A Brief Review and Prison Strike

(August 24th, 2018)

Recently, I finished reading “Last Act of the Circus Animals” by two long-term political prisoners Travis Washington and Sean Swain. It is a work of fiction that is a portrayal of prison life as told from the perspective of the jailed, the zoo animals. There are talking tigers, panthers, elephants, and chimpanzees; and the jailers are the ringmaster, their workers, and the society of capitalism that surrounds them.

Originally, the text was a three-part photocopied zine from 2005 / 2006, but was recently published 10+ years later as a 171 page $5 book by LBCBooks. The book tells the tale of the zoo or the prison and what that life encompasses for the animals living and working there. The animals go on strike, refuse to work and eat, are beaten and some killed by the ringmaster and their workers. The narrative is a lot of dialogue between the prisoners about their current situation, being locked up, what that means, and how to get free. In some ways, it reminded me a bit of “Animal Farm” by George Orwell with the talking animal narrative and some politics, but that’s about all. The book by Washington and Swain certainly holds up as a solid work of fiction, representational of how and what it is to be locked up.

The book has an intro by three different people including Anthony Rayson, Jeremy Hammond, and Comrade Migs. Jeremy Hammond, an anarchist super hacker writes from behind bars that:

The ““Last Act” tells the story of circus animals who unite and rebel against the Ringmaster in order to get to the “World of the Free”. On one level, it’s a statement against animal cruelty: that all life on Earth has been subjugated or exterminated for the exclusive benefit of human civilization, and that the vicious practice of zoos and circuses must end. On another level, the story is about capitalist society: the pyramid-scheme caste system in which ruling classes exploit and oppress us all, processing our blood, sweat, and tears into profits, and throwing us only enough crumbs to barely survive.

But most striking is its scathing criticism against mass incarceration. Human beings are treated like animals, having been kidnapped from the “World of the Free”, warehoused in cages and chains, forced to perform back flips and headstands, and subjected to the control-freak reprogramming methods of the Ringmaster.”

The “Last Act” is a nice read and anyone who wants updates from one of the authors can tune into the weekly anarchist podcast, “The Final Straw Radio” to usually hear from Sean Swain, which is often shared on this podcast as well.

Stepping away from the fiction of the book and into the real world, a nationwide prison labor strike has just begun with:

“Men and women incarcerated in prisons across the nation declaring a nationwide strike in response to the riot in Lee Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison in South Carolina. Seven comrades lost their lives during a senseless uprising that could have been avoided had the prison not been so overcrowded from the greed wrought by mass incarceration, and a lack of respect for human life that is embedded in our nation’s penal ideology. These men and women are demanding humane living conditions, access to rehabilitation, sentencing reform and the end of modern day slavery.”

And taking from a mainstream media report from The Guardian, it says:

“The strike comes two years after the last major nationwide prison strike in September 2016 that saw more than 20,000 inmates refuse to show up for work across 12 states. That strike was co-ordinated out of Holman prison in Alabama, a state notorious for its overcrowded and dilapidated penal institutions, by a group of inmates styling themselves the “Free Alabama Movement”. ”

It goes on to say:

“As inspiration for what promises to be a tough 20 days ahead, strike organizers are leaning on history. The nationwide action began on Tuesday on the 47th anniversary of the death of the prominent Black Panther member, George Jackson, who was shot as he tried to escape in the prison yard of San Quentin in California.

The strike is then scheduled to close on September 9th, the 47th anniversary of the Attica prison rebellion in upstate New York. In an echo of today’s protest, the 1971 Attica riot was also framed by inmates as a push for humane conditions and basic political rights.

But after four days of negotiations it ended in a bloodbath when New York’s then governor, Nelson Rockefeller, sent in state police armed with shotguns and tear gas. Twenty-nine inmates and 10 of their hostages were killed.”

Digging a little deeper into the history of the day, the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement (RAM) writes:

“To commemorate the first day of the prison strike, RAM announces the first Nat Turner Day this August 21st, 2018. It is no coincidence this is the first day of this year’s Nationwide Prison Strike and we couldn’t be more honored to participate in this historic moment.

On this day in 1831 the Nat Turner Rebellion began. Nat Turner and his band of 70 comrades traveled from plantation to plantation to slay their oppressors and free those they encountered along the way. This act of rebellion is an important precursor for our struggle today. The initiative of these brave people to risk their own well-being to free those held in captivity around them, speaks both to the militancy necessary for community defense and the selflessness of revolutionary struggle.”

And the date also has some anarchist history to it as well, as 91 years ago Sacco and Vanzetti were executed by the state for being anarchists. It resulted in massive protests that erupted around the world.

I leave you with a quote from Alfredo M. Bonanno, writing from Rebibbia prison in 1997:

“Prison is the most direct, brutal expression of power, and like power it must be destroyed, it cannot be abolished progressively. Anyone who thinks they can improve it now in order to destroy it in the future will forever be a captive of it.

The revolutionary project of anarchists is to struggle along with the exploited and push them to rebel against all abuse and repression, so also against prison. What moves them is the desire for a better world, a better life with dignity and ethic, where economy and politics have been destroyed. There can be no place for prison in that world.

That is why anarchists scare power.

That is why they are locked up in prison.” - Alfredo M. Bonanno, Rebibbia prison, March 20, 1997

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