Prisoners Report on Conditions in

California Prisons

Got legal skills? Help out with writing letters to appeal censorship of MIM Distributors by prison staff. help out

www.prisoncensorship.info is a media institution run by the Maoist Internationalist Ministry of Prisons. Here we collect and publicize reports of conditions behind the bars in U.$. prisons. Information about these incidents rarely makes it out of the prison, and when it does it is extremely rare that the reports are taken seriously and published. This historical record is important for documenting patterns of abuse, and also for informing people on the streets about what goes on behind the bars.

We hope this information will inspire people to take action and join the fight against the criminal injustice system. While we may not be able to immediately impact this particular instance of abuse, we can work to fundamentally change the system that permits and perpetuates it. The criminal injustice system is intimately tied up with imperialism, and serves as a tool of social control on the homeland, particularly targeting oppressed nations.

[Censorship] [Pelican Bay State Prison] [California]
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Censorship of outgoing mail at Pelican Bay

This initiative is being brought forth under the social principles of communal cooperative work. The focus point of this initiative is to combat an arbitrary policy that the Pelican Bay State Prison administrators have initiated, which essentially violates the constitutional 1st amendment right to the freedom of speech/expression, as warranted to the captive class of prisoners that is being held in the SHU (Security Housing Unit). On November 13, 2006, the Associate Warden Ms. C.M. Scavetta authorized a memorandum which mandates that: "all prisoners housed in the SHU shall have their outgoing mail stamped in big red letters (Pelican Bay SHU - Unit D3) on the outside of the envelope, as well as on every single page of the enclosed correspondence, or on the noted contents therein…such as; "drawings, cards, political writings being sent out for publication purposes etc…"

We prisoners firmly oppose this new arbitrary policy, in that it vandalizes, defaces, and undermines the essence of our 1st amendment right to the freedom of speech/expression. Furthermore, this practice is semblance to how the Nazi Germans branded (stamped) the Jews that were being held captive in their Nuremburg concentration slave kamps for purposes of social control and eventual extermination! So in the true spirit of communal cooperative work, we prisoners are requesting the community's support in the form of launching a "phone call/letter writing campaign" in opposition to this arbitrary policy/practice.

For those of you who may be entertaining thoughts of doubt as to why you should get involved in this initiative, my people you should try to understand that we prisoners are an extension of every poor and oppressed community out in Babylon. Meaning that we prisoners remain an integral part of the community that we were removed from, but also our families, friends, and loved ones are also affected by this repressive practice via the mail that we send to them as well. What if your loved one or family member had a very important message to get out to you, but when you received his letter, you were unable to read it on account of it being stamped (vandalized) in very big red letters?

It is a historical truth that repression breeds resistance, so let our call of resistance be echoed in the form of placing phone calls and writing letters to the warden and associate warden of this prison in the expressed form of opposition and to the illegality of this practice. It will also help if you would notify your local politicians and legislatures about this to encourage them to investigate this matter, and to send letters as well. Send your letters to the following address:

Pelican Bay State Prison
c/o Robert Horel, Warden
5905 Lake Earl Dr.
Crescent City, CA 95531

Or:
c/o Associate Warden C.M. Scavetta
same address as above
707-465-1000

MIM adds: in our short experience with this policy we can collaborate this prisoner's statement that the stamps on every page of every letter make SHU prisoner's mail very hard to read. Further, stamping artwork essentially ruins the art. This policy serves no purpose other than harassment of prisoner's and their correspondents.

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[Organizing] [Political Repression] [California]
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Peace between prisoners discouraged in California

In response to an article in the October Under Lock and Key about prisoner's attempting to organize a peace summit at Pelican Bay prison in California, one prisoner wrote:

I have yet to hear of any of this, however, I did hear about the 2001 attempted peace treaty. Which of course was purposely sabotaged by CDC. The very last thing these bastards (CDC) wants is peace amongst the races here in prison. It is not in the material interest of the white middle class who work for CDC to have this violence come to an end. Any time an institution goes on lock down, prison officials automatically get what's called "Hazard Pay" which doubles their pay. So for every violent incident they (CDC) can provoke, they stand to profit from it.

