Category Archives: Prison

The Shock Doctrine in Texas Prisons / By Kenneth Foster

THIS ARTICLE is an analysis of the torture tactics and repressive methods used in administrative segregation prisons across Texas, and generally in America. To highlight these matters and how they’re applied, I want to draw a parallel with Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

The Shock Doctrine is a book that documents the brutal economic tactics pioneered by University of Chicago professor Milton Friedman. His approach to economics became orthodoxy in almost every corner of the globe. It has been described as “neoliberalism,” “free market,” “laissez-faire capitalism” and “globalization,” but the term that would stick in the minds of most people is “shock therapy.”

“Shock therapy” has been applied both economically and physically. I will focus on the latter, but let me first talk about the former, because the economic shock doctrine allowed the physical shock doctrine to thrive.

As Naomi Klein explains, in the 1950s, the CIA funded the experiments of Dr. Donald Ewen Cameron at McGill University in Canada. Cameron’s goal was to break people’s minds down, creating a “clean slate” upon which to write. In addition to so-called “talk therapy” and isolation techniques, Cameron also experimented with pharmaceuticals and with electroshock. This research made an impression on the CIA, particularly the use of electrical shocks, not just to inflict pain, but with the goal of erasing structured personalities so others could be created.

As Klein points out, there is a relationship between this physical “shock therapy” and the economic “shock therapy” championed by Friedman, who once said:

Only a crisis–actual or perceived–produces change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available, until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.

Crises were induced by political deceit, governmental repression and other pressures, giving Friedman and his “Chicago Boys” the chance to introduce their policies. Among the victims were Chile, Poland and Eastern Europe, and countries of the Middle East.

While reading about the tactics perpetuated on the citizens of these countries–shock therapy in both economic and physical forms–I couldn’t help but to get a lump in my throat, as I recognized many of them taking place right here today, in Texas prisons.

Whether consciously engineered or unconsciously mimicked, the similarities exist. And nothing is being done to change them. Regardless of where they are implemented, human beings will respond to the kind of conditions caused by shock therapy in the same way: insanely, suicidally and self-destructively.

None of this should surprise any reader, as this is part of the history of the U.S. government. From Latin America to Vietnam, from the Middle East to right here in the U.S., with the Native Americans to the Black Panther Party), the U.S. government has been behind coups, assassinations, massacres, deliberately introduced diseases, covert warfare and much, much more.

That legacy continues in places we don’t see and don’t hear about. Sometimes, however, these places are a lot closer than we realize.

As you read this, know that the facts are at the touch of your fingertips. Google it–but when you read it, don’t just walk away. Organize–because as Howard Zinn stated, “People, when organized, have enormous power, more than any government.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
The Torture Chambers

There are around thousands of prisons and jails in the U.S. and nearly 2.3 million people filling them, as of the end of 2010. Estimates of the numbers of prisoners held in solitary confinement vary, running as high as 80,000 at any given point in time.

In Texas, there were 152,000 prisoners in the state as of the middle of last year, the most of any state in the country. Some 8,100 of them are held in “administrative segregation,” according to the Solitary Watch website: “They are held in isolation in cells that measure 6-by-9-feet for 23 hours a day, with one hour to exercise in a small, fenced yard. More than 2,000 of them have a diagnosis of serious mental illness or a developmental disability.”

Then there are the supermax prisons, like the federal supermax in Florence, Colo., where conditions of isolation surpass anything you could imagine. The shapes and sizes and architectural designs vary, but the one thing common among them all is not just punishment, but the attempt to humiliate and completely break the mind and spirit.

While the supermax prisons are the most extreme form, Ad Seg prisons also create a living nightmare for those who are subjected to their oppressive tactics. What are we breeding in prisons like this?

In the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, U.S. forces carried out a wide range of interrogation procedures based on the Guantánamo Bay model, including deliberate humiliation, exploiting fears, sensory deprivation and sensory overload–all of which exist in Ad Seg prisons in America.

The impact is obvious. As a sergeant with the 82nd Airborne said of Abu Ghraib, “If he’s a good guy, you know, now he’s a bad guy because of the way we treated him.” So what do we think will happen when these tactics are used on the 2.3 million prisoners in the U.S. What do we think returns to society?

These torture chambers, aka prisons, are built around the vision of what the government describes as “behavior control.” The goal is not only to fully control the prisoners by breaking their will, but to control people throughout society by making an example of some.

Torture is as American as apple pie. But as our double-tongued political representatives , torture isn’t torture, but “coercive interrogation,” and abuse isn’t abuse, but “softening up.”

The CIA have been long perpetrators of such methods, having event produced handbooks like the infamous KUBARK manual for U.S. personnel and other governments to follow. These methods are designed to induce, deepen and sustain “shock,” which opens prisoners to suggestion and to make them comply.

Ad Seg induces such states with sensory deprivation. There is no human contact in Ad Seg. Not all Ad Seg prisoners are violent offenders. A person could be placed in Ad Seg for possession of drugs or even a cell phone while incarcerated. Nevertheless, they are cuffed and leg shackled everywhere they go. Slots in the doors at some of these prisons are made at thigh level, so when being cuffed the prisoner, regardless of age, weight or health, must squat down and throw his arms out the narrow slot behind him for cuffing.

There are no TVs, no in-cell arts or crafts to indulge in, and no educational programs to promote rehabilitation to participate in. The only activity is to sit and rot. The prisoner must find ways to keep from mental decay. If he looks to the administration for help, he’s as good as dead–mentally, spiritually and maybe even physically.

In Texas prison units like McConnell, there are no intercoms to call officers–no buttons to press for emergencies. To gain an officer’s attention, inmates must pound and kick the cell doors, which is commonly ignored unless it is done continuously). Inmates who have suffered from seizures, diabetic attacks or other conditions have often been left to lie on the floor for hours. This banging, yelling, screaming and pounding is part of the sensory overload that wreaks havoc on the mind.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
At Home and Abroad

The Bush administration approved a series of special interrogation and incarceration practices as part of the “war on terror,” to deal with suspected terrorists. But we find the same conditions in Texas prisons. They include:

— The Guantánamo Bay prison camp used isolation and deprivation of light at some points, and at other times, overloading prisoners’ senses with light and pounding sounds.

Pretty much all Ad Seg cells mimic this. Our cells are barricaded by steel. The fronts of the doors are covered by steel mesh and plexiglass. The cells have large lights that illuminate your cell for counts, feeding or officer interaction with inmates. Your senses are starved of stimulation. Your only contact is with concrete, steel or bright lights. To put pictures on your wall is an infraction of the rules.

— CIA manuals on interrogation state that “windows should be set high in the wall, with the capability of blocking out light.”

At Texas Ad Seg prisons like the McConnell, Connally, Polunsky, Telford and Michael Units, the windows are built in exactly this fashion–practically at the ceiling. This helps put prisoners in a deep disorientation and shock in order to force them to make concessions against their will.

— Jose Padilla, arrested in May 2002 at Chicago’s O’Hare airport for allegedly intending to explode a “dirty bomb,” was taken to a Navy prison in Charleston, S.C. He was subjected to tiny cells, his eyes were covered with black goggles, his ears were blocked with heavy headphones, and he was forbidden to have a clock or radio.

Similarly, cells at Ad Seg prisons are relatively small, and while we don’t have goggles or headphones forced on us, we face visual and audio deprivation from steel cells. Our outside recreation yards have 30- or 40-foot-high walls, where the only thing to be seen is the sky. Prisoners in Levels 2 and 3 housing (punitive levels) are denied radios and sometimes calendars. This creates disorientation and draws a wedge between the prisoner and human activity.

— In her book, Naomi Klein quotes prisoners of the CIA or U.S.-allied regimes who were subjected to rats and roaches in their cells. According to Klein, the Italian Muslim cleric Hassan Mustafa Nasr was kidnapped off the streets of Milan by a group of CIA agents and was rushed to Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, where he lived for 14 months in a cell with no light and where, he states, “rats and roaches walked across my body.”

