Political Prisoners

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“There is a distinct and qualitative difference between one breaking a law for one’s own individual self-interest and violating it indirectly through that particular law. The former might be called criminal (though in many ways he is a victim), but the latter, as a reformist or revolutionary, is interested in universal social change. Captured, he or she is a political prisoner.

The political prisoner’s words or deed have in one form or another embodied political protests against the established order and have consequently brought him into acute conflict with the state. In light of the political content of his act, the “crime” (which may or may not have been committed) assumes a minor importance. In this country, however, where the special category of political prisoners is not officially acknowledged, the political prisoner inevitably stands trial for a specific criminal offense, not for a political act. Often the so-called crime does not even have a nominal existence. As in the 1914 murder frame-up of the IWW [Industrial Workers of the World] organizer, Joe Hill, it is blatant fabrication, a mere excuse for silencing a militant crusader against oppression. In all instances, however, the political prisoner has violated the unwritten law which prohibits disturbances and upheavals in the status quo of exploitation and racism. This unwritten law has been contested by actually and explicitly breaking a law or by utilizing constitutionally protected channels to educate, agitate, and organize masses to resist.

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Even in all of Martin Luther King’s numerous arrests, he was not so much charged with the nominal crimes of trespassing, and disturbance of the peace, as with being an enemy of the southern society, an inveterate foe of racism. When Robert Williams was accused of kidnapping, this charge never managed to conceal his real offense—the advocacy of black people’s incontestable right to bear arms in their own defense.

The offense of the political prisoner is political boldness, the persistent challenging—legally or extra-legally—of fundamental social wrongs fostered and reinforced by the state.”

—  Angela Y. Davis, Political Prisoners, Prisons, and Black Liberation (1971)
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“Being in a cage for such an extended period of time, it has its downfalls. I mean, you may not feel it, you may not know it, you may think that you’re OK, and you just perfunctorily move about, you know. However, when you was removed from out of that type of situation and placed in an open environment where, you know, you’re even breathing that oxygen and it’s getting into your lungs and you’re feeling something growing within you, and—you begin to develop a different mode within your body. I even watched my body. I’ve looked in the mirror, and I’ve seen muscles and [bleep] begin to pop out there. I began to run even faster and [bleep]. And I’m saying, “Whoa, what the hell is going on here?” Much was preserved. But then I got locked up again after eight months. And being locked up like that, the whole body just got confused.”

Herman Wallace, former prisoner of the Angola 3 of the Louisiana State Penitentiary , who was released on Monday, describing the 6 by 9 feet cage in the documentary, “Herman’s House”