The War on Drugs by the Numbers

On the 40th Anniversary of the War on Drugs, Colorlines offers these telling pictographs on how the War on Drugs disproportionately targets people of color and the working class in general.   As “The New Jim Crow” author Michelle Alexander recently told a crowd of 1,000 at Harlem’s Riverside Church, “The enemy in this war has been racially defined. The drug war, not by accident, has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color.”

Since Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs, the prison population in this country has skyrocketed, tearing families apart, stripping people of their lives and waging low-intensity war on our communities.

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Mass Incarceration Timeline Remix

From the folks at the Chicago PIC Teaching Collective

Herman Bell: 25-Life, What does it mean to me?

Although I have served more than 37 years in prison, I am still unable to wrap my mind around what that means; years of locking in-and-out of cells, letters from home and the occasional family photo; one letter telling that the new baby has arrived, another telling that my niece or nephew is doing well in school and that the neighbor next door died in his sleep; the photo shows Ma-dear and Dad looking good but are noticeably older, 25-life (what does that mean to me?).

If you were a family man, like I was, with a young wife and two rambunctious boys, the separation had to have been heart-wrenching. It was for me. My boys, Johnes and Keith, had thoroughly broken me into domesticity: feeding them, changing and washing their diapers, dressing them, consoling them, taking them for their shots. Hoping the family dog wouldn’t bite me for reprimanding them. Their mother, high-spirited and the love of my lie, was no less challenging; a borderline red-bone, with a delightful spray of freckles across her nose and cheeks, almond-shaped eyes and pouty lips. During our feuds, rather than talk, we wrote notes to each other and the children handed them to us.

What does doing 25-life mean to me? As I mull over this question, I am reminded of Elmina, the Portuguese slave fortress, located on the West coast of Ghana from which enchained afrikans were led through its infamous “door-of-no-return” to the holds of waiting slave ships that would take them to the New World. I too feel as though I’ve walked through a “door-of-no-return.”

IMPRISONMENT (A MODERN PLANTATION)

If one knew nothing about the geography of a town in upstate NY where one is imprisoned, then one can readily imagine what the afrikan slave must have felt on a southern plantation – not knowing where to run or how to get there. For me, getting from Attica or Clinton Dannemora, to my hood, seemed no different than for the afrikan on a slave plantation in Georgia getting from there back to Afrika. Across the country, I have been held in many jails, and my family has had to travel thousands of miles to see me at considerable expense.

You know how families are received at these places: standing in the elements to get in; suffering the indignities of disparaging remarks; seating arrangements; frustrating package rules. Prison is where spiteful, petty, contemptible, morally unkind acts find free expression at the whim of those who have authority over us. The keepers are vigilant and they instinctively ferret out unguarded self-esteem, courage, and strength. Prison is designed to break you down, not build you up. It casually destroys the weak and unwary (as though they were an afterthought), and turns the spiritually debased into beasts. What’s not so strange about this is that the spiritually debased elicits no particular attention from the keepers. 25-life (what does that mean to me?).
Continue reading

Hands off North Carolina prison rebels: National call-in day part II

On Saturday March 12, there will be a follow up national call-in day to the North Carolina Department of Corrections, in solidarity with prison rebels across the state, and in particular those facing repercussions for organizing study groups and collective actions at Bertie Correctional Institution in Windsor, NC.

Organizing in Windsor has happened alongside the now famous rebellion in Georgia, where in mid-December of 2010 prisoners organized the largest coordinated prison strike in US history. For six days, in at least six facilities across the state, thousands of prisoners refused to work in response to the brutality and indignity of prison. Anarchists and radicals responded with call-in days and solidarity demonstrations outside of jails and prisons in their own towns. Similar tactics, low-risk but diffuse and constant, were recently used to great success in conjunction with a hunger strike by four Ohio prisoners on death row for their role in the Lucasville prison rebellion.
Continue reading

Saturday, 4pm: Panel Discussion, “Our Enemy: The Police”

It has been seven months since the murder of Marvin Booker and there has been a resurgence of a movement to combat police terror. As we ask questions of where this movement can go from here, we must also come to an understanding of what it is we’re fighting against.

Join panelists from a variety of movement backgrounds and experiences in a discussion of the role of policing and imprisonment in our society and who these forms of social control benefit and why.

