Oregon State Penitentiary
Bio: In 1990, Kevin “Rashid” Johnson was a drug dealer, an ambitious member of amerika’s Black lumpen proletariat, or underclass. Like so many, as a young adult he was arrested and received a lengthy prison sentence. He has been incarcerated ever since – for the past eighteen years in conditions of solitary confinement. While in segregation, Rashid taught himself law, and began litigating against the prisons. For a period of six years he launched various lawsuits, and at first scored several victories, until he acquired the reputation of being troublemaker with various judges who then sought to shut him out of the courts.
In the mid-2000s, Rashid took up an illicit correspendence with another revolutionary held at the same supermax prison as him, but in general population. Messages were smuggled back and forth between segregation and general pop for several months. This correspondence, in which Rashid and “Outlaw” discuss revolutionary theory and practice, the challenges of dealing with other less committed prisoners, reactionaries, and snitches, and the question of how to best organize behind bars, has been collected together and is available now in the book Defying the Tomb, published by Kersplebedeb in 2010.
The Rising Tide of Hate in Amerika
A Sign of the Times
Kevin “Rashid” Johnson
It's definitely true as Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky observed, that one can determine the level of civilization of a society by looking inside its prisons. This is because prisons are but a reflection in miniature of the contradictions in the society that produces them, and with much of the pretense stripped away.
Take Oregon for example. I was transferred into its prison system from Virginia's in February 2012. The experience has allowed me a sobering opportunity to learn from a new angle a bit about the level of civilization in Oregon, and by extension Amerika. And the inside and outside definitely correspond.
The Outside Hate
Shortly after reaching Oregon I developed correspondence with several local politically active people. One of them being a working class white trade unionist, who's lived in Oregon's capital, Salem, for 15 years. One of the first observations he made to me – a New Afrikan/Black persyn myself – in a letter was:
“I think you will find fitting into Oregon pretty difficult. I've lived here 15 years and I barely fit in, which is a real problem for political work. There are very few African-Americans (sic) here and my impression is that Oregonians can be very passive-aggressive. The now-existing means of production here gives rise to particular petty bourgeois [middle class] prejudices and cultural formations.”
I've found much truth in his words, and quite a bit more.
Sometimes I'm able to get a hold of and read Oregon's daily paper, The Oregonian. In the August 12, 2012 issue a small front page article caught my eye and put a few things into perspective. The article was entitled, “Neighborhood Should See This,” with a sub-caption, “As a lesson, racist graffiti is left intact for awhile on a black-owned Masonic lodge in North Portland.” The story was about John Bryant, a New Afrikan/Black owner of the Portland, Oregon based Songs of Haiti Masonic Lodge, described in the article as “one of the last black-owned buildings on Portland's gentrified North Mississippi Avenue.”
What struck me was not so much that the lodge had been vandalized with spray-painted swastikas, images of lynchings, and such words as “Die Nigger,” which white neighbors and passersby found shameful and abhorrent, but the nonchalance in admitting the very neighborhood in which this occurred was one gentrified by the very people who acted appalled by the vandalism.
Everyone rushed to console Bryant – who obviously needed no such consolation, not from them anyway – and volunteered to quickly paint over the scurrilous words and images, even at their own expense and with their own labor. Bryant declined their offers, however, wanting people to see the words and images. In doing this, he compelled his apologetic white neighbors to face a reality they obviously desired to keep hidden in the most recessed areas of their unconscious, namely that racism is alive and well in Amerika, and thriving right in their midst. A fact that oppressed nationalities and folks of color know all too well because we live it every day. Which Bryant too was obviously conscious of. Particularly where the article observed:
“Bryant was raised just a few blocks away from the vandalized building, which [has] been home to the Sons of Haiti for 30 years. He watched as white businesses, shoppers and residents replaced black ones during the past decade. He said he's one of the two black property owners on the thoroughfare that runs through historic Mississippi District. The other is his elderly mother.”
Again this is all openly stated in a front-page article in Oregon's major daily. To its writers and readers, the only thing they find shameful about the story is the racist graffiti. No one found anything wrong in the admitted gentrification. That this occurred in a neighborhood from which New Afrikan/Blacks had been – to use a more accurate term -- “ethnically cleansed” for the economic benefit of encroaching whites.
