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Imprisoned Intellectuals

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Imprisoned Intellectuals
America’s Political Prisoners Write on
Life, Liberation, and Rebellion

Edited by Joy James


Lanham Boulder New Ymk Oxford

Published in the United States of America
by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
A Member of the Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group
4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706

P.O. Box 317, Oxford OX2 9RU, United Kingdom
Copyright 0 2003 by Joy James
Royalties are reserved for educational initiatives on human rights and U.S. incarceration.
AU nghts resowed. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system,
or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.
British Library CataIoguing in Publication Information Available
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Imprisoned intellectuals . America's political prisoners write on life,
liberation, and rebellion / edited by Joy James.
p. cm.-(Transformative politics series)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-7425-2026-9 (cloth : alk. paper)-ISBN 0-7425-2027-7 (pbk. :
alk. paper)
1. Prisoners-United States-Biography.
2. Political
prisoners-United States-Biography.
3. Intellectuals-United
States-Biography. 4. Government, Resistance to-United States. 5.
Political crimes and offenses-United States. I. James, Joy, [date] 11.
HV9468 .I49 2003

Printed in the United States of America

@ TMThepaper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American
National Standard for Information Sciences-Permanence of Paper for Printed Library
Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992.

This work is dedicated to those ancestors, elders, and
youths who seek, struggle, and suffer for freedom;
and to all who filter their desire to abo; lish
slavery and social death through compassion
for the fragility of life and love.

This Page Intentionally Left Blank







Joy James


Emma Goldman

Martin Luther King, Jr.


Malcolm X

Angela Y. Davis

Huey P. Newton

George Jackson






6 Dhoruba Bin Wahad


7 Jalil Abdul Muntaqim

8 Assata Shakur



9 Safiya Bukhari-Alston
10 Sundiata Acoli


11 Lorenzo Komboa Ervin


12 Mumia Abu-Jamal



13 Mutulu Shakur, Anthony X. Bradshaw, Malik Dinguswa, Terry Long,

Mark Cook, Adolfo Matos, and James Haskins
Biography of Mutulu Shakur




14 Marilyn Buck

15 Rita Bo Brown




16 Raymond Luc Levasseur

17 Daniel J. Berrigan, S.J.


18 Michele Naar-Obed

19 Linda Evans, Susan Rosenberg, and Laura Whitehorn



20 JosC Solis Jordan

21 Elizam Escobar

22 Standing Deer

23 Leonard Peltier

A Poem by Marilyn Buck


23 1
28 1









About the Editor


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Divisive debates over who “qualifies” as a U.S. political prisoner, and what means
should be used for liberation, have been raging for decades; obviously, they will not
be resolved here. Still, deeply held views influenced my shaping of this project and
the editing of many of the essays presented here. First, I find that definitions commonly used to discuss U.S. “political prisoners” tend to be overly inclusive and simplistic. Therefore, I reject the following as inherently limited designations for
“political prisoner”: any incarcerated individual who self-defines as such; anyone
the state labels as a “criminal” or “terrorist”; and anyone the state politically discriminates against through differential enforcement of laws, racially and economically driven sentencing regimes, and prison treatment. Of course, the above
categories apply to many of the writers in this volume. Yet that in itself is not what
qualifies them as progressive “political prisoners”-for the question of political
agency for a greater democracy remains to be addressed.
The refusal to politically romanticize criminals reflects narrow self-interest and
broader communal goals. Regarding self-interest, the criminal for profit or entertainment (your neighbor, nephew, stockbroker, or statesman)-with less fervor
than the white supremacists who engineered the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing
or the religious extremists who executed the 1993 and 2001 World Trade Center
bombings-furthers the demise of me and my kin. Black women demanding political, economic, intellectual, and sexual freedoms are considered legitimate “targets”
by various insurrectionists of varied ideologies. Personal interests are compatible
with political goals: Any group or individual seeking domination-whether racial,
religious, and sexual or economic, political, and international-is the enemy of a
liberated society.
Unlike progressive radicals and revolutionaries (politically, “radical” is not synonymous with “extremist”), reactionaries are restorers-rather than transform the
current order, they seek to reimpose or reinvigorate old orders of supremacy. Reactionary political prisoners or prisoners of war (apprehended by the state, they can
also be classified as “unlawful combatants” and so denied the protection of internaxi



tional or national norms) are not the subject of this volume. In fact, the volume’s
contributors are designated not only “enemies of the state”’ but also enemies of the
reactionaries at war with the state.
As progressive political prisoners or prisoners of war, revolutionary “enemies of
the state” differ from reactionary “enemies of the state.” The former expand, while
the latter oppose, democratic freedoms. (Centralizing power with corporate and
military elites and violating human rights, the state has also proven itself an adversary to democracy.) Progressive “combatants” who resisted state repression in selfdefensive or offensive acts that inadvertently caused the loss of life cannot be easily
dismissed as “terrorists” by confining them-conceptually or physically-with
racial, ideological, or religious supremacists.
One need not argue that the “enemy of my enemy is my friend.” It is reasonable
to refuse friendship to a “protective” imperialist state expanding police and war
powers, a fearful society with slight regard for civilian losses or “collateral damage”
that are not “white” or “American.” Likewise, it is more than reasonable to condemn an insurrectionary terrorist (alter ego to a state terrorist?) who targets civilians in asymmetrical warfare.
T h e following writings by progressive political prisoners as intellectuals function
as documentary history/political manifesto/theoretical treatises. This work chronicles the turbulent liberation struggles in the United States beginning and ending
with spiritual prophets: respectively, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and Lakota
warrior and artist Leonard Peltier. The discussion (debate) of what constitutes a
US. political prisoner is best understood within a larger historical context of repression and resistance. That context, unfortunately, cannot be adequately developed
within the confines of this book. However, we can note four key aspects about the
historical trajectory of rebellion from oppressed peoples within the United States.
First, throughout American history, “criminals” are racially invented in the public mind; thus, entire communities or peoples are “criminalized.”2 Criminality is
considered to be nonconformity; nonconformity is often determined not merely by
behavior but also by biology or appearance. Bodies that fail to conform to “whiteness’’ are treated differently under state or police gaze. Greater obedience is
demanded from-and greater violence is used against-those whose physical difference marks them as offensive or threatening. Racially driven policing and sentencing for both social crime and political rebellion mean that African Americans don’t
do “white time.” Compared to their European American counterparts, they disproportionately serve longer sentences under more severe conditions.
Second, the tradition of armed slave insurrections and maroon societies of indigenous and African fugitives in the Americas established a historical consciousness
that would, a century later, infuse the women and men in the Black Panther Party,
the Black Liberation Army, and the white anti-imperialist movements.3 Likewise,
the military resistance of indigenous peoples and leaders such as Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull, and Geronimo imprinted the American Indian Movement.
Third, as did the nineteenth-century slave and indigenous rebellions, twentieth-



century anticolonial struggles tempered both pacifists and armed combatants.
During the post-World War I1 era, traditional imperialism unraveled as the
oppressed in Africa, Asia, and Latin America waged insurrections in national liberation movements that reverberated into the United States. Consequently, India’s
Mohandas Gandhi influenced Martin Luther King, Jr., while the Congo’s freedom
fighter and president Patrice Lumumba influenced Malcolm X. U.S. domestic
rebellions were international in scope and effect as well. The U.S. government
understood this as it developed its response through infamous and assassinationprone “intelligence programs” such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s
COINTELPR04 and the Central Intelligence Agency; both police institutions were
used to destabilize domestic dissent.
Fourth, some readers might tend to overemphasize the discussions of armed struggle that appear prominently in the first half of this anthology. However, a careful
reading of contemporary U.S. history reveals that radical organizations garnered
wide support based on their ability to address the material needs and aspirations, as
well as ideals, of their communities. For example, reservation, barrio, or urban
youths were (and are) disaffected by and overwhelmed with frustration at dead-end
jobs, poverty, inferior and disciplinary schooling, and police violence. It is logical
then that the Black Panther Party, Brown Berets, Young Lords, Young Patriots, and
American Indian Movement would have mass appeal among the young. While the
majority media focused on the armed aspect of such groups, it was their free breakfast programs, free medical clinics, freedom schools, and social services that elicited
wide support. They offered an alternative to the state; and by their massive appeal
in oppressed communities, they presented the government with the real threat of
popular insurrection guided by revolutionaries. Hence, the governmental fear which
produced COINTELPRO’s illegal, outrageous, and murderous acts also became a
“rational choice” for maintaining dominance. Likewise when New York governor
Nelson Rockefeller used the National Guard to brutally suppress the 1971 Attica
prison rebellion, it was not just the physical assault (with makeshift knives and
clubs) on state and police authority that was repelled, but the political agency of
prisoners collectively organizing to demand safe and sanitary living conditions,
decent food, and reasonable rather than “slave” wages for their labor. (The Attica
Manifesto as well as other writings can be found on the Imprisoned lntelkctuals website:
When not waged as merely episodic raging against injustice, civil disobedience
and rebellion inevitably raise the question, “What is revolutionary?”Ofcourse, that
question cannot be adequately addressed within the limited context of this collection (or likely any other). However, a few observations can be made. Revolutionaries are distinct from radicals and insurrectionists even when they share the same
progressive desires to end military, racial, economic, or sexual domination. Revolution encompasses and surpasses radicalism and rebellion to pursue a greater objective: freedoms safeguarded by institutions. Rather than merely revolt against
repressive hierarchies or disobey unjust laws and customs, revolutionary politics



seeks to build new structures and norms. Hence, revolutionaries are more feared
than radicals or even insurrectionists (who tend to have little allegiance to the
state) by governing structures and elites.
It is worth noting that neither crime nor violence is inherently revolutionary.
(Capitalism in the Americas is predicated on the theft of land and labor and the
mass murder of indigenous and African peoples.) Yet caged in penal sites because
of criminal or violent acts, prisoners can be transformed into revolutionaries. Just
as in civil society, state criminality and violence can transform law-abiding citizens
into revolutionaries.
Not all rebels favor insurrection or revolution. Demands for a total transformation of the state are rarely sustained even among progressives, although such
demands flare periodically with public outrage at government excess. What historian Vincent Harding notes of nineteenth-century slave-turned-abolitionist Frederick Douglass applies to twenty-first-century radicals and prison abolitionists:
He could n o t - o r would not-sharpen and maintain those occasional radical insights
which at times had led him to see the involvement of the American people, the American institutions, and the American government in the steel-like web of racism, exploitative economics, and fear which formed the basic undergirding of slavery. For it was
not the call to armed insurrection which was the hallmark of antebellum black radicalism, but a careful capacity to see the entire American government, and the institutions
and population which it represented, as the basic foe of any serious black struggle,
whatever its form might take. It was America, not simply slaveholders, which needed
to be transformed, and above all the government and its institution^.^

This volume is based on the convictiondisturbing to many-that the United
States and its governing institutions, not just its penal sites rife with human rights
abuses, need to be transformed. Here, activists incarcerated for deeds criminalized
by the United States appeal to the U S . constitution, international law, morality,
and religious faith to transform life on both sides of the razor wire. Insights into
insurrection, rebellion, and liberation require that we engage with their works, both
their contributions and contradictions. Refusing to position imprisoned intellectuals as icons, this collection presents them as gateways to avenues that bypass a pantheon in a difficult journey toward liberation movements.

