In recent weeks we have seen the offensive videos of settlers attacking indigenous people who are trying to protect their land from invasion and destruction in the homeland of the Lakotah Nation. The resistance has brought together many First Nation people as well as many supporters around the Sacred Stone Camp in the northern tip of the Standing Rock reservation. This is the point where the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), currently under construction, comes closest to current reservation borders. This week 200 people moved onto the land claimed by Energy Transfer Partners, setting up their winter camp in the path of the planned pipeline.
In response, Energy Transfer Partners said the people were trespassing, saying "lawless behavior will not be tolerated."(1) There is no better example of how the "law" can be an institution utilized by the oppressor to legitimize their power. When the settlers first came to kill Indigenous people and steal their land, they declared this land to be "lawless."
The Lakotah Sioux are using eminent domain to claim the land in question as rightfully theirs based on their 1851 treaty with the United $tates government. Cheyenne River Sioux Chair Harold Frazier met with President Obama, as well as the U.$. Attorney's Office to discuss their campaign and the police repression being unleashed on peaceful protestors. Frazier retold one conversation ey had:
Frazier: "How can a non-Indian physically assault an Indian and get away with it?"
U.S. Attorney's office: "Well, that's on state land."
Frazier: "So does that mean if a non-Indian comes to an Indian on Indian land that the Indian could do it back?"
U.S. Attorney's office: "Oh no, you'd go to jail."(1)
Again, the farce that is Amerikan settler law is laid bare before us.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe hosted the First International Treaty Council of the Western Hemisphere from 8-16 June 1974. This meeting was honored in 2007 at another meeting where the Republic of Lakotah declared sovereignty, claiming much of the land through which DAPL construction is occurring today.(2)
Indigenous people in North America have always been at the front lines of the anti-imperialist movement. They were the first victims of colonialism and emerging capitalist/imperialism on this land. Their continued struggle to reclaim this land is central to a re-civilization of the brutal settler nation of Amerikkka.
In April the U.$. Treasury announced that Harriet Tubman will replace former President Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill. But not to leave Jackson out entirely, they said ey will be moved to the back side of the bill, along with the image of the White House. The treasury also announced that the back of the $10 bill will be redesigned to feature leaders of the movement to gain wimmin the right to vote, while Alexander Hamilton will remain on the front of that bill. And the back of the $5 bill will change to incorporate historic moments that took place at the Lincoln Memorial. These design changes will be announced by 2020, so we can't expect to see any new currency for a few years.
There was much debate about making changes to the U.$. currency, with many people calling for incorporation of at least one womyn after a history of only men featured on the bills. Yet the bills are actually a good representation of Amerikan capitalism and we see the incorporation of wimmin on this currency similar to the incorporation of wimmin in the military. It is not a feminist victory to gain greater representation in the most destructive imperialist power in the world. This will not eliminate the patriarchy or gender oppression. Nonetheless, the selection of a former slave for the $20 bill and suffragettes for the $10 bill is interesting because many in the suffragette movement opportunistically played to white nationalism, arguing to white men that they needed to give white wimmin the right to vote to balance out the potential political power of Black voters.(1)
Harriet Tubman was born a slave in 1820 and escaped to Philadelphia in 1849, subsequently devoting eir life to fighting slavery and guiding other slaves to freedom. Tubman died in poverty in 1913. Ey was a fierce New Afrikan guerilla who played an important historical role in defense of the evolving New Afrikan nation.(2) Tubman was such an important figure that eir existence has to be acknowledged by the dominant Amerikan nation. Yet, as in the decision to put Tubman's image on U.$. currency, Amerikkka tries to whitewash the details of Tubman's life and claim em as a hero of this imperialist country.
Ironically, the flip side of the $20 bill will continue to celebrate former President Andrew Jackson, a slave holder who died just a few years before Tubman escaped to freedom. President Jackson, along with the U.$. Congress at that time, was a strong supporter of slavery, basically refusing to take up any proposals that would abolish slavery. Further, Jackson supported mobs and postal workers intercepting abolitionist anti-slavery organizing, referring to these actions as "wicked attempts" to incite slave rebellion.(2) In eir home life, Andrew Jackson built up the Hermitage Plantation, primarily growing cotton, with the labor of slaves. It is estimated that Jackson grew this plantation from a 9-slave operation to over 150 slaves by 1820.
Jackson's legacy of support for national oppression went beyond supporting slavery. Ey was a military leader in the fight against First Nations in the early 1800s. Later, as President, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, forcibly removing several indigenous nations from their lands. The forced relocations, known as the Trail of Tears, led to 46,000 indigenous people relocated during Jackson's term, many of whom died from disease and starvation on the way to the destination.
While sprinkled with anarchist tendencies typical to the author, we recommend Butch Lee's biography of Tubman to people interested in the true history of this revolutionary activist.(3) If the growing New Afrikan defense movement accepts Tubman on the $20 as a positive step, then the ideological war for Tubman is being lost and more integration is the order of the day. More integration with Amerikkka is in direct opposition to the well-being of the majority of the world's people who suffer under imperialism, including New Afrikans.
Changing the faces on Amerikan currency won't change the reality of Amerikan imperialism. But the willingness of the Amerikan government to do this does reflect the extent to which integrationism is being used to keep the oppressed internal nations loyal to the empire. Yet cultural integration does nothing to address the fundamental national oppression that keeps imperialism extracting wealth from oppressed nations in the Third World. These people who generate wealth for Amerikan imperialism can never expect to see their faces on the money that is coming from their labor. This just reinforces the divide between First World and Third World, which will likely result in a very difficult transition from capitalism to socialism for First World peoples. Giving up the wealth of hundreds of years of plunder, and re-integrating into global society as productive human beings will be a long and difficult task for First World bourgeois and petty bourgeois people. We fully anticipate a long period of dictatorship over the First World by the Third World, enforcing a hard fought cultural revolution of re-education for the First World peoples.
In 2016, actions on and around the 45th anniversary of the historic Attica prison uprising were the most widespread we've seen. For the last five years, September 9 has been a day when comrades in the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP) come together to commemorate Attica by fasting, striking, studying and building peace and unity for the anti-imperialist movement. The UFPP was initiated by a number of prison-based lumpen organizations across the United $nakes in 2011, with dozens of organizations and cells signing on to the statement since then. This year's activity was so great because another protest was also underway on September 9th in prisons across the United $tates. This one, initiated by the Free Alabama Movement (FAM) and promoted by the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), a project of the Industrial Workers of the World, affected at least 57,000 prisoners in 31 prisons where lockdowns or strikes lasted at least 24 hours.(1)
All of this comes on the heels of a summer in which we reported on the hunger strikes in Wisconsin, Ohio and Louisiana calling for an end to the torturous practice of long-term solitary confinement. In addition, a North Carolina hunger strike gained some concessions around mail censorship. These impressive displays of unity and activism are a good sign for the prison movement.
