24 OCTOBER 2016 — I have received y'all's latest newsletter. I love reading the ULK newsletters. Always very informational. Which has helped me a lot!
Here at the McConnell Unit in Belville, Texas, it is very, very, hard to get prisoners involved in such issues as 1) Campaign to resist restrictions on indigent correspondence; 2) Petition the Federal Trade Commission: TDCJ's monopoly on stationary; 3) We demand our grievances are addressed in Texas, etc, etc.
I've shared the Texas Pack with several prisoners and some just say that they are not interested. As long as they let prisoners here watch TV, go to the commissary, use the phone, play dominoes, chess, and scrabble, people don't care. It's all they care about, which in reality is very sad. Because these are issues that affect us all as a whole group. And in some cases violate our civil and constitutional rights.
The Texas Pack has given me very helpful information for not only my own benefit but to help other prisoners who ask for help, and especially those that are monolingual and don't know how to file a grievance, etc. The information that y'all supply me has not only helped me but for me to help others, which I do almost on a daily basis. Thank y'all very much!
MIM(Prisons) responds: This author is using the Texas Pack exactly as it's intended — not to be hoarded as a persynal reference, but to be shared with others so we can all benefit. Ey also brings up an all-too-frequent complaint about prisoners in Texas: that they are checked out and unwilling to stand up for their rights or the rights of others. What is the difference between this writer, and the people ey is saying only care about board games and TV? Obviously there are activists in TDCJ facilities. How are they made?
Even people who seem to only care about board games and TV, we know they're not just lazy or don't care. It is likely a defense mechanism they've developed over time. If i only care about TV, i can have some happiness even though i'm in prison. If i only care about TV, i can for the most part avoid attention from prison staff. If i only care about TV, i can access something i want; i can escape from my reality for a short time; etc.
It's unlikely, though, that these folks only care about TV, even though that's what they're projecting. Presenting the grievance petition to them, while it's a righteous campaign, often just makes people defensive. They're defensive because they need to protect this narrative that they've created about their "values," often times in order to just get through the day, and cope with their harsh reality.
Certainly with some people we can present a valid campaign, they'll recognize it as a valid campaign, and they'll come on board. But people who are defensive or prone to stagnation need a different approach.
A good place to start in trying to organize these folks is to figure out what they do care about, besides TV. They may not want to talk about it, it may be sad and upsetting to care about things you can't have (such as affection with your children while you're in prison, for example). But we can still try to help them figure it out. Help them develop their identity around their own value system, rather than the value system put upon them by bourgeois society and imprisonment.
How do they want to be seen by the world, their family, their peers? What do they want to stand for? What have they done in the past that they felt good about, that represents how they see themselves? When we know answers to these questions, we can help show how their values actually relate to the campaigns outlined in the Texas Pack and the pages of ULK.
Issue 63 of ULK is going to be focused on this topic of tactical organizing approaches, and the nitty gritty of building the United Front for Peace in Prisons. We want our subscribers to send in methodology and tools which have helped them in their organizing efforts. Even if it doesn't have a formal name, can you spell out your approach for dealing with ambivalence, or ignorance, or even a disorganized study group meeting? We want to hear about it and share it with others!
"As did witch hunters in the past do we still have 'criminal' scapegoats?" This is a good question but a better one to ask is "are we still sometimes misled by authorities who define crime in their own interests or out of ignorance, as authorities did in dealing with witchcraft?"(1) For those conscious of being oppressed this isn't a hypothetical, but an actual problem to be solved. Even those unconscious of the political situation, living in the barrios, this is an everyday problem; it is reality. The problem turns on what is "criminal" and who should define "crime"?
Nobody doubts that poverty, lack of legitimate opportunities and such in the barrio leads people to alternative methods of survival, which the system has declared criminal. Consider this: a brown boy grows up in a violent, poverty-stricken barrio. He is denied most, if not all, "socially appropriate" methods/means for success (e.g., role models to learn from, positive environment, good education, adequate employment opportunities). Without access to approved avenues for social survival — yet still held to society's expectations — our brown boy turns to alternative means and learns the perils of the injustice system. Is it criminal that he turned to the only obvious option available? Or is it criminal that capitalists have attempted to make that his only option?
The United States has an injustice system which focuses on the actions of an individual, not on the reason, motivation, or purpose. To address this failing and irradiate it, those caught up in the vicious cycle must rise up. Our communities must also join in the necessary revolution for hope of success. Activism on a proactive level is needed. We cannot be liberal-minded (reforming without making substantive changes to the system structure) in our objectives. Changing only definitions ignores the problem, which is the process itself. Reform of existing systems is equal to affirming their correctness but asserting that some fine-tuning is needed. Such is not the case.
A quantifiable and qualitative change is necessary which cannot be accomplished within the current system.(2) We, the people, must construct independent resources and systems if we are ever to supplant capitalism and its inherent inequality. In pursuit of this, our community members must connect with prisoners (current and former), coordinating and cooperating, building and spreading consciousness, correct political views, theory, practice and support for the movimiento.
One's actions cannot be labeled criminal if those are the only options made available. Today our communities generally face an alternative of evils: spend one's life struggling within a system meant to keep us outside the power structure, never progressing, or refuse to be subjugated and be labeled criminal. The choice is between a slow and torturous death and surviving by "crime." Those not faced with this drastic choice of evils cannot rightfully say what is and is not criminal.
