Alabama inmates participating in what has been called the largest prison strike in American history claim to have received support from a very unexpected source: their guards.
Alabama's Department of Corrections confirmed this week that that nine prison officers at Holman Prison failed to report for their Saturday evening shift. Their absence, an advocacy group claims, is a sign of solidarity with an ongoing inmate work stoppage taking place across the United States to protest forced prison labor.
Per a statement from the Free Alabama Movement, one of the organizing groups behind for the nationwide prisoner strike:
Last night at Holman prison an emergency situation developed as ALL of the officers assigned to the second shift waged a historic work strike for the first time in the history of the Alabama Department of Corrections.
Assistant Commissioner Grantt Culliver was dispatched to the prison, where he then had to order supervisors from another prison, Atmore CF, to report to Holman prison just to be able to serve meals.
The statement goes on to explain that the officers allegedly "expressed their support for non-violent and peaceful demonstrations against the human rights conditions" in the prison. It also claims the officers listed their own grievances, including prison overcrowding, and the need for better rehabilitation programs.
Holman, a 1000+ capacity facility opened in 1969, is home to a wide range of inmates, and is Alabama's sole site for executions. According to a report from AL.com, approximately 65 inmates there engaged in a 24-hour work stoppage on the opening day of the strike, during which one group stopped meals in the kitchen, while another refused to print license plates in the facility's "tag plant."
A state Department of Corrections official confirmed the officers' September 24 absence to AL.com, but refrained from connecting their missed shift with the strike.
"Prison officials are acknowledging that nine officers did not report for the facility's third shift on Saturday. In response, and as standing operating procedure, officers from other ADOC facilities were assigned to the shift to augment the security staff," DOC spokesperson Bob Horton told the site in a statement.
He later explained that while "most officers" assigned to the skipped shift were back on the job the following day, "at no time did the officers state that they were participating in a strike, nor did they express any demands or grievances."
I have reached out to the Alabama Department of Corrections for comment, and will update this story with their response.
The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee—another group helping organize the national work stoppage—tweeted that while the guards in question were not members of IWOC, they did coordinate their absence with the Free Alabama Movement.
The group also extended an invitation to other prison officials to join the coalition behind the prisoners' strike.
In audio which the Free Alabama Movement said was a "first hand" account from inside Holman, an man identifying himself as Kinetik Justice explains that: "No officers came to work. They completely bugged on the administration. No more will they be pawns in the game. High time it’s going down."
A series of tweets—cited by Buzzfeed as coming from the same man—expands on the audio message posted by the FAM.
The strike officially began on September 9—the anniversary of the 1971 Attica prison uprising—as a coordinated effort against unjust prison labor conditions. In federal facilities, for example, all medically able inmates are required to work in areas such as food service, groundskeeping, or mechanical and plumbing maintenance, earning just 12 to 40 cents per hour for their efforts.