This comes to you long overdue from High Desert State Prison (Nevada). September 9 has come and gone and I have no information as to how it went except for what follows below.
On September 6 I was cuffed up and put in the most isolated unit at the prison. Several others were simultaneously moved to other units. I was locked up "pending disciplinary" for write ups I'd gotten for doing legal work. However additional charges had been filed against me on 8/29 for organizing a work stoppage/disruptive demonstration. I did not know this at the time.
On 9/8 another comrade was also locked up behind a matter completely unrelated to 9/9 as well.
On 9/9 I fasted in my cell. No one else on this tier did so. It's assumed they never got word, not surprising given the security level in this unit.
On 9/9 there was little notice of my fast and I heard no radio traffic which would indicate that anything was going on elsewhere in the prison. There was no discussion concerning anything irregular occurring.
On 9/21 I was served the second notice of charges.
On 10/5 I was found not guilty of the first legal work write up.
On 10/6 I was convicted of the work stoppage/demonstration write up. I was given 180 days disciplinary segregation, a class B state time referral and referred to the parole board for revocation/rescission of parole.
A letter received informed me that, in fact, few people from my former unit participated in the fast and this evidences a successful oppressor strategy: divide and conquer. They calculated (apparently correctly), that if they removed the perceived organizer and driving force behind the action that the witnesses to that removal and the remaining parties would be dissuaded and intimidated and abandon the action. Excepting a few loyal comrades, this was apparently correct.
This is a common and timeless strategy. Unfortunately it is successful all too often. There remains a few who spoke for the many and (as far as I can tell) I was the only target of retribution. I can live with that!
2013 is not far off and I will be again one of the few speaking for the many, if that's what it takes.
For those who stood by us and our comrades country-wide, respects to all!
Under Lock & Key seems to not place enough emphasis on perspective for the prison "illegitimate capitalist" and the role they will need to play both in prison, and more essentially in society. MIM did this by relating prisoner writings in context to societal issues; ULK publishes "complaints" that center around prisons, minus application to overall society.
First, one must understand the difference between inmates, convicts, prisoners and political prisoners. Inmates do not see themselves as oppressed and follow the rules and regulations without deviation. And when necessary, they will cooperate with the pigs, note the Webster racist dictionary defines inmate as one voluntarily confined to a hospital or prison — I say it is one who does not fight.
Political prisoners are those who either committed political acts which led to their incarceration, or became politicized in prison (became conscious) and became representatives of revolution! This title is honorary and must not be emasculated for group appeasement! Huey P. Newton was a political prisoner, as was comrade George Jackson. Yet Carl Ferguson is not, and Larry Davis is not. Yes there is politics behind their imprisonment, as is true of all 2.4 million prisoners in the United $tates.
This is germane when pushing ULK, because comrades are not all the same and ULK must print useful articles that can relate to the application of revolution in prison and society. Otherwise prisoners and political prisoners will get caught up in prison struggles as if they represent the main revolutionary work to be done. Let MIM(Prisons) be advised the goal of revolution is the complete overthrow of the existing government and the rebuilding of a new one! Thus that is the objective of all true revolutions! The job of a revolutionary is to make revolution.
Hunger strikes are "effective tactics," pig assaults and/or killings are tactics as well. Lawsuits are a strategy to be employed to achieve legal expropriation, essential lifting of draconian conditions of confinement (e.g. censorship, segregation etc.), and also should be employed to bombard the courts and bog them down so some of our complaints are addressed. Collectively nationwide this constitutes tactics and strategy to raise society's awareness, again in furtherance of revolution. The filing of criminal appeals and post-conviction motions are done for the liberation of revolutionaries for revolution. Some of the tactics employed in prison will be useful in society, and others will be ineffective. The same is true of strategies in prisons; some are workable while others are not. Thus new tactics must be studied and created that will be utilized to address pigs killing men, women and children in our colonies. Al Sharpton rallies won't work, Jesse Jackson speeches won't work, and the Million Man March addressed itself to no single demand from the establishment and was merely a great day of useless solidarity.
From the inception of prisoners becoming politicized it has been recognized and accepted that prisoners will be the vanguard of the revolutionary movement. Does anyone know the function of a vanguard: how one is built, and how it can be effectively employed? This is the unique purpose for which prisoners must be trained.
Prison resistance must be linked continuously to revolutionary work, not merely complaints that pale in comparison to the conditions of the 60s and 70s. Less complaints, more agitation and perspective.
