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(en) US, black rose fed: A FIGHT AGAINST HOPELESSNESS: INTERVIEW ON SOUTH CAROLINA PRISONS
Tue, 8 May 2018 09:15:49 +0300
Prisoners, isolated from society, deemed deserving of punishment, and frequently
dehumanized, are an ideal target for exploitation and abuse. This interview by prisoner
advocate Jared Ware with unnamed radical organizers in prison details conditions within
the Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina. These conditions are deplorable,
including easily preventable deaths at the hands of guards, slavery, and deliberate
further isolation both in solitary and by blocking contact with the outside world. There
are several, important take aways from this piece beyond this state violence including a
discussion of the roots of violence within prison (the conditions of incarceration and
control themselves), a problematization of the discourse around gangs, which by this
analysis are again are manufactured by the conditions in prisons and can serve as
potential places to build alternative collectivities in a space of isolation, as well as a
discussion on violent/non-violent offenders, the far blurrier lines between them in
practice and the ways that this framing doesn't address the real problems of the system.
One of the prisoners is a member of Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, a group of incarcerated
people fighting for the rights of prisoners, which is gearing up for a national prison
strike on August 21st, whose demands include the end of prison slavery, the end of life
sentences, bettering of conditions for prisoners, and rehabilitation programs. While we
might have disagreements on the necessity and usefulness of electoral politics there is
much of value in this interview and those fighting for their lives behind bars deserve our
solidarity and support.
-Black Rose/Rosa Negra Social Media Team
By Jared Ware
The deadliest incident of violence in a United States prison in a quarter century took
place at the Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina on April 15, 2018.
According to multiple reports, including SCDC Director Bryan Stirling's own, prison guards
and EMTs made no attempt to break things up or lend medical aid from moment the fight
commenced until hours after it was over, while imprisoned people were beaten and stabbed
to death. Seven people were killed and dozens were injured, with at least twenty two
On April 22, I interviewed three individuals from various prisons inside the South
Carolina Department of Corrections. One of the prisoners identified himself as a member of
Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, a group of imprisoned human rights advocates that has made
national calls to action for a prisoner-led strike in response to the conditions they feel
are truly responsible for the violence and hopelessness within prisons across the United
States. The strike is expected to begin on August 21st, 2018.
Throughout our conversation, these three individuals, who are identified only as D, S, and
E to protect their identities and prevent retaliation by prison officials, highlight the
impacts of policies pushed by President Bill Clinton's administration and implemented by
states across the country. They also point to the dehumanization of prisoners and
challenge our conception of "gangs," which does not take into account the ways in which
incarcerated people are forced to create their own collective means for safety, survival,
and camaraderie in a situation where hope is the scarcest commodity.
They also urge the public to reconsider the nature and source of violence within prisons
and the absence of human dignity and a rehabilitative environment within our nation's
prisons. They present actionable solutions to mitigate some of the harm caused by prisons
on our ultimate path toward shedding carceral responses to legitimate societal needs.
As I write this introduction on May 2nd, 2018, South Carolina prisoners have confirmed
that all Level 2 and 3 facilities have remained on a statewide lock down since April 15th.
This means people imprisoned in facilities have been denied any freedom of movement,
regular access to showers, recreation, or meals outside the confines of their cells. It is
imperative that we deepen conversations around the causes of violence in prisons and the
real impacts of incarceration on all people, inside and outside the walls.
Note: this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
The Context: "The Hopelessness Set In"
Jared: Firstly, for context for folks who are reading this, there have been a lot of
things that have gone down in South Carolina prisons over the last year or two, if you
guys could lay down some of that context for people, because I think a lot of people don't
understand some of the things that prisoners throughout South Carolina have been dealing
with and how those conditions might contribute to prisoners really feeling a sense of
D: I'm going to take you back a little step here, to 1996 at least. I'll cover it a little
bit, and I'll be as brief as possible. Prior to Bill Clinton's Prison Litigation Reform
Act, anti-terrorism act, these acts that went into full effect in 1996, initiated what is
known as the 85% or Truth In Sentencingthroughout most of the states inside this nation
today. It's not just necessarily something that incubated inside the South Carolina, it
was actually national. There was a domino effect, okay? But in 1996, specifically, the
reason why I'm pinpointing that is because at that particular point in the state of South
Carolina, there was no such thing as a natural life sentence in the department of
corrections. There was no such thing as a forever-type sentence, where individuals thought
that they weren't going to be able to get out.
Even if you had a violent offense, or a labeled-violent offense, you still had something
known as a work release date. You still would have some type of eligibility to go to work
release, and that also meant the eligibility to go to work at some place on the street, or
go home even on the weekends in the state of South Carolina. They had opportunity to make
state payduring that particular time period. Even when you[were]at what was known as
the max yard. These yards[were]clearly open, everybody could roam and move around free.
