Daniel McGowan
Daniel McGowan
Daniel McGowan
Subscribe to Daniel's Announcement Listserve



Archive for October, 2007

Green Scare Update

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

I just wanted to send a little note to say hi to everyone who has written and let you know I truly appreciate the support. It is functionally impossible for me to respond to all the notes, cards and packages, but they are getting to me and they really make me happy. Oddly enough, I seem to have sprained my thumb! I know, I can imagine the bad jokes now as I type this! It seems to be rather swollen and it’s certainly from writing too much. So, I appreciate your kind words and letters but between my job, studies, and my poor fat thumb, know that I may not be able to respond.

I wanted to share some news about some court cases I have read about recently and perhaps update people on the latest happenings related to the Green Scare. If that term is unfamiliar to you, I’m sorry. I think myself and many of us have just chosen to use that term because its easy to name it per se than to describe the full set of circumstances. What I mean is the US government’s obsession with investigating, harassing, prioritizing and prosecuting activists involved with environmental and animal rights activities. I’d like to think that this behavior on the part of government officials is just about illegal activity but sadly, it’s not. As Will Potter has pointed out on his informative blog, greenisthenewred.com, these campaigns of harassment, indictments, overzealous legislation, targeting by industry front groups, all create a chill around activism. “Will they come after me next? I don’t burn things down, but that Animal Enterprise Terrorism Bill seems so broad..”

Well, as you may know, a lot of people were arrested and indicted in my case– what the agents dubbed “Operation Backfire.” (Get it? It’s a joke– on us! Like, you know, our tactics/actions backfired! Nice one, secret agent boys!) Although it seems that our case is wrapping up, a Midwest grand jury was to convene (and was then postponed) regarding ELF actions in that region. You can read more about this on a new site:?

A few weeks ago, there was good news and bad news with two Green Scare trials. The good news is that former ALF prisoner, Rod Coronado, got a hung jury in his free speech case in San Diego. Rod was charged with an old law that alleged that he was instructing people on how to use incendiary devices. From the accounts I read, this so-called instruction was Rod speaking at a public event and a question was asked about an action he was involved with years prior (and which he had already done time for). The jury was deadlocked in favor of acquittal but ended up being unable to come to any decision. At this point, I am unsure whether or not the government will continue this vindictive behavior and file charges again. In either case, check out his support site at www.supportrod.org to donate or find out more.

Sadly, Eric McDavid was found guilty by a jury in the Sacramento ELF case. Eric was charged with conspiracy and was sold down the river by his two co-defendents who testified against him and will now receive a maximum of 5 years. Eric faces 5-20 years. It should also be noted that a woman only known as “Anna,” was not only the key witness but also a blatant provocateur in the case– constantly pushing the three young activists into planning actions. The judge denied the entrapment motion even though evidence kept showing up that “Anna” seemed to really want an action to happen so that she could please her FBI handlers. You may ask, “Why is the FBI recruiting 17-year old college students to push people into doing ELF type actions, even going so far as to pay her $70,000, rent and outfit a cabin for planning the actions, etc.?” That’s a good question. Eric is filing an appeal and last I heard needs help with legal costs and continued access to vegan food.

See www.supporteric.org for more information.

There are also a few ongoing cases associated with the Green Scare:

Tre Arrow: This American environmental activist is fighting extradition from Canada and has been held for three years now trying to clear his name and is being tried on very serious charges in Oregon state. The authorities claim he was involved in an ELF arson of the Ross Isnald Sand and Gravel company in Portland, OR and an arson of three logging trucks. Three people who have received reduced sentences claim Tre Arrow was involved although there doesn’t appear to be any evidence other than this. He was a well-known forest defense activist in Oregon and even ran for Congress. He sits in a jail in British Columbia and is appealing an extradition order. He needs your support. Contact his crew at www.trearrow.org If sent to the US, he will be facing life in prison like I was.