There’s not a prison I’ve been in (three thus far) that have not had rats and roaches. Ants pile into cells in astronomical numbers. Prisons built in rural areas also attract skunks, bees and other insects. But the rats and roaches are the most common occupants of the cells.

— A torturer for the government in Honduras once described the practices that the CIA trained him to use, and among them was to purposely serve bad food.

In U.S. prisons, whenever there is a budget crisis in the state–which seems like always–prison food is always targeted first. This isn’t just an Ad Seg issue–it affects every prisoner. Especially since September 11 and the ongoing wars that ensued, prison food has declined in size and quality.

For example, before 2001, prisoners used to receive a small dessert on each lunch tray. That has trickled down to one a week. Portions have generally declined to kiddie size, especially during 30-day lockdowns. More stews are served, which is really just a slop of potatoes, peas, carrots and alleged beef, floating in a greasy sauce–these and noodle meals are served four to six times a week. There are No fresh fruits or vegetables, only the same overcooked or undercooked vegetables on a daily basis.

Real milk is also a thing of the past–only powdered milk is served in Texas Department of Corrections. Ironically, under Chile’s horrendous dictator Augusto Pinochet, one of the junta’s first move in cutting “luxury items” was to eliminate school milk programs. Obviously, Texas sees milk in the same light: a “luxury.”

When human beings are subjected to the vilest of conditions, what can be expected of their mental and behavioral state? We can avoid reality, but we cannot avoid the consequences of reality.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
The Psychological Abyss

At Guantánamo Bay, a section called D Block was reserved for detainees in permanent delusional states. These were people who, after extensive use torture, were exhibiting behavior consistent with extreme psychological trauma–talking to non-existent people, hearing voices, etc.

Naomi Klein quotes James Yee, the former U.S. Army Muslim chaplain who on Delta Block, describing these prisoners. “I’d stop to talk to them,” Yee said, “and they would respond to me in a childlike voice, talking complete nonsense. Many of them would loudly sing childish songs, repeating them over and over. Some would stand on their steel bed frames and act out childishly.”

Sabin Willett, a lawyer who represented several Guantánamo prisoners warned that if the situation continued, “you’re going to have an insane asylum.”

In some Texas Ad Segs, I believe it’s at that same point. While on death row, I lived in an Ad Seg cell for seven years. I’ve witnessed some of the above behaviors and worse, and I also see them going on in McConnell’s Ad Seg.

In death row Ad Seg housing pods, I’ve witnessed men cover themselves in feces, mutilate themselves with razors and commit suicide. I’ve seen men completely stop talking to other inmates and even stop showering.

Certain inmates suffer from extreme mental illness, and yell and scream all day. Some, as Yee described of the Guantánamo prisoners, make baby noises. One inmate would tap, using a cup on his door, the theme music to the TV show Green Acres for hours at a time each day.

Another recurring theme in Ag Seg prisons is inmates trying to get an officer’s attention by yelling, “I’m gonna kill myself,” over and over. Since McConnell’s Ad Seg is not equipped with intercoms, inmates must scream and yell. When ignored, inmates must kick on the steel door, which echoes like thunder rolls.

Other inmates suffering from psychological illnesses ramble for hours at a time. they talk about electronic devices planted in their rectums, how their food has been poisoned, the poisonous gas is being sprayed in their air vents. Many times, I’ve heard government or Masonic conspiracies fill their talking.

Jose Padilla, the man who was taken to the Navy prison in South Carolina, had these kind of conditions forced on him for 1,307 days, and by the end, as his lawyer told the court, “The extended torture of Mr. Padilla has left him damaged, both mentally and physically. The governments’ treatment of Mr. Padilla has robbed him of personhood.”

What was forced upon Padilla is calmly, subtly and consistently being administered to men and women in Ad Seg prisons across America. Some prisoners will never leave Ad Seg, and so the 1,307 days that Padilla endured will easily be surpassed. So will the trauma he suffered.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Surviving

In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein writes:

When prisoners are asked how they survived months or years in isolation and brutality, they often speak about hearing the ring of distant church bells, or the Muslim call to prayer, or children playing in a park nearby. When life is shrunk to the four walls of the prison cell, the rhythm of these outside sounds becomes a kind of lifeline, proof that the prisoner is still human, that there is a world beyond torture.

For those of us who keep our sanity, each has a different testimony as to how we survived. For some who moved up to less restricted housing, it may have been a radio or just a calmer environment. Maybe it was visits. But for those who had none of these, I cannot say. Perhaps it’s as Nietzsche said: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

The path to survival isn’t a blueprint that can be written down and passed along. With each day, the blueprint blows away in the sands and must be rewritten. For those of us who “hold on,” we attach to something: a picture of our children, a life-changing book, prayer, meditation, exercise…something! We grasp and hold on for dear life. We either find a way, or make one.

But as for what I’ve seen in Texas prisons, the only difference I know between what we’re told went on at Guantánamo or Abu Ghraib or other overseas interrogation centers and what we experience is no electroshock. But don’t hold your breath and say it will never happen. The Texas Department of Corrections already utilizes pepper spray, gas canisters and stripping inmates of clothes, property and visits as punishment.

According to Klein, Milton Friedman’s vision of “shock therapy” centers on the “speed, suddenness and scope of the economical shifts would provoke psychological reactions in the public that facilitate the adjustment.” Through this, shocked societies often gave up things they would otherwise fiercely protect–just as prisoners enduring the same conditions would give up the names of comrades, denounce faiths and be rendered a pile of putty, easily molded by their interrogator.

Worlds where I live, where Padilla lived, where Yee worked, are flourishing. They are not movie scenes or pages in a book. They are real, they are serious, and they are deadly. What I’ve pointed out is simply an observation from a man who is, despite prison, determined to live, thrive and survive, because I believe in what Howard Zinn once wrote:

Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment, but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decent society. We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can quietly become a power no government can suppress; a power that can transform the world.

Do you believe?

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

What you can do

Find out more about Kenneth Foster at www.freekenneth.com and www.fosterkenneth.org

You can write to him at:

Kenneth Foster

#1451768, Robertson Unit,

12071 FM 3522,

Abilene, TX 79601

 

 

Penitentiary Swag: The Beast That American Fashion Has Made

What would you think if I told you that amongst America’s prison blues, prison uniforms and prison commonality there existed a thriving and flourishing fashion? A love for style that not even concrete walls, barb wire, and aggressive repression could smother?

Prison has changed drastically over the years. Even in my “short” 17 years I have seen the dynamics (from policy to prisoners) change. For the latter, the greatest change, undoubtedly, is due to the wave of young inmates that are now flooding the system. More and more, younger generations are filling these cages and with that is coming more under-educated, rebellious, undisciplined spirits. These 19, 20, and 21 year-olds are spending their childhood behind bars. No football rallies, no raves, no job hunting. But, they’re not letting prison walls keep them from experiencing that childhood.

Over the past 10 years, fashion has taken over the imagination of the American public. America’s Next Top Model, Kardashian’s, magazines showcasing the work of Alexander Wang, and Marc Jacobs. These trends now make it to the “hood.” Fashion is not just the clothes you wear, but HOW you wear them, and also the accessories that go with them–meaning jewelry, iPods, iPhones, eyewear, and anything else that creates an identity for the consumer. While TDCJ seeks to suppress all of the above and imposes penalties for those that seek to venture outside of the protocol lines (shirts tucked in, hair cuts low, no facial hair visible–no signs of the former person you used to be), these youngsters have refused to abide by those rules. Penalty and all. Though not always able to flaunt their style in the open (trying to avoid the easy persecution), like secret societies, these youngsters pull back into their small corners of the world and put on their own covert mardi gras. However, upon close inspection, you will find the signs of American fashion in fluxation.

