August 1 1971
After Tad Szulc’s prison conversation with George Jackson in April, he submitted four additional questions to Jackson through one of the lawyers in the case. The questions were these: (1) Aren’t any black people guilty of crimes in American society? (2) Aren’t any of them criminals—for example, a black man who rapes or murders a black woman? (3) What about a black man who guns down a Black Panther? (4) Are you really saying that all criminals are victims of society?
Here is the response that Jackson wrote in longhand on ruled, legal‐size paper:
Nat Turner was asked to confess to crimes of murder and other connected charges before being hung. He indicated that he would so that he could seize the opportunity to make public these sentiments: “I’ve been asked to confess . . . to what??? I simply don’t feel guilty, I have ven tured my life for the deliverance of my kind, I am a willing sacrifice to their cause. I have failed, and if you gentlemen would render me a favor you would take me out and hang me immediately.” Another pointed example of how blacks view what the interpreters of society term crime can be had by recalling a later (1850) statement accredited to Martin Delaney: “. . . my house is my castle. If any man approaches my house in search of a slave I care not whom he may be, whether con stable or sheriff, magistrate or even Judge of the Supreme Court. If he crosses the threshold of my door and I do not lay him a lifeless corpse at my feet I hope the grave may refuse my body a resting place.” Fugitive slaves were criminals!! Anyone offering them aid was also considered part of the criminal act, according to the ac cepted standards of so‐termed Amerikan society. These are parallels from history, valuable in that they have undoubted relevance upon the in grained attitudes of two sections of the people whose real interrelations have changed in name and form only
The question “Aren’t any black people guilty of crimes in Amerikan society?” can best be an swered by stating that the first crime is attempt ing to establish society above society, and then seriously questioning whether blacks have ever been any part of Amerikan society. I say we haven’t. History states that we haven’t. We’re captives of this thing termed Amerikan. As such it is and has always been our obligation to resist; resistance to unjust bonds, organized injustice, can never be interpreted as crime, be it individual resistance or organized mass resistance. Is it crim inal for the black mine worker in the Union of South Africa to steal a diamond when he can, of for the workers in mass to take the mine? Were the Jews of Warsaw 1944–45 criminals?
The men who live above and at the center of Amerikan corporativism understand clearly the issue at question. Through their machinating, any activity can be made to seem criminal. Most crimes are economic in nature—85 per cent, fact. These figures will alter as the revolution upstages, but the underlying motive will still be economic. Consequently the realistic situation is one where a very small knot of men and women are protecting “their” constitutional right to own or control the means of the people’s subsistence by defining criminality. The relatively small per centage of what is left—thrill crimes, or as your question runs: “the Black man who rapes and murders a Black woman.” Every revolutionary theoretician and psychiatrist accepts as elemen tary the tendency of violence to turn inward when the oppressed can find no externalization, “the collective autodestruction” phenomenon. Again the basis is economic oppression or the effects of a dying civilization tied to an economic arrange ment that was decadent 100 years ago. Part of the myth that we must destroy is that “the people” reduced to a state of inexplicable misery still have a choice of action. Invariably their response will take some form of violence. I term this vio lence, individual or collective, not crime but an tithesis. “Violence is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one.”
Black August Memorial/Commemoration – Haki Kweli Shakur
Society above society has had 7,000 years of trial. It has never worked. Pure totalitarianism is impossible—all so‐called criminal action is gov erned by cause and effect, as is everything ma terial. All criminals are victims of the attempt to maintain hierarchy. Any other conclusion de nies original innocence, or in effect advances that men are criminals before they are born.
George Jackson San Quentin Prison June 11, 1971
SAN QUENTIN, Calif.
“THEY walked in goose‐step ping, and when they leave they’ll be wearing the black beret,” said George Jackson of many of his fellow convicts in prisons across the United States.
We were spending an hour to gether in San Quentin’s tiny locked visiting room one lovely day late in April (only I, having strolled past the flower beds between the prison’s outer and inner gates and felt the fresh breeze over San Francisco Bay, knew it was a beautiful day). Jack son, brought from solitary confine ment to meet me, was saying that he thought American prisons were transforming black and even white and brown inmates into politically conscious men and potential revolu tionaries.
George Lester Jackson, San Quen tin Prison No. A‐63837, is a black man. He has light skin, but he wishes it were very dark. He wears an Afro haircut and spectacles. He is a self‐taught revolutionary and a disciple of Mao. He is extremely in tense but so self‐controlled that his speech is soft, even, for instance, when he says the political leadership in the United States must be “neu tralized and corrected as effectively as possible . . . and by correcting I mean killing them.”
