After being transferred here to Northwest Florida Reception Center - Annex, I have been faced with a number of confinement injustices. First of all I have written a number of grievance to the warden about food service. We have received breakfast trays with roaches crawling in them. If you report it to these pigs they don't do anything about it. In confinement with no food items we are left with no choice but to eat the three trays that they give us even if they are infested with roaches. That's just one small example of the conditions here.
And recently we had a peaceful sit down. No one posed a threat to security, and no one was injured. It happened after Ramadan, a month of fasting for the Muslims. It all started when we were going to the chow hall to eat lunch. The pig called out one brother for talking in line. That’s when all the brothers were getting disruptive, and as Imam (Islamic leader) my job is to calm them down. So, as I was calming them down, the pig called me out of line for talking. Once I stepped out of line 22 other comrades set out of line, along with me, which led to the situation I am in confinement for. The pig saw the other 22 comrades join me and he panicked. They saw that I had influence where comrades move on my move. And they don't like that.
Previously I had to speak to the Assistant Warden, because someone snitched to the pigs about my leadership. And he told me that "no inmate runs this prison", and that if my name came up again he was "going to get rid of us" referring to the Muslims. And that's exactly what happened. I am going to close management with no prior disciplinary reports. The prison administration says that I don't deserve to be in general population because I am disruptive to security.
MIM(Prisons) adds: Control units are often used to isolate leaders in prison, even when those leaders are involved in keeping the peace. This is because the prisoncrats don't actually want peace. The prisoncrats frequently encourage violence between prisoners, because that provides an excuse to lock more prisoners on higher security units, and because it prevents leaders from organizing unity against the criminal injustice system. So when they see an Imam with influence the prison moves to isolate him. This use of close management in Florida mirrors the use of control units for social control throughout the Amerikan prison system. Our best weapon is our unity. We need many leaders so that the isolation of one will not cut off our work.
The good old boys are at it again. These slipper suckers, who feed off other people's misery, are upset about the closing of Tamms Supermax in Illinois a few years ago. Rather than let Tamms sit unoccupied, Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) officials have devised a plan to put pressure on the legislature to open up the 500-bed hell hole again.
Suddenly they claim we have a major gang problem here in Illinois. IDOC officials are rounding up all the Latinos who they can claim are a part of a security threat group (STG) and sticking them in administrative detention (A.D.).
Some guys haven't caught so much as a disciplinary ticket in years and were quietly toiling away in the kitchen or some other form of servitude. Next thing they know they're on a bus and sent to A.D. Some guys, after serving their segregation time for disciplinary tickets, found themselves in Phase 1 of A.D.
The common thread that binds these guys together seems to be that they are alleged members of an STG. It doesn't take much to validate someone as an active member these days. Most guys were members as kids, and their record preceded them to the joint. Some were identified by gang tattoos. And of course there is always that elusive confidential informant (CI), and only the gang intel officers seem to know for certain if the CI even exists. Personally I believe the correctional officers (COs) make up the CIs because the COs know that all they have to do is say the CI's identity is being withheld for the safety and security of the institution, and no one can or will inquire further.
These brothers sit with no recourse in the courts, stuck in limbo waiting in administrative segregation for some sadist to stop using them as a means to obtain a bigger piece of the tax dollar pie so they can re-open Tamms Supermax, and give themselves a pay raise for a job well done while they are at it.
MIM(Prisons) adds: Tamms Supermax opened in 1998. As 2008 approached many who opposed the torture chambers in Illinois formed the Tamms Year Ten campaign to bring attention to it and get it shut down. By January 2013, the unit was completely closed. This campaign was one of a handful demonstrating that the closing of control units is a winnable campaign under imperialism.
That said, almost as soon as Tamms was closed we are getting reports of increasing use of control units in Illinois again. This is why our Shut Down the Control Units campaign uses a specific definition of long-term isolation rather than just counting the prisons officially labeled as "supermaxes" as many bourgeois press do. The above example of pushing false gang validations for more or higher security prisons should not surprise us because prisons are a tool of social control for the imperialists, and that social control includes long-term isolation cells for anyone who challenges the system. The oppressed must organize to build power to change this.
This situation also provides a good example of how we know prisons are not run for profit. The government regularly uses funds to open control unit prisons, which are more expensive to run than lower security prisons. In 1999, MIM Notes reported "Tamms' budget works out to well over $34,000 per year to control each prisoner, not including the $73 million the state reports spending on building the dungeon. Tamms' cost per prisoner is more than three times the $11,006 estimated cost of living for a University of Illinois student at the Urbana-Champaign campus." The employees (COs and other staff) make out with nice high salaries (totaling $17 million at Tamms when it first opened), but these salaries, and everything else in the prison, is funded by the government, with prisoner labor offsetting some of the costs. The imperialists don't mind spending money to sustain their system of social control. It's money they got from the exploitation of workers in the Third World, and they will spend it freely to maintain their way of life and position of power.
Captive Genders Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex Eric A. Stanley & Nat Smith, Editors 2011, AK Press Available for $21.95 from AK Press: 674-A 23rd St, Oakland, CA 94612
This book is a compilation of essays from various transgender individuals, activists, prisoners and researchers. The unifying theme is progressive in that the book is not only devoted to exposing gender oppression faced by transgender people, specifically the criminalization of gender variance in the United $tates, but also to the abolishment of the current United $tates prison system itself. It tackles the often incorrect focus of queer activists who call for expanded laws and punishment, correctly exposing this strategy as reactionary and counterproductive. Unfortunately, although this is a pretty long book, it includes only vague anarchist solutions to the problem, with no coherent strategy to abolish the criminal injustice system.
Before going into detail I will briefly mention that MIM(Prisons) disagrees with the use of the term "prison industrial complex" (PIC) which is found throughout this book. This phrase implies that prisons in the United $tates (and other First World countries when applied there) are part of a money-making industry. In reality prisons are a money-losing enterprise, built and sustained by the state as a means of social control. Anyone making money off of prison contracts are just participating in the shuffling of imperialist wealth stolen from the Third World, not making profits off of prisoner labor. The use of this term in this book is perhaps not a surprise as a failure to grasp the underlying purpose of a system is going to lead to mistaken analysis of how we can fight that system.
