Category Archives: Indiana

Too Black on the Case of the Pendleton 2!

Too Black on the Case of the Pendleton 2!

Cartoonized image of Naeem and Balagoon, "Free The Pendleton 2! | TFSR 10-16-22"
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This week, we’re airing a conversation with Too Black, communications representative for the defense committee to Free the Pendleton 2. Too Black also hosts the Black Myths podcast. For the hour, Too Black talks about the case of the Pendleton 2, two Black men incarcerated in Indiana who had decades added to their sentences, including decades in solitary confinement, for defending another prisoner from a white supremacist guard officer formation in the Pendleton Prison Uprising, February 1st 1985. Too Black talks about Christopher “Naeem” Trotter and John “Balagoon” Cole and the struggle to free these elders.

You can find out more about the case by visiting the links at LinkTr.ee/FreedomCampaign (the form Too Black mentioned in particular can be found at this link) see the documentary They Stood Up about the Pendleton 2 at youtube, and you can hear Black Myths Podcasts at libsyn.com

We sometimes forget to add in content warnings, but since we’re talking about racialized brutality behind bars, there are some descriptions of violence and racist quotes read.

Next week….

We hope to share an interview with folks organizing in Alabama against the atrocious conditions faced by people incarcerated in the Alabama Department of Corrections.

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Featured Track

  • Leave The Shu Behind (Jarleen Bootleg) by SHM & Laidback Luke vs. Johan Vedel

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Transcription

Too Black: Yeah, my name is Too Black. I’m an artist, poet, writer organizer, and for the importance of this conversation, the comms representative for the Defense Committee to Free the Pendleton 2. That’s that’s pretty much it.

Oh! I always forget certain things. I host the Black Myths Podcast. It’s a show where we take myths of a socio-political nature and Black culture and history and debunk them, essentially. Anything that is a lie, or just false, or misunderstood, we will take that myth and we will spend an episode or two debunking and also just clarifying the truth and trying to investigate what was behind them. So that’s pretty much who I am.

TFSR: Cool, that’s awesome. I’ll happily throw in some links to your RSS feed and social media presence after this. If you have any extras, please toss them my way.

Also putting a pin in a thought, because the focuses of the conversation have multiple names, there is State names, there’s other names that they get referred to. I’ve seen, for instance, Mr. Trotter referred to less consistently as Naeem. I’ll probably use their State names just at the beginning, but since you’ve been covering this for a while and on our on their defense committee, is it better to just go with Balagoon, Naeem & Lokmar or is it okay to intersperse them? Or how should I approach it?

TB: It’s best to start with their State names. At least that’s how I always do it. Then after that, I’ll use the shorthand: Naeem, Balagoon. It’s also okay to State openly that that’s how we’ll be referring to them throughout the remaining of the conversation, for the most part.

TFSR: Cool. Okay, awesome. Well, since we’re gonna be speaking about the Pendleton 2, I was hoping that you could please tell the listeners a little bit about Christopher Trotter, aka Naeem, and John Cole, aka Balagoon, some biographical information just to give an introduction, such as why they went to prison, where they came up, a bit about their personalities, if you’re if you’ve been working on the support committee, I’m sure you’ve gotten to have a lot of interactions with them.

TB: Yeah, they both are from Indiana, the Indianapolis area. They’re both older gentlemen at this point in time, because of the sins that they received. But they’re both really caring individuals. I appreciate this question, because sometimes I think, myself, particularly it’s failed to highlight just who they are. Because sometimes it’s easy to get caught up on the case itself.

But when you talk to either one of them, whether it’s Naeem or Balagoon. I was just writing Naeem the other day. They’re always interested in how you are doing, despite as we’ll get to what happened to them. Naeem is trying to organize a way to to expose the medical neglect that occurs inside prison, not not to him, but to other prisoners. This is someone who’s been in prison for 40 years, somebody who spent 20 plus years in solitary confinement. When Balagoon had a medical issue, just over the summer, we didn’t even know if he was going to make it initially. Thankfully, he did. And when he got out, he was still in the infirmary, he was trying to organize to bring attention to the other prisoners who weren’t getting the proper care they needed.

So these are both men who have maintained a sense of justice and, a sense of dedication to the people despite the things that have been done to them. There’s not any overwhelming bitterness that disallows them from connecting themselves with other people around them. They’re always trying to educate. They’ve engaged in hunger strikes. Of course, nobody’s perfect, but they’re not beat down in the way that the State wants to beat down people like that, they’re not dispassionate and completely empty. That’s often the point of these kinds of cases is when you punish a political prisoner, you want to make an example out of them to the public, but you also want to demoralize them as individuals, so they no longer fight. Despite what’s been done to them, they still find that energy to organize while they’re in prison like they were doing prior to the incident that that has kept them in prison.

TFSR: This is kind of off the cuff. But I think it’s worth noting, and I think listeners of the show are aware if they are listening already, but the reason frequently that people become politicized prisoners or political prisoners on the inside… The method that the State appears to want people, if they’re going to survive their incarceration, is to keep their head down, to participate according to the very strict rules that are put before them, or basically to submit all the time. And to erase their social aspect, to erase the fact that they have interactions, that they have affinities that they have maybe disagreements, they have relationships with other people that are in a similar situation to them, not only do people get put into solitary, people get punished, oftentimes when they’re doing these pro social things. A part of prison is to break down the strength of communities into these broken individuals if possible. No disrespect to folks that do keep their head down. I’ve never been incarcerated, but talking to folks that that have been in, or currently inside, it seems really hard to get by. But I have so much more respect for folks when they continue despite being punished explicitly for their participation in defending other people, or standing up for prisoners as a class, medical rights, being a jailhouse lawyer or whatever. I have a lot of respect for that activity.

TB: Yeah, definitely. That’s part of what inspires me, honestly. We have a documentary that Jock, one of our committee members made, called They Stood Up. That’s not just a title, they actually stood up against white supremacist violence in prison, which is one of the most violent places anybody can be. In the documentary, Jock, who directed it, does a great job of talking about how when George Floyd was was murdered by the pig up in Minnesota, there was a bunch of people filming it but nobody did anything to stop that from happening. It’s not to create some kind of individualistic criticism of any of those people, but it’s more so just think about how we’ve been conditioned to not even respond to when a human life is being brutalized, particularly by the State, right? They were trying differently. They had already been organizing prior to that event.

So, when Lincoln “Lockmar” Love was, was being beat down and was more than likely going to be killed, they actually said, “No, we’re not going to stand for that. We’re not going to watch that happen, we’re going to step in.” Doing that provides a certain inspiration to people who might be a little bit more tepid, who do have their heads down, who don’t want to throw the brick at the cop, so to speak, who don’t want to put their lives at risk or anything of that nature. It’s also important to note that Naeem only had three months left on his sentence when he engaged in this activity. Balagoon, I believe, had three and a half years left.

Both of them could have, just to your point, kept their head down and been home. A lot of us do that. We keep our heads down, we know that something’s fucked up, we either feel like we’re powerless, or we just don’t want to mess up whatever we have going. Again, this is not an individual criticism. This is just again, how we’re conditioned. So we don’t do anything. But when people see the situation differently, when they understand that human life is so valuable that whatever they have one line does not stand above the significance of someone’s life like that, is an inspiration. That could recondition people to take a different approach.

That’s why you have to punish people like that, because they violate an unspoken code, right? You don’t stand in in that way. Particularly in a violent way or in a self defense way, you’re just not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to play by the rules that the State sets for you even though those rules are inherently always gonna work to their benefit.

TFSR: Yeah, for full transparency, I was just re-watching the documentary right before we got on to the phone. I really hope that folks in the listening audience end up checking out The Pendleton 2: They Stood Up. It’s quite a good documentary with some amazing firsthand accounts, including talking to Balagoon and Naeem about their experiences.

So I’m wondering if you could set the stage. What were the conditions in the Indiana State Reformatory, which is now known as Pendleton Correctional Facility? What kind of organizing were prisoners involved in? And who were some of the folks? We’ve named a couple already.

TB: Yeah, as you said, at the time it was Indiana Reformatory and on February 1, 1995, well prior to that date, there’s a few things that need clarified. So there had already been an uprising at Michigan City Prison in 1982. There was a class action lawsuit, there was actually multiple lawsuits. There’s a class action lawsuit against the conditions in Pendleton, and there was a lawsuit that the guards themselves had against Pendleton, (Indiana Reformatory at the time), because some of them didn’t even feel safe. They thought the conditions were so bad that it was prompting violence from the prisoners. There was regularly medical neglect and the neglect of food. Horrible conditions, unsanitary conditions. There was also just outright violence and torture that went on in Pendleton or Indiana Reformatory at the time.

Naeem talks about how he had somebody (this is prior to the rebellion), a guard came in and choked him out and called him nigger and said he’ll kill him. But this wasn’t an anomaly. This happened all the time. So prisoners were regularly on guard even more than you would expect people to be on guard in prison, which requires you to be on guard anyway, right? Like they were more on guard. The most important point I think to note is that, as we find out later, this was not known at the time explicitly even though the actions were clear, that the guards inside the Indiana Reformatory/Pendleton belonged to a KKK splinter group called the Sons of Light. So you had literal KKK-minded guards running running the prison. This was exposed by one of the guards who worked there. So that was all occurring at the time, prior to any kind of rebellion or anything of that nature. Those are the conditions that laid the way.

Then on the prisoner side, despite all these horrible conditions, there was the Black Dragons which Naeem and Balagoon were leaders of and a part of. What they were attempted to do, they had been mis-classified as a gang, but what they were attempting to do was bring prisoners together and organize against those conditions, organize against the violence that they experienced in prison. For the sake obviously, of improving their situation and working against what the guards are doing to them, their goal was to get the prisoners themselves to stop fighting amongst each other, and deal with the real enemy or the real immediate enemy in this case, which was the white supremacist guards.

Black Dragons had been organizing for years prior to this incident. So by the time the incident occurs, which starts in the maximum restraint unit, they’re going around flipping cells, and they kept coming back to Lincoln Love’s cell. Just to give you a little bit of background on on him, Lincoln Love was also someone who was part of the agitation against the white supremacist guards. He was he was also a lay advocate, or a jailhouse lawyer, I should say. So, he was somebody who was well respected amongst the prison population. But he also had gotten into it with some guards prior because they would mess with him.

So this time, as some have said, Big R said this, who was across the way at this time. Big R was another prisoner there. Some kind of retaliation, because at the time the prisoners were banging the cells asking for cleaning supplies. They weren’t getting cleaning supplies. So the guards ran up in Lincoln Love’s cell and handcuffed him. They had illegal billy clubs, tear gas, and they started beating the shit out of him. They not only beat him in his cell, but then they dragged him out of his cell bleeding and they yelled it to the other prisoners, “this is this is what’s gonna happen to you.” So from there, the other prisoners in the maximum restraint unit started yelling to get Balagoon and because Balagoon was lay advocate. So for people who don’t know, lay advocates often can serve as mentors to other prisoners, and can even help them get on parole and get out of prison, as well as give legal advice and such.

Balagoon was up there doing that, he was doing his lay advocacy. So he hears this, he hears people clamoring asking for his help. And then he learns, at the time he thought Lincoln Love was at the Captain’s Office, he couldn’t get in. So he went back to population and got Naeem and several other prisoners and they went back to the Captain’s Office to try to see. They wanted to see Lincoln Love because the understanding was that they thought he was going to die. That was their understanding. They had every reason to believe that based on those conditions, and based on what happened to him.

So, they tried to force their way into the Captain’s Office. Initially, they tried so peacefully, then they were met with resistance, so they had to fight back. The guards in that area called for reinforcements, (I’m shortening some of this story). Then Balagoon and Naeem as well as the rest of the group, they found out that Lincoln love wasn’t actually in this location to have the run to another location and the infirmary. They had to be careful why they were running because the guards were actually trying to shoot them from up high as they ran through the yard. They make it to the infirmary but they can’t get in fully. (If people want to hear them tell it straight up on my podcast actually, Balagoon and Naeem explained this pretty well). They can’t get in. Initially, they fight their way in and then the guards tried to trap them within the infirmary. They have to fight their way out.

From there they get attacked. They made their own shanks, they had to fight back. Balagoon talks about how he was about to get get caught up and Naeem grabs one of the guards and puts a knife to his neck. So Balagoon could slip into the cell house, Cell House J there at the time. They occupied the cell house for about 15 hours, 15 or 16 hours. They called the media, they listed a series of demands, basically trying to address the things I already talked about, the violence in the prison, lack of any Black guards at all, the food, unsanitary conditions, etc.

Like Naeem talks about, they protected the guards and the hostages that they had, they did not hurt… or I won’t say they didn’t hurt, but no one died in this situation. Despite the fact that Naeem was charged with attempted murder, If the goal was to murder somebody, they had ample opportunity to do so. But they’ve actually protected them even from some of the prisoners, because they said, “we didn’t want to be like them, we wanted to actually value humanity.”

After all of this occurs, eventually as those 15 hours or over, then to kind of speed up the story. Balagoon and Naeem get the hardest charges because they were the leaders. They go to court. The court denies them any real trial, honestly. The judge openly fraternized with the jury as did the prosecutor. Anytime they tried to bring up the conditions of the prison to try to explain the State of mind that they had, and why they felt that they needed to do what they needed to do, it always was was ruled, it was always objected against and the judge always granted that objection.

They weren’t allowed to talk about any lawsuits. They weren’t allowed to talk about any of the conditions in the prison at all. Anything that they tried to implement into the conversation was wiped out so they didn’t receive a fair trial and then, ultimately, to close this law long answer up, Naeem received 142 years in prison for this and Balagoon received 84 years in prison for this. Balagoon primarily for criminal confinement (kidnapping), and then Naeem for criminal confinement as well as the attempted murder charge and a few other charges. That’s why he has a longer charge.

As I said earlier, they also had to spend 20 years for Naeem in solitary confinement, and 32 years and five months, so virtually 33 years, for Balagoon in solitary confinement. And all of this was to save the life of Lincoln Love. If they had not intervened, Lincoln Love probably dies. And not only Lincoln Love, a few other people probably either die or get brutally beat down because it just reached a boiling point.

This wasn’t a planned rebellion. Sometimes people like to say this was retaliation. But when you talk to them, that wasn’t the nature of it. I’m sure they were tired of being treated this way. But it wasn’t like, “oh, today we’re going to do this.” They jumped in because they wanted to save a human life and they were able to do that.

TFSR: It sounded from, I think what Big R and a few other of the people that were in the documentary had said who were there, it seemed like with the parading of Lokmar bleeding out from his head and a pool of blood and being told, “you are next, we’re going to do this to you…” How could they assume that anything was going to happen but that possibility unless they took direct action right at that moment other than to interpose themselves, to interrupt the circumstances, and to bring in the outside, bring in the media, bring out other institutions that might be able to step in and stop what looked like was about to be a massacre?

TB: Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s a great point, like, and that’s why, coming back to the trial, it was clear that that line of thinking that you just laid out, what the judge and the prosecutor did everything they could to keep that line of thinking from even being entered into the conversation of the trial. The jury couldn’t even take that into consideration. They had to think of them just as these monsters who hurt guards, right? And this is also perpetuating the fact that even after, like way after… In 2018 when Naeem’s sentence was actually vacated, and then they removed the judge who vacated him and put another judge on who said he basically had to look out for, he had to have his brother’s back ( referring to the guards themselves) and rescentencing another 22 years, right.

The State doesn’t want to take any culpability for what happened at best you will hear that it was okay to go down and check on Lincoln Love but it wasn’t okay to defend themselves, as if somehow those things are separate, right? Like it’s not on the same continuum. As if they were supposed to just submit to whatever was going to happen to them. Like you said, you saw a man whose head is bleeding, and your people are telling you, “that they’re about to do this to all of us.” Again, this day is not an anomaly, this stuff is already happening, this stuff has happened prior. So what are you supposed to think? It was just a logical thing to do, honestly. It wasn’t just trying to be heroes or valiant or anything, this is a logical thing to do.

