Prison Commissary Boycott

End prison slavery in Texas now! Part II: Class consciousness and international solidarity

by Keith ‘Malik’ Washington, chief spokesperson for the End Prison Slavery in Texas Movement and deputy chairman of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party Prison Chapter (NABPP PC), Texas Region

Originally published in the SF Bayview, March 3rd, 2017
Part One was published here.

“Largely missing from mainstream discourse on mass incarceration is the history of slave rebellions and revolts, revolutionary internationalism and Malcolm X, COINTELPRO and the BPP. Yet it is within this history that we find the tools for combating not only mass incarceration but also the monster of institutionalized racism that created it. We must understand mass incarceration as deeply tied to the legacy of slavery. This provides the intellectual grounding for the prison abolition movement and relates to human rights struggles that call for international solidarity.” – Nyle Fort, “Insurgent Intellectual: Mumia Abu Jamal in the age of Mass Incarceration,” p.144, Socialism and Democracy, Volume 28, 2014, Issue 3

Revolutionary greetings, Comrades!

There’s no sense in playing games. Y’all know what this is, so let’s get straight to the business. Minister Nyle Fort starts us off with a strong quote.

I am going to expand his analysis by highlighting the historical fact that slavery in the United States was and is still directly tied to capitalism! So in order for us to combat and abolish legalized slavery in Amerika we must focus our attention on dismantling the system which has allowed this institution of modern prison slavery to proliferate.

The theory and practice of the original Black Panther Party can be applied in 2017. We must contemporize and bring everything into the here and now. There is nothing that makes the prisoncrats in Amerika more uneasy than the thought of class consciousness and class solidarity among prisoners.

What I have discovered is if you want to make any significant impacts in “the struggle,” you must find out what the oppressor loathes and fears the most and then give that to them! For instance, I discovered that Texas and numerous other departments of corrections throughout Amerika hate negative media coverage, so that is what I tried to give them.

I already knew there was going to be reactionary response to my work in Texas. I’m not going to stop! However, for us to take this thing to the next level, there must be unity among all races inside the slave kamps and gulags. Let’s reflect on the words of Malcolm X.

Class consciousness

“I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those who do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the system of exploitation. I believe that there will be that kind of clash, but I don’t think it will be based on the color of the skin.” – Malcolm X

Comrades, it’s not as if our sisters and brothers in Texas don’t “get it.” Texas prisoners know exactly what must be done, but most are scared as hell of the consequences.

The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee fully understands the complex challenges of educating and organizing prisoners. Many of us understand the dynamic of protracted struggle. I’m in this for the long haul. I’ve got until 2028.

Parole is an illusion in Texas, part of the deception and lies sold to the public. In Texas, parole is a tool of manipulation and coercion used to keep the “slaves” in line. For sure a few make it, but thousands never are given a chance. They languish in these hellholes with no relief in sight.

So, as a class, the workers of the world are being exploited and oppressed. In order for there to be a revolution, there must be an agreement among all of us on a grand scale that we will resist capitalism and imperialism.

I say to you, join the IWW (International Workers of the World) – become a member of our prisoner labor union. When we call for a collective action, get involved. Slave laborers in prison do have power – if they choose to use it.

There is a group of mainstream activists and organizations in Texas. They know about me and our movement, although I’ve not been invited to their table. To them I represent an element that the oppressor (TDCJ) despises. The stance is, “We’ll just ignore them; they are not a FACTOR.”

More accurately stated, we are not welcome to the discussion table. Jennifer Erschabek, the executive director of TIFA (Texas Inmate Families Association), sits at the negotiation table with Sen. Whitmire and Sen. Huffman of the Texas Legislature’s Criminal Justice Committee. Jennifer certainly tries to represent our interests, but she misses the mark. Someone from our ranks must be in the mix. Someone with a vested interest in our freedom and success.


The motto and mantra of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party Prison Chapter is: “We seek to turn these slave pens of oppression into schoolhouses of liberation.”

The struggle to abolish prison slavery has already become a national movement. You would be hard pressed not to find a prisoner in Amerika unaware of this struggle. Our next step is to introduce our struggle to the world in order to garner international support. But the question is: Are we a world of nations or communities?

The United States of Amerika has become an empire – the U.S. won’t allow a nation to exist. Therefore, we’ve become a collection of communities. I believe Comrade Tom Watts describes it best when he says:

“Revolutionary Intercommunalism is the theoretical understanding that the world that we live in today has become globalized and the principle contradiction in the world is now between the need of the capitalist-imperialist ruling class to consolidate their global hegemony and the anarchy and chaos they are unleashing by attempting to do so, including the threat of a new world war. Revolutionary Intercommunalism recognizes that because of this globalization, independent nation states can no longer exist as such, and cannot exist except as temporarily ‘liberated territory’ besieged and undermined by the forces and agents of capitalist imperialism.”

In the spirit of Revolutionary Intercommunalism, which was introduced to us by Dr. Huey P. Newton, we the members of the IWOC (Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, a project of IWW) have reached out to Amnesty International and said:

“We the prisoners inside the United States are human beings. We are members of the world community. We contend that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should apply to us! Help us throw off the yoke of slavery!”

