Tag Archives: control units

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/


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.


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

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.


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.


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

What’s New in the Archives

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What’s New in the Archives…

Recently, a rare copy of Sunviews, written by Sundiata Acoli in 1983, was donated to the Archives. Sundiata Acoli, a Black Liberation Freedom Fighter is currently incarcerated at FCI Cumberland in Maryland. Since his arrest and conviction in 1973, Acoli has been a leading voice of Black Liberation from behind prison walls, a dedicated organizer and teacher and a staunch opponent of control units. Sunviews contains many poignant selections; however some of his work stands out as particularly relevant to our contemporary crisis of imprisonment and the proliferation of control units. Sundiata himself has spent a majority of his imprisonment in control units, despite the fact that he has never had any prison rule infractions.

Within Sunviews, Acoli writes about a number of successive prisoner strikes taking place in 1979 and early 1980 during his time in Marion. In his writing, he outlines the twelve prisoner demands and details the rationale of the demands. These strikes take place three years before the infamous Marion Lockdown in which the entire prison was turned into one large control unit for the next twenty three years. We know that repression breeds resistance, but the corporate media and the prison administration wants us to believe that any resistance behind bars is isolated, random and disconnected from events taking place outside prison walls.

When one thinks of the hunger strikes throughout California state prisons in 2011, the solidarity that extended to prisoners in Ohio and Georgia and the ongoing North Carolina Prison hunger strike, it is important to view these struggles in a historic continuum. If we compare the list of demands from the Marion Collective, Pelican Bay SHU, and Central Prison in North Carolina we find that most of the core demands focus on the same brutality, inhumanity and horrific conditions faced by prisoners on a daily basis throughout the history of imprisonment in the US.

Some of the details have changed; twenty years ago many political prisoners were thrown into control units, now many of the prisoners have been ‘gang’ validated. Some details remain the same, the food is still atrocious. Prisoners are still often transferred to different locations without any warning, and often transferred a great distance from their loved ones to destroy the family and community networks that people inside maintain with the outside. Sundiata himself was transferred in the middle of the night from Trenton State Prison (a New Jersey state prison) to Marion USP (a federal prison) despite the fact that he had no federal charges or sentences.

The hunger strikes of the past two years signal a renewed movement of resistance against the repressive nature of imprisonment in this country. It is important that we understand these new hunger strikes in a historical context of prison resistance – from George Jackson to Attica and beyond. In this effort, the Freedom Archives will be launching a website including materials from the Committee to End the Marion Lockdown and will be releasing a book on the struggle to close control unit prisons with a focus on Marion by the end of the year.


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