My experience with solitary confinement, as defined by the United Nations1, began in early May of 2013. At that time i was confined in the Harris county jail. The day of my conviction and sentencing, to life without parole, i was subsequently housed in solitary at the 1200 Baker Street jail. i was placed there, purportedly, because of the lentgh of my sentence, administrators deemed such a sentence to be traumatic enough for one to have an uncontrollable desire to harm themselves or others or attempt an escape. At the instance of one gavel slam, i went from being in a normal jail setting surrounded by a multitude of other prisoners, an arrangement i had been in for NEARLY two years without much incident, to the ‘New Boogey-man’ incapable of rational emotional expression. This pretext for my story in solitary confinement would re-appear at a later date once i entered TDCJ.
My stint in 1200 Baker Street’s solitary unit on the 2nd floor was brief. Only a few things stick out in memory. i recall my father, Monsour K. Owolabi, came to visit me. To this day it is the last time we’ve seen eachother or heard the sounnd of eachothers voices. My father lived in Atlanta at the time and had come to Houston to attend my jury trial.
As i recall it, the speaker in my cell sounded off, ‘ you have a visitor get ready!’ i had been expecting the visit and was already ready, i simply awaited the escorts to arrive. Prisoners in solitary at Harris county were the only prisoners escorted and shackeled wherever they went, including visit. They arrived, cuffed my hands, and walked me, one in front one in back, to the staircase that sat in the middle of the pod. As i strolled by his door, i recall a young Chad Holly calling out to me, ‘keep ‘ya head up ‘hood, have a good visit’. i walked to the stairs, raised one fot at a time and allowed the too tight to walk shackels to be secured then connected to my waist and wrists, constricting my movements.
We made the short walk to the 2nd floor visitation, which had a select row specifically for those in 23 & 24 hour lockdown, i was the only one at visit. In the county’s visiting area we speak through metal plates in the middle of a glass plate. My father and i hollered some words i can’t recall, but i do remember not being comfortable and trying to take a seat on the concrete stool. i remember sitting down, and eventually upon attempting to get up, the shackles on my legs were caught around the stool preventing me from moving. i fell to the ground on my back , my feet in the air, hands cuffed to my waist, unable to get up on my own accord. i looked over to the glass, my father and i locked eyes, he began to cry, i turned my head, frustrated and unable to accept the fact i was alone ,wholly confined, constricted, and helpless. My father couldn’t stand the sight of me struggling to get up, he motioned to leave. Alone, isolated, captive, de-humanized. That was my introduction to solitary confinement and initiated key themes in my experience, loneliness, isolation, complete captivity and de-humanization.
The second thing i recall about that brief stint were the people i interacted with. The aforementioned Chad Holly was a guy from Southwest Houston, Alief, like myself. He was a couple years younger than my then twenty-one. He was isolated for being ‘high profile’. In 2010, the city of Houston watched as a 15 or 16 yearold Holly was beaten and pulverized by Houston Police Departments’s agents of repression. i remember being in Harris County watching the footage on the news, knowing the area the incident occured and months prior having had a similar run-in with some of the same pigs. Chad’s family was filing a suit against the HPD. By the time i met Chad in 2013 he was there having had Another ‘newsworthy’ run-in with police, the latter one, a supposed burglary.
If memory serves, young Chad received probation and had to do a stint in jail before release. He was doing that stint while we were around eachother. i recall listening and questioning Chad on what his plans were. Our conversations distracted me from the misery i was feeling. I felt good for him. that he would be given another chance, and that he seemed highly intelligent and capable. i recall telling him my own story, and advising him to use me as an example, that we were around eachother at that opportune time so that he could observe the direction he was headed in, through me. i encouraged him to live out his highest potential, that guys like me live out our dreams through people like him. Today i wonder whatever came of him?
In late May or early June 2013 i was transferred with other county jail inmates to TDCJ’s Gurney unit. i remember entering the ‘BlueBird’ bus and trying to plug all the scenery of downtown Houston to memory, thinking,‘ Is this really my last time seeing this?’ Trying to psyche myself up with hopes of. ‘i’ll be back on appeal.’ Immediately after my conviction i entered into the Direct Appeal phase, usual procedure for a capital case.
We arrived at Gurney where i was eventually separated from the pack. Having LWOP i wasn’t allowed to freely walk on what is classified as a ‘transfer unit’, i was immediatelytaken to solitary confinement to await another transfer to Byrd unit for diagnostic. i didn’t know anyone, so i was quiet. i remember reading over a bible i brought with me from county and intensely staring at the few photos that made it through the scrutiny of overzealous gang investigators. Surrounding me were one Chicano prisoner from Southwest Houston to the right of me. We didn’t speak then, but would re-unite years later in solitary yet again. Everyone else within eye or ear shot were loud,obnoxious blatant white supremacists. They were all awaiting transfer to ‘I.D. units’ having been confirmed ‘STG’ members. Their constant banter about niggers, monkeys, faggots, punks, and the subordination of women was driving me MAD! i recall an older brother cell warring with them and the kicks they got out of getting under his skin. i decided to discipline myself not to showcase my own antagonism. Years later i would reflect on that incident when reading George Jackson’s Soledad Brother, where he narrates a similar situation. i felt myself a kindred spirit to him and leaned on his example for strentgh in the tougher times that laid ahead for me in solitary confinement.
