Tag Archives: 2013

Anti-misogyny and sexism

The N.C.T.T.-Cor-SHU stands in diametric opposition to the oppression of man/woman by man/woman. In the face of unprecedented violence against women in the near and middle east, a direct outgrowth of imperialist expansion and patriarchal authoritarian religious fundamentalism, it is necessary that we criticize the maintenance of cultural misogyny and institutional sexism. From Pakistani schoolgirls and teachers being brutalized and killed by misogynists besmirching the sacred name of Islam, to Christian fundamentalist G.O.P. Senate candidate Todd Akin’ comments about “legitimate rape,” this cultural sexism finds its origins in the establishments of the monogamous patrilineal family unit and the patriarchal authoritarian psychological structure which has gained cultural hegemony across much of the world.

Sexism and misogyny are both cultural and socio-economic phenomena. As Frederick Engels explained in The origin of the family, private property, and the state, the patriarchal authoritarian social structure was established “to make man supreme in the family and to propagate, as the future heirs to his wealth, children indisputably his own.”
This could not be accomplished without complete control over a woman’s sexual life, which required nothing short of their total economic, social, political, and psychological subjugation of women to the dictates of men. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, despite their history(s) of brutal conflict and war, share a common cultural and socio-religious ethic of justification for brutal colonialism, economic exploitation, and violence against women. Traditional and contemporary judeo-christian and Islamic fundamentalism have been exceptional vehicles for genocide, slavery, sexism, territorial expansion, misogyny, and imperialism. As stated by Max Weber:

“One must go to the ethics of ascetic Protestantism to find any ethical sanction for economic rationalism, and for the entrepreneur.”

No matter if it’s India (where a woman was recently raped to death by 6 men on a public bus) or the U.S.A. (where in February 2012 House Republicans held a hearing on contraception and intentionally did not invite women to testify, but instead 5 male clergy to offer their “expertise” on the subject of women’s sexual health rights), societies based on competition and private expropriation of social production, employ the patriarchal family unit. Such family units have proven perfect incubators for labor submission and socialization, and in order to perpetuate the economic order of capitalism found it practicle to establish the intimate oppression of women.

This sexist repression has been reflective of domestic slavery; women have been used and exploited as servants, sexual pleasure tools, social companions, child bearers, child teachers, and child correctors. Legislation is incapable of altering cultural mores which are rooted in the productive system itself. Suffrage and the “Lily Ledbetter Act” have done little to alter sexists’ social attitudes in the U.S., or the misogyny it has exported around the globe via imperialist economic penetration.

This is because, like the economic class and race-caste systems, institutional sexism is a structural component of monopoly capitalism. The middle class is so vital to the maintenance of the capitalist culture because it is the mainstay of patriarchal marriage and the authoritarian family unit, which are primary logs in service to the 1%’s interest in material profit. As Wilhelm Reich states in The Mass Psychology of Fascism [The Autoritarian Ideology],

“It is the class that preserves nothing less than several thousand years of patriarchy and keeps it alive with its contradictions… The social position of the middle class is determined by 1) its position in the capitalist production process, 2) its position in the authoritarian state apparatus, 3) its special family situation, which is directly determined by its position in the production process… There are indeed differences in the economic situation (of middle class families) but the basic nature of the family situation is the same.”

Therefore there can be no serious discussion of the abolition of sexism and misogyny in the U.S. and abroad without it taking place within the framework of the abolition of global capitalism through scientific socialist revolution. With that in mind, the totality of women’s oppression is not located in the profit system, nor will the overthrow of capitalism guarantee complete freedom for our sisters. No. Even more central to this aim is the abolition of the puritanical and patriarchal authoritarian culture of conservatism upon which the economic exploitation of gender inequality is based and sustained. This can not be accomplished via bourgeoisie democracy or attempts to reform that which can not be reformed. As Emma Goldman stated:

