Bad men try to do a little good working from inside Alabama’s dysfunctional prison system.
“People don’t go to Holman.” This is the local sentiment that prevails around Alabama’s most notorious prison.
“The Holman Correctional Facility houses Death Row inmates and is the only facility in the state that carries out executions.” –Alabama Department of Corrections
Holman is the place where the worst of the worst from South East U.S. prisons go. These offenders have committed multiple murders, many of which have occurred within other prisons. This is the downward spiral. In a system that is bent on breaking the human spirit, where violence and corruption run hand-in-hand, some spirits refuse to be broken. These are the prisoners of Holman.
The dehumanization of prisoners within the US prison system has lead to human rights violations and abuses across the board. Conditions in most U.S. Prisons are dismal at best. In Alabama they dip even more.
Overcrowding, forced labor, and profiteering from prison labor are the standards under which most American prisons operate. However, in Alabama, the list includes unsanitary and dangerous conditions, as well as human rights violations that have been documented at Tutwiler prison. If news from one women’s prison eventually got out, we can only imagine the far worse conditions that male prisoners in Alabama must face.
Introducing the Free Alabama Movement, a coalition of men and women incarcerated in Alabama, and their supporters.
Through the use of smuggled cell phones, prisoners have been documenting some of the conditions inside Alabama’s so-called ‘correctional facilities.’ These videos began to appear on the F.A.M. YouTube channel in January. I encourage you to check them out. Some of the complaints might seem trivial to outsiders, but other stories that unfold in these videos are truly tragic, while others are purely unethical.
Prisoner spokesman Melvin Ray claims to have been in solitary since January due to his attempts to organize a peaceful strike inside the St. Clair prison. This has all lead to another proposed strike within St. Clair, Holman, and Elmore ‘correctional facilities,’ as well as outside demonstrations
“to support the non-violent and peaceful protest for civil and human rights for the men and women in Alabama’s prisons.”
F.A.M. hopes to shed light not only on the unlivable conditions inside the prisons, but also the general situation of…
“the mass incarceration and targeting of black youth, sentencing and parole reform, free labor, and long-term incarceration without affording any opportunities for education, rehabilitation, and re-entry programs.”
Because of prevailing sentiment from voters that “people don’t go to Holman,” it is easy to understand the lack of response from Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley. Another factor that could be influencing his closed mouth approach is the controversy that previously surrounded the Tutwiler Women’s Prison, and the overall failure of the Alabama prison system.
In another branch of government, Sen. Cam Ward, who has run unopposed since 2006, argues on Twitter against these protests. He starts with,
“So (a) murderer demands better wages using his illegal phone – Ah no – We don’t want to be slaves for (the) system.”
and then moves to…
“Constitutional rights should be protected for everyone but a murderer complaining about decent wages is nonsense.”
Sen. Ward conveniently ignores any of the other issues that F.A.M. is pointing out in order to quickly dismiss the situation. He is trying to appease his voters and secure his re-election by responding to dehumanizing sentiment, but what else is his investment in the prison system? In May, he will lead an investigation into reforming the prison system. One of the reforms will be hiring The Moss Group for almost 500,000 U.S.D. to train prison staff how to use one million dollars worth of cameras to be installed in Tutwiler prison. As well as identifying trends in investigation of reports of abuse at Tutwiler.
That is all well and good for one prison, and one rights violation within its walls. However, this does not really address any of the broad reaching concerns that affect the prison system from sentencing all the way to the hell of Holman. This is not prison reform; this is a pipe patch on a sinking ship.
Part of the problem seems to be that private manufacturers moved their facilities into the prison system in 2012. Prior to 2012 the state was making millions off of prison labor to help balance the cost of incarceration. Yet in 2013, the state began to lose money on their prisons. How does this happen? We take a profitable system (though still not very ethical) of prison labor, turn that system over to privatization where the prisoners were supposed to make a prevailing wage, and the prison would recoup the cost of accommodation and food from those wages. Then the whole system starts operating at a substantial loss. What went wrong? Now we have protesting prisoners in a prison industrial system that is losing money. Where did the money go? New cameras? No, those million dollars are coming from the pockets of Alabama’s taxpayers, Sen. Ward and Gov. Bentley’s constituents.
Please take some to time to educate yourself about the plight of Alabama’s prisoners and help spread the word that the US prison system is in desperate need of radical reform.
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Photo: Dave Martin/AP