Category Archives: Prisons

Prisoner Solidarity, COVID, and Carcerality with IWOC

Prisoner Solidarity, COVID, and Carcerality with IWOC

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This week we are pleased to present an interview that Bursts did with two members of IWOC (the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee), Caroline works with Millions for Prisoners New Mexico (@iwocnm and @millionsforprisonersnm on the Fedbook), Incarceratedworkers.org and Xeno is with IWOC Sacramento (@sacramento_iwoc on Instagram).

For the little-over-an-hour they speak on what it’s like to be working with incarcerated folks during the coronavirus pandemic, how prisons and the carceral mentality impacts everyone to varying degrees, the varying conditions in the prisons they are most tangential to, ways to connect with and support IWOC and many other topics!

Announcements

Eric King Call-In Continues

Anarchist, antifascist and vegan prisoner Eric King who you heard from in our April 3rd, 2022 episode has been sitting at the federal prison in Atlanta since his transfer from Grady County Jail. Our comrade shouldn’t be behind bars, especially after all he’s faced at the hands of federal prison staff, but he’s stable for the time being but the fear remains that the Bureau of Prisons is trying to wait out Eric’s supporters so we’ll drop vigilance and he can be quietly shipped off to the high security facility, USP Lee where he could be isolated in a Secure Housing Unit and be in danger of further attacks. Eric’s support team suggests that folks check out the latest post at SupportEricKing.Org to find contacts for people and continue to press officials to not move Eric to a facility above his medium security classification.

Transcripts & Zines

This is just a quick reminder that you can find a printable zine of that chat and many, many more at tfsr.wtf/zines, alongside transcripts and unimposed pdfs for easy printing of all of our interviews dating back to at least January 2021. If you write a prisoner or run a zine distro or literature to prisoners project, check out the collection for new material. And if you can read and write in another language and want to translate any of the texts, you are welcome to with no permission needed, but please send us a copy and we’ll promote it as well. If you care to support our transcription process you can make a one-time or recurring donation or merchandise purchase, more information at tfsr.wtf/support

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Featured Track:

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Transcription

TFSR: So could you please introduce yourself to the audience with any names, preferred gender pronouns, or affiliations that you’d like to share?

Courtney: Yeah, my name is Courtney. I use she/her pronouns, and I am with Millions For Prisoners New Mexico, as well as the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee.

Xeno: Hey, I am Xeno, I use he/him pronouns and I am similarly with the Incarcerated Organizing Committee here in Sacramento.

TFSR: Well, Courtney, could you talk a little bit about Millions For Prisoners? Could you talk about that organizations, like what that group does?

C: Yeah, for sure. So, Millions For Prisoners in New Mexico/New Mexico Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee is… we’re all impacted by incarceration in some way, shape, or form from folks who are family members of people who were formerly incarcerated or are currently incarcerated. We have jailhouse lawyers on our crew. Of course, myself who has formerly incarcerated family members, as well as I worked in a State Penitentiary at the penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe as the head librarian back in about 2014 to 2015. I have some experience in terms of seeing the way the prison was run, and a lot of the human rights abuses that took place there. And yeah, we’re an abolitionist formation of folks who have been dealing with the impacts of state violence in one way or another through our entire lives, whether it be by police coming into our communities and terrorizing our community members, to folks dealing with incarceration, to folks experiencing different states of poverty including being un-sheltered. So, yeah, our people are all impacted by the system in some way. So it helps to drive us to continue to do what we do and stand grounded in our values. That’s who we are.

TFSR: Cool, and Xeno? Did you want to say anything about the work that you all do?

X: Yeah, I’ll say that, like, we’re Sacramento IWOC on social media. But we actually have members across California that are not just on the inside, but also on the outside. We help facilitate the existence of the Union for prisoners in every state prison in California. At some point we’d like to expand beyond that to additional facilities in California and help people do that across the country and the world, as well. I will say that we are a very wide ranging group of more than 20 people just dedicated to IWOC, not including more worker organizing focused stuff. The way in which we are least diverse is age in that were almost all under 30, but not entirely. I can also add that I have experienced a form of like mental health incarceration in my life, that was brief but truly terrifying.

TFSR: Yeah, who would one of y’all want to speak a little bit about what IWOC is and it’s relationship with the IWW? I know that it sprang out of the Industrial Workers of the World, which historically it’s a syndicalist labor union. Well, you can tell more about it than I could for sure, being affiliated with it.

But yeah, if you could speak a little bit about the history of IWOC and its relationship to the IWW. I seem to recall that during the Trump administration era there was tension between national leadership and other formations such as GDC, or General Defense Committee and IWOC.

C: Yeah, what I wanted to say about the matter is that we are definitely part of the IWW. We do have an active relationship with the IWW. They not only fund our work through a built-in dues model which is aligned with anti capitalist values, but we also continue to make gains with people who aren’t necessarily impacted by systems of oppression and violence, the way marginalized folks who have constant ordeals with the prison system or with police are. The working class solidarity in being in solidarity with folks who are behind the walls, who often may not have the choice to not work, which is often the case throughout the United States from coast to coast, that is leading to people in the IWW very much being in community with us and wanting to contribute labor administratively to what we need to have done for people on the inside since they can’t really do the same kinds of things that we can in terms of administrative work with computers.

TFSR: Courtney, how did you end up becoming employed as the head librarian at a prison? Did you just get your MLS and that was one of the options that was open to you? Or did they even require that? Can you talk a little bit about that experience of working in that facility?

C: Of course. Yeah. So, I actually got a bachelor’s in biology and worked in libraries. I worked in one in the community college for a number of years, I worked at one at the university out here for a number of years. And I was just putting my application out to everywhere, kind of broadcasting all over the place to get a job. I came across the State office and applied, I saw librarian positions and I kind of applied for those. But I didn’t really realize that I had applied for a prison until I got a phone call from who became my boss who was in the Department of Recidivism Reduction Division. I went in, because I was just interested because I was told you’re going to be giving books to people who are in solitary confinement.

What I had expected was about maybe 2, 3, 4 prison cells would be solitary confinement and it would be a punishment, or whatever the case may be. Although I did have very close family members who were locked up, I didn’t really know a whole lot about the experiences that they had, truly, until I actually went into the facility. But to my surprise, the facility was the supermax prison with about 600 people in various stages of solitary confinement. Of course, 300 being in the supermax facility. It’s all one great big compound is what it is.

The people in the supermax were at the time on 23 hour lockdown with one hour that they’d get in a cage with a two man escort that would take them out to the cage to have their exercise for an hour a day. Then at the level 5, which was on the other side of the facility complex, I’ll call it, it was a little less restrictive but still kind of the same content context. They have got to have what was called ‘tier time,’ where they would be in a certain pod and get to kind of be among each other, but were classified in different states and placed in different pods depending on whatever the case may be. If they were Seurity Threat Group classified or whatever. Then of course, there was a level two unit which was in the front. People could move and have access to the library and so forth.

When I went in to interview for the position. I wanted to see what the facility looked like because I had actually watched a documentary and a subsequent really disgusting thing that they did, which was a haunted house that they had at the Old Main. The facility I worked with was the site of what is called “the worst prison riot in US history” at the Penitentiary of New Mexico Old Main Building, where there were conditions of overcrowding, and physical and psychological abuse and terror that were employed on people that were incarcerated there. It basically blew up into a prison riot in 1980, where 33 people were killed and the National Guard was called in. As a result New Mexico had made that facility into a supermax where they put everyone there in solitary confinement with the exception of the level 2 that’s in the front that I was mentioning.

But I went in I found this little library that was in a chapel at the level six and it was this completely sterile environment. No wildlife, no trees, you’d see a bird on the barbed wire once in a while. It was almost like a religious experience seeing life in something positive and beautiful in such the horrible conditions. The human rights abuses, the torture, seeing people hurting themselves. Every moment being on your feet, it changed my life completely. It breaks my heart that I’m not there anymore, because through books and this is the thing about literature in prisons, books were the only escape that people had.

It was heartbreaking because a lot of that was taken away. Especially in the wake of the pandemic, people were allowed to have three books. We had to carry them out in an ATV to the different parts of the facilities, handing people their three books a week. People would get punished and their books will get thrown away. I would just buy more books to supplement. Right when I walked in, I just felt like I needed to be there. The connections that I made with prisoners…

Of course, the administration pummeled me into probably what could have been the worst experience of my life. As a woman, just the sexual objectification of me by corrections officers, and just the afterwards terror that I had resulted in me literally being afraid for my life, questioning whether I should move out of the state and change my name, and everything. I mean, it was the worst thing that I’ve ever really experienced in a workplace. I didn’t know who to tell who to talk to. But I had just randomly and with a lot of fear in my heart gone to, I was forced into resignation by the way, but I had gone to a Million’s For Prisoners park event that was commemorating Black August. I went to this big event and I heard a person who had just released from prison, but had a large sentence, I believe, an 18 year sentence on his head, named Justin Allen, who does a lot of incredible legislative advocacy work across the board with Right To Vote and stuff like that among so many other things. He was speaking about his experience in prison at this event. The courage that he had and that other people had, who were speaking that day in the park, helped me to go to another event and another event.

Then eventually I was approached, and I told my story to who became more than comrades, my family, with Millions For Prisoners New Mexico/IWOC and helped me to ground myself and have courage to even speak at all about anything. I just didn’t feel like there would be anyone that would believe anything beyond that a person who is in prison deserves what they get. That concept of vengeance on every level. People don’t really know what that looks like until they step into that situation and see the way humans are treated. You see people pacing back and forth, you see people harming themselves, you see blood, you see fights, the things that people confide in you. It’s heartbreaking whenever I think about it because I do want to be there to support people. I felt like when I was there I was providing a good heart in this ultimate darkness. People that rely on violence, when violence is how you operate as your baseline, it changes a person. Everyone that is involved in oppressing people as a career, police and prison CEOs, or whatever the case may be, they adopt that. That becomes the every day and they become addicted to that.

So just to answer your question, it was a fluke. I ended up just wanting to see what it was about, because I had heard about all that stuff that happened during the riot. They actually, the prison itself had a haunted house at the time where they were having people come on tours. They were paying like 30 bucks or more to go on tour so that you can experience someone talking about everything that happened during the prison riot. I don’t think they’ve resumed that as of now. I thought it was really disgusting that they were doing that when I first heard about it. A friend of the family son had died during the riot as well. So I was just curious and it led me into a rabbit hole and here I am today. Someone I never would have thought I would have become. I’m very introverted. I have really blossomed with the help of people who are behind the walls and people who are organizing who have experienced State violence. They’ve helped me to blossom into somebody that I feel like maybe I was meant to become as weird and kooky as that sounds.

TFSR: Courtney, can you talk about how access to literature has changed since COVID?

C: Yeah, for sure. Since COVID, one thing that’s happened is the distribution of literature. It used to be mandated by the ACA, or American Corrections Association, that people will be delivered books at least once a week and the limit was three books per person that they could have in their cell. Regular deliveries of three books per week if people request them. That of course, due to the pandemic, due to the excuse of staffing shortages, but really was, “we don’t want to do this labor because it’s hard labor to physically take books and physically sort books and get them out to people.” But under the guise of, “it’s the pandemic,” people haven’t been getting access to books.

Another thing that we’ve seen that is just outrageous in New Mexico is that the mailing system had changed. Of course, we were sending literature into our folks in New Mexico and really all over the Southwest, This is kind of a hub for the Southwest here in New Mexico. Just as of recently, New Mexico is sending mail to a third party that scans it and then sends it back depending on if it’s considered to be appropriate. That not only impacts the ability to send newsletters or literature from orgs or friends or family, but it also impacts folks who want to get drawings from their children, cards from their children, things from their family. It takes the personalization of a handwritten letter from one human being to another and it’s just another form of dehumanization and oppression.

They want to find any way that they can stamp the human being into ultimate hopelessness. The reality is that we’re going to continue to keep fighting against these forms of oppression by the state and these forms of hate. It’s just that they have so much hate pent up at every level. You can’t meet someone that works within these systems that’s going to be wanting to help people. That’s not what it’s about. It’s sick. There’s there’s nothing about it that is helpful in any way.

TFSR: Xeno, you mentioned that a lot of the work that Sacramento IWOC does is helping to distribute literature and getting it on the inside. But I wonder if you could talk about that and talk a little bit more about the Wobblies and about the idea of organizing. It has not the first time it’s happened in the US, we played a recording of Lorenzo Komb’oa Ervin talking about in the 1970s organizing union of prisoners in North Carolina when he was being incarcerated there, but I wonder if you could speak a bit about the idea of addressing incarcerated folks as workers? I think that Courtney mentioned that people oftentimes don’t have a choice to not work and that varies state by state.

X: Yeah. So it definitely varies a lot in California. For starters, only a select few people get to work in California. Even if your work is firefighting for like pennies an hour, that’s considered a very enviable position to be in as a prisoner. As an incarcerated human being people want to be out of their cells doing something. And if that thing is almost completely uncompensated and life threatening, at least it’s an adrenaline rush. It’s better than just like sitting around doing nothing and talking to the same group of people day after day after day for decades.

I think that as far as revolutionary unionism, I don’t generally prefer the vernacular of syndicalism, snd officially the IWW doesn’t either. We are revolutionary unionist. Do I think that a labor strike in prison is going to cripple the state of California? Fuck no dude, they have so much money and one of their main taxes is just on capital gains. So that means that whenever the stock market’s going up, they’re flush. And whenever it’s not going up, they’re not, basically. We know that that’s not what we’re expecting to happen in California. Like, “oh, yeah. Let’s just talk to the union rep of the yard.” That’s not what we’re doing. We’re not trying to be like SEIU for prisoners. We are revolutionary unionists.

I think some people might enter union spaces not really understanding the key differences between a revolutionary union versus not. And that’s something that the IWW consistently struggles with. But aside from that, basically we don’t hire staff, we don’t hire lawyers. This is something that sometimes people inside are not happy to hear either. That we’re not here to do like their criminal case or their civil case for them. But we’re here to organize, which is about collective power. Whereas the legal system is about atomization and addressing individual problems, or “addressing them.”

So we seek to facilitate collective power in lots of different ways around the nexus of incarceration and that means doing lots of different things. We have a formal structure. I think this is what makes us different from an “informal group” or whatever. We recognize that the power dynamics inherent in our existing society are going to splash up on the shores of our group whether we like it or not and that the best way to actually ensure non hierarchical dynamics prevail is to have structure. I encourage folks to think differently from that, that having less structure and also means less hierarchy. I have deeply considered that point of view and come away thinking otherwise. I would just refer folks to the 1970 essay by Jo Freeman, The Tyranny of Structurelessness. Jo Freeman, awesome person, clearly knew what she was talking about. She’s still around. Shout out to Jo Freeman if she’s listening… I liked your essay.

We have structure, we have people who are in charge of specific things. What we do to combat the horrendous system that I’ve been describing is that we keep people sane and by talking to them, writing them, building relationships inside and out. We do that however, in a systemic way where we also already know people on essentially, almost every yard in the California State Prison system. Yards are kind of separate facilities, really. So people don’t tend to necessarily see people on other yards in the same facility. but like I said, we have people on almost every yard. And we try coordinate putting those people in touch with each other. And then also coordinate whatever people on the inside are interested in that we’re about and that is not budget busting, we work with them to do.

So, we’re working to do a program where instead of hiring lawyers, which we can’t do, we help jailhouse lawyers build a structure to oversee and advise other jailhouse lawyer to help people build institutional knowledge and less time learning to do prison legal work, and make sure that we’re not duplicating efforts across different facilities, and so forth. Then also, when there’s a struggle that breaks out that’s collective, we would help amplify whatever kind of public message that the people involved with that want to put forth. As we’re building relationships with folks on the inside, we try and like help them get in touch with one another and decide what kind of group activities they want to do. Which sometimes revolves around either political education or more legal work, or it might be something different from that. But those are the kinds of things that we got going on. We’re looking to do like more on different things all the time.

But fundamentally, we’re happy to be a part of the IWW and we see this very much as a part of the historical tradition and historical mission of IWW, including the literature aspect. Back in the day with the IWW there were always people who were writing about what they were doing whether it’s Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, writing the first half of her autobiography, and then writing about going to prison, she wrote a whole book about going to prison. And then other people doing these struggles and also writing about them. Writing is a key essential part of real serious working class struggle, because everyone’s constantly reinventing the wheel. In the modern circumstance, people are also getting fucked up and fucked over by these business unions. If we’re not learning what we’re doing as a revolutionary union, and we don’t have an intergenerational knowledge base. We’re no match for SEIU. I’m picking on SEIU a lot but it all applies to all the major unions essentially.

Also I’m not speaking as the IWW when I talk shit on other unions. But if they were that real they’d be unionizing prisoners, not us. Not meaning to start any fights with other unions, but I think that what they do is pretty real on the ground, but maybe their president’s salaries shouldn’t be exactly what they are and maybe they shouldn’t be so subservient to the Democratic Party, frankly. I think that’s kind of known to be the IWW position. So I won’t go off a whole lot beyond that. But we know that just a strike isn’t going to stop the machine of incarceration, at least in California. It maybe a different story and someplace like Louisiana or Alabama, I don’t know, I’m not from there. I could be wrong. But we seek to facilitate making prisoners collectively powerful in all the ways that we can, and literature is completely 100% central to that. It’s not just like a pastime. Although a lot of people have different tastes. People like to read stuff to feel a sense of escape, or live vicariously in a cell, but there’s also political books and political zines and stuff like that, including the one of your guys’s interviews that we like to send all the time and also including stuff from other past movements, whether it’s Emma Goldman’s essay about prison, or whether it like stuff written by the Black Panthers, or Lorenzo Ervin’s writings or other stuff like that.

All of that stuff is really essential to the movement that we’re building. This isn’t all that we do. One of the things that we do, is we help guys in prison. I mean, we help everyone with this, but we kind of have a focus on radical feminism and radical feminism has like a specific meaning for some people. I don’t mean that specific meaning.

TFSR: Not the TERFy stuff.

X: Yeah, no, definitely not that. I just mean men being in touch with their emotions. Bell Hooks and stuff like that. You know, the reality is that people put in prison are there for all kinds of different reasons and some of them are like, “whatever, I didn’t do anything wrong.” The whole society is telling you you did something wrong, most of them end up feeling that they did do something wrong, even if maybe some of it really wasn’t. And a lot of it frankly, is stuff that is regrettable, and it’s stuff that people genuinely really regret and would even if they weren’t in prison. Moments of their lives that they really, truly wish they could take back. But a lot of times, it’s because people acted in anger. I think teaching guys on the inside and outside to be more in touch with their emotions and less quick to anger is really, really essential and revolutionary work, even if it’s not as fetishized by the very macho impulses that it seeks to undermine.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s really well said. I’m super stoked personally that if you listen to our episodes, every episode I’m just like, “hey, hey, hey, we do zines. Send them into prisons. Please, please, please!” I’m really glad to hear that y’all have found good use of those.

X: Yes, we most certainly have. Keep it up.

TFSR: Hell yeah, I will do my best.

Initially, I thought Courtney and I were just going to be talking. So I’m really glad that you’re here, Xeno. Maybe the two of you can compare and contrast in this next question. I feel like there are a lot of through lines between prison systems from state to state in the US. The political, historical, and economic flavor of a specific state is often reflected in the Department of Corrections in that state, and how the prisons look. For instance, states in the former US South have lots of chain gangs, guards tend to be on unionized often on horseback with shotguns and have low pay, creating more wild and baldly corrupt places where the majority Black prisoner population have been able to organize and use some of that corruption to an advantage of accessing forbidden tech like cell phones for the organizing process. That’s clear with things like the Free Mississippi Movement, the Free Alabama Movement with prison organizing in Georgia, with folks affiliated with Jails House Lawyers Speak, and voices coming out of South Carolina at times, like it’s all super amazing.

In California, as I understand, having spoken with some folks inside there, which is one of the largest economies in the world, prison guards have a very strong union, the facilities seem to be more updated and more locked down. The struggle against long term solidarity and arbitrary gang designations of shaped a lot of notable struggles inside of the prison over the last couple of decades. I was wondering Courtney and Xeno, but in particular, because I don’t know very much of prisons in New Mexico, that was really enlightening to hear about the prison riot in 1980. But can you talk about the prison systems that you most interact with and some of the characteristics?

C: Yeah, yeah, for sure. So New Mexico employs a system of human warehousing. So prisons are scattered about the landscape in remote areas that are often really difficult to access for folk’s loved ones. In fact, one of my comrades and mentors, Solinda Guerrero, before I had ever joined Millions For Prisoners used to have a transport van to have families access to these facilities by driving them out to go see their loved ones, because a lot of them are out in places that are hard to get to. That’s kind of what we’re looking at as a system of human warehousing, a lot like what I was mentioning with the penitentiary of New Mexico being a warehouse for human beings who are in confinement conditions.

Now, in terms of refusing labor, on that front I did find a handbook from corrections industries, which is also called Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility, but it’s run by a private corporation. They can actually issue disciplinary action for folks failing to report for their assigned work. We also see in interstate run prisons that people are punished by being removed from Gen Pop [general population] and then moved into restrictive housing units, aka ‘solitary confinement.’ We also see that from coast to coast prisoners reporting being punished if they refuse to work.

Now, also from a person that I was speaking to about this issue before coming on, my friend Justin, who also spent 17 years incarcerated and also did some firefighting work, etc. He was mentioning that you can get written up, lose good time, go to seg if you refuse to work. Now in the facility that I was at jobs, well, they were kind of considered as a ‘privilege’ by the administration. So they were often taken away. Like if someone had a work duty, let’s say, one of the porters in library, for example, at the level 2, they could get punished by having their work assignment taken away. They kind of do it a little bit differently in places that have group labor, like farms and so forth. I guess they also had something where people were raising cattle, but yeah, for that kind of thing you will get punished if you don’t report to it. But then they can also turn around and take the job away if it’s something that’s considered to be a privilege.

But yeah, we we had a porter at the level 6 facility, the supermax facility, whose job it was to clean blood that had spilled from people fighting or getting stabbed or hurting themselves, or whatever the case may be. In New Mexico workers make about anywhere from 10 cents to $1 an hour. So it kind of varies from place to place. But people that are in prison are also not considered as employees of the penitentiary for purpose of filing Occupational Health and Safety complaints with the Environmental Improvement Division. I took that from a corrections industries handbook. So we also see that in other states where people aren’t considered as employees who are working for the prison. It’s a very mucky situation, when your workplace is also serving as the place that you live and the place that you get your food from, and the place that you get your punishment from. When it’s all kind of merged into this soup of punishment, people don’t have the same inherent rights that workers do. Not to say that workers across the US are having that great of a time, of course, which is why that solidarity between the working class and people who are literally under the exception clause of 13th Amendment considered to be slaves [is important].

X: Yeah. So this is just like, what I think from having done this for a few years now. So when I’m talking to prisoners, the most effective thing that they remember happening against the prison system was the 2011 and 2013 hunger strike. Which are kind of known as hunger strikes, but also included labor strikes. That also is heavily intertwined with the power of shot callers of various groups on various yards. And the state uses certain terms that I think people can probably guess for these groups, but I just want to say they’re all different. They ranged from literal Nazis to people I’m proud to call comrade. But I would say that the dominant formations that are like that in California prison are…

First of all women’s prisons completely different and separate, nothing I say right now applies to that. For the men’s prison, which is 98% of the prisoners, right? Something like that. There are these groups where there are shock collars. If anyone makes trouble, their life could be in danger. Making trouble could be something as simple as filing a grievance when the shot caller has said, “Hey, you’re filing these grievances frivolously don’t do that.” So basically, the way things work is shit rolls downhill. So the administration will have a DL but everyone knows what’s happening kind of relationship with the shot callers on the yard. And they’ll be like, “if anything happens on this yard that we really don’t like, it’s your fucking fault and we’re gonna punish you like it’s your fault.” So then that person enforces the State’s discipline through extra-state means.

People who “investigate gangs” for the State of California inside prison, which is basically the state’s little FBI, but just for its prison system, or you can say they’re kind of like Stasi almost, if we’re gonna think of prison as like a police state society within Republic. These people are like the Stasi of that little micro society. There they have a lucid understanding that they are not actually out to suppress these groups outright. They are here to facilitate their usefulness to the state. They don’t say that out loud, obviously, but they do actually say it perhaps in setting with prisoners, they will let onto that. I’ve talked to people who are aware of all of this and have served long sentences for our survey.

So we have a pretty lucid understanding that the people at the top of most of these larger para-State criminal organizations. They are not the friend of the State and they’re not really the lapdogs of the state. But they nonetheless operate a little bit like the leaders of a business union might operate. They want things to improve for themselves, and for their folks inside, but they do not want revolution. Even if they sometimes strategically embrace revolutionary rhetoric, to further their end, those ends are to exploit people to make money, except that when a corporation does that, they’re supposed to abide by certain rules, which of course, sometimes they break anyway. But these people have absolutely no rule. For these organizations that are more or less explicitly about patriarchy first of all, and second of all, making money, there’s very little that they won’t do to you if they decide that you’re in the way of their goals.

They’re not a unified whatever. They’re not obviously as centralized as like the State is. But we’ve had people who are doing stuff as simple as trying to get people clean needles who are using on the yard and that has been deemed a sufficiently non business friendly activity to get that person rolled up on and stabbed by multiple people on the yard and nearly killed. That was a real thing that happened. Because someone was doing something that the shot callers didn’t want.

Then you also have this other system of yards in California called the ‘SNY.’

TFSR: Is it SNY?

X: yeah, it stands for Special Needs Yard, like GP is ‘general population.’ Sorry if that was unclear.

TFSR: Oh, no, no, that’s good clarification, though.

X: In SNY there are people who are not able to get along with the rest of the prisoners, but that has become larger and larger and larger over time and is now essentially 50% of the system at least. If you ask a person in general pop, “what is SNY?” They will say to you, “Oh, yes. The snitches and child molesters yard.” That category ‘snitch’ can include a lot of shit. If you roll up onto a yard but say you’re a white antifascist. Well, guess what? The white group that you’re going to inherently be scrunched into in a men’s prison in California is the Aryan fucking Brotherhood. If you’re Anti-Fascist you can do that, but you better do it really quietly and not in a way that’s actually practicing those values on the yard or they will kill you. If you’re lucky, what they’ll do is they’ll kind of just like push you towards the guard at yard time and say “this guy’s no good.” Then that means you go to SYN.

It’s different for different groups. Like I said, that’s just the dominant group for white men on GP yards. But the other groups are varying degrees of more cool than that. I’ll also add that unlike the other group, the Aryan Brotherhood is officially suppressed by the State of California and they do very much at least make a convincing show of trying to outright suppress that organization, and yet are unable to do so. But they don’t really do that with other groups. Except for Black Guerrilla Fam, which is like not a real group. That’s just something they accuse random Black radical people as being affiliated with. So that’s kind of an exceptional thing.

TFSR: What do you mean that it’s not a real group? Just that it’s a thing that gets hung on people, but most of them aren’t affiliated.

X: It’s something that George Jackson called for in his writing, but as far as I could… and I don’t know. I don’t have a complete unbroken history of what’s always happened on every yard of every prison in California. But I do not know of any yard where Black Guerrilla Fam, I’ve never heard of that. But there are there are radical Black groups, but they don’t call themselves that.

TFSR: This is a little bit off topic, but kind of not. But there’s a book that I read last year that I really want to get ahold of the author of. I should just reach out. It’s called ‘Chronicles of a Prison Dirty War: California Prison Politics.’ It was published last year, but it was a lot of experiences from like the 70’s 80’s and 90’s about the creation of some of the racial dynamics and organizations in the California system.

X: Yeah, I really, really want to read that, by the way. I’m gonna get around to it.

TFSR: So IWOC New Mexico is is a group that I became aware of from some of the writings of Julio A. Zuniga AKA, ‘Comrade Z,’ who’s being held by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice at the Memorial Unit, formerly known as ‘Dirty Darrington.’ We featured an interview a few years ago with Z. But I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about the circumstances currently at the Memorial Unit. There’s a cool interview that Z conducted with another person behind bars, that’s up on Mongoose Distro’s website, and talk about the work that incarcerated workers there such as Z are doing to organize

C: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I wanted to start, since you did mention Mongoose Distro that please check out MongooseDistro.com There is so much awesome material from Comrade Z, other comrades behind the walls, as well as zines that you can print out. Definitely a good resource for information and really awesome folks there.

So, right now it looks like the conditions in Darrington have continued to get worse, with folks not having access to air conditioning, which is a big issue in Texas, there’s water quality issues, workers have been getting sick with H. pylori infections and being forced to work regardless of being sick. Folks are suffering from retaliation with bogus write ups being written up on them. Also, there was a death of a member under suspicious circumstances which were labeled as a suicide. Currently working on trying to talk to folks to try to get more information about that specifically.

Now, currently IWOC members in Texas have filed a civil lawsuit with the United States District Court Galveston division and it has close to 20 IWOC members on it. I was also going to share some words that Comrade Z had provided to us. It’s on Mongoose Distro and he also sent me a letter. So yeah, folks dealing with retaliation, bogus write ups, mail room items being tampered with issues with getting folks on to the prison phone list to talk to folks.

So yeah, I was going to share a few words from Comrade Z in a letter that is posted as I mentioned on MongooseDistro.com he states:

“I have to suggest as a militant anarchist, for the brothers and sisters listening to us, the real problem is the policy makers. All comrades and jailhouse lawyers need to file U.S. §1983 on every single TBCJ member, as I have already begun to do. Bobby Lumpkin, Bryan Collier, Guistina Persich, Tammy Shelby are on my lawsuit, including the chairman of TBCJ Patrick O’Daniel. I am filing a motion for leave to supplement defendants and add the remaining eight members of the TBCJ into our class action suit. If you are with IWOC-Texas, file your lawsuit in the same fashion. We have been distracted by their psychological games far too long, and the culprits have been sitting pretty playing God for far too long. The Wizard of Oz has been discovered in Texas. Corruption is being exposed by me, X386969, and it is going to take the solidarity of all of your resources in the free world to help us bring the changes we all need, by any means necessary.

The more lawsuits filed on the policy makers will not only bring us into the political arena as activists for an overdue overhaul of the Texas government and it’s institutions. I do not believe in authority, nor do I believe in prisons. However, this cannot be said about everyone I come in contact with, therefore I am rolling with what I have, because progress is made by stepping forward, not back.”

So yeah, just you know, an example of using different strategies to fight against the oppressor and Comrade Z and the continuously growing group of members in the Texas branch are filing a civil lawsuit, class action lawsuit right now. Just due to the conditions that they’ve been undergoing.

Comrade Z has been reaching out to me and I’ve been in communication with Z for at least the past year to year and a half. Definitely I know that, as we were mentioning earlier, in the discussion about getting transcripts of y’all’s radio program, I know that Comrade Z was mentioning not on our last phone call about appreciating getting transcripts from y’all’s radio interviews, and hopefully he will also hear this one or be able to read this one rather.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s awesome.

I was wondering also Courtney, in terms of you had mentioned that New Mexico IWOC and Millions For Prisoners kind of acts as a hub for a lot in the Southwest. There have been ABC chapters, I know in various parts of Texas, at least, and I also know it is an absolutely huge place. But I guess in the Southwest, I want to ask about specifically how it looks like in Albuquerque and in New Mexico, the inside outside part of it. But is there much of an inside outside organizing framework in other parts of the Southwest? Or is it kind of just a few spots where people have coalesced?

C: Yeah, that’s kind of a good question. It is kind of a few spots where folks have coalesced. I’ve noticed a lot of activity. Specifically with Arizona, we have still a budding relationship with folks in Arizona. It started with some comrades who were building relationships with the people behind the walls with the Anarchist Black Cross. During the pandemic, a lot of dynamics have changed. But yeah, right now as it stands, we are a hub for folks in the Southwest, in Texas, I have some folks in Nevada. In Nevada, I don’t really know of a lot of outside orgs who are supporting, but I do know that in Texas, we collaborate a lot with folks in Fight Toxic Prisons, as well as people with Anarchist Black Cross. There is actually an IWW chapter in Texas that is working on kind of building relationships with Comrade Z and other comrades. And we have other folks that are popping up along the way.

It’s kind of interesting, too, because the pandemic led to a lot of people working remotely in terms of organizing. So that’s kind of what happened when there were just a lot of correspondence from people in the southwest. There weren’t IWOC chapters per se that were as active or maybe not active at all that New Mexico started adopting on more regional requests from people that are experiencing issues and trying to figure out how similar are the systems that people are facing. We also organize with folks in Louisiana and have a partnership with folks that are in the Save the Kids From Incarceration and the 10 to 2 Unanimous Jury Campaign. I haven’t heard from those folks in a little bit. But definitely have some relationships with folks in the South who are experiencing the conditions that they’re experiencing.

So yeah, we get reached out to from people from other places too. I just kind of get letters in the mail and folks have heard about us. A lot of stuff is spread through word of mouth. So as you notice with Comrade Z, he passed along my information through word of mouth, and that’s kind of how things operate. I think it’s a successful way to kind of work the administration by doing it that way.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s awesome. On the topic of ‘Inside Outside,’ I’ve noticed that on the Facebook account for New Mexico Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, there’s mentions of being involved in not only supporting people on the inside, but also in relation to supporting people on the outside resisting police brutality. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how that link is right there. People hate the pigs, and a lot of people on the outside when they make that connection that it’s the same repressive institution on the inside the outside. It may look different and the level of boot on the throat is different between living in an overly-policed neighborhood or what have you. But yeah, I’m wondering if you can talk about how you’ve seen those two things tied together?

C: Oh, yeah, yeah. And we absolutely amplify and are always anti-police in every fiber of our being in all the work we do because it it all goes together. In the neighborhood that I grew up in, for example, a lot of people were swept up by the police and put into prisons. Structurally, it all has to do with structural racism, and oppression, pulling entire segments of our society and of our culture and of our people out of our communities and putting them into prisons. Also, we were a part of some federal sting operations, including Operation Legend that was enacted by Bill Barr back in the Trump administration, where so much funding and so many federal police officers were put into the streets of New Mexico. Basically, we had police on horseback in our International District where our communities are struggling. In the place where I live, in the South Valley, we were doing block by block events where we were going to different neighborhoods as part of our strategy and just building was community who have been impacted by police.

When you go into any community that’s heavily impacted by a heavy police presence, with tanks in the streets, doing stop and frisks, harassing community members, harassing our youth, detaining people, you’re going to see that solidarity and you’re going to see a lot of people that have experienced the system, who have family members who are in prison. It’s all connected. We go out into our communities and we all understand the violence that we face every day, whether it be out on our streets or in the prison system.

In the prison system. It’s very much this extreme concentration of violence. But yeah, on the streets, it’s it’s very much the same. We have so many police killings that are happening here in New Mexico. It’s part of who we are. We’re always going to be fighting against the police and the prisons, because it’s all one and the same system. It’s all based on patriarchy, systemic racism, violence, and it’s rooted in slavery. These are all issues that we have to face when we’re living in our communities every day. Some of us more than others, of course. Yeah, we’re just gonna keep up the fight.

TFSR: Xeno, do you have anything to add?

X: Yeah. So the way that these kinds of shot caller led groups, which again, I’m not trying to make any universal statements here. Not every person who might call shots is that bad necessarily. It’s hard to kind of speak in universal terms about this kind of stuff, because it’s, it’s always moving around and always changing. There’s very few formal rules. But basically, the way that some of these structures tend to operate in times of struggle in a similar way to a business union. It’s that it’s very common during a really militant strike. I heard someone talk about this. About the Teachers Association in Arizona, where after a week of teachers being on strike in Arizona, some staff from this, not even a union, actually… it’s an organization that associations are allowed to have that’s not a union. They went to the press, and were like, “yeah, the strike is going to be over on Monday, everyone’s going back to work.” They did not consult the teachers in that at all. There was no vote or anything because they’re not a union. So they can’t do that.

I just want to say that first of all, not every non IWW union is definitively a business union. IWW itself isn’t immune to that temptation of like business unionism, either. But that being said, a lot of these like hierarchical organizations in prisons will make strong attempts to shut down struggle, at the point that it gets too hot to handle, even if they also play a role in initiating it on the front end. That in the makes them very reminiscent of a businessman, which will channel workers righteous outrage and then cut it off at the knees when it gets too radical or revolutionary, or threatening for the system. Unions are a lot more bureaucratic about the way that they do that. But these other structures do a very similar thing, in my view.

About the SNY, if you are a person that the State determines is male enough to go to a male prison in California, I’m sorry that that happened to you. Second of all, they will put you on GP normally by default, unless you say otherwise, I suppose. If you get to GP, and you’re just not cool with some stuff that you see going on. Or you see, “Oh, this group is clearly deeply invested in making profit off people’s heroin addiction, and I’m not cool with that. And I’m not cool with them. And I don’t want to be part of this group that I ‘have to be a part of’ because of my race.” And you don’t want to peacefully coexist with people involved with that. You need to go to SNY. You can make that explicit and tap a guard on the shoulder and say, “I want to go to SNY.”

I’m not saying that SNY is that great. It’s legit where they put sex offenders. So you’re going to hang out with them. SNY is where people would have to go if they’re not going to get along with the group that they’re shunted into when they get onto a men GP yard in California prison. Any interaction that you have with a guard without another prisoner present could be considered snitching, full stop. So whether that’s seeing a counselor that’s part of the staff that could be considered snitching. And so if you are ‘not good’ before, you’re definitely ‘no good’ now.

So with that category, those two shunted together categories, snitches and child molesters. Those two things are not the same at all. It’s very easy to be considered a snitch. The state is very much involved in like pitting SNY and GP against each other. If you read the agreements and hostilities, it’s explicitly like solidarity between GP prisoners only, and it talks all this shit about SNY prisoners. Because the state will send people from SNY undercover into GP, and try and spy on people they want to spy on and do all kinds of shenanigans like that. There’s a lot of distrust between GP and SNY.

Now the state’s trying to reformulate those designations, and create a new structure within the prison system that involves mixing people from GP and people from SNY who’s agreed to get along. But that doesn’t always work. Then sometimes you end up with groups of people defending each other who are just kind of like SNY solidarity in response to GP solidarity aggression. So it’s all very messy, and very different from other places. I was talking to some folks who are saying that in the Chicago-land area, any person of any race can be a member of any group on the street or in prison. That’s certainly not the case in California prisons.

TFSR: I know that in the strikes in 2011 and 2013, one of the main demands was an end to requiring debriefing for people who were stuck in solitary. I don’t know if that sort of is a continued issue with this issue that you’re bringing up with it. I don’t know if that relates to what you’re talking about, exactly. Or if it’s like another iteration of it or if it’s a different issue.

X: It is a related issue. Briefing… If you know anything, if you were legitimately part of one of these groups in a participatory sense, and you are now going to SNY they will absolutely try and get you to debrief. Ie, spill your guts about everything you know about that group. Like I said, a lot of people don’t think that the State is really out to dismantle a lot of these groups. They’re out to make sure that these groups are malleable to the State’s intentions, and goals. They’re very successful in that, in my opinion.

Briefing, is the thing that they probably try and have people do all all sorts of times. The State, when it decides it’s going to do something, never really gives up on it. So unless there’s like some kind of world historical disruption to cause that to happen. I’m sure they’re still trying to brief people coming out of solitary. I know for a fact that they brief people as they move from GP to SNY particularly people who they know would know stuff.

I didn’t talk a lot about what it’s like on SNY. So I will say that it’s absolutely hellish there, too. Like I said, you’re hanging out with all the people that people are afraid that they’re going to have to hang out with and they go to prison. And on top of that, some of those yards, if they determine that you have ‘mental health problems,’ or whatever that means. In our society, I think everyone has mental health problems, pretty much. It’s kind of interesting to just go on a side note, the people who created the DSM-5… I think one of them was very vocally regretting that and said, “oh, everyone’s in the DSM-5 and I’ve created a monster.” I don’t know a lot about it, I’ve heard of it.

So basically, if the State determines you have mental health problems, which assuredly if they say you do, they will make sure to find evidence that you do. They will place you on one of those types of yards. This is largely in the SNY. They might also just involuntarily give you drugs. One of our members describes how they can give you drugs involuntarily, that will ‘separate your soul from your body.’ He doesn’t mean killing you. It means just completely spacing you out so much that you’re not yourself. You’re basically like a person with dementia, but at any age. That’s like a level of control. I don’t know a lot about health in general, to be honest, but that’s how it was described to me.

That’s just a level of control that’s unimaginable anywhere but prison or like a dystopian future TV show or novel. It’s really terrifying that the State submits people to that, and then also has the gall to be like, “we’re helping them and this is all for their own good.” Everything is always framed in terms of progressivism in California politics in general. That also applies to the prison system. I also would say that beyond that, a lot of people in prison who are in touch with us also very much want us to be involved in the political process and stuff like that, and pushing for various different reforms.

I think that just within that atmosphere there’s reforms that would really help a lot of people. Then there’s the ‘reforms’ that the state and the bourgeoisie want. The reforms would probably help with that kind of people in California, for example, would be retro actively abolishing Three Strikes. I know someone who is a Black woman who picked up a $20 bill off the ground and was convicted of robbery, and it was her third strike. She’s a grandmother. So those are the kinds of things that are bureaucratic so called democracy facilitated, and makes it almost impossible to fix. There are some interesting attempts that radical reform coming from the legislature but the CDCR is just a monster that the legislature doesn’t truly control. So when they pass well intentioned laws, the entire bureaucracy goes into overtime trying to twist the intentions, and keep milking the system for themselves.

Part of what’s going on with that also has to do with SEIU, which represents non-militarized prison staff, and how they don’t want prisons closed, basically. Those people who are a large constituency for SEIU elected this dude Richard Lewis Brown is basically the Donald Trump of SEIU 1000, which is the State Workers Union. He had a huge series of scandals, and was in court to determine if he got righteously kicked off of being President of SEIU 1000 or not. Basically, his huge base of support is the civilian workers from CDCR facilities. That’s the California version of the DOC. The R stands for ‘rehabilitation.’ A lot of times you might see people just call it CDC and disregard the R.

TFSR: But that’s the Center for Disease Control.

X: Yeah, yeah. Well, California Department of Corrections would also be the thing that people might call CDCR or CDC. The difference is that it implicates the fact that they’re not really rehabilitating people. Then they might also say CDC and capital letters and then a lowercase ‘r’ to indicate that same thing.

TFSR: Could you all, tell us a bit about where we can find out more about the work that you’re doing and the organizing that you’re involved in?

C: You could check us out on IncarceratedWorkers.org or check out our Instagram @incarceratedworkers for more about Millions For Prisoners New Mexico, you can visit @IWOCNM and @millionsforprisonersNM on Facebook. Also, please check out Mongoose Distro at MongooseDistro.com

X: For Sacramento IWOC, which again is not really just Sacramento, but it was when we started the page, you can check out our Instagram @Sacramento_IWOC. For the website, we’re part of the national organization. So the national website is also ours.

TFSR: Awesome. It was really a pleasure to meet you both Courtney and Xeno, and thanks a lot for taking the time to have this chat. I really appreciate it.

C: Thank you so much.

X: Yeah, thanks for doing this

Eric King Speaks | 2 Radical Ukrainian Voices

Eric King Speaks | 2 Radical Ukrainian Voices

This week, we’re sharing 3 audio segments on this episode.

Eric King Transferred To High Security Prison in VA

[00:04:08 – 00:23:50]

Info on Eric King + an image of Operation Solidarity in Ukraine
Download This Episode

First up, you’ll hear Eric King, anarchist prisoner whose recent legal victory against the Federal Bureau of Prisons in the US was featured on our episodes from the week of March 27th, 2022. Last week, Eric was suddenly transferred out of Colorado toward United States Penitentiary Lee in the southwest portion of Virginia near Johnson City, TN. This is in spite of the fact that Eric should be held at a medium security facility according to BOP standards, unlike the high security and max prisoners at USP Lee. We caught up with him mid-transfer while at Grady County Jail in Oklahoma where many Federal prisoners stop during cross-country transfers. Eric and his supporters are afraid that he’ll be facing time in the SHU, or Secure Housing Unit at USP Lee for no reason other than punishment for his legal case and his supporters are putting together a call-in campaign to raise Eric’s visibility to keep him safe. There is information about this in our show notes at TheFinalStrawRadio.NoBlogs.Org and hopefully soon at https://SupportEricKing.Org .

This is followed by Sean Swain’s segment [00:23:53 – 00:32:42]

Maria of Anarchist Black Cross Kyiv

[00:33:06 – 01:07:52]

Then, you’ll hear Maria, a member of Anarchist Black Cross Kyiv, just returned from Ukraine and currently in Warsaw, Poland. We talk about ABC Kyiv, mutual aid and refugee support, border crossing, some information about anarchists participating in the territorial defense, NATO, non-violent as well as armed resistance to the Russian invasion, Russian forcibly moving Ukrainians from Mariupol into territories they control and other recent news stories. You can find more on how to support Operation Solidarity at linktr.ee/OperationSolidarity and the Resistance Committee of anarchists participating in armed resistance to the invasion at linktr.ee/TheBlackHeadquarter. You can also find a benefit for ABC resistance to the invasion at ABCMusicalSolidarity.Bandcamp.Com, written up at North Shore Counter-Info.