Events this September 2016 have been historic in themselves. As we continue our reporting on the Day of Peace and Solidarity, here we will highlight some of the events not led by UFPP signatories. The work strike and peaceful protest at Kinross Correctional Facility in Michigan was the largest incident the Michigan Department of Corrections has seen since 1981.(2) We had received a report from Hiawatha Correctional Facility in Michigan, which was also locked down on 9 September, though there were no actions there:
"Ever since 9am we have been on a lockdown. The comrades in Level II [most of the prisoners] in Kinross have done a protest because of the living conditions, the food, and no fans and heat, and this actually started on September 9. Prisoners walked out of their job assignments, so the unsecured Level I prisoners who work in the kitchen served the Level II prisoners brown bag meals."(3)
The action at Kinross started as a peaceful march of 500 people protesting conditions. After the prisoners had returned to their housing, 100 pigs attacked them with shotguns firing pepper spray.(4) This led to substantial property damage and Michigan DOC are now moving about 250 activists to higher security prisons to repress their protests.(5)
Holman Correctional Facility in Alabama was the origin of the work strike against "slave labor," initiated by the Free Alabama Movement. MIM(Prisons) has been cut off (censored) from Holman for some years now, despite attempts to reach comrades there. On September 1st a pig at Holman was murdered by a prisoner in an act of rebellion. The unsafe conditions led to staff going on strike while the prisoners were still on strike in late September. Many guards have since quit, leaving the camp short-staffed to manage the population. We have often pointed out that if there is one thing that pigs and prisoners might have unity on it would be safety. While often times the staff takes up the state's position that pitting the prisoners against each other is a good management strategy, this does take a toll on the sadistic pigs who do such things and sometimes the violence is turned on them. The CO must ask emself, do i really want to die over a plate of food? This is exactly what happened at Holman, where it is reported that striking COs notified FAM ahead of time and expressed support for their peaceful demonstrations against human rights violations at the prison.(6) This is a rare occurrence in the United $tates and speaks to the disfunctional status of the Alabama prison system.
In South Carolina, prisoners at Turbeville Correctional Institution reportedly fought back, gaining control of the prison for some hours. Triggered by an uppity pig, it came the day after a prisoner was murdered by staff.(6)
In California it's reported that, "Over 100 prisoners have gone on hunger-strike starting September 9th, demanding the firing of a brutal guard, access to basic food, and an end to solitary confinement at two county jail facilities in Merced, CA."(6) We do not have any contacts at either Merced County Jail. In recent years California has decentralized its prison system due to overcrowding in the state prisons, sending many people to local county jails. Overall, this has reduced the connectedness of the California prison population and made accountability more difficult. As these facilities are often less prepared to house the growing populations of long-term prisoners, we might expect conflicts there to continue to increase.
We are currently fighting an apparent ban on all mail from MIM(Prisons) to prisoners held at Chuckwalla Valley State Prison. The CDCR has not yet acknowledged an official ban, but rumors there are that it is a result of September 9th organizing.
A comrade in Pelican Bay State Prison in California sent documentation of censorship of mail from the IWOC because it included "Plans to disrupt the order." This comrade, along with others, began a hunger strike on September 9th. They submitted a list of demands signed by 12 prisoners on B-yard including oversight of rules violations, a wage increase, and a number of demands to improve conditions of the oppressed nations outside of prisons.
We should also mention a series of actions on the outside, in many cities, organized by those supporting the prison-led strikes to both attract attention to the strikes and to pressure the administrations to listen to the reasonable demands of the prisoners.(6)
In the last issue of ULK we discussed our lack of interaction with those in wimmin's prisons. It is worth pointing out that the one state-run prison in California that has reported participating in the work strike was the wimmin's prison at Chowchilla where a strike with full participation was carried out. Events over the last month point out that wimmin's facilities are not our only gap in coverage. We have long been aware of our lack of access in prisons that hold migrants because they are so segregated from the general population, often face more repressive conditions, and face a language barrier. On top of that there are whole segments of the men's prisons that we are not plugged into. Sometimes repression and censorship, like at Holman, can cut us off. And if mail is cut off to us, then people can fall off our mailing list quietly. This demonstrates the need for more volunteers to work with MIM(Prisons) to better focus our efforts regionally so censorship isn't allowed to persist due to lack of administrative capacity.
In California where county jails have suddenly become long-term prison facilities, and they are institutionally separated, USW comrades working on the inside to spread ULK and other materials can play an important role in reaching more populations.
While there are common threads that connect the whole criminal injustice system in this country, conditions vary from state-to-state and prison-to-prison. Because of how the government is structured, focusing on statewide organizing is important. That means identifying the principal contradiction within your state and developing campaigns that will mobilize the masses there. We expect states to have similar campaigns, but as we can see from the list of actions above, some populations are motivated by ending solitary confinement, others see a need to focus on breaking down divisions between prison organizations, others over mail censorship, and others over wages. We must assess what will move the masses, as well as what battles are strategic in gaining ground towards liberation.
We have great unity with those trying to demonstrate the continued national oppression of New Afrikans by Amerikkkans today, and demonstrating the historic linkages with slavery. However, when FAM says "The State and the [Alabama] DOC are profiting hundreds of millions of dollars off over the approximately 10,000 free labors who report to work each day inside of their prisons, to jobs in the kitchen, maintenance, runners, road squads, laundry, libraries and gyms, to stores and sandwich shops, yard crews, infirmaries and dorm cleaners etc." we have to disagree. How can the state profit off of prisoners preparing food for other prisoners when no money is exchanged for that food; when the food is paid for by the state itself?
It can be a good tactic for prisoners to engage in work strikes as that will impact the operations of the prisons: many do rely on prison workers to keep things running. And it certainly would increase the cost of incarceration if prisons could no longer use free (or super cheap) prisoner labor. But we shouldn't mislead people to think that prisons are profitable. They are a huge waste of government money! Money that the imperialists and the Amerikan people have agreed for decades now is well-spent. If we fool ourselves into thinking this is just about economics and not about national oppression and population control, we will end up on the wrong path.
We did not get much first-hand reporting on the actions inspired by FAM's call to end prison slavery. But it is inspiring to hear of all the organizing that has been happening lately. There's more going on than we can keep tabs on. This reinforces the need to expand the number of people working with USW and MIM(Prisons)! We need our volunteers to continue to step up. We need our released comrades to come out and support those left behind. We need comrades behind the walls to build independent institutions of the oppressed, and reach the broad masses so that all of these struggles can be better connected and we can continue to strategize to win!
In this issue of Under Lock & Key MIM(Prisons) set out to report on revolutionary organizing in wimmin's prisons in the United $tates.(1) Self-determination for the internal semi-colonies won't be won by males alone, and yet our subscriber list is overwhelmingly male. As a prison organizing group, we wanted to look at what is our role in resolving contradictions along gender lines, in our struggle toward national liberation and an end to Amerikkkan imperialism. The lumpen class has a strong training in male chauvinism, and prisons are an even more extremely masculine environment. If we are going to contribute to the resolution of gender contradictions, we need to consciously put effort into it.
We solicited articles from many current and former prisoners on this topic, but in the end we received very little response. This coincides with our overall reach into wimmin's prisons: while about 7% of the population in prison is locked up in wimmin's prisons, we do not have close to 7% of our subscribers located in these institutions. In this article we will explore the current state of imprisonment of females and some potential reasons for our limited reach and lower political involvement in institutions for wimmin.
