by a Texas prisoner February 2018 permalinkThe free, I see, living and existing, without me
They lock man away in a cage, while the birds fly free & away
In this kennel for days, awaiting my day to escape the chains
a long time coming, awaiting for change
deserted in a dry desert, awaiting the rain
to wash me away, back on my way, where the road is paved
This system can't feel my pain
This system can't understand my brain
My soul, my heart, nor my spirit, or mind for that matter
In recent months we've seen a huge number of people come forward with accusations of sexual harassment or assault against men in the entertainment industry, in politics, and well-known business leaders. And in many cases the exposures have encouraged more people to come forward, and the ending of careers. This has been integrated with a #MeToo movement of wimmin stepping forward to say that these highly publicized cases are not just isolated incidents. The point of #MeToo is to show all wimmin experience unwanted sexual attention at some point in their lives, often repeatedly. This movement has progressive aspects, and here we will try to take readers to the logical conclusion of all this exposure of sexual assault.
The Aziz Ansari sexual assault allegations perhaps most clearly illustrate where the #MeToo movement must go if it is to really address the root of these problems. Ansari is a famous actor, comedian and filmmaker. In January, a womyn came forward anonymously with a detailed account of her sexual encounter with Ansari. The womyn "Grace" described a very awkward and unpleasant evening in which Ansari repeatedly made sexual advances while "Grace" attempted to indicate her discomfort with what she called "clear nonverbal cues." When she finally said "no" to one of his sexual propositions, Ansari backed off and suggested they dress and just hang out.
Ansari claims he thought the encounter was entirely consensual. Grace claims Ansari ignored all her attempts to put a stop to the sex. This case has led to a useful debate over where to draw the line in terms of what we call sexual assault. This case has led some (Grace supporters and Grace opponents) to point out that calling her experience sexual assault means we've all been sexually assaulted. Or maybe not everyone, but most wimmin at the very least. Because most wimmin can point to a situation where they were uncomfortable or unhappy but pressured by a man to proceed with sex.
Ansari was oblivious to Grace's lack of enjoyment, and her inability to clearly verbally express this points to a power inequality. In a truly equal relationship between two people, each would feel totally comfortable walking away at any point. And each would be carefully listening to what the other said (verbally and non-verbally). Whatever it is that stopped Grace from walking away, whether it's Ansari's fame or wealth, or just her training as a womyn to do what a man asks, it's undeniable that she was not able to just walk away.
This is the crux of the problem with attempting to reform away sexual assault while we live in a patriarchal society. Rape is non-consensual sex. And, as the Ansari case demonstrates, there are many situations in which wimmin aren't giving consent even though men think the encounter is totally consensual. We call this non-consensual sex what it is: rape.
When there is a power difference in a relationship, the persyn with less power is limited in their ability to consent. You can't freely consent when someone is holding a gun to your head. And similarly you can't freely consent when you fear economic consequences. Those are obvious inequalities. Someone who says "yes, please" in those situations simply can't be freely consenting. The Ansari case gets at more subtle inequalities, but ones that have a very real impact on people's ability to consent. In a society where inequality is inherent in every interaction, we can't expect people to have sexual relationships that are equal and consensual. The problem isn't that Ansari raped Grace. The problem is that all sex under the patriarchy is non-consensual. Grace just wrote about one of the more subtle cases of non-consensual sex.
All this sexual assault in Amerikan society isn't the fault of the men who are being called out. It's the fault of the patriarchal society. Grace proponents point out that it shouldn't be wimmin's responsibility to help men learn how to read their discomfort. Grace opponents complain that wimmin need to empower themselves and speak up and demand that their consent (or lack of consent) be respected. This is a good debate, and we actually agree with both sides. But it's the wrong debate to be having, because neither side can achieve their goal under patriarchy. A lifetime of training to respect power (the power of men, the power of money, the power of fame, the power of a teacher, the power of looks, the power of skill) can't be overcome with an assertiveness training class. And educating people to ask for consent at every step of the way won't help when someone feels they have to say "yes" to their teacher/priest/benefactor/mentor/idol.
