An account by Kevin "Rashid" Johnson of his time in the Oregon prison system, and his efforts to build class solidarity across racial lines there. While libertarian communists have significant disagreements with Rashid's Maoist ideology, this article is reproduced as an important example of anti-racist class struggle in extremely challenging conditions. This piece originally appeared in Socialism & Democracy.
Virginia’s prisons claimed 22 years of my life. Those years were not kind or gentle. The last 14 were spent in extreme solitary confinement, in Virginia’s remote supermaxes – Red Onion and Wallens Ridge State Prisons.
The racism and vile conditions of both prisons were widely known, because they were reported by several human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International,1 by the mainstream media, and by prisoner advocates. I also wrote numerous published and widely circulated exposés and articles on the subject.2 In fact from the moment these two prisons opened in 1998 and 1999 respectively, they developed almost instant nationwide notoriety as two of Amerika’s most brutally racist penitentiaries – as in brutality and racism inflicted by guards against prisoners.
My continued involvement in various efforts to expose and resist these conditions of racism and brutality made me an unwanted thorn in Virginia’s side. Consequently, on a snowy Saturday afternoon in February 2012, the new Black director (appointed to give the notoriously racist Virginia prison system a token dark facelift) had me chained up, squeezed into a small compartment in back of a transport van, and driven for two days – cross-country and non-stop – to be exiled in the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC).
Many asked repeatedly why I supposed Oregon was selected as the new site of my imprisonment. As Virginia’s first and only prisoner interstate compacted to Oregon, the choice obviously wasn’t random. And while the reasons did seem readily apparent to me, I held back on conclusive critiques. Instead of rushing to condemn, I preferred to be objective, to let facts confirm or disprove my suspicions.
Virginia’s vinegar versus Oregon’s honey
Virginia’s politics, like its prisons, are openly conservative and reactionary, especially in relation to poor folks of color. Although the two Virginia supermaxes mentioned above are now run as general population (GP) prisons (for a long time they were both predominantly segregation), extreme violence remains the first and immediate recourse used by prison officials to resolve ‘problems’ and assert control. For example, minor situations like prisoners walking too slowly during movements, isolated fist fights, or disobeying arbitrary instructions or not obeying them quickly enough, are responded to by guards releasing large attack dogs to mangle the prisoners, shooting them with shotguns, and spraying them with large bursts of OC gas from high pressure canisters the size and shape of fire extinguishers.
This violent force is deployed indiscriminately without regard for innocent bystanders, who have often been bitten by the dogs3 or hit by spreading shots or ricochet, and are almost always contaminated in large numbers whenever gas is used. These are all standard and immediate first level responses. Often all three measures of force (dogs, guns and gas) are used simultaneously, and with malicious glee, by guards, who routinely look for, provoke, exaggerate, or outright invent reasons to speciously justify their use of force.4
Then there’s the likelihood that the ‘offending’ prisoner(s) will be brutally beaten by guards (repeatedly slammed against walls and floors, and punched, kicked and stomped), while being ‘escorted’ to the hole in handcuffs and leg shackles.
Shotguns are still deployed throughout these prisons even though way back in 1999 HRW reported that prisoners who were accused of only minor misconduct were being shot in the face.5 Dogs continue to be used in these Virginia prisons even though there was a national scandal in 2006 behind the use in US prisons of “large unmuzzled dogs” to ‘terrorize’ prisoners. As a result of the violence and cruelty exposed by an HRW report that charged “Abu-Graib at Home,”6 the use of dogs was discontinued in some states, though not in Virginia. And OC gas continues to be used indiscriminately although it can be lethal to asthmatics and, with repeated exposure, can cause permanent visual damage.7
Furthermore, Virginia is one of the only states that commemorates the Confederacy and its leaders, including Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson,8 with several mandatory statewide holidays, and where a prominent main street (Monument Avenue) in its capital city, Richmond, is lined with towering statues of Confederate leaders and soldiers. Imagine German holidays commemorating Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich, and capital cities boasting main streets lined with Nazi statues. The international and Zionist press9 would be up in arms.
The continued tradition of racism in Virginia and its violent consequences is also dramatized through its prison statistics. Although New Afrikans/Blacks make up only 20% of Virginia’s social population, they comprise some 70% of its prison population. Inside its prisons whites are largely housed at the least restrictive lower level institutions, whereas prisoners of color are concentrated in the brutal supermaxes located in the rural mountains of southwestern Virginia, populated by segregated white communities that make no secret of their anti-Black sentiments. In these prisons personal socializing between guards and prisoners is subject to swift administrative discipline – especially against the guards – for “fraternizing.”
These are just a few examples of Virginia’s conservative and reactionary brand of prison and racial politics.
