I am writing to ULK to keep readers informed about what is going on inside the federal prison system. After receiving the last issue, I was enlightened to the status of a movement that is going on in South Carolina state prison system. I have spent a long time in the lock units of the SC state prisons and know them very well.
I have firsthand knowledge about the very beginning of the United Gangster movement that is growing in the prison system of that state. I am glad to hear that it's becoming more organized because I didn't have good expectations that it would make it this far.
I know how fearful the administration was about a movement taking place inside the prison, and how the SHU was used to stop prisoners who were supposed to be involved in this movement. I will continue to fight censorship of everything associated with anti-imperialism and the prison industry.
MIM(Prisons) responds: There are many lumpen organizations with origins in the streets and prisons focused on getting what they can for their members, often at the expense of the people. But these organizations can refocus and develop correct political leadership. We look to unite with all LOs who can get behind the five points of the United Front for Peace in Prisons. This does not require organizations to take up Maoism, but the points are a minimum basis for anti-imperialist unity in our prisons organizing.
Recently there was a victory for Oklahoma's prisoner population, with respect to the difficulty of having grievances heard and adequately addressed. On February 29 2012, a magistrate judge held that Director Justin Jones "wrongfully established, maintained and enforced the grievance policy and authorized punishment for inmates who show disrespect to staff." The magistrate further held that Director Justin Jones had: "failed to establish an available administrative remedy on the claim involving the policy on grievance restrictions and disregarded the claim against Mr. Jones for the disciplinary policy involving disrespect to staff."
On February 2 2011, the Plaintiff in this case filed a grievance challenging his placement on a grievance restriction. Five days later, the grievance coordinator returned the grievance and checked the box for "Not an issue grievable to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (Private Prisons property, misconduct, see OP-090124, Section 11.B.1.), litigation pending, not within/under."
In response to a complaint made by the Plaintiff, Director Jones argued that the he had "failed to exhaust his administrative remedies." Director Jones's argument consisted of the following sentence: "Here the prison's administrative records demonstrate that Plaintiff has not filed any grievance/grievance appeal regarding his being placed on 'Grievance Restriction.'"
Director Jones relied on an affidavit by Debbie Morton, which stated that the Plaintiff had not appealed the February 7 grievance decision to her office. Presumably, the Plaintiff did not appeal the decision because the grievance coordinator has told him that the complaint was not grievable.(1) Even at the time of the magistrate's report and recommendation, Director Jones still did not submit any evidence to suggest that the complaint would have been grievable.
"The plain language of the [Prison Litigation Reform Act] requires that prisoners exhaust only available remedies." Tuckel v. Grover, 660 F. 3d 1249, 1252 (10th Cir. 2011) (quoting 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a)). The Oklahoma Department of Corrections's (ODOC's) special report includes excerpts from the grievance policy, but those portions do not identify the matters that are grievable. The magistrate held "thus, Mr. Jones has failed to satisfy his burden of demonstrating an available administrative remedy to contest imposition of a grievance restriction or punishment for disrespect to staff."
In his conclusion, the magistrate stated as follows: "When the Defendant's evidence is reviewed favorably to [the Plaintiff] as required, one can reasonably infer that there was no available administrative remedy to contest his placement on a grievance restriction or the punishment for disrespect to staff. As a result, the court should reject Mr. Jones' argument for dismissal or summary judgement on the basis of exhaustion."
As stated and shown above, my fellow comrades in Oklahoma prisons have no available administrative remedy to contest a grievance restriction or punishment for "disrespect to staff," due to an erroneous establishment of a grievance policy or disciplinary policy. The above outlined lawsuit was filed on March 17 2011 against the Directory of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. If comrades in Oklahoma have been placed on grievance restriction, follow the policy while on that restriction and see to it that the oppressor is dealt with justly.
Further, if comrades are housed at private prisons, know that the ODOC and private companies are in cahoots with each other in an effort to deny you a Constitutional right permitting you to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
I recently returned from a trip to federal court in Harrisburg Pennsylvania. As I re-entered these battered walls of this prison I cringed and rejoiced because the conditions of the temp prison I was at are far worse than Huntingdon. SCI Camp Hill "AKA White Hill" is known for beating, starving, humiliating, and much more. I was housed in the SMU portion of the jail. It's a long-term disciplinary unit. I was banged off every door from booking to the unit, which was no surprise. There we got three cold meals a day, no yard, no shower. That place is crazy. I passed your address along and let the brothers know that there are people who care about these conditions of the PA prison system. These pigs, all ex-military, are overweight, out of shape, and relentless.
