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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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Imprisoned With a White Supremacist (Migs Update)

3:39 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Migs Latest Oppressions (Could Be Worse)

The only surprise from an internal decision by officials at Pontiac Correctional Center about the imprisonment of Mark “Migs” Neiweem, a member of the NATO 5, is that it could have been worse.

A racist skinhead

In the latest form of state provocation, Migs of the NATO 5 must share a prison cell with a white supremacist.

In my last update, I detailed how Migs — one of the five activists arrested and charged with “terrorism” based on entrapment by undercover Chicago Police in the build up to NATO protests — faced new obstacles in his quest for freedom. Though originally scheduled to be released in November, prison officials brought politically-motivated “gang intelligence” charges against him. They claimed, based on letters and books received in the mail (already approved by prison censors) as well as sparse communication with another imprisoned anarchist, that he was plotting to cause unrest.

Officials charged him with two disciplinary violations – Gang or Unauthorized Organization Activity and Dangerous Written Material — then, to no one’s surprise, convicted him of both charges. The one relief is that they did not carry through on all their threats, such as adding more months or transferring Migs to a much worse prison far from his Chicago support network. But the consequences still put freedom that much farther off for this political prisoner.

From Operation Pen Pal: 

Mark’s punishment for being found guilty of Anarchism is: 6 months in solitary confinement; 2 months of yard restriction (no time outside); 6 months restricted visits; and he is losing 3 months time off for good behavior, which will see him released next February instead of mid-November.

Migs denies that he planned to cause any trouble — he only wants to keep his head down and get out. His legal team plans to appeal the decisions but, with the prison-industrial complex being what it is, it may be February already before they make any headway.

I spoke again with Rachel Unterman after her visit to Migs on Tuesday. “Our actions have made a difference,” she said of the relatively lenient punishment. “They know we’re watching and we’re unhappy and they can’t really get away with coming down on him full force.”

Imprisoned with a White Supremacist

Migs is being moved repeatedly within the segregated housing unit at Pontiac for unknown reasons, and his access to the commissary is heavily restricted. He can only visit once a month, greatly limiting his access to supplies like stamps, and he’s not allowed to buy food at all while in segregation. Unterman said he’s not getting enough to eat as a consequence, and they are working to get him access to a vegetarian diet. There’s precedent for this, usually by prisoners claiming that vegetarianism is based on their spiritual path.

His cells are tiny — some as small as six feet by nine feet — and in one of the most restrictive parts of the prison. Even so, Migs now has a cell mate. In the latest attempt to orchestrate further disciplinary infractions, Neiweem is now forced to share this tiny space with a white supremacist. “They’ve had to call a bit of a truce, they just have to live together. They both just want to get out.” Placed together in the hopes that they’ll fight, their only hope for mutual freedom is to temporarily overlook their differences. “It’s not against just him. The whole system is vindictive,” she said.

That the best we can say is that while Migs suffers he could have been faced with even worse torture is, to this reporter, a glimpse of the entire US “justice” system in microcosm. Still, on her last visit Unterman found him in surprisingly good spirits:

He’s talking about all the books he’s reading. He’s working on doing some writing of his own. Even though he doesn’t have a lot of opportunity to write out right now, he’s getting a lot of mail and it’s making him feel connected to the outside world. Their goal was to remove easy access to his support crew and they have not accomplished that.

I can tell how well he’s handling this. He’s determined to not only get through it, but to use it to make himself even stronger intellectually. … He’s allowed to buy a TV now, a small portable TV, and he won’t because he’s afraid it will eat into his reading and writing time. Which for someone who’s in a cell for twenty-four hours a day is saying something. … He’s determined to take whatever they throw at him and turn it into a positive.

Call and Write to Support Migs & #OpPenPal

Migs is just one of many political prisoners who need our support. Operation PenPal maintains an extensive list of political prisoners and guidelines for how to write and what to send.

Rachel Unterman and Operation PenPal are asking that we put continued pressure on his jailers:

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99% Gang Signs: An Update on Migs

3:09 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

We are the 99% Gang

99 Percent Wheatpaste

Is the 99% a gang? Pontiac Correctional Center seems to think so.

In my last update on Chicago’s political prisoners, I reported how Mark “Migs” Neiweem (pronounced Nye-wame) faces continued repression and torture in jail. First he was placed in solitary confinement with just months remaining in his sentence at Pontiac Correctional Center. When members of Operation PenPal started a campaign demanding his return to general population, prison officials moved him to an even worse solitary cell infested with rats and roaches and where he is denied even the brief human contact solitary victims expect at feeding time.

This week, Rachel Unterman of #OpPenPal called me to share the latest news.

Though he’s due to be freed in November, prison officials are bringing additional charges that could add to Migs’ sentence and endanger not just his freedom but that of future Occupy-associated political prisoners as well. “They accuse him of being an anarchist, which he is.” says Unterman. That’s not against the law — “but this is prison, so they are using it as a gang charge. The gang charges are worded so that you can apply it to almost anything.”

One of his charges is being in possession of symbols and insignia that are unauthorized — ‘gang signs’ — but here the ones they specify are Circle-A and Circle-E.

Similar to the Circle-A, the internationally famous symbol of anarchism, the Circle-E is a newer symbol which represents radical equality. In defining this symbol in prison intelligence documents pertaining to Migs’ case, officials specifically cite that it represents “the 99%.”

Migs is also being charged with possessing “unauthorized literature,” even though these books were allowed through the mail room. Migs’ own writings against the prison-industrial complex are being used in claims he has plans to undermine prison security. Prison officials are claiming, despite Migs denials, that he and another avowed anarchist in the prison are organizing for an uprising. According to Unterman, all Migs wants to do is keep his head down and get free in a few months.

He’ll hear the formal results of these new charges within about a week. Officials are considering transfering him to Menard Correctional Center, a prison with a dangerous reputation that is an almost six hour drive from his Chicago support network. They could also take away his “good time” — meaning he’d spend almost two additional years behind bars instead of getting released this year. Once the charges are formalized, his legal team will begin filing appeals.

Prison officials were holding his mail for over a week but, when she visited on Wednesday, he’d started receiving it again. “He’s taking it better than I am,” she told me. “He was very positive and optimistic but also realistic. He knows that they are out to get him but he said ‘they can take all these aggressive measures on me and I could take it passively, but it’s not going to make me treated any better.’”

Migs wants people on the outside to keep fighting for him by sending mail until it overwhelms the prison with support. “He wants to fight the charges, to fight for better treatment, and to make sure he’s released in November.”

She adds:

We need to keep in mind that this is very much political. They don’t like him because he’s an anarchist. We have a lot of people in the system who are anarchists or support the 99%. If they can make us into gangsters, as far as the system is concerned, it’s going to be harder on everybody who’s going to jail.

We know they don’t like the 99%, but to put it under gang intelligence and to say that they’re somehow a threat to the prison population just for their political views, without any evidence that they intend to act violently — it’s a bad precedent to set.

How to Send Photos to Migs

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