” Virginia Took Away Parental Rights That Prison Used To Be a Plantation ” – Safiya Bukhari
Safiya BukhariState Repression and the Black Struggle: Former PP Pow former Black Pantherand Black Liberation Army leader who spent close to nine years in prison in Virginia.Now the co-chair of the New York City Free Mumia Coalition and an international organizer of the Jericho Movement, she continues to struggle to
free hundreds of political prisoners of war and to fight for the liberation of
her people long live The Amistad Collective-BLA.
Safiya Bukhari: I tell people straight up that it was the New York Police Department that made me decide to join the Black Panther Party. In college
I supported the war in Vietnam. I was so far to the right it was ridiculous. I
was writing essays on “Why we should be in Vietnam.” But by the time the
summer of 1969 was over, in November, I was in the party.
Imani Henry: What work did you do with the Panthers?
SB: As part of my work, we did community self-defense, communityorganizing, the breakfast programs, the liberation schools. I did welfarerights organizing. The welfare rights organization that came into existencecame out of a lot of the work we did organizing welfare mothers. I soldpapers in my community because papers were very important. That’s how
you got the information out. I taught political education classes.
The Underground BLA-Amistad Collective , Prisoner of war ( Virginia Shoot Out and Capture )
I made the decision not to go to the grand jury and I wentunderground in the BLA.
To go underground is very difficult. Whatever made you unique as a person,
you have to change all of that and become somebody totally different. You
are out of contact with your family.
IH: How long were you underground?
SB: Beginning April 1973 and I was captured on January 17, 1975.
” I was a prisoner of war ”
Imani Henry: What were you charged with?
Safiya Bukhari: I had five counts charged against me, including one count
of felonious murder where I was facing the electric chair; two counts of
attempted murder; two counts of robbery; one charge of possession of a
machine gun. The federal charge was knowing and willing possession of an
unregistered explosive device. The rest were state charges.What they had done was stomp Kombosi Amistad to death. [He was only 23years old.–IH] While they were stomping him, they found a weapon underhis coat. It was a Paratrooper M1 with a folding stock that I had a federal
firearms license to carry. I bought it over the counter.They charged me for that weapon. I gave them the license thinking thatthey would see that it’s legal and wasn’t a machine gun. [The rifle fires a .30
caliber bullet and is effective at 500 yards. Clearly not a weapon of massdestruction.
They charged Masai Ehehosi and me with attempting to rob this place. Iwasn’t charged in the state court with the pipe bomb. I was charged infederal court with that. Anyway they brought in demolition experts who said I could have killed everybody for a block with that. They asked for a 900- year prison sentence for the machine gun possession to show people that”they can’t come to their town doing stuff like this.”
IH: Where were you captured?
SB: In Norfolk, Va. Out of the five charges, only the felony murder chargewas thrown out along with the million-dollar bail. Once they threw out the murder charge, I told the media that I would counter-charge them withmurder because of what they had done to Kombosi. And I told them I wouldexpose this on the stand, how they had stomped him to death and what had
Then they cremated him before his family got there so they couldn’t do the autopsy and show what they had done. So by the time his mother got thereall she got was clothing.Anyway, they left me with the other four charges. I told them they didn’t
have the jurisdiction to try me because I was a prisoner of war and I gave
them my name, rank and serial number and that was it.They assigned this former FBI agent to defend me and wouldn’t let theattorneys gotten by the PG-RNA defend me. [The Provisional Government ofthe Republic of New Afrika (PG-RNA) was formed in 1968 “to free the oppressed Black nation in North America and to win reparations from the
United States government.”–IH] There was no way I would let him defend me. I wasn’t stupid so I refused.But the only way me and Masai, my co-defendant, would get to see eachother is if we went to a legal meeting. So we went to the meeting but whenwe got there, Masai and me talked in code the whole time.