Mira, leftist punk from Kharkiv

[01:09:06 – 01:41:14]

Finally, you’ll hear a conversation recorded on Sunday, April 3rd with Mira, a member of the street punk band Bezlad and a show booker in the hardcore scene of Kharkiv near the Russian Border. Mira talks about his leaving of Kharkiv to L’viv to aid leftist and punk territorial defense fighters getting protective gear, his experience of the devastation of war on the city he loves and the breakdown of solidarity with antifascist and punk communities across the border between Russia & Ukraine since the war in the Donbass and intensifying today. We’ll play a song by Bezlad after this interview and will link them in the shownotes.

Announcements

Libre Flot’s Hunger Strike Continues

As a continuation of our recent announcement of the former YPG volunteer on hunger strike against unending detention by the French government, there is a call for a day of solidarity for Libre Flot for what is both his 36th day of hunger strike and his birthday. Libre Flot was hospitalized in relation to the hunger strike on March 24th but has continued due to his more than 15 months of pre-trail detention. On April 4th, 2022, the supporters are asked to make some noise at French embassies, consulates and other institutions to raise awareness of his plight. More info at SolidarityToDecember8.wordpress.com

Eric King Call-In

Alongside a recent post showing photos of the scene of Eric’s assault in the broom closet, there will be a post with phone numbers and talking points  up at SupportEricKing.Org by Monday. Below are some contacts you are suggested to reach out to to check in on Eric’s condition and talking points to help ask why he’s being treated this way despite his noted security level leading into the embarrassing trial loss by BOP:

  1. Why is Eric King, who is at a medium level according to the BOP, being moved to a high security facility across the country?;         
  1. Why is this move coming so quickly after Eric successfully won a lawsuit showing that the BOP was closing ranks to set Eric up for 20 years of additional prison as he approaches his out time?;         
  1. What will you, as a public official, do to challenge the impunity of the federal prisons to persecute prisoners and violate their human rights?;
DRAFT MESSAGES / TEMPLATES

 

Hello Senator _____,

I am writing about my friend who is a prisoner in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. His name is Eric King, inmate number 27090-045. He was recently found not guilty on all counts at a trial in the U.S. District of Colorado. Eric was moved from FCI Englewood and is currently being held in a private facility, Grady County Jail in Oklahoma. He has been told he is en route to USP Lee, a maximum security prison in Virginia.

I am writing because I believe Eric should not be sent to USP Lee, and would be in danger if he were sent there. He is scheduled to be released from prison in December 2023, and wants to avoid anything that would infringe on this release date.

There is an active threat against his life. A few years ago, before being sent to Colorado, Eric was held in the Segregation Unit at USP Lee for approximately two weeks. Before that, at USP Atlanta, a white supremacist gang member told him he would be killed at USP Lee if he was released into general population. This was documented at USP Lee.

It is imperative that Eric not be put in harm’s way. I am asking that you not send him into a situation that is so dangerous. The Bureau of Prisons knows this and there is established case law regarding the BOP sending someone into dangerous and life threatening scenarios. See Fitzharris v. Wolf, 702 F.2d 836, 839 (9th Cir. 1983); Gullatte v. Potts, 654 F.2d 1007, 1012-13 (5th Cir. 1981); Roba v. U.S., 604 F.2d 215, 218-19 (2d Cir. 1979).

Additionally, Eric is in this situation because of a bogus maximum management variable on his security profile. This has him erroneously being sent to a facility beyond his actual security level. He has no pending charges and no incident reports. He intends to be released to Colorado to live with his wife and his two children in just over a year. I ask that this management variable be removed so that he can be sent to a medium- or low-custody prison close to home and begin preparing for release.

I am afraid for my friend Eric’s life if he is sent to USP Lee and I am asking that you intervene with the Bureau of Prisons and ask them not to send Eric King into harm’s way by sending him to USP Lee.

His lawyer is Lauren Regan and can be reached at 541-687-9180 or lregan@cldc.org. Please help my friend.

Sincerely,

_____

CONTACT INFORMATION
DSCC Office Designation & Sentence Computation Center U.S. Armed Forces Reserve Complex

346 Marine Forces Dr.
Grand Prairie, TX 75051

Mid-Atlantic BOP Regional Office

302 Sentinel Dr,
Annapolis Junction, MD  20701

BOP National Office

320 First Street, NW
Washington, DC  20534

Virginia Senators to Contact

231 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

703 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

. … . ..

Featured tracks:

. … . ..

Transcription (Maria)

TFSR: Thank you so much for taking the time and the space to have this conversation with me. First off, would you please introduce yourself to the audience with a name, even if it’s a pseudonym, any gender pronouns, where you’re from, or where you’re at now?

Maria: I’m Maria, from ABC Kyiv, and I’m staying in Warsaw right now, just coming from Lviv where I visited comrades and had some meetings.

TFSR: Can you tell a little bit about ABC Kyiv and the history of the group? What work you’ve done before? What does it look like now? How the invasion has changed it?

Maria: We are a relatively old collective, 10+ years old. We used to mostly help political refugees from neighboring countries who escaped from Russia and Belarus. It’s not that many of them were in jail, but we were helping them with the refugee-seeking procedure and getting into politics in Ukraine. Now we changed because I expected they will go to Warsaw or whatever. But they mostly joined the territorial defense units in Kyiv. So we don’t have clients anymore, you know?

TFSR: Yeah. The history of the Anarchist Red Cross at one point included militant support of combatants too during the Russian revolutions. Right?

Maria: Actually, in the Makhno army, I think it appeared first.

For now, we are trying to do several types of work. First of all, we work with another collective that provides the same kind of help to people who decided to join the resistance, take up arms, and to fight for people and freedom at home. It’s different kinds of support. One is that we need to collect money, we need to buy things, humanitarian aid, medical aid, and different stuff that people who fight need. Another part is taking care of comrades who are relocating or choose not to because not a lot of people lost their jobs in Ukraine. And help with relocating people to other countries, they also may need help with a place to stay, money to live, possibilities to find a job. That’s a lot of work. For sure, we are taking part in it. We are not doing it as a separate collective, but rather with other ABC collectives, and with the group called Operation Solidarity from Ukraine.

TFSR:Awesome. I know that ABC Dresden in Germany has been one group that’s been able to funnel money towards mutual aid and defense funds, which is pretty cool. It’s amazing to see ABC groups – just from the outside, I’m involved with an ABC group here, but we’re still pretty focused on prisoners in the United States – to see the work that groups are doing in Europe is pretty impressive.

What’s the situation getting back and forth with Poland if you can talk about it? Has it been difficult because there is a long wait at the border? How have you been received in Poland at least with the government?

Maria: Surprisingly, with Poland, I crossed already twice, it was no problem at all, both times. In Ukraine, it was much more problematic months ago, but at the moment, it’s quite slow. Transport is late, but it’s not super difficult. I think it is difficult only for male assigned people. In Lviv, it’s also relatively calm, which is the new calm – they have 3-4 air raid alerts per day, which means that they expect air attacks. Sometimes there are air attacks but the air defense systems work well. I’m actually not an expert in weapons because I hate it. But the situation is like it is.

TFSR: Some of the questions that I’m going to be asking are related to either the war or the armed groups because that’s an area I think that a lot of anarchists elsewhere are interested in. But if you can’t answer them and don’t have an answer, I understand totally.

One thing that I’ve been seeing in the news here is that Russia may be pulling back, withdrawing troops, at least in the areas near Kyiv, back across the border to Belarus. Is that a thing that you’ve heard about or do you have an understanding of what’s happening with that?

Maria: I also read today that pulled back some troops, but not all of them. Actually, they say on the news that we expect more intense fights in the next few days. I hope that’s not true. But it can be. Also, they still attack Kyiv and other cities from the sky. With the army, they at least stay somewhere. But with these air attacks, it’s not clear where it will hit next time. Withdrawing troops doesn’t mean that they will stop bombing us.

TFSR: Sure, pulling back the army could actually mean more bombing, hypothetically.

What’s your impression, having been back to Lviv, of what it’s like to try to organize there or to be an anti-authoritarian, anti-nationalist group that’s trying to do organizing in the midst of an invasion and a time that almost necessarily leads to heightened levels of nationalism?

Maria: I didn’t see that much nationalism. I was there just for a couple of days meeting with comrades. I was not really in the streets. I know that the Operation Solidarity group there is very well-organized.

There was one stupid small attack by young Nazis on our comrades near a shop, where they were waiting in line to buy stuff for guys from the territorial defense. It was shocking, but they were some small idiots. It’s not that they really hunt there or whatever. I think Nazis are busy, the same as leftist people. We are not very much interested in each other, at this point, at least.

TFSR: What I’m seeing from the Telegram channel from Operation solidarity is that the attacker was from Misanthropic Division, and the comrade had a broken finger out of it.

Maria: He had a broken finger on his hand was wish he was packing medical supplies and other things for the army. It seems very unpatriotic to do it. It’s sabotage, in my opinion. I’m very surprised. I already started thinking about some conspiracy. Maybe they’re paid by Putin because it seems stupid to do it.

TFSR: Well, Nazis are stupid.

In your experience, how is the support from abroad into Operation Solidarity been going? There’s still a need, but they’ve been listing on their social media that they’ve been receiving– They went out and bought helmets, they went out and bought various forms of armor. Is the fundraising still going on? Has that been successful so far?

Maria: I would say it’s quite successful. But it always can be that if we have more money, we will buy better stuff for people, if we have more people, will still need to buy new things for them. Also, most people cannot work, renting rooms in Western Ukraine is very difficult, it is crazy expensive. Because so many people came there. Prices went high. There are still people there, their families and in the worst situation, you can expect that most of the people will lose their jobs. We also help with this part.

With medical things, you need to buy new ones from time to time, and we hope to have much more people. We have more people now compared to two months ago. I hope it will be much more, that is why for sure they still do fundraising and we still do fundraising for them. Other groups also do fundraising. I’m very satisfied with working together with them.

TFSR: I want to talk again about the armed organizing that people are doing, but there have been stories of lots of examples in this conflict of people taking unarmed actions against the war effort, for instance, the mutual aid and the medical support that you’re talking about, or blockades to slow the advance of tanks outside of major cities, massive street protests, including those that have been fired upon by Russian troops, the Belarusian anti-war sabotage on train infrastructure that’s been supplying Russian troops. Are there other examples or any that stand out to you of the unarmed mutual aid that you’ve been impressed with, that people should know about?

Maria: I’m not sure I understood all the points you mentioned. Because if your English is too perfect for me.

With the sabotage in Belarus, it is not militant, but for Belarus, it’s already a lot. For us, I think that we are not concentrated on these points. For me, it’s literally like fascists in the 30’s and 40’s are coming. People want to have arms and to fight back. I would not say that we are working on any anti-militant or whatever actions. We have a consensus that we need to fight with arms.

I know that there are protests in occupied cities. I don’t think that they decided to be very anti-militant, they just don’t have a choice. But the Russian army may actually shoot this protest. It’s only peaceful from one side.

TFSR: One of the groups, to my understanding, that’s been organizing in Ukraine for the armed self-defense is Black Flag (Chernyi Prapor)? Can you talk a little bit about the organizing and training that they’ve been doing that you know of, and as an anarchist grouping, how they’ve been relating to the territorial defense of the Ukrainian military?

Maria: I’m not that much in contact with them, it is a group from Lviv, as far as I know, a relatively small one. I’m not in personal contact with these people. That’s why I don’t really know how they do it.

I think one of the biggest collectives is the Resistance Committee. They’re also groups of people here and there in different territorial defense units trying to organize together, like three-five people. I know this better.

I also know about people from Kharkiv, I knew them before, but I’m not in contact at the moment. I know that there is a group in Kharkiv that is fighting in the territorial defense unit in Kharkiv, which is a hot spot. I also know anarchists who individually went to the army, for example, my friend, who is actually also one of these refugees, a non-Ukrainian citizen, went to fight the first morning, and he is stationed separately from us, but we still support him.

TFSR: Do you have a sense of how it is for them to relate to the fact that the territorial defense has a relationship with the Ukrainian military? How much autonomy they’re able to keep in that or any lessons that you’ve heard about how they’ve been able to try to keep that autonomy?

Maria: From talking to people, it seems it works quite well. They are not pressuring much and it feels like for other people there is a possibility for some autonomy. They are much less hierarchically structured. The army might pay less attention to this. But officially, they are part of the army. But there is actually no other way to organize because if you just take a gun and go to the street, they will think you are a subversive and kill you. Even historically, with the partisan movement, they’re actually always connected to the army to some extent. I don’t think it’s possible to really do it in parallel without any agreements.

TFSR: A few weeks ago, I was seeing stories online about foreigners coming to Ukraine to try to fight and defend it, getting shuffled into the military, or being pressured to sign contracts of service similar to conscription. Have you heard about this being the case for folks that have tried to join anarchist formations? Are they able to get in? Or do they just get funneled into the general military or territorial defense of Ukraine?

Maria: I think the problem you’re talking about is more about people who are going to the International Legion. I heard that people went to join a Belarusian unit, but I was not following the topic. Because I’m trying to concentrate on people I know, comrades, and things I can influence. I came across something like this in the media, but I haven’t heard any people I know who complained about it. But for people from the International Legion, which I think is separate, maybe it’s a problem for them.

TFSR: Another thing that I wanted to ask about, and it’s okay if you don’t have a comment on it or an understanding, but there was a video released recently that appeared to show the Ukrainian military shooting Russian prisoners in the legs extra-judicially. Have you heard about this or heard sentiments from other Ukrainians or people in the region about captured soldiers getting shot in that way?

Maria: I even didn’t hear about it, to be honest. I can imagine it can happen. For example, a friend of mine was telling me that when he was taking part in the evacuation of the occupied and besieged cities around Kyiv. It was the third week of war already and before he was rather in a better mood. But at that moment, he was really like “They are murdering kids. They’re raping women.” He saw the bodies of women on the streets. They [Russian troops] don’t want to fight with the army, they want to fight civilians. My friend was angry and didn’t feel mercy for them anymore. But then you just go out from there thinking and feel that you are a human and you should follow the humane way of thinking and acting. But I can imagine that after everything people saw. But I didn’t hear about what you mentioned.

I’m sad, I don’t want that to happen. But it’s very complicated. When you talk about these things theoretically from somewhere abroad, it’s one thing, but when the war is coming to your place, it’s totally another thing.

TFSR: That makes sense.

You mentioned children being killed. Some stories were circulating, I think they were sourced from the Ukrainian government about Russia importing thousands of civilians and children from occupied territories within Ukraine into Russia. Have you heard of this?

Maria: Yes. Many people from Kherson, which is the biggest occupied city, and Mariupol which is besieged. My friend’s parents were sent from Mariupol to Donetsk or Russia, she lost contact with them. It’s been five days now. They just put them on the bus. The besieged Mariupol and people couldn’t have access to drinking water and food. I think they demoralize them, but the people still didn’t want to go. They just take them to the bus, some of them could call and say, “Your parents were forcefully put on this bus, they will get in touch when they can.” But no one is reaching out these days. Then they’re sending a message that they’re in Russia. Today at the train station, I talked to people from Kherson, they’re telling the same, the few people who managed to escape.

TFSR: You can’t really guess about the strategy or the reasoning behind that, whether it’s to just depopulate areas, to make them easier to occupy, or if it’s about trying to forcibly settle people to new areas.

Maria: They’re not deporting all the people. For me, making the city empty is not the reason. As for Bucha and Hostomel, I heard the opposite – they don’t let people out. They make them too afraid to try to go out by bombing the humanitarian corridor, for example, because they actually want them to stay. Then it is difficult for the Ukrainian army to shoot because they’re inside together with civilians. Maybe there are other reasons, but they also try to use them for propaganda. They are filming people, they’re giving them a text to read. A woman was complaining about Azov and Medusa published several videos, and you see that she’s actually telling the story they forced her to tell because they didn’t do it in one shot.

TFSR: Forcing some of the people that they’re holding to act in front of the camera to say, “Oh, yes, I’m so happy that the Russians are here”, something that the Russian government can show back in the media.

Maria: Mostly they want their people to see that look, here are refugees from bad Ukraine coming to good Russia. Today I heard several stories from people who were going to stay with families in Belarus. If they did it the same day, I think it was something on the media in Belarus, that you should care about your Ukrainian relatives. Relatives from Belarus are calling to say that they should come over. “Here you at least will speak your language, blah, blah, blah.” And people are coming because it’s their families, not because they want to move to Belarus.

Today I met a woman, she said, “My daughter and grandchildren are there. It’s my chance to see my two-year-old grandson.” On the one hand, she is going to this place from which we are bombed, on the other hand, we all mixed, for the older people, it looks fine. And then in the media, they create 100 people from 10 people saying that thousands of refugees from Ukraine are coming from Ukraine to Russia and Belarus.

TFSR: A lot of people in the last six weeks have left Ukraine, and have withdrawn to find other safer places to go to. But I’ve also heard reports that people are coming back to Ukraine for defending it from the invasion or fighting back or trying to collect what they left behind. Is this a thing that you’ve heard about too?

Maria: I know several people who went back because, when they came here, they put them to live in a stadium, and then you leave with 500 people after being shocked and bombed. I think your psychological condition is not very stable. There is already a lack of places. I know that Germany and Poland and today I asked a person who stayed in the Netherlands, she said the same that they actually stayed in barracks or whatever. Volunteers do care about them and give them food, but they cannot live there forever. And they read the same news as me and you.

I know a person who wants to go back to Kyiv to my district and I know that it’s been very loud there the last few weeks. But she has animals, she cannot let them out and she lives in a barrack. She has them in transporter cages. I think it’s very different for different people. But some people just cannot live like this. For some people, it’s better to go with the risk to die rather than stay in a camp.

TFSR: Switching topics a bit, they’re far-right elements, since the Maidan, have been coalescing and doing arm training and participating on both sides in the war in the Donbas. As we’ve talked about, there are armed formations that are anti-fascist and anarchist, and that have been trying to hold that space separate from the far right, and I guess push back against that being normalized and also make safer spaces. But one thing that was happening at the start of the war that I read about was that supporters of the Arsenal Kyiv football club, the Hoods Hoods Clan were starting to support armed resistance. They were known by some as being a more anti-fascist football club. But as I understand, they’ve begun working more with right-wing nationalist formations. I’ve seen pictures of members throwing up the Svoboda three-finger salute. Are you aware of this? Can you talk about what your understanding is among the folks that are staying back and doing armed defense? How difficult it is to hold your ethics in this situation when you’re being shot at?

Maria: I’m not in direct contact with those people, because my comrades are mostly anarchists. There are some anarchists among them, but it’s not an anarchist group. I hope that it is some individuals who are doing it, I don’t think it can be the whole group, but I should check. The group is quite big, and from time to time, new people join. I don’t think they can control people that much. I would ask today, that’s interesting. As I was on the way, and I was in the Lviv without Internet, I don’t know all the news. But it sounds problematic for me is if it’s true, I would not be happy.

TFSR: It’s pretty clear to me that the aggressive invasion of territory and bombing of cities by the Russian military is a terrible thing that should be fought against. I totally respect people defending their territory and defending the spaces they live in, their families, the people around them, and their communities. In the West, it’s difficult for people in countries that are NATO countries to figure out how to relate to this in a way that puts us aside from supporting NATO intervention. I know the weapons that are getting sent in are helping territorial defense fight back the invasion. But do you have any thoughts about how people in countries that are NATO nation-states, besides sending funding, should be helping to resist the invasion without simultaneously working in a way that justifies imperialist Western militaries?

Maria: Sending money is nice. People can go to fight against fascists themselves. It’s an individual decision, but it’s always possible. With this NATO question, I’m very surprised how often I hear it because do you really think that all these leftists have an influence on these decisions?

TFSR: As far as influencing the way that NATO operates? No, but also, in the United States, the position that the US takes is that the Ukrainian government should be supported. It’s not about creating space for an anarchistic society there but those two things overlap in terms of stopping people from dying. The US for instance, where I’m living, and where I’m from uses humanitarian intervention regularly to justify the continued growth of the US military. It’s not just about necessarily helping people defend themselves from an invasion or from a terrorist group or from whatever. But it becomes a part of a larger plan that fuels the big industries of war in this country. That’s what I’m getting at in wondering if you have any views about it.

Maria: Russia openly says on the propagandist TV that they should bomb Washington. I’m not sure that the US TV says something like this, that they should throw somewhere a nuclear bomb. I think was these two, one went much more aggressive, at least with the rhetoric. I think that thinking about geopolitical is just practically totally not useful. Because that’s actually the context they’re given to people to distract their attention. For example, I hear the question about NATO much more often than the question if all the comrades are alive. Maybe it’s because I’m not that good with the theories. But for me, it’s a very strange situation, when people want to talk about this NATO thing that much in a situation where they can actually not really influence it. I think that as anti-authoritarian leftists and anarchists, we should be much more focused on the things we can influence in our lives, and less on the topics given to us from the top, on TV. It is just my opinion, but I feel like this.

TFSR: Super helpful. Do you think it’s useful for people who can take off and maybe a train or whatever to come to join territorial defense and try to support anarchist groups?

Maria: Yes. You can contact all the groups we discussed online, they have websites, Telegram channels, etc. You should ask them, not me. But I think there is a possibility, people who are looking for it can find it without my help.

TFSR: Maria, also would it be helpful to share any information further about how to contact ABC Kyiv, or you’ve mentioned operation solidarity, I can put more information in the show notes and announce that.

Maria: The Operation Solidarity has a chatbot if you need to contact them.

TFSR: Is there anything that I didn’t ask about that you want to say right now?

Maria: I think we all start to think about how this happened. With Russia, with what is going on? How we have new fascism, because all my life I was asking questions about what happened to Germans in the previous century? I’m asking myself what happened, and how we didn’t see it before they attacked so many countries. Now they also attacked my city, because the country was attacked already eight years ago. I think we should really work somehow that it will never happen a third time, or whatever time is next time?

I hope we will win. I hope my comrades in Russia and Belarus will be released from jails. I do hope we will find a way to stop these things from happening. Because for me, one of the most problematic parts is that actually, the Russian society supports what is going on.

TFSR: I hope for those things, too. Again, thank you very much for taking the time to have this conversation.

Maria: Thank you for asking.

. … . ..

Transcription (Mira)

Mira: Some people know me by the name Mira. I’m from Kharkiv city, which is in the east of Ukraine. Right now, I’m in Lviv.

TFSR: You’ve been in Lviv for a little bit now, like a month or so, right?

Mira: Yes. For the first 11 days of the war, we stayed in Kharkiv. Then we moved to Dnipro using suburban trains with transfers and spent some time in Dnipro and then went to Lviv using an evacuation train. It took like 21 hours to get here. Some of our friends were just staying in the vestibule of the train without a seat because was all crowded. It was a long, long way. We made it to Lviv. Lviv is a much better place to stay because we could do something here. It feels more like a regular peaceful place. We have some air raid alerts from time to time, and sometimes missiles get here too. But for the most part, it feels like a regular peaceful time. From here, it’s easier to coordinate the different types of work, volunteer work, and mutual aid work. It’s more productive and successful to be here, to get stuff, to meet people, and to send all the stuff further to other parts of Ukraine.

TFSR: Kharkiv, where you’re from and where you left is just right across the border from Russia. I know it’s been the center of a lot of really intense battles between the Ukrainian military and lots of shelling and cluster munitions from the Russian military. Is that right?

Mira: Absolutely. Honestly, when a few years ago, in Kharkiv, I and my friends did lots of punk and hardcore shows, including one of the biggest events in our country, Kharkiv Hardcore Fest, which is a few days event, and some bands from abroad that would come to play in Kharkiv were asking, “Aren’t you afraid that you are really close to Russia?” While we already had the military invasion in the eastern part of Ukraine, part of Donbas, it was already occupied, but we still were sure that it won’t go deeper into the country. When people from Finland, and Poland asked us that, we said, “Yes, we are okay.” We didn’t believe that Putin and the Russian military government would really be so crazy to start a full-scale war. Actually, we were surprised to witness what started on February 24.

TFSR: I’m glad that you and your friends were able to make it out. That sounds really, really scary.

Mira: Actually, I just want to add a few words, that since the beginning of the war, the police and army were trying to keep some order at the railway station, because so many people come in, they panic, and the place is too crowded and too many people stayed at the railway station. There were a lot of police and army to make things go smooth and try to keep some order.

That’s why we tried to use suburban train stations because we didn’t want to spend and unbelievable amount of time in the line. Because children, women, and elderly people, go first. If you are military age between 18 and 60, you are the last one to get on the train. We decided not to even try to go to the main station. We preferred to walk with our backpacks and stuff to the nearest suburban train station and get on the suburban trains. One day, we just went to see how it goes, if the trains actually pass by. Just to check it without backpacks, how it goes. When you’re staying on the platform and it’s a pretty open space and you can hear the air raid alerts and the sounds of explosions. It’s not comfortable to stay there, because you never know where the next missiles going to drop.

We made it there, we took one train, we made it to Krasnohrad and spent four or five hours there waiting for another train, and then go to Dnipro right before the curfew time. My friend from Dnipro met us with the car and brought us to the apartments just five minutes before the curfew time. That’s how we made it to Dnipro. Then we took the evacuation train from there for Lviv, 10 days later.

TFSR: You were there after the war started in Kharkiv. And you’ve been to some of these cities before, I would imagine, as a traveling musician, among other things. Can you talk about what it’s been like to see places that you’re familiar with suddenly devastated in these ways?

Mira: That’s really hard to express the feelings, which you get when you see the city you love, the city that you have lots of stuff in common, which you associate with yourself, and you see that everything around is being ruined by the air raids, by multiple launcher systems. To see the historical city center being ruined, and to see regular residential neighborhoods being ruined. You can’t look at it without tears. That’s really tough. Every day, we hoped this will be the last day when they do the bombing and shelling and dropping air bombs. But the following day, it was just getting worse and worse. When we were thinking about how long it could take to rebuild everything which was destroyed, hoping that will end soon, the next day is coming and we see even more destruction. That’s really painful and tearful to see.

Honestly, the first two days we were scared, then the fear changed for hate and anger toward the people who are doing this. We tried to find the ingredients to do Molotov cocktails and stuff like that because we thought they would be in the city soon and we might need that stuff. But actually, the armed forces you’re doing a pretty good job defending the city on the ground. Even those groups of Russian troops who managed to get into the city were eliminated. The main threat was coming not from the troops on the ground, but from the launchers that launched rockets and from the air bombing. The Molotov cocktails wouldn’t really help. We were sitting without any possibility of resistance, because in my group, we have five people, and none of us has military experience. The territorial defense was accepting volunteers only with military experience, so you’d be more useful for the defense. Since none of us had that, we were not accepted. Actually, the territorial defense was pretty full of people, and they didn’t even need more, because a lot of people were willing to defend their city, their land, and their country against the aggressor. That’s why the territorial defense pretty much all over Ukraine is packed with volunteers. They’re not really accepting new applicants for that.

So we were just sitting without really any use. Since every day it was getting tougher and tougher, we decided to go somewhere else, to leave the city until it gets a bit better because the missiles started getting all around the city, not just the suburbs, not just the neighborhoods closer to Russia, to the ring road, but also in the center, all the neighborhoods, including mine, which is close to the city center. There was already some destruction in my neighborhood as well. That’s why we decided to move to be useful in something else, not just sitting in the basement and listening to the sounds of the explosions.

TFSR: What activities have you been up to since you’ve been in Lviv? Is that at all connected to the work that you were doing before the war started in your community? I know some people start off doing, before the pandemic, for instance, were doing mutual aid work of one sort, like feeding people. Then after, in the US at least, have changed. They’ve just modified what they’re doing. Was there any connection between what you’re doing now and what was going on before?

Mira: We are doing totally different things now, because being a booker for shows is not something we would do here, and I had some small business rental for live events, I had my equipment in several clubs, and that is what I was doing besides booking my shows. Definitely, that’s absolutely not timely, nobody needs that. We just do what people actually need. While organizing the shows and the festival in Kharkiv, we have pretty much a big following on our facebook page and Instagram. I know that some people we met in shows, now are in territorial defense or in the armed forces, and I know that some people are lacking protective gear and lots of other items, not just knee/elbow protectors and bulletproof vests, but a lot of other stuff needed to be alive and to be productive in their defensive activity. Right now, the only thing that we are doing is trying to find the stuff our friends need and buy it and send it to them. It is just volunteer work, and it’s definitely not anything close to what we did before the war started.

TFSR: Especially in a war zone, I’m sure it’s really difficult. Here, it’s difficult to find some of that stuff at reasonable and affordable prices. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to source night vision gear or thermal imaging stuff in the middle of a war. From what you can talk about with it, is it just the prices that are really difficult? Or is it getting it off of captured or fallen Russian troops? What does it look like?

Mira: Most all the Russian troops that I’ve seen online don’t have that stuff, either. Since I toured with my bands a lot, I met people in Europe, with whom we stayed in touch till now. After the war started, some people started sending me messages, asking what was going on, and offering some help. That really saves lives now. With these contacts, we managed to work on the logistics of buying stuff, collecting money, and sending that to people who can buy that. Some of the volunteers are coming from Germany, and Poland to Lviv where we meet and get the stuff and send it further. The personal contacts, which I got in peaceful life before the war now really help to get what we need.

TFSR: So you’re mentioning booking gigs and shows and playing shows in the punk and hardcore scene in Kharkiv. Touring. Just looking back to what that scene in that community has been like for you – it’d be interesting to hear what the music scene was like?

Mira: Well, it’s pretty much a copy of a Western scene just on a smaller scale. Since the scene was born here much later than in the US or Europe, it’s younger but it shares the same ideals. I know that in the United States, some micro scenes just don’t care about anything. Some are really political, pay attention to political issues, and some are there just for music. When in Ukraine, they started to develop, it was very political starting in 2005 to 2015. Now, it was getting less, but we always were paying attention to who is in our shows, because we were always against any discrimination practices. We were not happy to see anyone with any Nazi symbols, in 90% of our shows, we specifically mentioned that Nazis are not welcome. Such people even don’t come because in most cases, they understand what views we have, so to avoid conflict, they just don’t come to our shows. There was a lot of physical confrontation in Kharkiv as well, years before, after the Maidan in 2014, actually, the number of confrontations got smaller and since 2014, it’s just calmed down. We didn’t really have big problems. There were some people wearing Nazi streetwear brands and stuff like that, trying to come to shows. They were just turned off at the entrance and didn’t get in. Years before, we had big fights in 2009-12. Sometimes we had fights with 40 people on one side and 50 people on the other side. But it’s calmed down with time.

Actually, at this moment, Nazis have their own hardcore scene developing. The fun fact is that they listen to a lot of good bands, but they do shows and they play and they support ideas, which those bands actually absolutely don’t support. I know some Nazis from Dnipro were traveling to Poland to see the band Backtrack and Agnostic Front, Madball, and stuff like that. When they go to Europe to see these bands, they shut the fuck up and don’t even show that they are right-wing sympathizers. But when they are back in Ukraine, in Dnipro, they have such symbols and T-shirts at their shows. But that’s an absolutely different scene and we don’t cross our paths. They don’t come to our shows. We don’t come to their shows.

TFSR: I saw Stiff Little Fingers once perform. They stopped the performance partway through and just started railing against Nazis and saying that “If any racists are here, you need to understand that you don’t understand the lyrics that we’re singing. Because we hate you. You need to go. You’re not welcome here.” I’ve seen like recordings a few times of Dropkick Murphys in the US also making that statement or going down and beating up Nazis that are in the crowd. I think it’s really important and really impressive when people use that platform to be very clear that that is not what they’re about.

Mira: At our shows frontmen of some bands clearly talk about that. Even if there is some person in the audience who also goes to some Nazi shows. That happens, we don’t know everyone. They just stay in there listening and don’t show who they are. But maybe that will help them realize someday what real punk and hardcore are about and what it is against. Maybe when some people accidentally get to the show with some friends, big shows where you can’t recognize everyone. Maybe these people see how hardcore punk bands play and what they are saying, and what are their views on racism, homophobia, and stuff like that. Maybe they change their minds. The time will show, you never know.

TFSR: Do people at your shows or at the shows in the Kharkiv hardcore scene table literature and stickers and stuff like that?

Mira: We don’t have sticker culture, we don’t have our clubs or something. It could be five shows in five different locations. It’s not really popular to put a lot of stickers around, because people in the clubs don’t like any political stickers, just to avoid losing clients. There is one club that we boycott, and we don’t do shows there. We don’t come there, because they allow right-wing bands to play there. It’s conveniently located. It’s a pretty good sound. But the owner is weird and we had conversations before. He was saying that he’s against any politics and that fascists will never have an event at his club. Then later, we have videos of people doing Nazi salutes there. It is just one instance, he says it is just business, he is doing business and doesn’t care about anything else.

TFSR: That sounds like stuff here.

Mira: I believe that happens, often, everywhere.

TFSR: If people here want to support– In the other segment that we’re airing from Maria, who’s currently in Warsaw, we mentioned Operation Solidarity, and also the Resistance Committee. A lot of their work is based out of Kyiv. Are there any other groups that you would suggest people send money to distribute, to get defensive implements, like helmets and vests out to the Lviv? Or do those groups work with you all in Lviv?

Mira: Yes, Operation Solidarity works in Kyiv and Lviv. We cooperate on some issues. We know each other, but they have a bigger following and more people. They are concentrated mainly on helping left-wing people in the scene whom they know. At Kharkiv Hardcore, we don’t check how left you are, if you call yourself an anarchist, or just if we know the person and if you know this person was at our shows, and you know the person is fighting or is going to fight soon, we help this person. That’s the difference. But we share the same values, we share the same views. We cooperate also on some issues. I think we’ll just develop this cooperation further.

TFSR: Is there anything that I didn’t ask about that you want to talk about?

Mira: Maybe just the thing that I need to mention is that 10 years ago, I would say before the Maidan 2014, before the Russian invasion, the first Russian invasion started in 2014 when they occupied the Crimea and part of Donetsk and Luhansk Region. Before that, we considered our scene – of Ukraine and Russia – as one scene. I mean the scene in music and ideological terms, the antifascist scene, and the music punk hardcore scene. But after that, our paths started to go in different directions. We have fewer connections and less and less understanding of what’s going on in Ukraine. I had lots of contacts in Russia. After this full-scale war started, I got messages just from a few people from Russia. I understand that they now have a dictatorship, and they’re not allowed to say anything publicly and to voice their opinion if it’s against the official line of the government. But anyway, still, some people have a really weird position. Some people don’t say anything, some people say something that demonstrates they don’t understand at all what is going on in Ukraine, but they still keep trying to hold some position.

I don’t want to name the bands we have some questions to. But the main thing is that, unfortunately, after this conflict, the relations, and the attitudes to the Russian people would not be the same, because officially, 70% of the population of Russia supports their president. I understand they eat a lot of propaganda and are pretty fooled by it. But anyway, the result of it is the real war which we have right now. Unfortunately, all big bands, even in the punk and hardcore scene of Russia, didn’t show any position. They don’t call the aggressor aggressor. That’s really disappointing. I don’t know if we are able to communicate after this war is over.

TFSR: That makes a lot of sense. I guess it’ll take a lot of work on the Russian side, the Russian hardcore and anti-fascist scene to try to– It seems really complicated over there. But that’s not to make any apologies. As you said, they live under a dictator. That’s hard, but I hope that they do the work to recognize and listen to your voices.

Mira: I just want to add that there are bands in Russia, that tour in Europe, and they try to sit on two stools at the same time. They don’t want to call the aggressor the aggressor. They also try to show that they are for peace, but they’re not saying who is ruining the peace. That’s a problem.

When these bands announced European tours, I am afraid that the agenda wouldn’t be correct. Because some people in Europe hate the United States so much that they refuse the right of Ukraine to subjectivity. They call it the concept of the United States and Russia, two empires, and they don’t care about Ukraine. They hate the United States so much that they don’t give a fuck about Ukraine at all. That’s why some people in Europe are supporting and eating it and spreading Kremlin’s propaganda. They’re so anti-imperialist, that they are okay with Ukraine being destroyed.

TFSR: Yeah, it’s a funny way to identify an empire, not as someone going in and invading another place because they say that they have a historical relationship and that that other place actually belongs to them, which Putin has done by saying, “Lenin was wrong. The Tsar was right. Stalin was right. Ukraine is a place for us to make decisions about.”

Mira: Yes.

TFSR: Mira, thank you so much for this conversation and I am excited to share it. Are there any other links, do you want to mention your band name? It’s okay if you don’t. Or anything that listeners might follow.

Mira: Well, if you’re into punk rock, if you like street punk and oi, you should check out the band I am in right now. It’s called the Bezlad. While in Lviv, three of us are here out of five people, and we’ll try to make some new songs about current events. With the help of local folks who will fill in, we will try to record something. Also, we have a plan to play at a bomb shelter. That’s something new that we never experienced. Hope that will work. If you’re interested in punk, check it out, and stay in touch if you feel like it.

TFSR: We’ll be featuring a song at the end of this interview so folks can listen in to one track by that band. All right. Well, thanks a lot. I hope you keep safe and good luck to you and yours. I hope the war ends soon.

Mira: Thank you so much. Thank you for your attention. Thank you for speaking out about this. For spending your time to let people know what’s going on and let them hear Ukrainian voices on what’s going on here.

Merced Prisoner Hunger Strikes | Eric King Trial Ends

Merced Prisoner Hunger Strikes | Eric King Trial Ends

This week’s episode has two audio segments…

Download Episode Here!

Merced County Prisoner Hunger Strikes

This week, you’ll hear a chat with California-based activist Victoria from Merced Under Construction, who talks to us about the prisoner hunger strikes at Merced County Jail and John Latorraca Center. Over 40 prisoners engaged in hunger strike for 17 days, fighting for issues like protesting black mold, little food, lack of visitation and other issues. The hunger strike ended Saturday, March 28th, despite the disrespect of the jail administration. You can learn more about how to support and keep up on https://linktr.ee/mercedunderconstruction or MIRA’s facebook page

You can find coverage of the 2016 Merced Jail protests, check out ItsGoingDown.Org

Eric King Trial Ends

Then, you’ll hear from Josh from the Certain Days Calendar and Mookie from the Civil Liberties Defense Center do an update on a roundup of the recent trial of Eric King. Eric was found innocent on charges of assaulting a Federal Bureau of Prisons Lieutenant, a charge that would have added another 20 years to his time in prison, thankfully. More on his case at SupportEricKing.Org, more on Certain Days at CertainDays.Org and the CLDC at CLDC.org

Eric King links:

CLDC links:

Certain Days interviews:

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Featured Tracks:

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Transcription (Merced County Hunger Strike)

Victoria Espinoza: Alright, great. My name is Victoria Espinoza, and identify as a Child of God. I’m born and raised in Merced, California, and I’m the founder of Merced Under Construction.

TFSR: And could you tell us a bit about where Merced County is? What listeners should know about the county? The economy, who lives there, what it looks like, that sort of stuff?

VS: Well, Merced, man, not a lot of people know where Merced is. When they hear Central Valley. They’re like, “what is that?” They think of like Bay Area, LA, when you think of California. But we are literally the central of the state of California, like the Central Valley area in between Fresno and Modesto, or Stanislaus and Fresno County. Our city slogan is “we are the gateway to Yosemite.” And, you know, we boast about it, or the city does at least. But nearly 25% of our population is living in poverty. So it’s predominantly white, Latino, like Hispanic, Mexican, indigenous folks living here with some other races mixed in. We have like, less than 4% Black folks, we do have a very strong Hmong community here and a lot of other different nationalities, race that are here.

TFSR: And for like, as far as, you mentioned, 25% of the population living in poverty, what are the sort of industries that people are involved in? Is it agriculture? Since we’re gonna be talking about prisons, I’m sure that prisons, and police and military are like big employers for parts of the population.

VS: Yeah, so we are a very large agriculture community. So we do have a lot of farm workers. We have a lot in many of our cities and our outskirts as well and unincorporated areas. So that is one thing that we do have strong here in Merced is the ag. We have some industry, industrial stuff, but mainly we’re known for agriculture, honestly. We do have UC Merced, last university that’s been built in. They’re building on that. UC Merced is growing, obviously. So we are seeing some of that, some things that are happening in our community, with rent controls not happening, people are getting pushed out and it’s not the Merced that it used to be 10 years ago, definitely.

TFSR: I guess I do want to ask some questions about Merced Under Construction later and imagine that that’s, like, gentrification and issues like that are being engaged with that group. Is that right?

VS: Yes.

TFSR: Jumping off into the main topic, though. So we’re speaking because there’s been hunger strikes among incarcerated folks at the jails in the county. Can you talk a bit about the conditions at Merced County Jail, and also at the John Latorraca excuse me…

VS: John Latorraca, you said it right. It has a nickname called Sandy Mush? I don’t even know that nickname comes from, but it’s its nickname.

TFSR: Yeah, what’s been up with the hunger strike? Can you talk a little bit about what sparked it? And how many folks are participating and sort of like the basic stuff on that?

VS: Yeah, so the last count that we had, it was about 44, initially, but since then, we’ve had people probably come out and people probably go in. So I haven’t got an accurate count as to how many that could be from the initial start of the strike. Yesterday marked day 17. I haven’t heard from anybody since noontime yesterday, so I’m hoping privileges were not taken. But they were dealing with a ton. A ton of stuff going on, black mold in the housing units and that’s impacting health, not being given hot meals, even hot water, just simple basic human asks, just necessities to live on.

The grievances for these things that there were issues in administration, they were being ignored, or they’re getting vague responses, that whole system had failed. Losing mail, incoming and outgoing was already a problem before the pandemic. And since the pandemic had started it became even worse. Since they had their visitations taken for over two years with the excuse of the pandemic, and weren’t offered any other means, the mail and the phones became a vital lifeline. Those were basically stolen from them.

That has impacted them in negative ways. I mean, their mental health, inability to make appropriate decisions. So many people that were in the facility the past two plus years were taking deals just to get out of the jails here so they could go to a prison that offers visitation, and that is crazy. That’s like people at there last, at their wit’s end, like “I’m gonna take a deal just so I could get out of here because this is like living hell.” That was a serious thing.

Being discriminated against based on their housing status, the jail uniforms that impacts them when they’re before a judge or the district attorney. A lot of these same asks were things that we saw from the 2016 prison strikes that Merced county jails were also a part of, and it’s nearly six years later, and not much has changed. It’s just kind of kind of crazy. They were on day 17 as of yesterday, and they were in negotiation. So the agreement was actually yesterday for them to end their strike. They were supposed to end it with the hot breakfast, have their hot water.

But then the morning came, and we ran into issues with the staff. They began to be hostile towards them. And when meals came around, they didn’t bring them anything, they didn’t even bring them cold food, they didn’t bring them anything that did not bring them hot water. They were just being cold. When I think about it, it was just evil towards them. So they basically went through all these negotiations for what purpose? They were with the Sheriff’s corrections, they had agreed to this on day 17, that it would break in the morning on these conditions. Those two basic conditions weren’t even met.

So they weren’t accepting any meals from the admin. They weren’t doing any movements at all. So that means their yard time and they’re getting maybe two or three hours a week, if that. Anyway, they weren’t accepting court movements. They weren’t even seeing their attorneys for meetings. They basically weren’t doing anything, any medical, anything like that, they were basically saying, “I’m not moving, I’m not eating until you guys change some stuff.” And the negotiations after noon time yesterday, they said that they had pulled some folks out. We were doing some phones zaps for them on their behalf yesterday to all the jail facilities and the Board of Supervisors. They did pull some of them out to have more talks. But after that, it’s been radio silence. So I’m hoping everything’s going okay.

TFSR: That sounds like a terrible flex, kind of authoritarian flex, that places like jails and the kind of people that staff them would make. When you’re mentioning people taking deals just so they can go to prison, are a lot of the people that are there and who are participating in this in pretrial conditions right now just sort of awaiting their day in court? And also people who’ve gotten county charges who are being held there, too?

VS: Yeah, we do have some people that serve sentences here locally. I think if it’s under two years, one year. It’s at the discretion of our county facility if they want to house somebody for their time, or if they’re going to send them to state prison. They have that ability. But most of the folks that are here are pretrial detainees, so they haven’t yet been convicted of a crime. Some of these are not sight-and-release offenses with the whole bail reform law. Some of these people are sitting in there on bale-able offenses, but yet they don’t have the funds to make that happen.

TFSR: It’s so so inhumane that you expect someone to be able to put their life on hold and also not be able to necessarily access the means to build a defense for themselves because they’re worrying about how their family is doing on the outside. They’re just kind of waiting until the courts have enough time to see them.

You’d mentioned the uniforms too. And I know that in the demands, there was a statement about how the uniforms that were being assigned to people weren’t necessarily respective to like security threat group status that people were in. I know that even the STG [Security Threat Group] type thing, saying that someone’s in a gang or whatever isn’t always applied according to someone’s actual participation in a criminal organization. But can you say a little bit about people’s experience of the of the issue of the uniforms and what that means for access to programs or to things like ability to research in the library? Not that there probably is a library, but you know what I mean?

