Your questions answered ????

from We Love Lore

Thanks to everyone for your patience and generous offers of support during these last few quiet months ???? We want to keep everyone up-to-date and in touch with Lore while the government tries to hide her and slow her eventual release.

So! We’re offering a new option to subscribe to the latest updates as they come by email ???? and adding your FAQ’s, starting with the questions we’ve received the most below.

Don’t forget! you can always catch up with the latest on Instagram and Twitter, too.

What is Lore’s current status?

Lore is still detained at the Bureau of Prisons’ Federal Detention Center at 7th and Arch Streets in downtown Philadelphia.

Does she have a trial date?

No, neither the prosecutors’ office nor the courts have expressed any plans to hold a trial in the foreseeable future.

How is her health?

Lore is feeling fairly well after recovering from an untreated COVID-19 infection, but she now uses an inhaler daily and needs further testing to understand and manage her long-term breathing needs.

Is she vaccinated?

Lore has not received any COVID-19 vaccination at the time of writing and there is no timetable for her to receive one. She has expressed her desire to be vaccinated often and clearly.

How is her spirit?

All in all, pretty great! ???? Your support continues to reach and uplift Lore there daily.

Right now she is especially inspired to win more and better access to COVID-19 information and vaccinations on the women’s unit. In the meantime she is forming strong bonds with some amazing women in her unit, writing letters to everyone she can, and creating a lot of artwork.

How can I help?

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More than anything else, Lore wants us all to support our friends and allies leading the fights against police violence and mass incarceration.

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You can also support Lore directly by writing and sending photos! Your love and solidarity make this fight possible.

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And you can always donate to Lore’s commissary fund via PayPal or Venmo @WeLoveLore for food, clothes, and all the other essentials.

In Contempt #4

from It’s Going Down

[This post only contains information relevant to Philadelphia and the surrounding area, to read the entire article follow the above link.]

Welcome, to the fourth installation of In Contempt, a collection of updates and information in relation to state repression and counter-insurgency, especially in the wake of the George Floyd uprising last summer.

Uprising Defendants

Everyone should support the defendants facing charges related to their alleged participation in the George Floyd uprising – this list of our imprisoned comrades needs to be getting shorter, not longer. The status of pre-trial defendants changes frequently, but to the best of our knowledge they currently include:

Lore-Elisabeth Blumenthal #70002-066
FDC Philadelphia
P.O. Box 562
Philadelphia, PA 19105

David Elmakayes #77782-066
FDC Philadelphia,
PO Box 562,
Philadelphia, PA 19105

Shawn Collins #69989-066
FDC Philadelphia,
PO Box 562,
Philadelphia, PA 19105

Steven Pennycooke #69988-066
FDC Philadelphia,
PO Box 562,
Philadelphia, PA 19105

When writing to pre-trial prisoners, do not write about their cases or say anything that you wouldn’t want to hear read out in court. If you have any updates, either about status changes meaning that people should be removed from this list, or about names that are missing and should be included, please reach out.

Upcoming Birthdays

Abednego Baynes

A former Vaughn 17 defendant. Baynes was found innocent of all charges in relation to the uprising, but he has still been punished with a move out of state, and deserves respect and support for staying in solidarity with his codefendants throughout the process and refusing to cooperate with the prosecution. You can read more about Baynes in his own words here.

Pennsylvania uses Connect Network/GTL, so you can contact him online by going to connectnetwork.com, selecting “Add a facility”, choosing “State: Pennsylvania, Facility: Pennsylvania Department of Corrections,” going into the “messaging” service, and then adding him as a contact by searching his name or “NT0594.”

Birthday: May 20

Address:

Smart Communications/PADOC
Abednego Baynes, NT0594
SCI Phoenix
PO Box 33028
St Petersburg, FL 33733

Looking Ahead

Looking further ahead, June 11th is the international day of solidarity with long-term anarchist prisoners, and further ahead still, there’s the Jailhouse Lawyers Speak call for demonstrations on August 21st and September 9th, so you may want to start thinking about plans for those dates now.

Monday April 26th: Letter-writing for Mumia Abu-Jamal

from Philly ABC

mumia-abu-jamal.jpgMumia Abu-Jamal is a former Black Panther and internationally recognized award-winning journalist known as “the voice of the voiceless” for his many years spent writing about racism in Philadelphia, the murder of local MOVE members, people in prison, and more. It is now urgent that we raise our voices for the freedom of Mumia as he faces serious health complications from medical neglect inside prison.

After years of denial of treatment for various chronic health conditions, Mumia had heart pain over last weekend. He was rushed to the hospital, and is expected to undergo heart surgery Monday, April 19, 2021. According to Dr. Ricardo Alvarez, Mumia’s chosen doctor:

There is significant evidence, both legal and medical, that Mumia has suffered severe harm because medical, legal, law enforcement, and judicial professionals have not met proper standards. Mumia has been recently hospitalized for COVID and Congestive Heart Failure and he already suffers from hypertension as well as liver cirrhosis and diabetes, both induced by court documented medical neglect. Freedom is the only treatment.

Watch the full, emergency press conference here.

Due to public pressure, Mumia was able to call his wife last Thursday, but we need to continue the pressure to demand:

  1. Mumia be allowed to call his chosen doctor, Dr. Ricardo Alvarez.
  2. Mumia not be shackled to his hospital bed, as is the rule in Pennsylvania and across the United States.
  3. His immediate release from prison.

Your support with calling and emailing prison authorities today and in the coming weeks is absolutely critical to ensure that Mumia gets the best possible medical care before, during, and after the surgery on Monday.

The it’s ALL OUT FOR MUMIA on April 23-25 – a weekend of action for Mumia’s 67th birthday.

Finally, join us on Monday, April 26th at 6:30pm in Clark Park (stone platform near 45th and Chester) as we gather to write letters of solidarity to Mumia. Move members will provide an update on Mumia’s condition and next steps for the fight to bring him home. If you are unable to make the event, please send him your solidarity at:

Smart Communications/PADOC
Mumia Abu-Jamal AM-8335
SCI Mahanoy
P.O. Box 33028
St. Petersburg, FL 33733

We will also send birthday cards to political prisoners with birthdays in May: Xinachtli (the 12th), Kojo Bomani Sababu (the 27th), and Doug Wright (the 30th).

#FreedomIsTheOnlyTreatment
#FreeMumia
#BringMumiaHome

Prison Break: Glimmers of Light

from It’s Going Down

[This post only contains information relevant to Philadelphia and the surrounding area, to read the entire article follow the above link.]

Political Prisoner Birthdays

The only political prisoner’s birthday in April is that of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who will turn 67. Mumia recently contracted COVID-19 and his health has continued to deteriorate during his 37 years of wrongful imprisonment. As a Pennsylvania prisoner he will only receive scans of correspondence, but send him a birthday letter or card now to show your solidarity.

April 24
Mumia Abu-Jamal, #AM8335
Smart Communications/PA DOC
SCI Mahanoy
PO Box 33028
St Petersburg, FL 33733

Ongoing Cases

On March 17, lawyers for political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal filed a response in the hopes of re-opening appeals filed on Mumia’s behalf. You can read more about the struggles of Pennsylvania political prisoners Abu-Jamal and Russell Maroon Shoatz in the new Human Rights Coalition magazine, pages 33-38. On March 19th, Mumia issued a message to supporters who flooded phone lines and email inboxes, demanding his release. Here’s his statement:

Dear sisters, brothers, comrades, and friends and family on a MOVE! How can I thank you? These, my words, can hardly measure the flood of love that you have radiated on my behalf recently. I am almost — almost — without words, but I’ll try.