This is what we are saying and this is what Amnesty International says:

“We are ordinary people from across the world standing up for humanity and human rights. Our purpose is to protect individuals wherever justice, freedom, fairness and truth are denied.”

If my understanding is correct, then we will be seeing unprecedented support for our abolition movement.

The goal of Revolutionary Intercommunalism is to overthrow capitalist imperialism and create a “dictatorship of the proletariat.” The proletariat are the workers. You who cook food, mop and sweep runs, pick vegetables, plant crops, fix plumbing, press and wash clothes – you are a worker! The founding fathers of this country said it!

Now it is time to change that narrative: Amend the 13th Amendment! Abolish legal slavery!

Focusing in on the oppressor

The Prison Industrial Slave Complex in Amerika is so vast and generates billions of dollars for corporate entities in every state. Our comrades from the Free Alabama Movement made the call for a boycott of food service giant Aramark.

Sisters and brothers, Aramark purposely starves human beings! In 2007, I was released from federal prison. I was ordered to enter a halfway house in downtown Houston, Texas. Aramark had the food contract and the meals were substandard and inadequate to say the least. My experience was that the meals were paltry – serving sizes not fit for adults.

Prisoners from many states and jurisdictions have been victims of Aramark’s exploitive and deceptive business practices. Aramark spokesperson Karen Cutler claims that inmates who have complained about food quality are liars. Cutler says, “Our dedication to quality and service have made us a leader in our industry for more than 75 years.”

Comrades, Aramark is a capitalist corporation which does not give a damn about the human beings who are mistreated, abused and starved. We have to continue this boycott and try to put them out of business – period.

In Texas, the main oppressor and exploiter of prisoners is Texas Corrections Industries, or TCI. TCI has approximately 37 factories all over the sprawling Texas prison system. It is in our interest to withdraw our Free Labor from all TCI plants, whether you are a mattress factory worker at Wynne Unit, a welder or industrial painter at Coffield, or a meat packing plant worker at Neil or Michaels Unit. The best strategy for us to get paid and fix this corrupt parole system is to shut down all the TCI factories – now!

The next culprit on our list is the prison store, commonly known as the commissary. TDCJ commissaries sell electronic appliances, shorts, t-shirts, thermals and socks, as well as a variety of junk food. TDCJ gouges prisoners’ families by marking up items 50 percent or more!

For instance, in 2009 a ramen noodle soup, by far the most popular item in Texas, was marked up by 49 percent! The wholesale price was 14 cents and the retail price 25 cents each. In 2017, that same soup is .30 cents, and times are worse for poor families in Texas who try to support an incarcerated loved one. Texas doesn’t give a damn about these prisoners or their families.

As with TCI and its relationship with the corrupt Texas Board of Criminal Justice, we are seeing patterns of deceptive business practices by TDCJ and the companies that it awards contracts to in order to supply Texas prisoners with subpar and poor quality commissary items. Barbco, Keefe and even New Balance have entered into contracts with TDCJ where poor quality items are forced upon prisoners. It’s the only store in town!

Prisoner Keith M. Cole has actually taken TDCJ to civil court over what he claims to be a pervasive and systemic problem with faulty TDCJ commissary items. For example, Cole has cited tennis shoes that rip after the first wear, radio head phones that instantly suffer from power shortages on one side, and stale food items. I can testify from my own experience that TDCJ is definitely running a scam on prisoners and their families.

TDCJ commissaries made a profit of about $30 million in 2009 on gross sales of $94.9 million. I gathered most of this specific information from an article written by Matt Clarke in the November 2010 Prison Legal News on the topic of Texas prison commissaries.

Flyer for the May 1-31st 2017 Texas Prison Commissary Boycott, page 1

It is only logical that we ask TDCJ prisoners to stage a boycott of Texas prison commissaries in May 2017! On top of higher quality items, we want healthier choices! The food in Texas prisons has become progressively worse. Looming budget cuts have forced us to rely on the commissary more and more in order to fulfill our nutritional needs.


Flyer for the May 1-31st 2017 Texas Prison Commissary Boycott, p2

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, TCI, TDCJ and the legislators on the various criminal justice committees stopped viewing us as human beings long ago. Vietnam War veteran and activist S. Brian Willson has a wonderful quote in his memoir, “Blood on the Tracks,” which truly describes the nature of the bureaucratic oppressor in Texas and beyond.

He says: “Economic and political structures are not people, yet they are comprised of people – bureaucrats – who strive to keep their jobs. It’s important to understand that the people who make decisions and materially benefit from economic systems are generally far removed from the effects of their decisions. Within the enclosed cocoon of their work world, bureaucrats experience the people impacted by the system as nothing, more or less, than a statistic.”

Now I want to bring the point home so everyone understands me.

In Texas, solitary confinement is used in order to punish politicized prisoners such as myself. However, these administrative segregation units are also used to hide mentally ill prisoners and isolate so-called Security Threat Group members.

Comrade Kevin “Rashid” Johnson has assembled an impressive body of research material which clearly shows these Ad-Seg units in Texas are “incubators for psychosis.”

