Inmates at a jail in downtown St. Louis had enough. Conditions. Treatment. It was enough. And they displayed it in the only way they know how.

According to St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards, during a news conference, a “defiant” inmate got into a fight with a corrections officer who was then jumped by other inmates. Authorities said that inmates managed to “jimmy” locks open and then chaos ensued. In the end, 100 inmates took over two units of the jail for a brief period while breaking windows and setting things on fire.

But according to inmates and activists, the defiance and fight didn’t exist in a vacuum in the latest in a series of riots that have happened in St. Louis’ jails. Video surfaced online of inmates throwing furniture and other items out of the third-floor window and holding signs that said “Free 57” with the number of inmates still on lockdown after the previous riot.

“This was not a spontaneous act in defiance,” said Tracy Stanton, of EXPO (Ex-Incarcerated People Organizing), who’s said to have people on the inside providing her with information. “This was after months of inhumane treatment, unsafe and unsanitary conditions and grievances.”

The most recent riot was the third one in three months. In the other two scuffles, inmates were protesting the prison’s conditions during the COVID-19 epidemic. In the end, 55 inmates were sent to a segregation unit with maximum security and 65 inmates were transferred to the Medium Security Institution.

“This was not an attempt to break out of jail. This is certainly not a situation involving COVID. We have zero COVID cases at CJC,” Edwards said at a news conference following the riots. “This was a bunch of folk who were defiant.”

“Most folks tested positive as a result of us doing testing of the facility, and most were asymptomatic,” continued Edwards during a January news conference. “We’ve had five people with low-grade fevers that we’ve monitored very closely.”

Other activists have gotten into the mix as well. ArchCity Defenders, a St. Louis-based organization, didn’t respond to requests but took to Twitter to air out their grievances with the City Justice Center.

“People in CJC and the Workhouse have talked about fearing for their safety & fearing for their lives. A man, detained pretrial for 3 years, lost his home & was separated from his children. He didn’t go in front of a judge for a year. This system is designed to erase people’s lives, isolate people from their families…there is no such thing as a humane jail. Anyone not thinking of alternative solutions is recycling violence.”

The inmates’ effort have been referred to as an uprising. Jose Saldana, director of Release Aging People in Prison and who’s spent four decades incarcerated, said that if these inmates were defiant, they were doing it as a last resort.

“They must be desperate,” said Saldana. “The conditions over there must be so desperate that this is the only thing they have left. People do not just decide to wake up in the morning and riot.”

Stanton recalled the riot in late December where more than 50 inmates stood outside of their cells in solidarity with those who were protesting their conditions.

“They were met with tear gas, water hoses and facedown arrests,” Stanton said.

According to information collected by The Marshall Project and the Associated Press, one in five prisoners has or had the coronavirus compared to 1-in-20 in the general population.

“We didn’t have to wait for this to happen to acknowledge that this was a problem,” said Saldana. “We didn’t have to wait until someone lost their lives to address something serious. You shouldn’t have to wait until something like that happens to address it.”

Attempts to contact the Public Safety office and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson were unsuccessful.

“Yes, they’re in jail, but these are people who haven’t been convicted for a crime,” said Stanton. “Stacking people inside of cells and not giving them space to social distance, not providing PPEs [personal protective equipment] and deny visits…you’re on lockdown for 48 hours and not being able to talk to your lawyers or your families.

“This wasn’t just defiant ignorance and evil,” continued Stanton. “This was calculated by people who had reached their last limit.