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Rojava Again Under Threat of Turkish Invasion

Rojava Again Under Threat of Turkish Invasion

[00:10:35 – 01:45:30]

Mostly women carrying "Stand Up For Rojava" banner with a small girl and a sign picturing world leaders leaning in on a small Kurdish child
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Emre, Rimac, Xero and Anya, members of the Emergency Committee for Rojava join us on the show this week to talk about the escalation of violence and threats of invasion by Turkey into northeast Syria, updates from the region and their thoughts on how people in the West can help folks living under the Autonomous Administration of North East Syria. You can learn more about their work at DefendRojava.Org and find related interviews covering some of the subject matter discussed and past events on our website by searching for Rojava.

You can keep find Xero’s upcoming podcast, a member of the Channel Zero Network, at and you can find the latest of Anya’s co-authored pieces at The Nation (though it’s paywalled).

Greg Curry Hunger Strike

[00:01:07 – 00:10:35]

Justice for Greg Curry Update on Greg: He has currently been moved to a hospital due to the weight loss he has sustained during the hunger strike. It also seems Greg's mail is being withheld or stalled coming in and going out. Greg has asked folks to contact Chief Legal Counsel Stephen Gray by email ( or by phone (614-752-1765) or Annette Chambers-Smith via email at Suggested script: "Hello, I am contacting you as a concerned friend of Greg Curry A213159. During Greg's RIB hearing, Officer Sgt O'Brien, who witnessed and investigated Greg was also on the RIB committee which is against your policy RIB/5120-9-08. We are asking you to act on Greg's appeal which has been formally submitted to the Chief Legal Counsel and return Greg to population so he can come off this hunger strike."First up, we’ll be sharing a message recorded a week ago by PAPS Texas of incarcerated activist and survivor of the Lucasville Uprising in 1993, Greg Curry, about his hunger strike for the ODRC’s retaliation to his organizing behind bars at Toledo Correctional. Greg’s support is asking folks to contact ODRC officials as he’s entered over a month on hunger strike, had his communication meddled with and has been hospitalized.

Greg has asked folks to contact Chief Legal Counsel Stephen Gray by email ( or by phone (614-752-1765) or Annette Chambers-Smith via email at
Suggested script:
“Hello, I am contacting you as a concerned friend of Greg Curry A213159. During Greg’s RIB hearing, Officer Sgt O’Brien, who witnessed and investigated Greg was also on the RIB committee which is against your policy RIB/5120-9-08. We are asking you to act on Greg’s appeal which has been formally submitted to the Chief Legal Counsel and return Greg to population so he can come off this hunger strike.”

You can find a recent interview with a member of Prison Abolition Prisoner Support on Greg’s case at 1 hour 2 minutes into the episode (mislabeled as September 3rd 2020) at NewDream.US. You can hear our 2016 interview with Greg Curry.

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Featured Tracks

    • Beritan from Jîyan Beats (dedicated to fallen PKK fighter, Gülnaz Karataş aka Beritan, who threw herself from a cliff after a fierce battle in Xakurke rather than surrender to Turkey on October 25, 1992)
    • Instant Hit (instrumental) by The Slits from Cut

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TFSR: So I’m speaking with folks from the emergency committee for Rojava. Would you all care to introduce yourselves with whatever names gender pronouns, where you’re based, and any other info? And any other info about yourself, and it’d be cool to hear about how you became a member of ECR and an advocate for the Rojava revolution.

Anya: I could go first. Hi, everyone, thank you so much for hosting us. My name is Anya, and I’m originally from Ukraine but I have been living in the United States for the last 11 years. And I discovered Rojava and the Kurdish movement around 2017. And I found their project of direct democracy, you know, social ecology, women’s liberation, quite appealing in that they managed to, you know, theoretically, but also in practice to put together all these different struggles on different fronts. So once I discovered it, I started looking for ways to get involved and support the revolution from the United States and have been a member of the Emergency Committee for Rojava almost from its very founding, which was in 2018. And so, you know, the struggle in the United States goes on. Thank you so much again.

Emre: I’ll go next. Hello, everyone. I’m Emre Şahin, I’m a Kurdish scholar from Bakur, Northern Kurdistan. Was based in the US, I’m a PhD student of sociology at Binghamton University. And I’m working on Rojava revolution, particularly woman’s autonomous organizing in Rojava. I did some fieldwork there three years ago, for two months, and I’m excited to be here.

Xero: So I’m Xero I use I use he/they pronouns. I’m based in the US, I’m based in Northwest Pennsylvania, kind of on the southern edge of unseated Erie territory, just south of Lake Erie. I guess what brought me to this revolution was I, you know, kind of have always been, I guess more of a libertarian leftist without really knowing what that meant, or even having a coherent idea of what it involved. I’ve never had much of a patience for reading theory or anything like that. And so when I first learned about the Rojava revolution, it was, god it was in 2020. It was right after the Coronavirus pandemic, and right before the George Floyd uprisings. It was in that kind of a really weird moment where anything kind of felt possible, and this really made a lot of things come into sharp focus for me. It was this example of something that could work at scale. And that was really compelling to me. And so I just didn’t really have much of a choice after that, I kind of went full hog into studying this revolution and kind of similar revolutions around the world. Including the Zapatistas in southeast Mexico, in the state of Chiapas.

And so that, as you’re probably aware Bursts, we’re working on another show that is in conversation with those revolutions, and also talking about land back and other other Indigenous issues here on Turtle Island in a North American context. That show is called Where Many Worlds Fit. And we’re getting very close to being able to start publishing there.

Rimac: Hi, my name is Rimac, I use they/she pronouns. I’m from the Netherlands, I live in a town between Amsterdam and The Hague. And I started supporting the revolution when I started hearing about it in 2015-2016, I was going through a really rough time, personally. I was struggling a lot with my mental health and with taking care of myself, like being able to keep a job and keep an incom because I was struggling with traumas from my youth. I was sexually abused, or sexually attacked, by a close family member as a child and that really kept me in an isolated place where nobody could really stand with me and take care of me. So, I was left really alone. And that’s also when I found out about the women’s revolution, and about the defense against Daesh.

And I also got introduced a little bit to the politics of Mr. Abdullah Öcalan And the revolution gave me so much spirit to persevere through my traumas, and to not give up and to understand that what I experienced was not a single event happening to one person, but a lot of people experience things like this, and that it’s partly because of the patriarchy. So for me, it was really a medicine to learn about a revolution. And then I started looking for people in the Netherlands, for the Kurdish movement, but after the pandemic came and lockdown came it was really hard to maintain contacts. So that’s when ECR came on my path. First, I joined as a member of the study group, which I really enjoyed, because I feel at home at ECR and I feel comfortable sharing my thoughts and learning from others. And then I was also invited to start organizing with them. And I have done this for a year now.

TFSR: Thank you all so much for sharing and it’s really nice to meet you. And as kind of a side note, Emre, I was lucky enough to get to hear an interview that you did with Xero for Where Many Worlds Fit and I’m very excited for the content to start flowing.

E: Oh, great to hear that. I’m excited as well.

TFSR: So, in the January chat with a member of Tekoşîna Anarşîst that we conducted, our guests talked about ongoing rocket and drone attacks across the border into Syria since the Serê Kaniyê invasion of 2019. Could you all, are one of you, please speak about the threat of Turkish invasion looming over the autonomous administration of Northeast Syria, aka Rojava and what’s being expected right now?

E: As an introduction, my comrades and I collectively decided that I would initially begin responding first, and we would follow each other. So I’ll start with some of the questions and others will, hope I won’t be taking too much space.

But in response to the attack, the Turkish threats of invasions have intensified in 2019 but they have actually, we can date them back to the collapse of the peace negotiations between the PKK and the Turkish state near the end of 2015. Between 2009-2010 and 2015, the Turkish state and the PKK had began negotiations to work on the current issue. But that came to an end in 2015 when Tayyip Erdoğan power holding party, AKP, lost the elections in June 2015. And to continue its power it decided to team out with the Nationalist Party in Turkey and ended the peace process. After this Turkey’s relationship with the Autonomous Administration in Rojava became extremely hostile.

There were voice recordings from secret top level Turkish state meetings where the Chief of Intelligence was recorded saying, “Oh, don’t worry, we can start a war with Rojava anytime, we’ll just have a few of our agents throw some rockets over the border to the Turkish side and use that as a excuse.” And from there on the Turkish state began to increase its hostility. Before that Turkey had hosted Saleh Muslim, the former co-president of the Autonomous Administration twice in Ankara for diplomatic talks. This was back when the peace negotiations were still on the table. But after that threat of lost power, and, you know, regional political re-alliances, when the peace process ended the Turkish state initially increased its hostility and then proceeded to invade Afrîn‎. And soon after Afrîn‎, invaded Serê Kaniyê in 2019 and it continues its hostile approach to this day.

A: I can add a little bit to that, in particular, what’s happening right now. So Turkish President Erdoğan just announced that Turkey is preparing to launch, and now the invasion, which will be the third invasion, as Emre mentioned the first two. And to basically complete the so called “Safe Zone” that Turkey was negotiating to create with the United States in 2018, before it invaded and occupied more parts of northern Syria. And now, Erdoğan stated that Turkey wants to complete that project and occupy more territory along its southern border with Syria. And at this point, I think we’re quite anxious and, you know, there have been a lot of threats coming from Erdoğan because he and his party AKP, they are using the threats of invasion and actual invasions of different parts of Kurdistan and attacks against Kurdish population within Turkey, but also in Syria and Iraq, as a way to prop up their authoritarian regime and rally support of a broader chunk of Turkish population.

But right now there is this conjuncture of international and domestic factors that makes it quite possible that Turkey, you know, that Erdoğan will actually realize his threats and invade once again. So internationally what’s happening is, of course, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Turkey’s role as a NATO member in stalling the process of NATO accession of Sweden and Finland who just applied to join NATO. Turkey stalls their entry through its demands of lifting a ban on an embargo on arms sales to Turkey and demanding extradition and the crackdown on Kurdish movement and Sweden, and Finland, and termination of any diplomatic relationship that Sweden in particular has with the autonomous administration of Syria. So, you know, Turkey is demanding what’s in its own a geopolitical interest, and it’s quite likely that it will get, at least partially, its demands met.

We have already seen some concessions coming from the United States, the Biden administration has recently requested Congress to approve the sale of F-16, jets and modernization kits for warplanes of Turkey, as well as missile upgrades, you know, various military equipment, despite the existing US sanctions against Turkey, and despite the opposition to it within the Congress. So we are seeing that the United States is granting certain concessions to Turkey and, you know, green lighting another invasion, as the United States did in 2018, you know, could be a likely scenario.

X: I can add a little bit more to that, too, at the risk of making this a little bit more complicated than maybe you were wanting [laughs], because it’s a very messy situation, and there’s a lot of very muddled history here, even in the last 10 years, because the Syrian Civil War is, you know, devastatingly complex. But there’s also two other factors to consider which, one is that there’s the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, the AANES — which is kind of the recognized term for Rojava, this is the administration that kind of runs things. It’s like the decentralized thing that’s based on democratic and federalism. And we’ll get into this later when we talk about the carceral situation as it exists in the region — but one of the things that they have is a set of ISIS prison camps where a lot of former ISIS fighters have been kept. And there’s a there’s a number of danger points there, including recently there have been a lot of mass escapes from these camps. And that’s going to also be a factor when it comes to stability in the region that I’m sure Erdoğan is going to want to exploit somehow.

And then over on the Iraqi side of the border, there’s also a number of things that have been escalating in violence, which is even involving Turkish forces in some sense. Which is that the political situation in Iraq, especially in north Northwestern Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, remains a little bit unstable — or not a little bit, that’s putting it mildly — but it remains pretty unstable. And there’s the local ruling Barzani family, which is a Kurdish family that’s much more sort of hyper-capitalistic, and you know, they just have very different political goals.

And there’s been a second route of genocide, genocidal action taken against the Yazidis, and the Yazidis are a local — I personally am not knowledgeable enough to get into whether the Yazidis are Kurds, I’ve heard very firm yeses on that question — but however you classify them, the Yazidis are one of the oldest religious groups in the world and they’re definitely part of this broader Kurdish diaspora. And so they’ve been targeted for genocide by ISIS over the last, you know, 5-10 years. And they’re coming under the threat of genocidal actions, again, by Turkey, and, you know, by these coalition forces in the region. And it’s really devastating to be thinking about things like this, because it’s a very dark situation. But there is some light, you know, kind of buried beneath that, which is that the Yazidis are also taking on Democratic Confederalism, and they’re, they’re realizing their own revolution, which is pretty inspiring.

TFSR: So that was a very complex answer [laughs] it covered a lot of things that I’d like to unpack it in further questions, but very, very informative, and I really appreciate it.

Yeah, and for listeners who maybe don’t recognize the name Yazidi, they may recognize the harrowing situation a number of years ago where ISIS had trapped a number of people in Mount Sinjar, and we’re approaching and genocided them and this is one of the instances where SDF forces were able to come in and help get those folks to safety as as I understand and correct me if I’m wrong, but those were Yazidi minority being attacked by Daesh, specifically.

So, Turkey is the second largest military in NATO, thus a United States ally. And as was pointed to by Anya, there’s ongoing arm sales that are being proposed and engaged right now between the US and Turkey. I wonder if you all could talk about what you understand to be the motivations of the Turkish state under Erdoğan’s AKP and now aligned with the Nationalist Party? What is Neo-Ottoman ism? And can you say some words on transformations of life in Turkey over the last 20 years of AKP rule, and how this relates to the war on Kurdish people within and outside of Turkish borders? Yeah, if you can make mention also of, during this time support for groups like the so called Free Syrian Army, and as well as ISIS or Daesh.

E: Absolutely. Turkey, since the foundation of the Turkish Republic, has had a different sort of political dynamic and diplomatic presence in the globe throughout the 20th century, with the, you know, Republican Party in power for most of the 20th century, with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It didn’t have this Neo-Ottoman strategy and the Turkish state, for the most part, spent the 20th century trying to modernize the population, modernize the country, so-called “separation of church and state”. And turning its face towards the west, you know, aspiring to be modeling itself after European countries. And this was quite unique in Muslim majority countries, because in Turkey too, majority of the population being conservative, Turkey had had that sort of identity crisis with Western-facing, but Eastern-being [chuckles] population and geography.

However, Erdoğan’s AKP, when it came to power in 2002, adopted a different approach. It’s a populist Islamist party, neoliberal Islamist party, which said, “I’m not going to just face towards the West I’m gonna face towards the East too, I’m gonna reconnect with the East, with the Middle East” you know. But this is only a part of Neo-Ottoman policy. Another part is trying to resurrect the Ottoman Empire’s sort of legacy. Turkey had this trauma of shrinkage, you know, after centuries of ruling over the eastern Europe, Middle East, Northern Africa, after shrinkage to the Turkish Republic. Now with Erdoğan’s AKP in power and cementing stuff further and further into the turkey state, it tried to increase its influence in the Middle East. And many of Turkey’s diplomatic maneuvers over the past 20 years can be read from this lens, you know, from Turkey’s presence in Rojava, in Syria, to actions in Libya and Qatar, there’s this diplomatic shift.

But of course, Erdoğan’s coming into power had political implications and impacts inside the country too. Life has become more and more conservative, public life has been shaped more and mor. The Turkish state has been investing in religious schools, the Directorate of Religious Affairs, which, by the way, even though it’s not a ministry, it’s annual income is higher than the sum of 7-8 different ministries in Turkey. That’s why I said the so called “separation of church and state” even though Turkey is a secular country, the state has tight control over religious affairs. So life has become more and more conservative in Turkey. And these developments at home and abroad, Islamification, went hand in hand of course, as we saw from Turkish involvement in Syria, Turkey has been cozying up to lots of Islamist groups. Like you mentioned, the Free Syrian Army and many factions, which are basically run from offices in Istanbul or have ties in different Turkish cities. Free Syrian Army, you know, their political wing’s representatives residing in Turkey.

However, this is only acknowledged, openly available information. Turkey also had deep connections with extremist Islamist organizations in the past 10-20 years. From al-Qaeda in Syria and Iraq, to ISIS which it later transformed into, Turkey has had close ties. There have been many cases where Turkish journalists have uncovered hundreds of hundreds of trucks of ammunition and guns sent to al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria, by the Turkish state, from Turkey, sent off to Syria. And Turkey still has significant presence in Italy, which is part of a Northwestern Syria, which is not under the control of TFSA, Free Syrian Army actually, it’s under the control of al-Qaeda in Syria, and Turkey works closely with al-Qaeda in Syria.

Also ISIS, there are many reports from the past 5-10 years where ISIS leaders freely reside in Turkey, recruite Turkey, when they’re caught, they’re only caught for show and immediately released. There were reports that even Putin back in 2015 hinted that, when they were not so close with Erdoğan, of oil trade between ISIS and Turkey. And Turkey has maintained close relations with all these Islamist groups from the most, you know, lightweight version such as Free Syrian Army to the most extremist versions such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. And, you know, Turkey’s tried to instrumentalize these Islamic groups in its project to expand, you know restore, Ottoman glory. You know, establish more and more direct influence over the Middle East and North Africa.

Turkey used mercenaries that it recruited from these Islamist factions and sent them to Libya, in its presence and fight in Libya. The same goes for Nagorno Karabakh, as you remember, a year ago, there was a two month war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and Turkey was actively participating in the war on the side of Azerbaijan and hundreds of Islamist recruits were transported from Syria to Azerbaijan via and by Turkey. So Erdoğan has been Islamitising both life at home and, you know, Turkish diplomatic approach to the Middle East, and instrumentalizing these Islamist factions and groups.

Anya: I actually don’t think there’s much to add to Emre’s comprehensive response, I would just want to reiterate that Syria, as Emre mentioned, is a blatant example of Erdoğan’s pursuit of Neo-Ottoman Imperial agenda. Because what they’re doing in Northeastern Syria, you know, Turkey, is not just trying to prevent any existence of an autonomous Kurdish polity, but basically preparing a basis for annexation of those territories that are currently occupied by Turkey and its proxies, described by Emre. Usually referred to as Syrian National Army, because there is a process of ethnic cleansing and demographic engineering going on, there is a process of establishing direct Turkey’s administrative and political control of those territories. And I’m referring to the territories that were occupied in three steps in 2016, in 2018, and 2019, with the last two occupations, those were of the territory that used to be under control of the Autonomous Administration. So, you know, they are basically creating a reality that this part of Syria will become Turkified and Turkey will have, you know, an excuse, a pretext to, perhaps not officially, but basically annex, in practice annex that territory.