Saturday February 26, 4pm
27 Social Centre
2727 W. 27th Ave Unit D
(Decatur and 27th Ave, 2 blocks east of Federal) Denver

With speakers from:
West Denver Copwatch
Denver Anarchist Black Cross
Comite Defensa Del Pueblo

And… refreshments? You bet…

Letter to Supporters of Lucasville Five

A LETTER TO SUPPORTERS OF THE LUCASVILLE FIVE: PLEASE READ, RESPOND, AND PASS ON TO AS MANY PEOPLE AS YOU CAN

Dear supporter, or potential supporter, of the five men sentenced to death for their leadership roles in the Easter uprising of prisoners at Lucasville in 1993:

First of all, thanks. When we visited the men on hunger strike at the Ohio supermaximum security prison in January, each brought to the visit a stack of letters from supporters all over the world. They are emphatic that it was this outpouring of support that caused Ohio authorities to take major steps toward equalizing conditions of confinement for all death-sentenced men at the Ohio State Penitentiary.

Now we move on, redirecting energy to the underlying threat of execution. Each of these prisoners ? Siddique Abdullah Hasan, Jason Robb, Bomani Shakur (also known as Keith LaMar), George Skatzes, and Namir Abdul Mateen (also known as James Were) ? is in the early stages of appeal in federal courts. They can expect to live several years before they are killed. We must help them use that time.

Ohio was the only state with more executions in 2010 that in 2009. Second only to Texas, Ohio was the state with the greatest number of executions in 2010. Ohio has already scheduled nine executions in 2011, one a month from February through October.

However, since the successful end to the January hunger strike, there has been another spectacular happening in Ohio. The most senior justice of the Ohio Supreme Court who helped to draft the state’s capital punishment law (Paul Pfeifer), a recent director of the state prison system who witnessed 33 Ohio executions (Terry Collins), and ten Catholic bishops including the bishops in Cincinnati (location of the Lucasville Special Prosecutor and site of major Lucasville trials) and Youngstown (where four of the five leaders of the 1993 rebellion are housed) have all come out against the death penalty. Here are some of the things they say. Continue reading

Oscar Lopez Rivera Denied Parole

by Ben Fox from the Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – The U.S. Parole Commission said Friday it has denied a request for the early release of a Puerto Rican nationalist who was once offered clemency by President Bill Clinton.

Oscar Lopez Rivera’s first bid for parole after serving nearly half of a 70-year sentence for seditious conspiracy, robbery and other charges was denied, the chairman of the commission, Isaac Fulwood, Jr., said in a statement.

The breakdown of the vote and specific reasons for denial were not released.

“We have to look at whether release would depreciate the seriousness of the offences of promote disrespect of the law, whethr release would jeopardize public safety, and the specific characteristics of the offender,” Fulwood said.

Lopez, 68, can appeal but for now he must serve until at least 2021 under federal sentencing rules, said Johanna Markind, an assistant general counsel for the commission.

His lawyer, Jan Susler, called the ruling an “irrational decision that ignores their own standards” for release. But she had not yet discussed with her client – and wasn’t even sure if he had been informed of the decision – and did yet not know if he would appeal.

“I am outraged,” Sulser said from Chicaco. “I am rally upset that an agency that is part of the Department of Justice of the United States could be so unjust.”

In January, a hearing examiner recommended against releasing Lopez on parole following a closed hearing at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he is held. Still, several members of Congress of Puerto Rican descent and many officials on the island supported his release. Continue reading

Hands Off NC Prison Rebels: National Call-in Day

On Wednesday February 23rd, there will be a national call-in day to the North Carolina Department of Corrections, in solidarity with prison rebels across the state, and in particular those facing repercussions for organizing study groups and collective actions at Bertie Correctional Institution in Windsor, NC.

Organizing in Windsor has happened alongside the now famous rebellion in Georgia, where in mid-December of 2010 prisoners organized the largest coordinated prison strike in US history. For six days, in at least six facilities across the state, thousands of prisoners refused to work in response to the brutality and indignity of prison. Anarchists and radicals responded with call-in days and solidarity demonstrations outside of jails and prisons in their own towns. Similar tactics, low-risk but diffuse and constant, were recently used to great success in conjunction with a hunger strike by four Ohio prisoners on death row for their role in the Lucasville prison rebellion.

Though it has not garnered the attention of the mainstream media or large national organizations and figureheads, this struggle has been consistently growing in North Carolina prisons as well, and has been supported by a number of small collectives, publishing projects, and individuals on the outside. Of particular note is the struggle at Bertie C.I. Over the last year, prisoners there have organized large study groups focusing on Black anarchist and anti-authoritarian ideas, as well as the history and politics of gang truce efforts. Radicals there have made the effort to reach across racial and gang-based divisions, and the effort has borne fruit: on at least three occasions in the past few months prisoners have taken collective action around issues of food, clothing, and exercise, successfully occupying yards or refusing to leave their cells en masse until given what they want. Though achieving small victories in this process is encouraging and important, we see these developments and the practices of solidarity we exercise alongside them not as part of a specific campaign around a particular set of grievances or demands, but as a process of growth and resistance that seeks to destabilize prisons and render them increasingly ungovernable.

