The Right To Rebel Against Slavery: The Case of Ruchell Cinque Magee
This week, you’ll hear Ruchell Magee speak about his struggle over 57 years to be heard in the California court system and appeals to US Federal courts. Ruchell is the lone, surviving prisoner-participant of the August 7th, 1970 Marin County Courthouse Rebellion, lead by Jonathan Jackson and including prisoner rebels William Christmas and James McClain. Ruchell took the name of Cinque (aka Sengbe Pieh), the Mende man who justified for his right to resist unjust enslavement aboard the slave ship Amistad in 1839. Over the years Ruchell has become an accomplished jailhouse lawyer, helping many other prisoners and yet still languishing in prison.
This episode has been transcribed, thanks to the work of Jim of MKE Lit Supply! It’ll be a zine, soon.
The Intertwined Histories of Queerness and Anarchism; Guest Interview with Kristian Williams about his new book on Oscar Wilde
I found this interview extremely illuminating, perhaps like many other people who might not have strong ties to either academia or popular education models of learning, I had sort of written Oscar Wilde off as this kind of white dead rich guy who carried little to no relevance apart from a model of queerness that we could look back on. This interview very much proved that this isn’t the case, and that he and the circumstances around him very much influence how we as queers and as anarchists can sense historical threads that pull on our lives very tangibly today. Thanks a million to Scott for researching and conducting this interview!
You can learn more about the author, Kristian Williams, who is most known for his book Our Enemies in Blue, which is a critical history of American policing and police, at his website kristianwilliams.com.
Help Charlotte Jail Support Rebuild!
One announcement before we begin from our comrades at the Charlotte Uprising, Charlotte Jail Support has been getting extremely targeted harassment for some months from CMPD and the sheriff’s department. In times of rebellion or revolt, it is the support infrastructures that are often the most vulnerable to repression and violence. All of their supplies have either been seized or destroyed by the police, if you would like to support them re upping their much needed materials, you can Venmoing them @Ashwilliamsclt or Cash App $houseofkanautica.
This is a slightly edited transcript of Scott’s interview of Kristian Williams on Kristian’s book, Resist Everything Except Temptation: The Anarchist Philosophy of Oscar Wilde, published in 2020 by AK Press. Thanks to Jim of the MKE Lit Supply for all the work!
Kristian Williams on The Final Straw
First aired on 9/12/2020 at https://TFSR.WTF
Scott (TFSR): I’m talking to Kristen Williams, who just published the book Resist Everything Except Temptation: The Anarchist Philosophy of Oscar Wilde. Kristian, would you please just introduce yourself, your pronouns, your name and any information that you think would be pertinent to the listeners of the Final Straw?
Kristian: Sure. I’m Kristian Williams, author of a handful of books, probably most famously Our Enemies in Blue, which is a history of the police in the United States. As you mentioned, my most recent book is Resist Everything Except Temptation: The Anarchist Philosophy of Oscar Wilde, which is probably the book that has taken me the longest to write. I started working on it about 13 years ago.
Scott (TFSR): Oh wow. Is it nice to have it out? Was it a big passion project for you?
Kristian: Yeah, it was the thing that I was always working on, never finishing, and had a surprisingly hard time interesting publishers. I think everyone I approached about it, their first response was, “that sounds great, but no.” Eventually AK [Press] asked to take another look at it, and I don’t know, here it is.
Scott (TFSR): Well, that’s exciting. And I’m glad [for] that.The shadow of Oscar Wilde kind of loomed large for a long time on anything that was related to him,so I’m glad that’s not still persisting, and they published the book. I also just incidentally, as an aside, I was writing my dissertation with a chapter on Wilde and got super sick during it, writing about Dorian Gray. And I ended up in the hospital, and I couldn’t finish that chapter, so I don’t know if there’s like a curse with writing on Oscar. I always thought about that. All right. Well, I’m really excited to talk to you about Oscar Wilde and anarchism. The main argument of your book is that to really understand Oscar Wilde, or at least to understand Oscar Wilde as a political thinker, we need to think about all of his art and philosophy through the lens of anarchism. And it’s really exciting to read the book and see how Wilde kind of intersected with anarchism and anarchists at the time. To read about the history, like the fear of anarchism that we’re [still] presented with today, and then just like getting another perspective on Wilde as a person, his relation to the aesthetic movement, the beginning of the queer movements, and all of these things I think still are pertinent today. I think a lot of people have heard of Oscar Wilde, maybe read a little bit or heard his epigrams, but do you think you could just give a quick overview of who he was as a figure and a person?
Kristian: Sure. Let me see if I can do this at all efficiently. So, Wilde was born into the Irish aristocracy, educated at Trinity College in Dublin and then in Oxford, where he excelled in classics. Immediately, [he] became of sort of an early example of a person who was famous for being famous.Having developed a kind of celebrity and notoriety before he had really accomplished very much,[he] then leveraged that notoriety into a year long, a little bit more, lecture tour in the United States on the aesthetic movement. After that, he went on to publish a novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and then really rose to prominence with a set of four society plays, which were sort of nominally comedies about the manners and dramas of the elite of English society. At the peak of his popularity he became embroiled in a dispute with the Marquess of Queensberry, because Wilde was having an affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, who was Queensberry’s son, which led Queensberry toward more and more public and offensive behavior toward Wilde, which then led Wilde to file a ill-advised lawsuit for libel, which Queensberry very aptly turned back on him and produced criminal charges for gross indecency, which was the criminal term for homosexuality. That led Wilde to prison for a couple of years. He lost his family, lost his fortune, lived the short remainder of his life in exile in France and died virtually penniless.
Scott (TFSR): Thanks for that overview. And I want to touch on a few of those elements that you brought up just, [but] because this is an anarchist radio show podcast—I [want to] to start with anarchism in particular—did Wilde identify as an anarchist?
Kristian: There are two occasions when he did. One was an interview in which he said, “once I was a poet and a tyrant, but now I am an artist and an anarchist.” And another, in a separate interview, he said, [when] asked about his politics, he said, “I’m a socialist, but we’re all socialists nowadays, so I must be something more. I think perhaps I’m an anarchist.” There were other occasions where he sort of flirted with the term, and probably my favorite is in a letter.He tells the story of being on a sailing trip with these two young men, and them getting caught in a storm, and it taking hours for them to get back to port. And when they got there, they were freezing cold and completely drenched and they rushed back to their hotel and ordered brandy. And the hotel proprietors sadly explained to them that because it was after 10 o’clock on a Sunday, the law prohibited him selling brandy. But given the circumstances, he decided he would just give them the brandy. And Wilde’s comment was along the lines of,“Not a bad outcome, but what utterly stupid laws” and then he finishes by saying that,“the two young men are, of course, now anarchists.”
Scott (TFSR): If I knew that that was the way to convert people, I’d be taking more sailing trips with young men. I’m always wondering. So, he used the term sometimes, but clearly anarchism and anarchists were out and about in Wilde’s time. I’m wondering a little bit what the common conception at the moment was of anarchism, and anarchists, and how it might have changed since then.
Kristian: At the time, it was considered practically synonymous with terrorism, and in particular of a foreign Eastern European sort of conspiratorial, random blowing things up kind of terrorism. That reputation has in different forms haunted anarchism really since the beginning. And while the sort of bomb throwing aspect has always been very much a minority affair of what anarchism is about, it wasn’t entirely baseless. I mean, there was a tendency called propaganda by the deed, which had this theory that a spectacular attack against the symbols of authority would reveal authority to be both artificial and vulnerable and inspire the masses to an uprising. In fact [though] it never worked out that way. It was a theory that was partly developed under the circumstances of autocratic rule in Russia, and then exported into Western democracies. In Russia, where it was basically illegal to even speak about anarchism, there was a certain rationality to moving to direct attack.And that was also in a way legible to the population who was also suffering under this kind of censorship. But when it moved into the Western countries, really the effect was to baffle the population and to largely turn them against anarchism, as it became synonymous with things randomly blowing up. Wilde, in fact, in one of those interviews that I quoted earlier immediately followed his statements that he must be an anarchist with, “But of course, the dynamite policy is quite absurd.” Meaning that even at the point where he was embracing this term, partly for its shock value, he also felt like he needed to distance himself from its more extreme and somewhat bloody elements.
Scott (TFSR): And that’s interesting. Do you think that there’s a way that he uses the term specifically for it’s just like surface level or superficial subversiveness or, as you said, the shock value?
Kristian: I think that he always wanted to be just shocking enough to be interesting, and not so shocking as to actually get himself into trouble. Which was a line that he was not always successful in judging, obviously. And so yeah, I would suspect that some of his rhetoric about that was chosen, like in those particular instances, [it] was chosen for the way he positioned himself outside of the mainstream. When he said, “well, I’m a socialist, but we’re all rather socialists nowadays. So I must be something more,”it suggests that he’s looking for the position, which is just slightly too far. Interestingly though, in his most directly political writing, which is called “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,”what he describes is a socialism without the structures of coercion or authority. And he’s very explicit about that. He doesn’t use the term anarchism anywhere in the essay. And in fact, he begins one paragraph by saying “Communism, socialism or whatever we choose to call it,” sort of signaling that the particular distinctions may not be that important and that in any case the word is certainly not the thing that matters.
Scott (TFSR): Yeah, that’s really interesting. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot, because there’s a strategic way to use the word anarchism to get people interested, to get people to talk about things, and to use the way that it’s presented and represented in media. But then attachment to the word doesn’t necessarily help it if people are sort of doing their own thing. That was really illuminating to me to hear you put it that way. Since you brought up “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” kind of the central argument of your book is that this provides a key to give Wilde’s whole body of work a certain kind of cohesion through the lens of anarchism. I was wondering if you’d talk a little bit more more about some of the ideas that he presents in that essay. And then if you want to move on to how it shows up in other writings of Wilde’s.
Kristian: He begins the essay by saying that the main value of socialism is that it would free us from the burden of living for other people. Basically, in a society where everyone’s needs were being taken care of, it would be possible for people to pursue their own interests and to develop what is unique about themselves in a way that the burden of earning a living and the responsibility for taking care of your family, your dependents and all that sort of thing really limits a person’s ability to freely explore whatever it is that they find fascinating, both in the world and of themselves. And so he starts right at the beginning by arguing that the purpose of socialism is that it would make a kind of individualism possible. And in his conception, these two notions of socialism and individualism are tightly bound together. And that it’s possible for certain extremely privileged people to exercise a kind of individualism under capitalism, but for the vast majority of humanity, their lives are too taken up with drudgery and the struggle for survival.And a socialist economy would relieve them of that set of burdens, and therefore makes individualism a universal pursuit. He argues that when that becomes available we’ll see this whole renaissance of culture and art and science and intellectual and an aesthetic sort of blossoming of the human spirit. And then at the same time, he argues that any kind of authority or coercion is corrosive of that entire project, and that therefore no authoritarian socialism would be acceptable. What’s needed is socialism as this kind of voluntary association between free and equal individuals, which I’m not the first person to note is basically the anarchist conception.
Scott (TFSR): Right. That’s interesting, the emphasis on individualism. So in the way that puts him in a different place than some of the other aesthetic aesthetes and decadents. It made me think of that famous line [from the] Goncourt brothers about, you know, living our servants do that for us. The way that Wilde talks about some people, the people who are allowed to live some version of individualism are [enabled] to create beautiful things or even to think like that. Profound thoughts are relying on the work of others to do that. So his his individualism isn’t like a kind of selfish, narcissistic individualism, but one that is trying to extend that privilege to everyone.
Kristian: Exactly. And what I argue in the book is that if we take Wilde’s political writing, and in particular,“The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” seriously, it helps us understand a lot of his other work, and that you see [that] marriage of individualism and socialism (and that version of individualism that should not just be the special property of the aristocracy) show up in other respects. And maybe the place where that pairing is clearest is in those lectures on aestheticism that he delivered in the United States. Where in addition to talking about the importance of sort of surrounding ourselves with beautiful things and treating life itself as a kind of art, meaning making the process of living as beautiful as possible. He also talks surprisingly much about labor and about investing in the skill and the craftsmen of the workers, such that the process of work becomes a creative pursuit and is pleasurable and then also produces beautiful things. Rather than everything being simply judged by its commercial value, and the worker simply being this kind of cog in a giant capitalist machine, where all of his initiative and all of the creativity is removed from the process in order to maximize the efficiency of profit.
Scott (TFSR): Yeah, that was really exciting to me to read your argument in the book. One line that that especially stood out to me. You make the claim that while socialism is more aesthetic than economic, because, “ it takes as its model the artist, rather than a proletarian, and as much concerned to free the repressed bourgeois as the oppressed worker.” And that sticks out to me because I think you can [take as model the artist], just thinking about anarchism today. But I was wondering if you maybe would elaborate a little bit on this idea of shifting the revolutionary subject away from the traditional understanding of the workers, that kind of disciplined [and] manly person, and maybe that can also verge onto a critique of work, too. There’s a lot of anarchism goes away from this kind of idolizing of the worker as the person that will lead us to freedom. So, yeah, if you could talk a little bit about what this shift in thinking allows us to see for revolutionary politics.
