The year 2019 marks not only a new beginning, but a goal for unification for us all. As of January 2019, Governor Jerry Brown of California steps down, leaving $150 million of debt for the cost of death row, and more than 740 men and women seeking clemency. As well, the state of Georgia, which houses the largest prisoner population in segregation, looks to include another generation to their 5,000 offenders on lockdown.
In order to understand the problem of mass incarceration, and develop a solution, we first have to understand the facts from the myths. First, contrary to popular beliefs, the states actually lose money on the overall cost of prisons. States like Pennsylvania, for example, are undergoing critical budget crises in which it costs more to house you than it costs to send you to college. Almost $1 trillion annually is the cost of incarceration. So if it costs so much to house us, why not just let us go?
Second, releasing offenders from prison will not fix the debt of operating prisons, because prisons operate on a fixed scale, which doesn't really change with the number of residents. It's roughly $21,000 to house a prisoner, but the state doesn't save that if you're released.
Third, incarcerating individuals doesn't reduce crime. Between 2010 and 2014 the total state prisoner population dropped 4%, with California contributing to 62% of the total for the country. This dropped overall crime rate by 1%. However, the now-increasing rate of incarceration has more than doubled the crime rate.
This being known, the United States still incarcerates more people per capita than any other country, at a cost of more than $50 billion. Yet there has been little decline in the total amount of people incarcerated or amount of prisons. If we hope to fix this problem, we must first create a solution. The solution is to stop the incentive of incarceration! Even though the states lose money with prisons, the employees enjoy the financial gain. Many lobbyists are proposing to close prisons, but are opening prisons? Since most debt is subsidized to the state, the prison's main source of revenue is us! By funding the prisons we are keeping ourselves locked up. If we refuse to spend money in the prison, we can expect the prison to change.
This year marks the beginning of "Greatness Nation United" (GNU). We are the voice of the tired, the angry and defeated. I am inviting all youth to join the Greatness Movement, where we refuse to fund the prison's commissary, prison packages, or any JPay service. If you can't go completely without commissary, then once a month spending the lowest possible amount would impact as well. How is it possible we can sacrifice our freedom for imprisonment but won't sacrifice "a few store goods" for your freedom? Change comes in numbers. I challenge all of you to being greater than your circumstances this year. Greater than your situation.
To everyone reading, we are greater than incarceration, only together can we achieve.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This writer sums up some important facts about the economics of incarceration. The facts about prison expenditures above can be found with background information in our article on the U.$ Prison Economy(1), published last year. And as this writer explains, releasing individual prisoners doesn't have much of an impact on the overall cost of incarceration as long as the entire prison is being maintained. The main cost is the prison itself and the staff running it. And when prisoners are released the number of staff are not generally reduced unless the entire prison is shut down.
This comrade suggests a plan for action that will impact the prison financially. The idea of boycotting prison spending is one of the few areas where prisoners have some potential power. To spend or not to spend is discretionary. Of course the prisons can try to starve people to force them to buy supplemental food for survival. But it is still an area of power for the prisoner.
Given the $1 trillion in overall burden of prison costs, or just the $261 billion in direct criminal injustice system expenses, how much impact can prisoners have with a boycott? Have others found this effective at forcing change in the past? When we organize actions against the criminal injustice system, but it's always good to think critically about our potential impact as we build new and better tactics in this battle.
I recently thumbed through a hand-me-down Under Lock & Key. It was the September/October 2018 issue, No. 64, and had an overwhelming inspiration to write pledging my allegiance to your cause, and to make comment on some of the articles I read concerning offenses against women/girls.
Mostly targeted to those of which appeared to be attempting to justify their actions with the phrase "consensual" sex with under-aged girls. I just hope my thoughts and writings will be as readily accepted as those of others written!
Crimes against women are the most cowardly atrocious acts one can do. Especially when it involves violent forcible rapes, on down to taking advantage of under-aged girls, and I am ashamed and humiliated to be a man during instances as these!
I don't write from a dark hateful place neither in a negative energy, but must say, if you are going to stand for a cause, especially a cause such as the revolutionary one, stand tall and with integrity.
I consider myself a revolutionist, suffering through struggles just to help change the oppressive abuse of authority being displayed by prison officials.
Because the current government structure, as you all would say the injustice system, is designed to make prisoners worse, most likely to return, for their benefit. It appears their attempt is not to rehabilitate but destroy, creating spitefulness and anger especially when they get away with their injustices.
But falling victim to this cycle only lessens us as human beings, if we get caught up in the wheel of things we are not living up to what we claim to be standing up for, which is change.
We are ambassadors for change and must conduct ourselves accordingly. We must stand out from the crowd, not be afraid of individuality. We must carry our heads high and keep our shoulders squared ready to support the weight of others, and to lend a shoulder to cry on if need be, with no ghosts lingering there in the closet.
We must be an energy more spectacular than the universe, an energy that gravitates others to us, a life energy that creates, cultivates and protects those we have around us. Building blocks for them to stand upon, for them who wish to embrace and enjoy change, something new. All of what we're allegedly standing for.
If not we are just a fake and a fraud and a continued part of an ongoing dilemma. Then we are no different than an immoral cult with a fancy name.
Young ladies (and young girls) should not be preyed upon by older guys, (especially not us). Guys, even if she were to show interest, and because you're a type of role model with a higher standard of morality.
As a revolutionist we are obligated to change the exploitation of girls and women alike. Instead, we should help her identify her potential, help channel her energy into something more spectacular, building her up to becoming a powerful leader of her own kind who could lead the way for others who either of us probably could not reach and relate to.