Everyone seems oblivious to the fact that such “removal” and displacement of “other” races and nationalities, to the economic benefit of another dominant race and nationality, is what the entire German Nazi project was all about. It was the very reason Gypsies, Slavs, Jews, Poles and other “non-Aryans” were headed off to concentration camps by the SS. The Nazis claimed that the Aryans “destiny as a people” and superior culture, economy, etc. entitled them to displace and take over the land and resources of others who weren't “properly” using them. These were the exact pronouncements of Nazi leaders including Hitler himself.
Today in Amerika such encroachments are made by way of banks instead of Brownshirts, blitzkriegs and bombs; domination via investment. This way US ethnic cleansing is sanitized of the stigma of being no different in purpose and effect than the Nazi program (what one might call “the cleansing of ethnic cleansing”). And why would the ongoing aims of the Amerikan project be any different than the Nazis? Especially when Hitler himself learned from and was inspired by Amerika's own history of stealing land and wealth. Lest we forget, every inch of claimed US territory was stolen by use of concentration camps, mass murder, genocide and deliberate deceptions – i.e., ethnic cleansing of the indigenous people.
So Bryant can be seen as one of the last standing “natives” whose entire community has been swept away by a clearly racialist program of domination and ethnic removal in the name of white “progress.”
It is no wonder he wanted the graffiti left where it was, while the neighboring whites wanted it cleaned away quickly. Since it served to expose the real ugly face hidden beneath a smiling mask. The real face of those who'd displaced and pushed his people out of their community in pursuit of a continuing jingoist and racist agenda as old as Amerika itself, only disguised to fit with changing times.
In fact the cruder displays of Amerikan racism (e.g. ritual festive lynchings, racist verbal insults, Jim Crow segregation, etc.) were phased out and rendered politically incorrect after World War II, in large part because overt racism became identified with the German Nazis, not because Amerika's values had changed at all.
The vandalism exposed that the very presence of Bryant's white neighbors was the result of a racist agenda no different from that of the Nazis. They thus had much to feel guilt over, prompting them to rush forward with apologies and efforts to erase and distance themselves from the crude work of one of their own less sophisticated members that exposed and indicted them all.
The Inside Hate
And while the mainstream postures to project racism as a thing of the past, its rabid forms persist. Which I found upon my imprisonment in Oregon, where in contrast to most everywhere else in Amerika, the prison population is overwhelmingly white and thus feels no compulsion to conceal its bigotry. Security in numbers.
Coming from Virginia I'm accustomed to seeing whites as no larger than 15% and Blacks at about 80% of the prison population. So Virginia's racism demographics weren't conducive to open and proud displays of “white power.” The Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) by contrast basically reverses these demographics with whites at about 80% of its prison population. So here, they are seen to openly flaunt neo-Nazi, skinhead and similar affiliations, brazenly exhibiting white supremacist tattoos, etc. There are over a dozen such cliques operating openly in the ODOC, with at least half of the ODOC's prisoner population being members.
I quickly learned the name of each group and how to identify many of their members. They being: skinheads, Aryan Brotherhood, Dirty White Boys, Aryan Family, Nazi Lowriders, Irish Pride, Bootboys, European Kindred, Insane Peckerwood Society, Aryan Death Savad, All on A Bitch, Organized Aryan Criminal Syndicate, Fat Bitch Killers, etc.
I still recall my near visceral reaction when on my first day in Oregon's general population (GP), two whites walked past my cell en route to the breakfast meal, one flaunting a large swastika tattoo on the side of his neck, the other with a series of similar smaller tattoos across his face. Then yet another passed with a huge iron cross on his forearm. I found that all the whites freely associated with these sorts of racialist elements, which indicated that no one took issue with the white supremacist culture at all. On talking to several I discovered this is what they grew up around. Yet the mainstream media and politicians promote the lie that such rabid embodiments of racism are outmoded in Amerika.
