Revolution #228, April 3, 2011
Opposing Prison Censorship
Reading of Prisoners' Letters at San Francisco State University
Project Rebound is a unique re-entry program of formerly incarcerated students at San Francisco State University. It was founded in 1969 and is the only program of its kind in the nation. On March 8, Project Rebound and the "Committee to Overturn the Ban against Revolution Newspaper" held an event opposing censorship against prisoners, featuring the reading of letters from subscribers to the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund and Revolution newspaper.
As the statement to Overturn the Ban says, "Prisoners are human beings! And as human beings they have the right to develop as critical thinkers and explore alternative solutions to the plight of the people and the planet itself."
Over 90 people came out to hear readings of the letters offered by both students and faculty. The event also included a presentation about the Georgia Prisoners' Strike, a powerful spoken word piece by an alum and director of an ex-offenders program, and comments by activists for the rights of formerly incarcerated. The program was tied together by leaders of Project Rebound, who explained to those who didn't know about the inhumane conditions and torture that prisoners face, and the need to defeat the censorship of prisoners' minds. Richard Brown (one of the former Black Panthers known as the San Francisco 8) was also in the house, lending his support.
One young woman who did a lot of work on the program talked about how this event was very personal for her. Her father was recently incarcerated. "He never had a chance to go to school, never had the chance to achieve his full potential. It's disgusting that anyone would treat a human being like that."
The readings began with a professor of sociology. She read, with visible emotion, a letter from a prisoner to the San Francisco Bay Guardian, thanking them for publishing an article about the struggle to Overturn the Ban against Revolution newspaper. In the letter the prisoner said that not only had he been educated, but rehabilitated. He ended, "And I have Revolution to thank for that, not the California prison system, not the church, but all those wonderfully dedicated people who come together each week to help put together such an enlightening and inspirational periodical."
A member of the Black Students Union has seen many friends and relatives taken off to prison. Before reading a letter from a California prison, he called prisons "systemic, modern day slavery."
A young woman from a Filipino student group on campus read a letter from a subscriber at Soledad Prison; a performance artist and lecturer read a letter from an Apache reader of Revolution; a Project Rebound intern read a letter in response to "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have" printed in Revolution newspaper; a Chicana from La Raza Student Organization read "A Stomach Virus in the Belly of the Beast" where a Black prisoner is asking for the Spanish language edition Revolucion, in order to better reach out and communicate with Latino brothers; and a Chicana sociology major, one of the originators and builders of the event, read a moving and determined piece from a young prisoner, "International Women's Day, 2010: A Time to Act." He wrote, "I just want your readers to know that I am constantly struggling with prisoners about the importance of the liberation of women as part of the emancipation of all humanity, which is not easy by any stretch of the imagination but still must and can be done."
A final reader was Tommy Cross. Tommy is an SFSU student who was on the BART platform the night Oscar Grant was murdered. He captured the cold-blooded killing on video, and then testified against the killer-cop Mehserle in his trial. He chose to read the "Letter from a Texas Gulag," in which the author explains how Chairman Bob Avakian has helped him to place the interests of humanity above his own.
As shared by the sociology professor at the opening of the event, "I am here today because some of my best and most inspirational students picked up something in prison, picked up a little spark, like this banned newspaper, that led them here. Each one, teach one, light a spark, End the Ban!"
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