Soon i was transferred to the Byrd unit, where at least i was allowed a cellmate. i stayed there about a month, maybe less. i only remember that the food was relatively good, and the female staff was abnormally attractive and friendly. i didn’t wanna leave! i recall leaving for Clemens unit in Brazoria Texas on the last friday of June 2013. i arrived at the unit familiar with quiteaa few prisoners, but i recall being displeased with the way the guards interacted or handled most prisoners. There was a mixture of disrespect, paternalism and superiority complex that i detected. 98% of the captives there were twenty-six years old or less. Most staff were around the same age. i was irritable, every little thing had me on edge. i recall atending the procedural UCC hearing and then Major Cody Wolfrum forewarning me that any little incident would have me sent off ‘his’ unit and to ‘seg’. He wasn’t a fan of my being able to move relatively freely around ‘his’ unit simply because the amount of time i have. He further worried about my possible influence of the young impressionable men around me. Most of which were relatively short-timers, but were without exception, still in the ‘riot stage’ of rebellion, and caught up in the wheel of gangsterism, as was i.
The very next friday morning at breakfast i had an altercation with a guard that developed from a verbal exchange of insults, to his attempt to strike me and my defending myself with one hand cuffed. The result being that the cuff made contact with his eye socket fracturing it with the one and only punch i threw. i was roughed up, assaulted by a group of pigs, while restrained to the ground in the chowhall. The area having been cleared of all inmates except those working in the kitchen. They threw me in solitary confinement. At the Clemens unit the solitary cell has double doors, one a heavy metal one that leads into the cell and to a door of cell bars which locks you into a cell with one bed and a commode. Enough space to take two steps. i recall being thrown in there and both doors being shut. It was hot as one would imagine hell is. It was southeast Texas in early July with no aircondition, no fans, no electrical outlets, no air flow once so ever. i stripped to my boxers, wet them in the toilet water(the sink water was turned off) and laid down. The mosquitos tormented me the whole time i was there. i grew tired of swatting them. Some days in, i hadn’t been fed, the water was still off, and i broke out with a heat rash that comprised my entire body. head to toe. i endured the treatment quietly without complaint. At the time the colonized mentality infected my observation of the world and my place in it. According to such misguided thinking i had been ‘bad’, had misbehaved, i was a subject and had to accept , noblely, the retribution of that misbehavior. Only years later would i be empowered after coming to the same conclusion os Mao Tse-Tung, that the oppressed, the enslaved, the colonized, the captive had the right to rebel for the duration that their subjugation continues.
During that experience on Clemen’s unit’s solitary, i recall being enthused whenever one of many Nigerian officers worked. My father is Nigerian, and any time a Nigerian recognizes my name they immediately embrace me as one of their own. An extended family member whose seemed to have lost his way. At that time they observed my physical state and would make sure i was provided food, extra to make up for the days i was being starved. They made sure i was allowed shower and/or water. Although they were just doing their jobs i considered this as kind treatment, and such treatment re-kindled a source of pride in my African heritage that has had an effect on my development even today.
Eventually i would see classification and Major Wolfrum would request i be transferred to Allred unit’s ad-seg/solitary confinement for assault on staff with a weapon causing bodily injury. My evidence that i was being handcuffed by another officer when the one in question attempted to assault me, was ignored. i learned that the inmates in the kitchen who were working had filed witness statements on my behalf, which never made it into the record. i didnt learn of them until informed by one of the inmates themselves after the case.
Upon my arrival at Allred in August 2013 i remember being met by a squad of guards, some ranking officials some not, all males, all white. It often happens upon arrival at a prison that the administration organizes a squad of their meanest, biggest, toughest guards in an attempt to intimidate new arrivals into obedience and sub-servience. The only standout about Allred was its objectively white supremacist overtones. They called out, ‘From this moment on you will forget wherever you come from, you are in my house now and me and my boys rule this house with iron fists.” Said one ranking officer.
The atmosphere of the unit spoke more than he could’ve. For the first time while being in captivity i truly felt out of place, i felt ‘different’ and felt targeted for that ‘difference’ and that the structure was in place to keep my ‘difference’ in check. This’difference’ was that of National contractions that expressed themselves through cultural clashes. Some 90% of the staff were white males, largely middle-aged, rural, country north and west Texas backgrounds, whereas the prisoners were from urban areas in Texas. Most Chicanos were from San Antonio or Dallas, while most New Afrikans were from Houston or Dallas.
