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Jun 23, 2017
keywords: First Amendment, Human Rights
From Prison Focus Issue 52
I am one of six principal representatives of our former “Pelican Bay Human Rights Movements First Amendment Campaign” (PBHRMFAC). Our mission statement was initially published within the March 2014 issue of the San Francisco BayView National Black Newspaper.
Since that time our “PBHRMFAC” has morphed into a system-wide California “Prisoners Human Rights Movement” (PHRM) in terms of securing our first amendment rights, by virtue of inherent first amendment objectives combined with the progress made relative to our protracted struggle against decades of long term solitary confinement, culminating in many of our releases from security housing unit (SHU) to various general prison populations throughout the state of California.
The primary objective of our First Amendment Campaign (FAC) is predicated upon effectively challenging and defending against the arbitrary, systematic, race-based, discriminatory pattern and practices of censorship established by prison authorities to stop (outgoing) and/or disallow (incoming) mail, or otherwise suppress expression of New African titled terms and related ideological/political writings and materials, pursuant to a spurious pretext of a nexus to Black Guerilla Family (BGF) activity when either authored or possessed by a specific klass of New Afrikan prisoners.
The described repressive social phenomenon inherent to the prison microcosm confronting the daily life situation of New Afrikan Prisoners, as it relates to the suppression and deprivation of our First Amendment rights established by the U.S. Constitution, is also interrelated and interconnected to the mechanisms of repression through unconstitutional censorship confronting our New Afrikan Nation (NAN) within the societal microcosm at large.
THE PROGRESSIVE INITIATIVES OF OUR PRISONER HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENTS FIRST AMENDMENT CAMPAIGN CONTINUE.
As a “NAN” of people nationally/socially oppressed and economically exploited within Amerikan Kapitalist society, we know that whether or not our physical existence is situated within or beyond prison walls, that together we are better equipped to meet and resolve any contradiction(s) impeding our first amendment rights to the U.S. Constitution. It’s axiomatic effective communications are also key towards conveying the material fact to the public our New Afrikan prisoner klass retains those First Amendment rights not inconsistent with the objectives of the penological corrections system and/or the safety and security of CDCr institutions.
The public must equally be made to understand notwithstanding the fact New Afrikan prisoners are not totally divorced from our First Amendment rights via prison incarceration, we are nonetheless confronted with a set of circumstances experienced as a consequence for having the courage to challenge the prison authorities arbitrary deprivations of our First Amendment rights, court rulings that rationalize deference to prison authorities in matters deemed to regard professional judgement. The courts are rationalizing that prison authorities are better suited to make judgements and decisions or to resolve matters pertaining to prison conditions than are the courts.
These types of court rulings provide for a lack of judicial oversight, checks and balances to the actions of prison authorities regarding their suppression and/or deprivation of New Afrikan prisoners First Amendment rights. Prison authorities are thereby vested with the power to violate the First Amendment rights of New Afrikan prisoners, and subsequently have their unconstitutional action(s) supported by soliciting alleged correctional experts to concoct and narrate elaborate theories as justification for the particular First Amendment violation, once the court litigation on behalf of the matter has been initiated and commences, whereupon the courts are routinely deferring their judicial discretion to the judgement/decisions of prison authorities. In this type of scenario the courts are entitling prison authorities to the rulings in their favor in virtually every First Amendment case.
CURRENT PRISON ACTIVIST AND NEW AFRIKAN COMMUNITY COURT LITIGATION NEEDS YOUR SUPPORT
A clear line of communication is the starting point for grasping the importance of our First Amendment Campaigns (FAC) established progressive objectives, from which essentially flows our inside/outside (prison walls) capacity to network and coordinate the logistics necessary to facilitate our FAC defensive measures, clear and effective communications necessarily entails providing our people within our many New Afrikan (Black) communities with accurate information regarding currently active court litigation being fought in the courts, pertaining to First Amendment rights abuses orchestrated and perpetrated by prison authorities against our New Afrikan prisoners klass or outside societal entities.
