Monday, May 25, 2020

Podcast: "IDOC Watch Panel: Four Voices for Liberation"


I wouldn't normally blog when I'm at a loss for words, but I just listened to a podcast posted on the internet by The Final Straw Radio (a weekly anarchist radio show). The podcast features four strong voices: Kwame Shakur of the Stolen Lives Movement, Sheila, who is a mother, grandmother, and advocate of incarcerated people, Lorenzo Stone-Bey of IDOC Watch, and Zolo Agona Azania who is formerly of the Black Liberation Army, and is a three-time survivor of death row.

The IDOC Watch website says:
“The Indiana Department of Correction Watch (IDOC Watch) exists to be in solidarity with prisoners. This means we correspond with and and foster camaraderie with people who are incarcerated in Indiana, expose abusive conditions and treatment, and fight policies and initiatives that further isolate, marginalize, and harm prisoners. We seek to uplift prisoners’ voices and struggles and educate the masses about prisons, generally, as well as specific issues we are fighting.”
No matter how you found my blog in the first place or why you keep returning, if you do, I urge you to listen to this podcast -- carefully and more than once. Its message is powerful. Its truth runs deep. And its pertinence to the struggle for liberation on any front is unmistakably relevant to all of us, no matter where we live our lives.
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NOTE: The graphic above is a photo of a work of art by Keith Perelli of New Orleans. Its title is "Broken" but it clearly captures the undeniable resilience of Black people who have and do resist and outlast the onslaught of social brutality that has been brought against Black men, women, and children for the past five hundred years.Audio Pla

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Eric Brown / TRU.ENation: On the Coronavirus, Angola, and C-Murder




















This interview was conducted by Shawn Grant and published at The Source on April 16, 2020. It is being re-posted with the permission of Eric Brown.

Eric Brown, aka TRU.ENation, grew up in a prison. Sentenced to life without parole, Brown began his sentence at age 16, before studying law and working toward his release at age 41. During his 25-year prison stint, Brown experienced inhumane conditions. 

“I’ve seen overflowed sinks that have flooded whole cell blocks; bobcats, alligators and other rodents walking around units and the prison telling the inmates to remove it,” Brown shared. “The showers have holes in the tile where rodents come through, holes in the floor of the shower tiles. Cells only sanitized at the inmates' financial expense.”

Those conditions have only intensified during the coronavirus outbreak as those inside do not have proper protection for their own health and the lack of care paid to the scene is alarming.

In addition, Mr. Brown pointed out the wrongful conviction of many inmates due to corrupt officials, which he has experienced along with his close friend C-Murder.

“We need a major overhaul with the criminal justice system in the United States. We need to free the innocent. The criminal justice system was not designed to protect African Americans,” Mr. Brown says. “It was designed to enslave us. If you are black and get caught up in a system, you are not guilty until proven innocent. You will most likely be found guilty because of corrupt cops, DAs, and judges. They will do everything in their power to convict you, too.”

In a conversation with The Source, Mr. Brown details the conditions and reports coming from Angola, along with other facilities, how the justice system wrongfully convicted him and C-Murder and more.

Saturday, May 02, 2020

Otto Rene Castillo: "Apolitical Intellectuals"




As a writer, I've had an office at home for years. It started out as an electric typewriter on a desk in my thirties, became a computer in my fifties, and a separate room in my apartment in my sixties. Now, I'm in the process of organizing that room to take on the appearance, efficiency, and feel of the hub I want to see Louisiana Network for Criminal Justice Transformation become.

For those of you who don't already know, I'm stepping down from my full-time position at the university on August 1st to dedicate the rest of my life to prison abolition. So I'm transforming the office that has been until now a center of creative womanist energy – fighting oppression as I have always done – to reflect the more honed focus I have developed in the past year.

Initially, I removed things: books, personal items, and random clutter unrelated to criminal justice transformation, collected over time and in the way of progress and practicality. I added a printer/scanner/copier and a shredder. And I will soon remove some of the art on the walls, replacing it with LA-NCJT documents and such.

Yesterday, as I continued the process while wading my way through six weeks of largely unanswered LA-NCJT mail, I came across a copy of the following poem by Otto Rene Castillo. Castillo was the Chief of Propaganda and Education for the Rebel Armed Forces in the mountains of Guatemala when he was captured in 1967 by representatives of the right-wing government installed by the U.S./CIA in his country thirteen years before. He was thirty-three years old when he was captured, interrogated, tortured, and burned alive.

