Greetings, interested readers, friends, fellow activists and revolutionaries, welcome to #23, the Fall Issue of 4SM. With this issue, let me warmly welcome Ward Churchill, the internationally known author and activist as a regular columnist with 4SM. Be sure to check out Ward’s first column, “Lynne Stewart and the Perversion of Compassionate Release.”
Let me also welcome the Jericho Freedom Movement for Political Prisoners. Beginning with this issue, a Jericho newsletter is now included in the pages of 4SM.
As always, this edition has a lot of information and many other thoughtful articles. I invite you to check out my essay on “Decline of Empire?”. Also, I suggest you study the George Jackson political prisoners coalition statement. We always invite your feedback and dialogue on all of the words in 4SM.
This will be our final edition for this year. Beginning in 2014, we will again publish 3 issues a year and #24 will be out in early March.
With the upcoming Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s holidays, let me send positive revolutionary “Red Season’s Greetings” to all of you, your families and close people.
Freedom Is A Constant Struggle!
Jaan Laaman, editor
Thanks for your support. You don’t know how much it means for us and all the prisoners currently in jail to know that initiative like yours exist and spread the truth about the current Irish situation.
The situation in Maghaberry jail is still as it was. The Loyalist Prisoners Officer Association is still refusing to work the 2011 agreement, backed up by the administration and the British puppets in Stormont. The POWs are still fighting to have the end of the forced strip searches, the controlled movement and to achieve the full implementation of the 2011 agreement. Once again your support is appreciated and gives strength to the prisoners in their struggle in resisting the criminalisation policy and their ultimate goal to be recognized as political prisoners.
We send our support to all political prisoners over the 5 continents and would be glad to implement a collaboration with the ABC on the question of political prisoners over the world.
We invite the ABC, and any groups wishing to lend support or to find out more about the current situation to contact us directly through email: email@example.com.
In regards to David Gilbert:
Combating Sexism, Homophobia and Transphobia. Issue 21: Fall 2012.
Greetings Comrades! How are you doing? I’m okay! First off I live an “Alternative Lifestyle” myself. This is who I am. But in society I was “never” judged by people (I was respected by all). When I became locked up boy this is another story. Nobody has the right to judge another human being because of his or her Gender, Sexuality, Race, etc. We have battled and still are today with this issue here in America.
This is a very good topic. I was told this is “The Land of the Free.” So on that note I’m satisfied. Being incarcerated I’ve had Correctional Officers plus inmates call me names like Whitney Houston, NeNe Leakes (two black female celebrities), faggot, punk and the list goes on.
My attitude toward it is Oh! They don’t know me. I know who I am and I know what I’ve been through in this life of mine.
How can I get mad at a FOOL.
They simply don’t know any better.
Another thing I want to (address) is if a man wants to be with the same-sex in a relationship, and women too, who is to say they’re wrong?
I believe whoever you choose to be with, if they make you happy and treat you right, go for it! “It’s your prerogative.” I have never in here or free outside in society imposed my sexuality on anyone!
Sexuality doesn’t define me. It’s a part of me. This is where mankind gets it twisted. I will never ever apologize for something that makes me HAPPY. One thing (we) know for sure, we got one life to live so people live it to the “Fullest.”
Regardless of what others think, say and do. We live in a society now where Folks are bitter with themselves and they want others to feel this way. It’s called misery loves company. But we as people of an Alternative Lifestyle must always remain strong and never lose focus.
I demand respect and I won’t settle for anything less. Living any type of Lifestyle is only (human nature). I don’t use or like those labels Homosexual, Bisexual, Heterosexual, etc.
Those are just names the people in the World try to place on (us). It’s a form of stereotype to me. I’m a person who lives an Alternative Lifestyle Pointblank!
And if you don’t like it, or refuse to accept it, stay out of my way.
If I change for someone or something I’m not being myself and that won’t ever happen.
So to ALL PEOPLE “in general” just live your *LIFE* (End Of Discussion).
Living through the Struggle.
Elaborating on what Ms. Veronica Hernandez has mentioned about her being tried as an adult at the age of 17. (Editor’s note: in issue 21)
My name is Gadget. I am from Massachusetts and am currently serving a second degree murder sentence that I received at the age of 17. I was tried as an adult when I was 16 years old. Due to the recent change of law back in October 1996, now, as young adults tried as “youthful offenders” there are some new laws that have taken place that will protect us from being unjustly tried and sentenced. There can’t be a mandatory sentence of life given to you unless you are given the opportunity to show the judge your whole background, on how you were raised, from father, mother, siblings, relationships. Basically, the a & b process that was done before you actually face the judge as an adult you will be getting if you are to be found guilty. (Hopefully, you don’t go through that process.) But that is the process. Just recently there was a study done, as you mentioned, on the development of the mind of a juvenile,which the judge has to take under consideration. If you feel that your lawyer is not meeting his or her expectations, you have the right to fire that lawyer. Words of the wise: “lawyers are as good as YOU make them.” It’s bad enough that you have your life at the hands of an unknown person. And to just let him or her blow smoke up your ass… and not want to do anything is another. Fight and continue. I have been in prison since I was 16 years old, now 30 years old. I have seen my youth come and go all because I put my life in my trial lawyer’s hands that did not give a simple care for my human life even though evidence showed my innocence. So continue to fight.
