On how the prison system affects the left, labor and us all.
Turns of struggle/twists of fateNinety-three [Industrial Workers of the World members] were convicted in Judge Landis’ court and received brutal sentences … [They] were of heroic mold. Several died, many came out ill and their health was broken. Prison could not kill their spirits. But prison can kill and does maim the human body. Let those outside never forget that.Footnote2
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn’s comment about IWW unionists arrested in 1918 remains all too contemporary
The fact that we can talk of the continued imprisonment of people who were members of the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement over 50 years ago, organizations effectively destroyed 40 years ago due in large measure to unrelenting government hostility, reflects the reality that our system of justice is not based on a desire for justice but on the bedrock of vengeance. And it is the reason compassionate release for aging or infirm prisoners is so rare – and so profoundly important. Important for the individuals themselves and their loved ones, important too for society because lack of compassion for those behind bars infects our culture as a whole. Be the crime serious or minor, be the charges true or false, it is far too common to keep people confined long after there can be a pretense of public safety as reason. This is true of political prisoners like Shoatz and Gilbert, it is true of “ordinary” prisoners whose choices and circumstances landed them in jail for any number of reasons.
How the prison system impacts the left and labor…
Brutalities, injustices, violence are perpetrated by authorities against people every day, be they black, white, of Spanish, Asian or Native heritage. But the kind of impersonal, almost passionless violence, violence done in public with a complete air of impunity, that resulted in the murder of Michael Brown, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery (and so very many more) is where racism reveals its corrosive face, blinding those whose lives are distorted by its grip. Once it becomes possible to view another human being as somehow not fully human, the genie of hatred spreads outward and afflicts ever widening circles of people. Just like the lawlessness of our militarized imperial foreign policy (and the accompanying neglect of the needs of those who serve after they return home), that reality has a growing consequence in undermining democratic rule, manifested in a real decline in standard of living and quality of life for most Americans – even people whose lives are far removed from the experience of those imprisoned.
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