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Oct 20, 2017
keywords: PBSP, Pelican Bay
Prison Focus Issue 53
I’d like to open this article with a quote from the noble Quran: “he (Allah) who taught the use of the pen – taught man that which he knew not.” (Chpt. 96: verse: 4-5)
I used this verse to open my letter to the San Francisco Bay View, an excellent newspaper of which I greatly appreciate, to share a piece of my character and my integrity, as a revolutionary. One of innumerable Black-Muslim men confined in the “trenches” of Amerika’s Injustice System of Oppression = “New Jim Crow.” It’s ever incumbent upon every righteous-minded and sincerely believing Muslim, to stand up against injustice, corruption and oppression.
So this pen is my “weapon of choice,” which shall allow light to be shed on the “dark secrets” behind the “Iron Wall” of Pelican Bay State Prison, infamously known to the public and media as “Skeleton Bay!”. This, due to its past cruelty and notoriety.
On May 24, 2017, at approximately 10:30 am, simultaneous Mini-14 Rifle fire rang out like “Strong burst of thunder!” I didn’t personally witness the chaos and mayhem, but nearly one hour later, the Correctional Officers started to bring fellow inmates back in the Units via escort, one at a time. Upon one African-American entering the B-Section Unit, I could clearly observe the “grim look upon his face,” and all he could say was: “It was ugly!”
Right then, I knew that the barrage-volley of bullet-fire I had heard, was in fact FIRED INDISCRIMINATELY at Southern Hispanics here on B-Facility. I’ve had time to do my inquiry as to this incident as far as conversing with men who were on the Yard during the initial incident, which quickly turned brutally violent and perhaps even deadly! It has been conveyed by those present, that a one-on-one fight between Southern Mexicans broke-out and upon the C/O’s observing the mutual combat, which didn’t involve any type of “weapon,” they approached in running form and began immediately using “pepper spray,” and detonating a few “gas bombs.”
Now, I’d like to here be perfectly clear, again, THESE INMATES DIDN’T POSSESS ANY WEAPONS AND ONLY USED “FISTICUFFS!,” WHICH THE C/Os OBSERVED. As the C/O’s are screaming loudly for the two combatants to “get down!,” they ignored the command, continuing their brawl. The Officers then aggressively and unnecessarily, indeed with “malicious intent;” began BEATING them (HUMAN BEINGS) with CDCR’s standard issued “Metal Batons” = “Nigger Sticks!”
The Officers wouldn’t stop hitting them, even as onlookers screamed at the C/Os to do so. However, the Officers disregarded these Southern Mexican Inmates concerns, and instead continued to beat the two Inmates whom were, again, prone out on the ground as the fighting between them was basically over! Because the concerns of the Southern Mexicans Inmates were dismissed, they were forced to go to the DEFENSIVE AID of their loved ones and as they did, the Mini 14 Assault Rifle rounds bean ringing out with deliberate-focused aim!
Once the “smoke and dust cleared,” a total of “NINETEEN BULLET ROUNDS” were FIRED from multiple Gun-Towers (e.g., from the Housing Units and Gym Tower). The local news claimed that “five Inmates suffered gun-shot wounds” and that “Eight Officers suffered injuries, none of which were life-threatening.” I’m not 100% sure if it’s accurate or not, some people here say that the Inmates whom were SHOT, of them ONE WAS DECEASED! I’ve now been at Pelican Bay State Prison for over three years and have been incarcerated for twenty three years, twenty of which have been here on Level IV Facilities across California.
These environments, in which a most clear “racial-class dichotomy exist” that US & THEM!, for the mass-incarcerated = repressed Inmates have been and remain filled with direct and indirect hostilities from C/Os. Many of them, are filled with bitter resentment and extreme arrogance towards the Prisoner-Class, i.e., believing that they can do or say whatever they want to us, as if we’re not human beings deserving of respect and dignity, while in the same breath desiring that “we” extend and display these mannerisms towards them!
I want to here be perfectly clear: WE DON’T CARE HOW MUCH THEY MAY HATE OR DISLIKE US, BUT THEY HAVE A DUTY TO CARRY THEMSELVES WITH HIGHER PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS. Also, let me emphasize that not all Officers share these negative sentiments towards Inmates as in truth, there are those whom are very courteous and respectful. However, for those whom dislike Inmates for whatever personal reasons “which YOU might have,” let me say that: WE STAND UNIFIED UNDER A RACIAL-CLASS OF MEN SUFFERING UNDER SIMILAR CONDITIONS OF REPRESSION AND DEHUMANIZING DEPRIVATION OF OUR RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS.
