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Under Lock & Key

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[Organizing] [Clinton Correctional Facility] [New York]
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Organizing against resistance

Salutations. As I write this letter you will be feeling what I call my everyday polemical life. My angst is superfluous because I can't believe what I encountered on the 9th through the 13th of September. I personally witnessed Willie Lynch's letter on how to keep us against us while I was helping bring consciousness to the brothers here at Clinton and was met with resistance. It seems that what happened in the past is no longer significant nor appreciated. I'm talking about the Attica rebellion of 1971.

As I expressed solidarity amongst us I attempt to recreate ourselves and adhere to a different form of rules, all while not violating any directives that may lead to an infraction of any sort. I tried to catalyze and show that what happened almost 40 years ago is indeed still taking place today, except there's a lot more tribalism now. I provided a non-violent event which was something totally small. I asked if brothers would, along with the 15% who didn't eat during the 5 days, maintain a verbal fast to show and pay homage to the fallen freedom fighting comrades who were murdered by the government appointed force for standing up to the injustice that is still plaguing our people in prisons today. By fasting from both food and talking I attempt to show how we can get along with each other no matter what gang we are in, no matter what religion we practice. By not eating we show self sacrifice just like the brothers did, and by not talking we show also discipline, again just like those who were in the Attica rebellion did.

Sadly, in my attempts to show and express an affinity between each other I was met with enmity. After a couple of the average "get the fuck out of here with that bullshit" and a few "negro please" I was sure to attract some politically and socially conscious brothers who reminded me that "violence is a dark undercurrent of Amerikan history." Like Pan-Afrikanist Frantz Fanon put it, "What we are witnessing is a psychological and physical reaction to the trauma." Some brothers actually said, "That was then and this is now, why should we respect something that happen before we were even born?" Some went on to say, "Ain't nothing going to change anyway." It's statements like these that show our ignorance!

In fact, take the Civil Rights movement for instance. They started out in small groups and grew in relations with those who were also victims of the desegregated south, and formed a force of mass campaign of civil disobedience! By sticking together and voicing our opinion we spoke volumes of our rights as a people who had little to no rights. We started to register to vote, operate forums, print our own newsletters, to be acknowledged as Afrikan men and womyn. Even today we have Afrikan mayors, attorney generals, CEOs of the largest bank, and President of the United States. After explaining this, more and more participated in the eating and verbal fast, but it wasn't enough.

I think back on how brothers like Herbert X Blyden, Big Black, L.D. Barkeley, John (Mecajaweh) Hill, Sam Melville, Akil Al Jundi, Robin Palmer, just to name a few, gave their lives for brothers to have better programs, and to study the Islamic religion - where there was none. They fought for better schooling, and got children to be considered as visitors so they could visit their loved ones under lock and key. I have much respect and profound gratitude for the Nation of Islam who held order and negotiations. Yet still this vicious ass piece of swine still considered the NOI a hate group. If it wasn't for the good brothers those corruption officers would have been dealt with.

So I say unselfishly, it's not enough! We need to do more to bring some awareness, we need to get our media (BET) to stop playing comedy, music, and hood movies, and instead play some Black August, Motorcycle Diaries, and Malcolm X. We need to become more aware by reading books that deal with the history of struggle against oppression. We need, emphasis on we, need to educate our people with the help of those who also want to see us kick this stigma in the ass.

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[National Oppression] [California] [ULK Issue 11]
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Immigrants, Migrants, and U.$. Citizens

Kill the BorderThe U.$. is the melting pot of the world. A little bit of everybody and everything dwells in this land. It's the land of opportunity, what do you expect? From the North to the South, and the East to the far West people are tearing down doors to get over to this sorry motha fucka. It's the land of opportunity alright. The opportunity to get beat down, stepped on, and spit all over.

While the people of Third World or impoverished countries are under the perception that this is the place to be, and try to get here. The military agency ICE is sitting right at the top of that barb wired chain linked fence waiting for that opportune time to jump on their back and either allow the exploitation of their labor or send them back to the fucked up environment in which they're running from.

Being an individual born over here in these ununited $tate$, living amongst the imperialists themselves, one might take my opinion of the issue dealing with the border situation, or the incarceration of brothas from other countries who wish to better their situation by taking just a little bit of what these imperialistic snakes have taken from them, as a person who's looking in from the outs.

But trust and believe I'm a brotha looking in from the in. I ain't no U.$. citizen, and I damn sho ain't no Amerikkkan. My pops is of Somoan decent and my moms is a descendant of Africa. Period. I'm an immigrant along with every other individual in this ununited country who isn't indigenous.

Ol Chris and his squad came over here from Europe running from their fucked up conditions looking to receive an opportunity to better their situation and their queen's capitalistic hunger. Where was ICE then? On the same Mayflower boat that brought the first load of African slaves. He probably was the motha fucka who was drivin the boat. When you think about the foundation of the U.$. as an ununited country you should think about immigrants, and border hoppers. Everything from the English, Germans, the French, Dutch, and the Irish were the ones who entered this land trespassing on the Natives.

The only difference from them and many of the Third World countries is they can't stand in the sun too long without being physically burned by father sun, they don't have tight eyes or natted hair, and they don't know the first thing about communism. They are white. They only seek the growth and development of their white imperialistic race, and the destruction of the Third World people and the communistic spirit.

