A conversation with Mika’il, one of the Alabama prison strikers
Mika’il: Hello, how are you doing? OK, my name is Brother Mika’il. It’s good to meet you. I’m an inmate in the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC). Basically what’s going on is we’ve been on strike since Sept. 26, in protest of inhumane conditions and a slew of other things. But we’re about to go back on strike on the 31st [of October] and we need to get as much attention to it as possible.
We have legislation filed; the DOJ has filed lawsuits. And with their findings released, they’re now on the internet; they can be googled easily – the details, the conditions and each violation that has occurred. They have stacks of evidence on this. It’s not our word against theirs. This is documented; it’s going on. It’s ongoing and no one is doing anything about it.
So, we’re in protest. We are sitting down. We’re about to shut that down again, and when we do we need as many eyes and as much attention on the issue as possible.
Nube: People have gone on strike. Would you like to talk about the different types of strikes people are doing?
Mika’il: Yes, ma’am. So, people strike from going to work. People strike from going to the store, canteen, from using the paid phone. People strike from the institutional jobs, cleaning up, taking the trash out, anything. The police had to do that on their own.
So this is how this system operates and runs. This system operates off of our labor. This system operates off of our ability to keep it running. If we don’t keep it running, then it won’t run. And we’re not going to keep on running a system that’s killing us.
Nube: Yes, right on. You’re not going to be complicit in your own oppression. You’re refusing to be treated like the slave your state constitution says you are. Would you like to talk about the conditions you are protesting about?
Mika’il: Yes, ma’am; Yes, ma’am. So, these violations were investigated and they were documented by the Department of Justice. They started releasing these findings in April of 2019. The violations range from warehousing inmates in overcrowded and dilapidated buildings, unsafe and insecure environments with lack of personnel, use of excessive force by staff, inadequate access to proper healthcare, insufficient nutrition and even the falsification of documents for causes of death.
These conditions existed way before we started documenting them and seeking remedy from the DOJ in 2012. So, these are not new conditions. We’ve just been fighting the fight to get these conditions changed for about the last 10 years real hard, this generation of the inmate population. But other generations have fought before.
So, I have documents of the case of Robert G. McCray, which was a class action lawsuit filed against the chairman of the department of corrections of Alabama in 1976. They were operating way over capacity – exact same conditions as now. They were forced to stop bringing inmates in and to not transfer any inmates to any already overcrowded prisons until they got their prisons back down to capacity.
We’re operating at 200% capacity with about 50% of the police personnel that’s needed. With that, that’s what the DOJ found on prisoner on prisoner violence, police on prisoner violence, lack of ability to control the environment or protect or secure the environment. That’s what we got going on right there.
These conditions are ongoing, and no relief has been granted yet. The DOJ filed for injunctive relief in their lawsuit in December 2020. This has been, come on, you know, it’s going on too long, people are dying up in here. People are dying more and more. Look at the mortality rate.
The mortality rate in Alabama is on the rise constantly; I’m talking about in the prisons. They are killing us; we are dying; this is not humane … this is not right. They are violating our human rights, our inalienable rights, our civil rights, our constitutional rights. They are violating our right to live. We’re being denied the basic essential necessities of life!
If we don’t keep the prison system running, then it won’t run, and we’re not going to keep on running a system that’s killing us.
I don’t understand why this is not a public outcry around the world. I don’t. We are held in overcrowded warehouses that get smoked out with chemicals, filled with smoke like a bar or a club and you can’t breathe; and if you do, the damage that’s being done to your lungs is probably irreparable. And these big warehouses, these dorms, they house us like this. I can liken them to Auschwitz gas chambers, and you want to tell me that this isn’t a human rights violation of the worst kind?
Nube: Mika’il, I think the UN Council on Human Rights would agree with you. Your state is going to have on its ballot the opportunity for voters to remove the slave language from your constitution. Would you like to say something about that in terms of your conditions there?
Mika’il: Yes, ma’am. So, that’s something that, to be honest with you, a lot of groups have been working on. I’ve seen a lot of people putting in work to get the slave language changed in the US constitution and the constitutions of states across the country for years now, and it’s probably the greatest move we have because that’s the loophole that was left in after the Emancipation Proclamation to keep us in slavery.