We Can't Work Within the Criminal Injustice System
In the introduction, the editors wrote: "Mainstream LGBT organizations, in collaboration with the state, have been working hard to make us believe that hate crimes enhancements are a necessary and useful way to make trans and queer people safer. Hate crimes enhancements are used to add time to a person's sentence if the offense is deemed to target a group of people. However, hate crimes enhancements ignore the roots of harm, do not act as deterrents, and reproduce the farce of the PIC, which produces more, not less harm."(p3) This is an important point for activists of all stripes who fight for expanded laws to protect whichever oppressed group they are working to defend. We cannot look to the state to defend us against the state. And the prison system in particular is a repressive arm of the state; anything we do to expand that arm is inherently reactionary.
In "Transforming Carceral Logics: 101 Reasons to Dismantle the Prison Industrial Complex Through Queer/Trans Analysis and Action," S. Lamble writes:
"Although some people believe that we can train transphobia out of law enforcement agents or eliminate homophobic discrimination by hiring more LGBT prison guards, police, and immigration officials, such perspectives wrongly assume that discrimination is a 'flaw' in the system, rather than intrinsic to the system itself. Efforts to make prison and the police institutions more 'gay-friendly' perpetuate the myth that such systems are in place to protect us."(p. 239)
This author goes on to write: "The pervasiveness of state violence against queer and transgender people is reason enough to fight the prison industrial complex. But it is important to include anti-prison work as part of antiviolence struggles more broadly. Too often mainstream antiviolence work around hate crimes, sexual violence, child, and partner abuse excludes or remains disconnected from struggles against state violence."(p245) We agree with the connections made by Lamble here. It is important that people recognize that state-perpetrated violence is far broader and more deadly than any individual violence. It is laughable that some turn to our violent state to protect them. The state will only protect those whose interest it serves. In the case of the Amerikan government, that includes the vast majority of the white oppressor nation, but often excludes oppressed groups of like trans people.
"Unfortunately, many LGBT organizations in Canada, Britain, and the United States — particularly white-dominated and class-privileged ones — are increasingly complicit in the forces of prison expansion: calling for increased penalties under hate crimes laws; participating in police, military, and prison officer recruitment campaigns....LGBT groups nonetheless helped to legitimize imprisonment and channel further resources into locking people up — despite a lack of evidence that such measures reduce hate-motivated violence."(p. 249-250)
In "Identities Under Siege: Violence Against Transpersons of Color[", Lori A. Saffin bolsters this point: "Arguing for the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in state hate crimes laws will ultimately end in limited social reform because 'equality' within the existing social system only accounts for and remedies the most blatant forms of injustice."(p155) And she concludes:
"By not taking into consideration the ways in which the criminal justice system regulates, pursues, controls, and punishes the poor and communities of color, LGBT hate crimes initiatives reproduce harm and do not end it. Calling for an increased role of the criminal justice system in enforcing hate crimes legislation is insular in that it assumes a white, gay, wealthy subject while also soliciting victims of hate-motivated violence to report into a penal system without regard for the fact that people of color and the poor are disproportionately punished. By ignoring racism and economic inequality in their arguments for hate crimes statutes, national gay rights organizations assume an assimilationist stance that reinforces the status quo at the expense of communities of color and the poor."(p156)
Queer and Trans People in the Criminal Injustice System
Captive Genders has some good data on the incarceration of queer and trans people in Amerika who are disproportionately targeted by the criminal injustice system and face additional dangers and abuse within prison. In "Rounding Up the Homosexuals: The Impact of Juvenile Court on Queer and Trans/Gender-Non-Conforming Youth" Wesley Ware writes:
"Further, the data tell us that queer and trans youth in detention are equally distributed across race and ethnicity, and comprise 15 percent of youth in detention centers.... Since queer and trans youth are overrepresented in nearly all popular feeders into the juvenile justice system — homelessness, difficulty in school, substance abuse, and difficulty with mental health — the same societal ills, which disproportionately affect youth of color — it should not be surprising that they may be overrepresented in youth prisons and jails as well."
In "Maroon Abolitionists: Black Gender-Oppressed Activists in the Anti-Prison Movement in the US and Canada," Julia Sudbury writes about the gender binary in the prison system and the risks for transsexual prisoners who have not had gender reassignment surgery. They are assigned to a prison based on one part of their body, denied medical care, and put in extreme physical danger.
Many trans wimmin are forced to take a prison "husband" by the guards who think this will diffuse tension and make the prisons calmer. In "No One Enters Like Them: Health, Gender Variance, and the PIC," blake nemec interviews Kim Love about her experience in the men's prisons in California. Kim describes entering the prison, when the Correctional Officer (CO) assigned her to a cell and she objected to the placement, and "They told me that's gonna be your husband, and that's where you're going to be and you're going to love him."(p. 222) She goes on to explain why no one tries to take the COs to court: "We've had so many transgenders that have been raped in CDC [California Department of Corrections] and had proof. One of them even had the towel the CO wiped his semen on. Today I haven't heard of one case that a transgender won against a law officer, against CDC."(p. 222)
In "Out of Compliance: Masculine-Identified People in Women's Prisons" Lori Girshick writes about women "aggressives" in prison. These people, most of whom identify as lesbians or trans men, are often treated more harshly than feminine prisoners because they are breaking the social and cultural norms the prisons seek to enforce. "Legislation is being considered in California to segregate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) prisoners who self-identify at receiving."(p. 203) The author explains that this gives staff even greater access to harass and abuse them.
