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[Economics] [Prison Labor] [China] [ULK Issue 81]
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Inflation: Commissary Prices and Bank Failures

For many months we’ve been hearing some grumblings from our readers about sky-rocketing commissary prices. Last issue we put out a call for more reports on this price inflation. But this inflation is not unique to prisons, and in recent weeks we’ve seen its impacts on the imperialists with a number of banks in the United $tates and Switzerland failing.

The cycles of boom and bust, which lead to instability, are inherent to capitalism and how it works. While the imperialists have adapted in many ways to keep things going, they can never solve these problems or prevent these cycles.

Commissary prices

One comrade wrote in to report on the different pay rates in Pennsylvania prisons ranging from 19 cents to 51 cents per hour. Ey wrote to say,

“since the prices of commissary has gone up due to inflation I think that all prisoners with jobs should be given pay rate raises to help with the new higher costs of living in the prison population. It is much harder to keep up with the financial strain. …I know that out in society whenever the cost of living goes up due to inflation so does our income and of course I am referring to low-income people – people on Social Security Income (SSI) or Social Security(SS) or struggling on Welfare. Well in prisons we don’t make anywhere near what is made on SSI or SS or even Welfare for that matter.”

A comrade from Utah wrote:

"At the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis President Trump warned us against price gouging but that never stopped the jail system. The criminal injustice system put people in jail for stealing but then they turn around and steal from the same people they accuse of stealing. County jails are full of homeless people, drug addicts and indigent people who have limited means or no family or friend to help provide those means, yet the canteen prices for commissary are outrageous. These same products can be bought at the Dollar store.

"For example, items such as V05 shampoo, which you can purchase at the dollar store for $1.25, commissary price is $3.99. One ramen noodle can be purchased for $0.25 at the store, will cost you $1.19 in commissary. Also a 10 pack of SweetNLow costs $0.99. For generic denture glue it’s $7 in commissary compared to $1.25 at the Dollar store. The list goes on and on. Is that not price gouging?

“Prisoners are forced to accept it. They have no choice. They have to pay it or go without. Hygiene and medications they desperately need. My question to you – how do we change this and stop jails from stealing from prisoners?”

Price gouging or extortion is common in U.$. prisons where the state allows private companies to come in and prey on prisoners and their families with legally enforce monopoly pricing systems.

A comrade in New York responded to our call with some of the price increases seen there since July 2022.

itemJuly pricenew price
syrup$2.45$2.75
cold cuts$0.75$0.85
chips$1.02$1.18
onions$1.45$1.85
graham crackers$1.96$2.33

Most price increases in New York seemed to be in the 10 to 20% range. As a member of the Incarcerated Individual Liaison Committee, this comrade wrote the Deputy Superintendent about the troubles they were having with getting items on the commissary list. They responded in September 2022,

“The commissary contract allows the vendor to bid items and the price is allowed to rise (or fall) based on the real world. They are not required to lose money. Our stocking situation reflects the real world supply chain issues and inflation.”

The comrade told us,

“the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has raised the commissary buy limit from $75.00 to $90.00 to compensate for the inflation and changes to the package from home/vendor program that was implemented last year (2022).”

Unlike in the free world, not only do prisoners face limits on how much they can earn but also on how much they can spend.

Inflation is Real

Above, the NYSDOCS refers to the “real world” as being the cause of the rising prices in commissary. The fact of the matter is that inflation rates in the United $tates have been higher than we’ve seen in many decades for everyone. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) in December 2021 had increased 7% year-over-year, and in December 2022 it was 6.5%. That means over two years the inflation rate is around 15% for all consumer goods. In this context, the price increases in New York commissaries look pretty typical for the economy overall. That does not mean that this is inevitable, it is only inevitable in the type of economy we live in.

And it is only if we are slaves to the capitalist market forces that we must accept these price increases on necessities for some of the poorest people in this country. Even capitalist countries use subsidies to alter the market.

Socialist China had no inflation

The Communist Party of China seized state power in 1949 after over two decades of people’s war waged against the imperialists and their Chinese lackies among the comprador bourgeoisie and landlord classes. Immediately following liberation there were speculators

“still trying to manipulate prices and stirring up waves in the economy… who ignored the repeated warnings of the People’s Government, gold and silver prices kept soaring, pushing up all other prices. So on 10 June 1949 the Stock Exchange – that centre of crime located in downtown Shanghai – was ordered to close down and 238 leading speculators were arrested and indicted. The 1,800 gold and silver coin peddlers were released on the spot after being enjoined to lead a more honest life. At one stroke, the headquarters of speculation vanished forever from Shanghai.”(1)

Unfortunately that last statement proved untrue, as the Shanghai Stock Exchange was re-established on 26 November 1990, following over a decade of capitalist restoration in China.(2) This is why China has it’s own economic woes today. But for a quarter century, China had no inflation.

During the socialist period of 1949-1976, the Communist Party never resorted to bank-note issue as a solution for fiscal problems, relying on raising production and practicing economy instead.(3) This remained true through the Korean War and periods of famine in the 1950s.(4) During the Covid-19 lockdown period the capitalist economy suffered greatly because it cannot adapt to decreases in production. The solution in the imperialist countries was for central banks to print a lot of money and give it to the capitalists as well as their labor aristocracy, to keep consumption up and prevent economic collapse. The solution to the bank collapses in recent weeks has been similar, providing more liquidity from the U.$. Federal Reserve on loan to banks that can’t cover their balance sheets.

The communist approach in China was the opposite. Rather than putting as much money out into the world as needed, and encouraging banks to loan more than they have, the Communist Party forced banks to hold most of their currency, forced agencies to keep most of their money in the banks and prohibited securities, bonds, precious metal trade and foreign currency. Remember, mortgage-backed securities were at the center of the last recession in 2008. Today we are seeing a similar crisis in high-risk loans for automobiles in the United $tates that happened for home loans in 2008.

