Being a recent student participant of an on-site college program, I heard about Grit via my psychology professor, who really sold the book as "the best work of its kind" in his lifetime. He was an abnormally straight shooter, and over the spring semester he gained a high level of respect from me and several Gods attending his classes. That being said when I read the title I became ecstatically interested in reading it. To make things 1000% better ULK sent a request that asked me to direct a selected few ideas from the book's chapters, repurpose the information in a way that makes it useful for prisoners and prisoner movements.
Taking Grit to the cipher those last days of Ramadan provided the forum that I used to gain opinions from the Gods here. First it was introduced and the purpose was established as to what I was planning to do within our cipher with regards to the book. It was agreed that we would give light to its reading, our interpretation of the book knowledge as it regards the prisoner movements (meaning unified actions of prisoners between different lumpen orgs, religious orgs, racial groups and at times including sexually non-conformist groups).
Once that was the base of our collective understanding, we read the very first part out loud in its entirety, without stop. This was done in order to gain a clear mental picture of what the author, Dr. Angela Duckworth, wanted us to know: How she defined "grit." Her purpose for writing this book. How this information could be used (individually, as a group, systematically, as a tool of help or to exploit). Lastly we brainstormed on whether the subject was new, unique or reminiscent of other books any of us read.
This was all done on day one. It included reading the preface along with chapters 1-5, checking the dictionary and thesaurus for words we either didn't understand or had different definitions for. This was to ensure we all stayed on the same page until a full grasp of the work was gained (or as we say, the who, what, when, where, how and why). Once that's gained then each God can go back to the cell and reflect on what is being said versus what the author's voice is trying to persuade the reader of. Because of lockdowns we didn't come back together again for some time. In that time I made 6 copies of the book and hand delivered the copies to each member of the cipher. I read ahead because of these time restraints for my response for ULK to be ready for this 63rd issue.
The subjects that I found applicable to the prisoners and prisoners' movement's need to develop grittier comrades on the front lines are from the Part II chapters: Interest, Practice, and Purpose.
Using "the grit test" [a questionnaire measuring someone's passion and perseverence - ULK Editor], we can discriminate in positive ways to create better recruiting methods when it comes to bringing individuals into the inner communal cipher or cadre. This will change the qualities that community leadership uses to identify like-minded soldiers. Though most will have to use interview methods instead of written questionnaires, and questions will have to be asked again and again in different ways before confirmation can be made.
The study habits and increasing interest in each member's confidence in sharing these interpretations of studied materials must become the job of all in leadership, with little to no critique at first and high praises to study habits and being able to communicate ideas in their own voice.
Standing up to injustice must be celebrated. Especially in times they are made to suffer by the authorities for doing the righteous and self-respecting thing — which is the institution's systematic way of pushing said prisoner to believe they are powerless. This is the creation of the passive prisoner who just puts up with all levels of abuse from authority. To fight this mental bullying the leadership must celebrate the comrade's actions openly with high energy. Leadership must show and prove they are willing to suffer some loss if and when making a stand causes such losses — a united front plus true knowledge of where the cadre stands on issues by actions, not just theory or talk-based instruction.
Grit is made of both passion and perseverance, creating and maintaining, stick-wit-it-ness, evolving interest and deep commitment. As opposed to natural skill, know-how or raw talent which may or may not assist in being a success. Comrades, being grittier means overcoming obstacles, learning from defeats and setbacks, and never allowing them to define who you are nor the movement. Remembering effort is worth twice as much as talent.
Example: Recently myself and eleven other political prisoners attempted to establish a self-introspection help program. At the beginning the administration acted positively about allowing the program to have a pilot try, yet once we got a free body volunteer to facilitate our group the administration changed its decision. This forced me to educate myself on group creation, rules of submittal and how to get sponsored state-wide, which I’m currently in the process of doing. The lesson is: don't stop at the first (or second or third...) signs of resistance.
This chapter was organizational gold when clearly understood. Leaders please pay close attention to each comrade's passions within your cadre or cipher, with even more emphasis on possible new members in relation to the struggles the cadre is immersed in. Understand what each person is passionate about, issues they will be more able to persevere through any pushback or reprisal.
Besides that, knowing each person's passions and convictions helps to know what position everyone is good at and areas they need assistance developing, which can be introduced in creative, fun ways, then incentivized through recognition and praise for gradual growth in areas of difficulty.
Example: Say a comrade is uncomfortable communicating their ideas publicly. This problem is amplified when the COs are involved to the point this comrade doesn't assert his legal rights nor is he respected as a man in the righteous way. Leadership must cultivate these skills in members who have difficulties related to these identifiable areas. The "you spoke really well" type or "the way you used those descriptors in the last essay was golden, so please continue to develop those skills" type of recognition and praise. I call it fanning the flames of passion, then directing the flames of progress and confidence among comrades.
Practice is something all gritty people have in common. You've heard the saying "practice builds perfection." Well after reading this chapter I must take it even further. Without practice as a united front executing plans in concert, you don't know how to work as one body. This will create the "big me and little yous," or followers resentment. Learn to practice making decisions together by hearing everyone involved out, allow each person the opportunity to lead in every activity. Practice writing write-ups, working out as a group, being inclusive as much as possible. This will make the cadre able to operate even when separated.
The author's research shows that this kind of practice must be done in association with a positive state of mind related to the balance of quantity and quality of time spent in skill development. We must also seek out new creative ways of practice in direct relation to the top-level goal. Formal repetition and fun activities loosely associated to goals are also useful tools.
