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Feb 28, 2017
keywords: Hunger Strike, Resistance, Short Corridor Collective, Agreement to End Hostilities, SHU
From Prison Focus Issue 51
Power is everywhere. While we can circumvent power and its arbitrary forms in a variety of ways, one cannot escape power in its entirety.
It was the continental philosopher Michel Foucault who stated, however, that “where there is power, there is resistance.”
The California prison hunger strikes of 2011 and 2013 were efforts to resist the regime of solitary confinement, with the goal of remaking carceral, i.e. prison space. The strikes saw increasing participation between the first and third strikes; the July 2011 strike saw 6,600 prisoners not eating, the September 2011 strike saw at least 12,000 not eating, and the 2013 strike involved upwards of 30,000 hunger strikers across California SHUs. While there was certainly strong support from outside families and organizations, the strikes were initiated, planned and organized by prisoners. These strikes can be considered social movements in their own right, collectively organized attempts to reform and abolish certain elements of the prison landscape. As a geographer and researcher, I questioned the social organization of the strikes. CDCR is a power structure. Prison authorities constitute an apparatus of state power and state violence. However, I believe we have to go further than this in thinking about where power is located in a social and political struggle. When we organize and fight back, we are striking back against coercive state power – but, just as importantly, we must acknowledge that power exists and functions within the scale of resistance itself. This is to say that we must consider how power works at the scale of those individuals and groups resisting the state, because social movements involve establishing power structures and power relations in order for them to happen. Is this implicit in a struggle? Is it necessary? Are power relations unavoidable in prisoner-led organization against state violence? These are difficult questions, and require more thought than what this article can provide. Nevertheless, we must consider to what extent there were power structures present in the social organization of the California prison hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013, and furthermore, why did these power relations exist and function as they did? And lastly, my ultimate question here, is why is it necessary and/or useful for us to consider power relations that may exist within prison populations?
Prior to the hunger strikes, the Short Corridor Collective as well as other non-Short Corridor prisoners wrote to California Prison Focus describing plans for the hunger strikes. Prisoners also wrote about events transpiring during the strikes. While the majority of these letters came from Short Corridor members, a handful of other prisoners wrote stating the extent to which they planned on participating in the strike(s). I visited CPF in Oakland and collected a sample of these letters in order to gain an understanding of what particular groups of prisoners were involved. With respect to confidentiality, I have left out specific names of individuals, and therefore identify prisoners by a number (e.g. Prisoner 1, Prisoner 2, etc.). I pay close attention here to cultural, social and political affiliations amongst groups of prisoners, in order to appreciate what power relations were present within these techniques of resistance.
Prison Focus, Issue 37, contains an article “Hunger Strike Clarification" in which Pelican Bay Prisoner 1, a Short Corridor Collective member, states, “This peaceful HS [hunger strike] protest is not ‘led’ by any individual or group; it was deemed necessary after more than a year of discussion and thought amongst many PBSP- SHU prisoners from all races.” This illustrates that the Short Corridor did not want to establish a hierarchy in the social organization of the strikes, whether from the Short Corridor or from any one racial group. Furthermore, this prisoner explained that this was a peaceful hunger strike, and should not be considered an offensive tactic.
In this same issue, in an article titled “HS Thoughts” Pelican Bay and Short Corridor Prisoner 2 corroborates that the July 2011 strike was to include SHU prisoners from all races acting together as one in the struggle. He also suggested ways to participate: “To the HS participants themselves, we recommend: no one participate if they are too elderly or have a serious chronic illness...And, if one cell- partner cannot join, then the other shouldn’t either...Anyone can join any time while the HS continues and should remain on it as long as possible in support”.
I conducted an interview with a physician who has been a private correctional medical consultant and associated with California Prison Focus for many years. I was provided further clarification on prisoners’ communal support in hunger strike participation:
AM: “So there was some sort of camaraderie or communal suggestions to one another, like, you should continue or you should not continue with the strike?”
Physician: “There was a lot of caring for each other in there...that people are very sick, on multiple meds, and that yeah, [you should] support us in other ways, write to your friends...there’s stuff to do, but you don’t have to be the one putting your life in jeopardy. I mean, no one wanted to die.”
Thus the Pelican Bay and California prisoners overall hoped that as many prisoners as possible would join the movement, yet participation could be manifested in other ways beyond simply not eating, such as writing letters, communicating information, and providing other forms of moral support. That being said, most letters discuss involvement relative to not eating.
In another letter in issue 37 of Prison Focus, Prisoner 1 explains how the strike will be defined by refusing solid food but also by taking water i.e.the protest is not to be a dry hunger strike. This letter emphasizes the three-race unity of the resistance, asking CPF to publish letters from prisoners from each of the three racial groups with which prisoners identify in order to represent this phenomenon. Thus the group orientation of the strikes is demonstrated by their desire for equal racial representation of their social organization.
Other Short Corridor prisoners discuss the interracial cooperation in the hunger strikes leading up to the first 2011 strike. In a letter dated April 24, 2011, Pelican Bay and Short Corridor Prisoner 3 comments on this phenomenon: “...the so-called worst of the worst prisoners have gotten together and agreed to a peaceful protest...New Afrikans, Mexicans, Whites, and others have signed on to do this indefinitely until our demands [are] met...this is a small step but there’s no telling where we can go from here if we survive this Hunger Strike.”
