Christian Hill has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and major depressive disorder. In the New York State prison system, this classifies him as having a serious mental illness and confers a “1-S” designation upon him.
Under the newly implemented HALT Solitary Confinement Act, people with this mental health designation cannot be punished by being placed in the Special Housing Unit, or SHU, where they would spend at least 17 days alone in their cells. Instead, Hill and others with this designation must be sent to a Residential Mental Health Unit, a prison unit for incarcerated people with serious mental health needs. Jointly operated by the state’s prison agency and its office of mental health, these units are supposed to be therapeutic rather than punitive.
But despite its therapeutic intention, Hill still spends 20 hours in his cell on weekdays and 24 hours on weekends and holidays. For one hour each day, a door at the back of his cell is opened remotely, allowing him to go into a fenced-off pen adjoining his cell for recreation. “I do a lot of sleeping out of boredom,” Hill wrote in a letter from his Residential Mental Health Unit to Truthout.
Hill says he’s being punished because of his mental health needs. According to a new report, he’s one of hundreds who are punished despite the state’s laws designed to protect them.
Residential Mental Health Units Appear No Better Than Solitary
In April 2022, Hill spent four days in the Intermediate Care Program, a nonpunitive residential mental health treatment unit at Sullivan Correctional Facility. On the fourth day, he was feeling suicidal and asked officers to contact mental health staff so that he could be placed on suicide watch.
This was not the first time that Hill had expressed suicidal ideation during his 10 years in prison. “This was one of over 300 times I have been in need of or placed on suicide watch,” he wrote, adding that two of his suicide attempts had nearly succeeded. Because of this history, his requests to be placed on suicide watch are usually taken seriously.
This time, however, Hill said that officers told him, “Go fuck yourself.”
Hill repeatedly requested mental health staff, but said that officers continued to ignore his requests, eventually telling him to kill himself. Only after Hill threw water out of his cell was he taken to suicide watch, where he was stripped of all his clothing and belongings and placed under 24-hour observation for four days.
After those four days, staff charged him with several rule violations: assault on staff, violent conduct, engaging in an unhygienic act, threats, creating disturbance and interference with an employee. He was sentenced to 180 days in the SHU. But because of his mental health classification, he is serving his SHU sentence in a Residential Mental Health Unit instead, which offers several hours of programming, including 20 hours of group therapy each week, individual counseling once every 30 days, and a medication review every 90 days.
Prison officials also punished him with 180 days’ loss of access to commissary, packages and phone calls. This means that, during his time in the Residential Mental Health Unit, he cannot order items from the prison’s commissary (the prison store), receive packages from loved ones, or use the phone.
Just before he was transferred from Sullivan to the Residential Mental Health Unit at Marcy Correctional Facility, he says he was assaulted during the pre-transfer strip search. When he arrived at Marcy, he was placed in the Residential Mental Health Unit there and charged, separately, with an additional six rule violations, including assault on staff, violent conduct, threats, creating a disturbance and interfering with an employee.
He was sentenced to an additional 365 days in isolation on those charges and an additional 365 days’ loss of commissary, packages, phone calls and tablet use, which would have allowed him to utilize the prison’s e-messaging system to communicate with loved ones and advocates. For the next 545 days, he can only communicate by writing letters.
In 2008, four years before Hill entered prison, New York passed the SHU Exclusion Law, limiting solitary for people with serious mental illness. Under the Act, people who have been diagnosed with serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and/or active suicidality, can only be placed in the SHU for up to 30 days if they have broken a prison rule.
After those 30 days, prison officials must divert them to a Residential Mental Health Unit. In these units, separate from the rest of the prison population, people must receive four hours of structured therapeutic programming and mental health treatment five days a week, and disciplinary sanctions for acts such as refusing medication and self-harm are prohibited. The 2008 law also prohibited punishing people in these units with additional isolation except if their conduct “poses a significant and unreasonable risk to the safety of [incarcerated persons] or staff, or to the security of the facility.”
Reviewing data from January 2017 through May 2019, the report concludes that New York’s state prison system and its Office of Mental Health have not been following the law’s limits on punishment.
“Although these units are supposed to be therapeutic, they are frequently punitive,” said Jennifer Parish, who is director of criminal justice advocacy at the Urban Justice Center and a founding member of the Mental Health Alternatives to Solitary Confinement campaign. She noted that she has heard frequent complaints from people who have cycled through the SHU and various Residential Mental Health Units and many, she said, “felt they were treated worse than people in the SHU. This is not how this is supposed to work.”
Hill agrees. He notes that, under the HALT Solitary Act, if he were in typical solitary confinement (i.e., the SHU), he would be allowed his personal property, including his radio, fan, calculator, lamp, hot pot for cooking and prison-issued tablet on which he can send e-messages to family members. But in the Residential Mental Health Unit, he has none of these to help him pass the hours that he spends alone inside his cell.
Adding Hundreds of Days in Isolation
In the 1974 case Wolf v. McDonnell, the United States Supreme Court ruled that people in prison have the right to due process under the 14th Amendment — even for hearings involving internal prison rules violations. That same right applies to those in the Residential Mental Health Units, but according to the report, 94 percent of the 1,925 disciplinary hearings held between 2017 and mid-2019 resulted in guilty findings — and the vast majority of people were punished with additional time in isolation. The report also found that the most frequent sanction was for disobeying a direct order (15.2 percent), followed by creating a disturbance (12 percent) and interfering with staff (10 percent).
Both charges are vague and can encompass behaviors such as shouting or yelling, noted Tyrell Muhammad, a senior advocate at the Correctional Association of New York, a nonprofit that monitors New York’s prisons. The charges can also encompass actions such as watching staff extract a cellmate despite orders to face the wall, or yelling for staff when someone attempts suicide, explained Muhammad, who spent 27 years in New York State prisons, including seven in the SHU.
“The above are actual incidents that I have experienced and was given disciplinary tickets and a Tier III for,” he said, referring to the highest-level infraction for prison rule violations that carries the most severe penalties. “Many would believe that if one is charged with these types of infractions that [it] is serious to the point where violence was used, [but that] is very rare. These infractions are a form of retaliation. It is usually because someone witness[ed] something and these disciplinary tickets are a way of intimidation.” He and other advocates have noted that staff make the decision on what actions constitute creating a disturbance or interfering with staff.
In contrast, the report found that fewer than 4 percent of people in Residential Mental Health Units were charged with assault on staff, and fewer than 1 percent were charged with assault on another incarcerated person.
Despite the lack of severity of the charges, hundreds have been punished with additional isolation. According to the report, of the 399 people in a Residential Mental Health Unit during that time, 99 percent were punished with solitary confinement. Eight-five percent were sentenced to six months or more of additional isolation time. Their total amount of time in isolation came out to more than 823 years with an average of 753 days (or more than two years) for each person.
In addition to the punitive nature of being confined to their cells for 20 to 24 hours each day, most people in these units are handcuffed when they are escorted to therapy and counseling and, once at their destination, shackled to the floor with leg irons. If they remain free of misbehavior reports or infractions known as “negative informational reports” for 120 days, they are allowed to leave their cells without handcuffs and attend programs without being shackled. They are also moved to a cell with a television mounted on the wall, allowing them to watch TV to break up the monotony. But, Hill says, staff members at the Residential Mental Health Unit frequently write negative informational reports, which do not require a hearing or allow an incarcerated person to defend themselves against allegations of negative behavior. Instead, they must begin their 120 days again.
