The world today cries out for radical, fundamental change.
We live on a planet where tens of millions of people died in the two world wars in the 20th century, and in other wars since then…and where large parts of humanity today continue to be caught up in brutal and destructive wars, resulting in massive loss of life and incalculable agony.
We live in a world where millions die from easily preventable diseases…and still more face hunger as a daily fact of life. We are locked inside a worldwide economic system that dispenses crumbs and extends privileges to a relatively small number, while forcing billions to seek desperately for work that more often than not numbs the mind, crushes the spirit and destroys the body…an economic system which has devastated and despoiled nature itself and now has put the future of human life into question.
We walk through our days in a world where the lives of countless children are ground up and destroyed, some as child laborers and even outright slaves, others as the victims of poverty and humiliation…their potential crushed, or their lives cut short. And everywhere, women—one half of humanity!—still face the gauntlet of rape and abuse, and the continual oppression and hostility that comes in forms both traditional and “modern.”
People whose sexual orientation or identity is different from the dominant norms in society—and this is particularly and acutely so where this in some significant way conflicts with the prevailing patriarchal sexual relations—are discriminated against and persecuted, and many are subjected to brutal, even murderous attacks.
Tens of millions of people in this country face a life of grinding exploitation and bitter desperation. Many have been driven here from countries which have been plundered by U.S. capital, only to find themselves dubbed “illegal” and forced into the shadows by Gestapo-like persecution. Especially among Black people, as well as other peoples of color and oppressed nationalities, great masses of people have been cast aside because they can no longer be profitably exploited. Instead of recognizing their humanity and unleashing their potential, this system has criminalized them—with one in nine young Black men locked down in prison, and with Black and Latino youth having to face harassment, brutality, and the constant threat of death at the hands of the police whenever they walk out the door. Meanwhile the apple-pie racism of America festers and often boils over, in forms old and new.
On top of all that, this economic and social system forces everyone to look at, and to treat, everyone else as potential competitors and antagonists. “Dog eat dog” and “look out for number one” are the true commandments of this society. Those who try to make things better, within the confines of this system, find their efforts constantly frustrated, unable to get at the underlying problems.
As a result of all this, alienation and despair run rampant, and people feel as if their lives are empty and meaningless. And for relief? Either the mindless chase after ever more commodities, or the false fantasies and consolation of religion.
But the cruelest fact of all is this: IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THIS WAY! For here is the glaring contradiction: in today’s world the production of things, and the distribution of the things produced, is overwhelmingly carried out by large numbers of people who work collectively and are organized in highly coordinated networks. At the foundation of this whole process is the proletariat, an international class which owns nothing, yet has created and works these massive socialized productive forces. These tremendous productive powers could enable humanity to not only meet the basic needs of every person on the planet, but to build a new society, with a whole different set of social relations and values…a society where all people could truly and fully flourish together.
A wide variety of organizations will hold street protests, symposiums, campus actions, outreach to prisons and courthouses. Initiated by revolutionary communist leader Carl Dix and Union Theological Professor Dr. Cornel West, the Call for the month is endorsed by families of those killed by police, former prisoners, clergy, academics, and community organizations, and public figures such as Chuck D, who recorded for the Month, and Alice Walker, whose poem “Gather,” is dedicated to Dix and Dr. West.
Dix has said “Like so many others I saw the video of police choking Eric Garner as he cried out ‘I can’t breathe.’ In Ferguson, MO I stood at the spot where a cop gunned down Michael Brown and left his body lying for hours. I protested his murder, and was picked out for arrest because I spoke in support of the youth righteously demanding ‘THIS MUST STOP!’ In October, tens of thousands of people from many different backgrounds will join together all across the country to act to stop it.”
Oct 1, 8:30am Chicago Protest at Cook County Jail & Press Conference
Speakers will be Include:
Gregory Koger, former prisoner and revolutionary communist activist with the Stop Mass Incarceration Network. Gregory is a torture survivor who spent over six years straight in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons. He spent most of August in Ferguson, MO.
