On December 16th, 15 prisoners working in the kitchens at Central Prison, in Raleigh, sat down on the job in protest of the hours, lack of gain time, and working conditions. Prisoners in these kitchens are made to work ten hours a day, seven days a week. The strikers refused to go back to work until questions were answered regarding their hours and gain time. Instead of addressing their concerns, the head kitchen corrections officer told the men to, “get [their] sorry asses back to work,” and called in for backup. This is the same facility where a scandalous media report on conditions in the mental health ward forced Warden Branker into early retirement.
Despite the peaceful nature of the protest, guards soon came and threatened the men into returning to work. Eight of the men, however, continued to refuse to work until their questions were asked. These men were charged with “disobeying a direct order” and “work refusal,” and placed in solitary cells. Just a few days ago, the men were given an abrupt disciplinary hearing, in which they were railroaded into I-Con (Intensive Control) as punishment. I-Con is an intensive form of segregation, typically 23 hours a day in a small solitary cell, with few if any resources available, constantly censored mail, and little recreational activity. Sentences on I-Con often last 6 months or longer. One prisoner wrote about the hearing, “I tried to plead my case to the hearing officer, but it didn’t matter. She didn’t even listen. It was already pre-arranged what the outcome would be. It amazes me what Central Prison gets away with. They don’t even care about policy. They do what they want.”
The men who refused to return to work are calling themselves the “Strong 8,” and have been in touch with outside support groups to spread news of and ask for solidarity in their struggle. It is clear that the attempt to isolate and repress these men’s strike is an effort to intimidate any efforts at organizing on the inside before they start. The struggle to get these men off of solitary is about more than just the freedom of these 8 men – it is about the use of solitary confinement as a tool for political intimidation, prisons as a form of forced labor, and the “new jim crow” of the contemporary prison-industrial complex.
Outside supporters are initially calling for several different approaches to get these men off solitary. First, there will be a mass call-in day to both the prison warden and the NC Director of Prisons on Wednesday, March 14th. This is being heavily publicized both regionally and nationally – we’re hoping that those who are too far away to attend demonstrations will help out in other ways. The contact information for these call-in days is below:
Central Prison Warden Ken Lassiter
ph:(919) 733- 0800
fax: (919) 715-2645
NC Director of Prisons Robert C. Lewis
ph: (919) 838-4000
fax: (919) 733-8272
Second, there will be a demonstration outside of Central Prison, at 1300 Western Blvd. Raleigh, NC 27606, on Sunday March 25th at noon. We encourage people to bring signs, banners, and drums and noisemaking devices of all kinds. The prisoners have explicitly asked for some banners and signs to read, “Free the Strong 8 Kitchen Workers” and “Fire Mr. Rice.” The protest will be during visiting hours, so we hope to directly spread word of support for the strike throughout the inside via family members, as well as increase pressure on the administration to return the men to general population.
Thirdly, we are asking for people to conduct a massive media and internet outreach campaign around this strike and the subsequent punishment of the workers. Administrations get away with this kind of thing in part by sweeping news of any and all prison resistance under the rug, so that family, friends, affected communities, and other prisoners don’t hear about it. Please spread news of this struggle by any and all websites, newspapers, radio stations, and other media outlets you can think of.
The struggle to get these men off solitary won’t stop with these small actions; this is likely just a beginning. It goes without saying that any and all acts of solidarity and support are encouraged. We will continue to post and send out more information as it is available, both from the inside and outside. To see the original post of the story and find future updates, you can go to prisonbooks.info.
Until Every Cage is Empty,
Against Prisons and the Society that Builds Them,
an ad hoc coalition of groups and individuals supporting the Strong 8