El 26 de septiembre, los presos en Pelican Bay State Prison volverá a su huelga de hambre indefinida después de 2 meses de receso, durante el cual negoció con el Estado. La huelga se inició el 1 de julio, barriendo a través de California, y se dejó en suspenso por los organizadores el 21 de julio. Negociadores de presos múltiples de Pelican Bay han confirmado que Scott Kernan del Departamento de Correcciones y Rehabilitación de California (CDCR) prometió que las 5 demandas serían satisfechas, pero que necestiban 2-3 semanas par cumplir. Esta ventana de tiempo ha pasado hace tiempo, y los compañeros se están preparando para lo que promete ser un tramo más largo sin comida.
En el 23 de agosto, el legislador Tom Ammiano encabezó una audiencia sobre las condiciones de los SHU de California y el proceso de la validación que se coloca la gente allá. Se hizo un eco de audiencias previas que no paró la tortura en el SHU, pero prometió que empujara el tema más que había ido en el pasado.
La huelga no terminó sobre algunos gorritos y calendarios. Las cartas que vinieron de los líderes después de la mensaje que la huelga terminó eran muy claras que sólo daban el estado tiempo para cumplir con sus demandas antes de que recomenzarían la huelga de hambre.
Necesitamos aprender construir las batallas prolongadas y sostenibles. No hay ningunos soluciones rápidos, y los presos no pueden fiar en la prensa y las organizaciones ajenos para salvarles. Recientemente, Pelican Bay censuró el paquete de estudiar de MIM(Prisons) sobre la estructura organizacional. Reconocen la importancia de tal información para los preso realmente organizarse y ejercer sus derechos. Por tanto que quieren clasificarnos como un grupo de amenaza a la seguridad por hacerlo, MIM(Prisons) continua luchar por nuestro derecho a apoyar a la organización basada en la prisión. Porque son los presos que tienen la motivación y la determinación hacer los cambios que deben hacerse para terminar este sistema opresivo.
Prisoners working for free will now pay $100 per year for healthcare. Governor Rick Perry and the Texa$ legislature have signed a bill into law that will charge prisoners a one hundred dollar per year medical care fee. This new law (Sec. 501.063) will take effect September 1, of this year, and is a desperate attempt by the powers that be in Austin to save money on a prison system housing 160,000 people which is the second largest in the nation.
Charging prisoners for medical care, room and board, etc., is not a new idea; but in contrast to most other states, Texas doesn't pay their prisoners to work. Since Texas prisoners have no way to support themselves while incarcerated, they are financially dependent on friends and family members. It's their money they use to buy items like stamps, fans, t-shirts, hygiene and food items.
The new healthcare law will not only be taking from what little money prisoners get, it's in essence taxing the ones who send them money. If the prisoner doesn't have enough money in their trust fund account to cover the $100 fee, then 50% of all incoming funds will be deducted until the debt is paid in full.
Some prisoners only get 50 or 100 dollars a year - usually for their birthday or Christmas - meaning all that money their families sent and intended for them to have, will be seized by the state for something they shouldn't be charging prisoners for in the first place.
Workplace injuries and ailments due to prison conditions comprise a considerable percentage of prisoner requests for medical care. With the new law, they will be charged to receive medical care for on the job injuries; the same jobs they receive not a dime for.
A friend gave me a little study of yours, Level 1 Study Group in which a participant states that prisoners may be called upon to build bombs and war machines as Amerika's military industry expands. You respond that this is unlikely since "the imperialists will not share their military secrets" and "wouldn't want prisoners building bombs and war machines for security reasons." Well, you are wrong!
Try and take a tour of the Unicor in USP as well as FCI#1 in Victorville, CA by Adelanto. I was there 2007-2009 prior to going to SMU and worked in UNICOR in metal shop. We had a contract on making ammo cans for Humvees and Humvee engines and interiors were also worked on. Also we built little "Iraqi Villages," little pre-engineered huts for the military to put in the High Desert to train troops to raid prior to deployment to the Middle East.