“The history of the political activities of man proves that they have given him absolutely nothing that he could not have achieved in a more direct, less costly, and more lasting manner… There is no reason whatever to assume that woman, in her climb to emancipation, has been, or will be, helped by the ballot… Her development, her freedom, her independence, must come from and through herself. First by asserting herself as a personality. Second, by refusing the right to anyone over her body; by refusing to bear children, unless she wants them; by refusing to be a servant to god, the state, society, the husband, the family, etc. By making her life simpler, but deeper and richer… only that, and not the ballot, will set woman free…”

We concur. Our sisters must first conquer their rights, by self-defense and force of arms where need arises. Ideologies are indigenous, and feminism is an ideology of liberation which finds its origins with our sisters. It is our sisters which must take the lead within the scientific socialist revolution to indoctrinate their brothers in feminist ideology and the abolition of these sexist, chauvinistic, and misogynistic tendencies which remain in us all.

In the final analysis, it is this commitment to destroying the capitalist values and mores within ourselves – removing the artificial divisions between us all of race, gender, class, and culture which will prove the death knew for monopoly capitalist exploitation. Our solidarity is the ruling 1%’s worst nightmare. We must all commit ourselves to destroying sexism and violence against women wherever it rears its head.

Until we win or don’t lose.

N.C.T.T.-Cor. SHU
January 2013

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Working the room: Inmates in solitary confinement tell their stories and move people to action against torture and systemic oppression

From: SF Bay View

January 30, 2013by Destiny N. Thomas

Inmates trapped in segregated housing within prisons across the state of California are banding together, setting aside their differences, to expose the human toll of torturous living conditions inside state prisons. While undergoing abusive treatment and sensory deprivation, these organizers have managed to ignite calls for prison reform and self-sufficient communities in a way that transcends the very walls that house them – bringing a voice to a population whose silence is mandated by codes of conduct.

J. Heshima Denham after hunger strike 0711, headshot, web

Heshima Denham

Heshima Denham provides a glimpse of what a day in the life of a prisoner housed in SHU torture units is like. He maintains a daily exercise regimen from within his cell, as he is hardly ever allowed to leave his cell. While the small television in his cell shows the daily news of global oppression, the sharp pain Denham has experienced in his side as a result of a previous hunger strike is his constant reminder of the importance of surviving and resisting while housed in the Corcoran SHU.

The food selection never alternates and is designated by day; it is served at below room temperature, in small portions. In an attempt to maintain some degree of humanness, Denham greets guards with a “thank you” only to be met by laughter. Because bathing is not permitted on a daily basis, Denham takes a birdbath in his cell’s sink.

His day is filled with self-assigned research, caseloads, activism and journalism. The law library at Corcoran is indefinitely off limits. This adds to Denham’s frustrations. Where a person outside of a SHU torture unit would seek other inmates for education on legal and political matters, SHU confines enforce sensory deprivation, so communication is prohibited altogether. The only form of permitted communication, mail, often arrives an entire month after its postmark. To top it all off, Denham has grown accustomed to waking up with migraines, as he has been exposed to constant illumination for 12 years.

The effects of constant illumination

Constant illumination, an unvarying exposure to light around the clock, is a customary practice in prisons nationwide. The effects of continuous exposure to light are vast. Courts have yet to officially recognize this as cruel and unusual punishment as put forth by the Eighth Amendment. One court has cited the benefit to the safety of guards as outweighing the damaging effects of the conditions, although the brightness of the light could possibly be evidence of torture. It was found, constant illumination could only be deemed a violation of human rights if it “causes sleep deprivation or leads to other serious physical or mental health problems.”
However, studies show, constant illumination leads to dramatic decreases in dopamine levels, a biological chemical that affects a person’s ability to control body movement and other sensory-related bodily functions. This leaves people vulnerable to extreme anxiety, hallucinations, decreased motor skills, and likely to develop Parkinson’s Disease.

In 2008, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) launched a documentary titled “Total Isolation.” Six volunteers agreed to be confined to a cell, much like those of solitary confinement in prisons, and live alone in complete darkness for a total of 48 hours. Before being locked away, volunteers were tested for “visual memory, information processing, verbal fluency and suggestibility.”

