Most of us have lost our old world ways in Amerika's miracle whip consumer culture. For white people this is particularly true. Our grandparents or great-grandparents came to Amerika and abandoned their ancestral old world customs. Most did so in the belief they had to leave behind the old ways in order to succeed in Amerika. They even kept old world customs and mythology — essentially their native cultural practices — away from their children. Old cultures were forgotten for imperialist, capitalist greed.
Eventually we all search for identity. Unfortunately all too often when our white youth seek identity, they find it in the false belief of their supremacy in the color of their skin. This is because the white imperialist elite actively push this notion. Often whites seeking identity come from the lumpen class. The lower classes of all peoples tend to want to seek an identity because they are disenfranchised from the upper classes who are ignorantly content to unquestioningly follow the U.$. consumer culture.
Because we have not taught our white youth about being proud of their ancestral cultural heritage, white supremacist and separatist groups are quick to jump in and teach them the only thing they have to be proud of is the color of their skin and the false notion of supremacy that comes from living in a society controlled by a white imperialist elite.
As responsible citizens of the world, if we were to teach our white youth the value of their ancestral cultural heritage, it is my experience that we teach them to value other peoples' cultures as well. This would alleviate white cultural envy, which in my experience is one of the driving factors that leads young whites on a search for identity. If we responsible and sensible members of the world recognize this and teach our white youth the value of their native culture and the value of other peoples' native cultures before the white imperialist elite can turn them into foot soldiers fighting blindly for their cause, then we can begin the steps of destroying the false notion of white supremacy.
If we are going to be successful revolutionary comrades in our fight against this oppressive system, especially our prisons, we all need to unite peoples from all ethnic backgrounds. We all have native cultural practices to be proud of, and that includes whites. Though re-educating those who believe in their supremacy or in separatism may be difficult, it is essential that it happens and that we attempt the process with care and compassion, not threats of violence.
As a former racist skinhead I know what I've written to be true. I had to re-educate myself. On the outside, I formed an organization whose goal was to combat hatred using peaceful non-violent tactics. I have worked with dozens of racist skinheads, helping to re-educate them, and have witnessed drastic transformations creating informed and educated revolutionary comrades. I continue my work from my prison cell. Drugs and robberies may have taken me out of society, but I have found ways to keep my eye on the prize even while incarcerated. The goal to unify us all is too great to be forsaken.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We share this comrade's goal to eliminate white supremacy, and we agree that it is often the poorest whites who end up taking up these fascist positions. But this writer misses a key reason behind this drive to racism for poor whites: the economic system of imperialism has created a parasitic labor aristocracy out of the white nation within imperialist borders. This labor aristocracy rallies around the ideology of social democracy, which for some manifests as overt white supremacy. Those on the economic bottom of this labor aristocracy are most easily turned against the oppressed nations with racism.
Even as prisoners, whites have typically developed close ties to their "brothers" who run the prisons that hold them. That said, we organize the imprisoned lumpen as a class, and work to unite with as many white prisoners as we can around resisting the oppression of prisoners.
While there is some interesting and important cultural history among whites in Amerika, who came from a variety of European countries, the overwhelming cultural history is colonialist and not something to celebrate. The invasion of this country, massacre of indigenous people, enslavement of oppressed nations, and plunder of the world is the unfortunate legacy of the white nation. We don't want to encourage white youth to embrace this history and culture, rather we want to help them reject this reactionary legacy and take up work on the side of the majority of the world's people. We study the past to understand the world, to transform the present, and to determine the future.
In this issue on release (ULK24), we are featuring United Playaz in San Francisco, California, to give our comrades inside an idea of what some formerly-imprisoned people are doing to contribute to the struggle for peace since they've been out. Many staff members and volunteers with United Playaz (UP) have spent time in the prison system. MIM(Prisons) got the opportunity to interview one such staff-persyn, Rico, who spent 25 years in the California prison system. Rico is a former-gangbanger-turned-peace-advocate; a lifestyle change that many readers of Under Lock & Key can relate to.
United Playaz provides services to youth, including after-school programs and tours inside prisons, in an attempt to pull them out of the school-to-prison pipeline and (the potential for) violent activity, helping them refocus on their education. UP's mission statement reads,
United Playaz is a violence prevention and youth leadership organization that works with San Francisco's hardest to reach youth through case management, street outreach, in-school services, recreational activities at community centers, and support to incarcerated youth. United Playaz is committed to improving the lives of young people surviving in vulnerable environments, [who] show high incidence of truancy and low academic performance, or have been involved in the juvenile justice system through direct service and community collaboration. United Playaz believes that "it takes the hood to save the hood".
Rico explains how he first got involved with United Playaz,
In 1994 I was incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison. And at the time Rudy [UP's Executive Director] was bringing a bunch of troubled youth and youth that are involved in the juvenile system and kind of just showed them a glimpse of what's the result of making a bad decision. And that's where I met Rudy. And Rudy saw me work with the kids, and then he found out that I lived in the neighborhood that he was serving the youth and he asked me, "When you get released I want you to check out our program and see if you want to work with United Playaz." So like in 2005 I finally got out after 25 years of incarceration and first I volunteered. And then once there was an opening, a job opening, Rudy hired me as a CRN, a community response network. It's a job that at night we go and do outreach, and drive around the city and just talk to the kids that are hanging out on the street.