Some might hope that other changes in Amerikan society will move us towards abolishing the patriarchy. People fighting gender oppression argue that having a womyn president who speaks out against sexual harassment, and getting in judges who will prosecute people aggressively, and the broad education and exposure of the #MeToo campaign will eventually break down the gender power differential in this society. But even this level of reform won't change a fundamental system that is based on power differentials. We don't believe the patriarchy can be abolished under a system that is set up to help the rich profit off the exploitation of the Third World peoples.
The #MeToo movement is trying to show people how pervasive sexual assault is. That's important. We need to take that further and show the link between power differentials in relationships and sexual assault. And we must be clear that these power differences will always exist under a capitalist patriarchy. We can't reform our way to pure and equal sex. Just as many wimmin are now dramatically calling out #MeToo, we dramatically call out #AllSexIsRape. Sexual assault is everywhere; revolutionary change is needed.
Los E$tados Unidos encierra a los Nuevos Afrikanos a una velocidad de 5 veces más rápido que a los Euro-Amerikanos. La tasa para los Chican@s es de por lo menos 1.4 veces más alta que la de los blancos, y la forma en que las prisiones recogen información sobre los “Hispanos” hace que probablemente este número sea muy bajo.(1) Este exceso dramático de encarcelación de las naciones oprimidas en las prisiones de U.$. no es nuevo. Pero el alto número de gente encerrada es un fenómeno relativamente reciente. En la década de los 60, la disparidad entre las tasas de encarcelación era prácticamente la misma de la de hoy. Pero la población en prisión era mucho menor, de forma que impactaba a mucho menos gente.
En 1960, la tasa de encarcelación de los hombres blancos fue de 262 cada 100,000 residentes blancos de los U.$, y la tasa de hombres Nuevo Afrikanos fue de 1,313; lo cual son 5 veces más que la tasa de los blancos. Para 2010 la disparidad se había elevado hasta 6 veces. Esto significa que los hombres Nuevos Afrikanos eran seis veces más susceptibles a ser encerrados que los hombres blancos. Esta discrepancia tuvo un impacto mucho mayor en 2010 porque las tasas de encarcelación se dispararon hasta el cielo, empezando en la década de los 70, de modo que para el 2010 la tasa de encarcelación de hombre Nuevos Afrikanos era de 4,347 cada 100,000.(2)
En 2000 la discrepancia en las tasas de encarcelación entre los Nuevos Afrikanos y los blancos empezaron en realidad a bajar, y para el 2015 ya estaba hasta en los niveles de los 60. Entre el 2000 y el 2015 la tasa de encarcelamiento para hombres Nuevos Afrikanos cayó 24%, mientras que al mismo tiempo, la tasa de encarcelamiento para hombres blancos se elevó ligeramente. Entre mujeres vemos la misma tendencia pero con una caída del 50% para las mujeres Nuevas Afrikanas y un 50% de aumento para las mujeres blancas.(3)
Tasas de hombres Negros y Blancos en prisión
Tenemos que poner estos cambios en contexto. La tasa de encarcelación de Nuevos Afrikanos es todavía increíblemente alta en comparación con la tasa para blancos. La opresión nacional en las prisiones no se ha eliminado, ni de cerca. A la velocidad actual de cambio, tomaría hasta aproximadamente el año 2100 para que haya igualdad de encarcelamiento en la nación.
Pero no podemos ignorar cambios como estos, especialmente cuando son consistentes a lo largo de un período de 15 años.
Las prisiones se usan principalmente como una herramienta de control social por el gobierno de los E$tados Unidos. Las naciones oprimidas siempre han sido una amenaza debido a la relación dialéctica entre los oprimidos y los opresores. Y por eso, las naciones oprimidas enfrentan las tasas de encarcelación mayores. Y los objetivos más grandes son aquellos que organizan el cambio revolucionario, como vimos con las operaciones masivas del COINTELPRO contra el Partido de la Pantera Negra (Black Panther Party) y el Partido de los Señores Jóvenes (Young Lords Party) en la década de los 70.
