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Why Environmentalists Should Stand with Prisoners on September 9th

By Panagioti - Earth First! Newswire, September 7, 2016

September 9th is the 45th anniversary of the Attica Uprising in New York, where national attention was drawn to the problem of prisons in this country. This year there will public demonstrations in support of prisoners who have a called for a coordinated national work strike in response to extreme abuses they face, including toxic environments, discrimination, censorship, and literal slavery based on the 13th Amendment’s exemption of prisoners.

Prisoner-led groups like the Free Alabama Movement and the Free Ohio Movement have issued calls for “No School, No Work, No Shopping” on September 9, both to disrupt business as usual for the day and to encourage students and workers to participate in solidarity events.

Below is a listing of over 40 events being planned around the country.

The Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons (FTP) is calling for action in solidarity with the IWW Union’s Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) and other prisoner-led groups in planning activities around Sept 9th.

As I have expounded on in a series of recent articles published over the Earth First! Newswire, prisons all over the country are coupled with environmentally hazardous land uses that threaten prisoners’ health and surrounding ecosystems. (Check out this map for a visual representation of the chronic prison pollution problem.)

At federal prisons, for example, UNICOR factories have been cited for unsafe working conditions and environmental hazards across the nation. For this reason, FTP is planning a demo at the Coleman prison complex, where over 7,000 people are locked up and subjected to slavery at the largest federal prison factory in the US.

In another prison/ecology example, the federal Bureau of Prisons is proposing to build a new maximum-security prison and slave factory on top of a former strip mine site in the coalfields of Letcher County, Kentucky. Any federal prisoner could, at any time, find themselves transferred to this prison, subjected to the health risks associated with a site where the air, water and soil are polluted by decades of coal mining and processing, which is still ongoing in the surrounding mountains.

Along with putting prisoners on a toxic site, that prison would also impact local people who live nearby, turning their community into a prison town. Construction alone will waste $444 million of federal tax dollars which could be used to address the crushing poverty that so often forces people into prisons in the first place.

The proposed site also sits a mile from a rare pocket of eastern old-growth forest that is home to dozens of Appalachian plant and animal species listed as threatened or endangered.

For more information on Sept 9th, Letcher County and other related issues, visit FightToxicPrisons.org

Also, for additional info on the topic of toxic prison slavery, check out these recent writings of Texas prisoner organizer Malik Washington.

Welcome to Appalachia’s Gulag Archipelago

By Skyler Simmons - Earth First! Journal, June 2, 2016

Exile in the Mountains

It is hard to imagine the hollers and hills of southern Appalachia ever being a place of punishment. With its lush coves filled with ginseng, ramps, towering oaks, and tulip poplars. Its abundant springs, creeks and rivers teaming with trout, crawdads, and hellbenders. The thousands of family farms and backyard gardens providing sustenance, health, and independence. For most of us lucky enough to call this place home, it is pretty much paradise.

The residents of the gated community of Wallens Ridge, however, would beg to differ. Wallens Ridge is a supermax prison in the economically depressed coalfields of southwest Virginia. The facility, completed in 1999, was sold to this struggling community as an economic boon for a region where coal jobs were quickly disappearing.

Shortly after its opening, Wallens Ridge received a fresh shipment of bodies to fill up its cells, not to mention the state coffers. These bodies were 109 men from a private prison run by the security firm Wackenhut in New Mexico. Sick of the inhumane conditions, torture, and violence endemic in prisons, up to 290 prisoners rioted, destroying property, setting fires in four housing units and causing massive damage in August 1999. In the melee, one prison guard was killed.

The state’s response was swift. In the words of New Mexico Corrections Secretary Rob Perry, “The only thing you can do is act with an iron fist, and that’s what we’re going to do.” Another prison official commented, “A lot of people say they should be sent to a barge or an island, this is the closest thing we’ve got to it.”

It turns out that Wallens Ridge was the perfect island of exile that prison officials desired for these rebellious inmates. Shipped nearly 2,000 miles away from New Mexico, they were subject to another form of torture, isolation from family and friends who could not afford to travel across the county for visits. In addition, an overwhelmingly rural, white prison guard staff was sure to deal with the predominately black and brown prisoners ruthlessly. And that they did.

