I was born of a womb of a mother who smokes grew of age in a concrete tomb choking on I-15's exhaust smoke my veins I must stretch to feel at ease This is what my life is like from conception to the grave unable to breathe quit what it is you hate while you still hate it three quarters done with my sentence hoping someone's still there to say "You've made it" Considered depressed and despondent since the age of five that's when I learned to pledge allegiance age five they taught us loyalty to one's country as I smuggled cans of copenhagen and snickers to my daddy in prison age five I was born of a country Built on and maintaining DOC brutality Pledged allegiance to a flag that destroyed my family So, you see this is what my life is like from conception to the grave Still unable to breathe
On May 20 prisoners at the privately run Adams County Correctional Center in Natchez, Mississippi, rose up in protest of the violence, abuse and neglect at this prison for non-citizens incarcerated for re-entering the United $tates after deportation and for other charges. Prisoners took control of the facility for over eight hours before SWAT teams took back the prison using pepper spray grenades and tear gas bombs among other weapons.
The prison administration is claiming the violence was a result of prisoner-on-prisoner conflicts but one prisoner involved in the struggle called a Jackson TV station and clearly articulated that the riot was due to mistreatment of prisoners: "They always beat us and hit us. We just pay them back... We're trying to get better food, medical, programs, clothes, and we're trying to get some respect from the officers and lieutenants." The prisoner confirmed his identity by sending photos from inside the prison.(1)
In recent years the U.$. has hit 400,000 deportations a year, the majority Latino nationals. Pre-deportation Detention Centers are the site of widespread abuse as the prison guards are accountable to no one and the prisoners are among the least valued people in Amerika by those in charge.
As we reported in a 2009 article "National Oppression as Migrant Detention", migrants are the fastest growing prison population and they face significant abuse behind bars: "The American Civil Liberties Union says that the conditions in which these civil detainees are held are often as bad as or worse than those faced by people imprisoned with criminal convictions. These detention centers are described as 'woefully unregulated.' The 'requirements' that they do have about how to treat people have no legal obligation, reducing them essentially to suggestions." So it should be no surprise that these prisoners in Mississippi are fighting back.
The economic motivations of the private company that runs Adams County CC, Correctional Corporation of America, is directly counter to the humyn rights of prisoners. Again from the 2009 MIM(Prisons) article: "The Correctional Corporation of America, a private prison management company who controls half of the detention facilities run by private companies, spent $3 million lobbying politicians in 2004. They want stricter immigration laws so they can have access to more prisoners, which will bring them more money. In turn, ICE is able to pay 26% less per day to house prisoners in a private versus state-run facility. This is possible because of the lack of public as well as governmental oversight at private facilities, where they reduce costs by getting rid of everything that would help prisoners, including necessary-to-life medical care. One reason state governments shied away from private prisons for their own citizens was the scandals that they quickly became associated with. In the year 1998-99, Wackenhut's private prisons in New Mexico had a death rate 55 times that of the national average for prisons. The migrant population's lack of voice allows these corporations to get away with their cost-cutting abusive conditions when contracted by ICE. This is another good example of how capitalism values profit over humyn life."
The distinction between legal and illegal residents of the United $tates is a clear example of the enforcement of imperialist wealth and poverty using borders. Those who happen to be born on the north side of the artificial border to Mexico have access to many resources and opportunities, and most of those born on the south side live in poverty with very limited opportunities. The United $tates can't let migrants through the border because that would open up jobs to all who want to compete, rather than keeping them for the well off labor aristocracy. Instead the imperialists set up corporations to suck the wealth out of Latin American countries, devastate their economies with loan programs and puppet governments, and benefit from the cheap labor that results.
Prisons are just one aspect of the imperialist oppression of undocumented migrants. We support the prisoners in Mississippi and across the country who are fighting back against inhumane conditions. We need more reporting directly from the prisoners involved in these protests. Help us spread the word by sending your stories to Under Lock & Key and request MIM lit in Spanish to spread our message.
I am writing as a representative of the Five Percent Nation of Gods and Earths(5PNGE). Although I cannot speak in authority on behalf of all Five Percenters, I aim to show how our nation's fundamental principles are in line with those of the United Front for Peace in Prison.
The first principle of PEACE is in line with the third principle of "What we will Achieve." Peace being the absence of confusion and chaos within ourselves, our communities, our nation, and the world. The attainment of PEACE in any fashion stems first from education and the subsequent enlightenment of the individual. Once the oppressed are emancipated from the mental slavery that results from the thorough indoctrination of self-destructive concepts presented by the imperialist elite, then we can truly stand together and defend ourselves from the now known enemy. The imperialist machine has done a great job of placing false labels upon us to keep us separated rendering us unable to attain any true Umoja amongst ourselves.