Examples: Getting our comrades to rap in the cipher, incorporating subjects, words, ideas related to the group's mission may help them develop a public speaking style, confidence in speaking these opinions, and help them be more connected to positive public communication as a way to handle issues. Another more formal method is reading and discussing essays with the group, both on the yard and in closed room settings.
ULK readers this may be the most important thing to learn about in this whole book with regards to prisoner movements and issues that create the necessity for a more inclusive united front. This author makes the definition of "purpose" more than the passion of the moment. Purpose is also the intention to contribute to the well-being of others. The balance of both is what is needed in these occasions and is found in all the grittiest revolutionaries.
The comrades that feel they were born to live and die for the people are of such destiny-driven molds where this quality is found, manifested and acted out. These people are rare and even when they reach the stage of public awareness they are usually murdered by one of the system's arms of imperial aggression. Purposeful Revolutionaries must be supported by the people and understood by their peers as the magnetic all-inspiring super-motivation-drivers that they are. When unity is necessary these forces of nature will bring organization.
Example: Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the BPP was placed inside prison for a shootout with the police, and he was railroaded the first trial. The whole country polarized over this miscarriage of injustice creating one of the most supported appeals California had ever seen. "Free Huey" was the call, Black Power was the purpose, and the results are revolutionary history and the thing of legends.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Thanks to this comrade for reviewing Grit from the perspective of a revolutionary anti-imperialist prisoner organizer. We also studied the book and found lessons we can draw from it for our own work. We can't summarize them all here, but will respond to some points in the review above and emphasize what we see as the most important points from the book. (Grit is available from MIM(Prisons) for $10 or equivalent work-trade.)
We are hesitant to take any of the studies in Grit as representing humyn nature itself. As with all bourgeois psychology, the studies were conducted under conditions of imperialism. So we don't know if they're absolute representations of how humyns' minds work. But since we're also organizing under imperialist conditions, the studies do apply to our present conditions.
Throughout Grit, the author uses scientific studies and also case studies of "paragons of grit" — people who have reached pinnacles of performance in their jobs. This is one place where Duckworth's bourgeois perspective shines brightly. The book opens with a study of the most elite forces in the U.$. military, and jumps from athletes to musicians to chemists. The only mention of a socialist hero is when Duckworth puts Joseph Stalin's name right next to Adolf Hitler's. Ey admits Stalin had grit, but also that ey was "misguided" and "prove[s] that the idea of purpose can be perverted." In our communist version of Grit we would include case studies of not only Stalin, but also Mao Zedong, George Jackson, Stanley Tookie Williams, Assata Shakur, and the tens of thousands of people who participated in the over-5,000-mile Long March in China in the 1930s.
Regarding the grit test, we caution against using it as a measure of who should be allowed into our movement. It can be a tool for assessing where people need development, and how much we could count on them to follow through in this moment. But Duckworth emphasizes strongly that grit can grow. In fact, Chapter 5 is titled "Grit Grows," Part II is titled "Growing Grit from the Inside Out" and Part III is titled "Growing Grit from the Outside In." There are many interventions we can use to increase the grit of our cadre. And building our own and our comrades' committment and perserverence should be our focus. The grit test may be useful for measuring if we're improving our abilities to build grit in others, but should not be limiting who can participate.
USW7 outlines above the importance of group practice, and we also want to add the importance of individual development for improvement. Elsewhere in this issue of ULK we lay out the guidelines for deliberate practice. The group mentality is important, but we can't rely on it for our development. Kevin Durant summarizes the ratio by saying ey spends 70% of eir time practicing alone. Both are necessary.
Besides our ability to grow grit, one of the most important points Duckworth makes in Grit is that effort counts twice. Duckworth warns us against being distracted by talent, or assuming that one's skills are dictated by talent. Talent plays a part, but without effort, one's talent won't develop into skill. And without effort, one's skill won't develop into achievement. People who have less talent certainly surpass those with more talent in their achievements. They do this with effort. The ability to put in effort even in spite of repression, setbacks, failures... that is grit.
Within prisons we find ourselves confronted with multiple obstacles to organizing efforts. Obstacles spanning from legal and material to psychological and physical. Before we can even engage in political activities we must confront these various road blocks, what I call "walls" (barriers against activism and organizing).
Psychological walls manifest in two primary ways: 1) lack of receptivity in conversations; and 2) perspectives of hopelessness. For prisoner activists these are Goliathan problems. In the first instance you find yourself talking to a brick wall. In the second your points may be acknowledged as valid but still dismissed as useless opposition. A most frustrating situation, because one – your words can not make an impression; and two – your arguments prove valid but produce no effect. In both cases real victories (read demonstrations) proving the validity of arguments and feasibility of proposed actions is the surest method of overcoming such obstacles. In the former, a prisoner sees the validity. In the latter, a prisoner gains motivation. Even a small victory – a granted grievance – is capable of advancing organizational efforts to be heard and considered.
Material walls are next formidable in line. Including almost every privilege extended to a prisoner and their financial security. Following capitalist society, prisons use these privileges and financial control to maintain leverage over prisoners' behavior/thought. Furthermore, as most prisoners are stuck in parasitic thinking in pursuit of a capitalistic existence, such advantage creates a strong disinclination towards jeopardizing them, even if it is in their best interests. As with capitalism in general, there is no convenient nor easy answer that can be applied with certainty. All prisoners' privileges and financial interests intensify identification with classism (antagonistic) and capitalist priorities. Considering this, no general rules of approach can be established as each's interests influence differs. Fortunately, every answer that can be applied can be approached on first, an individual, then, group or demographic level, expanding in concentric circles.
