Sunday, September 29, 2019

South Carolina Prisoners, Stay Strong! ~ Part 2


In 1971, when I first started haunting the doors of the prisons of this country, it didn't take long for me to hear about solitary confinement and the extraordinary ways it was sometimes being used. Unrest was rippling across America like a swarm of rabid locusts and the Powers-That-Be at the top of the prison food chain were dealing with "criminals" the likes of which they were unaccustomed. There were still bank robbers, of course, but sometimes now, they were committing their crimes to bankroll a group protesting the Vietnam War or police brutality. And the Black Panther Party had offices in 68 cities serving thousands of members. Folks at the top were worried -- and even scared. And not without reason.

Alcatraz had been closed eight years before with the prisoners showing up at Marion Federal Pen in southern Illinois, a new kind of prison for prisoners deemed "incorrigible" or "sociopathic" (both of which terms we knew meant "won't bow to authority"). As members of the Black Panthers and other politically-conscious groups hit the tiers, though, it became quickly apparent that this new breed of incarcerated citizens were not only dangerous because they would punch a guard where it hurts the most, but because they were smarter than the guards and even, in most cases, smarter than the wardens. They had read Mao and Marx and Lenin, as well as books by prisoner intellectuals like George Jackson. They held political education reading groups inside that quickly caught on like wildfire. They organized groups of resisters and modeled how solidarity between the groups would make it possible to fight the authorities instead of each other. It was a new and exhilarating era.

Then Attica upped the ante and it was on.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

South Carolina Prisoners, Stay Strong! We Got Your Back!

The United Nations recognizes as torture all solitary confinement for more than 15 days. Lockdowns, amounting to solitary confinement and therefore torture, are group punishment, undeserved and infuriating. Add to that steel plates covering cell windows. The denial of a view of outdoors and of all natural light is described as torture by prisoners in windowless supermax prisons like the dreaded Pelican Bay SHU in California. Here, prisoners’ families, worried that the oppression may become intolerable, protest outside Perry Correctional Institution in Pelzer, S.C. – Photo: FitsNews

by Keith "Malik" Washington, Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee*

Revolutionary greetings, Comrades and all fellow workers throughout the world!
It seems like only yesterday when we all heard about the bloody riot that occurred at Lee County Correctional Facility in South Carolina. Too many of our incarcerated comrades died.
I remember the call that was made for a National Prison Work Stoppage in 2018. I didn’t hesitate to answer the call. Our comrades at the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee did not hesitate to answer the call or lend their support. Amani Sawari and her comrades from Jailhouse Lawyers Speak were on the front lines of the struggle for human rights.
I knew the real reason for the work stoppage.
I knew about the inhumane prison conditions in South Carolina. I knew that the state prison officials were attempting to control the narrative that was fed to the public at large. They claimed that the violence at Lee County was all about drugs, cellphones and turf wars.
The warriors and freedom fighters at the Free South Carolina Movement reminded all of us what the oppressors were attempting to suppress. The oppressors forgot to mention the lack of rehabilitative programming in South Carolina prisons.
They forgot to say anything about the squalid living conditions and the deadly extreme heat which is killing prisoners right now. They forgot to talk about the antiquated and bigoted criminal justice system which continues to manifest and perpetuate a program of modern day slavery. The spirit of Denmark Vesey lives! George Jackson lives!
Today, the oppression has, if anything, intensified. Many prisons are still on and off of lockdown TWO YEARS after the riot at Lee that touched off the 2018 prison strike. Friends and family of loved ones in South Carolina are organizing – the current demand is for removal of the steel plates installed over all the cell windows in some institutions, denying all natural light for the duration of the lockdowns – but change is slow and folks lose hope. 
The oppressors who operate these slave kamps in South Carolina need to know that the struggle for freedom, justice and equality for all is alive.
We demand dignity, respect, and humane treatment for our comrades in South Carolina now! Locking human beings in cages for months at a time is not rehabilitation – it is torture!
Congressman James Clyburn must be encouraged strongly to get involved here. We don’t need any Jeffin House Negroes or Step-N-fetchits! We need servants of the people!
Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Corey Booker and Elizabeth Warren as well as Kamala Harris had some strong words in regard to criminal justice reform at the most recent presidential debate that was held in Houston, Texas. Well, now they all have an opportunity to put some “muscle with they hustle” and show us what they talkin’ about.
Speak out right now about what is happening to the incarcerated human beings trapped in these slave kamps in South Carolina! Or were they just rappin’?
Comrades, the struggle for human rights and prison abolition is a protracted struggle. There will be ups and downs. Make this message go viral, y’all! Let’s see what these politicians are really about.
Dare to struggle! Dare to win! All Power to the People!
*Keith “Malik” Washington is co-founder and chief spokesperson for the End Prison Slavery in Texas Movement, a proud member of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee and an activist in the Fight Toxic Prisons campaign. Read Malik’s work at ComradeMalik.com. Send our brother some love and light: Keith “Malik” Washington, 34481-037, FCC Complex USP, P.O. Box 26030, Beaumont TX 77720.

