by a Pennsylvania prisoner September 2013 permalink
I am having a terrible time with the grievance system at SCI-Frackville along with the misconduct appeal system both in population and in the hole where I'm presently confined.
In general population I have the option of putting my grievance in the grievance box on the housing block or in the grievance box in the chow hall. I always use the chow hall. Only the grievance coordinator has a key to the grievance boxes so all grievances get processed. The problem begins when the grievance is responded to. All responses are sent to the housing units and "stolen" by the guards on the units. Then when we complain about not getting a response, we are told we have to write to the record office and "pay" for another copy. By the time that is done, the time for appealing the response has expired, precluding you from appealing the response. Our final appeals must be sent to the "Chief Grievance Coordinator." On four occasions, she claimed she never received my final appeal that I placed in the mailbox with a postage paid envelop. Misconduct appeals are placed in the inmate-request-slip box. A guard has a key to that box, and on six occasions I was told I never appealed my misconduct sanction.
I definitely need a copy of the grievance petition to have prisoners copy and send out.
MIM(Prisons) adds: This is a good example of the grievance system in prisons across the country, where prison workers conspire to "lose" grievances so that prisoners have no recourse to challenge misconduct. The grievance petition is one tool to help with this fight. We now have petitions for 10 states, and we are looking for prisoners who can customize the petition to their own states as needed. This petition can also be a tool to educate other prisoners. You can share it with those who see the effects of the unjust grievance system, and talk to them about how this relates to the overall criminal injustice system and the need for prisoners to step up and do something. This petition is a small action they can take right now, but they can also get more involved in studying and struggling over issues of bigger change to fundamental injustice. This is one way we can share the anti-imperialist movement with people through practical struggle that impacts their lives right now.
I was confined to Ad-Seg in Harris County Jail while my case was under trial. Texas law requires the jail to give prisoners at least one hour a day for exercise and meaningful recreation. I stayed in segregation for nine months. Not once was I allowed out of cell exercise. I filed grievances, which were denied. I then filed a Section 1983 lawsuit for violation of my 14th amendment right to due process. The litigation is ongoing, however the jail refuses to stop this barbaric and inhumane treatment of 24 hour lockdown. The "justice" system is failing to protect the incarcerated individual. Again.
I traded several of my meals to other prisoners for a few stamps. I was only able to gather 5 stamps. I know it's not much, but I hope it helps some. I have been spreading the MIM(Prisons) campaigns, and have put together a small group of other prisoners to remember the Attica uprising. We have planned a fast for September 9, 2013.
MIM(Prisons) adds: This comrade is organizing others to participate in the country-wide demonstration September 9. Calling attention to the treatment of prisoners, this demonstration coincides with the anniversary of the Attica uprising.
22 August 2013 — I write to inform you that our hunger strike (in this unit for death row) has officially been suspended. In good faith we'll allow the warden to fulfill his promises of productive and positive change. It is these changes that will eventually improve death row for the best. It is a start and the right steps towards changing this whole system for the best.
Although we may have suspended ours, many more continue to struggle to bring about change in their torture dungeons. And we shall not stop exposing this place for what it is. We shall not stop sharing our stories, our truths and helping others end their plight. The battle has just begun and this exposure, this movement has united us even more. It has unmasked our captors and brought many individuals to our aid who have helped change things already. And with each passing day many more join the movement.
I want to thank you for getting us this far. For making it possible to put enough pressure on the warden and his administration to come to terms with our demands. Without your help, we wouldn't have made it to this point. Thank you for all you've done and continue doing in helping to end these injustice and torture dungeons. We are only half the movement, while you're the other half. Together we will change this world for the best.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We commend our comrades at San Quentin for their perseverance in this hunger strike. We know, however, that the prisoncrats have a long history of false promises. This comrade is right that this battle has helped to build unity, education and gained more activists for the movement. These are real victories, regardless of the outcome of the warden's promises.
While we don't have the details on the promises made, another report claims that the only written agreement at the time was that searches would not be done outside if it is raining. This came from a report from a striker who passed out from liver failure, who reported others in San Quentin were also facing difficult health conditions due to lack of food.(1) We posted the full list of demands developed at San Quentin back in June.
