24 OCTOBER 2016 — I have received y'all's latest newsletter. I love reading the ULK newsletters. Always very informational. Which has helped me a lot!
Here at the McConnell Unit in Belville, Texas, it is very, very, hard to get prisoners involved in such issues as 1) Campaign to resist restrictions on indigent correspondence; 2) Petition the Federal Trade Commission: TDCJ's monopoly on stationary; 3) We demand our grievances are addressed in Texas, etc, etc.
I've shared the Texas Pack with several prisoners and some just say that they are not interested. As long as they let prisoners here watch TV, go to the commissary, use the phone, play dominoes, chess, and scrabble, people don't care. It's all they care about, which in reality is very sad. Because these are issues that affect us all as a whole group. And in some cases violate our civil and constitutional rights.
The Texas Pack has given me very helpful information for not only my own benefit but to help other prisoners who ask for help, and especially those that are monolingual and don't know how to file a grievance, etc. The information that y'all supply me has not only helped me but for me to help others, which I do almost on a daily basis. Thank y'all very much!
MIM(Prisons) responds: This author is using the Texas Pack exactly as it's intended — not to be hoarded as a persynal reference, but to be shared with others so we can all benefit. Ey also brings up an all-too-frequent complaint about prisoners in Texas: that they are checked out and unwilling to stand up for their rights or the rights of others. What is the difference between this writer, and the people ey is saying only care about board games and TV? Obviously there are activists in TDCJ facilities. How are they made?
Even people who seem to only care about board games and TV, we know they're not just lazy or don't care. It is likely a defense mechanism they've developed over time. If i only care about TV, i can have some happiness even though i'm in prison. If i only care about TV, i can for the most part avoid attention from prison staff. If i only care about TV, i can access something i want; i can escape from my reality for a short time; etc.
It's unlikely, though, that these folks only care about TV, even though that's what they're projecting. Presenting the grievance petition to them, while it's a righteous campaign, often just makes people defensive. They're defensive because they need to protect this narrative that they've created about their "values," often times in order to just get through the day, and cope with their harsh reality.
Certainly with some people we can present a valid campaign, they'll recognize it as a valid campaign, and they'll come on board. But people who are defensive or prone to stagnation need a different approach.
A good place to start in trying to organize these folks is to figure out what they do care about, besides TV. They may not want to talk about it, it may be sad and upsetting to care about things you can't have (such as affection with your children while you're in prison, for example). But we can still try to help them figure it out. Help them develop their identity around their own value system, rather than the value system put upon them by bourgeois society and imprisonment.
How do they want to be seen by the world, their family, their peers? What do they want to stand for? What have they done in the past that they felt good about, that represents how they see themselves? When we know answers to these questions, we can help show how their values actually relate to the campaigns outlined in the Texas Pack and the pages of ULK.
Issue 63 of ULK is going to be focused on this topic of tactical organizing approaches, and the nitty gritty of building the United Front for Peace in Prisons. We want our subscribers to send in methodology and tools which have helped them in their organizing efforts. Even if it doesn't have a formal name, can you spell out your approach for dealing with ambivalence, or ignorance, or even a disorganized study group meeting? We want to hear about it and share it with others!