On October 10 a peace accord went into place across the California prison system to end hostilities between different racial groups. The Pelican Bay State Prison - Security Housing Unit (PBSP-SHU) Short Corridor Hunger Strike Representatives issued a statement in August, and hundreds responded on October 10 with hunger strikes to continue the struggle against so-called gang validation and the SHU. The original statement calls on lumpen organizations to turn to "causes beneficial to all" instead of infighting among the oppressed. Recently leaders in Pelican Bay State Prison reasserted that this applies to all lumpen organizations in CDCR, down to the youth authority.
We share the PBSP-SHU Collective's view that peace is key to building unity against the criminal injustice system. Prison organizations and individual prisoners across the country have pledged themselves to the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP) principles and are building this United Front in their prisons, communities and organizations.
We know this won't be easy, but there is a basis for this unity and peace. As was written in the original announcement of the UFPP:
"We fully recognize that whether we are conscious of it or not, we are already 'united' — in our suffering and our daily repression. We face the same common enemy. We are trapped in the same oppressive conditions. We wear the same prison clothes, we go to the same hellhole box (isolation), we get brutalized by the same racist pigs. We are one people, no matter your hood, set or nationality. We know 'we need unity' — but unity of a different type from the unity we have at present. We want to move from a unity in oppression to unity in serving the people and striving toward national independence."
The ending of hostilities between large lumpen organizations has sweeping implications for the possibilities for prisoner organizing. USW comrades in California should work to seize this opportunity however possible, to translate the peace agreement into meaningful organizing in the interests of all prisoners.
"The Anti-Exploits of Men Against Sexism" Ed Mead Revolutionary Rumors PRESS [email protected]
This pamphlet is an historical account of the organization Men Against Sexism (MAS). It is written in an informal, story-telling style, from the perspective of Ed Mead, one of MAS's primary organizers. "Anti-Exploits" spans the development of MAS, from Mead's first encounter with the near-rape of a fellow prisoner on his tier in the mid-1970s, to the successful height of the organization and the eradication of prisoner rape in Washington State Prison. This success impacted facilities all across the state.
Men Against Sexism was created to bring prisoners together to fight against their common oppression. Mead recognized that homophobia, sexism, rape, and pimping were causing unnecessary divisions within the prisoner population. "Only by rooting out internalized sexism would men treat one another with respect."(p. 5) He brought together politically-minded prisoners, queers, and even some former sexual predators, to change the culture of what was acceptable and not on the tier.
We should take the example of MAS as inspiration to identify our own collective divisive behaviors on our unit, and attempt to build bridges to overcome these barriers. Mead's reputation of being a revolutionary, stand-up guy in defense of prisoners' rights preceded him across the facility, and helped him win allies in unlikely places.
In the mid-1970s, prison conditions were much different than they are today, and organizing MAS seems to have been relatively easy according to the account given. Of course there were challenges amongst the prisoner population itself (for example, MAS defending a convicted pedophile from being gang raped and sold as a sex slave put many people off) but the administration didn't play a significant role in thwarting the mission of MAS. The primary organizers were allowed to cell together, and several different prisoner organizations were mentioned which had their own meeting spaces.
Today it seems we are lucky if more than two prisoners can get together to do anything besides watch TV. This is a testament to the dialectical relationship between the prisoner movement and the forces of the state. During the time of MAS, the prisoner movement was relatively strong compared to where it's at today. After the booming prisoner rights movement of the 1970s, the state figured out that to undermine those movements they needed to develop methods to keep prisoners isolated from each other. Not the least significant of which is the proliferation of the control unit, where prisoners are housed for 23 or more hours per day with very little contact with the world outside their cell, let alone their facility.
MAS recognized that there is power in numbers. They collected donations from allies outside prison to purchase access to cells from other prisoners and designated them as "safe cells." MAS would identify newcomers to the facility who looked vulnerable and offer them protection in these group safe cells. This is in stark contrast to how the state offers so-called protection to victims of prisoner rape, which is generally to isolate them in control units.(1) Bonnie Kerness of the American Friends Service Committee writes of this practice being used with transgender prisoners, and the concept applies to all prisoners who are gender oppressed in prison no matter their gender identity,
"In some cases this can be a safe place to avoid the violence of other prisoners. More often this isolation of transgender prisoners places them at greater risk of violence at the hands of correctional officers...
"Regardless of whether or not it provides some level of protection or safety, isolation is a poor alternative to general population. The physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological impacts of solitary confinement are tantamount to torture for many."(2)
As late as 2009, data was compiled by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) stating "Approximately 2.1% of prison inmates and 1.5% of jail inmates reported inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization, whereas approximately 2.8% of prison inmates and 2.0% of jail inmates reported staff sexual misconduct."(3) Certainly much of this staff-on-prisoner sexual assault occurs in general population, but isolating victims makes them that much more accessible.
