Ex-Prisoner: The Potential of Prisoners & the Impact of Bob Avakian

September 29, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Revcom.us recently posted an interview with a former prisoner who, through contact with Revolution newspaper, the writings of Bob Avakian (BA), and literature of the Revolutionary Communist Party, decided that being an emancipator of humanity was what his life was going to be about. The following are two short clips from the interview, which appeared in three parts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). To prisoners: If you would like a printout of the whole interview, write to Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund, 1321 N. Milwaukee Ave #407, Chicago, IL 60622.


"If we're really going to make revolution we gotta get into BA"

Revolution: You became a revolutionary in prison doing an 11-year sentence. Can you talk about the process you went through of going from a gang mentality to a different way of thinking?

X: It was a lot of struggle, struggle with myself... it was a process of struggle that happened as I read more. I was stuck in the cell and would just be reading out of boredom. You just pick up a book and start reading shit. And then you think about it. You think about the role you’re playing and all this shit.

I started getting into radical literature and it appealed to me. Because on one level, I always hated cops. I hated the cops cause I saw their hypocrisy. So I had this dislike of authorities, dislike of the government. I saw it as bullshit. You look at TV and you see these fools that come up and these fake-ass politicians and the way they would talk about the neighborhoods, you know, like what they were doing there. The fucking pigs would get up there and you recognize their hypocrisy when they would talk about “oh, we’re trying to serve these people, protect these people and these fucking thugs are the problem.” Well they don’t say it that way, they polish up the way they speak about people, I guess they go through some kind of training to talk about this shit. And then you hear these politicians, “such an upstanding officer of the law” and all this shit. And you feel like everybody is against you, the pigs are against you, these fucking reporters interviewing them are against you, the politicians are against you and you start to feel like the whole world is against you. So you want to fuck up, you just feel like fucking up.

But you’re also conscious of some things and then you start reading things. Like a lot of the radical literature I read was coming from people who sent literature to prisoners, the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund (PRLF) being my favorite one. They would send things and they would talk about prisoners. They didn’t think we were the scum of the earth. Realizing there were people out there who saw prisoners as a potential positive force had a big impact on me. And they actually had a better opinion of me than I did of myself. I really did think I was a piece of shit sometimes. “I’m no good. I do all this horrible shit.” And you embrace it as a way to cope with all of it. Then there’s people who don’t see me as an irredeemable monster, and they were trying to fight something that I was against, that I didn’t like from the time I was a child—I didn’t like the government, the system. I didn’t like none of that shit. And so it appealed to me and I started reading more and more and as I read more and more, I became more and more conscious.

Political resistance appealed to me. But it wasn’t life changing in the way revolution was. It changed the way I thought about a lot of things. I was struggling with the way I was feeling but I didn’t see a reason for me to be different. I would kinda lie to myself, that we could make revolution some day, one day. Because I had that sense that we’re not going to change shit unless we make a revolution. We need a revolution to change all this shit that these people are talking about. In a lot of this radical literature, they weren’t talking about revolution, not in a substantive way. They were just talking about gradual change or resistance—people uniting against this or that particular crime that stems from the system. They were saying we could change things, but weren’t really talking fundamentally about how. How would we overthrow the fucking government and what are we going to put in its place? What do we need to do to get to that point? Nobody was saying that. Nobody... all this shit was frustrating me so I didn’t see the possibility of it. Until my friend sent me the PRLF address in a kite. [Kites are small notes passed amongst prisoners.]

To be clear, I had read Marx, Lenin, Mao, Engels and they were clearly revolutionary—they were serious about making a REAL revolution. But when I read all these “modern day revolutionaries” I felt like they were watering down the content. But when I started reading Revolution newspaper, they were talking about actually making revolution in a serious way. “This is our strategy, this what we need to do. We need to build a movement. But it has to be a movement FOR revolution.” A lot of people talk about movement building but they didn’t talk about movement building for what? It was always real vague. Or some people talk about socialism but they didn’t say how we were going to get to socialism. Revolution newspaper was different. BA’s works were different. I started reading all this and then I was like “Oh shit!” it really inspired me, that was life changing. I started thinking about it more seriously and about all the things I had thought about before, then I started taking a serious look at what I was going to make my life about.

One thing I knew I wasn’t going to do—I wasn’t going to conform. Even when I was less conscious, I knew I wasn’t going to conform, that just wasn’t an option. But when I got into BA and Revolution newspaper then “I saw the light” but I also asked questions. I didn’t take anything up without questioning it. At the beginning, I wrote in with a lot of questions. And my questions were answered through reading more and more of BA’s works.

