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Mumia Abu-Jamal Remains the Voice of the Voiceless

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Black August Series No. 2

After 40 years of incarceration the “voice of the voiceless” remains a focus of international attention

Mumia Abu-Jamal

Mumia Abu-Jamal speaks at a memorial for Fred Hampton in Philadelphia. Source : commonnotions

During the late 1960s, Mumia Abu-Jamal became a youth activist in the city of Philadelphia where a succession of racist police chiefs engaged in widespread abuse against the African American community.

Philadelphia has a centuries-long history of African self-organization dating back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries when the Free African Society, African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) and other institutions were formed by Richard Allen, Sarah Allen and Absalom Jones.

During mid-19th century, the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society provided avenues for men and women to build support for the Underground Railroad and the movement to completely eradicate involuntary servitude in the antebellum border and deep southern states. By the 1960s, the city became known as one of the first municipalities where African Americans would rise up in rebellion on the north side during the late August 1964.

Max Stanford (later known as Muhammad Ahmed), a co-founder of the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) in 1962, was from Philadelphia. RAM proceeded the Black Panther Party (BPP) and sought to form an alliance with Malcolm X (also known as El Hajj Malik Shabazz), a leading spokesman for the Nation of Islam and later the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). RAM advocated for the development of a revolutionary movement in the U.S. and consequently became a target of the Justice Department.

In 1969, Mumia joined the Black Panther Party at the age of 15 when the organization was deemed by the then Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) J. Edgar Hoover as the “greatest threat to national security” in the United States. The Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) had a special division which was designed to monitor, disrupt, imprison and kill various leaders and members of African American organizations from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the BPP as well as a host of other tendencies. Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) since the mid-to-late 1970s indicate that the BPP was a principal target of the U.S. government and local police agencies.

Why was the BPP considered so dangerous by the leading law-enforcement agency inside the country? In order to provide answers to this question it must be remembered that between 1955 and 1970, the African American people led a struggle for civil rights and self-determination which impacted broad segments of the population in the U.S. helping to spawn movements within other oppressed communities.

The Black Panther Party was first formed in Lowndes County Alabama in 1965. Its origins grew out of the organizing work of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), whose field organizer, Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture) was deployed to the area in the aftermath of the Selma to Montgomery march in late March of the same year. Working in conjunction with local activists, an independent political party was formed known as the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO). The group utilized the black panther as its symbol while rejecting both the Republican and Democratic Party. 

In subsequent months, there were other Black Panther organizations formed in several cities including Detroit, Cleveland, New York City and other urban areas. In Oakland, California during October of 1966, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. 

This movement represented an emerging phase of the Black liberation struggle where there were calls for armed self-defense, mass rebellion and the political takeovers of major municipalities by those who had been excluded from the reins of official power. Thousands of African American youth flocked to the Black Panther Party viewing the organization as a symbol of uncompromising resistance to racism, national oppression and economic exploitation.

Mumia and the BPP

Although the BPP was projected in the national corporate media as gun toting militants willing to use weapons against the police when they were threatening the Party and the community, most of the work of the organization revolved around distribution of its weekly newspaper, the establishment of free breakfast programs for children, community health clinics for the people in the most oppressed areas of the African American community while building alliances with revolutionary forces among other sectors of the population including, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Asians, Native Americans and whites committed to fundamental change within U.S. society.

Mumia noted the diversity of programmatic work during his tenure in the BPP of the late 1960s and early 1970s in his book entitled “We Want Freedom”: “As the Breakfast program succeeded so did the Party, and its popularity fueled our growth across the country. Along with the growth of the Party came an increase in the number of community programs undertaken by the Party. By 1971, the Party had embarked on ten distinctive community programs, described by Newton as survival programs. What did he mean by this term? We called them survival programs pending revolution. They were designed to help the people survive until their consciousness is raised, which is only the first step in the revolution to produce a new America.… During a flood the raft is a life-saving device, but it is only a means of getting to higher ground. So, too, with survival programs, which are emergency services. In themselves they do not change social conditions, but they are life-saving vehicles until conditions change.” (

On December 4, 1969, the Chicago police under the aegis of the Illinois State’s Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan and the Chicago field office of the FBI, raided the residence of BPP members on the city’s west side. Two Panther leaders, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were killed while several other occupants of the house were wounded. 

These police actions along with hundreds of other attacks on BPP chapters across the country resulted in the deaths of many Panther members and the arrests and framing of hundreds of cadres. Numerous BPP members were driven into exile as others were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. 

The Voice of the Voiceless from the Streets to Death Row

On December 9, 1981, Mumia was arrested in Philadelphia and charged with the murder of white police officer Daniel Faulkner. He was railroaded through the courts and convicted on July 3, 1982. The following year, Mumia was sentenced to die by capital punishment. He remained on death row until 2011 after an international campaign to save his life proved successful.

However, his death sentence was commuted to life in prison without parole. Mumia and his supporters have maintained that he is not guilty of the crime of killing a police officer. 

After his sojourn in the BPP, Mumia utilized his writing and journalist skills learned in the Party to become a formidable media personality in Philadelphia. He was a fierce critic of police brutality and a defender of the revolutionary MOVE organization which emerged during the 1970s in the city. 

Mumia was a co-founder of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) in the 1970s. He worked as a radio broadcaster and writer exposing the misconduct of the police surrounding the attack on the MOVE residence in August 1978. In 1979, he interviewed reggae superstar Bob Marley when he visited Philadelphia for a concert performance.

While behind bars Mumia has become an even more prolific writer and broadcast journalist. He issues weekly commentaries through Prison Radio where he discusses a myriad of topics including African American history, international affairs, political economy, the deplorable conditions existing among the more than two million people incarcerated in the U.S. along with police misconduct. (

A renewed campaign entitled “Love Not Phear” held demonstrations around the U.S. and the world during the weekend of July 3 marking the 40th anniversary of his unjust conviction in 1982. Love Not Phear says that it is committed to the liberation of all political prisoners including Mumia Abu-Jamal.

An entry on their website emphasizes that: “The landscape has changed over the last 40 years, a time frame that also marks the years Mumia has been incarcerated. The fight for the release of political prisoners requires a recalibration in order to challenge police corruption and racism as they have evolved in this new landscape. We cannot deny the racism, corruption, and misconduct that permeated the so-called ‘Halls of Justice’ during Mumia’s arrest and unjust kangaroo court trial. The people today know the truth; commonplace bribed witnesses, suppressed evidence, biased judges, and backroom deals put Mumia behind bars.” (

Mumia through his attorneys have filed another appeal based upon evidence related to prosecutorial misconduct which has been further revealed over the last four years. The hearing will take place on October 19 in Philadelphia. Supporters of Mumia and other political prisoners will attend the hearing in this latest attempt to win the long-awaited freedom for this activist who is now 68 years old




The Nat Turner rebellion.

In 1831 a slave named Nat Turner led a rebellion in Southhampton County, Virginia. A religious leader and self-styled Baptist minister, Turner and a group of followers killed some sixty white men, women, and children on the night of August 21. Turner and 16 of his conspirators were captured and executed, but the incident continued to haunt Southern whites. Blacks were randomly killed all over Southhampton County; many were beheaded and their heads left along the roads to warn others. In the wake of the uprising planters tightened their grip on slaves and slavery. This woodcut was published in an 1831 account of the slave uprising.