How to Organize for Change
In the essay "Building an Abolitionist Trans and Queer Movement with Everything We've Got", the authors, Morgan Bassichis, Alexander Lee and Dean Spade, tackle the critical question of how to organize. But they completely miss several important points. First, they consider the Amerikan workers to be on the side of the oppressed: "The US government and its ally nations and institutions in the Global North helped pass laws and policies that made it harder for workers to organize into unions..."(p20)
Second, they push reformist organizing without a clear goal of eliminating imperialism, as if we could abolish the criminal injustice system within imperialism. They do however, correctly identify that violence and discrimination aren't just individual bad behaviors:
"Discrimination laws and hate crimes laws encourage us to understand oppression as something that happens when individuals use bias to deny someone a job because of race or sex or some other characteristic, or beat up or kill someone because of such a characteristic. This way of thinking, sometimes called the 'perpetrator perspective,' makes people thing about racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism in terms of individual behaviors and bad intentions rather than wide-scale structural oppression that often operates without some obvious individual actor aimed at denying an individual person an opportunity. The violence of imprisoning millions of poor people and people of color, for example, can't be adequately explained by finding one nasty racist individual, but instead requires looking at a whole web of institutions, policies, and practices that make it 'normal' and 'necessary' to warehouse, displace, discard, and annihilate poor people and people of color. Thinking about violence and oppression as the work of 'a few bad apples' undermines our ability to analyze our conditions systematically and intergenerationally, and to therefore organize for systemic change."(p. 23)
We have a correct analysis here of the need for systemic change. But their ultimate goal is summed up:
"Abolition is not just about closing the doors to violent institutions, but also about building up and recovering institutions and practices and relationships that nurture wholeness, self-determination, and transformation. Abolition is not some distant future but something we create in every moment when we say no to the traps of empire and yes to the nourishing possibilities dreamed of and practiced by our ancestors and friends."(p. 36)
This is an unfortunate dive into individualism and the persynal-is-political anarchist practice. We cannot create a culture that enables better relationships between people and allows the oppressed to have their own institutions until we eliminate the system of imperialism that necessitates the exact opposite. Pretending that our individual practice can get us there is the same mistake these and other authors in Captive Genders correctly criticize when they talk about the fact that one racist individual isn't the problem but rather it's the whole system. We must dismantle that system first, then we can build a just and equal society.
The essay "Maroon Abolitionists: Black Gender-Oppressed Activists in the Anti-Prison Movement in the US and Canada" also gets the solution wrong:
"Movement-building that creates innovative models of justice that do not pimp prisoners for the success of capitalism are possible. It is time to view the current US economic hardships as an exit opportunity away from dependency on conservative foundations and government funding vehicles that bar groups from work that threatens pharmaceutical industries or gender/sexuality norms. Transformative justice models that empower lovers, friends, and groups of people to be accountable to one another rather than rely on unjust and unsustainable US systems, can work to abolish the prison industrial complex. We can, and are, creating these in forms that facilitate a domino effect of cultural and economic churnings."(p. 230)
Again here we have this idea of "transformative justice" that is anarchist individualism with people just holding each other accountable outside of the United $tates's criminal injustive system. Yet no matter how hard we try, we do not have the liberty to exist outside of the imperialist system. Take a look at the revolutionaries in the Philippines or India who liberated base areas and set up their own independent institutions only to have them attacked by the brutal military (funded and armed by the United $tates). Or look at an example closer to home: the MOVE organization, which attempted to set up its own peaceful self-policing community only to be violently destroyed by the Amerikan injustice system. There is a reason why the Black Panther Party trained its members in self-defense. We are misleading people by pretending that this transformation of the criminal injustice system is possible by just creating some independent structures. The Amerikan government will not just fade away without a fight.
At this point Leavenworth Detention Center has no gang validation or step down program. Actually it seems that the administration does very little to address gang violence. This is a detention facility housing mainly pre-trial prisoners but it seems more like a war zone. No effort is made to separate rival gang members or to place people in a safe environment. For example it is common for the pigs to house a white supremacist with a Muslim.
They pit us against each other and sit back and enjoy the show. We must look beyond the tip of our noses and begin to see the bigger picture. United we stand, divided we fall.
Recently we had a major victory! The food here is substandard at best but the meatloaf in particular is undercooked and rancid. White, Black and Latino all stood together and refused to accept trays and refused to lockdown until we were fed. The pigs brought in tear gas canisters to try to intimidate us but we simply refused to go to sleep without food. Finally we were brought sack lunches and they took meatloaf off the menu. If we stick together and stand up for what's right peacefully anything is possible.
MIM(Prisons) adds: This writer reminds us that prisons can play lumpen organizations both ways. On the one side we oppose the validation of people as gang members because this is used to punish and isolate and it is used to target activists and leaders. On the other side we oppose prisons throwing rival organizations together to try to create conflict and violence, which is further used as justification to isolate and lockdown whoever is perceived as a leader, activist or troublemaker. None of these actions are for the purpose of promoting safety or security of the prison population.
It is good to hear about people coming together in spite of the pigs attempts to foment conflict. Winning one change in food is a small battle, but it gives people the chance to see what is possible through unity, and hopefully will lead to greater unity in the future. Those conscious comrades in Leavenworth should take this opportunity to spread political education, and try to unite all against the criminal injustice system. If everyone is on the yard together, this is a good opportunity to start study classes. Write to MIM(Prisons) for help getting a study group started in your prison.
"[A]s societal advancements have made being gay less stigmatized and gay people more visible — and as the Internet now allows kids to reach beyond their circumscribed social groups for acceptance and support — the average coming out age has dropped from post-college age in the 1990s to around 16 today, which means that more and more kids are coming out while they're still economically reliant on their families. The resulting flood of kids who end up on the street, kicked out by parents whose religious beliefs often make them feel compelled to cast out their own offspring, has been called a 'hidden epidemic.'"
According to the Equity Project, leaving home because of family rejection is the single greatest predictor of involvement with the juvenile-justice system for LGBT youth.
Research done by San Francisco State University's Family Acceptance Project, which studies and works to prevent health and mental health risks facing LGBT youth, empirically confirming what common sense would imply to be true: highly religious parents are significantly more likely than their less-religious counterparts to reject their children for being gay.
LGBT people make up roughly five percent of the youth population in the U.$., overall, but an estimated 40 percent of the homeless youth population — an estimation that may be far too low considering that many homeless youth may not openly identify themselves as LGBT when seeking services.