Not just that, but we converted 5 ton and trucks, stripped them down and built them into MRAP prototypes (Mine Resistant Armored Protectant Vehicles), to train troops prior to deployment, with gun turret and everything, since real MRAPs come off the line in some warehouse and are immediately shipped to Afghanistan. We built 15 trainee MRAPs. Also, Humvees came into the shop and if any inmate found a bullet case or shell and turned it over we were rewarded with up to $100 bonus! Go to USP Victorvile and FCI #1 in UNICOR and see for yourself.
MIM(Prisons) responds: First we're happy to hear that prisoners participating in our study groups are sharing the lessons with others. It's a challenge to conduct these classes through the mail as interest grows. In order to expand this educational work more, we rely on our comrades behind bars to share what they are learning through USW-led educational institutions that can be conducted face-to-face.
We're also glad this prisoner took the time to write to us with information about prisoner labor in federal prisons, and to correct our comrade's mistake on the question of letting prisoners work on military construction. The extent of prison labor's involvement in supporting imperialist military repression is something we addressed in the article The Privatization of War: Imperialism Gasps its Last Breaths, printed in ULK 8. Much of our empirical knowledge of the U.$. prison system comes from our many supporters still on the inside, so we always welcome help keeping our facts straight.
In early May 2009 over 125 prisoners of all nationalities came together for a food strike in United $tate$ penitentiary, Lewisburg, PA to protest their confinement and conditions in the newly opened Special Management Unit (SMU). Hundreds of letters were sent out to media outlets across the country and SMU prisoner family members were called who then contacted national news services. The administration conducted talks with two prisoners who were the alleged "ringleaders" of the food strike on ways to remedy the situation to try and stop the strike. Their story was never heard about on TV or in the newspaper, nor locally in the Pennsylvania paper The Daily Item.
Part of the food strike was to protest for more commissary items since the administration had refused to allow soap or shampoo to be sold on the store list. Their reasoning was that the one tiny bar of soap the correctional officers gave out once a week was sufficient. Also there were no food items, not even coffee being sold to prisoners, nor were they allowed radios in their cells or personal shoes, and a big part of the strike was to protest double bunking in the newly created Super-Max. The media didn't think this was a story since many prisoners gave in to finally eat after the administration threatened to force feed after people passed out from malnutrition. A couple prisoners were even fed intravenously by force after being cell extracted.
Family members of SMU prisoners have since created websites and chat rooms to discuss and expose the harsh procedures and conditions their loved ones are facing. The Lewisburg Prison Project has sent concerned citizens into the SMU to talk with prisoners and administrators, some of whom have recently been allowed to tour the facility and speak to Warden Bledsoe who claims the 2 plus year forced Super-Max program for the "worst of the worst" is working. The Lewisburg Prison Project has been pushing for single-cell status for prisoners like in the ADX, Florence CO to ease tensions created when two people live in such a confined area. Sometimes days will go by and cellies no longer talk to each other, they begin to plot and fight, even murder occurs in cells. Recently one prisoner strangled his cellie due to the tension within their cell.
Since the creation of the SMU multiple prisoners have suffered lung damage and gotten emphysema due to the ongoing construction to renovate the housing units after asbestos was found. USP Lewisburg was not ready to house hundreds of prisoners in 23 hour lockdown. They built recreation cages no bigger than the cells forcing 6 to 8 people to inhabit the area for exercise. Only recently have the exercise cage rules been changed to only allow 2 people at a time after the cages were called "Thunder Domes" with assaults happening daily. There is only one block, Z, with cells having their own showers, forcing most prisoners to only receive 3 showers a week. And sometimes the SMU will be put on lockdown, sack lunches are the meals for weeks, leaving prisoners hungry and bird bathing in their sinks to remain clean.
There are 4 phases prisoners must go through to successfully make it out of the SMU taking many months in each Phase to complete. In each phase certain assignments are given by workbooks from the psychology department to complete for advancement, and in turn the prisoner must not get into any kind of trouble or face the possibility of restarting the program. Like the new Federal CMU's (Communication Management Units), the SMUs are special prisons designed to isolate prisoners from the outside world. All aspects of a prisoner's life is monitored and up until phase 3 to go to recreation or medical the correctional officers must cuff the prisoners through the tray slot in the door and escort them to their destinations.
