Prison is the ultimate power the democratic state exercises over a citizen

“We must keep in mind that with the exception of capital punishment, prison is the ultimate power the democratic state exercises over a citizen. That prisons fail miserably at their professed objectives-rehabilitation, deterrence and protection—is immaterial to their survival. These failings, along with cruel, dehumanizing prison practices, have constantly been exposed by rebelling prisoners, by shocked reformers, by governmental commissions and academicians. But exposes alone do not determine the fate of prisons.

What determines the survival and expansion of prisons is their success in controlling particular segments of the population. Prisons, the end repositories of the criminal (in)justice systems, maintain the concept of a “criminal class” selected with discretion. Such discretionary power can be wielded indiscriminately by functionaries such as police, district attorneys, judges and the parole apparatus.

Functionaries of the criminal (in)justice systems represent the powerful and influential. Their use of vast discretionary power distorts the principles of justice. Recognizing and identifying the locus and misuse of such power is central to an abolitionist approach to prison change.

If we are unclear about power and how it operates, we will be impeded in our ability to properly analyze specific prison situations. As a result we will find ourselves grappling with only the outer layers of the criminal (in)justice systems rather than the core. We will be relegated to acting upon surface reforms—those which legitimize or strengthen the prison system. We define abolitionist reforms as those which do not legitimize the prevailing system, but gradually diminish its power and functions.

This is the key to an abolitionist perspective on social change. Abolition is a long range struggle, an unending process: it is never “finished,” the phasing out is never completed. Strategies and actions recommended in this handbook seek to gradually limit, diminish, or restrain certain forms of power wielded by the criminal (in)justice systems.

The pressure is excessive for abolitionists to immediately produce a “finished” blueprint, to solve every problem, to deal with every “criminal” before we can begin to deal with and change the systems. The first step toward abolition occurs when we break with the established prison system and at the same time face “unbuilt ground.” Only by rejecting what is “old and finished” do we give the “new and unfinished” a chance to appear. Pursuing an abolition continuum strategy, we can undertake a program of concrete, direct and immediate abolitions of portions of the system beginning with abolishing further prison/jail construction.

Sometimes our recommended strategies and actions utilize conventional judicial and legislative processes. Abolitionists are not apprehensive about working within the system, so long as it permits us to change and limit the system. When systemic options prove inadequate, abolitionists strive for newer and more creative approaches—building alternatives to existing structures and processes.

As with all social change, prison abolition produces many paradoxes. We work in the here and now: a quarter of a million prisoners suffer in cages [now 2.7 million]; plans or construction are underway for the building of hundreds upon hundreds of jails and prisons while the economy declines for the poor and the powerless. To move from this shocking reality toward the vision of a just, prisonless society, requires a host of in between strategies and reforms.

These interim, or abolishing-type reforms, often may appear to contradict our long range goal of abolition, unless we see them as part of a process—a continuum process—moving toward the phasing out of the prison system. If interim strategies become ends in themselves, we will reinforce the present system, changed in detail only.

Modern reforms attempt to mask the cruelty of caging. Our goals are not diverted by handsome new facades, the language of “treatment” and prison managers who deftly gild the bars. Present reforms will not abolish the cage unless they continue to move toward the constant reduction of the function of prisons.

The abolitionist’s task is clear—to prevent the system from masking its true nature. The system dresses itself up: we undress the system.  We strip it down to the reality: the cage and the key. We demystify. We ask the simple but central political question: “Who decides?” We raise the moral issue: “By what right?” We challenge the old configurations of power. We begin to change the old, begin to create the new.”

– Instead of Prisons (1976)

Franz Fanon: Colonialism, conquest, nationalism

“Colonialism is not a type of individual relations but the conquest of a national territory and the oppression of a people: that is all. It is not a certain type of human behavior or a pattern of relations between individuals. Every Frenchman in Algeria is at the present time an enemy soldier. So long as Algeria is not independent, this logical consequence must be accepted… .

