in Alabama last weekend, following a strike initiated and organized by prisoners, a small group of prison guards disrupted that paradigm by refusing to work.
“War brings about strange bedfellows,” said Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, national spokesperson for the Free Alabama Movement, a prisoner solidarity organization that has been communicating with the striking guards and prisoners. “The officers really understand [the prisoners’] reasoning even if they don’t agree with all of it and are just at the point where they don’t feel safe.”
Guards at Alabama’s William C. Holman Correctional Facility have a reason not to feel safe: Earlier this month, an inmate fatally stabbed Officer Kenneth Bettis. He had been left alone to supervise as many as 200 inmates, according to WKRG.com.
That’s not an uncommon situation in the understaffed, overcrowded facility.
“Often times down there you might have 17 officers dealing with as many as 1,000 inmates,” Officer Troy Hughes, a guard at Limestone Correctional Facility in northern Alabama, told TakePart. Hughes is familiar with some of the officers at Holman.
Some Holman guards decided they’d had enough. After Bettis’ funeral on Saturday, a number of them didn’t show up to work their scheduled shifts, a prison spokesman told AL.com. Hughes said, “We call it the blue flu—everybody just called in sick after they buried one of their officers.” Glasgow said more than 15 officers failed to show up for work, while the Holman spokesman put the number at nine.
The corrections officers’ work stoppage comes as a nationwide prison strike, which began on the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising, entered its third week. While broadly characterized as a labor strike organized to demand fair pay for the work prisoners do behind bars—often for meager wages or none at all—Azzurra Crispino of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee told TakePart that prisoners are participating in whatever way they can. Crispino’s organization has tracked participation—whether ongoing or onetime—in 46 correctional facilities nationwide since Sept. 9. Some prisoners without jobs have gone on hunger strike, while others who feel they can’t risk ceasing to work entirely have slowed down their pace.
.... The Holman guards’ work stoppage is not the first time the interests of officers and inmates have intersected. In Huntsville, Texas, a corrections union has advocated for a reduction in the use of solitary confinement because members believe its excessive use creates an unsafe working environment.