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Prison Focus Issue 45
Growing up in California prison kamps, whether they were youth or adult facilities, I was always conscious of the existence of control units. These super max facilities were used as the ultimate weapon on prisoners, a sort of “final solution” for imprisoned rebels. What I did not know were the real reasons for building these torture chambers, nor did I imagine their effects on people that can only be described as a genocide as real as any other. This psychological lynching is meant to neutralize those captives who are targeted for the control units. Will history prove the state has been successful in its goal?
AmeriKKKa in general is very familiar with genocide, and the state of California is also no stranger to this lethal action. When the US first stole Aztlan in the 1800s, Raza were lynched and murdered so much that what was occurring in California was called a “Lynchocracia,” which is the Spanish word for “Lynchocracy.” This was a good description of what was taking place, however it could have also been seen as a genocide. Today we see a strong resemblance to those early colonial days, only today it is repackaged, or re-gifted to us like smallpox blankets in a new shopping bag.
In public school or in the corporate media, i.e. the evening news or mainstream newspapers and magazines, I had heard of “genocide,” but often times this was in reference to countries around the world, and back in the days. Never had I cast an eye here or thought of the idea or possibility that genocide might be occurring today in the 21st century, and in US borders. Not until now.
WHAT EXACTLY IS GENOCIDE?
Most dictionaries define genocide as the deliberate killing of a large group of people of the same nationality. But genocide takes on other characteristics as well. The word “genocide” was first used to define those crimes that the Nazis committed during the course of World War II. Genocide was rightly seen as murder on a grand scale targeting a group.
Throughout history “genocide” has been unleashed on people around the globe by colonizers. For example, on this continent, the First Nations, Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas all experienced some form of genocide by the early settlers. The Tainos of the Caribbean experienced it as did the indigenous of Tasmania -which is off the coast of Australia- where for a couple hundred years post-1642 (when the island was first colonized) the natives tasted genocide.
In the 20th century of course, Jews felt what extermination was like in Hitler’s Germany. Roma also got a strong dose of it. It was this event of genocide which prompted the United Nations to finally pass an international law against genocide. On December 11, 1946, the UN made it a crime and stipulated that not only the perpetrators, but also the accomplices would be prosecuted for this crime.
In 1948, Article 2 was adopted by the UN General Assembly which defined genocide as any attempt to destroy a national or ethnic group in any of the following ways:
1) Killing members of the group.
2) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.
3) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or part.
4) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.
5) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
I think if you look at the history of prisoners - and specifically those held in the control units- you will find many of the above 5 points have been applied at some time or another. In California SHUs, and I believe control units across the US, we are experiencing a genocide.
What was further outlined in the UN convention was that affected parties could ask the United Nations to take action under “prevention and suppression” of genocidal acts. This means that those who are facing or experiencing genocide can request the UN to step in. The problem is in the 60+ years that this law has been in place, it has yet to be used to charge a government with genocide.
Let’s look closer at the five points to see if they are being applied. Point one has been applied in the decades that control units have been in existence. Probably the most glaring example of this was when it was revealed to the public that gladiator style fights were happening at Corcoran SHU in California in which guards were found to be betting on prisoner fights. Many prisoners were gunned down by the guards. And this was occurring in many prisons - not just Corcoran. Many prisoners in California’s SHUs have been found dead in their cells, only to be chalked up as “suicides.” “Suicide” has also happened more often in control units.
Point two is well defined in court records about decades of abuse at the hands of the state. Shootings, maiming, beatings, blindings and worse have been unleashed on SHU or control unit prisoners. But today’s control units have been using a new weapon - solitary confinement. Solitary has been known to inflict mental illness. Mental harm in a control unit has been found after only 10 days - and most prisoners spend years in such conditions. I myself am starting my ninth year in such torturous conditions.
Point 3 is easily seen in that control units have us not only in isolation, but also in Pelican Bay SHU we don’t even have access to natural sunlight and are denied human contact. Even our culture is banned in SHU via fabricated labels of “Gang” or “Security Threat Group” activity. Language is not even safe when it comes to the oppressed nations held in SHU. Dietary manipulation and lack of proper medicines or care complete the destruction of the tens of thousands of us held in control units.
Point 4 is seen in the fact that control unit prisoners are banned from having conjugal visits. Even many prisoners outside of control units in general population are prevented from having overnight visits, thus preventing us from procreating, i.e., “preventing births within the group.”
Point 5 is experienced by many prisoners when their children are taken away upon their arrest. Wimmin prisoners specifically are dealt this heavy blow. Children are often even used by the state as bargaining chips, where if there is no information given to the state, prosecution often follows and one’s children are often taken away upon arrest.
All five points are not required for genocide to be carried out, just one of the points has to be met to be an example of genocide. Genocide, as the UN defined it, is not what we often think of - people in the thousands being lined up against a wall and mowed down. It is more veiled. Today it is re-vamped and delivered with air conditioning, in some cases. But it is here.
