by Nube Brown
This is Part 2 of the conversation I had with Minister King X, Artivist, of K.A.G.E. Universal and California Prison Focus. Last month, we left off with him countering the guard’s lies and manipulations with a principled show of unity and love for his brothers in struggle at Pelican Bay State Prison, when in the midst of the December 2011 solidarity Hunger Strike with his comrades in Corcoran – he and his brothers were offered a deal:
“Cruz, he came to see us; he pulled us out. He was like: ‘Hey, man, we’re willing to give you what you want if you guys stop the strike,’ and that’s unheard of because at the same time he said that we have an RVR, a rules violation report, a 115 for inciting a strike.
“And I’m like, first and foremost, for us to believe you, y’all need to drop the RVRs, the 115s – not just ours, but everybody’s.”
And the rose began to grow from the concrete.
Minister King X: During that time, the Prison Law Office volunteers came to see us, along with California Prison Focus volunteers, Kim Rohrbach, Tejú Nekisha Rice, Penny Schoner and others. Some of them were the people who were pulling us out and taking our reports.
But the person who always pulled me out was Sally Bistroff. I love her, and I mentioned her inside the Agreement to End Hostilities play, a political musical I wrote. Sally Bistroff was instrumental in taking my ideas and making sure that Prison Focus published those ideas or reached Mary Ratcliff.
Sally Bistroff was the one who said, “Hey you’ve got this new voice; you’re a youngster and you’ve got these Elders. They’re going to like that you’re getting involved. So that’s where I got ‘Get involved and stay involved’ – from her.
Elder Rudy said from his wheelchair, “Man, somebody needs to talk about my situation.”
Nube: Let’s continue from there because that’s how you move, through your art, your plays, your music, your Artivism. Talk about how you used that way of mobilizing to become a part of this movement.
Minister King X: Right, going to that, I had already had the chance to develop a relationship during these visits with other principal thinkers like Zaharibu (Michael Dorrough) and Joka Heshima Jinsai, who were already in the SHU. So, when we were getting pulled out, I had a chance to see them and we were hearing what each other was going through, from solitary confinement to Ad SHU (more commonly known as Ad seg, administrative segregation). We’re telling them, “Hey, man, this is a broken system.” They were already aware.
So, I’m reading their articles now, meeting these guys and we had already heard of each other but there’s proximity now, right? So, I’m like, hey, man, the next time I read something on you I’m going to bring it up.
There was an elder back there, I think his name was Rudy. He was in a wheelchair, and he was like: “Man, somebody needs to talk about my situation.” I said, “Yeah. man, next time I write…” “Yeah, yeah, youngster, write an article; you tell them about my medical needs. They’re not giving me my medical needs back here.”
I thought, the youngsters on the yard are hearing about this but they’re more interested in hearing it if it comes through a filter. So, I used to write these little poems and I used to say certain words like solitary confinement, Five Core Demands.
They were like, “What is Five Core Demands?” I’m saying, “Man, that’s what’s going on right now.” So, they’d be intrigued to learn about the Five Core Demands because I told them about it and then I’d give them an article.
Then, I’d take these titles and I’d start breaking them down and make them more appealing to the people who may or may not read articles out of the San Francisco Bay View. I was teaching; I found my way.
Then you go back in history. I learned that from studying books. They would be talking about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad when they used to actually get these quilts, and on these quilts they would tell you the whole history of a tribe or they would tell you how they were moving on the underground.
But it’s only you. With this right here, this art is telling your story, but it may be telling you how the tribe went. You know, watch out for the ambush. So that’s what the essence of hip hop was about. It was a curriculum. It was messaging.
So I said we have to take out the menticide, the promotion of killing each other or promoting drug activity or something that was a pollution. This solution was education, and I wanted to heighten their consciousness and their awareness about what was going on in their environment. Then they’ll become more progressive in the way of saying, “OK, next session,” because we were having sessions.
. . . you had certain progressive artists using their art – the Tupacs of the world . . .
I used to get a Title 15, or I’d get a dictionary and we’d close our eyes and put our finger on a word, look and say, that’s the word that we’re going to use today in our session. Now I need us to write on that word. It may be a word that we’re either reading in the dictionary or the newspaper and then we’d try to build up on that word. The word may be as simple as merit.
Nube: I’m understanding that journaling is actually part of the practice of Black August, right?
