Friday, February 28, 2014

THE JOURNEY OF LARRY "KEY" MITCHELL



Larry "Key" Mitchell refers to himself more as more a “prisoner of politics” than a “political prisoner."  That is an interesting delineation.  Mitchell's story which he relates below is the story of countless African American men.  It is a story of true redemption, of the development of consciousness, of growth and change.  It is the story of being forced to live as an outlaw, being labeled as this or that, of being persecuted inside and outside the prison walls, and overcoming all that, and of not being broken by all that.  It is the story of how and why a man like Larry "Key" Mitchell represents such a huge threat to the prison industrial system, and to all the powers that be.  

It is an amazing story to which no introduction which I write will do justice.  It demands to be read.

The following, for Scission's Prison Friday is from the San Francisco Bay View.



Social consciousness, prison struggle and perseverance: a personal account

by Larry ‘Key’ Mitchell
It’s been quite some time since I submitted an article to the Bay View paper, and I don’t usually write about personal struggles and experiences in political or socio-economic terms. In fact, Dr. Willie and Mary Ratcliff have been faithfully allowing me a medium to narrate and chronicle political and social views, Black History and accomplishments, as well as issues relative to those of us who are imprisoned – and to a larger extent, the Black Community outside the walls and fences of prison – for the past 16 years.
Larry 'Key' Mitchell 2007
Larry 'Key' Mitchell 2007
The Bay View is not only a significant part of my native community but has always maintained an incomparable level of integrity and unfettered authenticity in the Black press and has always provided a voice for the voiceless behind the walls of prison – a necessary ingredient in the maintenance of the freedom of speech and freedom of the press in exposing some of the corrupt practices within the criminal justice system, post-conviction.
However, for those who have become familiar with me and my previous articles and essays in the Bay View over the years who don’t know, I was validated as a prison gang associate in May of 2011. I have been in the “hole” for the last 33 months behind this ERRONEOUS validation and I am currently in the hole overflow at Pelican Bay State Prison.
While I have retained counsel, a renowned attorney who specializes in prison gang validations and conditions of confinement – though at this point, I’m not too excited about having retained him – to help litigate this bogus validation, I believe it’s my social responsibility to inform those who do know me of a bitter reality: When a prisoner is validated as a prison gang member or associate, the validation itself is the equivalent of being contaminated with a socially contagious virus that exposes other prisoners who are in possession of things like photographs with me or even in possession of my name, including my a.k.a., to being validated themselves.
Nevertheless, I believe now is a better time than any to provide a narrative of my prison experience as an example in order to illustrate how and why prisoners who decriminalize, educate themselves and become socially conscious become not only threats to the pathological hegemony of crime and punishment but within the walls of CDCR are targeted for validation.
In order for me to evince such a connection, I would like to reflect back to an earlier period in my life when I often acted out foolishly and the graduation of my socio-political consciousness that led to me becoming a so-called “threat.”

A retrospective view

Nineteen years ago, I came to prison for attempting to get money by means of force from a corporate enterprise I felt at the time would not only not miss the currency, but somehow “deserved” to be robbed for having robbed consumers via over-priced retail. It wasn’t my first time in prison. In fact, I had come to prison in the summer of 1987 for the first time, for felonious activities I had no significant remorse for committing.
My attitude as a youngster would land me in prison two more times for a range of felonies that would ultimately make me a primary candidate for the notoriously draconian three-strikes law. Did I know the difference between right and wrong? Certainly. Did I have two law abiding parents who did all they could to instill in me good moral principles? Positively.
So I guess a logical question is, Why did I fall into crime and develop, along with many of my peers, a disregard for not only the legitimacy of the American socioeconomic structure, but the politics of a nation that was (supposedly) founded upon a Constitution that recognizes all its citizens as equals? And instituted amendments to its Constitution that (supposedly) guarantee the equal protection of its citizen’s rights, especially those of color.
Well, as an adolescent child of African descent, I possessed, along with many adolescent children of color, a socially intuitive duality of the comforts of love and the anxiety of hate. The companionship of acceptance and the insecurity of rejection.
Unfortunately, as I grew older and came into contact with some of the dominant social institutions of society, my intuition became definitive while the balance of my experiences became lopsided as the definition of my character began to be defined by the color of my skin. For those of “hue,” that can become a powerful motivator in the decisions we make, which ultimately spur too many of us toward crossing the threshold to “The (Prison) Door of No Return.”
Larry 'Key' Mitchell bodybuilder
These are the few photos taken of Larry during his years behind enemy lines.
Entering my teenage years, I not only began rejecting the legitimacy of the social, economic and political institutions of America, I began embracing everything America rejected. At that time in my life, I didn’t understand with any lucidity why I identified with and defined myself as a “ni**a” or why I was such a myrmidon of what amounted to ignorance.
It was only later in my life – after sincere introspection, cathartic transformation and systematic erudition – did I discover that I had developed a pathological rejection of authority based on unresolved issues with abusive authority figures in society. Also, as apolitical as I was a youngster, representing myself as a “ni**a” and embracing what I didn’t comprehend was basically my way – unbeknownst to me at the time – of actually assuming a political disposition by rejecting an institution of politics that my experience convinced me had rejected me.
You see, no matter how ignominious, the attitude of a “ni**a” is the embodiment of a political disposition largely due to existential anxiety toward systemic class and racial oppression, which is evidenced in part by an emerging use of the word “ni**a” being expressed as a so-called “term of endearment” amongst a large percent of the impoverished and oppressed “underclass” and other ethnic groups, besides those of Afrikan descent, even though Blacks remain on the top rung of the social ladder when it comes to racist subjugation.
Racial oppression, which is predominately exercised through economic exclusion, discriminatory jurisprudence and political inefficiency, often contributes to the manifestation of and obfuscated identity crisis and in many cases leads subtly to self-hatred. Consequently things like law, education, social responsibility, taking care of family and community, or earning a living “legitimately” etc. are societal norms that I had – based on my attitude and actions – dumped all into one category of rejection and diametrically opposed.
Ironically, the attitude that was the foundation of my endearment to my disposition as a “ni**a” didn’t protect or empower me in any fashion – political or otherwise. It not only exposed me to and prepared me for a judicial apparatus that – according to the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution – would literally (re)enslave me, but it kept me entrenched in criminal activity that was deleterious to my family, my community and other unguided, misdirected and frustrated brothas like myself.
The young and marginalized often mistakenly respond to discriminatory and biased policies by engaging in crime or assuming the roles of “ni**as” who are not only politically ineffective but, as a consequence, voluntarily surrender ourselves over to a system that uses our own ignorance to grind us into social fertilizer to nourish the seeds of the next generation in order to continue producing expendable bodies to feed this political beast, to keep its financial belly full.
When I was sentenced to 35 years to life 19 years ago under the three-strikes law for what I felt at the time was more of an “expropriation” of finances from a corporate enterprise than a robbery, I wasn’t shocked to receive such a harsh sentence for committing what amounted to a petty crime in the scheme of illegal financial gain. In retrospect, I interpreted being locked up solely as a by-product of my skin color and not necessarily for breaking the law. And although my mentality would keep me on a path of recidivism, my attitude was facilitated by a manifold of discriminatory politics orchestrated to ensure I remained on a beltway to incarceration.

