The prison oppressors have maliciously transferred me to Jester III Unit here in Richmond, Texas. I have filed numerous grievance complaints and indicated filing a Section 1983 civil lawsuit, due to prison staff violating my Constitutional rights.
I had to wait about 15 days before I was allowed to write to you all, because the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) indigent program only allows me to mail out 5 personal letters a month. Once I have submitted the 5 letters, I'm forced to wait until the next 30-day period starts. I have filed a grievance, and hope a class action lawsuit is presented to the court so that I can join in.
According to Guajardo v. Estelle 432 F.Supp 1373, prison officials must furnish postage and stationary to indigent prisoners weekly, without a waiting period. By denying me communication with my family, friends and advocates, it hinders me from informing people of the extreme mistreatment I'm constantly subjected to here.
I respectfully request the recent issue of Under Lock & Key be mailed to my new address, plus any study material to help me teach the 5 principles of the United Front for Peace in Prisons (Independence, Internationalism, Growth, Unity, and Peace) within the prison environment. I greatly appreciate my beloved comrades' assistance and highly need support. I will write to you and other comrades in the struggle as much as is possible or allowed.
MIM(Prisons) responds: It is all too common that laws are set, but that the problems continue because prison officials simply don't follow the laws. As this correspondent writes, there are already legal standards for how indigent correspondence should be handled in Texas. Yet the Texas Board of Criminal Justice modified TDCJ's correspondence rules in opposition to this law.
In communication with Mumia Abu-Jamal, in Mumia's book Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners v. the U.S.A., Ed Mead explains this phenomenon well:
"[The courts] may order that you have more peanut butter on the main line but they're not going to do anything significant or fundamental in terms of serving the public interest. And that is the limitation of jailhouse lawyering, you can get yourself out but there will be another one to replace you. You can get a friend out; there will be another one to replace him. You can file a prisoner rights suit but they'll just not enforce it... or if it's enforced, after a while it just dissipates, like a puddle of water evaporating and nobody really notices that it's gone."
For those issues that people notice are dwindling away, such as the restrictions on indigent mail in Texas, what role can lawsuits play in ensuring these rights are protected? Our correspondent would like to join on to a Class Action suit on this issue, and surely there are plenty of Texas comrades who would be interested in something similar. Ed Mead breaks it down:
"[T]he courts are a part of the State's apparatus of repression... and the State is the means by which one class suppresses the interests of another class. And since the police and the prisons are a part of that and the courts as well, none of these enforcement mechanisms are going to abolish themselves. Once you get beyond the point of litigating over 'we want more peanut butter on the main line,' if you're looking for substantial issues, then the courts aren't the place to go...
"And the way I look at it is that the prison is the factory that turns out the product. And that product is angry people who are released to the streets full of rage, which gets taken out on their family members, their neighbors, and the community. And to try to treat individual products that the factory spews out, it's spewing them out faster than you could possibly fix the problem. You need to focus on shutting the factory down. And the courts aren't going to be of any assistance in that."
In the context of our anti-imperialist organizing, we see lawsuits as having two functions. First, they can be a way to organize people by bringing them into political struggle, and demonstrating the limitations of the injustice system. Second, when successful, lawsuits can help to make space for this revolutionary organizing. Lifting the severe restrictions on indigent correspondence would definitely be better for people who are submitting articles to Under Lock & Key, participating in our correspondence study groups, or just keeping their ULK subscription active. And we're sure that most of our comrades behind bars don't just write to us! But even if this restriction were lifted, as it should be, there would just be some other injustice being thrown our way. Or eventually the law would be "forgotten" and we'd have to go to court over the same thing, again.
Ed Mead is a former prisoner, jailhouse lawyer, founder of Prison Legal News, and long-time revolutionary. Ey presently publish the newsletter The Rock and recently had eir autobiography published by Kersplebedeb. With Ed's vast and long-time experience in the anti-imperialist prisoner-focused movement, ey has this to say about putting our legal efforts into a broader context of struggle: "The main thing is to put jailhouse lawyering in a context of class struggle. And when you put it in that context its limitations become abundantly clear."
Mumia reflects on Ed's perspective on jailhouse lawyering,
"For this one man, jailhouse law was a doorway into other realms of social reality, where the courts, for all their pomp and ceremony, were largely irrelevant to the larger social struggles rippling through society. What Mead learned was that jailhouse law was simply a means; it was not an end. It had, in Mead's view, severe limitations."
To move beyond these limitations, we expand our scope. While this legal system fails us, we instead aim to set the stage for communist revolution on these shores. We have various campaigns and projects centered around this goal, which we report on regularly on this website and in Under Lock & Key.
9 September 2015 marked the fourth annual Day of Peace and Solidarity in prisons throughout the United $tates. This is an opportunity for us to commemorate the anniversary of the Attica uprising and draw attention to abuse of prisoners across the country. The demonstration was initiated in 2012 by an organization participating in United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP) and has been taken up as an annual UFPP event, with people committing to participate in prisons across the country. Activities vary, from peaceful resistance and fasting to study groups and educational events. Some observe the event alone due to their confinement conditions and some take this opportunity to organize with others.
This demonstration is focused on the UFPP principles of peace and unity: We organize to end the needless conflicts and violence among prisoners, and we strive to unite with those who have a common interest in fighting the oppression of the criminal injustice system. On this one day we call on all prisoners to take up these principles and cease all prisoner-on-prisoner hostilities, and use the day for solidarity building and education.