I've been through quite a lot in the six months or so since I've become involved in the anti-imperialist movement. Starting out in a state prison here in Massachusetts, I began by trying to devour as much literature as I could on our collective struggle. In order to digest the principles upon which our rebellion is based, I have tried to discuss the ideas with other prisoners. However, I found it incredibly perverse that so many other prisoners would posture and pay lip service to the principles yet when it comes down to forming any kind of movement they were cowed by the mere thought of the oppressor.
For example, I attempted to initiate a grievance campaign. There were actually people willing to get involved but I had to write up each individual grievance myself. Although this took up much of my personal time I gladly did it, and actually saw some results. The prison was serving rotten potatoes for about four years. Changed. Open shower drain in one shower with the possibility of serious injury. Fixed. Broken law library computer in the cell block. Fixed. Broken law library computer in segregation. Fixed. I suppose the grievances weren't all for nothing.
A couple of months ago I was transferred from state prison to a county jail to serve a separate sentence. Now I'm getting ready to file my first civil suits against this jail regarding the disciplinary process. Hopefully the changes that I seek will stop the current disciplinary staff from smoking everyone on their misconduct reports. Indeed, there is a lot of shady stuff going on in the disciplinary board office, especially the use of duplicate offenses to rack up extra segregation time as a tool of oppression and complete non-compliance with the jail's own policy and procedures regarding disciplinary hearings.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We get many letters from activists behind bars who are frustrated with the lack of interest and support from their fellow prisoners. There are several important things to keep in mind when thinking about why we can't quickly and easily unite all (or most) prisoners behind the anti-imperialist cause. First, prisoners come from the same wealthy society that, on the streets, keeps the vast majority of Amerikans supporting imperialism. While the class status of lumpen prisoners makes them more likely to take up anti-imperialism, they are not immune to the wealth and culture of Amerika.
Second, even where class and nation interests might put someone on the side of the anti-imperialist movement, we have some serious educational work to do to counter all the reactionary education they got for most of their life. While some will instinctively join the revolution, drawing correct conclusions from their own life and education, others will need patient education and observation of our practice. This is true in all revolutionary movements, and it is the job of our leaders, people who already see the importance of the anti-imperialist struggle, to approach people where they are at, and patiently provide them information and examples as we work to win them over. If we look at socialism in China in the 1960s, we see that even after seizing state power and all of their great achievements, they still had to wage a vigorous Cultural Revolution to combat bourgeois ideas all the way up to the Party's central committee. So we should not be surprised, nor get frustrated, by the resistance we face in the United $tates today.
It is victories like those grievance battles won, combined with education to give people the broader context for our struggle, that will help us to win supporters and turn them into new activists. Always keep in mind that you were not born an anti-imperialist. Someone had to provide you with education, information and/or examples. Now it is your turn to do the same for others.
Regarding the dietary petition you sent to my friend, we had those 10 filled out immediately, well 9. I sent one to the law library to get 10 copies made. From these 10, I had 9 more signed within a day. I tried to send it to the law library to have copies made again. I was informed that I would not receive copies because the law library would not copy blank forms. The form was returned ripped, with my cell # written on it in permanent marker. Of course this was a lie. Ely State Prison does copy blank forms, they just don't want me copying the petition and/or distributing it.
However I erased my name etc. from the form, sent it out to a comrade of mine in San Diego, and I asked for 30 copies so I could distribute them. This comrade sent me 100 copies. I did receive these copies, and have been passing them around, and have received many more signed copies. I and another are also attempting to send copies to individuals in other institutions. However, my mail is now being read and I have been informed that if I continue to distribute and push the petition I will be written up and my transfer request denied.
I have been housed at Ely State Prison (ESP) since 2002. ESP is a supermax where we are locked down 24 hours a day. I have spent 8 years trying to get a transfer. I was finally approved last month, and this threat to keep me here is their way of trying to force me to stop passing around the petition. I am not going to stop with my effort to have these petitions signed. If it costs me my transfer so be it, I've been here almost 11 years, I can handle more!