I interpreted being locked up solely as a by-product of my skin color and not necessarily for breaking the law.

It would take me almost a decade from when I came to prison for the first time to realize that changing the trajectory of my dysfunctional, self-annihilating behavior, on my own terms, without the ineffective assistance of prisoncrats, was an affront to the California Department of (Needs) Corrections. An “offense” that would surreptitiously put me in the cross-hairs of some vile intentions by both prisoncrats and some recreant prisoners as well.

A cognitive social emergence

When I entered the prison system for the first time, in the 1980s, the social panoramic landscape was entirely different from what exists today. Because of my experiences with street violence, I entered the prison system with a warrior-like mentality – more a “prisoner of politics” than a “political prisoner” with respect to those who are held captive today for acts that were predicated upon politically conscious ideology.
Those of my generation and within my social circle had come to prison from neighborhoods and conditions that were poised to murder us in a myriad of ways. And bullet holes and scars – not tattoos – were our chevrons to show our combat service in the streets.
We were young and full of angst but we were also signifying an urban Black message to other and older prisoners that we were also Warriors! Evolving from boyhood, we were young men in a state of rebellion, living on the coattails of arrested development, who had grappled with the abuses and elements of poverty, survived violence and had a hard time respecting those in leadership roles who demonstrate more caricature than character.
You see, in the ‘80s I was familiar with quite a few brothas I had run into in prison who had reputations while on the streets as notorious gangstas or dope fiends – and in some instances a combination of both – but were now masquerading as revolutionary erudites with criminally predatory mentalities whose revolutionary efforts were more nugatory than effective.
Nugatory efforts that I would discover a decade and a half later amounted to nothing more than ornamental sentiments that attracted prison investigative security units, who began targeting essentially an entire generation, or sector, of sincerely conscious prisoners for removal from CDCR prison mainlines, resulting in a dramatic deterioration of social awareness and respect amongst California prisoners as a whole. Like a lot of young men who come to prison, I was searching for an identity and looking for structure.

We were young and full of angst but we were also signifying an urban Black message to other and older prisoners that we were also Warriors! Young men in a state of rebellion, living on the coattails of arrested development, who had grappled with the abuses and elements of poverty, survived violence and had a hard time respecting those in leadership roles who demonstrate more caricature than character.

I was born and raised in the Bay Area – in particular, San Francisco – and those of my generation were essentially the offspring of the Black Power movement, primarily the Black Panther Party. As a consequence, we had a rudimentary esprit de corps of Black Power and unity. Survivors of the war staged against Black activist groups during the 1960s and ‘70s by government and law enforcement operations like the Counter Intelligence Program (referred to as COINTELPRO) under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover were still present in prison in the 1980s.
Some of the first reading material I encountered upon entering prison was radical and revolutionary and provided me with a sense of pride, because I identified with those who confronted bigoted “Americrats” and fought back against the forces of racism. I was introduced to the philosophies, ideologies and some of the politically charged literature about the BPP (Black Panther Party) the BLA (Black Liberation Army), the PGRNA (Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika), RAM (Revolutionary Action Movement), NAPO (New Afrikan Peoples Organization), AM-31st (Amistad, March 31st), SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee), NOI (Nation of Islam), MST (Moorish Science Temple), the Knights of Liberty and the Afrikan Blood Brotherhood, to name but only a few.
Larry MitchellI didn’t view these groups and organizations as gangs or criminal enterprises, as the government tried castigating them as. In fact, within the scope of some of the historically government sanctioned lethal tactics used to suppress and murder Black activists, I view some of them as freedom fighters and unsung s/heroes in the canon of Black history.
But due to the way I was internalizing the material I was reading and learning, the rage substratum to my hostility toward the nation state-complicit racism reinforced my sense of being only a victim, which not only allowed me to justify criminal activity but would also compound a host of social problems that would only be in service to the continued elimination – via incarceration – of society’s “undesirables.”
I can vividly recall the first time I met Huey P. Newton in the late 1980s at San Quentin. Me and a few brothas were on the weight pile, pumping iron, trying to get as big as we possibly could, while he and a few other brothas walked over to where we were stationed. The first thing I noticed about him as we introduced ourselves was his eye contact and the strength of his handshake, which I reciprocated.
Although some of us were bigger than Huey, we were noticeably younger, as he gave us a few tips on developing strength which, he emphasized, had as much to do with learning and reading material related to the plight of our ancestors and the conditions of our communities as lifting weights. Quite a few years would come to pass before I would truly grasp the significance of his advice.

Although some of us were bigger than Huey, we were noticeably younger, as he gave us a few tips on developing strength which, he emphasized, had as much to do with learning and reading material related to the plight of our ancestors and the conditions of our communities as lifting weights.

