Enclosed is a Facility Notification of Disapproval of Under Lock & Key No. 45. The effort your group puts forth, and your commitment to your ideology are examples of dedication. But the continual rejection of your materials by the prison is costly to your limited resources. And my returning them to you without getting to read them is costly to me. You should receive a package from me containing materials the prison withheld from me.
I propose you cease mailing your materials to me. I am still going to contribute articles for you to publish. I have an issue of ULK that I've saved in order to show others who you are, what you represent, and so forth. I will use this to encourage them to work with you.
I have considered filing a lawsuit. But upon reviewing decisions in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, it is plain that the court sides with the prison system except in cases involving religious books. (The one non-religious victory: the court did rule in favor of a prisoner denied Ulysses by James Joyce because the prison permitted Playboy and the prison's claim that Ulysses was disapproved for sexual content is ludicrous and hypocritical.)
When it comes to political materials – especially radical views – the court is extremely conservative. The Fourth Circuit (which hears appeals from the nine federal district courts in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina) also has the dubious distinction of being the harshest toward prisoner complaints.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We are working with this comrade and a few others in Virginia to determine how best to proceed with the censorship against MIM(Prisons) in that state. We agree that the legal track record in the Fourth Circuit suggests that it's not worth the effort for a prisoner to file a lawsuit fighting the censorship. There is some precedent for organizations and individuals outside of prison having better luck and we do have some strong comrades like this one who can help with legal work. But we need an outside lawyer, knowledgable individual, or organization who can help spearhead the fight in Virginia. If anyone reading this has people on the outside who would be willing to work with us on this important battle, please let us know. And if you are in Virginia, be sure to tell us whether or not you are receiving your copies of ULK, and if you'd like to help with this battle.
In the end this comrade is right that it is only in the long battle that we can really win, when we take power for the oppressed out of the hands of the oppressors. But in the short term, making it possible for comrades to get study and organizing materials behind bars is of critical importance because this is how we can build the movement. Education is our principal task, and this education is hard to accomplish without the ability to communicate and study.
I want to inform you about a new torture tactic being used here in the Security Housing Units (SHU). Since August 3 [2 weeks ago] the staff have been doing what has been termed "security/welfare checks" which entails staff walking by every prisoner's cell every 30 minutes 24/7 and pressing a button that has been installed next to our cells. Due to the design of the SHU the sound everyone and everything makes is louder than it should be and at night we are woken up every thirty minutes due to staff opening/closing the pod door, which is extremely loud, stomping up the stairs to the top tier and back down, and making a loud bang sound when hitting the button next to our cells as they are hitting metal on metal.
During the day it's the same thing except the wand makes a high-pitch beeping sound when hitting the button. So 24/7 it's non-stop excessive noise that doesn't allow us to sleep longer than 30 minutes without being woken up. I feel like I'm living in a dream 24/7 as I'm always stirred and feeling the effects of being denied sleep and not being able to go through my normal sleep cycles. Anyone with common sense can see this is cruel and unusual punishment. The ironic thing is staff say it's to prevent suicides. Yeah let's make a bunch of excessive noise all day and night and not let anyone sleep longer than 30 minutes at any given time, that should prevent suicides. If it's driving relatively stable prisoners crazy I'm sure it's pushing those with mental health issues over the edge.
Also by doing this, even though it's misguided and unnecessary, the CDCR is admitting that the SHU makes people more likely to commit suicide if they need to check on everyone every 30 minutes. I have filed an administrative appeal on this to have it stopped or modified and plan to file a lawsuit if we are not allowed to sleep normally again. In the mean time I'm writing friends/family to call the prison/CDCR head quarters and complain about this, and I'm writing all prison organizations and public servants to make them aware of this new form of torture being conducted.
MIM(Prisons) adds: This sleep deprivation torture tactic has been reported on from San Quentin for some time, and we recently received word from a comrade on pending litigation on this issue:
"I am challenging a blatantly obvious psychological torture program put in play by Jeffrey Beard, Secretary of the gulag system in California, as a payback to the SHU guys for the hunger strikes. The CDCR had to throw us, death row, under the bus too, to make it less obvious who the target really is.
"There is a program whereby they come and shine lights in eyes, bang and yell, using a 'beeper' stick to hit the cell tray slots, every 20 to 30 minutes, all day and night.
"In my moving papers I proved it is utterly pointless as stated, as a suicide prevention program. Anyone knows you can commit suicide during the half hour between walks, and also in our unit it takes them over 20 added minutes to get the keys, get shields, and race in and pounce on a guy hanging by the neck. It is specious.
"So I filed saying this is far too onerous to be a mere act of stupidity, it is a malicious torture of the SHU units only (including PSU, psych wards, all lock-up units). If this does not cause suicide, what would? Ha!"
This latest tactic of inhumane sleep deprivation reinforces our point that the settlement of the Ashker v. Brown lawsuit will do nothing to end torture in California prisons. As the comrade above points out, this is not rogue COs, this is facility policy. We received reports over a year prior about the new Guard One torture program. As one comrade pointed out at the time, most deaths in cells are due to medical neglect.