Hannibal Salim Ali, former prisoner with the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, whose nephew, Anjustine Hunter was killed by police in Tennessee;
Mark Lewis Taylor of Princeton Theological Seminary* and founder of Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal;
Bill Ayers, Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois*, Chicago (retired).
Family members of prisoners, ex-prisoners, family members of people killed by the Chicago police, students, community activists, revolutionaries, religious leaders.
Oct 1, 5pm Chicago Protest at Thompson Center & Press Conference
Speakers at Thompson Center at 5pm include:
Gregory Koger, Stop Mass Incarceration Network;
Ricky Ford, father of Denzel Ford shot 8 times by Chicago police;
Stephanie Curtis, Roosevelt University Students for Stop Mass Incarceration Network
Charles Perry, Trinity United Church of Christ*
Leon Bailey, Ph.D., Roosevelt University*
Brian M. Orozco, Attorney with Greg Kulis and Associates*, who has worked on criminal, civil, and family law cases for inmates in both California and Illinois, interacting with over 150 incarcerated clients in the process.
Furthering the Movement to Stop Mass Incarceration
Crowne Plaza Chicago Metro – Ballroom Salon B – C
2.2 million people are incarcerated in the United States, with an additional 5 million under the control of the criminal “in”justice system on probation and parole. Over 30,000 are in immigration detention centers, and Obama has deported a record 2 million immigrants. As Michelle Alexander points out in The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness, courthouse doors are closed to systemic legal challenges to the racial inequality which has lead to more than 50% of the prison population being people of color.
This will not stop without a mass movement that demands an end to mass incarceration and the criminalization of Black and Latino youth. In this panel, former prisoners and others intimately familiar with the broader social consequences of mass incarceration will lead a discussion on how to turn around what is now two generations living under the injustice of mass incarceration. We will call for a Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration in October 2014, initiated by Dr. Cornel West and Carl Dix, co-founders of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network.
Gregory Koger – Revolutionary communist activist with the Stop Mass Incarceration Network (SMIN). Gregory just returned from spending most of the last month on the front lines of the Ferguson rebellion in response to the police execution of Michael Brown. A member of the National Lawyers Guild, paralegal and former jailhouse lawyer, Gregory spent 11 years in prison, including over 6 years straight in solitary confinement, where he transformed himself from a gang member to a revolutionary. Since his release from prison has dedicated his life to ending the injustices of capitalism. He has spoken from cellblocks to universities about need to build a mass movement to end mass incarceration as part of the struggle for a liberated world for all humanity. Deeply inspired by the California prison hunger strike, Gregory organized a Chicago Forum on the California Prison Hunger Strike and Torture in U.S. Prisons in August 2011. During the 30,000-strong resumption of the hunger strike in July 2013, he spoke on NPR and other radio stations in support of the brothers and sisters on hunger strike, and he spent two weeks on hunger strike in solidarity while locked down in Cook County Jail serving a 300-day sentence for recording a political statement on an iPhone. He is currently the Plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the decades-old policy of banning all newspapers in Cook County Jail (Koger v. Dart).
Mark Lewis Taylor – Maxwell M. Upson Professor of Theology and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary. Writer, teacher, scholar and activist, Mark Lewis Taylor is a theologian in the vein of engaged thinkers who trace and analyze liberating spirit – the spirit of decolonizing political practices, wherein re-membered collective suffering of the earth and its oppressed peoples can become “specters,” material forces for multidimensional revolutionary change. In addition to being the author of several books, he is the founder of “Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal,” a group of teachers from all levels of education, organizing since 1995 for a new trial on behalf of Abu-Jamal, a journalist on Pennsylvania’s death row for 30 years. Activist movements achieved a victory in 2011, securing Abu-Jamal’s transfer from death row to general population. Nevertheless, the struggle to free him from prison continues, as many join in support of Desmond Tutu’s demand for his “immediate release.”
Brian Orozco – NLG member and practicing lawyer who has worked with prisoners and their families in California and Illinois and will speak to police/prison guard brutality, what the prisoners and their family members have been doing to protest their own conditions, and why massive resistance is needed to end the torture of solitary confinement and other atrocities. And why the NLG needs to be part of the Month of Resistance.