It was a brief encounter, and a short time later, Huey would be found shot dead on the streets of Oakland, IN the Black community, which was an experience coupled with a few others that created in me a little cognitive dissonance toward revolutionary rhetoric. But I never lost the conscious understanding of a historical fact: that a tensely strained bow of oppression ultimately takes a revolutionary aim at the power of the oppressor.

A tensely strained bow of oppression ultimately takes a revolutionary aim at the power of the oppressor.

A street-to-prison correlative

Twenty-five years ago, as many may recall, the immediate Bay Area had only one area code, which was 415, and many of us entering the prison system from the San Francisco Bay Area during that time identified ourselves with our regional area code. Those of my generation who ended up in prison came in during the crack pandemic that swept into the Bay Area like the flu, and the tales of Too-$hort, Cougnut, Chunk, 4-Tay, Askari X, Mac Dre, Mac Mall, 415, RBL, JT the Fig and a host of other Bay Area artists provided a musical backdrop to what it was like for youngsters in the Bay Area – from San Ho’ to the Valley Joe’ – who were navigating through the perils of poverty, pain, paper-chasing and prison.
We didn’t have a political agenda against the system or a revolutionary ideology or even a collective criminal strategy. Our primary goal was to get out of prison, intact. But until we paroled, we were determined to keep our chin in, chest out and our boots tied tight in order to secure ourselves in conditions and situations where prisoncrats not only failed to protect us but typically left it up to prisoners to fend for themselves.
We had yet to crystalize an understanding of how capitalism is the driving force behind classism and how classism is the principle impetus of competition, fueling crime, violence and other components of social division we experienced in our own communities. What we did understand is that we were Black, from the Bay Area, and behind the walls of most California prisons, Bay Area cats were heavily out-numbered, so social cohesion became our basic focus.
Due to observing the rivalry in prison between Bloods and Crips, which were predominantly Los Angeles-based street tribes at that time and were known to war against each other, an ethos serendipitously evolved that resulted in distinguishing a social attitude against allowing those divisive dynamics and entities to enter and establish themselves in the immediate Bay Area so as to prevent our communities from falling into warfare based on “colors.” Although we were successful in maintaining a social rampart against the demarcation of our communities along the lines of color, which still holds to this day, communities within the immediate Bay Area were still divided and fell into murderous rivalry that continues to escalate each year without interruption.

We had yet to crystalize an understanding of how capitalism is the driving force behind classism and how classism is the principle impetus of competition, fueling crime, violence and other components of social division we experienced in our own communities.

As I began to read and study more fervently about the social dynamics in urban America, it became apparent that the same elements of oppression in society that produced Bloods and Crips and any other street tribe or gang – from New York to California and all urban ‘hoods in between – produced us. The same kind of homicide, fratricide and parricide that was happening in one urban community was happening in ALL urban communities, resulting in nothing short of genocide. Now it occurs in a lot of rural ‘hoods as well.
As I was in and out of prison a few times during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I began noticing the growing effects of what I refer to as hand-me-down oppression: They oppress us, so we, in turn, oppress each other. As a consequence, the phenomena of SNY (sensitive needs yards) would rapidly grow into what they have become today: villainous bastions, housing so many alienated prisoners that the prison population as a whole has essentially become polarized into opposing factions.
One accuses the other as apostates, snitches, sellouts and turncoats, while prisoncrats manipulate this social dichotomy they designed to keep SHU (Security Housing Unit) beds full. Unfortunately, the prison class – as a collective – has yet to construct any ideological formula in order to counter the forever growing sensitive needs yard population or to discredit the need for a sensitive “needs” yard, despite the prison population being full of “social scientists.” I believe that is due to philosophical anachronism, i.e., an outdated philosophy about doing time.

An investment toward liberation

Nevertheless, in 1994, I would be arrested, tried, convicted and, in 1996, sentenced to 35 years to life under Three Strikes. While in the county jail, I got involved in a program that was modeled after the nationally recognized Delancey Street Foundation, which is where I met some passionately dedicated counselors, some of whom had been in and out of prison, involved in violence and on drugs themselves and would eventually become friends of mine, helping me to deal with and confront some of the core issues I had that derailed my life.
At one point, I was asked to speak to some at-risk teenagers about drugs, crime, violence, prison and all the negative decisions I made in my life that had undermined some of my positive choices. I agreed to speak with the at-risk teens. As a consequence, I would eventually end up speaking on a regular basis to youth from various high schools, community groups, teachers and other stakeholders involved in education.
Larry 'Key' Mitchell, 'CDC Prisoner'
Note this photo predates CDC adding R for Rehabilitation to its name.
These events catapulted to the headlines of some mainstream Bay Area newspapers and would eventually make the news on NBC on a special news segment. In short, in 1997, while housed at Pelican Bay State Prison, I would be called back to court, and the 35-years-to-life sentence I had been given would be reduced to 23 years, with no life sentence attached because of the work I had done with youth and my involvement with recovery.
When I returned to Pelican Bay Prison in 1998 after being resentenced to a significantly reduced term, the attitude that was displayed towards me because of the reduced sentence was nothing short of hostile by prison officials in my initial classification committee. That hostility would eventually manifest into direct action being taken to remove me from general population.
The experience with working with youth and other community based organizations invigorated me to further advance myself in reading, studying and learning as well as writing articles, primarily about the conditions in prison, many of which were featured in the Bay View newspaper. I was also pushing to establish what CDCR refers to as inmate activity groups in order to create venues in which prisoners come together to produce reformative curricula that would result in bridging some of the socially divisive practices that end in racial warfare. Prisoncrats use that unnecessary violence to seduce legislators to allocate more taxpayers’ dollars and punitive measures to an imperialist prison system.
After finally getting the approval for an inmate activity group in 2002, which was only approved as a result of the prison receiving some bad press. A major riot had occurred two years prior, in which 16 prisoners were shot – one fatally – that was followed by a two-year lock-down.
We established an inmate activity group called Choices. At the outset, the group set up a two-pronged approach to social reform. One approach was dealing with some of the core issues that lead to things like the division amongst ourselves, the results of a criminal mentality, the importance of education – also sharing dialogue about self-improvement and having constructive debates about current world events etc.
The other approach was selecting a committee of prisoners knowledgeable in law and departmental rules and regulations, who put together lists of uniform complaints regarding institutional conditions and would meet with staff once a week to seek resolution. As is to be expected, prisoncrats made several attempts at undermining the group – canceling group meetings for ridiculous reasons or conducting unnecessary strip searches or referring to prisoners who attended the group as “whiners” in order to discourage attendance.
At one point, B-facility staff, I believe, tried to provoke an ignorant reaction from prisoners when they unnecessarily decided to take the kitchen jobs from general population prisoners working in the dining hall and replace them with THU (Transitional Housing Unit) inmates – those undergoing debriefing from prison gangs – to feed general population prisoners, which was unacceptable due to suspicion the food would be sabotaged.
Many prisoners wanted to sit down on the yard, refusing to return to our cells at yard recall to protest the situation – as if prison officials would pitch us tents and let us stay on the yard overnight. Needless to say, that would have been a bad idea, so we had an impromptu meeting in Choices and decided to stage a hunger strike to protest THU inmates preparing general population meals, which would be participated in only by those housed in 4-block, who were the only general population prisoners affected. We didn’t want to give prison officials “manipulative ammo” to claim that “prison gangs” were coercing other prisoners to participate.
The hunger strike lasted for only three days before the facility captain called for a Choices ad-hoc committee meeting, and negotiations resulted in the general population prisoners who had lost their jobs due to being replaced by THU inmates being reassigned to their former job positions.

