Prison as intersection

The Florida prison strike, dubbed #operationPUSH by its organizers, is bringing a level of national attention to conditions in our prisons that I haven’t seen in a long time.

People who generally don’t give a thought to the issue are becoming aware that people in jails and prisons live under truly inhumane conditions. The practice of using prison labor to do work both public and private is being recognized for what it is: slavery.

Some people are even beginning to be willing to consider that we as a society should discuss ways to better solve the issues of poverty, crime and violence. As it becomes clear that most of our jails and prisons actually increase all those things, we are beginning to see that incarceration is not a positive element in society or even a “necessary evil” — the position most people tend to retreat to when faced with the facts about how horrible prison really is.


The prison strike itself is bringing some clarity to my mind about a lot of these issues — issues I’ve been concerned about for a long time — because it’s helping me see the intersectionality of the issues. The question of using incarcerated people to do public work, from cleaning up roadsides to building facilities, is one thing (though I’d argue even that is a form of slave labor), but when it comes to leasing prisoners out to private interests, the moral ground is clear. We are enslaving them.

So I begin to see that when you step into a prison, you step into a place where many — perhaps most? — of the crucial issues of American society intersect. As with the original feminist idea of intersectionality, which describes how “people are often disadvantaged by multiple sources of oppression: their race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and other identity markers,” as a discussion on YW Boston  frames it, the incarcerated are often at the crossing of many vectors that keep them pinned down, locked up, and caught in a cycle of poverty and crime that they can’t break out of.

This “convergence of oppression” can be acute for an incarcerated  individual.

Toxic Prisons

Prison, and the system that creates, supports, staffs and fills it with inmates, is likewise a point where we can observe many of the toxic factors in our society coming together to create an environment that is soul-destroying and life-wrecking for its individual victims and ultimately corrupting for the society at large.

In brief form, this is what we do: we take people who the economy — which is itself racist, classist, sexist, ableist, etc. — has forced into criminality in order to survive, run them through a legal system that is biased in every way against them and dooms them with its confrontational model, lock them up for being poor, of color, and under-educated, and them put them to work for either the state that did this to them or private interests that are the reason the state and its enforcement apparatus exist.

So in this system, this process, we can see all the racist, sexist, ableist, classist elements of society come together to make it nearly impossible for an individual with several strikes against them to avoid getting caught up in this web. Those individuals who do avoid it usually have some unusual element, some person, some stroke of luck, some quirk of character, that sets them apart and provides the impetus that propels them beyond entanglement in its sticky strands.

Almost all of the current social and political issues are involved in one way or another in the operation of this system. By looking deeply into how it works in general and how it may impact any particular person, we begin to illuminate all of the issues that our society must deal with in some reasonable time frame, else it will descend into some kind of dark, near-feudal social order that gradually abandons all the ideals of an egalitarian, humane society.

Slavery By Another Name

I’m beginning to read a book I’ve had for some years that is helping me see and understand the origins of this system.

Douglas Blackmon’s Slavery By Another Name is a detailed historical account of how the system of laws, law enforcement and incarceration we now take as normal arose in the South after the Civil War to deal with two things: the economic chaos that white folk found themselves in after the freeing of the slaves deprived them of cheap labor, and the fear of these freed slaves taking over the government and economy of the South.

As I read this book and think about what’s going on around me, I plan to write further on the subject. It helps me to grasp it all, to make sense of it. I hope it may help others to understand what we have done, what we are doing, and most importantly, what we must now do to rectify the sins of the fathers.

Prison Amerika

The Florida Prison Strike, calling itself #operationPUSH, is apparently still continuing, and our efforts to let the Florida Prison System know that we are watching seems to be having an effect. At least Rashid Johnson is not being tortured now, or so it seems from recent communication, which is always slow and difficult.

This issue is pivotal in the understanding of what is happening — has been happening for some time — in the U.S. We may be at a critical turning point in terms of societal change, and the issues of law enforcement, justice, and incarceration are merging into a larger, intersectional issue that brings everything into sharp focus.

The prison strike is galvanizing a lot of support from unexpected places. I’ve listed a few links here with good information, some from surprising sources such as Teen Vogue and Her Campus.

Her Campus

Shadow Proof

Teen Vogue

This Twitter site has lots of good info as well: #AbolitionNow

Also this IWW group has recent updates on communication from inside the Florida prisons, as well as info on support for prison reform and radical restructuring of the “justice” system: IWOC

I’m beginning a new category — “Prison America” — on this blog to explore this developing movement and the general topic of incarceration and the so-called Justice System in the U.S.

