Greetings Diallo. I wanted to gain your thoughts on something. Do you believe its a good idea to try and reach out to our incarcerated brothers and sisters with African centered literature? I ask because I have a family member currently serving time and I see him falling under the usual spell of “Finding God” while behind bars. I want to nourish his brain with consciousness but I fear becoming a target in the process OR him just becoming too lost to the system to listen. Suggestions are welcome

I have a childhood friend serving life without parole, our mothers were best friends, and we grew up as cousins.  He called me years ago and stated that he was converting to Islam and taking a Muslim name. 

I informed him that there was not such thing as a Muslim name, because those names are much older than Islam, hell the Prophet Mohammad was like 50 before he invented Islam and chose Allah (one of hundreds of gods worshiped by the nomadic Bedouin tribes) to be the only God there is.  I also informed him that Africa’s relationship to Islam is not much different than its relationship to Christianity, they invaded, they rape, they stole, the colonized; as much as the Christians, and they still are.

I assumed that since he was contacting my about his intentions that he wanted to hear my position on Blacks converting to Islam, in prison, or “out in the world.”  So I was honest and opened.  He told me he would look into what I was saying about “Al-Islam,” and get back to me.  Several months later he told me that he decided not to convert or change his name.  It was his decision alone, but I’m glad he reach out to me. 

In South African under Apartheid, prisons were places people got a political education, they used to call Robben Island “Mandela University,” because the youth incarcerated there would be radicalized, instead of driven deeper into psychosis and criminality like here in US prisons.

In the 60s and 70s US prisons started moving in that direction lead by George Jackson and many other incarcerated Black Revolutionaries.  The Whites would send in criminals and release Revolutionaries, Radicals, and Militants.  If we kept that up there would have never been mass incarceration in the US, they would have had to come other with some other method of destabilization and Genocide against the Black population.

But, as usual we fell for ‘reforms’ and abandoned our revolution; the reforms brought more services and protection to US prisons, they went from calling our incarcerated Brothers and Sisters “convicts,” to calling them “inmates.”  They even stop calling prisons “prisons,” that’s when they started calling them Correctional Institutions, and shit like that.  But, like all reforms, from Civil Rights Reforms, to Prison Reforms; shit gets worse in the long run than it was before the movement.  SMH.  We still ain’t learned that. 

This is an issue close to me because most of my core crew that I came up with ended up in prison, two of them have natural life, although one of my Homies may have that overturned, but he’s been in almost 20 years already.  Most of my Homies, including myself had fathers who served time in prison, so the cycle continues. 

We can’t write off our people behind the walls, I know it’s exhausting and expensive to have friends and family behind in prison. But when they are worth the effort, then put in the effort.  My one Homie that called is always so apologetic when my wife answers the phone, so much shame, he’s never met my wife, we’ve been together for 16 years, and he was locked up before I met her.  I tell him to stop apologizing, she practically knows him anyway, she knows all of our stories and shit from back in the day. 

There’s too much shame surrounding what others do to us, and the shame should be on the System, the shame should be on the Oppressors, the shame should be on the Negro Elites as much if not more so than on our people  who’ve fallen into the traps. 

We need to do more to tear down those walls, but until the dismantle all of the Systems and Institutions of White Domination, the walls will stand; so we need to work on outreach, healing (deep healing for our incarcerated family), and transitioning them back into the community. 

If you are working as in individual, I suggest keeping the lines of communication open, letters mean a whole lot to incarcerated people, write as often as your can, visit, keep talking about the incarcerated family member at family gathering, keep their name ringing; don’t let people forget, tell the children about their incarcerated fathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.  Don’t allow the System to destroy those bonds, they did this same despicable shit during Chattel Slavery, and they are doing it again.  Keeping the bonds is most important.

Also, learn the system, know their inmate number, their unit, their Warden and the COs that work their units, learn the protocols, and the prisoner advocacy groups in your area.  When the COs and prison staff know that an inmate has engaged people on the outside, they are less likely to fuck with them as much.  You need to be engaged as respectfully as possible, because the people who work in the prisons, even the civilian staff are often psychopaths, really sick individuals, and if you press them they can take it our on your loved one in some very sadistic ways.  I work in a prison infirmary on Rikers Island for years and I saw the abuse first hand.  Not all COs and staff are psychopaths, but the culture is psychopathic, and since COs have a gang mentality, just like the Cops, the “good COs” never snitch on the bad one’s, they protect them.  You, you have to navigate them, not always confront them.

On a collective level, the best way to help prisoners is to join a mass Revolutionary Pan-African organization, and work to dismantle the Systems and Institutions of White Domination, and work to build a Inmate Advocacy and Inmate Transition program within that Organization.  I do the same with Environmentalism, Veganism, and Animal Rights; I work with Black organization, and I inject into the organization what’s missing.

Don’t fight against those wasting their time with Reform, there’s nothing to be gained their, and there are at times opportunities to unite with Reformist to advocate for prisoners.  Revolution is what’s need, but Reformist are not always the enemy. 

This is war, so be cunning, and strategic.