The report also charges that people in these units — who are primarily Black and Latinx people with serious mental health needs — have been punished at much higher rates than others in the prison system and frequently because of behavior caused by their underlying mental health conditions.
Over 80 percent in the Residential Mental Health Units were Black and/or Latinx. Black and Latinx people make up 72 percent of those incarcerated in New York State prisons and 37 percent in the state at large.
In contrast, white people, such as Hill, comprised 14.5 percent of people in Residential Mental Health Units compared to 24 percent in all New York prisons and nearly 62 percent of the state at large. They also made up nearly 26 percent of people in the Intermediate Care Program, the nonpunitive mental health unit (or, as the report notes, 77 percent higher than white people in the more punitive Residential Mental Health Units.)
Jack Beck, the report’s author and a member of the HALT Solitary campaign, noted that people sent to the nonpunitive Intermediate Care Program and to the Residential Mental Health Unit have the same serious mental health classifications. “There’s tremendous racial bias in the disciplinary system — and in the whole [Department of Corrections],” he said.
Punitive Residential Reentry Units
In 2021, 13 years after the passage of the SHU Exclusion Act, New York’s legislature passed the HALT Solitary Confinement Act, limiting solitary confinement to no more than 15 consecutive days (or 20 days within a 60-day time period).
The law went into effect on March 31, 2022. It required the creation of Residential Reentry Units where people sentenced to more than 15 days in SHU will be transferred on Day 16. According to the Department of Corrections and Community Services, these units too are meant to “be therapeutic and trauma-informed and aim to address individual treatment, rehabilitation needs, and underlying causes of problematic behavior.”
People who have serious mental illnesses are not placed in SHU at all and, like Hill, are sent directly to a Residential Mental Health Unit, where they still spend at least 20 hours each day alone in their cells.
Now, Parish, Beck, and other advocates are concerned that these new Residential Reentry Units will replicate the problem of alternatives that are still punitive rather than therapeutic. “This is a cautionary message,” Beck said of the report and its findings. “If you’re going to have people in these treatment units but you’re going to constantly discipline them, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t change behavior. It’s totally ineffective.”
The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision did not respond to Truthout’s queries about these units or its policy regarding suicidal ideation.
The report concludes that the ongoing punitive approach to imprisoned people with mental health needs, even in units designated for these more vulnerable populations, “indicate that prison is not an appropriate environment for people with mental health needs.”
Its first recommendation exhorts the state to stop incarcerating people with mental health needs. Instead, it urges legislators and policy makers to expand and enhance community-based mental health care, diversion programs, crisis response, and alternatives to incarceration.
This slightly edited commentary from April 24 by political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal is available at prisonradio.org/media/audio/mumia.
By Mumia Abu-Jamal
I remember in [State Correctional Institute] Huntington and even in [SCI] Green. You know, when I was alone with a [guard] talking man-to-man, the guy said: “Listen, I’m a peon. You know, something happens here, man, they throw me to the dogs.” And I’m like, Damn! Did he just say that? Yeah!
These guys, they know that. But they’re forbidden from really saying that, other than when no one can hear. They believe in the propaganda because it’s profitable to do so. It’s in their economic benefit. Right? But, like a few days ago, I was listening in on C-SPAN. And a guy called and he was a retiree who worked for the Department of Corrections for 30 years. And so, you know, now he’s getting a retirement check. And he kept talking about “us.” You know: “us” correctional officers. “We” need. “We” fight so hard, blah, blah. And I was like, Dude! He was a Black guy; he was in his 60s. And he’s no longer part of them. But in his mind, he’s still a part of them.
So I’m saying that was the diabolical genius of [President] William Jefferson Clinton. When they gave billions of dollars to the states to build prisons, they created a class of people who benefited economically in ways they could not have done otherwise — any way in the world, as a rule. And so they’re invested —right? — in this system of repression. You’re a guy; you’re in your 50s or 60s, you’re thinking about bringing your son in, and then bringing your grandson in, and having your wife come in and work as a nurse or food service provider. Something like that. Or as a guard.
Like here in Schuylkill County, these are depressed areas of [Pennsylvania’s] economy. But if you can get a job gettin’ this kind of loot, you’re on top of the hill. You may not be that way in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. But if you think of these former mining communities like Green or this one, Schuylkill, you’re eating high on the hog. It feeds the system, this machine.
Because of economics and social movements now, you have more Black and Brown people involved in these repressive industries. But, you know, if you look at it like from space or from a high elevation, things are not getting better. They’re getting demonstrably worse.
Yes, that’s why I believe in movements because I’ve seen movements do things in society. And, you know, I always say movements transform consciousness, but they transform more than that. They transform history. And they transform our vision of the future.
I look at the world. And I have fears and hopes, quite frankly. Because this can go either way. It goes the way that people push. When people create movements, they create change. But if they sit back and wait for others to do something they know they should have done, you’re going the way of repression. It’s really that dialectical and that clear.
We get what you fight for. What you don’t fight for, you don’t get. It’s that real. So, I believe in movements. I believe in decarceration.
Kevin “Rashid” Johnson & the New Afrikan Black Panther Party-Prison Chapter
In 1990, Kevin “Rashid” Johnson was a drug dealer, an ambitious member of amerika’s Black lumpen proletariat, or underclass. Like so many, as a young adult he was arrested and received a lengthy prison sentence. He has been incarcerated ever since – for the past eighteen years in conditions of solitary confinement.
As Rashid has written, “Because I accepted my lifestyle and all of its consequences, I was always reluctant to involve my family or others on the outside of prison in my conflicts with the pigs. I dealt with my own problems–directly.”
In 1993, Rashid was transferred to Greenville prison. As he has written:
What I was to encounter at Greensville defied anything that I’d expected. The pigs had a refined system and license for brutalizing prisoners. I was not to understand the magnitude of the situation until a few days after being there. The pigs had a tier of handpicked proxy prisoners, whom they used to violently suppress those who got out of line. The ringleader – I’ll call him Pumpkin – was a career con with a reputation for butchering other prisoners. He had a trustee job (all trustees were similarly selected). Pumpkin was allowed by the pigs to keep weapons on his person. Part of the mental terror game was that while he was out cleaning (everyone knew he was a pig hit man and stayed armed), the pigs would bring others out around him in handcuffs (segregation prisoners must be handcuffed from behind when outside their cells, unless they have a trustee job, or are locked inside an exercise yard or shower stall). The she-pigs (guards and nurses) were the tools used to sic Pumpkin on others. He regarded and jealously guarded these she-pigs like actual mates, whereas all they did for him was bring him bubble gum, watch him masturbate in their presence and flirt with him.
The setup game usually went like this: one of their she-dogs would provoke an argument with the target (refuse him something he was due, etc.). She’d then report to Pumpkin that the target had “disrespected’ her, or any of many other claims. Pumpkin would then come to the target’s cell and start a hostile verbal exchange, send a challenge via third-party message, etc. Once the conflict was established, the pigs would move the target into the tier with Pumpkin and his cronies – the entire tier rode with him. The pigs would thoroughly search the target’s property for weapons before moving him, to ensure that he had no means of defense. Once assigned to a cell on Pumpkin’s tier, the target was fair game. If he was stouthearted, he’d stand his ground. The next day or so the pigs would put them on the exercise yard together, remove everyone’s handcuffs except the target’s (they’d put five to seven prisoners in each pen), and allow them to mob attack the still handcuffed target. Or if they wanted him butchered, he’d be unhandcuffed and left to contend unarmed against a knife-wielding Pumpkin.