While at times it can come off shrewd, rude, or overly flamboyant, you truly can’t help but to smile at these men’s desire to live, smile, and simply retain the last little pieces of what it means to be human. Because what it means to be FULLY human is to have color, flare, and edge. Freedom of expression. Where the inmate lacks the access to colors, sounds, and smells, he makes up with sharp creativity over the plain white, dull crew cut and wrinkled uniforms. For anyone that has walked within these walls (as visitor, resident, or employee), they will know exactly what I’m talking about. For those that don’t, pull up your seat for your first Penitentiary Fashion Show.

Long gone are the days when you only see dingy white uniforms trekking their way up and down the hallways. These days you will find crispy, creased, starched uniforms so well pressed that you could stand them up in a corner. Just like hustlers on the corners selling bootleg movies, knock-off clothes, you find the convict slanging the bags of starch, bleach, and anything else you can think of for the demanding customer. Cardboard hard, these inmates don their uniforms with attitude so funky you’d think they were stepping out a limousine at the prom. The sad truth is many have never been to a prom nor will they ever go to one. For most, weekend visits are the prom. A time to show out and show up and bask in the hugs and kisses of loved ones. In the place of fresh Puma tennis’s, guys meticulously clean their prison bought tennis shoes with tooth brushes and rub them down with soap soaked rags to make them look so tight white you’d think they was walking on ice cubes! Defying the prison administration at every interval you find shoe laces zig-zag, criss-crossed, and hanging out wildly. In the lack of Timberlands, guys shine up their black boots so tough that the sun reflects off of them. Some buy liquid wax to coat the boots with shiny gloss. The laces be blow out-dangling, maybe tied in braided loops, others with trinkets carved from pen tops or plastics to make it look like free-world medallions. Pant legs are rocked with one cuff tucked under the tongue of the boot or tennis shoe to make the fashion more visible. It’s not fashion if it’s not flashing! And if you look just close enough on the Riddell or New Balance shoes you might find Jordan, Nike or Fila logos neatly painted on them. Life refusing to die!

Hair styles refuse to conform to the traditional buzz cut. Don’t be surprised to see razor fades, low fades, high -n- tight, and south sides. Taper fades, one blend fades, or beehive waves. It’s blasphemy to not have a precision edge-up. Crooked edge-ups can quickly lead to a scuffle. Not having store bought hair products or accessories is met with homemade do-rags made from socks or trimmed and sewn sheets to designer satisfaction that keeps waves and curls intact. Special concoctions of grease and vaseline to mimic the old thick Dax and Murrays grease is whipped up in jars and pulled out for special occasions. Don’t gawk, just smile like we do.

For those that take the bucking system to the next level, keep your eye on the gold rings that adorn fingers or the Fossil, Quartz, and Kenneth Cole watches that cover wrists. Let’s not forget the Prada, Versace, and Ray Ban frames that grace faces. It’s all within these walls.

We live in a culture that puts fashipn on a pedestal. It’s practically a god-with songs named after “Tom Ford,” “Versace” and every other brand names mentioned in songs. These guys aren’t ready to forger what it feels like to have these things. these youngsters are coming into a harsh environment straight from eating fast food everyday and living even faster lives. Polo clothes, sports paraphernalia, high tech mobile devices–there is an addiction to these items. And prison is not killing that fixation. If anything, the denial of them enhances it. It reflects even in the change of contraband that flows within the prison walls. In a place where snuff, tobacco, and the joint used to be products of demand, you now find Ecstasy (up to $25 for a triple stack), Vicodin ($5-10 a pill), hydro marijuana ($50 a gram), K2 weed ($50 for 2 grams) and even hydroxy cur for those caught up in the Get Ripped society. The cell phones are a no brainer–going anywhere from $800-1,000, unimaginable risk are being taken to get hands on them. From watch phones, to flip phones, to iPhones–it’s all wanted. To explain how that smuggling process goes (which we call “drops”) would take another writing entirely. Let’s just say that 007 would be impressed. But, this is the beast that American Fashion has bred. As Lil Wayne’s TRUKFIT clothing line expresses-The Reason U Kill For It!

I wonder how the Sean John, Roca Wear, Ralph Lauren, and COOGI makers would react to knowing just how deeply rooted their stuff has become embedded into the hearts of today’s youth. On the prison pods you’re not finding inmates with identical wear. Everyone seeks to stand out from the next. How many ways can one change up a pair of white socks, shirt, and shorts from the next person? As many ways as you can mix up the wardrobe in your closet. Everything we wear reflects who we are. You might find the Mexicano crew rocking knee-high socks, black canvas shoes and a neatly ironed handkerchief in the back pocket. You’ll find guys swagged out with 2 pair of boxers AND a pair of gym shorts over them. Tank tops are stitched (as clean as a sewing machine could stitch) to match body forms to perfection. Tattoos and muscles on display. And don’t be mistaken–it’s not just for the attention of other inmates. Relations amongst inmates and female officers is very much alive. No wonder inmates smuggle in cologne to drop in their lotion bottles to dab on when certain female officers are working the block or to go to visit to see baby. Everybody is trying to GET IT. “IT” being a taste of humanity!

In a place that seeks to crush the human nature, there is no bigger fight than the one to retain it. Double socks, slides, and a bleached towel draped over the shoulder like a day on the neighborhood corner is a sight you’ll find on the pods with guys posted up on the dayroom walls like it was Sunday at the park. Tacos, nachos, homemade cakes, cups poured up with big red and sprite where there once was a BBQ pit and an ice chest full of cold brews.

In many places this is what prison looks like. You sometimes have to dig for it under the slop served in the chow halls or the yelling from the guards in the hallways, but it’s there. Inside Seg, everywhere! In the middle of the crop fields there’s always the inmate that can’t wait to get back to the pod to shower, throw on a 2 sizes too big shirt, drop the homemade alum chain that hangs at navel height over the head and sit down to talk some mess over Big Six dominoes. Somewhere on the stairs someone is sipping homemade hooch, in the shower someone is probably smoking a mango crush joints and perhaps in the cell, behind the curtain, someone is having phone sex with their baby’s mama! Or chatting on Facebook.

I’m sorry America, but this is what your Reality Show, 4G, Social Media, latest trend world has created. Prison is just a society within a society. It is the microcosm trying to imitate the macrocosm. It is what it is. And no matter if you choose to hate it or love it, America, there it is…..fashion, style, bravado, ego, culture….trying to get it’s shine on….just like you!

(Author’s Note: The above pertains to Texas prisons and is based on personal experience. I cannot speak for how it is in other states.)

Shock Doctrine Texas Style, Part 2 :

Analyzing the Universal Tactics used by the Prison System.

***************************

« Punishment is as old as society », expressed Donald Clemmer (author of « The Prison Community »). But, what is the state of punishment in our world today regarding prison? Better yet, perhaps, the question should be- what are prisons today? Worldwide there seems to be a blueprint that has been executed in prison construction, control and continuance. While from country to country you will find that there are different conditions in the prisons and different means behind them, what can be said for the alleged “most civilized Nation in the world” to be submerged in some of the most brutal prison conditions and tactics across the globe? What is the intent behind it? The answers we encounter may not be pleasant, but they must be faced with reality.

While many texts, articles, studies and stats are used for this writing, the book “Language, Resistance and Revival” by Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh is a heavy influence for it. This book documents the Irish Republican prisoners’ fight to save their culture through the teaching of their language while facing the brutal conditions in North Ireland prisons. To understand this plight the Irish Republicans took on, one had to first understand the politics of prison and the language of resistance- which was broken down in the Foreword by Phil Scranton. And it’s that Foreword which was the source of inspiration for this writing. What Scranton was able to do was build a universal vision for how oppressive regimes use unmerciful tactics within their prisons. What I seek to do in this writing is add to those oppressive methods by exposing what’s going on within America’s prisons, namely Texas (not simply because I have experienced the tactics firsthand, but due to the fact Texas has stepped into the forefront as ground zero for the movement).