Legal and physical walls are less conspicuous; most prisoners view political activity as futile. Still once activism gains momentum and organizing becomes realistic, these last walls spring up. Within prisons these signify various administrative "conveniences" (e.g., Ad-Seg, SHU, MCU, punitive segregation, out-of-state transfer, and varied movement/privilege/property/financial/communication restrictions or other arbitrary sanctions). Outside of prisons, many courts conspire to create so many legal formalities, exorbitant fees, byzantine procedures and lopsided laws that most trained lawyers are bemused and at a loss. For the prisoner who does survive such a crucible, pride is only the beginning of the prize.
All in all these many walls constitute the primary, secondary and such obstacles to organization behind bars. These difficulties should not be taken as reasons to dissuade political action but rather, as motivation to pursue these endeavors. Why else would there be so many protective measures if activism and organizing were indeed useless? Once the prisoner understands their interests in the matter these insurmountable walls become merely constant annoyances necessary for progress and material dialectical processes. Nothing worthy of having ever comes easy. With greater obstacles comes a greater and more valuable prize. Rise to such challenges, allowing your hunger for real equality to increase along and as much as difficulties faced; if not more so.
14 JUNE 2018 — Uhuru! As of today's mathematics, 14 June 2018, prisoners are being violently pent against one another in a last attempt to interfere with current demands by both the people of California and the federal government to release its ridiculously large prison population.
CDCR, at prisons like the Substance Abuse Tratment Facility (SATF) and Kern Valley State Prison (KVSP), has begun engaging in policy changes that manufacture hostilities between the prison populations. One particular change involves rehousing what is called "mainline" prisoners on yards that are considered Protective Custody (P.C.) yards by force. Now these are not P.C. yards by the standards of the law, Protective Custody. Instead they are Sensitive Needs Yards (SNY). These yards house a combination of offenders/prisoners, including prison gang organization defectors called "drop outs", prisoners with sexual offenses, prison sex victims, victims of exploitation by other prisoners and a wide range of other types.
There are offenders who were/are members of street gangs/organizations whose particular gang has been targeted by the larger gang alliances like the Mexican Mafia. Then there are those individuals who are members of left wing political organizations who struggle against corruption and blow the whistle against crooked cops and politicians in office. Though it has been promoted that all who are housed at SNY facilities are child molesters, police informants, gang traders, etc., this is a lie spread by the police pigs in order to establish the chaos that is being born across California in prisons, CDCR.
Prisons have begun rehousing small numbers of mainline prisoners who are considered the "actives" on facilities that have been established as SNY facilities amongst those who are often mis-construed as "non-active." Because these facilities are not what CDCR claim them to be; an environment with no gang activity and very little criminal violence, these facilities are a melting pot for chaos. There are possibly more STGs on the SNY than on the mainline, as the 2012 Pelican Bay SHU Agreement to End Hostilities was designed to cease gang hostilities and stem criminal behavior for all mainliners. (Mainliners are prisoners who were until recently housed at General Population (G.P.) facilities, but now SNY facilities are considered mainline, as there are more SNY facilities than G.P.)
Let the authorities that be take notice: There are those of us who will not participate in wars against ourselves but instead will bare arms against the agents of oppression, where ever they be. And we know all of you. You who see what is happening but do nothing to protect those of us unable to protect ourselves. Trust that justice will be done on the yard as so in the streets. Your time is no more!
[NOTE: The author is among a group of New Afrikan and [email protected] leaders of the United Struggle from Within (USW). Ey was among 40 prisoners transferred to Kern Valley State Prison D-facility after a riot between SNY gangs united against New Afrikans and [email protected] refusing to endorse gang culture and hostilities amongst prisoners, working the police agenda. The author was transferred from a lower level institution less hostile to growth amongst prisoners, and placed into an environment that would definitely invite conflict between them and corrections officers.]
While reading a comrade's April 2017 SF Bay View, National Black Newspaper, I cam across an ad regarding the Texas prisoners' boycott of the prison commissary injustice.
This ad helped me realize that the unarmed robbery of the loved-ones of prisoners is not only a Florida atrocity, but a national occurrence. Prisoners in Texas and other states are being used as a means of robbing not only tax payers, but loved-ones of prisoners, who are constantly being punished for supporting prisoners financially and emotionally. The imperialist monopolizers are making hundreds of millions annually through the commissary system. I can't help but confirm and echo the main points of the Texas prisoners' ad:
Sub-par and poor quality food items.
Faulty electronics that regularly break (after short use).
Tennis shoes which tear up after a week of use.
Inflated prices and price gouging tactics.
Abuse and disrespect from employees of commissaries.
All of the above mentioned is nothing but the truth to which I would love to add more. In Florida, specifically Charlotte Correctional Institution, there exists a staff canteen menu and a prisoner canteen menu. The double standard and financial discrimination can't help but be realized once both menus are compared. Prisoners are paying twice as much as staff for the same food items. Some of the most popular food items are listed below for your own concluding.
Charlotte CI staff canteen menu prices and Prisoner Canteen menu prices:
.88 per sleeve
The above list does not mention hygiene items. However, prisoners are paying exorbitantly for hygiene items that are clearly not worth their price. For example, the $4 deodorant from prescription care and Oraline-Seccure (meant for indigent prisoners) leaves prisoners musty in just a matter of hours. The $2.85 prescription care lotion is so generic it dries the skin quick as it moistens it. And it's definitely not meant for Black people. The $1.12 prescription care shampoo does not lather up and causes more dried scalp and itching than the state soap. There is 99-cent soap claiming to be anti-bacterial and 50-cent soap, both made by Silk. Neither of these soaps are worth even being given away for free.
