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The antithesis of oppression: How I survived 20 years of solitary confinement

May 27, 2017

by Joka Heshima Jinsai

“We are not contending with fools who will allow us to simply walk in and organize people to war against them. All serious challenges will be met with panic and repression.” – George Jackson, “Blood in My Eye,” pages 43-44

“Hunter’s Moon” – Art: J. Heshima Denham

In recent months, renewed interest in the lives of those who were released to the mainline after decades in California’s infamous SHU torture units has prompted many to ask us the question: How did you survive decades of solitary confinement? To understand how I survived almost two decades of solitary confinement, you must first understand why the state subjected us to these torture units in the first place.

The mistake many of us make in this culture is we often view things in their isolation as opposed to their interconnection. We experience social life through soundbites: tweets, Facebook posts and highly edited newsclips, basing our social awareness on this narrow, easily manipulated view of the world.

This completely divorces us from the historical materialist ideology of social phenomena and the many influences linked to that development. As a result, our perception of social and political reality rarely mirrors the truth.

How did you survive decades of solitary confinement? To understand how I survived almost two decades of solitary confinement, you must first understand why the state subjected us to these torture units in the first place.

Perhaps the single most poorly understood mechanism of the Amerikan social control apparatus is the purpose and function of solitary confinement. This misconception of purpose and function of solitary confinement – like misconceptions of other mechanisms of U.S. authoritarian institutions – is consistent with the fascist organization of U.S. society. This means it is not by chance or happenstance; it is by design.

Our perception of social and political reality rarely mirrors the truth.

The purpose of contemporary solitary confinement “is to control revolutionary attitudes in prison systems and in the society at large,” observed Ralph Aron, former warden of the Marion Control Unit.

It is a mechanism of social control with the specific political intent of destroying the sources of new ideas that possess the potential to transform the nature and structure of authoritarian society. Those who, in the state’s determination, conform with such revolutionary ideas are condemned to this mechanism, designed to break the mind and further dehumanize us, in a society where torture already finds acceptance, as long as the state carries it out in service to “American interests and the public safety of the American people,” according to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, speaking on enhanced interrogation techniques. Our minds, our social ties and our very humanity are targeted for eradication.

The purpose of contemporary solitary confinement “is to control revolutionary attitudes in prison systems and in the society at large,” observed Ralph Aron, former warden of the Marion Control Unit.

The U.S. Defense torture program carried out in SHU-style control units finds its origins at a meeting of social scientists in prison posts held in Washington, D.C., in 1962. They adopted the findings of Dr. Edgar Schein, delivered in his presentation, “Man against Man: Brainwashing,” as the basis of the program. In addressing the group, Dr Schein stated: “I would like you to think of brainwashing, not in terms of politics, ethics or morals, but in terms of the deliberate changing of human behavior and attitudes by a group of men who have relatively complete control over the environment in which the captive population lives.”

To be effective, the techniques he espoused would require a new type of environment, conducive to altering the very foundations of one’s perception of reality. For this, the state took Dr. Levinson’s sensory deprivation prison unit design and a form of Skinnerian operant conditioning called “learned helplessness” and applied it to the very structure of SHUs.

Learned helplessness is a systematic process of conditioning, designed to crystalize in the imprisoned victim’s mind that he has no control over the regulation of his existence and that he is helpless and must admit to the state’s power and control in order to “survive.” In many ways, this process reflects the process of social conformity by the U.S. population to the dictates of capitalist society.

This course runs contrary to core human consciousness and compels a linear thought conversion in two options: resistance or escape. The program is designed to apply the maximum punitive coercion against resistance and maximum pressure to explore the second option: escape. For those who are not immediately up for parole, there are only two escape options: debrief or die. To become broken men – or simply cease to exist.

I and those of like mind were placed in hell in indefinite solitary confinement FOR DECADES, based solely on our ideological adherence to New Afrikan Revolutionary Nationalism (NARN), our world view of revolutionary scientific socialism and our art and desire to end the oppression of man and woman by man and woman.

The program is designed to apply the maximum punitive coercion against resistance and maximum pressure to explore the second option: escape. For those who are not immediately up for parole, there are only two escape options: debrief or die. To become broken men – or simply cease to exist.

