The Voice of the Anti-Imperialist Movement from

Under Lock & Key

Postage is one of our biggest expenses. Why not send a book of stamps or two to POB 40799 SF, CA 94140 next time you're at the post office? help out
[Spanish] [Aztlan/Chicano]
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Colorado teme al activismo de los [email protected]

Estoy tratando de atraer la atención sobre el sistema penitenciario estatal de Colorado política "extraoficialmente" para mantener a los presos chicanos en guerra / opresión fraccionarias. Colorado ha estado plagado de la misma violencia e ideología de “moreno contra moreno” como los sistemas de California de los últimos 30 años. Sólo recientemente, hubo un despertar que transformó la mentalidad "pandillera " de las masas en un estado mental revolucionario en la liberación y lucha por Aztlán. Esto se ha enfrentado con todos los niveles de represión, como transferencias fuera del estado a lugares secretos, MCC (El nuevo nombre políticamente correcto de Colorado para el encierro de SHU / Ad-Seg STG donde los reclusos sólo pueden salir de la celda cada 72 horas para ducharse, etc.)

El 14 de junio, el Poder [email protected] y la Lucha por Aztlán fueron negados por el comité de publicación por el siguiente motivo: "El material plantea una amenaza potencial a la seguridad de la población de delincuentes o empleados de DOC, trabajadores contratados y voluntarios al abogar por disturbios en la instalación o el incumplimiento con las normas o reglamentos de la prisión". La verdad del asunto es que fue negada porque vino a mí en un período de tiempo específico cuando las masas chicanas en Colorado habían decidido dejar de ser los títeres de la opresión racista capitalista de un sistema que activamente ha ayudado y facilitado la destrucción de nuestra gente, poniendo nuestras vidas en peligro de muchas maneras. Lo siguiente son pequeños ejemplos de estas condiciones.

Poner a los miembros rivales en grupos, donde seguramente serán atacados tan gravemente que la muerte o el intento de asesinato son escenarios probables. Abrir las celdas de los rivales STG mientras que los presos son esposados y encadenados a mesas, para que puedan ser atacados, etc. Ésta ha sido la norma por años. Ahora que hemos superado la mentalidad tribal en un esfuerzo para educar y crear conciencia sobre el genocidio racista de nuestra gente, el cual el sistema nos manipuló para hacer con nuestras propias manos, nos azotan en las celdas, nos censuran y oprimen aún más. Me sorprenderé si alguna vez recibes esta carta.

Actualmente, estoy en proceso de quejas sobre libros. Cualquier material que pueda ayudar o contactos para avanzar en nuestra lucha será muy apreciada. Una vez que termine el proceso de queja, enviaré copias de todo el material sobre el tema. Gracias por tu tiempo. En solidaridad con la lucha para terminar con la opresión y liberar a Aztlán.

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[Organizing] [Valley State Prison] [California]
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Valley State Prison September 9th Solidarity

Greetings from the A-yard of Valley State Prison. In honor of the anniversary of the Attica uprising, and as an act of solidarity, the members of our study group abstained form eating for 24 hours. For one day we did not eat, starting with the Sunday G-slam, lunches (cold) and the evening meal. Ten copies of the solidarity study pack were passed out to members of our sg and a few other prisoners who were interested. A comrade was kind enough to photocopy my solidarity study pack which MIM(Prisons) provided. Most of the prisoners who attend our group were not even aware of the events at Attica on 9 September 1971, or the calls for prison reform which the Attica uprising prompted. A special emphasis was put on finding ways to promote peace and to educate all prisoners across the country on principles of the UFPP.

In closing, I want you to know that I may be new to this but I am tryign hard to learn and organize here at VSP and so are others. We, as always appreciate very much the material support and organizational guidance of MIM(Prisons). Thank you.

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[Campaigns] [ULK Issue 64]
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Make ULK a Monthly Newspaper

increase under lock and key

MIM(Prisons) has set the ambitious goal of making Under Lock & Key a monthly publication by 2022. ULK fills a need in prison, providing revolutionary anti-imperialist reporting on and about the lumpen behind bars. This is a relatively small revolutionary project focused on the criminal injustice system. But prisons are just one part of the larger imperialist machine. And it will take a revolutionary movement much broader than just prisons to bring down capitalism. We are a part of that movement, and it is our job to do what we can to push forward its development.