We view the latest behavior by guards at Pelican Bay as a form of retaliation against the prisoners held in SHU, to show them who is in charge and that torture is alive and well in spite of the "successful" settlement. Exposing this consistent mistreatment of prisoners in California is a must to counter the narrative that the modern prison movement has succeeded in transforming the CDCR, or the conditions they submit their prisoners to, in any way.
The acute threat of this form of torture requires an immediate response.
A concerted effort has been taken up by a number of groups supporting the California prison movement to contact the warden to demand an end to this torture.
Write to: Warden Clark E. Ducart Pelican Bay State Prison P.O. Box 7000 Crescent City, CA 95531-7000 email: [email protected] call: (707) 465–1000 ext. 9040
There are many freedom fighters who have struggled throughout hystory in so many ways. Some used organizing, others the gun and many have used the power of words. Freedom fighters come from a variety of political ideologies and different nations, but what ties them all together is their decision to serve the people. They do this not just in their lives, but in their legacy and what they have accomplished in their lifetime.
This issue of Under Lock & Key is dedicated to freedom fighters of all types. The inspiration for this issue comes from a comrade who wrote in to suggest that everyone write an essay celebrating one freedom fighter who has influenced them. We are printing some of the responses we got in this ULK.
Who are some Freedom Fighters?
Looking at the Chican@ nation we have freedom fighters like Elizabeth "Betita" Martinez, Corky Gonzalez and other Chican@s who fought for the liberation of Aztlán. They dedicated their lives to the nation and still serve as examples to those of us who struggle today.
The New Afrikan nation has freedom fighters like Malcolm X and Angela Davis and others who have set great examples and continue to do so for the oppressed. New Afrikan struggles continue to build on past struggles.
The First Nations have freedom fighters like Leonard Peltier who struggled against Amerikkka in many ways. Peltier today sits in a prison cell because of being a freedom fighter.
Boriqua has freedom fighters like Lolita Lebron and Oscar Lopez Rivera. Lolita went to prison for struggling against Amerikkka and Oscar still sits in a U.$. prison for his work to free Puerto Rico.
All of these people come from the oppressed internal semi-colonies here within U.$. borders. They have inspired people living under U.$. imperialism for decades. But there are many other freedom fighters around the world who have made an impact on all of our consciousness regardless of their political line. People like Leila Khalid, Che, Fanon, Giap, Zapata, Pancho Villa and so many others have showed us what people's fighters look like.
Are there Imprisoned Freedom Fighters?
For many amongst the oppressed nations these colonizer's kkkamps are where freedom fighters end up. Some imprisoned freedom fighters are prisoners of war (POWs), targeted because of their anti-imperialist work on the streets. These freedom fighters will always be found in U.$. prisons because the oppressed will always struggle in so many ways against the oppressor nation. This will continue as long as U.$. imperialism exists.
Other freedom fighters gained consciousness behind the bars and have risen up to lead the movement from within. Many of the freedom fighters in U.$. prisons today can be found in control units because the state targets imprisoned activists. Freedom fighters within prisons are often those who were amidst or leading such prison rebellions as the hunger/work strikes which swept the dungeons of Califas, Georgia, Ohio, etc. in the last few years like a hurricane of collective rage. These prisoners were craving freedom!
Freedom fighters within prisons are those who do not fear the enemy oppressor nation. They do not fear speaking up for prisoners even when they are being attacked by the state. A freedom fighter is anyone who makes a decision to struggle for a better environment within prisons.
How Do Freedom Fighters Awaken the People?
When we think of freedom fighters and our connection to them many conjure up people in hystory who inspire us to rise up. I know when I began to read up on people like Zapata or Pancho Villa it compelled me to read more about the Mexican Revolution. As a Chican@ it helped instill a national consciousness in me. It helped me to understand that it is good to resist Amerikkka and that colonization is bad, not good, despite the bribes.
But there are freedom fighters in the here and now. I would say that every reader of ULK is a budding freedom fighter, and those who contribute in any way to ULK are freedom fighters. We are freedom fighters because we work to free the people.
Reading the hystory of the Mexican Revolution and the freedom fighters who made it happen put me on the road to where I am today as a Chican@ revolutionary. The first time I was handed MIM literature was in a control unit. A New Afrikan handed me a MIM Notes newspaper and after reading it I was turned up! That persyn who introduced me to MIM was a freedom fighter. This is what freedom fighters do: they work tirelessly to build more freedom fighters.
Being a freedom fighter is not doing it for a come up. The people who become freedom fighters are not getting paid to do so. This is a voluntary act, a way of serving the people, often with everything we have.
The legacy of freedom fighters lives on long after we are no longer alive. We help build consciousness while we are alive through our actions. For future generations our actions, thought and struggles will serve as study material and inspiration. Everything we do should educate the people. This means our fellow prisoners on the tier, those on the yard, and our nations at large. Our lives should help develop as many people as we can, in prison or outside of prisons. Freedom fighters should make a difference in all who come to know them, even our outside supporters.