While we don't organize for just one day of peace and unity, this day of action expands awareness and broadens our base of support to build for peace and unity year round. In this way we build from smaller campaigns to broader goals and ultimately to a movement that can stand up against the entire criminal injustice system.
We have already received reports from a number of September 9 participants, which are summarized here. Look for more reports in upcoming issues of Under Lock & Key.
Comrades in Arkansas commemorated the day by joining USW and committing to stepping up their work in the coming year:
"Happy Day of Peace and Solidarity! Today my comrades and I celebrated by eating a chili spread and discussing the many ailments that plague prisoners as a result of our confinement. We also discussed the ways we might non-coercively combat the prison establishment from within. That is no easy task because at the first sign of unity the pigs are quick to lock us up and separate us. Not that we have much to lose considering we are being housed on administrative segregation (23 hour lock down).
"We decided to name our study group CRASH or Crazy Revolutionaries Against Social Hierarchy. We thought it fitting to name ourselves on this day to commemorate Attica. We would also like to join USW. We absolutely agree with all 6 points of MIM(Prisons) and would like to join other like-minded individuals and take a more active role in helping unify the oppressed against imperialism. All power to the people and let burn the renewing flames of the communist revolution!"
In Louisiana a new comrade devoted the day to serious study and fasting:
"I am writing to inform you that because of knowledge I received by reading Under Lock & Key I participated in my first commemoration of the September 9 Day of Peace Peace and Solidarity movement. Six months ago I was unaware such a movement even existed, especially since I was first exposed to the tragedy in, or rather at, Attica in the late 90s - the same time I was first introduced to the Souljah George. The organization I was/am a part of already in our protocols recognized Black August. But the September 9 movement was unknown to us.
"Even though I hadn't heard of the movement I still responded to your call to arms. I fasted from solid food the entire day and only had one cup of water after sundown. I also, after each prayer (as I am a conscious and conscientious Muslim), reread articles from ULK and expounded upon them to my neighbor who, incidentally, is the guy who was involved in the failed judicial lynching attempt of Lil Boosie.
"I also revisited The Wretched of the Earth by Fanon with particular emphasis on the preface written by Jean-Paul Sartre. And although it is a scathing denunciation of European imperialism/colonialism and a concise treatise advocating, or rather understanding, the use of violence to uproot that system, I still believe it was appropriate reading for the commemoration of this day. For as we know, the overall goal you wish to achieve and those I am aligned with will not be a peaceful act in the traditional sense of the word. The forces of capitalism will not go quietly into that good night."
In Michigan one organizer is spreading information about this history of Attica and the September 9 Day:
"I've been talking to a lot of prisoners about the September 9 Day of Peace and Solidarity but a lot of prisoners knew nothing about the Attica uprising by the comrades against the injustice department of corruption of the DOCs across the country. I myself fasted on September 9 for the remembrance of the fallen comrades, but the majority of prisoners in the Michigan DOC played games, watched TV, and talked shit about the 'new private food services trinity.' But they aren't for peace and solidarity."
While this comrade found most prisoners wasting time, the seeds of discontent are there with their discussions about the food service. These seeds can be nurtured with education and organizing to build a core devoted to peace and solidarity.
A comrade at the California Health Care Facility wrote in advance of the date about plans:
"For September 9 this year my comrades and I are organizing a hunger strike to make the pigs start cleaning our unit. We live in a controlled unit that doesn't allow porters, leaving the cleaning up to the pigs or custodians. But they never do it so we are forced to live in filth."
On September 10 we received the following update from this same comrade:
"Update on my September 9 hunger strike. The pigs conceded and cleaned the unit. On top of that I had 15 copies made of the grievance campaign petition and had two comrades join me in flooding the listed offices with them. I provided the postage for them all since they are stingy with the indigent envelopes here. I also led a small group in which we went over the history and importance of September 9 and enlightened a few who were unaware of the struggle. I broke my fast at midnight a few minutes ago so now I'm going to spend some time in contemplation and get some zzz's."
Another California comrade wrote about organizing at California Correctional Institution:
"For September 9 I attempted to raise the level of consciousness amongst the inmates here on a few issues:
"1) I spoke on comrade George L. Jackson's untimely death at San Quentin, and his particular struggle transforming the colonial and criminal mind into a revolutionary mentality. I talked about how he vied to unify the blacks and other groups. But, the reactionary system wasn't having it one bit. So as a result of his struggles in prison he was assassinated.
"2) I also spoke on Hugo Pinell, who was also slain unfortunately during Black August, and what he stood for in terms of solidarity amongst progressive people. I also spoke on Attica's uprising. Mao said, 'one spark can light a prairie fire.' And it definitely did.
"3) I spoke on how it is vitally important to end all hostilities amongst all groups of prisoners and beyond. In spite of the fact that hostilities will be fomented by the reactionary state. We must continue to vie for peace, harmony and love amongst each other no matter what. The enemy will stop at nothing to foil our efforts. It's part of the struggle to continue moving forward until our goals can be realized, and at that we can set more.
"Also, I spoke to them about the importance of maintaining a study group here even after my departure from prison. And that each and every one of them have an inherent obligation to conduct and maintain a study group amongst themselves so that they can continue raising the social and political consciousness of prisoners as a whole.
"I did what I could to commemorate September 9. The discussion was for 2 hours. It turned out pretty well. Most of the participants didn't have a clue about these historical events and about the prison movement in general. And of course, some had questions. About 12 people attended the group. Also, I did a thousand burpees myself to commemorate September 9. It was exhilarating and refreshing at 53 years of age, to continue to push forward in my 34th year incarcerated. Pamoja tutashinda uhuru sasa!"