"Law provides the baseline for formal social control. Criminalization of behaviors is a political process..."(3) The first steps towards changing this political process — the arbitrariness of labeling procedures — is to correct the criterion of what constitutes crime. From there, remove those who have contributed to labeling criminality and re-educating them as communists did in China during the 1950s.(4) Pressure from below provoking pressure from above to induce meaningful change.(5) Supplanting capitalism is a marathon not a mile-long race. Every stage must be approached and accomplished with care and attention. We revolutionaries must be methodical, concise and avoid impertinence. Success will come, just not overnight.
I am currently incarcerated in Pennsylvania at the State Correctional Institution: Chester. And every day as I look around this place I'm forced to live in, all I see is a growing number of "synthetic snaps." When I first came to state prison in 2006 drugs were an issue but not like they are today. These new cheaper, and more easily obtainable synthetic drugs such as suboxone or subutex and K-2 synthetic marijuana, are making prison society worse and more depressing than ever. These subs cause withdrawal symptoms like heroin and are causing convicts to throw away their solidarity to scumbag each other in pursuit of their next fix.
Suboxone strips are flat and very easy to smuggle into prisons and all one needs to obtain them on the streets is to test positive for opiates at a clinic to receive up to 90 strips a month for a small co-pay. They then smuggle them into the prisons where they can sell for up to $100 apiece wholesale which is like a 10,000% profit which is irresistible to most "hustlers."
This new opiate replacement has prisons in an uproar. Convicts are stealing from and robbing each other to get just a little "piece" to chase away their withdrawal symptoms. And our RHUs are filled with "protective custody" inmates who ran up drug debts on credit that they couldn't cover.
Then we have the so-called "synthetic marijuana" product K-2. I was an avid marijuana smoker on the streets and this stuff is way different than blowin a sacc of loud. K-2 can cause violent outbursts, passing out, seizures, suicide attempts, and serious mental breakdowns. I have seen people attempt to fly over the fence earning them escape charges. People lose touch with reality and lash out at everyone around them. Guys pass out standing up, cracking their heads open, and to top it off a guy on my block at SCI: Somerset went all zombie on his celly biting him on his face and arms. This stuff is more like bad PCP than marijuana. It just blows my mind that synthetics are causing more problems than their "real" counterparts.
We as a united front against the injustice system need to stop trying to capitalize off the downfall of our comrades, and utilize our efforts to solidify our ranks against our oppressors. The rapper Meek Millz is a prisoner here at Chester with me and has stated that even growing up on the drug-laden streets of Philadelphia he couldn't imagine a cell block in prison so closely resembling a drug block in the badlands of his home city. We can't continue to give the oppressors more ammo to use against us. I understand that boredom, hopelessness, and other forms of incarceration depression tend to drive us to find ways to numb us. But let's try to come together and help our comrades strive to kick habits they have already acquired, and to prevent anyone from picking one up.
This is just another battle we need to unite to win. Whether you're White, Black, or Hispanic, Crip, Blood, Latin, or Aryan, come together for the greater good of convicts everywhere. Pay attention, comrades, because Amerikkka wants to catch us slippin'.
MIM(Prisons) responds: In the November issue of Under Lock & Key we got deep into the issue of drugs in prison. All writers agreed it's a big problem, though what is used and how the problem plays out varies from state to state and even within each prison. And a lot of folks came to the same conclusion as this comrade: we need to stop trying to make money off the suffering of others and instead come together against the injustice system. This letter is a good follow-up to that issue of ULK because we need to keep this topic front and center as we work to find ways to help people kick the habit and join the revolutionary movement.
Are you helping comrades kick their drug habits? What methods and tactics are you using? What have you tried that didn't work, and why? What harm reduction tactics can we try to employ? What about counseling techniques? The State isn't going to fix this problem for us. We need to make our own interventions and support systems.
In recent months, the Countrywide Council of United Struggle from Within, or Double C for short, has been discussing campaigns, tactics and strategies. One question posed by MIM(Prisons) was about the September 9th Day of Solidarity, an annual event to commemorate the Attica Rebellion of 1971 and to promote the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP). So far the consensus in the Double C is that this event is an important one for promoting the UFPP.
One member told of an older comrade who has been in since 1979 who recently told em, "Thank you for waken me up to this Sept 9 day." Others agreed that the people are hungry for this message. Another Double C comrade quickly made copies of the fliers and distributed them at the library and jobsite at eir new facility where ey sees strong prospects for building anti-violence programs among lumpen groups.
In ULK 58, we printed a letter from the Double C to a reformist group called CURE, and laid out our strategy and guidelines for reaching out to other organizations. In recent months, Double C comrades have helped get excellent articles promoting the UFPP in two newsletters read by prisoners: Turning the Tide and Propter Nos. USW comrades should follow these examples of ways to get the line out on the UFPP, a campaign we can unite with all progressive groups on, revolutionary or not.
In writing to other organizations and newsletters, USW has goals of popularizing USW campaigns and increasing ULK subscribership. But we should not let these goals take us toward a strategy of sizeism. Our goal is not to get our address in as many newsletters as possible at any cost, rather we should be focused on unity and struggle. We should be building unity where we see potential for it around practical work, while struggling to push others ideologically.
Building a united front of prisoners, involving various prison-based lumpen organizations, is a long campaign that must be carried out in our daily work. September 9th is just one day when we organize a coordinated action to actualize that unity. September 9th is a time to reflect on the prison movement that came before us and on how to develop the prison movement of today and the future. September 9th will not become big overnight. When it does get big, it will because of years of hard work of USW cadre across the country.
