“Yale Environmental Forum Speech.”
First and foremost, allow me to say what an honor and a privilege it is to have been invited to address you on the topic of grave concern to us all.
In the interest of expediency, in order to stay within the time allotted, I’m afraid I will have to leave out a great amount of information, which I believe would be of great interest to you all. However, all is not lost. You can hear the entire speech at prisonradio.org.
As we struggled to put people and not corporations in charge of our lives and governance, who seek real and sustainable victories toward that goal, it is vital that we link our descent, our strategies, and our vision to their roots.
Alexander Meiklejohn, a thoughtful student and teacher on matters of the Constitution and the First Amendment, was right when he suggested that we underestimate the task of using our minds and, I would add, our hearts to which we are summoned by our plan of government.
Indeed, for activists, understandings, and undertakings that do not reach people that are insufficiently informed by the history and worldview that brought us our present will greatly exhaust our energies and weakly reward our hopes. In the critical work of ending corporate dominance and building democracy, we must always be against the threat of de-radicalism.
I’d like to introduce several realms of our work, where these roots must play a critical role in clarifying if we are to celebrate true rather than false victories.
The first is associated with how we take things in, how we listen. Our habits of noticing our care in reading and commenting. We can learn and we can teach only that for which our receptors are tuned. If we tune our minds and our hearts rigorously and radically, we have a chance of bringing justice and democratic betterment. But if we are tuned imprecisely, the hard work of learning, teaching, planning, organizing, mobilizing too often ends in the suffering of things rather than genuine change.
The second to which roots and rigor must be brought to bear is in the kind of strategies we design into our campaigns against corporate power. These strategies need to reflect an understanding of the current rule of law that puts we, the people, subordinate to the propertied few organized in the corporate forms, and they must reflect our commitment to reversing that law. In addition, our strategies and actions must make the case for redefining what corporations are and what they do rather than merely reducing the damage from what they do wrong.
The third to which we must bring critically fundamental thought and feeling relates to our vision of what is possible. For us to propose that people have the capacity for true inclusive democratic self-governance is to place ourselves within a worldview instead of assumptions, wholly contradictory to the patriarchal worldview that brought us our present earthly and human predicament. We must therefore incorporate into our learning and our political work at every level this larger kind of contextual understanding. Without the opportunity to effectively engage this conversation, people will flounder, will be highly skeptical that anything better is possible from us human beings.
Of course, I should not pretend to consider it any matter for wonder that the extraordinary case has excited discussion amongst the community of environmental activists, lawyers, law students, scientists, and law professors. It would have been considered a miracle had it not, especially under the circumstances.
Through the desire of the powerful political forces within the township of Schuylkill County and eastern region anthracite-bearing [inaudible] to keep the unprecedented successful protest defeat of 902 inmates bringing the $800 million coal gasification plant to a complete halt from the public.
At least for the present, through our endeavors to the effect, this isolated account made its way without any exaggeration through the local newspapers of the Pottsville Republican and Morning Herald, former Prison Legal News and now currently Criminal Legal News, Socialist Viewpoint, Workers World, Washington Post, ThinkProgress.org, prisonradio.org fighttoxicprisons.org, and most recently was invited by Mr. Jamison Maley, a teacher at a private school called Haberford whom is currently studying to get his master’s degree in environmental ethics.
And now I am here today at the prestigious Ivy League university of Yale. I must admit I’m extremely humbled and would like to thank you for your magnanimous invitation to speak at Yale comprised with a multifaceted and distinguished group of 50 to a 100 environmentalists at heart.
I’m quite certain by way of this invitation to speak at Yale, I have become a great source of inspiration to the nation of environmentalists and, quite naturally today, I am proud to welcome you all as environmental regulators to protect our mother earth from the exploitation of the corporate raiders.
Please allow me to reintroduce myself. I’m a bilingual Puerto Rican who has been incarcerated for the past 24 years under a gross miscarriage of justice by the name of Brian Arroyo, the first jailhouse environmentalist to crush the corporate giants. In 2013, I had the fortuitous opportunity of meeting Mumia Abu-Jamal upon being released from the segregated Restricted Housing Unit to general population.
As fate would have it, Mumia ended up becoming my neighbor, a resident on the same block. Here I stood with one of the most famous political prisoners in the world. Prior to meeting Mumia, I knew quite a bit about him, being a well-respected author of several books wherein I had the vicarious thrill to read. As an example: Black Blossoms, Live From Death Row, From the Cell to the Classroom, Jailhouse Lawyers, We Want Freedom and The Life in the Black Panther Party, just to mention a few.
Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. Blackout sessions and walks in the yard, we built on many years of our experiences as jailhouse lawyers. As we got acquainted with our compatible interests, I felt quite comfortable with Mumia’s sense of equanimity and really calm, cool, demeanor.
Although I am really circumspect about meeting new people, I explained my ordeal to Mumia’s about [inaudible] plan to build this insidious toxic coal gasification plant adjacent 300 feet from the center point of the yard at SCI Mahanoy.
Mumia was awestruck and somewhat perplexed, being a prolific journalist and author. He exclaimed, man, I couldn’t have ever come up with such an unprecedented story like this. And yet here I am speaking to the first jailhouse environmentalist in the globe. Right after that, he wrote the piece entitled, “What’s a Jailhouse Environmentalist?”
During one of my law library sessions, I discovered a small memo hidden behind a kaleidoscope of other memos entitled, “Environmental Impact Statement” posted to give a 60 day notice for the captive audience to formally object to the proposed building construction of the plant. Subsequently I requested for the “Environmental Impact Statement” report which read like an apocalyptic nightmare.
