Here you can search for articles that have been published in our newsletter. Our newsletter is primarily written by and for prisoners, their friends, and families. You can receive a paper copy at your home (or send one to your relative or friend in prison). We request a donation of $20 or more for four issues to help cover editing, printing, and mailing costs.
Please visit our archive if you would like to download pdf versions of our past issues.
Click on an article's title to see the full text.
Oct 26, 2016
From Prison Focus Issue 50
Over 150 years ago, literary and philosophical icon, Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” However, today, few know what happens within
the confines of the high walls, or lethal electric fences surrounding modern prisons. So, those maintaining prisons rely on well-groomed masters in public relations, who are careful not to affront society’s expectations to carry their messages and assurances.
In reality, by Dostoyevsky’s measure, civilization of today’s society is little worthy of patriotic pride. At 5% of the world’s population, the United States houses 25% of the world’s prisoners and disgracefully leads all civilized nations in punishing old men to death. On any given day, one can see thousands of old men flipping about prison yards with canes, walkers and wheelchairs. Younger men bearing the yoke of brutally long sentences, are permeated in rancor and condescension, assuring polarization by guards like farmers cultivating their crops. While farmers deliver their crops to the market, prisons deliver their hardened products back into society. By no no means could this be defined as civilized.
Beyond being the laughing stock of other civilized nations, perverse reason can be found. Shamefully, U.S. incarceration has become an economic bonanza with reports of as much as $80 billion in the annual punishment motherload. Defending massive prison budgets, spin doctors instill fear, like foxes assuring, all chickens are dangerous.
In California, a multibillion-dollar leader in the prison cartel, “rehabilitation” is a buzzword in justifying a bloated budget. Polished press releases count vocation training, and on-the-job training in the prison industrial complex [for-profit industry using prisoner labor]. It’s all so politically correct.
Shamefully, U.S. incarceration has be-come an economic bonanza with re-ports of as much as $80 billion in the annual punishment motherload.
However, the devil is in the details. With recidivism rates reaching 70%, an intelligent person has to question “rehabilitation”. Vocational training is great, however there are no statistics as to parole placement in these vocations, nor are there statistics as to parolee unemployment, which is suspected to be around 70%. Could the facts be embellished? Could “rehabilitation” heralding be a Machiavellian device, to justify something else?
A blatant clue, to the truth, and California’s real mission, can be found at the prison parole gates. Prisoners who have been incapacitated from society for 15, 20, 30+ years, are provided $200 minus the street clothing they have to buy, to start a new life. Each money has been the same for over 50+ years, with no cost-of-living adjustments. This is a recipe for failure, no one in the 21st century can start a new life on $200. In an ironic twist, California’s prison guards are the highest paid in the world.
Penological experts have pragmatic opinions about today’s prisons. Philosopher/psychologist, Michel Foucault, a leading forensic psychologist, in his book Discipline and Capital Punishment: The Origin of the Prison, defines current prison models as dysfunctional: “the delinquent is an institutional product.” He tells us, prisons make criminals more than converts. Dr. Phillips Zimbardo PhD, psychologist, in his book The Lucifer Effect, advises current prison models are breeding grounds for evil, affecting both prisoner and staff. “A system designed to combat evil, create evil.” Dr. Maureen Murdock, PhD, psychologist (www. maureenmnurdochblog.com), writes “Part of the problem in the United States is that we have a very punitive society focused on inflicting punishment and pain…”
The general consensus of penological experts is in the true rehabilitation paradigm protracted sentences – longer than 10 years – proved to have a diminished return on the rehabilitation/punishment investment.
Dr. Murdock’s observation, “we have a very punitive society,” identifies the fuel feeding the financial fires driving an incarceration frenzy. Politicians and profiteers are more than willing to feed society’s insatiable appetite for punishment and pain, with longer sentences, bigger and better prisons; like modern-day shrines to social vengeance. Who needs God, when we can do it so well?
The U.S. Supreme Court deemed California’s shrine, cruel and unusual punishment, which led to a federal three-judge panel to make recommendations to reduce the states incarcerated horde. In 2013, one recommendation by the Panel was to reduce the elderly population. The state responded with a plan to consider for parole, prisoners over the age of 60, who have served more than 25 years. Out came the metaphorical pitchforks, torches, dogs and public outrage. Prosecutors, victim’s rights groups, and assorted advocates for death in prison, voiced their abhorrent shop to my: fueling the fires.