Thus, according to Short Corridor Prisoner 3, commitment for enduring violence by hunger striking across racial lines in the SHU prison population is necessary to produce change. This letter also discusses the extent of participation: “This is a call for all prisoners in (SHU) Security Housing units, (Ad-Seg’s) Administration Segregation and (G.P.s) General Population as well as the free oppressed and non-oppressed people to support the July 1st 2011 Peaceful Hunger Strike Protest... If you cannot participate in the ‘Hunger Strike’ then support it in principle by not eating the first 24 hours of the hunger strike.”
Thus while it was based in the SHU, the Short Corridor was interested in establishing solidarity beyond their specific space of confinement within the larger carceral apparatus of Pelican Bay and throughout the California system. Prisoner 3, as a Short Corridor representative, asks that other prisoners show solidarity by not eating for the first day. This demonstrates the dichotomy present between the social expectation that prisoners do what they are told versus acting on a personal conviction outside of this structure.
The Short Corridor prisoners frequently spoke in their letters about wanting to be referred to as ‘representatives’ of the strikes, and not ‘leaders’. This was an attempt to separate themselves from the ways in which the CDCR represented the strikes as being coercively organized by gang influence. These prisoners utilized a different vocabulary in order to demonstrate that the CDCR’s argument that the strikes were coercively organized by alleged gang members could not be supported. This was echoed in several different letters sent by several different members of the Short Corridor who were representatives of the different racial and ethnic groups at Pelican Bay. A letter dated May 30, 2011 sent by Short Corridor Prisoner 1 identifies the “Principal H.S. Representatives/Negotiators” of which there are nine at this point, including Short Corridor Prisoner 1. This prisoner asks CPF to electronically share this information, because if other prisoners in the California system see it then it will impact the number of prisoners across the state that participate. In a June 8 letter, Prisoner 2 asks CPF to add a Short Corridor prisoner to the published list of representatives. These efforts demonstrate that there is a defined representative authority to which other SHU prisoners heeded their attention.
While the first 2011 strike began July 8, prisoners did not all join the movement immediately, as participation evolved slowly as the strike began. In a letter from June 12, Short Corridor prisoner 4 explains how the representative structure continues to recruit other prisoners to join the movement:
“Those who are healthy we are still trying to convince them to participate, if even for just a few days. Hopefully we can get another 1 or 2 before the target date. (Note: there are others from different groups who are participating and will raise the overall number for this unit).”
This passage illustrates challenges in recruitment. The letter goes on to say that this particular prisoners’ unit has many older prisoners who cannot safely participate, as the strike is voluntary, not mandatory. Short Corridor prisoner 4 discusses expectations for striking:
“As far as the Northern Mexicans are concerned, we are only requesting a minimum of five days and anything beyond that will be left up to the individual participant. At least one of us has committed to at least 10 days. But we are not pushing an all or nothing agenda. In other words, we are not asking people to die for this, all we are asking is to do what you can.”
It is difficult to ascertain from this passage the unique reasons as to why the representatives are calling for this particular racial group to strike for five days, after which point the strike is left up to prisoners on their own. Nevertheless, while the strike is said to be voluntary, this discourse suggests that the Short Corridor desired for certain numbers of prisoners to participate for certain durations of time; however, establishing participation was evidently an initial challenge for the representative structure.
In a July 7 letter, a Corcoran prisoner provides details regarding the strike leadership structure in place in the Corcoran SHU just before the first strike began:
“One of our spokespersons, (name redacted), has spoken to administration officials in relation to the hunger strike on at least three occasions. On the last occasion the administration expressed its desire to meet with each participant individually – an obvious gambit to muddle or fracture the core demands and how they are presented. Brother (name redacted) of course has rejected this, as did the other spokespersons. The collective New Afrikan population has made it clear that we speak with one voice, and only we dictate the terms of any discussion, and (name redacted) is our voice in any such dialogue.”
This passage reflects relations between the prison authorities and SHU prisoners, but specifically the ‘spokespersons,’ which are Corcoran’s equivalent of the ‘representatives’ at Pelican Bay. A certain form of social hierarchy is sketched out here, in that power is vested in one of the spokespersons for purposes of communicating and negotiating with the prison authorities. According to this prisoner, other prisoners refused intimidation by the guards, in effect respecting the spokesperson(s) position of localized authority.
Prisoners commented on the scope of prisoner participation in their letters in the following weeks of the hunger strike. As of July 14, spokesperson 1 at Corcoran describes the growing involvement of racial groups as the strike continues:
“On 7/9/11 our white brothers began entering the fray, moving from moral support to active participation in the hunger strike, while our Northern Mexican brothers continue to lend their moral support. The New Afrikan and Southern Mexican collectives have persevered unabated and there have been several more hospitalizations...”
While these letters reporting on recruitment state that older prisoners are not expected to join the strikes because of their age or other health issues, several of these prisoners were reported to be striking on some level despite medical implications.
Facing dwindling participants and an ultimatum from CDCR stating that they would re-examine the 5 Core Demands, the Short Corridor chose to end the first hunger strike after three weeks. In an August 22 letter, Short Corridor prisoner 1 shares plans for another hunger strike in the fall:
“...as it stands now, the H.S. will begin around 2, on Sept. 26 (a lot of the Africans are doing Ramadan during mo. of August; plus we want to see what...comes of the Aug. 23rd assembly hearing.”
the Short Corridor acknowledged cultural appreciation as being necessary for the success of a collective movement...