NOTE: This communique was first published in the San Francisco Bay View.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Justice says, "#MeToo"


So Alabama's Governor Kay Ivey has put Charles Graddick in charge of the Pardons and Parole Board, a guy who "advocates for victims' rights," but not, I dare say, for human rights and not for those who've been victimized by the system he's been an instrumental part of for so long.

When Graddick was Attorney General of the state, says Ivey, he was "a national leader in prosecuting crimes," but not, I'll bet, in upholding justice.

Graddick, Ivey says, has "dedicated his life to serving the people of Alabama" -- unless those people are incarcerated citizens or their loved ones or even, I suspect, victims of crime whenever the perpetrators were upper middle class White men...or their sons.

Graddick, Ivey says, has dedicated his life to "protecting the law," but not, I'm sure, when the law calls for Alabama Department of Corrections administrators or staff to respect the human rights of incarcerated citizens.

"Public safety is paramount," says Governor Ivey -- but apparently not if the public is poor or Black or vulnerable to manipulation under the "law" Ivey and Graddick count on to maintain the power in the hands of those who support a White Supremacist state in a White Supremacist nation.

Nothing new here, folks, nothing to see. Move along...move along.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Incarceration = No Education: The New Math









by Queen Dara

5/9/2018:  Two weeks before completing his 11th grade year...

“Mom, can the school send my work and final exams, because I want to be on track to graduate.”

Unfortunately, Son, because you are in an adult facility, it is not designed to accommodate your educational needs.

“So they don’t care if I graduate?”

No Son, the only ones who care if you graduate are you, me, family and friends. By law they are supposed to see that you get your education, but right now the only laws they are concerned with are the laws that will keep you incarcerated. It will be up to us, us meaning you, me, and the family to see that you stay educated despite your situation.

“Mom, I don’t want my life to be bad. I just want to finish school and put this behind me. I want to play football and be the best wide receiver.”

Well Son, we are going to have to fight hard to make that possible and not rely on a system that was created to destroy you. But I promise I will fight like hell to hold them accountable for not keeping their laws. You just keep your head up and remain focused. We got this, they can’t keep you forever, Son. I won’t let them.

“I know Mom. That's why I love you so much.”


Saturday, May 18, 2019

Angola Prisoners Refuse To Be Slaves


Ten days ago, on May 8th -- the same day a work stoppage occurred just last year -- thirty-eight men in a working cell block at Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana refused to go to the fields for their work assignment. The men were loaded on a bus immediately and sent to Camp Jaguar, where prisoners are placed in extended lockdown 23-hours per day. To make room for the ones coming in, thirty-eight men who had been housed in Camp Jaguar for punitive reasons were sent to replace the missing workers so the fieldwork could continue as planned. Apparently, this is the new Standard Operating Procedure for such occurrences.

The administration and staff at Angola are heavily populated by second and third generation prisoncrats, not a few of which represent members of extended families whose professional and economic well-being have been built on the backs of the 6,300 incarcerated citizens they presently ride herd on. A goodly number even live on the prison property itself, raising families in the shadows of the gun towers. Guards are called "freemen" (as opposed to "slaves," one must assume). And their future security seems to be assured since the numbers at Angola have risen 1200 since 2010.

Prisoners who have been at Angola for decades have told me that the administration is working hard to suppress organizing activities inside the prison, but that there is more such activity now than there ever has been and it appears to be slowly but surely building. One prisoner suggested that this could be at least partly because "these new young guys coming in have no regard for rules. They're not built for work, so you definitely can't slave 'em. They won't have it."

Asked what might help to address this issue, the prisoner suggested giving them incentives: "More money, more training, more education -- so they can help their families as well as themselves. Putting them into the fields picking cotton in the hot sun just gives them plenty of time to think about how the 13th Amendment of the Constitution actually legalizes using incarcerated citizens as slaves."

Reports from prisoners also suggest that overuse of solitary confinement, health care that amounts to torture, desperately inadequate mental health care (often exacerbated by long-term solitary confinement), and excessive force by guards has created a hostile environment that results in an increasing level of prisoner-to-prisoner violence. Mainstream media rarely are allowed to hear about it, they say. But one prisoner reported this morning that fifteen incarcerated citizens at Angola have been stabbed in the past three weeks alone. "One paranoid schizophrenic prisoner stabbed five people in one day," he said.