Rashid took the lead in organizing and waging war against the “Pumpkin” and his goon squad, and the guards who were giving the orders to dole out abuse as well. Not only did this force Pumpkin’s crew to back down and sue for peace, but it brought about some limited reforms at Greenville itself, though it also led to Rashid’s being transfered again, and to the beginning of what would be 18 years (and counting) in “segregation”:
On account of the systematic attacks on the pigs at the height of their abuses, the DOC’s internal affairs office decided to get involved in investigating the years of prisoner complaints of brutality in the unit. In their efforts to neutralize our responses, the internal affairs unit ended up having a dozen pigs criminally prosecuted for brutality and using other prisoners to enter prisoners’ cells and attack them – once allowing a prisoner to use riot gear. Two pigs were ultimately convicted. Pumpkin was also prosecuted and convicted for an incident where the pigs opened another prisoner’s cell, allowing him to ambush him. The prisoner was stabbed multiple times. Pumpkin’s trustee job was immediately terminated under the backlash of this incident. […] Several weeks later I was transferred back to Mecklenburg prison, returning to the scene of past abuses […]
During my stay at Mecklenburg, one of the ranking pigs, who were instrumental in torturing me with the freezing strip cell treatment, was ambushed. On this occasion I’d been strapped to the bunk by the pigs. In order for a prisoner to receive meals and toilet breaks while strapped down, the pigs must come to his cell, remove the chains and straps and handcuff him. They will leave the cell, close the door, and remove the cuffs through a hatch in the door. However, during this 1994 episode, when the pigs came in to release me for a toilet break, the claim is that I’d gotten out of the restraints and was lying on the bunk under a blanket as though still strapped down. When the ranking pig and two others moved to lift the blanket, I allegedly rose up, with weapon in hand, and attacked. Two of them (the ranking pig included) received multiple stab wounds, and the third pig received a cracked jaw. This incident, in its obvious preplanning and execution, left the pigs in such a quandary that no retribution followed. Indeed, I was several days later transferred to Buckingham and quickly released into the general population.
By this time it was realized that I was not insane at all, but calculating and determined. While prison administrators and those who proposed to “study” me from a distance put forward the fiction that I was inclined to “unprovoked” violence against the pigs, the pigs who dealt with me on a day-to-day basis knew, very clearly, that any violence from me was always in response to their own acts of violence or abuse of me or my peers. As long as the pigs remembered this, things went well, but there was always some lone pig with a cowboy complex who had to test his hand, and I’d answer it. The majority of the pigs at Buckingham didn’t want me in the population walking about. They therefore attempted several times through trumped-up reports to have me returned to segregation. On the last occasion that this was done, I was charged with being in an “unauthorized area” of the prison. The pigs waited until I’d locked into the cell at count time to come and lock me up in segregation. I refused to go peacefully. One pig threatened that if I didn’t, I’d receive a severe “ass-whipping.” In response I agreed to walk peacefully to segregation. When the pigs opened the cell door to escort me out, the threatening pig received a nose broken in two places. I’ve been in segregation ever since.
While in segregation, Rashid taught himself law, and began litigating against the prisons. For a period of six years he launched various lawsuits, and at first scored several victories, until he acquired the reputation of being troublemaker with various judges who then sought to shut him out of the courts:
With the added psychological deterrent of litigation, my clashes with the pigs declined somewhat in frequency. They focused primarily on isolating me from others. Their efforts to perpetuate a discontinuity in our unity has been the pigs’ only effective weapon against me. And they’ve admitted in a thousand ways that their greatest fear is ending up with many other prisoners on their hands who think and act as I do. Their isolating me was long a tactic that I could not devise an effective countermeasure against, that is, until after 2001, when I was first exposed to revolutionary theory and have since come to understand the role of ideology. Without a unifying ideology, there can be no unity of struggle. Ideology was something I’d never had, and thus something I could not share. The prisoners who’d united in struggle with me had done so because of me. Not because of a shared principle. Therefore, when I was no longer around, they lost the initiative to struggle on, and the pigs were free to resort to their old oppressive acts.
With the beginnings of my studies in revolutionary history and theory in 2001, litigation and my isolated clashes with the pigs paled in importance. My first exposure to revolutionary ideas came with my meeting Hanif Shabazz-Bey in 2001. Hanif is a political prisoner who is apparently well known within prison movement circles. Upon meeting we developed an instant affinity. He began sending me a variety of publications through which I was first exposed to the works of George Jackson. […]
I became engrossed in acquiring and studying all that George had studied and more, which included the classics and not-so-classics: Vladimir Lenin, Mao Tse-tung, Karl Marx, Frantz Fanon, Kwame Nkrumah, Che Guevara, Rosa Luxemburg, Harry Magdoff, Paul Sweezy, Albert Szymanski, bell hooks, Cornel West, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Vo Nguyen Giap, etc. I investigated the various revolutionary schools of thought – Communism, Anarchy, New Afrikan Nationalism, Feminism, and other left-leaning theories. I studied military thinkers and military history, sociology and history, political science, economic theories (left and right), revolutionary history, etc. and I am still studying, refining my views, and testing them in practice.
The more I studied, reflected, practiced, and drew insight from my own practical experiences, the more it all fell together, so clear and obvious. As my conceptualizations developed, I wrote a few essays, usually at others’ requests, (my ideas were still forming, some I could not clearly articulate, so I adopted terms, thoughts, and ideas. But it was all quickly coming together.) I could see where the failures and successes had occurred in various anti-colonial, class, anti-racist, feminist, and anti-imperialist struggles. And I could see where the failure to apply the scientific Marxist approach to the study and practice of resisting oppressive conditions (Historical and Dialectical Materialism) resulted in failed idealist attempts to make the desired social changes. […]
I still endure repression at the hands of the pigs, as do my peers. I still take a principled stand against this repression. But above all else, I am working on bringing my peers into a principled ideological and political consciousness that will give them discipline and a cause to struggle for, while simultaneously imparting to them the correct methods of mass based struggle. The pigs’ response continues to be to isolate me. Their violence has proven futile. Even in this most totalitarian of environments, innovation and relentless commitment to an ideal has proven, to my satisfaction, that the oppressive institutions are not invulnerable. Fear is our greatest hindrance. Fear and half measures. They can isolate me, but they cannot isolate an ideal.
In the mid-2000s, Rashid took up an illicit correspendence with another revolutionary held at the same supermax prison as him, but in general population. Messages were smuggled back and forth between segregation and general pop for several months. This correspondence, in which Rashid and “Outlaw” discuss revolutionary theory and practice, the challenges of dealing with other less committed prisoners, reactionaries, and snitches, and the question of how to best organize behind bars, has been collected together and is available now in the book Defying the Tomb, published by Kersplebedeb in 2010.
As well as Rashid and Outlaw’s letters, Defying the Tomb contains several essays by Rashid, a foreword by Russell “Maroon” Shoats, a foreword and afterword by Tom Big Warrior, and an afterword by Sundiata Acoli. (The quotes above are from Rashid’s autobiographical sketch, also included in the book.)
