some thoughts about prisoner support

This is a letter published in Rolling Thunder #6:

Howdy, ex-worker comrades!

It’s good to see someone take the time to publish information for people interested in doing prisoner support. Also, the “Green Scared?” article is a good source of reference for the goings-on surrounding Operation Backfire and the arrests since then. It’s so informative that the Civil Liberties Defense Center[1] made the article into a pamphlet to hand out at their events in support of non-cooperating Green Scare arrestees.

There was something mentioned in your article about prisoner support that I feel needs far more emphasis, and that is letting the prisoners themselves have a say – I’d argue that they should have the MOST say – in what prisoner support groups do, and whom they support. I’ve seen other movements and groups grow this way inside prisons.

The thing to remember is that we, as a movement, do not have a wealth of resources. It makes sense to me that we could do a lot for a few prisoners, rather than try to do something for just about anyone. For instance, the prisoner support work that I’m currently undertaking is centered around the folks incarcerated in the Green Scare repression.

Believe me, other prisoners notice when someone gets regular mail, receives reading material, and writes a lot of letters. They’ll also notice if someone has folks sending them enough funds to live comfortably. Prisoners often share resources with their friends, so it would be natural for a person on the inside to spread word about free resources, like books-to-prisoners projects. Just this type of word-of-mouth growth can escalate beyond a group’s ability to keep up. There are a number of reasons why this is a good practice.

First of all, having prisoners make referrals would severely reduce, if not eliminate, the number of opportunistic stalkers, sex offenders, and other predators seeking out their next victims in our communities. It would also weed out the snitches and others who may have their own agendas. While I was incarcerated, I grew disgusted with the amount of space such despicable characters were given in anarchist publications. This is why I am very reluctant to work with “traditional” prisoner support groups like ABCs [Anarchist Black Cross collectives].

Also, having our incarcerated comrades initiate contact between other prisoners and outside resources will do a lot to ensure they get the respect they deserve for having principled ideas and taking action based upon them. Many prisoners will automatically give someone respect for fighting for what they feel is right. Others, however, look for victims everywhere and see anyone who doesn’t fit into mainstream stereotypes as being both odd and weak. Conformity to social norms within the prison system is very heavily reinforced – by guards and administrations, by other prisoners, and by isolation from alternative sources of information. One of the most hideous aspects of prison life for me was how much the overexposure to mainstream media influenced my thoughts. Now that I’m out, it’s very unusual for me to read, view or listen to mass-market media. Back then, it was more than 90% of all I had access to.

However, having a lot of contact with comrades on the outside exposes prisoners to another pitfall, which is to become so wrapped up in correspondence and other communication with the “radical” communities on the outside, and so aware of repression in their daily lives, that the prisoner believes there to be a growing, thriving revolutionary movement out here, which they will be welcomed into upon their release. This is scary, because it is – for now – unrealistic. The antidote is to develop reality-based relationships with the prisoners[2]. Let them know the mundane aspects of your life in your interactions. It makes a huge difference when someone treats a prisoner like a person, and not some sort of icon, hero, or martyr. It also helps prisoners remember who they are, where their passions are, where their lives could grow upon their release. It’s difficult not to feel like just a number attached to a conviction inside those cells.

Such personal involvement is what makes lending support to just anyone who requests it a bad idea. No one wants a sex offender to turn up at their door out of the blue upon their release. When our comrades initiate contact between a prisoner and their outside supporters, we can count on their good judgment in doing so. Also, it helps a whole lot to have someone inside who can hold fellow prisoners accountable for whatever misdeeds they may inflict upon the folks outside.

Prisoner support is getting to be a more important issue in our scenes as more people are locked up. This is only going to increase in the coming years. America is the most advanced police state on earth, with laws on the books that make almost any expression of dissent against government and corporate actions illegal. The hammer will fall on us eventually, no matter who wins the next Presidential selection farce. The issue should not be how to avoid our repression (wishful thinking is for the weak-willed), but how will we respond to it. Revolutions aren’t won by cowards, and now is not the time to cower in fear.

Revoltingly yours,

Rob los Ricos


[1] The Civil Liberties Defense Center is a nonprofit organization focused on defending and upholding civil liberties through education, outreach, litigation, legal support, and assistance. The CLDC was instrumental in saving the non-cooperating Operation Backfire defendants from the life sentences threatened by federal prosecutors.

[2] Another antidote to unrealistic ideas about a thriving revolutionary movement would be to create one. Or several.


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