In November 2019, the U.S. District Court ruled that the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) must “establish bright-line rules that narrowly define prohibited content in a manner consistent with the First Amendment.” These rules must be defined by mid-February. This ruling comes after years of censorship of a variety of publications by the ADC, often as a result of arbitrary decisions from mailroom staff.
In this case Prison Legal News (PLN) (a project of the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC)) filed a lawsuit in 2015 challenging the censorship of its newsletter for “sexually explicit” content. Ironically, the content that inspired this censorship was describing non-consensual sexual contact between guards and prisoners. And as most readers know, PLN is primarily a legal resource for prisoners fighting injustices like this prison rape.
Arizona bans a variety of publications, including issues of National Geographic, Men’s Health, and GQ.
Issues of Under Lock & Key are also on this banned list, though not for sexually explicit material. In the case of ULK, the most recent ban (that we know about) is ULK 63 from July/August 2018, which was banned for “Incite, Aide, Abet Riots, Work Stoppages, Means of Resistance.” Many other issues of ULK sent to subscribers in Arizona are returned or rejected without reasons given. Our attempt to appeal this ban of ULK 63, requesting the ADC provide more evidence than these vague claims resulted in the following response: “The pages identified containing such content are throughout, including, but not limited to, pages 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, and 17.”
In an example of their arbitrary decisions around censorship, a MIM(Prisons) six-page guide to forming a prisoner-led study group was censored in 2016 because it supposedly “Promotes superiority of one group over another/promotes racism/degradation.” This is exactly what MIM(Prisons) fights against: the superiority of one group of people over another. And this is exactly what the criminal injustice system promotes.
This court ruling requires the Arizona Department of Corrections to change the mail policy from allowing DOC staff to use their discretion when determining what’s banned and to establish consistency in excluding sexually explicit material. This won’t help MIM(Prisons) as it is rare that a prison claims ULK should be censored for sexually explicit material. But any progress towards less censorship and more narrowly-defined policies is a good thing.
On 22 October, in a different case, Prison Legal News was awarded $1.2 million in attorney fees by a Federal district court in Florida after a nine-year lawsuit over censorship of PLN publication because of ads for phone services, pen-pals and stamps. This victory came after the Supreme Court refused to take up the final appeal of this PLN ban.(1) This resulted in the case remanding back to the district court for a ruling on the attorneys’ fees. Basically this means PLN won on their Due Process claims but lost on their First Amendment claims. So the censorship is still legal, but the DOC failed to follow proper censorship policy.
“Free speech isn’t free,” said Human Rights Defense Center executive director Paul Wright. “In this case, censorship by the Florida Department of Corrections cost state taxpayers almost $1.2 million – because of the vicious efforts by the prison system to censor HRDC’s publications. The Attorney General’s office spent over 3,000 hours in attorney time fighting this case. The real tragedy is that Florida prisoners remain unable to read PLN and other HRDC publications that will educate and inform them of their rights.”(2)
PLN and the HRDC have done a lot to fight censorship in prisons over the years. And their hard work on this front benefits everyone seeking to help educate and organize prisoners. This censorship, and failures in the courts prove a point we often make: there are no rights, only power struggles.
Censorship is one of the biggest barriers to our work with prisoners. And it’s an area where we always need more help, both from jailhouse lawyers and from lawyers on the streets. If your mail is censored, APPEAL IT, and get in touch with us and let us know. We will send you a guide to fighting censorship and sometimes we can assist on our end with an appeal to the prison. And lawyers on the streets get in touch and help us with these battles!
The latest installment in the Terminator movies takes up where Terminator II left off. In this timeline the A.I. called Legion has achieved consciousness and seeks to wipe humynity from the earth. The plot continues the theme of humyns fighting the machines after a nuclear holocaust, with the future pivoting on the life of one persyn.
This movie features more gender and nation diversity than the previous Terminators. All the humyn heroes are female. And it moves beyond the U.$. borders to Mexico where the new target of the Terminator lives. In Dark Fate the Terminator was sent back in time to kill Dani Ramos. A cybernetically-enhanced soldier, Grace, was also sent back in time, to protect Dani. And Sarah Connor, target from the previous Terminator movies, shows up to help with Dani’s protection.
There are a few interesting themes to the Terminator movies that continue in Dark Fate. First there is the nuclear destruction of humynity. The earth and most of life on it has been wiped out. People need to take seriously the dark possibility that humynity is driving towards this destruction. It may not include a conscious A.I. wiping out the few humyns who survive. But capitalism is on a firm march towards annihilation of the current balance of life on Earth that humyns depend on. It is not sustainable. And so movies that pose this possible future, brought about by the actions of humyns, are good for the ideas they can provoke.
Another general theme of the Terminator movies is that one persyn is pivotal to the entirety of humyn existence. In previous movies that persyn was John Connor, the unborn child of Sarah Connor. And so the Terminators went back in time to try to kill Sarah to prevent the birth of John to stop em from leading the resistance that could defeat the Terminators. In Dark Fate the one persyn is Dani Ramos. In this case it’s not Dani’s womb that needs protection/destruction, it’s Dani eirself, who will lead the resistance.
We might read into Dark Fate that it’s not actually about individuals. After all, John Connor died but now we have Dani. Humynity and its conditions creates these leaders. But for the most part the movie is pushing a message that history is created by one individual who must be protected or destroyed at all cost. Humyns would not have united against the Legion without Dani. So the Legion must send a Terminator back in time to destroy Dani, and the resistance must send a soldier back to protect Dani. That’s a lot of resources and energy spent on one persyn.
