Tag Archive: Panagioti Tsolkas

Mass Incarceration vs. Rural Appalachia


Feds want to build a maximum-security prison on top of a former mining site in eastern Kentucky

From Earth Island Journal/ By Panagioti Tsolkas

For all practical purposes the [Cumberland Plateau] has long constituted a colonial appendage of the industrial East and Middle West, rather than an integral part of the nation generally. The decades of exploitation have in large measure drained the region.
— Harry M. Caudill, author, historian, lawyer, legislator, and environmentalist from Letcher County, in the coalfields of southeastern Kentucky (May 3, 1922 – November 29, 1990)

The United States Bureau of Prisons is trying to build a new, massive maximum-security prison in the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky — and there’s a growing movement to stop it.

The prison industry in the US has grown in leaps and bounds in the past 20 years— a new prison was built at an average rate of one every two weeks in the ’90s, almost entirely in rural communities. As of 2002, there were already more prisoners in this country than farmers. The industry seems like an unstoppable machine, plowing forward at breakneck speed on the path that made the world’s largest prison population.

Today, about 716 of every 100,000 Americans are in prison. Prisoners in nations across the world average at 155 per 100,000 people. And in the US, Southern states rule the chart, . Viewing these states as countries themselves,  Kentucky ranks at lucky number seven.

“Sounds terrible…” you may be thinking, “But what does it have to do with the environment?” (more…)

Prisons, Ecology and the Birth of an Empire


From Earth First! Newswire/ By Panagioti

Strange sometimes how worlds collide. Nine years ago I found myself in the swamps of the northeastern Everglades listening to an independent, traditional Seminole activist asking for support in challenging the state and federal government’s plans to fund a celebration of 500 years of Florida—a history that began, in many ways, with the founding of one of the best known tourist traps in this country’s history.

If Christopher Columbus is a symbol marking the origin of Manifest Destiny’s rampage across the western hemisphere, then conquistador Pedro Menendez de Aviles, who established the colony of St. Augustine, built the first literal foundation under that genocidal, ecocidal mindset.

Today, as I occupy my time developing the Prison Ecology Project, aimed at mapping the intersections of incarceration, ecology and environmental racism, it’s hard not to also view St. Augustine as the first prison town of what would become the U.S. Empire—a nation that has distinguished itself in the modern world by simultaneously pushing global policies that have facilitated an unprecedented pillaging of the planet for resources and for locking people up at a never-before-seen scale or pace in human history. (more…)

From Eco-Prisoner Support to Eco-Resistance Against Prisons

“Freedom for the earth, fire for the prison” Greek banner celebrating June 11

Reflections on June 11 and its Potential

From Earth First! Newswire/By Panagioti

Hopefully by now you’ve returned safely home from a quaint letter-writing potluck or an epic road blockade in solidarity with the incarcerated environmental activists and eco-revolutionaries of the world. Perhaps you’re now ready to sit and reflect, and maybe even start thinking about what we should do next year. If that sounds like you, please read on.

Let’s start with the history

It’s been 11 years since the first time that activists coordinated an international day of solidarity action around the case of environmental prisoner Jeff Luers. Luers was charged with a relatively small crime, damaging several SUVs in a car dealership lot, but sentenced to 22 years in prison with the explicit intention of sending a chilling message to the environmental movement. It’s a history that could easily be forgotten, given how quickly the webpages that document these things tend to come and go. It felt lucky to find an existing link on Portland IMC that so thoroughly captured that event (and it felt disconcerting that the majority of hyperlinks embedded in there were dead.) The date in that call-out was actually June 12, and people planned actions throughout mid-June in response to that call.

The article included reportbacks from 23 events including places as a far as Russia, Norway and Australia, with a focus on the event in Jeff’s hometown prior to incarceration, Eugene, OR. His parents showed up to greet a crowd of several hundred with this message:

Good evening… .Thank you all for coming… .Today is intended to be a day for public education and awareness about Jeff and his case… .The FBI, in it’s bulletin to law enforcement agencies, has chosen to make it sound like an ELF (Earth Liberation Front) call to action. That’s wrong, but it got Jeff and his case some good publicity in places such as Morgantown, West Virginia and Palm Beach, Florida that may not have developed otherwise….My wife, Judy, and I want to thank all of the organizers and attendees at this event and similar events around the world designed to bring attention to the injustice done to our son, Jeff “Free” Luers.

Russian anarchists tag ‘FREE JEFF LUERS’ on US embassy, 2004

Russian anarchists tag ‘FREE JEFF LUERS’ on US embassy, 2004

Aside from getting Jeff’s parents to turn out for it, there were some other unique and important components to the first “June 11″ event. (more…)

Stop Poisoning Millions in Prison


From Nation Inside

Summary of pending HRDC comment to the EPA on the inclusion of prisoner populations in environmental justice demographic statistics and regulatory input for permitting

Later this week, the Human Rights Defense Center’s (HRDC) Prison Ecology Project will be providing input on the EPA’s EJ 2020 Action Agenda Framework. While it is encouraging to see the EPA attempting to increase the effectiveness of protecting vulnerable communities that have been overburdened by industrial pollution, we also find that there is a significant component to in the dialogue thus far: recognition of impacts on the vast number of prisoners and their families.

The need for something like EJ 2020 comes from the unfortunate reality that many of the environmental permit approvals that have taken place in recent decades, and continue today, fall into a category of Jim Crow-era policy. Few industrial sectors exemplify this more clearly than the prison industry.

If we can recognize the problem with forcing people to live in close proximity to toxic and hazardous operations, then why are we missing the people who are forced to live on the inside of such facilities? (more…)

Why Environmentalists Should Celebrate 25 Years of Prison Legal News


An interview with Paul Wright, editor of PLN and director of the Human Rights Defense Center, by a former Earth First! Journal collective member.

From Earth First! Newswire / By Panagioti

Prison Legal News was born the same year that the Earth First! was figuring out what it meant to support incarcerated warriors of the eco-defense movement, resulting from the Arizona 5 busts. Environmentalism and the prison industrial complex would be intertwined for Earth First! from that point on. The prison support pages of the Earth First! Journal would be a constant presence in the publication—going from a brief sidebar to a full-blown spread in the magazine with the spike in prisoners following the first Green Scare indictments in 2005.

As a resulting of EF! activists doing time in county, state and federal facilities across the US, the numbers of prisoner subscribers also began to rise steadily. Today there are now thousands of prisoners who have an Earth First! Journal pass through their hands. There are also many supporters on the outside who make donations explicitly for the purpose of keeping these prisoner subscriptions possible—being that very few prisoners are able to make enough on slave wages to pay full price for a subscription.

AUDIO: The Ecology of a Police State: 2015 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference panel


Listen to this recording of Panagioti Tsolkas moderating this panel, which explores the intersections between the epidemic of mass incarceration and the environmental degradation which occurs, directly and indirectly, as a result of it, including: the immediate impacts of pollution from these often-overpopulated human warehouses; the environmental racism of where prisons are built and how they operate; the re-branding of prisons as part of a “green” economy; and the use of prison as a tool for repressing ecological movements aimed at changing the current political/economic system.

From KBOO Community Radio