We Need Honor Among Prisoners

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[Organizing] [ULK Issue 63]
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We Need Honor Among Prisoners

I'm relaying a conversation I had with the leader of a certain organization and the events that brought it about. About a month ago on Ad-Seg yard the cat in the cage next to me got stabbed up while he was in full restraints behind an argument him and this other dude had the night before. These types of attacks have become really popular the last few years here in Arkansas and coincidentally so have drugs like K2 and ice. The types of attacks I'm talking about are: in gen pop, prisoners getting cracked with locks while they're asleep. Or getting jumped by 5-6 dudes and not just taking an ass whoppin but getting stabbed on top of getting jumped.

Then the Ad-Seg yard has become a death trap. These dudes have learned how to cut through the chainlink fences. While dudes are getting moved it ain't shit for one of those other cats to pop out of his cage and butcher another prisoner that will be handcuffed behind the back and shackled up in full restraints. To me this is a coward move, I can't respect that shit. So I got to thinking what it would take for those dudes to take a second look at their tactics. So I decided to have a conversation with an org leader I've been knowing for about 10 years and I know his word has a lot of weight.

Throughout my experience I've learned a lot of these leaders have ego issues so when you put forth any type of idea that may be enforced you have to put it forth in a way so as it's like it's their idea and play it off what you know are their likes and dislikes. I know he happens to despise cowards so I put forth my argument on these types of attacks being really cowardice along with stupidity, especially for the reasons that they are taking place (words and name calling over the tier). I shot it at this cat how we as prisoners have to govern ourselves through certain rules, just like his org has rules against members stealing from other prisoners.

I was surprised to find out that not only does he not care but he actually condones these attacks! And proceeded to debate with me using as his argument telling me to imagine one of these dudes slandering me, calling me a snitch or whatever. I saw I was going nowhere so I steered the conversation to more neutral matters but later I thought, "I may have been swayed by an argument of what if dude was a snitch himself and there was paperwork and witnesses to corroborate but some dude calling me names?"

Maybe I have a better understanding of the fact that most of these dudes have mental health issues of some sort and compound that with being behind millions of $s worth of concrete and steel, they start feeling invisible and lose touch with reality. I gave up trying to hold people to the same moral standards I hold myself to, but these types of attacks are wrong on so many levels. There needs to be some type of honor amongst prisoners, some type of integrity, some type of standards we hold ourselves and our comrades to. Stop provoking these mental health dudes and instead educate in how to deal with each other. You don't have to become best friends but some shit you just gotta overlook.


MIM(Prisons) responds: We fully support this comrade's efforts to organize for peace in the facility where ey is held. We agree that there should be a minimum standard of behavior amongst prisoners, and we uphold the 5 principles of the United Front for Peace in Prisons as our ideal model.(see p. 3)

If a conversation is going nowhere, turning it to neutral territory is a perfectly good tactic. Better to end on neutral ground than with even more discord. And choosing who to have these conversations with (i.e. don't agitate people with mental health challenges) is another sharp lesson from this author.

Often times a conversation will seem like a failure in the moment, because we aren't obviously going from point A to goal Z. But even something as small as beginning a dialogue, planting a seed, or removing the taboo from a topic of conversation, can be victories in themselves. There are many reasons why a conversation might seem unproductive in the moment, but actually have a lasting positive effect.

We can also examine conversations like this to try to figure out exactly what is holding it back. Often it's easier on our own egos to blame failures on others' unwillingness to accept our "correct" position. Rather than looking at what we can improve on our end, we just label the persyn we're arguing with as unreasonable. We might not ever win this person over on this issue, but ultimately we need to take responsibility for our own successes and failures in our organizing efforts, and learn and grow and improve from them.

To become an expert in any field, it takes approximately ten thousand hours over ten years. Think about the amount of effort you are putting into being a great organizer. Are you on track to becoming an expert?

Quantity of effort is not the only important factor to improving our skills. Quality of our practice is just as important. Experts don't just practice more, they practice deliberately.

"This is how experts practice:

"First, they set a stretch goal, zeroing in on just one narrow aspect of their overall performance. Rather than focus on what they already do well, experts strive to improve specific weaknesses. They intentionally seek out challenges they can't yet meet...

"Then, with undivided attention and great effort, experts strive to reach their stretch goal. Interestingly, many choose to do so while nobody's watching. Basketball great Kevin Durant has said, 'I probably spend 70 percent of my time by myself, working on my game, just trying to fine-tune every single piece of my game.' ...

"As soon as possible, experts hungrily seek feedback on how they did. Necessarily, much of that feedback is negative. This means that experts are more interested in what they did wrong — so they can fix it — than what they did right. The active processing of this feedback is as essential as its immediacy. ...

"And after feedback, then what?

"Then experts do it all over again, and again, and again. Until they have finally mastered what they set out to do. Until what was a struggle before is now fluent and flawless. Until conscious incompetence becomes unconscious competence...

"And... then what? What follows mastery of a stretch goal?

"Then experts start all over again with a new stretch goal.

"One by one, these subtle refinements add up to dazzling mastery."(1)

The process of deliberate practice requires us to identify a goal, stay focused on our goal, break it into tiny parts, seek out feedback, be open to criticism, try, try, try, try, try, succeed, and then stretch again. All together this requires a ton of persynal growth and commitment.

If we want to be the best organizers we can be, we can take a lesson from Durant. Treat our organizing skills like ey treats eir basketball career. Write down your goals and failures. Think about them deeply. Read about negotiation and conversation tactics. Get input from others. Consolidate our experience. Try again.

Note:
1. Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Scribner, 2016.
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