Why prisons and prisoners must matter to the Occupy movement

Join with Occupy LA to stop torture in California prisons, support prisoner hunger strike Thursday, Oct. 13, 5-7 p.m., on the North Steps of City Hall, 200 N. Spring St., Los Angeles (details below)

by Michael Novick, Anti-Racist Action-LA

Danny Glover speaks this past weekend at Occupy LA. Watch the video below to hear him cry out, “You represent those brothers in jail who are on strike,” to loud and long applause. – Photo: YouTube supreme227

Prisons and the millions who are imprisoned are a critical issue in this society for the 1 percent and for the 99 percent. They must be a vital area of concern for the Occupy Wall Street movement and especially here in Occupy LA. Here’s why:

Social control

Dostoyevsky said that you can best understand a society by looking inside its prisons. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. We have 5 percent of the global population and 25 percent of all the prisoners.

Prisons expose the brutal violence at the base of social control, the iron fist hidden by the velvet glove of elections and by the weapons of mass distraction. After the mass rebellions of the ‘60s and ‘70s, the 1 percent made a conscious decision to de-industrialize the U.S. and drive poor people from the inner city to the outskirts of the cities, as in Latin America and Africa, or into the concentration camps.

Prison populations shot up from under 200,000 to over 2,600,000 and still rising. Millions more are in and out of jail or under custodial control by the parole and probation systems. This has resulted in painful and massive destabilization of communities, especially communities of color, and affected millions more in families disrupted by having members imprisoned and moved far away.

Because most Black families have loved ones in prison, this young man at Occupy Wall Street probably has prisoners in mind in his call for “Love.” But because prisoners are entombed and deliberately hidden from public view, other Americans will not get his message without the mass education about mass imprisonment that the Occupy movement can provide.

The police may be making nice today with us, but they function to criminalize people and send them to prison.

Here’s the other 1 percent: One percent of all adults in the United States are in prison or jail right now!

Prisons for profit

Prisons and the war on crime were the leading edge of the wedge of privatization and reactionary corporate control of electoral politics. “War on crime” became the code word for racism, and tough-on-crime politics and politicians were used to break support for social liberation, human needs programs and civil rights.

ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), the right wing legislative think tank that has been writing state by state legislation attacking unions and migrant rights, cut its teeth supporting prison privatization. Prison privatization and using prison construction and supply contracts to tap public funding for private corporations set the pattern now being used to privatize schools, social services and even military and covert operations.

Political prisoners

COINTELPRO, the FBI Counter Intelligence Program, was a domestic counter-insurgency war strategy directed against the blossoming social, political and economic liberation movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Black Panthers and other Black freedom organizations, the American Indian Movement, the Brown Berets, Young Lords, SDS, Asian and other effective dissident, serve-the-people groups were criminalized and attacked.

Many are still locked down 30 or 40 years later for their uncompromising resistance. This setback allowed the government and the corporations to strengthen their control over the rest of us, cut back on the social safety net and begin mass incarceration.

They’re still doing it today, with the Black Riders Liberation Party, Carlos Montes, the “Green Scare” etc.

Exposing the duopoly

Democrats and Republicans alike have been totally sold out to the prison-industrial complex. The California prison guards union, CCPOA, is the biggest political donor and lobbyist in this state and calls the shots.

The California prison guards union, CCPOA, is the biggest political donor and lobbyist in this state and calls the shots.

A couple of years ago, under Republican Gov. Schwarzenegger and Democratic legislative leader Fabian Nunez, the legislature passed overnight and without debate a bill adding 59,000 MORE prison “beds” in the state with the largest prison population.

Kanye West paid a visit to Occupy Wall Street. Will Black celebrities and others in the know ensure that prisons and prisoners matter to the Occupy movement? – Photo: AFP/Getty Images

While Jerry Brown was pushing his austerity budget cuts, he cut a backroom deal with CCPOA to sweeten their retirement package with a multi-million dollar bonus that he slipped into the state budget.

Model of resistance

The prisons are becoming schools of revolutionary social transformation. Thousands of prisoners are on hunger strike right now in California against the brutal and torturous conditions of the “security housing units,” isolation units designed to break people down and keep the lid on all the prisoners by creating prisons within a prison.

The prisons are becoming schools of revolutionary social transformation.

The SHU prisoners’ example of inter-racial solidarity and putting their bodies on the line challenges all of us to our best efforts.

What we can do

Act in solidarity with the prisoners’ resistance, reach out to their families, connect the Occupy movement to those communities in struggle, educate ourselves about Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Oscar Lopez Rivera, Assata Shakur and other political prisoners and exiles.

