Interstate prison transfers as weapons of political repression: My nine years in domestic exile

Turn-the-iron-houses-of-oppression-into-schools-of-liberation-art-by-Rashid-2005-1400x900, Interstate prison transfers as weapons of political repression: My nine years in domestic exile, Behind Enemy Lines
Transferring prisoners between states is human trafficking, a legacy of slavery and a form of “enforced disappearance” – a crime under international law since the 1946 judgment of the Nuremberg Tribunal against Nazi war criminals. Rashid, along with thousands of other prisoners, has been bounced back and forth between supermax prisons, death rows and work camps in Virginia, Indiana, Texas and Florida with the intention of alienating him from friendships and pitting people against him. Nothing deters Rashid from making art or speaking out against these oppressors and his efforts to enlighten minds softened by the prison system. – Art: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 264847, Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, P.O. Box 500, Carlisle IN 47838

by Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson

Introduction

In December 1990, a Special International Tribunal was held on the existence and abuse of political prisoners and prisoners of war (PPs and POWs) in the United States. The tribunal was conducted both to politically educate the public and as a semi-judicial event to put the Amerikan government on public trial, in light of its persistent denial of the existence of PPs in the U.S. and its use of extreme methods of repression to suppress political activism and expression of the poor, workers, oppressed nationality people of color and their anti-imperialist allies.

A formal indictment was drawn up against the U.S. government by longtime movement attorneys Jan Susler and Lennox S. Hinds on behalf of nearly 100 PPs and POWs held in the U.S. That indictment enumerated several categories of political imprisonment practiced by the U.S. government. Under “Count III: Cruel, Inhumane and Degrading Treatment,” it identified Amerika’s use of interstate prison transfers as a form of political repression against political prisoners. It stated:

“Retaliatory Transfers: Political prisoners, including those who have become politicized since their incarceration, are transferred from one prison to another in retaliation for the exercise of their right to free speech and/or association in the prisons, and/or to isolate them from outside friends and supporters. Most states and the federal government are now parties to an interstate compact permitting a prisoner in one state to serve his/her sentence thousands of miles away from home and family.”

Politicized in captivity

Since 2012, I have been transferred between states under interstate compacts five times because of my political activities: from my home state of Virginia to Oregon, Texas, Florida, then back to Virginia and now to Indiana. In my transfer to Indiana, I was traded with Shaka Shakur, another prisoner who has been politically active for a number of years and a thorn in the side of Indiana prison officials. He wrote about our swap in a 2019 article.[1]

I’d spent the first decade of my imprisonment physically warring against abuses of myself and other prisoners in the Virginia prison system. I was first exposed to revolutionary ideas and history and began my political journey in 2001, and from there began writing and working with outside activists.

In addition to writing political articles, I wrote about the abuses I and others suffered and witnessed, contributed to developing several prisoner support organizations, national and state-based protest actions, cofounded the New Afrikan Black Panther Party – NABPP, now the Revolutionary Intercommunal Black Panther Party, or RIBPP – and other efforts.

I was repeatedly targeted with trumped up criminal indictments for physical resistance, all of which were thrown out in turn with me representing myself.

In 2009 I was labeled a “domestic terrorist threat” in the 2009 Virginia Terrorism Threat Assessment Report written by the Virginia State Police’s fusion center in collaboration with the feds. According to the report, the reason for this slanderous classification and blatant political targeting was the proven “influence” of my writings in rallying “prisoners and their associates on the outside to unite against law enforcement and the correctional system,” and my cofounding an organization – the NABPP – that sought “to continue the mission of the original Black Panthers.”

With my work and publicizing prison abuses to the public, the repression I faced changed qualitatively and intensified in comparison to the repression I experienced when I’d responded with isolated physical resistance. I continued writing and organizing and was able to counter a lot of this repression by mobilizing outside supporters and through legal efforts.

I was also repeatedly targeted with trumped up criminal indictments for physical resistance to guard abuses, including multiple counts of attempted capital murder against guards and felonious assaults, all of which were thrown out in turn with me representing myself.

Retaliatory transfers

It was then, in early 2012, that Virginia officials first transferred me without prior notice or hearing to another state, Oregon, where officials attempted to incite racial violence against and between me and various white supremacist prison groups, many of whom I ended up politicizing. I wrote about my Oregon experiences in a 2013 article, “Political Struggle in the Teeth of Prison Reaction.”[2]

My political work and writings about abusive conditions continued in Oregon. I was subjected to repression there through the mentioned attempts to incite violence, bogus disciplinary actions, being thrown in solitary confinement and so on, which did nothing to deter me. Consequently, Oregon officials demanded that Virginia move me elsewhere.