Now contrast this with Oregon, a state whose Department of Corrections emphasizes more liberal methods, which I believe is the case largely because Oregon’s prisoner population is predominantly white. I should add that the liberal approach is only a more sneaky and deceptive way of achieving the same ends as the conservative one. It merely entails combining or choosing between two methods to produce the same desired results of conformity, control, submission, etc. The carrot versus the stick. Good cop versus bad cop. Honey versus vinegar. Liberal versus conservative. Fox versus wolf. Force versus fraud. And so on. They all symbolize the same concept, of alternating between reward and punishment, pain and pleasure, etc, to achieve submission and social control. So it really does boil down to it being not what you ask for but how you ask for it.
As opposed to Virginia’s ‘bad cop’ approach, Oregon guards are encouraged to be sociable and dare I say outright ‘friendly’ with prisoners (the good cop act). In fact many have taken offense to me because I keep it movin’ and don’t socialize and information-share with them, as they ‘expect’ prisoners are ‘supposed’ to do. They almost demand it. And when one doesn’t participate, one is seen as a “threat” – arrogant and disrespectful – and then there’s trouble….
On February 13th, the day I arrived in Oregon, I was confronted in a holding cell by an ODOC Security Threat Manager (STM), M. Yancey. He gave me a heads up and informed me that high-ranking ODOC officials would soon meet with me to decide my immediate fate. He explained that while I’d likely be offered a carrot, there was definitely a stick attached to it. The offer was to be released to GP [general population], where I would probably “find” things officials did that I could write about and litigate, which he warned that I shouldn’t do, lest they would in turn “find” things to justify throwing me back in the hole, for long term. The stick. I gave no response other than to acknowledge that I’d heard him.
The following day I was met by a welcoming committee of six smiling ODOC administrators in suits and ties, including ODOC Population Manager Greg Jones, and Yancey –the only one not smiling. I was told Oregon could be a “fresh start” for me, that they were willing to completely disregard my horrendous Virginia disciplinary record. “When you treat people like animals they’ll act like animals” they stated, in explaining why they could ‘excuse’ my prior record. They denounced Virginia’s as a known brutal and abusive prison system. They then promoted Oregon’s as “enlightened and humane,” boasted of all the privileges, benefits and incentives available to prisoners, and stated that several other interstate prisoners compacted to Oregon didn’t want to leave… as though angling to make lapdogs of people isn’t still “treating them like animals” (albeit ones that will serve and ‘appreciate’ their master, like well tended house slaves).
The prison officials said that I was general population eligible (after 17 years in the hole), if I would assure them that I’d be no trouble. Easy enough I agreed, since I – being a firm believer in self-defense – only became trouble when first confronted with it. If their assurances about being enlightened and humane were indeed true (which I took with more than just a few grains of salt), there should be no problems.
Lastly, I was asked, with particular emphasis and solemn faces all around, whether I might turn on guards if I got into fights with other prisoners and guards intervened with force. I noted a peculiar fatalism in their tones as though they were forecasting violent clashes between me and other prisoners. “So long as the force isn’t excessive, no,” I replied. Their response: “we can assure you” ODOC guards “only use reasonable and necessary force.” How I, or they, kept a straight face at that point is beyond me. But everyone did, and I was released to GP.
Just as I was being ‘escorted’ from the meeting Yancey stated to me in a warning-tone, “no weapons.”
The ploy was obvious. Virginia had been the bad cop, Oregon was now the good cop. For two decades I’d been subjected to the plain ol’ stick by Virginia officials, which only fueled my resistance and determination. So they figured maybe allowing me to taste the carrot for a change would placate me, and alter my priorities. Especially if I were given to feel I had some say in choosing between the carrot and the stick. Apparently they didn’t notice, but I’m a bit old and seasoned for child psychology.
Cultural shock or a shocking culture
The ODOC’s design was to reverse my priorities by having me 1) develop an affinity towards prison officials, instead of prisoners, and 2) make my peers my opponents and the focus of my resistance instead of the officials. The former was to be accomplished by releasing me to GP in the ODOC’s most ‘liberal’ men’s prison (viz. the Oregon State Penitentiary (OSP)). For this ‘kindness’ I was expected to be grateful, to reciprocate, and be ‘kind’ to them in return. To achieve the latter, they relied on the ODOC’s demographics and racially divisive culture along with a bit of behind-the-scenes instigation by ODOC officials.
