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Under Lock & Key

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[Release] [ULK Issue 23]
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MIM(Prisons)'s Re-Lease on Life Program

Helping Prison Activists Stay Active on the Streets

MIM(Prisons) has spent years trying to build the Re-Lease on Life program for prisoners coming back to the streets. Our goal is to help prisoner activists stay politically active when they are no longer incarcerated. An important component of this is helping our comrades to set up stable life situations that won't lead them back to prison. As most of our readers know, this is very challenging, demonstrated by the recidivism rate of 43% within the first 3 years post-release in Amerika.(1)

While in prison, people have a unique opportunity of having much time on their hands to study and engage in political organizing. While prison oppression certainly interferes with daily life, the structure of prison and this same oppression enables and in fact encourages political activism. When prisoners are released they face the difficulties of meeting their basic necessities, and dealing with people in random and complex settings, often after years of isolation. And with discrimination against people with a prison record, things like housing and a job can be very difficult to find. Consumed with day to day life issues, it becomes much more difficult for former prisoners to stay active on the streets.

As hard as those challenges are, the primary barrier to reaching our goal is preparing people mentally to deal with these challenges and prioritize serving the people. Even those with a stable home and support on the streets struggle to stay politically active. They are often pulled back into street life with their LO. Other times, their free time is taken up by friends and family who have an expectation of consuming free time with destructive behavior like alcohol, drugs, or just wasted time watching TV.

Part of MIM(Prisons)'s Re-Lease Program involves reaching out to prisoners well before they are expected to hit the streets, and working with them to build a study program and a release plan. If you hope to stay out of prison and support the struggle after you get released, having a strong political education is a vital piece for staying on track.

It is never too early to start preparing for continued activism outside the walls. We've seen too many solid politically active comrades disappear once they get out and are faced with the realities of getting by on the streets.

MIM(Prisons) has very limited resources and we cannot offer the kind of release support that is needed in the United $tates. Instead, we focus on working with our comrades who are active behind bars and who show a commitment to stay politically active when they hit the streets. This means we want to work with you now, both to satisfy some general study requirements, and put together a release plan that will help ease the transition to the streets. If you want our support, we need yours.

Requirements for participating in MIM(Prisons)'s Re-Lease on Life Program include:

  1. Creating a realistic post-release plan for both practical living needs and political involvement
  2. Participating in required study programs behind bars
  3. Undertaking political work while in prison
  4. Planning for both contact and political work once on the streets

Prisoners who do these things are offered our resources and support to help stay politically active and focused on the streets. Keep in mind that we can't offer housing or a job, but we can provide support, help finding resources, and most importantly a strong tie to maintain political sanity and activism.

We work with our comrades to develop a plan for what sorts of political work can be done after release. On the outside there is a lot more freedom to do political organizing, but it's also harder in some ways. There is no longer all the free time there was in prison, and there is not the same level of political interest among the people on the streets. And we know it's hard to walk away from the temptations or difficulties of street life.

This program needs help to expand. We need people who are expecting release in the next few years to get in touch with us to work on a release plan. And we are collecting stories from our comrades who have been out and back in about the challenges they faced trying to stay politically active on the streets. This will be the focus of an upcoming issue of Under Lock & Key, so send us your submissions soon!


Notes:
1. State of Recidivism, The Revolving Door of America's Prisons, Pew Center on the States, April 2011 Report on recidivism for prisoners release in 2004.

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[Control Units] [ULK Issue 23]
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NY Bar Association Report: Supermax Isolation = Torture

"The Brutality of Supermax Confinement"
New York City Bar Committee on International Human Rights
September 2011

This report addressed the dramatic growth of "supermax" confinement facilities in the United $tates over the past three decades and highlights the conditions of torture and violations of domestic and international law. As an introduction to long-term isolation in U.$. prisons, and an overview of relevant laws and cases, this report is an excellent resource.

The report cites estimates that 80,000 prisoners "...endure conditions of extreme sensory deprivation for months or years on end, an excruciating experience in which the prisoner remains isolated from any meaningful human contact." Articles in Under Lock & Key regularly testify to this torture that prisoners face in long-term isolation. The authors point out that estimates are widely varying and total numbers of people in supermax is not known. MIM(Prisons) has conducted our own survey to collect statistics on prisoners in control units and we estimate there are close to 110,000 prisoners currently in long-term isolation.

