News   /   Human Rights   /   Viewpoint

America’s overflowing prison population fights back

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US authorities’ crackdown on prisoners during the fast-growing COVID-19 pandemic is putting inmates on edge amid concerns that the so-called correctional facilities are acting as petri dishes for the novel coronavirus.

By Desmond Abrams

“This is what happens when COS (correction officers) want to try to do us wrong, knowing that they got this disease going around. And they are giving it to us. And they want to sit us in here and we can’t do nothin’! They won’t let us take showers and they turned the water off. They won’t let us do anything. They’re denyin’ us food. We’re tired of talking. We gotta do something! We gotta do this!”

This account comes firsthand from an inmate in Lansing Correctional Facility in Kansas. The grainy cellphone footage shows incarcerated people screaming, running back and forth, and smashing the institution’s command centers and offices for roughly 18 minutes before the footage, now circulating on social media, goes dark. The footage gives Americans outside the prison walls a grim look into the conditions of just this one of America’s archaic prison institutions since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, uprisings like what we’ve seen in Lansing should be of no surprise to anyone. Oppressed and exploited people always fight back and the United States prison population (the largest in the world and comprised almost primarily of Black and indigenous people) is no exception to this common rule of humanity. When pushed to the brink, when facing certain death people fight back.

Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis in North America, the United States has seen itself split wide open. Disparities from race and class have once again proven to be a cruel decision maker of who lives and who dies. This has of course crushed many Americans generally predatory and individualistic ideas of worthiness, who is and isn’t deserving of protection and safety, role of government, etc.

But as frightening and upending as the pandemic (and the US government’s total ineptness battling the virus and economic fallout from it) has been for people on the outside; the crisis happening in the prisons is even more drastic. The prison industrial complex has been a shadowy, secretive apparatus within the US for a long time. Like always the institutions that are supposed to care for the people they’ve separated from community are not being forthcoming with the friends and families of incarcerated people about conditions within the jails and prisons that house about 2.3 million of our loved ones.  From Riker’s Island in NYC (where 2 inmates have died and another 304 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19), to Cook County Jail in Chicago (where inmates have started to refuse regular meals and demand release on bond, increased access to calls with family, and cleaner conditions among other necessities) the crisis behind the concrete and steel curtains of America’s prisons have raised the stakes for an already fraught and exploited class of people. 

This exploitation, like what we saw from New York state governor Andrew Cuomo bragging about the state making a hand sanitizer product made from cheap prison labor, or the brutality of intentional neglect as seen in Parchman Penitentiary in Mississippi where uprisings were commonplace even before the pandemic, will continue until the United States abolishes this cruel and racist prison system. Until then we should all expect to hear and even see more (thanks to the internet) acts of righteous resistance from imprisoned people trying to survive this injustice and be reunited with their families and loved ones. What happened in Lansing will happen again and it will be no one’s fault but the political class who intentionally looked away as the prison industrial complex swallowed our people whole and the jailers blindly following cruel and inhumane orders from a natural destructive and terrible apparatus.

America has two choices. Free these people they've stolen from our communities. Release them all not now, but right now! Or sit back and wait for more carnage to unfold on grainy cellular footage.

Desmond Abrams is a Black American community organizer and anti-racist strategist. He is the founder and executive director of Brothers Doing Better, a US-based racial and social justice organization. He wrote this article for Press TV website.

(The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Press TV.)


Press TV’s website can also be accessed at the following alternate addresses:

Press TV News Roku