MIM(Prisons) has long talked about gender oppression faced by prisoners in the United $tates. Gender is distinct from class and nation, and located within leisure time activities. Usually gender oppression is something suffered by biological females. But in prison, where the vast majority of the population is male, we still see significant gender oppression. When male prisoners are sexually assaulted by guards this is obviously gender oppression because it's based in "leisure" time. But there are other aspects of this gender oppression, including the Amerikan legacy of lynching New Afrikan men for supposedly raping white wimmin, which is an example of white females having gender power over New Afrikan males. So it's not so straightforward as just looking at biology to determine who is gender oppressed. And as on the streets, gender interacts with nation to complicate the situation in prisons.
Females make up 18.4% of all people under supervision of the adult correctional system (prison, jail and probation).(2) They are 6.7% of federal prisoners(3) and 7.2% of state prisoners.(2) The higher percentage of females in jails and on probation reflects the lesser severity and shorter sentences compared to males. Because our reach is mainly in prisons, that is what we will focus on here.
Many have commented on the dramatically increasing female prison population in the United $tates, especially as the recent growth rate was so much higher than the rate for males. Between 1995 and 2005 the number of male prisoners grew 34% while the number of female prisoners grew 57%.(4) Overall, females went from 11% of all arrests in 1970 to 26% in 2014.(5) However, the U.$. prison population peaked in 2009 and has been dropping slowly since then. The total change between 2004 and 2014 was a 1% drop in prison population. Over that same period the male prison population dropped 1.2% while the female prison population increased 1.4%. Since 2004 the number of females in prison has bounced up and down every few years with a peak in 2008, a drop from 2008-2012 and then an increase in 2013 and 2014. The dramatic increases in incarcerated females prior to 2004 seem to have leveled off, and there are no clear trends since 2004.(2)
What we can conclude from the numbers above is that the imprisonment rate for females is growing faster than the rate for males, but the growth is relatively slow in recent years and the overall number of females in prison is so much smaller than the number of males that it would take many many years of significant growth to get close to equal incarceration rates between males and females. It is still true that when we talk about prisons in the United $tates we are overwhelmingly talking about prisons for men.
New Afrikans and Chicanas are disproportionately locked up compared to white females (twice the rate for New Afrikans and 1.2 times for Chicanas). But these statistics mean that a much larger proportion of people in female prisons are white than in the male prisons which locks up New Afrikans at almost 6 times the rate of white males and Chicanos at more than twice the rate of whites.(6) And in female prisons the disparity has been decreasing in recent years with incarceration of white females increasing at a faster pace than other nationalities.
Below we examine two possible explanations for MIM(Prisons)'s limited reach into facilities for wimmin. 1. We are not doing a good job addressing issues that are important to this population and so they're just not interested in working with us. 2. Females in prison are less political than males in prison. If the former is true, we hope that this ULK will inspire readers to write to us and tell us what we're missing. We do, however, see some solid evidence that the explanation is the lack of political interest among female prisoners.
We need to consider what might cause female prisoners to be less interested in our work than their male counterparts. Those who do write to us often comment on the complete lack of interest among their fellow prisoners. And while we hear this plenty from men's institutions, we also hear many more stories from the men's prisons about activism and interest. In addition, some of the wimmin who write to us are transgender and held in male institutions, with this experience contributing greatly to their political awareness.
Based on our experience and what evidence we can find from studies of prisoners, we believe that wimmin are less likely to be locked up long term, less likely to be put in solitary confinement, more likely to have family waiting for them on the outside, and less likely to have been active members of a lumpen organization prior to or during their term. These are mostly conditions of wimmin in general in the United $tates, and so reasonable assumptions to make. We are by no means suggesting that imprisonment of females in this country is free of abuse or anything other than a product of a system built for social control. But females who are swept up in the net of widespread incarceration are often not the primary targets of the system. The stats on nationality make this clear.
One might argue that gender oppression in wimmin's facilities is scaring people locked up there into unwillingness to reach out to MIM(Prisons). However, we see that increased repression in men's prisons generally results in increased political interest. We get many letters describing threats resulting from political activism or even just education leading people to greater interest in men's facilities. And historically, on a global scale, greater oppression has led to greater resistance, by nation, class and gender.
Overall we think the lower percentage of people in wimmin's facilities reaching out and getting involved with MIM(Prisons) validates our theory about what leads prisoners to becoming politicized. Significant factors include: solitary confinement, lumpen organization involvement, significant repression, censorship and conditions of abuse. Essentially, repression breeds resistance (as long as the repression isn't so extreme that prisoners face total censorship, or health conditions so bad that they are unable to function). We regularly hear that widespread access to TV and other privileges really does buy prisoners out of political interest and activism. This is not a surprise in a country of wealth and privilege where the vast majority of the population enjoys petty bourgeois lifestyles.
Further supporting this theory is our anecdotal experience that trans wimmin are interested and active behind bars. We know they face significant repression distinct from the general prison population. So it is not surprising that trans prisoners are driven to political awareness and activism.
Unique Challenges in Wimmin's Prisons
While material conditions, as analyzed above, play a role in the appeal of proletarian-led communist revolution to any population, we also need to look at our own attempts, or lack of, to organize with this population. MIM(Prisons) has not made a concerted effort to connect the struggle for national self-determination with struggles in wimmin's prisons. With this ULK we hope to spark that conversation.
With that said, we need to look at what unique challenges are faced by people locked up in facilities for wimmin. This will help determine if we are not addressing the issues that are important to these prisoners.
The battle to maintain or regain custody of children is one issue more prevalent in facilities for female prisoners. In 2006 (and other studies suggest this number is pretty constant in recent years), more than 65% of females in state prisons and 55% of males in state prisons had children under 18 years of age. 64% of these mothers lived with their children before prison, compared to 44% of fathers.(7) While this is a pretty big difference, the overall magnitude of the impact of imprisonment isn't close: there are so many more fathers in prison than mothers in prison. One possibility is that mothers who fear losing custody will do anything they can to keep clean and get out quickly, and this focuses them more on doing their time quietly than fighting abuse.
Sexual assault is another potential issue that may affect female prisoners more than males. In a PREA survey of former prisoners from 2008, 10.5% of females reported prisoner-on-prisoner sexual assaults compared to 2.7% of males. Staff-on-prisoner sexual assault was also more commonly reported by females (2.5%) compared to males (1.1%).(8) We are skeptical of these numbers, especially since the taboo against reporting sexual assault is even greater for males and so it's hard to say if these statistics represent a meaningful difference between the experiences in wimmin's and men's prisons. Even if it does, we wouldn't expect this abuse to lead females away from political activism. But it is perhaps an issue we need to expose more often to address the large portion of wimmin who are facing this abuse.
