The Political Prisoner, Lynne Stewart, was interviewed by mail by Patricia Vickers, a founding member of the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) of Pennsylvania. Ms. Vickers is the co-founder/editor of The Movement magazine of the HRC. A former 1960s student activist, Ms. Vickers is an eco-feminist whose youngest son, Kerry ‘Shakaboona’ Marshall, is a wrongly convicted juvenile serving Life Imprisonment as a Juvenile Lifer in Pennsylvania prisons and, though incarcerated for 25 years, is a political activist.
Human Rights Coalition: Hello. Welcome to THE MOVEMENT Sister Lynne. Thank you for granting me this interview with you. How are your health and spirits, and how are you being treated at FMC Carswell [Federal Prison]?
Lynne Stewart: My health is passable—the usual brushfires of aging, but good. My spirits are always high, especially with the mail I get to encourage me. I am being treated as well as can be expected. I receive heavy scrutiny—all mail, email and phone conversations.
Human Rights Coalition: There are people who aren’t aware of your unlawful confinement and the government’s repression of you for your legal representation of the Muslim blind Sheik. Can you enlighten the people about your situation?
Lynne Stewart: There are two aspects to my “situation,” as you so gallantly described it. First, I was prosecuted for doing what I believe is the duty and work of an attorney—to represent the client zealously and conscientiously. In the case of the original trial (1995) of the blind Sheik, Omar Abdel Rahman, of Egypt, we wanted to keep his name alive so that we could eventually try to negotiate a return for him even if it meant jail in Egypt. In that spirit I made a press release public, and to Reuters, expressing his point of view on a unilateral cease fire then in effect in Egypt. I believed that this was part of salvaging him from the torture of his solitary confinement and also that it was part of the work I had sworn to do. I was tried and found guilty for materially aiding “terrorism.”
Then, after I received a sentence of two-and-one-half-years, as opposed to the 30 years the government wanted, on appeal, the Second Circuit Court sent the case back for the Judge to give me more time. Without much ado, he sentenced me then to ten years, partially based upon on statements I made after the sentencing and before I surrendered in November 2009. That sentencing is currently on appeal and will be argued in the fall in New York City.
Human Rights Coalition: In the people’s eyes, mine included for sure, you are our [s]hero and represent a long line of principled and committed warriors of the struggle. How do you take being a Political Prisoner of the American government?
Lynne Stewart: I believe I am one of an historical progression that maintains the struggle to change the perverted political landscape that is the U.S. It seems that being a political prisoner must be used as a means of focusing people’s attention on the continuing atrocities around them. Nothing seems to be too shocking or corrupt to blast the complacency. Like my client Richard Williams used to say, I might think I hadn’t been doing my utmost if they didn’t believe I was dangerous enough to be locked up!
Human Rights Coalition: In April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that Political Prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal’s death sentence is unconstitutional. However, I am sure there are forces working behind the scenes within the Criminal Injustice System—like what happened in your case—to manipulate another death penalty outcome on Mumia. What is your opinion of the current news surrounding our brother Mumia?
Lynne Stewart: Mumia’s case is our greatest challenge because he is the best and the brightest, and they know it too. We, the progressive revolutionary movement, and Mumia’s lawyers, must create the strategy that forces the District Attorney to elect to try the death penalty issue. Then we get a chance in public, in court, to clearly present the overwhelming proof of his innocence. The worst thing that could happen is that the DA elects to give him life without parole—a living death that deprives our movement of one of its true leaders. I just hope that the blood thirsty Blue Line forces the issue and holds out for the death penalty so we are in the position to take advantage and advance our cause, and Mumia’s.
Human Rights Coalition: July 4th is widely celebrated as “Independence Day” in America, but the masses of people are experiencing their independence (freedom) taken away by the corporate American government, and by the big banks and mega-corporations that run them. Are the citizens of America truly free, or is their independence a grand illusion?
Lynne Stewart: I re-read Frederick Douglas’ great 4th of July speech every year to just remind myself of how little the ultimate issue has changed from the founding of the nation to today’s alleged “freedom.” Racism is at the core of the empire; and we can never be blinded by all the fireworks in the world.
Human Rights Coalition: Can you describe the difference between Civil Rights and Human Rights?
Lynne Stewart: For me the difference is the same as between the Constitution’s Bill of Rights and the UN Declaration of Human Rights. The Bill delineates the ways that Government may not encroach on our ability to operate freely. It is a prohibition on the Government limiting free speech, religion, the right to bear arms, and the right to free assembly. It delineates the rights within the legal system.
The Declaration guarantees fundamental human entitlements—freedom from hunger, freedom from fear, freedom to choose, freedom to live in an environment that doesn’t kill us, and our children.