Upon arrival at Wallens Ridge, the New Mexico inmates were subject to vicious beatings and electroshocks with stun guns, all while the guards shouted racist slurs. According to the Richmond-Times Dispatch, inmate Hector Torres was repeatedly asked if he was, “one of the corrections officer-stabbing Mexicans.” Each time he said “No”, the guards shocked him with a stun gun. Remarking on the conditions at the prison, an attorney representing some of the New Mexico inmates in a civil right lawsuit said, “The knowing and deliberate nature of it is really startling… It was as close to a concentration camp or an experience of slavery as anyone would expect to come in this country.”

Wallens Ridge is not unique. An identical supermax prison called Red Onion was built in 1998 in Pound, VA on mine land donated by Pittston Coal Company about 20 miles away. Noted for having the highest rate of solitary confinement of any prison in Virginia, a 1999 Human Right Watch report found that at Red Onion, “racism, excessive violence and inhumane conditions reign inside.” Many inmates, such as New Afrikan Black Panther Party member Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, say they were sent to this supermax prison, not for their crimes on the outside, but as punishment for speaking out against abuse on the inside.

Even with the importing of out of state prisoners and a “tough on crime” attitude, a year after Wallens Ridge and Red Onion were built, the prisons sat only half full. So what did the Virginia legislature do? They created the aptly, if not draconian, named Virginia Exile Program which included mandatory 5 year sentences in a supermax prison for persons convicted of possession of a gun and cocaine, or any felon in possession of a gun. Sure enough, the prisons filled up. As a matter of fact it was so successful that the prisons are now horribly overcrowded.

Incarceration, Justice and the Planet

By Panagioti Tsolkas - Earth First! Journal, May 5, 2016

Author’s Note: This is a follow-up to another recent article entitled “What Does It Look Like to Be An Environmentalists in Prison” both of which are aimed at generating interest in the upcoming Convergence Against Toxic Prisons June 11- 13, 2016 in D.C.

Prisons inspire little in terms of natural wonder. It might be a weed rises through a crack and blooms for a moment. It might be a prisoner notices. But prisoners, one could assume, must have little concern for the flowers or for otherwise pressing environmental issues. With all the social quandaries present in their lives—walls of solitude, the loss of basic human rights—pollution, climate change and healthy ecosystems must seem so distantly important: an issue for the free. In actuality, prisoners are on the frontlines of the environmental movement, one which intersects with social justice.

Prisoner Jonathan Jones-Thomas found himself unexpectedly in the middle of a scandal exposing massive sewage spills into Washington State’s Skykomish River by the Monroe Correctional Complex. Prisoner Bryant Arroyo ended up rallying hundreds of prisoners to join environmental groups on the outside in fighting plans for a coal gasification plant next to where he was confined. Prisoner Robert Gamez chose to speak out in the midst of an unfolding environmental justice disaster in the Arizona desert, where military waste, Superfund sites and proposed toxic copper mine waste injections ringed the solitary confinement cell he was forced to call home.

And they weren’t alone. When the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), a prisoner-led advocacy group with 25 years under its belt, announced that they were starting a “prison ecology project,” letters began rolling in from incarcerated people around the country. These prisoners were witnessing the sort of conditions that many Americans who’d fall into the category of environmentalists don’t expect to hear about in their own country: factory labor far below minimum wage and no safety gear; black mold infestations, contaminated water, hazardous waste, and sewage overflows; deadly risks of floods, extreme heat; and a whole host of illnesses related to living in overcrowded toxic facilities.

Regulatory Black Holes

According to HRDC’s director Paul Wright, a former Washington State prisoner himself, many prisons actually do operate more like maquiladora sweatshops south of the U.S. border, where both labor standards and environmental regulations take a back seat to other interests.