Isolation as the best option for protection is the most obvious example of individualizing struggles of prisoners. What is more individualized than one persyn in a room alone all day? Individualizing prisoners' struggles is also carried out by the rejection of group grievances in many states. All across the country our comrades meet difficulty when attempting to file grievances on behalf of a group of prisoners. In California, a comrade attempted to simply cite a Director's Level Appeal Decision stating MIM is not a banned distributor in the state on h censorship appeal, but it was rejected because that Director's Level Decision "belongs to another inmate."(4) We must identify the state's attempts to divide us from our potential comrades in all forms, and actively work against it.
MAS worked to abolish prisoner-on-prisoner sexual slavery and rape, where the pigs were consenting to this gender oppression by noninterference. But the state paid for this hands-off approach when the autonomy of the movement actually united prisoners against oppression.
What about gender oppression in prisons today?
In 2003, under strong pressure from a broad range of activists and lobbyists, Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), and in May 2012 the final rules were completed. With the initiation of the PREA, statistics on prison rape are becoming more available. But comprehensive, sweeping data on the frequency of prison rape does not exist and so we can not detect trends from 1975 to the present, or even from 2003 to present. Despite high hopes for the PREA from anti-rape activists, we can't yet determine if there has been any benefit, and in some cases the rates of prison rape seem to be increasing.
When MAS was picking out newcomers to recruit into their safe cells, they were identifying people who they saw as obviously queer, or in some way likely to be a target. MAS was using their intuition and persynal experience to identify people who are more likely to be victimized. According to the BJS, in their 2009 study, prisoners who are "white or multi-racial, have a college education, have a sexual orientation other than heterosexual, and experienced sexual victimization prior to coming to the facility" ... had "significantly higher" rates of inmate-on-inmate victimization.(1) Human Rights Watch similarly reported in 2001,
"Specifically, prisoners fitting any part of the following description are more likely to be targeted: young, small in size, physically weak, white, gay, first offender, possessing 'feminine' characteristics such as long hair or a high voice; being unassertive, unaggressive, shy, intellectual, not street-smart, or 'passive'; or having been convicted of a sexual offense against a minor. Prisoners with any one of these characteristics typically face an increased risk of sexual abuse, while prisoners with several overlapping characteristics are much more likely than other prisoners to be targeted for abuse."(5)
The descriptions above of who's more subject to prison rape are bourgeois definitions of what MIM called gender. Bullying, rape, sexual identity, and sexual orientation are phenomena that exist in the realm of leisure-time activity. Oppression that exists in leisure-time can generally be categorized as gender oppression. Gender oppression also rests clearly on health status and physical ability, which, in work-time also affects class status.(6) Since prisoners on the whole spend very little time engaged in productive labor, their time behind bars can be categorized as a twisted form of leisure-time. Prisons are primarily a form of national oppression, and gender is used as a means to this end.
Consider this statistic from BJS, "Significantly, most perpetrators of staff sexual misconduct were female and most victims were male: among male victims of staff sexual misconduct, 69% of prisoners and 64% of jail inmates reported sexual activity with female staff."(3) An oversimplified analysis of this one statistic says the biologically-female staff are gendered male, and the prisoners are gendered female, no matter their biology. But in the United $tates, where all citizens enjoy gender privilege over the Third World, this oversimplification ignores the international scope of imperialism and the benefits reaped by Amerikans and the internal semi-colonies alike. While there is an argument to be made that the United $tates tortures more people in its prisons than any other country, this is balanced out with a nice juicy carrot (video games, tv, drugs, porn) for many prisoners. This carrot limits the need to use the more obvious forms of repression that are more widespread in the Third World. Some of our most prominent USW leaders determine that conditions where they're at are too comfortable and prevent people from devoting their lives to revolution, even though these people are actually on the receiving end of much oppression.
On a similar level, MIM(Prisons) advocates for the end of oppression based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But we are not jumping on the bandwagon to legalize gay marriage.(7) We also don't campaign for sex reassignment surgery and hormones for prisoners.(8) This is because we see these as examples of gender privilege, and any privileges obtained by people in the United $tates inherently come on the backs of the Third World. Whereas in the time Men Against Sexism was formed the gay rights movement was militant and engaging in street wars against police, they are now overall placated by the class privilege they receive as members of the petty-bourgeoisie.
We encourage everyone facing oppression to recognize its true roots — capitalism and imperialism — and use their privileges to undermine the United $tates' world domination. Without an internationalist perspective, we will inevitably end up on the wrong side of history.
