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Strategizing to Defeat Control Unit Prisons and Solitary Confinement

3:01 am in Uncategorized by Angola 3 News

An interview with author/activist Nancy Kurshan

Out of Control

Nancy Kurshan documents her lengthy battle against solitary confinement in prisons.

Author and longtime activist Nancy Kurshan’s new book, entitled Out of Control: A Fifteen Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons, has just been released by the Freedom Archives. Kurshan’s book documents the work of The Committee to End the Marion Lockdown (CEML), which she co-founded in 1985 as a response to the lockdown at the federal prison in Marion, Illinois. It quickly turned into a broader campaign against control unit prisons and human rights violations in US prisons that lasted fifteen years, until 2000.  The following excerpt from Out of Control details CEML’s origins:

I had been living in Chicago for about a year when I heard the news that two guards had been killed by two prisoners in the U.S. Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, 350 miles south of Chicago. Although it was an isolated incident with no associated riot conditions, the prison was immediately placed on lockdown status, and the authorities seized on the opportunity to violently repress the entire prison population. For two years, from 1983 to 1985, all of the 350 men imprisoned there were subjected to brutal, dehumanizing conditions. All work programs were shut down, as were educational activities and religious services.

During the initial stage of this lockdown, 60 guards equipped with riot gear, much of it shipped in from other prisons, systematically beat approximately 100 handcuffed and defenseless prisoners. Guards also subjected some prisoners to forced finger probes of the rectum. Random beatings and rectal probes continued through the two-year lockdown. Despite clear evidence of physical and psychological brutality at the hands of the guards, Congress and the courts refused to intervene to stop the lockdown…

… Although the terrible conditions at the prison were striking, what drew us to Marion in particular was the history of struggle of the prisoners and their allies on the outside. When the infamous Alcatraz was closed in 1962, Marion Federal Penitentiary was opened and became the new Alcatraz, the end of the line for the “worst of the worst.”

In 1972 there was a prisoner’s peaceful work stoppage at Marion led by Puerto Rican Nationalist Rafael Cancel Miranda. In response to this peaceful work stoppage, the authorities placed a section of the prison under lockdown, thus creating the first “control unit,” essentially a prison within a prison, amplifying the use of isolation as a form of control, previously used only for a selected prisoner. That was 1972.

At this time, in 1985, after two years of lockdown, they converted the whole prison into a control unit. Importantly, because Marion in 1985 was “the end of the line,” the only “Level 6” federal prison, there were disproportionate numbers of political prisoners—those who were incarcerated for their political beliefs and actions. These included people such as Native American Leonard Peltier who had spent years there until recently, and now (in 1985) Black Panthers Sundiata Acoli and Sekou Odinga, Puerto Rican independentista Oscar López Rivera, and white revolutionary Bill Dunne. These were people we knew or identified with, activists of the 1960s and 1970s incarcerated for their political activities. Marion, like its predecessor Alcatraz and its successor ADX Florence, was clearly a destination point for political prisoners.

Kurshan writes that during the 15 years of work, “CEML led and organized hundreds of educational programs and demonstrations in many parts of the country and tried to build a national movement against ‘end-of-the-line’ prisons. Along the way the Committee wrote thousands of pages of educational and agitational literature and pioneered new ways of analyzing and fighting against this national quagmire that morphed into the proliferation of the ‘prison industrial complex.’”

Out of Control’s online version features several dozen links to the literature CEML created, as well as further documents, pamphlets, audio and video segments. Asked to spotlight a few of her favorites, Kurshan recommended: The Myth That the Pelican Bay Control Unit Has Reduced Violence, a 1995 issue of the CEML’s newsletter Walkin’ Steel, the U.N. Standard Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Bill Dunne’s 1988 34-page handwritten article about Marion, and an article by Kurshan herself, entitled Women and Imprisonment in the US: History and Current Reality.

In this interview, Nancy Kurshan discusses her new book and covers a variety of topics, including the growth of solitary confinement and its relation to mass incarceration, the connection between US militarism abroad and domestic prisons, concluding with the lessons that today’s human rights activists can learn from the history of the Committee to End the Marion Lockdown.

Angola 3 News:         Your new book chronicles fifteen years of organizing against control unit prisons, from 1985-2000. Can you begin the interview by explaining exactly what a control unit prison is?

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Amnesty International Launches Global Angola 3 Campaign

1:25 pm in Uncategorized by Angola 3 News

TAKE ACTION HERE!

This week Amnesty International launched a global campaign calling for the authorities in the United States to end the solitary confinement of Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox. They state that “the treatment to which the two men have been subjected was ‘cruel and inhumane’ and amounted to a violation of the US’ obligations under international law”.

Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty’s deputy director for America said “We are not aware of any other case in the USA where individuals have been subjected to such restricted human contact for such a prolonged period of time.” Amnesty has also raised questions about the legal aspects of the case including the lack of any physical evidence linking Herman and Albert to Brent Miller’s murder, lost DNA evidence and convictions based on questionable inmate testimony.

Amnesty is calling for people around the world to contact Governor Jindal via email or post and let their outrage regarding this injustice be heard. The spotlight on injustice which Amnesty International is now shining on the case of the Angola 3 is a monumental step of support to the campaign. We hope Albert and Herman’s supporters will lead the charge in responding to Amnesty’s call for action.

Please join us and take action today at Amnesty’s action page.

Read/Download the full report: USA: 100 years in solitary: ‘The Angola 3′ and their fight for justice.

Watch the Amnesty International video, featuring Robert King, here.

Below is the full press release, also available online.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL PRESS RELEASE

EMBARGO: 7 June 2011, 00:01Hs GMT.

USA urged to end inmates’ 40 year-long solitary confinement

The US state of Louisiana must immediately remove two inmates from the solitary confinement they were placed in almost 40 years ago, Amnesty International said today.

Albert Woodfox, 64, and Herman Wallace, 69, were placed in “Closed Cell Restriction (CCR)” in Louisiana State Penitentiary – known as Angola Prison – since they were convicted of the murder of a prison guard in 1972. Apart from very brief periods, they have been held in isolation ever since.

“The treatment to which Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace have been subjected for the past four decades is cruel and inhumane and a violation of the US’s obligations under international law,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Americas Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

“We are not aware of any other case in the USA where individuals have been subjected to such restricted human contact for such a prolonged period of time.”

Over the course of decades there has been no meaningful review of the men’s designation to CCR. The only reason given for maintaining the men under these conditions has been due to the “nature of the original reason for lockdown.”

Both men were originally arrested for armed robbery.

The men are confined to their cells, which measure 2 x 3 metres, for 23 hours a day. When the weather permits, they are allowed outside three times a week for an hour of solitary recreation in a small outdoor cage.

For four hours a week, they are allowed to leave their cells to shower or walk, alone, along the cell unit corridor.

They have restricted access to books, newspapers and television. For the past four decades they have never been allowed to work or to have access to education. Social interaction has been restricted to occasional visits from friends and family and limited telephone calls.

They have also been denied any meaningful review of the reasons for their isolation.

The men’s lawyers have told Amnesty International that both are suffering from serious health problems caused or exacerbated by their years of solitary confinement.

Amnesty International has also raised questions about the legal aspects of the case against the two men.

No physical evidence linking the men to the guard’s murder has ever been found; potentially exculpatory DNA evidence has been lost; and the convictions were based on questionable inmate testimony.

Over the years of litigation on the cases, documents have emerged suggesting that the main eyewitness was bribed by prison officials into giving statements against the men and that the state withheld evidence about the perjured testimony of another inmate witness. A further witness later retracted his testimony.

Apart from ongoing legal challenges to their murder convictions, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace are suing the Louisiana authorities claiming that their prolonged isolation is “cruel and unusual punishment” and so violates the US Constitution.

“The treatment of these men by the state of Louisiana is a clear breach of US commitment to human rights,” said Guadalupe Marengo.

“Their cases should be reviewed as a matter of urgency, and while that takes place authorities must ensure that their treatment complies with international standards for the humane treatment of prisoners.”

For more information or to arrange an interview with an Amnesty International expert, please contact: Josefina Salomon, jsalomon@amnesty.org, mobile: +44 7778 472 116.

SOUL ON FIRE –Online play portrays Herman Wallace of the Angola 3

10:13 pm in Uncategorized by Angola 3 News

Activist, writer, and actress Linda Carmichael explains that she “first wrote the play SOUL ON FIRE about seven years ago, and has had several staged readings performed since, including one Off Broadway. I had been corresponding with Herman and he knew I was an actress and suggested I write a play. It was called ‘Life’s Morsel’ and was a multi media theater play for seven characters. A lot of the dialogue was from actual letters that Herman and I wrote to each other over many years. Some of the play is fictionalized and I wrote some of his lines from ‘channeling’ him. With his approval I later changed the name to SOUL ON FIRE.”

Last year, Carmichael wrote a version for two speakers, and a performance of this new version has been videotaped for the internet. The full version is still being edited and finalized. Until then, Carmichael has just released these two short segments to give audiences a preview. One video features Carmichael herself and the other features the eminent Shakespearian actor, Johnny Lee Davenport (shown in the photo above).

