportation operation, preventing ICE from simply moving detainees around. In 2006, the closing of the Passaic County immigrant detention facility in Paterson led to the paroling or outright release of over 140 detainees.

Immigrant detentions are unconstitutional and a threat to the rights of all.  By ICE’s own admission immigrant detainees are “administrative detainees” who have not been charged with or convicted of a crime. Their detention—really imprisonment under a different name—violates the basic protection of the Bill of Rights that no person is to be deprived of liberty without due process—indictment and trial by jury.

Deportations and Detentions Undermine All Workers’ Rights. The threat of arbitrary detention and deportation deters many immigrants from defending their rights to decent wages and working conditions. This hinders the ability of all workers to defend these rights.

Essex County Must not Run on Blood Money. The fact that the county profits from the unconstitutional detention of immigrants, because ICE pays for the beds, is not a valid argument for collaborating in the ICE deportation machine. The County could raise money by selling opioids as well, but that would not make it a wise policy.

Therefore you should act now to immediately end the detention contract with ICE.

Sincerely yours

Eric Lerner, on behalf of Resist the Deportation Machine

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

What Do I Want for Christmas? FREE NJ WEEDMAN! #FREENJWEEDMAN

Donations needed.  Also send letters of support and thanking
Ed Forchion aka NJ Weedman for his successful leadership
of a movement to legalize cannabis in NJ!
#FREENJWEEDMAN

When bail reform was moving forward in the State of NJ, Peoples Organization for Progress issued a statement critically supporting the measures.  One of the points that POP called to be assured in the process is:

“It must authorize the release of low risk individuals under the least restrictive conditions possible.”

Two years later it is apparent that this POP concern has not been addressed and the perfect example proving as much is the holding of Ed Forchion, aka NJ Weedman, without bail. 

Ed Forchion is being held – now for about 9 months – initially for two charges, 2nd and 3rd degree witness tampering.  Based on those charges, the prosecution was able to convince the judge in the case that he should not be entitled to bail.  Then on November 16 the jury returned not guilty on the 2nd degree charge and was a hung jury – meaning it did not reach a decision – on the 3rd degree charge.  

However instead of immediately offering a bail option when Mr. Forchion was exonerated of the more serious charge – the judge scheduled a hearing and then decided that NJ Weedman should continue to be held.  And the judicial used the opportunity to add more time to the 6 month time line that is supposed to be enforced to guarantee a speedy trial for those who are denied the options to either be released on recognizance or be offered a cash bail option.

Ed Forchion, NJ Weedman is the poster child for what is wrong with the bail reform that was implemented in NJ.  He is being denied the right to speedy trial and is incarcerated without conviction.  Clearly NJ Weedman has been one of the most outspoken advocates to legalize cannabis in the state of NJ – an accomplishment that looks like soon will be a reality at least in some form.

The legalization of cannabis in NJ will hopefully reduce drastically the rampant onslaught by police, prosecutors and the judicial – aimed at otherwise innocent cannabis consumers and merchants – currently NJ arrests well over 20,000 residents a year!  Many are forced to undergo unnecessary “treatment” for their punishment.  These arrests enrich police, attorneys, prosecutors, corrections officers and judges who make a significant part of thelr living from cannabis law enforcement.  In 2014 according to an ACLU report, NJ was spending $127 million per year on cannabis law enforcement – an expenditure that likely has increased given the ratcheting up of the arrest counts.

Personally  - as far as bail goes – I think the part of the reform that allows indigent arrestees to be released is an asset but I was always nervous about the use of the provision that allows the criminal justice system to hold those without bail for somewhat arbitrary reasons.  

Ed Forchion was not arrested for any violent offense – he was exonerated on the heavier charge and not convicted on the lighter charge.  A vindictive prosecutor – instead of dropping the ill fated prosecution – has decided to press on – and the judge has agreed to continue to hold the supposed “innocent until proven guilty” Ed Forchion month after month.

It is now almost Christmas.  NJ owes a debt of gratitude to NJ Weedman, to Ed Forchion, since he had a major role to play in rallying the state of NJ toward legalization – some such rallies which I have attended and one I even spoke at. 

I know Ed as a friend – I do not always agree with his antics – but that’s ok – many people do not agree with my political activist style either.  However – I recognize an injustice and a crime against NJ being committed by Trenton, by the prosecution and by the judge.


If you ask me what I want for Christmas – I would tell you – FREE NJ WEEDMAN!  I also call upon the incoming Governor Murphy to – upon assuming office – immediately pardon Ed Forchion of all charges and release political prisoner number 420!

