"It shows that circumstances make men just as much as men make circumstances." - Karl Marx in the German ideology
Can we say that a new phenomenon is brewing behind these walls? We can all see the new level of political consciousness in California prisons, where prisoners are resisting the repressive policies of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) in a more collective manner. Change has been slow, but progress is evident. The root of this is us prisoners with a little political and legal education to enlighten others and at the same time inspire others to participate in progressive action.
The California hunger strikes weren't spontaneous demonstrations against injust human rights violations in the Security Housing Units (SHUs), but rather carefully laid out plans to get outside attention and assistance. It was years of suppression that brought a few together to gather many in a common purpose that serves all of our interests. Some men are mentally broken while others carry on in these SHU conditions.
This is but a simple dialectic; or two sides of a contradiction forming a unity. On one hand we have those who deteriorate under these conditions and seek any way out, while on the other hand we have those prisoners who adapt and at the same time find ways to better themselves by educating themselves in law, reading good books, or picking up hobbies to keep themselves occupied. It is through these individuals who know the conditions in the SHU who are capable of creating campaigns for abolishing its policies, especially the gang validation policies that so many prisoners fall victim to.
Exposure and propaganda play a vital role on our behalf. This is where USW comrades come in, not just as advocates for human rights, but as advocates of an overall anti-imperialist campaign, as everything is connected to the imperialist system. The SHUs within CDCR are an aspect of imperialism, utilized for social control. And the oppressive conditions within are nothing more but to assert more social control behind prisons. It is through current events that this new phenomenon is manifesting a wave of politically conscious prisoners creating new circumstances. More validated prisoners are leaving the SHUs but more are taking their place. It is possible that one day through a collective effort the gang validation will be dismantled entirely and a SHU cap may be part of our future. I think it is.
After taking some time off from writing insightful editorials from a first worldist perspective for Turning the Tide, A Journal of Inter-communal Solidarity, Michael Novick once again assumes the mantle of vociferous defender of the Amerikan labor aristocracy as revolutionary vehicle pre-eminent in his review of Divided World, Divided Class by Dr. Zak Cope. While we can appreciate his endorsement of this valuable text as "required reading for would-be revolutionaries," our differences are unfortunately as vast as the property-less petty-bourgeoisie is corrupt. The MIM camp recommends this book for its global class analsyis, based in Marxist economics, that explains the class divide between the First World core and the Third World periphery.
Interestingly, it has been noted that Turning The Tide has taken on something of a Third Worldist veneer ever since some searing criticisms of Novick and his assessment of the Maoist Internationalist Movement by a USW comrade last year.(2) Despite TTT's recent focus on the New Afrikan nation and their expressed support for the struggles of the oppressed worldwide, it is the underlying political line of Novick and company that we must really examine to see where we have unity. We understand that to the untrained eye, as well as to those new to revolutionary politics, the difference between the Maoist Internationalist Movement and the Amerikan left are less than apparent, so we will draw them out here for educational purposes as well as to defend against opportunists and social chauvinists of varying stripes; as without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.
Novick calls on fans of egalitarian politics to take up critical thinking when it comes to the topic of global political economy and the stratification of labor under capitalism. However, he attacks and undermines Marxist political-economic analysis, the most critical and on point analysis of capitalism itself, without proposing anything in its place. He does this in the first few paragraphs of his article when he states that Dr. Cope comes to his conclusion that the First World labor aristocracy is bought off via "underlying Marxist assumptions of the labor theory of value"(1) and "through sometimes hypothetical formulations of what the value and price of that value 'should' be..."(1) He then states that Cope says, "the only workers who are 'exploited' are those who directly produce 'surplus value' in agricultural and industrial production of commodities."(1) These lines imply a critique of Cope's (and Marx's) methods, but he does not say so outright or offer an alternative framework for such an analysis.(2) This is nihilism, and leads to subjectivism. Without an objective analysis as our guide we just let the masses do what feels right. We agree with Novick that to lame apologists of First World workers "Cope's book is a very difficult read..."(1), but not because of the so-called "long sections of abstract mathematical calculations"(1) as Mr. Novick puts it, rather because bitter pills are always hard to swallow.
