VIRGINIA PRISON JUSTICE NETWORK ACTION ALERT

On Tuesday, April 24, around 5:30 pm, Virginia prisoner advocate Dale Pughsley, aka Askari Danso, was handcuffed by guards and removed from his cell at Sussex II Virginia State Prison, along with his cellmate, Mr. D. Braxton.  Mr. Danso assumed he was being taken to the watch commander, but instead was taken to Sussex I, a higher-level security prison, and put into solitary confinement, without any explanation.

Mr. Pughsley is now being held at Sussex I in 3D 15. His supporters are asking that people call the Unit Manager there and ask why he has been transferred and why he is in being held in solitary. The prison’s phone number is 804-834-9967.

Mr. Pughsley is a well-known, highly respected prisoner-organizer and the founder of VAPOC (Virginia Prisoner of Conscience), a prisoner-led group that works to educate prisoners on their rights and also works from the inside out for prison reform.  VAPOC is sponsored by the Coalition for Justice, a 501c3 in Blacksburg. Mr. Pughsley is on the CFJ steering committee and also is a member of the Richmond-based organization, Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality.

Mr. Pughsley had been at Augusta Correctional Center, a Level 3 security facility, but was transferred to Sussex II, a level 4 facility, on March 2, 2018. Sussex I is a Level 4-5.  He had filed an appeal against his transfer from Augusta to Sussex II, because the reason given for the transfer was without substance. Mr. Pughsley is still waiting for that appeal to be heard.  He believes that his role as an organizer and the fact that he has filed multiple grievances both at Augusta and at Sussex II is the real reason for transfers to successively higher-level security facilities, which has now landed him in solitary at Sussex I.

Mr. Pughsley has launched over 30 grievances to the Virginia Department of Corrections. The most recent challenges, while at Sussex II, were over mental health for long-term offenders, water quality, grievance procedures, access and upkeep of the law library, prisoner rights to access the court, and property transfer issues. He also created a Sussex II Human Rights Committee in order, not just to educate prisoners on their rights, but to work in a coordinated way to make sure their rights are observed. At Augusta Correctional, he launched grievances regarding religious freedom, racial justice issues, free speech issues, and the grievance procedures for prisoners.

Mr. Pughsley has not been accused of any prison violations since 2009, which involved a cell phone case.  His repeated transfer to higher-security facilities is extremely troubling.  No explanation has been given for his transfer and, as he has not violated prison rules, the transfer to Sussex I is illegal.  In what appears to be an emergency transfer, the Regional Administrator may authorize a temporary transfer to any equal or higher security level institutional bed. Such decisions may be made for security and health reasons only, and must conform to the definition of Emergency Transfer in Operating Procedure 830.5 (11/1/14).  Mr. Pughsley is not a security risk, as he has no infractions against him. Emergency transfers can only be done when it has been found necessary to protect offenders and staff from imminent danger of physical harm, or to prohibit offenders from destruction of State property, and/or escape. This does not apply to Mr. Pughsley.   

All temporary, emergency transfer decisions are subject to review and approval by CCS (Central Classification Services), and the institutional administrator must provide a detailed written explanation of the rationale for the offender’s assignment to segregation/ restrictive housing, and the need for their immediate transfer from the current housing institution,  Mr. Danso was given no such explanation. He was also not given his personal property.We call on the CSS to provide an explanation for the transfer of Mr. Pughsley and Mr.Braxton and for Mr. Pughsley to be removed from solitary confinement and have access to his personal property.

For more information, contact VAPJN members Margaret Breslau at justicebburg@gmail.com or Phil Wilayto at: DefendersFJE@hotmail.com.

