How CDCr Undermines Peace: An Essay on Gladiator Fights

As part of living up to the radical legacy that is our inspiration, we strive to be experts on our place, and time in the movement, and more importantly experts on our enemy. The fight against prisons is a series of moves and countermoves. Over the past several months our chapter has been engaged against CDCr’s most recent strategy, and in support of organized family members, and prisoners themselves. What follows is an attempt to synthesize this ongoing struggle and what it’s taught us. We have also taken the opportunity to begin undoing some of the myths that the state perpetuates and weaponizes against the people it has caged. Finally, we use this moment to outline the historical context of our work, specifically the fearless, and tireless organizing of prisoners whose gains we seek to protect.

 

“Gangs” The Criminalization of Association and Self Defense

Before we can even start to ask what’s going on here, we first have to ask, what is a “gang”? The reality of so-called “gang” culture is the need to band together for survival. The term “gang” is an invention of the state, designed to invalidate whole swaths of people who won’t comply with it. We’re not going to use the word. We’re going to refer to these groups as population segments or street organizations. To understand what these organizations are, we need to understand that their history is one of oppressed people defending themselves against white mob violence. That is how the street organizations formed in LA and other cities, as self-defense against roving white mobs that would kill, steal, and burn at whim.

 

Inside it’s no different: banding together is a survival response. Prison is a system to induce scarcity, deprivation, hardship, terror, and death as a form of business as usual. Its job is to crush you, to dehumanize you. And as an extension of the settler-colonial project, prison’s job is to atomize, to destroy our identity and cohesion as a people – whether we be the descendants of slaves, or the descendants of indigeneity under colonialism, or as queer people, or even as white dropouts, anyone who’s noncompliant with the demands of settler colonialism: in the big historical picture, that is what prison’s purpose is.

 

On the inside, the only way to secure or defend yourself is to collectively organize. This is how to secure food, protection, identity, agency, even your name. CDCr only gives you a number; within your crew, you still have a name. CDCr denies you links to the outside; but you can maintain communication if you’re affiliated. If you’re beat up or thrown into the hole, half the isolation is taken away because you have other people watching your back. On the yard, when the COs are successful at stoking violence, you have people to defend you. You also have a sense of purpose and belonging, creating and doing your own work defending others. So identity, pride, survival, communication, belonging, purpose, agency, all these are supplied by your clique, your set, or your organization. And these are all things that the State explicitly tries to take from you.

 

Why aren’t there prisoner associations to provide all those things? Well, prisoners tried. Their associations were taken away, smashed, criminalized, beheaded. So by denying other forms of association, the DOCs helped create all these organizations inside. They have even directly helped, in some cases: manipulating situations by holding one group up over the other, in order to sow division, or to create partners with which to negotiate.

 

Societies Inside, and the Agreement to End Hostilities

So, some recent historical context. Before 2010, there was a highly volatile state of war between different population segments. During that period, to hit a yard in the maximum security facilities was to jump into the middle of an ongoing battle. The California Department of Corrections and so-called Rehabilitation (CDCr) fueled this state of affairs, since a divided population is an easily ruled population. It’s easy to disrupt any social cohesion that forms inside, and under those conditions it’s easy to isolate key political figures by validating them as “gang members.” This categorization, based on criteria entirely of CDCr’s invention, was used as pretext for the long-term sequestration in solitary of numerous influential individuals, in the four facilities in the state called the Secure Housing Units (SHU).

 

In 2011, the first hunger strikes hit. These were the product of an interracial collective formed within these SHUs in Pelican Bay, the deepest and darkest northernmost facility in California, hundreds of miles from the nearest city. The Short Corridor Collective, as they called themselves, developed an understanding and a political practice. Because they had clout, credibility, lots of experience, and nothing left to lose, they helped organize hunger strikes against the use of long-term solitary.

 

Out of this evolved in 2012 an Agreement to End Hostilities between the major population segments: Whites, Blacks, Southern Mexicans, Northern Mexicans, plus numerous other signatories from other factions within the system. This called an end to interracial hostility between these segments, taking this tool of disruption, division, and summary punishment away from CDCr. The yards transformed immediately, violence dropping by half or even more in certain facilities. And this Agreement not only declared terms of truce, but also named the real predator in this situation: CDCr.

 

2013 saw the hunger strikes escalate tenfold, with some estimates as high as 70,000 people – in a system locking up 140,000. These strikes ultimately resulted in the Ashker v Brown settlement in 2015, which revised all the terms for gang validation, and the procedure for getting out of long-term solitary, what’s called the “step-down” procedure. This procedure was, like many of CDCr’s defensive initiatives, a trap, but that is a matter for another piece.

 

We have since learned that as this settlement was being negotiated by the hunger strikers’ lawyers, CDCr was busy concocting a plan called “Reintegration.” With their essential tool of long-term solitary being taken away, they needed a new weapon. With “Reintegration” they could weaponize Sensitive Needs Yard and Protective Custody prisoners (SNYs and PCs). These yards are historically populated by folks for whom being in a regular prison yard is dangerous, people with sex crime charges, and those who have “debriefed” (informed on other people). For this reason, these yards are largely stigmatized, and being on one for any length of time can mark a person for violence by general population prisoners.

 

In reality SNY yards at prisons across California have swelled in the last decade, and the reasons people end up on them have become more and more varied. Prisoners can end up on in SNY because of a disability, threats from other prisoners or within prisoner organizations, even seemingly simple things like being white and unwilling to roll with white gangs can land a person in SNY, willingly or unwillingly. Still the stigma persists. By forcibly throwing prisoners from these yards into General Population to stir up conflict CDCr undermines long standing truces between inside organizations, and weaponizes historic stigma between them. By arranging these fights, they can circumvent the limits on long-term solitary by providing themselves continuous pretext for people to be repeatedly thrown back into the SHU.

 

Re-Integration and Gladiator Fights

In September, 2018, we saw conflicts within a half dozen facilities within California. A non-signatory to the Agreement to End Hostilities, a group called the Fresno Bulldogs, started attacking Southern Mexicans. The Southern Mexicans were put into lockdown at Corcoran, and have been under lockdown ever since. For months. CDCr calls it “Modified Program,” but they’re playing word games. To be denied visitation, to be denied canteen, to be denied all educational and rehabilitation programming, and to be denied all yard time except for being fought like dogs? That is a lockdown.

 

The Bulldogs, however, have not been under lockdown, and they’ve been allowed a certain amount of programming. So in concert with the Reintegration Plan, there’s now a plan across multiple facilities within California to forcibly make rival groups – signatories and non-signatories –  program together. The previous plans in these facilities arranged for separation between these groups. These were thrown out, and new ones were written up.

 

Now when these groups yard together, it’s a guaranteed fight. Everyone knows this: CDCr, the wardens, the COs, the prisoners, their families. So under the guise of making groups “get along,” they are essentially doing gladiator fights. They’re deliberately escalating tensions, in order to undermine prisoners’ ability to negotiate peace on their own terms.

 

Although these forced fights have happened between other population segments, the primary group being targeted by these are Southern Mexicans. They have been targeted because they are the largest and most influential inside. Corcoran is the most serious facility in the state, known for its brutality. So it makes sense it’d be a place they’d try out this forcible yard policy. Releasing two or four prisoners from one faction onto a yard, and then dumping two or four from another group who are guaranteed to fight. These groups are actually under orders, in a manner of speaking, not to yard with each other. This is by virtue of their organizations being at odds. So dropping them in a yard together puts each under a threat of attack, a situation where hesitation to fight first could be fatal. Moreover, affiliation with any of these umbrella organizations relies on a hierarchical structure and discipline which people are motivated to uphold. Under other conditions, perhaps negotiation and a truce might be possible. After all, before the Agreement to End Hostilities, no one would have thought there’d be such an agreement. But it happened. For now, however, the irreconcilable differences are between signatories and non-signatories. And CDCr knows this.

