I am approaching from a background of having been held captive in general prison population where I am aware that at least a few of us subscribe to The BayView and Under Lock & Key and agreed the latter's issue No. 62 is controversial in criticizing a certain labor union.
One reason for focusing on this outstanding view(s) is because some of us are unionized with this entity which is the only one of its class, that waves membership dues for prisoners and is also actively involved in the prison abolition movement. Specifically you allude in your article, "Those organizations don't want low paid prisoners to replace high paid petty bourgeois workers."
Further what I think was more shocking is you attributed to outside support low, selfish motive by claiming, "They would be happy to see prisoners rot in their cells... it's higher pay for their class that the labor aristocracy wants." Indisputably your position is informative and generally supported by historical patterns, including Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow which illustrated how Capitalists successfully divided White and New Afrikan working class through granting pay raises and white skin privileges who in turn collectively advocated us decaying in segregation.
I would like to remain on Under Lock & Key subscription list because by far, it's more advanced than a number of other non-mainstream publications, in that yours boldly challenges general thought trends. One case-in-point is an Elder had cautioned us to be vigilant on what Under Lock & Key also affirmed about those who share sentiments identified as "the mass base behind the prison craze." We see clear signs they are present, active and have self-centered agendas.
But in contrast to what you promoted, I don't think our struggle has yet nor is on the verge of being co-opted by selfish motives — though potentially via "Incarcerated Organizing Committees" — provided our focus don't prioritize amending the 13th Amendment over acquiring human rights and Independence, attacking deceptive parole mechanisms. In this regard, MIM(Prisons) provides a vital source exhorting the prison movement to re-evaluate the ramification of amending the 13th Amendment. Perhaps the pendulum will sway away from giving successive energy to the 13th Amendment when factoring that many prison systems already pay money of account for prisoner labor; but yet, both sides of the spectrum agree mass incarceration is the core problem.
In ULK 62, among other issue numbers, you criticize massive prison work strikes. The perspective MIM(Prisons) is herein asked to ponder upon is the impact of "sustained" general work strikes will have on the bottom lines of private sectors; namely, commissary stork, telephone companies, choicey livestock parts that never reaches our food supply, etc.
MIM(Prisons) responds: First, we must make a disclaimer related to this discussion. Other prisoners have brought to our attention a recent article in Turning the Tide by a couple of United Struggle from Within comrades that calls out IWOC, among other organizations, as "ghost organizations." This is NOT the position of MIM(Prisons) or ULK. We will likely address this in more detail soon. However, we hope our readers can distinguish our approach here in criticizing the political line of other organizations and the effects of that line, rather than disparaging them for not doing anything just because they aren't working with us. No one can deny that the IWOC has done a lot to successfully publicize recent prison struggles and actions.
Overall it seems we have a lot of agreement with the writer above, but areas of debate are well worth addressing. The main point raised here is whether labor unions are selfishly pushing their own agenda for higher wages for the Amerikan labor aristocracy, or if these labor unions can really be putting the interests of prisoners first in prison labor struggles.
As this writer notes, we have plenty of historical evidence of labor unions in the United $tates promoting the interests of the Amerikkkan nation at the expense of oppressed nations.(1) And this promotion of national oppression includes support for the expansion of prisons to lock up oppressed nations. In fact, those prisons provide well-paying jobs for many labor aristocracy workers. So the contradiction between prison employees and prisoners is amplified, as this incarceration is essential to their livelihood.
Many corporations can't take advantage of cheap prison labor because labor unions have put provisions in their contracts and state laws to force consultation with labor leaders before establishing a contract for prisoner labor. It is clear the cheaper labor available in prisons is a direct threat to the high wages paid to people outside of prisons for work that could be done by prisoners. Many labor unions are quite clear about their position on this point.
But the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is different from other labor unions in that it claims to be international and anti-capitalist. The IWW is the labor union offering free membership to prisoners and actively campaigning on behalf of prisoners. The IWW also actively campaigns for higher wages for Amerikan workers. So they are walking a fine line between progressive work supporting prisoners' struggles, and reactionary pro-labor-aristocracy politics. The history of the IWW includes some clear examples benefiting white workers at the expense of colonial labor, as is documented in J. Sakai's book Settlers: Mythology of the White Proletariat.(2 - add a citation/quote/more detail?)
This doesn't mean the IWW is always working against the interests of prisoners. In fact they have waged some progressive battles. But their goal of raising wages for Amerikan workers is still fundamentally reactionary. The Amerikan labor aristocracy is the mass base for fascism, not a base for revolutionary organizing. They continue to come down on the side of imperialism, and are well bought off with the spoils of conquest and exploitation of oppressed nations around the globe.
In all of our prison struggles we need to keep the contradiction between internal oppressed nations (locked up, killed by police, flooded with drugs, denied economic, educational, and work opportunities, etc.) and the oppressor nation at the forefront. Why do we have such a huge prison population in the United $tates? It comes back to national oppression.