Why the State Fears Freedom Fighters
We should understand that freedom fighters are enemies of the state. It is the freedom fighter who is trying to get FREE from the state. The oppressor nation is what is preventing us from being free, so they would naturally see us as a threat. It's why they label us "security threat groups" and other such names, because our actions and goals threaten their power.
It is important to understand that our existence with the oppressor is not compatible. As long as we are alive we will continue to experience oppression in so many horrible ways. Many will become demoralized, especially when being a freedom fighter does not put you in the majority. Freedom fighters are a small minority within U.$. prisons and U.$. borders. But this should not discourage any one of you. Truth is grasped by a nucleus, a cadre, and not by the majority at first.
When the Bolsheviks first rose up they had a little over a hundred cadre. The Chinese cadre also started out as a handful. But as Tani and Sera put it: "Only those who refuse to see revolution as it actually is, can fail to see the connection between the breakthrough of world socialism and the rebellion of a very small, oppressed nation."(1) Here it is highlighted that a small oppressed nation has the ability to affect world revolution. A minority can affect the majority. The state understands this and it is for this reason that they fear our freedom fighters.
As I was writing this article on freedom fighters I heard on the radio that Hugo "Yogi" Pinell has been killed! Yogi was a real freedom fighter. Rest in power Yogi.
14 August 2015 — The long-awaited autobiographical story of NWA, Straight Outta Compton (2015), hit theaters tonight. The action-packed movie glorifies the evolution, and quick dispersal of what they billed as "the world's most dangerous group." While this was part of their hype, there was certainly some truth to the image NWA portrayed and the long-term impact that they had on music and culture in the United $tates. Produced by Ice Cube, with help from Dr. Dre and Tomica Woods-Wright (widow of Eazy-E), the film portrays the history of NWA through their eyes. While generally an accurate history, there are artistic liberties taken in the portrayal of certain events and what is left out.
A key theme of the film is the role of police brutality in shaping the experience of New Afrikans in Compton, particularly young males. There are multiple run-ins with police brutality depicted, and attention is given to the infamous beating of Rodney King by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), and the subsequent riots in Los Angeles that deeply affected all members of NWA. The strong anti-cop message of the movie will resonate with audiences who have been unable to avoid discussion of police murders of New Afrikans over the last year or so. As such, the movie will have a positive impact of pushing forward the contradiction between oppressed nations and the armed forces that occupy their neighborhoods.
Every New Afrikan rebellion in the past year has been triggered by police murders. Murders and attacks on New Afrikans by whites and their police have always been the most common trigger of rebellions since Black ghettos have existed.(1) This was true in the 1960s when the Black Panthers rose to prominence, it was true in the early 1990s after NWA rose to fame, and it's true today when "Black Lives Matter" is a daily topic on corporate and other media. This national contradiction, and how it is experienced in the ghetto, is portrayed in the film by the fact that there are no positive roles played by white characters.
A secondary theme, that surrounded a number of high-profile groups/rappers of the time, was the question of freedom of speech. NWA was part of a musical trend that brought condemnation from the White House and the birth of the "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics" warning sticker. Ice Cube does a good job of portraying his character as righteous and politically astute, though he self-admittedly embellished from how events truly occurred.(2) We see the strong political stances Ice Cube took in his music after he left NWA, yet, only a glimpse. They do a montage of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, but don't touch on Cube's extensive commentary before and after the riots through his music.
They also curiously leave out any mention of Dre's public feud with Eazy-E after Dre left Ruthless Records, though they do spend time on Ice Cube's feuds with Ruthless.
The movie concludes by glamorizing Dre's rise to fame and independence, after being screwed by Jerry Heller (and Eazy-E) while with NWA, and then by Suge Knight for The Chronic album. They portray his success in guiding new artists like Eminem and 50 Cent to successful careers and his marketing of Beats headphones, which were purchased by Apple, Inc. Ice Cube's great success as an actor and producer are also featured, as are a memorializing of Eazy-E and updates on DJ Yella and MC Ren.
While this ending is a logical wrap up of the story of these five artists and where they are today, the focus on the individuals leaves out much of their real legacy. NWA was part of a cultural shift. Like all historical events, what they did represented much bigger forces in society. The character of Ice Cube recognizes this in a press interview in the film when he says they didn't start a riot at a Detroit show, they were just representing the feelings of the youth of the day. As was stressed in that interview, and throughout their careers, NWA members were just reporters speaking on what they were experiencing. And it was an experience that until then was unknown to a majority of Amerikans. Today that experience has become popularized. It is both glamorized and feared, but it has become a prominent part of the Amerikan consciousness thanks to voices like NWA.
While reality rap has been used (and misconstrued) to reinforce racism by many, the real transformatative impact it has had is in bringing this reality to the forefront so that it could no longer be ignored by Amerikans. Again, this pushed the national contradiction in the United $tates, by making all people face reality and take positions on it.