As we can see, the Short Corridor acknowledged cultural appreciation as being necessary for the success of a collective movement, in order for African American prisoners of the Muslim faith to be involved in the next strike. This passage also exhibits a certain level of consciousness of prisoners being a class in and of themselves, as the Short Corridor recognizes the challenges to group resistance and seeks to work around them.
An October 9th letter from a Corcoran Sokesperson 1 provides details of social organization during the second strike:
“All new afrikan and southern mexican partisans in this isolation unit...are participating in the hunger strike, while our white and southern mexican brothers are providing support. We have not eaten since September 25th and the administration here has unleashed an unprecedented wave of retaliatory reprisals aimed against us at breaking the hunger strikes and provoking a reaction which would undermine the non-violent basis of this peaceful protest. They have thus far failed...We are all participating of our own individual free will guided by a collective desire to end this systematic torture and industrial profiteering at our expense.”
As we can see, this spokesperson represents the SHU strikers at Corcoran, and is participating out of personal convictions with a group interest. Thus there is temporal continuity in regard to the second strike functioning with the same goals and mentality of the first strike. Furthermore, there is a sociological and geographical similarity across the California prison landscape in that, while ‘spokespersons’ is a different word choice than ‘representatives,’ the Corcoran SHU demonstrates that they have a representative body, following the example of the Short Corridor Collective at Pelican Bay, and seeks to avoid the CDCR’s process of systematic labeling.
While prisoners within the Short Corridor Collective and other SHU prisoners demonstrate their willingness to recruit others to voluntarily join in the hunger strikes, it is unclear how much power the leadership structure had in orchestrating social organization. Ed Mead, a member of California Prison Focus, explains that despite the fact that the gang leaders in the Short Corridor did put the word out for other prisoners to follow, there were potential limitations to their organizing ability:
“You know, the gang leaders are not that powerful. They can’t bring 30,000 people to stop eating for a day...the first hunger strike they had 6,600...Maybe that’s the extent of the influence they would have. The second hunger strike they had almost 12,000. The third one, of course, they more than doubled that on the first day. I think that has a lot to do with educating, you know, raising the consciousness of the population, more so than…some kind of command hierarchy—the line that CDCR pushes.”
Mead suggests that each subsequent strike gained momentum from the precedent set by the previous strike, and that without each of the stages or episodes of resistance before the ultimate 2013 strike, 30,000 participants could not have been recruited to the struggle. According to Mead, the representatives do not have this kind of power despite their status as the Short Corridor Collective: “...even after the Agreement to End Hostilities, race riots are still taking place. A lot fewer, but if the gang leaders had that much discipline, those kinds of thing wouldn’t be happening”. From a research perspective it is has been challenging to determine to what extent episodes of violence occurred after the Agreement to End Hostilities was issued; however they clearly did not undo the terms of the agreement or CDCR’s agreement to acknowledge the prisoners’ demands.
Aside from what stands out as data pertaining to the leadership structure(s) present in the California prison hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013, I have found thematic similarities that revolve specifically around the extent to which prisoners are committed to their movement. In a letter dated July 14, 2011, Corcoran Spokesperson 1 explains how some prisoners, including elderly ones, had been hospitalized not long after beginning the strike but had been released from their hospitalization and had returned to hunger strike further. These prisoners refused additional care and continued not eating, despite the health impacts. A September 2 letter from the Pelican Bay representatives discussing the upcoming secondary hunger strike at the end of September:
“...even if CDC(R) now, at this late date, starts spitting out memos and even installing pull-up bars, dip bars, etc., in an attempt to undermine the H.S., we will “not”, call off the H.S. until all our Five (5) Core Demands are met, or unrefutable tangible proof that they will all be met.”
As a result of the CDCR’s lack of response to the demands, the Short Corridor explains that they will be unrelenting in their resistance until such reforms are made. This emotion is still present several weeks later when the second strike was initiated. In a September 28 letter, Pelican Bay Prisoner 5, a non-Short Corridor prisoner, emphasizes commitment during the second strike:
“(I) will not eat until Friday the 30th. As I have stated before I will not eat until we get concrete change and justice in longterm isolation and validation policy. Or I will die fighting for justice...The fight continues and I shall stay the course until we achieve victory.”
This stated commitment to death and the defensive yet violent implications of such a struggle was commented on in other letters. In particular, this discourse was echoed from the spokesperson(s) at Corcoran. A letter of July 14, 2011 from Corcoran Spokesperson 1 also illustrates this commitment to the possible violent outcomes of the struggle: “I am, and most who think as I do, are comfortable with the notion of dying to ensure we affect a meaningful change in this torture without end.” This prisoner further states that they did not intend to cease resistance until “the hunger strike was over and that the 5 core demands would be met. However, until we receive some verification from our comrades in Pelican Bay, we will not stop...We are all prepared to continue until our bodies fail...”
A letter dated June 23, 2013 sent by Pelican Bay representative 1 discusses plans for a third upcoming hunger strike at the beginning of July. Representative 1, in reference to himself and the rest of the collective SHU population, indicates that “We will await our death...representing group commitment to not giving up on the hunger strike until CDCR agrees to consider their 5 Core Demands. Corcoran Prisoner 2, in describing developments over the first month of the third strike, writes about the extent to which the group movement was withstanding the strike. This prisoner comments on prisoners who had terminated their strikes after being further isolated from one another:
“So they gave up everything just to be moved back to 4BII. It was an incredibly selfish act. All of this sacrifice – putting our minds & bodies through this, the 115s, the validation points, the loss of credits, TVs, canteens...all for naught. So you know, virtually everyone is stunned & upset at this decision but they can’t complain. They are mandated to follow orders w/out question. But no one governs the Crips, so we are still hunger striking...without the numbers of the masses our sacrifice is meaningless – or has at least no practical effect. And that creates a huge dilemma for me: Do we continue or stop?”