The authors correctly conclude about these torturous conditions: "The policy of supermax confinement, on the scale which it is currently being implemented in the United States, violates basic human rights." Though MIM(Prisons) would question how this policy would be ok if the scale was smaller. This "scale" caveat is possible because the authors fail to address the system that determines who gets locked up in isolation and why they are put there.

As a part of an overview of relevant legal cases and laws, the report notes that the courts have failed to address this torture, which the authors consider a violation of the Eighth Amendment: "As long as a prisoner receives adequate food and shelter, the extreme sensory deprivation that characterizes supermax confinement will, under current case law, almost always be considered within the bounds of permissible treatment." They demonstrate some of the legal difficulties in proving an Eighth Amendment violation, including the added legal burden of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) which requires prisoners to show physical injury before bringing an action for injury suffered in custody.

The authors describe how supermax confinement violates international law based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights, the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention Against Torture, among others. They note that international law has not been a factor for U.$. courts in these cases and call for change in this regard.

The report concludes with the following recommendations:


1. The provision in the PLRA providing that inmate plaintiffs may not recover damages "without a prior showing of physical injury" should be repealed;
2. Prisoners with serious mental illness should never be subjected to supermax confinement;
3. Conditions of extreme isolation and restriction should be imposed only when an extremely serious threat to prison safety has been established, and even in such circumstances supermax confinement should be for the shortest time possible and inmates should be afforded due process, and an opportunity to contest the confinement and appeal;
4. Any form of segregated housing should provide meaningful forms of mental, physical and social stimulation; and
5. A national task force should be established to promptly report on the numbers of inmates being held in supermax confinement in state and federal prisons and their conditions of confinement, and to propose further legislative and administrative reforms.

As humynists, we say long-term isolation is torture and it should be abolished immediately. And as we've discussed elsewhere, we disagree with point 2 as a campaign in that it justifies the use of torture against the strongest resisters while misconstruing the real relationship between long-term isolation and mental illness.

If implemented, the Committee's recommendations would certainly reduce the number of prisoners suffering in long-term isolation, and are therefore progressive recommendations for a Bar Association that works within the injustice system that uses supermax confinement as a tool of social control. But this very system, which they point out has demonstrated its willingness to ignore the law and act outside of standards of common decency set out by the Eighth Amendment, certainly cannot be trusted to determine "when an extremely serious threat to prison safety has been established."

The authors ignore the broader context of supermax confinement and its use in the United $tates. As we report in an article on the history of control units: "The truth behind the reasons these control units are needed is they are a means of political, economic and social control of a whole class of oppressed and disenfranchised people. These include especially African, Latino and indigenous people who are a disproportionate part of control unit populations." Prisons in the United $tates are a breeding ground for resistance to the system that unjustly locks up segments of its population, and supermax units are required to further control the inevitable education and organizing that takes place among those who come face to face with the criminal injustice system.

While this report is useful for both the legal citations and the study of the harms caused by long-term isolation, it is important that we put it in the broader context of the criminal injustice system and understand that supermax torture cannot be reformed away within this system. We hope to make some significant improvements which will have a particular impact on the lives of our politically active comrades behind bars who are targeted for lockup in these isolation cells. And in that battle we unite with the NY Bar Association and many others who clearly see the injustice and inhumanity of supermax isolation.

Prisoners interested in a copy of this report should contact the New York City Bar Association at 42 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036.

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[Economics] [ULK Issue 23]
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Newsflash: Amerikans are the Top 13 Percent

infographic on the 99% occupy wall street - the real percentages

Recent demonstrations in U.$. cities have claimed to represent "the 99%" opposed to the greed of the richest 1%. MIM(Prisons) supports a more equitable distribution of the world's resources. What most Amerikans don't realize is that a true redistribution of wealth would mean less for them as they are all part of the richest 13%.

In 1970 an action similar in form to Occupy Wall Street! (OWS!) occurred in response to the assassination of students at Kent State University. In response, a local union rampaged through the street beating the students and attacking state offices. Reflecting on this event, a radio host implied OWS! was evidence of progress, measured by the union support it has received.

The material conditions of the U.$. invasion of Vietnam forced Amerikan youth at that time to take a more progressive position than today, leading them to come at odds with white nationalist unions. The OWS! actions are even more within the realm of white nationalism than the so-called "Battle in Seattle" in 1999 where anarchists and environmentalists linked arms with unions to oppose the World Trade Organization. Only the likes of MIM and J. Sakai recognized the reactionary white nationalism that anti-WTO sentiments were being focused into within the Amerikan context. Yet, at least the anarchists had a healthy dose of internationalism motivating them back then.