Also from California at High Desert CF we received a preview of September 9 plans from the organization Abolitionist From Within:
"As the leading member of the Abolitionist From Within (AFW) I do support MIM(Prisons) and embrace as a group the five core principles of the United Front for Peace in Prisons. While AFW may not agree with every political issue MIM(Prisons) advocates, it is the issues that we both support that bring us together in this revolutionary struggle. AFW recently had our first demonstration at High Desert State Prison (HDSP), bringing together a cohesive front in reflecting, fasting and uniting to honor those nameless and faceless men of Black August and Attica (1971) by coming together in solidarity. We brought up the issues of the day affecting us and we all offered solutions from each individual's perspective. It was a beautiful and righteous energy as we synergized, listening to each other, and offered the best of ourselves during this time. We will meet again on September 9 and try to agree on the best solutions in attacking and combating the issues that are inflicting us today from the first meeting."
These comrades followed up with a report on their September 9 activities:
"It's been a blessing to learn and grow from each comrade who has engaged in a solidarity demonstration with the movement, Abolitionists From Within (AFW). We came together for all the lost comrades and those that continue to struggle and unite to break the chain of injustice.
"We fasted September 8 to September 9 in a show of solidarity. Also we studied together reading books with study questions and we also read material from Under Lock & Key No. 45 and the September 9 Day of Struggle Study Pack. After reading, we came up with questions from the material and off we went back to our cells. We also shared the word with anybody who was willing to listen. Back in our cells i heard the comrades feeling like freedom revolutionary fighters and that's what's up! We stand in solidarity with the comrades who fought and died in the uprising at Attica. Continue to struggle with peace on our tongue.
"Here on 'D yard' there was nothing but peace today in solidarity with the movement and with the Attica freedom fighters. The movement prevented many young men from being swallowed by the prison culture and that's how I feel about the MIM(Prisons) movement helping us comrades who want change, so I say stay struggling and thank for your continued struggle with us prisoners. Revolutionary Greetings!"
In California Pelican Bay also represented this September 9,
"Today was a good day. No one had any canteen or nothing to make food, but we had good conversation about Yogi's death and how it was a benefit to the state. The hunger strike was brought up and I talked about how our hunger strike was a continuation of the struggles of Attica.
"It was hard to speak of peace when we are so close to the tragedy at Folsom, but folks here with me want peace; we have all voiced peace and how it helps us all in our own struggles. Doing the state's bidding by oppressing other prisoners is not coming from anyone housed around me. We know that the real contradiction lies in prisoners vs. the state. Hopefully other circles come to realize this or are weeded out because Attica gave us a concrete example of what us vs. them looks like. So did the San Quentin Six and the California hunger strikes."
This spring we sent out a request to all California USW supporters to give us updates on the status of the Agreement to End Hostilities (AEH) at their prison, and to send us a follow up report following the September 9th Day of Solidarity. This status report has been overshadowed by the murder of Hugo "Yogi Bear" Pinell on August 12 at New Folsom Prison. Here is a report on the incident from one comrade:
"Today at around 1:00 p.m., with the help of police provocateur agents a riot ignited on B-Yard with numerous inmates involved and I regret deeply with anger and rage to inform you all that a true Black man by the name of Hugo Pinell was murdered by not only white inmates, but police as well. It was stirring up for weeks before the incident occurred that violence was to take place and Hugo was definitely the target! Due to disrespectful gestures of a white woman during visiting hours in the visitors room, which was supposedly settled verbally.
"No matter how old, Black lives do matter. The prison officials mockingly placed information directly to reporters/media about Hugo's past as far back as the 1970s, and how he dealt with pigs or whatnot. He's a human being who was (unjustly and spinelessly) murdered by agents and their spies. Only two warning shots were fired and while numerous stabbings were taking place no officers were hurt. Despite being attacked, Black inmates have been assassinated for assaultive gestures, not to mention actual violence.
"I know that Babylon and their stool pigeons been waiting to take down someone of Hugo's caliber, so it's not a secret. These cowards murdered this man. We must make our society aware of the fact that as incarcerated warriors of the struggle, we as a people are subjected to every form of torture, rape, mental anguish, murder/assassination at any given moment still to this day."
Another comrade at California State Prison - Sacramento (aka New Folsom) wrote more recently to explain his interpretation of what happened:
"The most profound and logical explanation is the most evaded and overlooked, and that is the whole situation is said to be orchestrated by Correctional Officers in retaliation for the animosity that they (COs) had towards the brother over historical incidents dating back to the days of Convict vs. Tyrant COs. The hostilities are fueled by institutional propaganda, some may claim that after all these years the white "Aryan Brotherhood" finally got revenge. However, that theory is ludicrous, due to the fact that they no longer really have loyal and active subjects. As hard as it is to foster a thought, that the guards are the bad guys amongst the bad guys (civilian thinking about prisoners) it is the actual, logical and only real answer."
The comrade goes on to describe a series of abuses being faced at New Folsom.
A couple weeks before Hugo's assassination, a third comrade at New Folsom told us,
"I see prisoners pass through here for needed medical attention who come from other yards. One of the "primary" signatories to the AEH, one of the primary leaders, has been released from the dungeon some time ago who has been here in the facility, and yet, despite his presence and authority, I have seen a semi-steady flow of camaradas pass through here after having been viciously stabbed. The latest one was both stabbed and sliced up with a box cutter."
This comrade called on politically conscious prisoners to acknowledge that the success of the AEH as it is being portrayed does not correlate with concrete reality, and that we must address this reality.
