Update, 19 Dec. 1998.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently voted to confirm the death sentence on Mumia. There has been a reawakening of the campaign to save his life. There is a nationwide demo on April 24 1999.
The campaign to save Mumia Abu-Jamal showed that we can have an effect. At the time of writing, he is still in jail, still under sentence of death, but the sentence was postponed because of the protests. Though the media blocked out news of such events as the blockade of the Brooklyn Bridge, the mini-riot in San Francisco and the militant demonstrations around the governors' conference in Burlington, Vermont, the federal and state judicial system certainly took notice of the international campaign of demos, vigils, phone calls, letters and direct action. Mumia looks forward to an appeal against what tens of thousands now know was a blatant frame-up. We won't be satisfied til Mumia is back on the streets, exposing the murdering police of Philadelphia. Keep up the pressure! More information about Mumia's case can be obtained from, among other places, Equal Justice USA, PO Box 5206, Hyattsville, MD 20782.
If there is a number one priority, it is the fight against the judicial system. This is a list of other prisoners and organisations who would benefit from our support. Trivial things like postage stamps make a lot of difference to prisoners, whose income is to say the least limited. Stamps should be sent in a whole book, and at the top of the accompanying letter, you should write "Encl: book of stamps" or what else the letter contains. Most importantly, political prisoners can be helped by knowing that people on the outside are thinking about them. It makes it harder for the authorities to isolate them when they see letters from supporters coming in.
Much of the latest information about prisoners in the USA can be obtained from Raze the Walls, PO Box 22774, Seattle, WA 98122-0774, together with a far more comprehensive list of support organisations. The following advice on writing to prisoners was also extracted from Raze the Walls:
1) Please forget any preconceptions or stereotypes you may have of people in prison. They are no different from people outside of prison.
2) In your first letter, explain a little about why you are writing and ask if the person would like to be writing to you. Introduce yourself, describe yourself, your family, your work, where you live, and also the concern which leads you to write.
3) Feel free to ask questions about prison life, about the person's interests, where they are from, whether they have any appeals in progress, etc..
4) Do not ask right away about "the crime", but let them volunteer that information.
5) It is good to ask questions, because it gives the person something to respond to, but do not ask too many at once especially in the first letter. Let trust build between you, and always try to share as much about yourself as you ask the other person to share.
6) If you feel you will only be able to write, for example, monthly, make this clear to the prisoner. It is important to not promise things that you will not be able to follow through.
7) If you want to send things like books, stamps, stationary, or food, ask first whether the person wants them, whether they will be allowed to enter the prison and how they will need to be sent.
8) The person may ask you to send money. If you feel good about that, then send it. Never feel obliged to respond to a request for money, and always respond honestly. If you do send money, be sure to find out in what form it must be sent, and if you need to be on a special list to send it.
9) You may want to visit this person in addition to writing, that would be great! Just ask him/her whether they want you to visit and what the hours and restrictions are.
10) Save letters from the prisoner as they could be helpful in their appeals process or clemency hearings.
Another useful source of information is Prison Legal News, PO Box 1684, Lake Worth, FL 33460.
Books or donations (US money orders) to Books for Prisoners projects are much appreciated. There is always work to be done, so if you live near one, volunteer.
Books to Prisoners, Box A, 92 Pike St, Seattle, WA 98101.
Books through Bars, New Society Publishers, 4527 Springfield Ave, Philadelphia, PA.
Prison Book Program, 92 Green St., Jamaica Pl, MA 02130.
Prison Reading Project, c/o Paz Press, PO Box 3146 Fayetteville, AR 72702.
Books for Prisoners, Bound Together Books, 1369 Haight St., San Francisco, CA 94117.
Books to Prisoners, 315 Cambie St, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6B 2N4.
Information about prisoners and prison struggles in Britain can be obtained from: Taking Liberties, c/o 121 Railton Rd, London, SE24 0LP. Donations are of course solicited.