With OWS! the principal cry is "defend the Amerikan middle class." While anarchists are attracted to the form (spokes councils and consensus open to "the people") the content is hopelessly white nationalist. It is the exact type of rhetoric that the social democrats of post-depression Europe spit that led to the rise of fascism in many countries.(1) When the privileged nations of the world feel their privilege is threatened they become uncharacteristically politicized in their demands for more. They attack the ultra-rich in order to create the illusion that they are poor in comparison. But facts are stubborn things, and the interests of Amerikans lead them to cry for the ultra-rich to defend Amerikan jobs and back the massive lines of credit they have taken out. Both demands are incompatible with the struggle for migrant rights, which has been in vogue among the white nationalist left in recent years.

MIM always said if real economic hard times hit the imperialist countries, we would see a rise of fascism more than an interest in Maoism. We say this not to instill fear and arouse emotions but to promote a realistic assessment of conditions. Amerikan youth are the ones who put their bodies on the line in Seattle and now in New York and elsewhere. Because of the decades of life they have ahead of them, young people have more interest than their parents in transforming this world to a more equitable one. But to do so they must see things for what they are and get behind the real forces for progressive change.

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[Political Repression] [Control Units] [California] [ULK Issue 23]
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CDCR Responds with More Group Punishment, Isolation, and Gang Charges

hunger strike petty demands
In an attempt to quell resistance, the above list of
petty actions have been approved according to a memo from the CDCR.
As thousands of prisoners wrap up day five of round two of the California Food Strike, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has stepped up its repression and propaganda in response to prisoners' demands for basic humyn rights. They have even declared it a punishable offense to peacefully campaign the state for these rights by refusing state-issued food.

The bourgeois press has been repeating the CDCR's ridiculous claim that if prisoners went on strike again it might delay reforms in the SHU system. Their audacity is laughable. We all know the strike is nothing but a scapegoat, and not the cause of their "delay."

Meanwhile, they have indicated that they will make conditions worse on three main points of the original Five Core Demands. All three points address the systematic repressiveness of the whole California prison system.

  1. MORE GROUP PUNISHMENT - Not only has the CDCR threatened that reforms will be slowed down by another round of hunger striking, but they have implied that non-striking prisoners will also lose their programming as a result.(1) This is in direct contradiction to the first demand.

  2. MORE SECURITY THREAT GROUPS - While the prisoners have demanded an end to the arbitrary and secretive system of giving people endless sentences in the Security Housing Units (SHU, long-term isolation) for "gang affiliation," the CDCR has publicly discussed broadening the "Security Threat Group" category to include street organizations. This will mean more people in SHU for indeterminate sentences.

  3. MORE LONG-TERM ISOLATION - The third demand calls for an end to the torturous practice of long-term isolation. While the state has continued to assert that these practices are constitutional based on court rulings, they have promised to send more prisoners to Administrative Segregation and SHU just for participating in the hunger strike!

As laid out in the Five Core Demands, these are parts of a system of oppression that affects all prisoners. While comrades in SHU have the drive to put it down hardest because of their living conditions, the CDCR is making it clear that the implications will affect the whole system.

Even the reforms offered in the Gang Management Policy Proposal of 25 August 2011 allow the continued practice of keeping the most progressive and politically active prisoners in isolation indefinitely.(2) While this would put California more in line with what is done in most other parts of the country, it is hardly progress. This proposal highlights the political nature of the injustice system.

Even the Eight Short-term Action Items affecting prisoners in Security Housing Units listed in a 27 September 2011 CDCR memo(3) may not be granted to prisoners refusing to eat state-issued meals. They hope that by granting the more petty demands that they can break up the unity of California prisoners, convincing some to give up while they are ahead. The unreasonable actions of the CDCR during this whole conflict should convince any prisoner that such a move would be a mistake. There is no indication that California will be reducing its repression, and every indication that it hopes to heighten Amerika's war on oppressed nations.


Notes:
(1) CDCR Memo re: INMATE PROGRAMMING EXPECTATIONS RELATIVE TO HUNGER STRIKES 27 September 2011

State of California

Memorandum

Date September 27, 2011

To All CDCR Inmates

Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Subject- INMATE PROGRAMMING EXPECTATIONS RELATIVE TO HUNGER STRIKES

Information has been received that a number. of inmates have engaged in behavior consistent with initiating a demonstration/hunger strike event. The Department will not condone organized inmate disturbances. Participation in mass disturbances, such as hunger strikes or work stoppage will result in the Department taking the following action:

Inmates participating will receive disciplinary action in accordance with the California Code of Regulations.

