I recently came across your newsletter and found it very interesting. I am in Ironwood State Prison - Administrative Segregation (ISP Ad-Seg). All should be advised that Hispanic prisoners are being targeted by Institutional Gang Investigations (IGI) in ISP for validation. Many of us were told to either inform or be validated. Myself and many others are validated on informants alone, and some on cultural drawings alone. It seems the state's agents (Office of Correctional Safety) are rubber-stamping anything submitted by ISP-IGI.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Gang validation is just one of many tactics used by the prisons to divide prisoners and target activists. The threat to inform or be validated is common, and then false information is used to validate those political activists that the prison wants to isolate. This is another example of why MIM(Prisons) says that prison classifications do not define a prisoner's revolutionary potential. Many informants walk in GP freely without anyone knowing what they did while solid activists are falsely validated or retreat to SNY. We must judge our comrades by their actions, not their prison-imposed classification.
In this issue on release (ULK24), we are featuring United Playaz in San Francisco, California, to give our comrades inside an idea of what some formerly-imprisoned people are doing to contribute to the struggle for peace since they've been out. Many staff members and volunteers with United Playaz (UP) have spent time in the prison system. MIM(Prisons) got the opportunity to interview one such staff-persyn, Rico, who spent 25 years in the California prison system. Rico is a former-gangbanger-turned-peace-advocate; a lifestyle change that many readers of Under Lock & Key can relate to.
United Playaz provides services to youth, including after-school programs and tours inside prisons, in an attempt to pull them out of the school-to-prison pipeline and (the potential for) violent activity, helping them refocus on their education. UP's mission statement reads,
United Playaz is a violence prevention and youth leadership organization that works with San Francisco's hardest to reach youth through case management, street outreach, in-school services, recreational activities at community centers, and support to incarcerated youth. United Playaz is committed to improving the lives of young people surviving in vulnerable environments, [who] show high incidence of truancy and low academic performance, or have been involved in the juvenile justice system through direct service and community collaboration. United Playaz believes that "it takes the hood to save the hood".
Rico explains how he first got involved with United Playaz,
In 1994 I was incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison. And at the time Rudy [UP's Executive Director] was bringing a bunch of troubled youth and youth that are involved in the juvenile system and kind of just showed them a glimpse of what's the result of making a bad decision. And that's where I met Rudy. And Rudy saw me work with the kids, and then he found out that I lived in the neighborhood that he was serving the youth and he asked me, "When you get released I want you to check out our program and see if you want to work with United Playaz." So like in 2005 I finally got out after 25 years of incarceration and first I volunteered. And then once there was an opening, a job opening, Rudy hired me as a CRN, a community response network. It's a job that at night we go and do outreach, and drive around the city and just talk to the kids that are hanging out on the street.
MIM(Prisons) asked Rico about the importance of building a United Front for Peace in Prisons, and the challenges faced by such an endeavor.
Back in 1982 we formed a protest while I was in San Quentin. You know, prisoners used to have rights. We had the rights to see our family when they come see us. We had the right to get an education. We had a lot of rights. But slowly they took that away and now they have no rights. If you wanna get a visit, you have to work. If you don't work, you don't get a visit.
So anyway the Asian, Latino, the African American, the Caucasian, we all got together and say, "You know what? Let's all sit down. Nobody goes to work, nobody go to school, nothing." And prison really depends on prisoners. Cuz you have jobs there, that requires like maybe $35,000 a year job, they let the prisoner do that job and get paid like $18 a month. So they're saving a lot of money using prisoners to run the prison system, right? So when we sit down, when we shut down, man, they gave us what we want and everything like back to normal and everything smooth.
There's always incident in the pen, like prisoners hurting each other, but that's a good example that when, how do you say - together we stand, divided we fall. So you know if we are united man a lot of violence in here will probably diminish tremendously, right? Cuz the people inside, they'll preach peace out here. And a lot of kids that are doing bad behavior out here, they're influenced by a lot of prisoners inside the pen. But right now there's no peace. There's no peace. ...
Well, there is [organizing for peace and unity inside prisons] but you have to do it on the under because one thing administration, prison administration don't want you to do is to organize and try to bring peace. In prison they want us to be divided. You know what I mean? So there's ways that we can organize but it has to be on the under.