Also - please sign petition calling for immediate moratorium on cannabis prohibition enforcement:

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Fascist Signs Must Not Stand for 5 Minutes - New Brunswick or Any Where

Joe Xtarr worked with a team to remove the nazi signs that were hanging in New Brunswick since the day after Thanksgiving according to one Facebook user account. Please contact him through Facebook to see about a team for nazi sign removal in New Brunswick - or elsewhere - since he and his colleagues took care of it to night. I was geared up for the weather and ready to go join them but according to Joe they found only about 8 signs along George Street. He did not check the side streets so please keep an eye out anywhere in New Brunswick or any where else. If you see signs, contact Joe or you can text me 908-881-5275 to see about getting them cleaned up. You can also e-mail to cnjgdc@protonmail.com for anonymous tips and leads. That is the contact e-mail address for the Central New Jersey General Defense Committee of the IWW (International Workers of the World aka Wobblies(.

WD40 or Rubbing Alcohol could be needed
ro break down the glue.
Get a wood puddy scrape knife and throw it in your glove compartment or pack. The signs were glue adhered. The nazis were probably watching for days as everyone tried to claw them down with their finger nails. They probably were even filiming it - that would be my guess. But if you have a puddy knife handy - - zip zoot bye bye nazi sign. That's how Joe and his team took care of them.
If you see the signs and do not have time or resources to get rid of them - contact Joe - through Facebook, above - you can contact me (Bob Witanek) thru Facebook or 908-881-5275 - call / text.
That goes for anywhere else. The nazi signs have to come down as soon as they go up and if we catch them - we have to get a team to prevent them from putting them up or to remove them immediately.

They should not be permitted to by the community to post those signs. This is not to me a police issue but a community issue. You go to the cops with it and they will spend more time investigating you than the fascists.

But NJ here to forward - these signs can not stand 5 minutes! UPDATE: December 7, 2017 Univision has been in contact and they want to do a story next time these signs show up in NJ so if you see the signs, pleaese call 201-852-7716 (Bill Tipacti)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Press Release: Decarcerate the Garden State Supports Ulisses Rodriguez Family


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:


DECARCERATE THE GARDEN STATE SUPPORTS Ulisses Rodriguez FAMILY

Contact: Bob Witanek 908-881-5275


Decarcerate the Garden State, a state wide NJ group opposed to mass incarceration and enslavement supports the demands of the Ulisses Rodriguez family.

According a co-founder of the group, Bob Witanek, "We make the following demands of Northern State Prison officials:

immediately inform the family of Ulisses Rodriguez of how he died and the cause of death;


immediately provide any and all information requested by the family of Ulisses Rodriguez including every detail of the whatever incidents that occurred or circumstances that occurred leading to the death of Ulisses Rodriguez;


immediately inform the family of Ulisses Rodriguez if there was a physical altercation, a fight, if paramedics were called and if resuscitation efforts were made;


immediately establish a liaison with the family of Ulisses Rodriguez to initiate the process of full disclosure of every known detail of the tragedy and every detail of the ongoing investigation by the [New Jersey Department of Corrections] and the Essex County Prosecutor's Office;


immediately establish a phone number and a contact person assigned to answer any and all calls from the family of Ulisses Rodriguez"


Decarcerate the Garden State urges its constituents to call Abutments office:at North NJ State Prison at  609-633-2596 and read to whoever answers or any answering machine the above listed demands.

According to Bob Witanek, a co-founder of Decarcerate the Garden State, whose Facebook group has over 1400 members, "It is up to the family to determine how best to move forward for a full disclosure of the incident. We are ready to support the family in whatever decisions it makes in this regard.  We are ready to do what it takes to support the family's quest for justice."

The group is rallying support for the family in its Facebook group:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/DecarcerateNJ

More background on the issue was published in the Newark, NJ Patch:

https://patch.com/new-jersey/newarknj/new-jersey-prisoners-family-demands-autopsy-after-sudden-death
-
 30 -

Related from Patch - NJ Prison Sentence is a Death Sentence for 1 in 10 NJ Incarcerated!
1 In 10 New Jersey Inmates Will Likely Die In Jail, Report Says

So when 10 catch a sentence - one is catching death!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Meeting to Launch Effort to Close ICE Essex Detention Center 10/7. 2pm Newark

Equal Rights For All Who Live Here! There is No Such Thing as an “Illegal” Human Being!


All Welcome to an Organizing meeting to Close the ICE Immigrant Detention Center at the Essex County Jail in Newark Saturday, October 7 2 PM 157 Lafayette St. Newark, NJ The Trump regime is stepping up its attacks on immigrants and all workers.

The ending of the DACA program means 800,000 young people will be facing the deportation machinery, some beginning as soon March of next year. This past week Trump’s ICE agents began massive sweeps targeting so called ‘sanctuary “ cities Like Newark.

https://www.yahoo.com/news/ice-arrests-nearly-500-immigrants-160303060.html

But what kind of sanctuary city is Newark when we have one of Trump’s immigrant jails right in our community? The Essex County facility, and those like it around the country such as in neighboring Hudson County, are key parts of the machinery Trump needs to carry our plans to deport DACA youth and his broader efforts to ramp up deportations and terrorize all workers. The Essex County facility, and those around the county, need to be shutdown NOW! All are invited to this organizing meeting to strategize on how to close the ICE facility and build a broader fight back to defend immigrants and all workers For more information call Jay Arena at 504-520-9521