The Path Forward
It is important to connect our political line with our strategy and tactics, and engage in the scientific process of developing that line as we learn from our practice. While in this article we have focused on facilities for wimmin and organizing of females behind bars, this is a bigger question of how we mobilize females on the streets to join our revolutionary struggle. We are fighting against class, nation and gender oppression on a global scale, and this battle requires uniting all who can be united. Around the world we have examples of wimmin joining struggles for national liberation, taking up leadership in communist organizations, and historically in leadership positions in Communist China. While we see the national liberation struggle as principal at this point in history, we can not neglect the gender contradiction, both in the general fight against imperialism and in our own political practice.
MIM(Prisons) has very few comrades who continue work with us once released from prison. Recently one of these comrades offered to ask the wimmin ey organizes with on the outside to write up something for this issue of Under Lock & Key. We sent prompts but didn't hear anything back. When we checked in on the article submissions, our comrade gave us an update:
"The reason nothing has come out of the shelter is because of a sudden turnover in residents, many of the active wimmin are now gone or just can't be reached. I have not submitted due to constraints on my time. My fiancée was kicked out of the shelter and due to taking care of her as much as possible and my own parole and other issues, i simply have not had time to put anything to paper. I am sleeping about 3 hrs. a day and on the move the other 21. We are working on an awareness project to get some of the people mobilized. Currently there are only 3 of us working on all of this, a member of Blackstone from Chicago, my fiancée and myself. It is very slow and tiring work. I apologize for my silence, i have just been swamped with stuff every day."
We empathize with this comrade's difficulties in finding time to put pen to paper. It's extremely difficult to juggle the bureaucratic challenges of parole with the lack of resources available for basic survival. We need to build independent institutions so we can meet our basic survival needs, so we can focus on the political struggle for self-determination. There's a catch 22 where reformist struggles take time and energy to build, and our ultimate goal is liberation from the conditions that make these band-aid programs necessary.
Prisons in California have become one of the most active and organized areas of resistance behind bars in the United $tates. With the second largest prison population in the country, and some of the biggest long-term isolation units, this is perhaps not surprising. Out of this repression and resistance has come some strong organizing efforts over the past few years. And this has also raised contradictions that need to be resolved to advance the struggle. We use this issue of ULK to highlight the contradictions and challenge our comrades in California to think broadly about resolutions.
While SHU/Ad-Seg prisoners are about 6% of the California prison population, they were 35% of our readers according to our reader survey conducted a couple years ago. Special Needs Yards (SNY) are reported to be around 30% of the total population, but were about 40% of our reader responders. So while SHU/Ad-Seg are very over-represented, SNY also seems to be slightly over-represented among our readers. There is a big division between SHU/GP and SNY prisoners with distrust and anger on both sides. But comrades from both sides continue to do solid organizing work. One of the significant developments in Cali is the Agreement to End Hostilities (AEH), a United Front that has made important strides forward but is also plagued by these divisions.
It is unlikely anything we do or say will worsen the division between SHU/GP and SNY. Rather than fan the flames, we are airing these grievances as a step towards understanding and eventual reconciliation. We also want to challenge both sides. The revolutionary, anti-imperialist, pro-people forces are tiny in all sectors. Some argue that SNY is in a better position to unite, while others say only GP has potential. So we want to encourage a little friendly competition between the two sides to see who can do more. Practice has already demonstrated the leadership from SHU's ability to mobilize the masses for a progressive cause. But progressive forces on that side must continue to move forward in order to consolidate those gains, or risk them being lost. At the same time SNY comrades claim they gained the freedom to unite and organize with whoever they want, and so they need to use that position to unite others who dropped out. To both sides we say: if you're only seeking a comfortable way to do your time you're not helping advance the struggle and the revolution has no place for you.
We received a number of responses to the article in ULK 50, "[email protected] Power Book Tainted by AEH." One comrade in SNY wrote: "In my point of view it [the Agreement to End Hostilities] contradicts every aspect that they preach. Now everybody who died, who caught a life sentence for the struggle they believed in was all for nothing. Take a second and think about that. There are people who are in prison serving a life sentence for killing an individual who opposed his views and beliefs. Now they expect him to be the best of friends with these same people? How does that make sense?
"Now you guys reading this might say 'He is only saying that because he's SNY.' Well, for 4 years I was active and I have seen both sides of the fence. Not everybody over here is a snitch. There is more unity here than there is on the mainline. You see raza from North and South united where it doesn't matter what part of the state you're from."
Saying that the AEH is hypocritical based on the past goes against the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP) principle of Growth. We must allow for growth and evolution of individuals and organizations if we want to see unity among the oppressed, because the old way didn't work. There are major contradictions between lumpen organizations (LOs) still, and between different housing units in California. But we see these as contradictions among the people. Which is why we stand behind the AEH, and think those old wounds can heal. It's been four years, and there's still a long way to go. But people are putting in the work, and in some locations we've seen real progress.
We understand the lack of trust that some have for those calling for the AEH in California. But we say to those people, the ones who truly want to end oppression as this comrade does, isn't the AEH a step towards what you want? Even if you don't trust certain individuals, the more we do to promote the spirit of the AEH, as well as the principles of the UFPP, the closer we get to replacing the old order with a new order based on unity of the oppressed.
This response comes from the comrade at Folsom (not SNY) who reported in ULK 50 on the progress of the AEH there, with Raza from north and south playing handball together on the same teams:
"It's a challenge educating people here, attempting to share and explain the current situation and contradiction of ideology, morals, politricks and capital. These factions seem to be following a textbook on capitalism. Yes, we have the AEH, which is a beautiful thing and can be used as a stepping stone for a more productive practice of commune. At the moment people are more concerned on exploiting the twisted habits of others and making their pockets fatter for self-interest. The 'chiefs' preach to confuse, saying that the ideology, morals and capital is framed around serve the people, united we are stronger and all that glitter. But i've not yet seen one cent invested in the people, books, education or basic needs. Too bizzy taxing the fellas for pickles out their store bags.
"Get your back straight my people, the AEH is being tainted by self-interest and is not being maximized to its full potential in a more revolutionary way. Serve the People.
"The great are only great because we are on our knees. If you don't have sycophantic attitudes towards the 'leader' and express your support they don't look great. Put some pressure, maybe then these individuals that abandoned the cause for self-interest can snap out of their pig ideology and step their game up and shape their minds and struggle towards national liberation. Resemble more a revolutionary internationalist and not the imperialist pigs that fucked us all in the first place, Tony Montana wanna-be mofo.
"I will continue to read, educate, practice and liberate regardless of the situation and this September 9 will be no different.”
A comrade in Corcoran (not SNY) is skeptical of the AEH, but echoes the refrain from many in SHU/GP that there can never be unity with SNY:
"The AEH is a godsend to all the souljas who have been held captive in the concrete tombs for 10, 15, 20+ years. The AEH is the tool CDCR is going to try and use to 1) gain more funds to build more prisons, and 2) justify the need for indeterminate SHU sentences. The current shape/mindset of prison and prisoners is not what it was back in the days that the souljas remember it being. This is going to create problems. These newly released souljas are going to be dealing with 18, 19, 20 year olds sentenced to 50, 60, 100 years.