“We call for a massive Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration in October of this year; a Month that can impact all of society; one that can open the eyes of millions of people to the need to end this new Jim Crow.
In October, 2014, our resistance to mass incarceration must reverberate across the country and around the world. There must be powerful demonstrations nationwide on October 22, the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. Throughout October there must be panels and symposiums on campuses and in neighborhoods; major concerts and other cultural expressions; ferment in the faith communities, and more—all aimed at taking the movement to STOP mass incarceration to a much higher level. October, 2014, must be a month that makes clear that thousands and thousands are willing to stand up and speak out today and to awaken and rally forth millions.”
All those who have been personally affected and all those who cannot live with these horrors must be part of organizing for the Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration. Join with others to make plans and get involved to:
Spread the word and reach out to and meet with people in the streets, on the campuses, in the projects, among houses of worship, throughout the cultural scene, in the legal community, throughout all of society, all the while drawing hundreds more into organizing for a month of resistance in October.
Raise the tens of thousands of dollars that are needed to take this message to millions of people.
Bring thousands of people, including hundreds of high school and college students, into the streets of Chicago on the 19th annual October 22 National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation
Spread the October Month Resistance via social media.
Break this story into the newspapers, radio and television.
Form a speakers bureau.
Design and produce the palm cards, flyers, posters, displays, and banners.
Contribute ideas and thinking about how to make the Month of Resistance a powerful nodal point in building a nationwide movement to end mass incarceration!
The Stop Mass Incarceration Network is a project of the Alliance for Global Justice, a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The Stop Mass Incarceration Network is building a movement to stop the injustice of mass incarceration and police brutality; and the racially biased policies and practices of the police, the courts and the U.S. legal system; and to support the rights of prisoners and the formerly incarcerated. We call on all to join us.
For 2 generations, Black and Latina/Latino youth in the U.S. have been shipped off to prison in numbers never before seen anywhere in the world at any time. More than 2 million people, of all nationalities languish in prison — ten times the number 50 years ago. The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s prison population! More than 60% of those in U.S. prisons are Black or Latina/o. 32% of Black men between the ages of 20 and 29 are in prison or on parole or probation on any given day. More than 80,000 people in prison are held in solitary confinement under conditions that fit the international definition of torture.
The incarceration of women has increased by 800% over the last 30 years. They, along with those whose sexual orientation is not “mainstream” or who are gender non-conforming — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex prisoners — face extremely harsh and abusive treatment in prison, including widespread rape. Alongside this has risen a massive program of criminally prosecuting undocumented immigrants, essentially hidden from public view. As a result of the devastation of their homelands, these immigrants have been driven to this country to work without papers, and today they are being criminalized. The US chastises other countries for human rights violations, yet it enmeshes the lives of tens of millions of people in its criminal “injustice” system. The courts, cops, prisons and La Migra all play a part in enforcing mass incarceration. There are genocidal aspects and a genocidal logic to this program, and it has been gathering momentum. All this is intolerable, and, if it isn’t stopped, it will get much worse!
Mass incarceration has grown beside the criminalization of whole peoples; a situation in which every African-American or Latina/o is a permanent suspect – treated as guilty until proven innocent by police and racist vigilantes, if they can survive to prove their innocence. This is especially concentrated among the youth, starting with cops in schools, arresting children for things that used to mean a visit to the principal’s office at worse, putting youth on a trajectory from school to prison. Black and Latina/o youth have a target on their backs in this society. Literally tens of millions of lives have been scarred and worse – both the direct victims and their families and communities. People who heroically resisted these and other injustices have been imprisoned, some of them for decades. These political prisoners must be freed.
The malignancy of mass incarceration did not arise from a sudden epidemic of crime. Nor did it result from people making poor personal choices. Instead it arose from cold political calculations made in response to the massive and heroic struggle for the rights of Black and other minority peoples that took place in the 1960’s and 70’s, and in response to the enormous economic and social changes brought about by globalized production. This cancer of mass incarceration has been, from the beginning, nothing but a new Jim Crow in place of the old one. Like the old Jim Crow, it drew on, fed off and reinforced the deep-seated roots of the racism that grew up with slavery. Like the old Jim Crow, it has been, from the beginning, unjustifiable, utterly immoral and thoroughly illegitimate.