1. See the pamphlet by European American, anti-imperialist political prisoners Marilyn
Buck, David Gilbert, and Laura Whitehorn, Enemies of the State (Brooklyn: Resistance in
Brooklyn, 1999, 2d printing), editor’s papers.
2. For analyses of how people are criminalized based on race, see Jerome G. Miller, Search
und Destroy: Afncan American Maks in the Criminal Justice System (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1996); Luana Ross, Inventing the Sawge: The Socid Construction of Native



American Crimidty (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998); and Beth Richie, Comgekd
to Crime (New York: Routledge, 1995).
3. For scholarly works on the history of armed struggle against enslavement, see Vincent
Harding, There Is a Riuer: The Black Struggle fur Freedom in America (New York: Vintage
Books, 1983); Thomas Higginson, Black RebeUion: A Selection from Trauelkrs and Outlaws
(New York: Arno Press, 1969, rprt.; New York Lee and Shepard Publishers, 1889); Herbert
Aptheker, American Negro Slave Revolts (New York: Columbia University Press, 1944, 2d
printing). For works on resistance to the criminalization of African Americans or “blackness,” see Ida B. Wells, Southem Horrurs and Other Writings (Boston: Bedford, 1997); Herbert
Shapiro, White Violence and Black Response: From Reconstruction to Montgomery (Amherst:
University of Massachusetts Press, 1988). For an analysis exploring both nonviolence and
armed struggle see Bill Sutherland and Matt Meyer, Guns and Gandhi in Afnca: Pan Afncan
Insights on Nonuiolence, Armed Struggle and Liberation in Afnca (Trenton, N.J: Africa World
Press, 2000).
4. See Athan Theoharis, The FBI: An A n n o d Bibliography and Research Guide (New
York: Garland Publishing, 1994); and John Stockwell, In Search of Enemies: A CIA Story
(New York: W. W. Norton, 1978).
5. Harding, There Is a Riuer, 200.

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This book has taken its own bittersweet time. Over the last several years, it has
gained in depth and range, benefiting from the growing works on and by imprisoned
progressive authors.
First, acknowledgment to the incarcerated readers who, upon receiving copies of
States of Confinement: Policing, Detention, and Prisons in 2000, politely thanked me
for sending the anthology and then proceeded to critique me and the work for the
omission of voices of imprisoned writers and an overemphasis on academic interpretations of policing and imprisonment.
In responding to the challenge to collect and edit the writings of progressive
political prisoners, who speak for themselves and whose voices are not easily appropriated, many lent assistance. To those who helped in bringing this work to print
and whose names I forget to mention, my apologies, and my thanks.
Dean Birkenkamp, Alison Sullenberger, and Jehanne Schweitzer of Rowman &
Littlefield supported this collection. Robert Allen of The Black Scholar, Andrew
McNeillie of Blackwell Publishers, Mathias Bolton of the Anarchist Black Cross,
and Jeffrey Parish of the Radical Philosophy Association newsletter, RPN, helpfully
provided electronic versions of materials for reprint. Mumia Abu-Jamal provided
important editorial comments for earlier drafts of the anthology.
This book also grew with university resources for student researchers that I
received from various academic institutions over the last five years. Sabrina Hodges
was one of the first students to help in gathering materials when we began this project in 1998-1999 at the University of Colorado-Boulder with funding from
UTROP (the University Teaching Research Opportunity Program). While Distinguished Visiting Professor in The Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS) at Columbia University, IRAAS graciously provided me with the
opportunity to work with Danyel Pefia-Shaw who gave valuable assistance in 19992000. From 2000 to 2002, Brown University’s UTRA (University Teaching
Research Assistance) program enabled Liz Appel, Sharon Luk, Marguerite Graham,
Amit Sarin, Brady Heiner, Tiffany Bradley, Christopher Muller, Hana Tauber, and



Elizabeth Walsh, and Manuella Meyer to play instrumental roles in pulling this volume together. Students in the spring 2002 advanced seminar on prison intellectuals
researched and drafted biographies for a number of contributors to this collection.
In addition, Liz, Brady, Hana, and Chris were invaluable in organizing the spring
2002 conference, Imprisoned Intelkctuals: A Diabgue with Academics, Activists, and
(Former) U.S. Political Prisoners on War, Dissent, and Social Justice, held at Brown
University. That gathering (with proceedings published in the journal Social Justice)
provided an opportunity to reflect on this project and to make new friendships dedicated to justice.
Within and beyond the academic carceral, Beatrice Adderley, Elizabeth Amelia
Hadley, Emily Blumenfeld, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Claude Marks, Donna
Willmott, Rob McBride, Laura Whitehorn, Susie Day, Dylan Rodriguez, Frank Wilderson, Susan Rosenberg, Mecke Nagel, and Bettina Aptheker assisted in the shaping of this work. My deepest appreciation to Laura Whitehorn, Frank Wilderson,
Dylan Rodriguez, and Michael Hames-Garcia for their insightful contributions to
the development of the introduction; also “thank you” to Susan Rosenberg and
Bettina Aptheker for inspiration to write the preface. Obviously, I am solely responsible for whatever shortcomings appear in the preface and the introduction.
Laura Whitehorn and Susie Day, with tireless energy and vision, lent their considerable knowledge and editing skills toward strengthening this anthology. They,
with Madrina and my other kin, sustained me through the long haul of gathering
documents and essays, editing, worrying, and wondering about this collection as it
evolved toward publication.
Working with patience, insight, and humor-and more patience-radical imprisoned intellectuals have offered and taught me much about critique, commitment,
and courage, as well as pain and beauty, discipline and grace. Reading and rereading
this collection, I encounter the generosity, frailties and strengths, contradictions
and contributions of “disappeared” rebels and heretics, of prophets and soldiers and
healers. I am reminded of the noncanonical Gnostic Gospels suppressed by state
religion; the heart of this work seems to pulse with the Gospel of Thomas (113):
The disciples said to Him, “When will the Kingdom come?” Uesus said,] “It will not
come by waiting for it.”


A New Declaration
of Independence
Emma CjoZdman
July 1909

When, in the course of human development, existing institutions prove inadequate
to the needs of man, when they serve merely to enslave, rob, and oppress mankind,
the people have the eternal right to rebel against, and overthrow, these institutions.
T h e mere fact that these forces-inimical to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness-are
legalized by statute laws, sanctified by divine rights, and enforced by
political power in n o way justifies their continued existence.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all human beings, irrespective of
race, color, or sex, are born with the equal right to share at the table of life; that to
secure this right, there must be established among men economic, social, and political freedom; we hold further that government exists but to maintain special privilege and property rights; that it coerces man into submission and therefore robs him
of dignity, self-respect, and life.
The history of the American kings of capital and authority is the history of
repeated crimes, injustice, oppression, outrage, and abuse, all aiming at the suppression of individual liberties and the exploitation of the people. A vast country, rich
enough to supply all her children with all possible comforts, and insure well-being
to all, is in the hands of a few, while the nameless millions are at the mercy of
ruthless wealth gatherers, unscrupulous lawmakers, and corrupt politicians. Sturdy
sons of America are forced to tramp the country in a fruitless search for bread, and
many of her daughters are driven into the street, while thousands of tender children
are daily sacrificed o n the altar of Mammon. T h e reign of these kings is holding
mankind in slavery, perpetuating poverty and disease, maintaining crime and corruption; it is fettering the spirit of liberty, throttling the voice of justice, and degrading and oppressing humanity. It is engaged in continual war and slaughter,


Emma Goldman

devastating the country and destroying the best and finest qualities of man; it nurtures superstition and ignorance, sows prejudice and strife, and turns the human
family into a camp of Ishmaelites.
We, therefore, the liberty-loving men and women, realizing the great injustice
and brutality of this state of affairs, earnestly and boldly do hereby declare that each
and every individual is and ought to be free to own himself and to enjoy the full
fruit of his labor; that man is absolved from all allegiance to the kings of authority
and capital; that h e has, by the very fact of his being, free access to the land and all
means of production, and entire liberty of disposing of the fruits of his efforts; that
each and every individual has the unquestionable and unabridgeable right of free
and voluntary association with other equally sovereign individuals for economic,
political, social, and all other purposes, and that to achieve this end man must
emancipate himself from the sacredness of property, the respect for man-made law,
the fear of the Church, the cowardice of public opinion, the stupid arrogance of
national, racial, religious, and sex superiority, and from the narrow puritanical conception of human life. And for the support of this declaration, and with a firm reliance on the harmonious blending of man’s social and individual tendencies, the
lovers of liberty joyfully consecrate their uncompromising devotion, their energy
and intelligence, their solidarity and their lives.

Falk, Candace Serena. hwe, Anarchy, and Emma Goldman. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers
University Press, 1984.
Goldman, Emma. Anarchism and Other Essays. New York: Mother Earth Publishing Association, 1911.
. Living My Life. New York: Knopf, 1931.
Wexler, Alice. Emma Goldman: An Intimate Life. New York: Pantheon, 1984.