The first principle of "What we will achieve" (National Consciousness) is in line with the principles of Unity, Growth, and Internationalism in that national consciousness is the awareness that "we are all one people, regardless of geographical origins and that we must work and struggle as one if we are to liberate ourselves from the domination of outside forces" and destroy white supremacy, white privilege and imperialism once and for all. The labels Latino, African Amerikan, Asian, and Native American only help to separate us and keep us from realizing that we are only truly one people who share a common history. Somos originales. As the descendants of the fathers and mothers of civilization we have an obligation to humanity to restore the true culture of communal living and peace.
Now although the 5PNGE seeks to unite people of color and firmly resist white supremacy/privilege in all its forms, we do not exclude whites from our ranks. This transition is difficult for many whites because they are forced to realize that the overwhelming cultural history of Europeans consists of colonialism, murder, enslavement, and general exploitation of the world's inhabitants. After coming under study and rejecting this devilish, destructive legacy they have the opportunity to join the struggle of the Original People and overthrow the Devils Un-civilization (the imperialist machine).
The 5PNGE finds independence through the second principle of "what we will achieve": community control. This consists of regaining control of the educational, economic, political, media, and health institutions within our communities for ourselves. We must have control on the collective level so that we can maintain and advance the civilization. The current political/socio-economic system does not serve us as a people because it was not established for us. The United $nakes of Amerikkka (as well as all other imperialist countries that make up un-civilization) was born on the backs of the exploited class. It is futile to rely on the slave masters for substance when we have in us the tools to sustain ourselves in a more productive manner than any program the current system may provide.
Now although ULK serves as a forum for political and revolutionary discourse, it is the responsibility of all within the 5PNGE as well as all other LOs as part of the United Front for Peace in Prison to educate those individuals still blinded by the propaganda of the mainstream. Revolutionary education will build revolutionary minds equipped with the tools to make revolutionary actions. Remember P.E.A.C.E. Positive Education Always Corrects Errors.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Overall we have a lot of unity with this comrade, which demonstrates the ability of organizations with different ideologies to unite on common principles. We agree it is the goal of the United Front for Peace in Prisons to unite lumpen organizations in the struggle while pushing them to a higher level of political action and understanding. We hope that others with 5PNGE will take up this comrade's call for unity of the oppressed and all who oppose imperialism. 5PNGE takes a religious focused approach to the struggle, while Maoists use the scientific method based in dialectical materialism, but when we both arrive at the same anti-imperialist conclusions then we we have fundamental unity at this stage in the struggle.
I have been incarcerated in the Missouri Department of Corruption since 1997. Over these many years I have been confined to seven different "camps" within the state of "Missery."
I have seen prisoners maced and beat severely at Potosi Correctional Center in the late 90s. Officers there would routinely chain prisoners up "hog tied" like and leave them lying in their cells. Rather than move prisoners that didn't get along or otherwise weren't compatible they would make them fight and in two instances I know of, prisoners were murdered by their cellmates.
All over the state it is common practice to place completely incompatible people in a cell together. Guys with life without parole being celled with prisoners with only a matter of months left in their sentence.
At Crossroads Correctional Center I saw a sergeant kick a "chuck-hole" closed on one prisoner's arm. Another sergeant grabbed a prisoner in a reverse headlock and dropped said prisoner on his face using all his own body weight. Prisoners with asthma or other health problems are sprayed with pepper spray.
All over the state it is common for prisoners to be "free-cased" for violations or crimes they had nothing to do with because a scape-goat was needed in a hurry to save face or out of animosity issues between staff and prisoners.
At South Central Correctional Center prisoners were "free-cased" for another prisoner's murder because the institution needed scape-goats to cover up their own incompetency in running a safe and secure 'camp' and insufficient security equipment.
All over the state there are prisoners on a status termed "long term mandated single-cell confinement." This security status has no set end, no guidelines and no governing policies or any unit set aside for such a special security status. There are men on this status who have been confined solidarity for over ten years.
At South East Correctional Center things are to a point where at the time of this writing there are prisoners eating foreign objects such as ink pens, screws, and any item obtainable (in one case the ear stem of a pair of eye glasses) to express the need to be transferred away from the tyrannical oppression found in this backward run facility.