It is ridiculous that prisoners have to discuss how to go about not killing each other in secret, so as to not upset the prison administrators' paychecks! But this is not the only anti-people development to come from the evolution of the criminal injustice system, which is designed solely to protect capitalism and its beloved profit motive. Rico explains some of the consequences of deciding who stays in and who gets out in a capitalist society,
The more you treat a prisoner like an animal, when they come out they act like animal out here. I mean one time I was in segregation unit, in the hole. This guy he was so violent that he can't be out in the mainline, right? Anyway it was time for him to go. So when they let him out, he was handcuffed out the building, across the yard, in a van, right? And they drop him off outside. When they drop him off they just uncuffed him, "You're free." How can we help someone like that, to be out here? If he's so violent inside that he needs to be segregated, how can they let someone out like that? So if he commit a crime out here, that's gonna look bad on a lot of prisoners. And they have more power to say, "See what happens when we release these guys out?"
But there's guys in there that are doing better than I do - that they can do better than what I do out here, and yet they still locked up in the pen, because of politics. There's a lot of em, a lot of em man. I know some of em personally that should have been out you know and giving back. And they can do a lot of contribution out here to bring peace. How can we get those guys out?
Our answer to Rico's question is that the only way to get all those guys out, for good, is to organize for socialism and then communism. Any reforms we make to the prison system as it is now may let some people out, but as long as capitalism exists people will be exploited and oppressed. This leads to resistance, both direct and indirect, and prison is for those who don't play by the rules. In socialism, everyone has a role to play in society and state oppression is only used against those who try to oppress others.
When the economic system changes to value people over profit, prisons will also change. In China under Mao, Allyn and Adele Rickett were two Amerikan spies in China who wrote a book titled "Prisoners of Liberation" about their experience as prisoners of the Communist Party of China. Their experience taught them that when prisoners have completed self-criticism and are ready to contribute to society, they will be released. On the other side, when prisoners are doing harm to society (such as organizing to reinstitute a capitalist economic system) they are not allowed to be released just because their term is up. Instead they are encouraged to study, read, discuss, and do self-criticism until they become productive members of society.
Anyone with a sympathetic bone in their body can tell what was going on in China under Mao is a much more useful mode of imprisonment than what we have at present. The difference between the liberal and MIM(Prisons) is we know the only way to get there is through socialist revolution so that the prison system is in the hands of those currently oppressed by it.
Another present day challenge we discussed with UP was its goal to be financially self-sufficient in the future. Rico explains the current limitations that come with getting state funding,
If it's up to us, we're gonna go hard, and really fight for peace. But because we're fund[ed] by DCYF [San Francisco's Department of Children, Youth, & Their Families], they limit our movement. We can't even participate, or like rally. If there's a Occupy rally right now, we can't go, cuz our organization are prevented from doing things like that. And I think that's important, that we're out there with the rest of the people that are trying to fight for change. Every year we do a Silence the Violence Peace March. That's okay, you know, Martin Luther King, marches like that, we're okay to do that. But when it's like budgets, and crime, and about prison, you know, rally to try to bring those those things down, we can't really participate. ...
What's going on outside the youth can affect them in the future if things don't change. And why wait til those kids get old and take em to expose them to march and fight for your rights? You know I love to take these young adults to a movement like that, cuz that gives em knowledge of life, that there's more than just hanging out on the street. But unfortunately we're not allowed to participate in that kind of movement.
We have learned from history that these limitations aren't unique to UP's financial situation. For the non-profit in the United $tates, similar to "aid" given to Third World countries, capitalists always ensure their money is working in favor of their interests. This is why one of the points of unity of the United Front for Peace in Prisons is "Independence." Money is too easy to come by in this country, while good revolutionaries are too hard to find. Liberation has always been powered by people. So we agree with Rico on the importance for striving for autonomy.
Until then, positive steps can certainly be made within these limitations. There are many levels to our movement and many roles to play in building peace and unity among the lumpen. And without groups like UP reaching the youth on the streets, efforts like the United Front for Peace in Prisons will be too one-sided to succeed.
To close, Rico shares these words with comrades preparing for release,
The only thing I can say is that as long as you're alive there's hope. And if they really want to go home, then do the right thing, regardless. And they gotta stand up for their rights man. And they have to just try to get along with each other and think about peace, because they are needed out here. The experience they have in the pen, they can save a lot of lives out here, with their younger brothers and sisters that look for real guidance from someone who's been there and done that. Good luck, I hope they get out and be out here and help our system change to a better place.
As a "free citizen" you have much greater freedom to organize on the outside compared to in prison, even on probation or parole. Your activism shouldn't end with your prison term!