Originally published in Mother Earth 4, no. 5 (July 1909).
Born on June 27, 1869, in Kovno Province, Russia, into a Jewish family that suffered
under the anti-Semitic laws of that era, Emma Goldman immigrated to the United States
with her sister Helena in 1886. There she adopted anarchist and radical feminist analyses,
eventually becoming a powerful organizer, and leading the 1889 Cloak Maker Strike and the
1891 New York May Day demonstration. For “inciting a riot” that never materialized,Goldman served one year at Blackwell’s Island Penitentiary in New York City. Soon after her
release in 1894, Goldman voluntarily left the country. Upon returning to the United States,
she embarked on an extensive national lecture tour between 1896 and 1899. Arrested frequently, she gained sympathizers at each engagement. Toward the end of her life, Goldman
joined the Spanish struggle against fascism and Generalissimo Francisco Franco in 1936;
while lecturing in support of the Spanish freedom movement, she suffered a stroke and died
in Canada in 1940.

Joy James

Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man
is also a prison.

David Thoreau

It is the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the
right thing. It may not be in your time that there will be any fruit, but that doesn’t
mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from
your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.

Mohandas Gandhi

Antonio Gramsci, while imprisoned in Mussolini’s Italy for his political beliefs and
socialist activism, wrote in his Prison Notebooks that, “Every social group . . . creates
together with itself, organically, one or more strata of intellectuals which give it
homogeneity and an awareness of its own function not only in the economic but
also in the social and political fields.” For Gramsci, because everyone thinks critically and philosophically, everyone is an intellectual; but not everyone officially
functions as such in society.’
In a stratified culture, one may superficially assume that only professional intellectuals, recognized writers and pundits in the public realm, academics, and policymakers constitute an intellectual formation. However, every group has an “organic”
intellectual caste, one that functions as a vehicle to articulate, shape, and further
the aspirations of its constituency.
Hence, the “public intellectual” encompasses the oft-forgotten “prison intellectual.” That is, the imprisoned intellectual is a public intellectual who, like his or
her highly visible and celebrated counterparts, reflects upon social meaning, dis-




cord, development, ethics, and justice. Prisons function as intellectual and political
sites unauthorized by the state. Yet, when and where the imprisoned intellectual
gives voice to the incarcerated or captive, those denied social justice and full democratic power on both sides of the concertina wire, then and there our stories of war
and love shaping visions of freedom and fulfillment take on a new life-aften a
quite disturbing one.
In editing this volume of writings by imprisoned intellectuals, political prisoners
in the contemporary United States, I gradually realized the impossibilities of filtering language in harrying and prophetic narratives. One cannot bring some definitive “academic” meaning to this collection, a gathering of words in resistance,
words written by revolutionaries captured and detained-for days or years, decades
or life-by the leviathan against which they rebelled. This is the leviathan to
which most readers of this volume pledge their allegiance in some fashion or
another-tithing to domestic and foreign policies that increase military and police
powers, and concentrations of wealth and poverty. The rebels went to prison; and,
passing through or surviving incarceration, they wrote as outlaw intellectuals with
unique and controversial insights into idealism, warfare, and social justice.
When writing is a painful endeavor, marked by political struggle and despair as
well as determination and courage, it is potentially transformative. Reading may
also share (in an attenuated fashion) the impetus and ethos of the writing. Yet it
will not necessarily compel the reader to moral and political acts. Author and academic Barbara Harlow cautions, “Reading prison writing must . . . demand a correspondingly activist counterapproach to that of passivity, aesthetic gratification, and
the pleasures of consumption that are traditionally sanctioned by the academic disciplining of literature.”2 A n “activist counterapproach” to the consumptive indifference is infrequent, but it does occur. If the circulation of rarely referenced or
vilified “resistance literature” reflects the growing public interest in incarceration
sites, intellectual and political dissent for social justice, and the possibilities of democratic transformations, then collections such as this should spark new debates
about “reading” and activism and political theory.
Reading and editing, from the bipolar lens of academic and radical intellectual,
I see that the purpose of this work was to foster or force an encounter between those
in the so-called free world seeking personal and collective freedoms and those in
captivity seeking liberation from economic, military, racial/sexual systems. Like all
good and necessary encounters, this one between writers and readers is provocative
and elicits more questions than can be answered within the confines of a bookeven an anthology of critique, confrontation, and radical risk taking.

Amid the debates about “political prisoners” in the United States, one can distinguish between those engaged in civil disobedience who identify as “loyal opposi-



by their very dissent affirm the institutions of American
democracy-and those so alienated by state violence and government betrayals of
humanitarian and democratic ideals that their dissent chronicles their disaffection,
and at times in~urrection.~
Such insurrection may also at times become (proto-)revolutionary.4
“Law abiding dissent” represents a political risk taking with broader social acceptance. This is largely due to its adherence to principles of nonviolent civil disobedience, widely shared moral values, and, sometimes, proximity to the very “corridors
of (institutional) power” closed to the disenfranchised; such adherence spares dissenters the harshest of sentences. Although not emphasized in this volume, the narratives of influential political detainees offer important insights. For example, after
being imprisoned for engaging in civil disobedience to protest US. military bombing practices on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. wrote:

I arrived at my difficult decision to join the invasion of Vieques only after I was convinced that its people had exhausted every legal and political avenue to secure their
rights. In my 18 years as a lawyer and environmental advocate for the Natural Resources
Defense Council and the Riverkeeper movement, I had never engaged in an act of civil
disobedience. As a n attorney, I have a duty to uphold the law. But I also had a countervailing duty in this case. The bombardment of Vieques is bad military policy and disastrous for public health and the environment. But the most toxic residue of the Navy’s
history o n Vieques is its impact on our democracy. The people I met there are United
States citizens, but the Navy’s abusive exercise of power on the island has left them
demoralized, alienated and feeling that they are neither part of a democracy nor the
beneficiaries of the American system of j ~ s t i c e . ~

Kennedy narrates that upon returning for trial, he encountered Reverend Jesse Jackson who was in Puerto Rico to support his wife, Jacqueline, while she served a tenday jail sentence for protesting against military violations. Upon informing the civil
rights leader of Kennedy’s expectant wife Mary’s insistence that her husband not
take a deal to delay his sentencing, Kennedy recalls that Jackson responded, “Suffering is often the most powerful tool against injustice and oppression. If Jesus had
plea-bargained the crucifixion, we wouldn’t have the faith.”
Unlike Kennedy, Jesse Jackson is a veteran of civil rights protest and civil disobedience. Leading demonstrations against domestic infractions such as “driving while
black/brown” or “voting while black/brown,” the former aide to Martin Luther
King, Jr., has for decades vocally criticized U.S. foreign policy and vocally supported
Palestinian self-determination and the abolition of apartheid states. In the 1980s,
in solidarity with Nelson Mandela6 and other South African political prisoners,
Jackson encouraged U.S. citizens to trespass at the offices of South African govemment agencies. This civil disobedience, often by middle-class Americans, usually
resulted in several hours of detention in city jails, and became seen as a “badge of
honor” or rite of (political) passage. Such short-term (symbolic?) jailings prompt
several observations. First, it is likely that it is not political incarceration per se that


lor lames

is stigmatized but incarceration based on a refusal to suffer violence without resorting to armed self-defense; the choice of the latter surely leads to one’s “disappearance” from conventional society and “respectable” politics. Second, even
nonviolent conscientious objectors (COs) during World War 11-who sought to
“redeem” themselves as patriots by risking their lives as human guinea pigs in US.
military medical experiments-and religious pacifists in the civil rights and antiwar
movements that followed were disavowed once designated as “unpatriotic.”
Consider that despite his adherence to Christian faith and Gandhian principles
of nonviolent civil disobedience, Martin Luther King, Jr., lost considerable support
and organizational funding from both white and black liberals after h e publicly criticized imperialism (and capitalism) and the U.S. war against Vietnam.’ What is
largely condemned in American political culture is not the risk taking that leads to
incarceration but the radicalism that rejects the validity of the nation-state itself
and the legitimacy of its legal and moral standing. How does one reconcile the
proximity and distance between the law-abiding loyalist and the pacifist or militarist radical who appear in the same courts, often using similar legal arguments, but
with very different political intentions and consequences seem to stand a world
apart in their dissent?
Diverse worlds or parallel universes hover about this volume. Contributors disagree about strategy and morality (“nonviolence or violence”) and politics (“loyal
or revolutionary”). Toward a work such as this, one intended to raise queries, eyebrows, and passions, there appear many questions and debates-particularly for
those informed about and disaffected by the criminalization of dissidents amid state
criminality and abuse of (police and war) powers. Many debates seem to center on
the question of what constitutes shared community, one in struggle for commonly
held ideals of justice, individual freedom, collective liberation, and material wellbeing in civil society marked by growing state control.
Radical philosophers have argued that street and prison gangs are forms of “civil
society” conditioned by the state and government apparatuses’ manipulation of the
drug trade, control of territory, and deployment of police repression. Philosopher
Michael Hames-Garcia raises cogent questions about the relationships between the
incarcerated and those in the “free world,” asking, “how might one situate the specifically intellectual activity of organic prison intellectuals in relation to the state?
To what kind of ‘civil society’ or ‘counterpublic’ are prison intellectuals directing
their writings and how is this audience [readership] positioned in relationship to
the state?”s
State conditioning is not the only force destabilizing progressive politics. The
prison movement has grown immensely over the last decades. Yet, it still has its own
internal demons to fight concerning coalitions and efficacy. Activists as “official
representatives” can invoke the political prisoner-as-icon in order to derail external
and internal criticisms of their strategies, and wield surrogate iconic powers in an
uncritical fashion. This raises the question of whether the imprisoned-as political
“dependents” relying upon those outside to gamer support-might engage in self-