Bond prices are at the heart of the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and others. Socialist China didn’t issue bonds, because they didn’t take on federal debt.

Prior to liberation, in 1935-37, the Chinese currency was pegged to the USD. As a result, when inflation spiked in the United $tates, that inflation was amplified in China. In ULK 79 we discussed the current inflation crisis in Ghana. Because Ghana does not control its currency and does not keep out foreign currency and speculators, their currency (the Cedi) is manipulated by the imperialists. This is true across the Third World, where inflation will continue to be felt much more harshly than it is for us here in the belly of the beast.

stacks of money due to inflation pre revolution in China

The other problem in countries like Ghana is the foreign debt. Inflation is playing a big role here, as the USD becomes more expensive compared to local currencies, larger and larger portions of the money supplies in exploited countries are going to pay the same interest rates on loans from the imperialists. Debt forgiveness in these countries needs to occur to protect the lives of millions threatened with starvation today.

According to the World Food Program, “An expected 345.2 million people [are] projected to be food insecure in 2023 – more than double the number in 2020.”(5) The recent increase in famine is mainly in the poorest, exploited countries, and triggered by a combination of inflation, war and climate change.

We know there is enough food in the world to feed everyone. The problem is capitalism cannot be efficient enough to distribute it to places where super-exploitation occurs. And super-exploitation is necessary to maintain profit rates. Without positive profit rates, capitalism grinds to a halt.

When socialist China had actual shortages in essentials, they would ration them instead of increasing prices and making the problem worse. Then they would focus on increasing production of those essentials (rather than decreasing production like the capitalists do when there’s no profits to be had).(6) Contrast this with prisoners (and everyone else) in the United $tates who are now paying higher prices for food and other essentials because the commissary is operated on the capitalist market. The anarchy of production under capitalism means we constantly have too much or too little of various goods as individuals decide what to produce based on their own profit interests. And this is particularly noticeable when the economy starts to slow down or shows volatility as it has been lately.

Chinese production could focus on meeting need during socialist years

Socialist China focused on production to manage and drive the economy, whereas imperialist United $tates focuses on money supply to do so. In socialist China the banks were merely a tool to manage and allocate resources to manage production for the people’s needs.

Why Banks are failing

As mentioned above, Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) had a big problem due to the value of its federal bonds dropping in value. They had bought the bonds when interest rates were much lower, so as the Fed continues to increase interest rates these old bonds drop in value. They cannot cash in the bonds until their term is due and they can only sell them at a loss. Some big players began pulling their money out of the bank, perhaps related to this knowledge. Soon SVB could not cover the deposits they owed people. The U.$. government has stepped in to cover it, and now the FDIC is covering infinite deposits if your bank fails, instead of the previous limit of $250,000. This is another sign of the willingness of the imperialists to throw newly printed cash at the problem.

One interesting point here is that federal bonds are a “safe” investment. SVB didn’t fail because of garbage mortgage-backed securities as happened in 2008. So the financial system is failing firms that play it safe this time around. In addition, according to the FDIC, SVB was not in the worst situation.(7) In other words, other banks in the United $tates have worse balance sheets than SVB and will fail if there is a run on their money. “The total unrealised losses sitting on the books of all banks is currently $620bn, or 2.7% of US GDP.”(7)

The biggest failure this year, at the time of this writing, was the 165 year-old bank Credit Suisse. Meanwhile the market is jittery around many large imperialist banks with stock prices seeing big dips and credit default swaps (CDS) spiking in price. CDSs going up means other institutions are not confident these banks can pay off their debts and are charging more to insure bonds from these banks. The differing interests of these major financial institutions are beginning to show on the markets as they bet against each other.

Conclusion

Prisoners are on some of the most fixed budgets of any population in this country. In order to get their basic needs related to nutrition, hygiene and outside contact, prisons need to increase pay rates and limits on how much money prisoners can spend and receive from the outside. In some states these reforms have already occurred, and this is in the interests of the commissary companies, which the prison systems want to keep satisfied.

The solution to the bigger economic contradictions playing out now is obviously replacing capitalism with socialism. The report from socialist China cited above succinctly explains why this is the case. Capitalism doesn’t just put profit over the need of people and life on this planet, capitalism actually requires profit to function. When profits dry up, as we’re seeing some evidence of right now, capitalism can’t produce what people need. Of course, we’re also seeing various forms of state intervention to ensure that this does not happen by providing more money and creating profitable situations using the central banks. But these contradictions continue to exist, and different interests are acting in anarchic ways, so that state intervention cannot always work as it does in a socialist economy.

Notes:
1. Peng Kuang-hsi, 1976, Why China Has No Inflation, Foreign Languages Press:Peking, p.23-24.
2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanghai_Stock_Exchange
3. Peng, p.28.
4. Peng, p.30.
5. World Food Programme, “2023: Another Year of Extreme Jeopardy for those Struggling to Feed their Families.”
6. Peng, p.37
7. Michael Roberts, 21 March 2023, “Bank Busts and Regulation”, The Next Recession.

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[Digital Mail] [Legal] [California] [ULK Issue 81]
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New Lawsuit Against San Mateo County's Prison Mail Surveillance System

electronic frontier foundation prisoner censorship art

The Bay Area is the latest site of Our all out legal war against digital-mail prison profiteer Smart Communications. San Mateo County, located on the peninsula between San Francisco and San Jose, instituted the MailGuard system used by Florida-based Smart Communications in late 2021 in its county jail. The county had the second lawsuit to date brought against it for its use of the system. The first was filed last fall, which alleged (validly I’m sure) exposure of private communications between attorneys and their clients to correctional guards.