Presently, Kamau M. Askari, B/N Ralph A. Taylor persists with Civil court Litigation pertaining to a 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 civil rights complaint by a prisoner, initially filed February 14, 2014, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California properly titled “Ralph A. Taylor, Plaintiff v. Edmund G. Brown, Governor, et al., defendants case No. CV-14-00647 VC, based upon both First and Fourteenth Amendment Consitutional violations.
Askari’s First Amendment rights to the U.S. Constitution were violated when Institutional Gang Investigators (IGI) at Pelican Bay State Prisons (PBSP) security housing unit (SHU) confiscated and retained his innocuous prison gang-neutral New Afrikan related ideological political, socio-cultural, historical writings and materials in process of conducting a search of Askari’s assigned PBSP SHU cell for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not there was any BGF-related indicia either in the cell or among the personal property of Askari, pursuant to a six year review to determine Askari’s status as either an active or inactive member of the BGF political-military organization.
Askari’s Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights were violated by and through PBSP IGI’s established pattern and practice that discriminates against our New Afrikan prisoner klass on the basis of race by routinely confiscating, censoring, and/or suppressing New Afrikan writings and materials by claiming a nexus to the leftist BGF organization, which is a pretext used for spuriously alleging New Afrikan prisoners are involved in or promoting prison gang activities.
Askari has been compelled to file a notice of appeal in the aforementioned case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, i.e, Ralph Taylor, Plaintiff-Appellant v. D. Milligan, et al., Defendants-Appellees, case No. 16-17041. Askari’s opening brief on appeal was due April 7, 2017, for review of the two separate court orders issued by the United States District Court for the Northern District of California granting summary adjudication in favor of the defendants Prison authorities on both Askari’s First and Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection claims. The defendants requested and were granted a 30-day extension of the time to file their answering brief to Askari’s appeal, which is currently due June 7, 2017.
The U.S. District Court’s grant of summary adjudication in favor of prison authorities on Askari’s First and Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection claims was tantamount to a dismissal of his legal claims. The grant of summary adjudication on Askari’s first Amendment claim was through court deference to prison authorities in matters regarded constituting professional judgment, i.e. “Prison authorities version” of the facts of the matter alleging Askari’s confiscated New Afrikan writings and materials are prison gang-related, presenting a threat to legitimate penological interests and prison safety and security.
There was no independent fact-finding by the U.S. District Court relative to Askari’s First Amendment claim, in order to establish the truth of matters regarding the contents of his confiscated New Afrikan writings and materials, and whether or not their confiscation was warranted or justified. The court’s acceptance of and deference to the views of the prison authorities, was primarily based upon a supplemental declaration submitted in support of their motion for summary judgement by an alleged special agent expert in prison gang activities. Yet, the court failed to consider the professional judgement via transcripts of prior superior court testimony of a prison authority expert in prison gang activities, submitted as evidence in support of Askari’s opposition to the motion for summary judgement, and controverting the claims of prison authorities regarding material facts affecting the outcome of the case.
The U.S. District court granted summary adjudication in favor of prison authorities on Askari’s Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection claim by diminishing, manifestly failing to consider, and/or negating material facts underlying and inherent to the claim. Askari’s Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection claim is predicated upon the established pattern and practice of prison authorities, whose intentional discriminatory purpose is to arbitrarily discriminate against our New Afrikan prisoner klass on the basis of race, culture, and membership within the ideological movement of the “New Afrikan Revolutionary Nationalism” (NARN). Upon granting summary adjudication the court reduced the material facts of Askari’s Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection claim, to being exclusively based upon Askari’s membership with the ideological movement of “NARN,” thereby holding that “NARN,” as an ideological movement, is not a klass.
The San Francisco BayView National Black Newspaper has been and continues to be a very valuable resource to prisoners nationally, as well as a staunch supporter of our New Afrikan humanity, prisoner rights issues, and human rights in general. Consequently, and because of the platform the BayView provides for the positive, productive, progressive prisoner activism the BayView has also been routinely censored by prison authorities nationally when deemed necessary, in clear violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The foregoing fact being further exemplified by the nation-wide prison work strike that was promulgated for commencement September 9, 2016, towards ending prison slavery as it is sanctioned and authorized by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Due to supporting and publicizing the national prisoner work strike movement, the Sept./Oct. 2016 issues of the BayView were censored by prisons throughout the state of California and several other major U.S. prisons, based upon the claims of prison authorities that its contents pertaining to the nationwide prison strikes would incite internal disruption in prisons.
