These slightly edited comments are from a Dec. 10 webinar organized by the Prisoners Solidarity Committee of Workers World Party. Swift Justice is currently incarcerated within the Alabama Department of Corrections system. For more on prison stoppage by the Free Alabama Movement, see Workers World, Dec. 4.
Co-moderator Devin C.: What is the Free Alabama Movement? Some have deemed the Alabama prisons as the most inhumane in the U.S. Can you shed some light on some of the conditions there? Why is it important for people on the outside to show solidarity with these imprisoned workers’ January month-long work stoppage and economic blackout?
Swift Justice: I personally wouldn’t sit there and try to gauge how inhumane one prison is over another prison in the United States. Any prison that has any human rights violations is inhumane; it’s all equal in our eyes. The issue here in Alabama is that for so long society in Alabama — they just cherish the fact that individuals come to prison and are basically tortured and treated like animals.
The main frame of the “free society” is that “you should have thought about that before you did the crime, so you do the time.” The thing about that is every prison system that exists that has any kind of human rights violations, treating us as animals instead of human beings, is deplorable, just deplorable, and it’s an injustice.
Here in Alabama, we have seen over and over, and all throughout the years, overcrowding. Overcrowding is one of the leading factors why we have issues inside the prison such as violence and the unjustified deaths by overdoses and by natural causes as well. When you have overcrowding, you are heightening diseases, you’re heightening the issues of mental health — and you’re heightening every aspect of any prison reform that people are fighting against today.
It’s really indescribable here. Guys live in filthy areas; they live in areas that are just inches away from another man. And with this coronavirus epidemic, it is even worse — the denial of mental health and denial of medical treatment.
You would not have this [outside] in what we call “the free world.” So why would you have us sitting like this, but you call it rehabilitation?
Devin C.: This month of economic blackout and strike will cut right through a very important moment. On Jan. 20, we will see a transition of U.S. power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden. Neither of them is committed to prison abolition. Now that Biden has won under the guise that he is a progressive alternative to Trump, how will the Free Alabama Movement move forward to appeal to people to embrace prison abolition and not reform?
Swift Justice: I don’t think our focus is on Biden, as much as it is on society for real. Because one thing about Biden, we already know Biden’s history. Nobody that is calling themselves a prison reformer, a prison abolitionist, a slavery abolitionist, is ignorant to the fact that Biden wrote the 1994 crime bill — which was a huge contributor to the overcrowding all over the U.S. in the federal prisons and adopted in the states.
Our focus is, we’re just going to keep moving forward. There’s nothing that’s gonna stop us from doing what we’re doing. We are dealing with the 13th Amendment itself [allowing slave labor in prisons] in a joint resolution that’s being processed through the Congress very soon, and the Department of Justice is suing the Alabama Department of Corrections.
Joe Biden, if anything, he’ll be the one who vetoes any changes. And he will not make any changes personally; the presidential powers don’t exist to that point. So we have to rely on those people that we have put these legacies in. And it’s looking good; it’s really looking good right now. Bernie Sanders has been pushing. And, being that Bernie Sanders is actually sponsoring the bill to remove the exception clause out of the 13th Amendment, it speaks volumes [to what the movement has done] because you got to remember, Bernie Sanders also voted for the 1994 crime bill.
Finally, this is all nothing but fuel to the fire. I mean, this should give spark to anybody who is in prison. As we’ve always said, this has been a fight from the inside out, not just an outside fight. We are not going to sit back! We know as freedom fighters that nobody is going to be the “knight in shining armor.” We cannot depend on any elected official to do that.
We know that we’re going to have to fight for ourselves. In order to save us, we have to save us.