Book Review: About Black Prison Organizing

[The movement and struggles of prison activists has played a major, even central, role in the social movements in the US.  But it has not often been recognized or embraced by many other activists and movements which, led by liberal reformists and organizations, avoid the injustices and enslavements of the “criminal justice” system.  Prison organizers, political prisoners, and prisoners as a whole have played a huge role in social movements  in the US (and in most countries throughout the world, as seen from Ireland to Palestine, South Africa to India, Peru to China).  But in the US, the role has been magnified by the mass incarceration of millions, whose pathways and influences in an out of prison have multiplied as a result.  This book review traces recent writing on the roots and links of the prison movement. — Frontlines ed].

The Prisoner’s Rebellion at Attica Prison, New York, 1971

A Hidden Legacy of the Civil Rights Era

by JAMES KILGORE, Counterpunch

Dan Berger’s latest volume, Captive Nation, is perfectly timed. In a moment where interest in mass incarceration across the political spectrum is on the rise, sanitized versions of carceral history will doubtless emerge. Berger’s account offers an instant antidote to any such efforts. He warns us we will be negating a long history of righteous rebellions of the oppressed if we opt for quick fix policy packages that do not address the inequalities underlying the rapid growth of incarceration.

Berger’s personal profile as an historian casts him in a unique position to tell his tale. He represents a bridge between the praxis of the 60s and 70s and today’s decarceration campaigners. Back in the day, activists connected to those in prison by striking up extensive correspondence via snail mail and making in person visits. In this age of digital communication, Berger has stepped back in time and used those old “analog” methods to establish relationships with a number of those still incarcerated for their activities in that era, people such as Veronza Bower, Sundiata Acoli, Jalil Muntaqim (also known as Anthony Bottom) and David Gilbert. These relationships were key to Berger’s framing of the stories he tells as well as his analysis.

Prison Intellectual Culture: The Case of George Jackson

Two things particularly struck me as I read Captive Nation. The first was the amazing radical intellectual culture that emerged in prisons during this period, a culture, I should add, that appeared almost totally absent in the federal and state prisons where I resided from 2002-09. Berger’s depictions of the richness of political debate and the eagerness of people inside to connect prison resistance to the Black liberation struggle and other movements of the era, were staggering. The politics of the rebels/revolutionaries Berger describes were not mere legal maneuverings aimed at overturning individual cases or re-doing legislation. Rather, they aimed to depict and contest the political economy and ideological foundations of a “system.”

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Update: California prisoners’ call to end racial hostilities in prison and on the streets

California prisoners declared an end to racial hostilities beginning Oct. 10. LA youth have spread it to the streets. Unity disarms the guards and the cops of their most deadly weapon: divide and conquer. But prison authorities are spreading confusion. Please copy this story and mail it to all the prisoners you know.

http://sfbayview.com/2012/california-rises-to-prisoners-challenge-to-end-racial-hostilities/

California rises to prisoners’ challenge to end racial hostilities

October 14, 2012
by Mary Ratcliff

In the U.S., we not only encage 25 percent of the world’s prisonersmore than any nation in the history of the world and more Black people than were enslaved in 1850 – but we isolate at least 80,000 of them in solitary confinement. I contend that the purpose is to drive them mad; and after years of reading their letters, I believe they are targeted for this intense form of torture not because they are the worst of the worst but because they are the best and brightest.

In September, the Short Corridor Collective, prisoners confined to the SHU in Pelican Bay State Prison, one of the first and harshest examples of mass solitary confinement, sent out a historic call for racial hostilities to end in California prisons beginning Oct. 10.

Of the prisoners in the SHU, who are all “considered the most dangerous and influential (prisoners) in the state,” these men in the Short Corridor are “the leaders, what one authority called all the ‘alpha dogs,’” writes Nancy Mullane of KALW, who managed to get approval for a visit to the SHU – and even an interview with a SHU prisoner. In California, reporters’ access to prisoners is largely barred by law.

In a letterto prisoner advocates, these so-called “shot callers,” who prison officials say require isolation to prevent them from ordering prison murders, have shown their true colors. Writing “on behalf of all racial groups here in the PBSP-SHU Corridor,” they declare that “now is the time for us to collectively seize this moment in time and put an end to more than 20-30 years of hostilities between our racial groups.”

“Therefore,” they write, “beginning on Oct. 10, 2012, all hostilities between our racial groups in SHU, ad-seg, general population and county jails will officially cease.” With this call, prisoners who endure some of the world’s worst punishment have disarmed their jailers – disabling the most effective weapon in the Corrections Department arsenal: divide and conquer. Continue reading