TFSR: I was wondering, as a follow up, Anya had mentioned the Turkification, if that’s a word, of the so called “Buffer Zone” area, and the area that is Rojava and that part of the world is Kurdistan, is not just made up of Kurds. It’s made up of lots of different languages, ethnicities, religions, that have lived there for centuries and centuries and centuries alongside with each other under various regimes. But, it’s a very complex and diverse area and my understanding is that the Turkish state is moving out Kurds from that so called “Buffer Zone” between Bakur and that part of Syria in Rojava, so as to create discontiguity between different Kurdish majority populated areas that fallt within the borders of these different nation states. I’m wondering if that’s sort of what you’re pointing to, and also if anyone has any knowledge of how the Syrian state is dealing with the destabilization of its borders by Turkey.

E: Turkey has been forcing Kurds to move out through torture, through, you know, pressure from these parts of Rojava that have been under its occupation over the past 10 years. And this is actually an old policy that the Turkish Republic had used in the 1920s and 30s after the transition from Ottoman Empire to Turkish Republic, in parts of Bakur, that are at the sort of borderlands between Kurdish majority and Turkish majority regions. The Turkish state would force Kurdish populations and bring in Turks from Anatolia, western Turkey. And Bashar al-Assad, current Syrian president’s father in the 60s took from the Turkish playbook and created this Arab Belt policy. Over a decade, Hafez al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad’s father, would force Kurdish communities in today’s Serê Kaniyê, Girê Spî‎ and others parts of Rojava. Kurds were forced to move out, their citizenships stripped, unable to, you know, have their lands, are unable to hold any property, unable to even have official documentation, and forced to move to the Syrian urban centers such as Damascus and Aleppo. Hence, we have Kurdish ghettos in Damascus and Aleppo. And Assad moved Arab families from majority parts of Syria under this Arab Belt project, which was inspired by Turkish Republic policies of the 20s and 30s. So Erdoğan is playing from that playbook, and continuing this demographic engineering. And there’s numerous evidences from Efrîn all the way to Serê Kaniyê of this happening, unfortunately. Which is a direct contrast with the pluralist and harmonious, direct democratic model that’s implemented by the Autonomous Administration in Rojava.

A: I think you also asked about the Syrian government’s attitude, visa vie, Turkeys occupation, and the process of demographic engineering. And I would say that the Syrian government is not an independent, autonomous actor. It has survived all these years of civil war, just because of Russia’s support. So whatever its interests are, it has to balance them off, and ultimately follow Russia’s lead what whatever is in Russia’s geopolitical interest. Whatever Russia is gonna see is profitable for itself in terms of Syrian future. So while in it’s discourse, right, the Syrian government opposed the Turkish invasions and ongoing occupation and its ongoing presence on the Syrian territory, what happened in 2019 was that after Turkey invaded there was a deal made, actually two deals. First, a ceasefire between Turkey and the United States, and then a deal between Russia and Turkey. And according to that deal, Turkey was allowed, by Russia, to basically keep control of whatever territory it had occupied by the time, and that’s the territory that’s currently occupied between Serê Kaniyê and Tell Abyad.

So basically, at that moment, for Russia, it was convenient to make the deal with Turkey and let it, you know, keep its presence and continue establishing all the political, administrative, economic structures and bringing in families of the Syrian National Army fighters to change the demographic, all the processes. And at the moment, it looks like that Russia may greenlight another invasion by Turkey, again, because of the situation in Ukraine. So, Turkey all this time, has managed to sort of play off both the West, you know the United States, NATO bloc, and the Russian bloc, right? Like Emre mentioned that it’s sort of in between the West and the East in its policies. And same when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine happened Turkey didn’t really support any of these two blocs.

So, it’s sort of managed to carve out a position in between, not breaking off completely from Russia but at the same time it’s, I think people know, supporting Ukraine militarily, you know, by providing drones, right? They have been key in Ukraine’s ability to defend itself. And, you know, at this point, some of the latest statements made by Russia’s high officials sort of indicate another potential deal in which Russia could greenlight another invasion, in return of Turkey’s of certain concessions, visa vie the situation in Ukraine.

E: Thank you for that reminder, Anya, and I’d like to quickly add to the question about the Syrian states responses to Turkish threats and practices of invasion, both during the invasion of Afrîn by Turkey, and during the invasion of Serê Kaniyê, all the official statements coming from the Syrian government were along the lines of, you know, “this is a breech of our national sovereignty, and we will fight for each square meter of our land, etc.” But in Afrîn there was no Syrian Army resistance to the Turkish invasion, because in practice, you know, torn with the civil war, Syrian state did not have any sort of capacity to wage some sort of resistance to Turkish invasion. With the invasion of Serê Kaniyê things began to change because the Autonomous Administration — still unrecognized and fighting for its survival — unable to resist Turkish invasion by itself and unable to garner American support, enough American support. Because Trump basically sold out Rojava in 2019, over the phone conversation with Erdoğan and he ordered his troops to leave and allow the Turkish states to send in his army.

So, Rojava caught in between this situation, unable to garner enough US support, agreed to open up the border areas of Rojava where the northern area was, you know, along the border with Turkey, the majority of those border areas for all the way from Minbic / Serê Kaniyê in the West, to Dirik in the most eastern part of Rojava. Syrian Army troops came back in a smaller presence but still, there wasn’t any resistance or any fight against Turkish invasion, Al-Assad’s strategy is basically this. Al-Assad views Rojava, Autonomous Administration, as traitors who are working with the main enemy, the US, you know, using US support to carve out some sort of autonomy, and unable to finish off Rojava attack and finish off Rojava by itself, unable to do that. Al-Assad has been using this strategy of showing that so that Kurds, or peoples of Rojava, accept some sort of slightly worse result.

So Al-Assad is basically saying, “I will only come and work with you against the Turkish State, if you give up on this project of autonomy, and come back into the control of the Syrian State. So Assad’s strategy has been pretty much this, and this hasn’t been really working, because, you know, the Autonomous Administration and the peoples of Rojava do not want to give up their autonomy and the model of direct democracy and Democratic Confederalism that they’ve been establishing there.

TFSR: So we’ve mentioned both conflicts in northern Syria in terms of actors like the United States, Turkey, Russia, Syrian government, and the Autonomous Administration, and also the conflict in Ukraine has been mentioned. And the US shares membership in NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, with Turkey, so therefore armed allies to each other. Which I mean, for anyone listening right now, unless you’ve already heard some of this before your heads probably going to be spinning about all the different proxy situations that are going on right here…

But so in terms of the amplification of the war between Russia and Ukraine since March of this year — the war that’s been going on since 2014 — there’s been a lot of coverage and we’ve we’ve talked to folks both from Russia, and folks in Ukraine about the experience of the war there and the US has been providing weapons to the Ukrainian government to fend off the invasion from Russia.

So as an anarchist personally, I have to say I condemn the existence of NATO, as I do with all states, but I also support the right of communities to to defend themselves from violence, including from invasions, particularly when they’re attempting to grow a feminist, anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian and ecological revolution is one season Rojava. I wonder if y’all could talk about these two situations and correlation between them? The use by Ukraine of Turkish drones, for instance in this circumstance, is, you know, just kind of mind boggling, but you know, you do what you can to fend off invasion. But do you feel like the invasion of Ukraine by Russia has kind of overshadowed conflict points in other parts of the world? And how do we do a better job of spreading out and expanding our solidarity into places like Tigray in Ethiopia or other conflict zones that are ongoing?

A: I’ll start off since I’m actually from Ukraine, as I mentioned, so this is a topic close to my heart, even though I haven’t been living there for last 11 years, I still have family in the East in the Donbas region, so I’ve been quite emotional and personally affected by this situation.

But more generally, I just want to point out, and I think it has been quite obvious, that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has once more revealed the hypocrisy and double standards on part of the United States and other international actors, you know, the so called “West”, because we have seen huge outpouring of support, of military support, of discursive support, you know, incredible coverage in the mainstream media for the resistance of Ukrainians, right? I mean, we’ve seen pictures of grandmas with molotov cocktails and all this cheering for that resistance.

However, many people have pointed out that you know, that unconditional support is not usually granted to other instances of armed resistance going on in other parts of the world. I mean, you name it, can we can Palestine or Tigray that you just mentioned, or even the PKK, right, which is sort of an armed insurgency against oppression by the Turkish State kind of justified, right? But the PKK has been on the US terrorist list for more than two decades now, as well as on the terrorist list of other countries. And even though the United States have been supporting the Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria, it has not, you know, as far as we can see, it’s not planning to take off the PKK off that list, right? While at the same time supporting unconditionally, the resistance of Ukrainians. So you know, this situation is just another example that, you know, when it comes to resistance, it’s only supported when someone’s geopolitical interests are on the line, right? That’s what matters and not resistance itself.

And, you know, another parallel that we can draw is between the invasion of Ukraine as a sovereign state, and then Turkey’s several invasions of Syria, which is a sovereign state. And Turkey’s committing egregious war crimes and human rights violations, which are right now covered in the mainstream media, that are committed by Russia in Ukraine. I don’t think we have seen that much coverage when Turkey invaded Syria, Northeast Syria, repeatedly, right. Again, in terms of kind of material response to the invasion by Turkey, in particular, the last one in 2019, as I already mentioned Turkey was basically allowed to occupy the territory that it invaded. And yes, there was discursive opposition by some parts of the United States government, there were some sanctions implemented in response to that invasion in 2019, but those sanctions were removed almost immediately once the ceasefire was signed and Turkey basically remains in the occupied territories. Again, I mean, I think we see a drastic difference, kind of whose invasions are permitted to take place and who’s opposed?

And just one last thing, I think, you know, the invasion has definitely overshadowed other conflicts, at least during the mainstream media. And I think Turkey has been taking advantage of that. I think later on that we were going to discuss more in detail the military operation that Turkey launched into northern Iraq, which is the Kurdish region of Iraq earlier this year, in April, which recently mentioned, and right now, Turkey is trying to capitalize on the invasion and launch its own invasion, another invasion into northeast Syria. And I’m sure that the Turkish government has taken into consideration the fact that right now kind of the media coverage and sort of the government actions are focused on the situation in Ukraine and may get away with another invasion with less coverage.

X: Anya, that answer was beautiful and I really, really appreciate it. I think that there’s some things that I feel like I can add to that answer. Which is, I think that a lot of what I’m going to have to say, like this entire conversation has been, is going to be really complicated and people’s eyes are probably already glazing over. And so I do apologize for that.

And so I feel a responsibility to start with this, which is that: if you’re somebody in the US, and you’re feeling kind of powerless, the really important thing to remember is that our fates are tied. There is no freedom for us without freedom for them. There’s a number of different ways to express this idea and there’s a number of different ways that it manifests — like we in the Imperial Core and people on the periphery or in the Global South, or whatever euphemism you want to use to describe it — I definitely do mean that we’re in the same struggle together. But I also mean something a little bit more specific than that.

So a lot of hay has been made in the media, and in a lot of so called Western sources about the wheat harvest in Ukraine. Because it is definitely true that Ukraine is the world’s breadbasket, basically, even more so than the American Midwest, which is where I live and we have, you know, wheat crops everywhere. And these global supply chain issues that we’ve already been dealing with during the Coronavirus pandemic, again, are extremely complicated, and there’s a lot of fuckery that’s going on everywhere. But a really, I think, underreported aspect of this, is that Turkey as a polity, as a political entity, the Erdoğan regime in particular, has been fucking with the water supply going down into Rojava. And so before this year even, Rojava was already well under what it needed to be for its wheat supply. A lot of its supplemental wheat supply does come from Ukraine, and there’s a lot of different issues that go along with that, too. You mentioned Ethiopia and the Tigray people, they also are pretty affected by the war in Ukraine and the the kind of serious shortage in the in the wheat harvest. But in Rojava, the way that this, you know, is kind of looking on the ground right now is that they don’t have as much water as they need, they definitely cannot produce all of the crops that they need to produce in order to feed all of the mounds that are there. But things are so bad in the region I think that talking about the Coronavirus pandemic, and the way that that looks on the ground in Rojava, kind of is an afterthought almost, as fucked up as that is.

But one of the things that happens there is because the the AANES, the Autonomous Administration, because they don’t have international recognition, that means that the doses of the vaccine that are meant to go to the people who live there, don’t. They go to the Al-Assad regime, right. And so if you’re looking for something that you can do, and you’re in the US, or you live somewhere in the Imperial Core, one of the things that you can do, as frustrating as it is, is lobby your representatives. As fucking frustrating as that is, believe me I understand, but that is something concrete that you can do is, is contact your representatives, and try to lobby for recognition of the Autonomous Administration as a separate polity. I think that it might be a long shot but it’s definitely something that would help the people there more than any other direct action that you can take from the Imperial Core.

If you want to take a personal step — maybe this is oversharing and maybe you can cut it — but there’s ways to make friends online with people who are in pretty desperate situations. And there’s ways that you can, I don’t want to say leverage, but there’s ways that you can take those personal friendships and make those into a kind of mutual aid. So an example of what this might look, is right now on Onlyfans, there’s a ton of sex workers who are based out of Ukraine or from Ukraine or are fleeing, you know, persecution or, you know, fleeing violent conflict. And the only way that they have to really make money very quickly is to turn to sex work. And so this is an example of an area where there’s a ton of things that overlap with a lot of the struggles that people are familiar with in the US, and it’s even on a platform that’s pretty common and popular in the US. And so if you’re looking for direct ways to directly support people, and you’re not, you know, there’s definitely mutual aid funds and all kinds of other stuff that you can get involved with, but if you’re looking to make friends and kind of have a personal bond of solidarity with somebody, you could do a lot worse than something like that. I think I’m talking a little bit too much. But that’s that’s basically what I wanted to add.

TFSR: So in an interview last year that Duran Kalkan of the Kurdistan Democratic Communities Union, which was conducted by the group Peace in Kurdistan, Mr. Kalkan spoke about his view that while Western governments like the US may strategically partner with the Syrian Democratic Forces under Rojavan control, in the fight against Daesh, or ISIS, they’re not committed to the project of democratic confederalism, but only destabilizing Turkey and opposing Russia and Iranian influence in the region. So as someone who’s based in the US, such as myself, I find this to be a really poignant point of interaction with what’s going on in AANES and within Kurdistan more widely and with the Rojava project. Could you all speak a little bit about the the US relationship with Rojava, the ilegalization of the Kurdish Workers Party or the PKK, as well as the KCK, which I just mentioned, the Kurdistan Democratic Communities Union, and what impact that has on the ground in areas controlled by the Autonomous Administration?

E: The US has had quite contradictory approach towards the PKK and Rojava revolution. Since 1998 the PKK has been on the terrorist list of the US, and the US has actively been supporting Turkey in its war on the PKK. However, when the time came around 2014, around the time of Kobanî resistance, where ISIS had encircle the city, the US’s relationship with the Kurds began to change slightly. And this was mainly due to the fact that the US has plans to fund the Islamist factions and Free Syrian Army, actively supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, had backfired. The Free Syrian Army was losing ground to ISIS, the US didn’t see it as an effective partner, but it wanted to continue its presence in Syria, you know, due to several reasons, serious geopolitical position, the proximity to Israel, the US’s closest ally in the Middle East… The US wanted to stay on the ground, but it was finding itself less and less able to do so only through the use of Free Syrian Army. It needed another partner on the ground, and the only option that was available was the Autonomous Administration. And with lots of international outrage, with solidarity from comrades all over the world, public opinion was shifting, you know, people were becoming more and more aware about ISIS atrocities. And, you know, combination of this urgency and the ineffectiveness of the FSA resulted in Obama sending military equipment initially to the Autonomous Administration, and then the US establishing ties with the Autonomous Administration.

I would agree with the analysis and the statement to Duran Kalkan; we have many examples from recent past that support is hypothesis that the US is not committed to the project of democratic confederalism. And it’s only approaching AANES, the Autonomous Administration, as somewhat of a proxy without really supporting it, without acknowledging it fully, without, you know, limiting its support only to military so that it keeps holding that area and ISIS doesn’t come back. We know that Democratic Confederalism is a sort of antithesis of American hegemonic policies and practices. It’s completely reverse of the US states approach, you know, from neoliberalism to questions about women’s rights, and you know, gender equality, to ethnopluralist understandings of life and politics, to decentralized community control over everyday life and decision making in different areas. These are, of course, very threatening for the US, the US has always been hostile to left wing movements. But this has been highlighted during the Cold War era, and even up to this day, its political approach to left wing, any left wing resistance across the world, is destabilizing and destructive.

This has had a tremendous and terrible effect for the peoples of Rojava because of this lack of recognition, this lack of understanding of Rojava’s political, economical, social organization, and only focusing on the military and geopolitics of what’s going on in the region. The support has been shakey and as we saw in 2019, I mean, this invasion of Afrîn‎ was made possible with the green light given by Russia because Russia and the US have this unspoken deal where they have shared areas of influence in Syria. In areas that fall to the west of the Euphrates River, Russia has military control, Russian warplanes roam the skies in the areas to the east of the Euphrates and Syria, most of which, all of which are under the control of Rojava and the Autonomous Administration, the skies are controlled by the US. And because of the dynamic the occupation of Afrîn‎ was made possible with the green light of Russia.

However, the occupation of silicon in 2019 was made possible with the green light of Trump and the US government. And with that invasion alone, 400,000 people were displaced in the region. And that’s close to 10% of the entire Rojava population, Serê Kaniyê and Girê Spî‎ were instrumental in the storage and processing of agricultural products. So there’s been a major hit in that sense to people’s education was disrupted, schools were closed. So this sort of contradictory, shaky approach of the US towards the political project in Rojava manifests in hundreds of lives killed, hundreds of thousands of people being displaced, three or four towns being semi destroyed, and people access to water and food being extremely limited. And it’s been devastating to the region, which is why we need not just military support from all around the world, but also political support and a deeper understanding about the political project that’s going on in the ground.

TFSR: As was mentioned already, I think Xero mentioned it in January, there was massive breakout attempts by members of ISIS, or Daesh, fighters and families from the prison and refugee camps at Hassakeh and al-Hawl, where the SDF had been holding them and international condemnation was broadcast about the conditions there all over the media. I think there was a lot that was lacking from the discussion about the fact that a huge number of those Daesh prisoners, captured after the destruction of the attempted creation of a theocratic state, or caliphate by ISIS, are foreigners whose home countries won’t relocate them. Can you all talk a bit about what happened to Syrians that were held as Daesh, and sort of break open this topic a little bit more about the difficulties of not being recognized as an official state formation and yet being in some ways held to the same humanitarian requirements as state structures that don’t have an interface with you? Like how has international scrutiny caused differences in treatment between people internally displaced by the conflicts in Syria (sometimes you can shorten IDP – internally displaced people) versus those internationals who traveled to Syria to join Daesh?