More recently the BayView was banned from Alabama’s Holman prison predicated upon a spurious allegation that it’s racially motivated.
First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are also coming under assault by some states who are legislating new bills intended to prosecute protesters and seize their assets under the “Racketeering, Influenced, and Corrupt Organizations” (RICO), when and where violence and/or destruction of property occurs during a protest movement. No doubt this is a fascist reform and responses to protest movements such as “Black Lives Matter,” as well as those motivated in opposition to the arbitrary, racist, and repressive political policies formulated by the newly elected president Donald Trump.
Lawyers, pro bonos, law students, and paralegals are needed to facilitate the consolidation of our First amendment campaign initiative
When we help each other, we are helping ourselves. We have the correct ideas, political programs, and theoretical knowledge to resolve the contradictions and repressive measures intensified to suppress and deprive us of our First Amendment rights.
What’s required to consolidate and establish the progressive objectives of our First Amendment campaign on a solid foundation is, for lawyers, pro bonos, law students, and paralegals, et al., practitioners of law, inside and outside of prison walls, and all people who stand for justice no matter who it’s for or against, to contribute your professional expertise in legal science and legal procedure coordinating your efforts with its, towards bringing to fruition realization of our First Amendment campaign initiatives. Let us not invite by our inaction a future perpetually "without justice.”
Jun 23, 2017
keywords: Ashker Settlement
From Prison Focus Issue 52
We are now in the 20th month of the two year monitoring period of the settlement agreement in the Ashker v. Governor case. That case began as a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging cruel and unusual punishment and due process violations related to the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit (SHU). The settlement expanded the reach of that case, by mandating significant changes in how the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) houses prisoners whom it has deemed to be affiliated with gangs (now termed “Security Threat Groups” or STGs).
Previously, any prisoner who was “gang-validated” (determined by CDCR to be a member or associate of a prison gang) was placed automatically in the SHU for an indeterminate term. This policy has been outlawed under Ashker. Now, gang validation alone is insufficient to place a prisoner in SHU or Administrative Segregation (Ad Seg). To implement this new policy, CDCR has reviewed the cases of all validated SHU prisoners and released almost all of them to some form of general population. Some of these prisoners had spent twenty or more years in SHU, although others had been in SHU for less than a year.
Notably, gang-validated prisoners newly admitted or re-admitted to prison are automatically being placed in Ad Seg in Reception Centers while the IGI (Institutional Gang Investigators) conducts background investigations of the prisoners’ safety.
Under the settlement agreement, CDCR must issue new regulations consistent with the agreement. CDCR has not yet done so. In this manner, CDCR is in violation of the agreement. The monitoring period can be extended if there are current and systemic violations of the constitution or the settlement agreement.
Under pre-existing rules, a gang affiliate can be placed in SHU after a finding of guilt of a SHU-able serious rules violation. Of wide concern is whether CDCR will abuse its disciplinary procedures to throw prisoners back in SHU who have recently been released from SHU. The litigation team is monitoring this issue. Of note is the filing of many conspiracy charges based on confidential informants or notes. Conspiracy does not require the commission of the ultimate crime itself, only an agreement to do so and a single overt act. Therefore, it is an easy charge to allege. CDCR has revised its staff training materials on the use of confidential information and disciplinary proceedings; Ashker counsel has observed some trainings.
Under the settlement, if a prisoner is found guilty of a serious rules violation and the hearing officer finds that there is a nexus (connection) between the violation and an STG, then two years can be added to the base term for the violation. The prisoner would spend those additional years in SHU in a Step Down Program (SDP). CDCR has employed outside consultants to propose revisions to the previous SDP. Those consultants have met with prisoner representatives (the four reps). The consultants’ recommendations are a significant improvement over the previous SDP; however, CDCR has not indicated whether it will adopt them.
