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[Gender] [Organizing]
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Book Review: Captive Genders

captive genders
Captive Genders
Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex
Eric A. Stanley & Nat Smith, Editors
2011, AK Press
Available for $21.95 from AK Press: 674-A 23rd St, Oakland, CA 94612

This book is a compilation of essays from various transgender individuals, activists, prisoners and researchers. The unifying theme is progressive in that the book is not only devoted to exposing gender oppression faced by transgender people, specifically the criminalization of gender variance in the United $tates, but also to the abolishment of the current United $tates prison system itself. It tackles the often incorrect focus of queer activists who call for expanded laws and punishment, correctly exposing this strategy as reactionary and counterproductive. Unfortunately, although this is a pretty long book, it includes only vague anarchist solutions to the problem, with no coherent strategy to abolish the criminal injustice system.

Before going into detail I will briefly mention that MIM(Prisons) disagrees with the use of the term "prison industrial complex" (PIC) which is found throughout this book. This phrase implies that prisons in the United $tates (and other First World countries when applied there) are part of a money-making industry. In reality prisons are a money-losing enterprise, built and sustained by the state as a means of social control. Anyone making money off of prison contracts are just participating in the shuffling of imperialist wealth stolen from the Third World, not making profits off of prisoner labor. The use of this term in this book is perhaps not a surprise as a failure to grasp the underlying purpose of a system is going to lead to mistaken analysis of how we can fight that system.

We Can't Work Within the Criminal Injustice System

In the introduction, the editors wrote: "Mainstream LGBT organizations, in collaboration with the state, have been working hard to make us believe that hate crimes enhancements are a necessary and useful way to make trans and queer people safer. Hate crimes enhancements are used to add time to a person's sentence if the offense is deemed to target a group of people. However, hate crimes enhancements ignore the roots of harm, do not act as deterrents, and reproduce the farce of the PIC, which produces more, not less harm."(p3) This is an important point for activists of all stripes who fight for expanded laws to protect whichever oppressed group they are working to defend. We cannot look to the state to defend us against the state. And the prison system in particular is a repressive arm of the state; anything we do to expand that arm is inherently reactionary.

In "Transforming Carceral Logics: 101 Reasons to Dismantle the Prison Industrial Complex Through Queer/Trans Analysis and Action," S. Lamble writes:

"Although some people believe that we can train transphobia out of law enforcement agents or eliminate homophobic discrimination by hiring more LGBT prison guards, police, and immigration officials, such perspectives wrongly assume that discrimination is a 'flaw' in the system, rather than intrinsic to the system itself. Efforts to make prison and the police institutions more 'gay-friendly' perpetuate the myth that such systems are in place to protect us."(p. 239)

This author goes on to write: "The pervasiveness of state violence against queer and transgender people is reason enough to fight the prison industrial complex. But it is important to include anti-prison work as part of antiviolence struggles more broadly. Too often mainstream antiviolence work around hate crimes, sexual violence, child, and partner abuse excludes or remains disconnected from struggles against state violence."(p245) We agree with the connections made by Lamble here. It is important that people recognize that state-perpetrated violence is far broader and more deadly than any individual violence. It is laughable that some turn to our violent state to protect them. The state will only protect those whose interest it serves. In the case of the Amerikan government, that includes the vast majority of the white oppressor nation, but often excludes oppressed groups of like trans people.

Lamble concludes:

"Unfortunately, many LGBT organizations in Canada, Britain, and the United States — particularly white-dominated and class-privileged ones — are increasingly complicit in the forces of prison expansion: calling for increased penalties under hate crimes laws; participating in police, military, and prison officer recruitment campaigns....LGBT groups nonetheless helped to legitimize imprisonment and channel further resources into locking people up — despite a lack of evidence that such measures reduce hate-motivated violence."(p. 249-250)

In "Identities Under Siege: Violence Against Transpersons of Color[", Lori A. Saffin bolsters this point: "Arguing for the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in state hate crimes laws will ultimately end in limited social reform because 'equality' within the existing social system only accounts for and remedies the most blatant forms of injustice."(p155) And she concludes:

"By not taking into consideration the ways in which the criminal justice system regulates, pursues, controls, and punishes the poor and communities of color, LGBT hate crimes initiatives reproduce harm and do not end it. Calling for an increased role of the criminal justice system in enforcing hate crimes legislation is insular in that it assumes a white, gay, wealthy subject while also soliciting victims of hate-motivated violence to report into a penal system without regard for the fact that people of color and the poor are disproportionately punished. By ignoring racism and economic inequality in their arguments for hate crimes statutes, national gay rights organizations assume an assimilationist stance that reinforces the status quo at the expense of communities of color and the poor."(p156)

Queer and Trans People in the Criminal Injustice System

Captive Genders has some good data on the incarceration of queer and trans people in Amerika who are disproportionately targeted by the criminal injustice system and face additional dangers and abuse within prison. In "Rounding Up the Homosexuals: The Impact of Juvenile Court on Queer and Trans/Gender-Non-Conforming Youth" Wesley Ware writes:

"Further, the data tell us that queer and trans youth in detention are equally distributed across race and ethnicity, and comprise 15 percent of youth in detention centers.... Since queer and trans youth are overrepresented in nearly all popular feeders into the juvenile justice system — homelessness, difficulty in school, substance abuse, and difficulty with mental health — the same societal ills, which disproportionately affect youth of color — it should not be surprising that they may be overrepresented in youth prisons and jails as well."

