Solidarity: Anarchist Prisoners

Our work renews our fidelity to freedom and a life in common. It affirms to us, in our doubt and confusion, that anarchy lives in our day to day lives and connects us to a rich and vibrant history of free spirited revolt. It asserts that anarchy will be combative or it will be dead. Solidarity with anarchist prisoners is not, for us, a humorless endeavor, a duty-infected routine. It is generative play and the substantiation of free community. Will you join us? - Call For June 11th 2021

When I think of Anarchist prisoner support, I think mostly of pain. The pain of those locked up, the pain of those supporting imprisoned loved ones, and the pain of fighting day after day within the Leviathan that is the prison system. The stories I’ve heard of longtime prison supporters seem to confirm this image, illuminating a path of constant grinding through bureaucracy, prison fuckery, and bullshit all so that their people don’t end up being tortured, starved, or killed (any more than is usual in prison). But surely that isn’t the only experience out there for prison support.

I tend to agree with the June 11th folks, that if something becomes solely a duty, a “humorless endavor”, then it often becomes a dead thing for all involved, and the opportunity for solidarity to become drudgery and duty seems to increase 1000 fold in the context of prison support. So, with that in mind, I’m interested in how folks who have done prison solidarity, are doing prison solidarity, been adjacent to it, or were the recipient of prison solidarity feel about this dynamic.

What kept you going while doing prison support, even when it felt hopeless? Was it sheer will? Small victories? Where and when did you feel joy while doing it? How might we do prison solidarity differently, to avoid at least some of the pitfalls of duty? Should we shift our focus from letter-writing, noise demos and such to prison breaks? Dropping weapons into prison yards via drone a la Sean Swain? Or should we jump on the "prison abolition will save us" bandwagon? Tell me!

There are 27 Comments

is my favorite. especially sneaky sabotage, the sugar in the gas tank that no one knows is there. the metal in the random tree among trees that are planned for cutting. of course that sort of thing has encouraged the surveillance that watches over us at all times now, but...

Sugar in the gas tank was proven to not work so well. The best it'll do is to clog the fuel filter, which ain't as devastating as the purported effect of destroying the engine. Water is proven to do more damage, as it will fuck up the injectors and cause a bunch of compression and temperature problems that will kill the engine when the water is "ingested". But maybe you need a lot of water.

Nails in trees seem to be effective against logging operations, but that's a shit load of work. How about doing like they do in Fairy Creek these days, which allows for more people to meetup up, have a blockade party, and potentially cause a wider political/media mess? So I did these nightly clandestine actions too, and sometimes you ain't got many more choices, tho aboveground actions tends to have more returns than those claimed by the cause for struggle.

This looks like a call to action, but I don't understand what action they are calling for.

Long time prisoner supporter here.

Prisoner support can , in fact, be drudgery. Even when it is not drudgery, a genuine commitment to it can be consuming: it consumes money, time, and emotional energy and attention that could be spent elsewhere, on things that are more reciprocal.

The way I navigate that is, essentially, to choose to support people who I hope to be able to create a life-long friendship with. Not soley because of their political affiliation or whatever action they are accused of committing. But because they seem like people worthy of knowing, based on their interests, ideas, ideals, sense of humor, music/book/movie taste, life story, and more.

Because of this, when I do prisoner support, I try to choose to focus on VERY few people at a time. At this point that looks like 1-3 at a time. This turns my “activism” into a personal relationship. And personal relationships are easier to put energy into, compared with some other forms of prisoner support.

As for *dealing* with any drudgery that may happen when cultivating a friendship with a person behind bars, all I can is meat-space personal relationships can be drudgery too, no fucking doubt about it. So how does one maintain a “real life” relationship through hard times? One maintains their “prison” relationships the same way. I can only use silly words here but one does this through fondness, affection, depth of emotion, loyalty, and other touchy feelzies.

Whenever a relationship with a friend (in prison or outside) turns to drudgery, you should ask yourself *why* and how much of that drudgery is your friend’s *personal* fault. If the drudgery is through the burden of system, and not through a lack on the part of your personal friend...then what are you even tripping about here?

Let me go back to the idea that a prison relationship is hard because it lacks “reciprocity”. This seems true, but also isn’t at all. Even the best relationships are not always equally reciprocal at the same time. When I choose to support someone, it is based on the idea that I am attempting to cultivate a life long friendship. This means my prisoner support is not broad, but it is deep.

In order to commit to prisoner support in the long term , I think one has to do something hard: you have to decide who you want to be, and then get the fuck out of your own way in becoming that person. Do you wanna be someone who talks about doing something, or do you wanna be the person who does it? And *WHEN* you do something do you wanna do it in a half-assed noncommittal, whiney-baby way because the thing you are trying to do is hard, or you want to fully commit to it?

