The American gulag: A call to action


The following talk was given via Skype at a Feb. 20 meeting at St. Peter’s Church in New York City, called to celebrate the first anniversary of the release of civil-liberties attorney Lynne Stewart from prison. Ralph Schoenman is the past general secretary of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation and a frequent radio commentator. Jeff Mackler, national secretary of Socialist Action, sent greetings to the meeting.

This is a joyous occasion: we are able tonight, despite all odds, to celebrate the first anniversary of the liberation of our sister in struggle, Lynne Stewart, buried alive by a vicious system for the crime of defending an innocent man—her persecution and prosecution aimed at every citizen seeking defense against a criminal state, targeting through her punishing plight—targeting her through her punishing plight every lawyer brave enough and rare enough to take the challenge and turn the finger of accusation against a criminal system.

We never had the support of those unwilling to accuse the court, the judges, the federal injustice system and their appointed persecutors, beginning with the notorious lawyer for the death squads of Colombia, Attorney-General Eric Holder, terrorist-in-chief, let alone his sugar-coated master and spinner of deceit, Barack Obama.

Never forget that the fearless and relentless exposure of these truths before masses of people in over 40 countries raised the political price for the design murder of Lynne Stewart by this ruthless ruling class. That alone is why we are able to embrace her tonight—our determination to speak truth to power altered the calculus of their vicious design.

The United States has the largest prison population in the world. Of every major nation on earth, the United States of America has the highest per capita rate of incarceration. Only the tiny island of Seychelles, with 786 prisoners, has a higher percentage, and its regime is a creature of our own.

U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics show 2,266,800 adults incarcerated in federal, state, and county prisons, but 4,814,200 were on probation or parole with a constant recycling back into prison. Of adults under “correctional supervision” the total cited is 6,977,700.

The Vera Institute of Justice reported in 2015 that jails and prisons throughout the United States have become warehouses for the impoverished, unemployed, under-employed, mentally ill, those suffering from addiction and those lacking the ability to post bail.

The 2014 Report by Human Rights Watch states that “tough on crime laws,” adopted in rapid succession since the 1980s, have filled prisons across the United States with non-violent offenders.

In a vast system of maximum-security prisons, “Super-Max” prisons secreted across the length and breadth of the United States, prisoners are held in 24-hour solitary confinement with sensory deprivation, as in ADX Florence in Florence, Colorado.

The United States of America maintains an ever-expanding gulag of people buried alive, people without funds, people without adequate defense, people without advocates, human contact or the prospect of relief.

I will not bandy words here about “justice”—justice ignored, justice delayed, justice forever denied: Albert Woodfox has been imprisoned for 43 years in solitary confinement, first in the Louisiana State Penitentiary known as Angola—23 hours a day confined to a small cell four steps long and three steps across, with no social interaction. No physical evidence tied him to the death of a prison guard. The widow of the guard testified that he was innocent.

Federal Courts overturned his conviction three times. Despite this, the State of Louisiana spent millions of dollars appealing three times to keep him buried alive. The U.S. Department of Justice stood behind them in thundering silence and intimidating resolve.

On Feb. 18, two days ago, the Electronic Frontier Foundation revealed that hundreds of South Carolina inmates have been sentenced to prolonged terms of solitary confinement for seeking to access Facebook, an offense placed on a par with “murder, rape, rioting, escape and hostage taking.”

Since 2012 the South Carolina Department of Corrections made the putative crime of “Creating or Assisting with a Social Networking Site” a Level One offense. The penalty is years in isolation in solitary confinement. All privileges are permanently removed, including visitation or telephone access. Sixteen inmates were sentenced to over a decade to such “disciplinary detention.” One inmate received for this offense more than 37 years in isolation.

The process is veiled in secrecy. In May 2014 Jonathan McClain received 24.6 years in such “disciplinary detention” for making 25 posts on Facebook. South Carolina Department of Corrections investigators created fake social media profiles to entrap inmates and to fabricate such charges against them. All information regarding these operations is shielded from disclosure under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

This is now being replicated in Alabama, Arizona, and New Mexico. The Florida Department of Corrections has adopted a policy similar to South Carolina’s. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit in Indiana, where prison officials so penalized an inmate because his sister had launched a social media campaign documenting his innocence and seeking his freedom.

The U.S. Department of Justice is a co-conspirator.

Every single one of the multitude of prisoners buried alive in this vast gulag is a political prisoner—a design-victim of the criminalization of poverty, a target of a minute ruling class that has established a dictatorship of finance and corporate capital that conducts a relentless war of terror against the mass of our people, ever targeting the most vulnerable among us as an object lesson to us all.

It is time for freedom—for all the millions of victims of this vicious system, yes, as the indispensable commitment on which the freedom of us all depends. For, all who live and work in America are in their gun-sights. All who struggle with day-to-day survival are on their radar. All who oppose genocidal war and the drumbeat of fear and incitement that would cow and silence us are on their lists.

That is why, Sisters and Brothers, when we advance the cry “Bring Them Home Now!” we follow this with a Survival Summons—a Revolutionary Call to all those with eyes to see, hearts to feel, and the will to overcome: FREE THE LAND! FREE THE LAND! FREE THE LAND!

Graphic: “Bobby Seale Bound,” by Nina Sadek /

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