Making Prisons Safer with Revolutionary Education
Let's face it, most people coming to prison don't arrive with people's safety at the top of their priority list. Most come to prison with their homies' or comrades' safety in mind, but that is about it. Most come from an existence where, if you are not sharp-witted, treacherous or a cold hustler, you don't eat or you don't survive.
Being raised in this mind frame is not easily forgotten, so the economic hurdle is key in a prisoner's mindset. Many grew up in an environment where other nationalities are frowned upon or there are open hostilities between different nations. Then there are the mentally ill prisoners who may kick off some shit over nonsense and others follow suit. There are so many factors that make prisons unsafe that one can write a book on them rather easily. Each factor has many ways in which to approach it and combat it as well. But at the end of the day safe prisons anywhere in Amerika will only come from the hands of prisoners ourselves.
In a capitalist society prisons are not created to rehabilitate prisoners or teach us, they are designed to warehouse and neutralize us. So the first step in attempting to create safer prisons is understanding this. There is one key that unlocks the door to getting safer prisons and that key is education! I am not talking about Amerikan education, I am talking about revolutionary education. Rev Ed transforms people and betters people in all areas, including interacting with one's fellow prisoners. Take away Rev Ed and one is left with backwards thinking, reactionary behavior, abuse, set tripping, predatory behavior, religious nonsense, drug and alcohol addiction — all the tore up tradition that has self-destructed entire generations.
Ignorance of who you are will always bring out the worst in you. Knowing where one comes from, the deep tradition of resistance and legacy of struggle will always propel one in a positive path, a peaceful path, because when we learn who the real oppressor is we no longer look at another prisoner as the bad guy. Rev Ed teaches us that prisoners in general are an oppressed class and when we really grasp this there's no way can we walk around trying to pick fights with our fellow prisoners. Even the thought of this becomes absurd. Instead we are walking around trying to share revolutionary ideas and exchange revolutionary literature in our quest to revolutionize these hell holes. This must be our focus if we want to have the greatest impact that we can to make prisons safer.
I won't sugar coat it: this is hard work. When I read about shit popping off in what amounts to lumpen-on-lumpen crime I feel your pain because I been there and I still experience bullshit that clings to many of those who continue to hold on to nonsense or reactionary views. So I know how it is when violence ensues around you, especially if you have been working to educate people for a period of time.
These challenges don't change the fact that if you want a safe environment in prison you need to educate your fellow prisoners. The best way to do this is to start with yourself and your cellmate if you have one. I have always had long exchanges of ideas with a cellie. Whatever revolutionary publication I had I would read it, or my cellie would, and we would discuss what we agreed with or disagreed with. Once me and my cellmate were on the same page we would begin to educate our neighbors on either side regardless of who it was, passing publications and eventually books, and eventually involving the whole tier or pod. Many times this process would begin by just passing a publication to someone or telling one persyn to read it and pass it down the line. After a while the questions will begin. This is one way I have experienced creating more educated prisoners and thus safer conditions.
I have also found prisoners who could not read or write, and the state usually does not have material or classes for these people, so I would tell these prisoners I'll spend the time and effort to teach them to read on the condition that they must in turn teach someone else once they are able. One time I taught a prisoner to read out on the mainline and when I saw he had not found someone to tutor I went around and found someone for him. I would go to the law library when I was on the mainline and see someone trying to maneuver in the law and I'd reach out to help this persyn. These people were all different nationalities but in order to create "peaceful prisons" I have learned that you can't limit yourself to your own nation; someone has to build that bridge of relations. If I get to a yard where there is no bridge, I will fill the vacuum because someone has to.
What I have experienced in doing time (and I have spent more time of my life incarcerated than out in society) is that the majority of violence that occurs is over a business deal gone bad, either drugs or gambling debts. So if we have enough discipline to cut this out of the picture would reduce a lot of the violence. The next issue is predatory behavior which is just one persyn or group oppressing or attempting to oppress another, either because of ones nationality or what geographic location one grew up in. If you refrain from this behavior safer prisons become even more of a reality.
In California, prisoners in Pelican Bay recently issued a statement to end hostilities between all nationalities in California prisons, county jails and streets. This is unprecedented in California where lumpen-on-lumpen crime has gone on with deadly consequences for many years. This is only a step, but it is a necessary step in building any type of serious change or any transformation in each nation. The days when the state would pit prisoners on prisoners in California and use us as gladiators for their amusement are over. Prisoners have finally identified the real problem we face, i.e. the real oppressor. And if California can do this and if those in Pelican Bay SHU, who the state claims control all California "gangs," can do this then there is no reason why every prison in Amerika can't do the same and call for an end to all hostilities in all prisons, jails and streets! This is a necessary step if prisoners ever hope to create real safe zones in prisons.
We are seeing history play out in California where our future is in our own hands. If we want to have prisons where we can really rehabilitate ourselves then we must make it happen and the only way for this to happen is if we do so collectively and by ending the hostilities between all nationalities. This knocks down barricades that would otherwise slow down this process. This is not saying we don't have differences, there are many differences, but once you identify your oppressor you realize that lumpen-on-lumpen crime is not helping to reduce our oppression. It's very simple and all groups of all nationalities here in Pelican Bay SHU have agreed to this agreement. If we can do it so can you!
The real safe prisons will come when prisoners can exercise forms of people's power in these concentration camps. People's power exists when contradictions are resolved without having to rely on the state. Like the example I gave of helping my fellow prisoners to read and write or do legal work. Most prisons do not have programs for this, so rather than sit around and complain about it I started my own program on the mainline.
People's power can also be solving problems and preventing violence through mediation which does not involve the state. In Pelican Bay SHU there is the "Short Corridor Collective" which is a representative from each group Chicano, Black, white and sub groups, which seeks peaceful mutual resolutions to problems affecting prisoners. They even have come out with certain demands to the state. If Pelican Bay SHU can do it why can't other prisons across the United $tates form collectives that seek peaceful resolutions to issues affecting prisoners? The answer is they can, and they must, if real peace and progress are to be achieved within prisons.
Political education is the key. Once someone learns real history and understands the class contradictions in the United $tates, and how our oppression can actually be traced directly to capitalism, there is no way they will want to waste time on nonsense. Instead of sitting around gossiping about other poor people who are locked up and plotting on how to hurt other poor people, these educated people will instead study, educate others, form study groups, share progressive literature and books, and create independent institutions behind prison walls in order to advance the prison movement as well as the movement, for humyn rights more broadly.
The only thing I see in the way of us not having safer prisons is us not making these prisons safer!
People's power siempre!
Build a United Front for Peace in Prisons