Hopelessness haunts the institution that uses solitary confinement at four times the national average and is well known to have kept Albert Woodfox in solitary confinement for forty-three years because of his Black Panther activism in the 1970s. Before he re-entered the free world in 2016, Woodfox forced the Louisiana DOC to sign an agreement not to use solitary confinement punitively in the future, but as he's noted since his release, an agreement and the follow-through are far from the same thing.

Use of the "life without parole" option also creates hopelessness for many at Angola, since Louisiana uses that option at four times the national rate, as well, with the current tally being 5000 incarcerated citizens, many of whom would have been eligible for parole in most other Southern states. This increases their sense that there's nothing to live for and no reason to care about consequences for crimes committed inside the institution. It also increases the likelihood of suicide attempts. "One guy went out to the field this spring and tried to hang himself on the fence," reported a prisoner. "If the other guys hadn't brought him down, he would have died out there."

Decarcerate Louisiana, a movement that's been trying to organize the prisoners in Louisiana for nearly twenty years, has been severely hampered by the lack of public support for the human rights of the state's incarcerated citizens. Members say they've been inspired by the Free Alabama Movement in the past year. Still, members hit the national news a year ago when word of a work stoppage at Angola on May 8th, 2018, leaked to the outside world. And it now appears that at least some of those inside still remember, are still committed, and are waiting for the rest of us to get on board.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Decarcerate Louisiana and Supporters Call for Change



*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

DATE:           May 1, 2019

                       Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100015779203681
                       Website: https://decarceratelouisiana.com
                       Mike Lukash, Outside Member, Decarcerate Louisiana / Phone: 330-714-3464

ANGOLA PRISONERS AND SUPPORTERS CALL FOR CHANGE

            On May 8, 2019, incarcerated citizens at Louisiana State Prison at Angola, their families, and other supporters will mark the anniversary of a nationally-reported* prison strike and work stoppage on that date in 2018, calling the commemoration “Mayday” to highlight the sense that it is a distress call to everyone that believes all people have human rights. Members of Decarcerate Louisiana admit that prison administrators have made limited efforts to address some of the prisoners’ grievances, but little has actually occurred to meet the demands put forward a year ago.

            As a result, the members of Decarcerate Louisiana are now renewing their demands as outlined below, while also connecting their struggle to a larger movement for social justice by standing in solidarity with Louisiana state teachers who have been waiting for more than a decade to see their pay reach comparable levels with the rest of the country. While the Louisiana Governor’s office reports that the state spent roughly $12,000 per public school student in 2018, the Vera Institute of Justice reported that the Louisiana Department of Corrections spent more than twice that (at $25,310) per prisoner.

            Decarcerate Louisiana, a movement that focuses on the rights of prisoners and their families, originated in Angola, but has since spread to other institutions in the state. Members are pledged to continue to make public their concerns related to, among other things, the use of incarcerated citizens as slaves, which is currently sanctioned by the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Decarcerate Louisiana supporters point out that forcing prisoners to work for as little as four cents per hour under the threat of severe punishment, including solitary confinement, is slavery pure and simple and should be abolished completely.

            Movements calling for the abandonment of this practice have risen in recent years across the nation, supporting each other and organizing across state borders in an effort to increase public awareness of the issues raised by the wording of the 13th Amendment, which was ratified in 1865: “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.”

            Many believe that this wording was drafted the way it was in order to provide a process to develop a system so a nation that had been widely dependent on the use of literally millions of slaves could continue to access free labor. After the 13th Amendment became law, convict leasing systems quickly developed and then turned into state-run prisons. But more recently, correctional systems in America have added privately-owned for-profit prisons, as well as the widely used practice of making sweetheart deals between prisons and corporations that regularly use incarcerated citizens as workers for a tiny fraction of the cost of workers outside the walls. As if in support of this suggestion, Louisiana Department of Corrections statistics report that seven out of ten prisoners in Louisiana are Black.

            Aside from the underfunding of public education which has exacerbated the nationally researched School-to-Prison Pipeline, Decarcerate Louisiana is also concerned and expects to make future statements about the use of excessive force by prison guards, the excessive and inappropriate use of chemical agents, the housing of mentally ill prisoners in situations that routinely become violent and sometimes fatal, the lack of adequate mental health services in general, the overuse of solitary confinement for punitive reasons or no reason at all, the exorbitant cost of the current phone system available for prisoners to remain connected to their loved ones (which is ranked 43rd in the nation in affordability), the more than 7,000 geriatric prisoners that pose no safety problem to the public, and the many prisoners who remain incarcerated despite their being convicted by non-unanimous juries, a practice that is no longer legal.

