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Letter from Assata on the Prison Industrial Complex
by Assata Shakur September 25, 1998

Greetings Sisters, Brothers, Comrades,

Never in our history has critical resistance to the status quo been more important. The growth of the Prison-Industrial complex has been appallingly rapid and the escalating repression that has accompanied it is totally alarming. What of future lies ahead of us? What are the implications of for our children?

Those who are targeted as the victims of the Prison-Industrial Complex are mainly people of color. They are Native Americans, Africans, Asians, and Latinos, who came from societies where there were no prisons and where prisons were an unknown concept. Prisons were introduced in Africa, the Americas Asia as by-products of slavery and colonialism, and they continue to be instruments of exploitation and oppression. In the heart of the imperialist empires, prisons also meant oppression. The prisons of Europe were so overcrowded that European prisoners were sent to the colonies and encouraged to enslave and colonize other peoples. In England, during the so-called period of expansion, there were not only debtor's prisons for the poor, but also more than 200 crimes that were punishable by death. During the French revolution, the storming and destruction of the Bastille Prison, became a symbol for liberation all over Europe. And today, those of us whose ancestors were imprisoned in Slave forts like Elmina, or Gorree Island, now find ourselves imprisoned in places like Elmira, Rikers Island, Terminal Island, Marion or Florence. The prisons that are being constructed In the United States today are more sophisticated than concentration camps like Auschwitz or Dachau, but they serve the same purpose. The profits from prison industries, and prison slave labor is surpassing the super-exploitation levels of forced labor in Nazi concentration camps.

The prison-Industrial Complex is not only a mechanism to convert Public tax money into profits for private corporations, it is an essential element of modern neo-libral capitalism. It serves two purposes. One to neutralize and contain huge segments of potentially rebellious sectors of the population, and two, to sustain a system of super-exploitation, where mainly black and Latino captives are imprisoned in white rural, overseer communities. People of color are easy targets. Our criminalization and villianization is an Amerikan tradition. The image of the dirty-lazy-shiftless- savage - backwards- good-for nothing - darkies has been the underpinning of the racist culture and ideology, that dominates U.S. politics. One of the basic tenets of that revolution was that only rich, white men have the right to have a revolution, anyone else who struggles for one is a terrorist or a subversive. The truth of the matter is that oppressed people have, and have always had a great deal more to be outraged about than taxation without representation.

Repression, torture, and beatings are as common in U.S. prisons today as they were on slave plantations. And political prisoners bear the brunt of this systematic brutality. Those who fight against oppression are thrown into dungeons, rather than those who perpetuate it. The prolonged torture of solitary confinement is being used, not only as a weapon against political dissent, but as a weapon against anyone who protests any of the injustices of the system. How can you fight against injustice, without demanding the liberation of political prisoners?

Unfortunately, there are more young people behind bars because they have been inculcated with and are reproducing the values of this decadent capitalist system, than those who are consciously struggling to change it. During the 1960s, when the movement was at its height, the prison population was only a fraction of what it is today. Those who institutionalized the kidnapping of Africans, those who orchestrated genocide against Native Americans, those who plunder the treasures of the world, and who are responsible for the most heinous crimes on this planet, want to preach to us about law and order. Those who profit from human misery and deny us education, affirmation action, health care, decent housing, want to lecture us about morality. Many of us watch helplessly as our children imitate and internalize the greedy, ostentatious, culture of conspicuous consumption, practiced by those who oppress us. We watch the same people who import drugs into the country, who distribute them our communities, wage a war on us, in the name of fighting drugs.

The Prison-Industrial complex is not a distortion of modern global capitalism; it is part and parcel of that system. It is not enough to fight against the Prison-Industrial complex; we must fight against the ideology that promotes it. Human beings are social beings and have a basic need to live in nurturing communities, instead of hostile ones. The people on this planet have an infinite potential to contribute to this planet and it is a crime to prevent us from doing so. The human beings who live on this planet have an unlimited ability to learn, to grow, to change, to be generous, to invent and to share. It is a crime to prevent young people from developing their talents. It is a crime to let individualistic values destroy the collective good. To those who rule this planet, we are all disposable. Our only value to them is the wealth that we are capable of producing. It is a system with no compassion, no love, and no faith.

What kind of mentality is it that would classify a 5-year old as being incorrigible? What kind of system would try a 12-year as an adult? What kind of mentality is it that would sentence a 20-year-old to life without parole? How can a system claim to be nonviolent, while praising the death penalty inside its borders, and bombing and killing innocent people all over the world? This is a system that sells and promotes and exports violence. It is a system that would rather warehouse and murder its young, than cultivate them. In this grotesque world with its grotesque, cynical values, it sounds, naive, to believe in people, and believe in our ability to create a better world.

But how can you believe in a future if you don't believe in people who are going to make it? How can you believe in human rights unless you believe in human beings? How can you say you believe in justice, without believing in social justice, political justice and economic justice for all people?

The Prison-Industrial complex not only destroys individuals; it destroys families and communities. If we do not destroy it, it will destroy us. I urge you to do everything you can to break these chains.

Free All Political Prisoners!
Free Mumia Abu Jamal!

Assata Shakur,
Havana Cuba


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