Así que, ¿por qué el sistema de injusticia criminal cambiaría para disminuir la tasa de encarcelación de Nuevos Afrikanos pero no haría lo mismo para los blancos? Una explicación posible es que los cambios en el sistema de injusticia criminal se han realizado a velocidades diferentes en las ciudades y en áreas no urbanas. La caída en las tasas de encarcelación se debe principalmente a las tasas menores en las ciudades, porque en las zonas rurales no han cambiado.(3) Tal vez veamos que estos cambios se nivelen con el tiempo.
Luego de la proclamación de la emancipación, hemos visto cambios en la opresión nacional en la sociedad Amerikana en varios momentos de la historia. Estos cambios generalmente suceden como respuesta a los movimientos sociales. Las reformas se dieron desde la segregación legal hasta la restricción de la discriminación abierta en ámbitos como el hogar, empleo, y préstamos. Pero estas reformas en realidad no pusieron un fin a estas prácticas; la realidad de la segregación y discriminación continuaron, simplemente cambiaron a formas más sutiles o escondidas. No obstante, podemos decir que en algunos aspectos, las condiciones para las naciones oprimidas dentro de las fronteras de los E$tados Unido$, han mejorado. Esto no sorprende porque el gobierno de los EE. UU. no puede realmente tener disturbios activos dentro de sus fronteras mientras pelea tantas guerras abiertas e indirectas alrededor del mundo. El imperialismo es más estable cuando puede mantener tranquila a la población de su país natal.
En un país imperialista rico, los capitalistas tienen el dinero para integrar parcialmente las semi-colonias, comprándolas con los beneficios del saqueo imperialista. Sin embargo, la opresión nacional está tan arraigada en la sociedad imperialista moderna que no anticipamos la integración total de estas semi-colonias internas. Y por eso, creemos que la distancia entre las tasas de encarcelación de la nación oprimida y la blanca no estará cerca de cerrarse. Pero las corrientes actuales en las tasas de encarcelación se prestan para seguirles la pista.
Please send a copy of the Texas Pack. I've been in prison since 2002 and h ave never written a grievance. The information you offer makes it a no brainer for all prisoners the opportunity to correctly address situations with supporting codes.
A writ writer let me borrow his copy so I could fight a disciplinary case that was never investigated. That's a normal practice on this unit that needs to be corrected.
That resource is priceless and wanted to say thanks. This puts me on an even playing field to filing grievances with confidence. Won't let situations slide by when I'm in the right. I've enclosed 3 stamps.
by a Pennsylvania prisoner February 2018 permalink
I have noticed that the New Afrikan people (NAP) have been crying out for justice for their people against oppression for ages. As an advocate and activist to end all oppression I stand beside them 100%. Oppression is an ugly thing and needs to be totally eradicated. However, I have also noticed that large numbers of NAPs and Latin@s oppress another "minority" group, namely the LGBTQIA community on a continuous basis. The same reasoning and ideology used by white supremacists to oppress others, especially NAP and Latin@s, is being used by NAP and Latin@s to oppress the LGBTQIA community. I feel that if people want to be free from oppression, they should in turn refrain from willingly and consciously oppressing other humyns and humyn groups. Justice and equality should be collective, not subjective and for certain people only. Does anyone else see this hypocrisy? I'm open to critique and feedback.
MIM(Prisons) responds: As communists, we struggle for an end to all forms of oppression. It's a constant struggle to educate ourselves and others, and consciously struggle against biases that have been ingrained over years of living in this corrupt system. But while we live in a society built on class, nation and gender oppression we can expect to see forms of all of these within progressive movements.
There are a few principles we apply here. One is recognizing the principal contradiction and focusing on pushing that forward. Another is unity-struggle-unity. So as we unite with all anti-imperialist forces to resolve the principal contradiction (the oppression of Third World nations by the U.$.-led imperialist block) we will struggle over questions such as these in an attempt to build greater unity with revolutionary nationalists who may retain reactionary ideas around gender.
I recall entering United States Penitentiary (USP) Leavenworth in 1993 as a very ignorant, reactionary member of a street tribe in need of guidance. I was approached by an individual seen by others in many lights; original gangsta! Comrade George's comrade! Revolutionary! Major underworld figure! All of the above and some. All I know is, the brotha James "Doc" Holiday freely gave of himself to educate all of us tribal adherents.