I am sadly disgusted, if not outright disturbed, when a guy, especially an alleged revolutionist claims consensual sex with a young girl. Are you truly incapable of handling a woman who knows how to handle a man?
I will not forget to mention that more despicable crimes against women like forcible rape with drugs, drink or intimidation. We should be advocating for these women, just as well. We cannot continue to accept these types of cowardliness and we as men are just as cowardly if we refuse to intervene. If you see a woman in need of help, help her. Don't turn a blind eye to her black eyes, in the hallway or at the store, step in.
If not where's the revolution?? It isn't simply a donation one goes through with while you're incarcerated? Or is it?
So then where does it start? With us here and now while in prison with the wonderful help from those there on the outside who understand and sympathize with our struggle of oppression, and who also want to unify and make changes.
Us as prisoners must strive to finally become educated women and men. We must come to realize the government down to the prison authorities have things just the way they want them, conquered and divided, defeated and hopeless (don't think) (don't know) and surely never united, they snicker and laugh.
We have slumbered for too long. We must allow the awakening of our minds which is an extremely powerful entity on its own, coupled with your energy and drive we can really make a difference. We are the biggest army (and can be the most fearless army) any government could go up against. They wouldn't know what to do if we shook the illusions from our eyes.
We as prisoners must lay down the knives and pick up the pens and books, learn the law and your rights.
It starts here and now with us and carries on afterward onto the streets. It's war time, our slogan all lives matter equally, not just the corrupt in high places, our pasts are gone, future is ahead.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Glad you found ULK so agreeable and took the time to write us. We agree that being a shining example is an important aspect of leadership. In thinking about recruiting and retaining recruits, consistent behavior by our leaders that is upstanding in the eyes of the masses is something that contributes to this greatly. While we prefer people learn to follow correct ideas rather than individuals and great leaders, we can benefit by always trying to be and develop more great leaders. The fruits of this practice can come to bear years down the line when you least expect it.
Being ashamed of being part of an oppressor group (men) is a righteous response, and one that leads many of us to commit class, nation or gender suicide; meaning to take up actions and politics that go against the interests of the oppressor groups that we belong to. In the imperialist countries we all must struggle in this way to be in solidarity with the world's majority.
We have addressed the question of dating/romantic relationships, how they should be approached by revolutionaries, and specifically the question of older men dating younger wimmin. In doing so we strongly discourage dating recruits, especially in situations where things are more likely to be construed as manipulative, such as dating younger wimmin. (1) As for dating in general, again we echo your advice of being shining examples that the masses will respect and trust.
We like your message of helping empower young wimmin with your influence. This is in contrast to a patriarchal/protective approach, that emotions around these issues can lead to. To say that crimes against wimmin are the most atrocious tends to fall into this subjective/patriarchal thinking. We do not believe that crimes against wimmin are inherently worse, but that our society treats them very differently because we live in a patriarchal society. A California prisoner addresses the impact of approaches to gender oppression that is purely emotional on the imprisonment of New Afrikan men in "Due Process in the Era of #MeToo."(2)
In prison you often hear C.O.s say, "I don't care, write it up," and the prisoner will think, "what's the point? a grievance won't work." But that's not true. What is going on here is reverse psychology. When the officer puts on an air of nonchalant unconcern, it is only a show to put the thought in your mind that all complaints would be futile. But truth be told, that officer doesn't want any negative attention from the administration, and he definitely doesn't want his name coming across the warden's desk.
I have seen with my own eyes one of those segregation big fat bully type pigz practically beg a prisoner not to file a grievance on him, then bribe him with extra food. This C.O. already had other prisoners file on him in the past for his oppressive behavior, so he was walking on thin ice. Recently, I filed a complaint about the cracks along the walls of my cell that were allowing bugs to enter. My intention was to get the cracks sealed. Instead, they sent an exterminator in yesterday to spray. It wasn't what I wanted but I got results. Now all I have to do is continue to apply pressure.
Not all of us prisoners have the financial resources to file lawsuits, but there are many tactics and methods at our disposal if we would only think. No one likes to be constantly harassed, and when you harass the enemy on as many fronts as possible, just a bunch of seemingly insignificant prisoners can jab at a giant corporation until it surrenders. After all, their exploitation of us is dependent upon our cooperation.
But, of course, grievances and complaints are only a temporary solution to ease the sufferings of the average prisoner. Our main objective should be complete liberation, which will require a lot more from us. But that's another story.
July 2018 — We remember for all time in the future the terrible and untimely political assassinations of Comrade George and Jonathon Jackson. Black August and bloody September are fast approaching and while many people will of course mourn due to these fatalities committed by the state, we shouldn't be saddened by these most terrible atrocities. We should rejoice and see repression as a logical response by the capitalist masters to stop our thrust upward.
The history of Amerika's reign of terror begins with its start as a settler's colony that exterminated the otherwise "savage and backward" Indians, and raped Africa for her peoples to build and industrialize this young nation. The trends toward monopoly capital actually began during the civil war, during the only time where the masters of capital felt the greatest threats to its power. Amerikan history has always been a story of masters and slaves, dominators and dominated, capitalists and workers, and haves and have-nots. But the centralization of state power actually began during the age of the Industrial Revolution.
The earlier vanguard parties betrayed the interest of the people by sticking to reformism, even though reformism in Amerika is an old story. At the close of World War II when the purple mushroom clouds over Japan were aired for the world to see, fascism did indeed emerge and consolidate itself in its most advance form in Amerika. In fact the trends towards monopoly capital might have begun right here in Amerika.