MIM(Prisons) adds: This is just one more example of how Amerika uses long-term isolation as a form of social control against those trying to organize for better conditions, even small reforms around basic needs. This comrade's determination to continue the fight against food deprivation, even with the threat of ongoing long-term solitary confinement, is an example for prisoners everywhere. This campaign has gained support among prisoners in Nevada because it is a clear problem for all prisoners, and one that we can reasonably expect to win. We do need to be clear when spreading campaigns such as this one that this is just a small battle that must be part of a broader effort to educate and organize prisoners against the criminal injustice system. Only an anti-imperialist movement with the long-term goal of a system where no group of people oppresses another group has a chance of putting an end to the criminal injustice of imperialism. The oppressed, united under this goal, must build a new state that applies proletarian justice, making depriving people of basic food and medical care a crime that is punished and eliminated.
Here in the Ad-Seg unit at North Kern they've transferred a lot of us to A4 which is on the main level III yard, and half of the building is Ad-Seg, the other is orientation. All of us are on single cell status and validated members and associates of STG (Security Threat Group types) I & II but there's unity in here.
The hunger strike/work stoppage is over, and most if not all received 128 G chronos for participating. This will be used as validation points, but no one cares. We don't get our 10 hour a week for yard, no laundry exchange, or supplies being passed out, and our food is cold because they serve it on paper trays.
Our mail has to get rerouted from the other Ad-Seg unit and the IGI/ISU informed us that the SF Bayview, CA Prison Focus, The Rock, Revolution, Militant, PHSS, MIM(Prisons) and any of the literature that makes reference to our struggle behind these walls will be screened and withheld. I've been receiving mail that's 2.5 months old. We have a group 602 going around collecting signatures so we can show the yard captain we're not happy with this program we have here in the A4 location. Just yesterday they cell extracted someone and all of us above the incident on the top tier had pepper spray in our cells, because it came up through our cells, and the ventilating shaft.
I'm writing to give you an update on the protest back in June. The protest in June was just the start. The real protest will jump off in October. The one in June went on for six days, not two. It was on for two days before the south and north compounds took part. We really wanted to go off with the July 8 one, but things here were getting so bad the prisoners just couldn't hold back any longer. By October all should be ready. If not, those that are prepared will be ready to share the understanding of what is going on so all the population will be on the same page. And everyone understands this is a peaceful protest, too much is just not right. I'm not the one doing the talking but I'm surely a part.
MIM(Prisons) adds: As another comrade from New Jersey reported: "Although nothing has changed as of the writing of this report, it is important to highlight that the level of unity achieved across nations and groups, the effective organization of the protest, and the fearful response by the state demonstrate the power of non-violent resistance in a corrections environment." We agree this unity is critical. We are seeing unity in resistance in prisons across the country. We need to take advantage of this opportunity to educate and build. As this prisoner points out, those who are ready for October in New Jersey will share information so that all the population will understand. We call on anti-imperialist comrades in prison to expand this education and take this opportunity to educate others about the nature of the injustice system and its role in imperialism in general. Protests to improve conditions are important, but they are just the start.
It seems as if all chaos has been released on this unit, as now the security officers and administration officers are denying prisoners here their prescribed medication. Medical wants to close evening pill dispensing at 5.30pm whether all prisoners get their medication or not, to avoid overtime. The unit is relatively small and if run by security staff properly, it could run pill window for all prisoners by 5:30pm. But the prison creates conditions that make this impossible, delaying count, shutting down prisoner movement, etc.
Because of a lack of proper medication several prisoners have had violent epileptic seizures. Other prisoners have gone days at a time without their medication. A building missed their medication three days straight.
It is obvious that the wheels have fallen off when the medical department blames security for such denials of a person's medication, and security blames medical by stating they "have no control over medical decisions."
Four days out of ten last month I myself missed medication, and I was placed in protected custody twice for speaking out against such blatant violation of our rights. Because of this, trouble is brewing that presents an environment that is hostile and unsafe for both officers and prisoners, a violation of our right to a safe and secure place to do our time.
MIM(Prisons) adds: Medical neglect is all too common in Amerikan prisons. This should be no surprise as capitalism puts profits before health, and in the case of prisons it puts social control before health. This is a clear example of the criminal injustice system punishing prisoners just for the sake of punishment. There is no possible rehabilitative purpose to denying prisoners their medicine. It is a way to put lives in danger. They might claim to save a few dollars on staff overtime in the short run, but the long-term financial cost of treating seriously ill prisoners will far exceed these savings as many prisoners are on medication critical to control serious conditions.
