Recently Denver ABC has been working with Alvaro Luna Hernandez, a Chicano political prisoner serving a 50 year sentence for disarming the Sheriff of Alpine in self-defense. We’re excited to release this exclusive interview which details both the events that lead to his unjust imprisonment as well as key events in his life, his current challenges in prison and thoughts on revolutionary struggle.
We encourage people to share Alvaro’s case and this interview with friends and family. If you are interested in getting involved with Alvaro’s campaign contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit his support site www.freealvaro.net
Interview with Chicano Political Prisoner Alvaro Luna Hernandez
by Denver ABC
(from a “Control Unit” in Texas Prison)
ABC Denver: Alvaro. First, thank you so much for conducting this interview with us. I think it makes sense to start by recounting the events that transpired that lead to your current imprisonment. Take us back to the day that the Alpine Sheriff came to your place on false charges. What happened?
Alvaro: I believe a brief account of some historical facts are first necessary in order to put all these matters in their proper context. Of course, we all know the legacy of confrontations between police and the Chicano community. My case is an example of the continuation of this “gunpowder justice” mentality going back to the occupation of Mexicano lands and the colonial vigilantism of Texas Rangers “shoot first and ask questions later,” such as in the celebrated case of Gregorio Cortez as recounted by Americo Paderes in his book “With His Pistol in His Hand,” that produced “corridos,” and other ballads of resistance in the Southwest. The occupation settlers have always enforced their colonial rule with an iron fist.
The Alpine Police is no different. Since my arrival in Alpine, they immediately set out to expel me from the county at all costs. For example, as a rebellious youth, I had had many violent confrontations with police, including destruction of police cars in response to a racist incident at a local restaurant; the overpowering of jailers in the Pecos County Jail, taking the Sheriff’s arsenal, freeing all prisoners in the jail, locking the jailer in a cell, taking his car and escaping to Mexico through the Big Bend National Park near Santa Elena Canyon; I had shootouts with police, and was known as a “troublemaker” in the eyes of police because of my history of filing civil rights lawsuits against police for brutality, and winning large sums of monetary compensation for damages, including having a Chief Deputy and a Deputy Sheriff convicted in federal court in Pecos for brutalizing me and other prisoners, after my re-capture from my jail escape to Mexico. The police were not happy to see me return to Alpine. I began to set the ground work for barrio organizing the Alpine police feared and were determined to stop.
When I arrived in Alpine on August 1995 from Houston, I had made it known that the police murderer Bud Powers, who shot and killed 16 year old Evray Ramos on June 12, 1968, should be prosecuted for federal criminal civil rights violations, after the Alpine state court had granted him probation and he didn’t even serve one single day in jail for this cold-blooded murder. Their was an atmosphere of citizen outrage against the police and I began talking to people about the need for organization to fight back. The police knew of my field investigative capacity as a delegate of a non-governmental group to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in March 1993 at Geneva, Switzerland; they knew of my role as coordinator of the Ricardo Aldape Guerra Defense Committee that lead the fight to free Mexican national Guerra from Texas’ death row after being framed for the killing of a Houston cop. I was constantly harassed by police such as illegal vehicle stops, humiliating car searches of my person, my passengers and vehicle with their K9 drug dog, constant surveillance of my legitimate activities, and their use of informants to monitor my activities.
At the time I was doing some free lance paralegal writing for a lawyer, and the police wanted to know what type of “papers” I had been “typing,” according to later revelations from their main informant. All these lead to the filing of bogus felony charges against me for “aggravated robbery,” filed against me by the father-in-law of a police sergeant, all designed to have me removed off the streets, under the false pretexts using the criminal justice system for arbitrary detention. These charges were later dismissed, after I had proved my innocence, but the violent confrontation with the Sheriff had happened in the interim period. In other words, the Sheriff had no legal authority to trespass into my property and attempt to arrest me on July 18, 1996.
When I saw him pulling into my driveway and step out of his car, I saw him unsnap his leather strap over his gun. When I came to the door and questioned the legality of his illegal actions, he became violently angry and was in the act of going or his gun to shoot me, and I disarmed him in self defense, believing my life was in danger of imminent harm, knowing the history of their brutality and murders of other Chicano youth down through the years, such as the Evray Ramos case and other incidents of police brutality.
In a nutshell, I was convicted of aggravated assault against the Sheriff and found not guilty on count two, of allegedly shooting Alpine Police Sergeant Curtis Hines in the hand, days later after police started shooting, indiscriminately, at my mother’s house, when they learned I was inside. The jury was charged on the law of self defense but rejected my defense, found me guilty on count one and sentenced me to 50 years imprisonment. Under Texas’ harsh sentencing “aggravated” laws, I have to serve one half, or 25 calendar years before being “parole eligible,” which will not be until the year 2021.