An Example Of Mass Incarceration’s Daily Tragedies — By Askari Danso, Sussex II

Today I walked in the dining hall fully expecting to meet my man Kinetic to discuss the status of the newly formed Sussex 2 Human Rights Committee’s (HRC) “Petition to Citizens.” When I walked in I sat at a table alone to wait for bruh. Almost immediately this younger brother looking like he could be 19 or 20 years old walked to the table and asked, ” Is anyone sitting here?” With so many tables available, and my focus on conversing with Kinetic about sensitive information, I normally would almost automatically say, “yeah bruh.” Yet when I looked at him I paused for a second. What struck me is that the young brother “looked” so young. I then got that feeling you get when you see innocence. You know that instant feeling of protectiveness? So I said, “Nah man you good.” When he sat down he was immediately sociable and polite, “How you doing man.” Pleasantly surprised and quite honestly almost proud I said, “I’m good man. How about you?” In an assuring way he nodded while replying, “I’m alright.” Staring at him curiously wondering what the hell this youngin’ did to be sitting across from me at a Supermaximum Security Prison I said, “that’s what’s up.” Unaware my man Kinetic had entered the mess hall, It surprised me when he said, “what up bruh” as he began sitting. We jumped right into HRC business. After about 15 minutes when it was understood that we had exhausted the matter the young brother said, “yeah man it’s crazy y’all over here talking about these issues because I just wrote a letter to everyone in the administration explaining that I wanted to start a program to help the Juveniles here.” He continued, “I even volunteered to mentor in the Re- entry pod. I just want to be productive you know.” Noticing that he had a red folder with him I asked, “Do you have that letter with you right now?” “Yeah” he responded enthusiastically. So I sat there and read the letter and needless to say, I was blown away. What amazed me was how quickly I felt both the sincerity and desperation in the letter. I knew as soon as I finished that it had to be shared with the public. There are so many portions of the letter that reveal who we are as a society. Why is it that we continue to produced these inhumane social phenomenons? Even worse, How is it that many of us can be complicit through our silence and inaction? What are we for real? Nevertheless, here’s the young brothers plea for help in a letter:
****************************************
March 28, 2018
Randell Hakeem Love Barkley Jr
#1202394
H/U 4A-33 (T)

Re: Juvenile Mentoring

Dear D.O.C. Admin.,

First, I hope this letter finds you in the best of spirits, and upon it’s arrival you are at peace. Second as you already know my name is Randell Barkley Jr. I’m writing this letter because it’s been weighing on my heart to present to you what I’ve been thinking; to help solve, not just a DOC problem but a society problem. So for starters I want to briefly introduce myself in more detail.

I’m 26 years old (will be 27 in April). I have been in the Penitentiary since I was 16 years old. I was sent to Powhatan Correctional Center first. When I was 17 they sent me to Sussex 1. It wasn’t until a few years later that the LW changed prohibiting juveniles from being housed with the adults. So, yes, it was a hellish experience walking the yard and living in cells with people my parents age. I wasn’t prepared for it, and it took a lot of getting used to.

I was sentenced to Three (3) Life Sentences plus 10 years without the possibility of parole because there’s no parole in Virginia (God willing I will not have to do it), but for the time being I will be here. While here I don’t want to be classified as a Misfit. Nor do I want to do Dead time. I’m pending a job in the Kitchen, I’m pending vocational classes, and I’m awaiting response from two Universities. I really want to be a mentor, and Orator which is why I’m hoping to get my degree in “Communications” as well as “Sociology.”

Now the purpose for this letter is I’m aware of the juvenile block up here, and I want to Volunteer my time- FREE OF CHARGE & I SEEK NO SPECIAL TREATMENT- to be a mentor to the youthful inmates, help them prepare for what it will be like, help them mentally & spiritually. I ask that you consider that their advice & support I will provide is coming from a Juvenile Lifer who wasn’t prepared to be an adult inmate, but adapted, adjusted, and thankfully (to God) was able to learn how to do time. I, do submit myself to be interviewed. My institutional records/charges checked, criminal charges checked, I’m no longer in a G*ng, I’ve been charge free for almost 3 years. All I hope to accomplish is to help those kids over there with all the knowledge I have. Dedicate my time to prevent them from coming back to prison upon upon release, and how not to get sent to Red Onion & what to expect while they are locked up.

I end this letter with the hope to be blessed with this opportunity to keep bring excellence to Sussex 2.

Thank you for reading & hopefully considering the letter.

With Kind Regards
Randell H.L. Barkley Jr
****************************************
There are so many layers to this letter. What immediately stood out to me was the tone of the letter. The cry for meaning. Could you imagine how hard it is to find purpose in life when you were imprisoned at 16 and told you’ll be there for the rest of your life? So what we’re talking about is psychological. How does the adolescent mind develop in a place like this. He may never have a child, live with a woman, pay rent, a car payment, taxes, and a gazillion other things that are essential for human development. There’s a part in the letter where the young King speaks of “hoping” he doesn’t have to serve his sentence, which is in itself an example of a lack of awareness of the consequences of that sentence. Like no one can serve that sentence. That sentence is a Death Sentence!