For those who are unaware, Novick claims to use dialectical materialism as a tool to analyze social phenomenon, yet this has not led him to the conclusion that the principal contradiction in the United $tates, or the world for that matter, is imperialism vs. the oppressed nations. Instead, Novick believes that capitalism never developed past its competitive phase, therefore it is his assessment that the principal contradiction on a world scale is still that of the bourgeoisie vs. the proletariat, or rather one between the so-called 1% and supposed 99% — itself a non-sensical and anti-scientific assessment. As such, Novick doesn't believe that there are any oppressing or oppressed nations, only oppressed and oppressing classes; yet he denounces our "petrified defense of the principal contradiction."(3)
Michael Novick also complains that "Cope essentially liquidates or obliterates class contradictions within both core and peripheral states"(1), but what Cope really obliterates is the First World's romanticization of the labor aristocracy as anything but revolutionary with his scathing class analysis of First World workers. Novick also makes an empiricist error when he asserts that Dr. Cope's analysis is no good to us in the United $tates because "his orientation and experience is primarily European"(1) hence his "understanding of settler colonialism and the existence of oppressed and colonized peoples within so-called 'core' countries as the US, Canada, etc. is limited."(1) It is quite odd that Novick complains that Cope does not give us a complete class analysis of who are our friends and who are our enemies within the United $tates. Despite the fact that this book is about global imperialism, and written by a non-Amerikan, it spends a good amount of time explaining class and nation and the development of racism within the context of U.$. society, as it is today the heart of imperialism. Novick does not address the points made by Cope, only complains that it is too general. In addressing the discrimination and oppression faced by the disadvantaged in First World countries, Cope states that "economic betterment for people in the rich countries is today intrinsically dependent on imperialism."(4) And that's the rub right there. Whatever contradictions exist within imperialist society, apologists for the labor aristocracy like Novick must come to terms with that reality, or risk fanning the flames of militarism and even fascism.
A little further down Novick states that "classes and class relationships are based on material reality..."(1). This much is true, however, Novick takes us deeper into the jungle of idealism when he writes, "... but these are social phenomenon based on the element of consciousness and practice as well,"(1) emphasis on the element of consciousness. However, Marxist philosophy teaches us that in general it is social being that determines social consciousness, and not the other way around as Novick implies. He has a hard time reconciling the existence of revolutionaries in the United $tates and an analysis that labels the U.$. an exploiter country. For a dialectical materialist, this is no mystery. A more succinct explanation to the phenomenon and structure of class is given by Cope below:
"The term 'class' does not only refer to a social group's relation to the means of production - that is, to property ownership or it's absence and nor does it simply refer to any category relating purely to the technical division of labor at the societal or workplace level. Rather, class denotes a dynamic social relationship corresponding to the system of ownership, the organization of labour and the distribution of material wealth as mediated by ideological, cultural and political institutions and practices. Above all, class is the product of political practices, with the relationship between the state and class struggle revolving around the issue of class domination."(4)
Not surprisingly it is always the ideological that is principal in matters of revolution when it comes to Amerikan "left" circles. And with that Novick ends his weak attempt to disprove the scientifically proven correctness of Zak Cope's book. What then proceeds in his review is more existentialist questioning of both nation and class contradictions in the United $tates and the world when the answers are already readily apparent. Novick offers his persynal musings as proof positive to his readers that the class contradiction in the world is more important than the one of nation. But in order to deliver the people's consciousness you can't just answer the tough questions with more questions. Rather, you must deliver the people's consciousness with revolutionary practice summed up in rational knowledge; as without revolutionary practice theory is meaningless. As such, Novick inadvertently proves the principal contradiction correct with his confused explanation of class contradictions in Amerika.
