Prisoners Speak Out: Analysis and Perspectives

Part of the mission of Critical Resistance is to uplift and amplify the perspectives of those most targeted by the prison industrial complex. We regularly integrate this analysis into our projects and campaigns for abolition and towards building alternative community structures of support and accountability. From imprisoned contacts we have gathered (and then publicly shared) guidance, research, analysis, and testimony that has propelled our campaigns forward. Through The Abolitionist paper, established 2005, Critical Resistance continues to produce a valuable a source of news and analysis on the issues that affect prisoners and state-targeted communities nation-wide that is currently distributed to over 5500 prisoners for free.

Knowing that we are entering an era of potentially greater political repression, isolation, and silencing of dissent, it is imperative that we do what we can to share even more of the experiences and analysis of imprisoned people speaking out against the prison industrial complex. 

We are still receiving responses to our first set of questions, check out the first round of replies below. Published March 20, 2017

 


January 18th, 2017

Dear Friend,

We are writing to some of our imprisoned contacts who are our most consistent writers in regards to the incoming (perhaps already-established by the time you receive this letter) Trump Administration. Our work at Critical Resistance is specifically geared towards diminishing the power of policing and shrinking imprisonment across the United States. These efforts are essential in ultimately dismantling the Prison Industrial Complex. However, the incoming presidency is expected to uphold the militarization of police and surveillance of low-income communities, making our fight more essential than ever in the upcoming months and beyond.

In this political climate, we know we need to increase our commitment to amplifying the voices and analysis of imprisoned people. We want to hear about your concerns in regards to Donald Trump, Mike Pence, his cabinet, and their perspectives on policing and imprisonment in the U.S. We want to be able to publish people’s letters and ideas about how to organize inside prisons to resist against Trump. How do you think you, your community, and imprisoned people will be impacted by the upcoming Trump regime?

We would love to hear from you as soon as possible. Feel free to share this request with other imprisoned comrades. We may not be able to publish everything we receive. We may take quotes or publish only a section of your submission. If we are able to distribute your submission, we will send you a copy of whatever we publish.

In Solidarity,

Critical Resistance

 

What follows are excerpts from individual written responses received in January – March 2017 from 11 prisoners. Footnotes indicate the author of the excerpt. We have compiled them below into one piece; however you can read their individual responses by following the links where their names are listed below.

Dear Critical Resistance,

Let me tell you a little about myself as I am not the usual prisoner. I’ve been a prisoner for the past 29 years, coming to prison at age 34. My experience and the continued and ongoing injustice I endured, culminating in my “violent act” served no to make me a criminal but into a revolutionary. [1] I am a Maximum Security inmate at America’s 6th largest jail, Alameda Counties Santa Rita County Jail, located in Dublin, Ca.[2] Others included in this letter are immigrants, Black men, people sentenced to the death penalty or life without parole (the other death penalty), gay prisoners, and people imprisoned in states including California, Pennsylvania, Florida, and South Carolina.[3]

On Trump Regime[4]

Your question, “How do you think you, your community, and imprisoned people will be impacted by the upcoming Trump regime?” implies that the Trump regime will affect me, my community, and imprisoned people different than say, a Hillary (Clinton) regime. A Trump regime will impact my life the same way an Obama, Bush Jr., Clinton, Bush Sr., and Ronald Reagan regime impacted my life – oppressively.[5]

Focusing on Trump, as opposed to the complex web of relationships and structures that shade most aspects of life in our society, and limits actions toward structural and material change. Worse, the conversation usually digresses toward finding ways to increase voter rolls and supporting future Democratic Party candidates. Sometimes I think we forget the PERVASIVE nature of inequality woven throughout social institutions.[6]

There’s long been an intersection between immigration, incarceration, and sentencing, and Donald Trump’s policies will only worsen that. The past 30 years’ PIC expansion is now repeating on a new front and will increase the carceral population through the further criminalization of undocumented immigrants. We know this because it’s already happened in previous years.[7] The election of Trump to the united states Presidency has all but ended federal prison reforms that may assist prisoners therein obtain consideration for reduced sentences, in some cases it may affect state prisoners but selectivity if at all do the Governor and  legislatures of each state wielding the power and authority to effect policy changes without Presidential interference.[8]

Where were you when crime exploded in the 1980’s and 90’s? Officials responded with harsh sentencing laws that had little impact and may actually made things worse. Suppose we decided to shift the narrative and remodel how America punishes people who break the law – abolishing parole, punitive policies and mandatory minimums, etc. America has become the world’s one number jailer.[9]