Angela Davis on Ahmaud Arbery’s killing, racism, prison abolition, animal rights and capitalism.

Statement in Support of Pennsylvania Politikal Prisoners: Building Upon the Legacies of Political Prisoners to Bring Them Home

by Abolitionist Law Center and Amistad Law Project

As poor communities and communities of color continue to wade through a gauntlet of crises, it is encouraging to see movements and organizations building and seeking solidarity to wage a concerted rescue. It is for this reason that we must now, at this moment in our people’s historical arch of resistance and struggle, extend a last ditch lifeline to our movement’s political prisoners who are on their last legs and in many cases literally their last breath; and who as seniors constitute the most vulnerable among us. Our movement’s political prisoners, who, despite surviving countless hostile encounters with the state’s security forces, are on the verge of succumbing to old age and infirmities behind the walls and gun towers of the empire’s Prison Industrial Complex.

It is also encouraging to see one of the main issues of these communities — mass incarceration — come front and center in public consciousness. To see it be recognized as the continuation of slavery, and more folks be proud to bear the mantle of abolitionist, is heartening. We are witnessing a rising tidal wave of consciousness that has the potential of lifting society to a higher level of humanity. The need to reform or outright abolish the current legal system has never been as mainstream as it is today. Just as the abolitionist movement, the suffragist movement, the civil rights movement, and the Black Liberation/Black Power movement, were all thrusts to humanize this society, today’s criminal legal reform and prison abolition movements also have the potential to make this society more humane. This “mainstreaming” of criminal justice reform is the result of the tireless efforts of activists, families, and advocates not abandoning their loved ones and communities to the beast of mass incarceration.

However, today’s prison abolitionist and prison reform movement will fall woefully short of fully humanizing American society if it allows the issue of political prisoners to be perceived as a radioactive idea. Because of this reactionary and unfortunate perception among certain sectors of the reform movement, some of these political prisoners themselves have opted to be excluded from any reform or abolition campaign. They perceive themselves as radioactive to the fight. This is a sad resignation on the part of our greatest living champions of justice. This thinking has as much to do with the graciousness and self-sacrifice of our warriors behind bars as it does to the way the movement itself has allowed the idea of radioactivity, futility, and “lost cause,” to influence and infect its direction and sense of justice.

In Pennsylvania, Russell Maroon Shoatz, Fred Muhammad Burton, Joseph JoJo Bowen and Mumia Abu-Jamalhave languished in prisons for decades. They are now seniors and in poor health. Nationally, Ruchell Cinque Magee, Ramaine “Chip” Fitzgerald, Sundiata Acoli, Dr. Mutulu Shakur, Jalil Muntaquin, Ed Poindexter, Kamau Sadiki, Kojo Bomani Sababu, Leonard Peltier, Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, Veronza Bowers, and Rev. Joy Powellare among the longest interned human political prisoners in the world. These are our Nelson Mandelas. They are all not just our elders, but now our elderly. They resist the passage of time, and the effects of long term solitary confinement, unconscionable abuses, and prison machinations, that have led to terminal illness in many of them. Not just every day that they make it through, but every breath that they take, is an act of defiance and preservation of dignity.

We believe that not seeing the movement to free political prisoners as part of the movement for criminal legal reform is partly the cause of the increased distancing and alienation of political prisoners from the criminal legal reform movement. This all has helped to increase the isolation of the movement to free political prisoners and have led to a costly loss of steam in that movement. There are also many within the mainstream criminal justice reform movement who don’t want it to be associated with the radical politics that define political prisoners. This distancing and alienation of political prisoners from the criminal legal reform and abolitionist movements, which they helped birth and gave thrust and vision to, is unacceptable.

As part of the movement for prison abolition and criminal justice reform the Abolitionist Law Center and Amistad Law Project rejects the idea, whether strategic or tactical, that political prisoners are radioactive to the fight for social and criminal justice. We are committed to a strong thrust to revive the campaign to free US political prisoners. However, we believe that this thrust and campaign must also incorporate a critical collective examination of the previous struggles of the Political Prisoner movement. This would fortify an analysis of contemporary conditions for the purpose of projecting a new vision for the political prisoner movement that is integral to the abolitionist and reform movement at large. This collective examination revolves around a recommitment to Restorative and Transformative Justice centered on healing, accountability, compassion and restoration. It would also recognize the harm suffered and the enduring harm that retribution causes to the families of political prisoners, the injured family’s parties, and our communities. This cycle must be broken.

The Abolitionist Law Center and Amistad Law Project are committed to supporting and helping to lead the fight for the release of Pennsylvania’s political prisoners through whatever legal means available and necessary, be it compassionate release, clemency, or pardons. We encourage prison abolitionists and prison reform movements to prioritize the cases of political prisoners. We will devote resources to the rebuilding of a Jericho Pennsylvania Chapter. Our support for Political Prisoners will not be conditioned upon guilt or innocence, nor will we prioritize or lift claims of innocence.

We believe that prioritizing the innocence of our political prisoners runs the risk of continually miring our efforts to get them released in the never ending retrying and relitigation of their cases. Our position is that our political prisoners have served enough time and it is time to bring them home. They have served over 40 years and are in their 70’s and 80’s. Many are among the longest held political prisoners in the world. Statistically, they are in the age group that poses no threat to the community or society at large. In fact, their continued incarceration serves absolutely no more purpose other than endless retribution. We believe that with over 40 years served we can firmly say retribution has run its course.

We call on the prison abolition and criminal justice reform movements, and supporters of Political Prisoners, to join with us in committing to the following points:

1.) Organize and support efforts for compassionate release of Political Prisoners through executive clemency and/or other means available.

2.) Provide letters supporting clemency for political prisoners from criminal justice reform groups and restorative justice advocacy groups.

3.) Obtain letters supporting compassionate release from state representatives and politicians representing our communities.

4.) Advocate for a reconciliation and restorative justice process between Political Prisoners and the victims in the cases for which they were convicted.

5.) Creation of space for political prisoners in the criminal legal reform campaigns, such as the campaigns to end life without parole/death by incarceration, to release aging prisoners, to include violent cases in the equation of criminal justice reform, and to release those human beings who are most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. This would include providing space for political prisoner cases to be represented on every movement organization’s agenda, including rallies and other actions.

6.) Establishment of a Pennsylvania chapter of Jericho to help consolidate and assist all campaigns to free the state’s political prisoners. 



Prisoners avoid admitting they are sick because they don’t want to be put in solitary, so nurses go cell to cell to take their temperatures.

Juan Moreno Haines is an award-winning incarcerated journalist and a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. This article was made possible by a grant from the Solitary Confinement Reporting Project, which is managed by Solitary Watch with funding from the Vital Projects Fund.

Flu epidemics, which have been common at San Quentin State Prison, can turn someone’s life upside down. Take for example the story of 52-year-old Michael D. Adams.

It was the 2019 flu season. Adams sat on his bunk in a prison housing unit. More than 700 men were held there, double-bunked in windowless cells stacked five tiers high, each smaller than the average bathroom.

His head throbbed and his body ached. Dryness scratched at his throat. A suffocating fever burned through him. But he was unwilling to seek medical help.