I am writing to follow up on the problems we've been experiencing with our appeals system as it relates to the mass complaint form that at least 85 of us sent to Sacramento. I went a step further and had my sister draft a "citizen's complaint letter" to the Warden of RJ Donvan. He's required by law to investigate and respond to this letter within 30 days. This puts more pressure on the Warden's office due to the time and resources involved to send out responses. So, if your readers have friends and family who can draft and submit the citizen's complaint en masse, I believe it can have a greater impact.
MIM(Prisons) adds: As previously reported, this comrade is making good use of the grievance petition and taking on this battle creatively through the legal and administrative system. Write to us to get involved in this campaign. We can send you a copy of the grievance petition for your state, or a generic version you can customize to create one for states that do not yet have one.
by a North Carolina prisoner November 2012 permalink
In late September of this year, in a fight between a few prisoners, a prisoner was killed and another prisoner was seriously wounded and is still in critical condition. The incident happened at Lanesboro Correctional Institution and we have been on lockdown since it occurred. The administration discontinued visitation for regular population and segregated inmates, cut telephone privileges for everyone, and regular population was limited to ordering only five items, three times a week, and three showers a week. Recreation was taken from regular population indefinitely, which caused them to remain in their rooms for 24 hours a day for days at a time.
The strange thing about this entire event is when Superintendent Parsons was questioned on the Channel 9 news based in Charlotte, North Carolina, about what exactly happened, he responded by saying 148 prisoners had a "brawl" in which a prisoner was killed. The media then debased the prisoner who was killed and devoted the entire segment to discussing how he was shot by police in 1999 in an attempted escape. Nothing was said about why this prisoner-on-prisoner stabbing occurred, or about the dozens of other stabbings that happened throughout this year. Nor did they mention the illegal and inhumane "dry cells" that were mandated by the administration, leaving almost 100 prisoners in rooms with feces covering the entire dorm.
As of now, all of the questionable events are being investigated by the State Bureau Investigation Unit and Laneseboro Correctional Institution may be looking at grave consequences. But why did these events end so brutally? Why did it take a prisoner losing his life for the administration, the Governor, and law enforcement to get involved? First let's take a look at what led up to these times we are in.
At the start of the year, the prison administration promoted the idea that gang violence was the cause of dozens of stabbings occurring statewide which put several close custody camps on lockdown for weeks and even months. Here at Lanesboro, that soon subsided and things were back to "normal." Then early June, the Prison Emergency Response Team (PERT) raided the prison, where nearly 100 prisoners were placed in "dry cells" where we were in our cells 24 hours a day for a week. PERT officers weren't allowing us to flush our toilets, which caused them to become clogged. aIn protest we threw our feces out into the dayroom, leaving the entire dorm in a heap of feces. Prisoners were forced to eat, clean our bodies, and sleep in this stench. Also prisoners were forced to have x-rays to find drugs, cell phones or weapons. This led to many lawsuits being filed.
What happened next indicates how much the Lanesboro administration cares about prison life. A stabbing had occurred in which one prisoner's neck was cut. A prisoner involved was placed in segregation along with the prisoner who had his throat cut. The administration then released the assaulted prisoner into regular population after one week and placed him in the same pod as his enemies. This set off four consecutive stabbings in less than two hours around the prison.
They momentarily locked us down. When we came off, two days later a prisoner was killed. Another strange thing is the prisoners who did the killing didn't live in the dorm where the killing occurred, and neither did the prisoner who was killed. This means the officers had to let these prisoners into a dorm where they didn't live.
So we see the perpetuation of violence by the Lanesboro administration who place known enemies in the same dorm. Obviously they're not trying to stop the violence. This perpetuation of violence results in lockdowns where they take all of the prisoners "privileges" in an attempt to further control us. It's obvious these lockdowns did not halt the violence. In fact, evidence shows that violence in prisons across the country increases after a lock down (see the documentary Unlock the Box). But the puzzling part is when they take away our "privileges," we gladly accept it instead of resisting. There were only a few people filing grievances, filing lawsuits, taking progressive actions against the beast, but there were many complaining.
Why do these violent acts continue to occur? To understand the simple answer you just have to look at conditions here. We have to wait 90 days to receive a job, even unit jobs. They're denying some of us from even enrolling in school or extra-curricular activities. They barely even offer any extra-curricular activities. All we have to occupy our time is TV, yard and gym. Prisoners have no activities to engage in, and so just hang around the dorms. With the state building medium custody facilities right beside the close custody facilities, the administration says all "good" jobs (kitchen workers and other important jobs) will be taken by medium custody prisoners. This will ultimately have more of us in our dorms unable to work, and so prevented from getting gain time and being shipped to a "better" facility. It will destroy morale and cause some to lash out and perpetuate the prisoner-on-prisoner violence.