When I organized a conference in Havana, Cuba, in 2017 for 300 radical sociologists from fifteen countries, I carried this poem in my heart. It seems appropos to re-post and re-center it again in this dark time with one additional note.

It won't be just the apolitical intellectuals who will be interrogated after this. It will be the anti-stay-at-home folks that have been encouraged by those at the top to pick up their weapons and create drama in public, calling it "freedom." It will be the die-hard ministers gathering their "flocks" to die and go to Heaven. It will be the ones who had the money to order Waitr and the health insurance to buy three months of their prescriptions at once.  It will be the birthday party revellers, the beach goers, yes, even the Netflix binge-watchers, who have hooked themselves up to the simultaneous intravenous drips of mind-numbing drugs and mind-numbing programming, which in fact has already been programming them for years. It will be everyone who let themselves be distracted from the suffering by the circus, who rode Instagram and Reddit while riding the lemmings off the cliff, who thought nothing could be done and so did nothing.

The COVID-19 pandemic is going to change human existence from this point forward. But in the struggle to survive, many are ignoring to one extent or another the creeping onslaught and entrenchment of right wing fascism in this country, dragging White Supremacy, misogyny, and religious fanaticism with it, like the four horseman of a long-awaited apocalypse. The amused smirks of so many when that word is used suggest that much of the population of the United States is still just comfortable enough to ignore the fact that (Netflix be damned) life is not a movie. It will not play to the credits in two hours with snacks. And the revolution will – this time – be televised.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Update From Angola: "Today Was Stranger Than Most"


Received early this morning from inside the walls:

"Today was stranger than most. There's something weird going on and no one is talking directly to us about it. The daily briefings we were having with the officials here have ceased and dorms are being placed on quarantine one after the other. Today, it was the dorm next door. Tomorrow, it will probably extend to our dorm as well. No one from any unit is allowed to come in contact with anyone from another unit; we have to do everything separately -- eat, shop at the canteen, have yard, etc.

"We are basically being kept in the dark about the scope of the outbreak here, but some information about new cases inside Angola is slowly reaching us from outside sources. I did find out today that the reason the dorm next door went on quarantine is because a guy tested positive for the virus after displaying flu-like symptoms. Here's the really weird part: another guy who was living in that dorm was moved into our dorm a few days ago. Then, when the guy from his former dorm tested positive, security suddenly came got the guy who had moved into our dorm and locked him up. So we are left wondering whether or not he was exposed to the virus before being moved into our dorm. The incompetence of some of the people in charge of our safety is astounding to say the least, which leads me to believe that things are far worse than we realize at the moment.


"Tempers are beginning to flare and the tension is getting so thick you could almost cut it with knife. The TV stays on CNN nearly all day everyday now and as more and more people succumb to the virus, the more anxious and nervous everyone in here seems to get. I'm curious to see what new revelations tomorrow will bring. I tend to think that I am prepared for anything, but these are uncertain times and I don't know if anyone is truly prepared for what comes next."

NOTE: A different source reported that five men were taken out of Ash-1 yesterday. No names are available at this time, but one of the men was reported to have left the institution. What that means has been left to conjecture. But if you have a friend or loved one in Ash-1, you should call Angola and ask for a wellness check.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

CJ LeBlanc: Angola Prisoners Say: "This is a war -- and we're in it."









This article was written by CJ LeBlanc and published at Hard Crackers on April 13, 2020.

The United States, with 4.4% of the world’s population, incarcerates no less than 22% of the world’s prisoners, far more per capita than any other country. It’s been widely acknowledged that this has a lot to do with the “War on Drugs” initiated by Richard Nixon in 1971 (a man, we should remember, who was himself a criminal, but never served a day behind bars). Indeed, when the “War on Drugs” was launched, the prison and jail population in the U.S. stood at 171 per 100,000. Today, it’s 655 per 100,000 nationally. And in Louisiana, it’s an astonishing 1,052 per 100,000.

Some might suggest that Louisiana’s high incarceration rate is driven by the state’s poor record in the areas of education, economy, and quality of life in general. After all, nobody’s born a criminal. But whatever the root causes, the sudden descending of COVID-19 into the prison population has presented the state with a dilemma so crucial it is likely to find itself shortly under very intense federal scrutiny.

Prisoners’ rights advocates and organizations concerned with criminal justice are weighing in assertively to push for strict adherence to protections guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the American Disabilities Act. Even the Louisiana Department of Health has issued a detailed memo to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections outlining its very clear recommendations. And the DPSC is responding that they are doing everything in their power to live up to the exigencies of the situation.