Katherine Power. In 1970, at the height of the revolutionary class movement which ended the Vietnam war, many people were involved in armed robberies to support the poor, bombings of Officer Training Corps, and so on. Katherine Power was one of them. She and her comrades robbed a bank, and in the process a policeman was fatally injured. For 23 years she lived under false identities, raising a son (now 17) and ended up running a restaurant in Corvallis, Oregon. For whatever reason, in 1993 she decided to bargain with the authorities for her surrender. She got eight to twelve years. One of the conditions her lawyer negotiated was that she serve her time near her family in Oregon. This condition was broken. The latest address we have for her is : c/o MCI-Framingham, PO Box 9007, Framingham, MA 01701-9007.
Jerry Dale Lowe. During the 1993 miners' strike, scab contractor Eddie York was shot dead at Arch Mineral's Ruffner mine in West Virginia. Jerry Lowe was charged with federal firearms violations, and seven other miners were charged with lesser offences. Lowe got 10 years 11 months. The United Mine Workers of America's officials at the scene persuaded the reluctant strikers to give statements to the police without lawyers being present. The union divided the miners, getting some of them to testify against Lowe. The UMWA's president condemned picket-line violence and the union never printed a word about the case, trying to isolate Lowe and the others. Unfortunately, most of Lowe's supporters are icepick-heads who won't reply to letters about the case. Honest information can be obtained from Collective Action Notes, POB 22962, Balto. MD 21203. The latest address we have for Lowe is : c/o South Central Regional Jail, 1001 Center Way, Charleston, West Virginia 25309.
Notwithstanding the above comments about Trots, another political prisoner who should be supported is a member of the Socialist Workers Party, Mark Curtis. He was arrested for rape and burglary on March 4, 1988, and sentenced to 25 years. The charges are ridiculous. He was framed up because he was active in the struggle of meatpackers. More details can be obtained from Mark Curtis Defense Committee, Box 1048, Des Moines, IA 50311.
Julio Wicks #79367 Unit 32B, Parchman, MS 38738, is an important prisoner activist. More details about Julio can be found on the Letters Page. (Julio Wicks has now been released).
Pelican Bay is a notorious modern prison in Northern California, with perspex barriers instead of bars, and a reputation for brutality. With a total population of 3500, Pelican Bay has had 3 prisoners shot dead, 2 of whom were not the ones at whom the screws were aiming. Another 21 prisoners have been hit by gun shots. Pepper spray is also frequently used at point-blank range. Currently various lawsuits are being taken out against the authorities by various prisoners, and even judges have found most of their complaints justified. A highly informative newsletter can be obtained from Pelican Bay Information Project, 2489 Mission St. 28, San Francisco, CA 94110.
Ernie Lotches is a Klamath/Modoc Indian who is currently on death row in Oregon, wrongly convicted of aggravated homicide. On 22 August 1992, Ernie was confronted by an Economic Improvement Department security guard. After being approached and provoked by the security guard's excessive use of force, a gunfight erupted. After being fired on repeatedly Ernie Lotches was forced to return fire. In the armed confrontation the EID security guard was killed. In such a shootout, there is no way a jury could be certain that one of the parties was guilty of first-degree murder, but that is what happened, due to numerous irregularities in the trial, details of which can be obtained from the Ernie Lotches Defense Fund, PO Box 3022, Salem, OR 97302. Ernie Lotches is #3649258 at Oregon State Penitentiary, 2605 State St., Salem, OR 97310.
Can't Jail the Spirit is a list of American left-wing political prisoners, though somewhat out of date. A new edition would be useful. The editors argue against support for "right wing" prisoners. This shows the dangers involved in the terms "left" and "right". Politics is no longer as simple as that, if it ever was. We support those imprisoned after the Waco massacre, as much as the MOVE 9 from Philadelphia, imprisoned after a similar massacre (see article in last issue). We support them both because we don't want the state to get away with murdering or imprisoning whoever it wants. For the same reason, we oppose moral panics, whether by Christians against gays, or liberals against "hate groups".