One problem with the movie is the way it leaves the rebelliousness of NWA as something from the past, that has evolved into successful business sense. NWA was one of a number of greatly influential artists at the time that shaped the future of hip hop. When gangsta rap was breaking out, you had real voices leading the charge. Since then it has been reeled in, and there is generally a dichotomy between the studio garbage that gets corporate play and the countless popular artists who have taken rap to higher levels both artistically and ideologically. Today there is a greater breadth of politically astute artists who are quite influential, despite lacking access to the corporate outlets. A montage of the countless "fuck da police"-inspired songs that have been produced since NWA would be a better recognition of their legacy today, than the focus on mainstream success and lives of some of the individual members.
While being a longer movie, Straight Outta Compton seemed to end quickly. There are plenty of exciting musical moments to make NWA fans nod their heads, plenty of fight scenes, if you're into that, and many rebellious statements made by members of NWA that should make you smile. We look forward to the even longer director's cut, which promises to get deeper into some points that are only hinted at in the theatrical release.(3)
Prison administrators here in State Correctional Institution (SCI) Huntingdon have recently begun to deny all of the programming textbooks that have come in the mail for me, stating that the books contain writings which advocate, assist or are evidence of criminal activity, or facility misconduct. I am unable to properly appeal the publication denials to the facility's superintendent, who told me in person "You're not getting your fucking books." He told me that the decision by the Inmate Publication Review Committee (IPRC) is final, and his responses to my attempts to appeal publication denials reflect this statement. I am unable to use the facility grievance system to file complaints about my mail and incoming publications, which are meant to be handled some other way. I am unable to ask exactly what misconducts or crimes the books advocate, assist in, or are evidence of, and facility staff have been unable to specify.
I am writing to your organization to respectfully request any assistance, or information you may be able to provide which could help to right this wrong. These books are purely educational, and as such are entirely neutral. Disallowing them could not serve any legitimate penological interest.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This letter shows that education can never be "entirely neutral" under imperialism. Educational textbooks, while generally devoid of any progressive political content, still present a threat to prisons because of the opportunity they provide for educational advancement. Through this education prisoners may become more aware of the basis of the criminal injustice system and their own oppression, and it could lead them to seek out more revolutionary education. Keeping prisoners uneducated is a good way for the oppressor nation to maintain its privileged position.
Denial of books can also be used as punishment for a prisoner who is seen as a trouble maker. The fact that this comrade knows how to file grievances and is working to gain education may be the cause of these denials. Part of the system of social control in prisons is the use of arbitrary rules to contain prisoners who might be a threat because of their understanding of legal rights and their ability to fight for these rights.
For both of these reasons, instead of arguing about what constitutes "legitimate penological interests" we point out that the penological interest really being served by the Amerikan criminal injustice system is social control. Censorship is a key tool the prisons use for this end. And for this reason we focus some of our limited time and resources fighting against censorship. For this comrade we have provided a copy of our guide to fighting censorship. But what we really need, in many states across the country, are lawyers who can help us bring censorship cases to court to establish legal precedent. Of particular priority to us are those cases where the censorship is of explicit political material. Textbook denials like the one described above do happen, but they are far less common than the denial of Under Lock & Key and other revolutionary literature.
To the comrade who submitted the article "Texas Hides Grievance Manual" on a memo by Access to Courts Supervisor Frank Hoke, take these words of wisdom.
The grievance procedure was certified by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas and Southern District of Texas in 1989. In 1999 the Texas Board of Criminal Justice (TBCJ) and Agency officials approved the Offender Grievance Operations Manual (OGOM) and screening criteria. Pursuant to Board Policy (BP) 03.77,
"The resolution support manager shall establish and maintain the Offender Grievance Operations Manual (OGOM) to provide guidance to employees regarding the offender grievance procedure. ... Instructions on how to use the offender grievance procedure shall be established separately from the OGOM for distribution to offenders and employees. Provisions for training, education, and implementation of the offender grievance procedure shall be established in AD-03.82, 'Management of Offender Grievances' and the OGOM." Signed by Oliver J. Bell, Chairman TBCJ
Note the last part in BP-03.77 "shall be established in AD-03.82." In AD-03.82, the Resolution Support Manager is responsible for oversight of access to courts, offender grievance and Ombudsman. Section I of AD-03.82 establishes the set criterion of emergency and specialty grievance. Furthermore, AD-03.82 Section IV A states: "Copies of BP-03.77 ... and this directive, as well as instructions on how to use the offender grievance procedure shall be available at each unit, to include copies in the law library." AD-03.82 Section VI A states: "The resolution support manager shall direct, administer, supervise, and manage the implementation and operation of the offender grievance procedure without interference by any employee."
The memo you described was not issued by Texas Board of Criminal Justice (TBCJ). So it is null and void, being it amends AD-03.82 and BP-03.77. On Page 1 Chapter II of the OGOM titled "Authority" it states: "AD-03.82 'Management of Offender Grievances'. Establishes agency expectations and the fundamental groundwork for the effective operation of the Offender Grievance Program. The administrative directive is more specific than board policy and supports the grievance process by providing a basis for the offender grievance operations manual."