The Black Panther Party formed as a response to state terror. The savage repression which can be estimated by a brief reading of the nation's dailies has not failed to register on the minds of most lower disenfranchised, especially when you couple the fact that we are worth no more than the amount of capital that we can raise. Whether they know it or not we are victims of both social and economic injustice and our economic status has reduced our minds to a state of complete oblivion.
The older vanguard parties were committed to reformism and its counter-productive nature. The Black Panther Party, American Indian Movement, Black Liberation Army however were committed and prepared to take the fight to whatever level needed to be taken in order to make sure that the demands of the people were met. As a response, J. Edgar Hoover and his secret branch (COINTELPRO) devised a plan to stop a "Black Messiah" from rising out of the ghetto that could lead the people to revolution. On 4 December 1969 Gloves Davis, a black officer in Chicago, killed Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. Of course the COINTELPRO was very effective in infiltration tactics, because Fred Hampton's bodyguard was later to be revealed as a "class defector and stool pigeon" for the forces of repression.
We shouldn't be sad that George is gone. We should be sad that no one has ushered in to take up his works, even though so many champion him and also since there are guerillas all over who shout "George," but have yet to follow in his footsteps. Our overall situation doesn't stand out as glaringly as it did during the 1960s and 70s. However we should not be tricked into thinking that the struggle is no more. The hip-shooting pigs still gun us and call it justifiable homicide due to the trends in the crime culture we have embraced. The crime culture only mimics the European experience. In order for us to seize the time we should think in terms of true freedom. The freedom that comrade George fought and died for. Long live the real Dragon.
MIM(Prisons) associate responds:
The author mentions that "[t]he earlier vanguard parties betrayed the interest of the people by sticking to reformism, even though reformism in Amerika is an old story." However, not all the early vanguard parties were reformist. In general, vanguard parties are not reformist in nature, although they might work on reformist campaigns (wimmin's rights, prisoners' rights, etc.). Vanguard parties, by definition, aim to be the force that lead the revolution. So why did the vanguard parties fail?
One obvious reason is that the United $tates has not entered a revolutionary situation. Due to a variety of factors, and despite the presence of vanguard parties in different places and at different times, there has not been a substantial proletarian movement for freedom. In Lenin's terms, the workers during the Industrial Revolution in the United $tates only reached basic Trade Union Consciousness, not Proletarian Consciousness. Their goal was for better working conditions, not a new system.
This goes hand-in-hand with the second reason. As J. Sakai argues in Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat, there has never been a substantial proletariat in the United $tates. Despite the presence of oppressed national minorities, lumpen proletariat, and a few revolutionaries, the revolutionaries have never reached a critical mass. This is especially true today, as almost all real labor has been pushed to the Third World and Euro-Amerikkkans are living off of the superexploitation of the Third World proletariat.
The author also mentions that "fascism did indeed emerge and consolidate itself in its most advance form in Amerika." MIM(Prisons) believes that the United $tates is not currently a fascist country (nor has it been in the past). Amerikkka is obviously imperialist and this imperialist core was inscribed into the Amerikkkan project from the very beginning, however we do not equate imperialism with fascism. Fascism is a form of imperialism, but we don't think it's the current state of the world. And we see the most fascist expression of imperialism in Third World countries where imperialists are imposing their will.
Fascism is a form of imperialism, and so this means fascism is a form of capitalism. Fascism is the final attempt for the bourgeoisie to remain the dominant aspect in the contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. As the proletarian forces become stronger, the imperialists go to even more extreme measures to protect their beloved economic system. To say we're in a fascist scenario now, or we're moving toward fascism, is to overstate the strength of the proletarian forces in the present day. Fascism is enhanced imperialism, so it's natural that we would see some elements of our current imperialist society appearing more like fascism than others, even if we haven't moved into fascism as an overall system.
Revolutionary greetings to all who stand firm in opposition, and we extend our most sincere wishes of suffering and death to those in our midst whom compromise their dignity on a daily, serving the interest of our captors, and killing US in the process.
We received ULK 63 and as always we were fed with the best of nutrients for the struggles. My comrade in arms (a structured Kiwe Nationalist) and I do all we can to push and pull one another, as we are virtually surrounded by: 007 agents, Adolph wannabes, and mentally retarded "gangsta" caricatures who are clueless as to what "convict" entails.
In truth, I/we are at a loss as to explain this "twilight zone" Oregon DOC system. The standards by which the vast majority base their day-to-day ethos on are so unrecognizable that we question exactly what planet we are on!! In ODOC it is "okay" to collaborate with pigs, as long as one is not a sex offender!
The majority of the populace appears to be under the influence of some kind of mind-altering pills! We note that OCOD has a deliberate "agenda" in place, in which medical doles out pills to whomever says they can't cope! We all recognize that these gulags have very negative impact(s), and some of us truly need help. My point in bringing this up is only to say that the pigs are utilizing drugs to further weaken captives. Captives who are already weakened by the effects of life as "half men" in capitalist Amerikkka. It is as if these ODOC isolation units are being utilized to create "pets," men made docile by narcotics, conditioned to serve pigs' interests, via apathy and, at times, outright anger directed towards the progressives/movement.
How do we combat "Stockholm syndrome"? The ODOC cultural norm is to be anti-ethical and as such, those of us that live and breathe struggle find our backs closing in on the walls! Permitting ourselves to be disrespected with no response(s) is exactly how we have come to find ourselves in this position. "Patience taken too far is cowardice" said Comrade George. Without examples made, the masses have no illuminated path and thus remain in darkness and ignorance! Guess what I/we ask is, at what point does it become a prerequisite to revolutionary cultural creation that the strugglist(s) utilize non-peaceful means? This is the looming question for the brothas of struggle here.