Prisoners do not want these canteen items. They complain amongst each other but are too cowardly to write grievances or stop buying from canteen. We all know that it is our loved ones who are being attacked by the state. We all know our families who support us are being extorted, but the needle is just too deep in our veins. Florida only has one canteen vendor (Trinity) leaving us without options or other places to shop. We are simply victims of a monopoly and we are contributing to our own victimization.
It is quite clear that the canteen profits only benefit Trinity and high-ranking members of the state prison system. It is clear that the profits are being used against prisoners rather than for their welfare and genuine rehabilitation programs.
Even in the visiting park, freeworld citizens visiting their loved-ones are forced to pay prisoner canteen prices. This price-gouging is a war against the innocent citizens who support prisoners. It also results in the isolation of prisoners from the outside world and leaves prisoners dependent and vulnerable against the state.
One is left with no choice but the question: where is all the profit from the unarmed robbery of prisoners' loved ones? What is being done with these millions of dollars in profit? This matter must be investigated and objectively challenged. We prisoners surely need to stop perpetuating our own victimization by the state of Florida DOC.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This writer exposes one of the many ways that companies and individuals are making money from the prison system in this country. While overall the prisons are run at a financial loss, subsidized for most of their costs by state and federal funds (i.e. taxpayer money), lots of people are still making money off the operation of prisons.
Obviously the prisons' employees (COs, administrators, etc.) are earning a good salary and have an interest in keeping the system going. In some prisons medical is contracted out, and then there are the many companies that sell prisons all the stuff they need to run: from clothing to food to furniture to security equipment. Most of this is funded by a subsidy from the government.
But canteen is a case of the costs falling on prisoners' families. And this is just one of many costs borne by families of prisoners. As we exposed in an article in ULK 60 "MIM(Prisons) on U.$. Prison Economy - 2018 Update," mass incarceration costs families and the community $400 billion per year.
Throughout the numerous issues of Under Lock & Key (ULK), we have read countless articles detailing the unjust and inhumyn conditions of imprisonment across U.$. prisons and jails. Many of these stories, and the compelling analyses they entail, help shape and develop our political consciousness. From the hunger strikes in California to the rampant humyn rights' violations in Texas on to the USW-led countrywide grievance campaign, through the pages of ULK, we have shared our organizing struggles, the successes and setbacks. As a result, our clarity regarding the illegitimacy of the U.$. criminal (in)justice system has sharpened tremendously.
And yet, there are some political and economic dimensions of our imprisonment that seem to evade our critical gaze. It is not enough that we become familiar with each others' stories behind the walls. At some point, we must move toward relating our collective organizing experiences in prison to much broader struggles beyond prison. To this end, the anti-prison movement(1) is but a necessary phase of national liberation struggles that has serious implications for anti-imperialism. And in order for the anti-prison movement to advance we must analyze all sides of the mass incarceration question.
Many of us already understand that prisons function as tools of social control. We also recognize that U.$. prisons are disproportionately packed with oppressed nation lumpen, ostensibly because these groups organized and led national liberation movements during the late-1960s to mid-70s. After these movements succumbed to repression from U.$. reactionary forces (COINTELPRO), the U.$. prison population rose dramatically and then exploded, resulting in what we know today as mass incarceration.(2) Thus, we see, in a very narrow way, the basis for why U.$. prisons serve in neutralizing the existential threat posed by oppressed nation lumpen.
But understanding the hystorical basis of mass incarceration is only one part of the question. The other part is determining how the systematic imprisonment of oppressed nation lumpen has developed over time, and exploring its impact throughout that process. Because while the question of mass incarceration may seem as formulaic as "national oppression makes necessary the institutions of social control," the reality is this question is a bit more involved than mere physical imprisonment.
The latter point in no way opposes the analysis that the primary purpose of mass incarceration is to deter oppressed nation lumpen from revolutionary organizing. In fact, the political and economic dimensions of mass incarceration described and analyzed later in this article function in the same capacity as prison bars — in some instances, the bonds of poverty and systemic marginalization, or the racist and white-supremacist ideology that criminalizes and stigmatizes oppressed nation lumpen are just as strong as the physical bonds of imprisonment. If oppressed nation communities, particularly lumpen communities, are kept in a perpetual state of destabilization, disorganization, and distraction, then these groups will find it that much harder to effectively organize against a status quo that oppresses them.
The point of this article is thus to widen the panorama of our understanding, to take in those political and economic dimensions of mass incarceration that too often go unnoticed and unexamined, but are nonetheless important in determining the line and strategy necessary to advance the anti-prison movement.
Partial Integration Set the Table for Mass Incarceration
As pointed out above, mass incarceration deters oppressed nation lumpen from revolutionary organizing. But what does this analysis really mean in today's context of the national question? How does the prevention of oppressed nation lumpen from organizing for national liberation impact the national contradiction; that is, the contradiction between the Euro-Amerikan oppressor nation-state and the U.$. internal oppressed nations and semi-colonies?
The lumpen-driven liberation movements of past were, in part, strong rebukes against the integrationist Civil Rights movement (which of course was led by the bourgeoisie/petty-bourgeoisie of oppressed nations). Thus we see the partial integration agenda as an alliance and compromise between the Euro-Amerikan oppressor nation-state (its ruling class) and the comprador bourgeoisie of oppressed nations. It is meant to answer the national question set forth by the earlier protest movements (revolutionary and progressive) of oppressed nations, on one hand, and to ease tensions inherent in the national contradiction, on the other hand.
In exchange for open access to political power and persynal wealth, the comprador bourgeoisie was tasked with keeping their lumpen communities in check. To this point, it was thought that if Black and Brown faces ruled over Black and Brown places, then much of the radical protest and unrest that characterized the period between the mid-60s to mid-70s would be quelled.
