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Under Lock & Key

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[Economics] [ULK Issue 60]
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MIM(Prisons) on U.$. Prison Economy - 2018 update

Grave

The United $tates government, and society in general, spend an enormous amount of money on the criminal injustice system. The primary reason behind this expenditure, from the perspective of the government, is social control of oppressed nations within the United $tates.(see Politics of Mass Incarceration) But there are other beneficiaries, and losers, in this expensive criminal injustice system. In this article we will look at where the money comes from; who is benefiting and who is paying; and how these economic interests play into our strategy to organize against the criminal injustice system.

This is a follow-up to "MIM(Prisons) on U.S. Prison Economy" written in 2009. By periodically looking at these economic facts and trends we can gain insights into how the imperialist system operates and what strategies and tactics will be most effective in our struggle against imperialism.

Direct costs of prisons

Total spending on prisons and jails more than quadrupled over the thirty years between 1980 and 2010, from approximately $17 billion in 1980 to more than $80 billion in 2010. When including expenditures for police, judicial and legal services, the direct costs reached $261 billion.(1)

For comparison, in 2015 the United $tates "defense" budget was $637 billion, up from $379 billion in 1980, a 68% increase.(2,3) In that same period, total government spending on K-12 education more than doubled, going from $271 billion to over $621 billion.(3) So we can see the growth in criminal injustice system spending was dramatically faster than the growth in other government spending.

Hidden costs of prisons

Direct expenditures on prisons are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the economic impact of prisons. One study, conducted in 2016, estimated the total aggregate burden of imprisonment at $1 trillion, with an additional $10 in social costs for every $1 spent on corrections. This means that most of that $1 trillion is being borne by families, community members, and prisoners themselves.(4)

Being locked up in prison comes with a lot of negative consequences beyond the obvious loss of years of one's life spent behind bars. Economically these costs include lost wages, reduced earnings once on the streets, injuries sustained behind bars (from guards and other prisoners), and for some the ultimate price of death from fatal injuries while in prison, or a shorter life expectancy for prisoners. This totals up to annual costs of just under $400 billion dollars per year.

Estimated Costs borne by prisoners:(4)
  • Lost wages while imprisoned ($70.5 billion)
  • Reduced lifetime earnings ($230.0 billion)
  • Nonfatal injuries sustained in prison ($28.0 billion)
  • Higher mortality rates of former prisoners ($62.6 billion)
  • Fatal injuries to prisoners ($1.7 billion)

Beyond the direct costs to prisoners, family members and society in general carry an even larger financial burden. This includes direct costs like traveling for visitation of loved ones and moving costs when families can no longer afford their homes. But also less obvious costs like the impact prison has on family members which has been demonstrated to worsen the health and educational achievement of prisoners' children, leaving some homeless, lead to higher rates of divorce and also reduce the marriage rate in the community. Further there are costs to society from homelessness of released prisoners, and reentry programs and others serving prisoners.

Estimates of Costs Borne by Families, Children, and Communities:(4)
  • Visitation costs ($0.8 billion)
  • Adverse health effects ($10.2 billion)
  • Infant mortality ($1.2 billion)
  • Children's education level and subsequent wages as an adult ($30.0 billion)
  • Children rendered homeless by parental imprisonment ($0.9 billion)
  • Homelessness of former prisoners ($2.2 billion)
  • Decreased property values ($11.0 billion)
  • Divorce ($17.7 billion)
  • Reduced marriage ($9.0 billion)
  • Child welfare ($5.3 billion)

These expenses disproportionately impact oppressed nation communities as the primary target of the criminal injustice system. A majority of prisoners are New Afrikan and [email protected], and this is a form of economic oppression against those nations. Unlike government expenditures which create jobs and fund industries, most of these expenses do not directly financially benefit anyone. This is just economic punishment piled on top of the punishment. The massive United $tates prison system is not just a tool of repression, it is actively worsening the economic conditions of oppressed nations, keeping significant sectors of these nations trapped in precarious conditions.

Prisons Create Jobs

While prisons have a devastating impact on oppressed nation communities in the United $tates, they play a different role for the disproportionately white employees of the criminal injustice system and the mostly rural communities in which these prisons operate.

Of the direct expenditures on prisons and jails, a lot of money goes to jobs for guards and other correctional employees. In 2016 there were 431,600 guards in prisons and jails, earning on average $46,750 per year or $22.48 per hour.(5)

CO employment map

We can see striking examples in states like New York and California where prisons are clustered in rural white communities (upstate New York and in the central valley of California), but they are imprisoning mostly oppressed nation people from urban communities.

In 2012 (the latest data available from the U.$. Bureau of Justice) the total number of criminal injustice system employees across federal, state and local governments was 2,425,011 of which 749,418 were prison staff.(6) About half of the total corrections budget goes to pay salaries for prison staff, which is two orders of magnitude more than the $400 million in profits of private prison companies.(17)

There are other jobs generated more indirectly by prison spending: construction jobs building and maintaining prisons, and jobs in all of the industries that supply the prisons with food, bedding, clothing, and other basics required to support the prison population. While some of these costs are recovered through prisoner labor (we will address this topic in more detail in ULK 62), the vast majority is still paid for by the government. Vendors also make a lot of money through commissary, phone bills, and other costs to prisoners. There are clearly a lot of individuals and corporations with an economic interest in the criminal injustice system.