Minister King X: Right, so that was one of the reasons why it was compatible – that action was compatible with our studies – because you’re already studying. So now you’re becoming more intrigued because I might study on Nat Turner. We’re talking about Black August, so I might study the history of Nat Turner; I may study the history of Frederick Douglass etc.
But then there would be a word in there like resistance and it would sound cool to somebody, and they’d ask, “What does it mean to resist?” And I’d be like, that’s your first line, what does it mean to resist? You tell me what it means. So I’d ask them, what does freedom mean to you?
I’d keep those quotes for later on because I thought, “OK, when I write my next article that may be a title, What Does Freedom Mean to You?”
Nube: And this is all work that you were already developing while you were inside, right? But it was concrete enough that when you came out you put that to work?
Minister King X: Right, I mean you got artists, when you’re looking at work, of even the white guy, Danny Troxell. I used to see his art and I respected his art. I didn’t look at race or what not, but you also had Black artists who weren’t getting a lot of attention and weren’t getting a lot of publicity in certain newspapers, right, certain publications.
That’s what I loved about San Francisco Bay View because they gave the light to everybody regardless of their culture, their racial background, if you’re a good artist. I used to see Kevin Rashid Johnson, his art, and it’d pop out and it made me think about a Bill Cosby with Fat Albert.
So, I’m thinking, “OK, how could we begin?” because you had certain progressive artists using their art – the Tupacs of the world but even before them – to create a conversation. So, I’m saying, when I was in Lancaster, for example, I was in No Joke Theater and I feel that this was the last apparatus that I could put in my toolbox, right?
Once I got that understanding of how theater worked, I said, “Oh OK, if you tell this story, if you put this picture out there where people can see the bigger picture through a story, through a particular narrative, they’ll be more receptive to get involved, because they see it now.”
And they see the bigger picture because that’s the goal, for people to see it and make it a part of their life as though they could really relate to it. And you use it to ignite. I mean you drive something inside of them where that art becomes the very moxie, the inspiration to get them involved.
So, here we are at No Joke Theater. I asked little Jokey – she was running the program at the time – and she wanted me to do some Shakespeare, and the only thing that I had close to the prison issue was “A Few Good Men,” when the guy was on trial going to military court for treason or whatnot, so I played a part in that. I was also the stage manager.
But when I played that part, I was inspired because I had insight to the point where I asked her later on, “Have you ever participated in any types of plays that deal with stop mass incarceration? Or the crack law?” Because I knew I had this piece called “Crack Law.”
But I knew that “Crack Law” could be a piece on its own. And she said, “No, I don’t have anything on that. I don’t have anything dealing with mass incarceration.” I said, “What about solitary confinement because that’s a big issue.” She said, “No, I don’t have any plays.”
I said, “OK, these will be political musicals.” And she said, “If you can do it, if you could bring it out the next session, I hope that you guys will write your own material.” So, what I did is I asked all the guys who were adventurous to join and keep in mind that we needed to talk about some real serious issues.
We needed to talk about the absentee fathers; we needed to talk about the mothers and the grandparents out there raising these kids by themselves; we needed to talk about the influx of opiates etc.
What is the reason why we thought being masculine was cool versus being intelligent and learning about science versus why we want to buy a Benz. But shouldn’t we be talking about building our own car versus helping the Europeans get richer?
I’ve always been a straight shooter, so those were some of the ideas that I wanted to put in the art so we could have these types of conversations.
One of my biggest plays was “Playing My Strike,” where I was talking about the (hunger) strike, but because I was in the prison setting, I couldn’t be too critical, but I knew it was just enough. And “Playing My Strike,” we had a piece in there where we had the gladiator schools where they used to stage fights going on in Corcoran.
Nube: So, you were being subversive, but subtle.
Minister King X: Right. And I had the Agreement to End Hostilities, but it was the memes; I didn’t go into the full piece. I wanted to do “I Stand to Vote,” but we couldn’t get it in. “I Stand to Vote” was about us having voting rights and creating a union, a prisoner’s union, and that became a reality with Prop 17.
Actually, me and C-Note, Donald C-Note Hooker, wrote that play.
Nube: Let’s talk about this big project Uncage California and the Hunger Striking for True Freedom tour. It was a big project starting July 31st through August to visit most of the prisons and incorporated Black August as well.
