Tag Archive: george jackson

Books kept me alive in prison

books!
The end of the ban on sending books to prisoners in the UK reminds me just how vital they were to my survival inside, and to the life I have lived since

From The Guardian/ By Erwin James

The official lifting on the ban on sending books to prisoners, which comes into effect on Tuesday, finally brings to an end one of the most irrational and baffling Ministry of Justice policy decisions in recent times. When I consider my life before prison and my life after prison, the difference is so immense it’s almost immeasurable. In my heart, I know that I could not have made the changes I needed to make, to live a contributing life, without education and books.

In 2008 I wrote a piece about The Grass Arena, the life story of former vagrant John Healy who found redemption through chess. “A good book can change the way you think about life,” was how I started the piece. Healy’s book had been sent to me by a probation officer in 1990 when I was around six years into my life sentence and struggling. “Read what this man has achieved and be inspired,” she wrote in the inside cover. I did and I was. Never could I have imagined then that 18 years later I would be instrumental in getting The Grass Arena republished
as a Penguin Modern Classic
. This book is still a source of inspiration and hope today.

How any of us become who we are is a complicated process. I was already trying to figure it out long before I read about John Healy. It was the first year of my life sentence and I was locked in my cell in Wandsworth prison for 23 hours a day. I was without skills or abilities, but I could read. I’m sure the six books a week I was allowed from the prison library helped to keep me alive during that uncertain year, unlike the man in the cell above mine who hanged himself during my first Christmas inside.

At first I read so I wouldn’t have to think – then a friend sent me a book called Prisoners of Honour, a gripping account of the Dreyfus Affair by David Levering Lewis. This was the book that would really make me think and change the way I
thought about life. (more…)

Rest In Power Hugo “Yogi Bear” Pinell

Cropped Pinell

From NYC Anarchist Black Cross

On Wednesday, August 12th, our comrade in the struggle for revolution, Hugo “Yogi Bear” Pinell was murdered. The context for his murder remains unclear, save for the fact that it happened in the midst of a prison riot. We have no faith that the state will do anything to determine how or why Yogi Bear was murdered and presume cops and corrections officers are relishing his death. We do not doubt the possibility that he was specifically targeted and those in authority did nothing to protect him.

In the early 1970s, while imprisoned in San Quentin State Prison, Hugo Pinell made contact with revolutionary prisoners such as George Jackson, one of the Soledad Brothers, and W.L. Nolen. On August 21, 1971, there was a prisoner uprising in Pinell’s housing unit at San Quentin, led by George Jackson. On that date, Jackson used a pistol to take over his tier in the Adjustment Center. At the end of the roughly 30 minute rebellion, guards had killed George Jackson, and two other prisoners and three guards were dead. Of the remaining prisoners in the unit, six of them, including Pinell, were put on trial for murder and conspiracy. Together, they were known as The San Quentin Six. Three of them were acquitted of all charges, and three were found guilty of various charges. Pinell was convicted of assault on a guard.

Activists in prison to this day continue to mark the San Quentin prison rebellion as Black August, often with fasting. (more…)

Dan Berger Illustrates Centrality of Prison to Civil Rights Struggle

alcatrazFrom Truth Out

Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era, by Dan Berger, University of North Carolina Press, 416 pages with 28 illustrations, $34.95 hardcover. (Release date: November 14, 2014). 

Dan Berger’s exhaustively-researched study of the ways prison, and the threat of incarceration, impacted the nationalist politics of the 1960s and ’70s zooms in on what he calls “the intersection of black protest and state repression.” Much of the narrative is focused on George Jackson and his effect on activists both inside and outside of lock up. In addition, while the book is steeped in the hyperbolic language of the era, it offers an inspiring glimpse into the lives of men and women who were willing to risk everything for equity, freedom and justice.

Berger situates the development of prisons squarely within the history of the American republic. “The United States has been a leader in carceral violence because of its roots in settler-colonial racism and its egalitarian distrust of state power, which, paradoxically upholds degrading punishment over beneficent state action for those deemed ‘criminals,'” he writes. Skin color, of course, is key.

“Chattel slavery initiated a racial regime rooted in confinement,” he adds, and even when slavery was officially ended, bondage became a tool of authoritarian displeasure, with those deemed guilty of unlawful behavior sentenced to a period of enforced separation from their associates.

“Throughout American history,” Berger continues, “the idea of criminal justice has been bound up with anti-black racism: Black communities have been disproportionately harassed, policed, arrested, tried, convicted, confined, killed and generally thought to be deserving of punishment.” (more…)