In the typical incompetence that is customary among ‘professionals’ of their kind, the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC), in collusion with Virginia State Police intelligence ‘experts,’ profiled me falsely as a rabid Black separatist.10 In this light, what better place to send me to be isolated and ‘neutralized’ than a prison system like Oregon’s, with a majority white and very small Black prisoner population; where white supremacist groups and culture predominate and are openly flaunted – which is unheard of in the VDOC. In contrast to the experience in VDOC, where New Afrikan/Black prisoners are in the majority, for the small number of New Afrikan/Black prisoners in Oregon, these conditions of racial hostility from the prison population are as normal and acceptable as the sunrise.
I still haven’t adjusted to white prisoners acting openly standoffish towards other races and boldly parading tattoos of swastikas, double lightning bolts, iron crosses, and such. It’s like being dropped into a gathering of Ku Klux Klansmen dressed in their robes and hoods.
Needless to say I took issue with it all, but with a stratagem of my own and always keeping politics in command, since I recognized the underlying game. Too many times, I’d written about, witnessed, and counteracted just such schemes by officials aiming to divide and play prisoners violently against each other with racial and tribal (so-called gang) conflicts (such as those plaguing the California prisons). These schemes are always deployed to prevent or counter prisoners uniting in struggle against officials (our common oppressors), whom we outnumber at least ten-to-one. Divide, agitate and rule.
They aimed to divide me against other prisoners, in this case groups of white supremacists. And the ODOC offers over a dozen such groups to choose from. Some widely known, others exclusive to Oregon or the ODOC, namely: Aryan Brotherhood, Skinheads, Dirty White Boys, Aryan Family, Irish Pride, Insane Peckerwood Society, Nazi Lowriders, Boot Boys, European Kindred, Aryan Death Squad, Aryan Soldiers, Organized Aryan Criminal Syndicate, Fat Bitch Killers, etc. Then there are the large Mexican cliques that have traditional rivalries with Blacks and often ‘ride’ with white supremacist cliques against Blacks.
I noticed ODOC officials were giving me a lot of play to ensure I remained in GP, while steadily throwing blood in the water to get the sharks circling. The ‘blood’ being false rumors circulated by guards that I was a sex offender and sexual predator who preyed on white women.11 When first confronted with the rumors, I laughed ‘til I literally saw spots, so stupidly obvious and elementary was the source and purpose of the rumors.
But on a serious note, the situation brought to mind a similar one occurring in the 1980s when VDOC officials interstate transferred another ‘problematic’ Black prisoner (Thomas Cox a.k.a. Hasheem) to New Mexico. They had falsely planted in his prison file that he was an informant on the run, with the aim of isolating him amongst and having him killed by the Mexican prisoners. As they’d intended, the snitch jacket provoked a series of bloody conflicts between Hasheem and the Mexicans, but he held his own, both winning their respect and clearing his name, and was ultimately returned to Virginia under pressure of broad outside protests and litigation (with support from the ACLU), against the VDOC’s attempt to set him up for death.
In my own case several ODOC prisoners knew a bit about me before I got to OSP, and set the record straight in several circles. Within other circles, I pro-actively confronted rumor-mongers directly, while guards maneuvered to counter me and bolster the image of me they were trying to project. They had eyes and ears everywhere, while ironically most of the prisoners didn’t want to identify the guards behind the rumors.
Although most denied spreading the pig-generated rumors themselves, since this would be a blatant admission of being pig proxies, several of the prisoners who didn’t know me, accepted and were prepared to act on the rumors and took offense to my confronting them. But with a little diplomacy here and direct action there, things were ironed out. None of this would have been necessary, however, if the ODOC hadn’t cultivated and the prisoners embraced a culture of friendly socializing and information-sharing with the guards, designed to fuel among the prisoners a misguided sense of trust in and loyalty toward the pigs (especially towards those playing the good cop role). I explained to the prisoners that they were being unwittingly used as pig assets and agents. Which is the whole point of the good cop routine.
Taking the mountain by strategy
ODOC officials obviously didn’t anticipate my approach to the racially divisive Oregon prison culture, where the races stay unto themselves (Blacks, Whites, Natives, Mexicans, Asians), and there is little to no informal social mixing among them. One is expected to choose associates from among his ‘own’ race.
I openly defied this culture of divide and rule from the outset, choosing a white and Mexican to work out with every day on the GP recreation yard. And, as described in a recent article,12 I challenged segregated seating in the prison chow hall (where Blacks were prompted to sit in the very rear, on the ‘colored’ side of the cafeteria) by sitting up front on the ‘white’ side. Also, on May 9, I arranged to meet with OSP chaplain Ms. Raths, into which Yancey inserted himself, to propose organizing a multi-racial and multi-ethnic religious program. The program would teach communal spiritual traditions of various ethnic and ‘racial’ peoples, to improve knowledge and respect of different peoples’ cultures, traditions and histories and their similarities across racial/ethnic lines; and especially those spiritual traditions that reflected cooperative instead of competitive social behavior and spiritual beliefs. Both Raths and Yancey left this meeting admittedly “impressed” by my “unique” proposal. I also shared this idea with various prisoners, who unanimously supported it. I was tasked to write a formal outline of the program and find outside volunteers to lead it, and I set to work on it.
