Building a united front inside: Educate, agitate, organize!

For the past six years, prison activist Kwame Shakur has worked with caged comrades around the u.s. to found a platform and political line for the Prison Lives Matter movement, establishing a united front to draw activists from outside and inside into the prison movement. The goal is to create a reproducible model for abolitionists everywhere to be part of PLM and to strengthen the fight for a future rooted in shared humanity and an end to the exploitation and unjustifiable incarceration of poor, oppressed and marginalized peoples as well as a decisive end to the prison industrial complex and the private prison industry. We are our own liberators!

by Kwame ‘Lil Beans’ Shakur

Revolutionary greetings! As always, I come in the vision and pursuit of land, independence and the release of all political prisoners and prisoners of war. 

For six years, the New Afrikan Liberation Collective (NALC) has worked with other cadre formations within the New Afrikan Independence Movement (NAIM) to restore unity and establish FROLINAN (Front for the Liberation of the New Afrikan Nation) in order to develop a national strategy that would set forth programs for decolonization, instilling self-determination into our communities. 

We over-stood that this collective organizing is needed to eradicate the fragmentation and sectarianism that continues to exist when we operate in dozens of splinter groups spread out across the kountry. If we as a captive, neo-colonized nation have any serious aspiration to free the land and achieve self-government then we must have national unity.

During this same time, I was asked by captives in so-called Virginia to establish a platform and political line for something called Prison Lives Matter. As I began to draw up a simple mission statement, I realized that this would be no different than countless other prison orgs in the u.s. struggling to be heard and seen by the masses.

Similar to the work we were doing within the New Afrikan Nation, we would need to establish a united front for prison captives that would strengthen the overall prison movement and garner the support of the outside revolutionary movement and international community. This led to me establish the PLM National Coordinating Committee in 2018. 

This is a “new” movement that has emerged, a new generation. We, both NAIM and PLM. have to rebuild our infrastructure, which begins with the development and training of cadres.

Since that time, we have made historical progress for the prison movement in terms of creating a foundation made up of the nation’s leading formations that will sustain a national infrastructure. Carrying on the work of comrades like Jalil Muntaqim, who established the first national revolutionary prisoner newsletter “Arm the Spirit,” Yaki and the New Afrikan POW Journals as well as Ed Mead’s countless newsletters over the past four decades, we introduce Prison Lives Matter National Journal In the Spirit of Nelson Mandela as a tool for cadre development and structure building.

Although there has been a continuum of study and struggle inside both NAIM and the prison movement over the course of 30 plus years, this is a “new” movement that has emerged. Meaning, it’s a new generation. We cannot attempt to “just pick up where we left off at” during the end of our high tide. On both sides, NAIM and PLM have to rebuild our infrastructure, which begins with the development and training of cadres.

Cadres are the ones to create and implement the programs needed to uplift and sustain our movement. Without cadres, we have nothing – this should be our main focus. We intend to use this journal as a way to further structure and solidify a united front by placing individuals with the right formations that fit their unique theory and form a practice in order to achieve our ultimate goals – for example, placing conscious citizens of the Republic of New Afrika with orgs like NALC or those familiar with civil and criminal law with Jailhouse Lawyers Speak and working to develop the Prisoner Legal Support Network.

PLM is a new generation! The Prison Lives Matter National Journal is a tool for cadre development and structure building, solidifying a united front by placing individuals with the right formations that fit their unique theory and form a practice in order to achieve PLM’s goals.

We can no longer afford to function in splinter groups and reduce our own strength. Instead, the unity of tactics and strategy will be the only way to show the power of the people!

Remember: We are our own liberators!

PLM aims and objectives

  • Step one: Find folks who wanna study with you. Study material should focus on establishing structure and programs, understanding the political line that we are focused on and, more importantly, how to maintain that line and keep those politics in command. See reading list below.
  • Step two: Focus on cadre development. Building individuals up to the point that they overstand the political line and programs and are able to educate and train others, turning theory into practice. We can have all the theory and programs in writing, but we need cadre in action or there is nothing. This includes enacting decolonization programs. Part of colonization is that we depend on the oppressor or establishment for education, food, clothing, housing, employment and security. Decolonization means establishing self-determination in all of these spheres.
  • Step three: Establish inside-out contact, coordination and camaraderie. Find the committed individuals inside and out who are willing to correspond and network to help build the chapters’ statewide structure and infrastructure through the roles of ROC, if it does not already exist in your region. Connect with National Coordinating Committee to learn more about creating this infrastructure.
  • Step four: Extend your network.

