Life on Alabama’s chain gangs got even tougher Monday with inmates swinging 10-pound sledgehammers in the August heat to break boulders into gravel.
Alternately joking, cursing and singing, the first 160 inmates on “rock duty” made stone chips fly under the gaze of shotgun-wielding guards.
The temperature already was around 80 degrees before 9 a.m., and groups of inmates shackled together at the ankles were relieved of duty every 20 minutes. Prisoners were given safety glasses to protect their eyes from stone chips.
The broken rock will be used as gravel on prison roads.
It’s part of a campaign to make Alabama prisons so unpleasant inmates won’t return.
“Some of them will be too sore to get out of bed tomorrow but they will,” said Ralph Hooks, deputy warden at the Limestone Correctional Facility. “They’ll come back out here and work their soreness out 10 hours a day, five days a week.”
In May, Prison Commissioner Ron Jones made Alabama the first state to reinstate chain gangs. Inmates initially performed tasks such as picking up litter and cutting weeds.
Jones also has reduced visiting privileges, ordered bright-pink uniforms for male prisoners who masturbate in front of women guards, and briefly ordered an end to vegetable gardens tended by female inmates.
Critics contend the chain gangs and other recent policies give the state image problems. The Southern Poverty Law Center sued, calling chain gangs “barbaric and inhumane.”
“They’re treating us like … slaves,” said William Crook, a 28-year-old member of the rock-breaking detail who is serving two years for receiving stolen property.
Other inmates said the hard work would keep them on the straight and narrow.
“I won’t be back, I know that,” said Louis Armstrong, who has six weeks remaining on a burglary sentence.
Members of the rock-breaking details are drawn from among the 423 prisoners at Limestone who are assigned to the chain gangs.