Furthermore, the less blatant white supremacists, which are most, embody everything in their mannerisms, character, intelligence, etc. that Amerika proudly portrays as models of white suburbia. They do not fit the vulgar, stupid, doped-out, drop-out stereotypes projected of white supremacists. Most could easily slip into a suit and tie and intelligently hold forth in corporate boardrooms or are the types you'd envision toting books on a college campus. Quite a few were actually headed in these directions, or come from these backgrounds.
One such fella who wavers on the status quo was open to critically examine the racial question. His name is Anthony Lazarides. On reading a recent article I wrote on the Jim Crow segregationist practices at the Oregon State Penitentiary (OSP), he exclaimed, “I really didn't realize how racist we actually are. I've seen it all my life yet never recognized anything wrong. It's just how things are.” He went on to tell me how, in his own experiences, a lot of whites when around New Afrikan/Blacks are respectful, friendly and deny racism. But behind their backs and when with fellow whites they love to use racist epithets and show their real racist faces. I told him I was somewhat aware of this. That various studies have exposed this tendency.
The Violent Hate
So what I found in the ODOC was an open reflection of the jingoism and racism of the larger Oregon (and Amerikan) society denuded of its pretensions, which I actually prefer to the artificial smiling liberalist approach.
I also found on observing white ODOC guards a prevailing lynch mob mentality, but also cloaked behind a polite, fake friendship, smiling facade. And while I've witnessed and experienced many an instance of abuse by guards against prisoners in Virginia, by accounts of victims and witnesses here in Oregon, when ODOC guards get rabid it's consistently directed at national and racial “minorities,” gays and the mentally disturbed (the same groups that Nazis considered “degenerates” to be purged), and it's extremely brutal. Systematically so. I'll give three of many examples; selected because in these cases the victims both consented and wanted to have their identities publicized. They being:
Shua Tilahun, #15493938 (Black);
Nathan Goninan, #17079611 (Native American); and
Daniel Loos, #13783862 (Gay)
Shua's incident occurred on August 4th, 2012 at Oregon's Two Rivers Prison, where he was taken into an office while in GP by two sergeants and a corporal (all white) to “talk.” On entering the office they instructed him to submit to being handcuffed, whereupon he protested that he “didn't do anything.” At that point they maced him in the face and proceeded to systematically beat him. Several times pinning his body down and continuously kicked, punched and stomped him. They repeatedly dug their fingers down into his eye sockets, attempting to dig out his eyes. The beating lasted an extensive period of time. Following which he had to be rushed to the emergency room, where he was treated for multiple lacerations to his head, contusions across his eyes, and an MRI found he had multiple fractures to both his cheekbones, his nose and the orbital lobe of his eye; also a dislocated shoulder.
On August 6th he was transferred to OSP and moved into a segregation unit where I was also housed and saw him enter. His severe facial injuries were blatantly apparent. Two large black rings around his eyes drew taunts from several white prisoners that he looked “like a raccoon.” His face was so badly deformed, another prisoner who knew him well from the streets and was housed in the cell next to him didn't recognize Shua until he heard his name. Shua described his attack and sought eagerly for help. He stated multiple photographs were taken of his face at Two Rivers and OSP. I took down his name and the facts, tried to advise him on some options, and told him I'd try to generate exposure and help him find help. Shortly afterwards we were separated. Although not himself a very good writer, Shua reads well and is very articulate verbally.
Goninan has been targeted numerous times at OSP. Two incidents stand out because they involve the same white guard, D. Smith. On January 15th, 2012 Smith (whom I have witnessed repeatedly drunk on the job) set Goninan up to be forcibly extracted from his cell by a mob of guards in riot armor and using a taser. Upon being forcibly taken down and handcuffed from behind, he was held kneeling on the cell floor, abdomen against the bedframe, and bent over with his upper body and face pressed flat to the bed. While one guard kneeled on his head to hold him immobile, another female guard pulled down his pants and underwear, pressed the contact electrodes of the taser between his buttocks and repeatedly electrocuted his rectum. The entire event was captured on portable audio-video camera.
Subsequently Goninan filed a Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) complaint and delivered it to a lieutenant Erickson who gave him a copy and filed it. He also called the prison's PREA hotline and repeatedly filed complaints up to present, with no responses received and no investigations ever conducted.