Wright is not a stranger to the border. Though he grew up in Lake Worth, Florida, his mother’s side of the family is from the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. Wright was arrested at age 21 and sentences to 17 years, stemming from a gun fight which resulted from a murder charge, while stationed in the Seattle area during a stint in the military. Prior to that he had spent summers visiting relatives in Mexico, and lived there for a period in his youth.

He is also quite familiar with prison factory conditions. As a prisoner, he co-founded the magazine Prison Legal News (PLN) in 1990 which made what he calls “prison slave labor” one of its central themes, seeking to expose corporate contractors who took advantage of the nominal wages and blind eye to labor conditions. Wright still pays attention to injustice stemming from prison industries, but he has also turned his eye to what he sees as another problematic, and underexplored, aspect of prison.

“There are serious environmental impacts happening there, out of sight from the general public, similar to the case with sweatshops the behind border wall,” Wright says. In the case of prisons, operations occur literally behind tightly closed and well-armored doors. “They’re like black holes of government regulation.”

But there are some key distinctions between prisons and sweatshops. Namely, in sweatshops the workers tend to go to some form of their own home at the end of the day. But prisons operate as full time warehouses for people, often piled in by the thousands. That in itself, he says, has serious environmental implications.

The U.S. maintains a massive prison system—world’s largest, in fact. The political value of tough-on-crime rhetoric and legislation that drove the U.S. prison population to the beat out every other country on the planet was often central to political campaign platforms in the ‘80s and ‘90s. A bloated prison system became accepted as the norm, and on top of that, its growth was accompanied by an increasingly disproportionate representation of Black, Latino and Indigenous people, predominately from low-income communities. The most recent demographic statistics available show this to be the case, not only on a national level, but in each and every state as well.

Today, the nation is four decades into the era of mass incarceration, where the prison population jumped 700 percent since the 1960s. Perhaps it’s high time we start asking: What are the environmental impacts of this racialized practice of justice that has been so extreme as to earn the moniker of “The New Jim Crow”?

In Wright’s opinion, the answers could prove as critical to the future of the environmental movement as carbon emissions and rising sea levels.

In November, We Write Letters in Solidarity

By Peter Moore - Ottawa IWW, November 19, 2015

Prisoners Who Need Our Support

After the 2014 release of all the G-20 prisoners, there remain two long-term prisoners who deserve our support.

Please send a letter to Fellow Worker Marius Mason and our union’s friend, Leonard Pelletier.

Remind them who is out there for them.

Leonard Peltier #89637-132
USP Coleman I
P.O. Box 1033
Coleman, FL 33521

Case information: http://www.whoisleonardpeltier.info/

Marie Mason #04672-061
FMC Carswell
Federal Medical Center
P.O. Box 27137
Fort Worth, TX 76127

Case information: http://freemarie.org/

Please address letters to “Marie (Marius) Mason.”

Under no circumstances mention any illegal acts. Letters that mention other Green Scare prisoners may be rejected.

Marius has a list of 100 pre-approved people he can write to; this means he will be able to receive your letter but until your name is added to his list he cannot write back.  Marius can request people to be added/removed but this takes time and is not always granted.

Demand basic human rights and safe water access for inmates at West Virginia's South Central Regional Jail

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

In the aftermath of the January, 2014 chemical spill in southern West Virginia, hundreds of inmates at the South Central Regional Jail in Charleston, WV, were deprived of access to enough safe water. Many suffered from illness and injury from dehydration or chemical exposure. Some inmates even faced violence and legal repercussions for seeking medical help and for asking for clean water to drink.
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The jail's response to the chemical spill was inadequate and inhumane. We've met and corresponded with more than 50 inmates, and based on their stories, it's clear that this failed crisis response is just the latest example in a larger pattern of abuse, violence, and negligence by the jail's staff and administration. 

STAND WITH THE INMATES AT SOUTH CENTRAL in calling for basic human rights and access to safe drinking water. Join us in demanding that the jail authorities acknowledge their failure to protect inmates' health and safety during the water crisis -- and that they acknowledge and correct their lies to the public about that response.

Read the entire appeal here.