As I entered back to the RHU part of Huntingdon I was greeted with "there he is!" "That's the Rat!" I was puzzled, I've never told on anyone in my life. I did a little research and learned that while I was away a couple pigs were telling other prisoners I was ratting on them for passing stuff. We came to the conclusion that my letter to the Department of Justice made these pigs mad. I wrote a letter to the Department of Justice in Washington naming several COs chewing snuff and spitting it in our food, the mice that run this place, the lack of heat, and the neglect of a young Spanish boy who hung himself. The boy survived only because we were kicking our doors and yelling for help. He was in a camera cell with 24 hours live feed to a screen in the RHU bubble, but the pigs were watching TV and playing on the computer while this young man was trying to end his life. So I'm a rat for helping my fellow man. We straightened that all out, and now the pigs are our target once again.
I try to stress to these young brothers, we can't oppress each other. We are already being oppressed by the PA DOC. I tell them if you feel like oppressing another prisoner, take it out on the pigs. I'm spreading copies of all you send me, I'd like to know about how to start a study group here. I want to push your theory it seems to be positive growth material.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We commend this comrade for taking on the "Rat" label head on and clearing his name with his fellow prisoners so that he could continue his organizing work. As point 2 of the United Front principles states, "To maintain unity we have to keep an open line of networking and communication, and ensure we address any situation with true facts." To help prisoners like this one, we run a study group through the mail that provides basic political education, and we also have a guide to forming study groups in prison, so that people can take what they learn and share it with others and have discussions in the yard or wherever else it is possible to gather and talk. Write to us for more information.
Corcoran prison officials have been retaliating and harassing the prisoners. They started feeding us on small paper trays, leaving us in our cells for days without exercise yard, and openly telling us it's because of people going on hunger strike.
Institution Gang Investigations (IGI) has been harassing everybody, even me. They came and took everything out of my living cell claiming that I am a suspected BGF member. That's crazy! I'm not from any gang at all. Corcoran prison officials got me going back to court facing 10 years to life. They wrote up several false reports on me stating I assaulted staff and the Hanford County DA picked up all the cases.
They are retaliating and punishing everybody. And get this: the prisoners are running scared. They stopped filing complaints against the police, saying: "I don't want IGI fucking with me." Man! It hurts bad to see my own comrades laying down and giving up.
I have been really pushing hard to shut down the Security Housing Units. I have been telling everybody to stop taking a cellmate. Can you imagine the panic that will come over head officials if everybody with a cellmate said no, I'm not taking a cellie. Imagine that. Then ask yourselves should we push for another hunger strike and hurt our health and become too weak to fight these pigs? Or should we push for a big movement to stop all comrades from taking a cellmate? I'll give these pigs 30 days and they will shit on themselves and give up whatever we demand.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We know that the California prisons have been retaliating against prisoners who participated in the recent hunger strikes, and this comrade raises a good point in pushing forward the discussion about best tactics for next steps.
The date of the MOVE massacre was May 13, 1985. The original article (Assassination Nation) printed the date of the massacre to be May 17, 1985. The author and MIM(Prisons) apologize for this oversight.
The newspaper of the bourgeois nationalist Nation of Islam, The Final Call, recently ran an article titled, "Powerless Majority? State of the Dream 2012 says non-Whites will still suffer as largest U.S. group." (1)
The article was an overview of the annual report written by United for a Fair Economy, a Boston-based economic think tank, which does a yearly assessment of progress on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of justice and equality since Dr. King was assassinated by the imperialists.
The 2012 report, the ninth such report, analyzes 30 years of public policy on the "racial" [national - BORO] divide and how it impacted economics, poverty, education, home ownership, healthcare and incarceration. The conclusion: although oppressed semi-colonies will be the population majority by 2042, they will also be the poorest, least educated, most unemployed and most incarcerated, with at least five million New Afrikans being held kaptive in state and federal prisons.
