by a Pennsylvania prisoner November 2011 permalink
Two Republican judges were convicted in a cash for kids jail time scheme in Pennsylvannia. In PA this practice goes on each and every work day. Republicans in the state of Colorado send kids as young as twelve to adult penitentiaries, keeping them locked up until they're dead or grow old. This is a savage system.
Black people receive two and sometimes three times as much time as white people for committing the same offenses. A Black woman will receive life or a 20 to 40 year sentence for killing her child. A white woman will receive probation or 30 months for the same offense. This in itself is a crime. Black men are automatically charged with rape for any type of sexual offense. White men are rarely charged with rape for any type of sexual offense. Wealthy white individuals aren't charged at all. It matters not how much money a Black person has, should a Black man get accused of a sex crime no matter how preposterous, that ass is going to jail.
Pennsylvania recently sent 1000 prisoners to Michigan in March 2009 and they came back in May 2011. Pennsylvania also sent 1000 prisoners to Virginia who have yet to return. They were sent away, not to reduce over crowding, but for financial reasons. Michigan is hurting for jobs since most of their business moved out of town. Pennsylvania had 7k prisoners who had already served their minimum sentences; however, the Parole Board refused to release them for what they said was non-compliance or lack of programming. Why didn't they just release the seven thousand prisoners who were eligible? Because it's a business. Pennsylvania earned $7 million dollars from the phone system in 2010. This institution earns $5k each day the commissary is open. The Correctional Industry (laundry) here at SCI-Somerset earns $1 million dollars annually from outside contracts.
Pennsylvania does not permit prisoners to purchase photographs with or without nudity. Prisoners are allowed to buy magazines but 6 out of 10 issues will be censored (denied) in order to discourage prisoners from ordering magazine subscriptions. I have had four publications denied in a single day. Under Lock and Key was denied October 7, 2011 along with my People Against Racist Terrorism publication, my Human Rights Coalition magazine and my Black Enterprise magazine on the very same day. Five or more of my publications are denied each month.
In the course of a single decade Pennsylvania prison numbers have doubled, not as a result of the crime rate, but due to investors who receive prime rate of their stock. A score ago, forty-six states harshly rewrote their criminal sentencing guidelines, doubling and tripling prison terms for a broad array of crimes. For this reason, our legislators can now afford to reduce the 100 to 1 powder to crack cocaine ratio to 18 to 1 because the other charges which are the result of one initial crime will make up for the loss.
First time offenders are receiving lengthy prison sentences, sometimes for the skin they're in. Prosecutors decide who will be charged with what crime. Insensitive judges determine how much time any given defendant will receive. One prosecutor told an all white jury "what makes the defendant dangerous is his race." Prosecutors mention high profile cases which have nothing to do with the individual being tried in order to prejudice the jury against the defendant. Prosecutors intentionally introduce false testimony, flawed forensic science and allow police officers to get away with perjury, yet they are not held accountable for their actions. Just as police officers who cut down unarmed Black men get off with justifiable homicides. No homicide is ever justifiable.
How is it that Black americans who only make up 12% of the U.$. population make up 60% of the prison population? Our prison population has quadrupled since 1980. In 1980 Pennsylvania spent $100K on prisons, now the state spends $1.8 billion annually. It's no wonder Pennsylvania is facing a $2.3 billion deficit. In 1980 only 6% of the nation's prisoners were convicted of drug offenses, now that number has grown to 25% and offenders are receiving twice as much time.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This prisoner does a good job summarizing the national oppression that is inherent in the criminal injustice system, not just in Pennsylvania but across the United $tates. We have reviewed the book The New Jim Crow which gives more background and details on this system. While we agree that Pennsylvania (and other states) have an economic interest in expanding their prison systems, we are careful not to mislead people into thinking prisons are about business. Prisons are a tool of social control which also provide good paying jobs for large numbers of labor aristocracy workers. But they are fundamentally a money losing business: As we explained in an article on the economics of prisons, prisons do not make enough money to cover their costs so they will always be subsidized by the government.
by a North Carolina prisoner November 2011 permalink
I would like to notify you all that the comrades and myself (about 10 or 15 of us) are going on an indefinite food strike until our demands are met. It will begin on December 1 and the demands are based on conditions at the institution that are unequal to others, inhumane and macabre. Some of the major demands are:
Being able to recreate (on exercise hour) without full restraints
Removal of the metal covering from all segregation windows
Placement of desk, chair and hygiene shelf back in the rooms
Adequate food and full portions on food trays
End of censorship, bans and/or dis-approvals of reading/study material which do not violate prison rules
Most of our demand are for segregated prisoners who suffer greatly in the facility. We have also organized a call-in and letter writing campaign on December 1 and after in response to these conditions we're fighting. Our parents, friends and comrades will be participating. We are learning from our Pelican Bay and Georgia comrades, even though our strike is on a smaller scale. We still need to learn from the experiences of our comrades to eliminate mistakes.
The information for calling in and letter writing is below.
Superintendent Lance Corponing Assistant Superintendent Larry Williams Phone: 828-438-5585 Address: Foothills CI - 3720 5150 Western Ave. Morganton, NC 28655
I am writing regarding our circumstances here in Lea County Detention Facility. As a group we have decided to go on a food strike to protest inhuman conditions of isolation. This facility and administration automatically has placed the majority of individuals in some type of Ad-Seg. We are currently locked down 23 hours a day with one hour out to get rec, shower, visit and telephone use. During our one hour out we have to do all that needs to be taken care of, which is impossible. This is cruel and unusual punishment.
We have found ourselves getting treated as if we have already been found guilty for our charges and the majority of us have not even been to court. Their excuse is that a couple years ago some prisoners caused some trouble and now we are being punished for something that we had absolutely no personal participation in. None of those prisoners are in this facility any longer.