Inmates identified as leading the disturbance will be subject to removal from general population and placed in an Administrative Segregation Unit.

In the event of a mass hunger strike, additional measures may be taken to more effectively monitor and manage the participating inmates' involvement and their food/nutrition intake, including the possible removal of canteen items from participating inmates.

All inmates are encouraged to continue with positive programming and to not participate in this or any other identified mass strike/disturbance. These types of disturbances impact inmate programming and day-to-day prison operations for the entire population. While every effort will be made to continue normal programming for nonparticipating inmates, a large scale disturbance of this type will unavoidably impact operations. The Department will notify inmates and families when and if normal programming is impacted.

SCOTT KERNAN Undersecretary (A), Operations

cc: Terri McDonald George J. Giurbino R. J. Subia Kelly Harrington Tony Chaus Wardens

(3) CDCR Memo re: REVIEW OF SECURITY HOUSING UNIT AND GANG POLICIES 27 September 2011

State of California

Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Memorandum

Date : September 27, 2011

To : All CDCR Inmates

Subject: REVIEW OF SECURITY HOUSING UNIT AND GANG POLICIES

In May 2011 the Department began the complex process of assessing the policies and procedures associated with the Gang Validation Process, Indeterminate Gang Security Housing Unit (SHU) Program, as well as privileges associated with inmates on Indeterminate SHU status. The purpose of the review is to improve our policies by adopting national standards in gang/disruptive group management. Before commencing this review, the Department received input from internal and external experts, other state and federal correctional systems, inmates, and other stakeholders While the process of policy review and change will take several more stakeholders to implement, much has already been done. In fact, a draft of the new policy should be ready for stakeholder review next month. In addition, several changes have already been made by the Department, including:

Short-term Action Items:

  1. Authorization of watch caps for purchase and State issue. Authorization of wall calendars for purchase in canteen.

  2. Authorization of exercise equipment in SHU yards (installation of permanent dip/push-up bars is still under review).

  3. Authorization of annual photographs for disciplinary free inmates. Approval of proctors for college examinations.

  4. Use of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's (CDCR) Ombudsman for monitoring and auditing of food services.

  5. Authorization of sweat pants for purchase/annual package.

  6. Authorization of Hobby items (colored chalk, pen fillers, and drawing paper).

Mid-term Action Items:

As noted above, the Department is conducting a comprehensive review of SHU policies that includes behavior-based components, increased privileges based upon disciplinary free behavior, a step down process for SHU inmates, and a system that better defines and weighs necessary points in the validation process. The initial policies will be completed shortly and upon Secretary approval will be sent for stakeholder review and comment. Upon receipt of this input, the Department will initiate any regulation changes in the administrative law process necessary and implement the first major changes to the validation process in the last two decades. Of course this work may be delayed by large-scale inmate disturbances or other emergency circumstances.

SCOTT KERNAN Undersecretary (A), Operations

cc: Terri McDonald George J. Giurbino R. J. Subia Kelly Harrington Tony Chaus Wardens

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[Campaigns] [Organizing] [United Front] [Pelican Bay State Prison] [California] [ULK Issue 22]
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No Real Change, Hunger Strike Continues

Pelican Bay Food Strike - Isolation Sucks

On September 26, prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison will resume their indefinite hunger strike after 2 months of hiatus, during which they negotiated with the state. The strike began on July 1, sweeping across California, and was put on hold by organizers on July 21, after 3 full weeks of fasting. Multiple prisoner negotiators from Pelican Bay have confirmed that Scott Kernan of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) promised the 5 demands would be met, but that they needed 2 to 3 weeks to comply. That window of time has long since passed, and comrades are gearing up for what promises to be a longer stretch with no food.

In a statement from one strike leader announcing the September 26 restart, he stated:

I appreciate the time and love you all have given to us and you can believe that we will not yield until justice is achieved. We went into this trying to save lives, if possible, but we see now that there will have to be casualties on our side and we all know that power concedes to no one without demands.(1)

On August 23, state legislator Tom Ammiano headed a hearing on conditions in California's SHUs and on the validation process that gets people placed there. It echoed previous hearings that did not stop torture in the SHU. He promised he would push the issue further than it has gone in the past, but like the reforms given by the CDCR, this is too little too late as comrades who have faced decades in these torture cells take this struggle to the next level.

