It has often been the position of readers of ULK and members of the United Struggle from Within that economic means and methods should be tried and applied in the struggle of prisoners against the capitalist-imperialists. Some say to boycott the commissary and deprive each state of the prisoner dollar it so much cherishes. Others say stop ordering packages from the state approved vendors. More sophisticated circles would say create more damages via civil action suits: state tort, personal injuries, small claims, you name it. Others have said to boycott prisoner accounts altogether to avoid any fees or cuts the state takes from it for restitution, release, medical co-pay, etc.
All of these tactics can potentially prove devastating if the right group of people apply them and progress the idea into material reality.
With $0.50 a prisoner can do so much, as that is the cost of a postage stamp. A letter can contain a list of new subscribers to Under Lock & Key. It can include an article, poem submission, or art. It can contain study group responses or a criticism to push our struggle forward.
Even if you don't draw, i know there's an artist next door to you. He/she lives off of their artwork alone. They don't go to the store, they just draw their tail off. For just a dollar that artist next door will draw four drawings of your imagination, the size of about a quarter of an average sheet of paper. With those four pieces you could express the walls of prison crumbling, or a lumpen prisoner handing their dinner tray to the family of an underdeveloped country through the window of a prison cell. You can commission this artist to draw anti-imperialist art to submit to ULK to be printed in the next issue. That one picture is surely going to touch more people than the artist expected it to.
Yet, in the economic struggle, lumpen prisoners often fail in the materialization of their own wealth. We must change this. In prison we often see ourselves as the haves and have-nots, when in the material reality of things we all have something to offer. Take the commissary industry. Not everybody actually submits an order form. There are those with monies to spend and those who have the heart to work with those who spend, earning a share of the spender's purchase. I persynally don't deposit monies in my trust. I use craft and trade to survive. I braid, cut and style hair. Many prisoners who have money to spend inside get monies from a source outside of prison. These sources deposit money into a prisoner's trust to take care of the prisoner. In return the prisoner takes care of hself. My specialty is helping the prisoner do this by keeping up their appearance and in return they offer a product from the commissary, where i then have purchasing power. Me, an anti-imperialist. I bring in anything from $1.50 to $3.00 easy per client on a yard that allows time and opportunity. Fast forward about ten clients per week and in a month's time i'll have $120. Off of this buck twenty i can order a pair of hair clippers with the works and the hottest legal commodity in prisons: coffee. Adding haircuts to my service, i'll double clientèle. Sixty dollars worth of coffee on the shelf will grow legs and trade itself. One dollar for a coffee lid of coffee, or an exchange of one full jar on credit for two jars at the convenience of the creditor (the value varies).
I don't drink coffee so there'll never be a loss due to persynal consumption. The product will pay for itself and expand at a controlled rate. I'm doing hair and trading coffee. The service can be offered to a wide range of characters and political affiliations: Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, Pink, Blue or Purple, the objective is Green.
Doing such, i'm offered the opportunity to socialize with a wide range of characters and gossip about the latest and greatest revolutionary culture, from international news to news on the hip hop revolution underground affiliates. I alone as a USW leader, taking the scraps that are there amongst the so-called prison ballers, have become a resort for prisoners caught in the trappings to retreat to when they must spend their money and look good doing it.
The coffee will expand from my cell to the cell of another USW comrade proving themselves capable of opening up shop on the same facility, and when ripe we will venture out into another legal commodity (soap, body washes, shampoo and body oils).
We can turn all this paper money into fuel for the fire to finance the anti-imperialist machine, funding independent institutions like the University of Maoist Thought, extended printing of ULK, MIM(Prisons)/USW-hosted events, Prisoners Legal Clinic, MIM(Prisons)'s Free Political Books to Prisoners. These are just to name a few. In this microcosm of Amerika, great revenue will come to be. What separates us from most collecting such revenue is we'll be providing a service at a very low cost to those who have and ALL of the proceeds will go to those who don't. We are funding revolutionary cadres of our USW and MIM(Prisons) across the snakes.
This should be our matter of concern, if we truly hope to shift the economy into a landslide towards the people. Don't boycott the commissary, use it as a uniting factor!!!
MIM(Prisons) responds: It is a strong statement to say a well-executed boycott can have "devastating" impact. More likely, the prisoncrats will notice what is happening and make a simple policy change to ensure they are able to milk prisoners for all they have. The main benefit of organizing boycotts isn't the financial impact, but coming together to organize around a collective interest. The connections, networking, and unity are more valuable than any amount of money we're saving from the oppressors' collection.
When assessing the "value" of an action or investment, we need to always keep in mind the political value. There are a lot of ways we can use what little money and resources we have to make a big political impact. As long as we aren't harming the people, the importance isn't in how we hustle, but in why we hustle. Use your creativity and resourcefulness to find a way to hustle for the people!