MIM(Prisons) asked Rico about the importance of building a United Front for Peace in Prisons, and the challenges faced by such an endeavor.
Back in 1982 we formed a protest while I was in San Quentin. You know, prisoners used to have rights. We had the rights to see our family when they come see us. We had the right to get an education. We had a lot of rights. But slowly they took that away and now they have no rights. If you wanna get a visit, you have to work. If you don't work, you don't get a visit.
So anyway the Asian, Latino, the African American, the Caucasian, we all got together and say, "You know what? Let's all sit down. Nobody goes to work, nobody go to school, nothing." And prison really depends on prisoners. Cuz you have jobs there, that requires like maybe $35,000 a year job, they let the prisoner do that job and get paid like $18 a month. So they're saving a lot of money using prisoners to run the prison system, right? So when we sit down, when we shut down, man, they gave us what we want and everything like back to normal and everything smooth.
There's always incident in the pen, like prisoners hurting each other, but that's a good example that when, how do you say - together we stand, divided we fall. So you know if we are united man a lot of violence in here will probably diminish tremendously, right? Cuz the people inside, they'll preach peace out here. And a lot of kids that are doing bad behavior out here, they're influenced by a lot of prisoners inside the pen. But right now there's no peace. There's no peace. ...
Well, there is [organizing for peace and unity inside prisons] but you have to do it on the under because one thing administration, prison administration don't want you to do is to organize and try to bring peace. In prison they want us to be divided. You know what I mean? So there's ways that we can organize but it has to be on the under.
It is ridiculous that prisoners have to discuss how to go about not killing each other in secret, so as to not upset the prison administrators' paychecks! But this is not the only anti-people development to come from the evolution of the criminal injustice system, which is designed solely to protect capitalism and its beloved profit motive. Rico explains some of the consequences of deciding who stays in and who gets out in a capitalist society,
The more you treat a prisoner like an animal, when they come out they act like animal out here. I mean one time I was in segregation unit, in the hole. This guy he was so violent that he can't be out in the mainline, right? Anyway it was time for him to go. So when they let him out, he was handcuffed out the building, across the yard, in a van, right? And they drop him off outside. When they drop him off they just uncuffed him, "You're free." How can we help someone like that, to be out here? If he's so violent inside that he needs to be segregated, how can they let someone out like that? So if he commit a crime out here, that's gonna look bad on a lot of prisoners. And they have more power to say, "See what happens when we release these guys out?"
But there's guys in there that are doing better than I do - that they can do better than what I do out here, and yet they still locked up in the pen, because of politics. There's a lot of em, a lot of em man. I know some of em personally that should have been out you know and giving back. And they can do a lot of contribution out here to bring peace. How can we get those guys out?
Our answer to Rico's question is that the only way to get all those guys out, for good, is to organize for socialism and then communism. Any reforms we make to the prison system as it is now may let some people out, but as long as capitalism exists people will be exploited and oppressed. This leads to resistance, both direct and indirect, and prison is for those who don't play by the rules. In socialism, everyone has a role to play in society and state oppression is only used against those who try to oppress others.
When the economic system changes to value people over profit, prisons will also change. In China under Mao, Allyn and Adele Rickett were two Amerikan spies in China who wrote a book titled "Prisoners of Liberation" about their experience as prisoners of the Communist Party of China. Their experience taught them that when prisoners have completed self-criticism and are ready to contribute to society, they will be released. On the other side, when prisoners are doing harm to society (such as organizing to reinstitute a capitalist economic system) they are not allowed to be released just because their term is up. Instead they are encouraged to study, read, discuss, and do self-criticism until they become productive members of society.
Anyone with a sympathetic bone in their body can tell what was going on in China under Mao is a much more useful mode of imprisonment than what we have at present. The difference between the liberal and MIM(Prisons) is we know the only way to get there is through socialist revolution so that the prison system is in the hands of those currently oppressed by it.
Another present day challenge we discussed with UP was its goal to be financially self-sufficient in the future. Rico explains the current limitations that come with getting state funding,
If it's up to us, we're gonna go hard, and really fight for peace. But because we're fund[ed] by DCYF [San Francisco's Department of Children, Youth, & Their Families], they limit our movement. We can't even participate, or like rally. If there's a Occupy rally right now, we can't go, cuz our organization are prevented from doing things like that. And I think that's important, that we're out there with the rest of the people that are trying to fight for change. Every year we do a Silence the Violence Peace March. That's okay, you know, Martin Luther King, marches like that, we're okay to do that. But when it's like budgets, and crime, and about prison, you know, rally to try to bring those those things down, we can't really participate. ...
What's going on outside the youth can affect them in the future if things don't change. And why wait til those kids get old and take em to expose them to march and fight for your rights? You know I love to take these young adults to a movement like that, cuz that gives em knowledge of life, that there's more than just hanging out on the street. But unfortunately we're not allowed to participate in that kind of movement.
