by Minister Balagoon K. Muhammad
I send this letter to you and the SF Bay View first and foremost to thank you and the Ratcliffs for the work you all have put in on our behalf for so many years. As we never could have reached the level of success that we have in ending the legal torture of CDCr and close down the Pelican Bay, Corcoran, Tehachapi black sites without the support and commitment of friends and family members of your caliber.
Please know that your efforts saved the lives of many of us who were stuck in the SHU (Security Housing Units) and helped us alter policy objectives that would have gone unchallenged and unchecked were it not for spiritually conscious people who recognize our humanity and fight for our human rights. May Allah bless you all.
I myself only spent 16 years (2001 thru 2016) in the SHU as a validated member of the BGF (Black Guerrilla Family). But even that extended period of isolation had psychological effects that will stay with me for life, due more to the lifelong medical issues I now live with.
Many of my Brothers and friends suffered the indignities of those sensory deprivation tanks in the short corridors of Pelican Bay’s D1-D6, not realizing until after the fact that this same exact set of conditions had been authorized by the Department of Justice, FBI and other repressive elements within Amerika’s so-called intelligence community. At Corcoran State Prison, it was 4B-1 Left-A Pod and for handicaps, 4A-1 Left B Pod; at Tehachapi State Prison it was 4B and, like San Quentin, Tracy and Soledad back in the day, the central hub of all institutional gang activity.
After 9/11 and the first signing of the Patriot Act, 404 members of the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 1955, otherwise known as the Violent Radicalization and Hometown Terrorism Prevention Act. Soon thereafter, the California Department of Corrections and repression (CDCr) came in the night, took all convicts that they considered radical, revolutionary or religious extremists and validated us as BGF members.
CDCr had already created black sites within their statewide security housing units where prisoners could be vanished and held incommunicado, eternally. There they enforced the isolation orders of the DOJ (Department of Justice), (which explains why many of us couldn’t get out the SHU via the courts) and all other aspects of the new Violent Radicalization … Act that could be worked into the contextual framework of existing state and federal “gang policy.”
I was considered the “Breath of Spirit” in many Brothaz’ efforts to thrive and come out alive.
The FBI actually came into all the California state prisons and questioned devout members of the Nation of Islam, then devised a scheme right out of COINTELPRO to cut us off from outside mosque supporters and the most Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. CDCr’s Institutional Gang Investigators even went so far as to label the Nation of Islam a gang, the Fruit of Islam training class a paramilitary group aimed at radicalization of inmates and the Ansar El Muhammad – Real Black Gods – a radical extremist group.
This is how the language used for the repression of radical Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the Middle East became the same language in H.R.1955 for so-called violent gang members, radical thinkers, revolutionary humanists and righteous souljahs of Yaweh Allah.
Yes, People, this is how “legal beagles” like Rex Chapel, Spider D. Johnson and Bro Ruff found themselves in the SHU with a BGF tag on their name. This is also how Mujaheed, Tarebu, Yatshadak, Sitawa, Ansar El Muhammad and myself found ourselves locked down as BGF. Even street Souljahs of both the Kiwa and Damu branches were labeled as BGF associates and isolated in the name of “patriotism.”
Note: Two things made it easy for the IGI (Institutional Gang Investigators) to use prison organizations as a weapon against us: 1) The Department of Justice had deemed the “Big Four” – BGF, Aryan Brotherhood, MEM and Northern Family – legit organizations and listed them as terrorist groups; 2) The DOJ had found that the Big Four were involved in organized crime and had gone so far as to try and convict some under the RICO Act (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations). So, IGI didn’t have to do anything but show a basic connection to an actual member of one of the Big Four, and the validation was good – per DOJ guidelines.
For well over 30 years of my 38 years of incarceration, I have struggled with six other FOI (Fruit of Islam), under the guidance and leadership of Brother Abdul Malik Muhammad, to raise the name and work of the most honorable Elijah Muhammad.
Prior to joining that effort, I had worked with my father, Harold E. Charles (Baba Hannibal Afrik) to raise the name of the most Honorable Marcus Garvey and the Universal New Afrikan Improvement Association. So, I was well known throughout CDCr by both staff and convicts on Level 4 yards as a committed soldier in the cause of righteousness – a staunch believer in truth, with a burning desire and a fire that could not be extinguished by the harsh circumstances and conditions of life on a Level 4.
Needless to say, I have been blessed far beyond anything that the limited image shaping power of words could describe to take the example of my father and Minister Farrakhan and use them – not only to exist under diverse tactical conditions, but also to take actual facts, make plausible calculations about situations and commit to a sound course of action without any deviation – and others followed me.
This in and of itself may be a threat to the safety and security of CDCr. I’m a regular Brother from the hood (ex Crip) with a master’s degree in the arcane code of the street and the gift of gab (slanguage). So, I was able to reach and teach the so-called Thug-nigga. Like Malcolm X and Dr. Khalid Muhammad, I was considered the “Breath of Spirit” in many Brothaz’ efforts to thrive and come out alive – the lifeblood that consecrated the struggle of those who are truly despised, rejected, feared and unprotected.
Understand that my range of vision and power of sight had allowed me to see into the wicked machinations of CDCr, where gang affiliated youth were concerned, and to teach them how to evade the traps and “use time.” I had watched and, with other politically conscious men, suffered great anguish as the California State Prison system once again tightened the screws down on prisoners striving to “use time.”
Like a good chess player, I had analyzed each move made as the department barred the windows of rehabilitative programs so tight that the light of possibility had to sneak in – lest it be smothered by the shadows of oppressive policies, repressive legislation and suppressive (goon squad) tactics.
For 16 years, I remained housed in an isolation tank in Corcoran’s black site.