WHAT ARE THE HIDDEN SIGNS OF GENOCIDE?
Genocide is not just stuffing us in control units and neutralizing us psychologically or with a rifle. Of course, the use of solitary confinement is used en masse. We cannot deny it is being used to destroy a people.
It is important in any study or when we are attempting to identify a phenomenon to look deep into and outside of it in order to really understand it. Mao spoke about this when he said: “There is contradiction between appearance and essence in everything. It is by analyzing and studying the appearance of a thing that people come to know its essence.”
Here Mao tells us that to really understand what the state’s intentions are with control units we need to dig deep to really identify what this is all about and where it is coming from. From the start, we should understand that the control units go against everything which makes us human, i.e., it is anti-human, anti-people. But the state understands this, it was precisely WHY these tombs were created, it was the plan all along.
The fact that most people placed in California SHUs are Chican@ and most people placed in control units throughout the US are Brown and Black folks means that we as people in control units are for the most part inter-dependent peoples. Our cultures rely on interacting as a group because our peoples come from the Third World, this is from where our cultures derive.. To take this away dismantles who we are as a people, and the state understands this. This understanding is precisely why control units in the US are designed not just to place us here, but to then insure we are socially isolated thereby attacking our very essence.
Humans are not the only species which rely on social interaction. In a recent article a theory was put forward called “The Black Queen Hypothesis.” It was named after the card game Hearts. This theory was created after discovering organisms developed particular abilities that ensured their survival. Researchers found organisms worked with others and in communities, with all of them performing essential tasks for the community. This proves organisms become dependent on each other, and this also proves evolution is not “survival of the fittest” but is instead a more social phenomenon. This means that even down to the smallest organisms social interaction is essential for survival - we are talking about at the microbial level all the way up. Socializing is a necessity for all life. To take this away hinders the ability of life to go on. This is science.
Most do not realize that we are facing a genocide because the state and all of its agencies work hard to dress up these control units for the public. They have been so successful that many prisoners do not even realize what is occurring.
Genocide is the intentional killing of a specific group of people. Thus psychological lynching is the willful rendering of specific groups to become mentally ill. Regardless for the reason, and regardless of one’s belief, genocide is an inhumane form of destruction. It is really destroying a group of people, in the interest of another group of people. It is the engine of Capitalism.
Prisoners rising up throughout control units and prisons in the US is a reaction to this genocide. At the same time, the state has no intention of reversing course. This means this is a struggle by any means necessary, a struggle to survive. But the state will employ a response to the mobilization of the imprisoned social forces. We need to understand that mobilizing against the state is no small potatoes and it WAS noticed by US intelligence. In the 1960s when 10,000 Chican@ students walked out of high schools in California the FBI released memos to its field offices the very next day telling its agents to identify and subvert nationalist movements. Any time people - especially poor people - are mobilized in the tens of thousands it poses a grave threat to the state and they WILL take notice and work to subvert this mobilization, and we will resist.
The real response from the state will be veiled and will not come in the form of clubs or bullets, for the most part. It will come in heightened political repression. Those most politically advanced will feel the brunt, as will those who create political literature because the state understands that a politically educated people are most threatening to the state.
HOW DOES COLONIZATION PLAY INTO GENOCIDE
Genocide is the meat and potatoes of colonization. What better way to steal land, resources, Wimmin and children than by taking out all rebellious elements of a population? And when the next generation of rebelliousness arrives, repackage the genocide and serve it to them again. It is a never-ending cycle that will only be stopped through a complete Socialist revolution.
As for genocide in US borders, as far back as the 1800s the US went around capturing Apache girls and children. These young girls would be sold into prostitution by settlers, which Sakai describes as an inter-connection to colonialism:
“So that at the same time that the US was supposedly ending slavery and ‘Emancipating’
Afrikans, the US Empire was using slavery of the most barbaric kind in order to genocidally
destroy the Apache. It was colonial rule and genocide that were primary.”
In this way, Sakai explains how genocide was simply repackaged. It changed form from “legal” slavery of Afrikans to other forms of slavery which maintained the essence of colonialism. It helped keep certain populations thoroughly oppressed.
Different nationalities are targeted in different ways. In California (as of 2011), 85% of SHU prisoners are Latin@ , and the majority of these are Chicano. This shows that Brown people are overwhelmingly subjected to this genocide in California. It is no secret what isolation does to any living thing. On the local news in Crescent City a sheriff was interviewed about a dog shelter. At one point she talks about how when dogs are separated from people and each other it has an effect on the dogs, and thus her concern to get the dogs out of the isolation of the dog shelter. Even people who have never spent time in isolation understand the damage it does, but it is a part of the colonization process and so it is overlooked when aimed at those facing colonization.
Former Red Army Faction member Ulricke Meinhof described solitary confinement as follows: “The feeling that your head is exploding…the feeling of your spinal cord being pressed into your brain… furious aggression for which there is no outlet. That’s the worst thing. A clear awareness that your chance of survival is nil.”