Editor’s note: The issue of children and young people getting huge sentences is horrible and violates international standards and law. Anyone who knows of legal resources for such cases could send it to 4sm and we will put it out. Good to see the fighting spirit from Gadget and the strong convicts from Mass—Remember, Freedom Is A Constant Struggle!
I was fortunate some time ago to read an issue of 4Struggle, and I was very much intrigued by the revolutionary message it conveyed in it; in fact, the first issue I recall reading is the issue which had the Comrade Geronimo Ji Jaga Pratt on the cover in recognition of his return to the essence.
Your magazine is a powerful tool which can be used inside these concentration camps to raise the awareness of those of us held captive regarding the ills plaguing us as an oppressed people. I would love to subscribe to your magazine, and utilize it to agitate the static state of the masses who presently are asleep to the realities confronting us. Once agitated, I can then focus on educating and mobilizing us to change our conditions. As stated, your magazine will assist in this arduous yet indispensable process.
Free Jalil Muntaquim, Herman Bell and all Prisoners of War/Political Prisoners. Tutashinda! (We Will Prevail!)
Moshe Cinque (Canty s/n) aka
Moshe Cinque Taharga Olngbala San Kofa Owusu
Upstate Correctional Facility309 Bare Hill Road
PO Box 2001
Malone, NY 12953
A Society of Political Prisoners!!!
By JOHN WILSON III (AKA JANAKA)
As the seasons come and go, different people add new vibrations to an already melanic planet.
Like the beauty of a garden where there is a variety of flowers. The flowers cannot be overshadowed by a single rose. It is simply a beautiful rose within a beautiful array of flowers.
To orchestrate the roses or any of the flowers (in any way at all) offsets the natural vibration of the garden. Even though it may be pretty to look at, it has been altered.
Melanic people (all People of Color) have been altered, are placed into a position where their natural vibrations are offset. They cannot blossom, or reach their full potential! For the benefit of the Ruling Class, the Minority has been orchestrated to appear a certain way!
This political operation was designed to kill the growth and development of the flowers of this planet. Leaving behind a society of political prisoners.
“If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness…”
- Victor Hugo
May the struggle continue to rise.
My name is Shamgod. I’m a prisoner of racism. But a defender of the poor. I have been reading your magazine for some time. I also ask that you review and discuss an urban revolutionary book that speaks to the young’s trials in the streets.
If we are to give struggle meaning, it’s most imperative we channel our info in a way that challenges those who will create tomorrow.
Attached is a poem for you to publish.
Every time I see you, the thoughts you produce are so sad. Unlike everyone else that searches for freedom in this world, you have intentionally used life options to chain change in future and brutally exploit lessons of the past.
While the design unknown to you is to keep us both stuck or dead before our human anger or state money don’t last.
Have you not realized the abnormality in your job is a difficult psyche task? Yet in the scope of the patriot subject, turn keys are associated with cheap mercenary trash.
Keep your head up high prisoners. This is just a reality check to make you laugh.
Shamgod J. Thompson
Salute to the prisoners standing up in California.
01B0848 12 A1 9
Five Points Correctional Facility
State Route 96, PO Box 119
Romulus, New York 14541
My name is Kijana Tashiri Askari, a New Afrikan Black Political Prisoner, based upon my New Afrikan Revolutionary Nationalist (N.A.R.N.) political beliefs and activities within these slave kamps (prisons).
I am also a class representative of the Pelican Bay Human Rights Movement (PBHRM).
Comrades, as we get ready to embark upon our next phase of peacefully protesting and resisting the torturous and inhumane conditions of solitary confinement that we’ve been subjugated to for the past 10 to 40 plus years!!
Kijana Tashiri Askari
[Ed. Note: See hunger strike updates, page ___]
To all Black/Brown/Red/(Poor Whites), men and women in prison, in jail, around the world today. When there are decisions being made for you, without your being aware of it, you become political! If the government deems it best you remain illiterate, for their overall good, you become political! Strategically placed drugs, guns, liquor stores, in our communities. We become political! Glamorizing these things on TV, in movies and music. Subliminal tricks that affect our overall view on life, the way we deal with and solve personal problems! All these horrible things and so much more make us all political prisoners! Denies us our human rights to freewill! To choose our destiny without influence or distraction! Being consciously blind to these tricks is not fair. It makes us keep asking ourselves what’s wrong, looking for an answer that we can never find. Only when we wake up to the understanding that we all are political prisoners, will we see change! We have been fighting for change for so long! And we’re still fighting for change! Let’s try something new! And demand freedom! Fight for freedom! Even if it means learning their tricks and using them to better us! This is what is meant by “any means necessary!”