“Inmate Adams, cell 282, report to the front desk,” a loudspeaker blared in San Quentin’s North Block.

Adams’s discomfort turned to fear as he got off his bunk and went to a stainless steel sink attached to the cell’s back wall. He splashed water on his face. Then he spat into the cell’s shiny toilet.

“Are you all right?” his cellmate asked.

“I feel like shit,” Adams replied. Bloodshot eyes stared back at him in a handheld plastic mirror. The call to the front desk was for a scheduled eye examination. Every medical examination includes a routine temperature check. If he had a fever, there could be consequences.

Adams reluctantly got dressed. He grabbed his prison ID out of his locker. A correctional officer showed up at his cell to escort him. As predicted, when he got to medical, a nurse took his temperature. It read 101.3.

During flu season, incarcerated people at San Quentin know high fevers mean you are going to the hold. So Adams thought about raising hell, but didn’t want to make a scene.

The nurse alerted the public health supervisor. Adams was told he would be screened for the flu and was taken to the triage section of the medical department. There, a nurse took a swab from the inside of his mouth. He overheard a doctor say, “If he’s sick, he needs to be in Carson.” Prisoners in Carson are held in solitary confinement and it is known as The Hole.

“This is only temporary,” the physician told Adams.

A sergeant then read Adams a lock-up order. “Because of your sickness, you have been deemed a threat to the safety and security of this institution.” The sergeant told him that this language was the “only way” the prison could move him to Carson to increase his security to maximum.

Punished for getting sick

Like Adams, prisoners at San Quentin are regularly punished for being sick.

In early February last yearthe 167-year-old Northern California prison was on the verge of an influenza outbreak. Prison officials feared an epidemic because, two years earlier, an older prisoner had contracted the flu and died.

West Block was under a quarantine that kept prisoners confined to their cells, with the exception of walking to the chow hall for their meals and to the showers once every three days.

In North Block, correctional officers escorted nurses from cell to cell to take prisoners’ temperatures. If a prisoner’s temperature was 100 degrees or higher, he was sent to medical isolation.

San Quentin’s medical isolation policy requires that patients be placed in rooms with solid doors that restrict outward-flowing air.

North and West Blocks have cells with bars, and air flows freely in and out. Since Carson has cells with perforated steel doors, prison officials use it for medical isolation. Carson, however, was designed to administratively segregate prisoners from the general population pending disciplinary action, for a prisoner’s safety, or for institutional security. It is therefore staffed with correctional officers, not nurses as in a hospital.

The National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) defines medical isolation as housing patients in separate rooms with a separate toilet, hand-washing facility, soap, single-use towels, and appropriate accommodations for showering.

The standard requires that the facility have a comprehensive program that includes surveillance, prevention, and control of communicable diseases. Prisoners with contagious diseases are to be identified, and if indicated, medically isolated in a timely fashion. Infected patients are to receive medically indicated care.

NCCHC’s Infectious Disease Prevention and Control compliance indicators for respiratory isolation say that patients are to be housed in functional negative-pressure rooms that are inspected monthly to verify that the unit is clean and sanitary.

‘Anything to stay out of The Hole’

In 2010, San Quentin’s Central Health Care Service Building was completed, costing $136 million. The facility has a designed capacity of 45 medical beds.

A 2017 Pew Charitable Trusts report showed that from 2014-15, California racked up the highest average healthcare cost per prisoner in the nation at $19,796 for each of the approximately 120,000 prisoners housed in the state’s 35 prisons. The nationwide median average healthcare cost per prisoner was $5,720.

Despite the high cost, San Quentin’s new facility included only 10 rooms dedicated to prisoner patients, former Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elena Tootell told San Quentin News in 2017. “Inmate patients placed in medical beds are those who are the most vulnerable, the ones who could die from their illnesses. This is where my sickest patients are. The remaining beds are for psychiatric patients,” Tootell said.

San Quentin’s medical isolation policy is not new.

In 2017, Angelo Ramsey of North Block informed his work supervisor that he wasn’t feeling well and a nurse came to his cell to take his temperature. It read 101.3. Three other prisoners were taken along with him to Carson for having high temperatures, he said.

Another prisoner, Edward Dewayne Brooks, said he now takes precautions to avoid a repeat of a 2017 experience that landed him in Carson.

“When it’s flu season, I say to myself, ‘Here comes a lockdown,’” Brooks said in a June 2019 interview.

He added that if he feels like he might have a fever and a nurse wants to take his temperature, he fills his mouth with cold water and holds it, hoping the fever won’t register. “Anything to stay out of The Hole,” he said.

In West Block, Reggie Wimberly, then 63 years old, was sent to Carson in February 2019 after a nurse took his temperature. It registered in the triple digits. The following morning, he said, “they stripped me out, handcuffed me and took me straight to The Hole.”

Unsanitary conditions

Adams said his treatment on the way to Carson was harsh and demeaning.

“I felt humiliated walking past everyone going to The Hole,” Adams said. He said he was handcuffed tightly from behind while having to carry his property. As he passed by, prisoners asked him what was happening. He told them he had a high temperature.

Once at Carson, a correctional officer put Adams in a holding cage and gave him linen that his cellmate had packed for him. Feeling weak, he balled up his coat and rested on top of it on the floor in the fetal position.

“I felt like I was in a new prison, tried and convicted of being sick,” Adams said.

The cell he was assigned, he said, was filthy and littered with dirty clothes. Old medication lay strewn about. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation says it cleans out medical isolation cells between each use.

“I wondered if I would be contaminated, since it was supposed to be an isolation cell,” Adams said. He was exhausted. He took the old linen off the bunk, put it by the door, climbed in the bunk, and fell asleep.

The next day Adams got tooth powder, soap, and toilet paper, but he didn’t get to shower until the third day. He wanted to write home and let his family know what was happening, he said, but he wasn’t given writing material.

Other prisoners who were isolated have reported similar conditions.

Brooks said that the cell assigned to him in 2017 had snot blown on the walls and was extremely grimy and dustyHe said he wiped down the bed space with his socks and a bit of soap.

“I stayed up all night trying to figure out how to clean the cell,” Brooks said. “I’m sitting in The Hole, totally isolated. The only time I saw anyone was when an officer escorted someone to a hearing. I felt like I was in The Hole for nothing. I felt humiliated.”

And, maddeningly, he couldn’t get a consistent answer about why he was there.

“When I asked an officer, ‘Why am I being treated like this?’ he said I am here because of medical,” Brooks said. “But when I asked someone from medical the same question, they told me that they didn’t have any control on how The Hole is run.”

For Wimberly, the problem was not a dirty cell, but a very bright light that stayed on all night.

“The only thing I could do is tape a paper bag in front of it,” Wimberly said. “It was very hard to sleep and get comfortable.”

Dangerous indifference

Adams’s temperature dropped to normal after his first day in medical isolation, and he wondered how long he would have to stay in Carson. He was feeling stronger and getting restless.

Health officials say flu vaccinations may not prevent someone from contracting the flu, but being vaccinated could shorten the life of the virus in the body. Adams had taken the flu vaccination the past three years.

“I’m in The Hole and nobody is telling me what’s happening to me,” Adams said. “I determined that I would have to make a little noise to get something going on. So I asked the CO on the tier if I was slated to go.”