What many can find unacceptable for animals has been aimed at the internal nations within US borders in the guise of control units. Meinhof described this process above in its raw form. But this method of employing genocide is codified by the oppressor. Yet in our understanding of our colonization we should recognize that our oppression as Lumpen is not simply an economic contradiction. Our class oppression is linked to national oppression. Even Marx understood this back in his day. For example, in his piece “On Ireland” Marx wrote… “In Ireland it is not merely a simple economic question but at the same time a national question, since the landlords there are not, like those in England, the traditional dignitaries and representatives of the nation, but it’s mortally hated oppressors.”
Here Marx highlights the interconnection between nation and class struggle. And just like in England during Marx’s time, our current day landlords are not representatives of our nations, but are our “mortally hated oppressors”. This means that we are not in control of our own respective national economies. Amerika controls the resources of the internal nations and most of us-at least 90% of us held in US control units - are NOT Amerikans. We come from our own colonized nations which Amerika oppresses.
It is difficult to grasp that what we experience is a form of colonization. The oppressor has been very crafty in its methods within US borders. Although prisons (and control units, to be specific) are where we see the most overt forms of colonization and genocide, it is also in control units where we find the most rebellious and revolutionary elements of each internal nation.
When I look at the world, the clearest most concrete example of modern day colonialism is the oppressed nation of Palestine. When we look at Palestine we see an un-veiled example of what an oppressor nation and oppressed nation look like.
Prisoners held in control units have much in common with Palestinians. We both have the prison walls encircling us with the ever-present gun towers. We also suffer from sleep deprivation and its affects. In SHU this is caused by electronic doors opening and closing in an echo all night for the hourly “count” that conveniently comes with a flashlight shined on our faces. For the Palestinians it comes from the nightly “sonic boom” from low diving Israeli jet fighters breaking the sound barrier over Gaza.
There are about 8,000 Palestinian political prisoners held in Israeli settler prisons. In California there are about half this amount of political prisoners held in these Amerikkkan settler SHUs. For Palestinians, like Lumpen within the US, they are almost expected to face incarceration at some point in life. This is so common that it becomes almost a rite of passage in the realm of public opinion. But prisons - remaining true to the laws of dialectics - become an educational experience to Palestinians, not because of the settlers who hold them captive, but because of being exposed to such a high concentration of consciousness. They have learned how to struggle as a class against their oppressor. And, just like the Palestinians, we are also gleaning what can be gleaned from the concentration Kamp control units and turning these death camps into conscious building facilities outside of state influence.
Our similarities are further illuminated when we look at how Palestinians are held in what Israel calls “Administrative Detention” where every 6 months their imprisonment can be extended another 6 months. Those of us in SHU are reviewed every 6 months when our confinement in solitary is extended. They are validated essentially for being Palestinian and we are validated for being oppressed nations and struggling against colonization.
A WORLD VIEW OF THE UNITED SNAKES
Amerika works very hard to disguise its acts of genocide. Although some people have come to understand these crimes against humanity, many only do so outside of US borders. Kieran Kelly in her article “The United States of Genocide,” states “US wars are actually genocides.” This is a pretty good description of what the empire defines as “war.” Just like what it describes in its history books and media as “discovery” and “manifest destiny” is really colonization. What Kelly does not tie into the situation is that genocide also occurs within the US through its use of control units. Modern genocide is inflicted to enact or maintain forms of colonization. Within current day US borders this means internal colonization where the Chicano nation and other oppressed peoples are forced into an attempt at assimilation into Empire or face genocide by the US INjustice system (its prisons and control units, to be specific). But throughout world history we will find that genocide is unleashed on peoples the oppressor is at war with. These are immoral acts of war. Looking at us here in control units, we should take this as seriously as any act of war.
When Columbus went back to Hispaniola, in the first few years 5 million Tainos were exterminated in this genocide. The writer Las Casas reported on many of these acts of genocide - such as hacking the Taino children in chunks in order for them to be fed to the colonizers dogs. This wasn’t done as punishment or for any other reason other than to wipe this population off the map. Although these colonizers may not have been “Amerikans” at the time, Amerika celebrates Columbus and others who have perpetuated genocide and its interests. Sadly, many oppressed who are unaware celebrate these oppressor holidays as well.
The most well-known acts of genocide committed by the US empire are the US wars on Vietnam, Korea and Iraq. But there was also the Indo-China extermination. Whether these genocides were carpet bombings or biological weapons, they amount to murder on a grand scale. What the US did to Laos was nothing more than a crime against a dirt poor country.
Whether we are talking about Third World countries or mainline general prison populations, when we think of the Maoist doctrine of the relations between the revolutionary forces and the masses and how many times the oppressor nation cannot tell the difference between “who’s who,” it becomes clear why the state resorts to genocide. It is employed as a method of counter-insurgency.
