As dawn broke on August 6, 2018, the light shone on a group of about two dozen protesters who had blockaded the main entrance to the Nashville, Tennessee headquarters of CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), the nation’s largest for-profit prison firm. Both entrances to the building’s parking garage were blocked, too. The peaceful demonstration continued for over eight hours and resulted in a response from nearly 70 Metro-Nashville police officers and the arrests of 19 participants on misdemeanor trespassing charges.
A small group of protesters joined hands through sections of pipe and laid down in front of one parking garage entrance, while the second entrance was blocked by demonstrators who had chained their hands into concrete-filled 55-gallon drums painted with slogans denouncing CoreCivic’s business practices. In a dramatic display at the main entrance to the company’s headquarters, protesters erected a 30-foot-tall tripod made of wooden logs, from which protester Julie Henry dangled in a sling.
A smaller group of community members and activists marched nearby holding signs and singing chants in solidarity with the demonstrators blockading the building.
The intent of the protest, as stated on a large banner hung during the event, was to place CoreCivic’s corporate headquarters on “lockdown.” And indeed, employees who showed up for work could not get in. Tombstones with the names of prisoners who died in CoreCivic facilities were lined up near the building’s entrance, and other banners read “Profit from pain is inhumane” and “How many kids have to be jailed before you care?”
The demonstration attracted generous media coverage, and the story eventually became breaking news both locally and nationally. Among those present covering the event were Alex Friedmann, PLN’s managing editor and a former prisoner who served six years at a CoreCivic-run facility in Tennessee, as well as Monte McCoin, social media director for the Human Rights Defense Center, PLN’s parent organization.
The demonstration was designed to draw attention to and condemn CoreCivic’s practice of incarcerating immigrant detainees, including families and children, and to protest the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policies, including the separation of children from their parents. An additional focus was the impact of prison privatization on both prisoners and their loved ones.
In a statement, Jeannie Alexander, director of the Nashville-based No Exceptions Prison Collective and one of the protestors who was arrested, said, “CoreCivic is a human rights disaster in our own backyard. For decades, CoreCivic has engaged in the business of tearing apart families and destroying communities as it has spurred the growth of the Prison Industrial Complex. They trade on human flesh and misery, and now their trade in human trafficking is visible to everyone as the world watches CoreCivic abuse and cage immigrant families for profit. Today activists and organizations from around the Southeast say no more. Today we move to abolish CoreCivic.”
Company spokesperson Amanda Gilchrist issued a rebuttal, saying, “While we know this is a highly charged, emotional issue for many people, much of the information about our company being shared by special interest groups is wrong and politically motivated, resulting in some people reaching misguided conclusions about what we do.”
There is no question, though, that CoreCivic holds contracts to house immigrant detainees, including women and children, in prison-like conditions; that some detainees have been sexually abused by CoreCivic staff; that detainees have died due to a lack of adequate medical care in CoreCivic facilities; and that the company is being sued for paying as little as $1.00 per day to detainees who perform “voluntary” work at the company’s immigration detention centers. [See: PLN, Aug. 2018, p.50].
Some of the organizations that participated in the August 6 demonstration included the Tennessee Poor People’s Campaign, No Exceptions Prison Collective, Industrial Workers of the World Asheville chapter, Knoxville Radical Alliance, Black Lives Matter Nashville, the Holler Network, and Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center. One of the protestors who was arrested, former CoreCivic prison guard Ashley Dixon, attended the event in her CoreCivic uniform.
Sources: Tennessean, www.wsmv.com, www.nashvillepublicradio.org, www.wmcactionnews5.com
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