Shock Doctrine Part 1 drew parallels between torture tactics used by the government and military in so-called terrorist situations and those being used in modern day prisons- mainly Administrative Segregation (aka solitary confinement- be it a part of a prison or an entire Supermax). Ad Seg remains a hidden part of the American society- a disgraced, mutated creation that lurks in the shadows. What does the existence, and growth and development of such apparatuses mean for the sake of our society? Only you- those who will surely bear the brunt end of it- can say.

COMING TO GRIPS

Phil Scranton does an excellent job in giving the parameters of what prison life is like on the inside. The information he brings shines light to what is universally being felt within these walls- walls that no longer hold the same aims from whence they were conceived. What was once designed to contain and rehabilitate those who broke the law in society is no more. Scranton highlighted a new scheme that has gradually become status quo, that “imprisonment provided the means for removal of those identified as ‘social’ pariahs but also those who were categorized as ‘enemies of the state’”. Instead of being an institute for reform, it is now a utensil used to suppress and dismantle.

What the prisoner goes through is a complete transformation process- one not of moral nourishment, but pure humiliation and malice that renders them to being vitiated humans: “entering prison, the convicted prisoner loses personal identity and civil rights. No longer a citizen, the prisoner wears convicts’ clothes, becomes a number, hands over personal possessions and surrenders movement through space”.

The everyday “space” that people take for granted everyday become monumental objects of obstruction. Scranton notes:

In prison, the ‘door’ and the ‘clock’, central to the taken-for-granted world of everyday life, are invested with new meaning. The controlling mechanisms of the total institution function at the discretion of others”.

Through these prisons, America makes a profound statement to the world and to its own citizens:

  • Americans spend $50 billion a year to imprison 2.5 million people- exceeding any other nation.

  • The United States has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s inmates.

  • While 1 out of every 42 Americans is now actually in prison, 1 out of every 32 is either in prison or on parole from prison. This means 6.7 million adult men and women – about 3.1% of the total US population- are now members of America’s “correctional community”.

WHAT’S GOING ON, AMERICA?

There’s a virus in the bloodstream of America. America was built on the back of other people’s labor. It’s in its roots and fabric. And in truth, the process has never been alleviated. It has just advanced in the style in which it’s carried out. There’s no greater money than free money, and prison provides that for those with the power in this country (be it financially or judicially); and there’s no greater crime than legal crime, which the 13 Amendment provides.

United States Constitution, 13th Amendment.

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, EXCEPT AS A PUNISHMENT FOR A CRIME WHEREOF THE PARTY SHALL HAVE BEEN DULY CONVICTED, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

This doctrine ushered in the evolution of laissez-faire capitalism to mercantile capitalism, where government begins to regulate business, and industry builds as the motor and impetus for governing. Infact, by 1871, the 41st Congress by way of the District of Columbia Organic Act, established the United States of America as a for-profit commercial enterprise, and it has operated ever since as a corporate entity. Today, in the law books under 28 U.S.C. §3002 (15) (a), it is held that the United States is a “Federal Corporation”.

PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

Profit is the new motive for America’s prisons. It is no longer an institution for reform, rather an Industrial Complex that brings in people and pushes out products. U.S. prison construction and upkeep is a $30 billion a year business. Fortune 500 companies like TWA, General Electric, MCI, Chevron, IBM and Bank of America profit. They are either benefiting from cheap labor, investing directly in new prison-building or designing and selling prison paraphernalia like stun guns, handcuffs, surveillance cameras, cellblock furniture, pepper gas and even restraining chairs.

In turn, prisons make their money back and flip their profits 100 times by making inmates provide slave labor to produce commodities such as clothes (labels like No Fear, Lee Jeans, Trinidad Tees), furniture, office equipment, food crops and livestock. Inmates also pay the high cost of extreme phone rates- six times the normal long distance rate. In Texas, commissary alone can gross up to $40 million annually.

Private prisons are now getting their piece of the pie. Corrections Corporations of America (CCA), created in 1983, leads the way with approximately 61 federal and state facilities in 20 states. After a 10 year run leading the path, the rise in lifers have mysteriously began to manifest. There were fewer than 3,000 “lifers” in 1992. As of 2005 there was 6,431 prisoners serving life sentences, which was a 12% rise from 2004. These private prisons net upwards to $60million a year. And not surprisingly, many CCA staffers have political connections (affiliates who keep them thriving) to which donations flow freely. It’s not hard to tell how these things interrelate.

TEXAS: GROUND ZERO

Texas is home to approximately 125 prisons. Around 150,000 prisoners. In the face of staff shortages (most prisons have just under 3,000 prisoners and should have close to 570 guards [though many don’t]), Texas continues to allow its prison numbers to BOOM while its parole rates plummet.

Behind the razor-wired fences of Texas prisons, there’s 22 that house Ad Seg prisoners. The most of any state. The count is approximately 5,200 prisoners (around 188,000 nationwide).

ADMINISTRATIVE SEGREGATION aka SOLITARY CONFINEMENT aka HELL ON EARTH

What solitary confinement was made for has turned into something even more sinister than its conception. The concept- originally conceived in 1829- was inspired by Anglican and Quaker theology and designed to cultivate penitence and spiritual enlightenment. However, in the process of trying to bend the spirit, man would have to bend his body first.

The model- first established in the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia- would be mimicked the world over. As Jeff Tietz, in his article “Slow-motion torture” broke down- “At Eastern State, hallways with 30-foot-high vaulted ceilings led to cells whose low doors forced prisoners to make a penitent’s bow. Inmates spent 23 hours a day in clean, near-silent cells beneath a circular glass skylight known as the ‘eye of God’”. Not much has changed with the white-walled, one shelf, steel bunk, sink and toilet, and huge light fixture set-up. Evenmore with the conditions and tactics.

NEW PRISONS

As Phil Scranton informs us:

In design the ‘new prison’ was informed by reformers such as Jeremy Bentham, whose ‘panopticon’ design was a radical proposal for mass containment of prisoners held in individual cells. Designed like a bicycle wheel, the hub offered a central observational platform on several levels from which corridors landings reached out like spokes, with cells housing prisoners on either side. The panopticon maximized surveillance while minimizing the number of guards required. Prisoners alone in their cells, silent in work and with little opportunity for association, were placed under constant observation. Surveillance not only monitored behavior, it guaranteed security.”

In the early 90’s in Texas a very similar “new prison” blueprint was laid out for around 10 facilities: Telford, Clements, Allred, Styles, McConnell, Connally, Polunsky, Hughes, Robertson and Michaels (the very first). These prisons- down to the parking lot and tree shrubs- are designed exactly the same.

The Ad Seg building has 6 pods made up of six sections (A-F) totaling 84 cells. Each section has 7 cells upstairs and 7 cell downstairs. Section A-F are designed in a circle-like shape that surrounds a picket in the middle- similar to the bicycle wheel design that allows the picket to observe each section and each cell.

Inmates are housed in these cells 23 hours a day. They are fed in the cells. When they leave the cells they are stripped and handcuffed. They are given 1 hour of recreation a day in either a small caged dayroom area or the outside yard which is a mere concrete box with walls that shoot up 40 feet high. There’s no T.V, no games, no programs, no nothing. Just you versus the clock and the door.

Though all of the 22 Ad Segs are cruel and unusual, these 10 provide the most streamlined repression. As Scranton highlighted:

While walls are barriers to access, they are also barriers to information. Each prison operates within a custodial network under the governance of a prison service and the state’s justice department. Yet each prison is a product of its distinctive history, reputation and organizational culture”.

As the administrations try to further villainize these men and women with talk of gangs, drugs and violence, they don’t take into consideration the effects of their own guard gangs, psycho-tropic drugs and guard-on-inmate violence. As forensic psychiatrist Dr. Kupers (in the article “Solitary confinement poses a danger to everyone”) notes: “It is stunning how pervasive a known set of serious symptoms in this population are, including massive free-floating anxiety, incessant cleaning or pacing in the cell, paranoid ideas, sleep disturbances, problems concentrating and remembering- many prisoners said they have given up reading altogether because they cannot remember what they read a few pages back- and mounting anger, along with fear the anger will get out of control and they will get into further trouble”.

