Challenging the Prisons: An Interview with the Free Alabama Movement

Devon Douglas-Bowers

 

This is a transcript of a recent email interview I did with Ausur of the Free Alabama Movement where we discuss the Movement’s history and how people can support FAM.

What is the Free Alabama Movement?

Free Alabama Movement is a prisoner’s comrade’s solidarity organization which advocates the self-addressing of our struggle of human rights dignity and respect while serving a debt to society in Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC). Our motto is to “Educate, to Elevate, to Liberate”. We pride ourselves in presenting our activism work in a peaceful & non-violent manner. Our organizing planning tactics and style of implementing strategies for effective protest, work stoppages, and shutdowns have been radical and successful thus far in our work.

Free Alabama Movement is an inside/ outside platform for the unheard voices of nearly 30,000 inmates of the ADOC and the families of the individuals. “Our families.” We are obliged to have broken barriers within the prison walls and have crossed class, gang affiliations, racial, ideological and geographic differences to expand our power from within. This has broadened our base to expand in numbers, therefore growing the movement.
How did it get started?

The Free Alabama Movement (FAM) came about in stages and events that were somewhat unrelated to FAM at the time, but which ultimately served as seeds for the future. Small steps like coming into prison and joining a law class that was being taught by a mentor, then latching onto the coattails of a revolutionary political prisoner and Black Panther named Richard ‘Mafundi’ Lake and hearing phrases like ‘organize’ over and over again and growing from a student in the law classes to a teacher. Then taking on individual cases that started to open my eyes to the systematic approach in which the judicial system was incarcerating Black youth in droves. At this time, I had not even heard the phrase “mass incarceration.”

The next step along the process was when I got transferred to St. Clair prison, where a whole new world was opened up to me because cell phones were prevalent and so abundant. I was introduced to technology and started to learn about social media and new ways to reach out and interact with society.

By this time, I had learned that the law was not practiced as it was written and that the criminal justice system did not really care about justice at all.

Nevertheless, just having access to technology, I began a campaign to bring awareness to my case and started a website called InnocentManMelvinRay.com. Being still just a tad bit naive, I thought that I could reach out more effectively with the technology that the phone provided and get the kind of help I needed. Needless to say, I was soon disabused of this notion, too.

But the one thing that this failure did do to help bring FAM into existence was that it allowed me to see that there were many other people out there doing what I was doing, dealing with the same issues, but who were, likewise, not having the success that we deserved. That insight ultimately led me back to what Mr. Mafundi always stressed: “Organize.”

Realizing that there were literally thousands of “InnocentManMelvinRays” out there – the most poignant one that I ran across that stays in my mind is Davontae Sandford’s case – I started asking myself how can I bring these collectives together? That question sprung the concept of “Free Alabama” into my mind.

At that time, I was in solitary confinement, and it was during that time that I learned about the Dec. 9, 2010, shutdown by the men in Georgia . I told myself that I could take that concept and build around it.

From my early days at Holman prison, I used to talk with two of my brothers about how we needed to get a small camcorder into the prison. They used to laugh at the thought, because technology hadn’t shrunk camcorders then but I knew that the day was coming when they would be small enough.

Realizing that there were literally thousands of “InnocentManMelvinRays” out there, I started asking myself: How can I bring these collectives together? That question sprung the concept of “Free Alabama” into my mind.

From that point on, I began laying the groundwork for how I would start “organizing” my prison – and then my state – and how I would use a cellphone to record, interview and document everything.

From reading Stokely Carmichael’s book, “Ready for Revolution,” I also knew that when the time came, we would be bold with our movement. I wouldn’t allow anyone who did an interview to use a street name or nickname, because I wanted to dispel any pretense of fear in our movement, plus I wanted people who watched the videos to be able to go to court records in order to authenticate what people were saying about their cases and the injustices they had received – whether wrongful convictions, excessive sentences, whatever.

So when I got out of segregation, I went to work. I started talking to leaders, explaining the philosophy, taking pictures, filming living conditions and interviewing. I also started writing a manifesto. But in the process of all of this, the final thing that happened was that I read Michelle Alexander’s book, “The New Jim Crow.”

She has a passage in there that said that it would take a “movement” to take down mass incarceration. That was the first time I had saw anyone boldly make that statement, and it crystallized for me what I was doing, and so with that, we went from Free Alabama to Free Alabama Movement.

Then I contacted the one person who I knew would support me 100 percent, because over the years we had worked on so many other projects together and I knew that this would be the culmination of all of our previous work: Robert Earl Council( Kinetik Justice Amun).

After I ran down everything to him, he said what he always says: “Sun, what you done came up with now? I can see it though. Let’s run it.” And off we went, and Free Alabama Movement was officially founded. We haven’t looked back since.
What are some of the conditions that prisoners have had to deal with?

The Alabama State Prison system is one of the worst in the country, it ranks in the top twenty worst prisons in the country; Julia Tutwiler Women’s Prison ranked twice on the list, #1 for women’s prisons and #6 overall, the Holman Correctional Facility nicknamed the “Slaughter House” at #11, while St Clair Correctional Facility has become one of the most dangerous prisons in the country. As due to lack of true leadership, most of Alabama’s prisons have become gladiator arenas.

Alabama’s modern day climate of for-profit slavery is inhumane. Inmates are broken by the a surreal experience which many will never recover from and some will never see the likes of home because of loss of their lives.