Despite this reality that there was a series of conflicts leading up to Hugo's murder, the outpouring of calls for both justice and continuing to build unity among all prisoners are coming in from across the state. This is a disciplined response, where the prisoners in California are thinking strategically about how to react to this tragedy. That in itself is no small feat, which should be recognized.
We received a call from a comrade of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party - Prison Chapter down south, who represented some older brothers there. We also heard back from a comrade we quoted in our last update on the AEH in ULK 42, from January 2015. His story of O.G.s building with youngsters in a bus ride from Pelican Bay caught many people's attention. He wrote on 13 August 2015,
"I had written to you in October 2014 about... how the Agreement to End Hostilities project was going so well, and now this... We have achieved so much with methods of non-violence amongst the prisoner population... The core reps must meet at the round table to find a solution."
A comrade writing from Calipatria had a similar analysis to those above, with a more or less positive spin on the status of the AEH,
"Having been around the system and noting that the same process of targeted assassination via drone strike or other means, people whom correctional staff feel that they can use to try and spark a breakdown in the Agreement to End Hostilities are used and in this case it is only obvious that prisoncrats had involvement in selecting a target of such renown that it was figured that riots would occur all across the state. The idea was kicked around and so far in most cases sobriety of consciousness have been maintained.
"Isolated incidents have occurred that could have blown up into mass conflicts, which it has been becoming obvious to some prisoners in recognition of plots by agent provocateurs who consistently strive to have us going at each other in manufactured proxy wars so that prisoncrats could justifiably perform acts that cannot otherwise be officially sanctioned.
"The significance of the murder of Hugo (Yogi) Pinell is not lost on prisoners of conscious whose main question tends to be: With all the history, how was the plot allowed to be accomplished when there should not have been a single prisoner unaware of his presence and of his significance to all prisoners? Men of consciousness can reflect on the teachings of Sun Tzu relative to knowing the tactics and practices of the enemy...
"Prisoncrats without a doubt recognize that the introduction of non-violent protests by other means have opened the eyes of prisoners who assumed that the only way to obtain results were by violent means. I suspect that “race” is not as viable an instrument of power among the prison population as a result of the AEH, throwing a wrench into the works of the prisoncrats. So we must be aware that they will not limit themselves to one tactic to try to create new conflicts along various divisions."
So while the reaction to Hugo's death could have been a lot worse, there is a lot of work ahead to learn from this, as we address the injustice that occurred and strengthen the prison movement moving forward.
Other than New Folsom, we got reports from several other prisons on the status of the AEH, and we hope comrades keep sending in their reports. From Corcoran, we received:
"I'm here in the COR SHU 1L building, which is considered the short corridor. We New Afrikan Revolutionary Nationalists (NARN) have placed our ads in the many news outlets (SF Bayview, Turning the Tide, Prison Focus, The Rock, PHSS Newsletter) informing all that the NARN Collective Think Tank in Corcoran SHU's mission statement is the agreement to end all hostilities, and as far as we know it's being honored everywhere that's received its message. It is our only hope at obtaining our political objectives in this struggle if we all come across the racial lines and bring about a mass united front as we did with the hunger strikes to show our solidarity hasn't changed. On the 4B yard (where I am) we hear that all the building's inmates are programming together, as in exercising on the yard in the cages and looking out for one another with basic necessities, as much as we can do in the SHU."
A newer comrade, from a different building in 4B at Corcoran had just got information about September 9 organizing and jumped into action. However, he laments,
"we are the ones who divide ourselves in this place. In this SHU we are integrated with general population (GP) inmates as well as those in protective custody (PC). By in-house politics, GP inmates are not to communicate or interact with those on PC status and needless to say the limitations of being locked down only limits our conversing with those few in our pods.”
This just demonstrates that even getting the full picture of what's going on at one prison requires more reports from the ground. But it is safe to say that there are still divisions preventing basic communication, which is a barrier to the goals of the AEH. No one expected a declaration of peace to just be verbally accepted and automatically translate into action. Building peace is a process, and the first step is crossing barriers that have no useful basis. Then we can expose the more serious contradictions that require more effort and creativity to really address.
Pelican Bay represented this September 9th,
"Today was a good day. No one had any canteen or nothing to make food, but we had good conversation about Yogi's death and how it was a benefit to the state. The hunger strike was brought up and I talked about how our hunger strike was a continuation of the struggles of Attica.
It was hard to speak of peace when we are so close to the tragedy at Folsom, but folks here with me want peace, we have all voiced peace and how it helps us all in our own struggles. Doing the state's bidding by oppressing other prisoners is not coming from anyone housed around me. We know that the real contradiction lies in prisoners vs. the state. Hopefully other circles come to realize this or are weeded out because Attica gave us a concrete example of what us vs. them looks like, so did the San Quentin Six and the California hunger strikes."
Another comrade there reported on the status to the Agreement to End Hostilities,
"As we're all aware, in order for an end to hostilities to become a reality, all prisoners should promote it or encourage it to other prisoners who are just arriving to the system. In my location (Pelican Bay SHU), all have adhered to 'ending hostilities" even though it's been evident the pigs have tried to crack it by putting certain prisoners in compromising circumstances, such as opening the wrong cell when one comes back from yard. It's done in a manner that's obvious. I've witnessed this happen at least 3 times in a year, but with no incidents as all are adhering to the AEH!
"Although September 9 is a historical day in California prison history, we now have July 8 which we can reflect on to see our efforts transcend expectations.
