MIM(Prisons) sent another stack of letters in support of the prisoners on hunger strike across California to the so-called Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation with the cover letter below. There will also be a demonstration in support of the prisoners' demand outside of the CDCR office today:
Monday, July 18th 1-4PM Demonstration outside CDCR Headquarters. 1515 S. St. in Sacramento, CA
Warden Greg Lewis Pelican Bay State Prison P.O. Box 7000 Crescent City, CA 95531-7000
18 July 2011
Dear Warden Lewis,
Two weeks ago we sent dozens of letters from residents of California who are concerned for the welfare of the prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison. As the conditions outlined by the prisoners have still not been addressed by the CDCR we are sending additional letters of support (see enclosed). We are all aware that the conditions of many prisoners are becoming critical and we urge you to take immediate action to remedy the conditions. The conditions addressed by the prisoners demands are in no way conducive to rehabilitation and no one should have to die for these basic requests.
We have also forwarded copies of these letters to CDCR Internal Affairs and CDCR Office of the Ombudsman.
Sincerely, MIM Distributors P.O. Box 40799 San Francisco, CA 94140
We rely on information directly from prisoners and returned mail to track our censorship. For the 2011 reporting year, only 72% of all mail was not reported as censored or received. This is a big improvement from last year's 83% unreported mail status. We see two causes for this change. One is that we stopped giving everyone who wrote to us automatic 6 month subscriptions, and instead required confirmation of receipt (or censorship) of a sample issue of Under Lock & Key first. This not only reduced the amount of mail we sent in by 30% from last year, but pushed those who wanted Under Lock & Key to confirm receipt of the sample issue, doubling the amount of people reporting receiving ULK.
Another contributing factor to the high reporting rate is the institution of Unconfirmed Mail Forms, which is a short form we send out to encourage individuals to report the mail they've received. We primarily send these forms to people we suspect are experiencing censorship of our materials. Even if you don't receive one of these forms, you should still tell us everything you have gotten from us since the last time you wrote. Since we ask about the entire history of mail we've sent in, not just in this reporting year, the institution of the Unconfirmed Mail Forms (UMFs) has improved our stats on past years as well. In the last year we've improved the amount of mail unreported for the July 2010 Report from 83% to 78%. We plan to continue using UMFs to better assist in tracking our censorship.
Like we reported in MIM(Prisons) 2011 Congress Summary and Resolutions, in the past six months we have been focusing our resources on building cases and recruiting lawyers rather than writing letters to administrators. Most of the victories in the fight against censorship come from prisoners filing appeals and defending Under Lock & Key in hearings. MIM(Prisons) plays a supporting role in ensuring that the administrators know that someone on the outside is paying attention and publicizing their illegal actions. So while it is not of vital importance that we write these letters, it has still helped overturn censorship in enough cases that we find it worthwhile to pick up this task again.
A major victory was won against Dona Ana County Detention Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico this year. A prisoner won a partial settlement for censorship issues. The settlement names MIM Distributors and Under Lock & Key and is in favor of prisoners' rights to receive "copied" material. If you are experiencing censorship for copies, write in for this information.
Red Onion State Prison in Virginia has been notorious for censoring Under Lock & Key to the point where we haven't heard of our newsletter getting in since issue 5 (November 2008). The Final Call and Prison Legal News both won settlements in favor of getting their newsletters into Red Onion in recent months. Since the treatment of The Final Call and PLN was similar to the treatment of ULK, we are hoping that those settlements will impact how ULK is received at Red Onion. This is yet to be determined.
A reasonable expectation for our anti-censorship work is that when we win a victory in a state, we should either continue to have victories there or no longer experience censorship. Of course this expectation wouldn't apply if the conditions within the state change and become more repressive. In the cases of New York, Illinois and Colorado there have been victories in the past but only censorship without victories in this reporting year. In Illinois and Colorado, some victories have been connected to outside pressure put on by MIM(Prisons). This leads to the logical conclusion that victories would be more likely if we continued to apply this pressure.
In New York there doesn't seem to have been a connection between outside pressure and victories. Those reversals in censorship came strictly from the hard work of New York prisoners fighting for their own rights. We are unsure if the current lack of victories is due to a change in conditions in the NYDOCS or a lack of prisoners fighting censorship.