As such, as the WISE LESSONS HAVE BEEN LEARNED and TAKEN TO HEART, we’ll NEVER SIMPLY RESORT TO OUR “OLD IGNORANT WAYS” OF RACIAL HATRED AND MISGUIDED ANIMOSITIES TOWARDS ONE ANOTHER, WHICH WERE TIME AND TIME AGAIN, THEIR TACTIC IN THE PAST TO “DIVIDE & CONQUER” US, BUT WHICH TODAY SHALL FAIL TO WORK. We are unafraid of their “secret schemes” and diabolical tactics. UNAFRAID of their bullets and weapons as well as YOUR disregard for our lives. We STAND STRONG, UNBROKEN WITH DIGNITY, DISCIPLINE and FORTITUDE. Fighting with passion, ambition and determination to live as MEN, and doing whatever we are able to eradicate a system which keeps our minds and bodies repressed and oppressed…for far too long!
We must/shall remain focused, committed, organized and aware of our COLLECTIVE OBJECTIVES. We’ll only succeed as long as we continue to be cognizant of OUR STRENGTHS, OUTSIDE SUPPORT and VITAL PURPOSE. A “revolution” starts with one spark and with one small ember can set a nation ablaze…In Peace/Solidarity!!!
Oct 20, 2017
keywords: Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March
Prison Focus Issue 53
On August 19th courageous and loving folks in San Jose, California joined with sister marches and rallies all over the country in support of prisoners’ human rights, amending the 13th, and thereby launching the New Abolitionist Movement. Their courage is found in the rejection of an institution so insidious that any criticism can bring a torrent of ridicule and backlash; an institution that tells us ‘they- the other” are undeserving of our humanity, an institution of legal slavery in the ‘land of the free.” And their love is revealed by their enthusiasm for a new society which reunites us in our common experience and affirms those rights which we call human, to all members of our society caged or not, and regardless of skin-color, socio-economic status, or past discretions.
The march launched at 11:45 a.m. with a speech from Amend the 13th’s founder, Joka Heshima Jinsai, recorded and blasted through a bullhorn to crowd of hundreds. Troy Williams of the SF Bayview followed with a call to remember why we march, setting the tone for a purposeful and peaceful demonstration to the public.
As we marched in solidarity through the lively Japantown neighborhood chants rang out: “Brick by brick, wall by wall, we will make your prisons fall” and “Human rights apply to all, even those behind a wall”. Onlookers enjoying a patio lunch stood and applauded, while those passing in cars or on foot honked and cheered as marchers proceeded with signs calling to end mass incarceration and recognize solitary confinement as torture.
As we made our way forward to converge on James P McEntee plaza across from the county jail, marchers were welcomed by Watani Stiner. Despite decades of imprisonment and dehumanization, his joyous introduction spread optimism as it reverberated throughout the crowd: “Welcome all of you beautiful and magnificent souls! Today is a good day to resist! Today is a beautiful day to rise up and say ‘no more!’ Today is a wonderful day to say ‘not in my name!’” With that, the stage was set for voices to be heard and stories to be shared.
Riding a wave of solidarity, speakers shared painful truths about the U.S. prison system. Raymond Aguilar noted, “They incarcerated my body, they incarcerated part of my soul, but they did not incarcerate my mind,” as he spoke to his experience and on the issue of juvenile life without the possibility of parole. On behalf of Mianta McKnight of Justice Now, Julia Arroyo of Young Women’s Freedom Center called out the realities of a system that lacks the resources for girls and women of color returning home from prison.
But among the cheers and outbursts of encouragement, there were moments of sheer heartbreak and anger. We witnessed the pain and loss of a mother, Laurie Valdez who shared the murder of Antonio Guzman Lopez, father to her young son, by San Jose State University police. Alongside her, the frustration of Ato Walker, whose life was disrupted by a racist police officer and an unjust bail system. One by one, speakers rose to share their lived experiences. One by one the crowd was moved, not just to open their eyes, but also their hearts.
As history replays itself on the national stage through white supremacist and neo-nazi violence, we are called not merely to avoid the mistakes of our past, but to wholly reimagine our future. “There is no room for slavery in humanity. There can be no exception for any group,” declared Mariposa McCall addressing the crowd.
Today, we must dare to create a new system- a system without slavery, without prisons. In the shared words of Cole Dorsey, organizer with the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), “While we support this effort at reform as it was called for by prisoners, we see it only as a strategy in the ongoing war against prisons...at the end of the day, we are prison abolitionists. We are revolutionaries.”