Recriminating redemption

Because I facilitated most of the Choices meetings, wrote articles about prison conditions and generally engaged in diplomatic dialogue with other ethnic groups and prisoners about sustaining peace amongst ourselves, I began noticing some of the overt tactics certain prison officials began to exercise in order to shut me down. They even went so far as manipulating other prisoners into displaying confrontational attitudes towards me without provocation.
But I continued to forge ahead because for one, I’m impassioned with the belief that The Most High has my back and that something of profound significance can emerge from those of us who have been thrown into society’s waste baskets of retribution. Besides, when it comes to combat, whether in some ignorant riot or in a mutually combative engagement, I’m undisputed in my 26 years of prison experience. Nor have I EVER betrayed another, including those who I KNOW betrayed me, which cuts deeper than any physical wound ever could.
In 2003, prisoncrats would put me in the hole pending an investigation into my involvement with a “conspiracy to murder correctional staff” at Pelican Bay Prison, which was a complete and total fabrication. I remained in the hole for a year and was eventually cleared from the bogus conspiracy, but before actually being cleared from the hole, I would be served another lock-up notice order, mandating I be retained in the hole pending another investigation into my association with a prison gang that CDCR had yet to designate as a prison gang.

I’m impassioned with the belief that The Most High has my back and that something of profound significance can emerge from those of us who have been thrown into society’s waste baskets of retribution.

It would be close to another year before I was released from the hole back to the prison’s mainline. By the time I returned to B-facility general population, the inmate activity group that I personally wrote up the proposal for and named Choices had been scaled back to that of an AA or NA (Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous) group with no semblance of its former efficacy, including its name, which had been changed to Choices for a Common Ground, denoting its former intent.
One year later after being in Pelican Bay for almost 11 years, I would finally be transferred to Folsom State Prison, where I continued to engage in prison activist work on a grassroots level, from facilitating pre-release classes and other self-help groups to negotiating truces between rivals. And prisoncrats would continue finding unsubstantiated allegations to place me in the hole. The fact is, the last five times I have been placed in the hole, I ultimately was released without being found guilty of any disciplinary infractions.
In 2007, while at Folsom State Prison, I wrote an article titled “Live from Old Folsom,” published in the Bay View newspaper. The article in its first part was pertaining to a Positive Vibration Day Conference at Folsom amongst prisoners, encouraging conciliation and positive social engagement. In Part 2 of the article, I wrote about a project called Positive Action Committee for Communities in Transition, or PACCT-10.
Larry 'Key' Mitchell
This is Larry’s most recent photo.
I wrote the articles of incorporation for PACCT-10 for the purposes of establishing a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that could potentially play a key role not only in reducing the murder rate throughout the Bay Area but contribute to helping indigent prisoners take college courses, order TVs and books and provide other material support to positively help them through their time as well as helping newly released parolees reintegrate into their respective communities by providing them with some basic support upon parole.
Although the article didn’t provide a mission statement of PACCT-10 or ideological format, the executive summary and charter of PACCT-10 succinctly delineated its design, purpose, function and goal, encompassing its ideology. It clearly stipulated that those involved in encouraging violence, crime and drugs would be prohibited from participation.
One of the principles conveyed in PACCT-10 was encouraging prisoners to educate themselves about things such as substance abuse, alternatives to violence, becoming employable upon release and developing safeguards against criminal life-styles and behaviors, and utilizing that knowledge toward initiating and establishing inmate activity groups, under the guidelines of CCR (California Code of Regulations) Title 15, Section 3234-3240, which allows inmate activity groups to conduct fundraising campaigns “by soliciting inmate donations or selling approved products, commodities or services to general population prisoners,” such as food sales, and donating some of those funds to nonprofit charities. PACCT-10 fundamentally allowing prisoners to invest in their own collective benefit.
However, prison officials not only recognized the potential of such a legitimate proactive endeavor to empower the prison class, but disregarded the PACCT-10 tenets and utilized the published article, “Live from Old Folsom” and the PACCT-10 charter to validate me as a “disruptive group member” in 2008, which, according to CDCR’s code of regulations, doesn’t result in segregated or security unit housing.
The very fact that I was investing in efforts to help decriminalize and educate others and continue to do so even after I was validated as a disruptive group member was obviously unacceptable to prison officials, so they moved forward in 2010 to process me for validation as a “prison gang associate.” The evidence used to do so consisted of a picture – over 40 years old – of George Jackson in a newspaper article, a quote from a book he authored and a statement from some weasel of an inmate who debriefed from a prison gang – literally lying to prisoncrats, alleging that I’m a prison gang associate, which is insidiously arbitrary considering that informants and inmates who debrief are not required to verify under penalty of perjury that the information they provide is true, accurate or correct.
Race, cultural mores and poverty are used as social class indicators that are encased within a social caste system that lawfully targets those of a certain caste and gears them for a street-to-prison-pipeline and are the same class indicators used by prison officials to sustain a general population-to-SHU pipeline for prisoners.

