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Malik Abdullah Akili's Freedom Campaign * How Politics Built a Prison Nation

11 April 2002

This issue of Flyby News continues with a focus on human rights and the prison injustice system. Item 1 opens with a recent letter from Malik Abdullah Akili, "in the presence of this pain" (to be locked up for years and taken away from family and friends). Flyby News will be supporting Malik's efforts for a favorable parole board hearing, which is coming up for this October. Please support this effort in any way you can, by writing letters or supporting Flyby News to work on this campaign. Malik has said that Flyby News gets circulated inside his NY state prison facility. Meanwhile Flyby News is just about out of toner (HP Laser Jet 5P) cartridge, which costs nearly $100. We are also out of paper, and a budget down to the wire. Please help if you can. And please feel welcomed to write to Malik, or just feel, reading his words, his struggle, and the importance of our efforts together for freedom, justice, and basic decency.

Item 2 is a review on a newly published book called, Hard Time Blues: How Politics Built a Prison Nation. Remember when you visit the links from the homepage are updated, including the link from: "News from inside the movements to free political prisoners Leonard Peltier, in the US and Lori Berenson in Peru, and other prison/human rights issues." The Leonard Peltier Defense Committee has again requested supporters to help in a letter campaign to Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy, (D-VT). This would be especially important if you are a resident of Vermont. Please write, fax, and/or call Leahy asking for Oversight Investigations of the FBI to resume, and for those investigations to include the case of Leonard Peltier. For more on this, go to the link to Leonard Peltier from

Item 3 is another troubling update on the dangerous place that terrorism is taking Congress in considering the drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Two prominent Jewish groups concerned about rising Middle East tensions endorsed the plan. Meanwhile, on the good side, item 4 is a Jewish Manifesto: Sharon is Israel's Worst Enemy. The leadership of both US and Israel is what is being questioned. Their response to attacks on terrorism and their military-focus is making matters worse. Please call your Senators on these issues, and while you do, take advantage of supporting a few issues for the price of one phone call. Each week, as the countdown for the ending of peace in space could be realized, call and ask Congress to support the ban on space-based weapons, as stated in the Kucinich H.R. 3616 "Space Preservation Act of 2002." We need to save Alaska from the exploits of destruction, and stop other actions that are based on fear, greed, and ego incentives. Item 5 is on the bullish direction for weapons in space. Please use the one issue that could favorable impact all the issues, demand that Congress keep space for peace, as well as support the human rights for those incarcerated in a racist and abusive system, depriving the well-being of families and our society.

1) Malik Abdullah Akili -- Parole Campaign for Freedom and Family
2) Review of Hard Time Blues: How Politics Built a Prison Nation
3) Update- Senators to push for Alaska oil drilling this week
4) Jewish Manifesto: Sharon is Israel's Worst Enemy
5) First-Ever Weapons in Space -- (Space Planes)


1) Malik Abdullah Akili -- Parole Campaign for Freedom and Family

Dear Brother Jonathan,

Yours of March 14, 2002 has been with me for some time, but since the mood, spirit to express hasn't surfaced, I've had to wait. These things of feelings take time. they are such that they can't be pushed. When we push, things never come to be as we desire. To take pen and paper at hand to express thoughts, feelings, and emotions, comes with complete elevation of consciousness. Our inner voices take over. To have some on the outside to become a part of what one is going though in prison is indeed something special, rare, and vital for the prisoner to get from one moment until the next. And though, each letter of expressions, you don't desire to share the morbidness of what prison produces. Still, I am forced to write what I feel from day-to-day. I can't separate the two when I take pen and paper in hand. I write from these overwhelming feelings to just let it all flow. If you were to review or reread each of my letters, you'll be able to sense a deep seated compulsion. I desire so badly to share in the whole of this experience, because I want those on the outside to feel the presence of this pain. Not that they aren't experiencing enough of their own personal pain, but I am hoping that it would encircle, push or pull them along to come inside to help the prison movement as a whole.