As the rally closed, we, marchers and speakers all, concluded with a pledge: “We have set the stage for the real work to come. In unity we will become stronger, more committed, and more resolved. We stand firm in our belief that all community members, caged and uncaged, deserve their human rights. We stand committed to the New Abolitionist Movement to end slavery in America once and for all.”
With that the platform was set for voices to be heard, stories to be shared. In this environment of support and solidarity painful issues such as juveniles sentenced to Life Without Parole brought to light by Raymond Aguilar and lack of resources for girls and women of color returning home, advocated for by Julia Arroyo on behalf of Mianta McKnight, were able to be shared.
You could feel the crowd spellbound and moved as we witnessed the pain and loss of a mother, Laurie Valdez as she shared the killing of the father to her young son by SJ police. But it was being together in common humanity that almost became our fresh air. Folks who wouldn’t commit to speaking seemed to feel the love and camaraderie that was generated and spoke in the end. It was the unity, the humanity we felt from being with each other, face to face, looking in the eyes, sharing the lived experience. And it’s not only in the telling that things got done. We had to be good listeners. We opened our hearts, not just our ears. The hope and the drive and the commitment was undeniable in each of those speakers and it encouraged and awakened us. The many issues brought to bare were difficult and varied, like bail reform and banning the box, the deadly issue of simply “not being heard”, and losing our humanity spoken eloquently by Mariposa McCall. In that hour and a half, we bonded through storytelling and being on common
ground, then we pledged to ride the wave of the New Abolitionist Movement together.
Editors Note: 19 August 2017 — Hundreds rallied outside the White House today for the "Millions for Prisoners' Human Rights March." The event was organized by U.$. prisoners and outside groups to focus on the issue of the 13th Amendment.
Oct 20, 2017
keywords: Millions For Prisoners Human Rights March Speeches
Prison Focus Issue 53
Read at August 19, 2017 San Jose sister march for the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March
My name is Mianta McKnight. I am the Community Engagement Director at Justice Now. As a person that came home from a women's prison, after serving 18 years and 1 day on a 15 to life sentence. I realized exactly how important transitional resources and assistance are. I had just turned 17 when I went into the correctional system in 1995. In 2013, I came out as an adult and had to figure out what my life would look like. I had no life experience outside of incarceration as an adult.
I learned I was ineligible for a lot of resources. When I came home I didn't have a child or a drug or alcohol addiction, but in order to access the resources I needed I had to fabricate that I did. So many people are coming home from women's prisons and the resources that they need are not available. The vast majority of people held inside the women's prisons are people of color. As I watch my folks come home I realize that women and girls of color specifically are marginalized, ignored and forgotten.
Most people when they come home have an ideal plan of what their life is going to look like. When they hit a brick wall it is hurtful, discouraging, frustrating and can derail some people. How can you expect people to come out and do better when none of the resources that can help them are available? We're sent back into impoverished communities expecting to pick up the pieces and put our families back together.
We come home to attempting to adjust and fall back into our roles in our family. This is challenging oftentimes and not just hard on the person that is trying to integrate but also on the family members. Wraparound services for women and girls of color specifically would provide the opportunity to find sustainable, dignified and living wage employment. That’s a basic human right, and a necessity, especially here in the Bay Area.
But to keep a job, you need a roof over your head and a safe place to raise your family. Women experience tremendous trauma before and during incarceration, and need stable housing and access to mental health services. It is wrong to think that we’ll come home and be able to fall in line and everything will flow smoothly without support. I am now a Mother and feel the pressure to make sure my daughter has what she needs, she is dependant on me to “get it right," there is no room for error. I strive daily to build a solid foundation for my family. I am resilient determined and know I am not defined by my record. I was given a 2nd chance at life and won't waste it. I do need resources and seek them out.
In 2014 California voters passed Prop 47. This measure was designed to move resources from prisons back into services in the community. It also provided an opportunity for many Californians to have their felony sentences reclassified to misdemeanors. The State is currently implementing the law, and women like me are watching closely. We encourage you to do the same. In order for Prop 47 to succeed, the resources it creates much reach women, and specifically women and girls of color. So far, there are no gender-responsive services being offered. We are working hard to change that, and make sure California women get a fair chance to thrive after release. Thus far we are failing to do so effectively and consistently.