This is the very premise of identity politics, and, as Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor aptly notes: electing leaders of oppressed nations into political office does not change the dire material and socioeconomic circumstances of the communities they represent.(3) In eir book, From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, Taylor goes on to describe the failure of partial integration (and identity politics) with respect to the New Afrikan nation,(4) contending:
"The pursuit of Black electoral power became one of the principal strategies that emerged from the Black Power era. Clearly it has been successful for some. But the continuing crises for Black people, from under-resourced schools to police murder, expose the extreme limitations of that strategy. The ascendance of Black electoral politics also dramatizes how class differences can lead to different political strategies in the fight for Black liberation. There have always been class differences among [New Afrikans], but this is the first time those class differences have been expressed in the form of a minority of Blacks wielding significant political power and authority over the majority of Black lives."(5)
Here we see Taylor describes the inability of partial integration to remedy the plight of the entire New Afrikan nation and its communities. Ey also articulates very precisely the internal class divisions of New Afrika brought to light by such an opportunistic agenda, which serves to enforce and maintain semi-colonialism. There is a reason why the Euro-Amerikan oppressor nation-state allied with the comprador bourgeoisie, as their interests were (and are) clearly more aligned than conflicting, given the circumstances. Where the bourgeois/petty-bourgeois integrationists wanted access to capitalist society, the lumpen and some sections of the working class of oppressed nations saw their future in their liberation from U.$. imperialist society – two very different "political strategies" reflective of somewhat contentious "class differences."
Furthermore, Taylor highlights the moral bankruptcy of partial integration (and identity politics) with the contemporary lesson of Freddie Gray's tragic murder and the Baltimore uprising that followed. Ey explains, "when a Black mayor, governing a largely Black city, aids in the mobilization of a military unit led by a Black woman to suppress a Black rebellion, we are in a new period of the Black freedom struggle."(6) This "new period" that Taylor speaks of is nothing more than good-ole neo-colonialism.
To elaborate further, an understanding of the Baltimore uprising, for example, cannot be reduced down to a single incident of police murder. Let's be clear, New Afrikan lumpen (and youth) took to the streets of Baltimore in protest and frustration of conditions that had been festering for years — conditions that have only grown worse since the end of the "Black Power era." Obviously, the political strategy of identity politics (i.e. "the pursuit of Black electoral power") has not led to "Black liberation." Instead it has resulted in an intensification of class tensions internal to the U.$. oppressed nation (in this case, New Afrika), as well as increased state repression of oppressed nation lumpen.
This latter point is evidenced by the support of policies from the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) that target, disrupt, and imprison oppressed nation communities (lumpen communities).(7) At the same time that these communities struggled under the weight of economic divestment and merciless marginalization, conditions which in many respects worsened under the political leadership of the comprador bourgeoisie, the drug trade opened up, providing a precarious means of survival. Predictably, as "crime"(8) increased so too did the creation and implementation of criminal civil legislation that fueled mass incarceration. To really get a sense of the true interests of the comprador bourgeoisie of oppressed nations, we only need to look at the positions taken by the CBC, the so-called champions of freedom, equality, and justice, which "cosponsored conservative law-and-order politics out of not political weakness but entrenchment in Beltway politics."(9) It is clear that partial integration has been "successful for some," but it is equally apparent who the victims of this opportunistic agenda have been.
What is often missed in any serious and sober analysis of the CBC (or any other political org. representative of the comprador bourgeoisie) is the legitimacy it bestows upon the prison house of nations: U.$. imperialist society. This legitimacy isn't some figment of imagination, but a material reality expressed primarily in the class-nation alliance signified by the partial integration agenda. Dialectically, while the comprador bourgeoisie is granted the privileges of "whiteness," access to political and economic power, the lumpen and some sections of the working class of oppressed nations are deemed superfluous (not necessary) for the production and reproduction of U.$. imperialist society. Of course, the election of more members of oppressed nations into office goes a long way in maintaining the facade that the United $tates is a free and open society that respects and upholds the rights and liberties of its citizenry. However, identity politics will never obscure the sacrificial zones within U.$. society -– South and Westside Chicago, Eastside Baltimore, Compton and South Central and East Los Angeles, and many more deprived urban lumpen areas –- maintained and, in many cases, made worse by partial integration.
Unfortunately, this is where we find the oppressed nation lumpen today on the national question, held hostage by a set of identity politics complicit in its further marginalization and oppression.
Politics of Mass Incarceration
In discussing the failure of partial integration to effectively improve the material and socioeconomic life of the entire oppressed nation, we can better appreciate the extreme limitations of such an anemic political strategy that is identity politics. But if the legitimacy that partial integration (and identity politics) provides U.$. society can only go so far in actually pacifying oppressed nation lumpen, then by what other means and methods are these superfluous groups controlled? In the next two sections, we will explore and analyze this question.
Racism and white supremacy are constant ideological threads woven throughout the founding and development of U.$. society. In each era, be it slavery, segregation, or mass incarceration today, the primary function of this political ideology is to rationalize and legitimate the oppression and/or exploitation of colonized peoples, which throughout these different eras invariably involved employing particular methods of social control against these peoples or specific groups thereof.
Now, of course, we cannot compare the fundamental nature of slavery with that of mass incarceration. And to be clear, this is not the point of this particular section. It should be obvious to the casual ULK reader that where the slave performed an essential economic role and was therein exploited and oppressed, oppressed nation lumpen have no role within the current socioeconomic order of U.$. society, as it is systematically denied access to it. The point, however, is to show how the ideological forces of racism and white supremacy, while they have assumed different forms depending on the historical era, are mobilized in service of the status quo. It is in this sense that political motivations underpin the system of mass incarceration. And as we will see in this section, these motivations are hystorically tied to the oppression and/or exploitation of U.$. internal oppressed nations and semi-colonies.