This must stop – NOW! Not the next generation, not in ten years, not any time off in some promised future that never seems to come. NOW!
But it will not stop unless and until millions of people, of all nationalities, stand up and say NO MORE, in unmistakable terms. The history of this and every other country shows that without struggle, there can be no positive change; but with struggle this kind of change becomes possible.
It is not enough to oppose this in the privacy of your own conscience or the company of like — minded people. It is not enough to curse this out, but then tell yourself nothing can be done. If you live your life under this threat, you MUST act. If you understand how wrong this is and how much it devastates the lives of so many millions, you MUST act.
NOW is the time to act. People are beginning to awaken and stir. Resistance has begun: Heroic hunger strikes by people in prisons and detention centers and outpourings in response to murders by police and racist vigilantes. Prisoners in solitary confinement in California declared a cessation of racial hostilities as Black, Latino and white prisoners came together to resist the torture of solitary confinement. All this must be taken to a much higher level. We call for a massive Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration in October of this year; a Month that can impact all of society; one that can open the eyes of millions of people to the need to end this new Jim Crow.
In October, 2014, our resistance to mass incarceration must reverberate across the country and around the world. There must be powerful demonstrations nationwide on October 22, the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. Throughout October there must be panels and symposiums on campuses and in neighborhoods; major concerts and other cultural expressions; ferment in the faith communities, and more — all aimed at taking the movement to STOP mass incarceration to a much higher level. October, 2014, must be a month that makes clear that thousands and thousands are willing to stand up and speak out today and to awaken and rally forth millions. It must be the beginning of the end of the mass incarceration in the U.S. To that end:
We the undersigned pledge to make October, 2014, as powerful as possible;
We pledge to support resistance to this monstrous system of mass incarceration between now and October; and
We pledge to utilize October as a launching pad to go still further, mobilizing more people until mass incarceration and the criminalization of entire peoples really is NO MORE!
Hosted by Rev. Jessie Jackson. Panelists:
Barbara Arnwine, attorney, President and Executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law;
Jonathan Jackson, RainbowPUSH national spokesman;
Gregory Koger, Stop Mass Incarceration Network;
Dr. Donna Leak, former high school superintendent;
Michael Seng, Attorney, Law Professor, John Marshall Law School, Chicago;
David Shapiro, Attorney, Bluhm Legal Clinic, Northwestern University Law School.
Former inmate Gregory Koger and Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Alexis Agathocleous discuss the progress since Pelican Bay hunger strike and the merits of solitary confinement as torture - March 7, 2014
February 26, 2014:
A Day Of Outrage And Remembrance
For Trayvon Martin And Jordan Davis
We’re Standing Up!
No More Murder Of
February 26, two years since the modern day lynching of Trayvon Martin, eleven days after a Florida court refused to convict racist Michael Dunn for the murder of Jordan Davis. Wherever you are, put on your hoodies, get people together, print out these targets, and gather at the seats of power and influence or go to the public square. Stand together in silence, hoodies up, fists raised, holding targets. Be part of creating a powerful visual image and stand of defiance that goes out around the world.
On Wednesday, February 26, join with people in your city or town. Put on a Hoodie for Trayvon, hold a target with the message of “No More” for Jordan and all the Black and Latino youth who this system views as suspects. Defiantly represent that we refuse to accept a target being put on the back of every Black youth in this country, we refuse to accept the declaration that Black people have no rights that white people are bound to respect.
February 26, make a difference. This action can break the paralysis by being the first national action against the mistrial of the murderer of young Jordan Davis and linking this outrage to the fight for justice for Trayvon. Be a part of puncturing the lie that there is nothing we can do—that we must accept this nightmare. Join with hundreds nationwide standing up to the murder of Black youth declaring that we are determined to stop it.
The Jordan Davis Case–Once Again Amerikkka Declares That Black Youth Are Permanent Suspects! On February 22, 2014, Carl Dix spoke at Revolution Books NYC on refusal of the criminal “injustice” system to convict the murderer of 1st Trayvon Martin and now Jordan Davis which comes down to Amerikkka declaring that Black people have no rights that whites are bound to respect.