VS: Yeah, I think a lot of it… the people that are more impacted by this whole uniform thing, are predominantly brown, Latino, hispanic, Mexican, indigenous individuals, because they separate them by the two gang classifications, Norteños and Sureños. Pretty much everybody else gets housed as general population when it comes to the maximum security facility of the Merced County Jail. But mainly these folks are the southern, northern, or the red and the blue, however the classification deems it. They separate them, and since Merced County unfortunately operates on LA County’s informal gang injunction model, a lot of people come into our jails are impacted and being labeled gang members based on familial association, based on where they live. They might live next to somebody that’s a documented or validated gang member. So they get housed, and they say it’s for their safety to house them this way, but then we have people that are not from any of these origins, being classified like this.

So when they go to court, and you see the northern, Norteño, classifications, they’re in green and white stripes, the southern are in a blue and white stripe. And so that takes a big toll on them, when they’re going through the whole process, how the district attorney is looking at them, how the judges are looking at them, and the bias that comes with that. This has been going on for a long time with this facility. We know that other jails, like in Stanislaus County, have a different system. Basically, people are housed as general population, just like they do in prisons, everybody’s pretty much housed together, and they know how to separate folks.

So that’s what the sheriff’s corrections here in Merced, were talking about introducing a bracelet system. But they’ve talked about this before back in 2016 and no changes have been made. So that’s a problem for a lot of people, especially when they’re going through this whole unfortunate situation, with being incarcerated, being labeled as a “gang member” even if they’ve never even been a part of that lifestyle. It’s pretty disgusting that that’s been going on for so many decades. This has been happening for a long time in this community.

TFSR: Do you have a sense of if they are just gonna keep going as long as they can go with it?

VS: So right now, so what they were doing, they were refusing all admin meals, and basically attempting to survive minimally off what they could get on commissary. Commissary is trash. It’s a lot of things that are not even acceptable for the human body. And these are things that people are forced to buy because they’re not getting proper nutrition from the food that they’re getting from the facility itself. The food, they were protesting, part of the strike was protesting the inadequate conditions of the food and improper nutrition. I mean, people’s health being impacted. They’ve been in there for a few months and we got folks losing teeth. I mean, that that’s how bad it is.

So that was pretty much what they were doing, refusing all admin meals. Because they weren’t even getting hot meals like they should have been. At least two hot meals a day. It’s the minimum. They weren’t getting that for so long. And that’s pretty much what they were refusing. It was affecting a lot of them. I mean, yesterday was day 17. They were in the negotiations ready to say, “All right, we will accept if we get a hot meal. Like it’s been a long time since we’ve had a hot meal.” I can’t imagine going 17 days without a hot meal or even hot water. That’s just like the basic things that you need. Right? That was the other thing, is the hot water, being able to have hot water.

TFSR: So there’s the cruelty of not offering these things. You mentioned that administration had made the agreement that after 17 days, they would offer them a warm meal and hot water and they refused that. How have they been expressing themselves and their reasoning for continuing to treat people in this manner in the media? Because I’m sure that they’ve been making statements, the media has been reproducing right?

VS: Yeah, well, initially, the Merced Sun Star had wrote an article, again, without interviewing any detainees or inmates, and without reaching out and speaking to any of the loved ones, or anybody that was involved in the organizing around the strike out here. They interviewed the Sheriff’s Department. Basically, they were just talking about how they’re supposedly meeting and in negotiations with these asks of the detainees and the inmates. Which was not true at that point. So we had sent out a media advisory, challenging, to show us to tell us exactly what’s being done, because the public has a right to know. Public state funds or whatever is being used to fund that facility and all the things that are happening in there.

So I mean, they’re going to paint their own narrative. That’s basically what they’re going to do and they’re going to do that time and time again, I don’t think that’s going to change. But when they were in negotiations and they had clearly stated, “Okay, we will break our strike on day 17 when we get our hot breakfast and our hot water.” At about five, six o’clock, when they’re usually taking out the trays, they came around, nothing came. Not even cold food. Then when they were trying to communicate with the correctional staff, they were being treated hostilely. They were basically taunting, saying, “Yeah, your hot water is out here. But we’re not going to bring it to you.” Well how are they going to go and get it? How are they going to go and get that water? It’s out there. But we’re not bringing it to you. I mean, that type of behavior, it’s just unnecessary.

So yeah, you’re right, it was just kind of like that flex, “we can pretty much continue to do what we want,” kind of thing. They were reaching out to us. So we started, we had put out posts and numbers for phone zaps to try to get something. Then after a couple of hours, they pulled some folks out, to have more communications with them. But that was around noon time yesterday. And again, like I said, we haven’t heard anything from inside as of now.

TFSR: So yeah, as far as the public needing to know about this and you mentioned the taxpayer money and such. But also all the people that are in there, almost everyone is going to have people on the outside who care about them. I’m sure a lot of the people, not just people who have an idea that this is a wrong circumstance, but they have a personal care for loved ones that are stuck behind these bars. How is the outside engagement, then, as far as you could tell, in terms of organizing, communicating, offering support to loved ones, participating in the phone zaps, or showing up in person?

VS: Oh, yeah, I mean, for instance the rally that we had on the 21st, the turnout was low. We had less than 12, like 12 people total. A lot of that right now has to do with the inmates and the loved ones, they’re concerned with the possibility of retaliation, and also the risk of even advocating for somebody, out here, that’s in there, people that are labeled as “gang members,” you run the risk of being labeled a gang member yourself. I mean, and that’s a consequence, that many folks that are impacted face. I might even be labeled as a gang member, because according to a loved one that I had, that was inside the facility, just recently, the end of last year, they were taken out by classifications and asked questions about myself about “we know she’s a gang member, who does she run with?” and these type of things.

I know that this facility has blocked my phone number so that folks in there can no longer reach out to me. That’s unfortunate, because I didn’t know about the hunger strike, actually, until day 10. Somebody from the family members in there had to find me, and search for me, in order to make the connection because I didn’t know my number had been blocked from the facility itself. So I mean, that’s another thing. Folks trying to organize in there trying to reach out for help and they’re literally blocking their means of a lifeline from within the Merced County Jails, for whatever reason. I don’t know why.

That’s pretty much what we’re seeing. There are people in there that don’t have anyone. So we have people in there reaching out, because they need funds, they don’t have any funds for personal care, or to get anything from the commissary line. And it becomes a community within the facility when you have people like that that are indigent, and they should be able to utilize the welfare funds. And when they utilize the welfare funds, when they do get commissary on their book, then all of a sudden, the staff comes and takes that for anytime they went to the doctor, anytime they got a mail package for the one month, what are those four or five dollars if they’ve been in there for a year. Then somebody puts $50, $100 on their books, and all of a sudden administration comes and says, “Oh, you owe us this money,” and then they snatch it. So that’s kind of a problem as well, for those people that are impacted in that way. They don’t have loved ones out here at all.

TFSR: So, if the administration takes the tack of separating people, according to ostensible gang certifications, or whatever, putting them in these different uniforms, have people been able to, despite that, organize across these lines with each other for the hunger strike and the common understanding that we’re all suffering under this?

VS: Yeah, I have seen that this time around as well, that people were joining in solidarity within the facility itself. But yet, it’s just very hard to try to make those connections inside the facility. The Merced County Jail is the maximum security facility. So it’s heavily segregated. But people were still in solidarity with that, trying to say, “hey, we’re having the same issues, let’s join together, let’s band together.” So that was one thing that they were doing in there to try to show them “hey, we don’t have to be segregated, we don’t have to be labeled like this, and we don’t have to work different uniforms. We could be housed together, we can even organize together inside of the facility for change.”

TFSR: Is anyone on the outside raising the alarm, obviously, black mold is a health issue that that is on the books that black mold can cause mental issues, it can cause lung issues, quite obviously. And, not getting your caloric value or your intake of calories every day can also cause mental anguish, as well as starvation basically. Have there been anyone successfully being able to raise concerns about the demands of the folks inside of these two jail from a legal standpoint saying, “this doesn’t follow the California requirements for how a county jail operates?” Has that been a direction that’s been helpful at all?

VS: We haven’t had any support in that area. And I’ve reached out and it just seems like they’re not. I’ve reached out to ACLU, I’ve reached out to other firms for prisoners rights, and a lot of these places, they’re not based near our area and so they just say, “we don’t have anybody that can cover” or, “we’re at our capacity.” So we haven’t seen any relief in that way. But I’m gonna hopefully be getting together with some folks in the next week to draft something up, because we want to have an external review and investigation because I don’t think our Merced County Grand Jury is doing a good enough job, because they’ve seen these conditions for a number of years and they haven’t enforced any type of action to make them correct it on a permanent status. So we’re gonna have to look to like OGI or OIG, whatever the that external government entity that’s over our prisons and our jails is going to have to come and put eyes on this.

TFSR: I See. So could you talk a little bit about MIRA and about Merced Under Construction, who’s getting involved, and what the groups are about, and talk about the difficulties or any difficulties or wins that you’ve seen with those groups?

VS: Oh, awesome. So MIRA, was actually Merced Inmates Rights Association and it is the page that’s ran by the loved ones of the current detainees and inmates of the Merced county jails and the John Latorraca Jail. It’s pretty awesome, and they’re new to all of this stuff. But they’re so passionate and driven to bring awareness. And that’s kind of where I fit in. I’ve been a directly impacted person, right? It’s kind of how Mercer Under Construction all came together.

Right now, we’re just looking for support. Merced Under Construction isn’t officially an org or anything like that. I’m actually, we’re opposed to the whole nonprofit industrial complex. So we’re really looking to folks, to keep it really grassroots and centered around real people, and being able to find funding for the work and whatnot. Hopefully, we can start doing that here pretty soon. But that’s basically what we’re doing. We’re just centered around incarceration, and the impacts of that on people in their families, a lot of work around police accountability, and creating opportunities for formerly incarcerated folks and their families. One of the pillars is to definitely to reach out to the children that are impacted by it as well.

TFSR: Can you talk a little bit about the name Merced Under Construction? Does it concern that the community is not completed? It’s not done? We’re still building it as we go? Or is it more of a like, “there’s money coming in for development projects, we need to make sure that those developments are actually supporting the people that already live here as opposed to larger entities?”

VS: It’s a little bit of both and the fact that we’re just never done. There’s so much work to be done. When we have developers, and we have businesses looking at Merced to build, and we have more and more funding going into suppression and first-responding in our community. Yet, we still have youth that are being impacted, joblessness, homelessness, houslessness, and people that are struggling trying to stretch a food stamp, people that are just falling through the cracks. I just feel like it’s always gonna be undone until we can finally bring that awareness and bring folks together, have this accountability, and figure out where the money is going. Because some of these funds that they’re they’re getting, like the COVID-19 funding, and all the extra grants and stuff that they get for every arrest that they can deem a gang related arrest, or an incarceration they can deem gang related, they’re getting federal and state fund grants on top of that. So is that a reason? Merced is just always under construction.

TFSR: Kind of like a side note, I did Cop Watch when I was living in Sonoma County. This is like the mid 2000s, and we were seeing that the local Gang Task Force, which was made up to some degree, it did have California Highway Patrol participation, but also it’s mostly the county that was coordinating with local police departments. They would all kind of joined together under the auspices of gang issues, would set up checkpoints. They would also get Driving Under the Influence, like federal anti DUI funding, to set up checkpoints in immigrant neighborhoods where people maybe didn’t have the papers for the car that they were driving because they were sharing it among multiple families, or maybe they didn’t have a license because they weren’t legally allowed to because they were undocumented. Just getting the money to go and set up there under the auspices of gangs, or DUIs nowhere near a bar, and taking people’s vehicles who were absolutely being marginalized by capitalism and white supremacy, and selling those and funding their own department out of that. That sounds kind of like it’s par for the course for California’s policing systems.

VS: Yeah. There’s so many. There’s the minor decoy program grants that they get. There’s just so many little things and it’s all fruit of the poisonous tree, in my opinion. It doesn’t really impact anything like what you’re talking about, the DUIs, and the minor decoy. These little grants get a ton of money. but yet, in my community, violent crime is up, murder is up, rapes are up, child murder… We just had a little girl that was killed in our community, her body was found. Nine years old, Sophia Mason, a beautiful black child. These types of crimes are happening. But they’re putting money into checkpoints. They’re putting money into seeing if anybody’s gonna buy a minor alcohol or cigarettes. But we have some dark, unnecessary crime rising here. My mind is blown. Home invasions are up, it’s just crazy. We’re a very small community compared on the scale of the state of California, Merced County is tiny. We’re very small. So again, it just doesn’t make any sense to me at all whatsoever.

TFSR: Well, how can listeners find out more about the strike and support it from where they’re at? Maybe not locally? Or if or locally? If you have some suggestions?

VS: Oh, definitely awesome. So we will continue posting on the MIRA page, the Merced Inmate Rights Association page, and the Merced Under Construction Instagram and Facebook page. But like I said, we’re unofficial org, so we’re asking folks to support. Right now we have a link tree link up. If folks have it in their heart or their conscience to support us, we’ll be accepting donations through ‘buy me a coffee,’ through that outlet. But we’re putting funds together for detainees and inmates directly. So we want to be able to put, fund several people’s, at least a month commissary account, whether that’s $25, whether that’s $50, we want to be able to put money for them to use themselves, for the phone, for food, for personal care, etc. We’re also going to be having some letter writing days, where we’ll be sending them out handwritten letters, cards, and communication with folks that are inside of the facilities themselves. So we have a direct line. There’s a lot of people like I had said before, they don’t have anybody out on the outside, they don’t come from much. We want to be able to support them, and let them know that they are loved. That they’re cared about and that there are people out here that say that they matter.

A lot of other work we’re doing that we need support with, it’s police accountability part of our work. And man, sometimes we have bits of a drive, we have to drive got to take reports, do our own investigations. We also have to request records from whatever government agency that the officer involved works with. So we have to pay for flex or dash cam or other records. And again, we don’t want to be a part of the nonprofit industrial complex, so we’re trying to just keep it grassroots and just real people funding real work that’s really happening in Merced. We’ve never done this before. It’s only always been on our own time on our own dime. And now we’re like really needing assistance because it’s growing. So that’s basically it. Just check us out on Facebook, Instagram, and hopefully we can get our website up here in like the next month or so.

TFSR: Victoria, thank you so much for having this conversation for the work that you’re doing. Yeah, I guess keep in touch. And we’ll keep trying to cover this when we can.

VS: I appreciate you Bursts. Thank you so much.

[ Editors note: The hunger strike ended Saturday, March 28th, despite the disrespect of the jail administration. ]

Transcription (Eric King Trial)

Josh: My name is Josh, I’m based out of Baltimore. And I do a lot of political prisoner support work and abolition work. I’m a member of the Certain Days Calendar Collective, and the children’s art project with political prisoner Oso Blanco. I’m currently also editing a book with Eric King, where we interview political prisoners about their lives inside. I work in communications with the Zinn education project. And I guess I first started writing Eric in 2017 or so and we’ve been corresponding ever since.

Mookie:My name is Mookie Moss, and my pronouns are he and him. I’ve been on the CLDC board of directors for gosh, maybe six or seven years, my day job has been a farmer for the last 25 or 26 years. But I’ve worked in and around a lot of radical organizations, both in the United States and in South America. A lot of the work that I’ve done has been around indigenous farmers down south, and anti-capitalist movements in South America, and here in the United States, environmental activist, that kind of stuff. So that’s who I am.

TFSR: So for listeners who don’t know, Eric, can you say some words about who he is and what he was convicted of?

Mookie: To be totally frank and honest, I have come to Eric Kings’ case pretty late in the game. But I did jump in with both feet based on this opportunity to work with the organization that I work with, which is the Civil Liberties Defense Center. My learning of Eric’s life and his story was kind of a crash course. But just based on my past experience being there for his trial, he came across to me as an incredibly emotionally sensitive guy, and also a really intelligent guy. He spoke really, really well. Obviously, because he’s a political prisoner, my view is that he really looks at his experience, both in jail and the world around him through a very, very strong political lens. So I would just add that.

TFSR: Oh, yeah. And with, with the usage of the term political prisoner in there, that says a lot, not only for what he was convicted for. Right? For that politically motivated property destruction, but also for the way that he’s conducted himself, and also how he’s been treated by administration’s since he’s been inside.

Can you all talk a bit about as sort of background for this case, what has Eric’s treatment been like in prison? How is he related to other prisoners as an antifascist, and as an anti-authoritarian, and also how the staff has related to him for these reasons?

Josh: Sure. So Eric, currently has been in solitary confinement for over 1,000 days, for over three years. He’s been in federal prisons all over the country, in private prisons as well. And he’s been brutalized and attacked wherever he’s been sent, either by guards or by Nazi-type prisoners. He’s defended himself every step of the way. He’s tried to help other prisoners, whenever he’s been given the chance, to to help voice their concerns.

I think it’s also important to point out that it’s not just Eric being targeted, that this happens to political prisoners and prisoners in general, throughout history. It’s currently happening not only with Eric King, but as you know with Sean Swain having his finger chopped recently by guards, there’s several indigenous prisoners being abused now, for the religious reasons, having their sweat lodge destroyed in a federal prison in California. I mean, it goes back all the way, the Attica brothers, Herman Bell being abused years ago before he got out. You know, it goes back throughout American history of guard abuse. It’s it’s pretty endless.

Mookie: I would also add, just to what Josh eloquently put, is that witnessing what Eric actually just went through as an extenuation of that type of torture, and bullshit, and experience that he has dealt with all along the way. Watching how the Bureau of Prisons handled him even just during this court case, where there was obviously a spotlight put upon him and put upon his conditions and experience was mind boggling to watch and to bear witness to. I have been interested in political prisoners and the struggle for a very, very long time. It’s not like I came into this with a blind eye like people are being treated well in prison, but the amount of punitive and destructive behavior from the Bureau of Prisons towards Eric, just during this case, there was something coming up. I can talk about that. Josh and I can talk about that. But it was just it was a microcosm of a much larger experience of let’s turn the screws against the people that are standing up for themselves and for their their belief system. It was really something else.

TFSR: He was speaking of “screws”, would y’all mind talking a little bit about what this trial was about? And what what sort of outcomes Eric was facing during it, and how long it’s lasted? Because it seems like it’s lasted a very long time to get to the phase of actually going before a judge and jury.

Mookie: Yeah, that’s right. So if I’m getting my dates right, the original incident which caused this recent trial, took place August 17, 2018. It was a situation where an assault had happened in the institution that Eric was spending time in and Eric wrote a[n] email to his wife to sort of blow off some steam and describe the situation that had happened in the institution he was spending time in. Basically, he said… I don’t have the email in front of me. So I’m not going to read it word for word, but basically, he was describing and feeling some excitement over the fact that a prisoner had struck a correctional officer. And beyond that, he went on to describe the feeling of wishing that he could be there to witness it, wishing he could have seen it, he said something along the lines of even watching it in virtual reality.

He was pulled out of his pulled out of his cell, because that email, obviously was read by the correctional authorities and the guards. So he got pulled out of his cell under the guise that they were going to do an investigation. He walked himself from his cell down to a place called the lieutenant’s office. And the lieutenant’s office, which really was a long hallway that had four rooms that came off of that hallway. A couple of them were lieutenants offices, one was a property room, I believe it was described as, and then the last room in that hallway was a broom closet. A broom closet full of mop buckets, rakes, tools, all these different things.

What happened next changes a lot depending on which correctional authority you heard the story from but Eric’s story never really changed a bit. What Eric’s story was as he was led into this broom closet. There were two correctional guards, two lieutenants, Lieutenant Wilcox and a Lieutenant Kammrad. Lieutenant Wilcox got in his face, Eric said, “I don’t want to fight.There’s two of you,” essentially, Wilcox kicked out his subordinate, Kammrad. Wilcox started a fight with Eric and he called him a ‘bitch’ he called him a ‘punk’ in this broom closet and he attacked Eric. Eric, decided that he didn’t think that being attacked a broom closet was going to be good for his life or good for his situation and so he fought back and he struck Lieutenant Wilcox in the face three times very in very quick succession. Lieutenant Wilcox was a really big guy, and Eric is not a big guy.

So it was pretty clear that Eric was more skilled in that expression, and he broke Wilcox’s nose. And after he broke Wilcox’s nose the other guards the other lieutenants ran in and you know, Eric had assumed a neutral position after he put wilt Wilcox down on the ground, and then from there, a whole series of things unfolded. Essentially the case was a “he said, he said” case, you know, where Wilcox said one thing and Eric said the truth. Fortunately for this court case, the guards that all had a story to share, the story was so convoluted and and frankly bullshit that that really came out in the trial.

So this turned out to be a self defense case. And it’s pretty remarkable, the legal team for the CLDC Lauren Regan, Sarah Alvarez, and Sandra Freeman, they did an incredible job of not only showing the inconsistencies and discrepancies in the Bureau of Prisons story, but also did a really good job giving Eric an opportunity to speak his truth up on the stand. And we’re lucky enough to be in one of those very rare situations where justice prevailed.

TFSR: Okay, there’s a few things that are heard throughout the course of the last, I guess, three and a half years, including that Wilcox had said, “Oh, you’re in Antifa, huh?” Something about his daughter running into anti-fascists and having a problem with that. He just sort of threw out a bunch of weird, disconnected shit, it sounded like. But it seemed like it must have been some sort of prefigured situation for them to take him into a room that the only room that didn’t have any cameras, which was a bit suspect, and then afterwards to hold him down in restraint for a number of hours, like 14 hours or something like that. Can you talk a little bit about some of that?

Josh: Sure. Yeah. He was held in four point restraint for hours after the incident occurred, after he was beaten. Yeah, there’s parts of it on video. There’s parts of it that were missing on video. I think it’s also worth mentioning, I listen to the trial from afar, but at one point I think they tried to make the case that a black eye that Eric suffered, was actually his Antifa tattoo on his face, which is just another way of showing that it’s his politics that they’re attacking, which I think does go to show what you were saying that it’s intentional and it is planned out. Anything to add, Mookie?

Mookie: You know, Josh is correct. They did at one point try to pin that black eye on the fact that he had a tattoo there. At another point, they were sort of edging towards this reasoning and this was very skillfully shut down by Eric’s defense team, but potentially that Eric either got the black eye when he was brought down on his face by the rest of the guards who rushed into save their buddy Wilcox. It was sort of hinted at one time that maybe potentially he could have given himself that black eye, which is of course ridiculous. Because after this incident, there wasn’t a moment that Eric was off camera.

Luckily, there was a nurse at the facility that Eric was sent to after this attack took place. This was the only Bureau of Prisons nurse that actually checked Eric out in any sort of realistic way and made notes that he had showed up with a pretty significant shiner. If you look at the video of the medical assessment that they did after this whole incident took place. This should shock absolutely no one who has any sort of understanding about how the Bureau of Prisons works, but the nurse who did the initial medical assessment spent about three minutes. Eric complained of a high level of pain in this temple, he had pain in some other places, but really was like, “hey, yeah, I’m hurt, and I’m hurting right now.” And there was never a second look given to him.

It was really something else. She inquired about a potential new tattoo, which he was like, “No, this tattoos not new.” But you could tell that there was a very purposeful, obfuscation of the truth that started immediately following the incident, because my perception was, is that they knew that they were going to have a difficult storyline to defend. And so at every turn where modicum, a little chunk of truth could come out, instead of asking questions and risking documented truth on Eric’s behalf coming out, they just slid right past it.

So the medical assessment, even though Eric, the State, or the government in this case, showed a picture repeatedly of Eric immediately following the incident, but we’re talking minutes after the incident. They’re like, “look, he’s got no black eye. This isn’t true. This didn’t happen.” Because their whole case hinged on the fact that Wilcox never took a swing at Eric, never assaulted him. That Eric sucker punched Wilcox, which is just blatantly not true. But so yeah, so they showed this picture of Eric right after the incident. And he didn’t have a shiner, because as anybody knows, it takes a good chunk of time after you get hit the eyeball to to get a big black eye. So it was really, really, really something.

TFSR: Eric has had a history of negative interactions with authorities and with guards in the past. And if I recall, a lot of those instances were in relation to private communication with his partner, or poetry that he’s written, or drawings that he’s made, and them being eschewed as threats by administration. So for that he’s gotten time in solitary, he’s had his rights to mail taken away, he’s had his ability to receive books taken away, or magazines. Just sort of exacerbating, and just amplifying the academic isolation as well as personal isolation of prison that he’s had to go through over these years.

Usually, he would just face ,as most prisoners… This this kind of crap is not abnormal in the US Prison System, whether it be in a State system, in a county, where someone’s in jail, or in the BOP, retaliation for petty things by petty guards, and all being adjudicated before some sort of internal rules board or some sort of internal court. Luckily, Eric did not have to defend himself before a kangaroo court inside without press and without legal defense from other parties. How is it that this case, why is it that this case, that could have tacked another 20 years onto his sentence, why did this become a public case? And how did the CLDC get involved, as far as you all know?

Mookie: My understanding, Bursts, is this case was brought to Lauren Regan initially by Daniel McGowan. Correct?

Josh: Yeah, believe so.

Mookie: So Daniel, you know, has a long standing relationship with the CLDC, because they did defense for him back in the day when when he was going through his trial, that he had been in contact with Eric for some time and reached out to Lauren Regan, who’s Eric’s lead defense attorney, and was the founder of the CDC, and said, “Hey, there’s this guy who’s serving time, he’s got a really compelling story. He was assaulted. He’s a really good guy and I really believe in him and believe in trying to seek some sort of justice in this case.” Lauren has a very close friendship with Daniel, and they’ve got really good history together.

So I think that really, Bursts, the reason why this happened is because there was a lot of trust. There’s a lot of historic trusts. And I think that’s a really important piece of this case is that. Lauren, and I were talking about this after the trial wrapped up just that. It’s really incredible when you see real true solidarity pay dividends like it does. Daniel felt solidarity with Eric, and because he had solidarity with Lauren, they came together and Lauren was like, “Daniel, if you believe in this person, I believe in you so much that, let’s go.” And that’s how it went forward. The CLDC, this is one of the things that they specialize in is shining lights in the dark corners of the key parts of our judicial system. So, I think that that’s that’s originally how Lauren got the case.

TFSR: What are the next steps in legal process for Eric? Is the outcome of the not guilty finding by that jury, does that does that mean he’s going to get any sort of reduction in his sentence? Or are there grounds for, because they were able to prove in a public court that the claims from the administration were false and that he had been subjected to harm, are there grounds for other lawsuits to sort of go back and point to the other portions of time when he’s been stuck in solitary? Been put in courtyards with giant Nazis? Gotten diesel therapy? Not had the ability anymore to get visits from his spouse in his family, is there anything brewing in terms of that? Or is he just scheduled for release in December 2023 and we’re just hoping to get him out.

Josh: Yeah, I think a lot of that is still to be determined. Like you said, he’s scheduled to be released in a year and a half, in December 2023. But I think it’s also important to keep in mind that he’s still locked up in there. As of right now, the end of March, he’s still on a mail ban, he can still only receive mail from his family. Last I heard he’s still in solitary confinement, even though he won the case. I think that there’s a likelihood that he’ll probably be transferred, who knows where that might be. Probably a lot of diesel therapy, a lot more diesel therapy.

But I think it’s also again, important to keep in mind that in the face of all this violence, in the face of all this state repression that he’s met it face on with a sense of humor, and he’s been able to build strong relationships, not only with people, those of us on the outside, but with those imprisoned right alongside of him, even when he’s in the worst possible conditions. He’s organizing them. He’s educating and is sharing as much as he can with those around him.

Mookie: I would also just add, Bursts, to echo what Josh said. I mean, Josh is right on there. And also I do know that the CLDC has a civil case filed on Eric’s behalf. I think that ideally, when somebody is wronged to such a grievous level, as Eric was wronged in prison, that there would be some sort of… I don’t even know if I should say like financial or time served retribution, but my understanding is that based on the law, it would be almost impossible for Eric to benefit in any monetary way from this civil case. I believe that there’s a Prison Act that says that you can’t benefit, even if you’re wronged from something that occurs if you [are in] prison if you’re there. I wish I knew and could speak a little bit more articulately.

But I think what’s really important about this, the civil case is that what I really think that the CLDC, and what Eric’s defense team, and what I would imagine Eric is hoping for is that by bringing the civil case, it’s going to effectively shine a spotlight on his treatment and will be a cautionary tale to any of the psychopaths in the bureau of prisons that decide to make his remaining time the hardest time in the world. That’s not to say that it’s not going to happen. I am just always shocked at the level of depravity that the Bureau of Prisons will go to make people are uncomfortable on the inside.

But having said that, every single night of this case, as it went on through the week, Eric was subjected to some new bizarre turn by the Bureau of Prisons, whether all of a sudden he was getting yanked out of his the cell that he’d been in and got transferred to a whole new facility next door. That happened one night. Another day, his cell flooded and coffee was spilled on his documents, another day, his documents and all of his personal property were removed. That made it almost impossible for him to prep for trial. I mean, it was so bizarre that that even the Bureau of Prisons… I’m sorry, there is nothing funny about this. It’s just unreal.

The Bureau of Prisons story when a cup of coffee was spilled on his documents and made them impossible to read, the BOP story was that a bird flew into his cell and knocked this cup of coffee over on his documents. The courtroom, when this was said, was just like… jaws dropped. And the judge who presided over this case, Judge Martinez, he even at that point leaned back in his chair and shook his head and said, I’m not going to be able to quote him verbatim, but basically the gist of what he said was, “I cannot believe that what’s happening to Mr. King is happening to Mr. King and the Bureau of Prisons better watch itself, because they’re setting themselves up for a civil suit.” I don’t know if he knew that was already in action, but all of those actions are going to be added to the suit. So hopefully, that gives them just the tiniest bit of cover from more torture and abuse. But it’s hard to say.

TFSR: Yeah, I remember seeing tweets about the stupidity of that moment. Unicorn Riot had a nice image for their posting of their coverage.

Were there any other highlights that stood out from the case? Either testimony from Eric or… because he was actually able to speak on his own behalf and had to answer like cross examination, I would imagine, but can you talk about any other elements of how the the case itself went?

Mookie: Sure. Let’s see highlights or lowlights. I guess in a case like this, they are kind of one and the same. It was very interesting to see Lieutenant Wilcox walk into the courtroom for his testimony. I think that was on day one. You know, all the photographs that I’d seen of Lieutenant Wilcox. He’s a fairly large, imposing, hulking figure and that was not the guy who walked into the courtroom. The guy who walked into the courtroom had a cane was bent over. Evidently in his off time, he has now since retired from the Bureau of Prisons, probably related to this incident… But he’s got a ranch and I’m not sure exactly if he was supposedly or actually injured on his ranch. I’m really not sure. But he walked into the courtroom and sort of shuffled down the center like an old man. I was like, “wow, the theatrics just don’t stop” and I’m not I’m not saying that he wasn’t actually injured, but whatever was happening, they did their very best to make sure that he didn’t come in as an imposing hulking prison guard type.

He got up on the stand and I would say what was most interesting to me, and I guess this was written and you could have seen it coming from a mile away, but the government’s case was so incredibly weak that anytime he was asked a question by the CLDC, or by Eric’s defense team, in any way that could impeach a previous story, or a previous statement he had made, it was just one, “I can’t remember, I can’t remember, I can’t remember” after another. Then when the government would come and ask him a similar questions, it was remarkable how quickly his memory sharpened up. So that was really, really interesting.

The other Lieutenant that that got on the stand, Lieutenant Kammrad, his his testimony was really weak. And I think the take home, the important take home of that piece was that the government was really trying to flip it 180 degrees, they are trying to say, “Look how authentic our guys are. It’s been three years since this incident and you can tell that our guys are telling the truth, because there’s variation in the story.” Well, the fact of the matter is, is that the variation of the story was was wildly varied. And it was backed up with video evidence that the defense team had brought that just punched so many different holes in the way that this moment in the broom closet unfolded that it just was absolutely unbelievable. Then the inverse of that is when Eric went up on the stand, he told such an incredibly lucid and cohesive story that matched up to every single one of his previous statements. So that was, I thought that was pretty interesting. How about you, Josh, what am I forgetting? Give me a second to think about those highlights.

Josh: No, no, I think you captured them all. My partner and I were kind of glued to the phone all week, working and listening to this in the background. I think you’ve captured all the major highlights. Eric did a great job while he was on the stand, of course.

Mookie: Yeah. Eric did a great job. I guess I would also just say, Bursts, that I had heard lots of things about Judge Martinez going into this case and I definitely had some concern. I’ve got concern anytime in the same realm as a federal judge, of course, but I have to say that… And of course, my experience as somebody in the gallery watching or Josh’s experience listening and I know a lot of people have listened, we don’t have the same experience that the attorneys do, because we’re not privy to all the sidebars. And I will say that there were more sidebars in this case than I’ve definitely ever heard of. I think even judge Martinez said, “there are more sidebars and objections in this case than he’s ever seen in his career.”

So, it was very clear to everybody in the courtroom that this was not only a very contentious case, like any political case can be, but it was really important to find a passage through this story in a way that didn’t bias the jury either way, and because this case was political in nature, and because Eric chose to do a politically motivated act of property destruction, it was very tenuous in in how they would go after Eric. You could tell that the government, the US Attorney’s, were doing everything that they could open up lines of questioning that we’re going to shock and dismay jurors who might not have the same or even a political analysis as Eric’s. I think that Eric’s defense team did a really skillful job guiding the jury through the story in a way where it didn’t open those doors necessarily.

There’s just lots of different feelings on what the term “violence” means and whether a politically motivated act of property destruction is violent. I have very strong feelings that it’s not, but I think that there was some concern that the jury could grab on to certain terminology that would then bias them and they would lose their ability to see this case for what it really was: One side is speaking the truth and one side is making up stories as they go along.

So I have to say that not having access to what has happened in those sidebars, I feel like there was 100 sidebars, I’m sure I’m exaggerating, but there was so many that I felt like judge Martinez did a pretty darn good job running a clean courtroom. I didn’t see bias in him, what I saw was a judge that actually just really wanted to follow the letter of the law. Luckily, you know, in this case, the letter of the law is on Eric side, he was defending himself and that’s a right that every single person has to do in this country, even if you’re locked up. So I thought the judge did a pretty good job walking that middle path. I have to say that I think that he was impressed with Eric’s defense team. I think that because of the nature of this trial would have been very possible to have lawyers that weren’t necessarily prepared to handle something at this high level. I think they hit it out of the park.

TFSR: I can see how like bringing up the fact that there are political views that are held by Eric, and the nature of his conviction, and pointing to that as being potentially counter to the political views of the guards, and thus, motivating them to act in juvenile and petty manners… Differentiating that from like, “he burned down a politician’s office, and someone could have been hurt!” That seems like a very thin line to walk and it sounds like folks did that very, very well. Do you all have any updates on how Eric’s health is these days? And how are his spirits?

Josh: Due to the mail ban, not many people have heard from him. I’ve heard through the grapevine that he is extremely happy about the outcome of the trial, happy to be getting the few visits that he does, that he is able to get. He’s looking forward to getting everyone’s letters and everyone’s love. Everyone keeps sending solidarity from around the world. He’s looking forward to reading everyone’s letters, responding to everyone’s letters. You can follow him on social media. His support site is SupportEricKing.org. You can send a books now, which is great. If you follow him on social media, or check out his website, you’ll find out when the mail ban is lifted, and you can write to him. But in the meantime, just know that he does appreciate all the support. I think he’s vocalized that as much as possible to those he has been able to speak to.

TFSR: So it’s been mentioned that Eric’s a pretty prolific poet, you can find a bunch of his poems up on his support website. I don’t know if y’all want to share any poetry by Eric that you feel especially moved by? If not, that’s totally okay. But I just wanted to put that out there.

Josh: Well, yeah, I’ll share one, actually, if you haven’t picked up the 2022 Certain Days Calendar, Eric wrote a poem for the month of May. So you’re still in time to get one you can go to BurningBooks.com. They are only five bucks at this point and all the proceeds benefit political prisoners. But in May, Eric wrote a poem, he actually wrote it to me one time before this calendar came out when we were just thinking of the theme. It’s called “Mutual Aid is Friendship.” Yeah, it’s a great piece. It’s very short. And it’s one of the last ones he was able to send out before one of the many mail bans he’s faced.

TFSR: Well, that’s about it for the questions that I had. Are there any other topics that you want to talk about? Otherwise if you could remind folks about how they can support the CLDC, the defense work that they do, and the research and we’ve had guests from CLDC on the show a few times to talk about digital security. We’ve had Lauren Reagan on before to talk about political repression more generally. I’d love to hear more about where to find more about that. Also, Josh has prior been on the show to talk about Certain Days, it’d be good to hear about that, too. But were there any other topics other than shouting out projects that I didn’t ask about that y’all want to touch on?

Mookie: I guess I would just like to throw this in the ring a little bit that I know that supporting political prisoners in this country and around the world is something that I think a very narrow band of people who are politically active do. I just would like to say publicly to anybody who’s listening to this podcast, that it’s very easy to find resources to support political prisoners in this country. You can go online and literally Google that. There’s going to be a ton of different places that sends you to, and I just want to encourage people to take 15 or 20 minutes out of their week and find a different prisoner to write to. I think it can’t be overstated how potent this act is. Not only does it have the potential to change somebody’s time on the inside, but I also think that it creates bonds that can last a lifetime, but it’s also an incredible way to build our movement. So I just want to give a “Rah! Rah!” for that. I think that’s something that’s really worth people’s time.

And just since I have the I have the air right now, if people are interested in supporting the CLDC, which I think is a really great to do. The CLDC, one of the things that I love about working with this organization is the breadth of their work in movement building, and resistance, and support for activists. It’s staggering, really the CLDC goes to where the work is, whether it be in pipeline work, or prisoner support, or environmental, or animal rights work. It’s just a really remarkable organization and anybody can find how to support that at CLDC.org.

Josh: Absolutely. Yeah. I’ll just mirror pretty much everything Mookie said. CLDC is great. Actually, in two days now I guess it’ll be in the past when people are listening to this, but the CLDC is hosting a political prisoner talk with Daniel McGowan, with Linda Evans, Ray Luc Levasseur, Rattler, a few other people. I’m sure it’ll be amazing like most of the other projects are. But also yes, just write political prisoners every chance you get. Just try to learn about them. Eric has really been amazing with that. Every time he’s sent to a new prison, he finds friends that he advocates other people writing to and building relationships. I think it really can be life changing not only for those inside, but for those of us on the outside, too.

I guess besides getting a Certain Days Calendar if you can, we’re coming up with a theme now for 2023. But if you’re heading over to burning books to get a calendar, you could get some Oso Blanco greeting cards. It’s a project called ‘Children’s Art Project’ that he and I and a few other people helped start where greeting cards are made with artwork from indigenous political prisoners and the funds benefit the Zapatistas in Chiapas. It’s a really cool project. Oso Blanco is a fascinating person to get to know. And a shout out to Sean Swain. I hope he’s doing all right, even though he’s one digit down.

TFSR: One digit down, but he’s still two fists in the air.

Josh: Absolutely.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s awesome. We didn’t end up interviewing folks about Certain Days this year, but there was one that some of y’all participated in on, “Millennials are Killing Capitalism,” I saw.

Josh: Yeah, yeah. That was Daniel and I a few weeks ago. That was a good one.

TFSR: That’s awesome. I’ll link that in the show notes, too. Mookie and Josh, thank you so much for being a part of this conversation and for the work that you do. I really appreciate it

Josh: Thank you Bursts, it was a pleasure.

Mookie: Hey, Bursts, yeah, it was. Thank you so much. And, Josh, thank you so much for your support for me in this case, you were really instrumental in bringing me along and I’m so grateful for the whole team that came to came together to stand with Eric. It was really a group of outstanding people and thanks again Bursts.

Josh: Yes, thank you.

Transcription (Eric King Transfer)

TFSR: Eric, where are you at right now?

Eric King: Right now I’m at a federal transfer facility called Grady County. It’s one of the marshal’s contracts out in Oklahoma City.

TFSR: It seems like a pretty frequently used facility. This is the one that I talked to Jeremy Hammond at a couple of years ago in 2020. What’s the facility like?

EK: It’s usually fucking sweet but right now we’re having a goddamn Ad-Seg thing where we only get out one-two hours a day tops. It went from being super sweet where you get commissary and video visits to goddamn annoying.

TFSR: Did they give you some reason as to why directly after the trial where BOP was found to have abused you that they transferred you across the country from Colorado.

EK: This makes me sick, for real, because everyone at Inglewood [Prison] during the pre-trial shit was telling me, “If you get found innocent, you’re good, you’re gonna go to a medium or the communication unit, things are gonna be better for you. You could just feel the venom in their kindness. So they’re telling me all these lies, and then I go to pack up for transfer and they are “Oh, we’re sending you back to this miserable, horrible dup of a penitentiary out in Virginia.” “Well, that’s not what you motherfuckers just told me.” “Well, it is what it is.” There’s no way for this not to be retaliation, I’m the one that has low security points. I should be coasting with my feet up wearing shower shoes all day, not having to work, wearing boots for the shower.

TFSR: You’re going to USP Lee, as far as I was aware. Is that a max facility? Or what level is that? Have you been there before?

EK: It’s a penitentiary, so it holds high-security people, max-security people. There are big gang leaders there, but then there are also just violent assholes that can’t function in lower securities. Then there’s me and one of the World Trade Center bombers.

TFSR: What are you thinking in terms of what recourse you and your support folks have right now? I know that getting your voice out right now is an important part of it, that people know what’s going on.

EK: The issue is that most likely, they’re going to dump me in the SHU. In the SHU, you have no radio, books, magazines, newspapers, no pictures, no commissary, no food, you don’t even have pens and pencils, they give you rubber pencils. I’m going to be isolated, I’m going to be cut off. People need to know: get a hold of these Virginia centers, get a hold of the Northeastern Atlantic region. I want people contacting those in charge to get a hold of the designation center in Grand Prairie, Texas, the SEC. Call these people, do mass calling. Call 1,000 times and ask them why is a medium or low-security guy being held at this prison again? Why is he back here? Why are you going to take someone’s mail, take someone’s phone calls, say all this communication shit about them, and then put them somewhere where you can’t be in touch with his family and his life in danger. Now, I can’t let anyone know something’s happening to me. We got to have a spotlight on this. We got this big-ass trial victory, people are watching, people are happy. This is the next stage in that fight. I still need support. I still need people. The trial didn’t end the problems. It ended with one big problem. But now we have this other big problem. I still need people to fight for me and let them know that we’re keeping EK safe.

TFSR: This trial ending is pretty enormous. But you do have a year and just under nine months left inside, and since your whole time inside has been a history of provocations, harassment, diesel therapy, violence by the administration…

EK: I said this to my wife. “Not every win is a win.” If we had two months last maybe, but 19 months is more than enough time to get somebody really fucked up. I don’t want any more goddamn problems in the in here. It’s been such a long arduous hassle with these people.

TFSR: You’ve been two years without mail, with mail bans and books bans and stuff like that, right? You just started getting books recently.

EK: Yeah, and they gave me another mail ban. They just put another one on in February. I’m going to land in this new play. I am just getting things back again for one month in January. Then they immediately say “well, we’re taking it again, because you’re circumventing the mail ban.” So I’m going to land at [USP] Lee with five months left on this new mail ban. God damn it.

TFSR: All the way across the country from your family as you said.

EK: Yeah, they took away my phone. I don’t get any phone calls ever. Because of this phoney-public-safety-factor bullshit they made up. I’m just stuck.

TFSR: What do you want to talk about, we have eight more minutes or something. You got to the point already of how fucked up it is and where you’re heading.

EK: Yeah, things aren’t going to be good. That’s really where my mind is, I want people to know my family needs support too. Send them kindness, be kind to my family, my wife is the one that I give all my information to. If I’m scared, if I’m sad, if I’m depressed, I ask her, “Let people know this.” People hear that shit from her. Please, take it seriously. She’s often literally the only one talking to me. Because if I can pay some dude to use his phone, that’s who I’m going to call. If she puts out the word that I’m in trouble, or I’m sad, or I need something, please show me love and listen to that. We did really well at the trial. It wasn’t a flawless victory, we butted heads and there were things I wasn’t happy about, things that they weren’t happy about. But my legal team did fight for me tough. They spent a lot of money and time and they showed up and had me prepared. But it’s not over. I want them to be able to celebrate because they spent a lot of resources to get this win. It is a win, but for me,…

TFSR: …it’s not a win till you’re out. Right?

EK: Right. I don’t get to celebrate yet because they can still put me in there with someone who is getting drugs from SIS to stab me or some shit like that. That stuff is still in the back of my mind because it’s happened so many times that it doesn’t feel– I can’t celebrate, I got to celebrate for a few days after it happened. But right now it’s back to “Alright, we need to focus on the Bureau and focus on keeping me safe.” It’s just such a horrible way to exist. You can’t be super happy and celebrate with your family because you don’t know what the Bureau’s up to.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s real.

EK: It’s on my mouth on this fucking this $8 coffee that we have here. They sell this little bullshit bag. It’s called Maxima. It’s got maybe 20 scoops in it and it is $8.44. That’s other shit my wife’s having to deal with. God!

TFSR: Spaces like Grady really rely on people being in a panic mode and putting too much money in the commissary and too much money on phones, if people have money available because they don’t know how long they’re going to be there. Do you have any sense of how long you’ll be at this middle facility? Or could it just be they’ll swape you out today?