We have learned from history that these limitations aren't unique to UP's financial situation. For the non-profit in the United $tates, similar to "aid" given to Third World countries, capitalists always ensure their money is working in favor of their interests. This is why one of the points of unity of the United Front for Peace in Prisons is "Independence." Money is too easy to come by in this country, while good revolutionaries are too hard to find. Liberation has always been powered by people. So we agree with Rico on the importance for striving for autonomy.
Until then, positive steps can certainly be made within these limitations. There are many levels to our movement and many roles to play in building peace and unity among the lumpen. And without groups like UP reaching the youth on the streets, efforts like the United Front for Peace in Prisons will be too one-sided to succeed.
To close, Rico shares these words with comrades preparing for release,
The only thing I can say is that as long as you're alive there's hope. And if they really want to go home, then do the right thing, regardless. And they gotta stand up for their rights man. And they have to just try to get along with each other and think about peace, because they are needed out here. The experience they have in the pen, they can save a lot of lives out here, with their younger brothers and sisters that look for real guidance from someone who's been there and done that. Good luck, I hope they get out and be out here and help our system change to a better place.
As a "free citizen" you have much greater freedom to organize on the outside compared to in prison, even on probation or parole. Your activism shouldn't end with your prison term!
"La brutalidad del encarcelamiento Supermax" Comité en Derechos Humanos Internacionales del Colegio de Abogados de la Ciudad de NY Septiembre 2011
Este reporte se abordó el crecimiento dramático de las facilidades de encarcelamiento "supermax" en los Estados Unidos durante las últimas tres décadas y destaca las condiciones de tortura y violaciones de las leyes domésticas e internacionales. Como una introducción al aislamiento a largo plazo en las prisiones de los Estados Unidos, y un resumen de casos y leyes pertinentes, este reportaje es un recurso excelente.
El reportaje cita cálculos que 80,000 prisioneros "…sufren condiciones de extrema depravación sensorial por meses o años sin fin, una experiencia agudísimo en lo cual el prisionero se mantiene aislado de cualquier contacto humano." Artículos en Under Lock & Key regularmente testifican a esta tortura que los prisioneros confrontan en aislamiento de largo plazo. Los autores observan que los cálculos son abiertamente variables y los números totales de gente en Supermax no se conocen. MIM(prisiones) ha dirigido su propio estudio para recopilar estadísticas en prisioneros de unidades de control y estimamos que hay cerca de 110,000 prisioneros en este momento en aislamiento de largo plazo.
Los autores concluyen correctamente sobre estas condiciones tortuosas: "La póliza del encarcel-amiento supermax, en la escala en la cual se ha estado aplicando en los Estados Unidos, viola derechos humanos básicos." Aunque MIM(prisiones) haría la pregunta cómo esta póliza estaría bien si la escala fuera menor. Esta advertencia de la "escala" es posible porque los autores fallan en dirigirse al sistema que determina quien se encarcela en aislamiento y porque son puestos allí.
Como parte de un resumen de casos legales y leyes pertinentes, el reporte nota que las cortes han fallado en dirigirse a esta tortura, la cual los autores consideran una violación de la octava enmienda: "con tal que el prisionero reciba comida y refugio adecuado, la extrema depravación de sentido que caracteriza supermax encarcelamiento deberá, bajo los leyes presentes, casi siempre será considerado adentro del límite de tratamiento permisible." Demuestran algunas de las dificultades legales en probar una violación de la octava enmienda, incluye la adición de la carga legal de la Acta de la Ley para la Reforma del Litigio Penitenciario (PLRA) la cual requiere que prisioneros presenten daños físicos antes de someter una acción de daños sufridos en custodia.
Los autores describen cómo el encarcelamiento supermax viola las leyes internacionales basadas en la Declaración Universal de Derechos Humanos, La Convención Americana de Derechos Humanos, La Norma Mínima de Reglas para el Tratamiento de Prisioneros de la ONU, El Convenio Internacional de Derechos Civiles y Políticos, y La Convención contra la Tortura, entre otros. Ellos notan que la ley internacional no ha sido un factor para cortes estadounidenses en estos casos y llaman por cambio en este aspecto.
El reportaje concluye con las siguientes recomendaciones:
1) Las provisiones en la PLRA estipulando que los prisioneros demandantes no pueden recuperar daños "sin demostrar daño físico primero " debería ser revocado; 2) Prisioneros con enfermedades mentales serias nunca deberían de ser sujeto al encarcelamiento supermax; 3) Las condiciones de aislamiento extremo y restricción deberían ser impuestos sólo cuando una amenaza extrema y seria a la seguridad de la prisión ha sido establecido, y aun así en dichas circunstancias el encarcelamiento supermax debería ser por el tiempo mínimo posible, y los prisioneros se les debe de proporcionar con el procedimiento debido, y la oportunidad para disputar el encarcelamiento y apelar el encarcelamiento; 4) Cualquier forma de vivienda segregada debería de proveer formas de estimulación significante mental, físico y social; 5) Una agrupación nacional debería ser establecida para que reporten de pronto los números de prisioneros siendo detenidos en encarcelamiento supermax en prisiones estatales y federales y sus condiciones de encarcelamiento, y proponer legislativa adicional y reformas administrativas.