In her article “U.S. prison conditions far worse than Guantanamo’s” Daphne Eviatar says “most secure federal prisons are actually far more draconian than they are at Guantanamo Bay”. Peter Finn at the Washington post said- “For up to four hours a day, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of 9/11 attacks, can sit outside in the Caribbean sun and chat through a chain-link fence with the detainee in the neighboring exercise yard”. Nothing close to the extreme isolation of the federal supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. Or even the ones in Texas like the Estelle and Gib Lewis high security.

As the despair rises, so does the mental-illness and even the suicides. In 2006, in California, there were 41 suicides. A 17% increase from 2005. In Texas, in 2006, there were 24. Up from 22 in 2005, according to article “Inmate suicides linked to solitary” by Kevin Johnson. After Kentucky set up a mental health program for those in the state’s 83 county jails in 2004, suicides in the jails fell 47%.

As much as he did for this country, his words are still not taken heed to, but as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated- “Darkness cannot put out darkness, only light can do that”. Every nation must develop an overriding dedication to humanity as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST

Under this new regime, the prisoner’s life turns into a debacle. When Donald Clemmer said that punishment was as old as society, he also added “but when a policeman or prisoner guard in his official capacity as a representative of the governing body punishes man, society itself is involved in its historical, political, economic and sociological vision”.

That vision, as Erving Goffman (from ”Language, Resistance and Revival”) cited, becomes : “territories of the self are violated, and the prisoner is shaped and coded into an object. Thus the self is curtailed, mortified and any expression of defiance receives immediate, visible punishment”.

What unfolds under such a system is inmate vs. guard, and in the wake of that misery, inmates turn against inmates. The rage bred turns into self-hate, then into self-destruction which keeps the prison authoritative concept alive and the prison beds full.

From day to day, prisoners wake and must be vigilant to what is to come. Scranton highlighted the experiences Oscar Wilde had at Petinville and Wandsworth “under a regime of hard labour, virtual starvation and spartan conditions including a bed without a mattress”.

Wilde elaborated- “I look from the door at who’s at the desk and I know whether I’ll have an all right day or a bad day”. Current days are no different as America’s economy fluxuates and the stress and strife of everyday life is emitted from the guards on a daily basis. These guards bring their problems and miserable attitudes into the prison and inflict them upon the prisoners. One Ad Seg units like Robertson where guard abuse is rampant, prisoners often mark the guard’s shifts on calendars to monitor which days good or bad officers may work. To avoid such officers, inmates usually refuse their recreation time or shower just to avoid conflicts with the officers or to keep them from entering their cell to carry out reckless shakedowns.

Officers are instilled with a code in their Academy training. That code consists of the officer being right and the inmate being wrong. That’s reflected in how officers are told to never apologize to an inmate. When officers are asked for something they are told to never confirm what they can or cannot do, but rather to say- “I’ll see what I can do”. Officers are told to never conversate with inmates for more than a couple of minutes. Officers are taught that all inmates break rules and/or have contraband. Even before the officers step into the prison, they have been taught how to be cruel and indifferent. Some take that to heart. In return, the administration will support such actions and do not hold the officer to the professional standard they are bound to (known as the Employees General Rules of Conduct outlined in Article 4413 (401), Section 1.10(b) V.A.C.S). This is an all around Texas creed for as in society they say “Don’t Mess With Texas” and in prison TDC’s motto is “Taking Care of Our Own”.

Today, the words of Wilde still ring true:

prisoners are introduced to deprivation of incarceration, standing naked for inspection, restricted access to underwear and basic necessities, lockdown and unlock, shared cells, isolation cells, poor food, vindictive guards, the persistent threat of violence, restricted visits, inadequate healthcare, unaffordable telephone calls, mind-numbing boredom”.

The ACLU’s National Prison Project asserts more than half of all prisoners in solitary confinement are either “mentally ill” or “cognitively disable”. Nevertheless, assignment to isolation cells is, by prison officials, without appeal to any authority beyond the correctional system. As detailed in the “Slow-motion torture” article:

repeated trauma lastingly alters the brain. Anger and anxiety provoke a prehistoric response: the adrenal gland releases hormones that trigger the firing of neurons in the brain’s limbic structures, which react in a host of ways- by ordering the production of more coagulants, so we’re less likely to bleed to death; by increasing muscle strength, so we can stab a predator with more force. When anxiety is chronic, as it is in solitary confinement, the adrenal gland and the limbic structures become more direct, and the limbic structures expand to accommodate the increase in signal volume. On brain scans, enlarged limbic systems light up with abnormal speed and brightness. Simultaneously, activity in the prefrontal cortex-responsible for judgment, analysis, a sense of conscience- decreases”.

Even Charles Dickens (after touring Eastern State Penitentiary in 1842) exclaimed-

I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain immeasurably worse than any torturing of the body”.

THE CRUCIFIED

From day 1, the American Government has denied that it had political prisoners incarcerated in its prisons, because to admit they do would admit (according to the definition) they have a “Political prisoner, which is a person incarcerated for actions carried out in support of legitimate struggles for self-determination or for opposing the illegal policies of the United States government and/or it’s political divisions”. The denial refutes this claim and also doesn’t subject them to United Nation resolutions. The system had to turn righteous justice fighters into criminals to protect its own validity and sanctity. As Irish Republican prisoners knew- “The Criminalization of political enemies and the denial of their existence as political enemies is an essential element of a consciously waged psychological war of isolation and destruction”.

Under the rug of Americas most notorious abuses and scandals exist men and women who have received the most horrendous injustices and violations all because they were brave enough to seek and stand up for “the American Dream”. Some of these men and women have been held in solitary confinement for 20, 25, 30 years (like the Angola 3 in Louisiana). More than a hundred men and women are currently imprisoned by the United States government for participating in movements for justice and liberation. They are dedicated American Indian Movement activists like Leonard Peltier, Puerto Rican independentista Oscar Lopez Rivera, former Black Panther Mumia Abu Jamal and Sundiata Acoli and radical ecological activist -and member of the Yaqui Nation- Rod Coronado. There’s activist like MOVE 9 who have been wrongly incarcerated since 1985 for protecting their home from an unlawful police attack.

As Dan Berger, in his “Building a Political Prisoner Support Movement” article, wrote-

Political prisoners, if largely unacknowledged, are at the crux of debates over incarceration. Their presence testifies to the ongoing legacy of social problems, which in itself is central to the cycle of crime and punishment. As the anti-prison movement continues to grow in strength and stature, the question of political prisoners demands attention because these movement veterans remain part of the current endeavors for social justice. Their lengthy incarceration, including many with life sentences, speaks to the vengeful mindset governing imprisonment in the U.S. Parole is almost uniformly impossible even after decades of incarceration and despite their having met all the requirements for release”.

When looking at what the government may call “terrorist activities”, compare arrest, conviction and sentence rates of these people of color versus members of terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, White Knights, Aryan Brotherhood, neo-Nazi members. Or versus crimes committed under Jim Crow or under Cointelpro. There’s a vast disparity.

Some of these political prisoners have died in prison due to illness because the system refused to release them. Albert Washington and Merle Africa are two. Others suffer from cancer illness- like Russell Shoatz, diabetic black outs like Robert Seth Hayes. Some were held until there was nothing left but death, then released- like Marilyn Buck. Then there are the old witch hunts to track down activist from the old days to put them where these men and women are- like the $2 million bounty on the head of Assata Shakur (aka Joanne Chesimard).

These are not movies or reality shows. These are events taking place right here in American today. These are political witch hunts that take place right under your noses. It’s happened even recently with Occupy arrest. How soon did those stories disappear? The above stories have been going on for 25, 30 years but to the average citizen they are unknown. These men and women have been sucked in by the Prison Industrial Complex and their lives and struggles are testaments to what goes wrong with the Criminal Justice and Penal Systems when they go unchecked.

