We’ve been here, at least some of us. Our last issue of ULK was ULK 69, which came out in October 2019. In that issue we announced a planned pause to launch a new newsletter in January. Those plans fell apart in December when most of those comrades left the project.
Wait, i’m new, i never even got ULK 69
If you wrote us for the first time after we mailed out ULK 69 you should have got some kind of response from us. Many new subscribers were only sent a back issue of ULK and no further info. This issue (70) should get everyone up to speed. However, due to the shelter-in-place orders and our limited resources we are not doing a mailing to our full subscriber list. Only those who write in after this issue is released will be sent a copy.
How are you doing?
We’re doing as good as we can. The setbacks in December were challenging. But those of us who remain are healthy so far, and are not facing any immediate setbacks from the pandemic. In fact, we saw a 42% increase in data pulled from our website in April, which we imagine is related to people sheltering in place to avoid COVID-19.
What have you been up to?
We’ve actually done a lot in 2020. Before the comrades left this winter we had spent a lot of time working with our partners in RAIM to develop plans for the newsletter, as well as developing our ideological unity around Maoism. Besides some edits to our definition of Maoism, we put out an extensive response to the book Continuity and Rupture, which goes through the history of Maoism here in occupied Turtle Island and relates it to the International Communist Movement (ICM). We could not fit that essay in this issue of ULK, but if you are interested please write in to request a copy. You can also get a copy of the book itself from us for $8 (stamps or ask us for info on how to pay by check) or work trade. It is a good explanation of some of the concepts behind Maoism and where it comes from. However, our essay addresses some serious disagreements with the historical facts and some of the author’s political line. We recommend it to all who are studying Maoism.
Since the last ULK we’ve focused much energy outside of prisons, to invest in building a more resilient movement on the streets. Of note, we launched a new online platform that has been in the work for years, which has allowed us to build with a number of new comrades. We released plans for the launch of Anti-Imperialist Prisoner Support (AIPS), a mass organization for people on the outside to support USW and MIM(Prisons) work. Our subscribers can now link up their outside contacts with AIPS to make direct contributions to Maoist prisoner support in the United $tates. Just have your people get in touch with us via our website www.prisoncensorship.info/contact .
We took the opportunity of the intro study group coordinator leaving to revamp the entire course, both the study questions as well as the format. This new format allows people to complete the course at their own pace, rather than having to wait for the next course to start, or for others to answer. We hope this means our subscribers will be able to develop their political consciousness more rapidly and with sustained interest. The new format is already showing good results in the responses we have seen.
The introductory study course has been open to prisoners for many years, and hundreds of people have participated over that time. In 2020, we started offering our intro study course online for the first time. We are linking AIPS comrades to our intro study group participants inside, to help build bridges between inside and outside, and to help everyone develop their political consciousness more deeply.
Despite the pause in ULK, we have sent in 100s of pieces of literature each month through our Free Political Books to Prisoners Program.
Are all your programs still running?
No, we simply cannot do what we were doing until we can get more comrade time dedicated to those tasks. This will happen by training new people and/or having others provide the money we need to keep operating so existing comrades have more time to put in.
Some tasks we cannot sustain at this time are producing Spanish-language content and coordinating the Prisoners’ Legal Clinic. Our capacity to appeal censorship on behalf of MIM Distributors will be even more focused on instances that are being actively fought by our subscribers. We will still send subscribers Spanish language materials that are already produced, as well as legal guides available through our Free Books program.
But ULK is back?
We’re not sure yet. Our plan A was to launch a new newsletter, in partnership with other cells/groups, uniting on MIM’s 3 cardinal principals (see MIM(Prisons) points 4-6). This newsletter would have more than tripled our distribution, with most copies being distributed outside of prisons. We still think we need such a newsletter to unite a broader Maoist Internationalist Movement. But until people step up with the effort, money and political line to do this project, this plan is on hold.
Plan B is to recontinue Under Lock & Key, to serve as the voice of the anti-imperialist prisoner movement led by Marxism-Leninism-Maoism through MIM(Prisons)’s role as editor. ULK came out every other month and was free to all prisoners of the United $nakes who wrote us every 6 months to stay on the mailing list. Whether we can return to that model is still being considered.
Plan C would be doing something less regular, with less content and/or more restricted distribution, which is effectively what we are doing with ULK 70. Before we make any concrete decisions, we decided to put out ULK 70 as a first step in sorting out our longer-term plan. We wanted to send our readers an update, including all of the indepth content included in this issue. We wanted to let people know we’re still here and still serious. And we wanted to make one more call for support. How we proceed will depend on the response from our subscribers, as well as potential contributors outside. And, like the rest of the world, we are not sure what will be the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
How can i support the newsletter?
In order to consistently produce new issues of Under Lock & Key, we must fill the gap in resources we had before we stopped. This gap is in both comrade time and money. One of our biggest successes in the last couple months has been the launch of the online platform, and the streamlining of the process of getting prisoner writings typed and published on our website. Helping out with typing, proof-reading, formatting and even writing articles for ULK is one way to help. Providing consistent funding is another. Comrades in prison, perhaps you can help recruit people to do both. You don’t have to contribute a lot, but we do need supporters who can contribute consistently, that we can rely on to keep the newsletter going.
To reignite Plan A we need to develop cells within MIM and mass organizations that are doing work on the ground that produce diverse content for such a newsletter, an outlet for distributing it, and funding.
Currently, Plan C might include publishing a newsletter whenever we can. This model has the benefit of responding to reader support; as support goes up, the newsletter becomes more regular. However, we think consistency is important up front, especially if we are to be effective at keeping our imprisoned subscribers informed in a relatively timely manner, as we must do to sustain our movement.
Therefore, we are asking for everyone’s support in making ULK a regular newsletter once again, to play its unique role of publicizing and supporting anti-imperialist organizing in the dungeons of the belly of the beast! For people inside, write to your people outside and encourage them to get involved. For people outside, contact us with a pledge of how much you can contribute every 2 months, in work and/or funding.
