This year’s CHAINBREAKER tour is largely complete. Between sleeping, riding, and visiting with folks, there has hardly been any time to reflect or write. We have had the pleasure of visiting Jalil Muntaqim, Abdullah Majid, David Gilbert, Herman Bell, Maliki Latine, Sekou Odinga, and Seth Hayes. All send their greetings to comrades on the outside.
There had been, before the tour, reports of the gentlemen’s health difficulties–Jalil’s recent stroke and Abdullah’s sciatica surgery as well as Seth’s ongoing struggle with diabetes. While they are not the young men that they were when they were first captured, I was hopeful to see how much energy was still thriving inside them. I was proud and inspired to be sitting casually with them hearing stories from the past and strategies for the future. Every day was a new conversation about Ferguson, Palestine, and the state of social movements.
Jalil is locked up in the notorious Attica prison. The guards there were the most condescending and rude that we encountered. We had to wait 2 hours. People who had gotten there after us started their visits before and other inmates commented on how unfair it was that they made us wait so long. Jalil is full of passion and has a lot to teach about finding joy in struggle. He has many pending lawsuits and spends much of his time working to achieve legal victories for himself, his fellow inmates, and for our shared struggle.
Abdullah is in Romulus on a 1-year stint in solitary. He was generous in letting us be his one visit for the week. Please take a moment to write him or send him a note. He gets so little human contact/interaction. The “Security Housing Unit” (SHU) that Abdullah is in has several empty cells, but that doesn’t mean more space for Abdullah, it just makes it more isolating. He has such a small “yard” that he can’t run, which he is excited to do post-surgery. He is legally challenging his SHU detention and with hopes to be put back in general population early.
Abdullah Majid #83-A-0483
Five Points Correctional Facility
6600 State Route 96
Caller Box 119
Romulus, NY 14541
David is in Auburn, where he is serving 75 years-to-life. Practically, this means David will never be paroled. David continues to push and remind of the need to better address sexism within our movement(s). He has been allowed visits with family in the past year, which has been a beacon. Check out David’s book, LOVE AND STRUGGLE, published in 2012.
Herman is hard at work with many projects including the Certain Days calendar and his Releasing Aging Prisoners Project (R.A.P.P.). He is in Comstock, which is just north of Albany, NY, near the border with Vermont. Herman clearly has a strong internal drive to see justice. He is so willing to do the hard work of movement building and is willing to give of himself, even from prison, to see positive social change.
(Not really a funny joke, the TIME SERVED bar, across the street from the prison at Comstock)
Up near the Canadian border, I had a long conversation with Maliki, who gave me the quote used as the heading for this post, that wove between logic, intuition, and spirituality. He reminded me of the need to find the union of opposites, hold dualities, and rediscover our interdependence. We spoke at length about strategies for social change and utilizing mass power.
My visit interrupted Sekou from the breakfast he was making along with some folks on his block with some food from their garden. Sekou spoke fondly and at length about Marilyn Buck, her intelligence, honesty, creativity, and power. He clearly saw her as an equal in struggle, and preferred her to many. She never said she could do something that she couldn’t. She would ask for help when she needed it, or give an honest assessment and try her best (and most often came through). Sekou much preferred this to folks who would boast and act self-assured but wouldn’t come through. Sekou is also Muslim and very religious, and we talked at length about spirituality and the role it can play in grounding us in our values.
It was a special treat to visit Seth. He was the first political prisoner I visited years ago. Seth is in Fallsburg, which was the closest visit to New York City. Seth struggles with diabetes, which has often been neglected by prison officials. Luckily, he is largely able to care for his own needs with a few treatments a day and paying attention to his diet. Thankfully, most days he is able to cook most of his own food, which helps. I had previously had the pleasure of meeting Seth’s wife in Buffalo. Seth is trying to get transferred west to make her visits easier. September 9th is Seth’s next parole hearing, so please keep an eye on his situation and his needs as they develop.
All the gentlemen worry about the capacity of the movement to achieve our goals, and emphasize the need to come together in an organized way in spite of political and social differences. They have all seen our movements in times of strength and defeat. Because of their experiences, they can imagine strength, but this makes our current, much weaker, reality all the more frustrating. For me, the visits shrunk the history of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army. These were the people that made so much happen. For the most part, they knew each other and struggled together before being captured. I imagine my crew back home and having all my closest comrades locked away from each other. The joy and frustration and love and resentments that come with being a part of a small, interdependent, group engaged in common struggle, the tragedy of such a setback, and the remarkable history. Visiting these men parses the reality from the folklore. The larger-than-life turns to grime and sweat and passion.
I hope more writing comes out of this trip as we reflect further on all the conversations we had. As many of the men visited talked about the importance of broader movement coordination, let us end with this: Years ago, as I began to identify as a part of a struggle, I saw myself as continuing a legacy generations old. That includes what was passed down from these men and the movements they were a part of. Looking back, my perception of the movement back then makes it seem so strong and broad; so much more powerful than we are today. It is hard for me to imagine this history needing me, or my being responsible to it. However, just like how today people move in and out of struggle and often go on with their lives, putting their politics behind them, the vast movement that these men were once a part of no longer exists. These prisoners are now supported largely by their closest friends and family. While they get the occasional letter, even those correspondents fade in and then out again. Visits from new people are even more rare, and new supporters that extends beyond that, almost non-existent. As the prisoners age, so do those doing the bulk of the work to support them. Please, please consider building correspondence with an older, more oft forgotten prisoner. Plan a visit. It’s easier than you may think. Build your correspondence and build a relationship with an eye towards how you can begin to engage in support for them in a more substantive and ongoing way. We owe it to those who have worked so hard and paid so high a price to let them know they are not forgotten and to demonstrate how greatly we value them and their contributions.