We New Afrikans are few and far between in ODOC. However, make no mistake about it, we are here and are striving forward! Boots laced, backs straight, eyes firmly on the prize! Freedom or Death! Power to the People.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This question, of when is it time to take up non-peaceful means of struggle should be at the forefront of the minds of revolutionaries. If we act too soon we end up getting ourselves and our comrades killed, or locked up (if they aren't already in prison). But if we wait too long we are responsible for unnecessary deaths and suffering.
In the more specific situation behind bars within the Amerikan criminal injustice system, we know the long game is taking down the entire system. But the smaller battles include winning people over to the side of revolutionary struggle, and making space for organizing by fighting repression.
The question we always have to ask about any action is: what is the risk and what is the reward? Someone is attacking you with a weapon, should you fight back? Risk: you get tossed in seg for fighting, Reward: you don't get killed. The reward wins. But in the case this comrade raises, where everyone is collaborating with the pigs and taking pills, the risks and rewards are harder to work out. Are there actions that will win people away from collaborating with the enemy? Or will those actions just bring down more punishment on the few who are resisting? These questions have to be answered by people involved in each situation.
We encourage our comrades to work on ways they can create revolutionary culture now, while using peaceful means. Sharing ULK is one way of doing this, and what are others?
We can only offer this framework, and encourage everyone to remember that revolution isn't an overnight action. We're in this for the long battle against imperialism. Even within the belly of the beast, surrounded by enemies, we can't lose sight of our ultimate goals.
We are caught up in a system of competitiveness that pits one against the other, brother against brother, family against family, people against people, braceros against domestics, ethnic groups against ethnic groups, color against color, class against class, instead of minority or lower class against the ruling class. Competitiveness creates division, distrust, suspicions, and isolation. We have too much to lose to allow ourselves to fall into the same trap over and over again. What is in it for me, for you, for us?
All of our lives, we identify with war heroes, supermen, adventurers, gold seekers, empire builders, and imaginary leaders. We dream of praise and honors and love from other people. We go through life hoping to leave some sign of accomplishment to our children, to posterity, and we end up old, tired, wrinkled, with no vision or no memories, and we leave an inheritance of weakness, boot-licking, indignity, and confusion.
We can make history. It will consist of those who tried, who resisted, who led, who dared to struggle, dared to live free. It will also expose those who are afraid, ashamed, arrogant, selfish, greedy, sellouts, malinches, social prostitutes, Tio Tacos, exploiters, and cowards.
If there is to be a movement, then there must be leaders. Those leaders must be judged by their ability to give, not take. Leadership must convert confidence, not egotism — one who sacrifices, not one who is an opportunist. Leadership is the act of using power to free people, not to control them.
All in all, we have to cleanse ourselves of "inferiority" complex, our peon complex and our immigrant complex. We are not inferior, we are no man's peons, and we are not and never have been immigrants. As complete humans, we cannot only build an organization, start a movement, but create a nation. To take these steps we have to think positively. We have to put aside negative thoughts about each other, and especially about our capacity to succeed.
The masses will make a difference. We are educating young people. Our young people here and across this country are saying, I am leading a "Resistance" against institutional racism, racism or oppression. But when no one stands up with that young person, he commits suicide? You see the reason we have problems is because too many people do not want to get involved. When the guy in the cantina, prison cell or yard, the pool hall or the barber shop tells you, "Man, those movement people are out of their minds. I take care of me." Ask him what he's doing for la causa. Ask him what he's doing for the movement. He's not going to be able to say anything. He is part of the problem because he's not doing anything.
So we look at the problem: the problem is the mass majority of society. It's true. It's true that only 6% of the population of this country controls more than 60% of the wealth of the world. It's true that 2% of this country makes all the decisions. And everybody thinks they are living in a democratic society.
So the problem is on our backs, and the way to get rid of it is to deal with it. Now, we can deal with it by saying we are going to go into an armed Revolution with 4% of the people against maybe 50% of the people?
Long Live The Days of AZTLAN!
MIM(Prisons) responds: We are up against what seems like an insurmountable number of people either actively or passively on the side of imperialism in this country. It's a good point that if we took up armed revolution right now we'd be a tiny minority, up against a lot of resistance. This is because the vast majority of U.$. citizens are benefiting materially from imperialism. It's pretty obvious to most people just how well off they are compared to the rest of the world. That's why so many people want closed borders; don't let poor people in, they might take back some of that wealth we've got protected in the United $tates.
But this writer is talking about organizing the oppressed nations specifically and that's a bit of a different story. While still benefiting from the wealth Amerika has stolen from Third World countries, oppressed nations continue to face restricted opportunities, discrimination, imprisonment, and police brutality (to name just a few elements of national oppression within U.$. borders), all because of their nationality. This makes people from oppressed nations still potentially interested in revolution for their own persynal interests.
So yes, we need to heed this comrade's call to challenge people about what they're doing for la causa. We need to win over everyone we can. But we might not be in a position to take on imperialism until it is weakened from the outside, by revolutions in countries where the majority of the population has an interest in taking down imperialism. Right now we do what we can from within the belly of the beast to support the battles of the oppressed and exploited masses globally and the struggles of the oppressed nations within U.$. borders.
Vita Wa Watu! This is one essay on my tactics to recruit Brothas and Sistas for certain movements. Take the Day of Peace and Solidarity for instance. I sent out letters to those that have a Genuine Love for me and the Struggle and kept it real with them. I informed them that I would be fasting for the 9th day of September because it was a day that meant more to Oppressed and Lumpen than the Sabbath does to the Jews. I told them that that day is a day of Peace in the Prisons around the country and that it commemorated one of the biggest prison uprisings in the states, and also that it was the last day of the now annual prison strike.