I note that MIM/USW expresses an inclusive philosophy when it comes to prisoners and victims of oppression. Does this mindset include former corrections officers, former police officers, etc. who are now incarcerated?
I ask this specifically because I’ve personally known of at least two former corrections officers who are now prisoners in PADOC. One is actually in the control unit I am currently housed in.
Funny thing is, he was made a “block worker” within days of arriving on the unit, which affords him privileges to the point that he is hardly ever in his cell and can pretty much do as he pleases in all regards, while the rest of us are 23 and 1 or 24 hr. lockdown and are EXTREMELY restricted in everything we do. So, just curious on your outlook on this.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Anyone can be a cop and anyone can be a revolutionary, no matter their background. In the United $tates we operate surrounded by enemies. So we must take proper precautions. We also believe that anyone can be transformed, but some people will take a lot more work. And without real power, people with strong anti-people ideas will not be worth our time to try to change right now.
This former C.O. sounds like a typical pig, and just because eir clothes have changed it doesn’t sound like eir mentality has. Just like a prisoner who is a rat for the admin, we look at a persyn’s political practice to see where eir loyalties lie. We wouldn’t consider either of these types of people to be members of United Struggle from Within, which works for the destruction of the Amerikkkan criminal injustice system, the end of the United $tates, and a world where everyone is free from oppression!
This letter is to inform you that I have been transferred. My transfer was long overdue and now after those long years in Ad-Seg I should be getting released to population soon. I am now housed in a two-man cell after spending the last three years in a one-man cell because that’s the way the other units in Ad-Seg is set up. So that also is an adjustment I’ve had to make to my work-out/sleep schedule.
This is another of the Arkansas units that’s known for rampant drug trade and use, so I’m trying to prepare myself for combating the mindset that comes along with that among my fellow prisoners. I have been here now for two weeks and have not heard any revolutionary conversations, let alone any political discussions that were based on concrete research or facts. No one is talking about unity or anything of that nature.
I started a conversation with another prisoner about the going-on in Iran. I told him that I assume Chump assassinated Iran’s commander to initiate a war because of the upcoming “elections,” and the prisoner I was talking to started taking a defensive stance and the kapitalist mindset came out. You know the justification, “Oh, the economy is better than it has ever been!” When I asked him at what price has the economy got so great he got in his feelings and told me I sound like one of the Trump haters that have been trying to come up with anything to get him out of office! I then just changed the subject to the San Francisco 49ers taking the Super Bowl this year but he didn’t like that any more than the political discussion! Ha.
The point I was trying to make about who actually pays the price for Amerikkkan prosperity was completely missed and I was reminded of something I read in the essay “Intro to Neo-Colonialism” by Kwame Nkrumah, which we are studying in the University of Maoist Thought (UMT). Nkrumah states “In fact neo-colonialism is the victim of its own contradictions. In order to make it attractive to those upon whom it is practised it must be shown as capable of raising their living standards, but the economic object of neo-colonialism is to keep those standards depressed in the interest of the developed countries. It is only when this contradiction is understood that the failure of innumerable ‘aid’ programmes, many of them well intentioned, can be explained.”
The reason I brought the issue of “aid programs” up is because in the course of the conversation my fellow prisoner’s only grievance about Amerikkka was that these other countries (Iran, Russia, etc.) look at Amerikkka as weak, because after we go to war with countries in the Middle East we send them all kinds of “aid.” I started explaining the system of neo-colonialism and how none of these other countries are fooled into believing that the Amerikkkan government provides “aid” to these countries we’ve invaded out of righteous motives, but he couldn’t grasp my point.
It just goes to show how deep kapitalist ideology indoctrinates its multitude of “patriots.” Amerikkka has given you a life sentence in their machination of mass incarceration, but these dudes are still willing to argue for the monster’s “honor.”
It’s hard for me to see any future victories over a kapitalist system that is so inextricably woven into the fabric of our present day society that I can see why it’s so easy to become agreeable to the multitudes and just go along with the way the system is. Not myself personally, but so many others that I think should be on the side of the oppressed. It makes me question my own abilities in comparison to a Mao. Their essays and policies are so far-reaching and deep, and here I fail at getting a point across to a fellow oppressed prisoner, or as they say I can’t even preach to the choir!
Well, as I said I was touching base to let you know about my transfer and my current status on getting ready to get released to population, and I also wanted to give my thanks to my komrades in the study group and the study group facilitators for helping me get through my time in Ad-Seg, and the growth I’ve experienced.
If it wasn’t for this study group, among other things, I don’t think that I would’ve made it through with a sound mind. So thanks again and I look forward to struggling into the future with UMT and MIM(Prisons).
UMT coordinator of MIM(Prisons) responds: Before writing our response, we asked another comrade from UMT to respond to this article. We suggested a potential angle for responding.
“The main thing I was thinking to respond to (which does not need to be the thing you respond to, you can respond however you see appropriate) is that this persyn was not coming from a place of unity in the conversation with the other prisoner [more on the meaning of "total unity" below - Editor]. Ey was trying to make a point, or win a debate. That technique is useful if there’s an audience of people who are coming to their own conclusions about the debate, hearing both sides. But for an individual conversation, I think we have to come from a place of total unity in order to help people see political distinctions. Again, you can respond however you see fit, I just wanted to offer that as an idea.”
In response, our UMT comrade sent some feedback:
"With respect to the article, I’d have to disagree with your statement that the author was not coming from a place of unity. It is very difficult for me to see how ey could’ve found a better way to struggle with that persyn according to what I read.
"The fact that ey even attempted to engage that persyn in a political discussion is proof enough for me that ey was attempting to unite with em. Furthermore, what is political struggle with someone like that if not a debate? While I don’t believe in showing people up who I’m trying to build with, I also don’t believe in being subtle or sugar-coating reality for the sake of sparing someone’s feelings. That would be liberalism, would it not?