All communication is monitored, no contact visits are given until one has fully completed phase 4 and returned to general population at another USP. Up until then, in phase 1 and 2 visits are conducted via video monitor, and through glass for phase 3 and 4. Few phone calls are allowed, and photos can't be taken to send to loved ones until reaching phase 3. In such a confined space, even with cellies, prisoners become incoherent, their minds break down mentally, thoughts become confused, speech is difficult and you'll stutter and not be able to complete sentences, many go paranoid and irrational and plot against each other and fights break out due to panic and nerves breaking.
How do I know this? Because I was there! I lived through it, and experienced it first hand. Luckily I successfully completed the SMU after being their over 2 years and I'm currently in a Florida prison. Upon arrival here it literally took weeks to calm down from my anxiety being overcome with noises, crowds, people moving around and near me, and not being confined in such small spaces for hours and days on end. Just think of the prisoners who are released from Super-Max's to the streets!
The SMU's, CMU's, ADX, and other facilities like Pelican Bay for the "worst of the worst" are terrible places which destroy prisoners lives, relationships, family ties, as well as our minds. Slavery and torture exists in the United $tate$ within the prison industrial complex, especially in such programs as I luckily made it through. Please, let's shut them down!
MIM(Prisons) adds: Prisoners on food strike in California Security Housing Units will be lucky to receive the type of program that exists in Pennsylvania SMUs as a result of their current struggle. This just goes to show that reforms in these long-term isolation prisons are nothing but reforming torture. We echo the Pelican Bay prisoners' call for an abolition of torture. And ultimately, we must replace the current injustice system with one that serves the people and works to rehabilitate those who have truly committed crimes against the people.
We, the United Revolutionary Movement, will join with the Maoist Internationalist Ministry of Prisons in the United Front to continue the struggle against imperialism and the injustice system. The United Revolutionary Movement's mission is to speak out against imperialism, racism, capitalism, police brutality, fascism, and poverty. We do agree with the United Front for Peace in Prisons statement of principles. We agree with MIM(Prisons)'s cardinal point number one: "Communism is our goal. Communism is a society where no group has power over any other group."
One of the four principles of the United Front is internationalism. We struggle for the liberation of all oppressed people. While we are often referred to as "minorities" in this country, and we often find those who are in the same boat as us opposing us, our confidence in achieving our mission comes from our unity with all oppressed nations who represent the vast majority globally. We cannot liberate ourselves when participating in the oppression of other nations.
Marshall Law: The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black Panther by Marshall "Eddie" Conway and Dominique Stevenson AK Press, 2011 674-A 23rd Street Oakland, CA 94612
This short autobiography by political prisoner Marshall (Eddie) Conway is not so much a story about the Baltimore Black Panthers as it is a brief history of prison-based organizing in the state of Maryland. Having spent almost all of his adult life in prison after being framed for killing a cop in 1970, this makes sense.
Panthers, Popularity and the Pigs
Knowing first-hand the extent of repression that was put on the Black Panther Party from a very early stage, the biggest lesson we get from the early years of Conway's political life are about how to recruit and organize in a country that is crawling with pigs. He points out that of the 295 actions that COINTELPRO took against Black Power groups from 1967 to 1971; 233 targeted the Panthers.(p.51) He later points out that while Muhammed Speaks was regularly allowed in prisons, The Black Panther had to be smuggled in.(p.98)
As the state clearly recognized the Maoism of the Black Panthers as much more effective in the fight for Black liberation than other movements at the time, they had agents planted in the organization from day one in Baltimore. One of the founding members in Baltimore, and the highest ranking Panther in the state, was exposed as an agent of the National Security Agency, while others worked for the FBI or local police.(p.48) Conway identifies the Panthers' rapid growth as a prime cause for its rapid demise, both due to infiltration and other contradictions between members that just had not been trained ideologically.(p.54) MIM(Prisons) takes it a step further in promoting an organizational structure where our effectiveness is not determined by the allegiances of our allies, but only by our work and the political line that guides it.
Despite the seriousness with which he addresses his decades of dedicated organizing work, Conway expresses regret for putting his desire to free his people above his family. There is no doubt that oppression creates contradictions between someone’s ability to support their family directly and the system that prevents them from doing so. MIM(Prisons) is sympathetic with the young Conway, who put fighting the system first. Perhaps the most applicable lesson to take from this is for young comrades to seriously consider family planning and how that fits into one's overall plans as a revolutionary. It is just a reality that having an active/demanding family life is not conducive to changing the system.