The new lawsuit filed last week by an extremely influential legal coalition including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Social Justice Legal Foundation and Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute aims to get a judge to declare the mail system has violated its subjects’ First and Fourth Amendment rights. Ultimately the aim is to order the county to stop using it and purge all retained electronic mail records. Record requests by San Jose-based civil rights group Silicon Valley De-Bug have shown scanned mail is retained and able to be accessed by jail staff for seven years according to the contract, even after a persyn has been released from jail.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is an exciting addition to the legal team involved in the assault on this totalitarian surveillance system. Formed in 1990 by John Gilmore, John Perry Barlow and Mitch Kapor, this international non-profit digital rights group based in San Francisco, CA got its original financial backing from Mitch Kapor and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. The EFF has handled (and won) many high profile cases against companies like Google and Facebook, but its most famous case (its first, that also led to its creation) preserved forever in historical hacker lore, happened in early 1990 against the U.$. Secret Service for its illegal raid/search and seizure operation of Steve Jackson Games. This was one case of many happening at the time across the United $tates against alleged hackers spurred along by a state and federal task force code-named Operation Sundevil.

Steve Jackson Games was raided due to complete incompetence by Secret Service personnel who thought a handbook for a role-playing game by Steve Jackson Games called “GURPS Cyberpunk” was actually a handbook for computer crime, sort of a hacker’s version of the Anarchist’s Cookbook. The winning of this case started EFF’s promotion and defense of computer and Internet-related civil liberties.

While the case against San Mateo County’s use of Smart Communications mail system has not been decided yet, We the imprisoned lumpen can only hope that the plaintiffs which number 5 prisoners at San Mateo County Jail, several family members, and Oakland-based artists collective ABO Comix, pass up on any instantly gratifying concessions offered in settlement like what happened in the Ashker settlement in the aftermath of the California Hunger Strikes and see this lawsuit through to its glorious conclusion.


MIM(Prisons) adds: We have published a series of articles in recent years addressing this new trend in complicated digital mail systems that just make communications with the outside world more difficult and more censored. Across the board the main reason given for these systems is to prevent drugs from entering prisons. A recent report from a comrade in Hughes Unit in Texas on the continued rise in fentanyl deaths from K-2 brought in by staff reiterates the hypocrisy of this claim. Meanwhile Hughes Unit remains one of the biggest censors of mail from MIM Distributors in the state of Texas.

We appreciate the focus of these organizations on the importance of connection to family and community and welcome them in the battle against Smart Communications, JPay and other digital mail vendors profiting off of prisoners and their families while imposing a surveillance state on all of us.

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[Release] [Legal] [California State Prison, San Quentin] [California] [ULK Issue 81]
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The Blind Politics of "Justice"

The Governor of California has decided to rename San Quentin “Prison” to “Rehabilitation Center.” This is just one more appeasement given to the millions of Californians who have suffered the injustice of incarceration. Politics has no more place in the justice system than religion has in government. However, the injustice system remains more political than the legislative branch.

Governor Newsom’s play at “restorative justice,” AKA rehabilitation for “some of the less dangerous criminals,” is as false as his smile. For instance, the old lady that was hypnotized as a child by Manson to commit a murder of someone famous has been granted parole (found suitable for release from prison) no less than 15 times by a board of experts in evaluating that kind of thing (Parole Board). However, Governor Newsom, who is not an expert, has taken it upon himself to deny (veto the Parole Board’s decision) each and every time!

That is only one instance where this two-faced politician has denied parole to people. This makes clear that Newsom’s notion of rehabilitation is purely symbolic. Nothing more than the smile; handshake of Satan himself.

Funny, this morning on the mainstream news, Mike Pence is accusing the Manhattan District Attorney of politicizing the law for charging a former President Trump. Funny, politics in the law? How can a prosecutor have so much power to arrest a former President of the United $tates? Funny because these same rich assholes gave that enormous power to prosecutors and police and judges when it was used to arrest the poor man. But now that it is used to arrest the rich man, it is politics?! Did these rich people really think that if they built a monster that the monster could be controlled? Did they really think that the injustice system would only be applied to hurt and kill poor people?

Pence and Trump should not be surprised now. Politics have always been part of the law for the poor man. Despite the image of a blindfold on Lady Justice, the proletariat knows all too well that the law is political. Now the injustice system monster will show its ugly belly to anyone and everyone because that is how much power the pigs have been given.

Perhaps now we can see what California Governor Newsom’s motivations are in pretending to abolish prison. Is he afraid of the monster he created? We all heard him say on T.V. that he is tired of paying the trillions of dollars his prison industrial complex eats up.

His notions of restorative justice are a little misplaced though. Rather than educate prisoners he should be defunding his prison system monster and putting the trillions back into the community – after all he can’t have his cake and eat it too. But that seems too much to ask of the Devil. He already said his rehabilitation is only for some and “not the more dangerous criminals.”

Anyone with half a brain knows that the real cause of crime is poverty. Poverty caused by the trillions of dollars going to the police and prisons and not to the community.


MIM(Prisons) adds: We agree that all prisoners are political. The state paints itself as being an arbiter of blind justice as this comrade states, when in reality it is the tool of one class to use against others. That is why real change requires changing the state from the hands of the bourgeoisie to that of the proletariat, not just shifting tax money around from prisons to more social services.

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[Legal] [Censorship] [Texas] [ULK Issue 81]
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CENSORSHIP: A Guide for TDCJ Prisoners

What’s good to all my Sisterz and Brotherz on the inside. My name is Motivation. I am a certified paralegal incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. I was moved to write this article because I’ve experienced TDCJ’s arbitrary and unconstitutional censorship under Board Policy - 03.91 (BP-03.91), and I’ve also witnessed the same with other men on my unit. Therefore, I’ve filed a §1983 civil complain. See Linzale Greer V. Bryan Collier, et al., 4:21-cv-03976. So, if you are a TDCJ inmate and you are experiencing improper denials because the TDCJ claims the material contains a sexually explicit image, then here’s some information to guide you on defending your rights and legally combating BP-03.91.