So why do these events continue to happen? Because the administration wants it to! They perpetuate violence. They don't care about prisoners' lives, and they are never going to solve the true problems. Therefore, it is up to us to remedy our own situations by uniting and never splitting. We need to take the rebellious actions against these oppressors and force them to recognize their policies aren't working. We must come together and get an understanding and peace with one another so they won't have to enforce any policies anyway.
We don't want them to do their jobs because their jobs are to repress, suppress and oppress us, to hinder us from uniting and fighting the true injustice. As superintendent Parsons lied to the public media, they lie to us as well. And we have to show them we won't tolerate it any longer. Unite and resist and our conditions will get better because "We" will make them better!
For the past 6 months I have been attempting to shed light on injustices perpetrated by Texas Department of Criminal Justice correctional officers and administrators against prisoners housed at the high security unit on Estelle Unit located in Huntsville, TX. I have written numerous Step 1 grievances, however, the same Unit Grievance Investigator (UGI) continues to impede, obstruct, and sabotage my quest for justice.
Estelle Unit UGI Mr. Allen Hartley has operated from the stance of nepotism, cronyism, and misplaced comradery. Instead of establishing an objective stance in his handling of my grievances, he has actually entered into a collusive and conspiratorial relationship with prison staff and administration in order to minimize, marginalize, and downplay my claims of injustice.
This is nothing new, comrades in Texas and California have been reporting on this type of behavior for years. MIM(prisons), USW, and some extremely dedicated comrades have come up with a weapon and strategy to combat these corrupt individuals. The grievance petition crafted by a USW comrade in California has been also adopted and utilized by Texas prisoners. I personally have sent a copy of the petition to the Texas state legislature.
The legislative session starts the 2nd week of January 2013. I encourage all comrades in Texas to write the legislature and request that all UGIs in the Texas prison system are fired and that a new streamlined, efficient, and fair grievance department be created. This new system should be managed by the Office of the Inspector General and oversight should be provided by the ACLU of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP).
The point of the matter is this: the grievance procedure in Texas prisons is a farce and a sham. Unit Grievance Investigators are stealing tax payer dollars and violating the public's trust. Comrades are being degraded, humiliated, and abused in Texas every day and no-one is being held accountable for their actions except prisoners! Time and time again I have watched as TDCJ employees commit every crime against humanity you can think of, including murder, and nothing is done. This is bullshit! Please join USW and help get rid of these authors of obstruction.
MIM(Prisons) adds: This comrade is proposing an interesting change to the grievance system in Texas, with oversight from independent organizations (ACLU and TCRP). Leaving the grievance process in the hands of the government means it will never truly serve the needs of prisoners, while establishing independent oversight would certainly lead to more accountability and less ease at outright fraud and lies serving the prison employees.
Although fighting for grievances to be addressed is only a reform to gain more livable conditions and organizing space for comrades in prison, it is a campaign that can demonstrate to others our ability to come together to fight for the rights of prisoners. No reform of the grievance system will end the injustice of the prison system in Amerika. These are just the early steps in building a movement for humyn rights in U.$. prisons.
Under Lock & Key seems to not place enough emphasis on perspective for the prison "illegitimate capitalist" and the role they will need to play both in prison, and more essentially in society. MIM did this by relating prisoner writings in context to societal issues; ULK publishes "complaints" that center around prisons, minus application to overall society.
First, one must understand the difference between inmates, convicts, prisoners and political prisoners. Inmates do not see themselves as oppressed and follow the rules and regulations without deviation. And when necessary, they will cooperate with the pigs, note the Webster racist dictionary defines inmate as one voluntarily confined to a hospital or prison — I say it is one who does not fight.
Political prisoners are those who either committed political acts which led to their incarceration, or became politicized in prison (became conscious) and became representatives of revolution! This title is honorary and must not be emasculated for group appeasement! Huey P. Newton was a political prisoner, as was comrade George Jackson. Yet Carl Ferguson is not, and Larry Davis is not. Yes there is politics behind their imprisonment, as is true of all 2.4 million prisoners in the United $tates.
This is germane when pushing ULK, because comrades are not all the same and ULK must print useful articles that can relate to the application of revolution in prison and society. Otherwise prisoners and political prisoners will get caught up in prison struggles as if they represent the main revolutionary work to be done. Let MIM(Prisons) be advised the goal of revolution is the complete overthrow of the existing government and the rebuilding of a new one! Thus that is the objective of all true revolutions! The job of a revolutionary is to make revolution.