TFSR: And it seems like there’s a lot of specifics to this being in Indiana, but parts of this remind me distinctively of conversations that I’ve had with survivors of the Lucasville uprising in southern Ohio. Well, I don’t know the makeup of… we haven’t talked about the racial demographic of who were the prisoners in the prison, but you mentioned that there were no Black guards…

TB: The guards primarily targeted Black inmates and the white inmates that they targeted usually were inmates who didn’t go along with the brutalization of Black folks. The so called ‘nigger lovers,’ essentially. That’s that’s how it operated. So yeah, it was a primarily Black inmates who were targeted and there were no Black guards, not that that would have made a difference at this point. But there weren’t any Black guards.

TFSR: Sure. Yeah. Oftentimes prisons are put into rural communities with large surrounding white conservative populations. The guards are often drawn from these populations. Obviously, if you’ve got the group like the Sons of Light, which I do want to talk about in a minute, or what we know of them. I guess I’ll just ask that question.

So, the second Klu Klux Klan in the United States, the second iteration or generation of it rose out in the 1920s in Indiana. You’ve mentioned that there’s documentation… In general there’s a lot of overlaps between government officials, law enforcement and guards with organizations like the KKK who are there to actively reimpose or continue the imposition of white supremacy quite actively in the day to day manner. In this instance, as I understand according to the affidavit of a former guard, Michael Richardson, (who was a white dude) who didn’t want to participate in it, he said that among the groups that he was contacted by were white supremacist formations that operated among the guards, there was the Sons of Light, which was made up of captains and lieutenants and all these other officers. So it wasn’t even just the “white working class” or whatever. It wasn’t just the ignorant bottom of the barrel folks, this was the people that were in charge, and the people that were in charge of the people that were in charge.

Can you talk a little bit about what you have been able to uncover in these interviews and in your research about that organization, or organizations like that, and the ability of that information to get into things like the re-sentencing in 2018, or the initial conviction?

TB: Yeah. I think a point you made within how you were laying it out, I think I want to touch on that first. Then I can get directly to the question. It was good to say like, “these are captains, these are lieutenants, it wasn’t just the most lowly worker in the prison.” Honestly, even tying this back to the Klan, or any other white supremacist group, the mythology surrounding this often is that white supremacist are just dirty rednecks, or whatever. That’s really never been true. Anytime that there’s an organized force… that may be part of it, that stereotype. But for them to have any real pull, it always goes up the chain. It’s never just a random person if it has any pull.

Now, if it’s just a group that’s just doing something on their own, maybe. But if they’re affecting any real pain, I should say, or if they’re able to oppress anyone that always goes up the chain. Even if we’re not directly dealing with the Klan, but we just go back to any of the lynchings, regardless of who was behind the lynchings historically, you’ll always find that there was a business owner involved, that there was someone who ran the city who had connections. It was rare that it was just the white farmers that were doing this. And if they were they were usually emboldened by the establishment.

I say that to say when we come back to the Sons of Light and the Indiana Department of Correction, whether they… We can’t prove at this point directly that it went all the way up to the top of the Indiana Department of Correction, but for it to be this thoroughly infiltrated within Pendleton, it’s hard to believe that IDOC would know nothing of it. Or to believe that they knew nothing of it, or if they did know anything that clearly they didn’t do anything to stop it. It clearly it was clearly condoned, and maybe even sanctioned, but at the very least it was condoned, and it was tolerated. So, I just want to point that out.

I think often when people think of white supremacists, I think it’s a really unfortunate myth, I may even do a show on this one day, when people think it’s just the white guys with missing teeth or something. When you think of it that way, it becomes cartoonish. It doesn’t quite feel like a threat as opposed to when you think of this as an organized force that is very in line with the history of the United States and how it was formed, right?

So, the Sons of Light themselves, that we know of, as you said, was a splinter group. So they weren’t directly affiliated with the Klan in a sense that they were tied to all the Klan chapters, usually a splinter group is people who will take the ideology of a group, might even start their own, but are not under the kind of centralized leadership of the group. Also a quick side note, there’s also other notes of white supremacist groups within guard organizations throughout the State of Indiana, even to this day. But this particular one, Sons of Light, Michael Richardson, and we have a deposition that was taken around the time. Michael Richardson talks about how they tried to recruit him.

Michael Richardson was actually one of the guards involved in the rebellion. Initially, when they went to the captain’s office, Michael Richardson was one of the ones there that tried to stop them. So it’s not without guilt here, but you still have to appreciate the fact that he exposed this because no one else was able to, to our knowledge. But he talks about how the kids of the guards used to play with the Klan robes of the guards, and how they had their own initiating process and recruiting process.

When you listen to Naeem or Balagoon, or if we talk about Meeka, or some of the other ones involved. For them, it was really confirmation that something was going on, because that’s how the prison was ran. Like Balagoon said, “going there was like being sent down to the Mississippi.” For people who don’t know that reference, that’s during slavery in the United States. All plantations sucked but it really got bad if you were gonna get sent down the Mississippi River, deeper south, like that was understood as an even worse situation than if you were in like Maryland or something. So it was understood that this is a rough place, right?

So the Sons of Light, they even passed around literature as well. That’s another thing Michael Richardson talks about. So they were deeply infiltrated into the prison. We’re really asking for more, we want to know more about this. It’s good to know it existed. But we don’t have enough facts, as far as like how deeply it ran. As my comrades on the committee always point out, a lot of these people who worked in these prisons and DOC and such, they just continue to move on to other prisons, some move up the ladder. So this is 1985. And these are jobs people keep forever. So it’s all within the network. So more than likely, I don’t even think more likely, it does, but we we want to have more information. It runs deep throughout the State prison system. This mentality and just this way of doing things, even if it may be organized under a different splinter group or a fascist group here or a Nazi group here. There may be distinctions in that way, but at the end of the day that has been tolerated for a long time.

TFSR: Yeah, for real. I wonder about the legacy, what existing groups there are are still that are operating.

So as you broke down earlier, Naeem and Balagoon both helped to save Lokmar’s life and brought about this huge disruption, we know with other prisoners, but brought about this disruption that stopped his murder from occurring and got sent down the river, as it were, afterwards, with decades and decades of sentencing and decades in solitary confinement, which is just an unimaginable. I know it’s a real thing that happens in the United States, but the fact that that happens to people is just so disgusting.

So I’ll just jump forward. Lokmar died 35 years after the incident that we were talking about right here and I don’t know what his initial sentencing was for but after so long… I don’t have words for it.

What are advocates like you who are doing support work for the Pendleton 2 hoping to gain by talking about the case right now by releasing things like that documentary? Amnesty or you mentioned that there was a retake of the trial in 2018. What are the next steps?

TB: I mean, there’s multiple avenues. We still try to work the legal side as much as we can. But it’s tough. Because honestly, without any outside pressure, they’re going to do what they want. That’s just unfortunately what it is. But you still do what you can on the legal side, just to show that you went through as many of the processes as you can. Naeem filed for clemency, clemency was denied. Balagoon does have some stuff coming up to hopefully get a sentence modification. They’re both also great legal minds. Sometimes I would say even more than most lawyers, so they know the law to a T. They’ve tried different loopholes, and tried to point out the ways that laws have changed since the time of the rebellion to today. They weren’t even, particularly Balagoon wasn’t even charged properly for what they say he did. So there’s a legal strategy.

By starting a committee, we understand the legal strategy is important, but it’s also just doing what we’re doing now, raising awareness about the case itself, because a lot of people just don’t know what happened at all. Especially here in Indiana. I know I didn’t know about it. I would say I was ashamed. Because I like to consider myself somebody who knows about political prisoners. So, to be in the State of Indiana and not know, I was honestly ashamed. Not in a sense of pride, but just like, “this is a situation that deserves attention.”

I think this will require ultimately more direct action, we will require pressuring and shaming, and consciousness raising about the case, and shaming of the State itself about what they’ve done. So we have demands, obviously freeing them in general, whether that be with compassionate release, there’s many different ways they can be released. Because they’re also just older gentleman. So even if you think that they deserve this time, which I don’t and I think that’s clear. They’ve served more than enough time for the crimes that people claim they committed, there’s no reason for them to still be locked up at this point. Even if you’re one of those reformist that believe in the whole system as it is. It doesn’t make sense. Indiana actually has the most long sentence convictions in the country from what I understand. People serve in 30-40 years as more than anyone. So trying different avenues. We’re doing local organizing to try to bring more bodies in and bring more awareness in the state of Indiana and throughout and build chapters from there. Also, do more things like this, get more immediate media attention.

I think, as devastating as the case is, it’s also important to understand how the prison industrial complex operates in general and understand how this relates to that but not to reduce it just to this case. But to understand that these conditions are produced by the State itself and the criminalization of Black people, of poor people, and putting them in these positions. Or, like you said earlier, even building these prisons in these rural towns and taking advantage of white folks that have been de-industrialized and then bringing them into these prison systems. None of this would be possible if it wasn’t for the overall capitalist state, capitalist system that has to criminalize people to maintain order and to maintain the possession of capital. So, we need also to understand that it’s not just this case itself, as devastating again as it is, but that these conditions are a part of a larger, colonial process that requires subjugation of people, that requires criminalization of people in certain forms so capital can continue to be accumulated. Prisons are a necessary part of that counterinsurgency: you don’t have jobs for people, you don’t have really anything to do with these people so you have to build prisons to get them out of the way so you can continue to loot and plunder the planet. You’ve gotta have somewhere to house them. It’s natural that you’re going to criminalize folks, it’s natural people are going to turn to so-called crime to try to take care of themselves. And there’s families that are going to be destabilized.

Naeem had an abusive father, this the type of stuff that people have to deal with that puts them in these positions almost as if a lot of folks never even have a chance. This is going to happen, you’re going to have people eventually who just aren’t going to stand for this anymore. And these particular gentlemen were politicized, they had been educating themselves and had been educating each other and they knew what they were up against. So, as Jock says, “they stood up.”

TFSR: It’s notable that in the charges… the group that they were participating in, the Black Dragons, that was the name of the group, right?

TB: Mmmhmm.

TFSR: It sounds like it was being framed that way in the court and media, as a gang of something like that. But the fact that people have to band together to create educational organizations, advocacy groups, or even defense organizations within these structures to protect themselves from the “authorities” that are supposed to keep the rule of law intact inside these spaces is fucking ridiculous. To bring it up to today, we’re seeing continued strikes in Alabama due to not dissimilar circumstances as you’ve seen for decades and decades inside the US prison systems. The struggle continues.

Too Black, you mentioned that you’re doing educational work, you’ve mentioned that you’ve done some interviews on this subject, we’ve talked about the documentary. Can you point people to any websites or any social media accounts where they’re doing a lot of coverage of this where they can follow up and join on?

TB: Yeah, if you’re on Twitter, [search] @FreeThePendleton2. There’s a Linktr.ee that will link you to the documentary, to various interviews. But most importantly for people listening, like I said there is a legal route that we’re trying. There is a letter that will get sent to the governor who can pardon both of them at any time , if he pleases. And it gets sent to the prosecutor that’s over their cases in Madison County, Indiana. We have both of those letters that we send to the offices to pressure them. This is important not just for the sake of pressuring, but also it shows that they have support on the outside, that people care about them. So, when guards might hear about an interview like this or hear about us raising awareness, it helps push back against any type of retaliation. Because they know that if they do that there could be a flood of letters sent to the prison or a flood of calls sent to the prison or sent to the governor that can make them look even worse. So this is also a form of protection.

Because the more signatures we have, the more people that that can not only just write the governor or the prosecutor but that can even call into the prison, that can write Naeem and Balagoon, the more connection they have with the outside world, the less likely they are to be brutalized because there will be consequences just simply off of the fact that this will get out, it’s not something that can be done under cover. So, I encourage people that if you don’t do anything else, to please sign those letters at the very least. And if you’d like to do more, you know, get in contact with me particularly if you’re in the state of Indiana. We’re always trying to bring in more people to the committee and try to expand because we need bodies, especially if we want to engage in more direct action, we’re going to need as many people involved as possible. It doesn’t really matter what your background is or who you are. If you care about the case, if you care about justice we can struggle through many of the things we disagree on but ultimately the point is to get them free. To free them all, free all political prisoners.

TFSR: And you can find this on the Linktr.ee, but there is a fundraiser that Focus Initiative has going on for legal support. And I’m glad that you mentioned writing to Chris & Balagoon.

Thank you again so much for having this conversation, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to listeners. Besides your show, Black Myths, any other links you want to mention?

TB: Not currently, I would just stay on the case itself. Again, watch the documentary. On my podcast, the Black Myths podcast, we did intereview both Naeem and Balagoon directly. It would be under the episode “The Myth That Violence Is Never The Answer”, it’s also on the Linktr.ee. If you go listen to those, you can hear those gentlemen as well as Shaka Shakur who used to be held in Indiana, but sent out to Virginia. He’s a political prisoner, as well. And you can listen to them explain this much better than I ever could, because they were there. And they also just have insights into other worldly matters that I think people should listen to. I would just say check out that episode.

TFSR: Thank you much!

TB: No problem.

IDOC Watch, Leon Benson and Abolitionist Organizing in Indiana

IDOC Watch, Leon Benson and Abolitionist Organizing in Indiana

IDOC Watch logo, a fist raising up and crushing a chain over a red background
Download This Episode

First, you’ll hear from Koby Bluitt talking about her father, Leon Benson and his struggle for release after 23 years in prison, 10 of which was in solitary confinement, for a murder charge in 1998 that he has consistently claimed to have not committed. More on Leon at freeleonbenson.org or leonbenson-freeleonbenson on facebook. The Mass Release & Clemency for Leon rally in Indianapolis is July 25th at Tarkington Park. [00:04:44]

Then, you’ll hear from Landis Reyonolds, a founder of IDOC Watch currently held in Westville Correctional Institution and who’s been in since he was a juvenile, and Ray, an outside organizer with the South Bend, Indiana chapter of IDOC Watch. They talk about their work to start study groups in prison, promote Prison Lives Matter, support jailhouse lawyers and recruit outside lawyers through the Prison Legal Support Network alongside the NLG and more. More info at IDOCWatch.Org or find them on twitter, instagram or fakebook. You can support them via their patreon as well! [00:38:08]

PLSN contact info

If you are or know an incarcerated paralegal in IDOC, please send a letter to:

IDOC Watch
P.O. Box 3322
South Bend, IN, 46619

or leave us a voicemail at (423) 281-5009 with your name, DOC #, a brief introduction, and legal training/experience. We will contact you by GTL.

If you are an abolitionist-minded lawyer, law student, paralegal, or have legal expertise and would like to assist:

Email Ray (PLSN outside facilitator) @ RaddishGreens@protonmail.com

Prison Lives Matter:

Sean Swain on Texas abortion laws at [01:19:58]

Announcements

Abolitionist BBQ in Richmond

Join abolitionists on June 5th, 2021 at Chimborazo Park from 2-6pm for an Aboliton Assembly & BBQ, hosted by the VA Prison Abolition Collective and Prison Lives Matter. You can find that and more events across Turtle Island at ItsGoingDown’s Upcoming Events page.

Drop The Charges in PDX

The Portland Anti-Repression Defense League, or PADL, is launching a campaign to demand all charges from the 2020 BLM protests get dropped. You can find a link to the press release in the One Year Rebellion post of the IGD column, In Contempt. And you can contact the organizers at pdxadl@protonmail.com.