And last but not least, the way to turn “prisoner support” from the dead act of an activist, you have to remember one thing. Just like in an outside-life relationship, a friendship that leaves you unfilled should be dropped. That is why asking yourself about the *cause* of this unfulfillment, this drudgery, is so important. If a prisonfriend sucks, let that relationship go and find a new prisonfriendship to cultivate. Sadly, there is no end to prisoners. But If your friend doesn’t suck, don’t let the bastards get you down. Show up for your friend.

Someone I know says “To get a friend you have to be a friend”. Decide the kind of friend you want to be, and who you want to be friends with, and get about doing it.

I realize this model I am discussing has nothing to do with letter writing campaigns or noise demos. It’s a much more personal model. But it works for me and prevents too much “drudgery” from arising. It’s also fairly effective in actually helping prisoners.

If you don’t like what you are doing or who you are doing it with, change one or both of those things until you feel satisfied.

Thanks for writing this. Also a long-term prisoner supporter here, and everything you said is dead-on. I've stuck with a handful of (mostly anarchist) prisoners for going on a decade. It's enabled me to provide consistent correspondence, emotional presence, and material support. I've done more broad-based support for prisoners, particularly those involved in prison rebellion, and this proved unsustainable for me (though I have nothing but admiration for those who aid those in prison who choose to rebel).

While much of my initial contact with people in prison was because they are anarchists, those relationships that I've sustained have transcended politics and become friendships, as you mention. There are plenty of anarchist prisoners I wrote to but didn't jive with, and those relationships didn't last, just like any "non-prison" relationship. Maybe this is too simplistic, but friendship > politics? Politics can be a starting point though.

To end: lots of the US anarchist prisoners are really wonderful humans & I'm lucky to know them.

Thanks @news for making this the topic this week.

prisoner support, is i think it's iffy when you bring politics and ideology into the mix. There are a total of 2 prisoners who i've tried-to/helped, i enjoyed it both times but i think there are many non-anarchist prisoners who could use my support as well: how to choose? What has sustained your desire to help prisoners?

If you're curious, one of them was an anarchist prisoner who i learned about through fire ant, the other was someone i ran into on the street who told me they were going to prison in a couple of hours.

I honestly think anarchist prisoners are actually WAY BETTER supported than the average prisoner. I am totally happy to support non-anarchist prisoners. I absolutely encourage it, in fact. One way to choose is to either ask an anarchist prisoner you know to recommend someone in their prison who needs support. Most people have a friend who’s down for 10+ years and has no friends or family outside talking to them.

I also find staying “within” the same prison helpful. At this point, I recognize the voices of many of the prison staff because I have called so many times. I have even visited the prison. This means I know the ins and outs of that prison and their particular brand of bullshit very well. I am able to learn from my mistakes and save time when trying to solve issues: I know who to talk to, and how to talk to them. I know where to find their written rules on their website so I can cite the code they are breaking straight from their own regulation book.

This saves me time, effort, and energy. And it makes engaging in this kind of activity more sustainable for me.

Don’t set insane goals for yourself. Tell yourself you will find one prisoner who shares an interest you have that no one else cares about (I chose this guy cause he has been to my hometown, which is insane cause it’s tiny). Set a low goal (1 postcard a month, 5 photos a month, $10 a month, whatever) and just make it a habit.

Less is more when you do less MORE OFTEN, if that makes sense. Tell yourself you’ll send $50 and it’ll be 6 months before you have a spare $50. Send $10 a month for 6 months and you just sent more money to the prisoner in the second scenario. Say you’ll write a novel and you’ll procrastinate until you guilt spiral and then never send anything. But send 1 10-sentence postcard a month, and your friend get 10 new photos to look at a year.

Whatever you do and whoever you do it with: just do it. We all need people we can rely on, cry on, throw down with, bro down with. And a friendship forged in the fire of prison support can be one of the strongest closest bonds you can share with someone, if you choose to engage in this activity in that way.

i gave $100 to the non-anarchist prisoner who i supported by looking them up through their name and depositing it in their commissary. As someone who's more of a prison insider, what can tell me about this? I only knew about it through watching "orange is the new black", which i don't consider to be a wonderful source of real information, lol

I could tell you a LOT about commissary. What are your questions about it though?

Unfortunately, given how the US has semi-privitaized our prison system, a lot of the information I could tell you about the specifics of depositing money might be useless. Not every prison uses the same private companies for everything. When it comes to depositing money, I always use western union because it gets there fastest, and frankly, I have a digital calender that sends me a reminder once a month. So when I get the reminder on my phone I just transfer the money...also oh my phone. Welcome to the new convenient capitalist hellscapre kids. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So anyway, I could tell you more, but I'm not sure what you questions are. Do you want to know what they can spend the money on? They can spend it on far more than food. Do you want to know how to send money? That could depend on the prison, but probably western union is a good bet for any of them. Do you want to know something else?

