Social Policy

Inmates INSIDE Alabama Prison do the Mannequin Challenge

Using Social Media Challenges as a Platform for Amplifying the Voices of the Incarcerated

Social media has become the blood pumping through the veins of today’s human rights movements. Just as technological innovation brought African American’s closer to their goals in civil rights movements of the 1960s, social media is doing the same for marginalized populations today. From the Black Lives Matter movement to #NoDAPL, human rights activist are gaining mobility through hashtags and videos that go viral. screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-10-46-31-am

Whether we recognize it, prison populations are the most marginalized group of people in the United States. Incarcerated loved ones are purposely segregated from the masses, their voices are suppressed and their movements are regulated, so much so that phone conversations are limited to what inmates can afford at an 11 cents hourly wage. We have little to no access to our communtiy inside the walls, even in cases of injustice, legality and danger, access has been denied to those seeking clarity to what’s going on in our prisons. Knowing this, when I saw the Prison Mannequin Challenge inside of Alabama Corrections I was swept with emotion. Not only could we see what looked like a perfectly executed mannequin challenge. But we can also see a diverse group of over 100 men cohesively participating in the still and precise internet challenge. In the video, the dormitory is filled with frozen inmates as far as the eye can see in a variety of positions: reading, fighting, praying, working out, flipping the bird, smoking, gathered holding hands, sleeping, etc. Some of the men wore hats, watches, shorts; one man’s arm was confined in a sling, but each body was covered with white garments with the owner printed on their backs, “Alabama Department of Corrections”. screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-10-50-33-amWhoever recorded this video, you’ve given hundreds of thousands of watchers a glimpse into the prison that staff don’t want the pubic to see. You showed us exactly what an makeshift dormitory looks like, that was probably transformed from a recreational room, as a result of overcrowding.  You showed us that inmates are unified, diverse, and witty. Mannequin challenges are cool because they tie moments in our lives together with humor. I’ve seen challenges in churches for weddings and with students in classes. In each of these I’ve found myself frozen in time imagining myself in that beautiful moment.  This video was striking in its difference. Instead of imagining myself in that moment, I was forced to stand outside of it, while recognizing that these men are confined inside. This wasn’t a beautiful wedding or a day in class, it was a group of men surviving in captivity. Thank you Alabama inmates for using this challenge to remind us what social media is for.  Technology  is for connecting to the unconnected, in human rights it allows oppressed groups to amplify their voices and share their experiences. 

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-10-45-07-amThe release of this video, originally was posted on Facebook, has prompted an investigation in Alabama Department of Corrections according to Spokesman Bob Horton, as cell phones are considered illegal contraband. The mannequin challenge is unique, one of the first to be performed behind the wall, because of it’s nature requiring participants to be quiet and absolutely still in order to appear frozen in time. Inmates risked a lot with their involvement in this challenge. We’ve seen in the prison strike, that began September 9th this past year, how participants were unjustly punished and sent to solitary confinement for non-violent actions. I wouldn’t be surprised if staff tried to punish inmates seen in this one minute clip and I will certainly be apart of the phone raids that will occur on their behalf to call for their release. Prisoners we are behind you, we will continue to create platforms that allow your voice to rise. Thank you for showing us how a simple internet challenge can do that, continue to lead the way. 

See the video clip below


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About Amani Sawari

I am a University of Washington alum, Class of 2016. I graduated with my Bachelors Degree in two majors: Media and Communications AND Law, Economics and Public Policy. It's a mouthful but it illustrates how I have a hard time doing only one 'thing'. I am a writer, poet, singer, songwriter and much more. I enjoy sharing my experiences and perspectives with those who are interested and I am a proud member of the black diaspora!
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