Now I'm not pulling the race card here so don't take it as such. But in order to effectively deal with this issue we must address the underlying fact of the imperialist's white supremacist ideology and concept of white supremacy. Since the beginning of colonial expansion, the white man has been advocating a campaign that he is the superior man of planet earth and all will bow down to him and give praise to him and his seed. In this campaign he has declared war on all nations not acknowledging this supposed superiority and attempted to not only suppress these nations, but knock them out of existence (ie. the First Nations of North America).

When the African slaves began running away from their masters and causing Lady Liberty a great pain in her ass, the Europeans quickly responded with the KKK who in turn attempted to discourage Africans from running off through terrorist attacks. It's no different today except they leave the white robes and swastikas at home. When you think about the ICE agency and what they're all about, all you're missing is the robe and shit.

They allow the poor nations to come over here via border jumping, get a job in the cotton fields, or warehouses, then as soon as they don't need the cheap labor force any longer they either send them to one of the new "social control camps" or knock them out of U.$. existence by sending them back to their imperialist war stricken country.

Hate it or love it, accept it, or reject it. The only way to kill the border problem is by killing imperialism and the ideology that keeps it living.

MIM(Prisons) replies: While overall correct, this comrade fails to distinguish between citizenship of a country and nationality. We agree that, in this country, to be on the side of the oppressed one must renounce any membership in the amerikan nation. We also agree that there are many nations within North America and many of them face oppression by the amerikan and kanadian nations. This is seen in the denial of land rights, mass imprisonment, chemical warfare through narcotics, high death rates from preventable illness and police state terrorism.

However, being a member of an oppressed nation in North America does not mean you're not a citizen. The difference being that, as a citizen, you can legally work and earn exploiter level wages for that work, even if it's harder for you to get than your fellow white citizens. Though migrants often can make much more than their sisters in the Third World, they face exploitation here in the united $tates, and other forms of oppression most legal citizens don't need to fear.

We do agree with the idea that this comrade is not a u.$. citizen because of h position as a prisoner of the state. We look to both prisoners and migrants as potentially revolutionary forces within the u.$. because they do not enjoy full citizenship rights. Aside from the fact that more and more prisoners are migrants, this is the connection that makes the migrant issue very relevant to u.$. prisoners. National liberation struggles will be led by those among the oppressed who have a strong interest opposed to imperialism.

The analogy between ICE and the KKK is right on, though we'd say that the Minutemen are the more direct comparison. ICE differs in that they are very well paid for what they do, not just volunteers for their nation. They both play the role of managing nations of exploited people for the profit of their nation.

One final note on definitions, a question that has come up in discussing this issue is how we use the terms "migrant", "immigrant" and "non-citizen." As stated above, non-citizens are people without legal citizenship rights, and in the u.$., prisoners, while usually legally citizens, might be included in this group or at least considered partial citizens. Immigrants and migrants are both not citizens of the united $tates. But an immigrant is someone who moves to another place to live. Migrants are people who travel from place to place in order to find work. They might not have a home, but they often do have a family that they send money to and would prefer to be with.

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[Rhymes/Poetry] [California] [ULK Issue 11]
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Ride for the people

I... will ride for the people no matter what comes my way at all
I... will die for the cause
Settle for nothing less than all that we rightfully deserve

Vr 1:
Society wanna keep a lock on me
constantly puttin blocks on me
cause I don't see the same thang that they see at home
I stand alone in my poverty stricken environment
Rebellin all the non-sense
Cause I ain't got no peace at home
To the oppressed
I must confess
all the distress
be havin me stressed
and I'm impressed
when I continue to keep on holdin strong
They wanna knock me cause i'm viben off the people's vibe
livin off the people's pride
to throw the snake up off his throne
Death to the oppressor and his capitalist establishment
they censor me cause I advocate communist advancement
I'm keeping Pac alive
Along with the Panther tribe
Revolutionary warfare China's culture style

*hook* two times

Vr 2:
Hot damn
they done labeled me a terrorist
can somebody call up Barrack and tell that fool what terror is
He got the troops slangin black in Afghan
but lockin us up for having crack crumps in our pants
I want his pass revoked
Lock him up in Guantanamo
Can't they see that this type of government ain't gone never grow
They be the ones blowin up countries
pullin them kick does
puttin them bullet holes
in anybody opposin they policies
and I'm the bad guy?
Posted with my poli seeds
fist to the sky
shades on my eyes
waiting til freedom rings
pushing for growth til the day that I die
For the people I bare arms
And for the people I'll ride
cause

*hook* twice

Vr 3 - melody style-

Freedom and justice for humanity
to all my ghetto children of Third World countries
I recognize the divisions in personalities
we must all fight together
and push for equality
cause there be no other way to go about it
If we want to better ourselves
we must confront him
Me be the lion at the front
from the belly of the beast
with the barrel of me pump
lyin right between him teeth
sangin

I...will ride for the people no matter what comes my way at all
I...will die for the cause settle for nothing less than all we rightfully deserve

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[Education]
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A Plea for Educational Opportunities

Senator Webb,

I am writing on behalf of a great number of Florida prisoners. I have now been incarcerated, day for day, in the State of Florida, for over fourteen years. I was arrested at the age of eighteen, sentenced to serve the rest of my life in prison at the age of twenty, and will be thirty three years of age on Nov 4th, 2009. My first year in the state prison system, between the ages of twenty and twenty-one, I succeeded in earning my GED and completing a vocational course in small business management. After the age of 21, and due to my having a life-sentence, I lost virtually any further opportunity to participate in such prison education programs. At the time (1996-1997) those prisoners under the age of twenty-one were given priority enrollment in such programs - those over twenty-one were given a secondary priority based upon their release dates.