The game didn’t change; the name just did, so it evolved from slavery to Jim Crow segregation to mass incarceration, but it did so through the 13th Amendment, which stated no person shall be held in slavery or servitude unless duly convicted of a crime, which puts us right back in slavery and servitude. You feel me?
#Freedom Five! Alabama is one of five states with slavery on the ballot. There is an exception clause to the 13th Amendment (Abolition of slavery) it reads: Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Gov. Newsom said it was too expensive to end slavery in California, so you won’t see it on your ballot this November 8. @endtheexception, www.abolishslavery.us
So, the UN declaration, this is what I was saying why it would be a humanitarian violation, because the Universal Declaration on Human Rights that was signed into effect in Paris on Dec. 10, 1948, generally states that – in Article 4, it states: “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.”
But yet, in the United States slavery took the form of the criminal justice system through the 13th Amendment, where we are incarcerated, enslaved and work for free or a slave wage of 40 cents a day. But we sit at the head of the free world. We run in other people’s countries every day for violating those same articles – and then turn around and use these tactics on our own citizens.
Nube: You’re clearly very articulate and knowledgeable about the 13th Amendment and your conditions there on a socio-political level. Are you finding that with more of your comrades inside?
Mika’il: No, so no. The people that know what I know who are even willing to act on it are very, very few. And that’s why our situation is so devastating because we play a major part in keeping ourselves enslaved.
So, it’s super hard when not only you gotta fight this system that oppresses you, but then as a rule, Psychology 101 states that victims oppressed and tainted by the system that oppresses them often turn on other victims, so you end up finding yourself in a place where you have to fight your own people just to fight for their freedom and yours.
Nube: Harriet Tubman said she could’ve saved a lot more people had they only know they were slaves. It’s important though that the public has a better understanding of what is taking place inside and moves to act in solidarity with you, especially given there are so few of you – and us.
Mika’il: I want to say something, sister, please if I can. This is a collective understanding now of the whole. And when I say that I’m not speaking for anybody, I’m speaking from experience of having conversations with people in these conditions and have been in these conditions for the last 20 years.
The criminal justice system has been used as a caste system.
So, with that being said, we understand how our society works. And we want to be active parts of our society that are helping make it better. A lot of people still believe in the great American experiment, but we have to work together to keep evolving it to be and get to where it needs to be.
Now to get straight to the point. We have a criminal justice system for a reason. But at this time and over a majority of the time that it’s been instituted, it has been used as a caste system. Crime and punishment are not correlated in numbers. If you look them up, the crime rate in a particular area for a particular crime has no effect on the arrests made in that area and how the police carry out their day to day activities.
They come through to make quotas and throw you in paddy wagons, which is how this little boy got his neck broken in Boston. You feel me? They don’t even care about your name, your situation or anything. You’re a number, so they can get this government check at the end of the month. They’re picking you up in paddy wagons, slinging you in there, and throwing you in head first.
That is how our system has evolved because we are not keeping our hands in there as effectively as possible to shape and mold it – like we have to do with every sector of our country. That is our job as U.S. citizens.
So, with that being said, us, the educated, the rehabilitated of the American criminal justice system understand the need for an American criminal justice system. But it has to be done properly, in the right way. People should not be subjected to being over-sentenced, subjected to inhumane conditions and unconstitutional circumstances. We’re not being rehabilitated; we’re being de-habilitated, dehumanized. We’re being subjected to torture, killed, starved and murdered. So, this is no justice for anybody. No justice for anybody.
Nube: Do you want to talk about how this is directly and indirectly affecting yours and your comrades’ family and loved ones?
Mika’il: Yes, ma’am. So, you have men being turned into zombies in here. Literally, like you have men who are coming home shells of their former selves, if they ever make it back there. They won’t be a benefit to their family, they’ll become a dependent.
So, right now we’re sucking our families dry. And the state is robbing them. The state is charging us $25 for $10 sweat pants that you can get at Walmart for the winter. We can’t get it from the center or the house or get it from anywhere else. We gotta get it from this one company that has this contract with the state that is pocketing money on the side. You hear what I’m saying?