Kristian: Yeah. I don’t know if he had an idea of a revolutionary subject, as you put it. Like, I don’t know that he thought that there was a particular class of people who were going to be responsible for the transformation of society, or at least not a particular economic class. What I meant in that passage was that rather than seeing the proletariat as the class that would become all of humanity, and therefore the model of how human beings would be, he looked to the artist. And so part of that, I think shows the influence of William Morris, who considered himself a Marxist, but whose politics are pretty hard to fit into any current conception of Marxism. And Morris largely thought that the purpose of socialism was to—rather than sort of a standard Marxist conception where industrialization will produce a particular class of worker who will then take over society—Morris thought that the purpose of socialism was to destroy industrialization, that he wanted to get rid of the factory system and its rigid division of labor, and in particular, this conception that there was a class of people who sort of designed and created and imagined the products of the world, and then there was this other class of people who were basically just like hired hands, who just did the work by rote without any input into the process. Instead, he wanted production to take the form of skilled artisans, bringing their full creativity to their work, and also therefore experiencing the work as an expression of their creative selves and finding joy and pleasure in the process of creation. And Wilde basically took Morris’s conception on the whole, which suggests that under socialism, rather than society being organized on the factory model with this mass of proletarians, who basically just like have the position in the assembly line and do the same rote task over and over again, that society would be organized as this free collective of artists and craftsmen, who would be able to express their individualism in the creative process while also providing for the needs of the society. So I don’t know that it’s a question of the revolutionary subject. It’s more a question of like: Under socialism, is the world populated by proletarians or is the world populated by artists? And the hope was that under conditions of freedom and equality, work would be more like art and therefore the individuals doing it would be more like artists and less like assembly line workers.
Scott (TFSR): Right. And that’s interesting these ideas, like you said [with regard to] industrialization, modernization. I mean, in Wilde’s concept of socialism there are machines that do the kind of dirty work so that people don’t have to and they kind of replaced that class of people. But this isn’t to enable some hyper-modernization, but to enable a kind of smaller scale of life that allows people to engage in the pursuits they want rather than this larger idea of driving civilization on, or something like that?
Kristian: Yes, I think that’s exactly right.
Scott (TFSR): There’s another thing that they’re brought up for me that is interesting because, you know, when you think of aestheticism, you think of Wilde and Art—art with a capital A—there’s already a kind of class distinction that’s assumed within.High Art versus other forms of art, but Wilde maybe through Morris and also Ruskin, [who] I know was like a teacher of his, isn’t making this big distinction between high art and crafts or other forms of creation. So then he’s also kind of envisioning a classless art world—would you say that’s right?
Kristian: I would say at his best, that is right. I think he was also prone to a certain amount of snobbery and ready to claim certain privileges of an Artist—with a capital A—that may not extend to everyone in society. And both sides of that showed up in his trial, where on the one hand when they tried to cite his writings as evidence against him and brought in The Picture of Dorian Gray and a set of aphorisms he had contributed to an Oxford magazine and that sort of thing,and they would ask him things like, “well, what is the interpretation that an ordinary person would put to these lines?” And Wilde would say something to the effect of, “I know nothing of the opinions of ordinary people, I’m only concerned with the opinions of artists.” And so he was willing to fall back onto a sort of special status for the artist, and in particular that artists could only be judged by other artists. At the same time, though, the prosecutor was absolutely outraged that the young men that he was associating with were often men of the lower classes. They were servants of various kinds or people who were just frankly out of work. And though nominally the court was concerned with the sort of homosexual nature of these relationships, the fact that he was bringing these servants into polite society was as much a focus of the cross-examination as any sort of sexual relation. And so the prosecutor would repeatedly ask questions like, “is this the sort of young man that a gentleman should associate with?” And Wilde would respond,“Absolutely—if the young man is interesting.” And he said over and over again, “I recognize social distinctions, not at all.” Meaning he didn’t care about their origins. He didn’t care about what they did for a living. What he cared about was their personal beauty and their radiant personalities. And that in particular was outrageous to polite society, in a way that [with regard to] mere same sex relations (there was a lot of that sort of thing at like the British public schools and then at Oxford and Cambridge) the men of Wales class were somewhat ambivalent about that. But the cross-class nature really was outrageous to public opinion and ultimately to the law.
Scott (TFSR): Yeah, and that’s something that you elaborate [on] a little bit in the book in a way that I found very interesting. That people at the time, [some of whom] were anarchists and some weren’t, were kind of thinking about the cross-class same sex relationships as a sort of liberatory engagement. And that made me think that there’s sort of seeds of the radical gay liberation or queer liberation movements already in place in the end of the 19th century when these things were kind of being defined. I mean, I don’t know if any of these thinkers would go so far, but I was like reading into this this idea that men across class having relationships would be a sort of undermining of capitalist society. Could you talk a little bit about how the ways of this kind of cross-class relationship were being fought by the queer and anarchist thinkers at the time?
Kristian: Yeah, [and] this wasn’t just an anxiety on the behalf of the aristocracy. The men engaging in these relationships often did sort of theorize that it was going to destroy the class barrier and thus crash the social hierarchy, and that for them that seemed like an advantage. Of course, in retrospect, that all seems very naive, right? Like the ideas that wealthy aristocrats paying young men of the lower order for sex would destroy class relations just seems sort of fanciful. But it was a popular notion among radicals in those circles at the time. And I think to understand that, we need to remember sort of the difference between the traditional British class system and the sort of emerging capitalist system, where they still had the trappings of an aristocratic hierarchy, so that class position wasn’t simply a matter of who had money and who didn’t. And the divisions between the classes weren’t simply a question of one class being an employing in class and one class being a laboring class. The differences were also cultural, and it was possible to be kind of a destitute aristocrat, and it was also possible to make a fortune and yet remain ultimately sort of a middle class person. That [it] was a matter of both of the culture and the expectations and the values that people in those positions would have. But it was also a matter of how they would be regarded socially. So that in some way would even be more respectable to be an impoverished aristocrat than it would be to be a wealthy merchant. So there was this element where simply having kind of intimate contact with people of other social classes seemed subversive, seemed destructive of the barriers that kept them apart. And in particular, Wilde’s interest in the culture of the lower classes, and then also his interest in exposing them to what we would call High Art seems deliberately like trying to erase that cultural line between the upper and [the] lower. Though interestingly, he had basically no interest in the middle classes at all.
Scott (TFSR): Yeah, which I guess makes sense. So there’s something interesting there, too, because you know, Wilde initiated a libel suit against the Marquees of Queensberry because he left this card at the hotel, where Wilde was staying.[And] that at least one reading of it, you say in the book of that card, posing as a sodomite reads like a misspelling. So he is being accused of posing as a homosexual. So this just made me think about how the class positions weren’t necessarily tied to actual wealth. But you could kind of portray the image of an aristocrat. And I wonder to what extent that relates to an understanding of aestheticism, like the kind of the idle dandy and the aristocratic bend to that. But you’re arguing that even though that’s one understanding aestheticism, it actually has a kind of anarchist political and ethical value or valence or something. So, yeah, I’m kind of thinking [and] wondering about this idea of posing, posing as queer [or] posing as an anarchist, and how Wilde uses these different positions.
Kristian: So artificiality was, in Wilde’s schema, a value rather than a vice. And part of that was that he had this idea that the purpose of life was this kind of self-cultivation, [this] sort of self-creation, which means that to a certain extent it is going to be an artificiality, that is going to be an element of artistry to the life that you create for yourself and the character that you develop in yourself, and also the presentation that you make to the world. And Wilde very deliberately created an image of himself early on as this sort of idle genius, and also as this person who in some ways was outside of the categories of conventional society. And he relayed that with his sort of flamboyant dress. He created that image by making a habit of saying outrageous things as he matured, the outrageous things that you said tend to have more of a subversive undercurrent to them. But especially early on, [it] seems like he was often just reaching for the thing that was going to outrage public opinion. So there was always this matter of posing.And one of his aphorisms is that it’s only shallow people who don’t judge by appearances. One of the things he meant by that is that it is the appearance that we choose for ourselves. That is the way that we decide to present ourselves to the world. And that that’s important, right? And that, you know, it’s like you can tell a lot about somebody from what they choose to show you. So there was always this self-consciousness to Wilde’s presentation, especially publicly, and there was connected in that a gendered element where he presented himself as the sort of foppish, flamboyant aesthete, which was always interpreted like the dandy, [which] was always understood as sort of an effeminate character. But it actually wasn’t really until Wilde’s scandal that it was fully identified also as a homosexual character. And so he was often seen and sometimes mocked as this living affront to the ideals of masculinity. And this is hard for us to kind of imagine now, but at the time that wasn’t necessarily associated with homosexuality. Which makes Queensberry’s claim that he was posing as a sodomite, a little bit complicated. And part of the work that the trial did was to construct this notion of what a sodomite is like, such that a person could be posing as it. And this gains a kind of circular momentum, where the image that it constructs is partly the negation of the ideal of a respectable middle class family man, but partly just the reflection of the image that Wilde has been projecting all along. And so in the course of the trial, what a sodomite is, the figure of the sodomite, is built so that Wilde will resemble it. Then once that equation takes hold, Wilde really becomes the icon of sort of what a gay man is expected to be like. I’m borrowing here from the work of Alan Sinfield, who wrote a book called The Wilde Century, which makes this argument in about 250 pages. So if you’re interested in that, and how exactly that happened, that is the place to look.
Scott (TFSR): It seems really important, and something maybe a lot of people don’t know, is that we’ve inherited a kind of gay male type or stereotype that can be traced back to Wilde, and these trials.That even over over 100 years, a lot of that hasn’t changed that kind of identity type that Wilde embodied, or even like the lampoon of Wilde’s identity still marks understandings of gay male effeminacy and campness, how Sontag talks about him. So I think you bring that out really interestingly. But like in your book, the thing that I think is really important that you add is that in the aftermath of Wilde’s trial, the queerness of Wilde sort of has an influence on anarchist thinkers at the time. In a way not only is Wilde’s queer identity becoming politicized and codified, but also there’s an anarchist element to that, and I wonder if you could elaborate a little bit on that—about the trial and how his sexuality became influential for anarchist thinkers.
Kristian: Sure. This went in a lot of different directions and had several different elements. But maybe the clearest is that Emma Goldman. Other American anarchists as well, but Emma Goldman in particular was initially extremely sympathetic with Wilde, but simply as an example of the puritanical hypocrisy of the legal system, and as a victim of state oppression, it wasn’t until later that she became exposed to the sort of sexological literature that was elaborating the theory of homosexuality, where she realized that it wasn’t just a particular case of the state doing what the state does, but there was also an element[of] Wilde’s trial was intimidating and terrorizing for anentire group of people. And that it wasn’t just a matter of individual suffering and individual persecution, but that there was a group element to this. And so it became important to her to specifically stand up for the rights of homosexuals, sort of as a class rather than simply opposing the state putting people in prison, because of course we’re against the state putting people in prison. Another direction that that developed was that in Great Britain and in the US, the anarchist sexual politics at that time were already interested in sexual liberation, but mostly in the framework of a critique of marriage and free love and advocacy around issues of legitimacy, meaning really the rights of children who are born out of wedlock. And so adding to sort of queer element to that, they were already kind of primed for that development. And then what that meant was that it wasn’t just that Wilde’s trial affected anarchist’s sexual politics, it meant that a particular kind of sexual politics came out of that, that [they] were interested in gay rights as an expression of sort of sexual freedom overall. There was a natural affinity between the way anarchists were already thinking. And the sort of challenge and rethinking posed by the Wilde trial. Another direction that developed was that in Europe, and especially in Germany, individualist anarchists took a somewhat different lesson from the Wilde trial, and were less interested in conceptions of group identity and more interested in understanding it simply in terms of sort of individuality, individual rights and [an] individual person’s ability to express themselves and find pleasure in whatever way they chose, regardless of laws or social convention, or religious or moral precepts. And that, curiously, also circulated back into the United States, partly through Benjamin Tucker and his paper Liberty, which reprinted some of the European coverage of the Wilde trial, and also editorialized on its own, and very much in a more sort of individualist, libertarian kind of approach. So there were a couple of different developments from that in terms of how Wilde’s persecution shaped anarchist politics in the generations after.
