“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Inmates at the Willacy County Correctional Center, about 200 miles south of San Antonio, started fires and had “kitchen knives and sharpened mops and brooms to be used as weapons,” Willacy County Sheriff Larry Spence told local news station KGBT. The prison is “now uninhabitable due to damage caused by the inmate population,” read a statement released by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP).
It took two days for county and federal police agencies to control the protests, with authorities even resorting to tear gas.
The inmates were reportedly protesting medical care at the facility, which is part of a little-known network of 13 prisons designated for immigrants, many of whom reentered the United States after being deported.
The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), a revolutionary organization based in the u.s. that fights to uphold the self-determination and the human rights of Black people in the world, has been working to free political prisoners for over three decades. The organization has actively worked on the cases of Assata Shakur, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt, the San Francisco 8 (SF8), the MOVE 9, the Cuban 5, and more. Additionally, MXGM has worked with the founding Black August Organizing Committee of California to popularize Black August, a month of commemoration and action in support of political prisoners.
Through the heed of political prisoners Assata Shakur and Nehanda Abiodun, MXGM has also taken a lead in inspiring and mobilizing the Hip Hop generation to take action in support of political prisoners, particularly through the annual Black August Concert, which has featured artists such as Talib Kweli, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), Erykah Badu, Dead Prez, and others. MXGM works with other leading organizations that have championed action to free political prisoners, such as the National Black United Fund, the Prisoners of Consciousness Committee, the Nation of Islam, and numerous support committees around the world.
This article will describe the history and current context of political prisoners in the u.s., the conditions for them while incarcerated, and the organizing strategies employed by MXGM over the years to free them.
The Legacy of COINTELPRO
We cannot discuss the case of political prisoners in the u.s. without having an understanding of COINTELPRO. COINTELPRO, or the Counter Intelligence Program, was the federal government’s secret program during the 1950s-1970s used against many forces of the Black Liberation movement, leftists, and political dissidents in the u.s., including the Chicano Nationalist Movement and the Puerto Rican Independence Movement. It was secret because it was illegal.
Under COINTELPRO, the FBI and local police forces assassinated, arrested, tortured, and framed hundreds of leftists, particularly Black leftists, who were considered to pose the greatest threat to the racist status quo of u.s. society. The tactics of COINTELPRO can be categorized in four main areas: infiltration of organizations, psychological warfare from the outside, harassment through the legal system, and extralegal force and violence, including extrajudicial killing and outright murder. The FBI’s stated motivation for the program was “protecting national security, preventing violence, and maintaining the existing social and political order. Continue reading
California prisoners started a hunger strike and work actions today for basic human rights.
Support their demands – join us for a demonstration at Corcoran Saturday – July 13th!
Check out this new video!
Edited by Lucas Guilkey & Nicole Deane
Music: Fatgums ‘Kill the Vultures” & The Coup ‘My Favorite Mutiny’
Published on Jul 8, 2013
JULY 13TH RALLY AT CORCORAN
SIGN THE PLEDGE OF RESISTANCE and become part of the EMERGENCY RESPONSE NETWORK
SIGN THE PETITION TO GOVERNOR BROWN
MORE INFORMATION: http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com
In 2011, over 12,000 prisoners and their family and community members participated in statewide hunger strikes protesting the inhumane conditions in California’s Security Housing Units (SHU or solitary confinement). California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation promised meaningful reform as a result of those protests, but nothing meaningful has reached the people living in these cages. Prisoners have announced another hunger strike will begin July 8th because of CDCR’s failure to fulfill that promise. Continue reading
In May of 1973, Shakur was in a car that was pulled over by police on the New Jersey highway. A shootout occurred, resulting in the deaths of her companion and fellow activist Zayd Malik Shakur and State Trooper Werner Foerster. Assata Shakur was wounded in the gunfight, having been shot twice. Accounts of what happened that night differ greatly — surviving Trooper James Harper (also wounded) claimed that Zayd Malik Shakur began firing when they asked him to step out of the vehicle whereas Assata Shakur attests that the police fired first, even after she had her hands in the air.
