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Political prisoner Jaan Laaman is still being held in segregation

May 25, 2017

Jaan K. Laaman, long-time anti-imperialist political prisoner, is currently in segregation (minimum of 23 hours locked down in a 6×9’ cell).  Jaan has been in segregation since his birthday on March 21, 2017, over two months now,  simply for issuing two statements, a clear violation of free speech and human rights. He is being threatened with transfer to a Communication Management Unit or Special Management Unit; punishments that are not appropriate for a prisoner of Jaan’s age and would be a violation for practicing free speech.

Jaan was placed into solitary confinement because of two short messages he released: one in support of the “Day Without a Woman Strike” (International Women’s Day, March 8, 2017) which was printed in the NYC Anarchist Black Cross (ABC) update, and his “Farewell Thoughts to My Friend, Lynne Stewart” which was broadcast on Prison Radio. When the NYCABC update arrived by mail to the prison, Jaan was promptly placed in solitary confinement. Prison officials charged Jaan with “threatening the security of the prison” because of these First Amendment protected statements.

 

How you can support Jaan:

Write/call/email the Bureau of Prisons  and ask them to end the repression against Jaan!

Please write and call the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) officials below and ask that Jaan:

1- Be released from segregation & placed back into general population immediately.

2- That he not be moved to a Communication Management Unit or punished further for exercising free speech.

 

3- Have his phone and email privileges be restored immediately.

Please remind them that Jaan is an elder prisoner, and you are concerned about his health in segregation and you would be concerned about his safety if he is moved to a Communication Management Unit.

 

Mary M. Mitchell, Regional Director
BOP Regional Office
7338 Shoreline Dr
Stockton, CA 95219
Regional email:   wxro/execassistant@bop.gov

Phone: 209-956-9700
Fax: 209-956-9793

 

BOP Central Office, DC

Phone: 202-307-3198

Warden
United States Penitentiary – Tucson
9300 South Wilmot Road
Tucson, AZ  85756
Email: TCP/ExecAssistant@bop.gov
Phone: 520-663-5000
Fax: 520-663-5024

Send a message through the Bureau of Prison (BOP) website here: https://www.bop.gov/inmates/concerns.jsp  

– Select ‘USP Tucson’
– Send a message that includes his name and number: ‘Jaan Laaman #10372-016’

Please be polite but firm in your letters and send the responses you get to jaanlaaman@gmail.com.

 

Write to Jaan and let him know he’s in our hearts and on our minds.

Jaan has no access to news and access to phone calls. It’s important we send him some letters right now. Send him articles, so that he gets some world news and messages of solidarity and support. Let the jailers see that Jaan has support from the community and cannot just be left in segregation or silenced.

Jaan Karl Laaman #10372-016
USP Tucson
P.O. Box 24550
Tucson, AZ 85734

 

Background Information

Jaan is imprisoned at United States Penitentiary (USP) Tucson in Arizona, and is one of the last two remaining Ohio-7 political prisoners still locked up, (the other is Tom Manning). The Ohio-7 were convicted in 1986 of direct actions to oppose U.S. support for the white-supremacist apartheid regime in South Africa, illegal U.S. attacks on Nicaragua, and repression against Puerto Rican freedom fighters.

Jaan was placed into solitary confinement because of two messages: “Day Without a Woman Strike,” and “Farewell Thoughts to My Friend, Lynne Stewart.” Lynne Stewart, revolutionary peoples’ lawyer passed away on March 8, 2017.

No one should be punished for exercising their First Amendment Rights. The United States District Court in Pennsylvania recently ruled in a case involving efforts to censure Mumia Abu-Jamal:  “A past criminal offense does not extinguish a person’s constitutional right to free expression. The First Amendment does not disappear at the prison gate.”

Pattern of Increasing Repression

This is the latest act of repression by the prison administration, following increasing actions against Jaan. Over a year ago, the prison shut down Jaan’s access to email, and they have been censoring him in various ways since then, including withholding his mail and limiting access to his lawyer.

