The Need for a Nationally Coordinated Prisoner Support Movement
BY SEKOU CINQUE T.M. KAMBUI
Rather than using this forum to address my own personal needs for support, I would like to take this opportunity to address a crucial issue that involves all of us – the lack of national coordination among all our individual defense/support groups. This lack of coordination is not the fault of the small support groups whose interest is generally one particular prisoner or small group of prisoners; this deficiency is created by the lack of a specific, nationally organized committee to speak out against the growing and continued imprisonment of political prisoners and prisoners of war. For many years now, we have awaited a concerted effort by some of our better known national-level organizations; the response has continued to be weak, and the coordination fragmented and most often factional. Many of our brothers and sisters are without any support and almost no outside contact; our responsibility is to come to their aid as well as to the aid of our better-known prisoners. The growing brutality as evidenced by Control Units, maximum segregation units, and physical torture, the increased use of the death penalty – all signal the immediate demand for coordinated support on behalf of not only political prisoners and prisoners of war, but also the tens of thousands of our brothers and sisters presently brutalized by this racist, oppressive system.
The numerous independent support committees should give serious thought to establishing support for these brothers and sisters without any outside aid. Even letters of support for upcoming parole hearings or letters of outrage directed to wardens and superintendents of prisons are important for somebody to do. In this way, if and when a brother is suddenly locked down or transferred, somebody outside knows and responds to his need. Such immediate response may be the only thing standing between that brother and brutalization and/or death. Prisons hate outside interference, and we all need to insure that we provide that interference as often and as directly as possible.
On national levels, the organizations which have over the years called themselves “the voice of the New Afrikan or Puerto Rican or Native American” must take the responsibility to insure that our smaller defense committees are supported at parole hearings or in the governor’s office – or wherever might be necessary to indicate to these officials that our wives, loved ones, and supporters are not alone in their fight. No prisoner should be without support at a parole hearing; newspapers which concentrate upon specific groups of political prisoners and prisoners of war should insure that a representative is available at these meetings to report to the people the activities taking place at these hearings. Such activity, of course, demands that these national organizations know the parole dates and other specific dates of each prisoner that may concern the need for support, both physical and emotional.
Such coordinated effort is an absolute necessity in these days of even more reactionary/oppressive government restrictions. The federal anti- crime bill is screaming for prisoners to serve 85% of their terms before gaining parole eligibility. States are being forced to accede to this time frame if they hope to obtain federal funds. What is 85% of life? We can no longer sit back, depending upon our small support groups who are struggling to survive. We must speak out aggressively in a coordinated, supportive effort and make ourselves heard. Time magazine has just reported that for the first time in history, the number of prisoners (in the United States) has gone over one million – 1,012,851 to be exact.* Such incredible numbers prove that there are also millions of potential supporters for all of us – the families and loved ones of these one million men and women.
One of the greatest problems faced by the support groups – most often family and loved ones of the prisoner – is isolation from one another and from society in general. Nobody cares about prisoners, and nobody wants to hear abut our needs or the needs of our families. The criminalization of our communities, which includes our families, must be openly attacked if we are to raise a public consciousness around the whole issue of political prisoners and prisoners of war and imprisonment of so many New Afrikan citizens around the country. None of us have much money, but each of us can write letters, send faxes, mail a few stamps to a prisoner, or do some other small task that will help a fellow brother or sister to get through just one more day.
At present my own Support Group is in the midst of a Petition Drive/Support Letter Drive for my parole hearing in April of this year. We actively encourage your participation and support by mail, fax, or phone contact. Copies of all petitions and/or letters should be sent to m support group in Birmingham as well as to the Parole Board at the address listed below. My four-year long lawsuit against the Parole Board, citing racial discrimination, lack of due process, and arbitrary/capricious rulings was just dismissed a few weeks ago; the appeal is now in process. Ultimately, however, my fate and the fate of all of us rests with the people, not with the racist courts, parole boards, and thousands of other government agencies/entities. Now is the time for us to come together with one another, to organize, to speak out and speak up on behalf of each other. There is no time to waste, while we debate, define, and discuss; the enemy continues his genocidal plan. We need to bear in mind the Ashanti proverb: “Two men in a burning house must not stop to argue.”
*Editor’s note: This number comes from a 1994 article. There are currently over 2.3 million people in U.S. prisons and jails.
Sekou C.TM. Kambui Defense Committee
ATTN: Aysha De’Jenaba Kambui
2233 Second St. South
Birmingham, AL 35205 (205)322-1047