You ever wonder why people imprisoned in Virginia have went through so many different labels? When the prison first developed in the year 1800 whites were labeled “convicts” and blacks were labeled “transports.” Blacks imprisoned in Virginia’s Penitentiary House weren’t included in being labeled “convicts” until after the Civil War. That lasted for about 75 years before convicts started being labeled “prisoners.” After the Attica riot in 1971 prison administrators all over the country decided to move from prisoner to “inmates,” a term thought to be more humane. Then around 2008 or 2009 the VADOC did away with “inmate” and began labeling us “offenders.” Now to many on the outside looking in, these terms may seem insignificant. You may think, “shit you’re locked up what difference does it make what they call you?” However if we examine these not as mere labels but rather as social constructs that carry with them stereotypes about the character and behavior of those being labeled them then the significance of these “seemingly” insignificant shifts become much more evident. The Convict, Transport, Prisoner, Inmate, and Offender are presentations used by the state in the hegemonic process designed to dominate, exploit and oppress those imprisoned persons here in Virginia.
The Queen Mother Dr. Zoe Spencer in her masterful work “Murda’, Misogyny, and Mayhem” argues that ideological and cultural hegemony are the promotion of the dominant group’s ideas throughout society in an effort to get subordinate groups to conform to their values & norms. The goal of Cultural & Ideological Hegemony is to have social, political, and economic agendas passed with minimal resistance in order to maintain stability in any society. The (primary) instrument used to promote, protect, and enforce the cultural and ideological interest of the dominant group is the State. Once the State gets the masses to “conform” and “accept” then the likelihood of resistance and rebellion are reduced. Quoting Gramsci, Dr. Spencer cites, ” the ideological hegemony of the ruling class, operating through the state itself, prolongs bourgeois class rule and institutionalizes and legitimizes exploitation.” (p.3)
Dr. Spencer then goes further stating that, “as a part of the hegemonic process, once the ideologies of the ruling class are accepted and internalized by the oppressed, they will collectively accept and even promote, their own oppression by assuming the characteristics “defined by” the ruling class or the characteristics “associated with” the ruling class itself- both of which are antagonistic to their own existence.” (p.3)
The State is the only entity in our society with the authority to criminalize and then imprison people as punishment. The State being an appendage of the elites criminalizes & punishes those who pose the greatest risk to their accumulated surplus value: The Poor Workers. Yet because of our history in this country, black people are the poorest group in Amerikkka. In many cases the poor marginal worker has internalized the value system of the elites. He desires private property and privilege yet he doesn’t have access to the power and institutional means of obtaining those things. Thus, frustrated by his status the poor marginal worker engages in crime (behavior that’s so deviant from the acceptable norms as defined by the elites that it’s made illegal) as an act of resistance to a social class that’s not producing for him. The result is that he’s eventually confronted by a criminal justice system (i.e. police, courts, and prisons) that’s controlled by elites through their appendage — the State. Consequently, the poor worker is arrested and labeled a “criminal” before being placed in a prison system that “labels” him an “Offender.” Both labels serve the purpose getting the rebel to conform to his oppression. So who and what are the criminals and offenders? How do criminals & offenders behave? How should members of society treat criminals and offenders?
In Amerikkka the criminal is a scumbag, a dirt bag, a loser, a punk, a low life, and many other epithets espoused by the capitalists. The criminal is a predator who preys on citizens working hard everyday and “contributing to society.” However these designations of the criminal aren’t given to everyone who commits crime. For example, the Wall Street Investment Banker who cheated on default swaps and costs citizens “working hard and contributing to society” 100’s of millions of dollars isn’t what you typically think of as a criminal. Neither does the State because oftentimes these lawbreakers almost never see a Policeman, Court, or Prison. The same could be said for some computer hackers who are often times given deals to work for the State in exchange for their prosecution. No, the criminal is a specific type of law breaker. And when most Americans close their eyes and envision being witness to a crime they think of a drug deal, car theft, robbery, rape or murder. We think of what we describe as “street crime”.
The disparagement of the street criminal instructs those aligned with capital, petit bourgeois and bourgeoisie, on how he should be punished. The elites who fear what the poor marginal worker with a petty criminal mentality may do if he gains class consciousness convinces the capitalist popular forces that society should be “Tough” on criminals. This became evident during the 60’s when a generation of young black men and women began challenging the social relations to production in America. Ever since the Poor black marginal worker has been labeled as a criminal who is violating and defying the norms of society. Richard Nixon, picking up on lingo of police chiefs in Southern States attempting to repress non-violent direct action, demanded that Amerikkka institute “Law & Order” during his 1968 presidential campaign. The CIA’s Heroin & Crack chemical war camping on poor black communities led to unspeakable street crime in those communities. As I’ve discussed previously in my piece on Republican & Democratic Complicity in Counter Insurgency against Communities of Color, the state exploited this crisis that they themselves created. The War on Drugs domestically was a war on black communities that we continue to reel from. This war produced crime policy that kept black street criminals — the menace to society, the super predator with all of his “scubaggery” and “low lifeness”- in prison for exorbitant sentences. The “type” of punishment wasn’t the only thing that the elites focused on. “How” criminals would be punished continues to be a very important aim for elites. It’s out of this endeavor that the “Offender” was produced. The “Offender” is a non citizen, unintelligent, unprincipled, indifferent, weak, a real Bitch. The offender is a victimizer of citizens and for that he deserves no sympathy. The Courts that were once the check on prison administrators have consistently given deference to prison administrators on critical legal questions surrounding prisoners rights. As the rights of the prisoner began decreasing with each major precedent the “Offender” construct was developing. The latest series of precedents limiting the rights of prisoners should probably be viewed as establishing a new standard: “Offenders Rights.” Offenders rights are much more limited than Prisoners Rights. The scope of Offenders rights are aligned with the elites interpretation of crime and criminals. You have to be tough with them — No coddling these dirt bags! Punishing scumbag criminals also serves the purpose of building social cohesion among the dominant group. They are able to blame the low life prisoner for his own moral failure while at the same time celebrating their own moral superiority. It is this sense of moral authority by the dominant group that leads to a self righteous position on the criminal offender. They say, “you low life punks don’t want to work,” and “you want want everything easy.” This sentiment is accentuated when describing the black criminal. We gangsters with our Uzis get kids hooked on crack and kill old ladies. This is said with such vitriol and disdain. They convince themselves that what they are saying is true. There’s never any social analysis because that would undermine the dominant group’s claim on moral and, in many cases, cultural superiority. So there’s an emphasis on individual responsibility while societal responsibility is neglected.