Jaan previously wrote about the increasing censorship he has been facing, here. Jaan has been writing reflections about global events since he was first captured in 1984, so this level of censorship is new and different.

This update was written by friends of Jaan Laaman.
jaanlaaman@gmail.com.
Facebook: Free Jaan Laaman
Twitter: @4StruggleMag

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TAKE ACTION for Anti-Imperialist Political Prisoner Jaan Laaman, Locked in Segregation and Facing Repression for Speaking Out for Human Rights

May 8, 2017

Jaan Laaman, Currently in Segregation

Jaan K. Laaman, long-time anti-imperialist political prisoner, is currently in segregation. Jaan has been in segregation since his birthday on March 21, 2017 simply for issuing two political statements, a clear violation of free speech and human rights. [More details below.]

How you can support Jaan:

Write to Jaan and let him know he’s in our hearts and on our minds.

Jaan has no access to news and almost no access to phone calls. It’s important we send him some letters right now. Send him articles, so that he gets some world news.

Jaan Karl Laaman #10372-016
USP Tucson
P.O. Box 24550
Tucson, AZ 85734

Write and call the Warden and ask him to end the repression against Jaan.

Please write and call the Warden at USP Tucson and ask that Jaan be released from segregation and that he not be punished for expressing his support for women’s rights and for writing a statement mourning the passing of his friend, Lynne Stewart. Remind the Warden that Jaan is an elder prisoner, and you’re concerned about his health in segregation and you would be concerned about his safety if he is moved to another prison.

Warden

United States Penitentiary – Tucson
9300 South Wilmot Road
Tucson, AZ  85756
Email: TCP/ExecAssistant@bop.gov

Phone: 520-663-5000
Fax: 520-663-5024

You can also contact:
Mary M. Mitchell, Regional Director
BOP Regional Office
7338 Shoreline Dr
Stockton, CA 95219

Regional email:   wxro/execassistant@bop.gov

Thomas R. Kane,  Director
Federal Bureau of Prisons
Central Office HQ
320 First Street, NW
Washington, DC 20534

Background Information

Jaan is imprisoned at United States Penitentiary (USP) Tucson in Arizona, and is one of the last two remaining Ohio-7 political prisoners still locked up. The Ohio-7 were convicted in 1986 of direct actions to protest U.S. support for the white-supremacist apartheid regime in South Africa, illegal U.S. attacks on Nicaragua, and repression against advocates for Puerto Rican self-determination.

Jaan was placed into solitary confinement because of two short messages: one in support of the “Day Without a Woman Strike” (International Women’s Day, March 8, 2017) which was printed in the NYC Anarchist Black Cross (ABC) update, and his “Farewell Thoughts to My Friend, Lynne Stewart” which was broadcast on Prison Radio. Lynne Stewart, revolutionary peoples’ lawyer passed away on March 8, 2017. When the NYC ABC magazine arrived by mail to the prison, Jaan was promptly placed in solitary confinement. Prison officials charged Jaan with “threatening the security of the prison” because of these First Amendment protected statements.

No one should be punished for exercising their First Amendment Rights. The United States District Court in Pennsylvania recently ruled in a case involving efforts to censure Mumia Abu-Jamal:  “A past criminal offense does not extinguish a person’s constitutional right to free expression. The First Amendment does not disappear at the prison gate.”

Pattern of Increasing Repression

Being placed in segregation is the latest act of repression by the prison administration, following increasing actions against Jaan. Over a year ago, the prison shut down Jaan’s access to email, and they have been censoring him in various ways since then, including withholding his mail and limiting access to his lawyer.

Jaan was placed in segregation on his birthday and has been there ever since. There is a growing consensus as to the psychological harm caused by solitary confinement. In 2011 the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture concluded that solitary confinement for more than 15 days constitutes torture and can cause irreversible harmful psychological effects.

Jaan previously wrote about the increasing censorship he has been facing, here. Jaan has been writing reflections about global events since he was first captured in 1984, so this level of censorship is certainly something new and different.

