Humyn health is perhaps the most basic measure of oppression that we have. More than economic exploitation, humyn health measures the degree to which the basic survival needs of people are being met. Looking at the conditions of health in U.$. prisons, as well as reservations, barrios and ghettos across the United $tates, does not paint a favorable picture of imperialism and its ability to provide for humyn needs, not to mention even worse conditions across the Third World. Given this, health becomes an issue that we can rally the oppressed around to both serve the people and oppose imperialism.
We've been pushing this very issue in United Struggle from Within (USW) circles in California for some months, in some cases leading to state repression. With the recently suspended mass hunger strike in that state, a rash of deaths in Texas and the usual array of abuses across U.$. prisons, we thought this was an opportune time to focus an issue of ULK on health struggles.
Health was a central theme in the California hunger strike where prisoners began to pass out from lack of food and other complications. Bill "Guero" Sell died after a approximately two weeks on hunger strike. The state says it was suicide, but however he died, the SHU was the cause of death. One San Quentin prisoner's kidneys shut down, and many complained of the lack of medical monitoring and the aloofness of medical staff. We have been sending regular updates to comrades in California about what has been going on over the last two months. For those who want to see more reporting in ULK, send in your donations to help reach the goal of $250 to add 4 pages to a future issue.
In at least two Texas prisons we have comrades organizing around the murders of prisoners by staff abuse and neglect, the most basic health campaign. In Texas we also have positive examples of organizing sports as a way to bring people together and improve health. Meanwhile comrades in more restrictive conditions in one California prison were punished for organizing group exercise, calling it "Security Threat Group activity."
The manipulation of people through chemical substances is another common health theme. Many comrades are being denied medications they depend on and facing life-threatening conditions. At the same time oppressed communities fight the use of recreational drugs to oppress their people as seen in the struggle of the Oglala Lakotah. The exposure of this form of low-intensity chemical warfare right here in North America is particularly relevant at a time when the blood-thirsty imperialists have been ramping up for an invasion of Syria based on unsubstantiated claims of chemical weapons use by the government there.
From rotten potatoes in Massachussetts, to inadequate servings in Nevada and people forced to rely on vending machines in Florida, basic nutrition is denied to people in a country where 40% of food is wasted. Recently, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reported that greenhouse gases from global food waste is more than the emissions of any single country except China or the United $tates.(1) Water, another vital resource, is also used to produce all this wasted food. From U.$. prisoners, to the global countryside where malnutrition leads to thousands of deaths daily, to the environmental services that all of humynity depend on, the capitalist profit system has failed to serve humyn need.
We can look to the barefoot doctors in revolutionary China, or the mobile health units of the Black Panther Party or the Young Lords Party as examples of serving the people's basic health needs in a revolutionary context. The Chinese also took a completely different approach to mental illness, which bourgeois society does more to cause than to remedy. Materially, the capitalist economic system can produce enough for everyone, but cannot provide it to them. It's a system that uses the denial of basic health as a form of social control, because if it did not the system would be overthrown. Rather than begging the oppressor for a little relief, let's implement real solutions to these problems.
I must commend you on your continued effort to keep the masses informed. I did receive the latest Under Lock & Key after all the demonstrations reached their pinnacle. People are now in the recovery stage, preparing their total being to reach a strengthening height. I also received the chronology of events leading up to the suspension of the protest. Mail was, and continues not to be a priority as far as delivery is concerned, so it's basically, we get it when we get it. So much was in flux, so, patterns have not set in. I just moved back to this address, we were scattered all over the place.
There are many occurrences that occupied ones time, so I am in the process of hopefully catching up in extending my profoundest respect and gratitude to all the support we received in this massive and historical action. MIM(Prisons) definitely played a critical role in helping propagating and educating the masses which helped us breach through the enormous machinery of our adversarial relations. This large scale struggle would not have been possible without the giant sacrifices of people from civil society. Even as we pursue justice in recognition of our plight, we must remain cognizant to the larger picture of oppressed people. This struggle is basically an aspect of the struggle in civil society against a surveillance state and the erosion of civil liberties.