International Solidarity with Palestinians

Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement and the Muslim-Jewish Anti-Fascist Front have called for weeks of actions in support of the people of Palestine under the title “International Solidarity Is The Weapon of the People.” We’d like to remind you that while occupied Palestine is no longer in the news as Hamas and Israel signed a ceasefire:

  1. the everyday brutality of the blockade on Gaza has been going since 2007
  2. Israeli courts, cops, military and settlers continue to displace and ethnically cleanse Palestinian Muslims, Jews, Christians, Atheists and others from the occupied territories as they have since the Nakba began
  3. the US government ok’d more weapons sales to Israel during this recent assault that left dozens of Palestinian adults and children dead, destroyed water treatment, housing, media, medical and other infrastructure

Eric King & CLDC Are Suing BOP

The Civil Liberties Defense Center, on behalf of incarcerated antifascist, vegan and anarchist prisoner Eric King has filed a lawsuit about the ongoing cruelty and torture Eric has faced since he was incarcerated in 2014 for an act of sabotage in solidarity with the then-Uprising in Fergusson, MO, after the brutal murder of Mike Brown, Jr, by police. Eric cannot be abandoned or forgotten, notably since he’s in the crosshairs of the state and white supremacists for his anti-racist and anarchist views. You can find an announcement of the lawsuit at the CLDC website, you can find a great writeup on the situation by Natasha Leonard on The Intercept, and you can hear our interview with Eric and his partner from 2019 at our website.

Skelly of CLE4 In A Halfway House

Joshua “Skelly” Stafford, a part of the Cleveland 4, 4 young anarchist men recruited out of Occupy Cleveland and entrapped by a paid FBI informant into a conspiracy, was released to a halfway house recently. We are excited to see Skelly on his way to full release. Keep an ear out for more details and possible ways to support Skelly post-release.

. … . ..

Support TFSR

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  • make a onetime donation via paypal or venmo, an ongoing donation via paypal or liberapay, grab some merch on our bigcartel store, all of that can be found at TFSR.WTF/support. You can also become a patreon supporter and receive benefits, more info at patreon.com/tfsr
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  • talk to your local community radio station about getting our free, weekly, 58 minute, fcc-friendly radio version on your local airwaves. More on that at TFSR.WTF/radio

. … . ..

Features Tracks:

  • Printmatic (Instrumental) by Soul Position from 8 Million Stories
  • Innocent by Leon Benson / EL BENTLY 448 · MeachThaGod
  • Stoned Is The Way Of The Walk (instrumental) by Cypress Hill from Cypress Hill

. … . ..

Transcription

Koby: Bluitt: My name is Koby: . I’m from Indianapolis, Indiana. I am one of two children of innocent political prisoner Leon Benson. His other child is Leon Bluitt. So that is my younger brother. And I’m here speaking on his behalf and my experience, just want to thank you so much for having me here.

TFSR: Would you tell us about Leon Benson?

Koby: : He has been incarcerated in the state of Indiana for 23 years. So, to rewind, in 1999 he was sentenced to 60 years of which he has maintained his absolute innocence, despite the Indiana justice system’s refusal to grant him justice in its appellate courts. To touch on these different things that we’re trying to get through the appeal courts, they basically were able to convict him of mis-identification by the state sole witness, she changed her statement from the original statement that she had, they had him in custody, they wouldn’t even line him up when they wanted to do an actual lineup for her to be able to identify the person that she claimed that she had seen when she was there. Also, there was a new witness that was actually on the scene, and the testimony was never heard in court. And also, they have been not even accepting his appeals to even reconsider the case, even to reconsider any of the evidence because there’s not even DNA evidence, the sole eyewitness seen, she described him as a dark-skinned male, and he had on a certain amount of clothing. If you guys have ever seen my pops online, or ever checked out his website platforms, like my pops is nowhere near darker complexion. He is a very light, very light brown young man. And also the clothes did not match, the clothes that the actual police had locked him up in, when he was locked up on that night, he didn’t even have the match of the description of the clothing at all.

There was a gentleman who they had got a tip from that actually had a disagreement with my pops. Prior to this crime happening that night, they were able to take his testimony, so-called, and this young gentleman I’m speaking of was someone who was known for using drugs in the area. And this guy basically gave the police a tip, because he was there out of spite to whatever he had going on with my pops. And I guess, of course, they wanted to get my pops anyway due to selling drugs or not that, so… And like I said if you guys heard my pops’ song called Innocent, he talked about how he sold dope. He talked about how he was on the streets trying to make a way for his family, my mom and helping her and everything, and not saying that that’s right. But that’s what he did. And then my pops had a witness who was actually with him that night that never got to speak in the trial, and they wouldn’t even allow him to speak in none of the trials, although he’s ready, willing, open to do it. And there are also other witnesses that did not get to speak on my pops’ behalf. They literally just used this young woman and this other gentleman who was known for using drugs, and he was already on parole, too. It was definitely some mess going on. Maybe a reduced sentence for this young man who actually claimed that he’d seen my pops do it.

Basically, where we are now is my pops has been really trying to get into the appellate courts, and they have refused. He has filed a petition of clemency. This happened back in October of 2020. They finally logged into the system about December of 2020. Within four months in the state of Indiana, they’re supposed to give you a decision on if they’re going to grant it or not. And it’s clearly been more than four months. Despite that, Leon Benson, my pops has demonstrated his humanity, growth, and rehabilitation. For the past seven years, he hasn’t had any misconduct, any write-ups, anything. And he has completed over 50 vocational, therapeutic, spiritual and educational programs, over 50. So he has used his time to really what they think in this criminal justice, incarceration system is supposed to work, people are supposed to get rehabilitated. He really took advantage of all the things that they offer. He is now an asset to society. This is a clear case of rehabilitation versus punishment. Are we going to continue to punish people, even after they have sought redemption from within, they have utilized all the services that are offered within this so-called prison system.

Just a fun fact for those who are listening. Indiana has only granted three clemency petitions since the 70s. Okay, and we are in 2021. And I’m sure there are other people who have sent in applications, and he is not the only one in Indiana who has been wrongly convicted. This is not a unique case. This is tragic when it’s known that it’s prolonged incarceration. And it’s not really to rehabilitate prisoners, we all know incarceration hinders mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. With hopefulness, we are going to basically where his case is now to keep things simple as that he filed for clemency, we’re waiting to hear back.

TFSR: Another thing that I’ve seen, talking to folks who are behind bars, who’ve been fighting for a change in the sentence, if nothing else, is that during that period of time, because of all of the “tough on crime” culture war stuff that was going on to the US from the Democrats and the Republicans.

Koby: Absolutely.

TFSR: There were people getting super long convictions. And since then, there have been reforms of the sentencing structures in a lot of states, where people like old-law people like Jason Goudlock, for instance, is one incarcerated activist in Ohio that I’ve spoken to. He’s talked about how the difference between the old-law prisoners, the ones who had the mandatory minimums, who had the 20 to life sentences, or parole as opposed to required release after a certain period of time that younger prisoners have. Not only is that an unfair situation, but that’s also totally political, where someone who is accused of a crime at a certain point… If your pops is innocent, he should be released anyway. I’m not in favor of carcerality and prisons like they exist in our society. But then again, it seems like it’s obviously a sign of the times of when he was convicted, and it wasn’t about him as much as it was about filling a cell, like you said, if people that are being convicted now of crimes that are similar to that are getting less time. It’s okay if you don’t have an answer to this, but is there a discrepancy between convictions currently versus the time when he went in in 1998? Is that any sort of leverage that you can make in the case?

Koby: Yeah, during that time, I don’t know if the listeners are aware of the prison industrial complex. Really seeing what that time looked like, and what it looks like now, and like you said, in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, they were really pushing this “tough on crime” kind of thing. And this “tough on crime” attitude within legislatures and just within the drugs, right? A lot of drugs were going on and they were using that as a way of really getting these people who were black and brown and just even lower to middle-class people out of here. During that time, it was definitely more than just the person and the actual so-called crime, it was more of a culture, it was more of a push like “We’re gonna get all these people out of here, they’re a menace to society and they need to go. We’re not even open to hearing innocence. We’re just going to get them out of here”. And it’s a lot I can touch on. Absolutely.

That relates to… as you said, they have minimum sentencing back in the day, it was different things that they had in place. They still have that, right? Even to connect to why… he’s having clemency, we’re pushing for him to have a clemency hearing. And the thing is we may not even be able to participate in this clemency hearing because they’re supposed to let us know at least two weeks in advance, but with it being over four months, he filed in October 2020, and they logged it in their system in December 2020. And it is May 28 of 2021. This is an opportunity where he could have people come in and speak. And that’s something else I’m gathering, I’m gathering organizations here within Indiana that are involved in knowing that prisoners, their lives matter, they need to be present, they need to be here, focusing on rehabilitation versus punishment and all of that, but the thing is I think the system is just sets you up. We may not even be able to be in court to speak on my pops’ behalf, to let the judge know that he has support, to let the judge know he’s not just somebody, that you’re not just letting out a person who could be a menace to society. I don’t even agree with prisons in general, but like, nonetheless, we won’t even have an opportunity, possibly, because it’s so late in the game, they might just literally tell my pops a couple of days before that he’s gonna go to court, and we won’t even have enough time to get together, to be present for him. And they may not even let him know in enough time to let us know. So I definitely think the times that back in the day in the 90s, the 80s, and the 70s. Like there’s an amazing Netflix documentary The 13th just about why people should care if they don’t even have people incarcerated or know someone.

TFSR: Would you share a bit about Leon’s activism inside, his creativity, and the gift that he and others like him continue to share despite the dungeons that they’re kept in?

Koby: Yeah, for what it’s worth, my pops has not spent this time in prison and let it go to waste. He really got into books, he really got into unlearning to relearn about the world around him and culture and religion, and cultivated a new him, he had a lot of time to spare, clearly. I think a lot of people who are incarcerated, not even my pops, they come out with such an amazing, broader perspective on how do you take the pain and turn it into a passion of some sort, how do you take the pain and possibly be able to create a platform for your children to be able to begin, to create some revenue through learning about turning all that they’ve been through and learning how to get creative with it. And what I mean by that is, although, my pops’ body was locked up, although there are other men and women who are incarcerated, and their bodies are physically behind bars, their mind, my pops’ mind was free to roam, as he dedicated himself to writing powerful poetry and music and helping to create motivational and educational programs to benefit his other fellow comrades from the inside. He has also worked closely with community activists to push for statewide prison reform, to build a system that truly treats every citizen equally.

My pops has been a key part of forming and running several programs in prison meant to create a better system for others. So I want to mention that he was chosen to be a mentor for the staff that created the band of brothers. And this band of brothers basically taught realistic views of masculinity and help individuals to become better members of their families and communities. My pops has really gotten to the healing point that they so-called push for in prisons, he really got into that, but he created that with other individuals that he was locked up with, and they created that community with each other. And, he is a mentor to other men who are in there for different reasons. And he was tasked with facilitating this group and other group discussions and using his unique perspective to make sure that everyone got the most out of the program.

My pops has been not only a father, he was a brother, he was a friend of his community. My pops is from Flint, Michigan. And he came to Indiana in 1995 and was sentenced to 60 years to life by 1999. He wasn’t even here this long, he’s not even from here, he came down here to help his uncle with his painting business, and to help them do home renovations. But nonetheless, my pops has really taken all his pain and turned it into a passion. Through his music, you hear his pain, but you hear his liberation, you hear his never dying, ending faith, that his music and his art and his poetry really speaks for itself. Some other things he’s been involved in is that he was chosen to be council praise team member and sermon group leader for the congregation of Yahweh, and basically a Hebrew spiritual, cultural community.

My pops is very spiritual, he is not religious, and he speaks about spirituality. That’s what we need to be going towards because we all know religion is a social creative construct. My pops spent 10 years in solitary confinement, where people are known to kill themselves, I don’t think there are any windows in there, it’s literally the size of a bathroom or even smaller, and 10 years in there. I mean, the man has amazing strength. And this is why when you hear his song Innocence, when you hear his song TND Truth Never Dies as long as we discover it, he created most of his art being in the shoe, being in solitary confinement. And so, Leon’s commitment to spiritual betterment has won him praise and respect from his peers.

And even from the people inside, and also, Leon became a demand educator, developing a course called The Streets Don’t Love You Back, where he educated hundreds of participants about the perils of street life, and how to escape and find your higher purpose. We know a lot of our men end up going to the streets, not because they “Oh, yeah, sign me up, I want to go, I want to get into things that could possibly get me killed or sent to prison for life”. No, they get into these things because within their environments, there are little to no options, especially coming from a single-parent home. My pops never met his father. And this is something unique for me. I didn’t know my biological father. I didn’t meet him until I was 16 years old. The reason why I’m here today is that my pops stepped up with my mom and said that he would help raise me. And he said he would be my father. Because he never had his father. My pops had character before he went in. Yes, my pops sold drugs, but he did it because that was one of the very few options that he had to actually provide for his family outside of the option that he came down to Indiana to do when that wasn’t working.

As I said, he taught an education course in prison called The Streets Don’t Love You Back and he educated other men who are in prison because of these things. He became a very gifted public speaker delivering over 300 speeches that could be inspirational, comical, tragic, or uplifting, all at the same time. My pops is very artistically inclined. While in prison, it allowed my pops to raise his creativity to new heights. He studied theater, Shakespeare in particular. He took part in several productions. He developed another program called Poetic Justice, in which he helped his fellow inmates to express themselves in words while learning about poem structures, style, and performance. Really turning all the BS and all the things that they put him through, he was able to make it because he was able to find meaning within all of this and is still finding it.

He’s also published several poems, and also several books that have even been stolen. What I mean by stolen is that there are books that he actually had produced and came out with, but they were stolen by different people who actually published them and actually did the legal work behind them. He doesn’t even own that material anymore. It’s just really crazy, but that’s never stopped him. He’s still going on, still creating, he actually has an album coming out called Innocent Born Guilty. And that will be towards either late July or August. He’s done a lot on the inside and has been a part of what prison is supposed to do, to so-called rehabilitate. But once you rehabilitate, then what? Do you still gotta pay? That’s where we are now. It’s been seven years that my pops has had any write-ups and any violations and as anyone knows, prison is a jungle. It may not be you involved in some mess, it might be somebody else, your cellmate, the guards are corrupt. There’s just so much that could happen but for him to be solid that long especially he’s in there wrongly convicted, so he could have really lost his mind and really snapped and crackled and popped. But he’s been really strong. His strength is so admiring for these past 23 years.

TFSR: Can you talk a little bit about the Mass Release campaign? And how does it relate to the efforts to gain clemency for your pops?

Koby: I am actually working with IDOCWatch, an amazing organization. They have a chapter here in Indianapolis, Indiana. And basically, they have four things that they are working on within this Mass Release campaign, they’re working on actually holding the Indiana Department of Corrections accountable. We need to release some people, we need to release them all because people are not getting rehabilitated through this kind of system. And even when they’re rehabilitated, so-called, they shouldn’t have to sit and die in these prisons without their family and those other things. So there are four topics that are connected to the Mass Release campaign. One is compassionate release, and this is the release of the aging people campaign. The second is clemency. And my pops is representing this portion of the four topics that they are going to touch on within the Mass Release campaign, and also being able to get Direct Relief. That’s the second one. And the third point that they’re connecting with the Mass Release campaign is that when their so-called discipline and written up, people are getting their good time taken away. You can get time added to your sentence, really crazy things. And then the fourth one is that some people are getting sent back for technical violations. And literally, they have added like five to ten years on to their sentence. Even though they have good time, even though they’ve been solid for the last couple of years, if they have one violation or one behavior misconduct, they will add time. It’s designed to keep people in, it’s not designed for rehabilitation. With this mass release we must release them all and let’s rehabilitate them, release them all, and let’s actually create programs. As you guys know, if you don’t even have a member of your family incarcerated, our tax money, our tax dollars are going to build these prisons, we can put this money back into reconstructing some rehabilitations, get some social works out there, get some psychologists out there, therapy, we need it. But they’re focused on keeping people in. So with this Mass Release campaign and my pops, really calling on all those to stand in solidarity and for the state of Indiana to begin to reevaluate the mass utilization of the Indiana Department of Corrections. Even across the country, not even Indiana, but just other departments of corrections. They need to reevaluate this mass incarceration.

TFSR: What might you say to folks on the outside who don’t know that they know anyone in the carceral system, or don’t think that they have this vested interest in abolition about your dad’s case and about the mass release campaign?

