United We Stood: Writings and Analysis from the Vaughn 17

A collection of new writings and analysis from the Vaughn 17, a group of prisoners who faced charges following an uprising at the James T. Correctional Center in Delaware. Most of the Vaughn 17 are still being held indefinitely in solitary confinement in Pennsylvania. This zine was first posted at It's Going Down.

On February 1, 2017, prisoners in C–building at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Delaware took control of the building and held guards hostage in an uprising that lasted over 18 hours. That morning, several prisoners had put on masks and rushed the guards who were letting them back into the building from yard, while another prisoner ensured that the counselor on duty was kept safe and held off a CERT team that sought to retake the building.

The prisoners leading the uprising called the media and released a list of demands; the prison eventually retook the building by breaching one of its walls with a backhoe. One prison guard, Steven Floyd, was killed by prisoners during the uprising.

The Vaughn 17 are seventeen of the eighteen prisoners who were subsequently indicted on charges including multiple counts of murder, kidnapping, assaulting an officer, and conspiracy, by the state of Delaware. The eighteenth person charged, Royal “Diamond” Downs, a notorious Black Guerrilla Family leader, turned state’s witness and provided much of the State’s case against the prisoners.

Despite that, the indicted prisoners, most of whom did not know or deal with each other prior to the uprising, organized their own defense and almost completely beat the State’s case at trial. Dwayne Staats and Jarreau “Ruk” Ayers represented themselves at court and took responsibility for their part in planning the uprising and with assisting with keeping everyone safe during the takeover itself, respectively. Both were already serving life sentences.

The other prisoners in the first two trials —Deric Forney, Kevin Berry, Abednego Baynes, John Bramble, and Obadiah Miller —were acquitted in court of all charges (the last two had a hung jury on charges of assaulting an officer, which were later dropped). Roman Shankaras, who had helped organize nonviolent protests prior to the uprising and whom the State hoped to frame as the “mastermind” behind the prison takeover, was tried separately and acquitted on all charges. The State was forced to drop the remaining charges against the rest of the defendants.

The shared mission of the Vaughn 17 is to disrupt, dismantle and destroy the prison industrial complex. Many of the V17 are revolutionaries or insurrectionaries taking up the incendiary and blood–soaked tradition of figures like Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, and George Jackson. The rest stuck together when indicted and made enormous sacrifices in the process.

Prisoners were physically tortured following the uprising and experienced extreme pressure from the state to cooperate. After Delaware failed to beat the collective in court, most of the Vaughn 17 were shipped to Pennsylvania, where the state could continue to keep them in solitary indefinitely with no way out. They have now all been in solitary for at least four consecutive years (most for much longer).

We support the Vaughn 17 because as aspiring insurrectionaries, we are inspired by their physical struggle against prison and systemic oppression and by their unflinching refusal to cooperate with the State. The writings in this zine come from captive revolutionaries whose analysis, experience, and abilities extend far beyond what most radicals on the outside have dared to explore. Struggles out here against authority have a lot to learn from prisoners’ experiences on the inside. Bringing these two very different insurrectionary currents together has the potential to enrich us all in unimaginable ways, open up our vision, threaten the State, and bring us closer to collective liberation.

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We support the Vaughn 17 because as aspiring insurrectionaries, we are inspired by their physical struggle against prison and systemic oppression and by their unflinching refusal to cooperate with the State.