gregory_a_k

“What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers.”—Karl Marx
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Ephemera

Ephemera

Gregory A.K.

 

Razor wire spirals twist in a timeless vortex, silently shredding any semblance of connection to the land beyond.  The Prison looms with haughty, disdainful contempt in his watchtower eyes for the tainted flesh he gluttonously gorges upon.  His ancient stoney visage stands weathered yet unperturbed by the feeble blows and curses hurled against the labyrinthine lattice work of cells undying, immortal torment for the wretched refuse ceaselessly cast out for his consumption.  Whether the agony he sucks out of the marrow of their souls delights him, I know not, though the vacant hunger within his bowels I am certain is never sated.


 

The shackles and handcuffs jangle loosely on my buck-twenty-five frame as I step into the maw of The Prison several weeks before my eighteenth birthday.  Masses of men walk with me, all of us being funneled in to be processed and broken down in his digestive dungeons.  I spot a man in perhaps his mid-twenties in prison blues who had been there for maybe several years.  “That guy is a prisoner,” my mind not-so-keenly observes, seemingly unconscious of the fact that I too was now a prisoner, sentenced at seventeen to serve more years than I had lived upon the earth within the rotting belly of this corpulent creature.


 

Pairs of elderly men with walkers and canes stand waiting in line, with no pretense of a “Colored Only” sign.  Hair white as the cotton some picked as boys, sharecroppers sons born under the shadow of a burning cross and swaddled in that same red white and blue flying above the prison.  Convicts no longer leased after capital’s inverted Great Migration to the global South from decaying urban wastelands of the New Jim Crow North, where slave patrols stop and frisk another generation lost.


 

Panthers hunted and killed paved the way for The Streets bastard progeny.  A future blazing in the eyes and hearts of a generation of youth snuffed out.  Malcolm and Fred, Kent and Jackson, My Lai, Attica, Wounded Knee, Jonathan then George.  A cruel wind blowing, a bleak landscape left in the wake of the storm.  Harsh rain watering a soil now fertile for carnivorous and poisonous foliage.  Across the prairies and plains living tombs are erected, prepared for boys and girls unborn.


 

A contraption that

Extracts

Life

Blood and Soul

Constrained within this curious cube

Ancient Mechanism

Steel teeth gnash

And solitude grinds

Like clockwork

Encrusted with blood and shit and cum

and the residue of youth consumed within the

Cells

Dividing in agony

Reproducing

These inhuman machines


 

2 AM.  My peaceful slumber rudely interrupted by repeated bellows that I had to get up and get dressed to go to work.  I refused to relinquish the warm embrace of blankets, dreading the cold night air outside, the wind that would whip through the windows for hours, as I tried to burrow and huddle beneath loose stacks of hundreds of plastic wrapped newspapers stacked to the roof in the back of the car.  But the blankets were ripped away, and I grudgingly arose to dress for the ride to the warehouse.  I wouldn’t willingly be getting up for school six hours later, either.


 

Time ticks in an empty warehouse, weary workers barely awake await the arrival of bundles of newspapers hot off the presses.  We scurry about in the nocturnal underbelly of society so that Those Who Matter have news of Important Things, sitting outside their doors when they arise and sip coffee harvested by children who will never play and laugh with the boy waiting in the warehouse.  Bundles lugged, papers assembled and stuffed into plastic, heavy laundry carts full of newspapers pushed and dragged outside into the night air to be crammed in hundreds into the back of cars and trucks.  Houses, apartments and hotels are visited in blistering snowstorms and summer thunderstorms with stories from a world painted in vibrant colors glaringly different from those moonlit mornings.


 

Homeless.  The threads begin to unravel, my precarious balance on the edge of society inching closer to a protracted free fall.  The weight of my worthlessness on the Scales of Justice alchemically transmuted into bars of iron and steel, my tomb awaiting with door ajar for that blind uncaring judgment sealing the boy’s fate.


 

Brass jackets spring loaded, seventeen copper-toned smooth-domed cold killas on the block.  Glock cocked.  Folks and People locked in perpetual mortal combat, every fatality not just a tragedy but an indictment. Of a system born in blood. A million bodies of naked Native children buried under mud.  Slave chains, stolen names, exploitative aims.


 

Midnight

Red Light

Black and White

Sit Tight

Rear View

Peek A Boo

I See You

Comin’ Through

Lights Flash

On My Ass

Time to Dash

Hit the Gas

No Cell

Go to Hell

Nothing to Lose

Oh Well

Hoodie Up

Lights Out

High Speed

Nonstop


 

Stick-up split-up – loot goes one way, guns go another.  Headlights approach behind, a pistol pitched out the window.  Adrenaline still coursing kicks into overdrive when suspicions become certainty.  I sit in the back seat clutching my sawed-off. Should I or shouldn’t I?  It’s not a moral question but a tactical one purely of survival.  No way I’m letting this motherfucker take me.  The valueless outlaw life of a boy with no future reduced to immediate binary logic with only one outcome.  Driver pulls the car over, star spangled lights of the Law bursting in the night air behind us.  A silver starred nemesis strides forward, with the force and weight of a titanic beast, my finger poised above the trigger, annihilation impending for us both.  I bide my time behind the semi-fogged windows of the back seat and slip the shotgun under the front seat as he steps to the driver’s window.  After a few brief questions that aren’t addressed to me he walks away, oblivious of the fact that two lives were spared that night.