This update was written by friends of Jaan Laaman. Reach us at jaanlaaman@gmail.com. On Facebook: Free Jaan Laaman; Twitter: @4StruggleMag.

The Context for the Trump Phenomenon

March 18, 2017
BY David Gilbert 

The bizarre and dangerous rise of Donald Trump did not just pop up out of the thin air. The very foundation of the U.S. is white supremacy. This country is, at its core, imperialist, patriarchal and based in a range of ways human beings are delimited and demeaned. Nor are the specific and terribly virulent politics of racial scapegoating brand new. Always a part of U.S. culture, that approach became more central in mainstream politics, with various ups and downs in the rhetoric, since the end of the 1960s. A stable imperialism prefers to rule by keeping the population passive, with large sectors at home placated by relative prosperity. But when the system is in crisis, those running the economy often resort to diverting anger by scapegoating the racial “other.” The sectors of the population who buy into that get the “satisfaction” of stomping on their “inferiors,” which is a lot easier than confronting the mega-powerful ruling class.

The eruption of mass protest against Trump has been exciting, and so far it’s been sustained. People seem to have a feel for the critical need for ongoing education, organizing, and mobilization. The movement also has to be prepared, both psychologically and in terms of legal and support networks, for greater repression, both state and extralegal.

The Democrats in blaming “those damn Russkies” are deflecting attention away from the real reason they lost: they represented the prevailing global capitalism and all the associated frustrations of the decline of U.S. manufacturing and the erosion of job security. Trump spoke to those anxieties – in a totally demagogic and dishonest way. For example, during the campaign he railed against Goldman Sachs as the prime example of how Wall Street banks screw the working man; then, as president he selected seven of his top economic appointments from the ranks of Goldman Sachs. The Democrats could not provide a compelling alternative to this racist scam artist because they too are fully based in the long bipartisan history of white supremacy, capitalism, and wars of aggression.

Regardless of these questionable charges, Russia can’t hold a candle to the U.S. when it comes to interfering in other countries’ elections, let alone more intrusive and violent means of regime change. The big push by the Democrats and allied sectors of the security apparatus for confronting Russia is not only unjustified bat also runs the risk of leading to a horribly destructive war. As much as we’re scandalized, and rightly so, by Trump‘s more blatant racism and misogyny, we need to look at the continuities as well as the departures.

President Obama, with his kinder and more inclusive rhetoric, provided trillions of dollars to bail out Wall Street at the expense of Main Street. He presided over seven wars (drone strikes have killed hundreds of civilians and are acts of war under international law). His administration deported a record number of immigrants. In his last year, Obama sought to burnish his legacy around climate change and mass incarceration. He issued a record number of clemencies, but earlier took legal action to keep far more in prison. After Congress passed a law somewhat reducing what had been draconian sentences for crack cocaine, the Justice Department went to court to prevent any retroactive application, and thus kept some 6,000 people behind bars. Similarly, Obama issued a number of executive orders, most of which can be readily reversed, to modestly rein in greenhouse gases. But earlier his administration played a key role in sabotaging the 2009 Copenhagen Conference of Parties, which was the best chance to get a binding international treaty with some teeth in it, at a time when Democrats held a majority in Congress.

Recalling these dire problems is a reminder of how much the most basic issue is the very nature of the system. Nonetheless, there is something new and particularly threatening about Trump’s election: the way he has enlarged, energized and emboldened an active and aggressive base for white supremacy. Immigrants, Muslims, Native American water protectors, Black Lives Matter activists, women who’ve faced sexual assault, LGBTQ folks, those who can’t afford health insurance, and more all feel under the gun. The prospect of an unbridled pouring of more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is terrifying.

We can’t forget that an imperialism in crisis will turn to racist mobilizations to supersede obstacles to continued domination and expansion. The U.S. hasn’t yet reached that dramatic turning point, but it has been teetering in and out of economic and political crises since 1971. And on top of that, we now are on the brink of environmental disasters that can’t be resolved under capitalism.