BORO does not find it strange that such a bleak future is being predicted for oppressed nations under the current system, especially the projected incarceration figures considering the fact that in 2012 there are more New Afrikans in prisyn than were in slavery in 1850.(2)
In the conclusion of the "Dream" article, one of the co-authors of the Dream report is quoted as saying, "we have a nation that has a history of 'racial inequality' [national oppression - BORO] and white supremacy, all the things that have been put in place 50 years ago, 100 years ago, are still together, intact. If you break down all these institutional structures and start looking at things in a different way, we'll continue talking about disparities because we're not fighting the real thing."(1)
The dreamer is correct that it is the "structures" of this system that are hindering oppressed nations from self-determination and national development. Yet he/she failed to identify the capitalist-imperialist system as the "real thing" that is the impediment to national independence and how we were to fight it. As a result, he/she implies that we can reform the system and do not need revolution to put an end to imperialism.
Malcolm X once said that for New Afrikans (and other oppressed nations), the Amerikan dream was nothing but an Amerikan nightmare. Not much has changed to alter the validity of that statement.
If oppressed nations are to defeat imperialism and attain self-determination and national independence, they must come to understand, in a more scientific way, that the political structure and social institutions which make up the superstructure of society have to be understood in relation to the underlying economic base (substructure) and to all of the contradictions within the economic base.
Why? Because it is the capitalist-imperialist economic system that gives rise to the contradictions we call poverty, mass incarceration, homelessness, unemployment, etc. in this society. The resolution of the former, will be the beginning of the resolution of the latter. That is why we stress that we must build institutions of the oppressed to address these contradictions and prepare for a new society. But as we say in the hood and barrio, "don't nothing come to a sleeper, but a dream!"
What the State of the Dream report did accomplish, was to provide the poor and oppressed with an outlook of how their future is being predicted based on concrete analysis of concrete conditions. The other is that either the imperialists are unwilling or do not have the power or capability of solving the problems we face. Thus, they are unfit to be in positions of power and influence over the people.
"... every struggle that we engage in must have the dual purpose of undermining U.S. power, and of transferring that power to the people. We must gradually dismantle the oppressive state apparatus, and begin to build a new people's state apparatus, creating its embryonic structures in our communities, as we build people's organizations and institutions that end the violence, house the homeless, heal the sick and educate and train our people for their responsibilities in a new society. Each time the people themselves create and develop an idea, build an organization, solve a problem, we show through practice that we can create new structures, and new ways, that satisfy our needs. Otherwise, our needs will go unsatisfied."(3)
Justice and equality in imperialist Amerikkka?? Dream on!!!
The conditions under which we prisoners suffer must not go unchallenged by the public. I am targeted by prison staff with cold food, half portions of food, many times 1/4 portions of food, false incident reports written against me, and kept bound under the strict and harsh maximum security classification. I am a revolutionary, I study different methods and test theory from different schools of thought.
I was an activist in society (revolutionary) and I've helped to organize many communities. I now teach and organize the prisoners here, those who have a will to struggle against our current conditions. The organizing I teach is to serve our daily needs/human rights. The air conditioner is blowing full force half the winter, keeping it a cold and icy season. I openly work with all prisoners around our daily needs including protection from beatings by prison officials.
I use mostly methods from revolutionary books by mostly the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army, Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, Elaine Brown, David Hillard, Bobby Seale. These people gave their lives for the struggle. The text from this material has the power to transform minds. Education is a must.
Prison high ranking officials force prisoners to have sex in exchange for fair/humane treatment. I challenge all my fellow prisoners to stand against this oppression to join me in legally fighting it. Once again the prison officials increase the level of abuse, retaliation and torture against me to isolate and discourage others.
MIM(Prisons) replies: Retaliation against prisoners organizing for their rights is a common practice in the criminal injustice system. The best way to fight this is by building our movement. This comrade is right that we must educate and organize because the larger our forces the more difficult it will be to single out organizers for retaliation. The Black Panther Party literature provides important historical material that has relevance today. We encourage our comrades behind bars to also use MIM(Prisons) literature as an organizing tool. Under Lock & Key contains news and analysis to help educate and inspire prisoner organizing. Form study groups with others, share the newsletter, and contribute articles to help build this important resource.
Imagine being in the body of an animal who lives the zoo-life everyday for long periods of time. Waking up in the wee hours of the morning I see the same wall, same toilet and sink 8 feet from me; I feel the same back ache from last week after another night of "sleep" on a metal bunk with a 2 inch thick pissy mat. The food trap has been popped open with a loud thud - time for breakfast. As I arise from that bunk, I notice the darkness through the mesh metal covering my small window. As I stretch I jam yet another finger because I can't stretch my arms fully out.