Most prisons are in rural areas, often in poorer parts of states. Some prison towns are entirely centered around employment at the prison, or support services like hotels for visiting families. Others may have a more diversified economy but the prisons still provide a significant number of jobs for residents. These jobs give workers, and the community their jobs are supporting, a strong interest in seeing prisons stay full or grow bigger.

In reality, many jobs in newly-built prisons go to people from outside of the community where it was built. People with experience are brought in to fill these jobs. Many of these workers commute to the prison rather than relocate to a rural town. And there is some evidence that in the long run prisons are bad for the economy of rural communities. But this is definitely not a popular opinion as many communities lobby aggressively for prison construction. Once a prison is in place in a community, even if it's not working out so well, it's not easy to reverse course and change the economy. As a result some towns end up lobbying for building more prisons to help bolster their economy once they have one in place.(7)

Given the size of the criminal injustice system, and the many people employed in and around it, this is a big incentive to maintain Amerika's crazy high imprisonment rates. It's like a huge public works program where the government gives money to create jobs and subsidize corporations working in and around prisons.

State vs. Federal Funding

Most prison spending is at the state level. In 2010 state governments paid 57% of the direct cash costs, while 10% came from the federal government and 33% from local governments.(1) It's all government money, but this fact is interesting because it means state economic interest is likely more important than federal economic interest in determining criminal injustice system spending.

Looking closer at state spending on prisons we find that imprisonment rates vary dramatically by state (8). Top states by imprisonment rate per 100,000 adults:

  • Louisiana 1370
  • Oklahoma 1340
  • Mississippi 1230
  • Alabama 1140
  • Georgia 1140
  • Texas 1050
  • Arizona 1050
  • Arkansas 1050
  • All other states have rates under 1000 with a few states down in the 300s.

Prison populations are still growing in a few states, but in the top imprisonment rate states listed above only Arizona's population grew between 2014 and 2015 (1.6%). Most of the states with an increase in imprisonment rate between 2014 and 2015 were very small states with smaller prison populations overall.(9)

There is a skewing towards high imprisonment rates in southern states. These are typically poorer states with fewer economic resources. It's possible these states feel a stronger drive to build prisons as an economic growth tool, in spite of the evidence mentioned above now suggesting this isn't necessarily the best path for towns to take. It's an interesting "investment" decision by these poorer southern states that suggests there is more than just economics in play since it is a money-losing operation for already financially strapped states.

Just as the decrease in country-wide imprisonment rates coincided with the peak of the recession in 2008, it's inevitable that economic interests by the states, and by the many employees of the criminal injustice system, are also influencing prison growth and prison shrinkage. In some cases it is a battle between the interests of the prison workers, who want prisons to grow, and the states that want to stop bleeding so much money into the prisons. In each state different conditions will determine who wins.

Economic Crisis and State Responses

In 2009, MIM(Prisons) looked at the potential of the economic crisis to motivate a reduction in prison populations to address state budget shortages. We cited a few examples painting that as an unlikely scenario. The statistics do show that the total imprisoned population has dipped since then. Here we revisit some of the big prison states to see how things have shaken out since 2008.

U.S. prison population growth

If anything, overcrowding continues to be a bigger issue in many states than funding issues. Though overcrowding may reflect a reluctance to build new facilities, which is related to budgets. Ohio just celebrated a modest decrease in their prison population at the end of 2017.(10) At 49,420, the population was a few thousands smaller than projected four years earlier when things weren't looking so good.(11) But overall the numbers have just hovered around 50,000 since before the 2008 economic crisis.

Ohio was looking to the court-ordered prison population reduction in California as an example of what might happen there if they didn't get their numbers under control. The California reduction (or "realignment") was to address overcrowding in response to a lawsuit about conditions, and not budget problems. It was significant, with a reduction of almost 30,000 prisoners in the year following the "realignment." Numbers are even lower today. However, county populations have increased as a result, with an estimated increase of 1 county prisoner for every 3 reduced in the state system. In other words, the county population was up over 10,000 people following the realignment.(12) Still California accounted for a majority of the decrease in prisoners in the United $tates since 2010.

CA Prison Population Reduction

Former Illinois Governor Pat Quinn canceled plans to close Pontiac Correctional Center back in 2009. But current Governor Bruce Rauner has a plan to reduce the population by 25% over the next decade, already having reduced it by thousands over a couple years.(13) The Illinois state system also remains over capacity at this time. However, Governor Rauner primarily cites fiscal concerns as eir motivation for the reforms.(14) Texas also recently reduced its population by 5,000, closing one prison. Both Texas and Illinois did this by putting more money into treatment programs and release resources.(14)

Pennsylvania has also implemented reforms in sentencing and preventing recidivism.(15) After the passing of the 2012 Justice Reinvestment Act, population numbers began to level off and even decrease by hundreds each year. Like Ohio, Pennsylvania's population has been hovering around 50,000, and like many other states these numbers remain over capacity for the state (which is closer to 43,000).(16)

Overall we're still talking about fairly marginal numbers here, and not a systematic transformation. We peaked at 2.3 million prisoners in the United $tates, and now we're closer to 2.1 million. Still by far the highest imprisonment rate in the world. Ultimately, the economic crisis of 2008 did not have a huge impact on Amerikans because of the ability of imperialism to push crisis off on the periphery. But we can conclude from this experience that a serious economic crises is not enough to significantly change the course of the massive Amerikkkan injustice system.