The Algerian experiences French colonialism as an undifferentiated whole, not out of simple mindedness or xenophobia but because in reality every Frenchmen in Algeria maintains, with reference to the Algerian, relations that are based on force. The evocation of special cases of Frenchmen who are abnormally nice to Algerians doe snot modify the nature of relations between a foreign group that has seized the attributes or national sovereignty and the people which finds itself deprived of the exercise of power. No personal relation can contradict this fundamental datum: that the French nation through its citizens opposes the existence of the Algerian nation. ”

– Franz Fanon

John Trudell, Thanksgiving address (1980): “They deal in violence and repression, we are power”

“I’d like to thank all of you for coming here tonight and sharing this evening with us. And tonight I’d like to talk in honor of the water and the earth and our brother Leonard Peltier.

We’re faced with a very serious situation in this generation. There are insane people who wish to rule the world. They wish to continue to rule the world on violence and repression, and we are all the victims of that violence and repression. We as the indigenous people of the western hemisphere have been resisting this oppression for 500 years. We know that the black people have been resisting it for at least that long. And we know that the white people have had to endure it thousands of years. And now it’s come full swing to this generation that we live in: the nuclearization of the world.

You see, this cannot be. We cannot allow this to go on. We cannot do it. We cannot expect that the pro-nuclear oppressor, that other side, we cannot expect that they’re going to change for us. They are going to become more brutal. They are going to become more repressive because it’s a matter of dollars and their illusionary concepts of power.

We have to re-establish our identity. We have to understand who we are and where we fit in the natural order of the world, because our oppressor deals in illusions. They tell us that it is power, but it is not power. They may have all the guns, and they may have all the racist laws and judges, and they may control all the money, but that is not power. These are only imitations of power, and they are only power because in our minds we allow it to be power. But it’s all an imitation. Racism and violence, racism and guns, economics- the brutality of the American Corporate State way of life is nothing more than violence and oppression and it doesn’t have anything to do with power. It is brutality. It’s a lack of a sane balance. The people who have created this system, and who perpetuate this system, they are out of balance. They have made us out of balance. They have come into our minds and they have come into our hearts and they’ve programmed us. Because we live in this society, and it has put us out of balance. And because we are out of balance we no longer have the power to deal with them. They have conquered us as a natural power.

See, we are power. They deal in violence and repression, we are power. We are a part of the natural world. All of the things in the natural world are a natural part of the creation and feed off the energy of our sacred mother, Earth. We are power. But they have separated us from our spiritual connection to the Earth, so people feel powerless. We look at the oppressor and we look at the enemy because they have the most guns and the most lies and the most money. People start to feel powerless.

We are power, we are a natural part of the creation, we were put here on the sacred mother Earth to serve a purpose. And somewhere in the history of people we’re forgetting what the purpose is. The purpose is to honor the earth, the purpose is to protect the earth, the purpose is to live in balance with the earth, the earth is our mother. And we will never free ourselves as human people, we will never free ourselves as sexual people, we will never free ourselves until we address the issue of how we live in balance with the earth. Because all our resistance and all of our struggle is hollow, it’s false, it’s another one of the oppressor’s hypocrisies. If we do not look out for the welfare of the Earth first, because I don’t care who it is, any child who turns on their mother is living in a terrible, terrible confusion. The Earth is our mother, we must take care of the Earth.

They pollute- this oppressor, this machine that has gone mad and run amok, it is beserk. They keep telling us, “progress.” They keep telling us “face reality.” Well, let’s deal with reality. Reality is the Earth can no longer take this attack. We can no longer allow this Thing to continue when it’s polluting the air, it’s polluting the water, polluting our food. They pollute the air, they pollute the water, they pollute our food, they pollute our minds. They put us out of balance.

