by Michael Zaharibu Dorrough
|Zaharibu, who has been in isolation for 23½ years, was “validated” as a “gang member” and condemned to solitary confinement for having this classic and four other books by renowned authors in his cell and sharing them with other prisoners. Prison authorities labeled these books “gang material.”
I read once that whereupon meeting a poor man who had been falsely accused, Jesus went with him before the magistrate and, having been granted special permission to appear in his behalf, made this address: “Justice makes a nation great, and the greater a nation the more solicitous will it be to see that injustice shall not befall even its most humble citizen. Woe upon any nation when only those who possess money and influence can secure ready justice before its courts! It is the sacred duty of a magistrate to acquit the innocent as well as to punish the guilty.
“Upon the impartiality, fairness and integrity of its courts the endurance of a nation depends. Civil government is founded on justice, even as true religion is founded on mercy.”
This is my 23rd year in isolation, and regardless of how some might try to define what isolation is, I can assure you that after 23 years and in light of the almost constant, non-stop assault on the senses and your humanity, this is isolation. And at least part of what constitutes isolation must be defined according to what it takes and tries to take from you – the suicides, past and present, the surrender of one’s humanity and integrity, qualities that play a large role in becoming informants. It’s not only that people become like Judas when they do so, they become factors, major factors in the continued efforts at destroying and trying to destroy the humanity of us all.
But like many of those of us who have been buried in isolation for decades, I consider myself to be a student and I love democracy. During the hunger strike of Sept. 26-Oct. 12, I had an opportunity to speak to an officer here who stated that treating the humanity of citizens who are in prison with respect is a liberal idea whose time had passed and the people have spoken. Obviously, he considered “the people” to be those who think just as he does and even those citizens who have remained silent on the issue of democracy and justice.
I was not offended by his thinking. I understood it to be that 500-year-old process in which the elitist minority has convinced much of the middle class and working poor majority that their interests are one and the same. The conversation actually reminded me of conversations that Nelson Mandela had with his captors in a South African prison.
Hate and indifference – and it goes by many names: racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, to name just a few – are powerful tools that the ruling class minority has used to keep the majority competing against one another, from jobs to housing to education, even on how we should love and worship. You can see the pathology that it has created in some basic areas.
Hate and indifference – and it goes by many names: racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, to name just a few – are powerful tools that the ruling class minority has used to keep the majority competing against one another.
If you were to ask 5,000 people if they felt that the criminal justice system is biased, 50 percent or more would probably say yes. If you ask those same people if they believed in the death penalty, that same number of people would say yes. Even if you ask that question as it relates to life without parole, as many now do, you are still talking about a system that is biased.
We actually believe that 1) somehow the system has developed separately from the hate and indifference that the country has developed under and 2) that somehow we can leave our own hate and indifference at the front door and be fair and just in how we treat each other. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the historical record clearly bears this out. Hate and indifference is what has robbed us of our ability to look at each other and see a reflection of ourselves.
The only reason why the nation, at least many of us, have failed to see and understand how we have and continue to be affected by the legacy of hate and indifference and the pathology created by it is because it is who and what we are. Movements are crucial to overcoming this pathology.
Movements consist of citizens from different schools of thought – be it cultural, gender, political, economic, spiritual, educational. The thing that brings us all together is that everyone is being subjected to some form of oppression. The actual and spiritual poverty that results from the unequal distribution of wealth is a form of oppression. Movements are supposed to afford us with that crucial opportunity to relate to one another as fellow citizens.
The actual and spiritual poverty that results from the unequal distribution of wealth is a form of oppression.
Hate and indifference is the greatest threat to democracy. Democracy is and can be tolerant of much, but it cannot be subordinate to anything. It is the greater good. We have historically subordinated democracy to our hate and indifference: the unequal distribution of wealth, maintaining wage systems that are shamefully inconsistent with the standard of living, subjecting citizens to long-term isolation – and for many of us it is as a result of our ideas.
My retention in isolation is based on my allegedly being in possession of gang material and providing that material to other prisoners. That gang material was the following books:
1) “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn,
2) “Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880” by W.E.B. Dubois,
3) “Egypt Revisited” by Ivan Van Sertima,
4) “Democracy in Mexico” by Han La Borz,
5) “Democracy Matters” by Cornel West.
The wrongful incarceration of citizens – and a lot of times this too is politically motivated – and the death penalty are all anti-democratic. And when we subordinate democracy and justice to us, as opposed to subordinating ourselves to democracy and justice, believe me, it stops being democracy and justice and it becomes exactly what it has been. These are forms of totalitarianism.
We mentioned in the previous statement that victory will require sacrifice, tenacity and, most importantly, competent strategic insight. That strategic insight must consist of our not only understanding what hate and indifference is, but also how we, individually and collectively, as well as our institutions, have been and continue to be affected psychologically by the legacy of hate and indifference.
The democratic abolitionist struggle demands it of us, and those of us here and in the Pelican Bay SHU, the NCTT, are committed to contributing to meaningful and lasting change. And this is part of what keeps us amongst the sane. We understand, and always have, that the price that we will pay for this is the efforts to silence us, to isolate and destroy us!
We are committed to contributing to meaningful and lasting change. And this is part of what keeps us amongst the sane. We understand, and always have, that the price that we will pay for this is the efforts to silence us, to isolate and destroy us!
But just as we understand this, we also understand that this struggle will also connect us to the Mary Ratcliffs of the world and the other inspiring and courageous citizens and soldiers that we have had the pleasure of meeting. When the officer said that the people have spoken, he was not talking about the Mary Ratcliffs and Sally Bystroffs, the Gabi Pinars and Nakisah Rices, the Ed Meads and Dorsey Nunns, Marilyn McMahons, Carol Strickmans, Penny Schoners, Critical Resistance and Shaka at-Thinnins, the thousands of citizens who comprise the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the People! You are all proof that beauty does exist and you are most appreciated.
Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing. It never has and never will. Those who want to be free must strike the blow!”
Send our brother some love and light: Michael Zaharibu Dorrough, D-83611, 4B-IL-53, P.O. Box 3481, Corcoran, CA 93212. This letter was typed by Adrian McKinney.