Stay up to date on our work by following us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JusticeNowOrg/
Oct 20, 2017
keywords: Millions For Prisoners Human Rights March speeches
Prison Focus Issue 53
Read at August 19, 2017 San Jose sister march for the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March
We are here together to make a more humane, just, compassionate society. To do so we must first dispel the myth about America. Then confront the self-deception and lies that we have come to believe as truths. Move from the illusion into the heartbreaking reality that it is. We will be disoriented. “The very time I thought I was lost, my dungeon shook and my chains fell off” wrote James Baldwin.
We must reclaim our individual power because trying to operate within an alienating demoralizing social structure is killing us. We can no longer afford to lay low, keep quiet, or resign to our situation. We have been conditioned to accept things are they are, and be grateful. Fears get stirred periodically just enough to keep us off balanced and scared into subjugation. We must each free ourselves from self-imposed state of helplessness and powerlessness through action. It is a daunting task. However, I know collectively we can be a force.
We are here to point out the glaring contradiction of having the 13th Amendment legalizing slavery in this free nation. These two entities cannot coexist. There is no room for slavery in Humanity. There can be no exception for any group. Abolition and the exclusion of the 13th Amendment will require that we dismantle the inherent racist social order and unequal distribution of resources that are a “badge and incident of slavery.” Emancipated slaves had no resources but their labor. They entered binding contracts that were coercive and placed them in positions similar to slavery. If they breached the contract there was the criminal law to punish them into legal enslavement via the 13th Amendment. Domination merely appeared in new disguises.
Our Humanity has been held hostage by the false belief of race superiority. There is no such thing. Nonetheless it is this delusion and economic greed which bore the dehumanizing practice of slavery. Slavery is a reflection of an entire system of understandings, practices, laws, and institutions that confers power and social status to a selected few determined on controlling others. Since the 13th Amendment’s ratification in 1865, those the dominant culture has deemed ‘less than’ have been the target of this convenient injustice. Slaves, Blacks, Chinese, Jews, Irish Americans, indigenous Indians, Mexicans, Japanese Americans, and more recently our poor, our mentally ill, our newly released prisoners, and our homeless have been further marginalized. “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me,” Ralph Ellison wrote in the Invisible Man.
This has been our challenge as a nation; How to fight personal prejudices, systemic bias and racial discrimination that perpetuates negative stereotypes and other lies we have, at an unconscious level, come to believe as fact. The disenfranchised have learn to have low expectations of themselves, to blame themselves for their low station in life and to accept undignified conditions. Non-dominant groups have been forced to assimilate and acculturate, be absorbed into a culture that has never fully accept them as equals. And in this conformity they have lost their identity, shed traditional clothing, silenced their native tongue, not eaten their foods. Becoming a shell of who they were and prepared to be colonized psychologically. To negate is to gain, they are promised. This is not freedom! We must change this.
George Orwell wrote “Freedom is slavery”. Freedom is a constant struggle that requires constant vigilance and more importantly a stance of no tolerance when attacked. Freedom comes with civic duty and social responsibilities. We will need to create programs that nurture self-determination and social and civic equality.
Our other challenge has and will be, as James Baldwin wrote, “[the] great spiritual resilience not to hate the hater whose foot is on your neck, and an even greater miracle of perception and charity not to teach your child to hate”. It is our responsibility to bring about the humanity in all of us as equals. As we go through this transformation we must remain conscious that, as Baldwin stated, “the other is oneself”.
Baldwin, James. “A Letter to My Nephew” (1962). “The Fire Next Time” (1962)
Orwell, George. “1984” (1949).
Ellison, Ralph. “Invisible Man.” The Progressive Magazine. (1952).
Oct 20, 2017
Prison Focus Issue 53
"Resilience is defined, and often found through the hands of time, my peers and the masses seek answers through the divine, hope for change through the lies that bind, and better days in another life, only through strength and unity can we set changes to the drifting tides, find freedom for the ones that try, and brighter sunshine for the rest to rise - as we rise together"
Resilience is when you find yourself at the end of your rope, cut the line and keep on pushing, when all else seems hopeless. Often times the resilient know and understand the rough path we choose comes with many sacrifices, minimal acknowledgements or appreciation and unfortunately, very often wasted time and effort. Often times you are stuck helping dizzy individuals who show little effort to help themselves and fail to realize these walls and prison cells ain't just affecting them but the ones beyond these walls that love them the most, and for them we must remain resilient.
