The New York Prison Justice Network and New York Taskforce for Political Prisoners received these statements of support for Occupy4Prisoners from NY state political prisoners Herman Bell, David Gilbert and Jalil Muntaqim. The statements (along with one from Mumia Abu-Jamal and several from other prisoners) will be read at the NYC and Philadelphia rallies today, and in Albany tomorrow. They are also for use at any other Occupy4Prisoners rally anywhere.
Solidarity to OWS, Wherever You Be
Great Meadow (Comstock) Correctional Facility, February 20, 2012
In your pushback for social justice, you give us hope. Failure to claim your rights
is failure to know whether they exist or not. Abstract terms though they be, you make
them real. A parasitic social order has fully emerged and affixed itself to our existence
and now requires our unquestioned loyalty and obedience to its will. And we have come
dangerously close to complying.
Ordinary people doing uncommonly brave things have rekindled our hopes that
we can do better this time in safeguarding the public trust. Far too many of us have
grown complacent in our civic and moral responsibility, which explains in part how Wall
Street, big banks, and corporations, in political connivance, have gotten away with so
much. So we have to take some responsibility for that.
I think we are now coming to understand that. Your occupation in these troubling
times calls attention to much of what is wrong in our society. So keep it tight: no elitism,
no arrogance, no divisiveness, and consult the elders as you go forth, because youth often
do the wrong thing for the right reason.
And in a clear, unwavering voice wherever you go, wherever you speak, wherever
you occupy, demand release of our political prisoners, for they are the embodiment of our
movement’s resolve. And don’t let anyone punk you out, because what you do matters.
Big jobs call for big people, and you already stand pretty tall in my eyes.
Herman Bell, a former member of the Black Panther Party, has been a political
prisoner since 1973. He is currently imprisoned in Comstock, NY.
To Occupy Wall Street/ Occupy Everywhere
From Behind the Walls
Auburn Correctional Facility, February 20, 2012
Your creativity, energy, and love of humanity bring warm sunshine to many of us behind these prison walls. You’ve eloquently and concisely articulated the central problem: a society run by the 1% and based on corporate greed as opposed to human need. That obscenity of power and purpose creates countless specific and urgent concerns. Among those, the criminal injustice system is not just a side issue but essential to how the 1% consolidate power.
The U.S. mania for putting people behind bars is counterproductive in its stated goal of public safety. A system based on punishment and isolation breeds anger and then difficulty in functioning upon return to society – things that generate more crime. The U.S., which imprisons people at about seven times the rate of other industrialized countries, has a higher rate of violent crime. Punishment does not work. A transformative, community-based justice model would be more effective as well as more humane. It would both support victims and work with offenders, to enable them to function well and make a positive contribution.
Although the punitive approach does not make communities safe, it has served the rulers well. In the same 30 years that the 1% nearly tripled their share of U.S. national income—with global inequities far steeper—the number of people behind bars in the U.S. went up from about 500,00 to 2.3 million. It’s no coincidence. The “war on crime” started in 1969 as a code for attacking the Black Liberation Movement, at a moment when that movement was at the front of a widespread wave of radical social action which seriously threatened the dominance of the 1%. Mass incarceration, especially of people of color, was an important part of the 1%’s strategy for holding on to their wealth and power.
The second way the criminal injustice system works to keep the powerful in power is that as the 1% steal more and more of humanity’s wealth, they face the pressing political need of deflecting attention from their colossal crimes. Over the past 30 years mainstream politics have been driven by a series of coded forms of racial scapegoating—against “criminals,” welfare mothers, immigrants, Muslims, the poor who get token concessions from the government—to turn the frustration and anger of the majority of white people away from the rulers and toward the racially constructed “other.” Confronting that demagogy and hatred is critical to resisting the
As activists, we often grapple with a tension between prioritizing the needs of the most oppressed—based on race, class, gender sexuality, ability—and maintaining a universal vision and broad unity. But those two important concerns are not in contradiction. The only road to principled and lasting unity is through dismantling the barriers formed by the series of particular and intense oppressions. The path to our commonality is solidarity based on recognition of—and opposition to—the ways this society makes us unequal. Our challenge is to forge this synthesis in practice, on the ground, in the daily work of building the movement of the 99%. With an embrace to you and your inspiring stand, one love,
David Gilbert, a former member of Students for a Democratic Society and the Weather Underground, has been a political prisoner since 1981. He is currently incarcerated in Auburn, NY.
America is a Prison Industrial Complex
Jalil A. Muntaqim
Attica Correctional Facility, February 20, 2012
The 2.3 million U.S. citizens in prison represent more than a problem of criminality. Rather, the
human toll of the U.S. prison industrial complex addresses and indicts the very foundation of
In 1865, the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution served to institutionalize prisons as a
slave system. “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for
crime….shall exist within the United States.”
This Amendment evolved out of the Civil War allegedly to abolish chattel slavery. However,
since that time, prisons have become an industrial complex. As an industry, its investors are
financial institutions such as “Goldman Sachs & Co., Prudential Insurance Co. of America, Smith Barney Shearson, Inc., and Merrill Lynch & Co. Understand, these investors in this slave industry in 1994 are no different from investors in the slave system prior to 1865.
The political system supports this industry by passing laws that enhance criminal penalties,
increase penal incarceration and restrict parole. Former U.S. President Clinton’s 1985 Crime Bill
effectively caused the criminalization of poverty, exponentially increasing the number of people
being sent to prison. On May 12, 1994, the Wall Street Journal featured an article entitled,
“Making Crime Pay: Triangle of Interests Created Infrastructure to Fight Lawlessness; Cities See
Jobs; Politicians Sense a Popular Issue and Businesses Cash In—The Cold War of the ‘90s.” The
article clearly indicated how prisons have become a profitable industry, including so-called
Given this reality, the struggle to abolish prisons is a struggle to change the very fabric of
American society. It is a struggle to remove the financial incentive—the profitability of the
prison/slave system. This will essentially change how the U.S. addresses the issue of poverty, of
ethnic inequality, and misappropriation of tax dollars. It will speak to the reality that the prison
system is a slave system, a system that dehumanizes the social structure and denigrates America’s moral social values.
The prison system today is an industry that, as did chattel slavery, profits off the misery and
suffering of other human beings. From politicians to bankers to the business investment
community, the prison industrial complex is a multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise, all of
which has been sanctioned by the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
It is imperative that those of you here come to terms with the reality that America is the prison
industrial complex, and that the silence and inaction of Americans is complicit in maintaining a
system that in its very nature is inhumane.
Abolish the American prison industrial complex!!
All Power to the People! All Power to the People!
All Power to the People!
Jalil Muntaquim (Anthony Bottom), a former member of the Black Panther Party, has
been a political prisoner since 1971. He is the author of “We Are Our Own Liberators,
and is currently incarcerated in Attica, NY.