Know the Policy

First and foremost, find out what the policy is and how the policy defines a “sexually explicit image.” This is easy. Just go to the law library and request BP-03.91(rev.5). For those of you who may not know, BP-03.91 was revised on 25 June 2021 by the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, and the revision expanded the definition of a sexually explicit image. It essentially bans any image which depicts sexual behavior and/or is intended to sexually arouse. This means TDCJ inmates cannot possess or receive by mail any image deemed sexually explicit. In my view, this is unconstitutional because BP-03.91 is impermissible and vague, over broad, and unreasonable on its face and as applied.

You have the right to appeal

Secondly, whenever the mail room denies material, you shall be provided a sufficient notice in writing and a detailed reason for the denial. You also have the right to appeal the denial to the Director’s Review Committee (DRC) and the DRC shall render its decision within two weeks after receiving the appeal. However, if the material has been previously banned by the DRC, then the denial will be non-appealable. I don’t agree with this practice but the reality is, this is what the TDCJ does. Keep copies of all documents for your records.

Exhaust all available remedies

The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) requires prisoner’s to “Exhaust all available remedies” within TDCJ before filing a §1983 civil complaint. What this means in some cases is that you must file a step 1 and step 2 grievance before you can go to court. Remember you must exhaust only “Available remedies” and need not exhaust “unavailable remedies.” In my opinion, there are no available remedies within the TDCJ grievance procedure concerning mail room censorship because the grievance office routinely returns inmate grievances and states that the issue is not grievable. Also TDCJ grievance procedures states that inmates may not grieve matters for which other appeal mechanisms exist. Nevertheless, you should still file a step 1 and/or step 2 to be on the safe side. Now, if your step 1 is returned because the issue is not grievable then, you do not have to file a step 2 because there are not available remedies. You can now go straight to court.

Another vital tool is conducting legal research. This is where you roll up your sleeves and get down to business. This will be your prerequisite before filing suit. I didn’t have anyone to hold my hand during my legal research process or to help me file my suit. I can admit that legal research is an arduous task, but more importantly, it’s vital before filing a complaint. However, to point you in the right direction, here’s some relevant case laws that will be important to your fight against TDCJ:

  • Turner V. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987)
  • Thornburg V. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401 (1989)
  • Guajardo v. Estelle, 543 F. Supp. 1373 (S.D. Tex. 1977)
  • Guajardo v. Estelle, 580 F.2d 748 (5th Cir. 1978)
  • Guajardo v. Estelle, 568 F Supp. 1354 (S.D. Tex. 1983)
  • Guajardo v. Tex. Dept Crim. Justice, 363 F.3d 392 (S.D. Tex. 2004).

The Guajardo cases specifically applies to TDCJ’s correspondence rules. It will give you historical and present insight on the promulgation of BP-03.91, and how to legally proceed to challenge it in federal court. You should also get very familiar with the PLRA because it controls prisoners litigation and the types of relief we are entitled to. The federal statue can be found at 42 U.S.C. 1997e and 28 U.S.C. 1915A9c). If you need additional case law, just ask the law library to shepardize the above cases for you, and you will find more jewelz than you can use.

Filing a §1983 Civil Complaint

After doing all of the above, your next step is to file a §1983 Civil Complaint. You can file it in either state or federal court depending on your situation. However, because you will be complaining of First Amendment violations under the U.$. Constitution, you should file in federal court. Federal court has jurisdiction over federal law. But again, depending on your case and the facts of your case, sometimes filing in state court is the better route. You will have to research this issue to decide which route fits you.

You can get two §1983 civil complaint forms from the law library. One is for you to send to the court and the other is for your copy. Remember always keep copies of everything you send to the court. The most important part of filing a complaint is stating sufficient facts, which is “enough facts to state a claim to relief.” If you do not state enough facts, there’s a chance your complaint will be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

If you can get an attorney to file your complaint that will be great. However, the reality is, the vast majority of prisoners are left to litigate pro se. So, do your homework and learn the law.

My Last Wordz

So, to all my Brotherz and Sisterz that are willing to legally fight the arbitrary censorship system nationally, I tip my hat to you all and wish you courage, patience, and persistence. Also, for those of you who are in the process and those that have already begun the process of litigation, WE are not doing this just for Us. WE are more on the front line for the voiceless and the ones that may not have the ability to STAND UP. So, I ask that WE ALL DO OUR BEST AND NOTHING LESS! Stay Blessed No Stress!

Sincerely, Motivation Equalz Elevation


MIM(Prisons) adds: We have a more extensive guide to fighting censorship that is applicable for all states that we send to anyone facing censorship of our correspondence or literature. We print the above as a concise summary with some specific info for Texas.

This is also part of an ongoing campaign among Texas prisoners to fight the rewritten BP-03.91 mentioned above. One of the lawsuits around this campaign is Martinez v. TBCJ, et al. #3:21-CV-00337. The judge has since denied to issue summons to each member of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice. This is being appealed. The plaintiff is requesting more support from prisoners in TDCJ in the form of affidavits and/or unsworn declarations. These affidavits/declarations will help make the argument for a statewide injunction of BP-03.91 and can be sent to MIM(Prisons) to forward to the plaintiff.