            As a result of these concerns, the members of the Decarcerate Louisiana movement are reiterating their original demands made public on May 8, 2018:
            (1)  We believe that all living human beings are created equal and have inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, regardless of the social status.
            (2)  We believe in human rights and human dignity and that government has a fundamental obligation to protect all its citizens from slavery and human degradation.
            (3)  We are demanding a national conversation inquiring how state prison farms across the country came to hold hundreds of thousands of people of African descent against their will.
            (4)  We are urging that local, state, and federal governments who currently hold hundreds of thousands of African Americans on prison farms across the country be investigated for antebellum criminality, involuntary servitude, and slavery.
            (5)  We are demanding an end to the systematic oppression and exploitation of prisoners and their outside family and supporters for profit.
            (6)  We are demanding classrooms for our education and rehabilitation, not slavery.
_____________________________________________________________________

NOTE: The graphic above is the work of Heshima Denham .

* “Louisiana Prisoners Demand An End To ‘Modern Day Slavery,’” Bryce Covert, The Appeal, 6/8/18

“Angola Inmates Halt Farm Work, Demand ‘Slavery’ Investigations of U.S. Prisons,” Benjamin Fearnow, Newsweek, 5/9/18

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Yet Another Email To A Warden!


Twice in the past two days, I've had to contact a warden of a "correctional" facility in Alabama about the well-being of an incarcerated citizen. The second email was about the situation of Robert Earl Council AKA "Kinetik Justice" and I posted the email to this blog as well as a Call to Action in reference to his initiating a hunger strike on Thursday morning.

The first email, however, was the result of a call I received Wednesday night from a prisoner in St. Clair "Correctional" Facility where the prisoners were bombarded by an onslaught of no less than 300 "officers" of one kind or another descending on the institution Thursday, February 28th, to track down all the contraband the guards themselves bring in. This prisoner is not a revolutionary organizer like "Kinetik Justice," but he's done twenty years on a twenty-year bit and by not back-dating his sentence the way they should have, the "authorities" intend to claim an extra two years of his life. The reason for this is that this prisoner engages in his own kind of resistance and he's very, very good at it. Which pisses off the Powers-That-Be, though he probably has more folks on his payroll than the ADOC, with some people double-dipping.

I step in like this from time to time and, in this particular case, did so because the prisoner in question has now been taken out of solitary confinement (where he has served the past five years) and put in a housing unit where individuals are placed to be killed. The phone call I received was so fast, furious, and full of background noise that I could barely understand what was said, but as I mulled over what I thought I had heard and did a bit of research, I came across the term "hot bay" and the pieces fell into place.

So I wrote the prisoner a letter I intend to be read by the administration. And then I followed it up with an email to Warden Karla Jones. She and I have had dealings in the past. They went well. I hope this one does, too. But even though I told her I would hold off on publishing about this matter right away, I'm going to go ahead and do it. We're not buddies, after all.

Overcrowding, grossly inadequate staffing, virtually non-existent mental health care, and the overuse of random and brutal force against prisoners appear to run rampant in the Alabama DOC. Worse, ADOC administrators routinely practice the use of such unconstitutional practices as crowding violent offenders into situations where the very real likelihood of their dying or being forced to kill is greatly amplified. This suggests that, rather than being the result of administrators who don’t know how to do their jobs or prisoners who are “uncontrollable,” these practices are actually indicators of collusion to commit negligent homicide, if not intentional, premeditated murder. And the numbers involved would suggest that this case would not be difficult to make in a court of law.

National news media reports make prison administrators in Alabama appear to be incapable of fulfilling their responsibility to keep the people in their custody safe from harm. Every day that goes by seems to prove that what Alabama needs is not more, bigger, and more expensive prisons, but rather administrators who are professionally capable of keeping incarcerated citizens safe while preparing them responsibly for their eventual release. Whether they like the prisoner or not.
___________________________________________________
NOTE: The graphic above was done by Thomas Silverstein, a prisoner in the federal system who passed away May 11th. His obituary can be read here.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Dear Warden Stewart





[In solidarity with Robert Earl Council AKA Kinetik Justice, the Free Alabama Movement, F.A.M. Queen Team, Unheard Voices OTCJ, T.O.P.S., and Fight Toxic Prisons, I answered the Call for Action by issuing this email to the warden at Holman "Correctional" Facility this afternoon. If I have not heard from Warden Cynthia Stewart by noon Monday, I will re-send the email every day until Kinetik Justice is released from solitary confinement. Needless to say, I signed the actual email with my real name.]


Dear Warden Stewart:

It is my understanding that Robert Earl Council #181418 was brought to your institution on February 28th and was subsequently placed in solitary confinement without cause, apparently in retaliation for his role in leading a peaceful work strike in 2014. As a result of this indefensible action on your part, I have now understood that Mr. Council has been forced to initiate an official hunger strike (refusing all food and liquids) in protest, and will remain on such until justice is met and he is placed back in a population where he can participate in all programs afforded to his peers and others of his class.  