The Texas Board of Criminal Justice is far removed from the dark, dank, oppressive and inhumane environments Ad-Seg prisoners are forced to live in. In August 2013, the board changed the indigent correspondence rules.

Indigent prisoners went from being allowed to send out five personal letters a week to only five per month! The prisoners hurt the most were those trapped in long-term solitary (Ad-Seg). I personally know many prisoners who are suffering in this sensory deprived environment.

Writing a letter to a family member or friend, an activist or member of the clergy actually can be therapeutic to many prisoners. These connections to the “free world” have the potential of saving a life. Life can become so very meaningless and hopeless in here.

Do any of you believe the Texas Board of Criminal Justice thought about this deeply before they decided to limit isolated human beings’ access to the only “lifeline” they have? Have I made my point?

In 2016 at the H.H. Coffield Unit, we saw a spike in suicides of prisoners housed in Ad-Seg: 13 dead human beings! The Texas Board of Criminal Justice is not concerned about loss of life or quality of life. In all their decision-making, it’s all about the bottom line.

Once again I quote S. Brian Willson when he says, “(B)ureaucrats essentially repress knowledge of someone being tortured, of someone being imprisoned. The system insidiously requires this kind of denial in order to maintain itself.”

What is a revolutionary?

In order to discredit me and silence my voice, the state of Texas and the TDCJ has employed numerous tactics.

A lot of people don’t understand that I represent a new generation of revolutionaries and social justice activists. It’s not just me. It’s Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, the national spokesperson for the Free Alabama Movement, it’s the IWOC, it’s the Peoples’ Minister JR Valrey, it’s Alicia Garza, it’s Asha Bandele, Professor Alondra Nelson, Talib Kwali, Marc Lamont Hill, Wolverine Shakur, Mecca Shakur, Quanell-X, Krystal Muhammad and Robert S. Muhammad, Ph.D.

So the “oppressor class” labels us as being “angry,” “violent” or “militant,” when in reality our only crime is being passionate about protecting human beings and severing our ties to a system that continues to destroy the world. Imperialism!

For those of you who have time, I highly recommend you read Manning Marable’s “How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America.” It truly improved my understanding of the challenges we face. On page 231, Marable quotes Boggs and Boggs from their book, “Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century.”

They say: “A revolutionist does not hate the country in which the illegitimate and oppressive system continues to rule. Far less does the revolutionist hate the people of the country. On the contrary, a revolutionist loves the country and the people but hates what some people are doing to the country and the people.”

Comrades, friends and allies, please know and understand that when Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, Kinetic Justice, Iman Saddique Abdullah Hasan, Heshima Denham and myself watch as our sisters and brothers at Standing Rock fight to protect land and preserve clean and safe water supplies, we are keenly aware that an imperialist, multinational corporation by the name of Energy Transfer Partners has defined itself as an enemy of the people.

Carole Seligman and Bunnie Weinstein, the editors of Socialist Viewpoint Magazine, taught me a Lakota saying, “Mitakuye oyasin,” which means, “We are all related.” And trust me, we are!

More solidarity and unity needed

Comrades, there are no easy solutions to the problems we face. The road is long and filled with many obstacles.

It is very important that I take time to acknowledge the work of our anarchist friends at The Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons. The EPA is holding Volkswagen accountable for polluting the environment but for some reason the human beings in Pennsylvania and Texas being forced to drink contaminated and toxic water in state prisons don’t register on the EPA’s radar!? Without the sincere dedication of comrade Pagnioti Tsolkas, our cries for clean water supplies would be totally ignored.

The Anarchist Black Cross Federation all over the world has increased their support of our abolitionist work. Socialist and Communist scholars such as Tom Watts and Professor Victor Wallis Ph.D. have continued to provide much needed guidance, mentorship and political support. Revolutionary supporters such as Michael Novick and Karl Kerplebedeb have never abandoned us – never!

And more and more each day our European comrades are entering the struggle with us, lending cyber, material, moral and political support: Heinz Leitner of Vienna, Austria, Alina Dallat of France, Annabelle Parker of The Netherlands and Sam Rosen of the U.K.

This battle against prison slavery is an all-encompassing collective effort. We need Amnesty International to recognize our struggle.

Chairman of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party Shaka Sankofa Zulu is free! He has been hard at work rebuilding his life and laying foundations of support for the NABPP PC and our United Panther movement; it is only fitting that I end by quoting Shaka:

“Pantherism is the tool for mobilization and organization of the masses, for it articulates the desires and class aspirations of the people to be free from hunger, diseases, poor housing, racism, imperialist wars of aggression, patriarchal relations and oppression of all kinds. Pantherism is merely the politics of the have-nots who slave in the sweaty and dank factories across the Black world and live in shanty towns and slums. In short, it is the language of real life.”

Brothers and sisters, I can only make “The Call.” Dare to struggle, dare to win. All Power to the People.

Send our brother some love and light: Keith H. Washington, 1487958, Eastham Unit, 2665 Prison Rd 1, Lovelady TX 75851.

Amend The 13th Logo in black and white, cop. Heshima DenhamMalik is our Amend The 13th Texas Inside Coordinator.