The Voice of the Anti-Imperialist Movement from

Under Lock & Key

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[Rhymes/Poetry] [ULK Issue 52]
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Nourish the Seedz, Restore the Flowers

At this time, in this place, I genuinely know why
(the caged bird sings)/
other than being falsely imprisoned,
ey's being called - N.I.G.G.E.R. of all things.
As I give perfect praise to the "most high",
I can only wonder how many more bullets have to fly?
How many more of my precious B.L.A.C.K. & [email protected] political prisoners must die
Before those of us who still dare to be free
can remove the blood-filled tearz from our eyes?
We've all been shackled by the same chainz,
victimized by the same pain/
So, in whose name doez death really blossom?
I can vividly recall being radically profiled as a juvenile,
because as a child,
"I refused to pledge my allegiance to a flag"
that forced many of my B.L.A.C.K. Panthers into exile.
This beautiful Black revolutionary love of mine is God'z design,
bottom line.
I speak from the perspective
of a soulja with an objective,
cause being black in this white manz world
justice is often selective.
On behalf of the collective,
I stand on the frontlines.
My message to the black man is to fight the power,
nourish the seedz, and restore the flowers.
This form of revolutionary love
will never be televized,
nor will it be glamorized/
because the very essence of this love affair
depicts us finally being unified!!
Let'z reflect back to the bird and the cage
back to the dehuminization that we endured
while naked on the auction blocks & stage
or picture the 25-50 million Africans that died
during the passage
that never made it to the grave!
Because it is only through those degrees of pain,
horror and torture,
can one truly understand the life of a slave.
On the strength of those whose lives were gave
that divine sacrifice in turn,
allowed countless other B.L.A.C.K.S. & others' lives to be saved!!
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[United Front] [Spanish] [ULK Issue 53]
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Peleando al Verdadero Enemigo el 9 de Septiembre, Demostración de Solidaridad

El 9 de Septiembre del 2016 fue el quinta día de demostración de Paz y Solidaridad anual en prisiones a lo largo de los Estados Unidos. Esta es una oportunidad para que reclusos conmemoren el aniversario de la insurrección en Attica y atraer atención a los abusos de presos por todo el país por medio de ayunos y paro de trabajo de 24 horas. La demostración anual fue iniciada en el 2012 por una organización en el Frente Unido para la Paz en las Prisiones (UFPP), y se ha tomado como un evento anual de la UFPP, con gente participando en prisiones por todo el país.

Esta demostración esta alineada con los principios de la UFPP de formar unidad entre prisioneros que tengan el interés común de pelear la opresión del sistema criminal injusto. Presos están tomando las 24 horas de manifestación para empeñarse en educación y construcción de solidaridad; cesando toda hostilidad entre prisionero contra prisionero. Este es un pequeño pero significativo paso en formar un Frente Unido entre organizaciones de prisioneros e individuos cometidos al movimiento anti-imperialista. Es una oportunidad para juntarse, publicar el UFPP y estimar nuestro progreso. Para estar de pie en un frente unido, no necesitamos estar de acuerdo en cada tema político, pero tenemos que unirnos alrededor de principios centrales para componernos y estar de pie como uno. La construcción de unidad comienza mucho antes del 9 de Septiembre para esos que están engranando a otros para participar en la protesta. Es un largo y lento proceso de educación y organización para construir el movimiento anti-imperialista.

Recientemente hemos aprendido de otro llamado de acción para el 9 de Septiembre, un "Llamado de Acción Contra esclavitud en America."(1) La gente que hizo este llamado escribió: "En el 9 de Septiembre del 2016 comenzamos una acción para el cierre de prisiones en todo el país. No solo demandaremos el fin de esclavitud prisionera, la acabaremos nosotros mismos cesando de ser esclavos." Este llamado nacional de paro de trabajo en las prisiones coincide con la demostración en solidaridad de la UFPP y tomamos esta oportunidad para comentar en las similares y diferencias.

Antes queremos decir que siempre estamos contentos al ver gente tomar organización y tratar de comenzar unidad detrás de las rejas. Hay muy buenos puntos traídos en este llamado a la acción, particularmente en el reconocimiento de las crecientes protestas en las prisiones por todo el país y la importancia de esta resistencia. Con nuestro enfoque en construir un Frente Unido entre presos, esperamos trabajar con esta gente para ampliar nuestro movimiento. No estamos seguros si los organizadores están enterados del trabajo que la UFPP ha estado haciendo por cinco años en las protestas del 9 de Septiembre, a si decidieron intencionalmente iniciar una acción aparte por los desacuerdos con la UFPP. Nuestros intentos de contactar a los organizadores siguen sin ser contestados.