All over the state prisoners are housed in single-man cell units with prisoners with severe mental illness so they are subjected to round the clock beating on walls and sinks, yelling and screaming, smearing and throwing feces, urine, etc. Lights are left on or shut off per the whim of the officers.
Illinois has followed in the steps of California and Virginia. On June 3, 2012 twenty-three political prisoners went on hunger strike together in protest of various administrative issues at Pontiac Correctional Center. On the same day I.A. interrogated all of the strikers in an attempt to frame the strike as "gang activity."
Pontiac Correctional Center exists in Illinois for the sole purpose of isolating prisoners from each other and the world. The vast majority of prisoners here are in segregation. As part of the administration's oppression against us we are beaten, unfed, given inadequate law libraries, isolated, and much more. All of this is being protested by the strikers. From Palestine to California and Virginia to Illinois the revolution against tyranny and despair, extortion and exploitation, oppression and capitalism is growing stronger.
In the name of revolution, solidarity, and struggle.
I'm reporting from Kern Valley State Prison (KVSP). I've been engaged in the last 16 months educating our comrades to the increasingly aggressive tactics California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has taken in the course of systematically depriving us of every human and civil right a prisoner is supposed to retain. I've also been attempting to strengthen communication and, aside from a select few, have been met with complacency and apathy.
We few have organized effective communication with one another and have used creative strategies to combat certain conditions we've been experiencing. At first, utilizing the 602 grievance process was only met with rejections, so we took our well written 602s (grievances) that used Department Operations Manual (DOM), California Code of Regulations (CCR) Title 15, California penal code, and U.S. law, and bypassed the lower level institutional coordinators and submitted copies to:
Governor Brown, State Capitol, Ste. 1173 Sacramento, CA 95814
CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate, 1515 S. St., Ste. 330, Sacramento, CA 95811
CA Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, Capitol Bldg, Rm 4005, Sacramento, CA 95814
Inmate Appeals Branch, Chief CDCR, PO Box 942883, Sacramento, CA 94283-0001
And other relevant heads of department and politicians. The outcome has led to a spotlight shining down on KVSP administrative staff with official reprimands and supplemental memorandums and addendum. Warden M.D. Biter has been reprimanded to the effect of: stop superseding the DOM, CCR, and other applicable state and federal law, and to honor the CDCR 22 written request process that was formulated after the 2011 hunger strikes, and 602 grievance process. I've only been told this and cannot provide documentation, but it comes from reliable sources within administrative staff who are against the institution head's policies.
Ever since these reprimands have supposedly taken place, there has been a notable change in everything. Our 602s are being accepted for review, 22 forms are being answered within time limits, program has resumed on modified procedure, and our food is adequately proportioned. We've had no cases of staff misconduct, threats of any kind, or adverse retaliatory actions from administration, from January through today's date of 5 June 2012.
I've created a private law library of essential regulatory content and political value which has been utilized and facilitated by interested prisoners and we are accumulating knowledge.
These are still initial stages and our struggle needs lots of work, but even minor accomplishments are boosting morale. I encourage everyone to take the steps we've taken and stay strong and diligent. Keep records, daily logs, and file immediate complaints of misconduct.
MIM(Prisons) adds: This prisoner is setting a good example of how to push forward the legal struggle for basic rights. And this article provides some good advice for California prisoners working on the grievance campaign demanding that grievances be addressed. Improving conditions within which prisoners live and organize is an important step in the struggle against the criminal injustice system. We know these reforms will only bring short-term relief, as the system itself serves the interests of the ruling imperialists and so substantive change will not come until we overthrow imperialism. But these battles are important for both education and the successes they bring.
Who are we... Peasants from the slums/ The ghettos, the streets Where we love drug lords & hate bums/ Drug up & get numb/ Party to hide our embarrassment Trying to live lavishly/ As the tears stream down From momz face she's treated savagely/ But still we're lost & brainwashed I can afford a ounce of weed/ But can't buy the baby shoes when in need/ I can slang dope to fend for the kids/ But can't teach them some respect Cause the slave pen is where I live/ Who are we... Some thugs & gangstas/ Or fakes & wankstas/ Oblivious & ignorant Cold-hearted & impenitent/ Broken-hearted & belligerent But intelligent & benevolent/ But we only show the malevolence...why?/ Cause where we from weakness only leads to violence/ Funerals, head shots/ Dead homes & dead cops/ Who are we... Lovers & haters, givers & takers/ My mind says it's time To change who we are/ From the only things being important is money, clothes & cars/ To cherishing our women instead of sluts, hoes & broads/ To being brothers instead of niggas/ To pullin good mass-movements instead of pulling triggas/ Selling dope is so old, only makes you hot instead of cold/ With ice, don't sell your soul cause it's a hellava price/ Revolution is the only solution/ The only resolution/ Fight for what's right/ Fight for your life/ A soldier, warrior, survivor/ A man, a woman, a sister, a brother, a rider?/ Who are you...