Dark Fate is consistent with the bourgeois theory of history, a spin on history that focuses on the accomplishments of individuals, removing them from the political context of their time. Communists, on the other hand, don’t see Dani, or John, or the other humyn resistance leaders as uniquely qualified for their roles. Instead we see them as a product of the political conditions. They did what was necessary to fight for the survival of humynity. And in their absence others would have done the same.
The idea that only certain special individuals are able to take leadership roles fits in with a religious/capitalist way of thinking. Humynity may be moving towards destruction, but there’s nothing average folks can do about it. Only special heroes can make a difference. This way of thinking discourages people from taking up the fight for a better future. And instead suggests it’s best to just believe in a leader without question.
Maoists, on the other hand, see no individuals as infallible. In fact, a fundamental tenant of Maoism is the need for continuous cultural revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat, in which the people are actively critical of and struggling with socialist leaders and one another. This includes removing from positions of power those who have strayed off the revolutionary path. The future lies in the hands of the people, and so the people must learn through struggle in order for us to discover the correct way forward.
The earlier Terminator movies had a good slogan from Sarah and John Connor: “No Fate But What We Make.” This was a mantra that John repeated to himself and others to remember that the future can be changed. This is a good counter to the idea that humynity is fated to nuclear destruction and the rise of conscious anti-humyn A.I.s. And that only John, or only Dani, can lead a successful resistance. Perhaps the A.I.s, in their limited world view, believe this to be true. But humyns should be focused on stopping the nuclear destruction and A.I. consciousness event before it happens. It is unfortunate that Dark Fate takes into its title the antithesis of this anti-fate slogan, and perpetuates that message in the plot.
The movie misses a great opportunity to avoid this idea of fate at the end, when discussing the future of one young character. The goal that this character not die in battle later in life is a good one, and a sign that potentially fate can be changed. But the assumption that the way to do this is to start military training for the post-apocalyptic battle now, rather than fight to keep humynity from destroying itself, is an unfortunate ending.
More than 200 detainees began a hunger strike on October 18 at the ICE Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington. The NWDC is a private prison run by the Geo Group. The facility can hold over 1500 people and houses those swept up in immigration raids, transfers from the U.$-Mexico border, and other migrants caught in the Amerikkan system. This is one of the largest immigration prisons in the country.
Since 2014 detainees have launched 19 hunger strikes to protest their detention and conditions behind bars. This latest protest is demanding edible food and humane treatment, with many also demanding a complete shut down of NWDC. Prisoners find maggots, blood, hair and other things in the food. Kitchen workers report rats running around the food prep area. Guards abuse the prisoners. And Geo group ignores these complaints.(1)
U.$. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers mirror conditions in other prisons in the United $tates. In fact, prisoners at Clallam Bay Correctional Facility in Washington also went on food and work strike earlier in October to demand better conditions, focusing on food quality.
ICE officials issued a statement denying the existence of a hunger strike: "Failure to eat the facility provided meal is not a stand-alone factor in the determination of a detainee's suspected or announced hunger strike action. Commissary food items remain available for purchase by detainees." They followed up this statement with a press tour of the NWDC, featuring spotless conditions, a well stocked urgent care room, and nice library. It appears that no prisoners were interviewed or even filmed up close in the tour.(2)
A majority of the 54,000 ICE detainees in the United $tates are held in privately run prisons. And migrant detention makes up the majority of the private prison population in this country. But this isn't about the difference in conditions between private and state or federally run prisons. Conditions across the criminal injustice system are abusive, dangerous, and inhumane. We're not fighting for a different face on the abuse.(3)
While federal arrests overall have gone up over the past 20 years, between 1998 and 2018 federal arrests rose 10% for U.$. citizens and 234% for non-citizens. The most dramatic increase was between 2017 and 2018, a 71% rise in arrests of non-citizens. In 1998 63% of all federal arrests were U.$. citizens while in 2018 that number flipped and 64% of all federal arrests were of non-U.$. citizens. The portion of federal arrests increasingly focused along the U.$-Mexico border increased from 33% in 1998 to 65% in 2018. 95% of this increase was due to immigration detainees.(4)
The ICE detention centers make clear the purpose of prisons in the United $tates. This is national oppression. These non-citizen detainees are mostly being prosecuted for the "crime" of being in the United $tates without permission of the imperialists. This "crime" represents 78% of the cases.(4)
Closed borders are a requirement of imperialism. The wealth is kept within these borders for the lucky few who are born to this privilege. That wealth is stolen from outside the borders; exploitation of labor and theft of natural resources brings great profit to the imperialists. And the imperialists share that profit with the citizens of their countries to keep them passive and supportive. This wealth differential is obvious, even between the poorest within U.$. borders and average people living in the Third World. Those living outside those borders are desperate to get in to access this wealth stolen from their homeland. The role of ICE and the Department of Homeland Security is clear: keep this wealth within u.$. borders exclusively for Amerikan citizens.
We support the just demands of prisoners in NWDC and throughout the criminal injustice system. This system has sunk so low that people are forced to starve themselves to fight the dangerous and inhuman conditions. It will not be fixed by improving the condition in one prison, or even by shutting down one facility. But these demands fit in with the anti-imperialist struggle as we fight for open borders and an end to a system where one nation has the power to lock up others just for the crime of crossing an invisible line.