Join the weekly hunger strike solidarity rallies Thursday at 5 p.m. at Bauchet and Vignes streets near the Twin Towers county jail. Los Angeles has the largest jail system of any city in the world!

Check out www.thejerichomovement.com for information on the amnesty movement and opposition to the prison-industrial complex.

Anti-Racist Action-LA can be reached at P.O. Box 1055, Culver City CA 90232, antiracistaction_la@yahoo.com and www.antiracist.org.

At Occupy LA, support the unprecedented prisoner hunger strike to stop torture in the California SHUs!

Following 20 days in July when 6,600 prisoners in California participated in a hunger strike to stop torture in the Security Housing Units (SHUs) at Pelican Bay and other state prisons, over 11,800 prisoners resumed the hunger strike in at least 13 California state prisons beginning Sept. 26. Oct. 13 will mark day Day 18! This extraordinary, historic action and upsurge of prisoners is the one of the most important since Attica 40 years ago.

Danny Glover gets acquainted with the folks living in Occupy LA’s tent city at LA City Hall Saturday, Oct. 8.

Courageously, in the face of threats of disciplinary sanctions by prison officials – including the threat of being thrown into solitary confinement if a prisoner in the “general population” dares take part in the strike – an unprecedented number of prisoners have become even more united in their demands to end the inhumane, barbaric torture of long-term solitary confinement in the SHUs.

Think about everything that makes you human … that keeps you physically and mentally alive … that connects you with the world and other people … that gives you a reason to live, to love, to learn and think. All this is what the SHU tries to extinguish.

In the SHU you’re locked up in a small, windowless concrete cell 23 hours a day, with minimum human contact and maximum sensory deprivation. Human rights groups in the U.S. and internationally have documented the inhumane conditions – these are crimes against humanity. And the fact is tens of thousands of prisoners across the U.S. are being held in the kind of barbarous conditions the prisoners at Pelican Bay and other state prisons have so courageously rebelled against.

At Occupy LA – and everywhere – we have a moral responsibility to act in a way commensurate with the justness of the prisoners’ demands and the urgency of the situation. A determined movement outside the walls of prison is urgently needed to expose and demand an end to these high-tech torture chambers called SHUs.

At Occupy LA – and everywhere – we have a moral responsibility to speak out. A determined movement outside the walls of prison is urgently needed to expose and demand an end to these high-tech torture chambers called SHUs.

On Thursday, Oct. 13, at Occupy LA, family members of those locked up in the SHUs and others, including students and professors and the religious, legal, human and civil rights community, will hold a vigil and speakout and give VOICE to the prisoners.

Occupy LA is at LA City Hall, 200 N. Spring St. Gather on the North Steps on Thursday, Oct. 13, at 5 p.m. For more information and to get involved, contact the California Prison Hunger Strike Action Network at  (213) 840-5348       or prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity@gmail.com.


6 thoughts on “Why prisons and prisoners must matter to the Occupy movement

  1. Until we began to envision a world without prisons (cages) there will only be incremental reforms that will only validate the need for prisons. Many could not see the abolition of slavery and as a result we have the system of new Jim Crow and mass incarceration, felon disenfranchisement, and a perpetual caste system that is the direct result of the “exception clause” in the 13th Amendment that allows slavery to continue by simply moving from private ownership of slaves to state ownership of slaves. Reform is clearly not the solution. True Abolition is the solution….


  2. Are there any plans to actually take the Occupy movement to prison sites? Bring a sit-in and rally to the parking lots and lobbies and just…challenge the legitimacy of this system of caging and abusing human beings? I am from Southern CA – living and working on prisoners’ rights in Alabama right now – but I would love to be part of something like that. If people have thoughts please let me know.


  3. Thanks for remembering the prisoner’s hunger strike. The 5 core demands are righteous. My vision has been to shine a light on tough on crime platforms that forgot about compassion and common sense! I witnessed outright lies by Calif’s prison union regarding the 3 strike law prop 66 ballot to change the law to only focus on sex crimes and violence- My novel Roll Call illustrates those lies real time and got a great review from Kirkus in NY. I wrote that novel from Centinella prison- level 4 on the border of Calif… More stories are about the prison guards staging violence to get paid time and a half and label offenders just trying to survive. Please put a link up and guide me!
    Glenn Langohr 949 498 2174 rollcallthebook@gmail.com http://www.lockdownpubishing.com