Briana Waters: This case goes to trial on February 4th, 2008. She is facing 35 years in prison and is accused of participation in the UW arson claimed by the ELF in 2001. More information: www.supportbriana.org

Finally, my friend Jeff Luers has been sent to Eugene for resentencing in his case. An Oregon appellate court ruled in favor of part of his appeal last year and Jeff faces a significant reduction in the length of his sentence. By now, he may have already been sentenced, but either way, check out www.freefreenow.org

There are websites that have much more information than I can convey. Check them out:

www.greenscare.org
www.cldc.org
Portland Indymedia’s Green Scare page
greenisthenewred.com
www.ecoprisoners.org
shac7.com
Twin Cities Eco-Prisoner Support Committee

A day in the life

Friday, October 19th, 2007

Many people over the past month have written asking what my daily life is like here at FCI Sandstone. After trying to dutifully answer these questions, I found myself burning out writing the same account. There have been ongoing and useful discussion the last couple of years about what prison is actually like and how that relates to our movement(s). There has been debates over the federal vs. state prison experience with prisoners sharing their particular experiences of where they are imprisoned. My goal in documenting a typical day in my life is to give you a snapshot into my life, not to suggest that my life is like any other prisoner’s.

I typically wake at 5:50am, dress, make coffee (yes, they sell it! I use the filter/plastic cone combo rather than the instant crap) and head to chow hall for breakfast. The first meal of the day is typically cold—usually cereal, fruit, toast, a strange coffee substance and “juice”– with occasional days offering eggs, oatmeal and bacon (of which I only eat the first two). Usually, I head back to my unit, but some days I head to the mail room to pick up legal mail or the clothing exchange to pick up laundry detergent. At my unit, I drink my coffee and watch CNN Headline News (which since 2001 has come to resemble FOX News more and more).

Work call is 7:40am and I head to my job in psychology where I am employed as an orderly. I make 12 cents an hour and work from then until lunch and then until 3:30pm. I sweep, mop, clean windows and empty garbage cans with a few other orderlies. When work is minimal, I am able to watch educational videos and read. Although the job is mandatory, it is relatively benign and our job is to keep the department clean, not to make money for the prison (THAT is what UNICOR: Federal Prison Industries does. Here they make gloves and operate a printing press paying prisoners a maximum of $1.53 an hour!)

Lunch is hot and I eat more then– including veggie burgers, TVP ribs, salad, TVP hot dogs and PB & J. (I’ve had more TVP since I got here than ever before!) The BOP offers a “no flesh” alternative at every meal and they will be switching to a centralized national menu in January 2008 which by all guesses, should be better for us vegetarians. I go back to my unit after lunch on most days but sometimes I head to the mail room to mail books home or make a phone call.

The phone room is open almost all day. There are about 30 phones, our calls are limited to a 15 minute call (you can make another call after waiting 15 minutes) that is deducted from our phone account and we have 300 minutes of calling per month (it’s not much, amounting to a 10 minute call a day roughly). The rate for a long-distance call (which all mine are) is .23 a minute leading to a $69 a month phone bill. (Help me call home. Click here.)

After work, I either go to the library or the gym/red area. The library is rather small and getting more and more crowded. This is due to a large number of new prisoners coming here. While new housing units have been built, no other service has been expanded which leads to crowding and long lines everywhere. The library has computers for people signed up for classes (like Rosetta Stone language courses) and a room with 8 typewriters (for more than 1,200 prisoners). The BOP only requires that prisoners acquire their GED and achieve a certain score on the ESL test. There seems to be some college credits offered but I suspect it’s only to get an Associate Degree in a limited number of fields. The prison runs 3 vocational programs in automobile repair, welding and culinary arts. I take a lot of “Adult Continuing Education” classes which are usually 1-2 hour sessions once a week for a month that consist of watching History Channel shows. It can be interesting and I’ve watched shows on natural disasters, the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls and Ellis Island. However, I regard these classes as TV-watching for the most part as there is no discussion and nothing more than an easy quiz at the end. Sadly, it seems that most of the books in the library are donated by prisoners and not purchased by the prison. Much of it is mass market paperbacks but the non-fiction section is growing thanks to all the books people have bought for me!