In a letter from a long-time reader of Under Lock & Key we received an interesting criticism of the general political movement around the shooting of unarmed Black youth, Trayvon Martin. While he did not criticize MIM(Prisons) directly, some of the comments apply to the the article by cipactli on Trayvon Martin printed in ULK 26 which he had not yet seen when he sent the letter. One of the main points of criticism is based on Zimmerman being half Latino — a point that cipactli's article does not address. The article in ULK 26 identifies Zimmerman with white supremacists. This is a correct categorization of his actions which manifest the results of a lifetime of racist education, but there is a more subtle point to be made about race and national oppression when these crimes are oppressed nation on oppressed nation.
There are some fundamental points on which we disagree with the reader's critique. He writes that "it's long past time for us all to stop speaking in the terms of the racist color codes used to identify human beings like any other commodity in order to facilitate marketing and manipulation." We see the national contradiction as alive and strong within the imperialist United $tates, and it is certainly possible for one oppressed nation to participate in the oppression of another. In fact, it is possible for individual Blacks to rise to positions of power within the imperialist state and help repress the Black Nation as a whole. Barack Obama is an obvious example of this. Those comprador individuals from oppressed nations who want power and wealth, even at the expense of their nation, do not provide evidence that we can move beyond the national contradiction which is what drives attitudes and practices of racism.
As we explained in ULK 26, the national contradiction is still principal in Amerika today. While not called out in the letter, underlying our disagreement on nation is a disagreement on class: MIM(Prisons) sees clearly that the vast majority of Amerikan citizens are not part of the proletariat. Their material benefits from imperialism have put them squarely within the exploiter class.
Every persyn in this country sees the stereotypes of Black youth as hoodlums, dangerous and destined for prison. Zimmerman is no different. And so it is a result of national oppression that unarmed Black youth can be killed by cops and vigilantes while the imperialist state does nothing. Studies have shown that Amerikans (of all nationalities), when asked to identify or imagine a drug criminal, overwhelmingly picture a Black person. This is statistically inaccurate: they should be picturing a white youth. (See our review of The New Jim Crow for more on this topic).
The state would prefer that oppressed nation youth kill each other, as this is a more efficient approach for the state and it helps reinforce the stereotypes about the dangerous hoodlums who must be locked away. By hesitating to pursue Zimmerman for the death of Martin the state is treating him more as a white man than a Latino.
This reader criticizes the many people who have come out to demand "Justice for Trayvon" but didn't step up when Oscar Grant was murdered by police officer Johannes Mehserle. "A cold-blooded execution that met all the elements required to convict Mehserle of premeditated murder beyond a shadow of a doubt! A murder for which he only served one year! Where's the hue and cry for Mehserle's blood!" This is a fine argument, but one which again underscores the national oppression in Amerika which leads to racist stereotypes of Blacks (and other nationalities) that results in racial profiling and police brutality targeting these groups.(1)
The reader concludes with some good points about the criminal injustice system, "After being railroaded into prison for a crime the police committed, I've learned that nearly a third of my fellow prisoners are innocent, with another third convicted by unlawful police and prosecutorial tactics. All of you out there are just one arrest away from the horror show that is justice in America. You don't have to do anything, except be in the wrong place at the wrong time and, then, even white privilege won't save your ass!" But the reality is, if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time and you are Black you are significantly more likely to get thrown in prison or killed. A recent report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement cited at least 110 Black people killed by Amerikan cops and security in the first half of 2012.(2) This is in a country where the FBI reports around 400 police killings each year, total!(3) Just as Blacks are about half the prison population in a country where they make up 12% of the population, they appear to also be about half the police killings. So in fact white privilege is alive and well. It doesn't work for everyone, the injustice system rounds up plenty of whites, but disproportionately Blacks, Latinos and First Nations are victims. This is a statistical truth that is not disproved by individual incidents that are exceptions to the rule. Statistics and thinking at the group level are important requirements for a scientific analysis of society, which in turn is necessary to transform our reality.
When one is imprisoned and kept away from society for a rather long period of time, it's not unnatural to feel as if you're beginning to lose your bearings, and it's not unnatural for one to seek help from "medical professionals."
