Organising in jail
The prison system controls us, among other ways, by controlling the space we inhabit, the way our time is structured, and the information we can send and receive. We can take by organising, as much as possible, our own space, time and information.
Information and communications:
- Find out who has been arrested, which affinity groups are in jail, who if anyone is missing or has been isolated. Consolidate the information so that in one or two phone calls it can be communicated to our legal team and support people.
- Organise our own system of lines or lists to use telephones. Transmit messages for others.
- Use legal team to communicate with others of our groups held in other locations.
- Liaison people can find out jail schedule and post it.
- Remember, information from the guards, however nice they may seem, is not necessarily accurate. DON'T SPREAD RUMOURS! Verify information.
- Share information and stories about the action among ourselves.
When possible, organise our own space in jail: a meeting corner, a quiet corner, a healing space, a workshop space etc.
Use the time:
The time we spend together in jail can be enriching. We can organise workshops, classes, nonviolence trainings, political discussions, strategy and theory sessions, games, rituals, exercise sessions, music, talent shows, quiet times and of course, meetings. Remember not to become obsessed by meetings.
Don't become panicked by their timetable. We can take the time we need to do what we have to do.
Suggested jail orientation:
When you have the opportunity to meet:
- Collect information on who has been arrested, who is isolated, everyone's medical needs, etc
- Develop strategy for getting that info out to supporters
- Update on information on the action, legal issues, and negotiations
- Roles and responsibilities in the group - caretakers, liaisons, etc
- Clustering - make sure everyone has an affinity group or buddy
- Feeling sharing - perhaps a round on how we each deal with powerlessness
- Who are the guards?
- The other prisoners?
- General population - an opportunity to learn and organise, not a fate worse than death!
Strategies of the guards and police:
- Intimidation - fear and pain
- Divide and conquer
- Singling out leaders, instigators
- Good cop/bad cop
- Lies and disinformation
- Veneer - looking good in public, stacked negotiations
Legal system review: stages of the process, what to expect next:
- Process review: consensus, etc.
- Jail tales: share previous experiences (with great caution, remembering conversations are probably monitored)
- Questions, feeling, fears.
This page has been adapted to the Australian context. The original version is copyright 2002 Starhawk
Also see Jail solidarity
In the many times I’ve been to jail, here are some of the overwhelming responses I’ve noticed in myself and which you might be experiencing:
Rage: Jail is simply the distilled form of the larger violence around us. Anger is a sane and healthy response, but you may find it deflected onto your friends and families instead of directed to the systems of oppression we’re fighting. Warn your friends and coworkers to tread gently and not order you around for a while. Be prepared for flashes of rage, and try to remember whom we’re really angry at.
Self-Blame: You’ve been in a system designed on every level to make you feel bad, wrong, inadequate and powerless. The men and women who run it are experts in psychological manipulation and intimidation. They spend a lifetime developing their techniques–you had at most a few hours training in how to resist them.
When you’re in jail, you’re constantly faced with decisions to be made with inadequate information under conditions of fear and exhaustion. You may make mistakes. You may end up complying when you later wish you’d resisted, or failing to act when you think you should have. You may make decisions you later regret.
Try not to blame yourselves. One of the ways the system functions is to keep us focused on what we, individually, did or didn’t do instead of on the violence of the system itself. Self blame is the way we take the violence of the system in, and beat ourselves up instead of making the guards and police do their own dirty work. And it rapidly turns into blame of each other, becoming a force to divide us and cut us off from the very support we need.
Difficult Re-entry: It’s hard to go back to regular life after the intensity of an action. It’s hard to go home to a lonely apartment after the strong community we’ve felt in the action and in jail. It’s hard to go back to a school, a job, or to any institution that suddenly seems like a softer-edged version of the jail. And everything suddenly does look like a version of jail–a system of punishment and control.
You may find yourselves tired, depressed, unable to take pleasure in things you usually enjoy, vicariously experiencing the sufferings of all the oppressed and dispossessed. Food may seem tasteless, work or studies meaningless. You may lose things, get confused, and have difficulty functioning.
These are common human responses to loss, trauma and stress. They are not a sign of your personal weakness or inadequacy. Here are a few things that can help:
Talk About It: Ideally with the others who were with you, with your affinity group or with someone else who has been through a similar experience. If that’s not possible, find a friend who is willing to lend a sympathetic ear, or a counselor. You need to tell your story, sometimes over and over and over again.
Rest: We’ve all put out a phenomenal amount of energy. Sleep. Take yourself out into a natural environment with trees and green plants. Lie on the ground. Restore your energy.
Cleanse: Do something physical and symbolic to release the energies of the jail. Take a shower and scrub with epsom salts, bathe in the ocean or a running stream, wash your clothes. Do it with the conscious intention of letting go of the jail energy, of emerging renewed.
Renew: If you have a spiritual practice, now is the time to intensify it. If you don’t resonate with spirituality, take time for what does inspire you and feed you, whether it’s the forests, music, or the company of friends.
Learn: You’ve just received a priceless educational experience. You now know more about the underlying workings of the system we are fighting. You’ve had a small taste of the violence and repression experienced every day by the poor, by people of color, by those who end up in jail without the support of an action and a media team. You will never be the same person you were before this action.
Honor yourself: And all of us–for the courage, strength, and commitment we’ve shown in taking action, for the movement we are building together, for the ways we’ve listened to one another and struggled with our differences and already changed the world. I’m deeply, deeply proud to have been part of this action, and to be in a movement that contains such brave, committed and caring people.
Carry it On: Rage can be an energizing force. So can love. As hard as a jail experience can be, it can also be empowering. We can come out of it stronger than we went in. What we’ve learned from this action can move us into the next phase as we build the movement that will transform the world.