But when 1996 set in, and you had this mindset that started to kicked in, that was known,
as Hillary Clinton called[it], as locking down these "super predators." They called it
also the War on Drugs, which I call the war on the Black and Brown community. All these
things is playing into effect at that particular time period, and that created the
We found fences starting to be wrapped into the prisons, we found prisoners that were
labeled as violent offenders, was sent into these fences, and caged into buildings all
day. We found that the food started deteriorating, we saw the clothes removed, and we saw
the ways that[imprisoned people]could make money removed out of the system. There was no
longer any type of state pay. Even though state pay was very minimal, it was still an
opportunity to buy a bar of soap or a Honey Bun or something like that. We saw that
visitation was being restricted.
It was just a host of things that started being incubated. And then the hopelessness set
in. Because what happened then is we started having these life sentences coming through
under 85 percent, where prisoners knew they were never going to see daylight again. We
started having what we call "football numbers:" 80, 100, 150 years coming through 85
percent[time served, where prisoners knew they were]never going to see daylight again.
So this is where actually a lot of the problems started accumulating. And not only that,
but actually education was removed by the prison system. Any type of Pell Grants, all that
was gone. Education, technical colleges, everything was removed. So that's a little bit of
a picture of what kind of started to shape the environment back here.
Conditions: "Not for Human Consumption"
Jared: Thank you, so that changed obviously the overall conditions of how prisons across
the country changed and sort of the hopelessness that set in. Can you talk to me a little
bit though of some of the specific things that happened in South Carolina over the last
couple of years?
D: And this is when the most sadistic mindsets start to set in. Prisoncrats... And I'm
going to[let]the brother answer that one.
S: So for one, as the brother was just telling you with the "football numbers," prisoners
got a lot of time to serve, but actually with nothing to do. When they took away all the
privileges, they took away a lot of the programs. Stuff like that, it leads to just
standing around with nothing to do, except to indulge in negative behavior, and
reactionary behavior, and just all different forms of escapism-whatever they can do to
pass the time.
They drug test you so they can take away your privileges. Why do they need drug testing
inside the prisons? People are already in here doing time, it's irrelevant. I can see if
somebody's getting ready to go home for parole or something like that and you're going to
test them, but just to constantly test them, that's kind of like a waste of money. They
always waste their funds on things they don't need to waste their funds on.
We have no means of supporting ourselves because there's no state pay. Because we have no
state pay, we have no way to eat. As the brother said, even though it was just a little
bit of money, but it still was something. You still could buy some hygiene[products].
When they do lockdown, they're supposed to give you showers Mondays, Wednesdays, and
Fridays, whatever the lockdown be for. But they don't ever honor it. They want to do one
cell at a time, and it'll take you a whole week before you get a shower. You have some
prisons where the water system is messed up. Particularly at Lieber[Correctional
Institute], their water system has been messed up forever. When you flush the toilet or
pour your water, it smells like rotten eggs. They say it has sulfur in it or whatever, but
it eats up the actual metal, and causes mold and stuff to be all over the prison. If they
were to go do a tour through that prison right now, and they go all the way from the
lock-up to the yard, the ceiling is falling in, metal hanging down, it's dripping all over
the place, mold is all over the place, people who are in prison for 15-20 years are dying
from cancer. But they don't have no cigarettes inside, you feel me?
We're confined to a cell a lot. They do a lot of counts and the counts always last for a
long period of time. The purpose of counting is to make sure that we're here. In all
reality, they should just count us and then let us back out for recreation. If you count
from the time you eat dinner on a Friday night to your next meal on a Saturday, it's 17-18
hours before you get your next meal. And on the daily basis, you're talking about 12 to 13
hours from when you get your first meal to your next meal, that's almost like a half a
day, that's a long time.
So you eat up all your[food purchased from the]canteen, which forces you to go the canteen
and spend a lot of money on a bunch of a junk that they price gouge, that's super high,
but this money is coming from their family members who are out there working hard to help
support you as well.
D: One of the things that has not fully been addressed in South Carolina is the nature and
culture of disrespect from the officers inside the South Carolina Department of
Corrections, as well. They have completely in my eyes mastered the art of dehumanizing
prisoners. Once again, we have to keep in mind they intentionally went into an overdrive
of taking the prisoners clothes. Not only taking the prisoners clothes, cutting the
prisoners hair the same way, had it to where you can't have your money in your pocket,
just a number of things to take away your individuality. And in the process of taking away
your individuality, they begin to treat you as if you were garbage. What I mean by treat
you as garbage, just by dehumanizing us it makes it easier for them to abuse us, and this
abuse a lot of times takes place as physical abuse.
