A call has gone out from Jailhouse Lawyers Speak for National Shut’Em Down demonstrations across the so-called United States outside of prisons, jails, and detention facilities. It's Going Down caught up with Jailhouse Lawyers Speak to find out the thinking behind the call, how abolitionists on both sides of the walls can come together to better coordinate our struggles, and much more.
At It’s Going Down, we’ve been tracking, reporting, and interviewing people involved in the growing abolitionist and prisoner resistance movement since we began this project over 6 years ago. On May Day of 2016, we saw growing support among anarchist and autonomous anti-capitalist currents for a wave of strikes across Texas prisons and in September of the same year, this energy exploded in various prisoner-led uprisings and the first national prison strike across US prisons, which saw actions at dozens of facilities involving tens of thousands of prisoners, spreading into prisons in Greece and Mexico, as the streets were flooded with solidarity demonstrations, noise demos, blockades, and more.
In 2018, there was another call for a nation-wide prison strike, as solidarity actions again kicked off along-side a variety of prison work-stoppages, hunger-strikes, and beyond. The impact of this ongoing organizing, support for prisoner revolt, and the centering of the strike’s demands to abolish prison slavery, pushed abolitionist ideas into the mainstream and also helped win concessions for things like Pell grants.
When the COVID-19 crisis hit, this energy steamrolled into a drive to support not only the growing flood of resistance on the inside of the prison walls, but also to push for release of inmates who faced exploding infection rates.
Now, a call has gone out from Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, for National Shut’Em Down demonstrations across the so-called United States outside of prisons, jails, and detention facilities. The purpose of the call, according to JLS:
Over the last year prisoners across the country have been holding the longest and largest spontaneous demonstrations in response to covid. With approximately 300,000 (the number is possibly as high as 800,000) people in prison having been infected by covid prisoners have continued to demand basic human rights protections. These demonstrations have been sporadic and largely ignored by the public as prisoners and supporters demanded covid safety and precautions be enacted in prisons. In a number of states, these covid demonstrations have turned into widespread and hard fought successful court battles for releasing prisoners.
Lives could have been saved if America was on the path of Abolition. We must struggle harder to close prisons, jails and to free people from the grips of American prison slavery. This is all stated while recognizing that we must develop effective strategies to have the billions of taxpayers dollars used to grow the prison industrial slave complex (PISC) redirected to the communities.
In the spirit of Abolition on the historical dates of August 21st and September 9th, 2021 organizers must highlight prisoners’ historical struggles, and the current political struggles to dismantle the prison industrial slave complex. Jailhouse Lawyers Speak is calling for mass outside demonstrations.
Specific locations: ICE, jails, prisons, and higher learning institutions. (With regards to higher learning institutions we are pointing towards the learning institutions with connections to prison labor).
Remembering the plantation struggles: Nat Turner, George Jackson, Attica Rebellion, 2016 National Prison Strike, 2018 National Prison Strike and the 10 Prison Strike Demands!
Wanting to know more about the call-to-action, we caught up with Jailhouse Lawyers Speak to find out the thinking behind the call, how abolitionists on both sides of the walls can come together to better coordinate our struggles, and much more.
IGD: Tell us what the idea behind the ‘National Shut’Em Down Demonstrations’ is?
JLS: Abolition. But because we understand that this is a process; that we call for dismantling the prison industrial slave complex, this current push is to energize the movement towards stronger demands of closing jails, prisons, and ICE.
JLS: Yes we do see this as a continuance of past prisoners led resistance. Whether the objectives is short or long term, we learn something during and after each demonstration that we believe gets us to or on the mark.
On the inside since the last major national strikes its felt in some areas that there will never be another national strike. In other states we find prisoners asking when is the next lay down coming. So it’s a mixed bag. Overall, we do witness more prisoners networking with each other or creating organizations with outside citizens. This is always good. In order to bring about the intended results, prisoners must lead in their movement.
IGD: How has COVID-19 and its deadly impact on the incarcerated population changed how you call see the struggle on the inside?
JLS: COVID has been an entire other beast. In a way it has made prison life more burdensome. No family visits. In a few places where they started back, the access is very limited with no touching. On a national scope, COVID lock-downs have been frequent, this means limited showers and no rec. What we learned throughout this pandemic is that when it comes down to life and death options prisoners are more likely to unify for life preservation. This is why everyone saw the continued rebellious moves people in prisons were making in order to save their lives. From this energy it is our understanding that we need to message prisoners resistance as life or death.
IGD: What’s been the impact of the George Floyd rebellion on what’s happening on the inside?
