Category: Uncategorized

Jun 09 2014

Standing on a Soapbox, Calling Out the Cops…

I stood on a soapbox Saturday. I mean a real one.

Me on a soapbox (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee, 6/7/14)

Me on a soapbox (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee, 6/7/14)

On an overcast afternoon, on a concrete island at the intersection of Ashland, Milwaukee and Division, I joined a couple dozen people (mostly young) who were reading/performing poetry in opposition to state violence.

I was invited to say a few words, so I did. I shared words written by Langston Hughes and AI. I added a few of my own too.

On Friday, Damo was laid to rest. I planned to attend the funeral but in the end I was unable due to a previous commitment. It’s just as well. I hate funerals. I despise them especially when the person being buried is in his early 20s.

So I stood on a real soapbox and in memory of Damo & others who are victims of state violence, I shared two poems. Here are a few lines from one by Langston Hughes:

Three kicks between the legs
That kill the kids
I’d make tomorrow.

I’ll admit to actively suppressing any thoughts of a young man being tased (twice) and hitting his head so hard that he was basically brain dead when he arrived at the hospital. How does this happen? Then I remember the disposability and un-humanness of black and brown people. I know how this happens. I am a witness but I’d rather not be.

Ethan spoke before me. No, that’s not actually true, Ethan bled before me. I watched with others transfixed by his words and his pain. I hoped that it was catharsis towards healing. But I don’t know how young black men can heal in the midst of continuing, continual, unrelenting violence. Is this possible?

The title of the gathering organized by members of the Chicago Revolutionary Poets Brigade was ‘No Knock’ An Artistic Speak-Out Against the ‘American Police State.’ The title is inspired by Gil Scott Heron’s poem “No Knock.”

No knocked on my brother Fred Hampton
Bullet holes all over the place
No knocked on my brother Michael Harris
And jammed a shotgun against his skull

It is as it ever was. No knocked on Damo who is now six feet under ground.

Passersby stopped to listen as various people read poems about Guantanamo, police violence, prisons, surveillance, and more. Audre was right: “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” There is magic in hearing voices speaking out for justice over the din of a bustling city. You had to be there to understand what I mean. Gathering as a collective to recite poetry can’t end state violence but it does keep our spirits up so that we can demand and fight for more justice. It does help to “give name to the nameless so that it can be thought.” And now more than ever we need the words and we need to be able to think through that which cannot be thought. These are revolutionary acts in our time.

Over the next few weeks, I will be working with others to strategize and organize around the epidemic of police violence experienced by our young people of color in Chicago. I don’t know what will come of our discussions but I am sure that nothing will change unless we change it.

I stood on a soapbox Saturday. I mean a real one. I read some poems including “Endangered Species” by AI.

At some point, we will meet
at the tip of the bullet,
the blade, or the whip
as it draws blood,
but only one of us will change,
only one of us will slip
past the captain and crew of this ship
and the other submit to the chains
of a nation
that delivered rhetoric
in exchange for its promises.

I hope that you find your own soap box. I mean a real one and read some poems, calling out the cops…

Dec 29 2013

Prison Culture on (Short) Hiatus & Happy New Year…

It’s hard to believe that we’ve almost come to the end of 2013. This year has flown by & it’s also been incredibly busy. Regular readers know that I run my own organization and am also involved in many other projects in addition.

When I started blogging in mid-2010, I’ll admit that I had no idea how time consuming but also rewarding it would be. This blog began as a running journal for my ideas and rants. It’s now become a space where I am able to engage with others about issues that I care about. I am grateful for that and grateful to those of you who take the time to read and sometimes reach out directly.

Anyway, I start teaching again in January (in addition to running my organization and doing other work). I’m going to take two to three weeks away from blogging to prep for the new year. I of course reserve the right to post a rant should the need arise :) but I am not planning on it.

I wish all of you Happy Holidays and a very Happy New Year. I hope that 2014 brings us more justice and some peace. I leave you with the gift of this wonderful new music video by Climbing PoeTree. Onward!

Oct 25 2013

The Young Lords: A Brief Introduction with Some Illustrations…

I am surprised that my friend Billy hasn’t disowned me yet. For over a year, I’ve promised to write a few words about the Young Lords for a zine that ze has illustrated. I’ve been distracted, then swamped, then distracted again. So to push myself to work on this, I’m writing a post today. It’s very drafty but I need the kick in the butt…

THE YOUNG LORDS

There had of course been Puerto Rican nationalist organizations throughout the early to mid-20th century. But they mostly focused on the struggle for Puerto Rican independence. Meanwhile Puerto Ricans on the mainland were living in dire conditions. They experienced poverty, dilapidated housing, substandard schooling and terrible health care. Pedro Pietri gave voice to this marginalization and violence in his amazing spoken word poem titled “Puerto Rican Obituary” which appeared in the 1971 book “Palante.” Below is a short clip of Pietri sharing an excerpt from the piece:

In 1959, seven Puerto Rican young people formed (PDF) the Young Lords in Chicago. The group was initially created to protect its members against attacks from white ethnic, black and other latino ‘gangs.’ Jose “Cha Cha” Jimenez became the group’s chairman in the early 60s.