Reports from incarcerated citizens inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, however, beg to differ. The following quotes are from letters, emails, and phone calls to people on the outside of the walls from various prisoners inside Angola.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Angola Prisoners Await Their Fate




by CJ LeBlanc

In the past ninety days, the human race has found itself in the strangle-hold of a pandemic. United States citizens watched the first two months as if it was an apocalyptic movie. Now scrambling for face masks and toilet paper, though, Americans are riveted to social media while being ordered to shelter in place. And, since identifying the first case within U.S. borders on January 20th, the horrifying tally has risen to more than 400,000 cases and 10,000 deaths (as this is being written).

Still, there are nearly two and a half million men, women, and children who are particularly concerned as this nightmare closes in around us. They are incarcerated citizens. They are, by and large, unable to protect themselves in the myriad ways the rest of us are being urged to do. And they are trying not to despair as they fear they are being forgotten or dismissed.

In Louisiana alone, for example, fifty thousand prisoners (and that doesn’t count the roughly 8,000 immigrant detainees that are even further under the radar than the others) rise in hope every morning that they might be released, not because they think it’s necessarily likely but because if they are not, the chances they may die soon and far from their families cannot be denied.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Louisiana's Coronavirus Plan For Prisons Could Create Death Camps

This hearse was built by prisoners at Angola to carry men to the burial ground on the property. With the current onslaught of COVID-19, it is unlikely there will be time for pomp and circumstance.
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This article was written by Alice Speri and Akela Lacy and originally published by The Intercept.

As the Coronavirus rips through jails and prisons across the country and pressure mounts on corrections departments to stave off disaster, federal, state, and local officials have begun to release some incarcerated people in an effort to reduce prison density and slow the spread of the virus. But in Louisiana, which has both the highest incarceration rate in the country and one of the worst virus outbreaks, officials are bucking the trend. Rather than release people, they plan to isolate those who test positive for the virus in two maximum-security state facilities — a plan that critics said amounts to creating death camps.

“The DOC plan to transfer people from across the state to Camp J — where there is no medical care, no hospitals, no access to lawyers — will be the moral stain on our country,” said Ben Cohen, of counsel at the Promise of Justice Initiative. He’s been doing capital defense and civil rights work in New Orleans for 23 years, including several cases following Hurricane Katrina. “It is like the Japanese internment camps, but with body bags. We are literally watching the S.S. St. Louis being sent back to Germany.”

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

19 Lines: A Poem From Inside Angola



19 Lines
by Melvin Hassan Thornton

I inhale and I exhale
deep breaths of life,
each one refreshing the lungs.
Much work to be done; much life to live.
Still so much more to give. This is not the end.

Step on the scene, face to face with COVID-19;
staring in its heartless eyes, I stand firm.
Unflinching, unyielding, unafraid but angry.
I breathe deep, fighting on the ropes –
a bit overwhelmed but resilient. I don't fold.

Cowardly, Officious, Vicious, Insidious and Deadly 19,
you shall be defeated. We don't retreat.
We step up to the challenge.
Kill if you will but you have more to fight.
Those who survive will shine their lights.

I inhale then I exhale.
I take in the good and exhale the bad.
And therefore, Mr. Virus, I'm doing fine.
Sincerely yours, these 19 lines.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

A Prisoner Writes the Governor of Louisiana


This is the cemetery at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. There has been quiet talk -- inside and outside the walls in America -- of the possibility of mass graves. Will that happen at Angola? The prisoner who wrote this hopes not. 

It appears that America is finally starting to take this virus more seriously. Inside the walls, here at Angola, we are even more concerned. Earlier this week, an officer was sent into our unit with a high temperature. Two of our [jailhouse lawyers] had to be quarantined. But that doesn't help all of the men that went to court that day. Further, those who were quarantined are being held where other non-infected prisoners are quarantined for the ordinary flu.

These types of decisions have caused us to call for the immediate release of all prisoners currently serving time under the re-entry program and prisoners with 10 years or less to serve. We call for a review of the prisoners – violent or otherwise – who have spent 20 plus years in prison. Their records will identify those who can be released and have a place to go. This is a start for reducing the prison population, which was already in motion prior to the virus and is crucial in this crisis. It further serves the interest of the public because many of us have been trained in skills that can aid society in practical ways during this difficult time. But these releases need to begin now, as they have already begun – and are numbering in the thousands – in other states.

An Open Letter to Louisiana



Louisiana has long been recognized for having the most people incarcerated per capita than any other group of people on the planet or even in the history of the world. This is a dubious distinction at best and says far more about Louisiana’s culture than it does about those it incarcerates.