Scott (TFSR): Yeah, that’s interesting. This is a still a kind of problem and paradox within queer liberation—the idea of an identity and a group type or a minority group demanding rights, and then [the] kind of queerness that critiques and wants to do away with identity. And obviously, the way you were outlining Wilde’s understanding of posing and artificiality is already showing kind of ambivalence to that, even as he’s being put in the position of defining this type. So it’s interesting to see these things that [still] are. Anarchists today are always fighting identity politics as well, whether or not they’re queer. So I think it’s interesting to see that these things were already happening at that moment.
Kristian: Wilde himself directly addressed this question in a short story called The Portrait of Mr. W.H., which the story itself is complicated, and I’m going to do my best to sum it up quickly. Basically it involves a relationship between two men, one of whom has a theory that Shakespeare’s sonnets were inspired by and devoted to a young boy actor named Willie Hughes, the W.H. of the title.[He] then persuades the other man of this. The other man then goes and engages in a relationship with a third man and also tries to persuade him of this theory. And the whole thing is in some ways an excuse to make this argument about the history of homosexuality and its influence on culture. So it looks at the presence of homosexuality in ancient Greece. I mean, there’s no way to talk about this that isn’t anachronistic. I should say that,first of all. Like, Wilde never used the term homosexuality, but the presence of homosexuality in ancient Greece, the importance of homosexuality in the Renaissance, the importance of homosexuality for Shakespeare, and then more recent examples. The thing about the story is that they have this argument about the sonnets, but there’s no proof for it. And in order to try to persuade each other, each of the men engages in this fabrication of evidence [of] different kinds. The evidence itself, including the portrait of the title, is a beautiful work of art, but it’s also false. It’s also a fraud. And each of the men, once he persuades the other one of the importance of the theory, is then fatally compromised and dies–one of them by suicide, one of them by consumption. And at the end, you’re left with, on the one hand, this exercise in the construction of a homosexual genealogy, like a cultural genealogy of homosexuality. And on the other hand, the story itself exposes that construction as this kind of artifice and draws into question the wisdom of sort of latching your identity onto anything exterior to yourself. And so it’s both this exercise in the creation of a gay identity, and it’s also this deconstruction and critique of that exercise at the same time.
Scott (TFSR): Yeah, and that seems like it could also be like a fitting parable for the attempts to naturalize or biologize sexuality and gender towards increasing rights for so-called gender or sexual minorities. Like these stories that we’re telling ourselves here in that essay or whatever you want to call it, like a story essay.
Kristian: Yeah, it’s a little hard to know how to characterize it. It queers our categories.
Scott (TFSR): I mean, it’s all just part of the seduction anyway. I think that you’re reading of that is really interesting. One of the things that [is] still kind of going on, this idea of identity.The thing that stood out to me after reading your book was that the legacy of Wilde, in a way, entangles these three groups, the people that are are kind of unwanted or undesirable anarchists, the aesthetes or the dandies or decadents or whatever, and and whatever was being defined at the time as homosexual, we might say queer now. And thank you for pointing out that we’re talking pretty anachronistically. But, yeah, just these three types. Right. Anarchists, aesthetes, and queer people even at the time were sort of confused in people’s minds and had this sort of like specter haunting people as like unwanted types. Could you talk about how that sort of legacy still persists today? [How] these entanglements of these different positions politically, artistically and sexually persist today?
Kristian: Yeah.Well, I mean, some of it I think you’ve already hit on. Anarchism, as it existed circa 1895, was already a sort of hospitable environment for a gay politics to emerge in a way that most other sort of political realms were not. Because anarchism already had this critique of sexual morality, it already has its critique of the family structure. It was already advocating for birth control and the rights for children who were born out of wedlock and the equality between men and women and free love and all of that kind of stuff. So it was ready for the addition of the concern of homosexuals. And I think once that took root there, of course, gay politics have then expanded far outside of anarchism and even arguably outside of the left. But it’s now just very infused with the sort of culture of anarchism and also the values and those sort of self perception of what anarchists do expect ourselves to be like. The fusion between aestheticism and queer politics has developed somewhat differently, but it also remains there, right? Where on the one hand, this becomes an annoying stereotype,and on the other hand, it’s also something that gay men especially sort of celebrate about their shared culture, such as it is. Where it’s like there’s an expectation that there are going to be these sort of fabulous creatures with good style sense and immaculately decorated houses and an interest in music and theater and that sort of thing. And also for the same reason, it’s always a little bit suspicious when an adolescent boy takes too strong an interest in painting or poetry,right?So there’s a weird kind of both good and bad aspects to the two of those things coming together and forming a type, or a stereotype. The connection between aestheticism and anarchist politics is in a way more complicated. On the one hand, it means that on a shallow level it has helped inform the attraction of anarchists to sort of the artistic avant-garde, which has shown up really throughout the 20th century from Dada to the beats to punk, really. Greil Marcus territory there. And on a deeper level, though, I think that the notion that life should be the sort of splendid adventure, and that the way individuals live should be reflective of their character and personality, rather than bounded by convention and predictable and productive, but not necessarily very creative or interesting. I think that this has done a lot to maintain sort of the spirit and attraction of anarchism. And that puts us more in the lineage of the situation as to crime think, right. But then there’s also this this paradox, where especially in the last couple decades anarchism has taken a very moralistic and sort of puritanical turn that has also always been sort of a feature of it. You know, at sometimes if you look at a figure like the early Alexander Berkman, his ambition toward martyrdom and his sense of asceticism and his harsh judgment of other people is just annoying. So there’s always been that kind of puritanical element to anarchism as well. But at our best, that is counterbalanced by this free and flowing and urge toward the beautiful. At the moment, it feels like the sort of purist and puritanical element is more to the surface.And the notion that the life should be anything other than, [or] something more than, just the political struggle and the urge to purify oneself and the group of people around you. It seems to have receded. I worry that we’re at the moment insufficiently aesthetic, and I. I wish we could bring that back more to the surface.
Scott (TFSR): Yeah. I mean, it’s a beautiful idea. I really like the way that you politicize Wilde’s aestheticism because I mean, it is such an old argument in a way that’s kind of like tedious and boring.That, even like Sartrean committed literature is against the art for art’s sake, because that is like amoral or even elite. But your reading of Wilde’s shows that even within the stuff that isn’t explicitly political, there’s like an ethical and political understanding that we can get. You say one line that I really liked—your reading [of] the plays is that Wilde’s evasions often hide the seeds of subversion. So there’s a way of reading Wilde that when he’s not saying, like, I’m an anarchist and let’s smash the state, he’s not saying that, but there’s something that happens in his work that allows the subversiveness of his thinking to come differently, [while] not hitting you over the head.
Kristian: Let me run with a couple of points of that. One is that I think that had his politics been more direct in his writing, probably his work would not have survived as well as it has. And while I think that there is even something which on the surface just seems like this exercise in silliness, like The Importance of Being Earnest. If you read carefully, it’s actually shot through with political concerns. Concerns about legitimacy, concerns about the rights of women, concerns about Irish independence and Fenian bombings, right? There’s all sorts of political elements, political themes, political subtext, political references in what at first seems like just this almost Dadaist banter about nothing in particular. But I think [that] had Wilde instead taken the approach of like a movement writer or a message writer, then the work would seem dated and less interesting and wouldn’t remain as fresh as it actually does. The other thing I wanted to say, and this goes back to aestheticism, is that my argument about Wilde’s aestheticism is that it’s not just the places, especially early in his career where he said things about, like the importance of labour and re-conceiving labour, conceiving of labor as a kind of art. It’s also that he pushes the sort of values where beauty doesn’t have to justify itself. And that’s really what art, for art’s sake means. It doesn’t have to have a moral message. It doesn’t have to have a social use. It doesn’t have to be commercially viable. That just the fact that something is beautiful and gives you pleasure is itself important. And I argue that that is an implicit critique of the values, especially of Victorian capitalism, and what Max Weber would later articulate as the Protestant Ethic.Which was supposed to value sobriety and hard work and thrift, and that every moment of every day was supposed to be invested with this improving moral weight, which meant making yourself a better person, but chiefly meant making yourself a better person through hard work. While aestheticism is just like a torpedo in the hull of that ship. Interestingly for us, I think it is also a good corrective to the more stoical and dour and sad faced parts of left wing thinking, the kind of Marxism that thinks that we should sacrifice everything for the party, or the kind of anarchism that thinks that the main purpose of politics is to morally cleanse ourselves of anything that may be socially compromised. That kind of puritanism, that kind of stoicism, that sort of often workerist, but also often workaholic element, I think need something to temper it. And I think the Wilde’s work, if we take it seriously, and also if we are willing to accept it as lightly as he produced it, can help us to avoid some of the temptations, if you will, of that kind of puritanism.
Scott (TFSR): Yeah. And the way you elaborated that is really helpful because we see how, you know, anarchists then and other people who might identify as leftist or Marxist are replicating some of the kind of capitalist mindset of that work and seriousness. And Wilde, [with his] emphasis on pleasure and pleasure as a kind of perversion, I think is specifically queer and specifically helpful in a way as a corrective, as you said, to those tendencies. While you were talking, I was thinking a little bit also about like James Baldwin, who makes similar kinds of arguments [yet manages an] avoidance of being explicitly political in his fiction, [and how] he still he speaks to anarchists, as another kind of queer figure. These people who value the ambiguity of art, are also evading that Protestant ethic that goes along with the kind of capitalist path of individual development. I’m just really grateful for the way that you you expand on that in the book. There’s a bunch of a bunch of things that I can bring up. But one thing that we haven’t really spoken about, but that also I think resonates with today’s anarchism is Wilde’s experiences in prison. And so I wonder, he was incarcerated for two years and then his final writing was on prison. And I think that a lot of people are coming into anarchism specifically now through the abolitionist movement. So I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about Wilde’s experience in prison, his relationship to prison and how that fits into his writing, and what he gives to us today as current abolitionists?
Kristian: Yes, I guess the first thing to say is that Wilde was against prison for his entire career. He thought that the whole notion of punishing wrongdoing was self-defeating and also barbaric. And in The Soul of Man Under Socialism in particular, he predicts that in a future society, there will be no need for crime, because there will be equality and there won’t be either the desperate need to resort to fraud or violence in order to meet one’s needs,nor the kind of resentment that results from being in the lower position of an unequal relationship. And that whatever traces of criminality remain, he argues, would just have to be the product of some sort of mental illness which should be treated by a physician, and not by the courts. So from early on, he was arguing a kind of abolitionist line. He also, partly from seeing the example of Irish nationalists who were being imprisoned, thought the prison could also be the sort of heroic and elevating kind of experience. And he had almost a Thoreauvian line that they could jail your body, but your spirit would remain free. What he learned when they put him in prison was that that was completely wrong. And he should you really should have known better based on what he already understood about the degrading nature of menial work and about the elevating possibilities of beauty and beautiful surroundings versus the degrading and oppressive nature of ugliness. And then he was put in this environment, which was really just designed to concentrate ugliness with the idea of breaking the prisoner’s spirit. And it was anticipated when he was put in prison that he would not survive the two years, that a man of his age and his class would not be up for the hardship and the deprivation, and were it not for the political intervention of some of his friends and the agitation of especially anarchists in Europe, who were demanding his freedom all together, he likely wouldn’t have survived those two years. And instead he was offered a number of privileges that were there to avoid the government’s embarrassment of him dying in prison. And he was very aware that that was the thing that was keeping him alive and that he was receiving this kind of special treatment.Much to his credit, he did his best to extend those benefits to the other inmates around him. [Mainly in that] he was allowed to request books and was allowed additional books from outside the prison. And reading his letters, you can see that among the books that he requested, there are books that he doesn’t particularly have an interest in, but he knows that the other prisoners would. And then for a while, he got the job of taking the library cart around to the cells to give prisoners the books they wanted, which importantly gave him the opportunity to talk to other people, because at that point, the prison system was entirely on a solitary confinement kind of basis.And then also gave him the opportunity to learn about the interests of the other prisoners, and again, sort of facilitate their intellectual pursuits. And then once he was released, he immediately set about agitating to improve the conditions for the prisoners and wrote a couple of long letters to the Daily Chronicle about conditions in the British prison system. In particular centered on the case of a prison guard named Thomas Martin, who had been fired essentially for being too kind to the prisoners. Martin’s specific offense was that he had given ginger cookies to very small children who were locked in prison for poaching rabbits. Wilde pursued both publicly and also less directly, through writing public officials and that sort of thing, the reform of the prison system, noting specific things that could improve the conditions for the prisoners, while also insisting that no amount of reform was ever going to be adequate, and in fact [stating] that the entire basis of British justice was badly founded and needed to be scrapped. This sort of reached its peak with his last published work (during his lifetime anyway) which was the Ballad of Reading Gaol, which I also think is his best poem, which his correspondence makes clear really intended as both a great work of art and also as the sort of political message that we were talking about earlier. It was intended as a pamphlet that would outrage the public against the prison system as a whole. And for what it’s worth, his agitation had some effect. There was a parliamentary commission that was investigating prison conditions at the time, and it took up many of the reforms that Wilde had suggested in his letters to the Chronicle. And just in terms of literary genealogy, The Ballad of Reading Gaol in particular became this almost scripture for anarchists talking about prisons in the decades that followed. So you you find references to it over and over again in the anarchist literature about prison, really all the way up into the 60s.