 

In response to these forced fights and the retaliatory “modified program,” in the beginning of January, Southern Mexicans in Corcoran initiated a hunger strike that saw 270 people participating across 5 units. They refused trays for approximately three weeks. At the end, 245 were still on hunger strike, with many dropping out due to chest pain, shortness of breath, and all the other problems that come when your body starts to consume itself when you deny it food. Cells had been raided for all commissary once the hunger strike had started, so it wasn’t just a food strike, where people refused trays; it was a straight up hunger strike. So basically you’re starving to death in your cell, trying to get the outside to take notice. Hoping that they understand something of inside politics, to throw down with you. And IWOC was in a position to do so. We were proud to do so. They wanted it made public, and IWOC helped strikers’ families put together a phone pressure action for two days in January. That immediately escalated things. COs threw down sand pipes, which are long sandbags that cover up all the gaps beneath doorways, to keep people from sharing food, medicine, or information. And these dogfights continued. Every week there’d be another instance of either a two-on-two or a four-on-four, and not just between Southern Mexicans and this outlier group, but between whites and blacks as well, creating a widespread escalation of tensions.

 

Families have stepped up in a big way, especially since the public call for a phone action. That provided a lot of them with the opportunity to step forward, throwing off their shame or their silence in order to speak out and organize themselves. Since then, there have been outside protests out in the middle of nowhere in the central valley for weeks and weeks at one facility or another. The families said to themselves, “We’d be here anyways visiting, except there is no visitation.” So they gather on the outside and meet each other, and then march down to yell their love through a megaphone over the fence.

 

CDCr has been executing this policy at multiple facilities, not just Corcoran: also Pleasant Valley State Prison, Correctional Training Facility (CTF) – Soledad, and a couple others, all in this same region. These facilities all house both Southern Mexicans and this outlier group, the Fresno Bulldogs. By doing this, CDCr is basically laying an ultimatum: succumb to their organization of prison society, and surrender all your own survival mechanisms and loyalties, or you will be fought like dogs in the yard at the whim of sadists. And that’s pretty much the current situation, with the lockdown being most severe at Corcoran. Many different population segments are affected, but right now it isn’t an interracial organizing program. It’s primarily the Southerners that have maintained cohesion, and they’re the ones who called for the hunger strike.

 

Decades ago Corcoran made the news in a huge way – in a rare way. In 1996 the story broke that in its secure housing unit, guards were setting up matches between prisoners. Betting on them, bringing snacks, even shooting them dead when the fight didn’t go the way they wanted it to. The state’s narrative was basically guard gangs and guard culture run amok (guards do have their own gangs and cliques), theoretically under the inept management of a warden that hid his eyes. Five men lost their lives between 1990-96. Prisoners, their families, and their advocates had been vocal about this happening for quite some time. And this is a common practice, really, in facilities all across in the United States. Incarcerated people and their families know what we’re talking about when we talk about gladiator fights or dogfights. It’s a known practice for stoking hostility, gratifying guards’ sadism, or even as an extension of a DOC policy in terms of stirring up conflict between racial groups. In the 90s at Corcoran it just got noticed outside. It made the news, it made state assembly hearings, it made 60 Minutes. So Corcoran and gladiator matches became synonymous.

 

What we’re seeing today in California is not guard culture run amok. It’s coming from above. It’s policy. The guards are not arranging these fights on their own whim. Some of the recent responses from CDCr are playing ignorant, reiterating the old line of guard culture run amok and claiming that is not happening now. But that’s not our accusation; our charge is that these orders are coming from above. We’re seeing multiple facilities doing this simultaneously. And this fits within the timeline of CDCr needing to innovate new ways to control its populations, en masse, with violence and destabilization. Wardens at other facilities have even been anecdotally reported as complaining that they’re not deciding to make this happen, but that they’re being ordered to from Sacramento. So, the sensationalist story in the 90s was just an instance of a common practice within jails and prisons breaking through to the public. But with CDCr, at the moment, we’re seeing something very different: it’s a strategy and a policy coming from headquarters.

 

Why? CDCr is completely opaque. It has to be sued in order to release the slightest information. For example, it releases no racial demographics, and the only reason we have numbers on its own racial demographics is through federally available numbers that it makes available to the Department of Justice. 

 

So why is this happening now? 

We think it’s due to the end of the federal court’s observation and follow-up period for the 2015 Ashker v Brown settlement. In the wake of the 2011-2013 hunger strikes, there was a two year observation and negotiation period between lawyers, judges, and CDCr regarding follow-up on the terms of the settlement. Last year it came to a halt. We think CDCr is counting this as a victory and a green light to proceed: this observation period is over, and they’ve successfully managed to maneuver around the restrictions on long-term solitary. We think they’ve reconciled themselves to solitary not being able to be used in the same way that it was before (i.e., almost completely without oversight and arbitrarily). So they’ve found a new way to confront the power of prisoner organizations on the inside, not just by creating constant disruption, but by doing it in a way that generates useful pretext for recurring bouts of back to back short term solitary. To that end, these outlier populations have always been there, as a potential weapon for CDCr. Protective Custody and Sensitive Needs Yard populations, and these non-signatories to the Agreement like the Fresno organization, are now being weaponized against the main line, against General Population. Being in need of new tactics of disruption, CDCr simply saw the opening and is taking it.

 

CDCr has a reputation for being an experimenter, for being on the leading edge of developing new means of surveillance, control, and isolation. They led the way in developing long-term solitary. They are on the forefront of investigation, manipulation, and exacerbation of so-called “gang culture” inside. Unlike many other states, they are highly professionalized, not provincial in any sense. And CDCr is huge. They’re the largest agency within our state government. Only education has a bigger budget; but that’s spent through different agencies and split up. CDCr has an $11 billion budget.

 

And it never stays still. To stay still is to essentially fall behind. Because, to quote C.L.R. James, “The people are always rebelling.” Prisoners are always resisting in some form or another. So if they sat on their laurels and let prisoners organize, didn’t innovate and try to stay ahead of them by instigating this kind of violence and division, they would lose an advantage. It’s a game of chess between opponents, and simply put they’re making moves.

 

On the 28th of January, immediately after the phone pressure campaign, the warden called a meeting with what are known as MAC reps, Men’s Advisory Council representatives, which are representatives that are sometimes chosen by prisoners to communicate with prison staff. The warden promised them canteen, beyond just hygiene: being able to actually buy food again. Promised they’d get packages. And promised to negotiate a yard schedule, to separate them from this other rival faction that intends them harm. They suspended the hunger strike and sat back for a week to see what would happen. The warden reneged on everything. These promises were just a political maneuver to break the strike.

 

So right now the hunger strikers are saying the strike is simply suspended, and they’re negotiating what next steps are. So far, some of what’s been asked of outside supporters is that we do what we can to get their story out there.

