Wednesday, February 05, 2020

A Father Writes From Prison: "SHOTS FIRED!"



NOTE: I received the following essay from an incarcerated citizen with whom I have been working. The photo above is not of him or his children, but is intended to illustrate the issue about which he wrote.
______________________________________________________

I imagine that everyone – at some point in life – faces a personal tragedy that shakes them to the core. Well, for me, this is one of those moments.

A few days before Christmas, my youngest son was gunned down and left for dead in the streets of New Orleans, his dreams of one day running his own real estate business indefinitely suspended for reasons I cannot begin to fathom. And as I sit here – 150 miles away at Angola – my heart bleeds for him.

In the quiet moments between the chaos and mayhem of prison life, somber thoughts of my youngest child lying on the cold pavement in a pool of blood sends chills down my spine and nearly breaks me completely. The gruesome images in my mind are the kind that no parent should have to endure – not me, not anyone. As a father, I am beside myself with grief, not just because my son was almost killed, but because I wasn't there to protect him in the first place. I’ve been incarcerated his whole life – 17 years – not knowing the struggles he had to face on his own while I was locked away. Then, on January 21, my son's birthday, I received the most important letter I would ever read:

Friday, January 24, 2020

Steven Lamont Byrdsong: "Silent Cries"



In the midst of my journey I’ve come to the realization that we as humans are only motivated by the desires of our flesh. Even when that warm tingly feeling we get in our hearts wards against the nature of our wrongs. We surrender, and in life, Justice will never be just as long as humans are the authors that write the script.

We as humans are supposed to be equal in every aspect. We are created and given the same breath of life we all received from the beginning of time. At birth, our hearts and minds are not motivated by the color of our skin or based on the social status that society places on us, but driven by the purity of love and the righteousness of truth that’s within us.

My name is Steven Lamont Byrdsong and I am a convicted murderer. I have been incarcerated since the age of 16 and at the time I write this, I am 41. I have grown up and lived inside the pits of hell. Even when my young mind couldn’t decipher the nature of my actions, my child's heart was crying inside. But by then it was too late to rectify my wrongs and the script of my life was written. Life Without Parole at 16, dead before I even had a chance to live. But continuing to function only from the beat of my heart that was pure and not scarred by the sins of my flesh.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Malik Washington: "Why I Fight So Hard For Our People!"


“The hypocrisy of American fascism forces it to conceal its attack on political offenders by the legal fiction of conspiracy laws and highly sophisticated frame-ups. The masses must be taught to understand the true function of prisons. Why do they exist in such numbers? What is the real underlying economic motive of crime and the official definition of types of offenders or victims? The people must learn that when one “offends” the totalitarian state it is patently not an offense against the people of that state, but an assault upon the privilege of the privileged few.” ~ George L. Jackson, from Blood in my Eye, p.107

Revolutionary greetings, comrades!
As I stare out of my window here at the United States Penitentiary in Pollock, Louisiana, I find myself in a pensive and reflective mood. I see razor wire as well as concertina fencing immediately outside my window. I see the prison yard, the grass, the gun tower and far off in the distance I see trees. I see a flag on a pole, it is the “stars and stripes”. This flag does not represent freedom to me, it represents oppression, abuse, social control and it represents the hateful legacy of slavery.
I woke up here in Pollock, Louisiana thinking of Angola 3 member Herman Wallace. I remember the day he died. I was listening to Democracy Now with Amy Goodman, and she played a recording of Comrade Herman describing the garden that he and his comrades were preparing behind the house he was planning to move into.
Once the state of Louisiana finally granted Comrade Herman release, he was on his last leg, the cancer had literally eaten him alive. When I heard the voice of Herman Wallace, with the anticipation of freedom and the hope of seeing a brighter day, I cried. I cried because I was angry, sad, and frustrated.
Louisiana had absolutely no love, compassion, or care for the Angola 3. What they had for them was racial hatred and decades of abuse. Comrade Robert King and Comrade Albert Woodfox made it out alive. Herman wasn’t so lucky.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Rodney Spivey Jones: On Messianic Black Bodies


This post is dedicated to the men fighting for their lives
inside the walls in Mississippi. Ashe'

Americans in general have used the Black body as an object of rhetoric to define their identity. Black people, for example, use the suffering Black body, use Black bodies in a way to force Americans to see the suffering so that you can empathize with their pain. We see this not only with Emmett Till, but we see this with the Black Lives Matter movement, with Mike Brown, with Tamir Rice.

