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.
Recently I was informed that my nación is now considered a Security Threat Group (STG) here in the state of Texas. Not because we are doing anything that's criminal, but because the system knows that we have the potential to make change possible for all, which they see as a direct threat to their institution. For years we have been around, but now they see more and more of us getting tuned in to our doctrine, becoming aware of the de-humanization of the system. So it seems that they want to slap us with this label. Recently in an article published in ULK there was a fellow Black Panther, who is here with me, informing you all that the Gang Intelligence staff have also classified them as an STG in the state of Texas.
All I can say to those manitos and manitas doing time representing [these groups]: there is nothing new under the sun! Keep underground not because we have a sense of guilt, but because by watching and studying history we made ourselves a threat and now the system is ready and waiting to take us out just like it does with so many others. The war on STG is real and the tracking mechanism they use is serious, inside and out.
¡Trucha! Always be aware and make the right decisions.
Remember, just because you are in general population doesn't mean that the future is going to be the same. This goes for all the lumpen class. Prepare yourselves for that ripple effect because the war on so-called STGs is going to get much more repressive.
MIM(Prisons) adds: This comrade is right that the prisons throw around the "security threat" label as an excuse to lock down conscious prisoners organizing against the system. We get many letters talking about this happening in states across the U.$. In addition, the "security threat" label is used to keep Under Lock & Key out of prisons. This censorship is so common that every issue of ULK finds many copies returned to us, in some cases banned from entire facilities.
This writer gives good advice to be very careful about what information we reveal. We don't need more good comrades locked up in segregation just for their lumpen organization affiliation. Don't make it easy for the pigs. Don't give them any information.
The thoughts & rage for liberation that belonged to my forefathers Run through my veins & pump through my heart which gets me farther I knew within my heart even though I live here this place is not my home This culture isn't my culture, the religion is even false You misinformed us about the slave trade I've read it all in your history books You never once mentioned my people jumping ship & committing suicide rather than be made slave & took, Blind is the ways of most of my present people who think we belong & should get along here. Awaken the giant of liberation & face our oppressors with no fear Dear forefathers thank you for the legacy that flows through my veins I raise my fist for struggle & liberation Power to the people who died for the same
Among those in the United $tates who have consistently upheld the right to self-determination of the internal semi-colonies, there has been some questioning of the MIM line that the principal contradiction within the United $tates is nation. With the degree of integration and buying off of the oppressed nations that has occurred since the Black/Brown/Red Power era some have questioned if the lumpen underclass are the only real revolutionary force left in the internal semi-colonies. Others have pointed to the level of wealth in the United $tates to dismiss the potential for national liberation struggles within U.$. borders without offering a new thesis on the principal contradiction. MIM(Prisons) has entertained the integration question and the possibility of a growing class contradiction across nation and will address both in more detail in an upcoming book.
In this issue of Under Lock & Key we feature a number of articles that demonstrate the dominant role that nationality plays in how our world develops and changes. The history of MIM's work with prisoners comes from its understanding of the principal contradiction in this country being between the oppressor white/Amerikan nation and the oppressed internal semi-colonies (New Afrika, Aztlán, Boricua, countless First Nations, etc.). It is through that work that it became clear that the quickly expanding prison system of the time was the front lines of the national struggle.
USW C-4 gets at this in h review of MIM Theory 11 where s/he discusses the need to launch "the new prison movement in connection with the national liberation struggles which have been repressed and stagnated by the oppressors with mass incarceration." Progress in our struggle against the injustice system is progress towards re-establishing the powerful national liberation struggles that it served to destroy in the first place. Any prison movement not based politically in the right to self-determination of the nations locked up cannot complete the process of ending the oppression that we are combatting in the United $tates.
MIM(Prisons) focuses our mission around the imprisoned lumpen in general whose material interests are united by class, even though the injustice system is primarily about national oppression. Within the imprisoned class, we see the white prison population having more to offer than the white population in general for revolutionary organizing. Even non-revolutionary white prisoners are potential allies in the material struggles that we should be taking up today around issues like censorship, long-term isolation, the right to associate/organize, access to educational programs, a meaningful grievance process and accountability of government employees in charge of over 2 million imprisoned lives. Just as we must be looking to recruit oppressed nation lumpen to the side of the world's people to prevent them from playing the role of the fascist foot soldier, this concern is even greater among the white lumpen and is a question we should take seriously as our comrade in Oregon discusses inside.