 

Always remember that any of these conflicts inside are already subject to the negotiated realities and agreements between prisoner groups. Inside every prison there’s a mini society, with its own agreements, its own code, its own statuses, its own manners and protocols. On any yard, on any tier, in a cell even with just two people in it, there’s a negotiated understanding between prisoners. Prisoners are people, with agency. They organize their own world as best they can, within the hellish environment that they’ve inherited or been subjected to. So it’s no surprise for prisoners to be able to organize agreements en masse across yards or across racial divisions. The Agreement to End Hostilities proves that prisoners can negotiate agreements between themselves. This could actually be supported in good faith. Instead, CDCr is weaponizing these conflicts to undermine prisoners’ agency and keep them from creating peace on their terms. To resolve these conflicts in a way that would work in the real world, prisoners’ ability to negotiate among themselves would need to come first.

 

 

How to help.

 

If you’re in California, get involved with IWOC, or the families that have organized rallies and events. If you’re close to these institutions, come lend support on the weekends that rallies are called. The families announce them through their Facebook pages, and IWOC pretty reliably mirrors their calls. We also do it on Twitter.

 

For people unacquainted with prison, or not directly connected to people inside, the best thing you can do right now is respond to calls for phone pressure actions or demonstrations. Beyond that, this a complicated situation that demands direct connections to the facilities in order to organize, so it’s not something you can just jump right into. But if this sounds like the sort of thing that you’d like to put your primary political work into, start by reaching out to IWOC or to other serious abolitionist organizations that do support work directly with prisoners – NOT “on behalf of” prisoners, or just addressing policy, but directly working with prisoners. Get involved that way. Because there are definitely not enough people that work directly with the inside. There’s an abundance of policy talking heads; and a lot of people like to grab the mic, grab the social capital of prisoners, and run with it. But there are a lot of organizations out there that don’t. So if this fight sounds like your thing, put in the work to make it your thing, and hook up with that organization wherever you are.

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Call to Action: Demand an End to Abuses at McCormick

Call to Action from Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, released Oct. 28, regarding the numerous ongoing abuses against prisoners at McCormick Correctional Institution in South Carolina:


Request for Action Regarding Human Rights Abuses at McCormick Correctional

In solidarity with McCormick Prisoners, some that have been protesting for weeks are requesting the following persons to be called:

1. DOJ Civil Rights Division, Assistant Attorney General, John M. Gore
2. South Carolina Senator Karl Allen
3. South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Image released by @milli4prisoners from prisoners at McCormick(SLED)
4. South Carolina Department of Corrections Agency Director Bryan P. Stirling

Requesting a formal investigation for possible criminal and civil rights violations relating to the rationing of one cup of water a day and to the use of excessive force for the past 3 weeks at McCormick Prison.

McCormick prisoners are also requesting that normal operations be allowed to resume without delay and the inhumane living conditions be rectified immediately.

Prisoners are currently confined to their cells 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Sick call medical neglect is routine, showers are being provided Image released by @milli4prisoners from prisoners at McCormickat most once a week, prisoners are being served small proportions of food, prisoners are forced to live in two men cells for weeks without being allowed to clean them, and excessive force is used at every meal.

To add another degree of psychological torture, steel plates are being used to cover all windows. Natural sunlight is being eliminated in the cells at McCormick Prison.

Please use the above information when placing these calls.

1. Assistant Attorney General, John M. Gore
DOJ Civil Rights Division 202-514-4609

2. South Carolina Senator Karl Allen (Corrections and Penology Oversight subcommittee member)
602 Gressette Bldg, Columbia, SC 29201
Business Phone: (803) 212-6008

3. South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) 803-737-9000Image released by @milli4prisoners from prisoners at McCormick

4. SCDC Office of the Director.
Agency Director, Bryan P. Stirling, 803-896-8555.

We RESIST! We DEMAND our HUMANITY! Abolish prison slavery!

Jailhouse Lawyers Speak


Detailed report from inside McCormick Correctional Institution in South Carolina

Audio interview with people incarcerated at McCormick

Another report from inside McCormick

Report from inside McCormick Correctional Institution in South Carolina

The following report was posted Nov. 1, 2017 on sccondemedvoices.wordpress.com by a prisoner inside McCormick. We’re mirroring it in full as backup and to increase circulation.


No One To Save South Carolina Department of Corrections

Lets start with some facts, aprox 6 different institutions in the state of South Carolina  experienced prisoners uprisings in the last year, aprox 15 prisoners murdered in same year, Atleast 35 correctional officers assaulted in year, including 88 prisoners assaulted. On Top of all them facts lets add the fact that South Carolina department of corrections is also dealing with the worse staff shortage in the nation.So  these facts onliy could easily equate CRISIS.

“A Crisis”ok, the department of corrections will step up and address the crisis, right? Well what if the department is not equipped with anyone to properly address the crisis, so logically next step will be a disaster,right? Something like the recent prison headlines , “SOUTH CAROLINA CORRECTIONAL OFFICERS MURDERED IN PRISON UPRISING”( headlines in Delaware, North Carolina).

Now claiming the department isn’t equipped to address the crisis could be argumentative, but lets go to the facts again the facts beinging with Fact 1: The commissioner of the department of corrections, Bryan Stirling does not have any experience/education in corrections nor penology,  Fact 2: Absolutely no member of the ten member judicial committee South Carolina corrections and penology committee has experience in the committee they sit on CORRECTIONS & PENOLOGY( profiles at sc.gov.doc.com) So, I stand by the claim,that the state of South Carolina has no-one educated  to address their current Crisis.

Sadly with the detiration reaching down to the core of the prison system a systematic failure has occurred. At this point a professional or educated person might have a difficult time saving South Carolina from failing in thier governmental responsibilities .
So lets take a look at some of the consequential effects that are currently unfolding within the South Carolina prison system, due to not having a educated leader. Lets begin with the devils head “STAFF SHORTAGE“.

Not having an educated leader the, judicial committee was ill advised on the  measures needed to sufficiently address the staff shortage. Relying solely on, pay increase as their only move in addressing crisis, they quickly came to learn  that obtaining recruits was not the underlining problem, KEEPING THEM BECAME THE NEW DEVILS HEAD. Unfortunately even with pay hike and a steady flow of recruits the department is experiencing 8 out of 10 dropout of new recruits.

One of the uneducated moves of Mr.Bryan Stirling’s commission, was that of bringing the standards of being a correctional officer in the  state of South Carolina down to the lowest level of a simple HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA with PASSING A URINE TEST/Criminal backround check. Meeting these requirements laymen recruits were then immediately placed within high level maximum security prisons to work.

With lowering the qualifications and professional standards of becoming a correctional officer Mr.Stirlings directed his strategy at recruiting new recruits in the black communities by utilizing a black owned television station BounceTv of SC to force feed commercial after commercials with the slogan, “SCDC NOW HIRING,Medical Benefits.” For anyone who resided in SC experienced the bombardment of these commercials while watching BounceTv.It was these laymen recruits that Mr.Stirling was going to utilize to rescue his department from the crisis.

REALLY MR.STIRLING DID YOU BELIEVE YOU COULD MANAGE THE PROFESSION OF CORRECTIONS/PENOLOGY  WITH NONPROFESSIONALS?

It is ludicrous for Mr.Stirling to think that he can place laymen on the FRONTLINE OF SOUTH CAROLINA PRISON CRISIS.

New recruits quickly realized that FRONTLINE was attempting to control  prisoners that were being forced to live in grave conditions such as,  solitary population, ie.,
thousands of prisoners isolated to one housing unit, very limited movement within unit, majority time prisoners confined to individual cells, no job opportunity, nor structure, nor purpose, nor hope.