These men and women, too, are continuously punished for their refusal to relinquish their political prisoner proclamation and their political or historical views. It was the same for the Irish republicans in “Language, Resistance and Revival”: “Our refusal to submit to criminality became more than simply an internal jail issue. The battle against it became a crucial factor in the overall struggle for self-determination”.

As author Fran Buntman expounded- “Incarceration was transformed into a new arena for political resistance that undermined state power by influencing and politicizing events and activities outside the prison walls”. And this, moreso than anything, is what imperialist, colonist, corporate criminals seek to crush the most because as Long Kesh prisoner Laurence McKeown understood- “if we stand together, no one can defeat us, whether it’s in jail or the outside”.

RENDERED TAINTED

It’s these tactics that render men and women tainted when they return to society. While there are men and women that do return to society and function properly and become productive, the large quantities that don’t, go uncared for- until one backslides, then they are further condemned. However, the conditions that led them to be that way are not disclosed. As Wilde observed:

The released prisoner is abandoned at the very moment when its society’s highest duty towards him begins”.

Even politicians have acknowledged these effects. While discussing solitary confinement in 2012 infront of the Texas Senate Committee (after it was told 878 inmates were released to home from Ad Seg without any treatment program), Senator Whitemire stated- refuting claims from the TDC Director that these men couldn’t be released to General Population before release-“but you can let them discharge onto the street when they finish their sentence, straight from spending every day for 15 years locked up alone in a cell? Why not give them some life-skills or some faith-based programs or something that can prepare them for then they get out, rather than just turning them loose?”

In fact, Vikrant Reddy of the Texas Public Policy Foundation told the committee about a program in Mississippi launched in 2003 which reduced the state’s number of Ad Seg offenders from 1,000 to around 150. Notably, reducing the number of Ad Seg prisoners by 85% not only didn’t increase prison violence, in fact, the number of incident for use of force plummeted. Monthly statistics showed an almost 70% drop in serious incidents, both prisoner-on-prisoner and prisoner-on-staff. Not to mention it saved the state more than $5 million annually. While states like Illinois is trying to shut down some of its most notorious supermax facilities (Tamms Correctional Center), Texas continues to seek utilizing Ad Seg and thus far has failed to introduce any kind of “step down” process that is beneficial to the inmates (other than their gang renouncement program which is based on “debriefing” [ie-giving information on their activity and group membership] which only puts the inmates more in harms way)

“The U.N. Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice held its 22nd session in late April 2013. A Significant item on the Commission’s agenda was the development of revised Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMRs). While NGOs continue to push for several key reforms- modifying solitary confinement policies and procedures being chief among them- the U.S delegation continues to frustrate their efforts, leaving the impression that while the U.S. condemns human rights abuses on other countries, it refuses to look at abuses in its own prison system”. (As reported in the Prison Legal news May 2013 edition)

The lives of these men are not cared about- only the furtherance of the System’s goals and objectives at any and all cost.

Prison life, as Wilde added, “with its endless privations and restrictions makes one rebellious”. To come out abused, dejected and rejected, what comes of society? Other than a revolving door for the big corporations that stand behind the Prison Industrial Complex, what overall good is coming from this process?

THE RECKONING

The Prison Industrial Complex is like a predator in the sea with long tentacles. It lies in wait as prey swims back and forth infront of it. Some it grabs, some it doesn’t. But, as long as the sea predator exist, it is always able to grab something new.

Penology is one of the basic five P’s now used to systematically control the unconscious masses (that prey):

  1. Philosophy

  2. Psychology

  3. Politics

  4. Propaganda

  5. Penology

The indifference and stagnation of members in society feeds directly into the problem. For example, “as unemployment on the outside increases, crime and the concomitant incarceration increases”, as Paul Wright (editor of Prison Legal News) noted. He continued- “It may be that before too long, people can only find menial labor intensive production jobs in prison or third world countries where people labor under similar conditions. The factory with fences meets the prison without walls”.

The Prison Communication Activism Research and Education study revealed that “an estimated 4.7 million Americans have lost the right to vote because laws that disenfranchise the imprisoned or the formerly imprisoned. In 48 states prisoners cannot vote; 36 states bar those on parole or probation from voting”. Also- “since 1995 the annual rate of growth in the number of women in prisons or jails has averaged 5 percent, considerably higher than the 3.3 percent yearly average increase for men”.

As Sasha Abramsky (author of “Crime As America’s Pop Culture”) explained:

We have come to regard arrest, prosecution, and unemployment as fundamental props of our mass culture, thus elevating one of the more unpleasant duties and obligations of the civil society- the prosecution and punishment of those who flout its laws- into a cultural commodity that may, ultimately, come to define what kind of nation, what kind of people, we become”.

We have heard many times that the true measure of a civilization can be found by entering its prisons. This, more than a church or a school, shows the heart of the society and its leaders. From what has been revealed in this writing, what is the heart of America saying?

“A Radical Perspective on Crime” author Jeffrey H. Reiman put it in the most noblest of terms:

To look only at individual responsibility is to look away from social responsibility. To look only at individual criminality is to close one’s eyes to social injustice and to close one’s ears to the question of whether our social institutes have exploited or violated the individual. Justice is a two-way street, but Criminal Justice is a one-way street. Individuals owe obligation to their fellow citizens, because their fellow citizens owe obligations to them. Criminal Justice focuses on the first and looks away from the second. Thus, by focusing on individual responsibility for crime, the Criminal Justice System literally acquits the existing social order of any charge of injustice”.

LAST CHANCE

Justice and power must eventually connect, so that whatever is just may become powerful, and whatever is powerful may become just. And the people, when they become aware of their power, will have every right to take possession of what is rightfully theirs. Not simply meaning materialistic objects, but the most basic of things: integrity, dignity, equality, justice!

By looking at prison issues we look at the motive of the nation. We often get caught up in the propaganda (#4 on the 5p’s) and point fingers to the atrocities in places like China, North Korea, Russia, the Middle East- but fail to acknowledge what’s going on right up under our noses or in our own backyard.

The masses’ inaction can only be computed as approval, because as Paulo Freire noted:

Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral”.

Everything that has been described as the “99%” in social terms is susceptible to the tentacles of the Prison Industrial Complex. The Prison Industrial Complex is a virus amongst the bloodstream of America. It is not beyond inoculation. And before this virus completely annihilates that which we call society, I would urge you to move in the spirit of American lawyer Clarence Darrow-

As long as the world shall last there will be wrong, and if no man objected and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever”.

Take back your world before you are ultimately taken aback by your world!