Race, cultural mores and poverty are used as social class indicators that are encased within a social caste system that lawfully targets those of a certain caste and gears them for a street-to-prison-pipeline and are the same class indicators used by prison officials to sustain a general population-to-SHU pipeline for prisoners.

SHUs are nothing more than concrete tombs with flushing toilets, running water and electricity, along with some minimal privileges that not only soften the psychological blow to one’s natural cravings for physical freedom and social interaction, but diminish the exigency of how long term isolation deteriorates human sanity. They are a cunningly subtle way of dampening resistance – and accountability for austere, inhumane forms of solitary confinement – by improving the appearance of human rights and compassion with amenities for those in the hole or SHU. These are seductive attempts to nullify evidentiary proof of cruel and unusual punishment.
Empirical evidence and qualitative research disturbingly reveal that CDCR’s gang management policies as they exist in practice are abusively exploitive and are not chiefly about security, safety or the containment of violence, any more than political demagoguery sensationalizing crime is about public safety.

CDCR’s gang management policies are abusively exploitive and are not chiefly about security, safety or the containment of violence, any more than political demagoguery sensationalizing crime is about public safety.

Milking taxpayers to fulfill a bureaucratic financial demand to employ and expand an extremely huge work force used to manage so-called “dangerous prison gangs,” holes and maximum security housing units has become the primary interest. The secondary interest, which threatens the first, is to prevent the development of social consciousness and prisoners employing humane, peaceful strategies in order to liberate ourselves from corruptive abuses. That runs counter to penological interests.

In conclusion

One of the reasons I’ve narrated the details of my personal experience is because much of it is hardly unique. There are hundreds of prisoners who have been falsely validated as members or associates of prison gangs that can viscerally relate to my experience, from living life as an outlaw in society to being prosecuted and convicted to prison, only to be persecuted while in prison, fundamentally for educating oneself by trying to heighten one’s sense of cultural and social awareness.
I salute those of you who have decriminalized your mentalities, educated yourselves and learned the letter of the law in order to challenge and change the arbitrary and capricious mechanisms used to bury prisoners alive in dungeons designed like mausoleums, based on ideologies that counter those of the status quo. As important as court rulings in favor of prisoners’ rights are, legal cases alone won’t change the vagarious denial of our human rights and our being treated as if we are subhuman.
Our efforts have to also coincide with and change the skewed public consensus about incarceration and the conditions of confinement. Those outside of the walls of prison who tirelessly support and advocate for the rights and welfare of prisoners – whom we can’t thank enough – are the oxygen keeping our spirits alive. So we have to be mindful of engaging in practices that legitimate indefinite SHU terms and dubious gang management policies by vanguarding the struggle against complacent ignorance, criminal contamination and counterproductive “isms” that lead to schisms.
Developing a creative synthesis from theoretical polarities that extend further than ethnic demarcation is illustrated best when prisoners can come together in peaceful protest and work together to end racial hostilities. Despite our ideological differences, pigmentation, individual struggles, personal opinions, background or geographical origins or how much time we have done or have left, we are all chained to an assembly line of injustice.

Prisoners can come together in peaceful protest and work together to end racial hostilities. Despite our ideological differences, pigmentation, individual struggles, personal opinions, background or geographical origins or how much time we have done or have left, we are all chained to an assembly line of injustice.

We are intrinsically related to the family of oppressed people worldwide, whose liberation lies in the bond of our human consonance. The best social weapon we have at dismantling the pillars of CDCR’s tyranny is the demonstration of our humanity.
Governing ourselves individually with the principles of self-respect, dignity and respect for others consolidates the consciousness of unified struggle. Let America discern that when law is no longer sustained by the reasoning of justice but is enforced by the sword alone, then shall society descend into revolution.
I believe it’s only befitting for me to end with the same caveat I used to end my last article, “Live from Old Folsom”:
“Just keep in mind that prisoncrats will attempt to sabotage our collective strength and our independent efforts at educating and positively empowering ourselves and our communities. Stay solid.” – L. Key Mitchell, Nov. 14, 2007. That’s what’s up!
Send our brother some love and light: Larry ‘Key’ Mitchell, D-63937, P.O. Box 3130, Delano, CA 93216.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A NEW NAZI INTERNATIONAL, CZECH REPUBLIC, THE UKRAINE, AND BEYOND

A NAZI INTERNATIONALE TAKES SHAPE



Romani people make up officially roughly 0.4% of the population in the Czech Republic - that would be about 41,000 in all.  Yet they get blamed for almost everything wrong that happens there. They face constant harassment and continual discrimination.  It's absurd and it is absolutely racist.  

This coming Saturday right wing radicals and nazis plan yet another anti-Romani march in the town of Plzen. The march is scheduled to last from 14:00 until 17:00. The Czech News Agency reports that a well-informed source says the person who announced the march to local authorities is Pavel Bittmann of Plzeň; a person of that same name has previously been convicted of promoting a movement aimed at suppressing human rights and freedoms.  

According to romea.cz, 

Bittman told authorities he estimates the number of participants in his event will be 250. He announced it for the purpose of "upholding the rights of all decent citizens of this country and protesting the financing of the anti-Czech, racist ROMEA civic association by the Government of the Czech Republic.

This time the racists will be met with a counter protest called by Plzen Against Racism.  A spokesperson for the group said, "We believe it is not good to let this march happen without a response, because it could then be perceived as something normal in our society."  The group says,it will not place any restrictions on the forms of counter-protest. "We can draw on the sidewalk, play musical instruments, eat, dance, drink, sing, or block the path of the marchers..."  The "happening" has also been supported by an initiative called "We Don't Want Nazis in Plzeň" (V Plzni nácky nechceme).