Tácticamente, ambos estamos promoviendo una huelga de trabajo en este día. Mientras una huelga de un solo día es más simbólica que cualquier cosa, vemos poder en la habilidad de presos para "el cierre" de facilidades sin hacer el trabajo para mantenerlas operando por un periodo potencialmente largo. Sin embargo, los organizadores detrás de este recién llamado están tomando la huelga de trabajo al nivel de una cuestión de linea, a lo cual le tenemos fuertes desacuerdos. Se enfocan en una huelga de trabajo porque están enfocados en eliminar lo que ellos ven como "esclavitud" en las prisiones de los Estados Unidos. Sin embargo, para las Marxistas, esclavitud es un sistema económico específico que envuelve a gente como propiedad para explotar de sus labores. Esclavos tienen valor de canje, igual como otros objetos que son vendidos y comprados. Este valor de canje de gente es la base de un sistema horrible que consiste en la captura y compra de humanos. Gente confunde el labor de prisiones con esclavitud porque hay unas significantes igualdades: el labor en las prisiones envuelve que trabajadores reciban un pago muy poco o nada, y como esclavos, prisioneros tienen dado vivienda, comida y otras necesidades básicas mientras están en cautividad. Pero podemos ver claramente que no hay un cambio valorar en presos por que los estados tienen que pagarle a otros estados para que reciban a sus prisioneros. Esto es lo opuesto de esclavitud donde gente paga por la compra de esclavos.

Más aun, para poder llamar el labor de prisioneros esclavitud, debe de haber explotación. Podemos ver que esta explotación (prisiones teniendo ganancias del labor de los presos) solo existe para una pequeña porción de los presos en EE.UU.(2) Estados como Texas y Louisiana tienen industrias significativamente productivas que recuerdan a los días de esclavitud. Para la mayoría esta no es la realidad. Prisiones requieren grandes infusiones de fondos federales y estatales para poder operar. Si estuvieran haciendo ganancias de los labores de presos, este desagüe de los fondos públicos no serian requeridos. En su lugar el labor de presos esta solamente compensado en una pequeña porción del costo de operación.

Unas personas nos dicen que esto solo es semántica, alegando la definición de un significado antes de hablar del verdadero problema que las prisiones están torturando a seres humanos mientras permiten a los verdaderos criminales dirigir el gobierno y corporaciones capitalistas. Pero esta reciente llamada de protesta contra la esclavitud prisionera, desvalora porqué éstas definiciones son tan importantes. Los organizadores de esta protesta del 9 de Septiembre contra esclavitud escribieron lo siguiente: "Cuando eliminemos la esclavitud, perderán mucho de sus incentivos para encarcelar a nuestros hijos, pararán de construir trampas para volver a jalar a los que han liberado. Cuando removamos el motivo económico y la grasa de nuestra labor forzado del sistema prisionero de los E.U, la estructura entera de cortes y policías, de control y casería de esclavos deberá de cambiar para acomodarnos como humanos, en vez de como esclavos." Esta declaración no es cierta, e ignora la verdadera economía de las prisiones cuales reciben sobre $60 billones de dólares al año en fondos estatales y federales para cubrir el costo de operación. ¿Porque funcionaría al gobierno un negocio donde pierde dinero? Ciertamente no para una ganancia económica!

El motivo económico de la esclavitud no es la fuerza guía detrás de las prisiones. Y aunque no lo llamemos esclavitud, economía no es la razón de las prisiones. Aunque es cierto que bastante gente gana muy buenos salarios, y muchas compañías hacen montones de dinero por servir al sistema prisionero, esto solo es la redistribución de ganancias tomadas de la explotación de trabajadores del Tercer Mundo. Es por eso que tiene que venir de lo que el gobierno asigna hacia las prisiones. Y que los $60 mil millones de dólares pueden ser vertidos hacia cualquier otro proyecto que suministra empleos para la aristocracia laboral Amerikana igual de fácil y todos esos guardias y otros que trabajan en las prisiones estarán felices al igual. Prisiones son una conveniente ruta para redistribuir super ganancias imperialistas a la aristocracia laboral dentro las fronteras de los EE.UU., pero no son definitivamente la única opción si la economía fuera la única consideración.