My initial housing assignment was on level 3, F-pod 68 cell. A younger homeboy from my block was a few doors down. We passed the time, until i was moved a few weeks later. My next cell was Level 2 Epod, 68cell. A younger homeboy from my block was a few doors down. We passed the time, until i was moved a few weeks later. My next cvell was level 2 Epod 59cell. i interacted with an older brother from Houston, alias, Loco who informed me on the way things operated in this new world of ad-seg. He was the first to hip me to the fact that there were so many guys from Houston in seg on Allred unit which is almost eight hours away.This, it should be noted is contrary to state law;see Tex.Gov.Codes501.099. Most of these cats were longterm prisoners, all were combative, and insubordinate in their own ways. It seemed that Allred unit was a place administrators secluded us, isolated us in all ways possible, where we would lose ourselves and ultimately be broken. In those days we leaned on eachother. In the free(er) world, while in the streets of Houston, being from there is of little significance. Particularly in the sub-culture of inner-city tribalism, when ones worst enemies maybe a two minute drive away, We never had camaraderie. On Allred unit’s ad-seg in 2013, it became an expression of resistance to display in anyway the uniqueness of ‘H-Town’ culture. At RaRe moments of ‘congregation’ (loud yelling while in dayroom) We would recite ‘DJ Screw’ and Screwed Up Clique’ songs. Most of us displayed ‘South-side fade’ haircuts( a real high and tight bald fade) even those not from the South-side did so. It was a small symbol of defiance. The ad-min would hassle us about our haircuts, sometimes forcing us to cut it, or threatening us with disciplinary cases. They said it was a ‘gang’ identifier. we understood that they were criminalizing Our culture, criminalizing where we’re from, attempting to suppress who We were, and this realization brought the broader reality of the prison industrial slave complex and its role in suppression of the self-determination of oppressed nations and people into sharp focus. This suppression exceeds mere cultural wars, as it acts to subvert socio-economic and political developments. The prison,in general, is a tool for forced subordination erected by the state for that sole purpose. The use of solitary confinement/ ad-seg is the highest expression, the sharpest, most intense form of this subordination.
When i looked around me on level 2 and 3 pods i only saw certain demographics of prisoners. i saw that the administration bent the rules simply to place, or rather displace us(mostly) on level 3 and 2 pods. i observed that the treatment of inmates on level 2 and 3 was significantly worse in comparison to level ones. i began to feel slighted. I felt slighted by the harris county courthouse, which didnt allow me a jury of my ACTUAL peers2. i felt slighted by god. i felt slighted by major Wolfrum and the pigs at clemens unit . i felt slighted by incompetent appeal lawyer who wouldn’t return my letters. i felt slighted by prison officals for their day-to-day oppressive operations, and for me the fertile soil for radical-politicalization was in place, although i was unaware of it.
i gained level 1 status and was sent to high security, the expasion cell block. The ECB is a ‘high-tech’ isolation chamber where sound is distorted, where air control is used for behavior modification, where there is no contact with outside elements like sun, rain or the like. i was housed on J-pod 106cell. i stayed there eight months, before i was sent back to level three after a cell extraction. i had no idea that the gas they sprayed me and countless others was ‘illegal’ for use in warfare, but continues to be used for domestic dissenters and captives.3 i feel slighted. i arrived back on F-pod 55 cell, burning from the gas, fully naked with blood dripping from my ankles where the shackles had been tightened as i was made to hobble the distance from ECB to 12bldg. Loco and another brother sent me some boxers and soap and i settled in. i would interact with other brothers and eventually we would band together. We were all bonded by the oppression we endured from the authorities. i recall the incident that set things in motion. There was a Muslim brother, Jihad, who often suffered from psychosis. Even when at his worst, Jihad was never a bother to anyone. Hw would usually yell, ‘Allahu akbar!’ for hours at the top of his lungs. But we all understood his mental state and didn’t let it bother us.
Each morning like clock work, no matter his mental state, Jihad would make the call to Fajr prayer. Never knowing if others joined him or not, he would go through the entire process of salat, reciting prayers in Arabic so that all could hear. In truth, those were some of the most peaceful moments each day for me.
There were some white nationalist pigs whom didn’t like Jihad’s behavior, and moved to suppress it. They crept through one night. Jihad was down stairs in 61 cell i believe, while i was upstairs in 64cell. There is a red light that acts as a signal letting one know one of the doors are open on a particular section. i saw the red light, then heard thumping and banging as if someone was brawling. i asked the brother next to me did he hear that and where were the guards, ‘Jihad’s cell.’ About a minute or so passed before six guards came walking confidently out of his cell and exited the section. i recognized them , they were a group of admitted members of a white supremacist organization that was functioning out of nearby Bowie, Texas . We, inmates began hollering and banging on the metal doors, attempting to bring attention to the situation. Our efforts were fruitless, as those who were supposed to prevent things like that from occuring were the ones doing it. We began hollering to Jihad. He was beat up but functioning well. He didnt wanna make a big deal out of it. He said they wanted him to cease making Salat as he had been doing, he said he would continue. He did.