Since then, and over time in general, educational opportunities provided to the prison population collectively and overall, have only become more and more restricted. Not only are we no longer eligible for government grants or loans, but the state funds that were once allotted toward prison educational programs have been both dramatically cut from the state budget and absurdly funneled into other departments of the correctional (in no sense rehabilitative) system - such as those departments which advocate the building of more prisons. In fact, a more than significant amount of the state budget set aside for educational programs outside of the prison system, has gone disproportionately toward that same goal - the building of more, greater restricted prisons. As I write this letter there are many prisons throughout the state that have not a single educational program to speak of, period. On average, a Florida prison houses approximately one thousand prisoners. Of any of these groups of 1000, the vast majority have never attained neither a basic education nor a specialized skill. Without these tools, again and again they will fall by the wayside - as those who are better equipped, for whatever reason, continue to progress. The prison population, not only in the state of Florida but across the country, has boomed, and in many cases has exceeded maximum capacity. Supreme Courts in the State of California have ordered the reduction of its state's prison population by 40,000 people. It is nearing two times maximum capacity. Why?

Of the 40,000 people to be released in the State of California, how many of them will have earned a GED, how many of them will have learned a trade, how many of them will have been given the opportunity to utilize their time in prison with an option to participate in a college level correspondence course, and most importantly of all, how many of them will return, because of the denial or limitation of any or all of these three?

Senator Webb, as I have already stated, I have been sentenced to serve the rest of my life in prison. But it wasn't until some point of my developing life - a period that some would say came too late - that I realized that I was indeed a part of a greater whole. I say this because regardless of my personal circumstances I hold fast to another conviction as well: the fact that I still have a life in which to serve. My service has spanned from both prison classrooms and prison youth tour programs, to prison recreation yards and even disciplinary confinement cells. I have helped both 40 year old men and kids as young as fifteen - yes, kids as young as 15 - learn how to read, write, and work arithmetic. And it is in that same spirit that I wish to be serving now by writing this letter, and giving them (us) a voice.

Senator Webb, I believe service is something you can relate to. I've heard speak of you over the BBC radio broadcasts, I recently read of your trip to Burma in Time Magazine, and your devotion toward the need to improve education, in general, was recently touted in an article published in the periodical Under Lock and Key. Whatever proposals you make, points you debate, objective you've set out to reach, and obstacles that will impede the way ... we would like to play a part as well.

Education, or the lack of, is the most relevant factor in the manifestation of (our) criminal behavior. Whether it be academic, social, moral, or personal...the prison systems of America have very little to provide, if not simply just less and less. Continuing to deny the U.S. prison population this single provision alone, is to continue to promote the ignorance of a system that, per capita, currently has imprisoned more human beings than any other nation in the world. The question why - even among us, the illiterate, is no longer any more profound than it is rhetorical.

Sincerely,

A United States Prisoner

Response from Senator Webb:

response from Sen. Webb on Education

Reply to letter of September 29, 2009:

Dear Senator Webb,
Your letter of Sept. 29, 2009 has been received and upon contemplation it is my conclusion that it was somewhat automated. In no way could my original letter to this office have been construed as concerning my "trial or any of the legal issues surrounding [my] case." Furthermore, my contacting you, a Senator of Virginia, instead of a Senator in the state which I reside, should give credence to the reason. My Desire is to learn more about the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009, and how we (the incarcerated) can help to further that bill. A personal response would be highly praised.

Sincerely,

A United States Prisoner

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[Medical Care] [Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility at Rock Mountain] [California] [ULK Issue 12]
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Prison Health Care System is Inhumane

Health Care is a Straight JacketI was unable to finish reading ULK10 because I was motivated to begin this letter as a contribution to issue 12: Health Care. The front page article "Brutality Leads to Death" by a Texas prisoner describes an almost identical incident that happened here at the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility (RJDCF, in the Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU).

On September 13, 2009, a prisoner's death occurred here in ASU Housing Unit 6, Cell 128. This prisoner died of a drug overdose, which is being blamed on one of the PM med nurses who was apparently fired and escorted off the grounds. At the same time, they are investigating another prisoner suspected of selling drugs to the prisoner. It should be noted that this unit has video surveillance security cameras.

The fact is, on August 4, 2009, a federal judicial panel found that the entire California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) was in violation of the Eighth Amendment rights of prisoners, that the prison health care system was inadequate and constituted cruel and unusual punishment, and that denial of adequate medical care caused at least one unnecessary death per week. In addition to the federal take over of the prison health care system, CDCR was ordered to reduce prison overcrowding by 40,000 prisoners within the next couple of years.