Battles around prisoners getting access to education, or getting paid for their labor, can be progressive parts of the struggle against the criminal injustice system. As long as they are framed in the context of the battle for liberation of oppressed nations. Opportunistically tying the prison labor battle to the broader Amerikan labor union struggles will only drag us down into reactionary oppressor-nation politics which builds up the labor aristocracy at the expense of the world's oppressed.(3) The oppressed, around the world and within U.$. borders, are always the losers in Amerikan labor union wage struggles.
by a California prisoner August 2018 permalinkby the AV Brown Berets
All matter is in motion and so with this motion we will continue to find new ways to apply the proper response to new ideas, and of course new actions will create new reaction. Each of us has to find the strength and opportunity into any area in our life. In this development we become more capable of helping others with the same issues. Today's Chicano nation is at a crossroad. The Raza population is growing faster than any other. In a couple of decades we will be the largest population in the United $tates. We have to understand, whatever changes we experience holds opportunity. In other words, external events often happen as means to facilitate internal change and consciousness. Once the inner connection is grasped, all theoretical belief in the permanent necessity of existing conditions break down before the collapse in practice.
I believe that in the independence of each nation is a unity that will help mobilize broader masses, then we begin to understand the importance of windows of opportunity. Chicano power is not simply being in charge. We don't want to mimic capitalism, but merely exercise socio-political, economic power where socialist relations of production replace capitalism. Without the influence of imperialism, we know that imperialism defines crimes and pushes oppressed nations into committing the crimes. Knowing most minority already have nothing to lose, and are well armed, when revolutionized can serve as the fiercest fighters.
We were not created by the same social and material forces which govern Mexican life, but by the imperialist venture of the annexation of the Americas. Our existence is therefore not defined by the reality of the border, but by social and material forces that have influenced the way we develop since before and after its imposition. Aztlan represents the land which was invaded, occupied and stolen from the Mexican nation. The southwest is home to many Chicanos, and non-Mexican indigenous nations each with the universal right to govern themselves and exist as a sovereign and autonomous people. Thus the era of imperialism is the era of New Democracy where a democratic struggle must be led and waged by the masses of the popular class in a united front where the primary goal is national liberation.
This August we commemorate the Plan de San Diego, which was a plan for New Democracy for the internal semi-colonies of occupied Turtle Island. It is a time to study [email protected] history, and apply internationalism. Write MIM(Prisons) for informational fliers on the campaign and submit your own essays and art.
It was 1995. I was in my late 20s and totally caught up in the tribal death style! For the first year or so, I spent much of my time learning who was who, and how to navigate the very dangerous and reactionary gen pop yards. It should be noted that in the beginning, we rec-ed together in GP yards. (This changed in 2004/05.)
At any rate, when I got to the next unit I met conscious men. Two in particular still stand out in my mind: Kareem and Ray Luc. The former was a student of the Party and member of prominent militant entity created by them, in the Bay Area! The latter was a staunch revolutionary, who walked it like he talked it, to the fullest.
Kareem used his extensive knowledge (learned in CDC) to teach us. We had mandatory "machines" (i.e. collective exercises with cadences) each day! Mandatory study of all progressive literature and mandatory Kiswahili lessons weekly. Kareem was a taskmaster who used his position (within so-called "Calicar") to subtly coerce us towards a souljah's identity.
Ray Luc was our source of revolutionary literature. It was through this brother that we learned of Marx, Lenin, Mao, Fidel, Che, MIM, and other groups and newspapers. Ray Luc used to give us revolutionary education on a daily. Him being Euro-Amerikan and being such a firm revolutionary! And in ADX, where 99% of the European captives aligned with the "Aryan" identity speaks volumes about his strength of character and total commitment to struggle.
Between the two of these brothas, many ADX reactionaries were forever transformed by their revolutionary organizing efforts. Many street tribal members became nationalists. Others (like myself) went on to then embrace New Afrikan Revolutionary ideology. Whatever we each went on to do, it was a direct result of the organizing techniques of comrades like Kareem and Ray Luc. Strategies that I utilize to this day actually.
Kan't stop, won't stop. Will not be stopped. Machine! Power to the people.
I was first introduced to revolutionary politics when I was 16 and from then on it has been a continuous evolutionary process that I have gone through. When first I was blessed to have the blinders lifted from my sleepy eyes, I was going through a battle with the revolutionary politics that I was engaged in. Those politics were reactionary because they were derailing the efforts of the people who sacrificed their minds, sweat, blood and even their bodies to ensure a better future for their posterity. I was going through this phase because I was just learning how to think.
I was born again through Allah’s mathematics and I also saw people such as comrade George as a source of inspiration. Being that in my past life I was a gang member, I encountered a lot of opposition from my once gang homies, but I was determined to follow in the way of Allah and to also become a part of the vanguard that does not fear the death of a thousand cuts. So a brother by the name of comrade Teddy helped to open the eyes of the once sleeping giant.
I had always had a rebellious streak but didn't know why. I now know that it was due to my innate ability to resist and never kowtow. In the wilderness of N. Amerika its hard to relate ideas and ideals of struggle for liberation to even lower disenfranchised segments of the population. It's hard because they have accepted their position as national (and international) scapegoats. So in the belly of the beast in KY where the intellectual level is relatively minute, it's even harder. The beast (pigs) have convinced the inmates against writing grievances! This is as absurd as the Vietnamese liberation fighters not shooting the soldiers who they must kill in order to survive.