During the mid to late 60s, many black gangs in Chicago were transforming into political organizations very much influenced by the Black Power movement. Gang members joined the Black Panther Party, the Nation of Islam, and other radical organizations. By 1967, the three largest gangs in Chicago, the Vice Lords, Blackstone Rangers, and the Gangster Disciples founded the LSD (Lords, Stones, and Disciples) peace treaty. This newly formed group ran local businesses (bookstores, cafes, clothing shops) and facilitated political education in their communities.

Puerto Rican gangs underwent a similar process of consciousness-raising and transformation. Cha Cha Jimenez and the Chicago Young Lords re-evaluated their mission & took on the name ‘Young Lords Organization.’ In 1967, they opened Uptight #2, a cafe where they discussed the issues of the day. The Lords established substance abuse programs, gave away food, and organized various community events. After spending time in prison in 1968, Jimenez became particularly interested revolutionary movement-building.

Fred Hampton, the deputy Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, approached Cha Cha Jimenez to discuss a revolutionary framework for liberation. Hampton believed that it was important to marry social service delivery with revolutionary politics. As Jimenez said: “Giving gifts wasn’t going to help their people. They had to deal with the system that was messing them over.”

Che Ja-Ja, Bronx Office, May 1970 Image by Billy Dee (inspired by Palante, photo by Michael Abramson)

Che Ja-Ja, Bronx Office, May 1970
Image by Billy Dee (inspired by Palante, photo by Michael Abramson)

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Sep 18 2013

The Drug War: Still Racist & Failed #24

According to ThinkProgress:

Drug offenses remained the single most common cause of arrest in 2012, mostly for offenses involving mere possession, according to newly released FBI estimates. Of the 12.2 million estimated arrests 1.55 million were for “drug abuse violations.” Some 82 percent of those were for possession offenses, and 42.4 percent for marijuana possession. That is the equivalent of a drug arrest every 20 seconds, and a marijuana arrest every 42 seconds, according to calculations by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of law enforcement officials who support the regulated legalization of drugs.

warondrugs

Also, North Country Public Radio produced a very interesting report discussing why some black leaders were initially supportive of the war on drugs. It worth listening to here.

Aug 18 2013

Bulldozing Dreams & Communities in Chicago Under Cover of Darkness…

I have watched for years now as Chicago bleeds black people and displaces the poor. This trend predates the current mayor Rahm Emanuel’s tenure. What the election of Emanuel has done is to super-charge a process of gentrification and urban removal that has been happening for years.

La Casita in 2011 (photo by Brett Jelinek)

La Casita in 2011 (photo by Brett Jelinek)

The latest betrayal of the brown and the poor came on Friday evening when parents and children were interrupted during an Atzec dance class by police officers and demolition trucks.

photo by Vivi Arrieta (8/16/13)

photo by Vivi Arrieta (8/16/13)

La Casita, a library and community center adjacent to Whittier elementary school, has been a contested site for years. In 2010, parents and community members staged a 43-day sit-in to save it from demolition. This protest predates the Occupy movement. Chicago Public School (CPS) officials wanted to replace La Casita with a soccer field that would serve Cristo Rey, a nearby private school.

The parents won their fight. CPS promised to keep the center open and leased the building to the parents for $1 a year. Alderman Danny Solis committed to securing funds to renovate the space. You can learn more about the 2010 struggle to save La Casita here.

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Aug 16 2013

Comic: American Justice by Matt Bors…

I really appreciated this comic by Matt Bors.

by Matt Bors

by Matt Bors

Jun 30 2013

Three Years Ago, I Launched Prison Culture…

by Katy Groves

by Katy Groves

It hardly seems possible that I started blogging three years ago. It feels both much longer and shorter than that. I started Prison Culture three years ago when I knew less than nothing about wordpress, blogging, etc… I am actually a technophobe who still has a cell phone circa 2000 and doesn’t text. So it is hugely funny to my friends and family that I would have launched my own blog.

Over the past three years, I have taught myself to become more proficient on social media and have greatly enjoyed the new connections that I have been able to forge through tools like Twitter, for example.

I didn’t know if I would be able to sustain a regular blogging schedule. It’s turned out that I have (with a few strategic breaks). I plan to continue to post as regularly as I can over the next year.

If you even read this blog semi-regularly, then you know that I am incredibly curious. It’s my main claim to fame. I love to learn new things. I love history, black history in particular. I love to share what I learn with others. This blog indulges these passions of mine. I am grateful for the space and that other people care even a little about what I care about.