Several prisoners have faced repercussions for their roles in this activity. One prisoner, an outspoken anarchist and gang leader named James Graham, has been thrown in solitary confinement on a more or less permanent basis, and was brutally beaten by six guards during a cell extraction several weeks ago. Others have also faced time in solitary, the loss of “privileges,” and other punishments.

February 23rd will be a national call-in day to show support for all North Carolina prison rebels, to tell the North Carolina DOC and Bertie CI officials that we’re paying attention and that our comrades in Windsor are not alone. Call them. Fax them. Email them. The authorities at Bertie feel empowered to beat and isolate rebellious prisoners in part because they think the prisoners have no outside support, and that there will be no consequences; February 23rd is the first step in proving them wrong.

Tell the DOC: Hands off James Graham! Hands off all Prison Rebels!

NC DOC
Phone : (919)838-4000
Fax: (919)733-8272
Email: info@doc.state.nc.us

BERTIE C.I.
Phone: (252)794-8600
Fax: (252)794-4608

Colorado: Female prisoners file lawsuit against sexual abuse by prison guards

From the Denver Post:

The state’s Department of Corrections harbors an “overt culture of sexual abuse” by prison guards, and department leaders have done little to stop it, according to a lawsuit pending in federal court.

Ten female Colorado prison inmates sued the department last month, claiming repeated acts of sex abuse by male corrections officers.

The complaint details more than a dozen instances in which it claims officers in two prisons — the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility and the since-closed, privately run Brush Correctional Facility — coerced women into performing sex acts on them.

The officers made threats to have the women “written up” or to make life difficult if the women did not submit, according to the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Department of Corrections officials failed to take “substantive remedial actions” to stop it, the lawsuit charges.

The department and the company that ran the Brush facility, GRW Corp., continued to employ officers suspected of abuse and failed to improve surveillance systems to reduce blind spots where abuse could occur, the suit says.

“This conduct amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of inmates,” the lawsuit claims. “. . . The conduct is so grossly reckless that future misconduct was and is virtually inevitable.”

The inmates, who are represented by the Denver law firm Irwin and Boesen, are seeking to have the case certified for class-action status.

Katherine Sanguinetti, a Corrections Department spokeswoman, said the department will not comment on ongoing litigation.

The case becomes at least the second one pending in federal court in which a female inmate claims she was coerced into performing sex acts on a Colorado prison officer.

It comes not two years after a federal judge awarded $1.3 million in damages to another Colorado female inmate who alleged sexual assault by a guard. In making that award in 2009, Judge David M. Ebel said the sexual abuse of inmates in Colorado prisons was “distressingly common.”

As part of the settlement, corrections officials were supposed to beef up surveillance systems to eliminate blind spots, said Mari Newman, the plaintiff’s attorney in the 2009 case. The new lawsuit shows sex abuse by guards is still of “endemic proportions,” Newman said.

Sanguinetti said department officials have a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual misconduct by corrections officers.

Since 2009, she said, the department has improved officer training and encouraged inmates to report abuse. Officers, staff members and volunteers who cross the line are prosecuted criminally. The department has sought to eliminate security camera gaps, but Sanguinetti said some blind spots are inevitable.

She said the department welcomes civil judgments against officers who commit abuse.

“This type of thing does raise awareness of these issues,” Sanguinetti said. “For our staff and correctional staff everywhere, it sends a pretty strong message.”

Read more: Female inmates file lawsuit claiming sex abuse by guards – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_17314361#ixzz1DJ3YivTF
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Supermax Psych: “Behavior Modification” at Marion Federal Prison

by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella at Solitary Watch

“Eddie Griffin, a former Civil Rights Movement activist and Black Panther, spent 12 years in federal prison for bank robbery, beginning in the early 1970s. After he was injured doing prison labor at Terre Haute Federal Prison, and refused to return to work under unsafe conditions, he was labelled “incorrigible” and transferred to the U.S. Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois.

Built to replace Alcatraz in 1963, Marion is widely acknowledged to be the first modern “supermax,” and was once the highest security and most notorious prison in the federal system. That distinction today belongs to ADX Florence in Colorado, but Marion is now home to one of the ultra-isolated federal Communications Management Units opened during the Bush Administration.

‘Breaking Men’s Minds: Behavior Control and Human Experimentation at the Federal Prison in Marion’ is a remarkable article authored by Griffin and published in the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons in 1993 (vol. 4, no. 2). (H/T to Alan for alerting us to the piece.) In it, he discusses the realities of the “behavior modification program” instituted at Marion in the 1960s. Griffin begins by describing the control of every moment–and every movement–in the lives of prisoners.”

Read the rest here.