Franklin Correctional Facility is a medium classification prison that does its best to oppress. Rules are broken on a constant basis by this administration. Their need to control every tiny moment and movement really displays their fears of us ever getting on the same page to take action. I'm not speaking riot, just trading info and court actions when it comes to confronting their gestapo tactics. The physical beatings in front of others by guards has placed fear into many hearts so that writing a grievance is taboo.
As an Orientation Facilitator, I used to inform those coming to this prison what to expect and how to protect themselves. Someone snitched on me and I was fired.
I wrote a total of 42 grievances but it was never enough for me. The next step was to meet the oppressors face to face, and I became the Inmate Liaison Committee (ILC) Chairman, and that's when the fireworks started. Contempt and hatred for me was freely displayed. I stayed on my horse until I was set up with a misbehavior report that sent me to the box.
When I got out I tried to get back to the ILC but was always stonewalled. My so-called peers refused to assist me, claiming it would hamper their agenda and they don't want any trouble. In other words they are comfortable and satisfied. Sellouts is what I call them. In order for any progress to take place snitches and sell-outs must be contained. Corrections depends on them for their services. The "I don't want to get involved" types complain and bitch but don't take any action. 1,700 prisoners reside here and about 20 will lay a pen game down. Law library sucks because the workers want to get paid to do nothing for you.
The prisoner organizations are so controlled that we are not allowed to advertise how to become a member. We are told what to spend and where to spend. I say let's organize and write Corrections in Albany, but my prisoner peers say we don't want to cause any trouble. How can people who weren't afraid to break the law be afraid to write in defending yourself or make a point. Even if you don't know how, ask someone. Make the pen your gun.
The capitalist company Corcraft runs sweatshops in this prison to make officer and prisoner clothing. Guys can't wait to work for them because it pays the best in comparison to 10 to 20 cents an hour for other assignments. Commissary prices continue to increase.
Any time I attempt to band us together in writing grievances and Article 78s someone snitches on me. Microphones are placed in the library, chapel and other places we congregate. How can any movement get generated when dudes snitch or are going home soon? I have done all I can, but fear and the lack of education gives corrections an all-systems-go for future oppression in a big way. We are losing in this injustice system and a lot of us don't care to know how to win. Organize!
MIM(Prisons) responds: Our work in the criminal injustice system in Amerika involves a constant battle between those who see the value in uniting to fight the system, and those who are taken in by the bribery offered by the prisons in exchange for complacency or snitching. This contradiction exists throughout the prison system in this country, but in some states we are winning more unity and strength while in others the anti-imperialist forces are still a small minority. New York state still does not have a grievance campaign while prisoners in twelve other states have already stepped up to push this important work forward. There was an important action last year in Auburn Correctional Facility in New York, where prisoners joined the food strike in California.
Activists must evaluate the conditions in their state and their prison, and then determine what they can do to most effectively educate and organize other prisoners. In some states this may involve mass protest, in others we are still at the point of building study cells and educating whoever is willing to talk with us. Wherever your struggle is at, MIM(Prisons) can provide material to help with the educating and organizing.
Here at the Ohio State Penitentiary our food service department was privatized about five months ago and taken over by a company called Amark. Since then we've had a steady decline in both the portions and quality of our food. It's to the point now that we're getting severely undercooked turkey bacon (2 slices) at breakfast and meat at other meals is mostly fat and sometimes contains tiny bit of bone. It's the kind of meat you wouldn't serve a dog.
Also, the pigs recently changed policies concerning the long term storage of our property that we may not be allowed at our current security or privilege levels but can have once our levels are lowered. The pigs are trying to force guys into authorizing them to either destroy or send home their property. For the most part guys are refusing to authorize or sign anything and threatening to sue if the pigs destroy their property anyway. Although as always some guys allowed themselves to be intimidated by the pigs. It remains to be seen what the pigs will eventually end up doing but this comrade will keep you posted.
MIM(Prisons) responds: When we see conditions change in a way that inspires others to protest individually, this is a good opportunity to insert some political education into the discussion, and use the situation to build unity against the criminal injustice system. These actions, taken against the whole group, underscore prisoners' basis for unity in fighting for their basic rights. There has been a lot of recent organizing and protests in Ohio, including a hunger strike at Ohio State Penitentiary last year. Political awareness is growing, and it's up to those who understand the big picture of imperialism and our fight against it to take up leadership roles in educating and organizing others.
A friend and I decided to observe a fast during the month of March because of the religious holidays such as Lent. Some people abstain from meat when they fast. Others won't eat anything during daylight hours. My friend and I decided to abstain from Keefe Commissary food during March. Our fast is prompted by the lack of economic justice and by the extortion of us by Keefe Commissary.