Hunger strikes are "effective tactics," pig assaults and/or killings are tactics as well. Lawsuits are a strategy to be employed to achieve legal expropriation, essential lifting of draconian conditions of confinement (e.g. censorship, segregation etc.), and also should be employed to bombard the courts and bog them down so some of our complaints are addressed. Collectively nationwide this constitutes tactics and strategy to raise society's awareness, again in furtherance of revolution. The filing of criminal appeals and post-conviction motions are done for the liberation of revolutionaries for revolution. Some of the tactics employed in prison will be useful in society, and others will be ineffective. The same is true of strategies in prisons; some are workable while others are not. Thus new tactics must be studied and created that will be utilized to address pigs killing men, women and children in our colonies. Al Sharpton rallies won't work, Jesse Jackson speeches won't work, and the Million Man March addressed itself to no single demand from the establishment and was merely a great day of useless solidarity.
From the inception of prisoners becoming politicized it has been recognized and accepted that prisoners will be the vanguard of the revolutionary movement. Does anyone know the function of a vanguard: how one is built, and how it can be effectively employed? This is the unique purpose for which prisoners must be trained.
Prison resistance must be linked continuously to revolutionary work, not merely complaints that pale in comparison to the conditions of the 60s and 70s. Less complaints, more agitation and perspective.
MIM(Prisons) replies: Distinguishing between revolutionary organizing and prison reform organizing is a problem that MIM(Prisons) has confronted a number of times in its short history. It is important that we always look for errors in our approach and ways to improve our work.
On the question of the content of ULK articles: we strive to always put articles in the context of the struggle against the criminal injustice system. We do get many articles from prisoners just describing bad conditions and repression behind bars. We also get a lot of articles complaining about a lack of unity among prisoners. We agree with this writer that these sorts of articles need to be related to the application of revolution to be useful in ULK. We use the MIM(Prisons) commentary after articles to provide this context when the article itself does not include it. And we urge ULK contributors to take this feedback seriously and work to include anti-imperialist context within your own articles.
On the question of labels: we agree with this comrade that terminology is important. We pay a lot of attention to the language we use because language makes political points. We agree with the distinction made here between inmate and prisoner. But we assert that all prisoners are political prisoners precisely because of the political nature of the criminal injustice system that makes political distinctions between arrests, trials, juries, laws and sentences to disproportionately lock up oppressed nations. This is a political point we are making with language.
We are more interested in defining classes than individuals. Recognizing the relationship between the imprisoned lumpen and the United $tates is about defining a class. A class is defined by its material conditions, specifically in relation to production and distribution, and each class has an ideology that arises from those conditions. This does not mean that all people in that class have the same ideology or think the same. It also doesn't mean that there aren't material contradictions within a class. The proletariat is the most revolutionary because they have nothing to lose but their chains. Other classes will have more internal contradictions. That said we want to challenge the dominant role that the illegitimate capitalist ideology plays in today's prison environment with a strong communist voice. This requires developing what we call the subjective factors, through ideological development. All of us working on ULK need to strive to make this "voice of the anti-imperialist movement from under lock & key" a tool for ideological development and anti-imperialist agitation, not just an airing of complaints and reformist demands.
I recently read about the "agreement to end hostilities" and seen this as an essential step forward for prisoners but a step that will include many more steps in the future if prisoners are to truly take back our humynity not just in California but in prisons across the United $tates. Although I support the original five demands and will continue to do so along with any future demands for justice I felt the need to add to the dialogue and perhaps bring some other ideas to the scene. What I noticed from the five demands and many other proposals being kicked around is the absence of the very core of our oppression - the SHU itself. What we have learned since the initial strike was that many civil rights groups and people around the world see the SHU itself as torture, all or most of what is being asked for i.e. contact visits, phone calls, cellies etc. can be granted were it not for SHU. Even things like validation and debriefing etc. become easier to combat when the SHU is out of the picture so it is the SHU itself that becomes the kernel of our oppression in regards to the prison movement in general and the current struggle we are facing in Pelican Bay. This is why any proposals should have at the forefront the demand to close the SHUs! How can we talk of justice or prisoner rights without calling for an end to housing prisoners for any reason in these concentration camps? It's like saying "you can water board me but can we listen to a better radio station while you do it?" No other country is doing what Amerika does with the SHU on this scale but it is ultimately up to us whether we steer the prison movement on a real path of transformation or limit any changes to what amount to mild reforms.
