[Ppnews] A Political Prisoner's Journey In the US Prison System by Jalil Muntaqim

PPnews at freedomarchives.org PPnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon May 23 17:23:11 EDT 2005

A Political Prisoner’s Journey in the U.S. Prison
By A. Jalil Bottom

       After the illegal NYC Newkill conviction of killing
two police officers in 1975, I was transferred back to
San Quentin prison in California to complete the
sentence for which I was originally captured on August
28, 1971, in shoot-out with San Francisco police (it
was alleged that my co-defendant, Albert “Nuh”
Washington, and I attempted to assassinate a police
sergeant in retaliation for the August 21, 1971
assassination of comrade George Jackson). Once again
held in the infamous S. Q. Adjustment Center, locked
in a cell between Brother Ruchell Magee and Charles
Manson, I received a leaflet from Sister Yuri
Kochiyama of the National Committee in Defense of
Political Prisoners (NCDPP) informing me of an
initiative to build international support for U.S.
political prisoners. In response, I wrote an outline
to petition the United Nations in support of U.S.
political prisoners. I gave the outline to Ruchell who
thought it was very good, and then passed it along to
Geronimo Ji Jaga (Pratt), who also approved. I then
rewrote the outline into a proposal and sent it to
Yuri for consideration. Unfortunately, NCDPP did not
act on the proposal. Then in late 1976, I met a white
guy named Commie Mike, and he introduced me to the
United Prisoners Union (UPU). He explained that UPU
may be willing to implement my proposal to petition
the U.N. in support of U.S. political prisoners. A
young UPU activist white woman named Pat Singer came
to visit me and brought my proposal to the group,
which eventually agreed to support this national
campaign. The campaign in early 1977 had grown beyond
what UPU could handle alone, and the Prairie Fire
Organizing Committee (PFOC) joined in the campaign,
which was facilitated by China Brotsky. A young lawyer
from Amnesty International was recruited to represent
the petition at the United Nations, while at the same
time, UPU and PFOC organized a signature petition
gathering 2500 signatures from prisoners across the
country. In fact, we had affiliate cadres in state and
federal prisons in 25 U.S. states, with communications
with prisoners in parts of Europe.

       In 1977, the attorney presented our petition to a
special subcommittee of the United Nations in Geneva,
Switzerland. This was the very first time U.S.
political prisoners had a petition submitted and
recorded at a United Nations subcommittee pertaining
to racism and the conditions of political prisoners in
the U.S. penal system. (See: U.N. document
E/CN.4/Sub.2/NGO/75). As the petition campaign was
being organized, Comrade Sundiata Acoli in New Jersey
agreed to assist with organizing a march in support of
the petition to the United Nations. The march and
demonstration was held in front of the Harlem State
Office Building, an initiative that Sister Bibi Angola
ensured would be successful. This campaign was
responsible for former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young
being fired from his post at the U.N. by then
President Jimmy Carter. What happened was that PFOC
informed me that they knew a reporter that would be in
Paris, France, when Andrew Young would be visiting,
and asked what he could do in support of our campaign.
I suggested the reporter ask Ambassador Andrew Young
the single question “are there political prisoners in
the United States?” When Andrew Young answered,
“perhaps thousands,” right-wing political forces and
the media had a field day rebuking and attacking him,
resulting in him being fired from his U.N. post.

       This campaign was so successful that UPU and PFOC had
communications in prisons across the country. We
organized the first demonstration in front of San
Quentin on August 21, 1977, initiating the first of
what would become a Black August tradition. By
September 19, 1977, I was paroled and transferred from
San Quentin back to NYC and held in isolation at
Rikers Island for 58 days. I was held in isolation
because I was supposed to have been transferred to
federal authorities in accordance with the
stipulations for parole from San Quentin, but instead
I was taken to NYC. When NYC/S officials recognized
their error, they decided to keep me in NYS, or
otherwise possibly lose future custody of me.
Eventually, I was transferred to Sing-Sing, enroute to
Clinton Correctional Facility for orientation. I
stayed at Clinton until December 29, 1977, and was
then transferred to Attica.