The abysmal health care in Amerikan prisons mirrors the situation on the streets in this country that spends more money per persyn on health care than any other in the world, but yet has far poorer health than most First World countries and even some Third World countries. Ironically this poor health hits the wealthy in Amerika too. These are some ways in which communism will serve all the world's people, not just the poor. Although the wealthy will be brought down to the same economic level as everyone else in the world, improvements in healthcare, an end to environmental destruction, and opportunities to lead productive lives are all important enhancements in life that all will enjoy when capitalism is overthrown.
I was discussing the issue of declining membership with a well known organizational leader with tens of thousands of followers. He stated that you only want to write if it is behind your philosophy, and that you criticize anyone who does not agree with your strategy. He specifically mentioned the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. So your criticism, well intended or not, is doing more dividing than uniting.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This letter is responding to the article in ULK 33summarizing our annual congress which reported that our number of subscribers has dropped in the past year. First, we want to be clear that subscribers are not the same thing as members. We reported in the same article that the number of active United Struggle from Within members has increased over the past year. But still, we want to see an increase in ULK readers as well and so this is a bad trend.
It is true that MIM(Prisons) is critical of other organizations. This is because we see political struggle and education as fundamental to building an effective revolutionary movement. The MXGM is a good example of an organization that we have reported favorably about in the past. But we need to be honest about where we see faults in the political lines or strategies of other organizations. We hope others will do the same for us. We cannot build real unity if we just ignore significant disagreements over political line and strategy.
Further, we work towards a United Front with all organizations who can unite with us on basic goals. This is an important Maoist strategy that allows different organizations to come together for common goals without sacrificing their independence or brushing real political differences under the rug.
We see these practices as principled. It may lead some individuals to dismiss MIM(Prisons) as too divisive, but we see the real divisiveness in those groups that refuse to publicly acknowledge political differences while privately gossiping or positioning themselves into power. We are willing to lose a few supporters who can't take open political discussion and disagreements to maintain clarity of political line.
The Minister of Defense of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (Prison Chapter) recently stepped in(1) to defend Turning the Tide against our USW comrade's critiques.(2) We can appreciate the greater clarity and honesty in Rashid's piece compared to Michael Novick's, but still cannot forgive him for getting the first question of importance to communists wrong: who are our friends and who are our enemies? Like Jose Maria Sison and Bob Avakian, Rashid has long been exposed to MIM line and writing, and many attempts to struggle with him have been made. It does great damage to the International Communist Movement when these people become icons of "Maoism" in many peoples' eyes, while promoting chauvinistic lines on the role of the oppressor nations under imperialism.
Rashid opens his piece with the most common strawpersyn argument of the revisionists, that the MIM line is wrong because Marx and Lenin never abandoned organizing among Europeans and Amerikans. Rashid needs to be more specific if he's claiming there are groups that are refusing to work with white people or moving to the Third World to organize. While our work mostly targets prisoners, we target prisoners of all nationalities, and similarly our street work is not very nation-specific. The question we would ask instead of "should we organize Amerikans?", is, "what is going to achieve communism faster, organizing rich people around demands for more money, or organizing them around ideas of collective responsibility for equal distribution of humyn needs and ecological sustainability?"
Rashid's third paragraph includes some numbers and math and at first glance i thought it might have some concrete analysis. But alas, the numbers appear just for show as they are a) made up numbers, and b) reflecting the most simple calculation that Marx teaches us to define surplus value. To counter Rashid's empty numbers, let us repeat our most basic math example here. If Amerikans are exploited, then to end exploitation would mean they need to get paid more money. Dividing the global GDP by the number of full-time laborers gives an equitable distribution of income of around $10,000 per persyn per year.(3) To be fair, in Rashid's article he addresses this and quotes Marx to say that we cannot have an equitable distribution of income. In that quote from Wages, Price and Profit Marx was writing about capitalism, which is inherently exploitative. Our goal is communism, or "from each according to her ability, to each according to her need." But we're not there yet, Rashid might argue. OK fine, let's take Rashid's hypothetical McDonald's worker making $58 per 8 hour workday. If we assume 5 days a week and 50 weeks a year we get $14,500 per year. According to the World Bank, half of the world's people make less than $1,225 per year.(4) That report also showed that about 10% of Amerikans are in the world's richest 1% and that almost half of the richest 1% are Amerikans. So Rashid wants to argue that under capitalism it is just that the lowest paid Amerikans earn over 10 times more than half of the world's population because their labor is worth that much more? How is that? What Marx was talking about in Wages, Price and Profit was scientific: a strong persyn might be twice as productive as a weak one, or a specially trained persyn might add more value than an unskilled persyn. So Rashid wants to use this to justify paying anyone who was birthed as a U.$. citizen 10 to 25 times, or more, the average global rate of pay? We have no idea how Rashid justifies this disparity except through crass Amerikan chauvinism.