 

My finger squeezes the trigger, the darkness rent with tongues of flame and a deafening blast.  Pellets explode on sawed-off trajectories careening out in a flash.  Colliding constellations of crudely-drawn stars, a clash of pitchforks and crowns, Disciples and Kings of bastard lineage.  Tarnished mirror images stand in that moment, right and left merely a reflection of two boys the same.  Of the dangerous class.  The night shatters, shards scatter as the seeds of pasts and futures pierce the darkness and into flesh and bone.  My mirror counterpart clutches his arm as he falls to the ground, his blood trickling down the pavement.  The street stained with ruddy tears as I reload the shotgun and move swiftly down the asphalt rivers, the wail of sirens in the distance fast approaching.


 

Monochrome honeycomb kaleidoscope of sparse chambers refracting solitude, each identically reflected cell a unique snapshot of torment flash-frozen in the void of timeless eternity.  Screams reverberate through the cavernous cellhouse, a symphony of suffering punctuated with groans, moans, rage-filled bellows and the pounding of fists on walls.  Futile attempts to break the isolation, to escape the the phantasms conjured within the minds devoid of stimulus haunting the ceaselessly counting seconds of blank clocks, unnumbered and unseen.


 

Alone.  A dim light bulb’s weakly-glowing filament strains to illuminate the empty cell.  The angular geometry of concrete and steel sharply delineates this existence from the flow of life beyond.  Decomposing minds violently burst open along the adjoining rows of sepulchur, the filth of decay permeating the stale air.  A sack of flesh reduced to basic biologic functions on life-support, comatose convicts’ brainwaves flatlining.


 

Lightly running my fingertips over the concrete wall, I wonder how many other men have been here, how many other times someone has walked in and heard the metal door heavily slam shut behind them, to be left standing alone in this empty cell. Although I’m alone in the cell, a nonstop cacophony continuously bombards my ears. Other men, in other cells just like this one, strain against the solitude by calling out to each other; some to talk, others to argue, and some simply babble nonsensically to themselves.

As I gaze around at the sparse geometry of the empty chamber, I’m struck by the notion that this vacant cube of steel and concrete will be my abode for the foreseeable future. I might be in this particular cell for a week, a month, a year, but even if I’m transferred out of this cell, the next one will be almost exactly identical. Maybe it will have someone else’s name jaggedly carved into the paint underneath the bunk, maybe my next neighbor will spend all day and all night in a psychotic rage banging on the walls of his cell, maybe I’ll be in a cell with bars on the front as opposed to solid metal, but no matter what trivial differences may await me, the next cell will be just a carbon copy of my current crypt.

Twenty-four hours comprise a day, but time blurs out into timelessness without any environmental cues to differentiate day from night, light from darkness, winter from summer. Days, weeks, months, and seasons pass by while the cell remains the same. Brown leaves gently glide to the ground, the first tiny flakes of snow float past, pile up, then melt away as new green leaves spring forth, all beyond the walls and outside of my reality. Perhaps if I try to peek out of the sliver of a crack next to the cell door I can glimpse a small opaque window and I can tell that it’s morning by seeing the faint light beyond straining to penetrate the diabolic darkness within.

I lie on the bunk, staring up at a blank white ceiling, not wispy cotton-clouds stretched thin floating slowly across the pale blue sky, knowing that I cannot move more than a few feet in any direction. Instead of verdant fields of lush green grass beneath my toes, there will only be rough, gray concrete, well-worn by the soles of countless other men pacing the same few feet back and forth continuously. My skin won’t feel the gentle caress from the lips of a lover, only the jarring cold steel of handcuffs, chains, and shackles biting into the flesh.


 

Convicts collect dangerous contraband, cells stockpiled with caches of clips fully loaded with armor-piercing words.  Neurons being illegally modified to fire fully automatic, schematics shared from cell to cell.  Field manuals of class war filter in, former tactics fall away as revolutionary science begins to reveal a strategy for liberation.  A vision of a new world dawns, awakening humanity from the nightmare-riven slumber of American dreams.


 

That moment when constellations of history align, that clockwork mechanisms of myriads of gears – big and small, interconnect lives and streams of human experience – click into place and whir along in planetary synchronicity toward liberated possibilities…

In all my years of solitary, a confrontation like this (and ultimately much more than this) was exactly what kept me alive another second, minute, hour, day, month, year. Hundreds of armed cops, lined up, aiming assault rifles and sniper rifles at scores of unarmed men, women and children on that hot Ferguson August night. Standing there, on the front lines with the people, arms linked across W. Florissant Ave., the burnt husk of the QuickTrip store that had become the epicenter of resistance stood witness.

No one, myself included, could have predicted that it would be in Ferguson that the people rising up and refusing to accept another cold-blooded murder of another Black youth, would shift the course of the Empire. But in that muggy Missouri summer heat, shit began to get real hot.


 

Tools of oppression are never far away. Perhaps offscreen, behind the scenes. But their proximity is intimate. Handcuffs, chains, shackles. Pepper spray, tear gas. Riot shields, tactical teams. Shotguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles.

 

Razor Wire Infests My Veins

My Heart Strains

To Beat Free of Steel Bars

Tonight The Streets Are Ours


 

There was a moment

When the crushing stasis

And grinding normality

Ruptured

 

Where History

Was Being Written

In Images

Of hands

Held aloft

Fists raised

Mother’s tears

Feet marching

Through tear gas

Confronted with

Assault rifles

And riot shields

 

Mass Media Molotovs

Hurled

Incinerating

The Lies

Of Empire


 

Anyhow, Ferguson. Well there’s a lot of levels of things with that, as with all things. I mean what other response does a white supremacist late-modern-empire-beginning-its-decline have to race and class oppression unrivaled in history? The Unites States wrote the book on white settler colonial apartheid. The fear of the dangerousness of oppressed people coming to greater consciousness – of their own oppression and who their real enemies are – and the possibility and potential of unity and organization of those people against their oppressors is the foundation of “policing” in this country. And preventing a movement of those people from actually cohering is at the heart of every response the ruling class has brought forward in policing. It’s all aimed at keeping people in a state of fear and suppressing resistance and organizing – even the remote potential of such. And that shit has been much more potent – and increasingly less remote – in the last year or so than it has been in a long time. Frankly, thanks to the people in the streets of Ferguson who continued to come out and confront that repressive armed force of the State day after day, with those images radiating out to the world both exposing the lies of U.S. empire and inspiring the world with their courageous determination.