Conclusions

Prisoners, their family and the community pay a heavy price for imprisonment, and this includes a significant financial cost. The impact on oppressed nation communities plays into the ongoing national oppression that is part of imperialism. So we shouldn't be surprised by an imperialist society tolerating and even perpetuating these costs.

But prisons also cost the government a lot of money. And clearly these costs have not deterred the United $tates government from maintaining the highest imprisonment rate in the world. It's a very expensive public works program, if all this money is being spent just to supply jobs to the many workers in and around the criminal injustice system. Although these jobs do provide significant political incentive to sustain prisons at their current level, Amerikan capitalist history provides us with plenty of examples of cheaper and more socially productive programs that create jobs for groups currently employed by the criminal injustice system. It's clearly a political choice to continue with this expenditure and pour money into a costly system of social control.

Some anti-prison activists try to use the high costs of prison to their advantage, organizing around slogans that emphasize that this money could be better spent elsewhere, like on education. The 10-year aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis demonstrates the weakness of this approach. The social forces of change are not coming from state bureaucracy budget offices. The social force for change are the oppressed nations that are still being targeted by the out-of-control injustice system, and the lumpen organizations that come up as a means of self-defense from this oppression.

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[Organizing] [McConnell Unit] [Texas] [ULK Issue 60]
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Using Texas Pack to Help Others

24 OCTOBER 2016 — I have received y'all's latest newsletter. I love reading the ULK newsletters. Always very informational. Which has helped me a lot!

Here at the McConnell Unit in Belville, Texas, it is very, very, hard to get prisoners involved in such issues as 1) Campaign to resist restrictions on indigent correspondence; 2) Petition the Federal Trade Commission: TDCJ's monopoly on stationary; 3) We demand our grievances are addressed in Texas, etc, etc.

I've shared the Texas Pack with several prisoners and some just say that they are not interested. As long as they let prisoners here watch TV, go to the commissary, use the phone, play dominoes, chess, and scrabble, people don't care. It's all they care about, which in reality is very sad. Because these are issues that affect us all as a whole group. And in some cases violate our civil and constitutional rights.

The Texas Pack has given me very helpful information for not only my own benefit but to help other prisoners who ask for help, and especially those that are monolingual and don't know how to file a grievance, etc. The information that y'all supply me has not only helped me but for me to help others, which I do almost on a daily basis. Thank y'all very much!


MIM(Prisons) responds: This author is using the Texas Pack exactly as it's intended — not to be hoarded as a persynal reference, but to be shared with others so we can all benefit. Ey also brings up an all-too-frequent complaint about prisoners in Texas: that they are checked out and unwilling to stand up for their rights or the rights of others. What is the difference between this writer, and the people ey is saying only care about board games and TV? Obviously there are activists in TDCJ facilities. How are they made?

Even people who seem to only care about board games and TV, we know they're not just lazy or don't care. It is likely a defense mechanism they've developed over time. If i only care about TV, i can have some happiness even though i'm in prison. If i only care about TV, i can for the most part avoid attention from prison staff. If i only care about TV, i can access something i want; i can escape from my reality for a short time; etc.

It's unlikely, though, that these folks only care about TV, even though that's what they're projecting. Presenting the grievance petition to them, while it's a righteous campaign, often just makes people defensive. They're defensive because they need to protect this narrative that they've created about their "values," often times in order to just get through the day, and cope with their harsh reality.

Certainly with some people we can present a valid campaign, they'll recognize it as a valid campaign, and they'll come on board. But people who are defensive or prone to stagnation need a different approach.

A good place to start in trying to organize these folks is to figure out what they do care about, besides TV. They may not want to talk about it, it may be sad and upsetting to care about things you can't have (such as affection with your children while you're in prison, for example). But we can still try to help them figure it out. Help them develop their identity around their own value system, rather than the value system put upon them by bourgeois society and imprisonment.

How do they want to be seen by the world, their family, their peers? What do they want to stand for? What have they done in the past that they felt good about, that represents how they see themselves? When we know answers to these questions, we can help show how their values actually relate to the campaigns outlined in the Texas Pack and the pages of ULK.

Issue 63 of ULK is going to be focused on this topic of tactical organizing approaches, and the nitty gritty of building the United Front for Peace in Prisons. We want our subscribers to send in methodology and tools which have helped them in their organizing efforts. Even if it doesn't have a formal name, can you spell out your approach for dealing with ambivalence, or ignorance, or even a disorganized study group meeting? We want to hear about it and share it with others!

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[Censorship] [Charlotte Correctional Institution] [Clallam Bay Correctional Facility] [Washington] [Florida] [ULK Issue 60]
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Censors in Their Own Words - January 2018

U.$. imperialist leaders and their labor aristocracy supporters like to criticize other countries for their tight control of the media and other avenues of speech. For instance, many have heard the myths about communist China forcing everyone to think and speak alike. In reality, these stories are a form of censorship of the truth in the United $tates. In China under Mao the government encouraged people to put up posters debating every aspect of political life, to criticize their leaders, and to engage in debate at work and at home. This was an important part of the Cultural Revolution in China. There are a number of books available that give a truthful account, but far more money is put into anti-communist propaganda. Here, free speech is reserved for those with money and power.

