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[Organizing] [ULK Issue 63]

Notes on Advancing the Struggle Inside: Organizing

Within prisons we find ourselves confronted with multiple obstacles to organizing efforts. Obstacles spanning from legal and material to psychological and physical. Before we can even engage in political activities we must confront these various road blocks, what I call "walls" (barriers against activism and organizing).

Psychological walls manifest in two primary ways: 1) lack of receptivity in conversations; and 2) perspectives of hopelessness. For prisoner activists these are Goliathan problems. In the first instance you find yourself talking to a brick wall. In the second your points may be acknowledged as valid but still dismissed as useless opposition. A most frustrating situation, because one – your words can not make an impression; and two – your arguments prove valid but produce no effect. In both cases real victories (read demonstrations) proving the validity of arguments and feasibility of proposed actions is the surest method of overcoming such obstacles. In the former, a prisoner sees the validity. In the latter, a prisoner gains motivation. Even a small victory – a granted grievance – is capable of advancing organizational efforts to be heard and considered.

Material walls are next formidable in line. Including almost every privilege extended to a prisoner and their financial security. Following capitalist society, prisons use these privileges and financial control to maintain leverage over prisoners' behavior/thought. Furthermore, as most prisoners are stuck in parasitic thinking in pursuit of a capitalistic existence, such advantage creates a strong disinclination towards jeopardizing them, even if it is in their best interests. As with capitalism in general, there is no convenient nor easy answer that can be applied with certainty. All prisoners' privileges and financial interests intensify identification with classism (antagonistic) and capitalist priorities. Considering this, no general rules of approach can be established as each's interests influence differs. Fortunately, every answer that can be applied can be approached on first, an individual, then, group or demographic level, expanding in concentric circles.

Legal and physical walls are less conspicuous; most prisoners view political activity as futile. Still once activism gains momentum and organizing becomes realistic, these last walls spring up. Within prisons these signify various administrative "conveniences" (e.g., Ad-Seg, SHU, MCU, punitive segregation, out-of-state transfer, and varied movement/privilege/property/financial/communication restrictions or other arbitrary sanctions). Outside of prisons, many courts conspire to create so many legal formalities, exorbitant fees, byzantine procedures and lopsided laws that most trained lawyers are bemused and at a loss. For the prisoner who does survive such a crucible, pride is only the beginning of the prize.

All in all these many walls constitute the primary, secondary and such obstacles to organization behind bars. These difficulties should not be taken as reasons to dissuade political action but rather, as motivation to pursue these endeavors. Why else would there be so many protective measures if activism and organizing were indeed useless? Once the prisoner understands their interests in the matter these insurmountable walls become merely constant annoyances necessary for progress and material dialectical processes. Nothing worthy of having ever comes easy. With greater obstacles comes a greater and more valuable prize. Rise to such challenges, allowing your hunger for real equality to increase along and as much as difficulties faced; if not more so.

[Prison Labor] [ULK Issue 62]

Notes on Advancing the Struggle Inside: Prison Labor

Prison labor is an interesting concept. Compared to the enormous expenditures (financial, mental, physical, etc.) the rewards/benefits of prison industrial labor are trivial in the extreme.

Excluding coveted "prison industry" posts, over 95% of prisoners are employed in prison maintenance, construction, administrative/educational labor). [This figure may be accurate in this comrade's state. Our preliminary results across 22 systems in the U.$. show almost 25% working in manufacturing and agriculture. — Editor] Indeed, such work does prove beneficial (in the case of kitchen labor — invaluable) to prison operations. Kitchen work notwithstanding, the sum total of benefits is small. So why do prisons use prisoner labor? Especially considering it does little to lessen the economic burden of penal institutions on society. There are two plausible answers to this question. Surprisingly, neither is directly linked to financial interests.

In the first place, prisoners are employed to reinforce socially acceptable behavior and occupational patterns (by capitalistic standards). While this may sound perfectly justifiable and even admirable; truth is, it is far less altruistic. Reinforcement of socially accepted roles is an integral aspect of the subjection-manipulation cycle (see ULK 52An Invaluable Resource? And ULK 54The Adaption of Capitalistic Controls), which through an invasive, subtle and constant life-long indoctrination, endeavors to create a homogeneous populace. Prison labor is meant to be a control for inducing conformity in prison which later translates to the same out in society. An objective achieved through subjection (mandatory labor) and manipulation (rewards or reprimands, restrictions and sanctions) in a never-ending cyclic process. A process similar to Pablo Escobar's approach to business — plata o plomo (silver or lead). In simple terms, accept my favor or risk my displeasure. This reality is paralleled throughout society. Contribute to capitalism, strive to become a capitalist, or experience privations, marginalization, ostracization, imprisonment or worse. In a way, prison labor is a form or reeducation, along capitalist lines.

In the second place, labor in prison provides an added buffer against unrest and radical organization among prisoners. Prisoners structure their days around their jobs, giving it importance and prominence in their daily lives. Many would feel lost at sea, wayward, direction-less without it. It gives the prisoner a focal point distinct from and meaningless to their best interests – toppling the penal system. Distracted by menial duties, most prisoners never bother to contemplate their plight, subjection/manipulation, origins of their situation and the oppression, which made it all possible (eventual?); not even mentioning the oppressors who become an abstract "them."