I have come to understand that this experience is indeed an incredible one, so why not share it, and everything that comes with it. I try not to write from some self-conscious place internally, I sense though at times it becomes extremely difficult and I become torn. For me, this appears to be one of the most difficult times of my life. Why? Well, when I look back at all this, I see how senseless and cruel the whole thing is. Reviewing the whole thing in its perspective I have had the opportunity to compare this tragedy of my life to a deep-rooted tragedy of the whole being damaged. No memories of world tragedies are more wrenching than those based on the recollections of a nation's people locked away from families, loved ones, communities, and the right to go for a walk in the sun. Just as what was done in the Afrikan holocaust and Cambodia's killing fields, give birth to memories of unrelenting terrible childhoods..

Most of my life has been in constant struggle of one form or another. I didn't understand it then, as I understand it today, but some of my earlier days while at Catholic School were some of the most repressive times of my years as the Manchild. I couldn't understand it for the life of me, why was the education of "Little Black Sambo and Black Tar Baby in Bre Rabbit so important toward my education, as an Afrikan child among white children. As I see now, there was indeed a deeper motive. There was an attempt to rob me of my sense to belong, my uniqueness and my value as an individual Manchild of the future–leading to the Man!

I think of it as being important that when we are trying to teach, educate, and/or raise someone's consciousness, that we must bear in mind that you give them what they want, what they like, what they're used to, there's a decent chance that they'll respond favorably. ..when you keep tying to enforce your ideas on them, when they just aren't interested, they without a doubt, will rebel. In retrospect, I can clearly see why it was that I begin to rebel at such an early age. In understanding that self-determinism was/is the philosophy of life which will determine the outcome of my destiny. This was my motive, why I rebelled at the age of the Manchild.

When we refuse to see struggle as a legitimate self-defense– we put our lives and/or destinies in the hands of ruthless buffoons.. I relate all of us have gone thorough some struggle in our life-time. We have learned from that struggle and that the efforts we put forward in that struggle was the determining factor of the outcome of that struggle... the result of that experience has taught about the principles of the sacrifices that must be made in order for us to reach certain objectives in our journey through life–our right for self-determination and the right to control our own destinies!!!

I am i full agreement with what you expressed concerning the parole board. When you speak of total commitment to non-violence. In that perspective, I have always been against all forms of violence. When we speak of violence, we have to understand the term in itself and not be side-tracked. Because when one defends or protects themselves from violence, that doesn't make them a violent person. Not being violent is our very nature– violence is learnt behavior. I recall taking a non-violent program here a while back, and completing it with honors. It was simple for me. Why? Because I have never been a violent human being. I have probably stopped more attacks on police, as well as prisoners than anyone in the state prison history. I have always been committed to keeping peace between prisoners.

When I speak of the issue of love and i think of my wife and daughter, I must state, having come to realize that there has been few times in my life that I could've honestly and truthfully been capable to say that I feel extremely close to both of these women in my life—I have come to feel so close, connected, and so in love. They have come to be of special meaning.

Many times in our lives, we live and die having not ever having the opportunity to tell someone, to express the words of love to them, that to me it is very sad. Because love is one of the most powerful gifts free to us, a quality we are born with—yet, we die never having possess that theme of love! This is why to me this is one of the cruelest aspects of the prison experience– to be separated from that love. Love is the thing which galvanized us. I know from my own experience in prison that it is possible to be galvanized, so that we (prisoners) can reach beyond these walls to connect with true love. I think as prisoners, one of the greatest gifts we can give to our loved ones on the outside is to give them the gift of love to see themselves as we see them.