When the correctional officer came back with confusing information regarding his security status, Adams yelled that he wanted to talk to a sergeant.

Less than an hour later, a nurse who Adams knows came to his cell and asked him why he’s still in Carson.

“I told her that I haven’t had a temperature in four days, but I’m still here,” Adams said. Medical had cleared him to re-enter the main prison population the day before.

Adams recalled feeling disregarded, discounted, and unimportant. They didn’t care that he was well enough to leave, he thought, and he doubted they would care if he’d gotten worse.

“If I were dying at that moment, I’d die because they don’t care,” he said.

Later that day, he was released from Carson.

“It’s scary to be a man of a certain age after your health is compromised and be in a place that doesn’t seem to care if you’re dying,” Adams said. “I was pretty upset about that. It highlighted the warehousing effect of prison and the poor protocols that are in place in the event of a real health care crisis.”

In Wimberly’s view, sending people to Carson for medical isolation doesn’t make sense.

“I didn’t get a write-up or anything,” Wimberly said. “They kidnapped me and took me to The Hole. I had already lost my job at the canteen due to back injury. Now they said that I can’t get it back because being taken to The Hole is a disciplinary problem.”

According to the American Journal of Psychiatry,  several U.S. and European studies on solitary confinement have found that people can suffer lasting psychiatric injuries even after short periods of isolation.

Ramsey’s cellmate, Gary T. Harrell, witnessed the profound effect that being sent to Carson had on his sick friend.

“The people the administration sends to Carson are treated like criminals, like they committed another crime,” Harrell said. “They’re stripped of everything. So why would you want to say you’re sick?”

On July 6, as this story was being produced, San Quentin administrators put North Block under medical isolation “due to multiple cases of respiratory illnesses and two confirmed cases of pneumonia,” according to a Program Status Report released at San Quentin. The state Department of Corrections later said it could not confirm there were any cases of pneumonia.

Juan Moreno Haines was alone in cell 363 in the North Block.

Correctional officers escorted nurses cell-to-cell taking prisoners’ temperatures. A nurse took Haines’s temperature, and it read 99.1. When they returned the next day, he felt a fever coming. He refused to let the nurse take his temperature. He drank plenty of water, took 200 milligrams of ibuprofen once every four hours, took one 24-hour 10-milligram tablet of antihistamine, and rested. The sickness quelled after two days. He takes the flu vaccination shot every time it’s given.

The four California prisoner class representatives call for solidarity and change

These men, known as the “four main reps,” Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, George Franco and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, conceived, planned and led the historic 2011-2013 California mass hunger strikes that drew 30,000 participants at their peak, according to CDCr’s own records.

Introduction by Laura Magnani, American Friends Service Committee

What follows below is an update from the leadership of the 2011 and 2013 California Prison Hunger Strikes against indefinite solitary confinement and other mistreatment across the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCr), the world’s largest prison system. These “reps” had been in solitary for decades and sought to draw attention to their plight through a series of non-violent hunger strikes, two in 2011, the first drawing 6,600 participants statewide, the second 12,000, and a third in 2013 that drew 30,000 participants, the largest prison hunger strike in history.

In 2012 the Center for Constitutional Rights, along with several other prominent California prison rights attorneys and organizations, formed a team, partnered with a representative group of 10 Pelican Bay SHU prisoner plaintiffs and filed a lawsuit on May 31, 2012. The lawsuit, Ashker v. Brown, charged that California’s practice of indefinitely isolating prisoners in solitary confinement violated U.S. Constitution protections against “cruel and unusual punishment” and guaranteeing “due process.” In the same year, the four reps and several other SHU prisoner reps issued the Agreement to End Hostilities.

A third hunger strike began July 8, 2013, and ended 60 days later making solitary confinement a major issue across the United States. All major U.S. newspapers’ editorial pages had at least one condemnation of the practice in the weeks that followed. The third strike ended when the California State Senate and State Assembly committees overseeing prisons held unprecedented joint hearings that outlined promises of major change.

On Sept. 1, 2015, a landmark settlement was achieved in Ashker v. Brown ending indeterminate solitary confinement in California prisons and allowing the legal team to monitor the California prison system to ensure compliance. This month, February 2020, the four reps have issued this update on their situation.

The outside world learned of plans by Pelican Bay prisoners to declare a hunger strike to begin July 1, 2011, at a San Francisco City Hall rally on June 17, 2011, when former prisoner Bato Talamantez of the San Quentin Six made the announcement as he unfurled this banner. – Photo: United for Drug Policy Reform

by the ‘four main reps’: Todd Ashker, Arturo Castellanos, George Franco and Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (names listed in alphabetical order)

A shout out of solidarity and respect to all class members and prisoners across the state. As the four reps, we felt a public report on the current state of California prisons from prisoners was overdue.

As leadership of the 2011 and 2013 California Prison Hunger Strikes that captured the attention of the nation and the world on the role of solitary confinement in United States prison systems, particularly California, we four prisoner reps became recognized as speaking both for the Ashker class, former Pelican Bay SHU prisoners, but also more broadly in many respects for the entire California prisoner class.

California’s prison system, the largest in the world at that time, was the also the greatest abuser of long term solitary confinement. We were housed in the Short Corridor of the notorious Pelican Bay Super Max SHU (Security Housing Unit) and, as all Short Corridor prisoners understood, the only way out of that isolating tortuous hell was to “parole, snitch or die.”

We decided standing up together, asserting our humanity even at the cost of our own lives, was better than rotting and dying alone in our concrete tombs. Nonviolent united action was the only path that made sense; our only avenue to act was a hunger strike. It took widespread unity, preparation and work among us prisoners, but also work on the outside by our families, friends and a growing list of supporters across the state and the country.

Without prisoners speaking about our conditions of confinement, the public narrative about imprisonment and mass incarceration is missing a critical voice – our voice, the incarcerated. We are the first-hand experts on the daily experience of being caged in prison generally and the trauma of extreme isolation.

All other experts collect data, do studies, view our experience without living it. Many, not all, are our oppressors. Their expertise is not about what incarceration is like, but why we and so many millions of people in the U.S. should be imprisoned. No voice has more expertise about the experience and impact of incarceration than the voice of prisoners.

No voice has more expertise about the experience and impact of incarceration than the voice of prisoners.

Here we make five points:

First. Prison in the United States is based on punishment, not rehabilitation. The United States has the largest prison population in the world and the highest percentage of a state’s population housed in cages. We are held in punishing ways that cause fear, emptiness, rage, depression and violence. Many of us are more damaged when we leave prison than when we entered.

According to the National Reentry Resource Center, a high percentage of state and federal prisoners will be released back into society. National statistics indicate that there is a high rate of released prisoners returning to prison. All of those who leave are older, some smarter, but all of us are less able to be productive in the society at large or good for our communities or our families. It is very hard for former prisoners to get jobs.

Prison presents an opportunity for society to rehabilitate or help people. Many of us could use support services. That opportunity is lost and buried by a vindictive ideology of punishment.

Rather than us being hypervigilant, concentrating on violence, dangers, our fears and rage, prison could be a place to engage our minds in useful jobs and job training, with classrooms for general learning, training in self-awareness and understanding, anti-addiction approaches. Instead, we are mostly just warehoused, sometimes in dangerous yards with angry, frightened, vicious guards.