Thank you, Wadiya. Thank you, Pam Africa. Your support from Philadelphia to France, from points across the nation and literally around the globe, have pulled me from a prison cell and placed me in a hospital room to be treated for a condition I didn’t know I had.

In the age of pandemic as of January 2021, over 300,000 prisoners have tested positive for COVID-19. Imagine that in a cell, trying to breathe with a weight pressing on your chest. Imagine an elder man or woman, or even a young person, because yes, we are also in an age of mass incarceration, which day-by-day increases its infliction upon the elderly struggling, unsuccessfully, to breathe, to walk, to be.

I thank you all for reaching out and I urge you all, let our mission be abolition. I love you all. Thank you again, from the bottom of my heart.

From imprisoned nation, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Wednesday March 31st: Letter-writing for Fran Thompson

from Philly ABC

fran-thompson.jpg

Philly ABC has been busy gearing up for this year’s Running Down the Walls 5K (save the date of September 12th with funds split between the ABCF Warchest and Mumia Abu-Jamal!), but we didn’t want to miss a monthly letter-writing so we are hosting the next event online this Wednesday the 31st.

Philly ABC is energized by building momentum towards abolishing the police. As prison abolitionists, we stand in solidarity with the many people who have taken necessary actions to defend themselves without engaging police or courts. We believe self-defense is a right, and recognize that police and courts do not provide viable options to ensure safety. Both are even more biased against people who are known to stand up against injustice.

This month we encourage people to write letters to Fran Thompson, who was sentenced to life in prison for self-defense in 1994. Prior to her incarceration, Fran lived on a farm in Knox County, Nebraska. She was a dedicated animal rights and environmental activist. After a man who was stalking her threatened to kill her and then broke into her house, Fran shot and killed him in self-defense but was charged with murder.

Fran’s case was highly politicized. Fran had taken on the prosecutor and local government during her activism, organizing against two big projects, the Walden Egg Factory and a nuclear waste facility, that would have brought the county big profits. She was treated harshly by the local court for her commitment to animals and the environment. She was not allowed to enter a plea of self-defense and received a sentence of life without parole.

This event will be held on Jitsi – we’ll post the meet link on social media the day of. You can also message us to get the link beforehand. If you are unable to make the event, please drop Fran a line and let her know she is not forgotten:

Fran Thompson #93341
Nebraska Correctional Center for Women
1107 Recharge Rd.
York, NE 68467-8003

We also encourage sending a birthday card to Mumia Abu-Jamal, as a U.S.-held political prisoner born in April. Sadly, the other political prisoner who we would have been sending a birthday card to– [Chip Fitzgerald] (https://www.prisonersolidarity.com/prisoner/romaine-chip-fitzgerald)– recently suffered a severe cardio-vascular event and passed away on March 31st, so we send heartfelt condolences to his loved ones.

In Contempt #3: Calls to Action from Behind the Prison Walls, ‘Blockade Defense’ Campaign Launched

from It’s Going Down

[This post only contains information relevant to Philadelphia and the surrounding area, to read the entire article follow the above link.]

Uprising Defendants

Everyone should support the defendants facing charges related to their alleged participation in the George Floyd uprising – this list of our imprisoned comrades needs to be getting shorter, not longer. The status of pre-trial defendants changes frequently, but to the best of our knowledge they currently include:

Lore-Elisabeth Blumenthal #70002-066
FDC Philadelphia
P.O. Box 562
Philadelphia, PA 19105

David Elmakayes #77782-066
FDC Philadelphia,
PO Box 562,
Philadelphia, PA 19105

Shawn Collins #69989-066
FDC Philadelphia,
PO Box 562,
Philadelphia, PA 19105

Steven Pennycooke #69988-066
FDC Philadelphia,
PO Box 562,
Philadelphia, PA 19105

When writing to pre-trial prisoners, do not write about their cases or say anything that you wouldn’t want to hear read out in court. If you have any updates, either about status changes meaning that people should be removed from this list, or about names that are missing and should be included, please reach out.

Upcoming Birthdays

Mumia Abu-Jamal

Mumia is an award winning journalist and was one of the founders of the Black Panther Party chapter in Philadelphia, PA. He has struggled for justice and human rights for people of color since he was at least 14 years old; the age when he joined the Party. In December of 1982, Mumia, who moonlighted by driving a taxi, happened upon police who were beating his brother. During the melee, a police officer was shot and killed. Despite the fact that many people saw someone else shoot and then run away from the scene, Mumia, in what could only be called a kangaroo court, was convicted and sentenced to death. During the summer of 1995, a death warrant was signed by Governor Tom Ridge, which sparked one of the most effective organizing efforts in defense of a political prisoner ever. Since that time, Mumia has had his death sentence overturned, but still has a life sentence with no opportunity for parole.

Mumia has a number of health issues as a result of medical neglect while in prison, and was recently diagnosed with COVID, lending a new urgency to the ongoing campaign for his freedom.

Pennsylvania uses Connect Network/GTL, so you can contact him online by going to connectnetwork.com, selecting “Add a facility”, choosing “State: Pennsylvania, Facility: Pennsylvania Department of Corrections”, going into the “messaging” service, and then adding Mumia as a contact by searching his name or “AM8335”.

Birthday: April 24

Address:

Smart Communications/PA DOC
Mumia Abu-Jamal #AM8335
SCI Mahanoy
Post Office Box 33028
St Petersburg, Florida 33733

Janiis Mathis

A former Vaughn 17 defendant. While the state has now given up on its attempts to charge Mathis in relation to the Vaughn uprising, he is facing continued retaliation, as he has been moved out of state to Pennsylvania, where many Vaughn defendants are being held on lockdown indefinitely (via placement on PA’s Restricted Release List) on vague and questionable grounds. Years after the uprising, these prisoners are still being abused for staying in solidarity with one another against the state.

Pennsylvania uses Connect Network/GTL, so you can contact him online by going to connectnetwork.com, selecting “Add a facility”, choosing “State: Pennsylvania, Facility: Pennsylvania Department of Corrections”, going into the “messaging” service, and then adding him as a contact by searching his name or “NU0423”.

Birthday: April 24

Address:

Smart Communications / PA DOC
Janiis Mathis – NU0423
SCI Greene
PO Box 33028
St. Petersburg, FL, 33733

FTP Banner and Communique from Revolutionary Abolitionists in Harrisburg, PA

Submission

To our comrades in Philadelphia, Rockford and across the so-called United States,

In the wake of the election and the subsequent putsch on the Capitol, the establishment and media apparatus have set out to douse memory of the multi-racial insurgency that spread across the country last summer and dampen the social contradictions that lead to it with slogans of calm and unity. Harrisburg was not been exempt from this revisionist trend in the slightest. During the summer, grifters and Black counter insurgents tried to funnel the long growing discontent into dead end electoralism and the bureaucratic machinations that grind the ember of revolutionary change in their gears at any given opportunity. In spite of this, the community rose up in defiance of both law enforcement and their neoliberal lapdogs in ways that have not been seen here in recent memory – cop cars smashed, streets shut down and police forced into retreat by a hail of bricks and debris.