In "Maroon Abolitionists: Black Gender-Oppressed Activists in the Anti-Prison Movement in the US and Canada," Julia Sudbury writes about the gender binary in the prison system and the risks for transsexual prisoners who have not had gender reassignment surgery. They are assigned to a prison based on one part of their body, denied medical care, and put in extreme physical danger.

Many trans wimmin are forced to take a prison "husband" by the guards who think this will diffuse tension and make the prisons calmer. In "No One Enters Like Them: Health, Gender Variance, and the PIC," blake nemec interviews Kim Love about her experience in the men's prisons in California. Kim describes entering the prison, when the Correctional Officer (CO) assigned her to a cell and she objected to the placement, and "They told me that's gonna be your husband, and that's where you're going to be and you're going to love him."(p. 222) She goes on to explain why no one tries to take the COs to court: "We've had so many transgenders that have been raped in CDC [California Department of Corrections] and had proof. One of them even had the towel the CO wiped his semen on. Today I haven't heard of one case that a transgender won against a law officer, against CDC."(p. 222)

In "Out of Compliance: Masculine-Identified People in Women's Prisons" Lori Girshick writes about women "aggressives" in prison. These people, most of whom identify as lesbians or trans men, are often treated more harshly than feminine prisoners because they are breaking the social and cultural norms the prisons seek to enforce. "Legislation is being considered in California to segregate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) prisoners who self-identify at receiving."(p. 203) The author explains that this gives staff even greater access to harass and abuse them.

How to Organize for Change

In the essay "Building an Abolitionist Trans and Queer Movement with Everything We've Got", the authors, Morgan Bassichis, Alexander Lee and Dean Spade, tackle the critical question of how to organize. But they completely miss several important points. First, they consider the Amerikan workers to be on the side of the oppressed: "The US government and its ally nations and institutions in the Global North helped pass laws and policies that made it harder for workers to organize into unions..."(p20)

Second, they push reformist organizing without a clear goal of eliminating imperialism, as if we could abolish the criminal injustice system within imperialism. They do however, correctly identify that violence and discrimination aren't just individual bad behaviors:

"Discrimination laws and hate crimes laws encourage us to understand oppression as something that happens when individuals use bias to deny someone a job because of race or sex or some other characteristic, or beat up or kill someone because of such a characteristic. This way of thinking, sometimes called the 'perpetrator perspective,' makes people thing about racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism in terms of individual behaviors and bad intentions rather than wide-scale structural oppression that often operates without some obvious individual actor aimed at denying an individual person an opportunity. The violence of imprisoning millions of poor people and people of color, for example, can't be adequately explained by finding one nasty racist individual, but instead requires looking at a whole web of institutions, policies, and practices that make it 'normal' and 'necessary' to warehouse, displace, discard, and annihilate poor people and people of color. Thinking about violence and oppression as the work of 'a few bad apples' undermines our ability to analyze our conditions systematically and intergenerationally, and to therefore organize for systemic change."(p. 23)

We have a correct analysis here of the need for systemic change. But their ultimate goal is summed up:

"Abolition is not just about closing the doors to violent institutions, but also about building up and recovering institutions and practices and relationships that nurture wholeness, self-determination, and transformation. Abolition is not some distant future but something we create in every moment when we say no to the traps of empire and yes to the nourishing possibilities dreamed of and practiced by our ancestors and friends."(p. 36)
This is an unfortunate dive into individualism and the persynal-is-political anarchist practice. We cannot create a culture that enables better relationships between people and allows the oppressed to have their own institutions until we eliminate the system of imperialism that necessitates the exact opposite. Pretending that our individual practice can get us there is the same mistake these and other authors in Captive Genders correctly criticize when they talk about the fact that one racist individual isn't the problem but rather it's the whole system. We must dismantle that system first, then we can build a just and equal society.

The essay "Maroon Abolitionists: Black Gender-Oppressed Activists in the Anti-Prison Movement in the US and Canada" also gets the solution wrong:

"Movement-building that creates innovative models of justice that do not pimp prisoners for the success of capitalism are possible. It is time to view the current US economic hardships as an exit opportunity away from dependency on conservative foundations and government funding vehicles that bar groups from work that threatens pharmaceutical industries or gender/sexuality norms. Transformative justice models that empower lovers, friends, and groups of people to be accountable to one another rather than rely on unjust and unsustainable US systems, can work to abolish the prison industrial complex. We can, and are, creating these in forms that facilitate a domino effect of cultural and economic churnings."(p. 230)

Again here we have this idea of "transformative justice" that is anarchist individualism with people just holding each other accountable outside of the United $tates's criminal injustive system. Yet no matter how hard we try, we do not have the liberty to exist outside of the imperialist system. Take a look at the revolutionaries in the Philippines or India who liberated base areas and set up their own independent institutions only to have them attacked by the brutal military (funded and armed by the United $tates). Or look at an example closer to home: the MOVE organization, which attempted to set up its own peaceful self-policing community only to be violently destroyed by the Amerikan injustice system. There is a reason why the Black Panther Party trained its members in self-defense. We are misleading people by pretending that this transformation of the criminal injustice system is possible by just creating some independent structures. The Amerikan government will not just fade away without a fight.

