The main purpose of issue 7 of Under Lock & Key is to show who wants peace and who does not. We will also focus on our long-held line that prisoners accomplish nothing by lashing out and fighting each other or prison staff. Every prison that censors this newsletter is acknowledging that peace among prisoners is contrary to their goal of so-called "security," further substantiating our thesis presented below.
Time has proved . . . that blind deference to correctional officials does no real service to them. Judicial concern with procedural regularity has a direct bearing upon the maintenance of institutional order; the orderly care with which decisions are made by the prison authority is intimately related to the level of respect with which prisoners regard that authority.
There is nothing more corrosive to the fabric of a public institution such as a prison than a feeling among those whom it contains that they are being treated unfairly." Palmigiano v. Baxter, 487 F.2d 1280, 1283 (CA1 1973). As THE CHIEF JUSTICE noted in Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. at 408 U. S. 484, "fair treatment . . . will enhance the chance of rehabilitation by avoiding reactions to arbitrariness.
-dissenting opinion from Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974)
Our track record speaks for itself. At least dozens of prisoners and former prisoners have given up lives that once included physical attacks on cops, and often fights with other people as well, after taking up the anti-imperialist struggle through MIM. Unfortunately, our data is a little skewed since we can only speak for prisoners who we are in contact with. It is up to an ambitious researcher to demonstrate statistically that those involved in anti-imperialism are less violent than those who aren't (or more so as the prison mail rooms across the country claim is the case).
In the meantime, there are plenty of studies showing how all sorts of educational and family programs help reduce violence and anti-social behavior. (1) Unfortunately, in a system focused on punishment and ostracizing groups of people, these programs are used to manipulate rather than rehabilitate. U$ prisons that do offer these programs do so in an effort to tempt prisoners with a carrot. By taking this individualist approach they are not actually investing in peace or progress. When priorities change and a prisoner loses his job or can no longer see his loved one, then there is no longer the incentive to be peaceful. In contrast, a dedication to the struggle for a world without oppression cannot be taken away by future prison administrators.
- In decades of work the Maoist Internationalist Movement has never broken bourgeois laws. In years of work, neither has MIM(Prisons).
- Members of MIM and members of MIM(Prisons) have always been forbidden from breaking the law.
- MIM literature has never promoted breaking the law or taking up arms against the united states government, or any local government or organization, for that matter.
- Every issue of Under Lock & Key, the newsletter of MIM(Prisons), encourages prisoners to obey the laws and to avoid physical conflicts.
- Anecdotal experience provides evidence of a pattern of reduced violence among prisoners who become involved in MIM-led educational programs and/or organizational campaigns.
Despite the facts listed above, our programs and materials are routinely denied to prisoners all across the united $tates. In late 2007, we launched our website where we have since recorded 509 incidents of censorship. Most of those are censoring MIM(Prisons). Of them, 11 cite "STG" or "Security Threat Group", 34 cite "security" in general, 14 cite a threat of "violence," and 26 cite our threat to the "law" as the reason they are censored. In addition, 164 took place in California, where all MIM mail was banned because it allegedly "advocates seizing public power through armed struggle and overturning prison administrations 'by stripping them of control.'" (2) While the recent legal struggles of one comrade in California brought to light a document overturning this ban, it continues to be applied in many of the prisons where MIM(Prisons) used to have a large readership. Most of the rest of the incidents of censorship fall into the various categories of "unacceptable", "disallowed", "unauthorized", "refused" or there was just no reason given whatsoever.
Security Threat Group (STG) is the buzz word developed in the 1990's to apply to a range of street and political organizations. Many so-called "correctional professionals" claim MIM(Prisons) is an STG. But exactly what are we a threat to the security of? Copying the language of precedent setting case law, it is often phrased as being "detrimental to the security, good order, or discipline of the institution or [...] it might facilitate criminal activity.") The problem with the phrasing in this court decision is that many prisons interpret that to mean that if you tell prisoners to file complaints, write the press, join organizations or build lawsuits in response to torture, physical abuse, lack of medical care, censorship, etc. then you are threatening the "good order or discipline of the institution." (THORNBURGH v. ABBOTT, 490 U.S. 401 (1989)
Reviews of this and other case law demonstrate that under capitalism in amerika, prisoners actually do have rights and the above interpretation is a violation of them. The real meaning of this law should be to allow prison administrators to censor materials that promote real and immediate threats to safety and security, such as plans to attack someone else in the prison or to smuggle in weapons. The most recent case condemning prisoncrats for preventing prisoners from receiving materials that promote legal resistance was just last year when a comrade in Wisconsin won his suit in federal court. (3)
In some cases the prison administration has interpreted the law the same way we do, but still claims we violate it by posing an immediate threat to safety and security. The California ban letter cited above is one example of this. In these cases we also disagree to the point of getting the bourgeois courts involved.
The October 2006 memo from CDCR Director Scott Kernan banning MIM publications (supposedly not all our mail) has completely inaccurate statements in it, such as the one quoted above. If it were possible to demonstrate that MIM promoted violence in prisons or breaking the law without lying, one of the state lawyers would have done it by now. Their favorite defense in many states is to hide behind prison walls, rather than lie like Scott Kernan did. That is why state officials need to be publicly accountable in any society claiming democracy in any form.
From the CO's up to the director, they play the text book role of the bureaucrat attempting to defend their corrupt institution, and by proxy their own lucrative jobs. We admit to being a threat to the jobs of corrupt officials and abusive institutions, as any conscious and active citizen should be.