As the heat of the summer lowered (relatively) to a tempered simmer and the electoral distraction served its role as sociological vacuum, the city’s leadership set its agenda on almost completely ignoring the events of the past year in order to return to some prelapsarian concept of normal – (a state which if it existed would be an amoral hellpit by any honest summation)- the exception of course, being their ongoing plan of repression against the true revolutionaries who participated in the uprising. At writing, there remains many ongoing struggles in the courts for the freedom of participants charged for their participation in the protests, both in Harrisburg and elsewhere. This is particularly disheartening as the loss of momentum of the movement from the summer means individual cases are harder to rally around, making intercommunal support from committed radicals that much more important.

Congruently, the local prison system has been revealed as the cauldrons of deathrot we have always known them to be. As Covid cases spike, the prison refuses to provide hand sanitizer, soap, masks and other lifesaving supplies to its inmates, resulting in the languishing of dozens of incarcerated people. What’s worse, there have been recent reports of widespread sexual abuse of inmates by guards, as well as many other violations of dignity, aided by an M.O. cultivated by deposed Warden Brian Clark, a well documented sex pest in his own right.
We are not liberals. We are appalled but not shocked by the injustice system acting as it always has no matter what century, context or administration – forever a punitive apparatus to repress the colonized and exploited for the benefit of a racist carceral state. Whether a red or blue chain, the shackle remains the same. Recognition of this basic fact informs our work building a culture of resistance to the inevitable crackdown on abolitionists and revolutionaries by the neoliberal state operating in the name of “fighting extremism”.

We believe that times like this, the seeming lulls between mass protests, uprisings and other sparks of civil unrest are as ,and possibly even more important than those moments of social fissure and are probably not even be so neatly disconnected as they may be initially perceived. It is of the upmost importance that we are expanding our networks, supporting our comrades , and deepening our roots in the communities we live in order to create a movement capable of not only sustaining itself in the calm, but also protecting itself when the pigs come knocking. This means building community defense councils and war chests to support our accomplices kidnapped and harassed by the State through every stage of their struggle. It is equally important to deny space and momentum to obvious opportunists and collaborators who attempt to swallow the flame of radical change through cooptation and subterfuge with the intent to isolate radicals and those members of the community willing to take justice into their own hands. This commitment lives and dies on solidarity with those most affected, and this communique is an representation of that commitment.

We unfurled this banner calling for the end to abuse of prisoners in Dauphin County Prison and mass release of all incarcerated in the death camps of Pennsylvania and across the United Snakes. We also want to uplift the connected struggle of the #FreeAnt movement, in order to echo the many voices calling for dropped charges for all and add to the cacophony of dissent against the police state. Finally, we uplift the demands of the Black Philly Radical Collective to for the immediate release of Mumia Abu Jamal, Major Tillery, Arthur Cetawayo Johnson, Russell “Maroon” Shoatz, Omar Askia, Joseph “Jo-Jo” Bowen, and all Black Political Prisoners.

We demand that all protestors across the country be granted amnesty. All charges must be dropped. We have unconditional solidarity to all rebels, radicals and revolutionaries facing State repression.

Free Them All.

Fuck DCP, Fuck Warden Clark and Fuck 12 Forever

Say no to the new Cointelpro!

Black Liberation Now.

Fire to the Prisons, Set the Captives Free.

Dauphin County Phone Zap

Submission

*Content Warning: Sexual Harrassment and Exploitation of Vulnerable adults*

Correctional Officer Adams of the Dauphin County Prison, PA has been strip searching and video recording trustee inmates on several occasions starting February 15th, 2021. CO Adams also had 10 men from H Block strip down while video-recording them. This is sexual harrassment, this is predatory behavior, this is a violation of human rights. This is a direct violation of the DOC’s Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).

We urge community to contact Dauphin County Prison and demand justice for these inmates.

Please Contact:

Dauphin County Prison Phone: (717) 780-6800

Dauphin County PREA Manager: J. Scott Burford T: 717-780-6307 Email: sburford@dauphinc.org

Department of Corrections
Central Office Main Phone Line: 717.728.2573
Central Office Email: ra-contactdoc@pa.gov

Tabb Bickell, Executive Deputy Secretary for Institutional Operations 717.728.4122 ext: 4123

Demand the immediate termination of CO Adams, Demand that the PREA Manager for Dauphin County conduct an internal investigation as officers rarely act alone in these instances

Sample Script

“Hello,

I am a resident of _________ (county/city) and I am contacting you regarding the ongoing sexual harrassment and predatory tactics being used on inmates of Dauphin County Prison. CO Adams has repeatedly violated the Prison Rape Elimination Act by strip searching and video taping inmates. We demand the immediate termination of CO Adams and a full investigation by the DOC and PREA Contact J. Scott Burford. ”

In Contempt #2

From It’s Going Down

[This post only contains information relevant to Philadelphia and the surrounding area, to read the entire article follow the above link.]

Biden Administration Continuing Program to End Mail in Federal Prisons

Alec Karakatsanis of the Civil Rights Corps has highlighted that the Biden administration shows no sign of ending a Trump-era program aiming to replace all postal mail to Federal prisons with scanned and printed copies.

Alec writes:

From what we can tell so far: Biden admin transition team chose to keep this Trump pilot program to begin end physical mail in BOP, as is already happening in cruelest state prisons. It was probably easiest for Biden transition team to keep the company’s contract: these companies are powerful, BOP wants to surveil prisoner mail, they don’t care about families and prisoners, and b/c not enough people hold them accountable politically for this. Our staff still being barred from sending physical mail to a BOP institution and forced to send to this company–appears that BOP allows wardens to opt into or out of the pilot program. We are all so desensitized to this stuff that we don’t even recognize that, in a reasonable world, Biden transition would have immediately announced investigation and end to this profiteering instead of quietly continuing the contract that allows wardens to expand it. Keep in mind: Biden issued very mild (insufficient) order re: private prisons but didn’t touch all of the rampant profiteering inside and related to *public* prisons.

Although there’s not much coverage of this issue at the moment, it’s worth learning from the effects of the same policy when it was instituted in Pennsylvania, as covered in outlets such as The Appeal and Mother Jones. There, resistance to the policy included a number of lawsuits and a series of protests by families and outside supporters.

Call to Action from Jailhouse Lawyers Speak and Beyond

It’s Going Down has a reportback from the National Freedom Day actions calling for mass releases. Dreaming Freedom Practicing Abolition is calling for people to help defend their comrade Stevie Wilson against retaliation from staff. The Prisons Kill project is fundraising for Tim, who was released recently and needs re-entry support, and for Mustafa, a revolutionary prisoner in Ohio who needs help paying for legal funds. The Final Straw has just put out an interview with Perilous Chronicle about their work recording prisoner resistance during the pandemic.

A few notable upcoming dates: As noted above, Malik’s defense crew are holding a rally in the Tenderloin (in San Francisco) on March 7th, March 8th is International Working Women’s Day, which is observed in some countries as a women’s strike, and March 15th is observed in some countries as a day against police brutality, so you or your crew might want to organize something for one of those days. Further ahead, there’s a call for a day of actions focused on parole on April 3rd, and further ahead still, Jailhouse Lawyers Speak have issued the following call:

Nationwide call to action: August 21st, 2021 and September 9th, 2021 in the spirit of Abolition please clear your schedules to organize demos at your local jails and prisons. Time to raise the awareness levels during these dates. A full Jailhouse Lawyers Speak statement will be forthcoming!