As such, prison labor does four important things for capitalism:

  1. Reeducates deviants (self-determinants)
  2. Reinforces classism
  3. Drains on and distracts prisoner intellect
  4. Impedes any meaningful development (mental, physical, political and social)

Prisons are gargantuan popular control systems. Prison labor is a system within a system created for the advancement of a thriving capitalist state — inequality and an overabundance of commodities. Considering how many prisoners work prison jobs, join society's labor force and become re-acclimated to capitalist control, the effectiveness of prison labor as a process is quite horrifying. Ignorance is a capitalist's bliss. Knowledge is a revolutionary's power. Understanding reality as it confronts us is the first step to dismantling the penal institute as a whole.

MIM(Prisons) adds: The point that much prison labor is not actually saving operating costs is an important piece to our analysis that we have yet to quantify. According to our survey, some 460,000 prisoners are working in prison maintenance jobs in the state and federal systems at a median of 150 hours per month. To hire that work out at $10/hr would cost around $9 billion, or what would amount to 10% of the money spent on the criminal injustice system.

However, it is not uncommon for state-funded programs to hire more people than they need to complete a job, because profit is not the motive. And it makes sense to pay prisoners for attending schooling and other programming activities when the motivations above are considered. This is another perspective on prisons as social control. Socialist states have and will also use prisons to shape populations in a certain direction. Of course, the state apparatus serves that economic system. In socialism, prisons combat classism. In capitalism, they reinforce it.

[Organizing] [Gender] [ULK Issue 61]

Notes on Advancing the Struggle Inside: dealing with sex offenders

There are very few labels more stigmatizing than "sex offender" in prison. While sex crime encompasses a wide variety of "criminal" behavior ranging from urinating in public to actual sexual depredation, once labeled a sex offender (SO) any individual is automatically persona non grata; black-listed.

Many, myself included, view SOs as the scourge of society, far below cowards, and even below informants (snitches). As such prisoners generally do not debate SOs other than in a negative light. For the prisoner-activist/revolutionary, who is politically aware and class conscious, the SO debate takes on an interesting color. In particular, when we contemplate how a movement can best confront the problem of real sexual depredations. What possible solutions can be put into practice? Isolation? Ostracization? Extermination? Or is there some way in which the democratic method — unity/criticism/unity — can make a difference?

Excluding all non-sexual depredations (public urination and such), SOs constitute a dangerous element; more so than murderers because SOs often have more victims, and many of those victims later become sexual predators, creating one long line of victimization. What is a revolutionary movement to do to stop this terrible cycle? In prisons, at present, the only resolutions being practiced are ostracization and further exploitation. SOs are deliberately excluded from most, if not all, social interactions outside of being extorted, coerced, threatened and or beaten. While prisoners may find approval for these actions of victimization, these actions do nothing at all to solve the problem.

In a discussion with participants in an extension study group (debating topics from MIM(Prisons) study group) it was advanced that all SOs should be put on an island away from society or summarily executed. First, such drastic measures ignore the problem just as current solutions do. In the former (an SO's island) case it creates a subsociety, a subculture, dominated by sexual depredation and its approval. As a member of our group quickly concluded "this would definitely be a bad thing." In the latter case all you do is commit senseless murders.

Any possible solution with the real probability of success must be found in the democratic method. In order to eradicate the senseless cycle of sexual victimization revolutionaries must engage in a re-education campaign. Beginning in unity of purpose: a society based on equality without exploitation, class struggle and antagonism. To achieve this all elements in society must work in concert and be healthy. Following this is the critique phase, where the process of re-education becomes important. Interacting with SOs, demonstrating why, how and where they went wrong. From there one would begin inculcating an SO with proper respect for their fellow humyn and all the rights of individuals, along with a new comprehension of acceptable behavior. For the imprisoned revolutionary the most important aspect is their role in engaging the SO and initiating the re-education. This in itself is a revolutionary step requiring fortitude and stoicism considering current prison norms and expectations.

At any rate, assuming an SO can be brought to understand the incorrectness of their thought and action, they will cease to be a detriment to society. As revolutionaries, of course, this opportunity would extend to a political education as well. In the end one can reasonably hope to not only have reformed an SO, but to have built a new, dedicated revolutionary. The hardest step toward any goal is always the first one, but it must always be made.

MIM(Prisons) responds: Certainly it is correct to oppose sexually violent behavior. But we're still not entirely sure why "sex offenders" are more pariahs than murderers in the prison environment. We lay out a theory for why prisoners are so obsessed with vilifying "sex offenders" in our article [LEAD ARTICLE ISSUE], and we welcome others introspection on the topic.

This author presents an interesting argument, although we're not sure the logic is sound. When someone is murdered in lumpen-criminal violence, often there is retaliatory murder, and subsequent prison time. Lumpen-criminal violence (created and encouraged by selective intervention and neglect by the state) is one of the reasons why 1 in 3 New Afrikan men will go to prison at some point in their lifetime. That represents a long line of victimization.

Rates of sexual assault and intimate partner violence are also staggering. We are not trying to weigh sexual violence against murder and try to determine which is worse. Instead we highlight these arguments made by our contributors to question why they hold the perspectives that they hold, to encourage more scientific thinking.

We disagree this contributor where ey says that revolutionaries in prison should make it a priority to try to rehabilitate people who have committed sex-crimes. As we've explained elsewhere in this issue, we have a limited ability to do that, and this challenge is exacerbated by the fact that we still live in a capitalist patriarchal society. It would make more sense to focus this rehabilitation effort on people who are otherwise contributing to building toward socialist revolution and an end to capitalism. But reforming people who have committed sex-crimes for its own sake is putting the carriage before the horse. At this time, our first priority is to kill capitalism and the patriarchy.

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