Revolutionary greetings comrades and fellow workers!
When we discuss the term “social death”, especially in the context of the Prison Abolition Movement, we are talking about the severance and cutting off of a human being from all ties to (free) society as we know it. I would like to share my experiences.
I was first incarcerated in Texas in October 2007, so I am now approaching 12 years of incarceration. As soon as I arrived at the Harris County Jail, I fell off into a deep depression. I know that my depression had a lot to do with my drug addiction. Right from the beginning, everyone I knew began severing ties and literally “throwing me away”!
I was being held on a charge of bank robbery (with a note). The first person I reached out to was my former Public Defender Peter J. Bray. Peter worked for the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Houston, TX, which was headed by Marjorie Meyers. Peter was not nasty, but he did tell me: “Mr. Washington, there is nothing I can do to help you. The U.S. Attorney said that they have no interest in picking up your case and that you will do your time in the custody of the State of Texas. Good luck, Mr. Washington.” And then he hung up!
My first court appearance, I was informed that I was looking at 25 to LIFE! I was shocked and began experiencing hallucinations and hearing voices. I had no free-world support at the time. My former fiancée and I had separated. She had become an employee with the federal government. In fact, she was at the Pentagon with the Defense Intelligence Security Agency (DISA). I had actually encouraged her to accept a scholarship from the Department of Defense, and while she was in graduate school, I supported her financially and morally. I was actually financially stable at one point in my life! My former drug habit ruined my life!
So, I am in the county jail for approximately 7 months before I sign a plea deal for a non-aggravated sentence of 20 years, I’d be eligible for parole in 2 years so I took the deal! There was a problem. I had an outstanding charge in Galveston, Texas, and I kept telling my court-appointed attorney, who was named Brett Podolosky, about it. Brett turned out to be my enemy and not a friend. He told me not to worry about it! I knew better, but there was nothing I could do. When you are an indigent prisoner in the state of Texas, you have to take what you get, and the system is not set up for you to retain quality legal representation. I’ll never forget “good ol’” Brett Podolosky!
I don’t like to admit this, but I sought psychological counseling and help while I was housed at the Harris County Jail. At the time, a new Sheriff named Adrian Garcia was in charge at the jail, and he had instituted a new mental health program which gave Sheriff’s training and education in regard to mental health issues and how they impact the prison population. The Harris County Jail had also opened a new housing wing for prisoners at the jail should they experience a crisis. I actually believe that this new program instituted by Sheriff Adrian Garcia saved my life! I am not embarrassed to say that! I am now a serious and dedicated advocate for the mentally ill and physically disabled, and if anyone studies my work, they will clearly see I spend a lot of my time focusing on these issues.
As I began to seek treatment for mental illness, I began to embrace my Islamic Faith more seriously. I grew my beard out. In fact, I wore a huge beard while living in the city of Houston, Texas, and I attended a Mosque regularly in the 3rd Ward called al-Muhayman Masjid on Cleburn Street right around the corner from the SHAPE Center. This is significant, because here we are 12 years later and my comrade and friend Lola Sloan Rucker just met death penalty abolitionist Gloria Rubac, of the SHAPE Center, and Comrade Gloria said that her daughter is a parole attorney who can help me! That is pretty amazing for a guy who was thrown away and forgotten about 12 years ago! But I digress.
The dedicated and compassionate employees with the Harris County Psychiatric Center helped me snap out of my depression, and I continued to embrace my Islamic Faith and held on to that.
In March 2008, I was transferred to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and arrived at Garza West, which is located in the Kennedy and Beeville area. As soon as I got off the bus, a TDCJ employee said in a loud voice: “Does anyone have a problem with shaving their beard or cutting their hair?” I raised my hand. I was the only one to do so. The officer approached me, and mind you I’m not a little guy, I was about 6’4” and 260lb at the time, with a huge-ass beard! The officer asked, “What’s your story?” I said, “I am a Muslim, we are instructed by our Prophet to grow our beards and trim our mustaches.” The TDCJ employee said, “Well, I will tell you that if you don’t shave that beard, we are going to put you in a cell and about 4 or 5 of my buddies are going to beat your ass and force you to shave, so what do you want to do?” At the time I chose to shave!