Carmichael’s daughter, Lauren Muchan (previously interviewed by Angola 3 News) used some of the script for her award-winning short documentary film, “Letters to Angola,” (embedded below) which is featured on the DVD for the new British film about the Angola 3, entitled “In the Land of the Free.” Carmichael directed the voice over for Lauren’s movie, with Johnny Lee Davenport playing Herman.

Carmichael would love the play to be used more as a tool for spreading the Angola Three story. The new version for two actors is particularly easy to use for readings, and she can rewrite it to accommodate the part of Elizabeth being played by an American. If anyone wants to do a reading, please email her at this address: lindacarmichael13@gmail.com.

Linda Carmichael with the late Anita Roddick, who was a supporter and friend of the Angola 3.

What Latin American social movements can teach US activists

8:20 pm in Uncategorized by Angola 3 News

Dancing With Dynamite

–An interview with Ben Dangl

By Angola 3 News

Benjamin Dangl, author of the new book Dancing With Dynamite (AK Press), was video-interviewed by Angola 3 News this week while visiting the San Francisco Bay Area, on tour with his book, which has been positively reviewed by a range of publications and writers, including Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, who proclaimed that “Ben Dangl breaks the sound barrier, exploding many myths about Latin America that are all-too-often amplified by the corporate media in the United States.”

Dangl has previously written The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press, 2007), and contributed to Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Latin American Issues (McGraw-Hill, 2006). He has written about politics and social issues in Latin America for The Guardian Unlimited, The Nation Magazine, The Progressive, Utne Reader, CounterPunch, Alternet, Common Dreams, Z Magazine, La Estrella de Panama and more. While currently teaching Latin American history and politics and globalization at Burlington College in Vermont, he also works as editor of the news websites: Upside Down World, focusing on politics and social movements in Latin America (founded by Dangl), and Toward Freedom, a progressive perspective on world events.

In Dancing With Dynamite’s introduction, Dangl writes that “this book deals with the dances between today’s nominally left-leaning South American governments and the dynamic movements that helped pave their way to power in Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Brazil, and Paraguay. The discussion surrounding the question of changing the world through taking state power or remaining autonomous has been going on for centuries. The vitality of South America’s new social movements, and the recent shift to the left in the halls of government power, make the region a timely subject of study within this ongoing debate. Though often overlooked in contemporary reporting and analysis on the region, this dance is a central force crafting many countries’ collective destiny.”

Dangl feels that US activists can learn much from studying this “dance,” telling Angola 3 News that “because South American social movements have been so successful in the past decade, I think it is important to learn and understand what’s been successful and to apply those strategies and tactics here, where we are facing very similar challenges.” Because the political climate in the US today is different from Latin America in many ways, Dangl argues that “these strategies and tactics shouldn’t just be taken and applied directly to our communities, but should instead be considered and made useful in our own context and realities.”

In the interview, Dangl cites several different lessons for US activists, including the need to “create the kind of social relationships within our own social movements that reflect the kind of world that we are fighting for every day. That’s been useful for neighborhood councils in El Alto, Bolivia where people work together every day, whether it’s to build roads, soccer fields, or pressure a mayor for better access to electricity and water. These kinds of social relations within the family and neighborhoods help to create the capacity to mobilize road blockades and protests when that’s needed.”

There are also lessons here for US activists seeking to push President Obama and other politicians further to the left, as Dangl thinks the question of “how to fight against a relative ally in political office without empowering the right” has been “negotiated very successfully throughout South America.”

Fortunately, US activists have already been learning from their neighbors to the south. In the book’s introduction, Dangl cites several examples, including “the 2008 occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago which drew from tactics in Argentina, the movements for access to water in Detroit and Atlanta, which reflected tactics and struggles in Bolivia, and the Take Back the Land movement in Florida, which organized homeless people to occupy a vacant lot and pairs homeless families with foreclosed homes, mirroring the tactics and philosophy of the landless movement in Brazil.”

When asked for a closing thought at the end of our interview, Dangl emphasized the larger global struggle against oppression by arguing that Dancing With Dynamite’s lessons extend well beyond the US and Latin America. “With what’s happened in Egypt with the overthrow of Mubarak, and what is going on right now in Madison,Wisconsin with the fight for collective bargaining, I think these struggles are related in the sense that they’re all about political power. With these recent examples, there is a shift in power from the government office to the streets, and recognizing that is important today in the fight for social change. In Madison, activists say they’ve been really inspired by activists in Egypt. Recognizing these common oppressors & common systems of exploitation, and working for solutions together across borders is really a solution for making the world a better place.”

–Angola 3 News is a project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. Our website is www.angola3news.com where we provide the latest news about the Angola 3. We are also creating our own media projects, which spotlight the issues central to the story of the Angola 3, like racism, repression, prisons, human rights, solitary confinement as torture, and more.

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