Minister King X: Right, so when I started getting the gist, the understanding about the Prisoner Human Rights Movement Blueprint and the Agreement to End Hostilities (AEH), what I understood about that was not only was it a beautiful strategy, but these are historical documents.
Learn from each other in a way where you don’t let anything get in your way.
What I understood was that when we engaged in that Hunger Strike, every culture, every race understood that they just didn’t want to get out of solitary confinement, they wanted to go from solitary confinement to general population where they could do some movement building and cultural exchange, where they could engage with AVP, Alternative to Violence, and NA, AA.
So, once they got those certificates, they felt they could get their credits to go home. They were fighting to be free, they wanted true freedom.
Their goal was not to go out here and engage with any type of underground activity because they had already changed their mentality themselves. There wasn’t rehabilitation because of the CDC. It was because you have people like Sitawa who went straight to Salinas Valley with Baridi and others alike and created peace programs and youth programs to mentor the youth; like PLEJ did that Sharon Martinas was sending in.
And then you had brothers like Chato. Chato I remember seeing him, being in Pelican Bay on B yard and A yard with these brothers and I remember him saying, “Hey, Pyeface” – because they called me Pyeface at the time.
Nube: Why did they call you Pyeface?
Minister King X: Because that’s one of my street handles that I always had. The majority of people know me as Minister King X. I was the youngest one, and I was more urban to the culture, and I was fun, so they looked at me as a little brother. So Chato, one time, he was in the law library, and I was telling him about some of the issues we were having, and he was like, “Well, this is why we had the Settlement (Ashker v Brown); this is why we have the Agreement; and this is why we had those outside lawyers. So let us worry about that and y’all continue to build and learn from each other.”
So right then that was him saying, continue to learn from each other in a way where you don’t let anything get in your way because we’re going to handle all these issues. And I felt like, wow, that’s big!
Nube: Each one, teach one.
Minister King X: Yeah, that was big. That’s the kind of culture exchange that I understood at the time where it was real; I didn’t see anything fake. They weren’t playing with each other; they really adhered to the Agreement because there were certain things that were happening afterwards, after the 2015 SHU kickouts.
We saw CDCr. Their concerted effort was to sabotage it.
Nube: These are men who had also created Black August. And part of the ideology is changing the criminal mentality into a revolutionary mentality.
Minister King X: Right, so you have these brothers recognizing that now isn’t the time for petty quarrels. I remember George (Jackson), he said, “When the roof is on fire, a man and a woman don’t have time to argue.” So that means that a man and a woman, or two comrades, they don’t have time to argue because the roof is on fire.
That’s when I started realizing that as a New Afrikan, I also saw other oppressed people as comrades in the struggle. Whether you’re a White abolitionist, whether you’re Latinx, we’re all part of this struggle and some type of way we have to contribute to each other.
So, I was meeting other people in these classes, in these study groups because there was no hostility, and we were able to communicate with each other and exchange ideas. I had other artists, I mean, I even met Joey Villarreal (comrade, artist, author, publisher, radio host) in prison at a play. We used to do a play together in Pelican Bay.
Nube: To be clear – there were no hostilities because again these elders created these documents, these historical documents, like the AEH
Minister King X: Yeah, these historical documents. And then we had it. It was on A and B yard in Pelican Bay. I personally had to petition to get a class because the community resource manager, Robert Lasacco, he felt that he wanted to play games about yes or no, we can have this or have that.
I’m like hold on, according to Title 15, we have these particular rights to assemble. So, I did a 602 and then I got other individuals to sign on to the 602 and he granted it. But once he recognized that KAGE (Kings & Queens against Genocidal Environments) had been into some type of resistance during the Hunger Strike, we submitted our demands again because we knew those who were going to participate wanted to be inclusive with not just solitary confinement but also the supplemental demands of Ad SHU as well as what was going on in general population that resulted in 30,000 people participating from general population, Ad SHU and solitary confinement.
That’s how we were able to centralize, come together and break the chain.
So what happens is we had a study group and Robert Lasacco wanted to change the acronym. I said it wouldn’t hurt if we don’t. And then I end up suing him! But the courts were asking, why is Mr. Brown suing Pelican Bay when you already granted the 602? So, they wouldn’t throw my lawsuit out.