In sum, the prison industrial complex is a very deliberate and calculated product of the white power structure which Donald Trump represents to the fullest. Trump reifies the colonial relationship and power disparity between people of color, along with poor whites. Trumps regime will greatly affect me, along with the community at large as well as all presently incarcerated people. Our bodies represent the neo-commoditization in a capitalist system with roots in the original commoditization of bodies of color, labor. Trump’s regime serves a deliberate and specific purpose in sustaining white terror, power, and domination. In other words, the relationship between people of color, along poor white folks in America and the holders of state power in the United States is similar to that which exists between the colonized and the colonial master.[10]

The election has left large parts of the country in malaise. Being known as a cunning mercenary, president Donald Trump is not one anybody should address lightly, he must be approached with caution. As I understand we must give our “new president” a chance. It disregards those who never had a chance to begin with, mainly those in rural areas, low income communities, inmates, prisons, ex-convicts, mentally and physically disabled, and highly diverse multi nationality or ethnic communities. Some of the new cabinet members have little to no experience at all, for example, Ben Carson, Rex Tillerson, Stephanie McMahon, Elon Musk, and Mike Pence. Our nation is crying out for reform. Racial tension is rising from east to west. Muslim-Americans are being scrutinized and forced to live in duress. The list of negatives vs. positives is nearly endless. It seems those who work so hard are getting the least amount of recognition.[11]

Dear comrades,

We too are seeing the ways in which Trump is an extension of the white supremacy that this nation was founded on – a very dangerous extension. Using the tools and laws developed over many presidencies, Trump has succeeded in heightening levels of state repression in the first days of this presidency. It seems likely the government will continue to attack on multiple levels, attempting to squash resistance movements through assaults on protest and free speech, heightening mass scale oppression, eroding many social programs and services, increasing broken windows type policing, and stoking large scale fear mongering.

Many of us have been asking ourselves – is this the rise of fascism? Is this a new realm of state repression? Coming out of a period of liberal reforms, those of us who work on the outside to abolish the prison industrial complex are examining the ways we think prisons, policing, surveillance, will grow and harden as tools of state control. What are your thoughts?

Sincerely,

CR[12]

 

Dear Critical Resistance,

On fascism and racism

Repression doesn’t come and go, it merely becomes more or less evident, as its “spectacular episodes” are spaced closer or farther apart. Donald Trump being an expression of a “spectacular episode”. Repression is a permanent blanket covering the movement. Many people don’t think this is so, because you don’t notice the difficulty you have trying to breathe. This is because you’ve become accustomed to the reality and the weight of the blanket, long gaps between “spectacular episodes” have given many of us the impression that the blanket had been “pulled back” or “lifted”. But it’s been here all the time, before Trump was elected president, and we’ve learned to move under its weight, and now consider this type of repression to be normal.[13]

In 2001, September 11th when planes flew into the world trade Centers in New York, the United States and many of the citizens therein and embraced a nationalist ideology in such numbers unseen in this country since World War II. The rhetoric of the U.S. government was highly intimidating towards people who identified with the Muslim faith. Predominantly people of color. In California prisons, inmates who claimed to be Muslims were harassed and placed into administrative segregation units and labeled threats to the and security of the institution without committing any acts towards that end.[14] The way in which I, as an impoverished gay white male whom is now incarcerated, will be impacted by the fascist Trump regime, will be the same way all the have nots in (free) U.S society will be impacted. Which will be like the Reginald Louis XIV of France or Benito (Il Duce) Mussolini of Italy; we’ve all now got to prepare to do battle.[15]

Things have become so out of whack in this nation we now live in a quasi-fascist police state run for the benefit of the corporate oligarchy and bankers. Note the crimes documented by Snowden of the Government against its citizens are still ongoing! I’ve come to realize that not only is democracy in our republic dead but the systemic problems far exceeding merely Trump and his minions. We need a 2nd American Revolution with 100 million citizens in the streets taking our nation and constitution back from dishonorable and traitorous faction who have subverted it.[16]

The Impacts on Prisoners

There are absolutely no doubts or reservations that the African American and Latino, and people of color communities across America will be impacted in the most negative manners possible by the Trump Regime. It’s not rocket science and the “Executive Orders” that Dump Trump has already signed into LAW (Legal Amenities for Whites) speaks volumes, not to mention “The Cabinet” he’s assembled. His campaign statement “Take America Back” (Wards) and “Law and Order” (New World Order) are exactly what a fascist ideology represents. Expect the prison population to explode, longer sentences, fewer paroles and no clemencies (none) unless given to a privileged family such as the Duponts, etc. These “standards” will also apply to poor whites and anyone not in the seven figure tax bracket.[17]

