The Voice of the Anti-Imperialist Movement from

Under Lock & Key

Got a keyboard? Help type articles, letters and study group discussions from prisoners. help out
[Security] [MIM] [ULK Issue 37]
expand

Documents Reveal Imperialist Spies' Online Attacks on Activists

NSA and GCHQ presentation
British Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) presentation to the U.$,
Australian, Canadian and New Zealand intelligence agencies

Newly released information about the British GCHQ and Amerikan NSA expose the agencies' work to manipulate and undermine online individuals and organizations. In addition to the monitoring of online activity, email, and phone calls, the government tactics include Denial of Service attacks to shut down websites, releasing viruses to destroy computers, traps to lure people into compromising situations using sex, and release of false information to destroy reputations.

Previous Snowden documents revealed widespread spying by U.$ and British government agencies. These new documents confirm what we've said for years: the government has a long running infiltration and misinformation campaign to disrupt and manipulate individuals and groups they see as dangerous. This is particularly focused on political activists.

The online attacks were detailed in a 2012 presentation from the British Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) presented to the U.$, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand intelligence agencies. The slides describe this "Cyber Offensive" as "Pushing the Boundaries and Action Against Hacktivism." Essentially this is a way to attack people who are not charged with any crimes but are seen as somehow dangerous, generally because of their political protests.

One of the tactics, called false flag operations, involves posting material online that is falsely attributed to someone, and includes "write a blog purporting to be one of their victims", "email/text their colleagues, neighbours, friends etc," and "change their photos on social networking sites." This is a continuation of the COINTELPRO work of the Amerikan spy agencies targeting activist organizations in the 1960s, moved online for faster and more efficient attacks on enemies of the government. Those who have studied the Black Panther Party know about the government-led infiltratration and misleadership, false letters sent to disrupt internal communication and create divisions, and many other tactics used to imprison and destroy the most advanced and effective revolutionary organization of its time. Maoism is just as dangerous to the U.$. government today as it was in the 1960s, and just as our organizing work has advanced, their COINTELPRO work has also advanced.

It is right for our readers to ask, as one reader did in 2012, "I am concerned you have been already infiltrated or you're a CIA front organization claiming revolutionary organizing." We should question all individuals and organizations in this way, and judge them by their actions. You can't just take someone's word that they are a revolutionary; their political line and actions must be correct. And even then, there is no reason to give out more information about yourself than absolutely necessary. As we outlined in our article "Self-Defense and Secure Communications", we can make the government's job much more difficult by taking some basic security precautions in our work.

These latest Snowden revelations remind us of the struggle of the Maoist Internationalist Party - Amerika (the vanguard party of the Maoist Internationalist Movement in the United $tates in the 1980s to 2000s) which had its information hosted on the etext.org website. Throughout their decades of work they often encountered forces on the internet that they characterized as cops based on their politics and behavior. This goes much deeper than our warnings against using corporate online social networks for organizing work. It requires a continued study of politics in order to guard against online pigs who will often outnumber the proletariat forces in that forum. Without a continued study and application of politics in such work, people quickly degenerate into nihilism because they are unable to trust anyone they interact with online. An unwillingness to engage in scientific skepticism will often lead to such nihilism and/or a degeneration to doing work that does not threaten imperialism to avoid these struggles.

Before MIP-Amerika ceased to exist one of its underground leaders went public with his name and persynal information in an attempt to fight back against behind-the-scenes government attacks. Many of the attacks he described come right out of this JTRIG playbook. In response to the situation, many of the MIM posts on etext.org were focused on security and confusing to most readers. But that doesn't make the struggle undertaken there incorrect, and these latest revelations lend further credence to the revelations from MIM. We can only assume that as the organization with the most correct revolutionary line within the United $tates, the government spy agencies focused significant attention on disrupting and destroying the MIP-Amerika. While that specific organization no longer exists, there are new Maoist groups like MIM(Prisons) continuing the legacy of MIM, and we have a responsibility to be diligent about security to ensure our continued existence.

chain
[Theory] [MIM] [ULK Issue 22]
expand

Henry Park Obituary: MIM Comrade and Devoted Revolutionary

UF People and Quotes

Henry Park, a revolutionary leader and member of the Maoist Internationalist Movement (MIM), died on May 17 2011. His death is a loss to the communist movement. We take this opportunity to remember MIM's important contributions to revolutionary thought.