I am John Wilson III. I came across your mag this week and really did enjoy reading it. I am a seg inmate, almost 10 years now in this small cell. Over 20 years in prison. For a man with little education I love to read and write and study. I’ve written some articles on this topic…A Society of Political Prisoners..and thought I’d share my opinion, and this lil poem. You’re welcome to do what you want with it if you can understand it. I encourage you all to keep the fight alive!
Power to the oppressed!
Mr. John Wilson III
2661 FM 2054
Tenn. Colony, TX 75884
Enclosed you will find my most recent poem titled “Transcendance.”
I’ve been learning to become more socially conscious through the work of 4Struggle Magazine. Thank you for teaching me the truths that the mainstream media purposely ignores. I share the mag with other brothers on the tier and we often find ourselves engaged in the critical thinking it provides…much love.
Metamorphasizing in a concrete capsule of time
constantly moving forward yet left behind
Am I the wind or am I the sail
does it even matter … or wasted energies to no avail
The opportunity of unity expands my mind
beyond the egocentric predicament of space and time
Forces of the ancient ascend from my roots
engaging the darkness in beret and boots
Cosmic warrior transcends the ashe
persevering through dimensions of a broken past
Always remembering to never forget
deconstructing the illusion is time well spent
A flickering flame illuminates my path
persistence…patience…endurance like algorithms in math
In the trench of consciousness I reflect
challenging contradictions to resurrect cause and effect
Immersed in the strengths the elements manifest
the copal smoke dances to balance unrest
Elevated frequencies stream from the glyphs
shaping the plane of social consciousness
Realm beyond the web of fate
provoking beams of thought..can you relate
Gilbert Bao #P-77497
CTF North WB #328
PO Box 705
Soledad, CA 93960
The National Jericho Movement condemns and denounces the government’s designation of our Sister Assata Shakur as a terrorist, and we demand that the $2 million bounty on her be rescinded. We also celebrate and applaud the anti-imperialist stance that Cuba has taken in providing her with a home during her exile from the United States! Moreover, we recognize the fact that an attack on Assata Shakur is an attack on people of African descent around the world! We recognize the fact that Assata Shakur like many other political prisoners and prisoners of war are victims of an illegal FBI counterintelligence operation known as COINTELPRO, NEWKILL and other acronyms which are used to wage low-level intense war and counterinsurgency war against the Black Panther Party (BPP), the Black Liberation Army (BLA), the American Indian Movement (AIM) and other political organizations and individuals who took a stance against capitalist-imperialist wars of aggression.
The United States government refuses to recognize those who struggled against racism and injustice and who are now imprisoned as political prisoners and prisoners of war, preferring to label them as common criminals, we in the Jericho Amnesty Movement do fully recognize them as political prisoners and prisoners of war and whose treatment is to be governed as specified under the laws of the Geneva Convention and of the United Nations, and international Non-government political organizations fully recognized by other sovereign nations. Show your support for Assata by joining others in a National Day of Vigilance and Action November 2, demanding that Assata be removed from the Governments Terrorist List (the list itself is a disgrace to international law by serving as a hit list) and the State of New Jersey’s bounty be rescinded.
–Abdul Jabbar Caliph Baltimore Jericho
Zimmerman Verdict, Classic White Supremacy
In addition to working with a coalition in support of Assata Shakur, Jericho joins the condemnation of the verdict in the Zimmerman Trial
The authorities who refused to make an arrest in the homicide of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin, from his fatal shooting on February 26, 2012 although they knew the identity of the shooter—to the not guilty verdict in the Zimmerman trial, dramatize the principle the right-of-whiteness bias in American law. Like the Trayvon Martin case, the refusal of authorities (for decades) to bring to justice the killers of teenager Emmett Louis Till, slain August 28, 1955, in a brutal lynching, were only one of a number the parallels in these murders. Both Martin and Till were victims of crimes against the African American community in the United States and crimes against humanity. Both stand as metaphors for white supremacist profiling of black youth in order to accomplish the ultimate objective of racial domination achieved for much of the country’s history by terrorizing the black community with the threat of and samples of racial cleansing or genocide. (Buster, 2012; Alcindor, 2012).
Till and Martin were each killed during the course of a visit to a local store, and were unarmed during the entire encounter with their assailants’. Both were visitors to the cities where they were killed–away from their home towns, and each had broken with racial code—Till whistled at or spoke to a white woman and Martin defended himself against a white man. On another level, was the initial refusal of the justice apparatus in these cases, to apply official protocol to apprehend and charge the suspected killers. Perhaps as sinister as the slayings themselves was the reaction of the justice community. That both slayings were perpetrated by self-styled “vigilantes” who shrouded racist-violent and murderous inclinations under the pretense of wanting to protect others (a white woman and the entire white community which Zimmerman patrolled, respectively) is chillingly scripted—since these excuses for white violences are intended to ignite white fears of black insurrection and black crime. In both cases, the hesitancy of authorities to bring to justice the killers of these two young black people harkens back to slave laws and black codes which made it highly improbable that whites would be arrested, charged, or convicted of killing blacks (such acts were not regarded as crimes against persons but rather as property destruction). America has, historically speaking, turned a blind eye to acts of violence by whites against citizens of color. And studies of bias in sentencing in capital cases prove that the tendency of the legal system today is still to punish most harshly blacks committing crimes against whites. White racial violence continues to occur up to the present, and today serves the same function to galvanize white solidarity, to strengthen white supremacist legal precedent, and to terrorize African Americans without repercussions for the perpetrators. This system of terror exists as a reservoir of white power whenever the structure of white privilege is challenged. (Major, 1971) Now that African Americans are considered expendable to the wider U.S. economy—except as consumers—mass incarceration and genocide of black people seems the American final solution. The Not Guilty verdict in the trial of Martin’s killer, Zimmerman is intended to reassure whites that their priviliges remain in force and underscores that African Americans “Have no rights that a white man is bound to respect” (Sup. Court Justice Taney, 1896).