Comrades in the Double C are reviewing the September 9th Organizing Pack and existing fliers promoting the United Front for Peace in Prisons, to come up with tactics, art and slogans for further popularizing the event. This is something that all USW comrades can participate in. Starting with this issue of ULK we plan to print a piece of art on page 3 behind the UFPP statement that can be ripped out and copied as a flier. If you don't have access to make copies write MIM(Prisons) for more copies of these fliers. Send in your art promoting the UFPP and September 9th. Send in your slogans. Report on your organizing successes, strategies and challenges to share in the pages of Under Lock & Key. Build the United Front for Peace in Prisons!
I received the book that you sent me and the ULK newsletter. I agree with the line that all sex is rape and that the majority of the white working class in the United States is not a revolutionary force due to the fact that they have a material interest in maintaining imperialism on a global stage.
I been doing organizing and educational work. I been helping showing others how to fill out grievance forms. I end up getting 100% participation from all cadres on lock up down at Jessup Correctional Institution. As you can see my address changed. They moved me to Maximum security prison North Branch, it is the most secure prison at Maryland. Due to my organizing and assault on COs at Jessup they raised my security level.
We had to move the struggle to the physical level because they was not respecting our grievance forms; they was ripping them up. When the grievance process fails the physical level is the next step. I am not a focoist. But when oppressive tactics are used by the imperialist blood suckers of the poor then violence is the next step.
I don't think that the drug problem is getting any better. A lot of brothers are getting high off of the medication these nurses are giving out which is nothing but another form of social control that is used by the imperialist system. Everything under this capitalist system is abnormal. The people will only begin to see the value of people through the transitional stage of socialism. Individualism is what majority of citizens value. We as communists must continue to struggle and fight to win the people over.
I have political debates all the time with capitalists. They don't see how the means of production should be collectively owned by the people. I been raising the class consciousness elucidating to comrades how the Democratic party and the Republican party will not exist without perpetuating social conflict amongst the people and how racism and classism is inextricably built into the capitalist system.
One thing about a lot of women is they don't like the inequality and sexism but when you ask them do they believe we should abolish the current system a lot of them will say no! A lot of women are willing to put up with inequality and sexism because they have a material interest. I agree with this line that sexism will always exist under this capitalist system even during the transitional stage which is socialism. Classism is the worst social ill that we have in our society, to me classism is a disease it takes a long time to cure. I am a blackman from a low income community. A lot of women I talk to are ignorant to communism. They have a bad perception about it due to imperialist propaganda. I would like to learn more about Mao Zedong. Please send some knowledge about Mao Zedong.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We have a lot of unity with this writer about the nature of class, nation and gender oppression in the imperialist world today. But we see national oppression as the main problem today, not class. This is because imperialism is built on a system of nations oppressing other nations. That oppression is economically exploitative, and in many ways parallels class oppression. But recent history has shown revolutionary nationalism to be the form that the most successful anti-imperialist organizing has taken. We will have the best success against imperialism by pushing national liberation struggles. And these in turn will push forward the class struggle.
We also want to comment on the question of organizing strategies becoming physical. Change can't occur without action that has consequences. And ultimately an oppressor that uses force to control must face a response of force before that oppression can be ended. But as Sun Tzu taught in the Art of War, the enemy must be truly helpless to be defeated. Comrades must be careful to plan actions so that they don't just result in greater repression. Leaders getting locked up in isolation doesn't advance the movement. Everyone needs to evaluate their own conditions to determine what's the best organizing approach and what's necessary for self-defense. And self-defense should not be confused with revolution.
This is a response to the recent article on Prop. 57 organizing. While I understand how this could be a tool for comrades to organize with, at the same time there are plenty of programs here at Folsom that are doing the whole time reduction program. For example, there are a few of my homies that have gotten 1/4 of their time knocked off after GED/College degree. And they are not white, rich, or snitches as the headline suggests.
Now one thing that we can definitely push is for youth offenders to be able to fit the criteria of Prop. 57. Because that is definitely something us under SB260-261 do not fit into. Not to say that the carrot of reform is something we bit into with high hopes, but it can most definitely be something to put into motion.
I just feel the headline stating that only snitches and privileged are getting good time in New Folsom EOP/GP could be a turn off. It will move/push people in the wrong direction. We can use this, let's just not label solid comrades snitches on paper when organizing.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We thank this comrade for this criticism and correction. While we did print a couple responses from USW comrades in ULK 60 citing instances of good time used to favor certain prisoners, we should not paint with such a broad brush to imply that anyone getting good time is in that boat.
It does seem that access to info on Prop. 57 is also imbalanced. As we are still getting people asking for information, while others say the state is on top of it. Strategically, we seek to build Serve the People programs where we can provide for the needs of the masses better than the state. Prop. 57 is not a place we can do a better job than what the state is doing. Providing books that serve the interests of oppressed nations, for example, is. We agree with this comrade that we cannot hope for reformism to change things, but we can fight for winnable battles that help us move in the direction of revolutionary change.