From what I can gather, every day that goes by seems to prove that what Alabama needs is not more, bigger, and more expensive prisons, but rather administrators who are professionally capable of meeting the constitutionally-mandated and regulated responsibilities of their positions while preparing incarcerated citizens for their eventual release. Overcrowding, grossly inadequate staffing, and the overuse of random and brutal force against prisoners appear to run rampant in the Alabama DOC. Worse, any attempts to draw attention to such routine and unconstitutional practices result in the kind of retaliatory action such as you have now taken against Mr. Council since his arrival in your custody.

In any case, last week’s publicly reported descent of 300 “officers” on St Clair Correctional Facility (at what I can only imagine to be an incredible level of expenditure to the taxpayers of Alabama), followed so closely by your placing Mr. Council in solitary confinement without cause concerns me for his physical and emotional well-being. I am expecting you to release him into the general population immediately. I will continue to check on Mr. Council until this action is taken.

I feel it only fair to inform you that my blog on race relations and the criminal justice system has had more than 1,067,000 hits in nearly 200 countries. And I fully intend to publish a full accounting of this matter before nightfall.

Sincerely,

Changeseeker

CALL FOR ACTION!


The following Press Release has been issued by the Free Alabama Movement, F.A.M. Queen Team, Unheard Voices OTCJ, and T.O.P.S.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 7th, 2019
Robert Earl Council, AIS # 181418, is once again being held in solitary confinement at Holman Correctional Facility after the major Shakedown at St Clair correctional facility on February 28th 2019.
Council was inside his population cell at St. Clair Correctional Facility around 2 a.m. Thursday morning, when a platoon of ADOC CERT team members, and local law enforcement SWAT team members, entered his cell placing him in zip tie handcuffs and immediately escorted him to an waiting bus to be transported back to Holman Correctional Center.
Later that day Council arrived at Holman Correctional Facility and all too familiar scenery. Council was placed in Holman Correctional Facility solitary housing unit (SHU) once again, after spending 54 months in solitary for leading a peaceful work strike at Holman Correctional Facility in the summer of 2014.

He was finally released from solitary in late 2018 at Donaldson Correctional Facility after Attorney at Law David Gespass filed a Habeas Corpus on the behalf of council in the courts, challenging ADOC’s unconstitutional practice of holding of him in solitary confinement for 54 months without just cause. ADOC released Council right before a set court hearing on the Habeas Corpus in August last year, making the case moot. (See Robert E Council vs. Warden Bolling Cv. – 2017-101 filed in the Bessemer division of Jefferson County state of Alabama.)
These are strictly retaliatory actions in anticipation of a state-wide protest to stop the construction of new prisons over education and rehabilitation.
In response to being housed for no reason in solitary confinement, Robert Earl Council notified Warden Cynthia Stewart, at 3 a.m. on March 7th 2019 that he is now on an official hunger strike (refusing all food and liquids) in protest of the retaliatory actions taken against him, and will remain on such until justice is met and he is placed back in a population where he can participate in all programs afforded to his peers and others of his class.
If the demand to return Robert Earl Council back to population is not met by the Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeffery Dunn by March 15, 2019 a protest will convene at Holman Correctional Facility on March 26,2019.
Contact information for interviews on the above press release is as follows:
Unheardvoices78@gmail.com
David Gespass, Attorney-at-Law:  205-323-5966
Pastor Kenneth Sharpton Glasgow:  334-791-2433,  kennethglasgow@gmail.com

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Gary Clark, Jr.: "This Land"

 

A few weeks ago, I wrote about "Criminals in Amerikkka". I'm going to do some more writing on that topic soon. But in the meantime, I want to remind us all that the ideas and often horrific realities Gary Clark, Jr., presents in this music video are criminal in nature. Or, as James Baldwin wrote: "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Down the Rabbit Hole



I've been walking on the wild side intellectually of late. I don't know if some circuit has exploded in my brain or if I spend too much time in my head. Maybe I've camped out in a small town too long, crying in the wilderness. Or maybe I've just heard one too many people ranting at folks to "pray about it" and the great Oz will fix everything...in "his" time. I know there are no atheists in fox holes, but Black folks -- from what I can tell -- have been "prayin' about it" for a good long time and I've about decided that either there is no Heaven, their prayers are not getting there, or "God" is a White Supremacist, as my mentor, Bill Jones wrote in Is God a White Racist? back in 1973.

Whatever has placed me on this philosophical tightrope, I'm sitting here this morning like Alice teetering on the brink of Wonderland and as much as I'm trying to resist it, the Cheshire Cat's grin is drawing me like a moth to the flame, despite my fear of the Mad Hatter's cackle and the Queen of Heart's shriek.

So from time to time, for now at least, I'm going to publish thoughts that may or may not seem to fit this blog. I'll tuck them under the banner of "Down the Rabbit Hole." And while they may not seem on the surface to be about the socially-constructed, political notion of "race," they will all have to do with power relations and when I think about power, it doesn't take long for me to introduce race into the conversation.