censorship concerning the limitations of their allies. Such “self-censorship” and
self-conditioning work both ways. T h e privileged academic might hesitate to criticize a progressive “folk hero” sentenced to life or death in prison, although, in a
culture that widely disparages prisoners, the repercussions of academic criticisms
seem to be fairly limited. This suggests additional queries about the nature of “parity” between political prisoners and their political allies: In theory and practice, the
imprisoned intellectual can be ideologically “frozen” in or physically “freed” by the
work of non-incarcerated academics and activists.
Scholar Dylan Rodriguez questions whether, given the constraints, a n imprisoned
intellectual can truly become a “public intellectual.” Arguing that while in prison
such writers are “disabled from meaningful participation in the interpretation and
‘translation’ of their works,” Rodriguez references “radical/revolutionary intellectuals whose praxis is in irreconcilable opposition to the very historical and political
logic of the ‘public’ (civil society) as it exists for the endorsement of their virtual
(and biological) death.” I both agree and disagree with this assessment. True, the
general or mainstream public constitutes a mostly hostile or indifferent readership
and respondent. Yet, there are multiple “publics” and varied “civil societies”; the
“public sphere” is shaped, to varying degrees, by whoever enter as engagees. T h e
intent of imprisoned intellectuals to influence “the public” in its multiple formations is a complicated proposition but a real endeavor. No monolithic “radical political prisoner” exists. Despite shared antiracist and anti-imperialist politics, U.S.
political prisoners differ in identity, ideology, and strategy. Rodriguez, though,
makes a n essential point about how imprisoned intellectuals are “read”: “[Tlhere is
a rather widespread, normalized disavowal of the political and theoretical substance
of the work generated by imprisoned radical intellectual^."^
This “abolitionist” assertion is further complicated if we consider how contemporary racism and penal captivity likely evolved from within a historical colonialsettler state built upon, and enriched by, anti-Indigenous genocide and African
enslavement. Some contributors to this volume argue in their respective chapters
that there is a “normalized disavowal” of the presence of (radical or independent)
blacks or Indians in conventional “civil society.” Hence, they call for some form(s)
of independence or autonomy from what they view as an enveloping and destructive formation (what some have called a n “empire”). T h e racially marked political
prisoner tends to be most forgotten, and to serve the longest sentences. Some of the
longest sentences and most violent punishments have been meted out to African
and Native Americans in the Black Panther Party or American Indian Movement
and their allies, and Puerto Rican independentistas. To rationalize the sentences and
punishments by pointing to the advocacy or use of armed struggle or armed selfdefense by some of the incarcerated ignores the fact that a number of those slain or
incarcerated (for decades) were innocent of charges. Their innocence is attested to,
as in the cases of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, who were slain, and Dhoruba Bin
Wahad and Geronimo ji-Jaga (Pratt), who were finally released in the 1990s, by


JOY James

the multimillion-dollar settlements paid out by the U.S. government, ostensibly for
wrongful deaths and incarcerations.
It is assumed that some readers of this volume will be critical of the “prison industrial complex,” and so, to varying degrees, self-identify as “abolitionists.” T h e most
militant wing of the twenty-first-century abolitionist movement will likely be that
antiracist minority who argues that the abolition of the death penalty, and of
(human rights abuses in) prisons and Immigration and Naturalization Services
(INS) detention centers, and of the widespread racial bias in sentencing, merely
addresses the symptoms of a pervasive disease. Revolutionary abolitionists offer their
own readings, drawing insights from contemporary battles and historical lessons
(following the Civil War, Congress abolished slavery to sanction the convict prison
lease system and sharecropping, new forms of legal servitude to be endured and
fought by African Americans for one hundred years).
In the wake of the New York Police Department’s brutality against people of African descent-viscerally recorded in the 1997 beating-rape of Abner Louima, and
the 1999 firing of forty-one shots at Amadou Diallo-theorist Frank Wilderson, 111,
[I]f we are to follow [Frantz] Fanon’s analysis [in The Wretched of the Earth], and the
gestures toward this understanding in some of the work of imprisoned intellectuals,
then we have to come to grips with the fact that, for Black people, civil society itselfrather than its abuses or shortcomings-is a state of emergency. . . . In “The AvantGarde of White Supremacy,”[Steve] Martinot and Dared] Sexton assert the primacy of
Fanon’s Manichean zones (without the promise of higher unity) even in the face of
American integration. . . . this Manichean delirium manifests itself by way of the US
paradigm of policing which (re)produces,repetitively, the inside/outside,the civil societyhlack world, by virtue of the difference between those bodies that don’t magnetize
bullets and those bodies that do. “Police impunity serves to distinguish between . . .
those whose human being is put permanently in question and those for whom it goes
without saying” (Martinot and Sexton, 8). . . . Whiteness then, and by extension civil
society . . . must be first understood as a social formation of contemporarieswho do not
magnetize bullets.I0

Whether pacifist or militarist, responding to violence and racism in domestic or
foreign policy, these works will remain suspect and heatedly debated by many in
the public realm. Fine. Our goal here was to ensure that they not remain largely
overlooked or erased. Paradoxically, those most passionately seeking collective liberation-from racial or economic or military dominance-are those most likely to
lose their individual freedoms. T h e captive/free dichotomy is a paradox rich in
irony: imprisoned intellectuals, the most intensely monitored and repressed by the
state’s police apparatus, might in fact be those most free of state conditioning. Existing not merely as the output of “victims” of state responses to radical opposition,
the analyses of imprisoned intellectuals both deconstruct dominant ideologies and



reconstruct new strategies for humanity. Their writings proffer reactive and proactive readings of struggle and freedom.
So the questions and answers continue. “HOWdo you make the ‘disappeared’(the
captive rebel, the impoverished, the racialized, the addicted, the ‘queer’)reappear?”
“When is a democracy not a democracy?” “Have slavery, surrogate forms of captivity, and social death” been reinstated through the Thirteenth Amendment?”12“To
what degree does self-critique in liberation movements prevent radical responses to
state and racial violence from becoming self-inflicted wounds?” This collection
raises and addresses queries and explores the implications of responses.

The United States has a long and terrible history of confinement and disappearance
of those it racially and politically targets. Include those captives in slavery and on
reservations, and it becomes a longer narrative of torture and resistance. W. E. B.
Du Bois notes in Black Reconstruction in America how over 200,000 African Americans served in combat during the Civil War.I3 Their ancestral line included Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, and Harriet Tubman and their political lineage, John
Brown. With the rise of lynching after the aborted Reconstruction era, investigative
journalist Ida B. Wells, armed with a pistol, vigorously organized against racial terror
in which as many as ten thousand whites attended “parties” that roasted and dismembered black victims. There has always been resistance. The colonized, subaltern, and subjugated have continuously fought genocide and social death, and in
battle called upon progenitors for guidance, and, in failure, for f0rgi~eness.l~
Contemporary incarcerated writers and political theorists are no different. Housed in
San Quentin, Vietnamese activist and author Mike Ngo writes of prisoners’ forced
complicity with authorities and his own shame in participating in the disciplinary
machinery, alleviated when he finds comfort in conversation with slain prison
writer, revolutionary strategist-turned-icon, George Jackson. For Ngo, if it does not
destroy, imprisonment teaches power and political theorizing that emanate from
intimacy with death: social, physical, sexual, em0tiona1.l~Intimacy with death,
whether one’s own or those prematurely engineered by the voracious appetites of
expanding military-corporate power, is written all throughout the following pages:
death in resistance to the Klan; death through assassination; death in battles with
the police; death in opposition to U.S. military incursions and interventions; death
in execution chambers; death on street comers; and death to the very concept of
blind civic obedience and patriotic fervor. This intimacy is accompanied by death’s
companion, life, and, if not the inevitability of political and military victory for the
rebels (who, in the phrase of Black Panther Party [BPP] cofounder Huey P. Newton,
seemed to court “revolutionary suicide”), the possibility of liberation and freedom,
and the certainty of striving for it.
The endemic flight from death in American culture (via its fetishism of youth,



technology, and immortality tied to materiality and science) indicates a marathon
of avoidance politics and censorship. T h e disappearance of the incarcerated and
the inhumane punishment for rebels suggest that intimacy with the imprisoned,
particularly political prisoners, will be embraced and known by only a few. For
many “law-abiding Americans” are (or socially seem) embarrassed by a family member’s incarceration and the realities of political incarceration in their democracy.
With some 2.5 million imprisoned or detained by the state, 70 percent of whom
are African, Latino, Native, or Asian American, many families could claim this
intimacy. Like families in denial, U.S. government officials fervently deny the existence of U.S. political prisoners. State employees do so by defining political militants as “criminals.” Yet, who is the “criminal” whose crime is his or her physical
opposition to state criminality (as determined by United Nations conventions,
human rights law, and non-apartheid-based morality)-crimes against humanity in
warfare and profiteering, crimes against the poor, against the racially subordinate,
crimes against children, against women?16To address the issue of incarcerated intellectuals, one would have to examine the reasons for their incarceration; examine
not just the acts of which they were accused and convicted (at times with court
malfeasance), but their commitments. Perhaps discussions of political incarceration
in the United States fail to register in conventional speech and education because
of political ignorance and a moral reluctance to attain intimacy with life-and-death
This volume, largely by writers incarcerated because of their legal or illegal, pacifist or violent resistance to repression, constantly references antiracism. African
Americans constitute the greatest percentage not only of those incarcerated for
crimes against private property, drug violations, and social violence, but also of
those incarcerated for political acts (including armed struggle) in opposition to
repression. As the largest contingent of (social and) political prisoners, African
Americans tend to draw the longest sentences with fewer possibilities for clemency
or parole. There is a specificity and temerity about black liberation struggles that
relate to and infuse political prisoners in the United States. From enslaved insurrectionists to their multiethnic progeny, antiracism defines but does not dominate this
collection. There remains the question(s) of gender, community, culture, art, spirituality. I read the connection of white anti-imperialists and peace activists, Puerto
Rican independentistas, and Native American resistors through the black gaze.
Hence, there are two sections to this volume, the first on black liberation, the second on internationalism and anti-imperialism. The importance of various struggles
is not reduced to but is framed by the context of racial dynamics of state repression.
Such a context raises another series of questions that also have n o easy answers,
ones that, hopefully, will be pursued in continuous, painstaking dialogue: “How and
why do repressive conditions create a certain brand of intellectualism?”“What roles
do the voices of incarcerated intellectuals play in moral and political thought and
action, and social consciousness?” “What makes someone a political prisoner?” The



last question, being the “easiest” to answer, reveals the varied debates waged among
those who acknowledge the existence of political prisoners in the United States.