In a letter from the following day, August 17, 2013, Corcoran Prisoner 2 explains how social expectations for hunger strike participation had been loosened by this later stage in the strike: “The leaders of the other groups have modified their positions and now say that participation in the H/S is optional. This is widely seen as an attempt to somehow cover up what they must now painfully and regrettably recognize was a terrible decision. But regardless, making it optional is still abandoning everyone. For though it has always technically been optional, every able-bodied person was strongly encouraged to participate – sort of like an opt-out policy. But now it’s the exact opposite – more like an opt- in policy. And the early returns remain discouraging as less than 10% of the former strikers in my building have elected to opt in. I expect that those of us who remain will be moved and isolated in an attempt to break us. So, in sum, the Crips here remain on H/S, the overall numbers here are expected to be low (but committed).”
Thus we can gain a sense of the extent to which collective organization relative to racial/ethnic affiliations was in effect during the final days of the hunger strike at Corcoran. According to this prisoner's account of events, multiple prisoners had broken the strike after being relocated and disciplined by prison authorities for striking. Interestingly, this prisoner explains how the Crips make their own decisions regarding continuous striking outside of any cross-racial initiatives that were organized prior to the strike. This ‘opt-in’ decision for choosing to further strike or no longer strike reflects the greater freedom that was extended to prisoners, in that participation in the resistance was more individualized by this point at Corcoran, despite what was occurring at Pelican Bay and any directives that may have been still coming from the Short Corridor Collective.
In conclusion, these letters speak to how the 2011 and 2013 hunger strikes were socially coordinated. In a social movement there is nearly always a power structure that in some capacity functions in executing tactics of resistance. It would be naïve to believe that a given social movement can be purely egalitarian or devoid of power relations entirely. There is frequently some smaller group within the wider population, with a certain awareness of state violence. These groups suggest that prisoners ought to organize, thus by default establishing a power structure, even if it is on a minimal scale. The Short Corridor at Pelican Bay, the spokespersons at Corcoran, and other similar structures that may have functioned at other California prisons during the hunger strikes constitute a power relation with the rest of the California SHU population. It is possible, perhaps likely, that many prisoners participated in the hunger strikes without the wider class consciousness of what they were fighting against and why. Furthermore, it is possible that many strikers refused food without full appreciation of the implicit destruction of their bodies, by doing so.
As I move forward in my research, I hope to collect more data on strike participation within and across the different racial groups of California prisoners. More firsthand ethnographic accounts that reveal wider class-consciousness beyond the hunger strike representatives have yet to be collected. Nevertheless, the ethnographic discourse presented here from these prisoners’ letters demonstrates that this effort was driven by a small group of prisoners that exhibit a level of social, political and cultural awareness was necessary for successfully organize the SHU population at Pelican Bay and across the California (and even National) prison landscape. There was a certain level of social anticipation; perhaps an expectation of discipline that came from the representative structure at Pelican Bay. Compliance amongst individual members of the racial groups was a prerequisite for these protests. That being said, a ‘representative’ or ‘spokesperson’ – based power structure was minimally hierarchical. Representatives and spokespersons made strong efforts to keep it that way.
Any concerned social thinker will certainly appreciate the success of the California prisoners’ organizational efforts in planning and carrying out the strikes. We should appreciate how collective prisoner identity carried significant weight as opposed to singular racial/ethnic identities in these geographies of resistance.
The 2011 and 2013 California prison hunger strikes established a model from which the political left, in and outside of prison, can learn in conducting similar modes of protest.
In an age of neoliberalism, unfettered capitalism, and the sheer horror of the Trump administration, prisoners will continue to become more vulnerable to the state. We must think about how power is constructed within the scale of our resistance movements, in order to combat and end state violence. For that we must say thank you to the California prison population for what they were able to do and what they were able to teach us as the resistance goes forward.
Note: If you have any further questions regarding the article or the research, and/or have interest in participating in the research, please reply to Adam Morse via California Prison Focus.
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
Feb 28, 2017
keywords: solitary confinement, torture, step down program, SHU, Prison Human Rights Movement, retaliation, family
From Prison Focus Issue 49
Published in the San Francisco Bayview on December 29, 2017 http://sfbayview.com/2016/12/sitawa-exiting-solitary-confinement-and-the-games-cdcr-plays/
It is very important that you all clearly understand the depth of human torture to which I was subjected for 30-plus years by CDCr and CCPOA.* The torture was directed at me and similarly situated women and men prisoners held in California’s solitary confinement locations throughout CDCr, with the approval and sanctioning of California governors, CDCr secretaries and directors, attorneys general, along with the California Legislature for the past 40 years.
They have allowed for their own citizens – prisoners – to suffer horrible crimes with their systematic process of physically and mentally killing prisoners for decades, with no regard for human life.
I was placed in solitary confinement – the SHU – on May 15, 1985, on trumped-up, illegal and fabricated state documents by two leading CDCr lieutenants, Criminal Activity Coordinator (CAC) Lt. L.O. Thomas and Lt. Suzan Hubbard of North Block Housing (NBH) at San Quentin State Prison. Yes, these two leading lieutenants removed me from San Quentin general population, not for alleged criminal acts or rule violations, but for the politics of the revolutionary New Afrikan political organization and the beliefs and cultural views of the New Afrikan revolutionary leftist organization titled the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF).