Our captors neither provide basic items such as deodorant, toothpaste, stamps, stationary, etc., nor pay us wages to allow us to purchase these items. So we are forced to ask our wimmin for financial support. And we are taking money from our wimmin when that money is also needed by our children.
But the united snakes is not satisfied by sinking its fangs into our necks just once. No, it strikes again by limiting our vendor to just Keefe Commissary. And Keefe Commissary sinks its own fangs into us by charging us exorbitant prices.
The united snakes bites us again by deducting 10-15% of all the money sent to us. Now 10% is supposedly for our "savings accounts" and is to be returned to us "upon release from prison." But in this settlement of Virginia, parole was abolished in July 1995. The prisoners whose release dates exceed their life expectancy (I know several men who cannot be released before the year 2300) still have 10% of all incoming money put into their "savings account."
It's very revealing that the Virginia Department of Corrections keeps the earned interest on these so-called savings accounts. If those accounts existed for the purpose of providing the prisoners with spending money upon release from prison (supposedly this will reduce recidivism), then wouldn't it be logical to also give the prisoner the earned interest?
It's also quite telling that the pittance paid for prison labor was cut from $10.50 per week to $4.05 per week. Paying us less money means our families send us more money which increases that 10% collected.
My friend and I came up with a list of these injustices. I wrote the list and sent it to a prisoner advocacy group for forwarding to the Virginia legislature. I included a letter stating we would be abstaining from Keefe Commissary for the month of March, and that the listed injustices are the reasons for it.
A captive working for the captors gave information about a copy of this letter that could be found in my friend's work desk. We are currently charged with "participating/encouraging others... in group demonstration" because other politically conscious prisoners have decided to join us in our fast. Not sure how many as of yet.
But according to Thornburg v. Abbot, 490 U.S. 401 (1989) the captors must have a penological interest in depriving prisoners of First Amendment rights. A religious fast is an expression protected by the First Amendment and by 42 U.S.C. 2000 et seq. The captors must show that our fasting is a threat to the security of the slave pens. Won't it be very revealing if the captors claim capitalist profits from Keefe are essential to the security of these gulags?
Of course our captors know they can, and most likely will, convict me of the offense even though the law is clear. The imperialist injustice system rarely grants punitive damages to a prisoner after the captors knowingly give a prisoner a conviction for actions that are both constitutionally protected and permitted. Pigs snub their snouts at the law without fear of repercussion.
I invite all prisoners in every gulag who read MIM(Prisons) publications to participate in fasting from commissary purchases during March. We can still eat from the prison slop trough. Decide which injustices you want addressed. Tell your friends why you are fasting. Send a list of injustices to the Chief Pig in Charge, your Governor, and report on your actions for Under Lock & Key.
As a young komrad here at Red Onion, I've had the privilege and blessing to run across some sharp komrades who were right and exact and were causing an uprising here. This wicked imperialist system felt threatened by this vanguard uprising. They used divide and conquer tactics to break the spirit of the lumpen who were politically awakening, by shipping certain komrades out of state to stop this vanguard movement.
United Political Prisoners Syndicate (UPPS) is a lumpen study group. I'm striving to pick up where the other komrades left off. The basis of our agenda is to wake up the oppressed stalag* prisoners in Dead Onion and throughout gulags in Virginia. I believe we as prisoners have all the power in our hands, but only if we move on the same accord can we be successful. We can employ tactics of hunger strikes, refusing to buy commissary from Keefe, and stalags who do some type of work all going on work strikes. These three actions alone will have these pigs in a serious bind until demands are met. UPPS is striving to get all oppressed lumpen on this accord. The masses always say stalags aren't going to go all the way. You can't worry about that and let that deter you from the bigger picture which is liberation for the people. We have the opportunity to expose this corrupt imperialist Dead Onion and Wally Ridge for what they are!
Like Bobby Seale said "Seize the Time," the time is at hand. When you know and overstand how the enemy thinks it puts you on guard and helps you in the long haul. To know and learn from history, helps dictate your future. All power to the people.
MIM(Prisons) responds: It is a long-standing tactic of the prisons to move political leaders around when they start organizing effectively in one place. This is why it is so important that no one individual takes on all the leadership or becomes a point of failure for the local movement. We must constantly be educating new comrades, building new leadership, and delegating tasks so that when our leaders are locked up in control units or transferred out of state our local struggle can continue. This is also why it's important for everyone to have direct contact with MIM(Prisons). Relying on others in your prison to share their ULK and other literature may seem efficient, but when either you or they are moved you will be unable to contact us and will lose connection to the broader anti-imperialist movement.
