What Should I Do Assata: for the Ancestors

What Should I Do Assata: for the Ancestors 

What should I do Assata? They’re coming for my womb!

Shouted Justice

And, I won’t know who is grabbing my pussy because I’m blindfolded!

But, I can guess.

Is it quisling Alan Dershowitz forgetting the wisdom of “when they came for…”

Is it the narco-trafficante 

Killing Isabel Cabanillas while she bicycles home from a gathering in Ciudad Juàrez?

Was her music too dangerous?

Or, her murals too revolutionary and inflammatory?

Was it the artificial intelligence facial recognition technology that misidentifies Black, Brown, Yellow and female faces?

But can spot a Uyghur from outer space in a crowd of ethnic Chinese.

Removed from their homes

Their graveyards desecrated

By a country that claims to be re-educating them 

And protecting them from their own culture, religion, and language

To make them more productive citizens.

Uyghurs — apparently — are the new Niggers; or perhaps the new Redskins or Chiefs

And, A.I. Identifiable “Whiteface” is the new blackface warns the MIT Media Labs.

Was it the new laws in South Dakota outlawing treatment for trans youth? 

They won’t have to be oppressed if they just kill themselves and be done with it

Cause of death: body dismorphia

Is intersectionality dead 

The wisdom of “when they came for…”

Or are the opiates just that strong?

Because if they come for my body

They will come for yours, too.

Who was it who said:

I wish that they all had just one neck so that I could slit their throats all at once 

I think it was Caligula

If he had waited just 2000 years his wish would have come true. 

We rewrite the New Colossus to include a wealth and education test

While we install a new Caligula

His hand on the throat of Our collective dreaming 
One foot in America and the other in the Middle East

While pissing on immigrants. 

And the lies 

So many lies.

“Why don’t we get to keep the oil?”, he asks.

I shake my head in shame

Everyone I respect is dead 

And all of my enemies are in power 

The affirmation of an optimistic 

Revolutionary mind

I would root for the intelligence agencies if your COINTELPRO experience didn’t inform me, Assata.

What should I do, Assata? 

While you are still here for me to ask you the question

What should I do?

How did you find hope in your gunshot riddled and beaten body?

How did you not despair when your godson was taken away too soon?

When you were imprisoned with men

And they tried to murder both you and your hope

How did you escape to fight another day? 

Oh, 20 century escaped slave with a price on your head

A two million dollar bounty for helping people to get freed;

While America bends over backwards to exonerate a man murdering representative democracy

And renewing the call for your capture

The first amendment has been  shot through and beaten 

As if it were a Black Panther on the New Jersey Turnpike 

Tolls paid for with blood sweat and tears 

Hope left waterboarded, tortured, and gasping 

Through disinformation and the scrawl of a Sharpie marker

Assata, may the trade winds of Cuba ever caress your skin 

And Afro-Cuban music ever fill your ears. 

Spit in the direction of Mar Largo

And cast ancient curses at an Orange Man.

Should I learn how to make myself small like Harriet

Or should I become larger then Life itself like you?

If we sing out loud; or paint our murals; or march

Will the Space Force and the A.I. cameras see us? 

They are coming to get me

And I AM paranoid.

Justice is blind 

But not stupid. 

At midnight all the agents and the superhero crew 

Will round up all the people who Love more then they do

Then they’ll hook us to Alexis to publicize our dreams 

And sell our souls to Facebook and the information machines.

Ain’t I a woman, too?

Asks justice 

Taking off her blindfold 
And bearing her breasts.

Ain’t I a fuckin’ woman, too.

(Image Credit 1: LA Progressive) (Image Credit 2: Mural de Genero)

What is left: solitary confinement

“After the bars and the gates
and the degradation,
What is left?”

Maria Benita Santamaria is a 35 year old transgender woman. In June 2009, she was arrested in northern Virginia and charged with possession of methamphetamine.  In August she pleaded guilty. She was sent to Central Virginia Regional Jail, a men’s prison. The prison placed her in solitary confinement, for “her own protection”. At the end of December, a U.S. District Judge ordered her removed to a federal prison with treatment facilities and counseling for transgender prisoners.  When the holiday seasons intruded, the judge had Santamaria placed in a medical wing until after the end of the festive season. After six months in solitary, what is left?

“After the lock ins and the lock outs
and the lock ups,
What is left?”