A San Jose Mercury News article, published on March 12, 2016, titled, “Parole Twist Stuns, Angers” captured Dr. Murdock’s observation of the social vehemence and thirst for punishment. With a broad brush, advocates for death in prison, attacked the wisdom of federal judges and state legislators who attempted to find rational ground.
The driving force of today’s prison system, and financial exploitation, is social vengeance. A mindset, thinking more prison bunks are going to cure crime, is like thinking more hospital beds will cure cancer. Long-term incapacitation has to be replaced with a true rehabilitation system. With today’s ever-growing social ills, society might be so blinded with a thirst for more punishment, he can’t see that the failure of current prison models might well be society’s canary in the mine.
Jun 23, 2017
From Prison Focus Issue 52
Last time we wrote up an update was in Aug 2015, almost 2 years ago! How time flies! A lot has happened since, starting with the settlement of the Ashker case, which abolished the use of indeterminate solitary confinement in California (See page 2). Since then monitoring the implementation of the settlement has been a priority for the legal team consisting of the rep’s inside and a group of dedicated lawyers outside.
PHSS discussed and distributed the “Prisoners Human Rights Movement Blueprint.” The Blueprint provides a background of where Prisoners Human Rights Movement (PHRM) came from, how it envisions organizing itself and the tasks it sets for itself. The first task is the monitoring of the Ashker settlement’s implementation. Others include continued organization around the historic Agreement to End Hostilities, developing political education for prisoners and others, and establishing Freedom Outreach, an official clearinghouse for PHRM to provide informational packets.
As many of the prisoners formerly held in the SHU have been moved out, they now face new challenges. PHSS formed a Parole Committee to address the fact that the parole board may unfairly hold, as proof of continued “criminal mentality”, 115s issued for participation in the 2011 and 2013 hunger strikes, as well as refusal to debrief. The Parole Committee gathered information to show the board’s executive officer, met with her and other CDCr officials, and prepared “Advice for Prisoners and Their Supporters Regarding Board of Parole Hearings Psychological Evaluations, Including Special Advice for Ashker Class Members.” (See page 23) The Committee set up educational sessions on parole hearings and has compiled informational packets, also available upon request.
Another new challenge encountered because of prisoners’ release out of the SHU has been visiting. Family members and friends are finally able to have contact visits with their loved ones who were previously in SHU. We were all moved by the stories of peoples' first contact visit in years - sometimes decades. Pictures from them were shared and inspired everyone! Family members accustomed to fighting powers-that-be faced the many obstacles to visiting head on: In several prisons they re-activated Inmate Family Councils, which have been challenging different aspects of CDCR's visiting policies, such as the inadequacies of the new VPASS system for scheduling visits, the health dangers caused by scanners for both visitors and prisoners (discontinued) and staff misconduct during visits.
Although many long-time prisoners have been released from the SHU, significant problems, both old and new, persist. The most egregious is sleep deprivation caused by so-called “welfare checks.” The PHSS Committee to End Sleep Deprivation continues to challenge and address this on-going crisis. (See page 5)
Human Rights Pen Pals (HRPP), which began in Spring of 2013 as a project of PHSS, has matched over 400 community pen pals with men who were or are in California’s SHU and AD-seg units. In a recent survey it was determined that at least three-fourths of the matches are still corresponding. This unique pen pal program stems from the belief that all human beings have human rights, whether they are inside or outside the prison walls. The response from prisoners to engage in a human rights-oriented dialogue has been so enthusiastic, that regretfully, in 2016 HRPP was compelled to stop taking requests for pen pals from the ‘inside’. There continues to be an extensive waiting list, though efforts to recruit 'outside' pen pals to be matched with those inside, continue. We invite and encourage folks from the outside to join the HRPP community., a special group of people, indeed. Check out humanrightspenpals.org
In addition, PHSS continue to follow, support and/or challenge legislative activity. We hvae supported a bill for good time credits, a bill to abolish use of solitary for youth, a bill to limit use of confidential informers, etc. While not always successful, we did succeed in efforts which ultimately reduced the number of new Institutional Gang Investigators (IGI), from CDCR's original proposition of 150, to 49. PHSS has participated in “Lobby Days” organized by Californian's United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), as well as Quest for Democracy events, most recently on May 7-8, 2017.