We had in the Super Max Units out in Columbia, South Carolina maybe about a year or two
ago, guards bumrush a prisoner inside his cell, stab him up. We've always had a number of
incidents with regards to them cuffing prisoners, then cut prisoners up, slamming
prisoners on their heads. In some cases we've had some mysterious deaths, some hangings
that prisoners are clearly not comfortable with labeling them as hangings on these maximum
We've also had incidents where prisoners, when he speaks of recreation, understand
something about this recreation a lot of places and a lot of areas right now, prisoners
are no longer getting rec at all. It's like every blue moon before we even see any
sunlight or daylight to be able to get rec. What we are finding is that, that itself is
causing a lot of attitude problems. A lot of aggressiveness.
When we talk about the food, we don't get any fruit, no real fruit anyway. At one time
they actually had salad bars; they removed all of that over two decades ago. Now you get
nothing. Some of the food is labeled "not for human consumption." So these are normal
things that we are actually dealing with inside the prison system.
For visitation, there's no contact with your visitor, with your loved ones. One kiss in,
one kiss out. Rather than a hug, sit down, embrace each other. Be in the comfort of each
other's company. We're finding that is moving further and further away, and I'm very
fearful that we're moving to the stage of video visits very soon, in the very near future.
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2:16 AM - May 1, 2018
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Technology: "The Fly On The Wall"
Jared: Talk a little bit about the angle of this around technology. Bryan Stirling has
been for at least a year now, probably more, he's been on this kick about getting cell
phones out. You know there was this sort of fairly high profile escape less than a year
ago, and they blamed cell phones for that. And they're also blaming this riot on cell
phones. They're talking about phone jammers. So just talk a little bit about cell phones
in relation to the prisons and what they mean or provide to prisoners and how realistic
some of these narratives or fears that are being stated by SCDC are.
S: SCDC's main reason for not wanting the phones inside the prison system is because the
phones got camera access, video access, and the phones can expose the things that they do.
When they're using extreme force - the same way people are using cell phones out on the
street when they're catching certain things that cops aren't supposed to be doing and
stuff like that - see they can be exposed, they can't hide when we've got the phones.
The prisoners utilize the phones to communicate with their family members. The phone
system that[SCDC has], the phone prices are entirely too high, nobody would use that. They
get money off it, too, and everybody knows that. And prisoners use the phone as a means of
staying connected to their families, fathers staying connected to their children. Some
fathers back here are raising their children from prison by staying in contact with them.
So SCDC just wants the phones out of the prisons because they don't want to be exposed.
They don't want the videos of the fights and stabbings to be shown. There's other things
prisoners are shooting videos of. They're showing videos of the brown water, they show
videos of the mold inside the buildings. They show videos of the prisoners who've been
dead in the bed for two hours and the guard ain't come and check on the man yet. So it's a
fly on the wall for them, that's why they don't want them in here.
Death Numbers: "Allowed to Die"
Jared: I've heard some reporting on how high the death numbers are from South Carolina
over the past couple years, but I've also heard from some prisoners that they believe the
death numbers are actually much higher than what's being reported. For example, I've had a
prisoner tell me that, even though SCDC is officially stating death toll numbers in the
teens over the last year, and these numbers are very high based on national averages, that
the numbers are actually higher but they believe SCDC is only reporting certain kinds of
S: Yeah they are only reporting certain kinds of deaths, not including some deaths that
they have caused themselves. And just to give you an example, they have a cell in the area
they call the RHU (Restrictive Housing Unit) that's supposed to be the area they put
people that get in trouble or whatever. And they've got a cell that's called a CI (Crisis
Intervention) cell. That's where they strip you, make you get butt naked you got no
clothes on, no nothing, and when they do bring you something, they'll bring you a suicide
So you had a guy years ago, where he said he was going to kill himself, so they put him in
the CI, so the guy told one of the Lieutenants later on that night he was cool. The
Lieutenant gave the man a sheet and then they say the man hanged himself. That's what they
said. But by policy and by rule, nobody is supposed to have[any]sheets in[any]CI cell and
everybody know that, especially the Lieutenant, who's a supervisor. So that's their fault.
He was a mentally ill patient. That's on them. So of course you know when they write it
up, or they give the information to the public or his family, they[aren't telling
D: Absolutely. I'd like to add to that as well. One of the reasons why the number is
probably higher as well is they're dealing with medical neglect. So I'll give you an
example. I saw a guy that fell out of his seat. And the guard looked over the guy, but the
prisoner was the only one that responded and started to give the guy mouth to mouth
resuscitation. Well, come to find out the guy who was giving him resuscitation, his face
started turning blue. Five minutes later the nurse arrives, and they lean over and they
tell the guy and tell the officer they'd been giving mouth-to-mouth the wrong way. I
honestly sat there and saw them kill this man for that particular incident.