There is a continuum of debate on who or what constitutes a political prisoner.
The debate wages among prisoners themselves and among the non-incarcerated. A
political prisoner can be someone who was put in prison for nonpolitical reasons
but who became politicized in his or her thought and action while incarcerated.
Incarceration is inherently political, but ideology plays a role. If everyone is a political prisoner then no one is. Although the meaning of who is a political prisoner
appears to be expanding to include more structural critiques of the state at large, I
reserve the use of (a somewhat awkward term) “political-econ” prisoners for those
convicted of social crimes tied to property and drug-related crimes and whose disproportionate sentencing to prison rather than rehabilitation or community service
is shaped by the political economy of racial and economic privilege and disenfranchisement. As a caste, political-econ prisoners can and do develop and refine their
political critiques while incarcerated. (For example, of the contributors to this volume, Malcolm X, George Jackson, and Standing Deer were incarcerated for social
crimes against property or people, and politicized as radicals within the penal site;
also, paradoxically, youths who renounced their gang memberships and social
crime, in order to bring about social change through the Black Panther Party, would
find themselves later targeted and imprisoned for their political affiliations.) Those
whose thoughts of social justice lead to commitments and acts in political confrontation with oppression acquire the standing of political prisoners. For those who
(continue to) prey on others in physical and sexual assaults on children, women,
and men, “political prisoners” would be an obscene register; for they do not manifest as liberatory agents but exist as merely one of many sources of danger to be
confronted and quelled in a violent culture.
Victimization by a dominant culture and aggrandizing state is not sufficient to
qualify one as a “political prisoner.” Although the strategies vary concerning violence in resistance politics, if agency and morality are prerequisites shaping the
political being, then we speak of a fragment of the incarcerated population, just as
we would speak of a fragment of the non-incarcerated population. Here, our discussion centers on revolutionary and radical activists who also constitute intellectual
formations influencing political contemporary culture. Some progressives assert that
to construct an entity called “political prisoners’’ creates a dichotomy between a
select group and the vast majority of prisoners, and thus in fact promotes a new
form of elitism-the iconic prisoner. Yet, these men and women are different. They
were different before their incarceration, marked by their critical thinking and confrontations with authoritarian structures and policies and violence. Also, they were
and are treated differently by the state, often receiving the harshest of sentences,



relegated to solitary confinement or “lockdown” in control units so that they cannot “infect”-really infise-other prisoners with their radical politics and aspirations for freedom.
Mondo we Langa (David Rice), incarcerated in Nebraska prisons for decades for
a crime that h e states h e did not commit, one for which his attorneys argue that
there is no physical evidence implicating him, writes in “Letter from the Inside”:

I know what I mean by “political prisoner”: someone who, in the context of U.S. laws
and court system, has been falsely tried and convicted of a criminal offense as a means
of ending his or her political activities and making an example of the person for others
who are espousing, or might espouse, ideas that those in power would find offensive. By
this definition, I might be the only political prisoner in this joint. But in a broader
sense, most people behind bars could be considered “political prisoners,” inasmuch as
the process of lawmaking, law-enforcing, and the criminal “justice” system are all
driven by a political apparatus that is anti-people of color and anti-people of little economic means. At the same time though, many, if not most of the people who are locked
up have acted in the interests of the very system that oppresses them and victimized
people who, like themselves, are ~ppressed.’~
Attorneys Michael E. Deutsch and Jan Susler describe in “Political Prisoners in
the United States: The Hidden Reality” (1990) three types of political prisoners.
For Deutsch and Susler U.S. political prisoners are

1. Foreign nationals whose political status or political activities against allies of
US. imperialism (e.g., Israel, Great Britain, El Salvador) result in detention
or imprisonment;

2. Members of U.S. oppressed nationalities (African Americans, Puerto Ricans,
Chicano/Mexicanos, and Native Americans) who are prosecuted and imprisoned for political activities in furtherance of their [liberation] movements. . . .
Included in these groups are anticolonial combatants or prisoners of war
(P0Ws)-members of national liberation movements who as part of clandestine organizations have employed armed struggle as a means to achieve selfdetermination and independence for their nation and upon capture have the
right, under the Additional Protocols of the Geneva Convention and the UN
General Assembly Resolutions, to POW status and not to be tried as domestic
criminals; and
3 . White people who have acted in solidarity with the liberation movements of
oppressed nationalities or against U.S. foreign or domestic policies.18
Deutsch and Susler offer a useful categorization of political prisoners; however, the
first category could be expanded to include nonresident or immigrant detainees
awaiting deportation. Following September 11, 2001, the sweeps of noncitizens
legally organizing for workers’ rights in Florida, mostly young people of South Asian
origin, construct a new category-that of political prisoner awaiting deportation.



Although the United States has a history of deporting militants-Emma Goldman,
Marcus Garvey, Claudia Jones, C. L. R. James-there appears a schism in alignment
with “foreign” political prisoners housed in the United States and awaiting deportation to hostile nations and U.S. citizens who are political prisoners in other countries, as in the case of Lori Berenson, who has been incarcerated in Peru for years.19
In radical politics around incarceration and the “prison-industrial-complex” most
of the strategies regarding political prisoners have focused on the release campaigns
of those incarcerated for decades, and rightly so. However, preventive measures and
strategies to counter the increasing ability of the government to “disappear” political prisoners (as was the case following September 11 when Attorney General John
Ashcroft held Sundiata Acoli, Philip Berrigan (who died of cancer in December
2002), and Marilyn Buck as well as other political prisoners incommunicado) do
not appear clearly defined by advocates of prisoners’ rightsz0
In its 2002 letter to Governor George Pataki and the New York State Parole
Board, the New York Task Force on Political Prisoners states that in Europe, Africa,
and the United States,
prisoners long incarcerated for their political beliefs and actions have been set freeand in their freedom, have given the world back some hope and dignity. The release,
for example, of Nelson Mandela, who spent twenty-seven years in prison for revolutionary actions against [the apartheid government] . . . has proved a catalyst for healing and
justice in South Africa.

Signatories, attorneys who work pro bono for the release campaign for political prisoners attest:
These prisoners’ convictions reflect as yet unresolved issues of civil, racial, and economic justice of the 1960s and 1970s, a time when thousands of people of all races,
young and old, women and men, formed militant movements to demand fundamental
social change. Their trials occurred during a time when their juries and the general
public did not know that, in response to these movements, the government was engaging in illegal and unconstitutional acts-acts of infiltration and surveillance which,
according to the government’s own documents, carried over into the legal arena. Foremost in the government’s campaign was the FBI’s now-infamous Counter-Intelligence
Program [COINTELPRO], condemned by a 1975 United States Senate Committee
which became known as the “Church Committee” [named after Senator Frank Church
(D-Idaho), the committee’s proceedings were published in 1976].*’
The legal challenges brought by the prisoners referenced in this letter have been
denied, primarily due to the 1996 federal law drastically limiting prisoners’ access to
habeas corpus. Heartbreakingly for their families and communities, some of these prisoners have repeatedly been denied parole because of their political views or offensesdespite the fact that they more than meet current parole standards. . . . Some of the
actions for which these men were convicted were taken in response to severe social
repression and government misconduct. Some convictions, for example, arose directly
from the targeting of activists by COINTELPRO. Others sought to defend themselves


joy lames

and their communities from police violence [or drug dealers]. All of them devoted their
hearts, their minds, and their lives to working for a world of justice, peace, and human
equality. Whatever one’s opinion of their political beliefs or alleged actions, not one of
these men was motivated by personal gain. All have served enough time and all would
be a credit to their communities if released.zz
T h e imprisonment of those seeking social and political change in the United
States is as old as its elite-based democracy rooted in slavery, anti-Indian genocidal
wars, and “manifest destiny.” Yet the attempts to bring the voices of imprisoned
intellectuals to the general society and petition for their release remain a constant
(re)invention of strategic interventions, using the language of “rehabilitation” commingled with the language of rebellious resistance.

Prisons constitute one of the most controversial and contested sites in a democratic
society. T h e United States has the highest incarceration rate in the industrialized
world, with over two million people in jails, prisons, and detention centers; with
over three thousand on death row, it is also one of the few developed countries that
continues to deploy the death penalty. Examining intellectuals whose analyses of
U.S. society, politics, culture, and social justice are rarely referenced in conventional political speech or academic discourse, this anthology takes shape along the
contours of a body of outlawed “public intellectuals” offering incisive critiques of
our society and shared (in)humanity. The brief biographies introducing each chapter contextualize these writings in opposition to state policies that support racism,
war, imperialism, corporate capitalism, and globalization. Like the accompanying
biographies, a number of these essays by writer-activists incarcerated because of
their political beliefs and acts (some released by President Bill Clinton on his last
day of office, others working as educators and activists behind bars) are far too brief
to fully detail and explore the conditions of their political radicalism and imprisonment. However, references are provided to help the reader further explore controversial liberation praxes from the civil rights/black power, women’s, gay/lesbian,
American Indian, Puerto Rican Independence, and antiwar movements based on
radical democracy and revolutionary struggle.
We begin with European anarchist Emma Goldman’s “A New Declaration of
Independence” as a contrast to calls for “patriotism” as unquestioning obedience to
the state. We end with the poem “Incommunicado” by Marilyn Buck, written after
September 11, 2001, during and following her weeks of detention in solitary confinement without access to attorneys or family on the orders of Attorney General
John A s h c r ~ f t Buck,
. ~ ~ imprisoned in the 1980s for her work with the militant sectors of the black liberation movement, of course, has no actual or ideological connections with reactionary al-Qaeda forces. Yet, the foreign war on terrorism