California’s Gov. Newsom has the opportunity to help institute a massive prison reform movement.

Second. California likes to think of itself as a progressive national leader, yet in sentencing California is among the harshest in the nation. In California, a life term is given for second degree murder. Second degree murder is a non-premeditated killing. Only 17 states are that punishing. Two thirds of the states and the U.S. federal system give a flat 15 years.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that evolving standards of society’s decency should create a national  consensus on sentencing standards. Our prison journeys begin in those courts. We four reps of the California prison class call for reform in sentencing. Massive money could be spent for education, training and jobs here and in our communities rather than on caging human beings to harm rather than help us or society.

Third. The trauma we experience in these overcrowded institutions with a culture of aggressive oppression, as if we are violent animals, is harmful and breeds violence. We prisoners should not join in our own oppression. It is not in the interest of the prison class to buy into promised rewards for lying on other prisoners.

The use of lying confidential informants is widespread and legendary in California prisons and jails. We see even among ourselves, who have great active lawyers ready to pay attention to our situations, just how regularly vicious retaliation, evil lying  and disregard of our medical needs occurs. Broadly among the California prisoner class, there is mistreatment, horrid isolation, medical disregard, terrible food, cells that are too cold, too hot or too damp.

The history of positive social change demonstrates that when those who are oppressed stand together – as a group, a class – against that oppression, change can happen. Our own experience with eliminating endless solitary confinement in California proves that.

We need to stand with each other, behaving respectfully, demanding respect and not turning on our fellow prisoners for promises of crumbs. We four reps stand for major prison reform that helps us, not harms us, that betters society, not makes it worse.

California’s Gov. Newsom has the opportunity to help institute a massive prison reform movement.

Fourth. We four reps are for the principles we outlined in the Agreement to End Hostilities, the cessation of all hostilities between groups. We called on prisoners throughout the state to set aside their differences and use diplomatic means to settle their disputes.

If personal issues arise between individuals, people need to do all they can to exhaust all diplomatic means to settle such disputes; do not allow personal, individual issues to escalate into racial group issues. We encourage all prisoners to study the Agreement to End Hostilities and to try to live by those principles to seek your support to strive together for a safer prison environment.

We are not there yet. Dangerous cross-group hostility remains. What we experience in California prisons is not just developed in prison but is also widespread and supported in free society. Racial antagonisms, ghettoized housing, separation, institutionalized racism and promotion of beliefs of each other as less than human, as stupid, as criminal barbarians can cause us to fear and hate each other.

It does not serve us or society well. There are no easy ways to challenge these deep American divisions; forcing us together in joint yards, visiting rooms or classrooms will lead to violence and deepen the danger.

We four reps especially call out and stand against 50/50 yards. We oppose forced mixing of hostile groups where mortal enemies are forced together; 50/50 yards are dangerous and will make things much worse by causing fresh horrific encounters. No matter the policy’s intention, the state is responsible for our safety and wellbeing while we’re living under its jurisdiction.

We are entitled to respect and safety. We seek what we are entitled to. The 50/50 yards as a CDCr policy provokes violence. At this time, we endorse separate yards, separate programming and separate visiting.

We also call on California leadership, Gov. Newsom and the State Assembly and Senate to implement policies that encourage and grow support for the Agreement to End Hostilities that do not include 50/50 yards or forced interaction, but rather engage our minds and energy with productive jobs, education, training – major prison reform to a genuine rehabilitative system.

Fifth. The guard culture, especially in the yards, is vicious and provocative. Here where we live, the guards do not care about our safety. The guards get extra pay when there is violence; it is in their financial interest to promote it. Not surprisingly, guards regularly provoke disputes. Many enjoy the resulting violence.

California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the powerful guards’ union, is led by men who for the most part consider prisoners less than human. The CCPOA by their network and behavior supports the use of set ups, targeting, lying and isolation for random punishment. This intentionally causes widespread fear.

California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the powerful guards’ union, is led by men who for the most part consider prisoners less than human.

The CCPOA as one of the most politically influential organizations in California and holds many righteous political leaders hostage. The CCPOA members benefit with large overtime pay bonuses from violence and lockdowns.

Only if prison reform becomes a widespread demand of California voters can the influence of CCPOA be challenged. We need our families, friends and communities to build and extend our allies and develop strong support to vote for politicians who recognize our worth and are for widespread serious prison reform and an end to brutal warehousing that endangers society every day.

CDCR and California itself are legally responsible and accountable for prison conditions. Neglect does not free them of state institution responsibility for those in their “care.” The guards’ union should not be permitted to purchase power for abuse.

California citizens need to vote for prison rehabilitation as a priority: money for teachers, instructors, prisoner jobs instead of lockdown overtime and more guards.

Finally, we close with an update on our legal challenge. Our class action constitutional challenge to long-term solitary confinement was filed in May of 2012. We won a landmark settlement on Sept. 1, 2015, that resulted in thousands of people being released from SHUs across the state.

The settlement also gave us and our legal team the right and responsibility to monitor whether CDCr is following the requirements of the settlement for two years. That monitoring period was set to end in 2017, but in January 2019, U.S. Magistrate Judge Illman granted our motion to extend monitoring of the settlement agreement based on ongoing systemic constitutional violations in CDCR’s use of confidential information and in its reliance on past gang validations to deny parole.

Magistrate Judge Illman’s order extended our monitoring for 12 months. CDCr appealed and asked the court to suspend monitoring pending the appeal outcome. U.S. District Court Judge Wilken intervened and allowed us to continue monitoring pending any appeal outcomes.

When those who are oppressed stand together – as a group, a class – against that oppression, change can happen. Our own experience with eliminating endless solitary confinement in California proves that.

Our legal team has two pending appeals that CDCr has filed seeking to overturn the lower court orders in our favor. One appeal covers the extension of the monitoring as discussed above; the other covers enforcement of the settlement agreement regarding conditions of confinement in Level IV prisons and the RCGP (Restricted Custody General Population) unit.

As our legal team continues to monitor implementation of our settlement agreement, they are looking closely at how CDCR uses confidential information to place and keep validated and nonvalidated prisoners in Ad Seg (Administrative Segregation) and RCGP for long periods of time and sentence people to SHU for bogus RVRs (Rules Violation Reports). They are also trying to keep track of how validations continue to impact us, especially when we go before the parole board.

If you have any information about any of these issues, although they cannot respond to every letter, please write our team at: Anne Cappella, Attorney at Law, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, 201 Redwood Shores Pkwy, Fourth Floor, Redwood City, CA 94065.

In closing, we remind all of us prisoners and supporters that we are human beings who have a difficult shared experience. We have a right to our dignity, even inside these punishing walls. We present an opportunity to make society better rather than meaner.

We ask all prisoners to stand together, read and act within the principles of the Agreement to End Hostilities, whether you are in Ad Seg or RCGP or General Population, see yourselves as part of an international Prisoner Human Rights Movement.

We four prisoner reps send regards and recognition to each of you as fellow human beings who are entitled to fairness, dignity and respect. We send our respect to all our brothers and sisters incarcerated anywhere with hopes for genuine rehabilitative programming, jobs, education and training in this coming year.