Addendum: The politics of Prop. 57 also overlap with the focus of this issue of Under Lock & Key. The CDCR tried to exclude anyone convicted of a crime that required being registered as a sex offender from Prop. 57 benefits. But only certain crimes in the sex offender classification are also classified as violent felonies in the California Penal Code. In February, in a suit brought by the Alliance for Constitutional Sex Offense Laws, a judge ruled that the CDCR was overstretching the law, and that limits on Prop. 57 must be applied only to those convictions deemed "violent" in the California Code. (16 February 2018, Seth Augenstein, California's Prop 57 Sex Offender Release Regs Are Void, Court Rules)
For this issue of Under Lock & Key we took on the task of investigating the impacts of drugs and the drug trade on the prison movement. We ran a survey in the Jan/Feb 2017 and March/April 2017 issues of Under Lock & Key. We received 62 completed surveys from our readers in U.$. prisons. We have incorporated the more interesting results in a series of articles in this issue. This article looks at the central question of the role of the drug trade inside and outside prisons and how to effectively organize among the lumpen in that context. In other articles we look more closely at the recent plague of K2 in U.$. prisons, and the latest rise in opioid addiction and what socialism and capitalism have to offer us as solutions.
Bourgeois society blames the individual
Bourgeois society takes an individualistic view of the world. When it comes to drugs, the focus is on the individual: we talk about how they failed and succumbed to drugs because of their weakness or mistakes as an individual. While individuals must ultimately take responsibility for their actions, it is only by understanding society at a group level, using dialectical materialism to study the political economy of our world, that we can address problems on a scale that will make a real impact. Even at the individual level, it’s more effective to help people make connections to the root causes of their problems (not supposed persynality flaws) and empower them to fight those causes if we want lasting change.
Much of our criminal injustice system is built on punishment and shaming of those who have been convicted. A proletarian approach to justice uses self-criticism to take accountability for one’s actions, while studying political economy to understand why that path was even an option in the first place, and an attractive one at that.
In the essay “Capitalism Plus Dope Equals Genocide”, Cetewayo, a Black Panther leader, provides a good example of overcoming the conditions one is born into. Ey was addicted to heroin from age 13 to 18, before joining the Black Panther Party. Eir example stresses the importance of providing alternative outlets for oppressed nation youth. In some cases the mere existence of that alternative can change lives.
Drugs and the Principal Contradiction in Prison
MIM(Prisons) and leaders in the Countrywide Council of United Struggle from Within (Double C) have had many conversations about what the principal contradiction is within the prison population. MIM(Prisons) has put forth that the parasitic/individualistic versus self-sufficient/collective material interests of the lumpen class is the principal contradiction within the prison movement in the United $tates today. The drug problem in prisons relates directly to this contradiction. Those pursuing drugs and/or dealing are focused on their persynal interests, at the expense of others. The drug trade is inherently parasitic as it requires an addicted population to be profitable, and users are escaping the world for an individual high, rather than working to make the world better for themselves and others.
A Double C comrade from Arkansas explains this contradiction:
"Things have been slow motion here due to lockdown. Reason being too much violence across the prison. Some of this violence is due to the underground economy. Being submerged in a culture of consumerism which is not only an obstacle to our emancipation (mentally and physically) this self-destructive method of oppression is a big problem consuming the population. I’ve been in prisons where the market is not packed or heavily packed with drugz. It is in those yards that unity and productive lines are greatly practiced. The minute drugz become the leading item of consumption, shit breaks down, individualism sets in and all of the fucked up tendencies follow suit.
"I say 75% of the population in this yard is a consumer. About 5% have no self control, it’s usually this percentage that ends up a ‘debt’ victim (since you owe $ you owe a clean up). Aggressor or not, consumerism is a plague that victimizes everyone one way or another. This consumerism only aids the pigz, rats, infiltrators, and oppressors in continuing with a banking concept of ‘education/rehabilitation’ and therefore domesticating the population.
“I mean the consequences and outcomes are not hidden, it is a constant display of what it is when you can’t pay the IRS, so it is not as if people don’t know. I’ve seen people slow down or stopped some old habits after experiencing/witnessing these beheadings. Shit, I just hit the yard because pigz were all inside the block searching and homeboy’s puddles of blood were still on the yard.”
Drugs and Violence
It is no secret that drugs and violence often go hand-in-hand. As the above comrade alludes to, this is often related to debts. But one of the things we learned from our recent survey of ULK readers is that in most prisons there is an inherent threat of violence towards people who might take up effective organizing against drugs.
A California comrade wrote,
“No one in prison is going to put their safety and security on the line over drugs. You have to understand that life has little value in prison. If you do anything to jeopardize an individual’s ability to earn a living, it will cost you your life.”
Another California comrade was more explicit,
“If you say anything about the drugs, cell phones, extortions, etc., whether if you’re in the general population, or now, worse yet in 2017, SNY/Level IV, the correctional officers inform the key gang members that you’re running your mouth. You either get hit immediately, or at the next prison. Although my safety is now at stake, by prisoners, it’s being orchestrated by corrections higher-ups concocting the story.”
This was in response to our survey question “Have you seen effective efforts by prisoners to organize against drug use and its effects? If so, please describe them.” Not only were the responses largely adamant “no”s, the vast majority said it would be dangerous to do so. This was despite the fact that we did not ask whether it would be dangerous to do so. Therefore, we assume that more than 73% might say so if asked.