I was then transferred in 2013 to the notoriously abusive Texas prison system, where as soon as I arrived and while still in chains and defenseless, I was assaulted by guards in riot gear, then by ranking officials – an assistant warden, major and prison guard captain – and had my dreadlocks forcibly cut off.

As soon as the restraints were removed, several physical altercations followed with their riot teams, who retreated, and I was promptly transferred from their reception center to a maximum security prison and thrown into solitary. This all occurred on my first day in the Texas prison system.[3]

As in Oregon, my political work and writing exposing inhumane prison conditions continued in Texas. Again, repression followed, which I resisted and which had no deterrent effect on me. Texas officials ordered Virginia to remove me.

As Kimberly Daniels, a Black Florida congresswoman stated after touring one such prison and the terrifying treatment even she received from the staff in 2018: “I couldn’t sleep for two days after leaving that place. It’s a culture. That’s a city where the KKK lived. And they work in the prison.”

This time, during 2017, I was sent to Florida, the country’s most violently and notoriously abusive prison system, and held in that state’s most notoriously abusive prisons – prisons acknowledged by Florida’s own congressional representatives to be run by the Klan.

As Kimberly Daniels, a Black Florida congresswoman stated after touring one such prison and the terrifying treatment even she received from the staff in 2018: “I couldn’t sleep for two days after leaving that place. It’s a culture. That’s a city where the KKK lived. And they work in the prison.”[4]

She was talking about the Reception and Medical Center in Lake Butler, Fla., the first prison I was held at when I was first sent to Florida in 2017.

Compared to my prior interstate placements, repression against me and abuses I witnessed were greatly increased in the Florida prison system. My writing and political work also intensified – again, I was not curbed.

In Florida, officials also tried to hide my location from the public and outside supporters and frustrate my ability to communicate with the outside. I was not listed in the state’s online prisoner locator system, and people who called the prisons about me, including attorneys, were told I was located elsewhere.

The deliberate concealment of my location added a particularly sinister and illegal aspect to my domestic exile, applying a German Nazi tactic of wartime political repression – enforced disappearance.

Secret detention is a form of enforced disappearance which has been a crime under international law since the 1946 judgment of the Nuremburg Tribunal against Nazi war criminals. In relevant part, that tribunal convicted Nazi Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel for his role in enforcing Adolf Hitler’s “Night and Fog” decree issued Dec. 7, 1941, that called for secretly detaining and disappearing people deemed a threat to German security but “who were not to be immediately executed.”[5]

After a physical altercation between me and guards, which was prompted by my speaking out about their routinely refusing meals and assaulting a neighboring prisoner who suffered obvious mental illness, Florida officials demanded that Virginia remove me “within five days.”

Because Virginia officials didn’t have any other state willing to accept me within that timeframe, they had to temporarily take me back in. Upon my return, I was housed so as to keep me isolated from other prisoners. They admittedly feared my influence on others and exposing their mistreatments to the public.

Initially I was held alone in a completely empty cellblock in the state’s super-maximum security Red Onion State Prison. Then I was moved to the state’s death row at Sussex One State Prison, where only three death row prisoners remained. They were ordered by the warden not to communicate with me. When these prisoners openly defied the warden, I was then moved into another isolated cellblock and denied outside exercise and other basic entitlements.

Snitch jacketing is a particularly sinister counterintelligence tactic commonly used by the pigs specifically to destroy independent activists and organizations modeled after the FBI’s counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) against the BPP and American Indian Movement.

Efforts to isolate me continued until Virginia officials finally negotiated with Indiana to take me. Here in Indiana, where I remain, officials have again tried to hide my location by not listing me in the state’s online prisoner locator system.

Upon our being traded, both Shaka Shakur and I have been targeted with various well-established “counterintelligence” tactics, calculated to discredit and isolate us and incite conflict with prisoners, including official efforts to falsely portray us as informants – putting “snitch jackets” on us – to other prisoners in these “alien” states where we are relatively unknown to other prisoners.