EK: It’s important to acknowledge that this place is a hella exploitative. They know we’re all panicking, all trying to talk to our family as much as we can. The best way to tell this is these phone calls are expensive. That computer that we use over there is expensive as shit. Commissary, I just told you $8 for a bag of coffee and all of us are having coffee withdrawals, needing some coffee. They’re vicious. I have no idea how long I’ll be here. In my mind, I’ll probably leave on Friday, on Friday morning, they’ll probably come and grab us. But if we make it to the weekend, that’s just two more days of spending shit-tons of money. They give you the lowest quality stuff, just bad.

TFSR: Two fewer days of being at Lee at least…

EK: My dream is that enough people contact them for the right, let’s just get this fucking dope bag out of here. Get him moving. That’s what I’m hoping, that they do it in a way that was different than at McCreary. Let’s get this fucking dirtbag out of here. The way to do it is we’re going to set them up to get jumped. Hopefully, at least they do it a different way. They’re just like, “He’s a problem, let’s move him.”

They don’t have goddamn toilet paper, the toilet paper rolls. They don’t give you those, they give you a little folded bundle, and it’s eight squares in a bundle. You get two bundles a week. Think about that. Think about what that means. You learn to make do your 16 squares a week.

TFSR: That’s so fucking cruel and inhumane. Well, if you did have like 20 sheets, maybe you could make a weapon out of it somehow, an explosive or-

EK: [laughs] Those extra sheets could come in handy for violence, for sure. I don’t know if people understand how horrible the SHU’s get. As I mentioned earlier, we don’t have pens or pencils there. They give you a rubber pencil. You have to sharpen it by scraping it on the concrete. Then you can’t file grievances with that. You can’t write legal mail with that. When I try to write to one person I can write, my wife or my cousin Deb, who was at trial, God bless her. They can’t read what I’m writing. It’s just a complete way to cut you off from the– They can do whatever they want. No visibility has no accountability or whatever. That’s what they do. They bury motherfuckers there and once you leave, you can cry about it, but you’re going to say nothing while you’re there. They might take away your 16 sheets.

Automated voice: This call will be terminated in two minutes.

EK: Do they have to word it that way?

TFSR: Terminated. “I’m the Terminator, enjoy this call.”

EK: Please, stress my gratitude, but also my urgency. This isn’t a sit like, “Let’s plan, and let’s see what feels best.” This is I need action. If we make a mistake, we make a mistake. I need people mobilized quickly. I’m okay with a mistake. I need them to know the eyes are on me.

TFSR: Yeah, for real. How is it you said that you haven’t shared space with other people in years and you just got moved to an open dorm, general population? Could you describe how that feels?

EK: I’ve been in it, literally a 6×8 box for two and a half years, and before that different SHUs for another year. Going from such a confined space by myself and now I am literally surrounded by people. It feels like a fucking wave of people. There’s also a microwave next to me. When’s the last time I use a microwave? There’s a TV above me. I haven’t seen anything from the Ukraine-Russia war. I just now saw the Will Smith hitting Chris Rock thing. It’s super, super positive. But also, the SHU really damages you. I didn’t realize it until I got out, like right now for this brief period. It feels like someone’s stepping on my chest this entire time. It’s exhausting.

TFSR: Are you able to like find the corner and breathe by yourself? You don’t have to say anything about this. But you know someone who’s in there, right?

EK: I got a bro in here. There are a few other people from the system that we know the same people. Because it’s a small-ass system. There are people here that have been in the same prisons I have, or we know the same people. It’s all respect, there’s no conflict or tension or anything. It’s all just internal.

TFSR: You’ve been someone who’s done a lot of practice and meditation and yoga and instructed other people on these practices. Are you finding that those are helping you right now? Or are you just having to move through it?

EK: Not right now. The meditation, yes, because I can just focus on breathing and focus on my being. There’s obviously no room to sit in the middle of this goddamn open dorm and start doing yoga. I would look like a complete jackass. Justifiably so. But just being in my own space, being centered definitely helps because in the past, when I did long SHU days– Because I always do these goddamn long SHU bids, I don’t know what’s the deal it, it is just a vindication on resistance, I guess. But in the past, when I got the SHU, it would be so suffocating that I thought I could die. Things have improved drastically.

TFSR: Do you have any more updates, any news about when you think you’re getting transferred out? Have you been able to hear from any lawyers or anything like that while you’re at Grady?

EK: I had my legal call, Lauren did get ahold of me. I told her what I needed. She asked, and I told her, and so I trust that it will help. I’ve heard that they are organizing the calling campaign and doing that which I asked for and have been desperate for. I hope people stick with that and continue to put pressure because these people aren’t going to tell me anything. The people at Grady County are not going to tell me shit because they don’t know anything, they are just the county workers. It is just what I’m hoping on and I’ve read some things and heard some things from different comrades. Everything seems like it’s going in the direction that I need. So often we will need something and maybe the people don’t understand how serious it is, or some people don’t. You just need a few to listen to you and believe you and hear you and they can get this ball rolling. It feels like that’s what’s happening right now. I’m really grateful, that makes me feel safe and seen. What this whole thing is about is just making sure that the Bureau knows that people are watching. They’re not going to get away with any sly shit. People are watching, senators will be checking in or whatever we’re able to do with a little bit of pressure. That makes me feel good. Really good.

TFSR: This is a little bit off-topic. But when Josh was on the show the other day, Josh from Certain Days. He was talking about the book that you all are working on. Can you say a few words about that if it’s interesting?

EK: Josh is the perfect person to talk to, he is just such a clever, beautiful person. I started having this idea after reading some IRA books that talked about not just the bombing and killing, but the trauma of suffering and doing suffering to others and what’s left afterwards? What’s left when the ashes and the smoke clears? It’s not glory. It’s internal. Then I had that time with Jaan in his cell and just hearing him talk, and all these stories that I knew, these aren’t documented, no one will ever hear these stories. These stories could change someone’s life, they changed my life. I, Josh, and all of us really honor our mothers and fathers that were in this struggle before us. What they’ve gone through in prison shouldn’t be negated down to a couple of typed-up quotes for some magazine, or their ideas on the struggle. Their lives inside are equally as valuable in the mundane as they are in the extreme. So I didn’t want just to have their stories about how bad they suffered, I wouldn’t want my story to just be about all the SHU time I did. I’d wanted it to be about my life because I still exist. I want that for those that have been through this.

I had that idea and brought it up to Josh, and Josh is just an astoundingly productive person who just wants to help and work, brought it to life. We typed up a questionnaire and he just got to work. I think he’s interviewed some 7000 people so far. It’s actually just 30 or 40 , but it is still a lot. That’s a lot of work. You got a full-time job. This is just comrade work, which – I don’t want to disrespect movement, but I don’t see that all the time. I haven’t seen that in my entire life. I see it a lot, you do it, a few other people do it, but it’s not the most common thing. No questions asked no, “oh, I don’t know, this might be a bad idea.” It was “Let’s bring this shit to life.” And we have, and some of the things I’ve read have been so touching. Something I didn’t know about people. I didn’t know what Kojo [Bomani Sababu] had been through. I didn’t know that Oso [Blanco] was so aggressive. I didn’t know so much about Ray [Luc Levasseur]. So, to me, it’s a project of honoring our existences, not just our suffering, if that makes sense.

TFSR: Absolutely. Recognizing that people aren’t just these two-dimensional struggle machines that are there for putting on a flyer or sticker whatever. That could be a band name.

EK: Yes. It could be title the cover of the book.

TFSR: We have a minute and a half left, these are 15-minute calls. Is that right?

EK: They’ll tell us the two-minute mark.

TFSR: Are there any other things that are coming to mind right now that you want to express?

Automated voice: The call will be terminated in two minutes.

EK: For me, the most important thing is just asking people to please be there for my family. Mutual aid and community support, she is in prison too. I got two little girls, they’re in prison too. Lend us your voices, keep these eyes on me. I’m not trying to be an attention grabber here, like I’m Mr. Big Deal. But this can get very serious very quickly, it could get very dark. That’s all I can think about right now. Help me fight, help me keep an eye on these people so they can’t bury one of us. Don’t let them put the dirt over me right now after we just got this big-ass plan. Don’t let this win turn into a loss. That’s where my heart and that’s where my head’s at right now. And be nice to my wife.

TFSR: For sure. That’s true.

Automated voice: The call will be terminated in one minute.

EK: Bursts, thank you so much. Please give my regards to both Swains, to Lauren and Sean.

TFSR: I will.

EK: Please give yourself a big hug for me.

TFSR: Thanks, Eric. I appreciate it. Take care of yourself, okay? Make some friends.

EK: How are you doing? It’s been a very selfish call. We only got 20 seconds.

TFSR: I’m good. Just got off of work, and got some pizza and a beer waiting for me. Some local IPAs Chicago area.

EK: Oh, IPA is gross.

TFSR: Right. I’m from the West Coast. It’s what I do.

EK: Oh my gosh, don’t…

Keith Lamar from Death Row / Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin (rebroadcast)

Keith Lamar from Death Row (rebroadcast)

Book cover of "Condemned" featuring a picture of Keith Lamar
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Hey folks. This week, we’re sharing our 2020 chat with Keith Lamar aka Bomani Shakur who is facing execution on November 16th 2023. We hope you enjoy his insights and check out his support website, KeithLamar.Org and get involved in helping him fight for his life and for justice. Starting February 25, 2022 you can hear Keith, Albert Marquet and others performing “Freedom First

We’ll have new content coming out next week.

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 the 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. To hear a longer, podcast version, check out this link on archive.

This interview was originally recorded on April 29th, 2020. 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.

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.

You can find a recently republished edition out from Pluto Press of Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin’s classic “Anarchism & the Black Revolution” plus a bunch of other essays. If you order this from Firestorm books here in Asheville, you’ll get a 10% discount and we’ll get a kickback, too! Otherwise, it’s available at any number of renowned booksellers.

And a quick note that the interview with Lorenzo was conducted by a member of True Leap Press. Since 2017, True Leap has provided free print political education materials for imprisoned people engaging in abolitionist study. They have over 200 titles in their new 2022 catalog. They don’t keep a mailing list, as literature is only available upon request. If you would like a new catalog of their 2022 literature selections, please visit them at their website TrueLeapPress.com or at their new address:

True Leap Zine Distro
PO Box 6045
Concord, CA 94524

Announcements

Political Prisoner Updates

 

 

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The Perils of Prison Mail Digitization

The Perils of Prison Mail Digitization

"The Perils of Prison ail Digitalization with Prison Books Collective" showing bird cage broken free & bird escaping, "TFSR 12-12-21"
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Leigh Lassiter from prison books collective in Durham, North Carolina, a nonprofit project that sends zines and books to prisoners in Alabama in North Carolina prisons and jails comes on this week to tell us about recent changes by the NCDPS to use the private company TextBehind to scan all incoming and outgoing mail track, their contents surveil the outside users and mailers, and to make a profit on an already indigent population. We also talk about the work of sending literature, to incarcerated folks privatization and digitization of other services, and what literature gets rejected. More about the press books collective at PrisonBooks.Info or check out their linktr.ee

You can also check out local books to prisoners projects in your area that you could get involved with by visiting PrisonBooks.Org/PrisonBooksNetwork. There’re also a couple of really good articles from The Intercept about this and related surveillance services topics within you as prisons and jails.

Or check out the following resources:

Zine Updates

Just a reminder, a comrade’s been compiling our zines into a catalog, for easy mailing into prisons. You can check out the latest, December 2021 list at the top of https://TFSR.WTF/Zines as a pdf.

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Featured Track:

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Transcription

TFSR: Could you please introduce yourself with whatever name, pronoun, and affiliations you want to share?

Leigh Lassiter: Yeah, my name is Leigh Lassiter. I am fine with any pronouns. I work with Prison Books Collective publishing distribution, based out of Durham and North Carolina. However, I speak on my own behalf as an activist and an individual rather than a representative of Prison Books.

TFSR: Cool. And could you talk a little bit about Prison Books? How long has it been around and what y’all do?

LL: Yeah, we started in 2006. I was not there then. But we have gotten in touch with some of the people who were involved in the original starting of it. It started in someone’s garage. And it has grown, although we’re kind of in the equivalent of a garage still. But as I said, in 2006, it wasn’t recognized as a nonprofit until about a decade later. But we have been able to keep it going. We’ve just been sending books to North Carolina and Alabama, and zines across the country for all that time. We meet every week to answer the letter requests and send packages out to people and talk to each other. It’s not as anarchist as it once was at its roots, more service-based space now, there is a variety of political opinions. But as a group, we still share the vision of alleviating the tremendous cruel pressures of the prison industrial complex on the incarcerated people that we serve, and generally feel that incarceration in this country is done poorly and has overkill. If we weren’t needed, if our mission was served either by prisons or there weren’t prisons to incarcerate people, we would prefer that. But while people are locked up, we get them all the books that we can.

TFSR: And what kind of requests do you get? Is it for technical manuals, dictionaries, religious texts? There’s a lot of religious groups, for instance, that do outreach into prisons and send in materials that tend to have their specific religious bent and view on the world, because they’re missionizing? What does the normal packaging party or packaging event look like for Prison Books?

LL: In regards to what the event looks like, we just pick up the individual letters and start reading for what they request. Sometimes we do get requests for specific books and specific authors that we have in donated stocks. So it’s rare that we can answer someone’s specific request with the exact book that they want. Sometimes it happens, though. We just look around to find something usually, under 2 pounds, two books that we send, print off some zines and staple them. Fill in an invoice, send our information, write a little note, and pack it up neatly and tape it up to be taken to the post office later on.

People request all sorts of books. The most common being a dictionary or legal dictionary, and DIY sort of things and career books are often very frequently requested. A lot of people want to start food trucks or build their own houses, or learn to weld or repair cars, do plumbing and carpentry, that sort of thing. Which is extremely understandable for both jobs inside of prison and outside for whenever they get out. Those, of course, are very hard to find. We often get a lot of requests for coloring books and drawing books, lots of thrillers, biographies, and autobiographies of, particularly, African-American activists. We have everything. So we try to send everything from classics, to how to start your own business, or histories about things, rock stars’ biographies. It’s whatever we can get. As I said, this specificity of requests can vary from “please send me some books” or people misunderstanding our mission and just saying, “I’d like to sign up for your book club, just send me books every month”. Then we have to say, “Oh, you have to write it every time, we have a limit of how many books we can send, but you can request them”. We have some publishers that we dealt with who would occasionally give us a whole box of books that they want to donate for a cause. Usually, because the subject matter has to do with prison or social justice. We’ll try to send those to the people who seem interested. But a lot of it is volunteers trying to read what fits their needs most. Because we can only send so many so quickly to people. And of course, usually prisons only allow them to have so many at a time. So there’s a little bit of art to figuring out how to get them what they want. I believe in the questions you sent over, you also asked what wasn’t allowed, if you want me to talk about that?

TFSR: Yeah, that’d be super helpful.

LL: We mostly send to North Carolina state prisons. And this is true for Alabama prisons, too. However, for the state prisons, anything that can do with tattooing is not allowed. Nudity is not allowed. They say “artful” nudity like Michelangelo or something would be allowed in, but in my experience, any nudity is not allowed, because that line is gray enough that they just err on the side of “No, we’re not going to let that in”. Things that are gang-related or could enable crime in whatever way they interpret are not allowed in. Hardcovers are occasionally allowed in, but it depends on the prison, so we just don’t carry them because trying to keep track of where we can send certain books is just a real time-drain. Spiral-bound books usually aren’t because they could take the spirals out and use them for whatever. Those are the main restrictions, but we still get occasionally weird bannings and rejections very often from jails more so than state prisons. Federal prisons are at the level of state prisons in terms of what they allow. Jails have the worst policies, generally speaking, it’s just sort of determined by the warden in charge there. If you want to talk later about some of the rejections that we’ve gotten over the last couple of years, I can speak to that, because I usually handle the appeals process as it exists.

TFSR: Yeah, I would like to hear about that.

I’d also like to hear though, you’re filling a need. I get a picture that at a certain point, maybe in the 1950s or 60s or 70s, that prisons maybe didn’t always have – it is dependent on the prison – but prisons had a more robust legal library for people to research their cases, or for writing appeals, or more literature, that at some point, education as a part of the “rehabilitation” part of prisons was a bit more funded and a bit more focused. And so a project like yours may be – unless a group had a specific ideological mission of like, “we want to get more Muslim books in the prison, or we don’t want to get more pagan books in the prison” – maybe there wouldn’t be as much of a demand. But that’s changed. And I wonder if you could give a sense, as you understand it, of what prisons libraries look like, and what prisoners’ access to educational resources or reading for pleasure looks like in North Carolina prisons.

LL: I will try to the best of my abilities. I have not seen a prison library, but we hear about them pretty frequently. I should mention that doing the COVID pandemic, which is still ongoing, libraries have often been shut down. We’ve heard that across the state many state prisons have shut down their libraries, or that sometimes they shut down visiting the libraries and then had a cart they took around, but maybe the person who took the cart around died of COVID. And then no one is there to take the cart around. So some people told us we are the only access point for getting new literature right now. So right now it is in a particularly dire state in North Carolina.

However, in general prison libraries, I can’t speak to the 1950s. But given the boom of the incarcerated population, I’m not surprised by the amount of need that is not being addressed by libraries in prisons, particularly legal needs. We get a lot of requests where people are either suing the state or trying to appeal their own case or going through other cases, and they have access to almost no legal help. They can’t communicate effectively or to their satisfaction with their attorneys, if they even have one yet, they don’t understand all the terminology or what they have to do. We have an extremely limited stock, as you might imagine, and paperback up-to-date specific accessible law books are not widely provided and easily accessible by us. We try our best and the number one thing on our wish list is always the intro to criminal law and defending yourself. If anyone looks at the Prison Books wishlist that we have up, but we go through those extremely quickly. People are very poorly informed by the system about their rights and the ways that they can appeal or sue and try to protect themselves. So that’s, unfortunately, something we see a lot of, but that we, as just a small group of volunteers sending books for education, entertainment don’t really have to resources for, and there’s a huge need for legal help within the prisons.

It’s something that you mentioned before that I had forgotten, the religious outreach. I’ll say that we do get not a huge amount of requests for spiritual and religious literature. As you said, there are lots of organizations willing to provide that, and no other kinds of books but literature about that. We do get requests often for religions that do not have as many groups, who are less represented inside of prison, like Rastafarianism, paganism, satanism, that sort of thing. There’s often a pastor inside of a jail or prison, and you’re not going to have that for Rastafarianism or something.

TFSR: Can you talk a little bit about the stuff that that gets rejected? I’ve spoken with other folks that do books to prisoners and hear about books by Franz Fanon, or George Jackson, or Angela Davis getting denied because the content relates to prison and is critical of prisons. What stuff gets kicked back to you and why?

LL: I wanted to add a little bit of perspective on rejections that we had gotten. Firstly, zines, because we send zines all across the country, just as a glimpse into the reasons that institutions all over the country might reject things. One of the most recent rejections that we got was of a literary magazine Words of Fire which has publications of art and literature from incarcerated people across the country. And therefore, we think it’s very important that they also have access to read it all across the country, whether they are authors or might want to be authors. We had a rejection in Connecticut of it, because it was on printed paper and was not considered a real publication. And we’ve been doing several weeks of phone calls and some letter-writing to try to appeal this. Because they are worried that “having anything beyond what looks to be easily printed or copied paper will have inmates calling their families to send them copied paper, or printed paper, straight out of books”. And the mail then will be flooded, and they won’t be able to deal with all of the rejections and appeals of rejections. We’ve had it also rejected before, from Florida when I was trying to get it to an author we’d published because it supposedly contained commercial content, which is incorrect. Because we don’t get paid for any of our services. And they also supposedly continue to quote “disallowed content” with no description of what that would mean. That was in 2019.

Some of the other things that we’ve gotten rejected across the country include the GURPS, the General Universal Role Playing System, which we sent out, it was rejected from Texas for having fighting styles in it, which, by the pages given, was referring to rolling dice for hitting another character or doing damage or having a bomb go off as an example for this role-playing system’s damage. We’ve also had rejections for supposedly promoting insurrection or posing a threat to safety and security for things like The Lectures On Liberation by Angela Davis. Florida is definitely one state where it’s very bad to try to get things in. And we’ve had things like Tai Chi being lumped into martial arts, for example, over this. Some of the other bannings: The Art of War has been consistently requested and consistently banned in North Carolina. It’s not currently on the banned list, but we’ve still had so much trouble sending in the past that we haven’t challenged it this year, because of the number of rejections we’ve gotten over the years in the past. The New Jim Crow was banned but that was overturned in 2018 because it was a national outcry about it. And that being overturned actually got them to redo their system of how they banned books. So they looked at that list again every year, and it actually overturned, a lot of other things being banned. Although you can tell from the banned list, including Twelve Years of Slave and Malcolm X books and things like that, that they have not fully fixed the system, which some might argue shouldn’t exist.

A lot of our rejections, as I said, aren’t bannings, they are actually just blanket blocks that do not care about the content that you are trying to send. For example, we had a jail recently write that we do not accept books on a package, despite having talked to them within a month about them accepting our books, and having word given to us that they did still. Sometimes it just depends on who’s in the mailroom. There was a federal institution in the state that just rejected something and then I called them, I was just told that was probably the other post and “I understand what your packages are, we’ll take them in”. One instance, in particular, it’s really been an odyssey over something like three or four months this summer and the fall was that there was a state institution that was allegedly having issues with drugs being smuggled in in packages. So they cut off all outside packages and then re-approved vendors and distributors like ourselves on a case by case basis. And we had not yet been re-approved, so I called the captain and we had a few discussions. And he said, he went up the chain and got us re-approved after a little less than a month. And then when we sent books to the people who had written to us from there, half of them were rejected, because those inmates, in particular, hadn’t filled out a form and been approved to receive books. So we had to set up a system where every time we got a request, I called them after that person was approved to receive books or not, and sent them. Except for the two packages that we initially got in to people, every time I called the person was not on the approved list. And I asked whether maybe, since they heard from us that we have requested them and they want to receive books, maybe they could get that form to the people that I was calling about, but they told me that’s their initiative and they should know.

So that’s been a pretty frustrating time. I’ve just had a lot of detention centers and jails in particular not consider us to be legitimate or not know what zines are, or give us differing statements about whether we can get things in or not. As I mentioned, Durham jail hasn’t given us issues about us as a publisher but was just blocking books for several months because of the amount of, apparently, extra material that was built up and was a fire hazard in the cell. So there’s a lot of obstacles to face in bannings and rejections that can’t really be predicted and can apparently only be solved by weeks of phone calls. I hope this helps. Thank you.

TFSR: Do facilities ever have an approved book list that’s the inversion of the banned list?

LL: No, I have not seen an approved books list except in the case of one jail that went back and forth on a policy where I was initially told that they were going to have reading tablets and not allowing any books, any books besides the Bible or Quran, but then they said that was incorrect. And they would be allowing in certain books, but only new books, no used books, and also have e-readers. The E-Reader thing is a thing that we are extremely worried about, I say we, in this case, for all Books to Prisons groups across the country, because that is an approved list of books, that is what that is functionally because they have a catalog of books that they said, “No, these are okay for them to read. And they will pay per minute to use these expensive, breakable e-readers and not have access to any other literature”. So you can imagine people looking for specific legal help or niche interests, for example, someone looking for Rastafarianism, there’s probably not going to be a book about that listed inside of this e-tablet that they also have to pay to use.

So that’s very concerning to us because usually, in the case of prisons, digitization and technological advancements, which can look like progress in the outside world, is not progress inside of the prison. For example, changing from having in-person visitation to having a digital video visitation is not an improvement. Changing from having books sent in for free, that you can request on any topic, and having that be disallowed in favor of e-readers, is not an improvement. Or as we’ll talk about in a second, having your letters be scanned and reprinted is not an improvement of what we’re seeing with the letter. So a lot of times people will think, “Oh, things are going more digital, they’re going more virtual and online, this is advancement, this is progress.” And in the case of prisons, it isn’t.

TFSR: Yeah, and each of these steps basically shifts the whatever it be: the medical treatment, or the books, or the mail, or the phone calls, or the commissary, it shifts them into monopolies by specific corporations, that are prison industry corporations, that not only are they siphoning money out of the prisoners and of whatever supporters they have on the outside… In North Carolina, they changed the law about three years ago where people can only get money added, at least on their Jpay accounts, for spending inside of prison, they can only have people on their visiting list. Therefore people who have not, for instance, been convicted in some cases of felonies in the past. A bunch of limitations. Anyway, back on topic, as you say, you and I got in touch to talk about the changes to the North Carolina prison system that we’re snuck in a couple of months ago, we got a letter from a prisoner in the middle of the state, just sort of being like “Heads up. I can’t hear your radio but I have heard of your project and this change is coming”. Can you talk a little bit more about the privatization and digitization of prison mail in North Carolina and how it’ll affect prisoners’ communication with loved ones on the outside?

LL: Yes. On October 18, North Carolina state prisons switched for all personal mail – that’s letters, photos, and art and cards – they switched to having those be sent to the people who intended for incarcerated in state prisons, to having to send them to Maryland to be scanned by a company called TextBehind and then have copies reprinted by the prisons and redelivered. The announcement of this was subtle, I only found it because that was on the state prisons homepage looking for something else and notice the little pop-up that said: “Mail policy changing on October 18” and I happened to click on it. Otherwise, we would not have known. I should admit this doesn’t affect prison books operations so far. Although we are worried about the possible ban on physical books being sent in. Now it affects the loved ones of incarcerated people who are trying to communicate to them.

TextBehind is not alone in this. There are a couple of companies who are trying to exploit this very captive market of people who are trying to sustain relationships across the miles and across the bars and charging their money to either get their physical letters back if they send physical mail hundreds of miles away because otherwise, they’ll just be shredded. So you have to pay to get that back. Or if you want to do it easier, of course, they have an app. For using their app on TextBehind, letters are 99 cents, you can add photos to 25 cents each, greeting cards are 99 cents, and Doodle for kids. So you can draw on your computer and send that at 99 cents. And that’s only for partner facilities, it’s more expensive if the facility is not partnered with them. And you may not think that sounds like a lot but if you are trying to keep up a relationship with someone or start a relationship with someone inside, then 99 cents a letter, 99 cents a card, 25 cents for a photo – that’s very expensive. If you are sending physical mail, it’s a flat rate to get it back, I believe at around $3 or higher to get that sent back to you. So this could add up really quickly, even if you just sent one letter a week or a couple of letters a month or something like that. People don’t really have a choice in the matter if they want something that feels personal to be sent behind bars. And we just find this immensely worrying and honestly also unjustified. Because there’s really almost no data provided for why this switch is being made. But we can talk about that in a second with drug policies.

As a prison book volunteer, I have received countless letters telling us how important it is to have a lifeline to the outside where they can hold on to that letter that someone else wrote and see the signature and look at this and say it someone out there wrote this for me and intended it for me. Not to mention if it’s a kid’s drawing or something like that, it’s going to mean so much more if you’re holding the crayon drawing that your son or your daughter, your child drew for you. And it’s one of the things that sort of keep them sane in there. If correctional facilities, as they’re titled, were truly invested in making people more connected to humanity, kinder and more willing to invest in society, they would absolutely not be supporting this cut off from the people who are trying to keep relationships going across the bars, because it’s incredibly dehumanizing. Not to mention probably riddled with errors. Wisconsin also just announced that they are using TextBehind as of December 1. They put in their announcement that they’ve experimented a lot with TextBehind and there have been errors, they admitted cut-off letters where you can’t read the whole thing.

I know from my own experience of keeping records in prison books, that a lot of things don’t scan so great if someone wrote in blue pen, or on white paper with pencil, it just doesn’t scan correctly. The number of letters that TextBehind must be handling, I don’t think that it’s going to be 100% accuracy rate, which looks fine on their numbers, but for the person who gets a messed up, cut off or barely scanned letter or drawing, it’s going to be devastating because that matters so much. The people who wait for the mail, there’s a huge emotional investment in it. And it’s just really saddening to think about that being taken away from them. Not surprising, but extremely saddening. And unfortunately, it looks like North Carolina is going to be continuing that policy for the foreseeable future, despite so many people protesting it.

TFSR: TextBehind is a new project to me, but for the last few years, I’ve noticed that Pennsylvania prisons use a company in Florida called Smart Communications to scan and email their letters to print on-site at the facility. The Federal Bureau of Prisons, according to an article recently by Lauren Gill of The Intercept, appears to be moving forward from just scanning mail in-house to having a company called Mailed Guard do the same service for them. We’ve already mentioned this trend generally in the proliferation of private companies that are profiting from incarceration. This seems to be a rather frightening and growing pattern to capture that data and increase the costs.

LL: Smart communications is another one. And I just want to mention that the Pennsylvania ban initially also banned physical books, but there were enough protests that they changed that. So it’s only mail right now. And so there was some worry from Books to Prisoners groups that the ban on mail is going to continue to try to ban books as well.

TFSR: That’s quite frightening. I have to admit that I’m not very knowledgeable about drugs in prisons. I’ve heard that you can get many things if you have money and resources inside of prisons, especially depending on what state you’re in. But most ellicit items I’ve heard about prisoners getting a hold of have come through corrupt guards and other staff as they shore up their personal accounts because they don’t get as much scrutiny as generally incoming mail or visitors and loved ones who are coming in. When PA started using Smart Communications, it was after mail staff, screws on the inside, basically, were supposedly dosed by letters containing the drug K2 in the paper. But then again, this other Intercept article about the privatization of prison mail references talking to a director of toxicology at a major medical institution in Pennsylvania. And that person saying basically, you can’t get high off of that, it’s not like Angel Dust where it’s going to just go into your skin by touching it, you have to increase the temperature, and you have to inhale smoke, basically, for that K2 to get into your system. So it seems like an unrealistic expectation that was a major source of drugs coming in.

LL: Yes. North Carolina, in their announcement about TextBehind included a couple of sentences saying “the new mail process will also prevent drugs from entering the prisons in the form of paper coated in Fentanyl, K2, Suboxone or other dangerous drugs, these are harmful to breathe or even touch. This is something you would expect to have a citation. It doesn’t. The only spot of data that is mentioned in the announcement of this switch to TextBehind is the sentence “In the year following use of TextBehind in North Carolina’s four women’s facilities infractions for drug use, and possession dropped by 50%. Now, 50% is a pretty round and impressive number but there’s a lot of missing context here. They say the number of infractions for drug use and possession dropped. They don’t mention actual numbers, for example. This was also taking place during the pandemic for most of that year. Because most of that was 2020, so the number of people in prisons across North Carolina went down by a lot, you might think that would potentially affect the numbers of infractions, not to mention the staff being able to investigate that sort of thing. And they also did not provide any numbers for cases of drugs causing any hazards to the people inspecting the mail. There was no citation for that. And as you said, there’s been medical pushback from people saying that K2 and Fentanyl don’t come into the skin. I looked this up a little before the interview, and the American College of Medical Toxicology and American Academy of Clinical Toxicology agreed in a 2017 statement that you can’t inhale and get high from Fentanyl without really high, really long exposure to it, and that you can’t just absorb it through small unintentional skin exposure, it would not affect people. So I am almost impressed by the boldness of NCDPS just stating that flat out as a reason without citations in the announcement.

We have a Freedom of Information request that is making its way through the bureaucracy right now in trying to get any information about the hazards to people in the mail-room and how many drugs have come in through the mail. But, like you, I am skeptical about that being the way that most drugs make their way in. Texas saw a ban on mail for the same reasons, but their drug infractions didn’t go down because, as it turned out, they were mostly coming in through guards still. Some people say there’s a connection between that and guards having lower pay and they can make a lot on the side by carrying in drugs. When I went to a prison in person and got the tour when I was in college, I was told by a Captain that they mostly have to be careful about the guards bringing in contraband, that was just stated outright to the group. So this policy seems to be not only dehumanizing, but also not based on fact, and to make this huge of a change, there’s a burden of proof that they should make. But this wasn’t a law. This was simply a new departmental policy. People started commenting on our social media posts, when they put this out, like let’s call the lawmakers or something, but this was just something that was handed down and decided. The fact that privatizing prisons and prison services is just getting more and more popular, is very concerning to me. Because they can’t negotiate. And also the poverty of incarcerated people and their loved ones on the outside is statistically much higher than the general population. So they don’t really have alternatives other than to go to these services.

That’s my thoughts on that, but there are plenty of things to read about, particularly, the drug claims, investigating whether Fentanyl can actually give you an overdose just from touching it, or where drugs come through. There are lots you can read online, I suggest at least starting with the Prison Policy Initiative because they’re a good resource to keep track of the different policies going on around the country and their factual bases.

TFSR: That’s super helpful. Thank you. I do have another question about the implications of the privatization and tracking of mail coming in and out. But you did mention that when people started commenting on your social media page saying, “Hey, call politicians chant, challenge it,” the NCDPS is a part of the executive branch. So I guess you could put pressure on the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, but how do you suggest that people try to apply pressure, whether they’re in North Carolina or in any of these other states that are being affected by similar policies and some of the same corporations across the country?

LL: Well, we haven’t had success yet, it is my addendum. But I would find at least one phone number, one email, and one physical address to call or to write to to express your opinion, I’ve usually heard that phone calls are the best political weapon out of those three. But I know from personal experience that trying to get through the phone trees and the various extensions you have to press and voicemails you have to leave can be extremely confusing. So an email or a letter could also work.

Prison Books is not as an organization calling for people to do this push because we have to keep our services separate from this. However, I can say as an activist, that I would love it if people started writing to, for example, the Commissioner of Prisons, Todd Ishee, who is quoted in a lot of articles about the digitization policy change, to express your opinion, or writing to the general NCDPS mailbox, the address of which is at the bottom of every page of the NCDPS website, in Raleigh. What you basically want to do is make it obvious that it’s a lie to say people don’t care about this or that this is fine, this doesn’t affect people. You want to get the voices that are shouting out individually to be able to unify and be heard together. And we’re still working on that. But anyone who wants to be involved in the Free the Mail movement that has started forming between Wisconsin and North Carolina activists, because we’re both being affected by TextBehind in these most recent months, then they should, first of all, start looking through the hashtag of #FreeTheMail, and second of all, potentially email just to get the information where to go prisonbooks@gmail.com. Prison Books is not organizing this, but has information of people that you can get connected with to try to organize something against this,

TFSR: I have to say that a hashtag is confusing and also very catchy, since a lot of us use the #FreeThemAll. And those two look very similar.

LL: Yeah, I would suggest even for screen readers, you should be capitalizing letters for hashtags because otherwise, it’s gonna be a jumble of letters. It does look like that, but I looked it up on Twitter to do a little research about it, it was used for the Pennsylvania issue as well. There were some ideas thrown around of “don’t jail the mail”, but it’s prisons, not jails, that’s incorrect. Hashtags are going to leave some meanings out, unfortunately.

TFSR: We’ve been talking about the limitations that people on the inside experience with their mail getting scanned and sent to them and not being able to physically touch a picture that your child or that your sibling or whatever drew, getting an actual picture, these sorts of things, very sentimental, very charged with emotional energy and feeling, smelling a piece of paper that someone else has touched… Prisons are all about cutting people off from the outside and making money off of them.

The other side of this, as you say, the majority of people that are inside of prisons, or that are inside of a part of the carceral system, tend to be poor. And whether that’s because of survival crime, or because people have less access to lawyers or bail to be able to get themselves out, to be able to make a better argument to avoid charges, or because police tend to hang out in poor people’s neighborhoods – all sorts of reasons. And these industries, like Smart Communications or TextBehind are literally siphoning money out of poor people’s families when they’re trying to keep those connections.

And surveillance inside of prison, the panopticon idea, that’s a pretty common idea. But when you download an app on your phone that you’re paying for, and there’s the chance in this Lauren Gill article on the Federal Bureau of Prisons talking about them switching over to this privatized scanning and emailing of letters, talks about the amount of metadata that gets also put into the database of that private corporations so that they can market more stuff or sell that information if they want to to another third party that provides other “services to prisoners”, or that information is also available to the BOP or to whatever prison administration there is for tracking and surveilling the person on the outside that’s keeping track. Suddenly, there’s a permanent digital copy of this letter that somebody wrote to someone that could be used in some case in the future or to build a case or something like that. Can you talk a bit about the concerns of surveillance when people aren’t even necessarily committing crimes, but just trying to stay in communication with friends behind bars?

LL: Well, I think the article writers are probably more informed about that than I am, but I do know that TextBehind on their Services page does advertise a variety of their investigative tools and that includes communications, monitoring and looking for gang connections, and they keep the records. Not just the pictures, but the scanned text and the addresses and names of those who sent mail in their system for years, to possibly give away to other prison systems, the federal system, things like that. Yeah, they are using the people that they already have under their thumb and can watch with this panopticon set up to extend surveillance outside and try to make connections and look for patterns in a way that they probably think is very efficient, but which is frightening to any of us who are concerned about our right to privacy. But because it’s a human connection to people who are incarcerated being held hostage, people are going to have to make the choice about do I want to be able to talk to this person or do I not want to be put on a list of possible contacts to a third or fourth party to something that they think exists within the prison system. Having to choose between those two, that’s our choice that should exist, that should not be something that writing a letter to someone starts for you. That’s very concerning.

I’m always concerned about the privacy of people incarcerated as well. But I think a lot of people maybe aren’t aware of this extension of surveillance to those who were just in contact with and care about the people who are incarcerated. As you mentioned, Jpay’s changes, now you can’t send money unless you’re in the visitation approval. That requires getting approved, but also giving them information about you. This data harvesting and surveillance is really getting hooked on people on the outside as well.

TFSR: Well, is there anything that I didn’t ask about that you want to mention, or that you want to broach as a subject, Leigh?

LL: I would like to mention, for people who are looking for what they can do, that jails are often where a lot of bad policies will be implemented first because they have far less oversight. They are county institutions, so they don’t even have the state looking out at them. So if you’re concerned about privacy, education, cruel and unusual punishment, pay attention to a local jail, the sheriff, the warden, their policies, and if they make changes like “no one can send books here anymore,” or a lot of jails in North Carolina now have to send your letters to Texas to get scanned, call them, and deluge them because they have even fewer resources to dedicate to supporting what I suspect to be a lie of the danger that letters and books pose. In your elections, vote for a sheriff who has concern to incarcerated people, if that’s possible. And keep an eye on your local jail. And then also keep an eye on state policies. But if you want to start somewhere local, that’s where to start.

TFSR: And if you’re not much of a voter, you can still apply pressure during the period when there’s more scrutiny on what sheriff is running for office. Or if they’re working with ICE are just a couple of the potential…

LL: Yeah, that’s a big one. Everyone who’s closer is easier to reach. Make some noise when you can, when these policies get implemented near you.

TFSR: In my understanding, a lot of the Books to Prisoners projects are pretty independent and they keep in touch with each other and share news and resources from time to time. The project that you’re involved with covers North Carolina and Alabama, the prison books here actually, I can’t even speak to what APBP covers… But for the most part, don’t cover national stuff. And they pass off things in other states to people that are closer to them. Tranzmission Prison Project covers a lot of the US but mostly is in the southeast, as I understand. How can people find a prison books project where they’re at if they want to start getting involved in this sort of way?

LL: People can find local Books to Prisoners groups by looking at https://prisonbookprogram.org/prisonbooknetwork/ and searching for their state. If there isn’t one serving their state, then perhaps they can start their own. It’s not that difficult. Contacting really any of those listed on the directory will get you some advice on how to start up. Luckily, books are something that a lot of people want to donate. It takes not as much effort as you might think, I would say particularly X Books in Georgia started up about a year ago and have been doing very well and probably have a lot of advice for newcomers. For supporting us and particularly for Prison Books Collective, I have to say probably what a lot of nonprofits say, which is that money is our first need. Postage, in particular, is what costs us money, sending those packages out and every year the rate goes up. So if you have money to donate, donate it. If you don’t have money, then give us your time, if you can. We just started accepting volunteers again, as long as everyone is vaccinated and masked and we are still limiting the number of people that can come in.

And if you can’t do either of those, there’s probably online work that you could do if you got involved, whether it’s social media, applying for grants, reaching out to bookstores for partnership, helping with email. There is a lot of activism that you can do remotely, that isn’t just discourse on Twitter, necessarily, but actively working behind an organization to help them enhance their capabilities and do reaching out and things like that for them. Of course, we also take books for Prison Books Collective. You can email us if you have books to donate. However, I have to say we’re doing pretty well in terms of books right now. And we have most genres pretty well stocked. But as usual, law and DIY stuff is always in demand. If you have any books on homesteading, farming, fishing, or trying to appeal your case in court, then send them our way. We have a PO Box:

Prison Books
PO Box 625
Carrboro, NC 27510

You’re welcome to reach out to us on our Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, or through our email prisonbooks@gmail.com to ask us for more things you can do. A lot of people have come in with new ideas that have been very exciting to us. We hope that people can engage remotely or in person again, because we are an organization that works as a collective and we’re only as strong as the collective is. So we’re excited to have new people join us. And of course, I personally would advocate for everyone to just keep their ears and eyes to the news and look for a variety of news sources, not just the mainstream news sources about what’s going on, and to advocate for the destruction of the prison industrial complex as we know it. Thank you.

The Case of Daniel Baker: Online Speech and Community Defense

The Case of Daniel Baker: Online Speech and Community Defense

Painting of Daniel Baker with a scarf
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On January 15th, 2021, two men received a knock on the door of their Tallahassee apartment from someone claiming to be delivering a Postmate parcel. The two hadn’t ordered anything and raised suspicion that someone was trying to break in and rob their home so they said they didn’t order anything and refused to open the door. Moments later, their door crashed open and a percussive grenade ignited as FBI swarmed in with guns drawn, yelling.

This was the arrest of US military veteran, YPG volunteer medic and instructor of yoga and jujitsu Daniel Baker on charges of inciting violence at Florida’s state capital. This may sound like a familiar story of government arrests across the country since the January 6th far right riot to stop the counting of votes that Trump supporters and avowed white nationalists engaged. The difference lies in the fact that Dan Baker wasn’t calling for the storming of anything. The FBI alleges that he made posts online calling for people to resist an attempted coup that elements of the far right had been promoting since the failed acts of January 6th in DC, where armed putschists would take State capitals and public officials hostage. So, why did the FBI targetting Mr Baker? Why has he not been allowed private meetings with a lawyer since his detention? Why was he kept in solitary since his pre-trial time at the Federal Correction Institution at Tallahassee begun?

On October 12th, 2021, Dan Baker was sentenced to 44 months in Federal Prison for “interstate communication of threats” for his facebook posts and his militant anti-fascism, including his time fighting Daesh or ISIS in Rojava. His defense is appealing the ruling, otherwise he’s expected to be released at the soonest in March of 2024.

For the hour, we’re sharing our March 7th, 2021 conversation with Jack and Eric. Both are anti-racist activists, students of Daniel’s yoga and jujitsu instruction and Eric was the roommate that was present at the time of the home invasion by the FBI. You can find links to articles about the case in the show notes at our website and in this podcast and more information on Daniel’s case is at the instagram account, @FreeDanBaker, you can contact support at DanBakerDonations@gmail.com, donate to his support on paypal with that email and find his amazon wishlist on the instagram.

You can write to Dan Baker at:
Daniel Alan Baker #25765-509
FCI Memphis
FEDERAL CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION
P.O, BOX 34550
MEMPHIS, TN 38184

Some media coverage of Dan’s case:

Other related reading:

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Transcription

TFSR: Would you all please introduce yourselves with whatever names pronouns or affiliations that make sense for this chat?

Eric: My name is Eric, he/him. I’m a visual artist, and I was Dan’s roommate at the time of his arrest. We had traveled together for a while.

Jack: My name is Jack, I use they/them pronouns. I am studying biomathematics and computational science, and I’m an activist and organizer in the Tallahassee Community.

TFSR: And are y’all on the support crew for Daniel?

Jack: I’d say we’re probably the two main folks on the support group. We were all training jujitsu together at the time of Dan’s arrest, jujitsu and yoga.

Eric: Yeah, we just started a workout group thing that they’re trying to criminalize him for. They came after a yoga teacher.

TFSR: Would you all give listeners a thumbnail sketch of who Daniel is, and your relationships or how him?

Eric: We crossed paths a few times over the years. I think the first time we actually met was around 2013, we had crossed paths in the Krishna Temple in Chicago while I was traveling around, he had just come from a Rainbow Gathering. And he was traveling, visiting some different temples on the way back to the East Coast. We only met for a couple of days. And then we had reconnected on Facebook years later, after he had returned from Syria. I didn’t even recognize him at first. But I reached out to him because I wanted to learn more about his experience, I had already been studying some related Political Science type stuff and I wanted to try to get more insight into what his experience was like. He had also had some training that would be very valuable for all the different protests that were going on. So every once in a while, I’d kick down and send a donation here and there when I could to keep him going. And then eventually, we just decided to take a road trip.