In prisons in particular we see so much censorship, especially targeting those who are politically conscious and fighting for their rights. Fighting for our First Amendment right to free speech is a battle that MIM(Prisons) and many of our subscribers waste a lot of time and money on. For us this is perhaps the most fundamental of requirements for our organizing work. There are prisoners, and some entire facilities (and sometimes entire states) that are denied all mail from MIM(Prisons). This means we can't send in our newsletter, or study materials, or even a guide to fighting censorship. Many prisons regularly censor ULK claiming that the news and information printed within is a "threat to security." For them, printing the truth about what goes on behind bars is dangerous. But if we had the resources to take these cases to court we believe we could win in many cases.

Denying prisoners mail is condemning some people to no contact with the outside world. To highlight this, and the ridiculous and illegal reasons that prisons use to justify this censorship, we will periodically print a summary of some recent censorship incidents in ULK.

We hope that lawyers, paralegals, and those with some legal knowledge will be inspired to get involved and help with these censorship battles, both behind bars and on the streets. For the full list of censorship incidents, along with copies of appeals and letters from the prison, check out our censorship reporting webpage.

Florida

Following up on our protest letters over the censorship of ULK 58, Dean Peterson, Library Services Administrator for the Florida DOC responded:

"The issue in question was impounded and the impoundment was subsequently reviewed by the Literature Review Committee on 11/15/2017, at which time the issue was rejected. This means it will not be allowed into any of our institutions. The stated reason was Florida Administrative Code (FAC) Ch. 33-501.401(3)(m), which states: 'It otherwise presents a threat to the security, order or rehabilitative objectives of the correctional system or the safety of any person.'"

Peterson went on to quote the mail rules on how publishers can obtain an independent review. But did not bother to respond to any of our arguments in our previous request for a review of this decision.

Florida - Charlotte Correctional Institution

In response to a grievance filed by a prisoner regarding lack of notification of censorship of eir Under Lock & Key, P. Vartiainen of the mail room wrote:
"If a publication is impounded or rejected, a notice will be given to you. Every issue of Lock & Key has been rejected by the State since January 2014. Notices have been given to all subscribers. There is no record of you subscribing to this publication. Your informal grievance is DENIED."

Washington - Clallam Bay Correctional Facility

CBCC also rejected ULK 59 "pending review" because it

"Contains articles and information on drugs in prisons and the cost comparison of inside and outside of prison as well as movement of drugs."
Not sure how that at all relates to the penological interests of the institution.

Washington - Stafford Creek Correction Center

A subscriber was given an official rejection notice, stating "Incoming newsletter containing indepth information on the drug problems and values of drugs within the correctional setting which is a security issue."(Vol. 59 pg1,4-7, 16 — File No. 18346) What is the security issue...?

Michigan - Marquette Branch Prison

"Under Lock & Key #59 will be rejected because the articles contain information about criminal activity that could promote uprisings, unrest and disruption within this facility. The entire publication has a 'revolutionary, protest, uprising' theme. There is also red ink on the back page that will be rejected because it cannot be searched thoroughly."

ULK readers know we do not print anything in colored ink, so red ink (if it really was there) is either from the post office or the mail room. Additionally, political or revolutionary content is illegal as grounds for censorship going all the way back to Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401.

Mississippi - South Mississippi Correctional Institution

A prisoner reports:

"The South Mississippi Correctional Institution has implemented practices by which ANY book sent to a prisoner for 'free' is censored, rejected, and returned to the sender. The rejection notices say only that 'free books are not allowed' and/or that 'inmates must pay for books.' There are 33 facilities housing MDOC prisoners and SMCI is the only prison doing this! This means that prisoners cannot benefit from any free books to prisoners programs. Some prisoners, including this writer, are challenging this practice via legal venues (i.e. grievances, potential lawsuit). Anyone wishing to protest this practice may do so by writing Superintendent Jacqueline Banks, PO Box 1419, Leakesville, MS 39451 or [email protected] If possible cc all letters to MDOC Commissioner Pelicia Hall, 633 N. State Street, Jackson, MS 39202 ([email protected])."


Read More Censorship Reports
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[Abuse] [Legal] [California State Prison, Sacramento] [California] [ULK Issue 60]
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Only Snitches & Privileged Getting Good Time in New Folsom EOP/GP

culture

I've come to recognize here at California New Folsom State Prison, that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated and the condemned.

Prisoners housed at New Folsom EOP/GP mainline are being denied the right to earn good time/work time credits, and therefore can't get paroled or released. We are being denied the opportunities and support which are given to every other prisoner and at every other prison within California.

The 4th and 14th Amendment declares that "equal protection of the law" cannot and must not treat prisoners differently then others without reasonable and probable cause. People who are eligible for an earlier parole hearing under Senate Bill 260 and Senate Bill 261 pc 3051 (Youthful Parole) shall and must earn credits toward reducing time on their new parole date, not their original parole date or false reported date.

