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Revolutionaries – Keep It Real – Inside and Out

August 10, 2009

BY JAAN LAAMAN

Revolutionaries, freedom fighters, women and men down with the struggle for liberation and revolution are not defined by geography, or by their location or status in society. Being in captivity, being a prisoner, does, understandably, lead some people to a revolutionary consciousness. Once a higher political consciousness is achieved most people will become involved in some forms of liberation activities, depending on their conditions, time and place, and what their immediate needs and possibilities call for and allow.

All that said, it is true that many prisoners who become activists and revolutionaries behind the walls, fall off from revolutionary activities and consciousness when they get out, and all too often revert back to criminal and even anti-social behavior and practices. Sadly this is not a recent phenomenon; it is a problem that’s been more and less around since modern revolutionary struggles developed back in the 1960s.

Bellicose Kemet’s article is an insightful and timely representation of this problem and his call for some discussion is even more important. 4sm welcomes and endorses Bellicose’s call for a discussion. Prisoners, political prisoners, ex-prisoners, outside activists and organizations, we invite and encourage you all to take up this question now. 4sm will continue an ongoing dialog by printing responses and letters in upcoming issues.

As a long time political prisoner (PP) and a life-long revolutionary, let me begin this dialog with some observations and ideas. PPs in the classic definition – those in prison for their political beliefs or political actions in support of their beliefs, have the experience of being politically conscious and active before being captured, then functioning as a PP inside, and many have had the experience of getting back out and continuing their revolutionary work on the streets.

Political awareness and consciousness begins and grows inside each individual. It’s on you, on each of us as individuals, to stay real and continue developing as a freedom fighter, no matter where you are, in prison, in seg, outside on parole, living and working in the community or living and working clandestinely. I have also seen solid conscious brothers survive years of repression in prisons, including long seg time and even assaults by guards, and none of this weakened their understanding or resolve to fight for a more just, free and equal revolutionary future. Yet when some of these men were finally released they weakened, and you could say, gave up, at least for that period, and fell back into anti-social or self-destructive behavior. Like Bellicose said, they wound up back in prison or dead.

So how do good strong conscious brothers (and sisters, but I’m speaking mainly from my experience), who can and do put up with even vicious cop attacks behind the walls, get lost and weakened, sucked back into drugs and anti-social crime outside? Two general factors stand out. First, how solid and tight a network of activists or preferably a revolutionary organization will the released prisoner be going out to? Second, how realistically prepared is the released prisoner for the realities he or she is going to face outside?

Looking more closely at both of these factors, let’s take the revolutionary prisoner’s preparation first. How realistic is the person’s idea and plan for activism outside? How solid is his/her plan for economic survival – living space, work, transportation, etc.? How solid is his/her plan for family responsibilities (children especially) and relationships? Family ties and particularly responsibility for our children is so important. Most released prisoners will have some issues and difficulties with their children and family, and this will take time, emotional energy and mature thinking to give your children the love and support they need, and to get balanced and right with your family overall. Understanding these types of things lie ahead when you are released, is important.

Very few ex-prisoners have any real money or much outside money support. This means being realistic about the time it takes to get yourself set up outside and not giving in to frustration, despair or foolishness. If we can survive economically in prison, where we literally earn pennies or quarters an hour, we can certainly survive and more outside, but it takes determination, some planning and a focus on what’s really important.

Realistic plans for your political activism outside should begin while you are doing the bid. Reaching out, making contact with activists and revolutionary groups and people in the area you will be released to is important. Developing relationships, political discussions, and contributing to zines or newspapers in your years of captivity is important. Likewise maintaining contact with and getting advice from your comrades inside is important. With today’s communication technology, even if the area you go out to doesn’t have much activism, staying connected to other social activists online is useful. But you have to be wary of FBI stings, provocateurs and monitoring of activist and revolutionary sites online. Be creative and careful, but the point is to stay realistically connected to the struggle, with relationships and activity.

The second factor, the nature and strength of the outside group the released revolutionary prisoner is going out to work with, is a crucial matter. The ideal situation is that the released prisoner is already in contact with the activist organization in the area he or she is going to. The organization is ready to absorb the person, be a base of political and social support, and the ex-prisoner takes up the work the group is doing. Even then, we need to be aware that readjusting to society from long prison years has its difficulties, but being in a functioning revolutionary group make this more manageable for the ex-prisoner.

Historically a period of successful transitions of revolutionary prisoners to outside activism happened in the 1970s, and most of all with the Black Panther Party – (BPP). In those years many max prisons had inside BPP collectives and even some chapters, or at the least fraternal collectives of Black Nationalist prisoners. Released brothers went right out to the local BPP Chapter in the city they were paroled or maxed out to. The Young Lords Party, the Brown Berets organization and some other more local organizations like the Young Patriots and Rising Up Angry in Chicago, Cold Steel in Buffalo, the Prisoners Union in California, provided a similar transition for released revolutionaries – Latino. Black and white. Also the American Indian Movement – AIM, was absorbing Native men and women as they were released.

This was a period when activism and revolutionary consciousness was more widespread, including behind the walls in most prisons across the country. The present period has its own pluses and negatives. While most of the organizations named above are no longer around, political activism and revolutionary groups and activity is a reality in at least most of the major cities and areas of this country. Within prisons, especially newer penitentaries, the level of control and manipulation of prisoners, as well as old fashion repression,is greater than decades ago. But repression continues to breed resistance, and revolutionary consciousness likewise continues to exist among individuals and often on a collective level behind the walls.

Prisoners need to be more aware of groups like the ABC (Anarchist Black Cross) which have chapters in cities around the u.s., and who do a lot of work supporting prisoners and prison struggle.

The long existing socialist parties and their publications: Workers World, Workers Vanguard, Freedom Socialist, “R”, and others, all have branches in many u.s. cities. These are all possible places for released revolutionary prisoners to connect to and build with.

On the local level, every city has community and city wide formations working with youth, gangs, against police brutality, anti-war and environmental struggles and more. All these are possible avenues and areas where the released prisoner could and should be connecting to and working and building with. After a period of involvement with such people and groups, you might realize that more is necessary and the idea of forming a new and more specific organization in your neighborhood or city might be what is called for. Really, the possibilities for revolutionary activity, organizing and struggle are limitless.

Outside revolutionary and activist organizations should give more thought and effort to working with conscious prisoners and connecting with them when they get released. There are 2 1/2 million people behind bars in the u.s. today and many hundreds of thousands are released every year. A small percentage of these men and women hit the streets with revolutionary consciousness and some experience dealing with the rawest aspect of u.s. imperialism here inside America – life in prison. They are assets to the Freedom Struggle and could be dynamic activists in your group. I am not suggesting that revolutionary organizations become social service groups dealing with the housing and work needs of released prisoners. I am saying there are “Malcolm X’s”, “Assata Shakur’s” and “George Jackson’s” in the ranks of America’s prison population today, and some of these released comrades could be valuable members of your work and group.

Prisoners who have become revolutionaries need to keep it real through all the changes, whether you get thrown in seg, or get released to the streets. Activists and revolutionaries in formations outside should recognize and support the struggles of prisoners and prison revolutionaries, and continue to work with them once they are released.

On this note, I look forward to much more discussion on this whole question from both sides of the prison walls.
Communicate To Educate – Educate to Liberate!

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