"The AEH is going to create old-school versus new-school. That about sums it up. There's more to it. Like say the both schools are getting along there's also a snake on the police side ready to cause dissension amongst the community. Bottom line, CDCR cannot afford for the AEH to work, so they will see that it doesn't and when it doesn't they'll try to capitalize off its failure.
"They are now selling e-tablets, but only for SNY yards. There's mp3 players only for SNYs. The list goes on. Even with the trades there on SNY yards, the GP level prisoners aren't being afforded an opportunity to utilize programs that would rehabilitate them and better their lives and chances of staying out of prison. The message is clear: if you level four prisoners want to better your life you got to go SNY.
"Oh, there won't ever be a united front between GPs and SNY. You're better off trying to get a united front between convicts and pigz. See how crazy that sounds?! While there are solid souljas on the SNY yard, who became tired of the twisted prison politics. They're far outnumbered by pieces of shit, ie. child molesters, rapists, snitches, cowards, people running from drug debts, etc."
This last point is an important one that requires comment. Yes, prisoners are more likely to unite with pigz than they are with SNY because they are currently led by the criminally-minded. And it's hard to do serious money-making behind bars without working with some criminal pigz. This is a challenge and a contradiction we face trying to organize the First World lumpen. Not only are they criminal-minded, they can often make a fair amount from that crime, even some in prison are happy and prefer that over uniting New Afrika and Aztlán to fight imperialism. This is echoed by the Folsom comrade above.
All of these struggles in the California prisons remind us of how far we have to go, as humynity, to achieve a society where all people can live together in peace, in a society where no group of people has power over any other group. That long-term goal is communism. But to get there we will need to radically change our culture and the education people get from schools and society. Divisions are built into imperialism, people are pitted against each other based on class, nation, and gender generally and more specifically feuds are fostered by the imperialists to pit the oppressed against each other. This culture won't disappear overnight.
We learn from the revolutionary history of China that cultural revolutions will be needed after the oppressed take power, to re-educate everyone and build a truly revolutionary culture and society. It's a long road, and our comrades behind bars in California shouldn't be discouraged by divisions that have been created over many years of capitalist cultural indoctrination. Keep the big picture in mind and build for the revolutionary united front that serves the oppressed of the world.
This issue of ULK is being mailed to 48 states, yet over one third are going to Texas prisons. This can be attributed in large part to the void we've been filling with our Texas Campaign Pack, which has led to a huge influx of subscribers in that state. TDCJ has hidden its own grievance manual from prisoners since 2014, and more recently has effectively eliminated all access to the law library in many facilities. The MIM(Prisons) TX Pack helps people fight back and provides needed resources and information.
Yet when looking through the incoming mail, we notice some themes:
Most people are focused only on their individual struggles.
The end goal for most writers is prison reform.
There is a huge lack of engagement with politics.
Of course there are a number of exceptions to these themes, but the quantity of letters without political content is overwhelming. The vast majority of writers are only interested in getting the Texas Pack from us. Their engagement with the rest of our projects (even reading ULK, which is sent automatically to everyone who writes us) is a relative rarity. Those who report receiving the TX Pack and thank us for how helpful it is are mostly only using it to work on their own grievances. Some share it with others, but most don't seem to be using it on campaigns together. Of the huge number of people who have been invited to our intro study group across the state, very few actually participated.
If our subscribers in Texas want everything they learned in the Texas Campaign Pack to actually be put to the best possible use, there are a few key points that have to be considered:
Individual actions are small. The impact of a single successful grievance may feel huge to one persyn for at least a small period of time. But we must think bigger than our individual struggles. Especially when most of these struggles are unsuccessful.
Reformism is very limited. Those in power stall at every opportunity. So while we might see a few victories, it'll always be just enough to keep us motivated to bark up the same wrong tree for another several decades. In order to end what makes oppression possible and profitable, we need to put an end to the capitalist economic system. We've tried reforming it for hundreds of years. Is this what you expect it should look like by now?
Apply principles of revolutionary theory for an end to oppression. The only way to achieve an end to this ongoing oppression is to learn some principles about revolutionary science. We need to know what has worked in the past, and what hasn't. We need to learn lessons from history for how we can build our present-day movement to be as successful as possible at putting a quick end to capitalism and all its atrocities the world over. This takes hard work and dedication, and is the only way for future generations to come out from under the boot of the oppressors.
Once we learn some revolutionary theory, the next step is to put it into practice in our organizing work. Tons of people write to us about how difficult it is to find people in Texas who are interested in politics or coming together to protect themselves from abuses by staff. This is because, despite all the atrocities in TDCJ facilities, TDCJ achieved a delicate balance between privileges and punishment, that keeps the population complacent but not so repressed that they are inspired to step up and do something about it. This dynamic has been going on for eons. The perfect example of this is people who have given up filing grievances because the grievances go unanswered, and instead they just watch TV. If not for the TV or other distractions/privileges, unanswered grievances should lead someone to want to take further action to protect their humynity. By restricting indigent mail and eliminating law libraries in many facilities, TDCJ is signing itself up for some contempt amongst its wards, but only if those who are politically conscious take the next steps to educate and organize.
The most basic organizing steps to try:
Share the TX Pack with others, and have them write to MIM(Prisons) to get on our mailing list.
Write grievances together. Even if for individual issues, build your collective knowledge about what makes a grievance successful. Don't let the administration give you the runaround.
Unsuccessful grievances are part of the process. We don't expect to actually have victories with these grievances, but we file them to go through the process of administrative remedies, and build unity through action. When the grievances come back rejected, use them as tools to show how backward the administration is, and how the grievance system is set up to fail.
Meanwhile, build political consciousness: Study articles in ULK, and broaden your perspective of how the prison struggle fits in with the struggle of the internal semi-colonies, and oppressed nations worldwide.
MIM(Prisons) offers a multitude of ways we can support you in your organizing. We can provide lit and study guides if you want to start a study group. We also recently revamped our Prisoners' Legal Clinic, and you can use your legal expertise to help others with their cases and help them learn some revolutionary theory. Our literacy program is coming up too, so maybe tutoring others in how to read and write in a Serve the People Program is a role you can play. Or if you're an artist or writer you can contribute articles for ULK, which then gets mailed to people all across the country. If you have access to funds, send us a donation so we can continue sending the TX Pack and ULK in to the large number of subscribers in Texas.
In sum, Texas prisoners need to step up. We all already know that filing individual grievances is a joke. The Texas Campaign Pack has info for how to make the most of individual grievances, so we can have a few more successes, but the administration can still just toss out or ignore whatever they don't feel like dealing with. TDCJ headquarters in Huntsville is no better. We hope our comrades in Texas who have been so diligently putting the Texas campaign info to good use will make this connection to the bigger picture and adjust accordingly.
We're here today in interview with one of the authors of the recently released book [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán. [email protected] Power is primarily authored by [email protected] revolutionaries who are locked up in California's prison system. They wrote this book as part of a study group led by the Maoist revolutionary support organization, MIM(Prisons). The comrade we're interviewing today is one of the imprisoned authors, joining us via telephone straight from the belly of the beast. The book was published in fall 2015 by Kersplebedeb publishers, and is available at leftwingbooks.net or by writing to MIM(Prisons) at PO Box 40799, San Francisco, CA 94140.