In the 11 months I stayed at Attica, I eventually
inherited the position of chairman of the Lifers’
Committee, an inmate organization working to win
lifers’ “good time” off the minimum sentence for good
behavior as is given to all other class of prisoners
in NYS. At a community forum sponsored by the Attica
Lifers’ Committee, former U.S. Attorney Ramsey Clark
attended and made a presentation. I originally met
Ramsey Clark when waiting on trial in the Tombs
Correctional Facility; he and his father came on a
tour and I made it a point to speak to both of them.
One of the things I said to Mr. Clark was to be sure
to tell the people the truth about what is happening
in this government. At any rate, at the forum in
Attica, he remembered that brief conversation and told
people attending that he would help me get out of
prison. Unfortunately that has not happened, but he
has been a staunch advocate of human rights around the
world. After the 1971 insurrection in Attica, prison
guards were still treating prisoners abusively, as
they do now, and eventually I was accused of
organizing what had been called “The Attica Brigade”,
a group of prisoners allegedly prepared to retaliate
against prison guards’ brutality. I was held for 60
days in the Special Housing Unit (SHU), accused of
being the leader of the Attica Brigade. The Attica
prison administrators sought to keep me in
Administrative Segregation after the 60 days was
terminated, but when that failed, I was transferred to
Auburn. My nine month stay at Auburn in 1979 was
uneventful until there was a fight between two
prisoners in the Mosque. The prison authorities
decided to take the Mosque from the Muslims and make
them conduct their Friday prayer in the Christian
chapel. The Muslims rebelled and decided to conduct
their Friday prayers in the exercise yard. At the
time, praying in the yard was against the rules, and
for that act several prisoners were transferred out of
Auburn. Again, I was accused of being a ringleader of
the Muslims, but was not officially charged with a
disciplinary report.

I was transferred to Green Haven Correctional Facility
from Auburn in July 1980. Green Haven was found to be
one of the most corrupt prisons in New York State. At
Green Haven, I became the Executive Director of the
inmate organization Creative Communications Committee
(CCC). Essentially, the CCC operated as a lifers’
group seeking to influence and change state penal and
prison laws. Initiatives were being organized to win
lifers’ “good time”. Also, under my direction, CCC
sponsored a class action lawsuit challenging the
clause in the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution
that held prisoners are slaves of the state. The
lawsuit was supported by a petition that was submitted
to the United Nations arguing that the 13th Amendment
was in violation of International laws governing human
rights. The CCC sponsored community forums inviting
NYS legislators, community representatives, and other
notable to discuss issues of penal reform. However, in
the three year period from 1977-1980, there had been
three escapes from Green Haven; drugs, prisoner rapes,
and extortion were rampant in the prison. Members of
CCC sought to curtail a number of these activities,
especially in terms of preventing gang violence due to
drugs and extortions. There was a growing base of
support and respect from the prisoners for CCC
commitment and work. This was noted in Albany when the
chairman of the CCC, Ralph “Ratton” Hall, was
permitted to give a presentation to a Legislative
Assembly Committee.

       When the last escape occurred from the visiting room
at Green Haven, the authorities decided to revamp and
restrict visiting. The series of new regulations were
implemented to restrict visiting and prisoners’
movement in the prison. In response, the various
prisoners’ organizations, including the Inmate Liason
Committee (ILC) and Inmate Grievance Resolution
Committee (IGRC), which had been officially created as
a result of the demands from the 1971 Attica
insurrection, met to discuss a prisoner response. At
the meeting, it was decided to gauge the extent of
prisoners’ support for any future action by conducting
a one day hunger strike. If the prison population
supported the strike, then other decisions would be
made to ensure prisoners’ concerns were heard and
considered by the prison authorities.

       When 98% of the entire prison population did not
attend any meals in the mess hall, the next day
prisoners met to discuss what issues would be brought
to the prison administrators and how they would be
delivered. The prison administration and Commissioners
from Albany wanted to meet with the prison
representatives, first calling the ILC and IGRC reps
to discuss the problems. However, the ILC and IGRC
members informed the prison administrators that they
did not represent the population in the hunger strike,
claiming that the various inmate organizations must
meet and elect representatives to discuss the issues
with the prison administrators. Of course, the ILC and
IGRC members had been previously instructed on what to
say when called by the administrators, several of them
being CCC members. The prison administrators permitted
the leaders of the inmate organizations to meet, and
it was decided that 40 prisoners would meet with the
prison authorities, and I would be the spokesperson
for the group.