After the Ashker settlement CDCr wanted to be done with our excellent mediation team. We convinced the courts that there were still systemic issues and abuses that still need to be monitored, such as lack of programing, obstacles to visiting and the discrimination and retaliation against former SHU prisoners.
Space does not permit the listing of all the public outreach and awareness activities that we have organized or participated in over the last two years, exposing some of the many problems within California's prisons, and California’s sweeping use of solitary confinement. They varied widely from an academic conference at Pitt Law School in April 2016, at which sociology professors who already knew how harmful solitary confinement is, only then connected it to the over-use/abuse of the practice in U.S. prisons, to rallies and tables held on the 23rd of each month in many locations around the state to bring awareness of the deplorable practices in prisons to widest audiences possible. We held “readers theaters” asking participants in the rally to read prisoners’ statements to the audience. We tabled at theatrical performances about solitary confinement, including The Box, Solitary Man and Mariposa and the Saint. We put on showings of movies: Breaking down the Box, Up the Ridge, Thirteenth. We assembled our newly-painted model SHU at a number of events in which former SHU prisoners and families of prisoners were the featured speakers.
The Struggle continues!
Jun 23, 2017
keywords: Prisoners March
From Prison Focus Issue 52
The Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads as follows: "Section 1. Slavery prohibited. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Salamu! Greetings of solidarity from behind enemy lines. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to publish this communication. I am a new Afrikan freedom fighter from the ranks of JLS (Jailhouse Lawyers Speak), a collective of jailhouse lawyers organized to fight for prisoners' human rights against a system that is designed to dehumanize its captives. I am also the National Secretary for Amend the 13th, an inclusive coalition-based national campaign and community-based organizing effort to address the legal and social basis for dehumanization in Amerika.
The purpose of this press release is to notify prisoners, community organizers, and all those who care of the upcoming Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March scheduled for August 19, 2017 in Washington D.C.. This is a nationwide effort to bring global attention to the 13th Amendment's exception clause, its ramifications, and to solidify organizing efforts to amend it.
MILLIONS FOR PRISONERS HUMAN RIGHTS CORE DEMANDS OF ACTION:
1. We DEMAND the 13th amendment EXCEPTION CLAUSE of the United States Constitution be amended to abolish LEGALIZED slavery in America.
2. We DEMAND a Congressional hearing on the 13th Amendment EXCEPTION CLAUSE being recognized in violation of international law, the general principles of human rights, and its direct links to:
a). Private entities exploiting prison labor
b). Companies overcharging prisoners for goods and services
c). Private entities contracted by states/federal government to build and operate prisons. This would also include immigration detentions
d). Racial disparities in America’s prison population and sentencing
e). Policing: the disproportionate (unaccountable) killings by police in the black and brown communities
f). Felony Disenfranchisement laws
g). Immigration and Customs Enforcement 34,000 detention quotas
h). Producing the world largest prison population
In essence this is an abolitionist movement focused on ending legalized enslavement - a practice that is not only limited to prisoner-labor, but includes the profitability of a prisoners' own body in an isolation cell.