Es critico que activistas y revolucionarios entiendan que Amerika ha construido un enorme sistema criminal injusto como instrumento para el control social. Las prisiones son usadas para encerrar naciones oprimidas y activistas. La historia de prisiones en este país claramente demuestra esto. Miramos una grande crecida de encarcelamientos comenzando desde 1974 después que los movimientos revolucionarios de esos tiempos fueron puestos en la mira por el gobierno. Hasta ese tiempo había una relativamente baja y estable razón de encarcelamiento en éste país. Después la velocidad de encarcelamiento de las Primeras Naciones, Nuevo [email protected], [email protected] subió a un número enormemente desproporcionado relacionado con los blancos, comenzando en los 1970s. Estos eventos históricos y hechos económicos ponen en claro que prisiones Amerikkkanas son usadas para el control social, no para ganancias.

Los organizadores de la protesta anti-esclavitud están desviando a la gente a creer que al cerrar trabajos en las prisiones cerrarán los prisiones. Causará dificultades, y es una táctica muy válida para ejercer poder como un grupo. Pero el labor de presos mismo no es la contradicción principal en prisión. Garantizamos que si fuéramos a alcanzar una unidad para hacer una huelga extendida de trabajo en las prisiones sobre los Estados Unidos, que Amerika descifrara como mantener a los oprimidos encarcelados.

Nosotros llamamos esto una falla a reconocer la contradicción principal. En este caso estamos hablando de la cosa que mejor empujara hacia adelante la lucha de prisioneros contra la opresión. Peleando contra algo que no existe (la esclavitud) ciertamente no es la mejor manera hacia adelante. Aunque no lo llamemos esclavitud, peleando contra el labor de presos como si esto pondrá un fin a las prisiones, también es incorrecto, y nos llevará a un callejón sin salida. Vemos la necesidad de unidad entre grupos de prisioneros e individuos como algo crítico para construir un movimiento anti-imperialista sólido. Nosotros creemos que esto consigna la verdadera contradicción principal que el movimiento de prisiones enfrenta, entre intereses colectivos de los lumpen encarcelados y las tendencias individualistas actualmente dominantes entre esa clase. Esto es porque nos organizamos el 9 de Septiembre, para construir un día de paz y solidaridad. Envuelva en este día! Escribanos para conseguir el paquete organizador del 9 de septiembre y empezar a establecerse en tu prisión.

Notas: 1. Lean la llamada a protestar contra la esclavitud aquí:https://iwoc.noblogs.org/post/2016/04/01/announcement-of-nationally-coordinated-prisoner-workstoppage-for-sept-9-2016/ 2. MIM(Prisons), Abril 2009, MIM(Prisons) on U.$. Prison Economy, Under Lock & Key Issue 8.
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[Organizing]
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Build a Revolutionary Mind and Body

Brothas and Sistas, as freedom fighters we must stay ready every day to act, for we might be called to duty to support and protect our brothas and sistas in our struggle. In the revolutionary units it's mandatory we get our military on. Getting our military on is exercising because we are units with a People's Army.

We must train our body for endurance, stamina and strength. Run long distance and sprints around a track. Do pushups, pull ups, sit ups, squats, lunges and cardio like burpies, windmills, jumping jacks, etc. When getting our military on work out at least 30 min to 1 hour every day. Then during the day do little 5 to 15 minute workouts to keep heart rate up. Sometimes I do a routine every time a commercial comes on TV if I'm watching a program or when I'm ready I will do a routine after I read a page. This is how I stay war ready.

We must not only watch what we feed our mind we must watch what we feed our body and the food portion size we put in our body. We encourage people not to eat pork. People can eat beef, lamb, fish and chicken. We recommend eating fruit and vegetables. Cut back or limit pasta, white bread, white rice, candy and cake intake. Eat plenty of nuts like peanuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews.

The revolutionary must build revolutionary minds by studying history and resistance movements, study our environment as in how people act, their different characters, study or pay attention to world events and we study our ancestors' and leaders' legacies, which are instructions we use to benefit us in this day and time. We build off of them. We study our experiences on what works and don't work for certain situations, times and places. This way we know how to continue to move forward and not get stagnated. We focus on actions, building programs and kampaigning to spread the revolutionary kulture. Actions speak louder than words so let our actions speak for us whenever we see oppression being done to us by our common enemy.