In addition to demanding Obama, and Holder call for a civil suit against Zimmerman, Jericho’s position is that Zimmerman should have been tried for 1st degree murder. But, the State here was working with the defense, from the very beginning. The picking of the jury signaled it was a show trial, to appease the masses. To appear as though justice was being waged when in fact a façade was being acted out on the world stage. Several facts point this out, one the picking of the jury, five white women, the segment of the U.S. population who have been targeted with intense fear propaganda about black men. ; two, allowing the defense to put on a character witness, a young white woman, mother of an infant, who testified that Zimmerman came to her rescue as she clutched her baby while some unknown person tried to break into her house. While never did the prosecutor bring out the fact that George, had been arrested for assault and battery of a police officer? That having been called to the premises where a party was occurring, identifying himself police, Zimmerman replied, “I don’t care who you are”. He was arrested found guilty and had to attend anger management classes. But just like that night at the party, he didn’t care what anyone said, he was doing what he wanted to do. He was told “not to get out of the car” Everything hinges on the fact that Zimmerman got out of the car after the dispatcher told him not to get out of the vehicle. What he did after that was with “intent” his intent to kill young Martin, (premeditation can occur moments before the act). The bottom line is that Trayvon was being chased for 4 minutes, running for his life, and finally standing his ground in self-defense. Although he was in pursuit of the un-armed youth, Zimmerman argued that he was standing his ground. That this irrational explanation of why he attacked and killed the youth was accepted by the jury is inexcusable. Zimmerman’s racism and/or paranoia of black people were exhibited previously, when he called the police complaining of “young black punks” on the premises 17/18 times. Stereotypes Zimmerman holds of black people are what led him to physically attack and gun down Martin, whom he did not know. The not guilty verdict issued by the jury in the Zimmerman trial affirms the right of white men to kill any black person who resists their will to stop, detain, assault, or murder them. This is slave law in full force and those who support the ruling in the Zimmerman trial are upholding the core white supremacist tradition, as coded in the legal system. Jericho condemns the verdict and demands Zimmerman be charged with murder, if not also for contributing to a pattern of attempted genocide against African Americans, and for violating Trayvon Martin’s Human and Civil Rights.
Jericho Members Tekla Ali Johnson and Kazi Toure contributed to this report.
In addition to supporting the call for “Hands off Assata” and justice in the Trayvon Martin Case and Zimmerman trial, Jericho Initiatives include: a Jericho prison medical initiative, support of the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike, general Education, condemnation of mass incarceration of African Americans and Muslims, and closing Gitmo. Please support your local Jericho Chapter and encourage your family and friends to join Jericho. If you are a Jericho Member, or a comrade inside, you can submit your writing and commentary to our firstname.lastname@example.org our column editor at Jericho…..Kazi can also be reached @ 857-204-0072. (please keep all entries to 500 words). thejerichomovement.com.
By WARD CHURCHILL
The clock is ticking. Several months ago, people’s attorney Lynne Stewart, currently serving a 10-year federal sentence for the supposed “material support to terrorism” she rendered by properly representing an unpopular islamist client, was diagnosed as suffering from terminal cancer. Since then, her condition has steadily deteriorated, and at this point the prognosis is that she has at most 14-16 months remaining. In accordance with the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 which provides for the “compassionate release” of prisoners facing exactly such situations—especially those who are both elderly and pose no demonstrable threat to society—Stewart has requested that she be sent home.
On September 6, she received notice that warden Jody Upton of the federal medical center at Carswell (Texas), where Stewart is now confined, had duly submitted her recommendation for an expeditious release to Bureau of Prisons director Charles E. Samuels, Jr. Since Stewart will be 74 on October 8, has never been convicted of or otherwise tied to any violent act, and is afflicted with a cancer-induced collapse of her immune system requiring her isolation from the general prison population under continuous intensive care, this one should’ve been a no-brainer. Yet, as of October 1, Samuels has maintained a conspicuous silence on the matter.
As many readers are undoubtedly aware, it’s the second time ’round the block on this score. On April 26, Stewart was notified that Warden Upton had submitted a recommendation to Samuels that she be granted a compassionate release at the earliest possible date. The recommendation was seconded by J.A. Keller, director of the BoP’s south central regional office while, at the behest of former attorney general Ramsey Clark, the federal probation office in Stewart’s home town of New York conducted an expedited review of her plan for post-release domicile, treatment at Sloan-Kettering Hospital, etc., and approved it. Samuels of its approval at about the same time he received the others’ recommendations. After that… Silence.
