Georgia Inmates Use Cell Phones to Stage Nonviolent Prison Protest
The strike officially got underway on Thursday, and involved inmates from at least seven Georgia prison facilities. Prisoners abruptly refused to perform their daily chores, until authorities met a list of their demands. According to the New York Times, the strikers were looking to get paid for their work, and wanted better food and more educational opportunities within their prisons. Compensation and better education, they argued, would prepare them better for release, and, in the long run, could help mitigate violence and recidivism. Yesterday, officials at the Georgia Department of Corrections confirmed that four prisons remained in lockdown mode, but insisted that no serious incidents had been reported.
According to one inmate named Mike, conditions had been worsening at the facilities for a while, but he and his fellow prisoners had only begun discussing the operation a few months ago, when authorities "took the cigarettes away." They decided on a start date, and began encouraging disparate gang members to put their personal disputes on hold, and join the cause. "We have to come together and set aside all differences, whites, blacks, those of us that are affiliated in gangs," Mike explained.
Without cell phones, though, the protest probably wouldn't have even gotten off the ground. The phones not only facilitated communication within the facility, but allowed organizers to coordinate protests at other prisons, as well. Inmates used their contraband cell phones to contact key people of influence at other facilities, and let the news trickle down from there.
Cell phones, of course, are still illegal in Georgia prisons, but another inmate, Miguel, estimated that about 10-percent of all prisoners have at least one. Miguel said he paid about $400 for his burner, which would normally cost no more than $20 on the open market. Many obtain them through smugglers or even prison guards.
We certainly understand the need for law and order in state prisons, and we can see why authorities would be wary of allowing cell phones in cell blocks. After all, if this protest had taken a turn for the violent, or if these inmates used their network for more malicious purposes, the overriding narrative would likely focus on the need to tighten up jail security. As it is, though, the event speaks less to the laxity of prison rules than it does to the power of digitally fueled, grassroots activism. Unfortunately for the inmates, though, it's unclear whether or not their efforts will actually pay off. The Department of Corrections has yet to even recognize the protest.