I was targeted by CDCr prison officials at San Quentin during 1983 on up until I was removed from the general population (GP) and housed in San Quentin’s Control Units within their solitary confinement housing building, North Housing Unit (NHU). The sole reason for my housing there was that I was educating all New Afrikan prisoners on San Quentin’s GP about our rich New Afrikan history behind California prison walls and across the United States.
I was teaching them that we as a people shall not be forced to deny ourselves the rights in the U.S. Constitution and the California Constitution. Yes, I personally believe that every New Afrikan woman and man has the right to protest any CDCr Jim Crow or Black Code-type rules or laws which violate our human rights as a person or prisoner.
And so I was educating my people to our civil rights and human rights in the California prison system during the 1980s while I was within the GP. I continued to educate my people, the New Afrikan nation, when I was placed in solitary confinement from 1983 to Oct. 11, 2015. It was a tragedy for three decades – yes, 30-plus years I was forced to suffer all forms of torture and witness killings of human life at the hands of CDCr officials and staff for decades, aided and abetted by governors, stakeholders, the Legislature, CDCr directors and secretaries etc.
The New Afrikan Prisoner Government (NAPG) has suffered and endured the violent attacks upon our prisoner community for decades on all levels and functions at the hands of CDCr employees. We have a U.S. constitutional right to resist any form of torture, repression and violations of both our human and civil rights.
I was placed in the SHU, not for alleged criminal acts or rule violations, but for the politics of the revolutionary New Afrikan political organization and the beliefs and cultural views of the New Afrikan revolutionary leftist organization titled the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF).
I shall not be found among the broken men and women! I shall live and die a warrior for our New Afrikan Nation and humanity!
After being transferred from CDCr’s solitary confinement at the Pelican Bay SHU to its Tehachipi SHU during the period of July 10-17, 2014, including a layover in the hellish Ad Seg (Administrative Segregation) unit at Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI), it would not take long before the CDCr officials at CCI (Tehachapi) would show their collective scheme to have me assassinated as the New Afrikan principal negotiator plaintiff in the Ashker v. Brown class action lawsuit.
During our peaceful protest by the solitary confinement prisoner class (SCPC) against Steps 3 and 4 of the CDCr-CCI Step Down Program (SDP), we collectively stopped participating in the dysfunctional SDP at CCI-Tehachipi Prison on May 11, 2015. This was because the SDP has been violating our SCPC liberty interest arising from the Due Process Clause itself, and CDCr had to stop its SDP from imposing stigmatizing classifications and concomitant behavior modification. I realize now that the SDP between 2012 and 2015 violated our constitutional rights, and it still does.
In an obviously sinister campaign to undermine the collective solidarity of our historic Agreement to End Hostilities, these officials tried to manipulate the other racial groups supporting the AEH to turn against me.
First, SHU Counselor Vanessa Ybarra went to one of our 16 Prisoner Human Rights Movement representatives, Gabriel Huerta, and tried to get him and other reps to turn against me, asking Huerta, “Why do you all let that Black inmate speak for you all during this boycott of the Step Down Program? My supervisors want to know.” Correctional Counselor II B. Snider, Capt. P. Matzen, Associate Warden J. Gutierrez, Chief Deputy Warden W. Sullivan, Chief Deputy Warden Grove and Warden Kim Holland are the supervisors she was referring to.
However, things did not go as planned because Brother Gabriel saw right through what this counselor and her supervisors were trying to do in creating a hostile, antagonistic atmosphere and consensus against me by my peers. First, Gabriel asked the counselor, “Who are you talking about?” Then the counselor replied, “Dewberry.” Dewberry is my given last name.
And Gabriel told that counselor, “Dewberry is one of the four principal negotiators who represent the Prisoner Human Rights Movement’s prisoner SHU class. And he is one of the main plaintiffs in the Ashker v. Brown class action lawsuit against CDCr, and he has been speaking on behalf of prisoners from 2010 to right now and he speaks for our best interests as our principal prisoner negotiator!” The counselor turned around and walked out of the sallyport area.
In an obviously sinister campaign to undermine the collective solidarity of our historic Agreement to End Hostilities, these officials tried to manipulate the other racial groups supporting the AEH to turn against me.
Next, the second attempt was by another SHU counselor from 4B building named Vaca, who approached the PHRM representative and other prisoners, then said, “You prisoners should go back to participating in the Step Down Program or all of you who are boycotting the SDP will not be released to the general population this year (2015) or next year (2016), all because you are listening to that Black prisoner.”
When Gabriel Huerta asked Vaca, “What Black prisoner are you referring to?” the counselor responded, “I’m talking about Dewberry. By the way, Huerta, since when do you Mexicans follow what this Black prisoner says?” The Rep refused to play into that old CDCr manipulation game and terminated the conversation by telling the counselor, “You can take me back to my cell,” and left.
So neither of the attempts worked, because Brother Gabriel recognized what time it was. He summed it up in these words: “CDCr had been manipulating and playing us against each other in the past. They can’t do that any longer.”
This life-threatening CDCr campaign leading up to my release out of SHU in October 2015 would be followed by the unprofessional, illegal attitudes and actions by CDCr employees awaiting me as I entered the general population. It was necessary to understand their motives in their dealings with and around me.
Upon my preparing to allegedly be released to general population, I was notified on Aug. 11, 2015, that I would be attending my first Institutional Classification Committee (ICC) hearing in over 30 years which had any meaning. Let’s put this “ICC” into perspective as to why these ICC hearings now have merit for the solitary confinement prisoner class (SCPC).
