Demonstrators gather to voice support for prisoners

Jumpsuits laid across Roosevelt park’s stone structure. According to Selinda Guerrero, the jumpsuits represent those who have been forgotten as a result of imprisonment. Photo by Sky Willard / NM News Port

Demonstrators gathered in Albuquerque’s Roosevelt Park on Saturday, Sept. 8 to condemn inequality in modern penal institutions and show solidarity with prisoners. Speakers and musicians performed atop a platform decorated with orange jumpsuits and banners with messages like  “Free Dad!” and “No Youth In Prison” (as pictured above).

Shakir Farid Abdullah, an activist for United Against Racism, denounced the long-rooted ties of oppression between prisons and minorities. “As you see these bodies, right here, from these policies that are created to further funnel my beautiful black people into the criminal justice system,” he said.

Listeners stand and sit as speakers and musicians entertain a crowd of about 70, discussing the issues of mass incarceration. Photo by Nash Reynolds / NM News Port

Abdullah, a former inmate, once spent over fourteen consecutive years in prison. He explained that the activists embodied the thoughts and concerns of the disenfranchised voices of those incarcerated.  

“People in attendance today have to know that they are a part of a very sincere, pure, and direct revolutionary movement in regards to those who have been forgotten,” Abdullah said.

The protest at the park was held near the end of a several week strike in which prisoner’s across the country engaged in various forms of dissent.

The strike was a national event, but Selinda Guerrero, activist and event organizer of “Millions for Prisoners’ New Mexico Chapter,” spoke about prison issues locally.

“For example, the state of New Mexico is number one in private prisons, with three different prison contractors — the G.O. Group, Management and Training Corporation, and Core Civic,” she said. “New Mexico has about 52 percent of its inmates in private prisons. Other states average around eight percent.”

According to Guerrero, private prisons have become a big business in New Mexico. “Impoverished communities are beginning to build themselves around the economic benefits associated with prisons,” she said.

Signs brought to the demonstration. Many keynote speakers touched on the parallels between the modern incarceration system and slavery. Photo by Sky Willard / NM News Port

The United States has over 2.3 million citizens behind bars and over 22 percent of the entire world’s prisoners, despite only having 4.4 percent of the world’s population. This rate of imprisonment is even more inflated in New Mexico, which exceeds the national average in the percentage of citizens incarcerated.

The recent wave of prison protests comes as a response to the death of seven inmates who were killed during a riot at the Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina after a gang fight broke out.

Prisoners across the country organized a strike — refusing to report to specific jobs and participating in peaceful sit-ins and hunger strikes — lasting from Aug. 21 to Sept. 9.

The demands of the strikers range from improved living conditions, to securing voting rights for former incarcerates, to reshaping the criminal justice system to be more rehabilitative.

You can follow Sky Willard and Nash Reynolds on Twitter @Willard_Sky and @Nashtag_Rey