Every individual, group, or organization that fights "against" oppression and "for" justice must constantly struggle against all external and internal forces that places the completion of their mission in jeopardy. External forces can aptly be described as threats while internal forces should be described as weaknesses. We in the VAPOC (Virginia Prisoner of Conscience) believe that Weaknesses are always more dangerous than Threats. Thus, it is with this understanding in mind that we will always struggle against are greatest danger: 'our own weaknesses.' This Communique is designed to give an analysis of both the threats to and weaknesses within the VAPOC with the fundamental goal of building a more effective instrument to combat all forces of oppression.
In 2016 The Virginia Prisoner of Conscience was born. Initially VAPOC was created as a consciousness movement with the mission of raising the sociopolitical consciousness of prisoners in Virginia prison system. We believed that once armed with knowledge & theory prisoners could become active participants in their own liberation. The idea was motivated by Amnesty International's definition of a 'Prisoner of Conscience' which is:"anyone imprisoned because of their race, sexual orientation, religion, or political views. It also refers to those who have been imprisoned and/or persecuted for the nonviolent expression of their conscientiously held beliefs"The VAPOC knows that race & class are inextricably linked to the gross over representation of poor and minority people in Virginia's prisons and that they both contribute to disparities in punishment. Therefore, we assert that every Virginia prisoner, because they're in a system that is essentially racist and beholden to values of classism is a Prisoner of Conscience. However, just "Being" isn't an empowering enough phenomenon to change this miserable condition that we're forced to endure daily. What's absolutely imperatives to our receiving justice is "action." Thus, we are trying to empower all VAPOC with the capacity to be impelled by their conscience, which we believe begins with a proper education of the conditions every prisoner currently finds themselves in. Therefore, our first step is to educate.Once properly educated we believe the natural human spirit to resist oppression will be activated.
Mission, Vision, Strategy
The VAPOC is a Prisoner led organization that's working to End Mass Incarceration in Virginia. Our number one goal is ending Truth in Sentencing in Virginia. This begins with repealing 53.1-195.1 of the Virginia code which prevents 95% from parole eligibility. We organize with other organizations, groups, and individuals outside of prison to achieve this mission. We educate and politicize loved ones of prisoners. We build relationships with statesman in "all"branches of government. We promote Unity and Solidarity with all other Criminal Justice Reformers because we understand that we share the same commitment and that injustices are interconnected. Thus, no mission in this struggle is insignificant.
II. Internal Realities of VADOC
There are many internal realities that we must consider when attempting to apply theory to action in the VADOC. Many of Virginia's prisoners and outside organizations who have worked to change the conditions of this system have consistently fallen short of the long term goal, leaving many with the belief that we are powerless to change our condition. The VAPOC knows that any instrument designed to resist oppression "must" have a proper analysis of the material conditions that the oppressed find themselves in along with that of the Oppressive force they are opposing.This Communique is an attempt to arm all of the resistance with a proper analysis of the Material conditions within the VADOC. Is is also necessary to let The People know about VAPOC's current direction.
A) Economic Reality
The VADOC is a Prison Industrial Complex. Multinational Companies are allowed to sell prisoners and their loved ones goods & services. Meanwhile the services that are being provided to prisoners at the expense of the state are in constant reduction. Food Service, State Property items, Health Care, etc suffer reductions in funding annually. Food portions continue to shrink. State issued clothing is being reduced continually. Medical services continue to cut corners. Consequently prisoners are left with the burden of purchasing those goods & services form the State commissary (Keefe co.) in order to experience the most basic level of comfort. However, Many of the prisoners in Virginia come from low income areas. Most are doing time with little to no support. Support often times depends in large part on how long you've been incarcerated. Thus, prison jobs become extremely valuable- especially to those who've been imprisoned the longest. The state knows this and often times exploits this. Prisoners have to be charge free for a period of time to get work. The more "privileged" the job is, the longer the period of being charge free. Approximately 60% of the prison population is unemployed. So, once a prisoners has gotten a job they are always looking to reduce the risk of losing it. The state knows that there's a large labor force in prison and that "EVERY" worker is replaceable.
B) Social Reality:
There are approx. 37,000 prisoners in the VADOC on any given day. 92% of the population is male and 8% is female. 62% of the population is Afrikan American, 37% is White, and 1% is other (VADOC classifies the Hispanic population as White). Of the population 1% is under the age 20, 9% is 20-24, 31% is 25-34, 27% is 35-44, 21% is 45-54, 6% is55-59, 6% is 60+. Of the population the offense category distribution for both male & female are: 58% violent crime,27% Property/Public Order crime, 15% Drug crime. There are 45 prisons in Virginia.
C) Cultural Reality:
I have obviously never been in any of Virginia's women's prisons and so I can't speak about their cultural reality. However, In the men's prisons there are two major institutions among the prisoners that they most identify with: Street Organizations (gangs) and Religious Organizations. There are four gangs of major significance in the VADOC: Bloods, Crips, Gangsta Disciples (*GD*), and White Supremacists (all of the white supremacist groups function as one group in the VADOC because they're so outnumbered). Of these the Bloods have the largest numbers at every prison with the Crips and GDs varying at second and third depending on the prison. The White Supremacists are almost always last with there being a couple of prisons that are the exception. Those are Augusta Correctional Center and Pocahontas Correctional Center. These are prisons that white prisoners request to be held. Black prisoners, being primarily form Urban areas, typically request to go to prisons in the central & eastern areas of the state. There are many religious groups in the VADOC. However, the three with the largest members are Christianity, Islam (Sunnis), and Nation of Gods & Earths. The, Catholics, Jews, NOI, Moor Science Temple, Rasta, etc. are also a force but nothing like the former. There's also a tendency for prisoners to identify with the city they come from. Guys from the surrounding rural areas often times identify with the city closest to their area. Since the introduction of the Jpay system and Global Tel, more and more prisoners are not connected to their loved ones of their communities.
D) Political Reality
Prisoners in the VADOC aren't able to vote. Prisoners aren't able to write petitions. Prisoners aren't able to start political/civic groups. Prisoners aren't allowed to organize our labor and Prisoners aren't allowed to engage in any form of protest. Prisoners are only allowed to seek redress for their grievances by using the inmate grievance procedure which is explained in Operating Procedure 866.1 "Offender Grievance Procedure," or by writing letters and filing complaints with other government agencies and civic groups tasked with regulating and resisting certain areas in the prison. Once prisoners exhaust the grievance process they can choose to take legal action if they have the material forces (resources) to produce a lawsuit. This is the extent to which Prisoners can engage politically in the VADOC.
E) Environmental Reality (internal & external)
Environment in prison describes both the physical and mental location of the prisoner. The Physical environment varies according to security level and age of the prison. Lower Security level prisons are much more open and place many more resources at the prisoners disposal. Higher Security Level prisons place more resources at the staff's disposal. Security Levels 1&2 prisons are made up of dormitories while Levels 3-6 are composed of cells. Older prisons have larger recreation yards but lack the modern features of the newer prisons like central air, computerized intercoms, and slots on doors to feed prisoners while locked down. Most of the newer prisons are being built in the western region of the state while many of the older prisons are in the central and eastern portion of the state. In the Western Region the prisons are run primarily by white staff while in the Central and Eastern region they're run by primarily black staff. However, there are several prisons in the Eastern and Central region that have a racial demography of staff that's evenly divided. Western Region prisons tend to have mo