But some guys are starting to stir. It can happen overnight, but then they have to learn the arsenal of anti-fascist responses. When I communicate with others I am doing so in hopes to affect change. I help them by getting them to see the reality of their positions and our position as a whole. Since materialism has altered my vocabulary, I come to them in a language that they can understand and try by first helping by bringing formations together. It is a hard job trying to organize a cadre however I am fully committed to the peoples' struggle.
These were very thought provoking question you asked: Do you find it impossible to relate to people in your facility? Do your organizing conversations go nowhere? Do you struggle to get people to see the importance of writing grievances? Well yes, yes and yes.
Many people say it is futile – show them, tell them examples of otherwise. Offer to help if necessary.
I get angry with those who say, and this is quite common, "don't come to prison if you don't like it." I say "so, you must like prison by that logic?" And I point to the relatively small-time offenses here compared to the larger ones perpetrated on us and the other oppressed people. I'll say, look around, see anyone with any money, any rich or much less upper class people up in here? I will appeal to their humanity and ask: is it okay to take parents (mothers in my case, it's a women's facility) away from their children for trying to support themselves? Point out the economic basis of most crime in here.
Drug addicts often say "prison saved my life." I'll ask what else might've helped you even if it was not available to you at the time? What is prison helping you do differently to not use drugs? Do you know the statistics of recidivism to not only drugs (relapse) but re-incarceration? In a group, one can say all 5 of you claim you won't come back but 4 of you will, which ones? Why could this be? And point out the "felon branding," job killing, underclass designation. We don't have realistic options to not be around opportunities to use drugs, sell drugs, etc. And more importantly why do people use the drugs they do? I'll talk about Dr. Gabor Mate's theories of addiction, science of addiction and how drug cases and/or addiction is dealt with in other countries. How capitalism and materialism feed the alienation and psychic (and physical) pain behind some addictions. Is there recreational use? Why is marijuana now legal in 2/3 of states from full recreational to medical yet Feds still criminalize (we have several women here on marijuana charges).
Most importantly, I cultivate good will, openness and friendliness to most inmates. I ask them about their families and comment on family support being such a blessing. I talk to women, joke with them and show my own struggles, vulnerability and wishes. I share pictures and stories of their dogs and my dogs together, boyfriends, and I see people's good characteristics and basic drive to connect.
I redirect all the "positive thinking" into imagining what constitutes actions. From first being thought of as "crazy" now I am considered the fiery, spunky "fighter" in my 60s (I don't look or act like it, they say), and I do not believe I have a single enemy out of 93+ women. A few of the COs do not like me however, because I will challenge them (not needlessly or if I am doing something I could get written up for). For example one telling me I was "disrespectful." Well, this is true, I do not respect lizards who jail people and profit off suffering. However, they cannot punish a feeling, only an action. So, having the correct attitude, but avoiding an action that only hurts yourself and denying the CO "a win" is a win for the cause.
I cannot see the state weakening. It seems ever more powerful everyday especially legally. The Feds especially are punishing small economic and drug crimes with five years and up sentences. The new attorney general is pushing the agenda for prosecutors to go for the high end of guidelines and give out longer sentences for victim-less crimes than murder in most other countries. The decisions by the Supreme Court and Appeals Courts have seldom been in the interest of the people.
The reason gay and lesbian movements are being championed is because they do not challenge the status quo on the capitalistic power structure whatsoever. Think if felons received the same considerations in hiring and for governments benefits. But it is completely legal to be prejudiced and deny any employment or service based on being a felon. The New Jim Crow isn't just for New Africans anymore.
That's my thinking. If I am to be a martyr you will know. I'd like my life or death to have some consequence in the struggle.
MIM(Prisons) responds: In everything we do, we must try to determine what will have the most impact the fastest. Sometimes people are ready to just hear facts and then start doing political work. More often, people hear truth in what we're saying, but also have a lot of resistance and ambivalence. As organizers, we're trying to influence them and push them. So helping them through these roadblocks is our job.
In these types of conversations, there is a natural dialectic that occurs, where when one persyn takes one position, the other persyn naturally argues the opposite position. And the more we argue a position, the more likely we are to internalize that position and behave accordingly.
So often we fall into the trap of trying to tell people what to think, inadvertently entering into a head-on debate. Or we rely on luck that the timing is right for them to grasp on to what we're saying. These are the easy routes of recruiting, because they don't require as much thoughtfulness or introspection on our part. And when people don't grasp it, we can put the blame on them for being lazy, or too caught up in tribalism/capitalism/whatever. And sometimes we get lucky and people do grasp it, which validates our mediocre approach.
But if we want to be the most effective at helping people grow and change, we have to understand where they're coming from, where they're at.
In impersynal recruiting such as sloganeering, public speaking and writing in ULK, understanding our audience might just mean understanding (or defining) their class, nation, and gender intersections, and cultural background. There is always individual variability, but even when trying to reach people on a group level, we can have an understanding of where they're coming from. We aim to speak to and with our audience, not at them.