MIM was an underground party, whose members were careful about anonymity and security and so did not identify themselves publicly by name. Henry Park went public with his identity several years ago in an attempt to defend himself from significant repression by the Amerikan government. He did this after MIM broke into cells and the central organization ceased to exist. The article Maoism Around Us discusses this question of cell structure in more detail and explains that MIM(Prisons) built itself on the legacy of the MIM Prison Ministry.

After the dissolution of the central MIM organization, Park continued to write prolifically and uphold the original MIM at the etext.org hosted website. As efforts to silence him grew, the etext.org domain was shut down without explanation after hosting radical writings for about a decade. This was a serious blow to the spread of Maoist theory and analysis on the internet. In 2007, "Among all self-labeled 'communist' organizations in the world, MIM [was] second, behind only the People's Daily in China [in internet readers]." This remains a lesson for those who are afraid to draw hard political lines in the sand in fear of losing recruits. MIM never claimed to be bigger than other "communist" groups in the United $tates, only to have much more influence than them.

Henry Park, along with the other members of MIM, was in the vanguard starting back in the 1980s in correctly identifying the labor aristocracy in imperialist countries as fundamentally counter revolutionary, and doing the difficult work of spreading this unpopular position which was rejected by so many revisionist parties falsely claiming the mantel of communism. MIM also correctly identified China after Mao's death and the Soviet Union after the death of Stalin as state capitalist countries, no longer on the revolutionary path, while so many other self-proclaimed communists continued to follow these countries down the path of capitalist degeneration. Park published some important research on both countries' regression to capitalism that are available on our resources page. Along with the view that the Chinese Cultural Revolution was the furthest advance towards communism in humyn history, these principles were the foundation of MIM(Prisons)'s cardinal points.

There are some who will falsely claim the legacy of Henry Park or who will attack him with persynal or ad hominem claims, now that he is not alive to defend himself. We encourage all revolutionaries to carefully study tough theoretical questions for themselves rather than just taking the word of an individual or organization. One of the reasons MIM did not use names was to avoid a cult of persynality that so often arises around public figures, leading followers to avoid doing the important work of studying theory, instead just taking the word of the individual on trust. This cult also exists within organizations where members accept the word of their party rather than thinking critically. Even with MIM's semi-underground, anonymous approach, Henry Park was brought into the light by recurring persynal attacks on his character. One of the things MIM taught so many of us so well was how not to think in pre-scientific ways, where rumors, subjective feelings and individuals are more important to people than the concrete outcome of your actions on the group level.

Park's life is notable for his unending commitment to fighting for the rights of the world's people, even at great persynal sacrifice in the face of state repression. Many who take up revolutionary struggle in their youth give it up when they gain some bourgeois comforts, trading revolutionary organizing for a well paying job and a nice house. Park never wavered in his work for the people, and in his vision of a communist world where no group of people would have the power to oppress others. Mao Zedong said "To die for the people is weightier than Mount Tai." Park's death is weightier than Mount Tai and his work lives on through the continued application of MIM Thought.

[Read thousands of articles by the original MIM in our etext.org archive]


Related Articles:This article referenced in:
chain
[Censorship] [Civil Liberties] [Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution] [Washington] [Oregon]
expand

MIM United Front lit banned on 2nd Amendment

MIM recently sent free issues of our magazine MIM Theory 14: United Front to many of our comrades behind bars. The response by prisoncrats was widespread censorship, that should be of concern to everyone from the National Rifle Assocation (NRA) to New Afrikan Liberationists.

The Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution sent us a stack of violation notices and a comrade in Oregon State Penitentiary forwarded us a copy of a violation notice that they never sent to us themselves, despite regulations requiring them to notify both the sender and the intended recipient. All of these censored MT14 complaining about page 92 and 96 of the Black Panther Party Reprints section of the magazine. On page 92, Field Marshall Don Cox says, "more and more gun control legislation, the guise under which the people are being unarmed, is being passed every day to take away the democratic right to bear arms, which in turn dehumanizes you by preventing you from exercising your human right to self-defense." While most NRA supporters will balk at the Panthers efforts to unite the oppressed for self-determination, if they want to protect the right to express one's opinions on the right to bear arms and self-defense they should support MIM in this case.