I guess we connected online, maybe a couple of years ago, late 2018, early 2019. We had known each other for about a year just online, we traveled together. He had just been in Tallahassee for maybe five or six months when he was arrested. He had some roots in the community here. We were trying to make friends and network with local activist circles, and participate in the best way we could. Dan had gone through the Combat Lifesaver training with the army and had applied it during his time in Syria, so he was very valuable as a street medic. I’d just been traveling around painting on and off full-time for years, so we both would just fly signs sometimes and do a pop-up exhibition. I would live paint, we saved up to get a room. We were camping for a while. We got off the street and got a small apartment. We’re able to save up and put him through a BMR course. He knew all the material pretty much but he just needed the certification to be able to work in that field. So we were on the way to getting him reestablished here and then dudes kicked our door…

Jack: First they said they were the Postmates Delivery Service. The FBI knocked on the door and then said, “Postmates Delivery”. And then Dan was “We didn’t order Postmates” and shut the door. They kicked down the door, threw in a flashbang, and then said, “FBI”. Obviously, you have Dan and Eric sharing it separately, Dan had a very difficult time being able to communicate with anyone. But I think that the FBI wasn’t expecting the blind landlady who’s 80 years old and was in the room next door to corroborate the story. And so once that came out, she was in the room next door and heard them announce themselves as the Postmates delivery, and was able to independently verify that this happened. And they haven’t responded to that. They didn’t even deny it when it came up in the public hearing. The FBI agent went first and then said, “We announced ourselves and they resisted arrest”. And then Eric was up and he was “They didn’t announce themselves. They said they were the Postmates delivery service”. If you get a knock on the door, and it’s a delivery and you know you didn’t order something I don’t think anybody wants to answer that door. And I think everybody thinks they might think that they might be getting robbed.

Eric: As I said, we were trying to start a workout group, we had been traveling and I was trying to pick up some first aid stuff from him. He had also done some training in jujitsu, he had competed a decent amount, he had some gold medals, I think he’s about purple-belt level, he was upper-intermediate. And he was just helping me pick up some of the basics. We’re going to the Ashtanga Yoga primary series for the yoga teacher training. He had the first certification in that. He was working on building up his second certification. And I was going through getting my first. So we started inviting some other people out, and getting some more folks involved, because I would never be able to afford to learn all that stuff without somebody who’s giving that access. So I just really wanted to help him make that available to the community here. Jack was one of the first people who was coming regularly to the groups we were doing and I guess it was helping them move past some recent difficulties.

Jack: When I started training jujitsu and yoga, I have just gotten out of an abusive relationship. Training with Dan and Eric was actually a really healing practice for me. Dan and Eric created a safe space, which sometimes, as a non-binary person, can be really difficult, especially with cisgender white males, but they were both really, really, really compassionate and understanding. Dan and Eric are both really strong feminists. And I just really appreciated how comfortable they made me and how supportive they were while I was going through this process. So that was just really fundamental for me to move past this relationship and the pain that I had gone through. I feel like I owe Dan so much because he was just somebody who is very understanding,

TFSR: There are a few things that I’m noting, in addition to the descriptions of you both talking about how Dan’s been someone who works to create space, who works to build skills in order to share them, those sound like some pretty fundamental parts of who he is, as a person. People would join the military for a lot of different reasons, in part, maybe because they want to further a career, get out of a bad situation, maybe some more nefarious perspectives that people can have sometimes joined the military, but to train up to be effectively a combat medic, or a medic in what could be deadly situations, is a great skill set, and then going on to continue to apply that by volunteering, to participate in the struggle against ISIS is another show that someone is applying this life-saving tool. And the fact that Dan was bringing it back and bringing it into these dangerous protest situations that the far-right and the police create more and more so as time goes on in the US, seems to say a lot about Dan’s character.

Eric: Yeah, at least from what I understand, whenever people come back from Rojava, often they’re briefed at the airport. And a lot of times, they’re just discouraged from getting involved in politics or activism or anything like that. But Dan was very committed to his beliefs and to social justice. And he is one of those rare individuals who are willing to go to prison or put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of protecting others. And I think that’s a fundamental part of his character.

TFSR: And so you all were finding some stability at the time when this raid happened. I mean, being housing unstable is not, sadly, a unique situation these days, but especially during the pandemic is a very difficult time, that must have been very emotionally, impactful, and frightening to have somebody bust through the door and throw a flashbang and suddenly hear FBI with guns drawn out of nowhere. That’s a traumatic experience.

Eric: Yeah, it’s was the last way I was expecting this trip to turn out, although we had a feeling something like this could happen because we had also been previously stuffed by the FBI in Seattle during the time we were there. They had just rolled up to us in a parking lot after this one shooting had happened to question us about things that they had seen online. He just told them that he had already made his public commentary on Twitter. And that was basically all he had to say about it. So they let us continue on. As far as I know, they’ve been observing him for as long as I can remember, I think he got back in like 2018. He said they’ve been pretty much observing him and I’ve seen him post about being stopped a few times already. So it seems like he’s been under regular surveillance for a long time.

TFSR: And y’all were up in Seattle, where he was doing medic work around the autonomous zone period, right? There were a few shootings I know of that it seems to make sense that he would be around when there’s some violence showing up, running towards the trouble in order to mitigate the harm that’s been caused, to help save lives.

Eric: Yeah, I had been stranded out of state when COVID happened and quarantine started, I was homeless at the time, I was staying in a shelter, and I just ended up getting some seasonal work, and then got the stimulus. I sold some paintings also. I was able to get this car. And we had both been following the Unicorn Riot and talking about how we wish we could be there and support. And once we got the ability to do so it made sense to just take a trip.

TFSR: What were the reasons that the FBI immediately gave for the arrest, if they gave any? What has the federal prosecution sent to the US attorney or whoever it is that’s conducting prosecution? What arguments are they giving as to why they thought it was necessary to bust into the apartment and arrest him?

Eric: I’m not even really sure about the justification for breaking in. The justification they’re using for the entire case is just them seeing some Facebook posts and some flyer going around. Apparently, he was indicted on two separate charges. But his public defender is saying that they generally only rule as one charge, if even that, so hopefully, it won’t be as bad as a maximum sentence.

TFSR: So the posts that appear to be the main source of the FBI’s argument were related to after January 6, after the right-wing riot that occurred at the National Capitol in DC. The far-right was claiming that it was calling for people to have similar actions taking over space, damaging property, threatening people at state capitols around the country. Is it correct to say that the posts that you’re talking about are one saying “We as community members need to show up and resist the violence of the far-right and what violence they might bring into our communities while they’re doing that”? Was that the nature of the posts on social media?

Eric: Yeah, allegedly it was a reaction to the situation. It’s not like he was taking some initiative to instigate or harass anybody or anything, it was due to these pressing events and these threads coming up, which a lot of us had been expecting for a long time, at least on some level. We were anticipating that we might not see a very peaceful transition of power. And especially after what we had seen in DC, it was reasonable to assume that something similar could happen at the state capitol as well, especially that the FBI themselves were circulating warnings about what could happen.

TFSR: I think there’s a fundamental difference between somebody going to another place, going to DC, for instance, to protest or to counter-protest, as opposed to saying, “Hey, there’s a very strong danger that militia or some other group or proud boys or whatever are going to be coming to our hometown and bringing some of the same violence that you’re seeing in this other place”. Just to go back, if Daniel is the person who will run towards danger, because he has built the skills and because he’s courageous enough to put himself on the line in order to act as a line of defense as well as to help people who are in harm’s way, it seems a little illogical that the FBI is making a point of attempting to prosecute this individual who was trying to mitigate harm.

Eric: The instinct is you want to give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe it is just a mistake or something. But I guess by now, there are so many of these cases.

Jack: I don’t necessarily hold the FBI in the highest faith. But then even just the whole thing where they pretended they were the Postmates delivery. What is the rationale for that, what did they gain by pretending they were the Postmates delivery service? One of the criminal complaints against Dan was that he said he was getting funded by George Soros. That he had an Antifa card from George Soros. Then they use that to try to prove that he’s this international “terrorist”. During the public hearing, the public defender asked the FBI agent, “Do you know who George Soros is”? And the FBI agent said, “No”. I laughed really hard, because what the fuck? I was even told to not laugh. And then the public defender said, “Do you really think Dan was getting funded by George Soros”? And then the FBI agent said, “Well, since I don’t know who that is, I’m not sure”. Either he’s really stupid and doesn’t know who George Soros is, or he is really bad at his job and doesn’t know who George Soros is and isn’t aware of the QAnon conspiracy that right-wing extremists ascribe to, or he was lying and playing dumb. Either of these options is not good, for why he doesn’t know who George Soros is. It’s like saying I don’t know who Bill Gates is.

TFSR: Yeah, it’s been coming out more and more, especially in the last few years, but this year, in particular, with BlueLeaks, the amount of information that’s being pumped into the intelligence infrastructure of the US from these fusion centers, that pulls in a lot of conspiracy theories, whether it be about Antifa lighting fires in the Pacific Northwest, or just similar things to that, that the FBI agents didn’t even necessarily need to know who George Soros is, although it does say a lot about their disconnection from popular culture and conspiracy theories. But it’s not surprising if there was pumping in of far-right conspiracy thinking and disinformation to the local FBI chapter. And then they decided to act out of that.

As you say, there’s a history of the FBI attacking anti-racist movements, particularly focusing on Black and brown activists, but also disrupting and incarcerating tons of activists who act in solidarity against white supremacy and against anti-Blackness. This administration has made a point of – as I said, it was during the last administration anyway – but they had the whole statement about the events in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017. I think that, especially after they had conducted extrajudicial killings of anti-fascist activists, if they were going to be going after and arresting people on the far-right who had participated in January 6, they probably had to pick up some people who would have been “opposition” to show that they’re not some deep-state, leftist Campbell Soup, whatever conspiracy group.

Jack: Yeah, DemocracyNow! had a really good interview with Benjamin Crump. And then they were talking about the new information that’s come up with Malcolm X, and he was saying that they’re now calling Black Lives Matter protesters “Black Identity Extremists”. Have you heard about that new terminology that’s being thrown around for arresting Black Lives Matter protesters?

TFSR: Yeah, they’ve been introducing that more and more since the Ferguson uprising. It makes sense for this not to come up in that conversation that Benjamin Crump was engaging, but they’ve also been using the term “anti-government extremists” to be able to lump in anarchist, anti-fascists & Black Liberation activists alongside white nationalists and Nazis. As opposed to focusing on white supremacists, they say, “Oh, well, the problem is not about the specific ideology. It’s about extremism, that’s extra-parliamentary where they’re going to go and do actions in the streets or attack people or whatever. We’re in a ‘post-racial society’. So we can say that, well, these people are extremists about whiteness. And these people are extremists about Blackness” as opposed to the centrist ideology that the US government is supposed to uphold. So yeah, Black identity extremists are being put on members of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club or the Not Fucking Around Crew or the Black Women’s Defense League as armed groups for Black liberation. I disagree with the politics at least one of them does, but they have some sketchy views in terms of antisemitism, but this flattening of any opposition as being a threat to the Democrat and Republican parties basically. Sorry, that was ranty. I didn’t mean.

Jack: No, no, no.

Eric: If they can just pile up a whole bunch of Facebook posts and make the case out of that, that’s bad news for everybody.

TFSR: Yeah, absolutely.

Jack: Some of the things in the FBI complaint literally made no sense. In the criminal complaint, they had that Dan had posted YouTube videos showing basic first aid. And we were just “Why is this in the criminal complaint?”. This is not illegal, this is not harmful. This is literally Dan trying to educate people on how to help each other, how to literally heal each other. That was bizarre. There were other things too, in the public hearing, they were trying to “prove” that Dan was a flight risk. And they pulled up Eric’s Facebook and found a status where he said, “Things aren’t looking great in the country, really want to get the fuck out”. And that was back in August. And then they were “They have plans”. And then our public defender was like “When Reagan was president, I said I wanted to get out of this country”. To pull up a post from four months ago, and then have somebody that says, “I want to GTFO [get the fuck out] from this country” and then say, “That’s proof of plans of a flight risk” is just… The number of people who said they wanted to go to Canada, now they’re all flight risks. It’s really grasping at straws at that point.

TFSR: I was gonna try to make some joke about how far of a stretch that was in yoga, but I couldn’t.

Jack: It was so appreciated either way. There’s so much about it. We’re aware that Dan is a white male. So he is somebody who wants to defend Black lives. And he essentially wants to use his privilege to defend Black lives. He’s the type of person to run towards the sound of gunshots, he is the type of person who wants to use his white privilege to protect Black and brown lives from white supremacists. I want to say that just because we’ve been drawing a lot of parallels between the Black Panther movement, Huey P. Newton and a lot of the examples that we’ve been giving describe the FBI involvement has been with Black leaders, Black civil rights leaders. Obviously, Dan is not Black, and it’s still very nuanced and different. But I think that the criminalization of leftist ideology, in general, is still a common thread for all of these movements.

Eric: One of the things that terrify them the most is these types of Rainbow-Coalition- style initiatives that grasp the attention of people from a vast spectrum of backgrounds.

TFSR: Currently, Dan Baker is sitting in a federal prison in Tallahassee. Have you been in contact with him? How are his conditions? How are his spirits?

Eric: I got a couple of phone calls. I got a call the last couple of weeks. And then maybe two-three days ago, I just got another whole bunch of letters that I think had been delayed in transit. It was probably over a dozen letters, some of them are things that he wanted to share about his condition in there and the way he’s holding up.

Jack: Actually, I stepped out to check the mail really fast while you guys were talking, but I realized that I had bought Dan a bunch of greeting cards to give him some color in his cell. And then I see that effective August 15, all incoming general correspondence envelopes, including greeting cards must be white in color only. So now I’m realizing that none of my letters have actually gotten to him. It’s been very difficult to actually communicate with him. He wasn’t able to make a phone call for weeks. And when his lawyers asked the warden about it, the warden said, “Talk to the prosecution”. When they talk to the prosecutors about it, they’re “You got to talk to the warden”. So they were giving the public defenders the runaround. We didn’t hear from Dan for several weeks, it was very stressful. And then the color of the envelope… They scan all of the letters in the first place and then send them copies of scanned letters. So I have no idea why the envelope would matter at all. Because they don’t even send them the envelope in the first place.

Eric: There are a couple of complaints that he sends. They’re inmate requests to staff, he’s just trying to get access to his funds and being able to communicate with everybody. Basically, he’s just trying to request information on how we can access those things and it took him a long time, maybe another few days at least, before he even figured out how to be able to access the funds that he had available. He was trying to get phone calls, he couldn’t even really get phone calls with his lawyers. A lot of times, they had him on a three-man hold. I think it’s the FDOE regulation. They’ll have three people hold them on a chain with a lieutenant there. Every time he has a phone call, or every time he meets with his attorneys…

Jack: He hasn’t been able to have a private conversation with his attorneys. He’s been in the detention center for a month and a half. And he hasn’t had been able to have one private conversation.

TFSR: Because there’s always simultaneously these other prisoners that are being…

Jack: There are these three armed guards with him at all times. And they’re trying to present him as if he’s this evil criminal.

Eric: “Antifa super-soldier”.

Jack: Yeah, antifa super-soldier, evil criminal mastermind. As Eric said, he’s won six gold medals. But that’s training within his level and his division, he’s a purple belt training against other purple belts in his weight class, not somebody who’s a Black belt training against all these other Black belts. He is very skilled, don’t get me wrong, but he’s not a ninja.

TFSR: Are they afraid he’s gonna attack his lawyer? They put him into a room with his lawyer, what’s the possible danger except for extracting him from the room afterwards?

And a quick content warning, the next section has a reference to sexual assault. So if you’re concerned, I would skip ahead about two minutes.

Jack: I think they just really don’t want him to be able to have a private conversation with his lawyer. There have been so many sketchy things about this whole thing. The fact that he wasn’t able to make a phone call mysteriously.

Eric: Yeah, we had been trying to make phone calls for two weeks or so before anyone was able to get through and even got in contact with his counselor. And he just hung up on us, we had to pay subscriptions even just to register a phone number in the system. Even then, I think they initially put him in solitary. They were saying it was for a quarantine measure, 14 days of solitary confinement. But then others were saying it was because they thought he was gonna start an uprising or something. Also, I think after he had spent some time in there, he was saying it would be preferable to go out into the general population because he was just a concern for his own safety.

Jack: One of the things that he wrote in his letter is that somebody was raped with a broomstick handle. When you think about the conditions of jail/prison or anything, it’s a place that breeds hostility environment, and the guards encourage it. That was in one of his recent letters is there is a person who is struggling with some mental issue, and the guards are saying that he’s faking it and encouraging the other prisoners to bully him and antagonize him and hurt him. Dan is not sure what to make of it, except that he realizes that somebody is being bullied and intimidated and harassed. And the guards are encouraging this behavior amongst the inmates.

Eric: I just got a couple of these letters from him over the last couple of days, the most recent ones were marked “urgent”, he was concerned because he was rotating his cell. And apparently, when he got into the new cell, it was covered in feces, and there’s blood in the sink and someone used the toothbrush in there or something. He wasn’t sure if somebody was going after him or trying to intimidate him, or what the situation was, but it was extremely unsanitary. He’s not given access to even antibacterial soap or anything like that. Apparently, it was another inmate who is suffering from some mental illness and he’s done this also in other cells. So it doesn’t seem like anyone is targeting him specifically. I think he has gotten threats from other people that he’s mentioned, but I was just discussing this with his attorney the other day, and some of these things are probably pretty common in a lot of these institutions. It’s hard to even tell exactly what action to take short of abolishing them.

TFSR: Can you tell me about the support crew a little bit like how you mentioned like you two are some of the most active people in it? What infrastructure have you been building or how’s it been trying to talk about the case? There’s been a few pretty good articles that I’ve seen online and Jack, you mentioned writing a bunch of op-eds. How’s that work going?

Jack: I think the way that it started is some of our Black community activists, Black leaders, actually reached out to us about trying to support Dan. And they recognized what Dan was trying to do and appreciated that he was trying to fight against white supremacy. Then we grew it to include some more of the different prison solidarity groups across the state, across the nation, actually. We have some people from Philadelphia, New York, Indiana, and then we also have people who are with the Rojava Solidarity Network, they just all reached out. And we were really grateful to have this solidarity. We just talk about different news articles that come out. I appreciate everyone’s perspective, like I said, it’s been really helpful to have Black activists give feedback because this is something we want to be very mindful of.

Eric: So it’s been important, this whole trip to defer to Black leadership.

Jack: Yeah, Black leadership and local leadership, especially since we’re talking about protecting Black and brown lives, we wanted the perspective of Black and brown leaders in the community.

TFSR: I know that during a past interview with Coffee with Comrades, Eric, you talked about using your existing artwork as a platform to talk about Daniel’s case. Is that still ongoing?

Eric: Yeah. Basically, Dan and I had started that project. We would live paint in public spaces. We started a page called the Guerilla Gallery. It’s a common thing that a lot of artists do, a pop-up exhibition. I revived that page because I hadn’t really had it running before. So I decided to dedicate it as an info hub for his case and to use it for future prison solidarity projects. Anyone is welcome to check that out if you want to keep up with it. It’s on Instagram, Guerilla Gallery TLH, it is in Tallahassee. So I’ve been tried to post the relevant addresses mailing addresses, and some of the guidelines for sending mail, any relevant articles, I’ll probably post this article. And then once it comes up, and it’s just like a place where I can, at least until we get a website going, we’ve just been using that. We do have a website in the works. But we got shut down by GoFundMe pretty early on. So we’ve been working with some other groups set up like an independent fundraiser. So hopefully that’ll be online shortly at that one hearing scheduled for I think it was last Monday, it was supposed to be a state case, a hearing for an arraignment for whether he gets to keep his firearms. But instead, they took him before a grand jury and tried him with I think it was just the prosecutor there. And so they ended up getting him with two charges, instead of just the original one, even though the public defender doesn’t think it’ll stick, but his state case is still coming up as to whether he gets to keep his firearms. So I was just able to hire a lawyer just the other day to assist with that case and represent him because I feel like that’s important if they’re also trying to take firearms away from people that they’re harassing in this way.

TFSR: Yeah, particularly people that haven’t been convicted of a crime. One thing about Florida is that Florida is the cousin to the rest of the US South where they give you guns or shove them into your hand when you’re an infant. That’s not fair and not true. But it’s just difficult to consider the idea that the state of Florida is looking to deny someone the right to bear arms when they have “served the country”, and also when they haven’t been charged with actually conducting any violent criminal act, let alone when conducting of criminal acts in which a gun is a part of that.

Jack: The whole thing is bizarre. Exactly like what you’re saying that he hasn’t actually been convicted of anything and they’re already trying to make this decision.

Eric: If we can do some art exhibition pretty soon to draw attention to this, it’ll also show up some of the systemic issues of how these types of laws can be used to take away people’s voting rights, their ability to protect themselves. And there’s just like so much wrapped up in it.

Jack: Also the absurdity of having social media posts be criminalized that were obviously jokes. Another one of the things of the criminal complaint was that Dan had pictures or posts about eating the rich, and these are fucking memes, this is absurd that they’re including “eat the rich” memes as part of a case against him to say that he’s a threat to society.

TFSR: I’m just looking at the statement, the press release from the Northern District of Florida US Attorney’s office right now. It is saying two counts of transmitting a communication in interstate commerce containing a threat to kidnap or injure. So this is one of those instances again, also not only is that, but they’re out of context social media posts, that it’s not even actionable if it doesn’t post some recipe about how to prepare the rich for consumption. But they tack on the interstate commerce because it’s being done over the internet, even though this is about stopping a far-right incursion or attempt to putsch against the government in the town that you live in. The fact that there are communications about how we need to resist violent actors coming in and causing violence upon ourselves and further reducing whatever “democratic government” there is in the world. They’re saying that it’s now a federal charge because it’s over the internet. It’s so ridiculous. Some pretty decent coverage, there was an article on Jacobin that came out in January…

Jack: I think the Jacobin article by Branko Marcetic is probably my favorite of the articles that have come out so far. I encourage everyone who’s listening to read that one specifically. Because I feel like that really captures the absurdity of the case.

TFSR: And I was surprised too, there’s also a pretty decent article “Coming from Prison”, which is a libertarian…

Eric: Yeah, I saw that too. I was about to post that one up the other day.

Jack: Okay, I actually haven’t seen that one yet.

Eric: I was surprised about that, too, to be honest.

TFSR: It’s making some pretty cogent arguments in a legalistic framework of the government attempting to suppress the right to bear arms based on the political speech of an individual. And it probably doesn’t hurt that again, he’s a white dude.

Jack: I’ll definitely have to read on that one.

Eric: It’s easier for the prosecution to go after Dan Baker than it is for them to prosecute Donald Trump.

TFSR: So another coverage’s come up and hopefully there’ll be more, but this situation reminds me of the case of Loren Reed, he’s Diné man in Arizona facing 10 years in federal prison for joking comments in a private Facebook chat during the uprising. Does there seem to be a trend in this application of speech on social media platforms like Facebook being taken out of context and used to criminalize people on the left? I don’t know if any other cases remind you of this thing or if you have other thoughts on that?

Jack: I mean, I would say, absolutely, there is this pattern of taking jokes, taking private messages, I think in the case of Lauren Reed, they’re really trying to slam this arson charge, which, for what I remember reading in the Al Jazeera article about it, it was born out of the Civil Rights Movement as a way of penalizing civil rights activists and these federal charges are almost exclusively used to punish civil rights activists, but I definitely see that there is this pattern. I can’t think of any other cases right now.

Eric: They have these laws ready await, they will pass them under the pretense of preparing to protect against right-wing violence. And then once the public focus dwindles, they’ll use it against leftists as soon as they get an opportunity. There were some other examples listed in that Al Jazeera article, there was Evan Ellis. I think he was a BLM organizer in Evansville, who got a two years probation and psychiatric evaluation and got three counts of felony intimidation for posting a little clip on Facebook of him making a gun gesture.

Jack: Oh, wow.

Eric: He was talking about allegedly some officials or something like that, I don’t know, some policies that he didn’t like. There was a Samuel Amara also. He was charged allegedly for threatening a racist counter-protester. He could get up to five years. Those are felony arson laws that were invoked against Standing Rock protesters that Jack was referring to. There’s also a recent case here in Tallahassee, do where Baker County is? I think it’s somewhat close by to Tallahassee, but there’s another local activist named Kevin Connor, who was arrested recently. They’re trying to present it as if he was acting inappropriately with minors or something like that. He was just an organizer who was helping students, he was invited to speak to them about how they could organize in their schools and their campuses.

Jack: Even just as far as a local example is in Tallahassee, 19 people were arrested for protesting on the sidewalk. And they tried to slam some of them with felony charges. One still has felony charges, which haven’t been dropped. In Tallahassee, we had a man driving a truck through the crowd, no charges were pressed against him because he said he feared for his life. And we had a guy who actually pulled out a gun and pointed it at protesters. And he also had no charges because he said he feared for his life. So this is a counter-protester, just some white dude. But you just have a rainbow coalition of Black and brown and white activists fighting for Black Lives Matter protesting on a sidewalk and a 19-year old get arrested.

It’s just the laws are not equally distributed at all. In Florida, there’s this anti-protest bill. And they’re saying that it’s going to be DeSantis, the governor introduced it during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, it got a lot of backlash. And then he reintroduced it after the events that unfolded at the Capitol on January 6. And he’s saying that as to fight extremism. But the way that some of the speakers at the most recent protests explained it is there are already laws against rioting, there’s already laws against looting. And what these anti-protest laws, these felony charges do is make it more expensive, and keep making the sentences longer for anybody who breaks those laws. And then they are unequally distributed and used primarily against left-wing activists, but most recently, they’re coming out of this idea that it’s to stop right-wing extremists.

Eric: Recently, some courts have ruled that portions of the Federal Riot Act are unconstitutional. So even people who encourage or promote riots are legally free speech currently.

TFSR: I didn’t know about that. I’m looking forward to reading up on that after this. These are really good examples that you’re bringing up that I don’t know about. So I’m gonna do a little research and link some articles.

Jack: It’s also called the Anti-Protest Bill, if you look up Florida anti-protest bill, but the thing is 26 states have introduced bills like this since what happened on January 6, and what’s being introduced in Florida isn’t even the worst one, there are some that are actually trying to make it so that it is a 30-year prison time felony charge for organizing a protest. And then the way that DeSantis bill is defining a protest is a group of nine or more people blocking traffic at an intersection, which would include every demonstration that the Black Lives Matter protest had. And it also tries to make it so that there is no option for bail for people who are arrested for these protests, charges that try to make them felonies, which, in addition to stripping people of the right to vote, also makes that they can’t work state or federal jobs. The way that felony charges are used against people in Florida is just really disastrous. Many bills like this have sprung up in over half the country as a result of what happened on January 6, but they’re going to be disproportionately used against leftist activists versus the right-wing extremists that they’re claimed to have started from. Oh, actually, Eric just pulled up a good infographic.

Eric: Also the bill protects anyone who does bodily harm to protesters. So they’re already willing to make allowances to protect property. But if anyone tries to protect another person, that’s terrorism. Really, what he was doing is counter-terrorism. But If they admit that, then they’ll have to admit that Trump is a terrorist. And he appointed that. But also damaging a statue can be punishable for up to 15 years. And it also allows the state to override any municipality that wants to decrease police budgets.

Jack: Yeah. So the way that they have it is if a municipality votes to decrease their own police budget, it has to be approved by DeSantis, in order to defund the police, which when you think about it, there’s this whole argument about states rights and civil rights and local rights, and then suddenly, no, just kidding, we have a dictatorship where we have one person that gets to decide this decision for everybody. If there is a protest, and if damage happens, the state of Florida can sue the municipality for not adequately supplying their police officers. So if anything is damaged, they can say that the city needs to increase its police force. It’s a very problematic bill. And it’s not even the worst one that’s out there.

TFSR: If January 20 popped off the way that it was threatened to, for instance, and if this had passed, then police standing by and letting right-wingers go and do whatever they were going to do could be a reason for the police to just get more funding.

Eric: And in a sense, the real coup is just them seizing control of or trying to ram through all this anti-protest legislation. And ramping up all these surveillance programs.

TFSR: It’s not really a coup if they’re already in control, though, right?

Eric: Yeah.

Jack: Yeah. I wish I could find more specific info about that last bit that I was saying, I’ll have to look it up later.

Eric: Well, there’s also the federal level measures that are also being passed by Biden and Pelosi, as far as I know.

Jack: Patriot Act Two.

TFSR: Yeah. Aren’t we on number three by now? Yeah, definitely. All the security state discussion is in discourses, at least a lot of people are recognizing it for what it is that it’s just using whatever political capital they were able to… I’m sure that some individuals and employees were quite frightened on the 6th when the windows were getting smashed and people were coming in and fighting the cops and everything. And that sucks for cleaners or employees or whoever was working up there. But the fact that January 6 has been framed as another September 11. It is just so ridiculous, par for the course.

Eric: It doesn’t address the fact that the only reason they’re able to get in there is because all the cops and military were complicit and politicians.

TFSR: As far as supporting Daniel, how can people find out more about the case? How can they support the work that the crew is doing? How can they support him personally?

Eric: So far, it seems like his attorneys are doing a good job, they’re really well-known here in the community. I think they’ve also worked with other activists, so we lucked out in that regard. We’re focusing right now on letter-writing as much as possible. All of his information is on the @GuerillaGalleryTLH Instagram.

Jack: I also want to emphasize, as far as letter-writing is that the paper must be white in color, envelopes must be white in color. And they can only use blue or Black ink, it makes no sense because like I said, they scan the letters anyway.

Eric: There are screenshots of the guidelines and on there as well. And some links to the website with more information.

TFSR: Well, Eric and Jack, thank you so much for this conversation. Get at me with some of those links and I’ll definitely include them in the show notes about related cases. That’s a lot to think about and I really appreciate the research that y’all are doing. And the support work that you’re doing for Daniel, it’s super important even beyond him as your friend, as you said, these tools that are being turned on him are ones that are often turned on other people and are in danger of being used against all of us.

Eric: He’s so upset about his situation right now. He said he’s about to start a vow of silence, except for his allies. So I still have to find out if he’s following through with that, but it’s really crucial that he gets letters and that he just feels supported and that people are following his case and watching his case so at least that he’ll be less likely to suffer some abuse or something while he’s in there, at least they can be held to account for already what he’s been experiencing in there.

TFSR: To reiterate, as has been said, a lot of times on this show and in other discussions around supporting prisoners, sending letters to a prisoner is not just a kind act or a way of making a friend, but it literally is a measure in prisons of how much support or how many people are paying attention on the outside. And it literally means that not only Daniel, but the people that are around Daniel, for guards or administration to fuck with them, they have to know at that point, that all these people are, who are on the outside are going to have concerned about this, is it worth me messing with this guy, or the people around him if these many people are going to make a ruckus on the outside?

Eric: That’s what I’m really trying to focus on right now is creating some situation for him to be able to reenter, potentially even maybe in a better situation than he started. And just now that people have a better idea of who he is and what he stands for I hope that more people in the community will come together. And I’m trying to get him set up maybe with some platform to continue his yoga and jujitsu training and groups, and I’m hoping, you can hit the ground running when he gets out. And we can hopefully leverage this network to create some opportunities for him as well.

TFSR: Is there anything that I didn’t ask about that you want to mention?

Eric: Coming to that place is serious, it’s a class war against all of us, we’re all potentially at risk here. So, I feel like everyone needs to show solidarity in their different communities to connect where they can and then to unify whatever groups are able to get together because that’s the only way that anyone will be able to protect themselves or each other.

The Russian Political Landscape and Anarchist Prisoners

The Russian Political Landscape and Anarchist Prisoners

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This week we’re featuring 2 guests speaking about Russia. First up, John spoke with author and journalist Dmitry Okrest about the state of anarchist and antifascist movements in Russia, the politics of Putin’s United Russia party, nazis and the far right in Russia and successes of the Communist Party in electoral politics. Then, Moscow Anarchist Black Cross member-in-exile, Antii Rautiainen, adds some more detail on repression in Russia, including the hunger strike of Network Case prisoner, Victor Filinkov, calls for solidarity from mathematician Azat Miftakhov and others.

Rad Russia-ish Links:

Dmitry Okrest’s Books:

Russian Limbo, Podcast about prisons: https://open.spotify.com/show/3tyBLCEQnvkY9L3DdrGry1

Antii Rautiainen’s podcast links:

Past interviews on repression in Russia:

Announcement

Keith “Comrade Malik” Washington

In a quick announcement, we want to note that The SF Bay View National Black Newspaper editor Nube Brown just published an article showing that Keith Washington, aka Comrade Malik, admitted in a letter to a prosecutor in 2011 (while throwing a prisoner seeking legal support to the wolves) that he had and would gladly work with law enforcement and the FBI to snitch on inmates or whoever as a source or informant. Malik was then incarcerated in Texas and became involved in organizing with the New Afrikan Black Panther Party and participated in the 2016 nationwide prison strikes, gaining notoriety. Malik came to play a prominent role in the prison movement and was in 2020 released to a halfway house in San Francisco after a surprising parole from Texas and brief stint in Federal prison. Malik helped to run the SF Bay View upon release but has since left. I think a lot of facts on this still need clarification, but some things just don’t add up with Malik’s situation. Check out the piece by editor Nube Brown with an addendum by former editor Mary Ratcliff at SFBayView.Com and likely in the print edition of the paper.

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Featured Track:

  • Set Adrift On Memory Bliss (Extended) by PM Dawn from eponymous single

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Transcription

Dmitry Okrest

TFSR: Hello and welcome to the Final Straw. My name is John and I’m going to be conducting an interview today with Russian independent journalist Dmitry Okrest about the recent repression of leftists and anti-fascists in Russia. Welcome to the show, Dmitry.

Dmitry Okrest: Nice to meet you.

TFSR: Nice to meet you. To start with, could you give our listeners some context on yourself and the work you’ve done as an independent journalist in Russia?

DO: Just a few words, I have been a member of a punk hardcore scene in Moscow for the last 15 years. I had been more involved like 10 years ago, and I made my fanzine, organized freemarkets, music label, a book publishing house, and discussion forums. There was one generational change, I tried to work at first in a historical publishing house, and then I moved to work in the media. And as a journalist, I worked for a long time in a society department. I write more about street politics, human rights, police, prisons. And I have also written about a lot of political radicals, including Nazis, jihadists. I’m now a co-author of two books about how the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc moved from their version of socialism to capitalism. The books are in the spirit of A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, and I’m also the author of a book about Rojava, where different researchers, activists, fighters talk about this project and their own experience. I’m currently preparing a book about the anti-fascist movement in Russia. We’re looking for an opportunity to translate some of it into English.

TFSR: That’s great. Those books all sound really fascinating. You said they’re only in Russian currently.

DO: Unfortunately, only in Russian. But we wanted to translate it into English, too.

TFSR: That’s really interesting. All three of those sound fascinating. And just for context, as most of the listeners live in the United States, and we’re ignorant about the world in general, or at least many of us are. How old are you? Where does that place you as far as your experience with the Soviet Union, and the years in between? Do you recall that experience of the Yeltsin years and all this?

DO: I was a child when the Soviet Union collapsed. So I really don’t remember anything. But I remember a lot of details after the Soviet Union crashed. So it was the time of economical crisis, most of the people didn’t have any money at all, no jobs. There were a lot of local wars. But on the other hand, there was much more freedom, freedom of speech, freedom in politics, and there was no big punishment for any activity. Now it’s a nostalgia war about what was it? Was it a good time, or not a very good time? And now, there are much more political wars over this period. Most people have a very selective memory for it. So now, it’s a very political question.

TFSR: Interesting. When you’re saying more like freedom of expression, you’re saying as in contrast to today, right?

DO: Yeah, because Putin has been the president for 22 years. He became prime minister in 1999. So we had like nine years of so-called freedom, and then a 21-year period of the so-called stability, but in fact, there is no stability, it’s just a mask, imagination.

TFSR: A question I wanted to sort of start off with: Could you, to the best of your ability, give us a brief overview of recent anarchists and anti-fascist movements in Russia, and the repression that has been facing them? Because I’m aware of a bunch of trials in the last 10 years or so of supposedly anarchists terrorists or whatever.

DO: Maybe the most well-known case is the so-called Network terrorist group. It started four years ago before the World Cup Championship. Activists were kidnapped, beaten, tasered, forced to sign a piece of investigation evidence. These are 11 men from different cities, and secret services incriminated them with the participation in this mythical terrorist organization. There were a lot of accusations of them being terrorists, but no real evidence. In this case, the political police made a lot of work. A lot of people moved from Russia because there was a dangerous situation.

There are also other terrorist cases. Three years ago, a 17-year old anarchist went into a local political police office with a bomb, but he killed only himself. And he said that he tried to support the Network case defendants. And after that, more than 200 people were arrested, cases started against them. They commented that he was a hero to do it. Some of these persons are anarchists or anti-fascists. That played badly against the anarchist movement. Also the people in Kaliningrad, in Crimea, that used to be part of Ukraine, there were also terrorist cases. So now a terrorist case is the best way to put anybody in prison because no one really wants to support terrorists. Because, you know, it sounds like they wanted to kill everyone. But now people understand that it wasn’t really a terrorist, but something that political police called like that.

TFSR: I see. I know that there is or was a big-ish movement of anti-fascism in Russia. And in my mind, that was a response, I assume, to a rise of hard-right violence on the streets. Is there… it’s hard to say a brief history of that because that’s many years. But in my mind, the reason I could assume that the far-right gained power or popularity in Russia in the last…

DO: Fortunately not now, but 10 years ago, hundreds of migrants and ten street anti-fascists were killed. But when the Nazis tried to seize the monopoly of power and become the power themselves, all violence was stopped pretty quickly. There was quite a lot of information about provocateurs in the Nazi movement. Now, there are a lot of Nazis in Russian prisons and they wanted to do something like Aryan Brotherhood, but most of them just cooperate with the prisons administration in exchange for any help, indulgence. On the other hand, a lot of right-wing football fans became demonstratively apolitical last year in exchange for opportunities to control their territories. Some of them attacked political opposition actions and now, they try to be very silent, especially before and during the World Championship in Russia four years ago.

Now it’s not a really big problem but last summer, political police arrested three groups of neo-Nazis. It looks like they became more popular, the memory of those events pops up amongst the younger generation, but the intensity of passion is not the same at all. So, police forced these Nazis to admit on camera that they renounce nazism, but I think they were not ideological, it was rather street violence, nothing more. But they will be in prison for the next 10 years or so. So in my mind, now we can expect a consistent evolution of the right into the people hate – open misanthropy. Some Nazis hope for disparate revenge, and therefore they can commit terrorist attacks. But I think they will inevitably be crushed by the state and police.

TFSR: I know that this conversation is sprawling, but that brought up an interesting point for me. I personally don’t really understand what Putin’s and United Russia’s politics are. I think a lot of American liberals see them as being right-wing, but in my mind, it seems like they just work with whomever against whomever. I don’t really understand what United Russia’s politics are, other than just like power.

DO: I think that nobody knows, in fact. It’s something quite conservative. But inside Russia, the state just uses different political science and young politicians. When they need, they use Nazis. But in this case, they’re not a Nazi state, they just use it for several years. For example, they tried to communicate with the left-wing movement 10 years ago, but nobody wanted to do it. And they said, okay, but they tried to do it. Now they say a lot of things against tolerance, about transgender, etc. They seem to be much more right-wing, but in fact, in the next five years, it could change again.

TFSR: It’s just cold power or something like that? Interesting. I guess, speaking of politics, more macro politics in Russia, we saw really large protests last year, in theory, in support of the opposition political figure Navalny. And the United States media and liberals championed him as a liberal democratic icon, but some of what I’ve read is that he’s somehow a Russian nationalist, or has sketchy racial beliefs of other groups in the Russian Federation. I guess I’m curious about how leftists and specifically anarchists engaged in those protests, and also what your take of Navalny as a political figure is.

DO: As I said before, the Russian government doesn’t use any political terms. And usually, people in Russia also don’t use any political terms. Most people really don’t know the difference between a liberal, democratic, authoritarian, etc. When you talk about liberal, Western, etc., usually people don’t understand what it means. Navalny originally was known as a blogger who writes about corruption. He is was originally from the Democratic Liberal Party, but he tried to cooperate with nationalists. He tried to communicate with them when they were popular 10 years ago, but Nazis and other nationalists didn’t accept him. So as a result, now Navalny tries not to answer this question, he tried to ignore it. And for a long time, he was out of danger, although he had several criminal cases, then he was poisoned last year, he was taken to Berlin, then he returned despite a prison term. Now he’s in prison.

His arrival was a strong sign that inspired many people, not only his supporters. Navalny’s actions look rather like a civil protest in which anarchists also took part and two of them ended up in prison. One guy is still in prison, there was a case with policemen. The current protests are connected with the name of Navalny. Now he’s been recognized as an extremist organization. And nobody can say that he supported Navalny without a punishment. There were mass actions against putting Navalny in the prison but then the most massive repression began this January, and now most of the employees of Navalny’s campaign team have immigrated. Many media outlets are in crisis and under sanctions, and a lot of people are in prison because it’s very easy to be in prison for being detained several times at a legal demonstration. And now we don’t have any legal demonstration because of the pandemic, it’s illegal to make any demonstration at all.

Another thing, economic conditions have been deteriorating in Russia. Lately, Navalny has made it visible how officials are living richer and richer. So people were really angry in this case, because they don’t have a lot of money, but they see a video with officials and their palaces. So for me, it’s a good position when we can see the result of such corruption. But as I said before, most people don’t use any political terms. They don’t have any political education. And in this case, the main problem is that they don’t know what is going to happen afterward. And there is no opportunity to understand what will happen after this government.

TFSR: So there are recent elections in Russia. And I know that something that came out of them was also this law against foreign agents or something like this. That that has led to the repression of journalists and other people, but specifically leftists. Could you speak about the most recent wave of repression? As well as stories that I’ve read about people leaving Russia for Georgia or other areas, having to flee basically, based on the repression.

DO: It’s true. Since the beginning of 2021, the Ministry of Justice has added 11 media outlets, 42 journalists, and 9 NGOs to their register of so-called foreign agents. Every Friday someone else gets on this list. Now there are 223 foreign agents. If we think in terms of liberal democracy, it is an act of state pressure on the media or public organizations, because there is the destruction of any infrastructure and control by authorities. We’re talking about projects controlled by the Russian authorities. These organizations get grants from different funds – from the US, from United Nations, and the European Union. But the problem is that these organizations, these NGOs, and these media are the only ones that try to do anything with corruption, protests, or tortures in the police departments. The danger of criminal liability constantly hangs over foreign agents – from fines to imprisonment up to five years. It led to really big fines and bankruptcy of organizations. You can go to prison for five years if you don’t do good paperwork for the ministry, but no one knows how to prepare it. And society understands it. People sign a lot of petitions against this foreign agent law. So now it’s 150,000 signatures. But as usual, there are no street actions because people are afraid. As I said before, detentions at a rally can lead you to prison. So people try not to be in this area.

TFSR: I’d seen an article about specifically Russians fleeing to Georgia. And I imagine it’s because Georgia is aligned with the United States.

DO: Russia and Georgia, there was a war between them 12 years ago, so we don’t have any diplomatic contacts. There are a lot of American NGOs that are based in Georgia. 20% of Georgia’s territory is under the control of the Russian army. This country is relatively safe, sorry for such a comparison, but it looks like an American activist would go to Cuba, for example. But basically, everyone connected with politics in Russia is going to Georgia now: journalists, human rights activists, supporters of Navalny, liberal activists, leftists, anarchists. During the pandemic, there are not a lot of states where we can go. The border with Georgia is closed, we can go to Armenia, and then from Armenia, which is a friend of Russia, we can go to Georgia, but most states now are closed for Russians. So Georgia became a state where it can be maybe safe, maybe not, I don’t know exactly.

TFSR: I see. Along the lines of talking about Georgia, and then also right-wing violence that we were talking about earlier. Has there been a lot of repression of queer and trans activism and life in Russia, or how that has been because you mentioned that anti-trans stuff had been popping up?

DO: It looks like no people – no problem. Now a lot of such people are invisible, because of the law against the so-called “gay propaganda.” So most people prefer not to say about themselves, for example, most gay people I know, I really don’t know if they’re gay or not, because there is no one coming out and sometimes I hear about someone, but usually people prefer not to say anything about it. So most people prefer to be “normal” because if you say that you are gay, it will be not a very good situation in prison if you get arrested and there is a lot of homophobia. Most people, including gays and trans persons, prefer not to show themselves in many cases, especially in a demonstration, etc. So there are no open street manifestations or something like that. Most people show their sexual orientation only in talks at home. And in Georgia, it is the same situation. In Georgia and Belarus, in Ukraine, the situation is a bit better. But in fact, there are a lot of Nazis also, so most people prefer not to show themselves during ordinary life.

TFSR: That’s pretty grim.

Speaking of Belarus, maybe a week or two ago on The Final Straw, we aired an interview with several Belarusian anarchists about the uprising and repression by the Lukashenko regime there. And I was wondering, because, in our talks, we discussed Belarus and Belarusian anarchists quite a bit. And I was wondering, without making this a conspiracy, how much interaction and solidarity is there amongst anarchists in former Soviet and Eastern European countries? Because I know that there’s been a really strong anarchist movement in Belarus for as long as I’ve been reading the Abolishing Borders From Below magazine about Eastern Europeans. So I was wondering what influences go between these countries?

DO: Belarus is the closest country to Russian, in linguistic and cultural terms. I’ve never been to Canada and US, but it looks the same. So the before the beginning of the war in Donbas, Ukraine was the same country. But now, xenophobia is unfortunately on both sides. So there were many common organizations in post-Soviet space, and activists always went to each other during demonstrations or gatherings. A lot of people from Russia helped local activists, for example, many of my friends are banned from entering the territory of Belarus for the next 10 years. The reason was that they participated in street actions, and now activists left for Russia when the repression started in Belarus because neighboring Poland didn’t open any humanitarian escapes.

