Interview with an anonymous inmate at Harnett CI, Lillington, NC
How did you first hear about the anti-police uprisings and #BlackLivesMatter protests in Ferguson, Baltimore, Oakland, and other cities, of 2014-2015: friends and family, other prisoners, corporate media, and/or radical publications?
I didn’t find out about the anti-police movements and riots until about a year after they first began because I was housed at a close-custody facility that had removed the newspapers and would change the TV stations to keep us from seeing anything controversial or possibly inciting. I first learned of it after transferring to a medium custody camp that still has newspapers and puts the TVs on the news everyday.
How did you react? What were your initial thoughts and feelings?
I was shocked at the police actions and their denials and attempts to downplay their actions, or to confer blame to the victims. I have never understood why police are trained to shoot people that are simply running away or are resisting but non-violent. And when they do shoot they are trained only on killshots. There also seems to be at least two standards on how police – even Black or non-white police—react to white suspects versus non-white suspects for the same types of circumstances. Black teens seem more apt to be shot or manhandled than a white teen of the same age under the same circumstances. And such is not limited to teenagers. The media seems to often imply that even if a Black man was not guilty of an offense then he must have done something to contribute to his getting shot, or injured, or killed, etc.
There were and are a lot of contradictory and conflicting elements to these protests and rebellions. Right-wing media has used coded, racist language blaming “thugs” and “criminals”, while left-wing media and some activists have also at times decried the rioting, blaming it on “outside agitators.” Do you have thoughts on these conflicts over tactics and strategy? Do they resonate with debates going on over resistance inside prisons?
I am by nature a non-violent person, but it seems, at least partially, that our system of government fails to recognize or acknowledge peaceful protests and that after a point, the only way to have society focus on and address the issue is through “riot” behaviors (e.g. burning, smashing, etc.) Of course these avenues also often lead to physical violence and other altercations, both intentional and accidental (See also Occupy Wall Street, or the protests of monetary/financial summit meetings worldwide). Society became inured to protests after the 60’s and 70’s and is now quickly becoming likewise inured to violence (e.g. The recent Belgium terror attack didn’t even make frontpage news in some papers). These anti-police protests did have one noticeable effect inside the prisons, at least where I’ve been held, and that is that during the height of the conflict our officers seemed to back off of us on the petty things. Possibly out of fear of setting off another statewide prison riot? And I even noted some officers opening dialogue with groups of prisoners on the topic, almost as if they were conducting some sort of survey.
Were other prisoners talking about these rebellions, and if so, what kinds of conversations were they having? Did it stimulate discussion, organizing, and/or resistance in your facility?
Prisoners were definitely discussing these rebellions, mostly holding an agreement that the violence was disproportionately aimed at minorities, and feelings of solidarity towards those outside organizations, though falling short of attempting to organize resistance within the system, I think mostly because of the strict prison regulations against such organizing. Although it should be noted that older prisoners took the opportunity to relate to the younger prisoners about past prison-based resistance movements (e.g. Black Panthers) and giving first person accounts of previous prison riots. Of course, on the opposite side white power-affiliated inmates complained that Blacks were only attempting to get special treatment or really deserved to be shot.
Did it feel to you like there was a racial dynamic to how prisoners reacted to the news of these mostly Black uprisings? Was there more or less racial unity with regards to anti-police sentiment in the prison? Did it seem like white or Latino/a prisoners could relate?
Which brings us to, yes, there was definitely a pronounced racial split in how prisoners reacted. Whether that is due to acute racism or to maintaining a front because of beliefs held by groups they are associated with in prison remains to be seen. Though most prisoners seem to feel solidarity with any expression of anti-police sentiments by free world peoples, regardless of race.
What do you think the relationship can or should be between these anti-police rebellions on the outside and resistance inside prisons? Is there resistance or organizing going on at your facility you want to mention or hold up?
There seems little that we as incarcerated individuals can do to help outside groups besides a limited first amendment approach. Because of prison regulations and restrictions involving inmate petitions, groups, etc. However, the same is not true of our free world supporters in that the first amendment allows them to contact and network with as many prisoners as they are comfortable doing, and our outside supporters have resources that prisoners currently have little to no access to, such as the internet and legal libraries.
There is absolutely no protest activity occurring at Harnett at this time, largely due to the fact that most of these guys are afraid to act up for fear of shipping and losing out on school assignments and the ability to experience a sense of freedom here because of the layout and operations, which allow inmates to socialize regardless of dormitory assignment (ed. note: Harnett CI is a medium custody facility).There is a freedom of movement here which simply does not exist elsewhere, for however much longer it lasts.