[Pnews] Document: Notes of a Prison Collective: Marion Political Collective, 1976

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Aug 26 11:40:47 EDT 2021

*Note: A history of the movement to shut down Marion Prison including an
on-line version of "Out of Control" can be seen here:*

*Document: Notes of a Prison Collective: Marion Political Collective, 1976*

Editors, The Black Agenda Review
<https://blackagendareport.com/author/Editors, The Black Agenda Review>
25 Aug 2021

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Document: Notes of a Prison Collective: Marion Political Collective, 1976

*In 1976, prisoners in the United States Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois
wrote a collective document explaining the status of the prisoner within
the prison*—*and the role of the prison in society at large. *

Opened in 1963, the United States Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois was
built to replace Alcatraz
Like Alcatraz, Marion was designed to incarcerate those individuals the
federal government considered the most violent and dangerous. Unlike
Alcatraz, an institution notorious for its archaic brutality, Marion
deployed the latest in “modern” rehabilitation techniques. In 1968, prison
officials launched a behavior modification program called the “Control and
Rehabilitation Effort.” Known as CARE, the program used techniques of
physical and psychological torture to terrorize and break the mind and
spirit <http://www.jpp.org/documents/forms/JPP4_2/Griffin.pdf> of
prisoners, including “group therapy” sessions where prisoners were berated,
degraded, and humiliated. In 1973, the first “control unit
cells were developed at Marion
<http://people.umass.edu/~kastor/ceml_articles/cu_in_us.html>: for 23 to 24
hours a day, prisoners were placed under a maximum security regime,
confined to a small, one-person cell with no contact with other prisoners
or the outside world. Detention in the control units was indefinite and, as
their use was designated an “administrative” action, prisoners were denied
due process. In 1983
after a flash of violence the entire prison entered a lockdown
that lasted twenty-three years.

Yet repression breeds resistance. Historically, the prisoners of Marion
have organized and fought for better conditions, often with the support of
those outside
the prison walls. In 1972
a coalition of Black, Indian, Puerto Rican, and white prisoners initiated a
series of mobilizations and lawsuits against the prison. In 1976
<https://www.zinnedproject.org/news/tdih/marion-brothers/>, to coincide
with the US Bicentennial, a group of inmates launched a prison strike to
call attention to the brutality of CARE. Also in 1976, a small group of
prisoners who called themselves “The Marion Prison Collective” produced an
incredible document that both theorized the status of the prisoner within
the prison, and explained the role of the prison in society at large.
Titled “Notes of a Prison Collective,” it is a remarkable treatise on
theory and practice, co-option, repression and counter-revolution, and on
the difficult emergence of political and revolutionary consciousness. As
part of our continuing commemoration of Black August
*The Black Agenda Review*
 reproduces it below.


Our collective has its origin in the concrete basis of the need for a
collective force whose ideological base surpasses the narrow-minded
nationalism and reactionary desire to imitate the Washington, D.C. form of
gangsterism. As members of the convict class, we understand that we must be
about the transformation of mice into conscious men of science, i.e.,
scientific social scientists. In order for anything to be changed, first it
must be recognized that there is the necessity for change. This can only be
accomplished through the development of theory out of practice and back to
more theory and more practice. So it is out of the subjective recognition
of the missing link in our objective surroundings that we have emerged.

The collective, which for purposes of identification we shall call: “The
Marion Political Collective,” states in its prospectus, in part:

*Objective:* Primary short-term objective: elevation of political
consciousness.* Means:* All available source material and manpower.
*Method:* One-on-one political education; infiltration and
politicization. *Long
Range Objective:* Liberation of oppressed classes of this society. *Method:
*Armed struggle and resocialization. *Means: *Propaganda and agitation.
*Need:* Organizational structure as basis for future development.*
Method: *Development
and acceptance of Organization Programme. *Foundation: *Commitment to
criticism/self-criticism; combat liberalism within self and organization;
commitment to group study; commitment to practice.

Conscious discipline is self-initiated out of the recognition of necessity
and is a reflection of political development. The primary method by which
we maintain discipline is through raising the level of consciousness.

The preceding is not necessarily the order in which this statement of goals
and aims appears. But it gives some indication of where we see ourselves
heading and the guiding principles by which we intend to get there.

It has been some six or seven months now since we locked minds and efforts
in an attempt to develop towards that more fully human, New Man. Those
months included the period when we began to deliberately rap about what was
needed. At the beginning, out of a population of four hundred men, we could
only muster twelve. Three, however, turned tail and ran, and one very much
needed brother is in segregation—the hole. So we have now dwindled to eight
in population, moving among our peers. We are sure this problem is just a
mirror of the overall internal and external problem that the total U.S.
must accept and devise ways for dealing with. Still, the problem of
indifference here in Marion among the “inmates” cannot be solely in [sic]
dealt with, unless the tune which is being piped through the electronic-box
station in the Washington, D.C.'s house of sinister plotters is understood.
The tune’s lyrics go something like this: “Make Marion the most maximum of
our cages, our behavior modification laboratory.” So in order to understand
how, for instance, we discovered the *need* for “organizational structure
as basis for future development,” it is necessary to have some idea of
exactly what existed previously.