MIM(Prisons) responds: This is a good follow up to Under Lock & Key 49, which focused on survival and stamina. This writer has some good suggestions for building a strong body and mind. Using activities like television and reading to provide timed exercise breaks, and maintaining a healthy diet are very good suggestions. Of course we know that many comrades in prison have little control over their diet, but when possible it is always good to eat the healthiest foods available.

We are not in agreement with the position that people should not eat pork but should eat other meats. There is no scientific evidence that pork is less healthy than beef and lamb, for instance. Perhaps this suggestion is related to a religious belief, but as materialists we focus on material benefit of foods rather than spiritual doctrines.

All revolutionary comrades should build their own routine of exercise and diet to help maintain the strongest possible mind and body behind bars. This is part of our responsibility to survive and stay active during this protracted battle against imperialism.

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[Release] [Security]
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Resist Anarchist Tendencies: Stay Disciplined on the Streets

Yes, I'm a hypocrite. I castigate the anarchists for busting out Starbucks windows or torching the Governor's mansion without achieving any political gains or advantage; yet here I am doing 4 years for assaulting a pig, trying to bring a little Ferguson to Austin.

Subjective? How 'bout plain idiocy. I was not disciplined and had been losing my self-discipline for years. My present imprisonment caused my then 13-year-old granddaughter to ask how her grandpa could possibly be locked away in prison. I explained to her the contradictions between visceral and cerebral actions. In effect, I had to admit to my adoring granddaughter that grandpa was an ass at the time of my arrest.


MIM(Prisons) responds: We thank this comrade for eir self-criticism and willingness to share this mistake for others to learn from. We all face a constant struggle to navigate between right and left errors. This is a particularly tough challenge in the First World where we cannot ground ourselves in the proletarian majority to stay orientated. The above is an example of a left error; more specifically a left subjectivist error. Some ultra-leftism is based on a belief that armed struggle now is the best way to spark the revolution. While this comrade did not believe that, still ey gave in to subjective desires for action. We'd say eir action was actually worse than the real anarchists who have a line closer to the former.

Left errors are more dangerous in terms of getting put in prison or hurt. Then you can live the rest of your life in prison or on disability with your street cred for what you did that one time. Right errors are a less respectable way of giving in, in the eyes of most. But both are a form of giving up, particularly when driven by subjectivism.

Without a proletariat base we must seek out a source of grounding to avoid these tendencies. Reading and study is one great way to do this. Having comrades who you work with who can keep you in check is another way. This is one reason one-persyn cells are not ideal. If you do find yourself isolated in your location, try to stay in touch with an organization you trust through regular communications. It is also possible to find pockets of society where there is a revolutionary, or at least progressive current that can keep you motivated. Finally, music, culture, meditation and other leisure time activities can help you stay focused and orientated.

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[United Front] [Education]
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Guerilla Elite Family Pushes Peace and Unity

The Guerilla Elite Family, is a family of brothers who stand on your 5 principles and struggle to apply them to everyday life, being in such a chaotic environment caused not by prisoners, but the COs themselves.

The Michigan prison system is built on lies and injustice. There are no real rehabilitation programs, everything that is practiced is to punish and to create chaos. Since being in prison for the past 12 years, I had to teach myself how to read and write. I was given natural life at the age of 17. I was thrown into an environment where the blind is leading the blind. I'm not allowed to go to school, because I have natural life. Yeah, where's the rehabilitation in that?

The Guerilla Elite Family was born to unify brothers within and outside these walls. We stand on peace, but I learned that there can be no peace nor unity as a whole, until each individual that makes the whole, has a sense of peace among self to bring to the whole.

We understand that we're not each others enemy, and our aim is to expose our oppressors, while unifying and bringing peace among each other.

We believe unity and peace is found through true mentors. People that the whole can trust and believe in to do right by them. We all have been misled in our lives and used by people we thought had our best interest at heart. So this is part of what makes it difficult to bring everyone together for peace and unity.

It's easy to bring guys together to go to war with each other. But twice as hard to bring guys together to stand on peace and unity to fight against oppression and the ones thats our open oppressor.

The Guerilla Elite Family will keep teaching and mentoring comrades and passing on reading material to help educate guys in hopes to bring about peace and unity.