Thank you for sending me the essay titled Let's 'Gang-Up' on Oppression by Owusu Yaki Yakubu.(1) Having become a "reformed" gang member, this essay was extremely enlightening and solidified what I already knew: that the government fears the unification of gangs and their unified opposition against oppression. They also fear any gang member or other lumpen street elements developing a socially conscious, politicized, and revolutionary mentality.
I became politicized in the early 90s during my second year of captivity. I took a long and hard look at myself as a so-called "gang" member and I came to realize that I was being manipulated by the powers-that-be, through the process of psychology and socialization, to commit genocide against my own people. So I cut my gang ties and came to embrace Revolutionary New Afrikan Nationalism.
In his essay Owusu speaks about the New Afrikan Independence Movement. The article titled Terminology Debate: Black vs. New Afrikan, in No. 35 issue of Under Lock & Key, also speaks about New Afrikan Nationalism. I am in the process of starting an organization called My Brother's and Sister's Keeper (MBSK), which embraces Revolutionary New Afrikan Nationalism as its political mass line, or guiding principle. This ideology calls for the establishment of an independent socialist New Afrikan republic in the Southeast (USA), specifically in the Black-belt, the destruction of the North Amerikkkan imperialist state, the liberation and unification of Afrikan nations worldwide, the construction of a New Afrikan society, and the building of a new world order.
A New Afrikan is an Afrikan born in north Amerikkka. The name and concept "New Afrika" reflects our identity, purpose and direction. "New Afrikan" reflects our identity as a nation and a people - a nation and a people desiring self-determination. "New Afrikan" reflects our purpose as we desire freedom, self-determination and independence. By stating we are New Afrikans, we clarify we want to be independent from the Amerikkkan Empire. We want land and national liberation. We no longer want the ruling class of the amerikkkan Empire to determine our political, economic, socio-cultural affairs. MBSK sees that a people who do not control their own affairs is subject to genocide. When we control our own destiny we can determine our political, economic and socio-cultural affairs in the interest of our survival and development. "New Afrikan" also speaks to our identity because that's what we are. Our nation is primarily a racial, cultural, social fusion of various Afrikan ethnic and national groups - Iwe, Yoruba, Akan, Ashanti, Fante, Hausa, Ibo, Fulani, Congolese and several others - into a unique people. Even though our homeland was in Afrika, our people developed historical, economic, and spiritual ties to the New Afrikan National Territory, which consists of the states of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Louisiana. These states together are part of the historical Black belt birthplace, and the North Amerikkkan homeland of the New Afrikan nation. The struggle to free this land is called the New Afrikan Independence Movement (NAIM). To state we are New Afrikan recognizes our continuing aspirations to "free the land." "Free the Land" is the battle cry of the NAIM. When we say "free the land," the New Afrikan national territory is the land we are talking about freeing.
"New Afrikan" also recognizes our direction to build a new society based on new values. We want to create a revolutionary, progressive, humane society where exploitation of humans by humans is eliminated and all can live in dignity, peace and respect. As conscious New Afrikans, we work now to transform ourselves and our nation from decadent death-style of oppression to lifestyles of liberation.
The essay Let's Gang-Up on Oppression re-affirms what we already knew: that we need to develop unity within and amongst lumpen street organization and re-direct their aggression and radicalism to wage the real war: revolution.
Again, I thank you for sending me your material. I made copies of the essay and the UFPP statement of principles and passed them out among the younger brothers here affiliated with lumpen street organizations.
On 9 February 2014, prisoners at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison Special Management Unit (SMU) lockdown began another hunger strike to protest conditions. The hunger strike is to address abusive conditions, bugs being served in food repeatedly, sexual harassment, sexual assaults, beatings by officers while in handcuffs, being thrown on strip cells without food, feeding prisoners only 1500 calories daily when we are supposed to be given 2800 daily, refusing E-Wing yard call, refusing access to law library, and staff trying to poison prisoners. We are facing threats by staff that if prisoners remain on hunger strike they will die under their watch and it will be covered up.
Prisoners in the Georgia State Prison SMU have had enough of the oppression and decided to take a true stand to fight for our rights. Prisoners in the strike include many of the same prisoners from the 9 December 2010 and 11 June 2012 hunger strikes, and these prisoners are refusing to eat until conditions change.
On 25 January 2014, prisoners received trays at the SMU lockdown with bugs in the food. And after the bugs were pointed out by the prisoners to staff, they were told that either they eat the food or don't eat at all. Then when the prisoners tried to keep the trays to show the proof to the warden they were threatened by the daytime Officer in Charge, that if they didn't give up the trays he was going to suit up with his Correctional Officers and gang rape the prisoners. The prisoners still refused to give up their trays and were threatened again the next day: if they didn't give up the trays they were going to be refused their tray meals for that day. The prisoners had to go two days without eating just to show the warden the bugs in their food. And when the prisoners finally got a chance to show the bugs in the food, the warden only replied that it's nothing but a little bit more meat to add in their chili. This is not the first time that bugs had been served in food, but nothing has been done about this issue. Even though we file grievances, nothing but denials.