Some readers questioned what to do about staff involvement bringing drugs into the prisons. One writer from Pennsylvania said:
“It’s hardly ever dry in Fayette and this institution is a big problem why. A lot of the staff bring it in. Then when someone goes in debt or does something they wouldn’t normally do, they don’t want to help you, if you ask for help. There’s no unity anymore. Nobody fights or stands up for nothing. Everybody rather fight each other than the pigs. It would take a lot to make a change in the drug situation. Is it wrong to put the pigs out there for what they’re doing? Would I be considered a snitch? I know there would be retaliation on me, maybe even a ass whoopin. I’m curious on your input on this.”
If we look at the involvement of staff in bringing drugs into prisons, and the violence associated with the drug trade, we have to call bullshit when these very same institutions censor Under Lock & Key on the claim that it might incite violence. The system is complicit, and many staff actively participate, in the plague of drugs that is destroying the minds and bodies of the oppressed nation men and wimmin, while promoting individualistic money-seeking behavior that leads to brutal violence between the oppressed themselves.
Organizing in Prisons
While the reports responding to that question were mostly negative, and the situation seems dire, we do want to report on the positive things we heard. We heard about successful efforts by New Afrikans getting out of the SHU in California, some Muslim communities and the Nation of Gods and Earths. Some have been at this for over a decade. All of these programs seemed to be of limited scope, but it is good to know there are organizations providing an alternative.
In Arkansas, a comrade reports,
“For the mass majority of drug users and prisoners I have not seen any positive efforts to stop drug use and its effects. But for my affiliation, the ALKN, we have put the product of K2/deuce in law with heroin and its byproducts where no member should be in use of or make attempts to sell for profit or gain. If you do you will receive the consequences of the body who governs this affiliation and organization for lack of discipline and obedience to pollute your self/body and those around you who are the future and leaders of tomorrow’s nations.”
While practice varies among the many individuals at different stages in the organization, the Latin Kings/ALKQN has historically opposed the use of hard drugs amongst its members. Many in New York in the 1990s attributed their recovery from drug addiction to their participation in the organization.(1)
There are some good examples of lumpen organizations engaging in what we might call policies of harm reduction. One comrade mentioned the 16 Laws and Policies of Chairman Larry Hoover as an example of effective organizing against drugs in eir prison. Lumpen leaders like Jeff Fort and Larry Hoover are where we see a national bourgeoisie with independent power in the internal semi-colonies of the United $tates. The proletarian organizations of the oppressed nations should work to unite with such forces before the imperialists corrupt them or force them into submission. In fact, the Black Panthers did just that, but failed to build long-term unity with the Black P. Stone Rangers largely due to state interference and repression.
On the other hand, in some states comrades reported that lumpen organizations are among the biggest benefactors from the drug trade. Some of the same names that are mentioned doing positive work are mentioned as being the problem elsewhere. This is partly explained by the largely unaffiliated franchise system that some of these names operate under. But it is also a demonstration of the principal contradiction mentioned above, which is present in the First World lumpen outside of prisons, too. There is a strong individualist/parasitic tendency combating with the reality that self-sufficiency and collective action best serve the oppressed nations. Too often these organizations are doing significant harm to individuals and the broader movement against the criminal injustice system, and can not be part of any progressive united front until they pull out of these anti-people activities.
The more economically entrenched an organization is in the drug trade, the more they are siding with the imperialists and against the people. But on the whole, the First World lumpen, particularly oppressed nation youth, have the self-interest and therefore the potential to side with their people and with the proletariat of the world.
As one Texas comrade commented:
"I must say that the survey opened a door on the issue about drugs within prison. After doing the survey I brought this up with a couple of people to see if we could organize a program to help people with a drug habit. I’m an ex-drug dealer with a life sentence. I can admit I was caught up with the corruption of the U.S. chasing the almighty dollar, not caring about anyone not even family. Coming to prison made me open my eyes. With the help of MIM and Under Lock & Key I’ve been learning the principles of the United Front and put them in my everyday speech and walk within this prison. The enemy understands that the pen is a powerful tool. Comrades don’t trip on me like other organizations done when I let them know I’m a black Muslim who studied a lot of Mao Zedong.
Building Independent Institutions of the Oppressed
At least one respondent mentioned “prisoners giving up sources” (to the pigs to shut down people who are dealing) in response to the question about effective anti-drug organizing. From the responses shown below, it is clear that the state is not interested in effective anti-drug programming in prisons. This is an example of why we need independent institutions of the oppressed. We cannot expect the existing power structure to meet the health needs of the oppressed nation people suffering from an epidemic of drug abuse in U.$. prisons.
The Black Panthers faced similar conditions in the 1960s in the Black ghettos of the United $tates. As they wrote in Capitalism Plus Dope Equals Genocide,
“It is also the practice of pig-police, especially narcotics agents, to seize a quantity of drugs from one dealer, arrest him, but only turn in a portion of the confiscated drugs for evidence. The rest is given to another dealer who sells it and gives a percentage of the profits to the narcotics agents. The pig-police also utilize informers who are dealers. In return for information, they receive immunity from arrest. The police cannot solve the problem, for they are a part of the problem.”
Our survey showed significant abuse of Suboxone, a drug used to treat opioid addiction. In the 1970s Methadone clinics, backed by the Rockefeller Program, became big in New York. The state even linked welfare benefits to these services. Yet, Mutulu Shakur says, “In New York City, 60 percent of the illegal drugs on the street during the early ’70s was methadone. So we could not blame drug addiction at that time on Turkey or Afghanistan or the rest of that triangle.”(2) Revolutionaries began to see this drug that was being used as treatment as breaking up the revolutionary movement and the community. Mutulu Shakur and others in the Lincoln Detox Center used acupuncture as a treatment for drug addiction. Lincoln Detox is an example of an independent institution developed by communists to combat drug addiction in the United $tates.