ABC Denver: What was the atmosphere at trial and what was your approach to all of it?
Alvaro: The case was moved to Odessa from Alpine due to extensive pretrial publicity. The week I was arrested, unknown persons began spray painting walls, signs and other objects, including the walls of the building at the elite First National Bank in Alpine, with graffiti that said, “Convict the Pigs! Free Alvaro!” and such supportive slogans. Many groups staged protests outside the Odessa courthouse, coming from as far as California, Houston, Alpine and Mexico to support me. Prosecutors complained to the judge about these public protests.
At trial, a police web of lies were spewed, and the jury, although knowing it was obvious police were all lying, refused to totally clear me and I was convicted on count one. Crucial defense evidence was not presented to the jury, by my sell-out lawyer, who he himself, was under federal criminal drug investigation, and was convicted and sentenced to 30 months in federal prison and disbarred from the practice of law a few months after I was convicted. For example, a KOSA TV Channel 7 live broadcast conducted by this Odessa t.v. station on the day of the incident from Alpine with the Sheriff, I am told, involves the Sheriff telling the news reporters that I had only disarmed him, but later changed his story to say that I had “pointed the weapon at his chest,”— the difference between a minor misdemeanor charge of disarming a police officer and a first degree offense of “aggravated assault” carrying a range of punishment from 5 to 99 to life imprisonment.
But, of course, I was not naive and I know well the documented history of police atrocities and crimes protected by the courts, no matter the nature of police crimes committed against innocent, defenseless citizens. More so, against those of us the system hates because of our revolutionary beliefs and our resistance to their oppression. The U.S. judicial system has always been used to give legitimacy to these state crimes, for example, their colonial war crimes, theft of Mexicano lands, the disenfranchisement of us and denial of our social rights, the government’s war on militancy and their labeling of us as “common criminals” and ”bandits,” while there are currently hundreds of US political prisoners, prisoners of war, caged in these control units for our opposition to this government. The case of the imprisonment of our brother Ricardo Flores Magon is another case in point, and the many police murders of militant activists during the peak of the Chicano movement. Texas Rangers massacred and lunched many Raza and the political. The police have murdered many activists in cold blood, but they have escaped justice.
To add insult to injury, although these crimes were influenced by their white racist ideology of “Manifest Destiny,” the system glorifies this genocidal history, have created a mythology of white supremacy and self-righteousness and have built their monuments, such as the Texas Ranger Museum in Waco, Texas, their “tourist attraction” such as the Law West of the Pecos saloon-court of the fascist judge Roy Bean, and similar monuments glorifying this racist, colonial, genocidal history, erected throughout the occupied Southwest U.S. territories of Aztlan, from Texas to California. Not to forget the constant murders of our brothers and sisters killed at the imposed military border on the Rio Grande River.
ABC Denver: When the verdict was read, what were you feeling? What went through your mind?
Alvaro: Knowing this history of the role of police and the court system, I was not surprised to have been found guilty of a “crime” where the real criminals are the police. They assaulted me and were in the act of possibly killing me, I defend myself but I am the one convicted. These are the double standards of this false system of justice in this country. Especially if you are considered a “troublemaker” simply because of one’s activism. We are “criminalized” by the system, framed by police and prosecutors and send to prison to rot in a prison cell. We see daily the many prisoners who are exonerated after languishing many years in prison, for crimes they did not commit. Their only real “crime” has been the color of their skin and their poverty. After the verdict was read, you heard me outburst in the court and was restrained by the police and removed from the courtroom.
I will never accept the legitimacy of a police, a court system, a prison, a government that has been built on stolen lands, and has blood dripping from its murderous hands, blood of Chicanos, Mexicanos, African Americans and other indigenous nation-tribes criminally enslaved as internal colonies of Yankee imperialism today. A “criminal justice system” that reaps super-profits with its genocidal, corporate incarceration of people and its industrialization of its prison system, that benefits economically from this mass imprisonment, mostly for the enslavement of the Bronze and Black colonies, or people of color.
The verdict in my case is itself a crime. Although I am now a “slave of the state,” this is one “slave” that will never recognize the legitimacy of these state crimes committed against me, who will always have freedom, liberation, justice and self-determination on his mind. I am now living another nightmare, knowing that the real criminals, the police run the streets committing more crimes against the innocent, unarmed citizens, and hiding behind their badges, protected by a criminal system, such as the recent verdict in the police murder of Oscar Grant by that Oakland pig, and many other similar cold-blooded murders committed by fascist pigs.
