I'm scribing this missive out of solidarity and admiration for all the comrades participating in the hunger strike in California, Georgia, Ohio and abroad. Thinking of this brings me back to a book I've scrutinized in my captivation recently titled Ten Men Dead by David Beresford. It's about the Irish Republican Army's (IRA) organized hunger strikes, pig assassinations, and overall solidarity of the politically conscious convicts confined in the infamous Long Kesh prison in Belfast. These brothaz (I say brothaz despite ethnicity because we're all "born" from the same struggle) struggled to overcome oppression, implement justice, and overcome oppression toward for freedom. These comrades were willing to fast until death if demands were not met by the tyrants who oversaw them. They also had political support on the outside.
I see the same thing transpiring in California as you read this. I'm intrigued and am in constant awe at the consciousness that permeates from that SHU battle which pivots on the anticipation of that "moment of truth" - the immediate prospect of death. The build-up to that moment is marked by the two sides to the dispute maneuvering to heighten the psychological pressure on the other. And the groundwork for this was carefully laid for this feat of courage I read about in MIM(Prisons)'s ULK.
My plantation has no solidarity amongst us. If you try to manufacture some you're put in long term administrative segregation (Ad-Seg) on solitary confinement for up to a year, due to safety and security being breached or a panya (rat) wanting you out the way before you get h privileges taken. I write this from Ad-Seg. Currently I'm a lone soldier in this struggle but as Terence MacSwiney, the Lord Mayor of Cork and commanding officer of the IRA said in a political essay, "A man who will be brave only if tromping with a legion will fail in courage if called to stand in the breach alone."
Comrades don't give up, fight on, our day is near. The weight of the people will soon crumble this paper tiger. You have my support. Shout out to my Gaidis confined in these gulags. Keep yo face up and chest out.
MIM(Prisons) responds: It is true that the hunger strike in California required much work to build unity and organization before the action. But those comrades in other states who complain that there is no unity should not be thinking that California is so very different and united. It is only through hard work and organizing and educating about common goals that any unity can be built. Across the country this kind of work is punished with solitary confinement by the prison administrators because they know that we are effective. It's often hard, slow work, but it's the only way we can build a united front and take the fight against the criminal injustice system beyond words and into actions.
While Israel/Netanyahu proclaim that Iran has, or is developing, a nuclear arsenal and that nuclear research by Iran can be dangerous for peace in the Middle East, Israel continues to stockpile nuclear weapons freely, without any restriction or limit from the international community; the same as the U$A! So why is Israel allowed to develop all kinds of nuclear arsenal and weapons of mass destruction, as is the United $tates, but Iran is not allowed to have any kind of nuclear research, not even for peaceful purposes, such as energy? Is Israel less aggressive and less war-waging than Iran? Is the U$A less war waging than Iran? Are the U$A and Israel more democratic and just than Iran or Syria or Iraq or Afghanistan?
It looks like democracy, to the U$A, is in the eye of the beholder! To the imperialists, democracy means providing for the elite, the top aristocracy and their lackeys, but not for the oppressed and exploited of the world. This is part of the principal contradiction in imperialist society. It is selfish and cannot see democracy from the vantage of the oppressed nations and the Third World nations!
So Israel can have nuclear warheads, pointing toward Iran, Syria, or any Arab-Muslim country that they claim threatens Israel, but none of those countries can have nuclear research, even if it is for peaceful purposes like generating electricity. With this kind of provocation, Israel is ushering the Arab-Muslim countries to war; but that might be unfortunate for Israel!
MIM(Prisons) responds: This is a good point about imperialist double standards that we need to hammer home each time we see examples of it. The imperialists define who they want to label "terrorists" while they run around the world committing real acts of terror: mass murder, widespread destruction, and environmental devastation. It is the imperialists who will be the cause of the end of humyn life on earth if we do not come together with the oppressed of the world to put an end to imperialist terror.