Mainly there were two loosely-knit organizations: one operated under the
auspices of the chaplain's office, with its objective of bringing a more
contemporary view to the religious context; the other was a black cultural
group. In addition, there had been the ubiquitous prison presence of the
Nation of Islam. Although the religious group and, under the regulations of
the Bureau of Prisons, the cultural group were open to ethnic members other
than blacks, both bodies were predominantly attended and operated by
Afrikanamericans. (One reason for this, especially in relation to the
religious group, might be found in the words of a white prisoner: “When you
join an organization that’s mostly black, you *have* to function. And
they're concerned with social problems and change.” Thus, most white
prisoners are content to languish in socially inactive things, like the
jaycees, etc.) So it is no exaggeration to say that these organizations
were directly related to social problems that exist in the larger
society-problems that do not cease to exist inside the prisons.

This is important to understand because of its direct relation to the
consistent thread of development which gave substance to the recognition
for a particular need, at another point in time. None of the postures that
one would find in groups that function on the other side of prison
boundaries were missing in these organizations. However, there is a real
difference between what is happening in most federal joints as opposed to
that which is happening in most of the state cages. Mainly, it is similar
to the kind of illusionary democratic possibilities, or “humane” relations,
that supposedly exist in the North, West, and East of the United States, as
opposed to the South. The effect this has is that we recognize and relate
to the truth of, say, George Jackson's or Martin Sostre
thesis: we know that the conditions are equally killing here, as they are
in any other joint--but the methods operate at a more subtle level. This
means that the demands for social consciousness beckon from a level much
higher than that primary immediacy which brutally stabs the physical being
and churns through the flesh, making it cry out right on the spot. Just as
in America, it is frightfully *real* that most people believe they have a
“right to work”—at the whim of their bosses’ generosity; in the same way,
most federal prisoners see (because they are able to make a few pennies
more than state prisoners) that they are not obliged to agitate for changes
inside the prisons. Behavioral programs come down in the forms of
rehabilitative things, with distant promises of parole, and thus
affectionately remove the militant postures that used to pass as
revolutionary desire.

So it can be readily seen that initially, these two groups had the same
kind of “revolutionary desire”—which has finally been diagnosed as a
genuine *revolt* to change social attitudes, without being righteously
grounded in principled revolutionary understanding that would project
toward the complete overturning of social *relations*, i.e., the kind of
revolutionary *desire* that sees itself dissolving throughout the country
into the myth of democratic liberalism. Thus, there was the “militant” push
for black studies and history, for equality of participation by blacks in
jobs, etc.; and when some of these demands were fulfilled through token
response, it became easy for the militants to be complacent. Finally, the
aim of the cultural group extended no further than getting women visitors
to the weekly meetings. What was in the early stages a broad popular move,
infused with political reality, became simply “pop culture” and moved to
proudly de-politicize itself, thus assuring the “controllers” that the boat
would not rock. Help was naturally in the offing: first, in reaction to a
mass work-stoppage in 1972, all known political activists were locked up.
Then, the next move was to bring in a number of “cadres” who had sold
themselves out to the behavior modification program--as trainees, guinea
pigs, and what have you. The results were a completely altered atmosphere,
all in favor of the controllers and the aims that they projected.

Overtly, the move is “anti-prison-reformism.” Generally, there is
consistent harassment, badly prepared food, and tampering with personal
mail and books that are sent in from family or comrades. One known activist
in segregation, Paul Duhart, was found hanging in his cell, which they
claimed was suicide (see *RT: A Journal of Radical Therapy*
<https://rozsixties.unl.edu/items/show/868>, Summer, 1975). This happened
less than four months ago. It is in the “control units” (segregation;
prisons within prisons) that these more direct methods of control come into
play. By means of behavior modification programs (Transactional Analysis in
the extreme), authorities seek to forcibly restructure prisoners'
personalities and thought processes, reducing rebellious spirits to pliant
automatons (those who succumb) or vegetables (those who resist). Repeat:
truly rebellious and conscious prisoners are often murdered. Long-term
segregation, wherein social contact is kept to a minimum and sensory
deprivation is dominant, serves to further terrorize prison populations
into docility.

