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Florida Prisoners 'Laydown' in Non-Violent Protests

by Dale Chappell

In early 2018, Florida prisoners began a "laydown," a non-violent protest about prison conditions and unpaid "slave labor." The laydowns are to last as long as necessary to get the point across.

Supported by the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee ("IWOC"), the laydown entails a work stoppage, a boycott against commissary, and other forms of "non-participation." IWOC and Operation PUSH, another prisoner support group, stress that the protests are peaceful, and are designed as an economic impact on the prison system.

On of the key factors is that Florida prisoners are required to work without any pay, which some have likened to "slave labor," with the prison system legally enslaving people under the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which allows for unpaid work as punishment. Prison officials claim that they are "rehabilitating" prisoners, but as one prisoner said, "slavery does not teach one work ethic nor how to be free."

 Instead, prisoners are forced to hustle just to get basic necessities, such as toilet paper and soap. The prison system is teaching prisoners to become thieves and predators, some say, rather than rehabilitating them. On top of that, the prisoners and their families are gouged by sky-high commissary prices and phone rates.

The public has shown its support of the prisoners by holding demonstrations at several prisons, including the Department of Corrections' lobby in Tallahassee, which ended in arrests on charges of alleged property damage and resistance. Yard signs also have been distributed to citizens.

Prison officials have responded to protests by locking down all of its prisons, after a Washington, D.C., prisoner rights march in August, and retaliating against prisoners who communicate with groups supporting the laydown, calling them a "security threat." Officials have also shut off prison phones and placed prisoners on "close management" status, a solitary confinement unit to control prisoners' communications with the outside world.

Prisoners' demands are not unrealistic, though. They are asking to be paid for their work; reasonable commissary prices; reinstatement of parole and incentives to reduce sentences for good conduct, besides the current gain time scam; and the end to brutality by officers, which has caused the highest death rate in prison history; and safer prisons not built on toxic waste dumps.


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