On Solidarity and Prisons

This is from SLINGSHOT Issue #92

(Note: I gave a talk at the Longhaul Infoshop in Berkeley on Sept. 20, 2006. The following article was transcribed from that talk. It can be difficult to transcribe spoken words into written ones, since speaking is often spontaneous, whereas writing is usually much more deliberate. Thus, the transcriptionist spent a lot of time making certain that the words she wrote were consistent with what I spoke, while also keeping the reader up with the discussion. Since she did such a thorough job, and since I’m now transcribing this onto e-format for my blog, I’m going to go ahead and make any alterations I feel will further make this read in my voice – if you know what I mean. Wish me luck!)
 
– Words from Rob los Ricos

PISSING IN WATER

Prison was kind of a weird experience. I don’t know if anyone here is familiar with Green Anarchist perspective, but I’ve been that way pretty much my whole life…My anarchist ideas were more inspired by Native American social structures than…by anything I’ve read by anarchist writers. I didn’t start reading anarchist literature until sometime in the mid-’80s. I knew I was an anarchist – basically in my heart – because I’d read this book (Comanches: Lords of the High Plains) about the Comanche Indians wherein the anthropologist or sociologist who’d written went out of his way to drive home the fact that this was an anarchist society. [It was] not one that had anarchism as its core principle, but in practice…it was anarchist. He just brought that up over and over again throughout the book. This guy [the author] was not an anarchist but he was fascinated by the fact that there was this functioning, thriving society, completely anarchistic…

So that was where I got, first of all, a lot of respect for the way that Native American people lived. The Comanches [were] a nomadic [horse-herding] tribe in the high plains near the place where I grew up, and I had a tremendous amount of respect for them as a People and the way they were able to resist assimilation and conquest for over four hundred years. Once they got themselves some horses, they were hard to track down and even harder to beat militarily. That was basically where my anarchism came from…When I started reading anarchist stuff, at first I was not too thrilled about it – so much division historically…and anyone who [practices anarchism] knows we are still divided in many ways.

[In Oregon, before going to prison]…after living my entire life just trying to get by, I was finally falling in with a group of people. We were living more according to our beliefs about not having a job or income or paying the bills month by month, but more living through scavenging and squatting in the forest on some land where we had permission to be. Basically having very little contact with society in general. That was part of the problem that later arose in Eugene, because we were unused to being around policemen or being in situations where I had to watch myself. So, I was totally unprepared. Prison was really bed because I wasn’t used to being indoors. I was living outdoors either on the beaches in Hawai’i or the forests of southern Oregon for 3-4 years before going to prison, and I was actually proud of the fact that I had to be forced to piss in water…You shouldn’t be pissing in water you can drink. Anyways, I didn’t live indoors and so the only way I was able to be forced [was to be] locked in a cage and made to live this sedentary lifestyle that I had totally rejected. I felt pretty smug about that at first.

Heartcheck

As awful, as dehumanizing a place as it was, I did actually meet some really awesome people while in prison…the coolest cellmate I had by all accounts was Critter (Craig Marshall) who was my cellmate for about four months…It took Free (Jeff Luers) longer to get in(to the prison system) and be processed by the system…because…(Critter) took the deal that was offered, whereas Free wanted to take it to trial. Apparently, they had a chance to discuss this and Free didn’t have a problem with that. There was a letter recently in the Earth First! Journal saying that because Critter took a deal, that makes him a snitch against Free. That’s totally not the case…[the letter-writer was] definitely not speaking on behalf of anyone…Critter was an exemplary convict while he was in prison and [there is] a lot of respect for both of these guys because there’s one thing that [the other prisoners] respect in prison, and that’s people that stand up for and fight for what they believe in their heart. That’s why our zine – the zine that Free and I did together – was called Heartcheck, because in prison that’s the only way you can judge a person – by what’s in their heart and what they are wiling to stand up for and what they are willing to fight for.

Chow Hall Strike

I can’t even remember why we did this, but I think it had something to do with the phone system. They were messing with the phone system in Oregon…people were complaining about it and their solution to fix it was basically to force everyone to buy phone service from some company in Texas…the whole thing [didn't] make sense. The money that you put into it [was] non-refundable, even if you never successfully made a phone call…and you[had] to give them fifty dollars just to have the privilege…to make a collect phone call…[So] while people were protesting that, we decided – just to show the administration that we can do things without their knowledge or without their consent – we decided to have a day where no one would go to the chow hall and eat.

I was working in the chow hall at the time because…I had just gotten out of the hole, and you have to work in the chow hall before you could get any other kind of job there…We organized this lunch room strike. It was just amazing, because out of maybe 2200 prisoners incarcerated…only about 200 people went to the chow hall. Normally, they have to pace people coming in because there is only seating for 400 people, and they have to run people a tier at a time…It usually takes a couple of hours to get everyone fed, but this time it took about twenty minutes, because they would run an entire cellblock, and twelve people would come, out of – say – 700.

