Introduction [from Prison Focus]: We’re all aware of the 2005 court decision ordering the C.D.C. to begin implementing integrated celling of the prison’s multi-ethnic population. What may not be known to many is that this policy has already been initiated.
For the most part the immediate response has essentially been that of resistance which has manifested itself in both abstract (verbal) and practical (concrete) forms.
Despite the multi-faceted origin of this resistance, it is primarily the manifestation of subjective influences, that is, a long history of our social conditioning. Furthermore it should be noted that this resistance is not exclusively limited to the prison masses but transcends them to include those correctional officers who work in close proximity to the prisoners themselves.
It is only through the understanding of something’s opposite that we can fully understand that which it is we seek to understand. For us to fully comprehend the resistance of the correctional officers and place this resistance into its proper context, we must not only understand, as most already do, that the C.O.s have no desire to deal with a prison population at each other’s throats. But we must also understand the opposite tendency of this equation, i.e., that neither do they wish to see prisoners on exceptionally good terms with each other, for these are the conditions necessary to redirect our energies to the improvement of our conditions— thus threatening their interests.
The first attempts at implementing this policy was initiated at Mule Creek State Prison and the Sierra Conservation Center in Ione. This was met with mixed results. Prison bureaucrats announced that the imposition of this policy went smoothly in Mule Creek. When we place this in its proper context, this is understandable considering the content of Mule Creek’s population as a “drop out” yard, i.e., defeatist and passive in both essence and form.
In regards to the Sierra Conservation Center, despite the individualism, and near total lack of unity that permeates all lower level facilities, there was nevertheless some degree of collective resistance in and effort to prevent the process of integration from proceeding.
There is a valuable lesson to be drawn from this as well. The many analysis and theories formulated around the argument that unity amongst the prisoners on the lower levels was an impossibility have now been proven wrong. Although a distinction must be made. The unity was a progressive development in itself—the motive behind it was for an essentially counterproductive purpose and against our objective interests.
The prisoners who participated engaged in a work stoppage and, although they were “temporarily” successful in prolonging this process, the C.D.C. is intent on moving forward with this integration state-wide within two to three years. This poses numerous questions, both theoretical and practical. I would like to ask you both, S.K. and C.L., some questions more pertinent to the issue at hand. Likewise, I understand that circumstances necessitate a degree of self censorship. Nonetheless, whatever thoughts that you can share will no doubt be greatly appreciated and hopefully foster healthy dialogue that can result in action.
Question One: Do you believe that the issue of desegregation can be effectively addressed without also addressing the context in which this process develops? And why?
SK: The short answer is “No.” The prison system is a microcosm of the class and racial contradictions inherent with the larger society. The segregation of prisoners was an extension of the class and racial segregation existing within society at that time. Over the years we have adopted and perpetuated these social practices as our own. This is reflected not only in our division into groups based on race, but also in the rules and regulations in which the groups operate. And despite the “official desegregation” that has formally occurred within the judicial realm some decades ago, we as prisoners have condoned and rigidly perpetuated this segregation and hostilities which have been reinforced and encouraged by the prison administration—covertly as well as overtly. The ethnic, cultural, and geographical divide that we base our separation upon can be collectively dissolved through dialogue, although we must do so on a common ground which we can rally around, and this common ground is our prison conditions and the necessity to preserve and advance our own existence and development. A common struggle would function as the vehicle to accomplish this. So, “no”, desegregation and our prison conditions cannot be divorced, other than to do so artificially.
CL: This is an extremely relevant question. To expand on S.K.’s response in greater depth, I think it is necessary to understand that nothing exists in total isolation, separate, and independent of those other objects and phenomena around it which it is interconnected with, be it organic, inorganic, social development, the development of human thought and knowledge, including the developments that are in motion throughout the C.D.C. right now.
Everything without exception is interrelated (connected, interpenetrating, interdependent, etc.), and influences the direction and development of everything else around it, as it is in turned infl uenced by those forces around it. Keeping in mind, that in contradiction to the static and motionless “appearance” of objective reality (matter), everything, including social phenomenon is “essentially” in perpetual transformation. J. Stalin captured this well in his penetrating work Dialectical and Historical Materialism,” when he stated:
“No phenomenon in nature can be understood if taken by itself, isolated from surrounding phenomenon…. Any phenomena in any realm in nature may become meaningless to us if it is not considered in connection with the surrounding conditions. Any phenomena can be understood and explained if considered in its inseparable connection with surrounding phenomena….”
Our concrete conditions and practical activities, such as the racial and geographical hostilities that we perpetuate between us not only gives further shape, thus molding our ideas and ways of thinking, i.e., our consciousness, that reflects and reinforces these practices. But reciprocally in turn, also infl uences the direction and further deterioration of our material conditions in that we give the necessary justification the C.D.C. relies upon to further strip us of our remaining “rights” and privileges.