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[Censorship] [Campaigns] [Pendleton Correctional Facility] [Indiana] [ULK Issue 81]
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Commend Comrades in Indiana on Censorship Victory

Comrades in Indiana have recently celebrated a victory in our campaign against censorship. One comrade in particular diligently appealed repeated arbitrary and illegal incidents of censorship of mail sent to em by MIM Distributors. Ey regularly reached out to us and other organizations, and a comrade on the outside provided support in appealing these incidents on behalf of MIM Distributors. After about a year of censorship of anything with anti-imperialist political content, this comrade received eir first issue of Under Lock & Key this month. We have also been able to send em other political books and get ULK to others.

MIM(Prisons) wants to recognize the comrades in Pendleton Correctional Facility for their efforts and consistency. Victories will not be easy, and often they are few and far between. But with consistency the struggle continues, and as the oppressed are the vast majority of the world, that struggle is destined to win.

In most cases, our mail is censored for completely illegal reasons. Here are some reasons given by Pendleton in the last year for censoring our publications:

  1. “5PT STAR ALL SEEING EYE 5” - not only does this make no sense, there was not even a star on the page cited
  2. “STG: AMERIKKKA”
  3. “HATE SPEECH”

Many Amerikkkans are offended by that spelling, or when we say that they are not exploited by capitalism, or that they are a nation built on white supremacy, or that they they are committing atrocities against oppressed nations. But to censor something because you find it offensive is illegal in this bourgeois democracy that we live under. As our readers know, nothing MIM(Prisons) has ever written promotes hatred of other peoples or mistreatment of peoples because of who they are.

Often, when our mail is censored it is because someone finds it offensive. Therefore, consistent appeals to higher levels of government can work to have the existing laws enforced. But other times the state is behind it. This was the case in our biggest censorship battle of 2022 against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. They had system-wide bans on certain materials that we were sending in across the state because they want to prevent peaceful organizing. This is an example where bourgeois democracy is not so liberal, when even talking about a peaceful protest in prisons becomes illegal. And while we face censorship on the outside, those inside face being thrown in torture cells, and violence by staff or other prisoners.

The connection between free speech and association and this ability to protest and organize power is why we prioritize censorship as a campaign. It’s not just because those of us on the outside are being censored, it’s a strategic decision as far as what battles help create the space necessary for the organizing that we need to change the world.

So we encourage comrades to be diligent in fighting censorship, especially of political materials. And we will do our best to support you in those battles.

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[Aztlan/Chicano] [Polemics] [International Communist Movement] [National Liberation] [ULK Issue 81]
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On Indigenismo and the Land Question in Aztlán

VariegatedCrot0n on Reddit: [this was posted on reddit.com in response to the announcement of the founding of the Communist Party of Aztlán] I’ve been researching the debates on Aztlan & Chicano nationalism. It seems to me the line of the League of Revolutionary Workers (ML) and the RCP-USA, and the rest of the NCM (New Communist Movement emerging from the late 1960s) in support of Chicano nationalism was inherited by MIM and now continued by MIM(Prisons). The entire conception of Aztlan and Chicano nationalism has some serious problems, that I hope MIM(Prisons) reckons with sooner, but I think they have been very invested in this idea for quite some time now.

As I understand it, Chicano nationalism draws heavily from Indigenismo – an ideology of the settler colonial Mexican state that says that all the inhabitants of Mexico are indigenous, all are Mestizos, and so on. Such an ideology is fundamentally anti-indigenous as it seeks to indigenize Mexican settlers. The conception of Aztlan is similar – it is a land claim based on the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo – land taken from Mexico during the Mexico-American war. It’s worth noting that the treaty itself distinguishes between Mexican settlers in this territory and Indigenous “savages”.

While it is true that a section of the colonized proletariat of the America is from Mexico, I am convinced that they are not members of an oppressed Chicano nation. They are more often members of Indigenous nations in Mexico displaced from their homelands.

Chicano nationalism is ultimately a form of settler nationalism. It expresses the class interests of mainly Euro-Mexican settlers against Euro-American settlers. It disguises the legitimate claims for decolonization by oppressed indigenous and African nations in Mexico and the American Southwest, by pretending that all Chicanos are descendants of ancient Aztecs. It is extremely unfortunate that this ideology has taken hold in America’s prisons by people who are not connected to Aztec/Nahua people, culture or elders.

I’m not an expert in this, I’m still learning much about it. But I’m just letting you know that the issue is a lot more complicated than it seems from the outset. There’s lots of liberal carry-over on reddit where I see people lumping all POC together and assuming they are revolutionary. Which is just not the case.


Xipe of the Communist Party of Aztlán responds:

On Indigenismo

Chican@ revolutionary nationalism has often been misunderstood. Our belief is that this is due to the Chican@ Nation not meeting its responsibility in addressing a correct political line to the ICM (International Communist Movement) on the one hand and in the ICM’s mostly incorrect analysis of the social forces within these false U.S. borders.

To be clear the CPA does not draw heavily on indigenismo – which is steeped in metaphysical trappings. We draw heavily on materialism. As materialists we recognize that not all inhabitants of Mexico are indigenous – although according to Jack Forbes most are! What’s more We disagree with your understanding that Chicano nationalism believes all are “mestizos” in Mexico, the CPA(MLM) believes that the term Mestizo is actually a label deriving from the colonizers agit/prop that strips Chican@s of many features of nationhood. “Mestizo” is anti-materialist, that as Jack Forbes suggests, is better suited to describe many of the European nations such as Italy, Sicily, etc.

Our analysis overstands that the inhabitants of current day Mexico are a combination of bloodlines that include indigenous, Spanish colonizer, African and others. And yet blood quantum don’t define a nation. We draw from Stalin on the national question for what defines a nation and we thoroughly address this in the book Chican@ Power and the Struggle for Aztlán.