“I once read a MIM article in which the author stated that a good teacher doesn’t assert the correct principles, rather they teach the correct principles. This is the model I always try to uphold when it comes to political struggle and I hope MIM(Prisons) still upholds it as well.”
I think there is a very subtle distinction between unity and discussion, versus division and debate, that i am still learning how to bring to fruition in our work. Of course there will still be moments of disagreement with our comrades, which is perfectly healthy to political growth. And there will be moments of frustration and conflict within a revolutionary organization and movement. I believe the goal in these recruiting conversations is in minimizing the conflict, while hashing out the disagreements, and holding the other persyn in high esteem and unity throughout.
With people we’re recruiting, there is some baseline unity that we can build on. Either you’re both prisoners, both have a deep hatred of capitalism or inequality, or you are working on the same campaign or project. Or as our UMT comrade says above, you are in a conversation at all, so there’s unity. That level of unity is a good starting place, for sure.
If we’re talking about helping people shift their deeply-held inaccurate beliefs which are reinforced by bourgeois propaganda daily; and empowering people to make a difference in their locality and the world; and asking people to take on the magnificent and difficult and self-sacrificing task of building revolution over the long-term while not cooperating with the pigs for their persynal benefit in the short-term, etc… then I believe a deeper unity is needed in order to break through all those barriers to catalyze this profound shift.
As advocates for the liberation of the world’s people from the oppression of capitalism and imperialism, i believe we have an obligation to learn how to communicate with people in a way that we can be most effective. And I’m not saying to throw out accuracy and facts for the sake of false unity. It’s about having discussions with (potential) comrades with unity as primary, even in spite of disagreement.
One way to picture this subtle distinction may be to pause at any point in a conversation and honestly ask yourself “is it blatantly obvious we are on the same team right now? or is it more like we are on opposing teams?” And ask yourself these questions from the other persyn’s perspective, and from an observer’s perspective, too. If the answer to this inquiry is that in that moment you are more in opposition than on the same team, then that’s what i’m talking about.
Another barometer to measure whether we’re coming more from unity or division, is to look at how do these conversations resolve? Are they resolved with greater unity and understanding, or, like in this letter we received, is the result that the persyn totally didn’t grasp the message?
One appropriate time for debate is in a conversation where you are distinguishing whether you even want to be on the same team with a persyn or an organization. These private debates can help clarify for ourselves our own view, the views of others, and help decide the best steps forward in terms of working together, or not.
Another time and place for outright debating is in public discussions. When others witness a debate, it helps the viewer clarify their understanding of the people in the debate, and helps clarify what views they are most aligned with. Under Lock & Key is a great public forum for these types of public debates.
And again, I’m not talking about letting things slide, or ignoring disagreements (that would be liberalism).(1) I’m talking about having conversations with people we are trying to unite with, coming from a place of deep listening. We have to, in a way, “allow” others to believe what they believe, in order to help them see something different. Not agreeing with them, but listening to them.
There are many conversational tactics and methods that can be used, and the effectiveness of specific language will vary persyn to persyn, culture to culture, situation to situation. Rather than a formula of things to say, i think cultivating one’s authentic commitment to developing with others is what signifies to them a deep level of unity, no matter the words. Developing this commitment (even in spite of our own persynal frustrations!), as well as the tactics that are effective, is a lifelong practice. You can use this approach with anyone, even people who hold differing views. And i think this approach is a precursor to people even listening to facts or points being made, which is a precursor to deeper unity, growth, and recruiting.
Comrades in Maoist circles have disagreed with this approach, and have said it’s too much focusing on subjective opinions and tone. And to that i would throw MIM’s “where’s the beef?” taunt back in our own face. Where’s our success? Where’s our results? If we’re outright debating people we’re trying to recruit, and simply trying to show them that they’re wrong, is that working?
I fully agree that viewing the world with the most accuracy as possible brings us power, which leads to effectiveness, and liberation. Sharing accuracy with others is extremely important to our work.
And I believe it’s subjective to behave as if we live in a post-subjective society, and that the most efficient way to liberate the world’s people is to go on unnecessarily dividing with people who could otherwise be our comrades. We can’t teach people to think scientifically by pretending they are already fully objective scientific thinkers.
While working toward a cultural shift where people can see and hear facts delivered in any tone and in any manner, i believe we also need to acknowledge that our culture isn’t there yet. It would behoove us to communicate with others with an awareness that this is the culture we’re speaking into. And in my view, there’s no harm to trying on different conversational techniques. Interacting with others from a place of profound unity (rather than just saying words or speaking one’s mind) is one i would recommend trying out.
I would even argue that being an objective scientific thinker isn’t about thinking scientifically 100% of the time – we are humyns after all, and part of being humyn is having subjective thoughts and feelings. Being objective isn’t about squashing those impulses, it’s about training ourselves to notice when we are approaching a question subjectively, and training ourselves to put that aside. Even long-time revolutionaries are subjective about things! We’re just also committed to developing our objective muscles. We can’t expect that quality of listening from people who have a lifetime of practice in all subjectivism all the time.
I don’t claim to be an expert in this technique, and i can definitely see how on the surface it sounds like liberalism or being wishy-washy. I believe it has been validated by all the seminal works i’ve studied on “how to relate to people” from Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed to studying about Mao’s long march. That this view is in a minority in our organization is even further evidence of my lack of expertise in bringing this shift to our work. And, of course, maybe i’m wrong! Maybe head-on debate between individuals, in private, is the way to build unity, our organization, and our revolution.
I could go on even more trying to explain it, probably writing an entire book here. Instead i would love for comrades to try it out and let us know what they discover. If you come from a place of profound unity, deep listening and compassion in a conversation where you disagree with someone else, did anything shift in your relationship or organizing work with this persyn or people?
Hatchets for Maoism (HFM) is a faction of Juggalos (fans of the musical group Insane Clown Posse) that agree to the five principles of the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP) and strive to organize to promote them in ourselves and others.
Because other groups use force, drugs, threats of violence, violence and corruption to further their cause and swell their ranks, we strive to take away each of those from them by denying them as tools we use to recruit comrades.