Overall, my actions and ideas generated a range of responses and a lot of curiosity on both sides – prisoners and guards. Especially when it became generally known that I am a Black Panther (another bit of information – although true in this case – that guards spread among the white supremacists) – the Panthers being stereotyped as a Black version of the Klan, thanks to pig smear campaigns and to the misguided antics of the New Black Panther Party, to which I have no connection.13 The guards also told many prisoners that I don’t like guards because I’m a mental case, apparently to promote the reactionary position that only crazy people don’t socialize with cops and guards, and for emotional reasons like hatred (instead of for the very rational reason that they are our oppressors).
This all opened the door for a lot of discussions with a wide range of people. I walked the yard and politicked with all races and groups – even with the white supremacists and their allies, with whom the pigs expected to see me at war or at least “taken off the yard” by.
In this environment I was inspired by the example set by comrade Fred Hampton, Sr. of the original Black Panther Party, in his work as the founder of the original and real “Rainbow Coalition” and with reactionary whites, which I wrote about in an earlier article.14 There I explained:
It was Fred’s work that led to the formation of the Young Patriots Party (YPP), a revolutionary party of poor redneck white Appalachian youth whose symbol was a confederate flag with a red star emblazoned on it. Fred’s approach was to appeal to class instead of being sidetracked by race. He walked into a redneck Hillbilly bar in Chicago. When they asked, “What are you doing here?,” he said, “I’m here to organize the Niggers.” They said, “No Niggers come in here,” and were ready to fight. He said, “Oh Yeah? Well the way I see it, they work y’all like Niggers, treat y’all like Niggers, and make y’all live like Niggers. So that makes y’all Niggers in my book, and I say it’s time to get organized and deal with this shit!”
At the age of 21 Fred was assassinated in his sleep by Chicago police in a hit set up by the FBI. This was because he presented the gravest threat to the system – that of being able to educate, organize and unite even the most reactionary people across racial and tribal lines, in common struggle for fundamental change.
And, just as I expected, I found that the racially divisive status quo at OSP was largely pig-generated. Just like the Black and ‘Southern’ Mexican gang and race wars in the California prison system that have spilled over onto the streets. I also found that many of the white supremacists aren’t really white supremacists, but rather that they joined ranks for security in numbers, because other races will not embrace them, and because there are almost no racially neutral groups. So failing to enlist left them in a no-man’s land, to be preyed upon at any and everyone’s whim, and especially by those Black prisoners who embrace a reactionary mentality of counter-resentment towards whites. This brought to mind words spoken by George Jackson some 40 years ago, which are just as relevant today:
We have got to be together…. I’m always telling these brothers that some of the whites are willing to work with us against the pigs. All they got to do is stop talking honky. When the races start fighting, all you have is one maniac group against another. That’s just what the pigs want.
Even the diehard white supremacists agreed with me: to have any genuine power and leverage as prisoners we had to have unity, whether we liked each other or not. Most responded, “That’s how it’s supposed to be.” I pointed out that the pigs don’t all get along nor all like each other. But they know, to control and repress us, they’ve got to put differences aside and whether fair or foul move as one, while angling to keep us divided. Which is the only way they can contain and oppress a body of people who outnumber them at least ten to one. We see it all day. If only we applied this same set of principles to ourselves.
I gave them examples that the only efforts where prisoners have been able to generate broad public support and win change was when they united in common causes, despite racial and group differences. And in each instance, witnesses and participants alike emphasized how beautiful it was to experience having everyone come together as one. From the 1971 Attica uprising and the 1993 Lucasville uprising to the 2010 Georgia Prison Strike and the recent 2011 California prison hunger strikes, etc. Indeed the only slave uprising that actually defeated a colonial government in Amerika was Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, where Afrikan and European bond-servants and freedmen joined together in a war for liberation, and captured and burned down the colony’s capital at Jamestown, Virginia. The revolt was put down only when its leader Nathaniel Bacon died from influenza and the rebels were divided and tricked into surrendering. It was actually in response to Bacon’s Rebellion that the whole game of racial division, phasing out enslavement of ‘whites’ and imposing permanent hereditary slavery on ‘Blacks’ began in earnest.16 It was and continues to be the government and wealthy elites that classify and divide people into racial categories and generate and sustain racism. It’s just been going on for so long, it’s now like second nature to most people.
