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On the politics of release

August 10, 2009


A few months ago, a comrade suggested I write an article on the phenomenon of captives who come into consciousness while in captivity, then drift back off to sleep soon after they hit the streets. She also asked if I knew “anyone who’s made the successful transition to the outside, keeping their politics intact.” Her question really challenged my memory and made me realize that I didn’t know anyone personally who had touched down and stayed down for the cause.

I must also point out that I’m looking through a confined scope. I’m approaching my 14th year of imprisonment, all of which I’ve done in Wisconsin’s maximum dungeons, except for the 27 months I spent in the state’s supermax. For the most part, I’ve been around captives who are doing ridiculously extensive numbers, and the small remnant who’ve decided to awaken haven’t really had the opportunity to test out their consciousness beyond these walls. There are short-timers who are sometimes shipped to max from one of the so-called camps (as the mediums and minimums are referred to) because of some disciplinary incident. But they are usually too distracted by the prospect of release to focus – or find the need to focus – on studies that are relevant to the struggle. Few of them ever develop the desire and will to wake up, clean up, and stand up.

In Wisconsin, inmates overwhelmingly leave prison with deeply capitalistic ambitions, legal and illegal. I know several who have managed to stay out. I know, and knew, too many more who ended up either killed or recaptured. Their minds had been strictly on “getting dusk” (on getting money) and far away from battling this beast on a revolutionary level. To a certain extent, I understand their outlook; I once viewed things through the same narrow lens. Many of us have been socialized into reactionary thinking, lulled into believing in this American dream, fancying money as the cure-all to all our problems. This delusion breeds a deep-rooted shortsightedness that closes our minds to the broader struggle. It desensitizes us to the role we play in perpetuating our own social, political, economical, and educational bondage. It also provokes us to justify it and scorn “that black power shit” at a time when we, our family and community, are in the pits of powerlessness. This brings to mind something I read by Ms. Frances Cress Welsing:

“If you conquer a people and oppress them, then you are forcing them to disrespect themselves. If you mistreat them, if you develop all kinds of negative images about them and project negative images about them, then you are teaching those people to hate themselves and to love that which is dominant. That is all a part of white supremacy. If I have been taught to hate myself, I won’t defend myself. No matter what is done to me, I will go along with the oppressor’s agenda.”

And not only do we go along with the oppressor’s agenda, but we also foster it when we parrot his propagandas and ape his actions, especially the ones that militate against our collective survival and ultimate victory.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with studying and working for personal (or family) financial security. It would be foolish not to. Poverty is a major part of oppression. However, it is also a mere symptom of an insidiously deadlier disease. Putting all the focus on eliminating the effects, while being neglectful in our fight against the underlining cause, is basically equivalent to prolonging death instead of doing what’s needed to thwart it. As the late 2Pac said, “Currency means nothing if you still ain’t free.” Any one of us could get inducted into the real Billionaire Boy’s Club tomorrow and still not attain freedom. To get rich or die tryin’ is nonsense; to get free or die trying is good sense and should be common sense for people living under oppression. The gradual process of revolution begins with an awareness of the need for change within our thinking and within our conditions.

For the oppressed, the top priority must always be freedom for all: the uncut freedom to grow into our own, realize our highest potential and stretch our humanity to its furthest extremes. The presidential election of a black man seems to have left some thinking that the millennium has dawned in this country. I confess that I was moved by his win and all the hoopla that followed. But as I watched the jubilee, a disturbing curiosity surfaced in my consciousness. Suddenly I began to wonder how many of us were really teary-eyed and cheering because we felt that America had finally accepted us as a people. The thought sobered me. One thing that trumps race amongst most racists is their financial welfare. I doubt that Barack’s victory is a testament to this country’s embrace of black folks. It was more of a public repudiation of Bush’s reckless greed and imperialistic stupidities, which left the lower and upper middle class sinking in economic quicksand.

The truth of the matter is that the same white supremacy-minded individuals remain in power within the alphabet agencies, from the CIA to the FBI, as well as the PDs and DOCs throughout this nation. Institutionalized racism is alive and kicking like karate. So the grassroots can’t afford to shut up with demands for justice, nor let up in resistance to injustice. In fact, we all need to step it up like never before. History sheds light on the dark, schizophrenic nature of this beast and its mainstream media. It’s quick to demonize what or who it once lionized ad nauseam. Barack Obama could very well become a victim of this American tradition. The foxes will eventually show their true colors and pounce; and the wolves are sharpening their teeth, preparing to bounce back with a right-wing vengeance. The struggle rages on, on all fronts, and the masses are called to confront the enemy (within and without) in any productive way possible.

As for the article that my comrade suggested I write, I consider this a rough draft. Actually, I would like to go a step farther and start a dialogue/discussion on the issue. There are some brothers who exit prison quoting Malcolm X and George Jackson, only to return one day sounding like some character out of a thugged-out urban novel. Trying to get them to open up about what caused their relapse usually proves futile because they often become too self-conscious about it. Sometimes they even grow hostile in their defense of falling back in league with the broken men. In this case, I move forward and let the dead bury their own. Once ignorance ceases to be an excuse, the responsibility falls squarely on our shoulders. Falling back to sleep is self-betrayal and treachery towards the folks (deceased and still living) who have invested in us.

This isn’t a blanket indictment of all conscious captives who are released and later recaptured. Some brothers and sisters do go home with genuine intentions to stay out and stay down for the cause, but then run into unexpected obstacles. I understand the difficulties are real out in the world, particularly for someone fresh out of the joint with meager resources. It’s no cakewalk; it’s a rat race. Any of us could end up back behind these walls for any number of reasons, including ones that aren’t totally our fault. I believe this needs to become a bigger aspect of our analysis. The best sources are the brothers and sisters who have gone through, or are going through, this fire.

I invite everyone who can offer insight on this subject and also advice on how to better prepare for and avoid those pitfalls. Topics of discussion:

1. What were some of the unexpected challenges that you, or someone that you know, have faced during the transition period and beyond?
2. What played the most important role in your/their setbacks and/or steps forward?
3. What hadn’t you/they considered or better prepared for that you/they should have?
4. What are some things that could be set in place to better aid others who want to get out and get involved?

All of our voices are needed in this discussion. Any fruitful ideas, suggested reading material and methods are welcomed. I look forward to exploring this issue and collaborating on some possible solutions that’ll better equip us to do what’s needed to better prepare ourselves (and others) for all that awaits us once the prison gates open.

I’ll close in the fervent spirit of peace and with the words of James Cone and Malcolm X, respectively:

“Freedom is not a gift but is a risk that must be taken. No one can tell us what liberation is and how we ought to struggle for it, as if liberation can be found in words. Liberation is a process to be located and understood only in an oppressed community struggling for freedom.”

“If you are not ready to die for it, put the word ‘freedom’ out of your vocabulary.”

In Struggle and solidarity, Bellicose ‘No Saint’ Kemet

Roderick Bankston
GBCI #249669
P.O. Box 19033
Green Bay, WI
USA 54307

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