The Center for American Progress has reported that there are between 320,000 and 400,000 homeless LGBT youths in the United $tates. The National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children put the number of homeless youth at 1.7 million. (Across the country there are only 4,000 youth-shelter beds, overall). Approximately one in five LGBT youth are unable to secure short-term shelter, and 16 percent could not get assistance with longer-term housing — figures that are almost double those of their non-LGBT peers.
For LGBT kids who remain homeless, the stakes are clearly life and death: they are seven times more likely than their straight counterparts to be the victims of a crime; studies have shown they are more than three times more likely to engage in survival sex — for which shelter is the payment more often than cost. And every four hours a homeless LGBT youth dies in the streets, whether it be from freezing to death, a drug overdose, or assault.
The summer that marriage equality passed in New York, the number of homeless kids looking for shelter went up 40 percent, reported the Ali Forney Center — the nation's largest organization dedicated to homeless LGBT youth. Tragically, every step forward for the gay rights movement creates a false hope of acceptance for certain youth, and therefore a swelling of the homeless youth population. Up to 40 percent of LGBT homeless youth leave home due to family rejection.
Amerikkka's homeless LGBT youth is its hidden epidemic. Of the $5 billion the U.$. government spends on homeless assistance programs every year, less than five percent of that is allocated for homeless children, specifically. Amerikkka's homeless youth, in general, is its next true plague.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade provides some useful data on homelessness and queer youth and exposes a tragic consequence of gender oppression for these youth. We do not, however, agree with the author's conclusion that homeless LGBT youth are a hidden epidemic in the United $tates. Especially not with the implication that the U.$. government should spend more money on homeless assistance, as if the imperialist government can help end a problem that they created.
We don't like to look at problems like homeless LGBT youth in isolation as a "hidden epidemic" because this encourages an analysis of such issues in isolation, and suggests that we should tackle them directly and Amerika will be able to find a solution if only the epidemic is exposed. While the United $tates certainly has enough money to eliminate homelessness, the reality of homelessness in the United $tates is a tragic byproduct of imperialist decadence and individualism. The imperialist system exists to enrich the oppressors, at the expense of the oppressed. And if a few citizens suffer or die in the process, that's not really a problem for the Amerikans in charge. While the vast majority of Amerikan citizens are benefiting as either oppressor nation (white) or beneficiary class (petty bourgeoisie), or both, there are those who society does not bother to help. Most homeless are cast off because they are part of oppressed groups: gender (including health status) and nation play a big role here, and this is what's behind much of the homelessness of LGBT people.
We should expose the vast problem of homelessness in the United $tates, as it is an embarrassing and clear example of a wealthy country that doesn't even care about the lives of its own citizens. Other less wealthy countries do a better job addressing homelessness (i.e western Europe, some Asian countries), so it could be solved within the structure of imperialism, but only for the citizens affected. The many people in the Third World who are permanently without home and living in poverty because of the exploitation and plunder of imperialist Amerika are the truly hidden homeless.
We should point out, as this author does, that gender oppression is playing a significant role in LGBT youth ability to survive, and this is something we must fight. Both of these elements of the homeless LGBT youth issue are symptomatic of imperialism. And so rather than rally people for more government attention to homelessness in Amerika, we should focus on the root cause of global homelessness and organized to overthrow imperialism.
One of the most damaging aspects of U.S. prisons today is the control units. Control units and solitary confinement are the state's biggest guns in their torturous arsenal. Control units are called SHU, SMU, CMU and a variety of other names depending on what state one is in, but they all work to employ torture on the captives held therein.
When we look to the history of the U.S. prison system we find that the oppressed nations held within have always suffered greatly at the hands of Amerikkka. Prisoners in the United $tates have suffered unpaid labor, lynchings, beatings, floggings and assassinations to name a few. Although much of this still continues — at times more concealed and shrouded than in the past — there are other new methods of national oppression which are employed in this new era of United States domination. I suspect that post-Obama (so-called "post-racial Amerikkka") we will continue to see more of these concealed forms of oppression which inflict the same harm, but which slip through under the radar of the average First World citizen. This makes liberals feel warm and cozy and allows them to believe "progress" is obtainable in the imperialist center.
One such method employed on prisoners in dungeons within the United Snakes is the use of the control unit. The control unit is a modern-day torture chamber, but it cannot be advertised as a lethal killer of mostly Brown or Black minds because the liberals might even turn their noses up at such a revelation. Instead the public must be told that control units are only used on incorrigibles, savages, foreigners, gang members or the sensationalized terrorists.
Who is Locked in Control Units?
Like our ancestors who may have been asked what got the shackle around their ankle, what got them branded with their owner's name on their face, or what got that noose wrapped around their necks, our answer, like theirs, is that it is the nature of our oppressor to seek to eliminate all rebels and revolutionaries who oppose the oppressor nation. This is ultimately what places one in a control unit.
Of course we are up against a sophisticated oppressor nation and the placement of prisoners in control units is wrapped in flowery language. We are told it is for "gang activity" or a "threat to the safety and security of the institution." I am sometimes given a chrono stating I'm "actively engaged in a criminal conspiracy that threatens the institution, staff and other prisoners." This to the untrained mind may sound like justification for torture. Not only is this character assassination not true, but nothing justifies torture, absolutely nothing!
It was only after I began to write articles that spoke up for prisoners, and began filing appeals and lawsuits on behalf of all prisoners, that I was targeted for placement in the Secure Housing Unit (SHU). In short, when I began to resist state repression was when I was isolated in solitary confinement. I was allowed by the state to commit minor crimes and fight other prisoners, until I started to become politically conscious. I am not alone.
Most who work to advance and organize their nation, speak up on behalf of others, or engage in jailhouse lawyering will end up in a control unit. This is a common practice in colonized society: those who resist and who are politically influential are imprisoned under a colonial oppressor.
Why Does the State Have a Validation Process?
Our oppressor must devise ways of placing us in control units, and in California it uses the validation process. The validation process attempts to lend a legal aura to torture and national oppression by claiming to undergo a fair and unbiased process to validate someone as a "gang affiliate." This process is about as unbiased as asking the fox to guard the henhouse.
