Former prisoners organize solidarity towards current political detainees

Dispersed in different support committees for each political prisoner, the criminal rights and general pardon movement is encouraged by activists coming out of jail

The small townhouse between Valencia and 16th streets, in a predominantly Latino neighborhood in San Francisco, California, is home to the main center of memory and dissemination of the north american political prisoners’ cause.

Founded in the year 2000, the Freedom Archives gather 10,000  hours of audio and video, as well as thousands of documents and flyers about the contestation movements of the last fifty years, especially about the trajectory of militants who were convicted or murdered for the crime of rebellion.

"Political prisoners aren't just condemned legally", says Claude MarksThe main leader of this nonprofit organization is Claude Daniel Marks, 66, a radio broadcaster who is also a part of the story narrated by the material collected at his organization.

His face has already been on posters showing the Ten Most Wanted U.S. outlaws, the celebrated FBI’s hunting list looking for men and women classified as very dangerous criminals.

Marks and Donna Jean Willmott, now 66, were accused of leading a plot to facilitate, in 1985, the escape of a Puerto Rican separatist leader named Oscar Lopez Rivera who has been serving a 70-year sentence for seditious conspiracy since 1981.

The duo lived in hiding for nearly ten years, until they surrendered to the FBI office in Chicago on December 7th, 1994. Mark's served four of the six years of his final sentence. Donna was released after 27 months.

"Political prisoners are not condemned just legally," says Marks to justify the creation of the Freedom Archives. "Their images are also victim of a permanent negative campaign, to serve as an example to those who eventually wish to follow in their footsteps and to curb constrain any solidarity gesture. That’s why it is so important to uncover their history and produce tools  that can share their stories  with  the largest possible number of people. "

The acclaimed documentaries Legacy of Torture, Voices of Three Political Prisoners, Charisse Shumate: fighting for our lives and Self Respect, Self Defense and  Self Determination are some of his team’s major accomplishments.

They are slingshots if compared to the power of the major movie and television studios, but initiatives such as these allow some plurality of approach in a society in which anti-system political dissidence is treated as taboo.

Donna Jean Willmott: "There's a lot of illusion about the vaunt north american democracy""There are many illusions about the vaunted north American democracy," says Donna. "The instruments to control information are fierce. Young people, for example, know little about past struggles, the weight of racism in the social order or the U.S. State’s colonialist role, both domestic and foreign."

Mark complains about the abandonment to which the prisoners are relegated even between leftist circles, "who are uncomfortable with the propaganda about the violent nature of the political action carried out by more radical groups in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s."

Neither, however, are optimist about a solution to the case.

"There isn't just one way out," dissects the director of Freedom Archives. "Federal crimes depend on a  White House pardon, state crimes depend on a governor’s pardon, and there are also situations that still depend on judicial outcome."

For Donna, international pressure could help.

"If the United States were denounced in world bodies, the same way they do to governments opposed to their interests, it would be easier to seek some sort of agreement to this humanitarian tragedy," she defends.

Another problem is the lack of unity among political prisoners’ supporters. Each one of them has their own solidarity committee with agendas and actions that are rarely articulated with the rest, partially reproducing the political and ideological differences of the groups and subgroups to which they belonged when they were arrested.

"The political prisoner's case is marginal in our country", says Laura WhitehornJericho Movement

An important initiative to break this divisiion happened in 1998, when a march in front of the White House led to the emergence of the Jericho Movement. The initiative came from Jalil Muntaqim, one of the oldest convicts, who issued a manifesto proposing the union of all political prisoners in the United States.

The organization still exists, but never managed to be a single umbrella for all of those causes. Other endeavors appeared and operated with limited harmony.

Hundreds of prisoners who were released in the last few decades, in one way or another, ended up joining the efforts to release the rest of them from captivity. But the energy consumed by this commitment seems to have created enormous difficulties around  generating synergy.

The journalist and editor Laura Jane Whitehorn, 71, is one of the activists who, after serving her jail period, has been dedicating herself to helping others.

Programa secreto del FBI coordinó represión política en los EE.UU.

EE.UU. ocultan información sobre sus presos políticos

'I am a revolutionary and an optimist', says former Black Panther


Daughter of a Jewish family from Brooklyn, she was a militant of the Weathermen Underground, the main legend of the white revolutionary left. She belonged, afterwards, to one of the organization’s descendants, the May 19th Communist Organization, which specialized - during  the 70’s and 80’s - in the explosion of military installations, mainly in New York and Washington DC.

Arrested in May 1985, Whiteborn ended up sentenced to 20 years in prison, but received probation after serving 14.

Police group organizes a campaign against paroling political prisoners

She was able to  return to political activity in 2005 and since then has participated in several associations that collaborate with the prisoners, in addition to acting in publications dealing with themes directly or indirectly linked to carcerary issues.

Her ideas on what to do, however, are quite peculiar.

“The case of political prisoners is marginal in our country," she says. "As much as we work to their advantage, there is a huge public opinion retaining wall. We can only break through this isolation if we approach the subject as part of the fight against mass incarceration, one of the most brutal and explicit faces of state violence."

The path she points to passes by flags such as maximum age restriction to imprisonment, release in case of severe illnesses, more generous criminal progression mechanisms and the elimination of solitary confinement for bloodless crimes.

Susan Rosemberg: "Nothing we did was in vain. We fought for what was worth fighting for, for dreams that are still current"Her former partner in the organization and jailmate Susan Lisa Rosenberg, 61, found another way to contribute to the libertarian campaign: she devoted much of her time after leaving prison to writing her biography, entitled An American Radical: a Political Prisoner in My Own Country, released in 2011.

Several former political prisoners have chosen to put their experience on paper . In fact, in the last decade, there has been a small literary wave with publications on the subject, which end up assisting in the dissemination of this drama that originated in the rebel years.

Susan was arrested with explosives in 1985, during a police operation. It was the latest chapter of her political life, which started in high school, before she knew the worst of the country’s dungeons.

Sentenced to 58 years, she benefited from the pardon given  by President Bill Clinton on  the last day of his mandate, which reduced her sentence to 23 years and allowed for her immediate parole.

For her, the solidarity towards prisoners goes beyond a humanitarian issue; it represents the rescue of a generation’s commitment.

"We made terrible mistakes, believing in alternatives that had no chance of succeeding," she confesses. "We fought for what was worthing fighting, for dreams that are still current. But I still believe in socialism and see myself as an anti-imperialist activist. Nothing we did was in vain. "

Português: Ex-prisioneiros, libertos, organizam solidariedade a atuais detentos

Read more articles about USA's Political Prisoners:
'I am a revolutionary and an optimist', says former Black Panther
Secret FBI program coordinated political repression in the United States

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