We are so glad to have this author with us today to talk about [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán, so let's get to the interview.
Comrade, can you start with an overview of the contents of [email protected] Power? Is it appropriate to call it a handbook for making revolution in the United $tates a reality?
I wouldn't say - I don't think it should be used as a handbook for revolution, which might be what some people might look at it as, but more as a educational text with which Raza can begin the struggle toward confirmation from [email protected] gangbangers to [email protected] revolutionaries. And I'm well aware that maybe not everyone will become a revolutionary in the strictest sense, but at least to elevate people's consciousness so that they know that, you know, first of all that there is a [email protected] nation, that it exists, and it needs to be liberated.
[email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán as a educational tool will hopefully help [email protected] to not only understand the correct political lines concerning the liberation of Atzlán but will also help them become more aware of their true national identity, which lies outside of the Amerikkkan nation.
Of course the book [email protected] Power also introduces the [email protected] masses to revolutionary science and the revolutionary traditions that were largely responsible for putting that science to use, most notably the Soviet and Chinese experiments in socialism.
The book also goes into critiquing various forms of [email protected] nationalism, which some [email protected] tend to mistake for liberatory ideologies, of cultural and narrow nationalism, that, when put into practice, actually lend themselves to supporting oppressive structures such as Amerikan imperialism.
It features a brief historical synopsis of the [email protected] nation. It also gets into some more contemporary topics such as [email protected]' participation in the democratic process in the United $tates today, as far as speaking on contemporary presidential candidates. There's also some book reviews in there covering a wide variety of aspects of, critiquing the RCP's line on the [email protected] nation and other oppressed nations. Some cultural nationalist reviews in there. Our position on where the [email protected] nation is right now and where it needs to go in the future. I would say that is the brief synopsis of what's in there.
You mentioned the transition from gangbangers to revolutionaries, that you hope this book will inspire. That's a path that you are persynally familiar with. Could you speak on your development from gangbanger to revolutionary to author?
I really began my little journey like every other [email protected] in here, you know. I was oblivious to the fact that there was even a [email protected] nation to begin with. Like most other [email protected] in here, i started off categorizing myself as a Mexican. I came to prison for anti-people activity, gangbanging. The first few years i was just kinda trying to lay low and just stay out of trouble and just — i mean if something came along on my little journey i would do it, as far as if i would be asked to do any kind of negative actions. But i think after a few years i really just became disillusioned with everything. I realized that everything that i knew or that i thought i knew as a youngster, i mean, for the most part everything was a lie.
I would say that's really where my political development probably started in a sense as far as i knew that i didn't want this no more. I knew that this kind of life wasn't leading anywhere and remembering bringing pain to my family, bringing pain to others, and i just didn't want that anymore. At a certain point i decided that, this is when the SNY yards first came into being, in the early 2000s. Even though they were around much longer than that, this is when they really started being used in the prison system in California. SNY yards stands for Sensitive Needs Yards, the modern day equivalent to California of protective custody yards. So for people that can't walk the mainline, they end up over here. Everyone just does their own thing, you don't gotta follow another man's orders, as far as another inmate. I think that was a big part of motivating me to come to this side.
Once on this side, for the first few years, i was all about just doing me. I wasn't worried about anybody. Just trying to do my time, and kinda just take it slow and easy. And i really wasn't political at all. Until i believe it was around the time of the invasion of Iraq by the Amerikan government. And i think that's around that time that's when i started being politicized. And i really just started seeing everything on TV, seeing the bombing, seeing people dying, seeing the suffering going on over there. It wasn't hard to tell why the U.$. was there. And like i said, i wasn't political, but at that point, i could at least see that.
So simultaneously, around the same time, i just happened to have a cellmate who was real real real anti-Amerikan. I wouldn't say he was a communist, i would label him as a fan of Mao, and he claimed a mantle of Mao, and he claimed to be a communist. Up to that point i had never met anyone like that.
And so through discussions on certain topics, world affairs, politics, just through watching the news, slowly but surely i kinda started opening my eyes a little bit more. At some point, he just so happened to share the Maoist Internationalist Movement ten point program. And when i first read it, i thought it was a pretty egalitarian program. And all the stuff on there looked good, you know. I remember reading it and thinking "man, why can't all governments, or all people, be on that same trip?" It seemed like pretty easy stuff to implement. So, why not? And so then i guess i kinda started asking myself, well, why not?
At that point he introduced me to, i believe he shared with me some old MIM Notes as well, this is back when MIM Notes were still being printed out. I liked everything they had to say, i agreed with everything they had to say and I ended up getting my own subscription. And around then i believe i wrote MIM, i asked em for some beginner materials on Marxism. I remember they sent me a pretty complicated book on Marx, an introduction to his philosophy. Even though i understood some of it, i didn't understand a lot of it. And i really struggled a lot with that text. And i had to read it maybe 3, 4 times over the period of a few months just to really start absorbing the essence of what Marx was speaking to.
I was doing that for a minute, i was starting to collect little so-called revolutionary books here and there. At that time, MIM wrote me and they invited me to a study group — "On Contradiction" by Mao Zedong. I kinda just went from there.
I would say the turning point was when i got hooked up with Cipactli, and i was invited to participate in the Aztlán study group. This was another first for me, as i had never met or heard anyone that called themselves a [email protected] revolutionary nationalist. Nor was i aware that there was such a thing. And basically from working with Cipactli and struggling with him, as well as with MIM(Prisons), i slowly but surely came to realize my own mission, which is that of a [email protected] national liberation struggle for self-determination in alliance with the Third World communist movement.
I wouldn't have worked on this project if i thought i'd be doing it a disservice. In other words i had to first feel comfortable you know from my own level of political development to have worked on it. Secondly, and this perhaps a more correct reason for agreeing to work on it was my realization that i was not a [email protected], but a [email protected] Therefore, i think part of my subjective drive in working on this project came more from a desire of wanting to spread the revolutionary word throughout all Aztlán as well as the fact that only through a completion of national liberation struggles can the socialist project ever succeed. And so i thought i had the tools to contribute to the project, so it's something i really thought i needed to do, in order to just do my part to contribute to the liberation of Aztlán,
The book has been well-received by those who have gotten it, even though it's been censored at various prisons across the United $tates. To prisoners, the book is being sent for free from MIM(Prisons), with study questions, and they're coordinating a study group through the mail, between the readers and the authors. What overall impact do you think [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán and the study group will have on the [email protected] nation?
I think the book and the study group that MIM(Prisons) is doing, I think it will be the jumping off point for [email protected] lumpen in here, in many respects. I know there's probably so many [email protected] masses that subscribe to Under Lock & Key and they're probably not all too politically developed, some are. Some of them are beginning to think about some of the questions and some of the topics that we touch on in [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán. I think that group is gonna help them understand what we're really speaking to in the book, which is [email protected] liberation and self-determination, and the only way to accomplish this is under a Maoist flag. I think from there we can expect to see a lot of those same people hopefully continue to study, either through MIM(Prisons) or through their own organizations, or just on their own. But i think that's really where it's gonna start, as far as the book coming out.