Kastellio Vaughn went from being a healthy, young man to an emaciated health emergency case within a few months.
So, not only are they robbing us, they’re robbing y’all because the American citizens on the street, all of them have been touched by the criminal justice system. Somebody’s got a family member or a cousin or someone that’s incarcerated or has formerly been incarcerated. And you’re footin’ the bill on that whether it be through your taxes or through you directly sending funds to them. These people are getting rich off of you and me. And this money is going into their pockets and we’re getting … we’re being killed.
Nube: Would you like to speak about Kastellio Vaughn?
Mika’il: At this time, they took Vaughn and we don’t know where he’s at. They snatched him up while nobody saw, we’re not going to see him because he was drawing too much attention.
(Kastellio Vaughn went from being a healthy, young man to an emaciated health emergency case within a few months. His family posted his before and after photos on social media, which went viral, but did nothing to remedy Katellio and his family’s cries for help from prison officials or the state of Alabama).
We are housed in dilapidated buildings with the evidence that’s been recorded by the DOJ, and videos that are floating out there on social media that you will see that anytime it rains in the state of Alabama, all of these facilities will flood like ground water rapids; you will see water just flooding, running through cells, dorms, all of that. There’s asbestos, mold; you’ll have one or two toilets working or one or two urinals for 150 people.
People are watching you get murdered every day – they will stand right there and watch you get killed.
The conditions of the prisons are terrible; these buildings are old and falling down. You have infestations of rats, roaches and other things; they’re in the kitchen, the foods. It’s nothing to see them have to throw away whole bags of chicken and other things in there that the rats got into. So, a lot of times that stuff does not get thrown away, it gets served to us. A lot of times we’re eating poison and don’t even know it.
People in here are being beat up by staff. We’ve got footage at this same camp where not long ago police were whooping up on a mental health inmate on a rooftop of one of these buildings. He was trying to jump, kill himself. And the police snatched him up and started whoopin him up right there on the ledge. These are the types of things you see go on.
They’re assaulting people, killing people; folks are dying left and right. They cannot secure these facilities. People are watching you get murdered every day. They will stand right there and watch you get killed. They are not going to come in; they are not going to help you. They are going to run out of the door and lock it and leave you in there to die – and it happens all the time. Under those conditions, you can not keep me legally held in this institution. By law you have to let me go.
Nube: Mika’il, we stand with you. Please close us out with any last words.
Mika’il: OK, in closing I would like to share this: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights document was drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all over the world. It was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on Dec. 10, 1948. Its General Assembly Resolution 217.8, Article 3 states, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person.”
Yet, we are denied the basic essentials of life; our persons are in constant danger. Article 4 states: “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude. Slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.” Yet, in the united states slavery took the form of the criminal justice system through the 13th Amendment. We are incarcerated, enslaved and worked for free or a slave wage of 40 cents a day.
Article 5 states, “No one should be subjected to torture, or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.” Yet, we are warehoused in overcrowded modern-day gas chambers in vile, sickening conditions with no access to proper healthcare, proper nutrition and we are being subjected to chemical and psychological warfare. This is above genocide, this is beyond a criminal justice issue. This is a human rights issue at the least.
We asked the Alabama Legislature to hold the DOC (Department of Corrections) accountable and nothing happened. We asked the DOJ and the federal government to hold the ADOC accountable; still nothing has happened. Now we’re asking the United Nations, we’re asking the world to hold America responsible and make them, ADOC, accountable.
Every man and woman on this planet has certain inalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The aim of all political associations is the preservation of the natural and inalienable rights of man. Anywhere that there is an invasion made upon inalienable rights, there must arise a perfect or external right to resistance. Inalienable rights are essential to limitations of all governments.
So we are asking the world to hold America responsible. Make them hold the ADOC accountable. This is a humanitarian crisis on a world scale, and nothing less. This is not an American criminal justice issue. People are dying; people are losing their lives. These folks need help. They need help now. Thank you.
To support Mika’il, contact Nube Brown, editor over the Bay View’s Prisoners Human Rights Department, at email@example.com or 415-671-0789.