In regards to the hunger strike that resumed on September 26th, well it did in fact resume here in this part of the SHU which is C facility nine and eight blocks. There are around seventy people participating who are going to continue up to the thirtieth of September. As you know, the main setback is the lack of communication, as not everyone is on the same page this time. Some learned of this through their own points of contact but not everyone is fortunate enough to have such means. Also it must be understood that we are dealing with many different oppressed nations so unless one hears about it from their own progressive representatives then they will not simply act upon the word of another prisoner.
That's the world that we live in today and that's why the original hunger strike had such historic undertones because nothing like that had ever been done before in California. And that is why the oppressors fear such unity as well as conscious awakening of the masses. But then again you yourself know this and that's what I like about MIM(Prisons).
MIM(Prisons) adds: In spite of the difficulties in communication and organizing around the hunger strike it has still been a remarkable success in getting so many prisoners across California to come together. This is an important step in the right direction, and underscores the need for the United Front for Peace that will bring together lumpen organizations against the common enemy of imperialism.
I have been a prisoner of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) for more than 11 years and am scheduled to be released within the next 2 years. But with no family left in this world, no place to go, no clothes other than the ones on my back, and no support system established... the odds are stacked up against me way before I am even released back into society and the only thing that the IDOC is going to provide me with before releasing me back into the so-called "free world" is a $10 check.
I am really interested in the July/August 2011 issue of Under Lock and Key because there's an article in there about a prison strike [in California]. A lot of people around the world aren't aware that the prisoners at the Stateville Maximum Correctional Center in Joliet, Illinois had a similar prison uprising in February and March of 2011. It was swept under the rug by then Director Gladys C. Taylor and Governor Patrick J. Quinn. This movement wasn't just a particular gang or a particular race orchestration, we all came together as one mass body (Blacks, Latinos, and whites) to protest the condition that we've been subjected to ever since the Richard Specs video leakage in 1995. In fact, I'm enclosing a copy of my adjustment committee's final summary for your entertainment.
MIM(Prisons) adds: This prisoner gives two examples of how the state will not serve the needs of the oppressed. When prisoners try to work together and quash beefs to do something positive they are targeted for repression (see below). Then, after over a decade in prison, people are sent to the streets with no resources or support. This is why it is only by building institutions independent of the imperialist state that we can begin to address these complaints.
What this comrade describes happening in Illinois is also playing out in California in the second phase of the hunger strike. Both examples show the potential for organizing against oppression when prisoners are united. This is why we are working to build the United Front for Peace in Prisons which unites around the 5 principles of peace, unity, growth, internationalism and independence: "We organize to end the needless conflicts and violence within the U.$. prison environment. The oppressors use divide and conquer strategies so that we fight each other instead of them. We will stand together and defend ourselves from oppression."
THE PROTEST LETTER BEGINS WITH THE FOLLOWING: "THIS MEMO IS FOR THOSE HERE IN STATEVILLE WHO ARE READY, WILLING, AND ENTHUSED WITH ANTICIPATION TO RISE TO THE OCCASION TO LEAD US AND USHER IN A NEW ERA. THUS CEMENT OUR NAMES IN HISTORY..." THE PROTEST LETTER IDENTIFIES SEVERAL ISSUES THAT NEEDS TO BE ADDRESSED BY ADMINISTRATION AND LISTS THEM. THE LETTER GOES ON TO SAY AFTER THE PROTEST AND GRIEVANCES HAVE BEEN FILED THEN THE INMATES WILL REQUEST THE WARDEN ISSUE MEMORANDUMS DETAILING THE CORRECTIVE ACTION THAT WILL BE IMPLEMENTED. THERE ARE INSTRUCTIONS FOR ALL INMATES TO STOCK UP ON COMMISSARY BECAUSE BEGINNING MARCH 1 THE INMATES ARE NOT TO SUBMIT ANY COMMISSARY SLIPS IN ORDER TO MAKE THE FOOD TO GO BAD. THE LETTER THEN INSTRUCTS ALL THE INMATES TO BAN THE USAGE OF THE PHONE FOR ONE WEEK, NOT GO TO RECREATION FOR ONE WEEK, AND FILE GRIEVANCES ON ALL ISSUES STARTING MARCH 2011. THE LETTER THEN INSTRUCTS THE INMATES TO HAVE NO CONTACT WITH THE POLICE, IA OR ANY STAFF BECAUSE SILENCE GIVES THEM POWER AND WILL STRIKE FEAR. THE LETTER THEN REQUESTS THE INMATES TO HAVE THEIR PEOPLE ON THE OUTSIDE TO PROTEST WITH PICKET SIGNS IN FRONT OF STATEVILLE CORRECTIONAL CENTER.
WHILE CONDUCTING A SEARCH OF CELL XXXX INVESTIGATIVE PERSONNEL CONFISCATED HANDWRITTEN DOCUMENTATION IN XYZ's PROPERTY DETAILING EVENTS OF THE PROTEST. THE DOCUMENTATION WAS FIVE PAGES TYPED AND ONE HANDWRITTEN PAGE.
DURING AN INTERVIEW XYZ CLAIMED OWNERSHIP OF SAID DOCUMENTS. XYZ STATED THIS DOCUMENT WAS BEING PASSED ON THE GALLERY AND HE KEPT IT. XYZ ALSO STATED THE PROTEST IS GOING TO HAPPEN AS SCHEDULED FOR MARCH 1, 2011.
ON MARCH 1, 2011 THE INMATES AT STATEVILLE CORRECTIONAL CENTER PROCEEDED WITH THE PROTEST AS INDICATED IN THE PROTEST LETTERS THAT WERE BEING CIRCULATED IN GENERAL POPULATION. STATEVILLE WAS PLACED ON RESTRICTED MOVEMENT DUE TO THE INMATE PROTEST.
OFFENDER XYZ WAS POSITIVELY IDENTIFIED BY INSTITUTIONAL GRAPHICS
1 Year CGrade 1 Year Segregation Revoke GCC or SGT 1 Year 3 Months Audio/Visual Restriction
This papyrus is to all United Front (UF) lumpen organizations (LOs) who are plenipotentiary strawboss [this refers to chiefs who claim complete authority over their local group]. And some items will have a unique affinity to those who strive and struggle in a Growth and Development pose. And in that case, I will be specific to whom those items are geared towards.