The most recent prisoner death can only be viewed as a criminally negligent homicide, caused not by the nurse or prisoners, but by the inhumane conditions and treatment we are subjected to every day in these disciplinary segregation units. Prisoners are stripped of all personal property and thrown in an empty cell without basic human necessities, are denied prescribed medications on a regular basis, and are ignored by custody and medical staff when they bang on the door and scream "man down" in the case of a medical emergency.

I have been confined in this ASU for nearly a year, because I "refused to double cell" with a non-compatible, sexually violent predator, a known rapist! As a Jailhouse Lawyer, I am currently pursuing two federal civil rights lawsuits for inhumane treatment, denial of due process and sex discrimination under patriarchy.

The relevance of the ongoing legal battles, deaths of prisoners, and prisoner resistance in relation to the larger anti-imperialist struggle is not lost on me. With all the hoopla about Obama's health care reform proposals in the liberal corporate-controlled media, one can't help but read between the lines and separate the real from the BS.

Let's keep it real, this health care reform will not include prisoners. Additionally, right-wing Republican legislators in congress are already raising a ruckus about inclusion of immigrants. Why not talk about the California prison health care crisis in these national debates? Or the billions of dollars being wasted in the imperialist Iraq war? Money used to commit mass murder to protect the rights of U.$. oil companies should instead be used to solve the economic and health care crises caused by capitalist greed and medical neglect in this country, and in the prison industrial complex! Revolution, not reform, is the only way to stop the oppression, mass murder, and health care neglect under U.$. imperialism.

The program of MIM(Prisons) promotes the "elimination of all oppression - the power of groups over other groups" and "independent institutions...to provide...medical care." Additionally, the MIM Platform states "Abolish the Amerikan prison system...prisoners who do not represent a violent threat to society will be relased." These are steps in the right direction. And so is the struggle against patriarchy and gender oppression!

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[Organizing] [California State Prison, Los Angeles County] [California] [ULK Issue 14]
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Unity works to combat unreasonable regs

On 4 September 2009, the prisoners of California State Prison - Los Angeles County (CSP-LAC) came together in an act of protest, resistance and solidarity against sadistic pigs and oppressive administrations practice of the denial of basic humyn rights. For those who are unfamiliar with CSP-LAC, it needs to be pointed out that the prison is actually located on the outskirts of Los Angeles in what is referred to as the High Desert. Being as we are in the desert, temperatures are often either in the extreme heat or extreme cold, and even though it is only October, the temperature dropped somewhat dramatically. I'm not sure as to exactly what the temperature was, it was either in the upper 40s or lower 50s. It was definitely cool either way.

We were made to walk to a chow hall opposite the yard, and we were not given any jackets, so many prisoners decided to wear their personal thermals under their prison blues. Upon arriving to the dinning hall about four or five fellow prisoners were returned to our buildings by the yard pigs for the simple act of wearing a thermal in an attempt to try to stay warm. Upon arriving back to the building those same prisoners asked to speak with the sergeant in order to discuss this ridiculous regulation. The pigs on the scene refused to call the sergeant, so the prisoners decided to simply take a seat on the tables and wait for the pigs to call him.

As I arrived back to my building I saw those four or five brothers in captivity seated. I'd already heard what was going on so I approached them and took a seat with them as I was interested in speaking with the lead pig myself. As the rest of our brothers returned, many looked on in confusion. Some saw what was going and in a collective show of solidarity simply walked over and sat with us. By the time everybody returned, our numbers grew from six to about ten or eleven. Needless to say, this was a pathetic amount of people for a building that holds about 200. It is important however to point out that this was a completely spontaneous event and the majority of people were not aware of what was going on, so there is no blame.

However, after about 20 minutes, a couple of prisoners scared themselves into submission and decided that this wasn't worth going to the hole over. We explained that there was nothing to go to the hole over, we were simply asking to speak to the sergeant, and even if they did send us to the hole, then we were prepared to go. If that was the price of speaking up for ourselves and our basic humyn right of keeping warm, then so be it. Not 5 minutes later the pigs hit the alarm on us. We immediately took a seated position on the floor as the pig Sgt. Jameson trotted in, foaming at the bit, waving his little stick at us, while verbally insulting us and threatening to spray us with his OC if we didn't get down, but we were already down.

We were all cuffed and taken outside and lined up along the yard fence, made to face away from our oppressors. While we were cuffed some of the pigs suddenly found their courage and began to make their little smart ass remarks. Some of us began to speak up and merely explain our position and that all we wanted to do was have a conversation with the sergeant. At this time the piece of shit sergeant resumed with his posture of threats and verbal abuse. At this point we finally just said "fuck you and everything you stand for" to which his reply was to call for an exaggerated request for re-enforcements. All yards were ordered to shut down and have their pigs flood our yard. All this for a handful of prisoners who were already in restraints. About 10 minutes later the secondary response arrived, however there was not much for them to do except to supervise the locking up of the remaining prisoners on the yard who were in no way involved with us.