Something else that was disappointing in his review of Divided World was the complete omission of Cope's thesis on how the First World petty-bourgeoisie, the labor aristocracy in particular, is a huge reservoir and potential breeding ground for fascism drawing from within the dispossessed petty-bourgeois class an army to smash the national liberation and socialist movements. This is odd since the majority of Anti-Racist Action's work has previously been fighting the various neo-Nazi organizations currently attempting to re-organize on a massive scale. Perhaps we can surmise that Novick saw something else in Cope's book that is damning and detrimental to First World "revolutionary and socialist" movements? Perhaps another bitter pill to swallow?
We highly recommend Divided World, Divided Class to up and coming revolutionaries and communist youth looking to get a firm grasp of First World labor and it's dialectical relation to the real proletariat centered in the periphery.(5) Divided World, Divided Class does an excellent job of explaining the parasitic nature, as well as the fascist tendencies of the First World labor aristocracy.
On Monday, 19 May 2014, 7 prisoners at Polk Correctional on the H-Con Unit began a hunger strike due to inhumane conditions, and finally some getting fed up with the mistreatment. It is day 4 and 8 comrades refused their breakfast this morning. Some of the demands are:
need brooms to sweep cells
need nail clippers to exercise proper hygiene
need outside recreation
need new trays, ones now are cracked, split, peeling causing us to find plastic in our food
staff need to wear hair nets/change gloves for food preparation and serving
need headphones sold separately in canteen so we don't have to buy a whole new radio
stop taking mattress and religious property as punishment for up to 3 days
special housing cells need to be cleaned daily - currently have blood, bodily fluids in them and comrades are placed in them naked on suicide watch, only given 4 sheets of toilet paper, no hygiene, forced to eat with dirty hands
need a law library
stop use of nutraloaf as punishment
stop keeping us on H-Con 18-24 months before letting us off even without getting write ups
stop using restraints as punishment
These are just some of the most important of 33 demands. I am asking other comrades to join in support and fast or to write to:
Frank L. Perry, Secretary Division of Prisons 4201 Mail Service Center Raleigh, NC 27699-4201
U.S. Dept. of Justice, Civil Rights Division Special Litigation Section 950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington DC 20530
or other forms of protest that do not cause you to receive an infraction. Also, pump them fists as we got a victory in the Central Prison Unit 1 case. They have to use a hand-held camera during all use of force, specifically after the use of force or during/until you are put back in your cell and no longer in contact with corrections staff. So hear it, can I get a hell yeah from all my comrades!
[While MIM(Prisons) expressed cautious optimism following the election of Chokwe Lumumba, we questioned his electoral strategy and stressed a clearer definition of dual power (see ULK 33). Unfortunately, failure seems to have struck more suddenly than we could have expected. In the piece below, PTT of MIM(Prisons) has woven updates on the campaign in Jackson into excerpts from commentary by Loco1.]
On 22 April 2014, Chokwe Antar Lumumba lost the mayoral election in Jackson, Mississippi to Councilman Tony Yarber in a run-off. Chokwe Antar's father, Chokwe Lumumba, was inaugurated as the mayor of Jackson on 1 July 2013, and died 25 February 2014 from "heart failure." Since our last report, those close to Lumumba had indicated that an independent autopsy was going forward, but results, or information on whether an independent autopsy was conducted, are not readily available. In Under Lock & Key 37, we raised suspicion over the cause of the Mayor's death in a country where New Afrikan leaders are regularly murdered by the state with impunity.
As the electoral strategy of the former New Afrikan revolutionary ended prematurely, some comrades are raising the question of whether the nation would have really sown the seeds of progress for New Afrikan self-determination into the heart of Mississippi, had Mayor Lumumba or Chokwe Antar served the full term. We assert that when New Afrikans fail to realistically distinguish themselves from Afrikan-Amerikans, it is impossible to break from Black capitalism to form a new society centered around humyn need.