One of my friends (also named Brian, oddly enough, but who I met in prison and was a pen-pal of mine when I was in solitary) posted something on FaceBook with one of the photos they had of me on the cover of this St. Louis newspaper in a keffiyeh in a cloud of teargas in Ferguson and he said, something to the effect of “This is my friend Gregory who became immune to the effects of tear gas in the IDOC.” Well, not quite immune but certainly I’ve developed a fair tolerance to some implements of chemical warfare due to the tactical team coming into those cell houses sometimes daily pepper spaying someone before their “cell extraction.”

Of course they’re connected – Pelican Bay, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Fallujah, Jenin, Ferguson, Wounded Knee, Attica, every slave revolt and rebellion crushed, every village burned – concentrations of the political power of empire growing behind the barrels of a lot of guns.


 

Visions of death slowly materialize in my mind. Bathtubs of clear water turning red. Pristine white sheets covered in blood. Wrists dripping, razor sliced flesh agape. These images feel more compelling than the likely manner, though.


 

Serious questions of revolutionary strategy roiled in my mind as I walked the Vegas Strip. As I pushed past the slow walkers and drunk dudes and ladies, my mind alternated between the dialectic of the personal and political. Occasionally I would pull the Gatorade bottle of tequila out of my back pocket and drink as I pondered the situation. Every day my mind would confront the bathtub that beckoned me to release my life blood into it’s water.

I like baths and showers. In prison the notion of a bath was quite enticing. Hot water enveloping your body… In fact there were a few meditations I did in prison that explored the body relaxing in warm water.

But my thoughts were caught up in the moment. I don’t know that Vegas is all that different than the rest of America, except in particulars.Yes there a number of things here that make things more interesting. I had spent most of the evening playing video blackjack with a revolving crew of people. A guy from Tokyo was perhaps the most interesting to me. He spoke little English, so I dutifully conveyed to him a small selection of the most important words pertaining to our situation: “Bullshit!” “Motherfucker!” “Bust!” I had quite an affinity for Japan as a kid, and the notion that I would be sitting in Vegas playing blackjack with a dude from Tokyo seemed quite ironic and unusual, given my many years behind the walls.


 

Our fingertips touched, across carnal cards commoditizing flesh. She might have been younger than me, but not much. One of the only women passing out those cards, certainly one of the only younger women. Much younger than the woman old enough to be my grandmother who some dude was trying to forcibly “return” one of the cards to earlier that night, to which I finally had to say, “Just give it to me then” and he finally left her alone.

I could give a fuck less about the content of the cards, in an immediate sense. I’ll skip the political analysis at this juncture. And not to read way to much into this minor passing moment, or fetishize the interaction, but I felt more of a connection in that momentary brush of fingertips passing beneath the neon lights than in almost any other time here. Of course, aren’t almost all interpersonal interactions more of a Roarschach test than anything? But I wondered about her. She likely hadn’t done time behind the walls, but her father, brother, uncle, or boyfriend probably had. How much do they make, passing out those cards? Probably next to nothing. Not much different that the credit card ads I had passed out a few times as a kid, which I ultimately never got paid for. Some fucking rent-a-cop chased me off after I put a bunch of them under the windshields of cars in a mall parking lot. And I quit after that. But never got paid.


 

Numbers and icons roll past on three wheels

My life flashing against their random rotation

Cylinders spinning

Which one has the bullet?

$1 turns the wheels once more

But for how much longer?

Must hit that million dollar jackpot

Of worthless words and sentences dropping

Perhaps it will pay off

With or without a bang


 

Everything feels unusual. Writing, here, sitting underneath palm trees, typing on an iPhone in front of a pool. What could be more of a contrast to writing with a “security” pen on top of a worn-out mattress on a steel bunk in a maximum security prison? Hard to think of a greater contrast, except perhaps the writing I tried to do in Mexico under similar circumstances except with the pool replaced by a beach & the Gulf of Mexico.

Walking through this casino, flashing lights everywhere. Dudes in suits and parades of women in miniskirts all night. Not quite the same as parades of convicts in drab prison jumpsuits and handcuffs & shackles. Coming back to a hotel room overlooking the Vegas Strip, two huge beds awaiting. Shower whenever I want. Can take an elevator downstairs and get food or drinks at any moment… Yeah, nowhere near those cells, those chow halls, those yards, those Streets.


 

Afternoon summer sun shines in through the window across the pristine white tiles of the shower. Quite a different vividness even compared to the dull-mirror stainless steel shower walls like they had in Pontiac prison. A steel-toed boot silently crushes my keffiyeh to the floor in the next room as my blood, deep red, splatters across the white tiles from tactical team bullets ripping through my flesh.

I watch the clouds hovering above the city buildings out of the shower window. The white tiles remain pearly white. Flashback? Flash frozen future photo? Flash that shit outta my head, whatever it is.


 

Late afternoon sunset above the cityscape outside my shower window. I’ve lived for years in a concrete tomb without any window, period. My apartment shower has a window, with fresh air breezing in, that I can stand under the hot, steamy water and look out across the city. A presaging scent of fall wafts in, putting my mind back to being on the yard in Joliet prison in the first fall I was locked up. That faint fall scent always reminds me of that prison yard. And trick-or-treating with my cousin as a kid. And now, standing in the shower of my apartment, contrasting the fact that I can look out of a window in my shower when for years I lived in concrete and steel cells with no window whatsoever.