Some serious questions have been presented to ULK on matters that will either keep or further dissimulate any form of umoja [unity] among the LOs that have expressed an interest in UF.
Umoja over Dissimulation
[Biographical info removed per security policy. In contrast to those who are "plenipotentiary strawbossing," the author claims deep history in a disciplined structure. We will let h credentials speak through what h has to offer in the form of ideas. - Editor]
In a 9 November 1999 column in the Final Call newspaper, my lumpen chief reiterated a previous call for unity and peace among the LOs, specifically in the mid-west. However, in laying out his nationwide peace and unity initiative in book format in 1996, he let it be known that our "vision" for Growth and Development was one for universal unity and peace. Hence, this United Front (UF) project is consistent with my brother's vision.
In the 26 September 2011 letter to United Front members from MIM(Prisons) the proposition set forth was the struggle certain LOs are having in putting their differences to the side. It should be understood that grown women and men have to make tough decisions. Significant among them is the making of personal and collective sacrifices being asked for that don't merely serve you and a few of your homies or comrades. The sacrifice here is for collective LO unity, which will benefit the future of all of our collective kith and kin. This is what it means to become part of a class struggle, the lumpen being a class. In signing on to the UF, you have to join the collective interest.
In ULK 17(November/December 2010), UF was defined for all: "United Front is the theory of uniting different groups across class lines for a common goal or interest, while maintaining independence where those groups disagree. The application of united front theory is about recognizing different contradictions in society and utilizing them in the interests of the international proletariat."(p. 1 "Building United Front Surrounded by Enemies")
In that same issue of ULK, and on the same page, under the title "Lumpen United Front: Its Basis and Development" it stated "The basis for unity among lumpen is class. The lumpen are the disenfranchised who derive from the economically depressed areas — the Barrios and ghetto projects — and are for the most part oppressed nations people. The lumpen are known to the oppressor nation as the 'criminal element' which is code word for persyn of color. The lumpen usually come from a lumpen organization that the oppressors call a 'gang,' or survive as some type of parasitic hustler."
In ULK 22 (September/October 2011) the United Front principles were enunciated and have been reprinted in each issue since. The five principles were direct and extremely clear. LOs started writing to be with it. So no LO should be confused as to what is expected of them and what is required of them based upon their own pledges of unity and peace.
Historically Long and Deep-Rooted Feuds
Those who have or are dealing with this issue should do one of three things:
They can settle their differences among themselves (the two conflicting/feuding LOs) which should be done as expeditiously as practical.
Call upon a congress of six. The congress of six (C-Six or C-Six Session) will be composed by each feuding LO in the conflict picking three LO reps from a neutral LO not involved in the issue, to represent that particular LO's interest. And the other LO in the conflict shall pick three for theirs. That C-Six shall bring a resolution to those LOs' problems and it shall be binding upon both and all its members and factions, based upon umoja, or unity pledge each LO gave upon the second principle of the UF mission and goal statement.
If one, two, or more LOs cannot bring resolution to their beefing and feuding employing any of the former two offerings, a UF congress shall be called by any UF LO reps and all LOs who signed on shall bring a resolution to those two LOs' problems. If the resolution is not embraced by the feuding LOs the UF congress should take exclusion measures or other UF fealty measures.
If we are serious about this, these suggestions shouldn't be a problem. I know from personal experience and universal education and training that many of the LOs already have such conflict resolution policies in play in the streets and behind enemy lines of the oppressor's machine. So this is not utopian in nature.
Ideally these C-Six resolutions should first be attempted in-house and regionally before going multi-state and nationally. Let's not be remiss that the opposition to lumpen cohesion is reading our solutions and resolutions. So it is to be expected that that same dynamic will put all kinds of tools in force and effect to break the chain of unity. Among them, their ease at censorship and suppression. That's why it is imperative LOs must be very judicious in how we are politicking this movement in ULK. For this is a medium we cannot afford nor permit to be short-circuited. So we should refrain, if possible, from placing problems on the national stage if it's possible to be resolved in-house or in-state.
Baseless and petty allegations that cannot be judged and weighed across the nation serve no good other than becoming the ham's fodder to rationalize oppressive-suppressive censorship programs. So it's not good to throw this on MIM(Prisons)'s or ULK's door without proof.
Now let's move on to the contradictions within. If we aim to be truly successful with this endeavor, all LOs must do some self-analyzing and self-examination. Every formation, like the communities and families we come from, have bad juju in their midsts. And we know this project is not about transforming the economics of LOs (though we hope that the good eventually have such an effect).
I think I can speak for all and say we wish to keep that kind of debatable aspect of the LOs' habits away from what we are striving to do here. For contamination and cross-transference can happen very easily and it's something that quarter hams are greedily waiting for to not only discredit us, but shut the movement down.
Here I will paraphrase Atiba Shanna from the "Vita Wa Watu" and apply his ideas to our LOs: Each LO must emphasize re-building. We must re-orient and re-organize based upon in-house examinations of our LO and based upon what aspects of their mission need to be improved or omitted. Because the self-destruction LOs engaged in in our previous structures, and the reasons for it, wasn't of a mere quantitative nature. That is, the movement and our organizations didn't suffer defeat (the mass incarceration of each LO's members, loss of lives and material and political gains, schisms etc.) and set backs simply because of the state's repression, but also, primarily, because our "minds" aren't right for a vast majority of LOs and their governing bodies and rank. We are wrong in thinking that we can resolve all our problems by doing counterproductive/counterrevolutionary hustles and resolving all conflicts among ourselves with not only the sword but the hammer and anvil that built sword and spear. Our practice isn't up to par.
And as another of my great teachers taught me: "If one plants an orchard on a chemical dump without first digging it out and replacing it with good soil, it will produce poisonous fruits."