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[Ukraine] [U.S. Imperialism] [Middle East] [Russia] [ULK Issue 40]
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Amerikans Cheer as U.$. Militarism Threatens Amerikan Lives

Warmongering propaganda is at high levels in the United $tates, as it seems no positive lessons were taken from September 11, 2001. It took about a decade for Amerikans to lose interest in the U.$. occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq. This contributed to almost two-thirds of Amerikans opposing Obama's push to invade Syria less than a year ago. Yet already, about two-thirds of the population now agrees with Obama that they would rather control the government in Syria than keep Amerikan journalists' heads attached to their bodies.

Militarism is driven by an economic system that is built around arms production and requires war to keep up demand. Arms shipments have increased recently to I$rael, Ukraine, Syria and Iraq where the U.$. has resumed bombing campaigns that are destroying hundreds of millions of dollars worth of American military equipment now in the hands of the Islamic State. Every strike made by either side in that war is a boon to Amerikan business.

Meanwhile, Russia has been clear that they will not let Ukraine join NATO. The United $tates and Russia are the two biggest nuclear powers in the world. Yet Obama is pushing to have Ukraine join NATO, and Amerikan anti-Russian sentiment is on the rise in support of him. Open conflict with Russia would greatly increase the already unacceptable risk of nuclear catostrophe due to militarism.

The last 15 years have proven that U.$. militarism cannot be stopped by the Amerikan anti-war movement. Rather, revolutionaries in the United $tates must focus on pushing the national liberation struggles of the internal semi-colonies in solidarity with the Third World. Campaigns like the one in support of Palestine by California prisoners are good for building anti-militarism in the United $tates.

Currently the media and Western politicians are promoting the line that the Islamic State is the biggest threat to peace globally. They are way off the mark. That role has long remained in the hands of the United $tates and its military industrial complex.

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[Gender] [MIM(Prisons)] [ULK Issue 40]
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Activism vs. Romance: Why MIM(Prisons) Does Not Offer Dating Services

MIM(Prisons) gets a number of requests from male prisoners to hook them up with female comrades. They are looking for romance or just "female companionship." Sometimes this request comes from an activist behind bars, looking to build a romantic relationship with someone who is also an activist.

MIM(Prisons) focuses all of our energy and funds on revolutionary education and organizing, but we understand that people have social needs and desires. Here we will address why we don't offer dating or pen pal services and why activists should think carefully about what they are really looking for.

We believe that humyns are social beings who need interactions with other humyns in order to be mentally healthy. That is why we say control units are torture. And in our culture, gendered relations can make it difficult for men to provide emotional support to each other, especially in the hyper-masculine prison environment. So seeking out female companionship is one way to deal with alienation of imprisonment and especially isolation.

Many people find their motivation in such relationships. All you have to do is turn on the radio to know that, even if today's culture has essentialized it to down to body parts and sex acts. But it may be helpful to separate those two things out. There is the patriarchal culture that has trained us to desire certain things, and to be validated by certain things. Then there is some genuine aspect of the humyn brain that craves social interaction.

There is a contradiction with being both distracted and inspired when you are in a relationship. Often when they are in it people can justify it in all sorts of ways, because it becomes the most important thing. Yet, we've also seen people who experience some difficulty that turns them off to romance and as a result they put their nose to the grindstone and pick up their work load. In fact, there are studies in the pop science news claiming that being in a depressed state is better for creativity and concentration. So consider how you can turn your state of loneliness to your advantage and not end up wallowing in it.

We don't hook up our subscribers with conscious sisters for political and security reasons. But even if we wanted to, how would we? Dating is hard. Finding people to date is hard. Doing so from prison has to be a hundred times harder. As cadre, when we look at our political lives and our bourgeois lives, we take a budgeting approach. Everything that isn't political is taking time away from the political. And so you need to parse out what it is you NEED to do to sustain yourself so that you can continue to do political work. Anything else is taking time away from the struggle, away from the people. And that's on you.

When people get into relationships they often disappear. Not just from politics, but from life in general, friends, etc. For the petty bourgeoisie it's probably the top thing to take people away from politics. For the lumpen it's big as well. If we tell people to just give it up and get over it, they'll say we're crazy and don't understand humyns. But for cadre level people this should be something we can evaluate. We should be able to look at our own lives, look at the society that shapes our lives, see what we've been taught and what we know we need, and work towards a lifestyle that best supports our work.

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[Gender] [ULK Issue 40]
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Fighting Gender Oppression in Prison

In prisons, men are housed separately from wimmin, but gender oppression is still a very big issue behind bars. From sexual assaults on prisoners by guards and other prisoners, to the abuse of gay and trans people, gender oppression perpetuates disunity and furthers the social control of the criminal injustice system. In this issue of Under Lock & Key we have articles about rape and sexual assault in prison, the use of sexual orientation to divide prisoners, denial of health care, and several attempts to challenge and fight gender oppression behind bars.

Defining Gender

Our readers should be familiar with the concepts of class and national oppression. Class is clearly related to work and ownership of the means of production. Those who are owners have the power to exploit those who are not. National oppression is also clearly visible with nations which have resources and militaries using those to steal from and control nations which don't.