 

I slowly return to consciousness from slumber, immediately expecting my surroundings to be the concrete walls of a prison cell. I glance over and see my friend asleep on my couch across my apartment from me. We had spent most of the night talking about her trip to Palestine (that I nearly joined her on), writing ideas, prison life and incidents, and “From Prison to the Penthouse” – a must-see reality tv dating show starring myself seeking love and romance (that I might probably should seriously consider putting together). Not that different from many discussions I’ve had with many celly’s in many cells. Except I was not in a cell. And none of my cellys were women. I woke up at least one other time that night, immediately upon returning to consciousness expecting to be in a cell. But my friend remained across from me sleeping on the couch until she woke me up to let me know she was leaving, and if I needed any more support for my deposition in one of my lawsuits against Cook County Jail later that afternoon to let her know.


 

It was something of a ritual, I suppose. Any new cell you were put into, especially if you were ridin’ solo without a celly and especially in seg, you had to do a full clean down of that motherfucker. Food detritus, dried blood, feces, dried pepper spray, who the fuck even knows (or wants to really know…) what all layers of desiccated remains of human habitation remained encrusted in the slow-grinding teeth of The Prison. The bleached-white tiles of my bathroom seemed almost sacred in contrast to the dull monochrome grey and browns of the multifarious “correctional facilities” I’ve been held captive in for what seems like most of my life. Since I was sixteen years old, I’ve had about just over two and a half years that I’ve not been in prison or in jail, on parole, probation or on bond fighting a case or political prosecution. I’m thirty-seven now. This bathtub needs cleaning. No way I’m facing that without both a real and ritual cleansing.


 

The most translucently icy blue water, temperature barely tolerable to the touch, envelopes my feet. I sit, notebook in hand, perched on the side of the tub before settling in. Immersing myself to the waist, my legs outstretched floating in that warm-hot water, puts me back in mind to one of the yoga meditational relaxation exercise I used to do in prison. Back, in fact, to some of my first experiments with the practice when I was in Danville prison.

Ritual ablutions. Amidst the smokey incense and herbs, black and mild, ceremonial implements imparted by my Shamanic Elder who accompanies me on my journey, I sit in the tub. Dates and dried mango, spirits of blue agave, prepared the palate. Blood In My Eye on the floor, pale water drifting against the pearly tub not marred by the bloodbath presaged to me in Las Vegas. Just a sumptuous hot bath in my apartment in the city. Major qualifiers, for my context. But… can I do this?


 

Fully immersed in the tub, in some ways not so much different than the practices in my mind of immersing myself in water in prison, I recline. White laser Rosicrucian rose-sigils seem to timewarp inwardly upon the white noise of my eyelids.

This bathroom is barely smaller than most cells I was in. My studio apartment outside the bathroom is not much bigger than about three cells.

Settling back and relaxing in the tub, not so much unlike The Dude in The Big Lebowski, without the German nihilists. Or FBI SWAT teams busting down my door. No tactical cell extraction team bout to pepper spray me and run up on me to drag me out of a cell. No tear gas. No mean muggin’ about to lead to fist fights, shank games or gun play.


 

I’m sitting with my arms on my knees in the middle of the tub as the now-lukewarm water slowly empties down the drain. Blue-black tattoos, in the Latin Solve et Coagula, inscribed on the inside of my forearms, contrast with the flesh, tub and tiles. Breaking myself down, analyzing, resolidifying, recreating. Another season begins, the old begins to wither, new shoots begin to take root. The triple-dark void of Chaos returns all unto it’s womb and transmutes old life into new, old ideas into new, old places and times and moments into other moments and times and places.

As I raise myself from the tub and look out the window, dark storm clouds approach. Reality often does not give us quite the symbolism we may be looking for. I feel perhaps more relaxed and renewned than I have ever felt before. Still uncertain. Still bumbling about in the darkness trying to find my way, my next foothold, my next step. But breathing. And thinking. And writing.


 

“Oh, I’ve got that book on my bookshelf!” I think to myself, for one of the first times in my adult life. Just as my eyes scanning the shelves in poor lighting locate Neuromancer between Les Miserables and the Criterion Collection DVD set of Brazil, I heard a crash from the bathroom and notice that the foreboding thunderstorm I had seen out the bathroom window was now fast up my building. I had to run to the bathroom to shut the window, not before savoring the scent and sprinkles of rain coming through the screen as I looked out at the stormy gray cauldron of clouds outside.


 

Subway cars extend to infinity

Each car a microcosm

Of isolated yet interconnected lives

“I could go for both,“ I thought. The hair-flipping and twirling, the expressiveness at least seemed to indicate some recognition on the part of the young women who walked onto the L before me and sat across from me as I stood near the door.

Argyle. The law office I used to work at was right over here for a while. Seems light-years away from where I’m at now. Same train, different universe.

Long brown-blonde hair flowing, one of the women rushes out past me laughing, as we are stuck waiting on another train to pass. Throwing something in the garbage, I think. Then she rushes back into the train car and sits down again.

Synchronized typing on cellphones. That very-this-decade pervasive social passtime. As I scan the train car I see a Starbucks hat sitting perched on someone’s head, farther down someone is wearing a Nirvana t-shirt with a Star Wars handbag.

And then, as she twirled her hair around her finger, she slowly but quickly turned to the side a little bit, smiled and gently bit her hair between her teeth.


 

And today I found out she died. As a cool fall breeze blows in through the window, I look out at the night sky and the lights of the city. Other apartments, thousands of lives. Seasons’ definitely changing. I am more alone now than perhaps ever. Those last tenuous familial bonds – or what passed for them, in my life – now gone.