On July 15th, 2012 Goninan was involved in a fight with another prisoner. In response guards sprayed O.C. gas and ordered them both to lay on the floor, which they did. Smith and another guard, Tryon, entered the unit and handcuffed Goninan from behind and leg-shackled him. Upon raising Goninan to his feet and “escorting” him toward the front of the unit, Smith, for no reason, punched him several times in the back and side of the head and slammed him face first to the floor. Throughout this time yelling obscenities and racist names at him. Still being verbally abused, Goninan was lifted to his feet again and upon taking a couple of steps, Smith snatched the shackle chain from behind, forcefully pulling Goninan's feet back and upward without warning, causing him to crash, face forward, to the floor, breaking multiple upper and lower teeth and pushing one back and sideways. Smith then began punching him continuously in the head, side and back, as Goninan protested he wasn't doing anything and to stop hitting him.
The entire unit of prisoners witnessed the attack (several of whom later wrote and gave Goninan sworn written statements of what they saw), and many began kicking and banging on their doors and protesting. Tryon then dragged Goninan out of the unit into a holding cell, where Smith forcefully clamped the handcuffs and shackles down as tightly as they would go on his wrists and ankles. Then tried to hang him by his wrists behind his back from the top of the holding cell door frame, using a long nylon leash connected to the handcuff chain, ripping his shoulder muscles. Several prisoners could still see this and were protesting, so Tryon told Smith to take him to another floor for fear of inciting a riot. They then took Goninan to a holding cell on another floor and left him tied to the door by the leash. For over 72 hours he was denied medical care and did not see a dentist for 10 days; when seen the dentist told him he'd have to have his broken teeth capped and shaved down to repair them.
Smith once escorted me to a medical visit at OSP, during which time he boasted to another guard how he'd beaten and even killed “Hajjis” (a racist term used by US soldiers against Arabs) while in the Army.
Daniel Loos's incident occurred at Oregon's Snake river prison on December 11th, 2010. Loos is an extremely effeminate gay prisoner with long hair. He was being “escorted,” handcuffed from behind, to the disciplinary segregation unit by two guards, for being in a housing unit he wasn't assigned to. While in a hallway area, one of the escorting guards asked, “Hey fag wanna play?” At which point he was slammed face first to the floor, lacerating his brow, and was systematically beaten, kicked, punched, stomped and having patches of hair ripped from his head. He suffered a broken wrist and hand and a laceration requiring 10 stitches, and extreme bruising and swelling to his head, face and body. Presently he has a federal lawsuit pending on the matter. Snake River officials, in obvious attempts to aid the guards who beat Loos, erased and “lost” surveillance camera footage of the beating.
These are but four of numerous “hate” motivated attacks by white ODOC guards, resulting in broken bones and teeth, in which ODOC had acted to cover up.
Dark Faces In High Places – A Defense Mechanism
Oregon is not my first exposure to national and racial oppression and hate. It was particularly prevalent in Virginia's remote supermaxes, Red Onion and Wallens Ridge State Prisons, where I spent the last 14 years before transferring to ODOC. The guards, drawn from the local rural mountains of southwestern Virginia, were especially bigoted. But in Virginia racial division between prisoners is pretty much non-existent.
Today, there's a virtual kneejerk response to exposures of official racism, namely placing a token Black or Brown figurehead into a high position within the “exposed” institution, which changes nothing in fact, but instead actually serves as a cover that permits greater abuses, which when complained against prompts the defense, “Hey we can't be racist, we've got a [person of color] in charge!” I've seen it happen over and again.
It was done at both of Virginia's supermaxes, following repeated exposures of racist brutality that earned them national notoriety as two of Amerika's most racist and abusive prisons. A black warden was appointed to Red Onion during 2001 following intense outside protest of racist abuses of prisoners. Under this warden, Daniel Braxton, things got worse. The same occurred during 2011 at Wallens Ridge with the appointment of Gregory Malloway as warden, and the appointment of Harold Clarke as the first Black director of the notoriously racist Virginia prison system.
It was also done here in Oregon, at the Snake River prison where I'm presently confined. Snake River is by all accounts ODOC's harshest, most remote prison, where white staff are particularly racist, which prompted widespread protests by prisoners over the years. Consequently a Black warden, Mark Nooth, and a Black security manager, A. Hannon were brought in.
