Shackled to my thoughts – words from the graveyard

This is an article posted on the Website of D.R.I.V.E. (Death Row Inner Communalist Vanguard-Engagement), an organization in solidarity with those on death row in Texas. Inmates in other States also show their solidarity with those on DR in Texas.

Here is an article by Coyote, who is incarcerated in Nevada. He wrote this in 2006.

Shackled to My Thoughts
by Coyote Sheff

With incarceration comes darkness and once you’ve been subjected by the darkness the only thing to do is search for light. I guess that’s why since I’ve been down I’ve always craved an insatiable hunger for knowledge, for elevated thinking and higher learning. Many things that I’ve learned in here, I’ve learned through raw experience, personal pain or strife. My other sources of knowledge have been obtained through intense research and study – mostly ‘cell study’! But there have been many things I’ve learned through other convicts.

That comes with being solid. There have been many different convicts and comrades throughout the years who had enough decency and respect to take time out to show me things, ideas, perspectives or ways to get ahead, ways to get over and ways to get around the pickle-suit oppressors. That’s what being a convict is about, knowing how to do time; to look out for other convicts. Because, like it or not we are all cuffed by the same cuffs, we are all shackled by the same shackles, we are all in this madness together.

I always had convicts around me to pass me a new piece of literature or a book, or someone decent enough to encourage me to pursue my studies even further, to develop my own writing skills and to put my skills to use. Ever since, a fire has been raging inside me and I’ve been on some unknown mission to keep it burning by igniting the torches of others who I see have potential or who are ambitious or who seek to grasp and understand things more higher, deeper than their normal perceptions of what they consider to be REALITY.

If the conditions of confinement aren’t sad enough, it’s as if nowadays, in these lockdown situations, the weirdos seem to outnumber the solid convicts. When I say weirdos I’m mainly speaking about the inmates and psych-patients who should be in protective custody or a Mental Health Facility, the ones who are either openly working against the solidarity and unity of the prisoner class, in conjunction with the Administration, or the ones who are working against us impassively for their own personal, sick satisfactions. It’s devastating for all of us to be under the same gun and still working against each other instead of directing our frustrations and hatred towards the one who are holding the gun in our face.

More and more prisons are being built and more of them are being slammed. From state to state the internal conflicts that arise within these dungeons are what’s giving the Administration the excuse they need to keep us confined to a cell all day, everyday.

I see new faces all the time, most of these new faces that are coming through this disgusting system seem to be younger and younger. This system has no hesitations about locking up kids and throwing them in with the Lions. All true convicts know what this system does to the youngsters, how it turns them out, and all true convicts know that we can’t count on the same people who oppress us to help us.

So it’s on us, as convicts to give these youngsters the proper tools, the proper guidance and education, to help them move forward, cuz these youngsters crave truth like a Vulture craves a corpse, they crave the power of knowledge like a Jackal craves to lick the blood off of left-over bones.

It’s on us to lead these youngsters down the right path, to turn scavengers into hunters and make higher learning and self-education their initial prey. It’s true that there’s nobody more dangerous than a sophisticated thug, but I’m thinking beyond that. I’m talking about instilling dignity and self-esteem, productivity, creativity and intelligence into our younger generations and into one another as well. We must seek ways to rise above these horrible situations, to move forward.

I believe that as prisoners, regardless of what race, we are all oppressed people. To rise above oppression we must first teach ourselves to think on a higher plane. We must first liberate ourselves through knowledge. Knowledge is idle without action and action is baseless without knowledge.

Through my actions and through my efforts I have been able to put into practice what is called “Solidarity”.

It’s always a blessing to open someone’s eyes to something truthful, to something fresh and to something progressive, especially while in these confined situations. It’s always a blessing to be able to offer new insights, new ideas, and to be able to inspire others to want to further their own path or sphere of knowledge.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: some of the most brilliant, intelligent minds can be found right here, behind enemy lines. To all the Comrades, Activists and Organizers on the streets, if you’re not writing to a prisoner, you don’t know what you’re missing. Get involved with a prisoner and share His/Her struggles and burdens, and you will come across some of the most enlightening and truthful conversations and discussions. If you are writing a prisoner, it wouldn’t hurt to send them a book, at least once a month, so that they may seek a liberation through the power of knowledge.

To the Comrades on lockdown, in prisons nationwide and beyond, we must rise above this oppression. We must stride out of the darkness and towards the light. Open your eyes, open your heart and open your soul to truth and to struggle. If you have what it takes to learn then you have what it takes to teach.

I encourage you to make copies of this essay, publish it in your paper, newsletter or zine, mail copies of it to prisoners, especially to prisoners serving time in solitary enslavement. And I encourage prisoners to pass it to other prisoners. Use it as an example to write your own essays, to say what’s on your mind, to speak the truth.

Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to say what was on my mind. I was shackled to my thoughts until I took the time to share them with you.

In Truth and In Struggle,

Coyote Sheff
Ely State Prison, Nevada