Tag Archives: control units

Grassroots Organizing for Change

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Hello there! My name is Jesse Escalante and I am a 21 year old student at San Francisco State University majoring in Sociology and Dance. This past semester I took Grassroots Organizing for Change in Communities of Color that focused on what it actually means to organize and the work that goes into it. One of the requirements was to volunteer at a local grassroots organization. Each week, we had guest speakers from various local organizations speak of their work and how it related to our class material. This is how I first heard of the Freedom Archives and with the help of my professor; I began to volunteer with them.

During my time at Freedom Archives, I added to the collection on control units and super-max prisons, specifically focusing on ADX Florence in Colorado. During this project, I was able to explore the archives and engage with various materials regarding control units (used inter-changeably with super-max) and ADX Florence. I read articles, interviews, letters from prisoners and accessed various media resources, such as video and audio files, which furthered my knowledge about the history of super-max prisons. By the end of my project, I not only had a better grasp of the work Freedom Archives does, but also more information into the use of control units.

Volunteering with Freedom Archives has given me an insight into what it means to be a grassroots organization. Although the work done here is vastly different than the work done in some large non-profit organizations, it still has an impact. Since my internship, I have been able to reflect upon my own K-12 educations compared to college.  I had never even heard the term “super-max prisons” until my internship. Now, I have a better understanding of the ways in which control unit prisons repress movements, torture those locked inside them and isolate people from their community and family. All this information is accessible through their website. Freedom Archives is providing a service greatly needed, especially in a political climate like now. I have benefited from their work and I know others will too. If you’d like to make a donation to support the work of the Freedom Archives, you can do it here.

-Jesse

Out of Control: An Evening with Nancy Kurshan

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On a beautiful Thursday evening, people gathered at an event sponsored by the Freedom Archives in the Mission to hear Nancy Kurshan speak about her new book, Out of Control: A Fifteen Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons.  Nancy began the event by providing historical context about control unit prisons in the US today, the Marion lockdown and Marion’s transition to a control unit prison. After supplying some background information, Nancy launched into reading passages from her book and explaining their significance. Some of the most unforgettable stories include memories of the first demonstration at Marion, receiving words of encouragement walking in the rain with former political prisoner Rafael Cancel Miranda, and the pandemonium that ensured after simply beginning “I am not a rude person” when confronting Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Quinlan at the 1988 American Society of Criminology Conference. Nancy’s son and daughter, Michael and Rosa, also each read a passage, underscoring the collective nature of the Committee to End the Marion Lockdown and the importance of family and community bonds in her political work. When asked what kept her going throughout the years, Nancy responded that the opportunity to give a voice to prisoners and the amazing people that they got to meet and the positive bonds they developed were the main factors that nurtured her perseverance.

After Nancy spoke, Azadeh Zohrabi and Manuel LaFontaine, representing the Pelican Bay Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, spoke about the decision of the prisoners inside the Pelican Bay SHU (Secure Housing Unit) to resume their hunger strike on July 8th. Both Azadeh and Manuel told people how to support the prisoners’ demands and pressure the CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) and Governor Brown to end the torture taking place in California prisons. During the discussion, all three encouraged the audience to get involved in prisoner support or prisoner solidarity work. It was a great event and we want to extend a big thank you to everyone who attended and helped make this event possible!

For continued updates on solidarity work around the Pelican Bay SHU Hunger Strikes please visit:  http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/

-Nathaniel

Nancy Kurshan and Out of Control in San Francisco

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We are excited to announce an evening with author and activist Nancy Kurshan on

Thursday May 9th at 7pm at
518 Valencia St – San Francisco
* Also Updates on California Prisons *