At the same time, the territory of Russia is not very safe for the Belarusian people. For example, one Belarusian journalist was detained in Moscow and brought to Belarus, and now he’s in prison. An anarchist from Belarus is in jail in Moscow, he took part in so-called mass riots in Belarus and the Belarusian state wants to extradite him. But he’s still in Moscow. Right now, over 1000 people are in the prison for political reasons in Belarus and about 30 anarchists and anti-fascists are among them. Some of them were tortured by suffocation, electricity. We don’t have any quality communication with them, because it’s a big problem with lawyers now. They can’t share information about the case. I think that same situation will be in Russia in the next maybe two-three years because usually, Belarus looks like a [testing ground] where the state tries to do something and to understand if it works or not? A lot of people think that now we will have a similar situation in Moscow or St. Petersburg.

TFSR: Has that happened in the past where forms of repression… Have authoritarian government policies happened in Belarus and then later happened in Russia in the past, or is that just a fear?

DO: The most updated information, you can read on abc-belarus.org. It’s the website of the Anarchist Black Cross Belarus. But what I see now, most people don’t do any street action, but they are still angry, they stayed, and they try to help people in prison, they try to support each other, there was a lot of solidarity between people, they help each other in medical cases, in cases of mental health. So in my opinion, it is the best option for people now to help each other and try to support each other in this dangerous time. So the best time is to save their resources.

TFSR: Thank you for that. I mean, it’s just a horrible situation.

Well, this isn’t really related to the anarchist movement or anarchy at all. You sent me an interesting article in Jacobin, about the recent elections and electoral gains by the [Russian] Communist Party, and also that article was posing that there is a shift within that party towards a more social-democratic opposition, and I was curious about if that in itself could lead to a resurgence in leftist politics in general. And also, if the recent gains in the election are significant, or if it’s just a weird apparition?

DO: Well, there was a very interesting case of Mikhail Lobanov, he is a professor. He’s a mathematician. He took part in a trade union, he’s a real good activist. And he is not a typical communist from this party but in fact, this Communist Party is not a real communist party. It’s not a Marxist party. It’s more conservative, they think about how the Soviet Union was a really great state. And for them, it’s more important to know that the Soviet Union was Imperial than an actual communist state. So the campaign of professor Lobanov, I think was the best thing that left activists have been doing for a long time in the entire post-Soviet space because the degree of penetration of leftist ideas, slogans, problems to the masses was unprecedented. People really were surprised that there is someone who could say anything smart about society without any problem. He didn’t say he is a communist or a socialist, in fact, he looks like a left-wing democrat. But for a lot of people, it was really surprising, because they usually see people who are more Stalinist than communist. So in Lobanov, they just saw a very smart person who can tell smart things about society, about taxes, about different repressions with a left-wing optic, and in this case, it was really interesting to see the reaction of people. He won the election, but in fact, now he’s not a deputy in the Parliament, because the state preferred to change the results. In this case, it was interesting how he made a political machine. There are a lot of left-wing activists who decided to help him. He preferred to be a mouthpiece of a lot of people. He preferred to be not like a typical parliamentarian, but a man who takes a recommendation from people to the state, and for the political system in Russia, it’s looks really exotic. So maybe for people in the US, it looks like nothing special, but for the Russian political movement, it was special, like “Wow, how did that happen?!” People were really surprised, and that’s why a lot of people helped him.

TFSR: Do you think in some ways that his popularity or the popularity of the things he was saying shows that there is some left-wing or more liberatory desire in Russian society? Also, do you think he’s actually speaking to material needs? Do you think there is a left potential in Russia?

DO: I think that it shows the request for left-wing ideas because people see the crisis, economic crisis, political crisis, ecological crisis, electoral crises, but people don’t see any solution. There is no way to protest. A lot of people went to this election because they just wanted to show they don’t agree with the state, they wanted something to change. But they’re really afraid to do anything, to take part in any street action, in any organization, because a lot of organizations now are under punishment, under repressions. So, I think that it could be a good chance to show that there are such ideas that they can be popular, but no one knows how to use that effect.

TFSR: Have there been any sort of attempts from more autonomous or anti-authoritarian left groups to, not piggyback, but exploit the fact that these ideas are becoming more mainstream, or work on spreading those?

DO: In fact, we don’t have any polls to understand what people really think. And we don’t have time to grow politically or to raise any activist, because it’s a really big risk for such people. Only in their kitchens [in private] do people say what they really think. And in this case, we have a lot of informal networks between people. But there is no real formal actions and formal organizations for any movement, and most people prefer to put their ideas, their activity in a secret.

TFSR: Does it feel like when there are large-scale demonstrations, that’s the only moment when people can be open politically? Like when there are enough people in the streets, that it’s hard for the police to pick off individuals?

DO: I think that really nobody knows the answer to this question. Because there is no data, no information. And it’s really hard to make any researches and now the state tried to do something with independent researchers, with independent education, with people who know how to make a study. We don’t have any tools to understand what we can do in the next year, in the next five years. There is a very good term to describe this. It’s “forced helplessness,” people don’t know about their power, and there is no opportunity to check it. The same situation is for the left-wing movement and anarchist movement because they don’t know what power they have and how to use it. There is no space for practicing it.

TFSR: I assume you probably didn’t listen to it, but in an interview, my colleague did with the folks from Belarus about the uprising there, was interesting, because while so many of their comrades are in prison and facing really horrible odds, they also seem somewhat more positive about potential future stuff in Belarus. It takes me by surprise, the attitudes of those folks being hopeful about the future. Whereas it seems like in Russia, it’s not so hopeful at the moment, which is just the reality, obviously. But it was interesting to hear the differences, obviously, it’s very different countries in different contexts.

DO: I can’t say that I am an optimist because I think I’m more realist. I really don’t think that it will be better after Putin, because I really fear that different police departments, Nazis, etc. can use their power. But on the other hand, I see people around me, I see a lot of good vibes between people. I hope that it will be better because people can say something without being repressed. But it’s just a hypothesis, I really don’t know.

TFSR: I wanted to first thank you, and really appreciate you being in touch with me and doing this. But I also wanted to ask, is there a way that you can think of that anarchists or anti-fascists in the United States could show solidarity with their comrades in Russia that are facing repression right now, or any kind of meaningful solidarity?

DO: There is the Anarchist Black Cross Moscow, which supports the repressed activists, and Russian and Belarusian anarchists often call for solidarity. So the best way is to make any demonstration or help. So you can check like Avtonom.org or Rupression.com for any information in English because these organizations provide legal and material support, medical care, food parcels, etc. I know that the Russian state really doesn’t like to see any solidarity in different states they get very angry. And for us, it was really interesting to see how American anti-fascist and anarchists took part in different demonstrations last year or two years ago, it was really exciting for us. But my recommendation is that everyone needs to know how to support each other, like to know how to take medical care, how to sustain good mental health, and how to be in a good healthy condition because when we had that street violence 10 years ago, only training with guns and knives helped people from the anarchist movement to survive. So in my mind, it’s really good knowledge how to protect yourself, and I hope that people from the US also know how to help themselves and to protect each other.

TFSR: I like you mentioning that you need to do mental health stuff but also learn how to shoot guns. I didn’t expect it to go there but it makes a lot of sense. I really appreciate you talking with us. Where can people find work that you’ve written and stuff that are translated into English?

DO: I have some publications on OpenDemocracy.net. It’s a site with a lot of materials on the situation in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine in English. We made a podcast in English about Russian prisons, and we called Russian Limbo. We usually don’t have any possibility to make articles in foreign languages, unfortunately.

TFSR: No, that’s great. We will put these different websites you’ve mentioned, and podcasts in the show notes so people can click on those. And that podcast about the Russian prison sounds fascinating. I appreciate it. Thank you for negotiating the time difference with me.

DO: Thanks a lot. And thanks for your questions and interest. It was really nice to talk with you.

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Antti Rautiainen

TFSR: Can you identify yourself for the audience with any names, pronouns, or affiliations that make sense for this conversation?

Antti Rautiainen: Yeah, my name is Antti, I’m working with ABC-Moscow. Even so, I’m in exile currently, haven’t been able to visit Russia for almost nine years.

TFSR: So I was hoping that a chat with you could accompany the interview that we just heard with Dmitry Okrest, about the situation for anarchists and anti-fascists in Russia by making space for more specific updates from Moscow ABC. So thank you so much for making yourself available for this. Off-mic, you had mentioned that there was a hunger strike of Viktor Filinkov. Could you tell us more about his situation, remind us of his case, and how he’s doing?

AR: Viktor Filinkov was in prison as a part of the so-called Network case, which was started around 2017-18. It was a number of anarchists and anti-fascists, and just their random friends from the city of Penza and the city of St. Petersburg, who were framed up to be some underground terrorist organization. I was a part of a support campaign for them which united many different people all around Russia and also internationally, but it didn’t succeed to have this case collapse, and everyone was sentenced. And Viktor Filinkov was one of the people sentenced, they started doing their terms this year and the previous year they have been appealed without any changes. And now they have been sent to prison colonies. Viktor Filinkov arrived in his colony in August. It’s in Orenburg, close to Kazakhstan. And they have been putting huge pressure on him in this colony. He’s been basically sent to the hole more than 10 times, he hasn’t been a single day in the general prison population, maybe he was in some common cells for a couple of days, but in general, he has been kept in complete isolation.

And currently, he started a hunger strike on the 30th of October. This is a traditional day of political prisoners, of first Soviet dissidents, and then political prisoners in the Russian Federation since the 70’s. There were hunger strikes of political prisoners already in the 70’s. So Viktor joined this tradition, but also, he is stating his own demands, which are that he wants to be released to the general prison population to escape the isolation. And he also demands to get written materials, like books, papers, and materials of his own case, because currently, he is not even allowed to read his own case. This is an ongoing thing, the hunger strike has been on for around one month and Victor is struggling for some basic things. Probably, it’s the prison administration who wants to frame him up, every time he is sent to a hole for a minor violation, like laying down in his bed, which basically is not allowed in the Russian prison colonies in certain hours or not dressing completely, according to prison form rules. Just general bullshit things. And probably the goal is to railroad him to higher security prison called EPKT, which is basically the highest security prison.

TFSR: A hunger Strike is a really intense method of struggle that can cause extreme deterioration of some of the body’s systems, long-lasting effects after the actual hunger strike. It’s a choice of the last tactic for people. Is there much history recently of the prison administration’s responding to this? Or is there much discussion in Russia right now about Viktor’s case?

AR: Filinkov’s case doesn’t seem to be super high profile. But it’s not only anarchists but also some human rights defenders or liberals supporting him to some extent, especially the Novaya Gazeta, which got the Nobel Prize in literature, they are covering his struggle. So I wouldn’t say that he’s completely isolated but also these demands are super moderate. He’s not demanding Putin to give up power or something. So I think there are certain chances for him. Quite a prolific hunger strike was around 2018-19, Oleg Sentsov, one of the Crimean prisoners, together with Alexander Kolchenko were accused of organizing underground activities against the Russian occupation of Crimea. Sentsov himself was not an anarchist, but his co-defendant Kolchenko was, and Sentsov was in some very long hunger strikes, and eventually, he was released as part of the prisoner exchange. Of course, not only because of the hunger strikes, but I think the hunger strikes may have played some role that he was included in the prisoner exchange, which was originally meant to be just prisoners of war. So, I think hunger strikes are pretty popular in Russia, even with some liberal and environmental struggles, maybe even too popular, if you asked me, but I wouldn’t say that they are completely useless. They also can achieve some results. Sometimes it might be that risks are heavy, but also sometimes you don’t have so many other options. I hope Filinkov’s strike will succeed.

TFSR: Yeah, me too. Are there ways for people outside of Russia to support his case?

AR: I asked about this for people who are more closely involved in supporting Filinkov. Our group, the ABC Moscow, we have been diminishing during the years, and half of our group has been forced to migrate for different reasons, as I was deported and others have become refugees. There are still people in Russia involved but we are not, in this particular case, super active. But there are people in, for example, in the Rupression campaign for the Network prisoners, and they are currently organizing letter-writing, but they have only resources to organize this in Russian. And of course, you have to send the letters in Russian but I think in the show notes, we can share the links to online forms in Russian and a petition text. With Google Translate people who might want to contribute can try the join this campaign, but also, as usual, just in general information coverage would be needed and letter-writing. On ABC-Moscow’s site, you can find Viktor’s prison address. Of course, if you send mail to prison, it doesn’t necessarily reach Viktor. Actually, as far as I know, around one month ago, he hadn’t received any mail. Everything was just stored somewhere or trashed but at least the prison administration knows that is not being abandoned, that people are following the situation. And also the support campaign has to pay the lawyer bills and so on because if they put this heavy pressure on Viktor, he will be in constant need of lawyer support for all time he serves in prison, which will be the following four years. There are also instructions on our website on how to donate to the Network case prisoners.

TFSR: I know that that website has a lot of information about other people in the Network case and also other prisoners that are being supported. Are there any individuals or cases that you’d like to mention that should be particularly or generally supported by listeners?

AR: I think all the cases are important, especially the network has prisoners because they have very long sentences. A number of them have more than 10-year prison sentences, but also the Network case was at least lucky that it managed to get good international support and attention of many anarchists and anti-fascist, but there are obviously many other cases.

For example, there was an anarchist couple from Chelyabinsk who just got crazy two-year sentences for a simple banner drop, which was done in solidarity with the Network case. Also, there is artist Pavel Krisevich who is an artist and not an anarchist, but he was doing many actions to support the Network case and for one of his performances, he is now in this famous Butyrka prison in Moscow, where many anarchists were jailed even before the Revolution. Also, a very important case is the case of Azat Miftakhov, the mathematician. He was sentenced for another support action for the Network case prisoners to six years in prison, for just breaking a window of the ruling party office. And he’s been put on pretty heavy labor condition, but at least he can receive mail. So it’s important to support him by letters at this point. And also, there is an international campaign to have the International Society of Mathematicians involved. So if any of the listeners are working or enrolled in mathematics departments in any of the universities, you can check on our website how to join the efforts to have the International Association of Mathematicians support Miftakhov, because, in Russia the support campaign is actually mostly organized not by anarchists, but by the community of mathematicians. Because that’s Miftakhov’s profession.

TFSR: Dmitry also mentioned in the prior interview dropping banners and posting solidarity images is something that embarrasses Putin’s administration and has a deep impact. Are there other methods that come to mind, like you’ve mentioned the mathematician society and supporting them and applying pressure? But are there other methods that come to mind that folks can engage with from abroad to show solidarity with anti-fascists and anarchists, as well as oppressed identities in Russia, particularly well, not whitewashing the repression and cruelty of our own governments that are repressive institutions?

AR: A very important thing is just to spread information. Also, many of the campaigns, especially before the sentences, need to pay the lawyer bills, which can be quite expensive, because there are not really many activist lawyers in Russia. Occasionally, especially if there are no terrorist charges, you can have some human rights organizations sponsor lawyers but this is not always the case, if there is some radical politics involved, that doesn’t necessarily happen. I will say also that basically maintaining horizontal contacts, I think it’s very important to be involved in the local struggles but I think the anarchist movement is not only about the local struggles, it’s also about international solidarity. And in Russia, and even more so in Belarus, the movement is now in a pretty difficult situation so it’s good to just maintain contact and discussion not only on the repression work but general strategies and perspectives. So especially when this COVID era is beginning to end, it’s more important than ever also to have international meetings and discussions and not only meet in some discussion forums, social media or Twitter or whatever, but also to have face-to-face meetings and to create more solidarity.

TFSR: Awesome. Is there anything else that you’d like to mention that I didn’t ask about?

AR: This was pretty much what I wanted to say on this. Avtonom.Org website is hosting the ABC Moscow news, but we can put all the relevant links and so on to this episode information.

TFSR: Does it make sense to mention the podcast project that you work on since it does bring a lot of opportunities for international understanding of situations?

AR: Yeah, I could mention it. I have my own podcast, but it’s mostly in Finnish and dealing with some local discussions, but I will also put in Russian episodes, and occasionally, there will be also English texts. I hope to have an episode this week or next week about a project called FemDatcha, a feminist shelter for burnout activists that was organized by feminist activists in the Moscow region. So this was an example of a creative and positive project in Russia because it’s not only suffering and repressions, people also have some new and interesting concepts and ideas and I would also like people to pay attention to these things. You can find my podcast with my own name Antti Rautianen, which is a bit tricky for an English speaker I didn’t figure out any fancy name and also wanted to keep my content eclectic, I don’t have any special topic. It’s just basically for my own rants about various stuff. But we can link it to the episode description so people can find it. I have a couple of English episodes and in the future, there will be more. This one about a feminist cottage FemDatcha will also be in English.

TFSR: That’s awesome. Thank you so much for having this conversation, Antti. I really appreciate it.

Antti: Thanks. This is my favorite podcast because others in the States don’t seem to have so much international perspective. I think it’s very important that you are pushing this direction because America is so big that people often tend to watch mostly inside.

TFSR: Yeah, absolutely. It’s really easy for us to just think about ourselves as the world. Thanks so much for the kind words and take care of yourself.

AR: Okay. See you I guess in five years, we will have a third podcast.

TFSR: Anarchy will reign by then, so it will be a less depressing conversation.

A: Yeah.

Support Ryan Roberts and #KillTheBill Bristol defendants!

Support Ryan Roberts and #KillTheBill Bristol defendants!

"#KillTheBill Riots, Bristol ABC & Solidarity with Ryan Roberts", a Brsitol cop car tagged "Kill The Bill" with fires behind from the March 21, 2021 riots
Download This Episode

On March 21st, 2021, thousands entered the streets of Bristol in the UK to vent their anger at deaths in police custody, police violence on the streets, as well as a slate of repressive laws including the SpyCops Bill, increasing impunity for government officials breaking their own laws, as well as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, or simply The Bill, targeting Roma people, Travelers, lengthens youth prison sentences and criminalizing dissent and protest amidst some of the harshest Covid-19 lockdowns the UK had seen. What became known as the Kill The Bill riot led to running fights with police, burnt cop cars, a dizzying disinformation campaign by police centering themselves as victims, and over 80 people arrested to date, with more being detained and some facing years in prison. From Monday the 25th & Wednesday the 27th of October 2021, defendant Ryan Roberts will be facing trial and is calling for international solidarity.

For the hour, Tom and Nicole of Bristol Anarchist Black Cross talk about the #KillTheBill, police violence in the UK, the radical scene in Bristol, anti-repression work of Bristol ABC & Bristol Defendant Solidarity, the legacy of former Bristol resident Anna Campbell, the cases of the Colston 4 as well as that of Toby Shone, prison expansion in the UK and more. To learn more about their work and how to support and write to Ryan Roberts and other #KillTheBill defendants, visit BristolABC.Wordpress.Com, and to you can search that hashtag on social media for a demo in your area to join in on or to advertise your solidarity action! If you happen to be in Manchester, there’s a demo on the 27th at 5pm at the Crown Court. And check the ongoing fundraiser for the defendants at GoFundMe!

Solidarity demos October 25 & 27th 2021 for Ryan Roberts facing charges from #KillTheBill March 21st street actionsCheck our show notes for more links, including our conversation with Dónal O’Driscoll from November of 2020 about the SpyCops case. There’s also a new podcast out called SpyCops Info that includes folks who had been part of groups infiltrated by undercover pigs in the UK in past decades talking about individual cops and the ongoing inquiry that’s worth giving a listen to: https://tfsr.wtf/spycops

Also, check out this audio from Radio AvA, (a podcast by and for sex workers) with their coverage of the demonstration after the rape and killing of Sarah Everard by on-duty London Metropolitan pig Wayne Couzens: https://www.radioava.org/episodes/avashowmarch2021part1. We found that audio, shared by our comrades at Dissident Island Radio.

We’re releasing this interview a bit early so as to get word out about Ryan Roberts’ trial, so it’ll be a little longer of a wait between episodes.

Annoucements

New Eric King Solidarity Poster

There is a really cool poster available in solidarity with anarchist and antifascist prisoner, Eric King, who is facing trial in a Denver court on a frameup right now. The poster was produced by Radix Media and here’s what they had to say:

To support Eric King, we are releasing a limited edition of 35 posters carrying one of his revolutionary poems. All profits generated from the sale of the broadside will be sent to Eric’s support fund.
The print is approximately 12.5″ x 20″ and was letterpress printed in multiple passes on our vintage Vandercook proofing press.

You can find the poster at https://radixmedia.org/product/eric-king-support-letterpress-broadside/

Sean Swain Phone-Zap

Sean Swain is in danger of being out-of-state transferred again, to who knows where. His support crew are asking that folks call Ohio State Senator Teresa Fedor and Ohio State Representative Lisa Sobecki to express concern about Sean’s safety, access to his legal counsel as well as family and support network in Ohio, and to question the legality of sending Sean out of state without the legally required hearing with Sean attending, (which they skipped when he was sent to Virginia in 2019).

Check SeanSwain.Org for a basic script in the next day or so. If you’re returning to these notes to find Sean’s segment, good on you! It’s in the current iteration of the show and can be found on it’s own here: https://archive.org/download/youaretheresistance001/youaretheresistance20211024.mp3

Asheville Cover Band Show

A reminder that if you’re in the Asheville area on October 30th (and vaccinated) and want to participate in the annual Prison Books & Tranzmission Prison Project halloween cover band show, it’s taking place at the outdoor and covered venue, Sly Grog! There’s a door fee and the list of bands is extra-ordinary! Check it out:

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Featured track:

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Transcription

Nicole: I’m Nicole. I use she/her pronouns. I’ve been living in or around Bristol for nearly 30 years. And yeah, I organize with Bristol Anarchist Black Cross.

Tom: I’m Tom, I use he/him pronouns. I’m a relative newcomer to Bristol. I’ve been a defendant in trials myself and have I’ve done anti-repression work for comrades for quite a few years, too. And part of Bristol Anarchist Black Cross.

TFSR: Thank you both so much for coming on and being willing to talk, I really appreciate it. Could you tell us a bit about Bristol? Maybe where it’s at and its measurements? Who lives there and what it’s like? And what it was like in the run up to the Kill the Bill demos?

Nicole: Yeah, so Bristol is a city in southwest England. So under half a million people live there. It’s pretty diverse in terms of class and race. So, over a quarter of the people in Bristol are not white, there’s a really large Afro-Caribbean community. And there’s a really long history, like there’s a long history everywhere of police violence. But there’s quite a long history of rioting and resistance and community organizing in Bristol. It’s the 11th biggest city in the UK. And [ha!] thankfully, the Times dubbed it as one of the best places to live in the UK. But that means there’s been increasing gentrification every year. People are attracted to the city because there’s quite a lot of underground music scene, street art, this like alternative culture. But it sits in like a very rural region of England.

And I guess, just in terms, of the historical context the city was built on the slave trade. It’s by the sea on the west coast. So there’s a long history of slavery in the city. And yeah, in terms of local riots… we’re going to be talking about a recent riot that happened in March this year. But there is this historical context to that in terms of riots in the center of Bristol, in places like St. Paul’s, which have happened after police have really abused stop and search powers, where they’ve killed people. There was a famous riot in 2011, after a big squat eviction in the city. Just in terms of what we’re talking about today… so if people aren’t aware there was a riot in March…. March 21, against some some new legislation that we’re going to be talking about. A lot of people have been arrested. 81 people so far, 41 people have been charged and there’s already 10 people in prison. But we’ll go into that more over the next hour.

TFSR: Cool. And would you want to talk a bit about Bristol ABC, about Bristol Defendant Solidarity, and the anti-repression work that those two groups do?

Nicole: So there’s two groups. So, we’re representing Bristol Anarchist Black Cross and there’s also a group called Bristol Defendant Solidarity (BDS). BDS was started after this riot in 2011. But before then there’s always been ongoing informal support and solidarity for people that are arrested. BDS mostly focuses on defendant support work, and ABC focuses more on the prisoner side. But recently, with all the repression we’ve been working really closely together. In terms of Bristol ABC… if people aren’t aware of the Anarchists Black Cross… It’s debated how it started, but there is evidence that it was active in 1905 in Russia and there’s ABC groups all over the world that are active, supporting people in prison. So I’ve been doing ABC for about 10 years now. How we’ve been supporting people, practically, financially, politically, not just in the UK, but also around the world.

So yeah, Bristol was fortunate with the riots that there was a lot of infrastructure that was already established that could respond to this situation. There was also groups that got started in the midst of it all. So there’s an action medic crew that was set up and legal observers independently organized to attend the demos. And so what happened was there was obviously this mass arrest of people. And some people were known to us, were comrades, were in our communities already, and other people weren’t. And so, BDS had to really publicize the fact that support is available. There was lots of postering in the city, lots of outreach on social media, word of mouth, and encouraged defendants to get in touch so that they could be supported with different things.

BDS help with legal work. So going through the police footage, helping people prepare for court, liaison with solicitors [lawyers], attending court hearings. And you know in that moment, they’ll also do police station support, and support people if their house has been raided by the cops and they’ve lost their phones and stuff like that. And ABC will offer…. like it’ll do like pre-prison chats with people, because I did some time inside when I was younger. So, you know, few of us and ABC have been in prison. So we like to help people prepare, practically and emotionally.

We’ve also been doing fundraising and sharing details of people in prison who’ve consented and asked to have their detail shared so that they can receive letters, and solidarity and stuff like that. And there’s also an element of supporting people’s families, quite a few defendants have been separated from their kids, for example. And ideally, when we’re a bit less overwhelmed we really want to play a role in supporting prisoner resistance and organizing from the defendants who are inside. So, at the moment between ABC and BDS, we buddy people. Someone gets assigned, and you make sure that you’re bottom lining the support for that person. You’re checking in with them regularly, you’re going to court with them, you’re making sure that they have access to to what they need.

But beyond those two groups, there’s also a lot of autonomous organizing in Bristol. So, people have been organizing fundraising, bar nights and organizing letter writing events and stuff like that. And, at the moment, there’s a defense campaign in the making. We want to do something a lot more organized with defendants and their families and their supporters, and counter some of the State narratives and the mainstream media narratives about the riot and what happened. That’s what’s been going down.

TFSR: So Bristol has a history of radical leftist resistance, at least that I’ve been aware of, such as a chapter of the IWW or Industrial Workers of the World, those anti-repression projects like Bristol ABC and BDS, an anarchist bookfair that actually my co host William and I were able to attend a few years back, which was awesome. It’s also been host to sabotage actions claimed over the last decade by insurrectional anarchists of the Informal Anarchist Federation/International Revolutionary Front FAI-IRF against police and capitalist infrastructure. So it’s like a wide gamut of stuff that’s come across my radar as things that are interesting about Bristol and exciting about Bristol. It seems like a hotbed of anarchy. Can you talk about what what the anarchist scene is like in Bristol?

Nicole: Sure! So, I think to the outside world, it seems like a hotbed, but I think when you’ve lived there a long time It feels like a retirement home. But that’s probably a bit cheeky. There is a lot of stuff going on. I think there’s different theories. My personal theory is that I think Bristol is big enough to have a diversity of anarchist tendencies. So there’s these insurrectionary currents and then there’s groups like the IWW and people that are doing community organizing, around housing or wages, things like this. But it’s not as big as cities like London, it’s like intimate enough for people to know each other. And also, there’s been really long term anarchist infrastructure, Base, which is the local social center. You know, it got established in 1995. So it’s part of the furniture really, in terms of contributing to the local resistance in the area, or there’s something in the water.

TFSR: I want to get some of that water.

Yeah, that seems to make a lot of sense. And that’s a thing that I’ve heard from other people in cities where there’s a long standing activity and maybe even varied. But having that sort of infrastructure that people can plug into, and the collective community memory really makes the ability… it’s something to build off of, which I think is really cool.

So, folks may recognize the name of Anna Campbell, Feminist and anarchist who had been active organizing in Bristol, who fell šehid (martyr in Kurdish Kurmanji) while fighting in the Women’s Defense Units, or YPG, in Rojava, also known as the Autonomous Administration of Northern and Eastern Syria. She was killed by a Turkish missile strike, as I understand. I wonder if y’all would talk about Anna, who had been involved in the IWW, as I understand, and also BDS and Bristol ABC and a bit about her legacy.

Nicole: Sure, so yeah Anna was… I think she was probably involved in every group of Bristol at some point or another. She was, like, really well known locally, really active. She was active in Bristol ABC and BDS. And yeah, she really believed in solidarity and self defense in militant resistance. She definitely wasn’t a pacifist. She was really inspired by what was going on in Rojava and she lost her life for that.

We’ve all been talking about her a lot with the repression because she would have just fucking loved it. She would have been all over it, coming to court and doing demos and painting banners and spelling them wrong and all sorts of stuff that she used to do. So yeah, we really, really miss her. It’s really hard that she’s not around. But you know, she was doing ABC just before she left. So I think it shaped her a lot politically.

I think she could see the strategic value of supporting prisoner resistance. She organized quite a lot when there was the big prison strikes in the US in 2016. She was doing info events about that and banner drops. She was really inspired by that. She wasn’t technically from Bristol, she was from the other side of the UK. But she she definitely made an impact in the city.

Tom: Yeah. Anna was a friend and comrade when she lived in that other part of the UK, in Sussex. I remember from other struggles, from anti-militarist organizing and organizing in solidarity with the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle, organizing against the G8 summit… There were just so many struggles that she was involved in. Thinking about how those struggles can move in a more revolutionary direction… And also as Nicole mentioned, the importance of self defense and people’s self defense were things that led her to join the revolution in Rojava.

TFSR: Thank you for sharing. So I guess switching topics a bit. Could you talk about how lockdowns were experienced during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic? What they were like around the UK and maybe in Bristol in particular.

Tom: Yeah, so in Bristol, as in lots of other places around the UK, anarchists were involved in mutual aid organizing, supporting people through the Coronavirus lockdowns. So in Bristol we have a project which was established at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic called BASE and Roses. It was established by the anarchist social center in Easton delivering boxes of food to people who needed it because of the Coronavirus lockdown and for any other reason. And that’s still going on as a piece of mutual aid infrastructure in Bristol. There are also solidarity funds set up by mutual aid groups to help people survive through the lockdowns. So yeah, there was this mutual aid response to to the pandemic and to the fact that people were struggling because of inability to work because of the pandemic and the lockdowns.

Then there was the the police’s authoritarian use of the Coronavirus legislation to repress dissent and mass mobilization. So in Bristol, for example, the police, Avon and Somerset police increase the use of technology like drones to surveil the population, to spy on people gathering during lockdowns, just use it as an opportunity to roll out the use of that new repressive technology which they’ve been wanting to use for a long time. They were using it before the lockdown but there was a double in the use of that technology after the start of the Coronavirus lockdowns.

During the Coronavirus lockdowns, you had the the murder of George Floyd in the US and the global response, Black Lives Matter response, people coming together in anti-racist demonstrations… Bristol had a really vibrant movement and people are still organizing. Bristol have been consistently organizing and they organized the protests last June, where 10,000 people, one of the biggest demonstrations in recent memory are gathered at College Green and marched through the city. As they came to the statue of Edward Colston, who was a local personality who was involved in the slave trade, and who has many things named after him in the city: streets, schools etc. People had been campaigning, petitioning for the removal of this statue for… well, for decades. As the march went past the Colston statue, people put ropes around the statue and it was pulled down by the mass of the people and eventually was carried to the river Avon and thrown in the river.

The pulling down of the Colston statue was an important backdrop to what happened on March 21, which was when the riot that we’re going to be talking about happened. So, as the statue was pulled down, police stood back and didn’t make arrests at that point, and chose instead to try to identify people later on and to make arrests later on. And the police chief, Andy Marsh, said that was to avoid a riot taking place. He thought that if the police had intervened at that point there would have been a riot. And they were rebuked really harshly by Priti Patel, the Home Secretary. They were told that they should have intervened, they should have stopped what was happening.

And what happened was copied around the UK, other statues were removed. The government was pissed off about that and wanted a more authoritarian response by the police. So, that provided the backdrop to what happened on the 21st of March because the police were geared up to respond in a more authoritarian way to the next, big, mass demonstration which was against the policing bill. I guess the backdrop to that demonstration was the it came during the UK’s harshest Coronavirus lockdown. Some of the other lockdowns had included clauses which said that political protests would be exempt from the terms of the lockdown, whereas in March, those clauses weren’t in place. The police were were acting as if protest was completely illegal.

TFSR: In the United States, and in North America in general, there’s been a lot of back and forth about the Right-wing having cornered a lot of the anti-lockdown sentiment around the idea that the government is using this has an opportunity to clamp down on people’s freedom of movement, freedom of expression, or ability to defend themselves. And I was talking to a comrade in Germany the other day, we were talking about how anarchists have engaged in responses to lockdowns or repression against demonstrations by using public health language in France in a different way than he had seen in Germany and I’d seen in the US.

I don’t know if you had any thoughts you wanted to share about the framing of public health measures being used as a way to… and maybe the importance in the framework that we’re operating in to decrease the spreading of COVID-19 while still living under capitalism… But, the use of the of those things to repress people’s ability to live safely and push back against government authoritarian measures. Does that make sense?

Nicole: Yeah, should I come in there Tom?

Tom: Sure.

Nicole: I think it’s been quite complex in the UK in the sense that a lot of people that have been anti-lockdown have been either open fascists or anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theory-esque with quite strong links to Right-wing world-views and to fascist ideas and ideologies. But, I don’t know if there’s been like enough critique of the State with the lockdown. I don’t know, it’s difficult isn’t it? Because obviously we want our communities to keep each other safe and if the State actually gave a fuck about anyone’s lives, they would shut down the factories and the Amazon warehouses outside Bristol that are hotspots for the virus.

But I do think it’s also exposed a huge amount of ableism like in anarchist scenes. At the beginning of the pandemic, it was really like “suddenly, let’s look out for people with chronic illnesses who were previously pretty displaced from our communities.” Like if you get sick, or you burn out, or you have a health issue, or a caring responsibility, it’s quite difficult to participate in certain struggles because of people’s ableism. So I think yeah, BASE and Roses has been a nice example of how that’s been responded to proactively.

I think the pandemics just been this microcosm of class war, right? In terms of how the legislations used and all their repressive strategies and stuff. I think, as time went on, and people understood the virus more, there was more willingness to take to the streets and do demos and not be as pacified, thinking it was like a way of harm reduction. I was really nervous when all these big demos were happening because I live with someone who’s shielding and that just like made me very nervous. But it was also really clear that people had to be on the streets and stuff.

I know anarchists everywhere have been thinking about this stuff. And I probably haven’t answered your question [laughs]. I think there’s like tensions in Bristol basically between opinions about this. But obviously everyone is against the State violence and the State surveillance and the State repression.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s totally fair, and I appreciate you. Perfect answer: “It’s complex and here’s some of the perspectives that people are coming from.” I appreciate you also pointing to the the ableism that was present, continues to be, but at least it’s like visible around folks immune-compromised and and related issues. So thank you for letting me interject that question. Can you talk a bit more about what context the the Kill the Bill protest emerged from? And what did the protests look like?

Tom: The context that the March 21 protests emerged from was immediately because of the policing bill. But the wider context is around policing in general and State repression, State authoritarianism in general. So, for instance, you had that huge mobilization in Bristol in 2020, and the toppling of the Colston statue. But police attacks on communities in Bristol and in the UK, a constant policing which is racist and racialized in Bristol. If you’re Black, for example, you’re seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than if you’re not.

In the context of this history of what Nicole was talking about there, the resistance against against racist policing in Bristol, and in the UK. Earlier that year, and in 2021, at least two people have been killed in custody close to Bristol. In January, a 24 year old man called Mohamud Hassan died after having been detained in Cardiff Bay police station, not so far away from Bristol. Five weeks later, another young man called Mouayed Bashir died in police custody, this time in Newport in South Wales. That that’s the norm in terms of police violence. Since 1990 around 1,800 people, and this is recorded cases, have died in police custody or or directly after being in police custody in the UK.

The backdrop is this really harsh Coronavirus lockdown where where protest is illegal. And at the beginning of 2021 the government passed the SpyCops Bill. At a time when it was very difficult for people to express dissent because of this lockdown that was going on. And the SpyCops Bill, basically, was the State’s response to the ongoing legal cases that have been brought by women who’ve had intimate relationships with undercover police officers who posed as people that were involved in the radical Left and had relationships with them on this false pretext. There’s currently an inquiry going on about the undercover policing tactics that were used, but the SpyCops Bill made it expressly legal. Legal, not illegal, for State agents working for the police or for other State authorities, it could even extend to things like local authorities to break the law. It was essentially passing a piece of legislation which will make it legal for police officers to break the law in the future if they were on undercover duty. So, the State had done this and under the cover of the Coronavirus pandemic and lock downs.

The next thing that the State wanted to push through Parliament was the Police Courts and Sentencing Bill. It was, I would say, the most repressive piece of legislation since the the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of the 1990’s. Again, it was being done at a time when political dissent was very, very difficult. And the bill itself criminalizes the livelihoods of Gypsy-Roma and traveller communities, gives the police some increased powers to seize vehicles and also creates a criminal offense of trespass which is an attack on the livelihoods of Traveling people and a further attack on on squatters and generally on freedom in the UK. It introduces longer sentences which can be imposed on people and particularly for young people, it allows younger people to be sent to prison for longer. The bill gives police more powers to shut down and to impose conditions on public protests and processions, it widens police powers to arrest people for causing a public nuisance, it allows cops to impose conditions on protests if the cops think that the protest is too noisy or disruptive and it allows them to shut down protests encampments, too.

So it has a massive effect on protests in the UK. The other side of the coin is the State’s new prison expansion program to create 18,000 new prison places in the UK. I don’t know if you want to talk about that, Nicole?

Nicole: Yeah, so a major part of the bill which I think hasn’t had as much attention as the other areas of harm is that the British State wants to build 18,000 new prison places through a series of mega-prisons, which will most likely be run by private companies. And this legislation gives them the opportunity to criminalize more and more people and also to keep people in prison for much longer than they already are. So yeah, it’s pretty significant in the context of the prison industrial complex more broadly in the UK

TFSR: It seems like, outside of the shape of the bill, part of the context or one of the sparks that really would have lit people and sent them into the street was the the situation of Sarah Everard. Would you mind talking about that?

Nicole: Sure, yes. So, quite an inflammatory situation in the UK that was creating a lot of rage and despair in people was that police officer in early March was arrested for murdering a woman called Sarah Everard and I don’t know if people know the case at all or had seen it on the news, but he was a police officer called Wayne Couzens and he showed his badge and use the Coronavirus legislation to get Sarah into his car. And then he later raped and murdered her.

This was a really big deal. And there quite shortly after there was a huge vigil organized in London. And in this vigil there were 1000’s of people protesting. And, again, using the Coronavirus legislation of the police to try to repress the demo, including holding women down and assaulting them, which in the context was like pretty horrifying. It’s only one week after this vigil in London that the big Kill The Bill March took place in Bristol. So, there was a lot of anger about the police in the air.

In terms of the you know the actual demo and the riot, I actually had like a 38 and a half degree (Celsius) fever at home so I thought I had COVID. So I wasn’t there. But obviously the footage got shared all over social media and all over the world. There was a really big march and then people started moving towards the police station, towards evening time. The police stations is right in the city center. Police officers attack the crowd with batons, riot shields, pepper spray was used, people were charged with police horses, some people were bitten by police dogs. People really defended themselves, seized riot shields, grabbed helmets and batons to defend themselves.

By the end of the night windows of the police station had been smashed, there was like various vehicles on fire, police vehicles. There was also some famous very Bristol related photographs shared of one kids skateboarding next to this burning cop van, which went pretty viral. Yeah, it got it got pretty wild west.

Tom: And I think it’s important to understand what happened from the perspective of the community’s self defense against authoritarian policing and the police itself, which is constantly attacking the community in Bristol and all of our communities. The legal system tries to understand self defense in a much more limited way. If you argue that you are defending yourself when you’re being attacked by the police in a court of law, it’s going to be all about whether or not you were threatened at that point.

But I think we should understand self defense in a much more broad way. that we need to defend our communities against State oppression. I have to say, I’m really proud to live in a community where people did defend themselves in that way. And yeah, that’s one of the points that we’ve made as ABC and BDS is that we’re proud of the defendants and their resistance.

TFSR: Another unscripted question, just out of curiosity… I know in the so-called US, one thing that was experienced and has been growing over the last few years, but last year really sort of blew up the idea of or made it super visible and part of discourse, the idea of Abolition in general, but abolition of the police. I know that within the US context and the white supremacist anti-Black former more-recently-slave-State that’s still pretty contested, especially around the structure of prisons and racialization in the US. That’s a lot of terms sorry.

Abolition has a weight to it I think that in a lot of other places it would not. But around this time when it becomes all the more blatant what the State is doing, whipping out its police forces and these clear instances of police murders like those ones in January in the area and also Sarah Everard in the the impunity of the pig in that instance… Has abolitionism, or has just getting rid of the police, moved from outside of subcultural discourse? Have people talked about this? Have they said like, “Oh, this is a clear sign that this is what the police do. We’re just seeing it right in front of our faces right now?”

Nicole: Yeah, I think there’s been this Abolitionist tendency that’s been growing and growing, last year definitely escalated everything. I remember doing one webinar about resisting prison expansion with a group called “Community Action on Prison Expansion.” And there was 400 people watching it, it was pretty wild how many people got interested in it. Unfortunately, there was a bit of a sensation of like “abolition is the flavor of the week.” If that makes sense. I don’t know how many people will continue to do consistent prisoner support, for example.

But I think the interesting thing about the COVID time was that for people who through privilege hadn’t experienced State violence. Suddenly, everyone was witnessing the power of the State, if that makes sense. So, working class communities, people of color, other people that have historically experienced State violence, who like a lot more on side about criticizing the police… suddenly you just had the general population thinking about it. And I think there definitely is still quite a strong anti-police energy. It’s easy to be in a left wing echo chambers, but I think there really is a sensation now in UK of where people are talking about abolition, like a lot more weightily, as you said.

Tom: I also went to Zoom meetings that were attended by many, many people during the summer of 2020… and talking about abolition. But just linking it back to the riot. One of the most beautiful things about the riot was that one of the last police cars to be set on fire, before it was set on fire, had the words “defund the police” written across the bonnet [US: hood]. And so, clearly the people who were fighting back against the police on that night did have those ideas and those visions in the minds.

TFSR: So with the folks that caught charges… I think one of you had mentioned that folks are still being charged. But can you talk about the defendants? Can you talk about what charges and times that they face? What stages of conviction are they in. Also, most of our audience is based in the US and the criminal justice system has a specific shape to it here in terms of how the court process goes, and I’m wondering if you could sort of highlight some differences or some instances that would enlighten us to what the defendants are facing in Bristol courts.

Tom: Yeah, so 81 people have been arrested so far. And of the people arrested, the vast majority are pretty young, mostly in their early 20s. And, as Nicole said, some people have been involved in our movements, but many hadn’t so it was a challenge to get in contact with people and to establish connections with them for BDS and ABC. 41 of those 81 people have been charged now.

So what happens when you get arrested in the UK, is you get arrested taken to the police station, and you might be charged at the police station, or you might be released on police bail, or released under investigation. So if one of the latter two happens, it means you haven’t been charged yet, the police are still considering whether to charge you and to prosecute you. Almost everybody wasn’t arrested on the evening of the 21st of March. So, after the riot happened the police release photographs of people. They trolled through CCTV footage and they released photographs of people who they said had been involved in the rioting and there was lots of snitching that took place. So, the footage and the photographs of people that were wanted were put on the TV, they were also released on the front pages of national newspapers. And there was some snitching that happened where people called the cops and said “Oh, my neighbor was involved in the rioting.”

And, yeah, it has to be pointed out the complicity of the mainstream media, in doing the police’s work for them in putting out the photos of people in order for them to be repressed by the State. So, 41 people have been charged, and they’ve been being brought to court over the last month since since March. 3 people are currently on remand in prison. Being on remand means that you’ve gone through a court hearing, and the judge has refused to give you bail, and you’re in prison awaiting awaiting trial. People can wait for a year or more for their trial to take place and remain in prison for that entire time.

10 people have already been sentenced for the riot. So, those who’ve pled guilty to riot have received sentences of between three and five years in prison. And the remaining people have all pled not guilty. And so their cases will be between now. The first case is next week with a guy called Ryan Roberts, he’s in court in Bristol Crown Court on the 25th of October, and his case last until the 27th of October and he’s charged with Riots and Arson. Riot carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. The judge in the cases is saying that the starting point for sentencing is 6 years. And Arson carries a variable sentence, depending on the level of the arson, it can be a very serious charge also. So it’s a serious case. And Ryan has called for solidarity and he wants to make the case as politically as he possibly as he possibly can and he wants demonstrations outside the court.

We’re calling for people to pack the courtroom to show that there’s support for people to fighting back against police violence and defending himself against against the police. So, that’s next week. There’s also two demonstrations planned next week on the 25th and 27th in solidarity with Ryan.

The rest of the trials are scheduled between January 2022 and July 2022. People are still being charged so the people who are currently released under investigation are still going on people going on being charged. And unfortunately people are still being arrested also. The police are saying that there’s many more people that are wanted, unfortunately. We can see that it’s a long slog in terms of anti-repression work and in terms of supporting our comrades going through this process of the State trying to repress them.