These prisoners have even been beaten by staff while in handcuffs. Nothing has been done about these employees' abusive actions. There is a coverup by Warden Bruce Chatman, Deputy Warden June Bishop, Warden of care and treatment William Poinel, Cpt. Micheal Nopen, Lt. Michael J. Kyles, aand even down to medical staff Mary Tsore and mental health staff Mr. Whitmoore.
Georgia prisoners are being denied access to the law library as guaranteed by the Georgia and U.S. law. Prisoners are only allowed two court cases per week to be delivered at their door on a piece of paper, and no books.
Medical staff are refusing to take notice of the hunger strike even though SOP VH47-0002 guarantees strikers health service.
The legal system refuses to respond, grievances are ignored or destroyed, and there is very little that Georgia prisoners can do to fight for their rights. Our only choice is to put our lives in danger by refusing to eat, and plead for some outside support.
MIM(Prisons) adds: The past few years have seen a sharp increase in prisoners using food refusal as a tactic to demand some improvements in conditions. Considering the powerlessness of prisoners, and the complete failure that is the grievance system in many states, it is not a surprise that people feel their only option to demand basic rights is to starve themselves.
We print many reports on these strikes in the pages of Under Lock & Key, and we know this inspires others to learn of similar struggles across the country. But we also encourage everyone to study these actions and learn from their mistakes. In Illinois, prisoners were manipulated by the pigs to end their strike prematurely. In South Carolina lockdown coordination problems ended their strike. In Nebraska prisoners failed to make clear demands and gained nothing after a two day protest. Even in California where prisoner unity is remarkably high, the response to the massive hunger strikes has been little more than lip service and program name changes. We must be prepared for such lack of response from the state with a long view of how to make change.
The underlying lesson in all of these struggles is the need for stronger education and organization before taking action. Greater unity will be achieved through education, and organization will build a solid system of communication and a strong and winnable list of demands. One quick lesson for all: when sending information to the media about your strike include something clear that people on the outside can do to support you. It can be a number to call or place to write to register their support.
Comrades, there has been a collusive and concerted effort by the Texas Department of Criminal Injustice (TDCJ) to silence and censor the voices of politically active prisoners housed in many of their III units. United Strugle from Within (USW) has initiated a campaign to combat the oppressive indigent mail policy enacted October 1, 2013 which decreased the allotted amount of personal letters indigent Texas prisoners are able to mail out. Prisoners went from 5 per week to 5 per month! The prisoners who are effected the most by this new TDCJ policy are held captive in Texas' many control and isolation units. Just the very nature of their confinement makes these prisoners more vulnerable to abuse and attacks by sadistic correctional officers.
TDCJ has institutionalized a policy and practice of downplaying, minimizing, and covering up incidents and reports of serious abuse and violence aimed at prisoners. Their motive has always been to misinform the public as to the true nature of the largest state prison system in Amerika. However, limiting prisoners access to the media, clergy, and loved ones wasn't enough. Recently, on the Wynne Unit located in in Huntsville, Texas, prison administrators decided to discontinue the contract with the satellite radio company that was providing Wynne's 2,200 prisoners access to KPFT Radio 90.1 FM Houston. KPFT is a member of the Pacifica Network and on top of providing a diverse and well rounded schedule of politically conscious and highly educational programming, KPFT broadcasts The Prison Show! - every Friday between the hours of 9pm and 11pm. Huntsville, Texas is the home of Amerika's largest prison population and it fit well with TDCJ's strategy to cut prisoners completely off from one of the most prisoner friendly radio stations in the country!
As a result of deteriorating prison conditions, retaliation, and abuse, many Ad-Seg prisoners on Wynne Unit and surrounding units in Huntsville, including the infamous Estelle High Security Unit, reached out to Mr. Ray Hill the founder of KPFT's Prison Show. Mr. Hill has a reputation of being an outspoken critic of Texas' draconian prison system. In response to their peaceful and legal activism, the Assistant Warden in charge of Wynne's Ad-Seg unit forced his officers to write over 70 bogus and fabricated disciplinary cases against Ad-Seg prisoners housed on Wynne Unit. Assistant Warden Kevin F. Mayfield has established a pattern of this type of unethical behavior.