As far as the project goes, it's something that's been a long time coming, and that should have been done a long time ago. Thankfully MIM(Prisons) was there to fill that void, where other people were failing. I mean there's a few [email protected] organizations that claim to be revolutionary, or they're internationalists, or so-called internationalist organizations and they really just pay a lot of lip service. They believe writing an article on a certain topic and just making some kind of statement, you know, that they believe all people should be free or something, thinking that's internationalism. But i think MIM(Prisons) really showed us what internationalism is. Which is comrades reaching out to each other and helping each other and assisting each other and helping us build ourselves up. Realizing that many prisoners, even a lot of revolutionary prisoners, are still i think at something of a low level of political development, you know, just because of our own conditions, and I think MIM(Prisons) has done an excellent job of that.
So as far as the book goes, I think it's really gonna uplift Aztlán, it's gonna help educate people, it's gonna help educate the [email protected] masses behind prison walls. Because people in general, especially in prison, are just consumed with bourgeois ideology, you know? It's just all about me doing me, making money, and that's it and fuck everybody else.
There's a lot of people, at least from my experience, who read any kind of revolutionary literature, i think they read it as they read it, they're kind of studying it, they're soaking up ideas, and stuff like that. But i don't really think they take the time and really go in-depth into the text, as with the MIM(Prisons)-run study programs, where comrades have the opportunity to engage with MIM(Prisons) and with other comrades and with each other on a variety of questions, you know, concerning not only prisoners but the international communist movement as well.
You know, i was completely ignorant to a lot of this stuff until i started working with MIM(Prisons) and Cipactli. So i really just think this book is gonna mark a new level of development in Aztlán for the [email protected] masses. I would hope that in the next coming years we really begin to see a upsurge in the [email protected] masses in prisons and really, you know not just getting conscious, but actually building on that consciousness by organizing.
There's so many things that i think that could be done in here and i think as we all know, at least [email protected] prisoners, you know, the key to peace on the streets is peace in the prisons. And i think for us to have peace on the streets and for the [email protected] liberation movement to really begin organizing out there, it has to start in the prisons.
Could you speak more on that relationship, between peace building behind prison walls and peace on the streets, outside of prison?
Well, i can't speak for other nationalities, but as far as for the [email protected] lumpen, for the gangbangers out there, i think a lot of stuff that goes on the streets is controlled by what goes on in prisons. At the flip of a switch the lumpen chiefs right here, they could organize a peace treaty on the streets. I mean they've done it before. When i was out there, you know, everything stopped virtually overnight. From warring and killing and drive-bys to virtually overnight, hey, that's it, we're done, And that's the kind of power they have, and i don't see no reason why [email protected] revolutionaries can't have that same power. Especially when it's power that's gonna help the whole of Aztlán, it's gonna help all [email protected] out there. First by making peace and unity in here, it'll spill out into the streets.
I think we can expect a lot of [email protected] revolutionaries in here to begin organizing as well, and i think right now there's really just small pockets of comrades here and there. You might bump into one person here, you might bump into another person there, you might go to another yard or another prison and there's no one there, you're the only one there. And i think as time goes on we're gonna start seeing a lot more conscious people stepping up to the plate and deciding that they're done with the old ways and they're gonna begin organizing for [email protected] liberation.
It seems like your move to SNY played a big part in your political development. Could you speak more on SNY yards, their role and history?
Concerning the SNY yards, i would say these are for the most part a creation of CDC [California Department of Corrections], who have utilized certain methods of warfare such as divide and conquer tactics against Aztlán, within the prison setting. Initially i believe by both removing prison leaders from the mainline that knew how to provide stability and order to the lumpen organizations. As well as by purposely integrating certain individuals who act in a opposite manner, creating instability and disorder to a previously quote-unquote "stable" environment.
I think most people coming from a mainline end up on SNY due to prison politics. It could be something minor from maybe hanging out with different nationalities a little too much to something maybe a little bit more major as in stepping into the prison political arena and attempting to exert some kind of influence. But i also think a lot of people, and this is also something i'm starting to see more and more, is a lot of people are just coming over here just cuz they're just getting tired of all the things going on over there. I think a lot of people come over due to those main factors right there.
So i think, connected to the SNY yards i believe is also partly connected to the creation of the SHUs [Security Housing Units], because i mean before the SHUs there were no SNY yards, you know? So i think how they're connected is the fact that when CDC started taking certain leadership off of the yards, it created a power vacuum, where you had certain individuals having power struggles and things of that nature. Which, in turn, opened up the door for the SNY yards to be created, for it to be widened. Because i believe it was maybe only one or two in the past and like within the last 15 or 20 years it's becoming the majority within California prisons.
It's pretty amazing that this book was authored by a group of people together through the mail, some of them locked in isolation cells for years. Could you speak on what that whole experience was like, some challenges and interesting aspects of that process?
Well, firstly i think working on [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán was definitely a learning experience, as far as working on a book through the mail. You know it seemed like a monumental task at the time, when i was first invited to participate, but i was also very excited about it. As far as learning about the various steps it took to actually write and publish the book, it was a learning experience in that respect. But more importantly, i think the lessons i learned about were about my own subjective power and ability to reach out to the [email protected] lumpen behind prison walls.
I think it was the very fact that i'm incarcerated, which allowed me to write from the imprisoned [email protected] perspective, which is, after all, our target audience. Therefore i think the fact that i am incarcerated helps the book carry a certain level of legitimacy amongst the oppressed [email protected] prison masses. Not because of some supposed notoriety as a convict or anything like that, but because the [email protected] masses will see that me and the co-authors are writing both from a perspective very similar to their own.
I think the only real challenge was just a lack of access to a variety of research materials. Although MIM(Prisons) did an excellent job of assisting me, i can't help but think what more could I have contributed to this project if I had more access to information, you know, mainly the internet or at least just more books, just more research material. I always thought i was lacking in that regard, especially because i think i was still pretty new to the whole [email protected] national liberation movement. And so a lot of what i contributed was stuff that I learned with MIM(Prisons) and through my interactions with Cipactli. I think that was the only real challenge was a lack of more information.
Finally, what do you see as some of the main challenges to organizing the prison population?
I don't think there's too many [email protected] out there right now that are really tripping on this whole revolutionary politics or socialism or anything like that. A lot of [email protected] in here are caught up in the whole cultural nationalist thing, and they're more worried about keeping traditions alive and following our own culture and not letting our people be absorbed by new Amerikan culture.
From my experience these types of beliefs are most commonly found in the over-30 crowd in the California prison system. Most of these people have spent a majority of the sentences on mainline yards. Something that i have begun to take more note of is that these younger generations of [email protected] prisoners who have begun to enter the system seem to be more Amerikanized. And what i mean by this is that many younger generations seem to not have either the knowledge or the desire to learn about their culture, which is a oppressed nation's culture. Many [email protected] these days seem to identify first and foremost as Amerikans, who, on occasion, will even spit out certain Amerikan chauvinistic beliefs.