The settlement agreement created a new general population housing unit called the Restricted Custody General Population (RCGP), which CDCR located in B Facility at Pelican Bay. Its purpose is to provide more humane housing for prisoners who, in the past, would have been in SHU. To date, its use has primarily been to house prisoners that the Departmental Review Board (DRB) has decided have safety issues, meaning that their safety would be at risk in general population. Many prisoners sent to the RCGP adamantly oppose this placement. These placements are made on the basis of IGI reports which, in turn, are often based on confidential information, and are difficult to challenge. A second serious problem with the RCGP is that, short of debriefing or parole on a determinate prison sentence, prisoners are not getting out of the RCGP unless they are alleged to have committed a serious rules violation, in which case they are moved to Ad Seg or SHU. Finally, the placement of the RCGP in Pelican Bay has negatively impacted most prisoners’ ability to have social visits, given its remote location. Most people in the RCGP would prefer the unit to be moved further south.
The transfer to general population from SHU has generally been positive for most prisoners. Contact visits, phone calls, group yard, jobs and educational programs are enjoyed by those prisoners who have access to them. However, most prisoners were transferred to Level IV prisons, and many prisoners do not have jobs or classes there. These prisoners remain in their cells most of the time, much like SHU. Lockdowns also restrict movement and social contact.
Many longtime SHU prisoners are playing a positive role in general population. Throughout the state, they are exerting a calming influence on prison yards as they advocate for the Agreement to End Hostilities.
With the recent mass exodus of prisoners from SHUs across the state, CDCR has closed the SHUs at Tehachapi (CCI) and New Folsom (CSP-Sacramento). As of the end of March, 2017 (most current numbers available), there were 320 prisoners in Pelican Bay SHU and 116 in Corcoran SHU.
Former SHU prisoners coming up for parole are finding parole commissioners pressuring them to debrief, a pressure the prisoners thought they had left behind when they left SHU. While the settlement agreement represents a move from status-based to behavior-based placements, the parole board has not yet gotten on board with this CDCR reform.
As the plaintiffs stated in 2015 when the settlement was reached, “We recognize that achieving our goal of fundamentally transforming the criminal justice system and stopping the practice of warehousing people in prison will be a protracted struggle.“
Jun 26, 2017
keywords: Prop 57
From Prison Focus Issue 52
Big changes are on the way. Though the slow, grinding process of implementing Proposition 57 is still underway, its main features - affecting the presently incarcerated adult population - are just about to start taking effect. Right now, a new set of “Emergency Rules” are in operation, while we still await the as-yet-unannounced dates for the notice and comment proceedings. The new rates for accumulating “Good Conduct Credits” began on May 1st. Starting July 1, 2017, CDCr intends to begin implementing the revised parole consideration process. Meanwhile, advocacy groups like California Prison Focus, Families to Amend Three Strikes, and other organizations are looking out for your interests and advocating to expand the reach of Prop 57 to more people.
The process to put Prop 57 rules into practice will continue unfolding through the rest of 2017 and contains a number of upcoming deadlines which may or may not change. It’s important to bear in mind this all is still ongoing, so a great deal of uncertainty remains as to what the final changes will look like. As reported in the last issue of Prison Focus, the passage of proposition 57 did not actually change the laws affecting prisoners, but required CDCr to draw up new regulations that would put the changes mandated by Prop 57 into place. Typically with this process, the state agency must announce the changes it wants to make, and then leave open a period where the public gets the chance to comment on the proposed regulations and give feedback. Only once the agency has reviewed and responded to these comments, sometimes making changes in response, do the proposed regulations become law. Here, because CDCr announced the rule changes as “Emergency” changes, they did not open the regulations for public comment. At some point, however, they will do this, and we all will have a chance to state our opinion about the changes they are making. One issue of particular concern to advocacy groups is the inclusion of third-strikers from becoming eligible for the early parole consideration. CPF believes this is overly limiting from the intent of Prop 57 and plans to advocate for that change in the final regulations. When the final proposed regulations are announced, they should be available in every prison library, especially the law library, for review.