It was quite an enjoyable day, actually, before I got that phone call. Caught up with a friend I hadn’t seen since before I was on the hunger strike in Cook County Jail and in Ferguson and all that shit. Walked on the beach, she asked me some questions from her time interning with the public defenders office about the frustrations and sexual harassment she experienced there.  Guys in holding cells with a bunch of other dudes standing right there whipping their dicks out at her. Some of her experiences writing to a few guys who were in solitary, and the psychological complexities of those kind of relationships with people.

No Caller ID. I’m not answering this phone call. This is your system doing this, I don’t want any part of it. Property relations, bureaucratic formalities. None of that matters to me. I’m trying to appreciate a life, and a small set of lives interconnected. Not by blood, but out of a desire for family. I had no choice in the matter, of course. But whatever the difficulties and dysfunctionalities, or personal shortcomings, they tried. They worked. There were often times that they did little – if anything – else. We traveled some, and had some small niceties here and there, probably many times more out of my socially-conditioned “wants” for toys or trivial status objects than theirs.

We were different, though. And I cannot really fault them, as individuals, for any of that. My mom struggled tremendously with words and memory because of being hit by a car when she was a kid. I called my mom on my dad’s birthday ten months after he died. She didn’t know it was his birthday nor did she know who I was. My dad read some, but he had his own struggles, with weight, and how being overweight affected him and how people saw him. Not that he would ever talk about it.

And that was one of the hardest things for me, our biggest difference. I want to understand, to interrogate myself, my thoughts, feelings, desires; to communicate with others, to share ideas and stories and laughs. To try to have some shared connections and memorable moments with others. If I hadn’t organized the memorial for my dad, there wouldn’t have been one. If I hadn’t spoken in remembrance of his humanity, no one would have. And I hope, before my time, that I can write a few words in remembrance of my own humanity.


 

Did not expect to be taking this trip, on this overcast fall day. Do I really need to walk past two police cars in the three blocks it takes to walk to the L from my apartment?

Woodstock. No, not the famous one. The one in farm country Illinois where one side of my adoptive family ended up. I narrowly made the train, with only minutes to spare. The city looks eerie through the blue-green tinted train windows smeared with grime. Today would have been her birthday. Instead I’m making her funeral arrangements.

Park Ridge. The train takes me through places I haven’t spent time in since my childhood. One summer when I was about ten years old I ran away, among other reasons, to go to a “date” I had scheduled at a swimming pool where we had a previous date ice skating. Des Plaines public library has a multi-story new building. I read a lot of books as a kid from the previous venue of that library. The theater is apparently shut down. The second story martial arts studio I attended when I was about four or five is still there.

A mom and her son on the train laugh as they play with an orange dinosaur. Mount Prospect. I used to by comic books at a store right near here, and steal Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars from a store a little further down the road. Suburban Chicago. Used to deliver newspapers in the middle of the night to many houses and apartments around here before I was even ten years old. Arlington Heights. I used to take Tae Kwon Do blocks from the train station here at that age too, and our martial arts studio was even in some town parade they had here once. Arlington Park. Horse racing.

Pumpkins and corn stalks. My grandma & grandpa used to have a huge pumpkin pile every year at their garden center. Halloween was one of my favorite holidays. One year I was traumatized by a guy who worked there in a scary mask – I ran under my grandma’s kitchen table and refused to leave from under it all day.

Maybe the physical distance made it easier. Or the years of isolation. But then when I begin  thinking of my mom lying dead on the floor, I can’t help but think of the boy running in tears trying to escape the cruel lash of the leather belt, the anger, the rage. The days I lay on our floor crying from her blows. Nothing I did was deserving of that. I couldn’t escape those memories when my dad died either, as I stood crying in the shower as I prepared to make his funeral arrangements. That very act, the tears, the emotions rooted, intertwined, tangled and strangled in that abusive relationship, fused and frozen in my mind.


 

I’m sitting at the end of my block looking out over Lake Michigan, waiting to sign a check for my lawyers – and good friends – to get paid for the lawsuit we won against Cook County Jail banning all newspapers for 30 years. 70 degrees in late October is quite a feat for Chicago weather. But I’m living on stolen land, not by my own choice, an unwilling subject of white settler colonialism in North America.

Yesterday dirt from this ancient land slipped through my fingers onto my parents casket now resting in a pit dug into the soil. Together again, for better or worse. Not quite sure which of those prevailed, but there they are now.

And I alone again, as always.


 

I keep expecting it to end at any moment. That it’s not real, or at least so unreal that it’s infinitesimally brief existence renders it as though a figment of my imagination. Queen size bed, grey Egyptian cotton sheets with a fine-lined interlocking pattern, nothing extravagant but man, so unreal. Cum and sweat stained, flat-as-a-steamroller-lived-on-top-of-it prison shithole mattress it ain’t.

I’m used to living with, expecting that everything I have will be taken in an instant. That everything I believed was a lie. That I have no home, I have no future, I have no significant possessions. I have friends, and memories, and experiences. I’ve been in some shitty places and I’ve been in some beautiful places. I’ve devoted myself to resistance to injustice and to liberation, at times from dire necessity and others just because what the fuck else would I be doing?

And yet… I’m thirty-seven years old and this is the first time in my life I’ve lived on my own, on the grid, in an apartment of my own. I’ve barely been functional this whole year. You’d think perhaps that people you’ve known for years might appreciate the significance and difficulty that this would present to someone such as myself.

But nah. It’s all good. I’ll figure it out.


 

I still didn’t think of the couch as “mine.” It was a couch, in a room that I happened to be staying in. Kinda like “a cell.” Not “my cell” by any fucking means. Like the time they took all my property when I was in ad seg in the Lake County Jail when I was 17 and refused to clean the cell that I was held captive in. It was not “my cell” motherfucker, and fuck cleaning your cell. Your government’s cell. Your system’s cell.