They also don't understand a lick of Spanish. I think this is problematic for the [email protected] nation as far as the Spanish language helps many [email protected] to identify or at least find common ground with other Raza.
Last but not least, i think today's [email protected] also seem to be more consumed by capitalistic society, that is also integral to the white Amerikan nation and culture. And what i mean by this is that younger [email protected] prisoners today seem to be more consumed by money than previous generations.
So the comparison would be that while on the mainline there's a very strong sense of unity and cultural identity amongst [email protected], which functions in a positive way by introducing imprisoned [email protected] to various aspects of a national identity outside of Amerika. Whereas on SNY yard, this function is largely missing. However I think this is where [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán will help to fill some of the voids left by the mainline experience, by introducing or reintroducing for the very first time aspects of [email protected] culture and identity which many [email protected] may have previously been ignorant of. Therefore [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán will I think hopefully help to uplift the [email protected] nation, from a Maoist perspective.
Thank you for speaking with us today. We're so glad to have gotten the chance to do this interview and talk more about this important book. Again, the book is [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán, it's written by a MIM(Prisons) study group, and is available at leftwingbooks.net. Prisoners can get the book for free by writing to MIM(Prisons) at PO Box 40799, San Francisco, CA 94140. In Struggle! ¡En Lucha!
There has been a lot of buzz recently about a report on private prisons released by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.$. Department of Justice (DOJ), and the subsequent memo from the Attorney General announcing they will phase out the use of private prisons for federal detention.(1)
The petty-bourgeois anti-corporate capitalists who have been campaigning against private prisons for a long time are seeing this announcement as a result of their organizing work. And it's possible that on some level the announcements are an effort by the DOJ to quell the slew of recent bad publicity.(2) Yet we disagree with these campaigners' idea that capitalism is okay so long as the petty-bourgeoisie is allowed to compete. We disagree with their stance that prisons under capitalism function for the common good so long as the private corporations get out the way. We see more similarities between state-run and privately-operated facilities than we see differences.
The facilities that the DOJ is talking about closing house mostly non-citizens,(3) which raises questions for us as to what is the real intention or cause of this change, and what's coming down the line for the enforcement of U.$. borders. We have no reason to believe this shift from the BOP has anything to do with more freedom or better treatment for non-citizens.
Capitalists follow money. In the 1980s, there was increased imprisonment rates and a need for more housing for prisoners, which state bureaucracy couldn't build fast enough. So capitalists built prison facilities in order to get money from the state. They kept costs as low as possible and tried to keep capacity as full as possible. The cause and effect is basic math. Obviously when putting profits over people there are many inherent problems that will come up. Eventually, as the capitalists are accustomed to, their venture would need to change shape. It appears the time to change shape is imminent.
We don't know what back-room deals broke down or were made that led to the report and memo. Did the DOJ just strike a better deal with a private busing company, to expedite the deportation of these migrants?(4) Was the pressure to change significantly more influential from the corrections officers unions, who are excluded from employment in private facilities?(5) Is it more closely related to a reduction in the federal prison population overall, and private prisons are just being used as a convenient scapegoat? "Increased prosecution of unlawful entry and re-entry" has been touted as a "hallmark of President Obama's enforcement policies," is the Democratic Party just trying to save face leading up to the next presidential election?(6) Is there something else that has yet to be uncovered, that helped expedite the decision? And as we imply above, maybe the capitalists have simply found a more profitable use for their facilities and are welcoming this change.(7) We seriously doubt the DOJ decided to phase out the use of private prisons on moral grounds.
There is something to be said about the difficulties in operating a prison with extremely bad conditions, whether private or publicly run. Oppression breeds resistance. Where we see riots in private prisons literally burn them to the ground and make them uninhabitable, we haven't seen the same level of resistance in public facilities in a long time.(8) Commentators have cited common nationality as helpful in non-citizen prisoners organizing themselves (in contrast to the divided populations of most multi-national prisons in the United $tates). Also, being a migrant with more to gain than lose in resisting, responding to extreme oppression is natural and necessary.
The state has a long-term interest in balancing their ongoing oppression with some rewards for those who play along. We see this constantly in our organizing work: there are many abuses, and grievances are denied without grounds, but if the prisoners have TVs and nudie mags many are happy to go with the flow and not stir up any trouble. The private prison companies either haven't mastered this delicate balance, or don't care because their interests for profit are so short-term and immediate. When the cost-benefit analysis is no longer in their favor, they'll just move on to a different industry where the profit margin is higher. The state's long-term interest of social control of oppressed internal semi-colonies, however, can't afford the same luxury.
This article is to announce the short-term success of our recent campaign to keep our website alive. After proposing that our limited comrade time might be better spent on pushing forward our prisoner support work, we launched a campaign to engage our online readers. With minimal effort, we have received a substantive response indicating that we were incorrect to hypothesize that we could not mobilize our online readers to contribute to this project as our prison-based readers have from the beginning.
In just five months we've seen our volunteer base and collaborative work grow enough to convince us that web development is a good use of our limited comrade time. But as we pointed out in that article, regular contributions are much more useful than sporadic ones, so we must keep up this trend. We have gained at least one regular financial contributor, which more than covers the cost of keeping our website online. We encourage our other volunteers to stick to it.
A note to potential financial contributors, we had been soliciting postage stamps, however we are approaching our limits on how many we can use, especially since this is the main way that prisoners send donations. So new contributors should consider sending cash, blank money orders or bitcoin.
Those watching our website may have noticed us taking down some requests for help as volunteers have stepped up. While not all have proven themselves yet, we have received responses to diverse needs. By offering up more specific tasks, we've inspired our readers into action, proving they are more than just web traffic statistics. This also proved that lack of focused leadership on our part was part of the problem.
It was not just online readers who responded to our call. One United Struggle from Within leader put forth a proposal to our annual congress to up the enrollment fees for our correspondence study groups and to only provide hard-to-find books to those who pay for them. Another USW comrade proposed that we remove people from the ULK mailing list faster to cut costs. We adopted new policies incorporating both proposals, which should help on the postage side of things. One comrade even spoke of the impact the website had on em from prison, demonstrating that the website directly contributes to our prison-based work.
In addition to the new contributors we've gained in recent months, we've seen an increase in comradely projects putting out good material. This can help us directly by providing material for our newsletter and study groups. But it also helps the movement in general. Supporting MIM(Prisons) is a great way to contribute as we have a proven track record. But we need more projects than the Prison Ministry. So don't let the scope of our work limit you if you can contribute in bigger and better ways.
While things will roll out slowly as usual, we will be continuing to improve and add content to our website in coming months. We also want to put a call out there for supporters who want to contribute as part of a cyber promotion campaign. This is something that you can easily do on your own, and there is no limit to how many can help promote our work and MIM line in whatever forums you are active. Or get in touch for ideas of outlets for promotion.
There is no doubt that setting up secure, reliable institutions on the internet is a needed task. While platforms owned by transnational corporations may have tactical use for promotion, with proper precautions in place, they cannot be our base of operations. Prisoncensorship.info has contributed in this regard and with your support we will continue to work to strengthen it as an independent institution of the oppressed.