Friday, August 24, 2018
On August 19th last year, I was in Washington, D.C., across the street from the White House with hundreds of other people from all over the country marching, chanting, speaking, and hanging out in support of the incarcerated people of America. Called the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March, it had been planned for more than a year and inspired similar marches and demonstrations across the United States that weekend.
I got to catch up with other prison abolitionists I know well but don't see often. I got to meet formerly incarcerated leaders in the struggle, some of whom had been heroes of mine for a long time. And I got to connect face-to-face with some wonderful and dedicated younger people committed to prison abolition going into the future. I had already been to both Cuba and Montreal that summer and had just begun a new semester of teaching, so I was beyond exhausted. But I felt strongly that I needed to be there, needed to say my piece, needed to represent those I knew that are gone now, needed to renew my vow, as it were, to fight till I can't no more.
I knew I would only have five minutes. So I read a rant I wrote in the 1970s and then a poem by Marxist revolutionary Marilyn Buck who spent decades as a political prisoner before she was released in 2010, less than a month before she died of cancer. Comrade Marilyn went to prison in the first place at least partly for her role in helping to spring Assata Shakur from prison in 1979. Thirty years later, her poem "Black August" appeared in Issue 13 of 4StruggleMag, a publication featuring the written work of political prisoners.
I am posting it here in memory of Comrade Marilyn, to look back for a moment to the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March last year, and to honor those who live or have died in the struggle to set themselves and others free. May those who are striking inside the walls across this country right now feel the love and the solidarity out here that is focused on them. And may we never forget that nobody's free until everybody's free.
by Marilyn Buck
Would you hang on a cliff's edge
sword-sharp, slashing fingers
while jackboot screws stomp heels
on peeled-flesh bones
"let go! die, damn you, die!"
could you hang on
20 years, 30 years?
20 years, 30 years and more
brave Black brothers buried
in US koncentration kamps
they hang on
Black light shining in torture chambers
Ruchell, Yogi, Sundiata, Sekou,
Warren, Chip, Seth, Herman, Jalil,
and more and more
they resist: Black August.
Nat Turner insurrection chief executed: Black August
Jonathan, George dead in battle's light: Black August
Fred Hampton, Black Panthers, African Brotherhood murdered:
Kuwasi Balagoon, Nuh Abdul Quyyam captured warriors dead:
Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ella Baker, Ida B. Wells
Queen Mother Moore -- their last breaths drawn fighting death:
Black August: watchword
for Black liberation for human liberation
sword to sever the shackles
light to lead children of every nation to safety
Black August remembrance
resist the Amerikkan nightmare
NOTE: The photo at the top is of me at last year's march with my close friends Robert King and Albert Woodfox, two of the Angola 3. The photo at the bottom is of Marilyn Buck and co-defendant Mutulu Shakur in the early 1980s.
Tuesday, August 21, 2018
“Right now, we are in a peak cycle. There’s tremendous energy out there, directed against the state. It’s not all focused, but it’s there, and it’s building. Maybe this will be sufficient to accomplish what we must accomplish over the fairly short run. We’ll see, and we can certainly hope that this is the case. But perhaps not. We must be prepared to wage a long struggle. If this is the case then we’ll probably see a different cycle, one in which the revolutionary energy of the people seems to have dispersed, run out of steam. But – and this is important- such cycles are deceptive. Things appear to be at low ebb, but actually what’s happening is a period of regroupment, a period in which we step back and learn from the mistakes made during the preceding cycle.” ~ George Jackson
NOTE: The graphic above was done by artist and social justice warrior Kevin "Rashid" Johnson More of his work can be seen here.
Saturday, August 18, 2018
I was in my mid-20s when I had my first conversation with a man who had just gotten out of prison (San Quentin) about the inside organizing incarcerated people were trying to do. It was 1970. I was in San Francisco. The BPP was visible. And I was about the work of finding my place in it all. Within six months, I had joined a prison abolition collective and within a year, I had dedicated my life to that cause.
I met the fathers of both of my children (the one who was murdered while he was the shotcaller for a gang in Ft. Lauderdale and the one who is the Vice President of Engineering for a multi-national media company) while they were incarcerated. And my last "relationship" was with a man who had just come out after doing 28 years flat. But my commitment to the incarcerated men, women, and children of this country is not rooted in a personal "relationship." It is rooted in a lifetime commitment to the principle that NO human being deserves or is best served by incarceration in prisons such as exist in their current form.