We obviously fight for more than the political guarantee to be free of government interference—it is to be able to live an open and generous and contributing life toward the betterment of people on the entire planet.
Human Rights Coalition: Sister Lynne, What are human rights to you? What do you make of the growing human rights movement in the U.S.? And how can people advocate their human rights effectively?
Lynne Stewart: Advocating for human rights must always delineate that our struggle is not one of “self interest.” It is a fight for all of us. This raises the always-troubling question of the recognition that for some this may mean sacrificing their entitlements (i.e. skin privilege, class privilege) to better others’ lives. Nobody wants to give up what they feel that they have achieved legitimately, “within the system.” But without the recognition that one has benefited unfairly by the unwritten “code” that has favored certain groups over others, change cannot occur.
I also believe we have lost the sense that we enjoy the right of self-defense. Everyone is so busy announcing their “peacefulness” and willingness to be a victim for a cause, that we forget that a true measure of one’s seriousness is to defend oneself, and others—to live; Che’s observation that a revolutionary is moved by great feelings of love. This includes not only self-sacrifice but also daring to struggle, daring to win (to quote another hero, Mao).
Human Rights Coalition: What are some of the human rights violations that you see happening in the U.S. today that we, the people, need to eliminate?
Lynne Stewart: The most egregious and obvious violations are occurring in the prison system. Not only the obscenely long sentences but the torture holes of “Special Housing Units.” These are the equivalents of Belsen and Dachau, resulting in living death and mental deterioration. When I think that so many imprisoned without current hope of redress are political prisoners and have been held so for decades, it not only brings tears but also a feeling of grim determination to make it change!
Human Rights Coalition: What are some of America’s foreign human rights violations going on that people may not be aware of?
Lynne Stewart: I personally feel that the deterioration of the African sub Saharan continent and its descent into rapacious capitalism will ultimately translate into unparalleled destruction of people and resources. I include South Africa in this assessment. If the African National Congress (ANC) and Mandela had remained steadfast in the socialist principles that guided their resistance and not given in to the terrible temptations of compromise, greed and power, we might have seen the beginning of a different balance of power. Alas, this was not to be and instead we see the depredation of Africa, by absolutism and the American capitalist paradigm.
Human Rights Coalition: People seem to be oblivious or indifferent to the human rights abuses that occur daily in U.S. prisons against other human beings, women prisoners in particular. Can you shed some light on that human rights issue?
Lynne Stewart: Human rights do not exist in prison. Aside from the obvious violations described above, I see day-to-day a brainwashing that teaches all prisoners that they are less than nothing and not worthy of even the least human or humane considerations. This is reflected in the lack of adequate medical care, the appalling diet, the steady diet of spoon-fed mediocrity—TV (Archie Bunker re-runs), movies, no access to the Web, etc. There is an absence of legal advice or aid inside the walls. Law libraries with books have been eliminated; instead they have a computer program that is so anti-user that even I, an attorney of 30 years, have difficulty navigating it. Their goal is to keep us dumbed-down, docile and estranged.
The outside world is oblivious because they too have been brainwashed into believing that those locked away are less than human—based on differences of race and class. It is most difficult to struggle against the power if you don’t have a belief that the struggle is worth the sacrifice.
Human Rights Coalition: Do you consider the legal practice of sentencing children to life imprisonment without any possibility of release (a de facto death sentence) for homicide, to be a human rights violation?
Lynne Stewart: I am 100 percent opposed to anything that does not have a factor of human redemption or at least of remediation. I guess it is part of a whole belief system. If you are, like I am, committed to “changing” the world it must be ALL of us, who deserve to live in a system that recognizes that terrible psychic and physical damage can be done to human beings, and has a plan to make people, especially children, whole and restore them to our community.
Human Rights Coalition: In Pennsylvania, being debated is whether sentencing child offenders to life imprisonment without parole should simply be “reformed” by leaving the legal practice intact and simply give the child offender a sentence of life with parole eligibility or should the legal practice be abolished entirely and a new sentencing scheme be developed for child offenders instead? What is your position on the matter—reform or abolish it?
Lynne Stewart: Your question really asks if “reform” is possible within an inhumane system? This is an issue revolutionaries have wrestled with always. Do we give the starving a crust of bread or leave them hungry to make the greater change. I, like Rosa Luxemburg, always made it my practice to minister to immediate primary needs but also to render the explanation for their predicament in political terms and with political (group action) solutions. At least in that way, the baby was no longer starving for milk and there might be a spark ignited for the next confrontation with the oppressor.
In the strict context of your question, we do need to struggle to save people from the most inhumane punishments. However, until we resolve the burning questions of race and class, we must not forget that these are palliative, Band-Aids on a hemorrhage.
Human Rights Coalition: What do you say about the illusion of democracy in America that the people are now witnessing from the domestic austerity program that the federal and state governments are imposing on the American people?