Prisoners responded by contacting Carole Seligman who is one of the editors of Socialist Viewpoint Magazine, Noelle Hanrahan the director of PrisonRadio.org, and Michael Novick of Turning The Tide newspaper. Weeks passed by and many of us were discouraged; being isolated and cut off from the public has a debilitating effect on a humyn being, and TDCJ exploits this dynamic to the fullest in order to break the revolutionary spirit of the most advanced and active comrades. In an unforeseen turn of events, we received word that comrades who are members of the Roots Action website, which has over 400,000 members, sent out 20,000 emails to Texas State authorities in order to spotlight abuses and mistreatment of prisoners on Wynne Unit and beyond!!!
A managing editor for a very reputable socialist journal contacted us and stated, "There can be follow-ups to this (email direct action) at various stages. Beyond a certain point, the atrocities may begin to trigger an unwanted level of public attention, which should begin to curb the worst of them, if we can keep the pressure on."
Comrades, we may have not yet reached the level of solidarity and commitment as our California counterparts (I am still highly impressed with 33,000 prisoners from all oppressed nation groups and lumpen organizations sending an emphatic message to the prisoncrats and oppressors of CDCR). Never the less, USW is slowly making proactive and positive strides in order to organize, educate, and motivate the lumpen trapped inside Texas' gulags. Once again, I exhort you to join USW, contact MIM(Prisons), and involve yourself with the most dynamic Maoist organization in the United $tates. I also encourage comrades to expand their horizons and attempt to correspond with free world comrades who support and add strength to our voice. We must continue to battle censorship in Texas. Our revolutionary thoughts and voices are dangerous to the oppressors.
I just read this article from a Nebraska 'rad about a failed protest (in Under Lock & Key). It seems I'm not the only one dealing with embarrassments in resistance.
I'm at the largest joint in Oregon and have been in isolation for about 14 months. I've been a very reluctant participant in mess after mess of similar - if much weaker - attempts at goal driven resistance. I say "goal-driven", not "goal oriented" lest it give someone the impression that the kids here have some semblance of organization or some understanding of strategy and method. They don't. Further, I say "reluctant participant" because even though I realize the unquestionable futility of the motions carried out around here, I'll never be "that dude" who stood idle during any attempt at resistance to the swine.
The Nebraskan bloke mentioned the complaints the prisoners have against the swine, but didn't get much into the root of the disfunction of the prisoners during their upheaval. I'll assume that the problems in Nebraska are at least somewhat similar to Oregon's. Whether I'm right or not, I'll still say what I have to say for others looking at the same problems.
The fact of the matter is that we all face the same situation. We're oppressed on some level and want to relieve ourselves of that weight. Our ultimate goal and desire is to destroy our adversaries completely. This is all obvious. Each person's - or group's - particular complaints and level of victimization is largely irrelevant except for how it may affect the functionality of the revolt. In other words, the food quality and such, really shouldn't be occupying much space in one's mind or discussions when it comes to applying ourselves to revolt. It's universally understood that we're fed garbage and people seem to get hung up on these benign little details.
The goal is successful revolt. The problem is lack of proper organization. Here in Oregon we have too many gangs, none of which have been developed along a framework of functional organization. Not only does each gang act autonomously from the whole, but each individual acts autonomously from his own gang.
On the sporadic occasions that they all do decide on some undertaking together, there is never any defined, agreed-upon leadership. The usual formula is, 3 or 4 of the loudest gang members on a unit cook up some scheme to rail against the swine, then talk everyone else into jumping on board. The scheme is always something like "we're gonna refuse to do this or that until they give us this or that." And that's about as much planning and thought that goes into it. It may last a few days till people start dropping off, and a few more until it's abandoned completely.
Aside form lack of education in strategy and tactics, and aside from lack of education in proper modes of organization and the egotism that keeps us from filling certain necessary roles within the structure of organization, the big problem here is expecting some simple "cause and effect" in these fiascos. The idea that the swine will react how we wish or expect is absurd. The fact is, they have loads and loads of training, protocol and on-call specialists to deal with any situation we might launch against them.
Here we're never going in with anything close to a realistic understanding of the situation. We wage half-baked, disorganized, small-scope battles against an enemy that we're not taking fully into account. What we need to be doing is organizing a large-scale protracted war with the realization that we are facing a ridiculously superior adversary.
If we're still griping about food, TVs, phones and other luxuries, I dare say we have a very long way to go before we'll be of the right mentality to launch any kind of successful campaign. In fact, I'd say that if you're a revolutionary existing in the eye of the imperialist storm you really have no business looking at the fucking TV anyways.
In my situation, I've been struggling to come up with an organizational model that can transcend the divisiveness created by all the gangs to create one functional body of resistance. Once I've got everything put together, from the structure of board and body of the groups, down to individual roles and a clear and educated model of functionality complete with protocol for deciding direction and strategy, then I, along with a few of my cohorts here, will set out to put it into place. Once our machine is fully functional and each gear is spinning in unison with the others, only then will I be willing to make any sudden movements against my adversary.