At this stage in the struggle there are revolutionary cells organizing in various segments within the belly of the beast. We're building a United Front for Peace in Prisons to bring together the movement behind bars. And beyond that we want a united front against imperialism that includes both prison and non-prison organizations. This broader movement needs a unifying publication, a newspaper that can be used to both disseminate information and organize people.

Lenin wrote What is to be Done? about the importance of a regular newspaper publication for organizing the revolution in Russia. And in the early stages of organizing, before the movement gained popularity and broader membership, the Bolshevik leader argued that revolutionaries needed to dream of wide distribution of a regular publication. He wrote that, with enough local groups and study circles taking up active work:

"[W]e could, in the not distant future, establish a weekly newspaper for regular distribution in tens of thousands of copies throughout Russia. This newspaper would become part of an enormous pair of smith's bellows that would fan every spark of the class struggle and of popular indignation into a general conflagration. Around what is in itself still a very innocuous and very small, but regular and common, effort, in the full sense of the word, a regular army of tried fighters would systematically gather and receive their training. On the ladders and scaffolding of this general organisational structure [...] [revolutionaries would] rouse the whole people to settle accounts with the shame and the curse of Russia. That is what we should dream of!"
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Why print a newspaper when we have the Internet?

Lenin was writing at a time where there was no other way to communicate between localities. We now have the Internet, and some will argue that online agitation is all we need. We can communicate with people around the globe in a few seconds on the Internet. And this is indeed a powerful organizing tool. So why put out a newspaper beyond prisons, one of the few places in First World countries without access to the Internet? The answer to this question is access and organizing.

Most people don't accidentally come across Maoist websites while browsing online, and with the imminent end of net neutrality this will likely become even more true. We're not going to get publicity in mainstream media. And we don't want to encourage bad security by asking people to post on facebook or twitter and expose themselves to the cops. Newspapers can be left for pickup in coffee shops, libraries, book stores, homeless shelters, community centers, laundromats and other places where folks can happen across a perspective they won't see elsewhere. This expands access to revolutionary news and education.

We can use the Internet to quickly share information about campaigns, and rally people from many locations for quick actions. And we can publish the content of a newspaper online, greatly expanding its reach beyond print media. But while the Internet is a powerful tool, it doesn't get us out on the streets organizing people, talking to them, and building study groups and organizing committees.

With a print publication, organizers can walk up and engage people in a way we can not do online. Newspapers give organizers a tool to use in face-to-face organizing. Talking to people about their conditions, and making the connections to the imperialist system. Asking someone to read an article and talk to them about it. Responding to a speech at a rally with a newspaper article on that topic as a starting point for conversation with folks already sympathetic to the cause.

Political goals of the expanded newspaper

  • Get organizing updates to comrades in prison with greater frequency
  • Build unity among the Maoist movement within U.$. borders
  • Broader distribution of anti-imperialist information
  • Closer coordination of work between various organizations within the united front against imperialism
  • Organizing tool for folks on the streets and behind bars

What is needed to expand ULK

Distributors: We can only achieve our goal if we can quickly expand our network of distributors. This is where you, our readers and supporters come in. We will send you a small stack of ULKs every issue for a year for $50. For our Re-Lease on Life Program comrades we will send them for free until you can afford to pay. Selling them for $1 a piece is one way to get the funds to pay for your subscription. Or if you have the money you can take the easier route of dropping off a few copies at local shops and public spaces that have a spot for people to pick up free publications. For our imprisoned readers, reach out to any individuals or institutions on the outside that you think might be able to take on a regular shipment of ULKs.

Money: It will cost more money to print more newspapers, and also more postage to send it out to distributors. We're asking our distributors to cover the mailing costs of what we send them. We also need people to step up and help fund the printing and the costs of mailing in to prisoners.

Content: Our immediate goal is to increase the frequency of ULK, so that comrades inside are getting more regular organizing updates. As this will also expand the content, we hope to increase the breadth of topics that ULK currently tackles, exposing different sectors of the movement to each others' work. We are working on partnerships with fraternal organizations to help create content for this newsletter. We also call on individuals to increase their efforts to produce quality content that addresses the needs of the oppressed from a proletarian perspective.