Como filántropos, decimos aislamiento a largo plazo es tortura y debe ser anulado inmediatamente, y como hemos discutido en otras partes, no estamos de acuerdo con punto 2 como campaña en que justifica el uso de tortura contra los resistentes más fuertes mientras malinterpreta la relación verdadera entre aislamiento de largo plazo y enfermedad mental.
Si implementado, las recomendaciones del comité reduciría ciertamente el número de prisioneros sufriendo en aislamiento de largo plazo, y son por lo tanto recomendaciones progresivas por un Colegio de Abogados que trabaja dentro del sistema de justifica que utiliza el encarcelamiento supermax como una herramienta de control social. Pero este mismo sistema, que ellos han apuntado ha demostrado su voluntad de ignorar la ley y actuar afuera de las normas de decencia común establecido por la octava amienda, seguramente no se puede confiar para determinar "cuando una extrema y seria amenaza a la seguridad de la prisión se ha establecido."
Los autores ignoran el amplio contexto del encarcelamiento supermax y su uso en los Estados Unidos. Como hemos reportado en un artículo en la historia de unidades de control: "La verdad detrás de las razones que estas unidades de control son necesitadas es que son un recurso político, económico y control social de todo una clase de opresos y gente privados de sus derechos. Estos incluyen especialmente africanos, latinos y gente indígena que son una parte desproporcionada en poblaciones de unidades controladas." Prisiones en los Estados Unidos son un suelo de crianza de resistencia contra el sistema que injustificadamente encierra segmentos de su populación y las unidades supermax se necesita para controlar aún más la educación y la organización inevitable que se produce entre los que se enfrentan cara a cara con la injusticia criminal del sistema
Mientras que este reporte es útil por las citaciones legales y el estudio de los daños causados por el aislamiento de largo plazo, es importante que lo pongamos en un contexto más amplio del sistema de injusticia criminal y entender que la tortura supermax no se puede reformar dentro este sistema. Esperamos hacer algunos mejoramientos significantes que tendrán un impacto particular en las vidas de nuestras camaradas políticos detrás de rejas que son el blanco de encarcelamiento en estas celdas de aislamiento, y en esa batalla nos unimos con el Colegio de Abogados de la Ciudad de NY y muchas otras que claramente miran la injusticia y inhumanidad del aislamiento supermax.
Prisioneros interesados en una copia de este reporte deben contactar la New York City Bar Association a 42 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036
I never got to read the piece on "strategic retreat" by Loco1 due to heavy censorship here, but wish to respond to the discussion in ULK24 titled Advance the California Hunger Strike through Strategic Unity and Criticism. First, the struggle spear-headed by SHU prisoners is not exclusive to SHU prisoners. This struggle includes all prisoners, not just in California but more broadly throughout Amerikkka. The dehumanizing treatment of prisoners is experienced by all prisoners at some point just as sure as Brown and Black people out in society are both hunted and rounded up, stopped and frisked by the thousands daily and shot and killed unarmed by the imperialist's first line of defense on a regular basis. Prisoners in Amerika are abused, oppressed, repressed, exploited and murdered either outright or by other means, i.e. denying medical treatment, etc. Of course some prisons are more brutal to its prisoners than others but make no mistake about it - we are all brutalized! SHUs by their very nature are torture kamps period.
This environment would thus produce more resistance just as one will find more resistance to imperialism in a Third World country than in say Amerika or England. The oppressed nations are still oppressed regardless if they are in this country or that country even if it is at a different level. So too are all prisoners oppressed whether in SHU or mainline. And I do agree that in the 2011 strike efforts SHU prisoners have been the vanguard in propelling and boldly arousing the thousands of prisoners to the call of action, our efforts were international as prisoners in other countries such as Canada and Australia even joined the strike in solidarity with Pelican Bay prisoners and thus with all prisoners in Amerika. Activists in Canada dropped a banner on the jail proclaiming its prisoners were hunger striking with Pelican Bay and so the banner read 'from Pelican Bay to Collins Bay'. So yes SHU prisoners spearheaded this mass effort but it should not become common for prisoners to rely on the "Pelican Bay vanguard" as this is dangerous.
When a movement is focused on a leader or a certain group... if these leaders are imprisoned, neutralized or corrupted the movement crumbles. One of the strengths of the current 'Occupy Wall Street Movement' is that it is a united front with no 'leader' or cadre group leading the pack. The state hates this and unleashes its propaganda machine to smut the OWS movement up as 'not being sure what they want' or 'not having leaders'. The state wants public 'leaders' to neutralize and take down as they have done for the past hundred years whenever a group rises up in Amerika.