As I said, if your mind is still on things like food, phones, programs, yard and so on, then I would suspect you haven't given yourself up to revolution as much as is necessary to achieve it. Maybe a lot of us don't have the fortitude of mind to reach the level of dedication that some of us have, but if you call yourself a revolutionary, it's not optional - you must sacrifice any desire for luxury for the sake of progress. Food only matters in so far as whether or not it keeps you alive and functional. Programs only matter in as much as the opportunities it affords you to communicate with each other to familiarize yourself with your environment.
I would strongly suggest that anyone who's interested in truly shedding the weight of these forces that are crushing you to stop focusing on those lame inconveniences and start studying more practical concepts. And until you have a full grasp of what your looking at, and until you have a full grasp of what needs to be done to destroy it, and until you have what you need in place, keep your head low, keep your mouth shut, keep your face in the books, and good luck!
MIM(Prisons) adds: This comrade is relatively new to working with MIM(Prisons), a fact that we mention because we have a lot of unity and we hope that s/he, like many others behind bars, will come to look on United Struggle from Within as the structure that fits with what's needed to elevate our strategy and tactics in the prisons. The organizational model that this prisoner discusses, to elevate above divisiveness, is exactly what we too are striving to build, and is one of the main goals of the USW-initiated United Front for Peace in Prisons. We look forward to building with this comrade, through the pages of Under Lock & Key and other independent institutions. Our Free Books to Prisoners Program offers study packs on strategy, as well as organizational structures, and many other important topics. Comrades who are interested in this type of study should join a MIM(Prisons)-led study group today.
As of 27 December 2013 we have received reader surveys back from 7.6% of our subscribers over the last 11 months. We began running the survey in Under Lock & Key requesting some basic persynal information and feedback on the content of ULK. Our goal was to assess who is reading ULK and what we can do to improve the content. The survey respondents overall represent a distribution of prisoners in line with the general prison population, with a few exceptions consistent with the focus of our work. In particular, we have significant over-representation from Texas, California and Pennsylvania among our readers. This means prisoners in those states are getting more input into the content of ULK. While we are no longer collecting survey responses, we welcome readers to send us your feedback on what you like and what you think could be improved as we are constantly looking to improve ULK.
Assuming that respondants to our reader survey represent the general readership of ULK, we evaluated the information on their demographics to see how this compares to the prison population overall in the United $tates. Below we discuss some differences between ULK readers and the general prison population.
Our average surveyed age is 40, but in 2011 only 40% of the prison population was over 40. This is not a surprising fact: people who are older and more educated behind the bars are turning to revolutionary politics. We could conclude that a longer time in prison leads people to become more politically advanced.
Relative to the U.$. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) on "race" of prisoners, our survey respondents include a slight over-representation of New Afrikans and a significant underrepresentation of Latinos (16% compared to a 23% "Hispanic" population in 2011 overall). We are not surprised to have an undercount of Spanish-speaking folks responding to an english language survey, especially as Spanish-only migrants have been the fastest growing segment of the U.$. prison population in recent years. In addition, there was a significant percentage (8.3%) of people who identify as indigenous in our survey (including those who identified as half indigenous and half white). The BJS does not collect statistics on First Nations, so we must assume they are included in the remaining 5% that they do not class as Black, white or Hispanic. This indicates 8.3% is a relatively high percentage compared to the general prison population. As an organization fighting for the national liberation of oppressed nations, both internationally and within U.$. borders, we are not surprised that our readership in prison is even more skewed away from whites than the general prison population which is already only 34% white.
The latest study we found (2006) reports that 52% of prisoners are re-incarcerated. 61% of our respondents were incarcerated at least once before. This may be because those with a prison record get longer sentences and so are more likely to come into contact with ULK. They are also more likely to be older and active in prison, if our theory about age of prisoners is correct.
A very high percent (48%) of survey respondents are locked up in some form of solitary confinement (RHU, SHU, Control Units, Administrative Segregation, etc.). This is consistent with our experience that politically aware and active prisoners are targeted for isolation as punishment for their activism, and to try to isolate them from other prisoners to reduce their influence. Our research on control units indicates that less than 5% of prisoners are in long-term isolation in the United $tates.
In response to our question about what people like best about ULK, the most popular response (22%) was "all of it!" We appreciate the enthusiasm of our readers. More specific responses that were popular included a lot of support for the unity demonstrated by ULK articles (11%) and the stories about other prisoner's work and organizing (20%). There was also a lot of appreciation for state-specific and legal reporting (6%). Five percent of survey respondents liked best the core mission of ULK (which people described as Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, internationalism, reporting the truth, or just "the mission"). In addition, we saw responses in support of book reviews, culture, Spanish, country-wide and world news reporting, and general education.