MIM(Prisons) responds: It's good to hear from more comrades working in prisons across the country to build on the principles of the United Front for Peace in Prisons. As this writer points out, the prisons work to keep captives from education and knowledge, and so it is our task to bring education to prisoners. This is particularly challenging when so many folks behind bars can't even read and write. We can't just send them books and encourage them to study, we have to start out where they are at, and help them learn to read. MIM(Prisons) can only do so much from the outside, so we are working with our USW comrades to build a literacy program that focuses on revolutionary education. Write to us if you can contribute to this program with ideas or resources we can use.

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[U.S. Imperialism] [Culture]
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Capitalism Glorifies Suffering for Profit

Afghan Girl

I have on my cell wall, "Afghan Girl," Steve McCurry's photograph that graced the cover of a 1985 National Geographic. I'm sure MIM is familiar with "Afghan Girl." It's one of my favorite selections of photo journalism/art.

2010, NG again dispatched McCurry to Afghanistan in search of "Afghan Girl" in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the famous photo. McCurry found "Afghan Girl," just as before - still living in the dirt. I would wager McCurry has made tens of thousands, nay, hundreds of thousands of dollars in proceeds from "Afghan Girl." Obviously, McCurry's subject didn't receive squat.

My question to MIM is: Should "Afghan Girl" be compensated for McCurry's photo commensurate to revenue generated, even though said revenue is derived form superprofits? After all, "Afghan Girl" was McCurry's model.

Extrapolating form the above, if prisoners are thrown nickels an dimes by the prisoncrats, are prisoners then feeding at the imperialist trough? I, myself, don't give 2 hoots if Texas prisoners are paid or not. That would just bequeath the man more authoritative leverage to be used against us. I don't give a fuck 'bout commissary, unless you're talking about boycotting or looting it. And the Texas so-called "good-time" scheme is a farcical sham.


MIM(Prisons) responds: There is some value, in a world where the government and its structures are actually serving the interests of the majority of the world's people, to superstructure systems of media and arts that also serve the people. But in the case of a photo exposing conditions of poverty and suffering, these should be used to identify problems and inspire action to change, not to generate wealth for the photographer.

The imperialists have come up with a myriad of ways to make money off the backs of Third World people. It is true that revenue for a photo is just a shifting around of superprofits; obviously there is no actual value or profit created from the taking of a photograph, or from being photographed. But instead this shows how the privileged in the First World share the wealth stolen from the Third World, to First World workers who are mostly engaged in unproductive labor. Rather than ask whether the Afghan girl in the photo should be compensated for the photo, instead we say that the entire situation is wrong and demonstrates how imperialism is more interested in profit than the welfare of human beings. This is just one small example further demonstrating that capitalism is a dead end system and must be replaced with a system that serves the interests of the majority, not the profit of the minority.

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[Organizing] [Texas] [ULK Issue 56]
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Struggling for Unity Through Study

The real task before us is to convince prisoners that struggling for pecuniary aims solely is to struggle for nothing more than a piece of the imperialist pig pie. I myself don't give a fuck as to whether prisoners get paid or not, just as I was not concerned with the whining "Occupy Wall Street" labor aristocracy complaining when their opulent pig lifestyles were compromised by the "Great Recession" of '08. Good! But I am encouraged there are some stirrings of dissent from Texas prisoners regarding conditions of confinement. It is before us now to harness and direct this dissent into revolutionary channels.

Since beginning this letter I have been approached by a prisoner housed in my wing. This prisoner, "Ivo," avowed themselves to be communist. Ivo receives ULK. Ivo was born in Honduras, but raised in the United $tates. Ivo is a Guevarista. I have initiated and opened a channel of dialog with Ivo and a Black prisoner, "Mississippi." Mississippi has preferred access to the MLM - MIM materials I have available. I have broached the subject of forming a study group with these two. The idea was received rather coolly by both. The three of us are to meet this weekend to discuss it. Ivo says they have serious reservations concerning the MIM line. When we meet I will inquire of their position regarding MIM's 3 main principles. As for me, as it is for MIM, these principles are fundamentally decisive.


MIM(Prisons) responds: We print this letter as an example of the hard work required to build unity. This comrade demonstrates how to build common ground with others, and then studying together to discover areas of disagreement and build greater unity. Of course there will be times when we find that we have disagreements too significant to continue working together. For us (and for this writer) those questions are summarized in our dividing line questions. Any other differences we consider to be non-divisive and things we can struggle through or put to the side in the interests of united action and the greater anti-imperialist movement. We also need to keep in mind that those who disagree with these dividing line questions are not enemies just because of that disagreement. At this stage in the anti-imperialist struggle these folks are still potentially valuable allies in the united front against imperialism, even if they are not communists.