A few months after Outlaw and Rashid exchanged the last letters included in this book, Comrade Shaka Sankofa Zulu and Rashid came together to found the New Afrikan Black Panther Party-Prison Chapter (NABPP-PC). The NABPP-PC has since developed branches in various prisons across the u$ empire and has its own newsletter, Right On!
Many of the thoughts and ideas that went into the formation of the NABPP-PC and its mass organization, the New Afrikan Service Organization, can be seen in their developmental stages in these letter exchanges with Outlaw.
Right On! is published by Rising Sun Press, are several other newsletters promoting Marxism-Leninism, with a focus on national liberation and the prison struggle. A collection of these newsletters from the period of 2005 to 2008 have been made available as an anthology. These were scanned in by some comrades, and are being made available for free download with permission from the publisher. Just click on the image to the right, or right here.
Frackville, Pa. — Tensions in Pennsylvania prisons are at an all time high since the statewide lockdown ordered by Gov. Tom Wolf last summer.
The Department of Corrections (DOC) is now using SCI Frackville as a laboratory to test a “violence reduction policy” that, in practice, means staff can immediately shutdown entire cell blocks of the prison and order hundreds of prisoners to be confined to their cells for 36 hours at a time.
“Every day I’m in a state of impending lockdown,” says Bryant Arroyo, an innocent man at SCI Frackville, serving a life sentence for a crime he did not commit. “We’re anxious all the time. The mood is very tense and it’s become dangerous for both inmates and staff alike.”
According to Arroyo, the facility’s posted policy says that a single wing will be placed on temporary lockdown in the event of a brawl or other dangerous incident. But in this period of heightened tensions among prisoners and between inmates and staff, Frackville’s superintendent now can order the entire block to be shutdown for 36 hours.
Prisoners would be confined to their cells and subject to shakedown — guards come in and rummage through prisoners’ personal property looking for “contraband.” Access to libraries, common space, even showers is restricted during lockdowns.
“It’s gotten to the point where if you see a fight might be about to break out, you grab your towel and head to the shower because you don’t know when your next chance will be.” The last time Bryant’s block was locked down it was due to an incident on an adjacent wing. Bryant, whose cell was turned upside down in a search, was in the chow hall and didn’t even know a brawl had broken out.
“Yet we’re being forced to pay the piper for the infractions of others. Not only is this a violation of our 14th Amendment rights, this constitutes punitive actions taken against a collective: a violation of the Geneva Convention.”
Lockdown targets prison organizers
Prominent organizers within the prison appear to be specifically targeted during these lockdowns, and any hint of mass mobilization brings swift retribution. The statewide lockdown last summer was ordered to disrupt a nationwide prison strike that had been called months in advance.
And now anyone in theory can take an entire block hostage and conveniently shut down the prison when an action is planned. The DOC code of ethics mandates that staff are not allowed to give one inmate power over another, Arroyo explains, and yet this is exactly the effect of this policy.
“Hypothetically, you could orchestrate a lockdown of the whole facility. It’s a hostile and volatile environment.” He adds, “I’m speaking as a victim. You’re not going to keep punishing me with impunity. I hate to categorize myself as a victim, but I’m being victimized by this policy.”
Imagine if you were driving down the highway, Arroyo says, and you get pulled over by a state trooper, who asks you to step out of the car and immediately places you in handcuffs. You are not charged with a crime; you are not told why you are being brought to jail. You get no phone call, no lawyer, no recourse. They hold you for 36 hours and then let you go back to your normal life, no explanations given. You are told later that because there was a robbery a few miles away off a nearby exit, police were rounding up everybody on the highway and holding them for a day and a half.
“Welcome to the violence reduction policy. That’s now what we face every day.”
Ironically, prisoners are better off if they are directly involved in incidents that cause a lockdown, because they are brought to the restricted housing unit, incident reports are filed, and prisoners have access to the law library and can appeal the decisions made by prison staff. If you’re an unsuspecting prisoner on the block just trying to live your life and do your time, you don’t get that due process.
Bryant Arroyo has filed multiple grievances against Frackville staff and the DOC regarding this “violence reduction policy,” but as of this writing they have not been responded.
String of abuses against inmates
The lockdown policy is just the latest in a string of abuses perpetrated against the inmates at SCI Frackville. There are still no educational programs specifically for inmates with long-term or life sentences like Bryant. There is still no ESL program, even after Arroyo successfully lobbied for an ESL program on behalf of his fellow Spanish-speaking inmate Rafael Rodriguez.
Staff agreed that in a facility with a sizeable Spanish-speaking population, they must have at least one ESL instructor on hand, but the facility has failed to hire anyone after the decision was made nearly a year ago.
During Ramadan, Muslim prisoners who were fasting and placed on lockdown had no rescheduled meal time and either had to break their own fast knowing they’d be restricted to their cells or wait until nightfall to eat an ice cold “iftar” meal [specially prepared meal to break a fast]. Months ago, many Muslim prisoners filed grievances because the visiting room vending machines were disproportionately stocked with pork products, and neither inmates nor their families were able to share a meal together on visits.
“White supremacy? That’s policy,” says Arroyo. “But the change here is inevitable. Because this is torture.”
After a manufactured scare about prison staff being sickened after exposure to synthetic drugs, prisoners are now subjected to strip searches before and after visitation with families. Arroyo and other prisoners say these aggressive and punitive searches constitute sexual harassment and sexual assault and are meant to keep prisoners isolated and discourage them from scheduling visits with loved ones. Staff euphemistically refer to this practice as “unclothed searches” and deny that making inmates take off all their clothes and submit to cavity searches is at all sexual or harassing.
Incidentally, despite these increased security measures, the trafficking of synthetic drugs inside prisons is reportedly at an all-time high. It is common knowledge that guards and prison staff, not inmates, are the ones who are smuggling the drugs into facilities to be sold. Addiction is wreaking havoc on the community. “Guys on synthetics — they’re just getting high,” Arroyo says. “It’s like that’s all they’re looking forward to.”
Inmates have also been denied the right to wear safety collars to prevent exposure to radiation when being made to go through full x-ray body-scanners before and after visits. There is still insufficient research regarding the safety of body scanners; the technology is similar to that employed at airport security checkpoints. But prisoners’ concerns have been categorically dismissed.
Environmental dangers in prison
Arroyo recently had to undergo surgery after suffering from precancerous polyps in his throat. Initially told by staff that he was just suffering from acid reflux, Arroyo fought for an examination by an otolaryngologist who immediately discovered the advanced state of his affliction. Arroyo is certain the polyps arose from the toxic conditions in the prison, specifically the poisonous state of the drinking water.
In a recent broadcast for Prison Radio, political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal spoke of an article he had written for Workers World about Bryant Arroyo, whom he dubbed the world’s first “jailhouse environmentalist.” He describes the multiple battles now being waged by inmates against the environmental crimes of the mass incarceration industry.
Prisons, like military bases, are poisonous sites that are often built on land that has already been ravaged by capitalism. Arroyo led a campaign that successfully shut down a coal gassification plant scheduled to be built near a Pennsylvania state correctional facility, a scheme that would have cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Bryant brags that he’s now taken over a billion dollars out of the pockets of the “corporate raiders” he has dedicated his life to fighting against. “I’m in the billionaire club! I just don’t get to collect it myself. But I’ll tell you, I feel like a very rich man. Donald Trump can’t prove that he’s a billionaire, but I can.”