I think that the word genocide has evolved in meaning since Rafael Lemkin first coined this word. He believed it was aimed at winning peace. Within the US strategy it takes on the aim of upholding imperialism.
The eco-cide of the forests and waters of South America by US corporations is another method of genocide. This act of polluting indigenous lands in the Amazon works also to disrupt and destroy villages, subvert native cultures and co-opt the political reality of these peoples. The social and economic stability of these peoples is destroyed. Genocide then is more than the direct killing of a people, it is much more sophisticated than this.
The methods of genocide we experience today in US control units are in some ways an “Operation Phoenix,” which as some remember meant that torture and imprisonment was the order of the day for Vietnamese freedom fighters. This is similar to what many US prisoners experience today, only our “strategic hamlets” are the prisons’ general population and control units are the torture centers.
Genocide at the hands of the US has become as Amerikkkan as apple pie.
WE NEED TO ABOLISH THE LYNCHOCRACIA
This situation with the Lynchocracia inflicting a genocide on those of us held in control units is a result of living within the super-parasite. What this means is that there will always be one form of genocide or another as long as we live in the world’s leading imperialist country. The idea is to get to a point where more resistance is created and momentum is built and different genocides are abolished while creating a strong current that takes the struggle to the next level. To do this we need to first identify who exactly is capable of creating this change. And more importantly what ideology is capable of challenging not just the genocide, but the Empire itself. In this sense political ideology is decisive.
Marxism highlights the contradiction between the PRODUCTIVE FORCES OF SOCIETY as well as the SOCIAL RELATIONS OF PRODUCTION as what pushes society forward. Productive forces of society are the forces that change the natural world in order to obtain needs such as clothes, food, housing, social interaction, etc. So the productive forces of society are implements as are technologies and science.
In the Third World the laboring class exists as the productive class, but here in the First World these elite workers have stock in these high living standards that are really crumbs from our oppressor.
A revolutionary class must draw from the productive forces, but in the First World those most oppressed are the Lumpen and migrants. But even within these sectors they can only be harnessed by a particular form of social organization, one which is revolutionary at its core. This constitutes the social relations of production.
In a recent interview whistleblower Edward Snowden said “We cannot be effective without a mass movement, and the American people today are too comfortable to adapt to a mass movement.”
Although Snowden has not been trained in revolutionary theory, EVEN HE realizes that those in US borders, for the most part, become bourgeoisified. As a former US intelligence employee, he revealed that yes, the state understands this as well and make no mistake, and they work hard at keeping it like this. Even some US prisoners become “comfortable” and unwilling to struggle for their humynity. But this Lynchocracia will continue until those of us who suffer the most oppression find ways to transform our environment.
The decisive aspect of the social relations of production is the question of ownership, it means which group of people control the tools in a given society. In a slave society, feudal society, and capitalist society the productive forces are owned privately, ie, they are monopolized by a small portion of society who make up the propertied class.
In general, society has passed through five stages of historical development at one time or another in different parts of the world. This was primitive society, slave society, feudal society, capitalist society, and socialism.
Historical development and the revolutionization of one of these societies to another arrives when the new productive forces are continually created, forged and accumulated they end up in contradiction with the old played out social relations of production. In some ways, on a microscopic level, we can see this historical development play out in our battle against genocide by control unit where prisoners are learning and being forged into a productive force which is conflicting with the state and its genocidal program in these torture chambers.
But our struggles in these dungeons are only one small aspect in the greater struggle for justice. A real transformation and a real end to US genocide will only come when Socialism arrives. Our torture is not a problem of a single Warden, a single DOC Director, or Bureau of Prisons, it is this oppressor nation that is occupying our land that is the real problem.
One author summed up the situation of the Lumpen when he said:
“The problem is not just that the government spends too much money on prisons or puts too
many people in jail. It is that the current system thrives on poverty, unemployment, national
oppression, racism, militarism and stark inequality - crimes in and of themselves- while
imprisoning the victims of these phenomenon.”
So, as the author states, it is more than just a matter of putting too many people in prison -it’s more that the state cannot exist without committing crimes against the people. Those the oppressor nation targets are the ones that end up criminalized.
At some point even the Lumpen will get tired of the oppression and find ways to build communities that are much different than what exists today. There have been very different societies which did not rely on greed to get by. In fact, we see examples today such as in Cuba where a few years back when the earthquake devastated Haiti, the US and Cuba both sent doctors to help the people. When this occurred Doctors from the US treated 871 patients in Haiti while Cuban Doctors treated 227,143. This is a stark difference in what it means to serve the people. On the one hand, we have the richest country in the world and on the other hand we have a Third World country. And yet it is the struggling country which has been squeezed financially by a decades old imperialist blockade who helps the most.