Of course there is a role for leaders as vanguard whether they be in prison or out in society, but it's a dangerous road for the movement when people begin to rely on the "Pelican Bay vanguard" and take on the attitude of "I'm not going to strike or protest this or that because Pelican Bay isn't doing it right now" or if an injustice comes up in a prison in say North Dakota etc, and the prisoners say "well I'll wait until Pelican Bay rises up again." Some may even go so far as beginning to think that say prisoners in Hawaii are striking and they are in Alaska and they may say "well it's not the Pelican Bay prisoners I'm not partaking." This happens even here in California where if an action is not including Pelican Bay prisoners its looked at half-heartedly and many lose interest in 'rising up.' This is a real problem, one that I hope to combat in its infancy as I see the damage this brings to future struggles and it really retards the political development of prisoners into participants rather than individual leaders themselves.
What we must keep in mind is prisons today are much different than what prisons were in the days of Attica or Santa Fe, etc. Today prisoners are more controlled; prison activists are quickly targeted, separated and isolated from the prison mass. More and more control units are designed to house the revolutionary prisoners. Even on a "mainline" of level four prisons in California you only go out to yard with the roughly 200 prisoners in your block, with the other 800 or so in their cells waiting their turn. Some places only half a block goes out so 100 or less are out at a time. The state has begun to implement these methods past Attica and past Santa Fe to tighten their control on the prison population and attempt to smother any future embers of resistance. So as the state attempts to divide and conquer the prison population, prisoners often find themselves alone or with only a handful of conscious prisoners engaged in activism. It is these conscious prisoners that should be as matter - in constant motion constantly doing your thing to push the momentum.
And so although SHU prisoners have been the vanguard thus far I disagree with the writer when s/he says "The SHU prisoners are the vanguard in the struggle and it is up to them if the movement moves forward or dies a humiliating death." I believe this type of thinking is an error and incorrect. SHU prisoners, nor any prisoners who form the united front, consist as a centralized party, nor was this strike movement built with any hierarchy. And although I largely agree that the prison vanguard can be found in SHU, to say whether the movement "moves forward or dies" is up to SHU prisoners kind of reduces the larger prison masses (general population) to bystanders or frees them from responsibility should the movement die "a humiliating death" as the writer put it. SHU prisoners are extremely limited in their ability to operate, we are deprived to the point of it being torture. In some cases no mail period is allowed to or from a prisoner. In other cases any time one leaves a cell in shackles a team of guards with camcorder walk recording ones every step!
What we need to do is emphasize the responsibility of those on the general populations (mainlines) to learn from the international effort that was unleashed and begin to boldly arouse the imprisoned masses to get used to demanding human decency where it does not exist, to become familiar with refusing to be dehumanized, refusing to be exploited and refusing to be abused out on the mainlines. Small efforts and strikes, even when domestic (confined to one's prison) whether victorious or not, work to condition the imprisoned masses to the beautiful concept of resistance. A rally around lockdowns, food or educational/vocational opportunities quickly forages a footprint on the psyche and revolutionary spirit of those who participate in a grievance of some sort and teaches the priceless lesson of practice. Theory goes only so far in any struggle, at some point the baby must stand and take its own steps and this is a truly liberating and transforming experience that works to build on future efforts concerning a united front.
Every gulag in every state of Amerika is capable of injecting the movement with a second wind. It is up to every prisoner to begin to think of themselves as having the potential to move the movement forward or letting it die a humiliating death regardless of what prison or what state you dwell in! What holds any movement back is the will of the people to overcome what seems in our way. Mao said "a single spark can start a prairie fire" which has proven true time and again.
The fact that this effort included all LOs already shows that LOs comprehend the need to come together in a common effort; that hurdle has been completed. It is important that the imprisoned masses understand the concept of protracted struggle: it is a long drawn out effort in which, while practice is performed, the people are constantly studying and sharpening our ideologies. In this way we are wearing out the oppressor while building up the people politically.
I disagree with the proposal of the writer that we should focus on the debriefing process as our primary focus. I think this will work to divide the people. The problem is not all prisoners in SHU are validated for "debriefing" information, as many people's validation did not even use information from debriefing. Besides that we need to come high and see what unfolds. I do believe debriefing should be one of the demands but not the sole focus. In dealing with prison strikes and grievances I have found it more effective to make a list of demands and after its all over you may get one or two granted. I believe the demand to close the SHU needs to be at the forefront and I'm surprised it was not included in the five demands of the strikes.
Whether the state will actually comply or not should never affect our choice in a strike, but the demand to close the SHU should be at the front of our rallying cry as it generates a broader support system, it is a uniting force like no other for prisoners. Every state has a control unit whether it's called a SHU, SMU, etc. Of course we will always have other demands depending on the prison or oppressive circumstances of each facility but the primary demand, the most important should always be "Close down the control units!" Control units equal torture, this has been agreed by even the United Nations. The U.$. Supreme Court recently ruled California prisons in general amount to cruel and unusual punishment so it is a fact, let us now raise public opinion to this fact and in the process we will win "winnable" battles on meals, debriefing etc, and along the way the people will be energized by these winnable battles.
These small victories help keeping our eye, as well as the public's, on the most important aspect of our movement and that is to close the torture chambers known as SHU, SMU, etc. Whether we are victorious in this main demand in one year or twenty years is not what we should gauge our 'victory' with. Rather we should recognize conscious lifting and prison mass that is brought deeper into the struggle in the process - this is a true victory for the people.