"To sum up, in my area the AEH is adhered to and a lot of class conscious conversations are constantly being addressed. Everything pertaining to prisoner rights and the abolishment of solitary confinement is a hot topic where ideas are matched, and debates and polemics are welcomed with respect. Our lives are affected by all our actions. It just helps more when we're all on the same page. I cannot say that a grand meeting will be held on September 9 or anything else. We do have class consciousness, but not all are receptive to political/revolutionary discussions. Being that my unit is very small, I will probably be the only one participating in a solidarity fast on September 9. My revolutionary solidarity goes out to all other USW comrades."
Leading up to September 9 we received a joint statement from the United KAGE Brothers and the Prisoners Political Action Committee out of Pelican Bay, which was a pledge to end hostilities on the inside and out.
From California Correctional Institution at Tehachapi, one of the comrades who has spent more than 10 years in SHU reported in July,
"Yes, the Agreement to End Hostilities campaign has been popularized in my area. I'm aware of it based on observation and active participation in our class struggle to abolish solitary confinement, which has me directly engaged with the people involved. Therefore, I'm able to confirm, there hasn't been a single issue of violence on the group yards here at Tehachapi SHU, which have been in effect for over a year now.
"The Agreement to End Hostilities is being reinforced on the issues that we're organizing around and what it will take for our efforts to not only be sustained, but being successful. The understanding of this, is realized by prisoners on several fronts, such as, individuals from various formations exercising together and aiding one another on the political, social and economic contradictions that manifest.
"On a final note, we prisoners at CCI Tehachapi have been boycotting CDCR's 'How to make a slave' step-down program since May 11, 2015. Please be sure to publicize this fact!!"
In Kern Valley State Prison we received reports of active building across different groups in the spirit of the AEH. In particular the Nation of Gods and Earths and the Rastafari groups there have been leading progressive efforts. One God reported on a 30-day event including many lumpen organizations (LOs) called Project Build. He states,
"The People/masses/folks support the Agreement to End Hostilities based on the fact that in this particular facility there are 20 (currently) self-help groups as well as Bakersfield College... As for development of a sort of treaty, that has not been put into effect due to the individualists who will rat to the pigs for an extra phone call or to go out to a 'Regular Day Off' yard. Those who are aware of the need to end hostilities are toeing the line. Those that aren't are socially condemned by those who do not fully comprehend, and slowly re-educated by those who see them for the unconsciousness they give off. Communication is key."
This reinforces the sentiment that lumpen organizations (LOs) are on board for the AEH, and those who violate it are isolated individuals, or individuals with connections to the state. At the same time the LOs are not monolithic organizations and we must not be idealistic about declaring "Peace achieved!" We have much to celebrate as we mark 3 years of ending hostilities in California this October 12. But there is much work to be done to address the existing contradictions that are lurking beneath the surface. As comrades above acknowledge, it is not just agent provocateurs creating trouble, though they are very real, and easily influenced and bribed. To believe that it is just agent provocateurs is to idealistically ignore the contradictions among the people that must be addressed. There are antagonistic contradictions among the imprisoned as well, especially in a situation like California where some LOs have very entrenched economic and power interests. Addressing both types of contradictions must continue in order to see another 3 years of peace and achieve the goals of the prison movement in improving the lives of all prisoners.
[At our 2012 Congress MIM(Prisons) decided to begin the process of building statewide councils to develop USW and its leadership. That winter the work began to set up the first council in California. This coincided with a renewed round of strikes in the state involving more than 30,000 prisoners. As activism spread, so did invitations to join the council. In short time, lack of participation cut the membership back down. For about a year and a half now, leading USW cells in California have been participating in the council on a regular basis, struggling over theoretical and practical questions of organizing the prison movement. This article is by one participant in the USW California Council discussing some of the issues the council has tackled.]
The United Struggle from Within (USW) political line is anti-imperialist, as those behind the walls recognize the penal system and its institutions as an extension of imperialism. Therefore our struggles include both domestic and international issues. As a generated organism from the Maoist Internationalist Ministry of Prisons, or MIM(Prisons), some within USW have taken up MIM line while others have not yet. USW is an eclectic group of anti-imperialist prisoners working in cells, individually or in a coordinated groups through MIM(Prisons) guidance. Our revolutionary activities can vary according to each cell and location. This makes USW a multi-issue mass organization.
It is important to have USW comrades focus on campaigns that are relevant to their conditions. For instance, field reporting is universally applicable. But those doing indeterminate SHU sentences should focus on getting policies changed or bring up campaigns to shut down control units, while other comrades on mainlines could organize a cell of like-minded comrades, set up study groups, and raise other campaigns. We can all contribute to fighting censorship and other legal actions that can benefit all prisoners if won in court.
Each USW cell works in the framework of bringing the humyn rights of prisoners to the forefront. It is no surprise prisons are swamped with internal semi-colonies, with the long sentences, new detrimental laws that disproportionately affect oppressed nations, and other practices of the criminal injustice system that contribute to the mass incarceration of oppressed nations. This injustice must be brought to the public. Comrades from USW use propaganda as a tool to reach the masses who are sympathetic or will become sympathetic. We utilize Lenin's method of having Iskra as his party's way to get the written word out to the masses by making use of Under Lock & Key to advertise our campaigns, our polemics, our developing theories, or just to expose the negative conditions in prisons. ULK is our voice behind the walls.
USW are we the cadre?