E: This has been a sore spot. In July of 2019 while I was doing my fieldwork, I attended a three day conference which was held by the Autonomous Administration on this particular issue, on how to deal with ISIS prisoners. Guests from all over the world were present there, along with a couple of people from the US too. And there is this discrepancy. So currently, there is a little over 2,000 former ISIS members imprisoned in the Hassakeh and the whole camps that you mentioned, and a little over 10,000 relatives, you know, family and children of these people, held in these camps. A little over a third of these prisoners are foreigners. Interestingly, Central Asian countries have a much, much more constructive approach and have been repatriating their citizens who went and joined ISIS and were captured by Rojavan forces. For example, Uzbekistan has has taken back more than 300 former ISIS members that are Uzbek nationals. However, many of the Western countries refrain from doing so. And part of part of the reason is that they are working closely with Turkey, but another part of the reason is this instrumentalisation of Rojava’s lack of recognition in the international arena.

However, close to two thirds of the ISIS prisoners and their family members are either Syrian or Iraqi, a majority of the people held in Rojavan ISIS camps are either Syrian and Iraqi. And the Autonomous Administration has different policies when it comes to the nationalities. If the former ISIS member is from a country anything other than Syria and Iraq, they are able to repatriate only if the country is willing to do so and very few Western countries do this. And if the former ISIS member, is Iraqi, the Iraqi government has direct communication channels with the Autonomous Administration of Rojava and takes back, you know, takes back the Iraqi citizens and places them in the camps that they have inside Iraq for former ISIS members.

For the Syrians, the situation is complicated. The majority of the former ISIS people in Rojava camps are of Syrian nationality. And on the one hand, ISIS prisoners are treated differently in the semi carceral system that they have their. You know, all other prisoners are held in general prisons, where if you’re trying to relate it to something that is tied to ISIS, you go to ISIS related courts and prisons that are reserved for ISIS members only. And former ISIS prisoners lose their properties, you know, the only type of people that get their stuff confiscated by the Autonomous Administration are former ISIS members. So there is this sort of harsh approach towards former ISIS members that are from the parts of Syria that have control by the Rojavan Administration.

However, there’s also this attempt to not have this solely carceral approach to crime and punishment. And there is some sort of community arrangement. Over the past 10 years, a few hundred former ISIS linked people have actually been set free but through these processes of alternative justice models — that I know my comrade will go into more detail in a minute. If let’s say you’re from Raqqa, and you were involved with ISIS, somehow, if you and your community can prove that you weren’t a gun wielding member that participated in the killing — you know, many people, when ISIS took over and ruled over a large swath of land for a few years, many people worked with ISIS, but not zealously, you know, driving stuff, because they’re told to or doing nonviolent acts. So, if you can prove that you weren’t violent in ISIS, and if your community, your neighborhood from Raqqa, your relatives and community vouch for you, and [would] go through this alternative justice process, then there is when you would get released. Or, like I said, this depends on, this is a complex matter that depends on sort of the communal vouching and the ability for the Administration to arrange with the community so that this person’s released won’t risk life in the region but will ease the burden on the camps and the maintenance of these camps, because that has been a difficult issue. ISIS, former ISIS members, and their relatives still are trying to resurrect the caliphate inside these camps. One of the main reasons for these breakouts that happened periodically, and they can kill one another when if someone held in these camps is willing to talk to administrative officials, or is willing to somewhat cooperate or show regret, you know, these imprisoned other ISIS people come and kill them. So, it’s very complicated. And my comrades go into more detail.

X: Yeah, thank you, Emre, that was a really good answer. That was pretty comprehensive answer. And I think the only thing that I can add to it is to kind of reframe it a little bit for a US audience who might be used to the way that prisons and the carceral state work here, and just kind of compare and contrast a little bit in order to make it a little bit easier to understand. Because that’s, that’s generally the way I think of it. And so, I think that that might be a good communication strategy. And so the thing I think that is the first thing to say about that, is that the the, the Autonomous Administration isn’t really a state in the conventional sense. And I think that fact alone is low key one of the biggest barriers in in terms of getting international recognition. Because obviously, we have NATO countries and stuff, these are all nation states. And so if you admit somebody who’s not a nation state, it’s kind of a threat to your control over the worldview of the planet. And so this I think is one thing that people, perhaps rightfully, see as kind of threatening.

And so that’s the first thing, is that is that the Autonomous Administration isn’t really run like a state. And so the way that things are enshrined here, where there’s endless bureaucracy, and there’s kind of this cultural attitude that we have laws, and you have to do exactly what it says, by the letter of the law, and you can’t stray a single millimeter outside of that, or else you’ll be put in jail and that’s the right thing to do. The kind of cultural attitudes that you would find in Kurdistan are very different from that. And this isn’t just Kurdish culture, but Kurdish culture is what I know the most about so that’s what I’m going to go into.

There’s a different attitude that comes out of centuries of Kurdish tradition, and Kurdish attitudes about law, which is that if you’re resorting to a law you’re kind of already lost, it’s kind of already too late. And so before they do that, what they prefer to do instead, kind of as a culture, is to look around and just kind of see what are the problems that we’re facing and what can we do about those problems? And so it’s kind of, it’s not prescriptive in that way. It’s much more for example: in Rojava there’s a lot of issues with retribution killings. It’s similar to the mafia, the way that the mafia works but it’s definitely not the same. Where it’s like “someone from my family killed your family and so someone from your family has to do a retribution and kill someone from my family”, and the cycle of violence just will continue. And so the way that they would approach that is to say, “Okay, well, instead of that, how about we just have this neighborhood council of people who live on the same street, or people who live in the same area” and often it’s the grandmas, it’s the neighborhood grandmothers, who would be the first responders to some kind of event, to some kind of, what we would think of as a crime.

If there’s one of these revenge killings, the first person who comes in response to that is a grandma from the neighborhood. And then what happens after that is they wouldn’t consider the crime to be solved when the perpetrator is found and then tried and executed or whatever; they consider the crime to be solved when there’s a truth and reconciliation consensus. Like there’s a truth and reconciliation process, and then that process will reach some kind of conclusion, and the surviving parties will usually agree to some kind of public show of okayness with this. Like there’ll be some kind of neighborhood feast, or there’ll be something. And it doesn’t necessarily make things, okay, between those families but it does make it so that the people who you live around, you’re held accountable to them. If somebody breaks the kind of conditions of this truce, everyone in the neighborhood is going to know who did it and how, and so there’ll be consequences in that way. So it’s much more about social reinforcement than it is about any kind of rigid agent of the state coming after you the hand of God or whatever.

That being said, there are definitely prisons in Rojava. And like Emre was talking about, those prisons are usually reserved for people who are a real, direct safety threat to the people who live in a community. And the name of the game is not really to punish those people, it’s to remove them as a safety threat. So you take them to prison, not to punish them, but because they’re their presence creates some kind of unsafe condition. The goal of taking somebody to prison is much more focused on rehabilitation than it is retribution.

I think there’s a global cap of 10 years that somebody can be in one of these prisons and often it’s much less than that. And so the incarceration rate among the general population is much lower. And in fact, during, I think it was early on in the pandemic — this might have been at the end of 2020, I might need to fact check this — but there was definitely, I’m blanking on the word, but there were people who were released from prison, and they were just forgiven and said, “Okay, you can go home, because we can’t keep you here because there’s an active fucking of plague and that that creates an unsafe condition for you.” “Amnesty” is the word that I was looking for.

Carceration is not the only piece of this, there’s also, for example, there’s the whole women’s revolution and one of the aspects of the women’s revolution in Rojava is that there are women’s communities where anyone, any woman can come with her children or with her immediate relatives or whatever, her friends, what have you, and they can come and they can escape from a battered household situation. And just come and stay and live for however long they need to live there, and learn a skill learn something that can then be used to economically sustain yourself. And that’s also a really important piece of this. And so that’s civil society. That’s kind of how things work in normal circumstances, where you just have a neighborhood and there’s a, for lack of a better word, a crime rate in that neighborhood.

That is very different from the ISIS problem. And so, the reason that very different, and the reason that they don’t resort to laws in order to solve this problem, is because it’s a systemic problem. And it’s the Syrian civil war, and so there’s everything is really complicated and everything is really dark and bleak and depressing. But one of the things that made ISIS possible is that civil wars create these really unstable conditions where you’re not really sure where your security is going to come from. And so if this armed group shows up, and they say “you have to abide by whatever we’re doing, or else” that doesn’t excuse what you then do as a result of that, but it does change the way that you treat the problem. Because many of the people who were, what you might call “Syrian civilians” who came under the control of ISIS, or who was part of ISIS or whatever. A lot of those people weren’t really true believers, they didn’t join ISIS because they wanted to, they joined ISIS because they were forced to under nightmarish circumstances. And again, that doesn’t make it okay. But it does change the way that you treat the problem.

And so there’s a population of people who do stuff that. And then there’s a separate population of people who are generally true believers who come by choice from abroad, and Emre was saying, that accounts for about a third of the of the population in these in these ISIS prison camps in al-Hawl, particularly. And so what you do with these people, the third of the people who are who are coming from abroad, that’s a really thorny problem, because the Autonomous Administration isn’t recognized, and nobody wants to take these people back. And so again, I’m not making excuses for the conditions or anything that, I’m just saying that there’s there’s a context here, and that context is really important.

TFSR: Cool, I found that very helpful. Between the two of you.

As was mentioned earlier, the Barzani governing Kurdish Democratic Party in Iraq has a contentious relationship with the Autonomous Administration and the democratic movement. Turkey has also been leading attacks into Iraq since last year, at least, including allegedly using chemical weapons in the northern regions against what they are calling “PKK militants”. But that hasn’t really been making the news from within the US. Does anyone want to address these activities?

R: I want to share a little bit about my own experience. I don’t know the details about the allegations of the chemical weapons but I was at a demonstration in The Hague in mid-May, where a British delegation, and among them Steve Sweeney, a journalist who has been in the region himself for one year to investigate. He has collected samples of soil, hair and clothes that contain evidence that banned chemical weapons have been used by Turkey. And on May 17, he and others would join the local Kurdish movement to go to the OPCW, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, to hand over this samples, and to urge for a fact finding team to go to the region to start their own investigations. But very unfortunately, the flight got canceled, so they could not make it to the Netherlands in time, which was very disappointing and frustrating. And then some other people from the demonstration, they took their place. Of course, they didn’t have the samples but they did have the letters and the files, so they went to the building. The police was escorting them and it was so painful to see that they weren’t even let inside the gates. They could not even enter the building into the reception [area] to hand over these documents, but they were just left outside the gate. And I think they handed it over to somebody who would take it inside. And that was so painful to see that it’s not taken seriously, that even with such a big demonstration and action and a call out for supports, that they are just not responding at all.

E: To add on to Rimac’s point, Turkey has been using chemical weapons such as phosphorus bonds and cluster bombs, not only in northern Iraq, not only in partial southern Kurdistan against PKK militants in the Qandil Mountains area, but also in Rojava during its invasion of Serê Kaniyê. Many families were affected by phosphorus bombs that were used by Turkish warplanes. And there was this iconic image of a 6-7 year old boy with all sorts of chemical burns on his body, and samples collected in Rojava, too. And the so-called “international community” that result has been silence in the face of these attacks. And I think this is primarily due to the hostile approach that many countries have towards the Kurdish movement, you know, both in Rojava and in other parts of Kurdistan. Like we said several times today, the recognition of PKK as a terrorist organization, and the criminalization of ALL Kurdish people basically, not just the PKK through this logic, and the PKK is the biggest, is the strongest Kurdish party with the biggest base in Kurdish society. We’re talking about 30-35 million Kurds in Kurdistan, and more than half of Kurds in Kurdistan make up the base of the PKK.

So the West’s contradictory political approach towards the PKK and the Kurdish movement, I believe, is one of the main reasons for this turning a blind eye towards the use of active use of chemical weapons by a NATO member country. And this only serves to illustrate the hypocrisy is about all the Western officials preaching about human rights and sort of democratic measures to be employed in warfare, including the banning of chemical weapons. I guess, as long as you’re a NATO member or a NATO ally and you’re dropping chemical bombs on marginalized, criminalized communities such as the Kurdish movement and the Kurdish people, you get a free pass in chemical warfare.

TFSR: Over the last 10 years of the Rojava revolution, radicals, anarchists and feminists in the US and abroad have attempted to raise awareness about the project in order to grow solidarity, but the only times, at least in the US that I’m aware of, that the topic seems to come up are in the context of emergencies, invasions and war. How have we in the US, in particular, failed at engaging lessons taking inspiration from and building solidarity with the revolution in Rojava? And what has that lost us and our comrades over there and abroad?

R: I would like to answer this question by really zooming in on my own journey, how I became involved, not because my journey is special, but I think that it explains a lot about how difficult it can be to navigate. As I said, in my introduction, that I experienced sexual violence as a child from a family member and I was actually invited by another family member to join them for a vacation in Turkey, in 2015. And I wasn’t aware of the strike of the Kurdish struggle yet, then. And I remember that, at the time, there were some alerts about Turkey that you should not travel too close to the border with Syria, because there was unrest.

And at that time, I only read about Syria in the headlines. I only saw headlines and I didn’t know personally what exactly was going on. But because I was traveling there, I wanted to read up and research what’s going on, what’s happening in this part of the world that I’m very ignorant about. So of course, one of the first things I learned was about the Civil War. And then I learned about the PKK, and about the women’s revolution, about SDF and the YPG fighting against ISIS and also being successful and pushing back against them. But I was I was researching this alone, I was not connected with with organizers or anarchists at that moment yet. So it was very confusing for me to find out who is who and who is fighting for what, in the beginning, I could not even distinguish between like the PKK and the YPG and the Free Syrian Army. I was not aware of it. So I had to research that even further.

And then, as soon as I started leaning more towards understanding that the PKK and the YPG that they were struggling for values that I hold dear as well, I started wondering, but if they are fighting this good fights, for human rights and for liberation and against oppression, and if they are actually like the heroes of this moment in the sense that there are so many parts of the world where the governments and the people are so terrified of ISIS, that they are paralyzed by fear and not doing anything and people on the streets being afraid of each other. And then I thought “if they are so successful in fighting against ISIS, then why are they not celebrated? Why is this not shared?” Especially in the country where I’m from in the Netherlands there’s a really big ISIS scare. And I didn’t understand why there there wouldn’t be more attention to this.

So I came in the struggle of like, “it’s everybody’s word against everybody’s word.” And I stuck with it because I really wanted to find out what was going on. And then I also went at some point to a Kurdish culture event in my area and that’s when I really started to embrace the Kurds and the revolution in Rojava. So, by that time, it was more clear to me who is playing what role, and also that Turkey’s role was not dubious, but just evil. That Turkey is really betraying all the values and out to commit genocide, that they’d have no excuse for their attacks.

But then when I started joining the Kurdish community here in the Netherlands, that was also a bit of a culture shock. Because even though I was aware that we were living in a capitalist society and patriarchal society, and that this was causing a lot of injustice, and unheard voices, even though I was aware of it, and already, like fighting the status quo as much as I could, in my way, it was a culture shock to become accepted by the Kurdish community. Because then I felt that I became a part of the struggle and after revolution. And it’s also because the message of the revolution is what I hold really dear, I think that’s a really important message. And that’s why I am also really glad to participate today in the podcast, because the message is that it’s not only a revolution in Rojava, and in Kurdistan region, it’s not their revolution, it’s from all of us.

Because the way how the PKK decided, at some point, that they are not after their own State anymore but they are instead going after a Stateless world. When I really find out about it, and I started sitting with this, that’s when I felt that this is really also my revolution, and that I have a job to play here in the Netherlands. But it was a big step to start getting to know the Kurdish movement here and understanding what role I can play here. Because I even though I fight against it, I do have a European and a Dutch background, I’m not a Kurdish person. So I have a lot of work to do to change my mindset.

And that is also where, because of the pandemic, we could not organize anymore. And I lost contact with my Kurdish friends. So that’s where I started looking on the internet, to find a community and to find resources and to keep on developing myself, and to really become a student of the revolution to understand what can I do here in the Netherlands. That is how I found out about ECR, I joined a reading session of them. And this is also my message to listeners who feel like they want to do something, but they are looking for ways to get involved and to make an impact: the ECR we have reading sessions, one of the topics we discussed was — and that was over like five or six sessions — we discussed similarities and differences between the Zapatista revolution and the Rojava revolution. And for the 8th of March, the International Women’s Day, we had a session, of course, about women struggle and achievements. And before that, we had really interesting sessions about political economy and the cooperative economy in Rojava.

And these are sessions where we exchange equally, where we get to know each other. And then we also have once a month, the organizing meetings where we try to practice what we are learning, try to inspire each other, we have updates from the region. And for me, it helped a lot to be connected with people who are very aware of what’s going on, because that helps seeing the forest through the trees again. Because if you’re insecure about what is going on, that also makes you insecure to act and to speak out and to take action. So ECR has really helped me to stand stronger, and form my own opinion, and choose a strategy for myself to be a part of the revolution. And so I would like to invite listeners to join us for organizing meetings. You’re welcome to join. However, whatever your background is, or how much you know or don’t know about it, you’re always welcome to join us. You can get an update from the region. We also share news about what’s going on in the United States, revolving Rojava and Kurdistan. We share actions that we are taking to build a broader solidarity, because this is, as I said, it’s not only a Kurdish revolution, it’s not only Rojava, it is a struggle and a resistance at this worldwide. That we are connected in our struggle against capitalism and patriarchy. And then at the end of the meetings, we also have the phone banking, where friends of ours from ECR they always do a really great job of putting together a message of concern. And they have all the phones numbers from relevant people of the government in the United States, and we make the calls and as Xero said it might be a bit boring or even like, doesn’t feel good for people, but it is a really important part, especially as European or American people to really raise the noise in our own countries, and to bring our message because they need to hear our story. And you can find us at DefendRojava.Org. There, you can also sign up to get notifications about events and news.