It is true that we need to develop a strategic vision and understanding to move the movement forward and build what has already been laid down. This strategy should stem from a court analysis not only of the SHU environment but of the entire Amerikan prison system as this is what kind of movement we should be shooting for. ULK reaches many prisoners who can and will take these nutrients and flourish not just with the theory put for them in ULK but build on this and adapt it to each persyn's specific environment.
In California I see abolishing the 3 strikes law as worthy of a demand. The right to medical care is another. Contact visits for all. Access to direct sunlight. Nutritious food and access to all vitamin supplements, protein powders and other means to stay healthy. The abolishment of the use of solitary confinement. Abolish the debriefing system. Abolish censorship. Get parole dates and stop this denial for subjective reasons. The use of control units in Amerika is frowned upon by many people in society, from religious, activist, even some bourgeois liberals and actors oppose control units. The 2.4 million prisoners and their friends who oppose control units, some may not know they exist but all in all this is where we gain our most traction and support, it is precisely where we should start. I believe it is prison activists best organizing tool given to us complements of imperialism, we should not allow this opportunity to wither away.
There are crucial points that should be addressed in future efforts whether these efforts manifest in Pelican Bay or in a prison in North Dakota. The five demands were good, but as I pointed out above there are certainly more pressing issues that need to surface. The thing is to constantly improve on any effort one is involved in; move forward, not simply reproduce what occurred in Pelican Bay's torture chambers, but produce a stronger and more spectacular effort the next round. The Cultural Revolution was launched to unleash the people and have them not simply follow Mao's lead. It was to have the people themselves lead society to struggle in all different spheres, to push the "vanguard" forward, move society with all the creative energy of the masses and transform society and the vanguard.
This is what the 2011 strike movement should do to prisoners across Amerika, it should unleash the people's will to resist, uncork the desire to cast off oppression in every dungeon and every prison cell across Amerika and to teach not to just do like we do or say what we say but allow your dignity as men and wimmin to rise above your oppression and create two, three Pelican Bay movements for your humanity and become a force that awakens prison activism wherever you are no matter how many stand with you. A single street vendor in Tunisia sparked revolution in different countries! Realize your abilities, they are powerful in a concrete tomb. So take my shackled hand and I'll take yours and let's pull our way to freedom!
MIM(Prisons) responds: As we've expressed elsewhere, we do not abdicate leadership in the prison movement. We have much unity with what cipactli writes here in regards to organizing strategies that are decentralized and that protect their leaders. However, we do recognize the need for political leadership that s/he hints at. We recognize that the scientific endeavor that is revolutionary struggle produces scientific knowledge. And certain individuals and groups will possess and understand this knowledge before others. The Occupy movement is a mass movement that attempts to prevent any small group from taking control of it and defining it's politics. Such an approach can be a great learning experience in a budding mass movement. But such a movement will be very limited in what it can achieve, and just as has happened with the Occupy movement, a leadership will quickly come forth despite the claims to the contrary. That is why the scientific approach is to recognize and utilize leadership, utilizing real accountability and real democracy.
I am currently at Apalachee Correctional Institution - West Unit. There are 2 units here: East Unit, which houses approx 1300 prisoners and West unit, which houses approx 875 prisoners. I have spent time in confinement at both units.
The East Unit Disciplinary Confinement (DC) segregation section consists of three dorms with 28 cells each housing two men. So it holds 168 at maximum capacity, and is always full. In DC we are on 24-hour lockdown. Showers are allowed three times a week in cold water, with approximately three minutes to wash. We receive 3-4 hours of recreation in a dog cage every Saturday after 30 days in. The size of the cage is around 15x8 feet.
The East Unit also has another dorm known as Administrative Confinement (AC). We are placed there until it is decided we go to DC or get let out. Reasons we go to AC include disciplinary reports, investigations (which can be for anything from gang involvement, to stealing from the kitchen, to disrespect staff), or "just 'cause." There is no rec for AC and we can be there for a a month or more if it is for an investigation. The AC dorm consists of 35-40 two-man cells 8x10 feet in size.
AC at the East Unit can reach well over 100 degrees in the summer months and we are required to be in Class A uniforms until 10 pm. There is no air circulation despite the fact there is a fan at the end of the hall. The fan is against the wall so it blows no air.
We are also placed into confinement for check-ins which can last 3 weeks months.
In the West Unit, AC and DC are the same 8 x 10 feet two-man cells, housing 38 men. There is no recreation, and showers are three times a week with about five minutes to wash. We receive 1/4 of a bar of soap per week from a bar of free hotel soap. Also, we receive one roll of toilet paper for two men every 10 days. It's supposed to be one roll per person.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This prisoner responded to our request for information about the control units in prisons across the country. In filling out the survey, this elaboration about the conditions of confinement reveals yet another set of long term isolation units that can be called nothing short of torture.
Sometimes I question our capabilities as prisoners. The reason I often muse this question is because of our lack of desired progression as prisoners. What exactly, if anything, are we accomplishing as prisoners?
There is not enough growth providing room for accomplishment. Growth is something which leads to conscious awareness — production. Not production in its synthetic form, or the bourgeois definition of the word. But productive transition of maturing into a person, who at this higher-level of "self," perceptively sensing and clearly seeing a need for core, unified prison objectives.