They have made us be insecure with ourselves. They have put us into a situation where we have to play many roles. You know, we gotta be chauvinist, or we’ve got to be on some kind of a class trip, or some kind of illusionary power trip. We’ve gotta play a role, see? We’ve gotta play a role to communicate with other people. We’ve got to go through this charade because they have attacked our self confidence. They have attacked our self confidence and they have made us to listen to *them.* They have made us to believe that they are power. But they are not- they are violent and they are brutal, but they are not power.

We are a natural part of the earth. As a natural part of the Earth, we have the energy and the power that IS the Earth. The Earth will take care of us if we will remember the Earth- in more than just our words. If we will remember the Earth in our way of life; we are all here to play a role. And all of the animals, and all of the life on the earth is playing it’s proper role except the human people. Somehow we are betraying, we are betraying our purpose here and that is why we live in the confusion that we live in. They tell us, they want us to believe, that we are powerless.

We are a natural part of the earth, we are an extension of that natural energy. The natural energy which is Spirit, and which is power. Power. A blizzard is power. An earthquake is power. A tornado is power. These are all things of power that no oppressor, no machine age, can put these things of power in a prison. No machine age can make these things of power submit to the machine age. That is natural power. And just as it takes millions and billions of elements to make a blizzard to happen, or to make the earthquake, to make the earth to move, then it’s going to take millions and billions of us. We are power. We have that power. We have the potential for that power.

I remember in the 60s and 70s I heard all these things about “power to the people” and I never really understood because everyone was saying “power to the people” when they were talking about demonstrating, they were talking about votes, they were talking about dealing on the terms of the oppressor. Our power will come back to us, our sense of balance will come back to us, when we go back to the natural way of protecting and honoring the earth. If we have forgotten how to do it, or we think that it looks overwhelming, or think that we can never accomplish it, all we have to do, each one of us, an individual, is to go and find one spot on the Earth that we can relate to. Feel that energy, feel that power. That’s where our safety will come.

The Earth will take care of us. We have to understand that the American Corporate State will not take care of us. They do not care about us. Maximize their profit, that is where their whole life’s balance is placed upon- maximizing the profit. They will turn us against each other to maximize the profit, because they have done it in the past.

Nuclear energy. It’s the final assault. Nuclear energy should tell each and every one of us that they have gone beyond the reasons of sanity. That they are no longer sane. That they no longer deal with the real, natural world. Because they want to create a radioactivity that is going to make it impossible for the mother earth to take care of our life. We will not destroy the world. We are arrogant and we are stupid and we are foolish if we believe that we will destroy the world. Man has the ability to destroy all of the people’s ability to live on the Earth, but we do not have the power to destroy the earth. The earth will heal itself. The earth will purify itself of us. If it takes a billion years to get rid of the radiation the Earth will do it, because the Earth has that kind of time. We do not.

Our obligations and our loyalty have to be to the earth, and they have to be to our sense of community and to our people and our relations. Our obligations and loyalty should not be to a government that will not take care of our needs. Our obligations and loyalty should not be to a government that has proven time and time again that it is the enemy of the people unless the people are rich in dollars. That has been the consistent history of Western civilization and the American Corporate State Government- that’s reality. They are not our friends, they do not care about us. We have to face the reality that we have an enemy.

We all want to talk about nuclear war, everyone’s afraid of nuclear war, and it’s going to come between the Americans and the Russians or the Chinese or whoever. But are they not waging nuclear war on us now when the miners die from cancer from mining that Uranium? Are they not waging nuclear war with Three Mile Island? When they release that stuff into the air? Are they not waging nuclear war when they build these nuclear reactors and it’s not safe? Are they not waging nuclear war when they attack the Indian people on their land, militarily attack the Indian people, racistly attack the Indian people, so they can get at the natural resources to feed their radioactive machines? That is war, and they are waging it against us. They bribe congress, they bribe your elected officials, they terrorize and intimidate your elected officials by getting the FBI to blackmail them. Those are acts of war. We have to come to a time in our lifetime, and it will come in our lifetime, where we are going to have to deal with the fact that the enemy has taken over your government. The government is not your ally. The government will use you, chew you up and spit you out.

