by Diana George, Free Us All Coalition
Chehalis, Washington (June 28, 2013) – Prisoners at Green Hill juvenile prison in Chehalis have announced that they will go on strike on July 8. Their strike in solidarity with prisoners in California and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, may take the form of a work stoppage, although a planned hunger strike was previously reported.
The Green Hill prisoners have also issued their own demands; some of their demands focus on conditions inside the prison, while some seek justice for ex-prisoners on the outside. The prison newsletters The Rock and Prison Focus have published the full text of the 10 demands, along with the announcement that the prisoners will go on strike beginning July 8.
The Green Hill demands are like an inverted mirror, letting outsiders see what it must be like for youth on the inside: For example, the prisoners want phone calls lengthened to 15 minutes, on phones that work. Reading the demands, what strikes an outsider first is the sheer meagerness of some of the requested improvements and the pitiable ease with which they could be implemented – phones that work, respect for religious diets and so on. These demands, when viewed alongside the nervy if peaceful lengths to which the youth prisoners vow to go in order to win them, reveal a system of arbitrary domination within some very mean material conditions.
But other demands show that the Green Hill prisoners are taking the long view of what it means to be imprisoned in the United States. Demand No. 1, with the all-caps headline “BAN THE BOX,” succinctly analyzes the Kafkaesque trap of having to identify oneself as an ex-felon on all future job applications: checking “the box” for “Yes, I have been convicted of a felony.”
“If the box on job applications denies us real work,” runs the text of the prisoners’ demands, “how can we make money legally?” Not only jobs, but access to educational aid and public housing are affected by the forced identification of ex-felon status.
The demand to ban the box, a demand that is admittedly beyond the superintendent’s power to grant, shouldn’t be misattributed to youthful naivety or to a miscalculation about what makes a demand winnable. The Green Hill prisoners are right about the box, and they’re smart to publicly contest it.
Demand No. 1, with the all-caps headline “BAN THE BOX,” succinctly analyzes the Kafkaesque trap of having to identify oneself as an ex-felon on all future job applications: checking “the box” for “Yes, I have been convicted of a felony.”
“The box” places a lien on their futures; “the box” sentences them to a permanent form of quasi-incarceration, even after they’re let out. And the Green Hill prisoners want you to know they’re refusing.
Supporters of the California and Washington prisoners will demonstrate in Seattle outside the King County Jail in Seattle on July 8 at noon. According to prisonstrike.wordpress.com, “The purpose of this demonstration is to communicate to the prisoners of Washington and California solidarity with their struggles; noise is encouraged.”
Diana George of the Free Us All Coalition in Washington can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.