On Labor Day here at the William P. Clements Unit, a prison in remote Amarillo, Texas, the prisoners awoke to a late breakfast: a single PBJ sandwich, a small bowl of dry cereal and no beverage.
This grossly inadequate meal, which is our common fare during institution-wide lockdowns, signaled that a weeks- or months-long lockdown was in effect. Hunger pangs set in almost immediately.
Such lockdowns are routinely imposed twice yearly so guards can conduct a prison-wide search of each prisoner’s living area and property. But this was not a routine lockdown.
For one, those lockdowns almost never occur during holidays, however minor. If a holiday is set to fall during the period of a scheduled lockdown, the lockdown is postponed until the day after the holiday.
Secondly, those lockdowns happen exactly six months apart, almost to the day. The next one wasn’t due until mid-October, making this lockdown over a month ahead of schedule.
Thirdly, for a couple months preceding this lockdown, officials had been rejecting a lot of mail and media on grounds that it contained information on or “advocating” “prison strikes,” “prison disruption” or “work strikes.” During late August and early September, I received a number of these rejections, including for letters from the editor of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, comrades from the Houston branch of the Industrial Workers of the World and others.
For a couple months preceding this lockdown, officials had been rejecting a lot of mail and media on grounds that it contained information on or “advocating” “prison strikes,” “prison disruption” or “work strikes.”
Officials were also illegally opening and reading privileged legal and media mail outside my presence. They were obviously focused on discovering, scrutinizing and blocking any information coming into the prison about the work stoppage or strike planned for prisons across the U.S. in protest of prison slave labor and perpetual abuses, which were set to begin on Sept. 9, 2016 – the 45th anniversary of the uprising at Attica State Prison that exposed to the world the inhumanity and savage brutality that Amerika imposes on those it imprisons.
And here we find the clue to this untimely lockdown which officials here have been falsely portraying to us as just another routine lockdown.
To stop the work stoppage
The actual aim of this lockdown was and is to pre-empt the prisoners at this unit (in Texas, prisons are officially called “units”) from participating in the Sept. 9 protest by confining everyone to their cells in advance of it and well into the period during which it might last. Is it any irony that the lockdown to prevent a workers’ revolt was imposed on “Labor Day,” a day presuming to commemorate the contributions of U.S. workers and sanctioned by the U.S. government in lieu of the actual workers’ day – May Day (May 1) – which commemorates the struggles and sacrifices of workers the world over?
The brilliant author and artist Kevin “Rashid” Johnson was a prisoner in Virginia when he drew what became the logo for the California Hunger Strikes. As his fame spread, the fury of that prison system intensified, a guard at one point pulling out the dreadlocks from nearly a third of his head, and he was transferred to Oregon. When officials there sent him to Texas, like a terrorist sent for rendition to be tortured, his publisher at rashidmod.com set one of his drawings in a “Texas frame.”
Seven Texas prisons had just gone on work strikes during April this year, which were inspired, coordinated and supported by IWW comrades and members of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party – Prison Chapter (no affiliation with the New Black Panther Party), especially “Comrade Malik” Washington, deputy chair of the NABPPPC’s Texas Branch. Participants in those strikes suffered reprisals at the hands of Texas officials. (See John Washington’s “This Week May See the Largest Prison Strike in U.S. History Across 24 States: Inmates are Sick of Poisoned Water, Solitary Confinement, and Forced Labor,” The Nation, Sept. 7, 2016.)
But that resistance effort inspired prisoners in some 24 states, including Texas, to plan for a national stoppage or strike to begin Sept. 9. Texas officials were obviously taking this second and larger strike quite seriously. Because I’m a leading member of the NABPP-PC and a member of the IWW, they’d felt need to pay particular attention to frustrate my communications, especially to and from folks and outlets interested in the upcoming work stoppage. Hence the lockdown and close, and even illegal, scrutiny of my mail.