Trump’s rhetoric about deporting 2-3 million “criminal aliens” is actually old hat; there was a similar focus in the Obama administration, and back then, more than 60% of those deported were swept up for misdemeanors, traffic violations, or just border crossings. What’s new is that now, with Trump, the upwards penalty of 20 years for unauthorized border crossings will more frequently be exploited to maximize the catch of sweeps. Certainly, this will coincide with an uptick of arrests at the local level, as the feds lean on regular police to use the “Secure Communities” program, which links local law enforcement to the databases of the Department of Homeland Security, in order to cross-check all arrestees for their immigration status.[18]

This surge of new arrestees will first pass through county jails and state prisons, providing extra revenue for those places that rent out existing space to ICE, and also providing fresh fodder for a PIC push to resume construction of new carceral bedspace. As undocumented immigrants are transferred to ICE custody, their swelled numbers will give the same excuse for expansion to GEO Corp., CoreCivic (formerly CCA), and others in the private prison hegemony that Trump has publicly expressed support for.[19] If low-income communities are the targets of the majority of militarization and surveillance to keep the mass incarceration disproportionate, then his term in office is mainly other reasons then making this country great as a whole. From the way he sounded running for office, it’s not good for imprisoned people.[20]

According to the Brookings Institute’s Hamilton Project, the crime fighting benefits of incarceration diminishing with the scale of the prison population on hand. The nation’s existing sentencing fiasco largely serves as a reckless knee-jerk reaction to crime, not grounded in any scientific rationale. Whether viewed through a lens of justice, fairness, victims’ rights, and more, the U.S. prison system unnecessarily warehouse millions of people, one after another like little cash cows — an unsustainable level of spending to the tune of $35,000 per year. A problem riddled with epic proportion, needs a bold solution.[21]

 

Dear comrades,

Our current work on the outside is primarily through campaigns and projects in our chapter cities (Portland Oregon, Los Angeles, Oakland, and New York City). This looks like working to stop highly militarized policing programs such as Urban Shield, creating community based possibilities that help undo or replace police as emergency responders, working against jail expansion proposals or to close prisons, and fighting the hardening of prison regulations. We also have prisoner correspondence programs as well as The Abolitionist newspaper which many of you subscribe or have contributed to.

We know this moment calls for a ramping up of our work as we’re seeing an increase in state repression and mass scale oppression. You mention a bold solution – what do you think this could be?

Given this political moment, what are methods of resistance to repression that could be made inside and out of prisons? What can be done on local levels to build self-defense, serve the people, or develop alternate structures of care and governance?

In Solidarity and Joint Struggle,

CR[22]

 

Dear CR,

Building Resistance

One of the primary first steps for waging a winning campaign is clearly determining who supports what you’re advancing (your friends), who opposes it (your opponents’ and/or enemies), who is fundamentally indifferent, and who can possibly be moved to support your aims and objectives. With all of these forces you must then determine what are their strengths, what are their weaknesses, and what resources do they have at their disposal. Similarly, we must be equally clear about our strengths, weaknesses and resources.[23]

At this given moment all us incarcerated persons must read and study law and politics and also all incarcerated persons needs to get beyond the race (black vs white) ticket unify as one while maintain (2 way) contact with all our loved ones (any/all) legal and political advocacy agencies. To build effective self-defense systems on local levels (nationwide), In order to serve all the (have nots) people and provide alternate structures of care and governance; we all must be meticulously methodical and systematic, in common approach to utilizing defense against any and all adverse actions and activities of all our common enemy, which is current (U.S) fascist government. Fight The Powers That Be.[24]

The more aware people are, the more public demonstrations, the more people will pay attention, and possibly get involved. We need community centers open, community forums, and platforms for people to address current needs and get it to the city and state government to voice current concerns. It starts with awareness and dedicated people.[25]

The thing that can done on the local level starts with the insight of getting other’s educated about the issue. That helps one self-defense on knowing what they’re up against. They will serve the people. Because most do not investigate or follow-up on things. But when we brainstorm on our ideas together we become strong planners in this movement to better our communities and lay a positive example for others to see how we overcame decades of oppressive methods.[26]

In society we have to reach out to the youths in school, juvenile halls, youth authorities, with care, concern and information that will expand their horizon beyond the television screen and radio. As once a youth therein myself, I know that the world was as small as the facility/institution. It was not until I was able to get ahold of books and newsletters by, from, and about my own people of color that I began to see the world in many shades other than white or black and the struggles that raged between the two. I know mothers have good intentions for their children but the struggles to keep an impoverished family together with little education and no father can be rough. We need to build our own… so that we can care for and develop our own – schools, safe environments to recreate housing, food aid, clothing – and get the government off of our backs.[27]