In order to truly abolish the Lynchocracia we need to not just uproot the chains of colonialism, which not only shackle us physically, but more importantly which shackle many mentally as well. Genocide in one form or another will continue to exterminate the oppressed internal nations within US control units until prisoners as a whole can penetrate our social reality and find ways to push our nations back onto the road to liberation.
What COINTELPRO set out to do is not just neutralize the national liberation movements of decades past, but to also smother and stomp out any memory of our revolutionary history, and this was done to subvert the people’s struggles. One of our goals should be to re-build our nations and as a result we will re-build the movement toward REAL justice.
Mao Tse Tung “Selected Works” Volume V “On the Anti-Party Alliance of Kao Kang and Jao Shu-Shih,” pg. 165-66.
3-27-12, Richard Lenski, J. Jeffrey Morris, Michigan State University and Erik Zinser University of Tennessee, MBIO the online journal of the American
Society for Microbiology.
J-Sakai “Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat” Morning Star Press, 1989. Pg. 30.
Center for Constitutional Rights, “Hundreds of California Prisoners in Isolation to Join Class Action Lawsuit” 2014.
“The Red Army Faction 1963-1993” by Tom Vague, pg. 49.
Kieran Kelly “The United States of Genocide: Putting the US on Trial for Genocide Against the People of Korea, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq and
Elsewhere,” Global Research. 9-30-13.
Katrina Vanden Heuval and Stephen F. Cohen “Snowden in Exile,” The Nation, November 17, 2014.
Eugene Puryear “Shackled and Chained: Mass Incarceration in Capitalist America” (PSL Publications 2013) Pg. 129.
Emily J. Kirk and John M. Kirk, “Cuban Medical Aid to Haiti: One of the World’s Best Kept Secrets,” Synthesis/Regeneration, 53, Fall 2010.
Oct 20, 2017
keywords: 13th Amendment
Prison Focus Issue 53
The state of Virginia is, as we all know, the birth place of slavery in the "United States of Amerika" and from the very beginning of it, it was only "black slaves" suffering the hard labor and inhumane treatment with the punishment of death and beatings for all who refused to work or stand up against the unfair treatment! Now we are in a "new age" of time when there is a new form of slavery and it's EVERYONE not just the Blacks!
With the Constitution and the 13th amendment everyone can become a "slave" in the United States of Amerika. The government has turned on everyone of ALL colors to make money. The Prison System is a way to keep their economy functioning and the money coming.
The state of Virginia and its justice system are the "gateway" of enforcing the 13th amendment and its courts are the starting place of it all. With its judges, D.A.'s, attorneys who have vowed to convict anyone who comes into their courts! As we also know there are people that’s been found guilty of crimes and put into prisons and later found to be innocent of all charges. Since slavery ended, this country has been desperate to find ways of dealing with its economy. Its prison system has made it possible to keep functioning! There are "millions of slaves in the United States of Amerika prisons and other forms of institutions run by the government. The Virginia State prison system has all kinds of businesses in its prisons. They have woodshops that make furniture and sheet metal shops that make license plates. They also grow food to sell on the market as goods. As well as inmate labor to the local areas, around the prisons and jails, as labor for work.
All of these labor jobs are very low paying. The pay rates start at .20 cents up to .88 cents and if that's not slavery then I don't know what to call it! These are the "big jobs" that the state makes its money off of. The other jobs behind the gates of all Virginia prisons are the ones that keep the prisons running from day to day. Inmates are saving state prisons tens of thousands of dollars every year with cheap labor. Inmates work 10 to 12 hours every day for pennies by the hour and it's all for the 13th amendment and the State of Virginia's economy and that's very sad!! Prisons are no longer about "rehabilitation" it's all about the economy, no matter what state you are living in, in this country called the land of the "free"!!
I really would like to start a branch of "PRISON FOCUS" in the State of Virginia. We could really use this kind of focus of the State's Prison system to show what’s happening behind the prison gates in Virginia!
Oct 20, 2017
keywords: Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March
Prison Focus Issue 53
Read at August 19, 2017 San Jose sister march for the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March
First, I’d like to say, on behalf of the Oakland Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, how honored we are to be here with you all today and standing up on behalf of the millions of people caught up in the prison or “justice” system and detention facilities within the United States. We’re out here in conjunction with all the people that are marching in DC on this day with the same message. We have a “justice system” that perpetuates the institution of racism in this country through its targeting of the most marginalized communities: people of color, women, and the LGBT community.
Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, or IWOC, is a project of the Industrial Workers of the World labor union and is an organization that is now a couple of years old. We have over 1000 prisoners as union members and as many contacts that we communicate with in prisons across the country. As outside members of IWOC our job is to facilitate the formation of inside branches of the Union. Also to publicize and amplify the voices of prisoners as they relay their conditions and their fights for justice on the inside to those of us on the outside.
In my several years in prison I came to realize many things. One of which being that the punitive actions enforced within prisons are designed to break your spirit. From years of solitary confinement, to constant threats against your parole. Also, I realized how greatly the prisons benefitted off the divisions that prisoners create by breaking up into racial gangs, which is typical.