So here’s to three years of Prison Culture and thank you for reading.

May 24 2013

From My Collection #19: Free Joan Little

The following are some newswire photographs from my collection related to the trial of Joan (pronounced JoAnne) Little which I have previously written about here.

Picketers March in Front of Denver Federal Bldg in Support of Joanne Little (7/15/1975)

Picketers March in Front of Denver Federal Bldg in Support of Joan Little (From My Collection, 7/15/1975)

From My Collection

From My Collection

Demonstrators March From the North Carolina Women's Prison To the Little Trial (From My Collection, 7/14/1975)

Demonstrators March From the North Carolina Women’s Prison To the Little Trial (From My Collection, 7/14/1975)

May 13 2013

When Prison Abolition Was A Feminist Concern…

by Ariel Springfield (2013)

by Ariel Springfield (2013)


Once upon a time, not so long ago, people who identified as feminists cared profoundly about prisoners and prisons. They were at the forefront of advocating prison abolition. Things changed…

I decided to share this great reminder from 1971 in the radical feminist publication “Off Our Backs (PDF)” when it was still a newsletter. Below are some excerpts from the publication that includes an essay about prison abolition.

Women Prisoners Revolt

In support of their brothers at Attica and the 28 demands they made, the women incarcerated at Alderson demonstrated peacefully on Tuesday, September 14. The demonstration developed into a total strike with the women refusing to return to their cottages. Later they met with representatives of the federal prison parole board and presented additional demands including fair wages for work performed in the jail (they presently receive 7 cents an hour); mail privileges; and treatment facilities for addicts. Frustrated by the out-of-hand rejection of their demands and the harsh and adamant attitude of the prison officials, the women rioted. Tear gas was used. They were all then locked into the cottages. Three sisters “escaped” from the rooms to tell the press what had happened.

Unprecedented actions have been taken against the women who presented the demands. Sixty-six of them have been transferred to to a male youth reformatory in Ashland, Ky. Additional male guards (there are usually * 60) now patrol Alderson to enforce “order.” Authorities will not release the names of women who have been transferred or say where they will be sent now.

How Many Lives?

How many years of people’s lives must be lost, hidden, and brutalized, before we see that prisons must be abolished?

How many Atticas, San Quentins and Aldersons will it take till we realize that our society has created these monstrous institutions out of fear — fear of human freedom, cultural differences, loss of capitalist property. The ethics of our society have been distorted by this fear, and are then imposed on non-white people, poor people, young people and women to make survival and experimentation crimes. Why should people in Amerika spend years in jail for such “immoral” acts as smoking grass, getting drunk and singing in the streets, making love or printing “obscenity”, much less for standing by moral decisions not to kill or work for an immoral government? If prisons were really to protect us from psychopaths, murderers and thieves, they would contain Nixon, Rockefeller, Mitchell, Reagan, Agnew, owners of motor industries and oil dynasties, slum land lords, church leaders, and Pentagon officials. Prisons are the extreme domestic example of the racism, sexism, militarism and imperialism that we have been watching for years in Vietnam.

Who needs “rehabilitation” in our society? Not the slaves of ghetto deprivation and drugs pushed by those who wish to dull possible insurgency. Not the men and women who have learned to hustle and survive despite all efforts to destroy them. Not revolutionaries like Angela Davis and George Jackson. The people who need to be “rehabilitated” (if that’s even a correct attitude to have toward any human beings) are those whose minds and bodies have been warped by false value systems that convince them that some people must die so they can live, many must starve so they can eat, all must slave so they can enjoy rest.

“Rehabilitation” is the pacification program of liberalism. Even if we did want to “rehabilitate” sick or deviant minds or bodies, prison would be the last place to achieve it. We need to rid our selves of prisons. They are a danger to society not only because they are schools for “crime” (70% of all “crimes” are committed by ex-convicts) but because they try to erase from our consciousness people who could possibly bring about exciting changes in our social order. We need women like Angela Davis, Erica Huggins and Madame Ngo Ba Thanh among us. We need the Puerto Rican revolutionaries locked inside Alderson.

To abolish prisons we may have to develop “reforms” that carry within them contradictions that will make it hard to achieve them without drastically changing prisons — black prisoners’ unions with collective bargaining power, ending detention before conviction, a national prisoner monitoring system, open door policies, viable alternatives to incarceration. But whatever approaches are used, the goal should be prison abolition. To have no alternative at all would be better than to continue the present reality. And we can’t wait for the ending of racism, sexism and poverty in this country before we begin tearing down the walls. It may be in our own self-interest.

The question on the table: which current feminist publication can you imagine would publish such words?

May 10 2013

From My Collection #17: Inez Garcia

This is a great photograph of Inez Garcia whose seminal legal case I wrote about here. I also shared a vintage flier created by her Defense Committee as the first item in this series.

Inez Garcia

Inez Garcia