Case Law and Strengthening Spontaneous Action

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Case Law and Strengthening Spontaneous Action

Most prisoners don't know that the only reason some injustices happen to them is because the person before them it was done to did nothing about it. So it continues into custom, then into practice, then into policy. Once in policy, Court Order Injunction is the only means to prove unconstitutionality of such acts and force them to be changed. Therefore we need to fight injustice while it is still just a custom!

In ULK 33 "Solidarity: Dead in the Feds", a Federal prisoner reported on a spontaneous action that took place to protest poor meals in the Security Housing Unit at the United $tates Penitentiary in Pollock, Louisiana. 53 prisoners participated in a collective action but most quickly retreated. Clothing was taken away and everyone was placed on meager "disciplinary meals."

Besides the spontaneous direct action approach which quickly fizzled out, another tactic those comrades could take is to get those 53 prisoners to pick up a pen and a grievance and file the case law outlined on Donegan v. Fair, 859 F2d 1059.1063 (1st Cir 1988) (Statute: Prisoners have liberty interest in receiving nutritionally adequate food and meals).

I would also recommend to read the unit's use of force policy to see what they can and cannot do to you, being that this correspondent in Pollock was gassed five times. Getting gassed when done without reason is unconstitutional. See Stringer v. Rowe, 616 F2d 993 at 998 (7th Cir 1980).

The taking of clothes is arbitrary and capricious and done to punish without penological purpose. The case Reeves v. Pettcox, 19 F3d 1060 (5th Cir 1994) combats this type of act.


MIM(Prisons) adds: We appreciate this Prisoners' Legal Clinic contributor for sending in legal tips for others to use in their struggles against the criminal injustice system. Spontaneous collective action provides a good assessment of our overall level of solidarity. That 53 people participated in this spontaneous action in the first place is quite impressive. But building a protracted struggle to bring down the root causes of our vast criminal injustice system — capitalism, imperialism, and national oppression — is another thing altogether.

Unless there is a very broad and deep level of unity among the imprisoned population, direct actions will face defeat because the guards can easily intimidate people out of participating. This is essentially what happened in the original article from ULK 33. We hope the correspondent in Pollock will continue to organize others against injustices in their unit, rather than accept defeat because of one failed action. There are many tactics we can employ to build unity and strengthen our movement.

When choosing what campaigns to organize around, we can see there is a difference between just fighting for reforms while leaving the overall oppressive system intact, and fighting for reforms that make space for more political organizing. Our comrades behind bars should organize with others in their unit against prison abuses, to build networks and elevate the collective consciousness of their fellow captives. This would include fighting against excessive use of force, or for nutritious meals. And we can fight for reforms that directly impact our ability or organize, such as anti-censorship campaigns, or the struggle to abolish solitary confinement. We can organize over these campaigns, and even have some wins under imperialism. The biggest win will be developing our collective consciousness and unity.

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