Breakfast meals become predictable: eggs, bread and a 7 oz cup of cereal. After eating my meal I go to brush my teeth and wash my face and notice the 15 to 20 year old dirt ring around the sink and toilet. So much for effective cleaning supplies. Here at Mountain View Correctional Institution in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, we never get a fresh change of clothes. Just a wash twice a week with no detergent, soap, or anything of that matter. My white shirt matches the color of my brown pants. They issue s state-ordered Black slip-on shoes despite the fact I have my own shoes, which I'm not allowed to have in isolation. My 1 hour recreation time only 5 times a week is hardly recreation in a 15x15 steel cage with no workout equipment.
The only thing to look forward to is mail (if you're lucky enough to get it) and showers (which are only 10 minutes), and food trays. Don't forget looking forward to the hundreds of ants and rodents you will have to kill during the day that are living in your trash bag. As I talk to a friend, I get told by authorities to keep the noise level down. My friend is 5 doors down and everyone's talking at the same time, which will make this impossible. He closes a steel slider which has been placed over my door window - which they say is for "noise control." Everyone is still talking at the same time so, again, quieting down is impossible.
Finally mail call comes. They arrive at my door with a notice of publication disapproval, yet again. This is the only mail I have coming in, yet they deny this to me, always for the same reason - "may cause violence or disorder or insurrection which is a threat to institutional security." Moreover, the department and constitutional rights and policy violations are rampant. I sign away the only thing I depend on for outside contact with the world, being that visitation and telephone privileges have been restricted.
What am I to do? How about reading a book? The two I'm allowed have been read several times. After studying some material for the 5th time today, I sit and stare at the same white wall I wake up to every morning. I look down at the rib cage bones that are showing now due to the excessive weight loss from lack of adequate food. As my day winds down, I go to brush my teeth in the same dirty sink and notice against that I am forced to use state-issued hygiene when I have a tin of my own hygiene I have ordered from canteen. State-issued toothpaste, soap, deodorant that breaks my arm pits out. I see why they say the state is going broke. Even the state-issued paper I write on is a puzzling thing because I have two full 80 sheet notepads that they have denied me from having.
I lay down without brushing my hair nor combing it because I'm denied those things as well. I can expect a ton of lint to be in my head due to me being denied a wave cap to cover my head. I lay! I think! Lay on the same sheets I've had for months. The same blanket I've had for months. I think of what the morning holds. I can expect the captain to come attempt to pacify me for the grievance I just wrote on foul conditions. On the notification the secretary of divisions of prisons received about these foul conditions. What will be brought up is the numerous food strikes that have occurred. The numerous occasions where the facility's "swat" team was brought in to "Rodney King" me. The property confiscation, mail stoppage. It's always been a "reminder."
I could very well expect to be told to pack my things to be moved to another facility after just being moved from unit to unit to unit. Could it be better anywhere else? Will things change? I guess I'll see in the morning in this cage. You have no "freedom." You have no "rights." There is no "rehabilitation." No "correction" by the Department of Corrections. Only control, repression, depression, suicide, violence, problems. You do what they tell you to do or resist and face crucial and sometimes deadly consequences. Welcome to the zoo-life - and this is just the isolation unit of more vulnerable zoo-life. Where the morning is unwanted and the night is hell. But when the morning comes, we'll do it all again.
MIM(Prisons) adds: These conditions, and the punishment prisoners face when fighting for their rights, are pushing forward the campaign to demand our grievances be addressed. In reality much of the horrible conditions faced daily by prisoners is considered legal and so can't be fought through the grievance system. No surprise in a country where we let mass murderers run the government while locking up Blacks and Latinos at astronomical rates. This is why the grievance battle is part of a larger struggle against imperialism. We won't be able to reform away this injustice, in the end only revolution will allow us to make real and lasting change in the interests of the people.