The opposite result, in the broad sense, manifested itself when the last of
those activists was ordered released back into the general population by
the court in December, 1973 (*Adams v. Carlson*
<https://casetext.com/case/adams-v-carlson-3>). The nationalist tendency
dominated the cultural group. It sought mainly to enhance the image of
black history in the eyes of black prisoners, and to legitimize it in the
eyes of the administration: the first related to and depended upon the
second. So the primary political demand was to make it understood that
black history legitimizes itself when it is correctly understood and
critically examined, without an unbalanced glorification. To bring this
political reality to the surface, it was necessary not only to become
active in the group, but also to be involved in the organization's
policy-making. This was accomplished. In the-meantime, Chicano prisoners
made a move to establish a cultural group. Some members were involved with
the Afrikanamerican culture group's political workshop. As they began to
develop, during a so-called “probationary period,” the Latino population
gave its wholehearted support. But at the end of the “probation, “they were
declared to be too “political” by the administration. What remained to be
done was the creation of an organizational structure that would transcend
the popular limitations of administratively sanctioned groups. Thus, we
arrived at the *need* for the collective, its goals, and its principles.

It was necessary to distinguish the difference between a “study group” and
the collective as a political organization. The collective itself could not
be a mere study group, although the membership of both would be primarily
the same. We saw the study group as only a means to a greater end, with its
purpose and function being determined by the need which created it. The
central task of the collective, at this point in time, is to elevate the
level of political consciousness among the prison population and among
those who come directly or indirectly in line with the prison struggle
situation. One of the means by which this mass politicization is realized
is through political education via study groups. Considering the
shortcomings of so-called “criminal mentality” and the gross lack of social
*understanding* among prisoners, the need for political education is
outstanding. It is a dire necessity to transform this “criminal mentality”
into revolutionary consciousness; otherwise, the errors of past prison
movements can only be repeated. Revolutionary consciousness turns
historical errors into practical steppings stones. In prisons, there is a
heavy need to recognize that the collective must first resolve the
differences and contradictions in its understanding and application of the
dialectical method to historical materialism--since it is from this basis
that the principles of scientific socialist revolution arise and become

In the course of building a revolutionary collective in prison,
contradictions arise during its development that are universal in nature;
contradictions that could arise in any genuine revolutionary group.
Initially, reliance is placed on past experience and on the manifestations
of a particular level of consciousness relative to the individuals who are
to make up the nucleus of the group.

The revolutionary consciousness that was presupposed, in some cases, did
not exist. Accordingly, the practices of some individuals reflected the
negation of revolutionary theory and practice, the negation of
revolutionary principles, and total disregard for individual and
organizational discipline. This contradiction emerged out of a superficial
analysis of the individuals who were to become involved in the group. It is
one thing to deal as an individual, and another thing altogether to deal
collectively. This is a very important factor, for individualism manifests
itself in many ways which are not readily comprehended until one moves to
the higher sphere of collectivity. We recognized that in order to develop,
to create theory and practice in its most concrete form, many
contradictions would have to be resolved, and ideological clarity would
have to be attained collectively. This way, we were prepared to combat all
incorrect ideas, the success of which, in the final analysis, would be
reflected in our practice.

The struggle to rid ourselves of all ideas and practices that impede growth
and development caused some individuals to drop out. Rather than
acknowledge their shortcomings, they blamed the organization. Those who
remained, committed themselves to consistently struggle with their own
shortcomings and the shortcomings of the organization as a whole. They
realized that *our *strength and development depended on that of each and
every member. With this in mind, steps were taken to utilize the methods of
criticism/self-criticism on a collective and one-on-one basis. Also,
get-acquainted sessions were instituted. Not only has this helped to
resolve contradictions of a political nature, but also has aided us in
understanding each other, which is an objective necessity. This is not to
say that all contradictions have been resolved, for they will continue to
arise as we continue to develop. But it has instilled in the minds of those
still struggling that we are capable of resolving contradictions as a means
to our organizational and individual development.

The collective now functions in the following way: as a collective we meet
twice a week; the “study group” is also scheduled twice weekly. The
sessions are devoted to studies for a minimum of one hour, with the
remaining time used for political evaluations on the local level. Members
are required to be active in the other loose-knit groups, which do not
include the Nation of Islam. Criticism/self-criticism sessions are held
monthly. We have elected a Responsible whose duties are to coordinate our
studies and guide a correct political ideology and praxis. All members have
an equal vote, including the Responsible. We evaluate problems on a
collective basis by which democratic centralism rules. Thus, the majority
voice, in any given situation, moves to convince the minority that
decisions should be based on revolutionary principles.