Who should be part of this expansion?

Revolutionary anti-imperialist organizations that see Maoism as the furthest advance towards communism to date. This is an explicitly revolutionary project. We will not be toning down the Maoism that is our guiding political line. But we will continue to publish articles from individuals who share our anti-imperialist agenda though perhaps are not Maoists.

We need to expand our outside distributors beyond former prisoners. Expanding the content in our newspaper will help attract more supporters. But we also need more supporters to expand. So our number one challenge to comrades on the streets right now is to step up and become a regular distributor of ULK. Without a broader distribution network, we will not reach our goal of doubling the frequency.

Task list to prepare for January 2022

  • Start by distributing ULK locally. Sign up with us today by sending $50 to our PO Box with an address to send ULKs to, and begin exploring ways to distribute the publication regularly. (No checks made out to MIM(Prisons), let us know if you want to send a check)
  • Commit to a financial contribution for this expansion. Ideally a monthly amount we can count on. You can start donating now to help us build up the cash needed for this project.
  • Volunteer to start writing articles. Ask for a copy of our recently updated writing guide.
  • Revolutionary organizations interested in getting involved in this project, get in touch to start talking about how we can work together.
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[Organizing] [Salinas Valley State Prison] [California]
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Salinas Valley State Prison September 9th Solidarity

Abolitionists From Within (AFW) is back on the move here at SVSP quad this Bloody September. This September 9, 2018 we remember the anniversary of Attica of Sept 9, 1971 and them faceless freedom revolutionary fighters who fought and died in these prisons uprising throughout history of our struggle as we continue to fight the oppression, exploitation, abuse and inhumane treatment of prisoners. A lot of rights and privileges comrades have today is because of these soldiers at war with this corrupt system.

Throughout this country, we as New Afrikans must reconstruct our thoughts and come up with ways and ideas to get control over our minds behind enemy lines, and work to educate the lumpen. I know our young comrades think they know everything. Being upright, independent and fearless against all odds and not fearing the outcome of whatever is what the young comrades are looking for true leadership.

This Sept 9 day I refrained from all negative conversation. AFW continues to push to end prisoner-on-prisoner hostilities throughout this country. I had the chance to meet and become a student of the main 4 reps to end all hostilities between our racial groups, and also a brother from the representatives body. I spoke with brother X about our beloved brother W.L. Nolan and GJ and our conditions today as "new man," and how GJ struggled to transform the Black criminal mentality into a Black revolutionary mentality. And solidarity with all you comrades around the country this Sept 9 day.

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[Release] [ULK Issue 64]
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Hitting the Streets is Hard

We have been trying to set up an effective Release on Life program here at MIM(Prisons) for many years. We have expanded the pre-release support we offer to our active comrades behind bars. And we've set up some structures for better contact and support on the streets. But what we can offer is still so little in the face of the very harsh reality of life on the streets after a prison stint. We're working on expanding what we can offer. That takes money. But it also requires ideas and people on the streets to work on this. We know what we're doing now is inadequate. But we're trying to build.

For a few years we published a Re-lease on Life newsletter (ROL) which was mailed out to our comrades on the streets and those with release dates in the near future. But we didn't get much interest around this newsletter. We know people are inspired by ULK because we get lots of letters about it and article submissions for it. ROL didn't inspire many responses or articles. So we're discontinuing that effort. Instead we will focus on practical logistical support for our releasees. And we will continue to print release articles in ULK.

Get in touch if you have a date or expect to be released in the next few years. Start working with us now so we can help set you up for success on the streets.

Below is an interview with one of our comrades who was recently released, underscoring the challenges with life on the streets and the importance of preparation and education while you're still locked up.


Revolutionary Greetings!!! I was released from the penitentiary on July 9th 2018. I've been out for over a month. The state and federal government ain't helping us with shit. It's on us to hustle to provide for ourselves. Learn all u can in prison cuz once u hit these streets it's non stop action. For all y'all without a date, mad love n respect. Each one teach one.

Question: Have you found any support for finding housing? If not, what have you tried and what do you recommend others do if they don't have people to live with already set up?

No I have received housing. I haven't received shit from the state or federal government. If u ain't got friends or family to provide u with a roof over ur head then u gonna struggle out here for real. I got family and friends that blessed my game.