In response to the question about what our readers would like to see more of in ULK, aside from the third of the respondents who thought it was just perfect as is or just requested more of ULK, one of the popular responses (9.5%) was a request for more theory, including information on the history of revolutionary movements and revolutionary heroes, quotes from communists, Maoist theory in general, and more in depth analysis from MIM(Prisons). Related to the request for theory, because strategy is developed from theory, and tactics come from strategic direction, we also had a lot of people asking for strategic direction in general (5.5%), and many asking for more campaigns and tactical campaign work they can do in their prisons (5%). This is a good reminder for our USW leaders as well as our ULK writers and editors that we should tie general prison news to campaign work when possible, and we should be looking for opportunities to initiate new campaigns that will be both educational and lead to potential tactical victories for the revolutionary movement.
A lot of people (9%) want to see more state-specific information (every prisoner wants more information on their own state). We can only increase the content about your state if you take action and write about what's going on there. We rely on our readers for all of the state-specific reporting in ULK. And to really make good news, people need to be organizing so that we have campaigns, successes and failures to report on. So this is a response we hope comes from comrades who are sitting down now to write about their organizing efforts for the next issue.
There were also a lot of requests for resource lists (14.5%) or connections to other resources, and requests for legal information (12%). This is not part of our core mission for Under Lock & Key. We do run the Prisoners' Legal Clinic to help fight key legal battles, such as the censorship of political material. But MIM(Prisons)'s core mission is to build the anti-imperialist prison movement, and so we prioritize communist political organizing. We do not have the labor or funding to provide general resource lists and legal assistance in addition to our core work. We know there are not many groups out there doing this, but resource lists and legal assistance will ultimately only provide band-aids to a fundamentally broken system of imperialism. And anti-imperialist organizing is even more scarce in prisons than legal and resource work.
Additional suggestions from readers for specific areas of expansion included: art, control units, current events, international news, poetry, security, Spanish, U.$. government reporting, and issues faced by the elderly, wimmin and LGBTQ prisoners. There were a wide range of topics suggested and the ULK staff will be discussing all of them as we strive to improve Under Lock & Key.
A few prisoners responded to some of the survey questions requesting that ULK be "less racial", and "stop generalizing whites as oppressors" while one respondent liked "your hate against white people." These responses represent a fundamental misunderstanding of the MIM(Prisons) political line around nation. We do not hate white people; we hate the imperialist system which kills, tortures and oppresses the majority of the world's people for the wealth and enjoyment of the minority. We are scientists and we see clearly that in the United $tates the white nation is part of the minority of imperialist allies leading global oppression. But we also can see that the majority of the people in Russia before the revolution in 1917 who were oppressed were "white." It is not skin color that determines people's status as oppressor or oppressed. However, because of national oppression in the world today, we do see whole nations of people oppressed as a group by other nations. The white nation in the United $tates is an oppressor group, and there are many oppressed nations in the Third World. From an economic perspective, the other nations within U.$. borders are also part of the oppressors (New Afrikans, [email protected], etc.), but these groups also face national oppression and so have some interest in anti-imperialism. It's a complex system, that requires careful analysis and cannot be boiled down to race or hate against white people. We hope these readers will engage with us further for study to understand our position.
In this issue of Under Lock & Key we are featuring an extra four pages of content, which we hope our readers find to be educational and helpful in their organizing work. These four pages were funded by donators and the ULK Sustainers group, a group of United Struggle from Within members and supporters in prison who send in donations to expand ULK. To help fulfill the requests for more that was loud and clear in the survey results, join the ULK Sustainers group today.
I recently received the level 2 study group. One question it asks is "Does MIM(Prisons) recruit members from prison? Why or why not? Do you agree? Explain." My answer, in part, was "As prisoners we need MIM(Prisons) to not be subjected to our oppression, which helps to protect the integrity and Third World viewpoint of the MIM." I realized that what I was referring to was resistance to what I once read a comrade call "bourgeois brainwashing." I then set about to understand the psycho-social dynamics of this bourgeois brainwashing and how we must form resistance from within. I also examined the role played by MIM(Prisons) and the tie to how we view the Third World.
Bourgeois brainwashing uses the psychological phenomenon of dehumanization to facilitate the deconstruction of our value systems. Used as a defense against painful or overwhelming emotions, dehumanization entails a decrease in a person's sense of his own individuality and in his perception of the humanness of others. This dehumanization of others allows for their maltreatment to be acquiesced in with relative freedom from the restraints of conscience or feelings of comradeship.