Finally, on June 24, Samuels denied Stewart’s request, ostensibly because her medical condition was improving and, in any case, since her life expectancy was greater than 12 months, she was ineligible for release under BoP guidelines. Both claims were spurious. The closest anything said by the doctors at Carswell came to indicating that Stewart’s health was “improving” was an observation that she seemed to be responding well to a particular chemotherapy regime and that it should therefore be continued (thus slowing the rate at which her cancer was killing her). As to the “less-than-a-year-to-live standard,” there’s nothing, either in the 1984 Act or in the Justice Department’s directives implementing it, specifying a 12-month threshold for eligibility. In other words, Samuels was invoking no authority other than his own in denying Stewart’s request.
Her attorneys quickly appealed the decision to New York federal district judge John Koettl, who’d presided at Stewart’s trial—and who, as will be discussed below, carries considerable baggage as a result—and a hearing was conducted on August 8. The upshot was that Koettl, while purporting personal outrage at the denial, professed to be powerless to alter the situation: “If I order her release, I’ll be breaking the law” (i.e., the 1984 Act, which constrains judges from granting compassionate release without being petitioned to do so by the BoP). Setting aside the obvious question of why, assuming he actually believed what he said in this regard, Koettl opted to waste everyone’s time and energy—to say nothing of raising false hopes among Stewart and her loved ones—by scheduling a hearing at all, perhaps some good may still have come of the whole charade: Koettl at least pronounced himself ready to sign an order for Stewart’s release immediately upon receipt of the requisite paperwork from the BoP.
Enter now the DoJ, which has been having its own problems with the inordinately low proportion of requests for compassionate release by plainly qualified prisoners approved by the bureau—an average of only two dozen per year for the past 30 years—a performance that has increasingly generated negative attention in today’s budget environment (incarcerating aged, sick prisoners is incredibly expensive on a per capita basis, even under the abysmal conditions prevailing in most U.S. penal institutions). Apparently, there’s been some serious backroom arm-twisting going on because, among other things, the magic number triggering eligibility for compassionate release in the BoP guidelines was lately—and rather suddenly—changed from 12 months life-expectancy to 18 months.
Stewart’s prognosis places her well within the newly-revised range. Hence, her renewed request. Yet, as was noted at the outset, the clock is ticking—as it has been for the past five months—and there’s no more indication that director Samuels is prepared to approve Stewart’s release than there ever was. The situation underscores an unstated but nonetheless uniform and longstanding policy of U.S. officials—and not only those in the BoP—to make “deterrent examples” of political prisoners, a posture that translates in part into an extreme reluctance to grant them early release under any circumstances, no matter how dire.
In this connection, the concept of “compassion” is even more alien to Those In Charge than it’s been with respect to the general prison population, a reality eloquently witnessed in the recent example of Marilyn Buck, diagnosed with terminal uterine cancer in November 2009, but not granted release from Carswell until July 15, 2010, with barely enough time to make it home to Brooklyn before dying on August 3. Such grotesquely vindictive official behavior was plainly grounded in the fact that Buck, who was 62 when she died, and who had already spent 33 years in prison—including a lengthy stint in the BoP’s now-defunct underground control unit for women at Lexington, Kentucky, during the late-80s—as the result of her engagement in explicitly political activities, consistently refused to recant her core values and beliefs.
There is no mistaking the message: A tremendous price can and will be extracted by the BoP and its counterparts from prisoners, especially political prisoners, deemed “guilty” of maintaining their personal integrity/fundamental human dignity behind the walls. It’s unquestionable that Lynne Stewart fits the description perfectly and it’s therefore impossible to avoid the conclusion that her ongoing incarceration as her life ebbs away constitutes a politically-motivated form of cruel and unusual punishment, in essence a crime against humanity. It must be understood as such, responded to accordingly, and the same principle applied in the cases of a number of other “politicals” held in U.S. prisons after decades of time served and despite their advanced ages and steadily-deteriorating health/increasing degrees of infirmity.
Here, Leonard Peltier, Ruchelle Magee, Chip Fitzgerald, Hugo Pinell, Mondo we Langa, Ed Poindexter, Jalil Muntaqim, Herman Bell, Sundiata Acoli, Sekou Odinga, Marshall Eddie Conway, Seth Hayes, Albert Woodfox, Herman Wallace, Maroon Shoats, Mutulu Shakur, the Move 9, Oscar López Rivera, Bill Dunne, Veronza Bowers, Jaan Laaman, Tom Manning, Judy Clark, and David Gilbert all spring readily mind, and that’s to list but a few. In any system of justice remotely worthy of the name, each of these prisoners, and many others, would long since have been released on compassionate or other grounds. Witness the fact that even in Germany—a country seldom cited as an exemplar of humanitarianism—every surviving member of the Red Army Faction has been returned to the street.
That the U.S. adamantly refuses to follow suit speaks volumes.