I never got to read the piece on "strategic retreat" by Loco1 due to heavy censorship here, but wish to respond to the discussion in ULK24 titled Advance the California Hunger Strike through Strategic Unity and Criticism. First, the struggle spear-headed by SHU prisoners is not exclusive to SHU prisoners. This struggle includes all prisoners, not just in California but more broadly throughout Amerikkka. The dehumanizing treatment of prisoners is experienced by all prisoners at some point just as sure as Brown and Black people out in society are both hunted and rounded up, stopped and frisked by the thousands daily and shot and killed unarmed by the imperialist's first line of defense on a regular basis. Prisoners in Amerika are abused, oppressed, repressed, exploited and murdered either outright or by other means, i.e. denying medical treatment, etc. Of course some prisons are more brutal to its prisoners than others but make no mistake about it - we are all brutalized! SHUs by their very nature are torture kamps period.
This environment would thus produce more resistance just as one will find more resistance to imperialism in a Third World country than in say Amerika or England. The oppressed nations are still oppressed regardless if they are in this country or that country even if it is at a different level. So too are all prisoners oppressed whether in SHU or mainline. And I do agree that in the 2011 strike efforts SHU prisoners have been the vanguard in propelling and boldly arousing the thousands of prisoners to the call of action, our efforts were international as prisoners in other countries such as Canada and Australia even joined the strike in solidarity with Pelican Bay prisoners and thus with all prisoners in Amerika. Activists in Canada dropped a banner on the jail proclaiming its prisoners were hunger striking with Pelican Bay and so the banner read 'from Pelican Bay to Collins Bay'. So yes SHU prisoners spearheaded this mass effort but it should not become common for prisoners to rely on the "Pelican Bay vanguard" as this is dangerous.
When a movement is focused on a leader or a certain group... if these leaders are imprisoned, neutralized or corrupted the movement crumbles. One of the strengths of the current 'Occupy Wall Street Movement' is that it is a united front with no 'leader' or cadre group leading the pack. The state hates this and unleashes its propaganda machine to smut the OWS movement up as 'not being sure what they want' or 'not having leaders'. The state wants public 'leaders' to neutralize and take down as they have done for the past hundred years whenever a group rises up in Amerika.
Of course there is a role for leaders as vanguard whether they be in prison or out in society, but it's a dangerous road for the movement when people begin to rely on the "Pelican Bay vanguard" and take on the attitude of "I'm not going to strike or protest this or that because Pelican Bay isn't doing it right now" or if an injustice comes up in a prison in say North Dakota etc, and the prisoners say "well I'll wait until Pelican Bay rises up again." Some may even go so far as beginning to think that say prisoners in Hawaii are striking and they are in Alaska and they may say "well it's not the Pelican Bay prisoners I'm not partaking." This happens even here in California where if an action is not including Pelican Bay prisoners its looked at half-heartedly and many lose interest in 'rising up.' This is a real problem, one that I hope to combat in its infancy as I see the damage this brings to future struggles and it really retards the political development of prisoners into participants rather than individual leaders themselves.
What we must keep in mind is prisons today are much different than what prisons were in the days of Attica or Santa Fe, etc. Today prisoners are more controlled; prison activists are quickly targeted, separated and isolated from the prison mass. More and more control units are designed to house the revolutionary prisoners. Even on a "mainline" of level four prisons in California you only go out to yard with the roughly 200 prisoners in your block, with the other 800 or so in their cells waiting their turn. Some places only half a block goes out so 100 or less are out at a time. The state has begun to implement these methods past Attica and past Santa Fe to tighten their control on the prison population and attempt to smother any future embers of resistance. So as the state attempts to divide and conquer the prison population, prisoners often find themselves alone or with only a handful of conscious prisoners engaged in activism. It is these conscious prisoners that should be as matter - in constant motion constantly doing your thing to push the momentum.
And so although SHU prisoners have been the vanguard thus far I disagree with the writer when s/he says "The SHU prisoners are the vanguard in the struggle and it is up to them if the movement moves forward or dies a humiliating death." I believe this type of thinking is an error and incorrect. SHU prisoners, nor any prisoners who form the united front, consist as a centralized party, nor was this strike movement built with any hierarchy. And although I largely agree that the prison vanguard can be found in SHU, to say whether the movement "moves forward or dies" is up to SHU prisoners kind of reduces the larger prison masses (general population) to bystanders or frees them from responsibility should the movement die "a humiliating death" as the writer put it. SHU prisoners are extremely limited in their ability to operate, we are deprived to the point of it being torture. In some cases no mail period is allowed to or from a prisoner. In other cases any time one leaves a cell in shackles a team of guards with camcorder walk recording ones every step!