    ROLL CALL by Glenn Langohr 120,000 words/ 4 seasons- similar to Breaking Bad and Son’s of Anarchy with a redemptive twist. ISBN 978-1-4392-4608-5 14.99 paperback 2.99 kindle e-book
    Roll Call shines a light at the dark, hidden underbelly of the U.S War on Drugs. The author takes the admonition from the Biblical story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, “God doesn’t want you to eat of the tree of knowledge because he doesn’t want you to become as smart as him”, and relates it to the modern drug war, showing how the American justice system has turned illegal drugs into forbidden fruits; leading to a roller coaster ride through drug cartels, street gangs and outlaw bikers, all trying to get their piece of the action. Add a good detective squeezed out of the loop by an overzealous detective, a robust prison union calling bad shots, and a handful of drug criminals trying to find their conscience; and you have the perfect recipe for a revolutionary uprising; bound by blood, all leaving the reader wondering, who are the real criminals? http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0056C0LW4
    Kirkus Discoveries- “A Master Director, modern pulp thriller- A harrowing down-and-dirty depiction of the War on Drugs, sometimes reminiscent of Solderburg’s Traffic, by former dealer, California artist Langohr”

    Sequel to Roll Call- Upon Release- 70,000 words Blockbuster e-book 2.99
    Overzealous Narcotic Detective Pincher, on paid leave and under investigation, starts using drugs, and then is hired again as a Narcotic Detective in L.A where he steals heroin from the evidence locker until he is reeled in by the Mexican Mafia and the Hollywood Madam.
    B.J struggles not to look back at the Criminal Justice System that tried to kill him. Inspired to help prisoners turn their lives around through art, he works for the church helping orphans until he’s on the run again. Add a beautiful ballerina who marries B.J, a prison protest to help the voiceless, and the temptation to do a massive drug run from Mexico, and you have the perfect recipe for a Spiritual revolution, where compassion is missing, all leaving the reader wondering; who are the real criminals?

    A California Pelican Bay Prison Story- 18,000 words e-book 99 cents
    A penetrating look inside of one California’s most volatile prisons.
    B.J, a drug dealer serving time, takes the reader on a never before seen, inside look at a California level 4 prison. The inner dynamics between prison guards, gang investigators and the Warden are on display along with the political climate between races where a war is brewing between the Mexicans and Blacks with the White race caught in the crossfire!

    Lock Up Diaries- A California Pelican Bay Prison Story- 20,000 words e-book 99 cents
    A depiction of life inside of prison and a look at the political landscape between races, segregated by cell after being released from the Pelican Bay SHU in California. The amazing details of prison life – code words that prisoners use, explanations of how they communicate from cell to cell – really make you feel you have entered a different world, or like you are watching a movie about prison life. The story shows how race riots that can kill prisoners can be started for very small and seemingly unimportant reasons, and how violence permeates every aspect of prison life.

    Gladiator- A California Pelican Bay Prison Story- 13,000 words e-book 99 cents
    B.J and the Mexican Mafia in action behind bars in a California level 4 prison


  4. From Executive Summary (Out of the Shadows: GETTING AHEAD OF PRISONER RADICALIZATION under the leadership of The George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI) and The University of Virginia’s Critical Incident Analysis Group (CIAG), Prisoner Radicalization Task Force is a new approach in understanding but one corner of the many problems:
    “The potential for radicalization of prison inmates in the United States poses a threat of unknown magnitude to the national security of the U.S. Prisons have long been places where extremist ideology and calls to violence could find a willing ear, and conditions are often conducive to radicalization. With the world’s largest prison population (over 2 million – ninety-three percent of whom are in state and local prisons and jails) and highest incarceration rate (701 out of every 100,000), America faces what could be an enormous challenge – every radicalized prisoner becomes a potential terrorist recruit. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales recently stated that “[t]he threat of homegrown terrorist cells – radicalized online, in prisons and in other groups of socially isolated souls – may be as dangerous as groups like al Qaeda, if not more so. They certainly present new challenges to detection.” The London transit bombings of 2005 and the Toronto terrorist plot of 2006, to name just two incidents, illustrate the threat posed by a state’s own radicalized citizens. By acting upon international lessons learned, the U.S. may operate from a proactive position.” (Cit end)

    For kind remembrance: ”What happens when you put good people in an evil place? Does humanity win over evil, or does evil triumph? These are some of the questions we posed in this dramatic simulation of prison life conducted in the summer of 1971 at Stanford University.” (http://www.prisonexp.org/) Indications of an ongoing inhuman brutalizing process: LWP of Juveniles, The Hole, Board members denied 81-year-old woman sat in a wheelchair release from her prison (By LARRY WELBORN, Chowchilla 2009-11-25) …… (apart from AbuGhraib, Guantanamo and alike).


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