Lynne Stewart: Our job is how to smash the myth of America and we haven’t really figured out as a movement how to blast our way past the sentimentality the media foists on us. We used to believe that if people knew the “truth,” this would shake their faith and move us toward change; or alternatively, if their personal shoe pinched, they would act in self-interest. Now people seem to know only fear and rely on the myths of Big Brother government to assuage them. Our job is to keep on struggling, keep on raising the contradictions, create an atmosphere where we the people are ungovernable.
Human Rights Coalition: Any final comments for the movement out there, Sister Lynne?
Lynne Stewart: In this struggle, once you enlist, it is for life. There are no guarantees and you will be disappointed. But you will also be uplifted when there are victories and enriched by friendship and dedication of the comrades. Most importantly, you can look in the mirror every morning and be at one with the person there because you made the difficult choice and decided to fight for the people against the evil empires. It is the best way to live and I have been on the lines for fifty-plus years, living it.
In this wretched world of darkness and despair it’s the codes that we live by that separate the real from the fake, and it’s the actions we carry out and the good deeds we do that define us and solidify our respect to that code.
Those who work against us and against the solidarity of what we believe, especially when working in cooperation with those who keep us captive and oppressed, are not only considered to be fakes, but are also counter-productive to the survival of our comradery and are therefore unworthy of our recognition.
“Solidarity”, not only the word, but also the idea is nothing but a dwindling memory of something that used to be, once upon a time, long ago. And we who hold on so tightly to the integrity of what once was, are of a dying breed. In this wretched world of foulness and deterioration we will surely find ourselves outnumbered and surrounded and persecuted by the foul and the fake, and because we hold on so vigorously to what we believe, taking direct action against all that is counterproductive and detrimental to the realness of our lives, we will do most of our time on “lock down”, enduring all kinds of torment, suffer and psychological oppression, striving daily to be strong enough to prevail and overcome these potentially drastic circumstances. Because we hold on so firmly to the codes we live by and to what we feel and know to be real to us, we will have to learn the ways of fortitude in order to survive loneliness and long hours of isolation and solitary confinement.
And it is in these hours of confinement that we must use this time to study, learn, cultivate and know ourselves. True soldiers, under these circumstances, always find ways to take this time in solitary and treat it as an opportunity to educate and elevate themselves, and to keep their bodies combat-ready and their minds as sharp as hatori hanzo swords. It is known, without saying, that this time on “lock down”, is the time and place to get our minds right and our game tight.
And that’s exactly why you will always find me reaching out to a real soldier, passing him literature of his desire, which without a doubt beholds real gems of truth and knowledge so that he can use it to cultivate himself and take his growth and development to higher realms of thought and action. This is one of the many things that I do to keep the level of consciousness raised around here, because conscious people are real people, and do real things, and because I’ve found in my own life and experiences that consciousness is a savior. And passing out literature to all these different comrades also preserves the integrity and the realness of the codes and the principles we live by.
It’s deeper than that though; it’s an act of love and an act of solidarity. We are being buried alive in these graveyards, drowning in pools of stagnation and filth. Minds are wasting away in these hellholes, our lives are considered to be worthless to the majority of the people in society. Nobody cares about us, and so sometimes we find it hard to even care about ourselves.
So therefore, I will do what I can to improve the quality of life amongst my peers. We are basically all in the same situation. But some of us are surviving, and others are breaking weak and falling off and have gotten to the point of no return. So I’ve definitely got some good literature to pass out and some real conversation for a person in here who keeps the joy for life beating strongly inside of their determined hearts.
With the help of a couple of beautiful and compassionate friends on the outs, I have been able to accumulate boxes and boxes of good, insightful and empowering literature on almost all and any subject, and for all kinds of different people in here. My good, loyal friends on the outs have made copies for me of all these different materials and mailed them back in to me so that I can pass copies of all this literature out to all who crave this knowledge and to those who appreciate these gems being handed to them. When I see that someone appreciates the love I’ve dropped on them, I’ll recognize it for what it’s. worth and I’ll keep dropping love on them.
In this wretched world of perversion and predation we’ve got to rise above the madness, look out for each other and be real with each other, working together to overcome the daily destruction and oppression. These are real struggles and we’ve got to stick together through hard times, real recognizing real and steel sharpening steel. We’ve got to become more organized and dedicated to taking control of our own lives and finding positive solutions to deal with the negative aspects of our everyday realities. We’ve got to strive for bigger and better things. It’s about solidarity. It’s about love. It’s about respect for the integrity of what’s real, in regards to the survival of our existence, in this cold, lonely, wretched world…
With revolutionary love,
Coyote ABC-Nevada Prison Chapter
Sept. 15th, 2009
quote: “The radical, committed to human liberation, does not become the prisoner of a “circle of certainty” within which reality is imprisoned. On the contrary, the more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can better transform it.