Sandstone has excellent recreational resources including 2 softball fields, a soccer pitch, an outdoor weight area with free weights (a rarity in the BOP), a basketball court, bocce ball, 4 handball walls and a “pickleball” court (think tennis with a wood racket and wiffleball-like ball). Surrounded by all of this is a track that is almost _ mile long and a great wide open sky with clean air. Inside the gym, we have stationary bikes, a full court basketball court, rowing machines, ping pong, pool, more free weights, a music room with guitars & videos to watch, a hobbycraft room and a second floor space with TVs, darts and tables to play chess & cards on.

We are called back to our units at 3:30pm and that is also mail call which is my favorite time of the day! I have actually been overwhelmed with all the mail I am getting and find it hard to respond to more than a few per day. We are then counted by the staff (as we are many times throughout the day) and called to dinner after 4:45pm in an order based on the results of the precious weeks’ sanitation inspection.

Dinner is like lunch but usually has more choices and sometimes includes mac and cheese, even more TVP (how is that possible!?) and carbs. The vegetables are often overcooked and not the best quality, but I get by. After dinner, I either head to rec, or hang in the unit digesting my food, reading and occasionally checking out the news. Friday to Sunday, we are shown 5 movies on the prison TV station– many of which have just been released to DVD. Other times, the TV schedule is made by a committee with sports, BET, Spanish TV, and a movie channel always on. Football is huge here, as are almost all sports, as are movie nights (last weekend, we watched Transformers). We have 4 radio stations that play whole CDS of different genres– I usually listen to the alt rock, metal, or classic rock stations but they have time slots for hip hop, jazz, blues and salsa too.

I head back to my unit at 9:30pm and spend the rest of the night hanging out, reading and preparing for the next day. My cube is small and I have the top bunk. I have 2 shelves, a locker, hooks to hang my jacket on and a folding chair. We have to wear a khaki uniform (button down shirts, pants, boots) until 3:30pm but I change into t-shirts and sweatpants as soon as I can. I’m in bed by 11pm and with my long days and exercise, I’m out like a light. The day then pretty much repeats itself the next day with slight changes to my weekend day. This is one of the strangest things about prison—it’s really boring and the days all blend into each other. Sometimes, when I’m asked what I did on a particular day, I have no idea! On the other hand, the days (and hopefully months) fly by and the weekend is upon me.

Of course, my account is incomplete and description vague at times for obvious reasons. I’m in a low-security prison which is second only to a minimum-security prison (federal prison camp) in terms of freedom of movement. I can’t really complain as friends of mine are at maximum security joints and from what I hear, it’s a vastly different experience. I hope my account adds something to your understanding of federal prisons.

Remembering Brad

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

On October 27, 2006, my friend, fellow activist, and independent journalist Brad Will was murdered by paramilitaries (as well as off duty police) while documenting protests and riots in Oaxaca, Mexico. He was filming the struggle by the teachers union (APPO) against policies of the mayor of Oaxaca and the unrest in the streets. As I write this, Brad’s killers walk free after their token arrest shortly after his murder. Others have written more eloquently about the situation in Oaxaca (leftturn.org, Narco News) so I’ll stick to what I know – Brad, and the gap in our NYC activist community he left behind.

I first met Brad in the fall of 1998 when he gave a slideshow on the Fall Creek Tree Village at ABC no Rio, two days before a planned move to California for me. I had big plans to participate in the campaign to save Headwaters Forest, but Brad attempted to talk me out of going to northern California with tales of Cascadian resistance to old growth logging at Fall Creek. He told me how the dogma and rigidity of nonviolence codes just didn’t exist at Fall Creek (that’s not to say protesters were violent because they weren’t. They did eschew guidelines that prevented them from defending their bodies from physical harm doled out by angry loggers or Forest Service cops). Brad was a cornucopia of information on the forests, advising me on how to waterproof my backpack, move quietly in the forest, where the hot campaigns were and how to get there, as well as tales of his two months in the trees. I ended up going – or trying to get to – Headwaters Forest. Sadly, an activist named David “Gypsy” Chain was killed by an out of control logger while I was en route.