The main article on page 96 is "Message to Revolutionary Women" from Candi Robinson, which stresses the inherent unity of Black people in revolutionary struggle, while acknowledging the need for Black wimmin in the movement to educate Black men about gender inequality, among other things. The prisoncrats did not specify which part of either of these articles was deemed "inflammatory material," the reason given for its censorship.

Washington State has simultaneously issued an across the state ban of MT14, as well as MIM Notes 328, 330 and 331. Despite a US District Court ruling in 1999 that disallowed the WA Department of Corrections (DOC) from an across the board ban of MIM publications based on our declared purpose of "struggl[ing to] end oppression by build[ing] public opinion to seize power through armed struggle," they have blocked all four of these publications from entering WA prisons without providing any specific justifications. The only justification given by authorities at Stafford Creek Correctional Facility is WA DOC 450-100, which includes over 30 different reasons for which Incoming Mail can be rejected.

One comrade in Washington did write us to tell us his MIM literature had been censored, with the reason give that it "advocates armed violent struggle against authority." This misrepresents MIM to imply that we advocate that prisoners use violence against Correctional Officers (COs). On the contrary we expressly discourage prisoners from getting into physical confrontations with anyone. We have a long history of comrades behind bars who have stopped getting in trouble for violence after finding more effective means of self-defense through legal battles and public opinion building.

The idea that MIM can be censored because we recognize the need for armed struggle by the oppressed to liberate themselves from imperialism is illegal despite regular attempts by prisoncrats to do so. According to Procunier v. Martinez, the Supreme Court upholds the right of prisoners to receive mail, regardless of the prison official's opinion of the mail content, as long as there are no legitimate restrictions from the prison related to correctional purposes. Our belief in the need to seize power through armed struggle is a belief that we share with Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and the founding fathers of the United States government.

Just prior to going to print, a comrade in Washington State Penitentiary sent us a Mail Restriction Notice for MT14 and the three MIM Notes issues that did state the reason for censorship as being "Advocates armed/violent struggle against authority" and goes on to cite pages 80 and 94. Curiously, neither of these pages contains even a discussion of armed struggle. The first is our statement "MIM on Prisons & Prisoners", which our readers will be familiar with. It merely explains why we oppose the current prison system, how we would change it and the role of prisoners in the larger anti-imperialist struggle. Page 94 is an interview with David Hilliard explaining the ideology of the Black Panther Party. As far as we can tell, these pages were chosen arbitrarily, but we are currently investigating a more thorough explanation in order to combat these instances of censorship.

These instances of censorship are not isolated incidents, but part of a long history of struggle with various departments of the criminal injustice system. Regardless of their reasoning for singling out certain pages to justify censorship, just as u$ court rulings do not allow the censorship of Abraham Lincoln for his statements on the importance of overthrowing the state, they do not allow the censorship of our materials because someone disagrees with our beliefs. We welcome anyone who agrees with us on this point to join us in our struggle against censorship in Oregon and Washington prisons.

chain
[Control Units] [International Connections] [National Oppression]
expand

Shutting down Control Units and the World Revolution

From mimnotes.info Adapted from a presentation by the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist League at the Unlock the Box conference on October 8, 2005. —ed.

It is important to recognize that we cannot pick our battles frivolously. There are uncountable horrible injustices in the world that need to be resolved. So figuring out where to start in order to be effective in eliminating all injustice is a crucial step for us. The ‘principal contradiction’ is the term we apply to the struggle of opposing forces that once resolved will do the most to push forward all struggles in our society.

Through practice, and the summing up of that practice into theory, we have come to see that in the United $tates, the lumpen of the oppressed nations are one of the greatest allies of the world proletariat. In particular, the incarcerated lumpen are at the vanguard in dealing with the problem of imperialism due to their facing its repression on a daily basis.

Mao Zedong made great contributions in demonstrating that the principal contradiction was that between the oppressed and oppressor nations during China’s war of liberation from Japan. His old adage that "In wars of national liberation patriotism is applied internationalism" still rings true today. Especially in a world where imperialism is the dominant force in more and more corners of the globe. This has been manifested in the recent internationalization of the U$ injustice system. While the United $tates has ran prisons and systematically tortured people throughout its neo-colonies for decades, this has usually been CIA and other secretive operations. With the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as with the whole so-called War on Terror in general, we have seen Amerikan soldiers of the occupying forces being the jailkeepers and interrogators.