Locations For February 26
Day Of Outrage And Remembrance For
Trayvon Martin And Jordan Davis Actions:
3 pm: St. Nicholas Park 135th & St. Nicholas Avenue Youth Speakout. By: NY Revolution Club
5 pm: Union Square (south side) E. 14th St. at Broadway.
5 pm: Harlem State Office Building, 125th St. at Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. (Seventh Ave.) – Sponsored by October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation (New York), and Parents Against Police Brutality, and the Stop Mass Incarceration Network
6:30 pm: Everyone converge at Times Square at the red bleachers, at 47th St, between Broadway and 7th Ave
Los Angeles, Crenshaw District
March 2:30 pm at Slauson & Crenshaw
Rally 4 pm at MLK & Crenshaw
4:45 pm Corner of Elm and Market, downtown Greensboro.
2:30 pm Downtown, across from Tower City.
4:00 pm Fountain Square.
White Plains, NY
5 pm: Gather at the fountain by Macy’s, corner of Mammaroneck Avenue and Main Street; then walk to the MLK statue behind the White Plains Library, Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd and Martine Avenue. By: WESPAC NY
New Haven, CT
5:30 pm: City Hall, Church Street. By: ANSWER CT.
5 pm Broad and Market Streets, downtown Newark
4-6 pm Central Square, speak out! By: Revolution Books Cambridge.
Thursday, February 13, 2014 – 4:30 – 5:30pm
Outside the Thompson Center –
Randolph & Clark – Chicago, IL
UPDATE 2-13-14: We have just received word from Brian Nelson at Uptown People’s Law Center that Menard today has barred them from speaking on the phone with one of the men on hunger strike. Additionally, one of the hunger strikers has been transferred to Stateville in an attempt to break his hunger strike: “Mr. John Velez was one of the men that began hunger striking in Menard on Jan. 15. As of today he is still on hunger strike. He was moved from Menard temporally to Stateville NRC. His Mother and Wife attempted to visit him today and they were denied visits until Mr. John Velez comes off the hunger strike. None of his legal material or personal property was allowed to be transferred with him. He does not no why he was temporally transferred to Stateville NRC.”
A group of men in a high security unit at Menard (a prison in southwestern Illinois) began a courageous hunger strike on January 15. On Friday, February 9, several prisoners escalated the strike and began refusing liquids.
These men have put their lives on the line to protest inhumane conditions and placement in severe isolation, without reason or ability to challenge that placement. One prisoner was beaten in retaliation for being on hunger strike, others have been issued bogus “disciplinary tickets.” Attorneys for the prisoners were prevented by the IDOC from communicating with the men in the first weeks of the strike.
The conditions at Menard are intolerable: there is a lack of adequate heat and hot water, filthy, vermin-infested cells, a lack of access to basic cleaning and sanitation supplies, insufficient food and clothing, and a lack of access to legal resources and educational programming. Solitary confinement is considered torture under international law (over 80,000 prisoners in the U.S. are held in solitary).
One prisoner wrote, “Our conditions are inextricably linked to the social mobilization across the nation against the injustice of mass incarceration. We hope that we have your support & we thank you.”
No society should be permitted to treat human beings this way. We must stand with the hunger strikers and call for their demands to be met immediately.
The men on hunger strike have asked that “you & your friends call the Governor’s office, the Director of IDOC S.A. Godinez, & the Warden of Menard CC, and inquire about our peaceful protest & our reasons & conditions of confinement.”
Prisoners in Menard, IL have refused liquids as they entered the fourth week of a courageous hunger strike opposing their placement into administrative segregation without notice in filthy conditions of severe isolation. Attorney Alice Lynd reported, “The Menard hunger strikers have apparently decided to go without liquid as well as food, and their physical condition could deteriorate rapidly.”1 These men’s lives are on the line and we must support them.
At least one prisoner has been beaten in retaliation for being on hunger strike and others have reported receiving retaliatory “disciplinary reports.” A Chicago attorney for some of the hunger strikers has also reported that in the first weeks of the hunger strike the Illinois Department of “Corrections” (IDOC) had been barring the prisoners from using the telephone and holding up their legal mail, preventing information about the conditions of the hunger strikers from getting out in a timely manner.