Prisons use arbitrary punishments as a tool to break your spirit and will to fight. Where any perceived infraction of “the program” that they design for you to adhere to, will be swiftly met with severe repercussions that range from: denial of parole, more charges, beatings, and even murder. These are just some of the threats prisoners face when they attempt to confront the system on their own.
Despite this, while I was in prison there were several collective actions that we prisoners took. They were all relatively spontaneous though and a reaction to an injustice like not receiving commissary one week, so we all refused to lock down after dinner. Or when they refused to let my 8-man cell out for rec time and we decided to flood the whole cell block. Historically prisoners have taken collective action to better their conditions or to fight back. Prison officials always responded the same way by acting as if they would listen and heed our grievances, but they only did that to get us back in our cells or stop what we were doing. Once all prisoners are locked up again and they feel they have the situation under control they try to single out and identify the “leaders” and use them as an example through severe punishment.
Prisons only function because prisoners go to their prison jobs which predominately are jobs that keep the facilities running from laundry and maintenance, to food production and assembling products for the state or other facilities to use. The IWW has always advocated that the working classes greatest strength is at the point of production. Thousands of prisoners across the country proved this fact by shutting down 24 prisons across the country last year on September 9th which coincided with the 45th anniversary of the Attica uprising. It was the largest coordinated action by prisoners in US history, led by leaders of the Free Alabama movement, free Ohio movement, and IWOC. IWOC estimates at least 57,000 prisoners participated or were locked down to prevent their participation.
Strike leaders produced a document titled, “Let the crops rot in the fields” in the lead up to the prison strike last year, which equated the institutionalization of slavery with the “exception clause” of the 13th amendment. So as slaves were forced to harvest crops by ‘letting the crops rot in the fields’ they meant “don’t go to work” and don’t prop up these institutions of our confinement. That document laid it out in real terms. Whereas during chattel slavery the land owner collected the profits and administered the punishments.
After the Civil War and with the addition of the 13th amendment they codified slavery into law. Armed vigilante groups, which evolved and became the police as we know them today, would capture freed slaves on fabricated or wholly made up charges just to return them to the plantations they had supposedly just been freed from, only now they weren’t plantations. They were called prisons and administered by the state. That was the back room deal made between northern industrialists and southern landowners so they didn’t lose their workforce. The landowner became the warden and the overseer became the guard.
While the majority of prison jobs are to keep the facilities operating, we’ve increasingly seen large corporations getting into the prison game after seeing the potential profit margins they can secure with a workforce to which they pay pennies and in some states don’t pay anything, for the work they do. We’re talking about major corporations like Bank of America, Exxon, Mobil and McDonalds. AT&T has been outsourcing their unionized workforce since the 90’s not to Mexico, not to India, but right here in the U.S., to prisoners.
One of our leaders, Kinetic Justice, co-founder of the Free Alabama Movement, broke it down like this: there is a reason they don’t offer these jobs that they do in prisons, to people on the outside in those most affected marginalized communities. It’s because they’ve realized these communities are more easily controlled inside prisons. Kinetic’s observation on control is that we are now in an age of increasing “surplus” populations and the government has been using prisons as their solution to that problem.
A notable theorist recently pointed out that “The purpose of prison is not to reap profits from people’s labor, but to warehouse those for whom no profit-making work exists.”
We must see prison, juvenile halls, and immigrant detention centers for exactly what they are, which is a part of the institution of racism in this country and a vital component of the carceral state.
So, with that being said, while we support this effort at reform as it was called for by prisoners, we also see it as only one strategy in the ongoing war against prisons. Though we support reform efforts like this when called for by prisoners, at the end of the day we are prison abolitionists. We are revolutionaries. Through our mutual political education classes and our collective analysis, we recognize that the prison and detention centers are used as a weapon to continue to subjugate Black and Brown people and women, and to continue to perpetuate the institution of racism in this country.
While we’re able to bop white supremacists in the head when they try to rally, combating racism as its codified in the “justice system” will require the mutual aid and support of all of us, on the outside, by supplying material support when it’s needed, and also by amplifying, and publicizing the voices of all of our brothers and sisters being held in prisons and detention centers, and attempting to fight back collectively. Same goes for the over 5 million people on some type of monitoring e.g. probation, house arrest etc. They need our support and solidarity as well.
While we’re here today in solidarity with you all and the fight to repeal the “exclusion clause” of the 13th amendment, let me conclude with this. Even if the “exception clause” is repealed, The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee will continue communicating and organizing with prisoners. We’ll continue building inside union branches and we’ll continue hitting the streets loud and hard when our incarcerated members call on us to. We’ll continue in our work until every single prison, every immigrant detention center, and every juvenile hall in this country is completely empty.
Oct 20, 2017
keywords: End Prison Slavery in Texas Movement
Prison Focus Issue 53
“All human activity is collective – a combination of the work and inspiration shaped by those who came before us and those who labor with us.”