This empty rhetoric is not Marxism. It is ironic how today people will use this basic formulation for surplus value from Marx to claim people of such vastly different living conditions are in the same class. No one else in the world looks at the conditions in the United $tates and Haiti and thinks, "these countries should really unite to address their common plight." It is only pseudo-Marxists and anarchists who read a little Marx who can come up with such crap.
Rashid later establishes commonality across nations with the definition, "The proletariat simply is one who must sell her labor power to survive, which is as true for the Amerikan worker as it is for one in Haiti." We prefer Marx's definition that the proletariat are those who have nothing to lose but their chains. According to Rashid, we should determine whether someone is exploited based on different measuring sticks depending on what country they live in. Apparently, in the United $tates you must have a $20,000 car, a $200,000 home and hand-held computers for every family member over 5 in order "to survive." Whereas in other countries electricity and clean water are optional. More chauvinism.
Rashid continues discussing class definitions,
"For instance, if there's no [Euro-Amerikan] ('white') proletariat in the US, then there's also no New Afrikan/Black one. If a EA working in McDonalds isn't a proletarian, then neither is one of color. If there's no New Afrikan proletariat, then there's no New Afrikan lumpen proletariat either ("lumpen" literally means "broken"—if they were never of the proletariat, they could not become a 'broken' proletariat)."
Lumpen is usually translated as "rag." Even in the United $tates we have a population of people who live in rags, who have very little to lose. However, we completely agree with Rashid's logic here. And that is why MIM(Prisons) started using the term "First World lumpen" to distinguish from "lumpenproletariat." There is little connection between the lumpen in this country and a real proletariat, with the exceptions being within migrant populations and some second generation youth who form a bridge between Third World proletariat, First World semi-proletariat and First World lumpen classes. Rashid continues,
"Yet the VLA [vulgar labor aristocracy] proponents recognize New Afrikan prisoners as 'lumpen' who are potentially revolutionary. Which begs the question, why aren't they doing work within the oppressed New Afrikan communities where they're less apt to be censored, if indeed they compose a lumpen sector?"
This is directed at us, so we will answer: historical experience and limited resources. As our readers should know, we struggle to do the things we do to support prisoner education programs and organizing work. We do not have the resources right now to do any serious organizing outside of prisons. And we made the conscious decision of how we can best use our resources in no small part due to historical experience of our movement. In other words we go where there is interest in revolutionary politics. The margins, the weakest links in the system, that is where you focus your energy. Within the lumpen class, the imprisoned lumpen have a unique relationship to the system that results in a strong contradiction with that system. The imprisoned population could also be considered 100% lumpen, whereas less than 20% of the New Afrikan nation is lumpen, the rest being among various bourgeois classes, including the labor aristocracy.
"And if the lumpen can be redeemed, why not EA [Euro-Amerikan] workers?"
Again, look at history. Read J. Sakai's Settlers and read about the Black Panther Party. Today, look at the growing prison system and the regular murder of New Afrikan and other oppressed nation youth by the pigs. Look at where the contradictions and oppression are.
The only really interesting thing about this piece is that Rashid has further drawn a line between the MIM camp and the slew of anarchist and crypto-Trotskyist organizations who are still confused about where wealth comes from. They think people sitting at computers typing keys are exploited, and Rashid accuses our line of requiring "surplus value falling from the sky!" We already told you where the high wages in the imperialist countries came from, Rashid, the Third World proletariat! That is why the average Amerikan makes 25 times the average humyn, and why all Amerikans are in the top 13% in income globally. As the revisionists like to remind us, wealth disparity just keeps getting greater and greater under capitalism. The labor aristocracy today is like nothing that V.I. Lenin ever could have witnessed. We must learn from the methods of Marx and Lenin, not dogmatically repeat their analysis from previous eras to appease Amerikans.