Jackson, a product of the black ghettos of Chicago and Watts, will be 30 on Sept. 23. He has spent near ly 11 years serving an indeterminate, one‐year‐to‐life sentence as a “three‐ time loser.” His third conviction was for participating in a $70 armed rob bery at a Los Angeles gasoline sta tion five days before he turned 19. At the age of 15, he served close to a year at California’s Youth Author ity facility at Paso Robles for at tempted robbery at a Los Angeles department store, and at 16, he wound up in a California county jail, charged with another robbery. He escaped, was recaptured in Il linois, then released as a juvenile.
That is George Jackson’s brief but complete biography.
Jackson’s chances of release from prison on the 1960 gas‐station of fense are virtually nil, and he will face death in the gas chamber if he is found guilty of killing a white guard at Soledad Prison in Salinas, Calif., on Jan. 16, 1969. The guard, John Mills, was beaten to death by convicts three days after another white guard shot and killed three black inmates by firing from a tower into the courtyard. The California penal code provides a mandatory death penalty for prisoners serving life sentences who are convicted of assault on a person other than an inmate if such a person dies within a year.
THE trial of Jackson and his two black co‐defendants, John W. Clutch ette, 24, and Fleeta Drumgo, 25, is scheduled to open in San Francisco on Monday, Aug. 9. It has already become a political cause célèbre for black militants, white radicals and some liberals because Jackson, the best known of the three “Soledad Brothers,” has evolved during his prison years into a superbly edu cated and articulate black Com munist “revolutionary”—his descrip tion—and a leader in the quickening process of radicalizing convicts, especially among the racial minorities.
Black August Martyrdom, Fasting, Returning to The Land ( Nation — State ) – Haki Kweli Shakur
Jackson gained personal fame with the publication last fall of his best selling book, “Soledad Brother—The Prison Letters of George Jackson.” The letters, covering the years 1964 to 1970, are a tortured autobiog raphy, a study in introspection and a revolutionary manifesto addressed to America’s blacks. Jean Genet, the French ex‐convict and leftist literary figure, wrote the introduction, and a cover blurb quotes Huey P. New ton, the Black Panther leader, as having called Jackson “the greatest writer of us all.” He does, indeed, write more enthrallingly than, say, Eldridge Cleaver.
Though Clutchette and Drumgo tend to be overshadowed by Jack son and the publicity surrounding him (for one thing, they are not lifers and do not face death sentences), there is a Soledad Defense Commit tee busy collecting funds and attrac ting attention to the joint case. The campaign, started in California, is becoming nationwide as the trial ap proaches.
But it was the politicizing of con victs that I wanted to discuss with Jackson when I went to San Quen tin. My request for the interview was granted overnight by the prison authorities, who appear to be in creasingly sensitive about the treat ment of their rebellious and suddenly celebrated inmate.
Jackson, 6‐foot‐3 and 215 pounds, keeps in excellent shape through six or seven hours of daily, exercises in his 6‐by‐10‐foot solitary cell because he believes that a good revolutionary “will never be effective unless he has a perfect balance of both physi cal and mental attributes.”
He seemed pleased to have a visitor (I was the first outsider he had seen in four days), and he remarked casually that he was glad to spend at least an hour out of his cell. In solitary confinement since January, 1969, first at Soledad and then at San Quentin, he is locked up 23½ hours a day, with 30 minutes for a shower and outside ex ercise. He may soon enjoy relative freedom, however, for a United States District Court judge, ruling on an appeal by the Soledad Brothers, has de clared that disciplinary hear ings at San Quentin leading to confinement in isolation are unconstitutional.
As we shook hands—he gave me the “revolutionary” handshake — Jackson said: “We can get to be friends right away if you give me a cigarette.” We sat facing each other across the small table, and Jackson lit up, in haling deeply. Chain‐smoking throughout the hour, he talked about politics, prison and how it all happened. Now and then, he opened and closed his huge fists; years of karate exercises had produced hard, blue‐black knots over the knuckles.
Jackson was more than willing to discuss American prisons as schools for political and revolutionary conscious ness. Once a recipient of poli tical education from older black convicts—when he went to Soledad at 19, he said, “I met a brother by the name of George who introduced me to Marx, Engels; made me read the Communist Manifesto first, and we went from there” —Jackson now is an enthusi astic teacher. “The leadership of the black prison popula tion,” he said, “now definitely identifies with Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Angela Davis, Eldridge and antifascism.”