Below is a timeline of what’s happened so far, dates you should be on the lookout for, and what’s coming on the horizon. Bear in mind some of these dates are projections and are not set in stone, but may change:
November 8, 2016: Proposition 57 was approved California voters, requiring the CDCR to issue rules regarding new credits and early parole.
March 24, 2017: CDCR issues “Emergency Rules” for new credits and early parole.
April 13, 2017: Emergency Regulations are approved by California’s Office of Administrative Law (OAL) and go into temporary effect for 160 days.
May 1, 2017: Good Conduct Credits go into effect (effective now). These credits are for complying with prison rules and performing duties as assigned. Credit rates should now be accumulating at the following rates for the following categories:
Violent offenders (Lifers, 3 strikes, or indeterminate/determinate sentence): 20%
Non-violent offenders (2 or 3 strikes) & Lifers eligible for 1/3 credits: 33.3%
Non-violent offenders (determinate sentence), & Lifers eligible for day-to-day: 50%
Violent offenders (determinate sentence + fire camp service): 50%
Non-violent offenders (2 strikes or determinate sentence, fire camp service): 66.7%
Non-violent offenders (Minimum A or B custody): 66.7%
One can still lose Good Conduct Credits for violating prison rules and you can still be placed on Zero Credit earning status for violations (including refusing assigned housing twice or to perform an assignment, failing a Work Group C program, committing segregation-eligible disciplinary offenses, or classification under STG-I).
Summer 2017: At some point soon, the CDCR will publish a Public Notice of the proposed final, permanent regulations. A copy of this “Notice of Change to Regulations” will be provided to your prison law libraries, should be made available in SHUs, and will be published online at the CDCR website. There will be a minimum 45-day public comment period, where all members of the public (including prisoners) will be able to submit written comments on the proposed changes. The address for comments will be:
CDCR Regulation and Policy Management Branch
P.O. Box 942883
Sacramento, CA 94283-00001
After the comment period is over, the OAL will review the proposed regulations for compliance with California’s Administrative Procedures Act. If the regulations are approved, then they will be filed with the Secretary of State and become law.
July 1, 2017: Early parole consideration process for nonviolent, determinately-sentenced offenders goes into effect. The CDCR plans to start screening prisoners for eligibility on June 1st, and referring qualifying inmates to the Board of Parole Hearings on this date. As of now, under the Emergency Rules “nonviolent” felony offenses are any crime not listed in Penal Code § 667.5(c) or sex-offender crimes requiring registration under § 290. The “Nonviolent Parole Eligible Date” will be the date of completion of the “full term” (no credits applied) of the “primary offense,” (the crime with the longest sentence without enhancements) less pre-sentence time served credits. Even if your offense is eligible, you may not be considered if:
Your Nonviolent Parole Eligible Date is not at least 180 days before your Earliest Possible Release Date;
You have a current SHU term or assessment of a SHU term for a STG/disciplinary reason within the last 5 years;
You have a Level A-1, A-2 serious rule violation within the last 5 years;
You were placed in Work Group C within the past year;
You have 2+ serious rule violations of any level within the last year;
You have a drug-related rule violation or refusal to provide urine sample within the last year; or
You have a rule violation with a nexus to an STG.
If you are found ineligible based on one of the above, you will be screened again after 1 year.
If you are found eligible and referred to the Board of Parole Hearings, you should be notified that you can submit a written statement. You are strongly encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity, and: (1) focus your statement on why you do not pose a risk of violence to the community if released; (2) encourage members of your support network (family, friends) and potential employers to send letters of support to the BPH. There is no in-person hearing. The BPH officer will decide whether or not you “pose an unreasonable risk of violence to the community” and choose to grant or deny parole on that basis. If granted, you should be released 60 days after the decision. If denied, you can request review within 30 days of the decision through a special review procedure. Another BPH officer will then review the decision within 30 days of the request.
August 1, 2017: Credits for the Milestone Completion (MCC), Rehabilitative Achievement (RAC), and Educational Merit (EMC) programs go into effect. These are as follows:
MCC: Granted upon completing specific education or career training program with attendance and performance requirements. These are increased from the current 6 weeks per year cap to 12 weeks per year. MCCs are revocable for violations.