We have two million plus strong, oppressed beings in these county and state psyche incinerators. We have some purchasing power. And we have political power abstractly through the family unit. As field marshal of the struggle, George Jackson stated: "A good deal of this has to do with our ability to communicate to the people on the street. The nature of the function of the piston (system) within the police state has to be continuously explained, elucidated to the people on the street because we can't fight alone in here... We can fight, but if we're isolated, if the state is successful in accomplishing that, the results are usually not constructive in terms of proving our point. We fight and we die, but that's not the point, although it may be admirable from some sort of purely moral point of view. The point is, however, in the face of what we confront, to fight and win. That's the real objective: not just to make statements, no matter how noble, but to destroy that system that oppresses us."(Cages of Steel p. 179)
All scientific knowledge and experiments must evolve. Things that may have or were once working for an LO may not cut it in today's world. Conditions are changing. Just look at the amount of power and force being aimed at the LOs.
We cannot stay stuck in the same old "spear over gun" syndrome/mentality that got Shaka Zulu killed. He and others refused to fight with guns at first, but instead insisted on fighting guns (in the enemies' hands) with Zulu specialized spears in colonial Afrika. Similarly in the dawn of the civil rights movement we saw this approach reintroduced by promoting prayer over protest. Later protest had completed its role, but people still promoted it over "self-defense" and "self-determination" in the late 60s and 70s. Now it's greed over respectable and righteous hustling; the individual over the collective LO; dissimulation over unification.
Most of all the older LOs have some chimera elements in regards to their political philosophies, and those have evolved to the point where capitalism is the end of all means. Even loyalty has a price tag. The nationalism and anti-establishment fight against oppression is relegated to their lit of old and passing stories of the old homies and history books. With "getting money" the ends of all means, no cohesive political line can be drawn. So we must, under the UF banner, agree to some basic principles that we can unite around.
We have witnessed where and what tribalism (in excess) and wars bring. It permits others to oppress and disrespect us more than any LO I ever knew has done to me and my LO. Yet we don't fight the oppressors with the same zeal and hatred we direct towards each other for lesser disrespect and abuse. Therefore, UF should be the highest priority among the vanguard of each lumpen, and the women and men steering said LOs.
We would be fools to believe that designs are not in play to do away with those who are moving to end oppression. According to a news release a week or so ago, the department of just-us claims that the U.$. has 33,000 LOs nationwide with 1.4 million members. It's not known if they are counting those behind concrete and steel or not. Regardless of the truth in the numbers, these figures serve one thing: a notice that they see a problem to be addressed. When you release propaganda or statistics like that, they serve a greater point.
We know they take our existence very serious, united or not. The question to all LOs is whether we are going to take our existence serious or not, and act. There is a saying attributed to Nat Turner and his struggle that "we can either all hang together for fighting or hang separate as comrades who did nothing."
On September 26, prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison will resume their indefinite hunger strike after 2 months of hiatus, during which they negotiated with the state. The strike began on July 1, sweeping across California, and was put on hold by organizers on July 21, after 3 full weeks of fasting. Multiple prisoner negotiators from Pelican Bay have confirmed that Scott Kernan of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) promised the 5 demands would be met, but that they needed 2 to 3 weeks to comply. That window of time has long since passed, and comrades are gearing up for what promises to be a longer stretch with no food.
In a statement from one strike leader announcing the September 26 restart, he stated:
I appreciate the time and love you all have given to us and you can believe that we will not yield until justice is achieved. We went into this trying to save lives, if possible, but we see now that there will have to be casualties on our side and we all know that power concedes to no one without demands.(1)
On August 23, state legislator Tom Ammiano headed a hearing on conditions in California's SHUs and on the validation process that gets people placed there. It echoed previous hearings that did not stop torture in the SHU. He promised he would push the issue further than it has gone in the past, but like the reforms given by the CDCR, this is too little too late as comrades who have faced decades in these torture cells take this struggle to the next level.
The Truth About the Negotiations
The strike didn't end over some beanies and calendars. Letters that came from the leaders after the message was sent that the strike ended were very clear that they were only giving the state time to meet their demands before they would restart the food strike. Those in D-Corridor and other SHU prisoners aren't done yet.
The initial story that came out of limited communications between the inside and outside negotiation teams was that the strike had ended, period, in return for beanies, calendars, proctored exams and a promise to investigate the major complaints of the strikers. The extreme limits put on the outside negotiation team, who were only granted access to the strikers on a couple brief occasions, allowed the state to control how the negotiations were portrayed. As a result, many across the state were let down by the misleading reports that first came out, because the strikers had pledged to strike until all 5 demands were met.
It has since come to light that Scott Kernan circulated a fake version of the five demands,(2) and that prisoners received notices that they had broken the rules by organizing against the abuse that they face and that they will face "progressive discipline" in the future for similar actions. The latter contradicts CDCR Spokeswoman Terry Thorton who stated on record, "There are no punitive measures for inmates refusing to eat."(3) In typical repressive fashion, the state responds to complaints of torture committed by state employees with outlawing any form of protest by the victims. It just goes to show that their efforts to maintain "security" have nothing to do with safety and everything to do with social control.
It's also important to note that the best public offer coming from the state right now is that they might move away from gang affiliation charges and focus on actual rule violations as justification for throwing someone into a torture chamber. Within U.$. prisons the First Amendment is generally ignored and any form of expression or organizing not sanctioned by the state is considered against the rules. But even this reform has been on the table for a long time with no action. According to the 2004 Castillo court decision, which took 8 years to litigate, the CDCR committed to providing logical justification that evidence used to put someone into SHU was criminal in nature. Yet nothing has changed, as the lead attorney on the case, Charles Carbone, asserted at the August 23 hearing.
As Carbone pointed out, with exasperation, we already went through the whole song and dance of having hearings around the SHU with Senator Gloria Romero and the United Front to Abolish the SHU years ago. Another testifier at this year's hearing made testimony in the 70s and 80s about the detrimental effects of isolation, but they still went on to build Pelican Bay State Prison. It is clear that the state sees the SHU as an important tool of social control and cares nothing for the destruction they cause to oppressed people.