       The 40 prisoners met with the Green Haven executive
team and Commissioners from Albany, and I presented
the prisoners’ grievances. Essentially I informed them
that corruption in the prison administration was the
cause for the trouble in the prison, and the
restrictions being implemented would cause further
upheaval. When the meeting began, we asked that it be
recorded and that the tape be played on the
institutional radio so the entire population could
hear what happened, and know they had been adequately
represented. At first the prison administrators
refused to record the meeting. I then turned to face
the prisoners who were seated behind me. They stood in
unison, prepared to exist the meeting. At that point,
the administrators relented and recorded the entire
meeting; it was played back that evening on the
institutional radio. At the conclusion of the meeting,
it was negotiated and agreed that there would be no
retaliation or transfers for those prisoners who had
attended the meeting, especially since the prison
administrators had asked for the meeting in the first

       The next day, the Superintendent of Green Haven was
transferred, the prison was placed on total lock down
for a general shake-down search, and they began
transferring prisoners. Three days after transfers
began, guards came to my cell claiming I was being
transferred. However, I was assaulted by the 6 guards
after I had been stripped naked. After a struggle, I
was handcuffed, and they put my pants on. Barefooted
and bare-chested, I was moved to another housing block
and beaten along the way. Then I was transferred to
Down State Correctional Facility where I was placed in
the SHU and given a disciplinary report that I
assaulted one of the guards who came to escort me to
be transferred.

       At the preliminary disciplinary hearing conducted at
Down State, I refuted the charges, and the Lt.
conducting the hearing changed the charges in order to
defeat my defense against the bogus charge of assault.
The next day, I was handcuffed and transferred to
Comstock Correctional Facility, roughed-up, and placed
in the SHU. There I was put in a cell that was
completely enclosed with a quarter-inch sheet of
plexi-glass covering the front bars. The sheet of
plexi-glass has small holes drilled at the bottom to
permit air inside the cell. I was kept in that cell
for nearly two weeks. In the day time, the temperature
in the cell reached 100 degrees in the middle of July.
I would have to lie on the ground for hours to get
fresh air and breathe. Today plexi-glass covered cells
are being used throughout NYS SHU’s.

       In Comstock, they completed the disciplinary hearing,
in violation of all their rules governing such
hearings, and gave me 6 months in the SHU, losing all
privileges. I appealed the decision to the Director of
SHU in Albany, who summarily affirmed all charges and
sanctions. I then filed an Article 78 petition with
the courts, and within a month of filing the petition,
Albany reversed all charges, making the petition
before the court a moot point, and I was released into
the general population at Comstock. However, prior to
being released to the general population, I was taken
out of the plexi-glass cell in the SHU and placed in a
regular cell in the SHU. Many of the prisoners were
being abused in the SHU, and the guards permitted a
snitch trustee to spray a high-powered fire hose on
several prisoners. One in particular was a close
friend who was crippled as a result of a stab wound he
suffered in Green Haven. To protest the abuse, several
prisoners decided to go on a hunger strike. After the
5th day, only 5 of us stood strong, and on the 7th day
we were escorted to the hospital. In the hospital,
guards tried to intimidate one of the younger hunger
strikers, and a more seasoned prisoner, the only white
guy in the group, jumped in the officer’s face and
took the beat-down for this young, Black kid. We were
then placed in isolation cells in the hospital, and
after the 11th day living on nothing but water, the
prison administrators relented, got rid of the
trustee, and assured us changes would be made in the
SHU. We were then escorted back to the SHU and given a
meal with no disciplinary report for the protest. I
had spent nearly 4 months in the SHU for having been
assaulted by Green Haven prison guards and having been
lied to by prison administrators that there would be
no retaliation for meeting with them. Subsequently,
the 40 prisoners that were transferred filed and won a
lawsuit against Green Haven and NYS Department of
Correctional Services; a suit called the “Green Haven

       During the Green Haven lawsuit, then DOCS
Commissioner Thomas A. Coughlin testified that I was
the leader of a prison take-over at Green Haven, that
CCC had become a Black Liberation Army front
operation, and that I had established BLA cadres
throughout the prison engaged in drug sales,
extortion, and intimidation to control the prison. Of
course, the jury in the Green Haven 40 lawsuit refuted
the Commissioner’s allegations, especially after the
tape from the meeting, which we had prisoners in the
radio room make a copy and send to a lawyer in the
streets for safekeeping, was brought to court and
played. This happened right after the Commissioner
testified he knew nothing about a tape having ever
been made.