According to the U.S. Supreme Court in its long standing precedent in Ruffin v. Commonwealth, 62, Va (21 Gratt.) 790, 796 (1871): “A convicted felon, whom the law in its humanity punishes by confinement in penitentiary(s) instead of death, is subject while undergoing punishment, to all the laws which the legislature in its wisdom may enact for the government of that institution and control of its inmates. For the time being, during his term of service in the penitentiary, he is in a state of penal servitude to the state. He has, as a consequence of his crime, not only forfeited his liberty, but all of his personal rights except those which the law in its humanity accords him. He is for the time being a slave of the State. … They are slaves of the State undergoing punishment for heinous crimes committed against the laws of the land. …”
In other words, prisoners themselves become a commodity. Which explains why the entire apparatus of law enforcement is geared towards capturing and caging humans for the highest bidder. It should not be of any surprise that black and brown communities are prime targets for extractions. We cannot overemphasize the connection between slavery and the Prison-Industrial Enslavement Complex. Prison slavery is a direct outgrowth of the 13th Amendment and the exception clause is a direct outgrowth of the pre-1865 chattel enslavement system. You can analyze the different periods and the transitions from convict leasing, black codes, and Jim crow, through Nixon’s war on drugs, and Clinton’s 1994 crime bill to see the historical connections and the development of an INjustice system that has led to the criminalization of generations. All across Amerika people are becoming more aware of the 13th Amendment's exception clause. Prisoners around the nation have been strategizing and directly challenging the 13th, as demonstrated by the September 9, 2016 prison strikes. Jailhouse Lawyers Speak has been planning its challenge to the thirteenth in collaboration with iamWE Prison Advocacy Network since mid 2015. This challenge is the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March, hosted by iamWE Prison Advocacy Network. Presently coalitions are being formed that we envision will become a recognizable force for change beyond the March. Likewise, we envision every August 19th afterwards being a day of solidarity and demonstrations in recognition of human rights for the incarcerated, and highlighting the violations of such for collective action.
“Black August is a month of divine meaning, of repression and radical resistance, of injustice and divine justice; of repression and righteous rebellion; of individual and collective efforts to free the slaves and break the chains that bind us.” -Mumia Abu-Jamal
Black August was selected by JLS prisoners, due to its significance as a historical month of commemoration of fallen new Afrikan freedom fighters. This is a month in which the spirit of liberation is encouraged amongst prisoners and within our communities. Black August is a special month to many of us confined. Comrade George L. Jackson is a light to many of us struggling to maintain our sanity and dignity within these concentration camps. It is only fitting that this event be scheduled during this month, in hopes of connecting more people to the prison resistance movement, its history, its future challenges and needs. As I write this today, confirmation is coming in that prisoners around the country are in collective discussions to stand solidarity with the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March.
For those prisoners that would like to participate, it is asked that you:
Fast from sun rise to sun set
Participate in intense political studies with emphasis on the 13th amendment.
Perform daily prayer or meditation
Perform daily exercise regimen
Refrain from purchasing any and all prison products to that require spending of money during this month
Refrain from smoking and drinking alcoholic beverages
If possible, wear a black arm band or wrist band (i.e.shoelace) around left wrist.
Around the Nation and across the world, August 19, 2017 will be remembered as a day of collective action, with the national objective of abolishing legalized enslavement in Amerika. People from all walks of life on both sides of the prison walls have answered the call. Many are organizing their communities to travel to the march in D.C., while others will be hosting local solidarity demonstrations in their state or country, and still others are distributing info and sharing resources and time
Jun 23, 2017
From Prison Focus Issue 52
Today, prison commerce is an evolving social science dealing with the economics and politics of surplus labor of unemployed workers in the context of franchise and disfranchise. Like all system under capitalism, expansion is essential to neutralize potential conflict over the distribution of capital, needed for a livelihood in today’s world.
In California, between the years of 1960 and 1980, prison commerce was exclusively a market that traffics in males of color, who had become systematically unsuitable for employment. Around 1980, prison commerce expanded its market by trafficking in females of color as well.
There are psycho-political objectives of prison commerce of which is the output of producing while crippling millions of Black and Mexican, male children in particular, so that by the age of discretion, when it comes to laboring for working wage, they will be nothing more than a surplus of unemployables, waiting to be processed into the prison-industrial complex.
There are four principal modes of prison commerce and they are as follows:
Disfranchising: It began during the formative years of orientation and indoctrination, by way of menticide, subculture living conditions, dysfunctional environment, all of which lead to the loss of citizenship. It is also re-districting, gentrification, ecological competition, inequality, deregulation, residential segregation and the de-alignment between people of color.
Breeding – Male children of color are born into a premature death situation, a world where everything is systematically arranged towards their de-employment, de-allocation, de-commercialization, de-politicization, de-license, de-regulation, de-Americanize, de-civilize, and de-population.
Capturing – seizing the surplus of unemployables, waiting for internment inside the prison-industrial complex.