Scott Kernan was very clear at the hearing that the CDCR would continue with the debriefing process, using confidential informants, and that they will not allow prisoners to appeal secret evidence used against them. He also said gang validations will likely continue to bring indeterminate SHU sentences. Kernan did not stick around for the public comments, and remaining CDCR staff were not given an opportunity to respond when a public commenter asked when the 5 demands would be put down in writing, after Kernan promised it would only take 2 to 3 weeks.
Lessons in Organizing
Through this process we are all learning how to organize in our conditions and what limits we face.
One of the successes of the California hunger strike was the demonstration of United Front to the masses, which inspired many to the possibilities of prison-based organizing. We do not know the details of how groups coordinated on the inside around the strike, but we do know that many groups would not be willing to sacrifice their independence to others, and yet they worked together. This example should be followed by those on the outside. We need to recognize the strength that comes in uniting all who can be united at any given time on the most pressing issues that we face. Coalition organizing strategies have held back support by not allowing a diversity of voices to come out in unity in support of the hunger strike.
Having outside pressure during a food strike is crucial to ensuring that the state just does not let prisoners die, as they are more than willing to do if there isn't too much noise about it. Outside organizations also played an important role in spreading word about the hunger strike that was initiated by some of the most isolated people in the whole state. But, ultimately, the state controls our communication with prisoners. Despite all the work put in by the coalition to develop an outside negotiation team, the only role the state allowed them to play was to announce when the strike had ended and ensure that everyone knew to stop. The state realized that a memo from the CDCR was not going to be convincing. Other than this, the negotiation team was not allowed any access to the prisoner negotiators.
In ULK 21, we made it sound like the strike was over for beanies, calendars and proctors and some empty promises of change. This was the information coming from the outside negotiating team and the best information anyone seemed to have. Frustration with the outcome immediately started coming in and we fear that disillusionment may have followed. But this is what the SHU is designed for. This is why SHU inmates can't call people on the outside. This is why the press is not allowed in California prisons. Misinformation would be much harder to spread otherwise. So overcoming these barriers is part of what we need to learn here.
We need to learn to build protracted and sustainable battles. There are no quick fixes, and prisoners can't rely on the mainstream press or outside organizations to come in and rescue them. Recently, Pelican Bay censored MIM(Prisons)'s study pack on organizational structure. They recognize the importance of such information for prisoners to really get organized and exert their rights. As much as they want to label us a "security threat group" for doing it, MIM(Prisons) continues to struggle for our right to support prison-based organizing. For it is the prisoners who have the drive and determination to make the changes that need to be made to end this oppressive system.
Marshall Law: The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black Panther by Marshall "Eddie" Conway and Dominique Stevenson AK Press, 2011 674-A 23rd Street Oakland, CA 94612
This short autobiography by political prisoner Marshall (Eddie) Conway is not so much a story about the Baltimore Black Panthers as it is a brief history of prison-based organizing in the state of Maryland. Having spent almost all of his adult life in prison after being framed for killing a cop in 1970, this makes sense.
Panthers, Popularity and the Pigs
Knowing first-hand the extent of repression that was put on the Black Panther Party from a very early stage, the biggest lesson we get from the early years of Conway's political life are about how to recruit and organize in a country that is crawling with pigs. He points out that of the 295 actions that COINTELPRO took against Black Power groups from 1967 to 1971; 233 targeted the Panthers.(p.51) He later points out that while Muhammed Speaks was regularly allowed in prisons, The Black Panther had to be smuggled in.(p.98)
As the state clearly recognized the Maoism of the Black Panthers as much more effective in the fight for Black liberation than other movements at the time, they had agents planted in the organization from day one in Baltimore. One of the founding members in Baltimore, and the highest ranking Panther in the state, was exposed as an agent of the National Security Agency, while others worked for the FBI or local police.(p.48) Conway identifies the Panthers' rapid growth as a prime cause for its rapid demise, both due to infiltration and other contradictions between members that just had not been trained ideologically.(p.54) MIM(Prisons) takes it a step further in promoting an organizational structure where our effectiveness is not determined by the allegiances of our allies, but only by our work and the political line that guides it.
Despite the seriousness with which he addresses his decades of dedicated organizing work, Conway expresses regret for putting his desire to free his people above his family. There is no doubt that oppression creates contradictions between someone’s ability to support their family directly and the system that prevents them from doing so. MIM(Prisons) is sympathetic with the young Conway, who put fighting the system first. Perhaps the most applicable lesson to take from this is for young comrades to seriously consider family planning and how that fits into one's overall plans as a revolutionary. It is just a reality that having an active/demanding family life is not conducive to changing the system.
This account of organizing in Maryland prisons is one example that famous events like the Attica uprising were part of a widespread upsurge in prison-based organizing across the country at the time. In a turning point for the prison movement, in 1971 Maryland prisoners began organizing the uniquely aboveground and legal United Prisoners Labor Union. The union quickly gained much broader support among the population than even the organizers expected.
While Conway notes that the young organizers on the streets often found partying more important than political work, he discusses deeper contradictions within the imprisoned lumpen class. At this time, illegal drugs were becoming a plague that prison activists could not find easy solutions to. While organizing the union, a new youth gang arose whose interest in free enterprise led them to work openly with the administration in "anti-communist" agitation among the population. As many gangs have become more entrenched in the drug economy (and other capitalist ambitions) competition has heightened the drive to conquer markets. The contradiction between the interests of criminal LOs and progressive lumpen organization is heightened today, with the criminal element being the dominant aspect of that contradiction.
Rather than outright repression, the easiest way for the guards to work against the union was to get less disciplined recruits to act out in violence. This point stresses the need for resolving contradictions among the masses before going up against the oppressor in such an open way. Education work among the masses to stress the strategy of organized action over individual fights with guards became an important task for union leaders.
Of course, the state could not allow such peacemaking to continue and the union was soon made illegal; leaders faced isolation and transfers. This eventually led us to where we are today where any form of prisoner organizing is effectively outlawed in most places and labeled Security Threat Group activity, in complete violation of the First Amendment right to association. There's a reason Amerikans allow the labor aristocracy to unionize and not the imprisoned lumpen. A year after the union was crushed, an escape attempt led to a riot in which the full destructive potential of the prison population was unleashed because there was no political leadership to guide the masses. That's exactly what the state wanted.