After about 20-30 minutes the yard was finally clear of prisoners except for those of us in restraints. All the while we were cuffed and on our knees facing a wall. As the secondary response team slowly evacuated the yard another alarm went off. It turns out that the prisoners in the gym witnessed what was going on with us and simultaneously decided to get off their bunks directly disobeying orders and refusing to lay back down. They decided to protest the fact that they were being made to lay down, and stay on their bunk all day long. They were also not being allowed to go to their work assignments. So the gym said "fuck it" and the secondary response team had to run in there and extract about 30 people. Thirty people is a small number compared to the capacity being held in the gym, but still better numbers than the so-called "high security" prisoners. All in all I counted about 42 people out there. Three people were chosen to be interviewed by ISU (Investigative Service Unit). They basically wanted to know what it was that brought all this about. They were told that all we wanted to do is to have a simple discussion with the facility sergeant as to why we weren't being allowed to wear our thermals. We did nothing wrong, nor did we disobey any order to lock it up. As a matter of fact, we were never told to take it into our cells; the prison pigs just hit the alarm.

We were then interviewed by the yard lieutenant and assistant warden. We repeated our line and also stated that as far as we knew their little rule about us not being allowed to wear our thermals was bogus since the Title 15 no longer stipulates whether we can or cannot. We were also not being allowed to look at the prison DOM (Departmental Operational Manual) and every pig we asked concerning the "no thermals in the chow hall" rule refused to confirm or deny whether the regulation is actually on the books or not, or whether this is all just part of the yard administration's power trip, which makes me think that since they've not confirmed or answered our questions, and only gave vague answers, then they're obviously hiding something.

Recognizing that we're being granted an audience with prison administrators some of us took the opportunity to bring up a variety of issues affecting the population. We told them we weren't being allowed to use the phone, go to yard, etc. Their response was that as far as the thermals were concerned we are in fact not allowed to wear them to the chow hall. However, they still did not confirm whether it is a mandated regulation or not. They then apologized for not issuing out jackets. They said that we're supposed to have been issued jackets weeks ago but there was some delay. The warden was currently making some calls trying to get us some jackets. By the end of the interview we were told that they'd found us some jackets and that they would be issued Monday. However, we were also told not to take this as them somehow giving in to our demands. Yeah right. We were told that concerning the program on the yard, we had ourselves to blame because of supposed safety risks that we are always causing. At the end of the interview they told us that we were all going to be punished for participating in a disturbance. We were then sent out back to our cells.

Hours later those jackets that were nowhere in sight or on the prison grounds were somehow "found" and distributed. Funny how that works.

Now today, for the first time in four months, a huge portion of the population was allowed access to the phones.

Who knows, maybe tomorrow we'll finally get some yard.

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[Gender] [Abuse] [Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility at Rock Mountain] [California] [ULK Issue 11]
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Transgender Struggles in Segregation

I'm a 40 year old transgender prisoner activist. I've been held prisoner by the state of California for 20 years, including 10 years in Pelican Bay SHU and am currently confined to Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU), awaiting transfer to Tehachapi SHU for the past year.

I was initially placed in ASU for "refusing to double cell" and put in disciplinary segregation for objecting to random housing assignments with sexually violent predators because I am a transgender female on hormone therapy. I was placed in punitive, inhumane conditions, simply for exercising my constitutional right to personal safety.

Subsequently I was charged with "battery on a peace officer" for spitting on the lieutenant in ASU. Then I was physically assaulted by Correctional Officer Llamas, who falsified a report charging me with "battery on a peace officer" because I stuck my arm out of the food port on my cell door; he pepper-sprayed me and twisted my arm for demanding to see his supervisor.

I am an experienced jailhouse lawyer and am currently pursuing two federal civil rights lawsuits: 1) concerning medical neglect at Pleasant Valley State Prison, and 2) inhumane conditions and sex discrimination at RJDCF-ASU.

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[Rhymes/Poetry] [Utah] [ULK Issue 11]
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Utah's Finest

To protect and serve or belittle and torture?
It's the same to me, to them I'm not sure
Kind of feels like these pigs they feel that
They enjoy our deaths, our "suicides" and body bags
Abu Ghraib wasn't a fluke or freak of nature
Those atrocities pale in comparison to what I see here
Except this stuff's o.k. if we're Amerikans?
Faces filled with expressions of understanding
Loving benevolence as if they're doing me favors
And I'm deserving of my cage, not a slave here
Questioning my motives, like "Why's he fighting back?"
Your corrections made me this way, that's real as a heart attack.

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[Culture] [ULK Issue 10]
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Hip Hop: Living Culture or Commodity?

Hip-hop can be a very powerful weapon to help expand young people's political and social consciousness. But just as with any weapon, if you don't know how to use it, if you don't know where to point it or what you're using it for, you can end up shooting yourself in the foot or killing your sisters and brothers." — Assata Shakur

There are four main elements that make up what hip hop culture really is: Break dancing, DJing, MCing and Graffiti art. Each element plays a major role in hip hop. This beautiful culture originated in the Bronx, NY from the oppressed lumpen proletarians. The music from this culture was diligently expressed through MCing (rapping) about oppression and the conditions the oppressed people were going through in this capitalist decadent society. It was not about money, cars, jewelry and negativity but as the years went by and white capitalist businessmen saw a fortune in this culture that they could exploit the voices that created hip hop were greatly silenced.

The common refrain of many submissions we got for this issue of Under Lock & Key was that "Hip Hop is Dead." But the reality is much more complex, and we are not ready to dismiss hip hop. The objectification and commodification of culture often signifies the end of its existence as a culture, as Fanon argued. However, in the height of imperialism, where the capitalists have learned to fashion their products to niche markets, all cultures will be commodified, and yet the oppressed still need a culture to call their own.