Snitches are benefiting. Lifers are getting time knocked off such as 9 to 10 years due to reasons of Prop 57. It doesn't even matter to them because they still will be labeled as lifers by the CDCR/DOC. Also those with money and/or are white have been benefiting.

Without dehumanizing or snitching or becoming SNY, we want to secure the Prop 57 rights granted us under law. We continue to struggle not to be set up and framed with charges. Many of us have caught fake cases because we've stayed silent and solid.

Please send us advice and materials so we may continue to organize.


CA USW Council Comrade Responds: The only thing I can say is that CDCr made promises that they're not living up to, once they let us all out of SHU. I can attest to the truth of the above statement. You will get privileges if you go SNY, as I met a few people while in Ad-Seg that were going SNY so the board can release them. They're not releasing anyone who has the gang label or STG label on them.

What I can say is that anyone wanting material concerning Prop 57 can write to: Initiate Justice, PO Box 4962, Oakland, CA 94605. This is the litigation team that's fighting for the changes in the regulations so that people can get parole.


Another CA USW Council Comrade Responds:

First, I don't think we should waste our time organizing around these reforms because we are not a reformist org, we are a revolutionary org. Secondly, according to Prop 57 guidelines, everyone who hasn't served a SHU term is eligible for good time/work time credits, however they are not retroactive but only go towards the remainder of one's sentence. So if you've been incarcerated for 20 years and you still have 5 years left on your sentence you will only be able to be awarded good time credits towards your remaining 5 years. As soon as Prop 57 was enacted, case records began re-calculating everyones sentence who qualified. The entire process took about four or five months here.

Also, according to Prop 57 people who fall under any of the Youth Offender laws SB9, 260, 261 & 262 cannot receive earlier parole board dates than that which they already qualified for under the various State Bills. The only thing that changed is your MERD (Maximum Eligible Release Date). For example, under Prop 57 my MERD went from 2030 to 2028 but under SB261 my parole board date dropped from 2030 to 2021 at the soonest but no later than 2023.

For more information on Prop 57 people can write to the San Quentin Law Office which sends free legal materials to prisoners or they can contact Initiate Justice, Lifer Support Alliance and many other reformist orgs. By the way the final regulations on Prop 57 already came out and NOTHING CHANGED! But what else could we expect from CDC? Fuck reforming the system, smash it!

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[Legal] [ULK Issue 60]
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U.$. Supreme Court: No grievance forms? No problem.

I'm writing in response to an article in ULK 58, "Illinois Budget Doesn't Include Due Process." The Illinois prisoner states he cannot get a grievance form from staff. The U.S. Supreme Court has addressed this issue in Ross v. Blake 136 S.Ct. 1850 (2016) which states "An inmate need exhaust only such administrative remedies as are available," as stated in the Prison Litigation Reform Act. The Supreme Court named three cases where this might be true:

  1. "an administrative procedure is unavailable when (despite what regulations or guidance materials may promise) it operates as a simple dead end — with officers unable or consistently unwilling to provide any relief to aggrieved inmates."
  2. "an administrative scheme might be so opaque that it becomes, practically speaking, incapable of use. In this situation, some mechanism exists to provide relief, but no ordinary prisoner can discern or navigate it."
  3. "the same is true when prison administrators thwart inmates from taking advantage of a grievance process through machination, misrepresentation, or intimidation."

When grievance forms are not provided, prisoners need to use any available paper and write the grievance, clearly titling the form "Grievance" and explain why no official grievance form was used. Staff will either accept it or reject it. If it is rejected, get it in writing if possible. If not possible, document the date, time, location and the person rejecting the form. Include this info and/or rejection letter with the legal suit. The courts will accept this the majority of the time. If not, appeal and reference Ross vs. Blake from the US Supreme Court.


MIM(Prisons) responds: This is a helpful citation for reference since we know many prisons offer virtually useless grievance systems. This Supreme Court opinion should help some take their appeals beyond the non-existent appeals processes in their prisons. We are also adding this information to the cover letter that comes with petitions demanding our grievances be addressed, which we mail to prisoners upon request.

This grievance campaign is just one piece of the larger battle to demand basic rights for the millions of people locked up in jails and prisons in the United $tates. And these demands for basic rights need to be connected to the larger struggle against the criminal injustice system as a whole. While we might win individual battles in some cases, we will never stop the injustice until we put an end to the system. This is because prisons under imperialism aren't built to rehabilitate or reeducate people, they are built as a tool of social control. And so oppression of prisoners, and denial of their rights, is just part of the system.

We urge everyone interested in fighting to get grievances addressed to join our campaign, and use it to educate others about the injustice system. Mobilize people to do something, even if it's just mailing out a few petitions. And help them make the connections between this battle and the reason for the conditions they are fighting. Through this campaign we can build and educate for the larger fight against the imperialist system.

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[Organizing] [ULK Issue 60]
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Notes on Advancing the Struggle Outside: Redefining Crime

"As did witch hunters in the past do we still have 'criminal' scapegoats?" This is a good question but a better one to ask is "are we still sometimes misled by authorities who define crime in their own interests or out of ignorance, as authorities did in dealing with witchcraft?"(1) For those conscious of being oppressed this isn't a hypothetical, but an actual problem to be solved. Even those unconscious of the political situation, living in the barrios, this is an everyday problem; it is reality. The problem turns on what is "criminal" and who should define "crime"?