As a comrade in prison, intrigue is constantly being used against you by the state and you must takes steps to protect yourself. Conway tells a story about how one little act of kindness and his affiliation with the righteous Black Panthers probably saved his life. One major weakness of most LOs today is that they are rarely free of elements engaged in anti-people activity. As long as this is the case it will be easy for the state to set up fights and hits at will. Only through disciplined codes of conduct, that serve the people at all times, can such problems be avoided.
Many of the things Conway and his comrades did in the 1970s would seem impossible in U.$. prisons today. The government began aggressively using prisons as a tool of social control during that period of broad unrest in the United $nakes. Soon the state learned it had to ramp up the level of control it had within its prisons. This informed the history of the U.$. prison system over the last few decades. And with the vast resources of the U.$. empire, high tech repression came with a willing and well-paid army of repressers to run the quickly expanding system.
It is almost amazing to read Conway's story of Black guards, one-by-one, coming over to the side of the prisoners in a standoff with prison guards.(p.81) We don't know of anything like that happening today. As oppressed nationals of the labor aristocracy class have become commonplace in the U.$. injustice bureaucracy, we see national consciousness overcome by integrationism.
Also unlike today, where prisoners usually have to give any money they can scrape together to pay for their own imprisonment (ie. pay guards' salaries), profits from commissary in Maryland actually used to go to a fund to benefit prisoners and the communities they come from. But Conway tells of how the drug mob worked with the administration to eat up those funds, using some of it to sponsor a party for the warden himself!
The prison activists responded to this by setting up their own fund to support programs in Baltimore. That is true independent action, highlighting the importance of the fifth principle of the United Front for Peace. While all drug dealers are in essence working for the U.$. imperialists, this is even more true for those in prison who rely directly on state officials for the smooth operation of their business. Money is not decisive in the struggle for liberation; it is humyn resources: a politically conscious population that decides whether we succeed or we fail.
This review skims some of the main lessons from this book, but we recommend you read it for yourself for a more thorough study. It is both an inspiring and sobering history of U.$. prison organizing in the recent past. It is up to today's prisoners to learn from that past and write the next chapters in this story of struggle that will continue until imperialism is destroyed.
On cell block one, prisoners were being denied outdoor exercise. In 2003, prisoners won a class action civil suit (titled Osterback v. Singletary) where the court made the ruling that it was against the 8th Amendment to deny Close Management Unit prisoners outdoor exercise.
Still, we were constantly being denied. The prisoners were griping. Another comrade and I decided the conditions were right to direct the people. Thus we set out on a "grievance campaign," forming a nucleus of seven. We enlisted five other prisoners to each make two copies of exemplary grievances (that me and the other comrade pre-wrote), all with different language. This was necessary because the people themselves would not have spent one minute to place pen to paper.
Altogether a good 25 grievances were written by the core body. They were passed on for the people to sign and date, and for others to copy. A good 30 prisoners participated.
On the next designated day of outside exercise, the pigs went from cell to cell asking if anyone desired outside exercise. It was a small victory (however temporary), but it showed what can be accomplished if conditions are ideal and leaders take initiative to direct a movement.
More recently, during exercise time at the outside dog kennels, a prisoner was pulled from his cage and punched in the mouth while in restraints by a sadistic pig. The prisoner requested that the pig remove the handcuffs. The prisoner was then grabbed in a choke and his head was rammed into the cage, carving a deep gash in his head, and knocking him unconscious.
The pig then plotted with his co-workers that they would say the prisoner tried to slip the cuffs. They said that there is no surveillance cameras, therefore nothing can be proven.
Because of the incident they tried to take us back on the cell block, but we refused, and demanded to see a higher ranking official. When the white shirt came we stated the facts. Further, everyone united together and initiated grievance procedures for the victimized comrade.
Three months earlier this same pig bashed another prisoner's head in the wall twelve times and caved that side of his face in. The prisoner was taken to an outside hospital. This sort of police brutality is an everyday occurrence here at Florida State Prison. It has a history for it.
Most people cannot say or determine how they'll react in any situation unless they've had similar experience under the same pressure and conditions. Most of us can only theorize and examine best options one should take from an objective standpoint and hope to learn valuable lessons from another's mistake, in attempts to prevent oneself from ever having to face the same problem.
One general fact is that the words "snitch" and "rat" are probably the worst and last label anyone would care to have placed in conjunction with their name, especially in prison where one's name and respect is the ultimate factor in dividing and determining a "man" from a "boy." (A "boy" is one step above the label of snitch.) Once labeled a rat, Special Needs Yard (SNY) or Protective Custody (PC) are your only options, because snitching is penitentiary sin number one and the only justice served for this act is punishment upon death - as very painful as possible!
I've noticed that MIM(Prisons) made a good-hearted attempt at bringing forth evidence of credibility by producing past letters that reveal Loco1's anti-SNY sentiments and truth of his commitment to the struggle, but after a complete examination of the full story (never cross-checked), I don't believe snitching to be the issue nor do I think anyone, after investigation, feels that he snitched. His lumpen organization (LO) members were within listening range and heard the pig loudly read the hidden message found in a medicine bottle. They also allowed him to choose an option. Snitches do not receive options. Snitching is an irredeemable violation that cannot be forgiven no matter how many pigs one is willing to "clean up." This verifies that snitching was not the reason for group violation.
My judgement is that a major security breach in communications was initiated due to an irresponsible lack of diligence and, as a result, vital information fell into the hands of the enemy that brought harm to others. My discipline methods may have been different, but regardless, every man is responsible for his actions and must face the repercussions that come along no matter how great or how small. If I was presented with options given in his situation I would've unhesitatingly chosen the choice of cleaning up a pig (in a clandestine manner). Doing battle with a comrade(s) in defense of my life would've never been an option and running from a disciplinary violation would've never entered my mind. George Jackson even made the statement that a coward is no good to the cause.
What makes matters worse is that now he's labeled a snitch and a coward! All benefit of the doubt and creditability was lost when he ran and checked in with the enemy. What's he going to do when the revolution kicks off? If a person's max out date is more important than maintaining his dignity, and trust as a true revolutionary — I say fuck a max out date.
