Living for the Oppressed: A Journal Entry (2011)
December 9, 2011 | Filed under: Articles, News and Updates and tagged with: Red Onion State Prison Conditions/News
*This “article” is an entry made into a journal I was keeping in 2011 – a sort of prison diary – which only lasted a couple of weeks.
A typical day.
Had a good one-on-one exchange with KB today. Although he’s housed in the cell next to me, we hadn’t talked for about a week. He expressed frustration with me. Feeling years in segregation has affected my mind – negatively – in that I don’t seem interested in using my “wits” to get out: of segregation and ultimately prison. He goes for the “be a good boy and they’ll let you out” line. Had to correct him.
He’s deeply idealistic. The affective type: highly emotional, sensational, which he attributes to his zodiac sign (sigh!) – Pisces.
I’ve had to explain – seems repeatedly – that I am avoiding trouble. It’s never worked. He’s heard numerous ranking pigs admit that many factors weigh against my ever seeing an open yard in Virginia, which include that I stir up too much trouble challenging and generating protest over foul conditions and our (mis) treatment, my past extreme (counter) violence (against pigs), a lot of ranking pigs and administrators deeply resent me, they feel also I “can’t be trusted” walking out and about, I have “too much influence,” I must be kept under close surveillance, etc.
Even under segregated confinement I’ve been on 24/7 video monitoring since 2008, and since 2009 anytime any pig opens the hatch on the cell door to give or receive anything to or from me, and whenever I’m brought out of the cell (handcuffed and leg-shackled of course), I’m to be audio-video taped on portable camera. I’m confined under “special” management —housed in a cell specially constructed just for me, with special reinforcements around and in front of the cell door, the bed, the light, the sink/commode unit and the back window; special glass in the cell door window, and all cell fixtures removed: no shelf, desk, mirror, electric socket, etc.
He sees, hears, knows all this, but believes in the general rhetoric, “if you lay back, sooner or later they’ll let up.” How do we keep falling for the old carrot on a stick?
In the end he conceded, I may just be stuck in seg after all. But he personally couldn’t do it, which is what it really boils down to. Projecting his own subjective “need” to get out onto me, his “need” to believe in the system, that the pigs are honorable and follow their own rules. Clinging to false hope, which flies in the face of his own lived experiences of 25 years, going back to his childhood. His earliest years were marked by being taunted and brutalized by the cops in his ‘hood.
He also once told me how he’s still emotionally and – also showed me – physically scarred by an experience in Richmond’s juvenile detention center. The pigs hog tied and tortured him for hours, after they’d already beaten him brutally (with fists, boots and bodily jumping onto him), and dislocated his shoulder and his collarbone, which is permanently deformed and chronically dislocates spontaneously.
When describing the experience sometime back, he implored – almost as if appealing to the pigs, who had brutalized his pre-adolescent body – “You can’t do that to a child! I don’t care what he did!” He’d actually done nothing but refuse to be bullied by the detention center pigs. My response: “I know. I know. That’s why we’ve got to change this system, this society. It’s happening everyday. You weren’t the first or the last.” The experience shattered his trust in “authority,” but he still clings to false hope.
The idea that the entire system is itself illegitimate is just too big for him to grasp. To him, it’s just too big and powerful. The world he knows – the ghettos and prisons – are completely regulated by the system’s enforcers who have absolute power. He can only fathom competing against and venting on other poor and powerless people. He doesn’t even grasp the world beyond the segregated city blocks and cell blocks.
He was studying for a while, and then shut down. I had him reading Mumia’s, We Want Freedom 1, and Zinn’s, A People’s History of the United States 2. Like many from the ‘hood, he has a keen and gritty intelligence, and was moved by these works – he also expressed a sense of betrayal by a school system that never taught him these histories. But then he withdrew. I believe he found the history of systemic oppression by the powerful against the masses of common people and their struggles overwhelming.
All he cares about, he protests, is his family. “Fuck everybody else!”, unless he personally knows and likes them. His thinking isn’t exceptional. I struggle with him. Reminding him that his family is part of a much larger community. If the community isn’t safe and supportive, neither is his family.
He’s receptive. . . for a while, then retreats into his own world, working on writing a fantasy novel. Then resurfaces after a few days, or a week, or more, as he did today. Coming back for more. Each time he’s a little more receptive, his mind grows. It’s a protracted process. I know this. Winning hearts and minds.
He implores me to get out of prison. “We need you out there,” he tells me often. A lot of our peers tell me this. I reply, “You can do anything I can. United with others of like mind, you can change the world.” So I struggle to teach them, learn from them. And they struggle in return – even if only unconsciously at first – to grow, to learn, to teach me.
Many find it “odd” when I ask them to criticize me, to point out my flaws, to help me grow; they’re like, “How we gonna teach you?” Most, conditioned by bourgeois (il)logic, feel a teacher or leader is above criticism. I explain, one who cannot accept the people’s criticism and correction is not their leader, but is capable only of being their oppressor.
I give them Mao’s “Combat Liberalism,”3 and his talks on Democratic Centralism4. Explain to them the mass line; the dialectical relationship between teaching and learning, and the dialectical materialist theory of knowledge – that learning goes on so long as we are alive. It’s what advances human society and relationships. I have them study Mao’s, “On Practice,”5 then write and return to me summaries explaining the articles. They grow; I grow.
Some are more receptive than others. But they all come back for more … sooner or later. They are “alive and learning,” some in spite of themselves. These are our people. The lowest of the low. To know them is to know oneself. They are me and I am them. How could you not love them? I live for them.
All Power to The people!
Mumia Abu-Jamal, We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party(Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2004). [↩]
Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (N.Y., Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005). [↩]
Mao Tse-tung, Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung, Vol. 2 (Foreign Languages Press, 1975). [↩]
John Chinnery and Tieyun trans., Mao Tse-Tung, “Talks at an Enlarged Central Work Conference,” Chairman Mao Talks to the People: Talks and Letters: 1956-1971 (NY: Pantheon Books, 1974) p. 158. [↩]
Mao Tse-Tung, “On Practice,” Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung, Vol. 1 (Foreign Languages Press, 1975). [↩]