The absolutely amazing thing to me is that this young brother still has Hope. Along with the desire to become a better human begin by helping other human beings shows a diving spirit within his vessel. I mean, Could you imagine if your child was given 3 Life Sentences? And in many ways he’s much more wiser than many people out there who’ve experienced all of the things I mentioned earlier. Many people lose all hope and love with much less adversity. It’s like some of us are looking for any reason to either become Nihilistic or Depressed. Yet this Young God is begging to have an opportunity to give love to others. The Lesson spiritually in this is our “attitude,” “mood,” “demeanor,” etc is a choice. You don’t have to be miserable or callous, you’re choosing too be! From a social perspective, there’s a lot for us to learn from this tragedy, but most importantly for me is Mass Incarceration in Virginia is a human rights catastrophe! Truth in Sentencing must go! Bring Parole Back in Virginia!!! Randell is one of Thousands of stories where men and women are thrown away like trash. Remember if your government is doing this it’s because you allow them! SILENCE IS CONSENT!!!!!!!!!!! 

A Prisoner Response to the VAPJN Conference Call

Dear reader,
I am a Virginia incarcerated member who has been housed within the VDOC for 17 years. I have read your newsletter concerning the mass incarceration in Virginia conference call. There were numerous concerns discussed, and one in particular was Lillie “Ms. K” Branch concern with the lack of support from family members that have incarcerated loved ones. In, or between the years 2008 and 2009, in support of Ms. K’s rally for signatures to have certain bills passed in the Virginia General Assembly. Two brothers, as well as myself, campaigned individuals at Keen Mountain Correctional Center to send a letter that was drafted by the three of us addressing the importance of our family members helping Ms. K address the Virginia General Assembly concerning prison reform. We even went as far as purchasing stamps to send these letters out to their loved ones. Needless to say, the lack of family support in regard to this issue is still ongoing. The reasons can be numerous to account for in one letter. The question is, “Is injustice being seen and heard everywhere?” And if it is, which I do think it is, then why is it that the politicians are still turning a blind eye to what the people want as far as prison reform? Its been my experience while in the VDOC that people on the inside, and out has developed an anti-prisoner mentality, given the elements that comprise a prison setting ( i.e. murderers, rapist,robbers, and drug dealers). And there has been a large focus on recidivism and very little is reported on those whom have reformed themselves and become valuable assets to their communities upon being released. And this is not just accounting for Virginia Prison System, it is nationwide. There needs to be some type of balance where the negative stigma of prisoners does not overshadow positive demonstrations by those whom have actually changed their lives for the better. As far the saying goes, “Just because one is convicted of a crime does not make him a criminal.” These people are the best example to put forth to our loved ones to educate them about those needing a chance at society once again. Those who are actually showing and proving through their actions and deeds in their communities. The mind set has been, “lock them up and throw away the key.” But what about lock them up, but give them a chance if they are willing to show that they deserve a chance. I think (I know) that what this and other organizations on prison reform is striving to accomplish is great and I want to assist in that process as much as I am able.
Sincerely,
Prince Just Foundation Allah

Making Money off of Prisoners

Before the overcrowding of the facility the food was much better, but now over 1300 prisoners have to be fed, so corners are being cut, and the worst/cheapest food is being served. Also, it does not help that the Food Service Manager, Ms. Puckett, is always striving to stay under budget of what is allocated for food so that she can obtain a bonus at the end of the year. Over years and years of consuming the worst quality food it often leads to health complications. This in turn puts us at the mercy of a medical department that is usually ran by private healthcare providers such as Corizon, Amor, and Mediko, that are profit orientated and have been sued repeatedly for medical malpractice and negligence.

The medical treatment that we receive is far below the standard of that which is accepted in free society. Prisoners are often placed on extremely long waiting lists for dental treatment (sometimes years) where they end up losing their teeth. As for medical it sometimes takes weeks to see the doctor after you’ve paid for sick call. This is largely due to the magnitude of the prison population, but there is also an orchestrated effort to make money at the prisoners expense which causes health risks as well.