Meanwhile, the institutions that house Criminals, from the time you arrive, begin demanding that you conform to this construct in order to be comfortable. This means complete and utter surrender of your self concept while in the prison. Don’t get me wrong, You can masquerade as “You” when you are with other Offenders outside of the presence of state agents from time to time, but when any staff demand it complete capitulation is required. Remember the Offender isn’t a citizen so the Staff don’t want to hear about constitutional rights. In fact, it angers them. The burden of having to expose this truth pisses them off. “Muthafucka you know you don’t have any rights in here,” is what they think. The Grievance process is there in name only. What I mean is you can submit your grievance, the process is available, but you “Will Not” have a grievance founded. I believe the state lists 99% of all Offenders grievances as unfounded. Trust me I’m being generous. I’ve only had one grievance that was “founded” in my twenty years of imprisonment — and I’m known as a grievant. A clear message is sent to the Offender every time this happens, “You have no rights that the VADOC is bound to respect!” Again this message is reinforced by the Courts. The manifest function of these policies are to reduce resistance, to get conformity from those imprisoned, to produce Offenders. The latent function is that men are broken. Their spirit for liberation is snuffed out. Their morale and inspiration is quelled. Their self concept is denigrated. They hate themselves for always having to submit to injustice. Their anger gets displaced, and this works primarily in two different ways. The first type of Offender projects his anger on other Offenders. His slogan is, “I hate these niggaz!” He mostly just disparages them but there are those in this category who are quick to violence with them. He blames them for his apathy. He’s self interested and self serving. He exploits and abuses other Offenders by selling them drugs, offering gambling services, charging them interest on snacks etc. All of these are coping mechanisms for the other class of Offender whose condition has caused him to spiral into depression. Which leads me to the second type of Offender, this degenerate projects his anger on himself. He blames himself for his powerlessness. He’s internalized the values of the elites towards the criminal. He believes he’s a scumbag. His slogan is, “I did this to myself. I knew right from wrong.” This Offender doesn’t challenge his condition — it’s futile. He thinks, “I did the crime and now I’m gon’ do the time.” This Offender spends all of his time trying to cope with this oppressive condition. He turns to some combination of the following coping mechanisms: drugs, homosexuality, gambling, eating, exercise, religion, music, the phone, table tops, and the worst of all sleep. Don’t get me wrong the first type of Offender uses these coping mechanisms too, but his sentiment is different. One hates other Offenders the other hates himself. I AM NOT AMERIKKKA’S OFFENDER! I am a Prisoner of Conscience. I recognize that I am a colonial victim. I am the member of a group whose been abused and victimized by “Scumbags” for nearly 500 yrs in Amerikkka. I embrace James Baldwin’s statement that, “History is not in the past, it is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history. If we pretend otherwise we are Criminals.” I killed a man during a crack deal. This couldn’t have happened without actions taken by Reagan, Bush, and the CIA. Be clear this is not me exonerating myself. However, I am not going to bear sole responsibility for who I was. These low life punks are the criminals. They destroyed my generation. Crack touched nearly all of our lives. In fact it always amazes me how, during their veneration of Ronald Reagan, Conservatives never mention his complicity in 500 tons of crack cocaine being shipped into Amerikkkan cities- disproportionately to black communities by the way. Before I was a murderer my father was a crack addict. My family was broken! Yet, I’m never seen as a victim. None of us who grew up during the crack era are seen as victims although we witnessed unspeakable atrocities. I was born at the end of 1979, roughly a year before Reagan’s election. He essentially was my first President, and I live with the consequences of that every single day of my life. If we’re going to be honest all of Black Amerikkka does. It is with this consciousness that I view the modern Mass Incarceration system. I am a victim of the U.S. government’s attempt to contain the potential resistance from my community. For my community today’s Mass Incarceration pogrom is a latent dysfunction of the sixties Black Power movement. With this system comes the creation of the Criminal Offender. I am the antithesis of this — a Virginia Prisoner of Conscience. I work every single day to destroy Offenders and produce Responsible Men. My life and that of my community depends on it. If you were able to witness the daily actions of Offenders you’d understand, and even espouse, my sense of urgency. UHURU!