Notice that the Access to Courts is not the agency that is responsible or authorized to make policy or amendments to policy or revisions. The Access to Courts is violating the Liberty Interest Protections in AD-03.82, being that Frank Hoke is not authorized to amend oversight policy or the OGOM. These revisions unauthorized by Oliver J. Bell have not been tested for constitutionality and changes AD-03.82 in violation of Texas law and Texas constitution articles 1, 13, and 17. Please read the article titled "Right to Assist others with Legal Work" in ULK 42 and you will see why they are doing this. Law library staff violate privacy rights, copying letters, which they send to Access to Courts for review. An Access to Courts violation has occurred which impedes, hinders or denies these rights. There has been no change in AD-03.82 or BP-03.77. Hoke's memo will only go in effect if we allow it. This is an unauthorized confiscation of OGOM without reason of safety or security justification. See Corby v. Conboy, 457 F2d 251 (1972). Always keep the pigs within the "pen," or they will eat up your rights and liberty and defecate corruption, that will abolish the smell of peace, and make the path of unity impossible to walk.
MIM(Prisons) responds: The knowledge of the invalidity of this practice within Texas prisons is certainly something we can use in our fight to remedy this repression. Prisoners in Texas should take the information above and apply it to their struggle to get the grievance manual put back into facility law libraries across the state. If someone puts together a sample grievance, petition, or other organizing tool then we can distribute it as part of our Texas Activist Pack.
But we also know that just because something is illegal or invalid doesn't mean that the state will ever actually be held accountable, or be made to follow law. This is evidenced in prisons all across the country, and on a broader scale by the illegal settlement of Palestine by I$rael and the many illegal atrocities committed by the United $tates and imperialist corporations all across the world. Those with power will do whatever suits their interests. A grievance campaign might help us win small victories. But we can't be deluded into thinking that if we just point out to them that they are breaking the law they will change their behavior.
Mumia Abu-Jamal explains this well in the book Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners v. the U.S.A. In the Preface, Mumia hammers home the point that law is what a judge decides in the moment; that they make it up as they go along. In a discussion about what makes jailhouse lawyers go crazy, Delbert Africa explains to Mumia,
"It drives they ass crazy 'cuz they cain't handle the fact that the System just make and break they laws as it see fit! How many treaties they done signed with the Indians? Ain't a one of 'em they done kept! Some of 'em broke 'em befo' the ink was dry on 'em old treaties! Them the same folks who run this System today! If they couldn't keep a treaty with Indians when they first got here, what make you think they gonna keep they so-called law today, especially when it come to me and you, man?"
Mumia pushed Africa to explain further why this makes jailhouse lawyers go crazy, and Africa responded,
"They go crazy becuz, Mu, they really believe in the System, and this System always betray those that believe in it! That's what drive them out of they minds, man. They cain't handle that. It literally drives them out they mind. I see 'em around here, walkin' 'round here dazed, crazy as a bedbug!"
Mumia follows this conversation with an anecdote about a jailhouse lawyer he knew from death row who insisted his appeal would be granted because his argument was so "black and white" that the judge "gotta" go for it. But as Mumia explained to this brother,
"They do what they wanna do, man! Just 'cuz it says something in one case, they don't have to go by that case, man. I agree with you, that you got a damn good argument — and you should prevail — but I don't go for that 'gotta' rap!"
While we want to hold our oppressors publicly accountable as much as we can, these struggles are more about highlighting inadequacies of the injustice system and agitating for others to join our struggle against capitalism and imperialism. When we do win a legal battle, we take it as an opportunity to build space for more revolutionary organizing. We ultimately need to wage a protracted, long-term struggle (that eventually will be an armed struggle) against this oppressive legal and economic system under which we attempt to live. In the meantime, we agree with Mumia that "the law ain't nothing but whatta judge say the law is."
As of right now the konvicts here at U.S. Penetentiary (USP) Big Sandy are on lockdown due to a racial riot. This is what the pigs want. I blame the pigs for setting up this atmosphere by creating tension amongst the konvicts by applying oppression along with repressive tactics. Instead of the konvicts challenging the pigs, they attack each other. But I also blame us komrades here at Big Sandy for not agitating and mobilizing the masses.
Those of us who are conscious with revolutionary theory should be educating others. Teach the konvicts why they exist in the condition that they are in. Help them to understand that they are victims of an economic system. All crimes can be traced to socio-economic conditions. We are at war politically, socially, economically and culturally. We must educate the prisoners so that they will understand the true function of the prison system and know why are we here. This is especially true for the New Afrikans.
Black men comprise over 40% of death row inmates. There are at least 2.5 million people in Amerika's institutions and over 50% are New Afrikans. 24.7% of New Afrikans live below poverty while only 11.4% of whites live below poverty. New Afrikans serve 20% more of their sentences with crimes similar to whites. Amerika is number one when it comes to the world's prison population, but is number forty-three when it comes to the world's education. Why is this?
We must figure out a way to reach the konvicts here so that we can begin to challenge the injustices that are being inflicted upon us. I've met komrades who use the excuse of getting sent to isolation if they take the initiative. The revolution is not a dinner party. It's supposed to be suffering. We are at war with a vicious paper tiger. This is why we call it a struggle. I understanding the meaning of a clandestine army but damn! We can't keep using this clandestine strategy as an excuse to action. That's some coward shit.