What we need to do is emphasize the responsibility of those on the general populations (mainlines) to learn from the international effort that was unleashed and begin to boldly arouse the imprisoned masses to get used to demanding human decency where it does not exist, to become familiar with refusing to be dehumanized, refusing to be exploited and refusing to be abused out on the mainlines. Small efforts and strikes, even when domestic (confined to one's prison) whether victorious or not, work to condition the imprisoned masses to the beautiful concept of resistance. A rally around lockdowns, food or educational/vocational opportunities quickly forages a footprint on the psyche and revolutionary spirit of those who participate in a grievance of some sort and teaches the priceless lesson of practice. Theory goes only so far in any struggle, at some point the baby must stand and take its own steps and this is a truly liberating and transforming experience that works to build on future efforts concerning a united front.
Every gulag in every state of Amerika is capable of injecting the movement with a second wind. It is up to every prisoner to begin to think of themselves as having the potential to move the movement forward or letting it die a humiliating death regardless of what prison or what state you dwell in! What holds any movement back is the will of the people to overcome what seems in our way. Mao said "a single spark can start a prairie fire" which has proven true time and again.
The fact that this effort included all LOs already shows that LOs comprehend the need to come together in a common effort; that hurdle has been completed. It is important that the imprisoned masses understand the concept of protracted struggle: it is a long drawn out effort in which, while practice is performed, the people are constantly studying and sharpening our ideologies. In this way we are wearing out the oppressor while building up the people politically.
I disagree with the proposal of the writer that we should focus on the debriefing process as our primary focus. I think this will work to divide the people. The problem is not all prisoners in SHU are validated for "debriefing" information, as many people's validation did not even use information from debriefing. Besides that we need to come high and see what unfolds. I do believe debriefing should be one of the demands but not the sole focus. In dealing with prison strikes and grievances I have found it more effective to make a list of demands and after its all over you may get one or two granted. I believe the demand to close the SHU needs to be at the forefront and I'm surprised it was not included in the five demands of the strikes.
Whether the state will actually comply or not should never affect our choice in a strike, but the demand to close the SHU should be at the front of our rallying cry as it generates a broader support system, it is a uniting force like no other for prisoners. Every state has a control unit whether it's called a SHU, SMU, etc. Of course we will always have other demands depending on the prison or oppressive circumstances of each facility but the primary demand, the most important should always be "Close down the control units!" Control units equal torture, this has been agreed by even the United Nations. The U.$. Supreme Court recently ruled California prisons in general amount to cruel and unusual punishment so it is a fact, let us now raise public opinion to this fact and in the process we will win "winnable" battles on meals, debriefing etc, and along the way the people will be energized by these winnable battles.
These small victories help keeping our eye, as well as the public's, on the most important aspect of our movement and that is to close the torture chambers known as SHU, SMU, etc. Whether we are victorious in this main demand in one year or twenty years is not what we should gauge our 'victory' with. Rather we should recognize conscious lifting and prison mass that is brought deeper into the struggle in the process - this is a true victory for the people.
It is true that we need to develop a strategic vision and understanding to move the movement forward and build what has already been laid down. This strategy should stem from a court analysis not only of the SHU environment but of the entire Amerikan prison system as this is what kind of movement we should be shooting for. ULK reaches many prisoners who can and will take these nutrients and flourish not just with the theory put for them in ULK but build on this and adapt it to each persyn's specific environment.
In California I see abolishing the 3 strikes law as worthy of a demand. The right to medical care is another. Contact visits for all. Access to direct sunlight. Nutritious food and access to all vitamin supplements, protein powders and other means to stay healthy. The abolishment of the use of solitary confinement. Abolish the debriefing system. Abolish censorship. Get parole dates and stop this denial for subjective reasons. The use of control units in Amerika is frowned upon by many people in society, from religious, activist, even some bourgeois liberals and actors oppose control units. The 2.4 million prisoners and their friends who oppose control units, some may not know they exist but all in all this is where we gain our most traction and support, it is precisely where we should start. I believe it is prison activists best organizing tool given to us complements of imperialism, we should not allow this opportunity to wither away.
There are crucial points that should be addressed in future efforts whether these efforts manifest in Pelican Bay or in a prison in North Dakota. The five demands were good, but as I pointed out above there are certainly more pressing issues that need to surface. The thing is to constantly improve on any effort one is involved in; move forward, not simply reproduce what occurred in Pelican Bay's torture chambers, but produce a stronger and more spectacular effort the next round. The Cultural Revolution was launched to unleash the people and have them not simply follow Mao's lead. It was to have the people themselves lead society to struggle in all different spheres, to push the "vanguard" forward, move society with all the creative energy of the masses and transform society and the vanguard.