On Land

It seems to many that the political line of some Chican@ cultural nationalists is interpreted as the political line of the entire nation, this is incorrect. Our stance on land does not simply derive from the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, although we certainly cite this treaty in much of our agit/prop surrounding our struggle for national liberation. To rely simply on the colonizers treaty to validate our struggle for national liberation is akin to anti-imperialists within these false U.S. borders simply relying on the U.S. Constitution to validate its anti-imperialism. Although one can use the imperialists’ words and articles against them, we are not reformists who simply want our class enemies to re-word a document or follow its own law. We want a complete transformation of society and to free the tierra! Our lucha for land is for a Chicano Socialist Government not for permission from the colonizer to own acres of land under an imperialist rule.

Those who confuse Chican@ revolutionary nationalism with the settler need to study the development of nations, specifically the book Chican@ Power and the Struggle for Aztlán, which includes the political line of the CPA when it comes to a nation. We ask those who are curious on our line to read the Chican@ Red Book (Chican@ Power and the Struggle for Aztlán).

Even if the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was never written our national liberation movement would be just. Chican@s developed in what is now the “U.$. Southwest” as surely as Africans developed in what is now Haiti to become Haitians. Our line is not anchored in us believing we are descendants of ancient “Aztecs” – although some actually are! We overstand that the term “Aztlán” was used 50+ years ago within the Chican@ movement as a rallying cry and point of unity for Chican@s of the time and we see the relevance of using it in our struggle today.

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[Aztlan/Chicano] [Campaigns] [Security] [Civil Liberties] [Street Gangs/Lumpen Orgs] [Videos] [ULK Issue 81]
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FREE JV!

Joey Villarreal

The state has once again kidnapped the comrade Jose Villarreal (JV) on trumped up charges. After over a decade in the deepest dungeons of Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit, JV was released to the streets in January 2017 following the historic California hunger strikes and the Agreement to End Hostilities (AEH) between the largest lumpen organizations in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) at the time. This is the second time JV has been arrested since eir release. In addition, ey has faced armed raids by the pigs at eir place of residence.

The first arrest following eir release from Pelican Bay was on 2 August 2020 from an incident where JV may have saved someone’s life, but was charged as an accomplice instead. Eir arrest this winter was almost completely fabricated, with no basis in reality. And due to having been a certified member of a “Security Threat Group” (STG) in Pelican Bay ey faces gang enhancements on both sets of charges. Gang enhancements are a way to punish the oppressed for free association with others in their nation.

While the circumstances of the 2020 arrest are suspect, as are any when a revolutionary leader is targeted, the 2022 arrest is based on fabricated testimony rather than an actual incident. This testimony is coming from someone who presented emself as a revolutionary Chican@ nationalist. If the 2020 incident was a setup, then JV diffused it by eir righteous actions in a dangerous situation. Perhaps the state learned its lesson and decided it must fabricate charges in a he-said/she-said case.

In the six years since eir release from CDCR, JV has become most well known for eir radio program Free Aztlán on Poor News Network’s KEXU 96.1 FM in Oakland, California. Over the years JV featured Chican@ authors, researchers, artists and activists of many stripes. They advocated for the “kids in kages”, the migrant field workers, prisoners, and even did a series on the abuse of young people in spiritual movements targetting Chican@ nationalists. Ey was a regular promoter of the book Chican@ Power and the Struggle for Aztlán and the struggles for national liberation around the globe. JV also was apart of Aztlán Press, which published the second edition of Chican@ Power and the Struggle for Aztlán.
Listen to the CPA(MLM) announcement (starting at 8:00)

On the last episode of Free Aztlán before eir recent arrest, JV hosted the public announcement of the founding of the Communist Party of Aztlán (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist). Eir track record of advocating for national liberation, and eir support of the foundation of the Party in particular, is clearly behind the state’s machinations to imprison JV once again on trumped-up charges.

While MIM(Prisons) recognizes CPA(MLM) as a fraternal organization, it is no secret that we promote a cell structure strategy of organization. We’ve received push back on this in the form of calls for a centralized organization, a movement that spans the country, and a center for training and developing scientific leadership. These are some of the things the CPA(MLM) felt that Aztlán needed. They felt a party was needed to combat/compete with the parties that now mislead the masses under bourgeois political lines.

JV’s connections to various projects, and the connections between different chapters of the Republic of Aztlán are public record on the internet. We do not promote this form of organization. We see the hybrid of online and irl (real life) organizing to favor the strengths of the state over the weaknesses of the masses.

Lest we need reminding, the repeated targeting of JV exposes the lengths to which the state will go to suppress even a young emerging movement like CPA(MLM). JV has been tireless in eir work in the Chican@ community to promote positive change. No proletarian court would convict em of a crime. A socialist justice system would uphold JV as the best-case example of what someone can make of emselves after decades in an oppressive, abusive, torturous prison system.

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[Political Repression] [Civil Liberties] [Control Units] [Gang Validation] [ULK Issue 81]
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South Carolina RHU Targets Leaders for Isolation, Repression Against Policy

Pursuant to South Carolina Constitution Article I, § 1, All political power is vested in and derived from the people only, therefore, they have the right at all times to modify their form of government.

Pursuant to S.C. Const. Art. I, § 2, The General Assembly shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government or any department thereof for a redress of grievances.

The South Carolina Department Of Corrections Current Mission Statement quoted as follows:

“Protect the Public, Protect the Employees, Protect the Inmates”

Current SCDC policies, procedures, and practices serve to create an environment in direct conflict and opposition with their “Mission Statement”. Furthermore, SCDC’s “Mission Statement” should be expanded to include educational and rehabilitative goals. The entire system needs to be restructured to meet all the needs and goals effectively and efficiently. “Protection” is just one of the many needs.

The current course that the SCDC leadership is following is constantly creating a “hostile and dangerous” prison population. Continuing in this direction can only lead to disaster. This system has experienced more violent conduct and behavior in the past 12 years (remember the 2018 Lee riot) than in all the years prior, and with the current administration in place, and no incentive to promote good behavior, we can only expect the cycle to continue. [editor: the author does not provide a source to support this claim]

Security Detention (S.D.)