Dehumanization has two interrelated processes: self-directed dehumanization, which relates to self-image and denotes the deterioration of an individual's sense of his own humanness, and object-directed dehumanization, which refers to one's perceiving others as lacking in those attributes that are considered to be most human. These two forms of dehumanization are mutually reinforcing: reduction in the fullness of one's feelings for other human beings diminishes one's own sense of self; any reduction of the humanness of one's self-image limits that person's capacity for relating to others.
You see, the first step is for the pigs to beat down our self-worth and self-respect. Once we lose sight of our own humanness, we cannot see it in others. We then have complacence, even to the point of being helpful, while the U.$. empire oppresses, occupies and exploits the Third World nations. Why should I care? The Third World proletariat are less than human anyway. I didn't put them in the situation they are in, they put themselves there, therefore, they deserve it!
Thus, oppression necessarily rests upon dehumanization, which diminishes and morphs our value system. We can resist dehumanization by holding on to our self-worth and self-respect, and our communistic value system that brought us to participate in the MIM. This takes resistance from within; from within the prison and from within our own selves.
There is a process of resistance called counter-socialization. To keep our values insulated from the conformist bourgeois values shoved down our throats while incarcerated is no easy task. It requires a stabilizing point of reference and behavior patterns that harmonize, to some degree, with our own values. These are two distinct aspects: a supportive reference system or group, and behavior patterns that offer protection against dehumanization of self and others. Our values or attitudes may not be consistent with the behavior expected or even forced upon us, which makes us vulnerable to a deep psychological discord with accompanying stress and pull toward equilibrium to reduce this mental discord and stress. Unless we are careful, our values may subtly change to match our behavior, and the brainwashing has begun.
For us to keep our communistic values from dying or fading away, it helps (it may even be essential) to have value sharers to whom we can refer for guidance and support. This reference group or individual can be other persons within the prison — a formal or informal counter-group. Such a reference system has the advantage of being accessible, relevant (everyone in the same location), and standing out in its interpretive scheme. Our counter-values can also be sustained through contact with or reference to people outside of the prison system. This support has the advantage of not being caught up in the same dehumanizing process as us and, therefore, may be more objective. Furthermore, their existence does not depend on the prison system — a very important point if the going gets rough and the pigs set about to silence our dissension.
To stay on guard, we should occasionally test the limits of the pigs' tolerance for deviant behavior. If we have too much fear of disciplinary action or retaliation we may too narrowly define the boundaries of freedom and may mentally discard alternatives of action that could be advantageously pursued. We can be guided by the experience of others, but more can be gained from personal testing. Personal testing reaffirms a commitment to resistance and nudges us out of complacency. It also gives us a sense of freedom of action, thereby revitalizing our self-determination. To keep from absorbing a new dehumanized value system, we may find it useful from time to time to gut-react with automatic responses. If we always think about consequences before we express our true feelings, the feelings themselves may imperceptibly change. Just as the pigs limit what they will tolerate by way of opposition, we must also limit what we will tolerate by way of co-optation.
One of the most intriguing questions from both a theoretical and practical standpoint is: how long and under what conditions can a person maintain dehumanizing conditions and discordant values without support of any kind from others? Can internal fortitude based on some seemingly distant reference system keep one's brain from being washed, and if so, how? One important aspect of value preservation under conditions of deprivation and debasement is a sense of self-worth. We must hold on to self-respect by preserving some fragment of the truth about ourselves that we respect. Maintaining our integrity under repressive conditions may also require some mental separation of the self from the conditions the pigs force upon us. When we invoke the scientific stance of the observer, in effect, we refuse to be co-opted into the machinery of self-debasement. The preservation of the psyche is also facilitated by exercising freedom of action, however restrictive the limits. This may be as simple as the exercise of anticipating what is going to happen and having predictions validated by future events. Pro-action, as opposed to reaction, also gives us back some sense of control.
MIM(Prisons) offers the supportive reference system outside of the prison system and strongly encourages us to start our own localized study groups to support each other. They also offer support through the formal group United Struggle from Within. This support is imperative in combating the bourgeois brainwashing by allowing us to keep our communistic values front and center by giving us a criticism/self-criticism forum and correcting us when our values begin to morph. MIM(Prisons) also supports us in action. They give us support in testing the limits, in the grievance process, in organizing, and in letting our voices be heard.
Comrades, we must not fall prey to the pigs' dehumanization efforts, communistic value diminishment, and subsequent bourgeois brainwashing. It takes more than passively reading an article or book and agreeing with the content — it takes action! When we start to think that our oppression is our own fault, then we start to justify the oppression of the Third World nations, by the U.$. empire, with some backward bourgeois thought process. We must resist, and this must be resistance from within!