Uprising Defendants

Everyone should support the defendants facing charges related to their alleged participation in the George Floyd uprising – this list of our imprisoned comrades needs to be getting shorter, not longer. Also, as this column was going to print, a post on Philly Anti-Capitalist brought our attention to the case of Anthony Smith in Philadelphia. Info on how to support them here. The status of pre-trial defendants changes frequently, but to the best of our knowledge they currently include:

Lore-Elisabeth Blumenthal #70002-066
FDC Philadelphia
P.O. Box 562
Philadelphia, PA 19105

David Elmakayes #77782-066
FDC Philadelphia,
PO Box 562,
Philadelphia, PA 19105

Shawn Collins #69989-066
FDC Philadelphia,
PO Box 562,
Philadelphia, PA 19105

Steven Pennycooke #69988-066
FDC Philadelphia,
PO Box 562,
Philadelphia, PA 19105

Monday February 22nd: Letter-writing for Doug Wright

from Philly ABC

doug-wright.jpgDoug Wright left home at age fourteen and became involved in radical leftist activities and anti-war rallies in California. Shortly thereafter, Doug picked up train hopping and made his way all over the country. On one occasion he accidentally found himself in Anderson, Indiana where he met people with a music company that hosted all-age punk rock shows. These folks became Doug’s new family for the next five years.

Doug was then in Cleveland during the Occupy movement and became the target, along with three other activists, of an elaborate FBI setup operation. They were accused of plotting a series of bombings, including that of an area bridge. However the real story is that the FBI, working with an informant, created the scheme, produced the explosives, and coerced the four of them into participating. Doug received the longest sentence of all the Cleveland 4 – 11.5 years.

Doug’s life has been a series of tests, trials, and tribulations. Prison has been no different. He is luckily entering the last year of imprisonment, but his struggle is not over. Because he will be on lifetime probation, he will be unable to travel and live nomadically in the way that he loves again. Please join us in sending some heartfelt messages of solidarity to him.

This event will be held on Jitsi – we’ll post the meet link on social media the day of. You can also message us to get the link beforehand.

If you are unable to join us on Monday drop Doug a line at:

Doug Wright #57973-060
USP Florence-High
P.O. Box 9000
Florence, CO 81226

We will also encourage sending birthday cards to political prisoners with March birthdays: Joy Powell, (the 5th), Andrew Mickel (the 13th), Ruchell Cinque Magee (the 17th), and Jaan Laaman (the 21st).

You Gotta Learn the History: an Interview with Michael “Safear” Ness

from Dreaming Freedom Practicing Abolition

Michael “Safear” Ness is an imprisoned abolitionist organizer at SCI-Fayette in Pennsylvania. IA is an outside friend and comrade. 

IA: When and how did you become an abolitionist in your thinking? And in your practice?

Safear: I’ve been radical since before abolition was in my vocabulary. Meaning, I was always someone who wanted to understand things from their source. The status quo of white society never appealed to me. However, I wasn’t politicized until I came to prison.

In prison I was introduced to the teachings of Islam. Islam teaches the principles of establishing justice and forbidding all forms of oppression. So, Islam gave me the principles of justice. Abolition showed me different areas to apply them.

From the greatest principles of Islam is preventing harm. Prisons don’t prevent harm. They haven’t made our communities any safer, nor the world any better. No, they cause more harm. That’s why we need to abolish the Prison-Industrial Complex.

IA: As you began learning about abolition, which ideas, readings, or lessons really hit you hardest?

S: You gotta learn the history. The real history. Not that bullshit you were taught in middle school. I’m talking Our History is the Future by Nick Estes, showing the true foundation of this country. And Rethinking the American Prison Movement [by Dan Berger & Toussaint Losier], showing the real history of prisons here. Reading about George Jackson and the prison rebellion years gave me motivation. Those comrades showed me it is possible to fight the best from within. Ruth Wilson Gilmore gave me the intellectual confidence. Of course George was an intellectual in his own right. But Gilmore’s current analysis of the Prison-Industrial Complex gives you the tools to converse from an academic standpoint. And Angela Davis gave me the spice. She is a wordsmith. I love adopting her the construction of her arguments because they are flawless.

IA: What are some traps or hangups you want to help others avoid?

S: Just because every person has the potential for redemption doesn’t mean that everyone has reached that level yet. Trust has to be earned. Your inner circle should only be people of integrity. Be mindful of who you disclose strategy to, and who you introduce to outside comrades. Make sure they are battle tested. Also, don’t get arrogant. Stay humble. Lower yourself to serve the people. When it rams the benefit flows to the valley. Don’t put yourself on a pedestal. The world will still spin when you’re gone,  try to make a difference while you’re here.

IA: What makes a good abolitionist teacher?

S: I’m not impressed with eloquent speech alone! A good teacher acts upon the knowledge they’ve acquired. You’ll never know a person’s true intentions, but you can witness their actions. When you find a teacher leading by example, learn from them. You don’t know how long they’ll be around.

IA: How comfortable were you, in the beginning, trying to have conversations about abolition with other people on your block?

S: First, this work requires stepping outside of your comfort zone. If you’re always comfortable, you’re not doing enough. My advice is, either speak with knowledge or remain silent. If you don’t know, just say “I don’t know, but I’ll do some research then I’ll get back to you.” If you do that, people will recognize your speech is precise. Then they’ll start to listen.

Educational dialogue is an art, and like any art, it requires practice.

You can’t give what you don’t have. You can only speak according to the information you’ve acquired. Knowledge can be gained by study or experience. Take the time to acquire it before you open your mouth with an opinion.

IA: What advice can you give someone who wants to start an abolitionist study group from the ground up?

S: Build relationships first. This work is more than business, it’s personal. It’s creating a world where even the idea of sending someone to prison is far-fetched. Doing this requires changing the way we interact with each other. It’s removing this idea that other humans are disposable. This requires not only theory, but practical application.

Evaluate the condition of the people. Instead of entering a space thinking you have everything figured out, ask: What is needed? A scholar once said “Every field has its men, and a person speaks according to their level of knowledge.” Everyone has a part to play in community. People bring different skillsets to this work. Some may be teachers, some may be warriors, some may be both of these and more. Our job is to create space for each person to do what they’re good at.

Speak to the people in the language they understand. Some folks are pacifists, some are George Jackson. Address each person accordingly.

Prisoners are trained to sniff out bullshit. We learn quick how to tell if someone is running game. Are you really living what you’re teaching? Is your handshake matching your smile?

Be mindful of the authorities. They don’t take kindly to organizing the captives in their dungeons. Try to stay under the radar as long as possible. Build up the comrades to be as self sufficient as possible.

Pick your battles. If you’re truly living abolition, conflict with authorities is inevitable. Don’t let this discourage you. If you’re not getting any resistance you’re not doing something right.

IA: Why do you do this work, comrade?

S: We’re all gonna die sooner or later. We can’t control that, but we can control how we live. I want to die knowing I did my best to change the world.

Defend Stevie Against Violent Retaliation!

from Dreaming Freedom Practicing Abolition

Image: “Bars 1” by Josh MacPhee, thanks to JustSeeds. Description: Black background, with white bars bent and broken in the middle.