We distinguish gender from class and nation because it is defined by leisure-time activity. Men (the group with power in the gender oppression dynamic) oppress wimmin through rape, sexual harassment, and a social structure that portrays wimmin as valued for their looks, not for their skills or knowledge. Gender is not so clear cut as "men against wimmin" though. We have an Amerikan history of lynching Black men accused of raping white wimmin, giving white wimmin significant gender power over Black men. The use of humyn bodies in the Third World for drug testing by pharmaceutical companies gives First World men and wimmin benefits from gender oppression. And overall health status and physical ability is tied up with gender privilege; professional athletes and models are both enjoying gender privilege while those with physical and mental disabilities are often times forced into homelessness or imprisonment.

Gender in Prison

In prison we see clearly that gender privilege is not just about biological definitions of male and female. Prisoners face rape and sexual harassment by both prison staff and other prisoners. According to the Department of Justice itself, 50% of sexual assault against prisoners is by staff (See the article "PREA National Standards: Symbol or Sword?"). Prisoners are vulnerable because of their powerlessness against abuse from employees, their lack of recourse to stop abuse from other prisoners, and also because of their lack of access to adequate health care. These vulnerabilities have an even bigger impact on prisoners who are gay or trans, those with physical disabilities or health problems, youth (especially those in adult facilities), and any prisoners who are perceived as weak.

Trans Oppression in Prison

A New York prisoner wrote to MIM(Prisons) recently:

"I'm a transgender woman. I'm writing this because I'm different from the regular male prisoners. I am 200% aware of the oppression that's being done to the heterosexual prisoner population. I've been raped, beaten, and starved. The main reason I've been oppressed is due to my sexual orientation. An LGBTQ individual has it bad [in prison]."

Trans people face gender oppression for their perceived sex role non-conformity, based on physical health status and needs, and for trans wimmin there is the added oppression for being female. As with other gender oppression, this interacts with class and nation, leaving Third World trans people to face the most severe oppression, while some First World trans people end up integrating well with their imperialist culture and enjoying its benefits. Trans prisoners are unique in the First World because the condition of imprisonment puts them in a situation that denies them class or nation privilege, resulting in increased danger specific to their gender oppression.

The root of violence against trans people lies in the strict enforcement of the gender system. People who are visibly trans, especially trans wimmin, are often singled out for social or physical violence. Trans people are automatically regarded as non-heterosexual, and violence against them often includes elements of homophobia. These factors can conspire with national oppression and class to produce disastrous and murderous results.

Trans people have a number of specific health needs, primarily hormones and surgery, but are commonly denied access to even routine healthcare.(1) An unemployment rate double the average(2) often leaves trans people without insurance; but for those who do have it, trans-specific coverage is often categorically denied, and aging medical standards allow doctors to restrict treatment to only those who conform to rigid standards of masculinity or femininity. The result of all this can be lethal. Approximately 41% of trans people have attempted suicide,(3) and trans wimmin are 49 times more likely to be HIV positive than the general population.(4)

Lack of healthcare is even more acute within prison, with hormones normally denied even to those receiving them before incarceration, and surgery completely out of the question. 21% of trans wimmin have been imprisoned (rising to over 50% for New Afrikan trans wimmin)(5) and for them, correct identity documents can mean life or death. Trans wimmin who are regarded as "legally male" by the state get sent to men's prisons. This leaves them much more likely than other prisoners to be victims of sexual assault, rape, and murder,(6) and has a number of other consequences like the assignment of cross-gender guards for strip searches, and incorrect clothing provisions.(7)

Unity is Key to Fighting Gender Oppression

Gender oppression is an integral part of imperialism, and we can't expect to eliminate it without overthrowing imperialism. Ultimately we fight for communism, a system where no group of people oppresses any other group of people (classes, nations or genders). But we can have an impact on some forms of this oppression now, including sexual violence and harassment, through a united struggle behind bars. We call on all prisoners to put an end to gender oppression between prisoners. We need to stand together and say no to prisoner-on-prisoner sexual assault, and no to harassment. Unite and stand up to defend those who can not defend themselves. If you do not face this oppression, it is your job to stand with your comrades who do, and ensure your fellow prisoners do not turn around and act as gender oppressors. Straight prisoners need to understand that gay and trans prisoners are comrades, not enemies. Don't let the prison divide us along gender lines.

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[MIM(Prisons)] [Spanish] [ULK Issue 41]
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El Activismo de MIM(Prisones) es Clasificado como "Contaminación"

Recientemente me encontré con algo que puede ser de interés para usted. Estaba yo hiciendo algo de investigación dentro de esta organización propagandista reaccionaria pro-prisión conocida como Centro de Investigación Nacional de Bandas Criminales (National Gang Crime Research Center NGCRC). Este es dirigido por un inflexible defensor para este sistema, nombrado Dr. George W. Knox. El Dr. Knox y el canalla que trabaja para NGCRC habitualmente conducen encuestas para el sistema gulag para ayudarlos a identificar y neutralizar alguna potencial "amenaza." Yo fui hábil de meter mis manos en uno de estos informes y reportes de resultados preliminares que fueron conducidos dentro de 148 gulags en U$A representando 48 estados y aproximadamente 150,000 prisioneros. Ahora, la parte del informe que yo pensé puede ser de algún interés para MIM(Prisiones)es lo siguiente:


Bajo nivel de contaminación de MIM.