Over the years, I started to see Brad everywhere. (This was funny to me years later when Brad contributed to an Anthology called We Are Everywhere. I remember thinking, “you certainly are!”) First, I saw him at the WTO protests in Seattle, then at Earth First! Gatherings, in random Midwest cities, and back home in NYC when I came to visit. You could always count on Brad to come zooming by a protest with a huge grin on his face. When we went to the Mexican consulate the night after he was killed, people joked that they expected him to show up at any moment. The energy there that night was definitely something he would have wanted to be a part of.

I won’t canonize Brad either, because that would be a disservice to his memory. There was a potluck at my house once that Brad showed up to with empty hands and much later that night, he drained 3/4 of the last bottle of wine while singing that annoying song that doesn’t end! But, I’ll take no wine with Brad any day over the alternative which, sadly, is reality right now.

Instead of that, I think about our interactions during my legal court case. Even when I was facing life, he was super positive with me – at a time when it was very easy to slip into despair. He passed legal fund donations to me from the sale of rather sketchy and provocative patches and always offered to post my legal updates on 10 or more Independent Media Center websites. My last email from him was in response to a request for people to translate materials into Spanish about the Green Scare. It was simple and in his style: “Send it over, b.”

With Halloween approaching, I can’t help but think of Brad – it was a random phone call from a friend I expected to see at the Times Up! Halloween party later that night who gave me the news. Seeing the photo of Brad on the La Jornada website, plugging the words into a Spanish translation website, and trying to tell myself it wasn’t him was my way of coping – a vague attempt to tell myself, No, they took another one from us.

When Brad was murdered, the NYC activist scene lost a special person – a catalyst who connected people to each other, seemed to know everyone, and took special interest in new activists, trying to make them feel comfortable in the movement. He pressed for US activists to take concrete actions and offer mutual aid to the global sound. He documented the struggles of the landless workers in Brazil, almost getting beaten to death in the process. People will remember his stand on the 5th Street squat in the Lower East Side, where Brad stood down a wrecking ball years ago. He is more than the sum of his actions, though.

So, as Halloween approaches and the anniversary of our friend’s death nears, take a moment to remember Brad Will or read about who he is. Join the efforts of those here and in Mexico who are continuing to put pressure on the government of Mexico to arrest his murderers. Don’t ever let them forget that we know who is responsible for these deed.

Rest in peace, b. You are missed.

For more information, see:

Friends of Brad Will

APPO

Narco News

Left Turn

P.S. Brad would be happy to know that Fall Creek (what the Forest Service call the Clark Timber sale) was cancelled weeks ago, thanks to the efforts of hundreds of activists using direct action, lawsuits, and public outreach.
(Note/Update from a friend: The Fall Creek sale hasn’t been canceled yet unfortunately. It was supposed to be part of a package deal of cancellations, but that sale got left out in the end. Its not in danger of being cut, but still is not canceled.)

Independent media and publications

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

One thing I noticed sitting down at my computer, about a month before I self-reported to prison, was the decreasing number of magazines and newspapers on my prison wish list. What started out as rather large list that I hoped to get some of, dwindled into a much smaller list seemingly week by week. While each successive e-mail or statement seemed to downplay the trend, it certainly seemed that 2006/7 was not a good year for independent media.

As an obsessive reader and current prisoner, this trend scares me. Over ten years ago, I remember early computer zealots trumpeting the call of the ‘paperless office’ and online magazines and newspapers replacing print. Despite my ecological leanings, this sounded like a really bad idea. There is just something about a physical zine or newspaper– maybe it is the ease in which they are shared with others. Maybe it just seems more real. Any attempts to read more than a 200 word article online did (and does) make my head spin. So I opted for getting subscriptions, checking out a new zine at my local bookstore and eschewing the internet for this purpose at least.