By the end of the two-day study, volunteers were unable to maintain any meaningful sense of time, they experienced hallucinations, both visual and physiological, and one volunteer was certain his sheets had been soaked. In the two-day time period, volunteers lost the ability to perform basic tasks like thinking of words beginning with the letter “f.”

The participants in “Total Isolation” understood they would be released soon and they entered into the cells without the fear of being abused by staff or retaliated against for expressing discomfort. Prisoners trapped in solitary confinement in the United States have none of these assurances. One could only imagine the ways this would amplify the effects of sensory deprivation.

Solitary confinement a violation of human rights globally

Many have asked the question: Is solitary confinement torture? It is. The United States goes on record as being against inhumane treatment of international prisoners while contradicting itself right here in the United States. The United States – reluctantly – signed the United Nations Convention Against Torture in 1988, three years after Afghanistan, a nation the United States has accused of inhumane practices. One of the main themes in this document is the emphasis on the definition of torture: “any state-sanctioned action by which severe pain or suffering, mental or physical, is intentionally inflicted for obtaining information, punishment, intimidation or discrimination.”

Yes, solitary confinement is torture; it is a violation of some of the most basic of human rights; and the agents of the state responsible for carrying out this abuse need to be exposed.


California’s Pelican Bay State Prison has 1,000 cells delegated to segregation and torture and many prisons nationally assign segregated housing for indeterminate periods of time. Heshima Denham, a prisoner in the torturous SHU at Corcoran State Prison, explains the conditions barred by the United Nations Convention Against Torture virtually “define the validation, indeterminate-SHU and debriefing processes” of state prisons.

Denham goes on to explain, “You’ll only get out of SHU if you parole, debrief or die.” Debriefing, here, is the state’s term for coercing a prisoner to give up information about another prisoner in exchange for being released from the SHU. Often times, the information an inmate is forced to confirm is imposed by prison officials. Whether the information gathered is true or not – this type of coercion leads to murder at the hands of general population inmates and is torture, as defined by the United Nations.

In 1890, the Supreme Court in James J. Medley’s request to be released from solitary confinement found it to be unconstitutional for a prisoner to be held to a sentence handed down by the courts only to then be subjected to more sentencing, in the form of indeterminate segregation, at the will of prison officials. While this same case did not result in a finding that solitary confinement is entirely unconstitutional, justices went on record noting the devastating blow to mental and physical health that these conditions cause.

A common challenge to solitary confinement is the Eighth Amendment – a claim of cruel and unusual punishment. No cases have successfully proven the conditions in solitary confinement are, in fact, cruel and unusual at the United States Supreme Court level.

Where courts have agreed constant darkness poses a hardship on physical and mental health, prisons now enact constant illumination. Where a prison administration finds segregated prisoners’ complaints may be valid, parallel conditions to those of solitary confinement are then imposed on those in general population, making it difficult for prisoners to prove their hardships are due to conditions unique to solitary confinement.


The Supreme Court requires, to prove an Eighth Amendment violation, prison officials must be shown as having been purposefully unresponsive to the harshness of conditions. In Sandin v. Conner (1995), the Supreme Court noted, if a move to segregated population led to an “atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life,” a prisoner would have a cause of action.

The vagueness of the Sandin v. Conner requirements for proving Eighth Amendment violations – the precondition of proving something is in fact harsh and then showing prison officials were aware of the harshness and took no action of improvement – has led to prison officials imposing policies and conditions that conceal the true harshness of conditions.

The courts do not require a significant improvement in conditions when harshness is demonstrated. So prisons make minor changes that satisfy the need for action but don’t necessarily improve conditions – barring inmates from claiming intentional harm was inflicted on them.