Recently there has been an open polemic in regards to USW. Is it just a mass org without a leadership role or does it have leadership influence, and because of this should it no longer be considered a mass org? Well to apply dialectic materialism to this topic I would say USW is a mass organization formed in part by MIM line. "All correct leadership is necessarily 'from the masses, to the masses.' This means: take the ideas of the masses (scattered and unsystematic ideas) and concentrate them (through study turn them into concentrated and systematic ideas) then go to the masses and propagate and explain these ideas until the masses embrace them as their own, hold fast to them and translate them into action and test the correctness of these ideas in such action. Such is the Marxist theory of knowledge."(1)
USW is guided by MIM(Prisons), leading revolutionary work at their location. Accumulating experience and knowledge while engaged in this work, many USW comrades aren't spontaneous in heading into revolutionary activity, as this would probably prove disastrous if a comrade knows very little of what exactly to do. For this reason MIM(Prisons) has study cells welcoming those ready for revolutionary theory education that is Maoist in content. There are even advanced levels for those who wish to continue into the ULK Writers Group, the most advanced Maoist study cell from which stem numerous USW comrades or cadres.
I use the term "cadre" for reasons of revolutionary language because it permits no dual meaning in our propaganda, and I utilize Che Guevara's definition herein:
"What is a cadre? We should state that a cadre is an individual who has achieved sufficient political development to be able to interpret the larger directives emanating from the central authority, make them his own, and convey them as an orientation to the masses: a person who at the same time also perceives the signs manifested by the masses of their own desires and their innermost motivations."(2)
It can be said that any well politicized USW comrade is a cadre behind the walls as we need not receive directives from MIM(Prisons) to know how to organize and commit ourselves to a campaign. Yet revolutionary learning is limitless and anyone wishing to engage in polemics or just learn from other comrades can do so by either writing in to the MIM(Prisons) USW coordinator, joining a study cell run by MIM(Prisons) or reading up on ULK and writing in.
The Statewide Council
The momentum created by USW cells throughout California prisons has brought us our own revolutionary council where pressing topics are discussed, and polemics, strategizing and other matters will be addressed. Through discussion and the democratic process we have passed resolutions to set the standards for USW cells joining the council. Resolutions passed so far include: time frames for when members must respond to council discussions, requirements that each cell vote on each proposal and provide justification for their votes, minimum study requirements before a representative can join the council, and requirements that each USW cell with representation in the council should put in at least 10 to 40 hours a week of revolutionary work. i.e. study, writing articles, making political art, etc. Cells are required to keep track of their work and report it monthly to build discipline.
The California Council has also built a treasury that we have been using to fund bonus pages in ULK. Our council has brought forth double the amount of donations than all other California comrades during a recent 6-month period. We recently finished a California-specific introductory letter for USW that went out to all existing members in June. We have had a slow start but overall we have established a steady pattern of discussion and work.
Amongst our struggles behind the walls, we will often have obstacles such as comrades abandoning a campaign or legal battle, or who just stop checking in with the council, USW or the ULK Writers group to pursue personal agendas and leave behind their revolutionary work. Our California Council and USW are a product of work and effort by politically conscious prisoners having a strategic goal in mind, be it anti-imperialist, shutting down control units, or prisoner humyn rights reform. The point is that our goals, strategic and tactical, are to struggle through the momentum whether it's low or high! Our focus is to work together for change and we hope our efforts, our resolve, inspires others to join our struggle behind the walls. Our struggle for humyn rights is a pressing issue for the comrades suppressed in solitary confinement, so contributing to litigation campaigns are essential but not our only venue! We need to be organized, we need to agitate and utilize propaganda as a tool in order to apply revolutionary practice!
We seek comrades who have a fair grasp on revolutionary theory. No comrade needs to be an expert, we are all still learning from each other, our USW work, and how to concentrate our USW branches through practice within our revolutionary California Council.
So I can say USW Council representatives are our cadres behind the walls, forging revolutionary discipline, education, legal assistance, study groups, etc. If comrades get transferred to another yard or prison we can expect them to do the same at their new location. And we do our work discreetly to not draw unwanted attention, thus maintaining all within USW cell security.
The imperialists have created a mess of migration, with hundreds of thousands of people traveling from the Middle East and north Africa to the European Union (EU). Earlier this year there was media attention on the increased migration from Myanmar and Bangladesh to the richer countries of South Asia such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. This is in the context of an unprecedented increase in mass displacement worldwide.
"By end-2014, 59.5 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations. This is 8.3 million persons more than the year before (51.2 million) and the highest annual increase in a single year."(1)
The conditions that led about 7% of the world's entire population to leave their homes vary widely, and similarly the situations they face when they do leave their homes also vary. Some have absolutely nothing to their name but the rags on their body, while others are carrying smart phones, have high formal education, and are being wired money along their journey for train tickets and smugglers' fees. Some just need to leave where they are, others want to meet up with family who have already immigrated to other countries, and many are doing both. This article does not attempt to provide a comprehensive history of the mass migrations, but it does try to outline some basic principles to keep in mind as the news unfolds.
Open All Borders!
The oppressor countries have concentrated wealth due to the oppression and exploitation they inflict on other nations. In these countries, there is a lot of hubub about whether people are "truly" refugees, and thus worthy of help, or "just" migrants looking for better economic opportunity, and thus not worthy of assistance. They say those deemed to be economic migrants should be sent back to their "safe" countries to build their lives there — a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps of international proportions.
No matter why people are leaving their present location, our position is the same: open all borders! The most progressive economic position under capitalism would be to enable free travel and work across all borders. Wealth would be more equalized and the imperialists would have a material interest in ending harmful policies and practices in other countries, for fear that those populations would leave their homes to venture to the countries where the wealth is being concentrated.