What is considered unnatural however is to speak of the plight of the oppressed. I found this out the hard way when I went to my annual psychiatric review. To be "mentally-ill" or depressed when one is from oppressed nation origin and imprisoned is perfectly normal. However, to be perfectly normal or "sane" under the oppressive conditions of imperialism is certainly abnormal. One cannot be of oppressed nation origin and imprisoned and be content. Depression is a completely appropriate state of mind when oppressed by imperialism; there can be no other reaction.
As stated above I attended my annual psychiatric review and was introduced to the four member committee. I was asked a series of questions. How did I feel? Have I experienced any depression lately? Am I suicidal? I answered their questions as quickly and concisely as possible. I felt I passed their test with flying colors. As I was about to be excused however one of the psychiatrists stopped me from leaving and asked me if we could talk about my revolutionary tattoos. My first instinct was to ask him what my tattoos have to do with my "mental health." However, I felt it might look bad to not cooperate so I agreed to stay.
The psych wanted to know what they meant. I simply stated that they were political symbols and took it no further, but he pressed and wanted to know exactly what they meant. S/he kept pressing and at this point I once again thought, "what the hell do my political beliefs have to do with my mental health?!" I figured I'd play their little game and see exactly what they were trying to get at.
I was asked why I choose to have this artwork on me. I replied that they were simply expressions of my solidarity with the oppressed and exploited of the Third World. But why did I feel the need to show my solidarity? "Because" I stated, "they're oppressed and exploited, they've been oppressed and exploited and they're gonna continue to be oppressed and exploited for the foreseeable future!" "Oh, is that all?" At which point I lost temporary control of my emotions and strongly stated: "Yea, that and the fact that they're currently being massacred across the globe!" The committee then collectively jumped and stared at me as if I was indeed crazy for saying these truths.
The psych then attempted to further bait me and get me to incriminate myself by asking me if I felt the need to show my solidarity in any other way. To which I simply laughed and stared in h judgmental hate-filled eyes and said "of course not, I'm in prison." But what if I wasn't in prison? And of course I laughed and just said no.
S/he then accused me of being a gang member, to which I immediately objected and said "no, I am not a gang member!" But the bald-head, the tattoos and last but not least the fact that I'm from the oppressed nations certainly means that I'm a gang member. S/he then asked me what I'm in prisyn for. I told h the truth and told h that I'm in prison for "gang violence." S/he then repeated that I was a gang member. "No!" I once again corrected h. I explained to h that while I once was a gang member, I no longer am today. However, s/he insisted and asked me if I was in solidarity with the Third World when I was on the streets. I told h of course not. I was in solidarity with myself and my "gang". "So you've changed?!" Of course I changed, everybody changes. To which s/he then looked at me curiously and asked if I'd ever been in an insane asylum. "No" I stated. "Would you like to go to one?" "No" I once again stated. I was quite simply surprised that s/he would threaten me so openly. I was then excused.
The implication is clear. To speak of the plight of the oppressed and exploited Third World masses, one must be "crazy."
Recently I was transferred to High Desert State Prison in obvious retaliation for my legal and political activities. The state fostered the misguided notion that by transferring me they would:
Undermine or silence the struggle at one prison and
Silence me upon arrival at the other
This has proven an incorrect analysis.
Upon arriving in what is openly hostile territory it became apparent that the possibility of unifying the population existed due to the commonality of complaints. The result is that not only has the population become unified ideologically (i.e. the need for action) but they have actually mobilized toward that end.
Some of the common issues include:
Absence of regular medical attention
Denial/refusal of medication and mental health care for mentally ill prisoners
Physical and sexual abusive behavior by the pigs
Starvation-size portions of food
Inadequate law library access
Denial of access to religious accommodations
Forced housing creating hostile, dangerous, and potentially lethal results
Thus far we have made progress on the medical issues and, to a lesser extent, the food. The pigs are suddenly not so aggressive as well. But we're fed children's portions — maybe. Some have, with just a little effort, taken up the struggle with the knowledge that it is a protracted struggle, but by working together and refusing to accept degradation we can cause change and we can make our lot more humane and ultimately more just.
I still have my parole problems, but if they insist on keeping me caged, then I shall make myself a cost-ineffective exhibit and I will make this zoo as oppression-resistant as I can.
[Update from 6/20/2012] We submitted a grievance petition tailored specifically to the Nevada system, which has been circulated and "signed on to" by several prisoners thus far with numbers growing. We will be organizing a similar campaign over lack of food and medical/health issues.