Monthly Archives: September 2014

Interview with Sean Swain

1. Who are you? Where are you incarcerated and how long have you been inside? If you would prefer this be anonymous to avoid repercussions, please feel free to use a nickname, or more general / generic info (like the state or region you’re in, rather than the specific prison).

I’m Sean Swain, currently level 4 at Ohio State Penitentiary, and I’ve been locked up since 1991. I’m way too lazy to use nicknames. :)

2. Can you tell us about any prisoner resistance movements or activities you’ve openly participated in?

I can describe reform efforts that failed, including legislative initiativesand hunger strikes and proposed work stoppages, all seeking changes from authorities, all recognizing the authorities and their legitimacy. In fact, I would submit that when reforms succeed, they fail… Becuz they only pave the way for counter reforms. The mythological character rolling the boulder up the hill… Succeeding… Only to end up rolling the other way… Over and over… Forever. You can participate in failure openly, but successes cannot be conducted openly.

3. What kind of tactics or action (whether formal protests or informal “troublemaking”) do you think are most effective?

Successful tactics in resistance have been those that involve direct action. On a couple of occasions, I have witnessed widespread sabotage campaigns with a decent propaganda effort really descend orderly operations into disarray. Unlike gang banging and hunger strikes and work stoppages, authorities are unprepared for this kind of tactic, incapable of putting a guard and a camera on every single captive.
Sabotage really exposes the key weakness of any authoritarian system: its reliance on the population’s obedience and complicity. Small numbers with virtually no resources or formal training can make a huge impact, attacking and discovering key choke points to exploit.

4. Can you tell us a story where outside support made a difference in your life or resistance efforts?

Outside support has greatly altered my life in many ways. One example is when I was in seg in Toledo (TOCI). Friends had a strategy. They called the prison and central office claiming to be media. This created the illusion of public attention, which all prison systems hate and fear. Friends also called legislators as media, then called the prison and central office as assistants to legislators, all of this prompting central office and the prison to call each other to say, “WTF,” and for them to contact real legislators in what they believed were return calls, right after legislators were contacted by fake media. Total shitstorm.

The illusion of visibility and political blowback. I knew it was happening as my material situation improved. Received property and privileges that had been withheld. By the time fake attorneys started calling, the will to keep fucking me around was greatly diminished. The illusion was
a powerful weapon, can be duplicated with a phone book and a handful of Walmart cell phones, however they are appropriated.

5. What strategies would you like to see emerge or develop among folks on the outside who already do prisoner support work?

I would like to see a couple things develop. First, some method to provoke prisoners to consider effective direct action resistance, to be a thread that connects resisting prisoners or aspiring resisters with information on previous successes and failures, inspiring prisoners to think beyond hungerstrikes. Second, creation of a kind of repository where information may be accessed by other supporters. Third, a developed strategy for connecting resisting prisoners at one location to prisoners at other locations. Information is power. Timing is everything. Coordination creates more favorable conditions. Fourth, and last, projection of the idea to the larger community in struggle that every element or action might in some way become integrated with local prison resistance or prospective prison resistance, or creating actions in such a way as to impact the operations of the prison industrial complex. To this last, an example: when at Toledo, an anti-nazi rally in town became a small riot. If those folks knew the location of TOCI and moved in that direction, the reaction of the enemy enforcers, the cost, the resources, the seriousness of the potential problem for perceived public order… Potential. In that case, potential from simply knowing the local prison was just down the street.

6. How could someone who’s new to prisoner support work get involved?

For this question and the next, let me give a broader response of getting informed. Departments of Corrections have websites with useful information on where prisons are, security levels, staff, how to get there, phone numbers, what prisoners are where. There are books and zine programs nationwide, where free world people get repeated requests from radical prisoners and possibly develop relationships. There are prisoner pen pal programs at infoshops and collectives. There are online presence for prisoner voices and zines… So, consult all of that, determine what your goal is, and select some course of action consistent with that goal. Like anything else, it should be experimental and fun.

7. How should we inform or include prison populations that may not already be involved, like female prisoners, prisoners in regions with less activity and support, folks in immigrant detention centers, county jails, etc?