The escape of out of Virginia’s Women Prison:
In December of 1976, I escaped from prison–in fact it was New Year’s Eve. I
was recaptured in February of 1977 and taken back to Virginia. And the Coordinating Council of the BLA, the ones that were in jail, asked me not to
escape again, but to come home on parole and work on the issue of
organizing around political prisoners, because there was no work being
organized.As a matter of fact, Mumia got sentenced to death while I was still in prison.I wrote him because it was really a shock, a Panther on death row.While I was in prison I became aware of how deep the counter-intelligenceprogram was.
IH: How long were you in jail?
SB: Eight years and eight months.
IH: How was it you didn’t serve out your full sentence?
SB: In Virginia, if you are convicted for the first time, you only serve afourth of your sentence. And you earn good time. While I was there theycame up with “a day for a day.” You earn a day “good time” for a day in jail.It comes off the front end of your sentence. With my escape, I ended up
losing all my “good time” and then, because I didn’t get involved in anything
stupid in prison, I ended up earning all my good time back.All the same I was a troublemaker. At a drop of a hat, I’d file a lawsuitagainst those people. If they did something wrong, I didn’t go through the
whole “motor mouth” thing. What is that going to do? And I didn’t take it out
on no regular guards, they were just workers. It was the “white shirts” I
took it out on. They were the ones with responsibility for doing the wrong.
So in time I created a situation where the guards saw me as a human being
and not an inmate.
For example, I went on hunger strike, because they had me in maximum
secure segregation for three years and seven months after the escape.
When I went on the hunger strike, I knew exactly what I was doing. I wenton hunger strike to get attention from the media for the lawsuit I had filed to
get out of segregation.
IH: How long were you on hunger strike?
SB: Thirty-three days. This same guard would try to get me to eat, because
she was very concerned. She would talk to me about her family and the
problems she was having. When they finally took me to trial for the escape,
this guard had talked to people in her community. This is a little town in
Virginia and these people were on the jury from the community. The judge threatened them because they didn’t want to find me guilty and give metime for the escape.My defense was “not guilty by reason of duress and necessity.” I
represented myself. I told them one of the reasons for my escape was inadequate medical care. Because I had fibroid tumors. I was down South inthe first place to have the surgery in my home [South Carolina].
The doctors in the North had diagnosed that I needed surgery. So I was onmy way home, and we stopped in Virginia to take care of some politicalbusiness, and that’s when the arrests went down.
Everyone has a point where they won’t back down.
Imani Henry: I asked about you getting out of prison without doing all of your time.
Safiya Bukhari: I used the courts. And the women in the prison started towatch what I was doing. …The warden said I was “a threat to the security ofthe free world.” Then she told them that I could organize the women in herprison. And that was the only women’s prison in Virginia.
They were concerned about my ability to organize and “recruit” women from the institution. I didn’t believe in recruiting because the person has to makeup her mind for herself and if you recruit too many, then it puts theresponsibility on you. But if they did on their own, that was somethingdifferent. [The prison officials] didn’t understand those concepts at all.
Then the warden told me, “I’ll approve you for a furlough, but I won’tapprove you for honor college.” Honor college is where you can go in andout of the building anytime you want to. Now I could go off grounds, I coulddo work release, but I couldn’t go to honor college on the grounds. Whatsense did that make?
I and other women started this group, Mothers Inside Loving Kids (MILK),
for the long-termers. And we helped them spend time with their children.
Because one of the things they do heavy in the South is that they take away
parental rights, especially if a woman goes to jail. Doesn’t matter how long
she’s in prison for or how short she’s in prison for, even if her case has
nothing to do with child abuse. Virginia took away parental rights.That prison used to be a plantation. And most of those prisons down thereused to be plantations. And they still had the slave housing; some of thesame buildings that slaves had slept in.
1) Winning amnesty and freedom for all political prisoners currently held;
2) Making the U.S. government acknowledge there are political prisoners
in U.S. jails;
3) Setting up a legal defense fund so their appeal work gets done and
there is ongoing work on their cases after their trials; and
4) Demanding adequate medical care.