The fact that the torture going on in these prisons is systematic is well- established by the number of reportings from both soldiers and prisoners. Just last week, after being sentenced to 3 years prison for abuse of prisoners herself, Lynddie England stated publicly that the Abu Ghraib pictures she was in were not the worst things going on and that everything they did was a result of orders from higher ups. U.S. Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld wrote a memo describing interrogation methods to be used at Guantanamo Bay that included everything depicted in the aforementioned photos before they happened in Iraq. Although he officially recanted the memo, the spread of these tactics through training of soldiers shows clear links between Rumsfeld’s orders and what is going on in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan and Iraq. And of course, we also know that the same types of things have been going on in U$ prisons in North America for decades.

This begs the question of why is there so much more outrage surrounding Abu Ghraib than Pelican Bay. The difference is that the Black, Latino and indigenous nations within U$ borders have been colonized for centuries, with the dual effect of being integrated to some degree into the oppressor nation and benefiting from its exploitation of the rest of the world and the development of a colonized consciousness that is the product of dealing with this reality. In contrast, almost every single persyn in Iraq remembers a time before the U$ occupation, and they aren’t going to sit idly by while these Amerikans torture and humiliate, not to mention slaughter, their people.

To be powerful and effective in our struggle to stop torture in U$ prisons we must understand how this applies to our own conditions. This means recognizing the forces involved for what they are. The control units are often deemed ‘gang units’ and one of the primary excuses for their necessity is to deal with the supposedly out of control gangs. But we must see the War on Gangs, the War on Crime and the War on Terror for what they are, its all a part of the War on Oppressed Nations being led by the U$ imperialists and the Amerikan oppressor nation in general.

What is a gang? A gang is an organization, generally made up of lumpen proletariat, oppressed-nation youth. These lumpen organizations did not appear from thin air, nor from some alleged inherent barbarity of oppressed- nation people. These organizations come from the material reality in which whole nations are in subservient positions, and in which whole classes of people are prevented from participating in production and guaranteed consumption of basic needs. A recent program on Fox News, hosted by Newt Gingrich, spends an hour demonizing Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and calling for the imprisonment of lumpen youth, the militarization of the United $tates-Mexico border and the hunting down of al Qaeda. The latter comes from an alleged link that could lead MS-13 to helping al Qaeda bring dirty bombs into the United $tates. This link has been disputed by the FBI and appears to be pure lies and propaganda. However, Gingrich does get something right. He understands that all oppressed nations have the common interest of overthrowing U$ imperialism and so he is rallying Amerikans around this fear in defense of their empire.

If reactionaries like Gingrich were actually interested in eliminating the anti- people activities of many lumpen organizations then they would try to understand where these organizations came from and why they do what they do. Specifically, MS-13 is said to have started with Salvadorian refugees in Los Angeles for the same reason that most such groups start, for self defense and meeting community need. Why were they in Los Angeles? They were there because the United $tates was backing right-wing paramilitary troops to crush the FMLN in El Salvador, as they were doing all over Central America at the time. After the bloody and terroristic 1980s, the region was decimated and many were left with one real option to meet their needs: to become active participants in the trade corridor that the Amerikans use to bring drugs North from Colombia. This effectively replaced the revolutionary organizations in the region with more criminal minded lumpen organizations.

When the refugees arrived in Los Angeles during the war one might ask why they needed to form a gang? Any oppressed nationals in LA will already know the answer to this question. The biggest impetus is the best armed rival gang in town, the LAPD, the infamous gang unit and other associated pigs. To make matters worse, you still have to deal with divisions and fighting between various oppressed-nation gangs as well. This is the legacy of an earlier period when the Black Panthers had unified the Black Nation under a revolutionary vanguard. The response from the FBI was COINTELPRO, which killed, locked up and otherwise neutralized the Panther leadership. In this vacuum arose organizations like the CRIPs (Community Revolution In Progress), that dressed like the Panthers, spoke like the Panthers and hoped to provide a better life for the people. But without a clear political outlook like the Panthers, and with the influx of crack as the fastest solution to their economic problems, these young people embraced a criminal mentality.

Now the government would have you think that this is the last thing that they want, that they are committed to "cleaning up the streets." Wrong. This is exactly what they want. They created it. When oppressed nations organize for positive change the imperialists destroy their organizations (ie. the Black Panthers and the FMLN). Then they bring in the drugs to simultaneously buy off and destroy the minds of the next generation. In California prisons they’ve gone as far as forcing people into gangs. And the reality on the street has always been that groups of oppressed-nation youth are targeted for repression, in effect enforcing the necessity for gangs where they might not have already existed.

