On Labour Day, we the prisoners of Burnside call upon the union workers of this province to stand in solidarity with us in our mutual push to receive basic necessities that we feel should be provided without request.
Currently, men are being placed in this facility daily, some of us for things as minor as an argument or not making it home on time for curfew. Once arriving at Burnside, they go for days without a change of clothes or the opportunity to shower. As I write this, I’m wearing shoes provided by the facility. One of them is size 9; the other is size 10. Staff claim there is no matching shoe in stock, and no alternate pair available. We would like to think the taxpayers of this province believe that men and women in Burnside are being provided with these bare requirements. As is often said, this is not a poor country. There’s no reason for prisoners to be denied clothes or showers.
Over the past two weeks, we’ve been calling on the public to stand with us in our campaign for proper treatment while being housed here. Our call has attracted a lot of attention, and sparked a lot of conversations. What we truly need is action! We need calls and letters to the Department of Justice. We need those working within to speak up, not just to us but to their superiors about prisoners lacking basic necessities.
The staff here agree, but it’s not enough to tell the oppressed that you’re on their side.
We also call on staff at provincial facilities who know that our claims about Burnside are true to speak publicly about what has happened in here. We also ask that you add the 10 demands in our original petition to your work refusals. You know about the suffering, and you speaking out in solidarity could have a great effect.
We support prison staff in their call for a safer work environment. We know the conditions in here also affect people who work here and go home with them to their families. Nobody should have PTSD from work because they have to see the violence, suicide, and harm that happens in here.
If there is not money to run this place safely we should be asking why there’s more people in jails than we can buy towels or mattresses for. Does that sound like the best use of money, putting people in here waiting for trials for years?
We call particularly upon workers and those in the union movement to support our fight for justice. There are not many jobs in here, except working in the kitchens, or cleaning the ranges, but those who do that are paid about a dollar a day. In the United States, where the prison strike began, prison labour is the central issue of the strike, and the slogan is “slavery never ended.” We ask our comrades in the labour movement to question why we can spend money on jails to house people from poor communities, but not spend a small part of that money on job creation programs. Why does the money spent on phones in this jail go to a company in the United States? Why are corporations making money off poor families?
They spent 7 million renovating the jail here when that money could be used to help working people and families everywhere. What justice is there when it is Black, Indigenous, poor, disabled, and other oppressed people who are most targeted by the prison industrial complex.
We ask that our government builds housing instead of prisons. Prisons are not hospitals, addiction treatment centers, therapy, food banks, or schools. Punishment and torture are not justice.
To those who feel we belong here, I say that it doesn’t matter whether one believes that or doesn’t. Every prisoner in Burnside and every other Canadian prison deserves access to showers and proper clothes and footwear.
We know that fighting for human rights for prisoners is not popular. But we remind the labour movement that it used to be popular for children to work in factories, for women to be burned alive locked in sweatshops, because people thought that workers and the poor deserved it. Now is the time to rise up collectively and to fight against injustice everywhere.
Please, don’t only hear our call but take action and assist us in changing this unconstitutional, inhumane treatment of your fellow citizens.
On September 6, come out in support of striking prisoners at Central Nova Correctional Facility in Burnside! We will convene in front of the Department of Justice on Hollis st. and proceed to the provincial court house on Spring Garden Rd. Leaflets and talking points will be provided.
This article first appeared at the Nova Scotia Advocate.