Martha’s March 4 Prison Reflection

March 4th, 2021

Albert Woodfox, in his book, Solitary, published in 2019, documents how the state of Louisiana was especially brutal in the treatment of prisoners at the infamous Angola prison. Mr. Woodfox and two companions were particularly targeted in their struggle for justice, carrying out the values and principles of the Black Panther Party.
The number of people engaged in freeing these men from cruel and inhumane punishment was staggering, and it took decades. The state and judicial system used every dirty trick ever conceived by human cruelty to keep the inmates and many others in solitary confinement, breaking down minds and souls.
Here is the Black Panther Party 10-point Program:
1. We want freedom, we want power to determine the destiny of our Black community.
2. We want full employment for our people.
3. We want an end to the robbery by the capitalists of our black and oppressed communities.
4. We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.
5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our ole in the present-day society.
6. We want all Black men exempt from military service.
7. We want an immediate end to Police Brutality and Murder
of Black people.
8. We want freedom for all Black men/women held in federal, state, county, and city prisons and jails.
9. We want all Black people when bought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their Black Communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.
10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, and peace.

All of these points remain relevant and unfulfilled to his day. They echo the works of mercy and decent democratic values.
The leadership of this movement was systematically murdered, arrested, imprisoned, silenced, smeared, and eliminated by the FBI and the COINTELPRO program.
It is reported that on March 4th there was a call for anti-government militias to show up at the nation’s capitol to take down the democratic party administration.
The functions of government will be closed down for the day as precautionary measures.
The shrieking double standard of how this is being handled is not lost upon citizens who have suffered under the violent racism of our state. We are now governed by two parties, one that is aggressive in its power grab, and one that dithers over taking a stand for the people.
The Catholic Worker tradition of claiming no faith in the political/economic systems long established on greed and fear is clear. We must tend to Lazarus at the gate, binding his wounds rather than defaulting to the dogs to lick them.

Even if someone were to rise from the dead, the wicked would still not be persuaded of what is good and truthful, of what comes from love.

The survival of Albert Woodfox under the worst of human depravity is a testament to the human spirit and what it is capable of, even without belief in God.

Mr. Woodfox believed in the human spirit, and that “human beings have a greater capacity than we understand.” I believe there is evidence of this every day, all around us.

This Lenten season is especially poignant in the prison setting. Women’s emotions are intensely expressed and held on to in our small community.
The fact that there are no locks on the doors (our cubicles are without doors) makes for an acutely unusual atmosphere. Self-regulation is required, and inmates respond to this.

Of course, those who are selected to live in the Camp setting are judged to have the capacity to comply with such a program. In my three months here, I have seen only one woman taken to a more restrictive environment.

A week ago, we were all awakened at 2:40 a.m., lined up along the wall in the hall, and screamed at for the next hour. A contraband package was dropped off at an assistant warden’s house.

No one in the Camp admitted knowing anything about it.

One woman fainted, falling to the floor and banging her head, about ten minutes into the raid.

At one point, the assistant warden held his hand like a gun pointed at inmates for the count. After 40 minutes, I began to see stars and felt on the verge of passing out. I indicated to the C.O. that I didn’t feel well and slowly slid to the floor. The spell was broken, and all the women were allowed to sit, then were sent to their rooms.
As a result of this breech of confidence with the contraband delivery (apparently it was food and liquor), we are now under more restrictions regarding movement, outside work, and schedules of work and sleep.

The COVID pandemic wreaked havoc with all routines and we are now trying to re-establish order.

The camp concept is a good one for non-violent offenders, and the program needs more funds and attention.

Re-tooling and diversion of resources is the only rational way to deal with the desperately needed prison reform.
Why couldn’t the rich man in today’s Scriptural reading just toss a few crumbs to starving Lazarus at the gate.

Even his brothers in their continued transgressions, were not going to receive the message to change their ways.

We are our brother’s keeper and our way of living must reflect this if we are to survive.

Prisons help us to accept scapegoating rather than dealing with the problems and injustices.

We are called “girls” here.
If I were in charge, I would send all prisoners home with guaranteed minimum monthly incomes to care for their families, addiction rehab if needed, and access to friends on the part of any men in their lives.
Illinois has passed legislation that eliminates bail bond, great news for those most affected and impoverished.
The Texas debacle and human catastrophe clearly illustrates the capitalist agenda cloaking individual liberty rhetoric, and its failure.
The month of March came in like a lion with freezing wind but hopefully will go out like a lamb with spring weather.
I hear hearty laughter every day here among the women.
The assistance given to newcomers, and heartfelt goodbyes to those released is always encouraging.
We hold on to our humanity and respect for each other despite the structural retribution.
We remain COVID free, and safety infrastructure is being brought up to code.
Things are bearable, especially after reading about murder, rape, and beatings at Angola prison.
I may be released by mid-May having served 2/3 of my time and being elderly.
Each morning there is more birdsong outdoors, and the days are lengthening.
The pandemic appears to be ebbing with vaccines now available.
The economy should receive a bailout soon.
The nuclear button may be in the hands of more reasonable officials.
Let’s keep our chins up for a better future soon.

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