MIM(Prisons) adds:We have received feedback from a number of comrades since the latest phase of the struggle went on hold saying they are putting the updates we sent to good use for further organizing and building. We are currently working to continue those efforts to reflect and build on what has been achieved.
The movement to end torture in California prisons has certainly reached impressive levels. About time, we might add, after many comrades have faced the torture of the Security Housing Units for decades. And many different types of people and organizations have been pushing this common cause in the ways that they can. Our focus is on facilitating prisoner organizing, and this is a strategic decision in this movement because we see prisoners as the motive force behind it. With all the hard work and important contributions from various sectors, prisoners must continue to come together and stand solidly for this cause for it to succeed. We act in united front with all who oppose torture and demand an end to long-term isolation across the imperialist United $nakes of Amerika.
September 9, 2013 has come and gone, and while the turn out was significantly improved over last year, there is still room for much improvement. This is, of course, reflective of the general malaise which has infected the population concerning prison conditions and prisoner solidarity. But it is also the result of an inability to reliably communicate between units and custody levels here at High Desert (HDSP).
The turn out for this unit was approximately 8% but this may or may not be representative of prison-wide participation. There appears to have been significant participation from our brothers and sisters at Ely State Prison and our utmost respect and gratitude goes out to you all for standing with us. There have been some indications here at HDSP that there is a storm on the horizon and there is currently some discussion and preparation in anticipation. But we must wait until events begin to unfold before embarking on any course of action. This includes pushing September 9, 2014 harder and longer this year.
19 de Agosto, 2013, este día, una corte federal aprovó alimentación forzada a personas que han estado en huelga de hambre en las prisiones de California, para protestar torturas y el aislamiento de largo tiempo, incluyendo los que han estado en huelga de hambre en Guantanamo Bay (Cuba) desde Febrero y han estado sufriendo alimentación forzada, por meses.
La decisión en California llego, después de que pusimos un reporte de un compadre que le negaron suplementos líquidos y colapsó el 21 de Julio, la prision estatal de Corcoran. Varios más han colapso desde tal fecha y el comportamiento del estado ha revelado de que la salud en las prisiones no ha sido de interes. Ellos aplican estrictas reglas para que se cuenten personas en "huelga de hambre," sabiendo que los huelgeros dependen del Estado para que reporten los números de ellos al público, y forzandolos a estas reglas que no dejan ningun substanciado.
El Estado ha usado consistentemente el cuidado de salud como una arma para manipular el rendimiento de los presos en lugar de actuar como custodios de salud y seguridad, como según ellos claman que son. Ahora que los huelgueros tocan condiciones de peligro de vida, el Departamento de Correcciones y Rehabilitación, esta tratando de evitar que practiquen una de las formas más poderosas de protestar que mantienen dentro las celdas de castigo.
La atención que se le ha dado a la situación adentro de las prisiones en California, al momento ha sido sin presidencia y temen que si siguen presos falleciendo, pueden perder el poder de torturar a los presos en el futuro.
La tortura es importante para ellos porque ellos creen que es la mejor arma para prevenir la lucha de los oprimidos hacia el sistema de la injusticia.
La huelga de hambre en curso, construida por décadas, ha iniciado a cambiar esa idea.
Este recién reporte asegura que 70 de 130 prisioneros al momento han estado en huelga de hambre y siguen, desde el 8 de Julio, 2013. Existen grupos de números de prisioneros en California que están listos para empezar huelgas de hambre para apoyar a los 70 (o mas) que han continuado hasta que la batalla altere.
En los meses anteriores hasta el 8 de Julio, 2013, ha sido tal debate de que regresen a la táctica de huelga de hambre, particularmente como atentos anteriores que fueron abortados prematuramente sin ningún cargo del Estado. Pero esas primeras huelgas resonaron entre los oprimidos sobre la región y en particular en California donde 30,000 prisioneros reaccionaron contra el largo interno de castigo el 8 de Julio, 2013.
