20 Years of the Chicano Mexicano Prison Project: Raising the Political Consciousness for Our Gente Inside and Outside the Prison Walls

[Note: The Chicano Mexicano Prison Project organized a conference held in San Diego, Califas on Saturday June 15, 2013 at the Centro Cultural de la Raza. The conference consisted of a tribute to Ernesto Bustillos by the Raza Press and Media Association. The Raza Press Association also awarded the Guerillero de La Pluma Award to Marc Baca of Los Angeles. Panel 1 theme was to provide a ‘General outlook on how prisons affect youth, and black and brown unity’ with presenters of Jenny Andrade, Brooke Orozco, Pablo Aceves, Jason Kine, and David Rico. Panel 2 theme was the ‘Criminalization of workers, political prisoners, activism and solitary confinement ‘ with presenters Teresa Zaragoza, Martha Esquivel, Melissa Roxas, and Benjamin Prado. The conference also had a sharing of solidarity letters from prisoners and ended with a summation of the conference and resolutions to further advance the work around the question of prisons. The conference was endorsed by: Save our Barrios Coalition, International Peoples Democratic Uhuru Movement-San Diego, Brown Berets de Atzlan, SDSU MEChA, Colectivo Zapatista, Association of Raza Educators-San Diego, Anakbayan, and the Colectivo Todo Poder al Pueblo.The following presentation was part of the introductory keynote address by Francisco Chavo Romero at the conference.]

Good morning. First I would like to thank the organizers of the conference, the Chicano Mexicano Prison Project(CMPP). I also would like to recognize and send an abrazo revolucionario to all of the other organizations, students, youth and community present here today. I also want to say, that I dedicate this presentation to Robert Ramirez and Alfonso Limon, both killed this last year by the Oxnard Police Department. Robert, was a former student of mine and he was killed on June 23, 2012, nearly a year ago, the cops beat him to death even though he was already cuffed and ‘hog-tied’, they still choked the life out of him. On October 13, 2012, Alfonso was riddled with bullets as he knelt on the ground, clearly yelling he was a bystander, nevertheless, the cops mowed him down with their rifles and semi-automatic weapons where bullets were sprayed all over into vehicles, businesses offices, almost hitting children nearby that luckily hit the deck just in time. Lastly, I also want to dedicate this presentation to my homeboy Lupe, who did 13 years hard time, yet, he made it out and now is going to college and led the re-establishment of MECHA at the local Oxnard College and played an instrumental role in organizing a recent statewide conference on police brutality. I did not get to formally recognize him at that conference, but would like to do that here today.

I and honored to be in your presence and to have been asked to answer a set of questions and attempt to set the tone and context to compliment the panels that you will hear out today, on the question of black and brown unity, political prisoners, the attacks on undocumented communities, and discuss the conditions inside the prisons, in particular inside the Security Housing Units. I will attempt to be brief in answering the three points: 1. What is the significance of 20 years of the CMPP and 15 years of Las Calles and Neto as its editor?, 2. What are the connections between colonialism/capitalism and the prison industrial complex? And finally- 3. What’s the history and function of policing in our communities, and how has it been normalized?

What is the significance of 20 years of the CMPP and 15 years of the newsletter, “Las Calles y La Torcida” and Ernesto ‘Neto’ Bustillos as its editor.

The very fact that we are here today is a great achievement and a testament to the power of organization, commitment and sacrifice. The CMPP, as a project of Unión del Barrio, is an independent organization that sustains itself by volunteers, and without a single dime from the government and non-profits. The resources they have gathered to carry on the work have been raised by dinner fundraisers, donations, dues and at times, by the prisoners themselves raising funds inside the jails to get their own stamps to receive the newsletter. The humble and dignified amount of work, whether it was the workshops, art shows, fundraisers, conferences such as these, and the publication of its newsletter that has been produced is unmatched. As important, is that all of this has been led by the poor, working-class colonized Mexicanos. The work has been carried out by those that live in the most marginalized barrios, deep in poverty, by those that have been in those jail cells or felt the cops’ boots, batons or bullets and that on a daily witness the conditions and violence that stems from our colonial reality. This is the significance of 20 years of the CMPP, showing that it is very possible, and we argue, necessary, to continue to build this type of formation, one that can exist, and be sustained and advanced by the community itself.

First, I would like to say that Ernesto Neto Bustillos, a great mentor and comrade of ours that passed away last year was instrumental in the foundation and the sustaining of this project and the newsletter. Over 17 years ago on March 10, 1996 in a special meeting of the CMPP, at the former Centro Aztlan here in San Diego he highlighted the importance of raising the political consciousness of all Raza in our fight for liberation and especially of the Raza in prisons via Las Calles newsletter,

“We want to bring consciousness to our people because we want to be free. We want to live in peace, dignity and with justice. We can only achieve this with consciousness. We recognize that pintas and pintos [prisoners] are facing the most obvious type of oppression. In other words, they are facing the most ‘overt’ physical aspects of colonial oppression. The pinto and pinta is victim to both the physical and psychological warfare that is being waged upon our people by the colonial institutions… the criminal justice system and prisons. The reality is that pinto/as will not struggle to end their incarceration if they are not conscious of why and how their incarceration is connected to colonialism and capitalism. Being conscious means understanding the reality that prisons are a central component of the strategy of colonial oppression. And we are seeing that the prison system, as an industry, is fast becoming a cornerstone of U.S. Capitalism. This means that without prisons and mass incarcerations of Mexicans, other oppressed nationalities, as well as poor whites, capitalism would not be able to exist. Capitalism needs prisons, both as a tool of oppression and as a source of profits.”

Neto would go on in that presentation to discuss that pintos are one of the most rebellious sectors of our community and if we want to achieve total liberation, then we MUST win over this large sector of our community to unite in our fight. This is why Las Calles newsletter is so critically important, because within the pages of the newsletter we inform prisoners about what is going on the ‘outside’ and we learn what is going down in the ‘inside’ as well getting pintos educated about our cultura, art, revolutionary heroes-men and women, about the movimientos and overall history.

These are the seeds of knowledge for pintos and our community that the CMPP has been planting for nearly 20 years. Hundreds and hundreds and into the thousands of prisoners have read these newsletters. In some of the letters that are sent to the CMPP, the pintos share how much they appreciate and have been given injections of pride and outlook toward joining our ranks when they come out and even organizing on the inside. The pintos talk about how they neatly fold and circulate the newsletter inside, and some even have archives saved and continuously share with others. Especially with the total or near-total dismantling of schools and libraries inside the pintas, access to knowledge is almost non-existent. This of course, is by design with goal of creating and maintaining a unconscious, unorganized and easily manipulated mass of people behind bars as the new slaves.

For us, there is a very thin line between being out here today and locked up tomorrow.
So, ours is a fight for freedom. A fight to break these chains of colonialism and capitalism.

What are the connections between colonialism/capitalism and the prison industrial complex?
First we must define these terms,

Capitalism is an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production, with the goal of making a profit.

Colonialism is the establishment, exploitation, maintenance, acquisition and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory. It is a set of unequal relationships between the colonial power and the colony and between the colonists and the indigenous population.

Prison–Industrial Complex (PIC) is used to attribute the rapid expansion of the US inmate population to the political influence of private prison companies and businesses that supply goods and services to government prison agencies.

The main connection between colonialism/capitalism and the prison industrial complex is that fact that capitalism as a system, through the process of colonialism is now profiting not only off the theft of our lands, resources and labor, but off the capturing and imprisonment our bodies themselves. By this, we mean that mass-scale warehousing of our physical bodies itself is generating profits. It is in the interest of these private owners, the capitalists, to maintain the ever-growing ‘industry’ of prison-ification and militarization, both within and outside of the walls. Everything related to this industry, which we have shared in past conferences is part of the process of profiting off mass imprisonment; From the cops on the streets, the weapons, to the construction of the prisons, the courts, lawyers, psychologists, guards, cooks, technicians, the supplies, the food, the beds, the blankets, etc., etc. All of this is the industry, the business of incarceration. There are millions and into the billions being made and this does not even include the specialized prisons for undocumented prisoners, which will be discussed later. Here, I will just mention that each undocumented prisoner generates $200 that is funneled into this ‘market’, that is $72,000 per undocumented inmate. [See graph of Private Prisons map] There is a reason why we are being piled up six or seven or ten to a cell made for four. More bodies, more money.

In order to create and maintain the conditions to funnel more of our bodies into these cages, the capitalists must destroy all forms of resistance, alternatives and organizations, whether they are the unions, student organizations, grassroots community formations and others. The ruling-class must also de-fund and deplete by slashing and burning all of the resources geared toward social programs and gains that were made in the last century, cuts to education and access to higher learning, social-welfare, etc., thus creating the ripe conditions for our communities to fall into a state of desperation. Then the capitalists, via their selected political operatives in their halls of power, whether it is the White House, Congress, or state and city-level governing bodies, pass, enact and enforce laws set in place to facilitate the force and legal means to continue with this industry. Those that make these decisions are not from our class, they are from the elite and upper class, period. So, they look out for their own interests.

What’s the history and function of policing in our communities, and how has it been normalized?

The history and function of the police is to protect the interests of the rich ruling class and to keep social classes in order. The very need for police is based on the need to protect those that “have” from those that “have not”, that is, those that have the resources from those that don’t. This unequal distribution of resources and that inequality is based, again, on the fact that we are governed by a settler-colonial state, that has gained power through slavery, genocide and occupation. There were early formations of police during the ‘Colonial’ period of the founding of the U.S., where they first started as ‘watch groups’ made up of colonial volunteers. As time progressed and with an influx of more immigrants from Europe, a slow progression of early forms of local police force began, especially in the organization of slave patrols (paddyrollers). “Groups such as the federal military, the state militia, and the Ku Klux Klan took over the responsibilities of earlier slave patrols and were known to be even more violent than their predecessors. Over time, these groups began to resemble and operate similar to some of the newly established police departments in the United States [and] for example, by 1837, the Charleston Police Department had 100 officers and the primary function of this organization was slave patrol . . . these officers regulated the movements of slaves and free blacks, checking documents, enforcing slave codes, guarding against slave revolts and catching runaway slaves.” [The History of Police-Sage Publications]

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the U.S., which was passed to outlaw slavery or indentured servitude, EXCEPT FOR PUNISHMENT OF A CRIME. This part of that clause is exactly the language that tactically protects and continues slavery under its new form. Thus, the former slave-catchers, now were given badges and authority to capture, detain and re-enslave via being convicted of a crime.

Fast forward to the tail end of the ‘Civil Rights’ and Black Power [Chicano Power] movements… During this period, the role of the police essentially continued to be openly the same as those of its foundation. One can easily recall the police brutality and terror waged against blacks in the south, where Jim Crow laws openly kept the apartheid form of containment and swift brutal application of the ‘law’. The same went for those colonized peoples in the urban settings across the U.S., in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles.

COINTELPRO comes into full effect at this time. It is clear, that after the strategic attacks on the people’s movements for liberation in the 70’s, the importation of drugs, the passage of stricter sentencing laws and the advancing of neocolonialism, there was a skyrocketing of the prison population within the borders of the U.S. empire. This trajectory continues to rise, and now is to the point of where states are being sued due to the overcrowding and inhumane conditions and treatment of prisoners. Faced with public outcry and protest, along with the lawsuits, prison officials and politicians are now having to ‘re-align’ and release pintos. This however, is aligned with a two-decade long process of further militarization of barrios and ghettos across the states. Essentially, the state and its repressive forces have prepared the infrastructure for having Prisons Outside of the Walls. With increased numbers in cops, swat teams, gang-units along with targeting communities with gang-injunctions zoning off and demarcating these open-air prisons. There is no surprise that this has led to an increase in police terror laying siege to our people, where hundreds of people, mainly Raza and Africans are being killed by the police every year.

What has brought upon this current intensification of assaults in this super-critical period? In their ‘Let Your Motto Be Resistance’ handbook for organizing, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement identifies several points as to the crisis and why we are facing genocide now; 1. The rapidly changing demographics of the U.S. continental empire. 2. The militarization of society. 3. The downsizing from the financial and economic crisis. 4. The promotion of reactionary and irrational politics. 5. Racial resentment and revenge. 6. The repression and criminalization of dissent. The recent designation of placing Assata Shakur of the Blank Panther Party onto the U.S.’ most wanted terrorist list is a clear message that political activism is increasingly becoming an act of terror. So, the thin line that separates us from being on the inside becomes that much thinner.

This is why the work of the Chicano Mexicano Prison Project is so important, and why the CMPP newsletter Las Calles y La Torcida plays such a critical role in preparing ourselves and our community for self-defense and so, please make sure you join an organization and get involved in this struggle.

Que viva el Chicano Mexicano Prison Project!
Que viva Ernesto Bustillos!
Que viva Union del Barrio!