As Hurricane Florence smacks the Carolinas and mandatory evacuations go into effect, one group of people was not evacuated. Despite the flooding and winds speeding at 100 miles per hour, South Carolina prisoners remained in harm’s way. Prisoners at Ridgeland, MacDougall, and Lieber Correctional Institutions have been left behind, and, not surprising, this is not an isolated incident. In fact it’s a common procedure across the prison system. What makes it more insidious is that, when disasters happen, imprisoned bodies are locked in cells, meaning if something starts to go wrong there is nothing anyone can do to get to safety and protect their life.
According to people who were enslaved in Lieber Correctional Institution during the prior storm, the cells flooded, water quickly rose above their ankles while they were locked in very small cells. They got moved only after they broke down to ask the guards to tell their children they love them. Then they were finally moved to other cells in the building (not evacuated). If this sounds familiar, it is the same practice exposed by members of WISH (Washington Incarceration Stops Here) and Bloc the Juvie here in Seattle after a fire broke out in the King County Juvenile Detention Center on 12th Avenue and Alder Street. Yes, children remained locked in cells while adult guards evacuated.
Just like the situation at the Juvenile Detention Center, this goes under so many people’s radars. They don’t picture the horror of being trapped in a room filling with feces-filled water as those with the only key to your safety see you as lower than animals and have the legal right to leave you to die. You sit there with time running out as water quickly inches up. The memories of your loved ones flashing before your eyes fearing that you’re going to die in this gray-walled hell as property of the state, as a slave.
All this is happening on the heels of the prison labor strike, which is demanding humane treatment of prisoners. Anyone else see the irony of this? Supposedly the people who are incarcerated are the bad guys, but it seems more like the guards and institution are the true villains. It also seems like those incarcerated might just be oppressed, who would of guessed? Nuance kills! No, but seriously most of the people who are labeled criminals would never consider leaving anyone in that situation. However the administration of prison is a different thing altogether.
Bryan Stirling, the director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections, even goes on to defend and justify these actions to The New Yorker telling them, “We would have a thousand prisoners on buses, on potentially very congested routes. It’s not safe for anybody.” My question is, is it safer for the thousands of people stuck in cages while the area floods? What would you tell their families if they drown? Furthermore the institutions are denying the people inside access to buckets and bottles to hold water, further increasing the likelihood of fatalities. But that does not seem to even be a concern to the administration.
It is clear to me that the prison (slave) system values convenience over life in its attitude — that saving people is logistically difficult, so let’s just let them die.
Mind you that when someone who is incarcerated is in transport, their hands and ankles are tightly cuffed and their hands are shackled to their waist. There’s usually two or three guards who are armed with shotguns. So, trust me, the danger to evacuate is minimal. Not to mention that these are not demons. They are people a system globally known for brutality and crimes has decided to demonize.
When it all falls down, the responsibility is on us, the non-incarcerated. Especially those who have the privilege to be on good terms with the so-called law. The strength from those inside is greater then most of us who are breathing “free” air. But the power falls onto those who breath free, and it’s our responsibility to use that power and privilege to stand with our friends, family, and people locked behind those flood gates both in times of crisis like now or during the oppression that they face on a daily basis.
This does not mean symbolic action or fighting for funds to create some type of non-profiteering off the very real struggles that are faced by those facing the yoke of industrialized slavery. Instead we should move forward directly accountable to those who are facing incarceration. Figuring what actions can be done to further their demands for human rights and eventuality to “free ’em all” and finally reach a space where we have abolished slavery, especially when we can see clearly that the interest of the prisons is not to repair but to exploit.
Bypolar is a Seattle based musician and activist. He can be follwed on Twitter and Instagram @bypolar_tc.