And we've also seen incidents where guys fall out, no medical treatment whatsoever. I
consider those direct murders, as well, of the state. When staff are failing to respond or
respond and say, "Oh, you're faking it, you're not having a heart attack," and you fall
out and die right there. We saw that happen several times as well. So this also would
account for why some of the prisoners would say that these numbers definitely would be
higher, after they are witnessing some people being allowed to die, the way that they're
being allowed to die.
If I can, I wanted to kind of backtrack on the question you asked earlier on cell phones.
D: First things first, I always have to understand the basic fundamental nature of today's
prison system throughout this nation is slavery. We understand that it's based on the 13th
Amendment of the United States constitution, we can't get around that. There's a profit
business, so it's all about profit, it's about the profit margin. That's what fuels the
numbers in the prisons across this nation. It's no different in the state of South Carolina.
Technology, with prisoners having access to communication, the phone business has lost
billions literally, in this state right here alone. Billions! They have put in certain
rooms in here, they've put these machines in called kiosks, they are getting no play. This
is where you're supposed to be able to send out literally something like text messages to
your people. They thought this was going to be a booming industry, nobody is using it.
This is a loss of revenue.
We have these same phone companies that are investing in the department of corrections,
literally for free, giving them equipment to find cell phones. Giving them equipment to
search our families at the front gate when they come in to visit us, giving them equipment
to monitor the gate areas. So they're giving them this. This wasn't just a free handout,
but this was because[they]need to make money,[they]need to get these phones out of the
system. That has always been understood.
Even now, I'm hearing that, even with the jamming equipment that Bryan Stirling is
requesting and supposed to have a hold of for Lee County right now, I think the company is
called "Tech something," I'm not really sure exactly, but my understanding is that the
parent company is GTL.
Jared: I heard that rumor as well.
D: So, I have to do my research on that,[but]this is definitely what I'm hearing. This is
all about business, this is all about money. The minute they can wipe out, it's like using
one stone to kill two birds at the same time. You kill that communication gap, that gap
where they've been reporting on, because most of the time, when they come out with a lot
of frivolous things, it's immediately refuted by us, by some pictures or some videos or
something. Saying, "No, this is what happened." This is unusual. This is something that's
very revolutionary,[a]very new generation in the prison system. They are not used to that;
they had all communications with media locked down.
Keep in mind, SCDC has a policy where we are not allowed to converse with the media unless
it's authorized by the South Carolina Department of Corrections. And I have a big beef
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Prison Slavery #August21
If you or your organization have not started sharing the strike to those you know
inside, what are you waiting for? Have you sent the demands to congress yet? Help us help
ourselves. #stoptheviolence against each
1:10 AM - Apr 30, 2018
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Gangs, Violence and Prison Work: "A Lose-Lose Situation"
Jared: Absolutely. So let's pivot a little bit because there's a lot of talk right now
about violence. So there's a couple of questions I wanted to ask related to that. One is,
what do you all see as the source of violence within prisons? And then the other one is
about gangs and this idea - because I think that people don't really think about this very
thoroughly - about why someone might join a gang in prison and why they might be even more
likely to join one in prison versus when they're out on the outside?
E: I would have to say dealing with the gangs... Well, I'm going to start first with what
the brother asked about what stimulates the violence. Me personally, I feel that the
violence is stimulated by the overt oppressive nature of the beast and what they're doing.
Like y'all already had mentioned, they're constantly taking[things]away and keeping us
confined to a box. And you take three or four different tribes, who normally may get
along, or see eye-to-eye on a business level or whatever the terms may be, but you put
them in a box and you don't separate them or give them anything to be... So you may know
that this area may be predominantly this culture, or that area may be predominantly that
culture, but I'm going to take them all and mix them up, just so I can make it confusing.
Because to me, it seems like they stir the violence up because that's the type of media
they need to put their spin on things.
Then it goes back to the[cell phones], and we come and tell the truth on the fact and
that's a problem for them, because they're going to say[the violence]is because of a cell
phone, or it's because of this and that. They're not going to sit there and tell you it's
because[they]keep oppressing us, and taking away from us, and not giving us any outlets to
do and be about positive things.