The Truth About the Negotiations

The strike didn't end over some beanies and calendars. Letters that came from the leaders after the message was sent that the strike ended were very clear that they were only giving the state time to meet their demands before they would restart the food strike. Those in D-Corridor and other SHU prisoners aren't done yet.

The initial story that came out of limited communications between the inside and outside negotiation teams was that the strike had ended, period, in return for beanies, calendars, proctored exams and a promise to investigate the major complaints of the strikers. The extreme limits put on the outside negotiation team, who were only granted access to the strikers on a couple brief occasions, allowed the state to control how the negotiations were portrayed. As a result, many across the state were let down by the misleading reports that first came out, because the strikers had pledged to strike until all 5 demands were met.

It has since come to light that Scott Kernan circulated a fake version of the five demands,(2) and that prisoners received notices that they had broken the rules by organizing against the abuse that they face and that they will face "progressive discipline" in the future for similar actions. The latter contradicts CDCR Spokeswoman Terry Thorton who stated on record, "There are no punitive measures for inmates refusing to eat."(3) In typical repressive fashion, the state responds to complaints of torture committed by state employees with outlawing any form of protest by the victims. It just goes to show that their efforts to maintain "security" have nothing to do with safety and everything to do with social control.

It's also important to note that the best public offer coming from the state right now is that they might move away from gang affiliation charges and focus on actual rule violations as justification for throwing someone into a torture chamber. Within U.$. prisons the First Amendment is generally ignored and any form of expression or organizing not sanctioned by the state is considered against the rules. But even this reform has been on the table for a long time with no action. According to the 2004 Castillo court decision, which took 8 years to litigate, the CDCR committed to providing logical justification that evidence used to put someone into SHU was criminal in nature. Yet nothing has changed, as the lead attorney on the case, Charles Carbone, asserted at the August 23 hearing.

As Carbone pointed out, with exasperation, we already went through the whole song and dance of having hearings around the SHU with Senator Gloria Romero and the United Front to Abolish the SHU years ago. Another testifier at this year's hearing made testimony in the 70s and 80s about the detrimental effects of isolation, but they still went on to build Pelican Bay State Prison. It is clear that the state sees the SHU as an important tool of social control and cares nothing for the destruction they cause to oppressed people.

Scott Kernan was very clear at the hearing that the CDCR would continue with the debriefing process, using confidential informants, and that they will not allow prisoners to appeal secret evidence used against them. He also said gang validations will likely continue to bring indeterminate SHU sentences. Kernan did not stick around for the public comments, and remaining CDCR staff were not given an opportunity to respond when a public commenter asked when the 5 demands would be put down in writing, after Kernan promised it would only take 2 to 3 weeks.

Lessons in Organizing

Through this process we are all learning how to organize in our conditions and what limits we face.

One of the successes of the California hunger strike was the demonstration of United Front to the masses, which inspired many to the possibilities of prison-based organizing. We do not know the details of how groups coordinated on the inside around the strike, but we do know that many groups would not be willing to sacrifice their independence to others, and yet they worked together. This example should be followed by those on the outside. We need to recognize the strength that comes in uniting all who can be united at any given time on the most pressing issues that we face. Coalition organizing strategies have held back support by not allowing a diversity of voices to come out in unity in support of the hunger strike.

Having outside pressure during a food strike is crucial to ensuring that the state just does not let prisoners die, as they are more than willing to do if there isn't too much noise about it. Outside organizations also played an important role in spreading word about the hunger strike that was initiated by some of the most isolated people in the whole state. But, ultimately, the state controls our communication with prisoners. Despite all the work put in by the coalition to develop an outside negotiation team, the only role the state allowed them to play was to announce when the strike had ended and ensure that everyone knew to stop. The state realized that a memo from the CDCR was not going to be convincing. Other than this, the negotiation team was not allowed any access to the prisoner negotiators.

In ULK 21, we made it sound like the strike was over for beanies, calendars and proctors and some empty promises of change. This was the information coming from the outside negotiating team and the best information anyone seemed to have. Frustration with the outcome immediately started coming in and we fear that disillusionment may have followed. But this is what the SHU is designed for. This is why SHU inmates can't call people on the outside. This is why the press is not allowed in California prisons. Misinformation would be much harder to spread otherwise. So overcoming these barriers is part of what we need to learn here.