As of this writing (February 2017) major sectors of the ruling class are still wary of Trump as too much of a loose cannon. They are making an effort at least to rein him in if not bring him down, although leading with the very dangerous push toward greater confrontation with Russia. It remains to be seen if Trump’s amalgam of billionaire businessmen and ultra-Right white nationalists can provide a coherent program or even hold together. Whatever happens with his presidency, we likely are in for a burgeoning of white supremacist movements. If Trump’s economic policies appear to be successful (possible in the short run of a couple of years but, if so, with giant dislocations and problems in the longer run), he’s a hero to those embittered sectors of the white working and middle classes who voted for him. On the other hand, if his administration implodes, millions of his fervent supporters will see it as the “elites” bringing down their champion. In either case our job, our challenge, is to build a strong movement that can articulate the real issues and clearly present humane, international and sustainable alternatives.

There’s been an outpouring of Left analysis on who voted for Trump and why. Some of it is very helpful about race, class, and the economy. From what I’ve seen there’s been very little that puts all that in the global context, with the U.S. as the premier imperial power but in decline. Nor has there been enough that has rooted Trump’s rise in the developments of the past 45 years. This is the challenge for our ongoing project of analysis and activism.

David Gilbert #83-A-6158
Wende Correctional Facility
3040 Wende Road
Alden, New York 14004-1187

“Day Without a Woman Strike” Statement

March 8, 2017

by political prisoner Jaan K. Laaman

A salute of Solidarity and Support on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2017 from political prisoner Jaan Laaman

Allow me to send warm, positive, hopeful and militant solidarity and revolutionary support to all the women leading, pushing, planning and participating in the very necessary ongoing freedom and justice struggles all across the US and around the world.

From the dynamic and historic marches of January 21 to the “Day Without a Woman Strike” today, March 8, women have been leading and advancing the overall freedom struggle just when this has been most needed.

Even behind these prison walls, the insight, fighting spirit, and direction you sisters are providing is seen and felt. We need this, and all of you, more than ever.

Let me close with the words of a fierce revolutionary, Marilyn Buck: “I thank all of you who struggle for a day, for a year, for a lifetime.”

And I send this out in the spirit of Lynne Stewart, our fearless Peoples’ Attorney, and dear friend, who just yesterday passed away.

 

Lynne Stewart in dire health – Send her love and donations!

March 7, 2017

A message from Bob Lederer – Please forward widely and share Facebook post to encourage donations

Ralph Poynter told me the following very sad news last night, and has authorized me to distribute it publicly:

Our beloved People’s Champion (and WBAI Local Station Board member) Lynne Stewart suffered a major stroke last Wednesday, the latest complication from the cancer that has now spread throughout her body and invaded her brain. She is resting comfortably at home and is not in pain, but can only speak sporadically. Her doctor has said she does not have much time left.

Ralph and Sister Betty Davis are of course taking good care of her, as are her doctor-daughter Zenobia Brown and long-term friend of 63 years Virginia Gernes. Ralph welcomes your emails (at ralph.poynter@gmail.com ). Because of the high expense of Lynne’s ongoing care, Betty has launched an online fundraising campaign.Please donate generously.

I learned all this minutes after Ralph accepted an award for Lynne at a major public event by the Malcolm X Commemoration Committee, which honored a large group of lawyers and doctors who have supported U.S. political prisoners. As we know, for years Lynne went out of her way to provide strong representation to a pantheon of dedicated radical activists facing prison — before she herself suffered a similar, cruel fate.

Let’s all send Lynne, Ralph & Betty our hugs, love, and best wishes for this final journey. Such a heroic fighter – Lynne, we love you!