As to where the parole board perceives me, my record reads like that of ten. They probably see me, (because of my political history) also someone that should never be given parole. However, if they were to go over the 9 years I was out on parole, they;\'ll be able to see all the good I've done by the judges, DAS, the Legal Aid Society all the lawyers I assisted, plus the many, many, many clients I help–putting them back in touch with their lives. Therefore, if we desire to show the parole board a different face, from the record that they perceive me to be, we must get some of this information from the Legal Aid Society. Also, I feel strongly that a pamphlet should be put together around my history and what led up to the arrest..*

As much as we like to think we have a lot of time left on this earth—we don't. Therefore, we should live as if each is our last day. Our children come through us, but they live in the house of tomorrow, their future isn't ours. We must share with them and give them as much as we can, so that their knowledge leads them in the path of those whole struggle to leave this world a better place for those that come afterward.

Until our spirits touch each others hearts again, take care,
warm greetings,

Malik Abdullah Akili
DIN 94-A-5238
Collins Correctional Facility
P.O. Box 340
Collins, New York 14034-0340

For background on Malik, visit Flyby News Archive,
August 30, 2001 -- A Nation Behind Bars: the buried talents of a population,87474,


2) Review of Hard Time Blues: How Politics Built a Prison Nation

The Prisonization of America as a Shameful Social Problem: A Review of Hard Time Blues: How Politics Built a Prison Nation By ELAINE CASSEL -- Friday, Apr. 5, 2002 --

Sasha Abramsky,
Hard Time Blues: How Politics Built a Prison Nation
(St. Martin's Press, 2002)

Prisons were first conceived in the United States a little more than 200 years ago. Maybe it makes sense that we created them as an institution, for we have become the leading prison country among civilized nations.

The statistics are staggering. The United States incarcerates more people for more offenses than any other country in the free world--five to eight times more citizens per capita than Western European countries. The American prison population increased 500 percent between 1970 and 2000, doubling in the last decade of the century. More than 2 million men and women are locked up in the U.S. today.

What accounts for this unique and shameful social problem? The answer is partly explained by Sasha Abramsky in Hard Time Blues: How Politics Built a Prison Nation - a well-researched and reported narrative of the recent history that lengthened sentences, built prisons, and resulted in mass incarceration.

The Politics of Prisonization: California's "Three Strikes" Law Is Passed

Abramsky frames the story in the context of the life of one non-violent repeat offender, Billy Ochoa. Ochoa is a veteran of the California corrections system who got caught in the net of that state's notorious "Three Strikes" law. It is no exaggeration to say that politics created California's Three Strikes law, and Abramsky details the machinations that exploited public fears and personal grief.

Abramsky's story begins with the Fresno District Attorney, a Republican named Mike Reynolds, grieving over the senseless death of his daughter, Kimber, at the hand of some thugs in a robbery. Reynolds meets up with the father of Polly Klass - the young girl who in 1993 was kidnaped and murdered by a diagnosed psychopath recently released from prison for another kidnaping and robbery.

Together, they sold the idea of "Three Strikes" to Governor Pete Wilson - who sold it to the legislature which, in turn, agreed to put it on the ballot as Proposition 184. The voters approved it overwhelmingly. Indeed, the California legislative session of 1994 was a virtually one-issue session, with get-tough-on-crime laws abounding. The voters obviously liked the message, for they reelected Wilson in 1994.

Under the California "Three Strikes" law, prison sentences for a second felony conviction are doubled, while a third felony conviction requires a 25-years-to-life sentence. The law's injustice stems partially from the fact that the offenses need not be crimes of violence - the defendant may only have stolen food or groceries, or written a bad check.

The law is also unjust in that it keeps juries in the dark, and ties judges' hands. After a jury finds the defendant guilty of a second or third offense (without being informed of the dire sentencing consequences), the court hands down the sentence. If a prosecutor demands sentencing under Three Strikes, the judge must impose it.

The Rest of the Country Gets on California's "Tough on Crime" Bandwagon

As Abramsky details, Wilson's success inspired politicians of both parties across the country to jump on the harsh sentencing bandwagon. Democrats in the Congress felt the pressure to join the movement. So did the President himself.

