Disasters are ALWAYS the greatest danger to prisoners. As climate chaos intensifies, our networks of disaster response must prioritize those who literally can’t evacuate. In the case of the devastating tornadoes that hit Mayfield, Kentucky early Saturday morning, prisoners were some of the last people to be considered. The jail itself was evacuated, and good thing since the courthouse above it sustained significant damage with the roof being ripped away. While most of the prisoners were taken to other locations farther from the path of the storm, those who were on work release for night shift at Mayfield Consumer Products’ candle factory were trapped inside with everyone else. Some were reported helping rescue other employees when the roof collapsed.
Mayfield Consumer Products’ CEO put out the following statement: “We’re heartbroken about this, and our immediate efforts are to assist those affected by this terrible disaster. Our company is family-owned and our employees, some who have worked with us for many years, are cherished. We’re immediately establishing an emergency fund to assist our employees and their families.” While we’re relieved that all 9 of the prisoners have survived so far (though some with life-threatening injuries), his words are all too familiar and hollow. We hear versions of this statement after every disaster from the bosses, landlords, cops, and politicians who could have prevented the very danger in the first place. The “free” people he hired at $8/hour, even the ones he knew for years, are no more valuable to him than the prisoners who had just begun working there; both were disposable enough he was willing to risk their safety for his profit in the path of what may be the longest tornado in history.
Our collective perceived disposability, as incarcerated people, as poor people, as BIPOC, queer, disabled people, is what ought to bind us all together in the struggle for a better future, because at the end of the day, we know better. We know we have inherent value, even if sometimes capitalism makes us forget. We know this tornado on an usually warm weekend in December could have been prevented long ago by those who deny climate change for their own convenience and greed, just as the deaths in that factory could have been prevented. No one should have been in that factory during a severe weather alert and we shouldn’t be having weather like this in the first place. None of this is normal. The conditions that make us accept 12 hours shifts, mandatory overtime, less than living wages, and the enslavement of our fellow humans: These Conditions Are Not Normal.
You can find ways to provide mutual aid to those affected by the storms at these two links. While these lists are comprehensive, they are not exhaustive. Please try to go through local folks if you are able, rather than national entities or large non-profits. Folks on the ground will know best what their communities need.
Tornado Disaster Support Thread: bit.ly/WKYDEC21