P.S. Ironically, her latest stroke occurred hours after a New York Times article appeared based on an interview with her, which noted that she had survived 3 years beyond the compassionate release granted her (on Dec. 31, 2013), following a statement by her prison doctor that she would not likely survive beyond 18 months:

Ms. Stewart said in a 12-page handwritten letter to the judge in 2013: “Isolated, in hospital, as I now am, I have time to contemplate life and death. I do not intend to go ‘gently into that good night,’ as Dylan Thomas wrote. There is much to be done in this world. I do know that I do not want to die here in prison — a strange and loveless place. I want to be where all is familiar — in a word, home.”

This is a fitting reminder of that people’s victory 3 years ago, brought about by Lynne’s will of steel, Ralph’s indefatigable barnstorming, and the movement’s rallying behind her.

Herman Bell: 43 Years and still in

March 6, 2017

I’ve lived in this cell longer than I’ve lived on the streets.  Its metal locker where I keep my food from the mice, the toilet and face bowl, the bed, the floor, the cell bars and metal clothes rack all have come to know some part of me.  I want to talk about me today.

Through and beyond the iron-framed windows before me, I see blue sky and the free world where I yearn to rejoin my family and community, wherein with just a single click serrated metal handcuffs produce extreme pain, and rattling gate keys may at any moment echo chain-like rushing down prison corridors often resulting in broken bones, bruised bodies, and affronted dignity.  Prison is a dangerous place.  And in a courtroom, whose words bear more weight — the prisoner’s or the prison guard’s?  Here, you may live or you may die; a prisoner awakens, a prison guard leaves home for work, both may never do so again.  At the edge of some distant tomorrow, I may walk free out the front gate.  I am 69 years old and my youthful and optimistic heart and good intentions have not gone unchallenged.

I remember back-in-the-day when I was a small boy in my old neighborhood in Brooklyn.  The neighborhood boys and I used to hang out at the local grocery store on Saturday morning helping mothers carry their groceries so that we could earn movie money.  I recall helping one mother lug her bags up tall flights of stairs to her apartment, and when she got them all in she smiled, thanked me, and closed the door in my face.  For her, that was perfectly fine – after all, my face is black.

Throughout the ensuing years, I have occasionally wondered about that.  Racial abuse, stereotyping and bigotry are deeply rooted in u.s. society.  Even as an adolescent, I’ve felt like a stranger in my own country, and I’ve not been given reason to feel much different today.  I’ve often been made to feel invisible, uncomfortable, out of place.   A black face, especially a male black face, automatically prompts suspicion.

While blacks and Native Americans in particular have long been excluded in u.s. society, they are inextricably linked to its origins and know too well its violence and bigotry.  No amount of native blood could quench the white settler’s thirst for native land, and the Afrikan whose slave labor largely built north america fared no better.  Wealth generated from this enforced labor profoundly transformed the u.s. and sowed the seeds of the modern world.  Slave owners drove their slaves from dawn to dusk into the tobacco and cotton fields, the mines, the rice paddies, the woods, sawmills and brick kilns.  This back-breaking labor, therefore, is what bind u.s. blacks to this land, and in a way, I believe, Native Americans can understand.  Not forgetting what the Buffalo Soldiers were ordered to do to them out West.

Yet despite this, slavery’s legacy endures.  It prevails not only in the U.S. Constitution as regards U.S. prisons, providing for “involuntary servitude,” where a disproportionate number of Afrikan-Americans now find themselves on “modern plantations,” but also in u.s. institutions and culture.  The ravages of slavery transformed the Afrikan into a nameless, stateless being bereft of tongue and cultural memory, and of some means to cut through the agony of his desolation and despair.  This bode ill for his descendants.  I am one of them.

As a young man, my thinking changed when I discovered my people in history.  Their significant contribution to the advance of human civilization amazed me.  This and their historic struggle to reclaim their rightful place under the sun affected me profoundly.  It changed the course of my life as well as that of many young people of my generation cognizant of this history.  Accordingly, we became advocates in the long-denied and unrecognized black struggle for social justice in the u.s.  The white power structure felt threatened by this advocacy, by its assertiveness and growing confidence.  Rather than with reason and fair treatment as its response, it chose a stick disguised as law enforcement.  Unfortunately, violence ensued and some of us went underground, some of us were subsequently murdered, imprisoned, or both.  As time passed, a few among us were released and have gone home.  But I and those left are still in after over 43 years.

