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An Open Letter to the Occupy Movement–Part 2 by Anarchist Political Prisoner Sean Swain

Prisoners are people who occupy prisons and nothing more, arriving here by virtue of a government process. We are constantly indoctrinated to believe that prisoners are people who have committed crimes, who deserve what they get (whatever that is), who are qualitatively different from law-abiding citizens. This is much the same message that the German government propagated about the Jews and gypsies sent to the concentration camps.

The 1% have been recycling the same old lies for a long, long time.

The “justice” and “corrections” complexes serve the interests of the 1%. I write “justice” and “corrections” in quotations because these words are really nothing more than euphemisms; no justice is ever served in the courts and no correcting ever occurs in the prisons. This is an open secret known by most Americans, whether it is acknowledged or admitted. The prison complex, all window-dressing aside, serves the strategic economic, political and demographic aims of the 1%.

The prison-industrial complex serves the aims of the 1%. Worker wages have seriously declined in the last 50 years due largely to an artificial manipulation of economic forces. Prisons are a central feature to this manipulation. Prisons produce thousands of unemployables each year, convicted felons dumped into poor communities, unable to find meaningful employment. These felons join a large pool of the unemployed and under-employed who are desperate for living wages.

This pool of the unemployed is used as a leverage against workers. In negotiations between boss and worker, the boss can always fire the worker and hire a replacement from the pool of the desperate and unemployed. This leverage serves to drive down wages for all workers, creating a trend that has now led to workers making less than ever while executives rake in the most obscene salaries and bonuses in history.

The prison complex manufactures the leverage that the 1% uses to deflate worker wages.

The prison-industrial complex serves the political aims of the 1%. Law enforcement has its highest concentrations in poor and minority communities. These segments constitute the majority of the prison population. Since the 1960’s, the prison complex has been used as a weapon to atomize popular movements, neutralize political dissidents, and eliminate any potential for unrest among those most oppressed and exploited by the 1%. In the absence of popular movements and dissident leaders, the 1% can amputate from public discourse those views most dangerous to their agenda.

The prison-industrial complex serves the demographic aims of the 1%. Black men make up the largest demographic in the prison complex. Black women are the fastest growing demographic. It is no secret that prisons are used to prevent population growth by the poor and minorities.

In sum, the prison-industrial complex works as an economic, political and demographic control that benefits the agenda of the 1%.

While most prisoners are unaware of the fact, because prisons have become an industry, the prison population of the U.S. possesses an inordinate amount of power. Both states and corporate entities have come to rely upon prisoner slave-labor. Public-private partnerships have corporations out-sourcing labor to prisoner-slaves who perform the actual tolling. Many corporations count on prisoner-slave production of key components for their manufacturing industry, and many states rely upon the sale of this slave labor to corporations in order for the states to remain solvent. Both corporations and states depend greatly upon prisoners as an engine to maintain the larger system.

The Occupy Movement is confronted by two possible choices. Either the Occupy Movement can proceed without attempting to incorporate the prison population, or it can make an effort to incorporate the prison population into the larger resistance. Below, I briefly summarize both scenarios.

The Exclusion of Prisoners

In this scenario, no effort is made to incorporate the U.S. prisoner population into the wider resistance. The injustice and prison complexes continue operations unobstructed by those most-directly exploited by them. The 1% maintain their control over these key components of the system of repression.

With the government addressing the problem of crime and deviance, local communities have no incentive to develop their own grass-roots solutions to those problems. Oppressed and colonized peoples continue to rely upon the enemy’s police, courts, and detention facilities.

Poor and marginalized people continue to serve as meat for the meat grinder, pumped into the prison complex. These populations remain largely neutralized, socially and politically. The direct victims of the prison complex are distorted by their prison experiences and return to their communities either broken or as predators. Nearly all serve the agenda of the 1%, disrupting community cohesion of the poor and exploited. Released prisoners continue to seek work as burger-flippers for the corporate machine or else re-offend and return to prison, unconscious participants in the profits of the 1%.

In the absence of prisoner resistance, the states invest unlimited resources toward repression in the urban colonies, transforming police into paramilitaries for the next phase of the fascist police state. These urban colonies and the prisons are used as “canaries” in the proverbial coal mine, testing strategies and tactics to gain even tighter controls over human populations.