This account of organizing in Maryland prisons is one example that famous events like the Attica uprising were part of a widespread upsurge in prison-based organizing across the country at the time. In a turning point for the prison movement, in 1971 Maryland prisoners began organizing the uniquely aboveground and legal United Prisoners Labor Union. The union quickly gained much broader support among the population than even the organizers expected.
While Conway notes that the young organizers on the streets often found partying more important than political work, he discusses deeper contradictions within the imprisoned lumpen class. At this time, illegal drugs were becoming a plague that prison activists could not find easy solutions to. While organizing the union, a new youth gang arose whose interest in free enterprise led them to work openly with the administration in "anti-communist" agitation among the population. As many gangs have become more entrenched in the drug economy (and other capitalist ambitions) competition has heightened the drive to conquer markets. The contradiction between the interests of criminal LOs and progressive lumpen organization is heightened today, with the criminal element being the dominant aspect of that contradiction.
Rather than outright repression, the easiest way for the guards to work against the union was to get less disciplined recruits to act out in violence. This point stresses the need for resolving contradictions among the masses before going up against the oppressor in such an open way. Education work among the masses to stress the strategy of organized action over individual fights with guards became an important task for union leaders.
Of course, the state could not allow such peacemaking to continue and the union was soon made illegal; leaders faced isolation and transfers. This eventually led us to where we are today where any form of prisoner organizing is effectively outlawed in most places and labeled Security Threat Group activity, in complete violation of the First Amendment right to association. There's a reason Amerikans allow the labor aristocracy to unionize and not the imprisoned lumpen. A year after the union was crushed, an escape attempt led to a riot in which the full destructive potential of the prison population was unleashed because there was no political leadership to guide the masses. That's exactly what the state wanted.
As a comrade in prison, intrigue is constantly being used against you by the state and you must takes steps to protect yourself. Conway tells a story about how one little act of kindness and his affiliation with the righteous Black Panthers probably saved his life. One major weakness of most LOs today is that they are rarely free of elements engaged in anti-people activity. As long as this is the case it will be easy for the state to set up fights and hits at will. Only through disciplined codes of conduct, that serve the people at all times, can such problems be avoided.
Many of the things Conway and his comrades did in the 1970s would seem impossible in U.$. prisons today. The government began aggressively using prisons as a tool of social control during that period of broad unrest in the United $nakes. Soon the state learned it had to ramp up the level of control it had within its prisons. This informed the history of the U.$. prison system over the last few decades. And with the vast resources of the U.$. empire, high tech repression came with a willing and well-paid army of repressers to run the quickly expanding system.
It is almost amazing to read Conway's story of Black guards, one-by-one, coming over to the side of the prisoners in a standoff with prison guards.(p.81) We don't know of anything like that happening today. As oppressed nationals of the labor aristocracy class have become commonplace in the U.$. injustice bureaucracy, we see national consciousness overcome by integrationism.
Also unlike today, where prisoners usually have to give any money they can scrape together to pay for their own imprisonment (ie. pay guards' salaries), profits from commissary in Maryland actually used to go to a fund to benefit prisoners and the communities they come from. But Conway tells of how the drug mob worked with the administration to eat up those funds, using some of it to sponsor a party for the warden himself!
The prison activists responded to this by setting up their own fund to support programs in Baltimore. That is true independent action, highlighting the importance of the fifth principle of the United Front for Peace. While all drug dealers are in essence working for the U.$. imperialists, this is even more true for those in prison who rely directly on state officials for the smooth operation of their business. Money is not decisive in the struggle for liberation; it is humyn resources: a politically conscious population that decides whether we succeed or we fail.
This review skims some of the main lessons from this book, but we recommend you read it for yourself for a more thorough study. It is both an inspiring and sobering history of U.$. prison organizing in the recent past. It is up to today's prisoners to learn from that past and write the next chapters in this story of struggle that will continue until imperialism is destroyed.