Kenneth FOSTER

#1451768 Robertson Unit,
12071 FM 3522
Abilene, TX 79601

www.fosterkenneth.org

www.freekenneth.com

GIVING THE CAUSE A MAKEOVER

Among the circles that grace these pages the word revolution is well known and highly used. It is done in an expansive way as each individual carries a unique ideology and application of it. However, for those of us concerned with progress in this area I think we need to give more care to its essence. Who can deny that this word, better yet ideology, is heavily resisted by this country? Being the wizards of propaganda that they are they’ve been successful in painting it as everything evil and destructive. We saw this viciously happen to the basic ideology of communism in the 60’s and 70’s (and even exist up to today). Currently, we see similar smear campaigns being waged against Islam. If we look closely at American history we’ll see that they have portrayed revolutionaries, here and abroad, as thugs, dictators, gangsters, terrorists, rebels without a cause and violent prone people. We know those are lies and that our freedom fighters have always been the ones oppressed and at the pit of attack and murder. We must change these stigmas. If we don’t learn how to justify this ideology in conscious and righteous ways we’ll find the fire of our efforts continuously extinguished. I’ve met revolutionaries of all ideologies -anarchist, atheist, socialist and militants. I’m in no position to knock any of them because there’s something of importance in each, but my goal is to highlight the beauty of my own. While I fervently back the ideology of militancy amongst the lumpen-proletariat, and the socialist cause, I can never abandon my spiritual foundation. Studying everything from Rudolph Steiner to Martin Luther Kind Jr. to Islam I’ve discovered that the science of spirituality has everything to do with being organized and disciplined. Accomplishments made by MLK, Malcolm, and Gandhi didn’t come about through chaotic behaviors, rather organized actions and mentalities. Often we see that activism has been portrayed as accomplished best through passivity. That’s not because it’s an accurate analysis, but because passivity is favored by the ruling-class over militancy. For my Christian brothers and sisters that voice “turn the other cheek” it’s my belief that this verse meant to seek peace before provocation. Taking a stance has always been embedded in spiritual warriors, even prophets (see Moses vs. Pharaoh, Abraham vs. the Egyptian, David vs. Goliath). Also, how else could Matthew 21:12 be explained? Without a doubt, seek love before hate, peace before war, but never hesitate to fight for your beliefs. Muslims know this as well as they live by “oppression is worse than slaughter.” What we have to start doing is keep spirituality from being portrayed as something weak. We also have to show that revolution is not about destruction, but construction. Revolution has very little to do with tearing something down, a child can break something. The true essence of revolution is in taking something ineffective and building it into a more efficient and conducive state. If you dissect revolution from every possible angle you’ll come up with words like revolve, evolve, volition, evolution. The base of each of these words are growth, change, motion, development, willing, unfold, etc.. For my atheist brothers and sisters I can’t help but to look at our universe and see these things in motion. This makes me realize, as with the greatest organized revolt, there is a divine organizer to all of this. We should apply the above traits in everything we do. When we do this people will begin to see that revolution is something of beauty, something to be embraced, not feared or hated. Fighting, protesting, upheaval is only one aspect to a revolution in progress. Let’s not forget the gem Che Guevara gave us- “The true revolutionary is guided by the greatest feelings of love.” For those of us in the streets, and especially the penitentiary, we need to discard, and help others discard, those pseudo-manhood traits that says it’s all about being hard, violent and emotionless. Even Malcolm expressed- “We’ve got to change our minds about each other. We have to see each other with new eyes. We have to come together with warmth.” Studying the science to spirituality helps one grasp the depths of our being, the power of our intense minds, the connection of humanity. The concepts of socialism (sharing and kindness amongst our fellow humans) was exemplified by Jesus and is all throughout the Qur’an (and other religions as well). Apply this to overcoming tyrants (Mind, Body and Soul), cultivating communities of the world and systems built on Equality, Justice and Democracy and we have a power to be reckoned with.Let’s paint a new picture of what revolution is, and can be, so we can paint this love we feel into the heart of the world!

APARTHEID LIVES ON….. IN AMERICA

Recently, while reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography “Long Walk To Freedom,” a very tragic thought came to mind and that was: Apartheid is still alive and kicking right here in the U.S.A. If anyone has ever read about Apartheid in South Africa (the systematic segregation and oppression of Blacks), or simply heard about it, I’m sure there is no denial of how horrific this system was. Infact, it was one that ran a parallel image to the racial disparities Blacks faced here in America. The similarities between these two systems continue even until today.

 

While African-Americans gained partial “visual victories” against Laws like Jim Crow in the mid-1900’s, Blacks in South Africa would not gain these victories until 1989 when President F. W. deKlerk, due to the persistent struggle of the ANC and the masses of Black South Africans began to dismantle Apartheid. However, it wouldn’t be until 1994 that democratic elections would be instated among Blacks there. “One Man One Vote” became the right demanded by the oppressed.

 

After studying Mandela’s book I’ve come to see that Apartheid lives on disguised and unseen from the people in this society. While I’m personally familiar with the Texas Department of Corrections (TDC – which will be analysed in this article), and recognize it as one of the most racist prison systems in the U.S., it is not the only prison living on the long legacy of atrocities and oppression. This ideology is shared all through the U.S.A. The semblence of rehabilitation has been abandoned by the American government. Punishment and cruelty is open and blatant. It’s obvious that the mass media constantly broadcast crime, violence and fear of terrorism to manipulate the people in society into believing that such a repressive system is needed. However, this cycle is a purposeful scheme to preserve a classist and racist regime in America and we would be fools to think otherwise. Let me unravel the legacy of Apartheid thriving in America.

 

Under the Apartheid prison system inmates were classified in 1 of 4 categories: A, B, C, and D (A being the best and D the worse. Political prisoners were automatically placed under level D upon arrival). In TDC there are levels 1, 2 and 3 (1 being the best and 3 the worse). Through punishment these levels act as a behavior control system. On the best level of both systems inmates were able to receive money from their families, buy books and food. They had slightly more freedom to move around and mingle. The chance to buy food was a great benefit considering the Apartheid diet consisted mainly of “mealies” (corn kernels). It’s a benefit for prisoners in the U.S. also as meals, for example like in Texas, are constantly flooded with undercooked pork and horded of beans and potatoes. Level D’s were allowed only 1 visitor and could write and receive only 1 letter every 6 months. Through the U.S. Penal Institutions the repressive rules vary, some allow prisoners to only write between 5 and 10 people. Under the Apartheid system officials were adamant on keeping political prisoners separated for fear that they would incite rebellion in the other prisoners. Many U.S. prisons prevent inmates from writing to each other for similar reasons. In Texas, level 2 and 3 inmates mirror the restrictions of the Apartheid prisoners as level 3’s can only get 1 visit a month and level 2’s only 2 visits a month.

 

The wide hypocricy of this rule, specifically to those on death row, is upon being sentenced to death a jury of 12 agreed that the prisoner could not be rehabilitated in anyway. Contradiction is weaved in the fabric of the Judicial System in America. While rehabilitation is truly not desired or expected, when faced with punishment by the extraction of privileges, and in many cases by force, inmates do reform their behaviors. Unfortunately, the downside to these methods, which are void of counselling and treatment is, it brews anger in the inmates towards the system and society which supports, thus keeping the cycle of violence going and the doors to prisons revolving.

 

Visitation was a divide and conquer method. Visits in both systems were held in small cubicles where you are separated from your loved ones. Prisoners had to talk through holes drilled in the glass, or cage wire (some prisons today have installed phones). Robben Island, where Mandela and his comrades were imprisoned, stood several miles away from the shore of Africa. Most prisons are built far into the country to dissuade family and supporters from reaching the prisoners so easily. Texas, being the biggest state in the U.S., is home to nearly home to 130 prisons, many being scattered in the wood and empty terrains. With so many prisons, Texas has even rented out housing to prisoners from other states, thus another example of how the Industrial complex is an Imperialist venture. As Mandela noted, “The remoteness of the prison made the authorities fell they could ignore us with impunity. They believed that if they turned a deaf ear to us we would give up in frustration an t the people on the outside would forget about us.”

 

Wars were waged on a deeply rooted mental plane. Harassment became a weapon to inflict mental anguish. Prisoner’s mail, under Apartheid, was constantly scrutinized and censored with razors and sometimes flatout denied to them. The same is experienced today, just without the usage of razors. Grievances against decrepit living conditions were never investigated and corrected. Prisoners were considered sub-human and they were to suffer their sentences out. The living quarters of prisoners then were extremely small and overcrowded, ill-equipped, insect ridden, plagued with leaking ceilings, sewage back-up and more. Today you can find these exact same conditions at prison units all across the U.S. Prison administrations have always been guileful when humanitarian organizations and officials would visit the prison. On those days better clothing would be issued, the prison would be cleaned up and even better meals served to carry out the illusion with success. These are common tactics still used by U.S. prisons to deviously pass their inspections. The list goes on and on and as it goes it only paints the picture of the twin systems of atrocities.

