Incendiary Incarceration



“I shall never forget how I was roused one night by the groans of a fellow prisoner, who threw himself about in his sleep, obviously having a horrible nightmare…. I wanted to wake the poor man. Suddenly I drew back the hand which was ready to shake him, frightened at the thing I was about to do…. No dream, no matter how horrible, could be as bad as the reality of the camp whch surrounded us, and to which I was about to recall him.” — Viktor Frankl

“Over thirty percent of California’s firefighters are prisoners, and no one has ever explained to me why they’re paid only a couple of bucks an hour to put their lives on the line for us all” — one of the author’s home schooled youngsters citing a Mother Jones article

Incendiary action on the part of the loved ones of our incarcerated souls must begin. A fire must be lit under them to encourage movement in solidarity which follows a fresh legal paradigm.

The work of Candice Bernd, Zoe Loftus-Farren and Maureen Nandini Mitra alone should move concerned citizens to radically transform the way in which we handle prisoners. But when you live in a country where the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t require that environmental reviews consider the health of convicts… well, needed/wanted reform is unlikely to take place.

And so since the callous way in which we treat the incarcerated — environmentally — is pretty much the way in which people treat themselves outside of prison walls, the way in which the Mafia-like EPA addresses collective crises for the general public, I humbly and respectfully submit that something other than the usual approaches for bringing about institutional changes must be embraced by activists.

E.G. Vallianatos, a former scientist for the EPA (twenty-five years!) — in his Poison Spring (which bounced off of Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking Silent Spring) — is where I first came across the characterization of the federal agency as Mafia-like, but many works — such as the Pulitzer Prize- winning Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin — delineate scenarios that encourage the same view of those who are supposed to be looking out for the Collective Good.

One of the problems we have is that our schools and our major media outlets reinforce ignorance with ignorance when it comes to informing everyone about what’s really going on with federal agencies. Very much like how they handle the ideal notion about checks and balances in our nation. Neither federal agencies nor the three branches of government operate along the lines that popular misconception says they do. And that’s what I mean when I invoke the image of ignorance compounding ignorance.

When are we going to smarten up?

Well, to smarten up the first thing we have to do is dummy up. Meaning, whatever we’re going to do about the status quo and our horrid momentum must be implemented with some sort of confidentiality embraced at its core. We can’t afford to announce every nut and bolt we’re going to make use of to build something new. Not if we don’t want to be cut off at the knees before we even get going.

But what we can declare in public is that the incarcerated must get organized following a fresh paradigm. The general public is sleepwalking over the precipice, and no one can afford to wait on them to get their act together. Their reform measures amount — at best — to the application of necessary tourniquets, but in no way deal with the source of our collective bleeding.

The good news is that there is a “plan for action” which is being advocated by a new non-profit called Felons Outfacing, and anyone interested in moving in solidarity as per their agenda can get in touch with me post haste to participate in dealing with our abominations behind bars (for starters), with our ultimate eye of the bigger prize for one and all, that being the change in heart, head and soul which our sick society now demands.

Pressure must be applied beginning with those who are connected by blood and bones to the incarcerated, it seems to me. For others clearly do not care, or do not care enough; some, of course, are — understandably — simply ignorant because of misleading myths which have been perpetuated. The reinforcement of lies, however, can be broken down by the incendiary potential of the loved ones of our incarcerated souls.

This can all be accomplished within the parameters of the law. But discussion about tactics, recruitment and the like must begin immediately before legal windows of opportunity remain open. We face collective deadlines in this regard which are not being acknowledged. Well-meaning people are content to fight the good fight at any old, obsolete pace. And we have a race to run now together on a brand new track.

Rachel Oxman is an activist, educator and journalist. She can be reached for more details about Felons Outfacing at [email protected].

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