At all of the aforementioned prisons blacks are practically non-existent in the staff bodies, which are controlled by the local entrenched white supremacist status quo, which these Black tokens go out of their way to avoid making waves with.
One can also see the same method employed with the nomination and election of Barack Obama as president in 2008, at just the point when New Afrikans/Blacks were reaching peak outrage with the US government, in response to one abuse piled on another. From our treatment during the Hurricane Katrina crisis and subsequent policy of ethnic cleansing in New Orleans, Jena 6, increased police racial profiling (especially “stop and frisk” practices), mass displacements and breaking up and closing down of Black communities, gentrification, rising instances of police murders and brutalizing Black youth, cuts in already inadequate social benefits to our poor and needy and the elderly, to mass imprisonment and racist selective drug laws, etc. Mass unrest reminiscent of the 1930s and 1960s was admittedly feared. Suddenly the Democrats – the same party that was used by the John Kennedy administration to coopt and subvert the threatened Black siege of the nation's capital in 1963 – nominated a Black man for president. The same loyal Black token who was used to quell mass outrage in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, by making grand photo op appearances alongside Bill Clinton, visiting Black hurricane victims in Louisiana hospitals.
These tokens are always those proven most loyal not to the oppressed peoples, but to the oppressive system, who can be trusted not to make waves, and to do absolutely nothing to alter the status quo, much less to even acknowledge any problems. Just as Obama did by denouncing his own religious leader, Jeremiah Wright, because Wright criticized US government abuse and neglect of New Afrikan/Black people.
This is in fact how these self-interested opportunists who have no connection with the masses of Blacks rise in the ranks of the system. And when it suits their masters they're appointed as window-dressing “to disprove the evidence of racism.” With the predictable result that things only get worse. In fact Obama's presidency has seen absolutely nothing improve for the masses of struggling Blacks in Amerika. Ask John Bryant did it allow the “return” of his ethnically cleansed Black neighbors, or change the rabid white supremacist sentiments that were scribbled on his building or that I see all around me in the ODOC on both sides of the cell door (prisoners and guards)? Of course not! Which is what's to be expected, when an oppressed people allow the sources of their oppression to only throw up defense mechanisms, to distract them from throwing up real solutions.
Festering Hate, A Seedbed of Reaction
What I've seen in Oregon has led me to reflect on pre-Nazi Germany, when the Weimar Republic was in power. There was a lot of social disaffection and a major economic downturn caused by the mismanagement inherent in a global capitalist system, creating a large destabilized middle class and youth facing economic insecurity. Minority groups believed themselves generally accepted and integrated into Germany society. Including the Jews who'd for centuries been persecuted and repressed just like New Afrikan/Blacks in the US. Some of them had achieved prominent positions in government and business, just like Blacks today. Then Hitler arose, challenging the republic and arousing the masses with race-baiting and “Aryan” nationalism, blaming the Gypsies, Slavs, Jews, and other “non-Aryans,” and gays and the mentally disabled, as scapegoats for Germany's problems. He proved a mater at mobilizing hate, appealing largely to the middle class and youth, who took up his cause with blind violence nurtured by a festering subculture of racial and rightwing nationalist sentiments, that had long been hidden under cover of racial tolerance. Millions were slaughtered, and not just Jews. The “Holocaust” touched many national and ethnic minorities.
No one believed it could happen, even as they themselves were being swept up, herded into concentration camps and exterminated. All thought Germany – like Amerika today – was too intelligent and developed an industrial society to descend to such barbarism. But descend it did.
One cannot but see the stark parallels between pre-Nazi Germany and today's Amerika. And as Oregon reveals, there is a thriving culture of racial animosity already primed to carry out the dictates of a far right agenda should one come to the fore.
Steps are already in place to implement an overt fascist clampdown at anytime in the name of a national emergency or insurrection. Post-Katrina Black New Orleans was just a trial run.