Question: Have you been able to sign up for any government support programs (food stamps, SSI, welfare, etc)?

Yes I did sign up for benefits and shit like that but the state and federal government both denied me.

Question: What did you do to find work after release?

I applied at staffing agencies and shit like that but after they ran my name I never got called. I still don't have a job. Been out 2 months already. Self-employed I guess.

Question: You say people should learn all they can in prison. What kinds of programs and studies do you recommend people focus on in prison to prepare for the streets?

I say people should learn all they can in prison like read books. I did my time in solitary confinement Ad-Seg cuz I'm a active STG member. I educated myself. That's what I mean. Use ur time wisely cuz once u hit these streets its a whole nother world.

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[Elections] [ULK Issue 64]
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Mid-Term Elections, Do we need to vote?

Some of our fellow comrades remain skeptical or indifferent about our engagement in the political process. Don't be foolish! We have to act while we can to fortify our freedoms and ensure that government does not try to quarantine our communist ideology. Too long have we been unrepresented at the polls for elections.

The fact that we have been unrepresented only condones and promotes the inundated lies that sound convincing and are spread through education, through the media and through entertainment. "In January 2010, a conservative minority on the Supreme Court radically rewrote Ameri[k]a's campaign-finance laws to allow mega-donors and corporations to contribute unlimited sums, often in secret, to political action committees. The Citizens United v. FEC decision gave wealthy donors unprecedented influence to buy elections, which Republicans quickly used to their political advantage" (Rolling Stone, Ari Berman, February 8-22, 2018, p.30). I do not believe there is any difference from today's political culture and the one of the late 1780s "Three-Fifths Compromise" which treated each slave as three-fifths of a person for tax and representation purposes. It has always been about which political party is going to get the vote.

These mid-term elections elect a body of electors who elect the president and vice president. Under the Trump administration we have watched numerous offices filled and seats to our judicial branch, two of which after the next Supreme Court justice seat, will be for the life of that persyn. How does that weigh on us? I do not know, so the advancement of "why the need to vote?" is a relevant topic for discussion amongst us comrades.


MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade is right that we should be talking about elections in ULK because so many people are focused on this topic in the United $tates right now. On the "left" we regularly hear about the critical need to get Democrats elected in mid-terms to limit President Trump's power. But we come at this topic from a different perspective.

To determine what is the most effective actions we can take today we need to first identify our principal enemy. For revolutionaries this enemy is imperialism, the global system which keeps many nations poor and oppressed in order to provide wealth for a few nations. We happen to live within one of the imperialist powers: the United $tates. Here still imperialism is our principal enemy. And the President is certainly the leader of this imperialist country. But congress is just as much a part of that leadership structure. And whether members of congress are Democrats or Republicans matters not one little bit to which side they are on; being in the Amerikan government requires supporting imperialism.

So when this writer points out that revolutionaries are dramatically underrepresented in the government, we think that's to be expected. The system is not set up to allow for a peaceful revolution through elections. And in fact, when we look closely at the interests of the vast majority of people who could legally vote in elections, we see that their material interests are aligned with imperialism. So of course they are electing these imperialists! The capitalist system has advanced to the point where people living within imperialist countries can be bought off with the vast wealth plundered from the Third World. And buying people off includes buying their voting allegiance since they want to help perpetuate this system that is giving them a comfortable life.

Within imperialist countries we can't expect to have a majority on the side of the oppressed, fighting for revolution, until conditions change dramatically. At this point we're not even close. Trump's reactionary policies and rhetoric may be angering some self-described leftists, but only to the extent that they want to get a more soft-spoken imperialist into the White House. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama are friends of the oppressed. They just peddle a different flavor of imperialism.

It's a mistake for revolutionaries to focus on getting Trump out of office. And when we tell people to vote in mid-term elections we are telling them to vote for the imperialists. There are no revolutionary candidates for high office. And with the implication that we oppose Trump, we're telling people that we support the Democrats. This is not only misleading but also will soon be demoralizing. What happens if the Democrats win big? And at the next presidential election a Democrat comes into office. When we still have imperialism, and the Democratic President is funding more prisons, more police, and more invasions of other countries, what are people going to think of the revolutionaries who campaigned for the Democrats?