One limitation Mayor Lumumba's death raises in the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement's strategy of entering electoral politics is the vulnerability of elected candidates. Lumumba wanted to build a movement based in the people, but electoral politics necessitates focus on individuals as leaders and representatives of the masses. In the context of joining the Amerikan political machine, winning electoral campaigns amounts to putting a Black face on Amerikan capitalism. Before his death, Mayor Lumumba was planning to put $1.7 billion onto the streets of Jackson. "The intent is to improve the city’s infrastructure, support businesses and, in a first, rehab some Black neighborhoods."(1) A keen eye can see that building revolutionary education centers is not on the top of this list, if it's on there at all. We agree with Mr. Lumumba that the people are smart. But if they are fed a false idealism of an end to oppression under capitalism, then their opposition to the Amerikan imperialist global machine will be limited. In fact, it is more likely that their ties to Amerika will even be increased, as the benefits from the spoils of imperialism are redistributed in their favor. Without real people's control of wealth, that $1.7 billion raised by Mayor Lumumba is easily redirected by a suspicious death and a defeat in a run-off election.
The people of Jackson hope to continue building this movement for Black capitalism in their city, and Chokwe Anton invited all small business owners, enterpreneurs, prospective business owners, and people seeking new and innovative employment/ownership opportunities to attend the Jackson Rising conference that was held on May 2-4.(2) As communists, we are definitely seeking new and innovative employment/ownership opportunities! But as internationalists, we seek these opportunities for all the world's people. We don't want worker-owned cooperatives for ourselves built from wealth scraped off the backs of the Third World. We know truly innovative employment/ownership opportunities can't come without civil war and an overthrow of capitalism. Success in electoral politics can stifle progress in a revolutionary direction if politics aren't in command.
The late Mayor Lumumba is reported in an interview with the Nation of Islam in The Final Call newspaper as saying, “our predominately Black administrations can actually do better – to provide security to everybody, prosperity to everybody on a fair basis, and, of course, we're going to be vigilant against the cheaters – but we think we can do a better job. We're talking about the new society, the new way, and that's a lot of what New Afrika was about.” To claim that New Afrikans will do a better job at playing the Amerikan economic game amounts to Black chauvinism and racism. We are products of our society. What is it that New Afrikans can do better than whites: hate, steal, cheat, kill, lie, destroy and oppress? The U.$. President is Black and we still witness New Afrikan and [email protected] youth targeted by police for death in the United $tates. Working within electoral politics will do nothing to change Amerika's impact on the majority of the world's people. Mayor Lumumba stated “We are impressed with the need to protecting everyone's human rights.” But this can't be done when the nationalist leaders are so misdirected that they can't see that there is nothing in U.$. politicians' offices but documents with the names of the billions of humyn beings murdered as a result of foreign policy, or low-intensity warfare operations jumping off in the U.$. semi-colonies. The electoral struggle in Jackson highlights the differences between bourgeois nationalism and nationalism with proletarian ideology.
The U.$. internal semi-colonies' greatest connection to the reality of the global contradiction in relation to their own material condition is the lumpen, incarcerated and criminalized across the state. The lumpen are most capable for the vehicular mechanism for transforming the shift of imperialist control to proletarian control with real state power, by leading national liberation struggles to free us from Amerika. Lumpen hold no stake or stock in capitalism and have way more interest in abolishing its control over the people than the bourgeois nationalists. The Jackson Plan would like to turn all these lumpen into labor aristocrats rather than vehicles for overthrowing capitalism.
The lumpen, particularly prisoners, will have to understand that there is no future in placing higher values on profits than the welfare of humyn life/needs. The Amerikan pie has to be completely disposed of and the land redistributed fairly. Period. You get what you need. Nothing more, nothing less.