The narrative which has come out in Bristol actually is, so far, really the State’s narrative. So when people have been sentenced in court after they’ve pled guilty, the judge has ruled out a long list of injuries sustained by the police a long list of Statements by the police saying that they were traumatized by people fighting back against them. At the same time, when the riot happened, Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, again, made Statements to the effect that the people who rioted were thugs. Avon and Somerset police called people a pack of wild animals. The mayor of Bristol also condemned people for rioting.

Nicole: I quite like that wild animals quote, we should do a T-shirt with to the effect of that.

TFSR: Good fundraiser.

Tom: I think it was a mob of wild animals.

Nicole: Yeah. We could have all the West Country wildlife. All the foxes and badgers. [laughs]

Tom: Aw nice! So what we have is a narrative really set at the moment, unfortunately, by people with the most power. You know, what we need to do is to put forward our own narrative, to show the people in Bristol support people for fighting back against the police, that we’re proud of these people who fought back. And we also need to talk about the police violence on the 21st of March against the people who surrounded Bridewell [Bristol Central Police Station]. Not only on the 21st of March, but afterward, the police attack people as Nicole was saying, they smashed right shields over people’s heads. They attack people with batons, attacked people with dogs, and that police violence needs to be centered too.

We hope that will come out through the different types of anti-repression work that we’re talking about. Through the work of BDS and ABC, but also through the defense campaign and through the evidence of defendants in court cases. Ryan, as I said, wants to make his case as political as possible and that means talking about the police violence and talking about the violence leveled against people on the evening.

I alluded just then to what happened after the 21st of March. So that’s probably worth talking about. So there was a series of demonstrations, which happened after the 21st of March in Bristol. So Kill The Bill demonstrations continued two or three times weekly. And for the first few weeks at least, we were met by an army of riot police who were intent on revenge for the 21st of March. A few days after the 21st of March there was a gathering by supporters of Gypsy, Roma and Traveler People on College Green that was violently attacked by the cops. A line of riot police charged the entire gathering of people in tents etc. And slammed riot shields down on people’s heads. And that set the scene for the policing over the next weeks and months where the cops really tried to exact revenge for what had happened on the 21st of March by using the maximum amount of violence against people when they were coming out on the streets in Bristol to resist against a bill.

Nicole: Yeah, maybe I can add one thing. I think it’s worth saying with the defendants that, again, t’s quite mixed in terms of class and race but the people that are getting smashed with the hardest sentences are working class people who have had previous convictions, or who weren’t in touch with us who went guilty due to terrible legal advice, and they thought they were only going to get a couple of months, and instead they got four or five years.

So, I think that the riot itself was politically motivated in lots of ways but defendant support always crosses into different terrains. It’s a class issue and a race issue and the people who will get smashed are those that don’t have the same level of mitigation. And part of the defense campaign goals are to support people so that they don’t make cutthroat defenses. So they don’t set up narratives of good protesters and bad protesters.

We recently had a film screening of the Sub Media film about the J20 Resistance and while it’s quite different contexts, I think it did inspire quite a lot of the defendants of how maybe without that sort of political support and education, they might have gone down the route of being like “I’m a good protester. I’m a good citizen. I didn’t mean anything by it.” And and I think it’s nice to see people collectively becoming a bit more empowered and radicalized through this process. And I’m hoping, long term, that it will just backfire against the State. Bristol is already a very radical place and now we’re going to have people organizing prisoner resistance on the inside that we can support. We’re going to have an army of young people that have been dragged through the court system who want to fight back. I think the defendant work is quite interesting in that way.

Tom: Yeah, and just to say in terms of the number of people sentenced… 10 people have received sentences now to a total of 29 years in prison between them. I just wanted to say another bit of the context of all this against the backdrop of the riots across the the UK in 2011 [in the aftermath of the police murder of Mark Duggan in Tottenham in North London], which were really widespread by working class communities, predominantly, and people of color. I think one one criticism of the response by anarchists to those riots is that we really, really failed to provide infrastructure and support to the people that were arrested. There was a really strong State narrative. You had Boris Johnson going out with his broom and saying that “everyone should be part of this riot clear up.” So there was a strong State narrative that was saying that the rioters weren’t political, that it was thuggery or whatever. Sadly, I think actually people bought that a little bit I’m afraid.

With what’s going on now with building infrastructure for supporting the people arrested on 21st of March, I really hope that we can do better in supporting people than we did back in 2011. That’s not to say by the way that nobody organized back in 2011. There were some good attempts at defendant solidarity organizing but what was really needed was unconditional solidarity for those in court on a really, really large scale, and that didn’t materialize.

TFSR: It’s I mean, it’s refreshing to hear people taking those sorts of lessons, though and saying “We lacked then, we’ve learned, we were trying to do this now.” And being able to take the examples of international situations or situations in other countries. That’s really impressive.

You had mentioned that Ryan was calling for people to come out and demonstrate. There’s demonstrations on the 25th and 27th. And folks are going to try to pack the courthouse. For folks that can’t make it, whether because they’re abroad or ability or what have you, can you talk a little bit about other ways that they can offer solidarity, both to Ryan’s case and upcoming ones? Ways that folks can donate towards legal costs or survival needs of the defendants moving forward? Or, I don’t know, dropping banners in front of embassies and such abroad if that’s helpful?

Nicole: Yeah, sure. So, there is there is an international call for solidarity. we’d just appreciate any crews, any groups, any organization’s making that stuff happen. It could be writing Statements, it could be doing banner pictures, it could be dedicating actions to him. Also, things like letter writing. There’s a bunch of people in prison now and they’re new to prison. So ,this is a critical time for support of getting loads of posts. A lot of the defendants have felt a bit of shame about their involvement, maybe they’ve had shame from their family, in the media. But showing them inside that loads of people on the outside support them and have their back is really important.

So yeah, we’ve got a list of prisoners and their addresses on the ABC site. We do circulate graphics as well, but it’s always worth checking the site because people get moved to prison a lot and stuff like that. And yeah, funds are constantly needed. We send every prisoner at least 50 pounds a month, money’s going people’s families, to books, to clothes, and sometimes for legal costs, as well. Bristol Defendant Solidarity have a crowdfunder for legal costs. And ABC also has a crowdfunder for prisoner support funds. Yes, so there’s definitely loads of ways that people can can offer support.

Tom: And maybe it’s worth saying I think the response to those crowdfund is really encouraging. It shows the level of support from people in Bristol and people outside for the defendants. We’ve raised over £45,000. But, the amount of money that’s needed to provide financial support to people in prison and all the different types of support that Nicole mentions is really considerable, especially over the length of time that some people might be serving in prison. So, we’d really encourage people internationally to donate to those crowdfunders.

TFSR: Like I mentioned, it’s heartwarming to hear about y’all taking lessons from cases of repression and people resisting and organizing and other places. What are some lessons or some takeaways that you’d like people listening to this to come back with and that you’re learning right now through this process?

Nicole: I think one of the key takeaways is that it’s worth building infrastructure now. Obviously repression and State violence is ongoing in every community, but I think Bristol… we had a slight advantage on other cities in the UK, for example, because we’ve got that infrastructure like ABC and BDS. Lots of challenges come up when organizing, right? And if you’ve already got an established group in affinity with each other, and systems. That really helps. There’s a zine about how to start an Anarchist Black Cross group, It’s got advice and resources if people are interested in starting an ABC.

And the thing is, I think we haven’t mentioned it much, but repression really takes its toll on people and that support does need to be holistic. It’s not just doing legal work for people. It is also offering emotional support. So there was an emotional support group, which has transformed a little bit now because I think defendants prefer to talk to people one to one. So, we’re paying for counseling and therapy for some comrades and that’s really helping people. And even in terms of people’s health and stress and herbal support, things like that… I think it’s really good to really humanize people and realize that the defendants are experiencing a really stressful time. They don’t know what’s going to happen with their lives. They don’t know if they’re going to get eight years in prison or two years in prison. They don’t know if they’ll be able to get a job in the future. Their relationships are getting trashed, maybe their children have gone into care. There’s so many effects of State violence that we invisiblize. And I don’t want us to come across that we’re rubbing our hands as anarchists like “Ah, yes, theres this uprising in Bristol, and it’s really politically exciting!” Actually, it’s been really awful and traumatic for loads of the defendants. Especially people that already experienced domestic violence who are then getting beaten by male police officers, for example.

So I think having that broad overview is really important. And then if people do not know the film, there is an absolutely ridiculous, highly problematic, but hilarious film called Hot Fuzz. So if you want to take the piss out of Avon and Somerset police, it’s based in the West Country in England, you should watch it. It’s the best film in terms of laughing at our local cops.

Tom: I was just gonna say about the effects of repression, the emotional effects of repression. When I was going through a trial 10-12 years ago. The tactics that the cops used in the run up to the trial, were designed to separate us from our comrades through bail conditions, saying that we couldn’t speak to people, and were designed to make life as difficult for us as possible, through house raids, through arrests intended to come up with reasons to remand us in prison, etc. And I guess that really impressed on me the need for for prisoner solidarity.

The thing that really impressed on me, the need for solidarity for people going through repression, was just seeing several comrades really go through hard times. Even a couple of those comrades aren’t with us anymore. Just seeing the needs to have that infrastructure there, to have the backs of people that are going through this State repression. I think that’s a real motivation for for a lot of us.

TFSR: So in relation to the Bill and the Black Lives Matter protests, there was also the swim that statue of Edward Colston decided to take. I wonder if you could please tell us about the the 4 folks that are facing heavy charges and repression for alleged involvement in that.

Tom: Yeah. 4 people are facing charges for the toppling of the statue, and there’s been a massive campaign in Bristol to support them. One thing I didn’t say in relation to the Bill is that one of the parts of the policing bill makes the damaging of national monuments, punishable by 10 years in prison. And so that was specifically in response to the toppling of Colston and the toppling of other statues around the UK. That’s part of the State’s repressive response.

So, there’s a massive campaign in support of the 4 people who arrested after the toppling of that statue and they’re going to be in court for several weeks from the 13th of December. There are demonstrations being called at the start of that court case and there’s fundraising fundraising taking place and public events taking place in Bristol, which you can find out about on the Bristol Defendants Solidarity Twitter account. That’s also a focus of solidarity work this this year.

TFSR: Finally, another case of repression that’s been in the news recently is the prosecution in Bristol of Toby Shone who the State has identified as the web admin, I believe, of the anarcho-nihilist website 325.NoState.net – It was taken down alongside other insurrectionary and counter-info anarchist sites from around the world by pigs in the Netherlands. Can you all talk about Toby’s prosecution the level of international collaboration between police forces in different countries and how people can support Toby?

Nicole: Sure. So it’s worth saying that the terrorism charge that Toby was arrested on was dropped due to lack of evidence, so it’s all alleged in terms of like his alleged role in that website. But yeah, he was raided quite violently and remanded earlier this year in prison, and was recently sentenced this last week to 3 years & 9 months for drugs charges, relating to mushrooms, and I think other drugs that he uses to self medicate around cancer and depression and things. The terror terrorism related charges were dropped mostly but he’s happy for his details to be shared. I know it’s his birthday on the 20th of October so people can send some birthday cards to him. We’ll put his address in the show notes.

TFSR: Nicole and Tom, unless there’s anything else I really appreciate the conversation that we’ve had and the work that you all do.

Nicole: Oh, thank you for all your hard work like putting out this really consistent, amazing show that people should support.

Tom: Yeah, thanks so much for inviting us and, and yeah for for making the amazing podcast.

Stop The Legal Lynching of Ernest Johnson

Stop The Legal Lynching of Ernest Johnson

"Clemency for Ernest Johnson", picturing protest at Boone County courthouse
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On February 12th, 1994, Ernest Lee Johnson and his ex-girlfriends’ two sons participated in the botched robbery of Casey’s General Store that took three victims’ lives: Mable Scruggs, Mary Bratcher and Fred Jones. Mr Johnson has no recollection of the murders, was in despair and had been drinking and smoking crack in the hours after his ex-girlfriend broke up with him. A Black man with intellectual disabilities and no former, violent convictions, he was convicted by an ill-informed, all-white jury with the help of Boone County, Missouri, Prosecuting Attorney, Kevin Crane. Ernest Johnson now faces an execution date of October 5th, 2021.

This week, we spoke with Elyse Max, State Director of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty about the life of Ernest Johnson, the media and court situation he faced, his twice overturned death penalty, the links between the lynching of Black people in the US and the current death penalty, intersections of race and class in who are the victims of capital cases and who sit on death rows, the mishandling of Ernests intellectual disability in the case and other topics.

You can learn more about Ernest’s case, including ways to help press Missouri Gov Parson for a commutation of Ernest’s execution and the work of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty by visiting MADPMO.org. You can follow their work on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram via the handle @MADPMO.

Some other useful links:

More info on Swainiac Fest available on Instagram (@Swainiac1969)

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Featured Tracks

  • For Pete’s Sake (instrumental) by Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth from For Pete’s Sake
  • Hangman by Al Dean from The Hangman’s Blues: Prison Songs In Country Music
  • Reflections (instrumental) by Diana Ross & The Supremes from Reflections

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Transcription

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself with any name, gender pronouns, location, affiliation, or other information that will help listeners orient?

Elyse Max: Sure. My name is Elyse Max. I am the state director at Missourians For Alternatives To The Death Penalty. We are a statewide organization in Missouri and I work from Kansas City, and my pronouns are “she” series pronouns.

TFSR: We’re here to talk about the case of Ernest Johnson and the Missouri Supreme Court’s execution death warrant dated for October 5 at 6 pm. Would you tell us a little bit about Earnest, about his upbringing, about who he is as a person?

E: Sure. Ernest was born 61 years ago in rural Missouri in Pemiscot County and the city of Steele, Missouri. Ernest was raised in rural Missouri, he went to school in Mississippi County in the city of Charleston, Missouri. Ernest’s family… According to the court documents his father identified his occupation as a share-cropper. And we can see in Earnest’s family history that his maternal and paternal grandparents worked on farms in rural Missouri, which had ties to enslaving people. When Ernest went to school in Mississippi County in the 1960s, it was a segregated school. He never passed the sixth grade, there weren’t services at that time for special education or testing as we know it today. And so Ernest had a rough upbringing, his family history includes many people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, intellectual disabilities. He had a brother who was institutionalized and passed away. His mother died from what he says is alcoholism. And he didn’t have an easy life. But the folks that know Ernest that grew up with him and that know him now describe him as kind and gentle and soft-spoken. Earnest has no history of violent crimes, and only crimes of poverty, theft, things like that until he was convicted of triple murders in 1995.

TFSR: Do you know much about the context that led up to, as you said, crimes of poverty? What happened that we know of with the robbery at Casey’s General Store in 1994?

E: It was described largely as a botched robbery. We know a lot from media reports and court documents. The crime was committed by Ernest and the kids of his girlfriend at the time. According to reports, his girlfriend had broken up with him that day. And Ernest was in despair, he was drinking and smoking crack at the time. And he went in to rob this Casey’s General Store with his girlfriend’s kids. The three people that were working there were murdered that night: Mary Bratcher, Mabel Scruggs, and Fred Jones. There was evidence that they were bludgeoned by a hammer, some stabs, some shot. To this day, Ernest says that he has no recollection of that night. He was the only one convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for those crimes that happened in 1994.

TFSR: You mentioned looking at the descriptions in the media at the time. Can you talk a bit about what the trial looked like and what the media landscape looked like for him?

E: Yeah, at the time Boone County, Missouri, it happened in Columbia, which is where the University of Missouri is and it was much different than it is today, it was pretty much a small town. So this crime really shook the foundations of Columbia, Missouri at this time. It was pretty well-covered, with a lot of media attention. It’s stoked a lot of fear in the public. Ernest was prosecuted by Kevin Crane, who was the prosecutor in Boone County at that time, and he is well known in Missouri as a highly problematic prosecutor. He was responsible for the wrongful conviction of Ryan Ferguson, who is now exonerated. In fact, he is now a judge in the state of Missouri. But part of the problem with Ernest’s trial was that his intellectual disability claim has only ever been heard by a jury. In most states, if you have an intellectual disability claim, there is a pre-trial exemption where a judge will settle that before it even goes to court. We believe that’s what should have happened in Earnest’s case. But in Missouri, the law is such that the prosecutor has to agree to the pre-trial hearing for the ID claim. Kevin Crane rejected that, and the judge sided with the prosecutor. So it was just moved directly to a jury trial.

In fact, Earnest’s death sentence, not his conviction, was overturned two times due to errors in the presentation of evidence about the ID claim. In the third trial, he was sentenced to death by an all-white jury that was pulled from Pettis County, and they sentenced him to death for the third time. His intellectual disability claim has never been heard by medical experts, has never been determined by clinicians. And when the Supreme Court made it unconstitutional to execute people with intellectual disabilities, they left it up to the states to determine what those criteria would be. So in Missouri, the criteria match what the APA’s definition is, meaning low IQ, early onset, as well as adaptive deficits in everyday functioning. But because that wasn’t determined by medical experts, the prosecutor relied on racial stereotypes and stereotypes of people with disabilities to win over these juries. The prosecutor, in the third trial, told the all-white jury to rely on their gut, rely on their common sense. And obviously, Earnest had street-smarts. He’s incarcerated, and he can play cards, complicated card games, he can play basketball. Really just urging the jury to rely on nothing that is medical evidence. That’s a huge problem today. So part of our campaign is to push for a board of inquiry that can look at the ID claim from that perspective and make a recommendation to the governor on clemency based on medical and clinical advice.

TFSR: To make it super plain, can you talk about the constitutional basis in which that’s grounded or the moral or ethical basis in which the idea that someone needs to be competent in the US system to face punishment for a crime and actually be held and be considered fully responsible for it?

E: Sure. In 2004, the Supreme Court ruling was Atkins vs Virginia, which made it unconstitutional to execute someone with an intellectual disability. I don’t know the answer to whether or not this is the same as a competency claim, because it isn’t about competency to stand trial, it’s more about being ineligible for the execution. So it’s different than not guilty by insanity because they’re still guilty, but the highest punishment they could receive would be life without parole, so it just makes them ineligible for execution.

TFSR: It’s a strange delineation for me. The way that I’ve always approached was that if someone is considered to be experiencing a different reality than other people, you can’t hold them to all the same standards, as someone who you understand shares the same experience of reality as yourself, or the same ability to cope with the reality and responsibility of what would be a citizen or whatever. And so if the argument that the courts are making by saying, “Look, he can play basketball, he can play complicated card games. Therefore, he understood the ramifications of what he was doing at the time…”

And I’m speaking as if the assumption that somebody deserves to be killed because they’ve hurt other people or killed other people, is the decision that I want the state to make, which is not the case. I don’t think that that decision should be made, which pragmatically is one reason that I think that this conversation is important besides all of the other white supremacist ramifications of this case, in particular. But it seems that in order for someone to get executed for a thing if we assume that that’s the thing that the state should have the right to do, there should be degrees of responsibility taken for an action. And if there is a limit for who can take responsibility for such a heinous crime and receive that sort of punishment, they have to be considered to be operating at the same standards. And it’s reasonable to have the same expectations of participation and understanding and competency that you have of everyone else in the system. Does that make sense?

E: Yeah, that absolutely makes sense. I think that’s very confusing, and it was especially confusing to a jury of laypeople, is that proving that someone has an intellectual disability doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t know what was going on, or they didn’t understand what was happening. But it means that they didn’t have the same kind of agency that someone that doesn’t have an intellectual disability would have. People with intellectual disabilities are more likely to have coerced confessions, they’re more influenceable. Their agency isn’t the same as someone who would premeditate something and go out and commit a crime. They don’t have that same degree of agency. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that he had no idea, he doesn’t know what he’s going to be executed for, he had no idea what happened on that night. In fact, we recently had a jury sign an affidavit that said that they would reconsider their decision if they had known what the clinical definition of an ID was because the prosecutor was trying to argue that Ernest was coherent, he knew what he was going to do. They said he cased the joint earlier in the day. So it was probably premeditated, but his agency, especially in acting with two other people, was less than someone who didn’t have an intellectual disability. So he shouldn’t be eligible for the ultimate punishment of execution, although he could still be eligible for first-degree murder, which would be life without parole, which arguably is more than sufficient of punishment for anyone. That’s a great question. I think there is a lot of confusion around that, and in no way shape or form should a jury be ever diagnosing or determining what someone’s intellectual disability or what their capacity or their agency is, in that sense, without understanding the medical and the clinical reasoning behind it.

TFSR: I appreciate you responding to that. Thank you. That was muddled “blah, blah, blah, but it doesn’t seem right”.

E: I hope that helps clarify because it isn’t right. And it is hard to understand. It is hard to articulate because it is so almost outlandish.

TFSR: Can you tell us a bit about MADP, Missourians For Alternatives To Death Penalty? How did you get involved in Ernest Johnson’s case? And what’s the current campaign’s goal?

E: MADP, we are the statewide death penalty abolition group in Missouri. We’re the only ones with that single focus. Missouri is not a state that is ready for full repeal. So we do what we call “abolition by attrition”. We just chip away at the system that is so very broken. Things like revising our intellectual disability laws, so that they require a pre-trial exemption for people with ID claims. We are basically just trying to make fewer people eligible for execution. In fact, in Missouri, we have 20 people that are currently sentenced to death. We don’t have a death row, so to speak, they’re integrated into the general population further proving they’re not a future danger to society. We work on the front end and the back end. We follow pending cases, pay attention to prosecutor races in high-use counties, as well as assist legal teams. We follow their lead at the end, like we’re doing with Ernest Johnson when it comes time to bring awareness to the clemency campaign around an execution. We are there, we’re across the board, working throughout the whole spectrum. Before a case even becomes death-qualified, it’s on our radar. And we’re trying to work with legal teams and the folks that have been impacted in order to stop this. And so for Ernest Johnson’s campaign, there are several balls in the air. The biggest issue is the constitutionality of the intellectual disability claim. Our hope, since the Supreme Court of Missouri recently unanimously rejected his habeas petition, our hope is that the governor will grant clemency, grant a stay, to call the board of inquiry to review the ID claim. Our governor and our attorney general have claimed to be champions… For communities of folks with disabilities, they base a lot of their pro-life arguments on the fact that our attorney general has a son with a disability. We really think they’re embedded in that community and that is the issue that could penetrate their hearts and minds and make them look at this in a rational way instead of a political way. And the death penalty is always political.

TFSR: For the audience that maybe didn’t pick it up when you were describing Ernest going to segregated schools in… Missouri is one of the states in the US south but it’s considered to be Midwestern. It’s great plains. But it was under segregation. And you mentioned coming from a sharecropper family. So for folks that don’t know, Ernest would be considered Black under legal standards at a certain point in the United States legal system and has suffered from anti-Blackness, multi-generationally. So can you maybe unpack a little more? You mentioned the makeup of the jury earlier, and there are a few matters in terms of the competency of the jury to make decisions about whether or not he is an individual with developmental delays and disabilities should be held to the standard of the death penalty. But there’s also the wider claim of the constitutional right for someone to face a jury trial by a jury of their peers. Can you talk about the makeup of the jury in Ernest’s case, in any of Ernest cases, and the importance, the underpinning argument of why in southern states where white supremacy is much more near the surface in public discourse than it can be in other parts of the country? Well, that’s unfair. Let me re-state that part because, you know, America, right?.

Can you talk about the importance of that argument and why you’re arguing what he had as a jury during his trial does not hold up to that standard of a jury of peers?

E: Yeah, sure. I think that’s such a great point. The jury is supposed to be the consciousness of the community. In death penalty cases, a jury has to be what is called death-qualified. While they’re selecting jury members, they have to already believe that they can impose a death sentence. So how is that a jury of your peers in the first place? And then to pull an all-white jury from Pettis County, a county which had racial terror lynchings, which had enslaved populations in the past? Those things are our linkages. Really, if we look at the historical acts of racial terror, there are direct linkages between those counties and the modern-day mass incarceration system. And that’s one thing that we do at MADP. Looking at our state work, we look at counties that had high numbers of racial terror lynchings that, had high numbers of enslaved people on the census and overlie them with other indicators, like the Secretary of State’s traffic stop reports – the likelihood that you’re pulled over driving while Black. These historically problematic counties are problematic today. That’s where we see our high number of death penalty cases. Mississippi County just had an extrajudicial murder of a Black man passing through town in their county jail. And that’s where Ernest went to school. There were also four historical racial terror lynchings in Mississippi County, three in Pemiscot County. We work closely with the Equal Justice Initiatives and they connect this history with our modern-day criminal legal system. We know that there’s just such a huge disparity on who is sentenced to die in the United States, and that’s reflected in Missouri. African-Americans nationally make up 40% of people on death row, but only 13% of the population.

But even more so than the defendants’ race, it’s the race of the victim. So in Missouri, if your victim is a white female, you are 14 times more likely to be sentenced to death than if your victim is a Black male. And these are the types of remnants that we see with historical racial terror lynchings that, in the 1940s, they went inside because it became a shame to lynch people publicly. In 1972, the death penalty was abolished in the United States because of the racial bias that was apparent. If you look at the death row in the south, it’s like 75% of people are African-American. So then, when it came back in 1982, they decided that you couldn’t just eliminate the death penalty because of racial bias, but each individual case would be allowed these many rounds of appeals, so they could be sure that they were not imposing racial bias when imposing the death penalty. But as we know, that hasn’t really helped if they’re pulling all-white juries and if we’re having these problematic prosecutors that are remnants of the same thing that happened in the South as is the case was Kevin Crane and the complaints against him. So, Ernest’s case just coalesces all of these broader systemic issues and anti-Blackness within the system, but also connections to our own deep history in Missouri. We were a Union state but allowed to keep our enslaved population, we were just a very divided state. So we often, I think for Missouri, want to appear to be Midwestern. But our economics, our capital is based on racial capitalism. That is still the case today. And that’s so strongly reflected in our criminal legal system, not just statistically but when you look at the way that people of color, especially Black men are treated when they’re going through these trials and these rounds of appeals.

TFSR: I think that the racial capitalism element is a really important thing to contextualize this, too, because there’s, besides huge and visible racial disparities in terms of who is accused of being the assailant in an instance, there’s also an overlap of that with class. And when you look at again, to go back to Ernest’s family history of being sharecroppers, there’s a lineage right there of you are being denied the ability, you’re having your wealth extracted from you, your lives were taken to serve the white supremacist capitalist state, or feudal at that point. And then afterward with the Black codes and with other laws going into the system that, again, Michelle Alexander’s a good example of showing this history and the perpetuity of white supremacist continuation of slavery in the United States. So, generation by generation kept in systemic private poverty, through being forced to go to underfunded segregated schools, through redlining, through all of these economic ventures, people who get the death penalty, almost never are rich people. And when you’ve got the confluence of multigenerational, not poverty, but inability to conserve and hand down wealth that people of color and Black folks and indigenous folks in the United States have facing them. You can’t hire a really expensive lawyer to argue your case for you. You’re stuck going with public defenders, who are systematically deprived of the time and energy to be able to give enough focus to an individual and their case, to actually argue on their behalf and pull the strings and file the paperwork.

E: That is very true and every single person on the currently sentenced to death list in Missouri is with the public defender system. As we watch these new pending cases pop up, that is very evident to us. If you have a private attorney, you’re usually getting your charges dropped to second-degree murder through a plea agreement. And if you have a public defender, oftentimes, there’s not even a plea bargain on the table for you. That is pretty stark. You mentioned Michelle Alexander. If anyone from Missouri is listening, there’s a great book by Walter Johnson called The Broken Heart of America. And it is about the racial capitalism of Missouri, and specifically St. Louis, and how that evolved from Native American genocide all the way to Ferguson and modern-day hyper-militarization of the police in St. Louis. If you like to drill down on that, it’s a really good one to look into.

TFSR: It seems clear with the lines that you’re drawing…. This show identifies as abolitionist as well as anarchist, most of our guests are not necessarily anarchists. My understanding is that your organization is not explicitly an abolitionist organization, but as you said, you could view trying to reverse these and offer support to individuals facing the death penalty in the move towards eventually retracting the death penalty in Missouri as abolition by attrition. Can you just say a few words again about the continuity between lynching and the lack of subjectivity afforded to Black and brown folks in this country historically, and how the death penalty is a continuation of the same struggle, and the struggle against the death penalty is the same struggle towards the abolition of that same un-personhood that we’ve struggled for centuries in this country around?

E: Yeah, sure. The linkage between historical acts of racial terror and the modernity mass incarceration system is well-researched and well-versed, particularly with lynching being manifested within the use of the death penalty and their actual litigation on lynching that happened when it went inside. In the 1940’s, it wasn’t a public spectacle anymore because it actually became embarrassing to gather around it to celebrate these things because of the way public perception was changing in the 40’s. They moved it inside and tried to make it a matter of the judiciary. But there wasn’t the same due process that we have around the death penalty today. So a lot of times it was an accused before the judge, and they went right to lynching. And so the death penalty actually was abolished, Georgia v. Furman, I believe that was in 1972, because of its racial application of it. It came back 10 years later, and the Supreme Court said, “You can’t just abolish it because it’s racially unjust, you have to bring each case and present the individual racial bias in each case.” In fact, last year, North Carolina just granted retrials to every single Black person sentenced to death in North Carolina understanding that there is so much racial bias. Everybody who was sentenced gets a chance to have a retrial where they’re able to present what would have been the racial bias in their case at the time they were sentenced. The connection legally is there. We have this idea that, with the death penalty, there is due process, but the way the death penalty is stacked up, where you have to even be death-qualified to sit on a jury that determines whether someone should receive a death sentence. It’s just…

TFSR: Mind-blowing…

E: It is mind-blowing. I don’t know if I’m trying to find the right word that is appropriate for publication. It’s pretty evident when you trace it back. The museum in Montgomery, Alabama, it’s From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, where Brian Steven works with the Equal Justice Initiative. They collect jars of soil from lynching sites across the United States, they’re on display in the museum. And that’s what we’re working on now in Missouri. There were 60 recognized victims of racial terror lynchings during Reconstruction, and we’re collecting those jars of soil to keep in a statewide exhibit. And through that work, it’s where it really became apparent that historically problematic counties are current problematic counties, where they’re applying the death penalty more often, where there are more traffic stops if you’re driving while Black, where you have higher levels of mass incarceration, extrajudicial killings of Black people. So we need to look at that history and address that history. And that’s part of what our racial justice work is like, I don’t know if we can abolish it until we have come to terms with where these things in our system come from.

So, while our organization isn’t explicitly abolitionists, we’re not trying to abolish the whole criminal legal system, if we take what I believe is the tip of the iceberg, which is giving the state the power to determine who lives and dies through the power to execute, once we can get rid of the very tip of the iceberg, it blows open everything else it. That’s why they won’t abolish the death penalty on racial discrimination grounds is because the Justice has said, “Well, then we’re going to have to look at every single felony, every single life without parole case”. Because the stuff that we’re allowing people to murder by is really the same stuff that is contributing to our whole systemic mass incarceration problem. So I feel strongly as an abolitionist that my work with the death penalty is only going to further the abolitionist cause, even if my organization dissolves formally because we’ve succeeded in our mission of abolition, which would be great. That is only going to blow open this wound that is just going to require more work to be done. We have to be glad and we have to celebrate victories because this work is so hard. Even though I’m not personally a reformist, I know that each step along the way is getting us closer to what we want to see the world around us looking like. I’m very proud of our work and I think that it does contribute greatly to the abolitionist cause overall.

TFSR: Thank you for that. It pretty much started off saying that Ernest Johnson has a standing execution warrant dated for October 5 at 6 pm. That’s very soon. How can listeners help in these coming weeks before that date comes to pass? And it’s not a foregone conclusion that there won’t be a stay, but the very high likelihood and possibility that this man will get executed by the state.

E: Yeah, I think that people inside Missouri and outside Missouri can go to www.madp.org. We have a toolkit that is constantly being updated. For Ernest right now we’re targeting the governor, he’s got the ultimate executive power to grant clemency right now, although I know the legal team is working up to the wire to get litigation going all the way up to the last minute if they can. We’re focusing our efforts on the governor. So there’s information, there’s a call script on our website, a toolkit, some cut-and-paste social media posts you can be making. As we move closer we are going to have a few phone apps and Twitter storms, as well as there’s a petition on change.org that currently has about 18,000 signatures. And we’ll be partnering with the NAACP and several organizations to deliver that personally to the governor on September 29. On our website, we made our homepage The Clemency for Ernest’s page. And also, we have a great comms organizer. So our social media is on fire, I’ve been told. I would just suggest people follow us there and then keep their eye on the toolkit for up-to-date information on how to help.

TFSR: Obviously, there’s a timeliness to Ernest Johnson’s situation, that’s really important. So it makes sense that you have converted the homepage as focused on this case and getting people involved. Are there other ongoing parts of MADP that you want folks to know about and get involved in the longer term? Like, are there ways for people to invest their energy in the organization towards that longer goal of abolishing the death penalty in Missouri?

E: Yeah, thanks for asking that. We have as I said, 20 folks sentenced to death. Unfortunately, 75% of them are in their final rounds of appeals. With the way the United States Supreme Court is and the Supreme Court in Missouri, we need your support, and we need people to get engaged in the issue. Fortunately or unfortunately, the media picks up on innocence cases quite a bit and oftentimes leaves behind the death penalty until it becomes salacious, like the night of the execution, just like they do with the crime, where they want to only focus on the salacious and made for TV parts. And oftentimes, we hear from folks that they didn’t even know we weren’t actively executing state, they didn’t know that we even had the death penalty in Missouri. So we do want people to stay engaged. For the past three years, we have had one execution a year. While that’s less than Texas, we are one of only four states that are currently for 2021 have executions on the books. Just going through the website, we’re a membership organization, you can join for $50 and get our newsletter.

We also are unique in that we have chapters across the state. So it’s great, we have a base that we can activate, we will be activating them on October 5, and as things come on, we’re always using all of our tools – email lists and things like that. And we have several petitions. So we need people engaged all the time. Please don’t be like the media and only focus on it during times of execution. Because these people need support. We have a pen pal program, we hook up folks with spiritual advisors, and all of this is an effort to really just to bring some humanity to people that are in the system, which is what they lack the very most. So lots of ways you can get engaged on very small levels. And also you can make larger commitments as well. Thanks for asking that. I think it’s important that we aren’t only focusing during times of execution.

TFSR: Personally, as someone who entered political organizing around the death penalty, I feel like the movement seemed to hit a national peak in the late 1990s. With media representations like Dead Man Walking and the advocacy and publication of books by sister Helen Prejean, and the popular push to commute the death penalty against former Black Panther, Mumia Abu-Jamal, among other folks. So I guess the timing of that matches up with the 1996 signing by Bill Clinton of the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. I remember that happening at the same time. And that feels like there’s some concordance between those events chronologically.

Where do you see the anti-death penalty movement today, as far as a nationwide movement? And how can people find out more in case they’re not in Missouri and want to get involved where they’re at in this penalty that has no take-backs?

E: That’s a great question. You’re right, it does have no take-backs. I think that there was a peak in the 90s maybe as far as public perception goes, but we saw the tough-on-crime rhetoric. You’re right about the Crime Bill and Clinton, when he was running for president, made a huge public deal about rushing back to Arkansas because he had to oversee an execution. So while I think public perception has changed, that takes a while for that to change in the political sphere. And to the common issue that voters care about, and something that they’re even asking people to care about. I think we’ve come a long way. And really, last year, Virginia became the 24th state to legislatively abolish the death penalty. Actually, they’re the first southern state and they’ve executed over 100 people in Virginia. So it’s very inspiring to see that happen. This isn’t gonna happen through a moratorium. Obama had a moratorium and all it did was set up Trump to execute 13 people at the end of his regime. Biden has a moratorium right now, but he’s still pursuing capital cases, or let me say the Department of Justice is still pursuing capital cases. Eight federal capital cases are happening in Missouri, on top of the 19 state capital cases in Missouri. So a governor-imposed moratorium is a good start, but it’s not enough, this has to come from the United States Supreme Court. We have to determine that it is cruel and unusual. We’re one of the few countries that still continue to keep executions on the books. We’re in the company of China and Saudi Arabia. This has to come through the Supreme Court. I’m inspired by the 24 states abolishing legislatively, because once we can tip the scales and get 26-27-28 states, then we can argue before the Supreme Court again, that it is cruel and unusual and it’s being used rarely and not often, and that it should just be completely abolished.

Part of that is that public perception has to change. They have to run out of people to put on juries. That’s what we’re seeing in Missouri, juries aren’t giving death sentences. So as much as our AG and our prosecutors want to try, the juries aren’t doing it. I think it is moving in that direction, it is a slow haul. The death penalty is as embedded as white supremacy is in America, and they go hand in hand. And so the work that we have to do when acknowledging our past wrongs needs to happen for us to realize what the death penalty actually is and what we are doing by allowing the government to kill in our name. But people that do this work are faced with so many different barriers and challenges in all of the work that we do that I understand why it often gets forgotten.

So it would be nice to have a little sister Helen public revival. Just Mercy came out last year, which is a great movie based on the book by Bryan Stevenson. It’s bringing it back into public opinion. And certainly the slaughter by Trump last year brought it back into the public discourse in such a way that there is now a Federal Death Penalty Abolition Act in the house in the Senate, that’s trying to work through things in that way. It is a long haul, we’re just trying to chip away at it and save every single life that we can, because unfortunately, what we know is that states that abolish have very few people left on the row. Virginia, I think had two people left at the time that they abolished. Missouri has 20 right now, so hoping we can get there but also knowing what that could mean for us is a lot more hard work and sadness ahead.

TFSR: Yeah. A lot of what you talked about in terms of where the decisions get made, we need Supreme Court decisions to say that it’s unconstitutional so the courts can stop applying that. And in order for that to happen, or/and as a stopgap in the meantime, legislative decisions made state by state to say we need to abolish the death penalty, we need to impose a moratorium because they’re less easily retracted than when it’s an executive simply putting something on the books, and then the other party gets in power and they remove it. Then back to organizations like yours that are going out there and applying pressure on the public officials that are supposed to listen to public opinion. What you said about the juries having trouble getting people to sit on them, I think says something about a shift in the public consciousness, I would like to think. That’s not to say positive or negative about people voting or not voting, but it says, if people vote, a lot of people choosing to vote says something about the legitimacy that they feel about the system. And what you’re seeing there is a lack of a voice, which is a statement, even if it’s not clear as to what it’s saying, or the other.

People refusing to participate in trials, because either they just somehow recuse themselves, or more specifically, recuse themselves because they say, “I cannot give a pro-death penalty decision in this case. So you have to kick me off of this jury” says something, says a lot. At the foundation of this and the less visible side of it is public participation in discussions and in organizing with their family and talking to the family about issues like the death penalty. And ideally, that should be what creates the wave that would force to some degree the hand of public officials and courts to actually impose stops on these sort of acts. So that’s why I’m excited to talk to you is because, for people in Missouri, this is a place that they can plug in, this may be more their speed than going out and protesting outside of the jail if they’re an abolitionist, it may be more their speed than doing a number of other things. It’s a way, especially that a lot of people of faith can engage around the issue of life or just people who think that the state shouldn’t have the decision to take someone’s life, that that’s not a choice that the state should be able to have. Sorry, that was repetitious. Are there any national networks that MADP is involved with, or that you know about that do really good works that might have participant groups inside of them that are reflective of specific states?

E: Maybe? I know the Equal Justice Initiative. They have community remembrance projects across the United States and we work closely with many different groups: Amnesty International, the 8th Amendment Project (they don’t have chapters per se), ACOU is a great partner to us. I think that intersection. But making sure – and this is something that we’re working really hard to deal with – is we need to talk about the death penalty as a wrongful conviction. So whenever anyone’s talking about wrongful convictions, they think about innocence and really harsh sentencing. We just need to put the death penalty in all of those discussions. When we talk about progressive prosecutors, they have to be against the death penalty. You can’t be against cash bail and pro-death penalty and, if you’re a prosecutor, that needs to be confronted and I know progressive prosecutors have community coalitions that support them.

 

So we need to hack the culture, so to speak, so that the death penalty is seen as a wrongful conviction. Murder isn’t ever a public safety measure. So the deterrents argument and all of that is just so obviously untrue when you look at the data and the research. I just want people to start talking about the death penalty and discussing it in the way that we talk about all other wrongful convictions because essentially, that’s what it is. It’s ugly, it’s messy, it’s murder, it’s not fun, and so it gets left behind until it becomes an execution date. I appreciate you bringing attention to it today and understanding it as part of a system and not an anomaly that is just gonna continue to perpetuate these types of injustices.

TFSR: Elyse, thank you so much for participating in this conversation and being available to talk to me and all the great work that you’re doing. I really appreciate it.

E: No problem, nice to talk to you. Thank you so much.

“Interpreting Realities”: A Panel Discussion Supporting Jailhouse Lawyers Speak’s #ShutEmDown2021

“Interpreting Realities: Aligning Fragments Within the Prisoners Resistance Movement

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This is the second segment of a series of political discussions focused on building support for Jalihouse Lawyers Speak 2021 National call to action #ShutEmDown2021 along with support for the 2022 National Prisoner’ Strike & Boycott.

In this segment “Interpreting Realities: Aligning Fragments Within the Prison Resistance Movement” moderated by Brooke Terpstra  – a longtime resident of Oakland and co-founding member of Oakland Abolition and Solidarity, which has been active since 2016 in the abolition and prisoner solidarity movements–we are joined by two panelists located within the belly of the beast– a conscious New Afrikan Komrade, located within kalifornia koncentration kamps, who is serving a longer than life sentence due to prosecutorial abuse of power, along with Komrade Underground–3rd world rebel, urban guerrilla, student of dragon philosophy and member of JLS–to discuss myths and misconceptions of the us prison structure and how these misconceptions create fragmented understandings about the prison-carceral state and forms of abolition. We also hear how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has further isolated prisoners from the outside world.

More about JLS at http://www.iamweubuntu.com/ or by finding their accounts on Twitter (@JailLawSpeak) & Instagram (@jailhouse_lawyers_speak). You can find all three panels at https://shutemdownsolidarity.wordpress.com/

You can find a transcript of this interview in the near future at TFSR.WTF/Zines, and you can support our transcription costs at TFSR.WTF/Support

** This episode, including Sean Swain’s segment on the 50th anniversary of the Attica Prison Uprising and the massacre that follows, detail abuse and brutality against people in prisons, including of a sexualized nature, so listener discretion I advised **

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Featured track:

  • Somethin’ That Means Somethin’ (instrumental) by J Dilla

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Transcription

Host – Brooke Terpstra: Let’s just put it up front that disagreement is okay. Oftentimes in panels and conversations and interviews, it’s always said to be a conversation but that normally disagree… and people got disagreements. So let’s just say like “it’s all okay. We agree on the main thing. We’re all comrades, but disagreement is okay and conversation is okay.” Actually, that’s the goal! The discussion, the response, the back and forth. All that’s fair game. We’ll just put that up front. I’m ready for that. I’m looking for that. So, we had a couple questions to kick this off with those folks.

Number one is a big question, so I think I’m going to cut it in two. The prison, an explanation of it, the term, the idea, the concept, is heavily propagandized in our society. Heavily mythologized as laws, as well as prisoners, as crime, as “innocence”, “guilt”. They all come really heavy with baggage, with imposed meaning, ideology. So heavily mythologized its kind of submerged into being common sense. Common sense until they force you to basically confront the realities or or maybe you inherited a position in society or certain experience that has basically clued you into the reality. And one thing that definitely forces an individual’s unlearn and all that come to terms with the realities of prison, the prison system… the reasons that it exists.. is getting locked up.

During that time, face to face with the beast. When you go in… the stated of reasons for the system: “rehabilitation. safety, innocence and guilt, your worth as a person, etc…” All that makes no sense. Well, inside people come to different understandings of the structure and the basis of the prison. They go through certain phases perhaps. Some people think is just a broken system where the process is broken and needs to be fixed. Or that it’s just a big scam to make money, a low level scam to rip people off. Or maybe it’s rampaging, even just rogue institutions run amok. Some say it’s just another area for racist brutality. There are ones who stick to a strict understanding of slavery, just about forced labor, and think that it’s all around forced labor. [We] don’t think the opposite. It’s basically… it’s not about forcing labor, but about forced idleness and basically warehousing surplus labor. and that It’s good for the outside as well. So as far as the understanding the prison system, there are these different models and analysis of the prison system or being locked up.

Could you speak on your own coming to consciousness around this? Maybe the phases and analysis and understand that you went through? And where you are today? And perhaps which of these kind of points of view, do you think are myths and misconceptions beyond just maybe being partial, or maybe being a little bit left a little right, complimentary to your own position, but which ones are basically dangerous and are a problem?

New Afrikan Komrade: I started in the system kind of early. I went to a couple of boys’ Camps twice. I was going to the California Youth Authority, which was basically a prison for youth. It was a complete failure. The way the system was set up, it was brutal, barbaric. You know, the things that I witnessed in there, they stay with me to this day. But that’s where I really got introduced into what I would like to say, my revolutionary state of mind. So by the time I was some years old I had been a witness to about 50 different riots, race riots.

