Mother's Day Protest Against Permanent Lockdown
At the end of 2012, Tecumseh State Correctional Institution (Tecumseh SCI) made a drastic change. The administration decided to use a very poor excuse of violence to lock the entire yard down. I believe five fights happened in 24 hours, nobody got stabbed, cut or really messed up. They used this as a reason to lock the entire yard down. Everyone was only allowed to come out of their cells to eat meals, shower, and make one phone call per day. After months of this and many grievances, day room time became available, but any outside facilities like gym, ball courts, or ball field were slowly added on a rotating schedule. One hour you could go to the gym with your unit, then come right back; a couple days later maybe an hour at the ball fields then back. We no longer were confined only to our cells but could pretty much be in the day rooms all day except of course during count. Eventually it shifted to let us use the recreational facilities once per day, like ball field Monday morning, gym Tuesday afternoon, ball courts Wednesday morning, ball field Thursday afternoon and so on.
Recently they started a "wellness league" in which people who stay out of the hole for one year, and refrain from misconduct reports for 6 months to a year could be allowed to "walk the yard" for a few hours each day. This sounds good but there are administration loopholes. Like if their snitches got in a fight and went to the hole, as soon as the snitch got out of the hole they would be back out walking while the other person would be in the hole another half year and then have to wait another year just to be qualified to be on "wellness league." Of course any petty write-up would keep you off wellness league, and it was a cold day in hell if any homies could make it onto wellness league. And everyone else not on wellness league was stuck on dayroom and could access a "mini yard" attached to their building which was basically a fenced in half basketball court. That was life for a while.
Well Mother's Day this year the shit hit the fan. A last minute non-violent protest was set in motion. I say last minute because if a protest has any planning here the yard gets locked down cause snitches tell administration. So the protest started, simple walking around the yard refusing to lock down until our petitions and major complains were heard. However near the start of this a few prisoners got into it with a couple pigs. Of course we all complied when they said "get down." We cooperated when asked to show our IDs and when we were told we could get up we got up and continued marching to our protest.
Some protesters got locked in the gym so a plan to break them out to join the protest was set in motion. A short while later staff fired a live round with no warning into our group, going through one captive and hitting my good friend, and they both fell onto me. Our group was totally shocked. No chemical agents were used first, no "less than lethal," no pepperballs, and the guy who had the shot go through him was bleeding bad. We put a tourniquet on his wound to slow the bleeding, then as one huge group we carried him to medical, left him in front of medical and moved halfway across the yard so they would come out and get him.
Once he was safe the tension broke, the call went out, and the prison literally started to burn. Every single faction was on the same team, us versus the pigs. Staff got chased to the tower, everything that could be burned was burned, bulletproof glass burned, fences came undone, people got shot with less-than-lethal and lethal ammunition alike; only one more live round was fired that I know of. The entire prison banded together, offices burned, treatment files burned, office desks burned. If the glass couldn't be broken it was melted to allow access for other captives. We had total control of a whole housing unit, the gym, and half of another housing unit. We had the facility until the next morning when finally we surrendered.
Now, for the press, the administration is trying to say this was planned for months, because it was so exact in its execution, and that we burned down walls only to get "targeted individuals". Yeah right, they are saying we did all this so we could get two people? How ridiculous!
Our new director is from the Washington state prison system. He is the only one with a clear head. He says (in a memo sent to the whole prison) that he couldn't believe we didn't do this sooner with the lockdown and all, and never in his life has he seen such unity to get something like this done. The warden and even the governor now believe that the facility should permanently stay on lockdown, forever, allowing at most minimal day room time and mini yard time if you qualify for wellness league. Everyone else is to remain locked 2 per cell (was 3 per cell for a while until housing unit 2 became livable again) for 24 hours a day getting 20 minutes, twice a week for showers and telephone calls. I mean 20 minutes total, to shower and use the phone, once every 3 days. It's so fucked up out there.
Down here in the hole we live better than the people on the yard. We get at minimum 3 showers a week and at minimum mini yard 5 days a week. I assume I will be down here for a few years, hell a simple fist fight (my first in the prison) back in 2012 landed me 13 months in isolation. This one's gonna be years. And I'm not the only one. Some 240 people are getting charged. I don't even know how many of us are now stuck in the hole but we won't be going anywhere any time soon.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Prisons in the United $tates are populated with an inherent contradiction. As tools of social control targeting oppressed nation lumpen, the people locked up are easily shown the need for resistance and organizing against the criminal injustice system. The powder keg of oppression and abuse in many lockdown units is easily set off when people get together to turn their anger and pain into resistance. This contradiction between the imperialists' desire to control oppressed nations, and the actual conditions of confinement breeding resistance is just one example of how oppression creates conditions for social change.
Protests like this one in Nebraska are steps forward in unity and resistance. But as this comrade describes, no real change resulted, and the active folks are now in long-term isolation. As revolutionaries we need to figure out how to turn the righteous anger of the masses into organized protests that can help achieve meaningful change. Sometimes in prison we won't get anything more than a bit of publicity and a temporary outlet for anger, but we can do some things to increase the chances for success. This starts with building unity and educating people well before actions are initiated. We can run study groups behind bars, discussing the basics of political theory and then applying what is learned to conditions in the prison. And we need to build independent media to report on actions in prison from the perspective of the prisoners, so that we don't leave it to the pigs to interpret our actions to the public as "riots." This preliminary work will also help with follow-up after a protest. Even if something like what this writer describes is set off spontaneously, it will be important to have discipline and unity both during and after the action if we're going to effect any change within the system.
And for revolutionaries it is important that we help people see that we won't ever win this battle until we dismantle the criminal injustice system entirely. We need to draw the connection between the prison system and imperialism. While our current work focuses on prisons, we can't lose sight of the system that is behind the criminal injustice. Our education work needs to include these connections as we help raise the awareness of all potential future protesters and revolutionaries.