This is what the 2011 strike movement should do to prisoners across Amerika, it should unleash the people's will to resist, uncork the desire to cast off oppression in every dungeon and every prison cell across Amerika and to teach not to just do like we do or say what we say but allow your dignity as men and wimmin to rise above your oppression and create two, three Pelican Bay movements for your humanity and become a force that awakens prison activism wherever you are no matter how many stand with you. A single street vendor in Tunisia sparked revolution in different countries! Realize your abilities, they are powerful in a concrete tomb. So take my shackled hand and I'll take yours and let's pull our way to freedom!
MIM(Prisons) responds: As we've expressed elsewhere, we do not abdicate leadership in the prison movement. We have much unity with what cipactli writes here in regards to organizing strategies that are decentralized and that protect their leaders. However, we do recognize the need for political leadership that s/he hints at. We recognize that the scientific endeavor that is revolutionary struggle produces scientific knowledge. And certain individuals and groups will possess and understand this knowledge before others. The Occupy movement is a mass movement that attempts to prevent any small group from taking control of it and defining it's politics. Such an approach can be a great learning experience in a budding mass movement. But such a movement will be very limited in what it can achieve, and just as has happened with the Occupy movement, a leadership will quickly come forth despite the claims to the contrary. That is why the scientific approach is to recognize and utilize leadership, utilizing real accountability and real democracy.
I'm writing to enlighten you of the new developments here within this oppressed segregated unit [Corcoran Ad-Seg]. For many years we have been denied our constitutional rights: our appeals process is wrongfully exercised, our appeals being lost or trashed or never making it to the appeals coordinators office. Our time constraints are being violated and surpass the time limitations they impose. But if we pass, even by a day, this administration gets very legalistic and denies our appeals on the sole basis of "time constraints."
By court order, we are allowed to possess TVs or radios, but this unit is depriving us of that right, telling us that due to "budget cuts" we cannot get our appliances. This doesn't make any sense at all, because there are so many other activities that are taking place and money being wasted on unnecessary things, but yet they claim "budget cuts."
The health care in this unit is poor, we lack the basic necessities and it takes up to two months to see the doctor and when we see him/her we get denied the rightful care. They continue to defy the court's order!
We are living under extreme conditions. It is real cold over here and yet they have the AC blowing. Our cells are super cold. We have gotten at numerous officers and the sergeant of this unit but to no avail, our environment continues to be cold.
This is just the beginning of the many violations and the torture we must endure, especially psychological. I've been filing grievances upon grievances challenging our conditions, but they just say, "we're working on it."
The rest of the comrades and I are in protest. We have begun a hunger strike. December 28, 2011 was the beginning of this peaceful protest, and we will continue this struggle till our needs are met.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We just hit the two year anniversary of the beginning of a United Struggle from Within campaign in California demanding that prisoner grievances be addressed. It continues to be a popular campaign, though many recognize its inherent limits in a system that is not interested in our grievances. Z-Unit in High Desert did utilize the campaign to achieve some temporary victories in their conditions. But it is little surprise comrades have stepped it up a notch beyond the petitions we were circulating.
While there is much to consider in strategizing and moving forward in the face of this repression, there is no doubt that conditions in California prisons continue to lead prisoners to make greater sacrifices in struggling for their common cause.
I'm doing okay here just maintaining and trying to stay positive throughout this madness that they call the SHU. Things are pretty much the same around here as they were before the hunger strikes. Basically all that's changed is the fact that we have beanies and can buy sweats and sweaters in our packages now. And also if you have a year clean then you can take a picture and buy art supplies, and we can get calendars in the mail.
So I don't know what's going on with all of the rest of the promises that were made as a result of the hunger strikes. The CDCR administration basically is keeping us in the dark and trying to shut down any and all communication that they feel is a threat.
CDCR stopped an eight-page double sided publication that was printed off of the computer back around the end of October. I appealed it and just received a response with them denying my appeal, so now I have to send it to the final level in Sacramento which I am doing tonight.
They say that since it talks about the hunger strikes and the organizers of the hunger strikers here in the SHU that it promotes gang activity. Also since there are other prisoners' letters that are reporting on what is going on in these prisons then that is prisoner correspondence and third party mail. And finally they claim that it promotes a conspiracy to disrupt prison security and that if we are allowed to receive said publication then it would be promoting the conspiracy to cause others mass disruptions of prison programs. Like I said I'm sending it to the final level of appeal and once I get it back I'll send it to you for you to see.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This report of only very small gains in response to the recent California prison food strike is consistent with what we have heard from others. The Five Core Demands of the strikers have been basically ignored with the exception of the really minor examples they provided for the fifth demand "Expand and Provide Constructive Programming and Privileges for Indefinite SHU Status Inmates": this is where the art supplies, calendars and sweat suits were mentioned.