The experience needed to manage so many men in a prison  environment that lost all structure for a prisoner to obtain rehabilitation/productive growth, was to overwhelming for a simple laymen recruit and thus they abandoned their post or simply showed up to thier post and stayed out the way.

Mr.Stirling, it is frightening to think that you believe it’s appropriate to have non-trained, non-qualified individuals to handle and deal with people’s wellbeing. Your recruiting tactics do not  involve anyform of psychological testing for these laymen. Mr. Stirling do you honestly believe that your department’s mission can be upheld using laymen and laywomen, A MISSION SUCH AS;

Safety, Service, Stewardship
The mission of the South Carolina Department of Corrections is: Safety–we will protect the public, our employees, and our inmates. Service–we will provide rehabilitation and self-improvement opportunities for inmates. Stewardship–we will promote professional excellence, fiscal responsibility, and self-sufficiency.

SO HERE WE ARE STILL IN CRISIS WITH NO STAFF.

With the shortage of staff crisis baffling Mr.Stirling, he has now been forced to deal with a prison environment that is hostile and grasping for air. Sadly with the staff shortage crisis the mission to provide every prisoner an opportunity to rehabilitation has been abandoned and in turn he has began isolating thousands of prisoners to isolation cells.

In panic Mr.Stirling has reduced all management of prisoners services (ie.,Clothing,Feeding & Housing) to levels that raise question to whether or not they are of a constitutional minimal or even humane.

Clothing of prisoners:

No longer will indigent prisoners be provided Bo-Bos (tennis shoes) to participate in work or recreational activities,instead prisoners will be provided foam clogs to wear for all- purposes, including showers. ( note that the clogs are designed with openings all throughout the clog therefore during incliment weather prisoners feet are wet and exposed)

. The Health question to this new policy of only clogs, is prisoners are experiencing heavy cases of fungus due to foam clogs not being antibacterial material. Also consequential to the all foam clogs is that prisoners can no-longer participate in recreational activities. The new policy of foam clogs is discriminate in nature as well due to the fact that prisoners with financial support from family and friends can purchase tennis shoes or boots.

The discriminate nature of this policy has caused an increase in violence within the prison environment due to poor clog wearing prisoners robbing prisoners that are privileged with tennis shoes. Also concerning is the fact that poor prisoners with clogs must defend themselves from a possible assault  from privileged prisoners that are wearing  tennis shoes or boots, a task almost impossibe. It is appalling for Mr.Stirling to think that a man shouldn’t be given or need proper footwear in facing a difficult task/journey, such as doing year after year in prison. South Carolina is the only state to place thier condemned in clogs, other then another country such as North Korea.

Thousands of prisoners being unable to participate in recreational programs are clearly being denied the opportunity to learn very valuable lessons to assist in their  rehabilitation, such as sportsmanship, focus, & physical therapy.

Another policy of clothing that has been allowed to deterate and cause a disruption within the prison population is that of coats. No longer are South Carolina prisoners afforded insulated coats. Instead prisoners are issued a “material coat” ie, a coat made out of two layers of clothing material absent hoodie,or pockets,or insulation.

With prisoners being required to stand in line outdoors basically for all service regardless of weather conditions, including server weather, a prisoner should have a moral right to have protection let alone a constitutional right. Yet Mr.Stirling, wonders why prisoners have so much hostility toward his staff. YOU ARE FORCING THOUSANDS OF YOUR MEN TO STAND IN RAIN, SLEET, AND SNOW WITH OPEN TOE FOAM CLOGS AND A SHEET FOR A COAT. NO DIGNITY, NO PEACE.

Also indefer to clothing that Mr.Stirling has shown is that of presentation. No longer does the department wash prisoners clothing in detergent, instead prisoners clothing is washed with a odorless soapwater and processed through a machine designed to kill bacteria by way of vibration. The result of this process is body oil remains within clothing and bodyoil excubs from clothing. With no other clothing issued, prisoners live sleep and play in uniforms. No longer are prisoners issued longjohns,T-shirts, or shorts.

FEEDING OF PRISONERS;

South Carolina department of corrections website states that prisoners are fed in accordance with a master menu that is prepared by a nutritionist. Reading it, one will see that it says prisoners are receiving meals like, spaghetti with hot rolls,butter,string beans,cake,tea,or something like meatloaf,steamed rice, blackeye peas,cornbread,juice,cake.

Well not only is this very misleading, but it very much a lie. The state of South Carolina department of corrections no longer adheres to any master menu especially with the staff shortage crisis. Currently prisoners are being fed grounded up bird carcass inwhich they purchase for 30 cent a pound from chicken companies. It is purchased by the prison in bulk and stored in prison warehouse for up to six months and distributed to their prison throughout the state.

Prior to South Carolina prisoners consumeing the bird carcass this product was shipped to pet companies(known as pet grade meat). This bird carcass is served everyday except occasionally when once out the month prisoners may receive tuna, or actual chicken.

Though the USDA approves human consumption of this product, it insists that this product be cooked at higher temps then normal and more thourghly due to high risk of bacterial matters. This important necessity is often forgotten or disregarded due to no supervision of food preparations with the staff shortsge. Untrained prisoners often cook the bird carcass thus many times its raw. When prisoners complain to much about rawness of carcass, prison staff will then gravitize it so one can’t tell color of carcass.  With no staff to supervise food the department of corrections no longer includes ingredients such as sugar,salt, or pepper. With staff shortage feeding prisoners has become a free for all with bird carcass and cabbage.With no staff supervision inside chowhall it has become the most hostile spot in the department, with many prisoners not getting fed and conflicts arising. The department nolonger serve its prisoners real beef, or fruit.

EDUCATION/ REHABILITATION

As the commissioner of the department Mr.Stirring is aware that a third of his population is at a 6th grade level in education but yet the prison school building that can seat hundreds of prisoners is basically empty with ten or twenty privileged prisoners. Its heart breaking to see so many men grown men who can barely read but desire to but theres no outlet. The state of South Carolina is giving young teenagers 30 40 years then send them  back in the hole and deny their mind and soul, growth other then the growth in hostilities towards the ones who stand in their way of ever changing his life for the better. In the thirty years I’ve been incarcerated have I never seen the prison be out of supplies of books for prisoners to read. Now the only books that floataround the ppenitentiary are held together with tape. This abandonment of books and prison library is stsyematic with staff shortage. At all five of South Carolina’s maximum prison their library and school building is serving less then 5% of its population. Each day in South Carolina prisons thousands of men wake up each day with nothing but solitude with the spot they find amongst the chaos around them within the units. With no staff to support any programs the only activity a prisoner will get is the pacing back and forth in the units.

Never in thirty years until now have I ever seen a problem with prisoners having a chance to participate in playing basketball or hand ball, or just sitting under the sun reflecting on self. With no staff, recreation within the entire system is only ever blue moon..

The important fact here is that everybody understands that we are talking about thousands of men with idle hands each day in the belly of the beast and Mr.Stirling is scratching his head asking himself why all his max institutions have uprisings.

HOUSING/ISOLATION

Before I get into this topic lets put what ive said in perspective somewhat. Mr.Stirling doesn’t properly cloth his prisoners, he doesn’t properly feed his prisoners, and he doesn’t give them nothing but solitude life, and now he wants to force prisoners in their cell indefinite and while he is forcing you in, he is sealing your only window up,only sunlight out, with steel a piece of slab.O’Yeah lets not forget he just hired Bob off the couch to to be in control of this environment of making sure prisoners  stand still while they bury them their sunlight and strip any hope they might have had of change.

