By Ben Hall
The temperature hasn’t broken 90 yet this summer but it feels rather hot in my cell just now. We are on lockdown, there is no movement inside the prison save nurses carrying medications cell to cell and the bulls walking the tiers. When I came to prison the term “lockdown” took on a whole new definition. I try to think of a good context for lockdown and all I can hope is some girl somewhere has my heart on lockdown although she doesn’t know it. Most of the time we go on lockdown for incidents of violence but today’s lockdown is a purpose of an entirely different animal, a pre-violent incidence if you will.
The state of Oregon is conducting a practice run on carrying out an execution. Last month the warden told us not to be alarmed that even though it’s been postponed he assured us his staff will be ready to make sure this execution is carried out humanely with the utmost dignity and efficiency. So WE ARE ON LOCKDOWN!
But more than just lock and key, steel making love to steel. We are on lockdown from compassion and humanity to methodically and allegedly humanly, premeditatedly kill someone after spending millions to keep them there for years. My eyes are on lockdown from shedding the tears I so desperately desire to release because pride and ego in the men around me have who they really want to be on lockdown. Their hopes and dreams are on lockdown. My longing for intimate touch is on lockdown; apathy permeates while empathy is on lockdown. It could be that insanity for those on death row is on a fragile lockdown that could explode like shard of metal in a roadside bomb without a moments notice. Who people really are in the dark when no sees, is on lockdown.
If I had a microphone I would implant it in the Warden’s head along with the cruelest men I know around me so I could hear their unspoken thoughts they have on lockdown then maybe I could find the key to set them free. We are on LOCKDOWN!
This systemic issue presents “crime” as an evil to be eradicated at all costs rather than critically examining the reasons behind those invented social transgressions. It is one that divides and conquers through some mythic “enemy” (poverty, crime, drugs, terror, etc.) so as to avoid dealing with the real issues and the underlying problem. This issue has led to the largest imprisonment of human beings this world has ever known and the murder of countless numbers of innocent people.
Marisol LeBrón articulates that the system of policing—as well as the severely disparate distribution of access, opportunity, and violence that it maintains—works to preserve the “genocidal notion that not all lives are livable and not all deaths grievable.” We are reminded that it is not an isolated, irrational exception within an otherwise “rational system” that entire communities are subjected to constant intimidation, humiliation, disregard and abuse by the police they are expected to place all trust in, or that the uniformed officers tasked “to protect and serve” the white population play the role of an occupying army in neighborhoods where Black and Brown children are raised and educated.
These racialized bodies are routinely slain in cold blood and sustain lifelong injuries by the singular source of legitimate force recognized by the state. They are taken from their families and put into cages, determined unfit to rejoin society without enduring surveillance, micromanagement and limitations placed around where and how they may exist. They are then depicted to be monsters by the media, so that the guttural fear police officers claim after an altercation is made public may be understood to be justifiable.
The issue we face is policing itself. If we accept mass incarceration and continue to believe that band-aids in the form of police reform policies will be enough to put an end to the ongoing and unrelenting harm and deprivation endured by communities of color and low-income people across the United States, in the words of Justin Hansford, “the only values we will be transmitting to the next generation are a lazy willingness to clothe a wolf in sheep’s clothing and a moral vacuity to keep punting the key racial justice of our time.”
To know how to resist oppression and where to focus education and activism, one has to be aware of the problem from a personal perspective. Policing the Planet offers insight into gaining that perspective. Our fellow human should not be targeted or profiled due to the color of their skin, or arrested due to being unable to provide for themself or their family. Let us all forgive and teach, include and heal.
By Ben Hall, 2014
With every breath I draw,
in sunrise or the moonlight,
a silent fury is rising in me.
Not another drop of my sweat
for the prison industrial complex
A worthless dollar in my bank account
Don’t bother coming to fetch me,
when you rack those soulless mechanical doors,
in your modern day slave quarter.
No quarter will be given
when I come to drop you at my feet
with the dollar in your clenched fist.
Fear is the fire I warm my hands in.
The smoke and hot lead of revolution
is coursing through my veins.
My life isn’t yours to own.