Folks started to get the picture. The BIG picture. One Native American comrade pointed out, “the races and gangs would come together if they saw something bigger than their traditional grudges to struggle for, which the cops make sure they don’t do.” And he’s right!
I circulated political literature. Started study groups. Debated with cats in the chow hall, on the yard, etc. I struggled to educate them on class, the origin and history of race and racism, of colonial and neo-colonial oppression, capitalism, imperialism, socialism, communism, and where they fit into the picture. Many read my book Defying the Tomb,17 and every one said they related to it. That it gave them a starting point for political education and how the struggle relates to those at the bottom of society.
While doing all this I tried to stay under the pig radar, which I was relatively successful in doing for a while. Because of my known history of clashing with guards in Virginia, my refusal to engage in small talk with guards, and my tendency to be outspoken about their racist tendencies and practices, most of them kept their distance from me. Which suited me perfectly. I was also selective about who I socialized and politicked with.
I wasn’t moving the way they’d anticipated nor according to their stereotyped ideas of a rabid Black separatist. I wasn’t a demagogic windbag playing the racial blame or “hate whitey” game. But they were still obviously biding their time, expecting that inevitably things would fall out between me and other prisoners. But the longer they waited with no results, the more curious and restless they became.
First came a female sergeant repeatedly confronting my workout partner under pretexts that he’d done something wrong, then angling to engage him in conversations about his personal likes and beliefs, which he’d cut short and go his way. When this angle failed, guards began frequently confronting various prisoners I politicked with. “What’s he talking to you about?,” was the general line of question, which only produced innocuous replies.
When it became clear that their aims to provoke or await conflict weren’t materializing, the harassment – of others around me – started. Those seen talking to me frequently were pulled over and hassled repeatedly by guards for the most trivial things.
I also began filing grievances and showing prisoners in the law library laws and court rulings that demonstrated various blatantly illegal things OSP officials were doing to us. Such as routinely contaminating almost everyone in the chow hall with OC gas sprayed from large canisters in response to isolated fist fights, and then refusing to replace contaminated meals, to decontaminate affected bystanders, or to call in medical staff to flush peoples’ eyes or even assess those with respiratory disorders.18 Also, in the ODOC, guards, who needless to say are not medical specialists, are allowed to decide when prisoners have a medical problem that warrants emergency medical care, which is a constitutional violation.19 Others began complaining too.
As things weren’t playing out like the pigs had planned, having me remain in GP became less and less appealing by the day. They hadn’t expected me to last long in GP, thinking I’d find myself stuck in the hole for violence with other prisoners – conflicts that even in the hole would keep me focused on my peers instead of officials, and this only if I survived going to war with entire cliques of prisoners in GP.
They couldn’t honestly and fairly catch me up in anything serious. So on June 21st I was thrown in the hole for having a sheet hanging across the bars at the front of my cell, as a privacy curtain, while I was tending to private business inside the cell. All OSP prisoners do this all the time, yet none have been charged and thrown in the hole for it.
I was released two weeks later on July 4th, after beating several of the rules violations I was charged with. I then found myself getting locked up under bogus ‘investigations.’
The first one, on July 10th, was based upon a concocted confidential informant (CI) statement, alleging I was planning to do harm to one of the guards who used his good cop charms to spread the sex offender rumors against me. He was one of the first guards whose identity as a rumor-monger was revealed to me. In turn, I’d ‘confronted’ – read cornered – him while alone in an isolated office whereupon he passionately denied saying anything about me to anyone. He wasn’t willing to tarnish his ‘good cop’ image by writing me a charge for confronting him, because part of that façade was that he played extremely lenient about prisoner indiscretions and swore that he did not believe in writing misconduct reports. This image disarmed a lot of prisoners into ‘trusting’ him and divulging things to him that he had no business knowing and that he obviously passed on to his superiors. He also fed select prisoner-‘sources’ information that his colleagues wanted circulated, and inside scoops (like upcoming shakedowns, etc.) to bolster prisoners’ trust in him.
He obviously didn’t ‘trust’ me, however, since I’d confronted him in an unfriendly manner for spreading rumors about me. So he collaborated with Yancey, and with a sergeant whom I had grieved for refusing to contact medical staff to assess a hand injury I sustained in an ‘incident,’ to have a CI statement concocted to throw me in the hole.
While in the hole, I played a little divide and agitate myself, and pushed the issue that I was actually in the hole because OSP officials were spreading false rumors against me trying to incite violence. In turn, I was immediately confronted by a captain Sharon Duren and Lieutenant J. Etter who agreed that if I could prove that guards were doing this, it could cause quite a scandal if I exposed it. So playing the good cop role, they countered their colleagues and ‘investigated’ it. The next day they returned with humbled attitudes along with the Assistant Superintendent and released me back to GP. They not only had confirmed that numerous guards were indeed spreading the rumors, but numerous prisoners actively spoke out against it and expressed willingness to be witnesses in my favor.