At the moment we are on a group food strike. We are being treated like animals. I personally have been to prison and in their Ad-Seg lockdown system we are treated better than here. We would like to be heard, and ask that this facility be investigated. There have been suicidal deaths in this facility due to our situation.
On November 21 I was put in full restraints. I was placed in ankle locks and belly chains with my hands cuffed to my belly chains. And I was forced to take a shower in full restraints! I was also in full restraints during my 1 hour out.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We have been getting letters from prisoners across the country who were inspired by the food strike in California prisons and want to use this tactic to bring attention and change to conditions in their own state's prisons. We support our comrades organizing and fighting for better conditions. And we point to an article in Under Lock & Key 23 which provided an analysis of the California food strike and focused on the importance of ensuring comrades are fully prepared for these actions before they begin. How a campaign is led will determine whether it is inspiring or discouraging to the larger prison population.
As we noted in that article: "One of the major lessons of this hunger strike is the need for a unifying organizational structure through which action can be coordinated and goals and information can be formulated and shared. The United Front for Peace in Prisons provides this opportunity by bringing together LOs and individuals who understand the importance of unity against the common enemy."
¿Sí se puede o no se puede? ¿Cuál es señor presidente?
A principio del 2008 empezamos a oír del entonces candidato presidencial Barack Obama que si fuera elegido tomaría acción rápida de la reforma migratoria. Durante este tiempo también empezó a extraviarse a la izquierda de la opinión corriente de la burgués por insinuar su disgusto con los allanamientos de los lugares de trabajo a los indocumentados. Tampoco, nunca se molestó a mencionar nada sobre la muchísima gente indocumentada que supuestamente cometió algún "crimen" en cruzar la borde mexicano/estadounidense cuando dio su discurso al Concilio Nacional de La Raza.(1)
De verdad, declaraciones como estas sobre el tema de la reforma migratoria ayudó popularizar el senador de Illinois entre los Latinos lo cual le ayudó quitarle el voto latino a la entonces Senadora de Nueva York Hilary Clinton.(2) Aun aquí estamos tres años lejos de la elección del primer presidente negro de los Estados Unidos y el tiempo nos ha enseñado otra vez de nuevo que Barack Obombadero como cualquier otro político estadounidense no tiene nada más que ofrecer a las naciones oprimidas más que promesas quebradas y más opresión.
Un millón de gente han sido deportados de los Estados Unidos desde la toma de oficina de Obombadero en el 2009; es decir 400,000 deportaciones al año con las varias naciones latinas porteando lo peor.(3) También es importante notar que los números de deportación han aumentado desde a administración previa de Bush y son históricamente más alta en comparación de las 500,000 gente quien fueron literalmente "ferrocarrilados" a México entre los años 1929-39 en lo que los imperialistas llamaron "arreares de repatriación." Esto además que no toda la gente eran ciudadanos Mexicanos.(4)
Más recientemente, los EE UU iniciaron las deportaciones masas bajo el capo de un programa federal costeado por la administración Obombadero llamado "comunidades seguras" en que oficiales de ICE (Inmigración y Coacción Adueñar) en conjunción con policías locales por toda la nación buscan a los indocumentados y llevan a cabo allanamientos contra ellos.(3) Los allanamientos son llevados a cabo del encabezamiento de "operaciones fugitivas."(3)
Al principio los policías locales tenían la opción de unirse a comunidades seguras pero muchos de ellos vacilaron previniendo los problemas potenciales que esto podría causar a sus funciones diarios de ocupares de las semicolónias internas también a su vigilar de vecindades con alta densidad de población migrante recién llegados.(3) ICE eventualmente los pudo vender comunidades seguras a los puercos después de decirles que solamente buscarían a "los peores de los peores."(3)
Según la portavoz del gobierno, una mitad de la gente quien han sido deportados desde el 2009 eran delincuentes violentos, pero investigaciones sobre el programa han revelado que mucha de la gente siendo deportada actualmente fueron deportados debido a infracciones menores, tal como Señora Ramírez quien fue arrestada por policías locales por una infracción menor de auto; fue mandada a un centro de detención federal y seguido deportada a México desde Maple Park, Illinois todo en el espacio de unos pocos días a despecho de que no tenía fondo de criminal y estaba criando hijos nacidos estadounidenses.(3)
¿Pero sería que Señora Ramírez era una de las afortunadas si se considere las circunstancias? La respuesta es sí.
Ciudades de acampamiento, viviendas apretadas, ningún derecho a abogados, el racismo, el abuso verbal, el abuso mental, golpizas y el asalto sexual. Esta es la realidad dura que espera a los indocumentados en cuanto son aprisionados y deportados a las manos de estadounidenses.(3)
Un caso en punto es el Centro de Detención e Inmigración Federal en Willacy, Téjas donde una investigación reciente por el ACLU determinó que había "abuso sexual muy extensiva de las detenidas y un sistema de injusticia sistemáticamente posesionada sin ninguna responsabilidad firmemente intacto."(3) Esta información fue corroborada más por guardias y un psiquiatra, que eran empleados anteriormente por Willacy, quien dieron cuentas del abuso al contrario de comprobación de cuentas que hizo el ICE en donde se le dio un grado de "BIEN."(3)
Durante este tiempo el departamento de ICE también condujo una encuesta de los presos supuestamente para ayudarles registrarse las quejas. Desafortunadamente la encuesta no era nada más que un truco compuesto y conducido por ICE sí mismo para poner en la mirada a los quien intentaban registrar quejas y disuadirlos de que siguen por manera de amenazar verbales.(3)
Entonces, ¿qué es lo que la población migrante de los EE UU podrá esperar? Bueno, si la realidad corriente y el número de gente corrientemente encarcelados en prisiones Amerikanas puede servir como una indicación de lo que vendrá, entonces podemos esperar que el país con el porcentaje más alta de su población detrás de las rejas ahora se convierta en el país con el porcentaje más alta de nacionales extranjeros detrás de sus rejas. Más evidencia de como los Estados Unidos oprime la mayoría del mundo. En verdad, prisioneros políticos.