I understand being clandestine if you're doing the people's work, but sitting around playing chess, smoking weed, drinking, and just being idle and doing nothing isn't clandestine. Jumping on other konvicts isn't the peoples work. That's a form of individualism as well as being reactionary, unless it's in self-defense. That's why the Black Panther Party was first started: to defend themselves and the community. This prison is our community and it's our job as vanguards to defend the community. We cannot forget the legacy of George Jackson and the other komrades who fought and died for the people. Their spirit is in us and we must carry on the torch. The dragon has awaken. Can't stop! Won't stop!
MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade provides some important facts about the reality of national oppression within U.$. borders. The disproportionate lockup of oppressed nations is part of the system of imperialism that continues to oppress internal colonies within U.$. borders. And we echo this writer's call for the oppressed to stand up and take action. Even if it's just forming a study group, or sharing your Under Lock & Key with others. There is much education and organizing work to be done. MIM(Prisons) can support your work, write to us to get involved and put your time behind bars to good use.
MIM(Prisons)'s 2015 congress was marked by some major successes and growth in our work over the past year. We reached our goal from 2013 of doubling Under Lock & Key subscribers; helped write and edit Chican@ Power and the Struggle for Aztlán; and we took up the Strugglen Artists Association project and collected and distributed some great art both behind bars and on the streets. We have continued to support and build prisoner education, running both beginner and advanced correspondence study groups, sending in many political magazines and books, and supporting more than 30 prisoner-led study groups. Our focus in the coming year will be in building on these successes: printing and distributing the Chican@ Power book, expanding prisoner-led study groups, and building more United Struggle from Within (USW)-led campaigns.
All of this project-based work remains focused on our primary goal: serving the oppressed in prisons within the United $tates, while working from the vantage point of the Third World proletariat. We recognize that imperialism is the number one enemy of the majority of the world's people, and we are fighting from within the belly of the beast in the advanced stage of imperialism, where the majority of the people living within U.$. borders have been bought off with the spoils of capitalist profits. This petty-bourgeois population does not support our revolutionary organizing, and we cannot rely on them for the finances or labor needed to keep this struggle moving forward. So we focus our public opinion building on prisoners, who have a lot to gain from an end to Amerikkkan imperialism.
Growth and Finances
Over the past year we have seen a 70% growth in our Under Lock & Key (ULK) subscribers. But with this success comes the new challenge of paying for the increased printing and mailing costs. The overall cost to send out ULK is up 60% in July 2015 compared with July 2014. Subscriber funding of ULK increased by 64% over the same period, a very good trend, but all of that money went towards the cost of the 4 extra pages we printed in issues 39, 42, and the forthcoming ULK 46.
While we were able to print three issues of ULK with 4 extra pages of content, thanks to the funding from comrades behind bars, we will no longer be able to use donations for that purpose. Instead we need to focus all donations on the costs of printing and mailing to our greatly expanded distribution list. We want to see ULK expanded to 20 pages every issue, and we know readers are hungry for these additional pages, but first we will need to greatly expand funding for the publication. To answer the immediate need for more reading material, we offer activists behind bars lots of extra revolutionary lit to study in exchange for any sort of work they can contribute to the struggle. Ultimately this shift is necessary to continue to expand the reach of ULK as our subscriber list continues to grow. It was a difficult decision to stop printing the extra content, but we are doing it to prevent cutting down ULK content even more in the long term.
We need your help to keep up with new subscriptions! At the current rate of donations, prisoner funding for ULK covers only 4% of costs (printing a 16 page publication). In addition to spreading the word, sharing your ULK with others, and encouraging everyone to get their own subscription, we need donations of stamps and checks. We are setting a goal of funding 10% of each issue from subscriber donations. This is an aggressive goal based on our history, but we are confident that it is possible. To put it in perspective, we would meet the 10% funding goal if 1 in 5 subscribers sent in just one stamp a year! (Tell us if you want to send a check so we can send you instructions.)
"One important piece of our strategic orientation is the strategic confidence we have from our global class analysis. Basically, our analysis says that the vast majority of the world's people, a solid 80%, will benefit materially from an end to imperialism. This is why we believe anti-imperialism is destined for success. Subjectively, this can be important to keep in mind in an environment surrounded by class enemies or by those with bourgeois consciousness. ... One way i plan to expand the international connections we make is to have a section in each issue to print news snippets on events from the Third World that demonstrate determined resistance and a broad class consciousness that is opposed to imperialism. We hope that our readers find inspiration in this information that you probably aren't getting from other news sources."
In the course of writing these articles we realized that including information highlighting struggles in other parts of the world without going into details and analysis of the situation leads us towards opportunism. It is easy to put out information about people taking actions against their government, but if we fail to investigate the underlying situation in those countries we can end up supporting imperialism rather than national liberation. A good example of this is our article on Burkina Faso printed in ULK 41.(1) While we uphold the people's protests against exploitation and oppression, we can't superficially uphold their President's push into exile only to be replaced by a military leader. The situation is too complex to be summed up in a couple sentences, as it was in our Strategic Confidence feature as we prepared to go to print. Fortunately we caught this error and expanded the article before publication.