Scott Daniel Warren faces 20 years in prison for his volunteer work distributing food and water to migrants in Arizona. Warren works with the group No More Deaths to aid migrants crossing the border in the Arizona desert. For this work, and for providing a place for two men to sleep, Warren was charged with two counts of felony harboring and one count of felony conspiracy. Eir trial ended on June 11 with a hung jury.
Warren was arrested in January 2018 along with other No More Deaths volunteers. The arrests came just hours after the group released video of border patrol agents destroying jugs of water left in the desert for migrants. This case isn't closed yet; federal prosecutors may choose to retry Warren.
The Arizona desert is one of the deadliest places for migrants to cross the border due to the extreme heat. But people are forced to this area by the 1994 Clinton era "Prevention Through Deterrence" policy aimed at making border crossings more deadly. The idea was to force crossings over more hostile terrain, putting more lives in danger, to discourage migrants from attempting the journey. Metrics of the plan's success included "deaths of aliens." By that measure, the plan has been a success. The total number of people attempting the crossing has dropped but the odds of dying have gone way up.(1)
Hundreds of migrants are found dead every year. Trump's border policies are just a continuation of the anti-immigrant policies of all Amerikan imperialist administrations, including Obama. Closed borders maintain a cheap source of labor and natural resources for the imperialists. This preserves wealth for those within at the expense of poverty for those on the outside. Migrant deaths are just one result of these borders. Fighting the Trump border wall is a distraction from the real problem. Fight borders not walls. Open the borders; return the stolen wealth to occupied nations at home and around the world.
The United $tates is attempting a coup in Venezuela, pushing Juan Guaidó, formerly a lawmaker in the Venezuelan government, to declare emself President. This subversion of democracy is par for the course for the imperialist United $tates. The United $tates will do whatever it takes to maintain access to cheap labor and resources in Latin America. In this latest round of intervention, the United $tates has rallied other imperialist powers and U.$. lackey governments to join the charade in recognizing the illegitimate government of Guaidó.
As of this writing, the coup is failing and the national bourgeois government led by Nicolás Maduro remains in power in Venezuela. President Trump has threatened military intervention and we can anticipate further subversion of democracy and covert and overt imperialist attacks on Venezuela in the months to come.
The Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela
Venezuela was colonized by Europeans in 1522. The people won sovereignty in 1821 led by Simón Bolívar. After WWI oil was discovered in Venezuela, prompting an economic boom. But the collapse of oil prices in the 1980s devastated the Venezuelan economy. As the standard of living fell and the government implemented harsh economic reforms at the demand of the imperialist IMF, the people began to protest. In 1989 massive riots were met with violence by the government. This led to several coup attempts. While these coups failed, they indicated the ongoing unrest and instability in the country.
In 1998, Hugo Chavez was elected President with an overwhelming majority of the vote and a mandate for change. Formerly a military leader, Chavez had attempted a coup in the previous years of unrest. While not a communist by any stretch of the imagination, Chavez represented the national bourgeoisie in Venezuela. This class is a progressive ally of the anti-imperialist forces. Chavez launched a "Bolivarian revolution" which began with a 1999 Constituent Assembly to rewrite the Constitution of Venezuela. The people were mobilized to participate in this political process.
At the same time, Chavez implemented programs to help the vast majority of poor people in the country. By 2005 they had eliminated illiteracy. Between 1999 and 2012 infant mortality was cut from 19.1 to 10 per 1000, malnutrition was reduced from 21% to 3%, and poverty rates were more than halved. Venezuela also paid off all of its debts to the World Bank and IMF and then withdrew from these imperialist organizations which promote economic subservience in the Third World.
While implementing internal reforms, Chavez took up the anti-imperialist pole of leadership in Latin America, in alliance with Cuba. In 2011 ey helped launch the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), uniting 33 countries outside of imperialist control. In 2005, Venezuela launched a program to provide subsidized oil to 18 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Chavez was re-elected to two more terms as President, but died from cancer in 2013 before serving his third term. Nicolás Maduro has been the president of Venezuela since Chavez's death. As Vice President, Maduro was appointed to fill the role, and then won the popular election. Maduro again won a recent presidential election, but under the pretense that this election was not democratic, Juan Guaidó swore himself in as "interim President" in late January at the urging of the United $tates. Not even a participant in the election, Guaidó was previously the head of the national assembly, a body that was declared null and void in 2017.
Why does the U.$. care about Venezuela?
Venezuela is one of the world's leading exporters of oil, and is a founding member of OPEC. When Hugo Chavez took power, Venezuela was the third biggest supplier of oil to the United $tates and the United $tates continues to be the biggest buyer of Venezuelan oil. Chavez's government nationalized hundreds of private businesses and foreign-owned assets, such as oil projects run by ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.(1)
We can look to the recent history of Venezuela to understand just how ridiculous is the U.$. claim to supporting "democracy" in that country. The United $tates backed the viciously repressive dictatorship of Marco Jiménez (1948-1958) because of eir support of transnational corporations. This government imprisoned, tortured and murdered thousands of innocent Venezuelans. For this service the United $tates awarded Jiménez the military Legion of Merit "for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements."(2)
Obviously the United $tates' economic interests in Venezuela are significant. But there is also the geopolitical stability of imperialist control in Latin America more broadly. Cuba, Bolivia, Uruguay and Mexico are all refusing to follow the Amerikan imperialist lead in recognizing this coup. And the Venezuelan government has been a thorn in the side of the imperialists for years. Led by bourgeois nationalists, Venezuela is a solid anti-imperialist holdout in the region. The success of the Chavez government in retaining power and popular support is an embarrassment for the imperialists and an example for the oppressed in the region.