Suggested reading list

  • New Afrikan POW Journals Nos. 1 and 12. Contact PLM for copies of these journals.
  • “Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat,” by J Sakai
  • “Lumpen,” by Ed Mead
  • “Cages of Steal,” by Ward Churchill
  • “We Are Our Own Liberators,” by Jalil Muntaqim
  • “Meditations on Frantz Fanon’s ‘Wretched of the Earth,’” by James Yaki Sayles
  • “Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex,” edited by Eric A. Stanley and Nat Smith

Send our brother some love and light: Kwame Shakur, 149677, WVCF, P.O. Box 500, Carlisle, IN 47838.

Virginia Prison Abolition Collective mission statement

by Prison Lives Matter National Coordinating Committee

The Virginia Prison Abolition Collective is part and parcel of a unified front within the Prison Lives Matter National Coordinating Committee. We seek to use this network to build a statewide infrastructure and regional organizing committee aimed at establishing inside-out coordination between captives and outside abolitionists in order to galvanize the power and momentum of our movement. 

This collective is made up of existing prison abolition organizations who fight for a future rooted in shared humanity and an end to the exploitation and unjustifiable incarceration of all poor, oppressed and marginalized peoples as well as a decisive end to the prison industrial complex and the private prison industry. We acknowledge and recognize how capitalism, settler-colonialism and white supremacy factor into our everyday lives and we seek to collectively unlearn those abusive patterns so that we may begin to build the world we want to live in.

Recognizing that the economic structure created by the Europeans would crumble without free labor, prisons were erected to replace the plantations.

New Afrikan, Indigenous, Chicano and other non-European people are disproportionately incarcerated due to the mass unbalance of wealth, property and privilege in this kkkountry. For hundreds of years New Afrikans during chattel slavery were not allowed to gain property or wealth for their labor while the Europeans were reaping the benefits off the abuse, never allowing a balance in resources. 

We must highlight this truth: There was not a need for prisons until New Afrikans were deemed “free” or “emancipated” and able to gain “wealth.” Recognizing that the economic structure created by the Europeans would crumble without free labor, prisons were erected to replace the plantations.

Class contradictions are embedded in the foundation of this country. This is NOT “our” country. Some of us were forced to become citizens without our input or consent.

We also recognize the gendered and cissexist construction and maintenance of prisons and jails and the carceral system put in place to further erase and brutalize queer and trans people forced behind bars. This brutality falls most strongly on our queer and trans Black, Indigenous and People of Color siblings held captive.

With its roots and structure built and constantly being rebuilt in white supremacy, colonialism and capitalism and based in exploitation and theft, the prison industrial complex exists as a continuation of plantations, and as one of the most gendered and cissexist institutions a person may be forced into. As a result, the prison industrial complex enables extreme and specific types of class-based, racialized and gendered violence.

Educate

Education is a process that is always unfolding through our experiences, reflections and collective voice. We seek to develop a deeper understanding of the carceral system by facilitating communication; inside, outside, and across points of struggle. Together we can develop and sharpen the tools to dismantle the carceral system mentally as well as physically.

Agitate

We seek to agitate among our families, our neighbors and communities toward a deeper understanding of the contradictions of society and push for direct action to abolish modern prison slavery and genocide.

Organize

Building a united front amongst the PEOPLE in our community is imperative. Where the people are united is where the power resides. Every person and organization brings a different dynamic, whether it’s experienced wisdom, book recommendations or networking skills. It is our goal to unite these groups to fight collectively.

As a Regional Organizing Committee division of the National Coordinating Committee for Prison Lives Matter, we network with existing abolition organizations. Amplifying each other’s fights, sharing resources and uniting are pivotal parts of our coalition and network.