provided an excellent opportunity for expanding repressive measures in the United
Confrontations combating state censorship of dissent and critical voices reached
their apex in the mass movements of the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s. In the postenslavement era of the mid-twentieth century, the civil rights movements, referred
to by some activists and academics as the “second Reconstruction” and by their
more radical counterparts as the “second civil war,” brought the new wave of protests and dissent. Arrested while organizing a bus boycott, Rosa Parks became briefly
a political detainee. T h e young man whom she and the organizers of the bus boycott
chose as their titular leader, largely because of his status as formally educated clergy
and middle-class, was the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. His missive opens the
first section of our collection of writings by imprisoned intellectuals.
Part I, Black Liberationists, begins with “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which
was written the same year as the 1963 March o n Washington where King gave his
famous “I Have a Dream” speech-sermon; the same year that the Ku Klux Klan
bombed a Birmingham, Alabama, church, killing four African American girlsCarole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair-and the
year of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas24 In his open letter to
clergy, King set forth an eloquent plea for support of an antiracist movement in
which he had been active since 1955.25This anthology juxtaposes with King his
peer and symbolic nemesis, Malik El-Shabazz, or Malcolm X. In chapter two, “The
Ballot or the Bullet” (abridged), Malcolm X offers a critique of King’s nonviolent
activism. Although Malcolm X was not a “political prisoner” in the restrictive sense
in which we use the term in this work, incarcerated as Malcolm Little for social
crimes (including the “crimes” of burglary and of consorting with white women),
he transformed or “reinvented” himself as a political agent while imprisoned. Politicized through his association (and later confrontation) with the Nation of Islam
and his pilgrimage to Mecca, he influenced the growing militancy of the civil rights
movement. Through his life, speeches, and writings-most notably, The Autobiogruphy of Malcolm X-he achieved an iconic stature for many, including (political)
prisoners. Constant police and FBI surveillance after he served his prison sentence
likely increased his radical political and moral presence and inspired activists who
would eventually become incarcerated, and in reflecting o n his life, spirit, and death
struggle to “reinvent” themselves as political agents, formulating a liberation praxis
“by any means necessary.” O n e year after Malcolm X’s assassination, the Black Panther Party (for Self-Defense) was founded in 1966 in Oakland, California, by Huey
P. Newton and Bobby Seale; armed resistance to police brutality became the most
noted and “inflammatory” position of their emancipatory “10-Point Platform.”
Angela Y. Davis would work with the Panthers but become better known as a
communist and leader in the Soledad Brothers Defense Committee, a prisoners’
rights organization cofounded by imprisoned Black Panther Field Marshall George
Jackson. Davis was incarcerated in the early 1970s o n charges related to George
Jackson’s younger brother Jonathan’s attempt, using weapons registered in Davis’s



name, to liberate African American prisoners from the Marin County Courthouse,
a failed endeavor that Newton would describe later at the seventeen-year-old’s
funeral as “revolutionary suicide.”
O n e year before her 1972 acquittal of all charges, Davis wrote from her prison
cell “Political Prisoners, Prisons, and Black Liberation,” which is published here as
chapter three; this essay would appear in t h e volume she coedited with Bettina
Aptheker, If They Come in the Morning. Also in that anthology, which has been
out of print for some time, was first published this volume’s chapters four and five,
respectively by Huey P. Newton and George Jackson. In chapter four, “Prison,
Where Is T h y Victory?” Newton distinguishes between types or classes of prisoners,
reserving his highest consideration for the imprisoned who rebel against rather than
acquiesce to domination and (racial) control. In “Towards the United Front,” chapter five, George Jackson, self-identified militarist for liberation and a key theorist
and proponent of armed struggle, argues for a multiracial formation, new relations
of unity that transcend common divisions. The Black Panthers became the most
confrontational of the antiracist radical groups of the late 1960s and early 1970s
(following the disintegration of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
[SNCC]). Among the black militant formations, the Panthers developed some of
the strongest allegiances with other racialized peoples, and the strongest ties with
white radicals and revolutionaries.
The Panthers would also become the lightning rod for some of the government’s
most horrific forms of violent repression used against dissidents in the post-World
War I1 era. In chapter six, former Panther Dhoruba Bin Wahad describes the deadly
counterinsurgency program, COINTELPRO, initiated by J. Edgar Hoover and the
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Decades before the BPP emerged, the FBI
had destabilized progressives with violent means; but its violence would operate
with virtually no restraint until the Black Panther Party and the American Indian
Movement (AIM) were destroyed. “COINTELPRO and the Destruction of Black
Leaders and Organizations” (abridged) presents the scenario in which state violence against the Black Panther Party and its membership had become routine. Bin
Wahad argues that any revolutionary movement coincides with a cultural movement, but a cultural movement will not empower its people unless it is politicized.
COINTELPRO succeeded because it halted the political consciousness of the Black
Panther Party that coincided with the cultural awareness of “Black Power.”
Through violence, manipulation of the media, and disinformation campaigns, the
FBI engaged in a twofold attack on the dissemination of information by black revolutionaries, destabilizing the public support base of the movement and then removing its leaders from public discourse through imprisonment, exile, or death.
State malfeasance and criminality in which the FBI participated included anonymous letters to Martin Luther King, Jr., urging that he commit suicide before his
marital infidelities were publicized; the extra-judicial killings or assassinations of
Chicago Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in December 1969; and
the many killings during 1973-1976 of indigenous activists at the Pine Ridge reser-



vation who aligned themselves with AIM. Such state violence provides a context
and background for chapter seven, the excerpted “On the Black Liberation Army”
(BLA) by Jalil Muntaqim. Muntaqim offers a brief historical snapshot of an underground military formation in battle with U.S. law enforcement, primarily on the
East Coast. Although no theoretical justification for armed struggle appears in this
succinct account of BLA activities, the historical trajectory of the COINTELPRO
era of the early 1970s shapes the reasoning. Muntaqim’s view stems from a different
template than most, that of the slave insurrectionist, and so it shapes a unique
worldview, one gazed upon, interacted with, but not fully experienced by the nonrebel or nonslave.
In chapter eight, “July 4th Address,” a statement issued by former Black Panther
and Black Liberation Army member Assata Shakur while she was in prison and on
trial, evokes slave-turned-fugitive then abolitionist Frederick Douglass’s 1852
“What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July” address. O n e of the few women leaders of
the Black Panther Party (whose leadership was not tied to an influential male partner), Shakur would also become active in the military underground via the Black
Liberation Army. Her memoir, Assara: An Autobiography, functions in a manner
similar to the memoirs of King, Malcolm X, Davis, Newton, and Jackson: it highlights turbulent and dangerous times and personalizes the struggles and failings of
revolutionaries and revolutionaries-in-waiting. For example, Shakur writes in her
Some of the groups thought they could just pick up arms and struggle and that, somehow, people would see what they were doing and begin to struggle themselves. They
wanted to engage in a do-or-die battle with power structure in amerika, even though
they were weak and ill prepared for such a fight. But the most important factor is that
armed struggle, by itself, can never bring about a revolution. Revolutionary war is a
people’s war.26

Unlike Shakur, Safiya Bukhari-Alston has (to date) not written a full-length
memoir; yet, like Shakur, she was one of the few women leaders in the Black Liberation Army. Her autobiographical narrative, “Coming of Age: A Black Revolutionary,” chapter nine, describes conditions unique to women political prisoners. A unit
leader while underground, Bukhari-Alston encountered sexism in the party (as did
Assata Shakur).
In chapter ten, “An Updated History of t h e New Afrikan Prison Struggle”
(abridged), former Black Panther Sundiata Acoli provides a continuum of African
American resistance to captivity and incarceration (the unabridged text places the
enslavement era as foundational in this resistance). Acoli presents the Black Liberation Army as a “New Afrikan guerrilla organization” with mobile strike teams.
Guerrilla warfare was seen as a n inevitable counterresponse to U.S. “low-intensity
warfare” against militants and radicals. Some members of the BLA identify as “prisoners of war” or POWs, viewing themselves as captive liberation fighters. T h e


JOY James

Republic of New Afrika (RNA) stated its independence from the United States in
1968. BLA combatants subsequently declared that the US. courts had no jurisdiction over them. Acoli’s historical discussions of “gang” formations in prisons as part
of the prison struggles provide insight into their political nature and functions both
in and outside of prison.
T h e idea of resisting all oppressive constraints-whether racism, sexism, heterosexism, or class/corporate privilege-is
not uniformly shared in these essays.
Women contributors tend to note sexism and heterosexism more so than the men
(in this volume, white women are more vocal about the rights of gays and lesbians
than black women are, perhaps because the former are writing at a later date when
gay, lesbian, and bisexual rights are more publicly espoused). Although they fought
for a more inclusive democracy, centralized, nondemocratic decision makingsteeped in either patriarchal politics or a Leninist model of democratic centralismwas routinely practiced by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership
Conference (SCLC), Malcolm X’s Nation of Islam (from which he was expelled in
1963-1964), Angela Davis’s Communist Party USA (CPUSA) (from which she
was expelled in 1991), and Huey P. Newton’s faction of the Black Panther Party. A
discussion of forgoing vanguard or elite formations and rigid fixations on a line of
leadership is found in chapter eleven, “Anarchism and the Black Revolution”
(abridged), by Lorenzo Komboa Ervin. In this chapter, Ervin, who organized with
the BPP among other groups, is highly critical of what he perceives as its “MarxistLeninist” rigidity and repressive authoritarianism. It is difficult at times to distinguish which Black Panther Party critics are referencing-East Coast or West Coast?
Cleaver or Newton faction? Newton prior to or during drug addiction and criminal
intrigues? Nonetheless, the BPP in general (as did political organizations such as
the SCLC and CPUSA) embraced a wealth of contradictions that limited the
agency and efficacy of its “rank and file.”
What, then, constitutes leadership that can face and function against repressive
state policies? Such issues are explored in chapter twelve, an essay by journalist
Mumia Abu-Jamal, “Intellectuals and the Gallows.” This essay was written while
Abu-Jamal was facing a sentence of death. It is one of the few pieces in this anthology that directly confronts readers as non-incarcerated intellectuals, exploring their
confines in a Foucauldian carceral that restricts their own resistance to a state that
oversees life and death.
Part 11, Internationalists and Anti-Imperialists, begins with chapter thirteen,
“Genocide against the Black Nation in the U.S. Penal System” (abridged) by
Mutulu Shakur, Anthony X. Bradshaw, Malik Dinguswa, Terry Long, Mark Cook,
Adolfo Matos, and James Haskins. T h e chapter focuses on African American emancipation, yet appeals to the international community; and so, it provides a bridge
between the two sections of this anthology, emphasizing historical links between
African American activism and the interplay of domestic and foreign policies. This
essay’s argument follows in a tradition established by African American radicals in
the post-World War I1 era: William Patterson and the Civil Rights Congress in



