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Alternatives While Waiting: Self-Reliance

October 26, 2010


Originally written for Critical Resistance

In her final days, despite her illness, Marilyn took the time to send this article for the 2011 Certain Days: Freedom for Politica Prisoners Calendar.

A community’s people, with their creative energy and labour, are the greatest resource it has, but an increasing number, mostly young, are MIA, in graves or prisons, into which so many rush obliviously when they act out Hollywood-constructed desires, images, and stereotypes to “make it” in the midst of still-white supremacist and hierarchical America. Far too many have embraced the 30 years of culturally-contrived amnesia that has mis-educated them to believe in the very system that exiles them to the cages. Valuable human beings – community residents, who could have and should have been the teachers, nurses, doctors, mechanics, public servants, and builders of their communities are disappeared.

Among the disappeared and exiled, many haven’t been formally educated or taught to read well, having dropped out or been driven out of the faltering California school systems, weakened both by funding and a general disregard for and animosity towards the children of the working and underemployed classes, particularly when Black, Latino, or Asian. There are a few, if any, educational or rehabilitation-geared programs within prisons. On a recent KPFA radio program, a freed elder pointed out that many of California’s prisons are on lock-down at any given time, meaning that the few programs that do exist, however reluctantly and apathetically, do not function much of the time.

In the prison charnel houses, forgetfulness or oblivion settles like quicklime on the spirit, intelligence and bodies of exiled and illegalized young people. A sense of responsibility to the community is replaced with rage, and beneath any posturing, despair, self-mutilation, and suicide.

Alternatives? To re-imagine communities with the resources to educate children, to provide work with sufficient income, to get drugs and the weapons of collective suicide out, to make the streets safe again for children, elders and the young women and men. This is similar to the 10-point program the old Black Panther Party called for, a program that in slightly different manifestations is still understood world-wide as necessary for community and nations’ health and well-being for peace and justice.

It’s never too late to learn, to get educated or develop the social or political conscience necessary to challenge the systematic social genocide of our communities. No one has to stay lost; no one is not subject to change. The question is: will you change yourself, have a hand in your destiny and development, or will you accept the changes forced at you by the prison systems’ dog-eat-dog programming that wants you to become a gladiator and a puppet?

There are many who are looking for ways to break such a decimating cycle. Meanwhile, what? The prisoner’s alternative is not to wait for alternatives and social change from the outside, but to begin a process of reconstruction on the inside.

To be a builder, or to be a demolisher, those are the choices. It’s easy to demolish, to destroy. You can be a one-man or a 100-man wrecking crew, but to build you have to become a bricklayer, willing to dig foundations, willing to take care of your neighbourhood and work with others. It means being humble and giving back because when you left you took a whole lot of human and community potential with you. It means learning what you need to know. Find a teacher, no matter whether they wear your colours, are your colour, or are low on the ladder of that peculiar prison concept of “respect.” (Prison culture doesn’t really give any prisoner true respect, or better-said, dignity; the man is still pulling the strings.) If you can’t learn a skill you want where you are (like being a doctor or an environmental engineer), learn all you can about the world. Learn about other societies; learn about communities’ fight for self-reliance and self-determination. Learn Spanish, or English, or Chinese. Or history. The more you study about the world, the better able you will be to see where you are and can go in the world. Choose to be on the side of the people who are not the greedy rulers and bosses.

Of course it’s easier to succumb to the haters who want to decimate your community, and to hang with those who participate in the suicide of their own communities through ignorance and individualism. Reignite your creativity and imagination that you may have put aside when you were 14 or that was discouraged in school. There is enough war from without, end the wars from within. Nothing can be built during a civil war, and certainly nothing can be defended from the war from without, without skills, knowledge and dignity of connection to and love for your community. Become a warrior for reconstruction.

Set a premium on education. No one can ever take it from you. Ultimately, knowledge and skills are more valuable than gold and SUVs, or anything you may have possessed for a few brief moments in life, before prison became your home with its prolonged lesson in absence.

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