Outsourcing healthcare to private companies has benefitted the VDOC, but has been the worst nightmare of the prison population. These healthcare providers routinely underbid all other contracters, knowing full well that they won’t have the necessary funding nor insurance to provide proper services. The federal courts have repeatedly held that the entire process is a sham in which both the providers and the VDOC are liable. (See the cases of Scott v. Clarke, and Riggleman v. Clarke)

Prisoners are frequently charged a $5.00 sick call over and over for issues that should be labelled follow-ups. This is done so much, that prisoners often don’t sign up for medical even when they are sick because they don’t have the money to pay. Many prisoners that have limited funds rather go to commissary to buy food than go to medical because the food in the dining hall is just that bad. Of course people in society may ask, why would you forgo medical treatment for commissary?, but when you have no faith in the healthcare provider, and you suffer from depression where food is used to self medicate, the decision is easy. Most prisoners endure their conditions until they can bear it no longer and sometimes until its too late. This comes from a lack of love for self and also mental health issues, many of which the prisoners have not been diagnosed.

When we look at mental health the truth is horrifying. I can personally testify to the fact that prisons are being substituted for mental health facilities. There are numerous prisoners that suffer from mental health issues that have never been diagnosed and regrettably these things were never considered by the courts upon their conviction. Others have developed mental diseases in prison. This has caused the prison to be plagued with individuals that need help and aren’t receiving it.

I literally watched an individual try to hang himself off of the top tier within the reentry community here, but the community came to his rescue. Afterwards no one from Mental Health even questioned the residents about how they were affected by the suicide attempt. Mental health treatment within the VDOC is a farce and completely insufficient. Here at Augusta there is only one psychologist, and one psychiatrist for over 1300 people. The sad reality is that if one doesn’t have a history of mental health issues, you are not a priority nor are you taken seriously when you seek help. We must address mental health as a significant issue of importance in prison reform because many of the prisoners will be members of free society again one day.

Lastly, we cannot take an in depth look at mass incarceration without speaking upon the role of the multimillion dollar corporations that benefit from it. These companies such as Virginia Correctional Enterprises (VCE), Global Tel-Link, Keefe, and JPay, all benefit exponentially from mass incarceration. Prisoners are exploited at every turn, and so are their families. These companies even lobby for harsher laws to ensure that the prisons stay full so that they can profit. Corporations like JPay charge family members outrageous service fees just to send their loved ones money, and VCE makes millions while only paying prisoners peanuts on the dollar. in the meantime while these companies bloodsuck the victims of mass incarceration, they give absolutely nothing back to the families and communities they have destroyed.

It is time that we take a complete stand against mass incarceration and those that benefit from it. The “Virginia Prison Justice Network” has been formed to take down Truth-In-Sentencing, and bring about meaningful criminal justice and prison reform. As a member of Virginia Prisoner of Conscience (VAPOC) I can honestly say that the times of prisoners sitting idly by in the face of oppression are over. The prisoners are getting tired of being mistreated and 100% dissatisfaction brings about a complete change. Please join us in putting a halt to this domino effect that mass incarceration has caused and we shall bring about freedom, justice, and equality where the once was none. In truth and justice. – Hassan Shabazz

VAPOC: Moving forward for justice

On behalf of VAPOC (Virginia Prisoner of Conscience) I would like to thank everyone for their participation in the conference call on Sunday the 25th. To know that so many are on board with forming the Virginia Prison Justice Network is inspiring and energizing. The Virginia Prison Justice Network is where all of the organizations and concerned citizens in Virginia can go to be linked in a unified struggle to end mass incarceration in Virginia. There are so many organizations that have been fighting for many years on their own. NO MORE! We are stronger together! We have made the call, and so many have answered. This is why I know we will be victorious. Now is the time. Let us seize it. –

The recent Black History month celebration has been a catalyst for all that VAPOC has been striving to accomplish amongst the population. We want to send out a special thank you to Zoe Spencer, Lisa Harvey, Carneal Smith, John Butler, Larry Gibson, Phil Wilayto, and Wahid Shabazz for gracing us with their presence. The theme “Black History Now, What Are We Doing Now To Make History For The Future?,” has began to penetrate the hearts and minds of those who are willing to do the work. We are ready to make new underground railroads to escape economic slavery, to escape imperialism and white supremacy, to escape murder, misogyny, and mayhem. If not us then who? If not now then when? – Hassan Shabazz

There is much work to be done, on the inside and out in regards to prison and criminal justice reform. They go hand in hand. It would be naive of me to think that the changes we seek are going to come without intense struggle, but many people do, just sitting around waiting on a change to come. Undoubtedly it will, because change is inevitable, but kind of change will it be. I choose for the change I experience to be the result of causes which produce effects that I put I motion, and not someone else who may not have my best interest in mind. We know what we want, so let’s get to work. Liberation has always been paid for with the price of our lives. –

