Writing Campaign Works

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[Organizing] [Alexander Correctional Institution] [North Carolina] [ULK Issue 66]

Writing Campaign Works

I have been fighting for better conditions in my current prison since I got here in June 2017. Tell the prison masses they have to write en masse to their unit managers, warden and director of prisons in their state. It's free!! There is no excuse.

The easiest thing to do, which I did, is to write up your declarations and remonstrations using carbon copy paper. Make 2-3 copies for each block/pod in every unit. Pass them out to comrades in those blocks, so they can encourage/force/persuade the masses to take 15 minutes to recopy and post it out. Done.

The first time I initiated these shots the warden called me to his office for a meeting with him, the unit manager, and assistant warden. He stopped the early counts, the 9 p.m. count, and turning off of phones. This sh!t works. On the second salvo he initiated recreation seven days a week. We are still pounding.

MIM(Prisons) responds: More reasonable hours for count, more contact with the outside world, and more recreation are all related to our anti-imperialist struggle, even though they may seem like petty reforms. Better sleep makes us mentally sharper, for writing, self-control, and creativity. Interaction with the outside world can give us motivation and positive social contact. And exercise (especially outdoors) helps with our physical as well as mental health.

We'd love to analyze a little deeper the benefits of running a campaign like the one described, because it's not just good for changing conditions. The people who are copying the letters and seeing results are at a special place in their recruiting. They might not be ready to initiate a campaign like this, and they might not even identify as part of "the struggle." But they have some interest in this work and are putting in some (albeit relatively small) effort.

At this stage, the best thing we can do for them is help set up "easy wins." They probably aren't dedicated enough to remain committed after a big setback. So asking them to put in a ton of effort for no reward is just not realistically going to inspire them to stay engaged. Whenever we can devise campaigns or activities that give this positive feedback to the people participating, with minimal effort, we should jump on those projects. These folks might not have learned the relationship between working hard and reward, so we can help teach that association. "Without directly experiencing the connection between effort and reward, animals, whether they're rats or people, default to laziness."(1)

Also keep in mind that all is not lost on the folks who are not participating, and are watching the campaign from the sidelines. Like we wrote in our response to "Sack the Sack Lunches," this type of campaign can help spark people's interest, just by witnessing and experiencing the results. Let's not condemn these folks for not participating, and instead let's try harder to inspire them with our successes, and then help them with easy wins when they are ready to participate.

In some states like Texas, where even indigent mail is restricted to 5 letters per month, it's not free to write to these administrators to change conditions. There are plenty of excuses (or reasons) why people can't engage in this type of campaign. Still, whenever possible, we agree that we should be pushing campaigns like these. It just means we have to get more creative in developing them.

1. Angela Duckworth, Grit, Scribner: 2016, Ch. 11 "The Playing Fields of Grit."