Los críticos liberales de comunidades seguras como el ACLU han apuntado que el programa de comunidades seguras es nada más que la política de la administración Bush inflada con las esteroides de Obama.(5) Aunque tendríamos que concordar también tendríamos que ir más lejos. ¡Comunidades seguras es el utilizado del sistema de injusticia Amerikana como una resolución substituta para su población migrante quien ellos desalojaron en el primer lugar! Los descendientes de los habitantes originales en esta tierra migran a los EE UU para trabajar a los trabajos que los estadunidenses no harán, ganando menos salarios que los estadounidenses. Pero, sólo son tantos trabajos no queridos que necesita obreros, y frontera abiertas resultarían en una igualación en salarios estadounidenses con el resto del mundo – el miedo más grande de la aristocracia obrera. Esta realidad económica, junto con amenazas políticas que una población oprimida creciente dentro de las fronteras estadounidense propone, explica por qué los E.E.U.U. se fijan en controlar estrictamente a los emigrantes (en particular los que cruzan el Rio Grande)
En un discurso en El Paso, Téjas al comienzo de este año el Presidente Obombadero otra vez andaba mintiendo y hablando por los dos lados de su boca cuando dijo que no habría ninguna reforma comprensiva de inmigración por la culpa de los tercos republicanos.(3) La línea final, no habrá reforma comprensiva de inmigración y va a seguir "cumplimiento forzoso en esteroides." No reforma quiere decir que el requisito, bajo comunidades seguras de la demandada cuota de deportación de 400,000 anual según un memorándum interno de ICE va a continuar para seguir recibiendo fondos del Congreso.(3)
Cuando se le preguntó a Cecilia Muñoz, una oficial de alta nivel con el departamento de Asuntos Interiores de la administración de Obama, sobre el golpazo que estos tipos de números tendrán en las familias migrantes en los Estados Unidos, ella respondió con retórica típica de la nación opresora, dijo que, "familias quebradas son el resultado de leyes quebradas." Luego dijo que todo era parte del problema de inmigración.(3)
A este pincho vendido le respondemos todo al contrario, no hay ningún problema migratorio pero sí hay un problema del imperialismo y en realidad es el problema número uno en el mundo ahora; principalmente el imperialismo estadounidense.
Después de la deportación de Susana Ramírez hubo un esfuerzo para que voten y pasen una declaración del senado para negar fundos para el programa de comunidades seguras de ICE. La declaración se llamaba "La Ley de Susana", y fue negada.(3)
They like to label us the "worst of the worst" and "California's most dangerous" but in fact most of us are doing time for drugs or property crimes, and through CDCR's blatant disrespect for the constitution and their failure to supply adequate appeals process, we are now forced to do all of our prison sentence. I'm fully aware that in San Quentin alone most validated SHU prisoners are first timers, have never been past the reception phase of intake, and are either here for drug related cases, vehicle theft, or burglary. These are not hardened convicts these are young males age 19-25 of all races, but the majority are Latino and Black.
Along with the mistakes that have brought them to this place, many here have made the mistake of freedom of expression by tattooing themselves with cultural pride. Those tattoos combined with their nationality get these prisoners validated as gang members when they first walk through the prison doors. Validated prisoners are not entitled to any good time credits, which means they serve longer prison terms than those not validated (more often white prisoners). So those of us validated straight from the reception center, in here for non-violent crimes (drugs or property theft), are not entitled to any good time credits. I was sentenced to 8 years, I must do all 8 years, but a convicted sex offender who is sentenced to the same amount of time is out in less than 6 years.
Due to an administration policy, most if not all of us who have been validated have never received a rule violation report for the alleged gang participation for which we are validated. What happens when the people who are in a position to assist in fixing the system only loosen the nuts more, so the pipes will break, because their family are plumbers!
This new realignment (in the name of reducing the prison populations) is hilarious. Now prisoners will stay in county jail, which means CDCR will have more room to house SHU prisoners, currently in San Quentin, Carson section. Right now we're forced to stay in reception centers for up to 2.5 years before being transferred to a SHU.
I can 100% agree with the demands of Pelican Bay, and I really wish that those in San Quentin would look to them as an example to follow. The prisoners here in San Quentin participated in the hunger strike for one meal on the very first day of the strike in July.
All validated prisoners are part of the same struggle. Stop opposing each other because of separate beliefs, and start to truly unite as humans in the same fight for true justice!
MIM(Prisons) adds: This is a great addition to our recent review of The New Jim Crow, which discusses how the criminal injustice system targets oppressed nations for social control. However, we do not have statistics to support the author's scapegoating of sex offenders. We have seen sex offenders do their full time and then be sent to a "hospital" where they will spend the rest of their lives locked up without being charged with a new crime!
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander 2010, The New Press, New York
As a whole, this is a very useful book for anyone interested in understanding the criminal injustice system. It is an excellent aggregation of facts about every aspect of the system - incarceration, policing, the drug war, the courts - making a scientific case that this is really a system for social control of oppressed nations within U.$. borders. Where Alexander falls short is in her analysis of how this fits into society in the broader context. She doesn't actually name national oppression, though certainly this book is clear evidence for the existence of something more than just an attitude of racism. She doesn't take on the question of why Amerikan capitalism would want such an extensive system of prison social control. As a result, her solutions are reformist at best.