Koby: We are all witnessing what is going on. People are getting screwed from different ends, to be very transparent, to be very frank, even just outside of mass incarceration, that is happening – our healthcare. There are just different things that are being screwed that if we all come together and stand in solidarity with one another, and it doesn’t have to be because you directly are affected, it is because that you are a part of this Earth and you have to walk the streets of a person who is affected, who is involved. And you have to make sure that that doesn’t mess up what you have going on, that is not deconstruct anything that your children-to-be are going to grow up. We got to think about what kind of world we want to be a part of, what is the change that we want to see. And it’s going to take more than the people who are actually affected by mass incarceration. And maybe you don’t have a father like me who’s been incarcerated. Maybe you have a brother, maybe you have a friend, maybe a friend or a mother who is a single mother because her boyfriend or the father of her children is incarcerated. And now she’s out here having to make ends meet. Now she’s out here making decisions that she wouldn’t have made if she had assistance from the actual father of her child. Now her children are put in spaces with different scenarios that could go left or right because now she has to make it by herself with little to no support. You’re seeing children that are ended up having mental and emotional issues within the school system, that may be sitting next to your child and class. And they may be having behaviors that are they’re acting out in school, or in high school, or maybe they’re in sports, and they’re a little aggressive on the field, and there may be some things that are going on, that you may not even know about, that have to do with their parents being gone incarcerated, that have to do with their parents having health issues, mental health issues, and have to do with their family, be in situations where they did not… the children don’t even have a say, so they don’t even they’re not even cared about. And it’s just that we have to be a part of a world that we want to see.

It’s gonna take all of us, it’s gonna take everybody. You are going to have to choose a side. You got to ask yourself every day: are you doing what you would want the world to look like in the future? Are you a part of the change that you want to see? Or are you remaining silent and being compliant? Because remaining silent and not saying anything and not being involved does not make you better or not. That’s actually a worse offense. Because if you see something, say nothing, then that lets you know that you are in compliance, that you are just as at fault as the people who are doing these things, the systems that are a part of oppression for different people.

And there are different ways. You don’t even have to be standing on the ground, standing in solidarity. Where’s your money going? Where are you donating your money to? Is your money going towards these efforts to get these things off the ground? IDOCWatch, have a Patreon and they have things that people can send in money because they’re actually working with prisoners. Also, they’re connected with Green Star Families, actually helping families be able to… Certain children are not able to connect with their parents. And because they can’t even afford a phone call, they can’t even afford to put money on the books of these incarcerated loved ones, right? We just have to remember: it takes a village to demand change. And we all have to do our part. You don’t have to be on the ground standing in solidarity. You can be redirecting your money. You could be writing letters, you can be reposting this campaign that you’re hearing today. There are ways to be involved. But I would say being silent is definitely not the answer. Your silence lets you and the world around you know where you stand. And if it was you or your loved one, you wouldn’t be silent. We just have to really think about that.

TFSR: So how can people support the efforts to get clemency for Leon Benson? And is there a way that they can follow the campaign?

Koby: Absolutely. One, we keep updates on his Facebook platform. His Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/freeleonbenson. And the website is very simple. It’s www.freeleonbenson.org. We’re going to have updates and that’s where actually you get to see the details of…

We’re going to actually have the demonstration on July 25 in Indianapolis, Indiana at Tarkington Park in connection with the Mass Release campaign. This mass demonstration will have guest speakers, it will have poetry, we’re going to have vegan food and ways that you can connect with like-minded individuals and network, and whatever else you want to do with being a part of a mass demonstration, being a part of something.

Also if you guys already are connected with IDOCWatch or you need to, get on them on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/IDOCWATCH/ and also check out his music, google Leon Benson. It’s a lot of information out there, he’s on a lot of different platforms, and see the story for yourself. You don’t have to just take it from my word, you can look up the facts and public information that is on this case, and you can see it for yourself. I encourage you guys to do that. I encourage you guys to support this clemency by seeing what’s next and actually being present for the actual demonstration. But if you’re not able to be present, you can definitely support the fundraiser we’re going to have, we’re going to have a T-shirt and different items that people can purchase. Be on the lookout for that. As I said, the proceeds are going to go to Green Star Families and IDOCWatch, and then half is to Leon Benson and continue the movement that he and I are doing which is Truth Never Dies. TND, that’s the movement that I am constructing for my pops myself and Valerie, which is his sister.

TFSR: Awesome, Koby, thank you so much for this conversation and for all the work that you’re doing, and good luck. I really hope to see your father free soon.

Koby: Yeah, and thank you so much for this opportunity, thank you guys, the listeners for listening and I hope to see you guys soon. I hope you guys you know really start to stand for something and you gonna fall for anything.

IDOCWatch

Landis: : My name is Landis Reynolds, I’m currently incarcerated in Westville Correctional Facility. I was convicted at age 17 and sentenced to 50 years in prison. I’m now on year 17. While incarcerated, my advocacy and activism began with juvenile justice reform, trying to get them to change some of the laws that they use, with respect to waiving minors to adult court and sentence them to adult time for offenses committed as juveniles. And as I began to study some of the background there and witness some of the horrors that take place in the penal setting. I just started to expand my activism a little bit, study more of the systematic causes and abuses that are perpetrated by the prison industrial complex.

Ray: And I’m Ray, I use they/them pronouns. I’m the PSLN outside facilitator and a member of IDOCWatch in South Bend.

TFSR: So for the listening audience, could you all maybe talk a bit about the IDOCWatch, what it is, how it developed? What motivates it, who it supports and why?

Landis: Okay, so IDOCWatch began rather informally. There were some incarcerated individuals in long-term segregation and in various prisons that reached out to individuals on the outside and began to form friendships and relationships with those individuals. And as those friendships and relationships blossomed, the individuals on the outside were able to see the daily struggle that incarcerated individuals go through in the Indiana Department of Corrections, they were able to see some of the systematic abuses and the violations that go on, and over time, as those friendships and relationships began to blossom. It morphed into what can we do to fix this situation? So, IDOCWatch is essentially a collective to provide assistance for those that are incarcerated, to fight back for their rights and assert themselves. IDOCWatch believes in a prisoner-led abolition. Basically, as we strive and struggle for abolition, we believe that it starts with the individuals that are incarcerated. We have to educate ourselves, we have to take those first steps in the fight towards abolition and asserting our rights. And IDOCWatch has grown exponentially and towards furthering those goals.

TFSR:

I’m curious about… with the organizing that y’all have been doing on the inside, how has the Indiana Department of Corrections reacted to prisoner self-advocacy, sharing education, sharing experiences, and building this community, as you say, and friendships?

Landis: They’ve responded in some overt obstruction, some of the obstruction is subversive. Anything that appears to be offenders or prisoners uniting is extremely frowned upon, any type of assistance or attempts to uplift each other is frowned upon. One of the things that we’ve begun to do is form study groups where we can help educate each other politically, assist each other with education, whether it be pursuing a GED, different stuff like that. One thing that we’ve seen at the location where we’re at is anytime a study group is formed, and we began making progress, that there’s a mass movement and the individuals that are taking part in the study group are scattered throughout the facility. You see administrative rules that are enacted where you can receive a conduct violation for studying in a group. Internal advocates, or what’s also known as jailhouse lawyers, can receive a conduct violation for helping to assist other individuals in legal matters. So there’s absolutely a constructive attempt to stop that type of solidarity and prisoner to prisoner assistance.

TFSR: It sounds like a lot of what you’re describing are rules infraction board-type assaults on individuals inside. Have they done anything that would resemble gang-jacketing participation or solidarity or study groups?

Landis: Oh, absolutely. Anything that same as in support of abolition or in support of solidarity, they actually refer to it as a security threat group activity. So when members get together in a study group to help uplift each other, they see that type of unity, even though it’s in furtherance of reformation and rehabilitation, they see that type of unity as a threat to the safety and security of the facility. And they actually can act pretty harshly against it.

TFSR: Ray mentioned the Prison Legal Solidarity Network. I’m wondering if y’all could tell the listening audience a little bit about how that developed and your partnership with the National Lawyers Guild and what the vision is for that?

Landis: Okay, so with PLSN, one of the things we’ve seen historically, is when it comes to any type of movement when individuals are asserting their civil rights, protesting, and things of that nature alone, without more, it is difficult to accomplish the goal. So various members of IDOCWatch, we put our heads together. And we see that in the correctional setting, many constitutional violations go unchallenged, because either there’s an ignorance amongst the prisoner population on how to challenge those constitutional violations, or what we’ve seen in recent years, is a meaningful or willful attempt on behalf of IDOC to keep offenders out of law libraries or make it difficult for them to assert their legal rights. So, with the PLSN we’ve seen an opportunity to not only build a network that provided the necessary resources for offenders to attack their criminal convictions or file lawsuits against systematic abuses within the correctional setting, but we’ve seen it as an opportunity to educate. One of the main pillars and objectives is empowerment. In that, we seize the opportunity to educate the incarcerated on the true motives of the prison industrial complex and the history behind the prison system as apparatus of class warfare and subjugation. We see it as providing the necessary resources to weaponize the very system, they weaponize against our communities, against the prison industrial complex. And it provides an opportunity for us to network and to build those friendships and meaningful relationships to continuously grow and progress towards the ultimate goal.

TFSR: Yeah, that kind of strikes a chord that I’ve been hearing a lot of quotes of, in the last few years, from prisoner organizers, which is I think a mixture of a quote from… I’m not… amazingly versed in George Jackson, but between George Jackson and also Ho Chi Minh, talking about turning the prisons into schools of liberation. When reading up on the Prison Legal Solidarity Network, I also came across the Prison Lives Matter which I’ve also heard referenced by incarcerated activists that I have spoken to. Can you talk a little bit about PLM and how the Prison Legal Solidarity Network engages with it and what that initiative is?

Landis: PLM is an amazing organization that was created in part by one of our members, one of our inside coordinators Shaka Shakur. And basically, it is to shine a light on the fact that just because the person was convicted of a crime doesn’t mean that their life doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have a legitimate shot at reformation. The public a lot of times doesn’t understand the factors that condition individuals and set them up to be incarcerated, number one. And number two, a lot of people think that incarceration is conducive to reformation. They believe that when you come to prison, you have the ability to take advantage of programs to reform yourself and to become a productive member of society. But that’s absolutely not the truth. They don’t understand that prisons are absolutely saturated with narcotics. They don’t understand that prisons are ridiculously violent. And that most administrations enforce policies and a culture that reinforces the cycle of addiction and the cycle of violence. And when an individual spends years at a time in these environments, without the opportunity for a meaningful reformation, that the system is essentially manufacturing monsters that they’re returning to these working-class and minority communities. And it creates that cycle of violence and failure and addiction and re-incarceration. And they don’t understand that that was the true meaning of that system.

If you look at the Indiana Department of Corrections, their model isn’t reformation, it isn’t rehabilitation. If you look at their emblem, it says, Employees Efficiency Effectiveness. So they’re utilizing employees to efficiently and effectively incarcerate individuals. It has nothing to do with the reformation, nothing to do with rehabilitation. So Prison Lives Matter was a formation to shine a light on what really goes on behind these walls and to start to put the mechanisms in place, to start to form the relationships and the networks to actually be able to create an environment that’s conducive to rehabilitation and supports what we’re striving for.

TFSR: And while the work that y’all are doing to co-educate and to engage other people that are behind the bars, it seems super important, especially since people are coming in and going and going back in, people have families and communities on the outside. And one of these major dehumanizing methods of the prison system in the United States is to attempt to, despite what it says, break up those connections. It seems like Prison Lives Matters gives an opportunity for people to gain more tools to be able to talk about what they’ve experienced to their loved ones on the outside and re-contextualize the reason that they’re in that place and engage the people on the outside to fight along their side too.

Landis: Absolutely, and what’s disturbing is when you’re incarcerated, those relationships and friendships with your family are already strained because of the distance and the difficulties that come with incarceration. But we’ve seen an effort on the part of the Indiana Department of Corrections to make that even more difficult. So one of the things that they’ve done is they’ve made it harder for offenders to receive snail mail. And one of the reasons for that is they issue began issuing tablets where we can send electronic mail to our families and everything, one more way that they can make money. So what they began to do is, instead of allowing us to receive actual letters, they began copying our letters and making it difficult and limiting the type of mail that your family can send you, they can’t send you actual pictures anymore, to force us to start to use these tablets. Now what we’re seeing, since COVID, is an attack on the contact visitation. One of the most dehumanizing things about incarceration is you don’t have the ability to receive that reassuring touch. And contact visitation, when you’re able to see your family and actually hug another human being, hold their hand, kiss your child, that reminds you of your humanity, that’s a motivation for you to continue to put one foot in front of the other. And here recently, we’ve seen an attack on that.

We believe that, and I’ve heard from a senior official that they’re actually trying to eliminate contact visits in the Indiana prison system and force us to have to utilize the video visitation to see our family. And that’s wrong on so many levels. Number one, not all families have the financial resources to do that. Number two, the Wi-Fi system is ridiculously unreliable. Frequently, one of your family members has scheduled a visit, and they can’t even get through because the Wi-Fi is not up. So as you were saying, maintaining these human connections is really important. And that’s another thing that we’re seeing constructive efforts to obstruct our ability to maintain that contact with those loved ones, our ability to maintain the network with individuals like yourself who support us and support our well-being.

TFSR: It’s a strategy that Departments of Corrections seem to be applying across the country, including at the federal level. It also increases the possibility of surveillance, right? If you’ve got emails shooting back and forth, and you’re paying 50 cents for an E stamp or whatever, through JPay, then suddenly, it’s way easier to run an algorithm to just search for certain key phrases or monitor your relationship with people on the outside.

Landis: Absolutely! One thing that’s particularly scary is for activists, without contact visits, without the ability to utilize snail mail at any time, people that are shining a light on the systematic abuses and oppression, they can cut you off electronically, stop you from being able to send electronic messages, they can stop your video visits. Because the way that it was set up before is they could restrict your visit, they could put you on non-contact visits, but at any time an individual could come up there and make sure that you were okay. But the things that they’re trying to impose now, where they’re making everything electronic, somebody who’s a thorn in the side of a particular administration, they would have no problem whatsoever cutting off all of your contacts with the outside world, and you would literally be at the mercy of that particular administration. So it creates a huge possibility for abuse.

TFSR: And so I guess while you all are working towards PLM as a project to garner more attention and get more support, more understanding on the outside, the Prison Legal Solidarity Network is a tool towards multiplying the number of people that are going to be able to advocate for each other and also build solidarity with each other, to advocate on each other’s behalf, help them through filing these lawsuits, challenging the imposition of this for-profit filtering of people’s real lives and ability to survive.

Landis: So, one thing that we have seen in analyzing history is movements such as this, like I said earlier, require more than simple protesting. In order for us to achieve the things that we want to achieve, we have to start to put the support systems in place to sustain an ongoing movement. One way to proactively counter PRC aggression, and to fulfill certain objectives, such as legal education, political education, the empowerment that we need collectively, was to put this support system in place. We also believe that we have to begin to put other support systems in place to continue to counter some of these moves to further the objectives of the prison industrial complex.

We see, especially at locations like this, where they only provide the minimum amount of education required. Here, under IDOC policy, they’re only allowed to teach English in the classroom. So one thing that I’ve seen is we have a large number of Hispanic immigrants here that can’t speak English. So those individuals aren’t provided books in Spanish, they aren’t provided a translator or individuals that can teach them English, and they’re still expected to be able to get their GED. And what’s even more unfair about the situation is in order to go on to a vocational school or programs like PLUS or other reformative programs, they require GED. So basically, individuals who are immigrants or don’t speak English have to do 100% of their sentence simply based off of a policy. And you see that if you study the policies, the policies aren’t geared towards reformation or reintegrating individuals in society, they’re geared towards keeping individuals here longer.

TFSR: Like handling a surplus population.