This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.”
Paulo Freire, from his book: “The pedagogy of the oppressed“
From Coyote´s new Zine High Risk Potential. Also published on his site.
The Sentencing of Lynne Stewart
by Michael Steven Smith, in MR Zine
21 July 2010
“At all times throughout history the ideology of the ruling class is the ruling ideology.” — Karl Marx
Lynne Stewart is a friend. She used to practice law in New York City. I still do. I was in the courtroom with my wife Debby the afternoon of July 19th for her re-sentencing. Judge John Koeltl buried her alive.
We should have seen it coming when he told her to take all the time she needed at the start when she spoke before the sentence was read. It didn’t matter what she said. He had already written his decision, which he read out loud to a courtroom packed with supporters. It was well crafted. Bulletproof on appeal. He is smart and cautious.
After about an hour into his pronouncement, he came to the buried alive part. He prefaced it by citing the unprecedented 400 letters of support people had sent him, all of which he said he read. He noted Lynne’s three decades of service to the poor and the outcast. He stressed that she is a seventy-year-old breast cancer survivor with high blood pressure and other serious health problems. And then he laid it on her: 120 months.
Everyone in the courthouse divided 120 by 12. He had given her a death sentence, we all thought. She’ll never get out. He almost quadrupled the 28 month sentence he had originally pronounced. She had told him that 28 months was a horizon, that she had hope. But no more.
Lynne’s granddaughter gasped. Then started sobbing. She kept crying even as Judge John Koeltl kept reading. And reading. And reading. It was awful. The sentence was pitiless and cruel. How to understand it?
Lynne’s lawyer Jill Shellow Levine rose after the judge finished. She asked him why. He was candid. He was told to do it by his supervisors, the judges on the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. This court is an institution of the elite. It is considered the second highest court in America next to the Supreme Court because it presides over the financial center of the empire, not its capital, that is in D.C., but its real capital. This court makes policy and Lynne Stewart was to be made an example of in “the war against terrorism” just as a half a century before, in the same court, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were condemned to death in the war against communism, told that they had caused the deaths of 50,000 U.S. soldiers in the Korean War, and found guilty of the ridiculous charge of “stealing the secret” of the atomic bomb, when there was no secret, it was only a matter of technology. The sentencing Judge Kaufman knew they would leave behind two orphan children, Robert and Michael, ages six and three.
In 1947 George Kennan, the ideological father of the cold war, wrote that the United States had but six per cent of the world’s population and fifty per cent of its wealth. The problem was to keep it. Anti-communism served as the ideological cover the U.S. ruling classes used. But communism ceased to exist after capitalism was restored in the Soviet Union in 1991. A new ideological cover has been constructed in the wake of the September 11th criminal attack on the World Tread Center and the Pentagon: the War against Terror. Nationalist opposition to U.S. economic and foreign policy in parts of the Arab world is no longer led by communists but by fundamentalist Muslims.
Lynne Stewart represented one of them, Sheik Abdel Rahman, who was the leading oppositionist to the U.S.-sponsored Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt, which gets more money from America than any other country in the world except Israel. In 1993, at the behest of the Egyptian government, Sheik Rahman was criminally indicted and later convicted of the crime of “sedition” for suggesting to a government informer that rather than blow up New York City landmarks he choose “a military target.” It was on the occasion of a post-conviction prison visit that Lynne helped her client. She released his statement to Reuters press service announcing his withdrawal of support for a ceasefire between his group and the Egyptian government. This was in violation of a Special Administrative Measure (SAMs) that Lynne had agreed to with the U.S. Government. She wasn’t supposed to be a medium for communication between her client and the outside world. She should have challenged the constitutionality of the SAMs, she now realizes, and not just have violated them.
She wasn’t prosecuted for what she did, not under the Clinton administration, nor during the first years of George W. Bush. Then came 9.11. Bush’s Attorney General John Ashcroft flew into New York City in 2003 and announced Lynne’s indictment on the David Letterman show. The crime? A novel one. Conspiracy to provide material aid to a terrorist organization. What was the material aid? Her client. When Ashcroft did that, as the nation’s highest law enforcement officer, he committed an ethical violation for which any other attorney would have been sanctioned. He made sure that from the very beginning of her ordeal Lynne Stewart never had a chance. Not with the level of fear the government was able to generate and the scare they put into her jury.
In 2006 she was convicted and sentenced. The maximum was 30 years, but thanks to the superb legal work of National Lawyers Guild attorneys Elizabeth Fink and Sarah Kunstler and the outpouring of public support Judge Koeltl gave her 28 months. The government appealed the sentence to their U.S. Court of Appeals. Game over. The selective prosecution of Lynne Stewart was accomplished.