Duren and Etter solemnly vowed to rebuke the entire staff body about the rumors, and also went out of their way to tell several ‘influential’ prisoners that the rumors were false. I returned to GP on July 12th. They hinted that in return I should drop the whole matter.
Only five days later, I was locked up again under investigation. This time, without explanation. It was, however, revealed by Etter that Yancey was behind the scene, again, pulling strings.
While I was in the hole, almost my entire tier got involved in study circles and daily political discussions. Everyone, Black, Mexican, Native, White, Asian joined together. Several were leaders of cliques within the prison. Many of us worked out together daily. No one small-talked with the guards. New standards were being set. The pigs were stupefied.
Not coincidentally, the same guard who got me locked up on June 21st was assigned to work our tier every day beginning the week of July 22nd. Also not coincidentally, other guards kept directing little provocative words and actions towards me, obviously looking to incite a reaction that would justify a disciplinary charge to keep me in the hole. These provocations included playing with my cell lights, turning off my commode, denying me showers, etc. I could only be held under investigation for up to 30 days; if no wrongdoing was found and no charges issued against me within that time, I had to be released back to GP. So I ignored their petty attempts to push my buttons. My main priority was to return to GP where my efforts to politicize and organize others could be most effective.
Set up on trumped up charges
On July 26th a Black prisoner Julius Porter was moved onto the tier. According to a disciplinary charge I later received, when the guard (the same one who locked me up on June 21st) made a tier check right after Porter moved onto the tier, Porter allegedly threw liquid on the guard.
However, what I and numerous others on the tier do know for a fact is that three white guards went to Porter’s cell less than two hours after he moved onto the tier, handcuffed him, fast-walked him up the tier bent double at the waist, rammed him headfirst into the steel doorframe at the tier’s entrance, took him out of view of unit surveillance cameras, beat him at length, then moved him out of the building. At least six of us on the tier verbally protested the beating, and devised to file complaints and seek outside exposure.
I – being targeted as a ringleader of the protest – was then confronted by a mob of guards and moved to another building. The entire tier was then split up. In the other unit, I was subjected to repeated threats by guards, denied meals and all my property, denied showers, subjected to verbal abuse, etc.
Two days after my and others’ complaints about the incidents of July 26th were logged by officials, I received a completely fabricated disciplinary charge written by the same guards that beat Porter, claiming two CIs stated that I put Porter up to allegedly throwing liquid on the guard. The charge further claimed that while these guards were “escorting” Porter from the cell, I made racially inflammatory statements to the guards trying to incite a racial disturbance. All outright lies.
In preparation for the disciplinary hearing, I submitted numerous requests and questions for witnesses aiming to demonstrate that not only did I not know nor ever talk to Porter, but that the allegations in the charge were all false and written to counter and retaliate against our speaking out against the beating of Porter, filing grievances and vowing to expose the abuse. To avoid my entire defense, the hearings officer Denise Parker kicked me out of the hearing for simply stating, for the record, that I felt she could not hear my case impartially because I had previously pursued complaints against her for unrelated matters. What followed was that I was convicted in my absence, without the benefit of being able to offer a defense of myself. I was punished with 90 days punitive segregation, 14 days loss of all privileges and a $100 fine.
On the road again
At around the same time, I had also just written and circulated an article on the Old Jim Crow segregationist practices at OSP,20 which several officials mentioned in passing had ruffled the feathers of OSP administrators. Less than a week later I was being transferred over ten hours away from OSP, to Snake River Correctional Institution (SRCI) in the remote and barren far eastern region of Oregon, right on the Idaho border. (The Idaho foothills are infamously known as havens of Aryan militias.) My initial reception by SRCI’s rank and file guards was hostile.
The following day, however, I was met by yet another welcoming committee. This one consisting of SRCI’s upper brass and the prison’s STM [Security Threat Manager]. I was fed the same line about being given a “fresh start,” this time at SRCI. But not in the GP. I was told once my punitive seg time was done I would likely be indefinitely assigned to their Intensive Management Unit (IMU) – which is Oregon’s SHU21 – upon demands of OSP’s superintendent Jeffrey Premo, who’d bent the ear of the ODOC’s population manager to ensure this result.
Back to start
So things have come full circle. After only a brief 5-month reprieve in GP, I’m now back in the hole long term. Which was their agenda all along (that or the death of me), except they thought that they would be able to pull my strings to shift the focus of my struggle away from the prison administration and toward the prisoner congregation. Which failed utterly.
Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time and opportunity to plant political roots as widely and deeply as I desired, into the ranks of the GP prisoners, nor to help set as strong a standard as I could have toward changing their divisive racial and tribal culture. But seeds were planted. And despite the odds, quite a few were inspired with a broader view of struggle than that between cliques and races. And I believe these seeds, properly nurtured, will take root and bloom.
As a revolutionary optimist I could see it no other way, because I firmly believe in the capacity of the oppressed masses to be changed, and in their power to make change, to their collective benefit. The work of revolutionaries is to integrate with the people, to serve them, learn from them, teach and organize them, and put their interests foremost, recognizing that we must go where the oppressed are, that the struggle and this work continues wherever we find ourselves – even under the most reactionary of conditions, and no matter the odds. Being a revolutionary when it’s not popular and when the forces of reaction dominate, is a most difficult undertaking, as it should be. For this is what tempers us, sharpens our focus and resolve, refines our skills, and sets the example that illuminates the path forward and inspires others to join our ranks. This is why it’s called “The Struggle,” and, as Frederick Douglass once noted, without it there can be no progress. Indeed, there could be no success.
Dare to struggle, Dare to win!
All power to the people!
- 1See Jamie Fellner, Red Onion State Prison: Super-Maximum Security Confinement in Virginia (Human Rights Watch, 1999) www.hrw.org/reports/1999/redonion/ Amnesty International, Cruelty in Control? The Stun Belt and Other Electroshock Weapons in Law Enforcement (2002), http://totse2.com/totse/en/law/justice_for_all/6resforu.html
- 2Available at http://rashidmod.com/. All of my articles can be found at this website.
- 3From January 20-February 11, 2012 when I was transferred to Oregon, I was confined in a segregation unit at Wallens Ridge, which has been a predominantly GP prison since 2005. At the time I left Virginia, Red Onion was transitioning from segregation to a GP prison, and dogs were being ‘trained’ and brought in. They’d been used at Wallens Ridge since 2005. While at Wallens Ridge I began collecting accounts of victims and witnesses to K-9 (canine) attacks there. Every prisoner who had been housed in the GP there for even only a few months had witnessed multiple K-9 attacks on prisoners, and gave descriptions that would terrify the typical person. When an ‘incident’ occurs (typically very minor) triggering release of the dogs, guards blurt out for everyone to lay on the floor or ground, then instantly unleash the dogs. The K-9s then rush into the fray and attack anyone not lying face down with arms extended and fingers spread. They bite whatever part of the body they grab ahold of – leg, side, arm, face, hand, neck – and proceed to thrash their heads about wildly, like a wolf taking down a meal, ripping gaping holes in the flesh with their fangs, severing muscle, tendons, nerves, blood passages, etc. Many prisoners were victims or witnesses of bystander attacks. Many prisoners had also filed complaints about concerns of being disfigured or killed by the animals or infected with HIV, AIDS, chronic hepatitis, etc., because they are used over and over (often biting multiple prisoners in a single day) without regard for prisoners’ health status. Officials refused to address these concerns. I was transferred to Oregon before I could complete collecting information for that report. I was also in a unit with others only very briefly at Wallens Ridge, because initially I was housed alone in a completely empty unit.
- 4As HRW found, many Red Onion guards “are quick to use derogatory terms and slurs, quick to use force, quick to impose their authority unnecessarily and capriciously.” See Fellner, Red Onion State Prison, 16.
Also, the Wallens Ridge prisoner orientation manual, effective date October 1, 2008, states under the “Use of Force” heading:
Any offender who attempts to approach another offender or staff in a threatening manner, groups around another offender or staff in a threatening manner, assaults staff or another offender, engages in a fight with another offender, displays a dangerous weapon, or commits an aggressive act will be subject to the Use of Force policy, which may include the firing of a weapon or the use of a working dog. Offenders not involved are to lie on the ground (face down) and remain on the ground with their arms extended and hands open, until security staff give the “all clear” sign.
It should be noted that prisoners have been bitten, shot and gassed for merely talking in the physically animated manner typical of Black and Brown people, which was ‘interpreted’ by the rural white guards as “attempts to confront others in a threatening manner” or “displaying aggressive acts,” etc.
- 5HRW quoted a retired federal warden as stating: “While firearms are appropriate and necessary in the perimeter towers to deter escape, firearms are neither appropriate nor necessary within the prison yard, and are especially inappropriate within… housing units…. [T]he use of firearms within prison walls increases, rather than decreases, the risk of serious injury or death to both inmates and staff….” Fellner, 18. As to reports of prisoners shot in the face, see ibid, 19, citing Frank Green’s Richmond Times Dispatch article, “7 Fighting Inmates Fired On.” Also, I am personally aware of at least two prisoners who lost eyes as a result of being shot in the face at Red Onion during that time.