See, the type of rehabilitative and restorative programs that used to be available in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s gave purpose and meaning to the idea of “Doing Time.” So when they were no longer available, there was a vast void and a shift in the way that our time was spent behind these walls.
Note: In 1963, Warden Nelson and his law librarian went through every inmate cell in San Quentin State Prison and confiscated all books, newspapers, periodicals etc., vetted each one and created a list of those books that they felt would radicalize prisoners. For every action, there’s an opposite but equal reaction. The political education process grew out of this single event.
Anyway, their defunding of all rehabilitative programming made state prisons an exile from all meaning and purpose and the task of true rehabilitation devoid of spirit and meaning. And it was out of this vast void that the Nation of Islam self-improvement study group came into lockstep with the Fruit of Islam men’s training course.
Then Sept. 11 happened, and our environment once again shifted. The endemic resentment and pseudo-spirit of patriotism flooding the country went off the charts. During this period, the Department of Justice ordered all inmates isolated that were considered too influential or extreme – men who could “direct the attention of the masses towards violent protests, radicalization and homegrown terrorism.”
At the same time, a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee was held, and the FBI testified to U.S. prisons as “the most fertile grounds for extremist and radical Muslims.”
Soon thereafter, a threat assessment was done on every Muslim in CDCr – especially members of the Nation, Ansar El Muhammad, 5% Nation of Gods and Earths and Shiites (7s).
In November 2001, the FBI searched my cell, placed me in the hole for a massive staff assault and soon thereafter validated me as an active member of the BGF, while knowing very well that I was a Black Muslim of the Nation. For 16 years, I remained housed in an isolation tank in Corcoran’s black site, facing the trials and tribulations designed by the Supreme Creator to test my will and to hone the full scope of my thinking to a single point.
Note: I call the pods set up for validated convicts “black sites” because everything was kept dark. All cell windows stayed blocked off or blacked out (outside windows), lights in the pods and cells black and off, pod doors covered up.
Deep in the recesses of my mind, I have the knowledge that the SHU was part of my training; those isolation tanks and black sites were nothing but another part of the prison. In this way, I was able to park my senses and evolve beyond my emotions to the point that they allowed me to reach beyond myself.
At first it was like mock torture, like being blindfolded and left alone for days. Soon your mind begins to play tricks on you, anxiety kicks in and sensory deprivation becomes a stark reality.
Someone must at all times be willing to stand forth and convey the actual facts inherent in the life lessons which grow out of every set of circumstances and conditions that New Afrikans find themselves in.
By the end of the month, I had lost track of time and all sense of day or night. I had practiced Zen meditation for 10 years and had been trained in the basic transcendental steps of thinking beyond consciousness. So I made this my first daily practice, followed by an extreme five-hour workout. In this way, I developed my time keeping techniques, developed some mind games and walking meditations that kept me sane and calm.
I had not been classified yet, so I couldn’t come out of the cage. There was no threat to my health or mental stability, or so I thought. Remember, I’m in Corcoran SHU for 1) A validation as a BGF member and 2) A staff assault that sent 19 cops to the hospital.
Fast-forward to 2006, I’ve been in isolation for five years now. I’ve adjusted to my environment, maintained silence, created a self-improvement program for New Afrikan men and brought about a level of unity, consolidation and group operation amongst New Afrikans never seen by staff and other racial groups in the SHU.
Then on Feb. 6, 2006, I blacked out. I had a seizure in my cell. Staff use this as their opportunity for payback. I subsequently suffered a broken neck, a broken back, a broken jaw, two broken legs and a subdural hematoma to the left frontal lobe. On Nov. 16, 2006, I suffered the first of two massive heart attacks; a second heart attack and stroke followed, which put me in a coma.
Note: A Brother being escorted into the housing unit had seen them trying to resuscitate me after the second heart attack and put the word out that Big Doc Holliday is dead. When I came out of the coma four months after the fact, they said that I was messed up bad. I had no memory, no movement, no control over my bowels and bladder, no ability to speak and no reason to live, not in this condition. So, while others prayed for me to get well, I prayed for death daily, if not hourly.
I was now 110 pounds, down from a solid 325 pounds of muscle, and being fed intravenously. After being told that I would never walk again, I cut my wrists the best I could several times.
However, the Supreme Creator had his hand on my life and over time I got better. See, after my first heart attack they brought me back with the paddles and in so doing restored feeling and limited movement to my upper body only.
Suffice it to say, it took me seven long years to regain my speaking skills and writing ability which I did daily by listening to CNN, talk radio KPFA and lectures by Minister T.D. Jakes, Minister Louis Farrakhan, Professor Eric Dyson and Professor Cornel West, all while lying in my hospital bed.
For 17 years now, I’ve been confined to a wheelchair and isolated in the hospital in a Level 4 Critical Treatment Center. However, I now have a lot more faith in myself than I did 17 years ago. I’ve been blessed to redevelop the diamond-hard brilliance that once allowed me to see and understand the sacred purpose in everything happening in our world.
And this is very important today; as someone must at all times be willing to stand forth and convey the actual facts inherent in the life lessons which grow out of every set of circumstances and conditions that New Afrikans find themselves in. As it is these life lessons that set the tone and context of the struggle – kind of like the cancer (bone and blood) that I now struggle against day in and day out. It requires extreme struggle, and a level of discipline that transcends the imagination of most people.
Needless to say, the lesson is this: if there is no struggle, there is no progress. So I’ve had to make a commitment to the process of staying alive.
Because without a true and absolute commitment to struggle, there is a tendency to accommodate rather than demand, a tendency to disguise the actual facts and negotiate from a position of weakness, rather than one of power. Part 2 forthcoming.
In struggle and solidarity.
Send our brother some love and light: Balagoon K. Muhammad, C-95955, CHCF D1A-129, P.O. BOX 213040, Stockton, CA 95213.