MIM(Prisons) replies: Distinguishing between revolutionary organizing and prison reform organizing is a problem that MIM(Prisons) has confronted a number of times in its short history. It is important that we always look for errors in our approach and ways to improve our work.
On the question of the content of ULK articles: we strive to always put articles in the context of the struggle against the criminal injustice system. We do get many articles from prisoners just describing bad conditions and repression behind bars. We also get a lot of articles complaining about a lack of unity among prisoners. We agree with this writer that these sorts of articles need to be related to the application of revolution to be useful in ULK. We use the MIM(Prisons) commentary after articles to provide this context when the article itself does not include it. And we urge ULK contributors to take this feedback seriously and work to include anti-imperialist context within your own articles.
On the question of labels: we agree with this comrade that terminology is important. We pay a lot of attention to the language we use because language makes political points. We agree with the distinction made here between inmate and prisoner. But we assert that all prisoners are political prisoners precisely because of the political nature of the criminal injustice system that makes political distinctions between arrests, trials, juries, laws and sentences to disproportionately lock up oppressed nations. This is a political point we are making with language.
We are more interested in defining classes than individuals. Recognizing the relationship between the imprisoned lumpen and the United $tates is about defining a class. A class is defined by its material conditions, specifically in relation to production and distribution, and each class has an ideology that arises from those conditions. This does not mean that all people in that class have the same ideology or think the same. It also doesn't mean that there aren't material contradictions within a class. The proletariat is the most revolutionary because they have nothing to lose but their chains. Other classes will have more internal contradictions. That said we want to challenge the dominant role that the illegitimate capitalist ideology plays in today's prison environment with a strong communist voice. This requires developing what we call the subjective factors, through ideological development. All of us working on ULK need to strive to make this "voice of the anti-imperialist movement from under lock & key" a tool for ideological development and anti-imperialist agitation, not just an airing of complaints and reformist demands.
I am going through a situation here at Sullivan Correctional Facility fighting grievance issues similar to what has been reported in other prisons in Under Lock & Key. I have a long history with this jail dating back to 2009 with civil cases in court against these people. I am writing because our grievance process here is totally unreliable. The same people who you write the grievances on are the people who investigate them and then wash them under the table.
I'm in a special needs unit, some of us are slow, some can't help themselves, that's why they call it special needs. These officers here take full advantage of our disabilities because they know that we can't fend for ourselves. They are constantly jumping on us and using our medical status as an excuse to justify their actions, claiming we tried to hurt ourselves. Then they throw us in the box.
As an example of this situation, I'm kept on lockdown now because of an officer that I've been having an ongoing problem with. Just the other day he told me after he locked me up that he's going to cut my wrist and say I tried to kill myself. This goes on everyday here.
Reading your article diligent grievance petitions expose oppression in NC that led to hunger strike made me think back to my past experiences here at Sullivan. Something has got to be done. There are some things that I'm going to try to do that I rather not speak about. But you will definitely be hearing from me. In the mean time keep my name ringing along with other brothers that have similar problems and just maybe we will overcome this together.
MIM(Prison) adds: Together is key. Individuals fighting alone mostly lose the battles to combat the oppression they face on a day-to-day basis. The grievance campaign we've been promoting in many states is one way to come together on these types of issues.
In some prisons abuse is more common because the people are more dis-empowered, and organizing becomes even harder. It is important for outside supporters and prisoners in other facilities to stay connected with you to shed a light on abusive conditions. A United Struggle from Within comrade (Amare Selton, Rest in Power) was killed behind the walls of one of New York's mental health units on 17 September 2009. Conditions are dire, and as this comrade is doing, we need to be trying new ways to ensure real safety for those in these vulnerable situations.
I want to bring up an issue that should be addressed and included in the struggle for positive change. Back around 2005 the Department of Corrections began installing timers on our toilets, to limit us to two flushes every five minutes. The reason given for the timers and limits on the flushes is for the purpose of water conservation. I'm all for saving the planet and conserving Earth's resources, but not at the expense of my own health and well-being.
The timer and two-flush limit has emphasized the impact of living with a toilet in the compact space where we also eat and sleep. No man should have to be forced to endure prolonged exposure to the revolting stench of human waste! To limit us to two flushes every five minutes is simply unreasonable, but what is unconscionable and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment is the so-called "penalty flush!" especially when we have no way of knowing when the toilet's timer has reset itself. Here at Calipatria State Prison if we inadvertently or purposely attempt to flush the toilet a third time before the toilet's timer has reset itself, a 15 minute penalty will incur. This means the toilet will not flush for 15 minutes and anything in the toilet will remain there throughout the duration of the 15 minute penalty.