I was winning the lawsuit and I was moving forward; and this was all before I ended up going home. So again, here I am in theater where we create narratives that are correlated to the Strike. We’re creating narratives that are talking about freedom.
I wanted to perform for the elders and see us as youngsters who were building, who were saving the narrative by putting it in hiding, and art.
And I remember, right before I went home, we had another piece we were playing. It was “When the Panthers Died.”
So, somebody brought that piece inside the class, and I was like, “Hey, this is not a poem. I’m going to take this and turn this poem into a play.” So, I start co-writing and adding on to it. And I thought, I’m going to direct it where we could show some resistance with this.
So, I end up getting a Hispanic, an Asian, a White and a Black to go in formation so you could show a multi-cultural group, right; I wanted to reflect the Agreement to End Hostilities.
I felt “When the Panthers Died” was delegated to me as a New Afrikan in the struggle. I wanted to remember George. I wanted to remember all the fallen soldiers during Black August –W.L. Nolan, James McClain, William Christmas, Khatari Gaulden of course, The Dragon.
When we did this, I remember the brothers, the NOI Brothers, the FOI Brothers, they used to always talk about freedom, justice, equality – and I knew we needed a chant! So, I said well, right on, we have one good chant for us. I didn’t want to do too much because I knew that the institution probably wouldn’t let us.
And we got pushback on this day, which was big because we got people, family members, everybody who came from outside to see our play and they filmed it. This was the first time ever when they were just filming the play, and I’m like, “Ooh, they’re getting good footage, so we have to show up on this one!”
I had everybody create their little banners, end the hostilities banners, whatever you wanted to put in there because they’re filming it; I wanted it to reflect the struggle that we’ve had going on for the last few years.
So, we come in there and we say, “Freedom! Justice! Equality!” But I had tell the brothers who were inside the gym. I went around and told them we’re going to be chanting, so I need you guys to chant with us.
And I told Mutope Duguma and all of them what we were going to do, and you know Mutope – he’s one of the principal thinkers – he said: “No, what you do is you go to all the people who could get the word out. Go to the MAC reps.” (A MAC, Men’s Advisory Council of prisoners elected by prisoners, is required in every California prison.)
Oh, OK, so we got the word out right. Everybody came that day. So many elders were in there and I wanted to perform for them because they had gotten out of solitary confinement and I wanted them to sit down and see us as youngsters who were building, who were taking that narrative and were creating and putting in there, saving it, saving the narrative by putting it in hiding, and art.
We’re going to be subjected to a campaign of harassment for the progressive work that we do, even if it’s just art.
Just like Mama used to give us the medicine and she’d give us a Flintstone vitamin and now we’re thinking it’s not so nasty, thinking it’s a piece of candy, right. So, I’m putting the narrative inside the art. We went in there with “When the Panthers Died” and “Freedom! Justice! Equality!” And I’m talking about the whole gym was saying it! It was like Jericho! It was like Jericho because we were making noise and it was so loud that the officer said he was going to walk up out of there.
We knew this was the last day, the last day of performance. They had been taking our books, not letting us go, sending us back; we were taking so much flack because they thought it was fake and it reminded me of the Peace Program that we had in Pelican Bay. It reminded me when I came out of the chapel and they had taken my property and they said, “Ah, this Peace Program is fake.”
And then you had an Aryan Brotherhood (member) named Dale Britches. The guards did the same thing: They were coming out, him and his brothers were coming out, and then guards threw them on the ground. They surrounded them and told them, “Yeah, this Peace Program – all this is fake.”
Dale, he wrote me a declaration and then he came into the hole. So, I was having flashes of no matter what prison we are in, because of who we are – and they know who we are – we’re going to be subjected to a campaign of harassment for the progressive work that we do, even if it’s just art.
Editor’s note: This last statement is not hyperbole. Minister King X’s quest to bring multi-cultural unity to uplift humanity through his Artivism and New Afrikan pride was often met with fear and loathing by CDCr guards. He remains unbroken standing on the shoulders of the elders still caged after decades of torture in solitary confinement and multiple parole denials years beyond their legal dates. Minister King X now home after 18 years in California prisons is met with revolutionary love and continued council by the principal elder leaders and the activist community. Look forward to Part 3.
Follow Minister King X on KAGE Universal YouTube and reach him via California Prison Focus, 4408 Market St. Ste A, Oakland, CA 94608 or prisons.org.