This writer raises the question of the Supreme Court. Presidents have the power to fill seats in the court with someone who will serve for life. And these individuals have a big impact on laws in the United $tates. The right to legal abortions, for instance, is a decision many fear could be overturned with a more conservative court. This is an example of a law that has a real impact on people's lives, especially hurting those without the resources to buy access to safe abortions. Just as we fight for legal victories to gain more organizing space and less abuse within prisons, we would oppose outlawing abortion. But these laws and legal precedents are no different than variances in how a city deploys its police force: more trigger happy cops in the projects means more dead oppressed nation youth. There are so many laws and policies within imperialism that are harmful to the oppressed.

Focusing on the Supreme Court again keeps us from seeing the big picture: it's all still a part of imperialism. We will have variations in legal rights and in modes of repression, but imperialism is still the same system of exploitation and oppression. And many of the Supreme Court decisions that Amerikans worry about are only possible due to the luxury of living in this wealthy country. Of course we support affirmative action, LGBTQ rights, and abortion access. But these are things aren't even considered in many Third World countries where the masses are barely surviving in the wake of imperialist wars, direct and by proxy, to secure cheap resources and labor, with puppet dictators in power. The United $tates has not become less imperialist by implementing more rights for more people within U.$. borders.

There are battles that can be fought in these non-revolutionary times that do contribute to weakening imperialism, such as ending torture and political repression within the injustice system. And so we say: keep your eyes on the principal enemy. That enemy is imperialism. Fight that enemy for rights for those living within U.$. borders, but never sacrifice or lose sight of the bigger picture. An imperialist who supports legal abortion for Amerikan wimmin is still an imperialist.

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[Spanish]
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Los Libros Encendieron una Llama en mí

Durante el tiempo que crecí en Newark, New Jersey, siempre escuchaba las historias sobre disturbios, los movimientos de base, y los resultados de la vida en las décadas de 1960 y 70. Sin embargo, yo era un joven que sólo se preocupaba por drogarse, estar en pandillas y querer ser reconocido como alguien grande y malo. Y sí, fui reconocido, pero por malas razones. En el año 1999, a la edad de 20 años, fui acusado de asesinato y condenado a 40 años de prisión.

Los primeros años en la prisión todavía me portaba mal, y todavía trataba que me reconocieran como alguien grande y malo. Pero no fue hasta el 2005 que la chispa revolucionaria se encendió por primera vez en mi mente. Todo comenzó cuando fui a reclusión solitaria por una pelea en la que estuve involucrado. Durante el tiempo en reclusión solitaria no tenía nada para leer o cualquier cosa para mantener mi mente ocupada. Así que pasé las horas parado en la puerta gritando y echando maldiciones a los marranos cuando pasaban para la cuenta. Y bueno, creo que mi vecino del costado ya estaba cansado de escuchar mis gritos, así que tocó a mí pared y me preguntó si necesitaba un libro para leer. Entonces le dije, “Sí, porque no.” Me pasó un libro llamado Assata por Assata Shakur. Antes de esto yo nunca había escuchado sobre ella ni leído el libro, pero como no tenía nada mejor que hacer en la reclusión, lo leí.

Mientras leía el libro, pasando hoja tras hoja, la historia de Assata me habló. Sentí y reconocí su lucha. En dos días terminé de leer el libro y ahora fui yo quien tocó la pared de mi vecino, queriendo más para leer. Mi vecino era un hermano mayor y durante el año que pasé en reclusión él siguió dándome libros como, Blood in My Eye (Sangre en mi Ojo), Soul on Ice (Alma sobre Hielo) y otros grandes libros. Mi vecino era un firme partidario de la ideología de la Armada de Liberación Negra y las Panteras Negras. Yo que soy Latino, él también me enseño de gente y grupos como Che Guevara y el partido de Señores Jóvenes. Ahora, en lugar de pasarme horas gritando en la puerta, mi vecino y yo pasábamos horas hablando, construyendo y ayudándome a ser más consciente de mí mismo. Él me ayudó a darme cuenta que mi deseo de querer ser conocido como grande y malo, era sólo esa fuerza egoísta por reconocimiento que a un día me llevaría a darme contra una pared de ladrillo.