In other prisons I hear that the penalty flush can be anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour! There's simply no penological justification for the penalty flush because the two-flush limit every five minutes serves the penological interest of the water conservation. It is inhumane to punish a man for simply trying to use the bathroom. So please include this stinking issue into the struggle. United in struggle we will prevail.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Actually, water conservation is not a penological interest at all. Like this correspondent says, a two-flush-per-five-minute rule would be enough to prevent any attempts to abuse toilet flushing. The penalties for attempting to flush the toilet show us clearly that this is just another method to make prisoners’ lives extra miserable, and dangerous, for no good reason.
It might be argued that flush rules are in the state's interests to save water, because water is money. But either way, the "greening" of Amerikan prisons highlights the dominant pro-imperialist slant of so-called environmentalism in this country. Water conservation can be used to improve production for California agribusiness, or it can be used to provide people with clean drinking water across the world. Which goal you choose is a political question. Really environmentalism that is not internationalist in perspective is not true environmentalism at all because it ignores most of the biggest problems humyns face interacting with our natural environment in favor of the local interests of small, privileged groups.
As you can see I'm back at Green Bay Correctional Institution (GBCI), still in seg. On Wednesday morning I was told to pack up. Later that day I received a copy of the committee's recommendation and decision from the warden. The PRC recommended a program that would remove me from A.C. [Administrative Confinement] and the warden recommended the same. Yet he decided to keep me on A.C. until a program is created. I was told that GBCI is on board with it, so I wrote the day I arrived to Deputy Warden Sarah Cooper, a Black woman who once worked at Wisconsin Resource Center (WRC), and asked when will this program be implemented. I have not heard anything from the warden's office as of yet.
I have reasons to believe that these people have no plans of removing me off A.C. WRC, the most liberal of them all, kept me on A.C. They said all these good things about me only to further the oppression and persecution of me. They said a program needs to be created, but didn't specify what the program is or how it would be implemented. They have me in the worst conditions in the Wisconsin DOC. This is the worst segregation. Boscobel, even in its most oppressive days, has nothing on this seg. This seg makes the old greenhouse at Waupun look like a camp. It is fly infested. I have black worms coming out of the sink. We can't have publications.
I have been in seg for over 13 years. and I haven't given these people any trouble in a long time, and what I'm in seg for is solely political. I am being punished for organizing for Black Unity and against institutional racism. I simply created organizations that advocated the advancement of Black people and that fought against Black on Black crime, poverty, ignorance, etc. It wasn't created to terrorize white people, as the totalitarian state would have you believe.
As a result of being in seg I have developed a long range of psychological issues, issues that have left me scarred permanently. These issues have caused some professionals to label me psychotic and delusional among other things. I was diagnosed with Delusional Disorder and am being treated for it. I am supposed to be at Waupun or Columbia Correctional Institution, places that house prisoners being treated for serious mental health diagnoses.
MIM(Prisons) adds: This comrade provides one more example of the torture that is part of the daily conditions in the solitary confinement units in Amerikan prisons often called control units. These units were primarily developed to isolate comrades like this to prevent them from organizing the oppressed for national self-determination. We are documenting both the terrible conditions prisoners face in these cells as well as the number of such units that exist across the country. To date we have counted over 100,000 and we invite prisoners to contact us to fill out a survey about your prison's control units.
I recently read about the "agreement to end hostilities" and seen this as an essential step forward for prisoners but a step that will include many more steps in the future if prisoners are to truly take back our humynity not just in California but in prisons across the United $tates. Although I support the original five demands and will continue to do so along with any future demands for justice I felt the need to add to the dialogue and perhaps bring some other ideas to the scene. What I noticed from the five demands and many other proposals being kicked around is the absence of the very core of our oppression - the SHU itself. What we have learned since the initial strike was that many civil rights groups and people around the world see the SHU itself as torture, all or most of what is being asked for i.e. contact visits, phone calls, cellies etc. can be granted were it not for SHU. Even things like validation and debriefing etc. become easier to combat when the SHU is out of the picture so it is the SHU itself that becomes the kernel of our oppression in regards to the prison movement in general and the current struggle we are facing in Pelican Bay. This is why any proposals should have at the forefront the demand to close the SHUs! How can we talk of justice or prisoner rights without calling for an end to housing prisoners for any reason in these concentration camps? It's like saying "you can water board me but can we listen to a better radio station while you do it?" No other country is doing what Amerika does with the SHU on this scale but it is ultimately up to us whether we steer the prison movement on a real path of transformation or limit any changes to what amount to mild reforms.