IDOC has issued a number of bald faced lies in response to journalists’ inquiries into the prisoners demands. In regards to the prisoners having no notice of the reasons for their placement into administrative segregation, IDOC Director of “Communications” Tom Shaer told Solitary Watch that because prisoners have allegedly been “interviewed about issues causing [their] placement” into ad seg, they have “a very good idea of the reasons.”2 However, in the next breath Shaer actually revealed that – just as the hunger strikers have claimed – the IDOC has provided no actual formal legal notice of the reasons for their segregation: Shaer admitted that “the placement decisions and 90-day reviews contain confidential information, so issuing copies to prisoners could pose a security threat.”3 Shaer then had the audacity to claim that “we don’t have Solitary Confinement in Illinois prisons” while running down a listing of conditions of confinement that, as Solitary Watch pointed out, exactly fit the definition of solitary confinement used by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and other human rights groups.4
One of the hunger strikers wrote and asked that “you & your friends call the Governor’s office, the Director of IDOC S.A. Godinez, & the Warden of Menard CC, and inquire about our peaceful protest & our reasons & conditions of confinement.”5 He added, “Our conditions are inextricably linked to the social mobilization across the nation against the injustice of mass incarceration. We hope that we have your support & we thank you.”6
Illinois Department of Corrections Director Salvador Godinez, (217) 558-2200, ext. 2008, Illinois Department of Corrections, P.O. Box 19277, Springfield IL 62794-9277 or http://www2.illinois.gov/idoc/contactus/Pages/default.aspx
Warden Rick Harrington, (618) 826-5071, P.O. Box 711, Menard IL 62259
In 1878 convicts began backbreaking labor carving into the limestone bluffs along the bank of the Mississippi River outside Chester, Illinois. Over a decade of sweat and sorrow at gunpoint produced two cell houses enclosed by a massive wall built from the limestone quarried by the prisoners. The prison – formerly Southern Illinois Penitentiary and now Menard “Correctional Center” – is known as “The Pit.”
On January 15, 2014, prisoners in The Pit’s “High Security Unit” began a hunger strike to oppose their placement into inhumane conditions in isolation under Administrative Detention. Solitary confinement exceeding 15 days is considered torture and prohibited under international law. We must support the prisoners stepping forward and putting their lives on the line to demand an end to these crimes being systematically perpetrated by the rulers of the United States.
The courageous hunger strike by prisoners at Menard is the latest uprising in a wave of prisoner-lead struggle against torture and the dehumanizing conditions within the United States’ historically unprecedented system of mass incarceration. Last year’s 30,000-strong resumption of the California prison hunger strike (which I joined for two weeks in solidarity while a political prisoner in Cook County Jail) was the biggest and most publicized, but a number of other organized struggles by prisoners have taken place in the last several years – from work stoppages in Georgia to hunger strikes in Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, North Carolina, and Washington. Also last year prisoners in Guantanamo participated in a long hunger strike and faced brutal forced feeding, bringing resistance and exposure on a more international level. Recently, prisoners in Indiana’s Westville “Correctional Facility” began a hunger strike on January 13, 2014 to protest nutritionally deficient food.
Many of the prisoners on hunger strike in Menard were formerly held in Tamms – Illinois’ official “supermax” prison modeled after Pelican Bay SHU. Tamms was closed down in January 2013 after a fifteen year long political and legal battle by prisoners, family members and activists. Several of the prisoners placed in the HSU at Menard are “jailhouse lawyers” – prisoners self-educated in the law who help other prisoners with legal work and challenge prison conditions.
