This statement was issued by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, an organization of incarcerated activists fighting the brutal, racist prison system, to mark the one-year anniversary of the deaths of seven inmates at Lee Prison in South Carolina — an incident that led to the historic 2018 nationwide prison strike.
This April 15, 2019 will mark one year since the unnecessary and preventable deaths of 7 people.
Raymond Angelo Scott, Michael Milledge, Damonte Marquez Rivera, Eddie Casey Jay Gaskins, Joshua Svwin Jenkins, Corey Scott, and Cornelius Quantral McClary were allowed to be stabbed and die at Lee Prison in South Carolina. It is known as the incident with the worst number of prisoners’ deaths in a quarter of a century. These preventable deaths are what energized the inside (prisoners) to galvanize and issue a list of 10 demands and call a national prison strike. As prisoners, we have been saying for years it was only a matter of time before we would have a tragedy of that magnitude. The problems South Carolina prisoners faced are the same problems prisoners face nationally.
For years, prison police have been setting prisoners up to fight, or allowing them to fight. Lee Prison was no exception. In fact, Lee Prison went a step further by allowing these people to fight, rest, fight, rest, and bleed out. Not one South Carolina official has been held accountable. Instead, South Carolina officials have clamped down.
Prior to these people’s deaths at Lee Prison, prisoners were allowed out of their cells from 7 a.m. – 9 p.m. or 11pm. They were allowed access to outside rec time in a small enclosure daily if weather permitted.
Today prisoners at level 3 prisons are now on permanent lockdown status. A few units are allowed out of cell time for 4 hours a day. Others 1 hour. Others none. There is no recreation time to be noted. Food is brought to the cells.
Prison police are noted to be using a disproportionate amount of force. They are still allowing and setting up fights. Violence between cellmates is ignored, as the prison police do not want to open cell doors or they are not active in rounds, checking on prisoners’ well being.
South Carolina prisoners are suffering high suicide rate attempts. This depression is largely from the current inhumane conditions of confinement, including the blacked out cell windows or metal plates all blocking out natural sunlight. Job assignments are now only for the special program/privilege units on every level 3 that worked during the national prison strike. (We have reports that SCDC is now forming an additional privileged unit for work on every level 3).
To this day, SCDC prisoncrats have not offered any resources that would counter the current warehousing model. They have created an environment that ensures and reinforces violent behavior amongst the prisoners. And to be clear we are not talking about street organizations vs street organizations, but prisoners in general. The average violence in prisons is always caused by prisoncrats decisions.
April 12, 2019 on a Friday, South Carolina prisons were locked down statewide for emergency security reasons. It was noted by the prisoncrats that it was in relation to the upcoming anniversary date of Lee Prison deaths. Resistance that demands dignity is always bubbling under the surface. SCDC prisoncrats are well aware of this. While SCDC has been able to repress certain elements, no one should be surprised to wake up one day to hear prisoners as a whole are no longer complying. Do not believe for one moment that it happened for no reason.
Prisoners’ organizing efforts have not stopped. When it comes to the national prison strike 10 demands, we have witness progress on different fronts. We are forever thankful for those in the colleges and universities. We are thankful for those on the grassroots and revolutionary fronts. We are thankful to formerly incarcerated friends that stood up in unity because they personally knew our pain. We are thankful to the prison and slavery abolitionists. We are thankful to the reform groups and supporting media outlets. We are thankful to all that fearlessly go to the prisons and jails to demand accountability.
History was made by and through all these different groups’ collaboration. And history was made by how groups have picked up a prisoners’ strike demand as a focus point after the strike.
We are still calling on the people outside these razor wires to remember what happened in South Carolina, to reflect on the state of prisons in this nation, and, at a minimum, to stand with us nationally, as we demand prisoners’ human rights and dignity be respected, while pushing to dismantle the prison industrial slave complex. No one should be allowed to ignore the continuous business of slavery in this nation.
We may be in cages, we may be treated like animals; we may be tagged as second class citizens upon release, but we are still humans. Over 90% of us will one day be released. We only want to make it home with a sound mind and do what’s right.
We end by asking everyone to take a moment to remember every life lost within the prisons and jails, every life that was lost by street or prison police violence. Remember them. Let that be our motivation that change must come.
If you have not reviewed the national prison strike demands, please do. Help us to uplift the demands in every political circle. Give the history behind them. Thats the best way to contribute to the struggle and to ensure that what we have sacrificed has not been in vain.