Shakur was convicted of Foerster’s murder and sentenced to a life in prison. In 1979, with the help of allies, she was able to escape from confinement and flee to Cuba where she still lives and calls herself a “20th century escaped slave.” Continue reading
By Angola 3 News, 15 February, 2013
–An interview with author/activist Nancy Kurshan
Author and longtime activist Nancy Kurshan’s new book, entitled Out of Control: A Fifteen Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons , has just been released by the Freedom Archives . Kurshan’s book documents the work of The Committee to End the Marion Lockdown (CEML), which she co-founded in 1985 as a response to the lockdown at the federal prison in Marion, Illinois. It quickly turned into a broader campaign against control unit prisons and human rights violations in US prisons that lasted fifteen years, until 2000. The following excerpt from Out of Control details CEML’s origins:
I had been living in Chicago for about a year when I heard the news that two guards had been killed by two prisoners in the U.S. Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, 350 miles south of Chicago. Although it was an isolated incident with no associated riot conditions, the prison was immediately placed on lockdown status, and the authorities seized on the opportunity to violently repress the entire prison population. For two years, from 1983 to 1985, all of the 350 men imprisoned there were subjected to brutal, dehumanizing conditions. All work programs were shut down, as were educational activities and religious services.
During the initial stage of this lockdown, 60 guards equipped with riot gear, much of it shipped in from other prisons, systematically beat approximately 100 handcuffed and defenseless prisoners. Guards also subjected some prisoners to forced finger probes of the rectum. Random beatings and rectal probes continued through the two-year lockdown. Despite clear evidence of physical and psychological brutality at the hands of the guards, Congress and the courts refused to intervene to stop the lockdown…
…Although the terrible conditions at the prison were striking, what drew us to Marion in particular was the history of struggle of the prisoners and their allies on the outside. When the infamous Alcatraz was closed in 1962, Marion Federal Penitentiary was opened and became the new Alcatraz, the end of the line for the “worst of the worst.”
In 1972 there was a prisoner’s peaceful work stoppage at Marion led by Puerto Rican Nationalist Rafael Cancel Miranda. In response to this peaceful work stoppage, the authorities placed a section of the prison under lockdown, thus creating the first “control unit,” essentially a prison within a prison, amplifying the use of isolation as a form of control, previously used only for a selected prisoner. That was 1972.
At this time, in 1985, after two years of lockdown, they converted the whole prison into a control unit. Importantly, because Marion in 1985 was “the end of the line,” the only “Level 6” federal prison, there were disproportionate numbers of political prisoners—those who were incarcerated for their political beliefs and actions. These included people such as Native American Leonard Peltier who had spent years there until recently, and now (in 1985) Black Panthers Sundiata Acoli and Sekou Odinga , Puerto Rican independentista Oscar López Rivera , and white revolutionary Bill Dunne . These were people we knew or identified with, activists of the 1960s and 1970s incarcerated for their political activities. Marion, like its predecessor Alcatraz and its successor ADX Florence, was clearly a destination point for political prisoners. Continue reading
Los Angeles’ Youth Justice Coalition (YJC) is calling for a “parallel cease fire in the streets” to correspond to the End to Hostilities that has been called for by the Short Corridor Collective – a group of Pelican Bay hunger strike representatives who are living in that prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU, or isolation unit).
The YJC will kick off its call for an end to hostilities on the streets with an event on Wednesday, October 10th at 10am outside the LA County Men’s Jail (450 Bauchet Street, Los Angeles, 90012).
Here’s more information from the YJC’s Facebook event:
Prisoners in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU) have announced a push to end all hostilities between racial groups within California’s prisons and jails. The handwritten announcement was sent to prison Advocacy organizations. It is signed by prisoners, identifying themselves as the PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Collective. Pelican Bay’s SHU was the point of origin for last year’s hunger strikes which rocked California’s prison system, at one point including the participation or nearly 12,000 prisoners in over 11 prisons throughout the state. Continue reading
PANINI ANAND interviews ARUNDHATI ROY
No one individual critic has taken on the Indian State like Arundhati Roy has. In a fight that began with Pokhran, moved to Narmada, and over the years extended to other insurgencies, people’s struggles and the Maoist underground, she has used her pensmanship to challenge India’s government, its elite, corporate giants, and most recently, the entire structure of global finance and capitalism. She was jailed for a day in 2002 for contempt of court, and slapped with sedition charges in November 2010 for an alleged anti-India speech she delivered, along with others, at a seminar in New Delhi on Kashmir, titled ‘Azadi—the only way’. Excerpts from an interview to Panini Anand:
How do you look at laws like sedition and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or those like AFSPA, in what is touted as the largest democracy?