Making it mandatory that we both exercise daily (machine) and read progressive literature, because consciousness grows in stages. As such, he brought many a tribal cat towards a more revolutionary-oriented ideal. Some accepted New Afrikan revolutionary nationalism. Others gained structure, within their respective tribes (Kiwe/Damu national identities). Whichever choices we made, the overall revolutionary objectives were being met, in that the seeds of liberating consciousness had been sown. We learned of: Che, Fidel, W.L. Nolen, Marx, Lenin, Mao, Huey P., Bobby, Fred, Bunchy, Comrade George, Assata, etc. So many more unnamed heroes/sheroes of the movement for change and liberation.
Was "Daktari" perfect? No! He had flaws and vices like most hue-mans raised in capitalist United $tates — this putrid system which conditions us to value money over character. However, it is my contention that, to overlook the strengths and contributions this elder made to both Cali state and Federal systems' revolutionary cultures is to aid our common oppressors in suppressing the memories of all whose stories could serve as inspirational tools.
Utilizing materialist dialectics to analyze our forerunners' strengths and weaknesses as they relate to contributions to struggle is a positive. Constructively critiquing their actions and/or strategem which negatively impacted our progression towards building revolutionary culture is also a positive. Personally, I do not view giving honors to our fallen as "cult of personality." As a New Afrikan by DNA, I know firsthand how important it is for "us" to have concrete examples to emulate. Sad reality is, U.$.-born New Afrikans have been conditioned via historical miscarriages to see themselves as inferior to others. As such, before giving them/us Marx and the like, they should be taught examples of U.$. folk of color. Identification with/to New Afrikan cultural identity is key to building viable revolutionary culture, prior to more global revolutionary cadre education.
With that, I recently embraced Islam. The need of a morality code was imperative for me (individually) in order for me to continue to be an asset to the overall struggle. Regardless of my personal religious belief, I shall remain committed to giving of myself — blood, sweat, tears, my life if need be — to advance the struggle for freedom, justice, and equality. This loyalty and devotion to the cause, come hell, or forever in isolation, is a direct result of the seeds planted in USP Leavenworth all those years ago by James "Doc" Holiday. I honor him accordingly as an educator, elder, father figure, and comrade.
Recently my family attempted to locate Doc via FBOP locator and as his name was not found, thus I assume he has passed on. I shall miss his wit and grit. Revolutionary in peace!
MIM(Prisons) responds: The greatest tribute we can pay to Doc, and all of the people who helped raise us to a higher level, is to carry on eir legacy through our actions. We don't mean to just "be about" the struggle, or to shout them out in remembrance. "Each one teach one" is a good place to start, and we can even look more deeply at what it was about our comrades' actions that made them such great organizers. In analyzing their actions, we can build on that in our own organizing.
We encourage our readers to take a closer look at what it was that turned you on to revolutionary organizing and politics. It surely wasn't just one action from one persyn, and it surely wasn't just an internal realization. Who was it that helped develop you, and how did they do it?
Especially for ULK 63, we want to look deeper at organizing tactics and approaches within the pages of this newsletter. One thing we can look at is our memories of what other people did to organize us. Think about the people who helped develop your revolutionary consciousness, and write in to ULK your observations.
What was their attitude? What methods did they use? How did they react when someone was half-in the game? How did they behave toward people who were totally in denial? Where did they draw the line between friends and enemies? What are some memories you have of when the spark was lit for you, that told you you needed to struggle to end oppression, rather than just get what you could for yourself? Send your stories in to the address on page 1 so ULK readers can incorporate your experiences into their own organizing tactics.
In my last article on China I rehashed the 40-year old argument that China abandoned the socialist road, with some updated facts and figures.(1) The article started as a review of the book Is China an Imperialist Country? by N.B. Turner, but left most of that question to be answered by Turner's book.
We did not publish that article to push some kind of struggle against Chinese imperialism. Rather, as we explained, it was an attack on the promotion of revisionism within the forum www.reddit.com/r/communism, and beyond. The forum's most-enforced rule is that only Marxists are allowed to post and participate in discussion there. Yet almost daily, posts building a persynality cult around Chinese President Xi Jinping, or promoting some supposed achievement of the Chinese government, are allowed and generally receive quick upvotes.