In the long run this works in our interests. It is vital to our struggle to organize oppressed-nation groups. If the pigs want to help by repressing people and forcing them into gangs, then they are digging their own graves. The ‘gang problem’ did not always exist. In Attica, in 1971, people from all nations and organizations came together for their common interests against their oppressor, while recognizing the revolutionary leadership of groups like the Panthers, Young Lords and American Indian Movement. This commonality is far stronger than any petty differences that currently exist between lumpen organizations. And this commonality is once again being recognized by leaders of these groups. In Oregon this summer there were hunger strikes and uprisings every month inside the prisons, where groups that at other times might have tried to kill each other stood side by side in the face of the common oppressor.

So, how do we create the outrage in this country that has been created around the Abu Ghraib scandal? The answer is in the consciousness of the oppressed nations. It is in the lumpen organizations coming together inside prisons and on the streets. And it is in the support of the family members and communities of those who are suffering in these torture cells.

When the Abu Ghraib photos came out, MIM Notes ran an article that broke the story on the history of people like Charles Grainer and Ivan Frederick, who had been involved in torture as prison guards in the United $tates before going to Iraq. The comrades who struggled against and wrote articles about this abuse where acting in concrete unity with the prisoners being held in Abu Ghraib today, even though they didn’t even know Abu Ghraib would ever exist. That is oppressed- nation nationalism as internationalism in practice.

Every victory we have in ending torture and reducing oppression in prisons in the United $tates makes it harder for them to do the same things around the world. Similarly, the growing resistance and power of the Third World struggles create more opportunities for us to bring attention to and create opposition to what is going on here. Our struggles continue to reinforce each other. And as more struggles break out on more fronts, imperialism weakens and all of our battles become that much easier.

chain
[Organizing] [Control Units] [California]
expand

UNLOCK THE BOX! CONFERENCE BUILDS STRUGGLE TO SHUT DOWN CONTROL UNITS

Activists representing numerous organizations, former prisoners and family members came from across California to attend an organizing conference on control units in U$ prisons hosted by the United Front to Abolish the Security Housing Units (SHU).

Experience with promoting the event only underscored the need to have better access to independent media. We salute Indybay.org and their Enemy Combatant Radio program for promoting Unlock the Box. However, MIM Notes was the only newspaper advertising the conference. The larger alternative papers in the area prioritized their free listing space to things like nudists for peace and the Exotic Erotic Ball blood drive. Although organizers had a hard time getting mainstream or even alternative media to advertise the conference, it was featured on KPFA’s 6 o’clock news that evening in a piece that included interviews with MIM and RAIL activists.

The day long conference opened with an overview of prisons and control units by a MIM activist, some poetry and essays by a prisoner, and a rousing speech from a member of the Barrio Defense Committee who talked about the classification of her son into the SHU for his organizing work.

The MIM activist placed control units in the context of the criminal injustice system as a whole. This country has the highest imprisonment rate in the world with more than 2 million people in prison. As of December 2002 the imprisonment rate was 701 per 100,000 people. The numbers become even more frightening when broken down by race:

  1. Whites: 353 per 100,000
  2. Latinos: 895 per 100,000
  3. Blacks: 2,470 per 100,000

South Africa under Apartheid was internationally condemned as a racist society. But the United $tates makes the Apartheid regime look good when you consider that the imprisonment rate of Black adult men in South Africa in 1993 was 851 per 100,000 while the imprisonment rate of Black adult men in the United $tates under George Bu$h in 2002 was 7,150 per 100,000.

But even with all these people locked up in prison, statistics show clearly that prisons don’t stop crime. As imprisonment has increased since the 1970s, government defined criminal activity has remained relatively stable. So why all the prisoners? The answer is social control. Prisons are a tool of social control.

The problem the imperialists have with using prisons as a tool of social control is that they have also become a breeding ground for resistance of the very system they were meant to enforce. Within prison, people completely uneducated and politically unaware are put in a position that encourages them to think about the system that locked them up. Extreme repression, overt racism, slave labor, mail censorship, and in many cases imprisonment of innocent people are among the realities they face. In general population (where prisoners interact with one another on a daily basis) there is the opportunity to discuss this system with others and to organize resistance.