"I was born in jail." This was Stokely Carmichael's response to a Swedish reporter in 1967 when asked if he was afraid of being sent to jail for helping to organize the Black nation for national liberation and self-determination.(1) In making this very poignant statement, Stokely Carmichael was putting forward the correct political analysis, referring to the prison-like conditions of the Black nation and other internal semi-colonies of Amerika at the time. It's been 45 years since then and a string of reformist struggles have proceeded. The completion of the civil rights movement, the appointment of the first Black U.$. Supreme Court "Justice," and the election of the first Black pre$ident. But have the material conditions of the Black nation truly changed when compared to other First Worlders? According to the Census Bureau statistics for the year 2006, which show more Blacks and Latinos are living in prison cells than college dorms, they have not.(2)
A new documentary titled "The Violence Interruptors: One Year In a City Grappling with Violence" makes this point ever-so-clear. This documentary centers on an imperialist-funded lumpen organization from the streets of Chicago whose membership is primarily made up of ex-gang members. For the most part they have all done some serious time for some serious crimes, but upon their release made a commitment to themselves and their communities that they would help stop the pointless violence that takes so many lives.
These ex-gang members call themselves "Violence Interruptors," which is a reference to their pacifist tactics. They are funded by the Illinois Department of Corrections, Cook County Board of Commissioners and the U.$. Department of Justice, among others. They run the Violence Interruptors under the guise of the non-profit organization called Cease Fire. The initial idea of the Violence Interruptors program was proposed and partly funded by Dr. Gary Slutkin, who upon returning to Chicago from a medical tour of Africa saw the dire straits of the oppressed here and drew parallels to the African experience. But the organization's true roots date back to Jeff Fort, whose life centered around his leadership in a Chicago lumpen organization that had one foot in Black nationalism and one in drugs and gang banging.
In federal prison from 1972 to 1976 due to his use of War on Poverty money from the government, Fort took up aspects of Islam and rebranded and restructured the Almighty Black P. Stone Nation when he got out. Along with other leading members, and at times working with the police, he worked to build peace between lumpen organizations and to keep crack out of Chicago. But of course the Amerikan government never likes to see the oppressed come together for the betterment of our people, even if at first they pretend to agree with what we're doing. So they had Fort arrested and sent back to prison on trumped up terrorism charges, where he remains today. Having successfully neutralized Fort and other early leaders, the Stones today remain a largely divided umbrella for many sets of gang bangers across Chicago, the status quo preferred by the state.(3)
Carrying on Fort's legacy, Ameena Mathews, a former gangster and Jeff Fort's daughter, is a Violence Interruptor. Mathews, like other Violence Interruptors, is no stranger to the streets and sees it as her own persynal responsibility to stop the violence, even if it means putting her own life at risk. An example of this is caught on film when during an interview for the documentary that's being given inside of her home, a fight breaks out on the street. Recognizing that even a one-on-one situation has the potential to turn deadly, she immediately rushed out to try and bring peace to the quickly-growing crowd. While attempting to calm everyone down, a young man saw a rock hurling at his cousin and sacrificially put himself in the line of fire to protect her. He was hit in the mouth. Afterwards threats are made with the promise of gunplay to come, but Mathews quickly ushers the victim away and tells him that he's the real gangsta because he defended his family and defending their families is what true gangsters do.
Eddie Bocanegra, aka "Bandit," is another Violence Interruptor who did 14 years for murder, but who, during his imprisonment, went thru a period of reflection. He recognized that he not only fucked up his life but that of his family and the family of the person he killed. Now on the streets Bandit admits to having identified pride with his gang but now sees that it was all pointless. Besides being a Violence Interruptor, Bandit also visits schools across Chicago in an attempt to counsel oppressed nation youth who might find themselves in similar situations to the ones he once did.
In the film, a delegation from South Africa requested to meet the Violence Interruptors during a recent visit to the United $tate$ in order to find out their secret to keeping the peace. Yet, the delegation became critical of one of the Interruptors' policies, which is to never involve the pigs in the community's affairs. The delegation argued that the Interruptors were not "neutral enough." The Interruptors responded that this was the reason that they were so effective within the community, because the community knows they can confide in and trust the Interruptors with their problems without the fear of being sold out. Certainly the masses are correct to think this way. Problems that arise within the community should be dealt with by the community. To bring in the pigs is only to justify the oppression and occupation of the internal semi-colonies and oppressed communities. The potential problem we see with the Interruptors is that the state is happy to fund them as independent mediators for small meaningless violence, but how do the Interruptors deal with community organizations that are not state-funded, and may come into conflict with the state? The Interruptors present themselves as an independent force, but their funding tells us otherwise.