If we're having 1-on-1 conversations, then helping them break through their roadblocks might also include getting to know what's important to people on a persynal level. Then we can relate the growth back to their persynal goals and show how the two are actually intertwined. This author explains how ey takes this approach to show people that they're on the same team. This is much different than the "you're wrong, if you don't agree with me, fuck you" approach that so many of our comrades take in their recruiting.
When we know someone is interested in doing political work, but is showing resistance or ambivalence, we can choose to dismiss them, or we can go deeper. We can lay blame, or we can take responsibility. Organizing is hard. We can try harder.
This comrade's criticism that some movements are allowed or even promoted because they don't challenge imperialism is on point. Allowing gay people to serve in the military is a good example of this; we won't fight to expand the imperialist military in any way. At the same time allowing discrimination against felons is a way to target oppressed nations while masking it behind a label of "criminal" activity. People convicted of felonies are disproportionately New Afrikan or [email protected]
This is where our understanding of the bigger picture of prisons as a tool of social control is critical. Oppressed nations are targeted for imprisonment even though white people also get caught up in the prison dragnet. This is most definitely a system of national oppression and a way to handle the lumpen population which would otherwise be idle and questioning its lack of economic opportunity — a perfect recipe for politicization. In fact, the prison boom was a direct response to revolutionary activity in the 1960s and 70s!
I'm relaying a conversation I had with the leader of a certain organization and the events that brought it about. About a month ago on Ad-Seg yard the cat in the cage next to me got stabbed up while he was in full restraints behind an argument him and this other dude had the night before. These types of attacks have become really popular the last few years here in Arkansas and coincidentally so have drugs like K2 and ice. The types of attacks I'm talking about are: in gen pop, prisoners getting cracked with locks while they're asleep. Or getting jumped by 5-6 dudes and not just taking an ass whoppin but getting stabbed on top of getting jumped.
Then the Ad-Seg yard has become a death trap. These dudes have learned how to cut through the chainlink fences. While dudes are getting moved it ain't shit for one of those other cats to pop out of his cage and butcher another prisoner that will be handcuffed behind the back and shackled up in full restraints. To me this is a coward move, I can't respect that shit. So I got to thinking what it would take for those dudes to take a second look at their tactics. So I decided to have a conversation with an org leader I've been knowing for about 10 years and I know his word has a lot of weight.
Throughout my experience I've learned a lot of these leaders have ego issues so when you put forth any type of idea that may be enforced you have to put it forth in a way so as it's like it's their idea and play it off what you know are their likes and dislikes. I know he happens to despise cowards so I put forth my argument on these types of attacks being really cowardice along with stupidity, especially for the reasons that they are taking place (words and name calling over the tier). I shot it at this cat how we as prisoners have to govern ourselves through certain rules, just like his org has rules against members stealing from other prisoners.
I was surprised to find out that not only does he not care but he actually condones these attacks! And proceeded to debate with me using as his argument telling me to imagine one of these dudes slandering me, calling me a snitch or whatever. I saw I was going nowhere so I steered the conversation to more neutral matters but later I thought, "I may have been swayed by an argument of what if dude was a snitch himself and there was paperwork and witnesses to corroborate but some dude calling me names?"
Maybe I have a better understanding of the fact that most of these dudes have mental health issues of some sort and compound that with being behind millions of $s worth of concrete and steel, they start feeling invisible and lose touch with reality. I gave up trying to hold people to the same moral standards I hold myself to, but these types of attacks are wrong on so many levels. There needs to be some type of honor amongst prisoners, some type of integrity, some type of standards we hold ourselves and our comrades to. Stop provoking these mental health dudes and instead educate in how to deal with each other. You don't have to become best friends but some shit you just gotta overlook.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We fully support this comrade's efforts to organize for peace in the facility where ey is held. We agree that there should be a minimum standard of behavior amongst prisoners, and we uphold the 5 principles of the United Front for Peace in Prisons as our ideal model.(see p. 3)
If a conversation is going nowhere, turning it to neutral territory is a perfectly good tactic. Better to end on neutral ground than with even more discord. And choosing who to have these conversations with (i.e. don't agitate people with mental health challenges) is another sharp lesson from this author.
Often times a conversation will seem like a failure in the moment, because we aren't obviously going from point A to goal Z. But even something as small as beginning a dialogue, planting a seed, or removing the taboo from a topic of conversation, can be victories in themselves. There are many reasons why a conversation might seem unproductive in the moment, but actually have a lasting positive effect.
We can also examine conversations like this to try to figure out exactly what is holding it back. Often it's easier on our own egos to blame failures on others' unwillingness to accept our "correct" position. Rather than looking at what we can improve on our end, we just label the persyn we're arguing with as unreasonable. We might not ever win this person over on this issue, but ultimately we need to take responsibility for our own successes and failures in our organizing efforts, and learn and grow and improve from them.
To become an expert in any field, it takes approximately ten thousand hours over ten years. Think about the amount of effort you are putting into being a great organizer. Are you on track to becoming an expert?
Quantity of effort is not the only important factor to improving our skills. Quality of our practice is just as important. Experts don't just practice more, they practice deliberately.