 

Broken

On the most

Basic

Level

 

Decomposing

Flesh

Muscle

And Bone

Untouched

 

Years

Grind

My Heart

Into

Dust


 

A Dream

Of Grey Dust

A Hurricane

Extracted

Inhaled

Floating

On Water

 

A Prophecy

Foretold

Inscribed

By

Time

 

Ashes

And Death

Alone

I Shiver

In Silence

 

My Skin

Afire

Cold Flames

Of Oblivion


 

Every day, the question

Unasked, unwanted, unuttered

But posed

In myriads of moments

 

Innocuous

As they may seem

To the casual observer

But there are none

 

I

Alone

Confront

The Question


 

On A

Collision Course

With

Death

And I

Don’t Know

How

To

Stop


 

Nanoseconds Drip By

In an Eternity

Every One

A Lifetime

Of Solitude

 

I Wonder

If I’ll Ever

Be Human

Again

 

I Wonder

How Long

Can I Continue?

But I Won’t

Let Them

Destroy

Me


 

I Always

Expect

The Cell

To Be

In the Cell

The boy

Alone

In the Cell

 

I wake up

Expecting

To Be

In A Cell

Surrounded

Suffocated

By Concrete

And Steel

Crushing

My Spirit

 

Razor Wire

Lacerating

My Soul

On Endless Days

In Identical

Cells

With No End

 

A World Exists

Somewhere

People Live

And Have Joy

And Laughter and Love

Somewhere

 

I’m Trying

To Find

That World

But

All I See

All I Feel

All I Know

Is the Cell

Alone

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To My Brothers and Sisters Locked Down Behind the Walls: A Nationwide Call for a Cessation of Hostilities Between Street Organizations to Take the Struggle to Combat the New Jim Crow to a Higher Level

To my brothers and sisters locked down behind the walls:

One important dynamic that developed during the historic uprising in Ferguson, Missouri, that began last August after the police execution of 18-year-old Michael Brown for “walking while Black” was that brothers and sisters who the morning before were into it with each other in rivalries between different street organizations and other conflicts, courageously and defiantly stood together in the face of racist pigs desperately trying to repress the rebellion. The world watched the people of Ferguson stand boldly and unrelentingly in the face of old-school Jim Crow tactics like threatening people with snarling, vicious police dogs straining on leashes held by white cops, to the New Jim Crow-era tactics of armored assault vehicles with snipers atop aiming down their sights at women and children holding hand-lettered “Justice for Mike Brown” posters, body-armor and desert-camo-clad SWAT teams with assault rifles and no ID tags, and the flash-bangs and tear gas of advancing police blockades attempting to push the overwhelmingly Black protesters out of the streets — their utterly failed attempts to get people to “go away” and get this rebellion off the streets and out of the view of the world.

In the face of all of that — and I was there personally on those front lines in those first days, in that tears gas with the people of Ferguson — many, many young brothers and sisters who live every day with the boot of these racist pigs on their necks for the first time saw and experienced the power of standing collectively against the real enemy — the police, the armed enforcers of this whole racist, oppressive system. Blue, red, Crips, Bloods, GDs, Vice Lords, Folks, People — it didn’t matter what organization they represented, or who they rode with — what mattered was that for the first time in way too damn long the people refused to accept another police murder of another Black youth, and the daily repression of police-state New Jim Crow America.

And those of us who have spent time behind the walls, many of us have had similar experiences when we are locked down with brothers and sisters who are in different street organizations, or of difference races. We’ve had the chance to stand together and put those differences aside in the face of our real enemy. Many of you, I’m sure, know of (and some of you, like myself, took part in and/or supported) the California prison hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013. Tens of thousands of prisoners, of all different racial backgrounds, from many different street organizations, came together and put their lives on the line to demand an end to the torture of solitary confinement and demand humane treatment. In fact, the lead organizers of the California prison hunger strike collectively issued an Agreement to End Hostilities in August 2012, in which they called on brothers and sisters locked up across California — as well as on the streets — to put aside their differences and direct the struggle towards the oppressors running this system.

These examples show the power and potential of what we can collectively accomplish when we stand together and recognize who our real enemies are. And look, we know the youth are far too often engaged in rivalries and violence against each other, all of us locked on the bottom of this society, fighting over crumbs or for a little respect. Many of us have been caught up in and been part of that ourselves, myself included. This must be transformed, we must be part of transforming ourselves, and the world.

I’ve been through that struggle myself. I was never no “big time shot caller” or anything, but during my time in prison — particularly during the years I did in solitary confinement — I began to see how all the shit we were going through to try to survive on the bottom of this society was part of how this capitalist system operates. And through a lot of study and struggle, in which this newspaper (Revolution) was very integral, I came out of prison and got involved in the movement for revolution. Because nothing short of revolution is going to end this — the world doesn’t have to be like this and can be radically different.

But you don’t have to be a revolutionary to see and know that if we put aside our differences, especially those of us in street organizations, we can be a powerful force in the struggle to push back the New Jim Crow, the pigs fucking with and trying to lock us up every day, murdering Black and brown youth every fucking day.

The Stop Mass Incarceration Network has called for April 14 to be a nationwide day of shutting this system down, to take forward and heighten the struggle that kicked off in Ferguson and spread nationwide through the end of the year. An important component to that would be for those youth and O.G.’s and others in street organizations to make a formal call for nationwide cessation of hostilities with each other and to take up being part of the struggle against the New Jim Crow. So we are calling on those of you locked down to take this up. Write to us — and to everyone you know on the streets, as well — and give us your thinking on this. I know you have been watching and reading and keeping keenly abreast of the historic uprising that has been going down nationwide since Ferguson kicked it off in August. Many of us have been in the streets a lot, and one shortcoming has been getting the voices of the brothers and sisters behind the walls into the mix of this. A nationwide Call for a Cessation of Hostilities between street organizations could play a monumental role in taking this struggle to a higher level.