What is perhaps even more frightening then a march by local nazis is the outreach and invitation recently issued by the fascist Czech Workers' Social Justice Party to Ukrainian nazis to come pay a visit. Many reports have linked the Ukrainian nazis to any number of similar groups across Europe.  Their presence in the Czech Republic should be met strongly by anti-racists and anti-nazis...and all Czech working people.  

The linkage of a nazi like International is a growing and dangerous trend which must be countered and smashed by an international movement of working people, of the multitude before it has a chance to grow further.  We live in a global world where an event here also happens almost immediately there.  This alliance between Czech and Ukrainian nazis is just one more example of the bad side of that coin.  


The following is from Romea.cz

CZECH ULTRA-RIGHT INVITES MILITANT NEO-NAZIS FROM 
UKRAINE'S "RIGHT SECTOR" TO VISIT


This photo shows clashes between Ukrainian radicals from the Share on facebo
This photo shows clashes between Ukrainian radicals from the "Right Sector" and armed units of the Berkut special forces on 19 January 2014.


The right-wing extremist Workers' Social Justice Party (Dělnická strana sociální spravedlnosti - DSSS) has invited a representative of the neo-Nazi group Right Sector to the Czech Republic. In addition to the democratic parties of the All-Ukrainian Union "Fatherland" (representatives: Yulia Tymoshenko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk), the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (Vitali Klitschko) and the fascist Freedom party (Oleg Tjagnybok), Right Sector is one of the most significant radical groups participating in the current revolutionary changes in Ukraine.


"According to the most recent developments of events in Ukraine, it is evident that it was precisely the members and sympathizers of Right Sector who played a decisive role in the protests that the pro-European collaborators led by Klitschko and Tymoshenko have been and still are doing their best to co-opt," the DSSS writes in its press release about the invitation. As many as 100 000 people in Ukraine follow the Right Sector movement on social networks; the group mainly brings together right-wing radicals from various nationalist groups (the Trident of Stepan Bandera, Ukrainian Nationalists, Patriots of Ukraine or White Hammer), including Dynamo Kiev football hooligans who have piggy-backed on legitimate protests against the former government powers.   
The term "sector" in the organization's title is used to refer to the different sections of stands in a football stadium. Experts believe it is a loose association of right-wing radicals from all over Ukraine.
Groups of masked Right Sector fighters attacked police officers during the recent demonstrations with bottles filled with flammable substances, iron bars, and rocks, using "trophy" police shields won during the street fighting to defend themselves. Some photographs have shown the fighters using homemade shields with various symbols on them such as Odin's Cross, a symbol used by the Ku-klux-klan, or the neo-Nazi code numbers 14 (for the 14 words of David Lane) and 88 (which stands for "Heil Hitler").  
Right Sector has about 300 active members. It is the radical part of the main political force of the ultra-right in Ukraine, the Freedom Party, which is led by Tjagnybok. 
"If I were to look for an example and compare it to an ultra-right group in Eastern Europe, then it is definitely like Hungary's Jobbik. Freedom is rather similar, it is a political party with it's own proposal for a constitution that would introduce many horrible things such as a the death penalty for so-called 'anti-Ukrainian activities', which need no further commentary. Essentially anything that goes against the party could be considered 'anti-Ukrainian'," the Antifa.cz website quoted a Ukrainian anarcho-syndicalist named Denys as saying in an interview for a US radio station in Asheville.
The Freedom party espouses the legacy of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), a Fascist movement from the interwar period, as well as the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) once led by the controversial figure Stepan Bandera. Svoboda identifies with the ideology of German National Socialism (according to the Annual Report of the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism) and annually celebrates the founding of the Ukrainian Waffen SS division.
The Freedom party is against Russian influence in Ukraine and defines itself as against the country's communist past. It is also notorious for its anti-Semitic, racist rhetoric.
News server Zeit Online reports that in January 2013, Freedom members met with members of the German ultra-right party NPD (the National Democratic Party of Germany) and that the party allegedly also has ties to France's Front National (FN) led by Marine Le Pen.
On New Year's Day this year, Freedom organized a march of 15 000 people to celebrate Stepan Bandera's birthday. The party used the nationalist flag, which is black and red and which the FIFA, the international governing body of the sport of football, has labeled a racist symbol and banned from use during football matches.  
In the last elections, Freedom won more than 10 % of the vote. It has 38 seats in the 450-member Parliament and is the country's fourth-strongest party. 
ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

THE FIGHT AGAINST ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM AND ECOCIDE IN FLORIDA



Earth First protesters on Monday chained themselves together at the entrance to Florida Power and LIght (FPL) headquarters in Juno Beach disrupting company operations.  They were making a stand against FPL plans for a giant new power plant on 3200 acres of land sitting next door to the Big Cypress Reservation of the Seminole Tribe.  The chained up protesters were supported by over one hundred others.

Earth First! has called FPL’s plans “an act of environmental racism against indigenous people and an attack on the Everglades.” Calling the project a threat to their way of life, the Seminole tribe in June 2011 sued to block construction of the plant, in a case still being litigated.   “Stop FPL and others who destroy the environment and resources, for the sake of our future generations,” says Sam Tommie, a Seminole tribal member who opposes the project.

“This proposal is an act of environmental racism against indigenous people and an attack on the Everglades. If we stand by and do nothing, we are also complicit in this injustice,” says Christian Minaya of Everglades Earth First!, a group based in Palm Beach County.

Earth First is also upset about the fact that the plant will utilize natural gas derived from fracking.  Amongst the chants heard at the protest was, FPL you can’t hide, fracking gases ecocide.”

Earth First Journal points out, 


FPL’s plans in Hendry County have already been delayed by legal challenges to the rezoning of the land proposed for the site. Minaya, of Everglades Earth First!, says their group is familiar with the proposed power plant in Hendry County. The model is identical to the FPL plant they fought in Loxahatchee, known as the West County Energy Center (WCEC). Between 2007 and 2009 over 50 people were arrested in blockades and protests against the WCEC, as well as at the Barley Barber FPL plant in Martin County.