Many struggles throughout history that dealt with prisoners gained far more than what has currently been proposed in our situation. A couple of situations that quickly come to mind are the Puerto Rican revolutionary group Macheteros who were arrested in the 1960s for acts against Amerika in their quest for independence. Well it came out via Freedom of Information Act years later that the national security advisor was on record saying the Macheteros should be released because of the protests and support and how these protests do not look good for Amerika in the eyes of the world. This is on record and the Macheteros were released. They were released from prison and linked to bombings and other acts against the U.$. Government
Another group of prisoners were the Red Army Faction of Germany who were in prison for acts against the government; bombings, cop killings, murders of politicians, etc. When this group was arrested they were housed in a specially constructed area of the prison - kinda like the short corridor - and were in solitary confinement and not allowed to come in any contact with any other prisoners but through hunger strikes and supporters out in society raising awareness about their treatment they were finally granted yard time with each other and better treatment after a year or two of constant struggle. My main thrust here is that if those who were assassinating government officials, judges etc., in an attempt to overthrow the government were able to overturn the isolation and draconian treatment surely we can as well!
In beginning to grapple with our oppression and find the best method of resistance we must first understand the origins of our oppression. One cannot move forward with a correct game plan without knowing ones opponent. When a boxer is about to fight a formidable opponent what does he/she do? Well they watch the videos of the opponents fights in order to understand the opponents strengths and weaknesses thus preparing oneself for a proper offensive. We must also do our homework on this current anti-SHU struggle, things like where the SHU came from, why is it used so much by Amerika - more so than in other countries, who controls such a system? We must identify our opponent if we want to more forward.
We know the SHU and all prisons are a part of the "state" apparatus, but who controls the state? The ruling class is not including the people (the poor people) it is the rich who run things. These rich, or capitalists, have developed into what Lenin defined as "imperialism" which is simply capitalism on steroids, it is economic exploitation on a global scale. So the state and thus prisons are run according to what is in the interest of this ruling class. Prisoners in general are not profitable to this ruling class as most prisoners derive from what Lenin defined as the "lumpen proletariat" which is basically the underclass or can better be defined in the United $tates as simply the "Lumpen" which are prisoners, the unemployed, those caught up in crime, etc. Most lumpen don't work or pay taxes so to the ruling class the lumpen are just taking up space and not helping the wheels turn in the economy. But more importantly, the lumpen are a potential revolutionary force as this is the natural order of repression inviting resistance. Whenever one is being smothered the natural reaction is to struggle to breathe. Our acts of resistance in the 2011 strikes clearly proved this to be true.
There are many phenomenon that occur that are long held communist principles that may be practiced today by many prisoners without ever knowing their origins. We must use these tools to gain victory in our current situation, one such tool is historical materialism which is used to transform things in the material world. It does this by understanding historical events and processes which created a specific reality. In our current struggle in order to change or transform our torture conditions in SHU we would first have to understand the process of what brought the SHU itself to be created. When we understand it was the state and ultimately the ruling class which created the means to throw away vast swaths of the population and smother any embers of resistance then we'll know we won't change things simply by picketing around a prison or filing a lawsuit because we are up against something more sinister than simply "tough laws." Marxism is a method not dogma and so it is fluid and continues to find new responses in its interactions with the material world, so it will continue to be applied to different phenomenon. Although asking the state for changes is cool and must be done, the more crucial change must come from within one's own approach to our oppression, we are deprived of so much but the most vital opportunities are low hanging fruit, these being opportunities in the theoretical realm. The truth is we can't "change the system" and by system I mean capitalist Amerika which runs prisons and SHUs, it is all in the state apparatus so it is one and the same - in prison lingo it is one "car." We can't change the system we must rip it out by its roots, dismantle it in order for true change to occur. To really believe we can change this system is to take a stance as the democrats who think change comes out of the voting system via reforms.