Judge John Walker, George W. Bush’s first cousin, sits on that court. His family made their fortune selling munitions during WWI. He wrote that the 28 months was “shockingly low.” Judge Koeltl was given his orders. The seemingly kindly boyish-looking jurist about whom it was said that he walks to work and looks after an elderly mother — not exactly a sadistic old lady killer — then reversed himself and on the same evidence nearly quadruped the sentence, putting a seventy-year-old grandmother on chemotherapy away for ten years and two years’ probation after that for good measure. This is much more than meanness. It is ideology.
Michael Steven Smith is the co-host of the WBAI radio show Law and Disorder and sits on the Board of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
We return to Fort Huachuca to call for an end to torture.
We are here because we desire dialogue with soldiers and commanders engaged in interrogation training. We are here because we still question whether soldiers are provided with adequate training about international human rights law so they would know to refuse illegal orders and other pressure to torture captives (including a guarantee that speaking out would not lead to retaliation or punishment). We are here in the hope that healing can take place–healing for the victims of torture, as well as the men and women who have been involved in carrying out torture.
Ft. Huachuca is also implicated in the rapidly expanding, legally questionable and morally reprehensible use of remotely-piloted aircraft, or drones, as a weapon of war. We’re told that currently the Army only trains for the operation and maintenance of reconnaissance and surveillance drones at Ft. Huachuca. But we also know that the Army plans to weaponize some of these same drones.
Drone attacks have killed many more innocent civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere, than alleged terrorists. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions has asked whether the use of drones in targeting terrorists to be killed constitutes “arbitrary extrajudicial executions,” or rogue assassinations in violation of international law. We are here today to call for an end to the use of armed drones in warfare. We believe this terrorizing and killing generates deep resentment in the region that incites hatred for the U.S., boosts recruitment for Taliban, Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, and may spawn decades of retaliation.
We act in solidarity with the campaign to close the School of the Americas/Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation at Ft. Benning, Georgia, where the testimony of torture survivors has informed our outrage and moved us to action. We also act in solidarity with people in New York protesting the presence of Reaper drones at a NY Air National Guard base outside of Syracuse today.
To live, to fight for what you believe in, to fight for what you have coming to you. To overcome adversity, to eliminate all distractions and to remove self-destructive influences from your life. To fight for your freedom.
To survive, to resist, to become stronger under dire circumstances, to revolutionize and politicize your mind while confined behind enemy lines. To fight against enemies who are more powerful than you, with no fear in your heart and no doubt in your mind.
To oppose the oppressive elements of the system, to oppose government and all elements of authority and power, while building yourself up, educating yourself and putting your knowledge into practice. To achieve self-discipline. To organize yourself and your people, even under the most extreme circumstances and to make solid connections with serious comrades, that will lead to uplifting movements.
Struggle is being able to maintain a sense of confidence while living under the most despairing situations, it’s being able to stand your ground no matter what, it’s being able to maintain a sense of self, while moving with purpose. Struggle is being able to move forward while striving against great odds.
Struggle is life and life is struggle. It’s what makes us stronger, it’s what makes us intelligent, it’s what makes us grow inside. There’s nothing like struggle, there’s nothing greater than achieving the things you’ve set your mind on, there’s nothing like helping your people rise up. Struggle is an essential to life.
Something as beautiful as freedom; something that good; something that great could never be free. It seems like it always comes with a price. Trust me when I tell you that it’s a high price we have to pay for our freedom, especially if you come from the gutter, born into oppression, born into poverty, it’s a high price for anybody who has to live in this world of capitalism because they have found a way to make all people pay for the good things in life.
I feel like I’ve been paying the price for my freedom for the past 17 years, so when these gates open for me, when I can feel the fresh air in my lungs and when I can feel the sunshine on my face, I want the feeling I get to be worth it. I want the feeling that I get as soon as I step out of these gates to be worth all the pain, all the heartache, all the suffering that I’ve endured. I want that feeling to be worth all the madness I’ve gone through in my life. I want to feel it in my soul. I want my soul to know what freedom feels like!
I’ve paid for my freedom. I’ve paid for it with the pain of my soul, I’ve paid for it with the blood of my flesh, I’ve paid for my freedom with damage to my heart and damage to my mind and I know that because I know how this incarceration has scarred my psyche. I’ve paid for my freedom, so give me what I´ve got coming, give me what I´ve paid for!