ABC Denver: You have been in several prison strikes and other forms of rebellions. What has been the most significant event that has transpired in prison? What conditions brought the event about, and what lessons can be learned from it?
Alvaro: It would be to see an oppressed, downtrodden class of repressed and despised people by a large part of reactionary society, caged from within the dark dungeons of the Amerikkkan gulag, break the yoke of mental oppression, discover their humanity, their real class interests, settle their quarrels, transform a criminal mentality into a revolutionary mentality, and fight back, and discover their love for revolution. I am a disciple of comrade George Jackson, murdered by pigs at San Quentin prison in California on August 21, 1971. To come to “meet” him spiritually and know the relevance of his words written in his book Blood In My Eye, that ring true today are invaluable lessons one takes to the grave as a liberation army soldier and advocate for revolution.
I mean, Texas prisons are very racist, brutal and murderous. I was in the forefront of these prison movement struggles to unite prisoners, to re-educate them with revolutionary history and theory, and to transform them into political cadres and activist soldiers conscious of their class and racial oppression, and instill in them the spiritual desire and determination to free their minds and to stand up and struggle for their fundamental and other human rights not to be treated as animals nor as mere slaves of the state, but as human beings with inalienable rights, even under enormous odds, and from under the nose and boot heel of murderous prison guards and a prison administration with a history of murdering prisoner activists, or other “jailhouse lawyers” who dared to stand up for their rights.
I, along with other prisoners formed revolutionary study cells, and other legal defense and solidarity support groups from within, and used all means to fight back, armed with a revolutionary sense of our purpose in life and with a clear understanding of our mission with an equal awareness of the nature and the role of prisons in U.S. society. We prevailed and were victorious in a legal sense, as we won major concessions from the prison system, and the courts, bringing these oppressors to a realization that changes were needed in the Texas prison system or we would burn it to the ground and create another Attica Prison Rebellion Texas politicians did not want on their hands. The prison conditions case styled Ruiz V. Estelle is the I am referring to. We used all means, including hunger strikes, work stoppages, taking over parts of the prison, and the like.
I soon found myself in solitary confinement and under permanent lock down and isolation from the rest of the federal prison population classified as a “leader” and “agitator” and a threat to the security of the institution. I mean, these were great feelings of accomplishment and personal sense of fulfillment to see a prison slave breaking his mental chains and standing up for his humanity as a class and a group of the most oppressed and repressed sectors of U.S. society.
Even today I draw spiritual strength and determination from those past experiences of many years gone by, in order to sustain me now in this control unit they now have me isolated in. These same lessons can be learned in the context of community organizing, the need for organization, for true working class leadership and for movement building on a national and international scale, more so in light of the rise of right wing vigilantism, police murders of innocent people, and other injustices we see today, from New York to California. Unity and Solidarity is key to our success in fighting back and being victorious against all forms of oppression.
ABC Denver: Tell us about your current work as a jailhouse lawyer. What cases have you worked on in the past and what are you currently working on?
Alvaro: I mentioned the Ruiz prison case. I was a prisoner-plaintiff witness on behalf of all prisoners in that case and testified before the federal judge that presided in that trial starting in October 1978 and lasting a year, the longest prison conditions trial in the history of court cases. As a high school drop out, or “push out,” I learned “law” in prison and became a versed jailhouse lawyer, that would help other prisoners with their legal cases, or the filing of civil rights lawsuits against the prison for violation of legal rights. I mean, I worked in many, many cases including cases such as prison guard brutality, affirmative action cases in prison racial discrimination as far as classification, job assignments, educational and other vocational opportunities that were non-existent, including challenging an “all white” employee and promotion system that excluded ethnic minorities from consideration at all levels.
I continue to work on legal defense cases, mostly cases trying to obtain new trials for other prisoners based, say, on violation of their rights at trial, or under the common ground of being represented by incompetent, court appointed attorneys because of their poverty in not being financially able to pay a lawyer for legal representation.
I am now working on two significant cases now pending before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In one of those cases the prisoner was diagnosed as having an IQ of 64, and within the range of mental retardation under psychiatric rules and standards but his lawyer sold him out and did not do his required job in properly defending him at his jury trial. The prisoner got a life sentence. The other case involves a case where the lawyer submitted an “affidavit,” or sworn statement in response to his write allegations, and flat outright lied, and I am seeking not only a new trial on those grounds, but criminal prosecution of the lawyer for aggravated perjury.
