Austerity Increases Violence in Prison

The call for the nationwide prison strike that took place from August 21 to September 9, 2018, was inspired by the need for immediate change in the wake of the tragedy that took place at Lee Correctional Facility in South Carolina on April 15, 2018, when 7 seven prisoners died and 22 were seriously injured in a rebellion that turned into warfare between prisoners, and the worst episode of prison violence in a quarter century. Jailhouse Lawyers Speak and others put out the call for a nationwide prison strike knowing that only massive direct action could re-center prison issues in the national psyche, since we had all been so distracted by the unpredictability and cruelty of the Trump administration. According to the brother of a man incarcerated at Lee, the tragedy occurred because the conditions in that facility had deteriorated to such a point that prisoners were extremely desperate to meet their most basic needs, and couldn’t survive without joining gangs and fighting over resources:

The staffing levels are so low, officers don’t make required rounds. That left prisoners inside their cells longer each day. Some weeks, they got to shower twice; other times they went without showers for up to nine days. Prisoners knew officers would not come to the rescue if they were attacked – which provided a major incentive to join gangs as a means of self-preservation.

Productive programs that can stimulate prisoners’ minds and bodies – a real public service, given that most prisoners are eventually freed – have been curtailed. Some prisoners have gone for up to a year without sneakers. There has been a long-term water outage in part of the prison, according to another prisoner I spoke with. Those small indignities add up, yet some officials feign surprise when those treated inhumanely behave in inhumane ways.

After every incident, prisoners are locked down longer, which leads to more resentment and unrest and more violence, a vicious cycle.

Things are not much different in many of the prisons in Indiana - if not all of them. Below are Indiana political prisoner and IDOC Watch founder Angaza Iman Bahar’s reflections on the effects of austerity on increasing violence among prisoners.

As I currently write this I sit on lock down at Miami Correctional Facility. You would think that after spending 25 years in prison that I would be beyond situations like this, knowing how to navigate the ins and outs of all the petty bullshit and rules, racist and ignorant pigs, and mentally dead prisoners who readily participate in their own destruction. Yet if there is one thing that I have learned over these two-plus decades trapped deep within the belly of this cruel sadist system, it is that you can never anticipate what will happen, as the need to survive day to day overrules any good intention to avoid these situations which will place you in the cross hairs of the enemy.

A few weeks ago I was asked by a comrade on the outside to write about how the conditions created by prison officials force individuals to prey on each other in order to obtain the bare necessities which make doing time tolerable. This is a subject rarely dealt with, as prison authorities and the media quickly sum up most prison violence as caused by gangs or racial conflicts in order to brush it under the rug. Yet truth be told, as it is out there in the larger society, in here too everything comes down to the haves and the have-nots..

Those who have the means find themselves better positioned to cope with prison life, while those who do not have the means constantly struggle to survive. I have seen individuals selling sexual favors for cigarettes, brutalize each other over a few dollars of commissary, and abandon any sense of morals or values at the opportunity to have access to a cell phone. Those fortunate enough to be in a position where their family and friends on the outside are willing and able to provide for them can easily become prey to those in here who have no one looking out for us on the outside. And while prison officials have the means to prevent such predatory behavior, they consciously sit back and do nothing, preferring instead to use such acts of violence as justifications for increasingly repressive measures of control.

Now imagine if the majority of prison budgets were focused on providing prisoners with jobs that pay the outside minimum wage and ensuring that every prisoner who desires to work could do so and earn the necessary income to provide for their needs. In such an environment acts of violence would reduce dramatically, and prison would be a much safer place for the prisoners forced to be here. But the prison officials don’t really care if the environment is safe for prisoners. Hell, they don’t even care if the environment is safe for the people who must deal with prisoners hands on every day. Guards here routinely find themselves in situations where there is a 100 to 1 ration in favor of prisoners. Sometimes the guards in those sitiuations are women, who like most people in society are forced to sell their labor in order to survive…

Angaza Iman Bahar (Jimmy Jones #891782)

Miami Correctional Facility

3038 West 850 South
Bunker Hill, IN 46914-9810

You can help support Angaza by creating an account at web.connectnetwork,com (or downloading the ConnectNetwork app on your phone), and sending money to his Trust Fund account for commissary, or his PIN Debit account for phone minute. You can also message him on such an account.

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IDOC Watch is trying to send $75 per month to each of our inside comrades, so that they aren’t forced to hustle to meet their basic needs and can instead focus on educating and organizing (and avoid exposing themselves to extra danger). If you would like to sign up to make a recurring donation to our inside comrades, please do so at this link!

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