The commitment I made in 1971 when I stared into the night sky and invited the Universe to use me to serve the incarcerated of this world has burned in me ever since. In nearly five decades, it has never gone away. And no matter where I was geographically, what job I was performing, or what was going on in any other area of my life, the work to be of service to the incarcerated and their families has always been present. It sometimes compromised the "professional" reputation I built. It sometimes got in the way of my being a "good mother." And it sometimes put me in incredibly dramatic situations. But it never went away.
I'm not a "Christian." And I don't assume the presence of a "God" per se. But I believe in an energy that we can tap into (whether we mean to or not). I believe that energy can drive us to be bigger than we are and accomplish more than one person can accomplish. I believe hope is prayer. And I believe that working for the greater good can produce powerful results. So even though I don't get on my knees or beg some ole White guy in the clouds to bring down the walls, I know in my soul that walls do come down.
So today, in honor of Aretha Franklin, who passed to the other side this week, I offer this video of her performing, "I Say a Little Prayer for You" dedicated to all those who are incarcerated. You are not forgotten. And I am not the only one out here who cares.
Friday, August 10, 2018
This has been a complicated week. I somehow wound up at the center of just the kind of situation I long ago learned to avoid like the plague. Nevertheless, as is not always but sometimes the case, I think it has all turned out (so far) fairly well. The end result (I hope against hope -- I have other urgent business to attend to) is the following letter, which I just drafted to send to a warden I spoke with at some length this afternoon. I don't typically talk a great deal to wardens at all, but on occasion have felt it necessary and have always used the opportunity to accomplish as much as possible, under the circumstances. One never knows when a little dropped knowledge can ultimately bear fruit.
I have decided to publish the letter for several reasons, which I am not going to discuss, and I am publishing very nearly all of it, except for details that would specifically identify any of those involved. So I do not call names, but I think the points I made during my conversation and then repeated in my letter were important and general enough to apply to what is building in prisons from coast to coast in the United States. Please feel free to share it as appropriate.
Sunday, August 05, 2018
The following communique was received today (handwritten) from men incarcerated at David Wade Correctional Center. We need to get these brothers some immediate attention, aid, and relief. The Governor's website literally has a heat warning listed.
Louisiana prison officials have a Constitutional obligation to provide conditions of confinement that comport with present day concepts of Human Dignity and we are requesting State and Federal Louisiana Public Officials, the media and Legal Aid Organizations to use their Official and Regulatory Powers to immediately investigate the foregoing Conditions of Confinement at the David Wade Correctional Center N-1, N-2, N-3 and N-4, 670 Bell Hill Road, Homer, Louisiana 71040, United States of America.
Warden: Jerry Goodwin
Governor: John Bel Edwards
Phone: 225-342-7015 or 866-366-1121
State Speaker of the House: Taylor F. Barras
Phone: 225-342-7263 or 225-342-8336
Friday, August 03, 2018
As incarcerated citizens make plans to initiate a worker's strike from sea to shining sea in the United States on August 21st (the day George Jackson was shot to death by guards in San Quentin in 1971), the Southern Poverty Law Center has released a night-marish report concerning the use -- and abuse -- of immigrants and incarcerated workers at chicken processing plants.
I first learned about the chicken processing industry because there's a plant near the small town where I live and I was talking to a guy who had gone to work there when he was released after doing 28 years in the Louisiana Department of Corrections for a $74 robbery. He explained what it was like to work there and by the time he finished telling me about standing in guts, blood, and slime; about being pressed to work rapid fire with sharp knives; about the Mexicans who were not allowed to speak to anyone else and were whisked away on a bus somewhere at 5 pm, I was stunned.
"That's not a job," I said. "It's a sentence."
"Pretty much," he responded.
And the next day, I saw a photo in the paper of a broadly smiling blonde (representing the family who owns the plant) handing a check to a local charity. Hmmmm....
So when I saw the SPLC article I'm re-posting today, I wasn't surprised that the prison-industrial complex has started skipping the part about waiting until people are released. Why bother? If it's good enough for Victoria Secret and Starbucks, why should chicken processing plants not climb on the gravy train?