Conforme llegamos a los 50 días de huelga, y retidas acertaciones de participantes que no van a parar solo por cualquier promesa esta vez, esta batalla esta lleganda a su punto crucial. Al la fecha, las unidades de control han sido armas efectivas de represión, pero si la opresión cría resistencia, entonces estas armas de total control pueden ser derrotadas.
Al ningún otro punto hemos llegado tan cerca a tal meta como a la que estamos ahora. Esos que han y que ponen sus vidas por esta batalla no morirán en vano.
Esos 30,000 y más prisioneros que soportaron esta campaña tienen que tomar cada oportunidad sobre los siguiente meses para generar, organizar, educar para la siguiente fase en esta batalla. Al no tomar este momento - será un fracaso en al movimiento y será más sufrimiento para los encarcelados en masas, en las siguientes décadas.
It was a good fast day for me on the most recent day of Peace and Solidarity, a powerful underground movement. I am in the midst of a lot of things right now and I may be getting transferred soon, I don't want to put the re-mailing cost on you, because I know that there are a lot of people who look forward to your paper. I am also enclosing a few stamps to help out with the financial element of the movement. I'll get in touch as soon as I move.
We had another support strike here on Calipatria's A-Yard from Aug 26 to the 28th. The July 8th support strike went on for 7 days and involved all races. There was also broad refusal to go to work or school. This time around, however, only Mexicans refused food and people still went to work. On top of all that, the food strike was called off right after a race riot broke out on the yard between us (Mexicans), and the whites. We skipped 9 meals but I'm not even sure that the pigs reported this as a hunger strike.
The pigs have clever ways of manipulating our numbers here. During normal program we get a sack lunch as we exit the chow hall after breakfast and I believe they lump this together as one meal because during the July strike they didn't come around to acknowledge that we had skipped 9 meals and ask if we were participating in a hunger strike until after we skipped breakfast on the fifth day. By then about half of the strikers had started eating and going to work. They also followed their question of whether we were on hunger strike by asking if we would allow them to take the food we had in our cells. Many answered "no," others answered "yes." The following day the pigs came around and only bothered with the cells that answered "yes," going right by the cells that answered "no." CDCR claims that confiscating food is done in order to monitor our food intake. They can say that they couldn't start monitoring our food intake until they confiscated the food. If they start counting how many meals you skipped after they took the food then you're not even counted as a hunger striker because we only lasted a day and a half after that.
When they asked if they could remove food items they only accepted yes or no answers. I told the pig over and over that there was no food for them to take but that wasn't even a question. If you answered no then they could say that you acknowledged having food in your cell but wouldn't allow them to take it. They pretty much don't have to count anybody by using these tactics.
We need to go on an indefinite work strike that should last as long as they insist on having indefinite SHU terms, but there's not enough people with jobs in level 4 yards making it easy for CDCR to target those few inmates who refuse to work and replacing them with people from lower levels or PC yards.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This discussion of the latest action in Calipatria underscores the importance of our work to build unity and a United Front before engaging in serious actions. We commend everyone who stands up against the system and puts their lives and health at risk, but without unity we end up with small numbers of protesters and struggle to present a united position to the prison system. As we discussed at length in our article summing up the strike suspension, we don't anticipate the state will meet the strikers demands, but the struggle against torture continues.
For the annual day of peace we pulled together approximately 70 prisoners scattered around the institution. We avoided the cafeteria at all costs and kept our contact with the pigs at a minimum. We had a lot of cats who faked or simply broke weak because of their watered down hearts, but as a whole we are proud to say that you can add Arkansas/Varner unit to the list of participants.
Next year we're going to expand with a stated goal of at least a thousand participants crossing all lines toward producing unity among the poor and oppressed is a struggle that we must take step-by-step, making small gains with each step until we've achieved our goal.