Flash forward to 2007. I peruse my list, striking Clamor, Lip– two magazines whose failure seemed to mark the beginning of this issue making it on my radar. Weeks pass, and I find out the veritable hardcore zine Heartattack is wrapping up, as well as Punk Planet. Each successive issue of the punk zine, Slug & Lettuce, writes about the increased cost of postage and printing, the decrease in ads bought and questions whether people even value the print zine anymore (The time will come when I will no longer be able to read the zine with its 8pt font, but until then, I enjoy the reviews and columns!) A few months later, comes the retirement of the militant, grassroots focused No Compromise (spanning 10 years and 30 issues) and the animal rights/environmental and social justice focused Satya (spanning 13 years and over 150 issues). These two publications, which are so connected in my mind with my entry into activism, were stellar and there are no replacements. So, even though I am assured it wasn’t finances but the natural death of their projects, its no consolation.

The death of Alternative Press Review and the Ashville Global Reporter as well as the closing of the Independent Press Association all seem to further this trend. What does this mean for radicals? Do we want a movement that in its quest to blog as its main outlet, leads to a lack of support for all things print? Has the seemingly “free”nature of news on the internet created the subscription phobic behavior that seems to be the norm? It has gotten to the point where some magazines, notably the defunct Satya as well as Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed offer online subscriptions in PDF format. Whether people will go for it has more to do with the honor system– since there is nothing stopping anyone from sharing the files thus negating the magazines’ attempts to be able to continue printing.

I read a lot of different publications, from single-issue magazines like Bite Back and Cultural Survival Quarterly to lefty liberal ones like Mother Jones, to independent newspapers like the NYC Indypendent. While I may agree with only some of what is published (or not!), its their contribution to heterogeneity and diversity in our movement(s) that I appreciate. More voices, more perspectives, more solutions. One no, many yeses (thank you Zapatistas for that one). To the extent we can mimic the diversity of “nature” and strive toward a multiplicity of voices, we can enable a healthier and more vibrant movement- not one in which we have a small number of homogeneous voices. (Just think of communist newspaper sellers standing outside events.)

I don’t mean to be doom and gloom—there are a lot of bright spots on the horizon including new publications like Upping the Anti (a Canadian zine/book that comes out twice a year) to international ones like Abolishing the Borders From Below (a pro-immigration zine for lack of a better term) and controversial/pioneers like $pread (which I still struggle with and which has led to many interesting conversations). Here are some reviews of 3 zines I really like– writing a review of a magazine seems very self-indulgent but I’ll try anyway!

1) Rolling thunder: Put out by the CrimthInc. Ex-Workers Collective (or some other permutation of their network), and this is by far the most attractive magazine I have ever seen. I almost don’t want to crease the cover when I get it and I’m certain advertisers would salivate to have their designers on their team! The articles are in-depth focusing on campaigns (like the defense of the South Central Farm in LA), stories of working in the wage economy as an anarchist, the problem of sexual assault in our communities and the pitfalls of using the state to solve these and other problems, as well as a healthy self criticism and humor. Recent issues have had great sections on cop watch, international trade summits, and the really really free markets held around the country. Full color glossy, thick, and cheap ($5) but well thought out also. If absurd stereotypes of young punks or trust funding anarchists come to mind when you hear CrimthInc.—this zine is for you. It will dispel that nonsense!

CrimethInc./Rolling Thunder; P.O. Box 494; Chapel Hill, NC 27514
rollingthunder (at) crimethinc (dot) com
www.crimethinc.com

2) Left Turn: Billed as not just a publication but a “national network of activists engaging and fighting the consequences of global capitalism.” This magazine, now 26 issues strong, offers consistently well done articles with in-depth coverage of Palestine, Africa and anti-racist campaigns, as well as critical pieces on the anti-war movement, the non-profit industrial complex, and US imperialism and war. It balances the global with the local– although I would like to see them solicit articles from outside their networks, especially in NYC. The books reviewed and the reviews themselves are always strong. I hope to see more coverage of environmental issues in future issues, including many of the strong environmental justice campaigns doing great work in urban and rural areas all over the country. ($5)

Left Turn; P.O. Box 445; New York, NY 10159-0445
nyc (at) leftturn (dot) org
www.leftturn.org