- 6 On October 9, 2006, HRW attorney Jamie Fellner broke the story of the use of dogs in US prisons in her report, Cruel and Degrading: The Use of Dogs for Cell Extractions in U.S. Prisons, www.hrw.org/reports/2006/us1006/index.htm. The report was widely publicized and the use of dogs condemned in the news media. See, e.g., Report: “5 States Use Dogs Inside Prisons,” Associated Press, October 11, 2006; “Abu Ghraib At Home: New Human Rights Watch Report Says U.S. Using Dogs to Terrorize Prisoners,” interview with Jamie Fellner, Democracy Now!, October 12, 2006; Shreema Mehta, “Prisons Sic Attack Dogs On Inmates, Report Finds,” The News Standard (US), October 16, 2006.
- 7Deborah Blum, “About Pepper Spray,” Scientific American, November 21, 2011 (citing various studies and reports on the dangerous and deadly effects of OC gas, contradicting law enforcement officials promoting it as a benign and harmless weapon),
- 8 Lee/Jackson Day is celebrated in Virginia during February within only two weeks of the federal holiday commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, blatantly contrasting local support for white racists who led a war waged in large part to keep Blacks brutally enslaved, with a national holiday commemorating a Black man who symbolized ending discrimination against Blacks.
- 9 libcom poster's note - while I object to this phrase, and would usually see it as indicative of an anti-Semitic/conspiracy theory mindset, I don't think it's sufficient to discredit this entire piece, which clearly expresses an anti-racist position overall
- 10 I was falsely profiled as a Black separatist extremist by the Virginia Liaison Fusion Center of the Virginia State Police, in a report ‘leaked’ over the internet, The 2009 Virginia Terrorism Threat Assessment Report,
Noam Chomsky made this observation on the general incompetence of US intelligence agencies (in Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky (New York: The New Press, 2002), 207:
If any of you have ever looked at your FBI file through a Freedom of Information Act release, you’ve probably discovered that intelligence agencies are in general extremely incompetent – that’s one of the reasons why there are so many intelligence failures: they just never get anything straight, for all kinds of reasons. And part of it is because the information they get is being transmitted to them by agents and informants who are ideological fanatics, and they always misunderstand things in their own crazy ways. So if you look at an FBI file where you actually know what the facts are, you’ll see that the information has some relation to reality – you can sort of figure out what they’re talking about – but by the time it’s worked its way through the ideological fanaticism of the intelligence system, there’s been all sorts of weird distortion.
- 11 Charges of Black males having deviant sexual inclinations towards white women were commonly used to incite mobs of whites to ritually lynch Black males. The accusations were found to be consistently false by such anti-lynching activists as Ida B. Wells and Frederick Douglass. It was found that lynchings were actually prompted by whites opposed to Black political and economic advances in the South following the abolition of slavery, and their seeking to reinstate the Southern Dixiecrat status quo.
- 12 Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, “The South Is Risen: Old Jim Crow Thrives Inside Oregon Prisons” (2012) (note 2), also in Socialist Viewpoint (Sept./Oct. 2012), 57
- 13I am a founding member of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party-Prison Chapter, which has no affiliation with the New Black Panther Party. Within the NABPP-PC also are the White Panther and Brown Panther Organizations, and closely allied to us is the Red Heart Warriors Society. Our Party is thus oriented toward struggling on behalf of oppressed peoples of all “races,” including poor and working-class whites. We oppose all forms of discrimination, as expressed in our Rules of Discipline.
- 14 Kevin "Rashid" Johnson, “On the Questions of Race and Racism, Revolutionary National Liberation, and Building the United Front Against Imperialism” (A Statement In Support of the White Panther Organization), 2006.
- 15George L. Jackson, Blood in My Eye (1971).
- 16Theodore W. Allen, Class Struggle and the Origin of Racial Slavery: the Invention of the White Race, ed. Jeffrey B. Perry (Stony Brook, NY, Center for the Study of Working Class Life, 2006), 3.
- 17 Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, Defying the Tomb: Selected Prison Writings and Art of Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, Featuring Exchanges with An Outlaw (Montreal, Kersplebedeb, 2010).
- 18The federal courts have found prison officials’ failure to decontaminate and provide medical assistance to prisoners suffering bystander gas contamination violates the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. See Reyes v. McGrath, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 14960 (9th Circuit, July 12, 2011).
- 19In the earliest cases establishing prisoners’ constitutional right to medical care, the U.S. Supreme Court, specifically found that non-medical security staff may not deny, delay nor interfere with prisoners’ access to medical staff and care. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976).
- 20Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, “The South Is Risen” (note 11).
- 21This refers to the Security Housing Units in the California prison system.