Prisons as a Tool of National Oppression
Starting with the history of Amerikan prisons, Alexander explains how the relatively low and stable incarceration rate in this country changed after the civil rights movement which the government labeled criminal and used as an excuse to "get tough on crime" and increase incarceration.(p. 41) It was actually the revolutionary nationalist movements of the 60s and 70s, most notably the Black Panther Party, which terrified the Amerikan government and led to mass incarceration, murder, brutality and infiltration to try to destroy these revolutionary groups. Alexander's failure to mention these movements is symptomatic of a missing piece throughout the book - an understanding of the importance of revolutionary nationalism.
This book does an excellent job exposing the war on drugs as a farce that is only really concerned with social control. Although studies show that the majority of drug users are white, 3/4 of people locked up for drug crimes are Black or Latino.(p. 96) Further, statistics show that violent crime rates are unrelated to imprisonment rates.(p. 99) So when people say they are locking up "criminals" what they mean is they are locking up people who Amerikan society has decided are "criminals" just because of their nation of birth.
To her credit, Alexander does call out Nixon and his cronies for their appeal to the white working class in the name of racism, under the guise of law and order, because this group felt their privileges were threatened.(p. 45) And she recognizes this underlying current of white support for the criminal injustice system for a variety of reasons related to what we call national privilege. But this book doesn't spend much time on the historical relations between the privileged white nation and the oppressed nations. J. Sakai's book Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat does a much better job of that.
Alexander argues that Amerikans, for the most part, oppose overt racial bias. But instead we have developed a culture of covert bias that substitutes words like "criminal" for "Black" and then discriminates freely. This bias is what fuels the unequal policing, sentencing rates, prison treatment, and life after release for Blacks and Latinos in Amerika. Studies have shown that Amerikans (both Black and white) when asked to identify or imagine a drug criminal overwhelmingly picture a Black person.(p. 104) So although this is statistically inaccurate (they should be picturing a white youth), this is the culture Amerika condones. Even this thin veil over outright racism is a relatively new development in Amerika's long history as a pioneer in the ideology of racism. (see Labor Aristocracy, Mass Base of Social Democracy by H.W. Edwards)
"More African American adults are under correctional control today - in prison or jail, on probation or parole - than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began."(p. 175) It is this national oppression that leads Alexander to draw the parallel that is the source of the book's title: prisons are the new Jim Crow. She recognizes that prisons are not slavery, but that instead prisons are a legal way to systematically oppress whole groups of people. While she focuses on Blacks in this book she does note that the same conditions apply to Latinos in this country.
The Role of the Police
Alexander addresses each aspect of the criminal injustice system, demonstrating how it has developed into a tool to lock up Black and Brown people. Starting with the police system she notes that the courts have virtually eliminated Fourth Amendment protections against random police searches, which has led to scatter shot searches. By sheer volume yield some arrests.(p. 67) These searches are done at the discretion of the police, who are free to discriminate in the neighborhoods they choose to terrorize. This discretion has led to systematic searches of people living in ghettos but no harassment of frat parties or suburban homes and schools where statistics show the cops would actually have an even better chance of finding drugs. In reality, when drug arrests increase it is not a sign of increased drug activity, just an increase in police activity.(p. 76)
Law enforcement agencies were encouraged to participate in the drug war with huge financial incentives from the federal government as well as equipment and training. This led to the militarization of the police in the 1990s.(p. 74) Federal funding is directly linked to the number of drug arrests that are made, and police were granted the right to keep cash and assets seized in the drug war.(p. 77) These two factors strongly rewarded police departments for their participation.
Asset seizure laws emphasize the lack of interest by the government and police in imprisoning drug dealers or kingpins, despite drug war propaganda claims to the contrary. Those with assets are allowed to buy their freedom while small time users with few assets to trade are subjected to lengthy prison terms. Alexander cites examples of payments of $50k cutting an average of 6.3 years from a sentence in Massachusetts.(p. 78)
Bias in the Courts
Taking on the court system, Alexander points out that most people are not represented by adequate legal council, if they have a lawyer at all, since the war on drugs has focused on poor people. And as a result, most people end up pleading out rather than going to trial. The prosecution is granted broad authority to charge people with whatever crimes they like, and so they can make the list of charges appear to carry a long sentence suggesting that someone would do well to accept a "lesser" plea bargained deal, even if the likelihood of getting a conviction on some of the charges is very low.
"The critical point is that thousands of people are swept into the criminal justice system every year pursuant to the drug war without much regard for their guilt or innocence. The police are allowed by the courts to conduct fishing expeditions for drugs on streets and freeways based on nothing more than a hunch. Homes may be searched for drugs based on a tip from an unreliable, confidential informant who is trading the information for money or to escape prison time. And once swept inside the system, people are often denied attorneys or meaningful representation and pressured into plea bargains by the threat of unbelievably harsh sentences - sentences for minor drug crimes that are higher than many countries impose on convicted murderers."(p. 88)
After allowing discretion in areas that ensure biased arrests, trials and sentences, the courts shut off any ability for people to challenge inherent racial bias in the system. The Supreme Court ruled that there must be overt statements by the prosecutor or jury to consider racial bias under the constitution. But prosecutorial discretion leads to disproportionate treatment of cases by race.
Further discretion in dismissing jurors, selective policing, and sentencing all lead to systematically different treatment for Blacks and Latinos relative to whites. This can be demonstrated easily enough with a look at the numbers. Sophisticated studies controlling for all other possible variables consistently show this bias. But a 2001 Supreme Court ruling determined that racial profiling cases can only be initiated by the government. "The legal rules adopted by the Supreme Court guarantee that those who find themselves locked up and permanently locked out due to the drug war are overwhelmingly black and brown."(p. 136)
Release from Prison but a Lifetime of Oppression
This book goes beyond the system of incarceration to look at the impact on prisoners who are released as well as on their families and communities. Alexander paints a picture that is fundamentally devastating to the Black community.