RAC: Granted for participation in self-help groups or other behavioral programming activities; these can be up to 4 weeks per year. RACs are revocable for violations.
EMC: Granted for successful completion of a GED, high school diploma, college degree or alcohol and drug counselor certification; one-time credits are awarded for each level and will be awarded retroactively to eligible inmates. These credits cannot be revoked.
September 20, 2017: Scheduled end of Emergency Regulations; Deadline for CDCR to complete formal rulemaking process (unless extended 90 days to December 19, 2017).
As you can see, the implementation of Proposition 57 is a lengthy process with multiple steps involved. Remember, this process is ongoing and things can change. Make sure you stay on top of these upcoming dates. Be on the look out for a copy of the Public Notice to come to your prison law library sometime soon. As noted, you are encouraged to submit comments yourself during the public comment period, and CPF welcomes copies of your submissions so we can incorporate your comments into our submission as well. Though it might take some time before the formal rules are fully implemented, make sure you stay involved in the process!
Feb 28, 2017
keywords: slavery, class consciousness, social revolution
From Prison Focus 51
Salutes and Respects to all the members of the society working for a better world.
Seems to me that the prison movement in California for real reform is stagnated. We have become dangerously pacified, comfortable and content. A few trinkets and privileges were thrown our way and we believed that to be victory. However, what about real changes? The California Parole Board (PBH) is still up to its old tricks of denying parole under false pretenses with no hope of a change. Something that we need to realize is that BPH will never really change because, it’s whole existence depends in the perpetual slavery of tens of thousands of society’s most marginalized segments of the population. And that is why it keeps denying parole to thousands of eligible slaves. There are plenty of cases where 70 year old men are denied parole because they represent a danger to society. The irony of the situation doesn’t escape my mind, that these same hypocrites turn a blind eye to the killings of brown and black men at the hands of corrupt police.
As long as we the slaves keep showing up to work, for free or for an extra lunch bag, we will always be doomed and I, as slaves, easily replaced by future lumpen generations. We need to wake up and realize that we are slaves. And second, that we have the keys to our freedom. Without our cooperation to willingly provide free labor, the beast will starve to death. Truly speaking no matter what we did, we don’t deserve a lifetime of slavery, decades of isolation and the occasional execution in the killing fields (At prison yards and the ghettos).
They can twist it any way that they want and sing the same old song, that we are the worst of the worst. But that is the propaganda specifically designed to feed the ignorant masses. At no point in history has this country and racist ruling class had such an obedient, peaceful, ignorant and comfortable slave population; Where they willingly get up every day to work the fields and sweatshops for free, or for a ridiculous $.15 an hour. Where is our pride, honor, power of reasoning and right to live and die as free men.
What are we waiting for; To be 70, 80 or 90 years old? No fascist regime in the world has ever conceded anything without a struggle. When every single slave says in one voice: enough, I won’t work for free anymore. And as our ancestors did, “let the crops wrought on the field.” That will get their attention, and they will come to the negotiating table, because the plantation can’t afford to be in lockdown and lose money.
The USA’s slave has been so much brainwashed and manipulated, that he looks forward to get out of his cage to go to his “work”. And when the master doesn’t open his cages door, the slave gets upset and yells. Because he doesn’t care any longer, his warrior spirit has been broken. And if someone comes along and tells him that it doesn’t have to be this way, and that he can be “free” of perpetual slavery, the slave would consider this to be dangerous thought. And he will be scared to lose his electronics, jobs, visits, commissary and telephone calls. He has become officially and comfortably institutionalized, as a slave.
The slave has been dependent for most of his life, so that sometimes it doesn’t register that he has been treated and spoken to as if you were a child. This is why realhistory books and TV documentaries with some intellectual value our band at all these plantations. This information may give the slave the wrong idea about the quality, freedom and justice. The state can’t afford to educate its enslaved population.
So garbage is played 24/7 on our TV sets and the purchase of tablets with unlimited children’s games is encouraged. Those who tried to wake up the masses are eliminated or isolated. It all depends on the individual’s capacity to lead and inform, about his understanding of the predicament in which we have become entangled. One thing is for sure, he knows that his enemy is not the slave in the cage next door.