We the SCPC had to take our struggle to the streets of this world by participating in three non-violent peaceful protests. In the first, commencing July 1, 2011, a total of 6,600 woman and men participated. And when CDCr failed to honor the agreements made to end it, we the SCPC were compelled to enter our second non-violent peaceful protest on Sept. 26, 2011, in which a total of 12,600 men and women participated across this state.
CDCr begged for us to discontinue our protest and allow for them to make the necessary interdepartmental major changes which would release the longest held SCPC first. The four principal negotiators – Brutha Sitawa, Arturo Castellanos, Todd Ashker and George Franco – along with our 16 Prisoner Human Rights Movement (PHRM) representatives decided to suspend our protest in mid-October 2011 and allow for CDCr to show their good faith efforts to reform their illegal solitary confinement policies, laws and rules and place all 10,000 SCPC women and men onto a fully functional general population by Feb. 1, 2013.
We vowed to resume our protest to death or until CDCr negotiates with us in a real way. Yes, on Feb. 1, 2013, the four principal negotiators announced to our tormentors – CDCr, the governor, the Legislature, the attorney general and stakeholders – that we would resume our protest on July 8, 2013, being that CDCr wants to wage their war of attrition against me and similarly situated SCPC.
We the SCPC had to take our struggle to the streets of this world by participating in three non-violent peaceful protests.
On July 8, 2013, we entered into the largest hunger strike in prison history. Some 30,000 prisoners participated and our just cause forced Gov. Brown, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, all CDCr secretaries between 2010 and 2016 and their stakeholders, who all had the current data, to recognize the torturous conditions we SCPC had to endure for decades. I was one of thousands held at Pelican Bay, and I don’t want another woman, man or child to be forced to suffer what I went through. We SCPC observed and suffered the cruel and devastating harm caused by CDCr.
On Aug. 11, 2015, I was approached by Building 8 Correctional Counselor I Vaca at approximately 8:25 a.m. at my cell door for the sole purpose of preparing my central files for possible release to a general population. Vaca informed me that I am the first solitary confinement prisoner class member whose case files he is currently reviewing and that I am scheduled to appear before a full ICC on Aug. 19, 2015.
Now, within a two-hour time period, this same counselor, Vaca, appeared at my cell door with a sinister smirk on his face suggesting that I could now appear before this ICC hearing “tomorrow,” Aug. 12, 2015.
Counselor Vaca was too enthusiastic for me to attend the earlier hearing, so I told Vaca, “I’ll stick to the original schedule date of Aug. 19, 2015,” instead of his suggested new schedule. This counselor was upset at me for sticking with the original ICC hearing date, which was very strange to me and it warranted me to reflect upon his previous misconduct of trying to manipulate and influence other California racial groups – Southern Mexican, White and Northern Mexican – to breach our Agreement to End Hostilities (AEH).
I was one of thousands held at Pelican Bay, and I don’t want another woman, man or child to be forced to suffer what I went through. We SCPC observed and suffered the cruel and devastating harm caused by CDCr.
Vaca had personally tried to have a leading prisoner of each racial group to silence – assassinate – my voice of prisoner activism directed at CDCr and CCI (Tehachapi) officials. These veteran prisoners did not fall for Vaca’s tactics of divide and conquer; they stayed true to our Agreement to End Hostilities.
Now, on Aug. 12, 2015, Hugo Pinell was set up by CDCr officials at New Folsom Prison and killed [by white prisoners]. CDCr delayed my scheduled hearing for over a month and during said time period, three special agents came to interview me about the murder of Mr. Pinell. These three special agents pulled me out of my Tehachapi Prison cage for an interview on Aug. 14, 2016, two days after the murder of Mr. Pinell.
These agents were dispatched by CDCr Secretary Jeffrey Beard and then Undersecretary Scott Kernan [now Secretary Kernan] to come and interview me and two other New Afrikan prisoners and others. The concern that was expressed to me was, how do I feel about the death of Mr. Pinell and would there be an all-out war between the two racial groups?
These are my thoughts in relation to Mr. Pinell’s assassination and my release to a general population: I had expressed to these three special agents, first and foremost, “Why did you all travel from another part of California to speak with me about a death that I have no facts on other than listening to the radio?” I told said agents, “I shall be engaging myself in pushing the Agreement to End Hostilities (AEH). Mr. Pinell would not want for us to enter into a war conflict, especially after we signed the AEH back on Aug. 12, 2012.
“And we, the PHRM, must see that our historical document, the Agreement to End Hostilities, remains firm to our cause and objectives, which are to radically change CDCr’s behavior directed at the Solitary Confinement Prisoner Class, and those of us who have been released to the general population are responsible for enforcing our AEH here behind the walls of California prisons and jails and to curb all community violence across this state outside of prison."
“You agents wasted a trip to come and speak with me. So, when you go back to report on my pro-AEH comments concerning Mr. Pinell’s murder, let your superiors – that is, Gov. Brown, CDCr Secretary Beard, Undersecretary Kernan and the chief of the Office of Correctional Safety (OCS) – know I shall request that you, CDCr, allow for us to be released to the general population forthwith. For we have been held illegally for the past one to 40 years.”
These three special agents never did answer my question as to why did they travel from the state capital to the mountain of Tehachapi Prison to speak with me prior to my being released to the general population. It became a concern to me, because I know that CDCr did not condone our AEH historical collective solidarity document and its objectives. This raised some serious questions in my mind as to why these government officials would direct these agents to interview me. A question they refused to answer.