Snitch jacketing is a particularly sinister counterintelligence tactic commonly used by the pigs specifically to destroy independent activists and organizations. Ward Churchill wrote about it in his book on the FBI’s counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) against the BPP and American Indian Movement, where he explained:

“‘Snitch-jacketing’ or ‘bad-jacketing’ refers to the practice of creating suspicion – through the spread of rumors, manufacture of evidence etc. ­– that bona fide organizational members, usually in key positions, are FBI or police informers, guilty of such offenses as skimming organizational funds and the like. The purpose of this tactic was to ‘isolate and eliminate’ organizational leadership; such efforts were continued – and in some instances accelerated – when it became known that the likely outcome would be extreme violence visited upon the ‘jacketed’ individual(s). Bad-jacketing was a very commonly used technique.”[6]

Churchill went on to explain that “jacketing” people is “well known in prisons where guards are adept” at playing prisoners against each other.

Indiana’s prisons present a particularly fertile environment for officials to snitch jacket prisoners. This is because the prison culture here is one where officials have successfully molded prisoners to think like them and have cultivated a value system where prisoners inherently distrust and compete with each other, but trust and look to win acceptance, favors and approval from the pigs. The Willie Lynch mentality and peer suspicion is deeply rooted in the culture.

The prisoners are mentally softened up to not think critically or seek unity among themselves, by the prevalence of officially facilitated addiction and petty materialism and the uncritical practice of prisoners habitually gossiping, rumormongering, prying into others’ personal affairs and readily discussing personal things and engaging in “friendly” banter with the pigs – a total reversal of the old prison and political culture of decades past. 

An informant culture prevails where the prisoners openly give information to officials and spread misinformation generated by them.

In any case, in Indiana, my political work and writings have continued, alongside my having previously unavailable access to communicate with outside people using the phone via tablets we have use of inside our cells throughout the day. I have therefore been able to contribute more directly to the outside work of others and organizations I support and cofounded. I continue to experience the range of repressions and remain undeterred as ever.

These have been the conditions I have experienced and contended with, and which prompted my ongoing domestic exile – being bounced from state to state – over the past nine years. Political oppression and COINTELPRO are alive and well in Amerika. 

Specific accounts of the conditions I experienced and witnessed over these years can be read in the many articles on my website, which are separated according to each state system I have been imprisoned in – see rashidmod.com.

Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win! All Power to the People!

Rashid Johnson, a prisoner in Virginia who was transferred to Oregon in 2012 and subsequently to Texas, Florida and now Indiana, has been held in segregation since 1993. While in prison, he founded the New Afrikan Black Panther Party, now reorganized as the . As a writer, Rashid has been compared to George Jackson, and he is also the renowned artist who drew the image that became the icon of the California hunger strikes. See his writing and art at rashidmod.comSend our brother some love and light: Kevin Johnson, 264847, Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, P.O. Box 1111, Carlisle IN 46391.


[1] Shaka Shakur, “Shaka Shakur Traded for Rashid, Exposes ‘Domestic Exile,’ New Strategy in Prison Low Intensity Warfare,” San Francisco Bay View, May 2019, p. 3.

[2] Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, “Political Struggle in the Teeth of Prison Reaction: From Virginia to Oregon,” 2013, http://rashidmod.com/?p=2684

[3] I discuss this experience in Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, “The Texas Department of Cowboy Justice: A Case of Lawless Law Enforcement,” 2017, http://rashidmod.com/?p=856

[4] Sarah Blaskey, “‘Timothy Thomas Was Murdered,’ a Politician Says. His Prison Death Is Part of an Epidemic,” April 30, 2018, http://miamiherald.com/news/special-reports/florida-prisons/article209789104.html

[5] See, Judgment of the International Military Tribunal for the Trial of Major German War Criminals, Nuremberg, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, 1946 (Nuremberg Judgment), Cmd. 6964, Misc. No. (London: HMSO 1946), p 88.

[6] Ward Churchill, “Agents of Repression: The FBI’s Secret War Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement” (South End Press: Cambridge, MA 2002), p. 49; See, also, the U.S. Congressional (Church Committee) investigation report condemning the FBI’s COINTELPRO as unlawful, with specific reference to jacketing targets: “The ‘snitch jacket’ technique – neutralizing a target by labeling him a ‘snitch’ or informant, so that he would no longer be trusted – was used in all [FBI counterintelligence programs]. The methods utilized ranged from having an authentic informant start a rumor about the target member, to anonymous letters or phone calls, to faked informants’ reports … The ‘snitch jacket’ is a particularly nasty technique even when used in peaceful groups. It gains an added dimension of danger when it is used – as, indeed, it was – in groups known to have murdered informants.” U.S. Congressional Report: Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans, 94th Congress, 2nd Session, Report No. 94-755 (1976), Book III, p. 46.