WRITE OR DIE
Several months ago, the Brothers at the San Quentin SHU/Deathrow contacted me about collaborating on a zine project as part of an educational outreach and networking project that they were developing. This included social networking with email, facebook, twitter, a website, and so forth. This was right around the time that the first two waves of hunger strikes, spearheaded by the SHU prisoners over at Pelican Bay was getting ready to become a very important reality. I was part of the support group, working behind the scenes, for that seminal series of actions. I knew these Brothers at San Quentin would also involve themselves with that struggle, as they are victims of clinical state torture, too. So, we all had a "lot on our plates" mentally at that time. But, I knew that this would prove to be a very fruitful and productive collaboration, once we had time to focus on it. I immediately told them I was down for the zine aspect of their initiative, which will actually flower into a series of zines. After all, that's what I do - collaborate with conscious prisoners on zines and make them available to whoever wants to learn from them - not least of who is myself! I got into this whole zine distro thing in the first place because I wanted to learn and (hopefully) become comrades with those brilliant thinkers on the frontline trenches - the brilliant prisoners who have not only attained consciousness under brutal conditions but who also have the courage to share their wisdom with their fellow captives.
I'm a prison abolitionist because I detest crime. This may sound odd. You may say, "People are in prison because they have committed crimes!" I do not condone criminal behavior, whether perpetrated by an individual or carried out by bureaucrats following the orders and laws of a criminal state. Incarceration is composed of kidnapping and imprisoning, in this society under brutal and seemingly endless conditions. It "solves" nothing! It is mass criminality, on a daily basis by the state, protected by "law."
You don't pour gas on a fire and you don't rehabilitate people by torturing them and brutalizing them - and then spitting them back into society with little or no options to facilitate a legitimate life. As for death row, this is the ugly bed sore of a diseased society. How the hell does this society claim the right to slowly torture people - and then put them to death??? Oh yeah, I forgot - the Constitution says so. Well, to this day, the Constitution still insists that prisoners are nothing more than legal slaves! Read the 13th Amendment - and then read what these articulate Brothers write.
- @nthony Rayson -
Table of Contents
1.) Carry on Tradition ......................... 3 - 7
2.) The Road to Solidarity...................... 8 - 9
3.) Guilty ..................................... 10 - 11
4.) Through Your Eyes .......................... 12
5.) Request Denied ............................. 13
6.) New Generation, Part 1 & 2 ................. 14 - 18
7.) New Generation, Part 3 (Community Letter)... 19-24
8.) Memo to: Prison Industry Captives .......... 25
9.) Request Denied (cont'd) .................... 26
10.) At Golgatha: The Place of the Skull ....... 27 - 33
11.) Reaching out .............................. 34 - 35
12.) The Ninth Ground .......................... 36 - 38
"OUR GENERATION ... OUR LEGACY
Ⓐ Anthony Rayson, curator
South Chicago ABC Zine Distro
PO Box 721
Homewood, IL 60430
Learn the explosive truth from the gulags, both inside & out! ZINES
CARRY ON TRADITION
PAPYRUS COLLECTIVE (PAPCO) is an organized body of California Death Row Prisoner Writers and Artists working to create a grassroots human rights community / prison activists network of family and friends, opponents to capital punishment and prison support groups. Our online workshop and social network can be found at www.deathrowinmate.org.
WRITE OR DIE (WOD) is a compilation of PAPCO and independent death row authors created as an underground periodical, or zine, reaching other prisoners "Behind Enemy Lines" from prison to prison, communicating information, ideas, and experiences that represent who we are, and to get those who have relevant and insightful things to say, involved. With the support of Anthony Rayson at South Chicago ABC Zine Distro, WOD will effectively reach a loyal and extensive readership of other progressive and conscious prisoners nationwide. We're just getting started!
Through our online workshop at (DRI) www.deathrowinmate.org and social media sites like facebook, twitter, and wordpress, we're developing an outlet through which we can remain vocal and visible to the public, sharing who we are and what we're about -- as individuals as well as a collective and moreover, to put a face to this new generation of prisoners on death row who represent the intelligence and courage of this movement as it begins to force its way to the surface.