Scott (TFSR): That’s really interesting. I mean, there’s part of Wilde that is like the “Be Gay Do Crimes” sort, romanticizing the prisoner. But then there’s this seriousness, and it’s especially after his two years of hard labor imprisonment, where he is specifically acting against the prison system and going outside of the romanticism of the like criminal type or something like that. In your going over that history, another thing came to me that you show really well, there are somethings, like Wilde just seemed like a good person, like someone you want to hang out with and be friends with. And in that way, there’s [almost] another aspect of like Wilde the person and his actions that I think are worth reflecting on, [and] not just as a figure, thinker, a writer, but that he embodied this anarchism in his relationships with people, even about the way that he engaged in relationships, whether they’re like intimate or just in passing.
Kristian: Yeah. For a person who is renowned or notorious for being extremely individualistic and extremely sort of egotistical, he was also very, very generous. And he was generous with his wealth when he had wealth, and he was generous with other people’s wealth when he did not. Toward the end of his life, he was practically penniless and living on the generosity of his friends. And yet when people that he knew in prison would get released, he would send them money. And one of his friends and benefactors got kind of annoyed with him about this, because here they are giving him money, so that he can keep body and soul together, and here he is just giving it away. And he said, but if my good friends like you take care of me, how could I not take care of my prison friends? Which I think really captures both something of his spirit and also something of the spirit of mutual aid and solidarity. Friendship for Wilde was not a trivial matter. He didn’t think of his friends as just like people that you happen to know, he saw friendship as this deep and complicated ethical commitment, this kind of like practice of life. Which I think goes back to his reading of the classics, and probably Aristotle in particular. And so it’s also interesting that, lacking the vocabulary that we have now about like homosexuality and queerness, he described those relationships and the possibilities of those relationships in terms of things like passionate friendship and really saw them as, in addition to the sexual component and the political implications, also saw them as this tight interweaving of two people’s lives, and a sort of practice of generosity and engagement. Like a way that people could relate that was in a way deeply ethical, and in another way unconcerned with the conventionality and what at the time was was viewed as morality. So, yeah, I think there’s was something very anarchic about how he looked at that. And again, it was that very generosity that turned out to cause him so much trouble in the trials. Like had he just been hiring prostitutes and paying blackmailers, it wouldn’t have had the, I mean this is somewhat bizarre from our point of view, but it wouldn’t have had the outrageous moral implication that it had—that he was like taking these young men to expensive dinners, and buying them champagne, and taking them to the opera, and buying the suits, giving them silver cigarette cases with personalized inscriptions on them. All of that was like… You know, prostitution and blackmail was just old hat for a Victorian aristocrat. But that kind of intimacy with people of the lower classes and that effort to sort of extend to them the benefits of the society was politically very troubling and morally outrageous.
Scott (TFSR): Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting how all of these things sort of overlap. I don’t know, like reading your book, I’ve always loved Wilde and had an affinity for Wilde and in a way Wilde has explained to me my gayness, my queerness. But then reading your book, I’m like, oh, my affinity for Wilde also has something to do with my anarchism that I’ve had over my whole life. And I just think the way that you tie those together and show them through going through his letters, his the biographical details, [and] the anarchists kind of response to him. And his work is really compelling. I guess the final question, you know, going back to talking about the role of art and the kind of corrective that we can bring to the sort of dour anarchist politics. The other aspect of him, maybe the term we could say is a utopian, and he uses that in The Soul of Man Socialism. Is there anything that you can say about Wilde bringing a sort of utopian anarchist politics or any way really you want to kind of send us off with, like, how Wilde speaks to us today? Because I think that this book is something that we can learn from in our current moment. So, yeah, any anything in that line that you want to kind of send us off with on Wilde, the utopian anarchist.
Kristian: Yeah. You know his utopianism makes sense, given his aestheticism, given the emphasis on the imagination and on sort of the fanciful and the artificial and the the creative possibilities. And therefore, he didn’t see Utopia as this thing that we achieve and preserve, which might be more of the Puritan model. Instead, he saw Utopia as this this aspiration of humanity that was always just past the horizon. And so it kept us moving. And so he says in The Soul of Man Under Socialism that all the progress is a realization of past utopias. And the utopia is a country where once we land, we immediately set sail looking forward again. And so there’s the idea that in order to achieve progress, we have to be able to imagine the better world. That once we achieve the world that we think we want, we’re going to imagine a better worlds still. And that, rather than that being a frustrating Rosero problem, in fact [it] is this beautiful hope that we can always be doing better. And, you know, right now I think we are pretty desperately in need of some utopian imagination, you know, with the pandemic really throwing our our usual social practices into question, and revealing the threadbare nature of many of our institutions, and the failure of hierarchical leadership structures to address the crisis in any sort of meaningful way, along with the increasingly present effects of climate change and the existential danger that that poses. And then also with the bizarre and perverse political culture that we inhabit in the United States, with the kind of polarization that makes every position a point of conflict and makes any sort of like of, I don’t know, reconciliation or even notion that we will arrive at an understanding of shared humanity, seem increasingly remote. We really need to be able to imagine something better. The alternative, I think, is a very bleak nihilism that just sees the future as only an extension of the present. And I think that from that view, nothing good can come. I saw a picture of some graffiti that said,“another end of the world as possible.” And I think that that that captures pretty well the need for utopian thinking right now.
Scott (TFSR): Yeah. That even the dystopian stuff has dried up, I think. Yeah. I mean, you just said it pretty beautifully, so I don’t really have anything that I really want to add. I really love spending time with Oscar Wilde’s thinking and writing, and just thinking about him as a person. And you do, I think, a really important thing in kind of bringing him out as an anarchist thinker and bring him to us right now. And maybe it’s just like something worth living for. Like that in the end is like something, you know, he, sorry, my mind starts going in all these different directions…
Kristian: Oh, good! That’s what I’m aiming for.
Scott (TFSR): Yeah. I mean, going from like living up to the blue China to dying so that he doesn’t have to see his wallpaper. But I think Wilde actually took things seriously in a way that’s instructive, even for all this kind of humor and artificiality. So, yeah, I don’t know. Again, I’m like really grateful for the book and for the chance to talk to you. And if you have any last things you want to add or also any other places you want listeners to go to the to access your work or whatever you’re up to at the moment.
Kristian: Yeah, I have a modest website it’s kristianwilliams.com, Kristian spelled with a K. Whenever I have a new article or whatever, I put something about it there and put a link to it. And then there’s some sort of category-based archives that you can look and see what I’ve written about the criminal legal system or about literature or about comics. And yeah. So if you’re interested in seeing what else I’ve done, that that would be a good place to start.
Scott (TFSR): Cool, and yeah I recommend people pick up this book, Resist Everything Except Temptation, and of course, Our Enemies In Blue is super important too. But yeah, I’m grateful for the time that you gave to talk about Wilde with me.
Kristian: Yeah, well, I appreciate the invitation. It was a good conversation.
We talk about how reform and so-called ‘more humane’ ‘alternatives’ to incarceration such as electronic monitoring, drug courts and probation in fact extend the carceral net. We also talk about alternatives to the ‘Punishment Paradigm’ in responding to harm, police and prison abolitionism and resisting recuperation in our struggles to imagine and birth a new world.
We got word that Sean Swain has had his email, phone and mail blocked, likely in response to his “An Open Letter to Annette Chambers-Smith,” available via DetroitABC, as well as his soon-to-be-published book, “Ohio” (parts 1-3 of the first half available here in zine form, soon via LBC). Pass it on…
On this episode, we’re featuring two voices from Minneapolis, the epicenter of mass demonstrations and uprising following the police murder of #GeorgeFloyd.
First up, you’ll hear from Jacquie, a professional medic living in Minneapolis. Jacquie talks about the impacts of corona virus on Black and Brown communities around the city, some of what she saw in the early days of the protests and the feelings expressed to her about the killing of George Floyd and the problem of police in our racist society. You can find a project of theirs on instagram by seeking @femmeempowermentproject.
Then, Tonja Honsey, executive director of the Minnsesota Freedom Fund, talks about bail and prison abolition, infrastructure to get folks out of jail and supporting the people in the streets. They’re online at MinneapolisFreedomFund.Org
There is an effort right now to get compassionate release for Jalil Muntaqim, former Black Panther and member of the Black Liberation Army. Jalil has been held by New York state since 1971 and he recently has tested positive for the Corona Virus. His attempts at parole over the years have been stymied by police and racists pressuring and stacking the parole board for Jalil’s involvement in the death of two cops 5 decades ago. This has happened 12 times since 2002 when he became eligible. More info about his case at his support site, freejalil.com and check out this SFBayView article for how you can help push for his release.
Breaking the 4th Wall
Hey, y’all. First off, I just want to say how impressed I am at the power that people are drawing up from within in order to battle the police all over the country. Seeing videos and hearing stories from Minneapolis, Atlanta, Oakland, New York City, Omaha, Denver, St. Louis, Tucson, Los Angeles and elsewhere, plus the solidarity rallies and support coming out here and abroad is so heartwarming. This week, you’ll know, police in Minneapolis murdered George Floyd, an African American man and people were there to video tape it. Since then, people took the streets, were met with tear gas and rubber bullets, some held vigils while others held the streets and set fire to a corner of that world that holds them hostage, including a police precinct. The cops present at Floyd’s murder were fired, and finally the officer who murdered has been arrested. Mr. Last week, police murdered a Black Trans Man named Tony McDade in Tallahassee. Over the prior month and a half, that same force murdered two other African American men, Wilbon Woodard and Zackri Jones. On March 13th, Louisville police murdered Breonna Taylor, a medical First Responder, during a home raid. At a protest on May 28th for Breonna’s legacy, 7 people were shot by unknown parties. Video of the murder by a white, retired cop and his son in Glynn County, Georgia, of yet another African American man, Ahmaud Arbery, was released a few weeks back sparking protests and the eventual arrest of the killers. The police sat on that video since Mr. Arbery’s killing in February, allowing the killers to walk free.
Please stay safe out there, y’all. Already, some folks have died at these protests, riots and uprisings against the status quo. Wear masks to protect from covid but also to obscure your identity. Drink lots of water, get good sleep if you can, take care of each other and support each other in these hard times. You can keep up on ongoing struggle via ItsGoingDown.org’s site and social media presence, and you can watch amazing videos from Minneapolis via Unicorn Riot.
Housing Liberation in Minneapolis
“At 8:00pm on Friday, blocks from the epicenter of the uprising, we watched from a tent as armored vehicles and hundreds of national guard advanced on Hiawatha. The curfew was in effect and the state offered no options for a couple camped outside. The hotels promised to the large encampment across the highway left them and many other behind. The shelters were full. This couple finally found refuge in a largely vacant hotel a mile away. The next morning, they awoke to the burned remains of Chicago and Lake and learned that the hotel owners planned to evacuate. With nowhere else to go but with a community showing up to support, the couple declined to evacuate.
Together we invited displaced and unsheltered neighbors to join us. Overnight people came in with harrowing stories of terror from police and other white supremacists. National guard shot rubber bullets at us while we stood guard against that violence. At the time of this writing nearly 200 people have created sanctuary in the memory of former shelter worker George Floyd. We avenge Floyd’s death in the flames of the third precinct and honor his life in the reclamation of hoarded property.
We have protected this building by occupying it. There is no going back to how things were – this isn’t a Sheraton anymore, it is a sanctuary.”
This is a presentation of some of the Q and A session which took place after the IDOC Watch panel in Chicago last year. If you are hearing this and don’t know what I’m talking about, head on over to the previous episode to catch up!
In this segment, we’ll hear Kwame Shakur, Lorenzo Stone-Bey, Sheila, and Zolo Azania speak on supporting incarcerated people, the tactic of the prison strike, and ways that attitudes in society about and toward prison and incarceration have changed over time.
Before we get into it tho I would like to say a big hearty FUCK THE POLICE to the murdering cowards we call cops everywhere and especially Minneapolis. I would also like to say big ups and strength to those who are fighting this white supremacist enemy in the streets this week. I hope y’all are staying safe from tear gas, having each other’s backs in whatever ways make sense, and enjoying all that liberated shit. We’re thinking of y’all and sending love!
Relatedly, our friends at the United Panther Movement are seeking funds to send some delegates up there to help in the fight.