He remarked that blacks and poor whites usually enter prison as “right wingers” be cause of their cultural back grounds. The politicized black prisoners immediately focus on the new arrivals because, Jackson said, “we attempt to transform the black criminal mentality into a black revo lutionary mentality.” In a let ter to one of his attorneys in April, he wrote:
“The blacks are fast losing the last of their restraints. Growing numbers of blacks are openly passed over when paroles are considered. They have become aware that their only hope lies in resistance. The holds are beginning to slip away. . . .Most of today’s black convicts have come to understand that they are the most abused victims of an unrighteous order. Up until now, the prospect of parole has kept us from confronting our captors with any real determination. But now, with the living conditions deter iorating and with the sure knowledge that we are slated for destruction, we have been transformed into an implac able army of liberation.
“These prisons have always borne a certain resemblance to Dachau and Buchenwald, places for the bad niggers, Mexicans and poor whites. But the last 10 years have brought an increase in the percentage of blacks for crimes that can clearly be traced, political‐economic causes There are still some blacks here who consider themselves criminals—but not many. Believe me, my friend, with the time and incentive that these brothers have to read, study and think, you will find no class or category more aware, more embittered, desperate or dedicated to the ultimate remedy—revolution. The most dedicated, the best of our kind—you’ll find them in the Folsoms, San Quentins and Soledads.”
I had read these passages in Jackson’s book, and I wanted to know whether the politi cizing in the California prisons had spread since he wrote about it a year ago. Jackson leaned forward and lit an other cigarette.
“With the blacks, the peo ple that I am more familiar with, I would say most em phatically yes. Prior to the entrance of the Black Pan thers on the political scene, they were locked in the right wing version of the national questions. . . .As far as I am concerned, this is frightening and reactionary; but it is political, and just thinking in that area leads to other thoughts that one day become progressive.
“In other words, all the fel lows I have met over the years have gone through changes, have gone through stages from right‐wing cul tural and national thinking into Pantheresque‐type think ing and activity. The Panthers have a very profound influ ence and effect on the prison population because there are so many of them here and because the political animal, the political teacher, must teach, and the blacks have been responsive.” Prison administrators agree that the Black Panthers are organizing in a vast number of penal institutions. This is especially meaningful in Cali fornia, where, according to official figures, the prison population on April 30 was 29.8 per cent black, although blacks accounted for only 7.5 per cent of the state’s total population. Chicanos repre sented 16.8 per cent of the 28,000 inmates in California prisons, but less than 4 per cent of the population.
IN Jackson’s view, the em erging new relationship be tween the prison authorities and black inmates is not only one of the keeper and the kept and of traditional “white racism,” but of political and ideological antagonism as well. This, he believes, is a reaction to the black politiciz ing and convict efforts to unite across racial lines des pite virtual segregation in prison blocks and cell tiers.
“In Folsom and Soledad,” Jackson said, “black, brown and white have all gotten to gether and attempted to es tablish unitarian conduct. Here in San Quentin, almost the reverse is happening be cause of the strong control that the highly politicized local constabulary has over the joint.”
Pointing to the locked steel door behind him, Jackson said, “Meme is a large segment of right‐wing ‘intellectuals’ and thinkers and doers among the staff right here.” He reeled off a list of the top prison officials and said: “They all belong to a highly political minded right‐wing group that promotes certain racial unrest and racial strife that precludes any sort of unitarian conduct among the convicts here. Pre cise incidents, the killings and knifings [of inmates] of this last month are the product of this right‐wing element’s ma chinations. They send a few convict goons to start trouble, racial strife, in order to quell the new unitarian currents that have been established over the last year or 18 months. . . . They put them [white convicts] right down the tier with us with the fur ther assumption that they can manipulate them into attack ing us by using them against us.”
Jackson further believes that there is a clear right wing orientation among the “poor white” convicts, and that it is being fueled by the prison authorities. “There are really strong right‐wing ‘in tellectuals’ in here, and we have some here right now, and we debate and argue heatedly all night. I hate them and they hate me.” He thinks that the large number of blacks in California pris ons and their political mili tancy are beginning to make converts out of white inmates. “Politically, of course, we out weigh them. We win in the end.”
I asked how he goes about radicalizing the white prison ers.
“It’s a complicated, complex relationship,” he replied with a little smile. “I start the con versations most of the time. They’ll say something so ri diculous that I just can’t understand, like the blanket indictment of the Jews. All Jews are involved in a plot that went way back 1,000 or 1,500 years ago, they say. And they build economic theories and economic plots on it, really psychopathic. They say things like that, and I know the next thing coming out of their mouths will be a pack of lies concerning blacks, the blacks and the Jews. So I stop them, and I contest most of what they say, and I send them down literature to read. . . . Do they read it? They read it and twist it to fit into their conception, and the debate goes on. . . . In several debates that center around facts and figures we outweigh them be cause they don’t know. That’s the whole point.”