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[Rhymes/Poetry]
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Do The Damn Thang

Click on yer teevee whut's the first thang ya see
The U.$. military ova in da Middle East
Still starting shit
Wondering when will it quit
Constantly oppressing the third world
Wondering y we can't find love
I've been dere and seen it all
Watched dem stack deadbodies high as the Berlin Wall
While pouring on aggression
Without any form of repercussion
Contaminating the public peevish li'l minds
wit' lossa propoganda crap
And yu wonda y we write rap
We're tryin' ta put fools on point
To what the coprolited president
Wanna keep quiet
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[Release] [California]
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Notes from a CA Comrade Who Fell Back into Street Life

Well comrades, I must stop and apologize to all. I fell back into the street life, I had no place to live, I could not get a job, so I went back to the old habits. I have no family support. I came back with 12 years to do. These things are very important in the post release: a place to live, there's a lot of people that come back because of this. We also need to help find comrades jobs already lined up so they can touch down running. Also if there's anyone like me, x-gang members, felon, tattooed up, it's very hard.

Please put me back on the list for ULK. I'm no longer an active Crip, I'm going to college in prison. I am now on the SNY yard because of dropping out. It's hard to have a political life. It's easy in here because we have a place to stay, but when comrades touch the streets, life moves very fast and I was too slow to keep pace. So I'm starting over. I want to get right. One thing I do know is the imperialists must not win.


In Struggle.

MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade echoes the theme of most submissions to this issue of the Re-lease on Life newsletter: life on the streets is hard after prison! We agree with this writer that we need to set up serve the people programs to help our comrades hitting the streets. Jobs and housing are a priority. We don't have the resources to do this right now, but these programs are part of our longer term goals for the MIM(Prisons) Re-lease on Life program. And this is a way that people on the outside can get involved. Help us seek out existing resources that new releasees can tap into, and build the groundwork for programs we can set up independently. As a first step, if you know about resources in your area, send us information so we can share that information with others. Anything that you find useful will probably be useful to others: how to get food stamps, where to find temporary housing, places that help finding jobs, etc. Until we are able to build our own resources we can at least offer our newly released comrades some help with finding some of the existing services that might help them get along on the streets.

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[United Front] [Idealism/Religion] [Michigan]
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Response to ULK 48 on Islam and United Front Organizing

I received ULK 48, thank you. From 1998 to right after the towers fell in New York, I received MIM Notes, which were instrumental in my politicalization and capacity to be critical with information. Hopefully re-connecting with MIM will aid me in similar if not greater ways.

As far as the ULK 48, dedicated to the discussion of religious organizations in prison, I would like to add a few observations, critiques and opinions that may aid in better understanding what I consider, the functional limits of prison religious organizations.

I preface the following by stating that like many young, impressionable Black males who entered the Michigan penal system in the mid-1990s, I was heavily recruited by a non-orthodox Islamic sect. It was part religious, part Black nationalist, part civic, radical in the sense that it gave it to the grey and black as well as it took it, but the religious organization was mostly philosophically and ideologically backwards. No clearly defined political lines, no effort toward developing social change theory, and no revolutionary practices or principles cognizable to a revolutionary novice, let alone a seasoned agent for change.

However, the group did introduce me to books, which I fell in love with after spending four years in solitary confinement where there was little else to do besides read to escape the attendant activities characteristic of that environment. In the beginning, narrow nationalism and Islamic related literature is all I read. Far more lasting than any specific set of facts or pieces of knowledge obtained, reading provided me with the understanding of how to acquire knowledge on my own. I learned how to read an essay closely, search for new sources, find data to prove or disprove a hypothesis, and detect an author's prejudice, among other skills, that were not promoted during my K-12 educational experience.

Considering the inescapable oppression of long term solitary confinement, it was inevitable that my attention would be turned to ideas and actions I could take to prevent future experiences of isolation, for myself as well as others. Trying to pray or wish my problems away proved extremely ineffective. I abandoned closing my eyes and hoping for a different reality when I opened them, rather quickly. But I do feel indebted to the group for leading me to books - prior to prison I had never read a book from cover to cover, or for more than entertainment.