Output – The increasing prison commerce production.
Frantz Fannon coined the psycho-political term, the Wretched of the Earth. It is the wretched conditions, the de-functionalization of families and communities of color that undergo systematic criminalization, while making men and women permanently unfit for employment because there are no jobs to be had in a capitalist market of exploitation of labor. Without labor, people cannot live a full and meaningful life; therefore the State and Federal Government step in and provide for the unemployed care and welfare until a prison bed can occupy the residue of a wretched life. Prison commerce is the purging of the unemployables out of society, in order to get use-value from their socio-economical and political incapacitation. The use-value garnished from the unemployables are actual employment for the surplus labor force of White males to have employment of keeping guard over people of color, preventing them from making a political revolution. Back in the 1970’s, the California Department of Correction was forced to hire a token number of prison guards of color. It was one of the demands of the prison reform movement. The hiring of prison guards of color was viewed as infringing of jobs meant solely for White males.
The make up of prison commerce is as follows: Street gang activity, Underworld Activity, School Dropouts, Dysfunctional Families/Communities, Drugs and Alcohol Addictions, Prison Gang Activity, Underground Prison Economy, Non-rehabilitation programs, Sub-Culture Living, Criminal Behavior.
The external scheme of prison commerce exerts opposition to the economics and politics of the lower social classes. It influences anti-establishment sentiment, militant reformers, underground political activities and domestic street gang terrorism. Social inequality, re-districting, gentrification, ecological competition, deregulation, residential segregation, and de-alignment are all systemic of prison commerce.
The above seven and much more are preventive checks and measures. It allows for competitive capitalism to operate efficiently. It masks itself in extra historical law of population control of Blacks and Mexicans in which to establish the crime market for prison commerce. To help us analyze and define prison commerce, we must first understand its relation to the Thirteenth Amendment, of which reads: Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
The United State is the only country in the history of the civilized world with a constitutional government that legalized slavery. It is the origin of prison commerce and institutionalized racism, which allows the combining of two schools of thought on the subject of (a) slavery being indeterminate and (b) involuntary servitude being determinate.
Therefore, the psycho-political lifeline of prison commerce is the 13th Amendment. In the contradictory existence of the Constitution, the 13th Amendment is the Exceptional Amendment that supersedes the political rights of Amendments I, II, IV, XIV, XV, etc., for those convicted of a felony. It is by virtue of a felony conviction that the ex-offenders can never pay their debt to society without being pardon from: (1) The Governor for State Crime (2) The President for Federal Crime.
The preventives checks and measures of the 13th Amendment have three components, which are: (1) the loss of social citizenship resulting in the disintegration of the ex-offenders, their families and communities. (2) The loss of economical citizenship resulting in the destitution of the ex-offenders, their families and communities. (3) The loss of political citizenship resulting in the oppression of the ex-offenders, their families and communities.
The external scheme of the 13th Amendment does act conspiratorially beyond the psycho-political fraud of the democratic treatment of its citizens. The loss of first class social, economic, and political citizenships will take away two thirds of a legal livelihood. It will force the ex-offenders to supplement their livelihood by way of the underground economy or odd jobs. It also guarantees that civil liberties of their law-abiding families and communities living in environmentally deprived crime zones will be under special restrictions.
There may be some readers who ask the question: is prison commerce a legitimate term? It continues to be an evolving political and economic term, and it must be incorporated into our understanding of the economic and political doctrine of the 13th Amendment.
Back in the 1970’s, the economists understood that employment has always been a competitive market, and in order to give the White male surplus labor force a competitive advantage, prison commerce would become a permanent employment solution. It opened up a whole new market (crime), while putting a halt to class-consciousness. The state government would systematically force males of color, in particular, and females of color, into the criminal enterprise. The 13th Amendment takes way the ex-offenders, their duties, privileges, and rights.
DUTIES of military service, jury service, martial responsibility, moral and legal obligation of providing for their families, and paying income tax.
PRIVILEGES of bar admission, liquor license, hunting license, special driver’s license, merchant license, day care and nursing license, etc.
RIGHTS of freedom of association and assembly, freedom of travel, security and property, freedom of thought and speech, freedom to be part of government and freedom to vote.