As long as the people remain in chains, there is no personal liberation for me. The struggle doesn't exist in here or out there, it exists in one's heart, mind, and soul. The only max out date is on the day of freedom or death. Some may call Loco1's actions a tactical retreat, but I don't see nothing tactical about completely losing support of allies and comrades. My assessment may seem overly critical but in the war against oppression everything is critical and criticism can never be stressed enough.
There were no excuses for the mistakes Loco1 made. What organization does not teach their members to write and speak in codes especially while operating within enemy territory? It's also common sense to never use real names or known aliases, especially on the same line with incriminating statements. Developing security awareness and communications is the most important aspect of any revolutionary organization. One wrong word in the right ears can cause whole nations to fall. I wish Loco1 the best of luck and hope he finds the road to recovery. Mao said, "a fall in the pits a gain in the wit." He never mentioned anything about diving in head first.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This response to Loco1 is a rational analysis of mistakes made and the importance of security. While many people insist that it is not possible to be classified SNY or PC without ratting someone out, we know that conditions vary between prisons and even more between states, so there is no way one person can make this blanket statement with certainty. We printed Loco1's story as an example that this is not always true. We did not print it to say that one should always choose the route Loco1 did.
Our main disagreement with the above author is in his/her insistence that it's better to opt to clean up a pig than to go SNY. Most likely, given the current balance of forces, that thinking is putting ego above the movement. You cannot be a revolutionary if you are not ready to sacrifice as an individual, but there is a difference between courage and bravado. And we can tell the difference by putting politics in command. Sometimes appearing selfless is better for the individual but hurts the struggle. The streets are where we need our comrades, and temporary setbacks in the name of long term successes are sometime valuable choices to make. We know each situation is different, and sometimes there are no options besides fighting back, but no successful military strategist engages the enemy every time they attack.
This article was translated and updated by USW C-4 based on an article originally printed in Notas Rojas
Lately there have been news reports about the amount of L.O. related violence. The "solution" proposed is the presence of more police on the streets and barrios of the oppressed nations. In every state where lumpen organizations exist propositions are being heard to raise police funding by millions of dollars. Asking from a reformist perspective, why isn't that money used to create youth training centers for office/trade or education, and the only logical response is that the police, government and white-nation simply want to make life more impossible for oppressed nation people. Above all for Latinos and Blacks.
Lumpen Organizations are a logical extension of capitalist society
When speaking about gangs and violence let's not forget that the most powerful gang and most violent of 'em all is the U.$. government, and it's agencies of protection are the same entities that determine what is and isn't a gang. It can be said that the gang of "Amerikkka" serves as a model for street gangs which are less violent and less powerful. The similarities are obvious: they both defend territories they've taken possession of, many times with violence, they both take part in illegal trade of narcotics and guns for financial gain (and in the case of street-gangs for protection). In the U.$. there was the initiation of chemical warfare on the Black nation in the form of the crack cocaine epidemic which began in the 70s and 80s, also worth noting is the more recent uncovering of CIA agents selling high power firearms to the drug cartels of Mexico. The difference with respect to lumpen organizations and their members is that many times they don't have another option. The government on the other hand does it as a way to enforce it's politics to assure it's hegemonic control over the Third World as well as a form of making money. No one prohibits the government from continuing.
The irony of the matter is that government functionaries are fighting against something that represents the logical extension of the colonizer's society of the U.$. along with it's values and all. The power, the violence and the voracious ambition are all part of the patrimony of the United $tates. Instead of attacking the root of the problem, the pigs favor armed suppression of the youth. To truly solve the problem you have to solve the problem of the nature of society as a whole and destroy the model on which street gangs are based, the military and the government of the United $tates.
Whatever diminishment in gang activity there is due to mass incarceration and/or the augmented presence of pigs will only serve to quiet the issue for a short period of time and might even cause the transfer of the gang to a territory with less police. A real solution to the violence of street crime needs to include the abolition of the system that requires that some live in misery while others live in disgusting and exaggerated wealth, while the rich accuse the poor of not being "smart" like them as an explanation for the wealth.
The inequality of power is a necessary condition of capitalist/imperialist society. The solution requires doing away with this oppressive system. For those who are searching for a more immediate solution for society's problems like gang violence which affect their communities, the community ends up losing when they make it a priority to increase police presence. How many times must it be proven that the police are our enemies. They kill us without a care in the world. See our recent article on David Deacon Turner, former NFL player killed by the pigs.
Many people who witness the more visible violence, that of the LOs and not of the police, are siding with the pigs against the LOs. This is expected for many reasons, including the friendly relationship between the police and the press. The press doesn't occupy itself with exposing the abuses and assassinations by the police.
For this debate the voice that's most needed is that of the LOs and their members. After all, can we trust in the press or in a press conference by the police? Or that the press will lie about the LOs? The LOs and their supporters have reason to stay away from the yellow press; instead they should utilize other methods and mediums in building public opinion to speak for them. This is another of the millions of reasons why the oppressed need their own independent media. LO members are encouraged to write MIM(Prisons) to have their voices heard in ULK and to help develop an analysis of the lumpen by the lumpen for the betterment of the lumpen.
In mid June of this year my cell block (unit 7) at TRCI conducted a food strike and a canteen strike. We agreed that we would not come out of our cells during meal times for 4 days. Also we agreed not to purchase canteen for one month since they use the profits for themselves in a lot of ways and as you know, the best way to slay Goliath is to hit their pockets. We were contesting a few different things. For one, this is the only prison in Oregon that will not allow group photos and we have to wear jeans, long sleeve blue shirt (no sunglasses or hats!) All of the other joints you can have 4 people in the photo, shirts off, in shorts, with sunglasses and a hat on if you so desire! For two, they were trying to change our TV program package to very basic cable. There was a couple other reasons we decided to demonstrate also, but I'll pass on that for now.
Anyway, the food strike went on for 4 days and the whole unit minus some old 72 year old guy participated.
The authorities were pissed! Almost one month later they came and snatched me and 5 other guys off the unit and threw us in the dungeon under the guise of being "key" shot callers in the food strike.
