350 Hondurans and The Prison Epidemic

“We take prisons for granted but are often afraid to face the realities they produce.” –Angela Davis

350 men were burned alive on Tuesday. 350 men were burned alive on Tuesday in Honduras. 350 men were burned alive on Tuesday in Honduras inside a prison. 350 men are dead.

Does it matter what country? Does it matter where? Does it matter whom? Does it matter if they were labeled “criminal?” These questions weigh heavy on my heart as I grasp to understand how certain lives and certain people are valued more then others. Sadly, I believe these questions are critical in regards to the value of human life. This horrific event was not an accident or coincidence.  It is a reflection of the injustices and inhumanity interwoven into the fabric of our global, political and “security” systems.

In all honesty, teardrops slide down the curves of my cheekbones as I write this because I know deep inside this crime against humanity was no accident. Prisoners were locked down screaming as their flesh painfully melted into ash. Democracy Now reports penitentiary officials refused to transfer the inmates out of their cells, police wouldn’t let firefighters into the prison for 30 minutes, and tear-gas was fired at family members who were rushing to save their loved ones.  The lives of these 350 Honduran inmates could have been saved but they were not!

This horrific event in Comayagua, Honduras is no isolated incident; it is a bi-product of our world systems and prison epidemic. Honduras is the second poorest county in Central America and it is experiencing the ongoing after shocks of a corrupt 2009 coup regime. The current president Pepe Lobo appointed Daniel Orellana to be head of the prisons—the chief of the police at the time of the coup. To add wood to the fire, Dana Frank reports that the Obama administration has asked to double the U.S. military aid to Honduras, which will add military capacity to a very corrupt and repressive government that is heavily involved in drug trafficking and murder.

As Honduras becomes increasingly militarized, more and more people are becoming incarcerated and locked up in prison. This phenomenon is not only occurring in Honduras but around the globe and in our own backyard. Prisons are overcrowded to epic proportions under a pretext of “war on drugs” while more and more human lives are sacrificed.

It is also very dangerous to make the assumption that this burning living hell can only happen in Comayagua, Honduras or the Global South. Similar situations have occurred in many prisons across the globe including the U.S. In 1930, 320 inmates were burned alive in the Ohio State Penitentiary. More recently in August 2011, the Mayor of New York City refused to evacuate prison inmates on Rikers Island. Even though Hurricane Irene was predicted to hit the island hard and Rikers Island is built on a landfill, the prisoners were treated as disposable and unworthy of evacuation. If the Hurricane created heavy floodwaters, 12,000 inmates would have been killed.

The crux of the problem is the dehumanization of prisoners and the people society deem “throw away.”  I wish this horrendous fire on Tuesday awakened the spiritual amnesia of so many people who take prisons for granted, yet as Angela Davis states, are “often afraid to face the realities they produce.”

As people of conscious who are not incarcerated, we have a privilege and obligation to rise up from the ashes of this horrific event and firmly resist the prison and military industrial complex.  Chicana activist and freedom writer Cherie Moraga reminds us “When we are not physically starving, we have the luxury to realize psychic and emotional starvation. It is from this starvation that other starvations can be recognized—if one is wiling to take the risk of making the connection—if one is willing to be responsible to the result of the connection. For me the connection is an inevitable one.”

We must make the connections and not allow the deaths of these 350 men to be in vain. It needs to be a source of spiritual awakening that pushes everyone towards action and the arch of justice.

There are many ways you can take action NOW: Call your representatives and demand that the U.S. cut off military funding from the Honduran government. Support our very own Books Not Bars Campaign, as we work to provide alternatives to California’s costly, broken youth prison system. Lastly, join me on Monday February 20th, 2012 for National Occupy Day in Support of Prisoners. We will be rallying at San Quentin to stand in solidarity with the people confined within its walls and demand divestment from prisons across the globe.  While I’m saddened and truly disgusted, I’m also hopeful that we will rise out of the ashes and work towards dismantling prisons and all institutions built on fear and injustice.