We need to learn to build protracted and sustainable battles. There are no quick fixes, and prisoners can't rely on the mainstream press or outside organizations to come in and rescue them. Recently, Pelican Bay censored MIM(Prisons)'s study pack on organizational structure. They recognize the importance of such information for prisoners to really get organized and exert their rights. As much as they want to label us a "security threat group" for doing it, MIM(Prisons) continues to struggle for our right to support prison-based organizing. For it is the prisoners who have the drive and determination to make the changes that need to be made to end this oppressive system.

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[Campaigns] [Pelican Bay State Prison] [California] [ULK Issue 22]
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La Huelga Continuá el 26 de Septiembre

El 26 de septiembre, los presos en Pelican Bay State Prison volverá a su huelga de hambre indefinida después de 2 meses de receso, durante el cual negoció con el Estado. La huelga se inició el 1 de julio, barriendo a través de California, y se dejó en suspenso por los organizadores el 21 de julio. Negociadores de presos múltiples de Pelican Bay han confirmado que Scott Kernan del Departamento de Correcciones y Rehabilitación de California (CDCR) prometió que las 5 demandas serían satisfechas, pero que necestiban 2-3 semanas par cumplir. Esta ventana de tiempo ha pasado hace tiempo, y los compañeros se están preparando para lo que promete ser un tramo más largo sin comida.

En el 23 de agosto, el legislador Tom Ammiano encabezó una audiencia sobre las condiciones de los SHU de California y el proceso de la validación que se coloca la gente allá. Se hizo un eco de audiencias previas que no paró la tortura en el SHU, pero prometió que empujara el tema más que había ido en el pasado.

La huelga no terminó sobre algunos gorritos y calendarios. Las cartas que vinieron de los líderes después de la mensaje que la huelga terminó eran muy claras que sólo daban el estado tiempo para cumplir con sus demandas antes de que recomenzarían la huelga de hambre.

Necesitamos aprender construir las batallas prolongadas y sostenibles. No hay ningunos soluciones rápidos, y los presos no pueden fiar en la prensa y las organizaciones ajenos para salvarles. Recientemente, Pelican Bay censuró el paquete de estudiar de MIM(Prisons) sobre la estructura organizacional. Reconocen la importancia de tal información para los preso realmente organizarse y ejercer sus derechos. Por tanto que quieren clasificarnos como un grupo de amenaza a la seguridad por hacerlo, MIM(Prisons) continua luchar por nuestro derecho a apoyar a la organización basada en la prisión. Porque son los presos que tienen la motivación y la determinación hacer los cambios que deben hacerse para terminar este sistema opresivo.

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[Organizing] [Political Repression] [ULK Issue 22]
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Lessons from an Imprisoned Panther

Marshall Law Eddie Conway

Marshall Law: The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black Panther
by Marshall "Eddie" Conway and Dominique Stevenson
AK Press, 2011
674-A 23rd Street
Oakland, CA 94612

This short autobiography by political prisoner Marshall (Eddie) Conway is not so much a story about the Baltimore Black Panthers as it is a brief history of prison-based organizing in the state of Maryland. Having spent almost all of his adult life in prison after being framed for killing a cop in 1970, this makes sense.

Panthers, Popularity and the Pigs

Knowing first-hand the extent of repression that was put on the Black Panther Party from a very early stage, the biggest lesson we get from the early years of Conway's political life are about how to recruit and organize in a country that is crawling with pigs. He points out that of the 295 actions that COINTELPRO took against Black Power groups from 1967 to 1971; 233 targeted the Panthers.(p.51) He later points out that while Muhammed Speaks was regularly allowed in prisons, The Black Panther had to be smuggled in.(p.98)

As the state clearly recognized the Maoism of the Black Panthers as much more effective in the fight for Black liberation than other movements at the time, they had agents planted in the organization from day one in Baltimore. One of the founding members in Baltimore, and the highest ranking Panther in the state, was exposed as an agent of the National Security Agency, while others worked for the FBI or local police.(p.48) Conway identifies the Panthers' rapid growth as a prime cause for its rapid demise, both due to infiltration and other contradictions between members that just had not been trained ideologically.(p.54) MIM(Prisons) takes it a step further in promoting an organizational structure where our effectiveness is not determined by the allegiances of our allies, but only by our work and the political line that guides it.