Hassan Shabazz

Feb. 25 VAPJN conference call – Notes

REPORT ON THE FEBRUARY 25th END MASS INCARCERATION IN VIRGINIA CONFERENCE CALL, by Askari Danso of VAPOC:

On Sunday, February 25th, 2018 many organizers and family members of incarcerated loved ones attended the Virginia Prison Justice Network’s quarterly “End Mass Incarceration In Virginia” Conference call. Over 50 people called in during the two hour conference that lasted from 3:00-5:00 pm. The question being discussed was “How should we move forward from the January 20th Prison Reform Rally?” The call opened up with a statement from Askari Danso from Virginia Prisoner of Conscience (VAPOC) who highlighted the McCauliffe administration’s involvement with criminal justice reform during his four year term (2014 to 2018). The floor was then open to attendees. Many speakers spoke and represented many organizations. Ms Lilly Branch Kennedy from Resources, Information, and Help for the Disadvantaged (RIHD) explained how to promote legislation in the General Assembly while expressing her concern with the lack of family support for RIHD efforts over the years. Bekura Shabazz from VSET shared her concern for the lack of support from families over the years. Ms Shabazz also spoke about her idea to hold legislators legally responsible who may be in breach of contract by failing to carry out the wishes of their constituents when creating legislation. Phil Wylato from the Virginia Defenders gave a report on the January 20th Rally and expressed how encouraged he was at the attendance and participation of prisoner’s families. Mr. Wylato also spoke on the need to combine civil disobedience with lobbying efforts. Hasan Shabazz from VAPOC spoke on the need to bring every single Prison & Criminal Justice reform group into the Virginia Prison Justice Network and having each group commit to supporting the efforts of every group involved. Ms. Denise from Virginia Prison Accountability Committee (VAPAC) talked about their efforts to have Red Onion investigated for the large number of suicides there resulting from their neglect of the mentally ill. Ms. Denise also suggested that we all work to expose the the VADOC’s “Ombudsman Unit” deliberate indifference when it comes to prisoners grievances. Ms. Kim spoke of about their fledgling organization, Virginia Families of the Incarcerated, and expressed her excitement in joining the VAPJN. Lastly Margaret Breslau from Coalition for Justice closed out thanking everyone for being involved and encouraged everyone to join the struggle by becoming apart of the Network. The Virginia Prison Justice Network is the first coalition of activist in and out of prison here in Virginia. The Network’s goal is to develop and build enough momentum to force radical change to Virginia’s Criminal Justice Policy. If you are interested in joining the network visit the website at http://www.vapjn.wordPress.com and/ or contact Margaret Breslau at justicebburg@gmail. com.

Askari Danso
1.dansoaskari@gmail. com
2.thevapoc.wixsite.com

VAPOC statement on 1/20/18 Prison Reform Rally, Richmond, VA

By Askari Danso, Augusta Correctional Center, VAPOC founder

Our goal for the rally today is to communicate to Law Makers, right here where you are standing, to “Reform” the Virginia prison system. This means that we have to explore the question of what exactly do we want Reformed?
Do we want the state to stop using a Billion Dollars of taxpayer money to Mass incarcerate people?
Does it mean we want the state to End Racial Disparity in Conviction, Sentencing, and length of stay in prison?
Does it mean we want to end Truth in Sentencing polices that actually hide the Truth about the Expensive, Unfair, and Excessive system that it’s created?
How about the fact that visitation policies are dehumanizing for both the prisoner & the Visitor?
What about the mail policy and the cruelty imposed on both the receiver and the sender when the Pictures, Cards, and Letters are photo copied?
Is this the prison reform that we’re asking for?
Or how about asking that Prisons stop being closed down in the Eastern Region where Blacks work and where most of us prisoners are from; while new prisons are then opened in the Western Region where whites work and that are too far away for our families to visit?