The reason why MIM(Prisons) is focusing on hip hop in this issue on culture, is that hip hip came from the oppressed nations in the u$. Today, "hip hop" is pretty much considered synonymous with oppressed nation youth culture even as that culture continues to evolve in many different ways. This is true in the united $tates, but also true to an extent in many parts of the world today.

We put our hope in the oppressed nations because of their objective interests in progressive change. That interest comes through in hip hop culture, as much as the white corporate media and its white consumer audience do to discourage that. Still the mainstream acts like all you need is a certain type of a beat in a commercial and it's hip hop. Or dress your employees a certain way and it's hip hop.

In their day, the Black Panther Party criticized Black bourgeois elements who fetishized pieces of African culture with no context as "pork chop nationalists." There was no connection to a real people with an existing lifestyle. The Panthers were greatly influenced by Frantz Fanon, who wrote in an essay entitled "Racism and Culture":

"Exoticism... allows no cultural confrontation. There is on the one hand a culture in which qualities of dynamism, of growth, of depth can be recognized. As against this, we find characteristics, curiosities, things, never a structure."

Hip hop developed as a living, dynamic life of a people; oppressed people in north amerikan ghettos. As we'll touch on below it is still a living evolving culture that has been both adopted and adapted by people around the world. But before going global, hip hop culture was commodified by white record owners for white consumers. They sold this exotic culture to white youth looking for rebellion and excitement. Decades before, thousands of white youth gave money and support to the Panthers to express their desires to challenge the dominant culture and status quo. With hip hop, corporate amerika could sell a much more sanitized and safer version of Black rebellion to whites. And while there were benefits in terms of the building of public opinion around the struggles of the oppressed, this was soon drowned out in what became a new form of cooning - reinforcing racist ideologies.

Commodification of Hip Hop

Hip hop culture began in the late 1970s, but it wasn't until the middle to late 1980s that the cultural life and expression of hip hop grew to influence youth throughout amerika and the world.

During the late 1980s and early 90s, the culture continued to thrive. In this era, Black and Latino youth further developed their voices through hip hop to express their anger, fears, ideas, art and frustrations within the dominant white-oppressor culture, with its police brutality and poverty.

Hip hop culture isn't just about the music, it's about a lifestyle - from the clothes we wear, style of hair, taggin' rail cars and walls with radical art and graffiti, unity and more. It's a culture of resistance.

As Immortal Technique wrote in his article, "Gangsta Rap is Hip Hop" a few years back, what was called Reality Rap in the early years of hip hop was a reflection of the conditions that the MC's saw around them. These images were influenced by machismo and other viewpoints that were part of the survival techniques of those coming up in that environment. As survival also required recognizing that the system does not work for us, this Reality Rap was a reflection of the mass revolutionary spirit that had fueled the Black and Brown power movements of the previous generation.

The first response from white amerika was predictably negative, but the amount of attention given to hip hop quickly escalated as fears rose. There was a reason why the George HW Bush and Bill Clinton administrations spent so much time disparaging artists like 2pac and Ice-T. Someone was telling Dan Quayle and Tipper Gore to carry out their censorship campaigns. (see Hip Hop in the Scopes of the State)

To counter their critics, rappers said they were merely reporting the truth. It is true that the rapper has usually served as a block reporter, but there are two problems that have skewed this reporting. The first is bourgeois views of "objective" reporting, that pretend that what is reported and how it is reported could be somehow outside of class struggle. This view allows the oppressed to report on conditions thru rap without taking an approach that serves our struggle. The attitude is "this is just how it is", which leads to acceptance and reinforcement of the status quo.

This becomes an even bigger problem with the pressures from an industry, which tries to protect its bourgeois interests. This brings us to the second problem: the block reporters who make it are the ones reporting in a way that sells to white youth and please white corporations.

Coming from the depressed ghettos of the 1980s, flooded with crack cocaine by the CIA, there was no question of whether or not to become a professional rapper if the opportunity presented itself. As Tupac rapped in his song Don't Stop, "If I wasn't spittin' it'd be prison or death/This rap game all we've got left." Yes, a lot of us found a way to eat, but the result was a lack of potency in the music and a watered-down culture where cars and ice are the motivating factor. It is a culture that is teaching our youth that it's all about them (as individuals). That it's cool to be a dope fiend (sippin' syrup, etc.) and to be victims of HIV/AIDS (it's ok to have multiple sex partners, without ever mentioning protection). Is there any wonder why the highest rates of HIV/AIDS are among Blacks and Latinos between the ages of 13-24?

White-owned corporations saw a profit to be made and stepped in to co-opt the movement. They became owners of record labels and put up money so these impoverished and oppressed people could sell their soul and music for crumbs while these CEO's got millions upon millions of dollars.

With the help of the rappers, the record labels promoted a one-sided image of oppressed youth, an image that has been pushed on the oppressed for hundreds of years - one of uncontrollable libidos, violence, substance abuse and general barbarism. They did this through lyrics about smoking crack, robbing and shooting other Blacks and Latinos in oppressed communities, misogynist raps and raps with no substance. We started to stray away from the four elements and this type of hip hop started to negatively influence the youth and poison their minds. While culture reflects life, it also influences it. And arguably, the corporatized thug image contributed to the thousands of deaths that plagued southcentral Los Angeles and other amerikan ghettoes in the 1990s.