Then I informed them that this Glorious Day meant that there would be no beatings, rapes, stabbings, or any violence of the Oppressed against the Oppressor and that it mean a lot to me if they would fast with me. I got a few confirmations and still awaiting others.
Also, I let the Brothers here in Ad-Seg know the meaning of this day. However, only one Soulja fasted with me. Nevertheless, the day was a success here at Northeastern Correctional Center. Stay strong, Comrades. I will join you again next year.
MIM(Prisons) responds: In ULK 64 we printed some early reports of actions on the September 9 Day of Peace and Solidarity. We're happy to hear about this work going on in Florida.
And this is a good example of sharing your tactics for organizing and recruiting. The next issue of Under Lock & Key is devoted to this topic and we're seeking moreinput from readers about what's worked for you, and also what hasn't worked. We can all learn a lot from our practice and from the practice of others. Sum up your organizing experiences and send them in for ULK. See ULK 63 for our prior deep dive into this topic.
[Editor's note: This review of Grit follows on several articles printed in ULK 63 about the book and lessons we can glean for our organizing. This comrade offers a more in-depth review of some of the practical uses for our work, but also some criticisms of the politics of the book. We encourage readers to check out ULK 63 for more on organizing theory and practice.]
I really like this book, not just because I found lots of useful tactics and strategies for pursuing my own personal goals in life, but because I was able to see that I've already been putting many of the author's suggestions into practice, both in my capacity as a revolutionary and as someone pursuing a particular goal: my freedom. Therefore, in writing this review, I have not only tried to sum up the tactics and strategies I found most useful, but those which others might find use for as well. However, this review is not without criticism.
The author of this book, Angela Duckworth, is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and she wrote this book to make one basic statement: success in any endeavor is dependent on the amount of time, hard work, determination, and effort that someone puts into something.
Now this concept might not seem so special or even new to someone, but to a dialectical materialist, it speaks power to truth in that it demolishes certain idealist and metaphysical notions about what it means to be gifted and blessed in bourgeois society. Of course, as a dialectical materialist, I also understand that this book must be viewed with a critical eye, as it contains both positive and negative aspects.
Professor Duckworth makes it a point to begin eir book by explaining that lofty-minded individuals aren't usually the type of people to accomplish much of anything. Rather, it's those with a "never give up" attitude that will reach a marked level of success. Professor Duckworth also successfully argues against the myth that the only thing that matters is "talent." Instead she says a bigger factor is developed skill, which is the result of consistent and continuous practice. From a Maoist perspective this means that it is people who take a materialist approach to life and who understand the dialectical interplay between people and people, and between people and their surroundings, that will go the furthest the fastest.
In addition, the author puts forward organizational guidelines that are useful to just about anyone, even the imprisoned lumpen. How prisoners decide to exercise the professor's tools is entirely up to them. We would hope however, that USW members and other allies participating in the United Front for Peace in Prisons would use the lessons in Grit to further the anti-imperialist prison movement, as what they essentially amount to is the piecemeal approach to struggle.
So what does it take to develop grit as the author defines it? The following are just some of the book's pointers that I could relate to and I'm sure you can too:
Having direction as well as determination.
Doing more of what you are determined to do and doing it longer equals grit.
Learn from your mistakes.
Grit is more about stamina than intensity ("Grit is not just working incredibly hard, it's loyalty").
Do things better than they have ever been done before.
Goals are essential to strategizing long term, and you must also have lots of short-term goals along the way.
Having goal conflicts can be healthy: what may at one given moment seem contradictory may in fact be complementary.
Don't be intimidated by challenges or being surrounded by people who are more advanced or developed. This can only help you grow.
Overextending yourself is integral toward growth, it's what helps you develop. Also, repetitive diligence cultivates.
Daily discipline as perseverance helps you to zero in on your weaknesses.
Passion is a must!
Go easy on newcomers.
Look for quality over quantity when measuring growth.
What we do has to matter to other people.
Have a top level goal.
Maintain a growth mindset.
Don't be afraid to ask for help!
Following through is the single best predictor of grit.
Getting back up after you've been kicked down is generally reflective of grit. When you don't, your efforts plummet to a zero. As a consequence, your skill stops improving and you stop producing anything with whatever skill you have.
So now that we've looked at tools for overall improvement, growth and development let's look at some specific tips on how to add a little more intensity to our routines and organizational skill set. The author talks about something she calls "deliberate practice." Deliberate practice is a technique or range of techniques that people across different professions use to become masters in their fields. Whether someone is a spelling bee champ, professional basketball player, or computer programmer, all these people have one thing in common: deliberate practice. I include the message here because it can be useful to revolutionaries. Simply put, deliberate practice is all about becoming an expert at something. Deliberate practice is the essence of grit:
Wanting to develop.
Not just more time on task, but better time on task.
Focusing on improving your weaknesses; intentionally seeking out challenges you can't yet meet.
Practicing alone, logging more hours than with others.
Seeking negative feedback for the purposes of improving your craft.
Then focus in on the specific weaknesses and drill them relentlessly.
Don't be afraid to experiment if you find yourself getting stuck or even if you're not. Sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone even if you're already doing good. Who knows, you might do better.
Now, at the beginning of this review, I said this book was not beyond criticism. So here are some problems I found with Grit.
To begin with, the author caters to the idealist Amerikan ideology of "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps" and failing to take into account the structural oppression faced by the internal semi-colonies in the United $tates. Furthermore, most of the author's case studies, those who she refers to as "paragons of grit," come from privileged backgrounds and their success in life can be easily linked to the surroundings in which they were allowed to develop their skills to their fullest potentials. Compare this to the experience of the oppressed nations: the lumpen in particular who exist along the margins of society, or the [email protected] semi-proletariat who must struggle in order to meet its basic needs. Therefore, all is not simply a matter of will and determination for the oppressed as we might be led to believe. There are a variety of social factors in place which the oppressed must contend with in the grind of daily life.
