June 11 Benefit: Solidarity With Long-term Anarchist Prisoners

Each year, June 11th serves as a day for us to remember our longest imprisoned anarchist comrades through words, actions and ongoing material support.

This fundraiser will serve as a way for the Austin Anarchist Black Cross to reconnect with the community, and raise donations to continue our long-term projects including publishing zines written by prisoners, visitations, and our pen-pal project. A portion of the proceeds will also go to Marius Mason, and Eric King.

We’ll have spoken word, and live music – with Ufulu Child headlining at 8:30pm.
https://www.facebook.com/ufuluchild/
[Ufulu Child (Tenci + Sol Xprsn) is an independent Hip Hop-Soul duo that brings the post authentic, positive musical experience since the golden sounds of Black Star, India.Arie, and Donny Hathaway.]

There will also be live t-shirt screen printing, and an artwork showcase displaying beautiful artwork we’ve recieved over the past 2 years from prisoners across the country.

Suggested donation of $5-10
No one turned away for lack of funds

ALL AGES! No alcohol plz!

MonkeyWrench is wheelchair accessible, and is a safe(r) space. We will not tolerate any oppressive behaviors.

More info:
https://june11.noblogs.org/
https://supportmariusmason.org/
https://supportericking.org/J112017poster

September 9th 2016 Report Back

How We Participated In the Strike

Austin Anarchist Black Cross (ABC) involved itself with the September 9th Prison Strike in a number of ways. We were able to receive contacts for prisoners in Texas holding an IWW membership through Houston IWOC chapter, whom we shared affinity with and that we have a history of working relationships with. Through our shared contact lists, we were able to write to prisoners about 3 months out from the strike. We were mindful to use an alias, so as not to draw attention to the word “anarchist” in our organization name.  We had weekly conference calls with the Houston IWOC to share updates, strategies, and divide the workload.

In preparation for the strike, we organized and participated in call-ins to find out which units went on lockdown. About a dozen units went on a pre-emptive lockdown (we say “about” because a few units would not give an affirmative “yes” but their behavior was highly suspicious and they would not answer the question directly).  When asked if these were in relation to work stoppages, the guards on the phone would deny, or outright refuse to answer our questions. Upon finding out which units had gone on this pre-emptive lockdown, we sent mail in to ask about retaliation. If folks were retaliated against, we worked towards sending in mail in support of them, as well as calling in to their units to gain updates about their status.

 One month prior to the strike, ABC also staged a disruption at a Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) board meeting. Two individuals made posters, snuck them in, and interrupted the meeting with screams and chants. These individuals were physically and violently removed by the police and were threatened with jail time, but none the less the disruption was successful in stalling TDCJ operations, and showing solidarity with striking prisoners.

 Houston ABC released a zine called “Incarcerated Workers Take the Lead”, which provided a history of prisoner strikes in Texas, and detailed information about the historic significance and upcoming plans for September 9th. Austin ABC mailed these to our contact list (around 200 prisoners), as well as shared them to the general public at MonkeyWrench Books.  Once the zines started getting flagged at several units, we collaborated with a local books to prisoners project to release information in their newsletter, which reaches thousands of prisoners per month.  To prevent the information from being flagged, we presented it as objectively as possible, with the goal of simply spreading the word.  This publication was flagged about 2 weeks into sending it, and we collected denial slips to send to the National Lawyers Guild.

 Following the strike, we continued this line of call campaigns and phone zaps. We would call into units daily or every few days and inquire about the lockdown status. We would also inquire about folks that were being retaliated against, putting pressure on the unit to provide us with proper information and stop retaliation. Often times, it was difficult for us to get definitive information out of the units. Units that confirmed they were on lockdown (without answering questions on the lockdowns relationship to the strike) include: Barry Telford, Beto, Connally, Polunsky, Smith, and Torres. As mentioned previously, other units provided us with ambiguous answers about lockdowns. We were not able to get information from any federal units.

It is worth noting that ABC has always prioritized building friendships and solidarity with trans and gender variant prisoners in Texas, however the overwhelming majority of these prisoners do not work and are placed in a form of solitary confinement called Administrative Segregation.  Some of these prisoners chose to participate in the form of a hunger strike; one woman in particular refused food for nearly 2 weeks in order to receive a bra.  ABC mobilized a pressure campaign, and did consistent visitations until her demand was met.  We feel prisoner lead movements should prioritize the inclusion of queer prisoners, who often face further repression and violence by not only the state, but other prisoners as well.