I began working on a formal objection letter drafted to accommodate every one inmate. Though I was aware that DOC had a very strict policy prohibiting the circulation of any form of a petition. Two or more signatures on one piece of paper could be interpreted as a petition and anyone who signed a petition could be placed under administrative custody, segregated from the general population.
Many prisoners were afraid to sign the formal objection letter, fearing reprisal, retaliation, and/or could potentially affect their chances of parole at least and/or by outside political influences. This resulted in being placed under investigation for several weeks by the DOC security department to inquire about whether or not I violated the DCADM policy by crafting a petition and mobilizing and organizing, which is clearly a violation of the policy.
I drafted a formal objection letter that debunked the DOC’s policy, which has never been done before in the history of the DOC. I synthesized it from we, our, us to I, me, my, basically made it simpler to bypass the policy and get out from under the scrutiny of the department of security from being a person of interest.
In an article entitled “EPA Adds Prison Locations to its Environmental Justice Mapping Tool,” author and environmental reporter Zoe Loftus-Farren published in Truthout and Earth Island Journal about the good news wherein they created the first map of prisons in superfund sites across the country. Panagioti Tsolkas, director of the Prison Ecology Project, stated that “new Environmental Protection Agency tool will prove to be an invaluable asset in the fight against new prison projects. Prisons are often built on marginal lands that after haven’t been mined logged or otherwise contaminated may not be seen as suitable for any other use. At the same time, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a subdivision of the U.S. Department of Justice doesn’t typically address the impact of prison siting decisions on the health of prisoners when completing federally mandated environmental impact statements.”
Tsolkas says that the new EG screen prison layer implicitly endorses HRDC’s contention that the BOP must consider prisoner health when evaluating the Letcher County Project and others like it. Again, sometime in 2017, inmates in SCI Frackville took an unprecedented stance by signing and sending a formal objection letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, protesting and objecting to the building up an exorbitant $444 million federal prison proposed to be built on a toxic mine site in Letcher, Kentucky.
Many of the PA prisoners at SCI Frackville received a small postcard acknowledging our protest by the United States Department of Justice. This was the first time ever in history where in Pennsylvania state prisoners simply, nonviolently, and collectively protested on behalf of federal prisoners to stop the building of a federal prison and Letcher, Kentucky.
The new layer allows the public to overlay the locations of the country’s 6,000 plus prisons, jailsm and detention centers with information about environmental hazards like superfund and hazardous waste sites, something the nonprofit Human Rights Defense Center has been pushing for as part of its campaign for the EPA to consider prisoners with an environmental justice context.
For the prison ecology movement which addresses issues at the intersection and environmental degradation, it could be a game changer. I agree with Panagioti Tsolkas. This is huge and a major development on the environmental front altogether.
About the water crisis at SCI Frackville, the top agencies, the PEP, the EPA, know about this open secret and have done very little to rectify this ongoing problem. In 2017 mid-September, a new line was installed, which the Schuylkill County water municipality authority indicated should reduce the turbid water events going forward. Evidently, the water crisis has been going on for umpteen years without being fixed.
Many Pennsylvania taxpayers would be surprised to know that our infrastructure is older than Flint, Michigan with its toxic water crisis. Our water infrastructure is over 100 years old. This is similar to how Flint, Michigan prisoners at Genesee County Jail experienced the worst of that contamination, being that they had no option and were among the last to be notified or receive medical attention, etcetera.
On January 18, 2018, Workers World was notified by the Department of Corrections stating that the entitled Florida Prisoners Strike was confiscated to inmate Julio Ortiz, FC8863 at SCI Coal Township near [inaudible] Pennsylvania.
The PADOC has provided Workers World with 15 working days to appeal the denial stating that if the denial is not overturned, the January 18, 2018 issue will not only be refused toward Ortiz and other prisoners, but also Workers World would be automatically placed on the statewide ban list, banning all inmates in the PADOC from receiving Workers World.
This creates not only a chilling effect but also invokes a dangerous precedent that will ensure a trickling effect to other publications like Bay View, Socialist Viewpoint, Criminal Legal News, etcetera.
I believe that the reason they’re giving the [inaudible] choices to literally take away the rights of prisoners to expose fascism, racism, inmate abuse, and staff corruption, amongst other things. This is the fox guarding the hen house, and there is simply no way that the appeals designed to be won by Workers World, especially when the appeal system is designed and promulgated by the DOC. To take away a man’s or woman’s story is to take their viable means of communication, meaning their First Amendment rights to free speech and the media.
As Gary Snyder has encouraged us in the practice of the wild, to be truly free, one must take on the basic conditions as they are: painful and permanent and perfect, and then be grateful for the impermanence and the freedom it grants us, for in a fixed universe there will be no freedom, and with that freedom, we improve the campsite, teach children, and oust tyrants.
Finally, by no means or a stretch of one’s imagination has this legal odyssey been anything but easy. Some may view their prison experience as nothing less than a waste of time. It’s not a state of absolute despair or, as Oscar Wilde once wrote in the Ballad of Reading Gaol, 1898, “The vilest deeds, like poison wheats, blossom well in the prison air. It is only what is good in man that wastes and withers there.”
But I say to you today that the good in man or woman shall not waste nor wither as we continue to battle the corporate raiders on multiple fronts. Finally, in conclusion, Fight Toxic Prisons will be holding their first convergence gathering and rally in Pennsylvania during June 8th through the 11th. I am inviting everyone to come out and participate.
The face and the voice inside the nation of prisoners, Bryant Arroyo, for Prison Radio.