As a mail-based prisoner support organization, the ability to get our mail in to our comrades and subscribers is an essential part of our ability to organize. If we can't get mail in, we can't help lead the anti-imperialist struggle behind bars. We are under no illusion that we'll ever be free from censorship; if our enemy hates us, we're probably doing something right! But the U.$. Constitution and our humynist morality support our insistence on fighting censorship as much as possible so that we can have as big of an impact on the international revolutionary movement as we can.
Often times our subscribers don't even know how much censorship they persynally are experiencing, let alone what's going on around the country. Our annual censorship report gives our subscribers an idea of how much political repression we're facing overall.
This year we started recording our mail in more detail, and removed a lot of flaws in how the data is aggregated (although it's not perfect!). At the bottom of the chart, "% Unconfirmed" tells you how accurate the snapshot is for that reporting year; the lower number the better, because a lower percent of unconfirmed mail means we actually know what happened to more of the mail we've sent in. Unconfirmed mail not only covers up censorship in cases where the prisoner never got the mail but we haven't been made aware of it; it also may exaggerate the level of censorship we're actually facing in a particular facility or state where our mail is actually getting in to some people but they haven't told us. Of course we know the content of our literature is not held in high regard by most prison staff, so assuming we're being censored when we aren't sure what is going on is probably more accurate than not.
A facility is considered to be banning our literature for that reporting year if they have censored two or more items, and no items have been confirmed as received. An entire state is considered to be banning our literature if they have censored any mail, and no mail has been reported as received. Another note on the chart: it is only a snapshot of what is going on with our mail. A facility might be banning us in the same state where we also had victories, or a complete statewide ban may only actually affect a few subscribers (plus the potential new subscribers we might gain if our lit wasn't censored).
To improve our data on the level of censorship we're experiencing, you may receive a list from us of mail we've sent you, asking you to confirm receipt or censorship of each item. This list is called an Unconfirmed Mail Form (UMF). We recommend everyone keep a log of all your mail, incoming and outgoing, with dates received/sent, from/to who, and contents. That way if your mail with us, or anyone, is tampered with, you are one step ahead of the game. And if you get a UMF, you will be able to fill it out accurately rather than guessing. But do not wait to receive a UMF to tell us what you've gotten! When you write to us, you should always tell us what you've gotten from us since the last time you wrote. That will save time and money so we can send in more books and literature.
Facilities banning all our mail in the last reporting year:
Colorado - Arkansas Valley State Prison
Connecticut - Northern Correctional Institution and Northern Supermax this is the second consecutive year in Northern Supermax
Florida - Suwanee Annex
Illinois - Menard Correctional Center (two years in a row)
Michigan - Gus Harrison Correctional Facility
South Carolina - Leiber Correctional Institution
Utah - Central Utah Correctional Facility
Virginia - Hampton Roads Regional Jail (two years in a row)
Wisconsin - Green Bay Correctional Institution and Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution
Facilities banning ULK in the last reporting year:
Connecticut - MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution Reason: "Rejected publication per the Media Review Board"
Florida - Franklin Correctional Institution Reason: MIM investigated as Security Threat Group
Florida - Jackson Correctional Institution No reason given
Illinois - Menard Correctional Center Reasons: "Threat to safety and security"
Michigan - G Robert Correctional Facility No reason given
New York - Riverview Correctional Facility Reasons: "Incites disobedience, describes gang activity"
North Carolina - Marion Correctional Institution Reasons: "MIM Distributors on disapproved publication list," "encourages insurrection"
North Carolina - Warren Correctional Institution Reason: "On ban list"
Pennsylvania - State Correctional Institution Waymart Reasons: "Unauthorized enclosure" and no reason given
Wisconsin - Wisconsin Secure Program Facility No reason given
Florida is also attempting to classify Under Lock & Key as a "Security Threat Group," which would likely make all mail from MIM Distributors banned as gang-related, and subject anyone in possession of mail from us to disciplinary action. We have not received an update on this process since April. We do know that for a couple years Florida was a booming United Struggle from Within state, and some of our more active comrades have recently asked to be removed from our mailing list for fear of repression. We aren't sure whether the administration is threatening parole eligibility or physical abuse, or other forms of torture such as solitary confinement; or if they've already gone ahead and beaten the shit out of these comrades to get them to stop talking to us. Yet we've seen this enough times to know that something like that is going on. It's incredible the lengths Amerikans will go to to keep someone who's already locked up in prison from doing something as innocuous as reading a newsletter, participating in a study group, and talking to other humyn beings.