Landis: Absolutely. So, that’s two things that the PLSN is looking at right now is we’re looking at how they are deprived of good-time credit. And we’re also looking at the parole system in Indiana, and how they have absolute authority to re-incarcerate individuals at their whim, which is scary. Once an individual does their required sentence and they’re released on parole. If I forgot to report, a change of address, they can send me back to prison for the rest of my sentence.

TFSR: I’d also like to hear a little bit about – I know it’s off topic of the Prison Legal Solidarity Network – but if you could speak a little bit about what your experience with COVID has been in the facilities that you’ve been in, and what vaccination, if any, is happening among the guards, how prisoners feel about vaccines, because I know there’s a lot of hesitancy or distrust in certain facilities around the country.

Landis: Well, at the location I’m at with respect to the vaccine, there’s a huge distrust. We know that historically, prisons have been the place where they’ve done medical experiments, tested experimental medications. So amongst the offender population, there’s distrust for for-profit medical companies like Wexford, who could care less about our physical well-being, their main concern is their bottom line or profits. So very few of the offenders that I know have actually taken advantage of the opportunity to receive the vaccine, and most of them think we all had COVID. So what’s the point in getting vaccinated against COVID, if every person that you know has already had it?

The public has no clue what went on behind these walls during this pandemic. It was terrifying. So when we begin to see news reports about the severity of COVID, how serious it was, there was no meaningful response from the administration whatsoever. And the scary thing is this facility holds more prisoners than any other facility in the state. I just arrived here when the pandemic hit. We have a unit here called ANO where when you’re first transferred from another prison or you come from the reception diagnostic center, you go to that unit first, they assess you, and then they send you to your respective part of the prison you are assigned to. So, the first case was on that unit. And what they did is they tried to keep it hush-hush. They didn’t respond in any meaningful way. Then when we started to hear that they had positive tests in that unit, from what the correctional staff was saying that they instructed officers to stop, if you weren’t assigned to that unit, you weren’t supposed to go to that unit. But we were seeing officers go up to that unit, where they had positive cases, visit with other staff, and then go to other units within the facility. And within a few days, maybe a week, we start seeing individuals start to exhibit the symptoms of COVID. Once it finished sweeping through the prison like wildfire, then they step in, and they basically quarantine each dorm to their dorm. But they knew that the virus was already within each dorm. So, we weren’t issued masks. When staff was walking around wearing masks if an offender has made his own mask out of whatever materials that he could get, he received a conduct report for it. And then once they finally started to issue masks, at first, I believe those maybe one or two days, medical staff would report to each unit and check to see if guys had symptoms. But after that we didn’t see medical staff for months, there were instances where an offender would be so sick that we would have to threaten to riot to get that offender medical attention. It was a very, very terrifying experience.

TFSR: Sure. Although it sounds like you were describing an instance where maybe someone was transferred in and brought it into the facility as an inmate or as a prisoner, I don’t know if there were any concerns, if you would be aware if the guards had any quarantining going on among them, because they’re coming in and out of the facility, they’re not regulated in the rest of their life, where they’re spending their time, who they’re around, and if they’re masking up outside.

Landis: Exactly. None whatsoever, the guards were pretty much allowed to do what they wanted to do. The only thing that they changed, and this was after there was a ridiculous amount of positive tests, was they started taking the guards’ temperatures coming in. That’s it. And it’s crazy because we read a newspaper article, where the Indiana Department of Correction reported that there were 233 COVID cases, department-wide in every prison in the state of Indiana, they only had 233 people test positive, which is laughable. Because every dorm on the complex that I was in, pretty much everybody had it. There were periods of time where you wouldn’t see an individual for two weeks, and then they would pop back up. And you didn’t know that that person had been in their bed sick that entire time. They tested the dorm underneath the ANO unit. And I believe they had 93 people test positive out of 96. And they stopped testing after that. They wouldn’t test anybody else anymore after that.

TFSR: Yeah, I guess if they reported those numbers, that’s like opening themselves up to a federal injunction or something. They don’t believe in actually being held accountable for anything, let alone for prisoners’ health.

Landis: I’m going to be honest, I believe, because I read some articles on herd immunity. And basically, herd immunity means you let the majority of the population become infected. And basically, that slows… there’s immunity that’s built up on the antibodies. And that basically takes the place of a vaccine, and that’s what I’ve seen take place here. What they did, is they restricted the movement, and they just let the vaccine run its course to the detriment of the people that were incarcerated here.

TFSR: If we don’t know the long-term effects of what the vaccines will do, and there have been like small examples of the negative impacts on a few, a 100th of a percent of the population that’s been vaccinated. But definitely, we’re already seeing the long-term impacts on the cheaper version of herd immunity, which is just let everyone get infected.

Landis, you talked about how you’ve been in for 17 years, you came in as a juvenile, correct?

Landis: Yes, sir.

TFSR: And you’ve been an advocate around shifts and changes in juvenile incarceration in Indiana. If you could talk a little bit about what some of that work looks like and what maybe people on the outside don’t realize why there need to be major shifts in the way that people consider criminality, incarceration, and juvenile health.

Landis: The first thing that people don’t consider is that minors are physiologically incapable of making an adult decision. So anytime a minor is waived to adult court and sentenced to adult time for a decision they made when they were incapable of thinking as an adult, in and of itself, contradicts justice. For me, after I was convicted, I was at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, the most violent prison in the state of Indiana. I was placed in a dorm called K-dorm, it was a program called YIA, youth incarcerated as adults. And basically, it was like Lord of the Flies in there, it was violent. There was a lot of misconduct on the part of staff towards juvenile offenders, we really didn’t have any rehabilitative resources to speak of. And one thing that I’ve always seen is that if there’s any renewable resource, here, within the last 10-20 years, as a society, spoken a lot about renewable resources, if there’s any renewable resource, it is our children. If anybody is capable of reformation and redemption, it’s a child. But we’re the only country in the world where a child can commit a crime. And one thing that really isn’t taken into consideration is the background that this child came from, what motivations caused this child to commit this crime.

Not understanding that background, not understanding the inability to think at the level necessary, and sentencing a child to considerable term in prison goes against what our Constitution is supposed to do. Because here in Indiana, we have Article 1 Section 18 that says the Penal Code shall be founded upon principles of reformation and not vindictive justice. But what’s more vindictive about sending a child to prison where they have a choice between joining a gang and engaging in violent behavior, or being raped, or being robbed, or abused. Basically, when you send a child into this environment, either he has to become a monster to survive, or he has to become a victim. And if reformation is the goal, that makes reformation impossible. So looking towards the initiatives and the things, there is pretty much nothing in place that would allow a child to reform themselves.

TFSR: Thank you for saying that. I really appreciate that. And there’s some audio of you also speaking about your experiences up on the IDOCWatch.org website. Really just spell it out also, and very worth listening to. How can people who were in the listening audience support PLSN and get involved, support PLM, if you can speak to that.

Ray: As far as Prison Lives Matter, you can our focus is incarcerated people and people on the outside. You can reach us at PO Box 9383, Chicago, Illinois 6069. Or you can visit us at supportprisonlives.org. For the Prison Support Legal Network, if you are a jailhouse lawyer or interested in our initiative, you can write to us at PO Box 3322 South Bend, Indiana 46619, or leave us a voicemail at 423-281-5009 with your name, DOC number, and a brief introduction and any legal experience or training that you may have, and we will contact you.

If you are a lawyer in Indiana, a paralegal law student, abolitionist-minded with a little bit of legal expertise, we’d love to have you onboard as well in our external committee, and you can email me directly. That’s Ray at raddishgreens@protonmail.com.

TFSR: Ray gave us a little bit of information about how outside people can get involved with or find out more about PLSN and PLM. The website for IDOCWatch, or it has a reference to support for the demands of the 2018 national prison strike. About a month ago, I got to speak with someone from Jailhouse Lawyers Speak about the Shut Them Down 2021 initiative. And I’m not sure if you’re aware of this initiative, if either you as a member of IDOCWatch, or you as an individual, have any words for the audience about that call out for people to come together around the theme of abolition and engage with juvenile facilities, ICE facilities, BOP, local DOC, whatever and challenge them and educate each other.

Landis: With respect to this specific initiative, I haven’t really had an opportunity to read up on it or anything like that. But one thing that I can say is, without unity, we’re not going to make it anywhere. Every year, I see our rights eroded, I see the abuses become more blazing and more sadistic. But unless individuals come together and make up their minds that meaningful change is the only thing that they’ll settle for, things are only going to continue to get worse.

TFSR: I didn’t have any more questions that I had scripted out. So is there anything that we didn’t talk about? Or that I didn’t ask about that you want to be asked about or that you want to just riff on?

Landis: I don’t know, Ray might have some stuff. The only thing that I wanted to touch bases on is some of the long-term goals for PLSN. Because as a mechanism of genocide, the prison system is just one component. I think that people don’t really see things like public defender agencies as mechanisms of genocide or tools of the prison industrial complex. And what we’re doing is we’re developing some future goals and objectives and strategies for how we can continue to combat the prison industrial complex, not just in the prison setting, but on the street. So one of the things that we’ve started to develop is what we call the Indiana Criminal Representation branch, where most public defender agencies blame their inability to adequately defend defendants on the number of cases that they have. So, I believe that one of the strategies that we can utilize in fighting against the public defender agencies being able to feed working-class and minority individuals as to this horrible system, is by creating our own mechanisms for criminal defense, things like the PLSN, where we have professionals, we have lawyers and paralegals and jailhouse lawyers come together, and law students, and pooling resources to effectively provide that legal support.

If we start to put these mechanisms into place prior to incarceration, I believe we can really carve them out of individuals that are fed into the system and save a lot of lives. Another initiative that we’re looking at is non-profit bail bonds. In recent years, we’ve seen a movement for bail reform, because we know that the odds of an individual receiving an unfavorable outcome to their criminal case is a lot higher when they fight their case from behind bars. And that’s one of the strategies that they use for working-class minority individuals is they keep you locked up. And a lot of times the lack of these resources and these public defenders that either won’t or can’t perform their job effectively assist in feeding the prison industrial complex. If we could come up with mechanisms to where we can assist minority and working-class people in getting out of jail so they can find their cases on the street and start to implement some community-building with those programs. So for the individuals that take part in the indigent criminal representation, or non-profit bail bonds, where they’re actively doing community service, going to school, taking part in political agitation, assisting in initiatives like the PLSN, where they’re actively helping members of their community understand what the prison industrial complex is perpetrating against our communities. And further our goal of abolition.

TFSR: Ray, did you have anything to add to this conversation? I think this would be a good place probably for us to start wrapping up.

Ray: I think that what Landis said above and beyond covered things that I wanted to talk about, and that are call-outs that I mentioned, our buffer inside and outside, you mentioned that it was heard outside, somebody they’re in contact with that is in Indiana that is interested in being a jailhouse lawyer or being trained, contact us.

TFSR: How can people follow IDOCWatch?

Ray: You can find us on Facebook and Twitter, both with IDOCWatch.

TFSR: Landis, are you cool with people reaching out to you? And is it okay, do you have a preference of JPay male or I guess what remains is snail mail?

Landis: However they’d like to reach out, I’m definitely interested in sharing my story and participating with any organization where I can help further the goals of abolition or assist anybody who’s going through what I’ve been through or is going to go through what I’ve been through. In any way that I can help anybody, I’m willing to. You can reach out to me through GTL by downloading the Connect Network app or through snail mail. My name is Landis Reynolds, DOC number 157028, and I’m located at Westville Correctional Facility in Westville, Indiana.

TFSR: Thank you, all of you for taking the time and helping to make this conversation happen. I really appreciate it.

Ray, Landis: Absolutely. Thank you so much.

Former Political Prisoner Zolo Azania

Zolo Agona Azania

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This week on The Final Straw radio we are sharing a chat that Bursts had with New Afrikan, former Black Panther and political prisoner, Zolo Agona Azania. Zolo is  from Gary, Indiana where he lives now, working a job and also doing re-entry work with the formerly incarcerated and community service to break cycles of trauma. After 7 and a half years in prison from ages 18-25 where Zolo engaged in political education with members of the Black Panther Party from Indianapolis, he was released. In 1981 he was re-arrested, picked up by the Gary police while walking around the city after a bank robbery took place, resulting in the death of a Gary police lieutenant. Because of his political views and circumstantially being on the street at that time, Zolo was convicted by an all white jury and sentenced to death.

Zolo beat that death penalty from within prison twice and blocked a third attempt by the state to impose it. For the hour, Zolo talks about his life, his parents, his art, his education, his time behind bars, his political development, the Republic of New Africa, and his legal struggle.

To get in touch with Zolo you can email him at azaniazolo5( at)gmail(dot )com or you can write

Jumpstart Paralegal and Publishing
PO Box 64854
Gary, Indiana 46401

To see more of Zolo’s art you can visit this support page!

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Transcription

TFSR: We’re sharing a chat that I had with Zolo Agona Azania. Zolo is from Gary, Indiana, where he lives now working a job and also doing reentry work with the formerly incarcerated and community service to break cycles of trauma. After seven and a half years in prison, from 18 to 25 where Zolo engaged in political education with members of the Black Panther Party from Indianapolis, he was released. In 1981 he was arrested, he was rearrested picked up by the Gary police while walking around the city after a bank robbery took place resulting in the death of a Gary police lieutenant. Because of his political views and circumstantially being on the streets. At that time, Zola was convicted by an all white jury and sentenced to death. Zolo beat that death penalty from within prison twice and blocked a third attempt by the State to impose it. For the hour Zolo talks about his life, his parents, his art, his education and time behind bars, his political development, the Republic of New Afrika and his legal struggle. To get in touch with Zolo you can email him at azaniazolo5@gmail.com or

Jumpstart Paralegal and Publishing
PO Box 64854
Gary, Indiana 46401

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself for the listeners?

Zolo: My name is Zolo Agona Azania. I am from Gary Indiana. I just was released from prison upon parole on April to six 2017 at the spending over 35 and a half years in prison.

TFSR: And what was your childhood like?

Zolo: My childhood was pretty much happy. I was born on a farm in a small town called New Magic, Missouri, on the Mississippi River. The town had a section called LaFord. And that’s where the farm was. My parents moved to Gary, Indiana when I was a little over two years old. And there I was raised and where I went to school

TFSR: Before you had said that, your parents moving you up there was a part of the mass migration. What were they might migrating from or migrating towards?

Zolo: Well, we lived in a poor rural area. It was in Missouri Valley where there was a lot of flooding. The levee was like our backyard. I liked it, but you disrupt the school. So there was many days during every year that school were disrupted because of the floods. My mother, she was an athlete when she went to school. And she told told us, the children, that she used to want to go to school so bad that her father used to set her on the side of the axle on the tractor and drive through the mud and water so she can get to dry land and get to school. So I said “that’s what I want to do! I want to go to schools!” “Oh, no, no, you got you can’t go.” So I really feel bad about that for a long time. So I just didn’t have any control over this. I just ran the streets and did what I wanted to do as a child growing up in the city. I became a country boy in the city. So I used to bring all kinds of stray animals home: lizards, snakes, frogs, stray dogs, every dog you can think of… cats! I really didn’t have any fear of dogs. And the first time I get in trouble was stealing two Doberman pincher puppies who had just freshly had their ears and tail clips.

TFSR: Did your parents let you keep the animals? Or was it just like “no no no bring them back!”

Zolo: Sometimes, sometimes. My mother was pretty much against it. She didn’t like female dogs, because they will have puppies. And she want puppies all over the place. So always had a female dog. I never hardly had a male. Always was a girl. But when my parents weren’t looking, I was sneaking dogs in the house. Or I would feed them by going into refrigerator and getting some hot dogs or something leftover. I would put in my pocket or somewhere and sneak it outside and feed it to animals.

TFSR: How far did you go in school? And what did you enjoy studying?