The uprising in Attica prison in 1971 was a good example of this organized resistance that prisoners were able to pull off because of their interactions with one another. The system fears this kind of organizing and needs a tool within the prisons to stop prisoner activists from educating and organizing others.

Better defined as a prison within a prison, control units are used to defeat prisoners’ revolutionary attitudes, organization, militancy, legal and administrative challenges, and anything else the prison administrators deem objectionable.

A past warden of Marion IL, one of CONFERENCE BUILDS CONTROL UNIT STRUGGLE the first Control Unit prisons, stated: "The purpose of the Marion control unit is to control revolutionary attitudes in the prison system and in society at large." This is exactly what control units are used for.

Control units have serious mental and physical health consequences for prisoners locked in them. Fundamentally they are a form of torture. A prisoner in the Security Housing Units at Pelican Bay prison in California, described his conditions in August of this year: "I am currently housed "indefinitely" in this prisons’ Security Housing Unit (the SHU), which is an old typical isolation unit. It’s a unique and stark environment of physical limits, visual sterileness and sensory deprivation. I live in a 8-by-12 ‘windowless’ cell nearly around the clock. There are no jobs, programs or human contact of any kind. Once a day, my remote controlled cell door slowly grinds open allowing 60 minutes alone in a near-by walled in courtyard which is nothing more that a larger cell than the one I already live in."

A member of the Chicano Mexicano Prison Project spoke at the conference, focusing on prisons as a tool of national oppression. In California, Mexican prisoners make up an overwhelming portion of those locked up in Security Housing Units. This is not an accident; it is a direct result of the criminal injustice system targeting oppressed nations. In 1998 (most recent statistics available) the CDC reported that 34% of the population in all CDC institutions was Latino, and 31% was Black. 82% of those in SHUs were non-white, and 52% of those in SHUs were Latino. This compares to a California population that was 32% Latino, and 7% Black in 1998. Half of all SHU victims are put there via a classification system based on supposed evidence of gang membership. Under this system, signing a "get well" card, talking to another prisoner in the yard, or even just speaking Spanish can get you classified as a gang member. They also use confidential informants who have a strong incentive to make up evidence to get themselves released from the SHU. Prisoners cannot challenge this information.

In a recent issue of MIM Notes one prisoner in California wrote:

My ethnicity is Hispanic. When I arrived in the DOC I was asked by a C.O. if I was ‘a Northern Hispanic or Southern Hispanic.’ I said ‘I don’t know what you mean.’ Then I was asked what city I was from. I stated Salinas, CA. It was then that I was classified as a Northern Hispanic. Now I’m labeled as a Northerner, which is a gang member from the prison/street gang Norteños. At that particular point in time I had no idea what that was or what I was about to experience behind these walls. The Southern Hispanics are classified/labeled Sureños, another prison/ street gang. The DOC [Department of Corrections] currently has the Northern and Southern Hispanics on a 24 hour, 7 day a week lockdown. We are getting no visits from our families, no exercise outside our cells, and no State-issued hygiene.

A speaker from the Revolutionary Anti- Imperialist League made connections between the war on gangs within U$ borders and the so-called war on terrorism the United $tates is waging all over the world. This comrade stressed the connections between comrades struggling against control units in the United $tates and the outrage in the Middle East about prisons like Abu Ghraib. (See Shutting Down Control Units and the World Revolution.)

A member of the African People’s Socialist Party gave an inspirational talk about the importance of fighting to shut down the Security Housing Units as a part of the fight to dismantle the entire oppressive system of imperialism, stressing organization and consistent work. The United Front to Abolish the SHU has been doing monthly protests around California for almost two years now. The effect is that people are getting to know us and know what we are trying to do and we are laying the groundwork for a potentially powerful movement.

The afternoon was spent in break out groups where conference participants worked together on action plans to work with prisoners, work with family members of prisoners, and organize actions to shut down the control units.

The working groups came up with a number of concrete action plans with volunteers to work on each idea. One topic that came up in all of the working groups was the need to help people visit family members, friends and comrades in prisons. This work helps the families while also helping prisoners stay sane and giving us a way to reach out to people on the outside by filling a need in the community. Comrades in California who are interested in such a program for themselves or their family should get in touch. The United Front also hopes to come out with a newsletter for prisoners and their allies on the outside that would provide information about how to fight the injustice system, resources upon release, legal aid and recent changes in the system.