The title of our previous article asking is China in 2017 Socialist or Imperialist may be misunderstood to mean that China must be one or the other. This is not the case. Many countries are not socialist but are also not imperialist. In the case of China, however, it is still important (so many years after it abandoned socialism) to clarify that it is a capitalist country. And so our positive review of a book discussing Chinese imperialism, became a polemic against those arguing it is socialist.
One of the major contradictions in the imperialist era is the inter-imperialist contradiction. The United $tates is the dominant aspect of this contradiction as the main imperialist power in the world today. And currently Russia and China are growing imperialist powers on the other side of this inter-imperialist contradiction. Reading this contradiction as somehow representative of the class contradiction between bourgeoisie and proletariat or of the principal contradiction between oppressed nations and oppressor nations would be an error.
We have continued to uphold that China is a majority exploited country, and an oppressed nation.(2) But China is a big place. Its size is very much related to its position today as a rising imperialist power. And its size is what allows it to have this dual character of both a rising imperialist class and a majority proletariat and peasantry. Finally, its size is part of what has allowed an imperialist class to rise over a period of decades while insulating itself from conflict with the outside world — both with exploiter and exploited nations.
A major sign that a country is an exploiting country is the rise and subsequent dominance of a non-productive consumer class. At first, the Chinese capitalists depended on Western consumers to grease the wheels of their circulation of capital. While far from the majority, as in the United $tates and Europe, China has more recently begun intentionally developing a domestic consumer class.(3) This not only helps secure the circulation of capital, but begins to lay the groundwork for unequal exchange that would further favor China in its trade with other countries. Unequal exchange is a mechanism that benefits the rich First World nations, and marks a more advanced stage of imperialism than the initial stages of exporting capital to relieve the limitations of the nation-state on monopoly capitalism. As we stated in the article cited above, China's size here becomes a hindrance in that it cannot become a majority exploiter country, having 20% of the world's population, without first displacing the existing exploiter countries from that role. Of course, this will not stop them from trying and this will be a contradiction that plays out in China's interactions with the rest of the world and internally. At the same time with an existing "middle class" that is 12-15% of China's population, they are well on their way to building a consumer class that is equal in size to that of Amerika's.(3)
In our last article, we hint at emerging conflicts between China and some African nations. But the conflict that is more pressing is the fight for markets and trade dominance that it faces with the United $tates in the Pacific region and beyond. China remains, by far, the underdog in this contradiction, or the rising aspect. But again, its size is part of what gives it the ability to take positions independent of U.$. imperialism.
As we stated in our most recent article, this contradiction offers both danger and opportunity. We expect it to lead to more support for anti-imperialist forces as the imperialists try to undercut each other by backing their enemies. Then, as anti-imperialism strengthens, the imperialists will face more global public opinion problems in pursuing their goals of exploitation and domination. In other words, a rising imperialist China bodes well for the international proletariat. Not because China is a proletarian state, but because the era of U.$. hegemony must end for a new era of socialism to rise. We should be clear with people about the definitions of imperialism and socialism to make this point.
China's potential to play a progressive role in the world in coming years does not change the fact that the counter-revolution led by Deng Xiaoping dismantled the greatest achievement towards reaching communism so far in history. If we do not learn from that very painful setback, then we are not applying the scientific method and we will not even know what it is that we are fighting for. How and when socialism ended in China is a question that is fundamental to Maoism.
The United $tates locks up New Afrikans at a rate more than 5 times Euro-Amerikans. The rate for Chican@s is at least 1.4 times higher than whites, and the way the prisons collect information on "Hispanics" makes this number likely an underestimate.(1) This dramatic over-incarceration of oppressed nations in U.$. prisons isn't new. But the huge numbers of people locked up is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the 1960s the disparity between incarceration rates was actually about the same as it is today. But the prison population was much smaller, so it impacted a lot fewer people.