Encourage family members, friends, associates, organizations to divest/transfer savings and checking accounts from corporate banks (Wells Fargo, Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, etc) into private banks and/or credit unions.[28]

In order to end this repression we as Blacks, Asians, Latinos, Indians, and poor whites must unify. We must be made aware of who the real enemy is. To repress a person is to withhold them from achieving all forms of equality. We must attack from within the system, comrades must educate themselves. We all know bloodshed. What gains freedom? However we must litigators and physical fighters to eliminate the beast’s stronghold.[29]

Do you recall last year when the prisoners in Alabama called upon prisoners all across Amerika to participate in a general strike on a certain day? To be truthful, no prisoner should ever work or lift a finger to make the Department of Corrections job cheaper and easier to keep us locked up. Prisoners do all the work here fixing and maintenance, cleaning, cooking and also the slave laboring the so called “correctional industries” which generate profits.[30]

Now is the time to stand with our free-world allies as they daily protest Trump’s latest ugly declarations and executive orders. In our thoughts and in our prayers, with our hearts and with our words, we stand with the oppressed and all progressives fighting for social justice. Never before have I been so surprised and inspired by the outpouring of unity that’s coalescing in the sea of courageous people stepping up against tyranny. We incarcerated, have more friends out there than we may realize, organizations like Critical Resistance, C.U.R.B. (Californians United for a Responsible Budget), The Other Death Penalty Project, Human Rights Watch, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Fair Chance Project, A.R.C. (Anti-Recidivism Coalition), and CSU-LA’s Words Uncaged. They could all use our voices in the fight, and by sharing our views and experiences, we raise political awareness and ultimately prepare for the next battleground – the ballot box.[31]

Each of our organizations needs to reach, incorporate, and consolidate more people to enhance our individual capacities and effectiveness to implement our own political and social programs and make broader and deeper contributions to the liberation of all oppressed peoples. None of our political and social formations has the ability to successfully defend our people from the external and internal threats that we face on their own. This means that we have to rely on each other to expand our overall reach, capacity, and power. This calls for building solid alliances, coalitions, and/or fronts based on a shared agenda, strategy, and principles to meet the needs of the people.[32]

In Unified Solidarity for (100%) Total Liberation of and for Us All.[33]

The above was excerpted and compiled from letters from the following imprisoned contacts. Click on their names to view full letters. 

Robert Chan, imprisoned at California State Prison, Lancaster California

Tracye, imprisoned at RJ Donovan, San Diego California

Asar Imhotep Amen (AKA Troy Thomas), imprisoned at California State Prison, Lancaster California

Lacino Hamilton, imprisoned at Chippewa Correctional Facility, Kincheloe, Michigan

John, Pennsylvania Dept of Corrections

Ras, Santa Rita

Ken, McCormick Correctional Institution

Michael San Quentin State Prison

Bruce, Union Correctional Institution, Florida

Lorenzo M. Lawson Sr., Jackson Correction Institution, Florida

James, San Quentin State Prison

 

[1] John; [2] Ras; [3] Critical Resistance; [4] Question posed by Critical Resistance: How do you think you, your community, and imprisoned people will be impacted by the upcoming Trump regime?; [5] Lacino; [6] Lacino; [7] Robert; [8] Tracye; [9] Michael; [10] Asar; [11] Ras; [12] Critical Resistance wrote one original letter with three questions. This “letter” has been added for stylistic reasons.; [13] Lacino; [14] Tracye; [15] Bruce; [16] John; [17] James; [18] Robert; [19] Robert; [20] Lorenzo; [21] Michael; [22] Critical Resistance wrote one original letter with three questions. This “letter” has been added for stylistic reasons.; [23] Asar; [24] Bruce; [25] Ras; [26] Lorenzo; [27] Tracye; [28] James; [29] Ken; [30] John; [31] Robert; [32] Asar; [33] Bruce

 


rchan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read more from Robert Chan, imprisoned at California State Prison, Lancaster California

 

tracye

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read more from Tracye, imprisoned at RJ Donovan, San Diego California 

 

asar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read more from Asar Imhotep Amen (AKA Troy Thomas), imprisoned at California State Prison, Lancaster California

 

lacino

 

 

 

 

 

Read more from Lacino Hamilton, imprisoned at Chippewa Correctional Facility, Kincheloe, Michigan