Hip Hop is Dead until it takes up revolutionary politics


So with this contradiction in the culture of the oppressed came total destruction of the originality and with this concrete analysis there must be change. Like comrade Lenin once said, "concrete analysis of concrete conditions is the most essential thing in Marxism, the living soul of Marxism." We must regain the true culture of hip hop, which is based in the real struggles of the people and helps to teach, empower and unite the masses. This culture can be used to ignite the lumpen proletariat to support the revolutionary cause, like Mao once said, "Revolutionary culture is a powerful revolutionary weapon for the broad masses of the people."

Culture is an essential element of the history of a people, and it's social development. Culture in general, and hip hop culture in particular, plunges its roots into the base of the material reality of the environment in which we live in the hoods and barrios and it reflects the organic nature of society, which is more or less influenced by the dominant white society and culture of our oppressed communities. Currently the revolutionary side of hip hop is not the dominant aspect of the contradiction with the corporate/oppressor side. Amilcar Cabral once had this to say about culture:

"Study of the history of liberation struggles shows that they generally have been preceded by an upsurge of cultural manifestations, which progressively harden into an attempt, successful or not, to assert the cultural personality of the dominated people by an act of denial of the culture of the oppressor... it is generally within the cultural factor that we find the germ of challenge which leads to the structuring and development of the liberation movement."

We saw this germ in the Reality Rap two decades ago. If hip hop is to transform into a true vehicle for social change, we must demand that our artists keep it a hundred and give us more analysis in their music. Stop promoting the use of addictive narcotics, that they become more active in our communities, and give our youth the encouragement to study, unify, and resist oppression. Hip hop needs to reflect the struggle, and push it forward. If they fail to do this, hip hop remains sterile and dead.

Hip Hop as Reflection of Amerikan Culture

During the 1990's, people like Dolores Tucker and Tipper Gore earned the loathing of the booming hip hop culture as they targeted it for censorship and blamed it for the moral depravity of oppressed people. There was a lively debate around whether art reflected life or the other way around. But the answer to those involved was clear: people didn't start rapping about murder, drugs and misogyny because they were trying to corrupt the youth. The youth were corrupted by a system that did not provide them with positive outlets and this was reflected in hip hop, both for good and for bad. Everybody knows censoring rappers isn't going to improve the hood, but improving the hood will change what people are rapping about.

Even after its takeover by white-owned corporations, hip hop continues to be under fire for its misogynistic, materialistic, explicit content and for delivering negative messages to today's youth. What they did is sanitize the rebellious voice of the oppressed, while maintaining the negativity as a form of pseudo-rebellion to reinforce racist stereotypes of what oppressed nation youth are all about. Yet, upon deeper examination, one tends to see that the messages are merely the same ones being transmitted to the society at large by the institutions which govern society.

The parallels between the ideas propagated through the mass media and other sources; and the ones rapped about on the radio by recording artists are not hard to recognize. While this society proposes to thrive on such "rights" as "freedom of speech" and embraces such abstract concepts as individualism, materialism, and using sex to make a profit, it lambasts and condemns artists who are the products of such defunct ideas and who have chosen to endorse and promote them for monetary gain—similar to their capitalist counterparts and employers, only creatively set over catchy beats in rhyme form.

While the hip-hop/rap culture is made up primarily of lower-class, urban youth, generally from the New Afrikan community, the question that arises is: Why are these destructive, negative values so unacceptable now? It seems that as soon as these inner-city youth find a way to use this society's own value system to their benefit, and use their experiences and conditions of poverty, drugs, and crime as an avenue to create material wealth, they are demonized for their efforts. "Rap music" is condemned, rather than society as a whole. This theme is a regular refrain for many rappers who tell their critics through rhyme, "I am what you made me."

While rappers are being chastised for glorifying violence and criminality, the chastizers fail to confront the underlying causes of such crime and its solution, instead placing the blame on rap culture. From a young age, youth are taught by society that accumulation of wealth is the desired goal of life, to look out for yourself and obtain as much as you can. At the same time — through acts of war at home and abroad — our country reinforces the idea that during the quest for the "almighty dollar" any means may be employed to get more money, including violence, murder, and deceit. When a person not from a privileged upbringing and background employs these same tactics, even for the same objectives, they are labeled "criminals" and are subject to incarceration and, in some cases, death. The laws that govern this country blatantly display the fact that they were made to protect the privileges of the upper-class and oppressor nation at the expense of the lower-class and oppressed nations.

If we want to get to the root of the problem, our attacks shouldn't be aimed at a rap culture that developed from the harsh conditions of this society and which only reflects the same backward ideas and values that have been indoctrinated into the masses since birth. Instead, our attacks should be concentrated at a capitalist system that institutionalizes these degenerate values and ideas, and the ugly conditions it has consequently created in this country. Only when we begin to confront the root causes of crime, poverty, unemployment and racism will we be able to teach and educate our youth, and society as a whole, to new positive and progressive ideas and values, based on people helping and caring about other people-in one word: socialism. Anything short of this is a failure to confront the real issues and is simply a step backward.

Hip Hop Lives in Palestine, Senegal, Somalia...