If we gonna move, let's move the world. Revolutionary nationalism, with a proletarian ideology, is the key to any oppressed nation's self-determination and self-governance, or simply put national independence. If New Afrikans are to have any chance at such, they will first have to separate themselves from Black Amerika and move to the tune of the proletariat. Chokwe Lumumba had a gift and will be missed dearly by all who value his mind, but he appeared better in his dashiki and afro. “Rather than going to church and yelling and screaming about it, rather than bad mouth the youth, my plan is to engage the youth,” quoting the former Mayor. This begs the question, how does this transpire from behind a desk that is responsible for the city's youth being carted away to prison and jail facilities?
Three former California governors recently backed a petition for a ballot initiative which would dramatically accelerate the execution of death row prisoners. At the same time we have experienced a more extreme than usual delay in the processing of death row SHUII and III mail. As I will explain, there is an important connection between these events.
The main selling point for the proposed bill is saving loads of money by arranging faster executions of the 747 prisoners currently warehoused on San Quentin's four death row SHUs and the women all but forgotten in Cowchilla. In addition, death row prisoners would no longer be confined exclusively in the San Quentin and Chowchilla torture units. They would be placed among the general population.
It is noteworthy that the Calincarceration Corrupted Peace Officers Association (California Correctional Peace Officers Association - CCPOA) didn't give financial support for this bill. Many assume the lackeys, bullies and cowards who comprise that security threat group probably thought it wasn't in their best interest to all of a sudden meet face to face with the un-cuffed death row prisoners they've been torturing their whole career. But the fact of the matter is the higher ups in the CCPOA actually had enough sense to realize no amount of their support could buy enough votes to pass such political double talk into law in this state.
Acting proactively in case the bill passes, the CCPOA at San Quentin decided to mobilize in preparation. By citing wild interpretations of prisoner correspondence to give the public an illusion that the bowels of hell were opened upon them, the prison tried to transfer a large number of formerly grade A and B SHUII and III prisoners to other SHU programs across the state.
They almost had a window of opportunity to "justify" building more control units within existing prisons. But as of today the death row SHU expansion project in San Quentin's Carson section is stalled.
"Persons other than inmates should address any appeal relating to department policy and regulations to the Director of the Division of Adult Institutions. Appeals relating to a specific facility [like San Quentin or Chowchilla] procedure or practice [like excessive delays in the processing of mail to and from loved ones and prisoners' rights organizations] should be addressed in writing to the warden..." - California Code of Regulations, Title 15, 3137. Appeals Relating to Mail.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade is correct that the CCPOA has been entirely silent on this new ballot initiative to accelerate death row executions. But we don't agree with h interpretation that the CCPOA is just standing down because they don't think it has a chance of passing. Rather we see this position as lining up consistently with the CCPOA's primary goal: protect the jobs of the many prison workers. Faster executions would reduce the San Quentin prison population, and that would threaten jobs there, so it should not be surprising that the CCPOA is silent on this new ballot initiative. This is a rare case where their interests align with ours, and we can take advantage of the situation to stop passage of this reactionary bill.
My most sincere revolutionary greetings to all strugglers. Just a short note informing the world on the haps here on master Martin's plantation.
On Thursday, 27 February 2014, during Black history month a white Christian band was brought in to perform on the rec yard. Upon attending the function, prisoners were ordered to sit on the grass by staff. By the time the show began only about 30 prisoners stayed sitting on the ground. The whole compound went back inside. Feeling insulted and embarrassed, the administration took dictator-style action. They entered the dorms where the prisoners had already been placed on lock down for not participating in a religious event. The officers announced loudly in the dorm that "all who refuse to participate in the religious event on the yard will not only be kept on lock down, but their cells will be shook down and their personal property will be ransacked." So to avoid our personal property from being ransacked and thrown away, everybody from every dorm went to the yard and sat on the ground. How is that for the First Amendment?