The U.$. government has been plotting coups and working to undermine the government in Venezuela since Chavez took power. Back in April 2002 the Bu$h government backed a short-lived military coup, but Chavez quickly returned to leadership. The United $tates has a long history of CIA-backed coups in Latin America. When direct overthrow of the government doesn't work, the U.$. government resorts to election meddling, murder of political leaders, and other underhanded strategies. All this is done in the name of "democracy."
The road forward for Venezuela
Venezuela is not a socialist country. Hugo Chavez brought to power a government representing the national bourgeoisie, not the proletariat. Progressive reforms were made under Chavez that serve the interests of the Venezuelan people as a whole in opposition to those of the imperialist United $tates. But Venezuela continues to operate within the capitalist model, despite rhetoric about "socialism." Oil accounts for 98% of export earnings and 50% of GDP in Venezuela.(1) As production falls, the economy has nothing to fall back on. This problem is just one example of the failures of social democracy as a solution to the plight of the Third World proletariat.
During the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China, the masses were mobilized around the question of putting the people's interests first and not profits. This was the battle against the capitalist road. Venezuela has yet to part with this road. But it continues down the road of national sovereignty, refusing to be a neo-colony of the United $tates. As such, the national bourgeois government in Venezuela is on the side of the proletariat, while lacking solutions to all of its problems. We must stand firmly in support of the Bolivarian government in Venezuela as it remains a balwark against imperialist intervention and subversion.
On 7 January 2019 the Supreme Court refused to take up a First Amendment case challenging the statewide ban of Prison Legal News (PLN) in the Florida Department of Corrections. The ban has been in place since 2009. This appeal was the final attempt to challenge the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which sided with the Florida DOC.(1) Each year thousands of cert petitions are filed with the Supreme Court and most are not heard. As is typical, no reasons were given for the PLN case denial.
The Florida DOC maintains that they are censoring PLN for safety and security reasons. The appellate court found this censorship justified related to certain advertisements in PLN including ads for pen pal services, businesses that purchase postage stamps, and third-party phone services.
We know there is no real safety and security justification for censoring PLN. It's an educational publication that helps many prisoners gain legal knowledge and fight back against injustices. PLN is, however, a threat to the institution of prisons in the United $tates. Prison Legal News fights for prisoners' rights and exposes injustices around the country. This is counter to the interests of a system that is focused on social control.
A number of groups stepped up to file or sign briefs in support of PLN. Of particular interest is one from a group of former Correctional Officers, including some from Florida. They argue, very rationally, that the complete censorship of PLN is an exaggerated response to security concerns and a constitutional violation.(2) Of course these former C.O.s, and many others who support allowing PLN into the Florida DOC, made very narrow arguments that still protected the DOC's "right" to censor anything they deem dangerous. These supporters are just opposing censorship for something so obviously not dangerous as it exposes the falsehood that prisons are censoring mail in the interests of safety and security.
This PLN lawsuit sets a very bad precedent for others fighting censorship as the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision stands. Fortunately it should not directly impact ULK as we don't run these third-party ads. Though Florida did censor ULK 62 for "stamp program advertisement." While we do accept stamps as donations, we run no stamp programs. This goes to show that when there is no justification for censorship, the prisons will just make up things not even in the publication.
Any ruling upholding censorship in prisons is a bad one. This ruling further exposes the reality that there are no rights, only power struggles. The First Amendment only protects speech for those privileged enough to buy that protection.
Pennsylvania DOC has a new mail policy requiring all prisoner mail be sent to Florida, care of Smart Communications (SmartCom).(1) This company scans in all mail and forwards it to PADOC to be printed and delivered on site. No original mail will actually reach prisoners. Prisoners receiving greeting cards or photos are being given shrunk, black and white copies.
Some prisoners in Pennsylvania are circulating a request for legal help to fight this new practice. They list multiple concerns. These changes will dramatically impact the mail PA prisoners can receive including almost certainly denying them access to political books and magazines. SmartCom will keep scanned mail in a searchable database. This will likely be used to profile people who send mail to PA prisoners. Under the pretense of security concerns, this new policy is also about political control.
Prisons are allowed to restrict prisoners' First Amendment rights to free speech, but it is "only valid if it is reasonably related to ligitimate penological interests." (Turner v. Safely, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987)) In this situation, PADOC is citing incidents of "multiple staff members being sickened by unknown substances over the past few weeks." In September 2018, it says there were eight staff emergency room trips for drug exposure.(2) It is focusing on mail restrictions because "[i]t's speculated that the majority of contraband enters the facilities through the mail."
PADOC is building a lot of hype on its website about how drugs come in thru the mail and with visitors. Yet in its photographic report, "Examples of Drug Introduction into Facilities," not one example is given of staff bringing drugs in.(3) Anyone familiar with prison culture knows that prison staff are a likely source for smuggling. It's lucrative and relatively easy. PADOC's presentation of the situation is skewed. And according to its FAQ on the new procedures for how it's going to handle this alleged poisoning problem, no additional screening or testing for staff seems to be on the radar.
The new mail procedures imply that subscriptions for magazines and periodicals will continue direct to the prison: "For now, you will continue to receive issues of current subscriptions. If any issue is compromised, it will be confiscated and destroyed. No future subscription orders may be purchased except through the kiosk." The memo given to prisoners made it clear that all future subscriptions must be purchased through PADOC. PADOC will purchase subscriptions in bulk and have magazines shipped in bulk to the facility to deliver to prisoners. The DOC will set the cost and select the vendors.