Maybe it's dangerous for me to entertain these thoughts more than I have been already. Maybe it's a bad idea to make them public, spinning them out into the internet. But, for good or ill, we all unfold like butterflies or vampires (or both) to take our place in history -- or herstory, if you like -- and life is complicated. Or simple. Depending on how you look at it.

Wanna join me?

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Criminals in Amerikkka



For very nearly fifty years now (fifty years of writing letters/emails/articles/posts, accepting calls, visiting, sneaking in, going in by court order, demonstrating (alone and with others), sitting and testifying in courtrooms, writing judges letters, going to judge's offices, carrying messages/secrets/stuff and babies) incarcerated citizens -- Black, White, Latino, and indigenous -- have asked me with puzzled faces: "Why are you doing this?" I tell them anybody can be locked up. I'm only doing what I would want someone to do for me if it was me behind the walls. Maybe I was locked up in a past life. Maybe I often feel as if I'm locked up in this one.

In any case, all this has given me an education in all things "criminal" (more or less). Some things I learned just by paying attention. Some I've learned by accident. Some I learned by reading books and articles or watching films. And some of it has come through personal experience of one kind or another. But the bulk of it has entered my consciousness through endless conversations with prisoners and former prisoners.

I'll never forget one conversation I had standing four inches from hundred-year-old bars eyeball to eyeball with a man who had just spent five years in a building basement facing the dark side of a hill without another living soul on the tier. Another conversation involved a long night with a bottle of mezcal, a salt shaker and some limes, interrupted at one point by a quick trip to a park nearby for a romantic liaison and a marriage proposal never mentioned by either of us again. And then there was a series of discussions about bank robberies and how they're best accomplished followed by the unanticipated suggestion that we should pull one off -- across the street from where we lived. My response was a rapid-fire: "Are you out of your rabbit-ass mind?!? That could mean 25 federal!" Needless to say, that was the end of that exchange (though not immediately the end of the relationship), but I did learn a good bit about bank robbery in the process.

If I've learned anything about "criminals," however, it's that the vast majority of the real criminals in this country are not in prisons or jails. They don't eat bad food or wear numbers stenciled on their clothes. And none have tattoos on their faces. They're in board rooms and high-end offices and government suites or maybe the Pentagon. The majority of the worst of them are older White men with money. And they don't care if you know it because they're as cold as ice. Don't believe me? Watch Park Avenue: Power, Money, and the American Dream," a documentary you can view for free on PBS until November.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

On the Poison of Prison and Community as the Antidote



Another year has come and gone; another year of writing and teaching and blogging and talking and thinking and learning about the socially-constructed, political notion of "race." One new idea that was put on my radar this year is the idea that White Supremacy is "toxic" in nature and that everything emanating from White Supremacy is, ipso facto, "toxic" as well.

It's a no-brainer, I suppose. You can't rub poison on something and not poison it, along with everything else it touches. And certainly, the word "toxic" has been used in recent years to describe all manner of physical, psychological, and social aspects of our daily lives. Yet when I heard the term applied to the so-called "correctional system," a topic I have been deeply concerned with for nearly fifty years, I found it something of a surprise. I shouldn't have. I know full well by now that oppression breeds creative responses to it. And the prison system in this country -- federal, state, and local -- takes oppression to a level more nightmarish than most of us would ever be able to imagine.

As far as I know, the folks that first connected the term "toxic" to prisons in America can be found working as a part of the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons. So I jumped at the chance to help bring one of their spokespeople, Jordan Mazurek , to our campus the end of October and managed in the planning process to get to know him and their work a bit. We talked about how to organize a Louisiana Network for Criminal Justice Transformation. One of FTP's organizers Skyped into my Social Movements and Social Action course one class period. Jordan met with and inspired the members of the new Justice4All student group my department birthed last semester. And I have maintained the connection since then to the point that he dragged a group of young organizers into the small town where I live yesterday morning just so we could all have breakfast together and brainstorm social change issues face to face before they headed back to the highway on their way to their next stop eight hours away. These folks are the real deal.

In any case, as part of Jordan's presentation in October, he included tape recordings of incarcerated individuals talking about the subject they know better than anyone. One of those featured was Clinton "Nkechi" Walker* and I was so impressed with what he had to say on surviving toxic prisons that I asked about it later and Jordan told me that Nkechi's statement had been published on the Fight Toxic Prisons' website, where I could find it to re-post it here. I am delighted to do so, although I must warn you that it is a painful read. Be prepared to reach a new level of conscious awareness on the toxicity of prison life in the United States and the brilliance of some of those who make up the community of humans who must -- and do -- endure it. 

