It takes a few minutes for guards to notice that the chow line has stopped. The line of prisoner workers who cook and serve the food have stepped back and are working at half speed. Some never left their cells at all. Others have sat down during laundry shifts, demanding to be viewed as workers.
The prisoners have gone on strike.
This across the board refusal to work launches prisoners across the country into the center of the labor movement that has challenged workplaces and government institutions for over a century.
On a global level, the United States stands out as a leader in an expanding system of mass incarceration. America’s prisoner system holds over 2.2 million people, many for non-violent drug offenses. Many of them are believed to have their human rights violated as a result of poor living and working conditions. As populations swell, many prisons are exceeding their limits, housing inmates in overcrowded units with substandard healthcare and management systems.