Pursuant to SCDC policy Op-22.38, Restrictive Housing Unit § 9.4:

“The inmate is identified as a high-risk security threat group member and has committed a level one (i) disciplinary offense, or is believed to be in a leadership position within a security threat group and has coerced another inmate(s) to commit any acts or behaviors listed in Sections 9.1-9.3 of this policy…”

As of 12 August 2022, I myself as well as many others were taken out of the general prison population and placed in Segregation (“RHU”) and reclassified as a Security Detention (“S.D.”). No one committed a level (i) offense or any disciplinary offense nor were we given a 48-hour notice informing us that we have a classification review for “S.D.”, per SCDC policy Op-22.38, § 9.7 and 9.4. SCDC Deputy Director Dennis Paterson is targeting so-called gang members, religious leaders, anyone that confidential inmates (“C.I.’s”) inform them about.

Majority of the affected prisoners are being punished for the same offence(s) twice. I myself from 2010-2017 was held in RHU as a validated STG-SD. The DDO have me as well as others back in segregation for the same thing. We haven’t committed no level 1 offense or any disciplinary infractions. So where is the evidence to support this violation?

Pursuant to Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484, 1155. ct. 2293, 132 L. Ed. 2d 418 (1995):

“the Supreme Court declared that prisoners have a liberty interest in avoiding confinement conditions that impose”atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life“…”

Also see Burnette v. Fahey, 687 F.3d 171, 180 (4th Cir. 2012); Incumaa v. Stirling, 2015 U.S. App. Lexis 11321; Wilkerson v. Goodwin, 774 F.3d 845, 854 (5th Cir. 2014).

SCDC is constantly targeting gang members, religious leaders, and prisoners who have influence. SCDC either sends these prisoners out-of-state to private prisons, placed them in segregation as Security Detention, transfer them to other institutions, or SCDC also goes as far as to put propaganda on prisoners’ names so that violence can come upon them. SCDC administration has a habit of setting rules, and then applying them in ways that are in complete contradiction to each other.

Security Detention prisoners have no access to basic life necessities such as:

  • Proper hygiene products (only state issue hygiene)
  • Adequate bed lining (only a thin mattress, 1 blanket, 1 sheet)
  • Cells are never clean
  • No telephone use
  • Mail is limited and censored
  • No adequate food or nutrition
  • No proper medical treatment
  • No proper mental health treatment
  • No rehabilitation
  • Employee’s are verbally and physically assaultive
  • PREA Violations (Excessive strip searches, frisks, etc.)
  • Constant cell searches and things taken
  • No adequate ventilation (No heat or air)

The list can go on…

Is it not ironic that when the United States is victorious in war, the first thing they do is provide aid to our “enemies”? We do everything we can not to oppress them for fear of a future rebellion or attack. When it comes to people in prison in this country, there is no end to the oppression.

I myself demand to be released from segregation due to no evidence to support Deputy Director of Operations’ (DDO) allegations to S.D. me. Per SCDC’s own policy:

“If an individual has been validated as an STG member, but has not committed or been implicated in any disciplinary infractions or STG activities, that individual would typically, although not always, receive a classification of Validated-GP… If an individual has been validated as an STG member, and has committed disciplinary infractions, that individual would typically receive a classification of Validated-SD…”

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[Organizing] [Political Repression] [Abuse] [Michael Unit] [Texas] [ULK Issue 81]
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Filing Suit Against TDCJ Staff for Setup

When I first got to the Michael Unit about 8 months ago I was placed on safe keeping for my protection, but I’m still considered General Population (G.P.) because we still get all the regular privileges of G.P. prisoners - we are just housed separately.

Anyways I get here and there are no showers, no rec, no day room, no TV, and no phones on this section. We had to sit down multiple times in large groups in order to get administration to force the C.O.s to just give us showers. Oh and mind you that they are housing medium and high security prisoners on the same section as P4 and P5 prisoners. We are not supposed to be housed amongst each other at all.

Well, the staff aren’t doing anything about getting what we are supposed to have. After about 60 days I started initiating I.C.S.s, or “use of force”, causing ranking C.O.s to come down and force regular C.O.s to do their job. We kept getting Johnies for food with basically nothing in them. Then they started to feed half of us and the rest we had to force them to feed us.

So because I orchestrated all this sitting down and standing up for all our right (yes, I initiated this behavior to buck the C.O.s), I was assaulted. We set fires, flooded, and basically forced the wardens to fix our problem, but it only lasted so long before we would have to do it again.

We finally got them to start leaving all the doors open 24/7 so we could run our own showers and day room rec and forced them to put in phones. Then they brought the tablets T.D.C.S. system wide. So I believe that the administration on this unit has orchestrated the assault on me that occurred on January 31, 2023.

So let me explain exactly what happened leading up to this assault seven days prior.

A prisoner set a fire in his cell and attempted to kill himself through smoke inhalation. I got the picketts attention after the prisoner passed out. I ran in and dragged him out of the cell and put out the fire. About six days later they moved me into the cell the prisoner tried to kill himself in. So the next day they moved some prisoner into the cell with me. I only weigh 110lbs. This offender weighs 190lbs, 30lbs over the 50lbs weight difference limit per housing policy. That’s two violations already. Next I was talking to my family via tablet two days later. Then, bam, I get blind-sided and the prisoner assaults me. I wind up with 5 stitches above my right eyebrow, 3 staples in a gash on my head, and 2 in another gash on my head. They rushed me to the hospital.