Again, to refer back to #6 above, prisons are located in the physical world. Not hidden. The populations are inside, everyone given a number and part of an online catalog, with rap sheets and photos and FAQ sheets. Those prisons have parking lots full of cars with plates, where staff come and go at shift changes every day to drive to and from homes. This is a physical reality. Central offices for corrections systems are often located in industrial parks, with parking lots and cars with plates and shift changes. Again, physical reality. Explore it. Think while you explore. Successful developments are always organic and spring from experience.


Alabama Judicial System and the Counterparts

From a supporter: A prisoner named Susan Bruce, held in the infamous ( ) Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka Alabama, recently sent me a handwritten essay entitled “Alabama Judicial System and the Counterparts” that speaks to some of the degradation experienced in Tutwiler and all over Alabama by prisoners.
At her request, I am spreading her writing to anyone I think may be interested, especially in light of the rapid growth of F.A.M. and the IWWs new Prison Committee in Alabama and Mississippi.

The Alabama judicial system and the counterparts, are not focused on corrections and reform. The entire process is a means for Political gain, monetary advancement and a way to seek revenge.

The politicians running for office, and the ones who already occupy them, and the ones appointed to the Judicial System, and the counterparts, use crime and those who commit a crime to gain votes during election time and to continue to hold their elected or appointed position.

The age old slogan “to Get tough on Crime,” has carried on for several decades. Political figures have promised, “to get tough on crime” and “to Lock them up and throw away the Keys.” These political parties make promises to crack down on crime and to deal out harsher sentences, but the fact is the crime rate continues to rise, the county jails and prisons are over capacity and they fail to mention at whose expense the crackdown on crime falls upon. The tax payers!

All of the prisons throughout the state of Alabama are in a pitiful state of disrepair, but yet, these politicians continue to solicit money to repair them. These prisons are an environmental hazard; they are infested with dust mites, mold, rats, bugs, and spiders. They are run down, have faulty wiring, broken heating units, backed up septic systems, broken toilets, sinks a leaky roof and rusty, broken out windows with no screens. Alabama Department of Corrections was forced to install millions of dollars worth of security cameras [in Tutwiler] to protect the female inmates from sexual assault from the prison guards. But- The very guards that they were installed to protect them from are the ones who are viewing the screens. Is that not ironic? What tops it off is the fact that these ADOC guards are using these cameras to catch the inmates violating prison rules. Another waste of the tax payers’ dollars.

The prisons provide the barest of necessities for the inmates’ needs, such as eight rolls of tissue, two four ounce tubes of generic toothpaste, four bars of lye soap and two tooth brushes a month.

The quality and quantity of the prison’s meals do not meet dietary needs; they’re high starch with low protein meals. The quality of the food products is low grade soybean patties, wieners, bologna, fish patties, tuna, and starved to death chicken. All purchases at a low price, donated and the vegetables are grown by inmates and canned by them at the honor camps [“Red Eagle Honor Farm” in Montgomery].

The dental services provided to inmates is a minimal service; their teeth are cleaned once every two years, fillings are only temporary, and pulling teeth. There is no service for root canals or caps. Most of the inmates who have been incarcerated for several years wind up losing most of their teeth and wind up with dentures or a partial plate.

The health care services comes with a double price tag. The tax payers are paying for it and so are the inmates’ families. The services cost the inmates four dollars for each process, one, to be screened by a nurse, two, to see a provider, and three, for each medication prescribed. An inmate will generally walk away with an eighteen dollar bill. Try to figure this one out.

Each year the taxpayers are solicited for money to pay for the housing, feeding and medical/dental care. While each year the amount continues to increase. Did you know that the prison systems generate millions of dollars from the phone system, canteen and sandwich shop? ADOC is cutting the cost in half while lying to the public about the amount of money needed to incarcerate them. While at the same time thy are making money incarcerating them. They phone system, canteen and sandwich shop sells generic products and services at a one hundred percent markup of the consumers’ price. ADOC is making a killing off of the taxpayers and the inmates’ family. Work release centers and the honor camps that make furniture and tags also generate money for the prison systems. Where is all this money going?

When an inmate enters int o the prison system they are provided with one new set of clothing and two used sets that have preciously been issued to at LEAST two other inmates. The trick is ADOC adds to the budget that it costs them forty five dollars for three shirts and seventy five dollars for three pair of pants. What they don’t tell you is that two shirts and two pants per inmate have already been paid for twice before. Yes, that’s right, the taxpayers pay for the same two sets of clothes three times or more. They are pros at cutting corners in several ways, saving millions of dollars. Of course they would not bother telling those who are forking out the money.