Everybody in the world needs to feel a sense of purpose. A purpose for living. A purpose for being. A purpose for feeling good. A purpose for suffering. A purpose for dying. Many of us in this world are lost, confused, damaged, partly because we don’t know our purpose. We subject ourselves to all kinds of abuse and torment; we search for a meaning and a sense of self-worth in materialistic things, like money and possessions. We join gangs, join religious groups, join the military. Women will sell their bodies, not only for money but also for the sense of purpose and people will cling to the first thing that pays them any serious kind of attention. People will do drugs, chasing that feeling, chasing that high ‘cuz to them that high feels better that being conscious in this screwed up world. We are running around lost in this world with no real sense of purpose.
I’ve sat in these cells, in this prison, going through all kinds of crazy, fatal and drastic situations. I’ve been afflicted by so many devastating things, that have somehow become normal in our everyday lives and I’ve seen this madness, I’ve seen its face, I’ve looked in its eyes, and my heart has been afflicted by all of the pain and suffering that we have to go through in this world.
I’ve lived in this tormenting hell, going through the motions, just trying to live this penitentiary lifestyle and trying to keep my head above the water, but I’ve found that no matter how you do your time you will still be afflicted by all of this foulness, you will still be damaged. I’ve sat in these cells, sat in solitude, trying to find myself, looking for my own purpose in life.
There were times when I thought being a gangster was my purpose. There were times when I thought being a criminal was my purpose. There were times when I thought being a convict was my purpose. I was all of these things and still am a convict, but these are not my purposes in life, they’re my struggles. I realized, as I sat here and reflected that those were only purposes that served me, and vet there are thousands of people who suffer and struggle just like me and worse. The more I reflected on that, the more I realized that it´s not about me anymore. I will always be a part of the counter-culture, but I’ve realized that my purpose in life isn’t about me, but about striving to assist others who struggle alongside me.
As we sit in these cells searching for meaning, searching for truthful understanding, we begin to comprehend things in ways we´ve never understood them before. We begin to understand ourselves, our situations and our struggles and once you’ve embraced these understandings you begin to take steps towards purging yourself from your old ways of thinking and constructing the old ways into a higher realm of thought, until you become conscious, not only by how you think, but conscious in all that you do. Once you become conscious you don’t see things like you used to and you begin to feel renewed, enlightened and alive. You take on a new passion for life.
I am a social prisoner. I have become politically conscious and spiritually motivated while in prison for a “social crime”. I don’t feel the need to twist up my crime to make it seem like I am a political prisoner because I am content with being a social prisoner. I don’t feel the need to be considered as a political prisoner to make what I have to say seems valid. I am living in these trenches, behind enemy lines, everyday. I am going through it on a daily basis and as long as I am truthful with who I am and truthful with what I’m saying I know people will be able to connect to it and deem it as valid, and if for some reason certain people choose not to take me seriously, that’s their loss.
I can understand why some ‘rades might feel the need to be considered political prisoners, because political prisoners get all of the attention. But as social prisoners, as conscious prisoners, as anarchist prisoners, or as imprisoned radical intellectuals, we have a place in this struggle too and if you are resourceful enough and active enough and it what you have to say is valid and as long as people can connect to it, then you can get your voice heard just as much as any political prisoner, but if you’re just doing this to get yourself some attention, or just to get your voice heard, with no real intentions of striving to make a difference, then you’re doing it tor the wrong reasons. If you are serious about your concerns and serious about your activism it wouldn’t matter whether you were considered a political prisoner, or a social prisoner. All that matters is that we want to do something good and make a difference. We want to help people who can’t help themselves. When it comes down to it, that’s all that matters and if you ain´t about that then you’re only living tor yourself.
When people on the streets read this zine, I hope they will want to get more involved with prisoners in meaningful ways. When prisoners read this zine, I hope it will inspire them to take a critical look at their own situation, and maybe even help them to get organized and to start taking action to make things better where they’re at. I want people to understand that prisoners are a people who long tor real human contact, we long for real social contact, we long to establish and maintain real, truthful relations and meaningful, substantial connections with people on the outs. We need people to stand by us during these hard times, we need people to get involved in our struggles, and we need people to help us ourselves.
Being institutionalized, addicted to drugs, materialism, violence, being a member of a street gang and being a prisoner and trying to overcome all of these things, these are my struggles, these are my afflictions, but this zine isn’t about one man’s struggle, this booklet is about the system, about prison, it’s about all the people in prisons who struggle just like me. This zine is not about anarchism, it’s a zine about imprisonment, struggle, resistance, life and survival, written by an anarchist prisoner.
I see prison as a place that takes people who have been damaged by poverty, neglect, abuse, racism, and addiction and keeps them damaged and damages them even more, so that they’re always held down in life. I write this zine to expose a piece of what the system does to us, how we can survive it, why people need to get involved in prisoners struggles and movements and I wanted people to understand, from the perspective of one man who has gone through it and who is still living it and trying to rise above it.