Prisons: ‘places of mass pollution’
“The globe is under constant assault,” says Arroyo, a deeply faithful and committed environmentalist. “Our oceans are filled with plastic. It’s an abomination.”
Mumia asks, “What are prisons except sinks of negativity? What are they except places of mass pollution of the spirit, the mind, the psyche? The environment of prisons is one of oppression. We cannot ignore this truth. How can any good come from it?”
Bryant Arroyo and Mumia Abu-Jamal are two of Workers World’s most tireless advocates on the inside, fighting against censorship of the paper within the prison system and fighting on behalf of their fellow inmates. In a nation where prisons are concentration camps for the poor, all prisoners are political prisoners.
There are no walls in the workers struggle! Tear them down!
ALABAMA PRISONERS SAY THEY’VE BEEN PUNISHED FOR TRYING TO REDUCE VIOLENCE
A wave of hunger strikes hit Alabama prisons as DOJ released a report calling the facilities “unconstitutional.”
The videos are grainy and shot through cell bars, but prisoners can be seen slumped on the ground outside, their arms tied behind their backs, with dark spots that appear to be blood on their white uniforms. One man on the ground appears to be bleeding from his head.
“The riot team, they just beat the folks to death,” someone says in one video. “Man that man is bloody as f–k right there,” a voice says in another video.
The 2015 videos purportedly showed the results of a shakedown in Alabama’s St. Clair prison. They are part of a series of YouTube videos posted under the account Free Alabama Movement by people incarcerated in the state and their supporters. The videos, which began appearing in 2013, reveal the inhumane conditions inside Alabama’s prison system and feature interviews with prisoners about their experiences in the criminal justice system and over sentencing in the state.
Violence in Alabama prisons grabbed national attention earlier this month when the Department of Justice issued a scathing report detailing how overcrowding, dismal conditions, a lack of staff, and deliberate indifference from prison officials contributed to rampant unchecked violence, ,sexual abuse and extortion. But prisoners have tried to expose this reality for years.
“In particular we have reasonable cause to believe that Alabama routinely violates the constitutional rights of prisoners housed in Alabama prisons by failing to protect them from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, and by failing to provide safe conditions,” Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband and three U.S. attorneys wrote in a letter to Governor Kay Ivey.
This was not news to the people inside the facilities. Many Alabama prisoners say they have been punished for trying to improve these conditions and reduce violence. Dozens of prisoners have organized with the Free Alabama Movement, a prisoners’ rights group that calls for improved conditions, sentencing reforms, and an end to prison slavery, and Convicts Against Violence, a group of incarcerated people who practice peacekeeping and other de-escalation tactics. These organizers work with younger prisoners in their dorms as well as the leaders of the various gangs inside prison to de-escalate tensions and avoid conflict.
Recently, 10 Alabama prisoners involved with Convicts Against Violence or the Free Alabama Movement went on hunger strikes to protest being moved to solitary confinement. The men were put into solitary confinement after a massive raid in February at St. Clair. The raid enlisted 300 law enforcement officers to shake down the prison for contraband. During the raid, about 30 men were moved from St. Clair to Holman prison.
Nine of the 10 hunger strikers were placed in solitary as a result of the raid. None of the men was given a reason for the move, and none had any infractions. The Alabama Department of Corrections said the move was a “preventative measure.”
Many Alabama prisoners say they have been punished for trying to improve prison conditions and reduce violence.
Kinetik Justice, a co-founder of the Free Alabama Movement, was the first prisoner to go on a hunger strike days after being placed in solitary at Holman. His main demand was to return to the general population—which the Corrections Department granted a week later.
Afterward, eight other prisoners who had been moved into solitary at Holman began hunger strikes. They demanded two things: the reasons why they were placed in solitary and to be returned to the general population.
All but three of the hunger strikers are back in the general population. Officials at Limestone Correctional Facility began force-feeding one prisoner, Kenneth Traywick, on April 21, after he refused food for two weeks to protest being moved to solitary confinement. He demands to be moved to the general population, to be transferred out of Limestone, for the Corrections Department to stop his “retaliatory transfers” from prison to prison, and an end to the use of solitary confinement in Limestone’s C block.
“For prisoners who have had all their autonomy and humanity stripped away, all they have is their bodies and spirits, so hunger strikes are one of the only nonviolent tools that they have to expose the system that is oppressing them,” said Mei Azaad, an organizer with Fight Toxic Prisons. Azaad does support work for people incarcerated in Alabama.
Alex (not his real name), who is incarcerated at Holman prison, said he spoke with some of the hunger strikers. He says the conditions they were placed in were unsanitary and lacked necessities.
“They were just put in the cell with no soap, no toiletries, no toothbrush, no nothing—nothing but a mattress. Some of them didn’t even have a sheet or blanket,” Alex told The Appeal. “They were transferred from St. Clair to Holman with nothing. The COs [corrections officers] took all their property. They were left in there for about a week, I think, before DOC even gave them any tissue.”
After the other eight Holman prisoners went on hunger strikes, the Corrections Department cut off the water in their cells. That meant that not only were the prisoners cut off from drinking water when they wanted, they also couldn’t flush the toilets in their cells.
“They was forced to stay in a cell with urine in the commode and defecating in the toilet and leaving it there,” Alex told The Appeal. “When they did cut the water on a day or two later, they tried to flush the toilet, but it overflowed. They didn’t get anything to clean up the cells.”
Members of the Free Alabama Movement and their supporters fear that the moves to solitary confinement are part of a larger strategy by corrections officials to separate well-established, older, respected prisoners from the general population. Supporters say that the Corrections Department will often move peacekeeping organizers to solitary confinement or transfer them to another prison when they see those prisoners start to gain influence.
If you don’t have people in leadership … who those inmates will actually look up to and respect, then you’re going to have nothing but total chaos and destruction.Alex, an organizer for Convicts Against Violence and the Free Alabama Movement
In 2016, Kinetik wrote an essay on the Free Alabama Movement’s website titled “The Holman Project,” in which he wrote that prison officials were moving respected, older prisoners in order to stoke violence.
“For the past several months a ‘swap out’ transfer program has been implemented in which older, mature and responsible, influential and respected prisoners have been sent away from Holman, only to be replaced with younger … and misguided youth,” Kinetik wrote.
“Dormitories have become ‘WAR ZONES’ where there is no security. As a result, many of these children have banded together in groups in order to protect one another from one another—with bloody and tragic results.”
Alex, an organizer for Convicts Against Violence and the Free Alabama Movement who asked to be identified only by his first name, has been transferred to nearly a dozen different prisons in Alabama. He said he thinks this practice of repeated transfers by the Corrections Department destabilizes prisons and contributes to the violence in those facilities.
“When you live in an environment that’s congested with a bunch of men who’s taken away from society for many years, possibly the rest of his life, most people don’t have good attitudes,” Alex said.
“When small things happen, they get blown out of proportion, and that’s when violence breaks out. So if you don’t have people in leadership … who those inmates will actually look up to and respect, then you’re going to have nothing but total chaos and destruction.”
The Alabama Department of Corrections did not respond to requests for comment on questions regarding the hunger strike, water cutoffs, and transferring older prisoners.
At the end of the report, the Department of Justice notified the state that they can file a lawsuit 49 days after releasing the report. The DOJ’s recommendations include hiring 500 additional correction officers, transferring prisoners to facilities outside of the Alabama Corrections Department, revising disciplinary processes so that they do not punish people subjected to and reporting abuse, and implementing cell and prison shakedowns so that 15 percent of all housing units are searched each day. The report also recommended repairing and replacing all broken locks in Alabama prisons within 30 days after being identified and installing cameras throughout the prison system within six months.