When I look at these guys around me, guards and prisoners, I can very easily see them in the roles of consolidated martial law forces on US soil, just like those cobbled together in New Orleans in 2005. Forces held to no accountability by civilian laws, because suspended under declaration of martial law, or better yet overthrown in a rightwing takeover (which is basically the same thing). In fact as The Oregonian reported on August 21st, 2012, no less than 14% of Oregon's prisoners are veterans, with half or more of the prisoner population active white supremacists and most of the rest neutral or sympathizers, that accounts for a lot of white supremacists – and people inclined to lawlessness – in the military. Or is the military breeding criminals? Remember the Southern Poverty Law Center's report “A Few Bad Men,” by David Molthouse that exposed extensive activity of white supremacist groups in all branches of the US military?
And career special operations veteran Stan Goff revealed that the military's special ops units – its most elite infantry combat forces – are composed predominantly of white racists and systematically exclude and weed out Blacks from their ranks. It is no wonder he admitted that, “on the ground, at the infantry level, wars of domination in every instance become race wars.” And let's remember that accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was a white supremacist and product of the US military. As was Wade Page, who shot up the Sikh temple in August this year, killing six worshippers and himself. Why is it all these so-called “bad apples” come from the same bunch?
From the same forces that would occupy the 'hood in a martial clampdown as they did in New Orleans, which brings to mind some very troubling reports of things that occurred there, like this account for example:
“During the time we were across the street from the Convention Center, these cops – I don't know if they were police but they were all in black, they had these guns, and they were banded real close together – they came up the street, and they were screaming all kinds of obscenities, and all kinds of racial slurs. And they were pointing guns at folk and demanding you to lay down.
“At this particular time, I had really gotten tired of using the rest room on the sidewalk, and so I'm trying to get across the street into the Convention Center to use the rest room. At this point, these cops, whoever they were, they came up the street, they got these guns with the lights on them, you know, they pointing them at people saying, 'Sit your so-and-so so-and-so down before I blow your so-and-so head off, you black so-and-so.'
“I mean, God. At that point, it really felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. They're treating us like criminals. But everyone had to adhere to what they said, so once they passed me, I pretty much stayed low, in just about a crawling position, trying to get across to the other street to get into the Convention Center to use the rest room.
“What I seen when I came out I will remember for the rest of my life... At this time, I'm crouched trying to get back into the parking lot... Everybody is sitting on the ground with their hands in the air. The cops are stationed in different spots, with their guns aimed on people. I look at my 5-year-old granddaughter, Baili McPherson, and the light from one of the guns was actually on her forehead.
“My oldest daughter, Gayness, she's like, you want to go ballistic when you see someone do something like this to your child but you can't do nothing because, guess what, you and your child both might get killed. Baili is sitting with her hands in the air. And she's just past afraid, she's terrified. And she's asking her mama, Gayness, ‘Am I doing it right?’ because even babies know the police kill in New Orleans. So she's asking her mama, ‘Mama am I doing it right, am I doing it right?’”
This, despite the delusions of many, is the level of civilization in Amerika, which one sees reflected in Oregon prisons, where a rabid racist culture parades openly stripped of pretense and lying in wait for the moment it can be given free violent expression. It reveals that oppressed nationalities have a long way to go (as does the feeble and divided white Left, just like the Left in pre-Nazi Germany), and a lot of preparation for self sufficiency and community defense capability to develop. Especially when we consider that free speech and protest are under attack, and a major clampdown seems in the works. Our segregated communities are already corralled, surveilled and terrorized by militarized police, and we fill US prisons to overflow. Homeland Security (previously FEMA, the very same department that coordinated the martial law operations in New Orleans), is hiring to staff all its detention centers (concentration camps) around the country, and they've ordered tons of hollow points (.40 cal), rounds which are illegal for use by the military. Also a consortium of bankers are pulling together an army of private mercenaries around the murderous old Blackwater crew of Iraq and New Orleans ill fame. And economists say we're due for another big crash.
Our only solution is to unite and organize those who can be united of every nationality and “race” to overthrow this imperialist system, and build an all-new society based on cooperation and mutual support instead of competition, hate and barbarism in the wings. A barbarism that history teaches we should struggle with all our collective might to ward off and without delay, before the true face of Amerikan civilization sheds its pretentious mask and consumes us all with hate, whether as victims or villains, from inside out.
Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win!
All Power to the People!