E: I’ll follow Rimac’s example and begin with explaining how I started to become involved with ECR. Soon after its establishment in 2019, I was already in touch with one of co-founders such as Anya and a couple other comrades. And I’m working on women’s autonomous organizing in Rojava in my dissertation, and particularly in the economic arena, you know, cooperatives, collectives, communes. And, you know, in addition to all the wonderful things we do at ECR, we’ve been doing over the past three years that Rimac mentioned just now, I’ve been involved with Anya and a couple comrades with trying to establish connections and increase solidarity with different cooperatives across the US. We’ve been meeting with representatives from cooperatives in and around New York City, but also from different parts of the US. We’ve been in communication with Equal Exchange, Fair World Project, Colab Cooperative, and USFWC Peer Tech Network, among other cooperatives. We’ve been trying to build connections with cooperatives and collectives in Rojava. As an anarchist, myself, I value this growth of international solidarity among different cooperatives in different parts of the world.

However, you don’t have to be an anarchist, you know, whatever excites you in life, whatever you’ve been working on more, there are options to build solidarity with your comrades in Rojava. I know, for example, if you’re an active feminist, in the US, or in Europe, an organized active feminist and you want to build solidarity that’s also much valued and possible, both through the ECR, which, you know, tries to contribute to this growth of solidarity, but also Kurdish Women’s Movement, which is very well established, internationally, particularly in Europe. And I know, there have been meetings with, you know, different women’s organizing from North and South America. So whatever you’re working on, whatever moves you in life, there is possibility of growing solidarity and connections with corresponding similar organizations and people in Rojava. And the Rojava Revolution’s Democratic Confederalism is an anti-nation-state, internationalist vision that does not only limit itself to the Kurdistan or the Middle East, but for the entire world. So any collaboration, in that sense will be much valued and appreciated.

X: Yeah, I would echo what I heard both of Rimac and Emre say, which I thought they were really beautiful responses. So one of the things that I personally have learned — this is gonna sound really contradictory — one of the things that I personally have learned over the course of my organizing as I get closer and closer to Indigenous movements here on Turtle Island, is the importance of not centering yourself, but also, the utility of centering yourself and when it’s appropriate to and when it’s not appropriate to. Things have to be balanced and I think that’s something that’s really important that I take away from all of this. So I had the good fortune to sit down with a Kurdish journalist Khabat Abbas — who you’ll hear the interview that I did with her, we’ll be dropping an episode after we start dropping episodes — but that was a really wide ranging conversation. And one of the things that I really took away from that was this notion of trying to sit with all of the many, many contradictions in life and not just contradictions of ideas or whatever, but contradictions of feeling and thought.

You know, the way that really intense genocides tend to all also happened at the same time as incredible social movements towards progressive ideas of feminism and liberation and stuff. And the way that you can’t really separate the two. That was a really powerful idea. I think that some cultures might call that, if I’m, again, forgetting the name, non-dualism, I think that Buddhists would have a lot to say about this idea of the yin and the yang, and how good and evil aren’t really opposites. They’re two sides of the same coin and stuff like that. I’ve come around to the idea that these are all things that are too important to carry just one name and we have versions of them in our own culture. And so trying to see these things as a gift, and the gift comes in the form of a seed, and you can choose to plant that seed and you can even tend it like a garden. Because the way that culture works, a lot of the time, is a lot soil. You have to look at the nutrients that are in the soil and you can maintain the soil, and you can change what the nutrients are over time, but it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to happen with a lot of work and a lot of really hard, dedicated effort over the course of generations even.

And that’s what the Kurds and other people who live in the region have achieved. Because the Rojava project as a polity didn’t come about because somebody woke up one day and said, “Hey, let’s let’s fundamentally revolutionize everything that we’re doing in civil society”. It came about because these cultures, or these traditions, have been practiced for centuries. And there was a lot of dedicated organizing that happened in the years before the Syrian civil war. The PKK is definitely a factor, the early stage of the YPG, and YPJ, which are the People’s Defense Units, and the Women’s Defense Units, these self defense militias in the region. Those also didn’t come out of nowhere, they were trained with the help of the PKK. And in many instances, they have, you know, overlapping membership.

But these things don’t just happen in a vacuum, they come about because there’s a need for them, even when there’s not a civil war going on. And so I look around at the situation in the context where I live and I see that there’s a dire need for that. And I’m not the first person to notice that, this is not an original observation in any way. But things in the US right now are getting to a dire point where I really worry a lot about, you know, the possibility of genocidal violence in the near future. And the violence that is going to be perpetrated against queer people and trans people over the summer, and how that’s actually about racism, when you boil it down, and how nothing is new under the sun. Everything that happened before will happen again, you know, whatever you want to bring out to say that.

But all of that is to say: that you have these dark things that are happening at the same time as you have incredibly positive things. And the incredibly positive things that I take from Rojava, the things that really stood out to me and the things that I really connected with immediately, were the Women’s Revolution, and the structure of civil society, those are the things that made me realize that I’m an anarchist, I just didn’t put the word to it for a long time. And realizing those things, it was a very non-linear process where I just kind of made all these realizations in my own life and started realizing that I fit into that context, too, and I can be part of those organizing efforts. And that’s a new commitment that I have in my life that I feel more myself than I have in a very long time. Because I’ve was introduced to these ideas.

And so I think there’s a lot there that’s on the personal level, on the societal level, the structural level. And a lot of it goes off in very different directions. But that’s kind of the beauty of it, is that all of that is part of it, all of that has to be part of the whole. That the opposition has to be part of the system. Yeah, and so when I think about what can be done, and how the US has failed, I think those are important questions to grapple with. And there’s a lot of very serious critiques to be made. I think that what it distills down to, for me, is a reaction of an interaction that I had with somebody on Twitter recently, somebody that’s based in the UK, but that does a lot of anarchist organizing and stuff. And they kept complaining about “what the fuck is in the water over there in the US? What the fuck are you people talking about all the time?” And that got me to thinking very seriously about, you know, the context that I grew up in. Which was small towns in the Rust Belt, and just kind of what it is like emotionally to grow up that way, in that area, in that context, and how that plays differently from people who grew up in different contexts, in different geographies and stuff. Yeah, I’m rambling now, but I just, it’s all of this. It’s really complex, and it’s really nuanced, and I just love every minute of it. That’s basically my answer.

TFSR: That’s awesome. All those answers were really, really enlightening. I really appreciate them. And so Rimac already mentioned the website and how to get in touch, and invited listeners into the project. I wonder if any of you individually have projects. I mean, Xero mentioned the podcast, but if any of you have places where listeners can reach out to you personally over social media, or if you have collections of writings that you’ve done, anything like that you want to share? It’s okay, if you don’t.

X: I guess I can start. So the podcast that I mentioned is called Where Many Worlds Fit. You can find, I guess, me on Twitter and on Instagram, the handle is Many_Worlds_Pod spelled just it sounds. I think the there’s also an email, which is And so if anybody wants to get in touch or if you want to, you know, follow along there. There’s a couple of articles that have been posted on the website, which is It’s hosted on GitHub, because I don’t paying for software, and I’m a software developer by trade, and so I just did all of that myself. Yeah, that’s where to find me.

TFSR: Well, thank you. Thank you all for having this conversation and for taking all this time out of out of your busy lives to not only do this work, but to share with the audience and with myself. Yeah. And thanks again.

R: Can I share one thing?

TFSR: Yeah yeah yeah!

R: Well, the examples I gave earlier, that people can do on an individual level and get involved, speak for themselves. But what I also love about being involved with ECR is that they are really taken the steps necessary, and really big steps in the United States, to bring the message of the Rojava Revolution forward. And to also approach Congress, because they’ve now drafted a resolution with legislation that they want to see changed so that people in the area can be protected, because they would, they have to have political recognition. But also because Turkey has built dams, causing whole areas to be without water, so daily life is obstructed in a pandemic, that was really a catastrophe on catastrophe. Not to mention the effects on food supplies. So even though ECR is a relatively small organization, they are really owing up to the revolution and to making the change and impact they can do. So that’s why I also love to organize with them, because you can learn so much from them. And I want to thank you for taking the time because we’ve spoken over two hours. I don’t know how long your podcast usually is. But thanks for taking the time and listen to us and not feeling any rush.

X: Yeah, thanks a lot for having us, Bursts, it’s been a great conversation.

TFSR: Yeah, I’ve appreciate you getting to getting to chat with all of y’all. And I’m glad there’s some promotion here for your podcast, which I’m pretty excited about [laughs].

X: Yeah, me too [laughs]. I think we just need to knuckle down and do it [laughs].

TFSR: Take care, Hevals!

R: Serkeftin!

Prison Bars Won’t Stifle These Hearts

Prison Bars Won’t Stifle These Hearts

Fireworks with birds flying out of a cage in the foreground anda description of this week's show title
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This week, we’re presenting three segments, all related in some way to prison. We hear an essay by an anarchist prisoner in Chile about a prison massacre on it’s 10th anniversary, the voice of David Easley reporting from within a covid outbreak in an Ohio prison, and the voice of someone who’s protest against nuclear weapons was leading her to incarceration.

And Sean Swain. If you want to cast a vote for one of his nicknames, you can send an email to us at TheFinalStrawRadio(at ) riseup( dot) net, with ‘Nickname’ in the subject header until January 10th.


David Easley on Outbreak at Toledo CI


First up, Comrade David Easley at Toledo Correctional Institution in Ohio talks about the covid-19 outbreak there, which he is still recovering from, that has knocked out one in five guards and forced the state to bring in National Guard to act as screws at the prison. The administration hasn’t been proactively testing prisoners and so doesn’t have data on infections besides symptomatic cases. When prisoners have tested positive, the only treatments they get are non-asprin Tylenol and cough drops, unless their health degrades to the point of getting onto a ventilator.

David also talks about his inside/outside abolitionist study group he’s been working with over instagram. Comrade Easley is seeking outside supporters to help run the Abolition Study Group instagram and also his personal social media so he can report to the outside world on the conditions in Toledo CI. He is also seeking lawyers in Ohio that can help sue the ODRC on behalf of prisoners for the negligence and harm that has led to so much sickness and death, inside and outside of the barbed wire. You can reach him via mail at:

David Easley
Toledo Correctional Institution
2001 East Central Avenue
Toledo, OH 43608

and you can email him by creating an account on and reaching out to him by his facility and number, David Easley A306400 at Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.

Martha Hennessy of Kings Bay Plowshares 7


Next up, Tali Moon from the occupied land in the PNW of the so-called US shares with us a conversation of Martha Hennessy of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, 7 white, Catholic anti-militarism activists who just went to prison for trespassing and symbolic damage to Trident nuclear missiles at a military base in Georgia. Hennessy, aged 62, is an anarchist and the grandaughter of the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, Dorothy Day. You can find out more about the Martha and others from her case at KingsBayPlowshares7.Org. You can write to Martha at:

  Martha Hennessy #22560-021  FCI Danbury Rt. 37 Danbury, CT 06811

Mónica Caballero on San Miguel Prison Massacre


Finally, you’ll hear a segment from the December episode of Bad News: Angry Voices from Around The World from the A-Radio Network, magnificently produced this month by Crna Luknja in Ljublana, Slovenia. The Anarchist Assembly of Valparaiso (so-called Chile) presents a text about the 10 year anniversary of the massacre of 81 prisoners at the San Miguel Prison in Santiago de Chile written by anarchist prisoner Mónica Caballero. This was but a small portion of the audio in this months’ episode.


Land Project in Davao, Philippines

Comrades from Feral Crust collective in the province of Davao in the Philippines (aka Maharlika) are requesting monetary support to purchase a minicab or small truck to help transport people and materials to their land project in the forests of Marilog in Davao where they are working on implementing ideas and practices related to permaculture, rewilding and nature restoration/conservation. The project has a fedbook page and you can hear an interview from July of 2015 that we conducted with folks from FC.

Surgeries for Activist Returning from Syria

There is also a fundraiser for surgeries for Autumn, a transgender comrade from the US who volunteered in Syria, and suffered injuries during the civil war while doing solidarity work there. They are trying to raise $10k.

Lorenzo Komb’oa Ervin and Bomani Shakur / Keith Lamar

Lorenzo Komb’oa Ervin and Bomani Shakur / Keith Lamar

Bomani Shakur (aka Keith Lamar)
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This midweek, we’re sharing two segments. First up, Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin talks about attempts in the 1960’s and 70’s at building a prisoners union in the United States and parallels with inside / outside organizing in the USA today. Then we hear from Ohio death row prisoner from the Lucasville Uprising case, Bomani Shakur (aka Keith Lamar) about his struggle to stay alive and call out the injustice in his and so many cases.

Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin

Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin is an author, black anarchist, organizer, former Black Panther and former political prisoner based in Kansas City, Missouri. In this segment, Lorenzo talks about prisoners organizing unions and other associations in the past, the thoughts of George Jackson and Martin Sostre and more.

JoNina Ervin, an autonomous organizer and also a former Black Panther, who is married to Lorenzo has put out a specific request for solidarity to help these elders weather the pandemic and lighten the load of mutual aid in their community which we’ll share in our show notes. Suffice to say, donations to help them get safer access to laundry can be made by sending a donation via Paypal account at: / cash app: $CaseyGoon / venmo: @casey-R-goonan. I’ll read JoNina’s appeal after Lorenzo’s interview.

Free Keith Lamar / Bomani Shakur

Bomani Shakur speaks to us from death row at OSP Youngstown in Ohio. Bomani is accused of crimes related to the 1993 Lucasville Uprising he claims innocence of and has an execution date set for November 16, 2023. For a little over an hour we speak about his upbringing, his case, injustice in white supremacist and capitalist America, Bomani’s politicization and struggle to find himself, defend his dignity and his life. This interview was recorded on April 29th, a little over a day before the end of the month of solidarity with and direct action for Bomani Shakur. Thanks to Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement – NYC for hooking us up with the chat and helping coordinate the Month Of Solidarity. More on his case can be found at KeithLamar.Org, on the facebook page “Justice For Keith Lamar” and at the twitter account, FREEKeithLamar. On his website you can find a link to his book, Condemned, ways to donate to his phone fund, and a link to the excellent, 30 minute documentary on youtube about his case also named Condemned. If you’re on twitter, there is a twitter storm planned for April 30, 2020. Find our twitter or @FreeKeithLamar to join in.

You can email them for more info as well.


Phone Zap about Covid-19 and North Carolina Prisons

Over the past month, covid19 has blazed through NC prisons like wildfire.

Across DPS facilities, over 600 people have tested positive — roughly the same number of cases in all of Wayne County, which has a population that is 3x larger. One person (at Pender C.I) has already died of complications, and a single facility (Neuse C.I.) has a mind-boggling 466 positive cases.

The reason Neuse has so many confirmed cases is that DPS decided to test everyone there–and they should do the same at all facilities with significant numbers of positive cases, such as NCCI Women, where 81 people have tested positive so far. This is the only way to know the full scale of the outbreak and to be able to take appropriate measures to mitigate further spread.

Please call Commissioner of Prisons Todd Ishee on Thursday, April 30 to demand universal testing at four hard-hit prisons!

Todd Ishee, Commissioner of Prisons:
Phone: 919-838-4000
House Phone: (330)544-4425

You can find a call in script at the Blue Ridge ABC website.

Pendleton CI in Indiana

Word is now coming out that today, April 30th 2020 there is a demonstration growing at Pendleton CI in Indiana by folks incarcerated there. A number of prisoners will refuse meals today due to neglect, poor treatment and prison officials’ complete lack of care and concern in regard to crisis management or emergency response during this global pandemic. Prisoners have reported receiving sparse and poorly put-together sack lunch and one small bag of cereal a day. They are demanding proper nutrition during this time that will serve to sustain and to fortify themselves against sickness as well as proper Personal Protective Equipment and cleaning supplies in order to clean and sanitize their cells and such. Word comes out from inside Pendleton despite the apparent manipulation of prisoners jpay tablets that are used for communication. It’s presumed that the disconnections are done in order to slow/stop communications with the outside world. The tablets were disconnected completely for several days about a week ago leaving prisoners with absolutely no way to contact anyone on the outside after a physical altercation occurred between pigs and prisoners when the pigs attempted to house prisoners confirmed to be covid-19 positive with those that had not been confirmed to have it.

An article discussing this topic should be forthcoming by Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, who is incarcerated at Pendleton, some time today. You can call Pendleton CI in Indiana to lodge a complaint for this treatment, support for the hungerstrikers and express a concern by calling 1(765)778-2107

Josh Williams Parole Hearing in June

One last announcement before we get started with the interviews. Josh Williams, who’s serving an eight-year sentence connected to his participation in the Ferguson uprising, is up for parole in June 2020 and there’s a call for people to write support letters. The letters themselves should be addressed to the parole board but sent to Josh’s prison address. You can find a sample letter people can see here:

If people would like to send a printed letter but don’t currently have access to printing, you can contact the co-ordinator at and hopefully sort something out that way. Please feel free to pass this information on to your contacts and generally share in whatever way you see fit.

. … . ..

Tracks sampled in this episode:

  • Souls Of Mischeif and Adrian Younge – Stopped (instrumental) – There Is Only Now (Deluxe Edition)
  • Soul Chef – Back In The Day (instrumental) – The Kool Truth Instrumentals

. … . ..

Lorenzo Komb’oa Ervin Transcription

True Leap Press: So yeah, we’re talking about the prisoner union, and this is the ‘70s?

Lorenzo Komb’oa Ervin: Yeah. ‘73, ‘74 and ‘75. It’s actually all the way up to ‘77, when the Supreme Court made a ruling that it was unconstitutional.

TLP: To have a prisoner union?

LKE: Yeah, it was unconstitutional, the United States Supreme Court. But by that time, they had signed up 1000’s of prisoners all over the country, in different states that started their own union there in that state in the state prisons. But here’s the deal all this came after the Attica Rebellion and the massacre there and everything. And the anger of the prisoners took various forms. You had other rebellions, and you had strikes, and you had a number of things like that happening in local prisons.

But thensome people organized, I think it was in North Carolina, as far as I can remember. The original prison labor unions were started by a guy, Jim Grant, who was a civil rights activist, and some other prisoners in the North Carolina state prison system. It also was going down in places like Walpole [State Prison, currently MCI Cedar Junction -ed] in Massachusetts, and that movement first was just the strike. And then after that, and they made contacts with activists on the outside — which is a common thing back in the 1970’s and the ‘60s, was to make contacts with activists on the outside — and they were able to get some support from outside. And so they just started organizing a union, they didn’t ask for a union. They didn’t say “Can we have a union warden?”