Zolo: I started out loving school completely. But I kept running into different roadblocks. I wouldn’t have been able to figure it out then. And by the fourth grade I wasn’t doing too well. I lost all interest in school. But my primary interest at the time was math, English, and art. I excelled in those things all through school, except for the other subjects. They went down. My English stayed up kind of high. My art stayed up high. But all the other subjects, they went down. I just didn’t do the work.

At a certain time, I was in… around about the fourth or fifth grade, someone came up with a new system of doing math. A new way of doing math. Matter of fact, the symbols had been changed. And they still use the symbols! The period for multiplication, the dot for decimals. The line with the dot over and above the line like a colon almost. But you had the division. Instead of writing the numbers on the top, you would draw a line and then do all the figuring on the side. So I had begin to learn that and I was getting pretty good at it. All of a sudden teacher came in one day and say “oh we don’t do that no more.” And I just like threw my hands up in the air and I just… I’m not trying. I’m not doing this no more. Math never recovered.

TFSR: Is that when they started doing long division?

Zolo: It was long division. And I’d liked it because I learned how to do it and just all of sudden just stopped. Saying “we don’t do that anymore, we going back to the old way.” I never recovered.

TFSR: I guess jumping forward a little bit. How did you find yourself incarcerated in the first place? Like how did you find yourself in prison?

Zolo: My father passed away when I was nine years old. I was real close to my father. He’s also a Korean War Veteran. Even though we were living in a city. My parents took me from rural Missouri. My father took me fishing with him all the time. So I was around water. I was in the woods. And we would sit there on the banks of the pond or river or the lake. And he would tell me to be quiet. He said fish can hear us. And if a bird flew by or some animal, he would like touch me or do his hand where he can catch my attention. Then he would just like point. My first time seeing a pelican in a wild, flying low over the water looking for a fish to scoop up. Wow!

It was fascinating to me, you know? And then he would tell me about the fish. Fish can think and they are smart. Sometimes the fish would learn how to nibble the bait off the hook without getting caught. And sometimes the fish would come up to the bank, past the lines we got in the water, and they would come up and look at us. He said “Well, let’s go. We are never catch anything today.” So I learned a lot from my father out there in the woods. So when my father passed away I didn’t have anybody to fill that void. So I would go on my own. And is my mother found out about it she would beat me to death because she was afraid that I would drown, because my grandfather drowned. My father’s father drowned fishing with another buddy. They were drinking and got drunk. Got to arguing. Somebody stood up in the boat. The boat flipped over. My grandfather could swim but he got trapped under the boat and couldn’t get out. Drowned.

So I ended up running the streets. I used to build go-karts. I used to do the things that person would do when he was in the woods. I had me a little hatchet. I used to go find somebody’s tree, little tree. I would chop it down and run. I stole… well I really didn’t.. I did steal them, but I was put up to do it by an older boy who I looked up to. I was about 12 years old. He was 14. And we he knew where some dogs were in the garage. And him and another boy came to me and said they wanted me to help them because they were too big. They couldn’t fit through the window. So they picked me up and put me through the window, say “wow! You can get through this window.” “No I can’t. Can’t nobody pick me up.” So it’s always an excuse. Chicken! So they kept calling me chicken. And so that was like peer pressure. So I bowed to the peer pressure. I climbed through the window, and I went and opened the doors. So now they’re telling me to go back in there and bring the dogs out. I said “Well I got the door open.” We were on some bikes. So I wouldn’t get the dogs out. And I was holding the two puppies while Jacobi was pedaling the bike, we rode away. Got away.

Well, we eventually got caught. So because of my age, and I had never been trouble before. Well, I never got caught… put like that. I didn’t have a record. The judge did not want to send me away, because they may have led me on the wrong path and it can be the beginning of a long cycle. So he put me on probation until I was 18. But I did not know I was on probation until I was 18. Well, I successfully completed probation. They kept giving me one chance after another. So by the time I did turn 18 I caught a felony case. It was a home invasion case. And I was sent to prison the first time on that charge in 1974. I was arrested in December 1972. I stayed in the county jail for 16 months, eventually pled guilty on that charge and that’s how went to prison the first time.

TFSR: So you were in for 16 months before you actually pled guilty. That was all like pre-trial.

Zolo: Yes that was all pre-trial stuff. You know, waiting to go a trial. I originally was going to have a jury trial. But my lawyer and my mother talked me in to pleading guilty.

TFSR: Was that a public defender?

Zolo: No I had a paid attorney. I had a private private counsel.

TFSR: They just figured that in front of a trial, a jury, you would get a harsher sentence?

Zolo: Yes. I was facing a life sentence.

TFSR: Wow.

Sorry to jump back and forth, but what sort of work was your mom doing during that time?

Zolo: Well, Mom did odd job that she could find. When my father passed away he had military benefits. He also had Social Security. My father also had several insurance policies. He would talk to me about them. He would be at the table. He always was reading and writing. So I wanted to read and write too. So I kept saying “I want to write!” But he would tell me “Go on, boy!”. But eventually, he came to me one day said “Come on, you gonna learn how to read and write.” So he started teaching me how to read and write at home. And when I didn’t follow instructions, or was slow picking up on it. He hit that belt. Right across my back. Oh!!! He said “That’s the answer! You didn’t answer the first time. You know what it is. What is this answer?” “That’s an A. “And what is this?” “That’s a B.” “And what is this?” “That’s a C.” And I had to keep going, and then he took the paper away. And they made me say them without looking at the paper. And here come that belt. WHAP! I ended up learning how to read and write.

I was doing pretty good at home. I was always told I was smart. And when I started school, I was one of the students who already knew how to write. I knew how to write my name. I knew how to count to ten in kindergarten. By the time I was in the first grade I knew how to count to 100. I was the first student in my class to count to 100. I knew how to tell time. This means a minute, this is five minutes. And it’s divided in five minutes around the clock. Every every five minutes there’s another five minutes added. So that’s how you tell time. Well, so I did that while I was in the kindergarten. We had a little mechanical clock, like where you can see the gears turning. And the teacher might say, “put one o’clock.” I put the hand on one o’clock. “Good!” You know, some students, they just couldn’t get it. So I thought that I was a little better than others because I knew something that they didn’t know.

Well, my father passed away. All that stopped. Because I didn’t have anyone at home to help with homework. I didn’t have anyone at home to teach me anything or help me with my school. My mother didn’t do it. She said that she did not know about this new math and she didn’t know a lot how they were doing things at the time. This was in the 60s. So I was just on my own. And my mother did not show the interest in school that I expected her. Even though I still held on to my art, my mother would discourage me from drawing. She said “you always want to focus on your art, on that art, on that art. You just keep harping on that art and your grades is going down. It’s more to school than art.” So I resented that. So I just stopped drawing from for a long time.

Till one day, I was looking at a magazine and it had a picture with Abraham Lincoln. And if you draw this picture you can win a prize. So I drew the picture and sent it in. I won the prize! But the prize was to go to art school. To take the art correspondence course. Matter of fact, from the Art Institute of Chicago. And the art Institute of Chicago sent a representative to my house after I had won and found that I was too young you had to be at least 14 and I was 12 or 13. I was somewhere around there. But I wasn’t old enough. They said well since you did such a good job. And I showed the representative the other drawings that I had in the house. They said they going to give me a waiver. They said that I was good enough to do it. So they let me start taking a correspondence course. We put the papers out and my mother started paying for it. But I ended up running the streets now. On my own I’m losing interest in art. So I start running the streets. I ended up going to prison. So while I was in prison, I said “I’m just gonna finish my art course.” So I wrote a letter to my mother and told her to send my drawing board and my pencils and the equipment that was given to us from the school.

TFSR: And she sent it to me. I wrote a letter to the to the school and said that I would like to finish my course. They said that I owed them 200 and something dollars. I did not know that my mother has stopped paying the tuition. Well, I was convicted 1974. But I was arrested at 72. December 1972 to April 1974. And then I was sent to prison. They counted my jail time in county jail towards my sentences. So, while I was there I met a man we call Rooster. He was a Picasso to the penitentiary. Picasso was a famous Spanish artist.

Zolo: He did his rendition of the Mona Lisa. He did what you call abstract and surreal art. And so I began to do surreal art. Surreal art would be like, if you would draw a forest, and the forest is there, but in the middle of that forest is a giant owl. But the owl is like it’s superimposed on the forest. Then it may be a clock where the owl is looking at a clock. And that would be surreal. Most of my art, if you look at my art… it’s done that way.

TFSR: Yeah, I’ve heard it described that surreal art is a lot of reaching into into your dreams, sort of, and looking for imagery there and then bringing that out, just sort of trying to help people make that connection between what their brain… not their logical rational, awake brain tells them but what their inside mind and body tell them and make that connection.

Zolo: Yes. Yes. That too! Salvador Dali did a lot of painting like that. I think he did the one with the clock. The clock looked like it was melting. That’s surreal.

TFSR: And you were able to get that equipment sent in and work on it in?

Zolo: Yes. So I really honed my skills while I was in prison. But during that same period of time, I had begin to do systematic political study. Reading and study of what was taking place on the streets. And people that was being arrested and coming into prison who was politically active on the streets. That’s what that was like beginning to be the majority of the population. Who had influenced in the population? These prisoners. So I gravitated towards people like that. And that that is how I began to get be re-educated.

TFSR: Last night you shared a little bit about that process of how you got involved with people that were doing this thinking and this talking and they held like an air of respectability. Even even the staff recognized it. Can you talk about those people and how that brought you into the study group that you’re in?

Zolo: Yes. Children are psychologically… physically and psychologically insecure. So children form groups as protection. They play together in small and large groups. I was a young man, I was a teenager, I was 19 years old when I came in the prison door. So I gravitated towards other young people like myself. And we ran together. And we protected one another. But I used to see certain prisoners walk by themselves, they didn’t run in a crowd, but they still had protection and respect that I was striving to get or earn for myself. And the rest of people in my group, the same thing. So I said, that’s how I want to be. Well, I eventually was able to get to know some of those people. And they spent time with me just like William Turner, we call him Rooster, who taught me how to paint and the concepts that he painted. Hugh Lions, we call him Mwatha ▪. He was an expert dialectician. So he taught me about dialectics and the study of the contradictions inherent in things. Makau ▪ he was a martial artist and he exercise all the time. So I learned some self defense techniques from him. I also learned about George Jackson because he was trying to imitate and practice some of the things that George Jackson wrote about in his book. And that was the beginnings of my reeducation and driving the role of political consciousness.

(▪: Mwatha and Makau’s names are informed guesses at a correct spelling. If we find we’ve spelled these elders names wrong, we will correct this -Editor)

TFSR: Was it difficult to get the materials to study in the study group? and who all was participating in it? Like what kind of prisoners?

Zolo: Oh, yes. At that time it was hard getting that material into the prison. Because the prison saw it as a threat to security. They always say it was a threat to security. But even still, during that period of time, them books seemed to find their way in prison. And it was now allowed in. But you have people in prison who had a thirst for knowledge, who had a thirst for reading and learning, unlike what it is today. Well, it’s still around today, but not as it was then. Everyone wanted to know something. Everyone wants to learn about something. And during that time, throughout the whole country, because I read an article in Ebony magazine where different prisons would highlight where they have Black culture programs. We even has a Black study class that we had attended. And it grew. A Black study class was a non accredited class. You weren’t forced to go to it, but you volunteer, but you couldn’t get any credit for it. For attending the class. We were not interested in that. We was interested in being able to study and learn. And a lot of prisoners had that type of attitude. It was expected when you come to prison. One of the slang terms we used to use was “carry you sponge with you.” Because sponges absorbed water. So we want to absorb the knowledge that was in the book. Yeah, a sponge.

TFSR: Those two older gentlemen that you mentioned who were running the study group were members of the Black Panther Party.

Zolo: Yes. They were members of the Indianapolis chapter. Indianapolis had a pretty good, well organized chapter. Some chapters was not as well organized, some were corrupt – and basically was counter revolutionary. You know, they were just Panthers in name only. But Indianapolis was actually practicing the 10 Point program expound. On the leadership of Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. And COINTELPRO played a part in its destruction also. But in the process, the people that was sent to prison who was members of the Black Panther Party, they kept it going while they was in prison. So I became one of their students. And in some kind of way it came out that I was a member of the Black Panther Party. And I saw it on the internet myself. And some people had mentioned it to somebody else, and it got back to me. I’m like “No, I was never a member of the Black Panther Party.” I was a student of members of the Black Panther Party.

TFSR: Would you have been a member? Would you have joined?

Zolo: I would have been probably, I probably would have been. If the party had kept going I probably would have been, yes.

TFSR: Okay, so you’re arrested 1972… 16 months. By 1974 you are imprisoned. When did you get out?

Zolo: I got out July 8 1980.

TFSR: And can you say anything about your political involvement after that point?

Zolo: Well, after I was released from prison in 1980, I did seven and a half years. I immediately sought to put into practice the things I’ve learned. The new things I’ve learned while I was in prison to make a difference within the community. But I was not interested in walking on anybody’s picket line. I was not interested in anything non violent if violence is being practiced against me. Now, if it was no violence practice against me, then I practice no violence against anyone else. I was peaceful with those who were peaceful with me. But I did not turn the other cheek for anybody who tried to put their hands on me.

TFSR: Those those words seemed to me to reflect Malcolm X’s sentiments.

Zolo: Yes, that includes the police and anybody else.

TFSR: You were incarcerated again after that. What were the circumstances around your rearrest and what was your sentence?

Zolo: Well, I was accused of bank robbery and murder of a Gary Lieutenant police officer. And I was facing the death penalty. I was never identified in the case. No one ever said. “That’s the man right there. That’s him.” That was never done. It was circumstantial evidence about the color clothes I was wearing. Where I allegedly ran. Where I allegedly tried to hide certain things in bushes. Running through people’s yards and stuff like that. So even though even though the police officer wasn’t sure. I was the only person on the streets at that time. No one else was standing around. So the police obviously grabbed me and threw me in the backseat of a car, handcuffed me, and took me down to the police station. So they never arrested anyone. Well they had arrested some other people. But it was after that I was in jail.

TFSR: Did the police or the court accused you of being affiliated with any organization?

Zolo: Well, at that time, they did not know who I was. They just thought was just some random person who was accused of a crime. But after they found out who I was. That’s when the sensationalization began to be published in a newspaper. Printed on the newspaper. Because I openly declared my citizenship as a conscious citizen of the Republican New Afrika. And they consider the Republican New Afrika a terrorist fringe group, as they called it. So for that reason, I was singled out and made to be the leader of this bank robbery and murder of a police officer.

TFSR: Can we talk for a minute about the Republic of New Afrika? Because I’m very basically familiar having read some articles online with the concept. And I’ve read that the Cooperation Jackson, for instance, down in Mississippi was a project that had its roots in centuries of resistance to oppression of Black folks, but in particular, folks who identified with the Republic of New Afrika attempting to create an actual physical land that could be incorporated into that wider project. Can you say for listeners, where that idea came from? What it constituted and what sort of folks who are engaged in the project of New Afrika?

Zolo: Yes, absolutely. That that was not a new concept. It was something that as a consequence of the slave war, and the slave trade of African people brought to this country. Most were concentrated in the southeast United States. And in some of those areas, the captive slaves were a majority in those places. There were all Black counties, they were all Black areas. In the 1930s, and 40s, the Communist Party USA financed a study. So a man named Harry Hayward who was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World as well as of the Communist Party USA, and a veteran of the Spanish Civil War. He was a member of the Abraham Lincoln brigade, where Harry Haywood went to the South, the southeast, and he did a systematic study and wrote about the Black Belt. It was called the Black belt, and how the people in those areas who were members of different tribes, originally fused together as one people.

TFSR: Do you mean like folks who came from ancestors of different parts of Africa who were stolen here? Or do you mean indigenous tribes that were living in that area?

