Nuh Washington’s Last Birthday, by David Gilbert
The Long Game of An Abolitionist, by The Abolitionist Law Center
Survivors of violence and anti-incarceration activists work together for community safety and well-being in New York State, by Luz Marquez Benbow & Naomi Jaffe
An Open Letter, by Mwalimu Shakur
Nuh Washington’s Last Birthday
By David Gilbert
Nuh Washington, deeply soulful ex-member of the Black Panthers and of the Black Liberation Army who had been a political prisoner for close to 30 years, was dying of liver cancer, a product of Hepatitis C from a blood transfusion decades earlier. He had recently been transferred to Great Meadow Correctional Facility, “Comstock,” where I was imprisoned. As a regular population prisoner, I wasn’t allowed up to the infirmary to see him. In his weakened conditions, he was getting harassed by some mean-spirited correctional officers, but the prisoners who worked in the infirmary did the best they could to look out for him. Through them, I was able to send my love, as well as a warm sweater and some reading material. While I cherished even that level of proximity to beloved Nuh, supporters, led by Nancy Jacot-Bell, were campaigning to get him sent to the regional medical unit at Coxsackie, which also had a hospice program, to get better care and less harassment. Thankfully, they succeeded before too long, but first, Nuh’s 59th birthday was due on February 28th, 2000.
Leading activists in the Jericho Amnesty Movement organized a visit for his birthday. Safiya Bukhari and Paulette D’Auteuil picked up Nuh’s mother and brother and drove up to Comstock. His family signed in to see Nuh, who was brought down from the infirmary in a wheelchair; Paulette and Safiya for me. The Comstock visiting room was one of the least accommodating in the state. Instead of the more intimate tables at almost all facilities, visits were across a long, wide counter, but on this special occasion that proved to be a blessing. The C.O. in charge of the visiting room was an unusually decent guy, and he seated us right next to each other, which wouldn’t ordinarily happen. That also had the advantage for the C.O. that when Nuh had to go to the bathroom, I could assist him rather than having to call for an orderly from the infirmary. So Nuh and I sat next to each other on one side of the counter and the four lively visitors on the other. We had a truly spirited birthday party. We weren’t mourning his terminal illness, we were celebrating being together, with lively political discussions, remembering old times, jokes and laughter. A few minutes before regular visiting hours ended, a prisoner orderly, one who really respected Nuh, came down to take him back up to the infirmary. As Nuh was being wheeled away, I said to him, one more time, “Happy Birthday!” He looked back at me, his eyes glistening with joy and said, “It has been!”
Shortly after that Nuh was transferred to Coxsackie. He died on April 28, 2000. His immense contribution to the struggle and his shining spirit live on.
The Long Game of An Abolitionist
By Abolitionist Law Center
The Abolitionist Law Center is an abolition organization first and foremost. That means we are committee to ending incarceration which is in line with our purpose as we engage in litigation on behalf of people whose human rights have been violated in prison, produces educational programs to inform the general public about the evils of mass incarceration, and works to develop a mass movement against the American penal system by building alliances and nurturing solidarity across social divisions. However, we still are aware of the precarious position we are in. Many of our comrades are faced with decision of accepting incremental reforms and partnering with people and organizations are not in line with the abolitionist movement. First, we realize and understand those who have the lived experiences within in this system must do what is best for them. We, however, understand the goal for us is a complete and utter destruction of the incarceration system and all its iterations across the globe. This means we make difficult decisions not to partner with some organizations while partnering with other reform based activists to raise awareness and advocate for abolition centered practices.
While we do not engage in cancel culture, we do call out those who are in this work to advocate for policies that do not further harm and stigmatize others. The reality is that reform only serves as temporary harm reduction. A system based on the subjugation and desecration of bodies may not be reformed. A system built on xenophobia and anti-Blackness is not trying to change but transform into a palatable evil that is easier to digest. What reformers have is the public support and connections that many abolitionists may never have. they are able to raise the consciousness of stakeholders and decision makers. they are able to move the neoliberal pulse away from incarcerating people in cages, from transferring to electronic monitoring, from putting more people on registries to restorative and transformative justice. But that does not mean we will be there with them every step of the way. We are in an adversarial, not collaborative, position with those who seek to continue the enslavement and destruction of those we love. This system is not ours. We did not make it. We did not create it. We did not aid it. We will NOT reform it. We plan to abolish it.