So they started organizing unions all over and it started just sweeping the country, you know. You know, California had a big, big contingent, you know, and everything, and other states as well, you know, and it just starts sweeping the country. And, and before long, 1000’s of prisoners were in these unions, and they were demanding prisoners rights, and end to the beatings in prison and long term confinement, the problem of the basic human rights and all this kind of thing. And so, as it got stronger, it tried to build a central union, and it was that point, that this is after some years of going down and having protests and organizing people on the outside putting pressure on the government, and so forth, after all this is going on, then they tried to create a central prisoners labor union. That’s when the wardens took, took them to prison, various state wardens — prison wardens — and so forth, took them to court and wound up filing in the United States Supreme Court. I think it was ‘77 or ‘78 that they got the decision against the whole idea of this, this kind of movement being unconstitutional, they said, and a threat to prison security.

So, what was interesting that, at that time, many of us, we had a split in our ranks, because someone was believed that going to court and fighting and all this was a good thing to do, and others of us felt like we should just continue organizing and build the strongest possible movement that could even resist, repression. And it didn’t matter in final analysis because they just came down on all those of us that they thought were leaders and so forth and just put us away.

Now, there’s one thing though: in the federal prison system, I knew Jim Grant, I met Jim Grant in prison, they shipped him out of North Carolina down to the Atlanta federal prison. And we had started to build a federal prisoners labor union, tried to do that. And, of course, around that time that the decision came down and everything and they isolated a bunch of us and all that.

TLP: Shit.

LKE: But here’s the deal: the prison’s labor union, the difference between it and just the strikers that we’ve seen in recent years is, it was hooked up with the Black Power movement hooked up with the Black Power movement, the civil rights movement, and other organizations that were still live on the outside, you know?

TLP: Can I ask a question?

LKE: Yeah.

TLP: What would you say, then, of the need to connect groups like Movement for Black Lives, into more radical black organizations that do like grassroots stuff on outside with the prison movement?

LKE: Well, I’ll say this, it might require some study — but I just off the head I would think that the movement has to be led by prisoners, and the movement on the outside has to be supportive of the prisoners struggle.

But like I had written myself some time ago, about how activism on the outside have got to start pressuring the state governance and the Feds and everybody else, while the movement on the inside is building. It doesn’t just mean standing on the outside with a picket sign, but, you know, as I’ve written about, going where the officials have their meetings, and, and all these corporations that make money off of prison labor, — and there are quite a few of them — expose that. And some of the stuff that the Free Alabama Movement has started to talk about in this period. We should be doing it that way.

And as far as organizations and movements, well, I’m not sure that those forces are looking for a mass campaign, a mass approach. When I was in prison what broke up everything was this attempt by organizations on the outside, to find some so-called leader or something on the inside, or make him a leader — some prisoner — and, and he was spout their line and all this kind of thing. So, I think, I’m not sure that these movements that exist right now would be willing, or able, to take leadership from prisoners. I’m not sure. I don’t know. We don’t, we can’t say this is 1970-something, and the prison movement that existed at that time saw itself, and actually people on the outside saw it as being the autonomous protest movement

TLP: You’re bringing a much needed critique right now.

LKE: Well, but in terms of that movement then, it had already reached a high stage of development, and struggle. That’s one of the things to bear in man. So you can’t just get that overnight.

Now, I think the movement now would be different and should be different. Technology or different political perspectives, and so on, some of that’s good, some of that’s bad. Some of it is, you know… I don’t know how much support on the on the inside there is with, you know, for instance Black Lives Matter and all that stuff to be quite honest. And it’s a different kind of organization from most of the groups in the 1970’s, it’s much more of a petit-bourgeois organization. And they’re very sectarian in a lot of ways, that’s what I found.

But, nevertheless, we’re not talking about me, we’re talking about the ability of the movement on the inside to see the use of legitimate allies, especially in the Black community, which is really, really important, has been missing for so long. You know, I’m saying other than Attica, that moment with Attica, there has not been a mass base of support in the Black community for prisoners. You know, it just hasn’t existed.

TLP: Well, I remember when we were talking though, I remember when we were talking, and we were talking about — it had just been right after the prison strike in 2018 — and we were talking about the moment in the late ‘90s, where it was like 1998, there was Critical Resistance-

LKE: Right.

TLP: – there was the Anarchist Black Cross, it like just emerges, kind of a reemerges, as a federation and a network.

LKE: Right.

TLP: And there’s INCITE! — Women of Color Against Violence. So like, there’s this moment and then you’re also even calling, in 2002, you’re calling for a united prison front, a whole united movement across, and you actually say verbatim “Critical Resistance, the North American Anarchist Black Crosses, and all movement for like, queer, disabled, an all oppressed people, colonized people, united prison front. And so I just wanna say that, like, that moment-

LKE: Did it come though? The thing is, did it come? Did it happen?

TLP: But what what needs to be addressed is that these organizations and networks are in place, and it’s like taking those existing containers, and then doing them, right?

LKE: Well bear this in mind, it isn’t really about organizations as much as it is about prisoners and their families and the communities they come out of, versus what the state has done to communities of color ever since they resorted to the war on drugs, for instance. And the rise of the police, the paramilitary police, and all these kinds of things, you know. This was stuff that the original Black Panther Party had educated about and tried to fight about. And they been trying to explain to white radical allies and so forth, that, the party… we’ve talked about it — the party had a perspective on fascism and the state. And, you know, their thing was that they realized that prisoners could not free themselves, they could not liberate themselves, they had to be part of a broad base mass movement.

And that was actually starting to happen to some extent. And as George Jackson was laying it out, you know, he was explaining a lot of things. He was a key figure in explaining why we had to have this kind of unity.

TLP: You also talked about Martin Sostre.

LKE: I do. I, you know, Martin saucer is my mentor so what do you think, you know? But uh, you know, but but Martin was different. See, Martin, he came, well first he came along before George did and his organizing was to lay the basic foundation so that you could even read and talk about revolutionary activity, you know what I’m saying? Or revolutionary politics. He laid the foundation with is lawsuits.

TLP: He talking about the language of fascism, right? This is the language of anti-fascism. Right? He was an antifacsist, right? That’s the term he was using?

LKE: That’s the terms he was using. And, because he said “We’re not fighting the police.” He said, “we’re fighting the state.” You know, that’s some profound shit! When I first heard that, and you know, cuz the left, it was about “all these fucking cops” and blah, blah, blah, blah. And the cops are the epitome, they’re, they’re agents of the state, but they’re not the state, you know. And that’s the kind of shit, that’s the kind of shit he always would tell me, it’s important to understand the distinction between what they call police power… And it was a certain period, when the so-called police power thing came into existence in the in the 70’s and 80’s. You know, where they started creating their unions and allowed them to be autonomous from the mayor or some shit like that, or, you know, on some level. And then their rise with paramilitary policing and the SWAT teams and beyond that, you know what I’m saying?

Cause what we were talking about how there’s differences in this period, and which, you know, which reduced the strikes and the period that produced the prison labor union. And the prison labor union was a mass movement in and of itself, and it was, you know, it was an autonomous mass movement. And they went out in states all over the country. And so it took the Supreme Court to rule that this was unconstitutional. And to this day, now in this day hardly…activists don’t hardly know about it. Activists have to be charged to always know about these kinds of movements. You know what I’m saying? Because it makes, it makes our work easier in this period in our level of understanding of how we can fight and win.

And so this this thing was more than just them having strikes. They were organizing local groups, and in local areas they had they had outside organizers that had groups on the outside working in communities and stuff. Because I remember one of the things when I was in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, there was this group called Community Aid to Prisoners. And they used to have a radio show on college radio, in Atlanta. They used to come inside, and work with the person, or the group we had in there and everything. And the so called legalize group, the cultural group, they’d come inside, but their thing was to make sure that prisoners were not destroyed, because they seen the shit happen in Attica, and all that. So their thing was can’t let that happen again.

We also gotta link the community with prisoners and the plight of prisoners and shit, you know? And talk about the unjust and unequal condition of Black people that forces us to go to prison anyway, or allows us to be victims of prisons, you know, this kind of thing. So, I don’t know about right now, you know better about right now, about what kind of community based organizing is going on around prison support.

The thing that George Jackson was putting forward is that he said that he wanted, his idea was to have a movement where the masses of people in the streets — including the communities where the prisoners were from, and radical prisoners and revolutionary organizations like the Black Panther Party — could work together all over the country. And have a dynamic revolutionary perspective on the one hand, but a organizing campaign to make the prison movement into a survival movement. Like the Black Panther party organized shit.

. … . ..

Bomani Transcription

TFSR: So my guest is Bomani Shakur, also known as Keith Lamar. And he’s a man who’s currently held in death row in Youngstown, Ohio as a result of Lucasville Uprising. Bomani was present at the southern Ohio correctional facility during the uprising and prosecutors have accused him of leading a death squad that killed a guard and some prisoners. Thank you so much, Mr. Shaker for taking the time to chat.

BS: It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me. Yeah.

TFSR: Would you tell us a little bit about yourself and what Ohio was like when you were coming up in the 70’s and 80’s?

BS: Well, I’m 50 years old, so I was born in 1969 in Cleveland, Ohio, one of the bigger cities in Ohio. I grew up in the in the 70’s, 80’s. I don’t have too much of a recollection of the 70’s per se, in terms of the political situation and whatnot. But I grew up in a small place called The Village. It was a working class neighborhood and mostly who lived and worked at steel mill, the public steel mill. My grandfather worked there and paid for his house in this little community. And oh, it was 100 houses in this community and everybody, you know, owned their own home, worked in the mills.

So my early childhood was relatively peaceful, you know. The most memorable part of my upbringing was that when I was between 5 and 10 years old when my family and I, my mother, my brother and sister — I had two brothers and a sister — still young and lived in the village. Not long after I turned 11 or 12 years old, we moved away from the village. And so that was my entrance into, like, mainstream society basically. Start going to public school, a school called Cranwood. And because, in the village, we were poor, but we didn’t really realize we were poor because that wasn’t the values or standard for that community. You can go over anybody house around dinnertime and eat. Everybody was family, literally, and figuratively. A lot of people were cousins, because of, you know, the close proximity we all was, it was like a close knit community. So you had a lot of overlap in relations and whatnot.

And that was a good thing. Because, you know, I could play with my friends, my cousins, on a daily basis, and there was really no judgment about your attire, your social economic status. Because everybody was pretty much the same, even though you had some people had more than others, but it was never really made a point, something to focus on. But when we moved away from the village, that’s when I first became aware that I was poor poor. You know, and the kids, my peers taught me that. [They] made fun of my attire a lot, my appearance a lot. I was a young kid, at the time, I 8 or 9 years old, is what I’m referring to. And so, I was more into playing than I was intoworrying about my hair being combed or anything like that. And my mother and stepfather didn’t really mess with us boys about our appearance, so I showed up this school looking like, basically like a homeless person, basically [chuckles]. And the kids basically let me have it/.

And so, gradually, in response to the ridicule and criticisms I received in elementary school I developed a complex about my appearance and started trying to cut grass, deliver papers and whatnot to make money so I can buy the various clothes I needed to stop this ridicule. And so that was really where I kind of learned — and of course, as I grew older, and went further in, in the school system, this lesson was compounded — but elementary school was basically where I learned that to have what you have is more important than who you were. I don’t know if the kids, I’m sure the kids wasn’t aware that that was a lesson that they were teaching, that we were teaching each other, but that’s essentially what I came away with when I was around 12 or 13.

And as I entered into junior high and then high school I went deeper and deeper off into that erroneous idea about having things was more important than, you know, the person I was becoming. And I fell into start selling drugs when I was 13-14 years old, and to accumulate money to buy these clothes, Polo, Ralph Lauren shirts, Guess jeans, and Michael Jordan shoes, all this material trappings that you see young kids pursuing today. It was no different back then but with the exception that we were literally dirt poor. I became a drug dealer and by the time I was 15 I was living in my own apartment, driving a Mercedes Benz, wearing Rolex watches, had a pocket full of money and a whole bunch of “friends” quote, unquote. People who wouldn’t have anything to do with me when I was had a shabby attire but now all of a sudden because I had name brand clothing I was, you know, pretty much one of the most popular individuals at my school.

And at the time I turned 17 years old had really exhausted all my options as a drug dealer basically. I mean, I was driving around in this foreign automobile and, you know, driving around the same- fill up my gas tank and just traveling around all day basically like a politician. You know, selling drugs, picking up money, shooting dice, and it was the same day over and over again. I got really like exhausted living like that. And there at the end when I was around 18 years old, a group of guys tried to rob me. I had been robbed several times leading up to that, and a group of guys came to rob me instead of turning over, giving them my jewelry as I did the first case, I pulled a gun out and engaged in a shootout. You know, I was shot twice myself, in the legs and ended up shooting the guy twice in the chest. He died and I came to prison. That’s how I ended up in prison, in a nutshell. Yeah, so….

TFSR: So fast forward, I guess, 4 years, right? To, because you went in ’89, to The Lucasville Uprising in April of 1993. Can you talk about what SOCF [Southern Ohio Correctional Facility] was like at that point, what Lucasville penitentiary was like, and and where you were when stuff popped off? What you were doing?

BS: Yeah, well, I have to go back a little bit because where Lucasville was in 1993 was a result of what it was in 1991. And 1991, white school teacher was murdered by a Black inmate. I emphasize the race because Lucasfield is located in southern Ohio, in a predominantly white community and the prisoners are a majority Black prisoners, from the inner city and whatnot. And these are kind of like, I guess you would call hicks, people who haven’t really haven’t had any day to day interaction with Black people,except through stereotypes or in the prison.

So who know when this guard, when this female guard was murdered, people in the surrounding community was calling for the prison to be locked down, calling for more severe measures to be implemented to, you know, quell some of the violence that was going on. Because Lucasville was one of the most dangerous prisons in the state of Ohio. Probably still is, though I haven’t been down there and two decades now. So they appointed the new warden, Arthur Tate, and he was brought in as someone who was believed to be a hardliner, that he will put the hammer down, restore order, and get the prisoners in line. So he enacted a whole lot of draconian standards and practices and whatnot, just forcing guys to cell with people that they didn’t necessarily get along with, you didn’t really have any say on were you cell or who you cell with. Which was something in prior administration you had, that because you living with people and so that you created a kind of unstable situation if you forced to live with somebody you don’t get along with. But he didn’t, really care about those types of things. And he wanted to assert his dominance.

Flash forward a few years after the teacher was murdered in 1993, and he had drew lines on the floor, we had to stay within the lines. It was almost like a military academy, it’s what he would seem to be after at the time. And of course, when you have your foot on people’s necks, who are already oppressed, it only created a kind of powder keg, that this building and building.

Then right before the uprising, they had, every year they came around and tested prisoners for tuberculosis. And this particular year, for some reason, the Muslims refused to take the test on the grounds that the tests contained the alcoholic substance called “phenol” and apparently, it prohibited from ingesting alcohol because of their religious beliefs. They try to have an audience with the warden and the deputy warden, to try to suggest alternative ways this test can be administered, but Tate in keeping with his hard line attitude and refused them all and gave them an ultimatum and told them they could take the test or they’re going to be locked up, you know, put it in the hole.

He told him this, I believe, on a Thursday or Friday and let him stew over on their decision over the weekend. And the Muslims on Sunday, April 11, Easter Sunday, decided that they will, take that day as an opportunity to stage what they claimed would be a peaceful protest on April 11. This is according to the record, several Muslims attacked gaurds commandeered the keys and opened up all the cell doors, like I said, to start this protest. But once they opened the doors, it was like striking a match. And things very swiftly got out of hand.

You know, when the riot first occurred, I was on the yard, on the recreation yard, and this is one of the first first few days of spring and the yard have been closed the whole winter. And so, I took advantage of the opportunity to go out and get some fresh air. I was out there running and, you know, exercising and a guard came when it was time to come back in, a guard came running out with blood streaming down his face and whatnot. So that was the first indication that I or the people on the yard had of something going wrong on the inside. As the time went on we realized that it was a disturbance that was happening. And that the Muslims, they had made it known that they had commandeered to prison and that they were staging a protest and asked if anybody wanted to participate. Because, they weren’t, they weren’t the only ones who were being oppressed. We all were. We all were living under these kind of adverse conditions, and subjected to these arbitrary rules and regulations and whatnot that Tate was implementing. For him, to his way of thinking would quell the violence that was going on. It really just made things worse, as it often does.

So, you know, eventually one of my friends came out, and he told me, gave me a hint of what was going on, and from what I initially understood was that guys was going into other guys cells stealing their personal belongings and whatnot. I didn’t have much, and I also didn’t appreciate the magnitude of what was going on, this was in the beginning of the uprising. So, you know, I’m thinking that it will probably be something, a minor skirmish, and it’d be within within an hour. As you probably know it last 11 days, and so I was way off in my estimation of how serious and severe things were.

So I went inside and I happened to be celling in L6, on L side in the 6th pod and that coincidentally was the pod where the guards had been pushed into shower stalls and later where the alleged snitches were allegedly killed. I went back into that pod before these things happen to check on my personal belongings. And I saw the guards in shower stall, and you know, of course seeing that put me on notice as to the severity as to what was going on. Because whether or not that lasted 11 days or not you have taken the step to take on hostages, this is serious now. So, once I gradually understood the seriousness of it, of course, I compared it to my personal belongings and decided to go back on the yard. I was 23 years old, at the time, wasn’t necessarily political. I had been doing some reading, like Malcolm X and Franz Fanon and things of that nature, but I wasn’t necessarily what I would call political or even necessarily aware of this that anything can be done about the oppression that we were living under. That wasn’t my mentality at the time, I didn’t really have that kind of awareness. And not a lot of people did. In fact, majority of us filed out into the yard and stayed on the yard until late in the evening, early morning, actually, until the highway State Patrol.

So, you have the Muslims commandeered the prisons, then you have the Aryan Brotherhood who joined ranks with the Muslims and another group of individuals called the Black Gangster Disciples. And so now you have three gangs or organizations presiding over this uprising, and then you have guys who, like myself, were out on the yard watching everything unfold.

A lot of people are under the impression that since I’m on death row that I was a part of one of those three factions, but I wasn’t. And I came out on the yard was actually picked up from the yard when the highway state patrol came out late early morning, April 12 and ushered us all into the gymnasium. And so I didn’t stay inside for the 11 days, wasn’t present when the murders was happening. I was on the yard when they brung bodies out onto the yard and dumped the bodies on the yard. By that time the highway State Patrol had took up stance around the perimeter fence to make sure no one escaped, but they didn’t come in to try to quell, you know, the uprising. They, you know, stood there along with us and watched as dead bodies were dumped on the yard.

So I witnessed that part of the uprising and little did I know at the time that I would ultimately be accused in killing these individuals who I was watching, whose bodies I was watching being dumped on the on the yard. That was one of the first disconnects in how, I became involved in this whole thing.