The darkness that Mr.Stirling is creating within these units through out his state max prisons has created so much chaos with so many uprising that four of his 5 max prisons are barely standing up and are infested with mold,crabs,stalph,lice and shit I can’t spell.

The sinks in 50% of MrStirling max prisons have water leaking or mold and rust in prisoners cells, this particular picture is from McCormick prison.

Picture of prison cell vent in cell where mold and excessive amount of dust blows out that it coats the walls around vent with layers of dustLights,plumbing and air haven’t been repaired. At the McCormick prison they have yet to put lights in any of their showers for the last five years. Thousands of prisoners are issued used stained molded mattress as seen in this photo from a prisoner at McCormick prison.

Bites of bed bugs is a norm for prisoners in SC. they see them as  mosquito bites,.In conclusion to this dilemma I can only ensure you Mr.Stirring that your attempt to manage a prison as if its a county jail and have prisoners standing to wait to die in the dark just as if a county prisoners waiting to leave county to go to prisonet then I can ensure you that four of your prisons will be stripped to the ground and i can pretty much predict Bob isn’t going to get off couch to help you pick up the pieaces.

Signed CONVICTMONEY

Picking up the torch of abolition: Millions for Prisoners Day of Action!

Words by Cole Dorsey of Oakland IWOC:

First, I’d like to say, on behalf of the Oakland Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, how honored we are to be here with you all today and standing up on behalf of the millions of people caught up in the prison or “justice” system and detention facilities  within the United States.

We’re out here in conjunction with all the people that are marching in DC on this day with the same message. We have a “justice system” that perpetuates the institution of racism in this country through its targeting of the most marginalized communities: people of color, woman, and the LGBT community. 

Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, or IWOC, is a project of the Industrial Workers of the World labor union and is an organization that is a couple of years old now. We now have over 1000 prisoners as union members and as many contacts that we communicate with in prisons across the country. As outside members of IWOC our job is to facilitate the formation of inside branches of the Union. Also to publicize and amplify the voices of prisoners as they relay their conditions and their fights for justice on the inside to those of us on the outside.

We like to think we are picking up the torch of the prisoner union movement that began with celebrated black revolutionary George Jackson when he called for a union for all prisoners. 

In my several years in prison I came to realize many things. One of which being that the punitive actions enforced within prisons are designed to break your spirit. From years of solitary confinement, to constant threats against your parole.  Also, I realized how greatly the prisons benefitted off the divisions that prisoners create by breaking up into racial gangs which is typical. 

Prison and the arbitrary punishments they use is a tool to break your spirit and will to fight. Where any perceived infraction of “the program” that they design for you to adhere to will be swiftly met with severe repercussions that range from: denial of parole, more charges, beatings, and even murder. These are just some of the threats prisoners face when they attempt to confront the system on their own. 

Despite this while i was in prison there were several collective actions that we prisoners took. They were all relatively spontaneous though and a reaction to an injustice like not receiving commissary one week so we all refused to lock down after dinner. Or when they refused to let my 8 man cell out for rec time and we decided to flood the whole cell block. Historically prisoners have taken collective action to better their conditions or to fight back. Prison officials always responded the same way by acting as if they would listen and heed our grievances but they only did that to get us back in our cells or stop what we were doing like flooding the cell block. Once all prisoners are locked up again and they feel they have the situation under control they try to single out and identify the “leaders” and use them as an example through severe punishment. 

That was exactly why they executed George Jackson. As an outspoken black man, revolutionary, and leader in the Black Panther Party he was considered very dangerous to this system by advocating for a prisoners union that cut across racial divisions. George Jackson knew that prisons only functioned because prisoners went to their prison jobs which predominately are jobs that keep the facilities running from laundry and maintenance, to food production and assembling prouducts for the state or other facilities to use. 

The IWW has always advocated that the working classes greatest strength is at the point of production. Thousands of prisoners across the country proved this fact by shutting down 24 prisons across the country last year on Sept 9 which coincided with the 45th anniversary of the Attica uprising. It was the largest coordinated action by prisoners in us history. Led by leaders of the Free Alabama movement, free Ohio movement, and IWOC. 

Strike leaders produced a document titled, “Let the crops rot in the fields” in the lead up to the prison strike last year which equated the institutionalization of slavery with the “exception clause” of the 13th amendment. So as slaves were forced to harvest crops by ‘letting the crops rot in the fields’ they meant “don’t go to work” and don’t prop up these institutions of our confinement. That document laid it out in real terms. Whereas during chattel slavery the landowner collected the profits and administered the punishments. After the Civil War and with the addition of the 13th amendment they codified slavery into law. Armed vigilante groups, which evolved and became the police as we know them today, would capture freed slaves on fabricated or wholly made up charges just to return them to the plantations they had supposedly just been freed from. only now they weren’t plantations they were called prisons and administered by the state. That was the back room deal made between northern industrialists and southern landowners so they didn’t lose their workforce. The landowner became the warden and the overseer became the guard. 

While the majority of prison jobs are to keep the facilities operating we’ve now increasingly seen large corporations getting into the prison game by seeing the potential profit margins they can secure with a workforce that they pay pennies and in some states don’t pay anything for the work they do. We’re talking about major corporations like the Bank of America, Exxon Mobil and McDonalds. At&t has been outsourcing their unionized workforce since the 90’s not to Mexico, not to India, but right here in the us to prisoners. 

One of our leaders, Kinetic Justice, who was a co-founder of the Free Alabama Movement broke it down like this: there is a reason they don’t offer these jobs that they do in prisons to people on the outside in those most affected marginalized communities. Its because they’ve realized these communities are more easily controlled inside prisons. Kinetic’s observation on control is that we are now in an age of increasing “surplus” populations and the government has been using prisons as their solution to that problem. 

A notable theorist recently pointed out that “”The purpose of prison is not to reap profits from people’s labor but to warehouse those for whom no profit-making work exists.”

We must see prison, juvenile halls, and immigrant detention centers for exactly what they are, which is a part of the institution of racism in this country and a vital component of the carceral state. 

So, with that being said while we support this effort at reform as it was called for by prisoners we also see it as only a strategy in the ongoing war against prisons. So we support reform efforts like this when called for by prisoners at the end of the day we are  prison abolitionists. We are revolutionaries.

Through our mutual political education classes and our collective analysis we recognize the prison and detention centers are used as a weapon to continue to subjugate Black and Brown people and women and to continue to perpetuate the institution of racism in this country.

While we’re able to bop white supremacists in the head when they try to rally, combating racism as its codified in the “justice system” will require the mutual aid and support of all of us on the outside by supplying material support when it’s needed, and also by amplifying,  and publicizing the voices of all of our brothers and sisters being held in prisons and detention centres and attempting to fight back collectively. Same goes for the over 5 million people on some type of monitoring e.g. probation, house arrest etc. They need our support and solidarity just as well. 

While we’re here today in solidarity with you all and the fight to repeal the “exclusion clause” of the 13th amendment let me conclude with this.

Even if the “exception clause” is repealed The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee will continue communicating and organizing with prisoners. We’ll continue building inside union branches and we’ll continue hitting the streets loud and hard when our incarcerated members call on us to. We’ll continue in our work until every single prison, every immigrant detention centre, and every juvenile hall in this country is completely empty.