Many people say they doubt the DOJ’s recommendations will fix the longtime issues in Alabama’s prisons.
“Having more video cameras doesn’t actually make anyone safer, it just makes it documented,” Azaad said. “But if that is still in the hands of the people who are in power, who already don’t care about the violence right now, or already are instigating violence, just having it on record doesn’t inherently do anything.”
Organizers worry some of the proposals could make life more difficult for prisoners. The DOJ has recommended increasing regular raids like the one that landed organizers in solitary confinement. Ivey has billedthe construction of three new megaprisons in Alabama as a solution to the ongoing human rights crisis in the state’s prisons.
Jenny, a mother of an Alabama prisoner who asked to be identified by her first name only, said she was skeptical that the DOJ’s investigation and involvement will actually help the people facing abuse and unsanitary conditions. She said Alabama officials might use the DOJ report to scare residents into supporting more prisons.
“What I want to know is, are you gonna shut these other prisons down?” she asked. “Don’t just build new prisons to build new prisons. The prisons aren’t what’s killing our men and women. COs and the way that everything is set up, the violence, that’s what’s killing them.”
”What are they going to do about it? And how long are they going to sit there? And how many more of our men and women have to be slaughtered in there?”
Hidden from public view and without any real political or judicial oversight, the Prison Industrial Complex has been forcing revolutionary political prisoners, prison rebels, jailhouse lawyers or litigators and so forth into domestic exile. Historically, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has always moved its federal prisoners around the country, out of the state where they were convicted, as a matter of course.
Well, this tactic has since trickled down to the state level where now various state departments of corrections, as a part of a larger strategy of psychological warfare, has been shipping prisoners out of state, thousands of miles away from our families and support networks. This is no coincidence and in fact is being orchestrated and coordinated on a national level.
COINTELPRO and counterinsurgency behind the walls
During the height of the Civil Rights Movement and what’s known as the Black Power Movement, the federal government – through its various security and intelligence agencies – spearheaded by the FBI initiated a counterinsurgency and counter-revolutionary program known by the acronym COINTELPRO (Counterintelligence Program).
In “Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party,” pages 210-211, Joshua Bloom writes: “On July 15, 1969, Hoover publicly announced that of all the Black nationalist groups, ‘the Black Panther Party, without question, represents the greatest threat to the internal security of the country’ …
“(B)y the fall of 1968, the FBI was secretly developing what would become its most intensive program to repress any Black political organization. Of 295 actions initiated by the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program to destabilize Black nationalist organizations, 233 of them – or 79 percent – targeted the Black Panther Party. Federal actions against the Panthers ranged from spreading false information about misappropriation of party money to fomenting marital strife and, in some cases, participating in planned killings of Panther leaders …
“COINTELPRO aimed to undermine the Black Panthers’ ability to threaten the political status quo. Toward that end, its agents tried to foster divisions between the Panthers and potential recruits and between the Party other organizations, as well as among the Black Panthers themselves.”
This program systematically targeted any political, militant or revolutionary organization that threatened the political status quo. As pointed out above, the BPP and later the Black Liberation Army (BLA) was its primary and most principal target for destruction as started by the war kriminal J. Edgar Hoover – the BPP then represented the biggest internal security threat to the U.S. government and power structure that ever existed.
What a lot of people have failed to recognize or connect the dots, as the state security forces were targeting our political and militant organizations on the streets and murdering or “neutralizing” our leadership or cadre, they were also carrying out a systematic program behind the walls. A lot of the newer generations and younger up and coming revolutionaries have failed to make this connection while at the same time being targeted and victimized by this same government program.
As the Panthers, BLA cadre and others were being hunted, murdered, framed or forced into exile on the streets, we saw the assassination of Comrade George Jackson. We saw the brutal, murderous repression of the Attica Rebellion.
We also saw the murder, isolation and disappearing of countless other brothers and sisters who were part of the movement and were behind the walls. The state declared and waged war on revolutionary brothers and sisters who were trapped behind enemy lines. The same COINTELPRO tactics that were being used against us on the streets also came behind the walls. This is how Ruchell “Cinque” McGee or Hugo Pinnell (RIP) can do over 40 years in solitary. This is how the Angola 3, Herman Ferguson, and many others can be buried alive in solitary for decades.
Now fast forward to the ‘80s. You see the state is a master at deception. With one hand they giveth and with the other hand they murder and taketh away. A lot of hard fought human and prisoner rights were won in the ‘60s and ‘70s when the Supreme Court and the circuit courts were forced by the activism and sacrifices of prisoners and our allies, comrades and supporters to give certain concessions on issues of due process, religious rights etc.
It was also a tumultuous time in the kountry for various movements, resistance and struggles for political power, reformism, human rights and national liberation. The state learned from their mistakes and losses during this time. They learned from the prison movement as it was spearheaded by Comrade George and Muslims, many of whom belonged to the Nation of Islam (NOI) during that period of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
So moving into the ‘80s, in an attempt to avoid a repeat of that era, the state moved towards the building of control unit prisons and supermaxes with the opening of the Lexington Control Unit and by replacing Alcatraz with the Marion Control Unit in Marion, Illinois. While prisons have always had dungeons (“holes”) where they attempted to crush any form of resistance, this new development represented a more scientific approach.
Instead of continuing outright brutal murder and torture, the state used various behavioral sciences and moved towards a more scientific approach of total social isolation and sensory deprivation. They created all sorts of scientific behavioral modification programs, programs designed to break you mentally, physically and spiritually.
It’s a new slave breaking program – destroying your personality and rebuilding you in the image of the state. It’s also perfecting the use of divide and conquer. Creating class divisions amongst the ranks of prisoners, i.e. those who went along with or participated in the behavioral modification programs, now euphemistically called step down programs or transition programs – programs now geared towards cell bossism, self-policing and the policing of other prisoners for class privileges.
Recently, before the resignation of the former reactionary Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Oppressident Trump issued a mandate to Sessions that he start a database classifying all prisoners who advocate “revolutionary Black nationalist politics, Black identity or self-government ideologies” as domestic terrorists.
Moving into the ‘90s, the rise of supermax prisons would catch on and spread like wildfire. As lawsuits were filed about various physical, constitutional and human rights abuses, as various political movements, groups and formations arose to fight this new trend of state repression and some units were exposed for human rights abuses and slated for shutdown, the state shifted gears again.
A lot of resistance on the outside was spearheaded by the awesome work of the Committee to End the Marion Lockdown (CEML) and the publishing of their newsletters “Cages of Steel” and “Cold Storage.” The exceptional work by dedicated lawyers from the People’s Law Office in Chicago also had a significant impact, particularly out here in the Midwest.
The state attempted to adapt and continued to evolve its barbarism with the rise of Pelican Bay, the ADX in Florence, Colorado, the Secure Housing Unit (SHU) in Carlisle, Indiana, and the Maximum Control Complex (MCC) in Westville, Indiana. MCC is the first state supermax ever condemned by an international human rights organization for its human rights abuses.
These units were used to target political prisoners (PPs) and POWs and they were used to target the political leadership of both existing and up-and-coming political formations. They were also used as tools of intimidation as the state pushed a form of bogey man politics in an attempt to repress jailhouse lawyers and litigators, prison rebels, influential prisoners and future revolutionaries.