This is typical of the CDCR and in fact of all branches of imperialism: they give nothing to the oppressed without being forced to, and they give the minimum possible. The imperialists will concede nothing without a fight, and as we can see from the California hunger strike, even a widespread protest is not enough to accomplish significant change. This protest helped raise awareness of the struggle, and brought many people into activism. Now we must build on that experience.
I've never heard of MIM(Prisons) but enjoyed reading your newsletter and could relate to most of it. I will pass it on to others (already have!) and get more to add to your mailing list.
Please, if it's possible, beg off a little on the SNY stuff! It really turns a lot of our stomachs, to be sure. When I came into the system in the 80s there was no such thing as SNY. Everyone held their mud, even those who got hit (because if they talked, they knew they wouldn't live through the next one.) If you "locked up" you went to the hole, period! No yard, no packages, no programming of any kind, nothing! Now, they make it too easy for guys to be weak and run off to the child molesters, rapists yard!
If you really feel you absolutely must print their filth, please get all the facts correct. Such as ULK 23, p. 13, Hunger Strike First Step in Building a United Front, second paragraph "and Pleasant Valley State Prison is SNY." I know more than a few guys who're going to be none too pleased about this news, as they are still there. I got my case (SHU) off of C yard, then got sent to Tehachapi SHU 4B, which is mostly GP, same for 4A Ad-Seg.
FYI, Pleasant Valley A yard is Level IV SNY, B yard is Level III GP, C yard is Level III GP, D yard is Level III SNY, and Level I is GP! Call CDCR and verify these facts if you will. It's your newsletter, but I would seriously consider (re-consider) who and what you print.
MIM(Prisons) responds: First we want to commend this comrade for recognizing that a few disagreements should not stop us from working together and spreading the revolutionary United Front. In that spirit we want to struggle for greater unity here.
The writer is responding to an ongoing debate in Under Lock & Key about prisoners who escape the mainline for Special Needs Yards (SNY) where they are pushed to "debrief" or snitch on fellow prisoners in return for better treatment (in particular in the context of California prisons, but there are parallel situations everywhere). Many prisoners have already testified that not all SNY prisoners must debrief, a fact that this comrade is not disputing. So the gist of his argument is that it's "too easy" for prisoners who run off to SNY. But prison is never easy, and as long as a comrade is engaging in solid and consistent political work, and not selling out his fellow prisoners, we don't care that s/he got moved to SNY to avoid persynal danger. Prisoners are constantly fighting legal battles to get moved away from dangerous prisons to places they hope will be better. Conditions are so bad in all prisons that this is rarely a significant change, but we won't tell anyone they have to stay in a situation that's dangerous to them if they have an alternative that doesn't involve endangering others.
As for the criticism of the facts in the Hunger Strike article, we take this very seriously. We rely on our comrades behind bars to report the facts about the prisons where they reside, but we do try to check facts wherever we can. In this case we should have caught this error about PVSP. It does not change the point made in that article calling for unity, but it's important we get facts correct.
Excerpted from a longer article by this prisoner: Who Am I
As is the case with just about every young Black male/female of the inner city ghettos of the world today, I first came to prison at a very young age, via several previous stints in juvenile hall, the California Youth Authority (CYA), etc. While in prison, I began to become politically and socially conscious through my individual studies and political education classes that I was fortunate enough to be involved with while housed in the adjustment center at San Quentin State Prison, with other like-minded brothers.
Due to my various political positions that became manifest in my active participation in speaking out against, and my refusal to accept, the many social injustices/abuses that were being perpetrated by our kaptors, against the prisoner class, I became the latest target of these gestapo agents' neo-fascist scheme of COINTELPRO [government counter intelligence program aimed at political activists such as the Black Panther Party]. In 1994, as a brotha was commemorating the historical significance of my New Afrikan Black ancestors' legacy of struggle, that entails the elaboration of, and the redemption of all New Afrikan Black people from the subjugation of U.$. colonial slavery, I was removed from the general population mainline of New Folsom State Prison, under the spurious premise of me planning a physical assault for a prisoner that I have never met, or been around, in my entire life!