Martin Correctional Institution happens to be one of the plantations at which the Veteran's Program is allowed. Not a problem, except that when the U.S. flag is being risen and put down with the sounding of the trumpet, all prisoners on the walkway must stop walking in honor of the flag or be disciplined, even placed in confinement. Dead-ass serious.
Enclosed is a disciplinary report (D.R.) written by Martin CI mail man Mr. Payne, accusing me of mail violation because I wrote a letter to Boston ABC some time in early 2013 concerning a petition regarding the Keefe Commissary network. The letter mentions that I stated that I placed a petition online. This must be a mistake considering the fact that the petition had been online long before I was informed of it and promoted it. It's also a known fact that I did not post or initiate the petition. Be that as it may, I pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 30 days on D.R. confinement, which I'm currently serving.
MIM(Prisons) responds: The political repression this comrade is currently facing for authoring an article protesting high commissary costs is a good example of why we do not print prisoners' names in Under Lock & Key. The pigs have too much control over our comrades' lives to let them know who is doing what all the time and not have it come back to bite us.
We can also add a concerted effort to censor Under Lock & Key to the list of political repression going on in Florida recently. They do things that piss people off, and then censor ULK for being "inflammatory" by reporting on it.
It has often been the position of readers of ULK and members of the United Struggle from Within that economic means and methods should be tried and applied in the struggle of prisoners against the capitalist-imperialists. Some say to boycott the commissary and deprive each state of the prisoner dollar it so much cherishes. Others say stop ordering packages from the state approved vendors. More sophisticated circles would say create more damages via civil action suits: state tort, personal injuries, small claims, you name it. Others have said to boycott prisoner accounts altogether to avoid any fees or cuts the state takes from it for restitution, release, medical co-pay, etc.
All of these tactics can potentially prove devastating if the right group of people apply them and progress the idea into material reality.
With $0.50 a prisoner can do so much, as that is the cost of a postage stamp. A letter can contain a list of new subscribers to Under Lock & Key. It can include an article, poem submission, or art. It can contain study group responses or a criticism to push our struggle forward.
Even if you don't draw, i know there's an artist next door to you. He/she lives off of their artwork alone. They don't go to the store, they just draw their tail off. For just a dollar that artist next door will draw four drawings of your imagination, the size of about a quarter of an average sheet of paper. With those four pieces you could express the walls of prison crumbling, or a lumpen prisoner handing their dinner tray to the family of an underdeveloped country through the window of a prison cell. You can commission this artist to draw anti-imperialist art to submit to ULK to be printed in the next issue. That one picture is surely going to touch more people than the artist expected it to.
Yet, in the economic struggle, lumpen prisoners often fail in the materialization of their own wealth. We must change this. In prison we often see ourselves as the haves and have-nots, when in the material reality of things we all have something to offer. Take the commissary industry. Not everybody actually submits an order form. There are those with monies to spend and those who have the heart to work with those who spend, earning a share of the spender's purchase. I persynally don't deposit monies in my trust. I use craft and trade to survive. I braid, cut and style hair. Many prisoners who have money to spend inside get monies from a source outside of prison. These sources deposit money into a prisoner's trust to take care of the prisoner. In return the prisoner takes care of hself. My specialty is helping the prisoner do this by keeping up their appearance and in return they offer a product from the commissary, where i then have purchasing power. Me, an anti-imperialist. I bring in anything from $1.50 to $3.00 easy per client on a yard that allows time and opportunity. Fast forward about ten clients per week and in a month's time i'll have $120. Off of this buck twenty i can order a pair of hair clippers with the works and the hottest legal commodity in prisons: coffee. Adding haircuts to my service, i'll double clientèle. Sixty dollars worth of coffee on the shelf will grow legs and trade itself. One dollar for a coffee lid of coffee, or an exchange of one full jar on credit for two jars at the convenience of the creditor (the value varies).
