Humanism: a way forward for prisoners

September 17, 2016

From the September-October 2016 issue of News & Letters

Only live human beings can recreate the revolutionary dialectic forever anew. And these live human beings must do so in theory as well as in practice. It is not a question only of meeting the challenge from practice, but of being able to meet the challenge from the self-development of the idea and of deepening theory to the point where it reaches Marx’s concept of the philosophy of revolution in permanence. 

Raya Dunayevskaya

I am because we are and because we are I am. 

Ugandan proverb

The material from prisoners who are proponents of our human rights struggle is heartening. The emphasis has been on how to create a path forward. It is a serious grappling with that question. Taking on this question has consequences not only for us behind the prison walls, but also to humanity beyond the walls. There is a continuity and a discontinuity that is the substance of the question before us. Formulation of a path forward will be twofold, ideally a deep unification and, simultaneously the most practical path.

News & Letters reports from the Pelican Bay State Prison hunger strike, 2011 From the belly of the beast—Pelican Bay prisoners speak. To order click here.

News & Letters reports from the Pelican Bay State Prison hunger strike, 2011. From the belly of the beast—Pelican Bay prisoners speak. To order click here.

Let us not lose sight of what has enabled us to be liberated from the oppressive conditions of solitary confinement. It was the banner of our humanism that allowed the forging of a tremendous unification across the racial divides. Until the creation of the short corridor all of us surely thought it would be impossible. The absolute negativity of solitary confinement brought forth a new stage of cognition in each of us; humanism became much more than a rallying cry. The recognition of commonality existing in all of us gave rise to a transcendent quality of our social interactions. Others begun to notice our efforts. The demonstration of our social humanism became much more pronounced in the boldness and resoluteness of the Agreement to End Hostilities.

There is great potential in the humanism projected by us prisoners. Staying true to our humanism and deepening its development offers us the means to expand solidarity among the general prison population and simultaneously build our connections with people on the outside. Extending our humanism whenever and wherever possible on both sides of the prison walls allows for a creation of a bulwark against uneven development.

The connection our humanism has with the outside world is real. The present socio-economic reality, the perverse nature of oppressive capitalist social relations, has rendered a clear estrangement of humanity. Wherever one looks—be it prisons, households, communities, states and nations—the view is the same for the masses. The oppressed are striving to unleash their innate human potential against the inhumane forces of capital. Thus we are all engaged in the world struggle to totally uproot and eradicate the major contradictions between the haves and have-nots. In the very midst of the revolutionary struggle, the horizontal relationships born of spontaneity with kindred spirits create an opening for the deepening of humanism and the concrete foundational framework of the new society we want to establish.


One thought on “Humanism: a way forward for prisoners

  1. A prisoner from Pennsylvania responds:

    If I may I would like to make a comment regarding your article, “Humanism: A way forward for prisoners,” published in your Sept.-Oct. issue.

    In the state of Pennsylvania the use of long-term solitary confinement has not ended. The Pennsylvania DOC hoed officials allege that it has. Yet they continue to utilize long-term solitary confinement for the smallest things. I’ve currently been held in solitary confinement for the last nine years and seven months. I was 18 years old when they locked me in a small cell. At the age of 28 I’m still being confined. I’m due for release on May 12, 2018. I was one of the many prisoners abused at the infamous Secure Special Needs Unit (SSNU) that sparked the investigation of inmate abuse at SCI-Cresson. I’ve fought for justice, yet this country doesn’t desire complete equality for prisoners. Men that I’ve known personally or known by name found that death was the quickest way to physical freedom. They committed suicide while in solitary confinement.

    Most recently at the prison I’m at, a prisoner killed himself while in general population. He’d simply had enough.
    For those fighting solitary confinement, please remember that your fight is a long uphill battle. It will take effort from the masses. In Pennsylvania you rarely have the solidarity that you would find in California or Wisconsin. This state is pacified with material things. This is why prisoners in Pennsylvania can die at high rates for a long time before someone recognizes there’s a problem.

    I really would like to say thank you to all the convicts in California for making solitary confinement their target, for standing up to fight rather that kneel to these pigs.

    Be well,
    Pennsylvania prisoner

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