Zolo: Well, both. Well, first, for example, you had the Igbo people. You had the Fulani people. These are different tribes. You had the Mandingo people, you had the Zulus, you had the Makoshas, you had the Ankahs. You had different types of different tribes. And even though the indigenous people were there also, over a period of time, there was a fusion and an intermingling, as well as an interbreeding. And those people became one people. Some of the slaves even join different indigenous tribes, and they were accepted as members of the tribe. And so these people became known as New Afrikans. New in the sense that we haven’t uprooted from a country and brought to another but we did not change who we were. We were still African people who was living in another country and we brought our culture and some of our words with us. And those words, some still survived to this day. Such as the word banana – that comes from the Wolof people. You see what else? Goober for peanuts. So there’s a lot of words that’s in the English lexicon now that comes from African words.

TFSR: And that was brought over by the populations that were disinterred from Africa, not just through European interrelation with North African and with the astronomers and mathematicians and scientists that were in Africa, but specifically brought over by the transatlantic slave trade.

Zolo: Yes. Now, even though what you just got to saying, that took place also. It was not as widespread as what the effect of the Atlantic slave trade had on the indigenous population, as well as people of African ancestry, African descent, who were uprooted from their country. Primarily on the west and southwest coast of Africa and were brought here to the United States, what became later known as the United States.

TFSR: So among the people that use the term New Afrikan, because I’m sure there are a lot of people that don’t, who are of African descent, is that project, that nation, or… well not that nation because a nation doesn’t need a State attached to it, or a border necessarily. A nation as a constituent of the people that are engaged in it. But that term, that phrase, that identity continues to be used is an amalgamated landmass that is self determining, still a project of people that are identifying as New Afrikan?

Zolo: Yes. There are villages there right to this day. For example, the Georgia and Carolina Islands. Where you have people who held on to many of their ancestral ways. They were called the Gullahs. They are trying, when I say they I’m talking about the State and federal government are trying to uproot those people and to take that land and turn it into vacation resorts and golf courses. So they’re still just trying to destroy a people’s culture. The country is the land. and the nation are the people. And we have a historical relationship to that land in the southeast United States that we called the Republican New Afrika

TFSR: I have read about the Ogeechee folks in South Georgia also who during slave times were were farming rice, out in the in the wetlands and whatever. But after the war, gained some autonomy before the federal government stepped back in and took the land and gave it back to the white landowners. So once law enforcement and your prosecutors found out your political affiliations and your ideas, I had heard you mentioned before that your face was plastered on the newspapers for five years.

Zolo: Yeah, for five years straight I was in a Gary Post Tribune everyday. Something was said about me every day. Eventually it started to fade a little. I would be in the paper – the court made a ruling on my case or if I filed some type of petition, they would say “He just filed a petition! He’s claiming this and claiming that.” Or my appeal would get denied… “Oh, appeal denied! Execution date will be set.” So it went on and on and on and on like that for the rest of the years I was in prison.

TFSR: So you were put onto death row. How long did you serve that and what sort of self defense were you able to muster during that time, like a legal self defense?

Zolo: I was on death row for a total of 27 years and three months. At that time, I did not have the right legal representation. The attorneys that I had were court appointed lawyers who did what they were told to do, and nothing more. And so they did not serve my interests of how I wanted to fight my case, or prove my defense. It wasn’t until Michael Dortch and Erica Thompson and John Stainthorp of the People’s Law Office. When they came and began to represent that my case received the attention that it deserved. And they brought up the political aspects of my case and show how was singled out because of my political beliefs and my political activities.

TFSR: So until that point, you didn’t have a support committee or anything like that on the outside or anyone agitating?

Zolo: No, no, I had no one. My mother, some members of my family, a few friends. I had support from prisoners. But we was prisoners can only do so much to help each other in that respect. But that was it.

TFSR: And the way that you’ve talked and not because I’ve read up on this, but it sounds like you’ve educated yourself very deeply in and the legal processes and in your own self defense, despite having lawyers that ended up joining your side. Would you have considered yourself a jailhouse lawyer? And what was that process like?

Zolo: Yeah, eventually happened. People have been recognizing my efforts, and I actually became a jailhouse lawyer. I didn’t plan it that way. I did what I thought was best for myself, because there was no one else to do it for me. And I was angry in that process, because I did not have the help. So I saw help from other people. So one day I got a letter from a man who was a quadriplegic. But he owned a nudist camp in Roseland, Indiana. His name was Richard Drost. I don’t recall his first name right now. He wrote me a long letter back and he couldn’t write with his hands, he had this machine that he talked into and it wrote a letter for him. So he sent me a long letter. In that letter, I’m reading waiting for him to say “I’ll help you.” I’m waiting for him to say that. But he just kept saying, in general to make it short, he said that the prosecutor got many cases. Yours is just one of them. But you only got one case, and you got 24 hours in a day to study. You have more time to work on your case than the prosecutor got to work against you. And he said “use your knowledge, learn the law, and fight and fight for your rights.”

I was so pissed off. I didn’t tear the letter up, I just folded it and threw it to the side. But I eventually was thinking. I said “Wow, he got a point there.” So I tried to read and study and learn something about the law. I just read anything. Give me a law book, regards what it is, I’m just reading it. I read aimlessly. Book. Law. Read it. Then I began to understand the concepts of the statutes and how they applied and the language that was used to explain these things about the law. I began to put certain things, books to the side, and now I’m looking for particular things about the law that concerned my case. And from there, I just learned about it.

TFSR: So you said it was 27 years that you were incarcerated in that stent. And so how were you able to get yourself off of death row? How were you able to overturn the conviction that would have sent you to, I assume, the electric chair?

Zolo: Well, I was given the death penalty twice. But I never stopped fighting. I did not fear speaking truth to power. I did not fear that it was going to kill me if I speak my mind. I did not fear that. For some reason or another, they conveyed that message to me that they feared people would listen to me. So I saw that as an opportunity for myself to organize, to use my case to organize. To use my case as an example of injustice. So I went back and forth from public presentation of my case, to the courtroom presentation of my case, even though the court was supposed to be public. It’s not really presented in such a way for the public to understand what’s going on.

So my theory and practice was to use the courtroom as a classroom, and to instruct people, not necessarily the judge or the prosecutor or the public defender system, but to instruct the people who were in the audience who was listening. Even though I had my back to them, and they was in the audience observing the trial, I spoke loud enough. And I explained things in common layman terms with every day common person would understand what I was saying. And I call it using the Dick Jane and Sally words. You know but of course they don’t like that. They like for you to use large words. They say “keep it simple.” That’s not what they actually mean. They say keep it simple? That means don’t overdo it. Not keep it simple, per se, or in actuality, not keep it simple. They want to keep it simple, then don’t use the Latin term. Don’t use then Greek terms or the or the language that the ancient Romans spoke. When they use words like that, they are trying to deceive the public.

Latin is dead language and they keep it alive through the legal court system. So I learned Latin. So when they was in there talking they will say things that I didn’t know what they were talking about it, but they were talking about me. What did he say? What does that mean? “Okay, your Honor. Okay. All right. That’s it. All right. Court Adjourned.” What happened?! I’m sitting, my heart beating fast. I didn’t know whats about to go on.. So I learned what the words meant. So when I learned what those words meant, I began to use them. And when I would be in trial and I’d get the opportunity to speak without the threat of the Bailiffs putting their hand on their pistol like they ready to shoot me and being gunned down in the courtroom, I would explain what that word means. Instead of using the actual word I would use the meaning. For example: Nunc Pro Tunc. Nunc Pro Tunc means that something was done that was a mistake, that was not a fatal mistake where you couldn’t come back and correct it, that the judge made. So, if I’m having a Nunc Pro Tunc hearing and I’m trying to get something in the record concerning my defense that’s in my favor. I may use the word Nunc Pro Tunc but then after that I’m only using the definition. The judge made this mistake. The judge done this! The judge done that. The judge left this out. This mistake here was prejudicial to my defense. That’s when the judge did this. The judge…. that’s enough of that! But if I keep saying the word Nunc Pro Tunc then the audience wouldn’t know what I was talking about.

TFSR: When we first met, like in the library, and you were talking about studying these older cases and learning from them, you made a point of saying that learning the rules of how the court operates, but not basing your defense on those rules, necessarily. This seems like an example of that. Just sort of seeing how they operate and going your own way with an understanding of that, seems like a really smart approach, but also something that a lot of people would be hampered by. They would see the rules and they would say “I got to color within these lines” as opposed to “I see what those rules are. I see what they expect. I have my own ideal of what I want to achieve out of this.”

Zolo: Yes. Correct. That’s accurate. It’s like playing pool. You know, a person can play pool, but they may do particular pool shot, and somebody may call it a trick shot. Well, in a sense it is a trick shot. But it has to do with skills, you are playing within a certain rules. But there’s no rule that says that the ball just can’t bounce up in the air, jump over another ball and hit another ball and the ball going to pocket. They didn’t figure that one out that a ball cannot come off the table, it cannot go over another ball and it can’t come down and hit another ball to knock it in a pocket. They didn’t say that. So person do a shot, or trick shot as they call it, and make his point and knock the ball in the pocket, corner pocket, side pocket or whatever. It’s all within the rules.

TFSR: It kind of reminds me of those stories of like, the devil comes down and somebody has an interaction with them. The devil challenges them to something and the way that they’re able to get around it. The danger is the devil is in the detail, right? Of what is said and what isn’t said contractually. But you are literally dealing with the devil when you’re going through this court circumstance. And so paying attention to the details and just saying, “Well, you didn’t you never said I couldn’t do that. And that’s not in the rules and say that I can’t do that. You never said that I couldn’t explain actually what the words mean to the jury and break it down for the people that are in the audience or talk loud enough so that they can understand what I’m saying as long as I’m not disrupting the court.” I think that’s super smart.

Zolo: That’s what I did.

TFSR: So you had that overturned. Or both of those overturned, you said, and those were consecutive?

Zolo: Yes. I got my death sentence overturned in 1993. That was the first time. But I have been fighting my case for like 12 or 13 years. And I basically the jury recommended the death penalty for the second time. So I get the death penalty in 1996 for the second time. I found my appeals. My appeals were denied, I went to the US Supreme Court. So I filed a successive petition, which is a special petition. You have to get permission to file one of them. Because effectively, my State appeals ran now. It was within the rules I can file another petition if I can show that an egregious violation of my due process rights has occurred, or been committed by the State or the court. So I filed one of those petitions because I had an all white jury. It came out later that the jury had been rigged against me. There were jury members, as well as some members of the court system itself, like the Jury Commissioner. And this came out through an investigative a reporter at one of the local newspapers had done. So I took the newspaper article, and I filed the petition and said “this is what happened to me within this period of time.”

So it took place between January or February of 1996 up to September 1996. It was taking place within there. So that’s when my trial was held. Within that particular frame when the jury was selected. Come to find out, I was one of those people that had a tainted that jury because of that reason. So now we have to go through what you call legal wrangling. I have to show that I was prejudiced, and my due process rights was violated as a member of a class. So that is how I was able to argue that I am a distinct member of particular class. And I use those same examples of the Black belt South. People uprooted from Africa during the Atlantic slave trade, supplanted over here, they came with their ways, and culture, in their heads and in their daily practices. And they applied them while they were here that did not change who they were. They were African people then, and African people now coming into a new awakening of themselves. At times we saw ourselves as different individual tribes and those tribal distinctions and conflicts have been blurred and diffused and we have become one people. Instead of one individual tribe, we are saying we are one New Afrikan nation. And this is what I did with my class argument, that I was singled out and prejudiced as a member of particular class, that New Afrikan class.

TFSR: So the court granted relief?

Zolo: Yes, they granted relief and overturned my death sentence for the second time. And the judge threw the whole case out. I got special judge, he threw the whole case out. This this judge was a judge advocate or jag as they call it. He was a colonel in the Army Reserve. And Steve David was a civic judge. He encouraged young people, he would have field trips to court and he would teach young children about their civic duty and how the court system worked. And so we had a fast and speedy trial argument. It took three years for them to try me. And I had been fighting the case for that period of time. So we found a petition to dismiss the case for violation of my rights because witnesses died, evidence that I needed to prove my issues was gone. I couldn’t get it back because of the delay caused by the State. Well, the judge agreed and threw it out.

Well, the US Supreme Court didn’t like that. Some kind of way he got reactivated and was called to active duty. And he was given the task of organizing a legal legal defenses for the Guantanamo Bay prisoners. And cut the US Supreme Court had ruled that Guantanamo Bay prisoners had the right to file Habeas Corpus petitions challenging their detention. Well, Steve David was treated like a criminal. Let him say it when he came back. They were successful to a degree but he had been accused of being sympathetic with terrorists. He had been accused of covering up for terrorists. So he he came back to give a speech about his experience of organizing the defense, for the organizing the attorneys for the defense. He was like the head public defender, for example. And he had maybe 50 deputy public defenders and he assigned to what cases was what. That was his job to coordinate the defenses for the Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

My attorney, one of my attorneys told me they had went to the conference that was sponsored by…. I can’t remember… it wasn’t the American Bar Association. It was sponsored by some other group in Indiana down in Indianapolis area. And Steve David said “now I know how it feels to be on the other side.” So he turned his back to the audience and he had a target stuck to the back of his suit coat. And he turned around the audience got it, that he became a target. And well, anyway, Indiana Supreme Court, in spite of all that reinstated the death penalty charges, saying that the State can retry me for the third time, and that I was the one. The defendant was the one causing most delays by appealing. [laughing] If I didn’t appeal, I would have been dead. What do you mean I caused most of the delays by appealing?! What is it saying?!

TFSR: I’m sorry court? Yeah, that’s terrible. I’m sorry. Also, it’s in the rule-book. So you got to do these things. You even had to go through a special appeal to be able to challenge the Supreme Court’s decision.

Zolo: Yes, they allowed it in. Yeah. But they didn’t figure that I would go file to dismiss the charges for delaying trying me within a year, they had one year to retry me.

TFSR: So they blamed you for not getting a speedy trial.

Zolo: Over three years. It took over three years to retry me. And then while we was picking the jury for the third time, the Attorney General quit the case. Let’s say they don’t want to go to trial. So they brought me a deal, in which I didn’t have to plead guilty to anything. I just refused to plead guilty. I refused to recognize the legitimacy of the court to even try me on this case. And they have been caught so many times cheating, violating their own rules, in the worst way. By plenty evidence, I still got this information. I brought it home with me. They planted evidence they falsified the ballistic tests, firearm examiner, they suppressed evidence to show that never fired a handgun, a paraffin gunshot residue tests. We also hired our own experts. We hired a ex Indiana State Police officer to analyze our gunshot residue tests. He ended up being ostracized by the Indiana State Police and Attorney General and the governor and the court system. We also hired an ex FBI agent to testify for the defense. And everything was… I proved everything. The people who came forward to help me they said was a conflict of interest, because a law enforcement officer was killed. I don’t think so. I think that these people should be commended for coming forward to speak then tell him the truth.

TFSR: Yeah. I mean, so the professionalization of expertise means that people that are experts in this sort of thing are going to get called before court, are going to become law enforcement officers or develop this expertise. Yeah, that’s absolutely ridiculous. That would basically just cut you off at the knees for getting any sort of expert witnesses to talk about the things that they became experts in because they were law enforcement officers. Yes.

Zolo: So there was a conflict of interest.

TFSR: That says a lot about how like…

Zolo: “You are not supposed to be on their side!!! You are supposed to be on our side!”

TFSR: Look at the uniform. Yeah, that says a lot about the the fairness and if they didn’t want people in Guantanamo to be able to challenge their own incarceration, then they don’t really believe in a fair legal system, where everyone gets advocacy to make logical arguments and a fair trial can occur and someone can get convicted or found innocent based on the evidence and based on the argumentation, right?