As you all can imagine, I was suspicious at best about whether I could expect any good faith from CDCr supervisors, officials or staffers upon my release from Tehachapi Prison solitary confinement housing, heading toward Salinas Valley State Prison (SVSP).
On Oct. 13, 2015, I arrived at SVSP receiving and release (R&R), and upon my exiting the CDCr transportation bus and entering the R&R, I was met by three Institution Gang Investigators (IGI), the welcoming crew awaiting me. I was then escorted into a property storage room where it was only the four of us.
Now, these three IGI officers wanted to know my state of mind as it related to the assassination of Mr. Hugo “Yogi” Pinell. I simply informed them that I will be pushing the AEH when I’m allowed to be released to the yard with all racial groups and especially with all of my New Afrikan Prisoner Government (NAPG) and explain to all people the importance of the AEH and that I personally signed off on that historical document. Yes, the IGI made their usual threats.
Now, within the next 10 days, I was allowed to attend the exercising yard, where all of the Afrikan tribes embraced me as their own Big Brutha! As in all situations, I went into my political prisoner activism mode in changing this modified general population prison into an actual functional general population.
There is minimal change. The CCPOA (prison guards) have been doing everything in their power to stop, delay or hinder and obstruct prisoners from being afforded work assignments and real educational opportunity. We are denied full exercising yard hours, vocational trades, the same dayroom time as other 180-design prisoners.
Correctional officers and sergeants continue verbal harassment with their Green Wall attitudes. It is clear that the above-mentioned CDCr employees have an ingrained dislike for all prisoners who are being released from California solitary confinement (SHU) chambers to CDCr modified general populations.
There is minimal change. The CCPOA (prison guards) have been doing everything in their power to stop, delay or hinder and obstruct prisoners from being afforded work assignments and real educational opportunity.
Now, just consider having to be faced with the above matters being denied to me and similarly situated prisoners, while preparing to have my first contact visit with my family in 30 years. Yes, I was compelled to close the lid on the jar and withhold all of this corruption and wrongdoing from my family.
Upon my first visit to see my Queen, my sister, Marie A. Levin, and her husband, Randy Levin, my sister Marie left home in such a rush to come see me that she left her California ID at home, and I was unable to see her that Saturday, but I did have the opportunity to have a conversation with my brother-in-law. It was a great time for the two of us. Now, the following day, Sunday, I was able to see Marie and Randy together, without that thick shield of plexiglas between us.
Now, for the first time in my imprisonment, I was somewhat shaken to the inner core of this New Afrikan revolutionary nationalist man by a simple hug from my younger sister, Queen Marie, during our October 2015 visit. A hug should be a natural form of affection between a brother and sister. However, while my sister was squeezing me so tightly, all I could think about during those moments was of the family members who died, and I will never be able to hug or speak with them again.
They include 1) Stella, my cousin, who died in 1989; 2) Leon, my big brother, who died in 1991; 3) Steven, my nephew, 1994; 4) Morris, my uncle, 1994; 5) Tanner Birk, my uncle, 1995; 6) Tutter, my aunt, 1995; 7) Lonnie, my uncle, 1995; 8) Hillard Jr., my uncle, 1997; 9) Ardis, my cousin, 1997; 10) Ardis Sr., my uncle, 2002; 11) Bobbie Dean, my cousin, 2004; 12) Clifton, my uncle, 2009; 13) James “Ba-ba,” my cousin, 2009; 14) Carol, my big sister, 2010; 15) Nathan, my cousin, 2010; and 16) Queen Mama, lost April 28, 2014.
Each one of them was denied the right and opportunity to physically touch me for over 30 years illegally, due to my political and cultural beliefs – three decades for a “thought crime,” which did not exist. Yet, my family members who have died never having had the opportunity to sit and touch me for decades, because CDC and CDCr chose to make attempts at destroying me physically and psychologically for no other purpose than to break my mind and spirit and those of similarly situated prisoners held within CDCr’s solitary confinement – Ad Seg, SHU etc.!
This is just a window into what we prisoners had to suffer for decades by order of our tormentors – CDCr – and it continues to this day within the realm of CDCr modified general population. Our struggle for justice, equality and human rights continues.
We need the support of all people in California and the world to stop the injustice we suffer at the hands of CDCr officials and especially by the CCPOA and their ilk.
I would be extremely irresponsible if I didn’t seek the support of my New Afrikan people – for example, Marie “FREE” Wright, Erykah Badu, Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, Kerry Washington, Taraji P. Hansen, John Legend, Beyonce Knowles Carter, Dominique DiPrima, Shauntae “DaBrat” Harris, Azadeh Zohrabi, Common, Gabrielle Union, Chrissy Teigen, Alicia Keyes, Lupita Nyong’o, Sanaa Hamri, Kellita Smith, Snoop Dogg, Serena Williams, Jamie Foxx, Janelle Nonee’, Sanaa Lathan, Dana “Queen Latifa” Owens, Keisha Cole, Danny Glover, Yolanda “YoYo” Whitaker, Maya Harrison, Whoopi Goldberg, Harry Belafonte, Tatyana Ali, Tyress Gibson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Oprah Winfrey, Angela Bassett, Bryan “Baby” Williams, Shaun “Jay Z” Carter, and all sista and brutha entertainers across Oakland, the Bay Area and the country.
