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Under Lock & Key

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[Censorship] [Campaigns] [Polunsky Unit] [Texas] [ULK Issue 68]
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Texas Bans Mailing its own Grievance Manual to Prisoners

tdcj griev manual censorship

We just got word that the Texas Department of Criminal inJustice (TDCJ) has denied delivery of the TDCJ Offender Grievance Manual to one of our subscribers in Texas. Not just at the unit level (we were not informed of the censorship at the unit level by Polunsky Unit mailroom staff, in direct contradiction to TDCJ's own policies)(1), but the Director's Review Committee even upheld the censorship of the grievance manual. The Director.

Well, what could possibly be the reason given for censoring TDCJ's own manual which was written for "offenders"? Couldn't tell you. All the notice says is it was "received in contradiction with BP-03.91, Uniform Offender Correspondence Rules." Don't forget, BP-03.91 doesn't just say that this item is denied delivery to this particular subscriber. It says that this item is banned in the entire state for all time. Just like [email protected] Power and the Struggle for Aztl├ín, our "Defend the Legacy of the Black Panther Party" study pack, and multiple issues of Under Lock & Key (at least including Nos. 63, 57, 54, 51, 45, 35, 32, 28, and 27).

You might be wondering why MIM Distributors is sending in the grievance manual anyways. It's a TDCJ document, after all. And according to the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, the grievance manual ought to be available to prisoners.(2) Well, in September 2014, a memo went out that removed the grievance manual from all TDCJ law libraries.(2) Why would they do this? Don't know, they didn't say. TDCJ's grievance system is notoriously ineffective and deliberately obstructive. And Texas is historically one of the worst states when it comes to brutal national oppression. Seems to be part of those overall patterns.

We did have a "victory," so minor that it's even embarrassing to use that word. The Director's Review Committee Decision Form actually listed the name of the item that they censored! Wow! We didn't have to go hunting around in the list of mail we sent to this subscriber, guessing which item was censored based on the date we mailed it out. This is often a very difficult detail to pin down, considering how much mail we send in and the weeks- and months-long delays in the TDCJ censorship procedures.

So, we've been protesting the ineffective grievance process in Texas for almost ten years. The grievance manual was hidden almost 5 years ago. And now we can't even mail in the grievance manual. We do plan to appeal this censorship to the Director's Review Committee, but often our letters to them go unanswered. In the short term, we need people (and lawyers!) in Texas to put pressure on TDCJ to stop obstructing prisoners' access to the grievance system. Ultimately we need to overthrow this totally bunk injustice system and the economic system it protects.

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[Organizing] [Texas] [ULK Issue 52]
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Texas Comrades Need to Step Up

This issue of ULK is being mailed to 48 states, yet over one third are going to Texas prisons. This can be attributed in large part to the void we've been filling with our Texas Campaign Pack, which has led to a huge influx of subscribers in that state. TDCJ has hidden its own grievance manual from prisoners since 2014, and more recently has effectively eliminated all access to the law library in many facilities. The MIM(Prisons) TX Pack helps people fight back and provides needed resources and information.

Yet when looking through the incoming mail, we notice some themes:

  • Most people are focused only on their individual struggles.
  • The end goal for most writers is prison reform.
  • There is a huge lack of engagement with politics.

    Of course there are a number of exceptions to these themes, but the quantity of letters without political content is overwhelming. The vast majority of writers are only interested in getting the Texas Pack from us. Their engagement with the rest of our projects (even reading ULK, which is sent automatically to everyone who writes us) is a relative rarity. Those who report receiving the TX Pack and thank us for how helpful it is are mostly only using it to work on their own grievances. Some share it with others, but most don't seem to be using it on campaigns together. Of the huge number of people who have been invited to our intro study group across the state, very few actually participated.

    If our subscribers in Texas want everything they learned in the Texas Campaign Pack to actually be put to the best possible use, there are a few key points that have to be considered:

    • Individual actions are small. The impact of a single successful grievance may feel huge to one persyn for at least a small period of time. But we must think bigger than our individual struggles. Especially when most of these struggles are unsuccessful.
    • Reformism is very limited. Those in power stall at every opportunity. So while we might see a few victories, it'll always be just enough to keep us motivated to bark up the same wrong tree for another several decades. In order to end what makes oppression possible and profitable, we need to put an end to the capitalist economic system. We've tried reforming it for hundreds of years. Is this what you expect it should look like by now?
    • Apply principles of revolutionary theory for an end to oppression. The only way to achieve an end to this ongoing oppression is to learn some principles about revolutionary science. We need to know what has worked in the past, and what hasn't. We need to learn lessons from history for how we can build our present-day movement to be as successful as possible at putting a quick end to capitalism and all its atrocities the world over. This takes hard work and dedication, and is the only way for future generations to come out from under the boot of the oppressors.

    Once we learn some revolutionary theory, the next step is to put it into practice in our organizing work. Tons of people write to us about how difficult it is to find people in Texas who are interested in politics or coming together to protect themselves from abuses by staff. This is because, despite all the atrocities in TDCJ facilities, TDCJ achieved a delicate balance between privileges and punishment, that keeps the population complacent but not so repressed that they are inspired to step up and do something about it. This dynamic has been going on for eons. The perfect example of this is people who have given up filing grievances because the grievances go unanswered, and instead they just watch TV. If not for the TV or other distractions/privileges, unanswered grievances should lead someone to want to take further action to protect their humynity. By restricting indigent mail and eliminating law libraries in many facilities, TDCJ is signing itself up for some contempt amongst its wards, but only if those who are politically conscious take the next steps to educate and organize.

    The most basic organizing steps to try:

    1. Share the TX Pack with others, and have them write to MIM(Prisons) to get on our mailing list.
    2. Write grievances together. Even if for individual issues, build your collective knowledge about what makes a grievance successful. Don't let the administration give you the runaround.
    3. Unsuccessful grievances are part of the process. We don't expect to actually have victories with these grievances, but we file them to go through the process of administrative remedies, and build unity through action. When the grievances come back rejected, use them as tools to show how backward the administration is, and how the grievance system is set up to fail.
    4. Meanwhile, build political consciousness: Study articles in ULK, and broaden your perspective of how the prison struggle fits in with the struggle of the internal semi-colonies, and oppressed nations worldwide.

    MIM(Prisons) offers a multitude of ways we can support you in your organizing. We can provide lit and study guides if you want to start a study group. We also recently revamped our Prisoners' Legal Clinic, and you can use your legal expertise to help others with their cases and help them learn some revolutionary theory. Our literacy program is coming up too, so maybe tutoring others in how to read and write in a Serve the People Program is a role you can play. Or if you're an artist or writer you can contribute articles for ULK, which then gets mailed to people all across the country. If you have access to funds, send us a donation so we can continue sending the TX Pack and ULK in to the large number of subscribers in Texas.

    In sum, Texas prisoners need to step up. We all already know that filing individual grievances is a joke. The Texas Campaign Pack has info for how to make the most of individual grievances, so we can have a few more successes, but the administration can still just toss out or ignore whatever they don't feel like dealing with. TDCJ headquarters in Huntsville is no better. We hope our comrades in Texas who have been so diligently putting the Texas campaign info to good use will make this connection to the bigger picture and adjust accordingly.

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