 We were able to foster relationships with four family members of striking prisoners, two wives, one sister, and one mother. We maintained contact with them and received updates from these individuals about their family members, which enabled us to put pressure on the units they are incarcerated at. A few of our collective members met up with these family members, information in regards to any retaliations, as well as provide emotional support. Members of Austin ABC also joined Facebook support groups for family members and loved ones of those incarcerated in Texas. Joining these groups allowed us to gather more information about any repressions or retaliations, as well as allowing us to communicate more openly with family members. We were also able to connect these family members to journalists and media outlets so they could share their stories.  We organized a pressure campaign for two prisoners who experienced a significant amount of retaliation for their participation in the strike, including one prisoner who was hit in the knees by the warden and required medical attention.  We kept in close contact with their family members, and remained respectful of their wishes on how to handle the pressure campaigns.

 We acknowledge the significance of mail, because it alerts prison officials that there is outside support and they are being monitored.  We sent supportive postcards to those that went on strike, as well as sent out mass mailouts during the week. These mailouts usually were composed of updates about the strike cleverly masked in other less provocative materials, as well as work that ABC was doing in relation to the strike. We updated folks on things such as: the number of units that were on lockdown that we knew of, the number of striking prisoners that we were aware of, and any communications we had with guards on unit. We also informed striking prisoners about the grievance process should they face retaliation, as well as provided them with other organizations that provide prisoner support.  Above all else, we encouraged to folks to keep an open line of communication with us, ensuring that we were able to better target units with a collective idea of what repression folks were facing.

 Austin ABC maintained a working relationship with the New Jersey chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. The NJ NLG offered to file individual “notices of claim” on behalf of each prisoner who faced abusive retaliations. We sent out anti-retaliation letters en masse to the units that were on lockdown or could potentially go on lockdown. These letters contained the information for the NJ NLG, as well as the questions prisoners would need to answer in order for the NLG to file effective claims.

 A number of folks that we contacted were interested in receiving our newsletter, as well as being added to our pen-pal list. We noticed that our mail would often get flagged and blocked, especially on units that were on lockdown. In addition to sending out our own massive mailouts, we also sent out the resource guide and newsletter for a books to prisoners organization. People would also write to us inquiring about how to get involved with IWOC. We made sure to provide these people with IWOC applications and resources, including but not limited to: information for how to receive books, Prison Legal News, and information for Black and Pink.

Individuals from the following units let us know about retaliation, ranging from physical and sexual assault to mishandling of food/food and water restriction/mail blockages.

    Clements Unit

    Stiles Unit

    Hughes Unit

    Telford Unit

    Duncan Unit

    Michael Unit

    Gib-Lewis Unit

 Those incarcerated on the Clements unit spoke of multiple lockdowns, heavy shakedowns, and physical confrontations by correctional officers. The Gib-Lewis Unit faced intense mail blockages, as well as Hughes Unit. We placed special focus on contacting these units at LEAST once day, often times more, asking about lockdowns and the reasons behind it. These units did not provide us with clear or concrete answers – most of our information was from those that were on strike.

 Austin ABC had one demo in support of the prisoner strike. Being that Austin is a major metropolitan area, we were not able to get out to an actual prison. We instead hosted our demo at the TCI showroom. Texas Correctional Industries is a corporation that showcases the goods that are made inside of Texas prisons, and sells them to other organizations and companies in Texas. This includes, but is not limited to, colleges, offices, state buildings, et cetera. We chose to host our demo at the TCI Showroom to prevent them from being able to conduct business on that day. We posted fliers and promoted our event publicly, so those that work at TCI were able to find out ahead of time. Since they knew of our event, they had closed off their driveway to send out shipments.  Roughly 25 people showed up and made noise for a good portion of the day, and we were successful in halting their business for the entire work day. We had also set a goal of handing the strike demands to those that were employed at the TCI Showroom, and this was also successful. They had security at this event and the security threatened arrests towards those that went to hand over the demands, but no arrests were made.

 We did a press release following our noise demo on September 9th. Local media expressed interest in this event, and multiple collective members spoke with media about our activities and the strike. We placed explicit emphasis on the strike being lead by prisoners, as well as sharing the demands made during the strike.  Our relation to various trusted leftist reporters remained throughout the duration of the strike, and we prioritized getting media in touch with family members and sharing letters from prisoners who wanted their stories to be made public.

Whenever possible, we make a point to do visitations, and felt that it would be particularly helpful during the time leading up and during the strike. One of our collective members went to visit the Hughes Unit at least once a month.  On September 17th during visitation, they got information from three prisoners and one family member that there was repression happening on building 8 of the Hughes Unit.  Through their accounts, it was revealed that prisoners overheard on a guard’s radio that prisoners in building 8 were striking. They later learned from word of mouth that spread like wildfire that these prisoners had rigged their doors to open at the the same time for the nationwide strike. Guards in riot gear showed up and blasted tear gas and physically restrained and assaulted several prisoners.  It was also noted that all prisoners on the unit had received notice that any and all information related to the strike from outside support was forbidden and would be denied.  One prisoner said they they overheard on a radio that 13 units were on lock-down.