We send our greetings to all the friends, family and communities from which we come, to all our allies in the general society, and we send our hopes for an understanding of the opportunity California has to again be a leader in reform to make the world a better place with so many of us who need help gathered together in state institutions.

We send extra love, support and attention to our Brother Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, who is experiencing challenging health issues. Our Brother Sitawa sends his extra love to all those prisoners, prisoners’ families and general supporters of the International Prisoner Human Rights Movement.

The authors requested the Agreement to End Hostilities be appended to their statement.

This logo, created by the premiere prison artist, known as Rashid, was eagerly adopted by the California hunger strikers as the symbol of their sacrifice and strength in solidarity. – Art: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 264847, Pendleton Correctional Facility, G-20-2C, 4490 W. Reformatory Road, Pendleton, IN 46064

Agreement to End Hostilities

Dated Aug. 12, 2012

To whom it may concern and all California Prisoners:

Greetings from the entire PBSP-SHU Short Corridor Hunger Strike Representatives. We are hereby presenting this mutual agreement on behalf of all racial groups here in the PBSP-SHU Corridor. Wherein, we have arrived at a mutual agreement concerning the following points:

1. If we really want to bring about substantive meaningful changes to the CDCR system in a manner beneficial to all solid individuals who have never been broken by CDCR’s torture tactics intended to coerce one to become a state informant via debriefing, that now is the time for us to collectively seize this moment in time and put an end to more than 20-30 years of hostilities between our racial groups.

2. Therefore, beginning on Oct. 10, 2012, all hostilities between our racial groups in SHU, ad-seg, general population and county jails will officially cease. This means that from this date on, all racial group hostilities need to be at an end. And if personal issues arise between individuals, people need to do all they can to exhaust all diplomatic means to settle such disputes; do not allow personal, individual issues to escalate into racial group issues!

3. We also want to warn those in the general population that IGI [Institutional Gang Investigators] will continue to plant undercover Sensitive Needs Yard (SNY) debriefer “inmates” amongst the solid GP prisoners with orders from IGI to be informers, snitches, rats and obstructionists, in order to attempt to disrupt and undermine our collective groups’ mutual understanding on issues intended for our mutual causes (i.e., forcing CDCR to open up all GP main lines and return to a rehabilitative-type system of meaningful programs and privileges, including lifer conjugal visits etc. via peaceful protest activity and noncooperation, e.g., hunger strike, no labor etc.). People need to be aware and vigilant to such tactics and refuse to allow such IGI inmate snitches to create chaos and reignite hostilities amongst our racial groups. We can no longer play into IGI, ISU (Investigative Service Unit), OCS (Office of Correctional Safety) and SSU’s (Service Security Unit’s) old manipulative divide and conquer tactics!

In conclusion, we must all hold strong to our mutual agreement from this point on and focus our time, attention and energy on mutual causes beneficial to all of us [i.e., prisoners] and our best interests. We can no longer allow CDCR to use us against each other for their benefit!

We can no longer allow CDCR to use us against each other for their benefit!

Because the reality is that, collectively, we are an empowered, mighty force that can positively change this entire corrupt system into a system that actually benefits prisoners and thereby the public as a whole, and we simply cannot allow CDCR and CCPOA, the prison guards’ union, IGI, ISU, OCS and SSU to continue to get away with their constant form of progressive oppression and warehousing of tens of thousands of prisoners, including the 14,000-plus prisoners held in solitary confinement torture chambers – SHU and ad-seg units – for decades!

We send our love and respect to all those of like mind and heart. Onward in struggle and solidarity!

Send our brothers some love and light:

  • Todd Ashker, C58191, KVSP, P.O. Box 5101, Delano CA 93216
  • Arturo Castellanos, C17275, PBSP, P.O. Box 7500, Crescent City CA 95532
  • George Franco, D46556. DVO. 2300, 2300 Kasson Rd, Tracy CA 95304
  • Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa (Ronnie Dewberry), Freedom Outreach, c/o Marie Levin for Sitawa, Fruitvale Station, P.O. Box 7359, Oakland CA 94601 (Use this address until Sitawa fully recovers)


Faces Full of Gas: Abuse of War Crimes Chemical Weapons in Indiana Prisons

rashid_indianaUS Hypocrisy as Usual

Indiana is the fifth state in which I’ve been imprisoned since 2012. Over this eight year period, I’ve been bounced from Virginia to Oregon, then Texas to Florida, back to Virginia, and now to Indiana. All in response and efforts to repress my involvement in exposing and resisting the routine abuses that pervade US prisons.

Among the many issues I’ve reported on in each state has been the frequent, often deadly, misuse of tear gas on prisoners.[1] One of my articles specifically exposed that this benignly named agent is actually a chemical weapon created for use in war, having the same grade and lethality as chlorine gas which US officials bombed Syria for supposedly using against its own citizens in 2018. Also, that tear gas, like chlorine, has been banned internationally from use in war because of its especially dangerous characteristics.[2]

It was this international aversion to these weapons that US officials self-righteously invoked to justify Amerika’s violent intervention in Syria’s civil war.

So, the Amerikan government commonly uses a deadly military grade chemical weapon on US prisoners that is banned from use in actual war. Just as US police who routinely gun down unarmed people of color in the streets, are armed with organ-shredding ammunition (aka dum dum bullets) that also are banned by international law from use in war because of their inhumane effects.[3]

As with other states, Indiana is no exception to the use (or misuse—even by its own standards) of tear gas on prisoners.


Direct Group Gas Assault

In one such incident which occurred on March 24, 2019, here at Pendleton Correctional Facility (PCF), where I’m confined, I narrowly dodged a bullet myself.

Earlier that morning I signed up to go to outside recreation, but because I was busy writing letters when guards came later that day to take us out, I decided not to go.

At the end of the rec period several prisoners housed nearby me returned to their cells teary-eyed, coughing and protesting that they’d been tear gassed for no reason by a white rookie guard named Kurts (phonetic spelling).

By their description, Kurts was initially arguing with a Black prisoner on the rec yard, where each prisoner was confined to separate one-person cages. Kurts began calling him and other uninvolved Blacks racist names, then went cage to cage spraying many of them in their faces with tear gas from a canister that all guards carry.

Upon returning to his cell, one of the victims protested the assault to the unit supervisor, a sergeant J. Griff. I also spoke up seeking an explanation from Griff to help the victims pursue complaints and to publicize yet another abuse incident hidden behind prison walls.

Griff admitted Kurts’s unprovoked assault on the group of men and that he’d gone home afterwards. Griff casually blew the incident off as just a normal incident of prison life, and suggested that since Kurts was gone, the situation was resolved and everyone should just let it go.

Of course nothing was done to afford the victims any redress.


Indirect Group Gas Assault

While I narrowly avoided this gas assault, I wasn’t so fortunate the next time around, when on July 8, 2019, a ranking guard (not a rookie this time) unleashed a similar assault affecting uninvolved bystanders, myself included.

In this incident a lieutenant, J. Davis, vindictively emptied an entire 12.5 ounce canister of tear gas into a neighboring prisoner’s cell, which saturated the closed-in cellblock contaminating me and numerous others.

Investigative officials at all levels (including the PCF superintendent, Internal Affairs and grievance department investigators and the prison system’s Ombudsman’s office), all avoided and ignored complaints of the abuse and covered it up, even though (or likely BECAUSE) the entire event was captured on audio and video surveillance records.