There is a hunger strike happening in Pelican Bay State Prison in California that is well under way. In June 2011 we heard word that our mail had recently started getting in just prior to the start of the strike after experiencing major censorship there for years. In the last year 44% of the mail we've sent into Pelican Bay has been confirmed as received (13% confirmed as censored), compared to the previous reporting year's 25% received (57% censored). Hopefully the hunger strike will be successful in granting people held in PBSP their five core demands, including an end to mail tampering.
While we try to win as many victories as possible through writing letters, if a facility or state won't follow the law, then it eventually becomes necessary to take them to court. Due to our limited resources and time, we encourage the prisoners affected by the censorship to fight the issue as far as they can. In Arizona we came to one of these brick walls related to the censorship of a study group assignment for "promot[ing] racism and/or religious oppression" without containing any words that refer to race or religion. We reported on this issue in Under Lock & Key 18 and are still struggling to find a lawyer that will take on this important case.
And yes, mailroom staff in California are still clinging to the 2006 memo banning MIM Distributors, which was nullified in a settlement between Prison Legal News and CDCR way back in 2008. Can you believe it? The California institutions that are still favoring this method of censorship are Deuel Vocational Institution and Pelican Bay State Prison.
In Salinas Valley State Prison in California, rather than citing the overturned memo, the Warden creatively assures us that the staff was new at the time and have now been retrained, or claim to simply not see mail from MIM Distributors arriving there. This is completely bogus considering we consistently send in ULKs every time there is a new issue, in addition to persynalized letters and other literature. When we called the Warden out on the fact that there was no change after the "new staff" was "retrained," he simply baselessly told us there is no censorship and "no evidence the mailroom staff are negligent in their duties or MIM Distributors mail was illegally tampered with as you claim." No shit, there's no evidence if you just throw the mail in the trash! While some mail gets into SVSP sometimes, they are still highlighted on our list of brick walls we are determined to break.
In Nebraska the ACLU has picked up on censorship of our materials and has been doing research, writing letters, and may eventually file a suit on behalf of MIM Distributors and the prisoners facing censorship. They have reviewed most if not all issues of Under Lock & Key and have determined that "the prison is violating both [MIM(Prisons)'s] First Amendment rights and the rights of the prisoners." We are excited to be working with the ACLU to hopefully set a precedent in Nebraska that protects people held there against censorship. We encourage any lawyers on the outside to follow their example and get with MIM(Prisons) to fight censorship in prisons!
Three weeks into the California Food Strike the CDCR has given it's official response, which can be summed up as "We'll look into it." On July 15, the CDCR made a proposal to the strikers at Pelican Bay to end the strike without promising any changes. The prisoners declined the offer and continued to fast, calling it "smoke and mirrors" and "insulting."(1) These guys are willing to die for basic rights they've been denied for years, decades for many, and CDCR comes to the table with nothing.
Our inquiries received similar canned responses from the Warden about "operating in full accordance to [all] law... while providing for the ethical, humane treatment of all prisoners." Even more outrageously, he claims they provide "the ability to safely program and actively participate in their rehabilitation." The strike is on because there are no programs or rehabilitation!
Those in close contact with the striking prisoners report that some in Pelican Bay who had stopped fasting have returned to the strike in response to the CDCR's negligence.(1) We've also received word from 4 comrades in the California Institution for Men in Chino that they have just begun a hunger strike in solidarity after getting news from MIM(Prisons).
Other recently received reports include that United Struggle from Within organized comrades in Kern Valley State Prison for a 24 hour food strike in solidarity. In High Desert State Prison, where the pigs were serving double the normal amount of food to prevent a hunger strike, a number of comrades didn't eat from July 1 thru 3rd. Whole sections of California State Prison - Corcoran are still on strike and doctors are coming in regularly to weigh the prisoners.