As a part of this change, PA is banning anyone from sending any books in to prisoners.(4) "Inmates can make a request to purchase any book. The DOC will provide the inmate with the cost of the book. Once the inmate submits a cash slip for the book, the DOC will order the book and have it shipped to the inmate." No independent orders are allowed: "All publications must be purchased through DOC." Books sent any other way will be returned to sender. While outside folks can deposit money in prisoners' accounts so that they can purchase approved books from approved vendors, they will now have to pay 20% more than the cost of the book because that is deducted from incoming money to many prisoners' accounts as costs or restitution.
This is a ridiculous policy change, under the pretense of security. While an argument is being made that preventing all physical mail from entering facilities will cut down contraband, it is an unnecessary obstruction to First Amendment rights of prisoners. The impact on prisoners, whose contact with the outside world is mainly through the mail, will be dramatic. Mail delays will likely increase, but more importantly, many will no longer have access to education. Cutting off books and magazines, limiting people to only content that is pre-approved by the prison, means that organizations like MIM(Prisons) will no longer be able to send literature to prisoners in PA.
This new policy is only serving to impose greater control and isolation on prisoners in PA. The results of cutting prisoners off from outside contact, and denying them educational materials, will just increase the already high recidivism and likely fuel more conflict behind the bars. This is what the prison wants: keeping prisoners fighting one another rather than educating themselves, building ties to the community, and building opposition to the criminal injustice system.
We received a lot of thoughtful responses to Under Lock & Key 61 debating sex offenders. This is a tough topic. It’s easy to recognize that our culture encourages abuse of wimmin. And there are many problems with how the criminal injustice system defines sex crimes and selectively prosecutes this crime. But people don’t want to condone rape, and many of us have a persynal reaction of horror to sexual predators that makes it hard to think about this objectively.
Regardless of the societal influences, and the unfair definitions and prosecutions, there are a lot of people who have committed sex crimes, and these should not just be ignored or forgiven. This topic got a lot of people thinking about whether or not sex offenders (SOs) can be part of the movement, and if they committed sex crimes, if they can be reformed.
Defining sex crimes
We have all been raised in a culture that promotes sexism and condones gender oppression. We call this system the patriarchy. It’s a system where sexy young teen models sell clothes, and TV and movies glorify powerful men and violence against wimmin. This culture colors every relationship we have. We’re taught that being a good man means acting manly and strong and never letting a womyn tell you what to do. And we’re taught that being a good womyn means submitting to the needs and desires of your man. With this training, we can’t expect equality in relationships. And without equality, we can’t expect free consent. Not everyone has a gun to their heads when they are asked to consent to sex, but there are a lot of different forms of power and persuasion.
So we’re starting out with a messed up system of gender oppression, and then we’re trying to define which acts of sexual violation count as coerced (rape) and which are just “normal.” One California prisoner wrote:
"I want to comment on the sex offender topic. Yeah it’s rough because like the Nevada 17 1/2 yr old dude it’s just that easy to get caught up. As adults we’re able to date 18-19 year olds as a 40-50 year old.
"I mean if people are going to argue 15 year old and an 18 is different, the question is why/how? If their answer isn’t ‘I just want my baby girl to be my baby girl a few more years’ then their answer is B.S., because that’s what it really boils down to.
“Moving on, the sex offender umbrella is too big. Like it was mentioned, a person taking a leak in public is considered a sex offender? We haven’t always had toilets, let’s get real and go after the real sex offenders – fully adult male/female taking advantage of a child. That’s a sex offender! 20, 30, 40 year old trying to sleep with a 13 year old – sex offender! Possession of child pornography – sex offender!”
This writer raises the question of age to define sex crimes. We ask, why is a 20 year old sleeping with a 13 year old rape, but a 20 year old with a 15 year old isn’t? Probably because this writer believes a 15 year old is capable of consent but a 13 year old isn’t. That’s the key question: who has the ability to give consent?
Truly free consent isn’t possible from within a system that promotes gender oppression from birth. But that’s not a useful answer when trying to define crimes from the revolutionary perspective. And if we’re going to attempting to rehab/punish people who have committed sex crimes, we have to decide what is a reasonable level of consent.
For now, we maintain that we should judge people for their actions, not the label they’re given by the criminal injustice system. As this comrade from Maryland explains, society creates sexual predators who act in many different ways, but their actions all show us they are counter-revolutionary.
"I was reading one article on sex offenders in ULK 61, and it was talking about how to determine whether they did the crime or not. The thought came to me of judge of character, their interactions with males & females, whether prisoners or C.O.s, and the traces of conversations when they feel comfortable. Even those who don’t have sexual offense charges sometimes make you wonder by the way they jerk-off to female C.O.s & female nurses or what they say to them that have you think if they are undercover sex offenders.
"One prisoner went as far as getting the female nurse information off the internet and called them on the jail phone and got (admin) (Administration Segregation). This is the same person that comes back and forth for jerking off to multiple disciplinary segregation terms, but is locked up for a totally different charge. He’s a future sex offender, that can’t be trusted for help in the revolution not due to a label, but due to his character and interactions when he sees females.