And so we begin a trickle of improvements here in SHU. A couple of weeks ago we received a memorandum stating we can now purchase sweatshirts, sweatpants and shorts starting immediately. Also prisoners go to committee every six months and so on our next committee if we have gone one year without a writeup we can be approved to purchase colored pens, pastels, art paper and be able to take one photo a year. They have also placed a few different items on the canteen list.
These changes may seem trivial, and in a way they are, but I also see the impact they will have on prisoners mentally. I for one am an artist and I sit here thinking of the art I can create, the revolutionary art I can do with colored pens. I also understand what a photo will mean to my loved ones, yet all of this stuff is really superficial.
The demand with the most meat is that of dismantling the debriefing process, which, according to CDCR officials, is still being "looked at." Even if the other four demands are granted, it is not enough, as we would not be asking for art paper and beanies, had it not been for the Gestapo-like policy of debriefing. If the debriefing process were not in existence the majority of prisoners would not be validated as gang members and associates and the SHU would not exist as we currently know it!
The world has seen the unmasked villain and so the state of California got a nudge to make this 'problem' disappear. They look for what they can do to appease the public and the world, pacifying the prison population, while at the same time maintaining the stranglehold on the imprisoned oppressed nations and keeping the revolutionary prisoners sealed off and isolated from the prison masses out in general populations of other prisons. This is seen in their granting of other demands and not touching their sacred cow - the debriefing process.
I don't see prisoners (especially those in SHU) accepting to spend life in SHU with the debriefing process as it is even if the state gives us photos. Many prisoners do not even have any money on our books to buy sweats or pastels! Most don't have anybody to even send a photo to so what good is it to the indigent prisoner? This decision to grant some demands is devious in its agenda. To properly analyze this "development" we need to look at who this will benefit?
There are in prisons the haves and the have nots, we all know both segments. In prison parasitism is magnified a hundred times. There are conscious or more progressive prisoners who look out for the less fortunate prisoner no matter who it is, and there are others who will only talk to those who have things. The state officials understand this and have employed a means of divide and conquer. On the one hand you have prisoners who will benefit from these crumbs and will be satisfied with the crumbs, and then you have the have nots who see no improvement along with the conscious prisoner who understands that conditions of the SHU, i.e. no photos, no color pens, art supplies, etc, are "symptoms" of the problem but the main problem lies in the SHU itself! Because once you take the SHU out of the picture, or even the debriefing process, all the 'symptoms' such as lack of beanies and sunlight go away. The state understands this and after we gained world attention they gave in and gave us these crumbs but did not give in to the most important demand around the debriefing process.
This effort laid a foundation and opened up contacts for many prisoners and showed the power that comes from such resistance. The footprint has been set and so I'm sure that path will not be forgotten, time will tell if all the demands are met or not.
Real change will not come so long as the imperialists continue their rule. Only when socialism reaches these shores will we see SHU conditions abolished. We can protest today for these abuses and tomorrow new repressive shoots will sprout up and we will be protesting those and on and on. Yet these battles are essential as learning experience and uplifting the political consciousness of prisoners, as well as to develop a current of mutual respect and support between prisoners and activists out in public society, while bringing an even stronger United Front for future efforts. To many so-called activists, prisoners are the last people on their mind, and sadly some don't care what happens to prisoners or care that prisoners are tortured by Amerika. Yet when prisoners begin to struggle and show their humynity it brings many to the prisoners' plight who have previously stood on the sidelines when it came to prisoners' struggles. So as of now the most important of the strike demands, the dismantling of the debriefing process, is still up in the air. So prisoners learn from past efforts while grappling about the future, as we have no choice but to keep struggling against this torture.
I represent a particular group of individuals who are revolutionary minds of the United Struggle from Within (USW). We believe in anti-imperialism and putting politics in command over everything. Our struggle is the struggle against oppressor nation vs. oppressed nations.
I support the five points of the statement of principles because it is necessary for the unity of all prisoners in order to change the oppressive conditions of U.$. imprisonment on these modern day plantations.
USW is a prison organization guided by MIM(Prisons) and MLM Theory, that believes in the concept and ideology of organization in order to empower the prisoner population. Growth and development is Our motto. We welcome any and all prisoners and groups who are determined to contribute to the works and struggle of this anti-imperialist movement in a protracted way.