Here I sit with the max sanctions, 180 days in the hole, 24 days loss of privileges upon release from seg and a $200 disciplinary fine. All of their "evidence" results from confidential informants. Of course I am appealing, but their appeal process is a joke. However, I aim to take it to court as soon as my appeal is denied.
I have spread and continue to the word about your publication/organization and my comrades and I are always spreading information to help hinder the very ones who oppress us.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We are pleased to hear reports like this one about prisoners coming together to fight for common goals. And we do not know the full story of the demands these protesters put forward, but we will point out that the photo and TV situation described above is not high on the list of demands from the anti-imperialist movement. These problems are neither torture nor repressive towards political organizing and education, and those are the primary areas of our focus for protests. While it is important to develop demands that will unite a broad group of prisoners, we do not want to water down the goals of our movement to the extent that these demands lose their value. We work towards this unity of goals and prisoners through the United Front for Peace in Prisons and we look forward to working with these comrades in Oregon on future protests.
MIM(Prisons) held a congress in June where we addressed some important theoretical and practical questions for our organizing. We began congress with some study and discussion on the principal contradiction as applied to our work fighting the criminal injustice system. This discussion led to some clarifications and unity as well as an agreement to do more study to develop a position paper on this subject. The congress itself was left with the unifying understanding that the principal task overall is to create public opinion and independent institutions of the oppressed to seize power. All congress discussion strove to apply this principal task.
A discussion of finances and goals led to a re-affirmation that Under Lock & Key is our most important organizing tool. That thought informed discussions about potentially expanding the size and frequency of ULK and tradeoffs with producing and/or mailing other revolutionary literature in to prisoners. With limited time and money, it's important that we make the best use of our resources by carefully considering these decisions.
We changed the distribution policy for ULK this year, sending new people only one sample issue before removing them from the mailing list if we do not hear back from them saying that they want to stay on. This led to an artificial drop in people on our mailing list, and our theory at the time of developing this new policy was that these people were mostly not receiving ULK and/or not interested in it. However, we've had a decline in the rate of new subscribers in the past year that we think might be associated with this changed policy. To test out this theory, we will be re-instating the policy of allowing all people to stay on our mailing list for 6 months before they get cut off if we have not heard from them.
On the positive side, we have had a big increase in regular writers, and the folks contributing solid, high quality articles and art to Under Lock & Key has gone up. We have also become more selective about which articles/letters get typed for posting on the website and consideration for inclusion in ULK. With an excess of good potential articles, we are focusing on the best submissions and trying to work with writers to improve their articles and writing skills when we don't accept something for publication. We are not as strong in this second area as we would like; more should be done to send comrades responses to their article submissions when they are not making the cut for print. We also need to give people more guidance about what we are and are not looking for to print.
Although MIM(Prisons) focuses on work with prisoners, we know that in order to build public opinion we must also reach people on the outside. Our main tool for this work is our website www.prisoncensorship.info, which was relaunched in January 2011 with a new look and added features to bring in more readers. Our web traffic doubled in the past year and we are seeing a very strong growth in interest in our online work. To this end we are going to do some web-based outreach to continue to expand the voices of our comrades behind bars. This will include putting the many art submissions we receive but can't fit into ULK online for people to see.
Anti-Censorship and PLC
Since our winter congress, we have been focusing our anti-censorship efforts on trying to recruit lawyers on the outside to help us take some select prison administrations to court. This is a slow-going process, and we recently decided to refocus back on writing directly to administrators on behalf of prisoners who can't receive mail from us. This has proven to be a fruitful investment in the past, leading to both victories over censorship, and recruiting new comrades to work with MIM(Prisons) and the United Struggle from Within. For MIM(Prisons)'s 2011 annual censorship report, click here.
In other legal work, many of you know that MIM(Prisons) facilitates a Prisoners' Legal Clinic (PLC), picking up a project that MIM used to run. This incarnation has been going since November 2009 and has strayed from its original path of working on issues that are intimately related to our anti-imperialist struggle, and had degraded into a more broad legal strategy discussion group with contributors showing limited initiative to pick up tasks outlined by MIM(Prisons). In upcoming PLC mailings we will be refocusing on our goals and tasks, and referring comrades out for general legal discussion. A PLC mailing went out in June 2011, so PLC contributors should let us know if they haven't gotten theirs yet.
MIM(Prisons)-led Study Groups
Last year we separated our introductory study course into two different levels. The first level is short (only two assignments) and studies two articles written by MIM(Prisons). The second level studies more advanced material and lasts much longer (about one year). We have recently recruited advanced USW members as study group responders, which helps relieve MIM(Prisons) to do other work that can only be done by someone on the outside, and is a great task for someone to do who can't run a study group where they're at due to isolation restrictions. We encourage all prisoners, advanced or beginner, to get together and study revolutionary material. You will get so much more out of it than if you just read something once by yourself!
More advanced study group participants have created a number of study guides over the last year, and comrades are actively working to build the MIM(Prisons) glossary, which should be available for distribution in the next year. Study group coordinators have worked to improve structure and set clear schedules and expectations at all levels over the last year.
United Struggle from Within
Of the hundreds of new people we've had requesting to be put on our mailing list in the last year, 50% of them were recruited by people with various levels of activity within United Struggle from Within (USW); 32% wrote in because they had seen some MIM or MIM(Prisons) literature, and 17% were referred by resource guides or non-prisoners, such as lawyers or family members on the outside. This shows that the USW is successfully completing the task of multiplying subscribers to Under Lock & Key as outlined in the USW Intro Letter and the Second Introductory Letter About MIM(Prisons).
Another USW task is to expand the grievance petition campaign that was initiated in California and spread to Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma. MIM(Prisons) was able to post these petitions online in February 2011 so family members and activists on the outside can print them and mail them to their people experiencing grievance issues. In California the campaign came to a head in February 2011, and the CDCR granted the prisoners a partial victory by slightly reforming their grievance process. Comrades in Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri are still requesting the grievance campaign from us and are submitting them to administrators. For more information on active USW campaigns, click here.
Several new policies were passed related to working with prison-based organizations and facilitating correspondence between imprisoned groups/individuals.