"Then you have the ones that have been locked-up in their teenage years and they’re currently in their 30s, and like to chase boys who are easy to manipulate or who want sexual activity. One is big on being a victimizer, but knows and talks a lot of Revolutionary preferences. He has a lot of knowledge but can’t be trusted to prevail due to lack of discipline and wanting to continue in his prison rapes & prison sex crimes that he rejoiced in. But he is another one that is not locked up for any sex offenses. Both were juveniles when incarcerated and have been psychologically damaged and lack change & further rehabilitation. Everyone still embraces them in general population and looks past their sexual activities.
“How can people that exploit sexual habits right in clear view of the prisoners be embraced and not looked upon as potential threats to society, families, and fellow prisoners, when you have someone labeled as a sex offender through childhood friendships and has to be sectioned off & outcasted by other prisoners due to the label of sex offender and not background information, the character of the man, their interactions with same sex and opposite sex, and the signs & symbols through their conversation?”
This writer’s view is echoed by a comrade in Texas who has come to realize we need to judge people for their actions:
“UFPP is a must! Regardless of what you did to get in prison (rape, rob, murder), I (also a prisoner) only judge you or anyone on how they go forward from this day in prison. I used to work in food service and I would break a serving into fifths for women in prison for killing or abusing children. Then I grew up and got over myself. How do I know they were rightfully convicted and how do I know how they got in this prison life? I don’t. We’re all in the same spot starting out. What you do from this time forward is your description for me. And people can change. I have.”
When we look objectively at how many people, both in prison and in society in general, commit sex crimes, it’s pretty depressing. The recent #MeToo movement helped expose just how many sexual predators are in the entertainment industry in particular. And writers like the one above expose individual cases of predators behind bars. This is so common because of a culture that promotes gender inequality. As long as we see wimmin/girls as objects for sexual pleasure we will have a problem with sex crimes. Another prisoner described this pervasive problem in California:
“This letter is in regards to the sex offenders articles in ULK 61. We cannot”always" trust a state to tell us what crimes someone has committed - but most of the time we can. It might not always be so clear, but the majority of the time the person convicted of a sex crime did indeed do it.
"Of the thousands of people I’ve come across in the SNY prisons I’ve been in, absolutely nobody has claimed his pc 290 case is for urinating in public. The most common is sex with a minor as there is absolutely no thing in the state of California as consensual sex with anyone under age 18. I know this all too well because sex with a teen put me where I’m at.
"There are probably as many different variables that create sex offenders as there are types of sex offenders themselves. The overwhelming factor with the sex offenders I’ve met in prison (and there’s a lot of sex offenders in prison) is drug abuse, especially methamphetamine. It’s safe to say that most sex offenders (at least 60-70%) were driven by the effects of meth. There are many in prison who will admit to sex with underage females. Growing up in the housing project of San Francisco’s Mission District I knew a lot of adults (mostly men) that had sexual relationships (and even marriages) with teens. It was very common also that the girls my age as a teen carried on with grown men.
"Go to a Latina’s traditional 15th birthday celebration and count the amount of males over 20 yrs old. Yes, that is what many are there for: the girls. Do younger girls’ parents know about this? Yes, most do. Cinco de Mayo has become another reason for America to party. Latin foods, beers, music, piñatas, etc. We’ve welcomed with open arms. Are we going to pretend that these ‘other’ traditions from Latin America don’t exist and just continue to tag and store sex offenders or will something be done to address this issue?
This writer makes a good point: lots of sex crime charges are real. Many men have committed these crimes. But there’s no need to rely on what the state tells us. In fact this writer demonstrates that people are being honest with em about eir past crimes. We don’t gain anything by trusting the criminal injustice system, and we don’t need to.
This comrade helps demonstrate our point that sex with teens is condoned by capitalist culture. These cultural influences encourage men to see their behavior taking advantage of wimmin, and pursuing teens, as normal and acceptable. We won’t stop this completely until we get rid of the patriarchy and have the power to create a proletarian culture.
Can criminals be reformed?
An important organizing question of today regarding sex offenders is whether or not they can be part of the revolutionary movement. This inspires a lot of debate behind bars. A comrade from Maryland provides some good examples of people becoming revolutionaries in spite of history of anti-people crimes. We agree with eir analysis that everyone who has committed crimes against the people (sex offenders, drug dealers, murderers, etc.) has the potential to reform and be a part of the revolutionary movement. Whether or not we have the resources to help make this happen is discussed in “On Punishment vs Rehabilitation.”
"Eldridge Cleaver was incarcerated for rape upon little white girls and was not on Protective Custody, nor was he a victim, but the victimizer. [Cleaver was actually incarcerated for assault, but was open that he had raped wimmin and even attempted to justify it politically. - ULK Editor] Though upon his parole release he worked for a newspaper company until his run-in with Huey Newton at this newspaper company and joined the Black Panther Party to become later down the line a leader within the BPP political organization. James Carr was another that participated in prison rapes even though he grew to become a instrument for the BPP, a body-guard for Huey Newton upon his release, and a prison vanguard alongside George L. Jackson. Basically, saying that in their era they were not faulted by the political group for their past, but were looked upon what they could do in the present and future.
"With what the United States set as standards are only accountable for those who are out of their class and who they don’t care about, while their class gets away with such crimes or slapped on the wrist with the least time as possible. They have messed us up psychologically mass media. So even if the people don’t know if the crime is true, what the state places upon us as fraud charges, our mindset is automatically it’s true cause America says it’s true. Just like when we see people on the news wanted for questioning about a crime, we automatically say he did it without knowing.