Stephen Wilson, a Black queer abolitionist organizer and a prisoner of the state of Pennsylvania, is once again facing retaliation, harassment, and repression at SCI-Fayette. A rank-and-file prison cop named Digiacomo, who has for months made a habit of targeting Stevie, recently had Stevie sent to solitary confinement (the hole) on a completely fabricated and un-corroborated write-up. The prison’s official kangaroo judicial theater predictably backed up cowboy cop Digiacomo, and sentenced Stevie to 30 days’ time in the hole. Now, following the fantastic allegations of the write-up, they argue that Stevie is a danger to the population at Fayette, and they plan to transfer Stevie. If it could happen right away, Stevie would welcome a transfer away from Digiacomo and Fayette’s abuse. But here’s the thing: the PA-DOC’s prison transfer queues are backed up for months, which means that Stevie’s 30 days in the hole has been extended indefinitely through a procedural and logistical loophole.

This most recent fabricated write-up from Digiacomo accuses Stevie of verbally threatening another prisoner. That person, along with everyone else in ear shot during the time when Digiacomo says this supposedly happened, denies ever having been threatened in any way by Stevie. Stevie, very familiar with the prison’s internal hearing process, called four witnesses well in advance of his hearing. Yet Stevie was denied this right by the hearing examiner, who cited the logistical inconvenience of bringing the witnesses a few hundred feet to the hearing. Stevie replied by suggesting that the examiner herself visit the block and ask the witnesses what happened, to which the hearing examiner said that even if she did that, she would still believe Digiacomo. Then she suggested that, by the prison’s hearing rules, she would be required to take the guard’s word over a prisoner’s. Or 5 prisoners, in this case.

Pretending to be doing Stevie a big favor, the hearing examiner promised to transfer Stevie to a new block after his time in the hole, to separate him from Digiacomo. The examiner seems to have remembered the history of Digiacomo’s one-sided obsessive harassment of Stevie. The hearing examiner had commented on this months earlier, at another hearing, when she said to Stevie, “Wow, he [DiGiacomo] really has it in for you.” This writeup, now resulting in what amounts to a conviction in the twisted internal prison hearing system, could keep Stevie locked up well past his minimum by giving an already hostile parole board an easy excuse to defer his release. It must be reversed and removed from his record.

In the short term, thanks to the backed up transfer schedule, Stevie could be looking at half a year in solitary confinement. That means no yard, one short call a week, literally no time out of cell, no access to the prison’s email service,  no commissary, no human interaction (unless you count guards), dangerously cold temperatures, and an all-day blaring TV set to some vapid news reports on loop. Officially, Stevie’s maximum time in the hole is 30 days. This is due to a weak limit put in place for people who, for mental health reasons, are deemed especially vulnerable to the psychological (and physical) terror of solitary confinement. When we asked him about the indeterminate solitary sentence being in violation of this limit, he said “in the end, they can do whatever they want.”

Blatantly maneuvering around their own pathetically inadequate rules (even according to their own logic), SCI-Fayette has consolidated its efforts to isolate and separate Stevie. The process was initiated by an angry guard known by prisoners and some guards alike as an especially violent and out of control goon, and it was completed through the administrative hearing system. Finding yet another way to weaponize the virus that runs rampant through PA-DOC’s compounds, Fayette has Stevie locked in the hole on a sentence so indeterminate that it isn’t officially recognized as a sentence at all. His release from the hole is not pending approval by a board or the expiration of the term, but some future logistical solution to the transfer backlog, who knows when. The cops at SCI-Fayette have exemplified the prison’s reaction to the perceived threat of prisoner activism and organization, employing a combination of acutely racist and personal hostility, mindless bureaucratic procedure, and “factors” claimed to be “out of their control.”

Last time Stevie was sent to the hole, which was also an act of retaliation by Digiacomo, Stevie was abruptly grabbed and hauled down there with no time to prepare his things. The prison failed to deliver his blood pressure medicine for almost two weeks, putting him at serious risk of stroke. In the process of being transferred he was stripped of his eyeglasses and his partial denture. The glasses took over a month to replace, impairing his ability to see and read in the interim, and his partial has yet to be replaced, over 2 months later. As a result, he still has difficulty eating and reports having dropped weight.

These acts of violent retaliation against Stevie are not exceptional. They are almost quotidian reactions of the prison system against anyone who dares engage in such radical practices as speaking with other prisoners about prison abolition, convening reading and study groups, telling people outside about the conditions inside, and, perhaps most offensive to the Fayette regime, using the prison’s own grievance system. It is vital that we respond to and really oppose retaliation against Stevie, and everyone inside who puts their health, safety, and—thanks to the indeterminacy of ranged sentences and the absolutely bankrupt parole system—freedom on the line. Below are some actions that we are asking you to take to get Stevie’s back. More are coming soon.

  1. Look out for phone zaps–actions where we flood the guards with calls to let them know that Stevie has strong, informed outside support. The first one will be later this week.
  2. Call in starting now. These are ongoing scripted calls to the main PA-DOC office, to let them know what’s happening at Fayette and (more importantly) to let them know people are following Stevie’s struggle against repression. These are not like calls to electeds–we are not asking for a vote or a favor. Prisons operate on the experience-based assumption that no one outside knows what’s happening inside. Calls break that assumption, and can really help force small actions on the parts of administrations and guards. 
  3. Email PA-DOC. Here is a template email.
  4. Write to Stevie. Send him articles, poems, artwork, and words of encouragement. These help support him personally, and they show the prison the depth of his support out here.

Smart Communications / PA-DOC // Stephen Wilson LB8480 // SCI-Fayette // PO Box 33028 // St Petersburg, FL 33733

  1. Donate to our book and commissary fund and help us send books to people inside so that we can keep up some of Stevie’s political education work while he is in the hole. Comment “books”

Venmo: @SolidarityMachine

CashApp: $SolidarityMachine

Description: Stevie is standing in front of some glass block in a prison visiting room. He is wearing a brown button down shirt and dark brown pants, tan boots, hands in his pockets and looking at the camera.

Study Groups & Moving Together: An Interview with Stephen Wilson

from Dreaming Freedom Practicing Abolition

Fences, by Rini Templeton, thanks to JustSeeds

Stephen Wilson is a Black queer abolitionist writing, organizing, and building study groups and community behind the wall at SCI-Fayette in Pennsylvania. Ian Alexander is his friend and comrade on the outside. This interview is the first in a series that will be published together as a zine.

Ian Alexander: When and how did you become an abolitionist in your thinking, and how did you become an abolitionist in your practice?

Stephen Wilson: These questions reminded me of some anecdotal advice Mariame Kaba gave organizers first encountering a community or group. She talked about how important it is to be a noticer, to observe what is already there. Often, we enter communities revved up to teach and show and convey. But if we took the time to observe and learn, we would see that there are ideas and practices already in place that are abolitionist, even if the people don’t call them that.

Before I ever read any abolitionist theory, I already had some abolitionist ideas. Before I called my praxis abolitionist, parts of it already was. I have often spoken about how the ballroom community prepared me for this work. It was within that community that ideas about non-disposability and centering the needs of the most vulnerable/impacted were first taught to me. It was within that community that I first learned about mutual aid. We didn’t call ourselves abolitionists, but we were practicing it.