My freedom is a fortress you can’t touch
Freedom alone holds me
like the moon holds the ocean tide
From John Henry to Rosa Parks
From M.L.K. to Rubin Hurricane Carter
To the names of Attica’s fallen soldiers,
etched beneath forced labor’s cemetery stones,
where greed’s masters danced upon their bones,
to Mandela and Albie Sachs
To the miles of unmarked graves
beneath Georgia State Penitentiary,
whose voices…we carry
You won’t silence us Jim Crow
or make us your second-class citizens,
Your time has come.
By Joshua Wright
It’s my third holiday season in prison and I can’t help but think about the previous two…
The first one I was still suffering the effects of shock after being found guilty at trial due to the jury being able to look past the words mistakenly spoken about me and the District Attorney’s desire to sustain his conviction rate. I constantly ruminated on all the plans I had prior to my arrest, now irrelevant.
In the single cell I had on “3 South” at the Lane County Jail, Christmas didn’t exist outside of the thoughts and memories, still intact after my fall [conviction]. I experienced 23-hour lockdown allowed out only 1 hour a day to shower and make a phone call. I had a window at the back of my cell just wide enough to see out, yet it faced merely another wall of the jail. There were no televisions, no radios, nothing of the world around us besides those blessed enough to get letters.
I took those repetitive holidays songs on the local radio stations and banal television ads geared to sell us everything from new cars to jewelry for granted. I never realized what the piano notes playing in the background of a commercial for some new medication could mean for someone who’s been without music for an extended period of time. In solitary confinement images of families waking up on Christmas morning to open presents crossed my psyche simultaneously making me feel happy for them and sorry for myself.
I fast forward in my memory to last year’s Thanksgiving, my first beyond jail, in prison. I don’t eat meat, but I was given a half-inch slab of donated ham for lunch as our holiday meal. I opted to trade if for some peanut butter from a fellow prisoner at the four-person steel table we had the honor of celebrating Thanksgiving at. Otherwise, I’d have to resort to beans on the veggie trays for my protein, which have never been cooked properly nor have ever had any taste to them in the two years I’ve been at this institution. I guess I should have been thankful they feed us at all.
The day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, I received a visit from my sister and brother-in-law. They drove down from the outskirts of Seattle to see me and I got to hear how their meal was, what they did and what they ate. Forbidden fruit always sounds the most appealing and the meal my sister spoke of was no exception.
I’ve heard people say that after the first holidays inside you become reasonably numb to the separation and loss of being away from your family. Over years that rift can become permanent. On this holiday season, let us not forget those that have been deemed by the masses as “less than”. Us felons are worthy of forgiveness, of respect, of honor and of love …. and we haven’t forgotten you. …
On February 1, 2017, prisoners at Vaughn Correctional in Smyrna, Delaware offered the following explanation for their takeover:
“We’re trying to explain the reasons for doing what we’re doing. Donald Trump. Everything that he did. All the things that he’s doing now. We know that the institution is going to change for the worse. We know the institution is going to change for the worse. We got demands that you need to pay attention to, that you need to listen to and you need to let them know. Education, we want education first and foremost. We want a rehabilitation program that works for everybody. We want the money to be allocated so we can know exactly what is going on in the prison, the budget.”
We at Liberation Literacy offer the following message of solidarity to those at Vaughn:
“To those who are asking for basic human needs such as education and information on budgetary expenditures, albeit using the effective yet unrefined method of hostile takeover, we wish we could be of assistance.
We know the dehumanization that is forced upon us through involuntary submission and how hard it is to simply speak at all. Be the voice that they have taken. Never cease being silent.”
Congratulations to Shane, Liberation Literacy’s first graduate and winner of the Flo Kennedy achievement award for always keeping it real.
What prisons were initially designed to do, and what they have morphed into due to a capitalist agenda has nothing to do with providing us with safety and a better society, and everything to do with more money and oppression. Don’t just accept our criminal system for what it is, we are being incarcerated at a higher rate than anybody else in the world! Stop and ask yourself, WHY? Pick up this book and others like it so you can make an investment in a better America, because at the rate we are going, yourself or someone you know and love will be incarcerated, then what?