As I said, they put us in a gym early the next morning, stripped us of all our clothes and so we were naked, 10 of us, and forced us into the cell. And that’s really where, my problems started. I write about it extensively in my book so it might not do justice describe it over the phone. But while in that cell an inmate named Dennis Weaver lost his life. I was ultimately accused of forcing individuals to do that and participate in it but in actuality, it was another guy named Shabazz, who, really sparked all the confrontations in that particular situation and saw a way to shift the blame on me after he and the other two guys who helped him murder Dennis Weaver. Because Shabazz and I got into an altercation while we was in the cell, he was kind of like a bully type individual, and he was going around really trying to put his bluff down on each of the individuals in the cell and when he got to me, I just hauled off and punched him in his face. Something that I talk about in my book. And because of that altercation I think that was what gave him the incentive to really just say “Keith did it!”

And that became the reframe, you know, as I later but it wasn’t simply somebody pointing the finger at me. Later, when they put us under investigation, and for nothing, we didn’t have anything to do with the riot we was on the yard, and they put us under investigation, took all our property. And so, it was really in that context that I began to become a little political. Not knowledgeable about the politics, I don’t mean to say that, I just mean to say that to buy into that “us against them” mentality.

And so, we start, the group of guys who I was around, this after the riot is already over with, after all was said and done, the bodies and whatnot, had us under investigation for something that we had. And that got old pretty, fairly quickly. We started tearing up the cell blocks we were in, throwing our food onto the range, getting into confrontation with the highway State Patrol, suggesting or advocating that no one talks to the authorities and, and that’s how I became a target. You know, by participating in those demonstrations.

And one of the things I like people to understand about the uprising is that immediately after the uprising the state sent in their investigators and they trampled the crime scene. And they collected over 22,000 pieces of “evidence”, quote, unquote, but none of it could be matched to any victim or assailant, no fingerprints, no forensic or anything, because they rushed in and trampled the crime scene basically. They sent everything off to a crime lab to be tested and came back empty handed. And so what they had to do, the only thing they could do is create a team of informants and select people who they wanted to indictment put on.

​Quick question, just just for clarification, so that if I’m making a mistake I should know, do you prefer Keith, do you prefer Bomani? I know like one ties directly to the legal case and like legal support, what should I be calling you?

BS: Well, yeah, we should talk about that because that’s a question that a lot of people ask me. So, Bomani Shakur is a name that I selected, when I was thrown into the midsts of all this madness and needed something to kind of steer me through without losing hold of myself. So, it’s not so much a rebellion against my government name so, so to speak. It’s just a way to reaffirm my purpose and conviction, because it’s easy to lose track of those things when you’re in a situation like this, and that stretches over such a great length of time and difficulties.

TFSR: Yeah, especially when you’ve got a number imposed on you, like that’s attached to your name. And it seems really powerful to be able to pick something that is like, so symbolically important to you and representative of your struggle.

BS: Right right. But a number along with, you know, just the structure of this place is a reduction, right, of humanity, to just reduce you to animal. And so you know, choosing the name Bomani.

The full name is Bomani Hondo Shakur. “Bomani” is strong soldier, “Kuandaa” [possibly mispelled -editor] is preparing for war, and “Shakur” is for thankful. So those attributes, you know, so when somebody say, “hey, Bomani” it’s just a reminder, just that you have that you are a mani soldier and that whatever difficulties that I might be experiencing at that time it’s just a reminder that you can rise above those things, whatever it may be. And Kuandaa, be prepared assistance, stay focused, and to study, just try to be as prepared as you possibly can. And “thankful”, Sakur, is just no matter how difficult or dark, no, the present moment might be, to be thankful for the fact that you are alive, that you are healthy that you have a lot of good people in your life. And that, although the circumstances are out of my control to a certain degree, to be thankful that I still have my faculties that I can still stand up and fight for myself.

So, you know, I’m thankful for all the good things that are in my life that me staying the course, has produced in my life. And so, my name is not just words, it’s, like my prison number, it’s just it resonates meaning for me, you know, when somebody call me Bomani, they just really called me to remember who I am. And, so that was, it’s my freedom name, you know, a way for me to hold on to my freedom in the midst of all this, because it’s overwhelming being in a situation like this.

And a lot of times, you feel no, you know, especially in the beginning, you know, I felt like I was in this by myself, not so much now, you know, I’m 50 years old, and I’ve come a long way in terms of my development and whatnot. And so, I’ve been lucky enough, you know, to garner a lot of support. But in the beginning, when I was not who I am today, it was, ykind of a whole lot more difficult to navigate, things, and so the name started with that, you know, that was the first realization that I needed to, inject some purpose into my life, and not just drift aimlessly through my days, that I need to be about, the business of freeing myself and represent myself. The name along with writing the book, the other things have just been me putting one foot in front of the other and trying to find my way forward, basically.

TFSR: So getting back to the days of 1993, you had said that you hadn’t before, but you’ve done some reading, you hadn’t been like, what you would consider to be like, very much engaged in politics, you’ve read some Fanon and some Malcolm X. I know for a lot of people like looking back and studying the uprising between the self advocacy of the Muslims, you know, rebelling against this obvious insult to their to their strictures of their faith. And also the, the fact that those three groups in particular, the Muslims and the Black Gangster Disciples, as they were called at the time, and the Aryan Brotherhood could come together and — you know, obviously imperfect — but decrease the amount of killing and theft and harm that was occurring within the facility, possibly, and a lot of people took from it this message of like a convict race of a common shared oppression by the system. It seems like the story of what happened next what happened in the courts was was in a lot of ways a continuation of that same call the baying for blood by the neighboring communities.

Like this is happening at the same time as the Waco invasion is happening in Texas and so that’s one reason that a lot of people won’t have heard about the Lucasville uprising. That’s that’s where all the cameras are pointed.

BS: Right, uh huh.

TFSR: But I’d love to hear what you have to say about following the initial investigation where everything was trampled, how the trial was conducted, and why do you think it was so easy for these people maybe who participated in the violence to finger you, and state prosecutor Mark Piepmeier and others to target us throughout the case for blame?

BS: Well, I think they, you know, mainly I believe they were primarily interested in convicting someone for the guard’s murder. Of the 11 other people who were killed, his life was the only life that really have any real value, right? You know, they didn’t give a damn about the prisoners who was killed, as I said, they stood there and watched along with everyone else, as those bodies was dumped on the yard, I could have been one of those bodies. And no, I wasn’t political but I was extremely upset at the way that after the riots, as in the way that we were being treated. And I was vocal in my anger, treatment.

I was doing 15 years to life with the possibility for all at the time. So, when they finally, singled in on me, me focused in on me, they didn’t do so with the belief that I will go forward and demand a trial. They came to me, “Hey Keith”, you know they called me by my first name as if we was old pals or whatever, and they say, look they spelled it out for me, basically did the math for me. It’s real basic math, “if you go forward, you know, we’re going to put you on death row, if you take this deal you have a possibility to go home in your early 50’s”. But I said “but I didn’t do what y’all claiming I did. I didn’t have anything to do with it I came out on the yard.” They said “Listen, we’re not here to talk about that about what you did or what you didn’t do, obviously, it’s a moot issue at this point. We trying to figure out whether or not you want to accept this deal. It’s a good deal.” And it was a good deal! You know, 90% of people who are in prison are here because they’ve taken a deal, they’ve taken a lesser sentence than the one that they can potentially get if they demand a jury trial, you know.

But I had taken a lot of deals up to that point in my life. I dropped out of school, I became a drug dealer as I recounted. I had really, really just turned my back on my potential. And I didn’t realize that until I came to prison, until I really had to type of opportunity to slow down and see what I had done with my life. Because, you know, when I was 14 all the way to 19 it was just a blur, really that every day was a party, basically. I’m getting high, I’m selling drugs, I’m shooting dice, I’m spending money. And, I’m living what I thought, I believed at the time, was a good life.

But I had, at the end as I had mentioned, I had came to the realization that, you know, something was amiss, and right before I caught the murder case, I had disavowed the drug dealing and getting high and all that and I got baptized. Here’s the funny thing. I turned my life over to God, and that’s the second time I had done that in my life. I did it once when I was 13 when I felt like my life was coming apart, when I was losing control of the direction of my life. And I did it again, when I was 18, six months before I ultimately took somebody’s life and came to prison.

So it was always a part in me that wanted to find my way back to myself, to the self I was before I get caught up in, you know, the mainstream, I guess you could say. Before I get caught up in all the material trappings that go along with, you know, this society, you know. So when I came to prison, and when I was offered the deal I was just tired, man. I was just sick of just taking the easy way out in my life, you know? So I refused. I said “I’m not gonna do that. I’m done taking deals, I’m done going along?” Because, not only are you taking deals to get home to the possibly I could get on the stand and lied on somebody else even though a lot of guys take that route, that just wasn’t an option for me.

So the only option, that I had, because they made it plain that somebody is going to death row. In fact, before we were even put on trial, a lot of us was moved to the bottom range at the death row pod so we can get accustomed to the idea and it was it was crazy. So I had a kind of foreshadowing, a kind of glimpse of what death row would be like, because that was there before I even went to trial.

And I still made the decision to go forward. I had never had a trial, as I said, not a lot of people have. And so, I didn’t really know what to expect but, you know, they offered me a deal. I refused it, I demanded a trial. And, I got to see firsthand really what justice is about in this country, man. A lot of people look at these crime dramas on television and think from that they have a sense of what the American justice system is. But that’s TV shit. In real life, the first thing they do, especially if you Black, the first thing they do is try to strike all the Black jurors from the jury pool, so they can have an all white jury. That’s their secret weapon, to assemble an all white jury, that’s the first thing.

And they, go through this process called “voir dire”, where you’re allowed to question people, try to figure out what their political leanings are and whatnot. And it was just amazing. I was 23-24 years old at the time, and so, wasn’t really, really adapting, interpreting all these different, complicated words and processes and whatnot. But I was, you know, I grew up in the streets, I grew up with people who say one thing and do another, and I grew up around con men. And I saw the jury, that they was trying to finagle their way onto the jury so they can have the experience I guess, to tell their children one day, “I put a Black man on death row”. If you know anything about history — and I’ve seen history books about the lynching that went on in this country — you see most of those lynchings were attended by crowds of white people. Standing there with sandwiches, like it was some kind of, you know, picnic, you know, some kind of extravaganza or something, something to tell your children about that “I did this”.

So, I saw that whole thing, and then I saw the judge colluding with the prosecutor to deprive me of a fair trial, withholding evidence, coaching witnesses, all these things, [Audio interrupted here by an automated message from OSP “You have one minute remaining”]. And I was pretty much learning by trial and error. I was looking and learning, a little bit too slow, but I was learning though. So the stuff that I’m saying and sharing, I might not be the benefactor from the knowledge because it’s after the fact, it’s hindsight, is what I’m talking about.

But I’m just telling people, as somebody who has seen it with my own eyes, what the system is really about, you know, I’m one of the few who has peeked around the corner and have developed a vocabulary to talk about these things, to articulate, you know, what the reality of this system is. You know, so that’s basically what my primary objective is, is to tell people that this system is a sham. It really is. You know, from day one as they say, it’s just one big mockery, man. It’s just you know, like…

TFSR: So Bomani, I wondered if you could talk a bit about… You had a you had a Brady Hearing a few years back to attempt to get a new trial, as far as I’m aware, because there were so many instances where the prosecutors had denied potentially exculpatory evidence from the defense. And we all know that like public defense in this country anyway is perpetually like underfunded when you get a good defender who actually wants to do their job. We’ve had Niki Schwartz on the show before, which we’re very lucky for. But I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about some of that evidence that you’re aware of that was withheld from your ability to defend yourself and and what that Brady hearing was like too?

BS: Yeah, well, when you go to trial, one of the first things defense attorneys do is filed a motion for discovery, because the discovery is the mechanism through which you defend yourself and you want to know who said what and when. How many times they say it. And when we requested this discovery, the statements, witnesses who testified on me, and it’s not just people who said they saw me kill somebody, the exculpatory evidence of people who said they saw somebody else kill the same people for whom I was charged with.

And so what they did, and it was the first time – I haven’t heard one attorney say that they have ever seen anything like this – what they did instead is turn it over to statements, they divided the names of the individual who made these exculpatory statements in one column and put a summary of the statements in another column, mixed them up, didn’t tell us who said what or you know, what’s going on — I talked about this in my book — and they said, “Well, this the best we can do.” So it was it was a straightforward from the from the beginning.

Not only that, I found that afterwards that a guy — I was accused of being the leader of the death squad, and you remember, I said it was three groups who were, it was widely known that they were in charge of the riot Aryan Brotherhood, the Muslims and The Black Gangster Disciples. Well the leaders from the Black Gangster Disciples were basically made up the star witnesses for the state, after everything was all over said and done. Particularly a guy named Lavelle and Stacey Gordon. And Stacey Gordon – from what I’ve been able to piece together since the riot – he may have been the leader of the death squad, based on some of the people who actually saw what was going on. But, that didn’t come out till after the fact, because one of the other things that the state did, when I asked for my discovery, they gave my discovery to Jason Robb and gave Jason Robb’s discovery to me and so on and so forth, switched up, they put everything, mixed everything up.

So we didn’t find out until we got on death row proper, that what the state’s strategy had been. And I found out that a guy named Aaron Jefferson that came forward and admitted to killing somebody for whom I was sentenced to death a guy named Darrell Depina. For people who read that statement, the interviewer may have some doubts about his recollection of the death of the guard, because he admitted to assaulting the guard, Vallandingham, who was ultimately killed in the riot, and he admitted to assaulting a guy named Emanuel Newell and during that interrogation the interviewer called into questioned his recollection of these incidents, but not the one pertaining to Darrell Depina, which is the guy he admitted to killing. But they had already had me on the hook for that. And so they, they just blew over it just, buried that statement.

And not only that, you know, some of the key witnesses for the state it wasn’t till their fourth or *fifth* statements that they all agreed that Keith Lamar was the leader of the death squad. In a first generation, the first statements, the first copy of the statements, they were pointing the finger at someone else or didn’t know who did what. But what happened in there, remember, go back to what I was saying, of the 22,000 pieces of evidence that was collected: none of it, all of it was contaminated. So they didn’t have objective case. So what they did, the only thing they could have done is put together this team, they moved into this hospital called Oakwood here in Ohio, and they went over a script. They had an open door policy and all this is documented after the fact.

They had a open door policy in this prison where the informants going back and forth, sharing stories, collaborating on this narrative, and they just rode it out man. And we didn’t realize…because that’s the only thing they could do. And not only that, they put together this snitch academy – is what it was later came to be known as – but they prevented me from putting forth a proper defense. That was part of a strategy as well.

Well flash forward to 2007 that I won an evidentiary hearing, the federal courts called me back to court and allowed us to call the prosecutor, prosecutor Piepmeier, who you mentioned earlier. And we put him on the stand and he admitted on the stand that they used what was later defined as a narrow standard with regard to Brady. You know, his standard was, “okay, it’s only exculpatory if we call somebody forward and he, at the end of his statement, says ‘And by the way, Keith Lamar was not there.’ Unless he says that-” so just to just let you know what I mean by, that if a guy came forward and claimed to have saw somebody do the very thing that I was accused of, and explained it in graphic detail. Iif this person before he get up and leave that interview, if he didn’t say “Oh, by the way, Keith Lamar was not there” that statement was not turned over to my defense. And all the judges, in doing this evidentiary hearing – Hasan’s attorney, Jason Robb’s attorney, James Were’s attorney – they were present when this was going on. When the prosecutor Piepmeier made these admissions, and they jumped right on it. And they filed the necessarily briefs and then they got their cases put on hold, and some of the cases are *still* on hold.

And the judges, in they respective cases, said “Listen, this is the narrow standard that the prosecutor Piepmeier used, and we’re gunna allow y’all to go back to comb the file yallselves. And if y’all find something that’s exculpatory, that y’all deam is exculpatory bring it back to me and I’ll make that determination.” My attorneys for some unsensible reason, didn’t follow those motions. I talk about this also in my book, and this is one of the main contentions around which we fell out, you know. Because after they promised that they would file the motions to put my case on hold, because, mind you it was at my evidentiary hearing that these admissions were made, and so if anybody should benefit from this new knowledge it should have been me. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that other guys were able to benefit from it, but I’m just talking about the, the shabby representation that I had. And see, that’s the thing that a lot of people don’t understand about the criminal justice system. You know, if you poor you really don’t have a say in your representation. You know, you know, you know, these attorneys expect you to sit there and shut your mouth.

And a lot of times, as is my case, I was so young I didn’t really know anything about the criminal justice system. And you know, I’ve learned a great deal since my conviction, but you can’t put the wine back in the bottle as they say. You know, you know, I’m grasping at straws, basically, as you might know, I received an execution date last year for the 16th of November 2023. And one of the things: the Ohio Supreme Court issued that execution date. In 2014, the Ohio Supreme Court, the same body of judges, convened a task force to study the death penalty here in Ohio and charged them to come up with recommendations to make the carrying out of capital punishment more equitable here in this state. And one of the recommendations that the task force – and the task force was made up of lawyers, academics, ex-judges, and whatnot, so credential people paid for through taxpayer funding – one of the recommendations that they came up with, that they gave to the Supreme Court here, Ohio Supreme Court, is that no one can be sentenced to death based solely on the uncorroborated testimony of jailhouse informants.

So not only can you not put them on death row, but you cannot, you *definitely* can’t kill them based on this uncorroborated testimony. And as I said at the outset, when they came into the prison after the uprising, they trampled the crime scene. So there’s no forensic evidence, there never was. And that’s the crux of where my case stands right now. Is trying to get the Ohio Supreme Court, the people who gave me an execution date, to follow the recommendation the task force that they convened.

You know and that’s what I’m hopefully going to build my movement around. Just that fact alone. I’m not even supposed to be on death row. For the simple fact that I’m innocent first and foremost, but secondly, legally, they wasn’t supposed to be able to put me on death row because they didn’t have any corroborating evidence. All they have is jailhouse informants who they paid to say what they said, and I can prove that.

TFSR: And so those informants were paid how? Were they given like, breaks on their sentences or?

BS: Paid in early paroles. Paid in cushy prison assignments, they was moved from maximum security to minimum security. The majority of them went home early. A lot of them have blood on the hands so they were paid in reduced sentences. And Lavelle, who was the ringleader, and possibly – from what I understand – had something, had a hand in killing the guard, is on the street now. So paid, in a real way, in a real sense.