The rest of us wanted retribution. The pigs continued attacking other prisoners, all of which were New Afrikan, most were noticably what we called ‘psyched-out’. In prison there’s this idea that one shouldn’t defend one whose not defending themselves. We tend further marginalize those who’re already marginalized and/or vulnerable. This practice opens the doors for incidents of targeted abuse against physically and mentally disabled people, those with diverse sexualities and/or gender expressions, or those perceived of having those things, and those who’ve come under fire from the ad-min. Once the agents of the state observe that a particular person has been marginalized and isolated they fell more free to excessively oppress them.
Eventually an incident occured that pushed many into action. i won’t name names here but there was an ex-gang member turned staunch believer of the Nation of Islam. i’l call him B. B was a talented writ writer and was a thorn in the side of administrators because he always documented abuse and malpractice. Pigs labeled him a snitch, reactionary inmates were manipulated by those claims, and B was marginalized and isolated and open to attack. B was hated by white supremacist gangs(inmates) because he was bravely outspoken about his NOI beliefs. These two realities converged when B was isolated further by being housed on a section which inmates called ‘the Trailer Park’, a section where the most staunch white reactionary inmates were all housed on one section. A section consists of 14 cells, 7 on each tier. B was the only exception. As part of a gang initiation one prisoner was directed to assasinate B, and the reactionary inmates collaborated with a reactionary big-guard to open the prospective gangmembers door while B was handcuffed and escorted by a guard going to shower. The prospect beat B with a fan motor wrapped in a sock, although B didnt die from this incident of attempted assasination, it is needless to say that it sparked rebellion amongst myself and other New afrikan prisoners.
That phase of my development was highly significant in who i am today. The veil of inner-city tribalism was removed from my observation of the world. It was the first time i had banded together with oter New Afrikan nationals for a non-criminal act. we unified beyond sets and cities and states, We defied the Willie Lynch syndrome. We operated under a ‘New Unity’ a revolutionary and national unity, although we were unaware of such a concept at the time.
Besides physically combatting national oppression by prison reactionaries, my development was advanced by the literature several good brothers shared with me. i, Like Ajamu Niamke Kamara (stanley Tookie williams) had said, “ i had poked so many holes in the thin fabric of my thug experience that i could no longer sustain a conscious apologia for Crippen.”
This new reality left a hole in my mind, and the literature that i was beginning to internalize was well welcomed by my hungry mind and starving intellect.
The material was primarily different notions of cultural and religious metaphysical nationalism. i have observed that usually the lumpen 3elements, as they first begin to put on a cloak of social responsibility, gravitate to these idealist schools of thought. Immediately awaiting the colonial-criminal subject who desires something else for themselves, are Jesus Christ, Allah, the God of Self, and many other doctrines that often distract the subject from the objective root causes of their condition. This is an effect of the usual lack of formal education, a de-based moral code that they realize needs adjusting, and an abnormal and excessive tendency of group/ community longing that leads to unhealthy relationships.4 The same tendencies that drew one into the gang culture brings one into the cultural-religious nationalists, and metaphysical doctrines. Like many i went through this phase.
From 2014 until June 2016(when i was released from ad-sef) i read anything i could get my hands on. i read anything of substance in the prison library. i started writing and debating, both of which developed confidence in my capabilities and ideas. i was still in the elementary stages of development. i still had no understanding or familiarity with political economy, class divisions, or philisophical trends. i was gathering a basic understanding of who i was and subsequently re-molding my understanding of my people. i was slowly being mentally de-colonized through my own efforts of auto-didactics. The most memorable book i read at that stage was Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life Of Re-invention.
When i left Allred in June 2016 i was re-housed on Telford unit’s medium and closed custody. No matter how good i behaved i couldn’t be classified any higher. i was being judged for the one punch i threw in self-defense on Clemens unit. i would be thus judged for ten years, as i write this i am still being judged as a security percaution for that incident, nearly a decade later. i repeat, for one punch, in slf defense, while handcuffed.
The most significant memories from my year and a ½ on Telford(in population) were the constant internal battles i had, trying to suppress fits of rage. Those fits began while in solitary confinement. In order to be eligible or considered for release i had to stay disciplinary free for awhile. i believe i went 14 months without a case. In order to do so however i had to accept constant humiliation, debasment and harassment from guards. Constantly feeling disrespected but having to swallow it because i wanted to go to population. This is prisons’ idea of rehabilitation. It is how they modify behavior5. For me and i am sure many others, this was the trigger to my fits of rage which have carried on until this day. Behavior modification, rehabilitation, and spirit breaking are all synonymous in the context and confines of prison and its relation to it’s subjects. It is generally true what Nelson Mandela observed,
“Prison is designed to break one’s spirit and destroy one’s resolve. To do this, the authorities attempt to exploit every weakness, demolish every initiative, negate all signs of individuality. All with the idea of stamping out that spark that makes each of us human and each of us who we are.”
Prison is a violent and unforgiving place. Some prisons are worse than others, more volatile. Aside from the frequently talked about gang elements there is a general predatory culture that permeates prison colonies. The captives themselves have not created this culture, it is a reflection of the broader society that the prison is merely a microcosm of. The basic capitalist mentality of dog-eat-dog, and indifferent individualism create, foster and perpetuate the predatory mindset.
