An Open Letter to Current and Former Prisoners, Their Families, Friends, and Comrades

This article was first published on Black Agenda Report on February 15, 2023.

Today I lost a close brother and comrade in arms to the streets. Another casualty of the consequences of the Prison Industrial Complex failed policy of catch & release on the one hand, and, on the other, not having internalized Our politics to the level of being able to resist the pull and seduction of the streets.

This brother was a Co-Founder of IDOC Watch while still in prison. Back in the 90’s, when we were in prison together, I initiated his politicization by introducing him to the New Afrikan Prisoner of War Journals and he took off from there and joined Our struggle to Free The Land!!

This letter isn’t so much about Comrade Angaza (G) as it is to and about all of Us who have been trapped behind enemy lines, have grown up or did decades behind the iron curtain of the Prison Industrial Complex and who are struggling to find Our way on them streets or have failed the test only to return back to prison.

This is for some of Us who get out and have a support structure or team and still can’t gain our balance, who still can’t resist the temptation of the streets or that of reactionary conduct. Also for those who have nothing but Our survival instincts and maybe a certain level of consciousness and a desire not to return back behind these walls.

While I don’t want to make this solely about G, I have to use him as well as myself as an example.

Here is a rade who did close to 30 years in prison. A rade who got out and then hit the ground running. A rade who had support to start a small business, who had access to significant resources, who was politically active in the community, who was organizing around prison abolition and who was walking the talk, walking the straight and narrow only to have the State send the Swat Team at him for a nonexistent technical violation and send him back to prison, only to have the federal court to order his release and discharge a year later.

He tried to regain his rhythm. Although once again he had everything placed before him and all he had to do was step into the shoes, he couldn’t resist the pull, the neo-colonial seduction of the streets, of returning back to that comfort zone of the hood and the hood elements. My brother, like many of Us couldn’t come to terms with those demons with which all of Us who have lived this experience wrestle.

The demons of PTSD, of Rage, Anger, Depression, Self-Medication, of Impatience. Issues that we all have or go through even if we are unable to identify their interconnectedness in real time. We Struggle.

Herein lies the problem. Often too many of Us are too afraid or ashamed to admit that We need help, that We need some form of therapy or counseling. False Masculinity and an inability to be honest with self and self critique has led so many of Us to a premature death or back to the penitentiary that it is both sad and fucking unnecessary!!

We are not these mythical superheroes. We cannot go through decades of this physical and psychological abuse behind these walls and think We are coming home undamaged, without scars. We cannot live decades on battlefields, in war zones, hyper-masculinized environments and try to return to so-called Civilian Life as if We are just changing shoes!! We got to be Proactive on this. Ain’t no Veteran Affairs office for Us. Ain’t no Stand Down for Us and all too often it ain’t even a Stand Up for Us!!

We got to be real about this. If you’re genuinely trying to reach for Us but you are still trapped within your own traumas, you can’t be of any real help to Us until you try and recover, until you heal yourself.

Gangsterism Masquerading as Revolutionary Politics

“Once you become conscious there is no such thing as becoming unconscious, only that of betrayal.”

If you’re suppose to be political, suppose to be conscious or self-identifying as a revolutionary or freedom fighter, but you are organized as a crew, toting guns unnecessarily, in the so-called “game,” dropping bodies and/or hitting licks and you ain’t standing up against those who hold the power and foot on your collective necks, you’re engaging in gangsterism, while draped in revolutionary garb.

You might look the part, talk the part, you might even be politically active on some levels, but when you’re damaging the same community you profess to represent, when the same people you suppose to be fighting for are afraid of you or know that your crew are killas and see you as gangstas, you ain’t practicing revolutionary politics or even engaging in revolutionary struggle. You’re engaging in Warlordism.

Again it’s easy to fall into this trap because of Our (un)development and experiences. If you came to prison as a young man who was in the streets, street organization affiliated or spent any significant amount of time in prison other than at a minimum security, then you’re likely to have been exposed to serious levels or violence, i.e. murders, stabbings, rapes, police violence, and just generally an environment where you are taught and trained to be vigilant, use to being armed or having ready access to a weapon.

For 17 years, I grew up in an environment where wars, riots, race riots, takeovers and hostage situations could explode on a dime and without warning. Comrade Angaza had 27 yrs of this. So after living in such a hyper-violent environment, We take this tendency to stay armed, to strike first if necessary. We take this social conditioning home with Us. It don’t matter the environment. It can be the so-called hood or the suburbs. We take Us wherever We go. People say why do you want to be out after midnight or the wee hours of the morning? Because in prison generally you aren’t allowed out after dark. You can’t breathe the night air, look up at the stars or the moon. When you get out of prison it feels free to just be able to enjoy the night air. To roam like the caged animal you have been treated like.

We cannot continue to lose valuable comrades and brothers to this cycle. We got to learn how to love ourselves and value our self worth.

January 23, 2023

Photo: Angaza Iman Bahar. Credit: IDOC Watch.