A prisoner supposedly sent me a letter through the regular U.$. mail system, and ordered me to do this physical assault. It was later proven that no such letter ever existed, and I was never found guilty of anything. But nonetheless, I was still given an indeterminate Security Housing Unit (SHU) term, based on this one source of information. A room full of informants collaborated this information to prison officials, along with the fact that I was supposedly a prison gang member. This collaborated information was coerced from these prisoners via the arbitrary threat of them being removed from the general population mainline. It has been proven that some prisoners, as some civilians of the free world, would sell you their soul to keep from being locked up, or as in this case, from being placed in the SHU indefinitely.
My validation as a prison gang member, on this one source of information, violates the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's (CDCR) own rules and regulations. In particular, CDCR Title 15 Section 3378, that states that for a prisoner to be validated as a prison gang member, there must be three independent sources of information that are proven to be reliable. My case is a concrete example of the fruit of the poisonous tree phenomena, because as the years passed on, with me now being housed in the SHU indefinitely, more and more informants have been forth to accuse me of being a prison gang member. This makes it impossible for me to be released from the SHU to a general population mainline.
But in addition to these material factors, Pelican Bay State Prison's (PBSP) Institution Gang Investigation officers have instituted a new phase of fascism, for purposes of implicating the indeterminate SHU class of captive New Afrikan Black prisoners as allegedly being involved in gang activities, by way of the political and social commentary that we send out through the mail to people of the free communities. This practice amounts to state-sponsored persecution for our political beliefs. This phase of fascism is continuing in spite of the court having ruled that:
"PBSP - CDCR Institution Gang Investigation unit officers, have been utilizing a race-based (e.g. 'racism') approach to say that our political and social commentary is gang activity."
The courts even went on to say:
"That PBSP - CDCR Institution Gang Investigation unit officers have not produced any evidence that said political and social commentary is gang related."
Make no mistake about it, 17 years later, and the struggle still continues as a New Afrikan Black political prisoner of war!
Comrades, here is a CDCR regulation that we can use against censorship. Essentially there are no ban lists. Straight from the California Code of Regulations:
15 CCR § 3190(i)(2) "Legal Material, including legal reference material, books, and legal pads not available in the institution canteen, pursuant to section 3161. There shall be no 'Approved Vendor Lists' for any legal publications. Inmates may receive legal publications from any publisher, book store or book distributor that does mail order business."
15 CCR § 3190(i)(7) "All publications, including books and subscriptions to periodicals, subject to section 3006. There shall be no "Approved Vendor Lists" for any publications. Inmates may receive publications from any publisher, book store or book distributor that does mail order business."
MIM(Prisons) responds: This has been official policy since 2008, yet CDCR staff continue to cite the 2006 ban memo years after a lawsuit put an end to the ban on MIM Distributors's mail in the state of California. Therefore we find it useful to reprint these rules, for comrades to use in their own appeals. Remember to forward us any documentation of censorship and appeals. Many of these facilities have been citing the overturned 2006 memo for years, yet claim it is a mistake when we write them for an explanation. Establishing these patterns is important in building our cases. While they'll never follow the rules all the time, using the law against them is one tactic for organizing resistance and creating more space for education to occur. We have put together a supplement to our Censorship Guide which focuses on the California ban, so write in to get it if you're being given this reason for censorship.
They like to label us the "worst of the worst" and "California's most dangerous" but in fact most of us are doing time for drugs or property crimes, and through CDCR's blatant disrespect for the constitution and their failure to supply adequate appeals process, we are now forced to do all of our prison sentence. I'm fully aware that in San Quentin alone most validated SHU prisoners are first timers, have never been past the reception phase of intake, and are either here for drug related cases, vehicle theft, or burglary. These are not hardened convicts these are young males age 19-25 of all races, but the majority are Latino and Black.
Along with the mistakes that have brought them to this place, many here have made the mistake of freedom of expression by tattooing themselves with cultural pride. Those tattoos combined with their nationality get these prisoners validated as gang members when they first walk through the prison doors. Validated prisoners are not entitled to any good time credits, which means they serve longer prison terms than those not validated (more often white prisoners). So those of us validated straight from the reception center, in here for non-violent crimes (drugs or property theft), are not entitled to any good time credits. I was sentenced to 8 years, I must do all 8 years, but a convicted sex offender who is sentenced to the same amount of time is out in less than 6 years.
Due to an administration policy, most if not all of us who have been validated have never received a rule violation report for the alleged gang participation for which we are validated. What happens when the people who are in a position to assist in fixing the system only loosen the nuts more, so the pipes will break, because their family are plumbers!