Now keep in mind, the federal courts have recognized that inside of closed-in environments like prisons, the “estimated lethal dose” of tear gas is “only 6 grams.”[4]                     Again, this guard emptied an entire 12.5 oz canister.

I was talking on the telephone inside my cell when I heard a guard just outside my cell cursing loudly, so I peered out. I observed Lt. Davis in an excited rage cursing and threatening a neighboring prisoner, Charles Elderidge. After a few moments of this, and without further incident, Davis stormed off down the tier, walking some 17 cells away.

But upon reaching the front entrance of the tier Davis stopped, seemed to reflect for a moment, then removed a 12.5 oz canister of tear gas from his equipment belt, turned and proceeded to walk briskly back toward our cells.

I alerted Eldridge that Davis was coming back with the gas in his hand and to be on guard. Upon reaching Eldridge’s cell Davis began spraying a continuous burst of gas into the cell, punctuated by threats and curses.

Davis initially sprayed the gas so wildly he directly sprayed Eldridge’s other neighbor, Alex Milewski.

As he continued to gas Eldridge, Davis taunted him to stop trying to cover himself up and that he was, “going to get all this gas, bitch!” Davis also repeatedly threatened to “kill” Eldridge and to beat him when he came out of the cell handcuffed from behind.

Several times I yelled to Davis to stop spraying, that he was contaminating everyone in the area, and trying another tact to deter his continued assault, pointed out that his actions were being recorded by surveillance cameras on the tier.

Davis then came to my cell as if he were about to spray me. I repeated my protests to which he responded cursing and yelling that he didn’t care about the cameras and challenging me several times then to get him fired.

He then returned to Eldridge’s cell and continued cursing, threatening and spraying him until the entire canister was empty. Only then did Davis leave the tier.

Throughout the incident I was on the telephone inside my cell with Shupavu Wa Kirima, a leading member of the African Peoples Socialist Party. She could clearly hear, and the automated GTL phone system automatically recorded, everything.

In response to what she heard, Ms Kirima immediately filed a complaint to the Indiana Department of Correction’s (or rather Corruption’s) [IDOC] Ombudsman’s office at 9:39 pm EST, through that office’s email complaint system. In blatant violation of Indiana law, that office ignored Ms Kirima’s complaint and did not notify her of any decision to decline an investigation.[5]

Also while on the phone with Ms Kirima, I spoke with a sergeant C. Johnson, who came onto the tier after the gas assault, asking him what would be done about Davis’s actions. Johnson responded that Davis outranked him so he could do nothing, but admitted so much gas was sprayed that he too was contaminated while in another area of the building.


The Cover-Up

I and numerous other prisoners who were victimized by Davis’s actions, directed complaints to PCF’s superintendent Dushan Zatecky, the notoriously corrupt and racist Internal Affairs office, the grievance department, and the IDOC ombudsman. Each one of these departments and officials either ignored our complaints or created bogus technical pretexts to avoid processing them. They also refused any investigation or to consult with any of us who were victimized by Davis’s assault.

Davis remains a ranking guard at PCF and continues to carry a 12.5 oz canister of gas on his side.



Every one of us, who are imprisoned or confined to impoverished and marginalized communities across the US, knows that whether it be guards or cops, the so-called “law enforcement” system is criminal and corrupt at its core.

We are terrorized, brutalized and murdered day in and day out by its members, who are armed with war crimes weapons, and the abusers are not just a few “bad apples.”

Certainly, while most cops and guards are abusers, there are those who take special pleasure, and are particularly extreme, in their acts of abuse. But as exhibited here, the entire system is complicit.

Not only do all the peers (including the so-called “good cops”) of the extreme abusers close ranks with, turn blind eyes and lie to protect them, and by extension the system itself, in accordance with the culture of not crossing the “thin blue line” of protectionism. But as we the common victims of “law enforcement” know, complaints prove pointless. Which is why there are frequent demands from our communities for community oversight committees, private and outside investigators, and similar systems of independent accountability.

Indeed, the supervisors and investigators inside these agencies are the most protectionist. In fact most rose through the ranks as abusers and by proving to be especially loyal to and effective at toeing the blue line themselves.

It is no coincidence that as the victim class has been able to increasingly expose these corrupt systems to the world through social media and other independent channels over the past several years, there has been a marked increase in movies and television programs to rehabilitate, professionalize, glamorize and make heroic the images of cops and guards.

But for the poor and people of color in Amerika, like their slave patrol and Ku Klux Klan predecessors, cops and guards are not and have never been our protectors or heroes. We must assume these roles ourselves.



[1] See for example, “The Rising Tide of Hate in America: A Sign of the Times,”; “Asthmatic Prisoner Doused With Pepper Spray, Refused Medical Care, Dies: Just Another Day in the Texas Prison System,”; “Life’s a Gas in Texas Prisons: The Frequent Abuse of Chemical Weapons,”

[2] See, “Amerika Uses Military Grade Chemical Weapons on Prisoners that it Bombs Syria for Using in Civil War,”

[3] Robert Wells, “US Police are Killing People with War-crimes Ammunition,”

[4] Williams v. Benjamin, 77 F.3d 756 (4th Cir. 1996)

[5] Under Indiana Code Section 4-13-1.2-5 the IDOC Ombudsman must investigate and address all complaints by non-employees that DOC officials have violated rules, laws, or policies or endangered any person’s life or safety, or the Ombudsman must notify the complainant of its decision not to investigate and its reasons.


Prison, Profits And The Black Community

prisonsAs major cities move towards decarceration and are closing jails and prisons, smaller cities and rural communities are incarcerating people at higher rates. Image: MMG

  • Incarceration can cost an average of $60K per inmate in some states
  •  In 2017, there were 1,549 black prisoners for every 100K black adults

On any given day, U.S. jails now hold more than 730,000 people. While most of the urban poor are susceptible to harsher treatment from law enforcement which has resulted in the high incarceration rate of minorities, it is in small cities and rural communities where the prison population is growing. As major cities move towards decarceration and close jails, smaller cities and rural communities are incarcerating people at higher rates, and investing heavily in jail expansion at the expense of taxpayers.

Why This Matters: The United States is the global leader in prison population, which has implications on taxpayer spending.  In 2011, it was reported that the U.S. Department of Justice estimated that local communities spent $22.2 billion on jails. In some states, it’s as much as $60,000 per inmate and is often the case that taxpayers foot the bill for meals, housing and securing people in state and federal penitentiaries.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimated that local communities spent $22.2 billion on jails

The prison system has become a big business. Did you know that for-profit prison companies started in response to the government’s inability to handle the skyrocketing incarcerated population? The government uses these private companies to build and manage local jails. Private companies earn billions of dollars for services to incarcerated people often with little oversight, ranging from phones, to medical devices and facilities.

It’s especially stunning when you breakdown the  racial makeup of U.S. prisons that continues to look substantially different from the demographics of the country as a whole. African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at a rate that is 5.1 times the imprisonment of whites. In 2017, blacks represented 12% of the U.S. adult population, but 33% of the sentenced prison population. Whites accounted for 64% of adults but 30% of prisoners.