"This is how experts practice:
"First, they set a stretch goal, zeroing in on just one narrow aspect of their overall performance. Rather than focus on what they already do well, experts strive to improve specific weaknesses. They intentionally seek out challenges they can't yet meet...
"Then, with undivided attention and great effort, experts strive to reach their stretch goal. Interestingly, many choose to do so while nobody's watching. Basketball great Kevin Durant has said, 'I probably spend 70 percent of my time by myself, working on my game, just trying to fine-tune every single piece of my game.' ...
"As soon as possible, experts hungrily seek feedback on how they did. Necessarily, much of that feedback is negative. This means that experts are more interested in what they did wrong — so they can fix it — than what they did right. The active processing of this feedback is as essential as its immediacy. ...
"And after feedback, then what?
"Then experts do it all over again, and again, and again. Until they have finally mastered what they set out to do. Until what was a struggle before is now fluent and flawless. Until conscious incompetence becomes unconscious competence...
"And... then what? What follows mastery of a stretch goal?
"Then experts start all over again with a new stretch goal.
"One by one, these subtle refinements add up to dazzling mastery."(1)
The process of deliberate practice requires us to identify a goal, stay focused on our goal, break it into tiny parts, seek out feedback, be open to criticism, try, try, try, try, try, succeed, and then stretch again. All together this requires a ton of persynal growth and commitment.
If we want to be the best organizers we can be, we can take a lesson from Durant. Treat our organizing skills like ey treats eir basketball career. Write down your goals and failures. Think about them deeply. Read about negotiation and conversation tactics. Get input from others. Consolidate our experience. Try again.
While growing up in Newark, New Jersey, I always heard of the stories about the riots, the grassroot movements, and life in the aftermath of the 1960s and 70s. However, I was a young kid who only cared about getting high, gang banging, and wanting to be recognized as being big and bad. Well I got recognized alright, but for the wrong reasons. In 1999, at the age of 20 years old, I was convicted of murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
In the first few years in prison I was still acting a fool, still trying to be recognized as big and bad. But it wasn't til 2005 when that revolutionary spark first ignited in my mind. It all started when I went to solitary confinement for a fight I was involved with. While in solitary confinement I didn't have nothing to read or anything to keep my mind occupied. So I spent hours at a time just standing at the door yelling and cursing out the pigs as they went by for their counts. Anyway, I guess my next door neighbor got tired of listening to me yelling, so he knocked on my wall and ask if I needed a book to read. So I said, "yeah, sure why not." He passed me a book called Assata by Assata Shakur. Before this I never knew who she was or even read the book, but being that I had nothing better to do while in solitary I read it.
While reading the book, flipping through page after page, Assata's story spoke to me. I felt and recognized her struggle. Within two days I finished the book and now it was me knocking on my neighbor's wall, wanting more to read. My neighbor was an older brother, and throughout the year I spend in solitary he kept feeding me books such as Blood in My Eye, Soul on Ice, and other great books. My neighbor was a firm believer in the ideology of the Black Liberation Army and the Black Panthers. Being a Latino myself, he also taught me about people and groups such as Che Guevara and the Young Lords Party. Now, instead of yelling on the gate for hours on end, my neighbor and I would spend hours talking to each other, building and helping me become more conscious of myself. He helped me realize that me wanting to be known as big and bad was just that egotistical force for recognition, which will one day lead me into a brick wall.
After my sanction in solitary confinement was complete, I continued my studies while on mainline. I read up on people such as Mahatma Gandhi, Mao Tse-tung, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Marx and many others. Gang banging wasn't even on my radar. That one spark became a single flame, changing the way I think, the way I talk, and the way I conducted myself. Throughout the years since then, that flame is now a hungry fire inside of me, like the heat of earth on fire. My sole mission is to help educate those oppressed about their political and social conditions that we live under! Because as my neighbor taught me so long ago, "Each one teaches one!" Power to the people!
Recently I was transferred here to SCI Chester and was shocked at the difference in the prisoners here compared to my comrades at SCI Greene, SCI Pittsburgh, and SCI Somerset. This facility is very different. A program was incorporated here called welfare to work which allowed many welfare recipients from the surrounding area to be hired at this prison. Now I'm all for giving the underprivileged opportunities but this prison is so "Ratchet" now it's ridiculous. Staff does not do their jobs here. Grievances are ignored, campaigns challenged, and anyone who speaks out is locked down for "inciting a riot" and promptly transferred. With mostly short-term prisoners at this "program prison" prisoners are afraid to fight for their rights out of fear for negative marks on their record for parole.
I've been putting in non-stop paperwork since arriving and all I've accomplished is gaining the ire of my unit manager and other staff. I have even been threatened. I have succeeded in starting an anti-imperialist study group but am persecuted for it. My unit manager lies and makes up reasons to put me on "cell restrictions" so I can't hold group. But I keep pushing and have gotten some other prisoners to start standing up for themselves. But none of our paperwork is being addressed. 90% of the time we receive no response whatsoever.