The CDCR is trying to blame the organizing of the statewide food strike in California prisons on gangs. Meanwhile, the liberal line being put forth in the bourgeois media is that activists dismiss such accusations. Somehow prisoners across California, and even those transferred out of state, participated in solidarity with the food strike on July 1. We know that MIM(Prisons) was one of many organizations with newsletters that contributed to spreading the word, but none of us initiated or did the groundwork to ensure the effectiveness of this campaign. CDCR Spokesperson Terry Thorton tried to explain this as an indication of "the reach and the influence that prison gangs have on other inmates." She went on to say, "It's one of the reasons we have a Security Housing Unit, to remove gang members influence on other general population inmates."(1)
The media is juxtaposing the pigs' assertions about gang leadership to the denials of activists to paint strike supporters as idealistic know-nothings. The prison bureaucrats make careers out of being experts on gangs and criminology, and they rely on the public to trust in their expertise to keep them "safe."
In reality, this pseudo-debate being played out in the media is painting an idealistic view of prison society that ignores history. The pigs know that groups allied to the Black Panthers and other national liberation movements used to lead the prison masses. They know because they broke that up, partly by using long-term isolation, and they encouraged oppressed nation groups with more criminal tendencies to develop with bribery and by turning a blind eye. Now they condemn the monsters they created to justify more repression.
The line MIM(Prisons) has been pushing since before the hunger strike began is in defense of the First Amendment right to association. While countless people have been placed into gangs they've never even heard of by state officials in California, there are many in the SHU who are not trying to fool anyone into thinking that they aren't members of a lumpen organization considered an enemy of the CDCR. This is evident in the statements of the strike leaders which talk about uniting all "races," including "northern" and "southern" Mexicans. Aztlán is one oppressed nation that the pigs have helped draw a line through by promoting criminal organizations that must compete. It is only the fascist conditions within California prisons that prevents prisoners from even being able to speak of their organizational ties.
When we say there are comrades in Pelican Bay SHU who are respected leaders of lumpen organizations, there is no criticism implied there. Some of those comrades have worked tirelessly to orchestrate a Peace Accord between the major divisions within the California prison population, among many other positive projects for their people, including the current campaign. The lie that is promoted by the "tough on crime" bourgeois media is that to be a member of a lumpen organization you must be an evil persyn. Just like they did for Tookie, there is no redemption for the lumpen under imperialism, even when they do more than anyone around them to change the world for the better.
Central to the demands of the striking prisoners is that the state cannot claim to abide by its own rules while it punishes people using secret evidence and petty charges like who they talk to or get mail from, what books they read or tattoos they have. The bureaucrats hide behind the presumed neutrality of the bourgeois courts to defend the torture they put these prisoners through.
The striking comrades are some of the individual oppressed nationals that the imperialists find the most threatening within their own borders. That is why they are being tortured in long-term isolation. Yet, by all indications, the state is going to let these brothers die rather than grant them Constitutional rights to association.
The oppressed nations are free to organize in this country, as long as it's on the Amerikans' terms. If not, then even talking about such organizations will get prisoners thrown in long-term isolation and will get supporters on the streets censored.
"Solitary confinement is not something that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations engages in," according to CDCR Spokesperson Terry Thorton.(1) According to our surveys, California has around 14,444 people in Control Units, defined as "permanently designated prisons or cells in prisons that lock prisoners up in solitary or small group confinement for 22 or more hours a day with no congregate dining, exercise or other services, and virtually no programs for prisoners." This is more people than any other state.
Thorton claims that prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison's Security Housing Unit (SHU) have access to cable TV, books, yard time, the law library, weekly visits with family, and correspondence courses.
Yes, it is true that prisoners can occasionally receive books through the mail, as long as they aren't by or about Blacks or Mexicans. If you're not in SHU yet, such books might be used to validate you as a gang member and throw you in SHU on an indeterminate sentence. Otherwise they are often just censored as "gang material."
Correspondence courses are occasionally allowed, too. But we've confirmed 35 incidents of study materials from a MIM(Prisons) correspondence course being censored in California, 15 of which were at Pelican Bay. We've also been told that a radio show that broadcasts to Pelican Bay was shut down there after broadcasting a correspondence course on a show popular among prisoners.
