On May 10, 2018, drumbeats echoed and faux “blood” flowed through the parking lot at the Nashville, Tennessee headquarters of CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), as activists staged dramatic street theater to represent the sorrow, suffering and deaths of prisoners at the hands of the for-profit prison operator.
“Over the past decade, this protest, outside of CCA’s shareholders meeting, has become an annual event,” said Jane Hussain, an organizer with the Nashville Peace and Justice Center. “But this year there was a mood of increased desperation and fury over the continued growth and increasing injustices of America’s incarceration industry.”
The vocal crowd of demonstrators consisted of representatives from the Nashville Peace and Justice Center, Mercy Junction, Women of Faith Collective, Short Mountain community, Appalachia Antifa Airborne Division, Nashville Antifa, Nashville Anarchist Black Cross, Face to Face Knox, No Exceptions Prison Collective, and several other groups and individuals. The protesters erected a shrine as well as dozens of crosses, banners and cardboard tombstones to commemorate the names of people who have died in CoreCivic’s custody. Two former prisoners, “Chris H.” and the poet James Floyd, spoke to the crowd despite a sudden drenching downpour.
After a small contingent of activist shareholders – including Prison Legal News managing editor Alex Friedmann and Monte McCoin, social media director for PLN’s parent organization, the Human Rights Defense Center – entered CoreCivic’s headquarters to attend the shareholders meeting, the protesters moved into the parking lot and constructed a small cage to represent a jail cell. Rev. Jeannie Alexander, a former prison chaplain and director of the No Exceptions Prison Collective, and activist Patrick Bigg then sat inside the cage and refused orders to leave from CoreCivic’s private security guards.
When one of the guards attempted to intervene, protester Dami Feral doused him and the caged activists with faux “blood.” All three demonstrators were arrested on misdemeanor charges; Alexander and Bigg face criminal trespassing charges, while Feral was charged with assault. Volunteer legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild monitored the event and arrests.
When interviewed after her release, Alexander issued the following statement: “We do not recognize CCA property as legitimate private property. The property was acquired through the ill-gotten gains of slavery, torture, trauma and death. We find it ironic that CCA officials were so angry about our blood-soaked cage, when every single day their prisons create environments full of blood-soaked cages.”
Meanwhile, inside the meeting, Friedmann confronted the company’s board members about the disparity between the salaries of CoreCivic employees and those of the company’s executives, including CEO Damon Hininger, who made $2.37 million last year. [See: PLN, May 2018, p.56]. Friedmann asked whether CoreCivic has “any plans moving forward to address this wide gap between CEO compensation and median employee compensation,” given that low wages paid to the company’s workers result in high staff turnover rates and understaffing at CoreCivic facilities, which in turn contribute to higher levels of violence.
McCoin, who owns a single share of the company’s stock, addressed the lack of communication between CoreCivic and prisoners’ families, telling the board, “The most common question these families have is ‘Why won’t this company answer [their] questions.’ Why won’t prison officials communicate with them? After hearing their stories, I’m not here as a concerned shareholder anymore. I’m here as an outraged shareholder, and I want to know too.” Alas, CoreCivic CEO Hininger deflected both of those questions with corporate talking points rather than providing substantive answers.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the activist shareholders returned to speak with the protestors and provide a debrief of the events inside. Friedmann described how the meeting was all about profits and executive compensation, with no interest in the welfare of prisoners held in CoreCivic’s for-profit detention facilities. McCoin encouraged protestors to purchase a share of stock so they could attend the company’s next shareholders meeting in person.
Sources: www.wsmv.com, Nashville Peace and Justice Center, No Exceptions Prison Collective
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