Send your letters right away to:

Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund
1321 N. Milwaukee #407
Chicago, IL 60622

Originally published in the March 2, 2015 edition of Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us

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We Must Oppose Any Fascist Attacks On Youth Caught Up In Street Organizations – And Struggle With Them to Become A Powerful Force for Revolution

A Few Thoughts on How Slow Genocide Can Go to Fast Genocide: U.S. Senator Proposes “Crushing” Gang by Mass Roundup and Incarceration

 

As a former member of the street organization that is the target of Senator Mark Kirk’s genocidal and fascist proposal to round up and imprison – without charge or trial – every alleged member of the Gangster Disciples, I wanted to add a few thoughts to the recent piece in Revolution newspaper, How Slow Genocide Can Go to Fast Genocide: U.S. Senator Proposes “Crushing” Gang by Mass Roundup and Incarceration.

A major element missing from the media reporting on this is the fact that there had been a significant ideological change within the leadership of the GD’s and specifically its Chairman Larry Hoover, beginning in the late-1970’s/early-1980’s. The main thrust of this transformation was a move toward mobilizing the organization towards electoral politics, explicitly following the example of the original Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago, who was a member of an Irish street gang known as the Hamburg Athletic Club.

Daley was a 17-year-old member of the gang during the notorious “Chicago Race Riot of 1919,” an extremely disingenuous characterization of what in reality consisted of mobs of whites viciously attaching Black folks, some of whom defended themselves. These racist white supremacist attacks occurred not just in Chicago, but in more than three dozen cities across the country in the summer of 1919.

Several important factors contributed to these white supremacist attacks. They occurred in the aftermath of World War I and the victory of the Russian Revolution, led by V.I. Lenin, which established the first socialist state. And they occurred in the midsts of tremendous changes in the U.S. economic base, particularly in relation to Black folks, with reverberating effects throughout the social and political superstructure of society.

The specifics of some of these profound economic and social changes are well documented in the special issue of Revolution, The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need. Comrade Carl Dix has spoken to this in detail, particularly in regards to how this developed into the New Jim Crow and mass incarceration in his recent dialogue with Cornel West, Mass Incarceration + Silence = Genocide. Act to STOP It Now!

Briefly, as global capitalism increasingly moved into the stage of imperialism, and as mechanization began to replace the need for slaves or former slaves working the land as sharecroppers, Black folks began the Great Migration to the north in search of factory jobs and an escape from the horrific racism, lynch mob terror and Jim Crow laws of the south.

The “Race Riots” of 1919 took place in the mix of these developments, along with labor struggles breaking out amongst workers across the country. President Woodrow Wilson stated one of the greatest fears of the ruling class in a private meeting in March 1919: “[T]he American Negro returning from abroad would be our greatest medium in conveying bolshevism to America.” ⁠1

Crushing the Leadership of Growth & Development

 

Daley’s rise to power out of the street gangs offered an example of a potential path to political, economic and social power to the leadership of the GDs. Larry Hoover led the organization in transforming itself from Gangster Disciples to Growth & Development, and laid out a Blueprint – a vision of how they sought to overcome the shared oppression of the Brothers of the Struggle. This happened in the aftermath of the 1960s, the ebbing of the revolutionary movement, and the specifics of the political repression and assassination of revolutionaries in the Black Panther Party and other revolutionary groups. The films Bastards of the Party and Crips and Bloods: Made In America get into some of the history of this phenomena in California among gangs there – especially the dire impact of the concentrated repressive efforts of the ruling class against revolutionary forces.

By the early 1990s, the GD’s – as Growth & Development – were mobilizing thousands of youth in the projects through 21st Century VOTE, and running candidates for Alderman. Additionally, Growth & Development was involved in the nationwide gang truces of the early 1990s in the aftermath of the LA Rebellion. (See Former Chicago Gang Members and 21st Century VoteDemocracy Now! 3/19/1996).

But the rulers of this system were not about to allow the GDs – or any of the other street organizations – to follow the same path to political power as Daley. By the mid-1990s, federal prosecutors had brought charges against the alleged leadership of the GDs, and buried them in federal prison. Larry Hoover was put in the notorious federal ADX supermax prison in Florence, Colorado – living under conditions that meet the international definition of torture, that over 80,000 prisoners across the U.S are held under and that prisoners in Pelican Bay SHU have called for a National Prison Hunger Strike beginning on July 8, 2013.

 

The System Has No Future for the Youth –  The Revolution Does

 

Like many other youth who this system has no future for, I was attracted to becoming a GD in part because of the political ideology of Growth & Development. For example, while I was in Cook County Jail serving part of my 300 day sentence for holding an iPhone at the “Ethical” Humanist Society, one brother put it this way: “When I joined the GDs, they had me thinking I was joining the Black Panthers.” The political and ideological line coming out of the transformation of the GDs is fundamentally capitalism for oppressed nationalities and taking up bourgeoise electoral politics; however, something extremely important that should not be dismissed is that there is an underlying ethos of struggle against the economic and social conditions imposed by the system – especially national oppression.

That can – and increasingly needs to – lead to a radical rupture with capitalist ideas and thinking, and these youth – and even the older brothers – have the potential to become the backbone of a revolutionary force to transform society in the interest of all humanity. I’m a living example of that. And we must stand with these brothers and sisters against any fascist attacks by the rulers of this system, while struggling with them to become revolutionaries and emancipators of humanity.

