Writing Prisoners

The Internationalist Prison Books Collective (IPBC) puts together a poster every month with information about political prisoners (PPs) and prisoners of war (POWs) incarcerated in the United States, along with their addresses whose birthdays are that month.
In April last year I was able to participate in a PP’s birthday party at the Dry River Radical Resource Center, an Infoshop located in the Dunbar Spring neighborhood of Tucson, Arizona where we made cards for all the prisoners on the IPBC poster, snacked, took pictures to send along and smashed a piñata. It was a great deal of fun!
Without a doubt, I think the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) is one of the flashpoints of class struggle and internal colonialism in the States, and that sending birthday cards to PPs and POWS is the least people who
can should be doing.

After leaving Tucson to work on a farm in Iowa I made a point of continuing to write PPs and POWs using the IPBC poster as both a resource for current contact information and for news on the contemporary struggle against the PIC. My correspondence with prisoners has been both very informative and inspiring!

This year, using the Political Prisoner Birthday Party model I picked up in Tucson, I helped start the Riverside Anarchist Birthday Brigade (In Defiance-RABBID) at the Blood Orange Infoshop in Riverside, California.   On the first Saturdays of January and February we converged at the Infoshop to make cards, write letters and talk politics.  The first party was hastily thrown together as I had just arrived in town, but the second one had a theme where we all wore red and black, decked out the space, had plenty of snacks and took pictures to send along with the cards.  We also had plenty of relevant reading materials courtesy of South Chicago Anarchist Black Cross (S Chi ABC) who donated ‘zines to help us get started.  We discussed fundraisers to pay for materials and send money to prisoners, as well as doing on going support work for specific prisoners.

Since leaving Riverside, sadly, since the comrades there who were committed to forwarding me my prisoner correspondence have flaked out on me and not followed up, even though repeatedly asked one of them to, I have lost track of my other prisoners I was writing.  This is very frustrating for a plurality of reasons.  But at the same time, I wouldn’t have taken the political direction that I have, which has led me away from there if it wasn’t for the correspondence in the first place.  Though I started out mostly trying to support those who have struggled for justice in the past and have paid such a heavy price, I was also looking for political direction and have found a great deal of it.

One of the most fascinating things I recently learned about Hamas while reading a book about them called Hamas:  From Resistance to Government by Paola Caridi is that prisoners are considered on of Hamas’s four major constituencies, and most be consulted with for every major dicision the organization makes.  I think any group struggling for liberation in the U$ must also.

Find the IPBC poster at prisonbooks.infoPrisonactivist.org and zinelibrary.info are two other great resources for writing to PPs and POWs. If you haven’t written prisoners before, you may want to check out the great article, Tips On Writing To A Prisoner at prisonerlife.com/tips.cfm.  Here’s the very basics:
•    You have to put a prisoner’s number on the first line so your letter
gets to them.
•    Include a return address on you letter, but if you don’t know the
prisoner it may be best to use a PO Box or other neutral address.
•    Guards may read your letter.  Avoid discussing sensitive topics or
details of a court case if a prisoner is awaiting trial / sentencing.
•    Don’t make promises you can’t keep:  being is prison is isolating and
getting let down can be devastating.  If you’re not looking for a romantic
relationship, be clear about your intentions right from the start.
•    Prisoners are no better or worse than anyone else. Some are flawed so
exercise the same caution you would writing to anyone else you don’t know.
•     Be careful about accepting collect calls from prison — they are
absurdly expensive.


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