And it's not only the CDC that stands to profit. Other outside organizations are also profiting from what the CDC has created. Organizations such as the Sheriffs department and other police agencies. Which of course are staffed with middle class white amerikans. Every time an incident from in here spills out into our occupied communities, it is these organizations that come in and lock up everyone in sight, not to mention harass, beat and even murder us.

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[Control Units] [Organizing] [Pelican Bay State Prison] [California]
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History of the Peace Summit initiative at Pelican Bay

Concerning the Pelican Bay State Prison Peace Summit initiative, I'm all too familiar with the initiative and the brothas that are seeking grassroots community support. Back in the year 2000, we the progressive class of Black prisoners had initiated efforts through these prison bureaucrats, in order to initiate some peace/resolve to the social conflict that had materialized out in general population, i.e. "race war." But as to be expected, these prison bureaucrats launched an aggressive "armed propaganda" campaign, in order to sabotage and disrupt our efforts. Because, as you know, it is these pigs nature to exist in a quagmire of diabolical, corrupt, and violent practices. So the armed propaganda campaign consisted of spreading a rumor to the head officials in Sacramento (CDC department heads) who had sanctioned the "peace talks" initially, that we prisoners that were directly involved with these "peace talks" were manipulating this opportunity to organize and conspire in criminal and violent activities, which is completely false and unfounded!

But by the time that we got around to challenging this nonsense, our efforts had proven to be futile, as we did not have any grassroots community support, which remains to be a critical component that needs to be addressed in light of our material existence, in being held in the restricted bondage and isolated confines of the SHU (Security Housing Unit). Besides, these fascist pigs in here also had a vested economic interest in seeing that the cycle of violence remained a material factor, as it continues to be perpetuated out in general population (mainline) in the form of a "race war" (southern Mexicans and white supremacist Europeans vs. the class of New Afrikan Black prisoners), in that, if our collective goal towards peace had been materialized into a reality, then the fascist pigs would no longer been able to prey on the fears of the public, under the premise of violence being a out of control issue, and the justification for the continued existence of these super-maximum slave kamps would have also been negated!!

This is why it is ever so critical that we mobilize ourselves now, in order to obtain some real grassroots community support so that we may effectively combat this social dilemma and bring some peace and resolve, to not just these mainliners, but also in the communities of southern California, to where these acts of senseless violence has spilled over. Meaning, that individuals of these racial nationalities who have no knowledgeable insight of this social conflict (race war) is being arbitrarily subjected to the capricious whims of violence, i.e. "innocent victims." So the onus is on us to restore order on these mainlines and in the communities of Southern California, as these fascist pigs (U.$. government ) has never had our best interest at heard, in particular, as it relates to poor people of color.

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[Organizing] [Campaigns] [Pelican Bay State Prison] [California]
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Support the Pelican Bay State Prison Peace Talk

MISSION STATEMENT

In 1989, the CA Department of Corrections (DOC) opened Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP). Their primary stated reason for its construction was to reduce prison violence by segregating alleged gang leaders and members. But contrary to their stated purpose, prison violence has increased rapidly and dramatically. The CA prison system is more violent now than it was before the opening of PBSP. In fact, it's the most dangerous and deadly prison system in the country, as the statistics will clearly attest.

In Feb. 2001, CA witnessed one of its most violent race riots here at PBSP, where approximately 38 New Afrikan (Black) prisoners were stabbed. A message was delivered to me the next day from a group of brothers who had been involved in the riot, requesting my assistance with resolving this racial conflict/war. I am being housed in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) here at PBSP (solitary confinement), so I am in a position to talk to certain influential Mexican and white prisoners.