When I got back, a Lieutenant asked me to write a witness statement for an Offender Protection Investigation (O.P.I.). My statement was: “My life is not in danger. I do not want to file an O.P.I.” They filed it on my behalf anyway and placed me in another building with no light and brought my property the next day. The next day, they moved me back to the same cell with a new cellie, another major violation because I was still under O.P.I. status, supposed to be in a Restrictive Housing Area by myself until I saw the Unit Classification Committee. On 8 February 2023, I was moved again. I had basically nothing of what was in my cell and they did not even inventory any of it. I lost stuff that meant a lot to me that is irreplaceable because of sentimental value. They also “lost” my state ID somehow.

So I am filing a §1983 Civil Claims Suit again TDCJ Michael Unit Administration as a whole because I believe this was all set up… for me to get hurt because the U.C.C. major said, “We have to ship you to cover our ass because we fucked up.”

I filed my step 1 on and got it back. Today I’m filing my step 2.

This is my first civil suit. I am asking for any material to help me in winning this suit. As of right now prisoners are helping me with what they can and said that I need to get a copy of the Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook but I don’t have the resources nor funds to purchase one. I am not the first offender this has happened to on this unit but I do want to be the last. I am going to do everything in my power to ensure it does not happen again.

I have been fighting for prisoner rights for seven years now and they finally broke the last straw with me. I’m going to war with this pen. To the courts.

Here on 12 Building we are still setting fire and flooding everyday. Please help us.


MIM(Prisons) responds: Much respect comrade for what you are doing on behalf of Texas prisoners in the face of state violence and repression. Much respect to the comrade for taking care of fellow prisoner and saving eir life as well. We have placed an order for you for the Jailhouse Lawyer’s Handbook. We do not offer legal assistance ourselves, but encourage you to continue to report on your organizing efforts here in Under Lock & Key.

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[Aztlan/Chicano] [Culture] [California] [ULK Issue 81]
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Book Review: Eastside Dreams by Art Rodriguez

Eastside Dreams book cover

In my research of Chican@ novelists and storytellers I stumbled upon this book by California Chican@ author Art Rodriguez.

What grabbed my attention initially was that the Author was also an ex-prisoner, as a youth he spent time in Juvenile Hall and the California Youth Authority (CYA) and specifically in Preston School of Industry where I also did a stint in as a rebellious youth.

The cover art was interesting, it was done in the genre of “Aztlán-realism” which is a style developed and coined by California prisoners which focuses on the social reality of the Chican@ nation rather than bourgeois vomit art. Aztlán realism displays our reality while raising consciousness. Rordiquez really delivers in his cover art by showing a one time landmark of San Jose, Califas which is the Jose Theater. The Jose Theater was a theater in downtown San Jose frequented by Chican@ lumpen youth. In the 1960’s the author states movie tickets were 50 cents and that up until the 1990’s tickets stood at a buck or two. Poor barrio youth had an alternative to the streets at an affordable price.

The author also shows an incarcerated Chican@ on the book cover, again, a true depiction of Aztlán: colonized and imprisoned. Although the story “East Side Dreams” is a childhood story of the authors’ life in San Jose, Califaztlan and Rodriquez could have chosen to depict bikini-ied wimmin on a local sports team to warm up to the local Chican@ petty-bourgeoisie who would rather pretend that captivity is not part of Aztlan’s social reality. Rodriquez brings Chican@ mass incarceration front and center which is refreshing.

Reading East Side Dreams brought back so much memories of my own childhood. Cruising around and hanging out with the homies, picking up and just being a Chican@ youth is all there. It’s very clear that Rodriquez didn’t concoct his stories from being raised in some ivy league prep school. He could have been one of my childhood homies, especially when he writes:

“Driving during 1966, sometimes the guys borrowed a car from someone or would take a car without permission. That’s what I would do occasionally.”

The lumpen continue in this tradition of “taking” without permission on a small scale. The lumpen may “take” from other lumpen, especially here in the $nakes where lumpen are not the lumpen of the third world and thus have more material items at hand. But this sentence reveals some truth – the lumpen will not ask permission. It is a “ballsy” lot who are most likely not to ask for permission, we will witness this during a future civil war I’m sure.

The author reveals he is the product of a Mexican migrant father and a white mother who met at a dance hall in the Barrio in East San Jose. As a result he hints at the national oppression that came with this union. For example, his mother’s white father (who was ironically raised himself by his white mother’s Mexican migrant boyfriend) who would tell Rodriguez’ white mother Mildred not to go to the dances because he didn’t want her to interact with the “bad people” (these were Chican@-Mex dances). Sadly though, Rodriguez does not analyze this and unpack why this national chauvinism (“racism”) exists or how it affected him and his homies growing up amidst it. This reveals that Rodriguez’s choice of either not wanting to “take his book there” (political courage), or not having the political consciousness to crack that open for us all to see.

It was nice to read about his mom opposing her father and siding with Rodriguez’s migrant father, eventually marrying him, having children, and even learning Spanish to communicate and to nurture Spanish in her children. As appealing as this biography was to me in depicting barrio life, I must say the parts describing being in the concentration kamp was more interesting to me.

Rodriguez describes a scene where he’s being taken out of Juvenile Hall by a “Chican@ guard” who reveals information to him whereas the white guards were menacing to him. It was interesting that Rodriguez objectively identifies the pig as a Chican@. Most would not, our mistreatment and oppression likely would have many identify the pig as many things but not Chican@. It is true that people identify as they please; a person can assimilate but without knowing what they identify as we can also identify what we perceive them to be (i.e. a blond hair, blue eyes white man or a New Afrikan womyn, etc.). We may not be right, but it’s our initial perception. A pig can be a Chican@ or a Chican@ traitor; but a Chican@ nonetheless.

It would have been nice to read a more political take on this book, but it was enjoyable to read a Chican@ novelist who does not bend to subjectivity in his novel and I look forward to review his other books available.

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