“Did the Revolutionaries of the 60s, 70s, and 80s not participate in the Anti-People Crimes as modern day even though they were Vanguards for the people and just as conscious as we are. Did they not sell illegal drugs to raise money for court fees & bail fees? Did they not drink alcohol and smoke weed & cigarettes? Did they not graduate to hard drugs? Did they not shoot or stab people in their lifetime? Did they not commit sexual assaults? That’s why we are able to learn from their mistake, while also cherishing their great stands of Revolution. So within criticism, criticize all through all eras and let those who want to prove their self do it. If sex offenders, whether guilty or not, started their own organization that was aligned with the same goals, principles, and practices as MIM(Prisons), would you support them or acknowledge their efforts? Do you feel that if a sex offender, guilty or not, got conscious and changed for the better is capable of being a positive tribute to a Revolution?”
On this same topic a Wisconsin prisoner disagrees and sees the example of Eldridge Cleaver as a detriment to the movement overall.
"I personally do not believe there is a place in the movement for sex offenders, and when I say sex offenders I’m referring to those who are in prison for committing sex crimes, not statutory rape, where he’s 17 and she’s 16 or even if he’s 20 and she’s 16. I’m, talking about un-consentual, outright rape of women, men and children. I don’t have any affinity for those who rape prisoners or prison female officers and staff.
“A lot of people bring up Eldridge Cleaver to support the argument of reform for rapists, where to me Eldridge was not a true revolutionary, he helped bring down the BPP and his mistreatment of Kathleen Cleaver, Elaine Brown and others was egregious at best and outright barbaric at worst. I don’t knock those who have compassion and believe in reform for sex offenders, I’m just not one of them.”
While we disagree with this writer’s statement that SOs can’t be reformed, we agree that embracing those who promote gender oppression because of their correct line on national oppression can be very dangerous for a revolutionary movement. The Black Panther Party struggled with gender oppression, but in many ways was ahead of other movements and organizations of their day. This doesn’t mean they got it all right, but we have to judge people and movements in the context of their struggle.
Finally, Legion writes compellingly about the potential for rehabilitation of SOs and also offers a framework for undertaking this work.
"So I’m sitting here eating a bowl of cereal and digesting ULK 61 and comrade El Independista made some valid points and MIM(Prisons) dissented. See when we sparked this debate we were struggling with starting a NLO consisting of comrades who have fucked up jackets who are willing to put pride, ego, individualistic patriarchal thoughts and practices to the wayside forming a column of revolutionaries who are given a chance to show and prove that the state was wrong and that U-C-U works for all instead of some. Answering El Independista’s questions of possible solutions isolation, ostracization, extermination may I build?
"First and foremost as a revolutionary raised in the game I’d rather deal with a SO than a snitch or a jailhouse thief. Why? Because in most cases the SO can be re-educated if given the ability to perform. If a potential comrade has been framed by the state who will hear him out. He’s isolated like the sex offender island in Washington State off of puget sound. Ostracization is another word for shun if the SO shuns his/her anti-people conviction and uses unity-criticism-unity to combat the patriarchy and upholds the merits of a drafted constitution along with personal U-C-U known as self-criticism you can begin to mold revolutionaries who ostracize themselves. Then there is extermination, another word for ending re-education self-critique and revolutionary bent will cause an ill (as in sick) blow to the injustice system. It’s all or none. And no, I’m not harboring cho-mos and rapos, just willing to do the work to see us free all of us. For example, if a column of reformed SOs took up a revolutionary mindset and put said mindset into practice one would exterminate a whole under represented class of people.
“In California the Penal Code 226(a) is any sex crime. 266(h-j) have to do with pimping and pandering, 288 is a molester, 290 is the required registration code. Most kidnappers have to register for life. If you’re a John you have to register and if you’re a prostitute you have to register. If you opt into a shoot out and a child was involved you have to register, and child endangerment is a sex crime. As well as rape, peeing on the side walk, flashing. In prison all these cases get ‘P’ coded which prohibits the captive from ever being level 1 where there is minimal politics, and forces one to live in enclosed structures with secure doors AKA cell living. This leaves level”P" coded prisoners in 3 and 4 yards. These yards are political, whether GP or SNY there are politics. And on these yards you have folks with a knack for praying on the weak, creating a pattern of sexual abuse. Just look at any day room wall you’ll see the # for the PREA hot-line and a slogan that says ‘no means no and yes is not allowed.’
“People, we have to prepare for the white wolf invasion. You can’t bully the SO problem away. You have to be a social scientist and commentator and build institutions that collapse the structure. And to answer MIM(prison), most SOs are on SNY yards and you have these snitch gangs who look to isolate, ostracize and eliminate”threats." Most SOs aren’t rats, hell most aren’t even criminals, no rap sheet only accusations. But these “gangsters” need a common enemy, and an easy target is the SO. As a ‘do what’s best-ist’ I would, if given the platform to do so, launch the wolf collective and invite all who read ULK to join, not as a member but as a witness to the scientific display of revolutionary conduct. I do this to sacrifice self for the masses.
"Start with self-critique and a solid understanding of your errors. Make serious revolutionary action your priority Honor and respect all human beings’ dignity Never go backwards in thought walk and push Stand all the way up for what is righteous and do what’s leftover You will be judged by your political work and political line.
“You might think I’m crazy or nuts but I have 36 nuts and bolts that say otherwise. The mathematics makes sense to turn nuts to plugs you plug in nuts meaning you become the change you want to see, and if I have to build the collective brick by brick stone by stone I will. I’m a convict first for all the would-be haters, but I think the time has come to form an infection on the skin of the beast.”