We refuse to be silent when others oppress anyone for any reason. We are a family of Brothers organized to end the injustice the pigs use to pit us against each other, and oppress anyone.
We strive to pull up all who seek a better life, and that are within the anti-imperialist struggle. We strive to create an environment of control through trust, peace through understanding and safety through right action. HFM chooses to give a hand up to ALL willing to pull their weight and work towards our stated goals. All are equal, all are accepted, all eat when one eats.
Salutations MIM(Prisons), and appreciation for the book The Wind Will not Subside about the years in revolutionary China. I wrote specifically to donate these stamps and to comment on what I’ve rend so far – because I’m not done with it.
Mao was a true paradox: simple yet complex, intellectual yet humble, he know how to control by letting go, he was an obvious mystery. And he was a Gangsta! I never knew hes wife and kids were tortured, raped and killed. He never spoke on the personal motivations of his mission, because he knew that his was just one story out of millions of similar stories. Se he wasn’t special.
Politicians of today would’ve used that story to their advantage, solely to get votes. And once ey got the votes, ey would then use that power to do the same thing that was done to em. Ey would’ve exploited to the fullest that tragedy. That was deep to me.
He also had the courage to go against traditional revolution (Russia), and challenge the status quo by not being afraid to fail if need be. Mao had the vision and intuition to understand that you don’t hamper the youth’s growth by pounding into them what ey are doing wrong. Ey will lose enthusiasm and ultimately give up.
About study groups. I have come to realize the less formal ey are, the more successful ey are. If we tell youngsters that we are going to start a “study group”, it reminds em too much of school. Although in essence, that’s what it is, the title rubs em the wrong way. I pass literature, books, ULKs around, then after ey’ve read them, I ask questions, give input and feedback. It is a slow process, but it works. I’m not perfect, and I am only one of many, but I have found the method that works for me. Maybe it will help a comrade who is sincerely trying to bring about change.
Salutations to all who labor in the name of communism
I have been trying to organize a new group but I am failing. People here want things done but don’t want to do it themselves. I help with what I can. They don’t want to grievance the officers because they are worried about retaliation. In short, they are scared of a case and not making commissary.
I am fighting them and putting paper whenever I can. Shortly after I received my packet of Texas campaign materials, I got a frivolous case for failing to go to work. I was on my way to my wing from work and didn’t make it out the door. I had two offenders, a sergeant, and a kitchen captain as witnesses. The lieutenant running the case said that he didn’t give a f*** and that I was guilty. This was in May.
I filed a Step 1 but never got an answer. I did a I-60 request for the Step 1 grievance number. I got it with a request for a 40-day extension, 89 days after I filed the grievance and 11 days after I requested it, but predated for the week before I requested it by I-60. I did file a Step 2 without the Step 1 attached (I never got the Step 1) in October 2019.
I can’t wait to hear from Huntsville and the Ombudsman over all of this. Since I have no family out there, they are trying to ignore me. I refuse to go away.
In the meantime, I will keep writing and fighting this injustice $ystem that we are in. I will keep sharing my Texas Pack. I could use some group information that might help me if I can get one going again. They want to but don’t want to. I don’t get it.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We commend this comrade for sticking up for eirself, and “staying committed even when your homies ain’t with it” (shout out to Dead Prez). Even though it can be totally baffling and frustrating when people want to but don’t want to, know that you’re not alone in facing that challenge. Prison life is designed to make people ambivalent (or even completely disinterested) and handling that ambivalence is all part of the process of building for revolution and a new society. Accepting it as just part of the process can help us to not get frustrated by it.
We had a lot of discussion about the topic of how to organize people who are ambivalent in ULK 66, which was on the topic of Recruitment and Retention for Revolution. We are sending this comrade a copy of that ULK and a few more to study and share. And we encourage everyone to continue to send us updates on what it’s like in the facility where you’re held. We publicize conditions reports on our website www.prisoncensorship.info, and conditions reports about organizing help us consolidate and support the national liberation struggles developing inside United Snakes prisons. In Struggle!
Being able to politicize this generation is one of the major problems I’m currently facing. To get one to become conscious of the real enemy is a struggle. Seemingly because battling within our own circles are somehow being rationalized and not frowned upon.
Within this last year my political consciousness has been awoken, and I now feel obliged to share this knowledge with all oppressed peoples. But getting them to really receive the messages I attempt to convey is hard as hell. And the fact that I now recognize that my people have become so complacent with being oppressed that its become the “norm” is extremely troubling. Being a gang member myself, one would think that my solid reputation would make my advancements credible enough to persuade those who know and respect me to at least be open-minded enough to hear the message first and conclude later. But my attempts oftentimes reveal the divisiveness in the oppressed and the true power of capitalist tactics.
Being able to continue to reach out and inform through all adversity and frustration is a necessity in the struggle to achieve communism. Understanding that being cast aside as “crazy,” “tripping.” etc. is a part of it all. The ignorant always criticize the unknown and misunderstood. It is up to us as revolutionaries to continue the fight against the current foundations of capitalism.
I am attempting to form several study groups and beginning to organize here in Alaska which seems to be uncharted territory. I need all of the help and guidance I can get. I am open to all forms of education for myself and others. For without knowledge we can never learn how to defeat oppression. I have and always will be a front line soldier. I’ve learned from first-hand experience that unorganized violence/force used against the police only achieves negative consequences. The most solid form of action for a single soldier is litigation. Every other action consists of numbers. That’s why organization is so important. United we stand, divided we fall. All power to the people!
MIM(Prisons) responds: Much credit to this comrade for standing strong in the face of criticism and hardship in educating and organizing others. Study groups are a great way to get people talking about new concepts and educating about revolutionary politics. We will be sending some lit and other materials to help with that work. Anyone interested in starting a study group where you’re at can contact us to get our guide to forming a study group, and also literature for your group to study.
This writer says litigation is the most solid form of action for a single soldier. And litigation is certainly one avenue for folks in isolation or otherwise unable to work with others.