People in prison adopt survival defense mechanisms to keep from being victims. In prison this usually manifests into a culture of toxic-hyper masculinity. In this environment self-defense by any and all means is a must. it should be noted it is also ‘illegal’ according to prison rules.
People in prison join and remain in groups and gangs for self-defense. People behave in certain manners, usually with excessively thuggish bravado that keeps people at a distance due to uncomfort. People possess and use weapons for self-defense.
While i was in population, where the likelihood of violent episodes is magnified, i was one of those who carried weapons of self-defense with me at all times. As a result, during a turbelent time of prison politics, two weapons were found in my possession. As such i was sent to closed custody. i was initially supposed to do a year, but conditions on closed custody were so that i frequently had episodes with over zealous officers.
In January of 2017, just days after being in closed custody, during a cell search resulting from a pod-wide disciplinary lockdown, i was jumped by six officers while in handcuffs, my head squeezed and slammed in the door, i was choked to the point of nearly passing out, having to to use the butt of my head to slam in into the nose of the assaulting officer. This assault was initiated by officers throwing away property without merit, and my subsequent refusal to return to the cell until a higher ranking officer came to the scene. That officer never came and i was assaulted by, among others, field sargent King and a lieutenant whose name i cant recall. After the assault the field officers confiscated all me and my cellies property and the state property, in an attempt to cause friction between my celly and i, hopefully resulting in a physical altercation between us. We didnt take the bait. That incident would be the beginning of a series of, admittedly, self-initiated reprisals on multiple officers for the span of the next few months. The final one would come in November of 2017, at which time i assaulted a staff member after having my arm slammed in the tray slot. In recollection of that phase of my development i can say that the effects of my prior stay in longterm isolation and the resulting fits of rage played a role, albeit a secondary one, in my decision making. Primarily though, the reality of being treated like an animal garnered an animalistic response. Closed custody isn’t too much better that solitary confinement/ ad-seg. In someways its worse. The obvious difference is that one has a cell mates, however this adds its own dynamics. There is the extreme heat, the constant disciplinary lockdowns resulting in group punishment, the lack of recreation, the maintenance of the facility, or lack thereof, all of which lead to various levels of uncivilized response.
As a result of the above incidents i was sent back to ad-seg/ solitary confinement,November 2nd 2017. i was returned to allred unit. My being re-assigned to allred further cemented in my mind what Loco told me years prior concerning allred unit and its systemic role in isolating unbroken prisoners in an attempt to subdue them by whatever means necessary.
During both stints in Allred solitary i’ve encountered some of the mostexceptional human beings. i’ve met political prisoners with dignity, and youthful prisoners with real aspirations for their futures and the future of the world. i’ve met courageous trans-spirited people who demanded dignity and respect in a cesspool of hetero-patriarchy and transphobia. In short, i’ve met some of the most highly capable people i’ve ever encountered. We’re not the worst of the worst, as we’re treated by the prison officals. We’re wholly, and completely human, that is, while capable of the most repulsive deeds, we’re simultaneously capable of the most inspiring and commendable deeds. This is the objective spectrum each human lives on. We’re no different, and shouldn’t be treated as if we’re any worse than any one else. Let Our character be proven by Our sustained activities, and not only observing those traits that are unbecoming, but the full spectrum of our humanity.
When i returned to allred i did so with the understanding that the prison officals sent me there to be buried alive in a concrete tomb, but as the Zapatistas are fond of saying, “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know We were seeds.”
When i returned to Allred, only 18 months later, alot had changed. In truth, prior to my departure things had already begun to shift, the main two shifts, which are interconnected, were (1) the demographics of the officers and staff, and (2) the treatment of prisoners.
One of the main factors influencing both of these developments was the installation of cameras. The improved surveillance was installed in 2014. i recall the officers compaining about the strain being watched would put on them. Many quit and found other employment. Most of those who did so were among the worst guards, the overt white nationalists, and sadistic pigs. Those that remained and fit into these categories would be weeded out over time, as they began to be held more responsible(not fully) for their actions.
Another factor was the overall shift in demographics occurring throughout the state of Texas and particularly the region which allred is located. Certain thriving industries in Texas attract various sectors, gentrification across urban areas in the U.S. and a constant influx of migrants from other counties(especially Central American and African nations) are resulting in a youthful, more ethnically diverse, more formally educated general population. The prison industry, as seen from the make-up of allred staff, reflects this general demographic shift , and the subsequent shift in day-to-day staff/prisoner relations has also reflected this. This isn’t to say things are ideal, but they’re less overt. This isn’t to say one can make things ideal, because the basic relation of the captive/keeper predetermines a certain amount of inhumanity, indifference, and insensitivity, as people are not meant to be confined and controlled in such a way that even the most friendly prisons operate.
When i arrived back on allred i returned to the ECB where prisoners would organize a hungerstrike in December 2017. The prisoners wanted to be allowed recreation on a reasonable basis, and hot meals. Back THEN WE were allowed out of the cell once a month(maybe) otherwise we were confined for 24/7. The action was generally successful in achieving its aims. The administration dispresed the known leaders of the action, but the example had been set.
