FAMILIES: I've been hearing you. Here's my response. Feel free to download the PDF copy here, print, and send it into as many people you know in the prisons. This has been circulating for two weeks already, and the free men inside are beginning to write back...
March 8, 2013
the men who inhabit Arizona's state prisons...
some of you may know, through my blogs and art for the past several
years I've been challenging the escalating level of violence,
deliberate indifference, and despair in Arizona's state prisons under
the directorship of Charles Ryan - the man I've raged at the most in
this time, and demanded accountability from. Only recently has it
really sunk in that he is not – and never really was – in control
of the prisons he administers. You, the prisoners are. Ryan,
therefore, is not the man I need to be talking to about all this –
the guys who run the gangs and the yards are. So are the people who
listen to them.
so, today, on International Woman's Day, my appeal to end the
violence and transform the culture and politics of Arizona's state
prisons goes to all you guys who set the tone in there. Specifically,
I'm writing to ask for your help stopping the violence against women
and children being perpetrated from behind prison walls.
know that our welfare is something the gangs and yard leaders care
about these days because you're putting a green light on every guy
accused of committing a crime against a woman or child, among other
things. Word has it that there's a “sweep of the prisons” going
on right now to target those guys for assault, extortion, and murder.
Based on all the calls I've received from the sisters, mothers,
lovers and daughters of these men, however, the effect of this
approach has been largely to victimize the women and children who
know you can't see that kind of unplanned consequence the same way
I can – I get at least ten calls a week from women being directly
terrorized by prison violence, which is why I've come to talk to you
all myself, face to face, so to speak. I've come to amplify their
voices, which I hope you care enough to hear. They want you to know
that they're tired of losing their men and burying their children,
and they want to know who among you has the courage to try to stop
If anyone has the power to, it's you.
people have told me I'm crazy for trying this – that I'm just
making myself a target for gang violence in the process, and that
your expressed concern about the welfare of women and children is
nothing more than an excuse to justify more violence against us by
way of attacking our families, which is no different from what the
state does. If I don't ask for your help, though, who will? I learned
a long time ago from my father that some things are worth taking a
stand and fighting for, even if with it comes risk.
all that is said about you guys is true, then my public critiques of
prison gangs, my aggressive efforts to have you all prosecuted for
your crimes against other prisoners, and the number of victims I've
rescued from your clutches have already made me a target, anyway, and
it's just a matter of time before you send someone after me. So be
it: I'm not too hard to find, and won't live in the shadows in fear.
I'm just hoping that down to the last man you realize that someday
you or your family may need my help, as well, and let me express
myself unharmed, so that I can still be here for you should that day
I'm really counting on connecting with is your humanity and
integrity, though, not your self-interest. I've heard from enough
guys who have run with you to know that you're not all just products
of your environment or driven solely by greed or fear. Most of you, I
bet, don't even buy into the racist garbage that the state tries to
divide and conquer you with, treating you as if you're all stupid –
I know that's just how the politics break down in there. In a
foxhole, under fire from a common enemy, a rival gang member may even
come to count on you as a comrade and friend...you know, you're all
under pretty heavy fire now, come to think of it.
hopeful that with Arizona's prison gangs' apparent commitment to
reduce violence against women and children now, though, there's room
for dialogue about how you guys can help change the overall culture
in there and stop chasing men of conscience from your ranks along
with all those guys you don't want. Prisoners are the only ones with
the power to starve the state from within of what it feeds on (and
feeds us) to perpetrate brutality against you and your families: if
you could confront and defy the misogyny, heteropatriarchy, racism,
classism, and other bullshit that keeps us all down, you would be the
heroes of this revolution.
you risk coming off to the world as nothing more than criminal gangs
whose power and creativity is limited to extorting grandmothers for a
fix or a fast buck...which is the reason Arizonans are so quick to
support the building of new Supermax prisons and further sentencing
enhancements for men the state can so label. You have so much more
power and potential than to settle for exploiting vulnerable people
and their families, though.
prison gangs across the country have taken a second look at their
ethical codes and begun to use their influence and organizational
capacity to their people's advantage: calling out the prison system
on abuses in custody, imposing statewide moratoriums on inter-racial
violence, secretly teaching each other to read and to litigate the
state themselves, and so on.
some prison yards, loyalty and community is being built not through
the imposition of prisoner-on-prisoner violence, but through informed
and thoughtful struggle against your common oppressor. A fundamental
value is growing for the kind of fairness and justice that the state
deprives you of; men are no longer being condemned to additional
punishments for the crimes that brought them to prison, much less for
the unchecked narrative of what they were accused of that was written
by the media and the state.