Give me an idea of what you want to know and I'll tell you what I can.

i was more or less curious about which knowledge about the commissary could i use to better the prisoner or myself, if there are any situations where the commissary is not the best route to go etc., after i deposited the money for the prisoner i was talking about, i was kinda anxiously wondering whether the prisoner would even be notified that they now have money to spend in the corporate prison store, lol...but i figured worst case scenario he would get a check for the amount after released from prison. He told me his sentence was a year which would mean he was released by now hypothetically...

all the kafka problems of helping prisoners would be enough by themselves to make one unhappy...

Well, first:

When you send money using WU/moneygram/ the Jpay/whatever you know for sure they get the money. Whether or not the prisoner gets an actual notice telling them who sent the money—that seems to vary. But regardless, your friend will know they have money when they check their balance.

As for “commissary not being the best route to go”, well, there IS no other route. You cannot send money or books or gifts or, at this point, even letters, postcards, or photos directly to prisoners. You send all of these things through third party companies (amazon, western union, shutterfly, there are even companies you can pay to send handwritten letters FOR you).

When I have asked my friends they say they want books more than money. However, I usually find they need both but won’t ask for money directly. So personally, I set a budget of how much I am willing and able to send my friends. Then I divide that in half and send half books and half money. Your friend may have family that supports them, and you may find they prefer books. Or maybe they don’t like to read but want to look at photos to escape. So maybe they want a magazine subscription.

Each person has different preferences and desires. The way to support people best is to ask what they need and want and then try to give them that.

But when it comes to getting prisoners money specifically, there is only one choice: commissary.

Western Union is...

- literally the FBI

- pricey

So perhaps it is fast and "reliable", yet very limiting in terms of who you can send to and for what purpose.

When sending money to prisoners, you (usually) have three options: you may use western union, you may use money gram, or you may get a money order and mail it to a central processing location for it to be logged and processed.

You cannot mail money or money orders to the prisoner directly.

So when it comes to using WU/WU being the FBI: we are talking about MAILING MONEY TO SOMEONE IN JAIL. Anything you send them is *already* logged and tracked. Currently, my friend doesn't even get letters from me: they make photo copies of the letters and give him a cooy of the letter. Ostensibly they keep and file the original letter, though likely they throw it away unless it’s interesting to them.

I always find it amusing when someone comes out and tells me some bullshit about “THE FBI IS WATCHING”. Uh yeah bruh. I know. I am a known anarchist writing anarchists in prison. Lol. I want my diabetic friend to be able to pay for healthy snacks when he needs them, not eat the sugar and salt ridden trash in the chow hall. And I don’t want the petty dictators who rule his life to “lose” the money or withhold it, or make it take more than 6 weeks to get to him. I want him to have money when he needs it.

But oh wait, I forgot! We’re posturing about whose more down or more clandestine or more knowledgeable. Hahah.

So tell me, Mx. Experienced-Prison-Supporter, how do YOU send money to the people you support and what do you do when the prison guards fuck with your friends by “losing”/delaying money your friend needs to live, as the state would be just as happy to let him die in a diabetic coma? Just curious! Give me a better system and I will employ it.

Or maybe stop flexing on a topic you obviously have no experience with. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Normally I don’t bother to respond to comments like this, or honestly LEAVE comments at all. I have probably been using this site since you were a teenager (if you aren’t currently one) and I have never left a comment before. But this is a topic that I am both passionate about and informed on, and I would prefer not to let your ignorance stand unchallenged, as your ignorance could prevent people in prison getting help, support, and supplies they desperately need.

But wait, tell me again how WU is the FBI. DUH—that's why the prisons make you use them, you asshat. But Please. Tell me more. I eagerly await your wisdom. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

I sense I hit a cord somewhere... Feeling bad that I attacked the credibility of your State-run money transfer schemes?

How about local prisoner support groups taking the money from whatever transfer means/services and then just bringing the equivalent to the commissary? Yeeeeeeaaaahhh! That's possible right? It's called "downstream payments" or "hawala" in Arabic, and organizations have been doing it since forever to support their prisoners. Kinda like what ABC has been doing, to some extent, yet their means of transfer are somewhat still limited and State-controlled. But how about every local support group acting as a buffer for downstream payments, so to avoid traceability? No! That's be too fancy! And paranoid, duh!

What's with all those paranoids who don't like being traced and surveiled by the State? Wtf! The State OWNS us from the start, DUH!