Después de que concluyó mi castigo en reclusión solitaria, continué con mis estudios durante la línea principal. Me puse a leer sobre gente como Mahatma Gandhi, Mao Tse-tung, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Marx y muchos más. El andar con pandillas ni siquiera estaba en mi radar. Esa sola chispa se convirtió en una llama, cambiando mi manera de pensar, mi manera de hablar y la manera cómo me comportaba. A lo largo de los años desde ese tiempo, esa llama es ahora un fuego hambriento dentro de mí, como el calor de la tierra encendida. Mi única misión es ayudar a educar a los oprimidos sobre las condiciones políticas y sociales ¡bajo las que nosotros vivimos! Porque cómo mi vecino me enseñó hace mucho tiempo, ¡“Cada uno le enseña a uno!” ¡Poder a la gente!

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[Campaigns] [Download and Print] [United Struggle from Within] [New York]
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Downloadable Grievance Petition, New York

NYgrievepet.png
Click here to download a PDF of the New York grievance petition

Mail the petition to your loved ones and comrades inside who are experiencing issues with their grievance procedure. Send them extra copies to share! For more info on this campaign, click here.

Prisoners should send a copy of the signed petition to each of the addresses listed on the petition, and below. Supporters should send letters on behalf of prisoners.

Acting Commissioner, Anthony J. Annucci
The Harriman State Campus
1220 Washington Ave
Albany, NY 12226-2050

New York State Commission of Corrections
80 Wolf Rd, 4th Floor
Albany, NY 12205

United States Department of Justice - Civil Rights Division
Special Litigation Section
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, PHB
Washington, D.C. 20530

Office of Inspector General
HOTLINE
P.O. Box 9778
Arlington, Virginia 22219

And send MIM(Prisons) copies of any responses you receive!

MIM(Prisons), USW
PO Box 40799
San Francisco, CA 94140
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[Rhymes/Poetry]
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Use Your Observation

A revolution
Our only solution
Of freeing us of
Media's pollution

From teachers
To preachers
To what's taught
In classes
Are intended
To neutralize the masses

We must be open minded
And not be blinded
By believing
Everything we're told

Evaluate the situation
Do not rely
On your education
Instead use your observation
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[Legal]
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To Grieve or Not To Grieve

I read with interest "Why Take Action?" by Texas Prisoner in Under Lock and Key No. 63. The article starts by encouraging resistance simply because of who we are, that it is our nature to stand up. While this makes for an excellent mythology, and I heartily agree, the sad truth is that the majority of prisoners are intimidated into doing nothing.

While I do not look down on those who do not resist, I am not content with the status quo. Only massive group actions has a chance to succeed. This article is an attempt to persuade more prisoners to fight. A Texas Prisoner then points out that action can make a difference, especially in numbers. This is quite correct.

One of the most powerful ways to effect change is the federal civil rights lawsuit (1346 and Bivens for federal prisons, 1983 for others). Courts often make good decisions. Then the prisons stretch the case law beyond the breaking point or simply disregard it. They do this because they can. They get away with it because not enough prisoners file.

In 1996, the Prison Litigation Reform Act (1997e) made lawsuits against prisons much more difficult and less likely to succeed. As a result, prisons and jails have gotten much worse than they were at that time. Most onerous is 1997e(a), which states, "no action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions [] by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted."

While it is sometimes possible to get a court to declare the grievance process (for administrative remedies) unavailable, this takes a lot of effort. For the most part, prisoners simply have to follow the grievance process, being careful to meet all the deadlines.

Though the process of filing grievances seems (and usually is) futile, it has to be done. "[W]e will not read futility or other exceptions into statutory exhaustion requirements where Congress has provided otherwise." Booth v. Churner, 532 US 731, 738 n. 6 (2001); (When only a date is in parentheses and no circuit or district, it's from the Supreme Court.) There is no way to escape. "[W]e hold that the PLRA's exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life," Porter v. Nussle, 534 US 516, 532 (2002). A prisoner simply has to exhaust the grievance process.

The trouble is that the prison can retaliate for filing grievances, even including beating prisoners. One might think that a prisoner could sue for such retaliation, but for decades the courts held that prisons are perfectly within their rights to retaliate for filing grievances, without fear of suit.