An Injury to One is an Injury to All! - May 31, 2014

By Doug G - May 31, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Comrades and Fellow Proles,

As many of you know, Elliot Hughes, member of the Industrial Workers of the World as well as the Stage Hands Union is involved in a variety of struggles and campaigns.

Elliot has thrown himself deep into organizing against the eviction of the Albany Bulb, in which many people have lived there for over 7 years. The push to 'cleanse' the Bulb is part and parcel to the ongoing attack on working, poor, and homeless people throughout the bay area. Elliot has organized events, brought out food and water, and faced down the police for several weeks now. I have personally been out to the Bulb and it is clear that the all of the police there are well aware of Elliot and his activism. Police Sergeant Chris Willis asked to take Elliot to coffee and talk about 'raising the minimum wage' and 'stopping the Keystone XL.' Elliot of course refused. Police have also attempted to ask young people involved in defending the Bulb if they know Elliot.

Yesterday, police raided the home of the last two remaining people on the Bulb with a large amount of police and weapons. They arrested one supporter and even put their name down as "Elliot Hughes." It is clear that they were eager to get Elliot - and do it quickly.

This morning, when Elliot was helping Amber and Phill move their belongings after the raid, police stopped Elliot and arrested him supposedly over an unpaid traffic ticket. They also booked him on two felonies. One, of having instruments that could be used for a jailbreak (?!) and also having stolen property (unclear as to what this is). While we do not expect these charges to stick, we need to raise money to get Elliot out of the clink.

Elliot comes from a working class family in the mid-west. His father is also in the stage hands union. In 2008, Eilliot was brutally arrested and beaten during the Republican National Convention by police, leading him to have residual trauma and damage. He's a tough kid and can hold his own, but we want to support our comrades - especially when we know the real reason why they've been arrested - their organizing!

Please, pitch in - help Elliot out!  

June 11th International Day of Solidarity With Marie Mason, Eric McDavid & All Longterm Anarchist Prisoners 2014 Call Out

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Note: Marie Mason is a dues paying member of the IWW.

Though it may not seem like it from the depths of winter, June 11th is quickly approaching. As a revitalization of the day of support for eco-prisoners, the International Day of Solidarity with Marie Mason, EricMcDavid and Long-term Anarchist Prisoners has seen a huge outpouring of support and love for both Marie and Eric from all corners the globe over the past 3 years.

Significantly, in addition to the well-spring of both material and immaterial support, we've seen the proliferation of solidarity actions in many diverse contexts spreading the spirit and contributions to our struggles of those the state has attempted to disappear. Coordinated international solidarity has begun to flourish, with information about long-term anarchist and environmental prisoners crossing many geographic and linguistic barriers.

These efforts have had very tangible effects in the lives of Marie and Eric (and many others). Fundraisers have helped them remain true to their vegan principles, loved ones have been able to visit regularly even across vast distances, new generations of radical folks all over the world have reached out to them in solidarity. In short, June 11th has been greatly successful in helping to keep Marie, Eric and many other long-term anarchist and environmental prisoners in our hearts and minds, and to keep them alive in our struggles.

But this process of remembering - of "keeping alive" - is a tricky thing.

Our struggles and movements are often mired by a lack of memory, a lack of understanding and connecting with the past as a way to inform our actions in the present. This is both a product of the techno-alienation of our age as well as a consequence of tactical repression by state forces. The state, for the time being, has the ability to kidnap our comrades and bury them alive, to force them to languish in cold steel and concrete for decades on end. They're ripped from our communities, from our lives. And in their place exists a painful void.

The state, for its part, is banking on the veracity of the old adage "time heals all wounds"; it is hoping that this void will shrink and that we will "forget". If held in captivity long enough, so thinks the state, the actions of our courageous comrades will fade into the oblivion of history and we on the outside will be left without their constructive and loving presence in our struggles. We must fight against this repressive tendency; we must never forget.