Concrete conditions—the matter around us—and our actions infl uence the direction and development of our consciousness, by way of our five sense organs of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. In separable interconnection, our consciousness influences the direction and transformation of our material conditions when we transform our consciousness back into matter, from ideas back into existence, and in the process of literally transform our concrete conditions. This was also summed up well in Marx’s statement, “Circumstances create man as much as man creates his circumstances.”
Unless we change our current practices and do so soon, we are going to lose everything, including our leverage and our ability to transform our situation. The transformation of our material conditions and the transformation of our consciousness (ideas, ways of thinking, concepts, emotions, etc.) is intrinsically interdependent. One process cannot occur without the other. To transform our condition is to simultaneously transform ourselves in the process, and visa versa, the opposite. Fred Engels said in explicit terms:
“Mans ideas, views, and conceptions, in one word, mans consciousness, changes with every change in the conditions of his material existence, in his social relations and in his social life.”
Historically the C.D.C. has used every major event that has arisen within the prison system to further its own objectives at our expense—be it financial or in the erosion of our “rights.” Qualitatively speaking, there has not been a break in the continuity of this trajectory of deterioration over the last 20 years or more. This desegregation is inevitable and the sooner we grasp this intellectually, the sooner we can begin “formulate” and effective strategy that is “essentially” collective in its coordination so as not to allow the state to exploit and exacerbate the existing contradictions between us as a means to further infringe upon our remaining “rights.”
Question Two: Having read your responses, both of you not only draw essentially identical conclusions that this desegregation process in inevitable, but that some degree of collective cooperation between the prisoners themselves is needed. Would you please elaborate on this?
CL: It is important to understand that the state, in all of its forms—the military, intelligence, police, judicial system, courts, etc., including the prison system—is not only a product of class divided society, it is a tool created and used by the economically dominating classes to protect and preserve their financial and material interests, i.e., their class interests.
In his theoretical work State and Revolution, Lenin correctly observed:
The state is a product and manifestation of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms…. According to Marx, the state is an organ of class domination, and organ of oppression of one class by another; its aim is the creation of “order” which legalizes and perpetuates this oppression by moderating the collisions between the classes.”
And although it was not the intention of Frederick Engels, he nonetheless completed Lenin’s statement with this passage taken from his groundbreaking work, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, in which he says:
“Public force exists in every state; it consists not merely of armed men, but of material appendages, prisons (emphasis added), and repressive institutions of all kinds.”
On first appearance the above quote may seem irrelevant to the question, but it is actually essential to the question as will become apparent, as it is to our conditions and to the formulation of a correct plan of action. It allows us to place the various aspects of this issue into proper context. Not only is the prison system a tool, of the wealthy and their upper class supporters, used to perpetuate their ill gotten class privileges, the prison administration and overly paid guards belong to a social class whose economic interests are irreconcilably opposed to our interests as prisoners. As the comrade S.K. has acknowledged, the prison system is a microcosm of the class and racial contradictions existing within society. We must not interpret this mechanically, i.e., from one side only. The prison system is not only a reflection of social contradictions and class struggle, but the prison system in turn, dialectically, reacts back on society, exerting its own degree of influence on the direction of social development, such as on social policies, laws, etc.
But more revealing of the comrade’s observation is the fact that the class struggle is an objective phenomenon that occurs regardless of our opinions, intentions, feelings, etc., just as the sun arises and sets regardless of our will.
A guard may wish you a “Buenos dias” as the tray slides through the food port in your cell door, but his has no bearing on the fact that their material conditions as a social class are sustained on our incarceration, i.e., the incarceration of society’s predominately poorest members. These same “cool” C.O.s push and vote for the harshest laws on the ballot that will keep us incarcerated for the most minor infractions, thus perpetuating their class interests at our expense and the expense of the social class from which we originate.
It must be understood that all of what we are currently surrendering without any form of resistance, spontaneous or organized, was not given to us on a silver platter, but was purchased for in the blood and sweat of those convicts of previous generations. Nor are these infringements upon our various “rights” unconnected isolated acts carried out on the part of the state. They are a connected part of a larger agenda pursued by various class forces who share a common interest in not only an incarcerated population, but in a defeatist and submissive prison population as well.
This allows us to see that any and everything that they do is diametrically opposed to our concrete interests, and despite the fact that this particular issue of desegregation was initiated by another prisoner’s law suit, the state will utilize it to further their interests—if we let them. The question is, “Will we break with continuity”? Furthermore, any and all infringements upon our “rights” affect us as a whole, not just as individuals. To challenge or resist their encroachments “solely” on an individual level by itself only insures the success of their “divide and conquer” tactic. Not only must we challenge them on an individual level (602s, law suites, citizen complaints, etc.), we must more importantly cooperate with one another as objective conditions necessitate and resist them as a united front.