As the injustice and prison systems function without internal disruption, the 1% increasingly use them as repressive tools against the Occupy Movement, targeting “leaders” who are then sentenced to decades in prison for fabricated crimes, the serious penalties serving as a deterrent to others who would have otherwise participated in the movement. As Rage Against the Machine put it in “Sleep in the Fire”: “So wave your fists and march around/ just don’t take what you need/ we’ll jail and bury those committed’ and smother the rest in greed…” Over time, the 1% use the prison-industrial complex to “jail and bury” the committed resisters, and the end result is that everyone else quietly resumes their roles: working, shopping,and dying.

The Active Inclusion of Prisoners

In this scenario, the Occupy Movement facilitates and assists prisoners in organizing themselves and coordinating campaigns of sabotage and political violence for purposes of disrupting the prison system. Information-sharing with Occupy communities allows prisoners to develop successful strategies and as prisoner resistance grows, the operation of the jails and prisons becomes exponentially more costly to states, swallowing larger percentages of state budgets to keep the systems operating. With prisons disrupted, county jails overflow, burdening courts which must process cases faster and faster as the larger system continues to unravel.

As these centralized control systems collapse, local communities experience the social forces that make them develop localized and immediate solutions to crime and deviance, establishing grass-roots systems for security that lead to community cohesion and consensus-building, as well as the exclusion of the enemy’s cops.

Autonomous zones appear where poor and marginalized people are no longer colonized but have direct participation in community decisions.

In the prisons, prisoners learn their own power. They resist centuries of injustice. They neutralize the enemy’s distortion machinery and turn the slave camps into resistance training camps. Released prisoners return to their communities as capable leaders and guerrillas who have been forged in the fire of direct conflict, rather than returning as broken addicts or predators.

They do not seek employment at McDonald’s.

As budgets collapse, police presence in urban colonies becomes untenable. Police are pushed out of the communities.

With the injustice system and prison complexes in decline, the capacity to use them for repression against the Occupy Movement greatly decreases. Occupy Movement organizers remain in the communities and become central to the newly self-organized autonomous zones, taking away what little prestige that the centralized authoritarian system retains. Legitimacy transfers to the ground-up localized resistance and away from the government complexes which serve the 1%.


This is far from an exhaustive treatment and lacks detailed analysis, particularly regarding how one dynamic influences another and contributes to momentum shift. For instance, if prisoners sabotage a prison factory producing one specific part for an automobile manufacturer, this would have a ripple effect for that industry besides the repercussions it would have on the state’s revenue stream, besides the impact it would have on the morale of prisoners and the transformative power that successful resistance would have on participating prisoners, and on and on. I leave those details for others. This is designed only as a general overview to demonstrate the potential benefits of incorporating the nation’s prisoner population into the larger resistance strategy.

In subsequent writings, I can describe one view of how such a coordinated effort could develop, how it would operate effectively with very little funding or time expended by the Occupation, and what it would look like.

“They could lock up my body but not my spirit; that was with the people. The spirit of revolution will continue to grow within the prisons. I look forward to a time when all inmates will offer greater resistance by refusing to work as I did. Such a simple move would bring the machinery of the penal system to a halt.”

–Huey Newton, Revolutionary Suicide


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General Occupy STL Links

Thoughtful Perspectives on other North American #Occupy Movements

Albany, NY: Ben Brucato
Atlanta: ATL IMC / Little Advances
Baltimore: bmorewomentrans
Bloomington, IN: Rififi
Boston: Boston Indymedia
Carbondale: Occupy SIUC
Chicago: selfactivity
Chapel Hill: triANARCHY
Davis, CA: Bicycle Barricade
Denver: Ignite!
Detroit: Third Coast Conspiracy
Gulf Coast: The Raging Pelican
Iowa City: Smooth Spaces
Los Angeles: UnpermittedLA
Miami: Autonomy & Solidarity
New York City: Malcolm Harris
Oakland: Bay of Rage / Hyphy
Philadelphia: radoccupyphilly
Phoenix: Fires never extinguished
Portland, OR: Grey Coast @ News
Richmond, VA: The Wingnut
Seattle: Puget Sound Anarchists
St. Louis: STL FTP
Toronto: ...To the Roots of Capital
Vancouver: Van. Media Co-op
Washington DC: BroadSnark

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