In 1960, the white male incarceration rate was 262 per 100,000 white U.S. residents, and the New Afrikan male rate was 1,313; that's 5x the rate for whites. By 2010 this disparity had risen to 6x. This means New Afrikan men were six times more likely to be locked up than white men. This discrepancy had a much bigger impact in 2010 because incarceration rates skyrocketed starting in the 1970s, so that by 2010 the New Afrikan male incarceration rate was 4,347 per 100,000.(2)
In 2000 the discrepancy in incarceration rates between New Afrikans and whites actually started dropping, and by 2015 it was back down to the 1960 levels. Between 2000 and 2015 the imprisonment rate of New Afrikan men dropped 24%, while at the same time the incarceration rate of white men rose slightly. Among wimmin we see the same trend but with a 50% drop for New Afrikan wimmin and a 50% increase for white wimmin.(3)
We need to put these changes in context. The incarceration rate of New Afrikans is still ridiculously higher than for whites! National oppression in prisons has not been eliminated, not even close. At the current rate of change, it would take until around the year 2100 to hit imprisonment equality by nation.
But we can't ignore changes like these, especially when they are consistent over a 15 year period.
Prisons are used primarily as a tool of social control by the United $tates government. Oppressed nations have always been a threat because of the dialectical relationship between oppressed and oppressor. And so oppressed nations face the highest incarceration rates. And the biggest targets are those who are organizing for revolutionary change, as we saw with the massive COINTELPRO operations against the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords Party in the 1970s.
So why would the criminal injustice system shift to lowering the rate of incarceration of New Afrikans but not doing the same for whites? One possible explanation is that changes to the criminal injustice system have been proceeding at different rates in cities and in non-urban areas. The drop in incarcerations rates has been largely driven by lower rates in cities while incarceration in rural areas has remained unchanged.(3) We may see these changes even out over time.
Post-emancipation proclamation, we have seen changes in national oppression in Amerikan society at various times in history. These changes generally happen in response to social movements. Reforms ranged from ending legal segregation to curtailing overt discrimination in arenas like housing, employment, and loans. But these reforms didn't actually put an end to these practices; the reality of segregation and discrimination continued, just shifted to more subtle or hidden forms. Nonetheless, we can say that in some regards conditions for oppressed nations within U.$. borders have improved. This is not surprising as the U.$. government can't really afford to have active unrest within its borders while it's fighting so many overt and proxy wars around the world. Imperialism is more stable when it can keep its home country population pacified.
In a wealthy imperialist country, the capitalists have the money to partly integrate the internal semi-colonies, buying them off with the benefits of imperialist plunder. But the national oppression is so entrenched in modern imperialist society that we don't anticipate full integration of these internal semi-colonies. And so we think it's likely the gap between white and oppressed nation imprisonment rates won't come close to closing. But the current trends in imprisonment rates are something to keep watching.
It has been brought to my attention that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation(CDCR) is trying to propose changes to family visiting regulations. By using Proposition 57 as leverage to divide the masses, this policy is discriminatory towards our comrades who get family visits. This policy does not reduce violence, and/or decrease contraband and/or promote positive behavior and/or prepare you for a successful release or rehabilitation as claimed in the CDCR proposal.
In a recent announcement of proposed policy changes to the telephone system and family visiting eligibility, the CDCR issued the statement: "All inmates are encouraged to continue with positive programming and to not participate in any mass strike/disturbance. These types of disturbances impact the many programming opportunities for rehabilitation and reduction in sentence afforded by Proposition 57."
This new policy is trying to discourage the masses from using their constitutional right to peaceful protest, by pitting those working for sentence reductions under Prop. 57 against those organizing for justice and change. CDCR is back with their reactionary divide and conquer ideals. CDCR is a functional enemy of using the word rehabilitation. CDCR will never produce justice or correctness toward their captives. So I ask this question to the masses: Does Prop. 57 support us or does it help CDCR maintain and expand a repressive system against captives?
CDCR is abusing Prop. 57 and using it as leverage and against all organizing activity. This direct or indirect association of Prop. 57 to family visiting and discipline of prisoners promotes confusion and non-justice. The people who voted for Prop. 57 did so with the intent of trying to do justice to correct a broken system. They intended to return humyn beings to their families.
Without justice, there is no life in people. Without justice, people do not "live", they only exist and that's good for CDCR. (Wake up comrades!) I have one message for CDCR, "Where there is justice, there is peace."