Imprisonment exacts an incalculable toll on the body and mind and is the closest descent into Hell as one can imagine.  The warders aim to impress that every part of your being belongs to them.  If not now, then soon or soon enough, that time is on their side.  Whether you do or don’t know how to hate, they will teach you.  If God does not exist, in here, you may wish that he or somebody like him did exist to intercede and comfort you.  For you will presently discover that you and you alone are all there is in here.  Enduring prison is one thing, surviving it is another.

The alchemy of a prison sentence transforms a person into an “alien” or social outcast, which exempts him from the rights, privileges, and tender mercies that are commonly accorded to the non-sentenced person.  He is inventory on a shelf, color-coded, numbered, thrown in a cell and counted several times a day.  His mail is delivered with neither a smile nor eye contact.  He’s a blank face to be treated with studied aloofness.

All sentenced prisoners have experienced this.  Though our black faces abound inordinately in here, each prisoner is viewed up close as he steps inside the prison.  And while the government seem never to run out of money for guns, bombs and planes, prisons seem never to run out of cells to put somebody in.  Like shaking hands with the Devil, I found coming to terms with being in a cell to be quite the experience.  It bears a distinct quality with which one has to reconcile.  When you’re engaged in constructive activity in the cell, it seems less confining than it actually is.  Yet its distinct mind-squeezing quality applies especially when you brood, do nothing, indulge in self-pity, and see the space as having no possibilities.

Visualize a cell wall with a poster of an old tree-lined street, a bustling flower garden, a towering bridge and cityscape lighting up the night — those are portals through which I can be elsewhere whenever my mind falls upon them.  And when they are packed away for a cell move, the cell reverts to its dead, steely, cavernous state, echoing what it hears, and maybe could use a little paint.

Emerging from the cell heading own the tier and stairway out into the corridor towards the mess hall, an interview room or an assigned program area, regardless what jail I happen to be in, it’s “just another day at Flat Rock.”  This contrived routine often leaves me feeling like a mouse running a maze.  Often enough, I’ve had to re mind myself that in this maze, I can become lost to family and friends and the outside world, that as I navigate this space of endless tomorrows, continuous close contact with them is imperative.  Their presence in my life is what keeps me grounded, keeps my mind and hope alive.

I’ve been in a lot of prisons.  The older ones where I’ve been held most – Clinton, Attica, Comstock – their worn-down stone steps stand out, and if they could speak, I’ve often wondered what would they say about the men who trod on them, about what they dreamed, their life’s ambition, what went wrong.  One can but assume that their crimes were mostly economic ones.  If poverty generates obesity in that people eat what they can afford, the same may be said of certain crimes, because the vast majority of people in prison are poor and marginally educated.  Poverty, ignorance, and desperation are no strangers to crime.  It’s not uncommon for people in dire circumstances to commit illegal acts that they might otherwise refrain from committing.  When all else fails, people will desperately resort to doing whatever it takes, including crime, to support themselves and their families.  For taking a crust of bread, the police will pursue a poor man to the ends of the earth and turn a blind eye to a rich man’s theft of millions.  In the aftermath of the 2008 financial ruin of countless u.s. citizens, none of the Wall Street bankers and traders rushed for the exit doors.  Rich people, educated people, seldom go to prison or go to prison for very long.  And as the “race card” plays out, whites in general who do land in here get better job assignments than do people who look like me.

The box (solitary confinement) is another nasty lil spot to avoid in here if you can.  Rich people are seldom found in these places, because they are so good at escaping.  I’ve been in the box more than a time or two, though less so lately.  It’s a cheerless, unpleasant place, and it smells bad.  It brims with the sins and crimes committed against helpless men that can never be atoned for.  In this world I live in, you have to make the best of what’s before you.  Laughter, for example, is “on the house,” and no laughter is quite like the laughter you encounter in prison, often because we have little else.  Sometimes, when we’re feeling up to it and “on the down low,” we talk so bad about a guard’s momma, his fat kids, his big-nose wife with one eye, til if he knew, we’d never make it out the box alive.