Each of these massive power plants, also in the Everglades, are known to use over 20 million of gallons of water daily and emit thousands of tons of pollution including, SO2, NOx, mercury and chromium, as well as millions of tons of greenhouse gases.

The activists also say FPL has a history of environmental racism, citing long standing complaints against their facilities in the predominately Black community of Riviera Beach, where the company recently expanded a gas facility amidst community opposition.


Meanwhile the Seminole Tribune report on a meeting at the end of January where Earth First, Seminole tribe representatives, and various environmental groups confronted a congressmen at his Florida office:


Betty Osceola, of Trail, said environmental contamination is already a problem in the Everglades. The sugar industry has been blamed for mercury in the water which, according to Sierra Club Florida, can be harmful to unborn babies and can cause brain and nervous system damage.

“We can barely hunt and fish anymore. They are killing our land,” Osceola said.


The Hendry County FPL site sits on proven habitat and mating grounds for the endangered Florida panther. It is also home to other threatened or endangered creatures, including the crested caracara bird, snail kite bird, wood stork bird and eastern indigo snakes.


Matthew Schwartz, executive director of the South Florida Wildlands Association, said the FPL plant could be stopped if the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Department of the Interior invoke the “jeopardy opinion” of the Endangered Species Act.


The provision directs federal agencies to refuse authorization and prohibit funding for projects that jeopardize the existence of any listed species.


“A project this size will lead to extinction. They can’t turn their backs on it,” Schwartz said.

The site is within a well-established migration corridor not only for species on the verge of extinction, but for deer, black bear, hogs and all animals that depend on the uplands for survival, he said. Part of the Florida Forever Project, called Panther Glades, the area is especially crucial during the wet season when water levels are too high to live or hunt.

Scientific reports are not yet available concerning chemical emissions from the plant’s 15-story towers that will impede the rural landscape and billow smoky steam into the air.“The absence of information is the biggest problem we have, but we all know that when it comes to chemicals in the air, what goes up must come down,” said Panagioti Tsolkas, of Earth First!


Juno Beach police arrested 5 people at the Monday protest and the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office assisted in transporting them after they were taken into custody, the sheriff's office said.

The following is from Because We Must.


INTERVIEW: ORGANIZERS AND PROTESTERS FROM THE LOCKDOWN AT FLORIDA POWER AND LIGHT

Lockdown at Florida Power and Light - Monday, February 24, 2014 - Photo: Everglades Earth First!











