What’s New in the Archives…

Recently, a rare copy of Sunviews, written by Sundiata Acoli in 1983, was donated to the Archives. Sundiata Acoli, a Black Liberation Freedom Fighter is currently incarcerated at FCI Cumberland in Maryland. Since his arrest and conviction in 1973, Acoli has been a leading voice of Black Liberation from behind prison walls, a dedicated organizer and teacher and a staunch opponent of control units. Sunviews contains many poignant selections; however some of his work stands out as particularly relevant to our contemporary crisis of imprisonment and the proliferation of control units. Sundiata himself has spent a majority of his imprisonment in control units, despite the fact that he has never had any prison rule infractions.

Within Sunviews, Acoli writes about a number of successive prisoner strikes taking place in 1979 and early 1980 during his time in Marion. In his writing, he outlines the twelve prisoner demands and details the rationale of the demands. These strikes take place three years before the infamous Marion Lockdown in which the entire prison was turned into one large control unit for the next twenty three years. We know that repression breeds resistance, but the corporate media and the prison administration wants us to believe that any resistance behind bars is isolated, random and disconnected from events taking place outside prison walls.

When one thinks of the hunger strikes throughout California state prisons in 2011, the solidarity that extended to prisoners in Ohio and Georgia and the ongoing North Carolina Prison hunger strike, it is important to view these struggles in a historic continuum. If we compare the list of demands from the Marion Collective, Pelican Bay SHU, and Central Prison in North Carolina we find that most of the core demands focus on the same brutality, inhumanity and horrific conditions faced by prisoners on a daily basis throughout the history of imprisonment in the US.

Some of the details have changed; twenty years ago many political prisoners were thrown into control units, now many of the prisoners have been ‘gang’ validated. Some details remain the same, the food is still atrocious. Prisoners are still often transferred to different locations without any warning, and often transferred a great distance from their loved ones to destroy the family and community networks that people inside maintain with the outside. Sundiata himself was transferred in the middle of the night from Trenton State Prison (a New Jersey state prison) to Marion USP (a federal prison) despite the fact that he had no federal charges or sentences.

The hunger strikes of the past two years signal a renewed movement of resistance against the repressive nature of imprisonment in this country. It is important that we understand these new hunger strikes in a historical context of prison resistance – from George Jackson to Attica and beyond. In this effort, the Freedom Archives will be launching a website including materials from the Committee to End the Marion Lockdown and will be releasing a book on the struggle to close control unit prisons with a focus on Marion by the end of the year.