       While in Comstock, I was able to prevent a riot in
the mess hall and was given a commendation. But within
the 4 months in Comstock general population, I saw
that prisoners were regularly being brutalized by
prison guards. This eventually led to a sit-down
strike in the prison yard, and, once again, I was
accused of being the organizer and ring-leader. I was
then transferred back to Auburn, placed in the SHU,
and charges with various rule violations. Again, after
4 months in SHU, all charges were dismissed after
filing an Article 78 petition in the Court. I was then
released to the general population at Auburn, where I
stayed for 3 years without incident until transferred
in the middle of the day to Clinton Correctional
Facility general population. Subsequently, it was
later learned that I was transferred because someone
claimed I was planning an escape from Auburn, which
proved untrue. After a 3 year stay at Clinton without
incident, I was transferred back to Green Haven, where
I stayed for 4 years, becoming the chairman of Project
Build prisoners’ organization. During this time at
Green Haven, I received another commendation for
preventing a riot in the auditorium, and received
awards from various prisoners’ organizations for my
participation and leadership in programs. Also during
the period, I drafted a legislative bill to win lifers
good time. The bill was submitted by NYS Assembly
representatives, and was adopted by then Assemblyman
Arthur O. Eve, and submitted to the Committee on
Corrections. I taught Black history, trained boxers in
the gym, and initiated research for the filing of a
lawsuit to win prisoners the right to vote. After 4
years in Green Haven, and before I could complete my
research for the lawsuit, I was transferred to Eastern
Correctional Facility. But I only stayed 8 months
because my co-defendant, Herman Bell, wanted to enter
the college master program at Eastern, and DOCS would
not permit us to be held in the same prison. So, DOCS
made a switch, and he was brought to Eastern from
Shawangunk, and I was taken to Shawangunk.

       At Shawangunk, I continued to teach Black/African
studies, as I had done while at Green Haven. I also
established the first Men’s Group in a prison in the
entire country. I completed a double-major degree,
receiving a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and
Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, summa cum laud. At the
same time, I completed the research on the prisoners’
right to vote and in 1994, I filed the lawsuit in the
federal Northern District Court. Yet, Shawangunk also
proved to be a prison where guards rigidly exercised
their authority, regularly abusing prisoners.
Originally, Shawangunk was constructed to be a
maxi-max prison to hold the most incorrigible NYS
prisoners. Many of the guards maintained that kind of
attitude despite the prison operating as a regular
maximum security institution. While there, I worked as
the clerk in the grievance office, and was able to get
a good feel of the atmosphere and sentiments of the
prison population. Again, unrest eventually reached a
nodal point, and prisoners started a work strike in
response to a number of restrictions being arbitrarily
implemented after an attempted escape. Once again, I
was transferred, this time back to Attica and held in
the SHU for 11 days, when charges of leading the
strike were down-graded to simply participating in the

       While at Attica in 1996, I became the Inman of the
Muslim community. Soon into my 6 month stay, DOCS
began to implement a statewide policy of
double-bunking a number of prisoners due to
overcrowding in the sytem. Across NYS prisoners
protested this policy, and in Attica, prisoners locked
themselves in their cells on a work strike. The work
strike, in my opinion, was poorly organized. Because
Attica is dived into four sections, with little
interaction between prisoners in the different housing
areas, it was difficult to organize the strike.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of proper
communications, some members of gangs supporting the
strike would retaliate against prisoners who went to
the mess hall to eat, not staying in their cells. This
was not a hunger strike, and it could not be expected
that prisoners without food in their cells would stay
in their cells and not eat. As the Inman of the
Muslims, I asked for several representatives of groups
to come to the yard to resolve this problem,
essentially to stop the prisoner on prisoner violence.
The position of the Muslims were that we would support
anything that the majority of prisoners decided to do
to protest the double-bunking policy, but we were not
going to engage in prisoner on prisoner violence to
enforce the strike.

       In the prison yard, with a number of prisoners, I
explained that no one could prevent a prisoner from
going to the mess hall to eat, unless they intend to
feed those hungry prisoners. Because I was vocal and
adamant about this position, prison guards in the gun
towers took it upon themselves to interpret that I was
instructing prisoners on how to conduct the strike.
Once again, I was taken to the SHU and given a
disciplinary report of leading a prison strike. At the
hearing, I was found guilty, and given 2 years in the
SHU. I appealed the sanctions to Albany, which
modified them to 9 months, and I was transferred to
Elmira Correctional Facility SHU.