The task we have ahead of all of us held in U.$. prisons is a real uphill battle that is in sync - even if we don't realize it - with many other struggles aimed at the U.$. empire not just in the United $tates but globally. While our effort is different in many ways, we should face this effort like a guerrilla war. Rather than a passive state, guerrilla warfare is a combination of defense and offense in our pursuit of victory but our initial victory should be to unmask the brutal dictatorship of the state and deny it the ability to operate cloaked in secrecy. Let us strip it bare and display its most grotesque parts to society. In doing this let every dungeon where conditions have peaked to intolerable proportions raise the banner of resistance in regards to material conditions, in this way we will expose the contradictions in "American democracy" while obtaining small gains to our conditions. What occurs in our living conditions is worse than what we even realize. Even though most have grown accustomed to SHU, it is not norma. People are social animals. Our entire existence as people is to interact with others, our senses demand this, it is a dialectic which exists on reacting to people and the environment and when all sensory input is deprived it works against our very being, i.e. it destroys us, dehumanizes us.
Lastly, although I would of course always like to hear editors of publications ramble about what some have referred to as "commie rhetoric" I would much rather hear a prisoner's perspective on communist principles or how they apply to the prison movement in general or the anti-SHU struggle in particular. But one cannot discuss "prisoner rights" without discussing prisoner oppression and thus what is behind prisoner oppression (capitalism). Today's society profit is put ahead of the people as far as education, food, land, etc and thus crime rises then our next natural step is finding an alternative society where prisons and SHUs are not used as concentration camps. The only society that would really truly change the system is a socialist system — to deny this is to deny history.
Recently comrades at Anti-Imperialism.com have brought up the question of how First Worldism sets back the revolutionary movement within the oppressor nation itself.(1) When anti-imperialists begin banging their heads against walls of cops, it seems a good time to consider this question.
Over the Amerikan KKKolumbus Day weekend, a series of anti-colonial and anti-capitalist demonstrations were organized on the west coast. Judging by the turnout and support, there is not a big anti-colonial movement in the United $tates. This is no surprise, for it is the most powerful imperialist country in the world.
One anti-colonial march in San Francisco was dwarfed by the crowds of consumers, shopping on a Sunday afternoon. The organizers showed little interest in reaching out to the shoppers, and more in smashing symbols of wealth and exploitation. An hour pre-march rally seemed hardly noticed by the shopping masses. And the march itself lasted only a few blocks before violent clashes with police left 22 people arrested. A significant loss from a crowd of maybe 150 who had just begun to unveil its message.
The lack of interest in reaching out to the shoppers may reflect a correct analysis among the protestors that those people had no interest in or alliance with the message of their march. But if so this line was not put out publicly in literature or banners. We will argue here that doing so would have done more to promote divisions among the pro-imperialist camp, whereas the tactics of the day instead have helped consolidate those forces in recent years.
Last fall, thousands and thousands of Amerikans, primarily youth, rallied to the call to Occupy Wall Street, which evolved into Occupy Everywhere — a rather frightening slogan for the youth of the number one imperial power to take up. More progressive, and often more experienced, poles in the movement steered things in an anti-occupation/anti-colonial direction. But somehow this wasn't as appealing to the Amerikan youth as rallying for more jobs, free schooling and better interest rates on loans. If we eliminate the flow of wealth from the neo-colonies, the people in this country will lose their high paying jobs and easy lines of credit.
Despite this self-evident truth, there is still not a strong voice drawing a clear line between those who benefit from imperialism and those who suffer from it.
In practice we see lines being drawn, as the more radical messages seem to accompany some tactics that trigger anger from the Amerikan "middle class." There continues to be backlash in some instances of calling those who vandalize property "terrorists" while telling them to target bank windows rather than their nice neighborhood. We have little interest in the petty bourgeois debate over what is okay to smash, but this whole debate serves as a convenient excuse for the Amerikan left to ally with the imperialist state. What needs to be challenged is the idea that the Amerikan "middle class" somehow deserves more than everyone else in the world and therefore is not the enemy like those evil bankers.
Interestingly, the bourgeoisie gets away with attacking those who act against the interests of the "middle class" as "outside agitators" and "spoiled white kids." This name calling serves as a distraction from the issues being demonstrated around. Of course there will be anti-colonial struggle in white faces in a white country. To argue otherwise is to breed confusion.
