[Freedom archives news] Supporting the Voices Inside: The Freedom Archives and Preserving the Prison Movement

Freedom Archives Events freedomarchivesnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Nov 25 17:54:55 EST 2015

  Supporting the Voices Inside: The Freedom Archives and Preserving the
  Prison Movement

Posted on November 2015 <http://publici.ucimc.org/?p=51813> by Nathaniel 
Moore <http://publici.ucimc.org/?author=7908>


/Nathaniel Moore is the archivist at the Freedom Archives, 
www.freedomarchives.org. He lived in Champaign from 2007-2011./

*Supporting the Voices Inside: The Freedom Archives and Preserving the 
Prison Movement *

“When the prison doors are opened the real dragon will fly out.”  Ho Chi 

The movements to end mass incarceration were re-invigorated in early 
September as a settlement in the class action lawsuit /Ashker v. 
Governor of California/ was reached, a major step in ending 
indeterminate, long-term solitary confinement in all California state 
prisons. The settlement should result in a dramatic reduction in the 
number of people in solitary across the state of California and become a 
model for other states moving forward. (For example, in 2013, according 
to the Illinois Department of Corrections, 2,300 people were in solitary 
confinement in Illinois, about 5% of the prison population.) The suit 
was filed in 2012 on behalf of prisoners held in solitary confinement at 
Pelican Bay State Prison, often without any violent conduct or serious 
rule infractions, many for more than a decade, and all without any 
meaningful process for transfer out of isolation and back to the general 
prison population. In addition to limiting the amount of time a prisoner 
can spend in the Pelican Bay SHU (Security Housing Unit), and of 
particular importance, is the creation of a behavior-based system; 
prisoners will no longer be sent to solitary based solely on “gang 
affiliation,” but rather based on serious rules violations.

Central to this agreement was the incredible organizing that took place 
inside prison walls. The prisoners’ victory in this struggle to limit 
the use of solitary confinement was led by the prisoners themselves – by 
their ability to organize massive support for their demands within the 
prisons, including embarking on two hunger strikes in 2011, and another 
in 2013 that became the largest prisoner hunger strike in history, with 
over 30,000 prisoners across California and the country refusing food! 
Their battle against solitary is a long-standing struggle to abolish a 
torturous practice that was designed to repress and attack the powerful 
prisoner-led movement in the 1960s and 70s.

The 1960s and 70s were a robust time for prisoner-led organizing and 
resistance. Across the country people behind bars were educating, 
organizing, writing, creating and theorizing revolution and social 
change. During these decades there were countless strikes, rebellions, 
and numerous other challenges to state control and the racist, inhumane 
conditions that accompanied imprisonment. These contributions inside 
were an integral element to the organizing that was happening on the 
streets during this era and the prison movement was vital to 
strengthening the theory and practice of liberation. An important aspect 
of the current struggle must be to learn from a previous generation. 
Some of the most vibrant voices of this period are contained in the 
Freedom Archives.

The Freedom Archives is a non-profit educational media archive located 
in San Francisco dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of 
historical audio, video and print materials documenting progressive 
movements and culture from the 1960s to the present. Offering a youth 
development program that encourages engagement with these historical 
materials and providing media production training, the Freedom Archives 
also produces original documentaries and educational media for use by 
schools and organizations as tools for community building and social 
justice work. Materials housed at the Freedom Archives include: weekly 
news, poetry, music programs; in-depth interviews and reports on social 
and cultural issues; numerous voices from behind prison walls; 
recordings of diverse demonstrations and activists; and pamphlets, 
journals, newspapers and other print materials from many radical 
organizations and movements. Many of these materials are digitized and 
free for use on the website.

Amplifying the voices of prisoners is a core value of the Freedom 
Archives. One of the primary ways we do this is by using archival 
materials to create educational resources that help cultivate 
foundational knowledge for understanding and advancing the prison 
movement. In addition to familiarizing people with important events, 
leaders and thinkers, and information, linking the past and the present 
allows us to expand our analysis beyond mass incarceration as just an 
unfortunate phenomenon or as the result of poor public policy, but as a 
key component of continued state repression. To that end, we have 
created short video documentaries about the Attica Rebellion and George 
Jackson and an audio tribute to recently murdered political prisoner 
Hugo Pinell (of the San Quentin Six) to help ground younger generations 
in how important prisoners have been and are to movement building and 
theorizing radical social change. In 2013 we published a book, /Out of 
Control: A 15-Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons/, that chronicles 
the inspiring story of the Committee to End the Marion Lockdown (CEML), 
which organized against control unit prisons and related inhumane 
practices at the notorious federal prison in Marion, Illinois, beginning 
thirty years ago. We are excited that the web version of this book 
allows readers to view, read or listen to archival materials referenced 
in the text and, if you wish, download it to your computer. This 
interactive resource allows a fuller and more engaging understanding as 
the primary sources speak directly to what you are reading.

In addition to our educational resources, one can make use of our 
digital search engine which allows for increased access and 
user-friendly exploration of our holdings. Inside many of our 
collections are the voices, writings, poems, statements and interviews 
of political prisoners. As the United States claims it has no political 
prisoners, our robust collections serve not only to challenge that 
fundamental untruth but also to illuminate and disseminate the voices of 
former Black Panthers and people in the Black Liberation Movement, 
Puerto Rican independentistas, White anti-imperialists, Native 
Americans, grand jury resisters and many others. Video showing the 
strength and determination of the women formerly held in the underground 
Lexington Federal Prison; statements capturing the unyielding defiance 
of Puerto Rican prisoners of war and the beauty and hope of political 
prisoner Marilyn Buck’s poetry are but some of the powerful and 
impactful content contained in the Freedom Archives.

Over the past 15 years, the Freedom Archives has become a national and 
international source of media of great interest to young people and 
students, but also to teachers, diverse community organizations and 
media outlets, filmmakers, activists, historians, artists and 
researchers. Our materials are regularly used in schools and as tools 
for community building and social justice education. Our full collection 
is searchable at search.freedomarchives.org 
<http://search.freedomarchives.org/>. We also maintain an email list 
that disseminates important news, updates and writings about prisons 
from current and former political prisoners. For example, we were able 
to use this organ to play a role in publicizing the state’s recent 
settlement as well as the hunger strikes of previous years.

Connecting lessons of the past with current political resistance is a 
vital task for our movements today. How can we best support the work 
that is occurring on the inside? How can we make sure that our work is 
consistent with the values and goals of prisoners? How can we most 
effectively disseminate their ideas? As we grapple with these questions 
across the country, the Freedom Archives exists as an important resource 
to preserve the past, illuminate the present and shape the future. As 
the voices inside continue to grow in intensity, we endeavor to support 
and amplify the power of the dragons that will one day fly to freedom.

Nathaniel Moore

You can support our work with *a donation here! 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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