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For most of the 23 years Romarilyn Ralston spent in a California prison, she made 37 cents an hour, unable to afford crafty birthday cards for her two sons, let alone the financial support she desperately wanted to give them. Ralston did clerical and recreational work at the California Institution for Women in Chino, while voluntarily training women who have recently made national headlines for being on the front lines of the state’s biggest wildfires.
A federal judge in Houston ordered a geriatric prison in Texas to help inmates overcome extreme heat and rising summer temperatures, referencing climate change in a groundbreaking ruling this week. U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison deemed it cruel and unusual that state corrections are aware of dangerous and lethal heat risks – at least 23 men in Texas prisons have died from the heat in the last 20 years – yet have failed to impose safeguards.
Just after 10 a.m. EDT on Feb. 1, a group of inmates took four staff hostage as they seized control of Building C at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware, with 120 prisoners inside. By the end of the 18-hour standoff, Sgt. Steven Floyd Sr. was dead. Republican Rep. Steve Smyk, who had planned to support a bill to reinstate capital punishment, says he thinks the uprising has given some state lawmakers who initially opposed the death penalty a new outlook.
My regular readers know I’ve come under recent fire for exposing abuse and corruption in Texas prisons. Despite outside protests and support, retaliations have escalated and most recently culminated in officials directing outright criminal acts at me, including guards I’ve reported on recovering a weapon from the scene of an altercation and planting it in my cell the next day, and guards confiscating most of my belongings (again) with the intent of destroying them.
When Texas correctional officials earlier this month saw an article by Kevin “Rashid” Johnson online that said they had gassed him and ransacked his cell in December, they punished him – again. In April, Texas became the latest to join a trend of states banning people in prisons, who do not have access to the internet, from having a social media account, saying it could be a threat to security. Civil rights leaders have blasted the decision and maintain that it is a violation of the First Amendment.
The people who organized the country’s biggest prison strike against what they call modern-day slavery have planned their next target: corporate food service giant Aramark. The $8.65 billion company is one of the country’s largest employers and serves food to more than 100 million people a year. It also provides meals for more than 500 correctional facilities across the country and has been the subject of complaints about maggots and rocks, sexual harassment, drug trafficking and other employee misconduct.
Prisons in some states are withholding newspapers from inmates amid a strike against prison conditions and billions of dollars worth of prison labor. The passing of the 13th Amendment in 1865 formally abolished slavery, but with a stipulation that enabled plantation owners to use prisoners as a replacement for the lost labor. As a group called the Free Alabama Movement rallied for a Sept. 9 labor strike in spring, prison authorities across the country began clamping down on news and information in ways that the ACLU says may be in violation of the First Amendment.