Friday, November 23, 2018

Ashley Akunna: On Lynching, Police Brutality, and Anti-Black Terrorism



Now This Opinions feature short but provocative videos offering real deal perspectives on controversial issues. I often appreciate them. But in the effort to make one clear point, the speaker sometimes has to leave out the broader context. And this frustrates me. I know that only so much can get said in a few short minutes (which is, unfortunately, all many viewers in the U.S. will give a topic, no matter how complicated or crucial). Yet, in my opinion, to leave out the context is to weaken the argument.

I am sharing the op-ed above because Ashley Akunna's voice is one that needs to be heard on lynching, police brutality, and anti-Black terrorism. But after watching it the first time, I broke into tears. Not because of what was said, but because expecting cops to have and demonstrate empathy for Black people sidesteps the point that most cops are not rogues operating individually or exceptionally.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Do You Fear Black Men?



I know very few bloggers I have followed as long as I have followed Brotha Wolf. It's probably because somewhere along the line, he contacted me directly and we have formed a distant, yet personal relationship of sorts, a concern for each other as comrades in a struggle to fight White Supremacy on either side of a line of demarcation.

A couple of days ago, he posted this film. I am so glad he did. And if you watch it, you will be, too.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

On Being Schooled


Over the past year, despite the fact that I've been trying to fight my own internalized White Supremacist training for decades, the Universe has employed a whole stream of fearless and forthright Black women to try to get across to me my place in the anti-White Supremacist struggle. It has not been easy on any of us.

As a person born with a vagina, my trajectory beginning at birth has been strewn with the detritus of a life of much suffering. And I'm not talking about hurt feelings or lost loves. I'm talking about torture and rape, brutality and betrayal, the murder of my first born and attempts more than once to kill me, too. So I think fast. I'm tough. And I'm not given to flinching. It's few, indeed, who will take me on.

In many cases, this has been a good thing. At 72, I've had the opportunity and done the work to have faced down my familial demons. I'm not intimidated by wardens or cops. I don't roll over for "colleagues" with penises. I know what I value and what I don't. I'm not interested in power. And I'm not trying to be anybody's new best friend. Overall, I guess you could say, I like who I am and what I'm doing. But this doesn't mean I have nothing left to learn. In fact, the lessons I'm learning now are more difficult.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Marilyn Buck: "Black August"



On August 19th last year, I was in Washington, D.C., across the street from the White House with hundreds of other people from all over the country marching, chanting, speaking, and hanging out in support of the incarcerated people of America. Called the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March, it had been planned for more than a year and inspired similar marches and demonstrations across the United States that weekend.

I got to catch up with other prison abolitionists I know well but don't see often. I got to meet formerly incarcerated leaders in the struggle, some of whom had been heroes of mine for a long time. And I got to connect face-to-face with some wonderful and dedicated younger people committed to prison abolition going into the future. I had already been to both Cuba and Montreal that summer and had just begun a new semester of teaching, so I was beyond exhausted. But I felt strongly that I needed to be there, needed to say my piece, needed to represent those I knew that are gone now, needed to renew my vow, as it were, to fight till I can't no more.

I knew I would only have five minutes. So I read a rant I wrote in the 1970s and then a poem by Marxist revolutionary Marilyn Buck who spent decades as a political prisoner before she was released in 2010, less than a month before she died of cancer. Comrade Marilyn went to prison in the first place at least partly for her role in helping to spring Assata Shakur from prison in 1979. Thirty years later, her poem "Black August" appeared in Issue 13 of 4StruggleMag, a publication featuring the written work of political prisoners.

I am posting it here in memory of Comrade Marilyn, to look back for a moment to the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March last year, and to honor those who live or have died in the struggle to set themselves and others free. May those who are striking inside the walls across this country right now feel the love and the solidarity out here that is focused on them. And may we never forget that nobody's free until everybody's free.

"Black August"
by Marilyn Buck

Would you hang on a cliff's edge

sword-sharp, slashing fingers
while jackboot screws stomp heels
on peeled-flesh bones
and laugh
"let go! die, damn you, die!"
could you hang on
20 years, 30 years?

20 years, 30 years and more
brave Black brothers buried
in US koncentration kamps
they hang on
Black light shining in torture chambers
Ruchell, Yogi, Sundiata, Sekou,
Warren, Chip, Seth, Herman, Jalil,
and more and more
they resist: Black August.

