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.