I don't drink coffee so there'll never be a loss due to persynal consumption. The product will pay for itself and expand at a controlled rate. I'm doing hair and trading coffee. The service can be offered to a wide range of characters and political affiliations: Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, Pink, Blue or Purple, the objective is Green.
Doing such, i'm offered the opportunity to socialize with a wide range of characters and gossip about the latest and greatest revolutionary culture, from international news to news on the hip hop revolution underground affiliates. I alone as a USW leader, taking the scraps that are there amongst the so-called prison ballers, have become a resort for prisoners caught in the trappings to retreat to when they must spend their money and look good doing it.
The coffee will expand from my cell to the cell of another USW comrade proving themselves capable of opening up shop on the same facility, and when ripe we will venture out into another legal commodity (soap, body washes, shampoo and body oils).
We can turn all this paper money into fuel for the fire to finance the anti-imperialist machine, funding independent institutions like the University of Maoist Thought, extended printing of ULK, MIM(Prisons)/USW-hosted events, Prisoners Legal Clinic, MIM(Prisons)'s Free Political Books to Prisoners. These are just to name a few. In this microcosm of Amerika, great revenue will come to be. What separates us from most collecting such revenue is we'll be providing a service at a very low cost to those who have and ALL of the proceeds will go to those who don't. We are funding revolutionary cadres of our USW and MIM(Prisons) across the snakes.
This should be our matter of concern, if we truly hope to shift the economy into a landslide towards the people. Don't boycott the commissary, use it as a uniting factor!!!
MIM(Prisons) responds: It is a strong statement to say a well-executed boycott can have "devastating" impact. More likely, the prisoncrats will notice what is happening and make a simple policy change to ensure they are able to milk prisoners for all they have. The main benefit of organizing boycotts isn't the financial impact, but coming together to organize around a collective interest. The connections, networking, and unity are more valuable than any amount of money we're saving from the oppressors' collection.
When assessing the "value" of an action or investment, we need to always keep in mind the political value. There are a lot of ways we can use what little money and resources we have to make a big political impact. As long as we aren't harming the people, the importance isn't in how we hustle, but in why we hustle. Use your creativity and resourcefulness to find a way to hustle for the people!
On 14 February 2014, I won a very small victory in my struggle against the oppression of political beliefs in the North Carolina Department of Adult Corrections.
On 10 February 2014, I received two notices from the mail room, indicating that both the November/December (#35) and the January/February (#36) issues of Under Lock & Key were being rejected. The reasons given were that these publications supported "disobedience and insurrection."
Due to the fact that ULK #35 was already on the banned publication list, I was not permitted to appeal this rejection, however, I was permitted to appeal the ULK #36 because it had not yet made the master list held by NCDAC.
I brought up a constitutional argument about how prisons cannot maintain a list of banned materials, my right to my political beliefs, and the fact that a prison can not ban a publication just because it does not approve of the organization it comes from. This was decided in a court case called Williams v. Brimeyer, 116 F. 3d 351, 354 (8th circuit 1997). I also argued that ULK does not promote insurrection and disorder, yet uses prison issues to promote peaceful change to both prisons and the outside world through education and the study of politics.
Surprisingly, when mail came today, issue 36 of ULK had been returned to me. Sometimes you just have to stand up for what you believe in and not give up. For anybody who faces the rejection of the ULK newsletter, I would like to make known, that ULK does not contain a significant security risk to prisons, and therefore is constitutionally protected. If your newsletter has been rejected, I strongly recommend that you fight for it on this basis. Do not allow anyone to silence the struggle.
Lanesboro Correctional Institution, in Anson County, North Carolina, has just enacted a gang program, which is nothing shy of draconian. Even for a state that is draconian to begin with.
It started when these pigs separated all of the inmates who were not listed as "STG" from the inmates who were considered part of the "Security Threat Group." Federal law allows violation of prisoners' Constitutional rights during times of emergency, when there is a "threat to the security of the institution." By naming inmates a "security threat," they are basically saying that these inmates have no Constitutional rights. They are being forced to shower in chains, handcuffs and shackles, and are pretty much being denied any and all rights.