Jackson paused and squinted narrowly at me. “They walked in goose‐stepping, and when they leave they’ll be wearing the black beret.” CALIFORNIA prison auth orities do not actually expect the convicts to come out in droves wearing the beret of the Black Panthers, but they are beginning to recognize the politicizing phenomenon de veloping in American penal institutions.
James Park, San Quentin’s associate warden, referred in a recent official report to what he called “the new re bellion” in the prisons, noting that traditional convict griev ances were being “translated into a well‐planned and so phisticated attack on state laws and policies.” He empha sized that “the intake of young inmates in the next few years will include many who had been exposed to the con cepts of social revolution.” Park has discovered the im portance of revolutionary lit erature in the political educa tion of the convicts. Since prison authorities have not been able to control or dis courage the flow of such lit erature to the prisoners — some comes as part of the normal contraband, some is slipped to inmates by visiting relatives and friends and some is simply tolerated because the administrators do not want First Amendment suits— Park, among others, has con cluded that wardens, too, should read books on revolu tionary technique. He wrote in his report that the texts “may be useful in under standing the thinking of in mate leaders.”
Jessica Mitford, who inter viewed Jackson on the literary aspects of his letters shortly before I talked to him—a re port on their conversation appeared in The Times Book Review June 13—has written that radical and revolutionary ideologies are seeping into the prisons. She noted that, in ad dition to books, inmates often manage to receive under ground publications in their cells (I know that the Black Panther newspaper is some how available in California prisons), and she stressed that “a new and more sophisti cated type of offender is entering the prison system: the civil disobedient, the col legiate narcotics user, the black or brown militant.” And my own observations bear out Miss Mitford’s conclusion that “there is a growing alliance between these prisoners and political activists on the out side.”
Militant black and chicano organizations are increasingly establishing contacts with con victs. On the day I visited Jackson at San Quentin, a number of chicano women, some with small children, filled the waiting room. They were militants seeking to show their support for prisoners brought from the California Conservation Center in Susan ville after a series of riots. The Susanville center is built around a forestry camp and allows relative freedom, and the authorities decided that the “trouble‐makers” should be transferred to the maxi mum‐security facility at San Quentin. The militants wasted no time in approaching the Susalville men on “political visits.”
THE convict ‐ politicizing process obviously meshes with the growing opinion among prisoners and outside radicals including ideologically moti ated lawyers and criminolo gists, that most crimes com mitted in the United States, particularly by minorities and poor whites, are essentially “social” and “political” in nature. This is so, the argu ment runs, because such crimes derive from sociologi cal and political conditions in the country. Combined with the massive arrests of civil rights, antiwar and other dis sidents in the last decade, this philosophy has led to the emergence of the “political social prisoner.” Policemen and more traditional judges and lawyers see in the phe ncunenon room for vast abuses, pointing out that it is easy to rationalize almost any crime through the social con text.
But John Thorne, one of Jackson’s attorneys, argued as we sat in his antique‐filled office in San Jose that “so ciety has created the ghettos” and thus “forced the people to act illegally.” Therefore, he said, the convicts “become political prisoners” and “pris ons always produce revolu tions.” Thorne, a big, bearded man who wore dungarees and a plaid shirt, said his defense of Jackson would be purely political: he will present his client as a “revolutionary” victimized by the system.
Jackson, by the way, had no lawyer during his first nine years behind bars. At his trial on the gas‐station rob bery charge, a court‐appointed lawyer advised him to plead guilty to save the county money and, in exchange, trust the judge for a lenient sen tence. Instead, he received the one‐year‐to‐life term. Only af ter the publicity about the Soledad affair in 1969 did two lawyers, Thorne and Mrs. Fay Stender, become separately in terested in Jackson’s case. Thorne, who with his two partners is what Jackson calls a “people’s lawyer,” imme diately sensed that he had a political case on his hands. It was he who asked Jackson on my behalf to write the short essay at the beginning of this article, delving more deeply into the concept of “black politicl crimes.”
With the recent release of Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, Jackson and Angela Davis, whose fate has become curiously intertwined with his, are the best known “political prisoners” in the country. Following a fervent corre spondence between them—as much political as personal and emotional—Jackson and Miss Davis met for the first time on July 8 at the San Rafael prison and again on July 15. Miss Davis is awaiting trial on charges of having provided the weapons used by Jona than Jackson, George’s 17‐ year‐old brother, in a shoot out in a San Rafael courtroom on Aug. 7, 1970.