My conscious embrace of abolitionist theory occurred soon after reading issues of The Abolitionist and having conversations with Jason Lydon at Black & Pink. Critical Resistance-New York City sent me lots of materials to read and answered tons of questions. Before this time, I was more of a disillusioned progressive. I knew we could create a better world but was frustrated by the tools and means at our disposal. No matter what we did, the system was changing. Not real change. It never occurred to me that we could do away with the entire system. That the system itself was the problem. Abolitionist theory created new possibilities. It opened new ways of seeing and being. It wasn’t a tough leap for me from progressive to abolitionist.

Practicing abolition is harder, especially behind the walls. Abolition is not supposed to be an individual exercise. It is about community, about connection. And that is what makes it hard in prison. We are conditioned and encouraged to separate, isolate and differentiate.

IA: Could you say a little bit about the difference between “progressive” politics and abolitionist politics?

When I say progressive /reformer, I am referring to a mindset that couldn’t see beyond or outside of the system. A mindset that lacked imagination and viewed the system as necessary to solve our problems. I couldn’t imagine the work, whether it was on educational, public health or social justice issues, being done outside of the system. So I found myself frustrated but constantly pushing for tweaks to make the system more responsive. I couldn’t see that the system was the problem.

Abolition broadened my imagination and helped me to see outside of the box/system. It also restored my faith in us. I believe we can keep each other safe. I believe we can provide for each other. I believe we are enough. I now know that the system was never broken. It was doing what it was meant to do: control, surveil, punish and kill us. No amount of tweaking will change that. Now, I see the need to abolish the system and create new relations. As long as one works within the strictures of the system, that world will be impossible.

IA: What were some of your hurdles, struggles and frustrations early on? How did you overcome those–and how have you still had to fight to overcome them? 

SW: I knew that in order for me to deepen my practice I needed a community. So I began to reach out to others, extending myself. Abolitionists must extend themselves. I passed out literature and formed discussion groups. And none of this would have worked if I hadn’t been really striving to show abolition to others. In prison, we have a saying: “Believe nothing you hear and half of what you see.” So people are looking and they are keeping tabs. Are you really about what you say? Especially when adversity strikes? So practice was necessary. And being in here, in this environment, definitely forced me to deepen my practice.

One of the earliest big hurdles I had to overcome was materials. The prison isn’t going to provide us with radical, transformative materials. I had to find sources to provide us study materials at low or no cost. Reaching out to presses and zine distros enabled me to procure materials. Without materials, there is no study group. This hurdle is often the biggest one for prisoners who want to start a group.

Connected to this issue is the matter of accessibility. So much of what is written isn’t accessible to most prisoners. Sometimes, it is a matter of forum. There are very informative essays, articles, panel discussions and excerpts online. Prisoners cannot access these materials. This barrier keeps us uninformed and out of discussions. Another accessibility issue concerns writing style. Often, there is no way into the text for prisoners. I am reminded of Ruthie Gilmore’s statement about thinking theoretically but writing/speaking practically. She talks about writing like you want to be read. So many people are writing like they don’t want to be understood by the masses. If people need a dictionary or encyclopedia to read your work, they most likely won’t.

To overcome the obtuseness of texts, I found myself “translating” materials for our study groups. The message contained in the texts was beneficial, but I had to explain what the message is to others. Without understanding there is no application. It was frustrating but it made me better. I learned how to create good discussion questions. I learned how to connect the readings to real life situations and encourage application. It made me and the group participants more critical thinkers.

IA: How do you start a study group in a prison?

As I said before, without materials there is no study group. So it is important that we find sources for materials. That is step one. Sometimes, you already know what you are looking for. You may want to study Black liberation struggles. So you contact a zine distro or press and request materials relevant to the topic. Other items, you don’t have a particular topic so you can request a catalogue from a distros that covers many topics. I would suggest ordering a catalogue.

It is important to talk to participants or potential participants about what they are interested in studying. Even if one feels some other topic is more important, it is important to start where the people are. So even though I feel patriarchy is a topic everyone inside needs to study and tackle, I didn’t start there. I had to get people interested in and acclimated to study. That meant meeting them where they are. Prison issues and racism are easy entry points to studying. From these topics, one can springboard to other issues.

Starting a study group means spending some money. Even if you get the zines for free, you have to pay for copies. In PA, we aren’t allowed to receive multiple copies of any publication in the mail. So people cannot send a prisoner two copies of any book, journal or zine at one time. This means I usually received one copy of a text. I had to make lots of copies for the groups. That costs. Then, there are supplies. Martin Sostre opened a bookstore in Buffalo. He wanted it to be a learning site for people, especially the youth. And it was. He made it easy for them to learn. He provided a space. He provided the materials. All at no cost. So they kept coming back. I had to do the same thing. I had to cover all costs for the groups. That means composition books, pens, pencils, folders and paper costs had to be covered. And as the groups grew, so did the costs. But the upside is that the groups grew. We made studying easier for the people so that is what they did.

IA: What is the role of outside support in all this?

SW: Outside support is critical to maintaining study groups. We need material support as well as guidance regarding how to handle group dynamics issues. We were/are fortunate to have a strong support circle that provides both for us. Without them, we couldn’t do this work.

IA: What are your goals going into a new study group? How do you inspire interest in new and potential comrades?

SW: Choosing study materials is a combination of assessing where the people are and the particular needs of the environment. Choosing materials for a group of people who are already readers and who like to hold discussions is very different from choosing materials for people who haven’t been exposed to such activities. Likewise, there may be particular issues at a site that make studying certain topics more important and relevant. Here , at SCI-Fayette, which is built on a toxic site, materials on environmental racism and environmental justice resonate with prisoners. This topic may be the gateway for many prisoners to studying other issues. The point is that the choice of study materials is always connected to where the people are and what is happening there.

IA: What role have teaching and mentorship played in this process for you?

SW: In the beginning, I did assume a leadership role. But it wasn’t leadership in the sense of making decisions for everyone or having authority over others. It was leadership that was grounded in responsibility. I felt responsible for the groups. I had a commitment to nurture and grow them. I knew I needed help and readily reached out for it. Also, I tried to get people involved and taking responsibility for tasks. I wanted them to own the groups. Then they would care about them.

It is important to cultivate leadership inside. At any moment, any of us can be transferred. So it is important to plant seeds and tend to them while you can. This is one area we need to do lots of work on inside. We have to work harder to create a network of people inside who can create and sustain study groups.

IA: What makes a good abolitionist teacher?

SW: Being a noticer is important. We have to notice who is doing what and how. At Smithfield, I had spent years cultivating relationships and a reputation for sincere concern for others. This made it easier for me when I began groups. People already knew and trusted me. When I came to Fayette, I didn’t have that history. There were people here who knew me from Smithfield and there vouching for me helped tremendously. But I spent time noticing who was doing what. I noticed who was in the dayroom reading. I listened to conversations. And people watched me too. A few guys came up to me and told me they overheard my conversations on the phone. I had been talking with other abolitionists. What they heard piqued their interests. They also saw what I was doing. Mutual aid is major inside. Nothing speaks like action. They saw me practicing abolition. They saw me practicing mutual aid. They saw me practicing solidarity. These acts opened the people’s hearts to me. I can honestly say that I have received just as much respect and love from prisoners here that I did at Smithfield. I know that this mutual love and respect is built on knowing and being present for each other.