in some places men are being judged for the values they live in
prison by and the skills they have to offer to their community –
like teaching, jailhouse lawyering, and caring for elders and the
very ill. Those are the kind of people I'd be recruiting as my
brothers (and my sisters) – those who can help cultivate collective
resistance to the real threat, state violence, not just those who may
be good at collecting on debts until they get taken out by younger
men like themselves.
prison gangs are making a point of finding and reaching out to young
guys who can lead with integrity, instead of continuing the dynamics
that encourage and empower those who seek “respect” or their own
safety by hurting or killing the most vulnerable or detested prisoner
they can find. I'm sorry if I offend any of you, but I'd have a real
hard time trusting any of the latter to watch my back, and I wouldn't
call them brothers, whatever color they were – nor would I have
much respect for those whose interests they represented.
places like Georgia and California in recent years prisoners have
used cell phones and their extensive statewide communication networks
to organize massive hunger strikes and labor stoppages in protest of
their conditions of confinement, their “sedentary diets” and
chronic hunger, and the deliberate indifference shown them by health
care providers. They've circulated “illegal” petitions and staged
solidarity actions with politicized prisoners in solitary
confinement. They've called for an end to violence in their home
communities, and for mobilization against the police state oppressing
us all instead.
of you know that I'm a prison abolitionist – a position which
causes State Power and prisoners alike to think I'm absolutely out of
my mind. “Real criminals” know (better than anyone, I'm told)
that some people just need to be locked away from the rest of us
forever, and I'm delusional to think that will ever change.
I advocate, however, is not just the demolition of prisons across the
country – it's the deconstruction of the entire prison industrial complex and the creation of community-based, non-heirarchical
mechanisms for promoting the values of collective liberation, shared
power, and social justice. Anyone who truly wants a world in which
there are no longer victims of war, poverty, rape, or other forms of
violence should share in such a vision, because those paths are
of an ethical foundation which places humanity, not corporate profit,
at the center of our worlds would naturally evolve more productive
ways of not only dealing with addiction, mental illness, poverty and
political resistance than chaining and caging people up, but that
also confronts and stops those among us who harm others for nothing
but their own gain or entertainment.
are ingenious beyond our ability to imagine – surely we can come up
with better solutions to our social problems than simply exiling our
deviants and transgressors to a netherworld in which they and their
families will be preyed on by sociopaths in orange, brown, and
business suits alike while they serve sentences formulated to promote
political careers, not further the cause of truth or justice.
institutions of state violence is a major problem, not a solution to
our problems, in any case. The prison industrial complex is composed
of entities and networks which consume valuable life energy and
community resources while going to great lengths to justify their
survival beyond their obsolescence. It depends on the perpetuation of
many evils to keep us all in chains, both literally and figuratively
with our fears and diminished expectations of each other.
of that is to explain the main reason I've finally decided to come to
you for help stemming all this violence – other than Chuck Ryan's
impotence, as evidenced by his lack of solutions to gangs seizing
control of his prisons other than to build more Supermax cells for
you all. I don't want to spend any more of my energy trying to make
the very system I'm a sworn enemy of stronger than the potential
resistance to it. Abuse of state power manifests in far more
egregious offenses against humanity than that which we throw so many
people into prison for.
you fellows are the ones who have the most control over your
environment and your destinies, not the AZ DOC or prison gangs,
despite all the illusions to the contrary. Asking the state to quell
the violence is only inviting them to invest in more guards, more
cages, more tools of domination, and more weapons of repression. I
won't do it anymore.
you are men of honor – which I have taken considerable risk on the
confidence that you are - and really wish to stop the violence
against women and children, then exercise the control you already
have and do the one thing Ryan himself can never hope to do: stop
the violence that originates with you and your brothers. Only then
will you and others begin to fully realize how much more power each
of you have to transcend both the chains and the lies that make you
think resistance to this state, and all the attendant evils of
incarceration, is futile. It is not. I know this because I have met
free men in prison already on this journey. They are organizing
quietly among you – and they are everywhere.
you are a free man, too, please write to me, and tell me how you
think we can work together to help liberate the rest from the chains
that try to bind us all – help me before their mothers, sisters and
daughters are called to bury them instead.
for your time and concern for our welfare. May the women and children
who love you never know the heartbreak of losing you to this madness,