One indication of the Interruptors' reputation with the community occurs when the family of a young murder victim receives word that his funeral is gonna be shot up by gang members looking for their original target. So seemingly effective and revered are the Interruptors that the murder victim's family calls them to provide security instead of the police. At the end of the ceremony, Ameena Mathews gives a fiery speech in which she righteously calls out all the gang members in attendance and struggles with them to "get real" with their lives because that dead body they were all there paying their respects to was certainly real, and "it don't get more real than that!"
While the documentary was being filmed, sections of the Woodlawn neighborhood, an epicenter of violent drama, came into conflict over a plan to militarize Chicago using the National Guard. The plan was developed by politicians with some members of the community. By building a real, independent peace in oppressed communities, we can eliminate the divisions within oppressed communities triggered by the wild behavior of lumpen youth and form a united front to keep the state's occupation out. The section of the community that spoke out against the call for militarization knows that the National Guard will not provide more safety, only more oppression. This shows that just because the state has gotten smarter about how to control its internal semi-colonies does not mean that they no longer see the need for armed force.
Jeff Fort and the Almighty Black P. Stone Nation's peace activism legacy lives on in the new federally-funded Violence Interruptors. Similarly, the once largely popular efforts of the Gangster Disciples to hold peace summits in Chicago has evolved into a project that works closely with the political machine of the state. Amerika has proven unable to solve the problems that have plagued the ghetto for generations. While Amerika was worried about what the Stones or the GDs might become, they were scared of what the Panthers already were. They drugged and shot Fred Hampton at age 21, while they eventually sent Fort and Larry Hoover to supermax prison cells with very limited contact with the outside world. While Barack Obama has thousands of people murdered across Africa and the Middle East, we see the level of criminality one must have to become a successful Black leader out of Chicago in this country. The imperialist-funded non-profits use pacifism for the oppressed, while painting mass murder for the oppressor nation as "spreading democracy."
Many think that the Violence Interruptors have people power, but in fact they do not, for they wouldn't even exist if they didn't have the blessing of the oppressors. While the short-term goal of the Interruptors is to "stop the violence," the long-term goal of the oppressors in creating the Interruptors is to stop the violence from spilling over onto themselves. They do this by not just co-opting grassroots attempts by the people to overcome their oppression and bring peace to the hood, but by creating organizations such as the Violence Interruptors which in the final analysis are nothing more than sham organizations; it is the bourgeoisie laughing at us.
In the Third World the bourgeoisie forms shadow organization and calls them "communist" in order to split the people and stop them from launching a People's War. In the imperialist countries, like here in the U.$., they either co-opt or infiltrate and wreck those organizations already in existence. While the Panthers were given nothing but the stick, the Stones themselves were easily distracted from the path of the Panthers with the carrot of a little money from the War on Poverty. After destroying any independent mass movements, the imperialists allow and even encourage groups that promote integration or confuse the masses.
While it is true that there is only so much that we can do for the betterment of our class given our current position as oppressed nations within the belly of the beast, we must also recognize the importance of social consciousness on social being and stop letting the circumstances of our imprisonment both in here and on the street dictate to us the confines of our reality. We must come together and build our reality. We must come together and build our own institutions that are there to serve us; institutions of the oppressed. The Black Panthers had this power and we can too. We must learn to reject the bourgeois notion of power, which is only crude power and serves to oppress and exploit. This type of power is currently exhibited by many LOs, both in here and on the streets.
While commending those individuals within the Violence Interruptors who really are trying to do their part to stop the violence, we must also draw a clear line between fighting for self-determination of the oppressed and serving as the friendly face of the imperialist state. We need more allies on the streets doing this work in support of the efforts of MIM(Prisons) and USW in building peace on the inside. Only by building our own institutions of the oppressed will we truly be able to stop the violence that takes so many lives and keeps a substantial portion of oppressed nation youth behind bars.
Brown and Black Unite! All Power to the Oppressed!
In this issue of Under Lock & Key we are featuring reports from comrades in a number of states who are leading efforts for a campaign to have prisoners' grievances heard and responded to by state officials and employees. This campaign has continued to grow in popularity, with minimal effort by MIM(Prisons), yet many have not yet heard of it and there is much room to expand. For all who remain inspired by the recent efforts of California and Georgia prisoners, but feel your conditions are not so advanced, we suggest you work on the USW-led grievance campaigns to start getting people organized in your area.
The basic actions necessary to advance the grievance campaign are:
File grievances on the problems you face where you're at. Get people around you to file grievances. Appeal your grievances to the highest level.