The reactionary response of the authoritarian state was to contain this revolutionary participation through repression, to delegitimize and criminalize it in hopes of diminishing its resonance amongst the prison population and society at large. Criminalizing labels like “gang member” and “terrorist” are joined with the isolation of other lumpen in order to criminalize legitimate revolutionaries by proxy. The characters of the two are falsely intertwined, to manufacture public acceptance of a practice which is wholly unacceptable in a humane society.

This point must be clear: The NARN prisoners in California were not consigned to indefinite solitary confinement because of any “criminal” act or “gang activity,” but solely based on our political, social and cultural ideas and their transformative potential. We are unique in this regard.

But this does not truly encompass the depravity of the authoritarian state. Even our resistance was used against us. Those NARN prisoners capable of indefinite resistance to these torture techniques were held up as examples to the rest of the prison population of what fate awaits those following the path of principle, much as the Romans used crucifixion.

The NARN prisoners in California were not consigned to indefinite solitary confinement because of any “criminal” act or “gang activity,” but solely based on our political, social and cultural ideas and their transformative potential.

It served as such a powerful deterrent to ideological political development for many that what I can only describe as a “philistine psychosis” has set in. Many New Afrikans, not only those who identify with NARN but actually deride learning their own history and culture in general and the history and culture of the New Afrikan resistance in particular for fear of a similar fate, that the state would subject us or others of like mind around the nation to decades of torture, with the express intent of breaking our minds in order to preclude the potential for the progressive transformation of U.S. society, exhibiting today’s fascist character.

Nevertheless, in a crucible of this concentrated repression, our wills DID NOT wilt. Our purpose DID NOT waiver. Our minds DID NOT break. No, like a spear is plunged into the fire 10,000 times to hone the strongest blade, the crucible of torture only tempered my dedication to purpose. The SHU torture unit reveals the true nature of authoritarian society in those who govern it, offering a degree of clarity no amount of study or abstract political theorization could ever produce.

Nevertheless, in a crucible of this concentrated repression, our wills DID NOT wilt. Our purpose DID NOT waiver. Our minds DID NOT break.

From the depths of this hell we reach forth to nurture and defend our communities, the people and this world: an ABSOLUTE commitment, an absolute commitment to end oppression of man and woman by man and woman. THIS is how I survived solitary confinement.

I survived solitary confinement by being transformed into its antithesis: the New Afrikan REVOLUTIONARY MAN.

Instead of filling me with despair and resentment, it fueled my resistance to magnify my love and commitment to the poor oppressed masses who suffer from the cradle to the grave. For me, the torture unit acted as a window to the mind and heart of Amerikkka. It revealed the national character, bent on absolute despotism and a heart as hollow as the void. Opposition to it requires us to give up our lives, so the origin of this evil is not allowed to spread unchecked.

I survived solitary confinement by being transformed into its antithesis: the New Afrikan REVOLUTIONARY MAN.

I view my decades-long confinement in the SHU just as I do my recent release to general population. It’s just the latest front in the same ever-evolving, 400-year-long struggle for freedom, justice and equality begun on the shores of Afrika and continuing on the streets of capitalist Amerikkka.

Joka Heshima Jinsai

There exists no greater expression of concentrated racism and absolute despotism in the U.S. capitalist arrangement than the indefinite solitary confinement unit. Dialectically, there exists no higher expression of humanity than the committed revolutionary. Not only does he continue to serve the people in spite of that repression, but he’s constantly seeking ways to improve the quantity and quality of their service.

It was this dedication to purpose, this resolve to oppose tyranny, even while in its clutches, expressed by so many, which led to the organized resistance that paved our way to the prison mainline after so many years.

In the final analysis, it is the act of oppression, the deification of greed, the institutionalization of hate, and the imposition of unequal social, political and economic relationships which produce its opposite, the New Afrikan revolutionary. We exist because fascism, capitalism, racism, sexism, xenophobia, colonialism and imperialism compelled us to exist.

The fact that the fascist organization of society has legitimized the use of domestic torture units across the U.S. should not come as a great shock to any of us. Such brutal repression is consistent with the history of America.