Whether other Texas prisons were also locked down in advance of Sept. 9 I do not know, but I do know the resistance indeed took off in prison systems across the U.S. starting on that date.
Outside organizers and supporters logged reports from the protests. As of Sept. 12, there were actions all over. For example, all the prisoners at Alabama’s Holman State Prison refused to report to their prison jobs. An uprising at Florida’s Holmes Correctional Institute compelled officials to shut that prison down.
The actual aim of this lockdown was and is to pre-empt the prisoners at this unit from participating in the Sept. 9 protest by confining everyone to their cells in advance of it and well into the period during which it might last.
Women in Nebraska, Virginia, Kansas, California and elsewhere engaged in work stoppages, hunger strikes and uprisings. There were uprisings in Michigan and so on. These protests have been attended by mass demonstrations by outside supporters in solidarity with our inside movement in many places, including Arizona, Austin, Durham, Denver, New York, Los Angeles, Providence, Milwaukee, Lucasville (Ohio), and elsewhere. (See Jeremy Galloway’s “Here’s What’s Gone Down so Far in Three Days of America’s Largest Prison Strikes,” Sept. 12, 2016.)
The illegitimacy of US prisons and prison slavery
As a united force, prisoners across Amerika of all persuasions, “races,” genders and orientations have joined together in resisting the abuse, torture and compulsory slave labor that defines our confinement within the world’s largest prison system that operates to dehumanize, villainize and exploit us and hide the horrors we suffer from the outside world.
And not only is the slavery we suffer in direct violation of international law which Amerika helped formulate and is a signatory to – Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms” – but our very imprisonment is illegitimate, in that almost none of us are confined because of valid convictions of criminal wrongdoing, but rather because we are poor and – yes – people of color. Chris Hedges, in “The Mirage of Justice,” recently described this process of injustice, which warrants quoting here:
“If you are poor, you will almost never go to trial – instead you will be forced to accept a plea deal by government prosecutors. If you are poor, the word of the police, who are not averse to fabricating or tampering with evidence, manipulating witnesses and planting guns or drugs, will be accepted in a courtroom as if it was the word of God. If you are poor, and especially if you are of color, almost anyone who can verify your innocence will have a police record of some kind and thereby will be invalidated as a witness. If you are poor, you will be railroaded in an assembly-line production, from a town or city where there are no jobs, through the police stations, county jails and courts directly into prison. And if you are poor, because you don’t have money for an adequate legal defense, you will serve sentences that are decades longer that those for equivalent crimes anywhere else in the industrialized world.
“If you are a poor person of color in America, you understand this with a visceral fear. You have no chance. Being poor becomes a crime. And this makes mass incarceration the most pressing civil rights issue of our time …
Boston’s Suffolk County Jail, used as a jail from 1851 to 1990, has been remodeled into the fashionable Liberty Hotel. This photo prompted this comment on prisonsucks.com: “Prisons used for punishment are a relatively new phenomenon, dating back less than 150 years. Mass incarceration in the U.S. is an even newer phenomenon, dating back less than 30 years. Prisons have not always existed. They can come down. The time has come.”