Many struggles throughout history that dealt with prisoners gained far more than what has currently been proposed in our situation. A couple of situations that quickly come to mind are the Puerto Rican revolutionary group Macheteros who were arrested in the 1960s for acts against Amerika in their quest for independence. Well it came out via Freedom of Information Act years later that the national security advisor was on record saying the Macheteros should be released because of the protests and support and how these protests do not look good for Amerika in the eyes of the world. This is on record and the Macheteros were released. They were released from prison and linked to bombings and other acts against the U.$. Government
Another group of prisoners were the Red Army Faction of Germany who were in prison for acts against the government; bombings, cop killings, murders of politicians, etc. When this group was arrested they were housed in a specially constructed area of the prison - kinda like the short corridor - and were in solitary confinement and not allowed to come in any contact with any other prisoners but through hunger strikes and supporters out in society raising awareness about their treatment they were finally granted yard time with each other and better treatment after a year or two of constant struggle. My main thrust here is that if those who were assassinating government officials, judges etc., in an attempt to overthrow the government were able to overturn the isolation and draconian treatment surely we can as well!
In beginning to grapple with our oppression and find the best method of resistance we must first understand the origins of our oppression. One cannot move forward with a correct game plan without knowing ones opponent. When a boxer is about to fight a formidable opponent what does he/she do? Well they watch the videos of the opponents fights in order to understand the opponents strengths and weaknesses thus preparing oneself for a proper offensive. We must also do our homework on this current anti-SHU struggle, things like where the SHU came from, why is it used so much by Amerika - more so than in other countries, who controls such a system? We must identify our opponent if we want to more forward.
We know the SHU and all prisons are a part of the "state" apparatus, but who controls the state? The ruling class is not including the people (the poor people) it is the rich who run things. These rich, or capitalists, have developed into what Lenin defined as "imperialism" which is simply capitalism on steroids, it is economic exploitation on a global scale. So the state and thus prisons are run according to what is in the interest of this ruling class. Prisoners in general are not profitable to this ruling class as most prisoners derive from what Lenin defined as the "lumpen proletariat" which is basically the underclass or can better be defined in the United $tates as simply the "Lumpen" which are prisoners, the unemployed, those caught up in crime, etc. Most lumpen don't work or pay taxes so to the ruling class the lumpen are just taking up space and not helping the wheels turn in the economy. But more importantly, the lumpen are a potential revolutionary force as this is the natural order of repression inviting resistance. Whenever one is being smothered the natural reaction is to struggle to breathe. Our acts of resistance in the 2011 strikes clearly proved this to be true.
There are many phenomenon that occur that are long held communist principles that may be practiced today by many prisoners without ever knowing their origins. We must use these tools to gain victory in our current situation, one such tool is historical materialism which is used to transform things in the material world. It does this by understanding historical events and processes which created a specific reality. In our current struggle in order to change or transform our torture conditions in SHU we would first have to understand the process of what brought the SHU itself to be created. When we understand it was the state and ultimately the ruling class which created the means to throw away vast swaths of the population and smother any embers of resistance then we'll know we won't change things simply by picketing around a prison or filing a lawsuit because we are up against something more sinister than simply "tough laws." Marxism is a method not dogma and so it is fluid and continues to find new responses in its interactions with the material world, so it will continue to be applied to different phenomenon. Although asking the state for changes is cool and must be done, the more crucial change must come from within one's own approach to our oppression, we are deprived of so much but the most vital opportunities are low hanging fruit, these being opportunities in the theoretical realm. The truth is we can't "change the system" and by system I mean capitalist Amerika which runs prisons and SHUs, it is all in the state apparatus so it is one and the same - in prison lingo it is one "car." We can't change the system we must rip it out by its roots, dismantle it in order for true change to occur. To really believe we can change this system is to take a stance as the democrats who think change comes out of the voting system via reforms.
The task we have ahead of all of us held in U.$. prisons is a real uphill battle that is in sync - even if we don't realize it - with many other struggles aimed at the U.$. empire not just in the United $tates but globally. While our effort is different in many ways, we should face this effort like a guerrilla war. Rather than a passive state, guerrilla warfare is a combination of defense and offense in our pursuit of victory but our initial victory should be to unmask the brutal dictatorship of the state and deny it the ability to operate cloaked in secrecy. Let us strip it bare and display its most grotesque parts to society. In doing this let every dungeon where conditions have peaked to intolerable proportions raise the banner of resistance in regards to material conditions, in this way we will expose the contradictions in "American democracy" while obtaining small gains to our conditions. What occurs in our living conditions is worse than what we even realize. Even though most have grown accustomed to SHU, it is not norma. People are social animals. Our entire existence as people is to interact with others, our senses demand this, it is a dialectic which exists on reacting to people and the environment and when all sensory input is deprived it works against our very being, i.e. it destroys us, dehumanizes us.