This new realignment (in the name of reducing the prison populations) is hilarious. Now prisoners will stay in county jail, which means CDCR will have more room to house SHU prisoners, currently in San Quentin, Carson section. Right now we're forced to stay in reception centers for up to 2.5 years before being transferred to a SHU.
I can 100% agree with the demands of Pelican Bay, and I really wish that those in San Quentin would look to them as an example to follow. The prisoners here in San Quentin participated in the hunger strike for one meal on the very first day of the strike in July.
All validated prisoners are part of the same struggle. Stop opposing each other because of separate beliefs, and start to truly unite as humans in the same fight for true justice!
MIM(Prisons) adds: This is a great addition to our recent review of The New Jim Crow, which discusses how the criminal injustice system targets oppressed nations for social control. However, we do not have statistics to support the author's scapegoating of sex offenders. We have seen sex offenders do their full time and then be sent to a "hospital" where they will spend the rest of their lives locked up without being charged with a new crime!
I have much unity with Loco1's piece concerning a strategic retreat and after reading his essay I now have some things I'd like to speak on concerning the strike. However, as I myself am not currently housed in the SHU my words should be taken merely as food for thought, as it is up to those participating directly in the movement to analyze their own conditions.
Firstly, I believe that the SHU prisoners are currently in a crucial period. They have successfully completed the first stage of their struggle but if they are to successfully complete the next stage then they must enter into a period of criticism, self-criticism as it is the best way to avoid any left-deviations or rightist errors. The SHU prisoners are the vanguard in this struggle and it is up to them if the movement moves forward or dies a humiliating death. By moving forward I in no way am implying that the struggle must continue full steam ahead regardless of their present conditions.
Loco1 is correct to point out the fact that this is a protracted struggle, and the SHU prisoners aren't going to go anywhere anytime soon, except to another SHU. This is especially true for the ones that are "validated;" they have all the time in the world to sit and hammer shit out. Or as the Afghans like to say of invading oppressor armies: "you have the clocks, but we've got the time."
Thus, here are some points of attention:
The life and death of the struggle depends on the willingness of the prisoners to remain united. It is essential that contradictions between the oppressed and the oppressors do not become contradictions between the oppressed themselves.
The main force of the movement are the SHU prisoners. The immediate reserves are the general population prisoners. Loco1 is correct to call out specific LOs as they have the ability and influence to organize the vast majority of the prison population. Therefore they should exert all their power and energy into catapulting the masses to complete victory.
It is integral to the struggle that a correct political line should be developed so that the masses may gather round it to find guidance in the movement.
Indeed, practice is principal but this is also the time for studying theoretical knowledge and to concentrate on concrete study, criticism and self-criticism. Weakness in the ideological level will turn into errors in the political field, which will ultimately manifest themselves into mistakes in the organizational level.
"Over a long period we have developed this concept for this struggle against the enemy: strategically we should despise all our enemies but tactically we should take them all seriously. This also means we must despise the enemy with respect to the whole but that we must take him seriously with respect to each and every concrete question. If we do not despise the enemy with respect to the whole, we shall be committing the error of opportunism. But in dealing with concrete problems and particular enemies we shall be committing the error of adventurism unless we take them seriously. In war, battles can only be fought one by one and the enemy forces can only be destroyed one by one. The same is even true of eating a meal. Strategically, we take the eating of a meal lightly - we know we can finish it. But actually we eat it mouthful by mouthful. It is impossible to swallow an entire banquet in one gulp. This is known as piecemeal solution. In military parlance, it is called wiping out the enemy forces one by one." - Mao Zedong
Knowing that the prisoncrats hate to lose ground to the prisoner population, whether it be an inch or a mile, it then becomes the duty of the strikers to focus all of their efforts into wiping out the most debilitating aspects of their oppression one-by-one. One way of doing this is to de-fang their paper tiger (SHU), thereby rendering it next to useless.
Some might argue that the most debilitating aspect of the SHU is the long-term isolation. We must keep in mind that the oppressors will never give up this method of torture and oppression; it's too effective.
Instead We must focus on winnable battles and while We can't at this time shut down the SHUs, We can fight going there.
It is the debriefing process that keeps people sent to the SHUs and locked in the SHUs past their kick-out dates, and it is the debriefing process that turns people into snitches and ensures that more people enter the SHUs rather than leave it.
If and when the debriefing process is finally defeated then the strikers can move on to a secondary and less crucial aspect of the 5 Core Demands which should then be able to gain primary importance, and so on and so forth. It is in this way that the piecemeal solution is applied.