To be sure, the need to control oppressed nations has always been a paramount concern of the oppressor (settler) nation since settler-colonialism. During the era of slavery, slave codes were implemented to ensure that slaves were held in check, while slave patrols were formed to enforce these measures. We see here the emergence of the modern U.$. criminal (in)justice system in its nascent form, with its proto-police and proto-criminal laws. But it wasn't until after the abolition of slavery that we find express political motivations to criminalize oppressed nations. For Angela Y. Davis,
"Race [nation] has always played a central role in constructing presumptions of criminality ... former slave states passed new legislation revising the slave codes in order to regulate the behavior of free blacks in ways similar to those that had existed during slavery. The new Black Codes proscribed a range of actions ... that were criminalized only when the person charged was black."(10)
While the Black Codes were created in large part to control New Afrikan labor for continued exploitation, we are able to see the formation of policies and policing designed for the specific purpose of repressing oppressed nations. As a side note, irony doesn't begin to describe the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment, meant to abolish slavery, to disestablish one system of oppression only to provide for the legal and political basis for another system of oppression -– convict lease labor.
Furthermore, Davis observes that, "The racialization of crime – the tendency to 'impute crime to color' ... did not wither away as the country became increasingly removed from slavery. Proof that crime continues to be imputed to color resides in the many evocations of 'racial profiling' in our time."(11) In this sense, oppressed nation lumpen criminality under conditions of mass incarceration is analogous to Afrikan "inferiority" or First Nation "savagery" under conditions of settler-colonialism. In both instances, there are narratives, informed by racism and white supremacy, which serve the continued functioning of the status quo.
Given that the criminalization of oppressed nations is not some modern phenomenon, but one that originated in the hystorical oppression and exploitation of oppressed nations, we now have a different angle from which to view mass incarceration. Part of this view involves recognizing that the criminal (in)justice system, law enforcement, and legislators are not neutral arbiters of justice or "law and order." These people and institutions are infected by racism and white supremacy and thus function to carry out ideological and political aims.
Therefore, it is important that we remain diligent in uncovering the many guises under which racism and white supremacy lurk and hide. This is no less significant today as it is in the cultural arena where reactionary ideas and ideologies are propagated and traded. To be more clear, when trying to rationalize why oppressed nation lumpen are imprisoned at disproportionate rates relative to similarly-situated Euro-Amerikans, arguments about lack of responsibility and no work ethic are tossed around as explanations. Mainstream media go even further by portraying and projecting stereotypes about oppressed nation lumpen (and youth), that is to say, stereotyping the dress, talk, and actions, which is really a subtle but sophisticated way of stigmatizing. Of course, this stigmatization goes on to construct a criminal archetype, which many of us see today in nearly every facet of U.$. media life.
All of these factors, taken into consideration together, shape the public conscience on "crime" and criminality, laying the groundwork for rationalizing the great disparities characteristic of the current criminal (in)justice system. Unsurprisingly, this propaganda has worked so effectively that even oppressed nation members find it hard to ignore. So where there should be unity on issues/incidences of national oppression, none exists, because the oppressed nation is divided, usually along class lines. Taylor strikes at the heart of the matter:
"Blaming Black culture not only deflects investigation into the systemic causes of Black inequality but has also been widely absorbed by [New Afrikans] as well. Their acceptance of the dominant narrative that blames Blacks for their own oppression is one explanation for the delay in the development of a new Black movement."(12)
This is certainly the plan of partial integration, to divide the oppressed nation against itself and thereby legitimize the marginalization and oppression of oppressed nation lumpen in the process. Naturally, this paralyzes the oppressed nation from acting on its right to self-determination, from pursuing liberation.
To frame this point another way, take a [email protected] business owner. This persyn has a business in a predominantly [email protected] lumpen community, despite residing in the suburbs. This business owner sees [email protected] youth hang out and skip school. Ey sees them engaged in questionable, possibly criminal activity. Add in the scenario that local media frames crime as a virtue of [email protected] lumpen youth on a nightly basis. And then say one day one of those [email protected] kids is killed by the police. How will the [email protected] business owner respond?
Before the era of mass incarceration, the overwhelming majority of the oppressed nation would have viewed this scenario for what it was: a police murder. Today, we cannot be so sure.
To sum up, the current criminal (in)justice system, law enforcements, etc. are unfair and unjust not because these institutions are biased against oppressed nations, but because the fundamental nature of society, the basis upon which these institutions are built and set in motion, is founded on the oppression of non-white peoples. We must remember that slavery was legal and segregation was held up as permissible by the highest courts in this stolen land. For us to view mass incarceration solely from the social control perspective undermines any appreciation for the urgency of anti-imperialism, for the need for a reinvigoration of U.$. national liberation struggles. We need to be more nuanced in our analysis because the system is nuanced in its marginalization and oppression of oppressed nation lumpen.
Economics of Mass Incarceration
This nuance mentioned above is primarily played out on an economic plane. And there are many economic dimensions and impacts of mass incarceration that maintain a strangle hold on oppressed nation lumpen and communities.
We can explore how contact with the criminal (in)justice system can leave an oppressed nation member and eir family destitute, through fees, fines, and other forms of financial obligations. We can look at the impact of prisons located in rural communities, providing employment opportunities and economic stimulus. We could even investigate prison industries and how prisoner labor is utilized to offset the costs of incarceration. However, the point here is that there are many things to analyze, all of which, taken as a whole, disadvantage oppressed nation lumpen and their communities.