3) Earth First! Journal: if your idea of Earth First! is an anti-immigrant, parochial, redneck for wilderness thing, its time to update your definition of Earth First!. The Journal, in its 27th year of publishing, is run by a small group of poorly paid and overworked editors in Tucson, AZ, and covers ecological issues in a passionate and unapologetically radical way. Reports from local EF! groups, reviews, longer analytical pieces, and a great letters section (called Dear Shit fer Brains) makes for a great read every issue. You will read about stuff you won’t read anywhere else but in the Journal– including struggles against mountaintop removal and coal mining, news from the front lines, and occasionally a great section called “Dear Nedd Ludd” (about direct action). I’ve read this magazine for the last 10 years and lately have been a frequent contributor (must be all the time on my hands!) A new format, which really is a return to their old format, has made for a larger publication more suited to being distributed as an activist tool in big stacks rather than at the local Borders. Get your hands on this one even if you don’t identify as a radical environmentalist. ($4.50)

Earth first! Journal; P.O. Box 3023; Tucson, AZ 85702;
collective (at) earthfirstjournal (dot) org
www.earthfirstjournal.org

My visit with Daniel

Monday, October 8th, 2007


It?s been a while since a proper update has gone out, so I wanted to use this opportunity to tell everyone about my visit with Daniel last weekend. Since many people reading this have never visited a prisoner, I thought it would be helpful to also provide an account of my experience doing so. Over the past 2 years, I have gone to see Daniel at county jail (in Eugene) and at a detention center (in Brooklyn), but this was the first time I had been to a prison, or what is officially called a ?federal correctional institution (FCI)?. I was able to visit Daniel on Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm. FCI Sandstone is located about an hour and a half from Minneapolis by car, which is pretty much the only way you can get there. It?s a fairly straightforward drive with not much to see along the way. I stayed in Hinckley, the town next to Sandstone, since there seemed to be slightly more amenities there.

Saturday morning I headed to the prison. The most beautiful landscape that I saw on my entire trip was, ironically, on the way to the prison. I noticed an entrance to the Sandstone National Wildlife Refuge about half a mile from the point the trees and the road opened up to the complex of FCI Sandstone. Upon my arrival, I found a parking spot and then a guard in a truck came by to tell me I should wait at least 5 minutes before going in because I was early. Apparently others don?t feel the need to ?beat the crowds? and be the first one in ? my NYC brain didn?t comprehend this! So after waiting 5 minutes, I got out of the car and walked past the employee parking towards the front door. The outdoor prison yard and track is right next to the parking lot (separated by a tall barbed wire fence) so there are a number of signs telling you that communicating with anyone on the other side is strictly prohibited.

I entered the building and was greeted by a woman behind a desk. She seemed to have been settling in just then (she was turning on her computer, hanging up her jacket, etc.). I think she was a little surprised to see someone there so early. But, nonetheless, she greeted me with much more pleasantness than I had experienced when last visiting Daniel in Brooklyn. What was familiar was the procedure of ?checking in.? All visitors must fill out a basic form with their own info, the prisoner?s name and register number, your car license plate, model, make, color, and a yes/no checklist of potential contraband that you have on you. Of course, if you?re not checking ?no? to all these things, don?t count on getting in! One thing that many people don?t know, due the portrayal of prison visits on TV or in movies, is that you CANNOT bring ANYTHING into a prison except money for vending machines. In Sandstone the maximum amount you can take in with you is $20 and you must carry it in a small, clear plastic baggie and present it before going in. There are certain allowances made for mothers of small children to bring in diapers and baby wipes, but there is a limit to these things too. They even sell tampons in the vending machines since visitors cannot even bring those in! All items you bring in when you walk in the front door you must check into a locker in that room. You are given a key for your locker and you will put everything in there but your baggie o? money. After all that is sorted, you are walked through a metal detector, your hand is stamped with invisible ink and then you?re cleared to move into the next room. There is never just one door between the waiting/check-in area and the visitors? room – there are always intermediary rooms (there?s only one here, but in Brooklyn there were 3 so you felt like you were being herding around).