SK: The necessity for change amongst the prison population and the concrete conditions is most evident by the prisoners’ existing conditions themselves and their continuous deterioration. Reversing, or at best, changing, the current direction of this trend and the corresponding self-destructive practices that refl ects this downward deterioration, requires a protracted process of mutual cooperation between us, requiring that we set aside whatever difference we might have in order to achieve our intended and agreed upon goals, whatever they may be.
Question Three: So far you have given us a general description of this cooperation, but could you describe to us in more detail how you envision this cooperation and what objectives do we intend to achieve from this cooperation?
SK: I would suggest that some form of strategic alliance be formulated by those individuals who already occupy positions of authority/influence. There have been instances over the length of several decades of prisoner disunity in which we came together in order to achieve a common goal that improved the quality of prisoners’ conditions.
The prison system continues to grow and expand while the quality of prisoners’ material conditions and social relations continue on a downward spiral. Just under the previous two decades, prisoners have lost more than half of the gains it took decades of struggle to obtain.
The balance of forces has tipped and we are in the process of transforming into our opposite. Numerically we are nearly the minority now, and those in protective custody (SNY) are nearly the majority. Where we were once free to walk the lines while those who demanded protective custody from the state were isolated; today it is us who are now isolated under the guise of validation, i.e., indeterminate SHU, etc., and those demanding protective custody are rewarded. These rewards are temporary and a tactical move on the part of the state, used as incentive to entice those convicts who have refused to capitulate up to this point.
We have arguably lost more than we have left to lose. The balance of forces have also tipped here and as dialectics and the struggle of opposites reveal, the C.D.C. is that much closer to achieving their grand agenda. The further day has progressed, the sooner darkness will envelope us.
CL: There are no such thing as “rights”, there are only power struggles. This captures the essence of all objective reality, i.e., it captures the transitory nature of reality’s motion, be it organic, inorganic, human thought, social phenomenon, etc. To comprehend this, is to likewise comprehend that any strategy or tactics that we formulate (assuming we adhere to a plan) would be purely abstract and only approximate with reality to a given point.
In other words, we can devise a plan based upon a thorough analysis of existing conditions, but by the time we begin to implement this plan, many aspects of the existing conditions will have already transformed, although the essential trajectory will have remained the same and this is of importance to understand.
We can formulate a general plan, i.e., a “strategy” while the particularities (tactics) of this plan must be fluid and can only be realized through concrete actions, not abstract theories and ideas divorced from practical actions.
Having said that, individualism is a tremendous obstacle. I don’t believe it possible at this stage to convince another prisoner to take up the cause of other prisoners if it does not impact him or her directly, even if it does so indirectly. Validation reform is a prime example.
Due to the low level of prisoners’ political consciousness and for practical purposes, we would have to find an issue, or a number of issues, that affect all of us in common which we could unite around.
As for integrated celling, this is an extremely complex issue, an issue that only the prison masses can decide. Do we accept it, or not? I correctly recognize that to resist it in a attempt to perpetuate the old status-quo, no matter what our “initial instincts” tell us, is in fact “reactionary” and only sets ourselves up for further infringement of our rights.
Despite our decision, we need to ask ourselves, “are we going to allow C.D.C. to manipulate and exploit our reaction” as a means to advance their agenda and deprive us further, that is, are we going to continue assisting them in keeping their boot on our necks?
No matter what our decision is, assuming we do organize ourselves, I strongly suggest that we not turn on one another and provide the C.D.C. with more justifi cation, but instead unite and struggle to improve our circumstances and preserve all of that which is positive of ourselves, rather than dig our holes a little deeper than we already have.
There’s nothing more that the C.D.C. fears than to see us on good terms with each other. If we do not transform our reactionary ways into a pro-active existence, we will continue losing what remaining “solid” yards we have left, which are already becoming diffi cult to distinguish between.
With that said, I’m only one of 170,000 other prisoners in the CA system. I neither have the authority, nor all of the solutions to our dilemmas. Like the next man, I can only suggest and contribute my opinion, thoughts, knowledge, etc., and hope that others will be provoked to contribute their own input with the ultimate goal of reaching a consensus by those in a position to implement a plan of action.
Dialectics reveals the transitory character of all reality, i.e., the transformation that results from the struggle of opposite tendencies inherent within all reality. It’s not a question of whether or not transformation is going to come. Change—motion—is perpetual as it is inevitable. The question is, are we going to sit idly by, or are we going to harness these contradictions and influence the direction and development of these changes to serve our common interests? As Lenin correctly said in On The Question of Dialectics, “development is the struggle of opposites.”