While we believe there is more anti-imperialist potential here in the United $tates than those who showed up this weekend, particularly among the internal semi-colonies who were sparsely represented at these events, the dominant ideology of this country is pro-middle class, which is pro-imperialism. Even the most radical Black organizations out here will say that "white people are exploited too." Yet the truth is the complete opposite: Black people aren't exploited either in this country. The sooner we all start being accountable for what we have, the sooner we can take a realistic approach to what we can do about it.
We need a strong line that says, yes, the petty bourgeoisie and the labor aristocracy in this country are the enemy of the world's people. Just as MIM has always attacked identity politics, this does not mean that petty bourgeois people cannot be anti-imperialists. We welcome and honor those Amerikans who choose to stand with the exploited peoples of the Third World. But let's make it clear that doing so requires opposing your own class interests.
After we draw that line, maybe we can think of ways to actually attack the interests of the exploiter classes, rather than just attack their symbols. Boots Riley, Oakland rapper and activist, has criticized the tactics of vandalism for alienating the majority in the city.(2) There is some truth in what he wrote in that we should not be helping the petty bourgeoisie unite with the imperialist state in opposition to anti-colonial voices, at least not without making significant gains somewhere else. Instead, we should be driving wedges between the various class alliances of our enemies, creating cracks in the system that make a little more room for the oppressed to move and organize. And perhaps ironically, pointing out the unity of the material interests of almost everyone in this country with imperialism can contribute to creating these cracks among those who have subjective moral objections to living off the suffering of others.
We do not believe that moralizing will "wake up" the Amerikan people and end this system of exploitation. We recognize there is no winning the majority in this country. So it is a question of recruiting the minority that care or suffer greatly under this system and promoting disunity among the rest. Finding effective tactics for either is our challenge.
Before we split the anti-imperialist camp over what we should do after the revolution (where we differ with the anarchist majority at this weekend's events), let's split with those who will organize and fight for the deepening exploitation of the Third World to feed the over-consumptive, privileged lifestyles in the imperialist countries. And let us be honest with our fellow exploiters, breaking the illusions of an alliance between First World social democracy and the interests of the exploited and oppressed. The one cannot exist without the other. The clearer we are about that, the more Amerikans are forced to make the choice between committing daily violence through their privilege and becoming a virus within the matrix.
I want to share with you and the other ULK readers the response to the 602 petition I sent to the Secretary of CDCR, and to the Ombudsman Sarah Malone. There was no response from the Ombudsman's office. But Matthew Cates forwarded my petition to Warden Paramo who in turn delegated it down to Associate Warden Straton, who came to interview me in person.
Associate Warden Straton did not make any excuses. He said, "You're absolutely right, the 602 appeals system is severely screwed up, however, we just forced appeals coordinator Cobb to retire early, and we replaced him with Mr. Olson who is approximately 6 to 8 weeks behind in processing our 602s. Just try to be patient as we try to straighten this mess out."
I do believe Associate Warden Straton is being sincere, but only time will tell for sure. I just had a family member file a citizen's complaint on my behalf, which all ULK readers should have their family do because, by law the Warden must send a response to anyone who files a citizen's complaint, even if it's just in the form of a letter.
My plan is to create a paper trail using the Form 22 as a verification that I've placed my 602 appeals in the metal 602 box in my housing unit. Then once the Warden sends my family his response I'll have the proof I need for court to show that he was made aware of the problem but failed to correct it.
We did get 75 copies of the grievance petitions made, but the program worker who was making them got busted on the second set and lost his job. But 75 made it to Sacramento successfully.
Also I just wanted to thank you for that article in ULK about us SNYs being part of the greater whole. Just because we came to this side doesn't mean we're not fighters for the greater good. In fact, that's one of the reasons I came to this side, to avoid the petty politics and work towards better living conditions for all.
MIM(Prisons) adds: This comrade is making good use of the California grievance petition which addresses the mishandling of 602s (grievances) in California prisons. Inspired by California, this campaign has spread to many other states, with petitions now customized for Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas. We don't expect big changes to come from this petition; we know this is a battle for small reforms within a fundamentally corrupt system. But the grievance system is the primary way that prisoners can legally fight for their limited rights, and often these rights are tied up with survival and freedom to organize and educate others. We must defend these rights as a key tactical battle in building the anti-imperialist movement within the criminal injustice system.
I was glad to see petitions available concerning the grievance process here in California. Please send me one of those in the self-addressed stamped envelope I've enclosed. I'd also like to say a few words on the grievance process here in California.