Nancy Kurshan, Out of Control
Peace and blessings, sisters and brothers!
Well, it is official, the prisoners on Eastham Unit, located in Lovelady, Texas, have filed their § 1983 Federal Civil Complaint in the Eastern District of Texas – Lufkin Division. There were 10 of us in the original complaint, but as is customary in Texas, the Judge severed us all and instructed us to proceed as individual plaintiffs. Our lead litigator and resident jailhouse lawyer is a prisoner named William Wells.
William Wells et al. Vs Bryan Collier et al.
For those of you who don't know, Bryan Collier is the Executive Director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). TDCJ has the largest state prison system in the United States. Most of the 110 prison units are not air conditioned, and toxic water supplies are becoming a pervasive and systemic problem.
Please allow me to reveal some facts which led us to file this particular lawsuit:
Due to the consumption of contaminated water at Eastham Unit, multiple prisoners have been diagnosed with h. pylori disease from the water. Due to the Heat Index, especially in the summer, prisoners must drink this contaminated water that's causing h. pylori.
This issue raises 8th Amendment concerns, and the US Supreme Court has held that unsafe conditions that pose an unreasonable risk of serious dangers to a prisoner's future health may violate the 8th Amendment even if damage has not occurred and may not affect every prisoner exposed to the conditions. See case law Helling vs McKinney 113 S.C.T. 2475 (1993): “A remedy for unsafe conditions need not wait for a tragic event.”
In this case, at Eastham Unit, several prisoners have been diagnosed with h. pylori disease which destroys the lining of the stomach. There is no known cure.
There have been signs posted in nearby communities which clearly read “Don't drink the water without boiling”, but prisoners at Eastham Unit, and throughout the Texas prison system for that matter, have no means of boiling our water.
The prison store known as the commissary sells us “hot pots” which heat water but don't boil it. If we alter our Hot Pots in order to make them boil, they get confiscated and we are given a disciplinary case for contraband. We are being deprived of a basic human need – safe drinking water! Prison officials are well aware of the situation, and the most ubiquitous item in prison guards' bags is bottled water. But what about us?
There are state officials in Michigan who are now facing prison terms for engaging in similar acts of neglect and abuse. There are many “Flints” in Texas, but the cover-up game is in full effect. My job is to unmask and uncover the deceptions and lies being fed to the public at large. I helped do it at the Wallace Pack Unit in Navasota, Texas last year, and I'm going to do it here at Eastham Unit!
This is what I want you to understand, the State of Texas focuses its energy and resources in order to exploit and take advantage of poor white, poor black, and poor brown people. The State Government works in concert with the prison agency in order to deprive us of our our human and civil rights! There are no “fat cat” bankers, lawyers, captains of industry inside these prisons. We are lower income folks who come from lower income communities throughout the State of Texas. The Attorney General of Texas, Mr. Ken Paxton, won't come to our aid. The Michigan Attorney General actually spear-headed the effort to protect his lower income constituents! What's wrong with Ken Paxton's moral compass? Paxton is going to side with TDCJ and he is going to send a state-paid attorney to force prisoners to drink contaminated water and suffer in deadly heat extremes!
The State of Texas did the same thing at Wallace Pack Unit – and the remarkable thing was those prisoners at Wallace Pack are mostly all elderly and disabled! I understand the state may not want to air condition the entire system, but we have a moral and ethical duty to protect the lives of our most vulnerable members of society, whether they are incarcerated or not!
But here's the thing – Texas has one of the worst-performing and poorly-rated nursing home facilities in the United States! And these are free citizens who we fail to protect, so it certainly is no surprise we are ignoring the health and safety of those incarcerated seniors, but I believe we can do better! Don't you? I mean, is this how you want your tax dollars spent? Funding litigation which hurts people? And by the time the litigation process is done at Wallace Pack Unit, the state would easily have spent the money it would have taken to install the air conditioning unit! That's crazy!
I've been hearing about Christian leaders talking about restorative justice initiatives. I've been hearing about change. Not all of my friends believe in prayer, but I surely do! However, the only thing this corrupt prison agency respects or understands is legal action.
My name is Comrade Malik, I'm not a gangster or a thug, I am a thoughtful and passionate human being who truly believes in serving the people! Please stop talking about action, step out of your comfort zone and help us fight the good fight!
Dare to struggle, dare to win, all power to the people!
Keith “Malik” Washington
Chief Spokespersyn for the End Prison Slavery in Texas Movement
Oct 20, 2017
keywords: Abolish Legal Slavery in Amerika Movement, Strategic Release, parole, 13th Amendment
Prison Focus Issue 53
Greetings Sistas and Brothas.
As the National Agenda of ‘Amend the 13th’ continues to find resonance with the People, we see great enthusiasm for its major components such as support for the Millions for Prisoners March, the Autonomous Infrastructure Mission (A.I.M.) and the Abolition Petition, but of equal importance is public support for the concept of ‘Strategic Release.’