Nobody doubts that poverty, lack of legitimate opportunities and such in the barrio leads people to alternative methods of survival, which the system has declared criminal. Consider this: a brown boy grows up in a violent, poverty-stricken barrio. He is denied most, if not all, "socially appropriate" methods/means for success (e.g., role models to learn from, positive environment, good education, adequate employment opportunities). Without access to approved avenues for social survival — yet still held to society's expectations — our brown boy turns to alternative means and learns the perils of the injustice system. Is it criminal that he turned to the only obvious option available? Or is it criminal that capitalists have attempted to make that his only option?

The United States has an injustice system which focuses on the actions of an individual, not on the reason, motivation, or purpose. To address this failing and irradiate it, those caught up in the vicious cycle must rise up. Our communities must also join in the necessary revolution for hope of success. Activism on a proactive level is needed. We cannot be liberal-minded (reforming without making substantive changes to the system structure) in our objectives. Changing only definitions ignores the problem, which is the process itself. Reform of existing systems is equal to affirming their correctness but asserting that some fine-tuning is needed. Such is not the case.

A quantifiable and qualitative change is necessary which cannot be accomplished within the current system.(2) We, the people, must construct independent resources and systems if we are ever to supplant capitalism and its inherent inequality. In pursuit of this, our community members must connect with prisoners (current and former), coordinating and cooperating, building and spreading consciousness, correct political views, theory, practice and support for the movimiento.

One's actions cannot be labeled criminal if those are the only options made available. Today our communities generally face an alternative of evils: spend one's life struggling within a system meant to keep us outside the power structure, never progressing, or refuse to be subjugated and be labeled criminal. The choice is between a slow and torturous death and surviving by "crime." Those not faced with this drastic choice of evils cannot rightfully say what is and is not criminal.

"Law provides the baseline for formal social control. Criminalization of behaviors is a political process..."(3) The first steps towards changing this political process — the arbitrariness of labeling procedures — is to correct the criterion of what constitutes crime. From there, remove those who have contributed to labeling criminality and re-educating them as communists did in China during the 1950s.(4) Pressure from below provoking pressure from above to induce meaningful change.(5) Supplanting capitalism is a marathon not a mile-long race. Every stage must be approached and accomplished with care and attention. We revolutionaries must be methodical, concise and avoid impertinence. Success will come, just not overnight.

Notes:
1. Criminology: Explaining Crime and its Context, Stephen E. Brown, Finn-Sage Esbensen, Gilbert, Geis; Chapter 5.
2. ULK No 52, Sept/Oct 2016 "Approaching Conflict More Scientifically," California Prisoner.
3. Criminology, Chapter 2.
4. On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People, Mao Tse-Tung.
5. Criminology, Chapter 7.
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[Culture] [ULK Issue 60]
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Debating Disability Labels

Regarding ULK 57 and "disability". A deaf person is hearing impacted. A paralyzed person is mobility impacted. Together they are physically impacted. Their physical states are influenced by what impacted them — some ailment, incident, or birth condition.

"Disabled" and "challenged" takes something away, some quality or value of the person, as if they are the sum of their physical condition, objectified. "Disabled" in today's reactionary culture and mindset conveys inferior, a tacit separation that, repeated ritually to and by the impacted person, becomes psychologically embedded and the person feels actually inferior — has self-doubts, is self-conscious.

I've been deaf since age 15 and could never say that I was "deaf" even, but said I had a "hearing problem." When referred to as being "deaf," I felt lower than everyone else. I've gotten over it by now, of course, at age 63, but just to say that semantic runs deep with physically and mentally impacted people, and can be a very sensitive thing. Another angle is that transgender people are considered in Western medicine to have a mental "disorder," and so on. Well, that's my 2¢. The article was rather interesting to me.


MIM(Prisons) responds: Language is an important part of culture, and something that revolutionaries have a responsibility to use for political purpose. So we appreciate this comrade raising criticisms of our use of language in ULK 57.

As a launching off point in this discussion, we will bring up our use of the word [email protected]. We use an @ symbol instead of an 'o' or 'a' to convey multiple political points: the @ is not gender-specific; the term is encompassing an oppressed nation and explicitly rejecting Amerikan labels like "Hispanic."

With that in mind we want to look carefully at this term "disability" to consider these criticisms. We do not want to suggest that someone who cannot hear or cannot see is inferior to someone who can. All people have different abilities. Some of these abilities can be trained, but some are things we're born with. Some people, for instance, are stronger than others. The weaker folks aren't inferior, but they might be better suited to tasks that don't require as much physical strength.

This was discussed in the book Philosophy is No Mystery which describes struggles in a village in revolutionary China. One of the challenges they faced was strong young men acting as if their work was more valuable than that of weaker folks (mostly wimmin, but also elderly people and children). However, upon deeper discussion everyone came to agree that the work done by all was critical to their success, and valuing strength over other types of labor was counter-productive.