So just seeing that as a youth, I understood that they will setting me up for failure in the future. And I remember the first time that I was at Juvenile Hall, I cried like a girl when they closed the door, right? By the time I came to Juvenile Hall, and I seen all my partners there, in the field, having their popcorn night, soda night. There was no form of rehabilitation to try fix the situation, or why we’re in here…. I’ve always played with guns. I’ve been playing with guns since I was a young dude, you know? As I got out, it was just repetition, it was just the constant thing.

It was a constant thing, with a constant theme. Being incarcerated at such a young age. It left me lightweight & emotionally underdeveloped. Because everything about it was aggressive. I was aggressive in everything that I did. I did not respond to anything but with aggressiveness. Even in my relationships, now even with my wife and kids there is always aggressive manner in how I approach things. And I really believe that that’s part of the failure of the system. And it just goes back to my understanding, definitely the greatest misconceptions about Prison, is that they’re institutions of rehabilitation. And this is no doubt a social myth.

But when I left the pen[itentiary], it was just California Department of Corrections (CDC). By the time I came back it was CDRC. They put the R in there for rehabilitation. And I believe that’s was for the federal funds. That’s got to get the federal funding and get these programs. So, it’s my opinion that most of the individuals truly want to make drastic changes in their lives. You know, they don’t come from institutional programs, they come from within yourself. What these programs are designed for is prisoner behavior control. Everyone on parole is based on participation in these programs. So in essence, no one’s going to these program to be rehabilitated. They go to these programs in controlled circumstances of release.

A lot of these dudes that I know, they have gotten all of these certificates that they have to offer and these cats are still the worst of the worst. To be fair there are some vocational trades that can be useful to someone who is really dedicated to have a productive life in society. I mean, it’s only right that a man should have some type of skill, you know, to play this deal. But again, as I said before, these programs are in place to receive some type of federal funding and prisoner behavior control. The reason I say that is often when we’re in classes, maybe every 90 days or so they always come in and let you know “look man we are having some visitors, we’re having people, they’re building these computers or whatever, some machinery… we need you guys to be on your best behavior.” So they come through, and they look at us like lab rats, or whatever it may be. “Be on your best behavior!”

I believe it was Angela Davis that talked about is dynamic in her book “They Come For Us In The Morning.” She touched on the fact that comrade George [Jackson], in that particular formation was resistant to these type of programs that was being provided. And it always makes me touch back into that Willie Lynch factor. It was a brother that used to run the Nation of Islam classes in one of these penitentiary classes I was in, and the first thing that he did was he brings up the Willie Lynch. And he said “what I want you to do every day, I want you to identify a dynamic of the Willie Lynch process. Because they are around you every day.” So what I see is the part where Willie Lynch says “at the end, make them believe in us and only us.” So you trying to fix yourself, that doesn’t work, because that’s not profitable for them. You know what I’m saying?

I believe it was Malcom [X] that calls the penitentiary “the hidden university”. Right? But the rehabilitation that we do for ourselves has no financial gain to be recorded or cashed in on. So when W.L. Nolan and George [Jackson] began to emphasize the importance of organizing, shit hit the fan. What the brothers was doing was really to set the stage and establishing and securing prisoners rights that had been set in place in 1942 by the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam. They at that time… they constituted the largest number of Black conscientious objectors to World War II. It was there that they met abolitionists who was associated with the Quakers. Revolutionary shout-out to Brother John Brown.

So a lot of people don’t know that the prison abolition movement and its relationships to the carceral state was born out of this dynamic. And this is important that we talk about how misconceptions created stagnate understandings about the prison carceral states in the forms of Abolition. We are talking about predictive policing. So here’s where we step in the dialectic of discipline, strategy. And this is where we begin to see the dynamic of state repression and Mulsim resistance, where we actually organizes resistance that the Nation [of Islam] exercised, the State will always put in place, on top of rules to squash and counteract that resistance. Of course, Brothers will always come up with some new form of organizing in response which in fact was political in nature, because it will add to the overall fragmentation of various forms of abolition, and not only expansion of the tactics applied, but to the overall strategy.

You know, it just puts me in a place when I first seen that movie 300 when it came out and they only show one front of resistance that was being fought against the Persian oppressors, but at the same time there was another battle going on at sea. So, when the brother spoke earlier about his viewpoints that may be violent, violence is necessary. It has to be a necessary tool, but it has to be done autonomously. It can be done as a whole or a mass, but I don’t think we’re equipped, or that the people are passionate enough to carry out the attack that’s necessary. You know, so primarily most formations, again today, they are aiming to reform what currently exists. They want to change the frame, but the picture remains the same. They want to put a band-aid on it. When it’s clear the situation requires a more extreme approach and that’s the abolishment of these existing slave camp. They are a direct reflection of the blueprint of American capitalism.

Even saying the abolishment of slave camp, I would have to state and leave room for a gray area of contradiction saying that… Being in here, man, some of these dudes… they belong in jail. Some dudes belong in jail and that’s a dialectical approach of understanding… That two things can be true at the same time. To me that’s one of the misperceptions about prison is the rehabilitation team. It doesn’t exist. If you don’t have the ability to fix yourself then nothing else is going to work.

Host: Exactly. Man and this process started really young for you, like it has a lot of people. Like it has for my family, like the people I know. A couple things you said there… I’m glad you identify the guided tours. We got certain facilities, and the certain facilities are maintained, that are near major media markets where there are a lot of nonprofits, where there’s a lot of little programs, where they trot people through, they prop people up for newsletters and pictures, for defending, for their the grants. And also CDCR uses them as a boutique in a facility. It’s a showpiece, while meanwhile 50 miles up the yard it’s a completely different situation, some level one prisoner out there organic gardening, getting to pet dogs is basically the cover photo. While on the inside pages there’s the reality is that everybody else doesn’t get that. You basically identified the line of reform. There’s a major distinction between, like these different perspectives in the prison. It frustrates me when people identify the prison resistance struggle as a matter of criminal justice reform… It’s like “nah… nahh..”

New Afrikan Comrade: I don’t believe… well as a revolutionaries, we don’t believe in the word reform. Right? We make we make drastic changes. Like I said man, just coming through the system I had never been given the tools that I didn’t give myself to fix me. Right? Having been to California Youth Authority. I went in there and I got seven years for my crime. So when I went to the Board, because in the California Youth Authority, you have to go to the Board to go home. There’s no automatic dates, ya dig?

So, we have counseling sessions, the counselors will be just the regular police that worked in there. These dudes didn’t have credentials. Or they wasn’t qualified to counsel me or give me the necessary mental help that I need. I can’t even recall even seeing a psychiatrist during those times. They had dudes in there with 10, 11, 12 years of age, right? It was worse than penitentiary. I’ve been about 9-10 different penitentiaries. I’ve never experienced anything like i experienced in the California Youth Authority. They were criminalizing us and we didn’t understand it at the time. Cuz there was two things that was gonna happen and they were either going to make you or break you. Right? They will make you a better criminal or they were going to break you down and makes you a worse type of man. Right? I had a little cousin that went in when he was 12 and he stayed in there till he was 25. And it was not good.

So when I get here, in these times, I do see a difference or change in the type of individuals that’s coming through the system, because back then we were a little bit more conscious too in the 80’s… you got to take that into consideration. My mother was a [Black] Panther. Coming up we were really Black conscious in the town, you know what I’m saying? So, we just automatic in the California Youth Authority, you had the Crips versus the Bloods. You had the Northern Mexicans versus the Southern Mexicans. It was just automatic that in the Bay Area, it was Black versus the whites, who claimed White Pride. It was no question, we didn’t have to claim that. It was just on.

I was just telling someone the other day I’ll say man, “I’ve never been anywhere that’s so segregated like the penitentiary or jail.” They keep you in this old frame of mind that they say it doesn’t exist anymore, but it exists behind these walls. So the only way to rehabilitate you from that is to separate you. “Y’all take this part of the day and you take this part of the day, and ya’ll take that this part of the day.” That’s not rehabilitating you, that’s just flame and fire. You know what I mean? Like I said, once again, the penitentiary is just warehousing bodies. This is all about capitalism and getting money. I don’t see anything that’s productive here. It is just warehousing bodies. This is all about capitalism and getting money. I don’t see anything that’s productive here.

Host: Yeah. So I mean, on that note… It was interesting to hear that you came from people that were Panthers, that you got that head start. You had generations before you that had a certain level of consciousness. But on that note, I want to talk to Komrade Underground, where he came from and if you could speak on the different understandings for the structure base of prison. And speaking more specifically too. There is the one big myth like rehabilitation? That’s the first one to discard. And that’s a problem. That ideologically imposed nonsense.

Komrade Underground: One thing… I really want to appreciate everything that comrade was saying, because there’s so many similarities, however, because I’m on the total other side of the world, it seems like there’s so many differences between these two different Department of Corrections, however, it’s still just stuck in constant repression, constant repression. You know, California, actually it seems to me so much in front of every other state in the United States. As far as when it comes to how picky they are, and and how they hide these fucking forms of “reform” and just building this deep return and deeper ideas of repression.

However, let me start with a little bit about myself. You know, I also started when I was [redacted]teen years old. I came to detention center, and I didn’t stop. I didn’t stop. I went to programs, went to different levels, went to little juvenile prisons. Then at the age of [redacted]teen, I got a direct filed as an adult, and ended up getting two life sentences. And they threw me right in the Big House. We had a little dorm for people that was under 21. But it was getting it.

There’s also such a big gang culture down here where I’m at. So that’s what it was. They throw us together, everyone up under 21. And we are clashing and we clashing and every chance. But there was also at such a young age, that sense of rebellion for the pigs. Every time the pigs will come out and fuck with a during count. We all launching and batteries and pieces of soap at them and everything, just getting them up out of there. Because no matter what, for some reason, when I was young, no matter if we were bumping that day, we were going through it that day, when pigs came around we will stick together. And that changed a lot through the years. I think it had a lot to do with that so many of us had life sentences at 16, 17, 18 years old, and nothing matters at that time. We just wanted to just lash out, just go. And we didn’t really understand what was going on or didn’t understand our [prison] sentences. But we still had that hope, you know?

But it made no sense. Right? So coming through, I would say a big thing that radicalized me that brought me to a revolutionary consciousness would have to be the involvement of the gang culture down here. Back then, it’s very different now, but back then it was like… you have folks that would take you up under their wings and give you the correct books in the correct nourishment. And it’s not happening too much anymore. But back then I was given Che Guevara, I was given George Jackson. These two comrades that had been in my life for the last 20 years. More than most folks that I known on the streets. Man. Che Guevara and George and Jonathan. Man… they’ve been in my life. So I was able to go through those things.

But also, there is such this level of repression here where I’m at, because there’s no such thing as parole over here. So they don’t have to give us programs to help us get the fuck out of here. They don’t have to give us programs to help push us up out of here. Right? So what they do they actually stamp us with these STG (Security Threat Group) files to keep us out of these programs to keep us away from that. Because they know there’s no reason to give us programs. We’re all just in the belly here, and we’re all just going to be clashing here. And there’s no huge penitentiaries over here.

They’ve actually created all these micro-institutions, because they know exactly these… I call them social experiments. They know exactly how many Bloods, Crips, Kings and Vice Lords to keep on these compounds, to keep us at each other, to keep us clashing with each other. They know how many whites and Blacks and Hispanics to keep us at, because there’s really not too many white supremacists down here. I mean, excuse me, there’s not too many white supremacist gangs down here. All the white boys down here are mostly white supremacist unless they were born in the Black and brown hoods, and are part of the Black and brown formations. But for the most part, there’s no solid white supremacist gang where I’m at. They don’t really get no breathing room. Even the pigs are mostly Black and brown where I’m at. So it creates this whole different idea, this whole different structure of repression that we’re dealing with down here. Because there’s no parole, there’s no ideas of reform. And because there’s no ideas of reform, there’s only here and now.

So what they’re doing, as we speak, creating these two different types of prisons. You either have these honor prisons where people can do a lot of time, but have maybe video games or tablets or whatever, or they’re creating these highly surveilled, hyper fascist prisons, that when you go back through the history of different places like California, different places like New York that had all these revolutionaries from the 70’s and 80s… Because the state is starting to feel that pressure, they’re starting to grasp onto those old ideas of repression, and finding ways to keep us locked down. Finding ways to create different types of camps and institutions to keep us locked down, right? So you have SHU programs, you’ve got administrative programs, you got all these different prisons that are popping up. And then they only battle with the idea of these “honor programs”, these “honor prisons”. So there’s this huge separation now, there’s a huge separation on different camps. And there’s nothing to look forward to. There’s nothing looked forward to over here.

So what when we start talking about myths and misconceptions, from state to state they vary, right? There is no reform. That idea is just to perpetuate these money grabs for the State, these money grabs for the places. These honor institutions are not honor institutions, they are ways to formulate more money for the carceral state. When we even talk about what prison is and what the carceral state is… What are these things that so many of us, or so many “radicals” want to want to push out? The idea of prison is just the beginning of the carceral state. This is ground zero. This is where the battle starts day in and day out.

But there is also… Academia which is such an extension of the carceral state because it’s taken our ideas and making them less dangerous. It’s taking these revolutionary ideas and making them less dangerous because when they push that out there now it’s been said through the Ivory Tower. But then we also have places that have forgotten, like these mental institutions. These “mental institutions” are just ways to get people to trial. They are ways to get people to trial to send them into prisons. There’s no help in these mental institutions. It’s pump them with Thorazine and put them on stand.

So when we talk about these different extensions of the Carceral State, we have to remember that this is part of the fight too. We have to battle this shit, man… We have to battle all of that, man. And then like we said, when we talking about fighting, we were talking about physically. I’m talking about that type of solidarity. I’m not talking about the nonprofit industrial complex that’s going to fund the prison industrial slave complex that’s going to go back and fund the fucking military industrial complex. So it’s like all these different things that get so convoluted in this talk of abolition, but what is abolition? What are these conceptions and misconceptions and myths about abolition?

I think one of them is the prisoner. This prisoner rebels that everyone wants to romanticize or fetishize. Most folks in here, man, they just want to go home. They want to do their little time and get out, right? The revolutionaries, yeah, we’re in here. We in here and we’re doing it. We’re the ones that are on these calls. We’re the ones that are trying to build together. And then once they get a little whiff of that… all of us are getting separated, threw in the SHU and suffering from extreme repression. So there’s these formations. Now, I don’t even want to call them formations, there’s these people claim that formations out there that are just grabbing onto any prisoner, any prisoner that wants to say something, and wants to push that idea and push that as a point that now abolition is become fetishized. That this prisoners has become romanticized. This prisoner’s not a comrade. This prisoner is not a comrade, this is just some dude that is probably backed by a bunch of reformists, that probably wants to get parole that has no idea on the struggle, or the movements that are trying to be formed.

You know, we had this idea of these movements, and people want to attach that word movement to all of their formations. But we are reaching to create a movement right now. Because there’s so few of us on the inside and outside that have that truth, that have what I call “George and Jonathan consciousness”. That George Jackson and Jonathan consciousness was actually a true form of solidarity, man. That’s why George called Jonathan his alter ego. And that’s what it needs to be. These formations need to be alter egos of each other. We have to be y’all and y’all have to be us. But at the same time, we need to have a better understanding and be more specific on who we let into our circles, and who we let build with us and create this formations. When it comes to the inside and the outside. The outside needs to not just fucking grab any prisoner, and we need to be more security conscious, and not just grab any fucking person out that has a fantasy that abolitionist so and so. Because most of them just want to exploit us. Most of them just want to add us to a name on some fucking thing that they’re writing, or something that they’re pushing through this Ivory Tower to make us less dangerous. I just think that there’s this level of discipline, and there’s this level of security, and there’s this level of anger and rage that we need to get back to. We need to fucking get back to that rage, man. We need to get back to those places where shit matters, man. Where it wasn’t just about putting prisoner-so-and-so’s stamp on stuff. So I think a lot of these myths and misconceptions form around what is important these days. We’re not going to pretend like us living better in here is not important. But you have a lot of people that’s focused on that.

So, the abolitionists need to focus on these direct attacks on the State. These direct attacks – and when I say direct attacks, I mean focused violence. Because there is this idea of fear that is not instilled in these pigs. They’re not scared to come to work. They’re not scared to come and repress us on the inside. Because once they’re in here, they got these shotguns, and they got these AR-15’s. And they know that we don’t. But when they start letting loose on us, we can’t do anything. So how do we combat that? In here we only have so much urban guerrilla warfare we can use. But out there, that solidarity that we’re looking for, this direct military action that people don’t want to talk about anymore, these underground movements that people don’t want to fucking be part of anymore… I mean, those are the things we need to start talking about. And those are the things we need to start building on.

Host: You just you just drew some lines there, Komrade. And I appreciate that. And I got a couple of different questions. I’m trying to decide which way to go. But I want to ask you both… I think I might get in some trouble here because in light of what you said. There are these abolitionists right now… They call themselves abolitionists, and maybe even like everyone on this call even isn’t the same kind of abolitionist. It’s just that there is multiple abolitionisms. There are folks out there that are organizing for the right to vote, or better Jailhouse Lawyering around conditions. Let’s focus on the voting. Do you consider, either of you, that could be a priority? or to be important? I know it’s actually a point within the JLS demands. I mean, I definitely got my point of view, but I want to hear what you guys have to say about it. And like practically, if it makes sense, not just out of pure principle.

New Afrikan Comrade: From my experience… You know, I believe everything starts with the court system, that’s where all the shit starts, right? Like, in my case now, you know, I was on the run for about [redacted] years. So when I finally got caught and got arrested, I filed a motion to dismiss based on violation to my due process rights. So what they had to do was they had to justify why the police didn’t look for me within [redacted] years. So I knew they did not do no investigation. Because I asked if they went to my mom’s house and they never went to my grandmother’s house. The house that I was at, that they kicked the door in one time and never came back. And at that time, I don’t know if you familiar with the [redacted]… So you know the whole little situation that went down there, you know with the dude. I actually was doing body guard work for [redacted] during that time. So I know he wasn’t looking for me. You know what I mean? It was the hottest spot in the town.

So when I finally get to the hearing, they come up all these documents that have been anti-dated, things scratched off, and they used the documents to force me to trial. Because if had they not shown the justification it was an automatic dismissal. So they used these documents, these false documents and testimony to force me to trial or whatnot. So I go to trial. I mean, it was 3-4 month trial, and had a deliberation for 11 days. There was one lone hold out juror. They removed him, put a white lady back on the on the jury, and within five hours I was convicted. You get what I’m saying? Within five hours I was convicted.

So now that I’m in here… I’m like “Okay, now I know these documents and know they aren’t real.” So I file a Freedom of Information Act and whatnot. So I started getting all these letters from these different law enforcement departments, FBI, and the Department of Justice. And everybody’s saying that these documents doesn’t exist. So I had a homeboy up here. He showed me how to file a lawsuit. He said “Look bro this is how we file a lawsuit. This is how we are gonna get your shit back into the courts.” Right? So I filed a lawsuit and they hit me with this shit called an “Anti-SLAPP Motion” [SLAPP = strategic lawsuits against public participation]. What an anti-SLAPP motion is it usually means it’s a corporate law. And what they said was under the first amendment, they have the right to use any tactic they wanted to, to prove their case.

When I showed him, he said “Man they admitted to that shit?” “Yeah, they admitted to that shit.” “Yeah, we lie, we did that. But there’s nothing you can do about it.” So going through that type of shit and seeing the system or being a victim of that. In my perception things have to start in the court room. And that’s not to say that all the other things that you spoke on… I think everything has to be hit on every point. Wherever it may be with the prison system, the abolitionists, the court, law enforcement, wherever it may be, we got to hit them from every angle. We have to be a full on assault and like the brothers said at some point something has to get dangerous for them to really, really get the grasp of what’s going on around here and to say that we’re serious.

But in the same token, like the brother said, again, people aren’t what they were back in the 60’s and 70’s. This is a totally different environment with totally different people. Even in the penitentiary its [different] now. Dudes are not willing to go to the hole no more. We got TV’s in our rooms. We got phones in our rooms. You know what I’m saying? We got all these amenities that make you lazy and you don’t want to lose these things. This is what they do. So when you’re talking about even if I right now, today, if something went on in here…. I’m getting a prime example. They had a pig in here that was harassing the inmates. So the same dude that showed me how to do the lawsuits. He filed the paperwork and said he was sexually harassing the inmates and had everybody sign it, it got him removed, and I mean, removed from the penitentiary period.

When they called the dudes in that had signed the document, everybody recanted their stories and they ended up bringing him back. And he came back doing the same shit that he was doing before he left. So, it’s hard for even dudes that are serious about pushing any type of revolution to do something, because at the end of the day you will be the only one doing it. And you’ll be the only one paying the consequences. And it’s really not going to have any effect. Because it’s required that the masses get involved for it to have any real effect. People are lacking that passion, that commitment, that dedication to the struggle and to the cause. And like the brother was saying for us coming through the system as young as we was, we got that early. That was embedded in us. So it’s just a part of who we are now. I don’t know how to be anything other than what I am. It just is what it is. It’s all I talk about. You can talk religion and revolution and that’s it. That’s it, nothing else.

Host: So it’s the same question to Komrade. You said about priorities and making choices. You have got to hit them everywhere all the time. Personally I think we got some choices to make. You both basically did something really important right now. You basically, you shared an assessment of inside situation. An assessment of numbers and of force. And even like movement health. If we’re calling it a movement. I even loathe to to call it that. We got like pieces of it. We got like a baby movement thats trying to get on its feet, but it’s not getting there. We got some choices to make. What choices do you think we should be making?

Komrade Underground: Well, okay, so I think that’s important. I also want to go back to the original question, and also talk about what the brother was talking about when it comes to law and the courtroom, because I have a very different stance, and maybe it’s because I don’t see a lot of anything coming out of the courtroom. Is it necessary? Yes, it’s necessary. It is necessary for folks in here to fight their case. It is necessary for people in here to utilize every tool that we have right now. Right? However, me personally, I’m over that shit. I’m over getting denied from the courts. I’m over getting fucking denied these grievances. I don’t do grievances unless they’re mass grievances, like the brother said. And then a lot of times, that’s what happens, man, people recant when they start losing items. So I’m over that shit, man. I’m over going to the court system. And I’m over fighting with only pen and paper. And there are people that still do it. And I commend them and I thank them. But when it comes to me: it’s direct action. It’s direct action that gets it done, man.

So when we talk about prioritizing, and we talked about choices… first and foremost it’s going to come down to you. It’s going to come down to what you’re ready for and what you’re ready to lose. Because in here you have to be ready to lose everything. Everything. When it comes to voting. Is voting important? Fuck no! I would love for everyone to just not vote one year and then see what happens. Let’s see what happens when we when we take that mass approach and not vote. But then at the same time, we can’t live in these fantasies that this is going to happen. I think it is time to start making choices and start prioritizing what’s important. And I think trying to get people out of prison by every single means necessary is important.

But when we talk about getting dangerous, and we talk about attacking things like the courthouses. Or when we talk about attacking things. Like you’ll see headquarters and stuff. These are things that are different from doing them in the 70’s. You have to look at what has changed. What has changed is that everything has become digitized. So back then when the George Jackson Brigade would bomb an institution or would bomb a headquarters, they weren’t just bombing this institution, they were also burning the files. They were getting rid of everything that was held in that headquarters. However now, it’s just going to be property damage. Because everything is digitized and saved in clouds. So we have to figure out ways and make choices on how we attack those systems.

How do we attack the legal system now? How do we attack these voting systems? How do we attack the Department of Corrections when everything is digitized? So there’s things that need to be prioritized on how and the things that we are learning. The things that we are sacrificing. The things that we’re getting into. It’s this hack culture. Penetration testing is going to be so important. It’s going to be so important because these are ways that we can attack the Empire. These are ways that we are going to have to attack the Empire. So when we think about these things, we can’t think on huge mass scales, because a lot of times the masses are not ready.

So who are we talking to? We’re talking to the comrades. We’re not talking to the masses yet. Right now, man, the masses they just want to chill. They just want to chill because the fire hasn’t hit their cribs yet. The fire hasn’t hit their prison yet. But we need to have these conversations. We need to make it a priority to have these conversations with comrades. We need make it priority to take these actions with the comrades. I’m not saying to not support people that are fighting their cases, because that’s important, too. However, there’s a lot of people that want to do that. So let them do that. Let those abolitionists do that.

When it comes to JLS and some of the initiatives that JLS is getting involved with. Are they important? I think they’re important to make noise. I think they’re important because this is what the masses wants to see. But the masses are not the ones that are going to be taking up arms immediately. The masses are not going to be the ones that are going to be attacking the carceral state by whatever means necessary. That’s going to happen later. That’s going to happen later because there’s no neutral side on a moving train. Once this train gets to moving people going to have to pick sides. However, right now where we’re at, that stage where we’re at… It’s like not even important to talk about that. So I think people should want to involve their-self as much as possible. But I think also, we need to be serious about who we are having these conversations with. We need to be we need to not have these conversations with people that are not ready to take it there. And that’s on the inside and outside.

Host: Did you want to have something you wanted to add?

New Afrikan Comrade: So, when we are talking about movement, and I believe it was what brother H Rap Brown that said “the movement is only a phase of the struggle”. So the movements have the ability to change phases as it progresses. And that’s what we’re experiencing now. You know, back in the 60’s the movement was the alpha movement. So there was a little bit more of that guerrilla warfare aspect to the movement. Now it is a little bit more feminized. Not to say in a bad way, because it seemed like the sisters have a little bit more ties with the people than these brothers had.

We have to take what we can get at the time that we’re getting it. I agree with the brother, but when I was talking about the court system, per se, they have to have people start bombarding these court rooms. When I went to trial, I was in there by myself. They were doing what the hell they wanted to do. You get what I’m saying? But if we start having these mass court watches, where we just start having people come together and start going to these court rooms, and putting these public defenders, and these DA’s and these judges on blast. It may have just a little bit different effect. But you know…. Hey thats was the police, my bad. My door was wide open. [laughter]

Komrade Underground: [laughing together] They gonna do an extraction tonight, for real.

New Afrikan Comrade: We just have to set up some different rules, and everything has to be hit at a different time, everything has its place and time. I believe it was Fred Hampton. They asked Fred about the Minutemen and the Weathermen, and what was their relationship with the Panthers. Fred was like “Nah, we stand far our back from them. They’re chauvinistic and individualistic.” When he said that. It was like the time when the NFAC [National Fuck Around Crew] was doing their thing out here. You remember that, right? So, at the same time that was happening, that was a different dynamic. Everybody had seen that as part of the movement, but it was something separate from the movement. That had nothing to do with the movement. It was a racial shit. So we have to be careful when we pledge our allegiance. Like the brother said “we have to talk to the comrades, man we can’t be talking to these outside characters, because they are on something totally different.”

Komrade Underground: I really like what you talked about, about movements changing. Because like you said, I don’t even know if we can call this a movement right now. And if it is, it’s a few of us. But it’s a struggle. It’s a struggle and that’s part of a movement, right. And there’s this idea of the 60’s and 70’s, this revolutionary optimism, where everyone really felt that the revolution was here. The revolution was now. And the pigs also felt it. And that’s a necessary fear that I’m talking about. They created whole systems and broke their own laws and created stuff to stop this movement. So now, because they did that, and they killed off all the leaders of these movements. Killed off all these gang leaders too. I’m going to call them mass political movements back then because that’s what they were moving towards. Organizations or street organizations were moving towards these more politicized ideas, coming out with manifestos, and coming out with things that were in-line, because they were getting politicized by the same leaders. By the Young Lords, by the Black Panthers, by the Black Liberation Army. These folks were either coming from these movements or moving towards these movements. We could talk about Jeff Fort, and how he was helping Gaddafi fund his revolution from Chicago. Back then these these ideas were important. And then what happened? That fear led these pigs to cause a huge wave of oppression and they started assassinating. Then they started breaking us. Man they started breaking us. Man let’s be real. They broke us. They broke us to pieces. They fragmented us. They took us, infiltrated us. And now they not only created a fragmented movement, they created a movement that hates each other.

We can’t even fucking think about battling the right-wing or battling these fucking pigs and battling this stuff, when we can’t even talk to each other. We’re so worried about ideas that this praxis is getting lost. There is no praxis right now because we’re still trying to figure out how to talk to each other. So that revolutionary optimism went to a broken revolution. And where are we taking up the scraps now? How are we picking up the scraps now? Some of us are so fucked up from the losses that happened back then. Some of these street organizations and individuals that lost family, that lost friends, that lost comrades, that lost the ideas, that lost these movements. So where are we now?

Everyone’s running on Twitter to have these conversations and really just looking for friends and people to argue with. It’s broken the revolutionary spirit and we’re fighting. We’re fighting from the SHU. We’re fighting from lonely places in the free world. Because that’s one thing I have seen. The comrades that a solid 10 toes down that I know what my comrades… man, I feel like sometimes it’s just as lonely as me right here in the SHU [Secure Housing Unit]. It’s a scary dynamic to think about it, that we’re still in fear from shit that happened back in the 70’s. And we’re in so much fear that we don’t know how to bring it to these pigs.

 

New Afrikan Comrade: I agree.

Host: That brings us right to question two, man. We’re talking about the present phase, the present conditions. I mean, the last year during COVID-19… speaking for the outside this whole pandemic has basically revealed a lot of what we thought was there, it basically pulled a lot of blinders away. This last year and a half has been a year of unprecedented rebellion, escape, and strikes on the inside. From the folks in charge of stuff, it’s been a huge spike. As for the the activity? It’s been up and down on the outside. Let’s talk about the reality of how prison conditions during the ongoing pandemic have further isolated prisoners from the outside world. And how this has enhanced or detracted from the resistance movement. Even though we saw this last year, it has only increased activity. Speaking for myself on the outside, I’m just going to put it in there. It basically… we have run into a bunch of limits. The escalation of activity and like the heightening of crisis… We went straight into serious limits. If there’s a word for the outside it’s going to be limits. A lot of us aren’t being honest about these limits that we’ve run into. I can get into that more but I want to hear about like your guys’s perception and reality on the inside right now.

New Afrikan Comrade: As far as the COVID situation? hah… March 15 – they put us on lockdown, maybe on the 14th that’s when everything on the nationwide lockdown. On April 11 it’s been about 30 police up in here. They pull about 20 of us out our room (I was included in that 20) for about 15 of us… now this before they will send all the guidelines. 10 people per group and they just put into place the masking implications on the police. So they come up with the rules, snatch us up, dress us out. They come up in the room, three or four deep in the room, no mask on, no nothing. So we complain like “Hey, man, you’re not supposed to be up in here like this!” They ignored us. The captains, and lieutenants… they don’t have on masks. Nobody has on masks! So, automatically, I’m pushing paperwork. I’ll write their ass up. You up in my room, threatening my life, putting my life in jeopardy.

Like the brother said, I don’t file 602’s… that shit is really a waste of time. And they always ride with the pigs. You almost never win that shit. But I did it anyway. That was a year ago. I’m just now, maybe last week, getting the finishing copy of that 602 back… and they denied me from Sacramento. From the head place. So where I’m at, it wasn’t really that bad like it was in Quentin. I’m like an introvert anyway, so I don’t fuck with people anyway. If they not on my level, I really stay in my room and I do my own thing. So it wasn’t really that bad up here, per se. I just know like other penitentiaries like San Quentin which is really horrible up there. I have a little cousin who was up there and he caught that shit. My mom was just telling me yesterday that her cousin has a dude who is out there in New Orleans they had caught COVID. My guess is when you catch this shit, they supposed to give you liquids. And they were feeding that man solid foods and they damn near killed me.

So a lot of the protocols that they’re doing up here is just to show face. It’s just to show that we’re doing something. Just like the past two weeks, we had two police in here that was sent home with the COVID, with the new strain. They sent him and her home. We came back, she just got dirty again, they just sent her home again. But not one time have they came here to tested any inmates to see if we’re sick. So in my mind, I’m always thinking that their trying to create a dynamic of sickness to keep what they call “hazardous pay.” I don’t really think they’re taking it serious. When they get sick they locked us down. As opposed to clearing out one of these buildings. When these police, they come in here to stay for seven days. Let them go home and the next police that come in, they come here quarantine for seven days before they start their weekly shift. If you’re not making those type of adjustments… in everything that their adjusting is always us, locking us down. You know what I’m saying? Even though we are having visiting again, I don’t allow my family come up here. Straight up, I’m cool. I don’t need no visits. Don’t come up here. I don’t allow them to come up here. It’s not really bad up here.

I really don’t have too much to say on that. I stay away because I don’t believe all the COVID shit. I think it’s over sensationalized. I think it’s just a lot of propaganda. And I think it’s a way to violate people’s constitutional rights. They’re finding a way to change and shift society. They found a way to segregate people… to say how many people can be.. I mean was already doing that shit. Only five people could be in a certain group. But now even more so they’re breaking down how many people can come into the restaurant and things of such nature. In a minute, they will be using COVID to be able to change and redirect the Constitution. Like George says “anytime you overcome one form of oppression, they’ll find another way to oppress you.” And that’s what they’re doing. They find a different way to oppress us because they see the old ways is not working anymore. That people are getting tired of the old ways. So what do we do? “Okay, this is what we do. We will give them a pandemic, lock everybody down, readjust the way of living. readjust their way of thinking and then we will go back to business as usual.” Yeah.

Host: Here in California, at least, we’ve had sickness go through facilities. And in a way COVID has been a little departure. There’s a response is always just to lock people down and they’ll let you ride it out. Take an ibuprofen. You just sweat it out. You cry it out. You shit it out of yourself.

New Afrikan Comrade: [laughing] It’s funny you say that right? About a week ago, man… my body had locked up. Have you ever had a Charlie Horse? Now I get Charlie Horses all through my body. My back, my stomach, my legs, my ankles, my feet. I never felt no shit like this. Have you ever see the movies where the muck tries to come out your body? You get what I’m saying?

Host: Medical is gonna be no use, you just ride it out, man.

New Afrikan Comrade: I go man down. When I’m in there they were seeing my whole body, watching my body just move, my muscles just locking up. So they don’t give me shit. So the lady she calls the doctor and the doctor is on the phone. So the doctor says give him Aspirin. So she hands me Aspirin and I say “I don’t want that shit! Give me muscle relaxers, give me something to stop these muscles from locking up.” So she said “give him a COVID test.” Everything’s COVID. And that’s the new thing. Everything’s COVID now. You go in with a broken leg, they say “It’s COVID”. So they give me a rapid COVID test and I come back negative. They still put me on quarantine.

Komrade Underground: I think this is important for me to talk about too because I had a very different experience from from the fuckin ‘Rona. I didn’t get it. I haven’t experienced it. But I think the main reason is because they also came in my cell late night. They came 10 deep straight to me and threw me right to the SHU. I got, in the beginning of COVID, I got thrown right on the slab. And it was because of the approach I was taking to this virus. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was killing motherfuckers. And I knew that these pigs were going to bring it in. I knew I couldn’t make it. I didn’t have no lab to make it in. I knew I couldn’t get it from the outside world. So I started trying to organize.

I started trying to organize and tell these pigs and create a space not to let these pigs in unless they masked up, unless they’ve got body suits on, and only one pigs allowed to come in here. And you already know man, I started having these conversations and started bringing it to the people and trying to create it. If it wasn’t going to be the whole compound, it was going to be my motherfucking dorm. And then we’re going to see what’s gonna happen. You already know, man, they came masked up with a different type of mask, the black masks, right? And they came in 10 deep and took me straight to the SHU. No reports, no shots, no nothing. Just went straight to the SHU. And I’ve been there ever since. And they’ve kept me here ever since.

So there has been this direct violence. This direct silencing violence that some people have experienced and I just happened to be one of them. But I’m not the only one, after I got locked up… two more of my comrades got locked up. I don’t know what they did when they heard I got snatched up for it, but I know that was on the same shit that I was on and was 10 toes down, ready to ride. So I just see that in certain places, and this was a super repressive institution I was at at that time. They came and snatched me off the mat and disappeared me. So because I’ve been in the SHU, I haven’t really experienced a lot of actual people getting COVID. But I’ve experienced these social experiments that they’ve been using to keep us separated.

So to to add and implement more rules, to implement more reasons to lock down, to implement more reason to keep us from our family, to implement more reasons to stop visitations, and to control. In War for the Cities by Yaki Sayles there’s a part of it in the meditations on the Wretched of the Earth, it talks about how these hoods are being experimented on from the experiments that happened to us in prison. So they have these social experiments that are taken out on us on the inside, because they know all of us getting out or going to go to the same hoods. So when we see the same things happening to our neighborhoods, we are already assimilated, we are used to lock downs. We used to be locked up and we are used to being separated. That’s where they gonna start these things. They will start these things in these Black and brown poor neighborhoods, and expand them from there. They’re going to keep us in these bubbles, they’re going to keep us in these small places, just like in prison. So and then their going to be snatching people off the streets. They’re going to be snatching people off the streets, like they snatch us out in here. So there’s just so many different levels of these social experiments that are happening. But then how much is that affecting this already fragmented movement?

Okay, so this shows us that the monetary system and capitalism and all that shit is bullshit, right? It showed us that everybody in the whole fucking United States didn’t have to fucking work unless you were poor, Black or brown, and working class that became, what’d they call that shit? “Essential workers.” So now, when you’re essential, you are now essential, not to the movement, you are essential to keeping production going. It’s not the money people need because the government’s printing this shit out left and right. The government’s fucking tricking everyone. So it’s just these ideas of “You are essential” instead of saying that “you are expendable.” You are expendable workers now, because we need to keep the beast moving, we need to keep the machine moving. There’s just so many different levels that the Empire has used to attack us on the inside and outside because this is where the movements going to come from. This is where the people are coming from. This is where these protests came from. This is where the mass looting came from. It came from the hood where these folks are having to work now. It came from the idea that the prisoners that are being locked the fuck down.

So now our communication even to spread this fucking word on what’s going out, of what’s getting out of the prison is so difficult right now. Luckily the pigs are corrupt. Luckily, so we can get phones and shit in here. But besides that, that’s still a very small amounts of us. And then within the amount of people that are getting phones, how many people are actually putting in at work? An even smaller amount. So, if they can figure out how to control us? So they’re finding out how to motherfucking break us, man, they’re finding out ways to fragment us even more. So there’s been such where there was already a separation of solidarity. There was already a separation between us and the free world comrades, now it’s becoming even more. And COVID is showing that it’s just ways to oppress us. Right? It’s just ways to keep us oppressed. It’s just ways to keep us locked down in the free world and over here.

Host: Yeah. Okay, both you brought it up. Essentially, like a lot of people on the outside that aren’t acquainted with being incarcerated, or the prison system, they don’t realize that people inside, the lockdown of COVID-19 is nothing new. You already got 99 problems. COVID is just another one. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. It’s a new level of asymmetrical warfare being waged against you, COVID-19 is just another chapter of the same book. Out here it’s like some big dramatic thing. But mostly just more continuation of the same, even though it killed 240 people in California [prisons], like how many people does the prison system kill on a daily basis no matter what?

Komrade Underground: Yeah, for real.

New Afrikan Cromade: Right. Those aren’t astronomical numbers as far as I’m concerned. I need it to be more for me to be a believer. That’s me, personally. I’m not taking those shots. I’m not getting no vaccines, none of that shit. I’ll take my chances.

Komrade Underground: I’m in the same vein. Literally. The same vein. I’m not taking that shit, man. I’m not taking nothing.

Host: It’s one of the few choices that you are allowed. Something you could actually choose on the inside.

Komrade Underground: For right now…

Host: To get a vaccine or not? What you get with an eating each day? You aren’t choosing that. Turning a doorknob? You don’t get to turn a doorknob. Well, the vaccine is a few things you have to get to decide on.

New Afrikan Comrade: I think they weaponize the food. Weaponize the milk. I don’t eat this shit. I don’t drink their water. Everything I do I buy off canteen. So I’m one of those type of dudes. I just don’t fuck with the pigs at all.

Komrade Underground: Salute, man, salute!

I just wanted to get into what he was talking about. About them weaponizing the food, because that’s true. It is this idea that whether it’s on a conscious level that is happening on the compound or something bigger, it’s this food and it’s a formal production. It’s the little things that keep us oppressed in here, like you were saying. COVID is just one of the things that’s killing us, right now. But we have lived in the proximity of death every fucking day we’ve been inside. Death is so close to every single prisoner, that COVID is like “okay, it’s just another thing killing us.” “So and so got COVID? He gonna make it through. He just got stabbed two weeks ago. I know he can make it through COVID.” So there’s this level of death that looms over all of us, that we have to fight.

Not a lot of people know this story, and I’m gonna bring it up. But when I was young, in one of the juvenile dorms I was in, they snatched us all up and what they would do is they would bring stuff to us so we can all get in fights and then because they might have a big bus or a big load of more juveniles coming so they would clear out rooms to make room for these new ones. Send us to the confinement for 60 days and either put us with the adults or just slowly integrate us back in. But this time we went ham, and I went ham on the pigs, and I spit in their face. I’m going through it with them. They were slamming me on my shit and everything’s going down, but I was going hard that day. I don’t know why it was just one of those days that I know this is part of the process: them handcuffing us and beating us up. I just didn’t feel like wearing it man, I didn’t feel like wearing it. I started going ham, spitting on them, they put a mask on me. They were just going ham.

So, when they put us in the showers I was going in on these pigs. I’m talking about “I’m not cuffing up again. I’m not going to my room!” Going ham. This pig got really tired of me, he got really tired of me spitting on him and he finally got the cuffs on me and told me to step to the back of the place. I’m young, I’m like 18 then, and when I stepped to the back of the shower, he walks in the shower and pulls a fucking knife on me. A real, steel street knife on me and tell me how he’s going to cut my nuts off and stab me and kill me. And when I seen that. I seen in his eyes like, “Yo, this pig really wants to kill me, yo. This pig really wants to kill me and he can do it right here! And from that day forward, I knew that every day in here, it’s not only a struggle to survive, but it’s a struggle to not die. So COVID is just another fucking pig without no fucking mask that I gotta fucking deal with.

Host: You said something right there. And you said a lot right there, let’s be honest. But proximity to death, and what it imparts and what it teaches you. A personal story. I mean, I haven’t been locked up, so I can’t relate in that way. I can’t say “I know.” I’m not a brother in that sense. But I just lost my father, like recently, like last week. And on his death bed I asked him “so are you scared?” And he said, “No, not since Vietnam.” He was in Vietnam when he was like, 21 years old. He said “I could have died any day. So I’m not scared. I’m not scared of anything.” It was close to proximity to death, on that basis, and throughout his life, that basically worked in a certain perspective. And a certain strength, and a certain knowledge of self. I know none of you signed up for it, you were placed in this system. And that proximity to death is imposed on you. But there’s something there about the proximity to death that sets your priorities, that sets this passion. And I see it concretizes, it makes solid who you are and what you got to live for. You know how you want to live and you know, how you want to die.

Komrade Underground: I think George said it best, He said “I don’t care about living a long life. I care about living a well and fulfilled life.” And that’s been my mantra every morning that I wake up. I don’t give a fuck about living long. I just want to live fulfilled, yo.

Host: Amen

New Afrikan Comrade: You can’t you can’t let death be the main ingredient in how you live your life. We are all born to die, like brothers say. We are born to die. So if it’s you’re time to go, there’s nothing you can do about it… it’s your time to go. So I’m not going to be doing no extra shit, jumping through hoops, taking vaccines and all this shit because I’m scared to die. I’m already half-assed dead anyway, living this motherfucker. Sleeping in this coffin. You know, I sat in here one day and watched the whole room just close in on me. It was just me and the bed and the wall. We can’t let death be the issue on how we live our lives in here. Whether it’s COVID, whether it’s these pigs, whether it’s these inmates. If it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen. You got to live the best life you can.

Komrade Underground: I was gonna say, I think that’s important, though, too, because I don’t want to make it seem like every choice that I make is because of death. Because it’s not. When I say I want to live fulfilled, it’s to know that we are very close to death but still living strategically. right? I think that’s important and I appreciate you for bringing that up. Because those that live with death wishes, they’re not going to get a lot done. We’re going to put out half assed work, and we’re going to put out stuff that’s not important. So we shouldn’t lead with death, you are right comrade, But I really, I really think that just knowing that it’s there. At times, it makes us more frantic, right? It makes us want to push out more stuff. So we have to slow down a little bit, we have to not let that lead us. And just remember that it’s there.

Remember that when it’s time, let’s just go out hard. But when it’s not, let’s still be strategic in every move. Let’s still move with the idea of creating, because none of us are going to be around when this shit sets off. Right now none of us are going to be around when the actual movement or when we come to whatever anyone wants to believe is going to be communist fucking…. not utopia, but just a new world. A new Earth. We’re not going to be around for that. But we still have to prepare and plan and structure our movements to where it matters. Because if we just do shit half-cocked and half-assed, then anything we’re doing is just going to be a detriment to the struggle.

Host: Well, and I think that’s an excellent place to leave it man. You guys both just wrapped it up. And I want to thank both of you for your time and your generosity and the risk you’re taking – you’re calling from your cells right now. So, thank you. And thanks to Shut ‘Em Down media group for making this possible. The first of many conversations hopefully. We need more of this.

Komrade Underground: Hey man I appreciate being here and being allowed, and for this platform. That’s all that we can do is just have some more of these conversations. So I think I’m just gonna leave you with the words of Jonathan Jackson. “All power to the people that don’t fear freedom.”