The fact that the validation process continues to use things as ridiculous as a birthday card, an Aztec drawing, or a book written by George Jackson as evidence of gang activity proves that there is nothing unbiased about this validation process. The kourt cases which supposedly stopped the prison from using these items show how much of a joke the injustice system is and how much it really is an extension of an oppressive state. Our victories will never come from massa's kourthouse.
The validation system helps pacify prisoners into thinking that there is a legitimate process they are undergoing to end the torture. That somehow if we are patient and do as we are told that we might get out of the SHU. This of course is ludicrous. We will stay in SHU until our oppressor feels we no longer resist, until they feel we are broken. Sometimes they want to train their agents and attempt to capture all who associate with us out on the mainline, as if we were live bait. But so long as we remain resistant to their oppression, we will not be allowed to freely associate with others. The validation process only works to uphold our national oppression.
The Step Down Program is More Repression
When we go to committee in California SHUs we are given a form called the "CDCR Advisement of Expectations." This form gives a list of supposed STG behavior which includes "participating in STG group exercise, using gestures, handshakes, possession of artwork with STG symbols." Note that we are not informed what STG symbols are.
We basically cannot socialize with anyone, or we might be accused of STG behavior. We are not told who is validated as part of a STG or given any information about STG behavior. We are simply told we better not associate with STGs or engage in their behavior. The state will decide if we are behaving properly and allowed to proceed in the Step Down Program. They claim they are the experts.
I have heard of some being put on this "Step Down" Program, but the state is picking and choosing who they put in the program. In my opinion it is a pacification program and I am not going to participate in it. Participation masks the oppression of the state while also allowing them to attempt to coerce me and any participants of being guilty, of confessing guilt, even if only guilty of what they deem to be incorrect thoughts.
Recent news of a federal class action lawsuit challenging policies and conditions at the Pelican Bay SHU is welcome and something we all should be following. Ashker et al. v. Governor of California et al., No. C 09-05796 claims that being held for more than ten years in SHU is cruel and unusual punishment and that the validation process is a violation of due process.(1) But here's the kicker: if you have joined the Step Down Program you are not included in this class action. So already we see how the new Step Down Program is serving the state by making it more difficult for prisoners to challenge their conditions.
My behavior is no more incorrect today than it was the first day I was captured and housed in the SHU. The state will not be let off the hook and I refuse to step down from resisting oppression. The Step Down Program continues the same oppression that the validation process started: it attempts to justify what the state is doing to the oppressed nations.
What will End the Validation/Step Down Program?
The Step Down Program is not only similar to the validation process, but here in California many prisons are still using both methods, so we need to end them both.
From the beginning I saw the need to struggle for closing the SHU. From the first hunger strike I knew that if we don't close the SHU altogether, the state will just have us fighting the same problem under new names for decades via strikes/lawsuits. This will never accomplish our goal. We need to keep all justifications for the use of solitary confinement in our scope. No matter why someone is held in solitary confinement, it is always torture and it should always be opposed.
At the same time we have made improvements in many prisoners' lives and some have gotten out of SHU, and I am happy for this. However validation and Step Down Programs will keep us locked in the SHUs until we can make resistance to oppression a hip and common thing. When hunger strikes occur more often than once every ten years, and peaceful protests are as frequent as spring cleaning, then maybe we will finally end validation/step down programs.
MIM(Prisons) adds: Most civilians would say that controlling gang violence is a good thing, and that perspective is exactly what the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is relying on for its gang validation and Step Down Programs. The assumption is that all groups classified as gangs are engaged in criminal activity, and anyone in contact with the gang must be a member.
Let's put aside for now the reality that the U.$. military and police force is the biggest gang in world history. If anyone is organized in criminal activity and terrorism, it's them. That any U.$. government agency claims to be against gang activity without being critical of itself is just a joke.
Lumpen organizations that are not necessarily revolutionary are also targeted as gangs, whether or not they break U.$. laws. The real threat is not the activities that the lumpen are engaged in, but that they have any level of unity and organization. STG labels and Step Down Programs criminialize the association, not actual crime.
The U.$. government will do everything it can to protect its international hegemony. Controlling any potentially subversive population within its borders, especially the internal semi-colonies, is a high priority, no matter how much they dress it up with fancy titles and administrative process.
Fort Collins Colorado - a 25-year old Chicano lumpen was killed by a cop today after what appears to be a robbery gone awry. The details are still unclear and prison censorship interferes with information gathering, but the news has sent shock waves reverberating throughout the Chicano lumpen prison population. One question comes to my mind, if being in prison isn't enough, since we are under a new brutally authoritative system in Colorado prisons, and now kkkops are killing us, where do we find relief?
And to the fact that Chicanos use violence against one another with the factions of various different lumpen groups, how do we use this new murder to bring revolution to the forefront in Colorado? With the minds and consciences in sadness, how do we really use this situation to unite?
Violence between all Chicano lumpen only justifies violence against us by the cops. My last article revolving around Mike Brown now pushes the genocide both external and internal to the forefront and should be used to remind us that our conditions are our responsibility.
Aztlán and the social responsibility for its liberation begins with peace between all lumpen Chicano groups. However shocking this incident is at the moment, I would like to take this time to express my deep condolences, sadness and solidarity to the homies, family and loved ones of this young comrade in the struggle.
Captive Chicanos: don't react with focoism, premature acts of violence against any guard will only continue to justify the use of force and violence against us by the state apparatus.
Revolution is our only option. To turn our pain into a force of revolutionary education, that will save our children and our comrades in arms.
Understand how the police state and the overall imperialist class holds an imaginative sway over us, by its use of things like patriotism and calls to social responsibility to our government. This is not our duty, our duty is to smash the internal divisions and unite. If we don't we all will not be safe. It is time to live for something more. Fight Back!
In New York what you call "gang validation" is called "gang intelligence" and every prison has at least one sergeant who works on it full time.
Alleged gang members are very often self-identified by foolish displays of colors, flags, and wacky writings found on cell searches. Sadly, many are not real gang members in any substantive sense, but foolish young wannabes who are horribly manipulated by "gang leaders." In New York, and likely everywhere, nearly all "gang leaders" are really collaborators of the worst, most manipulative kind, and they are nearly all rats. It's pretty easy for the "gang intelligence sergeant" to look good when the leader gives him a written membership list! Which doesn't have to be at all accurate, of course.