As always we send our love, strength and solidarity to all the resilient people we always find solid by our sides and by their sides we rise and stand tall. Our special thanks to California Families Against Solitary Confinement, the lovely Ms. Jamie Weinstein and Ms. Dolores Canales (our strength and solid rocks), Mr. Scott Budnick, Ms. Taeva Shefler, PHSS, PAN, ARC, CURB, the fine establishment and staff of California Prison Focus, San Francisco The Bay View, Changing Tides and the many other strong resilient men and women who through it all, remain unshakable as we rise.
In addition I’d like to extend a great appreciation to all the class collective who participated and contributed to our group appeal to Proposition 57 regulations which initially seemed focussed on dismantling any and all significant changes set forth by the inmate class and California voters. Here on C yard over 400 signatures were gathered. Our special appreciation to the strong members of the Brown Movement Coalition (BMC) for their instrumental organization and contributions circulating our petition, more specifically our secretary Mr. Geronimo Polina, legal specialist, Mr. Marcus Perez, chief organizer, Mr. Luis Martinez, as well as Mr. Santiago Baltazar, and all other contributors to our struggle. Feel free to contact any of us in the Brown Movement Coalition, as together we can create real, lasting change and equality.
Along with this article, I've enclosed the Brown Movement Coalition Proposition 57 Proposal Platform. If it is not available for viewing, please note the following:. Prop. 57 was set forth by the inmate class collective, resilient advocates and strong-willed state representatives who wished to right the many unconstitutional, racially- based policies, discriminatory sentences and years of abuses by drawing back and “excluding the imposition of an enhancement, consecutive sentence or alternative sentences”( sec 32(a)(1)(A). Mr. Scott Kernan wishes to blatantly exclude and disregard from the regulation changes, make it nearly impossible to attain the benefits and/ or completely exclude whole sections of the policies overwhelmingly passed by California voters - such as gun enhancements or whole groups of inmates such as lifers and LWOP.
The Brown Movement Coalition remains confident in CPF’s exceptional abilities to inform all our resilient advocates. With our expanded opposition we will focus our efforts on our platform to impose change and our efforts going forward to assure the many sacrifices we made will not be in vain. The BMC Prop. 57 Proposal is a composition of insight with contributions from all races and class members to explain important issues affecting us all, as well as to realign CDCr with the original intent of Prop. 57. This proposal was drafted by the BMC, distributed to all blocks for review and signature, if in agreement. In this way we could direct a unified response. Together we will rise and stand tall in opposition to this oppressive institution.
Unfortunately, we live in a time and place where the barely- concealed racism, discrimination and instruments of oppression utilized by the ruling class to control and keep the minority lower- class citizens dependent are not confined to perverted circles of like-minded individuals, but more than ever amplified and accepted on the world’s biggest stage. As brown natives, born to a hostile occupation in a land stolen through rape, pillage, plunder and bondage, we remain unfortunately accustomed to the many forms of abuse and oppression.
We, the brown- skinned and strong- minded are not a mass of “rapists, drug dealers and bad people,” despite the many ways we are portrayed by a moronic, xenophobic “president” and the members of society who wish to demonize the noble brown race. In a world and country where racist outbursts by top level officials is the norm, immigration and violent crackdowns on protesters is not effectively addressed, often by an all-white panel, who lack insight or understanding of the Mexican@*. , and often talk of inclusion or racial equity seems to exclude our brown people, it's no wonder we have to be resilient.
As strong, intelligent, unique, hard-working, family- oriented, trustworthy, unshatterable brown men and women, no longer will we accept the mass discrimination and abuses targeted at members of our community or any other race, creed, religion or sexual orientation. We stand strong for all of the members of the minority lower- class communities who have endured centuries of abuse and discrimination. The effort it took to pass propositions, including 57, was due to the collective efforts of the strong- willed, inimitable character of our resilient families, friends and supporters from across the world, who looked beyond the cold walls and chains ( that can never contain us) to stand up for what is just. As a dear friend outside the walls has shown me, despite the fact that she could do many other things with her life, she chose to stand in solidarity with us - and walk together step by step - we are not alone and together we fight for a cause much greater than ourselves.
To all the resilient, strong- minded individuals who remain undeterred by the many obstacles and odds and wish to live and fight for true change, you are not alone. We speak from the voices, cries and echoes of a resilient unconquered people and together we will rise.
*Mexican@ - denotes Mexicano and Mexicana as equals.
The Brown Movement Coalition: A strong, resilient human and civil rights organization fighting for social, economic and cultural equality for brown sisters and brothers, minorities, lower- class citizens and all disenfranchised people suffering under the heels of oppression. All who wish to make a change, - please contact us.
Rodolfo A. Lopez, Calipatria CA 92233