[Scholars have suggested that] we shouldn't see history as linear, as one event following another and then the other events are in the past. [Using the word] "messianic" [is] saying that the past is constantly being resurrected. It's constantly re-emerging.

When we take the Black body as a continuum of all this history of suffering and resistance and we have the body of Mike Brown lying in the middle of the street for 4-1/2 hours, for many of the African American activists who are seeing this body in the middle of the street, they're not just seeing Mike Brown. They're seeing all the previous acts of indignity and injustice, and it's not just their personal experiences, but the entire "race." I think messianic Black bodies allows me to explain why African Americans can look at a Black body and say, "Listen, that is all of this history -- and it's me."

During the course of my research, I developed a hyper-awareness of the many often insidious ways in which society disfigures the personhood of marginalized people. I noticed the attempt of so many to lump disparate elements into the category of Blackness or some other category meant to house the unworthy, categories such as "offender" or "inmate." It is difficult to live, to function in one of these categories. You begin to feel like scurf that one cannot scrub clean from the body.

I am an "irredeemable" trapped in one of the crippling categories of the undeserving. I am reluctant to use the word anger -- in America, anger and Blackness and offender is considered a volatile mixture. But everyone, every single one of us, should see when injustice is rampant and bodies are falling and the nation is divided about whether the losses of Eric Garner, of LaQuan McDonald, of Mike Brown, of Trayvon Martin, (insert here), are worth mourning.

Mourning is not a question of race and bodies. It is a question of humanity. Let me say it plainly: the Black body is a prison of flesh and the truth is unforgiving. African Americans can no more relinquish their signifying Black bodies than they can change the history of  this nation, but they must continue to demand.
______________________________________________________
NOTE: The above was transcribed from the Kenneth Burns documentary, "College Behind Bars," which is about the Bard Prison Initiative, a college program functioning in the Eastern New York Correctional Facility in Napanoch, New York. Rodney Spivey Jones was incarcerated in that facility until he graduated from Bard with a Bachelor's Degree in Social Sciences in 2017. He is currently located in Fishkill Correctional Facility and will be eligible for his first hearing before the Parole Board in 2022.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

The Universal and Unending Question



I spent most of yesterday trying to scale a small mountain of mail that had piled up in the month of December while I closed out my next-to-the-last semester I will ever teach full-time and organized the production and mailing of the first newsletter for the Louisiana Network for Criminal Justice Transformation. There were issues inside and outside the walls that had to be addressed during the month, of course, but overall, the mail still sat and then piled up, along with emails, especially after the newsletter went into Angola.

Some of the mail contained submissions for a theater production on solitary confinement we're going to put together to be performed on our campus in the spring. Essays, discussions, and poems were acknowledged and filed for later compilation and development of the project, but occasionally I would just have to read one. Which is how I came across the poem I'm publishing today. It reminds each of us -- no matter where we are, no matter what we have been through or what we may have to face in this coming new year -- that we continually evolve and have the option to consider who we are and who we want to be.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Jailhouse Lawyers Speak: "General Open Membership" for Prisoners

Revolutionary greetings to all freedom fighters and supporters for prisoners human rights:

On a southern plantation (prison) Jailhouse Lawyers Speak was founded in 2015 amongst a group of Jailhouse Lawyers who were already in unity as a cadre based upon the studies of George L. Jackson. This original group of comrades make up the current central committee.
Today, Jailhouse Lawyers Speak (JLS) is a national collective of imprisoned persons who fight for human rights, by providing other prisoners with access to legal education, resources, and assistance.

Our focus is on challenging laws that are dehumanizing prisoners and educating prisoners about these laws. We aim to educate and engage the public at large about prisoners human rights violations. We seek to achieve this “by any means necessary.”

We are freedom fighters that believe the current model of how this society addresses people that has fallen short (according to this society’s own terms), and must therefore be dismantled.

