Caravan for Prisoners’ Human Rights

by Urszula Wislanka
Corcoran, Ca. – “The human rights problem of the world today is right here in the USA!” On October 18, 1997 hundreds of people from all over California participated in car caravans for prisoners’ human rights, converging at the infamous center of guards shooting prisoners in set-up human cock fights, Corcoran prison.
Participants included former prisoners and prisoner rights activists, Art and Revolution, a cultural youth group, and especially families of prisoners, many organized by F.A.C.T.S., Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes.
Coming from the North, we also stopped to demonstrate at the two women’s prisons in Chowchilla, the largest women’s prisons in the world, notorious for abusing women held there.
The caravan coincided with the launching of a year-long campaign by Amnesty International to focus on human rights abuses in the U.S. Speakers at demonstrations at both places told stories of not just the abuse suffered and witnessed inside, but critiqued the whole de-humanizing criminal justice system. The injustice of the Three Strikes is that it criminalizes the poor. Then as prison inmates they are demonized and deprived of any consideration as human beings.
Many different reforms were called for by different speakers, from making wardens accountable to the population to firing of sadistic, fascist guards and public oversight of all prisons’ activities. One young Black man, a former prisoner, expressed the hope of every one there that this demonstration be a beginning of a mass movement.
Yet he was concerned that the primary obstacle to a development of mass movement is the feeling instilled in many prisoners that they deserve their punishment. We had a vigorous discussion about “the battle of the mind – the struggle over our own conflicts.” Starting point for building solidarity between prisoners is overcoming the hatred prisoners feel for themselves. We talked about a vision of an “I” that is not an isolated individual but consciously includes the human relations developed with others, an “I” that is a “we.” In calling for a mass movement Abdul Olugbala Shakur said “working isn’t hard, it’s unity and understanding and having respect for each other which is hard.”
This building of firmest solidarity is a beginning of a real revolution.
Reprinted from News & Letters