The main problem with the grievance process is at the informal level, when a prisoner has to get two responses from staff on a CDCR 22 form. Unless you're challenging something out of the Title 15, the CDCR 22 must be filled out. That's very hard to do, considering most staff just throw them away. The CDCR 22 is designed so that officers can sign it at the door, verifying that it was sent, and give the prisoner a receipt. However, even with the receipt, if the prisoner does not have two staff responses, the appeals coordinator will reject the grievance. The Title 15 Section 3084.3 (b), (c), and Section 3086 (e)(2) allow them to do that.
What we should do is file a grievance on those three Title 15 sections I just listed, requesting that they be changed to state: "One or two signed CDCR 22 receipts requesting remedy or supporting documents that also show that the staff member to whom the CDCR 22 was mailed did not respond within the time limits detailed in Section 3086 (f)(4) and (h) shall be receipted in lieu of requested supporting documents pursuant to Section 3084.3." The legal argument for this is the 14th Amendment (access to courts) and Title 15 Section 3084.1 (right to appeal).
Just jump through the hoops until the grievance is exhausted. Then, write the Prison Law Office and the ACLU and tell them you'd like their help in filing a §1983 suit. Since it's a major issue, a prisoner advocate group will probably pick it up, and the petition distributed by MIM(Prisons) could be used as evidence.
Another good grievance would challenge the Title 15 Section 3123 (b), which gives CDCR the power to limit the law library hours to whatever it wants. Here at Kern Valley State Prison, the law library is open 2 days a week. The Title 15 should be amended to say: "Each law library shall remain open five days a week, for not less than six hours per day." The 14th Amendment should also be cited for that grievance.
MIM(Prisons) responds: CDCR Form 22 is a reform to the CDCR grievance system that was rolled out December 2010 in response to the campaign to End the High Desert State Prison Z-Unit Zoo.(1) Participants of this campaign sent petitions to CDCR administrators and legal protection groups such as the Prison Law Office and the U.S. Department of Justice. An investigation was conducted, prisoners were interviewed, and even some of their demands were met.(2)
But this contributor shows how our struggles for reforms, and even our victories, will be met with more and more red tape under the current power structure. Form 22 was supposedly designed "so that our requests may be answered in a timely fashion by COs, with a receipt. Now we have a clearer paper trail to use should K9s decide to implement their underground rules."(1) But still, there's nothing stopping the COs from simply throwing Form 22s away.
This contributor's suggestion to change some of the language of Title 15 may be an improvement on the current grievance system in California. But until COs and prison administrators acquire a proletarian morality that values the well-being of all people, they will figure out ways to continue to oppress those who they deem as unworthy of basic humyn necessities, and their higher-ups will cover for them. This proletarian morality doesn't develop from procedural changes in prison operations, no matter what documents we amend. Material conditions shape our worldview, and until the material conditions that support national oppression are abolished, the oppressors will continue to justify their sick behaviors.
While we fight for reforms to improve our current conditions, we must accept the necessity of total social change, namely the change from capitalism to socialism. Until then there will always be a trade-off; where one group gains, another loses. We must allow our own acquired proletarian morality to infect our political work and inform the orientation of all the battles we take on.
If you're in a lockdown prison, that is if you are confined to your cell 21 hours a day unless you are attending a school program or a work assignment, there are still ways available that facilitate organizing efforts.
First, put together a collection of prisoner/prison literature and related legal issues, and anti-imperialist publications. Ask anyone and everyone you have contact with if they're interested in reading about these subjects. If they say yes, let them read your publications. After a while, encourage them to obtain their own publications and to "circulate to educate, educate to liberate."
Second, try to obtain a program/work assignment in any one of the following areas: teacher's aid, housing area porter, food service, or law library clerk. Teacher's aids have daily contact with lots of prisoners, the same goes for food service workers. Housing area porters have daily access to all prisoners in the housing area, and law library clerks have daily contact with prisoners from all over the prison plus they usually have access to a photocopy machine operated by prisoners.
"Without struggle there is no progress" - Frederick Douglass
MIM(Prisons) adds: This is good advice, it's important that everyone do what they can within their conditions. And in prison you have to be creative about what's possible. We also offer prisoners on lockdown (and others) the opportunity to study when they are locked in the cell, by joining our study groups. Cell time should be study time, whether it's part of our study group through the mail or studying material on your own. And there are many other productive activities you can do from your cell: writing articles, creating art, translating into Spanish, and writing poetry are just a few examples. Write to us with your own ideas and we'll help you get involved.