The most consequential impact of mass incarceration is how it feeds the cycle of poverty and marginalization characteristic of lumpen communities. Basically, the criminalization / stigmatization of lumpen reinforces its material deprivation, which in turn nurtures conditions of criminal activity as a means of survival, further unleashing the repressive forces of the criminal (in)justice system, which proves or validates the criminalization / stigmatization of oppressed nation lumpen in the first place. Thus, oppressed nation lumpen are inarguably subjected doubly to the poverty and marginalization, on one hand, and to the relentless blows of national oppression, on the other hand.
Todd Clear, provost of Rutgers University – Newark, who specializes in the study of criminal justice, draws a stark picture of this cycle of crime and poverty that lumpen are subjected to:
"A number of the men are gone at any time; they're locked up. And then the men that are there are not able to produce income, to support families, to support children, to buy goods, to make the neighborhood have economic activity, to support businesses ... the net effect of rates of incarceration is that the neighborhood has trouble adjusting. Neighborhoods where there's limited economic activity around the legitimate market are neighborhoods where you have a ripeness to grow illegitimate markets."(13)
What Clear is depicting is not so much the fact that crimes take place in lumpen communities. Clear is emphasizing that criminogenic factors (factors that strongly tend to lead to criminal activity/inclination) are really a reflection of the lack of socioeconomic opportunities to social upward mobility. This is the essence that fuels the dynamic relationship between crime and poverty. What Clear fails to mention is that there are Euro-Amerikans who are in similarly-situated circumstances as oppressed nation lumpen but are more likely to escape them where oppressed nation lumpen are trapped. This is so for reasons already mentioned in the above sections.
Furthermore, not everyone in lumpen communities are imprisoned; in fact, most likely never see the inside of a jail or prison. But enough people do go away and stay away for a considerable period of time that the community is destabilized, and familial bonds are ruptured. When free, the imprisoned persyn from the lumpen community represented some sort of income, and not a liability weighing down a family, financially, morally, etc, already struggling to make ends meet. Enough of these families are part of the lumpen community that the cycle mentioned above seems to be unbreakable. Kids growing up in broken homes, forced to assume adult roles, only to make kid mistakes that come with adult consequences; and the cycle continues.
To be sure, this cycle has been in force with respect to oppressed nations since the end of slavery. It has just become necessary over time to enact laws and policies that now target and disrupt these communities. Both the politics and economics of mass incarceration work to keep lumpen communities from organizing for national liberation as was done during the late-60s.
Part of any strategy related to our anti-prison movement is first recognizing these dimensions of mass incarceration, and taking into account that we live in enemy society where enemy consciousness prevails, even amongst much of the oppressed nations. We have to also recognize that the interests of oppressed nation lumpen are not the same as the other classes of the oppressed nation. There are some members of the oppressed nations who have bought the bill of goods sold by partial integration. They are fully immersed in the delusions of identity politics, subtly sacrificing their true identity for the trinkets of "whiteness."
Understanding and recognizing these points means we can focus our organizing efforts on building public opinion and independent institutions, on a concrete class/nation analysis and not because someone is Black or Brown. We need to be patient with lumpen communities as they are in that day-to-day grind of survival and may not (or cannot) see the merit in our movement. Ultimately, we need to step up and be those leaders of the movement, so when we do touch we hit the ground running.
Prison labor is an interesting concept. Compared to the enormous expenditures (financial, mental, physical, etc.) the rewards/benefits of prison industrial labor are trivial in the extreme.
Excluding coveted "prison industry" posts, over 95% of prisoners are employed in prison maintenance, construction, administrative/educational labor). [This figure may be accurate in this comrade's state. Our preliminary results across 22 systems in the U.$. show almost 25% working in manufacturing and agriculture. — Editor] Indeed, such work does prove beneficial (in the case of kitchen labor — invaluable) to prison operations. Kitchen work notwithstanding, the sum total of benefits is small. So why do prisons use prisoner labor? Especially considering it does little to lessen the economic burden of penal institutions on society. There are two plausible answers to this question. Surprisingly, neither is directly linked to financial interests.
In the first place, prisoners are employed to reinforce socially acceptable behavior and occupational patterns (by capitalistic standards). While this may sound perfectly justifiable and even admirable; truth is, it is far less altruistic. Reinforcement of socially accepted roles is an integral aspect of the subjection-manipulation cycle (see ULK 52 – An Invaluable Resource? And ULK 54 – The Adaption of Capitalistic Controls), which through an invasive, subtle and constant life-long indoctrination, endeavors to create a homogeneous populace. Prison labor is meant to be a control for inducing conformity in prison which later translates to the same out in society. An objective achieved through subjection (mandatory labor) and manipulation (rewards or reprimands, restrictions and sanctions) in a never-ending cyclic process. A process similar to Pablo Escobar's approach to business — plata o plomo (silver or lead). In simple terms, accept my favor or risk my displeasure. This reality is paralleled throughout society. Contribute to capitalism, strive to become a capitalist, or experience privations, marginalization, ostracization, imprisonment or worse. In a way, prison labor is a form or reeducation, along capitalist lines.
In the second place, labor in prison provides an added buffer against unrest and radical organization among prisoners. Prisoners structure their days around their jobs, giving it importance and prominence in their daily lives. Many would feel lost at sea, wayward, direction-less without it. It gives the prisoner a focal point distinct from and meaningless to their best interests – toppling the penal system. Distracted by menial duties, most prisoners never bother to contemplate their plight, subjection/manipulation, origins of their situation and the oppression, which made it all possible (eventual?); not even mentioning the oppressors who become an abstract "them."