Another problem I have with this book is where the author makes the statement that it generally takes up to 10,000 hours or 10 years of practice for someone to become an expert in their field. The author bases this hypothesis on data she's gathered in preparation for eir book. This inherent flaw in the professor's work is exactly the type of problem that comes from applying bourgeois psychology and sociological methods according to bourgeois standards within a narrow strip of bourgeois society. This was something of a turn off to me as I grappled with the concepts from a revolutionary perspective. I can imagine how discouraging it can be for our young comrades or those otherwise new to the struggle to read that it takes 10 years to become an expert in something, especially when they come to us eager to put in work. I wonder if I, myself, would have continued engaging Maoism if I would have heard or read this book when I was a newcomer? I would like to think that I had enough grit to not listen to the naysayers and instead keep on pushing, but I just don't know.
Maoist China also grappled with similar questions during the Great Leap Forward (1959-61) and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-76). Beginning with the Great Leap Forward, there were those in the Communist Party, as well as in the economic sector, who advocated an "expert in command" approach to work and politics. The people pushing this line believed that only those with years of study or practice in China's greatest institutions or in the West's most prestigious universities were qualified to lead the country towards socialism. Most of these people would turn out to be enemies of the revolution and ultimately responsible for putting China back on the capitalist road.
On the other side of the discussion where the Maoists who advocated the slogan "red and expert" to emphasize the importance of revolutionary will and determination over that of expertise. In other words, it was more important to pay attention to the masses motivation of serving the people according to revolutionary principles than to the bourgeois commandist approach of top down leadership and authoritarianism that was the essence of "experts in command." Furthermore, the Maoists understood that to overly emphasize a reliance on the bourgeois methods of organization for the purposes of efficiency and profit was not only to widen the gap between leaders and led, but to return to the status quo prior to the revolution. What's more, those calling for expert in command were also criticized for their stress on theory over practice and adoption of foreign methods of organization over that of self-reliance and independence. As such, the Maoists opted to popularize the slogan "red and expert" as they believed this represented a more balanced approach to political, cultural, economic, and social development. To the Maoists, there was nothing wrong with wanting to become expert so long as the concept wasn't separated from the needs of the people or the causes of the revolution.
Partly as a response to the struggles gripping China during the time, but more so as an attempt to meet Chinese needs, the Communist Party initiated the "sent down educated youth" and "going down to the countryside and settling with the peasants" campaigns in which thousands of high school and university age students were sent on a volunteer basis to China's rural area to help educate peasants. The students lived and toiled with the peasants for months and years so that they would not only learn to empathize with the country's most downtrodden, but so that the revolutionary will and resolve of the privileged urban youth could be strengthened. Part of the students' mission was to build the schools in the countryside and teach the peasants how to read and write as well to help advance the peasants' farming techniques according to what the youth had learned in the cities. While these students may not have been "experts" in the professional sense, they did more to improve the living conditions of the peasants than most professionals did criticizing this program from the sidelines.(1)
The barefoot doctors program is another Maoist success story which even Fidel Castro's Cuba came to emulate. The majority of China's population were peasants and had virtually zero access to modern medical care. To address this problem, peasants were given a few years training in basic medical care, and sent to work in China's rural area. Again, the focus here was not on expertise, but on practice and revolutionary will for the sake of progress not perfection. While those trained certainly were not expert medical doctors, they were of more use to the peasants than the witch doctors and shamans they were accustomed to.
While Grit offers a lot of useful information for comrades with little organizational experience, we should keep in mind that much of what we communists consider correct methods of practice has already been summed up as rational knowledge by the revolutionary movements before us. Bourgeois psychology can be useful, but history and practice are our best teachers. Look to the past and analyze the present to correctly infer the future.
As Mao Zedong Stated: "Marxists hold that man's social practice alone is the criterion of the truth of his knowledge of the external world."(2)
MIM(Prisons) responds: Throughout the book, Duckworth focuses on high-performance bourgeois heroes and institutions, in order to address the question of "what makes them the best at what they do?" In answering this question, the author does briefly acknowledge that access to resources can play a decisive role in one's success in a particular field. That might mean having money to pay for pool access to become a great swimmer. In another way, access to resources might boil down to the semi-random luck of having a decent (or crap) coach in public school sports. Of course there are socio-economic reasons why good coaches are at certain schools and not others, and why some schools have sports at all and others don't — and those are reasons linked to the three strands of oppression.
Duckworth's analysis of how we (as outsiders) can influence someone's internal grit underlined how big of an influence one persyn or experience can have on someone else's passion and perseverence. For example, we don't need material resources to change our attitude and behavior to a "growth mindset." And, while a broader culture of grit is certainly preferable, we can still make a big impact as single organizers — in many of eir examples, the paragons of grit cited one or two key people in their lives who played a major part in their success. And ULK's contributors' persynal histories in "Ongoing Discussion of Recruiting Best Practices" confirms this.
Duckworth's analysis on this topic is outlined in "Part 3: Growing Grit from the Outside In," and MIM(Prisons) has been discussing this section at length to improve our own practices. We have an extremely limited ability to organize and influence people — we are only struggling with our subscribers through the mail, which comes with many unique challenges. Our subscribers have access to very little resources, and we can't buy them the world. But if we can make even our limited contact more effective — through our study, execution, experimentation, and the feedback we receive — we believe we can still make a big impact. Duckworth helped build my confidence that even though i'm only one organizer, and i'm not really that talented at it to begin with, my efforts still matter a lot.
