From the September-October 2017 issue of News & Letters
Here in the California prison system, the entire prison population is approaching a remarkable anniversary. In August 2012 an ethnically diverse group of prisoners stepped to the fore with an initiative they wanted to implement throughout the prison system: the “Agreement to End Hostilities.”
In 2012 no one would have predicted that the Agreement would have a life span of five years. At that time many prisoners, seething with thoughts of revenge, saw it as a mere ploy to get out of security housing units (SHU) and continue the spectacle of one maniac group against another.
NEEDED VISION AND COMMITMENT
But representatives of the Agreement had a vision and a commitment that allowed them to see beyond the impediments to their desire for something different for the prison population. Their vision seems to be the echo of a revolutionary thinker of a previous generation, George Jackson, who left a poignant message:
“Settle your quarrels, come together, understand the reality of our situation, understand that fascism is already here, that people are dying who could be saved, that generations more will die or live poor butchered half-lives if you fail to act. Do what must be done, discover your humanity and your love in revolution.”
Some people unfamiliar with the violent, bloody history of the California prison system might not find the fifth year of the Agreement worthy of note. But what brings a needed context is the knowledge of the long legacy of racial violence taking place behind California prison walls.
Today the guiding principle for the majority of California prisoners is still the Agreement. Moreover, the five-year anniversary signals a sea change in the thinking of prisoners who are coming around to the idea that we are not enemies of each other and we share a common foe, i.e., California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA).
History has shown the depth of treachery CCPOA is willing to employ when they are working to ensure that racial hostility permeates the prison system. Thus it would be the height of naiveté to think that CCPOA is OK with the peaceful co-existence of the general prison populations.
‘WE DEMAND TO BE RECOGNIZED AS HUMAN’
The prisoners’ focus on the demand to have our humanity recognized is both Reason and Force of the Prisoners Human Rights Movement behind prison walls. Prisoners who have been released from the SHU have not lost that central focus. We all are committed to furthering the push for the original five core demands.
But none of this work can be separated from reaching out to the younger generations of prisoners. It has been established via written reports of the committed that work of that nature is being conducted on two levels: 1. The formal, where self-rehabilitation or awareness is the design; and 2. The informal, where it is a one-on-one direct exchange.
Prisoners statewide will benefit from the outreach and effort to get them invested in the Agreement. One of those benefits should be found in the fact that the funds prisoncrats spend for security would no longer be necessary. Therefore, those funds should go towards establishing viable rehabilitation and vocational programs for prisoners.
The demand for human dignity by California prisoners is not an isolated happening. One is hard pressed to find a moment in Amerikan prison history when the demand for human dignity behind prison walls was at a higher intensity.
We see it in the states of Michigan, Texas, Georgia, Wisconsin, Illinois and Alabama, where there is a rejection of the inhumane treatment indicative of antiquated prison systems that have outlived their usefulness. Prisoners have had a self-negation of the negative and recognize their humanity as paramount and that it must be realized in reality.