 

While Mandela and fellow ANC members were on Robben island they took a stance against their oppressors. This wasn’t done through violence, but a persistent defiance through not submitting to the sub-human conditions. Advocates of the present unequal system propagate how these prisons aren’t so bad or how ones did the crime and must do the time. Others find solace in making references to how there are prisoners harbouring under far worse conditions in underdeveloped countries and how U.S. prisoners should be thankful. These same people want to be congratulated as citizens of the most advanced country in the world, yet their comments don’t meet that bar; and they wonder how/why this society continues to decay. If people in this country continue to rate it by the worst of other countries this country will never rise to the best it can be. Mandela made a passionate statement about struggling against these conditions when he said: “The campaign to improve conditions in prison was part of the Apartheid struggle. It was, in that sense, all the same: we fought injustice wherever we found it, no matter how large or how small, and we fought injustice to preserve our own humanity.”

 

I reciprocate those thoughts, but until prisoners, along with the concern and support of society as a whole, decide to take a fervent stance, the well-being of this country will remain in the face of peril.

 

The similarities of Apartheid does not stop with Prisons, it extends right into the make-up of society. Today, under the Bush administration, the Apartheid regime has come into play full force. Under Apartheid, the South African government could oust Black residents from their homes simply by declaring that area a “White Area.” The legacy of segregation has been long lived through urban ghettos. There was 2 Laws-the 1967 Terrorism Act and the Ninety-Day Detention law which waived the right of habeas corpus and empowered any police officer to detain any person without a warrant on grounds of suspicion of a political crime. We have the same Law today called The Patriot Act! Blacks, and other people of color, often face harassment and abuse under many different laws. Then, banning laws kept Blacks from visiting people or placed them on house arrest. Today, we have the same and youth are targeted in their communities, many times simply for fitting a stereotypical description. In November of 1992, as plans to instil a democratic government were taking place, evidence was unearthed of the Apartheid government being involved in the murders of political activist. Most famous was the slaughter of ANC members by a group called Inkatha. This group was rumoured to be funded by the South African government to carry out these slaughters. Haiti experienced this same fate as the U.S. helped carry out a coup there, but the U.S. government has been an expert on assassination since murdering Black leaders in the 60’s under FBI program COINTELPRO:

 

There came a time in South Africa’s history when the conditions there could no longer be tolerated and the ANC was not only successful in creating a militant faction, Unkhonto We Sizwe (The Spear of The Nation), but they mobilized the people to overthrow their heinous oppressors. Unfortunately, we Blacks in the U.S. cannot say the same; and the jingle of the shackles still accompany our every step. The ANC realized that, “at a certain point, one can only fight fire with fire, “and that “the oppressed is often left no recourse but to use methods that mirror those of the oppressor.” Today, we see too many of our so-called “freedom/justice fighters” taking orders and allying themselves with our antagonist. They have added to extinguishing the fire of revolution that our true liberation fighters once stated. Many prisoners have suffered the same ailment and thus can’t get the over-seers boot off their throats.

 

What the ANC had was the willingness to suffer and sacrifice, even if that meant death, but the doses of materialistic morphine that America administers to its citizens have part of the masses subdued while the other half is so bombarded by poverty and violence that the struggle to just stay clothed, fed and protected is the most demanding aspect of their lives. Through the ruling class painting the picture to the middle class Americans that their problems come from those below them they have been successful in deflecting the fear and discotent or middle class Americans, and their possible opposition. “By dividing each, they’ve conquered both,” as Frederick Douglas put it.

 

Apartheid doesn’t have to exist today. We must remember that Struggle is not an overnight process or victory. We have to be it in the long run with a firm commitment to win. This means years of dedicated educating, organizing and sacrifices. African-Americans have not achieved liberation. We suffer from the same atrocities as we always have, it’s just implemented in a more advanced way. Mandela laid the blueprint out for us to follow and while we’ve taken extraordinary steps within oppressive America, until we mimic the ANC struggle we still will have a long walk before getting to true FREEDOM!

SLAVE AND SOUTHERN LEGACIES

The states in the south of amerika have passionately held on to some old traditions. The racism that was pervaded in this kountry has not been eradicated, nor, through the establishment of covert and institutional schemes to carry racism on, does there seem to be plans to eradicate it.

 

While racism existed in every crevice of this kountry, it seems that the southern states took it to new levels. The first Africans were brought to Jamestown, Virginia as slaves in August 1619 and the southern states embraced and propagated this sadistic process like it was no tomorrow. Perhaps because slavery and the racism that followed to keep it implemented was so centred in the south, southerners entire mentality towards themselves and others were warped beyond ordinary reason. Martin Luther King Jr. talked about how an oppressor’s mind can become just as traumatized as the oppressed. Acts of such monstrosity cannot come from wholesome or sane minds. This “difference” in mentality was exhibited through the civil war when the United Southern States, known as the Confederacy, tried to break away from the rest of the U.S. colonies. That was just in 1865.

 

December 18, 1865 signified the day the 13th Amendment was ratified and slavery was abolished. However – Texas, a state that tried to proclaim itself a republic, did not acknowledge that law. It took special commissioned troops to travel to Texas, two years later, to enforce this new law. This is why blacks in Texas don’t celebrate their Emancipation Day until June 19th (instead of January 1st, 1863 which in actuality was just a lip service day of Emancipation. The 13th Amendment wouldn’t be TRULY ratified until December 18th, 1865). This was the day the troops enforced this new law in 1867.

 

Texas has lived on its own legacies of the old south. From 1890 – 1980 there were 5.000 DOCUMENTED lynches in the U.S. Nevertheless, lynchings were still happening in Texas in 1998 (the Jasper incident). This is not just an expression of individual racism, but an expression of amerikan racism that was once embraced as a way of life. Lynchings still go in many other states as well.

 

Prisons are the most visual legacy of slavery. Infact, in the 13th Amendment proudly proclaims:

 

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for a crime whereof the part shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, nor any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

 

That speaks for itself; along with the tradition of calling prison guards “boss man” (ie-master, overseer) to the bare necessity system. An example of this bare necessity system is the feeding process. Prisons, once known as farms, are just like old slave plantations, and do function just like farms. They make their own supplies (from clothes to hygienic products) and even breed animals. One of their favorite animals is the pig. Inmates are fed high doses of pork (which is often improperly cooked due to the feeding time rushes to feed an entire prison). Why? Because the pig is a low maintenance animal that grows fairly large, living off of basically anything. It’s a cheap product to feed prisoners with. By driving spending down the Prison Industrial Complex keeps its profits high. Feeding slaves (prisoners) pork is an old tradition. Slaves harvested the animals on plantations, but were only given the pig discard-head, feet, guts to live on. Black people, in survival mode, made the best of it and spiced it, pickled it and baked it. Blacks cooked the food so well that even the greedy slave masters would creep out to the old decrepit cabins for a taste. Now the world knows platters calls “Soul Food” (which, in part, is the above foods cooked to perfection).

 

·On a more dreadful note, southern states lead this kountry in execution.

 

·1/2 of the U.S. death row population (almost 3.600) is in states of the former confederacy

 

·5 out of every 6 people executed in the U.S. have been put to death in the south ·southern states accounted for 84 % of all death sentences imposed on juveniles since 1973. Texas, Florida and Alabama account for half
·In a kountry where Blacks make up approximately 13 % of the population, Blacks make up 42 % of the death rows ·Texas itself accounts for over 310 executions since 1976.

 

WOW! What’s the south trying to tell us? Most likely that they are the true and living pulse of that this kountry is all about. This isn’t just a “Black” issue that we’re facing but a people issue because the above doesn’t represent EVERY amerikan. And for those that don’t know, ameriKa represents the true ameriKKKan mentality that we know. They promote it. It’s a white nationalistic supremist mentality. That is the definition of “white amerika”. Let’s just have an America. Can we just have an America or a just America? That remains to be seen. But, one thing I DO know – as long as we accept and tolerate the above our society, and every part of the world that it touches, will continue to literally… go south.