Interaction with family, inmates and staff is greatly exaggerated by Thorton. We've known comrades whose only physical contact with another humyn being for many years has been guards putting cuffs on their wrists. And while Thorton makes family visits out to be a regular thing, the distance to Crescent City, California for most families is the first barrier that makes visits rare at best. One family member who spoke with MIM(Prisons) at a table while we did outreach in support of the strike described how they went to visit their brother at Pelican Bay once and had to talk through a TV screen. They have not gone back since. Others who visit Pelican Bay talk about how their freedom of association is limited just as the prisoners' is. If they are seen speaking to the wrong persyn (another visitor) while going on visit they can be restricted or banned from coming back.
Thorton described "the two ways" one can get into SHU in California, painting prisoners as either violent attackers or mob bosses running organized crime. Yet, as those who were there when Pelican Bay was being conceived can attest, it was built in response to those who dared to organize and stand up for their rights as the thousands of prisoners who went on food strike across California have done. As prisoners continue to organize and move in a positive and united direction, it will become harder and harder for the state to paint the organizations of the oppressed as enemies that deserve any torture or punishment they receive.
The hunger strike is reaching critical stage for those who have pledged to strike indefinitely, especially the elder and ill. The CDCR still refuses to negotiate and the leaders of the oppressed locked in Pelican Bay continue to exert their leadership. Here is the latest report being circulated by a point persyn on the outside:
Tuesday 8:30 AM: According to a SHU nurse, things are bad at Pelican Bay. The prisoners have not been drinking water and there have been rapid and severe consequences. Nurses are crying. All of the medical staff has been ordered to work overtime to follow and treat the hunger strikers. As of Monday, there were about 50 on C-SHU and 150 on D-SHU. They are not drinking water and have decompensated rapidly. Some are in renal failure and have been unable to make urine for 3 days. Some are having measured blood sugars in the 30 range, which can be fatal if not treated. They have refused concentrated sugar packs and ensure. The staff has taken them to the CTC and given them intravenous glucose when allowed by the prisoners, but some won't accept this medical support. As of Monday, no one has been force fed with a nasogastric tube. A few have tried to sip water but are so sick that they are vomiting it back up. Some of the medical staff is freaked out because clearly some of these guys seem determined to die. Not taking the water is crushing the staff because the prisoners are progressing rapidly to the organ damaging consequences of dehydration.(1)
CDCR is reporting 800 prisoners continue to refuse food at 6 prisons.(2) However there are multiple reports of groups of prisoners joining the strike this week and even planning to join later in the month.
The campaign initiated July 1st by prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) against the torturous conditions of long-term isolation has received broad support going on for weeks now. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation [sic] (CDCR) has admitted that 6600 prisoners refused food trays last weekend across 13 of their 33 prisons.(1) Meanwhile, numerous organizations have organized demonstrations and mobilized support across the United $tates and Kanada leading up to and following the start of the hunger strike. Over five thousand people have signed an online petition pledging their support. Volunteers with MIM(Prisons) have interacted with thousands of people on the streets inside and outside of California with info on the hunger strike, gathering dozens of signed letters and a handful of donations.
According to CDCR 1,600 prisoners remain on food strike one week after the start.(2) The media is reporting a sharp drop in the number of prisoners refusing food in a tone that implies the strike is losing steam. But this is hardly the case. Many prisoners we've heard from outside of Pelican Bay only pledged to strike one or two days in solidarity. One reason for this is because it is hard for them to know when the strike ends or what is happening despite the efforts of outside supporters to send updates. Even in Pelican Bay many of those protesting specified the number of days they would fast beforehand. Only a minority of participants have pledged an indefinite strike until the demands are met. The rest of us work in solidarity with them until the end.
Despite all the noise being made, word from those organizing to mediate negotiations is that the CDCR is refusing to negotiate with strikers or mediators.(3) We know the CDCR has been talking to hunger strike organizers, but it seems that no resolution is in the works as of July 8.
We've seen the ripples of this campaign in our own work as we connect with many new people in California and reconnect with people who we have been cut off from by the state. We've also seen record traffic on our website with the hunger strike campaign page and the article featuring the prisoners' demands bringing in a lot of hits. This increase in readership is a direct result of the organizing of prisoners in California. However we must admit that a good chunk of the traffic is coming from state officials trying to gather intelligence from our reporting.