Lastly, although I would of course always like to hear editors of publications ramble about what some have referred to as "commie rhetoric" I would much rather hear a prisoner's perspective on communist principles or how they apply to the prison movement in general or the anti-SHU struggle in particular. But one cannot discuss "prisoner rights" without discussing prisoner oppression and thus what is behind prisoner oppression (capitalism). Today's society profit is put ahead of the people as far as education, food, land, etc and thus crime rises then our next natural step is finding an alternative society where prisons and SHUs are not used as concentration camps. The only society that would really truly change the system is a socialist system — to deny this is to deny history.
Recently comrades at Anti-Imperialism.com have brought up the question of how First Worldism sets back the revolutionary movement within the oppressor nation itself.(1) When anti-imperialists begin banging their heads against walls of cops, it seems a good time to consider this question.
Over the Amerikan KKKolumbus Day weekend, a series of anti-colonial and anti-capitalist demonstrations were organized on the west coast. Judging by the turnout and support, there is not a big anti-colonial movement in the United $tates. This is no surprise, for it is the most powerful imperialist country in the world.
One anti-colonial march in San Francisco was dwarfed by the crowds of consumers, shopping on a Sunday afternoon. The organizers showed little interest in reaching out to the shoppers, and more in smashing symbols of wealth and exploitation. An hour pre-march rally seemed hardly noticed by the shopping masses. And the march itself lasted only a few blocks before violent clashes with police left 22 people arrested. A significant loss from a crowd of maybe 150 who had just begun to unveil its message.
The lack of interest in reaching out to the shoppers may reflect a correct analysis among the protestors that those people had no interest in or alliance with the message of their march. But if so this line was not put out publicly in literature or banners. We will argue here that doing so would have done more to promote divisions among the pro-imperialist camp, whereas the tactics of the day instead have helped consolidate those forces in recent years.
Last fall, thousands and thousands of Amerikans, primarily youth, rallied to the call to Occupy Wall Street, which evolved into Occupy Everywhere — a rather frightening slogan for the youth of the number one imperial power to take up. More progressive, and often more experienced, poles in the movement steered things in an anti-occupation/anti-colonial direction. But somehow this wasn't as appealing to the Amerikan youth as rallying for more jobs, free schooling and better interest rates on loans. If we eliminate the flow of wealth from the neo-colonies, the people in this country will lose their high paying jobs and easy lines of credit.
Despite this self-evident truth, there is still not a strong voice drawing a clear line between those who benefit from imperialism and those who suffer from it.
In practice we see lines being drawn, as the more radical messages seem to accompany some tactics that trigger anger from the Amerikan "middle class." There continues to be backlash in some instances of calling those who vandalize property "terrorists" while telling them to target bank windows rather than their nice neighborhood. We have little interest in the petty bourgeois debate over what is okay to smash, but this whole debate serves as a convenient excuse for the Amerikan left to ally with the imperialist state. What needs to be challenged is the idea that the Amerikan "middle class" somehow deserves more than everyone else in the world and therefore is not the enemy like those evil bankers.
Interestingly, the bourgeoisie gets away with attacking those who act against the interests of the "middle class" as "outside agitators" and "spoiled white kids." This name calling serves as a distraction from the issues being demonstrated around. Of course there will be anti-colonial struggle in white faces in a white country. To argue otherwise is to breed confusion.
While we believe there is more anti-imperialist potential here in the United $tates than those who showed up this weekend, particularly among the internal semi-colonies who were sparsely represented at these events, the dominant ideology of this country is pro-middle class, which is pro-imperialism. Even the most radical Black organizations out here will say that "white people are exploited too." Yet the truth is the complete opposite: Black people aren't exploited either in this country. The sooner we all start being accountable for what we have, the sooner we can take a realistic approach to what we can do about it.
We need a strong line that says, yes, the petty bourgeoisie and the labor aristocracy in this country are the enemy of the world's people. Just as MIM has always attacked identity politics, this does not mean that petty bourgeois people cannot be anti-imperialists. We welcome and honor those Amerikans who choose to stand with the exploited peoples of the Third World. But let's make it clear that doing so requires opposing your own class interests.
After we draw that line, maybe we can think of ways to actually attack the interests of the exploiter classes, rather than just attack their symbols. Boots Riley, Oakland rapper and activist, has criticized the tactics of vandalism for alienating the majority in the city.(2) There is some truth in what he wrote in that we should not be helping the petty bourgeoisie unite with the imperialist state in opposition to anti-colonial voices, at least not without making significant gains somewhere else. Instead, we should be driving wedges between the various class alliances of our enemies, creating cracks in the system that make a little more room for the oppressed to move and organize. And perhaps ironically, pointing out the unity of the material interests of almost everyone in this country with imperialism can contribute to creating these cracks among those who have subjective moral objections to living off the suffering of others.