Zolo: Yes, that’s right. Yeah, that’s correct. You know, and that’s what they don’t want us to do. And now judges, the judges, I want some more. Because at the time the prosecutor quit the case was in October 2008. I think it was October 16 or October 18. I don’t recall the exact date. I think it was October 17. That’s what I think he was. I’m pretty sure of that. Well, the audience cheered. YAY! People was embracing me. My lawyers was embracing me, everybody was happy. While I was embracing one of my attorneys, I kept feeling this tap on my shoulder. So I’m thinking there is somebody else saying “give me a hug”. So I turned around and it was a judge. So I stop. The judge had came off the bench. And then he told me, he said “Oh, congratulations. Enjoy yourself going fishing.” Because I had talked about how I like to fish and he shook my hand. I though he will try to hug me. [laughs] So that was one hell of an experience for me. So then the Attorney General and the prosecutor. The county prosecutor and the State Attorney General, they said that I was intelligent and a formidable force.

TFSR: That’s probably about the nicest thing they’re gonna say.

Zolo: No, so that made us say… “okay, yeah”

TFSR: So that brings us up to 2017.

Zolo: Yeah, yes.

TFSR: I guess can you talk about what the process was like getting out? Who was waiting for you on the outside? Was there anyone waiting for you on the outside? What sort of resources did the State give you as someone they were releasing into the public? And were you coming straight from death row, just into the wider outside world?

Zolo: No, I was released from death row into the general prison population. And I did almost another 10 years in the population. I was released January 30 2009, where I was sent to RDC, the Reception Diagnostic Center. And from there, they assigned me to a prison. And I did. Then was released in 2017.

TFSR: What was what was being released like?

Zolo: When I was released from death row, it was almost like going home. It was like, this is a freedom. I got freedom. And I was treated altogether different. While I was on death row everything was a heightened security. Something’s going to happen any moment now. I was handcuffed and shackled everywhere I went. And when I got to the general population, I kept creeping in my mind that I was tempted to turn around to put my hands behind me when I saw a guard thinking that I was supposed to be handcuffed. But I caught myself. I didn’t go all the way through with it. But I had talked to other people who had been on death row with me, who had been released over the years. It was like internal organization between us. And when we see one another, we would gravitate to another one another and we ended up talking about what happened when they left, when you left, so and so eventually get executed. When you left so and so came and they put him in the cell that you was in. Some new person, he’s charged with this, charged with that. We were talking about things like that. Oh, I’d saw when you left I’d say I gotta get out of here too.

We would talk this way among ourselves. But one person who had began to slip mentally, he began to lose his mind a little bit. He was becoming more and more irrational. He finally made it to general population, but because of his mental illness it was unconstitutional. The US Supreme Court ruled to execute the mentally ill. So he made it to population and I saw him coming over to me. He began to walk, he would walk like this, scratching his chest, but he would walk like you take those little steps like he’s walking on hot coals, you know. And he came to me one day when I was in the mess hall. And I saw him coming over to me, I didn’t know what to expect and he came over and he smiled. To let me know he recognized me. And he bent down to my ear, and he said “You are a prime example of what consistency and tenacity is.”

TFSR: That’s an awesome thing to hear.

Zolo: That’s what he said. He was supposed to be mentally ill. But he had a moment of clarity and said that when he saw me. People was thinking I was crazy. Because that’s how I did. I had obsession with my case. All I talked about every day was something about the law, something about our rights, about going home someday. Didn’t know when and didn’t have a clue. Couldn’t even see daylight at the end of the tunnel nowhere. I’ve always had that in the forefront of my mind that I was going to get out of prison. I was determined to get out of prison. Not just to get off a death row, I wanted to get out of prison, I want to go home. I saw mistakes that I had made, politically speaking, that I can do good. I can do something to help people. And to be a contribution not only to the community, but to the world.

I had begin to receive more and more attention in my case. In the process of preparing for the third death penalty trial, my attorneys and I filed a petition to the to the Organization of American States, requesting them to intervene on my behalf because of the human rights violations that’s taking place. The State tried to oppose it by saying this is the common criminal trial had nothing to do with human rights. But we knocked that down because the US Constitution is a human rights charter. So you saying the US Constitution is no good means nothing? So basically, we compromised that they would drop their arguments about terrorism and did I was a member of the Republic of New Afrika or some other terrorist group. And that I would drop my petition to the Organization of American States.

And this is during the same process of picking the jury for the third trial. And during that time, they just quit the case. I was released into the general population. I got in school. I was able to fight my case the rest of the way through federal court. So in 2015, the US Supreme Court denied my petition for Writ of Certiorari saying I did not present any issues for them to review. So I just only had two more years to do. So I just use that time to prepare for my reentry.

TFSR: That reentry process, you’ve already said how it affected, at least going from death row, which is hyper security and keeping people segregated from each other and probably a lack of contact and how difficult it was transitioning from that into the wider prison population. And I would imagine it was very difficult when you got reentry into the wider non prison or whatever you want to say… outside of the prison walls. Getting used to having wide open spaces and getting used to having less restrictions on motion and also more responsibilities. Meals weren’t just provided that you had to find means to get those and also with being hampered around having a felony on your record.

I think it’s really fascinating and really awesome that not only you mentioned having this focus when you’re inside on your case, but also on helping other people and getting home and getting free. And that seems where a lot of your life has been directed. And now that you’re out, getting involved in and helping to coordinate service towards the community to end cycles of violence and help folks acclimatized themselves back into wider communities outside of behind bars. Can you talk about some of that work that you do in Gary?

Zolo: Yes, my primary interest is the cause of crime. It’s not as simple as saying, people are part of their environment. Poverty leads a person to steal and rob. That’s true also. But that’s not the answer of that particular problem. There’s something else involved. And it deals with the way people think. Their thought process. The way a person thinks is the way they act. And the system of capitalism is an immoral system and it reached reached his peak with the African Atlantic slave trade. That was the peak of capitalism, where the exploitation of people’s labor is stolen from them. And a person’s labor is not used for their own benefit to earn a decent wage or a livelihood. That was exploitation of their labor and those people who are totally exploited and their resources was used to benefit someone else and something else, at the detriment of the workers themselves.

And that was the highest level of capitalism at that time, which was imperialism. And after that, there was no other capitalism left. But there was people who made so much money, they had to figure out another way to keep this going. So they come up with the 13th Amendment. The 13th Amendment of the US Constitution says in part, that neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist in the United States, except as a punishment for crime. Now they got slaves again. Now they have to come up with a way to keep people coming in prison. So it’s a long range…. what word am I trying to find to describe their… long range con game. To trick and manipulate people to do what the status quo want them to do and who will keep a semi line of people fed into the prison machinery.

TFSR: I’m pulling back from times of like either conversations that we’ve had or times that you’ve spoken here about a sort of elder status, and taking care of younger people in the community, people you’ve viewed as children, not being afraid of your children but working with your children to help to sort of foster them in a very father-like manner. What sort of programs to help to undercut the pipeline into prisons in your community do you engage with? What does that look like and how are you changing minds and trying to open eyes and help people realize the tools that they already have?

Zolo: My daily activity is to practice what I preach. I walk that walk. But I recognize children, as human beings. I recognize other people as human beings. I recognize all people first as human beings and I treat them as such. Children are not given the respect that they should have as human beings. They are seen as someone who is insignificant. Do what you’re told. Stay out the way, go play. But I show the children that you are important. And you are important, not only because you are you, but you are important to the wider community. You have a say so in this community. What you say and do affects this community, if things are not going so well, you can do something about changing that. And I would give them examples. I also go into the schools and talk to the children.

Myself and Benny Muhammad in Gary, Indiana, we formed the Reentry Circle. The Reentry Circle is a transitional support group. Transitional in the sense of people coming out of prison and have somewhere to go to talk and seek support. Right now we don’t have a budget. We are operating out of our own pockets. But we are growing. So it’s not always having money to throw money at a problem. We are prime examples, living examples of that. We are doing things that we don’t even have a lot of money to do. So why do the city administration or the county, why they cannot be doing the same things? And they got the funds in the budget and the means to do it.

So we educate the people that way. Showing that they don’t have an interest in lowering the crime rate. They don’t have an interest in helping you to stay in school and obtain education. For your benefit, education for you to benefit and learn and to work and earn and live a happy life. They want you to be a brainwashed robot, conditioned to maintain the status quo. To keep things the way they are. Not for change, but to keep the money flowing. So if you commit a crime and you go to prison, and that somebody is paying for that somebody is and when and when somebody lose some money, like taxpayers, that means somebody is gaining the money. The money wasn’t just lost and blew away in the wind. The money went in somebody’s bank account. And the people whose bank account that is going into are those who runs and maintains the status quo. The State. The State consists of, not some mythical being somewhere behind the corner, the State is a combination of police officers, executives, the news media, the corporate industrial complex, and the legislators who make the laws, and the judges and prosecutors who enforce those laws. Those people together are the State. So the State doesn’t have an interest. And youth centers and the youth being able to have a voice and a say so and what happens to them.

This is how I tried to influence the young people to become better and become to take the initiative to do something about what’s going on. Martin Luther King was 26 years old when he led the Montgomery bus boycott. And when I tell people, I’m talking to young adults in their early 20s, and 30s. And I tell them that, they start to relate, now they can relate to Martin Luther King [JR], because he was a young man like them, but he was mature. And he was doing something positive and constructive. I said you can do the same thing. And I try to build up their confidence. I say “I’m not gonna tell you what to do. I’m not gonna tell you what not to do. But I’m gonna give you advice on what, from my experience what is best.” And what I say to you is the same things I’m doing myself. I say now “you’re the leader. And you lead by example. You don’t lead by sitting back somewhere in an armchair giving somebody orders to go do this and go do that.” That’s not a leader. That’s a dictator.

Those are the type of people who maintain the status quo to keep things the way they are. Who closes the schools and build and build some prisons, and then take people who are able to obtain education, and then put them in a prison that they just built at right after school just got closed down. You have to be able to learn to decipher the truth from the trick. What is the truth? And what is the trick? Closing the school down and saying that the school is not making money because there’s not enough students enrolled in the school is a contradiction by saying that the classes are too overcrowded. And the teachers can’t teach and focus attention on the class, on the students, because they have too many students. So once now you don’t have that many students and now they are saying they want to close the schools down because you don’t have enough students. Wait a minute, that don’t make no sense. But they don’t want you to think that way and be able to see what they’re doing.

It’s no different than the way the status quo is maintained. It’s no different than the mythical fantasy movie Wizard of Oz. Because once the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Lion, and Dorothy realized that the man behind the curtain was a human being just like they were, pulling those levers, was not all powerful, and could not be taking out of that position. The main tenets of the status quo, the representatives of the State, they are the Wizard of Oz. They are pulling the levers behind the curtains. Once you pull back that curtain, they are exposed, and people can see. And once the people see the people know what to do. You know what to do. What it takes to get things right for your own community.

TFSR: And I guess I want to ask one more question. So the way that capitalism and racialized capitalism operates in our society creates trauma, and the trauma especially impacts the communities that are on the bottom of the social hierarchy and society. So groups that are racialized as Black or brown or indigenous, queer and trans folks, femme folks, women all bear the brunt of and especially like poor folks, and a lot of that overlaps, bear the brunt of trying to survive, trying to thrive and also dealing with the traumas that they interact with by being over policed, by not having subsistence, by getting public services cut, by having their families broken up generationally, by incarceration by prisons. Can you talk about what community organizing looks like and trying to break that cycle of trauma and help people realize what those traumas are?

Zolo: First, we have to work from a premise of human rights. We must keep human rights in the forefront of the struggle in whatever we’re doing. Whatever facet of society, whatever group, friends group, marginalized group, we must keep human rights in the forefront. Whatever it is, we must first say “what are we talking about?” We are talking about human rights. So can we talk about human beings? So human beings. What are human rights? Human rights are the rights that a human being is born with on this earth. So we’re talking about a person’s sexual orientation? That’s their business. If that’s what they want to do, that’s their right. That’s their human right now. I’m straight. I don’t go that way. But somebody else does. So that’s on them. I still respect them as a human being. We’re dealing with a human being.

How was slavery justified? Well, first they had to justify by saying that these people are not human. So we can treat them this way. We can deprive them of the status of a human being by saying that they are three fifths human. Probably human? A little bit. But they’re not all the way human. They are like a beast. They’re like the animals. They don’t deserve the same respect. But it wasn’t until people start expressing their humanity, individually and collectively. You have many individual resistance where people struck back because of their humanity. You have had countless examples. But you also had collective actions, where people organized to express their humanity, such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, of 1955. You can go on and on and on, of different examples of people expressing their humanity.

George Jackson, he was a prisoner True enough, as defined by the 13th Amendment, United States Constitution. But he was a human being. You see, they say as slavery itself, a person has been convicted or duly convicted in court of law, they didn’t say a human being. They want to avoid the word human being, because the people who represents the State, they consider themselves human. Those of us who are not part of the State, who are the poor and oppressed, we are considered some other people, some lesser people. They do not want to recognize us as human beings deserving of respect and recognition. That we should enjoy the right to live our lives the way we want and to raise and raise our children the way we want. That’s how genocides slips in. Keep human rights focused. If a person say I’m a trans prisoner, or I’m a queer, whatever you want to call themselves. I’m a human being and whatever anyone is doing to violate their rights to abuse them, you are abusing a human’s right. Keep human rights on the forefront. Human rights is got to be a front. That is up front. Always. Human rights.

TFSR: Well, I have kept you well into lunch. Thank you very much for having this conversation.

Zolo: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

TFSR: Before we end, is there any way that listeners who aren’t in Gary who can’t get involved in the organizing that you’re doing? Is there any a website or an email or anything where people can get in touch with you learn from what you’re doing? Or if they have some money and like what they see you doing and want to give a donation, Is there a way that they can get in touch with you all?

Zolo: Yes, well, it’s easy to get in touch with me on the internet. Just put my name in or say my name and it’ll come up. “Zolo Agona Azania Art”. You might say ”Zolo Agona Azania free from prison”. My name will come up and my information is there. My email is azaniazolo5@gmail.com – you can reach me there. Or you can also reach me at

Jumpstart Paralegal and Publishing
PO Box 64854
Gary, Indiana 46401

And you can reach me there also.

TFSR: And people can check out your art online?

Zolo: Yes, they can!

TFS: Thank you very much.

Zolo:You’re welcome.

V on repression of prisoners at Pendleton CI in Indiana

indianaqps.noblogs.org
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This week William speaks with V, who is an anarchist living in Bloomington IN about current and former instances of racist and institutional violence against inmates at the Pendleton Correctional Institution in Madison County, Indiana. Folks are organizing a call in day from 11am-1pm EST on Monday, September 8th. People are asked to flood the central office and the mail room to protest repression against radical and New Afrikan organizing in the form of severe restrictions to mail and communication, among many other things.

(317) 233-6984 for the DOC central office.

The Pendleton mail room supervisor can be reached at (765) 778-2107 extn.1264

To learn more about this issue, and for updates you can visit
indianaqps.noblogs.org

The other half of the show is metal and post-metal music: http://www.ashevillefm.org/node/10167

Hunger strike at Westville in IN, Sean Swain radio and more!

http://dignityatwestville.wordpress.com
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This week’s episode of the Final Straw starts off with a couple of announcements about recent prisoner resistance from around the U.S. and the upcoming court dates for the NATO3. (links below)

Secondly, we’ll present a short audio essay by Sean Swain, a regularly occurring segment we hope to become a regular portion of our show. Find out more about Sean Swain at http://seanswain.org

http://freethenato3.wordpress.com/

Inmates strike to protest Alabama prison conditions

http://www.illinoisprisontalk.org/index.php?topic=31966.0

This’ll be followed by an interview with Deedee, a member of Saving Our Families, a network of those with loved-ones in the Prison Industrial Complex, based out of Indiana. Deedee is also a supporter of Control Unit Prisoners on hunger strike at Westville Correction Facility in Indiana about the strike and the atrocious food distribution, run by Aramark Corrections Services based out of Philly PA. More info can be found at http://dignityatwestville.wordpress.com

And, finally, we’ll present the last portion of the ZAD interview we started with last week. http://zad.nadir.org

Also, we announce that we’re now available at 106.5LPFM in Olympia Washington on KOWA. Tune in on Saturday nights at 9pm to hear us!