Nancy and the Freedom Archives have recently released Out of Control: A Fifteen Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons. The book tells the inspiring story of the Committee to End the Marion Lockdown (CEML). Founded in 1985 to organize against control unit prisons and related inhumane practices at the notorious federal prison in Marion, Illinois, the committee’s work and influence spread nationwide, even as the practices at Marion became widespread in many other prisons in the U.S. and internationally. Written in a very accessible and eloquent style by Nancy Kurshan, a CEML co-founder and leading activist throughout its history, the book recounts how the committee led and organized hundreds of educational programs and demonstrations in many parts of the country and sought to build a national movement to expose and abolish “end-of-the-line” prisons. You can read an briefer online version of the book here which includes audio, video and links to documents. You can also check out our new search engine which features 300+ digitized documents, audio, and video from CEML’s history of prison advocacy. See praise for Out of Control below and please join us for this exciting event.

-Nathaniel

Praise for Out of Control:

Out of Control concentrates on the political analysis and commitment of the women and men of the Committee to End the Marion Lockdown – and a protracted and determined struggle to stop the physical and psychological abuse in control units in US prisons. I urge everyone to read and distribute this book.
— Lucy Rodriguez

A New Way to Search the Freedom Archives Online!

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The Freedom Archives is excited to announce our new search engine at
search.freedomarchives.org

You can now digitally access audio, video and full-text written materials and browse through our many collections that date from the late-60s to the mid-90s and chronicle progressive history and culture of liberation struggles and movements. Along with the expanded ability to search the archives, we are excited to highlight 300 digitized documents from the Committee to End the Marion Lockdown, a great supplement to our recently released book, Out of Control – A Fifteen Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons. One of the newly available resources is a video from a 1987 event held by the Committee to End the Marion Lockdown in which they created a model control unit cell. As the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay are gearing up to re-initiate their strike in July, it is as relevant and important as ever to understand the conditions they face as well as the historical legacy of resistance and organizing against inhumane treatment inside of America’s prisons.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/54960466 w=500&h=367]

The search engine is still a work in progress, and we are excited to increase its usability as well as the amount of online content for all to access. Please contact us if you are interested in donating historical materials to our collection, want to volunteer to further increase the impact of this important work or can contribute to our efforts – your donations are fully tax deductible. You can donate here or contact us at info@freedomarchives.org.

-Nathaniel

Media Roundup: Hunger strikes and focus on solitary confinement

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The video is well worth watching to gain further information and insight on the conditions of those held in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay’s SHU and the process of gang validations which keeps them there. The rest of the article provides some great domestic and international updates regarding hunger strikes in California’s prisons and prison resistance and activism. In January the Archives will launch a major multifaceted project that highlights the history of activism to close Control Unit prisons entitled Out of Control: A Fifteen Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons. The origin of this type of torturous imprisonment began in 1985 when the US Bureau of Prisons permanently locked down USP Marion in Illinois. This book project teams the archives with Nancy Kurshan, one of the founders of the Committee to End the Marion Lockdown (CEML), which was a grassroots collective organized around ending the permanent lockdown in Marion Prison. Keep an eye on our blog and Facebook pages for future updates.

-Nathaniel

Some Statistics on Solitary Confinement in Pelican Bay SHU*

  • 81,622 Number of prisoners in solitary confinement across the United States in 2005, the last year for which the federal government released data
  • 11,730 Number of inmates held in isolation in California prisons today
  • 7 Percentage of California inmates who are in isolation
  • 39 Percentage of inmate suicides that happen in isolation units
  • 78 Percentage of Security Housing Unit (SHU) inmates not classified as gang “leaders” or “members”
  • $12,317 Extra annual cost to taxpayers for each prisoner in the Pelican Bay SHU
  • 11’7″ x 7’7″ Dimensions of a SHU cell at Pelican Bay
  • 6′ x 8′ Dimensions of the average American home’s walk-in closet
  • 51 Percentage of Pelican Bay SHU inmates who have spent at least five years in isolation
  • 89 Number who have been in solitary for at least 20 years
  • 1 Number who have been there for 42 years

*taken from 42 Years of Solitude by Ryan Jacobs, Mother Jones Blog

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