I have no idea how they get away with it. You would think these staff members who were underprivileged and grew up in the streets like we did would be more sympathetic to our plights but instead they go on power trips and neglect most of their duties. These types of people are why we can't make classless society work. It seems all our efforts here are in vain. We are sending out a call for help; any assistance or advice will be greatly appreciated. Spirits seem broken here at SCI Chester and comrades are dropping out of the struggle and though it is dissuading I will not quit. I will remain constantly a soldier on the front lines of this war. But I'm calling for backup.
MIM(Prisons) responds: While this writer sees the Welfare to Work program at SCI Chester as the cause of repression, many prisons without this program have similar conditions. We can't speak to the effects of this program specifically, but more generally we know that many prisons are built in communities where job opportunities are limited. And that people generally don't take jobs as prison guards out of a desire to help people; just as with most capitalist jobs, people are working for the money.
More generally this writer's letter raises the question of why so many people working in prison perpetuate oppression rather than being kind and helpful to prisoners. There is evidence that oppressing people is not an inherent characteristic of humyns. Instead, this is a result of the economics of capitalism and our capitalist culture. First there is the economic side of things: the vast majority of people in this imperialist country are getting paid more than the value of their labor. They are basically being bought as supporters of imperialism. So when they get paid well to work in an institution that is based in social control and torture of other humyns, they're ok doing it because that's part of supporting capitalism.
Second we have capitalist culture which trains people to be ok with harming others and exerting power over others. There have been studies that show that even random people put in a situation where someone in charge tells them to hurt another persyn, most will do it because they're told to. Most famously in the United $tates there was the Stanford Prison Experiment back in 1971.
But there also has been huge social experiments such as the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960s and 70s which showed that even people who formerly were oppressors with great power can be re-educated and become peaceful productive members of society. It's not easy, and we won't win on the re-education front on a mass scale until we have the power to implement a cultural revolution to eradicate a system that values and glorifies power and oppression.
Rather than despair and say that these guards are why we can't make classless society work, we say these guards are exactly why we need socialism and a dictatorship of the proletariat. Clearly we have a lot of work to do to re-train and re-educate people so that they respect all humyns and act kindly towards others. We need a system that is set up to serve the oppressed and forcibly stop those who want power for themselves for persynal gain. The system of socialism will require a long period of cultural revolution, where we transform our culture into one that values humyn life and teaches people to treat others equally rather than valuing power and wealth at any cost to others. It will be a long struggle to reach a society where there is no class, nation or gender oppression. But it is the only path to survival for humynity.
In this article we print letters from our imprisoned comrades across the country, which explain their recruiting methods. Our comrades do a great job of learning from their mistakes and turning what could be a negative challenge to our struggle (such as splitting up the study group) into something that makes us even stronger (spreading the fire). We have to expect repression from the pigs, and it will only get worse as we get stronger. We need to roll with it and turn it into an advantage for us.
We trust through your reading of the submissions below that you can pull out lessons for your own organizing. We were warned against sharing this info in ULK because our newsletter passes through the hands of the pigs. But most of the lessons below are about mindset and conversational approach, which the pigs can't touch.
Some comrades give examples of things that haven't worked, and we are sharing these as examples because surely other people are trying the same tactics and facing the same challenges. If it's not working, try something else.
We encourage readers to go through this issue of ULK for ideas, switch up what you're doing, and write in to MIM(Prisons) to tell us how it went.
A Nebraska prisoner: It is surely a challenge to get study groups started when they move us around in seg, but we have found it also helps to spread the spark of that fire that is a need for something better.
Over the years it's been easier to open dialogue with new people and show people the benefit and truth of communism/socialism, even anarchism. Different individuals seem to have different feelings about parties from their various background, and knowing the three are closely related helps find a common foothold when bringing individuals into the fold so to speak, and shine the light about the failure of capitalism.
Knowledge is power in any debate when you're trying to convince someone to reconsider the truths of their ideals, especially when they have failed to really dissect their own ideals and just have been going with the flow. It is interesting indeed.
A Michigan prisoner: An important lesson I've learned from politicking with brothers held captive here with me is that if you speak truth to them, you find that they come over to your side. Because, 9 times out of 10, their direct experiences usually match up with what it is that you're saying. So what I'm saying, what I'm speaking here, is the absolute truth. If organizers are looking for explanations for why their organizing techniques aren't working, they should look in the mirror. In our line of work it's what we do, or don't do, that is decisive. This is true for two reasons. First, we can't simply apply organizing techniques dogmatically to any situation without doing an analysis based in dialectical materialism to try and understand the dynamics of the situation and, therefore, try to employ our techniques in a way which is going to have the most likelihood of success. Second, organizers cannot expect lumpen who are not familiar with political work to automatically engage in struggle if we do not put forth the necessary effort to teach them how to struggle. Our job as organizers is to organize and educate the lumpen in the lessons of political struggle, as well as inspire them to take matters in their own hands and become agents of their own liberation.