JLS: Sadly, outside of talk, nothing much. For many of us in here, all of us was George Floyd. The only thing is that we survived and was lynched through the judicial process.
IGD: Since COVID-19 hit, we’ve seen a wave of prisoner hunger strikes, uprisings, and across the board organizing. At the same time, we’ve seen a growing interest and participation in the abolitionist movement on the outside. How can both of these currents, inside and outside, begin to be in dialog and take action in solidarity with each other more?
JLS: Such events like the National Shut’em Down call is a great way to start. And its actually meant to have the inside and outside dialog within Abolitionist perimeters. Events like the one we called needs to be answered because it would bring additional people on the outside into the Abolitionist Movement.
Keep in mind, in order to meet with success, we have to educate and use constructive criticism to get people to support our positions as Abolitionists. Jailhouse Lawyers Speak is currently having discussions around calling an Abolitionist Convention in 2022. This will be an even greater opportunity for the inside and outside to dialog and commit to actions together.
IGD: What does the way forward, from your perspective, for the abolitionist movement, look like in 2021?
JLS: This is a question that would need to brought up at a JLS Central Committee meeting. What can be stated is that the inside and outside need to build stronger bonds in communication and target jails, prison, and ICE buildings for closing. We do believe Abolitionist organizations on the outside will unify more with prisoner led Abolitionist organizations on the inside. This will help the Movement gain momentum and victories across the country.
IGD: How does JLS go about overcoming the various organizational and racial divisions that prison imposes on prisoners?
JLS: Communication is the key. Jailhouse Lawyers Speak was founded upon what we call George Jackson principles. One such principle states “Settle your quarrels, come together, understand the reality of our situation, understand that fascism is already here, that people are already dying who could be saved, that generations more will live poor butchered half-lives if you fail to act. Do what must be done, discover your humanity and your love in revolution.”
We aim to find common grounds in what is better known as prisoner class-interests. Trust when it’s stated that this is never an easy process. Especially if we have to relay messages through snail mail or a third party. There are times when we meet with failure. We learn and keep the communication lines alive. A great deal of what we are doing today with phones as an organization on a national scene is new.
We are still developing networks around the country. Our networks are making it easy to push past some of the difficulties you all run into out there. Its probably because in prison fascism is easier to see and the oppressive hand that’s smacking us all is more aggressive. Everyone in here is craving major change due to it. The only debate is always to what degree and over what grounds.
IGD: We read that a series of panel discussions are being organized on top of protests and demonstrations across the US. Can you tell us more about the panel discussions?
JLS: Most demos are being organized autonomously. This includes the panel discussions you mentioned. The JLS CC is not fully informed as to how this will play out. But we are hopeful that it will be an informative Abolitionist conversation.
IGD: What can we do to expand these actions into women’s prisons, jails, and detention centers?
JLS: We do hope a few are already planned at some. Those already in touch with the women in these areas should talk to them about areas that need to be targeted for closures. And if not for closure, at least to highlight the reason for Abolition in general. So speak to the people in those women cells, or those that have recently been released. Another important reason for the call to Shut’em Down is to help promote Abolition in the prisons. We have too many people in prison that don’t even know that Abolition is even a working word or option. We have to change this. People in prison all around the nation have to be educated in what Abolition. Open the conversation up with people in these prisons. Stop the reform talks as the only options.
IGD: For everyone on the outside reading this, what would you want to communicate to them in closing, as we get closer to these days of action?
JLS: Understand that what you do matters. This nation has more people shackled to the state or government then any other nation on earth. This number of humans confined has never been known in human history. We can’t reform something like that. We have to wipe it out. Not only has this beast grabbed bodies in the millions from poor area mostly, its drained resources from these disadvantaged communities. And when not drained, it has intentionally diverted these resources to more wealthier areas or pockets. All of this to us is by design. People are usually products of their environment.
This is the greatest human rights violation in our time period. We can change this by being on the right side of history. We want to thank everyone that has already committed to stepping up and began to organizing local Shut’em Down demos in the spirit of abolition. If someone cannot agree with us on total Abolition, we should all be able to agree that this nation has too many damn prisons. Shut’em Down. It’s going to take all of us to cause the shutdown of numerous prisons in this nation. This is our cause, this is our agenda. Find a local Abolitionist organization or group and get involved today.
And to the prisoncrats glaring angrily over these words, yeap, we trying to tear your damn plantation system down or turn it to ashes.
Black August salutations to all!
Can’t stop, won’t stop!