From their fundraising ask:
“They want us divided, fighting each other, so they can continue terrorizing our communities ! The United Panther Movement and the New Afrikan Black Panther Party will be there boots on the ground for the people whenever and wherever we can ! And now the people our crying out for justice in the wake of George Floyd’s public lynching. We want to get out there yesterday ! We are asking the people to support our travels and lodging.
“Indigenous prisoners at USP Victorville are being denied access to essential supplies for their sweat ceremonies. This has been a routine occurrence even before COVID-19 response protocols were in place. Most recently, after further attempts to raise their legitimate grievances, newly arrived chaplain Sadiq ordered corrections officers to take the sacred pipe from its elected pipe carrier, Oso Blanco/Yona Unega (also known as Byron Shane Chubbuck). Oso Blanco is urgently requesting letters and emails to bring attention to these grievances and demand action. NOTE: Oso wants the tone to stay polite and non-confrontational for the time being.Send both letters and emails to the addresses below:
This week we are presenting audio from a panel conducted last year in Indiana with members of IDOC Watch, which is the Indiana Department of Correction watch. From their website:
“The Indiana Department of Correction Watch (IDOC Watch) exists to be in solidarity with prisoners. This means we correspond with and and foster camaraderie with people who are incarcerated in Indiana, expose abusive conditions and treatment, and fight policies and initiatives that further isolate, marginalize, and harm prisoners. We seek to uplift prisoners’ voices and struggles (check out our blog!), and educate the masses about prisons, generally, as well as specific issues we are fighting.”
While editing this panel, which took place well before the current pandemic, I was very struck by the panelists words and how applicable they are to today’s situation. Many thanks to all the buddies who got this audio out, with a special shout out to Casey!
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*** As a general content warning for this episode, since folks are talking from their direct experiences of the violences of racism and incarceration, this show makes mention of police and prison guard brutality, extreme isolation, and suicide.
Lorenzo Komb’oa Ervin and Bomani Shakur / Keith Lamar
This midweek, we’re sharing two segments. First up, Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin talks about attempts in the 1960’s and 70’s at building a prisoners union in the United States and parallels with inside / outside organizing in the USA today. Then we hear from Ohio death row prisoner from the Lucasville Uprising case, Bomani Shakur (aka Keith Lamar) about his struggle to stay alive and call out the injustice in his and so many cases.
Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin
Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin is an author, black anarchist, organizer, former Black Panther and former political prisoner based in Kansas City, Missouri. In this segment, Lorenzo talks about prisoners organizing unions and other associations in the past, the thoughts of George Jackson and Martin Sostre and more.
JoNina Ervin, an autonomous organizer and also a former Black Panther, who is married to Lorenzo has put out a specific request for solidarity to help these elders weather the pandemic and lighten the load of mutual aid in their community which we’ll share in our show notes. Suffice to say, donations to help them get safer access to laundry can be made by sending a donation via Paypal account at: email@example.com / cash app: $CaseyGoon / venmo: @casey-R-goonan. I’ll read JoNina’s appeal after Lorenzo’s interview.
Free Keith Lamar / Bomani Shakur
Bomani Shakur speaks to us from death row at OSP Youngstown in Ohio. Bomani is accused of crimes related to the 1993 Lucasville Uprising he claims innocence of and has an execution date set for November 16, 2023. For a little over an hour we speak about his upbringing, his case, injustice in white supremacist and capitalist America, Bomani’s politicization and struggle to find himself, defend his dignity and his life. This interview was recorded on April 29th, a little over a day before the end of the month of solidarity with and direct action for Bomani Shakur. Thanks to Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement – NYC for hooking us up with the chat and helping coordinate the Month Of Solidarity. More on his case can be found at KeithLamar.Org, on the facebook page “Justice For Keith Lamar” and at the twitter account, FREEKeithLamar. On his website you can find a link to his book, Condemned, ways to donate to his phone fund, and a link to the excellent, 30 minute documentary on youtube about his case also named Condemned. If you’re on twitter, there is a twitter storm planned for April 30, 2020. Find our twitter or @FreeKeithLamar to join in.
Phone Zap about Covid-19 and North Carolina Prisons
Over the past month, covid19 has blazed through NC prisons like wildfire.
Across DPS facilities, over 600 people have tested positive — roughly the same number of cases in all of Wayne County, which has a population that is 3x larger. One person (at Pender C.I) has already died of complications, and a single facility (Neuse C.I.) has a mind-boggling 466 positive cases.
The reason Neuse has so many confirmed cases is that DPS decided to test everyone there–and they should do the same at all facilities with significant numbers of positive cases, such as NCCI Women, where 81 people have tested positive so far. This is the only way to know the full scale of the outbreak and to be able to take appropriate measures to mitigate further spread.
Please call Commissioner of Prisons Todd Ishee on Thursday, April 30 to demand universal testing at four hard-hit prisons!
Word is now coming out that today, April 30th 2020 there is a demonstration growing at Pendleton CI in Indiana by folks incarcerated there. A number of prisoners will refuse meals today due to neglect, poor treatment and prison officials’ complete lack of care and concern in regard to crisis management or emergency response during this global pandemic. Prisoners have reported receiving sparse and poorly put-together sack lunch and one small bag of cereal a day. They are demanding proper nutrition during this time that will serve to sustain and to fortify themselves against sickness as well as proper Personal Protective Equipment and cleaning supplies in order to clean and sanitize their cells and such. Word comes out from inside Pendleton despite the apparent manipulation of prisoners jpay tablets that are used for communication. It’s presumed that the disconnections are done in order to slow/stop communications with the outside world. The tablets were disconnected completely for several days about a week ago leaving prisoners with absolutely no way to contact anyone on the outside after a physical altercation occurred between pigs and prisoners when the pigs attempted to house prisoners confirmed to be covid-19 positive with those that had not been confirmed to have it.
An article discussing this topic should be forthcoming by Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, who is incarcerated at Pendleton, some time today. You can call Pendleton CI in Indiana to lodge a complaint for this treatment, support for the hunger–strikers and express a concern by calling 1(765)778-2107
Josh Williams Parole Hearing in June
One last announcement before we get started with the interviews. Josh Williams, who’s serving an eight-year sentence connected to his participation in the Ferguson uprising, is up for parole in June 2020 and there’s a call for people to write support letters. The letters themselves should be addressed to the parole board but sent to Josh’s prison address. You can find a sample letter people can see here: https://www.freejoshwilliams.com/freejosh
If people would like to send a printed letter but don’t currently have access to printing, you can contact the co-ordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org and hopefully sort something out that way. Please feel free to pass this information on to your contacts and generally share in whatever way you see fit.
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Tracks sampled in this episode:
Souls Of Mischeif and Adrian Younge – Stopped (instrumental) – There Is Only Now (Deluxe Edition)
Soul Chef – Back In The Day (instrumental) – The Kool Truth Instrumentals
I’m really happy to share a chat with anarchist and historian, Barry Pateman. Barry, born in the early 1950’s, grew up in a working class coal mining town of Doncaster in the UK and became an anarchist in the 1960’s in London. He is a longstanding member of the Kate Sharpley Library which covers histories of little-known anarchists and events in history. Barry has also contributed to and edited numerous books including “Chomsky on Anarchism”, a two book document collection with Candace Falk and many more titles, many on AK Press. We talk about anarchist history, community, repression, defeat, insularity, popular front with authoritarian Marxists, class analysis and how to beat back capitalism. Find Kate Sharpley Library at KateSharpleyLibrary.Net
General Strike Call
I’d like to recommend listeners check out a recent call to General Strike by People’s Strike, which includes Cooperation Jackson. The beginning of their call, which can be found linked to in our show notes, is:
The CODVID-19 pandemic has starkly revealed the inequalities and injustices that daily plague the world.
The triple crisis of viral plague, systemic economic breakdown, and the failure and/or unwillingness of Governments to provide necessary protections, especially for the poor and people subjected to white supremacy, ethnocentrism, xenophobia, and mysogyny has thrown us into a fight for our lives.
The “Free Markets” that right-wing political figures like Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Jair Bolsonaro and others are seeking to protect and rely upon to address the COVID-10 pandemic will continue to produce chaos and needless suffering for millions of people. The economic nationalism and imperial rivalry we see on full display in the midst of this pandemic magnify the threat of war.
In the U.S. we are fed a steady stream of lies and authoritarian posturing. From Palestine to South Africa to Brazil to the U.S. and beyond, ooppressive regimes are actively sacrificing vulnerable peoples and communities and treating frontline workers as uttlerly disposable.
We say ENOUGH! It is time to stand up! It’s Time To Strike Back – For Our Lives and Our Futures!
Anarchist Views on Pandemic
You’ll notice that in this chat we’re mostly taking a slight break from the 24-7 covid-show for our broadcast, though the topic is touched on briefly. If you’re looking to hear anarchist-relevant perspectives concerning the pandemic and organizing, we do suggest people check out Episode #33 of A-Radio Networks “Bad News: Angry Voices From Around The World” which is up at our website and also available at A-Radio-Network.Org. I would also suggest checking out some of the awesome shows in the Channel Zero Network, of which we are a member. For instance, Kite Line Radio produces a weekly show featuring the voices of prisoners and the formerly incarcerated on all sorts of topics.
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Featured tracks this episode:
Apollo Brown – The Pursuit – Trophies Instrumentals – Mello Music Group
Chumbawamba – I Never Gave Up – Showbusiness! – One Little Indian
Anarchist Resistance In Prison: Jennifer A. Rose and Comrade Z
On this podcast minisode, we feature the voices of two incarcerated comrades: Jennifer Amelie Rose and Comrade Z. Both chats were conducted through the mail and are voiced by comrades in the Channel Zero Network.
First you’ll hear Jennifer Rose. Jennifer, formerly known as Jennifer Gann, is a member of the Fire Ant Collective which just released it’s 6th issue and is due to put out another very soon. She is a trans woman who came up in the southern California punk scene, became politicized and began organizing inside of prison since the late 1990’s. Jennifer Rose has a parole hearing that she could use support letters for coming up on July 28th, 2020 and also more letters in support of her commutation application. Read the transcription below. You can learn more about Jennifer Rose’s case by visiting BabyGirlGann.noblogs.org where you can find out how to donate to her legal fund. You can read issues #1-5 of Fire Ant Journal up at Bloomington ABC’s website & #6 at Blue Ridge ABC’s website. And you can write to Jennifer at:
Jennifer Rose E – 23852 Salinas Valley State Prison D3-1250 P.O. Box 1050 Soledad, CA 93960
You can find out how to format support letters, you can email her lawyer, Richard Rutledge at RLaw@RutledgeAttorneys.com or write to Mr Rutledge at: Richard Rutledge, Attorney At Law 7960 B Soquel Drive #354 Aptos, CA 95003
You can write letters of support to the Board of Parole Hearings on behalf of Jennifer by addressing them to the following address:
Board of Parole Hearings Post Office Box 4036 Sacramento, CA 95812-4036
And you can write to the CA governor, Gavin Newsom on Jennifer’s behalf by addressing them to:
Governor Gavin Newsom 1303 10th Street, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
Then, we’ll hear from Comrade Z, aka Julio Alex Zuniga, an anarchist prisoner in Texas, about the situation at the Darrington Unit. Comrade Z was mentioned by Jason Renard Walker at the end of our interview that we aired on April 19, 2020. Although all three conversations cover some hard to listen to subject matter, we want to give a special warning to Comrade Z’s portion, which talks in detail about terrible conditions at Darrington and discusses suicide and death of prisoners. You can read another interview with Comrade Z that appeared recently on ItsGoingDown.org and you can check out and/or purchase his artwork on instagram by viewing @julioazunigaart. Thanks to Matt Brodnax for helping us set this interview up and his support for Comrade Z.
You can read the transcription of this interview with Comrade Z below.
You can write to Comrade Z at:
Julio A. Zuniga #1961551 Darrington Unit 59 Darrington Rd. Rosharon, TX 77583
As a closing note, I had hoped to share recent words from Jason Goudlock, currently incarcerated at Toledo CI in Ohio, give a brief update on his situation and how the ODRC is not handling covid-19 however technical difficulties got in the way. Suffice to say, prisoners were still being transferred into Toledo CI shortly before April 15th, prisoners were not given any significant protective gear nor cleaning supplies and folks were starting to get sick. Learn about Jason’s case, watch the documentary about him and find out how to support him at FreeJasonGoudlock.org. You can reach Jason via jpay email or write him at
Jason William Goudlock, #284-561 PO Box 80033 Toledo, OH 43608
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Transcription of Jennifer Rose interview
TFSR: Could you please introduce yourself for the audience? Who are you and where are you?
Jennifer Rose: I’m glad to hear from you and happy to have this opportunity to participate in The Final Straw Radio.
So, to introduce myself, my name is Jennifer Rose. I’m a a trans woman incarcerated in California and currently held at Salinas Valley State Prison, a men’s facility.