One time I was in the box, they gave me a blanket that covered only half my body.  The guards were amused.  I was pissed!  But after several days, they gave me a full one, just to keep me quiet.  Each time in the box, its cold, gray, cheerless atmosphere packs me down inside myself, affording no relief except what I create for myself.  So I would save my dry breakfast cereal and seek a trade with the guys.  The haggling excited some – how many tiny boxes of cereal to trade for a piece of fruit, a chicken leg, or for something else?  Others never saved and therefore had nothing to trade.  From a sheet of writing paper, I would create a chessboard, write numbers on the squares, and fashion chess pieces with sliced bread.  Push-ups and sit-ups, jogging in place, and taking naps were a fixed part of my daily routine.

During the night and early morning, I would sometimes lie awake, feeling the silence and its peace wash over me.  Throughout the day, one can write but so long with a pen the length of my middle finger, read but so much “piss-poor” material that’s almost like not reading at all, do but so many exercises.  And my naps had to be sparing, otherwise my nights would be restless.  Our rations were meager, and our hunger the day long.

Indeed, a routine in the box is imperative – making a way out of no way – and is as basic and urgent as a desperate gasp for air around something lodged in your throat.  Some days I feel my blood racing to the stout beat of my heart; my thoughts refuse to be still.  I want to shut down, but there’s no off-switch.  My years in the box were long, hurtful, mentally exhausting, and they may put me there again.  What happens to men confined this way, for decades, often without feeling or seeing sunlight and devoid of meaningful human contact?  When retribution becomes torment, prison conditions often teach men to hate.  I ponder this in general population as I walk lock-step down prison corridors with other men.

As these years trickled by, photos of family and friends show that they have aged.  My own face, hair, declining agility, show that I, too, have aged.  A new world is out there now.  It’s as though I’ve hibernated these past 40+ years.  So much has changed; so much to learn anew.  The guards and prisoners I see now were not even born when I started this sentence.  I was brave and brash back then.  I was bold and presumed to know more about life and people than I had a right to.  My aging journey has taught me that youth and ignorance often pave a thorny path.  It’s just as thorny as the one laid out for those who fight for social justice and what they believe is right.

Forty-three years in prison?  Someone may wonder do I ask myself, “What am I doing here?”  Or ask, “What’s this prolonged imprisonment all about?”  Save the occasional visit and phone call, my children, and now my grandchildren, have spent only a bit of time with me.  Holding everything together while I’m away, my wife has suffered throughout all this. Family pressure, prolonged separation, all too often break up families.  Thus, new relationships may form, and the prisoner may find himself even further removed from his family than he was before.  A harsh penalty on top of his sentence.  He himself may sometimes wonder:  “Does anyone care?”  His children, his grandchildren might sometimes ask, as do mine, “Why you, Dad; why you, Grampa?”  Or wonder to themselves, “Why couldn’t someone else take his place?”  Questions born of love and earnest desire to have me home, not out of selfishness.

I serve an indefinite prison sentence and hope to survive it, but the parole board or you, my supporters, will decide my fate.  Sensitive to both political pressure and “special interest groups,” the Board’s decisions are widely regarded as arbitrary and capricious.  Because I’m a political prisoner, the Parole Board is far more predisposed to releasing an apolitical (or social) prisoner on parole than it is to releasing me.  Otherwise, I would have been home years ago.