During the months of August through early October, we committed ourselves to hosting one public meeting and one action or demo per month related to the strike, in addition to our bi-monthly closed collective meetings.  During the open meetings, we shared updates about the strike and encouraged dialogue between attendees, as well as ideas on how to better support our striking comrades.  We were able to cultivate relationships with other activists in town, as well as a few family members of incarcerated people, college students, and sympathetic folks who were curious about what our organization was doing.  We encouraged folks to get involved, especially with our call-in campaigns and helping spread the information to our community.  Our monthly actions included a noise demo at the Travis County jail, flyering to visiting family members at the Del Valle jail, and two banner drops over high traffic highway bridges.

Media attention and repression slowed down around mid-October.  ABC has maintained relationships with participants and a few family members.  Moving forward, we are working to create a newsletter for incarcerated workers in Texas to facilitate communication among prisoners and collective resistance against the prison system.  Our first newsletter will be released in July, 2017.  We are also working with folks on the inside who will act as a “point person” and collect grievances from their fellow comrades in struggle, so that we can gain a better understanding of what common abuses are happening in each unit, and organize solidarity actions accordingly.

Lessons Learned

Austin ABC learned a lot of things from this strike. One of the key takeaways was that we should work to build relationships with folks that have potential and desire to strike much earlier. We think we should work to start these communications and relationship-building at least 6 months out. Trust between ABC and striking prisoners is necessary, and we understand the value of building rapport. The longer the relationship and friendship is, the more potential for empowerment and transparent communication, which is central to the facilitating we hope to do around future strikes.

 We also learned that it would be best for us to be even more explicit and transparent about our capabilities and capacities as a collective. We are very small in membership and most of us have other work and volunteer obligations, which can cause a delay in communication. Being open about this will allow us to plan better, and will keep everyone involved with us on the same page.

 We were only able to have a few educational events in relation to the strike, and this is something we would like to do much more of in the future. Educating those that have not yet been radicalized or introduced to prison strikes and prison abolition is central to building our movement, and this is something ABC needs to improve upon. Having more educational events, as well as having them at a variety of different spaces in town (as opposed to the same bookstore we usually meet at) will make us more accessible.

 In a similar vein, we also learned that we need to spend more time involving the immediate community that is not necessarily abolitionist. We want to build stronger relationships with family members of those that have been incarcerated, and we also want to make ourselves more open to the non-radical community. Having more informal discussions, information sessions, and finding ways to promote our message in an accessible way are all things that ABC wants to work on. Although we do not have a clear plan of attack for this, it is something we are
prioritizing as a collective.

 We also became distinctly aware that we need to be more explicit and transparent about not being able to provide legal support or handle individual cases. Although we can provide assistance with the grievance process by informing folks how it works, we have always maintained that we do not and cannot provide legal support. Despite this, many folks reached out to us for legal support. Being more transparent about the fact that we do not have those abilities will make for more efficient communication.

Holding My Own

January 22, 2016 marked the first annual Trans Prisoner Day of Action: an international day of action in solidarity with trans prisoners.

More info International Day of Trans Prisoner Solidarity
@ [NjQyMTgzOTU5MjA4MTA3Omh0dHBcYS8vd3d3LnRyYW5zcHJpc29uZXJzLm5ldC86Og==:www.transprisoners.net]

To coincide with this day, Austin ABC  released a zine titled “Holding My Own” for and by LGBTQ prisoners in Texas, featuring artwork, poems and essays. Our aim is to create a platform for creativity, and an opportunity to forge connections between people inside and outside of prisons while promoting non-criminalized identities and personal expressions.

“This is a call to action against the system which seeks to erase our very existence. The survival of trans and other sex and gender minority people is not a quaint conversation about awareness, but a struggle for us to live in a world so determined to marginalize, dehumanise, and criminalise us – especially trans women, and especially Black, brown, and indigenous trans people.

We are discriminated against in every area of society including housing, healthcare, employment. Our survival is often precarious and many of us survive by work which is also criminalised – making us even more of a target for police harassment and the crime of “Walking While Trans’’.

Once incarcerated, trans people face humiliation, physical and sexual abuse, denial of medical needs, and legal reprisals. Many transgender people are placed in solitary confinement for months or years, simply for being trans. Trans women are usually placed in men’s prisons, where there is a massive increased risk of experiencing sexual violence.