For example, where courts have agreed constant darkness poses a hardship on physical and mental health, prisons now enact constant illumination. Where a prison administration finds segregated prisoners’ complaints may be valid, parallel conditions to those of solitary confinement are then imposed on those in general population, making it difficult for prisoners to prove their hardships are due to conditions unique to solitary confinement.

The state’s evasive tactics for avoiding bad publicity

Several inmate organized hunger strikes have brought attention to the harsh conditions of solitary confinement. Prisons now face pressure from the media and public who demand immediate changes to prison policies. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) claims to be in the midst of making changes to the SHU assignment and release procedures. However, there is no mention of changes being made to actual conditions within SHU, where significant degradation of health begins to set in within the first several hours of isolation and sensory deprivation.

Specifically, the CDCR claims to be making temporary changes to the “way [they] manage gangs.” Institutional Gang Investigators are establishing new gang profiling tactics, no longer singling people out as gang members by association or symbols. This policy change does not equate to the immediate release of inmates already confined to SHU for tattoos, artwork and writings as a result of the previous policy. In fact, a new “step-down” program has the potential to increase time spent in the SHU.

What the CDCR says will not change is the “option” to debrief – now formally called “cooperation.” The new policy grants more arbitrary power to prison officials when deciding to lock someone up in the SHU.

Self-sacrifice and the toll of resisting behind bars

Organizing against capitalism while behind bars poses a significant risk to the physical and mental health of politically organized prisoners. While participating in nation-wide hunger strikes in 2011, Heshima Denham lost approximately 45 pounds. Denham’s story is not unique. Many prisoners succumb to the stress on their bodies entirely.

Knowing inmates were experiencing health complications as a result of the hunger strikes, in addition to outright denying strike participants food, the CDCR “revised its medical evaluation policy for hunger strikers to minimize the amount of medical evaluation and data … They have ceased taking vital signs – blood pressure, heart rate, temperature – altogether and are weighing [inmates] only twice a week unless “it appears [they] need it.”

One wonders to what extent retaliatory SHU housing impacts a prisoner’s quality of life and will for freedom. Solitary Watch, a web-based collective with the aim of exposing the realities of solitary confinement, tells the story of Armando Morales (CDCR No. P-80673) who hanged himself to death in his solitary confinement cell at the California State Prison in Corcoran on Aug. 28, 2012. “He was found on his cell floor with a shoelace and a blue blanket wrapped around his neck.” Another inmate housed in Morales’ unit reported Morales was intimidated and threatened by IGI efforts to force him to debrief.

Inmate calls to action

The New Afrikan Revolutionary Nation (NARN) is a community of Black people who seek transformative discourse, nationwide networking and an end to systemic oppression. Their common interest in anti-oppression work unites them, even while behind bars. The NARN Collective Think Tank (NCTT) is active in the torturous SHUs of California’s prison system.

'NARN Collective Think Tank NCTT' logoInspired by the Occupy Wall Street movements across the country, Occupy NCTT works to develop and implement programs, policies and initiatives that align themselves with “Occupy” objectives and community activists globally. The NCTT is a collective that ultimately works toward the day when “freedom, justice, equality and human rights are extended to all mankind,” heavily aligning with the 10 Core Objectives of the global Occupy movement.

Heshima Denham, a very active coordinator of the NCTT, works daily with fellow members to develop “programs that improve the daily lives and material living conditions of the people and contribute to the end of oppression of man/woman by man/woman.” Denham likens systemic oppression to a wooden board, saying the likelihood of shattering that board is far greater when the hand – the fingers representing individual groups resisting oppression – is a clinched fist, as opposed to an open hand of stiff fingers.

Following this rationale, according to Denham, solidarity does not require a monolithic stance. With that, the NCTT seeks to rally solidarity through a central blog for the purposes of networking amongst interest groups, activists and those with the common goal of ending oppression – fortifying the proverbial fist.