If individuals can connect with MIM(Prisons), there are additional options. For instance, solo comrades can help with agitation and theory development, by writing articles and poetry, producing art, reviewing books, and creating study guides. These are all things that, when done through an organization like MIM(Prisons), can help to educate others, even if you can’t directly reach those folks yourself. Get in touch for guides to help you get started in any of these areas.
Every time I write MIM(Prisons), talking about what I've got going on, or what I'm trying to do, my moves are intercepted, interfered with, or I'm retaliated against. It's not wise to write to y'all and give the enemy the upper hand, or an advantage over me. If a person is in prison, then guess what? You're in the devil's back yard, where the devil says what goes. Common sense and history should obviously tell you that it's the police's jobs to police you. If you're dumb enough to open your mouth about incriminating shit, while you know that the spotlight is beaming on you, then you deserve the consequences. A lot of these people in Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) just don't got it in 'em to zip it. There's a time to talk and there's a time for silence.
Organizing tactics will vary, depending on why you're getting organized and what you're getting organized for. There's no "one size fits all" organizing tactic. You got to be versatile and able to adapt under pressure and constant changes. To be able to roll with the punches, in other words. Keep your eyes open.
Everybody isn't down. Everybody's not a rider, or a soldier. Not everybody cares, or is able to listen and see. You have to be careful who you're talking to, or what you're openly/publicly speaking about, in ADC. Ironically and paradoxically, getting assigned to a one-man cell is one of the only ways to dodge the bogus individuals in ADC, if you know how to do time in a cell. The cell-blocks in ADC are analogous to SHUs [solitary confinement]. The prison culture in ADC is twisted. Got to be ever-mindful of this while organizing in the ADC.
One of the main problems that I personally experience in the ADC is that the prisoners are over-friendly with the police/guards. It's accepted to befriend the police here, to pull them aside and whisper/gossip, or to kick it in the police's offices. The majority of the ADC prisoners don't even understand how to distinguish between a police and a snitch, or how to identify what "snitching" is and isn't. What's really troubling is that these gang affiliates allow police into their "gangs," which contradicts everything that they claim to stand for. They call the high-ranking police their "OGs" here, and they see nothing wrong with this. In my eyes that's an organized snitch-operation, with benefits.
They suck up to the police for scooby snacks. The dope fiend culture here is largely to blame. They believe that it's acceptable to cooperate with police for drugs, highs, money, etc. (That's the same as collaborating with police for time-cuts in my eyes.) They call collaborating with the police here "gangster moves," "OG moves," "shot calls," etc. Technically, the government is a gang, but not in the sense of a street gang, or a lumpen organization (L.O.). They're letting the government into their street gangs and L.O.s, which causes immense problems and struggles for people who are trying to get organized against government corruption, or imperialism.
There's no fixing this type of issue overnight. One individual can't tackle this issue single-handedly. I refuse to associate, in those types of ways, with the police, or snitches who work hand-in-hand with the police. These types of snitches are not concerned about making changes, and one of these undercovers will only put on a front, to infiltrate your organization and stir up chaos and confusion.
Like I said though, it really all depends on the direction that you're trying to go, in terms of organizing and unity. Revolution, or reform? Long-term, or short-term? What types of changes are you aiming at? Do you honestly believe that you can pop off a full-scale "revolution" from inside of one, tiny prison? A prison riot isn't a revolution.
My personal opinion is that if you're trying to reform the prison system with long-term changes, that litigation is the most efficient, or effective method. History shows that the most significant changes in the prison systems in America have come from litigation. Litigation, generally, doesn't work too well when trying to deal with short-term problems, or isolated incidents, mainly because litigation isn't instantaneous, it takes time. And it's doubtful that you can jump-off a revolution by litigating in a government courthouse, or by filing grievances. You have to first troubleshoot the most pressing problems inside of your facility, if you plan on reforming the prison system. And you must be able to think everything through, before you initiate a campaign.
I know from experience that single-handedly bucking on these police with physical force rarely accomplishes very much, except for giving the police a bogus excuse to press their foot down on your neck, or to exercise more control over you.
It's probably a good idea to begin by getting to the least oppressive position before trying to do what needs to be done. Prison is not the place. The odds are stacked too high against prisoners, inside of prison, for prisoners to be able to leave too great of an impact. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that there's nothing positive that can be done. It's just that many prisoners believe that the solution is to try to wage, or talk of waging a real-deal war with America from behind bars, and this is madness — counterproductive non-sense. Your greatest weapon from inside of an American prison is a pen and paper, which typically doesn't involve getting 100% unity of prisoners. Another thing is that you're never going to get all prisoners to agree on every little thing, at all times, which gets in the way of organizing, or unity.
I believe that one of the best things that a person can do is just to focus on themselves first, before trying to build up the next person, which constitutes as "leading by example." Other people will see you doing positive things, or will listen to you speaking positively and they will often emulate, or mirror your actions. In order to change the world, you must begin by changing yourself. You must become the changes that you want to see in the world.
I've gotten good educational convos and occasional study groups going, to help others learn. The problem with that is, every time I get us organized on a positive tip like that, I always experience opposition, hostility, retaliation, interference or resistance from guards and/or prisoners.
One thing that does help me and has taught me a lot is radio talk shows like Ground Zero and Coast-to-Coast, (got to give them credit). Plus, these shows help me to do time easier, while learning. It makes learning fun and interesting. In a way, those talk shows are kinda like study groups. Because people can call in and give feedback. I think that it'd be an excellent idea to model study groups after the structure of these talk shows. To have an individual, with a particular expertise in a specific subject, prepare a speech, in conversation format, and then allow feedback and questions after the selected individual concludes their initial discourse. Then you can rotate new individuals to speak each session. The group can vote, maybe, to decide topics, speakers, etc. You can assign homework and self-study assignments for the down-time in between groups. Not everyone is going to want to be a speaker, which is fine, too. I fear simply speaking about starting a study group, because I already know how it goes. If a hater catches wind of such things, trouble isn't far off.