Before I went to work, we were walking up and down the tier, those of us with money on our books…making sure that…everyone knew that it was a strike, [saying] “don’t go to the chow hall” and making sure they had food…You can get a little packet of Ramen for ten cents so we had stacks of them and…would toss them [to folks without their own food, saying] “eat this and if you need something later we can get you something later”

…As the meal progressed, and noone was coming to chow, the guards were getting nervous. Then the administrators that you never see – the assistant warden and the warden – came down. You never see them in the chow hall because basically it’s not a safe place for them to be. And the captain on duty and the lieutenants – they all came to the chow hall and were looking around because it was a sea of empty seats. They were like “There’s something going on!” and it really scared them because it makes them realize they are not in control of the place. They are just not in control. They have some control because we allow them to…that got their attention.

They were kind of scared and they talked to the shot-callers – everyone knows who the shot-callers on the yard are – and asked what the deal was and basically were told it was the phone system…They went ahead and shut that down and tried something else later.

Later, there was a phone strike – people were not using the phone or not being allowed to use the phone by the other prisoners. Eventually they broke that down, put the place on lockdown and if you didn’t like it, “too bad, because that’s the way it was.”

Torture

To get to the issue of torture, there is torture in the Oregon system and…they kill inmates sometimes. That’s the Intensive Management Unit where they do all this, and the Intensive Management Unit is like the prison within the prison. The hole, which is a disciplinary segregation unit, is just a jail. Basically, if you’re misbehaving and they are going to put you in there, but if you are really crazy or out of control…if they think you’re a really serious threat, they’ll put you in the IMU…[a body was found in IMU and the official story was]…that he had hung himself in his cell, but according to one of my friends that worked on the cleanup crew – that went to clean up blood – he said that blood was all over this cell. I mean, all over that place, and it looked like the dead guy had just been beaten to death because there were blood splatters everywhere. [My friend] could see…how it sprayed after someone had just whacked [this guy] across the head with a stick or something…It was all over…the ceiling and everything…[Anyway] they keep the [prisoners they torture] in isolation and they pretty much do whatever they want back there. Most of the shenanigans going on at Abu Graib and other places abroad…are [being committed by] national guard soldiers that were prison guards before they went over there, you know. That was their…specialty as a national guard person…being a prison guard over there. I’m sure that just about everything that happens, they were doing here also before they went over…maybe not on the same scale as they are doing it over there…[because] over there…no one gives a shit, whereas over here, they have to be careful and not get caught.

Pulling Together

I was released on June 29th of this year (2006) and – what can I say – it is great to be out of prison. It is great to be visiting these different communities; seeing what’s going on place to place; and meeting a lot of people I have only had contact with by mail; being able to give hugs and seeing what’s been going on, because things got crazy there for a while and things have grown a lot since I’ve been in prison. There are a lot more anarchist-identified people, a lot of anarchist-type projects going on in every city I’ve been to so far, and I’m just more aware all the time. We have a very large movement now and we have a lot of resources. Sadly though, we are a very fragmented movement, and people just don’t realize how big we are and how many resources we have at our disposal. We just really need to start putting our differences aside and start working as a community because, especially here in Oregon, there is a lot of shock and…numbness [from] the number of people turning state’s evidence. [This is people] testifying against their former comrades whom they have taken actions with in the past and now are willing to send to prison [to] try to save their own asses. [We would be more effective if we were a stronger movement that was more closely knit, where people didn’t drift in and out of it, and people didn’t feel like they had no future in it, and people didn’t feel like only their closest friends are trustworthy. We really have to pull together a s a movement and become a more cohesive and coherent group that can withstand pressure from I was released on June 29th of this year (2006) and – what can I say – it is great to be out of prison. It is great to be visiting these different communities; seeing what’s going on place to place; and meeting a lot of people I have only had contact with by mail; being able to give hugs and seeing what’s been going on, because things got crazy there for a while and things have grown a lot since I’ve been in prison. There are a lot more anarchist-identified people, a lot of anarchist-type projects going on in every city I’ve been to so far, and I’m just more aware all the time. We have a very large movement now and we have a lot of resources. Sadly though, we are a very fragmented movement, and people just don’t realize how big we are and how many resources we have at our disposal. We just really need to start putting our differences aside and start working as a community because, especially here in Oregon, there is a lot of shock and…numbness [from] the number of people turning state’s evidence. [This is people] testifying against their former comrades whom they have taken actions with in the past and now are willing to send to prison [to] try to save their own asses. [We would be more effective if we were a stronger movement that was more closely knit, where people didn’t drift in and out of it, and people didn’t feel like they had no future in it, and people didn’t feel like only their closest friends are trustworthy. We really have to pull together a s a movement and become a more cohesive and coherent group that can withstand pressure from the police, that can withstand arrest, and when people go to prison we can support them and help them deal with the situation they are in and get them out as healthy human beings [who] can actually come back as part of our movement again.

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The colonies are collapsing – it's a scorched earth policy, a war of attrition, so the survivors are left with NOTHING!

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