While Duckworth does good to knock down the idols of talent, ey replaces them with the hardworking individual, rather than the knowledge of the collective, and group problem solving. The group is acknowledged as one thing that can help you as an individual become great, in eir discussion of the "culture of grit." The examples from China that Ehecatl brings up emphasizes that our goal is not to be great as individuals, but to serve the people by bringing together different sources of knowledge, to see a problem from all sides, and to engage the masses in conquering it.
In a related point, Ehecatl says that we need to "do things better than they have ever been done before." I'm not sure of the deeper meaning behind this point, and it's one that i think could be read in a discouraging way. We certainly should aim to do things better than we have ever done them. But if we know we can't do them better than everyone ever, then should we give up? No, we should still try, because "effort counts twice" and the more we try, the better we'll get at it.(3) And, even if we're not the best ever, we can still have a huge impact. Like Ehecatl writes above, we don't need to clock 10,000 hours before we can make big contributions.
To deepen your own understanding of the principles in Grit, get a copy to study it yourself. Get Grit from MIM(Prisons) for $10 or equivalent work-trade.
13 May 2018 — 208 prisoners of every race, background, group, organization, etc. said enough is enough! We came together and sat down in a peaceful protest. During dinner (chow hall) as usual the pigs not only violated our constitutional rights (First Amendment freedom of speech) but they also attempted to bully us by flex'n and threatening us. That's when our peaceful protest turned uprising. I wish y'all could have seen the way all the guards (C.O.s, Sergeants, Lieutenants, etc.) ran out the kitchen and chow halls. You would have thought they ran track! Who the cowards now?
For the first time in Missouri history we united. The pigs see the end of their control within our unity. In a matter of seconds we gained control of the kitchen, both dining halls, property room, canteen storage, the factory, forklifts, weapons, keys, phones, computers, etc. Well after a few hours the phones start to ring. Guess who's calling? The warden and highway patrol. For the first time they listened to our demands. They respected us. They feared our unity. They was at our mercy.
On our own terms we surrendered 8-9 hours later. After we got our point across.
Note: 90% of guys in our peaceful protest turned uprising have outdates ranging between a few weeks and 15 years. So only imagine if the outcome was the other way around. 90% of us could have been locked to the board (life without?).
Due to us striving so fast and hard we left administration not only confused but also emotionally off balance. Being that this never happened before in Missouri history they acted off impulse and violated every constitutional right you can think of. Which led to KC Freedom Project lawyers starting a class action lawsuit on our behalf against Missouri DOC. The media has been on fire regarding this.
Update? We still on lockdown! We still receiving brown bags (sack lunches). They say it was $3 million worth of damage. They making us do 1 year. We damn near 6 months in.
Administration is still up to their tricky ways. They have attempted to divide and conquer us by destroying all the guys' property that was in the hole and told them we did it. Also telling all the guys in GP it's our fault they are locked down still. So yeah the struggle continues.
By the way, there have been two other uprisings of this kind since we kicked it off. If we can unite here in Missouri where unity has never existed then any state can.
Another Missouri prisoner wrote:
It has been 13 months since the prisoners bonded together, Black, White, Native and brown (Chicano) and kicked off a riot at Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron, Missouri, causing over a million dollars in damage. What did it accomplish?
Prison property got damaged that your families who are tax payers (and you too cause you pay taxes on your canteen items) are going to have to pay for the damages.
You injured one another with violent acts and all it accomplished is enemies, and lockdown of the prison.
Supposedly two housing units are to be cleared out for the creation of SHU units. They are supposed to lock up all the gang leaders and violent soldiers.
As of now, this is all just rumor, but every time Missouri prisoners show acts of violence via riots, the prison gets stricter. For example, the 1985 riot in the old Missouri State Penitentiary caused them to build a supermax housing unit.
When are we gonna learn that we are hurting ourselves more ways than one by these acts of violence? When I was advocating peaceful protests with demonstrations of how to shut the prison system down, nobody in Missouri wanted to participate. But you go off on your own and committed this no nonsense act of violence against your brother, your friends, your families, and jeopardized everyone.
It costs $85 million a year to keep the U.S. prisons up and running. The government is not producing this money to keep the prisons going. So where is the money coming from? Let's see now, in Missouri it's coming from Missouri Vocational Enterprise (MVE), the sign shop, the printing shop, the license plate plant (tag plant), the furniture factory, the chemical plant, information technology (IBM program), the braille program, the laundry, the cooled-chill plant (cold food storage), the shoe factory, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDot work release) and the newly implemented paneling factory.
The above-mentioned factories are multi-million-dollar industries per year. They are paying you pennies. So what a couple of these jobs pay between $150 and $300 per month. If you peacefully protest by refusing to go to work in these factories, either they are going to pay you at least minimum wage where you will be making at least $340 a week, or they are gonna bring in civilians to do the work, in which case the factories are going to have to be uprooted and moved because most civilians are not coming inside the prisons to work. So to shut down a beast like the U.S. prison system is to shut down their economy — that is, the very thing that's bringing them money to keep the prisons open is the very thing that can shut it down.
This just doesn't begin and end with the prisoners. The prisoner has to survive. He has to eat. So the people in the free world are going to have to support the prisoner financially. Family, friends, advocate organizations are all going to have to pitch in and support the prisoner financially. That means to stop working we have to buy food to eat. To stop using the phones and tablets, we need stamps, envelopes, paper and pens to write letters that cost money. So the free world must understand that for us to make these sacrifices, then society is going to have to make sacrifices to assist us.