After reading ULK 48, the first question that comes to mind is, do religious groups in Michigan prisons possess any power - real or latent - to stimulate and direct constructive social change? Or are they, too, victims of the overall U.S. capitalist structure?

While I'm aware that many people would answer these questions in many different ways, I observe that religion plays chiefly a cathartic role for the imprisoned. It provides an opportunity for followers to "let off steam," to seek release for emotions which cannot be expressed to administrators and guards without consequences. Prison religious organizations are social and recreational and a haven for comfort, no matter how illusory or temporary. Within these groups imprisoned people can assume responsibilities and authority not available elsewhere in the prison. For example, s/he can be the head of security, treasurer or public relations director. Only within the religious organization can imprisoned people engage in political intrigue and participate in decisions open to non-imprisoned people.

The potential power of religious organizations in prison is the ability to attract large numbers of imprisoned people. Although their ability to recruit is severely being challenged here in Michigan by the rise of street organizations i.e., gangs, whose numbers have skyrocketed in the last ten years. Among their more flagrant weaknesses is the fact that their potential strengths can all too easily be dissipated by preoccupation with trivial matters (e.g., did Moses part the Red Sea; did Jesus walk on water; what did Muhammad say about facial hair, eating pork, or what activities should be performed with the left hand?), and the desperate struggle for the empty status, bombast, and show of the prison world.

It is not inevitable, and virtually impossible to politicalize and transform members of these groups into social change agents when religious doctrines emphasize the idea of someone other than you/me/us possessing the power to change present reality: the instruments of escape, weapons of protest, the protective fortress behind which adherents seek to withstand the assaults of a hostile environment and within which s/he plans strategies of defiance, is prayer.

It is no wonder then why imprisoned people who have been politicalized tend to reject religious organizations as a multiple symbol of fantasy; and tend to regard prison religious organizations as basically irrelevant to challenging the hard and difficult realities of capitalism, white supremacy, police powers that can reach all the way into one's bedroom or a woman's womb, and so on.

That this is not more widely recognized by members of these groups may be in part because religious organizations are not an effective model of critical thinking. The fact that religious organizations are the most pervasive groups in Michigan prisons, and the fact that they do not play any measurable role dissenting or resisting the frustrating, oppressive, degrading experience of incarceration, are cruelly related.

If religious organizations are a powerful social force, either the facility, Central Office, or the State would severely restrict/eliminate them. The facade of power which these groups now present would be removed. Think about it, most religious meetings in prison go unsupervised.

Members of these groups hold on to the idea that an all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present being will save them at some appointed time and date, while this being had neglected their other needs as human beings. The punishment of "crime" is a political act. It represents the use of force by the State to control the lives of people the State has defined as criminal. No concerted political efforts have been made by these groups to deal with the politics, i.e., the underlying causes of incarceration.

My objective is not to argue that religious belief and political consciousness are incompatible. Speculation on that level is pointless and irrelevant for the purpose of this discussion. However, the simple truth is that the trouble imprisoned people find themselves in, the sham and corruption, the class and race biases of criminal law enforcement, cannot be solved unless imprisoned people feel obligated to learn about systems of power, privilege and oppression, and also feel obligated to do something about them.


MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade is correct to point out that there are significant limitations to religious organizations, whether behind bars or on the streets. And ultimately only by targeting the underlying systems of oppression will we put an end to criminal injustice and imperialism. However, what this letter does not address is the distinction of some of the more anti-imperialist religious movements like Islam. As we argued in ULK 48 "Just as religion is today an outlet for many radical youth in the Third World, religion has been influenced by revolutionary politics in the context of New Afrika. In the 20th century we see a turn towards Islam by a number of New Afrikans who are searching for identity and liberation from oppression by Amerika." We do not push people towards religion, but at the same time we look to unite with those whose religion is compatible with or promoting national liberation. We have a good historical example of this united front in the Christian liberation theologists in Latin America who were a part of revolutionary national liberation struggles in that part of the world starting in the 1950s.

Uniting with organizations that do not share our political line entirely is part of united front organizing. We focus on the principal contradiction, and unite with others who agree with this goal, while retaining independence to make clear where we disagree politically. In a united front led by communists religious groups can be important allies. But we should always be clear that true equality for all people will not be achieved through belief in a higher power or any other unscientific mysticism.

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