As such, prison labor does four important things for capitalism:
Reeducates deviants (self-determinants)
Drains on and distracts prisoner intellect
Impedes any meaningful development (mental, physical, political and social)
Prisons are gargantuan popular control systems. Prison labor is a system within a system created for the advancement of a thriving capitalist state — inequality and an overabundance of commodities. Considering how many prisoners work prison jobs, join society's labor force and become re-acclimated to capitalist control, the effectiveness of prison labor as a process is quite horrifying. Ignorance is a capitalist's bliss. Knowledge is a revolutionary's power. Understanding reality as it confronts us is the first step to dismantling the penal institute as a whole.
MIM(Prisons) adds: The point that much prison labor is not actually saving operating costs is an important piece to our analysis that we have yet to quantify. According to our survey, some 460,000 prisoners are working in prison maintenance jobs in the state and federal systems at a median of 150 hours per month. To hire that work out at $10/hr would cost around $9 billion, or what would amount to 10% of the money spent on the criminal injustice system.
However, it is not uncommon for state-funded programs to hire more people than they need to complete a job, because profit is not the motive. And it makes sense to pay prisoners for attending schooling and other programming activities when the motivations above are considered. This is another perspective on prisons as social control. Socialist states have and will also use prisons to shape populations in a certain direction. Of course, the state apparatus serves that economic system. In socialism, prisons combat classism. In capitalism, they reinforce it.
When state-level petitions fail, we now have this petition to appeal to the Department of Justice. This federal level appeal may help put pressure on the state corrections departments ignore our appeals
Mail the petition to your loved ones and comrades inside who are experiencing issues with the grievance procedure. Send them extra copies to share! For more info on this campaign, click here.
Prisoners should send a copy of the signed petition to each of the addresses below. Supporters should send letters on behalf of prisoners.
Section Chief – Special Litigation Section, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20530
ACLU National Prison Project, 915 15th St NW, 7th floor, Washington DC, 20005-2112 (for those ready to bring class action lawsuits)
Office of the U.S. Attorney General, 1425 New York Ave. NW, Washington DC 20530-0001
Director/Commissioner/Secretary of Corrections (for your state)
Agency or Facility Grievance System Director or Coordinator (for your state)
And send MIM(Prisons) copies of any responses you receive!
PO Box 40799
San Francisco, CA 94140
I'm writing on this topic a bit early because a lot of young brothers and sisters don't have true or real understanding regarding Black August and Bloody September. But for those of us who are politically aware, both months are rich with our blood, our struggle, and our resistance. As people who fight oppression during these two months as a peoples' movement we should focus our energies around the discussions and actions of George Jackson, the Black Panthers, Assata Shakur, Che Guevara, and any of the many revolutionaries who have set the stage for us.
We should push political education, progressive action, and the revolutionary history. We should most aggressively focus on the establishment of stronger security, because on 16 April 2018 the Department of Corrections and so-called "Rehabilitation" started a statewide weapons sweep of all California prisons to ensure that no weapons are on the prison yards when the state integrates mainline prisoners with SNY prisoners later this year.
We know first-hand what the power structure is doing — they're hoping that the yards all blow up. That would show that their jobs still matter and that we need to be in prison. This is their most outrageous move in years, and they've been feeding the disconnection of mainline and SNY for years as a tool of divide and conquer. The divide and conquer tactic has never been more effective than it is today.
As they say, a tree without roots is dead, and so is a people who are not rooted. Men such as comrade George, Huey P. Newton and Malcolm X started and enhanced their political line in prison as colonial criminals. Within these concentration camps and deep dark confines of Soledad Prison and San Quentin, the alchemy of human transformation took place. They all began to turn the cells they held into libraries and schools of liberation. As George said, to create a new world we have to be a representation of this new being, "The New Man", in words and in deeds, thoughts, and actions. This new man will be in his highest revolutionary form. So as they turned their cells into classrooms, so must we. And as they internalized the most advanced ideas about human development, so must we.
George stated that:
"I met Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Engels and Mao, and they redeemed me. For the first four years, I studied nothing but politics and economics and military ideas. I met Black Guerrillas, George Big Jake Lewis, James Carr, W.L. Nolen, Bill Christmas, Tony Gibson, and many others. We were attempting to turn the Black criminal mentality into a revolutionary mentality."
George and his comrades became living examples and inspirations of organized resistance for prisoners across the country. But on 21 August 1971, Comrade George Jackson and two others were murdered along with three prison guards in a gun fight inside one of California's maximum security prisons called San Quentin. For this reason, and many more, we hold bloody August as sacred.
Huey P. Newton was murdered 22 August 1989, in West Oakland on Tenth and Center, by a young drug dealer named Little Blood. He was a product of this system; the young hating the old, the light-skinned hating the dark. That's the same divide we have here today. I can get into the shit and kick up dust with the rest and the best. But I will not allow anyone to stop my hard work in being an organizer and educator. I've given twenty years to this mainline and SNY, so I'm going to push on. As Frantz Fanon stated in Wretched of the Earth, "There is no taking of the offensive — and no redefining of relationships." We know that the power structure wants us dead or locked up. So in case you didn't know, the revolution is on.
Power to the People
Build to Win
and glory be the Phunk is on the bald head man.
MIM(Prisons) adds: The California USW Primer explains how the split between SHU/mainline and SNY in California is at the heart of building a united front of prisoners in the state. All California USW comrades should have a copy of the primer as a guide for their work. Long-time readers of ULK will know that we have printed countless articles addressing this issue. Write in if you can use copies of some of these articles to help in your organizing for the September 9 Day of Peace and Solidarity this year. The campaign to build peace and unity between mainline and SNY will be coming to a head this year, and USW must play a leading role in guiding things in a positive direction as this comrade calls for.