So Missouri prisoners, society (family, friends, organizations, advocates, etc.), stop going about things the wrong way and do them like they should be done in order to get results.
I go home next year on parole, but I do not leave my fight behind. There is a bigger world out there, which means a lot more opportunities to fight. I am going to find resources and seek out that they join me in my quest to do away with this beast. I will need their support mentally, physically, spiritually and above all, financially. With this, Comrades, I hope to see you on the other side, working with me and supporting me from the inside and outside.
In struggle—In solidarity
Arm raised—clenched black fist
MIM(Prisons) responds: A lot of folks talk about how hard it is to get people to unite behind bars. The prison controls everything from day-to-day comfort to release dates. And that's powerful incentive to conform. Then they introduce drugs and other distractions to pacify the population. They pay off snitches to keep an eye on activists. And they lock organizers down in solitary confinement. Still, faced with all these barriers, prisoners can and do come together to protest. Conditions at Crossroads CC were bad enough to inspire this action. And while the outcome wasn't all positive, the class action lawsuit and attention of the public has forced the Missouri DOC to admit that prisoners are suffering significant restrictions due to short staffing.
The comrade criticizing this action for its lack of focus and random acts of violence and destruction is right that often these sorts of actions lead to more repression. Though peaceful protests are also often met with increased repression. This debate over tactics in prison protests is one that should be happening within all prisons across the country. We hope the comrades at Crossroads will learn from this action and move forward in greater unity towards future actions that will be even more effective.
Focusing on the economics of prisons reveals the ridiculous scale of the criminal injustice system. As the writer above notes, it would be a significant financial loss to the state if they were forced to hire non-prisoners for all the jobs prisoners are doing. And this is financial leverage that prisoner workers can use to their advantage.
But to debate the value of this tactic we need to first be clear about the scope of prisoner labor. The state of Missouri 2018 budget allocated the Department of Corrections over $725 million. About the same as the previous year, which was up $50 million from 2016.(1) The state would have to allocate even more money if no prisoner labor could be used to help run the prisons, or produce products that are sold to generate revenue. But that prisoner labor is still a small part of the total cost of running prisons.
As we showed from data collected from prisons across the United $tates, in general, losing prisoner labor would add about 10% to the cost of running prisons. Prisons are mostly subsidized by states' budgets. The labor from prisoners just doesn't come close to covering that cost. So while there is definitely economic power in those jobs, shutting down prison industries won't shut down prisons.
We don't aim to just improve conditions. In the end we know the criminal injustice system keeps taking away rights, doing what it can to make prisons a place of suffering and complacency. But this protest showed the people involved that they have the power to take collective action. As the original writer notes, the prison can see their downfall in the unity of the prisoners. This lesson of the importance and power of unity is what will hopefully fuel ongoing organizing.
I am currently on close management (secured housing), a euphemism for 24/7 lockdown. My level was recently dropped to II, which means I now have a cellmate. However, since there are more people in this dorm, I have been able to spread some knowledge.
I am currently involved in a struggle against violations of prisoners' rights in confinement. Although I don't know much about civil law, I am very resourceful and have found 2 non-profit law firms willing to help Florida prisoners. I have begun, after being here since May, to draw a lot of attention and have already been threatened with retaliation for my grievances (in order to file lawsuits, "administrative remedies" must be exhausted). However, I expected this, and take it as a signal that I am doing good and hitting the right issues, such as not being allowed to exit the cell for the specified "dayroom" time.
They are trying to keep the addicts addicted. It is easier to reach people through face-to-face group studies or even individual studies. I have been doing what I can to get some of the interested prisoners involved in utilizing dialectical materialism. I have also been passing around info on how to fight against the constant oppression. Oppression is good for the oppressed. It is what motivates, and without it complacency would be the norm.
I will be enclosing some more poetry for use in ULK. Also, the issue of Under Lock & Key sent to me was rejected citing that I already receive too many periodicals or publications. I am looking into if there is indeed a set limit or if this is just a sorry excuse for unwarranted censorship.
I've been sitting in my room and really, truly devoting myself to studying the MIM Theory I received. I find myself aligning with MIM on all of its issues and where they stand. I do have a question. It is quite perplexing to me.
It seems to me that one of the biggest problems Maoists and other forms of communism face all have a root in greed. The average human is not inherently good and/or caring. Rather, their main objective in life is to accumulate wealth to ensure a better life for them and hopefully their immediate family. They do not have any feelings or true empathy for those that do not have. So how do we solve this? I am new to this movement, but am very intrigued by the veracity that is communism. Expectantly awaiting.
MIM(Prisons) responds: In response to this question about greed we ask another question: how do you know humyns are inherently greedy? Sure, this is what we see today in the world around us. But capitalism is built on a culture of greed and selfishness. It's no surprise that humyns raised in this culture, inundated with it from birth through school, entertainment, and adult examples, will learn to be greedy and individualist themselves. Further, capitalism rewards this individualism with material wealth. There is little incentive or opportunity to be selfless or generous.
But do we really have evidence that this is inherent in the humyn species? When we look at the example of communist China during the Cultural Revolution, so many people were engaging in tremendous acts of selfless work while also actively fighting against reactionary culture. We don't have to look that far for examples of humyn selflessness. Even under capitalism there are jobs that require greater sacrifice than they offer reward, jobs that really help other people. Perhaps you could argue that these are the few oddballs who didn't get the "greed gene." But perhaps instead they represent what we all could be without indoctrination in greed.
This writer argues that oppression is good for the oppressed because it is what motivates. While we'd agree that oppression is a motivating force, it's still something we strive to eliminate because we believe humyns can be motivated by striving for improvements for society without facing constant oppression.