The September 9th Day of Peace and Solidarity is an opportunity for prisoners to commemorate the anniversary of the Attica uprising and draw attention to abuse of prisoners across the country. This event was initiated in 2012 by a prisoner organization and has been taken up as an annual United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP) event, with people participating in prisons across the country.
We can not effectively fight the oppressors if we don't have unity among the oppressed. And that unity behind bars needs to start with peace and solidarity. This is why activists spend the 24 hours on September 9 promoting peace and education. We call for a full halt on all hostilities and engagements, whether between lumpen organizations or individuals. All participants should use the day to educate and build peace. In some places prisoners will observe a 24-hour fast. In others there will be group classes to study and discuss political history and current events. Figure out what you will do and get started organizing people today.
We use September 9 to build on the UFPP principle of Peace: "WE organize to end the needless conflicts and violence within the U.$. prison environment. The oppressors use divide and conquer strategies so that we fight each other instead of them. We will stand together and defend ourselves from oppression." This is a critical step in building a united front among prisoner organizations and individuals committed to the anti-imperialist movement. We do not need to agree on every political question, but we must come together united around core principles to build and succeed together. For those who are engaging others to participate, the unity building starts well before September 9. It is a long process of education and organizing to build the anti-imperialist movement.
This 24 hour action will require a little sacrifice, but should incur no harm, and should lead to a reduction in violence as all prisoner-on-prisoner hostilities cease for the day. We can build greater awareness of the oppression against which we fight, and build the unity that is necessary for that battle, by organizing groups and individuals to participate. Comrades organizing around the solidarity demo are encouraged to send their plans or reports to Under Lock & Key. To be included in ULK 64, your reports must be in our mailbox by Monday September 17.
This issue of Under Lock & Key is devoted to exploring tactics in organizing behind bars. We often hear how hard it is to get people interested in politics, how so many are just doing their time, or worse, getting high, collaborating with the COs, or promoting division among prisoners. But we also hear from comrades about organizing successes. We can all learn from our own failures and successes and also from other people's failures and successes.
This scientific process of learning from practice, and using those lessons to improve our practice, is key to moving our organizing work forward. Marxism is based in this science that we call dialectics. Often people talk about it in the context of deep political line. But political line is only useful if it can direct a successful political practice. And so, as we spread revolutionary ideas and organize against the criminal injustice system, we need to pay attention to what works and what doesn’t, both for us and for others. And then apply these lessons to improving our own work. Without dialectics the revolutionary movement will stagnate; with dialectics we will continue to learn and grow.
In a few articles in this issue we highlight the work of a psychologist, Angela Duckworth, who has conducted and compiled studies of how to engage and inspire people in work and how to build expertise. Although ey writes about this subject from the perspective of mastering bourgeois work or hobbies, we find some of the techniques and information presented to be directly applicable to revolutionary organizing. We learn from scientific studies like those presented by Duckworth, along with our own practice, to grow and improve our work.
Duckworth is an interesting psychologist because eir work focuses on measuring what ey calls "personal qualities" or traits, but eir work also demonstrates that these traits of a persyn can and do change over time. And individuals and society can have an impact on developing desired qualities. We agree with Duckworth on this assessment of the ability of people to change and grow through both their own work and external forces. In eir more recent works, Duckworth clearly agrees with us that these "traits" are more a product of education and training than inherent in one's persynality. Duckworth's writing is instructive as we look for ways to improve our own dedication and effectiveness, and ways to better inspire others.
MIM(Prisons), like MIM before it, has long maintained that the field of psychology under imperialism is generally used to help people adjust to their oppression and adapt to the horrible culture of imperialist patriarchy. It is a counter-revolutionary weapon when used in this way. Further, bourgeois psychology often attributes behaviors to inherent traits instead of material circumstances and conditions, suggesting that humyns can't change. We don't have the ability to run truly scientific experiments on humyn nature, but we have a lot of evidence from revolutionary societies like the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin, and Communist China under Mao to suggest that humyns have a tremendous capacity to learn and grow and overcome selfish individualism.
Instead of seeing the selfishness and individualism in capitalist culture as reasons that humynity will "always" have oppression and suffering, we see it as evidence of the importance of a Cultural Revolution under socialism. This concept was executed on a mass scale in China under Mao. The Cultural Revolution recognizes the need for the people to vigilently fight against reactionary culture and capitalist ideas, even after the proletariat controls the government, because capitalist culture and individualism will not disappear overnight.
Of course in the end individualism and self-interest won out in those countries when capitalism was restored. But this doesn't negate the very real changes that so many people made in revolutionary societies. We look to these examples as hopeful evidence, while studying them for improvements needed for better success in the future.
There are people in the fields of psychiatry (medical doctors) and psychology (not medical doctors) who have taken their study of humyns in a revolutionary direction, contributing to the anti-imperialist movement. Frantz Fanon is an excellent example of a revolutionary psychiatrist. Among eir revolutionary work, Fanon's scientific studies contributed greatly to our understanding of the effects of colonial subjugation on the oppressed, and a broader study of the lumpen. Duckworth is not revolutionary, or anti-capitalist, or anti-Amerikan, and ey is still mired in some of the pitfalls of the field of capitalist psychology. But eir research presents some useful concepts and techniques for revolutionary organizing work. In this spirit of scientific learning we touch on Duckworth's work in this issue of ULK.