The Adult Correctional Institution is located on a campus that once upon a time had a much more more productive use as part of the Pastore Complex in Cranston, site of hospitals that treated people with long-term illnesses and therefore also a place where people would learn as trainee nurses and doctors how to provide care. Yet now the property is the location of the ACI, the big house, that hole where lives are destroyed by a police-prison industrial complex that chews up and spits out folks who were born with the audacity to have brown skin or speak a different language.
On September 9, 2016, the Industrial Workers of the World’s Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) called for a nationwide prison labor strike, saying in this statement:
Prisoners from across the United States have just released this call to action for a nationally coordinated prisoner workstoppage against prison slavery to take place on September 9th, 2016. This is a Call to Action Against Slavery in America. In one voice, rising from the cells of long term solitary confinement, echoed in the dormitories and cell blocks from Virginia to Oregon, we prisoners across the United States vow to finally end slavery in 2016.
In coordination with this, the Providence IWW on September 10 held a demonstration of solidarity outside the multiple prison buildings at the ACI, reading on a megaphone the aforementioned statement and expressing words of solidarity and love for these workers, encouraging them to contact them and build a solidarity network.
From the moment I got out of my car, the guards were throwing what could be called only one thing, a terrible attitude. They were out in multiple cars surrounding and surveying the protesters, antagonistic and exhibiting symptoms of paranoia. Their behavior would be more befitting of an insurgency in a war zone and not a bunch of young radicals with noisemakers. This is indicative of how deeply insecure the carceral state is and how precarious their control of the prison population actually is.
The protesters moved from building to building on the campus, doggedly followed by a contingent of cars and also two National Lawyers Guild observers, carrying banners for the incarcerated workers to read from their windows. The first stop saw the workers come to the window and react positively to the announcement.
It would be a shortcoming to frame a conversation about any political effort as totally perfect or damnable. Radicals for the majority of the twentieth century never were able to recognize the gains made for the working class by the adoption of the Keynesian economic system and resulting welfare state. Instead they would retreat to a barricade of shibboleths about capitalism and revolution that were crafted during the Gilded Age. The result, unfortunately, was an inability of the New Left to consolidate their gains after the end of the Vietnam War, creating an opening for the financial sector that led to the neoliberal epoch.
However, by taking up the cause of prison abolition, the IWW is taking on the very heart of the imperial project and the way that the financial system has hindered human progress. This is an effort towards what W.E.B. Du Bois called ‘abolition democracy’. The prison abolition movement is the newest front in the abolitionist movement that fought to end slavery in America. In reporting on this today, I was reminded of the quote of another radical 98 years ago, “I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.“