TFSR: How are you requesting for people on the outside to help with that push to get the Ohio Supreme Court, I guess, to reassess your conviction?

BS: By doing the things that we’re doing now, you know? The whole point of me doing this interview is to make people aware of my situation. That’s the whole point of writing the book, you know. Because people have to believe in, in order for a movement to sustain itself, people have to believe in what they involved in. So what I’m basically trying to do is retry my case in the court of public opinion, and just get the people to learn the particulars of my case, and not just the particulars of my case, the particulars or the MO of the system, how the system operates. Because this is a playbook that I’m actually talking about. I mean, it seems incredible for me to say, “Hey, listen, I was framed, and this is how” but if you go back to the Attica riot, if you go back to you know, they just got this movie come out Just Mercy with Bryan Stevenson and the ways that it railroaded this innocent man to death row. It’s the same thing happened in my case.

So it’s a playbook that I’m talking about. A old playbook that stretches back to slavery, after it became you know, extrajudicial murders, lynchings, were frowned upon in society. So, it’s legal lynching now. And it’s a way that they go about doing that, you know, and I’m just trying to get people to wake up to the realities of how the system actually operates. And wake up to the reality that we like to believe that we have overcome as a society, as a people, that we have come a long way in terms of race relations in this country. But, you know, fundamentally, especially when you’re talking about the justice system, fundamentally nothing has changed, basically.

TFSR: Mhm.

BS: Nothing has changed. So I don’t like to talk about my story as something new, that this is something that’s only happening to Keith Lamar, to Bomani Shakur. You know this is the system that I’m talking about. I mean, for people who are, hearing this message and wondering why you should give a damn about me and what happens to my life you need to understand that this can happen to somebody that you love, somebody that you care about. And when it’s your turn, they don’t, as they say in Just Mercy they don’t need any evidence, or fingerprints or anything.

And so, you know, we have to come together to, make sure that justice is a two way street. Make sure that the people who are, you know, exacting these harsh penalties, that they are held accountable when they are wrong. And that they are held to some kind of accountability, when it’s discovered that they are wrong. Cause it can be said that, “I didn’t know” at the time. And I don’t see how in my instance they couldn’t have known, right? But what they assumed, and they had reason to believe, that I was plead guilty. Because that’s what people do if you poor, if you Black, if you dealing with a racist system. It’s not a matter of whether or not I’m innocent or not but what kind of deal I can get, I mean, that’s what it comes down to, basically.

And I knew that, I understood that. You know, I’m not saying that I was completely naive, I had dropped out before, but in that instance I was actually guilty. And I didn’t think I was getting away with anything. Like I said, I just got baptized six months before I caught the murder case, so I had an inkling that I was on the on the wrong path. And so me pleading guilty was another way to reclaim myself, to find my way back to myself. I wasn’t really trying to find the easy way out. But I pled guilty because I was guilty. And here these people come around and asked me to plead guilty to five murders! As if we’re talking about five dollars or five Big Macs, you know, five hamburgers.

Because that’s essentially what, if you poor and you Black in this country, that’s essentially what your life amounts to. Your life isn’t worth really shit. And the only value that your life has the value that you place on. So that goes back to, me selecting the name Bomani, that’s a way for me to inject value into my life into… And I intend to pursue it to the bitter end, if need be. If people, you know, hear my story and it resonates with them and they feel that, they support me because they understand that they too are caught up in the same system, then with those people I’m in solidarity. I don’t necessarily believe in fairytales, I don’t necessarily believe that, you know, that this situation will end happily ever after. More likely than not I will end up doing the rest of my life in prison, or strapped down to a gurney somewhere. So I’ve already come to terms with those realities. So that’s not really what’s guiding me now, a fear of the outcomes.

TFSR: Like, as you said, this isn’t just about you, but it is about you, and you’ve made a lot of efforts while on the inside to – while building your case, and trying to seek justice and reprieve from this injustice – you’ve also been working very hard writing the book, revising it. You participated in a number of different interviews with folks on the outside, academics and journalists, and you’ve helped to set up and run Native Sons as a program. Can you talk a bit about how you’ve been giving back to the world, while Ohio has kept you locked in a cage?

BS: That, again, goes back to me trying to redeem myself, you know? When you go to prison, you know, the idea, or the theory at least, is that you are a member of society who has ran afoul of the standards and laws of the community, and so you are sent to prison to be repaired to that community, right? But we all know that that’s not the case. And that, really, the criminal justice system is a business. It’s an $8 billion a year business. So we’re talking a lot a lot of money is involved in, putting people in these cells. And you can say whatever you wanna say, but they created the justification to lock people up in these cages. And I came to that understanding quite late in my life, but I came to it though.

So, one of the things you talk about the nonprofit getting books into younger people, part of my understanding about my life, my life is just not for myself. I come from a community, from a people, you know? And this community that I come from are oppressed. There’s some young person right now sitting at home or walking down the street right now who would be where I’m at, because that’s how the system works, right. And, and so it’s my job to try to get some kind of information to this young persons hand to try to help him interrupt this plan that is set up for him. Because it’s not anything personal and that’s really the most horrifying thing about living this this life. I mean, they don’t really give a damn about Keith Lamar, Keith Lamar is nobody. Another nigga we gunna kill. And they been killin a nigga in America for 400 years and everybody know that. You know, I mean let’s talk real about it.

But that’s how *they* feel, it’s not how *I* feel. So I have to, you know, behave in a way that reflects my beliefs and feelings. So, what I do is try to get books in these people hand, because books, or becoming into a greater awareness of who I am and what life is about, is what has allowed me to survive what I’ve been through. You shouldn’t have to learn about life- shouldn’t have to come to prison to learn about life, to learn about who you are, to be educated. And that I was mentioning to someone the other day about the root word of education is “educe”, to bring forth that which is already there. That’s not being done in the public school system. You go through all those years of education and end up at the end all of that “learning” and don’t have a *clue* about who you are. And that’s on purpose. Because your life is not your life as far as these people are concerned. As far as they’re concerned your life is just a piece of firewood that they can throw on fire when the fire [phone call was, infuriatingly interrupted yet again by an automated message from OCF “this call is originating from Ohio Correctional Facility and may be recorded and monitored”]. That’s all it is. It’s not just Black people, it’s poor people in general.

People don’t give a damn about our lives. That includes the guards that work here. I was telling a guy yesterday about when I was younger I used to hate the police, man, the guards. Because it was obvious to me that they was profiting from my pain, off my pain. Not so different than me standing on the corner profiting off the pain of these drug addicts and whatnot. See that’s how I saw it, I still see it that way but I realized that they just poor people trying to provide for they family. It’s despicable, though, but that’s what capitalism is about. It’s about degradations, it’s about bringing people down to they lowest level so they don’t have any qualms about exploiting, you know, they neighbor. That’s what it’s all about.

But you as an individual, you might not be able to change the world but you can change yourself. That’s the knowledge I’m trying to get into young people, to understand that, you know, this thing is big. Yes, it is. The universe is vast, man, it’s big. And you might not be able to change racism, because people who are far more intelligent than I am have tried. Yet here we are in the 21st century and we’re still having the same conversation. So I’m not under the illusion that I’m gunna be able to say anything to change the system, but I have changed myself. And no matter what these people say, no matter what they ultimately do, they can’t change that fact. That’s what I’m trying to get other young people to understand, you know?

TFSR: Yeah. Kind of in that same general topic about the degradation and the view that poor people are replaceable, whether they be the people that are in the cages or the people that are walking around and get to go home at night…

BS: That’s right.

TFSR: Across the US, government’s at various levels have shown themselves totally incapable of effectively dealing with the spread of Coronavirus throughout the population, particularly hitting populations of color for a lot of reasons.

BS: Yeah, right.

TFSR: And prisons are most certainly an area that we see folks really denied the means of sanitation, food, exercise, fresh air and protective gear. How have you experienced the pandemic at OSP Youngstown? Do many guards and prisoners seem stricken with COVID-19 and are there any safety precautions being offered?

BS: I’m in solitary confinement and I was already in quarantine. I’ve been in quarantine for 27 years now. You know, I already had a mask because if they sprayed mace in here we’re all connected to the same ventilation system. So if a guy is sprayed down with mace in another pod, ultimately that mace will find it’s way to me. So we already had masks. We were already you know, prepared for Coronavirus basically. Nothing much has changed where I am. And from my understanding one guard tested positive and pretty much we’ve been wearing masks openly around here now. The administration of the prison passed out masks to each of the prisoners here.

But, you know, we in a closed environment, that’s what solitary confinement is. You don’t have any contact with the outside world basically. And so, if there’s any advantage to being in this type of situation, you very seldom if ever get sick in these places. And I’m not saying that we are not concerned, we definitely, definitely are concerned about catching the virus cuz it’s not so much catching it’s about what happens to you if you do. Because the health care in these places, as you might imagine, leave a lot to be desired, man. Because, the money has been reallocated to build more prisons, the money that they have to take care of prisoners when they get sick or whatever, that money has been put in other places.

For instance, at the prison here in Marion, Ohio, my understanding that they have over 1,900 prisoners who have tested positive for the Coronavirus. Damn near 80% of that particular prison. And for when I’m understanding – it’s been hard to get the exact numbers – but from what I understand, you know, 6-10 people have died, prisoners and and some staff. And it’s my understanding, I don’t know whether or not is true or not, but I’ve been given to understand that they have shipped other guards into Marion because they are running low on workers. So there again is an example of just poor people just being thrown in the fire, man. A lot of these guards obviously don’t live with the awareness that they share something in common with the people they are guarding.

Because that comes down to narritive, right? I used to tell myself a story when I was standing on the corner selling drugs to my community. And that’s how you do those things and salve your conscience. You tell these stories, lies basically. But these are just poor people. So, you know, as I said I used to hate these people, but the opposite of a hate is not hate. The opposite of hate is understanding. And so, I just tried to keep my mind focused on that, on trying to understand what I’m caught up, and then trying to understand where I end and where there’s other shit begins and so I can protect myself. That’s what each of us are trying to do inside these places.

I wear a mask, I wash my hands, to the point now where my hands are basically raw. I’m trying not to catch it, you know, I’m trying to stay alive. The same thing I’m doing, by talking to you, this is all about just trying to stay alive because I have a right to be here.

TFSR: Yeah.

BS: My life means something to me, you know? And in as much as my life is not for these people to take, I intend to fight them. If that’s by wearing a mask or writing an essay, or whatever form that takes, I intend to fight them to the bitter end. And that’s on everything.

TFSR: So what do you plan on doing when you get out?

BS: I don’t think I think a lot about getting out, you know? I’m doing, I’m living my life right now. Trying to be true to who I am right now. And I imagine, or at least I hope, that I would be able to continue with myself should I find myself on the other side of this. But I don’t particularly like to look at life as in and out. Particularly when it pertains to all the things we’ve been talking about. I’m not the only one doing time here, we’re all doing time, in the sense that we are all, you know, kind of trapped in these dichotomies. Black, white, poor, whatever, gay, straight, whatever. Those are prisons, basically.

When I first was thrown into this place they only allowed us to have four books. And that’s been one of my major support networks in prison, having an informative library. I tell people all the time that my library is like my family, my extended family. Richard Wright, James Baldwin, particularly James Baldwin. And so, when they told us we can only have four books I was really in a pickle, because, I can’t, it’s like choosing between your brothers and your father. Like, you got to get rid of them. So, I memorize a lot of books, a lot of main paragraphs and whatnot. And James Baldwin, in particular, his book The Fire Next Time, I committed damn near that whole book to memory. His book, more than any other books, really gave me the sense that we are all in the same boat. We here on planet Earth. And just because these people who are in power, say that “oh you in prison and so you must behave in this particular way, because you are in prison,” that’s all about being imprisoned. That’s all about being when somebody else tells you “you have to be a prisoner, an inmate”. No, I’m a human being!

And, so, I would like to like to think that, you know, if I’m somehow blessed with the opportunity to walk through those gates that I will continue to be a human being. But one of the things that James Baldwin – and I wanted to share this with listeners – first get that book, The Fire Next Time, it’s an awesome book. It was written probably 30-40 years ago, but a lot of what he talked about in that book, especially if you Black, especially if you a young Black person in this country, a lot of it is still pertinent today. But one of the things he said that was pertaining to all of us he said life is tragic simply because the earth turns, and because the sun rises and sets, and one day for each of us it will go down for the last, last time. So that’s the reason why life is tragic. That no matter what we do that tomorrow will be Thursday. And then the day after that will be Friday. We can’t stop it. And that the sun inexplicably rises and sets and that one day for each of us, I mean, yover you know, 30-40,000 people have died on Coronavirus. Those people were not imprisoned, they were out there, on the outside. You know, so we all kind of on death row because that’s what being on this planet is about. And one of the other things that James Baldwin said, he said that that’s the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty in our lives, will imprison ourselves in taboos and totems and churches and steeples and mass and races and armies in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have.

So here I am on death row and we havin’ this conversation, you are in a different situation than I am and that I think it’s the misunderstanding. But your life is in just as a serious situation as mine is, if you’re looking at it properly. You only have a limited amount of time to do something righteous with your life. All of us do. And the fact that these people who are in power, who create definitions on, or limits on we can become and what we can do, you have to move beyond that. And understand that this is your one shot life, and it’s on you to make mean something. And that’s whether you in prison or on the street. You know I’m not waiting for some magical day when the doors open to live my life, I’m living my life right now. I’m doing what I feel is right, right now.

And that’s the thing about if you want to be my comrade, if you want to be somebody circulating in my circle, then that’s the understanding that I have about who I am. You know, I mean, we in the same boat. And that is we on planet Earth. And it’s a hell of a place to be. I mean, you got kids right now walking through deserts trying to get over to this country. In the middle of the fucking ocean, man. Kids in Syria right now sleeping in mud, eaten mud. So, I’m not under the the impression that I’m somehow in the worst possible situation you could be in on this planet, I don’t buy.

So that’s, I just don’t want people to come at me “woe is Keith, poor Keith” you know what I mean? This is a hell of a planet, man, it’s fierce. And you have to be strong and you have to uphold your convictions, you have to be clear, you have to be educated, you have to arm yourself, you have to be intelligent. And that takes a community effort, not just something that you just can do by yourself. You know, you gotta build circles, you know what I mean? You have to build communities, you have to reach beyond yourself in order to make your life mean something. So, yeah, if that’s the last exchange together that’s a good point to leave on.

TFSR: Yeah, I appreciate that. And thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me. And with the audience.

BS: No problem.

TFSR: I wish you so much solidarity.

BS: Yeah, same here. And I just want to also acknowledge young people at RAM in New York. You know, they the ones who initiated this month of solidarity and I just want them to know that my heart goes out to them, and I’m really appreciative of them taking the time to involve themselves in my situation. And hopefully, through our exchanges, they’ve been able to understand that I feel the same way about them. We’re both in this struggle, and that putting our heads together, the least we can do is change ourselves. We might not be able to change this system, you know, because these people get nuclear bombs, you know? [laughs at the absurdity of it].

TFSR: [Laughing] That’s some perspective.

BS: You know what I mean? But we could change ourselves, though and that’s what Viktor Frankl said, when you confronted with circumstances you cannot change, the challenge is to change yourself. And so I’d encourage each and every one to take up that challenge, man, because that’s the most important thing. To change yourself, to not be a slave. And, you know, at the end of the day, not to be on the side of the executioners, man.

The Old Law and The New: Jason Goudlock in Ohio

The Old Law and The New: Jason Goudlock in Ohio

This week we have two segments. 

Jason Goudlock and the Old Law in OH

Download This Episode

First, we’ll hear from Jason Goudlock, a prisoner under the so-called “Old Law” in Ohio serving his 26th year of a 6-25 year sentence. Jason talks about the situation in Ohio between the “Old Law” and the “New Law”, for instance if he had been convicted of the same robbery and battery crimes three years later he might have served half of the time. Jason also speaks about the whims of the the Ohio Parole Board, some corroborated in public statements by former OPB member, Shirley Smith (linked in the show notes, and mentioning the situation of Marc Houc for instance).

Jason is the subject of a documentary, “Invisible Chess: The Jason Goudlock Story”, which can be found for free at Education packs for teachers can be found on the site for the film, The film will be shown on Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020 from 1:30-3pm alongside a discussion at Bard College led by the filmmaker, Samuel Crow, along with prison reformer Bill Nichols. It can be viewed it at the Bertelsmann Weis Cinema on the Bard College campus. You can find Jason’s website and blog up at his website. There is a gofundme run to raise funds for Jason’s legal defense and raising awareness of his case and those of other Old Law prisoners.

Jason also suggests to learn more about the struggle and check out recent legislation put forth in Ohio to affect the Old Law/New Law sentencing disparities (and in particular, Beverley A. Seymore, author of the Parole Reform Bill).

Near the end I ask Jason about recent hunger strikes by Mark Hinkston and David Easley, two other Ohio prisoners held for a bit at Toledo CI, who we’ve interviewed before on the show. The hunger strike was a protest against the use of solitary confinement specifically to torture prisoners suffering from mental health crises. More on that below. Jason also mentions the recent sexual abuse of prisoners at Toledo CI by mental health staff member Maggie Jedlinsky.

Finally, Jason shouts out the cases of the Lucasville Uprising. Check our show notes for links to our interviews with Hasan over the years and with Bomani Shakur, aka Keith Lamar, on his book Condemned and Greg Curry from the case. We also spoke with an attorney (Niki Schwartz) and another prisoner present on the 25th anniversary of the uprising.

David Easley Faces Inter-State Transfer

We’ll be hearing briefly from David Easley about some updates in his situation, including the hunger strike that he and Mark “Mustafa” Hinkston just got off of in protest of the torture of prisoners suffering mental health distress by stuffing them in segregation at Toledo CI and the legal shenanigans by administration at Toledo CI in an attempt to get them on an out-of-state transfer. You can keep up on Mark and David’s activity on their supporters twitters. There is a request that folks email and call the Ohio Interstate Compact Administrators to demand David and Mark not get transferred far from their family, loved ones and supporters and to emphasize that they are being threatened with transfer for legitimate free speech. You can contact:

Suzanne Brooks (Deputy Compact Administrator): or or call at +1614 752 0829 or fax at +1614 752 1822

Sara Andrews (Director & Commissioner/Compact Administrator): or sara.andrews@sc.ohio.govor call at +16145121794


Prison Violence at Parchman, Mississippi

From Oakland IWOC, comes a call for a phone Zap starting on Monday, January 6th on behalf of prisoners at Parchman. Articles on the violence are linked at the Oakland IWOC page (see above):

Call and email these targets Monday

Governor-elect Tate Reeves

MDOC Director Pelicia Hall
(601) 359-5900

Sample script:
Hello. I am calling as a concerned citizen about the ongoing crisis at Parchman. The Board of Directors must ensure that the superintendent find an amicable and peaceful solution, as well as, address the prisoners needs. They need to ensure that the prisoners have sanitary and safe housing conditions. We, as a community, along with the prisoners have these demands:
1. Immediate separation of all rival groups to halt the violence.
2. Restore full food service and immediate emergency medical care.
3. Removal of the corrupt guards who instigated violence.
Remember, the world is watching. Thank you.”