Open Letter to the MI CATS 3 from Tar Sands Blockade

By the MI-CATS 3 - February 2, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

As some double-down their efforts to engage in the corrupt political process surrounding the northern leg of Keystone XL, we want to take some time to honor three brave womyn currently imprisoned by the state for resisting another tar sands pipeline in their backyard.

On Friday, Vicci Hamlin, Lisa Leggio, and Barbara Carter of Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands (MI CATS) were found guilty of trespassing and “resisting and obstructing an officer”, a felony charge in Michigan that carries a maximum jail sentence of three years. They were arrested while blockading construction equipment being used to expand Enbridge’s Line 6B – the same tar sands pipeline which caused the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history when it leaked over one million gallons of tar sands bitumen into the Kalamazoo River in 2010.

Letter from Eco-Anarchist Prisoner Marco Camenish about His Hunger Strike (Switzerland)

By Marco Camenish - 325.nostate.net, January 1, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Here follows Marco’s text, which came to RadioAzione via an e-mail sent by other comrades. The text explains the reasons of the hunger strike. From RadioAzione yet another strong hug and solidarity to the comrade kidnapped in the Swiss concentration camp of Lenzburg:

Hunger strike from 30/12/2013 to at least 26/01/2014 and refusal to doing forced labour from 6/01/2014 to at least 26/01/2014: this is my contribution to the struggle of resistance and to the struggle for total liberation all over the world inside and outside prison, against repression, class justice, prison, torture, isolation, sexism, racism, xenophobia, the imperialist war, the annihilation of life on the planet.

Annihilation in the history of the planet with the death of the species, never so close to catastrophe like that of the extinction of the dinosaurs (meteorite impact?), but today being carried out by the patriarchal and techno-industrial civilization of dominion and by the oppression of the murderous exploitation of global capital and its States.

It is my contribution to shared revolutionary solidarity, beyond tendencies, for the freedom of all revolutionary prisoners and all the prisoners. Solidarity greetings to all those who struggle for total liberation.

The Ecoterrorist and Me

By David Rovics - Counter Punch, November 25, 2013

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

“Pinocchio asked Jiminy Cricket, ‘how do you become fully human?’ Jiminy Cricket said, ‘you develop a conscience, and then follow it.’”

That’s probably not exactly how the dialog went. That of course is from the story of Pinocchio, and I could look it up. The rest I can’t.

Sitting on plastic chairs, around a plastic table, inside a room with thick cement walls and massive, steel doors, was Marie Mason, Peter Werbe, and me. On top of the table was a little bag of peanuts and a bag of very mediocre trail mix. These are the only vegan options available from the vending machines in the room Peter and I were taken to before we were escorted into the visitation room in Marie’s cell block. Nearby sat a sleepy-looking prison guard.

Peter and I were spending the weekend in prison. Marie is in her fifth year of a 22-year sentence at the Carswell federal women’s prison in Fort Worth, Texas. She is being held in a highly repressive, so-called Administration Unit of the facility. She’s not allowed to give interviews, or write anything for publication anywhere. The few people approved to visit her, somewhat bizarrely, include me and Peter, one of the most notorious anarchists of Detroit, sitting at the table with us.

Peter is a journalist – host of a popular Detroit radio talk show, and a long time staff member of the almost half-century old Fifth Estate magazine. I have also dabbled in that profession to some small extent. But no one visiting this prison is allowed to bring a notepad, a writing utensil, a recording device, or anything else other than car keys and a few dollars, which you can spend on the vending machines in the general visitation area. So anything I write here that attempts to represent Marie’s words are my efforts to remember our conversations of several days ago.

Peter and I are both old friends of Marie’s. Our visit includes fond reminiscences shared by these two Michiganders of the Detroit newspaper strike way back when, and of the many concerts of mine that Marie, a talented musician herself, organized over the decades. Such as the one she organized at the Trumbullplex alt-space back in the 90′s, when I first met her, Peter, David Watson and other members of the Detroit anarchist community.

Peter is a member of Marie’s support committee, and he’s been working with other good people on a campaign to get her moved from this prison-within-a-prison back into a somewhat less draconian “general population,” preferably closer to where most of her friends and relatives reside.

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