That night, I wrote to Warden Ayers, explaining to him that I would like to initiate peace talks designed to resolve this conflict. The following morning, I was escorted to the warden's office. He was interested in my proposal. While I was there, he asked what he could do to facilitate this peace process. I told him I needed to speak with a number of prisoners, and he told his staff to accommodate my endeavors. I was able to bring all relevant parties to the table, a peace plan was adopted and a cease fire was implemented.

We knew there were a number of associate wardens here at PBSP, as well as Institutional Gang Investigation (IGI) unit administration in Sacramento, along with the CA Corrections Peace Officers Association (CCPOA, prison guards union) who did not want this truce to take place or to take hold. True to form, they sabotaged our peace talks with lies and negative propaganda. Because we failed to mobilize an outside, grassroots support base, we were not able to challenge the lies and distortions that were being told.

The DOC told the politicians and the media that they didn't need us to resolve this conflict. They know that's untrue, that we are the only ones who can resolve it. When I say "we," I mean those New Afrikan, Mexican, and white prisoners presently housed here in the SHU at PBSP in the D-Facility, units 1, 2, 3 and 4. Many of us are between 40-65 years of age and have been in solitary confinement from 20 to 40 years. I personally have been in isolation for 24 years. We are the only ones who possess the respect and influence to end this conflict.

We could have resolved this racial conflict five years ago, but the CDC didn't want us to achieve that goal. As a direct result, the conflict has spun out of control. Since 2001, there have been at least 500 race-based riots behind the walls, and approximately as many individual stabbing incidents related to this conflict. Over 200 race riots took place in 2005 alone. Even worse, since 2001, the conflict has spilled out into the community outside the walls, especially in southern California, and now the community is caught up in the conflict. Of course the CDC will not take responsibility for the escalation of this conflict, but the fact remains that it was the CDC that sabotaged our efforts to end it, and now it has enveloped the whole state of California.

We can no longer afford to expect the CDC or government to end this conflict, or allow them to prevent us from ending it. The escalation of this conflict is a further example of the CDC's criminal negligence. As a class of veteran convicts, we are reaching out to the outside community for your assistance in resolving this conflict. With your help, we can put an end to this war.

We have developed a plan that would consist of a joint effort, but an effort led by us. What we need from you is to force the CDC to allow us to initiate discussion on a peace resolution. At present we are not allowed to get together and dialogue on a truce. We are presently looking for outside volunteers to serve as facilitators and coordinators. The facilitators will assist those directly involved in the process, since being in isolation limits what we can do. This is why it's very important for us to have outside assistance. The coordinators are grassroots organizers that will be responsible for mobilizing a community effort in support of our peace summit. If your are interested in being a facilitator you can contact me at:

Abdul Olugbala Shakur s/n J. Harvey
D-4-112/ C-48884 (SHU)
PO Box 7500
Crescent City, CA 95532
Pelican Bay State Prison

We also have a petition that we are presently distributing in support of our peace summit. Download the Pelican Bay State Prison Peace Talk Petition.

MIM replies: This mission statement underscores what MIM has long reported - the California Department of Corrections is behind the prisoner-on-prisoner violence and conflicts between nations in the prisons. They set up these divisions and they sabotage efforts by prisoners to achieve a peaceful resolution. The CDC's interest in promoting gang warfare behind bars is clear - keeping the prisoners divided and fighting one another prevents them from coming together to fight the injustice system. And these fights give the CDC justification for all kinds of repression and lockdowns. In fact they justify the existence of the Security Housing Units (SHU) themselves, which claim to house the "validated" gang members.

This is the same thing going on on the streets - the U.$. government has played a role in funneling guns and drugs to the streets to help fuel the creation of organizations fighting each other in oppressed communities. These organizations need to turn themselves to genuine self-defense in the interests of their nation, against their true enemy who perpetuates the system of national oppression in Amerika: the imperialist U.$. government. The organizers at Pelican Bay are setting a good example for people behind bars and on the streets, and we will work with them to take the struggle to the next level, beyond peace and onto the united struggle for justice.