We oppose studying persynalities over politics, and we also oppose the idea that violence against individuals builds a stronger movement. As revolutionaries struggling under Maoism, it is Our task to unite all prisoners, and objective to do so by first educating one prisoner at a time. Education, study and practice are the only ways that We are going to be able to develop leaders of the revolution toward a just society free of national oppression, starvation, incarceration, rape, and war. It is the only way We are going to turn people on to the need and possibility of liberation in favor of efforts of the oppressed prisoners to liberate themselves. This United Front statement provides Our organization with the basis to do just that, and therefore is hereby endorsed.
Millionaire popstar/rapper Soulja Boy stepped out of line in his latest video, and was reprimanded by Amerikan hip hop fans this week for his lack of patriotism. Under pressure he quickly apologized and took up the Demoncratic Party line claiming that he was only criticizing the two long wars, implying that the U.$. economy would somehow be better if the U.$. wasn't exerting control over the economies of the Middle East thru military occupation. This is what he originally said in the song Let's Be Real:
Fuck the FBI and the Army troops fighting for what? Bitch, be your own man.
While this was just a couple lines out of tons of bullshit he's spit, they're pretty strong words. Not known for being politically outspoken, there's no doubt his inspiration comes from the countless radical/nationalist MCs who came before him and influenced his thoughts and rhymes. He even outdid his adversary Ice-T who said "fuck the FBI," but never fuck the troops. The troops ain't nothing but the police for oppressed people in other countries; the CIA abroad is the FBI at home. Fuck oppression! Fuck 'em all!
While it was good to hear someone like Soulja Boy put out such strong anti-imperialist words, especially with all the 9/11 talk these days, it was discouraging to see the response and who's responding. There have been multiple diss songs and videos made in response to Soulja Boy, by hip hop artists in the military, at least some of which are from oppressed nations. The response wasn't just strong and swift, it came from his own fans and more generally from fans of hip hop music. In Under Lock & Key issue 10 we questioned whether hip hop was still a culture that represented the oppressed, and when you see these videos you really have to doubt it.
One Black male MC sports a shirt reading "America the Beautiful." His politics echo those of the white militias made up of ex-military people that are very critical of the government, but have much love for the country and respect for the troops and the privileges they fight for us to have. All of the artists seem to find that requisite "hardness," that is so integral to the gangsta rap persona, in their identity as U.$. soldiers. One threatens to waterboard Soulja Boy and pull out his finger nails.
The fact is, the pro-U.$. troops lyrics aren't that far from a typical gangsta rap song. The United $tates is the biggest gangster in the world, so that makes sense. The boys in blue are the biggest gang on U.$. streets. So we see gangsta rap too often reflecting and reinforcing the ideology of the oppressor, rather than challenging it.
In other Soulja Boy news, he is supposedly working on a remake of the film Juice, where he will play the role of Bishop, originally played by Tupac Shakur. On September 13, we commemorate not just the fallen soldiers of the Attica uprising 40 years ago, but it is also the 15th anniversary of the death of self-proclaimed thug and rapper 2pac. Pac was unique in keeping his music both gangsta and for the people; a fine line most can't seem to walk, and perhaps impossible today when gangsta rap is mostly a caricature. Unlike Soulja Boy, Tupac never apologized for shit, and he said some things that got people riled up. There is little doubt that his real connection to oppressed people in Amerikkka lead to his untimely death.(1)
While Soulja Boy's three lines don't compare to Tupac's legacy, in those lines we may have seen him connecting to the oppressive conditions he grew up in — a glimmer of truth. While the U.$. military is disproportionately Black (18% of military vs. 11% of general population), it is also disproportionately middle income.(2) The poorest 20% of the U.$. population was the most under-represented income group in the U.$. military in 1999 and 2003.(3)
Since the Vietnam war, Blacks have increased their over-representation in the U.$. military from a factor of 1.14 to 1.40.(2) This shows the effects of integration without providing Black youth with quite the same opportunities as their white counterparts. The increase in Black military recruits seems to correspond with an overall bourgeoisification of the Black nation. Not only were there fewer Blacks (per capita) in Vietnam than Iraq and Afghanistan, but Black power and linking it to the struggle of the Vietnamese against U.$. imperialism was widespread, and fragging of white officers and even all out fighting between Blacks and whites on bases was not uncommon.