Nowadays, you got the tribes, or the "gangs" as some may say, coming up with positive
ideas to do and bring together and unify, despite what the police or the officers are
doing. They're steady trying to take away all our hope, but we still got brothers and
organizations coming together, still trying to rectify unity on a level where we don't
even have nothing to look forward to. So you can only imagine how discouraging it gets
when it's like we're striving to do so much better and so much greater but we're still
getting a foot on our neck. Me personally, that can ignite[drama]any time, any place, on
the street, in the penitentiary, wherever.
So I have to say, it's incited by them, themselves. I feel like they feel like, if enough
violence goes on, they can put their spin on it and they can basically - like my comrade
said - bring lock-up to the yard. They keep us locked down for nothing. Every little
thing, they blame it on[staff shortages]. They don't give us showers, they blame it
If an incident goes on, there's no officers there to protect anybody. That's another thing
about the gangs. Nowadays, you don't know, these young brothers might need protection.
They can't look at the officers and say these officers are going to protect me and keep me
safe. It ain't no such thing as that. You gotta fend for yourself back here. So I look at
that, that's another reason why people are joining these gangs like that. Not everyone,
but you can only imagine, you've got kids coming back here 16, 17, have nobody. You're
throwing them in here with[prisoners]in a maximum security prison with a 100
year[sentences]. You're going to have to have somebody or some type of way to get around.
Or some people just lose hope and just fall by the wayside, and just do whatever they've
got to do to get through, but you got some people that try. And to me, it's like sometimes
the gangs[are]a better outlet for them, because then they don't have to worry about people
taking advantage of them.
Because like I said, it's fend for yourself back here. It ain't like it used to be where
you had enough officers and stuff.[Back then], something might pop off, it might go down,
and it gets broken up and under control. Nah, now the officers are running the opposite way.
You might try to escape from being hurt, they'll lock you on the wings and cause your
death. That's exactly why they're trying to take these phones, because we're the ones who
are putting that out there and letting people know this is what they're doing. This man
live could've been saved, but the officers didn't do their job.
S: People aren't born criminals. They are criminalized by the environments they are
socialized within. United States Constitution's 13th Amendment is proof alone that the
mass amount of the warehousing of prisoners is not by accident. And even prisoners
convicted of violent crime or who may be involved in violent activities, they may one day
return to society still. People's cases can be overturned, some of these guys got max-out
dates, some may make parole. So wouldn't it be wise for them to be implementing programs
that would better the prisoners, not make them worse? They should want to heal anything
that they consider to be sick or whatever.
Society itself promotes and produces violence. People ain't getting like that in prison,
they're already like that out there. Television, movies, video games, comic books,
novels, cartoons alone. They are indoctrinating this psychological behavior. They're doing
that out there in society.
Like the brother said, some of these guys that are locked-up in here are juveniles. That's
a learned behavior, they weren't born violent. And in regards to the survival thing, we
create our own means of survival, because the state don't provide us with adequate
supplies of anything. They give us one roll of tissue a week. One roll a week, that's it.
It's 15-18 hours between meals in here sometimes. That's just reality.
Only prison industries workers get paid for working. Everybody else's work is free labor.
But we're looking at these other prisoners going to work, knowing that they're getting a
paycheck, they even file taxes. They can pay child support and provide for their families
on it. All prisoners should get paid for all work, not just prison industries.
They're making millions of dollars off federal prisoners and state prisoners across the
country through prison industries. That's facts.
D: Very true. Most prisoners, when they come to prison, come with the mindset that they
want to get themselves together, and I think a lot of people miss that right there. Even
the ones that are labeled violent-and when I hear people say "violent," we have to be
careful with that term. Because a lot of times people are using this term "violent," and
we're seeing politicians saying "well, we're not going to be supporting violent
offenders." It's a new theme now, where we just promote policies[that benefit]non-violent
offenders. And that kind of sickens me because, at the end of the day, who determines
what's violent? Who determines what's a violent offender? To me, that's a bunch of people
making up these laws, and they determine what's violent and what is not. And a lot of
times people have non-violent offenses and these are straight up violent offenses in my
eyes. You know, so I'm very careful with that term non-violent versus violent offenders.
The people that they want to categorize and label as violent offenders for the most part,
these brothers and the women that come into prison, they come in with the mindset that
they want to do the right thing. I think the minute they enter through those gates, and
the minute they begin to observe their surroundings, they begin to recognize immediately,
that any change they wanted to do, they don't need to do it, because they're going to be
perceived a certain way and they're going to be handled a certain way, you know, and it's
going to be a lose-lose situation for them. And people have to really understand that
humans are entering through these gates and becoming prisoners, and in the process of
that, the environment back here is making it worse. It is creating something in these
prisoners that is a lot worse than when they came in for a lot of these guys and women.