I’m glad you used the word touted. It’s a good word to use in connection with India’s democracy. It certainly is a democracy for the middle class. In places like Kashmir or Manipur or Chhattisgarh, democracy is not available. Not even in the black market. Laws like the UAPA, which is just the UPA government’s version of POTA, and the AFSPA are ridiculously authoritarian—they allow the State to detain and even kill people with complete impunity. They simply ought to have no place in a democracy. But as long as they don’t affect the mainstream middle class, as long as they are used against people in Manipur, Nagaland or Kashmir, or against the poor or against Muslim ‘terrorists’ in the ‘mainland’, nobody seems to mind very much.
Are the people waging war against the State or is the State waging war against its people? How do you look at the Emergency of the ’70s, or the minorities who feel targeted, earlier the Sikhs and now the Muslims?
Some people are waging war against the State. The State is waging a war against a majority of its citizens. The Emergency in the ’70s became a problem because Indira Gandhi’s government was foolish enough to target the middle class, foolish enough to lump them with the lower classes and the disenfranchised. Vast parts of the country today are in a much more severe Emergency-like situation. But this contemporary Emergency has gone into the workshop for denting-painting. It’s come out smarter, more streamlined. I’ve said this before: look at the wars the Indian government has waged since India became a sovereign nation; look at the instances when the army has been called out against its ‘own’ people—Nagaland, Assam, Mizoram, Manipur, Kashmir, Telangana, Goa, Bengal, Punjab and (soon to come) Chhattisgarh—it is a State that is constantly at war. And always against minorities—tribal people, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, never against the middle class, upper-caste Hindus.
How does one curb the cycle of violence if the State takes no action against ultra-left ‘terrorist groups’? Wouldn’t it jeopardise internal security?
I don’t think anybody is advocating that no action should be taken against terrorist groups, not even the ‘terrorists’ themselves. They are not asking for anti-terror laws to be done away with. They are doing what they do, knowing full well what the consequences will be, legally or otherwise. They are expressing fury and fighting for a change in a system that manufactures injustice and inequality. They don’t see themselves as ‘terrorists’. When you say ‘terrorists’ if you are referring to the CPI (Maoist), though I do not subscribe to Maoist ideology, I certainly do not see them as terrorists. Yes they are militant, they are outlaws. But then anybody who resists the corporate-state juggernaut is now labelled a Maoist—whether or not they belong to or even agree with the Maoist ideology. People like Seema Azad are being sentenced to life imprisonment for possessing banned literature. So what is the definition of ‘terrorist’ now, in 2012? It is actually the economic policies that are causing this massive inequality, this hunger, this displacement that is jeopardising internal security—not the people who are protesting against them. Do we want to address the symptoms or the disease? The disease is not terrorism. It’s egregious injustice. Sure, even if we were a reasonably just society, Maoists would still exist. So would other extremist groups who believe in armed resistance or in terrorist attacks. But they would not have the support they have today. As a country, we should be ashamed of ourselves for tolerating this squalor, this misery and the overt as well as covert ethnic and religious bigotry we see all around us. (Narendra Modi for Prime Minister!! Who in their right mind can even imagine that?) We have stopped even pretending that we have a sense of justice. All we’re doing is genuflecting to major corporations and to that sinking ocean-liner known as the United States of America. Continue reading
[In the US, between 6 and 7 million people–overwhelmingly black and brown–are subject to the controls and conditions of the “judicial” system. Of these, two million, five hundred thousand are confined to jails and prisons, and hundreds of thousands more in indefinite “ICE” detention centers. Over eighty thousand are confined in solitary confinement and SHUs–special arrangements to deprive prisoners of human contact, usually 23 hours a day. From these conditions, prisoners have been organizing campaigns and hunger strikes in protest , determined to get the word out, determined to fight for their own humanity. Susan Greene, an investigative reporter, examines these tortuous conditions. — Frontlines ed.]