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[New Afrikan Black Panther Party] [Theory] [California]
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Combatting Wrong Ideas from Huey Newton Late in Life

This article was written in response to a prisoner who submitted an article about Huey Newton supporting Newton's political line from the later years of his life. MIM has written extensively about Newton's correct political line during the days of the Black Panther Party and also criticism of his line from later in life. See https://www.prisoncensorship.info/archive/etext/bpp/index.html for writings by the BPP and MIM's articles on them.

Greetings and my best to you. I read your piece, "Huey P. Newton - revisited." I found it extremely interesting although at this point the depth of my knowledge of Newton's writings is still insufficiently shallow, so I'll limit myself to those issues you raised.

Newton and those around him were by far the most theoretically advanced within the settler empire at that time. Although they were not infallible, and it is from their mistakes, as well as their successes, that lessons must be drawn. There is an abundance of material written and practical experiences to draw from. From the quotations that you drew from in your piece, you emphasize in a favorable light, Newton's mistakes rather than criticizing them constructively in order to foster the advancement of theory and practice.

I wasn't aware that Newton was a steadfast adherent of the theory of "the negation of the negation." This is interesting considering that Newton was not only a student and practitioner of Maoism, but well versed in his works. You see Mao had a different take on this. In his 1964 "Talk on questions of philosophy" he said, '…Engels talked about the three categories but as for me, I don't believe in two of those categories. The juxtaposition, on the same level, of the transformation of quality and quantity into one another, the negation of the negation, and the law of opposites, is 'triplism', not 'monism.' The most basic thing is the unity of opposites. The transformation of quality and quantity into one another is the unity of opposites quantity and quality. There is no such thing of the negation of the negation. Affirmation, negation, affirmation, negation. Slave holding society negated primitive society, but with reference to feudal society it constitutes in turn, the affirmation. Feudal society constituted the negation in relation to slave holding society, but it was in turn the affirmation with reference to capitalist society. Capitalist society was the negation in relation to feudal society, but it is in turn, the affirmation in relation to socialist society…'

Mao was asserting that the transformation of quantity and quality into one another is not a separate process, but another aspect in the same process in the struggle of opposites, i.e., the law of the unity of opposites. In particular regards to the negation of the negation, I've struggled with this for some time and I'm convinced Mao's line on this process is an accurate reflection of objective reality.

Dialectical materialism reveals to us that all objects and phenomena are not only in motion in relation to other objects and phenomena, but of greater significance, it reveals to us that all objects and phenomena are in a reciprocal relationship, interpenetrating and exerting their influence on one another's development in a perpetual process of internal qualitative transformation. I'm sure that you're well aware of this already, but it's necessary to review as it is relevant to our discussion.

To expand on this further is to understand that we humans will never know the secrets of the "Beginning" or the "End" as Newton insisted, because for objective matter there is no beginning or end, only an endless process of transformation. This has been born out through scientific experiments. So long as we humans are in existence as a species, with each new transformation of matter, especially those brought about by humans, new questions (and consciousness in general) will reflect and arise in correspondence to these new transformations, and more knowledge will continuously be gained, further penetrating the nature of matter and its secrets.

This is reinforced with the law of conservation and transformation of energy which was first discovered in the 19th century, thus confirming Descartes 17th century principle that the quantity of motion in the world is constant. This law and other discoveries have demonstrated that all the various forms of motion of matter - magnetism, chemical energy, heat, mechanical energy, light, solids, liquids, gases, … all transform into one another under given conditions "without" any loss of energy, i.e. matter.

Engels provided us with an accurate description of this process in his "dialectics of nature,": "… If we change heat into mechanical motion or vise-versa, is not the quality altered while the quantity remains the same? Quite correct. Change of form of motion is always a process that takes place between at least two bodies, of which one loses a definite quantity of motion of one quality, while the other gains a corresponding quantity of motion of another quality (mechanical motion, electricity, chemical decomposition)…"

The law of conservation and transformation of energy has successfully demonstrated that matter can neither be created from nothing, nor can it be reduced to nothing, it is infinite. There is no beginning and there is no end, just an infinite process of transformation. This is significant in that it not only "excludes" an external motive force as the source and creation of matter and its motion, but it likewise, reinforces an emphasis on internal contradictions (unity of opposites) as the primary source of matters motion.