People do not realize that I have been fighting most of my life. Snatched up as a youth, against my will no doubt, and placed in various institutions and juvenile facilities for 7 years. I got out when I was 18 and came to prison when I was 19. I was already “institutionalized” before even coming to prison. It is a struggle that has made me stronger, though it is a sad situation that many of us face in these graveyards.
I don’t write about it to brag about it (I’m not that “institutionalized”) because it’s nothing to brag about, it’s nothing to be proud of. Though I feel no shame or self-pity for my own painful experiences, I don’t feel proud of them either. There’s mixed emotions and mixed blessings that come with all of this. I am appreciative of the things that have made me stronger, disgusted that there are millions of us living like this, grateful that my mind is not only still intact, but even sharper than ever, and I’m heartbroken that there are thousands and thousands of people who won’t ever be able to rise above this madness and oppression, ever.
I write about it to show people how this barbaric system deprives us of our youth, deprives us of our emotions, deprives us of our senses, deprives us of our freedom and our humanity. From an early age, many of us are deprived of these essentials and slowly we begin to manifest into institutionalized, anti-social, predatory savages.
There are lots of people who don’t understand, can’t understand that I’ve spent the majority of my life in institutions and prisons since the age of 11, but this is a very real situation. People need to be made aware of what we are going through in these institutions, even prisoners need to know what’s happening to them, what’s really going on, underneath the surface. People need to understand that our lives are real and that the things that we are going through in here are very real, and mothers and parents need to understand that they should keep their kids out of the hands of pigs.
I write about resistance, because there is nothing more important than resistance in a situation like this. Resistance is a means to survival. I have been resisting all of my life, since the age of 11, and for the first 3 years of my captivity, from the ages of 11 to 13, I spent most of that time strapped to a bed, alone in a cold, desolate timed-out room, where the walls were pale and the air was state, not much different than where I’m at now, but I´m not physically strapped to a bed anymore but psychologically, I am confined to a world of darkness, because I cannot envision or even imagine what life would be like, outside of this cell, outside of prison. I’m 30 years old now and as I sit here and try to reflect on the fact that I’ve survived for 3 decades, I try to figure out what that means, and all I can think of, is that it means I’ve lived 3 years longer than Bobby Sands and if I can survive for another 3 years, I will have lived as long as Jesus Christ and I guess that means that I’m surviving.
My mind is sharper than the razor-wire that surrounds the prison that contains me. If it wasn’t I wouldn’t have been able to survive this constant isolation and sensory deprivation for years on end, I’d already be brain-dead, or intellectually dead, or even delirious, like a lot of others in here who unfortunately suffer from some kind of mental illness. Nothing wrong with me, I’m no more messed up than most of the people in society. The only difference between them and me, is if you were to do a CAT-Scan or MRI on my brain, the image that you see on the cover of this zine, is the same as the image you’d see on the MRI: A BRAIN GRENADE! Explosive minds are created in these prisons, for those who resist, for those who think, and for those who strive to elevate themselves, in spite of the infectious and foul conditions we have to live in. Explosive minds, dangerous minds, revolutionary minds, for those who resist.
This place, this graveyard, cemetery, dungeon, hell-hole, whatever you want to call it to make you feel better about being in it, has devastating effects on all who dwell here, whether you’re resistant or not. But the more you resist the more you survive. I won’t say that being here and going through this madness hasn’t had any destructive or negative effects on me or hasn’t done any damage, I could never say that. This suffering, this madness has done plenty of damage to me, in so many ways and I may never recover from some of it, but the point is that nobody is immune to the effects of constant isolation, or constant prison madness. You cannot live like this and not be affected, no matter how strong you are or how much you resist, it has a devastating effect on everybody, more devastating for some than others, that’s why it’s important to stay active, stay healthy, and to keep resisting, keep striving, keep elevating yourself.
I’m conditioned to live in this place like this, I don’t have a life sentence, but I’m conditioned to live the rest of my life like this, living like a dog, and that’s sad. I have to get out of prison one day, some day and I’m going to have to get out and recondition myself and my mind, my life and readjust my way of thinking and living and that’s going to make surviving out there harder for me that it is to survive in here. In the back of my mind I know I have a life to go to out there, I have family and friends who love me and care about me, but as I sit here in the midst of this constant madness, all I can see is that I have made a life for myself, right here in this graveyard. I don’t yet recognize a life on the other side of these walls, fences, gates, so I don’t think about it much, I don’t think about getting released. So it’s a heartbreaking, painful situation for us in here. We can’t see a future for ourselves that exists beyond these walls, beyond this life; we don’t think about these things, we are stuck in a rut, stuck in a maze. We need people to get involved in our lives in real ways, get involved in our struggles in meaningful ways, to help us envision a life outside of prison; we need to have a c1ear picture of freedom inside our minds. We need people to help us grow, help us elevate, help us organize, help us survive, live and heal. We have a lot to overcome, a lot to heal from. We need people to help us see and recognize a life for ourselves on the other side of the darkness, and the people who don’t ever have a chance of getting out of here are in need of the most love.