RNL-WrapCover-front600Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, gets into this deeply in his recent talk, BA Speaks: Revolution – Nothing Less! Bob Avakian Live, in the section: A Revolutionary Situation… The Role of the Youth… & How to Work Today So That There Is A Revolutionary Force When That Time Comes:

“The revolution has a future for the youth. For the masses of youth in this country and throughout the world, this system has no future for them but the revolution does. A revolution and a future in which these youth can and must have a decisive and increasingly conscious role. People tell us that these youth, especially these youth who are on the bottom being stepped on and beaten down every day, have been reduced to conditions where they could not any longer rise up to play this revolutionary role. But this is not true. People need to think about how hard many of these youth have tried to get out of the conditions they’re in and get to some place where they could do something much better. This too gets not only forgotten but consciously covered up.

Right now in the California prisons, the people who carried out self-sacrificing hunger strikes have made a call for peace among people of the different races in the prisons. We should understand how tremendously significant and difficult this is. How much is going up against it, both among the masses spontaneously but also for the workings of the authorities and how much they’ll try to undercut and sabotage all this. This needs a lot of support and needs to be popularized.

People need to know about it, they need to support people who have been condemned and cast aside as less than human and the ‘worst of the worst’ when they reach for something lofty like this. But from the perspective of understanding all that I have been talking about and for those who do understand this, we need to work to make this part of building a movement for revolution. We need to approach everything in that way and from that framework, even while uniting  with other people who have not yet been won to that position or are coming from different perspectives.

Or think – let’s go back again to the LA Rebellion. Sometimes it’s forgotten – and we need to not forget – how hard so many of the people caught up in a lot of bad shit tried to break out of that at that time. From the first night of the rebellion to sometime in its aftermath, there was the  graffiti on the wall in LA on the first night of the Rebellion: ‘Blacks and Mexicans together tonight.’ Think about what that signified and how significant that was. And then in the aftermath of the Rebellion you had all these attempts at forging unity, overcoming these deep divisions among the  people that had grown over years with bitter antagonism. There were unity picnics. There were attempts at unity conferences all around the country. The police would attack the unity picnics.

I remember seeing a picture at that time of two young guys, one a Blood and one a Crip, shortly after the Rebellion with their arms around each other. Do we understand the significance of that and how much that means? These are youth who from a very early age are taught that they count for nothing and deserve nothing but a boot up their ass and a bullet in their brain – or a long time in jail. And so you have nothing and you are told to expect nothing. And so you try to get something by carving out a little space on a street in a neighborhood that doesn’t belong to you, doesn’t really mean anything but it’s all that you can feel that you can plant yourself in and find some meaning and purpose in. And then there are other people two blocks away – whether you’re Mexicans and in your rival gangs, or Black in your rival gangs, or Vietnamese or whatever – people two blocks away just like you. But if they come in the little territory that you staked out your hood, the rules are they’re slippin’ and you gotta shoot them. You shoot them, so then they have to come back and kill you and your family and your friends. And on and on it goes, back and forth for years and years. People kept like in cages.

And here they took the step, after all these years of this bitter experience of friends and loved ones being killed on both sides back and forth, and the meaning of their putting their arms around each other and trying to forge something different… But the system wouldn’t have it and couldn’t have it. They attacked the unity picnics time and again. But more than that the program that these people – that these youth and others, the O.G.’S in the gangs and whatever – tried to come up with was a program for reform, for entrepreneurialism that couldn’t work under this system. There was no room for it.

And so it didn’t go anywhere and many went back to the old ways and youth coming up fell back and, you know were sort of channeled into those ways. But they tried so hard! And so genuinely heroically. And the problem is that under this system there’s no basis for overcoming these kind of divisions. But in striving for and building a movement for revolution there is the basis – and this is what we have to be fighting for: to bring forward the full potential of these and other youth and other sections of oppressed people, men and women, to be the backbone and driving force, and win them through a lot of struggle to be that backbone and driving force of this revolution. [Applause]

And where this happens, when they do make this great leap to becoming part of the revolution – and yes, it is a great leap – then among others in the communities they come from and much more broadly among other sections of society as well, people have to be rallied in different ways and forms to encourage and back up these youth who take this great step of joining the ranks of the revolution. So that they can not only continue to get more and more deeply involved themselves but can play a key part in bringing forward many others. We need to find whatever the forms are to give life and expression to this. We need to find the forms for people who are not going to be on the front lines actively out there fighting the power but are contributing to the revolution and can contribute in many ways to back up these youth. To say in ways that have meaning: we are proud of our youth when they step forward into the ranks of the revolution. We need to even develop ceremonies that express this. We need to develop a collective culture that gives life and meaning to this. And there’s much sentiment out there that can be tapped in this direction.

Everybody wants the youth to do better. Even the churchgoing ladies: ‘[Sighing], these boys out here they ain’t doing anything good. They need to do something better. They need to get to Jesus.’  Well no they don’t need to get to Jesus – they need to get with the revolution. But even the churchgoing ladies can be appreciative of this – and this is not just in one community or among one section of society, but much more broadly. And this is a way that we can implement what’s talked about in that Strategy Statement (A Statement from the Revolutionary Communist Party: ON THE STRATEGY FOR REVOLUTION), of developing growing cores of people that constitute relatively small numbers now – dozens here, but then become hundreds and the thousands as we put it in that statement that are actively and openly with the revolution and are influencing millions, among all different sections of the people. And being prepared and preparing themselves to get to the point where they can lead those millions when a revolutionary situation has been brought into being through the workings of this system itself and the ongoing conscious and consistent work of revolutionaries, and people are looking for leadership that has an actual program and has the actual orientation and determination to fight through to actually bring about a radical change.”

1 McWhirter, Cameron, Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America (NY: Henry Holt, 2011), p. 56

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