I do read Under Lock & Key whenever an issue slips past Florida Department of Correction's central repression and monitoring stations. It is apparent nationally we are faced with, as prisoners, the same dilemmas throughout the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC). One common and predominate problem is widespread proliferation of the PIC's repressive technological and psychological maturation to a degree where it seems to rob prisoners of their inner virtues, their inner capabilities. This is a form of reverse mutation in prisoners growth, development, and production. A prisoner becomes a product of the environment, in which the state strips him of his capabilities. Consequently this crumbles the bridge to collective perseverance to commit to the struggle.
Currently I'm housed in a control unit. Recently I've been considered by administration as a disciplinary liability. Why? Because where I was previously housed had no functioning heating to adequately keep prisoners warm. Being housed in steel and concrete slab buildings, without insulation, is more a meat freezer than a habitat. It confused me why no one took steps to alter their immediate living conditions. As a leader it became my duty to take the initiative to vocally poll the people and actively seek their collective force. Yet, I was one of a handful (on a three-tier wing) to advocate for our humanity. Because I adamantly pursued my so-called 8th Amendment "right," I found myself being threatened with bodily harm through withholding and poisoning my food, and confronted with physical aggression by the pigs.
Not only did they issue me several write-ups, which eventually led to me being moved to a more segregated wing, but they also terminated my chances of being downgraded to a lower security status. This prolonged my assignment to this control unit and postponed my release to general population.
On this segregated wing I'm surrounded by a body of prisoners who've allowed the PIC to degenerate them to one of the worst states of mind this milieu could possibly lower a human being. I find appreciation in the phrase "a mind is a terrible thing to waste." Thus I'm left to ponder the capabilities of prisoners.
I must give a raised fist of solidarity to the comrades on hunger strike throughout California. I must give a raised fist of solidarity to the comrades throughout Georgia for providing a national platform of exemplary work in the struggle. Their leadership has taught us what can be accomplished collectively. These comrades have realized production and collective capabilities.
It is time for prisoners (nationally) to realize our true capabilities, and harness the same progressively.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This writer points out a common problem in Amerikan prisons: prisoners are reduced to complacency faced with repression and threats, and many are unwilling to, or unaware of, the need to resist. We need leaders who can use Under Lock & Key as an organizing tool to raise awareness, educate and ultimately organize people. It's a slow process, but we can not expect everyone to immediately be with the struggle. We have to remember that there was a time when we ourselves didn't participate. It's our job to share what we've learned and have patience in educating and organizing others, just as our teachers did with us.
This comrade is right that recent organizing in some states gives us a glimpse of what's possible and what we can accomplish if we come together. Part of this is a need for better unity across the conscious groups. For this in particular we call on organizations to join the United Front for Peace in Prisons and get past petty differences so that all conscious and progressive prisoners can come together, united against the criminal injustice system.
Here at Menard, a prison within the Illinois Department of Corruptions, the prisoners have said "no more." We now are making a full and united front against the swine who confine us.
We have tried for years to voice our objections in a peaceful and civil manner to the hierarchy of this morally bankrupt system. However, these pigs refuse to listen. In fact it has now become completely and utterly impossible to exhaust any and all grievances with any kind of legally sound argument within its body, thereby stopping a prisoner from presenting any claim in any court.
Here in the segregation unit they have gathered together a group of sadistic pigs who torture at will. The head and ringleader of these cowards seems to be Officer Davis. The hierarchy put in cameras to curb the abuse. The piggies found blind spots, where prisoners' blood stains the concrete, and those responsible are allowed to hide.
There have been at least five severe and bloody staff assaults here in a row. The brass in their state capital keeps asking, why? Why, because you have left us with no other course of action. We have become intolerant of the consecutive abuses. We have finally found ourselves in a corner with nowhere to turn. I see no end to the bloodshed. Even after these pigs put those they believe responsible in extreme isolation, it continues!
Defiance and refusal to submit to these pigs has become a movement within itself. It has become much too large to squash. When things attain a certain size they become permanent. One can dredge a lake, but not an ocean.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This letter illustrates an important fact: when people are pushed into a corner, tortured and given no option of running away and no peaceful way to fight back, they will be forced into a violent response. It is ironic that the prisons are constantly censoring MIM(Prisons) as a threat to the security of the institution when it is their own policies and practices that threaten the safety of staff and prisoners the most!
We do want to point out that there is an alternative to short-term violence against the pigs. We need broader organization among our comrades behind bars so that they are not taken out one by one for fighting back. While we cannot judge individual cases of desperation, we know that the long battle is one that requires the building of unity and the education of our allies.
I'm writing to enlighten you of the new developments here within this oppressed segregated unit [Corcoran Ad-Seg]. For many years we have been denied our constitutional rights: our appeals process is wrongfully exercised, our appeals being lost or trashed or never making it to the appeals coordinators office. Our time constraints are being violated and surpass the time limitations they impose. But if we pass, even by a day, this administration gets very legalistic and denies our appeals on the sole basis of "time constraints."