[Proposition 57 was passed by California voters in November 2016. Its main purpose is to make it easier for prisoners with non-violent convictions to get a parole hearing, and allow prisoners who are not lifers or on death row to earn good time and earlier release through programming.]
More than 2 million people are locked up in prisons and jails in the United $tates. This represents an imprisonment rate of just under 1% of the population. Almost 7 million people were under the supervision of the adult correctional system (including parole and probation) at the end of 2015.(1) And in 2012, latest data available from the U.$. Bureau of Justice, the total money spent on the criminal injustice system across federal, state and local governments was $265,160,340,000. Of this prisons accounted for $80,791,046,000.(2)
Prisons are incredibly expensive for the state and prisons cost far more than they produce.(3) The question is, why does the government, at all levels, continue to spend so much money to keep so many people locked up? And why does the United $tates have the highest imprisonment rate of any country in the world?
The Myth of the Prison Industrial Complex
The Prison-Industrial Complex (PIC) meme has become effectively popularized in the United $tates. Behind the concept of the PIC is the belief that there are big corporate interests behind the unprecedented mass incraceration in the United $tates. It represents an Amerikan politic that is outwardly "anti-corporate," while denying the class structure of the country that is made up of almost completely exploiter classes.
While there are certainly some corporations that are making money off of prisons, overall prisons are a money-losing operation for the government. Basically the government is subsidizing the profits and income of a few corporations and a lot of individual so-called "workers."(see Cost of Incarceration article) If we examine prison statistics, economic trends, private prisons, and the "diversity" of the prisoner population, then it becomes clear that prisons are fundamentally about social control over oppressed nations within the United $nakkkes. This leads us to some important conclusions on how the prison system functions and how we should struggle against it.
Falling Rates of Imprisonment
Overall, the prison and jail population in the United $tates has been dropping in recent years, along with the rate of imprisonment. The total number of people in prison and jail started dropping in 2009 after decades of steady increases. In reality the increases in 2008 didn't keep up with the increase in population in the United $tates as the peak imprisonment rate was in 2007 with 1 in every 31 people being somewhere under correctional supervision (including jails, prisons, parole and probation). The prison/jail population peaked in 2006-2008 with 1% of the adult population locked up behind bars. That dropped to .87% at the end of 2015.(4)
This drop in imprisonment rate starting in 2008 lines up with the peak of the recent financial crisis. It seems that the U.$. government does have some limits to their willingness to spend money on the criminal injustice system. If imprisoning people was a way to increase profits, then the numbers of prisoners would increase when there was a financial crisis, not decrease.
Private prisons are a dangerous development in the Amerikan criminal injustice system. They are owned and operated by corporations for a profit. And these prisons take prisoners from any state that will pay them for the service. In states with overcrowding problems, shipping people to for-profit prisons is seen as a good option.
But these corporations also try to sell their services as cheaper and more efficient, basically reducing the already dangerously low level services to prisoners in order to save on costs, because, as we have seen, prisons are extremely costly to run.
At the end of 2015, 18 states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons met or exceeded their prison facilities' maximum capacity.(5) So we might expect a lot of outsourcing to private prisons. But the actual percentage of prisoners in private prisons is relatively low. In 2015, only 8% of total state and federal prisoners were in private facilities. And this number dropped 4% from 2014.(6) This is a greater drop than the 2.2% decrease in prisoners between 2014 and 2015.
If private prisons were so successful, then we ought to see their numbers increase, not decrease. And if they were so influential with the politicians, then they would have a larger market share. Private prisons clearly are not the backbone of some "Prison Industrial Complex." Corporations have, thus far, not figured out how to successfully generate profits from prisons, beyond the subsidy handout they get from the government and commissary stock. On top of this, the federal and state governments are losing money by paying for prisons.
There is a lot of activism opposed to private prisons. This comes from people who generally understand that privatization of an institution usually does not have a good outcome for the oppressed. Activism can influence the government. It's possible that the voices against private prisons helped push the Obama administration to implement its policy of phasing out private prisons for Federal prisoners. The Trump administration has since repealed that policy.