“Once you are charged in America, whether you did the crime or not, you are almost always found guilty …
“In any totalitarian society, including an American society ruled by its own species of inverted totalitarianism, the state invests tremendous amounts of energy into making the judicial system appear as if it functions impartially. And the harsher the totalitarian system becomes, the more effort it puts into disclaiming its identity …
“If the illusion of injustice is shattered, the credibility and viability of the state are jeopardized. The spectacle of court, its solemnity and stately courthouses, its legal rituals and language, is part of the theater. The press, as was seen in the 10-part online documentary ‘Making a Murderer,’ which chronicles the endemic corruption of the judicial system, serves as an echo machine for the state, condemning the accused before he or she begins trial. Television shows and movies about crime and terrorists feed the fictitious narrative. The reality is that almost no one who is imprisoned in America has gotten a trial. There is rarely an impartial investigation. A staggering 97 percent of all federal cases and 95 percent of all state felony cases are resolved through plea bargaining. Of the 2.2 million people we have incarcerated at the moment – 25 percent of the world’s prison population – 2 million never had a trial. And significant percentages of them are innocent …
“Judge Jed S. Rakoff, in an article in the New York Review of Books titled ‘Why Innocent People Plead Guilty,’ explains how this secretive plea system works to thwart justice. Close to 40 percent of those eventually exonerated of their crimes originally pleaded guilty, usually in an effort to reduce charges that would have resulted in much longer prison sentences if the case had gone to trial … The public defender – who spends no more than a few minutes reviewing the case and has neither the time nor the inclination to do the work required by a trial – uses the prospect of the harshest sentence possible to frighten the client into taking a plea deal. And as depicted in ‘Making a Murderer,’ prosecutors and defense attorneys often work as a tag team to force the accused to plead guilty. If all the accused went to trial, the judicial system would collapse. And this is why trial sentences are horrific.”
Let me recap those percentages for those who didn’t grasp their significance: 97 percent of all federal convictions and 95 percent of all state felony convictions are obtained in Amerika by the accused being threatened and coerced into pleading guilty by his own court appointed lawyer, in collaboration with the prosecutor. The lawyer has neither the interest nor is he provided with the resources to prepare a defense for the “client” whether s/he is guilty or not.
Prisoners across Amerika have joined together in resisting the abuse, torture and compulsory slave labor that defines our confinement within the world’s largest prison system that operates to dehumanize, villainize and exploit us and hide the horrors we suffer from the outside world.
So this is the reality of how almost every person imprisoned in Amerika got there. A process no more legitimate than the wholesale hunting and kidnapping of women, children, and men in Afrika to be forcibly transported to be enslaved here in the Amerikas, as was the case during its chattel slave process. As with that system, we prisoners have been stolen from our communities and “legally” converted into slaves – and this under the clause in the 13th Amendment that permits enslavement of any person convicted of a crime.
Amerika was built by chattel slaves, under one of history’s vilest systems of human suffering and bondage. That system was only moderately reformed from the plantations to the penitentiaries, where slavery could now be hidden from public scrutiny by concrete walls and razor wire. This is the evil that prisoners across Amerika are protesting and resisting.
Abolish modern US slavery
The old U.S. chattel slave system didn’t abolish itself. And the U.S. government didn’t abolish it either. The slaves did!
The problem, however, was the slaves didn’t unite in a common resistance to overthrow that system until the U.S. government needed them to win its war with the slave holding Confederate states who were in rebellion against the U.S. And while there were slaveholders in the U.S., the government opportunistically declared that all slaves in the Confederate states only should be free, in order to entice them to help in the fight against the rebellious states.
Millions of slaves in the South in turn refused to perform any more labor and abandoned and took up arms against the plantations alongside the Union Army. It was they who won the Civil War and forced the complete abolition of chattel slavery.
But today’s penal slaves aren’t waiting for any such government permission. With fortitude, sacrifice and assurance of the righteousness of our cause, we are carrying forward the struggle to completely abolish all forms and remnants of slavery here in Amerika of our own volition.
The slaves’ resistance was opposed by their enslavers in the past just as our resistance will be and is today in the form of violence and lockdowns. No oppressive system that has profited from the blood and toil of any people has ever given in to the righteous demands of the oppressed. We know this and must stand fast in our struggle, united as one to abolish slavery and to strike the slavery clause from the 13th Amendment!
With fortitude, sacrifice and assurance of the righteousness of our cause, we are carrying forward the struggle to completely abolish all forms and remnants of slavery here in Amerika of our own volition.
Dare to Struggle! Dare to Win!
All Power to the People!
Send our brother some love and light: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 1859887, Clements Unit, 9601 Spur 591, Amarillo TX 79107.