Politics Over Personality
While reading the last few issues of ULK I have seen a theme which has appeared in the past concerning Special Needs Yards (SNY). Every state has its version of SNY. Whether it is called Ad-Seg, PC or SNY is a matter of the "weak."(1) People end up on SNY for all kinds of reasons. We have a whole pantry full of names for such people: PCs, catch outs, drop outs, victims, rats, rapos, cho-mos, or whatever the case may be.
When a person enters the penal system in the U.S. they are instantly thrown into a chaotic world of racial, religious and gang hatreds complicated by competing interests, decades-old animosities and a complex and contradictory idea system that we call the "convict code." All of that is coupled with the prison administration's coercive nature of "rehabilitation." The continued conversation over special needs yards demonstrates that many of us cannot see past the "institutional personalities" that the prison system forces on us.
The reality, whether one wants to face it or not, is many so-called PCs have been the ones that have fought for and secured many of the "rights" we have as prisoners. In the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Farmer v. Brennan 114 S.Ct. 1970, the prisoner was a so-called "weak" element. Farmer was a long-time prisoner rights advocate. It's ironic that the very people who point the finger at SNY prisoners then cite those same prisoners' cases to protect their own rights.
As prisoner activists one of our first goals should be in protecting the weakest and most vulnerable among us. Sometimes that means you have to overcome your own personal prejudices, fears and attitudes which might have developed as a result of the polluted psychological environment in prison. It also means careful self-examination. Socrates wrote, "do not do to others what angers you if done to you by others."(2) That is a concept we all could stand to reflect on.
Every person has their own cross to bear. We shouldn't add our weight to someone else's burden. I welcome the input of so-called SNY or PC prisoners. I have no interest in making their time harder. The first and primary concern we should have is how to collectively work together to secure rights and improve prison conditions and, second, to further political goals as they relate to the first. What we shouldn't do is victimize each other or conform to an institutional personality that hinders political reform.