TFSR: Can you tell us a bit about where you came from and how you came to be incarcerated?
Jennifer Rose:I’m from Southern California, born and raised in Riverside, and spent my teenage years living in Huntington Beach (Orange County). I was in the 1980’s punk rock scene around the L.A. area doing a lot of drinking and drugs which led to my involvement in an attempted robbery and another armed robbery for which I was jailed, convicted and sent to prison for seven years.
TFSR: How did you become politicized?
Jennifer Rose: While I was serving my time at Folsom Prison, I became involved in prison protests and abolitionist struggle, for which I was targeted, placed in solitary confinement and beaten by guards.
This is how I became politicized as a prison rebel, resisting brutality and torture, sabotaging and breaking a dozen prison cell windows in the inhumane ‘Ad-Seg’ unit. I was involved in the gladiator fights where guards encouraged racial violence and then shot at us with 9mm assault rifles using live ammo. There were additional charges brought against me for attacking a pig officer, for weapon possession, and for two assaults on a state prosecutor and associate warden. For these I was given a 25 years-to-life sentence under the ‘three strikes’ law. This was around 1995 and 1996.
TFSR: Can you talk about the struggle of being a woman in a male-assigned prison? What sort of support have you received and what sorts of hurdles?
Jennifer Rose: To answer your question about being a transwoman in a men’s facility, we have faced the most adverse circumstances imaginable. From the discriminatory harassment and brutality of the pigs, to the hatred and violence of other prisoners, and even rapes and murder! This has began to change more recently, at last in California with many legal reforms and court victories.
I have been able to find widespread support from outside groupls like Black & Pink and TGI Justice project, among others. Also, lots of support among abolitionist and anarchist collectives, and the extended family of LGBTQ prisoners. The main hurdles we face continue to be our unsafe housing conditions, exposure to homophobic and transmisogynist violence from gangs, domestic and sexual violence. We are in a very disadvantageous situation facing the various types of gender violence on a daily!
TFSR: Is there anything else you’d like to say about how you discovered anarchism and what inspires you about anarchy?
Jennifer Rose: I became politicized during the 1991 Folsom Prison Food Strike, which was a protest against proposed visiting restrictions that cut our visiting days from four times a week to twice (weekends and holidays). Just prior to this, I was given a copy of the anarchist zine Love & Rage by another prisoner and had also been influenced by Jailhouse Lawyers to educate myself about so-called legal rights and remedies for which I became a strong advocate.
Eventually I would learn the hard way that the pigs don’t give a fuck about the law, or peoples rights. It’s only used at their convenience as a tool of social control and criminalization of marginalized people and communities. The people thing that inspires me about Anarchy is the simplicity of the idea, of abolishing the State and it’s illegitimate Power. They claim their Authority from God and Natural Law… and originally as white male property owners under colonial government. That’s crap! I love the basic concept of Anarchy, which is Freedom! It’s basic principles of voluntary cooperation and mutual aid, non-hierarchy and autonomous collectives, internationalism and solidarity, etc.
TFSR: Have you been able to do much organizing within prison? If so, around what sorts of issues and how did it go?
Jennifer Rose: I’ve done a lot of organizing within prisons, including legal advocacy and ‘jailhouse lawyer’ work, as former leadership in Black & Pink and working with TGI Justice Project to change discriminatory policies and improve living conditions for trans women in the men’s prisons. We’ve had a lot of success and made progress over the past 12 years or so, including betteer access to basic trans health care (e.g. hormones, surgery, etc), access to and inclusion in prison programs and job assignments, accommodation of women’s clothing and cosmetics and more awareness of and prevention of sexual abuse among other things. I am currently awaiting an approved gender affirming surgery and transfer to a women’s facility sometime this year!
TFSR: You mentioned in a letter with me that you organized briefly with Maoists. Are you now or have you ever been a Maoist (that’s a Senator McCarthy joke)? But, really, how did that happen? What was that like?
Jennifer Rose: As for Maoists, yes, I did work with MIM-Prisons for a while which offered study group sand worked directly with prisoners on many projects. I carried on a dialogue with them via correspondence, often debating with them over my anarchist sympathies and their political line on gender and State power (their ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’). I did think I could work within that Maoist framework at one point, but eventually had to reject the ideological bickering sectarianism of Maoists. I’ve always been an anarchist at heart, even when I went through this stage in my personal development. Eventually I came in contact with insurrectionary anarchist writings from Greek comrades in the FAI-IRF and CCF, which I was strongly influenced by, and developed friendships with like-minded comrades.
TFSR: You’re a collective member of Fire Ant. Can you talk about the project and what part you play in it?
Jennifer Rose: I’m extremely proud of my involvement as a member of the Fire Ant collective. The project started as a concept I was discussing with several different comrades via regular correspondence, including Robcat, Michael Kimble, Sean Swain and Bloomington ABC. We all had similar ideas of trying to organize and faciliate a national or international anarchist prisoner conference where we could bring together the collective voice of imprisoned anarchist rebels, perhaps publish a paper, start a support fund to raise funds and material aid, and generally build anarchist prisoner solidarity in a way we haven’t yet seen!
We’ve always had ABC and National Jericho Movement mainly focus on leftist ‘political prisoners.’ Many imprisoned anarchists are not recognized as ‘political.’ In point of fact, we are anti-political! However, we believe that ALL prisons are political. Anyways, the part I played is pulling all these comrades’ ideas together, and putting them in direct contact about this exciting project.
Once Robcat offered to facilitate a zine, Bloomington ABC offered to provide printing and distribution free! And they also halready had a support fund set up. So we all pulled together and formed the Fire Ant collective. Robcat came up with the name and we all contributed to the zine connecting our individual and collective struggles from prisons across the U.S. and internationally! I’m proud to be an accomplice in this seditious conspiracy toward worldwide anarchist insurgency.
TFSR: There have been some victories of recent in your sentence. Can you talk about what happened?
Jennifer Rose: As far as my recent sentence reduction on October 28, 2019, this only affected one of my sentences for assault and battery on the prosecutor, a ‘non-serious’ felony, which was knocked down from 25-years-to-life to 8 years. Yay!
TFSR: Similarly, you were telling me of improvements in the conditions of your confinement as relates to gender, right? And what are next steps for you and what can listeners do to support you and try to hasten your release?
Jennifer Rose: My next steps are getting my surgery, transferring to a women’s facility, and a parole suitability hearing on July 28, 2020 with the Board of Parole Hearings (BPH). The greatest support comes in the form of letters to the Board and/or the Governor advocating for my release, and any amount of commissary funds which I can receive via jpay.com.
TFSR: I’m not sure if you’re much of a reader, but do you have any book suggestions for the audience?
Jennifer Rose: As for recommended reading, I would strongly suggest the Emma Goldman autobiography and Assata Shakur autobiography, Michelle Alexander’s ‘The New Jim Crow’, and anything by Butch Lee, Sean Swain or Greek insurrectionary anarchists of CCF!
TFSR: Any comrades you want to shout out on the show?
Jennifer Rose: Shoutouts to Robcat, Breezy, Michael Kibmle, Sean Swain, Eric King, Marius Mason, Jeremy Hammond, Sacramento Prisoner Support, Nashville ABC, Nadja in Bloomington and Chelsea Manning! And in case I missed someone, solidarity to all anarchists and antifascists! Thank you for your efforts in the struggle. To The streets!!! Thank you!
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Transcription of Comrade Z interview
TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself for the audience? Who you are, where you are, how you got there?
Comrade Z: Hello Everyone, Thank you for having me on The Final Straw. It’s an honor. My name is Julio A. Zuniga. Alex is what everyone calls me, or Comrade Z for those who are standing with me 10 toes down in solidarity.
I am a survivor of B-Line solitary confinement at Dirty Darrington Unit and currently trying to reach out to activists and anarchists in the area who can help me organize a statewide work stoppage. Enemy of the State and of the Dirty Darrington administration, my whole heart and soul is hellbent on bringing the attention of the entire nation to the administration and it’s human rights violations, cruel and unusual punishment, physical assaults by staff, mailroom policy changes, inadequate law library, commissary price gouging, infestation of roaches, mice and spiders, sewage leaks in the cells, constant power outages, the list goes on and on. The torture tactics are of primary concern because it’s driving people to die by suicide. So far it’s been 1 suicide per year since I’ve been here. How I got here was because abolitionists in East Texas rose up against Telford Unit, for Housing Administrative Segregation inmates at that facility without telling the surrounding community about it. They were against it. People of New Boston, TX and Texarkana found out about TDCJ housing G4 and G5 offenders because an Officer Davison was murdered by a solitary confinement offender who was being tortured by Telford Unit by withholding his mail and refusing him basics he needed, like food. This caused the entire town to begin the takedown of wardens and the torture of all inmates by using lockdowns for 90 days or more, then by stopping all hot meals for an entire year in 2017. So, since that officer died in 2015, it was the people who brought forth change to that unit. It is now a pre-release unit, no administrative segregation offenders and no solitary confinement. I was not blessed with any kind of support, so I intentionally got into trouble just so they could ship me off. Best move I ever made, so I thought. However, that is how I ended up here.
TFSR: What can you tell the listeners about Darrington Unit and your experience being held by the TDCJ?
CZ: The Dirty Darrington Unit is a hub unit. Thousands of inmates pass through here weekly, transferring to other units, coming off of UTMB Medical Branch at Galveston, or Psyche Unit Jester 4. Some of them are bleeding, soiled in feces and urine. All mentally ill persons coming off Jester 4 have had no kind of hygiene for over 3 days. All these lay over cells are so unsanitary it takes a healthy person 24 hours to get sick by sleeping in one of these cells. There is nothing humane about that. They usually house people with wrong custody levels, endangering lives at will, resulting in physical and sexual assaults. It’s Dirty Darrington’s specialty.
I encourage you to ask administration how many lives Dirty Darrington has claimed because they refused to help suicidal inmates. Also, how administration uses offenders to snitch on others with a false hope of beating a disciplinary case, then throw them back into population, leaving them to kill themselves behind the dishonor. On the 2nd week of November 2019, a guy killed himself after spilling the beans on others. When he asked them to help him because he felt suicidal, they ignored him. This is the suicide I witnessed that really proved verbatim the words Sean Swain voices in Last Act of the Circus Animals. When Rico killed himself, the show was like Cirque de Soleil. You had every basic need availed to you – blankets, mattresses, toilet paper, toothbrushes, toothpaste, cleaning materials, officers serving trays like they do in population with full portions. They even gave us light bulbs. It was disgusting to see it. You saw paint crews, utility crews, the works. For a week the unit experienced humanity, but once the coast was clear and the administration got away with murder, it was back to torture tactics, a pattern I have seen one too many times on Dirty Darrington.
Overall my experience has been depressing, lonely, stressful, painful. I’ve seen this administration use psychological torture for 23 months straight, for this is how long I’ve been held in solitary confinement. Only recently was I magically released and placed in E-Line (G5) administrative segregation – the filthy administrative segregation area that is notorious for roach infestations, no lighting in showers, no restrooms on the rec yard so if you have to urinate or have a bowel movement you are going to on the same area men play basketball. Fecal matter is all over the floor and people wonder how they got sick. Easy – as soon as you come in from outside rec, they serve chow. If you have been playing basketball then munch on your baked chicken, then suck the grease off your fingers. You just sucked on chicken flavored fecal matter and urine. Dirty Darrington knows exactly what it’s doing. Environmental disaster, B-Line, E-Line, G-Line, A-Line, C-Line, D-Line are all torture areas. In the winter it’s cold showers. In the summer they heat your water for you. No coincidence. There is so much more. There are over 200 men in administrative segregation and solitary confinement on Dirty Darrington. Some men are going through it worse because they believe this is normal prison policy. It’s not. I’m here to expose this unit and it’s human rights violations. I appreciate you hearing me out.
TFSR: It’s hard to imagine that the staff and administration aren’t aware of the conditions there. Are they showing any signs of working to fix the situation?
CZ: I knew something was terribly wrong with this unit when it runs through 4 wardens in less than 2 years. They are aware of every single atrocity. They personally handle all grievances and it’s rare an inmate ever wins on Step 1. They have to go all the way to Huntsville with their grievance to get fair treatment. By that time it’s been 60 days solid since the claim was made.
It’s designed this way to ensure we never win any kind of grievance claim. Another way, as it is now, that they refuse us grievances all together on Dirty Darrington because they also are aware that if they hand them out they will be reading grievances for years. They know this place is crumbling to pieces. If it rains outside it rains inside too. The guards look like underwater welders when it rains. They wear rain coats indoors to stay dry. Nothing is being done except punishment and enslavement. I am on a mission to learn from outside sources how to organize, to create a psychological warfare on this administration in the name of all the dead that could not deal with their torture chambers and for the mentally ill who cannot speak out against them who are, as we speak, living in horrible conditions on Major Pharr’s solitary confinement. It’s only a matter of time before another death by suicide. We can thank Dirty Darrington’s Administrative Segregation ringmasters for imposing torture on the already weak men by starving them, by withholding their mail, by refusing mailroom to give them pictures of loved ones or birthday cards, or by sending their shakedown team to physically abuse them and confiscate their property. It’s all designed to break you. It’s happening every day.
