PRISONERS DIVIDED AND CONQUERED
by David Harrison
Prisoners could have so much more -- power, control, influence, a voice; with consequential results such as less restrictive living conditions, added freedoms, healthier food and living environment, the elimination of oppression and overcrowding, respect and humane treatment by guards and prison officials, quality health care, legal representation at and the tape recording of disciplinary hearings, real world education and state-of-the-art job training -- but for their self-imposed and irrational disunity.
The California Correctional Peace Officers Association ("CCPOA") virtually owns and operates the prisons of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR"). Everyone else, from CDCR Secretary, Jeffrey A. Beard, to the jumble of administrators, to the prison wardens themselves, are merely figureheads and puppets; toadies to the whims and fancies of the CCPOA. It is the CCPOA that dictates the micro- and macro-operations of the prisons. The CCPOA determines who will be appointed as wardens, the treatment of prisoners, what programs, activities and the, overall living conditions prisoners experience. The CCPOA determines staffing positions and assignments to those positions. Politicians kowtow to the CCPOA, consulting with the CCPOA before commencing on any legislation that may in any way, however slight, affect the members of the mighty CCPOA. In instances where the CCPOA objects to the legislation (e.g., in matters of parole reform, increased good time credits for prisoners, or any legislation that would reduce the number of prisoners held by the CDCR -- fewer prisoners = fewer prison guards = a smaller number of dues paying members = less money in the CCPOA coffers = reduced ability to buy the allegiance of politicians and sway media to their side, ad nauseam (or where the legislation would make the duties of prison guards less cushy and rewarding)) the politician slinks back into the shadows bowing low and apologizing for his/her faux pas, (hoping not to have lost the largess of the CCPOA). The CCPOA has such omnipotence as a result of the unity of its members, their coming together as one body, speaking to their common interests (narrow self-interest at the expense of all others). The CCPOA has it all because its members (e.g., Blacks and Browns and White, democrats and republicans and tea party members, straights and gays and transgenders, Christians and Muslims, liberals and conservatives and progressives, et al.) are united.
Prisoners have no power, no control, no influence, no voice, because they keep themselves conflicted and disunited. This is true of every race, externally and internally. Races bump together only for the purpose of trafficking drugs. Other than drugs, the races separate and self-segregate themselves as to exercise areas, tables on the yard; the races do not eat together (unless forced by staff), individuals of different races refuse (often violently) to cell with a person of another race; the races do not shower together or play team sports together, etc. It is not staff that separate prisoners. It is prisoners themselves that self-segregate. Additionally, prisoners are not accepting of another person of their own race that is different in the slightest. The basis of such bigotry and irrational behavior (hatreds, ignorance, etc.) may be learned as children but are perpetuated as adults, and prisoners are loath to letting go of such indoctrinated and long-held (inveterate) ways of living. What if prisoners could let go of just enough of their hatreds and ignorance to unit? What then?
California prisoners currently number around 135,000. Multiply that number by the number of their family members, friends and supporters, and you have a mass of people that greatly outnumbers the entire membership of the CCPOA. There is power in numbers. In the face of a coalition of prisoners, their families, friends and supporters, the CCPOA would be powerless to prevent that coalition from speaking to their own common interests, from spreading their own message to the people, from having a voice in the matters that effect their present and future lives, or from exerting influence upon politicians and media as a united bloc. Unfortunately, the barriers to success are not the CCPOA, any external force or competing coalition.
In late-1998, prisoners of the Federal Correctional Institution, at Pekin, Illinois, attempted to bring together all federal prisoners, their families, friends and supporters, specifically to establish an organization on the streets [NOTE: Prison rules and regulations expressly prohibit such organizing of prisoners "within the institution except as specifically approved by the warden or superintendent[.]..." (e.g., California Code of Regulations, Title 15, § 3020(a)). This writer does not seek to organize prisoners within any institution.]. That organization was to have a board of directors consisting of three prisoners and six persons on the streets. Dues were set at five dollars per month with a one year enrollment agreement. The organization was established, bank account in place, and advertisements printed and distributed. Interest was strong, but commitment was weak, and the effort failed. In short, prisoners did not possess the maturity or prescience to give up their hatreds and ignorance (and childish gluttony; more than one prisoner whined that if he committed $5.00 per month he would have to give up that amount of goodies (ice creams, candy bars, etc.) from the canteen). Prisoners chose not to unite, choosing instead to remain the oppressed, victims of their own hatreds and ignorance.
Are prisoners now ready to stand for their rights? After so many decades, have prisoners had enough torture and oppression? Might it be that prisoners can let go of enough of their hatreds and ignorance to unite? Do prisoners want respect, rights and quality of life, or do they still prefer the status quo; the existence of an oppressive state of subjection, degradation and servitude?
This writer argues that it is time for prisoners to pick themselves up, stand tall, and to unite to a common purpose. Conditions of confinement will only get worse if prisoners continue to fail to unite.
David Scott Harrison
San Quentin State Prison @ 5-N-70
San Quentin, CA 94974
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