By court order, we are allowed to possess TVs or radios, but this unit is depriving us of that right, telling us that due to "budget cuts" we cannot get our appliances. This doesn't make any sense at all, because there are so many other activities that are taking place and money being wasted on unnecessary things, but yet they claim "budget cuts."
The health care in this unit is poor, we lack the basic necessities and it takes up to two months to see the doctor and when we see him/her we get denied the rightful care. They continue to defy the court's order!
We are living under extreme conditions. It is real cold over here and yet they have the AC blowing. Our cells are super cold. We have gotten at numerous officers and the sergeant of this unit but to no avail, our environment continues to be cold.
This is just the beginning of the many violations and the torture we must endure, especially psychological. I've been filing grievances upon grievances challenging our conditions, but they just say, "we're working on it."
The rest of the comrades and I are in protest. We have begun a hunger strike. December 28, 2011 was the beginning of this peaceful protest, and we will continue this struggle till our needs are met.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We just hit the two year anniversary of the beginning of a United Struggle from Within campaign in California demanding that prisoner grievances be addressed. It continues to be a popular campaign, though many recognize its inherent limits in a system that is not interested in our grievances. Z-Unit in High Desert did utilize the campaign to achieve some temporary victories in their conditions. But it is little surprise comrades have stepped it up a notch beyond the petitions we were circulating.
While there is much to consider in strategizing and moving forward in the face of this repression, there is no doubt that conditions in California prisons continue to lead prisoners to make greater sacrifices in struggling for their common cause.
I'm incarcerated at Maryland's North Branch Correctional Institution (NBCI) in Cumberland, Maryland. I have been getting Under Lock & Key for about six months now. I'm writing this for me and my fellow prisoners; we need help. I have been here at NBCI in the segregation unit for two years now and there is a serious problem here. There is a big ring of corrupt racist white renegade prison guards employed here. These guards are anti-social/racist towards Black prisoners. They provoke, curse, challenge to fight, call them niggers, bitches, etc.
They broke the legs of one of my fellow comrades who I'm close to, and no one did anything to help. These prison guards take our food, recreation, and showers for days at a time. They spray us with pepper spray out of the blue for reasons that are still unknown. I have been a victim of that twice. I have tried to fight back but I'm one lone prisoner. Other prisoners are afraid to back me because they fear losing what little they have: single cells, TVs, etc. They are afraid of having their property sent home, being beaten, and/or thrown in the segregation unit.
The mental health patients housed in the prison who have Axis 1 diagnoses throw feces on other prisoners on the tier and the prison guards feed prisoners while the feces are on the tier. Prison guards abuse these Axis 1 diagnosis mental health patients; they agitate, provoke, mock, and call them stupid and retarded. These corrupt guards also constantly break their chain of command. They are not disciplined for their violations of Maryland Division of Corrections Directives. Even the Request for Administrative Remedy process is corrupt.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This letter describing the abuse and corruption at NBCI raises a concern directly related to campaigns MIM(Prisons) is leading. Staff in Maryland are not accountable for their actions. This is true in prisons across the country and this abuse of power inspired prisoners to initiate a campaign to Demand Our Grievances be Addressed. It's spread from California to Arizona, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia. And anyone can help spread it further by requesting the form from us and doing the research on policies to cite for your state.
I'm doing okay here just maintaining and trying to stay positive throughout this madness that they call the SHU. Things are pretty much the same around here as they were before the hunger strikes. Basically all that's changed is the fact that we have beanies and can buy sweats and sweaters in our packages now. And also if you have a year clean then you can take a picture and buy art supplies, and we can get calendars in the mail.
So I don't know what's going on with all of the rest of the promises that were made as a result of the hunger strikes. The CDCR administration basically is keeping us in the dark and trying to shut down any and all communication that they feel is a threat.
CDCR stopped an eight-page double sided publication that was printed off of the computer back around the end of October. I appealed it and just received a response with them denying my appeal, so now I have to send it to the final level in Sacramento which I am doing tonight.
They say that since it talks about the hunger strikes and the organizers of the hunger strikers here in the SHU that it promotes gang activity. Also since there are other prisoners' letters that are reporting on what is going on in these prisons then that is prisoner correspondence and third party mail. And finally they claim that it promotes a conspiracy to disrupt prison security and that if we are allowed to receive said publication then it would be promoting the conspiracy to cause others mass disruptions of prison programs. Like I said I'm sending it to the final level of appeal and once I get it back I'll send it to you for you to see.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This report of only very small gains in response to the recent California prison food strike is consistent with what we have heard from others. The Five Core Demands of the strikers have been basically ignored with the exception of the really minor examples they provided for the fifth demand "Expand and Provide Constructive Programming and Privileges for Indefinite SHU Status Inmates": this is where the art supplies, calendars and sweat suits were mentioned.
This is typical of the CDCR and in fact of all branches of imperialism: they give nothing to the oppressed without being forced to, and they give the minimum possible. The imperialists will concede nothing without a fight, and as we can see from the California hunger strike, even a widespread protest is not enough to accomplish significant change. This protest helped raise awareness of the struggle, and brought many people into activism. Now we must build on that experience.