Because, once again, they may have done some terrible things out there, but for the most
part, when they start going through and they recognize the days ahead of them, they want
to change, they want to do something different. Hell, I know I was about that when I came
in here until I went through the reception and evaluation center, and saw it wasn't going
to work out that way.
That is another reason why some people want to group up. Some people want family back here
as well. I like to call them street formations[as opposed to using the term gang]. A lot
of times, people need someone that can look out and care for their best interests, too.
Not just in the protection role, but also somebody that gives a damn, because the system
is so cold. So when you're sitting back here, and you're drinking, you're smoking, you're
dabbing, you're talking about your loved ones with your homeboy there, that's a different
feeling versus when you can get outside that cell and you're looking at the prison itself,
and the environment itself, which is a cold place.
So everybody looks for some sense of comfort, some sense of love, which is another reason
I think the prison system eliminating our contacts, our family ties, is really detrimental
to prisoners re-entering society successfully, but that's another subject.
S: Let me do a quick rebuttal on what he said on the non-violent versus violent offenders,
because I like what he said. Out there in society, when they're talking about what people
are incarcerated for-like if somebody is convicted for murder-that's considered to be a
violent offense. But that could've been a first time offense. And then he comes to prison,
he's been in prison for fifteen years, and he ain't never had another violent offense on
his record, he ain't never had a violent offense in prison, he's not involved in any
violent activity[on the inside], so why is he still considered to be a violent person?
Just because he's got a violent charge on his record, that don't mean that he's indulging
in violent activities. Because sometimes, the people in prison that have non-violent
charges, sometimes they're the ones involved in violent activities back here.
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Prison Slavery #August21
NATIONAL PRISON STRIKE: Taking a pause to thank all the reporters that are picking up
the prisoners strike for August 21. A system is being worked to ensure all are being
responded to timely. Its important prisoners voices are amplified #burntheprisons
11:55 PM - Apr 25, 2018
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Race and Sentencing: "Modern Day Plantation"
Jared: Lee Correctional Facility is named after the county, Lee County. And that county is
named after Robert E. Lee. So you have a Confederate General and a former slave owner and
you have a facility that is in his name, that really, as you all have mentioned, really
carries on that same tradition into 2018. To what degree do you think this registers with
prisoners? What does it mean to prisoners that make that connection?
D: And when did Lee open up, 1994?
Jared: Yeah in that era.And just to give a little more context, the county was first
named Lee County in the 1890's after Reconstruction had ended.
S: My only response to that is that the prisoners, who were probably from the Bishopville
area who may have had that information through the educational system, or conscious
prisoners who read and research things-those prisoners might be aware of that, but for the
vast majority of prisoners, that don't have any significance to them because most of them
are not aware of that.
D: I would have to second that. I don't think prisoners for the most part have any
awareness of that. Matter of fact, to be honest with you, as much reading as I have done,
as much cultural reading as I have done, I was very ignorant of that up until very
recently, up until the last several weeks. I just learned this information.
As far as the effect, I can tell you for me, personally, it says something about progress
and where we were at mentally. When this prison came about, I think between ‘92 and ‘94,
for you to still name a prison after that during that time period... Although, don't get
it wrong, we all know a prison is nothing more than a modern day plantation. So we
understand that fact, so really it's quite fitting. But still, it would seem you wouldn't
want to name one of your state institutions after this right here. It seems like someone
would raise their hand and say, "No."
I think that also tells me, as a Black man, how conditioned a lot of Black people are
around in these southern areas as well. Because I'm sure that they knew what the Lee
County name stood for, what the name represented. The ones that voted in this particular
institution in that area, the ones that were saying it would hold this name, they knew,
and they didn't say anything.
This is the type of mindset we're dealing with in the state of South Carolina today, which
is why I'm constantly reminding people we have the highest rate as it relates to racial
disparities in the nation. We are in the top six or seven states as far as racial
disparities as it relates to sentencing and imprisonment rates in the nation. I think
we're only like 20-30 percent of the population in South Carolinaand over 60-something
percent of the prison population.
They did a recent study not too long ago that told us that Black people specifically were
being automatically over-sentenced by judges. It said if you were Black, you were 50 times
more likely to get jail time for a minor offense versus if you were any other race. If you
were compared to white defendants, you were over 70 percent more likely to be sentenced to
longer sentences, based on your race.Everybody knows the color of the state of South
Carolina when you walk into the prison system. I think all of this is an indicator of the
nature of the beast that we are dealing with.