Nat Turner insurrection chief executed: Black August
Jonathan, George dead in battle's light: Black August
Fred Hampton, Black Panthers, African Brotherhood murdered:
Black August
Kuwasi Balagoon, Nuh Abdul Quyyam captured warriors dead:
Black August
Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ella Baker, Ida B. Wells
Queen Mother Moore -- their last breaths drawn fighting death:
Black August

Black August: watchword
for Black liberation for human liberation
sword to sever the shackles

light to lead children of every nation to safety
Black August remembrance
resist the Amerikkan nightmare
for life

NOTE: The photo at the top is of me at last year's march with my close friends Robert King and Albert Woodfox, two of the Angola 3. The photo at the bottom is of Marilyn Buck and co-defendant Mutulu Shakur in the early 1980s.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Rest in Power, George Jackson



“Right now, we are in a peak cycle. There’s tremendous energy out there, directed against the state. It’s not all focused, but it’s there, and it’s building. Maybe this will be sufficient to accomplish what we must accomplish over the fairly short run. We’ll see, and we can certainly hope that this is the case. But perhaps not. We must be prepared to wage a long struggle. If this is the case then we’ll probably see a different cycle, one in which the revolutionary energy of the people seems to have dispersed, run out of steam. But – and this is important- such cycles are deceptive. Things appear to be at low ebb, but actually what’s happening is a period of regroupment, a period in which we step back and learn from the mistakes made during the preceding cycle.” ~ George Jackson
___________________________________________________________
NOTE: The graphic above was done by artist and social justice warrior Kevin "Rashid" Johnson More of his work can be seen here.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Aretha Franklin: "I Say a Little Prayer for You"


I was in my mid-20s when I had my first conversation with a man who had just gotten out of prison (San Quentin) about the inside organizing incarcerated people were trying to do. It was 1970. I was in San Francisco. The BPP was visible. And I was about the work of finding my place in it all. Within six months, I had joined a prison abolition collective and within a year, I had dedicated my life to that cause.

I met the fathers of both of my children (the one who was murdered while he was the shotcaller for a gang in Ft. Lauderdale and the one who is the Vice President of Engineering for a multi-national media company) while they were incarcerated. And my last "relationship" was with a man who had just come out after doing 28 years flat. But my commitment to the incarcerated men, women, and children of this country is not rooted in a personal "relationship." It is rooted in a lifetime commitment to the principle that NO human being deserves or is best served by incarceration in prisons such as exist in their current form.

The commitment I made in 1971 when I stared into the night sky and invited the Universe to use me to serve the incarcerated of this world has burned in me ever since. In nearly five decades, it has never gone away. And no matter where I was geographically, what job I was performing, or what was going on in any other area of my life, the work to be of service to the incarcerated and their families has always been present. It sometimes compromised the "professional" reputation I built. It sometimes got in the way of my being a "good mother." And it sometimes put me in incredibly dramatic situations. But it never went away.

I'm not a "Christian." And I don't assume the presence of a "God" per se. But I believe in an energy that we can tap into (whether we mean to or not). I believe that energy can drive us to be bigger than we are and accomplish more than one person can accomplish. I believe hope is prayer. And I believe that working for the greater good can produce powerful results. So even though I don't get on my knees or beg some ole White guy in the clouds to bring down the walls, I know in my soul that walls do come down.

So today, in honor of Aretha Franklin, who passed to the other side this week, I offer this video of her performing, "I Say a Little Prayer for You" dedicated to all those who are incarcerated. You are not forgotten. And I am not the only one out here who cares.


Friday, August 10, 2018

Dear Warden



This has been a complicated week. I somehow wound up at the center of just the kind of situation I long ago learned to avoid like the plague. Nevertheless, as is not always but sometimes the case, I think it has all turned out (so far) fairly well. The end result (I hope against hope -- I have other urgent business to attend to) is the following letter, which I just drafted to send to a warden I spoke with at some length this afternoon. I don't typically talk a great deal to wardens at all, but on occasion have felt it necessary and have always used the opportunity to accomplish as much as possible, under the circumstances. One never knows when a little dropped knowledge can ultimately bear fruit.

I have decided to publish the letter for several reasons, which I am not going to discuss, and I am publishing very nearly all of it, except for details that would specifically identify any of those involved. So I do not call names, but I think the points I made during my conversation and then repeated in my letter were important and general enough to apply to what is building in prisons from coast to coast in the United States. Please feel free to share it as appropriate. 

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Call for Immediate Action!


The following communique was received today (handwritten) from men incarcerated at David Wade Correctional Center. We need to get these brothers some immediate attention, aid, and relief. The Governor's website literally has a heat warning listed.

Louisiana prison officials have a Constitutional obligation to provide conditions of confinement that comport with present day concepts of Human Dignity and we are requesting State and Federal Louisiana Public Officials, the media and Legal Aid Organizations to use their Official and Regulatory Powers to immediately investigate the foregoing Conditions of Confinement at the David Wade Correctional Center N-1, N-2, N-3 and N-4, 670 Bell Hill Road, Homer, Louisiana 71040, United States of America.


Warden: Jerry Goodwin

Phone: 318-927-0400

Governor: John Bel Edwards

Phone: 225-342-7015 or 866-366-1121

State Speaker of the House: Taylor F. Barras

Phone: 225-342-7263 or 225-342-8336