The 13th Amendment is celebrated for abolishing slavery. But many Americans are not aware that it includes a legal exception for continuing slave labor in the prison system: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.”

After the amendment was passed, many former slaves were arrested on petty or trumped-up charges, and returned to being slaves within the prison system. Part of what continues to drive mass incarceration in the U.S. is the profit motive: millions of inmates are forced to work for little or no pay. With the highest per capita prison population in the world, U.S. prison labor is a huge industry.

On August 27 prison abolitionists, anarchists, socialists, and other opponents of the prison industrial complex marched from the Ohio Statehouse to support a nationwide prison strike planned for September 9, the 45th anniversary of the prisoner uprising at Attica, New York State’s most notorious prison.

“We will begin an action to shut down prisons all across this country,” Support Prisoner Resistance announced in April. “We will not only demand the end to prison slavery, we will end it ourselves by ceasing to be slaves.”

In retaliation for his leadership in coordinating the work stoppage, Siddique Abdullah Hasan has been placed in solitary confinement at the Ohio State Penitentiary. Hasan and two other prisoners have been on hunger strike since August 15.

Many revolutionary organizations are supporting the strike, including Industrial Workers of the World, which supports labor organizing in every industry, including prisons. Solidarity actions have been taking place across the country in the weeks leading up to September 9.

The rhetoric during the Columbus action was largely anarchistic in content and tone. “Brick by brick, wall by wall, we will make the prisons fall!” the marchers chanted. “Smash the gates. Burn the prisons. Just make sure the cops are in ’em!”

The march ended at the Franklin County Correctional Center on South Front Street, where Pastor Demetric Canada spoke to the protesters.  His words were more measured than the hyperbolic rhetoric that was chanted during the march. “This is a peaceful, non-violent work stoppage,” he said. “They have a right to refuse to work. They have a right to refuse to be treated like slaves.”

Canada was incarcerated in the Michigan correctional system for 28 years. He is now a pastor at the Saint Paul Baptist Church in Columbus.

“The police are not really your enemies,” Canada said. “The criminal justice system is broken. It’s corrupt, it’s torn up. There are some terrible people in it. But we’re not fighting against people. We’re fighting against a system — an unjust, monolithic system that’s destroying communities, families, and lives.”

Canada stressed the importance of people outside the prisons supporting the strike, and working to move legislation and change policy. “It’s important that the people on both sides of the cell door understand that there’s a whole lot of support out here, and we won’t tolerate anything less than proper treatment of prisoners,” he said.

Members of the National Lawyers Guild were on hand in case any of the protesters would be arrested. There was no visible police presence at the march.