Defiant Protesters Come to the Aid of Prisoners at St. Louis Hell-House Jail

July 23, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


It was a week of triple-digit heat outside the Medium Security Institution (MSI), better known as the St. Louis workhouse jail, a 10-15 minute drive from Ferguson, Missouri. Heat indices outside have been 100-110 degrees daily; inside this jail, temperatures have soared as much as 5-10 degrees higher.

A Facebook video posted early Tuesday, July 18, captured chilling screams from some of the prisoners locked in this oven: “HELP! HELP US! We ain’t got no A/C!” Hundreds of thousands viewed it and an emergency protest was called for Friday, July 21, at the gates of this literal hellhole.

Protesters rock the fence outside the St. Louis Workhouse Jail, July 21. Video: Twitter/@Search4Swag

About 200 protesters came to the aid of the prisoners, expressing their outrage on signs and slogans: “Black Lives Matter”; “We Demand Humanity”; “This is Cruel and Unusual Punishment”; “We Treat Animals Better”; “Shut It Down”; and “Free Our People.” One protester told the press, “I am here for the sake of humanity.” The protesters’ chant of “let them go” was answered by inmates’ response of “let us out” as they waved towels out the windows. A Black state senator was among the protesters. Other Black officials issued letters and comments on the horrific jail conditions.

Nearly all of the 770 prisoners at MSI are locked up because they are awaiting trial and are too poor to afford bail. Besides extreme heat in summer and cold in winter, the men and women inside MSI live with black mold (for example, all over the cafeteria), being bitten by insect/rat infestation, sexual harassment, and negligent medical care. An ACLU report (2009) and a lawsuit by inmates (2012) charged guards with forcing inmates into “gladiator fights” for amusement. A Department of (IN)Justice report (2013) admitted that MSI “had one of the highest rates of reported sexual abuse among the country’s jails.”

Friday’s protest brought together young and old, and different nationalities, with many white youths taking part in rocking the jail’s outer security fence until its metal clasps loosened and the bottom of the fence was hoisted up. Some protesters ran onto the prison grounds defiantly. The cops waded into the crowd with pepper spray and made one arrest.

In the face of this pig attack, a second night of protest was called for Saturday, even as the mayor announced that five portable air-conditioning units would be sent into the workhouse. While the crowd was smaller—mainly Black and white youths, college students as well as youths from the hood, it was a spirited and determined action. People protested and chanted for hours, even in the pouring hot summer rain (with lightning!). Some of the chants raised were: “FTP... Fuck the Police”; “Who Shut Shit Down, We Shut Shit Down”; “Revolution, Rise Up”; “When people’s rights are under attack, stand up, fight back”; “Fuck the system, fuck the state, America was never great”; and “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?” The pigs rushed the protesters and made two arrests.

It is precious and righteous that people came to the aid of these prisoners—people this system has vilified and cast off. This kind of spirit and this kind of action is even more urgent today, as the Trump/Pence fascist regime targets whole groups of people—including immigrants, Muslims, Black and Latino people, women and LGBTQ people, and more—for even more vicious attacks and suppression. These battles must be increasingly focused on the objective of driving the Trump/Pence regime from power, and increasingly connected to the movement for an actual revolution



Volunteers Needed... for and Revolution

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.