As the Black nation becomes more bourgeois, the pressure to Amerikanize increases for Blacks of all socio-economic standings. To the poor and oppressed who see no hope in U.$. imperialism, we echo Soulja Boy's words, "Bitch, be your own man!"
[The following is a compilation of reporting and analysis from MIM, MIM(Prisons) and USW comrades to commemorate the Attica uprising.]
This week, September 9 - 13 2011, marks the 40th anniversary of the Attica uprising where over 1200 prisoners acted as one, organized as a collective and occupied Attica Correctional Facility in New York State. The uprising ended in what a state commission described as "the bloodiest one-day encounter between Americans since the Civil War", "[w]ith the exception of the Indian massacres in the late nineteenth century[.]"
In 1991, MIM Notes ran a special supplement to commemorate the 20th anniversary, which documented that historic event and its legacy. That same year, prisoners in New York, New Jersey and Maryland boycotted all programming on September 13 to "give honor to the martyrs and warriors who suffered, and are still suffering, under the suppression of the American prison system."
The demands of the Attica prisoners in 1971 included things such as allowing New York prisoners to be politically active without intimidation or reprisals, an end to all censorship of mail and media, more educational and work opportunities that pay minimum wage, and release without parole conditions. In addition to these righteous demands, the prisoners connected their struggle to that of the people of the Third World. From History Condemns Prison Reform by MC11:
The Attica prisoners in 1971 were not asking for the sort of reforms liberals then and now are so anxious to implement in order to make themselves feel better. The Attica prisoners recognized the criminal justice system as a powerful weapon in the arsenal of the capitalist class, and they wanted to turn that weapon on their oppressors.
"We have discovered... the frustration of negotiating with a political system bent on genocide," the prisoners wrote in a statement smuggled out during the week following the massacre.
"Killings are being committed not only in VietNam, but in Bengla Desh, Africa and South America. Is it not so that our Declaration of Independence provides that when a government oppresses the people, they have a right to abolish it and create a new government? And we at 'Attica' and all revolutionaries across the nation are exercising that right! The time is now that all third world people acknowledge the true oppressor and expose him to the world!!"(1)
In the lead article of the MIM Notes supplement, a prisoner mentions that Attica marked the rise of a strong prison movement during the early 1970s. In the last year we've seen strikes in Georgia and California where thousands of prisoners participated across many prisons. Yet, it seems the prison movement has a steeper mountain to climb to get to the point that the struggle reached in those days.
Looking back on Attica and those past rebellions, one sees the start and finish of a period where the contradiction between prisoners and the state was at the forefront. The struggle during that period led to some progress on the side of prisoners in the form of temporary rights, concessions and free world support for captives. But more importantly, we saw collective organization on a mass scale throughout the U.$. prison system that united prisoners around their common suffering and abuse. This unity and struggle pushed the state back some. At the same time, it also led the state to develop a plan for permanent long-term isolation prisons, as well as policies that push psychotropic drugs on prisoners while programming is once again taken away, reinforcing the futility of prison reform. Even when the state faces significant resistance these days, it comes in the form of lawsuits in their courts, and hunger strikes where they control communications and negotiations very tightly. We're still in the stage of playing their game by their rules.
It was just two years ago, on 17 September 2009 that United Struggle from Within comrade Amare (Ra'd) Selton died in Attica. Selton was a regular contributor to Under Lock & Key and MIM-led study groups, and often ended up in confrontations with prison guards. We do not know the exact circumstances surrounding his death, but MIM(Prisons) holds the State of New York responsible. He is one of many comrades who have disappeared after being sent to Attica in recent years, indicating the legacy of repression that has not lessened.
In MIM Notes, MC67 interviewed Akil Aljundi, one of the Attica Brothers that filed suit (and eventually won) against the State of New York following the murder of 32 of his comrades and 10 hostages, and the brutalization and denial of medical care to hundreds of others. MC67 concludes by asking what lessons should be drawn from the Attica uprising, to which Aljundi responds:
"Never trust the state. Always be prepared to look for the worst to happen. Be firm in your demands. Be clear in your objectives. But also realize that the state can be vicious."