Virginia Prison Abolition Collective (VPAC)

We have recently launched a new collective in Virginia called the Virginia Prison Abolition Collective as a part of the larger Prison Lives Matter network. See our mission statement above.

As a part of this effort, we have launched a new multi-media platform to create an avenue to amplify Virginia prisoners’ voices and concerns as well as an opportunity to call awareness to conditions of confinement, human rights violations and any issue that you and we feel impacts upon the quality of prisoners lives.

VPAC is about organizing inside and outside relationships, guided by leadership and direction of Virginia prisoners on how we can best change and enhance not only the quality of our lives, but also the conditions in which we live, the treatment we receive while helping to raise the consciousness of prisoners, social and class relations of their and our incarceration to the larger Prison Industrial Complex and its profiteering off of our enslavement and incarceration.

There is a need for a political movement within Virginia that gives voice to more woke elements and conscious prisoners who want to connect with and unite with the more political, radical and revolutionary-oriented abolitionist movement rising across the u.s.

A movement that is interested in developing inside and outside infrastructure and programs that not only empower us as prisoners but help us unite with and prepare to return back to our various communities as assets and servants, as opposed to predators and liabilities – thereby not only taking responsibility for ourselves and our own destinies and not depending on the state to provide for us what we can do for ourselves.

Some programs and educational programs can be developed, organized and operated by us and in our own self-interest with the aid, support, resources and solidarity of outside elements.

This includes the Books Through Bars programs, support for jailhouse lawyers and litigation, legal aid and advocacy – not representation – and holding state and DOC officials accountable for violation of policies and state statutes when it impacts the quality of our lives or violates our human rights.

For example, recently we’ve seen the move towards a lot of reforms in Virginia regarding the kriminal justice system regarding mandatory minimums, parole fishback, abolition of the death penalty etc. But hardly any focus on or relief for the so called “violent criminal” or the fact that you have inmates who have been in prison for 30 plus years, have completed dozens of educational and treatment programs only to go up for parole and be denied, to be told “you have not served enough time” or “the seriousness of the crime.” This needs to change, and it needs further oversight and regulations. 

With the current climate in the kountry around kriminal justice issues, this is the time for us to raise our voices in unity. Who best speaks for us?

When we are forced in prisons like Sussex to drink contaminated water that is the color of iced tea or apple juice. When we are forced to eat a substitute beef product called “meat rock” that takes weeks to break down in your intestinal tract and which is not fit for human consumption. When prisons are built on landfills and in cancer corridors and you have an abundance of prisoners dealing with all forms of cancer, prostate cancer, stomach cancers, Crohn’s disease and many other chronic illnesses.

When we are forced to deal with medical access and medical care that is overwhelmed, mediocre or on the level of third world countries or law libraries that are inadequate, outdated and almost nonexistent at some facilities – who best speaks for us?

Who best speaks for us? 

When it comes to policies that require that we remain at a level four or five for 20 years before we can drop in security levels where we can have greater access to programs and trades, that has a direct impact upon parole consideration and eligibility. 

I can be at a Level Four or Five prison for 10 years charge-free, good conduct etc., and I still am not allowed to drop in security levels. This is a VDOC policy and not a Virginia law or state statute and it’s something that needs to change and can have a positive impact on prison life and prisoner conduct. 

If that policy is changed, it could become an incentive that gives people something to look forward to and strive towards.

If we are to seize control over our lives and have some control over our future while trying to have a positive impact upon our communities and future generations, then we must look beyond what is immediately in front of us. With that, it takes having some kind of vision for the future and making it known that our lives are also valuable and so are our voices. 

Join the Prison Lives Matter movement!

Send our brother some love and light: Shaka Shakur, 1996207, Buckingham Correctional Center, P.O. Box 430, Dillwyn, VA 23936. Reach the Virginia Abolition Collective by email at VAPrisonAbolition@protonmail.com. By snail mail, write to VPAC, Central Virginia, PO Box 134, Arvonia, VA 23004; VPAC Southwest Virginia, c/o South Paw Draper Rd. NW, Blacksburg, VA 24060. Follow them on Facebook @VirginiaPrisonAbolitionCollective, Twitter @AbolitionVPAC and online at Vaprisonabolition.org.