The gang program is locked down 23 hours a day, and requires going 6 months infraction free to step down a single step. There are 3 steps in all, and a class of "STG associate" after that. This could force prisoners to go infraction free for 2 full years to get out of the program. Along with this program came a whole new set of rules which makes it nearly impossible to go infraction free without favoritism from the police. Of course, the only way you get that is by snitching, which in such an environment would get a prisoner killed. Being listed as an associate could be justified by something as small as an officer's claim that you said something gang-related, or even my writing this article.
In response to this new policy, prisoners on 3 of the 8 STG blocks have declared a hunger strike. More prisoners on the STG unit are doing the same, in an attempt to break down this program in its infancy. The pigs are responding by cutting off their communication so they cannot be heard. I only learned of this by accident when a "Non-STG" prisoner was moved into my block to make room for more STG blocks.
This policy is being carried out in many states as we speak. Gang members are still human beings, and therefore entitled to the same protections as everyone else. Prisoners need to stand together everywhere and shut this down before it goes into full effect.
When a prisoner writes the TDCJ Executive Director it will always be forwarded to the Ombudsman. They (Ombud) will always reply that they do not respond to prisoner complaints and that the grievance procedures should be followed. It's a "closed loop" to prisoners.
The Call to Action that I wrote which included the contacts were primarily for our family and friends to put pressure on authorities so that our grievances are more effective - eg. our families should contact the Executive Director and Ombudsman to file an official complaint about the policy change.
I got my Step 2 back around November and I sent it to the Texas Civil Rights Project to see if they would be interested in representing this issue in a lawsuit. I am yet to get a response from the Texas Civil Rights Project. It could be worth while if someone could contact them (TCRP) about this issue to prompt a response to my correspondence to them as I know they get piles of mail every week.
We not only need to file grievances but also strongly encourage our freeworld friends and family to contact all the contacts on the Call to Action to put a lot of pressure on the Texas Board of Criminal Justice to repeal the policy.
I believe it is futile to send the Texas Grievance Petition to the Executive Director because of the closed loop with the correspondence being forwarded to the Ombudsman. It could be worthwhile for freeworld people to send a version of the petition to the Exec Dir but I think prisoners need to start directing the petition to someone else.
I also want to mention that this mail restriction should not affect legal/privileged correspondence - prisoners should still be able to send 5 per week.
MIM(Prisons) responds: We received information from another prisoner on this same issue:
Comrades in Texas, do not send your petitions to the Executive Director or Central Grievance office because they are not working in our favor. They only forward the petitions to departments that don't address these issues, who contacted me and said "address this grievance related issues on a unit level with the grievance investigators."
We on the Polunsky plantations are sending our petitions to: ARRM Division, Administrator, PO Box 99, Huntsville, TX 77342-0099. I suggest that all Texas prisoners do the same so that we will be in solidarity. Let's flood their office with our complaints. If this doesn't work we will flood the DOJ in Washington DC. Let's work in solidarity!
We agree with these comrades' recommendations that prisoners focus sending their grievances to somewhere other than the Executive Director. We suggest the following addresses:
ARRM Division, Administrator PO Box 99 Huntsville, TX 77342-0099
Senator John Whitmire PO Box 12068, Capitol Station Austin, TX 78711
Oliver Bell Chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice PO Box 13084 Austin, TX 78711-3084
We also now have a sample Step 2 grievance available to those who had their Step 1 on this issue rejected. Write to us if you need a copy of this.
We know this campaign is not going to change the criminal injustice system in any significant way. But restrictions on mail access is equivalent to cutting many people off from the outside world. And for those who are engaged in educational and organizing work, this is a significant problem. For this reason, focusing a campaign on restrictions on indigent correspondence is important to our broader organizing work.