Street talk tool – Bus Stop FAQ

At Oakland IWOC we are constantly seeking improvement in communication in all forms: online, organizationally, in outreach strategy.  Here we are presenting our Bus Stop FAQ – a quarter sheet to hand out in more casual spaces, in plain language. We present this here to share some of our tools towards our vision of a world without prisons, and to make available a format that organizers of other groups might want to use/read/replicate/improve upon.

 

WHAT IS THE INCARCERATED WORKER’S ORGANIZING
COMMITTEE?
We are workers, students, community and labor organizers,
ex-incarcerated folks, and family members of prisoners who
act upon our share vision of share a common vision of a world
without prisons. We help California inmates build power,
form a union that reaches over the wall, and fight to abolish
prisons everywhere, inside-out and outside-in. IWOC has
chapters across the country, in nearly every major city, and
nearly a thousand prisoners as members.

WHAT IS THIS ABOUT?
We believe that prisons exist to uphold a system of white
supremacy and suppress mass discontent under capitalism.
Prisoners are on the front lines of a war by the “haves” and the
“have-nots”. We believe that a strong, prisoner-led movement
is necessary in order to both fight back in that war, and to end                              the hyper-incarceration of black, brown, and poor people.

WHAT DO YOU DO?
As outside members we write prisoners, to hear their
concerns, to collaborate on actions, and to project voices into
the outside. We also:
 Promote solidarity with prisoner actions, such as with
phone blasts and demonstrations;
 Directly support releasees on our jail support nights;
 Produce research and writing critical of the U.S.
prison system;
 Organize mutual education workshops, panel
discussions, and social events;
 Meet with other groups dedicated to organizing in and
around prisons and the communities they most affect.

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom,
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other,
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
-Assata Shakur, Former U.S. Prisoner

The Closing of Rikers: A Survival Strategy of the Carceral State

Introduction

On Friday, March 31, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio advocated the closure of the city’s notorious Rikers Island facilities. The mayor’s decision comes on the heels of a rise in political scrutiny surrounding Rikers. A 2015 civil case resulted in increased federal oversight within the facilities, and stricter measures regarding the use of force. Despite the DOJ’s intervention, at least 35 staffers have faced criminal charges over the last three years.

We recognize that local jail reform activists have a vision beyond the closure of Rikers, and see this as a step forward in their greater plan of bail reform, decriminalization of their communities, and ending mass incarceration. However, setting aside the likelihood of the Lippman Commission’s plan for the closure actually even being fully executed, this move from the establishment is part of an ideological, political and development strategy. It is just the most recent example of the state successfully shifting public opinion without creating actual systemic change. Like realignment in California and the federal order to end private prisons, both of which just moved prisoners around, the Rikers closure is a well-designed smokescreen. It recuperates the political stability and palatability of incarceration while leaving intact all of its violence, injustice, and tragedy.

The Plan

Over the course of the last year, de Blasio has been one of increasingly few defenders of the facilities. His change of heart preempted Sunday’s release of a 97-page report produced by an independent commision headed by former chief judge Jonathan Lippman. The Lippman Commission has spent the last year trawling data, producing a plan for criminal justice and incarceration reform in New York that is centered on the closure of Rikers. Per the Commission’s report, titled A More Just New York City, closing Rikers would take at least ten years, and involves the construction of a new jail in each borough of the city. Construction of these state-of-the-art new facilities would constitute a 10.6 billion dollar project.

Currently, the ten facilities on Rikers Island are home to over three quarters of New York City’s incarcerated population. Thus its closure will require the city to cut its incarcerated population in half, from around 10,000 to below 5,500. This is to be accomplished, according to the commission’s recommendations, through diversion programs, pre-trial supervision, simplified bail, and raising the age of criminal responsibility. Proponents of the new jails argue that their benefits will include safer conditions for inmates and COs, easier visitation, transportation savings (the facilities will be adjacent to the courthouses that they serve), and also according to the report, will ultimately save the city $1.6 billion annually.

Thus, we see, the closing of the Rikers Island facilities is a strategic position taken by a popular progressive politician in an election year. It is ostensibly motivated by the political weight of the Lippman Commission’s report. However, it is important to understand the historical place of this move, as it plays a larger role in the state’s maintenance of control through carceral violence.

Money in Motion

The substantial material motivations of the Rikers closure are profit-driven from several angles. First, the island is prime real estate; development of an airstrip is being explored, plus surrounding and connected development. The Lippman Commission report makes vague reference to each of these development potentials. Given the housing economy in New York, it is easy to see that the land Rikers’ ten facilities sit on is a gold mine for local developers. Second, each site of the new jails will constitute a financial windfall for the city and local investors. How? The city/county will finance these projects through bonds. These bonds are a special kind of financial instrument. They are backed by the “full faith and credit” of the state. This means that they are zero risk investments for the finance capitalists who will be investing in this project. When and if the city reaches the point of planning and financing, it is likely that $10.6 billion will in actuality become a much greater sum. This will result in the necessity for emergency bonds, which will prove even more lucrative.

As we well know, prisons and jails function primarily as part of a system of social control. What we are less apt to recognize is that they also function as investment opportunities for finance capital; part of a ubiquitous flow of money from communities and cities into the hands of private investment firms. Thus the financial burden of prison infrastructure, in this case the new borough jails, is offset and shifted on to the taxpayer and the community at large. The community, mind you, that now has a brand new jail in it, perpetually signifying and reinforcing the universality of carceral control. Not only are Black, Brown and poor white people locked up and strangled as a class, we are also saddled with the cost of that control through convoluted subsidization to the financial sector, landholders, and developers, as well as through austerity.

Reform at Work in California

From the perspective of abolitionists operating in California, we see the Rikers closure as part of a highly effective appeasement strategy. In moments of rising public consciousness about injustice, the state engages in such strategies with the goal of recuperating public complicity. We saw this recently in California’s ‘prisoner realignment.’

Since the 1980s, California has seen an explosion in its incarcerated population due to a variety of legislative moves, most notably its unforgiving ‘three strikes’ law, mandating life sentences for three-time felony convictions. Overcrowding and systemic neglect were a natural result. In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the California system was so overcrowded it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. The case (Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Governor of California, et al., Appellants v. Marciano Plata et al., May 2011) centered on shortage of health care treatment, which in many cases, amounted to outright denial of mental and physical treatment. An average of one inmate per week was dying as a result these conditions. Among other things, the decision required the state to reduce the prison population (then 168,000) by 30,000.

The state’s solution was to pass the Public Safety and Realignment Initiative (AB109) in October of that year. Rather than providing a viable solution, this legislation shifted overcrowding to county facilities, a process referred to as ‘prisoner realignment.’ This legislation, in tandem with a reform to ‘three strikes’ the following year, and the ‘Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act’ (Prop 47) of 2014, created a sufficient picture of progress. Thanks to realignment, Merced county, for example, was able to report an increase in early releases while the average daily population of its two jails remained constant. They continue to operate at 113-146% of their approved capacity. In 2016, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation even had the audacity to boast a drastic decrease in the state’s recidivism rate over three years; but CDCR being California’s state prison system, this data was wholly blind to the drastic increase in people housed in county facilities.

Simply  put, realignment was an illusion. Data framing and statistical shades create a false picture of reform by hiding the numbers in other systems. The casual observer finds in realignment all of the trappings of real change and systemic reform — and thus political pressure is alleviated. Meanwhile, in reality, the rate and conditions of incarceration remain the same, or even in many cases worsen. Pretrial detainees in Merced county lament that they would rather be in state facilities where there are a variety of programs available. Many county facilities are unable even to maintain regular AA meetings.