With Capital Punishment as the vanguard of political and legal debates worldwide, there's an increasing amount of media attention and public interest denoting the all too familiar realities of the American justice system.
It is time we begin speaking for ourselves -- if nothing else. California has the largest death row population in this country which currently exceeds 740+ men waiting to be executed. Few are granted commutation. As the condemned population in this country flourishes, a disproportionate number of us are black and latino, from poor working class communities.
The mainstream media, prompted by prosecutors, politicians, and law enforcement, regularly satiate the public with biased and misleading information, deliberately ignoring issues of unjust and aggressive prosecutions, errors, racism, and continues this pattern of stigmatization while validating every nefarious behavior of the system. Those of us like Troy Davis and countless others whose stories have never been told; the media's propaganda and image portrayals are used to plant false seeds of impression upon society, to isolate and demonize us as dangerous, manipulative sociopathic serial sex offenders and killers. People, this is not who we are!
One of the remarkable examples most pertinent to this article, as well as to PAPCO, is the late Stanley "Tookie" Williams.
Recognized by most as the co-founder of the Los Angeles Crips and for his notoriously-destructive lifestyle as an active gang member, he made a truly productive transition in his life within the near 25 years he spent here on death row. Becoming an activist for peace, violence prevention, education for children, social justice, and moreover, influencing the new generation to embrace self-leadership from the bottom of this "slave ship", also known as death row.
I knew Tookie briefly as "Ajamu" by his Yoruba name which meant, "He fights for what he wants". Tookie's autobiography entitled, "Blue Rage : Black Redemption", gave me an informed personal view of Ajamu's life and times. The energy that he invested in his intellectual and personal growth, the attention and worldwide support that he'd generated throughout the years; celebrities, religious leaders, political activists, active and former gang members of all affiliations. People from every walk of life recognized Ajamu's potential to do so much more good if he continued to live.
Much like Ajamu, there are many other positive examples behind these myriad walls, but none have quite captured the minds, hearts, anad interest of the outside world quite the way he did. Not so long before Ajamu's passing, he tendered and endorsement which confirmed that he recognized the potential in the growing number of new generation prison youth. He acknowledged this in a local public interview and radio broadcast. There are indeed others here like himself.
It came as no surprise to us who "overstand" the nature and intent of the system when his appeals for clemency were denied. In spite of what good he had accomplished and could've continued to do, Ajamu's life was not spared. We're talking about a man who had changed his life so dramatically, that he had been nominated for The Nobel Peace Prize. Why?
As a prerequisite to granting clemency, the "then" state governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, stated that prisoners must not only confess to crimes but in Ajamu's case, it was openly expressed not only by the governor but by prison officials, that the state's version of change or redemption, included a relentless and degrading campaign, one that attempted to force Ajamu to "debrief" -- in other words: become a prison snitch.
I don't know much about other prisons, but the snitch culture is very much alive and well, thriving even here on death row. When Ajamu focused his energy on helping my generation to develop this positive and progressive mentality, all the state wanted to do, was break and dishonor him: to have him implicate others in illicit activity. True to form, they'd have been far more satisfied with a lie than any efforts to prevent our youth from coming to prison to die.
Further significant in this final struggle of Ajamu's, was the unmitigated double standard and bigotry of the standing governor / state that was exposed in their condemning the references of the admiration expressed by Ajamu in his book, to: Malcolm X, George Jackson, Geronimo (Jijaga) Pratt, and Assata Shakur. The governor further justifies his denial of Ajamu's clemency to the public through the villainous epithet of these venerated leaders of the civil rights and black liberation movement of the 60's & 70's, individuals who've inspired hope and courage in a generation to fight for dignity; the dignity and freedom of EVERY human being.
The very fact that these leaders, held in such high regard in the history of most African-Americans, were assassinated, imprisoned, and / or driven into exile for speaking out against racism, classism, unjust wars, and the social and economic injustices of their era, I expected some kind of response from self-appointed black leaders like Al Sharpton, The NAACP, etc to the offensive remarks made by the governor. Sadly, it seems to have went over OUR heads, or was simply ignored.