The first day I got there, Daniel was already in the visitors? room waiting, but the second day I was there first. Unlike MDC Brooklyn, once you get into the visitors? room you are free to pick where to sit. It varies whether you make it in there before the person you?re seeing does or not. Daniel and I got the same seats both times in the back corner of the room. The room consists of a guards? desk on the side of the room, about 8 or so rows of plastic chairs, a few vending machines, a change machine, 2 microwaves, men and women bathrooms for visitors only, a miniature bookcase with cards, UNO and some old tattered games and a very small children?s play room with coloring books and a TV. The rules of federal prison regarding couples? behavior are very strict. When you greet hello and say goodbye you are allowed to ?embrace? (kiss/hug) briefly. The rest of the visit is limited to holding hands and putting your arm around the other person ? but you have to do this while sitting right next to each other. For me, it was a challenge to feel comfortable and relaxed as if you would at home, given you?re in such a rigid environment. Also, the penalty for breaking these rules is extremely harsh ? a visiting husband or wife could be banned from visitation for up to a year and anyone else could be banned for the entire sentence.

After I had been there for about an hour or so I began to feel a little more comfortable. Unfortunately, since you can?t leave the room the entire time, you are at the mercy of the vending machines. Daniel and I ate so much crap it?s ridiculous. It was like being on vacation, but so NOT like being on vacation. In between trips to the vending machines, we were able to catch up on the last month or so. It was really refreshing to be able to just talk. To talk and to breathe. When Daniel was in transport for around 2 weeks, we talked a total of about 1 minute. Even when he?s been at places (like Sandstone) where he has greater phone access, the calls are always limited to 15 minutes. So, when we were able to sit for hours, we weren?t rushed and panicked, we didn?t have to struggle to make every second count or feel like we were losing precious time if we didn?t fill it with words. It was such a content feeling to sit and chat and LAUGH. There were times I sort of forgot where I was. We were back at home, we were cracking up about something really stupid or, at times, we were even debating about something. But whatever it was, we were doing it together, face-to-face, and it made a world of difference.

Daniel seems to be adjusting well. He has a gift for figuring out exactly what he needs to do in order to make his life the best it can be at a given time or in a given situation. He has enrolled in some of the courses and certificates they are offering at Sandstone (and will resuming his Master?s coursework in January). He?s started a workout routine and he?s really trying to get himself more physically fit. As much as he can, he watches what he eats there. It?s not easy since all meals are disproportionately carb-heavy, but he?s trying to balance things out the best he can. Vegetarian options are available at every meal, although that doesn?t mean they?re necessarily palatable! In a previous update I said that Daniel got a job as a clerk in the psychology department but I was mistaken. He?s actually an orderly in the department and will be one until the person in the clerk?s position leaves. Still, it?s a room with AC and the psychologist there seems like a decent person. Overall, Daniel is adjusting and I am trying to adjust with him along the way.

The hardest part of my trip was saying goodbye. I hope to go back at the end of next month for my second visit and will keep everyone posted.

Thanks for all your continued support,
Jenny

PS ? A friend of mine passed this article along to me. It?s the first article I?ve seen in a mainstream magazine that deals with having a partner (here, a husband) in prison. Go here to read if you?d like.

Immigration

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of newspapers and magazines since I’ve been here. Invariably, there are articles on things of interest to me, but I find myself surprised at the slant or perspective offered by newspapers like the NY Times or the factoid-driven USA Today. (Why this is, probably has much to do with a long-term withdrawal from corporate news – the fact that most newspapers and sources of news mimic the perspectives and opinions of those in power shouldn’t surprise me!) One of the issues covered in such a shallow and non-questioning manner is immigration – often it’s the “problem of immigration” or theorizing on “how to seal the border.”

While I don’t expect mainstream news sources to question the existence of borders (or as I like to call them, “lines on a map”), I hope for more than the ICE-loving, immigrant demonizing that passes for coverage on a really complex issue. The articles focus on people who die crossing the desert from Mexico (a not-so-subtle “you’re next”), raids on businesses/factories that employ a majority of immigrants without any criticism of how armed raids and the destruction of families is a horrendous affair and, of course, more propaganda about how out “leaders” are going to “build a better fence!”