       Elmira SHU is essentially a sensory deprivation cell
block, where for 23 hours a say a prisoner is held in
a cell completely enclosed by concrete walls for the
exception of a small door opening facing a wall. The
only time a prisoner sees another person is when he is
going to 1 hour recreation or to and back from a
shower 3 times a week. Food is served through a tray
opening in the door. Speaking to another prisoner has
to be through a crack at the bottom of the door;
however yelling to other prisoners is not permitted,
and if caught doing so it could result in additional
time in the SHU. During the 9 months spent in SHU, I
was able to complete the editing of my book, We Are
Our Own Liberators!, with the assistance of Bonnie
Kerness. I also worked with Herman Ferguson and the
New African Liberation Front (NALF) lobbying the
Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to reopen COINTELPRO
hearings. After 9 months in SHU, the Deputy
Superintendent of Security personally gave me an
ultimatum:  either go into a double-bunk cell in the
general population or remain in the SHU. I laughed at
him, but he told me to give him my answer the next
day. After consulting a very close friend of mine who
was in the SHU (he was permitted to sweep and mop
during the day), I was advised that the policy had
been fully implemented, and many prisoners were asking
to go into double-bunk with their friends. He
explained that I needed to get back in direct
communications with family and friends on the streets,
and that my own isolation in SHU would be for nothing.
I agreed to be released, and after one week in Elmira
general population, one morning at 3 a.m. I was
awakened by guards and transferred back to Eastern
Correctional Facility.

       I stayed at Eastern this time for 3 years, teaching
prisoners computer literacy, and in 1997, with the
support of Herman Ferguson and my dear comrade Sister
Safiya Bukhari, founded and initiated the Jericho ’98
March on the White House. This campaign brought over
6,000 activists and supporters of U.S. political
prisoners to Washington, D.C., of which forged into
existence the Jericho Amnesty Movement. The time spent
in Eastern was without incident, and on May 6, 1999 at
4 a.m., I was awakened and transferred back to Auburn.
No reason was given, but within 6 months at Auburn I
was placed in the SHU subject to confidential
informants statements that I was organizing a strike.
Originally, I was being held in administrative
segregation pending charges, and when the confidential
informant’s statements proved unreliable, my personal
property was searched. Hence, they found some
literature pertaining to explosives that had been sent
to me in the mail while I was in Eastern and was
permitted to receive. In fact, the cell has been
searched two other times and the literature was not
seized. But this time I was charged with having
contraband literature and kept in SHU for 90 days.
While in the SHU, prisoners throughout NYS were
protesting the implementation of the death penalty
without providing “good time” for lifers. These were
called the “Y2K strikes”, allegedly being organized
from Sing-Sing prison with the assistance of outside
activists. As a pre-emptive measure, I was taken out
of the population by Auburn prison administrators to
prevent the possibility of a strike at the premier
prison where prisoners’ labor produces license plates.
After 90 days in the SHU, I was released back into the
general population, and continued to be confronted
with harassment by prison guards. Ironically, the
Deputy Superintendent of Security who gave me the
ultimatum at Elimira was promoted, and is now the
Superintendent at this prison, so you can imagine

       I have now been in Auburn for 6 years, and for 3 of
those years I was the chairman of the Lifers’
Committee. In that position, I facilitated the
teaching of a Sociology class, and submitted several
proposals to the prison administration including
raising funds for the victims of 911, the establishing
of a parenting class for young fathers, and a
pre-release program to prepare prisoners for parole.
Presently I am facilitating a poetry class and a legal
research and discussion class. Having twice been
denied release on parole, although scheduled to appear
before the parole board in July ’06, I am challenging
the parole denial in the Court via an Article 78
petition. Also, I continue to litigate the prisoners’
right to vote lawsuit that is on appeal in the U.S.
Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, with oral
arguments calendared for June 22, 2005. Plus, I have
two other legal matters pending in the Court, while at
the same time, I continue to seek the means to build
progressive support for U.S. political prisoners
through the Jericho Amnesty Movement.

       This is an abbreviated history of my 3 decade
experience in the U.S. prison system. To be more
detailed would result in a voluminous biographical
journey that I am not now prepared to write. However,
I sincerely hope what is here elucidated offers
insights as to what this political prisoner has
suffered and endured. I am certain many other have
more horrendous experience indicting inhume prison
conditions, abuse, and brutality underscoring what
happened in Abu Graib by American prison personnel in

Yours in continued struggle,

A. Jalil Bottom
a/k/a Jalil A. Muntaqim


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