We will not pick and choose who is worthy of redemption who deserves to be discarded. We want all cages destroyed. We want all lives valued. We understand state violence and police enforcement will not save us. We understand there are those who have committed violent, heinous who have never entered a courtroom or a jail cell. We will not be subjected to sensationalism that forces us to choose who we see as human. We welcome reformers to join us in our fight. However, we are clear about our positions. We also require those who work alongside us to actually do the work whether it is litigating on behalf of those denied access to care or hiring those returning home with living wages. Every day we learn how reform seeks to keep Black and Brown bodies under state surveillance and control. We see how reform keeps those bound with shackles of fees and fines. We see the limitations of reform. We also understand the desperation people have for a win. With the threat of mandatory minimums returning and the stacking of charges creating defacto death by incarceration sentences, we understand how this system destroys people’s souls. We realize reform gives people hope, and we do not seek to take that away from anyone. What we are trying to do is create transformative justice. What we are trying to do is help the masses unlearn their connections with the state and protections. So there are times we work with reform movements. there are times we join the neoliberal approach to challenge unjust laws and change policies. But, abolition is our goal. It should be yours too.
Survivors of violence and anti-incarceration activists work together for community safety and well-being in New York State
By Luz Marquez Benbow & Naomi Jaffe
Luz Marquez Benbow, adult survivor of child sexual abuse, incest and rape; and founder of #I am Negrx: Black Latinidad Building in Siblinghood to end Child Sexual Abuse and all forms of Sexual Violence; and Naomi Jaffe, prison family member and co-founder of New York State Prisoner Justice Network.
The criminal INjustice system and its promoters claim that it exists for the safety of society and the protection of crime victims. But communities experiencing both interpersonal violence and state violence know better. In New York State, organizations fighting against mass incarceration have teamed up with survivors of violence and sexual abuse to explode that myth.
On New York State Parole Justice Advocacy Day in 2019, Luz Marquez Benbow, survivor and part of a national movement of survivor leaders for justice, addressed a crowd of parole justice advocates and legislators in the Capitol in Albany. One of the legislators started to leave as soon as his own speech was over. Luz confronted him: “You can’t leave, you haven’t heard from the community yet.” He stayed. Luz said that the system of mass incarceration is not what crime survivors want or need. She pointed out that survivors of crime and those incarcerated for committing crimes often come from the same communities and can even be the same person. Luz told the advocates,
“For many survivors of crime from communities of color, communities that are financially disenfranchised and often overlooked, our voices have been missing from this critical dialogue about crime reform in New York State. We are the most harmed by violence and the criminal justice system. We hold the answers to ending violence. Diverse and underrepresented survivors of crime want policies that work, not more punishment and incarceration, which is why we support parole justice. Mass incarceration has failed to meet the needs of crime victims or stop the cycle of crime. If we continue to respond to trauma with more trauma from punitive criminal justice measures, violence will continue to rise. We deserve a justice system that is effective and can truly make everyone safer.”
Luz went on to describe the kinds of policies that would really address the needs of crime victims and their communities – investments in community healing and building, education, jobs, health, housing, and transformative justice processes which would prevent crime before it starts by creating hope in place of despair, well-being and accountability in place of marginalization.
Crime victims, especially Women of Color, have long spoken and written about what would work for them and for society as a whole instead of the racialized culture of punishment and revenge. Those voices, long suppressed and ignored, are becoming a crucial part of the narrative opposing mass incarceration. They force legislators to question the myth that mass incarceration benefits crime victims. And they remind justice advocates to not only fight to end mass incarceration, but to focus simultaneously on building community-centered policies and programs that would truly heal and benefit the communities most impacted by violence.
An Open Letter
By Mwalimu Shakur
While we throughout the prison slave kamps in this country attempt to re-educate our New Afrikan Nation in every field of study that will allow us to grow, develop, and create our own unique way to prosperity, it will also take the help of our inner city community to lend a hand with this much-needed endeavor. We’ve been transforming these kamps into revolutionary schools of thought for decades, but as you know our fascist oppressors have been trying to sabotage our efforts, with state sanctioned murder of our leaders, to long-term isolation practices, as well as sowing discord amongst conscious prisoners who wage the right to challenge their conditions.
What we need is outside support from those in the community who want to get to know us who (for some) will be returning back into society, and a lot of us suffer from illness such as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and will need to build relationships with our future friends who we can very well be working side by side with as activists, organizers, and wherever a need is in order to meet it.
Some of us are taking self-help groups to learn how to be sociable again and get used to being around people in big settings. I for one have taken a paralegal course, and now specialize in civil litigation where I can be of use in the legal field to help change these ridiculous laws that are designed to further oppress the oppressed. In closing I’d like to as, do you feel making connections across prison walls is necessary? If so, I look forward in getting to know you, and building with you so we the 99% can make Amerikkka great again.
Anyone wishing to correspond, my contact info is listed below, what I believe, is creating programs that are self-sufficient will stop the problems we are facing today.
S/N Terrance E. White
CSP Cor. 3B05-229
PO Box 2466
Corcoran, CA 93212