She outlines how housing discrimination against former felons prevents them from getting Section 8 housing when this is a group most likely to be in need of housing assistance. Public housing can reject applicants based on arrests even if there was no conviction. This lack of subsidized or publicly funded housing is compounded by the unavailability of jobs to people convicted of crimes, as a common question on job applications is used to reject these folks. "Nearly one-third of young black men in the United States today are out of work. The jobless rate for young black male dropouts, including those incarcerated, is a staggering 65 percent."(p. 149)
"Nationwide, nearly seven out of eight people living in high-poverty urban areas are members of a minority group."(p. 191) A standard condition of parole is a promise not to associate with felons, a virtual impossibility when released back into a community that is riddled with former felons.
"Today a criminal freed from prison has scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a freed slave or a black person living 'free' in Mississippi at the height of Jim Crow. Those released from prison on parole can be stopped and searched by the police for any reason - or no reason at all - and returned to prison for the most minor of infractions, such as failing to attend a meeting with a parole officer. Even when released from the system's formal control, the stigma of criminality lingers. Police supervision, monitoring, and harassment are facts of life not only for those labeled criminals, but for all those who 'look like' criminals. Lynch mobs may be long gone, but the threat of police violence is ever present...The 'whites only' signs may be gone, but new signs have gone up - notices placed in job applications, rental agreements, loan applications, forms for welfare benefits, school applications, and petitions for licenses, informing the general public that 'felons' are not wanted here. A criminal record today authorizes precisely the forms of discrimination we supposedly left behind - discrimination in employment, housing, education, public benefits, and jury service. Those labeled criminals can even be denied the right to vote."(p. 138)
Alexander devotes a number of pages to the issue of voting and the prohibition in all but two states on prisoners voting while incarcerated for a felony offense, and the further denial of the vote to prisoners released on parole. Some states even take away prisoners' right to vote for life. She is right that this is a fundamental point of disenfranchisement, but Alexander suggests that "a large number of close elections would have come out differently if felons had been allowed to vote..."(p. 156) This may be true, but those differences would not have had a significant impact on the politics in Amerika. This is because elections in an imperialist country are just an exercise in choosing between figureheads. The supposedly more liberal Democrats like Clinton and Obama were the ones who expanded the criminal injustice system the most. So a different imperialist winning an election would not change the system.
Oppressed Nation Culture
On the Amerikan culture and treatment of oppressed peoples Alexander asks: "...are we wiling to demonize a population, declare a war against them, and then stand back and heap shame and contempt upon them for failing to behave like model citizens while under attack?"(p. 165) She argues that the culture of the oppressed is an inevitable result of the conditions faced by the oppressed. And in fact the creation of lumpen organizations for support is a reasonable outcome.
"So herein lies the paradox and predicament of young black men labeled criminals. A war has been declared on them, and they have been rounded up for engaging in precisely the same crimes that go largely ignored in middle and upper class white communities - possession and sale of illegal drugs. For those residing in ghetto communities, employment is scarce - often nonexistent. Schools located in ghetto communities more closely resemble prisons than places of learning, creativity, or moral development. ...many fathers are in prison, and those who are 'free' bear the prison label. They are often unable to provide for, or meaningfully contribute to, a family. And we wonder, then, that many youth embrace their stigmatized identity as a means of survival in this new caste system? Should we be shocked when they turn to gangs or fellow inmates for support when no viable family support structure exists? After all, in many respects, they are simply doing what black people did during the Jim Crow era - they are turning to each other for support and solace in a society that despises them.
"Yet when these young people do what all severely stigmatized groups do - try to cope by turning to each other and embracing their stigma in a desperate effort to regain some measure of self esteem - we, as a society, heap more shame and contempt upon them. We tell them their friends are 'no good', that they will 'amount to nothing,' that they are 'wasting their lives,' and that 'they're nothing but criminals.' We condemn their baggy pants (a fashion trend that mimics prison-issue pants) and the music that glorifies a life many feel they cannot avoid. When we are done shaming them, we throw up our hands and then turn out backs as they are carted off to jail."(p167)
Alexander would do well to consider the difference between racism, an attitude, and national oppression, a system inherent to imperialist economics. Essentially she is describing national oppression when she talks about systematic racism. But by missing this key concept, Alexander is able to sidestep a discussion about national liberation from imperialism.
"When the system of mass incarceration collapses (and if history is any guide, it will), historians will undoubtedly look back and marvel that such an extraordinarily comprehensive system of racialized social control existed in the United States. How fascinating, they will likely say, that a drug war was waged almost exclusively against poor people of color - people already trapped in ghettos that lacked jobs and decent schools. They were rounded up by the millions, packed away in prisons, and when released they were stigmatized for life, denied the right to vote, and ushered into a world of discrimination. Legally barred from employment, housing, and welfare benefits - and saddled with thousands of dollars of debt - the people were shamed and condemned for failing to hold together their families. They were chastised for succumbing to depression and anger, and blamed for landing back in prison. Historians will likely wonder how we could describe the new caste system as a system of crime control, when it is difficult to imagine a system better designed to create - rather than prevent - crime."(p. 170)
Alexander does an excellent job describing the system of national oppression in the United $tates. She notes "One way of understanding our current system of mass incarceration is to think of it as a birdcage with a locked door. It is a set of structural arrangements that locks a racially distinct group into a subordinate political, social and economic position, effectively creating a second-class citizenship. Those trapped within the system are not merely disadvantaged, in the sense that they are competing on an unequal playing field or face additional hurdles to political or economic success; rather, the system itself is structured to lock them into a subordinate position."(p. 180)
The book explains that the arrest and lock up of a few whites is just part of the latest system of national oppression or "the New Jim Crow": "[T]he inclusion of some whites in the system of control is essential to preserving the image of a colorblind criminal justice system and maintaining our self-image as fair and unbiased people."(p. 199)
One interesting conclusion by Alexander is the potential for mass genocide inherent in the Amerikan prison system. There really is no need for the poor Black workers in factories in this country any longer so this population has truly become disposable and can be locked away en masse without any negative impact to the capitalists (in fact there are some positive impacts to these government subsidized industries).(p. 208) It's not a big leap from here to genocide.
