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Interview: El Jones on supporting the Burnside jail protest


Photo Haliginia .ca

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Shoes that fit, a canteen that sells healthy snacks, access to healthcare, library access, more visiting rights, and better access to programs that support rehabilitation, those are some of the things prisoners in the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Burnside are asking for.

The demands, 10 in all, are listed in a manifesto announcing protest actions in alignment with the broader North American prison strike from August 21st to September 9th.

The prisoners call for solidarity with jail workers, who also face injustice, and are strongly committed to only peaceful and nonviolent action.

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,” the prisoners state. “We now call upon our supporters outside these walls to stand with us in protesting our treatment.”

We talked with prisoner rights advocate El Jones to better understand what is driving the protest, and how people on the outside can support the prisoners.

On what we can do to help

The prisoners are limited in what they can do, they live in a prison after all, they don’t have enough power. So it is up to us, on the outside, to say that these things are unacceptable, and to make the dept of Justice feel the pressure. You can contact the department, you can call your MLA.

People are also encouraged to get together as groups, to hold solidarity actions, whether that is picketing or demonstrations, a letter writing campaign, a tweetstorm, things like that. It doesn’t have to come centrally.  I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that people take agency.

All those are excellent, as long as people stay aware of the risks to people inside, and keep their actions reasonable and non violent. The hope is that during the duration of the international prisoners strike people here will keep up that pressure. 

The international prison strike is happening, and what is happening here this is part of that broader action. In the US lots of groups and unions have signed on. it would be nice to see that kind of support in Halifax as well, it would be nice to see the NSGEU (the union that represents guards) speak out, this is a good time for solidarity.

On the demands

The prisoners are not saying anything that is in the least contentious. The demands are all very basic, we have known of these issues for a very long time. We have seen the Auditor General reports, we know about the gaps in mental healthcare, the government confirmed the air quality issues during the heatwave, the filthy conditions.  None of this is a surprise, all of it is valid.

I know a lot of the Nova Scotia Advocate readers are struggling to make ends meet. They may well say, “Why should I care, I  don’t have healthcare myself, I can’t afford medications either.” Two things I would like to say about that.

First, this is about extremes.  I don’t know if people understand the depth of not having access to healthcare we are dealing with here. We are talking about women in high risk pregnancies, who could lose their babies, who are denied prenatal appointments. We are talking about people being cut off medications, after having been on them for years, and going into a psychotic state as a result, having hallucinations and harming themselves. People breaking a bone and having to wait weeks to even get a scan.  

Most importantly, we must understand that as a divide and conquer tactic of those in power. In a political sense, it doesn’t serve to play off the poor against the poor. People in  prison are largely there for crimes of poverty, mental health and addiction. So I hope that people living in poverty recognize we are dealing with a common oppression here, and that we should all have access to these things, and to deprive part of the population doesn’t give others more rights.  


To find out about actions related to the protest, listen to CKDU’s Black Power Hour on Wednesdays from 9 PM to 10:30 PM.  There will be an Information meeting on Thursday August 23, an opportunity to discuss  the #BurnsidePrisonStrike for people looking to provide support and talk about what they can do in solidarity. At the Glitter Bean Cafe (5896 Spring Garden Road.) 6PM.

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