We know opening all borders is not a realisitic solution in our present conditions, so at the very minimum we call on the wealthy countries to allow those who have already fled to make new lives wherever they (want to) land. We then call on these wealthy countries to take a stand against the primary cause for why people flee: U.$. militarism and imperialism.
On the surface it appears Germany has been somewhat favorable to this position. They have been the most welcoming country of the EU (although most recently they are trying to curb the migration rather than welcome it with open arms). We support any EU country's openness to migrants. But it's significant that Germany has an aging population and has been trying to figure out how to maintain its economy with a deficit of working-age people. How fortunate then that so many of the refugees come with professional degrees, skills, and even some savings. The economic situation in Germany makes it possible for the country to play hero. The economic substructure defines the ideological superstructure. If not for the economic problems in Germany, humanitarian efforts would be marginalized.
National Chauvinism is Not Internationalism
In spring 2015, media attention was on Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Australia for refusing to take in Rohingyas and Bangladeshis who were abandoned by their smugglers at sea for weeks and months.(2) The primary position of these countries was "it's not our problem."
In the EU, Hungary has been a main thoroughfare for migrants this summer. In response they are erecting an emergency wall on the borders, and Hungary's government's stance is to discourage migration as much as possible. Denmark, just north of Germany, has been widely advertising that it has greatly reduced assistance for migrants, and that people should not go there. And these are certainly not the only examples of national chauvinism in Europe.
Those who don't grasp the differences between revolutionary nationalism and national chauvinism will use these examples as evidence that all nationalism is bad. One of the more progressive trends that makes this mistake is the anarchists. Nationalism of oppressor nations tends toward fascism, but nationalism of oppressed nations tends towards revolutionary internationalism. Being that the vast majority of anarchist movements are located in the First World, it makes sense that they should oppose the nationalism that they see around them. But a materialist historical analysis shows that nationalism of the oppressed has done the most to advance peoples out of oppression, imperialism's stranglehold, and toward a society where nations and states are no longer necessary. Maoists also want a world without nations and states, but a rejection of the progressive aspects of nationalism won't get us there.
European Union vs. United $tates
Some officials in the EU have criticized United $tates policy and military intervention in the Middle East as the reason for this most recent mass migration. To the EU, most people coming from the Middle East are from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Not surprisingly, the United $tates is also presently engaged in military campaigns in and on these countries.
But the EU only cares what the United $tates does to the degree that it affects the EU. It's good when anyone criticizes the United $tates's meddling in the Middle East. But until words turn into actions (and until EU countries stop their own military campaigns in the region), it's just a lot of hot air. We want to see the EU not only open its borders for all the migrants, but also to recognize that it has interests which differ from those of the United $tates. A united EU should stop all material and verbal support for occupation and war in the Middle East, which would do more to help with their present migrant crisis than building walls and placing newspaper ads.
Rise of Fascism
The recent mass migration has been exposing reactionary nationalist sentiments, and in turn adding fuel to the recent rise of fascism in Europe. More far-right parties are being elected at various levels of government, and there are more demonstrations and attacks on migrants — the people, and the infrastructure to support them. Most notably, fascism has been rising in the last few years in Greece, Germany, Hungary and Sweden.(3)
Communism is the natural antithesis to fascism. Those who see more material interests in maintaining their present economic position will tend toward fascism, whereas those who would benefit more from an equalization of wealth internationally will tend more toward communism. It's the job of the communists to help prevent the rise of fascism in Europe.
MIM theory has made me a scientist previously I wanted to Attack Now! but I'm no longer anxious in order to make a move the times must be right, but the times won't be unless we study analyze - stop the bickering and unite so lace your boots and recruit turn your cell into a scientific study group booth our clip is fully loaded our day will come but right now it's time to get ready for it
by a Pennsylvania prisoner September 2015 permalink
It seems that the pigs who run this gulag are getting more and more clever every day. We need to stay on point to their tactics and be awake to the corruption that surrounds us. We all know that the administration will do whatever it takes to shut down any organizational movement of prisoners that threatens them. It has come to my attention that all around us are eyes and ears, even when we think we are speaking in confidence to a supposed comrade. The pigs have resorted to using the most oppressed of all of us as puppets for them. The administration has begun using an "informant for hire" network to bring down any type of unity between prisoners. A large percent of us already completely rely on support from the administration to feed us, and provide other necessities. The pigs withhold vital services from prisoners, forcing them to obey their "masters." In exchange for constitutional rights, and necessities that they can get nowhere else, prisoners infiltrate cell groups and other organizational efforts between comrades, then report their findings back to the Corrections Officers. This has become a common scene in Pennsylvania prisons.
This is another reason why we all need to unite and take care of our brothers and sisters in need, so they are not forced to rely on the pigs for their livelihood and daily bread. We are all in this together, despite our individual crimes, backgrounds, or status. We all should have one common goal, to break these chains that bind us. I believe this is what self-sufficiency truly means — not having to rely on our oppressors to meet our basic needs. And since we all share this common goal shouldn't we view all other prisoners as the same as self? After all, we are meant to be one united force, but all that abounds is discord, disunity, and views towards other prisoners.