At the moment, the focus needs to be on providing support by way of phone calls, maybe letters, to the Florida authorities to keep them under control. Also support of the groups that are working on this issue may be critical.

But there are political and philosophical issues here which need to be explored as we address this larger problem in the country and the world. I’m hoping to post some comments and thoughts on that soon…

Florida Prison Strike

Good info on the Florida Prison Strike, which has been using Operation PUSH as its hashtag on IG. I think Operation PUSH was Jesse Jackson’s organization back in the ’70’s — but this isn’t connected, just using the name. Angela Davis has spoken out in support of the strike, and some other people are getting on board. I’m not sure about Jackson.

Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons.

The Florida Prison Strike AKA:Operation PUSH

Good info on the Florida Prison Strike, which has been using Operation PUSH as its hashtag on IG. I think Operation PUSH was Jesse Jackson’s organization back in the ’70’s — but this isn’t connected, just using the name. Angela Davis has spoken out in support of the strike, and some other people are getting on board. I’m not sure about Jackson.

Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons.

The Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons

Updates on Operation PUSH in the Florida Department of Corrections

(Posted on SPARC 1/19/18. This link will get updated as new information comes in. Please send any news, photos, or videos to

gainesvillemlkbannerSupporters of Operation PUSH prisoners march among hundreds in local MLK parade, Gainesville, FL, Jan 15, 2018.

It’s been a hard silence for the past 5 days since Operation PUSH launched a statewide prisoner strike in the FL Department of Corrections prison system (FDOC or FDC) coinciding with Martin Luther King Day.

Information from prisoners is coming in at a much slower pace than people on the outside had anticipated, but reports are slowly and steadily making their way through the walls, despite many obstacles.

Thus far, we’ve heard from prisoners that there has been active participation or repression of some sort in the following prisons: Santa Rosa, Jackson, Gulf, Hamilton, Avon Park, Franklin, Holmes, Everglades, Reception…

View original post 1,294 more words

Too Much.

I think the idiot in the white house has stepped over the line with his latest comments about “shit-hole” countries.

Even though there is no longer a line, or at least we thought there was no longer a line to step over because he had obliterated all expectation of decency or even rationality from the person who supposedly represents our country.

But, for me there is a line. He has stepped over my line.

I can no longer sit and remain silent in the presence of anyone — anyone — who countenances him as worthy of respect or even as worthy of being given the benefit of the doubt. I will say, and repeat, to anyone who may still be in that state of delusion — are there still people that stupid and deluded? — I will say to them, he is an idiot and a crass, ignorant asshole of the highest degree.

I suppose this is particularly offensive to me because I have friends from Haiti, wonderful people who I know are hurt by such ignorant comments.

I think it may be over lots of people’s lines as well, since several mainstream commentators are calling him on it.

For one, Anderson Cooper said, “Not racial. Not racially charged. Racist… The sentiment the President expressed today is a racist sentiment.”

Cooper also called the president “woefully ignorant” about the contributions of Haitians and Africans and other non-white countries of the world.

Esquire’s Jack Holmes also sees the comment as “a crystalizing moment for observers.” He laments the “continued damage this disgrace of a presidency is doing to the image and reputation of the United States…” and points to comments from other world leaders to support this.

Cooper also quotes my recent favorite writer, James Baldwin, as saying that “ignorance allied with power is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

And Holmes says this quote has never been more prescient.

Yes, Mr. Holmes, Baldwin is our most profound critic and prophet.

Holmes also indicts the president for his idiocy.

Holmes said, “The president is profoundly ignorant in any number of ways. He is almost completely incurious about the world. He has no real knowledge or expertise, and often disdains those who do. He does not read books—or newspapers, or much of anything else—and before he became president, he rarely traveled abroad despite his substantial means. He is wary of the world outside of own properties, and possibly afraid of it.”

Which sums it up nicely. In fact, perhaps too nicely.

There’s ignorant and there’s willfully ignorant.

I think the president falls into the latter group.

As Holmes says, it’s the president’s racism that leads him to these conclusions and allows him to “dismiss the contributions of people who come to America from these countries and their children. Just take Haiti: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Roxane Gay, Wyclef Jean, and Mia Love (the first black female Republican elected to Congress) are all Haitian-Americans. Do their stories and accomplishments count for nothing because we have elected a president who simply doesn’t know anything, and cares less?”

In an even more detailed and explicit exposure of the extent of the ignorance of the president and his defenders, Jonathan Katz, who has written a book about Haiti, lays out the history and the complicity of the “white” nations in creating the poverty that plagues Haiti today.

