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Anarchist Black Cross Sounds Alarm on Prisoner Healthcare

2:26 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

At a gathering of Anarchist Black Cross groups, prison support activists raised the alarm about mistreatment of America’s prisoners: a pattern of denial of necessary medical care and compassionate release amounts to state-sanctioned torture.

Lynne Stewart

The United States tortures political prisoners like Lynne Stewart by denying medical care and compassionate release.

Here on Firedoglake we’ve covered the death of Herman Wallace and the denial of medical treatment to whistleblower John Kiriakou, but these are just two of many victims.

The Anarchist Black Cross movement is a coalition of loosely allied groups which support prisoners. Many of them came together last month for the third annual national gathering of North American Anarchist Black Cross groups in Denver, attended by organizations from as far away as Mexico City.

They identified medical treatment of political prisoners as a key issue, and the North American Anarchist Black Cross Medical Justice Committee issued this statement at the time of Wallace’s death:

Herman was just one of many, ageing political prisoners (and prisoners of war) in the United States who are currently being denied adequate medical care and the compassionate release for which they qualify. These people are incarcerated for their opposition to actions or policies of the US government that are in violation of human rights, and as such should be afforded the protections of international law. It is the opinion of the North American Anarchist Black Cross Medical Justice Committee that these captured dissidents and combatants be granted compassionate release and dignified medical care, with respect to their age, health and sacrifice in service of legitimate struggles against oppression and exploitation. It was too little, too late for Herman; that must not be the fate of our other elder comrades.

The Geneva Conventions contain the internationally recognized standard of care for prisoners of war. The standard of care for Political Prisoners in the United States ought to be at least as sound as the Geneva Conventions. It currently is not. We have many ageing comrades struggling for the most basic health care while incarcerated. Even the Office of the Inspector General found that the existing [Bureau of Prisons] compassionate release program has been poorly managed and implemented inconsistently, likely resulting in eligible inmates not being considered for release and in terminally ill inmates dying before their requests were decided, as noted in the Department of Justice April 2013 review of the [Bureau of Prisons] compassionate release program. We cannot allow this to keep happening. What’s happened to Herman Wallace should never happen again. No one should die in prison. Least of all, perhaps, those who have spent their lives fighting oppression and injustice.

The statement goes on to detail the suffering of over a dozen current or past political prisoners from Lynne Stewart, the activist lawyer dying of cancer behind bars, to American Indian Movement member Leonard Peltier, suffering from serious health issues.

Free Leonard Peltier

Joseph Jordan of Denver ABC wants Leonard Peltier freed to access his native culture and healing methods.

“The US concentration camps [prisons] are notorious for subjecting people to unofficial, indirect slow death and torture,” said Joseph Jordan of the Denver Anarchist Black Cross when we spoke by phone. “One of the ways is through conscious, medical neglect and profit being prioritized over human care.”

I asked Jordan what he thought my readers could do to help political prisoners. “Write, call, email anybody relevant — particularly the wardens of the prisons that these people are held in, and for federal cases the Federal Board of Pardons and the Bureau of Prisons.” The Bureau of Prisons is responsible for recommending compassionate release and, in cases like Stewart’s, will frequently deny the validity of medical claims about the prisoner’s health.

Jordan also said anyone can help raise awareness about political prisoners. “What should the average person who’s compassionate but not an ABC member do? Write to political prisoners, talk about them to your friends and coworkers. Make it an issue. Writing to a political prisoner takes just minutes and as a show of support it means a lot.”

Jordan stressed that the Anarchist Black Cross movement differs from groups like Amnesty International because it supports not just political prisoners, but those he called prisoners of war — people who actively opposed what he sees as an oppressive government and now face mistreatment behind bars. “This government is illegitimate,” he added. If our government lacks legitimacy, then its laws are also illegitimate, designed to maintain power or build the prison-industrial complex and the school-to-prison pipeline.

But regardless of how you feel about their actions, all prisoners deserve humane treatment.

We’re fighting not even for civil rights but for human rights. For healing to happen, especially if you’re aging, you need access to good food. You need access to clean water. You need access to sunshine and exercise and fresh air. All of those are necessary for healing — our ancestors have known this for thousands of years. It’s not officially considered torture, but that’s what it is. –Joseph Jordan

Keeping a sick prisoner like Leonard Peltier from accessing his native culture and its traditional healing methods is a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

Helping Political Prisoners

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#OpValentine: Show A Prisoner Revolutionary Love

4:28 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Valentine’s Day: some people love the romance, others decry it as an obligatory expression of love or lament the misery of being single on a day devoted to coupledom. If being single on February 14 seems unbearable, imagine if you were not just alone but locked away from everything — your family, your friends, the outside world.

Vintage Valentine Card: Do you cat-ch on? I want you for my Valentine.

This Valentine's Day, tell a prisoner: "I choo-choo-choose you!"

Such is the plight of our nation’s political prisoners. Some, like Leonard Peltier, have spent decades behind bars. Others, like the NATO 5 are victims of a new wave of political repression. To bring comfort to these victims of the system, Anonymous, occupiers, Anarchist Black Cross groups and other activists have come together to create Operation Valentine (#OpValentine):

Where will we be on Valentine’s day? With whom? One thing is certain, most of us will have the freedom to tell whom we care ‘I love you’ and shower them with hugs. Separated from their friends, their family, all of their love ones, many of our brothers and sisters will be deprived of this most basic human right. They have sacrificed their freedom to expose corruption and human rights violations. And as would say Che: ‘At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.’

It’s easy to participate in #OpValentine. Just pick a prisoner (or more than one), write or make a note or postcard, and send it in the mail. Valentine’s Day is less than a week away as of this writing and our postal service is being gutted, but I guarantee you’ll brighten someone’s dreary day no matter when you send your mail.

When you’re writing to a political prisoner, it’s best to share your love and daily life. These are regular people who need our support, not heroes to worship. It’s also important not to discuss a case with pre-trial prisoners or to write anything you wouldn’t want read by police, the government, or the media. The New York Anarchist Black Cross has a great guide to writing political prisoners:

For the first letter, it’s best to offer an introduction, how you heard about the prisoner, a little about yourself. Tell stories, write about anything you are passionate about–movement work and community work are great topics until you have a sense of the prisoner’s interests outside of political organizing.

And what we hear from prisoners time and time again is to include detail. Prison is so total that the details of life on the outside become distant memories. Smells, textures, sounds of the street all get grayed out behind bars. That’s not to say that you should pen a stream-of-consciousness novel.

Remember, even the simplest of notes is a potentially life- or sanity-saving connection to the outside world.

I’m going to include the complete #OpValentine document below, but an updated list can be found in this pastebin.

[Editor's Note: See the comments for more political prisoners who need our love. -MyFDL Editor]

#OpValentine

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