But we don't believe this is a question of partisan politics anyway. The U.$. government has shown that it will stop at nothing to implement policies that push forward profitable capitalist industries. The violent attacks on activists protesting the destructive Dakota Access Pipe Line are a good case in point. This is not a fight over profitable capitalist corporations, it is a debate over which group of people get a subsidy from the government: private prison corporations, or public prison employees. Shifting away from private prisons is painless for the government, because it doesn't require a decrease in prisons, just a shift in where money goes.
So, if not for profit, then why does the U.$. lock up so many people? The answer to this question is obvious when we look at prisoners and the history of imprisonment in this country. It is impossible to talk about prisons without talking about the tremendous disparity in the way the criminal injustice system treats Chican@s, First Nations, and New Afrikans within U.$. borders. The ridiculously high rate of imprisonment of people, particularly men, from these nations, is the most obvious disparity.
Approximately 12-13% of the population of the United $tates is New Afrikan, but New Afrikans make up around 35% of prisoners.(7) The imprisonment rate of First Nations is also disproportionately high. In South Dakota, for example, Indigenous people are 8% of the state's population, but are 22% of the state's male prison population and 35% of female prison population.(8) Meanwhile, Chican@s are imprisoned at a rate higher than Euro-Amerikkkans as well.(9)
Any study of the injustice system reveals the same evidence: the majority of prisoners are from oppressed nations. This is in spite of the fact that there are more Euro-Amerikkkans in the United $tates than all the oppressed nations combined.
This disparity starts on the streets with police occupation of oppressed communities, and continues into the courts with disproportionate sentencing, inadequate legal representation, and the conscious and unconscious bias of juries. By the time we get to prisons, we can clearly see the results of systematic national oppression in the rates of imprisonment.
The aggressive use of prisons as a tool of social control started in the United $tates in response to the revolutionary nationalist organizations that gained tremendous popularity in the late 1960s and 1970s. As the government scrambled for an effective response to tamp down this potentially revolutionary mass movement, they turned to the police and prisons.
Between 1961 and 1968, the prison population dropped to its lowest point since the 1920s. From 1968 to 1972, the imprisonment rate rose slowly. However, starting in 1974, just following the peak of revolutionary organizing in this country, there was an unbelievable increase in the imprisonment rates. COINTELPRO was oriented against revolutionary organizations like the Black Panther Party and the United $tates began to systematically lock up or assassinate those people who were trying to fight against oppression. Almost 150,000 people were imprisoned in eight years — demonstrating the government's fear of revolutionaries.(10)
At the same time, there was a growing anti-prison movement and the government was sure to stamp out any and all dissent there as well. George Jackson's book, Soledad Brother, came out in 1970 and was a huge indictment of the oppression against the internal semi-colonies. The following year, he was murdered.
This disproportionate arrest, prosecution and imprisonment of oppressed nations didn't stop in the 1970s. It continues today. Internal semi-colonies are positioned in a way to maintain their subjugated status. And it is when the oppressed nations band together and organize that the Amerikkkan government strikes against them like a rabid dog.
Lessons for our Work
Understanding the injustice system is of central importance to developing a method and structure to resist the prison network. This is why it is so necessary to understand that prisons are a money-losing operation for the government, and to locate the politics of mass incarceration in the attempt at social control of oppressed nations.
If we focus on the role of prisons as social control, targeting the lumpen, we can then target the real reason for the existence of the vast Amerikan criminal injustice system. Exposing this role helps people understand just how desperate the U.$. government was in the 1970s when faced with a huge revolutionary nationalist movement. And the government is still afraid to take any significant steps away from this imprisonment solution.
That tells us they are still afraid of the oppressed nations, so much so that they don't care if a bunch of white people get swept up in the imprisonment craze.
Since social control is driving the Amerikkkan prison system, we should focus our organizing work on exactly what the government fears: organizing those being controlled. We should pick our battles to target the parts of the system that we know are vulnerable: they fear revolutionary education (censorship, bans on study groups), they fear organization (rules against groups), and they fear peaceful unity most of all (provocations of fights, pitting groups against one another). We can build this unity by spreading our analysis of the root goal of the criminal injustice system. All those targeted for social control should be inspired to get together against this system.