We’re pleased to announce the release of our new book, Down: Reflections on Prison Resistance in Indiana. The book contains a number of interviews with some of Indiana’s long-term prison rebels, a brief overview of the rich history of prison struggle throughout the state, and thoughts from the editors about how prisoner solidarity has been and could be done. More generally, it documents a conversation between a few anarchists in the state and some prisoners here who became politicized on the inside, of a bridge we are building between differing conditions, politics, and beliefs—of our mutual need and desire to abolish prison.
The book is a 95 page half-sized bound paperback. It’s free to prisoners, with particular preference given to folks in Indiana (as building connections with these prisoners is part of the point.) For everyone else, it’s $2 plus shipping, all of which will go towards printing and shipping costs for the next run. The first run was small, and we are prioritizing prison distribution, so we ask people in the “free world” to be patient when waiting for their copies. Please go ahead and request your copy now, though, so we can plan the size of our next run. If you want a .pdf version for tabling and distro purposes (it works great as a zine format), email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below are excerpts from the analysis and interview sections. Please spread the word to anyone you think might be interested!
“We are frustrated, for example, by the character of the famous political prisoner. Here we refer to instances of individual political prisoners, whatever that might mean, building (or having built on their behalf) campaigns that deal with their particular cases, their personalities, and the particular grievances they might have against prisons or the ‘justice’ system. This isn’t to say that these people don’t deserve support— they’re our family, and we love them dearly. What frustrates us about these sorts of campaigns is the necessary individualization or isolation of this one inmate from the rest of the prisoners, often, if not structurally, resulting in the lack of a strong critique of the institutions that control them. That is, mostly these campaigns deal with the illegality of one person’s incarceration, not with the plight of the many prisoners daily engaging in struggle against their conditions, or the concentrated evil of the prisons themselves. These people become celebrities or figureheads; anyone can sign a petition or hold a placard at a rally for them without believing in the furtherance of struggle on the inside or destruction of prisons in general. We often see these cases reach towards the lowest common denominator of leftism to reach their goals.
Similarly, we feel frustrated with the process of defining who is or who isn’t a political prisoner. This question, at its core, is trying to define who is or who isn’t deserving of support—in many situations, a relatively fucked up thing to ask. It puts some narrow definition of ‘anarchist’ or ‘radical’ above all other considerations. Does this person (or even worse, does this person’s “crime”) show a direct connection to the politics that we or our groups espouse? No? Well, this person isn’t worth our time then. (This is of course a cold simplification of the process, but it’s none the less real). This is problematic: when we decide who to support by deciding whether their original crime was committed out of a political ideology we think we share, then all prisoners who don’t meet our criteria, no matter what their politics or engagement with struggle within any given prison, are left without any level of material support or solidarity of action. This robs us of any relevance to prison struggle, and makes our passionate words about solidarity into a cruel joke.
On the other end from this individualization, this marking off of a certain individual or classes of prisoners for support, we find those groups and organizations that offer blanket support in the form of apolitical material resources, given freely to all that ask. This is obviously important in myriad ways: people gotta read, people gotta eat.
But these groups almost always demand, structurally as a group, a strict adherence to non-intervention–that is, non-engagement with the prisoners beyond the surface level of the fulfillment of a social service. It comes down to only filling packages and mailing resources. There’s not room for relationship building, there’s not room for discussion and certainly not for collaboration.”
“…going through my early stages of development, like the Maximum Control Complex hunger strikes, networking with people and being exposed to different levels of activists out there… and because we were accomplishing things and having victories and whatnot, people outside the walls had a tendency to put us on pedestals, like we don’t have faults. You build up a certain expectation. So then when you do get out, if you get out, if you stumble or fall or whatever, some of these same people that are supposed to be comrades and allies or whatever, who fashioned this romanticized vision of you, are your worst critics.
That’s amazing to me, because on one hand you say you’re treating me as a conscious individual, that you’re someone who understands revolution and understands the nature of oppression and imperialism and what have you, that understand the kind of psychological torture and trauma that people like us go through, and yet you’re judging us and somehow are our worst critics, when you yourself, probably, more than not, have not been through what we’ve been through, and probably couldn’t sustain the shit that we have been through. And yet because you romantically put us on this pedestal that we didn’t ask to be on, then you said all this other shit. And we don’t need that. We struggle within the arena and on the terrain that we’re forced to deal with, and then we come out there to the terrain where you guys are at and try to adapt and navigate that shit, after going through what we’ve been through. And there aren’t mechanisms in places, structures in place, that are capable of absorbing those of us who do come out, who are damaged goods or have suffered post-traumatic stress or whatever.
And then we come out and watch how they all have personal agendas. Whether you want us to speak for you or whatever, it’s not the type of relationship, like you were saying earlier, it’s not genuine comradeship, working relationship, where this is what this is about. It’s not just about what people can do for me, or what I can do for people, it’s about that we are committed to our idea, an ideology, and a principle, and are trying to develop the means and the methods to deal with this shit and to make some progress… and a lot of times, brother, that don’t be what it is. And one of the reasons why—you know, this debate that has been going on for however many years, the traditional political prisoner versus the social prisoner turned political, what have you–one of the reasons that a lot of guys who get out fall away is because there aren’t structures in place to absorb them. We don’t have a liberated zone or a liberated territory where we can go to as conscious individuals and be nurtured and strengthened, where we could feed off of each other and be strengthened by each other. It’s like you just go out there and you’re trying to be proactive and progressive and revolutionary in a sea of reactionaries.
And if you don’t have a firm foundation where you have made a qualitative leap and you got an internal base in yourself that you’re standing on based on your values and your politics, nine times out of ten you’re going to succumb to the madness around you or something else. And that’s a bad thing, man. And I think that’s been one of the biggest obstacles in our path, as far as having the institutions and structures that can support a political prisoner outside the walls in Indiana, for example, or the Midwest, that can be sustained–not that it can’t just be popped up, we have our spurts. But it’s not able to be sustained, anything that’s really geared towards or is effective towards serious change.”