Politically conscious prisoners are concerned with concrete issues. Of
particular consideration is the function of prisons in capitalist society.
During the course of study, each theoretical concept must be analyzed in
terms of its relation to the day-to-day activities of prisoners in an
economic, social, and political context. Such critical examination enables
a collective to develop insights into the particular contradictions between
prisons and society in general, and more importantly, the particular
contradictions within particular prisons. The basic understanding is that
the main function of prisons is to serve as the apex of social coercion
within the capitalist economy. The warehousing of prisoners, therefore,
serves a two-fold purpose: 1) it removes from the community those who
refuse to submit to economic deprivation; and 2) it extracts exploitative
profits through compulsory labor at slave wages.

Once captured, the concept begins to expand. One comes to recognize the
means and methods utilized within prisons as amplified versions of the
coercive tactics used on society-at-large, for (again) prisons are
microcosms of the national situation.

In “population,” i.e., where the bulk of prisoners reside that parallels
the external community, manipulation is the rule. Make-work programs divert
attention from the conditions. Trivia dominates prisoners’ minds: movies,
outside shows, purpoless education (both academic or outmoded vocational
training), and dysfunctional “rehabilitation programs,” e.g. drug therapy,
jaycees, historical societies, and so forth. For the opportunistic, subtle
Transactional Analysis groups function as channels for capitalist values.
Rehabilitation rhetoric is projected, while in actuality all prospects for
genuine rehabilitation are thwarted, or deliberately subverted by careful
selection of those most apt to fail on such experimental projects as work
release, furloughs, etc.

As in the large society, racism is perpetuated by administrators through
discriminatory practices in quarters assignments, job placements in
preferred positions, allocation of funds to prisoners groups, and paroles.
It is also rewarded when employed by reactionary prisoners, predominantly
opportunistic whites. Political whites are rare. Those few who might seek
communication with Third World prisoners, the most politically active, are
subject to peer pressure which ultimately hinders development. The
conscious and active, however, irrespective of color, are harassed or
negated ceaselessly, which necessarily evolves into a pariah situation once
issues are joined. Clearly, racism is a tool in the interest of the enemy
and defeats any attempt to combat common problems among prisoners,
especially when repression comes down.

In dealing with repression, where the principal contradiction between the
administration and prisoners has heightened, our historical analysis has
proven that a given course of action is advantageous to our position. The
most necessary move is to have some base for a united action front. It is
our most formidable weapon. We have to bring, as much as possible,
discipline into the broad ranks of the prisoners so that we can operate as
a unit, with as many as possible being aware of what is going on at all
times. In whatever situation, no matter what degree the crisis,
letter-writing campaigns are utilized as a means to expose the fascist-like
atrocities enacted by the authorities. In terms of reaching broad masses of
people, and at the same time raising the level of prisoner consciousness,
the courts have proven to be an effective means. But it is highly important
that we always understand that they are a means and not the solution to the
problem of prison or social problems in general. We have referred to the *Adams
v. Carlson* class-action suit; presently another suit, *Bono v. Saxbe*,
which challenges the control units in this joint, is being heard. A
favorable decision, releasing many of those who are politically active and
who have been stuffed in the control units without having entered the
general population, could very well push the contradiction to another level.

Aside from this article, the collective has not published as a collective.
Our outlet has remained the cultural newsletter, which generally reflects
our development. This outlet has provided us numerous contacts with the
developing movement in the “open society” and with prisoners in other state
and federal joints. This, in turn, has enabled us to get most of the
resource materials we need and to engage in dialogues with organizations,
staff people working with periodicals, and others concerned with the
movement for social justice.

At the moment, for the purposes of developing a collective understanding of
revolutionary socialist theory and practice, we are dealing with the
philosophical essays of Mao, studying Marx, and moving to deal with Lenin.
Since most of us have previously studied, on an individual level, and
devoted more than a little time to a scientific understanding of racism and
its ramifications in this advanced capitalist society, we find it
relatively beneficial to relate our past experience to our developing

The stage at which we are now is in itself a development; a qualitative
leap from the old to the new. It represents the struggle to develop
ideological clarity, collectivity, consistency, and a greater understanding
of what is necessary in order to build the revolution. Just as ideas do not
fall from the sky, neither do revolutionary consciousness, revolutionary
practice, or the revolutionary people who must understand the needs of the
masses and be capable of fulfilling them *with* the masses. We are
consistently seeking to realize this reality. The development achieved has
posed and will continue to pose other contradictions, and will necessitate
the struggle to resolve the old which will bring in the new. But we
*will *resolve
them. For our direction is to develop, to struggle with ideological
clarity, and to manifest consistency in all we say and do. We see the value
of this as being applicable to the basic development of any prisoners’
political collective.

*Originally published in *Crime and Social Justice*, No. 5 (Spring-Summer

*Previous posts from our “Black August” 2021 focus have included “Two
Letters on Black August
written in 1979 by men incarcerated in San Quentin, and the 1971 Attica
Liberation Manifesto
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