We remain highly critical of the de Blasio administration’s recent political shift, because, to us, it smells the same. Rikers is an institution so legendary in its institutional violence that its maintenance and defense has simply become politically untenable. Its closure, however, changes nothing of substance. This tactic of political subterfuge can actually be seen more easily in the case of the Rikers Island closure than in California’s realignment strategy.

The Use of the Kalief Browder Story

The Rikers Island facilities gained increased scrutiny in recent years through the tragic case of Kalief Browder, a Black teenager who spent three years in jail for allegedly stealing a backpack. During his time at Rikers, Browder was repeatedly beaten and harassed by COs and other inmates, and spent most of his long ordeal in solitary confinement. While incarcerated, Browder also attempted suicide at least 5 times, and was never given psychiatric care. Having maintained his innocence and never been tried nor convicted, he was released in 2013, shortly after his 20th birthday. Painful trauma surrounding his confinement stuck with him, and on June 8, 2015 he took his own life.

Browder’s case would later become the rhetorical center of a movement to reform criminal justice practices in New York. Mayor de Blasio responded to this case by advocating reform in trial procedure, and eventually ending punitive solitary confinement for teenagers. “The death of Kalief Browder was a wake-up call to this city,” de Blasio said. “The number one reason we lost Kalief Browder was because he was held in solitary confinement… and that doesn’t exist anymore.” To city officials, Browder’s case illuminated the atrociously violent conditions of the facilities on Rikers Island, but not the routine criminalization and violence enacted against Black and Brown people, and not the nightmare of incarceration in general. Their strategy and rhetoric shows this clearly.

Browder took his life in the same summer that Michael Brown was murdered by police in Ferguson, Missouri, sparking the wave of uprising that birthed the Black Lives Matter movement. Race and the criminal justice system became increasingly present in popular consciousness. More recently, documentaries like 13th and the forthcoming Kalief Browder Inc. continue to force discussion of white supremacy, and to expose the american system of policing and prisons as an extension of slavery. Thus a political moment arises wherein the closure of the Rikers Island facilities becomes most politically advantageous. The single story of Kalief Browder draws attention not to incarceration, but to Rikers Island. And ultimately its emotional weight becomes something maneuverable to the ideological advantage of political officials. This comes to pass by allowing them to locate systemic violence within this particular institution, thus obscuring its historical necessity as part and parcel to the entire carceral system. As a result, the closing of Rikers is able to signify in the American consciousness a strike against systemic violence, even though it will not result in any change in the conditions and treatment of incarcerated people, and there is no evidence that it will affect rates of incarceration.

In Nov. 2016 Kalief’s brother Akeem Browder told Democracy Now! about the campaign to close Rikers that, “while we’re focused on Rikers what they’re doing is they’re abusing other human beings at other facilities.” In reality, the horrors that Kalief faced are not unique, and are certainly not limited to particular institutions. In the Washoe County Jail in Reno, 13 people have died from either suicide or force exercised by guards in just over two years. Four inmates died in Los Angeles County Jail within nine days just this month. The circumstances of these deaths are kept under wraps. The story of Kalief Browder is not a story about Rikers Island. It is a story about jails and prisons everywhere: a story about the ubiquitous criminalization of Black bodies, and how every facet of the criminal system functions to that end.

When we imagine carceral violence as exceptional and temporary, we are already under a spell. Realignment wove the illusion that carceral violence was a result of bad practice, something that can be fixed with time and electoral politics. The closure of Rikers also perpetuates this fiction, with the added fantasy that carceral violence is specific to the ‘worst’ facilities. But these facilities are not worse. They are the ones that simply happen to have gotten the most attention. Places like Rikers are part of a mythology that the horrors of incarceration are unique to these places that are known for their violence.

This phenomenon becomes perfectly clear in the words of New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm, who says of Rikers Island that, “It has become emblematic of all that is wrong with our criminal justice system.” The simple message at the heart of all this is: when Riker’s is closed all will be well. The rising awareness of racist institutions and systemic violence will then have every reason to recede. If de Blasio’s plan comes to fruition, in fact, there will be a memorial on Rikers Island (surely to be renamed) to commemorate “the legacy of harm inflicted by Rikers Island, especially on people and communities of color.” People will visit this memorial and marvel at our progress, while those very people and communities memorialized continue to face the same atrocious conditions in thousands of nameless facilities across the country. This is how reform operates.

From “All Prisoners are Political Prisoners”:

“The notion that Black political action can be regulated or controlled through an amelioration of material conditions is an old conversation, perhaps the oldest in the world made by imperialism. In every corner of this hemisphere to which our ancestors were brought in chains, slave masters wrote at length about the possibility of preventing rebellion and uprising by providing adequate rations, clothing, rest, and accommodations. A foundational assumption of white supremacy and capitalism is that Black and Indigenous people have no political personhood, and merely react spontaneously to material deprivations. Generations of novelists, scholars, and filmmakers, well into the present, have dutifully replicated the assumptions of slavemasters”

All Prisoners Are Political Prisoners: The #VaughnUprising and How Ignoring Hostage Strategy Forgoes Our Freedom

Reference Links

The Lippman Report – A More Just New York City: Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform (PDF)

SF Gate – Brutality case sparks debate over closing New York jail

U.S. DOJ – letter establishing basis for independent monitor (PDF)

NY Times – Rikers Island Commission Unveils Plan to Shut Down Jail Complex

NY Times – Mayor Backs Plan to Close Rikers and Open Jails Elsewhere

Center for Court Innovation – A More Just New York City: Rethinking Rikers Island

Democracy Now! – Shut Down Rikers: Meet Akeem Browder, Who Is Fighting to Close Jail That Took His Brother’s Life

Reno Gazette-Journal – Death Behind Bars series

KTLA – After 4 Recent Inmate Deaths, Protesters Call for Changes in L.A. County Jails

Merced Sun-Star – Merced County jail releases on the rise since realignment

QNS – Closing Rikers Island poses many challenges to Queens residents and those finding the solutions

 

Oakland IWOC Update

  1. Another hunger strike set to begin in Riverside County!
  2. Prisoner demands remain ignored in weeks after Vaughn uprising
  3. Upcoming film showing: “The Prison In Twelve Landscapes”
  4. Next chapter meeting and the work that is underway.
  5. Original essay from inside, “The Relationship Between Master/Slave”

The Oakland chapter of IWOC just keeps growing and deepening. And on the inside? Prisoners stay on the move. Here’s our newsletter on recent developments and upcoming events with the bonus of an original essay sent to Oakland IWOC from inside a CA max facility.


Hunger Strike in Riverside County Jails begins April 13, 2017

Prisoners in a county level facility yet again take the initiative and organize to press their demands. And in every facility we find demands that are nearly identical, not due to some coordination or conspiracy, but due to the systemic and near uniform disregard for basic living conditions across the state.

Core demands

Adequate clothing and food. An end to commissary profiteering by vendors. Behavior based solitary as opposed to arbitrary and indefinite solitary. Educational, self-help and religious programs.

From the Riverside organizers inside:

The following is in regards to a peaceful protest in the form of an organized hunger strike in the Riverside County Jails.  Said hunger strike will begin at breakfast April 13, 2017 and end at breakfast May 1, 2017 a total of 17 days.

First off, allow us to stress the fact that by no means is this to be considered an attempt to promote or benefit any form of gang, nor is this to be considered gang activity. This is a peaceful request/call for action to all, regardless of race, creed, and classification. This pertains to all prisoners held in Riverside County Jails. We all serve to benefit from any success that may transpire as a result of our collective efforts.