However, in an article published in the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper after Ajamu's execution, I was delighted to find an address to the community, authored by one of Ajamu's close comrades, Ajani. It included a swift response to the governor's ignorant remarks.
"This pattern of criminalization and vilifying black leaders and personages is an old one... The retaliatory targeting of prison writers has a clear objective: to intimidate and discourage those voices willing to expose violations of basic human rights, and the degrading conditions in prison."
It is relevant to mention that this subsequent article was one of a series of published articles he has co-authored in response to the ongoing harassment by prison officials, aimed at disrupting their writing projects. Not only had he and several other individuals been isolated in the Adjustment Center at San Quentin (death row's Security Housing Unit --- SHU) just days prior to the December 13th, 2005 execution of Ajamu, but over the past six years they've (prison officials) kept them there. On the allegation of conspiracy to assault staff in retaliation to the execution, staff continues their protracted targeting of these men. For what? For expressing themselves with the same truth and courage as our late ancestors did. They face threats of "gang validation", long-term isolation, disruption of their mail, cancellation of visits, cell searches, and confiscation of personal property.
For decades, prison officials have exercised the arbitrary and illegal use of practices like indeterminate solitary confinement in Security Housing Units (SHU's), physical and psychological torture, "jacketing", character assassination, informants (snitches), and the above-listed threats of "gang validation" as repressive strategies to bridle outspoken activism and the influence of potential leaders. Unity and solidarity amongst prisoners puts prison officials on edge, and an increase in politically conscious prisoner movements certainly place the whole damn system "on notice".
State and prison authorities know that just beneath the surface of the criminalization, gangsterism, chaos, and violence, lies a collective consciousness and a history of revolutionary struggle against this prison system that has yet to be forgotten. A potential Malcolm X, George Jackson, and the likes; a spirit that is still very much alive today.
Recent work strikes of Georgia State Prisoners and the hunger strikes of California's Pelican Bay State Prison SHU prisoners, is a significant example reminiscent of organized counter strategy. Every race and affiliation were able to unite and participate in these demonstrations. In most cases, prison activists outside, as well as friends and family of the incarcerated, caught prison officials completely off guard, organizing rallies along with solidarity-based hunger strikes and in Georgia, prisoners used mobile phones to coordinate their activities from prison to prison and throughout the state. At an Ohio State Prison, death row inmates protesting the cruel and inhuman conditions of their confinement in isolation were able to communicate and organize nationwide support. They took to social media websites like facebook and twitter along with emails, letters, and articles posted on prisoner support organization bulletin boards.
40 years ago, the organized resistance of California prisoners against a racist prison system, and the historic rebellion at Attica Prison in New York, inspired the growth of the early prisoners' rights movement. As part of a nationwide offensive by Federal & State law enforcement and prison officials, measures were taken to stifle prison activism, targeting prisoners social and political movements, ideological beliefs and applications to the black liberation movement. Much of our generation, those of us born in the 60's and 70's, are the immediate result of the same repressive measures that targeted the prisoners' rights movement and black liberation movement, respectively. Those of us who're familiar with the history of COINTELPRO, and the discriminatory profiling, "gang" validation, injunctions, and enhancement of law, can see how similar methods are being used to criminalize a new generation -- young and old.
We need not look back to the 60's and 70's to find a cause or the motivation to become "political" or more conscious about who we are and where we're at. It's going down right now! Awake or sleep on it, we're in this. Those of us who're still preoccupied with the "back in the day" way of things and those out-moded ways of thinking. Watching the the game change but not seeing it. We can romanticize the idea of revolution, the words of revolutionaries, their sacrifices and that warrior ethos, but if we lack the heart and mind to do today what they did yesterday, to at least educate others and set an example, then that knowledge is of no use.