Economics for Blacks have worsened even as they improved for whites. "As unemployment rates sank to historically low levels in the late 1990s for the general population, joblessness rates among non-college black men in their twenties rose to their highest levels ever, propelled by skyrocketing incarceration rates."(p. 216) She points out poverty and unemployment stats do not include people in prison. This could underestimate the true jobless rate by as much as 24% for less-educated black men.(p. 216)
Unfortunately, in her discussion of what she calls "structural racism" Alexander falls short. She recognizes white privilege and the reactionary attitudes of the white nation, acknowledging that "working class" whites support both current and past racism, but she does not investigate why this is so. Attempting to explain the systematic racism in Amerikan society Alexander ignores national oppression and ends up with a less than clear picture of the history and material basis of white nation privilege and oppressed nation oppression within U.$. borders. National oppression is the reason why these oppressive institutions of slavery, Jim Crow, and imprisonment keep coming back in different forms in the U.$., and national liberation is the only solution.
How to Change the System
Alexander highlights the economic consequences of cutting prisons which show the strong financial investment that Amerikans have overall in this system: "If four out of five people were released from prison, far more than a million people could lose their jobs."(p. 218) This estimation doesn't include the private sector: private prisons, manufacturers of police and guard weapons, etc.
To her credit, Alexander understands that small reformist attacks on the criminal injustice system won't put an end to the systematic oppression: "A civil war had to be waged to end slavery; a mass movement was necessary to bring a formal end to Jim Crow. Those who imagine that far less is required to dismantle mass incarceration and build a new, egalitarian racial consensus reflecting a compassionate rather than punitive impulse towards poor people of color fail to appreciate the distance between Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream and the ongoing racial nightmare for those locked up and locked out of American society."(p. 223)
The problem with this analysis is that it fails to extrapolate what's really necessary to make change sufficient to create an egalitarian society. In fact, these very examples demonstrate the ability of the Amerikan imperialists to adapt and change their approach to national oppression: slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration. Alexander seems to see this when she talks about what will happen if the movement to end mass incarceration doesn't address race: "Inevitably a new system of racialized social control will emerge - one that we cannot foresee, just as the current system of mass incarceration was not predicted by anyone thirty years ago."(p. 245) But she stops short of offering any useful solutions to "address race" in this fight.
Alexander argues that affirmative action and the token advancement of a few Blacks has served as a racial bribe rather than progress, getting them to abandon more radical change.(p. 232) She concludes that the Black middle class is a product of affirmative action and would disappear without it.(p. 234) "Whereas black success stories undermined the logic of Jim Crow, they actually reinforce the system of mass incarceration. Mass incarceration depends for its legitimacy on the widespread belief that all those who appear trapped at the bottom actually chose their fate."(p. 235)
This is a good point: successful reformism often ends with a few token bribes in an attempt to stop a movement from making greater demands. And this is not really success. But short of revolution, there is no way to successfully end national oppression. And so Alexander's book concludes on a weak note as she tries to effect a bold and radical tone and suggest drastic steps are needed but offers no concrete suggestions about what these steps should be. She ends up criticizing everything from affirmative action to Obama but then pulling back and apologizing for these same institutions and individuals. This is the hole that reformists are stuck in once they see the mess that is the imperialist Amerikan system.
It's not impossible to imagine circumstances under which the Amerikan imperialists would want to integrate the oppressed nations within U.$. borders into white nation privilege. This could be advantageous to keep the home country population entirely pacified and allow the imperialists to focus on plunder and terrorism in the Third World. But we would not consider this a success for the oppressed peoples of the world.
A progressive movement against national oppression within U.$. borders must fight alongside the oppressed nations of the world who face even worse conditions at the hands of Amerikan imperialism. These Third World peoples may not face mass incarceration, but they suffer from short lifespans due to hunger and preventable diseases as well as the ever-present threat of death at the hands of Amerikan militarism making the world safe for capitalist plunder.
by a North Carolina prisoner November 2011 permalink
This is a cry out for help from the brothers in the struggle at the confinement of Scotland Correctional Institution located in Laurinburg, NC under the ruler and dictatorship of Karen Stanback, Asst. Superintendent of Security. It grieves my heart to know and witness an African American woman, apply rules of oppression to camp populated by 80% minority races. Actions of oppression ordered by K. Stanback are:
To ban all Under Lock & Key publications
No state or local newspapers
No shirt jackets worn in the dinner hall, school, or any religious programs (no matter what the temp is)
No showering from 6pm until 9pm (with a population of 1500 prisoners)
No jobs for close custody prisoners once they lose their assigned job. (All jobs are then referred to medium custody prisoners)
Confining over 145 prisoners in one unit called Green D,E,F or "Gangland". This is where all the gangs are housed at, mixed together, and not giving any opportunity for regular programs or employment like the regular population.
Only 1 hour of recreation. Without proper exercise, fresh air, and movement an individual develops a mentality like a caged in animal.
She and the admins here have created a very hostile environment and seem to enjoy it.