This can only be done by prisoners speaking out. Prisoners must use our own voice and organizing skills to connect with the world for change.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

The Louisiana Network for Criminal Justice Transformation



A year ago, I named a P.O. Box the "Louisiana Network for Criminal Justice Transformation." By April, a handful of supporters had caught the vision and, together with a jailhouse lawyer inside Angola, we began to organize our ideas and our dreams to provide case management services for incarcerated citizens in Louisiana. Friday, we mailed out our first newsletter to 164 men inside the walls and about 50 of their loved ones outside. This week, we will email a pdf of the newsletter to the media and to organizations and individuals who support the principle of prison abolition on one level or another. We are now reaching out to the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women of Louisiana and, quite frankly, the LA-NCJT is building at such a pace, I spend a good bit of time these days feeling as though I'm being dragged by the foot through my own life.

We're simultaneously working on a website, a closed Facebook chat room, a closed sub-reddit marketplace, and a Twitter account to serve, support, and inspire the families and friends of those inside the walls in Louisiana. We're putting together an Advisory Board. And I have officially announced to the University that I will step down from my full-time position there on July 31, 2020, to dedicate myself to LA-NCJT till the wheels fall off.

In the newsletter, we publish (among other things) "A Vision of Prison Abolition," saying:

Our perspective is not that efforts to reform the criminal justice system in the United States should be abandoned, but rather that the cultural and practical mindset that has plagued law “enforcement” and “correctional” systems for two hundred years in this country is such that we are being prevented from advancing as a civilized society. We believe that an entirely new approach must focus on the individual and collective effects of the root causes of “crime,” including such factors as poverty, White Supremacy, income inequality, and routine discrimination against the poor, People of Color, women, members of the LGBTQ community, immigrants, addicts, and the mentally ill. Populations that are vulnerable to abuse at the hands of our society’s decision-makers and those who have the Power-to-Define should be allowed to benefit from what society has to offer, as well.

We believe that this is practical and even necessary if we are to stop endlessly treating symptoms and begin the process of freeing ourselves so we can support others in freeing themselves from the brutality of a system the bedrock of which has been the foundational principle holding that money is more important than life. Consequently, we seek to make connections and create relationships with current and formerly incarcerated citizens, their loved ones, and others in the community who share our desire to transform the criminal justice system to reflect a consummate and intractable commitment to human rights. We do not consider it adequate to hold this commitment as a standard to which we aspire. Rather, we make the claim that all humans have an inalienable right to expect and, as necessary, to demand their dignity.

Toward that end, we offer our services to meet the needs of incarcerated citizens and their loved ones – in whatever ways we are realistically able – to increase their conscious awareness of the implications of their own humanity. The strength and energy of the indefatigable human spirit continually astound us as individuals – apparently hopeless and broken of will – rise to meet their challenges without fear or hesitation on the basis of the tiniest flicker of connection. We have seen the smallest specific encouragement turn the tide of despair, unleashing a human being prepared to exercise their personal agency by participating in their own fight for freedom – no matter where their body resides. Interventions as small as an email, a letter, a piece of information, or an invitation to participate in a collective effort can engage a heart that truly believed it had no reason to live.

The coming year should be interesting. If you want to follow our progress, you may contact us at:

Louisiana Network for Criminal Justice Transformation
P.O. Box 2701, Hammond, LA 70404

If you can help to cover the cost of this edition of the newsletter, please visit our GoFundMe account at https://www.gofundme.com/f/send-a-newsletter-to-incarcerated-citizens. Thanks.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Putting Out the Gaslight


[NOTE: Last spring, I jumped momentarily down the rabbit hole to comment in a way that wasn't the kind of post I typically write. This post is the second in that "series."]

The other day, I had a conversation with someone who is recognized as being at the top of his game in terms of political analysis. Maybe he is. I wouldn’t know because we’ve been up to our asses in alligators in the U.S. for a long time and I had to quit staying up all night talking theory decades ago. Instead, I spent thirty years paying bills, raising kids (and more than a little hell), going to school, living through a ton of trauma -- including the murder of my son and the suicides of my father and a man who had threatened to kill me, as well -- and then spent twelve years teaching college full-time which allowed me to spend literally thousands of hours focusing on what’s to be known about power relations: race, class, gender, and sexuality, while applying what I was learning to better understand myself and the struggle we're all in.

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.
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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.