1951 presented to t h e United Nations their antilynching petition “We Charge
Genocide,” and Malcolm X in the 1960s appealed to the United Nations for redress
from lynching and white supremacist policies in the United States27Chapter fourteen, “The Struggle for Status under International Law” by Marilyn Buck, revisits
themes raised by chapter thirteen in its reflections on the use of international law
to address US. domestic human rights violations. Situating Buck within the tradition of radical white antiracism and armed resistance, a tradition that dates back to
and precedes John Brown’s antislavery militancy, lesbian activist Rita Bo Brown
describes the parameters of white activism in the 1970s and 1980s in chapter fifteen, “White North American Political Prisoners.” In chapter fifteen, Brown provides a comprehensive view that encompasses a number of political formations.
Chapter sixteen, “On Trial” (abridged), by former Vietnam veteran Raymond Luc
Levasseur, chronicles the militancy of another white anti-imperialist who invokes
international law and human rights conventions in antiracist struggles. Levasseur
argued in his opening trial statement for the dismissal of criminal charges under
International Law; h e was acquitted of charges at the conclusion of his trial. Rejecting the domestic criminal charges brought by the government, h e asserted a morality based on human rights and freedom fighters criminalized for their oppositional
politics. Maintaining that the U.S. government/corporations committed crimes
against humanity, Levasseur catalogues the acts that led to his organizational
response through t h e UFF (United Freedom Front) and Sam Melville/Jonathan
Jackson Unit. T h e series of bombings against military targets attributed to these
formations occurred a number of years after the bombings attributed to the Weather
Underground, the militant splinter group from the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
“Letter to the Weathermen,” chapter seventeen, is a response by a Christian pacifist militant, Catholic priest Daniel Berrigan. Berrigan and his brother Philip, also
a Catholic priest involved in activist resistance during the 1970s and 1980s and
beyond, were heavily influenced by Martin Luther King, Jr., and the “peaceful” confrontation of state repression by the civil rights movement. Philip Berrigan would go
on to cofound the Plowshares community where Michele Naar-Obed would become
radicalized and, as a mother and peace activist, write the pamphlet excerpted here
as chapter eighteen, “Maternal Convictions: A Mother Beats a Missile into a Plowshare.” In “Maternal Convictions,” Naar-Obed recounts her growing spiritual and
political awareness for peace activism that entailed civil disobedience and illegal
actions, and her multiple “short-term” incarcerations.
Women have varied responses in their resistance to U.S. militarism and warfare;
not all of course are gendered as pacifist. “Dykes and Fags Want to Know: Interview
with Lesbian Political Prisoners,” chapter nineteen, was conducted in 1990-1991
by QUISP (Queer women and men United in Support of Political Prisoners). This
interview focuses on Linda Evans, Susan Rosenberg, and Laura Whitehorn, women
who spent years incarcerated because of their political beliefs and acts. Whitehorn
completed her sentence and was released in 1999. Evans and Rosenberg were


Joy James

granted presidential clemency by President Bill Clinton in 2001. In 1999, Clinton
had granted clemency to eleven of fifteen Puerto Rican independentistas or nationalists who had been imprisoned for years (included in those receiving clemency was
Elizam Escobar). Clinton’s release of independentistas did not signal the end of
imprisonment for advocates and agitators for freeing Puerto Rico from its status as
a colonial possession of the United States. In chapter twenty, “This Is Enough!”
educator Jose Solis Jordan, incarcerated in Florida and later placed under detention
in Puerto Rico, writes of the historical struggle for Puerto Rican independence and
autonomy and his own connections to this struggle.
The following essays speak of the nonmaterial, of the spiritual and transcendent,
of autonomy from the political formation and from purely political identification
and identity. Chapter twenty-one, “Art of Liberation: A Vision of Freedom” by
artist Elizam Escobar, offers one of the more creative and imaginative discussions of
roles, conflicts, and contradictions of the revolutionary who maintains an independence from the struggle itself via his or her connection through art. In chapter
twenty-two, V i o l e n c e and the State” (abridged), Standing Deer recounts a n
attempt on the part of prison authorities to get him to assault AIM activist and
political prisoner Leonard Peltier. Standing Deer’s “conversion” is both political
and spiritual, both rational and suprarational. It provides a n introduction to the
final essay by Leonard Peltier who offers new meanings for freedom and resistance
in our final chapter, twenty-three, “Inipi: Sweat Lodge.” Peltier’s excerpt from his
reminds us of the nonmaautobiography, Prison Writings:My Life Is My Sundance,28
terial aspects of struggle and the spiritual dimensions of freedom.

So much of what is controversial in this collection will center on the issue of violence: the use of violence by the state to squash dissent and destroy dissenters; the
use of violence by dissidents either in immediate self-defense, in military strategies
for “nation-building,” or to promote a political stance and commitment. Obviously
state violence is not synonymous with the violence of the subaltern or oppressed
or imprisoned. Most Americans are more familiar with (inured to?) state violence,
particularly when it is directed against disenfranchised or racially or politically suspect minorities. Therefore, police or military violence against the “racially suspect,”
against the poor and immigrants, against prisoners, is not as unsettling as counterviolence against the police or military by the subaltern and incarcerated. Thus,
George Jackson’s militarist stance in Blood in My Eye29is more terrifying for the
conventional reader than the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) torture manual
for the School of the Americas.3o Perhaps this is because the conventional reader
assumes (knows) that state violence is never earmarked for the obedient and the
No essay in this volume makes a sustained theoretical argument for armed resis-



tance to state violence-although several essays offer theoretical and religious justifications for nonviolent civil disobedience and dissent. T h e book that heavily
influenced many of the activists whose writings appear here is Frantz Fanon’s The
Wretched of the Earth. Fanon argues that the “native” (the colonized and racialized,
here, the imprisoned) does not have to theorize or articulate the truth; she or he is
the truth-the breathing, living embodiment of the contradictions, debasement,
rage, and resentment and rebellion that mark the very conditions of o p p r e s s i ~ n . ~ ~
Yet the “truth,” or some approximation of it, can be spoken in critical encounters
and dialogues with rebels seeking social justice.
T h e non-incarcerated’s sense of security and our real and imagined distance from
political prisoners shape the expanse between the law-abiding (reader) and the outlaw (writer). Yet, what if the issues of political prisoners are in fact the touchstones
to what ails us: structural impoverishment, racial-sexual discrimination and violence, political disenfranchisement, war profiteering? In degrees of (imagined) separation, amnesic fatigue about state violence couples with outrage at extralegal
challenges to domination. Despite stolid dichotomies, if liberation struggles for
human rights-and against war and captivity-intersect, radical imprisoned rebels
may in fact stand at Elegba’s crossroads; if so, then the writings that follow illuminate bridges that span or buckle under the intimacies of death and life struggles.

1. Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, edited and translated by
Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (New York: International Publishers, 1985), 5 .
Gramsci writes: “When one distinguishes between intellectuals and non-intellectuals,one is
referring in reality only to the immediate social function of the professional category of the
intellectuals. . . . although one can speak of intellectuals, one cannot speak of non-intellectuals, because non-intellectuals do not exist” (9).
2. Barbara Harlow, Barred: Women, Writing, and Political Detention (Middletown, Conn.:
Wesleyan University Press, 1992).
3 . For descriptions and analyses of U.S. domestic and foreign policies that (violently)
destabilized democracies, independence, and liberation movements see: Ward Churchill,
From a Native Son: Selected Essays in Indigenism, 1985-1 995 (Boston: South End Press, 1997);
Noam Chomsky, The Culture of Terrorism (Boston: South End Press, 1988); Manning Marable, How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America (Boston: South End Press, 1983); Howard
Zinn, A People’s Histurj of the United States (New York: HarperCollins, 1999); Joy James,
Resisting State Violence (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996); Joy James, ed.,
States of Confinement: Policing, Detention B Prisons (New York: St. Martin’s, 2002, revised
paperback edition); Jerome G. Miller, Search and Destroy: African American Males in the Criminal Justice System (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1976).
Also see: David J. Brown and Robert Merrill, eds., Violent Persuasions: The Politics and
Imagery of Terrorism (Seattle: Bay Press, 1993);Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall, Agents
of Repression: The FBI’s Secret Wars against the Black Panther Party and American Indian Mowment (Boston: South End Press, 2002, revised edition); Troy Johnson et al., eds., American