NCTT Closed Circuit Economic Initiative

The NCTT Closed Circuit Economic Initiative was born out of the realization that lower income communities – not just Black ones – do not spend money in ways that enrich their own communities. The idea is that a neighborhood is more likely to thrive when that community is self-sufficient and invests close to home. The Closed Circuit Economic Initiative solicits the help of the broader Occupy movement in educating communities about the benefits of investing in one’s own neighborhood and about the program itself.

By surveying the community, organizers will be able to identify which goods and services are of greatest importance to that particular community. Once those goods and services have been identified, the most common good or service will become the basis for a cooperative economic venture in that community, thereby keeping funds circulating within the community for that particular commodity.

Essentially, with each member of the community committing to a minimal monthly financial contribution of even $1, a grocery store would be kept running on a monthly basis until it could sustain itself. The business would be jointly owned by all who contributed, with those who have technical expertise also owning a share and contributing their know-how to the maintenance of the business.

Sixty percent of profits would be paid to members of the community who contributed and 40 percent would be kept in an interest-bearing account. The money from this savings account would then be used to purchase and support additional businesses that support the initial venture.

NCTT Sustainable Community Agricultural Commune

The NCTT is very vocal about the need for accessible, quality food and resources in lower income communities. The Sustainable Community Agricultural Commune relies on alliances with Occupy the Hood and Occupy Wall Street. It calls for a joint effort in taking inventory of all land on a per-community basis – making note of who owns what – for the purpose of converting unused land into community-owned agricultural land. With the incorporation of innovative farming techniques and minimal contributions of community members in the form of labor and/or $1 per month, per resident, the commune would be able to distribute 60 percent of the revenue brought in by the agricultural space and farmers’ markets to community members and utilize the rest of the profits for expansion.

The belief here is that the availability of healthy, affordable food promotes healthy living, creates community-based jobs and lessens the likelihood of incriminating activities associated with the present lack of resources and income in underserved communities.

NCTT Block Vote Initiative

In response to tainted political representation and political corruption, the NCTT proposes a uniform platform centered on interests that generally improve the quality of life for those who seek to dismantle systemic oppression. The idea is that through surveys, public forums, community education and dialogue, the agreed upon will of the people participating in the initiative becomes the national platform for their public political voice.

A Voter Access Fund would work to ensure people are properly registered and prepared to vote. Where a policy or political action is either supported or challenged by the Block Vote Initiative collectively, related public actions would take place to insure sufficient public awareness. The pre-established initiatives would then become a national push for legislation. The proposed initial actions include:

  • A total ban on corporate lobbying and “strategic analysts” during elections;
  • An establishment of community-based parole boards so that the actual community the incarcerated person is returning to is able to make their own decisions about whether or not a prisoner is ready to return home, as opposed to probation decisions being left in the hands of law enforcement, the DA and members of traditional parole boards typically not as interested in community well-being and sustainability;
  • Comprehensive, universal healthcare for those earning under $25,000 and families earning under $50,000.

'Occupy the Beat' graphic by Heshima Denham

Occupy the Beat

The three proposed NCTT initiatives are in need of publicity, funding and organizers. One mode for raising the necessary startup resources is Occupy the Beat, a benefit concert series designed to create awareness about oppression and raise funds for the development of these and future initiatives.

A Nationwide Call to Unity

Heshima Denham explains a ban against media interviewing prisoners has meant endless retaliation by prison authorities and a lack of transparency that leads to increased prisoner vulnerability, especially following the last two hunger strikes. This leaves mainstream media in a position to misrepresent and further “dehumanize” the prison population. Without the protection of direct media attention – and with newly incorporated prison medical procedures for those participating in hunger strikes – prisoners need to mobilize to protect one another from within.

With that, an “Agreement to End Hostilities” was issued to take effect on Oct. 10, 2012, by a group of prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison. The significance of this document is in its call to end racial tensions within prisons for the sake of banding together to demand prison reforms and improved housing conditions. Specifically,

“beginning on Oct. 10, 2012, all hostilities between our racial groups in SHU, ad-seg, general population and county jails will officially cease. This means that from this date on, all racial group hostilities need to be at an end. And if personal issues arise between individuals, people need to do all they can to exhaust all diplomatic means to settle such disputes; do not allow personal, individual issues to escalate into racial group issues!”
The agreement, signed by members of each racial group represented in the prison system, warns inmates of possible administrative retaliation and divisive tactics, but encourages inmates to remain vigilant and move in solidarity.