Communism definitely appealed to me. There were other people who called themselves communists but their line was bullshit. It was based on a lot of wishful thinking about resistance in the Third World spontaneously developing into the kind of consciousness needed for a revolution. On the flip side, they looked at difficulties of making revolution in the U.S. and concluded that you couldn’t make a revolution here. That wasn’t life changing. Nothing in there made me want to make my life about revolution, in the way they viewed it. If you’re going to be into wishful thinking or just... I don’t want to be part of no culture of resistance. “Oh I lived my life and I resisted so I could sleep better at night.” Fuck that! If I’m a change my life it’s gotta be because I think we’re actually gonna change shit. I’m actually gonna make contributions, actually changing it not just to feel good about myself. I wanna make a fucking revolution.

The more shit I read and the more I compared and contrasted to BA, I came to see, “Okay, if we’re really going to make revolution we gotta get into BA.” When I first read the paper and it talked about “we have this leader BA, we have this newspaper, we have this Party with these principles we could build.” It didn’t really get to me at that moment, it didn’t really hit me but the more I got into it, the more I read, at a certain point, it did hit me. One day I was just thinking, I was like “fuck! It’s such a precious thing.” I remember reading BA saying the Party is a precious thing, and I’m like “yeah, okay.” But I didn’t really get it until I thought about it. “Man, we do have this Party and all these people acting in support of this Party, to build this Party but for the purpose of making revolution. And there’s a Party leading this.” And I thought this is very powerful and then I looked into the strategy. That’s one of the things that really got to me, when I read “On the Strategy for Revolution.” The more I thought about it, the more I could see that this strategy conformed to objective reality.

Prisoners Can Play an Important Role in the Revolution

Revolution: What role would you say... in talking to people who are reading this in prison now, what role do you think prisoners can and need to play in the revolution?

X: They need to take up revolution and communism. They need to take these goals up. And they have to figure out what they can do wherever they're at to fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution—and do whatever they can from within the confines of prison. Because they're not helpless. They can still contribute. They can get into BA and help get others into BA, to get people to wrangle with all these big questions.

Another way prisoners can make an important contribution is by writing letters to the PRLF [Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund] and Revolution newspaper.

While I was in prison, I opened up the paper one time and saw an excerpt from one of my letters on a sign that people were using on the street. I was like, "What the???" I started realizing that there's still contributions you could make just by writing. I was able to speak to a whole section of people through the pages of Revolution—not just my celly or the guy in the cell next to mine. That's very important because of the back and forth between outside and inside the prison walls. I was someone about whom the system would've said, "You can't teach this dumb-ass anything," or "You would have to water down the content for him to understand." But I did get a meaningful education in prison, because I was learning fundamental things about how the world works, why things are the way they are, and what we could do to change it. Then through writing in to Revolution, I was able to challenge others with what I had come to understand.

I was surprised to see one of my letters being taken out to challenge these youth who are caught up in the things that most of these prisoners were caught up in before they came to prison. A lot more of that needs to be done to reach out to those youth before they get caught up in this system's game and their life is snatched away from them by these pigs and the system they represent. Prisoners have a very important role to play and an obligation to speak to these youth—we know what they're going through and we know where they're heading. But if you've gotten into revolution, you also know their lives could be about something radically different—they could be the gravediggers of this system and emancipators of humanity.

In addition, if people from all walks of life see prisoners stepping forward, that could be very inspiring—if even prisoners with their very limited means are finding ways to contribute to this, then why can't I? It can change people's thinking—the people that this system is always telling you are monsters are actually capable of tremendous love for humanity. And it is this system that is monstrous.

There's another level, too, where prisoners should be raising their questions and differences—to share questions, which others might have who don’t write into Revolution, but which everyone can learn from. Also, raising their questions can provide real insights into significant contradictions they might be dealing with or thinking about that the movement for revolution may not be aware of. Or even if you're wrong about something that you raise and someone is writing back to you and answering your question, it makes the person answering have to work to further develop the line, and this can contribute to all kinds of breakthroughs. The deeper our understanding is, the better equipped we are to make revolution. So posing those questions is important, as they're wrangling with all this... and make those questions known so we can get to work on answering them and helping raise that level of consciousness for the movement as a whole.

If more prisoners recognize this and find ways to be writing and engaging the line, you could have a very positive impact.

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