BEYOND BARS: Challenging Imperialism

By Mwalimus S. Shakur, Corcoran, CA

Within the confines of these concrete tombs, we prison activists have responded to fascist oppression by becoming jailhouse lawyers. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has buried us alive in the “SHU” (Security Housing Unit), where maintaining one’s sanity is the ultimate challenge. Locked in a tiny cell for 23 ½ hours, there is a near complete lack of mental stimulation, unless someone gives you a book to read, or you have some outside support who sends you a TV—but neither of these will get you out of your situation. You have to learn about the justice system on your own and figure out how to apply this knowledge to changing your circumstances. Imperialism is the highest form of capitalism, where control of natural resources, markets, economic and political affairs is established through military conquest. It is along these lines that one must challenge the current justice system.

Criminalized for his activism, oppressors retaliate by placing the prison activist in the SHU. In this case of the Security Housing Unit, the crime is gaining knowledge of the system that oppresses, and teaching others about it so they will challenge their conditions. Inmates must file an administrative appeal using the “602” form before we can get a case to the court and receive compensation, or bring an injunction on the prison officials for their criminal acts. This means that on every level you make your appeal, another correctional officer is deciding if you will have a good case or not. If so, you will be given a “partially granted” stamp on your 602, in hopes that you won’t pursue it further—but if you do, you’ll probably be denied access to the law library which contains information crucial to your appeal. Because of these restrictions, you’ll likely run out of time, reaching the limit for your appeal to be heard.

If your appeal if not granted, it is due to certain missing documents you forgot to add to your 602. In the case of Ashker v. Brown, SHU inmates have won a minor victory from our long-term isolation (“minor” because CDCR always retaliates against prisoners whenever we organize), resulting in major reforms expected to dramatically reduce the number of people placed in SHUs and limit the use of solitary confinement in California. We here in Corcoran SHU are feeling the retaliation, with CDCR taking away what little programs we have, such as yard or shower time, and hair or nail clipper use.

Our medical treatment is also deteriorating, as we’re not receiving proper treatment for our illnesses. Medical staff acts as if Tylenol or aspirin are cure-alls for our conditions. I’ve been diagnosed with thrombosis, which means my platelet count can fall low at times and I could blood-clot easily, due to a spleen disorder. This condition causes me to see a hematologist regularly and get my blood drawn weekly, but this does not happen if I’m housed in the Corcoran SHU.

These challenges we’ll always face, and until they’re won we will struggle against imperialism.

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