Sunday, March 13, 2016


This is what I woke up to on Facebook this morning -- a video of a fire that had been set in the Holman Correctional Center in Atmore, Alabama. And I'm sure most viewers in the United States will look at this, shrink back from the screen, and shake their heads, saying, "That's why they're in there. They're right where they belong. We don't want them out here with the rest of us..."

But I'm reminded of something I wrote for the Prisoners Digest International back in 1973 when the prison in McAlester, Oklahoma, went up in flames. I am reprinting it here dedicated to the men in the HCC who are, I'm sure, this morning suffering greatly and as far as I'm concerned through no fault of their own.

"The Fire"
by Becky Hensley, SRM, EcD
(PDI, Vol. 3, Issue 3 - 8/1/73)

"Burn, baby, burn!" and the smoke rolled out -- for forty miles you could see it touch the clouds. "Those animals," says Mrs. Johnson, six miles down the road. "They're burning tax dollars of hard-working citizens!"

They're burning your heart, not your cash, Mrs. J. They would set you on fire along with the "overworked" attorneys and underpaid prisoners' rights groups and pompous, phony legislators and silent ex-prisoners and uncaring mothers and hot-pantied girl friends and all the rest of those millions of hard-working, tax-paying citizens who sit on their hands 'cause it feels so good and suck Uncle Sam's tit when they can't reach his crotch.
Sit down, thirty-one-sixty-nine-twelve, you're trying to thaw out a freezer with a three-thousand-mile diameter. Why can't you learn to sit on your hands, too? Society wants you. It has big plans for its prisoners...
Listen to the smoke, folks. Listen to the smoke go forty miles or forty years or forty more lives -- you do remember Attica? How strange. Then how many Christs will it take to satisfy the God of the People? How many nails can you drive into somebody's brain before you puke, Mrs. Johnson? Two? Ten? A thousand? Maybe more! You have a strong stomach, America, but a weak backbone.

What color is smoke made of tears, made of pain, made of law-ful petitions to unlawful courts, made of unanswered letters, made of waiting for, waiting for, waiting for waiting?

Is it the same color as the smoke belched unendingly out of the chimneys of the corporation factories and collecting in the lungs of our children? Is it the same color as the smoke that hung over Watts and Cleveland and Dante's Inferno? Is it the same color as the smoke that always exists where the plague has struck when the dead are burned with everything they touched in their dying?

Is our Spirit so dead that the flames can't ignite it? Does anyone think for a minute ole thirty-one-sixty-nine-twelve wants to die? Does anyone think for a minute that fire was started by animals? There is blood on your hands, Mrs. Johnson. There is blood on my hands. We started that fire and it won't be put out until we put it out.

S-he whose Spirit does not burn will lose their bodies to the flames and finally get just what they earn with sniveling, groveling, sweetheart games.

Play on, America -- McAlester Atmore burns.


veganelder said...

A powerful and eloquent letter...and's as relevant now as it was when it was written.

I read the story you linked to and as I was reading it I was struck by the framing of the 'reporting'. Apparently the reporter spoke only to "authorities" who then had the power to direct the narrative about whatever happened at the prison. Apparently the reporter didn't talk to any inmates.

The article did include some items that were posted on social media sites by some of the inmates or their families, including this sad plea:

"Attention: We need yall help here at Holman Correction Facility Prison. The police down here beating on and jus treating us any kind way. We down here fighting for are lifes. Please contact the News, Newspaper, Radio station. NCAAP. Help please."

The headline of the story (using the code word 'riot')immediately predisposes the reader to view this incident as one where the inmates were responsible for the violence. I've come to immediately be skeptical when I find that I'm being led to believe certain things by only hearing from one side. Especially when that one side has most (all) of the power. The "authorities" have just as much motivation to present themselves as blameless as anyone else.

One other thing struck me as being absent from the story. Race. There were a number of data points presented, dates, number of prisoners, location, etc. mention of the racial designations of the prisoners or the "authorities". That's because 'race' has no bearing on this incident...right?

A sad situation for all involved...but the reader of the 'report' would do well to realize that as much or more information is missing from the story about the situation as is present. And...pretty much all of the information that is given to the reader is designed to give us only the story the authorities want to tell.

changeseeker said...

Yes and more yes, Veganelder.

Brotha Wolf said...

I noticed the same thing Veganelder. Whenever stories like this is reported, it almost always comes from the perspective of 'authorities'.