Donations we've collected so far are less than a tenth of the printing and postage expenses for outreach, mailing protest letters and sending communications to prisoners in California. As always, we can use donations of money and labor to keep up with this important work.
The hunger strike comes almost a year and a half after a formal complaint was filed with the governor of California regarding the torture and violation of Constitutional rights that prisoners face in Pelican Bay. After being ignored by official channels, they turned to outside supporters who came together and organized a press campaign and negotiation support. There was enough lead time that MIM(Prisons) was able to send campaign info to all of our California subscribers prior to the strike. We also hit the streets to gather signed letters of support and explain to people the importance of this struggle leading up to the strike.
A rally in San Francisco in June against the drug war featured the Pelican Bay prisoners' demands prominently. A comrade representing MIM(Prisons) spoke on the upcoming hunger strike, stressing that Pelican Bay was developed as a tool to repress political organizing in the California prison system and that those being targeted with indefinite SHU terms are largely leaders and influential people among the imprisoned oppressed nations. A former California prisoner also spoke about the torturous conditions in Pelican Bay, urging people to support the hunger strike.
During the march, supporters of the "Revolutionary Communist Party - USA" (rcp=u$a) were chanting, "Once we have the revolution, there'll be no mass incarceration!" Which revolution are they talking about? Even on a simple issue like opposing torture in prisons, rcp=u$a's idealist/chauvinist colors showed through. As we point out in every issue of Under Lock & Key, all Amerikans should be viewed as criminals who need to reform under the dictatorship of the proletariat. When the revolution finally hits U.$. soil there will likely be an increase in incarceration of U.$. citizens, as the majority of the world experiences freedom they have not seen for centuries. The difference is that proletarian prisons focus on reform and reintegration into society not torture and isolation as the imperialist system does.
The Campaign Continues
Once the strike began, MIM(Prisons) stepped up efforts to reach the public about the sacrifices and struggles of our comrades in prison. While comrades were able to reach visitors coming to CDCR prisons with fliers and letters of support, repression was reported from a few public spaces inside and outside California. In one case police forced comrades to leave for accepting donations without registering with the state, in others merely handing out fliers on public property got shut down. One police officer claimed that activists could not set up a table on a public sidewalk to solicit support for the strike, contradicting California laws and illegally shutting down our free speech. There are contradictions in a country that locks 100,000 of its citizens in isolation cells and prevents people from distributing leaflets in public space to support their struggle against torture. Their repression only strengthens resistance, and this campaign is a prime example of that. It is ludicrous to consider the label "free country" for a country that does not even provide equal access to political dialogue to all people.
In addition to talking to people on the street, comrades made efforts to reach people through independent media and art. MIM(Prisons) hosted a video clip on its website from the documentary Unlock the Box explaining the history of control units and how they were developed to repress those whose politics were in opposition to the state. Comrades also did outreach at hip hop shows and talked to a revolutionary Chicano group called BRWN BFLO who pledged active support to spreading the word about the hunger strike. Allies in the United $tates and Kanada hosted screenings of Unlock the Box as part of the campaign. Other organizations did interviews and programs on various radio shows.
Those doing outreach reported many interactions with people who had been in Pelican Bay State Prison, in some cases multiple people in the span of a couple hours. All strongly agreed with our criticisms of the conditions there. However, some people concluded that there was nothing that could be done, and that oppressed nations will always be treated this way.
There is a common attitude among current prisoners as well that struggling is useless. The SHU was invented to reinforce that idea. The best way to change those people's minds is by showing them the possibilities. We do that by fighting smartly, as these comrades in Pelican Bay have done resulting in people all over the world knowing about their fight. Serious, diligent organizing work is needed in our struggles for liberation, and basic rights such as the right of association, communication with the outside world and access to educational materials and programs. There are no quick fixes.
On this fourth day of July, Amerikans all across the country are celebrating their freedoms with beer and bangs. Yet in the same country there are more people locked in tiny cages for 22 to 24 hours per day, with little or no access to the outside world, than in any other country in the world. In Pelican Bay State Prison in California many are in such "control units" because of who they associate with, and they were put there based on secret evidence. For any student of the U.$. Constitution or the Bill of Rights it is obvious that the promised freedoms of Amerikkka are not granted to its internal semi-colonies.