In this issue we have the typical reports from both Black and Latino comrades being labelled gang members and validated for their political and cultural beliefs. This is nothing less than institutionalized national oppression, which is at the heart of the proposed changes in the California validation system that are somehow supposed to be a response to the complaints of the thousands of prisoners who have been periodically going on food strike over the last year.
While we support the day-to-day struggles that unite as many prisoners as possible, we are clear that these are only short-term struggles and stepping stones to our greater goals. The most advanced work comrades can be doing is directly supporting and promoting revolutionary nationalism and communism within disciplined organizations based in scientific theory and practice. An example of a more advanced project is a current USW study cell that is developing educational and agitational materials around Chicano national liberation. Meanwhile, the United Front for Peace in Prisons, while focused on mass organizations, is laying the groundwork for the type of cross-nation unity that will be needed to implement the Joint Dictatorship of the Proletariat of the Oppressed Nations required to truly end imperialist oppression and exploitation (see our 6 Points).
It is no coincidence that the word fascism comes up a number of times in this issue focused on national struggles. In terms of the principal contradiction between imperialist nations and the oppressed nations they exploit, fascism is the imperialist nation's reaction to successful struggles of the oppressed nations; when the oppressed have created a real crisis for imperialism; when Liberalism no longer works. While fascism is defined by imperialism, being guided by imperialist interests, it is the labor aristocracy in the imperialist countries that form the main force for fascism.(1) Again, this breaks down to the national question where oppressor nations and oppressed nations take up opposite sides of the principal contradiction that defines the United $tates as a phenomenon.
Rashid of the NABPP-PC suggests in his book Defying the Tomb, that "right-wing militias, survivalists and military hobbyists" are "potential allies" who "have a serious beef with imperialist monopoly capitalism." In contrast, we recognize that the principal contradiction that defines the imperialist system is between the imperialist nations and the oppressed nations they exploit. Amerikans calling for closed borders to preserve white power are the epitome of what imperialism is about, despite their rhetoric against the "bankers." It is the same rhetoric that was used to rally the struggling petty bourgeoisie around the Nazi party to preserve the German nation. It is the same rhetoric that makes the anti-globalization and "99%" movements potential breeding grounds for a new Amerikan fascism.
Recent events in Greece, France and elsewhere in Europe have shown this to be the case in other imperialist countries, which are also dependent on the exploitation of the Third World. While Greece, where the European crisis is currently centered, cannot be described as an imperialist power on its own, its close ties to Europe have the Greek people convinced that they can regain prosperity without overthrowing imperialism. Social democrats are gaining political power in the face of austerity measures across Europe, while fascist parties are also gaining popular support in those countries. Together they represent two sides of the same coin, struggling to maintain their nation's wealth at the expense of others, which is why the Comintern called the social democrats of their time "social fascists." Austerity measures are the problems of the labor aristocracy, not the proletariat who consistently must live in austere conditions until they throw the yoke of imperialism off of their necks.
The fragility of the European Union along national lines reinforces the truth of Stalin's definition of nation, and supports the thesis that bourgeois internationalism bringing peace to the world is a pipe dream, as MIM has pointed out.(2) On the contrary, the proletariat has an interest in true internationalism. For the oppressed nations in the United $tates bribery by the imperialists, both real and imagined, will create more barriers to unity of the oppressed. So we have our work cut out for us.
Looking to the Third World, the struggle of the Tuareg people in West Africa parallels in some ways the questions we face in the United States around Aztlán, the Black Belt and other national territories, in that their land does not correspond with the boundaries of the nation-state that they find themselves in as a result of their colonization. And the greater context of this struggle and the relation of the Tuareg people to Ghaddafi's Libya demonstrates the potentially progressive nature of the national bourgeoisie, as Ghaddafi was an enemy to U.$. imperialism primarily due to his efforts at supporting Pan-Afrikanism within a capitalist framework.
Nationalism of the oppressed is the antithesis to the imperialist system that depends on the control and exploitation of the oppressed. It is for that reason that nationalism in the Third World, as well as nationalism in the internal semi-colonies of the United $tates, are the primary focus of anti-imperialist organizing. As long as we have imperialism, we will have full prisons and trigger-happy police at home, and bloody wars and brutal exploitation abroad. Countering Amerikan nationalism with nationalism of the oppressed is the difference between entering a new period of fascism and liberating humynity from imperialism.