Let's address the question of whether the term "disability" is similar to saying a transgendered persyn has a "disorder." Transgender folks are often said to have "gender dysphoria" which is the stress a persyn feels as a result of the sex they were assigned at birth. The assigned sex does not match the persyn's internal identity. That's a situation some transgender people seek to address by changing their physical body to match their internal identity. Transgender folks face a difficult situation that needs resolving for them to lead healthy and happy lives.

It's true that when we hear "disability" we generally think of things we would want to fix. But is that a bad thing? When people have vision problems that can be corrected, we want to use medical science to correct them. For instance, removal of cataracts cures blindness in many people. Similarly, if someone is missing a leg, getting fitted with a prosthesis is often a very good thing. In these situations someone lacks the ability to use a part of their body to its full potential. And in some cases this ability can be restored.

So perhaps the analogy we would make is that missing a leg is like someone being assigned a sex that doesn't match their internal identity. The gender dysphoria they experience before transitioning is like lacking a prosthesis for someone without a leg. Making the transition to a sex or gender expression that matches their identity is for any transgender persyn somewhat analogous to people with physical dis-abilities getting them surgically or prosthetically corrected. If we can resolve gender dysphoria, by changing society or improving the persyn's individual situation, we should do that. Just like if we can provide prosthetic limbs and cataract surgery, we should do that.

Where using the term "disability" becomes more complex and muddy is in cases where the persyn impacted doesn't want to make a change. There are some good examples of this, like neuro-atypical folks who have developed highly specialized skills because of their neurology, but struggle to socialize or interact with other people. Some argue this is not something to be fixed but is just a humyn difference. And so we shouldn't call that a disability, but rather just a different ability. However, in the types of cases that were discussed in the issue of ULK in question, the ailments and physical limitations are things we all agree should be fixed if possible. We don't see anyone arguing that keeping cataracts help people in any way.

The question here is whether we can distinguish between conditions that people don't want to change, differences between humyns, and conditions that people can generally agree we should change if possible. If we can, the term "disability" may be appropriate for the category of conditions we would change if possible. And then the final question we must answer is whether the term "disability" in our social context implies that someone is inferior. As we've already said above, we want to use language to empower and build revolutionary culture. This last point is the most difficult one and we'd like to solicit input from other readers, and especially those who contributed to ULK 57. Send us your thoughts on this topic and we will study it further and publish something in an upcoming issue of Under Lock & Key.

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[Drugs] [Organizing] [State Correctional Institution Chester] [Pennsylvania] [ULK Issue 60]
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Pennsylvania Drug Situation is a Call to Unity

I am currently incarcerated in Pennsylvania at the State Correctional Institution: Chester. And every day as I look around this place I'm forced to live in, all I see is a growing number of "synthetic snaps." When I first came to state prison in 2006 drugs were an issue but not like they are today. These new cheaper, and more easily obtainable synthetic drugs such as suboxone or subutex and K-2 synthetic marijuana, are making prison society worse and more depressing than ever. These subs cause withdrawal symptoms like heroin and are causing convicts to throw away their solidarity to scumbag each other in pursuit of their next fix.

Suboxone strips are flat and very easy to smuggle into prisons and all one needs to obtain them on the streets is to test positive for opiates at a clinic to receive up to 90 strips a month for a small co-pay. They then smuggle them into the prisons where they can sell for up to $100 apiece wholesale which is like a 10,000% profit which is irresistible to most "hustlers."

This new opiate replacement has prisons in an uproar. Convicts are stealing from and robbing each other to get just a little "piece" to chase away their withdrawal symptoms. And our RHUs are filled with "protective custody" inmates who ran up drug debts on credit that they couldn't cover.

Then we have the so-called "synthetic marijuana" product K-2. I was an avid marijuana smoker on the streets and this stuff is way different than blowin a sacc of loud. K-2 can cause violent outbursts, passing out, seizures, suicide attempts, and serious mental breakdowns. I have seen people attempt to fly over the fence earning them escape charges. People lose touch with reality and lash out at everyone around them. Guys pass out standing up, cracking their heads open, and to top it off a guy on my block at SCI: Somerset went all zombie on his celly biting him on his face and arms. This stuff is more like bad PCP than marijuana. It just blows my mind that synthetics are causing more problems than their "real" counterparts.

We as a united front against the injustice system need to stop trying to capitalize off the downfall of our comrades, and utilize our efforts to solidify our ranks against our oppressors. The rapper Meek Millz is a prisoner here at Chester with me and has stated that even growing up on the drug-laden streets of Philadelphia he couldn't imagine a cell block in prison so closely resembling a drug block in the badlands of his home city. We can't continue to give the oppressors more ammo to use against us. I understand that boredom, hopelessness, and other forms of incarceration depression tend to drive us to find ways to numb us. But let's try to come together and help our comrades strive to kick habits they have already acquired, and to prevent anyone from picking one up.

This is just another battle we need to unite to win. Whether you're White, Black, or Hispanic, Crip, Blood, Latin, or Aryan, come together for the greater good of convicts everywhere. Pay attention, comrades, because Amerikkka wants to catch us slippin'.