There’s a lot to be reformed in this State Prison system because we have allowed those who benefit from this system to continue to “Stack the Deck” against us. Private companies like Global Tel Link, JPay, and Keefe have sucked money from prisoners families who in most case are struggling to make ends meet. Yet these companies know that the love you have for your incarcerated loved one will cause you to give your last dime to ease their hardship. Meanwhile, the Virginia Department of Corrections produces prison environments that are so “Depressing” that prisoners will do damn near anything to cope- even turn to drugs!!! At the same time this is happening prisoners are also working their ass off to keep the prisons open and help the state produce profits for pennies on the Dollar. Yet, when we attempt to organize around our labor in any way they call it a “Group Demonstration,” put us in solitary confinement, then transfer us to one of their 5 Maximum Security Prisons or their Supermax Prison! All of which costs over 100 million Dollars to build and 10 million dollars a year to keep open- and they don’t need them! So what the Law Makers are telling us when they do these things is that they will expand the prison system but won’t expand medicaid. The State will produce state of the art prisons while Richmond & Tidewater schools crumble, and Amelia County schools close on Fridays due to lack of funding. Why does Virginia need 45 prisons? Why does Virginia need 66 Jails? Why Does Virginia spend one (1) Billion Dollars a year to Mass Incarcerate people? They don’t need to do it! I have been in the system for 20 years. I was arrested when I was 18 years old and now I’m 38 years old. I can tell all of you that I am Definitely “Not” a threat to your Safety! I’m Reformed!

They can let me go! But they won’t let me Go! In fact, I’m not scheduled to be let go until 2044. That’s 26 more years at $27,000 a year keeping me locked up- For What? I’m not a threat to Public Safety. The 18 years old version of me died a long time ago. I’m almost 40 years old. And yet they won’t let me out until I’m 60 when I actually “will” be a burden on the Public because I won’t have any Property, I won’t have any money, I won’t be employable, and I may not have any family to go home to. So who’s really benefiting from this system? Because obviously the system is broken for some and not broken for others? Why else would they fight so hard to keep it open? This is why we are out here today- You in body and we in spirit. We are here to say enough is enough and to begin to do the work of changing this broken system. Which is where we must go from here. We must begin to organize and network with one another in many different ways. We need family support groups, call teams to hold prison Wardens accountable to the injustices perpetrated on prisoners by their staff, fundraising committees to help with legal costs for complaints filed by prisoners to protect Prisoner’s Rights; to help Hispanic brothers & sisters communicate with their families; to help incarcerated parents gets more access to their children. We need to demand that state and local officials change laws and policies that are abusive and expensive.

Most importantly they need to know that criminal justice reform means ENDING MASS INCARCERATION! Virginia is a New Jim Crow state that punishes blacks harsher and so Truth in Sentencing has a disproportionate impact on minority communities. We must demand that these law makers reinstate parole so that those who deserve a chance to go back to their communities can get there. We also must let Ralph Northam and the Democratic Party know that we are disappointed with the fact that nearly 70% of those in Virginia’s Prison system were sentenced outside of there sentencing guidelines yet the Governor only pardoned 6 due to, quote, “extensive” sentencing??? What about the other 25,000 of us who were given extensive sentences? Do we deserve justice? So we have to organize. We also have to network. We must Share contact information with one another (Facebook pages, websites, twitter pages, Instagram pages, email addresses, and phone numbers) and reach out to one another because we can’t do anything alone. But if we come together we can take down this miserable system. WE HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT OUR CHAINS!
Thank You!

THE CRIMINALS & OFFENDERS MUST DIE!

 

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!

Askari Danso

dansoaskari@gmail. com

About our site

On January 20, 2018 in the largest show of support for Virginia prisoners in memory, more than 300 people turned out for the Virginia Rally for Prison Reform on Richmond’s Capitol Square.  The rally was initiated by VAPOC (Virginia Prisoner of Conscience), an organization of prisoner activists who work to end mass incarceration.  In attendance, were relatives of prisoners, members of prisoner advocacy groups, and supporters from all around the state.  We came to support common sense legislation for fair sentencing, reinstate parole, decrease the number of incarcerated youth and promote community based alternatives to youth prisons.  We also need to do more for offenders seeking reentry into the community by strengthening employment and educational opportunities as well as the communities impacted by high rates of incarceration.  We need to listen to relatives and provide opportunities for prisoners to be heard.

The event was a great success and it was clear that in order to amplify our message and build on the energy from the rally,  we would need a statewide network:

  • to build momentum for change and to better mobilize for action
  • to create a platform for prisoner organizers to discuss the issues
  • to give prisoners and relatives a place to tell their stories
  • to connect communities with organizations working for change
  • to view bills related to change
  • to share information on events and actions

Please use this website to connect, inform, and take action! Together, we can create long overdue change in our criminal justice system.

“In many ways you can say that the prison serves as an institution that consolidates the state’s inability and refusal to address the most pressing social problems of this era.” — Angela Davis.