From the thousands of slave ships and the strange fruit of the Jim Crow South, violence is the underlying basis of power and profit in Amerikan society. But that repression always breathes its antithesis: Nat Turner, Denmark Vessey, Gabriel Prosser, Harriet Tubman, Bunchy Carter, W.L. Nolen and so many others came into being as living embodiments to resisting this evil.

That legacy, that legacy has not passed from us. We will always come into being, so long as freedom, justice and equality does not shine down on all of humanity like a star in the night. Revolutionary resistance, transformative opposition to this system of hate, is the very foundation of the survival of New Afrikan people in this age who want to see themselves free of the evils and injustice of capitalism.

Revolutionary resistance, transformative opposition to this system of hate, is the very foundation of the survival of New Afrikan people in this age who want to see themselves free of the evils and injustice of capitalism.

I and those of like mind will continue to survive, continue to fight on, continue to serve the people, so long as this system exists, and beyond. We will NEVER surrender, NEVER give up, NEVER give in and, in the end, we will win.

Think on these things. They are cause for great meditation.

Send our brother some love and light: J. Heshima Denham, J-38283, KVSP B2-117, P.O. Box 5102, Delano, CA 93216. Or email the organization he founded, Amendthe13th.org, at amendthe13th@riseup.net, and outside coordinators will respond.

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4 thoughts on “The antithesis of oppression: How I survived 20 years of solitary confinement

  1. Helen

    Three. Free meals a day. Free rent. Free bed. Free clean clothes. Books at your disposal. Explain how that sounds like torture? You made choices to do what you wanted criminally so we made choices to find a way to rehabilitate. If that is possible. If it’s not then your right where you should be.

    Reply
    1. Madinah

      Pretty sure you are ignorant to whats really going on and you have been brainwashed but I will give you a few moments of my time to educate you and bring you out of your state of blind ignorance.

      When people are incarcerated, they lose their right to live in a free society, not their human rights and not their civil rights. Above all these are human beings. No one deserves to be tortured, starved, beat, deprived of mail, shower or human contact. No one deserves to have feces, spit, glass or metal in their food. No one deserves to be called nigger, spic or any other derogatory name by racist guards. This is what is happening in the prisons of America. Prisons are a part of the American economy. A prison boom occurred when industry and coal mining jobs left. Most prisons were built in rural areas and areas where white people needed jobs. This maintains supremacy and a separation of races. Laws are made to keep them full so a certain set of people can have jobs and that way there will be no complaints.

      In prison there is no rehabilitation, only punishment and torture. The three meals you talk about consist of slop and not enough to feed a child, sometimes rotten or with maggots. The medical care is given by doctors who flunked out of medical school or were fired due to negligence. Most people in prison are there because they made a bad choice due to poverty. I am not condoning criminal activity but dont be fooled by the thought that all these killers and psychos are running around in prison. Thats a very small percent. For the most part, prisoners do the right thing. The problem is they are involved in a system that wants to keep full like a hungry belly. Our prisons are full of people who should be in mental institutions which have largely been defunded. These people are thrown into solitary and abused by guards who have not a clue as how to deal with someone who has a mental issue so they abuse them.

      If you think all the jobs are overseas, you would be wrong. Many corporations like mcdonald, verizon, walmart, victoria secret are having prisoners work for them for free and giving a kickback to the states. Thats known as slavery and this is a huge part of the american economy. These same companies will not hire these men when they are free.

      Billions of dollars are made off prisoners family members by companies who monopolize the phone calls, commissary and even inmate monies. Prisoner families used to send the money directly to the prisons. Now you have to send it through a company who takes a cut off the top, then the prison takes a cut, then they prison and the company split the profits. They split the profits from the phone, commissary and anything that involves money transfer. Prison is more about making money then getting justice or rehabilitating a prisoner.

      Solitary confinement has no use other then to break a prisoner and destroy their mind. This is not a good concept and a sane person can become insane after only 15 days in solitary. Would you rather have someone returning to society mentally and physically broken by abusive racist guards or someone who is changed.

      Reply

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