You quoted Newton in his "Intercommunalism" as saying: "…and then we will move to an even higher stage. I like to think that we will finally move to a stage called 'godliness,' where man will know the secrets of the beginning and end and will have full control of the universe - and when I say universe, I mean all motion and matter…"

Not only is Newton incorrect on this point for those reasons already expounded upon, but it is also here that Newton departs from scientific materialism and takes up a metaphysical position.

In opposition to scientific materialism are the proponents of metaphysics and idealism, who contend that the source of all matter and its motion is the result of external forces and influences. The metaphysicians live in a static and mechanical "Q-Ball" universe where "A" hits "B", and "B" hits "C", and "C" hits "D", in an endless succession, and the motion of each is the result of the others exertion.

If not an endless procession of internal transformation, what set "A" - or in this case, all matter and the universe - into motion?" When Newton promotes the concept of a "beginning" and an "end," he's removing the opposing forces inherent in all matter as the primary source of motion and promoting an external motive force as creating and setting into motion this "Beginning," which simultaneously swings the door wide open for superstition, a divine creator, god(s), etc, a consciousness not only separated and divorced from matter, but existing prior to it. No doubt this is unintentional on Newton's part, but nonetheless, it's an abandonment of scientific materialism and an adoption of metaphysical idealism.

In particular, reference to the quotations you provided from Newton's "On the relevance of the church," it is essential to understand that the motion of matter proceeds through stages, periods of relatively slow quantitative development, which at nodal points results in rapid qualitative transformations. As we're well aware of, the source of this motion, quantitative and qualitative, is to be found within matter itself as a result of the struggle of opposing tendencies inherent within it.

It is the stage when quantitative developments transform into something qualitatively new that the old contradictions struggling within the quantitative stage have begun to resolve themselves and give rise to new contradictions, that qualitative transformation arises.

Using a concrete example that I'm sure you're familiar with, think of slave holding society of antiquity. The principal contradiction inherent within this stage of economic development which propelled society forward giving it motion, was that between the slaves and the slave holding state (not excluding the conflicting interests of other social classes which developed out of this principal contradiction).

In various forms, sometimes manifesting itself through the conflicts of other social classes, this struggle carried on for multiple centuries without ever changing the essential nature of its production. It was still an economic system based upon slave production with a corresponding social system. That is, it was still in its "quantitative" stage of development.

Although the contradiction between the productive forces on the one hand (the instruments of production and those who do the producing), and the relations of production on the other hand (property relations and the social system that develop in correspondence to it), intensified to such a degree that the continuity of slave holding societies could no longer be sustained. These contradictions began to resolve themselves through self-consuming internal eruptions and wars with neighboring states, thus giving birth to qualitatively new contradictions in the process, i.e. feudalist production and the struggle between the peasantry and nobility as well as every other social class in between. A new stage of economic development in human society had come into existence.

Getting close to the point at hand, in this struggle between the slaves and the slave holding state, it was the slaves and lowest classes that represented the most progressive and revolutionary aspect within society struggling to transform and push society forward whereas the opposing tendencies were the state and aristocracy who represented the most "Reactionary" aspect of society as they only reacted to suppress those progressive forces below in an attempt to preserve their material existence as a social class.

Could we imagine Spartacus advocating the "need" and preservation of the slave owning state for the sake of progress that would come as a result of this struggle between the slaves and the state? Not only is this tautology at its finest, its essentially reactionary irregardless of its packaging. It would amount to perpetuating the oppression and misery of the slaves for the progress that would come to the slaves as a result of their oppression and misery.

On the other hand, it would be revolutionary for the slaves and lowest classes to advocate and struggle for the destruction and transformation of the slave holding state, because only through the destruction of this particular mode of production could the possibility of something new arise.