What has fueled the legacy of legal slavery in Amerika from the Jim Crow era to the present day is unstable and intentionally underdeveloped communities. One of the chief contributors to this instability is systematic recidivism and lack of effective leadership in the process of community development, reclamation and stability. U.S. policies of mass incarceration have fractured family units, have exacerbated generational poverty, have facilitated the school to prison pipeline and have solidified social containment policies for New Afrikans, Latinos and the poor into concrete barriers to social progress no less real than the prison walls which hold so many.
A New Progressive Mentality
But this process of systematic dehumanization also produces its opposite: New Men and Women who have been transformed by their experiences with the productive system into genuine social progressives, the very antithesis to this structural hate. Such New Men and Women have given their very lives to transforming the criminal mentality into a progressive mentality, and transforming their communities into bastions of social progress and stability.
The unfortunate reality is that the U.S. is an attrition-based society, one that prizes retribution and punishment over restorative justice; one that values the conquest of resistance, while viewing mercy as weakness. Though there is overwhelming evidence that these draconian measures do not diminish, but instead actually fuel criminalization, Amerikan policymakers continue to capitulate to the ‘growth’-model of the Prison Industrial Slave Complex (PISC). It was this social reality which led New Afrikan Political Activists to develop the concept of STRATEGIC RELEASE.
The Highest Threshold of Rehabilitation
Under Strategic Release, a Prisoner’s grant of parole, pardon or clemency is based on the positive impact he or she has had on their community and society during his or her imprisonment, and the even greater positive impact they will have on society as a whole if released.
Consideration for Strategic Release is based on a subject’s work product and proven record of service to the community and society, and a formal commitment to continue to work in the service of the community and the People into perpetuity once released.
As such it is the height of social restitution, providing direct restorative justice to the People and our communities, requiring a lifetime commitment to society’s progress and welfare. Strategic Release also requires a minimum of 25 years of confinement as, according to the state’s own Bureau of Justice Statistics, recidivism rates for those 50 and over, or who have served 25 years or more, are virtually non-existent.
This means Strategic Release is the highest threshold of rehabilitation, public safety and social justice any Prisoner can achieve, warranting the highest reward: A second chance to serve society, physically present in their communities.
It is this physical presence of Strategic Release subjects in our communities which lies at the heart of its vital importance to the process of community development. The formal adoption of Strategic Release will have a direct impact on reducing crime and violence in our communities where it has been generational, while diminishing the social inequities at the root of criminalization through the contributions and activities of those granted release.
The prospective Prisoners considered for Strategic Release are committed to solving the ills of society without working with the state or law enforcement, but instead through directly working with the People and community; thus they remain perpetually accountable to those who have granted them release. Strategic Release is therefore vital to any community development scheme, as those released to the community, [as] much as fire transforms lifeless ice into life-sustaining water, [they] will breathe healing and life-altering development into our struggling communities.
Viable Alternative to the Carceral State
Strategic Release will provide us all with competent and dedicated leadership at a time when we are facing a crisis in leadership in so many of our communities. Strategic Release will serve as a blueprint for the expansion of restorative justice initiatives and act as a viable alternative to the maintenance of the traditional carceral state. This means Strategic Release will serve to undermine the Prison Industrial Slave Complex (PISC) at the point of criminalization: our communities.
The programs and mentorship provided by Strategic Release subjects in our communities will shut down the school-/poverty-to-prison pipeline at the source. Because the subjects for Strategic Release have literally spent decades analyzing and developing solutions to the ills of society from the perspective of the most disenfranchised and oppressed, the programs, initiatives and institutions they have developed represent a degree of innovation unknown in mainstream Amerika.
Rehabilitation through Serving the People directly
Strategic release provides a new impetus for our imprisoned Sistas and Brothas to take self-development beyond mere rehabilitation, forward to the realm of social activism and a genuine committment to serving the People (and society as a whole). These new interconnected social, economic and political relationships produced by the impact of Strategic Release subjects and their work product will serve to move society as a whole away from the greed, hate and naked self-interest which has exacerbated its core contradictions, on to more cooperative and harmoneous modes of social life beneficial to us all.
Support the Concept of Strategic Release
I encourage you in the strongest terms to advocate for the formal adoption of Srategic Release by your community and state legistlatures; support local petitions for Strategic Release and contact your local community organizers and encourage them to support the concept of Strategic Release.
Please visit the sites of the affinity organizations listed below for additional information and links to others currently pursuing formal adoption of Strategic Release in states across the nation. Amend the 13th stands in solidarity with them and all those actively pursuing the implementation of Strategic Release.
Until we win or don’t lose,
Joka Heshima Jinsai
Founder & Executive Director
Amend the 13th: Abolish Legal Slavery in Amerika Movement
Please visit: www.amendthe13th.org