Deirdre Wilson, a former inmate who served as a firefighter in the Puerta La Cruz fire in California, told Newsweek that prison volunteer firefighting was a "cruel joke" after it was revealed that firefighters typically make about $75,000 per year plus benefits, while inmates from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation make about $2 per day, and $1 extra when fighting an active fire.
"You're not really volunteering," Wilson told Newsweek. "The system evolved out of a system of slavery where we commodify human bodies and function off their labor."
Amani Sawari told Vox the 19-day strike would show how much the U.S. economy relies on prison labor to operate.
Sawari said private companies that benefit from prison labor include Starbucks and Victoria's Secret.
“Prisoners want to be valued as contributors to our society,” Sawari said.
During the strike, inmates plan to stop reporting for their assigned jobs, end commissary spending in prisons and refuse to eat during a hunger strike, according to Newsweek.
This comes after seven inmates were killed and over a dozen others were hurt in a prison riot at Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina.
The event is led by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, a network of prisoner-rights advocates.
It is supported by Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), a prisoner-led trade group.
According to the IWOC website, the prisoners involved in the strike are demanding an increase in prisoner wages to state minimums and an opportunity for inmates serving life sentences to appear before a parole board.
Prisoners in at least 17 states are planning to join the protests, including those incarcerated in Seattle, Texas, North Carolina, Florida, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and Brooklyn, New York.
The prisoner strike is expected to continue until Sept. 9.