No rehabilitation

From the July-August 2014 issue of News & Letters

Oakland, Calif.—On June 14 Critical Resistance (CR), an organization working for the abolition of the prison system, held a community forum on California Department of Corrections and rehabilitation (CDCr). (Prisoners refuse to capitalize the “R” because there is no “rehabilitation.”)

The forum took up new proposed regulations to censor “obscene materials,” which includes “publications that indicate an association with groups that are oppositional to authority and society.” Over 30 attended, including those from a broad spectrum of groups from LGBT liberation and CR’s Abolitionist to Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity and News & Letters, all of whom said this would shut down access to a substantial part of their readership because prisoners are some of today’s most engaged political and philosophic thinkers.

 Art by Michael Russell, Pelican Bay SHU

Art by Michael Russell, Pelican Bay SHU

CDCr is out to retaliate against prisoners whose hunger strikes awakened the world to the systematic torture going on in U.S. prisons—the pervasive and arbitrary use of indefinite solitary confinement in Security Housing Units (SHUs). What prison officials sense is that prisoners’ ideas, their free speech and non-violent action, have revealed a power greater than their walls. These ideas are greater than a capitalist ideology of total control over its growing unemployed and poor, warehoused in prisons on a scale that, by any measure on the international scene, has been judged “obscene.”

Steve, a former SHU prisoner, spoke on how we are now in the early stages of a new Civil Rights Movement centered in the SHU where the authorities’ brutal reaction is akin to what faced the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Prisoners struggling for the basic right to speak are confronting the truth: capitalist high-sounding rhetoric about “free speech” only applies when it has no consequences. That was the sentiment Mario Savio expressed at the birth of the Free Speech Movement 50 years ago when students fought to share their experiences fighting for civil rights in the South. (See “Free Speech Movement,” p. 4.)

Steve said, the CDCr is looking for new power because the multi-racial prisoner movement for human rights and their “Agreement to End Hostilities” is undermining CDCr’s arbitrary use of gang validation to torture and set prisoners against each other. A spokesperson from Abolitionist said what CDCr wants to shut down is the empowerment prisoners feel from getting their views out and that the new proposed arbitrary and ambiguous regulations are trying to make people feel like they are alone.

We can’t let that happen. At stake is not only a question of rights but basic human solidarity against capitalism’s inhumanity.

—Ron Kelch

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