I pondered responding, because again: why argue with a stranger on the internet? So here is my last reponse:

1. If I go way far out of my way to give you the benefit of the doubt, at best you're making a comment about a kind of prisoner support that has NOTHING in common with what I'm talking about. I'm not talking about annoymous interactions through groups, I'm talking about literally visiting people in prison. So, you're point is, at best, moot.
2. You make assumptions that there ARE "local" prisoner support groups either where I'm at or where my friends are at. There aren't.
3. What is with all these comments here are about people "bringing things to the commissary directly"? Again, American prisons are different. There are federal and state prisons, not to mention county jails. There are maximum security prisons. There are medical prisons. They each have privitaized using different companies and different policies. Some things are standard, most things are not. The idea that you can "go to the commissary directly" makes an assumption about each model.
4. And finally, the issue with anything that involes 17 steps before you accomplish a goal means it's unlikely to be a habitual pattern of action. Sure, you can..go get cash, bike it down to the local prisoner support group, have that group turn it into a money order, have that group mail that money order to a central processing location, and then have that central processing location drag their happy asses putting money on the prisoners books...but that doesn't address any of the points I made about the petty dictators abusing your friends by withholding/losing/delaying/etc money.

But I dunno why I'm trying to take time to explain this to you. Do whatever, with whomever, however you choose. But to respond to my well thoughtout argument about developing an extremely close relationship with a prisoner where they call you, you visit them, you write them letters, you email them, you send them books, and you send them money to then tell me that...I should....essentially launder my donations through an outside group to maintain an entirely pointless charade misses some basic fucking points in the model that I'm talking about. But whatever. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I forgot to mention—personal checks are not allowed.

So you may go to the bank/the convenience store and pay 2-3 to send a money order for $10, and then put it in an envelope and buy a stamp ($0.60) and then cross your fingers and wait and hope for 6 weeks that your friend will get the money or you can spend $3 in processing fees and your friend will get it the next day.

The stare is privatizing everything they can to make tracking prisoners and their associates more easily. But you’d already know that if you regularly wrote prisoners.

commissary through the prison website. I'm pretty sure i got charged a fee like you would through WU.

So that's another thing: books. I sent the anarchist prisoner 2 books addressed to his cell, and was worried that maybe the guards threw my package away since he didn't write me back. Are you saying in your other post that doing it through a third party like Amazon is a way to ensure that they get it?

Yeah dude because sometimes drugs are infused into the paper as liquids and then dried and posted to prisoners. I suppose one has to have done time or been a drug fiend at some time to know this huh? You can't send cakes or loaves of bread for obvious reasons right?

shipped from publishers. doesn't have to be amazon. but there is never a guarantee that prisoners will get anything, let's be clear.
also, some books/papers are sent back for content reasons, including pictures of naked bodies among other things. a copy of black seed got sent back because of artwork that had non-photographic art work that included dicks.

Wow, like drawings of dicks were not permitted, was that a male or female prison?

men's prison, and it was a painting.

That is so damn petty and puritan, but that's the whole point isn't it, to cleanse the evil minds of the prisoner's of filthy carnal thoughts that could lead to homosexual tendencies.

Again, not all prisons are the same.

There are federal and state prisons, and county jails. There are maxiumum security prisons and medical centers and juvenile detention centers and more. Each prison is different. Glad the prison your friend was at let you give money directly through the prison website, they don't all do that.

Same with book policies and shit. Each prison has different rules about the kinds of books they will accept and the companies they will accept them with. Whenever possible, people should of course buy books from local anarchist publishers like LBC and send books. And I never buy books from amazon directly (for a variety of reasons) though I have used amazon to buy used books from 3rd party sellers. But actually, not all prisons accept used books. Or they change their mind on that.

When it comes to prison support, really, there isn't a lot of consistent information to give other than: Find a friend. ask them what they need. Research the regulations at the prison they are at. And then follow the regulations. That's pretty much all it takes to do some solid shit for your friends who are locked up.

Like Aerial (Ariel?) of Anews Podcast once said, it's safe to assume that most people are bad by default. The hippie assumption that "everybody good, and u bad if you say otherwise" is problematic, as it gives a waiver for the untrustworthy people to do whatever shit. Being of bad-faith irl can be explained by several factors often related to a bad education from parents, and rooted in a lack of a well-built Superego.

What does that mean for international solidarity, with faceless people for the most part? Everything. And even for international organizations like Secours Rouge (for the commies) you may get a lot of bad-faith behavior among their ranks, due to hierarchical gimmicks or whatever. It's dealing with people you don't know, so where the mechanism preventing from corrupt, dishonest behavior?

So basically the best models to follow for int'l solidarity would be the worst examples for anarchists. i.e. jihadist groups and mafias/cartels, who got harsh measures in place for the deadbeats and other bad-faith participants, so they'll be, oddly, the most internally-honest and trustworthy organizations around. I mean trust is at the very core of their discipline. This one of the main reasons some drug gangs get bigger, as their members don't screw up, and don't rat them out. They got a strong web of trust.

Add new comment