Algunos tipos de grupos políticos extremistas tratan de reclutar internos y prisioneros en America, ellos pueden hacer esto a través del Servicio Postal del EEUU. Estos grupos frecuentemente tienen sofisticados sitios en la web también. El Movimiento Internationalista Maoista (MIM) subsiste para difundir ideología comunista entre internos encarcelados en prisiones y cárceles Americanas. Esto busca radicalizar internos de la prisión y darles un programa para organizar resistencia contra el gobierno Americano. Si tus internos están mantiendo correspondencia con MIM, podrías tener un problema cociendose.

La encuesta incluía la pregunta "¿Tiene alguno de los internos en sus instalaciones correspondencia con el Maoist International Movement (MIM)?" Únicamente 4.6 por ciento de los encuestados indicaron que sus internos han estado en contacto con MIM. Así, esto parecería que MIM no esta efectivamente alcanzando la inmensa mayoría de prisioneros Americanos. Al menos no todavía. Alternativamente, quizá tal contacto con MIM esta yendo bajo el radar de oficiales de la cárcel y de las prisiones.


MIM(Prisiones) responde: Este reporte en "Grupos y Bandas de Amenaza a la Seguridad (Gangs and Security Threat Groups)" no incluye mención de algunos otros grupos comunistas, asi que veríamos nuestra inclusión como una indicación del éxito de MIM(Prisiones) en alcanzando activistas de la nación oprimida y la exactitud de nuestra linea política en amenazando al imperialismo y dominio Americano. En realidad, como la encuesta admite, ellos no pueden realmente juzgar este numero basado en encuestas solo de administradores de prisiones. Nos gustaría alcanzar la inmensa mayoría de prisioneros, pero en la practica estamos enfocados en estos quienes están interesados en políticas anti-imperialistas o de mente abierta buscando aprender. Sin embargo, tomamos esto como una llamada de acción para los lectores de Under Lock & Key; Necesitamos incrementar el porcentaje de personas en contacto con MIM(Prisiones)!

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[Download and Print] [Civil Liberties] [Censorship] [Abuse] [Campaigns] [Texas]
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Downloadable Grievance Petition, Texas

Texas Petition
Click to Download PDF of Texas Petition

Mail the petition to your loved ones and comrades inside who are experiencing issues with their grievance procedure. Send them extra copies to share! For more info on this campaign, click here.

Prisoners should send a copy of the signed petition to each of the addresses listed on the petition, and below. Supporters should send letters on behalf of prisoners.

TDCJ Legal Affairs
Attn: Leonard Peck
P.O. Box 99
Huntsville, TC 77342-0099

TDCJ - Office of the Inspector General
Investigations Department
P.O. Box 4003
Huntsville, TX 77342-4003

United States Department of Justice - Civil Rights Division
Special Litigation Section
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, PHB
Washington, D.C. 20530

Office of Inspector General
HOTLINE
P.O. Box 9778
Arlington, Virginia 22219

State Bar of Texas Grievance Commission
1414 Colorado
Austin, TX 78701-1627

ACLU of Texas
William Harrell, Executive Director
P.O. Box 3629
Austin, TX 78764-3629

Committee on Criminal Justice
Sen. John Whitmire
P.O. Box 12068
Capitol Station
Austin, TX 78711

Governor Rick Perry
1100 San Jacinto
Austin, TX 78701

Senator John Whitmore
Committee on Criminal Justice
P.O. Box 12068
Austin, TX 78711

TX Civil Rights Project
Attn: Atty Scott Medlock
1405 Montopolis Dr.
Austin, TX 78741-3438

Brandi Grissom
Texas Tribune
823 Congress Ave., Suite 210
Austin, TX 78701

And send MIM(Prisons) copies of any responses you receive!

MIM(Prisons), USW
PO Box 40799
San Francisco, CA 94140

*Petition updated September 2011, January 2012, July 2012, January 2013, October 2013, August 2014, and October 2017*

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[Campaigns] [Download and Print] [Abuse] [United Struggle from Within] [Oregon]
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Downloadable Grievance Petition, Oregon

Oregon Grievance Petition
Click to download a PDF
of the Oregon grievance petition

Mail the petition to your loved ones and comrades inside who are experiencing issues with the grievance procedure. Send them extra copies to share! For more info on this campaign, click here.

Prisoners should send a copy of the signed petition to each of the addresses below. Supporters should send letters on behalf of prisoners.

Director of the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC)
2575 Center Street
Salem, OR 97301

U.S. Department of Justice - Civil Rights Division
Special Litigation Section
950 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, PHB
Washington DC 20530

Office of Inspector General
HOTLINE
PO Box 9778
Arlington, VA 22219

And send MIM(Prisons) copies of any responses you receive!

MIM(Prisons), USW
PO Box 40799
San Francisco, CA 94140

*PDF updated May 2012, July 2012, July 2014, and October 2017*

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[Environmentalism] [Theory] [ULK Issue 39]
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Capitalists Can't Save the Planet

Maoism Heals Environment

In recent months it is becoming more common to read news stories about the irreversible collapse of glaciers in Antartica and elsewhere around the world, as a result of the rising temperature on earth. This degradation of our global environment is driven by humyn emissions of greenhouse gasses. As the reality of humyn destruction of Earth's natural systems becomes more apparent daily, and scientists provide more clear and alarming evidence that we are at a point where the effects cannot be reversed, we see a compelling case for communism as the only economic system that has a chance of providing for the long-term survival of humyns.