In addition, volunteers made plans for future demonstrations and petition drives using more creative tactics. Finally, we are following up with the conference and building on these plans on November 5th, with a meeting from 11-2pm in San Francisco at 2955 18th Street and a rally to follow.


Campaign info:
Shut Down the Control Units
This article referenced in:
chain
[Control Units] [Mental Health]
expand

U.S. Prisons Prove Maddening

Prison Madness: the Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars and What We Must Do About it
Terry Kupers, M.D.
Jossey-Bass Publishers
1999

Dr. Terry Kupers is an ally in the struggle to abolish Control Units in prisons, and more generally to provide basic humyn needs for those incarcerated. While this book focuses on mental health, Kupers takes a systematic look at the prison system and the criminal injustice system in general, but he does it from a liberal perspective. This book is written for a general audience and provides an introduction to conditions in u$ prisons for those who are unfamiliar. For those who have been there or who read Under Lock & Key on a regular basis, the anecdotes of his clients will be nothing new. Some of the most interesting aspects of the book are the facts explaining the effects of isolation and medication on mental health and Kupers' alternative recommendations for group therapy and normal humyn interactions for rehabilitating people. Prison Madness by Terry Kupers, M.D.

What Kupers does not say is that mental health in a system of oppression requires an adaptation to that oppression that can either be done through acceptance and denial or through struggle. He only goes part way, saying that racism in arrests, imprisonment and treatment in prisons is a major factor in creating mental health problems in the oppressed who feel they have no recourse to defend themselves. He also acknowledges social ills in the general community that are taking a toll. But without pointing his finger at the system behind the symptoms, his book only calls for reforms of that system.

As someone who spends a lot of time in court rooms, arguing against prison officials and repressive district attorneys, you can see how this may have shaped the forms of the arguments made in his book. Kupers stresses the logic of helping prisoners to become better adapted to society so that they can be productive members when they get out; and over 90% will get out some day. (p.87) This is usually a good place to start when discussing Control Units with someone who is skeptical of our campaign to shut them down. But at other times Kupers goes too far in accepting some of the positions of the tough on crime politicians by minimizing them and not flat out rejecting them.

For instance, in taking on the accusation that most of the prisoners are faking mental illness to get attention and the better conditions of the mental health units he says, "some are faking their symptoms- but not as many as the guards and mental health staff accuse." (p.34) This comes after a paragraph of discussing the various reasons that prisoners resort to throwing feces at guards and other inmates. He argues that some do it because they feel no other recourse against guards, and others do it in retaliation to a mentally ill prisoner who had hit them first. So what we see is all of the prisoners (and guards as well) reacting to an oppressive situation. In other words they are acting how they deem to be appropriate in the situation they are given, to say that some actions are 'fake' skirts the real issue. Some will react better than others, and be able to deal better than others. But to say that they are therefore "faking it" when they act in certain ways is contradictory to the position Kupers takes elsewhere on the inhumane conditions of Control Units and their effects on humyn beings. Even if a prisoner is consciously acting that way to get attention, there is nothing fake about it, it is an act of self-preservation in the face of extreme oppression. When the system is the problem it becomes irrelevant to draw a line between the 'fakers' and the truly sick. This is especially true when in the majority of suicide cases Kupers has looked into, the person had a note in their chart saying they were "manipulating," meaning they were faking their mental problems. (p.184)

Similarly, in his chapter on 'Recommendations for Treatment and Rehabilitation,' he writes, "We need to stop sending nonviolent drug offenders and mentally disordered felons onto prison yards with murderers and rapists". Again, we are dealing with degrees of sickness here. The "tough on crime" media and politicians like to talk about "murderers" and "rapists" as if that is what some people are from cradle to grave. But those being labeled "murderers and rapists" are a product of the same social system as all of us. Here we are dealing with a situation where questions of individual mental health are far less important than questions of social sickness. Kupers' point that we need to keep the small time criminals away from the violent criminals is a good argument under the current system because we see the effects of such integration in u$ prisons. It is an environment that forces most people into choosing between joining the ranks of the violent criminals or becoming a victim. But if we broaden our goals to actually overthrowing the current system and instituting a system where healthy behavior was promoted even within prisons, we can move away from the myth that there is a new breed of "super criminals" that can only be killed or put in isolation for the rest of their lives.

