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A personal account of the colonial U.S. prison system

 
Foreword: The following is an account of the actual conditions in today’s U.S. prison system, written by Comrade Kwame Agomou of the International Peoples’s Democratic Uhuru Movement. It was written during his recent unjust incarceration for defending himself against the violence of a white nationalist vigilante who attacked him.
 
Kwame, a longtime fighter for African Liberation, gives a stirring and disturbing account of the actual conditions that Africans, Raza, and other oppressed and working class people encounter when confronted by colonial “justice.” More important, he gives a solution—organization and struggle for liberation.
 

This writing is an overview of the conditions that exist in the colonial U.S. prison system and just one of its many components—jail.
 
What we have to understand and come to terms with is that these conditions, this manifestation of a parasitic system will not change as long as our community remains silent on the subject.
 
We know that the power of the people is stronger than the power of the State, but it will take an organized, conscious movement to tear down these inhumane institutions called jails and prisons in which large sectors of our people are forced to exist under daily. The time to struggle is now and we can and must win.
 
Some inmates have AIDS, HIV and some have cancer. Many suffer from arthritis and gout.
 
Some have respiratory ailments. Diabetes and high blood pressure are rampant. Some are incontinent, some are blind.
 
Many suffer from stab and bullet wounds. If they have a debilitating illness, they can be found here.
 
These are the people I left behind. They are the inmates of San Diego County Jail’s Medical Unit. They are Africans, Chicano Mexicanos, and North Americans—all sharing the same space and suffering.
 
The Medical Unit is said to be the least “political” (referring to the strict policy of state-fomented and fostered racial separation, antagonism and violence—especially between Black and Brown), but Africans stay with Africans, Raza—or Chicano Mexicanos—clique with Raza, and North Americans stay exclusively to themselves.
 
Commodities such as toilet paper are allocated and distributed to the leaders of each racial group. These commodities then become a form of currency, leading to widespread abuse.
 
Inmates seek all forms of escape. Many play chess, checkers, cards and 10,000—a dice game of chance.
 
Inmates read and write letters. Some are artistically gifted and create beautiful envelopes.
 
Television viewing is controlled by jailhouse staff. The bill of fare is very limited and the jailers control even when the television is turned on or off.
 
Since viewing is a “privilege,” the jailers may turn off the TV for real or imagined infractions at their whim.
 
Inmates wait patiently for telephone time. Inmates with money on the books are often befriended by those who don’t have money.
 
Any contact with loved ones or attorneys is precious. Feelings of isolation and desertion pervade the unit.
 
Inmates sign up to attend religious services, social classes or sick call. One does what one can to escape the pervasive sense of boredom and bleakness.
 
The unit’s population is heterogeneous to say the least. On the unit are those convicted of first degree murder who are right alongside those who have a failure to appear in court for trolley tickets.
 
The “early release” program, which comes from a federal mandate to reduce overcrowding in prisons is a joke. Inmates are “released” from prisons to do their time in already overworked and overflowing county jails. Staff at county jails are even less equipped than prison staff to deal with the issues of the inmates and the conditions that engender them.
 
It is common to witness jailers over-responding to even the most harmless acts.
 
Due to overcrowding, it is common to see prisoners sleep on pallets on the floor. In spite of these conditions, the jails continue to bring in new inmates, which lead to a highly charged atmosphere. It would seem only a matter of time before one or more major incidents take place.
 
The overwhelming majority of inmates have been “defended” by what are called “public defenders” (aka public pretenders).
 
Most of these inmates took a “plea bargain” to receive shorter sentences. Over 50 percent of all pleas are made by people who are not guilty of the crimes of which they are accused.
 
This is a known fact, yet public defenders continue to bring these deals to the accused, with the promise of less time to get them to take the plea and be done with them.
 
Medical care in the unit is someone’s idea of a very bad joke. People with obvious maladies are often ignored or poorly attended. Medication is generic and often administered in a haphazard manner.
 
I personally witnessed an injured diabetic inmate go without the simplest examination—let alone treatment for three days.
 
This is not the exception, but the rule. For example, inmates who require a cane to walk may go without one for days or weeks.
 
It takes a major effort to describe jailhouse “food.” Breakfast, without exaggerating, is a joke where one is given “institutional oatmeal.” Sometimes there is a small serving of egg, a pork sausage patty and what passes for bread. Undercooked hash brown potatoes are often traded for a small piece of fruit.
 
Lunchtime is even worse. The standard fare is a sandwich made of “mystery meat paired with processed cheese (this cheese and sliced bread are highly prized). There is also a small piece of fruit as with breakfast.
 
For dinner, the nutritional nightmare continues. Usually there are undercooked vegetables and maybe three times a month inmates get a small piece of chicken. Sometimes the entrée is a sandwich with the ever-present mystery meat.
 
Meals are usually accompanied by a small carton of milk, a true irony since most Africans and Mexicanos/Raza are lactose intolerant. Coughing and sniffling are heard constantly.
 
Diabetics and vegetarians are to be given “special diets” but these diets amount to nothing.
 
Infection is a constant threat and hygiene is crucial. If someone relieves himself and fails to wash his hands, he is advised to clean himself up.
 
Failure to observe this rule can be followed by heavier sanctions, so most who are able comply. Daily showering is a must. Floors and living areas are cleaned daily. Those who clean are given privileges—usually extra food. At least one of the shower stalls is visibly infested with mold.
 
Most inmates feel they are forgotten by their families and sadly, there is an element of truth in this sentiment.
 
Most inmates know there is no justice for them in the so-called “justice system.”
 
For them the days are long and the nights even more so. Most feel they are caught up in “The Life.” Some want to change but peer pressure makes this extremely difficult. Peer pressure is strong and it can and does control inmate behavior.
 
One has to be aware that what one says may have violent or disastrous outcomes. This is why private conversations are often conducted in whispers and very low voices.
 
Friendships are tenuous and often based on ulterior motives. There is never an atmosphere of genuine relaxation, as one is always on guard with no “days off.” You keep your head on a swivel and always watch your back.
 
Prison authorities still try to deny that the prison experience leaves a lasting effect on the incarcerated, but mental health professionals acknowledge that the prison experience often leaves the inmate suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
 
Symptoms may manifest themselves while the inmate is locked up or may be expressed years after release.
 
The county jail is run as a business. Therefore, when inmates go to the commissary, they overpay for items that cost 75 percent less at a supermarket. For example, on the outside someone can buy four Top Ramen Noodle soups for one dollar. One pack costs 59 cents in San Diego County Jail.
 
Mailing envelopes are sold individually to maximize a profit.
 
Because the jail gets paid for transporting inmates, people who don’t have to attend a court date are forced to rise at dawn and move for the express purpose of getting more bodies on the bus and, again, maximizing profit.
 
It is important to note that the conditions in San Diego County Jail are probably no better or worse than those of other jails—and jail is a place where Africans and Chicano Mexicanos are warehoused and tortured under abominable conditions.
 
I have written this report because none of us must forget those I have left behind. Once outside the walls, it is much too easy to forget those still incarcerated. There must be someone who will advocate for those left behind.
 
As our Party has said many times, “Onward to the Final Offensive.”
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