In war and in struggle (as in life) it's necessary to change tactics in order to achieve our objectives; in order to not repeat the mistakes of the past, and so that history may be a guide for a new future. I believe that now is a time for the kind of quality self-leadership, vision, and sacrifice that inspires those around us, to really begin thinking in a new way.
This first issue of WOD is dedicated to the living memory of Troy Davis (whose life was taken as I wrote this piece), and to the late Ajamu.
I extend my respect and gratitude to those who're a part of this collective effort, especially those "young elders" (5-20 years my senior) here on the row for your confidence and contributions to this project. You've encouraged others through your positive examples --- including me. Carry On Tradition.
* The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration In the Age of Colorblindness, by: Michelle Alexander
* Blue Rage, Black Redemption, by Stanley "Tookie" Williams
* Writing Under Fire : Resisting The Regime by Anthony Ross (Ajani) (article -- SFBAYVIEW)
* Another Definition of a Soldier, by S.K.S. Tabansi (article -- Anti-Racist Action / LA)
[Hieroglyphic-like image of three people. The middle person is standing and has broken handcuffs on their wrists. The two people on either side are sitting and have their hands handcuffed behind their back.]
[Text] The title of the the design, Awake and Rise Up is from a passage in ancient egyptian text "The book of coming forth by day" called "The Awakening" in it, it describes the deads conscious departure from this life to the afterlife.
The idea of this design is that, for many of us, death is a state of mind as well. A condition - miseducation. Self destructive ignorance and behavior and hopelessness. The setting is the prison system and environment (CDC- California department of corrections) in a county that leads the world in its prison population, with disproportionate number of young black men locked down (1 in 9 between the age of 20-34). It represents the mental awakening and liberation achieved through true knowledge of self, history and reality, breaking the chains or our conditioning, and giving us the potential and power to transcend into a state of consciousness - "Life"
"The Road to Solidarity"
The Death Row Inmate Project is an evolving workstation which continues to blossom out of the calls for solidarity.
Many people have said that capital punishment is ultimately caused by a storm of vengeful racism and the killing of poor people, U.S.-led capitalism on a whole different level, a legacy of slavery and servitude which affects the disproportionately impoverished.
Reading this, I'm guessing that the assertions may seem at the outset, outrageous.
Listen when I tell you, they are not. I am condemned to death by lethal injection for a crime unfamiliar to me on so many levels. This platform at DRI, is a way for marginalized voices like mine to be heard. Spencer and I have found a way to lend an ear to the men and women of death rows around the world, to share the images of destruction with our readers, images that have cut into the meat of our hearts --- inspiring stories of resistance and hope combined with visions of survival.
We've met incredible people who have told us about their families and their lives, stories of tragedy and what their loved-ones mean to them --- people who through their personal stories, have helped us understand the depth and breadth of this and other atrocities.
So too, we've been blessed to collaborate with some quality like-minded agencies and their incredible committed activists, folks with energy and skills who aside from their "normal 9 to 5" share immense creativity and even bigger hearts. People who stand in solidarity.
We want to say that we're not writing this as if we've got it all figured out, because we don't. We definitely have our work cut out for us as we continue to find our way through the maze of power, wealth, and privilege which keeps this machinery of vengeance up and running. Speaking from our very own perspectives enjoined by over 40% of the globe's population in vehement opposition to the death penalty, our analysis and first hand experiences have helped us develop this framework. We need to put this on the table, because we believe it's important for our readers to identify with our struggle and those of our friends and neighbors behind these myriad walls.
No matter how well-intentioned, privilege seems to "hijack" solidarity and imperils ones' capacity to explore options, even as we mobilize to support the communities and families who wrestle with being afflicted on some level with capital punishment---blatant criminalization and legalized terror at tremendous costs to taxpayers.
There's a meaningful distinction (at least for us) in maintaining the heartbeat of DRI's evolution and how it is that we've found a niche to educate and inform the public by sharing critical resources with those looking to reconnect (or stay connected) with humanity. Sad to say, there's a justifiable component in confronting the greed and tyranny of prison interest lobbies, politicians, and those who continue to build magnificent careers upon the brittle bones of the condemned across the globe.
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