During the 1992 presidential race, then-Governor Bill Clinton - a strong proponent of the death penalty - made a highly publicized trip back to Arkansas to sign the death warrant for a brain-damaged murderer. The Clinton-Gore campaign emphasized its strong anti-crime strategy - the mantra of which was, "More police on the streets and more criminals behind bars."

Then, in 1994, Congressional Democrats stole the Republicans' agenda by putting forth an enormous piece of legislation known as the Violent Crime Control Law Enforcement Act. This sweeping body of laws sent money to states for all kinds of anti-crime initiatives, including prison construction. It also created a federal Three Strikes law and expanded the federal death penalty.

During this session, Congress also amended the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, adding harsher penalties for drug use and dealing. The amendment reflected the Clinton Administration's "One Strike" policy toward public housing tenants. As articulated by the statute, HUD was directed to promulgate provisions in leases that subjected tenants to eviction if any members of their households used drugs--on or off the public housing premises.

And just last week, in a unanimous opinion in the case of Dep't. of Housing and Urban Dev. v. Rucker, the Supreme Court upheld these public housing provisions, as interpreted by HUD, despite a challenge by innocent public housing tenants facing eviction. The regulations provide for no second, even third chances; thus the "One Strike" moniker. It is conceivable under the regulations that a public housing tenant in New York could be evicted because a daughter in California used drugs. Similar laws enacted in the 1990s forbid any person convicted of drug possession from obtaining food stamps or a federally guaranteed student loan.

The Democrats, Abramsky explains, had co-opted one of the issues nearest and dearest to Republicans: the need for tough crime control and harsh punishment. Across the country, candidates and elected officials were trying to outdo each other in their meanness. Many
states enacted their own version of Three Strikes laws, though none was quite as vicious as California's.

The War on Drugs: Getting Tough on Drug Users

Hard Times reports, however, that New York's Draconian drug laws, enacted under Nelson Rockefeller, are just as harsh as Three Strikes laws. They impose sentences of 25 (or even 40) years to life for selling cocaine.

Neither are federal drug sentences known for their leniency. Parole has been abolished and mandatory minimum federal sentences for drug charges lock people up for life for dealing. Unsurprisingly, more than half of federal prisoners and a third of state prisoners are serving time for drug offenses.

Nevertheless, in March of this year, the Federal Sentencing Commission reiterated its support for mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug offenses, and for the disparity in sentences for power and crack cocaine. (Sentences for possession and distribution of crack are many times greater than those for powder cocaine - leading to a predictable racial disparity in sentencing, in which often-white cocaine users serve far less time than crack users, who are more often members of minority groups.) Since addiction is a lifelong, relapsing disease, the sentencing laws insure the continued prisonization of a large population.

What's Wrong With Tough Justice?
Billy Ochoa's Story Illustrates the Problem

In Hard Times, Abramsky juxtaposes the origin of Three Strikes laws with the case of Billy Ochoa - thus adeptly illustrating how the application of the law fails to produce the results suggested by the hard sell. For while the tough sentencing laws were designed for violent killers such as those who took the lives of Polly Klass and Kimber Reynolds, they are more likely to be imposed on men like Billy Ochoa, a career criminal who made a life of burglary, robbery, and
welfare fraud.

This fact comes as no surprise to criminologists and statisticians. Only 10 percent of crimes are violent offenses against persons. The remaining 90 percent consists of property and drug offenses. People like Ochoa, a heroin addict who burgled and defrauded to support his habit, not psychopathic rapists and killers, fill the supermax prisons built in California, Texas, and Virginia to prepare for the age of incarceration.

Abramsky traces Ochoa's pitiful story up to and including his ultimate Three Strikes sentence. Ochoa was never convicted of a violent crime as an adult. (He was convicted of kidnaping as a juvenile, but the offense, though potentially frightening for the victim, was not as serious as the charge implies. Rather than taking a girl home from a party directly, Ochoa took her on a joy ride on the freeways instead).

Nevertheless, Ochoa was sentenced, at the age of 53, to 326 years in prison for committing $2,100 of welfare fraud to support his drug habit. He will spend the rest of his life in a supermax prison - where prisoners are confined to tiny cells for 23 hours a day, and never have any human contact unless chained and shackled - at a cost to taxpayers of over $20,000 a year. The Alice-in-Wonderland logic that makes petty theft a felony also turns someone sentenced under Three Strikes into an escape risk deserving of the harshest deprivations penal experts can devise. (The head of Virginia's Department of Corrections, Ronald Angelone, has boasted that the goal of a supermax is to "make life hell" for the inmate.)

Is There Any End In Sight To Harsh Sentencing Laws? Perhaps.

There may be a more humane movement afoot in the birthplace of Three Strikes. In July 2001, California voters implemented Proposition 36, which mandates probation and treatment, rather than jail time, for first- and second-time nonviolent drug offenders. Whether this is a fluke, or a trend toward a more realistic and compassionate response to drug addiction, remains to be seen in the years ahead.

Another hopeful sign for an amelioration or reversal of Three Strikes comes from two federal appeals court decisions in recent months that rejected California's Three Strikes Law as unconstitutional. In Andrade v. Attorney General of the State of California, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a Three Strikes 50-year-to-life sentence for two petty theft convictions violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, because the punishment was grossly disproportionate to the crime.

Moreover, on February 7 of this year, the same court reaffirmed Andrade in Brown v. Mayle and Bray v. Ylst (two cases that were consolidated for appeal). The court held that the appellants' life sentences -without any possibility of parole for the first 25 years - violated the Eighth Amendment. Again, the Court employed a proportionality analysis, holding that these sentences were grossly disproportionate to the defendants' petty theft convictions (Brown had tried to steal a steering wheel alarm; Bray, to steal three videotapes).

On April 1 of this year, the Supreme Court announced that it had granted certiorari in Andrade and an earlier Three Strikes sentence case, Ewing v. California (in which the defendant was sentenced to 25-to-life for attempting to steal three golf clubs). Opponents of the law would be foolhardy to think that this Supreme Court will agree with the Ninth Circuit that it is cruel, unusual, or disproportionate to spend 50 years in prison for stealing nine videotapes valued,
in total, at $153.54 from two stores on two occasions two weeks apart (as Andrade did).

Rather, the majority of these Justices are likely to conclude that this sentence is not cruel or unusual since several states have such laws. This is the type of reasoning they have used earlier to support capital punishment in general and the execution of mentally retarded persons and teenagers over the age of 17 years in particular.

Given the politics of the current Supreme Court, Abramsky's heartfelt chronicle and criticism of an unjust justice system is in no danger of becoming irrelevant or obsolete. Three Strikes -- and One Strike -- legacies of 20th century politics, will no doubt be with well into the new millennium. Hard times indeed--and no end in sight.

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About the author of this review -- Elaine Cassel -- practices law in Virginia and teaches law and psychology. Her textbook, Criminal Behavior (Allyn & Bacon, 2001), explores crime and violence from a developmental perspective. She writes and lectures for continuing legal education courses in election law, Internet law, surveillance and civil liberties, genetics, and health law. She is Vice-Chair of the Behavioral Science Committee of the ABA Science and Technology Law Section and a member of the Section's Privacy and Computer Crime Committees.

This review is online, with a link for posting messages, at

About the author of Hard Time Blues: How Politics Built a Prison Nation – Sasha Abramsky -- a freelance journalist. His work has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, New York magazine, The Village Voice, and Rolling Stone. Originally from England and a graduate of Oxford University, he has since adopted his mother's homeland of America and now lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife. He has a master's degree from Columbia University School of Journalism and in 2000 he was awarded a Soros Society, Crime, and Communities Media Fellowship. This is his first book.


This issue is continued, including the following items:

3) Update- Senators to push for Alaska oil drilling this week
4) Jewish Manifesto: Sharon is Israel's Worst Enemy
5) First-Ever Weapons in Space -- (Space Planes)

At this following link:,84468,

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