Punctuating this grim reality, is another: While the BoP and collaborating agencies have effectively nullified the very idea of compassionate release in “the land of the free,” stonewalling its application in cases such as Stewart’s—where even the trial judge took time during her original sentencing to commend her lifetime of unstinting public service—those same entities have been simultaneously employing the relevant criteria, albeit under or as supplements to other rubrics, to release mafiosi and other such bona fide miscreants. A recent example is that of Ray Ruggiero, a capo in New York’s Genovese crime family, who was a heavy in the organization’s south Florida operations from 1994 until he pled guilty in 2007 to playing the key role in a RICO conspiracy involving extortion, loan sharking, money laundering, and substantial violence.
In February 2012, Miami federal district judge James Cohn, responding to arguments from the DoJ and a BoP petition, ordered Ruggiero’s immediate release after he’d served less than half his already much-reduced sentence. The DoJ/BoP position was not only that the mobster had “earned” an early exit by “cooperating with the government” and providing unspecified but “substantial” assistance to the DoJ in pursuing other mafia cases, but also that he was deserving because he was by then 78 years old, suffered from a heart condition and diabetes, and had already been confined for several years in prisons a considerable distance from home, making it difficult for his family to visit him.
A still more recent example is that of Joe Massino, former boss of the Bonanno crime family, who faced the death penalty on instruction of then-attorney general John Ashcroft and was in any event sentenced to a double-life term in federal prison upon being convicted of heading up a vast and routinely lethal RICO conspiracy in 2004. In July 2013, New York federal district judge Nicholas Garaufis ordered Massino’s release after he’d served a little over 10 years. Like Cohn, Garaufis was responding to arguments from the DoJ, accompanied by a BoP petition, to the effect that Massino’s testimony against other mafia notables—unprecedented for a mobster of his high station—had been a major breakthrough in the DoJ’s ostensible “war on organized crime,” and that he’d thus earned a get out of jail card. However, as in the Ruggiero case, it was also argued that compassion was warranted since the 70-year-old Massino was suffering “serious health problems” that would “almost certainly limit his longevity significantly.”
Not uncommonly, such things never even reach the point of requiring BoP participation. A classic example is that of Greg Scarpa, a truly vicious thug prominent in the Columbo crime family and nicknamed “The Grim Reaper” by his gangland cohorts. After entering a guilty plea in 1986 to a charge of largescale credit card fraud (i.e., racketeering), an offense carrying a penalty of seven years plus a quarter-million dollar fine, he was sentenced by New York federal district judge I. Leo Glasser to a mere five years probation plus $10,000, walking out of court a free man. Scarpa was spared imprisonment at the request of the FBI, another subpart of the DoJ, citing the fact that Scarpa had been diagnosed with AIDS and, so claimed the bureau, had only a few months to live. In light of the fact that Scarpa was at the time secretly classified as a “top echelon mob informant,” there’s a distinct possibility that the FBI knowingly misrepresented his condition. Be that as it may, he not only lived for another six years, but remained homicidally active during most of them.
Before pleading guilty again in May 1993, this time to three murders and conspiracy to commit several others—the evidence indicates that his career body count was at least 26, and may well have exceeded fifty—Scarpa conducted the “Third Columbo War,” through which he sought to take control of the family. Setting aside the question of whether his FBI handler, senior agent Lin DeVecchio, was directly complicit in several of Scarpa’s murders—à la the notorious case of John Connolly, mob boss Whitey Bulger’s handler in Boston—it was by then clear that not only had its “star informant” never provided the FBI with anything resembling reliable “intelligence,” he may well have been playing the bureau to facilitate false convictions against gangland adversaries (in at least two instances, there is evidence that bogus information provided by Scarpa led to guilty verdicts against his opponents for murders that he himself committed).
Even then, the FBI and DoJ conducted themselves in a manner best described as serving Scarpa’s interests, leaving uncontested a renewal of his claim that since his AIDS infection left him little time to live putting him behind bars would be inhumane. Although Scarpa faced an all but automatic life sentence, New York federal district judge John B. Weinstein responded by reducing it to 10 years—making The Grim Reaper eligible for parole in only 34 months—an astonishingly lenient penalty, also unchallenged by the DoJ. It’s hardly a stretch to adduce that a principle akin to compassionate release was once again involved, a priori, in the relatively gentle treatment accorded Scarpa. Unfortunately for him, however, the prognosis he recited was in this instance accurate; Scarpa died of AIDS-related maladies in the federal medical center at Rochester, Minnesota, in June 1994, having served less than 14 months.
The courts’ and the DoJ’s comportment in the Scarpa cases may be usefully compared to that of both the department and the judge in Stewart’s. First off, following her February 2005 conviction, sentencing had to be delayed for nearly eighteen months while Stewart was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, so all parties were fully aware of her illness. In the interim, she requested that, in view of her age, history of cancer and more general health problems, the judge exercise his discretion in sentencing, afforded him by the U.S. supreme court in U.S. v. Booker (2005), to simply forego prison time in favor of a noncustodial penalty. For its part, the DoJ, in stark contrast to its stance regarding professional hoodlum cum serial killer Greg Scarpa in 1986, and again in 2003, argued that she should be sentenced to serve a term of 30 years, not only “to punish [her] for her actions” in defending a politically unpopular client, but “as a deterrent to other lawyers” inclined to follow her defiantly principled example.