Brothers and sisters please! This is our cry for relief the hammer of oppression being applied to us at Scotland CI under the watch of K. Stanback. Please contact the appropriate resources to aid us in our struggle.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We support this comrade's call for prisoners to stand up against oppression. This prisoner and others are leading the struggle at Scotland and they provide an example to prisoners across the the criminal injustice system who are facing similar conditions.
by a North Carolina prisoner November 2011 permalink
On October 17 I received Under Lock & Key 22 even though I was not supposed to. It was a mistake made by an officer who was passing out mail. Attached to the publication was a notice to prisoners of statewide disapproval of the publication; this particular issue has been banned statewide. I was supposed to sign this notice to verify I've been informed but luckily the officer was distracted by his duty of distributing mail and instead of having me sign the notice attached to ULK 22, he just slid them both under my door.
When I realized what the notice was for, I grew kind of excited. The kind of excitement one has when you feel you just got over on someone in power. This made me even more interested in the ULK publication. First, because I'm thinking I'm the only one statewide who has one. And second I know this publication has material and information the state doesn't want me to know; why else would they ban it statewide?
Before I began to read the ULK, I read over the notice to find out exactly why this particular publication was banned. The notice said: "The publication/material violates Division of Prisons Policy at Section D.O 109 and is disapproved for the reason listed 'violence, disorder, insurrection or terrorist/gang activities against individuals, groups, organizations, the government or any of its institutions.'" With that my excitement grew even more, thinking I obtained material of such nature. The notice went on to say that this "violence, disorder, insurrection..." was on page 4 of the publication.
I immediately thumbed to page 4 and found the headline "Time for Peaceful Revolution" written boldly atop the article. I began to read. I was confused. I retrieved the Notice to Inmate of Statewide Disapproved Publication once again to make sure I read it correctly, and I had. I was so confused that I had to go over the article once more because maybe I misread!
I was confused by the reasons given for banning this material. It was banned because it was supposedly promoting violence, disorder and so forth against individuals, groups, organizations, the government or any of its institutions. But really, one hundred percent honest, the article was speaking of a peaceful revolution. In none of its lines through the article did it speak of violence against anyone. It spoke of unity amongst the many LOs and a little history of Kingism.
It was then that I really and truly realized the power we have amongst us if only we could just unite as one and struggle together. I realized it's not us as individuals who they are afraid of, it's we as a people who they fear. Why else would they ban an article speaking of a peaceful revolution and that urges others to come together as one? And also, it's not necessarily violence that they avoid, it's a revolution, period! It's not how we go about the revolution that frightens them, whether its violently or peacefully, it's simply the thought of a revolution, an end to their domination over us, that unsettles them.
And they will do what they have to do in order to maintain control, whether it's murder, imprison or, in our case, censor mail. If the officer hadn't mistakenly given me the ULK 22 I would have actually thought that maybe MIM(Prisons) was influencing violence. But now the truth is out and it has me in question about the other publications that were banned. Were they really banned because of the reason these prison administrators told you they were? I don't think so.
Our rights are being trashed! We must, I repeat, we must, stand up for our rights. Fight censorship!
Si se puede o no se puede? (Yes, we can or no, we can't?) Which one is it Mr. President?
Beginning in 2008 we started hearing from then presidential candidate Barack Obama that if elected he'd take quick action on immigration reform. During this time he also began straying to the left of the bourgeois mainstream opinion by hinting at a distaste for workplace raids of undocumented migrants. Also, he never bothered to mention anything about the many undocumented people who'd committed a "crime" in crossing the Mexico/U.$. border when he gave his speech at the National Council of La Raza.(1)
Indeed, statements and positions such as these on the issue of immigration reform helped popularize the Illinois Senator amongst Latinos which in turn helped him to wrestle the Latino vote away from then NY senator Hillary Clinton.(2) Yet here we are now three years out from the election of the first Black President of the United $tates of Amerika and time has once again shown us that Barack Obomber, like all other Amerikan politicians, has nothing more to offer the oppressed nations but broken promises and more oppression.
One million people have been deported from the U.$. since the taking of office by Obomber in 2009. That's 400,000 deportations a year with the various Latino nations bearing the brunt of it.(3) It's also important to note that this number of deportations is actually up from the previous Bu$h administration and ridiculously higher than the 500,000 people who were literally "railroaded" to Mexico between 1929-39 in what the imperialists called "repatriation drivers." This despite the fact that not everyone who was deported were Mexican nationals.(4)
More recently the U.$. initiated the mass deportations under the guise of the Obomber administration's federally funded program called "Secure Communities" in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, in conjunction with local law enforcement, searched out the undocumented and carried out raids against them all across the country.(3) The raids are conducted under the heading of "fugitive operations."(3)
At first local law enforcement was given the option of joining Secure Communities but many were hesitant foreseeing the potential problems this might pose to their daily functions as occupiers of the internal semi-colonies as well as to the policing of neighborhoods with a high density populace of newly arrived migrants.(3) ICE however was eventually able to sell Secure Communities to the pigs after telling them they'd only be going after the "worst of the worst."(3)
According to government mouthpieces, half the people who've been deported since 2009 were violent offenders, but investigations into the program have revealed that many of the people deported have actually been deported due to minor infractions such as Susana Ramirez who was arrested by local law enforcement for a minor traffic stop, sent to a federal detention center and was subsequently deported to Mexico from Maple Park, Illinois. All this happened in the span of a few days despite the fact that she had no criminal background and was raising U.$. citizen children.(3)
But was Susana Ramirez actually one of the lucky ones considering the circumstances? The answer is yes.