In this issue you'll read stories of foiled peace plans, violent set-ups and hazard pay for CO's. The various unions representing so-called peace officers are some of the strongest in the country and their main leverage tool is persynal safety. They say, "we're putting our lives at stake to protect your shit, you better pay us good." Hence the built in motivation for more violence, more riots, more "validated" gang members and more maximum security and supermax prisons. It all means more money in their pockets.
More generally, amerikans as a whole benefit from their positions of power over the oppressed. Middle class amerikan citizens benefit from being members of the group of people who can be cops or get similar jobs as oppressors in the criminal injustice system, and they benefit from the services the cops provide in maintaining lines between social groups. So it is not just an individualist motivation for higher pay, it is also a national consciousness that is necessary to create the us vs. them mentality necessary to run prisons the way they do in the united $tates. One example of this consciousness came up during the Giuliani reign of terror in New York City in the 1990s, when the New York Times reported that most white residents were comfortable with the police behavior they saw, while nine out of ten Blacks felt that "the police often engaged in brutality against blacks." (4)
These national lines of us vs. them were created by the white settlers and is deep in that history of land grab and slave trading. Over time this forces the oppressed to see the world in a similarly divided way, leaving the oppressors with two choices: they can turn around and use it as a justification for their own brutality, or they can de-escalate the contradiction. Our analysis of imperialism and the principal contradiction predicts that amerikans cannot de-escalate the contradiction, and so far we've been proven right. And that is why u$ prisons have become a perversely violent microcosm of amerikan society.
While we believe that in general cops and CO's have a vested interest in opposing our efforts to promote peace, we are also acting in United Front with those employed by the vast u$ criminal justice system who are more interested in making it home to their family each night than getting hazard pay and new high tech toys to play with. This is unlikely in places like California where history has already demonstrated what happens to prison staff who speak against these interests. On a related note, MIM(Prisons) does not threaten people's lives, berate people into suicide, or carry out assassinations.
Many prison staff claim MIM(Prisons) is a threat because we encourage prisoners to organize. We look to history again, and help quell those fears by taking a look at two of the greatest examples of prisoners organizing themselves. In the Attica rebellion in 1971, no CO's were killed until the National Guard came in and shot 11 employees dead, along with 29 prisoners. Up until that point the prisoners of Attica had organized a democratically run society within the prison walls, including such things as their own food and medical services, while negotiating with the state on behalf of all prisoners. Guards were given superior treatment the whole time.
A couple years later prisoners in Walpole were left to run the prison on their own when the guard union went on strike. They set up similar services as the prisoners in Attica, and actually increased the efficiency of the operating of the prison with the guards and bureaucrats out of the way. This shows that as early as the early 1970's prison guards were paid high wages for doing nothing. Since then the prison population has increased 8-fold, fattening the labor aristocracy with high paying jobs along the way.
The prisoners peacefully functioning without overseers shocked the pigs, who then began to spread rumors about riots in Walpole. The riots never happened, and in fact there was an end to all violence and rape during the weeks while the prison guards were absent, and for some time to follow. This kind of rumor mongering is not unique to a particular group of mean-spirited CO's. Rather, they were representing the inherit self-interest of this class of people. In the last 15 to 20 years in California, they have succeeded in creating a constant atmosphere of disturbance and violence. Only the minority see their self-interest in peace, because it is a threat to their jobs as a class.
Unfortunately, we can expect much violence from the oppressors before we can expect an honest assessment of what is going on in these secretive dungeons. The people want peace now. Communities that are being occupied, imprisoned and bombed want an immediate end to violence.
Huey P. Newton said it is up to the oppressor whether meeting such demands of the oppressed happens in a peaceful way or a violent way. Fanon said violence is part of the development of a humynism and new consciousness among the people. Even if Fanon is right, it takes a lot to push the masses to the point of violence as Huey pointed out. This is obvious by the many more people who have spent many more days in peaceful submission than those who have not. Violent resistance from the people will only arise as it is necessitated by those who monopolize violence through their own power.
MIM(Prisons) only engages in and promotes legal means of combating injustice. When the prison staff represses every educational and legal outlet for prisoners to redress their complaints then it is clear what kind of strategies they are promoting. In those prisons, we predict there will be violence, and they cannot blame it on us because they have kept us out. This is similar to what we say about all struggles for justice around the world. We believe violence is necessary to end injustice because history has demonstrated that the oppressor never stops oppressing any other way. We do not want or promote violence, we are merely stating our conclusion from reading history. In every case of revolutionary war, it was up to the oppressor to decide whether violence was used or not. History shows that the same has been true in the prison rights movement; the struggle for prisoner rights has only become violent when the state initiated such violence.
(1) "Since 1990, the literature has shown that prisoners who attend educational programs while they are incarcerated are less likely to return to prison following their release. Studies in several states have indicated that recidivism rates have declined where inmates have received an appropriate education. Furthermore, the right kind of educational program leads to less violence by inmates involved in the programs and a more positive prison environment." Journal of Correctional Education, v55 n4, p297-305, December 2004.
See also The Nation, March 4, 2005: "Studies have clearly shown that participants in prison education, vocation and work programs have recidivism rates 20-60 percent lower than those of nonparticipants. Another recent major study of prisoners found that participants in education programs were 29 percent less likely to end up back in prison, and that participants earned higher wages upon release."
(2) the full text of this letter is available on our website along with tons of other documents related to the California ban: https://www.prisoncensorship.info/campaigns/ca/ (if you're a California prisoner you've probably already seen it)
(3) Lorenzo Johnson v. Rick Raemisch, Daniel Westfield, and Michael Thurmer, Case No. 07-C-390-C US District Court Western District of Wisconsin
available soon on our archive page
(4) Hayden, Tom. Street Wars. The New Press, 2005. p. 108.