MIM(Prisons) responds: In the November issue of Under Lock & Key we got deep into the issue of drugs in prison. All writers agreed it's a big problem, though what is used and how the problem plays out varies from state to state and even within each prison. And a lot of folks came to the same conclusion as this comrade: we need to stop trying to make money off the suffering of others and instead come together against the injustice system. This letter is a good follow-up to that issue of ULK because we need to keep this topic front and center as we work to find ways to help people kick the habit and join the revolutionary movement.

Are you helping comrades kick their drug habits? What methods and tactics are you using? What have you tried that didn't work, and why? What harm reduction tactics can we try to employ? What about counseling techniques? The State isn't going to fix this problem for us. We need to make our own interventions and support systems.

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[Economics] [ULK Issue 60]
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Political Economy of Mass Incarceration: Got to Pay the Piper

As we live in a world full of icebergs as well as Trump towers, we as a country overcame cheap labor such as cotton picking, tobacco farming, child bearing, sugar caning, to the industrialized warfare, to white flight/red line federal housing (which was a calamity also labeled as the Jim Crow north) to the penal correctional nightmare we live through today. They call it rehabilitation, which takes millions off the streets to feel the reign. Years of disfranchisement, hatred, street wars that last decades, as well as innocent bystanders gunned down, as tears flow from mothers' eyes.

We are investments as soon as we jump off the porch, moving targets for bounty hunters. But they got us focusing on the gang, when the biggest gang is theirs. It has been seen on TV: dumptrucks of guns being delivered to children high on PCP on the streets of Chicago, or the deliverance of cocaine to Rick Ross/Nicky Barnes. But now we got a problem with Mexicans importing a little weed over the border? Get the F out of here! The government is El Chapo, when that same gov benefits/prospers off every play.

They call this justice. Alright, where is the justice in charging $3 a day for being in your jail? Or charging $1 for a 15-cent soup? Or matter of fact $8-15 for a free long distance call. Do you see the incentives? Also you got private institutions that pay for a full prison population (90+%). So why would I not hire more police to put more minorities in here?

If we truly hate white superiority/supremacy, why do we kill our own at a higher rate than the right-wing klan or policemen? When the government owns the whole monopoly board. Every day is the million man/woman march. All we got to do is follow the examples already solidified. Call out our heads or our officials that hold any position. Mumia Abu Jamal said it best, "The state would rather give me an Uzi than a microphone."


MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade is right to expose the private industry benefits of the criminal injustice system. And also the hypocrisy of the government's claims that prisons are being used for justice when it is the government that runs the biggest gang, drug dealer, and criminals. But we can't ignore that prisons are a money-losing operation for the government. Sure the private industries that are profiting do lobby for more prisons, and that's a financial interest for sure. But the government itself is losing money.

Social control must be the driving reason behind the enormous money-sucking prison system in the United $tates. The criminal injustice system serves that same purpose of social control of oppressed nations within U.$. borders.

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[United Front] [Organizing] [ULK Issue 60]
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USW Council Pushing September 9th for 2018

In recent months, the Countrywide Council of United Struggle from Within, or Double C for short, has been discussing campaigns, tactics and strategies. One question posed by MIM(Prisons) was about the September 9th Day of Solidarity, an annual event to commemorate the Attica Rebellion of 1971 and to promote the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP). So far the consensus in the Double C is that this event is an important one for promoting the UFPP.

One member told of an older comrade who has been in since 1979 who recently told em, "Thank you for waken me up to this Sept 9 day." Others agreed that the people are hungry for this message. Another Double C comrade quickly made copies of the fliers and distributed them at the library and jobsite at eir new facility where ey sees strong prospects for building anti-violence programs among lumpen groups.

In ULK 58, we printed a letter from the Double C to a reformist group called CURE, and laid out our strategy and guidelines for reaching out to other organizations. In recent months, Double C comrades have helped get excellent articles promoting the UFPP in two newsletters read by prisoners: Turning the Tide and Propter Nos. USW comrades should follow these examples of ways to get the line out on the UFPP, a campaign we can unite with all progressive groups on, revolutionary or not.

In writing to other organizations and newsletters, USW has goals of popularizing USW campaigns and increasing ULK subscribership. But we should not let these goals take us toward a strategy of sizeism. Our goal is not to get our address in as many newsletters as possible at any cost, rather we should be focused on unity and struggle. We should be building unity where we see potential for it around practical work, while struggling to push others ideologically.

Building a united front of prisoners, involving various prison-based lumpen organizations, is a long campaign that must be carried out in our daily work. September 9th is just one day when we organize a coordinated action to actualize that unity. September 9th is a time to reflect on the prison movement that came before us and on how to develop the prison movement of today and the future. September 9th will not become big overnight. When it does get big, it will because of years of hard work of USW cadre across the country.

Comrades in the Double C are reviewing the September 9th Organizing Pack and existing fliers promoting the United Front for Peace in Prisons, to come up with tactics, art and slogans for further popularizing the event. This is something that all USW comrades can participate in. Starting with this issue of ULK we plan to print a piece of art on page 3 behind the UFPP statement that can be ripped out and copied as a flier. If you don't have access to make copies write MIM(Prisons) for more copies of these fliers. Send in your art promoting the UFPP and September 9th. Send in your slogans. Report on your organizing successes, strategies and challenges to share in the pages of Under Lock & Key. Build the United Front for Peace in Prisons!

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