Life in Prison: Where Does the Line of Solidarity Begin and End?

Life in Prison: Where Does the Line of Solidarity Begin and End?

By Christopher Zoukis

Today, as I returned to my housing unit from the noon meal,
I witnessed something that bothered me greatly. 
I observed a number of FCI Petersburg inmates removing an old,
(presumably less-secure) fence and installing a new (presumably more-secure)
fence at the entrance to the recreation yard. 
They were there working hard, jackhammers, fork lifts, and other
supplies in hand. 

Image courtesy 

While I understand that these prisoners work in the
facilities maintenance department, and that these sorts of tasks fall within
their work purview, it still bothers me that they — fellow federal prisoners
— would be involved in the act of enhancing the fences and bars of the
institution which contain all of us.  I
had the same feeling when they engaged in the same project about a year
ago.  That time they replaced existing
fencing and gates with the more secure variety. 
They also installed new cameras and put in some very annoying secure
turnstile entrances to the Recreation Department.  This time they will complete the job by
removing the rest of the old chain-link fence and replace it with the more
sturdy bars topped with razor-wire (picture circular spools of barbwire, but
topped with razor blades as opposed to sharp barbs).

The question which comes to mind — no, the internal debate
and conflict which comes to mind — is whether prisoners should be involved in
constructing new security or monitoring measures, the purpose of which is to
better keep us in the prison or to make our lot in life worse.  This same work detail frosted the FCI
Petersburg Special Housing Unit windows not too long ago, so that those locked
in the hole would not be able to look out their windows.   Shouldn’t there be at least one iota of
solidarity and brotherhood amongst all of us who are locked up and locked
down?  We all know that there will be
bootlickers and stool pigeons.  And we
know that there will be snitches.  But
should the average federal prisoner be involved in such actions?  I think not. 
To me it is offensive.

Yet, the problem becomes more pervasive.  You see, it’s not the boot lickers, snitches,
and stool pigeons who are engaging in this sort of construction (and attacks
upon their fellow prisoners’ psyches). 
It is the average prisoner.  It is
the prisoner who doesn’t usually bend to the administration’s will.  It is a friend of mine who runs a gambling
ticket.  It is another guy with whom I
play in a sports league.  These are not
informants, they are regular prisoners. 
Yet, they are involved in ideologically damning activities on the part
of the prison administration.

Let me state it clearly: I am not advocating for active
resistance against prison administrators. 
This is not the answer.  What I am
advocating is far bolder.  I am
advocating for prison administrators to not place prisoners in such a
position.  It is the duty of prison
administrators to not place those under their charge in positions such as this,
irrespective of whether or not those on such a work detail can appreciate the
significance of their actions.

In 1998, at USP Allenwood, a facilities work detail was
asked to install steel bars along the windows of the main hallway, which had
only tinted glass looking out onto the (secure) recreation yard.  They refused based upon principle.  They were thrown in the USP Allenwood Special
Housing Unit
for their refusal, for their ideological objections to the ordered
task.  So too was the next work detail,
when they refused to perform as ordered. 
After the second group willfully went to the SHU for refusing to engage
in such activities, the prison administration finally realized the error of
their ways and had private contractors construct the fence.  Ironically, the installation of the bars
appeared to create an increase in violence at USP Allenwood, perhaps because it
fostered an expectation of the same.

While many would argue — and most certainly correctly —
that FCI Petersburg is no USP Allenwood, we are still prisoners.  We are still locked up and locked down.  We are still brothers.  And as brothers in chains, there should be
some level of camaraderie and solidarity. 
There should be some level of honor and personal dignity which does not
allow for prisoners to construct security or monitoring devices designed to
keep their fellow prisoners locked down. 
It just isn’t right.  Most of us
won’t sell out a friend for another cup of soup, and, in the same breath, we
won’t construct devices which help to collectively repress our own kind;
prisoners, that is.

So, I leave you with two questions.  One, should prisoners be duty or honor bound
to not engage in the construction or application of measures which aim to keep
their fellow prisoners locked up or locked down?  And two, what should this resistance look
like?  I leave it up to you to
decide.  Leave your comments below.


Editorial Note: When covering touchy matters, such as
prisoner solidarity, we feel it important to specify that the Prison Law Blog
does not advocate for any sort of individual or group demonstrations.  The concepts presented in this blog post are
ideological concepts, nothing more substantial. 
As such, individual phrases or statements should not be taken out of
context.  If clarification is sought for
any of the comments made therein, we are more than willing to clarify.

1 thought on “Life in Prison: Where Does the Line of Solidarity Begin and End?”

  1. The problem with your theory is that there is a presumption that the work detail minded building such things. Not to mention, that this presumed attack on the prisoners psyche is existent aside from you to make your case.

    They would still build these things. They may use funding that they otherwise would use for something more beneficial to you and use it to pay these outside contractors.

    You are in prison. You are locked up. Yes. Why lock your mind as well? You are choosing to look at it as a very narrow activity that has no consequence except an emotional one.

    You could also try not funding their projects by not getting arrested. Which would be your biggest contribution to their creations overall.

    I know it sounds flippant, and I admit I am not really trying too hard to be more than that.

    I’ve been in state prison and federal prison. I only mention this so you know that it is not as flippant as it seems, what I am saying. Part of learning a different way to live, that isn’t so disastrous, is to see how you view things and make choices that suit you better.

    These choices, they don’t have to be right for everyone, they don’t have to be empirically right. But if your choice is to belabor the issue of imprisoning prisoners, then I really can’t see how it will do any thing but leave you in an infinite regression.

    Good luck.

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