For the last two years, Santamaria has undergone hormone treatments in preparation for sex change surgery. That stopped in August. According to the prison staff, while in solitary, Santamaria was treated as a prisoner on punitive lockdown. She left her cell one hour a day, she showered three times a week.

“I mean, after the chains that get entangled
in the grey of one’s matter,
After the bars that get stuck
in the hears of men and women,

When the jail guards talked to or about Santamaria, they called her `it’. She considered suicide. She pleaded to be returned to the general population.

“After the tears and disappointments,
After the lonely isolation,
After the cut wrist and the heavy noose,
What is left?”

Maria Benita Santamaria said take me out of solitary confinement and put me in the general population, where I will most likely be raped. Maybe I’ll survive. It would be better than this.

“Like, after you know that god
can’t be trusted,
After you know that the shrink
is a pusher,
that the word is a whip
and the badge is a bullet,
What is left?”

Across the United States, prison guards call transgender prisoners `it’, and worse. Across the country and around the world, prisoners are placed in solitary confinement for long periods … “for their own protection”. After long terms in isolation, what is left?

“After you know that the dead
are still walking,
After you realize that silence
is talking,
that outside and inside
are just an illusion,
What is left?”

Virginia also operates four `facilities’ for women: Deerfield Work Center for Women; the Central Virginia Correctional Unit #13; the Virginia Correctional Center for Women; and Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. In June 2008, the four prisons held about 2220 women, of which Fluvanna held 1200.

“I mean, like, where is the sun?
Where are her arms and
where are her kisses?
There are lip-prints on my pillow—
i am searching.
What is left?”

Fluvanna boasts a Pen Pals program, and prisoners can work for the Virginia Correctional Enterprises as optical Braille transcribers or as tailors. But there’s more to Fluvanna, much more.

“I mean, like, nothing is standstill
and nothing is abstract.
The wings of a butterfly
can’t take flight.
The foot on my neck is part
af a body.
The song that i sing is part
of an echo.
What is left?”

Reports have been coming out of Fluvanna that women who `appear to be lesbian’ (short hair, baggy clothes) have been segregated and put in a `butch wing’. A no-touching policy has been instituted. Women walk single file everywhere. Access to religious services has been curtailed. And this: “a woman writes that a mentally ill inmate was kept in solitary confinement for months. `When it’s time for her to take her shower, she is lead, shackled and naked, down the hall, with a dog leash attached to her shackles, by a male guard.’”

“I mean, like, love is specific.
Is my mind a machine gun?
Is my heart a hacksaw?
Can i make freedom real? Yeah!
What is left?”

In March 2009, Dr. Atul Gawande argued, “Public sentiment in America is the reason that solitary confinement has exploded in this country, even as other Western nations have taken steps to reduce it. This is the dark side of American exceptionalism. With little concern or demurral, we have consigned tens of thousands of our own citizens to conditions that horrified our highest court a century ago. Our willingness to discard these standards for American prisoners made it easy to discard the Geneva Conventions prohibiting similar treatment of foreign prisoners of war, to the detriment of America’s moral stature in the world. In much the same way that a previous generation of Americans countenanced legalized segregation, ours has countenanced legalized torture.”

“I am at the top and bottom
of a lower-archy.
I am an earth lover
from way back.
I am in love with
losers and laughter.
I am in love with
freedom and children.”

In 1974, Assata Shakur, a New Jersey prisoner, was one month pregnant. She was taken to Roosevelt Hospital, and shackled to a bed for 10 days. Then she was moved to Middlesex County Jail for Men, and kept in solitary confinement for four months. She was extradited to New York, to Rikers Island, where `the treatment’ continued.

On September 10, Assata Shakur went into labor, and, on September 11, gave birth to Kakuya Amala Olugbala Shakur. When Shakur returned to Rikers Island, she was shackled, beaten, put into solitary confinement for a month. Finally, she was released from `punitive segregation: “So I was no longer locked. Just in jail. And separated from my child.”

And she wrote the poem, “Leftovers – What Is Left”, for her daughter. Parts of that poem run through this reflection.

“Love is my sword
and truth is my compass.
What is left?”

What is left? Solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement is the vital organ of the body politic of prison. When you read that the death penalty might be dropped from the anti-gay bill in Uganda or that capital punishment may finally come to an end in the United States, remember this: solitary confinement is torture, and it defines prison.

 

(Photo Credit: Richard Ross/SolitaryWatch.com)