Persynal Life

Despite the seriousness with which he addresses his decades of dedicated organizing work, Conway expresses regret for putting his desire to free his people above his family. There is no doubt that oppression creates contradictions between someone’s ability to support their family directly and the system that prevents them from doing so. MIM(Prisons) is sympathetic with the young Conway, who put fighting the system first. Perhaps the most applicable lesson to take from this is for young comrades to seriously consider family planning and how that fits into one's overall plans as a revolutionary. It is just a reality that having an active/demanding family life is not conducive to changing the system.

Prison Organizing

This account of organizing in Maryland prisons is one example that famous events like the Attica uprising were part of a widespread upsurge in prison-based organizing across the country at the time. In a turning point for the prison movement, in 1971 Maryland prisoners began organizing the uniquely aboveground and legal United Prisoners Labor Union. The union quickly gained much broader support among the population than even the organizers expected.

While Conway notes that the young organizers on the streets often found partying more important than political work, he discusses deeper contradictions within the imprisoned lumpen class. At this time, illegal drugs were becoming a plague that prison activists could not find easy solutions to. While organizing the union, a new youth gang arose whose interest in free enterprise led them to work openly with the administration in "anti-communist" agitation among the population. As many gangs have become more entrenched in the drug economy (and other capitalist ambitions) competition has heightened the drive to conquer markets. The contradiction between the interests of criminal LOs and progressive lumpen organization is heightened today, with the criminal element being the dominant aspect of that contradiction.

Rather than outright repression, the easiest way for the guards to work against the union was to get less disciplined recruits to act out in violence. This point stresses the need for resolving contradictions among the masses before going up against the oppressor in such an open way. Education work among the masses to stress the strategy of organized action over individual fights with guards became an important task for union leaders.

Of course, the state could not allow such peacemaking to continue and the union was soon made illegal; leaders faced isolation and transfers. This eventually led us to where we are today where any form of prisoner organizing is effectively outlawed in most places and labeled Security Threat Group activity, in complete violation of the First Amendment right to association. There's a reason Amerikans allow the labor aristocracy to unionize and not the imprisoned lumpen. A year after the union was crushed, an escape attempt led to a riot in which the full destructive potential of the prison population was unleashed because there was no political leadership to guide the masses. That's exactly what the state wanted.

As a comrade in prison, intrigue is constantly being used against you by the state and you must takes steps to protect yourself. Conway tells a story about how one little act of kindness and his affiliation with the righteous Black Panthers probably saved his life. One major weakness of most LOs today is that they are rarely free of elements engaged in anti-people activity. As long as this is the case it will be easy for the state to set up fights and hits at will. Only through disciplined codes of conduct, that serve the people at all times, can such problems be avoided.

Many of the things Conway and his comrades did in the 1970s would seem impossible in U.$. prisons today. The government began aggressively using prisons as a tool of social control during that period of broad unrest in the United $nakes. Soon the state learned it had to ramp up the level of control it had within its prisons. This informed the history of the U.$. prison system over the last few decades. And with the vast resources of the U.$. empire, high tech repression came with a willing and well-paid army of repressers to run the quickly expanding system.

It is almost amazing to read Conway's story of Black guards, one-by-one, coming over to the side of the prisoners in a standoff with prison guards.(p.81) We don't know of anything like that happening today. As oppressed nationals of the labor aristocracy class have become commonplace in the U.$. injustice bureaucracy, we see national consciousness overcome by integrationism.

Also unlike today, where prisoners usually have to give any money they can scrape together to pay for their own imprisonment (ie. pay guards' salaries), profits from commissary in Maryland actually used to go to a fund to benefit prisoners and the communities they come from. But Conway tells of how the drug mob worked with the administration to eat up those funds, using some of it to sponsor a party for the warden himself!

The prison activists responded to this by setting up their own fund to support programs in Baltimore. That is true independent action, highlighting the importance of the fifth principle of the United Front for Peace. While all drug dealers are in essence working for the U.$. imperialists, this is even more true for those in prison who rely directly on state officials for the smooth operation of their business. Money is not decisive in the struggle for liberation; it is humyn resources: a politically conscious population that decides whether we succeed or we fail.

This review skims some of the main lessons from this book, but we recommend you read it for yourself for a more thorough study. It is both an inspiring and sobering history of U.$. prison organizing in the recent past. It is up to today's prisoners to learn from that past and write the next chapters in this story of struggle that will continue until imperialism is destroyed.

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