A few weeks ago, on the fifteenth anniversary of his first day in prison, Osiel Rodriguez set about cleaning the 87 square feet he inhabits at ADX, a federal mass isolation facility in Colorado.
“I got it in my head to destroy all my photographs,” he writes in a letter to me. “I spent some five hours ripping each one to pieces. No one was safe. I did not save one of my mother, father, sisters. Who are those people anyway?”
Such is the logic of the gray box, of sitting year after year in solitude.
Whether Rodriguez had psychological problems when he robbed a bank, burglarized a pawn shop and stole some guns at age 22, or whether mental illness set in during the eight years he has spent in seclusion since trying to walk out of a federal penitentiary in Florida – it’s academic. What’s true now is that he’s sick, literally, of being alone, as are scores of other prisoners in extreme isolation.
Among the misperceptions about solitary confinement is that it’s used only on the most violent inmates, and only for a few weeks or months. In fact, an estimated 80,000 Americans — many with no record of violence either inside or outside prison — are living in seclusion. They stay there for years, even decades. What this means, generally, is 23 hours a day in a cell the size of two queen-sized mattresses, with a single hour in an exercise cage, also alone. Some prisoners aren’t allowed visits or phone calls. Some have no TV or radio. Some never lay eyes on each other. And some go years without fresh air or sunlight. Continue reading
Johnny Cash – San Quentin
Hundreds of prisoners on Wednesday went on hunger strike against a delay in investigation of their cases and poor living conditions in the central jail in northern Takhar province.
The jail superintendent, Brig. Gen. Abdul Rab, confirmed 600 inmates had gone on hunger strike. He said they were trying to convince the prisoners into calling off their strike. Continue reading
Kolkata, October 13, 2011
August 18, 2011
Facebook Caves to the Prison-Industrial-Complex
By KENNETH E. HARTMAN
In a decision setting back prisoners’ rights and helping to advance the interests of prison bureaucrats and their guard union allies, Facebook announced plans to work with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to shut down pages set up for prisoners. Spokespersons for the Department claimed that prisoners were using their Facebook pages to “stalk victims” and “conduct illegal activities,” and that this was all related to the increased incidence of cell phones found inside the prisons.
What a load of crap!
I’m one of the prisoners with a Facebook page that will be shut down to appease the shrill hate groups that continue to try and own the public debate about prisons, about crime and punishment, and about what kind of justice should be practiced here in the Land of the Free. It’s past time to address some of this fear mongering head-on, even if my keepers surely won’t appreciate it. Continue reading
The recent hunger strike at Pelican Bay supermax prison in California exposed for three weeks the carefully planned and executed barbarism of life in supermax America. The utter desperation of the human cargo behind the concertina wire, buried deep inside concrete coffins was gut wrenching and heart breaking. Hunger strikes are a tactic of last resort for the completely subjugated; a slow, painful, non-flammable version of self-immolation.
Brian Nelson, a survivor of 12 years in solitary confinement at Tamms supermax prison in Illinois, understands the conditions that drove the men in Pelican Bay to stop eating. Distraught and anxious, Nelson paced in his cell for more than ten hours a day – causing severe, bloody blisters on the soles of his feet. He tried to hang himself. In the year 2000, Nelson went on hunger strike for 42 days with four other prisoners to protest many of the same conditions that exist at Pelican Bay. Continue reading
Another strong demonstration of family members and supporters of the courageous California Prisoner Strikers took place at the doors of the California Department of Corrections in Sacramento on Monday, July 25, 2011.
1. End Group Punishment & Administrative Abuse
2. Abolish the Debriefing Policy, and Modify Active/Inactive Gang Status Criteria –
3. Comply with the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 Recommendations Regarding an End to Long-Term Solitary Confinement
4. Provide Adequate and Nutritious Food
5. Expand and Provide Constructive Programming and Privileges for Indefinite SHU Status Inmates.
A coalition of groups that organized the protest in Sacramento included the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, Critical Resistance, ANSWER, All Of Us Or None, United for Drug Policy Reform, World Can’t Wait, California United for Responsible Budget, California Prison Focus, California Coalition for Women Prisoners and others.
For more information and updates go to: http://www.prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com