A prisoner doesn’t need books to become a radical. If the lst amendment rights were completely stripped from prisoners and if they were to disallow any type of books, or reading materials into these prisons a prisoner can still be wild and radical as his or her heart is. They could take my books, zines and reading materials away from me, and if I just sit back and observe what goes on around here, thinking deeply about the things I see and think deeply of the underlying causes behind all of this, I can write about this madness all day long. So, you see ,we don’t need books to become radicals, we need books to become intellectuals. Books are powerful tools. Prisoners need people to send them books so that they can further their intellectual growth. We need people to send us zines and serious reading materials so that we can take it upon ourselves to resist the aura of intellectual death that permeates through these walls and steel doors. We need people to help us organize study groups and intellectual, spiritual and political movements on the inside of these coffin-like cells and to help us spread truth and intellectual growth amongst our comrades who dwell in these cemeteries with us. We need knowledge so that we can liberate our minds from this constant oppression, so we can gain consciousness and so we can take the initiative to rise ourselves, up and above this constant death, destruction and devastation.
I came to prison when I was 19 and I quickly learned and assumed the mentality and ways of being a convict, things aren’t what they were when I came to prison, they’ve gotten worse for us in here, but 1 haven’t changed much, I haven’t deteriorated. Once you’ve been sent to prison you have to keep in mind that there’s only 3 things that can be taken from you, or only 3 things that you can LOSE: Your mind, your manhood or your life. I’ve stood up many times, against my oppressors, and they came in and took my television, took my property and charged me restitution. But you see, they can take my T.V. (I don’t watch it anyways), but if I haven’t lost my mind, then they haven’t taken nada. They can take my privileges or my good time (life goes on) but as long as nobody has taken my manhood from me, they ain’t took nothing. They can take my money, my property or any other material possession they want, but as long as they haven’t taken my life, then they haven’t taken anything.
It’s been 10 years that I’ve lived inside the depths of the prison regime and I haven’t lost my mind, my manhood or my life, so I guess you can say I’m surviving. I was always taught that a convict is someone who sticks up for himself, stands up tor his rights and who looks out for other convicts and that it’s better to lose your so-called privileges than to lose your manhood, it’s better to take a stand than to be walked all over by people who think they’re mightier than you because they have the law on their side.
And so, in that sense, being a convict is like being a revolutionary, but on a smaller scale. Intact, all these struggles, riots, conflicts and acts of resistance against our oppressors is actually training and preparing us to take it to another level. We’ve turned these prisons into training grounds tor revolutionaries. We’ve come from being convicts and developed ourselves into imprisoned radical intellectuals, so you see; this has just been another way tor us to make a bad situation into a better one, because that’s what we do.
Rather than allowing ourselves to be destroyed by prison, we sit here contemplating, trying to find ways to destroy the prison. In Abbie Hoffman’s book, Steal this Book, when he gives instructions on how to build a pipe bomb, he writes, “The basic idea to remember is that a bomb is simply a hot tire burning very rapidly in a tightly contined space.” I think that’s what we are, we’re not just prisoners, as we sit and dwell and develop in the confines of these cells, our hearts burn like a raging fire, and our brains are like bombs, a hot fire burning very rapidly in a tightly confined space.
Consciousness permeates through these walls and fills the atmosphere of these graveyards, they can’t imprison consciousness, they can’t stop it, as long as we have our minds intact and continue to use them as weapons, and they can’t stop it. We sit here locked up, confined, and slammed down, thinking of freedom; the thing that’s so great, but costs so much, and the more we think about it, the closer we are to it.. ..
So here is some of my best, break the chains, smash the system writing, I hope you´re ready for this!
Until prisons have been abolished,
ABC – Nevada
December 15th, 2007
Feel free to make copies of this zine and send it to prisoners, prison activist groups, free books to prisoner bookstores, newsletters and to advocacy networks, etc. Anyone who would like to write me, or make any comments, or who would like to get involved in my activism, struggles or movement could write to me at the address below. I am a prohibited from receiving letters directly from other prisoners, but would like to hear from everyone, everywhere.
This zine is dedicated to my fallen comrade: Silencio, (May you rest in resistance carnal) killed by the hands of the pigs in the Washoe County Sherriff’s Office, (the county jail in Reno, Nevada). We miss you Bro.
For letters of encouragement or support, write to:
Coyote Sheff #55671
P.O. Box 1989
Ely, Nevada 89301 – 1989
Or write to my comrade
South Chicago ABC Zine Distro
P.O. Box 721
Homewood, lllinois 60430