IA: How do you start to build relationships with new people on your block?

SW: There is nothing like face to face organizing. To be there, in the trenches, with others, struggling and organizing together builds bonds of trust and care. There are people behind these walls whom I have organized with that I will always feel a deep connection to. We are in the belly of the beast. And when others stand with you inside of this place, it creates something special between you.

To organize inside, you have to be a people person. You cannot be shy. You have to notice things. There have been times when I hear young prisoners talking about something and I listen for a while. Then, I ask questions. Asking questions is a great way to enter a conversation. Interjecting with a statement is risky. Making declarations, especially when they contrast the participants stance, can lead to arguments and accusations of not minding one’s own business. But when you ask questions, especially those requesting more info or clarification, it allows the young prisoner to be heard and express his/her views. This doesn’t happen too often for them inside. It seems everyone wants to tell them what to do and think, but who is listening to them? I do. And because I do, they listen to me.

Also, being open to feedback and criticism is important. Be human. Don’t try to come off as a know it all or like you have all your shit together. When I found out that Maroon was here in the infirmary, I was looking for a way to connect to him. I knew the barbers go to the infirmary to cut hair. When I went to the barbershop, I struck up a conversation with a baber and asked him if he knew Maroon. He didn’t, but he knew whom I was talking about. He had seen him. I gave the barber some materials, including Maroons’s The Dragon vs. The Hydra essay. I told him to send my love to Maroon the next time he went to the infirmary to cut hair. I also told him how I wished I could spend time talking to Maroon about his work. That was enough to spark the barber’s interest.

The next time I went to the barbershop, the barber excitedly told me how he had spoken to Maroon a number of times since our last appointment. He told me how they discussed the essay too. I was so jealous! But what stuck with him the most, and this is according to his own words, was how Maroon remained humble. He was amazed that this elder who had spent so much time in the trenches still felt he has so much to learn and still needs to grow. The barber told me he expected this elder to act like he had it all together, all figured out. But he didn’t. The barber told me how Maroon inspired him to always study, keep learning and keep growing.

The point is that we, organizers and activists, our behaviors and attitudes, are determining factors in how far and wide abolition can go. This is why the internal work of abolition is so important. That’s why the presence aspect of abolition is key to expanding the awareness and the possibilities of abolition. As I said before, prisoners believe nothing they hear and half of what they see. We have to make that half count. To riff off a Lisa Nichols quotation I read years ago: Abolition is not just what you feel or what you say. It is what you do. So what are you doing?

IA: How has COVID-19 impacted your work? 

SW: COVID19 affected our ability to meet face to face as much as we would like to. But it didn’t stop us from studying. We issue composition notebooks to everyone. We provide copies of the reading materials and discussion questions. Participants can submit their answer by writing in their comp books and turning them in for feedback. We are able to comment on each other’s answers and leave our own comments.

It became much more like the inside/outside study groups we have in which we read and discuss materials with outside allies. The point is that study never stopped. Moreover, I found that there was an uptick in interest. With the prison’s normal operations shuttered, people are looking for other things to do. The normal distractions, TV and tablets, become boring quickly. I have been disseminating lots more materials since the viral outbreak.

IA: How do you inspire long term interest and growth in new, old, and potential comrades?

SW: Really it has never been about them trusting me because they haven’t heard of abolition. It is about getting them to trust themselves and their communities to handle harm without calling the cops. Part of our task is convincing people that we have within us the resources to handle harm. We can make us safe. For so long, people have been told only the cops can make us safe. Only prisons can keep us from being harmed. People are starting to see that cops don’t produce safety. All of the police violence captured on camera is making people question the supposed link between cops and safety. We need to do more to get people to see that prisons don’t produce safety either. Because the quotidian violence of prisons is mostly hidden from the public this task becomes harder than showing that cops don’t make us safer. One of the biggest obstacles in abolitionist organizing behind the walls is convincing people that we can keep each other safe.

IA: You have told me a lot about the importance of history, and seeing yourself as part of a tradition. Could you talk a bit about that? 

SW: If we don’t know the movement history, if we don’t know the elders and what they have accomplished, we will find ourselves stuck in old problems, spinning our wheels, and attempting to enact failed solutions. I love studying movement history and elder bios. I find inspiration. I find strategies and tactics I can adopt or adapt. I find confirmation. And that’s important too. Sometimes, we wonder if what we are doing is worth it. Reading movement history and elder biographies convinces me that it is. There have been times when I have faced repression from prison officials and began to feel depressed. During those times, I reflect upon what so many others have endured and my spirit is comforted and emboldened. Reading about people like Martin Sostre, who was wrongly arrested and sentenced to nine years because he educated the people, keeps my head up during these periods of repression. Many of our elders have been physically, mentally and emotionally abused, but they remained strong. History becomes a living tool.

Oppression breeds resistance. And often, resistance breeds more oppression. It is a dialectical relationship. Behind these walls, oppression can take many forms: solitary confinement, physical assault, constant shakedowns, constant transfers (diesel therapy), destruction of property, denial of parole and even frame-up on new charges. The administration will employ many different measures to effect compliance. They don’t want us to learn anything that will keep us from coming back to prison. They don’t want us to learn anything that will enable us to benefit our communities. I have said before: a learned prisoner is an affront to the PIC.

IA: So beyond study, what about struggle? How do you decide when to really jump into action, and when to wait something out? 

SW: How do I decide when something is worth it? Is it the right thing to do? That is the question. I don’t tend to think about what the administration will do to me personally. Because the tactics I use aren’t those that will give the administration grounds to oppress us, tactics that knowingly subject others to possible harm by officers, my main issue is doing what is right and alleviating oppressive conditions. Recently, I have been thinking about developing a criteria regarding when we implement action plans.

This new way of thinking occurred to me after a recent incident. We are not under normal operations. So our time out of cell has been curtailed. We are being let out 35-40 people at a time. We are given limited time to shower, make phone calls, use the kiosks and exercise. Certain officers purposely allow us out late and put us in early. This creates problems for us and between us as we try to stay in contact with family and friends and stay clean. I attempted to address this issue with the unit manager. I thought we had come to a solution. But an officer did exactly what we discussed shouldn’t happen in front of the unit manager. And the unit manager refused to do anything. Instead, he wrote a false misconduct against me to get me removed from the block. And it didn’t end there. The next day, my comrade was placed in solidarity for emailing people informing them of what happened to me. Their solution is simple: whoever is complaining, remove them. And it works to produce a chilling effect upon others.

I began to think about how we could approach this official tactic. What counter-tactic would work? One thing I learned, and Maroon wrote about this many years ago, is that we need to develop hydras and not dragons. There is only so much space in solitary. They cannot lock us all up. Moving together is always much more powerful than moving alone. The incident made me think about deep organizing and assessing just how much strength we have and how much actual support. The deeper the support, the more likely the success and defense against official repression.

Personally, I have a great support team. Their support enables me to keep going. This is why I stress connections across the walls. While I have faced repression here, they are beginning to understand that they cannot harm me without consequences. People care. People will agitate. The administration knows if we have support or not. That knowledge shapes their actions.

IA: So the struggle leads you back to study. How do you help others bring those two aspects of the work together?

