More than 150 demonstrators pushing for prison reform gathered in front of the Nashua Street jail in Boston Thursday night.
Speaking through a bullhorn, Timothy Muise, who served more than 19 years in the state’s prison system for manslaughter, told the scores gathered near the front steps of the jail that prisoners in the state “have the right to rehabilitation.”
“It’s not our concept, it’s the law,” he said.
He also implored those in attendance to correspond with a prisoner and lamented the state’s recidivism rate. In Massachusetts, for people between the ages of 18 to 24, 76 percent released from prison are rearraigned within three years.
“Who’s supporting that?” he asked the crowd.
Wednesday’s demonstration, which was organized by more than a dozen organizations and advocacy groups, was done in conjunction with a series of other prison reform protests occurring across the country during the next two-plus weeks.
The nationwide “strike” was organized in response to a riot at a South Carolina maximum security prison in April that left seven prisoners dead. The demands of the demonstrations include calls for prisoners to be paid the prevailing wage in their state for their labor, and an “immediate end to racist gang enhancement laws targeting black and brown humans.” The demonstrations are also calling for “an immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of black and brown humans,” and for funding for more rehabilitation services in state prisons. The series of demonstrations in the US are slated to end on Sept. 9.
By the door to the jail on Wednesday night, a line of uniformed law enforcement officials stood stoically during the rally as speakers railed against the prison industrial complex and prison guards. One sign in the crowd read: “Abolish ICE & the Police.” Another read: “Addiction is a disease, not a crime.” Yet another: “No Muslim ban! No wall! No border!”
Elizabeth Rucker, an organizer with prisoner advocacy group DeeperThanWater, called for an end to the practice of solitary confinement, saying it is a form of torture.
“It produces people who cannot function in society,” she said.
The crowd also heard from the incarcerated. A phone call from Wayland Coleman, who’s currently serving a life sentence for murder, was heard through bullhorns. Coleman said the label of “inmate” dehumanizes prisoners and allows them “to be treated like animals and in some cases, such as solitary confinement, lower than animals.”
“It would be considered an act of animal cruelty to lock a dog in the same blistering hot cell that they caged me in with no way to cool off for 23 hours a day,” he said.
Wayland’s brother, Adrian Coleman, who is a member of DeeperThanWater, equated the prison system with modern-day slavery.
“This prison system in our great country is a scam on humanity,” he told the crowd.
Another prisoner, Jamal Spencer, who is serving time at MCI-Norfolk, told the crowd through a phone call that “the conditions that we live in are, at best, inhumane.”
“I know I’m suffering, I’m away my family everyday, my friends everyday, my loved ones everyday,” he said.