TFSR: How do the conditions you’ve described above affect the health of prisoners? What’s the condition of physical and mental healthcare available at Darrington Unit?
CZ: Personally I don’t get sick easy, but since being on Dirty Darrington I’ve had a serious sinus infection, primarily from the mold in the showers and the dust that carries all kinds of germs. As far as psyche at Dirty Darrington goes, it’s got potential. As far as physical, you’ve got the infamous Nazi doctor Speer, extorting everyone, but not giving adequate care to anyone. If you get sick they still allow this idiot to practice. Nothing gets done about his childish outbursts. He once tried to do a rectal exam on me, He said it was my yearly check-up. This was the first time I met him. As he stood up and slapped on a latex glove my spidey-sense told me to ask a simple question, “What’s the name on the computer, sir?” He said “You’re Contreras #… blah blah blah” I was like “I’m out!” I’ve had problems with this doctor ever since, namely because retaliation is a trend on Dirty Darrington when you file a grievance. I tried to explain to everyone what this man tried to do. No one tried to help. He’s still here. All my medical treatment was taken away by this man for no reason other than I am or was chronic care hypoglycemic. If you have heat restrictions, work restrictions, anything that will make your ailment easier to handle Dr. Speer will terminate it and then send you into a Twilight Zone of sick calls, just so he can charge the co-pay. Others – he refuses to treat simply because it’s not life or death.
TFR: Can you talk about the suicides that you’ve been aware of during your time and are there any in particular you’d like to reflect on? Are there any strings that tie the circumstances together?
CZ: Well, I’ve been on Dirty Darrington for two years, going on three. I got screwed out of my legal work, got all my medical restrictions taken away, basically because I am indigent and I have no one on the outside to call here and raise a fuss, which is the only time you see inmates get what they need.
So, B-Line 3rd row, 15th cell, 2018 – A young man hung himself. The image of a nurse chest compressing this man never left me. It really caused me a lot of anger. It was senseless. It taught me just how they break men’s minds. It would disgust you. I remember this older man who would wake up screaming and just slowly, losing all reality, these torturers left him in that cell with a stack of trays, full of food with dead mice and roaches that he would just stack up toward the end of his sanity. Inmates could smell death. They tried to talk to him but couldn’t stand the stench of death. So, they brought Captain Lance the kitchen boss to remove the trays, stacked 20 high. But, you cannot talk to a broken man. He was a vessel, nothing more. After 2 canisters of pepper spray, still nothing until finally Captain Lance had the courage to tell administrators that he was no longer right. It was his voice that forced them to send him off that night, never to be seen again. For months they left that man in this condition. It’s happening now. This is normal? I’m not trying to hear that.
For these men, I ask to be armed with support, to feed the torturers a taste of their own medicine. I opened my eyes all the way at this past suicide in November 2019. I’m done talking. We need a bombardment of activism, protest, support. We need an uprising so this administration will be forced to take responsibility for all their fuckery.
One thing I know is we have nothing to gain for staying in good standing. “Good time credit” is not counting toward parole. “Work time credit” is another tool they have to control prisoners. Only the prisoners that still believe in the tooth fairy are too scared to accept this fact. People have tried for years to have these laws passed. Republicans are not interested in helping us. With a statewide work stoppage we will bring all these men’s dreams to fruition. We need to spread these facts to the entire state and shut it down. Stop slaving for your ringmasters. You want a real change, stop doing your slave jobs. Stop putting money in politicians pockets and ask them to put it your account to pay for the work you do. Slave days ended over 150 years ago – Why do you volunteer to work for the oppressor? Those of you who have no one, wouldn’t you like to support yourself in prison instead of risking solitary confinement for stealing food to sell in your living areas for hygiene. I can go on and on.
TFSR: What are working conditions like the prisoners incarcerated by the TDCJ as you’ve experienced? What sort of privileges come along with work, what sort of pay (if any), and sort of work is it?
CZ: They work these guys to exhaustion. They do not pay. The work is back breaking. No one will receive as much as an extra portion of food. These units are still slave plantations, only the name has changed. Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Research “The Sugarland 95” – You’ll see what I’m talking about. It’s time to bring this slavery to a screeching halt.
TFSR: How have you experienced support while you’ve been on the inside? What would you like from folks on the outside?
CZ: I had to go to extremes again to have the support I have today. I never conformed to prison culture. I love tattoos, motorcycles, art, hunting, fishing, boats and the only way I was ever going to see or hear about that is by reaching out. As a result of picking up a contraband cell phone I met “Mongoose Matt” by calling a random tattoo shop. Haha! It was awesome. Fineline Tattoo NYC is Matt’s workplace and it took all but 60 seconds to make one of the best friends I’ve ever had. It makes me so proud to say that. Shortly after getting pinched for contraband Matt has been there through all my solitary confinement, sending in anarchist literature, commissary bread for hygiene and art supplies, and in 7 years now on a 15 year sentence for a so called “murder” it’s his solidarity and support that saved my life and sanity.
Dirty Darrington had officers from the McConnell unit come hit us for shakedown and those creeps took all my property and left me with nothing. This was my breaking point. I just felt like giving up, but Mongoose comes flying in with letters and powerful words of encouragement and because of him I am fighting today. They tried to break me intentionally. I know this for a fact. Only problem is I survived. TDCJs “Cease to speak or cease to breathe” motto doesn’t scare me. I have nothing to lose. Now, I’m asking for you to stand with me until we punch a hole in this darkness and make it bleed light. Sean Swain is the other reason I fight. How you doin Sean?
Here’s the deal – folks out there, my only weapon at the moment is this here pen. I want surrounding activists to contact me so we can get started. This is still far from over and I believe that it’s only through the voice of the people that we can bring this down on a statewide level. I could use all the support available in my fight against the state. Things are slowly changing for me, so I will be allowed more visitors on Dirty Darrington Unit. Soon I will be allowed to call out. In the meantime, anyone can write me. There is so much to learn and prepare. No doubt that without your direct support places like Dirty Darrington and surrounding plantations will continue to thrive, rubbing it in the community’s face.
The Texecution state is also a slavery state. Shut em down. Nobody is gaining a thing. It’s a slap in the face when the officials of the state come here to lie to everyone that they are doing everything they can to change these laws so that we actually become productive. The only laws passed are laws to make it harder on us to get home to our families. For the oppressed indigent offenders who cannot afford hygiene products, organizing a hygiene run to bring forth relief, peace of mind, and a sense of compassionate care. I’ve seen exactly how good this place could be, but as long as we have ringmasters like these hypocrite wardens, coward-ass majors and captains, vindictive supervisors who love to use cowardly acts and body slam people while in restraints such as Sergeant Akinsonu, Sergeant Williams, Sergeant Estrada, Sergeant Baker, who writes her own rules when it comes to keeping people down. All these cowards and a few more on my shit list need to be burned at the stake for their inhumane treatment of human beings. We need to give them a little perspective. We need to all come at them via phone calls, media, advocacy centers, anyone that can hit them where it hurts, to show them that we are not alone. We are not going to accept this kind of abuse and pretend it’s normal. It’s policy. Policy is made up as they walk to the pisser. It’s a shame the population is in love with their ringmaster.
As a survivor of these gulags, food is still the #1 tool used to break solitary confinement offenders. Many months I went hungry and many months I eat the unwanted veggies inmates discarded just to survive. Sometimes portions were almost a smear of meat on tray. We need to end this today.
TFSR: What inspires you these days? What brings you joy?
CZ: Oh that’s easy – Defiance from Detritus Books is my inspiration. I’ve gotten very close to Comrade Mongoose and against the peace and dignity of the Texecution State I’m in constant contact with Comrade King and Comrade Swain. I wish them the best in the struggle and hope to see them soon, for I am coming up for parole soon. It’s a crap shoot, but optimism is helpful in situations such as this. I get my jollies by sending Matt handcrafted portraits of all kinds of cool, weird characters. Y’all are actually owners of one of my pieces. Thank you.
TFSR: Is there anything I failed to ask you about that you want to talk about?
CZ: You all can check out my Instagram @julioazunigaart or contact Matt to place an order for a handmade portrait. I only have No.2 pencils to work with because this unit will not allow my supporters to send me art supplies. Anything that makes people happy like greeting cards and pictures are slowly being taken from us as well. Go figure. This is Bible seminary college too. This is the unit that pumps out “field ministers”. Unbelievable, huh? Bass-akwards, I tell ya! I gotta let ya go for now. It’s been an amazing and liberating experience. You all are amazing. Please allow me to send hugs to Sean Swain, Eric King and to all the comrades who are in the trenches fighting their ringmaster. Thank you for setting the example. I hope to be in that position soon. Thanks y’all. Hope to hear from you soon. I would like to close with a quote from Benjamin Tucker:
“Power feeds on its spoils and dies when its victims refuse to be despoiled. They can’t persuade it to death; they can’t vote it to death; they can’t shoot it to death; but they can always starve it to death.”
If you would like to contact Alex, please send a letter to:
Julio A. Zuniga #1961551 Darrington Unit 59 Darrington Road Rosharon, Texas 77583
. … . ..
Tracks heard in this podast:
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles – You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me (instrumental)
Harm Reduction in Pandemic and Jason Renard Walker
This week we feature two segments, first up we got to chat with Hill Brown about Asheville’s response to the pandemic in terms of public health, drug use and the houseless communities. Then, Jason Renard Walker talks about his journalism, activism and troubles in the Texas prison system.
Harm Reduction in Asheville during Pandemic
First we got to sit down with Hill Brown who works with Asheville’s Steady Collective doing harm reduction outreach to people experiencing homelessness and addiction. We talk about a lot of topics, including how the current health crisis has affected Steady’s operation, how the city of Asheville is mishandling its resources right now, and how folks can plug in and have solidarity with this work.
If you are concerned about hotel access for oppressed populations, you can call:
The County Commissioners at 828-250-4066 and leave a message,
and the City of Asheville, who funds the TDA, at 828-251-1122
You can also find ways to support the Steady Collective by visiting their website TheSteadyCollective.org. Visit our blog or show notes to see an interview Bursts did with Hill back in 2018 which was done at a time when the city was threatening to close Steady’s operations.
Incarcerated Journalist and Organizer, Jason Renard Walker
Jason Renard Walker #1532092
9601 Spur 591
Amarillo, TX 79107
You can hear our chat from 2018 with Kevin Rashid Johnson (co-founder of the NABPP and Minister of Defense for the Prison Chapter) which is also transcribed in that post, or printable as a zine here.
Jason Renard Walker also mentions Julio Alex Zunigo, aka Comrade Z, who is rustling up resistance in Darington Unit. Comrade Z was interviewed by ItsGoingDown and we will be airing a recording of an interview with him coming up this week.
Comrade Malik’s Covid-19 Update Update
The elder, politicized prisoner that Comrade Malik references in Texas as Alvaro Luna Hernandez also goes by the name Xinachtli, which you can use in personal communication. You can hear a recording of Xinachtli telling his story in his own words here. For the envelope or dealing with administration you can write to him at:
Alvaro Luna Hernández #255735
James V Allred Unit
2101 FM 369
NorthIowa Park, TX 76367 USA
Jason Renard Walker interview TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself for the audience? Feel free to include any details about your background, political affiliation or current circumstances you think will give a good context for the conversation.
Jason Renard Walker: My name is Jason Renard Walker, Minister of Labor for the New Afrikan Black Panther Party, Prison Chapter. I consider my political stance as a reflection of our party’s rules of discipline, principals, adherence to our ten point program and platform and our goals for the future.
For clarity, please feel free to learn about what I mean by reviewing the United Panther Movement section of my website at www.JasonsPrisonJournal.com . Just for the record, I don’t see myself as Democrat, Republican, Anarchist, Communist, or Socialist. I know this seems contradictory to the circumstances, but I’m all about positive change for society and the future of those to come. The New Afrikan Black Panther Party’s effort to carry on the legacy and goals fo the original Black Panther Party is my higher calling. And regardless of not holding an official political stance, my ability to execute my duties and help build the party would be the same if I did have a political stance. Though I’m certainly anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist.
TFSR: Would you mind telling us about your past, the case you caught and an overview of the conditions of your incarceration in Texas?
JRW: Just like a majority of our comrades and party members, I am a product of my environment. The streets of Est Oakland, wehre I grew up, is riddled with drugs, street gangs, violence, prostitution and so on.