Alabama has balanced the state’s budget for years based on the 200% overcrowing of inmates into a total of 15 facilities designed to hold 14,000 persons, yet housing over 28,000 inmates. The state of Alabama robs its taxpayers by the disservice of not providing life skills service and empowerment tools which are essential for rehabilitation. Families of inmates pay double, due to the fact that their tax dollars already fund the ADOC, then because their loved ones are not compensated for their labor, they are forced to support them. And in the end these families are victimized by having to make a choice to support their incarcerated love one(s) or maintaining their household’s budget.

The ADOC adds to the equation the disregard of inmates rights: With no standards to the unethical parole process, that has no accountability to inmates. There is no grievance process for any of its countless issues as it relates to ADOC and the individual or the wellbeing of collective inmates.

The ADOC provides no meaningful education supports and secondary education is nonexistence, rehabilitation programs, and restitution services are unheard of. Medical treatment is practically bare minimum scarce access while basic preventative health/dental care is nonexistent; the need for mental health services is seen on the faces of many yet the solution in the form of pharmaceuticals. The privatized health care provider Corizon is defendants in multiple lawsuits across the country. Disease runs rampant, as HIV-positive inmates have been integrated into the general population under a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Drug use is epidemic and abuse throughout the system with no avenues for treatment.

Zero opportunities to work and earn to create viable paths for, self-sufficiency while being exploited for free labor by the state to run the day to day operations of the state’s prisons, again Alabama for-profit emphasis is on free and cheap slave labor.

Humiliated by being forced to live in the filth of an unsanitary inhumane environment, being fed and served slop like animals; having to face the violent savagery to remain alive in this heartless ditch. Sleep is a rare commodity given the fact one must remain visual in this malicious violent environment at all times.
Does the organization attempt to network with other prisons and prisoners to co-ordinate actions?

At the forefront of our Movement is networking with prisoners around the country and expanding the freedom movement against mass incarceration and prison slavery. To date, we have linked up with UNAM (United Nations Against the Machine) who are the prisoners in Georgia that organized the shutdown in 2010, we helped the prisoners in Mississippi to form the Free Mississippi Movement United, The New Underground Movement (brothers in the California prison system), brothers in the Kansas prison system and Iman Siddique Hasan of the Lucasville 5 in Ohio’s prison system.
What are the end goals of FAM?

We proclaim and know Alabama’s DOC has created a systematically defined practice where the mental and physical conditions of survival and serving time in these facilities; are unsafe, hostile and deadly for inmates as well and the staff whom too, are forced to work in a mortifying inhumane environment. We have seen countless times lives damaged and even lost due to the stressed *troposphere, as we often refer to as the bowels of the beast. (* the lowest and most dense layer of the atmosphere)

The ADOC has the dynamics in place to guarantee continued revenue on the backs of those who have fallen into the gaps of the criminal injustice system. The ADOC’s blueprint on how to keep a slave and poor management has created direct disenfranchisement within the walls and, therefore, the inmates lack the ability to return to society as a productive member, this abyss creates and increases the recidivism rate of inmates. This is attributed to the state of Alabama degradation of services to have a quality of life standard for its inmates.

Our message is clear:

1) The ADOC warehouses inmates in overcrowded dormitories.

2) The ADOC provides no educational or rehabilitational programs for the inmates.

3) The ADOC prohibits inmates from being compensated for their labor, while forcing them to pay an assortment of fines and fees. Therefore, we proclaim that these practices are inhumane and exploitative in violation of the standards of human decency.

We, also, have a list of several things, in regards to the living conditions and discriminatory laws, that we require to be addressed. Our defined goals must be addressed as follows:

1. Reduce overcrowding by release 8-10 thousand people.

2. Taxation without compensation (free labor) is be abolished.

3. Parole board overhauled to establish parole criteria.

4. Abolish life without parole, life/barred from parole, and the death penalty.
In what ways does FAM work with groups on the outside to amplify their work and get support?

We have joined alliance and consistently collaborate to expand our reach in education on mass incarceration and to support to the coordination of movement to abolish the prison industrial complexes. We are in direct contact with the Free Mississippi Movement United, The New Underground Railroad, Industrial Workers of the World(IWW ), Ida B. Wells Coalition Against Racism and Police Brutality(IBWC), The Ordinary Peoples Society(T.O.P.S.) Denver Anarchist Black Cross, Chicago Anarchist Black Cross, George Jackson University, Decarcerator’s of the Garden State (NJ),The Black Autonomy Federation, The Black Militia Nation and We have made contact with individuals and groups on an one-on-one basis regarding family and friends in Ohio, Florida, Arizona, Texas, Washington, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.

We have consistent contact with the ( IWW), (ABC ) and (IBWC) which both provide outside assistance with Organizing and Distribution of FREE ALABAMA MOVEMENT Pamphlets, Newsletters, Articles , etc.
In what ways can people find out more about FAM?

Contact: Ms. Ann Brooks (256) 783 1044

Ms. Kamaria Khalid (334) 322 8989

or

Free Alabama Movement, P.O. Box 186, New Market, AL 35761

Email us at freealabamamovement@gmail.com, or visit our website http://www.FreeAlabamaMovement.com

Facebook group: Free Alabama Movement

Twitter @FreeAlaMovement, on Internet Radio

YouTube ; and read the book online, “Free Alabama Movement” by Melvin Ray.

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