Just as our lives are violently repressed on the outside, trans people experience extreme suffering and death within the walls of jails, prisons, youth facilities, and immigrant detention centers.

Trans Prisoner Day of Action on January 22nd is a day to acknowledge the experiences of trans and other sex and gender-minority prisoners. It’s about collaboration. It is about forging new relationships and dismantling the isolation of prison. It’s about resistance to state violence. It’s about solidarity between those who experience the violence of the system first hand and those for whom the state hasn’t come yet.”

We would love to distribute our zine as widely as possible to prisoners, infoshops, community spaces, and other prison abolition projects.  If you are able to make a donation to cover cost of printing & shipping, please send via paypal to atxanarchistblackcross@gmail.com  (suggested $5-7)  – please shoot us an email with your address!  An online version will be available soon. 

Love & Solidarity!

Benefit Show for The Prison Ecology Project

Austin ABC will be tabling at a benefit show for The Prison Ecology Project tonight from 7-10pm at MonkeyWrench Books.  There will be lots of rad bands for a great cause!  No one turned away for lack of funds.

“The Prison Ecology Project has been created by the Human Rights Defense Center in order to investigate, document and take actions to address the ways in which mass incarceration degrades the natural environment and the human health of those inside or nearby prisons and jails.
The mission of the Prison Ecology Project is to map the intersections of mass incarceration and environmental degradation, and create action plans to address the multitude of problems found there.”
More info here:
http://nationinside.org/campaign/prison-ecology/

The event:
https://www.facebook.com/events/1505267643122254/

benefit12108218_1506357183021030_3757392174775353861_ntabling55340968_7044073240546298153_n

Shout out for Support! Amazon on hunger strike!

Amazon, a transfemale from Gender Anarky in prison in California, began a hunger strike the morning of October 7, 2015 for transfer to a women’s prison. Amazon is legally a female. In January 2015, Amazon’s birth certificate was amended by the Office of Vital Records in Sacramento to record her sex as “female.” Under a new law signed by the governor, transexuals no longer need full sex-reassignment surgery to amend their vital records, but instead a doctor’s declaration of transition to reflect their current gender. Amazon accomplished this. She then applied for a transfer to a women’s prison. The prison required Amazon to present her new birth certificate. However, prison rules prohibit inmates from possessing birth certificates and Amazon asked the prison to verify the document with the Office of Vital Records. The prison refused to do so. Amazon then attempted to file a grievance over the issue, but she was again required to produce her birth certificate to pursue a grievance. This is an example of the notorious mind games that prison officials play on inmates to suppress legitimate issues and prevent them from seeking an administrative resolution of the problem.

Without other speedy recourse and thoroughly frustrated with the system, Amazon began a hunger strike. She has been trying since January to transfer and has been prevented unrealistically every step of the way by prison officials out of plain cruelty. She is under tremendous pressure, has anguished and cried. Almost daily she is mistreated by prison guards and inmates because of her female presentation, including sexual mistreatment. She remains determined and steadfast and will not stop her efforts and resistance, whatever it takes. Amazon is now 61 years of age and the stress and strain of hunger strike will be on her more than during her previous strike years ago. However, the last straw has given way and she is determined to stick it out and not begin eating again until she is issued paperwork for a transfer to a women’s prison. She will endure force-feeding if necessary, but this is her position.

Contact the warden of Kern Valley State Prison, Martin Biter, to inquire why he is keeping a legal female in a men’s prison against her will and why he won’t verify her legal gender on her birth certificate with the Office of Vital Records in Sacramento, and demand that Amazon be transferred to a women’s prison immediately. The phone number for Kern Valley State Prison is (661) 721-6300.

Send the same message to the Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Jeffrey Beard, at department headquarters in Sacramento. He can be contacted at (916) 323-6001.

Contact Amazon at:
Eva Contreraz #C45857
P.O. Box 5103
Delano, CA 93216

Gender and the Prison Industrial Complex

This upcoming Wednesday, Dec 2, we will be screening the first half of a panel discussion entitled “Gender and the Prison Industrial Complex” at MonkeyWrench Books, 7pm.
If you are unable to attend the screening, the video can be found here:

“Queer liberation is only possible with the liberation of all oppressed and marginalised people. Challenging homophobia necessarily means simultaneously challenging and eradicating racism, misogyny, transphobia, classism, and xenophobia. Uprooting all these systems necessarily means opposing and uprooting prisons. If we do not oppose prisons and our culture’s hyper-reliance on containment, surveillance, and policing, our vision for justice is fundamentally incomplete.”

Afterward we will have an informal discussion and continue writing letters to queer & trans prisoners in Texas to show our solidarity. We will continue our efforts to compile a zine for and by them, to create a platform for them to voice their dreams and struggles.