What is lost in this barely under the surface reporting is the fact that we are speaking about people. I’m ashamed to say that it took events happening to a friend of mine to break through my lack of concentration on this topic. My friend Maria (not her real name), was traveling in the Southwest with her family on Greyhound when it was boarded by a migra. Her papers were checked, allegations were made that she and her parents are illegal, and they are now in the federal legal system (trust me – it’s a Kafkaesque place to be) fighting to stay in the United States. To top it off, they want to deport my friend to Mexico – where she has not resided since age 5 and her parents to another country. Her court dates are set for where the charges where filed, not her resident state – which is leading to immense travel expenses in addition to the legal bills. The US knows that defendants worn down with threats, financial debt and numerous delays are easier to deal with – it’s systemic, successful, and by all accounts, very successful.

As many of us have noted before, the United States has collective amnesia. Here we are – a nation of immigrants built on the (ongoing) genocide and ecological exploitation of this continent’s indigenous peoples, made rich by generations of chattel slavery that argue for sealing the border to brown people and Central and South America. (That’s really what makes the debate is about. Surely, the US is unconcerned with “white” or English speaking immigrants. Just go to Ridgewood, Queens or Greenpoint, Brooklyn and you’ll see what I mean!)

Growing up in NYC, almost everyone I knew had parents and grandparents who were immigrants – Irish, Puerto Rican, Italian, Dominican, German, and Caribbean families – and were 1-3 generations removed from their respective nations. My Irish grandfather, coming to the US in 1916 at the time of low Irish immigration did not have to deal with “Irish need not apply” signs. However, being a newcomer with only his sister as family here, he took the job he could get – as a laborer at a natural gas power plant in Brooklyn, NY. He worked that job for 50 years. His blood, sweat, and tears put food on the table during the Depression and supported a family of four.

When I think of my Poppa, his hard work and his reasons for coming here (impending civil unrest in Ireland, no opportunities), I can’t help but think of today’s immigrants. It is shameful enough that the US has destabilized and harmed much of South and Central America in the 1980′s (Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Peru) fueled by Reagan’s domino theory and the neo-liberal and Democrat-supported NAFTA of the Clinton years (affecting Mexico, perhaps, most of all).

Maria has been here for over 15 years – her parents employed as teachers and herself, a vibrant part of the NYC activist community. Is it fair to send her to a country she does not remember? Shouldn’t common sense prevail here? It’s the dehumanization of immigrants that allows things like this to happen. Fueled by propaganda and fear, municipalities promote ordinances that levy fines against people who hire “illegals,” people become snitches and call ICE on individuals or businesses, rednecks harass day labor sites. Meanwhile, the silence on the part of so many white people is astounding – even as, in my city, people sleep in hotels cleaned by, ride in taxis driven by, and eat vegetables picked by and animals slaughtered by immigrants. The May 1 protests of two years ago should have been a wake-up call – an invitation off the fence and a reminder that, aside from native peoples, we are all immigrants here in the US. Like a funny shirt I saw last year, “Who are you calling immigrant, Pilgrim?”

To be clear, it’s not the “immigrants are useful to me” debate that drives me (in the same vain as I value trees for their own inherent value. This is called ‘deep ecology’ in the environmental realm. What then would we call it regarding respect and consideration for people independent of such silly criteria as “national origin?”) It’s my friend Maria and her mother and father – people with names, lives, goals, and dreams. To give credence to borders over people is a freedom-destroying choice. The rhetoric of immigrants “draining the resources of the US” is laughable coming from a country that spends millions of dollars a day to fund an illegal and immoral war in Iraq and devoted 1/2 of its overall budget to the military!

Don’t use my previous excuses for not taking a stand on what this gov’t is doing to people fighting just to leave. Get off the fence and wade into what seems, at first, to be a complex issue. Meet and work with immigrant groups for justice. Learn Spanish! Don’t forget that, chances are, your family was immigrants too.

Addendum: The solution being proposed currently is that young people whose parents came here when they were young can gain citizenship by joining the military. This is appalling and needs to be resisted fully. They see this as a win-win – helping horribly low military recruitment numbers and reducing the numbers of illegal. But no one should have to die to be allowed to live in the US.