Filed under: Analysis, History, Incarceration, US
For Black August, anarchist prisoner Michael Kimble recounts the history of Inmates for Action, or (IFA), based in Alabama prisons.
“Born on the battlefield next to soldiers killed in this war, some of them veterans, some of them victims, all of them poor. The IFA ripped ‘em and gripped ‘em with a coup de grace. Now blame the last days how my momma raised me, survivor, ghetto messiah, baptized under rapid fire. Wiretaps and traps are set to kill me. It’s going to take more than ghetto birds and jets do you feel me?”
During this Black August Resistance I’d like to give remembrance and honor to the Inmates for Action (IFA). The IFA was founded in the Alabama prison slave system at the Atmore State Prison (now Fountain Correctional Facility) in the late 1960s/early 1970s. The politics of the IFA were the politics of the times: a little socialism, black nationalism/revolutionary nationalism/cultural nationalism, and anti-capitalism and anti-racism. The IFA was mainly composed of black prisoners, but I know at least one white prisoner was a member of the IFA. The IFA was a formation of the times, a time when young black people had become disillusioned with the Civil Rights Movement. This was the generation that birthed Black Liberation and saw the politics of the Civil Rights Movement as bankrupt of any ideas to liberate black people from the white supremacist, racist, capitalist political power structure. Revolution was in the air and seemed possible.
Following the footsteps of the Black Liberation Movement organizations on the streets, the IFA established political, cultural, and general education classes to educate the prisoner population. Many prisoners at that time in the South couldn’t read and write, and the white supremacist power structure wanted to keep it that way. This was also a time when there were no black prison guards, wardens, or commissioners, not that it means anything because today the black prison guards, wardens, commissioners are just as brutal and fucked up as their white counterparts were then.
I remember a conversation I had with Richard Mafundi Lake, co-founder of the IFA, where he was telling me that during the 60s and early 70s at Atmore, there wasn’t any nurses and that when a prisoner was injured in any way, that other prisoners were the ones that performed medical care. Atmore has a history of being a hard, brutal, and barbaric place. It was known as the “Slaughterhouse” because of the many deaths and violence occurring at the hands of racist guards and prisoner-on-prisoner violence. It was common for a prisoner to be murdered by prison guards who covered it up by stating that the prisoner tried to escape. There was a rampant rape culture of new, younger prisoners.
The IFA intervened in an attempt to change this backwards and predatory culture into a culture of unity and revolution. In fact, the IFA was instrumental in stopping the practice of prisoners keeping count of how many prisoners were in the prison for the guards. They openly challenged the rape culture. In 1971, the IFA staged a successful workstrike at Atmore and Holman prisons in protest of the beating and murder of prisoners on the workfarm. That was unheard of at the time in Alabama prisons. The IFA was so successful in educating prisoners as to who their true enemy was, that when they transferred Mafundi to Holman and placed him in the all-white dorm in the hopes of the white prisoners killing him, the white prisoners joined Mafundi in rioting.
In 1974, IFA members took prison guards hostage at knifepoint in the Atmore prison lockup unit and declared the action “a revolution.” After subduing the two guards they proceeded to open all the cell doors of IFA members who were in the lockup at the time. Most of them were there for “inciting a riot” or “assault against a guard.” They then began to exact “revolutionary justice” on all those prisoners who had been working with the white racist prison guards selling water and ice to other prisoners in the stifling hot lockup cells.
In the aftermath of this “revolution” by IFA members, one white guard lay dead, another seriously wounded, and a number of prisoners were seriously injured by IFA members. The warden and prison guards stormed the lockup unit with shotguns and rifles ablazing, wounding some of the prisoners. Johnny Imani Harris received the death penalty for the murder of the guard, Lincoln Kambui Heard received a life sentence and Oscar Johnson received thirty years. Others also received sentences for taking part in the “revolution.” Johnny Imani Harris eventually had his death sentence overturned and was released from prison.
The IFA didn’t limit their activities and organizing to the prisons. Richard Mafundi Lake and other ex-cons who were IFA members took their organization and activities to the streets of Birmingham and other smaller cities on Alabama. In Birmingham, where they were most active, they monitored the police with scanners and intervened when the police attempted to make arrests. Many shootouts between IFA and police occurred. They held community meetings to organize against police brutality and racism on the part of city officials.
They didn’t forget their brothers left in the prisons. They organized family transportation to the prisons, they aided escapes from Atmore, Holman and some road kamps. They created the Atmore/Holman Brothers support committee to support those still in the prisons facing new charges for assault and murder on prison guards. They IFA had a motto – “Kill one of our, we kill two of yours.” And they lived by that. Many IFA members were killed inside and outside the prisons. George Dobbins, Tommy Dotson, Charles Beasley, Frank X. Moore is just a few of the IFA members murdered by the state inside and outside the prisons.
The state saw the IFA as too powerful and influential in the prisons and gaining respectability in the streets and started shipping many of them to the federal system. Anthony Paradise, Lincoln Heard, Youngblood, Fleetwood, Mustang, and others were sent to Marion, Lewisburg, Leavenworth, Atlanta federal prisons.
I had the privilege of meeting many of these brothers and became close with some like Mafundi, whom I knew slightly before coming to prison because his father, Richard Sr. was intimately involved with my aunt, and because he used to sponsor all kinds of cultural and sports events in the housing projects. I first met Lincoln Heard here at Holman in the 1980s and I was also close with Anthony Paradise. Many have died within the last few years in the prisons. Mafundi recently passed at W.E. Donaldson Max. and also did Oscar Johnson, Anthony Paradise. Mustang and Lincoln Heard also died in prison. And bro. Sekou Kambui (William Turk) also recently died after being released.
When on trial for the murder of a prison guard, Oscar Johnson stated when testifying that “it was the ill effects of capitalism that caused a situation in which it was necessary to kill a guard.”
The brothers of the IFA leave a powerful legacy. Resistance is possible!
LONG LIVE THE IFA”