December 9 – 15, 2010
In an unprecedented act of coordinated protest, prisoners in at least eight prisons in Georgia participate in the largest prison protest in U.S. history at the time. Coordinated by prisoners via contraband cell phones, the work stoppage transcends barriers of race, religion and gang affiliation and involves thousands of prisoners throughout the state. Prisoners refuse to leave their cells and perform their jobs and release a list of demands for improvement of their conditions.
The demands, issued via press release:
- A living wage for work: In violation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, the DOC1 demands prisoners work for free.
- Educational opportunities: For the great majority of prisoners, the DOC denies all opportunities for education beyond the GED, despite the benefit to both prisoners and society.
- Decent health care: In violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments, the DOC denies adequate medical care to prisoners, charges excessive fees for the most minimal care and is responsible for extraordinary pain and suffering.
- An end to cruel and unusual punishments: In further violation of the 8th Amendment, the DOC is responsible for cruel prisoner punishments for minor infractions of rules.
- Decent living conditions: Georgia prisoners are confined in over-crowded, substandard conditions, with little heat in winter and oppressive heat in summer.
- Nutritional meals: Vegetables and fruit are in short supply in DOC facilities while starches and fatty foods are plentiful.
- Vocational and self-improvement opportunities: The DOC has stripped its facilities of all opportunities for skills training, self-improvement and proper exercise.
- Access to families: The DOC has disconnected thousands of prisoners from their families by imposing excessive telephone charges and innumerable barriers to visitation.
- Just parole decisions: The Parole Board capriciously and regularly denies parole to the majority of prisoners despite evidence of eligibility.
One prisoner releases the following statement on behalf of the strikers:
“…Brothers, we have accomplished a major step in our struggle…We must continue what we have started…The only way to achieve our goals is to continue with our peaceful sit-down…I ask each and every one of my Brothers in this struggle to continue the fight. ON MONDAY MORNING, WHEN THE DOORS OPEN, CLOSE THEM. DO NOT GO TO WORK. They cannot do anything to us that they haven’t already done at one time or another. Brothers, DON’T GIVE UP NOW. Make them come to the table. Be strong. DO NOT MAKE MONEY FOR THE STATE THAT THEY IN TURN USE TO KEEP US AS SLAVES….”
Prisons impacted include:
- Augusta State Medical Prison, Augusta, Georgia
- Baldwin State Prison, Milledgeville, Georgia
- Hancock State Prison, Hancock County, Georgia
- Hays State Prison, Chattooga County, Georgia
- Macon State Prison, Macon County, Georgia
- Smith State Prison, Glennville, Georgia
- Telfair State Prison, Helena, Georgia
- Valdosta State Prison, Lowndes County, Georgia
According to some reports, the Georgia DOC claims to have locked down facilities to prevent a riot, but the prisoners insist that they locked themselves down.
Bruce Dixon with Black Agenda Report leads the coverage of the strike and the support following it. It is later picked up by larger media outlets, who emphasize the use of contraband cell phones. Elaine Brown, a former Black Panther leader and founder of the National Alliance for Radical Prison Reform in Locust Grove, Georgia acts as spokesperson for the strike. She also forms the Concerned Coalition to Respect Prisoners’ Rights for outside supporters. The Georgia Green Party is also an early supporter of the strike.
Some 15,000 Corrections Department staff oversee more than 55,000 prisoners in Georgia facilities, according to the state prisons website, which said one in 15 state residents is under correctional supervision of some kind.
Georgia prisons are under strain from a growing inmate population and from budget cuts, according to Sara Totonchi, executive director of the Southern Center for Human Rights which provides legal representation to inmates and advocates for prisoner rights.
The state has a higher percentage of its population in prison than most, Totonchi said. The overcrowded prisons have been triple-bunking their cells, she said.
Prison guards at some facilities respond to the strike with brutal violence, beating multiple prisoners nearly to death. In one instance, on December 31, 2010, prisoners Kelvin Stevenson and Miguel Jackson are restrained and beaten with a “hammer like object.” The incident is caught on video (below). In another case, seven guards at Macon State Prison are charged with beating prisoner Terrance Dean in the prison gymnasium, where there are no surveillance cameras. Dean is permanently disabled from the beating.
These prisoners are “dissappeared” off the block without any notification to other prisoners or their family, fueling fears that they had been possibly killed by the authorities. After days of pressure, the DOC finally informs family members that they were in the infirmary. The video is not released until family members gain access to it in August of 2013, as discovery in a lawsuit.
Following the strike, the Georgia DOC restructures their organization, creating a “Tier System” that more effectively isolates prisoner leaders and stymies future attempts to organize workstoppages or participate in future protest waves. They maintain a campaign of harassment targeting Kelvin Stevenson, Miguel Jackson and others for years for leading hunger strikes in the seg units.
“Prisoners Strike in Georgia“, New York Times, December 12, 2010.
“Prisoner Advocate Elaine Brown on Georgia Prison Strike: “Repression Breeds Resistance””, Democracy Now!, December 14, 2010.
“Inmates in Six Georgia Prisons on Strike for Third Work Day”, Libcom, December 14, 2010.
“GA Prison Inmate Strike Enters New Phase, Prisoners Demand Human Rights, Education, Wages For Work”, Black Agenda Report, December 15, 2010.
“Georgia Prison Strike: A Hidden Labor Force Resists”, Huffington Post, December 20, 2010.
“Seven Georgia guards face charges in wake of prison strike”, Reuters, February 22, 2011.
“Georgia inmates beaten with hammers during 2010 prisoners’ strike – new video released“, Libcom, August 30, 2013.
“Georgia Prisons ‘Out of Control,’ Rights Group Says, As FBI Brutality Probe Deepens”, Huffington Post, August 22, 2012.
“‘Lockdown for liberty!’ exposes prison conditions”, Final Call, December 14, 2010
“Georgia, USA, inmates strike for prison reform (“Lockdown for Liberty”), 2010″, Global Nonviolent Action Database, no date.
“Video shows alleged prisoner abuse”, CBS 46, September 24, 2013
“Georgia Prisoner Beaten with Hammer Fights for Justice”, SF Bay View, October 29. 2013
“Hunger Strike in protest of Conditions in Georgia Prisons Tier Program”, Atlanta Anarchist Black Cross, May 25, 2015