Today we are sending dozens of signed letters from residents of California who share our concerns for prisoners forced to live in these torturous conditions and who support those in Pelican Bay engaging in a peaceful hunger strike.
Warden Greg Lewis Pelican Bay State Prison P.O. Box 7000 Crescent City, CA 95531-7000
5 July 2011
Dear Warden Lewis,
Included with this letter are dozens of letters from residents of California who are concerned for the welfare of the prisoners in Pelican bay State Prison. We are sending these letters to you in support of the prisoners on hunger strike. The letters are asking you to do all that is within your power to do to change the conditions in PBSP to meet the strikers' demands.
We have also forwarded copies of these letters to CDCR Internal Affairs and CDCR Office of the Ombudsman.
MIM Distributors P.O. Box 40799 San Francisco, CA 94140
To view a copy of the general letter that people signed, click here.
Please stop any abuses that are going on inside the prison complex. - Oakland, CA
Stop locking up prisoners who need other kinds of help (drug, etc.) P.S. Wasting my tax dollars 4 real! - Berkeley, CA
P.S. U.S. signed the Convention Against Torture. It has been ratified. It is the law of the land. Please do not violate our laws! Thanks. - Richmond, CA
Please attend to this!!! NOW! - Oakland, CA
I just don't understand how people in this day & time are still so devilish, when they got power & it's a very fucked up feeling because we are human beings & you all treat us like shit! -Oakland, CA
Dehumanizing prisoners is sickness; you are helping commit crimes against humanity by abuses and deprivation of basic rights and needs of prisoners. -Eureka, CA
In the letters to Warden Lewis, the California cities of Hercules, San Francisco, San Pablo, El Sobrante, Stockton, Napa, Chula Vista and Vacaville were also represented and supporters have forwarded letters they wrote from as far as BC, Canada.
A popular story in the bourgeois press this week gave an interesting side-by-side comparison of the lumpen in the United $tates to the Third World proletariat. The story came on the heels of new repressive practices targeting Latinos in the state of Georgia with immigration laws beginning July 1 of this year. For fear of deportation and imprisonment, both of which restrict their ability to work, migrant labor crews made up of Mexicans and Guatemalans are steering clear of Georgia. As a result fruit is rotting in the fields.(1) The story exposes the extreme parasitism of this country that cannot even harvest its own food. Amerikans are so rich and spoiled that the labor market cannot fill jobs paying above minimum wage if the work is too hard. If the labor market were free and open the jobs would fill up instantly, but Amerikans oppose this vehemently as they cannot maintain exploiter-level incomes without closed borders. In these times of economic crisis many of these parasites would have you believe that they are "struggling to put food on the table." As they let food literally rot in the fields, we see that just is not true.
To solve the relative labor shortage, the governor of Georgia turned to the population that sits somewhere between the foreign-born and the Amerikan in terms of citizenship rights — prisoners and the formerly incarcerated. Generally defined as the permanently unemployed, excluded from what Marxism calls the "relations of production," the lumpen class includes most prisoners by definition. There is a degree of continuity between the lumpen on the street and the imprisoned lumpen, but many get out of prison to join the petty bourgeois class that dominates this country.
One article cites the Georgia Department of Corrections as claiming that unemployment for all probationers in the state is only 15%, but the Governor's office reports that it is 25%.(2) While much higher than the overall rate of 10% in Georgia, this is still lower than most estimates for young Black male unemployment, and therefore suspiciously low considering that most job applications in the United $tates require you to declare whether you have been imprisoned or convicted of a felony, and this information is used against the applicant. Just looking at the 25% number might suggest that 75% of Georgia probationers have a greater continuity with the (employed) petty bourgeoisie than with a lumpen underclass. Yet recidivism rates in this country over 50% indicate that many of the alleged 75% with jobs will not be staying in the workforce for long. The majority of parolees will not remain in the workforce, but will cycle in and out of jail, prison, rehab, hustling and short-term employment.