Jonathan, whom George had educated into a revolutionary with letters from prison (he also succeeded after years of writing home in radicalizing his lower‐middle‐class parents and one of his sisters), died in the courtroom battle. Strange ly, George had prophesied his brother’s death in the service of the “revolution.” The youth invaded the court during a hearing for three black San Quentin inmates, not including his brother, and handed them weapons. He announced to the startled courtroom: “All right, gentlemen, I’m taking over now.” As he left with the three Inmates and five hos tages—one of them the judge, who was killed moments later —Jonatnan demanded that the Soledad Brothers be released within 30 minutes.
“Jackson’s foremost conclusion after years of reading and writing is that there is a need for violent black revolution.”
After the shootout, of course, Jonathan joined his brother as a folk hero of the black militants, something of a martyr in the cause of “political prisoners.” To George, he represents “black pride.” On the day I visited him in San Quentin, George had learned that Jonathan’s girl friend had given birth to a baby Jonathan had fathered. “I am an uncle,” George said, and, though be has other nephews and nieces, his in tense pleasure was obvious.
JACKSON is a “political prisoner” because he has de cided to be one. Sentenced to the indeterminate term for a minor felony (no one was hurt in the robbery) when he was a man‐child of 19, he pro claimed himself a “political prisoner” as the result of years of intensive self‐educa tion, most of it during his nearly eight years in solitary confinement. He read St. Augustine because of his early interest in morals. Then the classic economists: Malthus, Ricardo and Adam Smith. Afterward came the philo sophical and revolutionary lit erature: Marx, Lenin, Engels, Hegel, Trotsky, Mao Tse‐tung, Ho Chi Minh, General Giap, Nkrumah, Fanon, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. But there were also Rafael Sabatini, Jack London and Harriet Beecher Stowe (for “Uncle Tom”), and James Baldwin, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King (whom he despised in life for his pacifism and came to admire in death) to get a better understanding of the American black problem. Wil liam Du Bois served to ac quaint Jackson with radical Africa. His vast literary diet is supplemented with sub scriptions to Ramparts, The New Republic and The New York Times. He has taught himself Spanish and has be gun to study Swahili, Arabic and Chinese.
Jackson’s foremost conclu sion after his years of read ing and writing is that there is a need for a violent black revolution in the United States to do away with capitalism and “American imperialism.” He has expounded such revo lutionary views in the ava lanche of letters from prison, all of them read and often censored by the authorities, and in conversations with visitors, presumably monitored by officials.
Inevitably, prison authori ties took him at his word; they accepted his revolu tionary self‐identification. And having forced his keepers to regard him as a “political prisoner,” Jackson is con vinced that his militancy has deprived him of parole in the last 10 years. He also thinks that the Soledad murder charge was intended to put him out of the way.
Under the system of inde terminate sentences, Califor nia’s Adult Authority reviews each prisoner’s case annually to decide whether he should be released after serving the minimum sentence. In Jack son’s case, the minimum was one year. The original purpose of indeterminate sentences, with statutory minimums and maximums, was to encourage the quick rehabilitation of prisoners, not to tie them to fixed terms. But in practice the California system became an arbitrary way of punishing convicts who do not behave. The system has been de scribed as “racist” and cruel, most recently by “black caucus” members of the California State Legislature Who inspected Soledad a year ago. Jackson is certain that he has been denied parole be cause of his political activi ties. Prison authorities have no comment on this allega tion, and I was not permitted to read his “central file,” which includes charges against him by prison officials and guards.
I asked Jackson under what conditions he may hope for a parole, assuming that he is cleared of the Soledad murder charges. “I would have to be an old man and very decrepit, perhaps blind, an amputee,” he said. Then he added: “I haven’t thought of parole in years. The portions of my book that you read where I’m talking about parole, they’re all deceptive. I knew these things were going through the censors; they are all deceptive, things that I was using to help to get them off my back for a while, to make them think that I was holding out hope of parole, but I knew I’d never get paroled, never. . . .I can’t live up to the expectations of prison life. I never will.
“The whole truth,” he said quietly, “is that I would hope to escape.”
Jackson’s lawyers have raised a question that finds no immediate answer in the California prison system: Is Jackson, though he first went to prison on a felony charge, now being kept there indefi nitely because he has made himself into a “revolutionary”? That question has implications that go far beyond the Jack son case. It relates, it would appear, to a whole set of new concepts emerging these days from radicalized American prisons!
Source: NY Times
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