Another suggestion is, if you're in prison, with access to educational/radio shows, you can organize a group of people to listen to each show, and afterwards you can have civilized group discussions and debates on the show's topics, with feedback and questions. One step further is to get out of prison and start your own radio show for prisoner education. A station for prisoners to tune into, for prison news, discussion, education programs, contests, etc. I haven't done my research into that, but it wouldn't be too hard to do. The good part is that prisoners can listen to radio broadcasts for free. Books and some newsletters/mags can be expensive, or impossible for prisoners to obtain. Also, it'd be kinda hard for people to shut down the study group if it's done over the radio, huh? The prison guards can't "censor" it, because it's the FCC's duty to censor radio broadcasts, not uneducated prison guards. The FCC decides what's appropriate for American citizens to hear over the radio. True enough, radio-show hosts can deal with hostility as well, but at least the radio show isn't trapped inside of a box, while battling sadistic foes.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This writer starts off with an analysis of conditions in Arkansas that lead to the conclusion that it is impossible to organize in Arkansas, but ends this letter with some excellent and creative ideas about how to run study groups. And so we really hope ey will implement these ideas and report back on how they work.
There are significant barriers to our organizing work here in the belly of the beast where the wealth of imperialism is thrown around to buy off even the lumpen in prison. We need to rise to this challenge and think creatively about how to break people off from the system and channel their energy into fighting the criminal injustice system that is the cause of their misery. Creative study groups are one such approach. We welcome thoughts from others about what this comrade might do based on the conditions ey describes in Arkansas.
Unabashedly, the goal of the Maoist Internationalist Movement is to eliminate capitalism and imperialism. We aim to replace these economic systems with socialism, and then communism, to end all oppression of people by other people. In our study of humyn history we see Maoist China as the most advanced social experience to date toward this goal, and we draw on our study of Maoism (shorthand for Marxism-Leninism-Maoism) to build our strategy. Maoism is a universally-applicable science of social change, which has its effectiveness proven in practice.
Our study of history shows the necessity of armed struggle to take power from the bourgeoisie, to build a world without oppression. Yet we're not presently in a period of social upheaval that we would call a revolutionary scenario, which is why we discourage people from initiating armed struggle at this time. While we prepare for that inevitable reality, the Maoist Internationalist Movement (MIM) works on our dual strategy of 1) building independent institutions of the oppressed to seize state power, and 2) building public opinion against imperialism.
This is all in preparation for when the United $tates's military power becomes sufficiently overextended, and nations oppressed by Amerikkka start striking significant blows against Amerika's domination over their land and livelihoods. When the United $tates enters this period of social upheaval, we will be equipped to draw on the public opinion and independent institutions we're building now. The point is to get started now so we're ready to help a revolution in this country be successful, with results in favor of the most oppressed people in the world. Our institutions in themselves will not cause the transition to socialism, because the bourgeoisie will not allow us to carry out a quiet coup on their power.
Independent institutions of the oppressed are designed to simultaneously meet the peoples' present needs, while organizing against imperialism. When coupled with political education in building public opinion for socialism, these institutions help to advance our movement toward communism. People can see in practice what it would look like (and that it's possible) to meet the social needs that the government is failing on. And people learn how to work collectively.
Maybe this is obvious, but independent institutions don't have ties to the power structure that we are fighting to dismantle. Our goal is the full liberation of ALL people, not just some people, and not just our people. To do that we need to have true independence, so we can say what needs to be said, and do what needs to be done, without one arm tied behind our backs.
Defining who are "the oppressed," who our institutions are in service of, is extremely important. While many institutions are happy to just serve any oppressed group, in the MIM we want to make the transition to communism as swift and efficient as possible. We take instruction on this question from our class analysis, and particularly our class analysis on the labor aristocracy and lumpen.
We recognize that the vast majority of so-called "workers" in the First World are actually a bought-off class of net exploiters. They are relatively comfortable with the existence of imperialism, and our independent institutions don't aim to serve that class's interests. Most people don't want to hear that they are net exploiters, and that actually they are in the top 13% globally.(1) It stops them from crying about being in the "bottom 99%" and self-righteously working for a minimum wage that is three times higher than what it would be in an equal global distribution of wealth.(2) Representing the interests of the international proletariat makes MIM(Prisons) an unpopular organization among the vast majority of the population in the United $tates.
In contrast, in our class analysis we see the oppressed-nation lumpen as the most likely group to favor a proletarian internationalist revolution in this country. When the Maoist Internationalist Party – Amerika disbanded into a cell structure in 2005, MIM(Prisons) was established specifically to organize among the lumpen population. There are many, many areas of life that need Maoist leadership and independent institutions – many that can even be built around the coinciding interests of people in the First World and Third World, like revolutionary ecology — and MIM(Prisons) focuses on the needs and education of the imprisoned oppressed-nation lumpen.
The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP) had a prolific set of Serve the People programs and independent institutions. The BPP coincided with the tail-end of the New Afrikan proletariat's existence, and focused its organizing among proletarian and lumpen New Afrikans.
In its independent institutions, the BPP served tens of thousand of kids breakfast across the United $tates, accompanied by political education during the meals. The BPP ran other services such as "clothing distribution, classes on politics and economics, free medical clinics, lessons on self-defense and first aid, transportation for family members to upstate prisons, an emergency-response ambulance program, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and testing for sickle-cell disease."(3)
In addition to providing necessary services for New Afrikans, the BPP's Serve the People programs also built public opinion for socialism by showing what a world could be like with people working together to meet humyn needs. We often hear myths about humyn nature, that people are "too selfish" or "too greedy" or "don't care enough" to ever have a socialist economy, let alone participate in a single campaign. Yet BPP programs showed that selfishness, greed, and apathy are values of the capitalist-imperialist economic system we live under; not inherent to humyn nature. And the education programs built people's consciousness around how the economic structures of imperialism and capitalism are related to the seemingly-insurmountable problems in their lives. Coupling that with Maoist theory and practice, the BPP provided an ideology for how to overcome these economic systems, further building public opinion in favor of a transition to socialism.