Although not as conspicuous, this is tantamount to Newton's position on the church and his avocation for its preservation, "…we believe it needs to exist…religion perhaps, is a thing that man needs at this time because scientists can not answer all of the questions…"

We need to understand that scientists will never know all of the answers because with each new transformation of matter, new questions will continuously arise. But more to the point, to promote the preservation of a phenomenon that hinders knowledge and foments ignorance, is to promote the preservation of the status-quo, prolonging the resolution of those current contradictions and the development of something qualitatively new. Despite good intentions, in essence, this is reactionary.

And although the two are inseparably interconnected and influence one another's development, we must distinguish between something's "form" and its "essence." A label doesn't determine the nature of a process anymore than a paint job on a car determines its make or model. The nature of a given phenomenon is not determined by its external appearances or the labels we attach to it, but by the objective necessity existing within it and the laws which govern the direction and development of its motion. Although the form in which a particular phenomenon manifests itself will vary depending upon the conditions in which it develops and interacts.

The same applies to the church. Within given conditions the church manifests itself in progressive forms - such as clothing drives, food programs for the poor, etc. But we must never lose sight of its reactionary nature and promote its preservation.

In regards to focoism (foquismo), to fully comprehend the incorrectness of this strategy, it is necessary to understand the relationship between consciousness and matter, at least in a rudimentary way.

Matter is primary and consciousness is secondary. Objective matter is not dependent on subjective consciousness for its existence. Matter can, and does, exist without consciousness - ideas, thoughts, theories, plans, ways of thinking, policies, etc. Although subjective consciousness can not exist without matter because it is matter that is reflected in our brains through our five sense organs giving shape to our consciousness. Without matter there can be no consciousness. In fact the brain itself is nothing more than a highly developed form of complex matter with the ability of cognizing the external world around it.

Obviously people living under somewhat different material conditions will develop somewhat different ideas and ways of thinking that more or less correspond and reflect their material conditions.

Without the necessary objective conditions (widespread poverty, oppression, etc) the development of the subjective conditions (revolutionary consciousness) will be limited and not develop beyond the point necessary to sustain a thorough revolutionary transformation. There is a dialectical relationship, an inseparable struggle, between our living conditions and the political consciousness of the people. In society, the objective and subjective conditions are not only interdependent on one another for their development, but they influence one another's motion and development as well, in a reciprocal relationship. When objective conditions deteriorate, in search of solutions to their deteriorating material conditions, people become more receptive to political education (subjective preparations).

We can think of the objective conditions as the fertile soil necessary for the subjective conditions to sprout and flourish. Although of greater importance, objective conditions by themselves (poverty, oppression, etc) will not automatically give rise to the subjective conditions (a revolutionary consciousness) anymore than a fertile field will automatically give growth to a flourishing crop. The subjective conditions must be cultivated and nurtured within the people, like a farmer cultivates and nurtures a crop. And only through this process can a successful struggle develop.

The error of focoism is that it places a primary emphasis on armed actions as a means to ignite the population to rebellion without first "sufficiently" cultivating and nurturing a revolutionary consciousness within the population. Moreover the focoists go so far as to contend that if the objective conditions do not exist they can bring them into existence through armed actions and a revolutionary consciousness within the people will automatically develop in correspondence to these actions and the states repressive reactions. As the author of "Blood In My Eye" wrote, "…should we wait for something that is not likely to occur for decades? The conditions that are not present must be manufactured…"

This strategy has proven time and time again to fail, within and outside of U.S. borders. It has turned the very people it was intended to mobilize against the adventurers themselves. This is because a supportive revolutionary consciousness had not been developed within the people first. With particular regards to the U.S., this was not possible because the objective conditions were lacking on a large scale.

As politically advanced as Newton and those around him were, one of the mistakes they made was practicing focoism, which Newton himself acknowledges in the quotation you provided, "in conversation with William F. Buckley Feb 11, 1973." And although Newton recognized that this adventurist approach was incorrect, others around him continued to push this line, theoretically and in practice.