SW: Generally, going into any study situation, my goal is to convey meaningful knowledge. I want people to learn things that will enable them to better understand the world and empower them to change it. Specifically, I do an assessment before determining what text we will study. I try to figure out what participants already know about certain topics. I try to understand the different ways participants learn. This can only happen if I build relationships with potential participants first. My point is that study circles need to be participant-focused. Often, facilitators focus on the syllabus and getting through the texts. The focus needs to be on those in the group and facilitating understanding and application. If we get through a text and the participants having extracted anything meaningful, something they can apply to their lives, I feel we haven’t succeeded.

Out there, you have to talk prisons up. Not so inside. Prison is our environment, our world. So everyone inside has an opinion about prisons and policing. I don’t have to create interest in these topics. It is already there. What I try to do is get people to see these issues differently. And many are willing to take another look. One good way to get started is by doing definitional work. Getting people to think about how they define certain terms is really about getting them to think about how they view the world. Two of our first definitions to explore are community and safety. How people define these terms is important. And often, we find that people change their definitions after study.

IA: How do you combat reactionary tendencies, patriarchal behavior, homophobia and transphobia, misogyny, anti-Blackness, ableism, and other forms of chauvinism and anti-solidarity thinking and behavior?

SW: Prison is a hyper masculine environment. Patriarchal thinking, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and ableism are rampant behind the walls. The only way to handle these oppressive behaviors is to confront them straight up when they manifest. I do so by questioning the person’s motive. We have sports teams inside. Often, teams are created through a draft process. The coaches often don’t know whom they are drafting until it’s over. During one volleyball season, a coach selected an openly queer prisoner. He didn’t know it until the first game. He didn’t start the prisoner until late in the first game. That is when he realized the queer prisoner was a great volleyball player. Players on his bench balked at playing with the queer prisoner and began to make homophobic comments. I walked over and asked them if they felt they were better players than him. They knew they weren’t. I asked them if they thought they would become gay if he played on the team with them. They vehemently denied this. So what is the problem? They were there to win a game. The best player on their team happened to be queer. So what. When confronted with their bigotry, most prisoners, being unable to defend it, pipe down. When enough of us do this, things will change. And they need to. Homophobia, transphobia, and ableism are prejudices that are still acceptable in our society.

IA: How have you navigated the guards?

SW: Most officers stay out of the way. They see us studying and leave us alone. They walk by and spy on us, but they don’t try to break us up. They allow us to pass out materials on the block. From the officer’s perspective, our studying is a good thing. We are quiet and less likely to get into trouble, especially the kind of trouble that would require more work from them. It is the upper administration that is antagonistic toward study groups. They see us building influence and they don’t like it. They are the ones who create obstacles to study, not the front line officers.

At Smithfield, we were able to do more because the administration actively recruited us to create positive outlets for prisoners. Fayette is very different. 180 degrees different. We do more work on our own. But I find that Fayette has created, through its oppressive acts, a hunger for knowledge among the prisoners. The organic desire is greater here.

IA: Why do you go through all of this, comrade? 

SW: All I am doing is passing along the goodness that has been given to me to make the world better.

In Contempt: A Column On Repression and the Rebels Pushing Back

from It’s Going Down

[This post only contains information relevant to Philadelphia and the surrounding area, to read the entire article follow the above link.]

Welcome to In Contempt, a new column based on the existing prison rebels birthday listing, but expanded into a more general look at repression and other relevant news from a prison abolitionist perspective. Here’s a few things that have been going on over the last month or so let’s dive in.

Uprising Defendants

Everyone should support the defendants facing charges related to their alleged participation in the George Floyd uprising – this list of our imprisoned comrades needs to be getting shorter, not longer. The status of pre-trial defendants changes frequently, but to the best of my knowledge they currently include:

Lore-Elisabeth Blumenthal #70002-066
FDC Philadelphia
P.O. Box 562
Philadelphia, PA 19105

David Elmakayes #77782-066
FDC Philadelphia,
PO Box 562,
Philadelphia, PA 19105

Shawn Collins #69989-066
FDC Philadelphia,
PO Box 562,
Philadelphia, PA 19105

Steven Pennycooke #69988-066
FDC Philadelphia,
PO Box 562,
Philadelphia, PA 19105

When writing to pre-trial prisoners, do not write about their cases or say anything that you wouldn’t want to hear read out in court. If you have any updates, either about status changes meaning that people should be removed from this list, or about names that are missing and should be included, please reach out.

Birthdays and Other Days of Note

A few notable upcoming dates: there’s a call for mass clemency on Feb 1st as “national freedom day.” February 6th is observed as the international day of solidarity with Leonard Peltier. Further ahead, there’s a call for a day of actions focused on parole on April 3rd.

Upcoming Birthdays

Deric Forney

A former Vaughn 17 defendant. While Deric was acquitted in court of all charges in relation to the uprising, he is facing continued retaliation, as he has been moved out of state to Pennsylvania, where many Vaughn defendants are being held on lockdown indefinitely (via placement on PA’s Restricted Release List) on vague and questionable grounds. Years after the uprising, these prisoners are still being abused for staying in solidarity with one another against the state.

Pennsylvania uses Connect Network/GTL, so you can contact him online by going to connectnetwork.com, selecting “Add a facility”, choosing “State: Pennsylvania, Facility: Pennsylvania Department of Corrections”, going into the “messaging” service, and then adding him as a contact by searching his name or “NS2698”.

Birthday: February 6

Address:

Smart Communications / PA DOC
Deric Forney – NS2698
SCI Coal Township
PO Box 33028
St. Petersburg, FL, 33733

Luis Sierra (Abdul-Haqq El-Qadeer)

A former Vaughn 17 defendant. While the state has now dropped its attempts to criminalize Abdul in relation to the uprising, Vaughn defendants continue to face retaliation. Abdul is also a contributor to “Live from the Trenches,” the Vaughn 17 zine.

Delaware appears not to have an inmate email system.

Birthday: February 19

Address:

Luis Sierra #00455723
James T. Vaughn Correctional Center
1181 Paddock Rd
Smyrna, DE 19977

 

Who’s Got A Hand In This Sh*t?

from Dreaming Freedom Practicing Abolition

By Michael “Safear” Ness

(Written January 22, 2021)

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections refuses to waste money on individual COVID-19 tests for the prisoner population, instead preferring to test each prison’s accumulated sewage for COVID levels.

An official PA DOC memo dated January 21, 2021 from Secretary of Corrections John E. Wetzel states, “Facilities will increase [prisoner cohort sizes] at different times, and in different amounts depending on their local infection rates, and the results of sewage testing.”

Recent sewage testing at SCI Fayette indicated increased COVID-19 levels, delaying an increase in prisoner cohort size until additional testing can be performed.

Prisoner cohorts, assigned groups for movement, are allegedly designed to limit the risk of exposure by reducing prisoner to prisoner contact. The theory is, if one person in the cohort is exposed to COVID-19, or tests positive, the entire cohort is quarantined to prevent spreading the virus.

In application, once a prisoner is exposed to, or tests positive for the virus, no other members of that cohort receive automatic COVID testing unless they register a fever. If a prisoner tests positive for the virus, their cellmate is not automatically tested, despite being forced to continue to live in close proximity to the infected person. Even if a prisoner is coughing or fatigued, they are not automatically tested.

By not testing these prisoners, the prison administration is allowed to keep the appearance of a low COVID-19 infection rate, choosing instead to test everyone’s feces collectively to see how many prisoners are actually sick.