Feb 28, 2017
keywords: prison workers' union, prison industrial complex, economic organization, prison jobs, strike, punishment clause, 13th amendment,slavery
From Prison Focus Issue 51
A Treatise To End Mass Incarceration
By Sergio M. Hyland
Editor’s Note: The following is an edited and reduced version of the full article by my comrade and fellow worker, Sergio Muhammad Hyland. Sergio is a die-hard organizer, brilliant writer, and a student of the great Russell Maroon Shoatz (Black Panther, Black Liberation Army Vet and political prisoner). The following is the explosive conclusion of his full piece which analyzed the tactics of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Enjoy!
When it comes to the prison industrial complex, those who control and benefit off of this system are in a definite minority, and are far less in human numbers than those adversely affected by it. The cost of prisons doesn’t merely affect prisoners and their families, but taxpayers as well. Those dynamics make our situation more comparable to that of Gandhi and what was taking place in India.
The best-and only-way to successfully defeat the Prison Industrial Complex, is to suffocate the economic life out of it.
The proper way to view this is to focus on the methods used by anarcho-syndicalists in Europe, who believed that the only way to earn their economic freedom was through their economic organizations (unions).
Prisons function so smoothly largely due to the cooperation of inmates. That cooperation is often incentivized through employment opportunities. The fact of the matter is that prisons cannot function so smoothly-or at all-without the cooperation and cheap-and often free-labor of prisoners.
The vast majority of jobs within prisons are filled by prisoners. Officers are outnumbered by prisoners 50-1 and sometimes more. Ten kitchen staff members supervise up to 300 inmate workers throughout the workday. Maintenance crews have one civilian supervisor for up to ten inmate workers. Prison staff make up to 100 dollars per hour on overtime, while prisoners max-out at 42 cents per hour.
Ultimately, a prisoner's power is in that prisoner’s ability to withhold their cheap/free labor (strikes). If prisoners went on a worker strike-even if only at one institution- that institution would immediately shut down. Cheap or free incarcerated labor would have to be replaced by expensive non-incarcerated labor, at non-incarcerated wages of up to 100 dollars per hour. Prisoner worker strikes would coincide with boycotts of commissary and other commodities which prisoners are forced to pay inflated rates for. Profiting off of prisoners would be in steady decline, while the cost of prisons would continue to rise; causing state budgets to balloon, hurting taxpayers’ pockets, forcing them to demand a change to the status quo.
Currently, one very large obstacle stands in the way of any potential prisoner worker unionization: the “punishment clause” in the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution allows for legal slavery and forced labor as punishment for conviction of a crime. Therefore, a prisoner is constitutionally obligated to comply with any demand to work, and is in violation if they refuse to work for any reason. And rule violations in prison result in time spent inside of some of the most inhumane and infamous control units the world has ever known.
If prisoners were able to unionize, we would be able to demand and acquire such things as:
-High quality education and programming
-The creation of stronger bonds with family and coommunity,
And much more.
Also, prisoner workers’ unions could link with other high-profile non-incarcerated worker unions to push a political agenda which would include-among other things-giving prisoners the right to vote while incarcerated, sentencing reform, housing legislation, the return of good-time credit, presumptive parole and a slew of other important items which affect the lives of prisoners, their families, and their communities.
This isn’t a new idea. Ireland and other European nations have found success with this formula. But only because those they don't have a “punishment clause” in their constitution!
The key to our victory in this fight hinges upon our ability to apply the pressure needed in order to force Congress to strike this “punishment clause” from the Constitution. If this clause is stricken, a prisoner could then withhold their labor without fear of being thrown into a control unit. We do this by publically putting politicians’ feet to the fire by asking them if they still support slavery in 2016. Fearing alienation, even the most right-leaning conservative would disavow any support for slavery. Once we start the movement by getting the conversation started, we then begin presenting legislation which would strike the clause-much in the way that the movement started to “ban the box!”
Only after we accomplish this first step of striking the clause, can we start with the second step of suffocating the economic life out of the Prison Industrial Complex. And as the anarcho-syndicalists of Europe did earn their economic freedom, we’ll use our economic freedom to earn our literal physical freedom!