The enemy state was using a multi-prong attack of 1) targeting leadership and PPs and POWs for further repression and isolation; and 2) trying to prevent the rise of a new prison resistance movement by attempting to kill it while it was still in its infancy – still in the womb, so to speak. Needless to say, with the rise of formations such as the New Afrikan Black Panther Prison Chapter, New Afrikan Liberation Collective, various formations in Cali that were born out of the massive prison hunger strikes and Pelican Bay resistance and general strikes nationally, the state strategy has failed!
While what’s known as the prison movement and prison resistance has never been completely stomped out, you do have what’s known as the ebb and flow of the movement, which has both a low tide and a high tide. The enemy state brought what’s known as the “shock doctrine,” as defined by Naomi Klein, behind the walls.
They started putting up fences, dog kennels and gates everywhere, blocking us off into small sections; they began hardening the facilities even more with new sophisticated surveillance and monitoring technology. They implemented controlled movement and tightened up internal security, all the while reducing and removing institutional programs and jobs.
They stopped building the old school model prisons of four or five tiers stacked on top of one another and instead started building these prefabricated prison pods put together like rubik’s cubes where various size groups could be watched more closely, where prisoners could be psychologically profiled and classified and moved around or manipulated on the pod chessboard.
Just as police security forces on the streets are being militarized, formed into tactical units with the latest military toys put to civilian use, the same is being applied to prison Special Emergency Response Teams (SERT) and Special Operation Response Teams (SORT). In fact, a lot of military veterans from U.S. imperialist wars are returning back to the U.S. and joining various police security and correctional agencies, where military tactics, counterinsurgency, urban warfare, torture and repressive tactics against “terrorists” are being taught and adopted.
The New Jim Crow and critique of mass incarceration
With the release of the book “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander, all of the liberal left and liberal elite wanted to jump on the bandwagon of critiquing the kkkriminal (in)justice system – critiquing everything but neo-kolonialism. But I digress.
With this critique came the blatant exposure in disparities in sentencing and the institutionalized racism and genocide built into the system itself – realities and contradictions that oppressed nations and peoples have always been aware of.
In this critique, it was exposed that long term solitary causes mental deterioration, PTSD and constitutes a form of psychological torture – that in fact it’s a violation of international law, the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and the Mandela Rules.
It also revealed that states with crumbling schools and infrastructure and other social ills could no longer justify or rationalize spending millions and billions of dollars on the so-called kriminal justice system.
There had to be a public shift – or at least the perception of a shift – in the conversation on prisons and mass incarceration. And as usual, the neo-fascist enemy state employed the art of smoke and mirrors, engaging in subterfuge.
Instead of true or real reforms, which the kapitalist state is incapable of doing, they attempted to apply a bandaid to a major trauma wound. Instead of major surgery, we get cut, paste and stitch. For example, now that it has become fashionable and more cost effective to take a new look at long-term solitary confinement, the state is adding old tactics in new form to its arsenal of repression and control.
This low-intensity warfare is manifesting in the opioid epidemic behind the walls and the rise of psychotropic medications as a cure-all, from the common headache to psychotic behavior. Just as the popular ex-TV series “Snowfall” depicted the rise of the crack epidemic in California, spearheaded by the CIA and federal government back in the ‘80s, so today terrorist and white supremacist pigs move poisonous synthetic forms of weed that have been treated with various chemicals like roach spray. Some shit that got these dudes falling into comas, violent seizures or dropping dead altogether.
Then there are the tactics of forcing us to consume contaminated water while building prisons in cancer corridors on contaminated soil. Why are so many prisoners and PPs and POWs dying from cancer related issues within a short amount of time of their release? They are people who have served over 20 or 25 years in these death kamps!
Why are so many of us developing kidney and liver diseases and hypertension issues? Why is it across the board whether you are vegan, vegetarian, workout or whatever, regardless of nationality? In this case, the nationality is “convict.”
Additionally, there is the state’s manipulation of gang warfare and racial hostilities as part of its low intensity warfare. Using these reactionary forces, the state targets some PPs or POWs, especially the more active and vocal ones, including some of our elder PPs who can’t adequately physically defend themselves. This isn’t a coincidence.
This leads me to the main reason I wrote this piece. I want to address something that isn’t being talked about or at least not in the proper context, in my humble opinion. That is the practice of sending state prisoners into domestic exile by subjecting us to what’s officially called the Interstate Corrections Compact. It’s an agreement between states to exchange, swap or accept prisoners from states, jurisdictions or counties other than their own.
Sold off the plantation
On Dec. 18, 2018, in the wee hours of the morning, I was packed up, chained up, thrown in the back of a paddy wagon-type van equipped with an infrared camera, and sent on a 14 hour ride to the neo-konfederate state of Virginia, without any form of due process and not allowed to pack my own property. A squad of 15 police did that, while I was held in the shower for over two hours with a sentry posted outside the door. Meanwhile, other team members assembled a high-tech electronic pole that detects any form of metal to ensure that I did not have a phone, cuff key, or knife shoved up my rectum.
In fact, I wasn’t even allowed to be told where I was going, as the windows were covered so I couldn’t see out the windshield to read highway signs. I had to search license plates on the front of cars on the highway to determine what state I was in. In every state we stopped for a 15 minute bathroom break, and I was fed a dry peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Prior to leaving the facility, I was given and forced to wear and travel with a pair of shower shoes, not my own or from my property. I would later discover that the shower shoes were contaminated with some kind of sour-smelling fungus. Initially the smell was at a low to medium level like sour milk.
After three weeks and I finally figured out it was the shoes, and my cellie suggested we treat them with hot water and disinfectant until I could purchase a new pair. When we completed this process, the fungus exploded and actually contaminated anything it touched and, in fact, permeated an entire two tier area!
The shoes had to be placed in two plastic bags and thrown away; clothes, socks etc. had to be destroyed and the cell scrubbed. Had I continued to wear these shoes, who knows what damage would have been done to my feet and what poisons would have been absorbed into my bloodstream. Why were they substituted for my own personal pair in the first place? Diabolical!
I discovered that this move had been orchestrated and signed off on by the governor, attorney general and executive branch of the IDOC. I also discovered that I had been traded and sold for Comrade-Brotha Kevin Rashid Johnson, NABPP-PC chairperson, who had been moved to Pendleton Correctional Facility (PCF) in Indiana a couple of months earlier.
PCF – formerly known as the Indiana Reformatory – has a long racist history of brutality and was the scene of a violent prison rebellion on Feb. 1, 1985. The brotha has been in the state for approximately three months and still hasn’t been given his personal property!
In my research, I’m discovering that brothers and comrades who are either leadership, cadre or who have continued to be active and attempting to rebuild the movement, comrades whom the state has been unable to break – these comrades are being targeted all around the country for domestic exile, i.e., moving us away from our families and support networks solely based on our ideological and political beliefs. The NABPP-PC and its cadre and leadership appear to be one of the principal targets thus far. Some comrades have been moved to three, four, five different states within the last three years alone!
I discovered that this move had been orchestrated and signed off on by the governor, attorney general and executive branch of the IDOC. I also discovered that I had been traded and sold for Comrade-Brotha Kevin Rashid Johnson, NABPP-PC chairperson, who had been moved to Pendleton Correctional Facility (PCF) in Indiana a couple of months earlier.
