Prisoners Protest at Nova Scotia Jail

The prisoners at the Burnside jail, a correctional facility in Nova Scotia, are engaged in a non-violent protest and calling for changes  that will improve their health and well-being. Here is their statement.

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We, the prisoners of Burnside, have united to fight for change. We are unified across the population in non-violent, peaceful protest.

We are calling for support from the outside in solidarity with us. We believe that it is only through collective action that change will be made.

We recognize that the staff in the jail are workers who are also facing injustice. We are asking for a more productive rehabilitative environment that supports the wellbeing of everyone in the system. These policy changes will also benefit the workers in the jail.

Our voices should be considered in the programming and policies for this jail. The changes we are demanding to our conditions are reasonable, and must happen to support our human rights.

The organizers of this protest assert that we are being warehoused as inmates, not treated as human beings. We have tried through other means including complaint, conversation, negotiation, petitions, and other official and non-official means to improve our conditions. We now call upon our supporters outside these walls to stand with us in protesting our treatment.

The Prisoner by Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797). Image description: A large empty room with high arched ceilings and crumbling stone walls. A lone prisoner sits on the floor facing a window with bars.

We join in this protest in solidarity with our brothers in prison in the United States who are calling for a prison strike from August 21st to September 9th. We support the demands of our comrades in the United States, and we join their call for justice.

Our demands in Nova Scotia are different, and we note that they are comparatively more modest. We are part of an international call for justice and we recognize the roots of this struggle in a common history of struggle and liberation.

We are not the first, and we will not be the last.

We recognize that the injustices we face in prison are rooted in colonialism, racism and capitalism. August is a month rich with the history of Black struggle in the Americas.

In 1619, the first ship carrying forcibly enslaved Africans arrived in Jamestown, Virginia. More than two hundred years ago, the first successful slave revolt created the first independent Black nation, Haiti. In the early nineteenth century, Gabriel Prosser and Nat Turner launched their rebellions, and in 1850, after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, Harriet Tubman began an Underground Railroad to Canada. A century later, the March on Washington, the Watts uprising, and the police bombing of MOVE have marked August as a time of great possibility and great pain.

In Canada, we recognize Prisoner Justice Day on August 10th as a time to remember all those who have died in custody in this country.

We also acknowledge the sacrifices made by our forebears, those who have fought to end the inhumane, racist treatment accorded prisoners. George Jackson, one of America’s prominent prisoner activists, was assassinated in San Quentin in August 1971, and his name is joined by others — Jonathan Jackson, William Christmas, James McClain, WL Nolen, and others.

In August 1978 in San Quentin, activist Khatari Gaulden died after being refused adequate health care for an injury suffered under mysterious circumstances. To honour his name and to fight for prison justice, a coalition of activists, inside and outside the prison walls, formed the Black August Organizing Committee. Starting in the “concentration camps” of California, Black August strikes swept through prisons across America.

In this tradition and together with those imprisoned south of the border, we, the prisoners of Burnside continue this legacy. We are not violent, we are standing up for simple issues of human justice.

We are organized together because conditions must change. Our demands are as follows:

  1. Better Health Care
  2. Rehabilitation Programs
  3. Exercise Equipment
  4. Contact Visits
  5. Personal Clothing and Shoes
  6. Same Quality Food As Every Other Jail
  7. Air Circulation
  8. Healthier Canteen
  9. No Limits to Visits
  10. Access To Library

Let us restate. All of these demands are reasonable, and promote our basic well-being. We recognize that the prison industrial complex is intended to divide us. We are unified in our purpose. They cannot segregate us all.

We call upon all people with a conscience beyond the bars to join us in sharing this statement, in writing the Minister of Justice, your Member of the Legislative Assembly, and the Department of Justice to support our demands, to commit to learning more about the conditions in this province’s jails, and in taking actions in solidarity with our struggle.

We send a message of hope to our comrades in prisons all across this country and the world.

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Impact Ethics is sharing this information in order to support the call for change.

The full version of this statement was published in the Halifax Examiner.