Can't Jail the Spirit, Biographies of US Political Prisoners, Editorial El Coqui, October 1992. 1671 N. Claremont, Chicago IL 60647.
Michael New is a 22 year old Army Medic. He refuses to go to Bosnia ostensibly because he will not serve under UN rather than US command. In other words, his opposition appears to be right wing, patriotic and populist. But some of the Gulf War refusers objected to the war on what they claimed were religious grounds. We don't agree with black Muslims either. We support opponents of the war machine, virtually regardless of ideology. The Michael New Defense Fund is at PO Box 1136, Crestwood, Kentucky 40014.
EXECUTIONERS FOR EQUALITY
Since the restoration of the death penalty in the USA in 1976, nearly 40% of those grilled in the electric chair, shot by firing squad, or injected with poison by the state have been black. In the interests of equality, Rep. Don Edwards (D-CA) wants to ensure that execution is more evenly applied: "As the Congress prepares to undertake a general restoration and expansion of the federal death penalty, we need to ensure that the procedures are in place to prevent and remedy this kind of racial bias". The noble goal of Equality is taken seriously in America. Sexual inequality in the workplace was combated by reducing men's salaries to bring them in line with women's. Now racism in the execution industry is to be addressed by frying more white people.
The blatantly racist nature of the judicial system is one of the major causes of resistance against it. The biggest prison uprising in the USA for years erupted on 19 October 1995 in response to the refusal of Congress to heed the request of the Sentencing Commission to reduce the enormous disparity between sentences for possession of cocaine powder and crack cocaine. The uprisings started at Talladega in Alabama. At Allenwood, Pennsylvania, 150 inmates tore up the dining hall. In Memphis, according to Reuters, prisoners set fire to housing units. In response, the government ordered 90,000 prisoners to remain in their cells in 70 federal prisons across the nation, with only cold meals, and no visits or phone calls. This provoked the one-day uprising at Greenville, Illinois, which was put down by guards and SWAT police, despite which, the uprisings continued to spread. For example, the prisoners at Lewis Run, Pennsylvania, seized four cell blocks on 24 October.
Crack is the only drug that carries a mandatory federal prison sentence for mere possession. Conviction for possession of five grams of crack guarantees five years without parole, even for first time offenders. In contrast, it takes five hundred grams of powder coke to get the mandatory five years. Crack and powder are different, and arguably, crack is more addictive. But the 100-1 disparity has nothing to do with the medical facts. It is obviously a reflection of the fact that most coke users are white, and most crack users, black. Even the conviction rates reflect the fact this. 88% of those convicted for crack are black, 27% for coke.
The "war on drugs" has nothing to do with cutting down on violence and overdoses. That could only be achieved by legalising the whole business. It has everything to do with keeping the poor divided and easily policed. It is widely believed, with good reason, that the authorities deliberately introduced heroin into communities of resistance in the late sixties (mostly black ghettos, but also hide-outs for draft dodgers like the Haight in San Francisco). Certainly, the CIA is widely involved in the international drug trade, as numerous exposures (Iran/Contra, Noriega, etc.) prove. The ruling class isn't interested in stopping the drug trade, but in encouraging it, making a profit out of it, using it to blackmail addicts into becoming police informants, using the violence and theft as a rationale for military intervention at home and abroad, but most importantly, keeping the poor fighting each other instead of the bosses.
The fact that execution is not primarily intended as a deterrent is illustrated by a recent case in South Carolina. Susan Smith was found guilty of murdering her two young sons, and the prosecution called for the death penalty. This is not because they think it will deter other mothers from killing their children ("I was going to shoot my two, but when I considered the electric chair, I changed my mind. Now, if it was only life imprisonment..."), but because it satisfies the deep rooted need for a fair punishment. What could be more just than a fair exchange, a life for a life? Swayed by sentiment rather than logic, the jury settled for life imprisonment.