Policy on Prisoner-to-Prisoner Correspondence
MIM(Prisons) provides Under Lock & Key as a general forum for public discussion of developments within the prison movement.
MIM(Prisons) provides small group forums for specific projects, involving those prisoners who have done work on, or have a special interest in said project. The principle example of this is the ULK Writers group. But our ability to run such groups is limited.
We do not want to hold the key to all work being done in the anti-imperialist prison movement, because this is not good leadership. Good comrades are rare, so it is in our interest that prisoners develop independent networks of communication with those they want to build with. This is also a positive thing in the case that MIM(Prisons) may be repressed or somehow put to an end.
With this in mind, the following is our policy for facilitating such developments without violating the role and purpose of MIM(Prisons) or jeopardizing the greater movement:
If comrades have outside addresses or are allowed to correspond with other prisoners we will forward their info to another prisoner per request of the persyn whose info is being sent ON A CASE BY CASE BASIS. We will make the determination to do this based on the political value of aiding this connection, with careful consideration to the time and money this costs our very resource-limited program. Every piece of mail we send is less stamps and time we have available to send something else.
Comrades who have demonstrated a certain level of ideological unity with MIM(Prisons) may be assigned as theoretical corresponders. They will be sent correspondence from other comrades through us for response. The response will either be printed in ULK or sent privately to the original writer. In either case, neither persyn's identity is revealed to the other.
These assignments are to expand the work of MIM(Prisons), and primarily to improve the depth and breadth of our correspondence. Secondarily, this is an important way for our comrades in prison to develop their political line and debate skills, especially those who are in isolation.
We will not serve as a dropbox for third party correspondence. Not only does this set us up for censorship, it takes up limited resources. Theoretical struggle between those not upholding MIM line should be able to be conducted through ULK or within MIM(Prisons)-led study groups. When necessary, one-on-one correspondence with recruits will be assigned to a comrade in MIM(Prisons) or a theoretically advanced USW leader.
Building New Groups Vs. Working with USW and MIM(Prisons)
We only work to build two organizations at this time: MIM(Prisons) and USW. The only organizing group we run for prisoners is the USW leaders group, and even that is mostly done through Under Lock & Key for efficiency and to reach the masses with info on USW work.
We do not think that we, or any other group, serves as the end-all-be-all vanguard organization for North America at this time. There are many roles to be played and more groups to be built. But for security reasons, and this is doubly true in prisons, organizational cells should be primarily location-based. Mass organizations like USW are countrywide because of coordination work through the vanguard organization MIM(Prisons).
Because of security concerns in prisons, and the very stringent restrictions on contact between prisoners, even within the same cell block, MIM(Prisons) encourages those who have unity with our cardinal principles to become USW leaders. We do not recruit prisoners directly into MIM(Prisons) because of the restrictions of the prison system, but we afford these comrades the opportunity to contribute and participate at the level of full comrade in every aspect of organizing work feasible, including encouraging them to help us develop new political line and move forward our organizing strategies.
There are only a few conditions that would merit launching a new prison-based organization:
Comrades launching the organization disagree with MIM(Prisons)'s cardinal principles. If you agree with our cardinal principles, why not work with the established group led by MIM(Prisons): USW? If you think you disagree, it is important to clearly articulate the cardinal principles of your new organization if you hope to organize people around common goals.
A disagreement with MIM(Prisons)'s policy of not recruiting prisoners into MIM(Prisons) while they are behind bars. These comrades may wish to establish a vanguard organization in their location, whose members are subject to democratic centralism and can focus on cell-based organizing.
The case of an LO or other existing mass organization that develops into a revolutionary party and adopts cardinal principles affirming their communist ideology. While we would consider this a very positive development, we caution comrades that this has been tried more than once by the most advanced comrades in an LO, and the limitations of communication with a countrywide group from within prison have always led to insurmountable obstacles in attempts to bring the whole organization together behind communist principles. Further, we maintain that if the members of such a group are not overwhelmingly supporting a move to communist organizing, the advanced elements would be better to leave the group and join or form another, rather than wrecking the existing group from within. The reason we talk about vanguards versus mass organizations is that there are too many contradictions among the masses for everyone to take the leap of forming a scientific communist organization all at once. Existing groups that take up anti-imperialism play a very valuable role in the United Front without becoming communist organizations, often accomplishing things the communists could not.
Comrades who wish to build a new nation-based vanguard. MIM(Prisons) is not a single-nation organization, but we affirm the value of such groups to the revolutionary movement within U.$. borders. However, we caution prisoners looking to form these organizations from scratch that the difficulties in organizing outside of your own prison (or even within your prison when your group is targeted for lock-up in control units, or transfers, and other repression) are significant.
Revolutionary organizations representing different nations, lumpen groups, or regions require self-sufficiency. If comrades trying to launch such organizations continue to fail for lack of resources and support they should be working within USW and MIM(Prisons) on other projects until their conditions change.
USW is a mass organization, and therefore comrades can join USW while maintaining membership in another organization if that organization allows dual membership and that organization does not openly disagree with MIM(Prisons)'s cardinal principles.
On Relations with Prison-Based Organizations
MIM(Prisons) frequently receives statements of support and principles, as well as other contributions of work, from representatives of LOs and other groups that span states. Many of these individuals want their organization name printed with their article. We will always do our best to confirm that those submitting statements can speak for their organizations before we print them in Under Lock & Key or on the web. Part of this process involves observing good consistent work from that organization over a period of time. But we know that there are often organizations that span multiple locations where different political lines arise in different sections of that group. MIM(Prisons) cannot pick representatives for an organization or help with correspondence to get these groups better aligned (beyond what we already do via ULK). Due to the limitations of organizing from behind-bars, we encourage political LOs to consider dividing into location-based cells to ensure each group correctly represents the political line of its members.
For those groups whose material we do print or review, contact info will be printed in ULK when available. The only organizations you can contact via our address are MIM(Prisons) and USW. You may also send United Front for Peace related correspondence to MIM(Prisons). Mail addressed to other organizations but sent to MIM(Prisons) will not be forwarded or returned.