For my part, i spen 2018 honing my intellect. From that point onwards, i’ve lived by these words: “The prison cage was transformed into a study laboratory; a secluded place of challenge to mold an educated mind; a quasi-university where i could increase my familiarity with my culture as well as politics, religion, criminal LAW, and the world - and get in touch with myself. Seeking to reeducate myself was the first step toward reasoning. Without a conscience i’d remain an educated fool doomed to repeat his mistakes.”6
This time my autodidactics developed in another direction. A brother named Monster passed me a ANTi-imperialist newspaper called, Under Lock & Key. Reading it i encountered the term, New Afrikan, for the first time. The term immediately reasonated with me7 . In my life, from my earliest recollections, i’ve always felt rejected and alienated from the dominat cultural elements in america. The early historical narratives i learned guided me towards a rejection of institutions and the facilitators of them had/ have rejected, alienated, New Afrikan-Black people generally. i’ve always been moved to reject that which rejects me. As the Nigerian proverb states, “The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel the warmth.” My experiences with the U.S. justice system only reiterated those sentiments. On the other hand, although the son of a Nigerian migrant, i’ve never felt like an ‘African’ or ‘Nigerian’ or ‘Yoruba’ outright. i felt somewhere in the middle of these two identities and therefore unique unto itself.
Around the sametime i was introduced to the medium of zines through the Anthony rayson collection. The zines in company with the Under Lock & Key piqued my interested in scientific socialism, anarchism, and revolutionary nationalism. i began studying them vigorously. i took political education correspondence courses, which really elevated my consciousness and revolutionary optimism. i acquired various radical publications and i acquainted myself with political ecopnomy. My awareness of the entire world just shifted and elevated and i became determined to be an active participant in the reconstruction of society. Like many before me, i was resurrected and made anew when i encountered the thoughts and struggles of Mao Tse-Tung, George Jackson, Kevin Rashid Johnson, Thomas Sankara, Atika Shanna, Lucy Parsons, Angela Davis, the HPP and BLA(Black Panther Party & Black Liberation Army) and so many other shining examples, too many to mention.
My natural inclination to teach moved me to share what i was grasping with my peers. And i would begin to have opportunities to put somethings into practice when, in early 2019 there was a mass exodus from ECB to 12bldg ad-seg building. The on-going battle for air conditioning in Texas prisons led administrators to move people from all around the state to Allred to be housed in the air conditioned ECB building.
from 2016 until 2019 the 12 bldg was occupied by mostly closed custody inmates who participated in programming. when we arrived from ECB the maintenance of 12bldg was in total disarray. Rats and rodents completely infested the place, grime and soot had accumulated on different areas, black mold was building up in the showers, holes and leaks were in the roof causing electrical problems and we still weren’t getting any hot meals(we still don’t).
It don’t take long for word to start spreading of prisoner dis-satisfaction and the organizing of another strike. This time i found myself in the midst of the organizing. Eventualy prisoners did strike. Only 15 of us. Others backed out for various reasons surrounding prison politrix and reactionary mis-leadership. We quickly succeeded in getting all except the hot meal issue addressed. Even on that issue we saw that the local ad-min did at least attempt to resolve the issue by having maintenance install new power outlets on the building, assuming the issue was deffective outlets and not the cars themselves.
When i and other captives observed the power we held collectively, it sparked the formal formation of a prison collective, Texas T.E.A.M.O.N.E.(Together Ending All MASS Oppression aNd Exploitation) which i became co-founder of. We utilize the Team as a vehicle for multi-national unity and class solidarity, organizing around Our shared conditions as captives of the state.
We were seeing small, but ultimately insignificant results. As i have ordered things in my head, the prison institution in the U.S. isn’t a constructive tool at all nor was it designed to be. The prison, from the first one in pennsylvania in the late 1700’s to the ones operating today, were always tools of suppression for the various social elements(classes & oppressed nations) that are subjugated under the thumb of the state apparatus. In the last century the prison institution has become highly industrialized and as such has played a role in speeding up the deterioration of these classes and nations, in terms of their capacity or willingness to resist their subjugation. People who frequent prisons and jails are observed and treated as disposable surplus populations, and there is no drive or desire to uproot the obvious causes of most anti-people behavior. The federal governemt knows this itself as it stated in 1967:
“The criminal justice system has a great potential for dealing with individual instances of crime, but it was not designed to eliminate the condtions in which most crime breeds. It NEEDS help.Warring on poverty, inadequate housing and unemployment , is warring on crime. A civil rights law is a law against crime. Money for schools is money against crime. Medical,psychiatric, and family-counseling services are services against crime. More broadly and most importantly every effort to improve life in america’s ‘inner-cities’ is an effort against crime. A community’s most enduring protection against crime is to right the wrongs and cure the illnesses that tempt men to harm their neighbors.”8
Therefore, i began to understand the role of our organizing inside to be that of Flipping the state’s stratergy of mass neo-slavery against it. Since it has industrialized crime and punishment, those on the inside must create creative ways to develop captive humanbeings beyond the predatory, parasitic behavior that is wrapped up in gangsterism and criminality. for me that means making others imagine socialist alternatives to life and how their lives have been disfigured by the current political economy.