A popular reason for citing censorship in Nevada has been "Per AR 750... Address labels are unauthorized." Our guess is that this policy of the Nevada Department of Corrections would not hold up in court as being reasonably related to penological interests and the safety of the institution. A subscriber in Nevada who has been missing mail due to this rule should take on this struggle in a lawsuit! Another comrade in that state reported that prison officials have admitted ULK is not banned, but now they are resorting to "unofficial censorship" by simply throwing out incoming and outgoing mail. This is another reason why it's important to track your correspondence.
Victories and Struggles
Appealing censorship and filing grievances can lead to small but significant victories. The victories in Arizona, Pennsylvania, and on the Federal level are attributed solely to prisoners filing appeals of the censorship, without any supporting letters from MIM Distributors. Of course not all appeals will be granted, and we don't expect to ever be completely free of censorship from the state. But we encourage everyone to at least attempt to appeal all censorship of their mail. Send us copies of your documents and we can publicize and track them on our website www.prisoncensorship.info.
In the last year we've focused much energy on fighting censorship in Missouri and North Carolina. In Missouri we've met some success with letter writing, but in North Carolina it has been a different story. After a surge in USW activity in North Carolina, every issue of Under Lock & Key has been placed on their ban list for over 3 years straight. Upon appeal, not only do North Carolina prisoncrats tend to simply uphold the decision of the lower level with no explanation, but when asked to explain how their "independent" review process works, we are given no response. When we filed a public records request with the state, the only documents they had to demonstrate that the independent review process existed was a stack of the original censorship notifications, further putting into question the existence of the "review process." We have comrades working on this case in North Carolina who could benefit greatly from some additional legal assistance.
Multiple subscribers in Illinois have volunteered to assist MIM(Prisons) in fighting censorship in that state, and one has two lawsuits pending on this issue. While ULK is not getting in at all in some facilities in the state, some of our subscriber-volunteers are able to receive ULK and copies of the censor documentation. Also they are intimately familiar with the mail rules and appeal procedures in their state. Although it is a slower process for volunteers on theinside working via mail, this has been a very beneficial campaign, and one that anyone with legal knowledge can contribute to in their own state. MIM(Prisons) facilitates a Prisoners' Legal Clinic (PLC) to help jailhouse lawyers plug into projects that will push forward the collective legal knowledge and experience of the anti-imperialist movement behind bars. Write in to get involved! Any lawyer or law student who is interested in helping prisoners push forward these anti-censorship lawsuits should contact us.
In late August 2013, in an unprecedented move, the head of the Texas Prison Guard Union, Mr. Lance Lowry, joined a lawsuit filed against TDCJ by Scott Medlock of the Texas Civil Rights project. Mr. Medlock has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Brad Livingston, the Executive Director of TDCJ on behalf of the families of 14 prisoners who died because of neglect and the oppressive extreme heat in Texas prison facilities.
This announcement comes on the cusp of many revelations that TDCJ continues to engage in behavior which shows a blatant disregard for the health and safety not just of prisoners housed in their facilities, but a blatant lack of care or respect for their employees also. However, my focus is on the prisoner because I am a prisoner. I stand in solidarity with the prisoners housed on the Connally Unit in Kennedy, Texas whose water supply was taken from them by a Warden who has ignored the basic human needs of the prisoners in her care.