Katz, who tweets as #KatzOnEarth, laid it out in a thread Jan. 11:

“In order to do a victory lap around the GDP difference between, say, Norway and Haiti, you have to know nothing about the history of the world. That includes, especially, knowing nothing real about the history of the United States.

You have to not understand anything about the systematic theft of African bodies and lives. And you have to not understand how that theft built the wealth we have today in Europe and the US.

You’d have to not know that the French colony that became Haiti provided the wealth that fueled the French Empire — and 2/3 of the sugar and 3/4 of the coffee that Europe consumed.

You’d have to not know how rich slave traders got off their system of kidnapping, rape, and murder.

You’d have to not realize that Haiti was founded in a revolution against that system, and that European countries and the United States punished them for their temerity by refusing to recognize or trade with them for decades.

You’d have to not know that Haiti got recognition by agreeing to pay 150 million gold francs to French landowners in compensation for their own freedom.

You’d have to not know that Haiti paid it, and that it took them almost all of the 19th century to do so.

You’d then have to not know that Haiti was forced to borrow some money to pay back that ridiculous debt, some of it from banks in the United States. And you’d have to not know that in 1914 those banks got President Wilson to send the US Marines to empty the Haitian gold reserve.

.@RichLowry would have to not know about the chaos that ensued, and the 19-year US military occupation of Haiti that followed (at a time when the US was invading and occupying much of Central America and the Caribbean).

He and others have to not know about the rest of the 20th century either—the systematic theft and oppression, US support for dictators and coups, the US invasions of Haiti in 1994-95 and 2004 … the use of the IMF and World Bank to impose new loans and destructive trade policies, including the now-famous rice tariff gutting that Bill Clinton apologized for but had been a policy since Reagan, and on and on …

And you’d have to understand nothing about why the US (under George W. Bush) pushed for and paid a quarter of the UN “stabilization mission” that did little but keep Haiti’s presidents from being overthrown and kill 10,000 people by dumping cholera in its rivers. Etc.

In short, you’d have to know nothing about WHY Haiti is poor (or El Salvador in kind), and WHY the United States (and Norway) are wealthy. But far worse than that, you’d have to not even be interested in asking the question.

And that’s where they really tell on themselves …

Because what they are showing is that they ASSUME that Haiti is just naturally poor, that it’s an inherent state borne of the corruption of the people there, in all senses of the word.  And let’s just say out loud why that is: It’s because Haitians are black.”

I think this pretty well indicts as racist anyone who defends the president to any degree.

Katz nails the argument:

“If Haiti is a shithole, then they can say that black freedom and sovereignty are bad. They can hold it up as proof that white countries—and what’s whiter than Norway—are better, because white people are better.

They wanted that in 1804, and in 1915, and they want it now.

So if anyone tonight tries to trap you in a contest of “where would you rather live”—or “what about cholera” or “yeah but isn’t poverty bad?”—ask them what they know about how things got that way.

And then ask them why they’re ok with it.

Which is what I’m committing to do.

Power moves

Most of the problematic tendencies in our disaster-prone society seem to be aspects of one simple principle: being willing to use your power to gain more power is the way to success and general approbation.

I suppose this is an unsupported generalization, and that I’m painting things with a broad brush. I’d certainly be hard-pressed to come up with a large array of supporting instances of this principle, but it is an idea that’s been growing in my mind for some time now.

The most recent events on the national stage that have brought this up for me are the Republican tax bill, which they’ve finally managed to pass–an act of pure power in itself–and the flurry of defensive rationalizations around the men who’ve been accused of sexual predation. Though these two things seem to be unrelated, they share an etiology: abuse of power.

The tax bill is essentially a bold, crass move by the people who hold the reigns of power in the U.S. (the wealthy owner class, not the pathetic politicians who do their bidding for the crumbs from the table) to consolidate their gains as they become more and more in control of everything. They don’t really need more money, but they have an insatiable need for power, and that’s what control of so much of our national wealth gives them: nearly unlimited power. Including the power to keep us convinced that it’s in our interest.

Why they want this power is a question for deeper psycho-social analysis than I’m equipped to make, but it seems to be a product of some pretty deep-seated emotional hurt and fear that just grows as it is fed. I’ve long been convinced that most anger and hatred and evil-doing is based in fear, which usually has come from some kind of hurt. Like most of our negative psychological states, when we feed it the emotional poison of exerting our will over that of another, the negative state grows and requires bigger and bigger doses of power to assuage the pain.