On Monday, five activists locked down at the headquarters for Florida Power and Light in Juno while one-hundred other protesters held a subsequent action protesting a proposed power plant in Florida. We have the great pleasure of having spoken with two organizers of the action, one of which locked down alongside four other activists using U-locks on the site, and was subsequently arrested.
In the following interview we speak with two individuals who were part of Monday’s action.
Wiley, an organizer from Earth First! Journal was interviewed by Because We Must about the overall action, and filled us in on some essential background information about the company they organized against. Wiley as well has explained their tactical strategy for this action.
Grayson, an activist from Everglades Earth First! and editor of the Earth First! Journal was one of the individuals who organized the protest and also locked down on site Monday. Grayson gave us a brief exit interview upon their release from custody.
BWM: Can you summarize for people the protest on Monday, where it took place, and what it involved?
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Wiley: The demonstration on Monday took place at the headquarters of Florida Power and Light, one of the largest energy companies in the U.S. The headquarters are located in Juno, Florida, North of Palm Beach. The majority of the people involved in the protest held a legal (though unpermitted) rally outside of the headquarters. It was a very family friendly event—people held signs, danced, chanted, and found playful ways to disrupt the everyday business of the complex. Amidst the jubilant rally, five people sat down in front of a gate and locked their necks together with U-locks (bike locks), blocking the main entrance to the facility. As I write this those five individuals are in custody.
There were over a hundred people who participated in the action in a variety of roles both on and off site. The action was the culmination of the Annual Earth First! Winter Rendezvous, which took place in a cypress swamp East of Lake Okeechobee over the weekend. There were quite a few people at the rally hailing from Palm Beach County, but there were also Earth First!ers from all over the continent who came here for the “Rondy”. It was cool especially to see people who are fighting fossil fuel infrastructure all over Turtle Island connecting their struggles and working together on messaging.
BWM: Is there a reason you have targeted Florida Power and Light for this protest–do you have a history of action in Florida against this company?
Wiley: The main thing that makes FPL a target right now more than any other time is their plan to build a power plant next to the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation. This project has already been challenged in court by members of the Seminole Tribe, and there are indigenous folks (Independent Traditional, Miccosukee) outside of the federally recognized reservation lands who also oppose the new plant.
FPL wants to promote itself as the wave of the energy future, with its “Next Generation Clean Energy Centers.” But we think environmental racism, genocide, and development are old, dirty news for Florida. In addition to the new power plant proposal, FPL is working with Spectra to build a natural gas pipeline across Northern Florida and looking into building power lines across Everglades National Park.
To summarize, FPL is totally evil and it would feel good to protest them even if it wasn’t timely. Between 2007 and 2009 over 50 people were arrested in a variety of blockades and other protests against the West County Energy Center and the Barley Barber plant in Martin County. The Hendry County plant will be modeled after the West County and Martin County Plants. A strong coalition is already forming among Hendry County Power Plant opponents, and we expect the resistance to be even fiercer this time around.
BWM: Can you explain to us the significance of the location of the proposed power plant, and what kind of repercussions it’s construction might have to the environment and people nearby?
Wiley: We already have an idea of what the impact to people and ecosystems would be like from the the West County Energy Center and the Barley Barber Plant. Each of those plants use over 20 million gallons of water daily, and water is the basis of all life in the Everglades. Imagine a giant straw (or three) sucking the water out from under the last remaining ancient cypress swamps. The power plants emit thousands of tons of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, including SO2, NOx, mercury and chromium which poison the air and increase rates of asthma and lung disease in surrounding communities.
BWM: For people who may not be familiar, can you explain the tactic of locking-down and what it can achieve as far as goals and objectives are concerned when dealing with a corporation of this size?
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Lock-downs are a way of holding space for a long time (usually hours, sometimes whole days) with a relatively small number of people risking arrest. In some situations this tactic can be very practical for actually stopping construction or extraction where it happens. When extractive industries have work stoppages it can cost them thousands, sometimes millions of dollars.
At a company headquarters, however, this tactic is mostly used in a symbolic way, to draw attention to the ecocidal criminals who like to hide in office buildings, country clubs, legislative offices, etc. It may still cost them a lot of money; the public image of a corporation is part of its bottom line. But essentially it is to create a really awkward spectacle that brings light to the bad decisions made by people in charge.
Today FPL public relations people actually responded to the press and tried to defend themselves against our media. Our rag tag volunteer-run movement can put the second largest energy company in the country on the defensive, and that’s awesome.
BWM: Aside from the five protesters who locked themselves together, what other forms of protest and types of tactics were employed on site? Can you describe the diversity of the day besides the lock-down?
Wiley: I was pretty amazed by all the street theatrics that multiple affinity groups pulled together over a fairly hectic weekend of action planning. There were radical clowns, a “panther block” with cardboard masks, and a conga picket line. I wasn’t there for it, but I guess people were having wheel barrel races in front of the entrance gate. Earth First!ers are natural pranksters because usually when we’re not thinking about how the Earth is dying we’re trying to figure out how to pull the rug out from under people who take themselves too seriously. The last few big Earth First! protests I’ve been to have had a notable element of mirth. It’s obviously fun, but I think it’s also strategic. It diffuses tension and keeps more people around to support our friends who have made themselves vulnerable to the cops. And it makes a protest a party that everyone wants to be at.
BWM: How are those people who did lock-down feeling about the day, what type of charges did they receive, and are they slated to be released, and under what conditions will they be let out of custody?
Wiley: We have heard from them and it seems like they are doing ok. But they are still in jail and that obviously sucks.[**Editors note, all five activists are now released and awaiting further information about charges and outcomes. We'll keep people updated on ongoing support calls and ways to help those arrested.**] We’re expecting misdemeanour charges, and usually people who do things like this get out within 48 hours. Mostly we just don’t know yet.
BWM: Is there any way that individuals outside of Florida can help you with your fight, or support your work?
Wiley: Right at this moment it would help if people donated to the legal fund. Bigger picture—research Florida Power and Light and Spectra and organize against them in your own community. If you live in the Southeast especially it is likely that there are targets around—banks, subsidiaries, contractors, frackers etc, who are connected to the struggle down here. The things that we did today are most affective as a part of a larger campaign and movement, and we all need to participate in that.
BWM: Grayson, as one of the individuals who locked down on Monday, how do you feel the protest went?
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Grayson: I think the protest went excellently. It brought attention to one of the dirtiest energy companies in the nation, Florida Power and Light, and made public their plan to build a giant new frack gas refinery adjacent to the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation, and to damage critical endangered panther habitat in doing so. The protest was covered by local media and spread widely online, and the exposure pressured FPL to respond with a shallow public statement declaring their concern for human life. Obviously they only felt the need to go on the defensive publicly because their actions and plans contradict such a concern.
I was also pleased with the amount of disruption we were able to cause at FPL headquarters. The lockdown of the main entrance lasted over two hours and resulted in police closing off the road adjacent to the property–effectively shutting down the other two entrances that led out onto the street. Corporate executives may not open our letters or return our phone calls, but it’s hard to ignore frozen traffic and missed appointments.
The support for our group and action was also better than we could have anticipated. Seminole tribal members and independent traditional people expressed thanks for our action and for our solidarity with them. We have strong reason to believe that this action will inspire more like it to come in the future.
BWM: Since being arrested, how has the support for your group and your actions been? Is there anything you need from the community right now?
Grayson: Thank you for asking this–good jail support is one of the most vital components in keeping our movements strong and consistent. It can also make all the difference in the mental and emotional state of those arrested.
Our support has been amazing. Folks on the ground were available to answer our phone calls from inside the jail and update us on any information they had, as well as to share updates with arrestees who weren’t in contact with one another. They also called the jail constantly for updates on charges, bail and conditions. Thankfully, we were all released on our own recognizance (i.e. without bail). Although we don’t have bail to pay, we still have court dates to travel to (some of us from quite far away) and court costs to pay, so donations would of course be greatly appreciated. You can donate here https://www.wepay.com/donations/114656034. 
BWM: What would you say to individuals who may be on the fence about using a diversity of tactics at demonstrations, the way your group did on Monday? Is this a positive or negative thing in your opinion?
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Grayson: I think I would ask such individuals to consider what their goals are, and how to best accomplish those goals in a way that doesn’t conflict with their message. For instance, Everglades Earth First! is attempting to stop a violent company from embarking on a project that endangers ecosystems, human health, and the territory of people who have been resisting colonialism for over 500 years. One strategy for halting construction of this refinery is to bring attention to these issues in the media. Non-violent direct action tactics like lockdowns inevitably draw attention to the inherent violence of the state, which uses weapons to protect similarly violent corporations. In my mind, the use of these tactics is a positive thing. It has a natural flow to it, and all the images just fall into place. All we had to do was sit down in the road–FPL and the cops did the rest for us.
Of course, this is only one strategy, and I am by no means putting down others. Each group and individual should assess its own targets, goals, and boundaries, and then do whatever they feel comfortable with, and whatever they feel is necessary, to accomplish what needs to be done.

BWM: Do you have any future actions planned, either on site or online that individuals might be able to participate in?
Wiley: Yeah, probably! Everglades Earth First! has weekly meetings in Palm Beach County. If you live in South Florida and want to plug in, email evergladesearthfirst@riseup.net

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UPDATE: All five people who were arrested are out of jail. All were charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.