Maoists focus on combating the repression and brutality of humyns against other humyns, which is an inherent element of capitalism. When it comes to fighting for the survival of the most oppressed humyns in the world, fighting for the life of the planet on which we all live has become inextricably intertwined with our humynism. Without an environment that can sustain humyn life, the fight against oppression of groups of people becomes irrelevant. We see a strong reason for communists to take up revolutionary environmentalism, and for unity between environmental activists and those fighting oppression of people. But we will not win the fight for the environment without first liberating the world's oppressed people and overthrowing imperialism.

Back in 1997 MIM published the MIM Theory magazine entitled "Environment, Society, Revolution." In it they wrote: "Our fundamental goal is eradicating the oppression of people over people, and this goal is also the most effective way to liberate the environment from human aggression. We do not believe that socialism necessarily achieves environmental salvation, but we do argue that only through socialism do we have a chance at it."(1)

Historically the worst devastation has been wreaked on the environment as a result of oppression among people: wars, mass production using exploited labor, and corporate land seizure. In war, herbicides and chemical agents are used to deforest land and destroy crop production, which have severe, longlasting impacts on not only the plants, but the people and wildlife as well. Agent Orange, depleted uranium, napalm, and white phosphorous are examples of this type of warfare. A bomb that targets an "enemy" also destroys the environment in the surrounding area. Capitalist production allows for the practically unregulated dumping of waste into our rivers and oceans, including oil spills. When commodities cannot be sold, they are literally dumped into the ocean or incinerated, impacting ocean life and polluting the air.

Further, the imperialists target the Third World with imperialist-country waste, locating dirty industries there and dumping toxic waste in other people's backyards.(1) And it is clear that the countries that contribute least to climate change will be impacted the most by it. Typhoons hitting Southeast Asia and India, droughts in Africa, and islands that will soon disappear to rising sea levels are all consequences that have already taken the lives of many people and threaten to destroy even more. Where the imperialist countries will be able to rebuild infrastructure and defend against the impacts of climate change more easily due to their stolen wealth, residents in the Third World do not have this privilege. At the same time, pollution and other effects of humyn activities have reached a scale where it is harder for the oppressor nations to isolate themselves from these problems. For this reason, environmentalism may prove to be the most powerful material force for building true internationalism.

In the United $tates the capitalists are attempting small reforms to address the growing environmental problem, but these attempts show us clearly why capitalism will fail to save the humyn race. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed regulation of power plant emissions, focusing on existing coal plants. In slow-moving capitalism, the EPA will finalize their proposal some time in 2015, give states a year to figure out how to implement the new regulations, fight the lawsuits that states are threatening, and maybe see a few small changes many years down the road. The EPA optimistically predicts the proposal could cut carbon dioxide emissions from these plants by up to 30% by 2030.(2) The corporate media is already complaining about emissions standards being "bad for business," which under capitalism is more important than humyn lives. And in true capitalist fashion, there is talk of paying off the coal companies and compensating people who have good high-paying union jobs that will be affected.(3) So for the sake of the rich capitalists and the well-off First World workers, there will be years of fighting over the possibility of making some small changes, while people in the Third World are dying today from climate change effects already happening.

Many well-meaning people think they can address environmental problems with individualist solutions. They suggest that everyone needs to recycle and drive electric cars, or perhaps not eat meat. It is true that Amerikan diets, car culture and wasteful production must all be dramatically changed in an ecologically sustainable system. But such lifestyle politics are moving even slower than capitalist reforms in terms of actually reducing the rates of pollution, resource depletion and natural systems disruption. Social movement must be backed by organization, structural changes and real power. The capitalists have all these things, but lack the motivation for change. Setting up independent institutions that actually change our systems of production and consumption to be in line with the rest of the natural world needs to happen. Whether this can be done prior to the seizure of state power is something for revolutionary ecologists to explore. We do know that the joint dictatorship of the proletariat of the oppressed nations will be necessary to eventually enforce the changes needed at a global scale. This is necessary because a significant portion of the oppressor nations will not willingly reduce their consumption, and as long as there is the potential to profit via short-sighted ecological practices, there will be people who will try to do so. In the United $tates today the forces which maintain the status quo are more organized than the forces to impose sound ecological practices.

A third common approach to environmental problems is the pure technology approach. While the science of ecology has advanced in recent decades, it has been limited by the social structure enforced by capitalism. First Worlders can build careers around working with small communities to solve local problems, but these band-aids cannot heal the wound when the knife of capitalist profiteering continues to twist and turn inside it. Such academic ecologists can contribute to our knowledge, but their efforts do nothing to challenge the capitalist model itself. It is far more efficient and effective to make changes necessary for the survival of humynity with centralized government acting in the interests of the majority, rather than through the NGO or non-profit sector, or even via the direct action method favored by anarchist camps. Communism unleashes the creativity of all the masses in a way that pushes these projects forward with immeasurable enthusiasm and breadth. (see our discussion of China: Science Walks on Two Legs in our review of revolutionaryecology.com) We encourage ecologists with global perspective to develop a strategy that will really make use of their work globally, and we advocate communism as the best way to accomplish their worthwhile goals. In the United $tates today, we have far more lifestylists and reformists in the environmentalist camp. We need more revolutionaries.