And I have to note that, even when South Carolina was going through their Reconstruction
phase, all of these same Blacks that were a part of the Reconstruction phase were
eventually thrown out of power, and that's because there was a compromise between the
North and the South. And we have to always remember that right there. That's when we get
back to 1865, that's when we get back to the 13th Amendment, that constitutional amendment
and the compromise that was reached across the table. The power dynamics in the South has
never changed. And I think we're seeing the rottenness of it in today's times. That's why
I think we're seeing these extreme responses, these extreme reactions in the prison
systems throughout these southern states.
S: Every time prisoners do strive to organize, to come together to make things better for
themselves, the administration really doesn't give you much support or they attack you.
For example, one of my comrades, he recently had been released from prison over the last
year or so. He was housed at Lee County at one point and he was a coordinator on the compound.
He was able to organize over 150 members every week to come together positively, sit down
and have discussions, and things of that nature. Whenever there would be any type of
altercations or whatever, they would try to talk over things first and most often if they
couldn't, then they would handle it like men and knuckle it up. But there wasn't so much
knives, and people getting killed or stabbed up. All of that was calmed down for a while.
So you had the STG (Security Threat Group) supervisor from headquarters and he got with
the warden at that time, and they called him to a conference and they wanted him to
explain to them how is it that you could have Crips, Bloods, Muslims, etc., in the same
room every week and there's never any violence going on? The[STG]told[the warden]that[the
prisoners]were up to something, that's how they felt. And what did they do to[the prisoner
coordinating the program]? They shipped him to another institution.
When they moved him to another institution, they started to do things on the Lee County
yard from a program perspective. To make a long story short,[the coordinator]was
eventually sent home. While he went home, now you had other things popping off at other
yards, who didn't have these types of positive things going on. They moved these guys
around, piled all these guys up on one yard, all on one side, waited for one thing to
happen. Boom! You get the worst thing that happened in the last 25 years. That was
D: Yeah. Absolutely. And I think that's very important to note that, back to Lee County
very briefly, that all of this right here is not by accident. None of it is by accident.
That's the sad part about it.
S: Yeah, they were used as lab rats. One more thing with regards to laws and stuff like
that: a lot of times in South Carolina, people get convicted unjustly. And whenever
somebody discovers that-and it's something that affects a lot of prisoners-and they put it
into the courthouse and they pass a law or something on it, and they know they've done a
lot of wrong to a lot of people, but what they'll do is they'll slide a word in it so
that[it doesn't take effect]retroactively. Because if they had to[implement
it]retroactively, they'd have to let a lot of people go, because they convicted a lot of
people unjustly. They've been doing that for the longest.
Prison Slavery #August21
Black South Carolinians are over four times more likely to be imprisoned than white
5:10 AM - Apr 20, 2018
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Reforms and Abolition: "End the Dehumanizing Conditions"
Jared: So I want to give you all an opportunity to talk about change. What changes would
you like to see in the prison system? What changes do you think could improve the
situation? And then the second part of that is, what would you like to see people on the
outside do to support? But let's start with the first part.
D: So what changes would we like to see in the prison system?
Jared: Yeah. I know some of you are abolitionists, but what can be done for immediate
needs in terms of reforms.
D: Yeah, I'm always thinking about it as a dismantling process. I've been trying to push
that for a while. We call it a dismantling process. And that gives the opportunity for
other people to get in with their reform ideas, because I don't think we can go from one
angle all the way to the other angle, like from zero to a hundred, it's just not going to
happen like that. It is not going to play out like that.
Nonetheless, some of the things that I feel can actually improve. Improvement. First and
foremost, sentencing. Sentencing reform in the state of South Carolina. It's not just
sentencing reform in the state of South Carolina, it's actually sentencing reform across
the nation. They need to get rid of that Truth-In-Sentencing deal, period.
We need an end of dehumanizing conditions, and that means food improvement. We need open
yards again, not just enclosed rec yards, we need these open rec yards again, where
prisoners can move. We need prisoners to start being treated like humans. We need more
rights to our visits. We need education programs, I'm a big one on education programs, in
particular Pell Grants, there's some other names, they need to be brought back to the
prison systems again.
Not only that, but what the state of South Carolina did as the prison population fell
they-instead of closing down the maximum security prisons, they closed down their work
releases. We need work releases re-opened back up and expanded. Then we need one last
thing: we need pay. We need prisoners to be able to be paid for their labor. If you're
doing general labor, you need to be able to be paid for that labor, just the way it comes
in at ending prison slavery. We need to end prison slavery, which I think is a trigger
toward abolitionist work. But nonetheless, we need to end prison slavery to bring back a
lot of these prisoners getting paid their wages. So I think those are immediate things
that can be improved on. Was there another question beyond that?