It is recognize that the ex-offenders are left with 1/3 of a legal livelihood to work with, and they must somehow supplement by way of odds and ends type of jobs or else turn to crime. The demographic means laid down against the ex-offenders, it arbitrarily affects their families and communities, insofar as crime would become a commodity in demand.
By demographic means and institutionalized racism and invidious discrimination, those living in repressive city zones will see: (First) The unemployment rate of the able-bodied, unemployable will decrease geometrically (Second) While employment increases for the employable arithmetically.
It is the type of social, economical and political contradictions that we must expose. We must advocate that if two-thirds of the voting population were the reject the language of slavery and involuntary servitude expressed in the 13th Amendment, by amending it to read: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Under such amending of the language, the prison-industrial complex would transform into a sandcastle, because the profit motives would be taken away. Competitive capitalism should not exist in the judiciary branch of government. The 13th Amendment doesn’t service public interests or the cause of democracy. Instead it is the number one creator of crime that eats up tax dollars that should be going to public education, health care, programs, and jobs.
There is the belief that by propagating the amending of the 13th Amendment, it’s a theory that taxpayers would never have to pay another penny towards the maintenance and security of the prison system. Every state prison system would become self-sufficient. Also the social phenomena of crime as we know it would decrease and then duties, privileges and rights would no longer be impeded for the ex-offenders, and the possibility for a livelihood and comprehensive rehabilitation will be transformed into a reality. The incarcerated criminals would no longer be working for an inmate pay rate of eight cents hourly to the maximum of thirty-seven cents hourly. Their pay rate would be the State minimum wage. Learning to work for pay in prison would be an effective, sociological advancement in crime prevention. For those who never held a wage earning job, the incarcerated criminals would then be able to: financially support their outside families, bring an end to their own destitution, pay off restitution, learn the value of an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, and establish bank accounts, buy insurance, stocks, and bonds. It would lead to the abolition of prison commerce and to the real and only rehabilitation of criminal behaviors
Jun 23, 2017
keywords: Activism, Perseverance
From Prison Focus Issue 52
I parolled from Pelican Bay SHU in September 2015. With no help, I went from being an inmate to becoming an activist. Though it’s not easy to come by funds from your parole department, there are avenues by which one can accumulate monetary assistance via the Substance Abuse Service Coordinating Agency Program (SASCA). At times, it was almost as if I was being transpacked from one institution to another due to overcrowding. The housing conditions got as bad as having six persons per room, and up to 60 persons per location. Many men find themselves discouraged by the overwhelming burden.
Having graduated from Stockton’s very own New Directions drug rehabilitation program, where I spent six months, and a 45 day re-entry program, with Circle of Friends, I acquired AB109 funds and found housing in an environment that fosters sober living.
It was at this stage that I found myself embarking on a new chapter in life, and having found my calling, proceeded to volunteer with Fathers and Families nonprofit organization. I was doing various speeches and public appearances discussing topics such as solitary confinement, the STG program and other related activist work.
One of many highlights was having the opportunity to develop a strong working relationship with one Delores Canales, an advocate to end the use of solitary confinement in California, who invited me to speak at an event sponsored by her program, in San Rafael, California. The event benefited a Pelican Bay bus ride program from Southern California. It afforded me the opportunity to speak to many families whose loved ones are personally affected by the current solitary confinement conditions in Pelican Bay SHU.
While there have been many changes, small and big differences being made, the fight to end the practice of solitary confinement will continue until the complete abolishment of solitary confinement is achieved.
Of the many wonderful experiences I’ve had during this journey, speaking on the State Assembly Bill, “Boys and Men of Color” is perhaps my greatest achievement. It was held at the capital building in Sacramento, California and attended by California’s House of Representatives, and all the while as being one who was wearing an ankle monitoring GPS device.
I am living proof that with the right amount of dedication, perseverance and drive, that nothing, not even a prison validated status, can keep you from reaching your goals. For all those that are striving for a better world and are using activism as a vehicle, keep on pushing forward! Your hard work will be rewarded!!
Editor’s Note: The Family Unity Network Bus Trips to Pelican Bay State Prison organizes bus trips for families to visit their loved ones.