We do not believe that moralizing will "wake up" the Amerikan people and end this system of exploitation. We recognize there is no winning the majority in this country. So it is a question of recruiting the minority that care or suffer greatly under this system and promoting disunity among the rest. Finding effective tactics for either is our challenge.
Before we split the anti-imperialist camp over what we should do after the revolution (where we differ with the anarchist majority at this weekend's events), let's split with those who will organize and fight for the deepening exploitation of the Third World to feed the over-consumptive, privileged lifestyles in the imperialist countries. And let us be honest with our fellow exploiters, breaking the illusions of an alliance between First World social democracy and the interests of the exploited and oppressed. The one cannot exist without the other. The clearer we are about that, the more Amerikans are forced to make the choice between committing daily violence through their privilege and becoming a virus within the matrix.
If you're in a lockdown prison, that is if you are confined to your cell 21 hours a day unless you are attending a school program or a work assignment, there are still ways available that facilitate organizing efforts.
First, put together a collection of prisoner/prison literature and related legal issues, and anti-imperialist publications. Ask anyone and everyone you have contact with if they're interested in reading about these subjects. If they say yes, let them read your publications. After a while, encourage them to obtain their own publications and to "circulate to educate, educate to liberate."
Second, try to obtain a program/work assignment in any one of the following areas: teacher's aid, housing area porter, food service, or law library clerk. Teacher's aids have daily contact with lots of prisoners, the same goes for food service workers. Housing area porters have daily access to all prisoners in the housing area, and law library clerks have daily contact with prisoners from all over the prison plus they usually have access to a photocopy machine operated by prisoners.
"Without struggle there is no progress" - Frederick Douglass
MIM(Prisons) adds: This is good advice, it's important that everyone do what they can within their conditions. And in prison you have to be creative about what's possible. We also offer prisoners on lockdown (and others) the opportunity to study when they are locked in the cell, by joining our study groups. Cell time should be study time, whether it's part of our study group through the mail or studying material on your own. And there are many other productive activities you can do from your cell: writing articles, creating art, translating into Spanish, and writing poetry are just a few examples. Write to us with your own ideas and we'll help you get involved.
North Carolina's so-called Department of Public Safety has joined a number of state agencies in openly sabotaging efforts to prevent prisoners from fighting in their facilities.
MIM(Prisons) and our readers in North Carolina have received multiple notices of censorship of Under Lock & Key 27, most of them citing page 3, which contained the Call for Solidarity Demonstration on September 9. In their doublespeak, they justify this with reasons such as that it promotes "violence, disorder, insurrection or terrorist/gang activities" and that it "encourages insurrection and disorder." This was in reference to a call for 24 hours with no eating, working or fighting, where prisoners only engaged in solidarity actions and networking to build peace.
Many other states censored Under Lock & Key 27 for threatening the security of the institution (including New York, California, Wisconsin, and Illinois). Wisconsin Department of Corrections later claimed that ULK 27 "teaches or advocates violence and presents a clear and present danger to institutional security." So there you have it. Prisoners coming together, for whatever cause, is a security threat to them. Making it clear what they are trying to secure, which is the prevention of the self-determination of the oppressed nation lumpen. This has nothing to do with the persynal safety of humyn beings, which the Call for September 9 was clear in promoting.
Folsom State Prison in California went so far as to say that ULK 27 was censored for "advocating civil disobedience in prisons." Even this claim is a stretch, unless fasting and not working for a day, a Sunday no less, is disobeying the law in some way. Texas seems to think so, as they censored many copies of ULK 27 with the consistent reason that it "advocates hunger strike and work stoppage." Well we know Texas is big on unpaid labor in their prisons. And we suppose it's not breaking news that peaceful civil disobedience is a crime in the eyes of the state of California.
Despite the more honest justifications given by some state employees in California and Texas, safety and security concerns remain the number one reason given by states to censor MIM(Prisons)'s mail to prisoners. To call these agencies on their bluff, MIM(Prisons) proposes that organizations within the United Front for Peace who are working to build off of September 9 focus on promoting safety in their agitational and organizational work. From the countless painful letters we get from U.$. prisoners who fear for their life everyday in these places, we are pretty sure that working together we can do a better job of creating a safe environment than they can.
Comrades should brainstorm ideas of how to launch a campaign to change the conditions that the state creates that lead to unsafe conditions for prisoners. Often unsafe conditions for prisoners are potentially unsafe for staff as well. Either way, an effective campaign to make prisoners safer should bring around new recruits.
Can we get enough stories of comrades working to help each other out and improve each other's well-being to make ULK 29 an issue focused on creating safer prisons in the U.$? And you artists out there, any ideas on how to promote issues of safety and security that speak to the prison masses?
Let's see what we can do with this. And look out for each other in there.