The judicial system has nothing to do with reform and everything to do with seeking revenge. It begins wit hand ends with the same ideas and principles. Alabama’s criminal statutes are derived from the biblical belief before Christ was born and they do not believe in forgiveness. The age old belief of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth was the way to punish offenses in 100 B.C. [and] is still the belief of today. To put it simply, it’s not the ideal of reform that the Alabama Judicial system is looking to sell, it’s revenge. There is no self defense, the law refuses to protect and they forbid you to protect yourself. This system will convict people who are mentally retarded and mentally ill.

The same old song and dance is still the most popular with those running for political office, “Get tough on crime. However there has never been a one who has had the decency to tell those whose vote will elect them to office that you will be the on e who has to pay for this. These guys are costing the taxpayers a whole lot of money. How much of the money goes into whose pocket is anyone’s guess.

The Alabama Parole Board is on the same page as the court system, making money and seeking revenge. Has anyone been privileged to the salaries the members of the Parole Board receives? Would you believe that it’s between forty to ninety thousand dollars a year? Wow! They make all the big money sitting on their tails, pushing a pen, looking at a file and officiating public hearings, that the inmates are not allowed to attend. To the board they are a file with a number attached. It is left up to their family and friends to attend and plead their case.

The policies and procedures that govern the Parole Board’s administrative guidelines are fundamentally unfair, biased and prejudiced. The whole process is a sham. BEFORE the inmate’s hearing, the members of the parole board have already decided their fate. The only REASON why they even bother to hold a hearing is because they have to. The statute that governs the parole process states,

1) There must be an open hearing,

2) The Parole Board is a discretionary board,

3) The inmate DOES NOT have a liberty INTEREST, (freedom)

4) Their decision must not be arbitrary or capriciously made. (selected at random ore mere fancy)

The members of the Parole Board are governor appointed, he has an input in the parole hearings which is always negative. Two groups, who are nothing but a hate group disguised as a victim’s advocacy group. One is called VOCAL [Victims of Crime and Leniency] the other is MADD [Mothers Against Drunk Driving], both these groups, through the Attorney General are given a list of all the violent offenders going up for parole. These groups contact the victim’s family, tell them their stories and convince someone to show up to protest, and the members of these groups go to the hearing with them.

The criteria set out for the parole process is not supposed to have any political influence. But yet, it is made up of members appointed by a political body. Who in return has an active part in the process. The Attorney General is an elected official who by all means has a political influence on the parole process.

The parole process for a violent offender is like a poker game with the cards stacked against them. Reform DOES NOT factor into the decision of whether to grant or deny parole. The only factor considered is the crime that the inmate committed. Let me give you an example, in several cases the inmates had,

1) Served at least twenty years,

2) Had excellent institutional records

3) Had taken all the self help programs (class) available,

4) Received a GED,

5) Graduated from an occupational trade,

6) Attended college courses, etc.,

but yet, their parole was denied. The Parole Board set them off for five years. Honestly, be your own judge, what was the deciding factor to deny parole? Was there any doubt that they were rehabilitated? These inmates were denied parole because the victim’s family and Attorney General wanted blood not rehabilitation.

The entire parole process is intimidating in and of itself. First and foremost is the fact that the inmate cannot attend their own parole hearing. A family member or friend has to stand in their place. Three people are allowed to go and each are given three minutes to plead for their [the prisoner’s] release. The intimidating part of that is, nine times out of ten the Parole Board is not interested in what they want to say. The board will stop them, ask them a question that they are not prepared to answer that throws them for a spin leaving them clueless as to how to answer or afraid that they will say the wrong thing.

The Attorney General and victim’s family have absolutely no restriction on how many can attend or on what they are allowed to say. They may paint whatever picture of a person they don’t know personally as they want.

The parole hearings are conducted inside of a poorly lit room. The parole [board] members are on a dais- where the inmate’s family has to sit below and look up at them, like a king on his throne.

If and when an inmate gains release on parole or probation, they are required to pay a monthly fee as well as any court cost, fines and restitution ordered by the court. They are required to work a job, in return that puts them back into the class of taxpayers that must pay to take care of their incarcerated brothers and sisters. Money-money-money- That is what the whole process is about.

Many inmates can’t afford the above costs, particularly if they lose employment (through no fault of their own) and end up defaulting and trapped back in prison- a debtor’s prison.

By Prisoners United.