Rebellions Behind Prison Walls: Update on the 2016 prisoner strike and repression

In early 2016 the incarcerated freedom fighters of the Free Alabama Movement (FAM) put out a proposal for a coordinated national prisoner strike, the first of its kind. The date set for the national strike was September 9th, 2016, the 45th anniversary of the Attica Prison Uprising.  The strike was set to call attention to the uninhabitable living conditions of prisons across the country as well as the low wages paid to prisoners and other problems related to the dehumanization of incarcerated people. Some prisoners also wanted to draw attention to the larger structural problems in our society. One Michigan prisoner pointed out that “prisons are convenient for society because it’s where society hides all of its problems.”

Prisoners across Michigan organized to support the national strike and on the morning of September 9th prisoners did not show up to work at four different facilities. One of the largest actions in the country occurred at Kinross Correctional Facility in the Upper Peninsula. On the morning of September 10th prisoners organized a huge peaceful demonstration in the prison yard. When a team of riot police attacked the prisoners, the situation escalated into a battle in which the prisoners attempted to defend themselves from the violence of the police.

Brutal retaliation against the prisoners followed this action. At least 200 prisoners were rounded up, found guilty of “incite to riot,” transferred to facilities across the state, and put in administrative segregation, commonly known as solitary confinement. Most of their property, including legal documents, clothing, televisions, and other personal belongings acquired with great difficulty over many years, was destroyed or stolen.

Now, more than 7 months later, about 100 of those prisoners have finally been let out from solitary confinement and back into the general population.  This is a huge win, but it also means that more than 80 of the Kinross prison rebels are still in solitary. Some may remain there for another 17 months. These prisoners are being punished harshly and unfairly merely for their alleged participation in a peaceful demonstration against unlivable conditions.

As the struggle against the violence of prison continues, we can support those locked up with letters of support. These letters go a long way toward showing incarcerated people that there are others outside who care about their struggle and are paying attention. In the words of one Kinross rebel who was let out of solitary in early May, “I’m writing to you today to say thank you and all the others who have supported us… I’m going to end here because mushiness is not a good look in here, but for all you’ve done for us I guess I can sacrifice a little of my male bravado in the interest of honesty, realness, and gratitude! So again and many times over ‘thank you.’”

For more updates, resources, and analysis, as well as a list of Michigan prisoners seeking letters of support, check out Michigan Abolition and Prisoner Solidarity (MAPS)


This article originally appeared in Lansing’s Solidarity & Defense newsletter, No More Illusions. You can read more about this journal here.