I come from, or should I say, I am a lumpen organization (LO) leader myself. That said, I have firsthand knowledge of LO politics and history and I use this knowledge to my advantage when politicking with other LO leaders. For example, most LOs are based on certain fundamental principles that are uplifting. Though not revolutionary by a long shot, some LOs began as a righteous cause. However, the leadership of LOs eventually corrupted and completely distorted the fundamental principles and began wielding their power and influence for destructive ends — thereby compounding the oppression that oppressed nations suffer under imperialist domination in the ghettos of Amerikkka. Usually, when I've pointed this out to other LO leaders and explained to them that, as leaders, they have a duty and responsibility to look out for not only the interests of those they command, but the community and "our people" as a whole, they tighten up somewhat.
As a result of politicking like this, they (LO members) can become more receptive to revolutionary teachings. In fact, some of the brothers I've instructed in Maoist principles are actually taking heed and developing a genuine interest in revolutionary theory. I am pushing them very hard, and they have become more radical. And, together, we are pushing hard to (1) organize our struggle, and (2) take the political position of the United Front for Peace in Prisons.
In Conclusion, dialectical materialism, when grasped firmly, is relatively simple. We study situations, set our tasks, aim for success, inevitably fall short, try to learn from our mistakes, and come back better prepared, more organized, and more determined than ever to win the next time around.
In addition, Maoism in particular teaches us that there are two ways of learning — direct knowledge and indirect knowledge. Direct knowledge involves firsthand experiences through the senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell, whereas indirect knowledge involves looking at, listening to, or reading about someone else's experiences. In other words, we can learn from the experiences of others just as well as we can from our own experiences. So when we gain experience at a certain thing and develop techniques in the midst of struggle, we should share our experiences and techniques in the hope that they will explain, inform, or aid other comrades in their political work.
Above all, organizers should bear in mind that our main task when organizing is to unite all those that can be united. In all the world, whether inside or outside prison, oppressed people know that unity in action is a necessary precondition for waging successful struggle. If you aren't for the unity of action, you aren't for the struggle. However, for those of us who are really for the struggle, we must prove it in action (practice) — in a concrete way.
An Oregon prisoner: I thought I'd share a few thoughts on my own strategies & tactics. Firstly it must be noted that I was literally raised in the feds, and in that system, violence is a social construct propagated by all. As such, men were much more receptive to community-organizing/unity. I personally went from ignorance and tribal identity to New Afrikan. And what I've used as a tool to build consciousness are "group/tribe - specific" literature & exercise regiments.
The first is taking say, a book by & about "Kiwes and Damus" and using it to spark dialogue. What I've found is "most" tribe-aligned men are more receptive to older men they respect & who take interest in learning about them and their tribe! Forging common ground if you will.
The second is using a physical exercise program as a means to build men! Starting with instilling discipline and accompanying self esteem, that follow one's acquiring a fit body. Now, obviously within a prison environment, the "group exercise(s)" (i.e. machine) can be seen by the AmeriKlan guards as "gang related." So I caution men to do so in a proper & compartmentalized manner to negate the erroneous misconception(s)!
I am a fluent Ki Swahili speaker. I have been for over 20 years. Now! What I've also discovered is that even in this ideologically backwards state, many New Afrikans and Chicanos take to learning the language. Which, for the New Afrikan, opens up a dormant sense of long-lost cultural identity. For the Chicanos, it rebuilds bridge(s) to the past. The days of Caesar Chavez, the Party, Unity in Struggle. A time of Klass unity, and our shared socio-political agenda = Power to the People! Enough said!
Clenched fist salutations to all who stand firm on progressive ideals & work diligently to build amidst the reactionaries whom aid our oppressors!
A Nevada prisoner: Between this issue of ULK 60 and the pamphlet Fundamental Political Line of MIM(Prisons) I came up with what I believe to be the biggest problems we face. Many people shy away from revolutionary struggle like trying to convert a Christian to Islam. It's despised like conspiracy theories. So with that said, Problem #1 is appealing to and reaching those best positioned to make changes.
The situation of what prompted me to say this: I study mostly on the tier. Curious people come over to see the unique Fundamental Political Line pamphlet on the table. First thing they ask me is if I'm doing bible study. I smile, then turn to the first page explaining what it is. I truly believe it scares them off because it is intimidating, it's bold, but it's truth. This happened several times.
Noticing this, I tried to come up with a way to better explain what our struggle is about. I found what I will use in ULK 60 p. 7 by USW23. I will say "This is about how to better understand our situation and how to change our conditions."
A Michigan prisoner: As for organizing different conversations. Yes, they do seem to get nowhere unless we're talking about gangs or some other subject that interests them. Very few people want to hear about doing something productive, as in educating their minds or developing some new skill or improving their community when they are released. A lot of these inmates want to continue selling drugs or becoming a rapper, or "what's the new clothing line or style," new phones, things like that — instead of empowering the youth.
Yes, I do struggle with people telling them or asking to write grievances because they don't want to snitch but when it's against these pigs they don't see that unless more complaints or grievances are seen or written, changes will not be made. They would rather deal with it than change it. I understand that if grievances are written on these pigs then in most cases they will be targeted, but as I mentioned, if nothing is said nothing will change! I am not sure what else I can say or do. You can help those whom do want to be helped. I show people the issues and I mention to them that they can be part of the change and movement to write to MIM and start there.