This method and strategy of the states are giving a whole new meaning to the Fugitive Slave Act! The higher courts have ruled that we have no reasonable expectation to be held or confined within our state of conviction.
Once again this gives credence to the reality that we are being dehumanized as modern day slaves and chattel. Once again the 13th Amendment statement – “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States” – becomes crystallized.
Doesn’t this tactic violate our so-called constitutional right of being free to believe and express our religious and political beliefs without fear of retribution or retaliation from the state? This is also psychological warfare, coordinated and orchestrated on a national level among high levels of the government and its security agencies.
Removing us from support structures of families, comrades and supporters, all the while disappearing our legal materials, law books, family photos etc. and subjecting us to a foreign and possibly hostile terrain is meant to make you feel vulnerable, enhance your isolation, and – if possible – neutralize you by reactionary forces. When I was moved out here to Virginia, my TV disappeared while in “storage.” So did all of my law books that specifically focused on Indiana state and 7th Circuit law, all evidence pertaining to a pending lawsuit, Quran, Bible and many other books – all disappeared. Note: Law books that didn’t focus on Indiana but federal law instead were all left untouched!
We are being moved without any form of due process, hearings or heads up, and it is usually performed in a military fashion with heightened security. We are also being denied access to the courts. The law library here is mediocre, almost primitive, with no access to any Indiana codes, cases etc.
Recently, before the resignation of the former reactionary Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Oppressident Trump issued a mandate to Sessions that he start a database classifying all prisoners who advocate “revolutionary Black nationalist politics, Black identity or self-government ideologies” as domestic terrorists. While it’s no surprise, this alone has serious and far-reaching implications in our era of hyper anti-terrorist rhetoric. Some years ago, there was a discussion taking place in the federal government among prisoncrats about creating regional prisons for all the so-called “worst of the worst.” This means they’re talking about taking the art of Supermax facilities to a whole other level.
On the state level, before they start building Supermax torture chambers, they were using the tactic of transit in an attempt to suppress and isolate political prisoners and revolutionary forces. This meant you were repeatedly being moved or shipped from one prison to the next.
Every few months or at least once or twice a year, you were shipped to another prison in an attempt to keep you off balance and from building any type of foundation or political base and infrastructure. This practice was altered on the state level with the rise of the Control Unit and Supermax prisons, where now the practice becomes to just isolate you and bury you alive for years on end.
Well, revolutionaries, political prisoners and activists found a way to subvert that attempt at isolation. In fact, we flipped the script and turned a lot of these units and dungeons into schools and universities of revolutionary cadre development. Turned them into base kamps of resistance and struggle, e.g. George Jackson University – even more so with the advancement of various forms of technology.
This isn’t to say or suggest that some of us aren’t or weren’t permanently damaged by this form of scientific torture or brutalization.
Repression breeds one or two things. It breeds either resistance or cowardice. You either find a way to fight back, to struggle forward, or you surrender to the tyranny of the oppressor. Take the massive hunger strikes and work stoppages throughout the penal colony of California, spearheaded by brothas slammed down in solitary at Pelican Bay.
This continued resistance and response by our outside comrades and supporters have taken away some of the power from the tools of the state that are used to destroy and brutalize. This is occurring as we see under the Trump administration the U.S.’s withdrawal from U.N. treaties and covenants on genocide, human rights, protection of prisoners etc. In fact, the U.N. – with all of its hypocrisy and lack of democratic practices – is being even more de-legitimized.
As contradictions sharpen, as revolutionary formations continue to rise behind enemy lines, the state must come up with some type of Hitlerian “final solution.” They must up the murder game and bring it to our leadership.
The sending us out of state into “foreign territory” based solely on our politics and practices allows the sending state to disavow having a hand in nefarious attacks. It allows the sending state to disavow having any role in the orchestration of our killings and assassinations.
Isn’t that one of the key tactics of COINTELPRO, along with sowing seeds of conflict and distrust? Why should it be any different for revolutionaries and movements behind the walls?
This is what isn’t being discussed enough amongst us on both sides of the wall. The narrative needs to be changed and put into proper context. Ain’t no such thing as legal revolution, legal resistance. We all profess to know and overstand the nature of the beast and enemy, yet don’t prepare for or respond to his murderous tactics.
When we expose their hidden agendas, this gives some cover and security for targeted comrades because it serves notice that not only are comrades’ general welfare and health being monitored, but also that our enemies are being watched by outside forces and allies. It serves notice that any suspicious attacks or murders of comrades will not only be thoroughly investigated and exposed, but that there must and will be accountability on both sides of the wall.
National infrastructure building and strengthening of networks
The last few years we have seen a rise in coordinated protest and resistance behind enemy lines, especially during the month of Black August. It is way past time for a revolutionary vanguard structure that represents and gives outside teeth to this resistance. Teeth that can eventually bite.
It’s way past time that all of these various defense committees and small group support structures for political prisoners start not only talking together but building together, start to actually be absorbed into existing formations. The Jericho Movement has been putting in work for over 20 years. The material by Comrade Jalil – “Frolinan” – is even older. Should be required reading!
Recently, some of us have begun to push for regional organizing committees comprised of and representative of the most active political prisoners and POWs in that region and their support networks and structures. We want to eventually build some sort of national steering committee for the support of PPs and POWs, but also for the resistance behind enemy lines, giving such resistance a point of the spear.
This also helps to undermine the state strategy of forcible exile and isolation. When a comrade such as Rashid gets moved to Indiana, or myself to Virginia, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t immediately and automatically be absorbed into and supported by those existing networks on both sides of the wall. In my case, NABPP-PC comrades not only made me feel welcomed, but offered concrete assistance on both sides of the wall.
People, we have to get clear on a vision and our political line. When you have a clear vision, a correct vision, it makes it easier to build. As we push for and build revolutionary national liberation struggle, ultimately one of our goals has to be to make these dungeons ungovernable. Shut this mfkr down! Shut your profiteering down!
No new prisons or ICE facilities get completed building without the possibility of being sabotaged! The ultimate strategy can’t be about reforms, making it a kinder, gentler oppression or being recognized by the U.N. It has to be about sharpening the contradictions of anti-imperialist struggle on both sides of the wall. Where it becomes possible to call for mass protest, mass general strikes, accountability of known terrorist pigs. If we ain’t envisioning that, if we ain’t building towards that or at least in that direction, then we playing!
At some point, we have to develop the capability to liberate comrades, PPs and POWs that have been languishing behind enemy lines for 35, 45 plus years and now are in their 60s and 70s and 80s. At some point, the qualitative leap has to be made from just protest to active resistance. That has to be an essential element of the vision.
A key part of facilitating that is the building of ROCs and absorbing some of the Basic Units (BUs) that already exist. Recently, some formations have put aside various petty differences, set aside personal egos and ideological differences, and have merged in an attempt to further strengthen and build those national networks I mentioned earlier.
This is also an effort to help strengthen networks of outside comrades and organizations as we move towards building that vanguard. Beyond just growling, we have to move in the direction of being able to bite! This is our time. All we have to do is seize it! East Coast, West Coast, Midwest, South – do y’all hear me?
Send our brother some love and light: Shaka Shakur, 1996207, Sussex SP 1B-33, 24414 Musselwhite Dr., Waverly VA 23890. He writes on behalf of Prison Lives Matter and NALC.