BOOK REVIEW: “Out of Control” by Nancy Kurshan

Kijana Yashiri Askakri

From Prison Focus Issue 44
Fall 2014

Every aspiring prison rights activist, both captive and
non-captive, that has a desire to qualitatively learn
and to develop themselves into becoming a professionally
trained activists, so as to be effective through the
course of their line of work, must read and study Nancy Kurshan’s
book “Out of Control.” I highly suggest that study
groups be formulated, so as to advance and build upon the
organizational framework she has provided for the people,
to which has been conceptualized in simple and easy to read
language. The book at its core, illustrates countless examples
of mutual-aid-and-cooperation, along with emphasizing the
importance of having clearly established goals and objectives
that can be reasonably achieved.

Nancy Kurshan does an excellent job of highlighting the
signifi cance of a 15 year (1985 to 2000) struggle, the was
waged and became manifest in their collective efforts to end
the lockdown at Marion Federal Prison, that is located in the
state of Illinois to which morphed into one of Amerikkka’s
notorious control unit and isolation-based torture chamber
(e.g. solitary confi nement).

As with any struggle that is geared towards movement
building, it begins with the idea of an individual and/or individuals,
which was the case with the Committee to End
the Marion Lockdown (CEML), when its founding members
Nancy Kurshan, Jan Susler, and Steve Whitman initially just
wanted to educate the people by exposing to the public, the
systemic practices of social, political, economical, and racial
injustices, that are inherent in the Prison Industrial Slave
Complex (e.g. PISC). And in addition to how these contradictions
impact and affect our communities. It wasn’t long
before their work took on a life of its own—a life molded by
their relentless strategic planning and organizing.

Unbeknownst to many in society, the construct of solitary
confi nement units, were originally modeled after the “diabolical
techniques” of the mad scientist Dr. Edgar Schein of
MIT, where he provided a blueprint on how to break and
brainwash the Chinese prisoners of war via his book “Coercive
Persuasion.” Nancy Kurshan excerpts a passage from
his book, wherein it states:

“In order to produce marked changes of attitude and/
or behavior, it is necessary to weaken, undermine, or remove
the supports of the old attitudes. Because most of
these supports are the face to face confi rmation of present
behavior and attitudes, which are provided by those
with whom close emotional ties exist, it is often necessary
to break these emotional ties. This can be done either
by removing the individual physically and preventing
any communication with those whom cares about, or
by proving to him that those whom he respects are not
worthy of it, and, indeed, should be actively mistreated.

I would like to have you think of brainwashing not in
terms of politics, ethics, and morals, but in terms of the
deliberate changing of human behavior and attitude by
a group of men over who have relatively complete control
over and environment in which the captive populace
lives.” Page 12 of “Out of Control.”

The context of this is relative to the CDCr’s gang validation
policies and practices, in particular, in relation to CDCr’s
newly created “How to Make a Slave” Step Down Program
(SDP), where prisoners have been targeted/persecuted
with the same purpose and objectives in mind—to break and
brainwash us! Pelican Bay’s counter intelligence unit (IGI)
has successfully destroyed/neutralized the only real outside
community support that I had, when they falsely accused my
beloved lil’ sista [Name omitted by Ed] of promoting gang
activity via a letter she sent me, to tell that Black Panther
Party (BPP) members were going to be attending/supporting
a community event, that was being held on my behalf, at Lil’
Bobby Hutton’s Park in West Oakland.
Instrumental in the CEML’s successful grass root
organizing was several key factors, such as:

1. Their multi-faceted approach, as to how they took
to accomplishing various tasks. They make a point of
not just up and involving themselves in activities—if
they could avoid it. This allowed them to preserve and
maximize their limited resources. For example, they
would initiate plans 3, 6 or 12 months in advance,
containing specifi c goals particular, in relation to
CDCr’s newly created “How To Mark a Slave” Step
Down Program, where prisoners have been targeted/
persecuted with the same purpose and objectives that
they wanted to achieve in their line of work. This provided
their personnel with organizational structure
(leadership), which armed them with the tools to modify
their tactics, when circumstances warranted such.
This point is significant, as many activists find themselves
becoming over-whelmed, burnt-out, and worndown
rather quickly, as they are often operating upon
their emotional subjectivity that is associated with being
outraged—over how the people they’re attempting
to aid and assist, is being oppressed by as racist and
diabolical system of government! This typically clouds
an activist’s ability to creatively assess the fact that victories
often won’t be achieved over night—especially
without any organizational structure in place to compartmentalize
their work.

2. Their collaborative work with political prisoner
like Sundiata Acoi, Oscar Lopez Rivera, Alejandrina
Torres, Bill Dunne, Safi ya Bukhari, Hanif-Bey, Carlos
A. Torres, Silvia Baraldini, and Susan Rosenberg, to
which later included the prisoners that were also being
subjected to various human rights abuses. The relationships
that were forged out of this crucible, enabled
human bridges to be constructed, wherein CEML
members were able to learn, hands on, of the contradictions
that plagued this slave kamp (Marion Prion), and
other like it. Thus allowing CEML to be equipped with
the necessary tools to achieve their objectives, while
providing substantive support to prisoners. Pivotal in
this exchange, was CEML’s functional appreciation
of Democracy, through the course of staying in contact
with the prisoners, but more importantly, including
the prisoners in the decision-making process when
strategizing for a particular action and or community
event. This protected prisoners from being left nameless
faceless, and voiceless, when the reality of the issues
directly pertained to prisoners being brutalized,
tormented, and dehumanized in every extreme by our
oppressors!

3. CEML understood the importance of having organizational
infrastructure, wherein they constantly distributed
pamphlets, leaflets, flyers, brochures, and other
propaganda based materials, wire their work. Shops,
seminars, study groups, etc. That they held to educate
the people, about their line of work. This insured the
basis of, clearly defi ne organizational expectations being
set for, which made it easier for CEML to receive
the support from the community by other people wanting
to become CEML members; volunteering her time
or donating funds and other essential resources for
their work.

4. CEML did not limit the focus of their primary objectives,
to just ending the lockdown at Marion, they
also instituted additional campaigns, they became interconnect
(secondary) to their pursuits. For example,
the prisoners at Marion were being forced to drink,
shower, and wash themselves in toxic polluted water!
The exposure of this contradiction, brought about outrage
from the environmentalist in our community this
allowed CEML to forge a united front with them. And
this was a pivotal tactic, when you account for the fact,
that, CEML only had 10 to 15 core members throughout
their entire 15 your struggle. This is extremely impressive!

Close this with a clenched fist salute to Nancy Kurshan
in the entire CEML staff for a job well done, but more
importantly — for having a wherewithal, to share their
struggle of life’s experience with the people. So again,
everyone to read and study Nancy Kurshan’s book “Out
of Control” for free on the Freedom Archives website, and
build upon the framework that she has provided us.