“They won’t tell anybody why they are in Administrative Detention, let alone give them an informal hearing to contest the undisclosed allegations,”1 one Menard prisoner wrote. He said, “There are mice just running wild. They have 20 guys using one pair of fingernail clippers with no cleaning in between uses, there is absolutely no mental health screening or evaluation, nor do any mental health staff even make rounds.” Another prisoner said, “I’m a jailhouse lawyer. And [I] file/help other prisoners with their grievances and lawsuits. Because of that I was retaliated against and transferred to Menard and placed in the High Security Unit under Administrative Detention.”2
Since beginning the hunger strike, prisoners reported to attorney Alice Lynd (and published in the San Francisco BayView) that “officers shook down their cells and took any food they found. The hunger strikers were sent to see medical staff and charged $5 for medical treatment.”3 In 2000 the IDOC began charging prisoners $5 per incident to receive medical care – a direct violation of international law, including the United Nations Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment which states that prisoners’ medical “care and treatment shall be provided free of charge.”
Additionally, Lynd reported one prisoner was pushed down the stairs by two officers while handcuffed and then beaten.4 Officers pushing handcuffed and/or shackled prisoners down the stairs is a common form of retaliation in segregation units in Illinois prisons, as prisoners are never allowed to leave their cells without handcuffs and/or shackles.
With the closing of Tamms – the most visible face of torture in Illinois’ prison system – prisoners were sent to other prisons where the practice of solitary confinement has been hiding behind older and less-scrutinized walls. Within weeks of Tamms prisoners being transferred to Illinois’ long-term disciplinary segregation prison in Pontiac, IL, nearly 50 prisoners began a hunger strike opposing the conditions there. A number of smaller and not well-publicized hunger strikes against the conditions at Pontiac have taken place since it was converted from a regular maximum security prison to long-term disciplinary segregation in the late-1990s.
Debate and struggle roil every day behind the prison walls about the repressive and degrading conditions and what to do about it – especially in solitary confinement. Far too often prisoners have little or no connection on the other side of the walls to expose the horrors of what they are facing – and to support them when they do organize to oppose those conditions.
Solitary confinement is specifically implemented to destroy people psychologically, emotionally and intellectually. It is a severely damaging and demobilizing form of torture that survivors never escape. Over 80,000 people are held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.
Mass incarceration, rooted in the foundational white supremacy of this country, is a response of the ruling class to the driving dynamics of capitalism-imperialism. The drive for ever greater profits has decimated inner city communities as factories uprooted and set up sweatshops abroad where they can even more brutally exploit workers than they can here – leaving generations of principally Black and Brown youth locked out of society who will never be meaningfully employed. It is also a conscious response to the revolutionary upsurge of the 1960s – implemented to contain and repress millions who this system has no future for and who could become the backbone of the struggle for a radically different and more liberated world for all humanity.
The conditions and retaliation described by the men in Menard sound all too real and familiar to me. I spent over 6 years straight in indeterminate segregation in Pontiac – and most of my time there in the North Cellhouse. It was under those same conditions that I became part of a new generation of prison-educated revolutionaries beginning to emerge within those concrete tombs. I firmly believe it will take revolution – nothing less – to end the crimes of this system, and that we can bring into being a society that values and meets the material, cultural and intellectual needs of all humanity – a communist world.
“The world needs to know of the sadistic, systemic horror of long-term solitary confinement, which is enforced on more than 80,000 people in the U.S. prison system. We know that revisiting this can be difficult for those who are facing or have faced these conditions, but the truth must be laid bare for all. All of society needs to know of the racial profiling that sucked you into the pipeline to prison, of the horrific conditions everyone in prison endures and of the open discrimination formerly incarcerated people face after release. You are in a unique position to expose the lying justifications given by the authorities for what they are.”
“Send these stories to the Bear Witness Project of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network. Through this you will be opening the eyes of those who are shielded from the real situation in the inner cities and the actual conditions enforced in prison. And letting those caught up in the cycle of going in and out of prison know that what they’re up against are social problems, not individual ones, and that by standing up and resisting them together, we can change the way mass incarceration is looked at in society and contribute to bringing forward a movement that can end it.”
And I call on all people of conscience to support the prisoners and to step forward and follow the courageous example they are setting. Much love, respect and support to the brothers and sisters rising up from deep within the depths of this criminal system of injustice.
Mail Bear Witness correspondence to:
PRLF1321 N Milwaukee, #407 Chicago, IL 60622
or Stop Mass Incarceration Network P.O. Box 941, Knickerbocker Station, New York City, NY 10002-0900