Before I close, I’d just like to reemphasize a critical point made by R.M. Shoatz: even in King’s and Gandhi’s “non-violent” revolutions, there were other external movements/ situations taking place. WWII was causing the British to deplete their resources and focus their attention on defending their homeland, leaving the Indian colony as little more than an afterthought. With King and the civil rights movement, there were also violent anti-colonial struggles going on around the world in places such as Vietnam, which forced the United States to get so heavily involved that the civil rights movement basically snuck in through the back door.
Today we see the same things taking place. With wars in lraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and the constant threat of terrorism, attention, resources, and focus are being diverted from the struggle to end mass incarceration. This movement can be a thorn in the side of the institution. The more Amerikan dollars spent on violent external forces, the more likely our non-violent anti-incarceration struggle will find success because prison reform will pale in comparison to the threat of violent external forces.
As with any other revolution, the struggle to end mass incarceration will take time, dedication, and focus. Dedicated activists and revolutionaries must realize that while prisoners will eventually be the main force behind the movement, this force hinges upon our allies on the outside of prison and their effectiveness in forcing Congress to strike the clause. Any movement without this critical element will ultimately fail. The time and conditions are perfect. Eliminating the punishment clause would essentially hamstring the Department of Corrections, taking away their ability to retaliate against prisoners for exercising their constitutional rights.
Currently, hunger strikes are being utilized to bring attention to the plight of prisoners. Also, a number of (attempted) work-stoppages have taken place. However, these efforts have been largely futile. Not tactically, but strategically, because as it stands a stoppage is still a violation of Department of Corrections rules, thus justifying the Department of Corrections’ repressive responses to these strikes. Courageous as they may be, these actions are useless without the right kind of political support-which can only come through striking the clause!
When prisoners are able to legally withhold their labor and create prisoner worker unions, we can then follow in the footsteps of the anarcho-syndicalists to create a perfect storm of organized chaos, inflating the Department of Corrections budget to unsustainable proportions. That, coupled with an economic boycott of services offered to prisoners at grossly inflated rates, would at least threaten to bankrupt the Department of Corrections of its financial and political capital.
Returning to our communities and our families is our priority. Prisoners want to live lives that matter, where we have a voice in the way we are governed. Mass incarceration destroys communities and families, and lays the foundations for following generations to fall victim to the system as well. The real cost of prisons aren’t merely financial. Mass incarceration continues to highlight Amerika’s biggest flaws-its classism, sexism, and racism. It mirrors the biggest crime against humanity: slavery-also perpetrated by Amerika, and justified through interpretation of law and religious texts. We don’t have to quote statistics; we‘ve heard enough of them. The time for talk has ended. A new era of activism has begun, and it‘s like a breath of fresh air. But we cannot be co-opted by allowing a few successes-no matter how significant-to impede our progress or lighten up on the enemy.
While the struggle to end mass incarceration must take place inside of prison walls, the movement of prisoners is contingent upon what takes place on the outside of prison walls, first. The movement to strike the punishment clause must be centered on an effort to change legislation. Some people believe that the courts should provide relief; holding onto the hope that the mere idea of slavery in Amerika in 2016 is so reprehensible that it must be considered unconstitutional. However, in previous attempts to unionize, prisoners have taken this fight to the courts, and lost on each occasion. And every court’s opinion has been rooted in the constitutionality of the punishment clause, upholding it time and again as constitutional. The courts are tasked with interpreting the law, while Congress is responsible for changing the law.
We live in a capitalist society, and in a capitalist society, only economic pressure creates change.
That pressure can be applied violently or non-violently, but due to the general perception of prisons and prisoners, as little more than criminals, any revolutionary action taken by prisoners must be non-violent. Otherwise, we risk turning the masses against us, as this violence would only serve to validate the false reputation given to prisoners, by the benefactors of the Prison Industrial Complex.?
STRIKE THE CLAUSE!
Sergio Hyland #FX 1537
State Correctional Institute Coal Township
1 Kelley Drive
Coal Township, PA 17866