By Denise Stewart, Black America Web
Monday’s tour came as a result of a Friday meeting with members of the Concerned Coalition to Respect Prisoners’ Rights and Georgia Deputy Prison Commissioner Derrick Schofield.
On Dec. 9, prisoners at several state corrections facilities refused to work because they said they were fed up with the lack of adequate access to medical care, extremely low wages for work and limited opportunities for higher education.
Prison officials responded to the work stoppage by placing several facilities on a lockdown that lasted until Dec. 14, when most prisoners began returning to work.
“They simply said, 'We are not going to work as slaves any longer,'” said former Black Panther leader Elaine Brown, who has helped coordinate the coalition and assists with public relations.
“The prisoners’ peaceful protest was historic in scope and in the unity of thousands of black, brown, white, Muslim, Christian and Rastafarian prisoners, including those at Augusta, Baldwin, Calhoun, Hancock, Hays, Macon, Rogers, Smith, Telfair, Valdosta and Ware state prisons. It ignited protests and support actions all over the country and even rumblings of similar protests in other prisons in other states,” Brown said.
When the work stoppage began, many prisoners were transferred to other facilities in an attempt to scatter those who were believed to be organizers, she said.
At the Friday meeting, activists told corrections officials that prisoners are still suffering from beatings, tear-gassing and other documented violent tactics employed to break the strike and force the men back to work without pay. The prisoners’ demands remain on the table, and the Coalition delegation will continue to raise these issues and others with Corrections Department officials, Brown said.
Prisoners reportedly used contraband cell phones to communicate with inmates at other facilities because they knew that similar conditions exists throughout the state, supporters said.
Seven people were in this first group touring the Macon State Prison at Oglethorpe, Georgia and talking with prisoners, Brown told BlackAmericaWeb.com.
“This is the beginning. It will take more visits to really assess what we have and get the things we want for the prisoners,” she said.
Brown no longer lives in Georgia and did not go on the fact-finding visit, but she said she has been in contact with the delegation.
Monday’s visit to Macon State really didn’t bring any surprises, said Charles Muhammad of the Nation of Islam. Other groups represented in the delegation included the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union.
“The prisoners really opened up and talked with us. Of all the people I talked with, no one said they felt they were being treated fairly in prison,” Muhammad told BlackAmericaWeb.com.
“I talked with black and white, Christian and Muslim. They all said the same things," Muhammad said. “We went in the hole. Some people have been there for five weeks, waiting on an appeal for some problem they may have had, like a scuffle or something.”
“When it comes to education, they can only get a GED if they are 25 or younger,” Muhammad said. “What about people who are older?”
Prisoners at Macon State also told Muhammad they had a terrible problem with rats, he said.
“One prisoner showed me how he had stuffed a towel along the floor to keep the rats from coming in, and the rats had been eating away at the towel,” he said. “In another case, a rat died in a vent, and it took prison workers about six months to remove it.”
Muhammad said the coalition will be visiting other prisons.
“This is not an event. It’s a process,” he said. “It will take several visits to get in there so we can address all of the concerns.”