On the Passing of Nelson Mendela : SHU Political Prisoners in AmeriKKKa

Phillip Standin... - Posted on 14 January 2014

Jose Villarreal/ POOR Magazine Pelican Bay SHU Correspondent

Editors Note: Jose is one of several power-FUL PNN Plantation prison correspondents who was involved in the Hunger Strike to end all solitary confinement and the in-human treatment of all of our incarcerated brothers and sisters.


December 19, 2013

In recent days we’ve seen the passing of Nelson Mandela.  Many prisoners here in SHU can relate to his struggles against a settler state and his being held as a political prisoner for over 20 years.

There are many similarities between prisoners living as political prisoners under an oppressor nation, no matter if the prisoner is in Amerikka, Palestine, or Apartheid South Africa.  When a settler state is securely embedded in the host nation, it will criminalize large swaths of the population, and particularly its most rebellious sector.  Aztlán, New Afrika, and the First Nations face not only occupation of our land by the settler state, but our peoples face oppressive laws that work to criminalize us, and then, once imprisoned, those captives who continue to resist and develop a consciousness face what I call a “dungeonization.”  This is most acute in Amerikka’s Supermax prisons, whether they are called a SHU, SMU, etc.

The truth is SHU prisoners are overwhelmingly qualified to be called political prisoners.  Like Mandela, any one of us can be released from isolation today if we would be willing to make up stuff and incriminate others, but like Mandela we refuse to aid the settler state and compromise another.  For this, we experience torture from our oppressor.  It is true that not everyone was conscious prior to arriving to the Pelikkan Bay Death Kamp.  Many have broken with bourgeois ideology in these torture chambers despite the odds and nature of this kamp.  Either way, we are held in this torture center not for actions or wrongdoing but for thought crimes—that is, our beliefs oppose the state and this is our crime.

The state propaganda spews their hate messages aimed at poor folks.  They say we are the “worst of the worst” and deserve to be tortured.  I have heard their spokespeople call us everything in the book and scare the public.  I came to prison for a nonviolent petty dope case.  I’m not ashamed of this because it just shows that people held in the Pelikkan Bay SHU have petty dope cases, and yet they talk of the “worst of the worst.” It was only while in prison- while I made the leap in consciousness and began to rise up for prisoner’s rights and attempt to conscientize my fellow prisoners- that I was snatched up out of the general population and placed in solitary confinement in SHU with a bogus gang label.  My past drug history also reflects that the enormous odds stacked against poor folks cannot stop our development, because even when we die our spirit of resistance lives on in those we touch.

Today, the “drug war” is blamed on the poor colonized folks in the barrio, ghetto, or reservation.  These lumpenfolks are blamed for the dope because they may be caught with a small quantity, but drugs have always been controlled by the state.  We’ve seen a glimpse of this come out in the 1980s with the Iran/contra debacle, where it came out that U.S. agencies were bringing in dope.  But today Amerikkka blames Mexico for its dope problem.

The drug exports from Mexico to the U.S. began as far back as the 1870s when Chinese settlers in Western Mexico began to cultivate and then export “Adormidera” (opium gum) into the US and beyond.   When prohibition kicked in, it attempted to halt Adormidera as well as liquor from entering Amerika, but instead this created an underground economy and a tidal wave of corruption in Mexico, from police to military and, of course, bourgeois politicians.  Contrary to media claims, most of the people who were sending dope into the U.S. were bankers, governors, and, of course, businessmen who used their contacts with U.S. counterparts, who they schmoozed at state functions.  For over a hundred years this was business as usual.  It was only when they were cut out of the action that it became an “epidemic.” Like everything else Amerika does, when you are of no more use the honeymoon is over.