Socialism will put an end to "efficient" capitalist methods of making profits. And with the land in the hands of the people, we can start to make smarter decisions about balanced use for humyn survival without environmental destruction. The majority of the world's people do have an interest in living on a healthy planet, but the capitalists with the money and power are focused on profit. Since they have the power and the guns, they do not have to answer to the majority. They waste resources or even destroy them, if it serves their competitive interests. And they do not care who or what dies in the process. Under capitalism we see how government agencies and the government itself are beholden to the wealthiest special interests, and incapable of implementing even modest reforms. Only by overthrowing the capitalists and enforcing policies that ensure the survival of humyns on Earth do we stand a chance of reversing the destruction of the environment.


Notes:
1. MIM Theory 12, 1997. Environment, Society, Revolution. Write to MIM(Prisons) for a copy of MIM Theory 12 on the Environment.
2. Washington Post, 2 June 2014, EPA will Propose a Rule to Cut Emissions from Existing Coal Plants by up to 30 Percent.
3. New York Times, 3 June 2014.

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[Gender] [National Oppression] [Culture] [Federal Correctional Institution Danbury] [Federal]
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Book Review: Orange is the New Black, My Year in a Women's Prison

New Afrikan prisoner female


by Piper Kerman
Spiegel & Grau (March 8, 2011)
327 pages

This memoir by Piper Kerman, describes the experience of a well-off white womyn who served a year in a minimum-security Federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut. Kernan was locked up for drug trafficking and money laundering, crimes she committed 10 years before her conviction and self-surrender. This is not a story of the typical imprisonment of disadvantaged men and wimmin, disproportionately poor and from oppressed nations, but rather a memoir of a woman with a solid future who took a brief detour to prison and made a lot of money by writing a book about it. Most prisoners face a life after release haunted by their conviction which makes finding housing and jobs virtually impossible. While others in prison on her charges are labeled drug dealers and face long sentences, Kernan's brief imprisonment is portrayed as the result of a period of reckless experimentation and mistakes of her youth.

Ordinarily a book like this wouldn't hold much interest for MIM(Prisons), but it's become quite a sensation after it was the basis for a popular Netflix TV series by the same name. This reviewer has only seen a few episodes of the TV show, but based on that i can say it's only loosely based on the book. For instance, where the book has virtually no sex at all, the TV show is mostly sex and lots of sensationalism. The reality of boredom and mundane prison life wouldn't make for a very interesting TV show.

On the positive side, Kernan humanizes the wimmin who she meets in prison, and gives their lives voice by pointing out the unjust drug sentences and devastating effects prison has on families. The TV show also provides a human face to its characters, when they aren't having sex or acting in some stereotypical role, but given the general portrayal of prisoners as evil and dangerous this is at least a small improvement. Of course, none of those wimmin get book deals, and for the most part they also don't have jobs lined up, or homes in New York bought by fiancées who visit religiously every week, along with hoards of other people who visit and write throughout their imprisonment. Kernan does admit her volume of mail greatly exceeds everyone else. And she spends a few pages reflecting on the fact that some wimminn she meets face lives on the outside just as difficult as their lives behind bars.

Part of humanizing the wimmin in Danbury's Federal Correctional Institution includes telling stories of their kindness towards fellow prisoners. In this regard the TV show overplays violence and conflict between the prisoners relative to the book. Kernan explains the deep friendships and support the wimmin offer each other in this minimum security prison, and overall she sees their humynity and does not try to portray Amerikan prisons as a place that is offering any rehabilitation or value for prisoners.

Both the book and the TV show condemn the prison guards for their brutality and degradation of the prisoners. The reality of Kernan's experience in the book does describe some guards who clearly enjoy their sadistic power, and overall she maintains a strong anti-pig position even when someone is cutting her a break.

Overall this book doesn't contribute much to those seeking to understand the conditions in prison and fight the criminal injustice system. It advances the finances and career of one well-off white womyn, and if anything we learn that prisons are built to lock up poor people, mostly from oppressed nations, and imprisonment of people like Kernan is a fluke that rarely happens and registers little damage to their lives.

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[Organizing] [Theory] [MIM(Prisons)] [ULK Issue 39]
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MIM(Prisons) July 2014 Congress Report

MIM Logo Burn Flag

MIM(Prisons) conducted our annual congress in July to sum up our work for the year, learn from our mistakes and build on our successes. We affirmed our strategic direction and came away with some shifts in our tactical work based on experiences over the past year and proposals from our comrades. This report sums up the decisions of interest that can be shared publicly.

Under Lock & Key (ULK) is our primary educational and organizing tool, and the main way that we retain contact with our readers behind bars. We will continue to lead theoretically through this publication with expanded analysis of economic issues and international content. This is important because we understand the value of prison-based reporting and organizing information, but must not lose sight of our role as a Maoist organization. Keeping the internationalist orientation of our work, and providing analysis based in communist theory, is critical to the goal of MIM(Prisons). We are working to develop more writers behind bars who can also contribute at this level, and we still value our field correspondents who report on what's going on in their prison or state.