By taking to heart the experiences shared by Heshima Denham, housed in the Corcoran State Prison’s Secure Housing Unit (SHU), we learn that one of the greatest gestures of support and reassurance of the safety of prisoners who are vocal about their circumstances is constant visibility. The danger and risk associated with being in prison is magnified if at any point a prisoner becomes just another voiceless number.

This notion is not far from the realities underserved communities face daily. The reality is that all evidence points to capitalism. To put it succinctly, yes, solitary confinement is torture; it is a violation of some of the most basic of human rights; and the agents of the state responsible for carrying out this abuse need to be exposed.

Destiny Thomas, a graduate student at the California Institute of Integral Studies studying prison activism with Anthropology Department Chair Andrej Grubacic, can be reached at destinynthomas@gmail.com. Readers are encouraged to write to Heshima Denham, J-38283, Cor SHU 4B-1L-43, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran CA 93212.

CDCR’s Security Threat Group Pilot Program: a document intentionally designed to fail

California’s CDCR’s Security Threat Group Pilot Program (which includes its proposed step down program [S.D.P.] ) is a document intentionally designed to fail. It not only grossly deviates from the behavior-based intent the department swore to the public, legislators, and prisoners subjected to these torture units for the past 10, 20, 30, or 40 years – but actually codifies an expectation of all prisoners to become state informants in the service of maintaining these torture units in violation of already established law.


As you can see on the “Reporting S.T.G. involvement” segment of the “Step Down Program” in the official CDCR press release ( see illustration below, marked with our *, page 4), CDCR has codified an expectation that one becomes a “confidential informant,” qualitatively no different than debriefing. They state in clear language that prisoners “have the responsibility to report S.T.G.  or criminal activity when known or observed by you.”
This is informing, snitching, ratting and will result in someone else being subjected to years of torture. They go on to state:

“This process is not intended to compromise your safety, but to enhance your safety through the identification and removal of those involved in S.T.G. or criminal activities.”

This is an intentional lie. By CDCR’s own admission, one of the primary reasons they have maintained these torture units and created ‘sensitive needs yards’ is that such informing will incur violent retaliation against suspected informants. Their inclusion of this provision has a more insidious purpose related to their Schenerian behavior modification program, but for purposes of this discussion we’ll stick to the 8th Amendment violation inherent in this action by the state.

In Griffinv. Gomez, the U.S. Northern District Court held,

“The crushing conditions of the SHU present an overwhelming incentive for an inmate to risk debriefing… (and) [CDCR’s] refusal to reconsider the classification of former gang members who are unwilling to risk retaliation (for informing) renders their segregation effectively permanent (Docket no. 120, at 8). It is this mutual reinforcement that extended (prisoners) stay in the SHU for over 20 years… Further confinement is tantamount to indefinite administrative segregation for silence – an intolerable practice in modern society.”


The court accordingly found this compulsory requirement to inform violates the 8thAmendment of the U.S. Constitution, yet here we see CDCR not only expanding it outside the confines of the debriefing process, but codifying it as an expectation for inclusion in the S.D.P., something no principled man or woman currently consigned to these torture units will submit to under anycircumstance, and CDCR is fully aware of this fact. They are fully aware that it ciolates established law. They are fully aware that it violates the U.N. Treaty against Torture and other cruel and degrading treatment… They just don’t care. They are counting on the disinterest and political apathy of youthe people – to turn a blind eye to their maintenance if these torture units in your name, with your tax dollars. The only question facing us as a society is: will you? Only you can answer that question.

Our solidarity always – N.C.T.T.-Cor-SHU
NCTTCorSHU.org

“Reporting STG involvement”