If your grievances go unanswered, organize people around you to sign and mail out grievance petitions created by USW, distributed by MIM(Prisons). Send follow-up letters periodically to check on the status of your petition. Send responses to the grievance petition to MIM(Prisons).
If your state is not yet covered by the grievance petition, but your grievances are going unanswered, translate the petition to work for your state. This requires looking up citations and policies, and figuring out who would be best to send the petition to.
While getting grievances responded to is essentially an exercise in reformism, we see promise in these efforts because they struggle to give voice to some of the most oppressed. This is a democratic struggle in a part of the United $tates where the least amount of democracy exists. Amerikans will tell you that's the point, "you do the crime, you do the time." But we disagree. We don't think the U.$. prison system has anything do with justice or applying objective societal rules to its citizens. The simple fact that about half of all U.$. prisoners are New Afrikan, while only 12% of the U.$. population is, disproves that theory in one fell swoop. In general, the oppressed nations have seen an increase in democracy in the United $tates, yet for a growing segment of these nations, their rights are lawfully being denied. For those who have committed real crimes against the people and should spend time in prison by proletarian standards, we think a program of reforming criminals requires accountability on both sides.
Some have pushed for campaigns to give prisoners voting rights as a method to increase prisoners' democratic rights. But we see imperialist elections having little-to-no bearing on the conditions of the oppressed nations. In contrast, we see the grievance campaign as a democratic campaign that we can support because it can actually succeed in giving prisoners more say in their day-to-day conditions.
The grievance campaign to which we are referring was originally sparked by some comrades in California in January 2010. Since then it has spread to Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Texas. The petitions are updated regularly based on feedback we get from those using it. The three states which have been particularly active lately are Texas, North Carolina, and Colorado.
The Colorado campaign kicked off just before recent reforms were enacted in the Colorado system as a result of passive resistance by the prison laborers being used in large-scale industry there. Similarly, Missouri's petition is specific to their conditions of censorship around a relatively new policy banning music with parental advisory ratings.
In this issue, there are two reports out of Texas, showing the varying levels of organization within a state. One comrade in Connally Unit reports of a mass demonstration.(page X) While another comrade has diligently filed the maximum grievances he can for almost two years, he has proved this road to be fruitless by himself.(page Y) But what is the lesson here? Are our efforts worthwhile? We say there are no rights, only power struggles. We already know that the injustice system is going to abuse people; it is made to control certain populations. In order to win in a power struggle, the other side must feel some sort of pressure. Sometimes one grievance to a higher level is enough to apply pressure. But when the higher level is involved in the repression, it's going to take a lot more than one persyn's grievance. Look at the example of the Scotland lockdown.(page Z) One comrade reported that grievances were being ignored, as has been common in Scotland before the lockdown. But we hear from ULK correspondent Wolf that a combination of complaints from prisoners and outside supporters resulted in an improvement in conditions, however small. This is parallel to the petition to End the High Desert State Prison Z-Unit Zoo, which met some success last year.
The lesson isn't that getting a little extra time out of cells, or skull caps, is a great victory. The lesson is in how prisoners and their outside supporters pulled together and exerted their influence on the DOC as a group. At the same time, a North Carolina comrade reports how standing up by oneself can be risky.(page A)
We think the grievance campaign is a good stepping stone for comrades who say unity and consciousness is lacking in their area. As we know from reports in ULK, the conditions in most prisons across this country are very similar. So the basis for mass organizing should exist even if it requires some hard work to get started. Circulating a grievance petition doesn't require a lot of people to start, and just about everyone can relate to it.
This work is not just a way to bring allies together locally, but is connecting struggles across the country. One Massachusetts comrade was inspired by the efforts of a Florida comrade who was having trouble mobilizing others and wrote in to tell h: "To my Florida comrade, I want to tell you to stay strong." S/he went on to quote Mao, "In times of difficulty we must not lose sight of our achievements, must see the bright future and must pluck up our courage."
Of course, oppression will always exist under imperialism, because it is a system defined by the oppression of some nations by others. And we cannot hope to use reforms to fix a system that tortures people and then ignores administrative remedies to cover their own asses.(page B) But we must begin somewhere. And the grievance campaign encompasses many of the little battles that we have all fought just to be able to read what we want, talk to who we want, and have a voice in this society.