If members in my family weren’t drug dealers, addicts, pimps, cons, prostitutes and so on. They held impractical religious views, empty of practical solution, coupled with the preachings of prayer and blief under the banner that this alone would make me a successful member of society.
The latter did little to persuade me from following the footsteps of people I admired; which were drug dealers and crooks that had more than their fair share of wealth and stability. While the so-called true believers toted the transit bus to spend their welfare checks and food stamps. Not only did I witness these contradictions within my neighborhood. I witnessed them within my own family.
By the age of 14 in 1994 I had dropped out of school, became a full time criminal and began experiencing the consequences of my actions. After spending two years in detention centers and a group home in Gilroy, CA called Advent group ministries. I moved to Garland, Texas with my grandma to stay with my aunt and cousin in 1998.
This was supposed to be my transformation from a criminal to a productive member of society… All this did was transfer a career criminal from committing crimes against the poor to committing crimes against the unwitting rich… There was no plan to rid me of my thoughts and behavior so I brought them with me to places no one knew such incivility existed, making these people easier and more fruitful targets of burglary, scams, drug sales and armed robbery.
I received an 18 year sentence in 2008 for robbery and have done 12 years on it so far, since then my outlook on life has changed. From my own experience and from what I read, conditions in Texas prisons are far worse here than most prison systems in the U.S. What gives Texas the edge is that it’s an overtly for-profit-only system. Prisoners undergo unpaid forced labor, grow, harvest and tend to the food we eat, and work and operate everything short of running the cell blocks.
I give a vivid account of the conditions on my kindle ebook on amazon.com called “Reports From Within The Beast: Torture and Justice Inside Texas Department of Criminal Justice”. I recommend that all your listeners get a copy. The writings span the years 2010-2019, including some of my work during my seven year stay in solitary confinement.
TFSR: We’ve seen your journalism featured in the SFBay View National Black Newspaper. Can you talk about your publishing, feedback you’ve gotten and repression you’ve faced for your expression?
JRW: The San Franscisco Bay View National Black Newspaper has been a big supporter of my writings. If they weren’t publishing journalism by me they published journalism about things concerning me and the bad conditions prisoners are facing in Texas. This includes our organizing and supporting the 2016 and 2018 National Prisoner Work Stoppage. And the reprisals we faced for doing so.
Not only have my journalism in the Bay View drawn the hatred of some guards, it has drawn negative feed back from white supremacist groups that conspire with these same guards to smuggle illicit drugs into the prison namely the deadly drug, k-2.
In the October 2018 issue of the Bay View I wrote an article called “Prison Assisted Drug Overdoses”. This forced Texas officials into giving guards more scrutinized searches before entering the prison, including the use of drug sniffing dogs. Guards have used my article as a manipulation tactic to raise smuggling fees by suggesting that my article in particular has made smuggling riskier. In turn I’ve been confronted by random individuals and groups about the article. These same individuals admit not having read the article so they are ignorant to the message I deliver. I’ve even tried suggesting they read the article to no avail. It only exposes ignored prisoner overdosing.
They are completely reactionary and tend to gravitate towards what guards tell them. Like I’ve been confronted about being a child molester, racist, terrorist, CIA operative and instigator with evidence supposedly the information. Combating this has been quite easy.
I’ve also gotten a lot of positive feedback from other journalists and Bay View readers in the U.S. and Europe who have become supporters of my work and who have chosen to investigate the conditions I describe in my articles.
TFSR: You recently published a book entitled ‘Reports from Within the Belly of the Beast: Torture and Injustice Inside Texas Department of Criminal Justice’ that, among other things, compiles some of your writings you previously published. Can you talk about your method of organizing your writing, who your audience is and what you hope the book achieves?
JRW: I really don’t have a method of organizing my writings. I tend to first document times and dates on things I see or learn of. I seek witnesses and victims, who are always willing to let me write about them. Sometimes I’ll ask a guard about something. Most of the instigators and abusers will openly brag about what they did. At the time they aren’t aware that an article will be written and who I am. After the hammer comes crashing down, they face me with looks of betrayal as if I’m not supposd to expose them because they may have given me extra food or recreation time in the past. Guard Darius Reed stole a Bay View, it mentioned him.
I have a large audience that includes Bay View readers, the Houston Chronicle, the Texas Tribune, SolitaryWatch.Org, the Anarchist Black Cross group, Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) and hundreds of people who have never written me but have sent me books and magazines like Sheri Black and Sam Rosen in Great Britain. Or those who send words of courage but fail to provide a reply address.
The message in the book speaks for itself. I hope and wish that it sets in the hands of as many readers as possible. I haven’t found a book by a Texas prisoner of this magnitude like it. It also includes unpublished articles, a forward by Maggie Ray Anderson, a 2011 Central Washington University graduate who got a B.A. in law and justice and a B.S. in social services and Kevin Rashid Johnson.
TFSR: Do you have any plans to publish your book in physical form so it can be available to people in prison?
JRW: Actually we are in the process of publishing 500 copies of the paperback version, specifically so that prisoner supporters can have a copy sent to an incarcerated loved one or friend. These copies will be available on amazon.com as well only costing $5 per copy. Before the paperback version is released we will have it available for pre-release ordering so we’ll know if more copies and how many more will need to be printed. The ebook and the paperback version have come to fruition by the funds and work of me and my girlfriend. But we could use the help of an underwriter or independent publisher.
TFSR: A year and a half ago we had the pleasure to speak with Kevin Rashid Johnson of the NABPP about the organizing he was doing, about the prison strikes, organizing on the outside and his organization. Would you talk about how you came to join the NABPP, what your position in it is, and how organizing in Texas has been as a member of that group?
JRW: Given the circumstances, it would be difficult for me to answer this question without this entire questionaire being banned by the mailroom. Not because of the content but to delay the radio interview entirely under the false pretext that it containes security threat group information. Some insight can be caught by viewing www.RashidMod.com.
TFSR: Are there any other groups you have organized with that you’d care to mention? For instance, you received punishment in the aftermath of the Nationwide Prisoner Strikes in 2016 and 2018.
JRW: Yes, during the 2016 and 2018 National Prison Work stoppage I had the joy to work with the IWOC, different branches of the ABC, the Free Alabama Movement (FAM) and a group in Colorado that published The Fire Inside Zine, which I wrote a piece for. The Fire Inside related to the 2016 work stoppage.
TFSR: A common concern raised around incarceration in the US is a lack of medical treatment, the high cost and low quality when it is available, overcrowding and under-staffing leading to medical and health emergencies. I’ve noted on the outside that the conversation is raised more frequently recently during ecological disasters like hurricanes or when people protest the use of solitary confinement in lieu of mental health resources. Now, with the panic and obvious lack of preparedness around Covid-19 (novel caronavirus), can you talk about health and preparedness in terms of incarceration in the US and what the public on the outside can be doing to support the folks in cages?
JRW: I’m glad you brought up the coronavirus. I just recently wrote a short piece on the lack of care we are provided in the midst of this and the prisoners failure to receive care to avoid paying $13.55 medical co-pay fees.
Since I wrote that piece five prisoners were moved to this prison with Corona Virus. They received it form a sick guard during transportation. Now guards at this prison have been confirmed to have it. It is spreading. My request to be tested, because I’m showing signs of illness, have been ignored. I submitted my request four days ago. Today is April 5th. Nurse Ms. Spencer came to see me. I was told I didn’t have a fever so no further care was necessary.
There is no obvious plan in place to prevent further spreading. Guards are wearing masks and there are notes posted about staying six feet away from others. Thus we are confined to our cells with another prisoner and have no way to read any postings that are located places beyond sight-and-walking authority.
I’ve learned that taking vitamin c supplements and driving citns flavored electrolite drinks slow down the manifestation of the germ, along with limited physical activity, lots of sleep and staying warm.
The key thing people on the outside can do for us is to constantly contact the prisons warden about the number of confirmed cases, requesting our medical records, as to monitor their response time to our sick call requests, our diagnosis and the tpe of treatment we are receiving. Sending us updates on how it’s spreading in our particular area and any info they have that can help prevent spreading and exposure. Hair scanning is the only prevention plan being implemented here (whatever that is).
We are being given false info on self diagnosis and testing. One thing that has to be a public conern is how nurses use our blood pressure results to determine if we are sick, hurting, having a stroke and whether we have a common cold or the common flu. I actually describe one instance in my book concerning a stroke victim who was denied hospitalization for over twelve hours based on his blood pressure results. He is now paralyzed and had to undergo brain surgery because of the long delay. No staff were held liable, they actually brought him back from the infirmary on a gurney and laid him on his cell floor, where he remained until we convinced the next shift that he was dying. This incident occurred here at the Clemens Unit. My advice to prisoners is to take matters into your own hands. If you feel you are sick and in need of medical care, keep trying to get it. Don’t let nursing staff suggest your blood pressure is the factor whether you are sick or not. Don’t let medical copay fees factor in either…
TFSR: Are there organizing efforts in Texas around prisoner issues that you would like to highlight or needs that need to be addressed that are particular to the TDCJ or any of the units you’ve been kept in?Where do you see the efforts in the US around prisoner issues? Similar to the prior questions, do you have any inspirations or challenges you’d like to pose to either those on the outside or the inside?
JRW: The only organizing efforts I’m aware of are the ones involving the NABPP, the IWOC and scattered anarchist prisoners in Texas. Since I’ve been in close custody (two man solitary) I haven’t had the chance to use the phone, limiting my access to information.
In fact, incarcerated anarchist Julio A Zuniga (aka Alex) is at the Darrington Unit in Rosharon, Texas organizing. His focus seems to be on conditions, medical care, filth, the treatment of the mentally ill and gladiator fights.
Final Straw listener, Matt Brodnax, did an interview with Alex that is published online. But there are many organizing efforts by unknown Texas prisoners who too face unwarranted acts of repression, including the destruction of ongoing / incoming mail and personal property. I’ve met several during my stay at the Ellis Unit, Michael Unit and Allred Unit. Their lack of firmness in the face of reprisals have kept their efforts to organizing limited to filing grievances and complaining amongst each other. In these circles I’m viewed as radical and going too far. Though they wonder why they can’t win false disciplinary cases.
We need more isolated and groups of prisoners to take their organizing to the next level. If using un-radical forms of organizing was effective, not one prisoner would need to take things to the next level. These groups must form bonds of unity as well. For example, a lot of prisoners chose filing civil suits challenging the 13th Amendments clause on legal slave labor. This was in response and following the 2016 work stoppage. Their focus was on losing commissary privileges, dayroom time and whatnot. So to circumvent foreseeable retaliation and applying some serious action, they used the governments recommended channel, getting each of their claims claims dismissed as frivolous, wasting both time and their own resources.
In a few instances some prisoners did file civil suits and participate in the work stoppage. But even the civil suit filers learned a valuable lesson, I hope they are building on.
TFSR: Where do you see the efforts in the US around prisoner issues? Similar to the prior questions, do you have any inspirations or challenges you’d like to pose to either those on the outside or the inside?
JRW: Efforts to organize in the U.S. around prisoner issues are scattered, contradicting and often misunderstood. You have some prisoner writers out there labeled activists, though their writings and disinterest in foot work reveals their Black Capitalist / White Capitalist / Brown Capitalist interest and agenda. You have others still engaged in the sale of drugs that hold a street mentality called revolutionary but gangsta. Allowing them to engage in some activism while holding the same criminal mentality and world view their activism supposedly opposes. It’s the do as I say not as I do thing.
The challenge to prison activists inside and on the outside is to stay firm at what you do. Continue learning how to strengthen your organization and or support circle, educate those around you about your program and be a positive representative in your community upon release.
For instance the NABPP has transitioned to the outside. Comrade, Chairman Shaka Zulu and others have created our outside headquarters in Newark, New Jersey. Giving us the opportunity to create and expand our community service programs. This includes our Black August BB9, No Prison Fridays protest, and Free Food breakfast and lunch program that occurs Saturdays between 10am and 4pm. These programs are sponsored by Panthers and service community volunteers. Shaka Zulu helped bring this to life upon his release from prison.
As it shows, the NABPP is among the most firm in regards to In-Prison activism, organizing and carry this on in the oppressed and impoverished communities. The role of the NABPP is not to pose as a rescuer of the people but to uplift, inspire and teach them. Through their own cooperation and collective power, they can solve their own problems, meet their own needs and free themselves from this racist, exploitative and oppressed society.
TFSR: Are there any subjects that I failed to ask about that you’d like to speak to?
JRW: No, there isn’t. But I’d like to take time to thank everyone that has helped me with my progress, education, development and needed support. Too many to name here. And a $1 donation will be given to the San Francisco Bay View for every paperback issue of my book sold!
Jason Renard Walker #1532092
9601 Spur 591
Amarillo, TX 79107