The biggest gang intelligence tool is the phones — New York State prisons record 100% of phone calls on digital hard drives. Obviously, there are not enough ears to listen to 80,000+ prisoners all the time, so they just sample or review a particular prisoner's calls. Or they may review calls to a certain phone number by multiple different prisoners. And the authorities are very careful. They rarely make direct use of recorded calls to nail minor offenders. I know about the extent of the monitoring because I double-bunked with a guy whose ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend was beaten up very badly. My bunky was questioned harshly and almost charged based on calls going back two years. Another man, who I worked with, a defrocked politician, got six months in the box, when "they" had it in for him, based on year-old recorded conversations.
A technical note: hard drive voice recording costs about 1 cent per hour once the system is set up. Put another way, it would cost more to have someone periodically erase old recordings than it costs them to keep them indefinitely.
From snippets of phone conversations I've overheard while making my own calls, nearly all prisoners are lulled into complacency and extreme carelessness by the authorities letting little transgressions slip by while they wait for the really useful information.
In New York, men identified as gang affiliates go to the most miserable prisons which have the fewest educational and remedial programs (nearly zero). Young, generally terrified, totally uneducated men get no help. I call them "five centers," just empty recyclable cans. Recidivism is good for job security. Just like a hotel or restaurant, prison employees make real money on repeat customers.
Another method is to record the information on the outside of mail. I happen to know Green Haven Correctional Facility was doing that big time (probably related to Muslim prisoners). Authorities look for multiple prisoners written from or writing to the same address. Same game with phone numbers. It's not likely ten guys have the same wife or grandma.
Regarding the petitions advertised on page 12 of Under Lock & Key, please be very careful. Petitions from prisoners are completely illegal in New York. A clear constitutional violation which has, unfortunately, been allowed by every level of New York and federal courts. Please find another word, at least, and please don't encourage more than one signature on any piece of paper, or multiple letters mailed together. Anything considered a petition in New York is a quick bus ride to a six-month box stay.
I do not mention anything in New York out of admiration. It's the worst and sometimes the best because they spend (waste and steal) the most. The real fixes are real pay, real freedom, not the phony kindness of the dictator. The most distressed prisoners must get the most help, not the least. The gangs exist mostly as a tool of domination and manipulation — in the larger view they are created by and for the system, not combated by the prison system. The only usefulness to my mind of somewhat better practices in New York prisons or elsewhere is that New York's practices may temporarily help men's arguments in other states.
MIM(Prisons) responds: There are people out for themselves in all prisons, who will sell out their fellow prisoners to the guards. But we would not categorize all so-called "gang leaders" as collaborators. No doubt some are, but some are working with lumpen organizations that have a genuine interest in the anti-imperialist fight. We need to judge each individual for their own actions and political line. Similarly we judge each organization in the same way.
This comrade correctly points out the many difficulties prisoners face with secure communications and general security of self-preservation. As we've written in the past, secure communications are a critical part of self-defense at this stage in the struggle. Everyone needs to be conscious of the many ways the imperialist state can monitor our work and communications. The Amerikan public knows that all its communications are being monitored now, and prisoners should be under no illusion about theirs.
Along those lines, comrades in New York should take heed of this warning about petitions. At the same time, we should not be scared into complacency. Petitioning the government is a basic right guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, which reads, "the right of the people... to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." So while we should be strategic about using petitions in conditions where they have been used as an excuse for political repression, we must fight these battles for basic civil rights for the imprisoned population in this country. MIM(Prisons) will work with comrades in New York to push this battle further.
Literature Review: Maoism and the Black Panther Party 1992
There is one thing in particular I'd like to write about in regards to what interests are and what I've learned from the above subject matter. MIM refers to as "the cult of individual personality", when it comes to the leadership of the 3 highest ranking Panthers of the late 1960s - early 1970s. Particularly Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver. I understand what MIM is getting at when suggesting that the dominant personalities of these two men is basically what led to the BPPs downfall. Mostly due to the fact that the majority of its membership chose to follow in the leadership of either Newton or Cleaver, which ultimately led to the split and the FBI's ability to infiltrate and corrupt the BPP from the inside out.
However, without Newton's leadership and personality to begin with, the BPP would never have made the revolutionary impact on the movement that it did. In my opinion, it takes great leadership to support change. Many of the BPP's successes and accomplishments would not have been achieved without the strength of character provided by Newton.
Of course, there were mistakes, flaws that allowed the party to be exploited and manipulated by its enrollees. Which we can see in hindsight. But the reality is, at that time, it took great individual courage and audacity in the face of a very powerful and dangerous adversary to be able to inspire and to get so many to come together and to present a strong coordinated force willing to fight and to challenge, not only the police themselves, but an entire system.
Nothing inspires people more than the willingness to stand up and to die for what you believe in and Huey Newton was the epitome of courage. It's easy to claim "I would die for you." However, it's a whole different story when you're actually put under the gun. Although many people want to be brave and courageous, the majority of people are overcome by their fears.
It was Huey's courage that inspired Eldridge Cleaver to join the party. Individual practices and personal agendas created a division amongst them. Nevertheless, it does not take away from the unique quality of what drove people to come together and to follow the BPP in the first place.
So yes, I agree leadership needs to be established on all levels from top to bottom. Teaching and training our brothers to understand the importance of both individual and collective leadership. So that everyone has the ability to lead and to take charge when it is called upon. While at the same time recognizing and acknowledging that it requires a certain amount of knowledge and experience to be ready and prepared to accept a position or role of leadership. Especially one that places the lives of our people under your care.
When looking back at the BPP a lot of people, including MIM, seem to place the bulk of the responsibility on Newton and Cleaver. Therefore, laying blame on these two individuals above everyone else. Which is reasonable to a point. They chose to insist on placing themselves in the position of authority. Hence, accountability falls directly on their shoulders. However, the BPP produced many great leaders including but not limited to: George Jackson, Geronimo Pratt, Fred Hampton, Sekou Odinga, Mutolu Shakur, etc. Each of whom established a following of their own. They all also suffered at the hands of their enemies. But the point I want to make is, when the opportunity presented itself, even though they were part of the BPP, they each created their own agendas, based not solely on what Newton and Cleaver directed, but on the practices and objectives they felt best served the movement.