With this in mind we are now reaching out to all like-minded prisoners who are willing and interested in banding together in a united stance of solidarity in order to bring about meaningful forms of change. We respectfully ask anybody that is not taking part in the strike to respect our efforts and show other forms of support by not accepting extra county food. We all have a stake and common interest. In preparation we encourage you to inform and involve your friends and family, have them show their support by calling the jail during our hunger strike to voice their concerns, ask that they get our message out to social media and traditional media and by reaching out to prisoners support organizations to help further push and inspire our efforts.

For their full statement and demands: https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/2017/03/28/hunger-strike-in-riverside-county-jails-begins-april-13-2017/


Prisoner Demands Remain Ignored in Weeks after Vaughn Uprising

The Delaware powers that be continue to double down on repression in the wake of a prisoner uprising that involved the taking of hostages and a guards death on February 1, 2017. Brian Sonenstein of the Shadowproof project follows up on the state response  as well as speaking to Kim Wilson, (an active abolitionist, scholar and mother of two sons incarcerated in Vaughn) on the history at the facility, the community’s response, and the ongoing organizing.

From the article:

A closer look at the treatment of prisoners post-uprising provides insight into officials’ posture and response to date. Wilson’s sons were not in Building C when the uprising occurred, but she shared some of the things she learned from the community network of families, friends, and loved ones, that exists on the outside.

People were beaten, bones broken and bodies bruised, after law enforcement bulldozed through a barricade of footlockers to retake the dorm. There was little-to-no medical treatment provided to those in need. Some people were unable to get their diabetes medications.

Housing units were occupied by “response teams” of officers clad in riot gear. Cells were searched and property was confiscated, destroyed, and strewn about as officials combed for contraband and potential evidence. One mother told Wilson of strip searches, in which the incarcerated had to stand naked and face taunting officers for hours.

https://shadowproof.com/2017/03/10/prisoner-demands-remain-ignored-weeks-vaughn-rebellion/


Upcoming film showing: “The Prison in Twelve Landscapes”

Tues, April 18 , 7pm
The New Parkway, 474 24th St., Oakland

The good folks of Critical Resistance are sponsoring the showing of this acclaimed film at the New Parkway as a benefit for their work as well as leading a post-film discussion. A few IWOC folks will definitely be there to support as well as take part in the post film discussion.

On the film:

A film about the prison and its life in the American landscape.

More people are imprisoned in the United States at this moment than in any other time or place in history, yet the prison itself has never felt further away or more out of sight. The Prison in Twelve Landscapes is a film about the prison in which we never see a penitentiary. Instead, the film unfolds as a cinematic journey through a series of landscapes across the USA where prisons do work and affect lives, from a California mountainside where female prisoners fight raging wildfires, to a Bronx warehouse full of goods destined for the state correctional system, to an Appalachian coal town betting its future on the promise of prison jobs.

For more on the film: https://www.prisonlandscapes.com/

For more on Critical Resistance: http://criticalresistance.org/about/


The local Oakland IWOC chapter happenings!

We’re developing on a lot of fronts…

regularized meetings: 1st and 3rd Tuesdays, (1st Tuesday is open, 3rd is members only)
getting the correspondence work sorted out, developing each others’ skills as writer-organizers
about to have our second internal political education session, “LifeInside”: ex-incarcerated people sharing their knowledge and educating on just what daily life is like inside in a variety of different level facilities (sorry, this on is members only for now)

working groups!: folks are sorting out into the areas to put in that work – outreach, fundraising, media/research, political education
Santa Rita support: we’re about to kick off offering direct material support to releasees and visitors on regular evenings outside Alameda county’s main jail, Santa Rita: hot food, drinks, charged phones, rides to BART, etc. and no proselytizing. Solidarity first!  Survival program, mutual aid, building relationships…

And this work we do takes financial support. We’re growing and this work that we have taken on takes money. WE GOT THE HANDS. YOU CAN GIVE US THE TOOLS TO BUILD.

https://iwocoakland.wordpress.com/support/


And to wrap up, a short original essay from a brother struggling and writing inside.

The Relationship Between Master/Slave

by “Lucio Cabañas”, an Oakland IWOC contact inside a CA max level facility

Salutes and respects to all the members of this society working for a better world. I read your ad at the prison focus newsletter. (Summer 2016)
It seems to me that the prisoner movement in California for real reform is stagnated. We have become dangerously pacified, comfortable, and content.

A few trinkets and privileges were thrown our way and we believed that to be a victory. However; what about real changes?; the California Parole Board (PBH) is still up to its old tricks of denying parole; under false pretences with no hope of a change.

Something that we need to realize is that the “PBH” WILL NEVER REALLY CHANGE: because its whole existence depends in the perpetual slavery of tens of thousands of society’s most marginalized segments of the population. And that is why it keeps denying parole to thousands of eligible slaves. There are plenty of cases where 70 year old men are denied parole; because they represent a danger to society. The irony of the situation doesn’t doesn’t escape my mind; that these same hypocrites turn a blind eye to the killings of brown and black men at the hands of corrupt police.

As long as we the slaves keep showing up to work for free or for an extra lunch bag, we will always be doomed and die as slaves; easily replaced by future lumpen generations. We need to wake up and realize that we are slaves. And second, that we have the keys to our freedom; without our cooperation to willingly provide our free labor the beast will starve to death. Truly speaking, no matter what we did, we don’t deserve a lifetime of slavery, decades of isolation (CDC’s segregation units); and the occasional execution in the killing fields. (At prison yards and the ghettos)

They can twist it any way that they want and sing the same old song: that we are the worst of the worst. But that is the propaganda specifically designed to feed the ignorant masses. At no point in history has this country and racist ruling class had such an obedient, peaceful, ignorant and comfortable slave population where they willingly get up every day to work the fields and sweat shops for free, or for a ridiculous $0.15 cents an hour. Where is our pride, honor, power of reasoning and right to live and die as free men?
What are we waiting for, to be 70, 80, or 90 years old? No fascist regime in the world has ever conceded nothing without a struggle. When every single slave says in one voice “Enough!” I won’t work for free any more as our ancestors did. “Let the crops rot in the field.” That will get their attention, and they will come to the negotiating table; because the plantation can’t afford to be in lock down and lose money.

The U$A’s ~slave~ has been so brainwashed and manipulated that he looks forward to get out of his cage to go to his “work.” And when the master doesn’t open his cage’s door, the slave gets upset and yells. Because he doesn’t care any longer, his warrior spirit has been broken. And if someone comes along and tells him that it doesn’t have to be this way and that he can be “free” of perpetual slavery, the slave would consider this to be dangerous talk. And he will be scared to lose his electronics, jobs, visits, commissary and telephone calls. He has become officially and comfortably institutionalized as a slave.

The slave has been dependent for most of his life; that sometimes, it doesn’t register that he has been treated and spoken to as if he were a child. This is why real history books and TV documentaries with some intellectual value are banned at all these plantations. This information may give the slave the wrong ideas about equality, freedom and justice. The state can’t afford to educate the enslaved population.

So garbage is played 24/7 in our TV sets and the purchase of tablets with unlimited children’s games is encouraged. Those who try to wake up the masses are eliminated or isolated. It all depends on the individual’s capacity to lead and inform about his understanding of the predicament in which we have become entangled. One thing is for sure: he knows that his enemy is not the slave in the cage next door.”


Solidarity!
Oakland IWOC