The Black Panther Party did all this without government funding. Yet they did accept hefty donations from white leftists, especially during the Free Huey campaign to get Huey Newton released from jail in 1967-70. This lack of self-reliance had a big negative impact on the organization when the white leftists stopped donating.(4) The experience of the BPP shows extensive positive examples of how oppressed-nation organizations can build institutions to contribute to the liberation of one's people. It teaches another lesson on independence, which is to never rely on your oppressor-nation allies to fund your liberation.
Other Outside Orgs
Whenever we connect with an organization that does work that's related to ours, that gets government funding or is linked to a bigger organization like a university, they say the same thing. They are really excited about our work, because they know how important our line is, and they have seen first-hand the limitations in their own work. When we ask why they can't say or do something similar to what we say, it goes back to a funding source or an authority they're operating under.
These institutions of the oppressed aren't wrong for organizing this way. They are doing great work and reaching audiences we can't reach in our current capacity. Yet they aren't reaching them with the stuff that's going to bring an end of oppression in the grand scheme of things.
MIM(Prisons) chooses to do the most effective thing, which in our case requires total independence. If everyone who saw the importance of our line actually worked to promote it, it would inevitably increase our capacity to also reach the people these dependent organizations are currently reaching, and with a program to transform the deep-rooted causes of the problems they're working to change.
An example of limitations imposed by funding sources was explained in a 2012 interview MIM(Prisons) did with a comrade in United Playaz (UP). UP is a "San Francisco-based violence prevention and youth development organization," staffed and run by many former prisoners. It is work that is desperately needed, and UP has a huge positive impact on the lives of the people it works with.
"If it's up to us, we're gonna go hard, and really fight for peace. But because we're fund[ed] by DCYF [San Francisco's Department of Children, Youth, & Their Families], they limit our movement. We can't even participate, or like rally. If there's a Occupy rally right now, we can't go, cuz our organization are prevented from doing things like that. And I think that's important, that we're out there with the rest of the people that are trying to fight for change. Every year we do a Silence the Violence Peace March. That's okay, you know, Martin Luther King, marches like that, we're okay to do that. But when it's like budgets, and crime, and about prison, you know, rally to try to bring those those things down, we can't really participate. ...
"What's going on outside the youth can affect them in the future if things don't change. And why wait til those kids get old and take em to expose them to march and fight for your rights? You know I love to take these young adults to a movement like that, cuz that gives em knowledge of life, that there's more than just hanging out on the street. But unfortunately we're not allowed to participate in that kind of movement."(5)
Under Lock & Key (and the new newsletter that’s coming January 2020)(6) is a media institution of the oppressed, with a mission to serve two classes: 1) the oppressed-nation lumpen in the First World, which our class analysis says is the most likely class in imperialist society to be favorable to the long hard struggle to communism; and 2) the Third World proletariat, which is the revolutionary class with the least to lose in imperialist society. All the articles and line in ULK revolve around this mission.
The pages of ULK, and behind the scenes in MIM(Prisons)'s work, have developed many other institutions of the oppressed. Regular readers of ULK will be familiar with the United Front for Peace in Prisons (UFPP) and the accompanying 5 Points of Unity.(7, 8) The UFPP can't in any way be canceled by prison admin or stopped because of budget cuts. In fact, the impetus for the UFPP being formed was because prison staff were actively creating disunity among the prisoner population. We had to create our own independent networks and agreements for creating peace, because peace efforts were being actively thwarted by staff. We have to build "Unity From the Inside Out."
United Struggle from Within (USW) is the MIM(Prisons)-led mass organization for prisoners and former prisoners, and another example of an institution that has developed and organizes within the pages of Under Lock & Key. USW is a way people can plug into anti-imperialist organizing from behind bars, leading campaigns, handing out fliers, putting out art, participating in petitions and struggles. USW cells have independent institutions locally, including study groups, libraries, food and hygiene pools, jailhouse lawyer services, and other forms of support. Through ULK, USW can share experiences and knowledge to further build the anti-imperialist movement behind bars.
USW and UFPP organizing comes with its own set of challenges. Organizers are moved and isolated all the time. Repressive attacks and false disciplinary cases are also carried out by prison staff on our comrades. Censorship of mail impacts our ability to organize, with some states or institutions fully banning ULK or mail from MIM(Prisons). It means we hold no illusions that anyone else can or will do this work for us, and we take that on, with all the sacrifices and challenges that come with it.
Some comrades choose to work within larger organizations, or with prison staff, to get a bigger platform for their organizing. Like any alliance, a big consideration is if one can actually do the work that needs to be done within that alliance, because most likely these alliances will require you to water down your political line. Everyone will assess their own conditions to see what they can do to be most effective in the facility where they're held. The method we use to do this in MIM(Prisons) projects is analyzing the principal contradiction in a situation, and upholding MIM(Prisons)'s 6 main points.(9)
Other Prisoner-led Projects
Within ULK we also regularly report on independent institutions that didn’t originate in our circles, which serve the interests of the oppressed-nation lumpen in the First World. There are many hardships that prisoners can organize around inside, to build independent institutions (communication channels, organizational connections) and public opinion in favor of socialism.
One example is the organization Men Against Sexism (MAS), which existed in the Washington state prison system in the 1970s. Men Against Sexism worked to protect new, and otherwise vulnerable, prisoners from sexual assault and other forms of gender oppression that prisoners were doing to each other. It was a different time back then, and these guys were celling together so they could organize better, and collecting donations from outside to purchase cells from other prisoners to house people who needed protection from the typical prison bullshit. MAS eliminated sexual assault in the Washington state system.(10) Imagine if you came together with other people in your facility to enact your own prisoner rape elimination campaign. What difference would that make for you and the people around you?