In our focus to lead theoretically we have set a goal of finishing the upcoming book on the [email protected] nation by the end of this year. [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztlán is a collaborative writing effort representing several emerging Maoist voices in the [email protected] movement. There is a need for Maoist literature and leadership in the hotly contested struggle of [email protected] and migrants against Amerikan repression, especially in the new context of multiculturalism and widespread wealth throughout the United $tates. We aim to get the ball rolling on that contemporary theory development with the release of this book. Prisoners interested in receiving a copy should write now to request one.

Because we are a prison-focused cell, anti-censorship is a very important battle for MIM(Prisons) and United Struggle from Within (USW). Censorship is a primary and effective tool used by the criminal injustice system to cut prisoners off from the broader anti-imperialist struggle, and it is implemented illegally and arbitrarily against our literature. Censorship can stop folks from receiving important educational materials and in the extreme case it completely shuts down our communication in states where all of our mail is stopped.

Last congress we decided to target certain states for anti-censorship campaigning, and we had success with this tactic, especially in North Carolina, California and Missouri. In the censorship chart you can see what states had victories, bans in particular facilities, and overall statewide bans. The chart may appear misleading in that a ban might only directly impact a handful of subscribers. But still, even those few subscribers could multiply into a movement if given half a chance. On the flip side, there may be no censorship reported in a state that actually does have censorship or a ban; we just don't know about it yet. Facilities where our mail was banned over the past year were Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility, Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Elkton, FCI Talladega, U.S. Penitentiary Atwater, Rutledge State Prison in Georgia, Sheridan Correctional Center in Illinois, Ely State Prison in Nevada, Riverview Correctional Facility in New York, State Correctional Institution (SCI) Fayette and SCI Waymart in Pennsylvania, and Central Utah Correctional Facility. This is SCI Waymart's second year banning MIM material, and Central Utah Correctional Facility's third!

2014 Censor Chart Full

This year we made a number of commitments around censorship battles that should improve our ability to respond quickly and resolve them from the outside. We do not have the resources to fight every censorship incident, so we prioritize assisting subscribers who are also engaging in this battle from behind bars. You can request our guide to fighting censorship if you don't have it already. The basic advice is to appeal all censorship, and appeal it to the highest level. Send us copies of censorship notifications and inform us when any mail we've sent has been rejected. Censorship battles are sometimes won on just the first appeal, but others require much paperwork and persistence. Also tell us all the mail you receive from us, whether it was censored initially or not.

We decided to push our anti-censorship work in support of the W.L. Nolen Mentorship Program (WLNMP), based out of Pelican Bay State Prison in California. This mentorship program is committed to providing one-on-one guidance to people on the outside who are interested in New Afrikan liberation and fighting injustice. A comrade in MIM(Prisons) attempted to participate in this program hself, but h participation was squashed at the outset. Pelican Bay officials claim the WLNMP is a Security Threat Group, related to the Black Guerilla Family. Since we're prevented from participating in the mentorship program directly, we've decided to instead help fight censorship of the program. We will continue reporting on the development of this program in ULK and on our website.

United Struggle from Within (USW) is the MIM(Prisons)-led organization for prisoners. This is the group through which we build campaigns and educational programs behind bars. California and Texas are usually heavily represented in USW membership, and this year we had an influx in the Southeast and Midwest United $tates. In the coming year we will expand our focus on states where we have active comrades, and help those comrades build new campaigns relevant to their local conditions. In practice this means that we have identified the most active states and will be focusing our work there to bring together individuals from different prisons with the goal of building unified campaigns and a broader state-wide movement.

In addition to our focus on more active states, MIM(Prisons) is working to improve the ways we engage people to make sure no lone comrades fall through the cracks due to censorship or just from being locked up in a relatively inactive state. We are going to pay special attention to those who stay in touch and do work.

Alongside our commitment to develop prisoner leaders and activists, we recognize the need to continue supporting our comrades once they are released from prison. The MIM(Prisons) Re-Lease on Life program will be focused on this year, in an effort to address some issues our released comrades have struggled with. In the coming year we are going to research the possibility of setting up a more intensive release program. This is something that will take significant time and resources, and we will only be able to offer it to those committed to a life of political activism. As we develop the program we will reach out to eligible individuals to work out a release plan. In the meantime, make sure we know when you have a release date coming up in the next few years so we can start planning now.

We considered a proposal from a USW comrade to use prisoner-created revolutionary art for fundraising, and to spread revolutionary culture in prisons and on the street. We are going to take up parts of the proposal that are within our means at this time. In the coming months we are going to initiate a project to create revolutionary greeting cards for sale on the streets and for use behind bars. The proceeds of this project will be used to fund the creation of a revolutionary prisoner art zine, which we will distribute on the streets. Any profits from that zine will be used to fund a culture project to be selected by the contributing prisoner artists. Anyone can donate art to this project by sending in your submissions to the address on page 1! Even if you aren't an artist yourself, you can help spread and build this cultural project in your facility. Write in for more information.

We are pleased to report that our work has expanded in many ways over the last year, and we expect additional expansion based on the plans and resources we have in place for the coming year. In solidarity with all genuine anti-imperialist forces world-wide, we continue moving forward!

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