Judge Koettl plainly saw through the DoJ’s various contentions regarding Stewart’s character and the magnitude of her “offenses.” Indeed, as was mentioned earlier, while pronouncing sentence on October 16, 2006, he made a point of noting her sustained “public service, not only to her clients, but to the nation.” Nonetheless, unlike Judge Glasser in the 1986 Scarpa case, Koettl was unwilling to accept Stewart’s medical condition—age was not a factor in Scarpa’s sentencing, since he was only 58 at the time—as a basis upon which to order probation rather than imprisonment. Instead, despite the fact that she’d already been disbarred and thus, unlike Scarpa, could hardly have been expected to resume the activities underlying her conviction, Koettl sentenced her to a term of 28 months.
Were that not bad enough, when Stewart appealed her conviction to the. 2nd circuit court, a three-judge panel including John M. Walker, Jr., ultra-right-wing cousin of George W. Bush, was selected to rule on it. The result was that in November 2009, Stewart’s conviction was upheld on all counts, but—citing, among other things, the bravado embodied in statements she’d made outside the courthouse after her initial sentencing—the panel sent the case back to Koettl with instructions that he immediately cancel her bail and recalculate her sentence. While he could have simply reiterated his original conclusion in the matter, or even responded by changing it for the better—both options were within his discretion, although exercising it would undoubtedly been a career-ender—Koettl capitulated and, on July 15, 2010, more than quadrupled Stewart’s original term of confinement, ordering that she serve “120 months.”
In other words, although their health issues were arguably comparable, because she was insufficiently contrite in her public utterances, Koettl increased Stewart’s sentence to precisely the same level—10 years—that Judge Weinstein had in 2003 compassionately reduced confessed multiple murderer Greg Scarpa’s. And, while it argued vociferously throughout the process that Stewart’s punishment should be far harsher than that ultimately allotted by Koettl, the DoJ took no such position with regard to the “love tap” dispensed to Scarpa by Weinstein.
Under such circumstances, one hardly knows what to say, other than that maybe we’ve been taking the wrong track. All things considered, especially the effects of Stewart’s rapidly-advancing cancer, perhaps we should shift our emphasis from supporting her request for compassionate release to demanding that Koettl grant her an early out as a reward for losing a substantial amount of weight. After all, it worked for mob enforcer Richard Bondi, who was granted a sentence reduction on that basis by New York federal district judge Fred Block in 2007. Admittedly, my attempt at humor in this connection is both feeble and deeply bitter, yet one learns through long and equally bitter experience that, in struggles such as ours, there is far more strength and clarity to be gained from sarcasm than from tears (no matter how necessary they may be from time to time), and this brings us to the bottom line of all that has been said herein.
Compassionate release, even in the terms set forth in the relevant federal statutes, is not something that must be “earned” by way of a prisoner’s becoming a snitch, otherwise providing “services” to the government, or demonstrably abandoning his or her sense of self-respect. It’s an elemental human entitlement which the government has no moral, ethical, or legal prerogative to arbitrarily deny and for which it has no right to exact a price. As things stand, the U.S. government has and continues to pursue a diametrically opposing policy wherein mafiosi and other such tangible public menaces are blatantly privileged over those adjudged guilty of holding and acting upon dissident political views. Transforming this ugly reality will require not only that we muster the strength to carry the struggle forward, but to clearly understand and explain the true nature of what we confront, thereby drawing others into the fray. Hopefully, the examples and contextualization offered above will be of utility in this regard.
Postscript: Word has just arrived that a federal district judge in Baton Rouge has finally ordered the immediate release of Herman Wallace, one of the political prisoners mentioned in this article, from the Louisiana state prison at Angola. Wallace, a former Black Panther and one of the Angola 3, is in the final phase of liver cancer and, like Marilyn Buck when she was cut loose, is expected to live no more than a few days. Tellingly, Judge Brian Jackson did not order the release on the basis of compassion. Rather, he ruled that Wallace’s constitutional rights were violated by the state during his 1974 prosecution for involvement in the killing of a guard, and overturned the resulting verdict. Presumably, given the flagrantly prejudicial process to which Wallace was subjected, this conclusion could have been reached by the federal courts at any point over the past four decades. Instead, he was left to rot in Angola, spending a staggering 41 years in solitary confinement, until he was quite literally at death’s door (and Louisiana is officially protesting his release even now). Such is the current quality of justice and mercy in the United States.
Editor’s Note: See our tribute to Herman Wallace later in the issue.
Alex Stuck of the Tinley Park 5 was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison for attacking and stopping an organizing luncheon of white supremacists. The meeting of white nationalists and neo-Nazis took place in Tinley Park, Illinois, USA in May 2012.