The same goes for the treatment of migrants, when they are needed the door is open, and then the time is right, whole families are deported without a blink of an eye.  During World War I many Amerikan industries discouraged Mexicanos from coming to Amerika.  At this time, many Mexicanos were deported as the Amerikan economy declined, even U.S. corporations pushed for deportation, like in 1920 when the Ford motor company sent 3,000 of its Mexicano workers back to Mexico— at company expense!(Meier & Rivers, p. 142).  Today we see a rekindling of this atmosphere and national contradictions are once more sharpening up.  Out in society migrants are being deported and facing “show me your papers” laws, while chicanos in prison are facing “the new greaser laws,” where our culture is once again criminalized.

We live with our barrios and hoods being policed like interment kamps.  I read an article where an ex NYPD officer who became a whistleblower described even his experience being stopped and frisked as a child living in the Bronx.  He said, “it happens often enough that the mere sight of an NYPD car pulling up to the curb triggered an almost Pavlovian response! Before the officers had even exited their vehicle, Serrano and his friends would have their hands on the wall” (Gonnerman, 2013).

Some people may not grasp what this whistleblower explained, but I think anyone who grew up in the barrio or ghetto understands this very well.  Our youth are not just developing this Pavlovian response, but psychologically this is imprinting in our youth that they are colonized and living under a brutal occupation.  Let’s be honest here—we have all come to know what occurs when even youth do not obey the pig.  It results in death, as we seen with Andy Lopez, Oscar Grant, Trayvon, etc, etc.

We know that white supremacy is a prime factor to us living under a settler state, however we need to also see that this is only a manifestation of living in capitalist Amerikkka. In Eugene Puryear’s new book “Shackled and Chained” he gets at this very clearly when he writes,

“white supremacy and racism are not floating in the air as independent and anonymous forces with the power to restructure society.  They operate in tandem with, and ultimately are subservient to, the evolving capitalist economic structure” (Puryear, 2013, p.46).

This is an important thing to understand, because simply focusing on racism is not going to completely eradicate oppression.  For this we need to rip oppression out by its capitalist roots.  It is from this poisonous tree where all forms of oppression spring forth. Settlerism is not a spontaneous phenomenon, so we need to get to the heart of the matter.  Prisoners too must see past our immediate conditions in order to being to gain real traction in these dungeons.

For the past 12 days I have had no light in my cell, so not only am I kept in a windowless torture chamber, but now I am in the dark unable to read, or draw.  It is not enough for the settler state to have me in solitary confinement without touching another human being or being able to see outside of a brick tomb, but now I am also kept in the dark without a light.   This is a concrete example of the repression we face for speaking up against injustice, for filing lawsuits against human rights abuses, and participating in hunger strikes.  For this we are retaliated on in this most cruel way.

I have started the appeal process and I will increase my means of resistance as time passes.  These methods of psychological warfare and cruelty will never hamper my determination to continue in struggle.  I know that my actions are always in the right, and no forms of abuse will ever change this.  The Peruvian revolutionary Jose Carlos Mariategui said something that captured the essence of why prisoners are developing under such cruel conditions when he wrote,

“I am no impartial and objective critic.  My judgments are nourished from my ideals, my sentiments, my passions.  I have a strong and declared aim: to contribute to the creation of a Peruvian socialism” (Mariategui, 1928, p. 6).

Prisoners too are nourished from our ideals and fueled by the brutal conditions of the oppressor’s criminal injustice system.  In these dungeons our resistance is forged.


                        Free Aztlán!

Jose H. Villarreal


1)    Matt S. Meier & Feliciano Rivers, “The Chicanos: A History of Mexican Americans” pg 142.

2)    Jennifer Gonnerman, New York Magazine, May 27th, 2013 “officer Serrano’s Hidden Camera.”

3)    Eugene Puryear, “Shacked and Chained: mass incarceration in capitalist America” pg 46, PSL Publications, 2013

4)    Joe Carlos Mariategui, 7 ensayos de interpretación de la realidad peruana (Lima, 1928), pg. 6.


To read Jose Villarreal's recent poem "The Settler Is The Same Under Any Moon", click here:http://www.poormagazine.org/node/5011


Sign-up for POOR email!