While many former prisoners of the United $tates will never live the Amerikan dream, their ideology reflects that culture more than that of the working people of the world. One farmer in Georgia did a side-by-side comparison with a crew of probationers and a crew of migrant laborers and the migrants picked almost 6 times as many cucumbers.(1) Apparently the probationers didn't even bring gloves, and we assume most had no experience with this type of work, so there was certainly room for improvement. But the whole crew didn't even last a full day before quitting. The reports are vague about how many probationers actually lasted more than one day of work, but it was evidently a minority in this small sample.
In response to recruitment efforts for these jobs among U.$. citizens, one Black womyn in Georgia was reported to say, “The only people that would even think about doing that are people who have nothing else left... An educated black person does not have time for that. They didn’t go to school to work on a farm, and they’re not going to do it.”(3) We call those "who have nothing else left" the proletariat, and those who "[don't] have time [for hard work]" a parasitic class living off the labor of the proletariat. By virtue of living in the United $tates alone, even the lumpen have access to many resources through the highly developed infrastructure in this country: welfare programs, religious and charity organizations, and just living off of the excess and waste of the general population. Overall they are not driven to take the hardest jobs, and U.$. capitalists must look to the Third World for labor, even for production that is tied to U.$. soil and therefore pays exploiter-level wages. (Legally the jobs start at the minimum wage of $7.25, while piecework incentives allow the fastest pickers to make $20 an hour at one cucumber farm.(1) Of course, when only migrants without papers are working and the press isn't around it is common for agricultural work to pay well below the legal minimum wage.)
During the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR), in a country where a professor or shop owner was far poorer than the unemployed Amerikan, the Chinese had to actively combat the type of thinking epitomized in the petty-bourgeois womyn quoted above. Millions of petty-bourgeois Chinese went to the countryside to work and be re-educated. Many youth went happily, excited about building a new China, while many cried the whole time and went on to write books about it to explain to Amerikans why the GPCR was so horrible.
There are righteous reasons why a population of unemployed Blacks would be resistant to working at hard, lower-paying jobs while Amerikans around them are making much more for sitting around in air conditioning pushing paper, and we don't expect that to change under capitalism. That is why all U.$ citizens will require re-education to become productive members of society, from the poorest lumpen who despises working for the white man to the richest CEO whose income could support a large village.
Unlike other social services in the United $tates, public education is the only one where the quality of service you receive is directly impacted by the assessed value of property in your locality. Besides limited busing, there isn't a way around the fact that poorer neighborhoods have crappier schools. When attempts are made to resolve disparities between districts, the rich districts do all they can to resist the change. The obvious methods of spreading the existing money evenly to all districts, and dividing kids evenly across all schools, are seen as taking money away from the rich districts. The rich districts don't think the poor kids deserve the same level of education if it comes at their expense. Poor school districts are predominantly Black and Latino. Very few white kids have to try to get an education in a school that lacks books, desks, teachers, and in some cases even basics like toilets and heat. In 1991 statistics showed that some cities have per-pupil funding for the poorest district equal to only one fifth of the funding in the richest.(1)
"[A] circular phenomenon evolves: The richer districts - those in which the property lots and houses are more highly valued - have more revenue, derived from taxing land and homes, to fund their public schools. The reputation of the schools, in turn, adds to the value of their homes, and this, in turn, expands the tax base for their public schools. The fact that they can levy lower taxes than the poorer districts, but exact more money, raises values even more; and this again, means further funds for smaller classes and for higher teacher salaries within their public schools." Kids educated in poor districts can't compete with the education rich kids are getting by the time they are applying for college.(2)
In 1988, Eastside High School, in a poor and mostly Black and Latino district in Paterson, New Jersey gained some publicity and praise by former U.$. Education Secretary William Bennett and former President Ronald Reagan because the principal, Joe Clark, threw out 300 students in one day who he claimed were involved with violence or drugs. Clark often roamed the halls of his school with a bullhorn and a bat, and was featured on the cover of Time magazine. Two-thirds of those kids ended up in County Jail. Paterson even destroyed a library because it needed space to build a new jail.(3, 4) Joe Clark was an atypical high school principal, but his defense and support by the President and Education Secretary sent a clear invitation to other principals to adopt Clark's methods.
