Kevin Rashid Johnson and Oregon’s Isolation Torture Unit

by kersplebedeb
This is an update about Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, a prisoner activist and intellectual who is currently in a dire situation in Snake River Correctional Institution in Oregon.

As was reported last week, Rashid has been in the midst of a health crisis for almost a month now, which has included periods of severe disorientation. For a time he was refusing to eat or drink; as far as our most recent information if concerned, he is currently accepting liquids but still not eating.

Rashid has spent most of his adult life in prison, and almost all of that time has been spent in various isolation units. This is a direct consequence of his actively resisting abuse from prison guards and their lackeys in the 1990s, and to his continued political writing and exposing conditions in America’s carceral nightmare ever since. A New Afrikan Communist and the founder and Minister of Defense of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party Prison Chapter, Rashid is also a longtime mentor to several activists (and, through his writings, other prisoners) in Virginia, and in recent years has gained national attention as the result of the publication of his book Defying the Tomb, and the use of his artwork in numerous progressive publications. Most notably, Rashid is the artist who designed the drawing used as an emblem during the historic 2011 California prisoners’ hunger strikes, in which over 12,000 participated.

Rashid is a Virginia State prisoner, yet in 2012 the situation at Red Onion State Prison (where he had been held in solitary for years) escalated, with certain guards singling him out for abuse. In one harrowing incident, he was beaten while in handcuffs, which left him with a dislocated shoulder several of his dreadlocks torn out from the roots (as reported here). This attack came shortly after he wrote an article exposing a pain-compliance technique used at Red Onion which involved twisting prisoners’ fingers back, leading in some cases to broken bones. Subsequent to this assault, he was transferred to Wallens Ridge prison where he was informed by guards that he “would not leave the prison walking” (as reported here).

It was following exposure of this set-up, and numerous phone calls and petitions from outside supporters, that Rashid was transferred across the country, to Oregon. This transfer was possible due to an American practice of some States agreeing to imprison people from other States, essentially renting out their prison cells for one another. Upon his arrival in Oregon, Rashid was placed in general population – the first time in almost twenty years that he had not been in solitary confinement. Nevertheless, after just a few months, his work educating other prisoners in revolutionary theory and the principles of solidarity led to his being transferred to Snake River’s Intensive Management Unit, a prison within a prison on the border with Idaho in Oregon’s remote south-east corner. Continue reading

Oppression, Resistance, Unity, Power: A Statement in Support of the Virginia Hunger Strike

June 21, 2012

self-portrait by Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson

by Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson

In protest against the ongoing foul and inhumane conditions at Virginia’s Red Onion State Prison – one of Amerika’s most notoriously abusive and racist prisons – dozens of men at the prison went on a hunger strike. The strike began on May 22, 2012 and lasted several weeks.
I had spent over a decade imprisoned at Red Onion. Much of that time was spent in political growth, and my writing and circulating reports and articles to publicly expose abuses there, and trying to help build us a support structure on the outside.

I also struggled to to my peers the truism that while oppression does breed resistance, resistance without unity and public support is futile. Which is why our captors promote division and individualism among prisoners – a “mind your own business” and “don’t concern yourself with others” mentality – and manipulate us to misdirect our frustrations and ‘resistance’ against and between ourselves. It is also why they maneuver at every turn to alienate the general public against us with fear and hatred. The old Willie Lynch game.

To repress my efforts, officials kept me in solitary, often isolated from other prisoners. They routinely censored, destroyed and ‘lost’ my correspondences; imposed increased repression and abuses on me; and finally, on February 11, 2012, transferred me cross-country without notice or explanation to the Oregon prison system.

But I’d like to believe that despite their attempts to undermine and frustrate this work, my efforts, in collaboration with others of like mind, took root and bore fruit.
Many of the hunger strikers are men whom I had the honor of serving as both student and teacher. Many are members of street tribes (so-called gangs) whose traditional rivalries kept them divided against and at odds with each other – divisions and conflicts which Red Onion officials acted at every turn to fuel and perpetuate. However, as one of the representatives of the hunger strike stated:

“We’re tired of being treated like animals. There are only two classes in this prison: the oppressor and the oppressed. We, the oppressed, despite divisions of sexual preference, gang affiliation, race and religion, are coming together. We are rival gang members, but now are united as revolutionaries.” Continue reading