“[O]n November 10, 1970, a group of the Young Lords, a South Bronx anti-drug coalition, and members of the Health Revolutionary Unity Movement (a mass organization of health workers) with the support of the Lincoln Collective took over the Nurses’ Residence building of Lincoln Hospital and established a drug treatment program called The People’s Drug Program, which became known as Lincoln Detox Center.”(3) Lincoln Detox was a program that was subsequently run by the Young Lords Party, Black Panthers that had survived the Panther 21 raid, the Republic of New Afrika, and White Lightning, a radical organization of white former drug addicts, until 1979 when a police raid forced the communists out of the hospital, removing the political content of the program.(4)
Young Lord Vicente “Panama” Alba was there from day one, and tells eir story of breaking free of addiction cold turkey to take up the call of the revolution. After sitting on the stoop watching NYPD officers selling heroin in eir neighborhood, and a few days after attending a Young Lords demonstration, Panama said, “Because of the way I felt that day, I told myself I couldn’t continue to be a drug user. I couldn’t be a heroin addict and a revolutionary, and I wanted to be a revolutionary. I made a decision to kick a dope habit.”(3) This experience echoes that of millions of addicted Chinese who went cold turkey to take up building socialism in their country after 1949.
Mutulu Shakur describes how the Lincoln Detox Center took a political approach similar to the Chinese in combatting addiction, “This became a center for revolutionary, political change in the methodology and treatment modality of drug addiction because the method was not only medical but it was also political.” Shakur was one of the clinic’s members who visited socialist China in the 1970s to learn acupuncture techniques for treating addiction. He goes on to describe the program:
“So the Lincoln Detox became not only recognized by the community as a political formation but its work in developing and saving men and women of the third world inside of the oppressed communities, resuscitating these brothers and sisters and putting them into some form of healing process within the community we became a threat to the city of New York and consequently with the development of the barefoot doctor acupuncture cadre, we began to move around the country and educate various other communities instead of schools and orientations around acupuncture drug withdrawal and the strategy of methadone and the teaching the brothers and sisters the fundamentals of acupuncture to serious acupuncture, how it was used in the revolutionary context in China and in Vietnam and how we were able to use it in the South Bronx and our success.”(2)
Dealing with the Dealers
Though the Black Panthers had organized the workers at Lincoln Hospital leading up to the takeover, by that time the New York chapter was already in decline due to repression and legal battles. While many BPP branches had to engage with drug cartels, the New York chapter stood out in their launching of heavily-armed raids on local dealers and dumping all of their heroin into the gutters. The New York Panthers faced unique circumstances in a city that contained half of the heroin addicts in the country, which was being supplied by la Cosa Nostra with help from the CIA. While there was mass support for the actions of the Panthers at first, state repression pushed the New York Panthers down an ultra-left path. The Panther 21 trial was a huge setback to their mass organizing, with 21 prominent Panthers being jailed and tried on trumped up terrorism charges. After they were all exonerated, the New York Panthers, siding ideologically with Eldridge Cleaver who was pushing an ultra-left line from exile in Algeria, made the transition to the underground. If they were going to be accused of bombings and shootings anyway, then they might as well actually do some, right?
These were the conditions under which the Black Liberation Army was formed. Though there was overlap between the BLA and those who led community projects like Lincoln Detox, the path of the underground guerrillas generally meant giving up the mass organizing in the community. Instead, raiding local drug dealers became a staple of theirs as a means of obtaining money. Money that essentially belonged to the NYPD, which was enabling those dealers and benefiting them financially. The former-Panthers-turned-BLA continued to destroy the dope they found, and punished the dealers they raided.
Again, we are confronted with this dual nature of the lumpen class. It would certainly be ultra-left to view all drug dealers as enemies to be attacked. It is also certainly clear that the CIA/Mafia/NYPD heroin trade in New York was an enemy that needed to be addressed. But how does the revolutionary movement interact with the criminal-minded LOs today? In its revolutionary transformation, China also had to deal with powerful criminal organizations. The Green Gang, which united the Shanghai Triads, significantly funded the Guomindang’s rise to power, primarily through profits from opium sales. In the late 1940s they opened up negotiations with the Communist Party as the fate of China was becoming obvious. However, no agreement was reached, and the criminal organizations were quickly eliminated in mainland China after 1949. They took refuge in capitalist outposts like Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and Chinatowns elsewhere in Asia and Europe. While heroin has returned to China, the gangs have not yet.(5)
While the contradiction between the communists and the drug gangs did come to a head, it was after defeating Japanese imperialism and after defeating the reactionary Guomindang government. And even then, most drug dealers were reformed and joined the building of a socialist society.
In eir article, Pilli clearly explains why slangin’ can’t be revolutionary. And a comrade from West Virginia gives an example where the shot-callers are explicitly working against the interest of the prison movement to further their economic goals. We must address the question of how the prison movement should engage with those who are slangin’. The answer to that is beyond the scope of our drug survey, and needs to be found in practice by the revolutionary cells within prisons taking up this organizing work.