Their operating above ground the way they did was adventurist in that the conditions for them to do so successfully were not (and are still not) in existence. They not only unnecessarily exposed themselves prematurely to internal and external enemies while they were still in a weak embryonic stage, they couldn't possibly maintain the support necessary to survive being that the objective conditions necessary for massive support did not exist on a large enough scale.

We see this same adventurist approach being repeated today with the NABPP-PC. Never mind that their class analysis is incorrect, their location of operation is adventurist in that "everything" that is written must pass through the hands of the enemy, which is the equivalent of allowing the pigs to sit in on central committee meetings. To believe that democratic centralism can be practiced effectively from a jail cell is not only naïve, it compromises others. Rather than subject themselves, and many other comrades to unnecessary heat and avoidable set backs, in the interest of developing a movement with a correct political i.e., they should relegate their work and resources to MIM.

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[Organizing] [Control Units] [California]
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UNLOCK THE BOX! CONFERENCE BUILDS STRUGGLE TO SHUT DOWN CONTROL UNITS

Activists representing numerous organizations, former prisoners and family members came from across California to attend an organizing conference on control units in U$ prisons hosted by the United Front to Abolish the Security Housing Units (SHU).

Experience with promoting the event only underscored the need to have better access to independent media. We salute Indybay.org and their Enemy Combatant Radio program for promoting Unlock the Box. However, MIM Notes was the only newspaper advertising the conference. The larger alternative papers in the area prioritized their free listing space to things like nudists for peace and the Exotic Erotic Ball blood drive. Although organizers had a hard time getting mainstream or even alternative media to advertise the conference, it was featured on KPFA’s 6 o’clock news that evening in a piece that included interviews with MIM and RAIL activists.

The day long conference opened with an overview of prisons and control units by a MIM activist, some poetry and essays by a prisoner, and a rousing speech from a member of the Barrio Defense Committee who talked about the classification of her son into the SHU for his organizing work.

The MIM activist placed control units in the context of the criminal injustice system as a whole. This country has the highest imprisonment rate in the world with more than 2 million people in prison. As of December 2002 the imprisonment rate was 701 per 100,000 people. The numbers become even more frightening when broken down by race:

  1. Whites: 353 per 100,000
  2. Latinos: 895 per 100,000
  3. Blacks: 2,470 per 100,000

South Africa under Apartheid was internationally condemned as a racist society. But the United $tates makes the Apartheid regime look good when you consider that the imprisonment rate of Black adult men in South Africa in 1993 was 851 per 100,000 while the imprisonment rate of Black adult men in the United $tates under George Bu$h in 2002 was 7,150 per 100,000.

But even with all these people locked up in prison, statistics show clearly that prisons don’t stop crime. As imprisonment has increased since the 1970s, government defined criminal activity has remained relatively stable. So why all the prisoners? The answer is social control. Prisons are a tool of social control.

The problem the imperialists have with using prisons as a tool of social control is that they have also become a breeding ground for resistance of the very system they were meant to enforce. Within prison, people completely uneducated and politically unaware are put in a position that encourages them to think about the system that locked them up. Extreme repression, overt racism, slave labor, mail censorship, and in many cases imprisonment of innocent people are among the realities they face. In general population (where prisoners interact with one another on a daily basis) there is the opportunity to discuss this system with others and to organize resistance.

The uprising in Attica prison in 1971 was a good example of this organized resistance that prisoners were able to pull off because of their interactions with one another. The system fears this kind of organizing and needs a tool within the prisons to stop prisoner activists from educating and organizing others.

Better defined as a prison within a prison, control units are used to defeat prisoners’ revolutionary attitudes, organization, militancy, legal and administrative challenges, and anything else the prison administrators deem objectionable.

A past warden of Marion IL, one of CONFERENCE BUILDS CONTROL UNIT STRUGGLE the first Control Unit prisons, stated: "The purpose of the Marion control unit is to control revolutionary attitudes in the prison system and in society at large." This is exactly what control units are used for.