I don't believe it is right to throw Huey under the bus for what happened. He did his best and unfortunately in the end succumbed to the circumstances that stopped him.
I think to succeed, we have to all come together and to unite under a common force. Our leaders need to put aside their egos and humble themselves to the fact that we all have a place. It is up to us as individuals to understand that place. Those who are best fit to lead us should lead us. Those who have proven over time, through correct practice and sacrifice, who have the leadership skills, abilities and qualities, as well as the knowledge, training and experience.
Just as the representatives of the Pelican Bay short Corridor Collective came together in solidarity to build a movement that was at one time unimaginable. So should those who claim to be the vanguards of the revolutionary movement on the outside. There are always going to be differences in ideologies, philosophies, and perspectives. Our goal should be to put our differences to the side and to find our common ground. Our common goals and interests. Focusing and directing our efforts and energies towards striving for what we all have in common.
I have noticed the lines that have been drawn between groups such as MIM, RCP, SWP, etc. Imagine how much can be done if only each of these groups came together to build around and upon a common goal? Creating a courageous leadership with representatives from each group. Agreeing to prioritize those things that are important to everyone. While at the same time each group respectively accepting their own individual purposes.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This commentary is on the pamphlet produced by the Maoist Internationalist Movement (MIM) called Maoism and the Black Panther Party. There are two main points here we want to address: the personality cult and the call for unity between various organizations.
There is a contradiction around the question of the cult of personality. As this comrade points out, figures like Huey Newton and Fred Hampton were responsible for some of the quick gains in membership of the Panthers. There is a contradiction between the leaders and the masses based on the law of uneven development, which leaves the masses needing leaders in the first place. Communist practice has answered this problem with democratic centralism, including the use of the mass line. We've criticized the Panther organizing strategy for its failure to distinguish between the Party and mass organizations. By not recognizing the different roles of the two, the Party suffered and charismatic individuals had too much power, which broke down democratic centralism.
This comrade is correct that Huey's actions, based in his correct understanding, played a significant role in the Panthers early rise to success. Yet, we must temper this with a disciplined organizational structure that recognizes the important roles of the everyone in the Party. Once the Party reached a certain size, democratic centralism would have decreased the ability of the pigs to influence individuals to split the Party. And this was a major failure of the Panthers.
Notwithstanding this criticism, the pamphlet does not throw Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver under the bus. Rather, the principal message is to hold up the BPP, and its leaders, as the best example we have of Maoist organizing within U.$. borders. In fact, MIM later published an article in 1999 "Huey Newton: North Amerikan of the Century?" advocating this position. But in analyzing historical movements that failed to achieve their goals, we have a responsibility to figure out what errors were made so that we can improve on that practice.
The second question raised by this writer is that of whether all organizations such as MIM, RCP and SWP should "put our differences to the side and find our common ground." We ask the author whether s/he would also call on the Black Panther Party to unite with the US organization, a group that killed one of the great leaders, Bunchy Carter, and proved to be a tool of the imperialist government. We do not take this question lightly. It is very important for us to identify who are our friends and who are our enemies. And we have a duty to unite all who can be united in the fight against imperialism. However, we should not attempt to build unity with those who mislead the masses and actually serve the imperialists, whether consciously or unconsciously. Organizations like the RCP and SWP, who work to rally the white nation within U.$. borders for greater benefits to themselves, are objectively working against the interests of the international proletariat. If we were to "put our differences to the side" with these groups, we would be putting our anti-imperialism to the side. That is not a compromise we are willing to make. We do seek to unite all in the anti-imperialist battle, through a principled United Front against imperialism. But this United Front will never include pro-imperialist forces.
Correction May 2015
The author responded to our response to argue that the assassination of Bunchy was instigated by those who were trying to split the Black liberation movement, and even those close to Bunchy do not blame those who pulled the trigger as they were just following orders.
Perhaps that was a poor example we used with the BPP and US as it could easily be interpreted to mean that you should not try to unite with any group that has used violence against your group. We strongly support the end to hostilities in California and the United Front for Peace in Prisons and are aware that one of the major barriers to that is the history of bloodshed. But the difference is the reasons for the bloodshed. With L.O.s it is generally "petty differences" as the author describes in h letter. But with political organizations it is often about core political differences. The implication above was that the US murder of Bunchy was due to such deep political differences. Perhaps a good argument could be made that that was not the case. But either way, the reason we would not ally with SWP or RCP is because of where their politics lead. At the group level it is against the interests of the oppressed. For example, the RCP line on Iran leads to the suffering and death of Iranians as a group at the hands of U.$. imperialism. So this is a bigger picture question. And the reason we are so adamant about not working with RCP is that most people cannot see the difference between us. So to do so would be to confuse the masses, potentially leading to more people following the RCP and working against the interests of the oppressed.
A lot of these differences are deep, historical debates that were settled in the communist movement a long time ago, but confused people, or people who chauvinistically support the interests of Amerikans, keep bringing these issues up and taking the wrong side. You can check out our RCP study pack for discussion of many of these issues. And we thank the author for pointing out this correction.
Comrades, consider all the murders of people of oppressed nations in Amerika: the Trayvon Martins, Andy Lopezes, Renisha McBrides, and Michael Browns. Now consider the media attention and the fact that even though some attention was given to the racist security guards and police officers who were involved in these heinous acts, was justice rendered?
In Texas, finally we have woken up to the fact that attempting to ask the closed loop fraternity of oppressors to fix this corrupt grievance program is not the proper strategy to fix the problem.
In the mean time, numerous prisoners have been beat and murdered by Texas Department of Criminal inJustice (TDCJ) pigs hiding under the blanket of qualified immunity. The Office of Inspector General has been a willing conspirator in the cover-up of abuses of prisoners and Senator John Whitmire, the Chairman of the Texas State Legislatures Criminal Justice Committee, is the Chief of culpability when it comes to murders being un-investigated and obstruction of justice tactics made the status quo! Senator John Whitmire is a closet racist and cast in the same mold as the Dixiecrats of the South circa 1960 and 1970.