You think that we are wrong? You think that we are talking unrealistically? Then go look at your elders and see what has happened to your elders in your machine age society. See what kind of respect that they get. See what kind of a voice they are allowed into your society, what kind of input they have. See what their final reward of happiness is after working for this slave state for 30 or 40 years and allowing someone to exploit their labors.

What is racism? Racism is an act of war. What is sexism? Sexism is an act of war. It’s a war against our human dignity and our rights to self respect. This is the war that they wage there. War! They are war-like. And we have to understand that the American Corporate State got to where it’s at through the act of war. The next war… you wanna worry, you wanna think about a war? The next war that you better be concerned about is the one that they’re gonna fight here. Here in the continental United States. They have fought many wars here. They fought us all along, see, because we said ‘it’s ours and you haven’t got a right to it.’ They fought us. Now you all are claiming that it’s yours under this illusionary concept of private ownership of property and they’re gonna fight you. But they’re going to call it “national security” and “national energy crisis.” They’re going to call it “constitutional rights” and they’re gonna call it “judicial proceedings.” They’re going to nationalize… you know, your military coupe is going to come there. They’re going to nationalize the police departments, there’s your military coupe. In the name of “violence.” “Rising crime.” But all we must do is look in the corporate office and see the rising crime that is taking place there and nobody’s going to jail for it. So we’ve got to understand that they are arming themselves to wage a war against us and it’s going to be called the war of “law and order.” Because they’re twisting it around.

For 500 years my people have resisted. For 500 years we will resist again if it becomes necessary. We want to be able to relate and communicate with all of the people who are living on this land, but we want to be able to relate and communicate from a position of truth. You all gotta face the truth. We have had to face it through 500 years of genocide, we have had to face the truth, we have had to live the truth. We have had to die the truth. Before we’re gonna ever see our evolutionary liberation, the people that call themselves Americans are gonna have to face the truth also.

They tell us to “be realistic,” that “progress” means that all these things have to happen. They tell us that we can’t go back to the old way. They tell us “be realistic.” But there is no old way, no new way, there is a way of life. We must live in balance with the earth. We MUST do it. We have no choice. If we allow ourselves to be apathetic, or we allow ourselves to be lied to, or tolerate their lies about what they’re doing to the earth, then we are betraying our intention. We are betraying our purpose here. We cannot protect that 7th generation if we do not protect the earth. We cannot protect ourselves if we do not protect the earth. The Earth gives us life, not the American government. The earth gives us life, not the multi-national corporate government. The Earth gives us life, we need to have the Earth. We must have it, otherwise our life will be no more. So we must resist what they do.

They want to break our spirit. They will do everything and anything to break our spirit, our will to live. We must learn to resist, we much learn to see, we must learn to look. We must learn to step out of this reactionary-ism. All of our lives they’ve had control of us through their schools, their tv, their electronic media.  They’ve had control of us all of our lives. They have programmed us, they have made us become reactionary. We don’t think, we react to what they do. We don’t think, we react. To everything that they do- we react to it. They’re setting us up in the 80’s because they know consistently throughout the past the people have always reacted to their manipulations of circumstance. They know that the people always react. They’re counting on it in the 80’s.

See, and they outnumber us with guns, They outnumber us with money. They outnumber us with votes. They control all the machines that count the votes. They’ve got it all stacked in their favor. Except there’s a key. The key is we must start thinking, and stop reacting. The oppressor has no thinkers, they have no philosophers, it’s all scientific, it’s all economic, it’s all manipulative. They have no thinkers. You go look and you deal with the enemy and what the enemy does is: the enemy will send somebody out on the street to hit you in the head and the guy says “I’m only taking my orders.” And if you can come from a position of strength to this guy whose hitting you in the head and say “Hey, you’ve got to stop hitting me in the head, we want to talk.” then he says “Well I have to go to my superior to see.” They have no thinkers, either.