Today, the United $tates threatened to trigger conflict with Iran when one of its unmanned drones allegedly lost control and flew into Iranian air space.(1) If it was Iran's drone that had flown over the United $tates, we would again see the double standard at play. Last month the Amerikans made unlikely accusations against Iran's Qods force that it plotted a terrorist attack in Washington DC with the Mexican drug cartel, Zeta. Amerikan politicians attack the Third World as "terrorists" and the internal semi-colonies as "gangs." While they tell fantastic stories(2) to link foreign terrorists with North American gangs, we work with lumpen in the United $tates to develop in a united front with the struggle of Third World peoples to end oppression and exploitation. Many people join the anti-imperialist movement out of persynal reasons (for instance fighting against the horrible conditions of imprisonment in Security Housing Units) but we need to broaden our thinking beyond our persynal struggles and see the connections to the oppressed of the world if we hope to make real and lasting change.
On November 14, 2011 in 4 building recreational yard, 20+ prisoners (Brown, Black and white) gathered in an historical moment in the state of Texas. This gathering consisted of different organizations, and was the result of the Connally Unit's continued lack of responsibility:
unsanitized trays in the chow hall
no cleaning supplies for individual cells
lack of nutritious food
high commissary prices etc.
As a result of this peaceful gathering, we were targeted and harassed by the units of "gang intelligence," Ms Gonzalez and 30+ officers, all coming out to the recreational yard and surrounding us as we sat on the ground discussing our reasons for coming together. The unit warden also came out but never asked us any questions as to why we were gathered. I did have a piece of paper stating all the above and more, that Ms. Gonzalez took from me. Ms Gonzalez questioned me as to why this gathering was in place and I simply stated that she needed to read the piece of paper she got from me. But she didn't believe what was on it and stated that we were there because we wanted to start a racial riot. As we sat peacefully with their cameras on us we continued to discuss some of the concerns prisoners had pertaining to the health and well being of every individual.
One by one we were stripped and placed back into our cells. The whole building, which consists of 432 prisoners, got locked down for over 24 hours due to our actions and the administration's lack of understanding.
Seeds were scattered that day and the growth of these seeds we shall continue to maintain for a better tomorrow. We have reason to believe that persistence and dedication will soon give us a beautiful "rose within the garden."
I hope that those who read this article familiarize themselves with past experiences before trying to engage in the same, from the uprisings in the plantation camps, to the more modern times: the Attica uprising and Georgia's historical lockdown December 2010, and the more recent, Pelican Bay fasting this year.
Together we can move mountains!
MIM(Prisons) responds: This severe repression in the face of peaceful protests for modest demands provides a good example of the importance of building a strong and unified prison movement if we hope to fight the criminal injustice system. To further build this unity we are calling on all lumpen organizations to join the United Front for Peace in Prison. The Statement of Principles of the UF includes this first point of Peace, "We organize to end the needless conflicts and violence within the U.$. prison environment. The oppressors use divide and conquer strategies so that we fight each other instead of them. We will stand together and defend ourselves from oppression."
Comrades, here is a CDCR regulation that we can use against censorship. Essentially there are no ban lists. Straight from the California Code of Regulations:
15 CCR § 3190(i)(2) "Legal Material, including legal reference material, books, and legal pads not available in the institution canteen, pursuant to section 3161. There shall be no 'Approved Vendor Lists' for any legal publications. Inmates may receive legal publications from any publisher, book store or book distributor that does mail order business."
15 CCR § 3190(i)(7) "All publications, including books and subscriptions to periodicals, subject to section 3006. There shall be no "Approved Vendor Lists" for any publications. Inmates may receive publications from any publisher, book store or book distributor that does mail order business."
MIM(Prisons) responds: This has been official policy since 2008, yet CDCR staff continue to cite the 2006 ban memo years after a lawsuit put an end to the ban on MIM Distributors's mail in the state of California. Therefore we find it useful to reprint these rules, for comrades to use in their own appeals. Remember to forward us any documentation of censorship and appeals. Many of these facilities have been citing the overturned 2006 memo for years, yet claim it is a mistake when we write them for an explanation. Establishing these patterns is important in building our cases. While they'll never follow the rules all the time, using the law against them is one tactic for organizing resistance and creating more space for education to occur. We have put together a supplement to our Censorship Guide which focuses on the California ban, so write in to get it if you're being given this reason for censorship.
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.