With good time, Alex will be getting out in late October or early November. Alex has enjoyed many letters, correspondences and book and commissary donations from his supporters during his time in captivity (y’all have helped to make his time much more tolerable!), but prisoner support does not end when our comrades are released; transitioning out of prison can be a difficult time for former prisoners.
Having felonies on one’s record creates barriers to housing and employment. Many things about their lives and communities may have changed during their time inside, so extra effort is required to provide support and build solidarity to avoid isolation and undue financial hardship. Please help us create a gracious homecoming and a smooth re-entry for Alex.
Through halfway houses, supervised release, parole or probation, there is usually state supervision beyond the initial sentence. Also, prison is traumatic. And of course there is the stigma of being a former prisoner that affects nearly every aspect of one’s life. All of this adds up to the less obvious, but equally necessary, support needed when our loved ones come home. Donate to your ability and show an anti-fascist comrade how we welcome folks home.
Here is the website that was created for folks to donate to Alex Stuck’s Release Fund online: wepay.com/donations/alex-stuck-prison-release-fund. If for whatever reason you would rather donate to Alex offline, please go ahead and make the check out to Alex Stuck, then mail the check to:
Sacramento Prisoner Support
PO Box 163126
Sacramento, CA 95816
BY NATO 5 DEFENSE COMMITTEE
On May 16, 2012, Chicago cops raided an apartment in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago in an all-too-common attempt to scare people away from the imminent protests against the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) summit. With guns drawn, the cops arrested 11 people in or around the apartment and quickly disappeared them into the bowels of the extensive network of detention facilities in Cook County, Illinois, USA.
After a few days, a few things started becoming clear: two of the arrested “activists” were actually undercover Chicago cops who had targeted the real activists for arrest, six of them were illegally held and released at the last possible minute before court action could be taken to force their release, and three had been slapped with trumped-up, politically motivated terrorism charges for allegedly creating Molotov cocktails. These three—Brent Betterly, Brian Jacob Church, Jared Chase—became known as the NATO 3.
These activists were ultimately charged with 11 felony counts: material support for terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism, possession of an incendiary device (four counts), conspiracy to commit arson, solicitation to commit arson, attempt arson, and unlawful use of a weapon (two counts). The terrorism charges are part of the Illinois state version of the USA Patriot Act, which was passed shortly after 9/11. The prosecutors initially argued that this alleged conspiracy began with the start of the Occupy movement, but later amended their story to say they were mostly considering events, actions and discussions that allegedly took place once the defendants arrived in Chicago.
The NATO 3 are scheduled to go to trial on January 6, 2014. They face up to 40 years in prison each and, as they are being held on $1.5 million bond each, they have been incarcerated since their arrests. Their defense attorneys, many of whom are involved in the People’s Law Office or National Lawyers Guild—Chicago, have been challenging their charges and bond situation since they were first arrested, but the judge has consistently sided with the prosecution on important pre-trial motions.
The pre-trial proceedings show what the government has clearly been banking on since they first started cooking up this case: the draconian anti-terrorism laws on the books in Illinois give the State the ability to pursue outlandish, politically motivated charges to punish people for resisting the ravages of capitalism at home and abroad.
BY NATO 5 DEFENSE COMMITTEE
After two months of call-in and letter-writing campaigns to his office, Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) Director Godinez has reduced Mark Neiweem’s punishment for possessing anarchist symbols and literature to one month revoked good time. Mark will now be released on December 12, 2013.
As a reminder, Mark was moved to solitary confinement in July and later charged with two serious disciplinary violations:
Gang or Unauthorized Organization Activity, for his possession of “unauthorized” anarchist symbols and friendship with another anarchist in the prison.
Dangerous Written Material, for his possession of “unauthorized” anarchist literature.
After a hearing with an internal adjustment committee, the disciplinary action taken against Mark for these offenses included six months in solitary confinement and three months good time revoked, pushing his release date into 2014. Although this was significantly better than initially expected, we continued to pressure IDOC to release Mark on time.
Now this vindictive punishment for Mark’s political beliefs has once again been reduced, thanks in large part to public support and pressure to hold state officials accountable for his treatment while in their custody.
This victory would not have been possible without Mark’s legal team, who did so much more than simply represent him; everyone who called or wrote to Director Godinez and Governor Quinn to demand accountability; and countless people worldwide who sent letters and photos to Mark to keep his spirit strong.
Mark’s ordeal is not over, although it is a relief to have an end in sight. We have resumed preparations to welcome him back after his release and, more importantly, he is once again making concrete plans for his future after prison.
However, he is still in solitary confinement for another 10 weeks. He is still isolated even further behind a solid steel door with a feeding box, so he does not even have contact with the guards who feed him. He does not get enough to eat. His laundry recently went “missing” and he has struggled to have it replaced; meanwhile, the nights are getting very cold.
We cannot allow our support to diminish in wake of this victory—we must persist in our efforts to keep him strong and connected through this final phase of his incarceration. Please continue sending him letters and postcards. He has also requested photos, zines, essays, and news articles (preferably positive ones). All of the above should be printed on regular computer paper with no staples, stickers, or tape.