If we will start to think we will learn to see, to see what reality really is, and we will outnumber them through the thinking process. We will take our minds away from them. Because through their manipulation of our minds they control our spirit, and they know this is true. They tell us, see, they want us to believe that we are powerless. They want us to believe that we are becoming overwhelmed, that they can overwhelm us. You see, but they are paranoid. They are more paranoid than any of us are, no matter what happens to us. You see, because they have to put people in here to come and listen to what we’re saying, so they can go back and tell.

See, so they’re afraid! They’re afraid because they know we’re talking about reality! Now why are they afraid? They are afraid because they know they are dealing with the illusions of power which are based on the realities of violence and brutality. They’re afraid! See, they don’t want people to think, they don’t want people to be talking, and they don’t want people to think about what they talk about.

Because they know. They’ve known it all along, that they built their whole Thing on illusions. And because they have drawn us in to giving this illusionary world all this power, they have taken our power away from us. Because we believe in the illusions.”

Julian Assange on WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning, Cypherpunks, Surveillance State

“There’s not a barrier anymore between corporate surveillance, on the one hand, and government surveillance, on the other. You know, Facebook is based—has its servers based in the United States. Gmail, as General Petraeus found out, has its servers based in the United States. And the interplay between U.S. intelligence agencies and other Western intelligence agencies and any intelligence agencies that can hack this is fluid. So, we’re in a—if we look back to what’s a earlier example of the worst penetration by an intelligence apparatus of a society, which is perhaps East Germany, where up to 10 percent of people over their lifetime had been an informer at one stage or another, in Iceland we have 88 percent penetration of Iceland by Facebook. Eighty-eight percent of people are there on Facebook informing on their friends and their movements and the nature of their relationships—and for free. They’re not even being paid money. They’re not even being directly coerced to do it. They’re doing it for social credits to avoid the feeling of exclusion. But people should understand what is really going on. I don’t believe people are doing this or would do it if they truly understood what was going on, that they are doing hundreds of billions of hours of free work for the Central Intelligence Agency, for the FBI, and for all allied agencies and all countries that can ask for favors to get hold of that information.

William Binney, the former chief of research, the National Security Agency’s signals intelligence division, describes this situation that we are in now as ‘turnkey totalitarianism,’ that the whole system of totalitarianism has been built—the car, the engine has been built—and it’s just a matter of turning the key. And actually, when we look to see some of the crackdowns on WikiLeaks and the grand jury process and targeted assassinations and so on, actually it’s arguable that key has already been partly turned. The assassinations that occur extrajudicially, the renditions that occur, they don’t occur in isolation. They occur as a result of the information that has been sucked in through this giant signals interception machinery.”

— Excerpt from “Julian Assange on WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning, Cypherpunks, Surveillance State” (Democracy Now!, 29 November 2012)

[…]

And here’s another comment from Assange, on a related subject:

“I’m quite interested in the philosophy of technique. Technique means not just a piece of technology but it means, say, majority consensus on a board, or the structure of a parliament — it’s systematized interaction. For example, it seems to me that feudal systems came from the technique of mills. Once you had centralized mills, which required huge investments and which were easily subject to physical control, then it was quite natural that you would end up with feudal relations as a result. As time has gone by we seem to have developed increasingly sophisticated techniques. Some of these techniques can be democratized; they can be spread to everyone. But the majority of them — because of their complexity — are techniques that form as a result of strongly interconnected organizations like Intel Corporation. Perhaps the underlying tendency of technique is to go through these periods of discovering technique, centralizing technique, democratizing technique — when the knowledge about how to do it floods out in the next generation that is educated. But I think that the general tendency for technique is to centralize control in those people who control the physical resources of techniques.”

From “The Web can create revolutions — or jail revolutionaries” (Salon, 02 December 2012)