In 2020, inspired by the George Floyd uprisings and the COVID-19 pandemic, almost 200 ad-seg prisoners on allred endured a hungerstrike, seeking various things, primarily access to telephones. We succeeded again. i was isolated and arbitrarily housed on a level 3 pod in retaliation for my significant role in the action. It would be the beginning of my being constantly harassed by the local ad-min as a consequence for my activism. eventually as a result of bother outside and inside complaints i and others were returned to proper housing assignments. That is when the disappearance of and excessive censorship of my mail began. i was working on a few writing projects, zines, i had produced for Anthony rayson’s collection, and Mongoose distro. When sending drafts out for publication they were thrown away by mailroom staff. When receiving 1040 Forms and information surrounding the stimulus checks they were denied entry into the prison.
My daily routine consisted of tedious hours, no less than four per day, sometimes as much as twenty, of STUDYING various works of history, psychology, philosophy, political economies, and law. By 2020 i had spent years building momentum and strategic confidence among my peers for a co-ordinated action centered on the illegality of longterm and indefinite isolation. However, when i read the Mandela Rules, and the October 18, 2011 United Nations Statement Against Solitary Confinement, my righteous indignation intensified.
“A United Nations expert on the torture today called on all countries to ban the solitary confinement of prisoners except in very exceptional circumstances and for as short a time as possible, with an absolute prohibition in the case of juveniles and people with mental disabilities.
“Segregation, isolation, seperation, cellular, lockdown, supermax, the hole, Secure Housing Unit…whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by States as punishment or extortion technique…
“Solitary confinement is a harsh measure which is contrary to rehabilitation, the aim of the penitentiary system…
“INDEFINIE AND PROLONGED SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN EXCESS OF 15 DAYS SHOULD ALSO BE SUBJECT TO AN ABSOLUTE PROHIBITION, [UN Special RAPPORTEUR on torture Juan E. Mendez said], citing scientific ]studies that have established that some lasting mental damage is caused after a few days of social isolation.
“Considering the severe mental pain or suffering solitary confinement may cause, it can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during PRETRIAL detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities or juveniles.”
Upon reading this i observed it left no excuse FOR my and others ISOLATION, yet here we remain with seemingly no hope in sight. Again i felt slighted. i felt a sense of righteous indignation because here i am serving a sentence of LWOP having killed no one, here i am, twice, sent to isolation for defending myself. Why wasn’t sargent King and the others here as well? Here i am gassed with supposedly ‘illegal’ chemical agents. Here so many people i know are punished for breaking laws, yet those charged with enforcing them were breaking the law..Where, i ask, is the ligitamcy in law? Where is the objectivity in the law? As i’ve observed, there is no objectivity in the practice or enforcement of it, there are only class struggles. THOSE class forces that have achieved the ability to dictate to others haphazardly enforce laws and customs according to their own interests. I’ve seen no affluent inmates in my times in captivity. NEVER! i haven’t seen Obama in here for murder, although he authorized the droping of 26,171 bombs abroad in 2016 alone9 . i haven’t seen the border patrol agents who whpped Haitian migrants like slaves sitting in prison, let alone a solitary cell. i’ve met no one from the January 6st insurrection, not Trump nor any one else,in prison or solitary. i see NO justice, no law.
Towards the end of 2020 i began to shift my efforts towards the building of revolutionary practioners. I’ve observed that the struggle for prison conditions does nothing for the social evolution of prisoners when it is divorced from consistent re-education efforts.
i began taking the time to develop curriculum and PROGRAMS to use among my peers. i interacted with various brothers who were unable to read/write. With the help of others, we helped them learn these valuable tools. i began producing an internal newsletter called, ‘Power Moves’ and OPERATING a ‘People’s Liberation Library’ consisting of hundreds of books with study guides and questions for most.
In August and September of 2021, as part of Tx TeamOne, i led yet another hungerstrike, this one against longterm and indefinite solitary confinement and other prison conditions. Higher officals such as regional director David Blackwell began to harass me during and after this period, giving liscense to the local ad-min to do the same. Harrassement and retaliation for exercising supposedly protected rights have gone unabated.
In September of 2021 i was up for State Classification Committee. it was decided that the main reason i would remain in isolation was because of my sentence (LWOP). The reader should know that Cody Wulfrum who was the major on the Clemens unit in 2013 that didn’t want me on ‘his’ unit, was the Assitant warden on allred’s 12bldg and was the person who did my SCC paperwork. This SCC came days after the hungerstrike. LWOP is a sentence with no ending, therefore if that is held as the reason for my isolation it would remain so forever. TDCJ had ‘offically’ sentenced me to ‘indefinite’ solitary confinement and as a obvious direct consequence of my socio-political activities.