Joy James

Indian Actiwism: Akatraz to the Longest Walk (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997);
W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company,
1935); and, Matthew Mancini, One Dies, Get Another: Convict Leasing in the American South,
1866-1 928 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996).
4. In its desires for freedoms guarded by institutions, revolutionary politics encompass
and surpass insurrectionary politics. Rather than merely revolt against repressive hierarchies,
laws, and customs, revolutionary politics seeks to build new structures and norms. Hence,
revolutionaries are more feared than are insurrectionists by governing structures and elites.
Just as insurrection is not inherently revolutionary, neither is crime or violence intrinsically
proto-revolutionary: consider that capitalism in the Americas is rooted in the theft of land
and labor and the mass murder of indigenous and African peoples.
5. Page 80. The nephew of President John F. Kennedy and son of Senator Robert Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council,
engaged in civil disobedience at Vieques, Puerto Rico, in 2001. Joined by actor Edward James
Olmos and union leader Dennis Rivera, Kennedy protested the U.S. Navy having “saturated
Vieques with thousands of pounds of ordinance-a total that eventually exceeded the explosive power of the Hiroshima bomb.” Arrested after illegally trespassing on the military site,
the disobedientes were eventually sentenced to thirty days in Guaynabo prison. After citing
the Navy’s civil and criminal violations of federal laws such as the Clean Water Act and the
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Kennedy writes: “Our defense was based on the
doctrine of necessity; a defendant cannot be convicted of trespassing if he shows he entered
the land to prevent a greater crime from being committed. . . . we had engaged in civil disobedience for a single purpose: to prevent a criminal violation of the Endangered Species
Act by the Navy that the federal court had refused to redress” (1 15). The presiding judge,
admonishing that he was not interested in philosophy, dismissed the necessity defense.
As Kennedy’s attorney (and his sister’s father-in-law), former New York governor Mario
Cuomo made the following argument at trial:
We ask the court to recall that this nation was conceived in the civil disobedience that
preceded the Revolutionary War, the acts of civil disobedience that were precipitated
by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, in the famous Sit-Down Strikes of 1936 and 1937,
all through the valiant struggle for civil rights in the 1960s, and the movement against
the Vietnam War. Always they were treated by the courts one way: not like crimes committed for personal gain or out of pure malice, but as technical violations designed to
achieve a good purpose. (115)
See Robert Kennedy’s essay in Ourside, October 2001, 80-84 and 114-16.
Of course, Cuomo and Kennedy would see violations that resulted in the loss of life (and
liberty) as tragedies rather than as technicalities. Years prior to Kennedy’s trial, Mutulu Shakur and Marilyn Buck also unsuccessfully argued the “necessity defense,” appealing to international instead of U.S. standards.
6. There is insufficient space to address the ways in which political prisoners are at times
burdened with the characteristics of prophets; hence their limitations in efficacy in the “free
world” once they are released resonate so much more intensely. Activists, such as the slain
leader Chris Hani, attempted to prevent the “marriage of Mandela-ism with liberalism.”
With the African National Congress (ANC)’s acceptance of the apartheid government’s
debt and its failure to nationalize and redistribute key resources and wealth, the observation

lntroduc tion


by some local South African activists that Mandela had “sold out the bush” resonated with
the intense frustrations of an economically subjugated people.
7. Some accounts of the southern civil rights movement argue that pacifists were often
provided protection from Klan and police violence by armed and organized African American men and women, such as those who formed the Deacons for Defense and Justice in North
Carolina. See: Anne Moody, The Coming of Age in Mississippi (Laureleaf, 1997, reprint); Robert Franklin Williams, Negroes with Guns (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998,
reprint); and Timothy B. Tyson, Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black
Power (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999).
8. November 7, 2002, e-mail correspondence from Michael Hames-Garcia, editor’s
papers. For further discussions analyzing incarceration politics, see: Michael Hames-Garcia,
Crucibles of Freedom (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003).
9. Dylan Rodriguez maintains:
“Free” activists (scholars, etc.) often appropriate the iconography of captive radicals/
revolutionaries . . . and may even do so in critical and radical ways (for example, to
introduce the discourse of “political prisoners/POWs” to a public that cannot assimilate
such a possibility in their midst). Yet, it is far more difficult for free people to engage
the political work of radical prisoners in a manner that seriously informs their praxis.
Of course, to do so would necessitate a far more urgent, even desperate attempt to translate the political dream (vision) of prison/police abolition into an antagonistic and
accessible political-cultural practice. . . . 50 activists and critically informed students
could read the anthology through this structure of. . . disavowal, such that the mundane
pro-state progressivism (inherently white supremacist) of the CBO, nonprofit, and academic sectors remains sacrosanct. To refuse the urgency of principled hostility and opposition to this civic and state formation is a virtual religious fiat of the current (post-civil
rights) era of the alleged Left. (Dylan Rodriguez, September 2002 e-mail correspondence, editor’s papers.)
For another critical perspective on the “prison writer,” see Paul St. John, “Behind the
Mirror’s Face,” in Doing Time: Twenty-Fiwe Years of Prison Writing, ed. Bell Gale Chevigny
(New York: Arcade, 1999).
10. Using historian Eugene Genovese’s statement “The Black experience in this country
has been a phenomenon without analog” as the epigraph for his essay, Frank Wilderson, 111,
quotes from Steve Martinot and Jared Sexton, “The Avant-Garde of White Supremacy,”
April 2002, Genovese’s citation is given as: Boston
Review October/November 1993. See: Frank Wilderson, 111, “The Prison Slave as Hegemony’s (Silent) Scandal,” in Social Justice (forthcoming).
11. For a discussion of the concept “social death” in a global and historical context, see:
Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982). For contemporary analyses of “social death” within the context
of U S . racial and incarceration politics, see: Frank Wilderson, 111, “The Prison Slave as
Hegemony’s (Silent) Scandal” and Dylan Rodriguez, ‘I ‘Social Truth’ and Imprisoned Radical
Intellectuals” in the forthcoming issue of the journal Social Justice.
12. The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution legalizes slavery for those duly
convicted of a crime. In the convict prison lease system following the Civil War, African
Americans, criminalized for their “blackness,” were worked to death in mines, fields, and
forests in joint ventures between the state and private industries. For an analysis of the his-


Joy James

tory of the convict lease system in the United States, see Matthew Mancini, One Dies, Get
Another: Convict Leasing in the American South, 1866-1928 (Columbia: University of South
Carolina Press, 1996).
13. W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and
Company, 1935).
14. See Vincent Harding, There Is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America (New
York: Harcourt Brace, 1981).
15. See Mike Ngo, under pseudonym “An Unknown Soldier,” “A Day in the Life,” prisoners’ zine, untitled, January 13, 2000; also see Dylan Rodriguez, “Interview with Mike Ngo,”
in Abolitionists: Imprisoned Writers on Incarceration, Enslavement and Emancipation, ed. Joy
James (forthcoming).
16. For details of US. foreign and domestic policies that instigated considerable warfare,
destabilization, and death in the post-World War I1 era, see: Noam Chomsky, The Culture of
Terrorism (Boston: South End Press, 1988); Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall, Agents of
Repression: The FBI’s Secret War against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement (Boston: South End Press, revised 2002 edition); Joy James, Resisting State Violence: Radicalism, Gender, and Race in U.S. Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
17. See Mondo we Langa, “Letter from Inside,” Nebraska Report, May/June 1999, 9. For
information on Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa (David Rice), see Can’t Jail the Spirit
(Chicago: Committee to End the Marion Lockdown, 2002, 5th edition). Mondo we Langa
was deputy minister of information for the Omaha, Nebraska, chapter of the National Committees to Combat Fascism, an organization affiliated with the Black Panther Party, and is
serving a life sentence for the first-degree murder of a policeman. He was active in protesting
police brutality against African American residents in Omaha. According to the Center for
Constitutional Rights, we Langa was targeted by COINTELPRO and his conviction “was
based on the testimony of a frightened teenager and on explosives allegedly found in [we
Langa’s] house.” A Federal Court of Appeals declared the search illegal yet the Supreme
Court “sustained the conviction holding that the Federal courts should not have reviewed
the state court decision.” See Center for Constitutional Rights, “Political Prisoners in the
United States,” September 1988.
18. This article was first published in the International Association of Democratic Lawyers
Bulletin, January 1990, and reprinted in Social Jwtice, vol. 18, no. 3.
19. For information on Lori Berenson, see Rhoda Berenson, Lon: My Daughter, Wrongfully
Imprisoned in Peru (New York: Context Books, 2000). For discussions of prisoners with the
status of “illegal [non]combatants” following September 11, 2001, see: Amnesty International, “USA: Detainees from Afghan Conflict Should Be Released or Tried,” A1 Index:
AMR 51/164/2002, 1 November 2002; and Joseph Lelyveld, “In Guantgnamo,” The New
York Review of Books, November 7, 2002.
20. See Anne-Marie Cusac, “You’re in the Hole: A Crackdown on Dissident Prisoners,”
The Progressive, December 2001. The Progressive reports that on October 26,2001, John Ashcroft signed the “National Security: Prevention of Acts of Violence and Terrorism,” which
was subsequently published in the Federal Register. Cusac writes: “Under the new rules, the
Department of Justice, ‘based on information from the head of a federal law enforcement or
intelligence agency,’ will select certain prisoners for ‘special administrative measures’ . . .
[including isolation, denials of correspondence, telephone communication, visitations, and
media interviews].”



21. Targets of FBI repression have been fairly varied, including Albert Einstein, because
of his socialism and antiracist activism (Einstein worked with W. E. B. Du Bois and Paul
Robeson; with the latter he cofounded an anti-lying organization), and John Lennon, targeted because of his antiwar activism. See, respectively, Frank Jerome, The Einstein F.B.I. File
(New York: St. Martin’s, 2002) and Jon Wiener, Come Together: John Lennon in His Time
(New York: Random House, 1984) and “John Lennon versus the F.B.I.,” The New Republic,
vol. 188.
O n October 10, 2001, Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union
(ACLU) Washington National Office, issued “Trust Us, We’re the Government”; the statement details government malfeasance and illegal surveillance and harassment tied to
COINTELPRO, in which “few members of any of the groups targeted by COINTELPRO
were ever charged with a crime.” It also makes reference to the 1976 Church Committee
Senate report that concluded: “The Government has often undertaken the secret surveillance of citizens on the basis of their political beliefs, even when those beliefs posed no threat
of violence or illegal acts on behalf of a hostile foreign power. . . . Groups and individuals
have been harassed and disrupted because of their political views and their lifestyles.” In
1986, a federal court determined that COINTELPRO was responsible for at least 204 burglaries by FBI agents, the use of 1,300 informants, the theft of 12,600 documents, 20,000
illegal wiretap days, and 12,000 bug days.
Alongside COINTELPRO, the ACLU notes the “STOP INDEX,” where FBI computerized databases monitored antiwar activists; “CONUS” (Continental United States), which
in the 1950s and 1960s “collected and maintained files on upwards of 100,000 political activists and used undercover operatives recruited from the Army to infiltrate these activist groups
and steal confidential information and files for distribution to federal, state and local govemments”; “OPERATION CHAOS” in the 1960s, where the Central Intelligence Agency
engaged in domestic spying to destabilize the American peace movement; and “CISPES”
harassment, in which the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES)
was targeted because of its opposition to President Ronald Reagan’s support of paramilitary
death squads in El Salvador. Murphy asserts that “the Bush Administration’s defense of its
new, and frighteningly broad, anti-terrorism bill is also being couched in exactly these terms
[of trust for the government’s use of police powers]. Unfortunately, history has also shown us
that, more o