The reason for prison riots is simple. When states reduce prison staffs, and otherwise
cut costs, conditions of confinement get more dangerous. Lee Correctional Institution in
South Carolina riot a cautionary tale
4:46 PM - May 2, 2018
Bloodied bodies stacked in a prison yard: What happens when states slash prison spending
Fatal riot indicative of nationwide surge, but South Carolina prisons are among the
cheapest in the nation for taxpayers and deadliest for inmates.
31 people are talking about this
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Jared: The second question was, what can people on the outside do that actually care about
the situation, care about the conditions of prisoners, care about what's going on in South
D: On the outside right now, one of the biggest things we're moving into in particular in
Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, we need to move into becoming more involved in the electoral
process, in particular local politics. We need to become more involved in that. We're
hoping that our loved ones outside that support us, we need to organize more ground
support as it relates to prisons. We need to see more protests, we need to see more
meetings with these directors, we need to see more organizing at state capitols. We need
to see more support of what has already been initiated on the ground in the state of South
We need to figure out how to get our local county jails and get people who are detained
there registered to vote, and get the voting machines into these county jails, and get
these prisoners the ability that they can have the vote. The problem with state of South
Carolina is it's a good-old-boy system, and we need to change the face of it. And the only
way we're going to be able to change it is we have to get more involved in the electoral
process, but not just voting for a Democrat or Republican or Independent or whatever, but
voting for people that have prisoner's best interests. Every group of people have
interests and we have to find people that have our interests at heart.
E: I really agree with what D said, that's all I was really going to say, really, about
sentencing reform, more programs, even the better nutrition, and rec, let us get some
physical exercise and more education.
S: I think we also need an outside grievance system. Because the grievance system is
definitely not fair or impartial back here. The same people that work for the prison are
the same people who are deciding if we should get results or not from our grievances.
Everything else I think the brother already covered. But I also want to say for society,
to them let he who has not sinned cast the first stone. Prisoners, some of us in here,
have made mistakes and some of us did the things we did, but we made mistakes. But we have
paid for our mistakes. Show some humanity. That's what we want society to do is show some
D: One last note that I wanted to add, the ground is vibrating right now for a national
strike August 21st throughout the nation. We have a number of states that are already
vowing to participate in this national strike, particularly in support of the state of
South Carolina and the recent issues that just happened. They say South Carolina is an
example of what's actually occurring throughout the nation. It just so happened that these
particular people died here[at Lee Correctional]so they want to get in the back of this
right here and they want to highlight it by mobilizing throughout the inside.
So we can ask those folks to support it on the outside, we need to support it on the
outside to really support these actions. Let the people know that wherever prisoners may
decide to have a strike or a sit in that the public is mindful and they are watching for
any type of retaliatory actions that may take place throughout the process of this
resistance that may be taking place across this nation, on August 21st.
Jared: Great, absolutely, is there anything else anyone wants to add about Lee or any of
the other points where we might have missed something?
E: I would just like to add that in the aftermath of the incident that happened over at
Lee, and all over the state, we're being massively punished. No showers, power is being
cut off all this time, we've been locked down for a week, almost going on two weeks, and
we've only had one shower and that was like, they cut the hot water off. What type of
inhumane thing is that?
Jared: Are there other conditions you want people to know about since the incident at Lee
that haven't been addressed?
S: One of the things is they have the metal plates on the window where you can't see
outside, you can't see the sunlight, you can't see the grass or the daylight. They got it
sealed out where you can't get no oxygen through it, the ventilation is all messed up,
these are things that they just recently did. They're putting flaps on the doors so you
can just slide the meal through it. They are animalizing the prisoners.
Jared Ware is a freelance writer and advocate for the rights of incarcerated peoples. He
is also the producer of the prison abolitionist podcast Beyond Prisons, and co-host and
co-producer of the anti-capitalist podcast Millennials Are Killing Capitalism. You can
reach him on Twitter at @jaybeware
Truth In Sentencing Laws were part of a national movement in the mid-nineties to end
parole and increase the length of prison sentences, as well as ensuring that offenders for
certain offenses served at least 85% of their sentences. Although it was a national
movement, here are some details about South Carolina's laws:
According to Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, "state pay" was a system where the state paid
every prisoner, for example, $5.45 an hour for up to 18 hours every two weeks. It was
enough to buy real hygiene products, a few snacks, and smokes. Prison officials took it
away during the national changes that were rolled out in the mid-nineties.
It opened up in 1993 according to SCDC http://www.doc.sc.gov/institutions/lee.html
27.5% according to the most recent US Census
Black people represent 62% of the prison population in South Carolina, despite
representing roughly 28% of the state population.
This may not be the study D is referencing, but here is a study that talks about
disparities in sentencing in South Carolina and other states:
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