Even before COVID-19 emerged, decarceration as a concept was being discussed in virtually every state in our nation. One principle reason is that incarceration is far more expensive than sending people to college and it accomplishes far, far less toward our society’s best interests. In fact, Louisiana taxpayers spend on average twice as much on keeping a prisoner imprisoned ($25,000 per year) than they do educating a K-12 student ($12,500 per year) – which interestingly enough actually ensures in the long run more people going to prison for want of the skills necessary to access other options.

Books like Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration by Emily Bazelon demonstrate what prosecutors can do – and are doing – to address their own participation in sending too many to prison for too long, often unnecessarily and even when those charged are actually innocent.

The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections admits that they hold more than 7000 geriatric prisoners, the vast majority of which pose no realistic threat to public safety, while draining the Department’s coffers. In the last legislative session, many were surprised to hear about the case of one man who is costing the Department more than a million dollars per year in medical bills and was one of the reasons this year’s budget will need to be re-visited.

And now we have COVID-19 challenging every Louisiana citizen to consider new ways to approach our lives, few of which we could even have imagined two months ago. We are being encouraged, begged, even ordered and subsidized to practice new and necessary alternatives to business as usual. Yet we are ignoring the powder keg our prisons, jails, and detention centers have now become – at least partly because of our commitment to locking our citizens up at a rate and for periods at which other Americans can only shake their heads.

We need to take this opportunity (which may last longer than we might have hoped) to make the bold moves that could release funds badly needed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic – inside and outside our prisons – by releasing every incarcerated citizen rationally possible and as immediately as can be arranged. Send home the geriatric and most physically vulnerable prisoners, those who were convicted of non-violent crimes, those who have done more than twenty years and demonstrated a commitment to rehabilitation, those who will be getting out within a year anyway. Send them home.

Many of those in Angola – as one example – have prepared themselves for just such an opportunity by taking advantage of training in employable trades and programs that address the issues that brought them to prison in the first place. Releasing them would jump-start a new, more rational and less expensive way to live in community with each other in a world that is demanding our commitment to all Louisiana citizens at this difficult time.

Friday, March 20, 2020

The Incarcerated Person Who Knows How Bad It Could Get


This interview by Justine van der Leun first appeared on Medium. Given our attempts to bridge the prison walls in Louisiana at this difficult time, it is being re-printed here. I believe I know who and where this incarcerated person is, but it could be anywhere and should raise demands that incarcerated people must be released, when possible, and cared for with dignity and respect in every case.
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A couple of months ago about 300 of us got sick. They took everybody 50 years old and over and moved them permanently to their own dorm. Whatever that sickness was—maybe a brutal flu—ripped through the rest of the prison. I had a high fever, hot and cold sweats, dizziness, coughing for hours and hours, nonstop. The treatment was nothing. I said, “I need medicine.” They said, “No medicine for you. Drink some water.” Everything in prison is: “Drink water.” My stomach hurts: “Drink water.” My head hurts: “Drink water.” I’m burning up: “Drink water.”

There were guys worse than me. They put them up on a floor that they previously closed down years ago because it didn’t meet living standards, even in here: peeling paint, no running water, pure filth. Then they locked the prison down with no notice. They didn’t tell us anything—just had everybody locked in their cells. Every three days, we came out for 20 minutes to line up and take a shower. It lasted two weeks. That sickness, whatever it was, cleared. But now we’re on lockdown again. No visits, not from family or lawyers. No planned medical treatments. There’s a new virus, they said.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

A Message of Solidarity



A couple of weeks ago, I was approached in the Main Prison visiting room at Angola by a Rastafarian brother. The Louisiana Network for Criminal Justice Transformation and the Rastafarian congregation at Angola have become allies in recent months, so he took that moment to meet me face-to-face. After fifteen or twenty minutes of conversation, the brother, who had sneaked into Building A because he heard I would be there, told me that the Rastafarians and the Islamic fellowship would be celebrating Black History Month together on February 23rd.

"If you write something to the group," he said, "I'll read it."

I had a lot on my plate right then. Responsibilities at the university were demanding my attention and I was about to leave to spend five days in Oakland, California, for a prison abolition national conference. But I couldn't turn down such a golden opportunity to be introduced by this man to yet another segment of the population at Angola in such a lovely way.

With no other "free time" for the purpose, when I got on the plane to go to Oakland, I pulled out a pad and pen and wrote the following. The word is, they liked it. So as February comes to a close, I'll share it with you.

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.
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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.
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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.