Tent cities, cramped quarters, no right to attorneys, racism, verbal abuse, mental abuse, beatings and sexual assault, this is the stark reality that awaits the undocumented as they are imprisoned and deported at the hands of Amerikans.(3)
Case in point is the Willacy, Texas Federal Immigration Detention Center where a recent investigation by the ACLU determined that there was "widespread sexual abuse of female detainees and a systematically positioned injustice system with no accountability firmly intact."(3) This information was further corroborated by former Willacy guards and a former Willacy psychiatrist who gave eyewitness accounts of the abuse, contrary to a 2009 ICE audit of the prison camp in which the detention center was given a rating of "good."(3)
During the same period ICE also conducted a survey of the prisoners supposedly to encourage grievance filing. Unfortunately, the survey was nothing but a ruse orchestrated and conducted by ICE officials themselves in an effort to pinpoint those attempting to file complaints and dissuade them from following through.(3)
What's to Come?
So what is in store for the migrant population of the U.$.? Well, if current reality and the number of people currently locked up in Amerika's prisons can serve as indicators of what's to come then we should expect the country with the highest percentage of its population behind bars to now become the country with the highest percentage of foreign nationals behind bars as well. This is more proof of how the U.$. oppresses the world's majority. They are political prisoners indeed.
Liberal critics of the Secure Communities program such as the ACLU have pointed out that it is nothing more than the Bush administration's immigration policies juiced up on Obomber steroids.(5) And while we'd have to agree we'd also have to go further. Secure Communities is the utilization of the Amerikan injustice system as a proxy resolution for its superfluous migrant population which the U.$. directly displaced to begin with! Descendents of the original inhabitants of this land migrate to the United $tates to work at jobs that Amerikans won't do, making less than Amerikans make in wages. But there are only so many of these undesirable jobs that need to be filled, and open borders would result in an equalization of Amerikan wages with the rest of the world — the biggest fear of the labor aristocracy. This economic reality, combined with political threats that an expanding oppressed population inside U.$. borders poses, explains why Amerika targets migrants (particularly those coming across the Rio Grande) for strict control.
At an El Paso speech earlier this year President Obomber was once again telling lies and talking out of both sides of his mouth when he stated that there would be no comprehensive immigration reform because of Republican stubbornness.(3) Bottom line, there will be no comprehensive reform and there will continue to be "enforcement on steroids." And no reform means the requirement under Secure Communities to deport 400,000 people a year, according to an ICE internal memo, will continue to be enforced to maintain funding from Congress.(3)
When asked about the toll these numbers would take on migrant families in the U.$., Cecilian Muñoz, an Obomber administration top official with Interior Affairs, answered in typical oppressor nation rhetoric, that "broken families are the result of broken laws." She then went on to state how it was all just part of the immigration problem.(3)
To that coconut we say quite the contrary. There is no immigration problem, but there is an imperialism problem. As a matter of fact it's the number one problem in the world today: principally U.$. imperialism.
In the wake of Susana Ramirez's deportation there was a push to have a Senate Bill voted on and passed to deny ICE any more funding for Secure Communities. The bill was called "Susana's Law," and it was defeated.(3)
by a South Carolina prisoner November 2011 permalink
I am a prisoner in the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC), where the prisoners are forced to march around in filthy, tattered uniforms, and most are packed three to a cell, with one sleeping on the floor. But in addition to a huge list of miserable conditions here, the state has a sickening carrot-and-stick method of converting prisoners to Christianity.
Our cafeteria basically serves dog food, and even that is withheld from prisoners as punishment for minor rule infractions. The prison only serves real nutritious food to prisoners who have attended a certain number of religious indoctrination programs. This amounts to many prisoners not being able to eat well unless they convert to Christianity and jump through all kinds of Jesus-themed hoops.
Prisoners are also being recruited, in the guise of "education," into an indoctrination and training program that eventually ships them to other prisons to proselytize and spread Christian propaganda. As a requirement, new recruits must sign a paper that declares their willingness to be transferred to any prison SCDC desires. Often prisoners sign up for this program to temporarily escape the violent conditions at other prisons, only to be returned to the same brutal dungeons after completing the program. In such institutions, prisoners are commonly beaten, stabbed, and raped. Who wouldn't sign up for the Christian fascist training program to escape that?
It all amounts to the prisoners being coerced into religious social control programs. And many of us must choose between going to church or going hungry; between being indoctrinated or being beaten, stabbed, or raped.
MIM(Prisons) responds: It is typical of the Amerikkkan criminal injustice system to force feed their approved form of "education" on prisoners while denying them real education through censorship or just refusal to offer programs. Religion has a long history of being used as a tool of social control by obscuring the material conditions that determine our reality on Earth.
Many people ask us about religion because they have heard that communism is anti-religion. In some ways communism is the best way for religious people to uphold their beliefs and put an end to the evils of murder, rape, hunger and other miseries of humyns. Some argue that Jesus Christ must have been a communist because he gave to the poor.
An issue with religions, however, is that they uniformly reject scientific thinking. Religions require people to accept on faith that there is a higher power controlling life for humyns. So the first problem with religions is that they are fostering idealist thinking. Even those who do not believe in organized religion often look for answers in ideas, rather than a scientific study of the material world.
In addition, historically many religions have acted as apologists for the oppressor class in power, telling the oppressed people not to worry about their terrible conditions in this life because a better afterlife awaits them if they just suffer in silence. There are notable exceptions to this, including the liberation theologists of Latin America, some Muslim activists, and others.
Overall we see the best of the religious movements and groups as allies in the fight against imperialism. But we still caution people that religion, like television, is an opiate for the mind. Even worse, religion provides a philosophical justification for never searching for real solutions to the problems and contradictions we face. Belief in spirituality or religion is not a dividing line question to work with MIM(Prisons), and we accept into USW all who take up the anti-imperialist struggle. We will be honest in our push for everyone to study materialist thinking and why we oppose idealism.