Building Socialism to Serve the People
Many respondents to our survey sounded almost hopeless when it came to imagining a prison system without rampant drug addiction. But this hopelessness is not completely unfounded. As “Capitalism Plus Dope Equals Genocide”, reads:
“The government is totally incapable of addressing itself to the true causes of drug addiction, for to do so would necessitate effecting a radical transformation of this society. The social consciousness of this society, the values, mores and traditions would have to be altered. And this would be impossible without totally changing the way in which the means of producing social wealth is owned and distributed. Only a revolution can eliminate the plague.”
To back up what the Panthers were saying here, we can look at socialist China and how they eliminated opium addiction in a few years, while heroin spread in the capitalist United $tates. The Chinese proved that this is a social issue and not primarily a biological/medical one. The communist approach differed greatly from the Guomindang in that addicts were not blamed or punished for their addiction. They were considered victims of foreign governments and other enemies of the people. Even many former dealers were reformed.(6) Although we don’t have the state power now to implement broad policies like the Chinese Communist Party, we can help drug users focus on understanding the cause and consequences of their use in a social context. We need people to see how dope is harming not only themselves, but more generally their people, both inside and outside of prison. People start doing drugs because of problems in their lives that come from problems in capitalist society. Being in prison sucks, and dope helps people escape, even if it’s fleeting. But this escape is counter productive. As so many writers in this issue of ULK have explained, it just serves the interests of the criminal injustice system. We can help people overcome addictions by giving them something else to focus on: the fight against the system that wants to keep them passive and addicted.
I got a message to all the tweakers, tecatos, potheads and boozers. Wake Up! Can't you see you're doing exactly what the oppressors wants you to do? So why are you giving them the satisfaction? With all the cameras rolling 24-7, you think they don't know what you're doing? Newsflash: You ain't that slick, buddy.
"All I had to do is drink a lot of water to flush out my system." I overheard one drug addict say when he came back from medical, for a drug test. "My piss came back clean even though I just used in the morning."
It's a miracle! We must run and tell the others! Now it's safe to puff puff, cough cough, & slam slam! As long as you hydrate and drink drink (a lotta water), you could pass pass (the 'drug test'), no problem. Your passing grade might be a D- but at least you didn't fail, right? Wrong!
Let's face it, water or no water, your urine is dirty. I know it, you know it, and the porkchop-patrol most definitely knows it. They just don't care. Besides, lucky for you, there's never enough room in the "hole." Five segregation singleman cells for a facility that houses 650 prisoners equals "no vacancy".
It's like you have to schedule an appointment, make it onto a guest list, then wait for about a month, in order to make it into the hole. But if the COs really did their job this whole place would be empty.
Literally, there would only be about 20 people left in each dorm. That's how bad this epidemic is. But fear not my drug-addicted friend, the pigs have bigger fish to fry. Or at least that's what they want us to think.
Extremely violent prisoners get top priority over minor drug offenders. But if you've been locked up as long as I have, then you'd know that extreme acts of violence are mostly over a minor drug debt. Common sense tells me, "get rid of the drugs and the violence shall cease." I have a hunch that the "system" could stop the drug flow at any time. But, looking at it through their eyes, why ruin a good thing?
Figuratively speaking, drugs are the oil that keep the oppression machine running. Sobriety is the monkey-wrench that'll break this bitch down. So put the word out, we need more wrenches. Staying clean is the worst thing we could do to these puercos.
Think about it for a second. Imagine if we obliterate the drug trade in prison. Most of these facilities would go out of business. Half the staff would start filling out applications at Mickey D'z, and Walmart, at the end of their shifts. But instead, most of us wanna keep on getting shit-faced; letting the enemy win with its foot on our necks. Wake up!
The enemy loves getting us high. Because it leads to a lot of drama, and drama is the safety blanket that keeps the oppressors warm at night. It gives them job security and a fat bank account. Meanwhile, all the users and dealers turn against each other while the pigs kick back and laugh. Don't worry, though. They're gonna let you keep using and selling on one condition; as long as y'all keep fighting and snitching, stabbing and pinching.
Don't get my words twisted. I'm not implying that you could keep on using, and abusing, and not get caught. Because every now and then, like once in a blue moon, they make an example out of somebody. But from what I've seen, their victim is usually the most humble junkie on the block. Yeah, this dude gets high but he's cool. He pays his debts, and doesn't bother nobody. But for some reason, the puercos got it in for him. He already got a few "dirties," and has an appointment at the "hole."
"But what about that trouble-making tweaker?" There's 1 in every block. "How come he doesn't ever get called for a random drug test, and go away?" I ask myself.
Lord knows this trouble-making tweaker is not low key. He's a dead beat and proud of it. His drug debts are stacking up, and on top of that, he's starting fights in the open; all in front of the cameras. And
still, the hooras act like they don't see him. They treat him like a model inmate.
It's like the pigs are watching in the wings, waiting for the inevitable to happen. Instead of nipping the problem in the bud, they wait for the problem to get smashed out, stabbed, or removed from the yard. Only then they jump into action.
But don't think they're gonna swoop in like some superheroes. No. They take their sweet time, sometimes just stand there looking; waiting for the "victim" to get nicely bruised up. Only then, they bust out the cuffs and add charges.
"Come on, you guys are not even doing nothing!" I once heard a pig say to a boo bop squad while they beat a tweaker. "You gotta hit 'em harder if you want me to stop it!" Then he laughed, I laughed, and half the yard laughed. But it wasn't funny. And his sick sense of humor cost him his job, cause I didn't see him after that.