To correct this error we are re-orienting the international content in ULK to include at least one internationally-focused article in each issue, which includes more depth of analysis about the situation/region. In these international articles we will favor topics that lend themselves to strategic confidence by highlighting resistance struggles against imperialism. It should also be noted that the international content in ULK was of higher quantity and quality over the previous year largely thanks to a number of United Struggle from Within writers. So we call on their continued efforts to help us meet this goal.
United Struggle from Within
This year we saw tremendous growth in our Texas subscribers, many of whom learned about MIM(Prisons) through the Texas Activist Pack that was created by comrades behind bars. The Texas Activist Pack was put together to help prisoners in that state fight a variety of abuses including the medical co-pay, the indigent mail restrictions and the baseless denials of grievances. This shows us that concretely addressing prisoners' day-to-day struggles is an important way to expand our audience while getting vital organizing tools into the hands of folks who need them. People who get in touch for these resources are staying active with MIM(Prisons) at almost the same rate as those who write directly to get ULK or otherwise get involved in our work.
We want to take this lesson from Texas and apply it to other states by working with USW comrades to build activism packs specific to the needs of prisoners in each state. This will require knowledge about the local struggles and challenges, and work to create resources to help address these problems. In some states like Florida this might be focused on censorship as one of the biggest problems we are fighting there, while in Georgia we know the tier system is a problem that overshadows the lives of everyone locked up in that state. However, we want to be careful not to assume that the biggest problem in a state is the one that we can target with activism packs. These should be potentially winnable battles, around which, through education and distribution of resources, we can have a real impact on the lives of our comrades. Get in touch with us if you have ideas about or can help create a campaign for your state.
I went back to ULK issue 42 to sort out some disputes with the other prisoners and gangs housed in this institution. The problem is that we can't seem to get it together. Mainly those claiming to be a part of an organized entity. Some members say they are for the cause to unite and fight against oppression (within the prison). What drew me back to this issue was the topic of the issue Building Peace with the United Front which speaks about the base of bringing the misled and disorganized together. Yet, in my situation, it's a constant contradiction. Nobody wants to play their part or abide by the agenda and constitutions set out for them. So I am asking you: as a current member of the contradictory organization, do I stay, proclaiming my loyalty, or do I move on? Please help me with this issue. The only thing that I can see me staying for is the true comrades, but I didn't become what I am for the few individuals. I chose my way of life because of the movement. Now I am stuck deciding what is best for me. Well it's been nice sharing my issues with you. I just ask that you give me your best opinion from what you have read.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This is an important question that many folks who are part of lumpen organizations raise as their political consciousness grows. There is often the possibility of educating and building from within an organization, helping to bring the level of political knowledge and organizing work up for the whole group. But sometimes this is not possible, and you find yourself inside an organization that refuses to advance whether this is because of mis-leadership or the conflicting goals of the members. When this happens it may be time to leave the organization and start something new. We should not hold on to blind loyalty when this binds us to reactionary organizations.
This is the difference between scientific leadership and cult leadership. A cult demands blind loyalty and creates a situation that allows for abuse and oppression within the group. In contrast, MIM(Prisons) would tell people they should leave our organization if they believe it has taken a reactionary path. Of course, one should only do so after struggling within the organization to correct its errors. In other words, push the contradictions within the organization to conclusion before just giving up. And while doing so you might study Mao's "On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People."
This comrade asks "what is best for me?" But we would instead ask "what is best for the oppressed people of the world?" If you are in an organization that is not fighting on the side of the oppressed, and is not willing to listen to you when you push them in this direction, then you are wasting your time with this group. If you take action and break with the organization in order to take up the revolutionary struggle, any other progressive individuals inside of this group might be inspired to join you. It's important that you be clear that is it not lack of loyalty that causes you to break with the group, but rather the importance of your goals to serve the people.
MIM(Prisons) disagrees with the organizational model of a single ideological leader (or privileged clique) providing all the instructions and theory for its membership, with the masses submitting to this guidance. This is part of why we are an anonymous organization — to help people overcome the cultural tendency of hero worship. We want everyone to take the ideological development of our movement into their own hands. As we've seen countless times throughout history, raising everyone's political consciousness, as the Chinese Communist Party did under Mao, is essential to ensuring that our revolutionary movement is not usurped by our enemies or our mistakes.
To this end, we run correspondence study courses, and we encourage prisoners to run their own study groups where they're at. Malcolm X, George Jackson, Stanley Tookie Williams, and countless other leaders developed their revolutionary analysis using their time behind bars in U.$. prisons. We follow their example and aim to push forward the political development of all U.$. prisoners; supporting prisoner-led study groups (SGs) is one way we do this.
We help support over 30 SGs in 16 states and the Federal system. Since the SGs are prisoner-run and led, we primarily provide support by sending study materials, including books, magazines, newspapers and study packs. Some of the study packs are collections of essays or source material on a particular topic, and others are questions that go with a magazine or book. With this issue of ULK and our letters to SG leaders, we also aim to provide tactical guidance and suggestions.
