Interview with an anonymous inmate at Bertie CI, Windsor, NC about anti-police uprisings and the Black Lives Matter.
"a sense of everyone feeling like, 'about time'"
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 first heard about the anti-police uprisings and #BlackLivesMatter protests through the media, newspapers, radio, and television. Also it was a discussion that friends and family were having amongst each other about the realer portrayal finally being shown about the systemic injustice within the “justice” system that is built into the thread of our society to the point of being a constant perpetuator of the ills of this society by being based on archaic ideals that have nothing to do with justice.
How did you react? What were your initial thoughts and feelings?
My reaction wasn’t shock or disbelief because I’ve been living this reality for the majority of my life. If I was shocked about anything it was the persistence of the protesters to pursue the issues on the basis of the facts and not be persuaded by the system, either by intimidation or pacifying, to let things go. I started really paying attention, at first I thought it was just another movement where it would be more about the persons/person pushing the movement than the cause the movement was born out of. So I’ll say my initial thoughts were, “Here we go again with people trying to come up off the misfortune of others.”
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 believe with so many people involved in the issues it is inevitable for there to be conflict on several levels, not only in ideology but strategy, and personal and group agendas. Excluding those that are involved solely just because and not for the cause, I feel like everyone’s actions can push the talks into actual steps towards reforms. Throughout history from all groups of people with differing views on tactics against government tyranny there has been debate on the best tactics, so this is not an issue exclusive to our times or this movement. There was always conflicting thoughts on strategy on the same objectives, for every Martin Luther King there was a Malcolm X, every W.E.B. Dubois a Marcus Garvey, and all their actions shaped and pushed reform in their times. No change for the better has ever happened without those two elements. You need the reasonable voice to convey in an articulate way the demands of the movement, and the muscle to show why its best to listen to the voice of reason.
The commercial and right-wing media is an extension of the ruling party—as a tool for propaganda they are doing what they were created for, so it’s nothing new about them criminalizing everyone and everything that threatens their views and self-imposed rights to their positions in society. It’s all a cointelpro program in progress. I’m pretty sure the British saw the “founding fathers” as “criminals” and “thugs” as well. They revolted over taxes and high-priced tea, much less than the atrocities they commit today against their own citizens and then call “justice.” Now there’s a holiday around those “thugs’” actions.
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?
Of course people are in here discussing the rebellions and cheering the resisters on. It’s been a sense of everyone feeling like “about time,” because those of us who have been living through the reality of the semi-covert, organized hostility towards certain groups of society to see it aired out and picked up by those in a better position to resist with effect gives us a sense of validation and encouragement. It felt as though before this nothing we said against these people would get taken seriously, as if by them being a part of the system of justice they were incapable of injustice, and we were all just sore bitter individuals. Now that people are coming to realize that it can happen to anyone anywhere for any reason, getting wrongly accused and jailed, killed by officers walking anywhere or even sitting in your own home. It’s encouraged guys in here to do their part, and due to the fact that we are all convicted felons we know our limitations in the roles we can play effectively, so we embrace the radical and militant part where force may be needed. Even still, we discuss other aspects of the movement and encourage that too, but we just don’t want to let the opposition use our past deeds in a propaganda campaign to discredit the movement as a whole. Our position is: we want the establishment to realize that they would rather talk to the “reasonable” organizers than to deal with us. But yes, its caused us to put aside certain differences at times in here to stand together in a common cause.
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?
Among the Blacks mostly, but other groups as well, it has led to an increased eagerness to learn our history in this society and world. The interest to learn about the Black Panthers, the Deacons for Defense, the American Indian Movement to name a few has rapidly increased. Guys in here study the history of the struggle and are coming to the realization that the past has as much to do with the affairs of today. They are arming themselves with this knowledge and choosing the roles that personally resonate with them and taking action. Yes there are more radical thoughts and actions with unity among the prison population across all racial boundaries in response to the anti-police sentiment. No matter the race, at this level we all relate to the orchestrated oppression of the ruling class with their aggressive, abusive tactics of the enforcement division of that class. We all get beat with the same baton, sprayed with the same mace, and put in the same isolation by the same rules that are all “anti-us.” Still, there are pockets of division even in here, with favoritism to certain races depending on the region of the institution.
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?
I think society should use the experience of the prison population to educate themselves about the in-the-trenches dirty tactics of the government and police. In order to justify their erroneous actions in pursuit of their objectives of “law and order”, and to show the public the need for increasing police powers and overbearing presence, they themselves create crime and criminals to pursue. How many of their FBI, DEA, and local vice-squad informants are actually soliciting crime in order to bring down a “crime ring” they orchestrated at the behest of the police with the funding to do it? It’s ridiculous. So yes, the organizers should utilize the guys in prison to get certain vital info based on the actual experience of going through this system at all levels. Not to belittle anyone’s experience, cause an injustice is an injustice no matter what, but there needs to be more communication between what they deem as the “hardened criminals” cause they can contribute something that a guy that just spends his weekends in jail for DUI’s can’t. There needs to be more question-asking such as you’re doing.
At the moment myself and a few others are organizing ourselves to educate and direct some of the energy of the younger prison population in a more constructive manner. We’re getting the older ones to pass along the hard learned lessons they’ve earned through experience by creating an atmosphere that encourages the sharing of views without judgement or reprisal. It’s tricky considering the very macho culture of prison life where your image means everything, which is why we stress that every warrior, soldier, and freedom fighter didn’t carry a weapon, sword, spear, or gun. That’s how we will keep pushing, because to struggle means we’re alive. When the struggle stops it means you’re dead.