(excerpts from a personal letter)
REMEMBER EUGENE DEBS? One of the first socialists I ever read. I used to quote him in letters from the Tennessee joint (2)' -- "while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free". I don't know if he wrote this before or after his bit in Atlanta, but it always impressed me. Enough so I named a cat after him.
I DON'T THINK PRISONERS or their struggle needs or should be romanticized, but what phase have we entered when the liberals/left, including that highly suspect group "Progressives", make no mention of prisons? They write enough about police and police repression--check that--not enough, but more than about prisons, and then let it die on the vine as if humanity ceases to exist after booking. I don't think the lack of consciousness problem is so much that predominantly white, middle class leftist liberals have never experienced prison; it's more a case of they're not being personally or politically threatened by it. They go on and on about Big Brother, civil rights violations, suppression of dissent, etc.--but they all go past "Go" and collect their $200. They can play monopoly like the rich folks, but without a "Get Out Of Jail Free" card. That wasn't the case in the past.
AT THE TURN OF the century through the 20's, radicals, Wobblies, immigrants, union organizers and pacifists felt the crunch. Communists and unionists in the 30's. Reds in the 50's. Enough radicals and militants in the 60's and 70's to make people think. Blacks - radicals and otherwise - have long been held in the revolving door. And Latinos/as, in the last few decades.
NOWHERE DO YOU COME up against the power of the law and naked force as it's wielded in prison. A virtual slavocracy as embodied in the 13th amendment to the Constitution. We have barely any rights the State is bound to respect. If the Left did have any consciousness about the issue--and some do--they're not likely to act on it because they lack the strength and resources to wage a vigorous struggle.
IN THEIR PUBLICATIONS, leftists often refer to the risk of imprisonment or bodily harm because of their activities, but I wonder how many would remain active if they seriously thought their actions carried the risk of imprisonment or bodily harm. Prisoners often mirror image what is happening in the street. With the exception of "criminal justice" issues, the general level of political consciousness among prisoner is low. They are ripe for new ideas and alternatives but don't see them. Which is understandable, given that there are no organized movements presenting any offerings. This is a period of near total abandonment for prisoners. Combine that with the conditions of survival and it tends to breed an unhealthy cynicism.
a period of total abandonment...
MANY MARION PRISONERS have been involved in individual and group acts of resistance over the years. For their efforts they've been subjected to beatings, torture, solitary, more time--the whole 9 yards. They see nothing positive coming out of any of it except maintaining their integrity while staring down the worst abuses. They get no support outside, and solidarity is lacking inside. Their hopes hinge on one more crack at the streets. One more payday or payback, and Hell has no fury like that of an enraged ex-convict. For 5 years now, prisoners have been sentenced under the new guidelines of mandatory terms with no parole. Young dudes are coming in with big time. You can't do time on the installment plan anymore--the sentences are too steep, with no parole release. You do more than a couple bits and your entire life is gone. So the prevailing attitude is that next time why show consideration for witnesses or the cops since you're coming back for 20 to 30 after doing 10 or 15?
THE PREVAILING INFORMATIONAL exchange is based on methods of criminal operation. So while a totally scammed and unsuspecting soul takes refuge in the fact that 1.2 million women and men are locked away, the next generation is slipping up to their back door, and ex-cons come out of their own frightful situation without a pot to piss in and no prospects. The reason there was such a level of political consciousness and activity among prisoners of an earlier era is because they reflected what was happening in the streets of this country at the time. Prison conditions are such that confrontations and rebellions will continue regardless of the existence of external movements. A few even think that prisoners will begin to demonstrate more political will and direction than we see on the street. It's possible--but the odds are against such a phenomenon.
THE LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR with us, without any significant outside support, is how much suffering and bleeding will we endure before we are willing and able to sacrifice even more for a chance to turn the situation around. Or has the present situation become a permanent and expanding part of a larger nightmare we are all getting sucked into?
Marion Prison, 7/18/92
(2) After Ray returned from Viet Nam, his antiwar activism
got him set up for a pot sale. He spent 3 years in a Tennessee prison.
Ray Luc Levasseur, 10376-016, PO Box 150160, USP Atlanta, Atlanta, GA 30315