It is true, Texas State Representative Dr. Alma Allen from Houston fought hard to have House Bill 877 (HB877) passed during the 83rd legislative session in 2013. This is the TDCJ Independent Oversight Committee bill which Whitmire wouldn't support stating that “We already have policies and committees in place that do that.” Bull shit Whitmire!
Comrades, we must make a concerted effort to expose TDCJ prison employees and hucksters like Whitmire in the media. Let the public see exactly what is going on up in here and let the public decide whether the system is just or corrupt. What we do is start drafting brief, informative, and concise e-mails and blog postings and ask a family member, friend, or fellow comrade to post or send emails to particular sites and addresses.
For instance, Huntsville, Texas is the home of numerous TDCJ prisons and modern day slave camps and gulags. Huntsville has a newspaper called The Huntsville Item which occasionally reports on issues that take place within TDCJ. I've started to send short news clips and blog blasts to the Huntsville Item detailing abuse that I've witnessed or been victim to: [email protected], attn: news room. Put their ass on blast right in their own back yard!
But there's more!
The Houston Chronicle is the largest most circulated newspaper in the state of Texas. Chronicle staff writers Mike Ward, Anita Hasson, and Dan Schiller all focus on criminal justice issues and have exposed many instances of abuse inside TDCJ but they are or seem to be protectors of the pigs! Nevertheless, they are opportunistic journalists and love a juicy tale of murder, intrigue, and corruption, all salient subjects present inside the Texas Department of Criminal Injustice. I encourage you strongly to have brief but informative packed emails sent to them also! Houston Chronicle staff writer email addresses: [email protected], [email protected], and [email protected]
The Texas Observer is a left leaning “Journal of Free Voices” which publishes a monthly magazine. I've also been developing a rapport with them.
The prison show on KPFT 90.1 FM actually has a Facebook page which I highly recommend you have your friends, family and comrades visit and post short messages that detail abuse and the inadequacy of this important and useless grievance program!
Murders but no accountability
Comrades, too many prisoners are being killed by TDCJ employees and the murders are being justified as necessary use of excessive force by sadistic, brutal, and criminal TDCJ employees. As I said earlier, the Office of Inspector General is condoning and sanctioning these murders of the lumpen, so on top of our media strategy we must start contacting the Texas Rangers and the Public Integrity Unit in Austin, Texas.
The Texas Rangers are one of the oldest most advanced law enforcement agencies in Texas. Outside of the FBI the Rangers are the top pig organization in Texas. When we coordinate our efforts in such a manner as contacting the media and these Rangers, playing it out in the public domain, I promise you we will get some action right out of the chief imperialist pig oppressor Brad Livingston, TDCJ Executive director.
The public integrity unit in Austin investigates corruption of those who hold public office. So all those board of pardon and parole officials who've been taking bribery money from so-called parole lawyers in Texas watch out! All those Texas correction industries employees who have been engaged in deceptive business practices stealing tax payer dollars and promoting the slave plantation system in Texas – watch out!
Comrades, please understand that this info I am giving you has the potential to create a major disturbance in the corrupt practices of TDCJ. The oppressors don't want you to utilize this information but if we can get a significant number of comrades to embrace this strategy it will strengthen our position.
MIM(Prisons) is correct when it says the TDCJ independent oversight committee would bring progress for our fight against abuse and injustice. But remember this is a long protracted struggle that will go on for years. The key is to unify behind this strategy. We need actors not rappers.
Address: The Texas Rangers, PO Box 4087, Austin, Texas 78773-0600 The Public Integrity Unit, PO Box 1748, Austin, Texas 78767
MIM(Prisons) responds: We print this letter because it gives us a chance to address the question of how to build public opinion. We agree with this comrade that it can be useful to send information to various media outlets to expose injustice. Sometimes they will cover our struggles, if not for the reason of actually supporting these struggles. But we do need to be very aware that media is not unbiased. Mainstream media is beholden to advertisers and so very much biased in favor of capitalism and the criminal injustice system. This means that when this media does cover our struggles, it will usually be with a slant or perspective that is counter to ours. Is it useful to have the media cover a prisoner hunger strike over bad conditions by interviewing the warden and letting him have a forum to tell the public how the prisoners are wrong and conditions are good? Of course, getting our side of the story in the hands of this media may get the struggle covered with at least a bit of our perspective. That is a good thing, but we cannot rely on mainstream media. This is why MIM(Prisons) publishes Under Lock & Key. The oppressed need our own media reporting from our perspective. USW88 left out ULK as a place where people should send their stories, but we must always keep this in the front of our minds: any story or news worth sending to the mainstream media should be sent to ULK first. ULK is the most likely place it will get printed!
Ultimately we need to distinguish between our short-term goal of achieving reforms to improve the living conditions of our comrades behind bars, and our long-term goal of eliminating the criminal injustice system. The first goal may sometimes be aided by broad publicity brought to the atrocities going on behind bars. The second goal will only be accomplished with an organized communist movement with solid anti-imperialist principles. We will never get anti-imperialist education printed in mainstream media. And so we can use these avenues tactically for short term battles, but we should not rely on them for anything more. And all of our work needs to be in the context of our long-term goals: even reforms should serve as educational tools for our comrades and potential comrades to explain why we will never be able to reform away imperialism.
As for the strategy of contacting the Texas Rangers, this is a historically very reactionary arm of the law enforcement with roots in the repression and murder of [email protected] We definitely don't expect them to take action on behalf of the oppressed . Exposing the criminal injustice system actions to this criminal “law enforcement” agency is a bit like reporting a corrupt pig to the pigs. Action is almost never taken. And further, those reporting the information to the Texas Rangers have now given over their name and contact info for future repression. Rather than encourage people to put their energy into this tactic, we suggest more work writing articles about what's going on behind bars and in the streets, from the perspective of the anti-imperialist movement.