Yes, our New Afrikan Lives Matter here behind the enemy lines of California’s unjust prison system. On behalf of our New Afrikan prisoner community, I pray that you will show your support for our freedom campaigns and whatever you all can donate shall be greatly appreciated. Please send your donations to FREEDOM OUTREACH, P.O. Box 7359, Oakland, CA 94601-3023.
Note for those less familiar…
*CDCr stands for the California Department of Corrections and rehabilitation – the last word uncapitalized by many prisoners to signify how little rehab exists. CCPOA – California Correctional Peace Officers Association – is the guards’ union, which exerts great influence within CDCr and on state policy and legislation.
Feb 28, 2017
keywords: 13th Amendment, Slavery, Abolish Legal Slavery In Amerika Movement
From Prison Focus Issue 51,
The Thirteenth Amendment marked the discursive
link between the civilly dead felon and the slave or
social nonperson… Once the connection to prisons
and slaves had been made, slavery could resurface
under other names… – Colin Dayan
Amerika is a slave State. A nation who’s wealth and prestige
rests upon the subjugation and exploitation of other humans.
In Amerika this process of transforming People from humans into slaves
is carried out through the “Rule of Law.” Slavery is legal
in the United States. We do not mean it was legal, but it
is legal, and has always – in one form or another – been
a corner-stone of the hierarchal structure of Amerikan
That slavery remains legal in the
U.S., though disturbing, is not as
shocking as the fact that the vast
majority of U.S. citizens don’t know
slavery remains legal.
The U.S. Constitution states, “Neither slavery nor
involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime
whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall
exist within the United States.” From 1862 to the present
day, Amerikan criminology and legislative effect would be
a series of refinements on this single theme: the systematic
criminalization of New Afrikans, other oppressed
nationalities and the poor; populations designated for
exploitation or disposal by the U.S. from its inception.
The primary rationale for “Amend the 13th” is simple:
There are thousands of dynamic progressive groups
and activists engaging the system in anti-PISC (Prison
Industrial Slave Complex) work – waging the same
struggle at many different points. But this beast is so big,
so powerful, so imbedded in social life in the U.S., that
it is able to ignore, absorb or superficially reform away
our individual attacks, while keeping the heart of all these
contradictions protected under layers of Constitutional
legitimacy and conditioned public support. The heart of
these contradictions is the slavery provision of the 13th
The maintenance of slavery in the U.S. for those subject
to the courts is designed to maintain both the physical
structures of race/class oppression and the (psychological/
ideological) character structures upon which the capitalist
system is based.
U.S. capitalism can not function
without these populations forced to
the bottom rung of society, acting
as surplus labor, human chattel or
Sexism and xenophobia play roles just as crucial as
racism and classism in the U.S. capitalist arrangement.
Amerika, to our knowledge, is the only nation on the
planet Earth which maintains a “legal” provision by
which its own citizens can be reduced to “slaves of the
state” within its national Constitution. Before there can
be any serious talk of degrading the social foundations of
supremacy and hate, we must eliminate their embodiment
The “Amend the 13th: Abolish “Legal” Slavery in
Amerika Movement” is an all-inclusive, coalition-based
national campaign and community-based organizing
effort which is determined to remove the legal and
social basis for the dehumanization of those subject to
the judicial machinery of the United States, and finally
abolish slavery in Amerika once and for all.
The Movement has three (3) basic aims:
1) To amend the 13th Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution to remove its “legal” slavery provision for
all persons; including those found guilty and sentenced
for a felony offense.
2) To abolish and/or repeal all “Civil Death” laws and
social containment statutes which do not afford Prisoners,
x-offenders and their communities full human, political,
economic and participatory rights in social life in Amerika
that derive their power from the 13th Amendment.
3) To develop and implement as quickly as possible
autonomous community-based economic, political and
social infrastructure capable of eliminating, mitigating or
diminishing to the greatest degree the negative impact of
mass incarceration, criminalization and “legal” slavery in
We will seek to accomplish this end via a three-prong
strategy designed to raise social awareness of, and public
opposition to the continuation of “legal” slavery in
Amerika, while simultaneously undermining its basis:
A) Organize a national petition-drive to Amend the 13th
Amendment to remove its “legal” slavery provision at the
Federal level, and a corresponding petition in each state
to rescind all “Civil Death” and social containment “laws”
which derive their powers from the legal slavery provision
of the 13th Amendment.
B) To carry out targeted demonstrations which highlight
the negative social impact and continued existence of legal
slavery in Amerika. Central to this point is educating,
organizing and mobilizing as many People as possible
to support and/or participate in the MILLIONS 4
PRISONERS MARCH on Washington, D.C. on August
C) Promote and seek formal authority for the
implementation of community-based parole, pardon and
clemency review boards based on the concept of “Strategic
Building a successful movement with these aims begins
with developing a competent and effective structure.
Slavery and involuntary servitude for anyone – even those
convicted of a crime – is itself criminal, morally repugnant
and indefensible. In the final analysis, the complete
abolition of slavery in Amerika is a historical imperative.
We invite you to join us in this crucial work.●
Support “Amend the 13th”!
For more information: visit Amendthe13th.org.
AMEND THE 13TH
Let’s Bring It Together
Message from Comrade Malik in Texas
“What I’m proposing is y’all in Cali, us in Texas and the
dudes in Alabama with F.A.M. form a bond of solidarity so
we can push forward on abolishing slavery and amending
the 13th [V]. … I’m just trying to open up the lines of
communication so we can begin our work!”