In the same way, the sexual predators are not really interested in sex, they’re much more into the wielding of power over others, because that’s what seems to satisfy the need for self-reification and aggrandizement that drives them. Since sex is, in some ways, the ultimate thing one can give another person, it’s also the ultimate thing one can forcibly take from another person when one has some kind of power over them.

I can’t imagine how such so-called sex could actually bring the kind of gratification that sex does, because in these kinds of forced sex, one would be aware that the only reason it was happening was because of the power relationship. The truly bonding and gratifying aspects of sex, the source of the happiness it brings, are that it is freely engaged in between people who love and appreciate each other and who give of themselves to each other. Willingly. Elements which are totally lacking in forced sex.

Whether the power is physical, as in the normal idea of rape, or some kind of control over the conditions of the others’ life, as with bosses or directors or such relationships, it’s still power, and it’s the abuse of that power that is wrong.

Putting the other person in the position of having to make a difficult decision… assent or lose a vital job, role, or other aspect of ones life, that is the crux of what makes this behavior wrong. Saying, as some defenders have, that the victim should have ‘just said no’ or some other facile notion of resistance and refusal, ignores the true nature of the power relationship between the perpetrator and the victim in these cases.

Digging into this national pathology is painful, but it seems necessary if we are to grow and develop in constructive ways as a society.

Finding peace in trying times…

These times do try our souls, as Thomas Paine said. Ole Thomas would have been aghast at what’s going on in our world today!

One of my Buddhist mentors, Maia Duerr, has a beautiful response to the general malaise and the current insanity in her Full Moon newsletter today, noting that the recent horrendous tax bill is is just more of the same, another example, certainly a more extreme one, of the power that greed, anger and delusion hold over our society.

She also says, as I’ve been saying for a while now, and just mentioned recently, that the wisdom of our indigenous cultures is an important source of help for all this insanity.

I felt a bit better reading her thoughts. She offers some positive suggestions for dealing with the stress it brings. Maybe others would also benefit from hearing her perspective on things:

This full moon snuck up on me… feels like the past 28 days went by so quickly! Have you felt that too? The quickening of time, along with the shortening of days…Feeling into the preciousness of each moment we have here in this crazy mixed-up world

Yesterday I awoke to the news here in the U.S. that the Senate passed a horrendous tax bill. As one friend said, there’s all kinds of evil written into it. The full ramifications likely won’t be known and felt for some time, but they will be huge. No doubt this is a further redistribution of ‘wealth’ of a certain kind upwards to those already have it, and a further marginalizing of those who already live at the edge.

This isn’t new, though. It’s an intensification of what has been there all along, no matter which political party is in power. The seeds of greed, hatred, and delusion have grown into fully toxic monsters.

And yet the medicine is also here, hidden underneath the toxic overgrowth. I look to my Indigenous sisters and brothers for a blueprint on how to live a life that is in right relationship to each other and the earth… they’ve had generations of experience in doing that, and learning from mistakes. I look to teachings of simplicity and renunciation in my own tradition of Buddhism for similar gifts.

This isn’t rocket science. It’s not a matter of finding the best new technology. The way through this is what has been there all along… to not take more from the earth than we can give back, to respect each other, to be kind to each other, to respect earth and water and sky. And yet the way will be full of challenges and pain and suffering as we reckon with all this.

I think a lot of another friend’s gentle yet persistent warning — soon we’re going to need to feed each other. What will that look like? How can we get there, together? How can I opt out of this system that has caused so much harm to people and creatures of all kind and the planet we rely on for life? How can I be part of a community that truly cares for each other, and mindfully walks on this earth?

I don’t have the answers. I know it will take greater effort and creativity than I’ve given these questions in the past, and greater commitment on my part.

In the midst of all this, I’m trying to observe a 7-day at-home version of Rohatsu, the intensive sitting meditation retreat that Zen Buddhists do during this first week of December. I’m taking this as a time to slow down, stop, and sit with all these questions.

Nature is by far the best medicine during times like these. … I want to share this short video from a recent journey I took to a beautiful place near Santa Fe, Diablo Canyon. I invite you to take a half a minute to simply notice what you feel as you watch this video. I hope in the coming weeks you’re able to make time to visit a place that speaks to your heart and soul. If you do, I’d love to hear about it and even see pictures! You can always reach me by replying to this email or writing to me at
Maia offers a full range of consultation and teaching around these themes. Her website has links to most of those resources, and you can can sign up for the Full Moon newsletter. It’s always a joy and a solace.