It is important that I tell you this part of my story, because not only was my incarceration taking me literally out of society, it was attempting to destroy my identity! Destroying my Muslim identity! At that reception center at Garza West in South Texas, hundreds of us were stripped naked, showered, fingerprinted, photographed and shaved bald. Then we were given identical prison uniforms and a number! From that point up to right now, I have been treated like an animal and not a human being! Texas reminds you everyday that you are a subhuman. “Your lives mean nothing to us, we don’t care if you live or die, you are a slave and are treated as such!”
So here I was, 12 years ago. No family or community support. No clergy. No money. And very little hope.
Twenty years is not a life sentence, and I have always been an extremely optimistic person – I am not a quitter! So I began to fight in my own way! At first, I assimilated. I was a “happy slave” and a person who hustled to stay alive. I got a job in the kitchen and sold sandwiches. I was good at hustlin’. But, I was also a Muslim, and as I got more and more involved, some of my brothers told me that, during the Holy Month of Ramadan, they wanted me to suspend my thievery from the kitchen. I complied because I love being a Muslim and I love Allah!
I began to become very interested in the law, because I received a letter from the City of Galveston, Texas. The letter was from the District Attorney, and it said that I had an outstanding charge for aggravated robbery! Remember Attorney Brett Podolosky? He said don’t worry! Brett Podolosky still practices law in Houston, and he gave me very bad advice! Boycott him!
The good news is that I went to the Unit Law Library, and filed a motion for a speedy trial. In 2010 I finally adjudicated those charges, and I did not receive a charge for aggravated robbery! I received the exact same sentence I received in Harris County, and the Prosecutor counted most of my back time and she ran my time concurrent and not consecutive. That means they did not stack the sentence! Judge David Garner in Galveston gave me a second chance. If it wasn’t for Judge Garner I’d be doing 40 years instead of 20! So I do have many things to be thankful for.
There are many people who know me now because of my activism and my journalism inside Texas prisons. You will notice that I wear a large beard now. I fought for this beard! I fought to regain my identity!
The State of Texas promotes social death no matter what they may lie about and say. In reality, the prison agency TDCJ does not want our families and friends looking too closely at what is happening inside these slave kamps and gulags, because the agency can’t really stand intense scrutiny. There are psychologists employed by the state that come up with strategies and plans to break down the resistance of their charges. That is what ad-seg is all about! That is why you hear many of us use the term Control Units. This is part of the program of mass incarceration! Anarchy and anarchists are completely and wholeheartedly opposed to this authoritarian strategy used to break humans! Prisons are not making big money on a grand scale! No, this is something else, this is about social control!
After I regained my Muslim identity, I had to fight to regain my social identity and my rightful place in society! Anyone can go back to society and fall back into the same old pattern of drug use and crime, but how many go back to their communities as human and civil rights activists, organizers, freedom fighters and, most importantly, servants of the people?
Some of you may have heard about Kevin “Rashid” Johnson’s book, entitled Defying the Tomb. Defying the tomb isn’t just about surviving prison and solitary confinement, it is about thriving in this atmosphere, and completely changing the conditions inside and outside these prisons, with our final goal being abolition!
You see, I began talking about social death, but the end-game is social life! I am becoming successful because I chose social life over social death! Even though the deck continues to be stacked against me, it is my determination and the compassion and dedication of a growing number of free-world folks who are collectively saying with their actions: No! No, State of Texas, we will not let you take Malik! We are re-claiming him as one of our own!
You have to understand that once society wants you back, no-one and no entity can hold you! The people will eventually free you! And once you are free, you have responsibilities to fulfill. Your freedom comes with a price. Don’t betray the movement! Choose social life over death! Abolish prisons now!
Dare to struggle, dare to win! All power to the people!
Keith “Malik” Washington is co-founder and chief spokesperson for the End Prison Slavery in Texas Movement, a proud member of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, an activist in the Fight Toxic Prisons campaign and deputy chairman of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party Prison Chapter. Read Malik’s work at ComradeMalik.com and hendprisonslaveryintexas.wordpress.com/. Send our brother some love and light: Keith “Malik” Washington, 1487958, McConnell Unit, 3100 S. Emily Dr., Beeville TX 78103.