There is an abundance of legal defense work in here and in response to these prison conditions, that, despite the legal victories in the Ruiz case, prison officials have resorted back to their old ways and have disregarded the orders of the federal court. I mean, there were about four prisoners back here in this control unit that took their own lives; guards are very abusive and overall prison conditions are brutal and torturous and, so, I keep fighting back as I am able to, including reaching out to groups such as ABC, ABCF, and others to help us build outside support to protests these atrocities and injustices occurring behind the razor wire of the AmeriKKKAn gulag and the “Prisonhouse of Nations,” as comrade Mumia Abu-Jamal appropriately named in his recent excellent book, Jailhouse Lawyers: Defending Prisoners Vs. The USA, which is recommended reading by anyone interested in these realities.
Let me add by saying that, while one might say there is a contradiction between condemning the U.S. court system, and then “petitioning” those same courts for redress of injustices, I don’t see it like that. It is all part of the varied forms of struggle we must sue on all united fronts, such as legal defense, barrio organizing, civil disobedience, street marches and protests, and other more sophisticated forms of resistance. We educate, and re-educate others so that they will come to understand the true nature of this false, class “democracy” and expose all those flowery words such as “equal justice for all,” which have no real meaning, unless people stand up and demand them.
ABC Denver: You are now in a control unit in a Texas prison in Gatesville, Texas. What is it like?
Alvaro: I am confined in isolation to a small cell for 23 hours a day. I am allowed one hour of recreation a day. My meals, clothing necessities, and mail are brought to me in my cell. Every time I exit my cage I have to be strip-searched, and handcuffed with my hands behind my back, to recreation and shower, or to the medical clinic, or outside visits from family and friends. My cell is constantly searched and left in total disarray. More so against those like me who are extremely disliked by the prison guards and the administration because of our resistance to their injustices, and their retaliatory acts to punish us for demanding our human rights. I have access to a typewriter, a small radio, fan but no television. I am allowed to purchase items from the commissary, or canteen, such as accessories for my machine, personal hygiene items, postage and other food supplements such as coffee and soda drinks as well. My outgoing and incoming mail is subject to special screening by the unit mail room, which I call “witch hunts.” You can imagine how much one in my situation is hated by the system, especially from these retired military people who run this place, when one criticizes their fascist police practices and the imperialist militarism.
During the year of 2007, there were about four prisoner suicides back here in this 500 man “control unit” facility. The people back here are mainly from “prison gangs” and other prisoners the administration labels threats to the security of the prison. I have been in this lock down status for 9 years now, with no hopes of getting released into general population, unless I renounce my political beliefs and my activities of resisting their prison fascism, which I will never do.
My revolutionary awareness and belief system is what sustains me behind the razor-wire walls of the Amerikkkan gulag. The majority of prisoners back here are Chicano or African American, and this is institutional genocide. They may be able to jail me, but they will never jail my spirit, nor my determination to resist their state crimes against me, and I will always fight back no matter the odds stacked up against me. Despite being condemned by a federal judge in the Ruiz case, nothing has changed. Only the names of the victims, victimized by this cruel and nightmarish forms of isolation and torture that violate all standards of international human rights laws. These “control units” were designed to isolate and destroy political prisoners and prisoners of war held captive in U.S. prisons.
ABC Denver: Where is your case currently? How best can people support you and bring about your freedom?
Alvaro: I have litigated my case in state and federal court all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied me. I am now in the process of gathering outside support to be able to obtain access to police and prosecutor files suppressed, or hidden from my defense, such as the KOSA TV news broadcast, and other evidence I know does exist in the case. If I can discover these withheld materials, I can re-enter the court system again, but this time with a stronger outside support base to push for my release from this wrongful captivity.
The power of the people will have to be amassed in my support, much like the world supported brother Nelson Mandela and changed people’s opinions and views about him not being a “common criminal” or “terrorist,” but a real freedom fighter, which finally won his release from the claws of South Africa’s apartheid system. There are many of us recognized as political prisoners and POWs now held in U.S. prisons. We must build a new political prisoners support movement and use all methods of struggle to win our freedom. The U.S. government’s hypocrisy and double standards must be exposed when it comes to human rights and political prisoners. We must push to re-open COINTELPRO (counter intelligence program) hearings before the Senate Select Committee of the U.S. Congress and use international laws and petition human rights tribunals to consider our cases of political imprisonment, as we have now began to organize national movement behind our cases.
People interested in getting involved in this effort should stay tuned for further developments and activities planned around the country with this freedom movement in mind.
Again, thank the ABC Denver, the ABCF, the ABC formations and other groups and persons who have supported me, and my fellow imprisoned brothers and sisters down through the years. For more information about me and my case, you can visit www.freealvaro.net. Thank you. All Power to the People!
November 10, 2010
Hughes Unit Prison
Persons wanting to write a letter of support to Alvaro can do so at:
Alvaro Luna Hernandez
Rt. 2, Box 4400