When hip hop blew up in the amerikan market, it was only natural that the capitalists tried to push it globally, as much of the Third World is so brainwashed into worshiping anything that comes from the united $tates as being superior. In many cases, the Third World has adapted hip hop to their own conditions and needs though. In fact, Third World hip hop has consciously rejected many aspects of hip hop that we are also critical of: the killing, the misogyny, the drugs and promiscuity. Many Third World nations are not comfortable with all that. In Muslim countries in Africa, there are hip hop heads who very much look up to rappers from the u$, but do not imitate much of the negative lyrical content. (see http://www.africanunderground.com) There is a class difference between the Third World masses and the u$ lumpen, who have become cultural leaders globally because of u$ imperialism not in spite of or in opposition to it.

While we can be very critical of hip hop for promoting drug use, violence against the oppressed, misogyny and racism, others want to back-handedly criticize it for empowering the oppressed. In contrast, revolutionary artists often embrace while redefining the gangster and the hard images of both mainstream and underground rap music. With the globalization of hip hop and the "I'm more hard" and "I'm more gutter than you" personas that are even pushed by the mainstream, we've seen the appearance of Third World voices with a more internationalist voice.

New York-based artist Immortal Technique said in his title track about the Third World, "it makes the hood in amerika look like paradise." Meanwhile, Somalian rapper, K'naan, claims to be from the most dangerous place in the world and challenges the studio gangster images of rappers in the u$ in his song "What's Hardcore?":

I'ma spit these verses cause I feel annoyed
And I'm not gonna quit till I fill the void
If I rhymed about home and got descriptive
I'd make 50 Cent look like limp bizkit
It's true, and don't make me rhyme about you
I'm from where the kids is addicted to glue
Get ready, he got a good grip on the machete
Make rappers say they do it for love like R-Kelly
It's hard
Harder than Harlem and Compton intertwined
Harder than harboring Bin Laden and rewind
To that earlier part when I was kinda like:
We begin our day by the way of the gun
Rocket-propelled grenades blow you away if you front
We got no police, ambulances, or fire fighters
We start riots by burning car tires
They looting, and everybody start shooting...

This is the kind of "Reality Rap" that the OG's from Los Angeles used to spit, before "gangsta" became a caricature.

A thriving Palestinian hip hop scene has popularized the slogan, "Hip Hop's not dead, it lives in Palestine." This is coming from youth who are using hip hop to express their desires for national liberation, combating the slander being used to label their people as terrorists.

The idea of a global culture is still a new reality. But if such a thing can exist that is really based in the lives of real people, then it must represent the interests of the world's majority. Maybe a culture that arose from the oppressed in the heart of the empire, and was then popularized by the empire itself, can be turned around by the masses to become just that. We are currently seeing two futures of hip hop play out. One has billions of dollars behind it, the other has billions of people. If we can still call it "hip hop" culture in all its different forms around the world, then we can bet on the oppressed peoples' version winning out.

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[Gender] [Arizona] [ULK Issue 12]
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Medical Science Skewed Under Patriarchy

Greetings komrades,

I received ULK July, no. 9 and I disagree with part of your response to the prisoner that wrote on gender. You stated that the prisoner's characterization of women as "very emotional" beings is actually a good example of sexist views.

However this is a topic I have long ago done research in. Medical science in fact states that men think with the left side of their brains which is the logical and reasoning side, and women think with the right side of their brains which is emotional and sentimental. Thus this is not a sexist view but a medical one.

This means if medical science is correct then that would mean that female officers are more emotional than male officers, which of course doesn't make them more dangerous than male officers. Both male and female officers are illogical because the system which they adhere to is illogical. It is also an established fact that some of these hoochies that been dogged one too many times by males on the streets who become guards all of a sudden, because they lack the education to gain better employment, will exercise their piggish authority over male prisoners with a wrath, just because they can.

However that's not to say that male guards don't do the same when they remember that their lunch money was taken away one too many times in high school by thugs, thugs similar to the ones they now have authority over.

To summarize, the job of Gestapo in any U.$. concentration camp sucks, but women guards should never be allowed to work in men's prisons. They're just slightly more useless than their male counterparts. When something serious pops off they all run for cover in fear for their lives. Courage is not a criteria to become a correction pig. "A man who controls his emotions controls his destiny. The one that doesn't is unstable in all his ways."

MIM(Prisons) Responds: Although it may be scientifically too soon for us to say that men and wimmin are completely alike, we must remember that all studies about nature vs. nurture (in this case brain chemistry vs. socialization) are done under hundreds of years of patriarchy. It is impossible to determine how humyns ultimately behave with no outside influence, because we are very deeply affected by the culture we grow up in.

At this point in time under the patriarchy, it is counter productive for revolutionaries to make sweeping proclamations about innate characteristics of men and wimmin. This debate is a distraction from the real issues, and plays into enforcing gender stereotypes. However, this comrade gets it right when he says that "both male and female officers are illogical because the system which they adhere to is illogical." No matter the emotional tendencies of any persyn, they will behave in illogical ways when put in an illogical position. In order to prevent the wrath of any CO, we need to eliminate the illogical job in an illogical society. This can only happen by eliminating capitalism and the profit motive, which will in turn get rid of the prison system.

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