This is a call to all fellow prisoners to unite as one force, lend a helping hand to prisoners who are down and out. When we don't do this, we are violating the very basis of communism by placing ourselves above other groups of humyns — the poor and needy! We must do whatever it takes to crush the fascists and pigs that oppress us! So we must reach out and help those who are unable to help themselves, and stop feeding them to the mongrels.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Many people write to us complaining about snitches and the hopelessness of organizing. This comrade does a great job explaining how we can have an impact on these individuals and what people can do to change their circumstances, rather than just complaining. This sort of rational and creative thinking is what communists need to bring to every situation. Look at a problem from all sides and come up with ways to attack it. We call this materialist thinking, and it's not easy, especially when we're bombarded with anti-science ideas, and feeling crushed by day-to-day oppression. We hope this comrade serves as an inspiration to others who are facing serious snitching problems to think about how you can help these snitches to join the cause of the revolution.
As a leader of United Struggle from Within (USW) and the Prisoners' Legal Clinic (PLC) I have a lot of problems organizing with the lumpen proletariat because they don't want any trouble with the pigs and I have been transferred 10 times in this 8.5 years of my imprisonment, but the struggle still goes on! The Security Threat Group (STG) status is moving to every state complex in the empire.
I was reading Under Lock & Key No. 41 and it was saying in many articles by comrades that they are being put on STG status for no reason and they can not put up a defense and they aren't getting any yard time. This is both constitutional violations and human rights violations. The 8th amendment violation of cruel and unusual punishment; and the 14th amendment violations without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 states:
Article 3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person Article 5: No one shall be subject to torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Article 6: Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law. Article 7: All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination. Article 8: Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.
Standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners approved by the UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held at Geneva in 1955 and approved by the Economic and Social Council by resolutions 663 (XXIV) of 31 July 1957 and 2076 (LXII) of 13 May 1977:
Exercise and Sport 21. (1) Every prisoner who is not employed in outdoor work shall have at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily if the weather permits. ... Information to and complaints by prisoners 35. (1) Every prisoner on admission shall be provided with written information about the regulations governing the treatment of prisoners of his category, the disciplinary requirements of the institution, the authorized methods of seeking information and making complaints, and all such other matters as are necessary to enable him to understand both his rights and his obligations and to adapt himself to the life of the institution.
(2) If a prisoner is illiterate, the aforesaid information shall be conveyed to him orally.
36. (1) Every prisoner shall have the opportunity each week day of making requests or complaints to the director of the institution or the officer authorized to represent him.
(2) It shall be possible to make requests or complaints to the inspector of prisons during his inspection. The prisoner shall have the opportunity to talk to the inspector or to any other inspecting officer without the director or other members of the staff being present.
(3) Every prisoner shall be allowed to make a request or complaint, without censorship as to substance but in proper form, to the central prison administration, the judicial authority or other proper authorities through approved channels.
(4) Unless it is evidently frivolous or groundless, every request or complaint shall be promptly dealt with and replied to without undue delay.
A lot of prisoners don't understand that they have a lot of political power if they know how to use it, like getting our families, friends and associates connected to the prisoner advocate organizations in their states because political power to change conditions of prisons has to start with us first because we are the ones doing time. Our people and citizens have power in their voting blocks with issues that can demand change in prisons' operations. Prisoners have to put their interests first.
People vote their Senators and Representatives into office at election time and they can vote them out of office as well. These are the people who are supposed to represent the interests of the people in the state legislature and the federal Congress. But if people don’t bring their issues to them how can they properly represent them? We prisoners must become politically conscious of the system of local, state and federal government.
A lot of prisoners don't know that this is the time for change in the prison system, the prisoner advocates movement is very strong right now, and states' governments are seeking ways to save money because it cost states a lot more money to run maximum prisons then lower security prisons. Prisoners are truly going to have to learn their Constitutional rights, because in order for a person to have any kind of rights they are going to have to learn them first. Then you can protect them.
It's a damn shame that the Afrikan nation's ancestors fought and died for their rights and in the 21st century the Afrikan nation has become ignorant of their rights and struggles that we have been going through for the last 400 years of oppression and exploitation. This subject matter of STG can be put in the form of a petition and then filed as a class action lawsuit against these corrupt DOCs for not having a system of redress for being placed on STG status, etc. Prisoners are going to have to stand up for their rights and fight this evil and corrupt system of the prison DOCs across the country, because this same STG system is put in place everywhere.
MIM(Prisons) responds: The 8th and 14th Amendment claims this comrade refers to were the heart of the recent lawsuit in California that ended in a weak settlement. So on the one hand this is right on track, but on the other the PLC must study and learn from what happened in California to do better in other states.
By knowing our legal rights and understanding the law, we can challenge abuse and corruption, both through grievances and then in the courts when the grievance system fails. This particular campaign against STG is important to the ability of the oppressed to organize and escape extreme torture, and is therefore an important one to continue. The legal battle is only a small part of our current strategy because the legal system is a part of the criminal injustice system overall and so it will never provide justice for the oppressed. Any legal victories we do have will likely require mass organizing before hand, and will definitely require mass organizing to enforce afterwards.
Ultimately, we won't change the system through the courts. Similarly we don't focus on elections because we know that the imperialists won't allow people in positions of power who really work in the interests of the oppressed. And the majority of Amerikans do have a vested interest in the existing system of oppression: they support "tough on crime" measures and don't want to see prisoners' conditions improved. So even if relatives of prisoners all try to vote for change, they are unlikely to even find good options on the ballot.
Amerika uses prisons as a tool of social control, and the lumpen who are targeted for this repression are a minority among the mostly privileged classes within U.$. borders. For this reason we will never fundamentally change the system by working within their elections and their courts. We can take up tactically winnable battles, like these that are connected to the basic rights promised in the U.$. Constitution. But we should not mislead people into thinking that anything short of a revolution is required for liberation of the oppressed.