Prisoners suffering from mental illness that are lucky enough to get treatment in prison usually just get put on medications. Not only does this not solve the problem, but it can make life more dangerous for the prisoner due to delayed reactions and increased fears of leaving their cell. Kupers describes meds as a band-aid for the symptoms of mental illness; if not accompanied by group treatment and socialization then there will be no meaningful improvements. He even cites cases that demonstrate that the need for meds decrease when prisoners leave the Control Units. This fact alone is a damning one for any who tries to argue for the necessity of Control Units.

'Prison Madness' looks at the various cyclical aspects of the system that help create people that are harder to reform due to worsening mental states. He argues that many prisoners suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) upon arrival in prison from things like sexual abuse and witnessing extreme violence at a young age. Yet, being isolated in a cell, with no humyn contact or activities to occupy the body or mind, is itself a cause of PTSD, which only encourages worse behavior and worsening of the persyn's mental health. Movement to isolation usually means being moved farther from family, which translates into less visits from loved ones and once again, a worsening mental state. Estimated suicide rates in prisons are two times that in general u$ population and rates in jails are nine times more common than on the outside. (p.175)

We must point out however, that Kupers' discussion of PTSD does not serve our struggle very well. He is quick to grant the diagnosis to the majority of oppressed nation youth as well as wimmin who end up in prison. But the symptoms of PTSD can include very understandable actions like throwing things at someone who keeps you locked in a cage all day. With an open-ended diagnosis like PTSD it almost serves to further criminalize those groups, because hey, they've been traumatized and might act crazy as a result. He gives this as a reason for the increased imprisonment of oppressed youth, as well as for why they end up in isolation. Once again, we see the shortcomings of psychology and the need for a class analysis. Instead of using the histories of current inmates as way to argue that the problem is societal, let's just look at the society and recognize how it is set up and in our case which groups have power over other groups and how that is transforming the interactions of those groups. If we really want to tackle systematic problems we have to use a systematic approach, we need to connect the millions of people that know that this is a system of oppression, not keep people stuck on their own individual past and problems.

Kupers' interest in changing the horrifying conditions he describes in 'Prison Madness' is made clear in the third part of his book dedicated to recommendations and courses of action. For the most part we don't disagree with any of it except that it doesn't go far enough. In talking about litigation, where he has spent some time, he includes a healthy dose of skepticism as to how much it can accomplish. He puts forth a nice mental health program for u$ prisons and then criticizes the "tough on crime" culture. While the examples of the Danish prison system he describes are encouraging, that is a small scale system in a wealthy imperialist country. To provide a model for what a prison system would look like in the hands of the oppressed we would point to socialist China as the prime example. Not only was there a focus on study, exercise and participation in the greater society but it also dealt with crime from the perspective of the oppressed. Within the context of a socialist economic system, this provided for the quickest and most widespread eradication of criminal behavior in modern history.

Kupers puts forth concrete examples where litigation has actually improved the conditions in prisons, but goes on to warn that there is a strong tendency for the Department of Corrections (DOC) to retaliate. (p.209-10) A loss in court puts them on the defensive and only emboldens their reactionary side. This is somewhat contradictory to Kupers talk of "bad apples" when discussing racism in prisons. (p.106) To put forth the "bad apples" theory is to deny that the injustice system is inherently oppressive. Just as in most places, we can sometimes find allies within the prison system itself, but we can see from 'Prison Madness' and from decades of our own work that the DOC is one of the most reactionary institutions of the state. More importantly than that, the prison system exists as a form of political repression. The fact that the majority of prisoners in the u$ are Black when only 12% of the population is, is not the product of a few racist "bad apples." It is the product of a tool that systematically serves the interests of the ruling class by repressing those who tend to oppose it. We work with dozens of prison organizations that have faced repression due to their successful organizing, often across lines of nation and affiliation that the CO's use to divide them. Kupers cites a case of this where the Santa Cruz Women's Prison Project was expelled by the California Department of Corrections because guards complained that the empowerment of the wimmin undermined their authority. (p.252)

'Prison Madness' is an accurate and fairly comprehensive look at the u$ prison system, with a focus on the mental health of those being confined in it. That alone makes it worthwhile, as most amerikans remain ignorant of the realities of prison life. The proposed solutions in the book do not address the source of the problem nor does it explain the full nature of oppression in u$ prisons, but there is much to unite with and to build on in those demands.

chain
Go to Page 1 [2]
Index of Articles