It maintains that its decisions are impartially made after an interview.  Myself and others are persuaded that their decision is made prior to the parole interview.  Before commencing the interview, Board commissioners rifle through their papers, which I think is mostly theater.  But it’s the only time you get to size them up; and they in turn take a quick peek at you.  Though now most interviews are done by teleconference, seldom in person.  They talk to you and you to them on video-screen.  A panel of three usually conduct the interview, though sometimes two does it.  They are ex-prosecutors, state investigators, and retired police.  They will interpret and even twist every explanation of insight and expression of remorse offered by a prisoner.  They ignore favorable psychological evaluations, rob prisoners of hope, promote despair, discourage personal growth, and strip us of incentives.  They are well practiced in manipulating human emotions.  They open with pummeling questions about your offense, rake up your “criminal history,” pick and pause over reports on your prison activity.  They then make you wait five to six days before sending you their decision, which almost always is a denial.

“If the envelope bearing your decision is thick,” guys used to say, “you’ve been denied, and if it’s thin, you’ve made it.”  And there are those who say theirs were “thin” and they were still denied parole.  Obviously, size doesn’t matter.  You simply know when you know!  As the guard callously opened the envelope from my last Board appearance, “the appeal form” fell out before I could read the decision.  I had only waited 40 years for it.  Still, I read it, looking for some sign of hope.  Accordingly, guys are reluctant to open a parole board decision.  Having complied with all the rules and satisfied all structural requirements, how would you feel having to tell your mother, wife, and children that you’ve failed them!?  You smother your disappointment and wish that you could shield them from that feeling, too.

The thought of spending the rest of my days in prison is despairing.  I’ve not begun to think that yet and hope I never shall.  Nowadays, people my age say, “Due to terminal illness or incapacitation, write a will and tell how you wish your remains disposed of.”  Talk like that makes me nervous.  Before and during these 43 years in prison, I’ve lived according to my beliefs, fought for myself-respect, my community, and for social justice; along the way I’ve helped people where I could and have striven to make myself a better human being.  I’ve kept faith with the belief that we humans are responsible for each other and for the welfare of all.  So what to make of these long years in prison, I cannot say, I’m still here.

All Power To The People!
Herman


Herman Bell
79C0262
Great Meadow Correctional Facility
11739 State Route 22, PO Box 51
Comstock, NY 12821-0051

Governor Cuomo: Don’t Restrict Visits in NYS Prisons!

February 6, 2017

Governor Cuomo has just proposed to limit visiting at New York State maximum security prisons to 3 days a week instead of the current 7.

If passed, this measure will cause suffering and separation for thousands of imprisoned people and their loved ones.

PLEASE sign this petition and call Governor Cuomo TODAY at (518) 474-8390 to insist that the Governor retract this proposal.

Restricting visits is regressive, counterproductive, and cruel. Family visits are often the only ways people in prison can maintain connections with children, spouses, elderly parents or grandparents, and other family and friends. These ties are crucial for loved ones on the outside, as well as for people to survive their incarceration with their health and well-being intact and to successfully navigate their eventual return home after prison. Evidence has long shown that enhancing family and community connections is not only extremely valuable for people incarcerated and their loved ones, but also increases safety in prisons and improves people’s success after their release.

It is already incredibly difficult for family and friends to visit their loved ones in prison in New York. Governor Cuomo’s proposal to limit visiting at maximum security prisons to just the weekends instead of the current policy of visits on any day of the week will both restrict the ability for people to visit and impose unnecessary burdens on weekend visit days. Under the current seven day system, already visitors often wait two to three hours to see their loved ones – typically after traveling for hours. With reduced days, the wait will be longer, the visitor rooms more crowded, and the visiting days and hours even more limited. This will be terrible for everyone and impossible for many visitors.

While in other contexts the Governor claims to want to support compassionate policies and reduce mass incarceration, his visit reduction proposal will seriously escalate suffering and family disruption, as well as have a negative impact on prison safety and people’s success upon release. Governor Cuomo must withdraw this proposal, and instead take steps to further expand access for people to visit their loved ones in prison.

You can also write to Governor Cuomo opposing the cutback in visiting hours at NYS max prisons.

https://www.governor.ny.gov/content/governor-contact-form

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
New York State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224