But that's what he gets for letting things get out of hand. And all that - the beating and the firing - could've been avoided if his co-workers would've done their job properly in the first place. But why ruin a good thing?
Wake up amigos! It's time to stop entertaining these hooras. It's time to put down the needles, and the pookies, and get our minds back.
Whether in prison or out in society, drugs constitute a major problem. In particular, for our Latino and Black communities, drugs represent a deceiving allure for youth. Power, status, authority, advancement, the all-mighty dollar - the "American Dream." In reality, drugs are just another trap to maintain our communities in an oppressed state unable to progress.
For us, drugs generally lead to a ruined life, prison, or death. There aren't many other avenues available. For those who've fallen into the drug illusion and find themselves in prison, the question is how can we help them escape drug's allure and stop the oppression of our nations?
Obviously, the system (controlled by capitalists and their contributors) has no inclination to help oppressed nations. Having to chase the American Dream through illicit methods or escaping our harrowing reality by using drugs is far more conducive to continuing a capitalistic state than providing viable means of community improvement. So we have to first recognize that no help will come from the top. Where does that leave us?
We have first-hand knowledge of drugs and an in-depth comprehension of our communities and cultures. What must happen is that those on the outside reach into the prisons and pull our people out from beneath the crushing weight of drugs. Building grassroots organizations focused on supporting those in the gulags overcome addiction. Not only addiction to using but to selling drugs as well. Connecting prisoners with outside sources for support, employment (once released), and most important of all, guidance. Many stuck in the gulags feel capitalism's oppression but have no idea how to combat it. Feeling hopeless to progress legally, many are seduced by drugs. Any guidance should be aimed at building consciousness, alternative avenues, and awakening a revolutionary spirit to pull people out from under the gulags.
The most important aspect of such grassroots organizations is that they're from among our own barrios. Their members live or lived where the struggle is deepest. They're connected in a way no outsider organization can ever be. All of this is good in theory, but does it actually work?
The BPP (Black Panther Party) gave us a perfect example when they educated their barrios while feeding their gente. From outside we must educate those inside, feeding them and providing alternative means of overcoming oppression. It must become clear that chasing the American Dream — a piece of the capitalist pie — isn't to our benefit. Our people are oppressed and gaining part of the pie does nothing to bring us closer to equality.
When capitalism is finally supplanted, revolutionary organizations with this kind of focus will provide the infrastructure for our new society. For the capitalists, you selling drugs is preferable to you fighting the system's oppression. You consuming drugs is more desired because you're escaping reality. Whether you sell or do drugs, you remove yourself from the necessary revolution and only contribute to the oppression visited upon our communities. And, if drugs don't ruin your life or kill you, there's another place for you. Capitalists call it the Department of Corrections, we call it the Dungeons.
Drugs are a powerful temptation. Not just for those who become addicted to using them, but also for those selling them. Many overdose or die due to drugs. Besides death and ruining your health and life, often drugs lead to prison. Once in the dungeons, drugs become an even larger problem. Although drugs represent a bigger problem behind bars, they also mean the potential for a more substantial revolutionary impact.
Drugs are taken and sold in abundance behind bars. Prescription medication, street drugs, homemade wine and beer are present in almost every gulag (varying in quantities and qualities). Drugs are sold for
the same reasons in the dungeons as out in society. They're taken for many of the same reasons, but predominantly for escape. Whether aware of this or not, most, if not all to some degree, in prison turn to drugs to make being a prisoner a little easier to live with.
Drugs contribute to many conflicts. Yet, their real impact is on prisoner resistance. Instead of analyzing the system, debating theories and strategems, building awareness and a united front, most are content
to accept what is given and whatever is ordered; so long as they can shoot up, snort, pop a pill, or drink reality away.
They're a part of prisons, just as they're a part of our barrios, and for the same reasons drugs pull us from our communities and land us in prisons. It's when we find ourselves in the dungeons, when reality hits us between the eyes, that we hold the greatest potential to help ourselves, our communities and defeat capitalism. Behind bars there's a choice to be made: continue to be a puppet, or become self-determinant.
If you're addicted to using drugs, become addicted to something useful: exercising, studying, teaching, etc. If you're addicted to selling, talk to other revolutionaries who understand the larger picture of the wider struggle oppressed nations face. Through study, research, inside and outside guidance (see, Notes on Advancing the Struggle: Outside), one can go from capitalist contributor to self-determinant.
A main problem or obstacle is prison culture. As I stated earlier, many are willing to be content as long as they have their distractions. This escapism is one of the main causes of the lack of resistance to jailer
domination. Most feel hopeless to effectively resist or lack any idea of how to begin. They feel that without other remedies, they might as well enjoy a little drink or high. Their lack of political consciousness is to blame, because they play unwittingly into the puppeteer's game. Once confronted with the reality of drugs and that you're nothing more than a pawn for capitalism, you've got to ask yourself at what price do you value your life? Are you without self-respect? Is it more important to
escape reality or to make efforts to stop the oppression in our barrios, which continues in the dungeons? Is your dignity that cheap that capitalists can buy it for an hour or two of good feelings?
The dungeons can be the fire that burns you or that strengthens you. But, it's a choice that must be made and revolutionaries must be active in guiding others towards this decision, towards answering these questions. For me and other revolutionaries the answer is simple: my dignity is worth more than their security.