Re: Political Prisoners (fwd)

Sat, 6 Jan 1996 13:40:50 -0500 (EST)

Sender: (Ron Silliman)
Subject: Re: Political Prisoners

Maggie Jaffe's long post -- which, Kali, I think fell well within the
parameters of issues active (and activated) by that nebulous
periodizing concept The 60s -- reminded me of the definition we applied
in the prison movement in the 1970s, during a period in which we were
able to actually halt the construction of new prisons for several
consecutive years (but this was when the Supreme Court went so far as
to declare the death penalty unconstitutional).

A political prisoner might be anyone who:

A) committed a crime with a political intent (so McVeigh and Nichols --
who is being defending by an old UC Berkeley FSM leader Mike Tigar --
would fall into that category)

B) was arrested and/or held in prison for distinctly political reasons
(thus Geronimo Pratt's membership in the Black Panther Party seems more
pertinent than the crime for which he was convicted on startlingly
little evidence...the same was true for George Jackson, who did 11
years for driving the car in a liquor store robbery, an offense which
in the 1970s usually got you a year and a day--and who knows how long
that sentence would have gone since he was assassinated before he could
be released)(I think Noriega would qualify for this category too)

Both of these are broad categories with pretty hazy edges. During the
years (72-76) when I worked fulltime in the prison movement, the group
that paid my salary (the Committee for Prisoner Humanity & Justice,
based in San Rafael due to the proximity of San Quentin) had some
15,000 complaints by various prisoners, maybe 2/3s in California and
the rest in either the Federal system or in other states. We found
exactly one instance during that period of someone who had obviously
been framed -- Cecil Lovedahl of North Carolina, who'd been railroaded
on a murder charge there in 1949 or thereabouts to break up a group of
WW2 vets who were horning in on the moonshining business. Lovedahl
would have been released quietly sometime in the 1950s, but the
prosecuting attorney in the case rose to political prominance (he was
governor for awhile and served in the US Senate). We managed to get
Lovedahl paroled to Delancy Street in SF, in part through political
pressure put on by Ted Kennedy's office. Lovedahl didn't handle Delancy
Street well (it was virtually as authoritarian as prison) and skipped
and went to Las Vegas where he was picked up for parole violation.
However, outside of North Carolina it was pretty simple to demonstrate
that he'd been railroaded and the judge in Washah County refused to
extradite him back to NC. Lovedahl was just a guy trying to make some
money boiling up his own whiskey. Was he a political prisoner? You bet.

One thing that also definitely happens as well is that any prisoner
whose case becomes in any fashion controversial ends up becoming
politicized, regardless of the offense. Incarceration itself is a
political act.

By the way, Maggie, I don't think I saw Joe Remo on your list of
prisoners. He was the SLA member who was convicted with Russ Little of
the assassination of Marcus Foster (Little was freed in 1980).

Say hi to Hal,

Ron Silliman