Here is the story.

Courts have held it is only possible to sue for civil rights violations over retaliation that chills the constitutional right. "Retaliation against a prisoner is actionable only if it is capable of deterring a person of ordinary firmness from further exercising his constitutional rights." Morris v. Powell, 449 F. 3d. 682, 686 (5th Cir. 2006). Also see Crawford-El v. Britton, 93 F. 3rd 813 (D.C. Cir.1996). The D.C. circuit is just under the Supreme Court in terms of power, and all other circuits have followed.

The question is whether filing grievances is a constitutional right. Up until recently, the courts have held it isn't. "[I]nmates do not have a constitutional right to have available or to participate in an effective grievance process. "Miller v Williamson, 2016 US List. LEXIS 63498 (4th cir. 2006). See also Adams v. Rice, 40 F. 3d 72 (4th Cir. 1994).

This idea can be traced back to an opinion in 1991. "[T]he prisoner's right to petition the government for redress is the right of access to the courts, which is not comprised by the prison's refusal to entertain his grievance." Flick v. Alba, 932 F. 2d 728, 728 (8th Cir. 1991).

The trouble with this is that a mere five years later, 1997e changed the situation, making it so that the right to access the courts very much depends on the grievance process. Yet until after 2016, courts did not recognize this extremely obvious fact.

Finally, they did. "Given the close relationship between an inmate filing a grievance and filing a lawsuit — indeed, the former is generally a prerequisite for the latter — our jurisprudence provided a strong signal that officials may not retaliate against inmates for filing grievances." Booker v. South Carolina DOC, 855 F.3d 533, 544 (4th Cir. 2017). Also, "The Second, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Eleventh, and D.C. circuits have all recognized in published decisions that inmates possess a right, grounded in the First Amendments' Petition Clause, to be free from retaliation in response to filing a prison grievance." id. at 544.

There are lessons in the fact that it took the courts so long to recognize the obvious.

The courts move slowly. More importantly, they only move when pushed. Seldom does a court decide anything on its own, not even something as obvious as this. They generally wait for litigants to make arguments and decide if the arguments are good.

So it is essential that we all push the courts, not only for our individual benefit, but for the benefit of all. We must make even obvious arguments, even ones so obvious we imagine should have been raised a hundred times before us.

The PLRA was sold as intended to improve the quality of lawsuits, but what it really did was reduce the quantity. Doubtless this was the real intention. "Congress deemed prisoners to be pestiferous litigants" Kerr v. Puckett, 138 F. 3d 321, 323 (7th Cir 1998).

This has worked. Far too many legitimate lawsuits have been quashed. Increasing millions of prisoners have suffered in worsening conditions. The courts have only sluggishly moved to correct gross violations of civil rights. Prisoners fearing retaliation have not pushed them hard enough.

It is up to all prisoners to push the courts. Even though it seems futile, grieve and sue anyway. You may not be the one to win, but if we all work together, we can improve conditions for all of us.


MIM(Prisons) responds: We respect and admire this comrade's resolve to fight the legal battles. Eir analysis of the value of making space for better conditions for prisoners through court battles is accurate. Courts are sluggish to respond to clear violations of rights, and certainly don't take action unless pushed through a lawsuit.

It's important that we also recognize that we will often lose court battles. For lack of funds, legal knowledge, political power, or just straight up bias, there are many reasons prisoner's lawsuits fail even when the case is good and righteous. We can't count on the imperialist courts to grant us liberty. But we can use them to gain some breathing and organizing space.

The trick is deciding when it's worth the time and expense to pursue cases in the courts. When it really is a potentially winnable battle. MIM(Prisons) doesn't have the legal resources to offer this advice. So we can only provide the broad guidance that everyone needs to analyze the balance of forces in any battle. Try to objectively evaluate our chances for victory, and what harm could come from defeat. In some cases, losing a lawsuit sets a worse legal precedent than not filing the lawsuit in the first place. But if you think you have a good chance at winning, and you have the resources to pursue an important case, then don't just file a lawsuit. Use the lawsuit to educate others and rally them around the cause you're fighting for. Build support and help for the battle, and tie it in to the broader struggle against the criminal injustice system so that everyone learns from this work whether this one battle it ends in victory or defeat.


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