At this point i wanna make it clear that all captives in RHU are held indefinitely. One major procedural issue in RHU is that there is no definite time frames allotted for any incident. The classification process is arbitrary, and therefore inherently subject to human inconsistencies denied from committee members’ subjective opinons not any sort of standard or criteria.
In 2022, i have been working diligently to consolidate a state-wide organizational structure so that actions can be cohesive. i organize the Juneteenth Freedom Initiative that others supported and sponsored. This goal and the actions behind it have sparked a wave of institutional harrassement. In the last 2 months i’ve had over a hundred mailings censored, incoming and outgoing. My visitors have been denied, arbitrarily, taken off my list or refused to be put on it.
This year i’ve helped coordinate multiple legal actions against the state, one challenging longterm isolation and joined by many around the state.10 In March of 2022 i was again denied release from ad-seg and again denied the opportunity to attend the hearing. i haven’t been allowed to attend since 2019.
By now it has become clear that i am not in isolation for any rules i’ve broken. i haven’t had a disciplinary in five years, since i returned to Allred. It is clear that i was allowed to roam in population when i was infected with the psychological virus of gangsterism and running with the street organization. It is clear that although the prison brass publicly claims to want to ‘rehabilitate’ people, what they really mean is they wanna assimilate people, spread educational, social, political hedgemony among the subjugated in society. They want robots, Well behaved subjects content with the trinkets offered them by the dominate culture. Any expression of humanity outside this RIGID arrangement is unacceptable, to be avoided, isolated and if necessary destroyed. It is clear that due to TDCJ’s adjustment in its methods of treating me, that i have become( even in the eyes of my keepers, though they’ll never publicly admit it) a political prisoner, isolated and targeted for no other reason than my drive to foster a radically transformative environment and world.
Monsour G. Owolabi - New Afrikan Political Prisoner
SOURCES: (1) United Nations defines solitary confinement as ‘ the physical and social isoaltion of individuals who are confined to their cells for 22 to 24 hours a day.’
(2) Harris county has been sued for discriminatory practices in its jury selections, purportedly summoning jurors from affluent zip codes that would likely not result in New Afrikans being on jury pools.
(3) ; see the 10 Point Program of the Black Panther Party, point #9
See Kevin Rashid Johnson’s article in June 2018 issue of SFbayview newspaper, www.sfbayview.com
(4) Lumpen, a term usually used in marxist political economy, means ‘broken’, in context it refers to that class within the population that is ‘broken’ or separated from the capitalist economy, and is usually moved to survive by way of a ‘black market’ economy, leading to criminal activity and imprisonment.
(5) See; TALIB Y. RASHEED’S zine, ‘More on Recedivism’ and his ‘Recedivism: …Maybe you’ll really get it this time’
(6)note from Fredrick Douglass’ My Bondage and My freedom, “To enslve men, successfully and safely, it is necessary to have their minds occupied with thoughts and aspirations short of the liberty of which they are deprived. A certain degree of attainable good must be kept before them.”
(7) Quote from ‘Blue Rage Black Redemption, Stanley Tookie Wiliams’ pg. 256
(8) following from Sundiata Acoli’s ‘ An Updated History Of The New Afrikan Prison Struggle’, ‘We of the New Afrikan Independence Movement spell ‘Afrikan’ with a ‘k’ as an indicator of our cultural identification with the Afrikan continent and because Afrikan linguists originally used ‘k’ to indicate the ‘c’ sound in the english language. We use the term ‘New Afrikan’ instead of Black, to define ourselves as an Afrikan people who have been forcibly transplanted to a new land and transformed into a ‘new Afrikan nation’ in North america.”; also see Sanyika Shakur’s ‘Stand Up and Struggle Forward: New Afrikan revolutionary writings on Nation, Class, and patriarchy
(9) 1967 President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice; also quoted in Derecka Purnell’s Becoming Abolitionists, pg. 193
(10) Madea Benjamin, America Dropped 26,171 Bombs in 2016, Guardian, January 9, 2017; also quoted in Derecka Purnell’s Becoming Abolitionists, pg. 162
(11) SEE: Dillard V. Davis, et al., civil action no. 7:19-cv-00081-M-EPNNorthern District of Texas
Monsour is thirty years old, born October 3rd 1991 in Houston Texas. He was raised in Southwest Houston (Alief) and attended Elsik high school. Monsour has been held in solitary for a combined total of eight years. He’s been captive for eleven years, nine of which in TDCJ custody. He’s been in solitary confinement on clmens unit, Allred, and Telford. He spent August 2013 - June 2016 on Allred seg. November 2017 - present (July 2022) on Allred solitary. July 2013 Clemens unit, Telford unit December 2016 Please follow on twitter @ Tx TEAMONE and on IG @ comrademonsour. Monsour is seeking assistance and volunteers to fill positions in the FREE MONSOUR OWOLABI NETWORK, please contact him directly for details.
Originally written for Texasletters.org and Anthologic, July 2022
Allred Unit, Iowa Park, Texas
8 years in solitary / ad seg
July 16, 2022
Words by MONSOUR OWOLABI
Photography by TEXAS LETTERS