In February we sent out a questionnaire to get a better sense of how these SGs are run, their scope, their successes, challenges and needs. About one-third of the SGs we support responded, and here we summarize what we learned.
The number of participants ranges between 1 and 25 people, and most groups have less than 10 regular participants. Some groups are single-nation, but most are mixed-nation, with a mixture of lumpen organization (LO) and ex-LO membership. We see SGs as a good place for building the United Front for Peace in Prisons through practice. One respondent told us:
“The three core members have all had gang affiliations in the past. The two brothers were in the Gangster Disciples or Vice Lords, and the Chicano was in the Latin Kings. But behind bars we have found out who the real enemy is: the U.$. racist imperialist oppressor pigs who run this joint. So we have put our racial differences and gang affiliations aside to fight our common enemy.”
The average time an SG has been together is 2 years, with a range of 2.5 months to 6 years. Most go through study material at similar rates: either one ULK per week, a few chapters of a book every two weeks, or a magazine/book per month. The SGs that have been going the longest reported that individual members teach what they are familiar with, or have assigned areas to become expert. Other groups report that one persyn or a core group will lead the entire study.
SGs have a wide range of structure. The structure of your group should be based on the conditions where you're at, but it should be a universal goal to get a variety of participants engaging in leading the group. Raising the leadership skills of the participants is one way to raise their political level. And since people are moved around all the time, a follower in one SG might need to become the leader in a different facility. If they already have some practice generating study questions, acquiring reading material, and recruiting participants, then the new SG is more likely to be successful. In this way we can use a disruption, such as transfers, to our advantage.
The frequency and reliability of meeting to go over study materials also varies widely. For groups who are in different facilities, or who are in isolation, they “meet” by passing lit and sharing essays they write analyzing the reading material. Most groups reported they meet once a week, some 3 or 5 days a week, and one group said they meet daily. Some reported they meet creatively under the guise of religious services or a tutoring program.
Of course one huge barrier to SGs and revolutionary development generally is literacy — your ability to read and write. We know that a significant portion of prisoners are illiterate. Most of our SGs reported they do not spend much energy teaching literacy, and most participants have GEDs or higher. One group even reported that a GED is a minimum requirement to participate. With the abhorrent lack of programming in U.$. prisons, the responsibility of teaching literacy rests primarily on prisoners themselves — each one teach one.
Challenges reported include:
Imprisonment problems: infiltration, SHU time, validation
“Imprisonment problems” will always affect our SGs just because of the fact that they are running inside prisons. But these issues can be addressed somewhat by having good security practices. At least one SG recruits participants by being blatant and open about its politics, receiving criticism from other prisoners (which they then engage through discussion) but not repression from staff (at least not yet). In our limited experience, this is an uncommon scenario, and definitely varies by facility and state. We are creating a security study pack to add to our list of available study materials, so if you have any recommendations of security practices that have worked for your group, please share them with us.
“Lumpen problems” are those which are prominent among the lumpen class as a whole, which we need to address on a mass scale. We can start working on these problems within our SGs. The institutionalization of the daily routine in prisons leads many to rely on others (their captors) to determine what they do at any given moment. This prevents us from developing the necessary skills of time management and self-discipline. When moved to a less structured environment (e.g, from SHU to general population, or from prison to the outside) it is difficult to stay committed to projects and it can be as if one is just following the wind. Encouraging self-discipline with work reports and planning in advance is one way to tackle this problem.
Study material being censored and confiscated can possibly be dealt with using the appeal and grievance process, but we also need to assume repression will always come from our oppressor whenever we try to educate ourselves. Since you can't rely on having articles or notes to refer back to, try to read the material multiple times before passing it on. Writing a summary or analysis on the material, even if it's just a few sentences reflecting on an article in ULK, will help you remember it better and think about it more critically. And discussing your reflections with another comrade if possible will help you develop your overall political analysis. So even if the material is stomped on and torn up and "lost" forever, you will have done your best to hold on to it and can hopefully teach those principles to others even without the written words to refer to.
If the main problem in your SG is having material to study, you're in luck, because that's probably the easiest problem to solve! Barring complete censorship of our materials, MIM Distributors can send you literature on a wide range of topics. Send us reports on what questions are coming up in your SG, what conclusions you are drawing from the material you are studying, and how those conclusions can be applied to the struggles in your prison, and we'll hook you up. Encourage your SG participants to sign up for ULK and send us work-trades for lit, such as articles, art, or poetry for the newsletter. You can even pool together your financial resources to purchase books outright.
One of our goals coming from our annual congress is to be supporting 50 SGs across the United $nakes by this time next year. Since the initiative of our subscribers (YOU!) is what determines how many SGs we can support, we are trying to up the support on our end by addressing some of the main challenges identified in responses to our questionnaire. Please share experiences with us that others might be able to apply to their own SGs.
We hope with this issue of ULK to spark some inspiration among our readers to take their usual “I read and love this newsletter, and pass it on!” to step up and sit down with their fellow captives to study. It is not only important for our own immediate tasks of building unity and increasing our knowledge, but it is important so that our actions will have the greatest impact on liberating the majority of the world's people.