Control units have serious mental and physical health consequences for prisoners locked in them. Fundamentally they are a form of torture. A prisoner in the Security Housing Units at Pelican Bay prison in California, described his conditions in August of this year: "I am currently housed "indefinitely" in this prisons’ Security Housing Unit (the SHU), which is an old typical isolation unit. It’s a unique and stark environment of physical limits, visual sterileness and sensory deprivation. I live in a 8-by-12 ‘windowless’ cell nearly around the clock. There are no jobs, programs or human contact of any kind. Once a day, my remote controlled cell door slowly grinds open allowing 60 minutes alone in a near-by walled in courtyard which is nothing more that a larger cell than the one I already live in."

A member of the Chicano Mexicano Prison Project spoke at the conference, focusing on prisons as a tool of national oppression. In California, Mexican prisoners make up an overwhelming portion of those locked up in Security Housing Units. This is not an accident; it is a direct result of the criminal injustice system targeting oppressed nations. In 1998 (most recent statistics available) the CDC reported that 34% of the population in all CDC institutions was Latino, and 31% was Black. 82% of those in SHUs were non-white, and 52% of those in SHUs were Latino. This compares to a California population that was 32% Latino, and 7% Black in 1998. Half of all SHU victims are put there via a classification system based on supposed evidence of gang membership. Under this system, signing a "get well" card, talking to another prisoner in the yard, or even just speaking Spanish can get you classified as a gang member. They also use confidential informants who have a strong incentive to make up evidence to get themselves released from the SHU. Prisoners cannot challenge this information.

In a recent issue of MIM Notes one prisoner in California wrote:

My ethnicity is Hispanic. When I arrived in the DOC I was asked by a C.O. if I was ‘a Northern Hispanic or Southern Hispanic.’ I said ‘I don’t know what you mean.’ Then I was asked what city I was from. I stated Salinas, CA. It was then that I was classified as a Northern Hispanic. Now I’m labeled as a Northerner, which is a gang member from the prison/street gang Norteños. At that particular point in time I had no idea what that was or what I was about to experience behind these walls. The Southern Hispanics are classified/labeled Sureños, another prison/ street gang. The DOC [Department of Corrections] currently has the Northern and Southern Hispanics on a 24 hour, 7 day a week lockdown. We are getting no visits from our families, no exercise outside our cells, and no State-issued hygiene.

A speaker from the Revolutionary Anti- Imperialist League made connections between the war on gangs within U$ borders and the so-called war on terrorism the United $tates is waging all over the world. This comrade stressed the connections between comrades struggling against control units in the United $tates and the outrage in the Middle East about prisons like Abu Ghraib. (See Shutting Down Control Units and the World Revolution.)

A member of the African People’s Socialist Party gave an inspirational talk about the importance of fighting to shut down the Security Housing Units as a part of the fight to dismantle the entire oppressive system of imperialism, stressing organization and consistent work. The United Front to Abolish the SHU has been doing monthly protests around California for almost two years now. The effect is that people are getting to know us and know what we are trying to do and we are laying the groundwork for a potentially powerful movement.

The afternoon was spent in break out groups where conference participants worked together on action plans to work with prisoners, work with family members of prisoners, and organize actions to shut down the control units.

The working groups came up with a number of concrete action plans with volunteers to work on each idea. One topic that came up in all of the working groups was the need to help people visit family members, friends and comrades in prisons. This work helps the families while also helping prisoners stay sane and giving us a way to reach out to people on the outside by filling a need in the community. Comrades in California who are interested in such a program for themselves or their family should get in touch. The United Front also hopes to come out with a newsletter for prisoners and their allies on the outside that would provide information about how to fight the injustice system, resources upon release, legal aid and recent changes in the system.

In addition, volunteers made plans for future demonstrations and petition drives using more creative tactics. Finally, we are following up with the conference and building on these plans on November 5th, with a meeting from 11-2pm in San Francisco at 2955 18th Street and a rally to follow.


Campaign info:
Shut Down the Control Units
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