Prisoners at Connally Unit are on water rations, they are being denied showers, and they can't flush their toilets! They are being forced to live in the heat and the filth because TDCJ decided to give the water well that serviced the prison to the residents of Kennedy!
In August we learned that Brad Livingston approved the spending of $750,000 on 5 climate controlled buildings for pigs! Literally, the Agency of TDCJ has spent three quarters of a million dollars on pigs which prisoners raise for consumption in TDCJ. Prisoners are dying down here Brad, what the hell are you doing?
But it gets better comrades. The American Correctional Association (ACA) has even made Brad Livingston the current chair of the organization that makes policies for all Amerikan prisons and jails across the United $tates. When the subject of heat-related safety precautions came across his desk, Mr. Livingston decided no heat standards were needed! So as we clearly see ACA is a sham and a fraud!
The fact that the head of the Prison Guard Union in Texas joined the lawsuit against TDCJ is a sign that prison officials like Brad Livingston have been passing misinformation and disinformation about the conditions in TDCJ for years. Soon a murder cover-up will be exposed with Brad Livingston being a chief culprit.
If you were thinking about joining USW and are housed in one of Texas's many gulags where inhumane treatment is the status quo and norm, now's the time. As Bobby used to say, we must Seize the Time! I don't know who got first down, but we got next!
MIM(Prisons) adds: This is a good example of the oppressed taking advantage of contradictions among the oppressors. It is rare that we can unite with part of the criminal injustice system against another part, but in the case of this lawsuit, if we can play some prisoncrats off against others, we can work this to the favor of the oppressed. Even better, and rarer, is when oppressors see the injustice and side with the oppressed, actively biting the hand that feeds them.
These preventable deaths from heat are a sad but clear example of the waste of humyn life under imperialism. A system that values profit over people, imperialism will never fix the problems with the criminal injustice system. But we can win some small reforms, and prevent some deaths, while exposing the system and building a movement that can take it down and put a system of people's justice in its place.
Under the pretense of not allowing any harm to befall me, I was placed in Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg). Texas law states inmates in Ad-Seg must be afforded at least one hour a day, every day, out of their cell for exercise and/or meaningful recreation. I stayed in Ad-Seg for approximately nine months, and at no time was I granted any time out of my cell. I suffered significantly due to this cage. Without exercise my muscles atrophied and now cause me severe pain. My mental state declined greatly, with horrible depression, thoughts of suicide, all around mental anguish.
Well, I wrote several grievances about these deplorable conditions, all of which were denied (of course). Then, I filed a formal complaint against Harris County Jail with Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS). TCJS then responded that the "24 hour" lockdown was appropriate and they will not pursue the issue any further. I took the next step and filed a lawsuit (form 1983) against the jail, the Sheriff of Harris County, the Mayor and Captain over the detention bureau. I stated that they violated my 8th Amendment right (to be free from cruel and unusual punishment) as well as my 14th Amendment right (the right to due process). This civil action was filed 4 April 2012. There have been multiple motions filed both on the plaintiff's side and the defendant's. One mistake got me close to the case being thrown out. It seems inmates in county jails on "detention centers" are not protected under the 8th Amendment. They get to decide who is worthy or not of receiving rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
My case is still in the works, but when I get my day in court in front of a jury I'm confident I will win this lawsuit. I am suing not only for monetary compensation, but I'm trying to help my fellow comrades by asking the judge to declare this 24-hour lockdown illegal and immoral, and order the jail to cease and desist this barbaric practice.
MIM(Prisons) adds: In our ongoing struggle against control units we have seen the dramatic and detrimental health effects of this system of torture for social control. Even the United Nations has condemned long-term solitary confinement in Amerikan prisons. But still prisons and even jails continue to use this practice. This is not surprising since we see these units used as a tool of social control. Prisoners who fight the system in any way, or are perceived as educators or organizers of other prisoners, are isolated to try to limit their work. We have been collecting statistics on control units because there are no public numbers on the scope of this torture. To help with this project write to us for a survey about control units in your state.