USW27 writes: As a member of the council of USW, September 9 Day of Peace and Solidarity is a blessing to us behind enemy lines who are committed to struggle against injustice. This gives us a chance to reflect and learn from history of our struggle from the lumpen viewpoint. And a chance to connect the dots of imperialism and capitalism and the characteristic of every stage of capitalism.
One of my strategies I've been using is talking to one Askari at a time to revolutionize the mind. Trying to change the reactionary into revolutionary. Reactionaries look at situations as war for influence, an ideological struggle to manipulate the situation for their gang. As we push for peace and solidarity there are some reactionary forces that see you as a threat because those same forces are benefiting just the way it is. They see you as a force of change. The question is, do you see yourself as a force of change? As a member of USW, you are an example on the front line. Your characteristic, the way you talk and the way you handle situations, and your attributes and commitment to the struggle. These young dada are looking for role models.
A Texas prisoner: I place one-page legal decisions on the wall to help anyone that may happen to need this information. Besides this information are two other items: a football schedule and the food menu.
My bunk-living area is in the dorm day-room. So, I look and can see directly these three papers. How prisoners act or react by looking at each, is what I call "falling in love with incarceration," or "falling in love with TDCJ."
Why do I say this? Just as a person knows when a person looks at them, from across a room, it is easy to see a person look at — or read — some item. I see them review breakfast, lunch, and dinner; even the next day's breakfast. They go into a long talk: "I ain't gonna to to breakfas' tomorah - it is jess pancakes." Another looks at the menu, then at the football schedule. "Yep! I know Minnesota will be in their own stadium — they can't lose the Super Bowl!" Others, their eyes glance at "Four Tips on Your Habeas Corpus Application." Their eyes, in a moment, move to the menu. "Hey, they got beek sketty tonite. You gonna go? I is."
Rarely have I witnessed, day or night, anyone taking time to look at and review how to get out of prison. I have several precedental case-laws from 1992 until 2016. Yet, all say, "he doesn't know what he's doin."
MIM(Prisons) adds: Finally, the comrade below shows us what recruiting looks like from the other side. The details are different for everyone, but just in case we forgot the small moments that led us into organizing, we are including it as an example here. Even if our one conversation or posting of a document on the wall falls flat in the moment, we are facilitating the repeated exposure of people to political organizing. These "retriggers" are what lead to eventual independent interest.
A West Virginia prisoner: I always knew I was anti-government because the oppression of the government towards my people was clear. Majority of the time my people committed crimes against willing participants in the streets, so I didn't understand why the government was kidnapping my brothers and abusing my sisters. It shocked me to see the police come in the projects and cold killers take off and run. Something I'm not really into no more.
Once I was in prison I was introduced to the Black Guerilla Family by a dude straight outta the District of Columbia. He told me that I'm a revolutionary. I laughed at the word and told him to say it again because it resonated with me, but I didn't know what it meant, so he told me look it up.
It just so happened he led me astray and the next thing I knew we were in a war with the folks. I was sent to a maximum security facility in West Virginia, quality of life program, better known as administrative segregation, locked down 23 hours a day. I decided to get the book Blood in my Eye by George L. Jackson and learned the history of the movement. It opened my eyes!
My celly and myself formed a small coalition between my brothers and his brothers, red, blue, white, even hispanics to speak out against the administration (the real enemy) about their abuse of power and their negligence. We strategically created conversation and before you know it the whole housing unit was in an uproar. We had planted the seed. Now, without organization, we tend to turn our anger and frustrations into violence and destruction, which is a losing battle. So, we pushed that pen, which turned out to be mightier and more effective than the sword. We wrote Administrative Remedy Procedures (ARP), the Inmate Grievance Office (IGO), the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS), commissioners, the Deputy Secretary of Operations, and even the Governor, Larry Hogan, himself.
The issues we raise weren't addressed, so we're still waiting for responses. But regardless if we're denied any relief and we are aware of those possibilities, we created a solid peaceful foundation for unity and realized who the real oppressors are. So as long as we support each other's positive causes we are making forward progress, in the opposite direction of negativity. One step at a time!
Some brothers feel we won't get any relief because the administration do what they want. So I ask them, "if they ain't giving us this and taking that already, how is filing complaints and grievances and them not giving us any relief hurting?" "They doing what they want without so much as an inklet of rebuttal, so how do you lose writing them up?" Then I wait... No response.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Elsewhere in this issue of ULK the point is raised that leading includes showing victories, and not just talking about them.
Committed revolutionaries know that building a movement strong enough to end oppression worldwide is a huge task that takes years and years, and we're going to have lots of small failures along the way. But when building with new recruits, we need to be careful to not lead them down a dead end, in a way that discourages them and undermines unity building. Building initial interest should be energizing. It should inspire people.
At the same time, we can use our organizing defeats as opportunities for education. As this writer is doing, creating a foundation for unity and clarifying who are the real oppressors is a victory in and of itself. But we should be clear with people that there's a good chance we won't win grievances. This doesn't mean the time was wasted, because we've put the administration on notice that we won't take their bullshit lying down. Where we anticipate few victories we need to think creatively about how to inspire people to action and help them understand how this work fits into the larger struggle so that movement building is a victory in and of itself.