Health update on Dr Shakur

Dr Mutulu Shakur, a Black Liberation activist and Accupuncturist has been imprisoned for 33 years and this year was found to have bone marrow cancer. There is an article up on linked in the show notes. Supporters are requesting letters of support and love to Dr Mutulu at:

Dr. Mutulu Shakur
USP Victorville,
P.O. Box 3900,
Adelanto, CA 92301

They are also asking for donations for his medical, legal, commissary and more with details in the article and up at and the associated donate button. At Dr. Shakur’s request there is, at this time, no public campaign for his release.

Twin Trouble interview

Incarcerated hactivist and anarchist, Jeremy Hammond and his twin brother, Jason (who served some time for participating in the anti-fascist action at Tinley Park, IL in May of 2012) have started releasing a new media project. The show self-describes as:

Twin Trouble – the podcast about fighting the system and staying rebellious while being incarcerated. The show takes the form of a recorded phone call between Jason in Chicago, and his twin brother Jeremy, locked up in Alexandria, VA, just outside D.C. “

More on the podcast can be found up at and you can also hear it on soundcloud.

Eric King updates

There is an update on Eric King’s support page,, giving details on materials he can receive and what he cannot. Drop Eric a line and use the final straw promocode… wait… that… Eric could use some love. And please be aware also that each letter he receives is read by a guard.

Prison Break

Yah, if only.  But there’s this awesome source for updates on political prisoners across the so-called US authored by the lovely folks at Certain Days that is a regular column on IGD.  Prison Break gives case updates, health situations, releases, passings and calls for support we can participate in, helping to keep this movement multi-generational and spread support for our comrades taken captive by the state while in struggle.  We need to be in for the long haul if our movement will have teeth.

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Michael Kimble, Akbar + Mustafa: Prisoners in Ohio and Alabama Speak

Prisoners in Ohio and Alabama Speak

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This week, we hear the voices of three prisoners: anarchist prisoner Michael Kimble and jailhouse lawyer Arthur “Akbar” Griggs at Holman CI in Atmore, Alabama, and Mark “Mustafa” Hinkston at Toledo CI in Ohio.


Michael Kimble

In the first portion of this episode William and Bursts spoke with black, gay, anarchist prisoner, Michael Kimble, being held at Holman Prison in Alabama serving a life sentence for the murder of a white, homophobic, racist bigot. This audio is from a longer conversation we had in the context of an upcoming episode about Fire Ant zine featuring the voices of prisoners and outside folks involved in its production. Keep an ear out for that. Meanwhile, Michael talks about the gang breakdown of the prison he’s at, the queer & mostly white prisoners he’s around now, pushes to reform the prison system in Alabama. Here are a few links referencing what we talked about: William’s 2015 interview with Michael Kimble; Swift Justice on Kinetic Justice and AL prison expansion; Thurgood Marshall was an FBI informant on Robert F Williams during the Civil Rights struggle. Michael can be contacted by writing:

Michael Kimble
3700 Holman Unit
Atmore, AL 36503

Arthur “Akbar” Griggs

Michael then passed the phone to Arthur Griggs, known by folks inside as Akbar. Akbar is a jailhouse lawyer who talks a bit about his work, pushing back against administration, his involvement in the Free Alabama Movement and a request of listeners outside of the prison walls. Akbar can be written at:

Arthur Griggs
3700 Holman Unit
Atmore, AL 36503

Mark “Mustafa” Hinkston

Finally, we hear from Mark “Mustafa” Hinkston. Mark is a member of Central Ohio IWOC (fedbook & twitter) who was just transferred to Toledo CI in Toledo, OH. He had just come off of a hunger strike to challenge his mistreatment by guards and administration of mentally ill prisoners at Youngstown (SOCF) in long term isolation. He himself came out of almost 3 years of isolation at Youngstown, despite having no violent incidents in almost 3 years. In the latter half of the show, Mustafa talks about his experience in the hole and the advocacy he does for other prisoners and his ideas about prison abolition. Mustafa can be reached via his JPay at by looking him up by his name and number (#A707808) at to those people who have JPay accounts. He can also be written letters at:

Mark Hinkston
Toledo Correctional Institution
2001 East Central Avenue
Toledo, OH 43608


Sean Swain Transferred (again!)

Guess who just got transferred again!!! You can write to Sean Swain at his latest address as of mid-May 2019 at:

Sean Swain #2015638
Buckingham Correctional
1349 Correctional Center Road
Dillwyn, VA 23936

Anniversary episode

Keep an ear out for an upcoming podcast episode of TFSR with the co-hosts, William and I, talk about the project, about our politicization and get personal. This’ll be dropping quite soon.

NAASN 2019

If you are in the southeast of the so-called-U.S. for the weekend of May 31-June 2nd, consider dropping by the North American Anarchist Studies Network Conference at 1083 Austin Ave NE, Atlanta, GA in the Little Five Points neighborhood. The theme for this year is Emergent Horizons and more info, including abstracts of presenters and the schedule is updated at Stop by and visit the Final Straw table if you are around!

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David Easley, Resisting From Inside

David Easley of Ohio IWOC & Jasper of FOM

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****This show carries a heavy content warning for institutionalized violence against incarcerated people, suicide, and issues related to mental wellness//unwellness.******

This week I’m sharing a conversation with David Easley, an imprisoned member of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, or IWOC, currently held at Toledo Correctional in Ohio. In response to his organizing around the Nationwide Prison Strike in 2018, he and a few other prisoners were thrown into segregation, have had their mail tampered with and stolen. David has also been transferred between numerous facilities around the state as punishment, losing personal items and his ability to communicate with the outside along the way. We were also joined by Jasper, a supporter of David’s and a participant in the Free Ohio Movement. For the hour, David and Jasper talk about the prison system, the challenges they’ve faced opposing it and ways that folks can get involved.

You can write to David at the following address:

David Easley
Toledo Correctional Institution
2001 East Central Avenue
Toledo, OH 43608

You can also keep up with David via the twitter account @OH4prisoners and on fedbook via the account david.easley.353. He also mentions jpay emails as a preferred means to communicate and can be reached with the above information at The case David mentions litigating can be found as Easley v. Zimmerman pending case:

David mentions a few other prisoners who have struggled and faced repression for facing down injustice in the Ohio prison system. Keith Lamar, aka Bomani Shakur, is a death row prisoner and author of Condemned. He needs public support to fight his wrongful conviction in relation to the 1993 Lucasville Prison Uprising and to hold the State of Ohio accountable. More on his case can be found at Check out our interview with Bomani about his book Condemned at our website. Bomani is set to be executed by the state of Ohio on Nov. 16, 2023.

Imam Siddique Abdullah Hasan is another Ohio prisoner facing the death penalty for helping resolve the 1993 Lucasville Uprising. You can hear our interviews with and about Hasan up at our website. Updates on Hasan can be found at and more about the Free Ohio Movement is up at their website, and also their fedbook under the username @FreeOhioMovement.

Matt Hinkston (A724969) is another prisoner that was on hunger strike with David Easley. Kristopher Chilton (A558673) is the an IWOC member that David mentions who’s working on challenging adult sentencing of minors in OH. Kristopher and Matt are both at Toledo CI, same as David, so can be written there.

Central Ohio IWOC has been very helpful in supporting David and other prisoners through this. IWOC is a union of Incarcerated Workers and outside supporters, and their fedbook can be found under the username @OfficialCentralOhioIWOC. Their main site for IWOC is, where you can find tons of resources and updates on calling campaigns and ways to get involved. is a great, recently released tool for tracking prisoner resistance in the so-called U.S.


Sean Swain Transfered to VA

We found out a few days ago that Sean has been interstate transferred from Ohio to Virginia. While it’s nice that he’s closer to the radio show, it’s bound to be a very tumultuous move for Sean. VA has a different legal system in it’s prisons, Sean likely has none of the friends from his last 27 years inside the Ohio system present where he’s at, he’ll be facing a whole set of new challenges settling in. I don’t know anything about the specifics of his transfer but we hope to hear from him soon. Write him a letter at his new address (and new prisoner number) if you can:

Sean Swain #2015638
Nottoway Correctional Center
P.O. Box 488
Burkeville, VA 23922

And keep up on his case at

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Student/Community Organizing and Fighting Hopelessness with NoNEXUS Oberlin

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This week we had the opportunity to interview Isabel and Christopher, who are active in differing ways in the No NEXUS Oberlin campaign, one in a long series of anti pipeline pushes in Oberlin Ohio. This campaign is based in part around the college which exists there, but is also in strong coalition with non college attending community members in the area who have been battling  the extraction industry for years, from fighting pipelines to injection wells to fracking in this area.

We talk about what it’s like to organize as the part of a student body which seeks to break down the barriers between student and non student populations, about the NEXUS Pipeline (owned by that ever present destructive, capitalist monster Enbridge), and about the ties that direct action can have in battling political and personal hopelessness. To get in touch with this project you can write them at or search their name on Facebook. The music we close the episode with is Lobo Marino, a track which is typically heard at the end of each End of the Line episode, an ongoing podcast out of Richmond on fighting the Mountain Valley Pipeline. You can find them at for more stories and experiences from the world of fighting extraction industries.


Much love to those who are fighting fascism in Portland, the Bay, Charlottesville, DC, and Boston this month. The police have again shown that they are firmly on the side of white nationalists, as they have countless times before, where in Portland only a few centimeters of helmet saved the life of an antifascist from a so called “non lethal” police weapon. Stay safe out there, love and care from us in Asheville, and as always, FUCK THE POLICE!


This week we also feature the voice of New Afrikan Black Panther Party (Prison Chapter) Defense Minister, Kevin “Rashid” Johnson.  Rashid is a writer, a fantastic artist, and a political prisoner currently held in Virginia but who keeps getting repressed for his organizing with prisoners around human rights issues.  He’s faced repression since 2016 directly in relation to prison strike writings.  Thanks to comrades in the south east for sharing his voice with us. You can check out Rashid’s work at his website or write him at: Kevin Johnson #1007485 Red Onion State Prison P.O. Box 1900 Pound, VA 24279 Support Anarchist Prisoner Eric King From Eric King’s support page:

The past few weeks have been rough for Eric and his family. We learned that Eric’s partner has been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. On top of the solidarity EP we are promoting, we decided to also start a gofundme page for his partner. As we mentioned in the previous post, incarceration affects the whole family. Eric’s partner will now have extra medical expenses and appointments that will require time off of work, and extra childcare. The severity and treatment of the cancer is still being determined. We’re hoping for the best, and will keep people posted. Please help us to support Eric and his family – donate if you can and/or share the fundraiser. Thanks so much for everyone’s kind words and continued support.

Please donate here! . … . .. Playlist here.

“In The End There Are Still People Struggling. And We’re Still Fighting”: A conversation with Wriply and Ashley of the #BlackPride4

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This week, we are airing a conversation that William had a few weeks ago with Wriply Bennet and Ashley Braxton, two members of the Black Pride 4. The Black Pride 4 are four black queer and trans people with accomplices who were arrested during a Pride parade on June 17, 2017.

The four were arrested after leading a silent protest that obstructed the Stonewall Columbus Pride parade in downtown Columbus Ohio. With tape over their mouths and with linked hands, the BP4 were hoping for seven minutes of silence, one for each of the times a Minnesota cop shot Philando Castile during a routine traffic stop in 2016. The cop was found not guilty of second-degree manslaughter on June 16, 2017, a day before the Columbus parade in question. This action was furthermore calling attention to the then count of 14 murders that year of black trans women.

Their arrest made national headlines and was heavily spectacularized in the media. Subsequent to their arrest they were forced to face trial and were each charged with various things, all on very shaky legal grounds. At this time are not being made to be incarcerated, though the lengthy probations and other legal hoops are severely disrupting their lives.

In this conversation, we got to talk about the problems with Pride as being apace which heavily favors white elites and police officers to thedetriment of the community it claims to support, the impossible situation of protesting while Black, the racial and socio-economic situation of Columbus’ LGBTQIA scene, and much much more!

To support Wriply in her work and to see her art, you can hit her up on Facebook bysearching her name, Wriply Marie Bennet, or by searching her artist’ spage on FB by its name, Art and Short Stories by Wriply Marie Bennet.

You can donate to Community Pride here, the same one which our guests spoke about. There you can read a bunch about its mission and background, as well as keep up on updates about this event.

You can also follow @blackqueercolumbus on Instagram to learn more and for further updates, and many thanks to them and to our guests for helping make this interview possible!

For another really great interview by our guests, you can listen to the episode by the radio show On Resistance entitled “In Their Own Words”, which you can find on SoundCloud.

. … . ..

To close out the hour, we will hear two tracks, the first by Angel Haze entitled A Tribe Called Red and the last by Mhysa entitled Spectrum. Thanks to all the people who gave me music recommendations for this episode!

Lucasville Uprising Hunger Strikers & “Trouble”, a New Project by subMedia

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Interviews with Queen Tahiyrah and Franklin López

This episode contains two segments:

In the first, Bursts spoke with Queen Tahiyrah about the hunger strike being engaged by Imam Siddique Abdullah Hasan and Jason Robb, two death row inmates put there by their attempt to resolved the hostage taking involved in the 1993 Lucasville Prison Uprising. During the uprising, Jason Robb and Hasan acted as negotiators for the prisoners as representatives of the Aryan Nation prison gang and Muslim prisoners, respectively, at the facility. More on their case can be found at Check out Queen Tahiyrah’s podcast, entitled SiGnOtHeTiMeS. We apologize that the beginning of Queen Tahiyrah’s interview sounds crappy – that was a technical fail on our part – but it clears up after
about 2 minutes.

In the second segment, Bursts chatted with Franklin López about Submedia, the importance of anarchist media production, his upcoming anarchist hip hop podcast, and the new short documentary series they’re about to start releasing entitled Trouble. Trouble is available for public showings, so find yourself a venue in town, contact Frankie and company via, pass word of the event in town via flyers and word of mouth and antisocial media and make some friends where you’re at!

The first episode will focus on diversity of tactics at Stand Rock with a focus on the Red Warrior Camp. More work by Frankie can be found at Oh, and there’s an announcement of a podcasting network looming on the horizon (Channel Zero Network). More to come on that in future episodes.


Benefit Shows: Help our comrades arrested at J20!
If you’re in Asheville or the surrounding area, there is a benefit show TONIGHT (March 12) at the Odditorium at 1045 Haywood Rd in West Asheville. Proceeds will benefit our comrades who were arrested during the inauguration protests in DC earlier this year.
Also, next Monday the 20th there will be a dance party to benefit J20 arrestees, come dance to mod, punk, and all the classics new and old with DJ Murphy Murph! This will be at the Lazy Diamond at 98-A N Lexington Ave in downtown Asheville.

Rebel! Rebuild! Rewild! call for submissions
The Rebel! Rebuild! Rewild! Collective has put out a call for submissions of texts about strategic lessons that can be learned from the resistance at Standing Rock. As one phase of the resistance has ended and another has begun, the idea is to compile experiences and analyses and reflect on the lessons learned from this game-changing moment in movement history.

This project is mostly for the benefit of those who were not present at Standing Rock but who might participate in something similar in the future.

The plan is to publish a compilation of thoughtful strategic analyses, both online and in print. However, seeing as it might not be possible to publish everything that people submit, the plan is to put an unedited version of everything that folks submit onto a wordpress site sometime in the future.

The call is to write about anything you’d like to, but some leading questions are:

Which actions were most effective?
Which actions were least effective?
Do you have any insights on dynamics between indigenous and
non-indigenous water protectors?
What was unifying?
What was divisive?
What can we learn from the tactics of DAPL, the police, and the state?
What can we learn from the legal battle?
What message would you like to pass on to future water protectors?

Please submit writing to Submissions can be signed with your legal name, an alias, or be anonymous. Please include whatever information about yourself that you consider relevant.


Appalachia Resist! and Uprising at the Holman Unit in Alabama (03-13-2016)

Appalachia Resist! and Uprising at the Holman Unit

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(Just noticed this hadn’t made it up on the website. This aired March 13, 2016)


This week we spoke with two members of the southern Ohio based group Appalachia Resist!, which is a social and environmental justice group that has been active since 2012 in fighting fracking, frack waste, and injection drilling in their area. We speak about the camp, which is going to be held next weekend, about the schedule and about how the two approach organizing. More about the camp and the group can be found at


Uprising at Holman Unit in Alabama

Last night prisoners took over Holman prison in Alabama. At around midnight a fight between inmates escalated to include guards and even the warden. Staff fled, and the rioting prisoners have taken over general population, lighting guard towers on fire and barricading the

News and video, here:

According to rumors, the incident began when an officer responded to a fight between two prisoners with excessive force and was stabbed in response. “Then they brought the warden down and the warden got to talking crazy so they ended up stabbing the warden, and then after that
all the officers ran up out of the institution, that was like 12:00, 1:00 this morning.”

The warden and officer’s injuries were not fatal. There are videos circulating on social media of prisoners burning the control towers and opening all doors. “We’re tired of this shit, there’s only one way to deal with it: tear the prison down” one of the participants stated.

At around 2 am the riot squad and police arrived. They said they were waiting on daylight to move and try to restore control of the facility. At this time, people haven’t heard from the occupied portion of the prison for a few hours, but it seems the authorities have not moved in,
either. Friends and family of prisoners in Holman are asking that people pray for their loved ones.

Holman’s capacity is 1002 prisoners, but it also has a segregation unit and death row, which are still under the prison’s control. Prisoners in segregation have not received their breakfast meal, four hours after it is normally distributed. General population at Holman consists of four
open space dormitories, housing 114 people each, plus a 200 person annex, so there may be between 450 – 650 prisoners involved in the uprising.

Alabama DOC has been increasingly unstable in recent months, incidents of violence within the institutions have been stacking up, the federal government was on the verge of taking over the system due to poor management and budgetary shortfalls last year.

An article from Jan 2016 about ADOC’s failure to operate safe and stable prisons: