On the 50th in memoriam anniversary to George Jackson, The King of Prison Hip Hop smartly explains why Black August is a month-long event.
August 21, 1971, George Lester Jackson, aka George Jackson, was martyred. His slain blood represents the price he was willing to pay in the cause for freedom against oppression. I approach this 50th in memoriam anniversary of his passing by looking back from the conditions that led to his death, to what has gone on since in the case of prison reform or the lack thereof.
My Walk With George
George Jackson’s youth was not so unsimilar to mine; in that, we found ourselves coming in contact with law enforcement, getting arrested, and doing time. We both found ourselves at the now-defunct California Youth Authority (CYA). Nicknamed “Gladiator School,” it was closed in 2010, when the State had no other solution for the violence and mayhem going on behind its fences.
I had found myself in all the adult YAs, and got kicked out of all of them. The first one, Preston, was way, way, up north from Los Angeles. I would eventually find myself getting stabbed, we call it shanked, in the back of the head and the neck. It wasn’t the fact that I was stabbed in a youth prison, it was the fact my hands were physically up against the wall and while I was physically being patted down for a weapon, another ward of the state went through the staff and stabbed me. My assailant was not African American, so was it a setup?
That got me transferred out of Preston. I then traveled down to the next adult YA, DeWitt Nelson in Central California. There, my love for hitting fools up, got me a special escort van to prison. However, I was saved from actually going to prison by an African American counselor, but this didn’t stop me from getting kicked-out of DeWitt Nelson, and sent to the YA in Southern California, the gang capital of the United States.
George, who moved to Los Angeles from Chicago at 15, was not immune from the lure of Los Angeles street gangs, and was a member of the street gang called the Capones. Hitting people up is a very dangerous business. All you are doing is asking someone, “What set you from!” Set, meaning gang, like gang set, or gang click.
Hip Hop rapper Tupac Shakur (2Pac) who was not from Los Angeles, but was bailed out of prison on an appeal bond by Los Angeles based record mogul Sug Knight, and signed to his label Death Row Records, teaches us what “Hitting-up” is, and lost his life for hitting someone up.
Here are the partial lyrics to 2Pac’s 1996 song Hit ‘Em Up:
[Verse 1: 2Pac]
First off, fuck your bitch and the clique you claim
Westside when we ride, come equipped with game
You claim to be a player, but I fucked your wife
We bust on Bad Boys, niggas fucked for life
Plus, Puffy tryna see me, weak hearts I rip
Biggie Smalls and Junior M.A.F.I.A. is some mark-ass bitches
We keep on comin’ while we runnin’ for your jewels
Steady gunnin’, keep on bustin’ at them fools, you know the rules
Lil’ Caesar, go ask your homie how I’ll leave ya
Cut your young-ass up, leave you in pieces, now be deceased
Lil’ Kim, don’t fuck around with real Gs
Quick to snatch yo’ ugly ass off the streets, so fuck peace!
I’ll let them niggas know it’s on for life
Don’t let the Westside ride tonight (Ha ha)
Bad Boy murdered on wax and killed
Fuck with me and get yo’ caps peeled, you know
According to the Wikipedia of Hip Hop:
Hit ‘Em Up” had a large role in exacerbating the East Coast-West Coast hip hop rivalry, and is widely considered by the hip hop community as one of the greatest diss tracks ever recorded due to its explicit lyrical content and the seriousness of violent intent by Shakur and his colleagues towards their competitors.
On September 7, 1996, after the Bruce Seldon vs. Mike Tyson fight, a member of Death Row Records identified Orlando Anderson as the one who stole his gold necklace during an encounter at a California mall. Tupac can then be seen on the MGM’s security camera running over to Anderson where he “hits-up” Anderson about the chain, and throws the first punch. Tupac’s entourage beat and kicked Anderson as he lay on the ground in the hotel lobby. Hours later, Tupac was shot six times in a drive-by shooting, and died several days later of his injuries.
I don’t recall why I was kicked-out that last YA and sent to prison. My first day in the prison yard, a man was shanked in his neck. I’ll never forget that day because I was so green, I never even saw it. Later, I would learn that part of taking care of business was to be so professional in your craft, you could stab someone right underneath a gun tower, and the gunner would be none-the-wiser. From there, I was sent to solitary confinement as a new arrival at the Correctional Training Facility (CTF), commonly referred to as Soledad State Prison. I spent three weeks in O-wing, where the University of California at Los Angeles notes in their REBEL ARCHIVES IN BLACK POWER CALIFORNIA:
Between 1962 and 1970 Jackson was denied parole ten times and spent most of his incarceration in torturous solitary confinement in Soledad’s notorious O Wing. In a letter to his lawyer, Fay Stender, George described the brutal conditions:
“It destroys the logical processes of the mind, a man’s thoughts become completely disorganized. The noise, madness streaming from every throat, frustrated sounds from the bars, metallic sounds from the walls, the steel trays, the iron beds bolted to the wall, the hollow sounds from a cast-iron sink or toilet.”.
The writings of incarcerated people in “Medical Conditions Treatment of Prisoners on O and X Wings Correctional Training Facility, Soledad California” from the Freedom Archives further reveal the extent of the daily torture and neglect Jackson’s contemporaries experienced.
I, unlike George, was paroled; and six months later found myself rearrested, and housed in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Men’s Jail Crip Module. Somehow, I managed to get kicked-out of there and sent to the jail’s High Power. Here, I was around a county of nearly 10-million people’s criminal elite. You might have heard of some of them.
Richard Ramirez (1962-2013), was in custody for, and convicted of, a series of crime spree home invasions. He was convicted of 11 counts of sexual assault, including rape; 14 counts of burglary; and 13 counts of murder. In L.A. folklore, he was dubbed The Night Stalker.
Eddie Nash (1929-2014), was in custody for, and acquitted of, being The Mastermind in the bludgeoning death of five people at the hands of his bodyguard and legendary pornstar John Holmes (1944-1988). In L.A. folklore, the murders are known as the Wonderland murders, and were portrayed in the 2003 film Wonderland, starring Val Kilmer as John Holmes.
Brothers Neil Woodman (1950- ), and Stewart Woodman (1944 – 2014); and brothers, former Los Angeles Police Officer Steve Hornick (1940 – 2014), and former Los Angeles attorney Robert Cormac, were in custody for, and convicted of, the contract killing of the Woodmans’ parents. In L.A. folklore, these murders were dubbed the Ninja killings or the Yom Kippur murders.
Brothers, Joseph Lyle Menéndez (1968 – ), and Erik Galen Menéndez (1970 – ), were in custody for, and convicted of, the murder of their parents.
Joe Hunt (1959 – ), founder of the Billionaire Boys Club (BBC), was in custody for, and convicted of, the murder of top BBC investor Ron Levin. Levin’s body has never been found. In an October 22nd, 2018, article by Los Angeles Times staff writer, Richard Winton, he begins his article, “Before OJ Simpson, before Erik and Lyle Menéndez, there was Joe Hunt.”
Fred “Fat Fred” Knight (1967 – ), was in custody for, and acquitted of, five murders in South Central Los Angeles. In L.A. folklore, they were dubbed the 54th Street Massacre, and are the worst incident of gang violence in L.A. history.
Virgil Byers (1962 – ), was in custody for, and convicted of, two counts of murder involving two drive-by shootings in 1982. In L.A. folklore, these are considered L.A.’s first drive-by shootings.
Rene “Boxer” Enriquez (1962 – ), was in custody for, and convicted of, two murders. In 1985, Enriquez became a made member of the Mexican Mafia (EME). In 91′, Enriquez stabbed EME leader Salvador “Mon” Buenrostro, 30-times in a lawyer’s interview room at the jail. In 1993, he was sent to Pelican Bay State Prison. In 2003 he defected from the EME. Since then, while under custodial escort, he has been allowed to go outside of prison to lecture college students, help teach a course on gangs at UC Irvine, and given a lecture to business executives on how to run a transnational enterprise, just to name a few. All this has taken place while still being imprisoned for murder.
John “Youngster” Stinson (1954 – ), was in custody to be resentenced on a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Since that time, he was federally indicted in 2002. The indictment stemmed from his leadership as a member of the Aryan Brotherhood. This indictment, dating back to criminal enterprise activities from 1979, included 32 murders.
Knight a Blood, Byers a Crip, Enriquez an EME, Stinson an AB, Hunt ran a Bernie Madoff type ponzi scheme, and Nash owned nightclubs, had resided on the same cell block tier as I. These names are just a small sample size of the hundred plus criminal elite that were housed in High-Power during this time.
Some of those who lived on the same tier as I were destined for California’s brand new Super Max called Pelican Bay State Prison. Pelican Bay had not opened yet, and there was much discussion and trepidation about the place. One speculative concern I’ll never forget, but was probably true, all letters were to be put on a projector and to be read off the wall. Imagine never being to hold a femininely written, perfume scented letter ever again. The real Pelican Bay when it opened, was big on sensory deprivation.
While those in Pelican Bay dealt with a real struggle, the rest of us in the CDCR’s General Population had our own set of difficulties. Around 93′, a class action mental health lawsuit was filed, and by the end of the decade, a class action health care lawsuit as well.
My January 1, 2000, or the start of the millennium, was in solitary confinement as the result of a riot between African American prisoners and prison guards. Later, through the grassroots Critical Resistance, Angela Davis, who George had sent multiple letters to, sent me a xerox copy of an Associated Press article about this prison, “A remote prison in California has a ‘culture of racism’ and abuse.”
The decade saw a conservative U.S. Supreme Court order California to release prisoners, as it was way too overcrowded. CDCR held 175,000 prisoners, the equivalent of being 200% over capacity. Meanwhile, at the women prisons, they were being forcibly sterilized without their consent (knowledge).
The 2010s started off with me participating in the largest prisoner hunger strike in U.S. history. The purpose was to be in solidarity with those in long-term solitary confinement and to end the program at Pelican Bay and Corcoran. While those were the official SHU (Security Housing Unit) prisons for long-term solitary confinement, other prisons, such as High Desert, where I had spent 13-years, had built special Pelican Bay stylized housing units for solitary confinement. You are totally sealed off from the outside, except for a roof top window, where the guards can spy in on you.
1960s and 1970s, the California Prison System was and remains mired in a cesspool of injustice fomented by a culture of institutional racism. Adding to this contradiction, was and is the multitude of Amerikkkanized offshoots (prisoners) who aided racist prison guards with terrorizing and attacking New Afrikan Black Prisoners – often gaining extremely favorable advantages, such as three or more racist lackeys (prisoners), given access to store-bought knives by prison guards, being let out on the tier for their recreational exercise period, where they would be allowed to attack the sole New Afrikan, also out on the tier for his recreational exercise time.
Comrades W.L. Nolen, George Jackson, William Christmas, Howard Tole, Alvin “Sweet Jugs” Miller, Khatari Gaulden, Cleveland Edwards and countless others not only successfully resisted these attacks militarily, but W.L. Nolen had the foresight to politcize these contradictions by filing a petition in the court, where the comrade asserted:
“Prison guards are complicit in fomenting racial strife by aiding white inmate confederates in ways not actionable in court, i.e., leaving cell doors open to endanger the lives of New Afrikans; placing fecal matter or broken glass in the food served to New Afrikans etc., as these material factors would be difficult to prove.” See W.L. Nolen, et. al. v. Cletus Fitzharris, et. al.
These prisoner-on-prisoner prison guard induced gladiator fights didn’t end during the 1970s, but continued well into the 90s and 2000s
This practice first came to public attention in the 1990s when it was revealed that guards at California’s Corcoran Secure Housing Unit were staging fights between Black and Latinx prisoners for voyeuristic pleasure and gambling on outcomes. In order to terminate the fight, guards fired either block guns or 9-millimeter rounds at prisoners. From 1989 to 1994, seven prisoners were shot dead, and 43 more were injured. After a couple of guards turned into whistleblowers and the story reached national attention, eight Corcoran guards were brought to trial and eventually acquitted in a miscarriage of justice hidden behind “policy.” See Truthout: “Gladiator Fights” Expose Prisons to Be Genocidal Machines
Unlike George’s era, prisoners collectively got wiser. In an attempt to have rival prison leadership kill one another off, CDCR created a special housing unit within the Pelican Bay SHU called the Short Corridor. By rehousing and isolating only the leaders of these groups, it was thought to break their lines of communication with underlings, and lead to their death from close proximity to sworn and historical prison rivals.
What came out of it was three hunger strikes, the final one involving 30,000 prisoners, making it the largest prisoner hunger strike in U.S. history. An Agreement to End All Hostilities between racial groups in SHU, Ad-Seg, General Population, and County Jails, and jailhouse lawyering that initiated a lawsuit that ended long-term solitary confinement in California.
When George was assassinated on August 21, 1971, three weeks later, in a prison nearly 30,000 miles away, took up his cause. This too ended tragically, with the deaths of 33 prisoners, ten prison guards, and one employee. This prison uprising, this prison unrest, is familiar to us now, as we know it simply as Attica. It ended with the highest number of fatalities in the history of United States prison uprisings, and is one of the best-known and most significant events of the prisoners’ rights movement.
Since the death of George Jackson in California’s San Quentin in 1971, and the 33 prisoners who died in New York’s Attica, what has changed? Nothing! U.S. prisoner Covid deaths only shone a light on what prisoners have been saying since the time of George about the prison health care delivery systems. A delivery system, even the most conservative federal courts are finding objectionable enough to find them violating the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause to the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It should be noted, that Black August as a month long in memoriam began as the result of the 1978 health care death of Khatari Gaulden.
On August 1, 1978, Khatari was playing football with other African Americans in San Quentin on the Adjustment Center secure yard below death row. He tripped and fell hitting his head on a pipe sticking out of the brick wall and was taken to the prison infirmary with a severe head injury. There, prison administrators and medical staff just left him to die from a very preventable death. Instead of adding August 1st to the existing days of observation that marked the deaths of activists like W.L. Nolen, Alvin Miller, Cleveland Edwards, and George and Jonathan Jackson, the prisoners standing in resistance to the massive California prison-industrial complex declared the whole month to be Black August.
Currently, there is a movement to get our elderly prisoners released, the obstacle, Parole Boards.
A recent revision of the Model Penal Code, an influential document written by legal scholars, declared parole boards “failed institutions.”
“No one has documented an example in contemporary practice, or from any historical era, of a parole-release system that has performed reasonably well in discharging its goals,” a draft of the document says.
The denying of the elderly to be paroled is a new kind of psychological warfare or torture being meted out in the United States. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “Not only is this wasteful, it’s inhumane. We keep the elderly locked up in the face of undisputed research showing that committing crimes drops dramatically with age. Department of Justice statistics show that prisoners 55 or older recidivate at a rate of just 2 percent. Additional studies have shown that there is virtually no recidivism for individuals age 60 or older. It’s clear that it’s senseless to spend exorbitant amounts of money to imprison elderly people who pose no threat to public safety.”
In California, the public has been assuming its criminal justice initiatives of the 2010s had modified or weakened the ability to hold prisoners for exuberant amounts of time as the result of its Three Strikes Law passed in the 1990s. That law meted out life sentences for nonviolent crimes. The problem was, these reforms gave control on how these reforms were to be implemented back to the administrative-state. And these unelected bureaucrats are serving out the will of the powerful prison guard unions.
George Jackson had been to the parole board ten times. Can you imagine the psychological toll it takes on a person to get their hopes up as to possibly going home, only to be told No! And this cycle of rejection repeats itself over and over and over again. Minor crime Three Strikers in their fifties, sixties, and seventies after having served two decades, are being repeatedly told No regarding releasing them. There is no rhyme nor reason to these California Parole Board decisions on a population that has clearly aged out of crime.
Another well known tactic the Prison Industrial Complex uses to justify its existence, is to stage or create conditions for rioting amongst prisoners. In the early 2000s California began encouraging other prisoners to snitch on other prisoners, and created a program for these snitches called Sensitive Needs Yard (SNY). According to the Los Angeles Tribune, “One-third of California prisoners are jailhouse snitches. As a result, it has the largest population of prisoners in protective custody in the nation.” See “The Quagmire of Doing Prison Reform in California.”
Notice the Agreement to End All Hostilities excludes prisoners who are in Protective Custody or on a Sensitive Needs Yard. According to CDCR Undersecretary of Operations Ralph Diaz, “Sensitive needs yards have been ineffective in eliminating gangs and violence within prison walls. It has bred new gangs within the sensitive needs yards, resulting in escalating violence.”
To strike a blow at the public’s prison reform initiatives, CDCR administrators want to reintegrate the snitches back into the general population; despite neither group wanting to be around the other. According to 2012 reporting by Los Angeles FOX News 11, investigative reporter Chris Blatchford, the SNY gang members he has interviewed openly profess to killing or wanting to kill general population prisoners, both inside and outside the prisons.
Richard Edmond-Vargas, a prisoner advocate who served time for robbery, blamed corrections officials for creating situations where violence is inevitable. “They actively put folks in this situation where they would have to fight and they know the culture of prison is that you have to fight.”
As you can see, of my journey, I still walk with George Jackson:
On January 13, 1970, 14 black inmates and 2 white inmates from the maximum-security section of Soledad Prison were released into a recreation yard. It had been several months since they were last released into the yard. The black prisoners were ordered to the far end of the yard, while the white prisoners remained near the center of the yard. Officer Opie G. Miller, an expert marksman armed with a rifle, watched over the inmates from a guard tower 13 feet (4 m) above the yard. A fist fight ensued and Miller opened fire on the prisoners below. No warning shot was fired. Three black inmates were killed in the shooting: W.L. Nolen and Cleveland Edwards died in the yard, while Alvin Miller died in the prison hospital a few hours later. A white inmate, Billy D. Harris, was wounded in the groin by Miller’s fourth shot, and ended up losing a testicle. In a letter from June 10, 1970, George Jackson described the scene as seeing three of his brothers having been “murdered […] by a pig shooting from 30 feet above their heads with a military rifle.”