These facts show how public education is not intended to be, and does not function as, a force to uplift the oppressed nations within U.$. borders. Wealthy districts' protection of "their" tax dollars prove that they will not share their wealth without being forced to do so. The only way to equal education and employment opportunities for everyone is through socialist revolution, and eventually communism.
MIM(Prisons) has been steadily expanding our education efforts both in response to the lack of education afforded our readership, and because it is one of the most important forces we can utilize to advance revolution. Our primary task at this historical stage is to increase public opinion in favor of national liberation movements. And as we organize for revolution we must be sure we are following a correct path and not one that will lead to failure and setbacks. We determine this through our study of history and current conditions, and share these ideas with others through education. Much more could be done, and ultimately this effort should be picked up and spread by people on the inside, but we play a valuable supporting role.
One way MIM(Prisons) supports education behind bars is through our Serve the People Free Political Books for Prisoners Program. Prisoners who cannot afford to buy books can instead exchange revolutionary work for revolutionary literature. Our selection includes magazines and old newspapers from the Maoist Internationalist Movement; classic essays by Mao, Lenin, Marx, and others; history books about China under Mao and the socialist Soviet Union; materials by the Black Panthers and the Young Lords; and works by modern Maoist theorists. We encourage participants of the Free Books Program to share the lit with others, study it with them, and write to MIM(Prisons) with their questions or thoughts so we can better help them with their political education.
A more structured way MIM(Prisons) supports education behind bars is through the various study groups that we facilitate. There are two levels of introductory study groups that will help someone who is new to revolutionary thought, or who is already well-versed but wants to know more about MIM(Prisons)'s politics. Comrades who complete these courses, do not have a worked out line against MIM(Prisons), and are actively involved in some kind of writing work will be invited to join the Under Lock & Key Writers group. This group participates in a higher level of study and discussion, and participants use their knowledge to contribute articles to Under Lock & Key and other anti-imperialist projects.
In the past several years we have put together over a dozen study packs for comrades to use on their own, or in correspondence with MIM(Prisons). We especially encourage people to form study groups inside their prison using these study packs as a guide. Some study pack topics include: strategy (focused on MIM Theory 5), organizational structure, culture (focused on MIM Theory 13), False Nationalism, False Internationalism, fascism, and more. We send these study packs to people whose letters seem like they could benefit significantly from the process, and to participants of the Free Books for Prisoners Program.
We have also been in the long process of compiling a Maoist glossary to post online at www.prisoncensorship.info and to send in to our readers. It will be a miniature dictionary of terms for our struggle, defined from a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist perspective. Comrades who want to contribute to this project can write us for a draft version of what we have so far.
Although we have been developing, with much invaluable help from our comrades inside, useful tools to expand and spread revolutionary education, you can teach others without using even one of them. If you can read this article, you can start educating others about Maoism, our need for revolution, and how we can get there. Start by sharing Under Lock & Key with someone and discussing the articles. What did you find interesting? What did you disagree with? Why do you think the author made a particular statement? What was confusing for you? What new information did you learn? What are you going to do with that information? What do you want to learn about more?
Because education and study rely so heavily on the written word, we should be putting some energy into teaching others how to read. One persyn who knows how to read can spread political education to others exponentially. But someone who cannot read on their own is limited in their ability to fully grasp the difficult questions of making revolution. We are building our revolutionary leadership and need to help others lead by helping them to read.
MIM(Prisons) has been trying to develop our support for literacy programs. Comrades behind bars should take up this important task of teaching others to read, and let MIM(Prisons) know what we can do to better support their efforts. We are especially interested in hearing from people who learned how to read while locked up, and what helped them.
This issue of Under Lock & Key is focused on education because it is the basis of our practice at this time. Education and study are the only ways that we are going to be able to develop as leaders of the revolution toward a just society free of starvation, rape, war, and oppression of all kinds. Theoretical education improves our organizing and mass education work, which is the only way we are going to turn people on to the need and possibility of liberation, and in favor of efforts of the oppressed to liberate themselves.