Situational Awareness: In 2017, there were 1,549 black prisoners for every 100,000 black adults, nearly six times the imprisonment rate for whites (272 per 100,000) and nearly double the rate for Hispanics (823 per 100,000). Though Blacks have long outnumbered whites in U.S. prisons, there has been a significant decline in the number of Black prisoners in the last decade. Even with the decline, in 2017, blacks still make up one-third of the prison population, and are still continuing to have a detrimental effect on our communities, in terms of employment opportunities, education and even infant mortality.

This article by Christopher Pitts was originally published by CultureBanx. It is reposted here with permission. Read the original.


Imam Jamil Al-Amin denied cataract surgery – Call Bureau of Prisons

H. Rap Brown was so influential and so feared by the US government that a law was named after him, criminalizing crossing state lines to incite a riot. Decades later, after he had established a mosque and become an imam and a pillar of his ‘hood in Atlanta, the FBI, still determined to silence him, framed him and sent him to federal prison nearly 20 years ago, moving him from one supermax to another, hoping we would forget about him. We have not – and will not!

by the Imam Jamil Action Network

We have been informed by Imam Jamil (H. Rap Brown) that he is suffering from cataracts and is being denied immediate treatment to relieve him of this burden. Imam Jamil is 75 years old and has been incarcerated for going on 20 years even though the facts of his case prove his innocence.

We waged a campaign against the Federal Bureau of Prisons previously when Imam Jamil was diagnosed with Smoldering Myeloma and was being denied treatment. This was attempted assassination by medical neglect.

Now we have to call out the BOP again to get this man, who has been at the forefront of the struggle of human rights since his teenage years, the treatment that he is owed. This is a campaign to bombard the BOP with phone calls and emails as advocates on behalf of Imam Jamil.

Please call the following number: 520-663-5000. This is the number to the facility in Tucson. Imam Jamil is currently held at the SuperMax Unit at the USP Tucson in Arizona.

The receptionist will answer and then ask which prisoner the caller is calling about. The caller should give Imam Jamil Al-Amin’s last name, spelling it out if necessary, and then give them his inmate number, which is 99974-555.

The email is

Please ask 10 friends, co-workers and family members to call at least 10 times – or until you get word to stop.

While our ultimate goal is to get him exonerated and released, we want him to be moved closer to his family and lawyers, preferably to Georgia or the Southeastern portion of the US. Any relevant info can be found on the Facebook page of Imam Jamil Action Network or Peace and blessings.

“Blessed are those who struggle, oppression is worse than the grave, better to die for a noble cause than live and die a slave.” – The Last Poets, a favorite quote of Imam Jamil Al-Amin aka H. Rap Brown

Thank you and may you be blessed for all you do.

Imam Jamil Action Network


source: Imam Jamil Al-Amin denied cataract surgery – Call Bureau of Prisons

Panther community service programs grow

PHOTO: Shaka Zulu launches NABPP-UPM Free Breakfast Program 102619
What do Panthers do when they’re released from prison? They serve the people! Shaka Zulu leads the launch of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party-United Panther Movement Free Breakfast Program in Newark on Saturday, Oct. 26, by distributing bags of food to 150 families.

by Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson

A key strategy of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (NABPP), from its inception, has been to empower the oppressed communities through the creation and growth of programs that serve the needs of the communities and build them into base areas of social, political and economic revolution.

Since beginning the transition from a prison-based organization to the outside and developing its headquarters in Newark, N.J., earlier this year, the NABPP and its mass organization, the United Panther Movement (UPM), have been steadily sinking roots in the oppressed communities and developing Serve the People programs.

Empower the Block

The earliest program, called Empower the Block, has brought Panthers and volunteers out on weekends to clean up trash and educate the people on the need and their independent power to clean up their neighborhoods which the system’s so-called sanitation service refuse to serve.

No Prison Fridays

The next initiative were weekly demonstrations called No Prison Fridays, which developed in response to a prison construction project slated for Newark’s inner city.

In only a few weeks, these Panther-initiated protests grew from involving less than a dozen participants to hundreds, and forced the New Jersey governor to cancel the construction project.

Black August Barbecue

Next came the Panthers’ Black August Barbecue, where NABPP and UPM comrades served the communities wholesome meals and political education through a free public barbecue commemorating Black August on Aug. 31, 2019.

Free water distribution and protests

In the wake of the Flint water crisis, where lead-tainted water was piped into the homes of Flint, Michigan’s poor communities, a similar crisis has surfaced in Newark.

About a year ago, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka went on record with lies projected against public suspicions, that there was no lead problem in Newark’s water, which was proven false by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), who sued forcing the release of documents that showed lead contamination in Newark as bad or worse than in Flint.

A group called the Newark Water Commission (NWC) organized protests against the situation and the local government’s indifference and cover-ups. Several times Baraka and Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose dismissed the protests as involving only people from outside Newark, which the Panthers openly contradicted.

On Aug. 23 the Newark water situation was protested at the MTV Video Music Awards held in Newark, where the Panthers helped mobilize hundreds of local demonstrators in collaboration with the NWC.

The Panthers then joined protests on Sept. 21 at the United Nations in New York, alongside Boriqua Resistance against the ongoing US colonization and occupation of Puerto Rico. At that demonstration the groups also called attention to the water situation in Newark.

On Oct. 3, the Panthers helped organize and joined protesters along with the NWC in disrupting Mayor Baraka’s Town Hall meeting. Chairman Shaka Sankofa Zulu of the NABPP directly confronted Public Safety Director Ambrose and was physically expelled along with other protesters by cops.

Two days later, on Oct. 5, Panthers distributed 250 free cases of water and free meals to Newark residents.

Free Food (Breakfast and Lunch) Program

But the Panthers’ most important program involves distributing free food through which it will conduct a free breakfast and lunch program. This program began Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019.

At its Oct. 26 unveiling, the program distributed over 150 bags of groceries to people from Newark’s poor communities. Each bag contained fresh meats, tuna, assorted vegetables, bread, eggs etc. Also distributed were dozens of free cases of water and a number of large cardboard boxes of assorted packaged foods.

The program, staffed by Panthers and community volunteers, will continue to occur each Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and will serve free breakfast and lunch meals.

Free Busing to Prisons

The Panthers are also in the process of launching a Free Busing to Prisons program. This will provide members of the oppressed communities, which have been so terribly impacted and destabilized by mass imprisonment, free transportation to visit loved ones frequently imprisoned far away from the communities.


The role of the NABPP and UPM is not to merely criticize this system, nor simply tell the people that they are exploited, oppressed, played against each other, have unmet needs, and are lied to and manipulated against their own best interests in a thousand ways; nor, as the many opportunists and agents of the system do, to feed them false hope, or the lie that this is the best of all possible worlds; nor that their salvation can somehow be found in the very system that creates all their problems.

Our role instead, as our unfolding programs are setting the basis for, is to serve the people and demonstrate that through their own cooperation and collective power (as opposed to the individualism and competition which the system teaches) they can solve their own problems, meet their own needs, and ultimately free themselves from this exploitative, oppressive, racist order that enables a handful of scavengers to hoard and monopolize socially produced wealth and resources while everyone else suffers.

Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win!

All Power to the People!

Send our brother some love and light: Kevin Johnson, 264847, Pendleton Correctional Facility, G-20-2C, 4490 W. Reformatory Road, Pendleton, IN 46064.