"Like prison groups today LADS focused on combating oppression and providing education for the imprisoned Chican@, and LADS also left us with some good examples to learn from. They created several serve the people programs in the pinta, for one they created a committee that worked with new prisoners, what we may call 'first termers' here in pintas in Califas. This was important because a new prisoner or 'fish' may be easy prey for some predator in prison. In this way youngsters were given revolutionary clecha once they entered the pinta by LADS 'O.G.'s.' LADS was comprised of prison vets who were politicized. Within LADS were many sub-committees such as the Committee to Assist Young People (CAYP), as well as a security committee called the Zapatistas. The LADS were anti-dope and combated drug use or sales in the pinta. They were not trying to poison the imprisoned Raza, rather they were trying to build the Raza."(11)
Protecting newcomers, sexual assault, and drugs are only some of the issues that prisoners have to take care of themselves. There are no petitions we can send you, and there's no one to appeal to to resolve these problems. Like our comrade at Telford Unit in Texas reported in ULK 59,
"My brothers in here have fallen victim to K2, which is highly addictive. They don't even care about the struggle. The only thing on their minds is getting high and that sas. I mean this K2 shit is like crack but worse. You have guys selling all their commissary, radios, fans, etc. just to get high. And all these pigs do is sit back and watch; this shit is crazy. But for the few of us who are K2-free I'm trying to get together a group to help me with the struggle."(12)
Nowadays conditions are a lot different in prisons than they were in the 1960s and 70s. Still, it's possible to build independent institutions to meet prisoners' needs. Bigger organizing happens in even worse conditions than the United $tates. There's no perfect set of conditions that need to be present in order to make a difference. It's a matter of choosing to do it ourselves. We want to report on and support these prisoner-led serve the people programs in ULK. So get to work, and send us your updates!
Educational Institutions and Public Opinion
ULK is a big part of how we build public opinion in favor of socialism, and in studying different movements and organizations, we saw that many failures are based in a lack of education and empowerment among the masses in society, or the organization's membership. Depth of political consciousness (and, related, correctness of political line) is arguably the number one reason why movements fail. Depth of analysis isn't about flashcards and pop quizzes. It's about "How to think, not what to think."
We've taken this to heart in our emphasis on educational programs. We run a number of different correspondence study groups, including a University of Maoist Thought for our advanced comrades. We run a Free Political Books for Prisoners Program, which isn't just about books, it's about books in service of our mission of liberating everyone, including the Third World proletariat, from imperialism. We don't do general book distribution because we want to liberate more than just individuals' minds. With our comrades' help, we develop study packs and distribute literature and study packs to prisoner-led study groups on the inside. We are really offering every format of political education we can through the mail, because this is such an important task in our work.
Besides the written word, there are many other channels for building public opinion. POOR Magazine and the Poor News Network (PNN) are independent institutions using events, rallies, and street theater in combination with the internet, radio, and videos to build public opinion in favor of oppressed-nation and lumpen struggles in the United $nakes. POOR Magazine runs a liberation school for children, and many, many other programs. POOR Magazine is funded independently from its own participants, events, and a donation program for individuals via Community Reparations. PNN goes hard on its line against capitalism, imperialism, and settlerism even with some funding from "reparators," which is the real measurement of independence.(13)
One radio program on the Poor News Network that especially builds public opinion for national liberation struggles and socialist revolution is Free Aztlán. Free Aztlán airs weekly and covers current issues concerning Raza and Chican@ communities. It has interviews, poetry, music, and even readings from the book Chican@ Power and the Struggle for Aztlán for people who don't or can't have a physical copy to reference. That PNN is willing to air a program like Free Aztlán says a lot about PNN, and we look forward to this program being a staple in our independent education institutions moving forward!(14)
Building public opinion isn't just about sharing information and exposing people to ideas. Applying our study to our conditions, we can help educate others in developing their own desire for socialism. It's an exercise in "Each One, Teach One." This was explained in our book review of Condemned by Bomani Shakur:
"The first theme addressed in 'Condemned' is the author's ideological transformation. MIM(Prisons)'s primary task at this point in the struggle is building public opinion and institutions of the oppressed for socialist revolution, so affecting others' political consciousness is something we work on a lot. On the first day of the [Lucasville] uprising, Bomani was hoping the state would come in to end the chaos. But 'standing there as dead bodies were dumped onto the yard (while those in authority stood back and did nothing), and then experience the shock of witnessing Dennis' death [another prisoner who was murdered in the same cell as the author], awakened something in me.' Bomani's persynal experiences, plus politicization on the pod and thru books, are what led em to pick up the struggle against injustice."(15)
We can't predict exactly what events, what books, or what conversations will spark the revolutionary fire in people. Everyone has their own unique journey into this work. Building independent institutions is one huge way we nourish and support that spark: empowering ourselves and others to do things to change our actual present conditions, while we build toward a socialist future.
by a Pennsylvania prisoner September 2019 permalink
Until recently I was being held at SCI Somerset with 9 months hole time. During this time prison officials stole my commissary, denied me access to the law library (mini law library), discarded my legal materials, discarded my incoming mail, denied me legal phone calls (even when I had court within days of my request), and I was denied meals (trays), among other things. All in retaliation for my filing grievances about the many injustices and inhumane living conditions I and others suffered from.
After successfully challenging those things via grievance appeals to central office, these C.O.s started targeting other prisoners. Denying them showers, yard, meals, and giving their incoming mail to other prisoners. These guys reacted, as they should, but the way they reacted was counterproductive. So I taught them how to fight our oppressors using the grievance procedure for positive results and they were successful.
As a result of this, the prison guards and prison officials conspired on a course of action and the result was they transferred me to a facility where they know I have multiple enemies, and labeled me as a gang member (which I’m not). This is a Restricted Housing Unit (RHU).
Throughout this entire ordeal I saw opportunity to start teaching those brothers how to put a stop to oppression and injustices they were subjected to before I arrived. I am proud to say we’ve made a couple victories; small ones, but victories nonetheless. The brothers are especially happy of the bigger trays in the RHU! We have more work to do, our battles continue.