Filed under: Analysis, Anarchist Movement, Critique, Incarceration, Interviews, Political Prisoners, Radio/Podcast, Repression, The State, US
In this interview for the June 11th International Day of Solidarity with Marius Mason and All Long-Term Anarchist Prisoners, we talked to two individuals from Eric King’s support crew.
Eric King is a vegan anarchist arrested in 2014 and charged with an attempted firebombing of a Congressperson’s office in solidarity with the Ferguson rebellion. In March 2016, Eric accepted a non-cooperating plea agreement and was sentenced three months later to 10 years in prison.
We talk about Eric’s case, prisoner support as part of sustained revolutionary struggle, restrictions put on Eric’s communications, and the increasing repression against radical prisoners.
JUNE 11TH: Can you all start by telling us a little bit more about yourselves and about our experiences with prison or prisoner support?
X: Yeah, so I’m relatively new to the prisoner support community, I’ve just been doing it for a couple of years, and was really drawn to it as my radicalization progressed. I find it to be a really imperative way to support revolutionary movements that are either happening now or that have happened in the past, like the Black Liberation movement or Earth and Animal Liberation movements, and the like. I’ve been working with New York City Anarchist Black Cross, and do a bunch of support work for a variety of political prisoners, but my focus is mainly on the folks that are held in New York State, and of course Eric King.
Y: So I have been a part of this team of amazing folks who make up the Eric King support committee for a while as well personally supporting various other prisoners. As far as personally being effected by prison, Eric and I are partners, so all of this can be pretty intense and crippling at times. I have found that that personal experience has actually been really helpful in being able to relate and form bonds with other incarcerated folks.
J11: Can you speak to the importance of prisoner solidarity as part of the anarchist project and other liberatory struggles? And specifically, to the necessity of supporting long-term prisoners?
X: Definitely, so to just straight up quote David Gilbert, “prisons are an insult to the human spirit, and a shameful waste of human potential.” And fuck prisons, but I’m sure we can all agree there. I feel like supporting prisoners is an essential task and something that we should do for people, just because prison is inherently demeaning, dehumanizing, and a fucked up place. But that being said, there’s even more imperative for political prisoners to get support, and that isn’t to say of course that all incarceration isn’t somehow political. But I mean more in context of any kind of revolutionary movement or politically driven activity. I think that if we’re going to encourage anarchist praxis, encourage friends and comrades, and spend time in the streets or taking action fighting against the system and prevailing order, then we have to be realistic about how the state is going to respond to that. And they’re going to respond with repression, and that inevitably means prison time.
So it’s truly necessary and essential to support our friends and comrades when they go down for politically motivated action, whether that’s marching in a black bloc, or doing direct action, or just fighting state repression in whatever ways that are available to them. So doing prisoner support in this context emboldens movements in a variety of ways, first it takes the person who is going through the prison system, it makes them feel supported and not forgotten, which not only enriches their quality of life while they’re going through it, but also may make them feel more confident and comfortable standing up for themselves in the day-to-day. We’ve seen this with Eric and him fighting for various things, including vegan food and such.
But it also shows the state that our movement is strongest, that it goes beyond yelling at some pigs in the street, and can be put into action and be tangible support efforts that will directly combat their goals of breaking apart our movements. Also it will help people, embolden people, and make them more confident to take part in the movement, and perhaps even take riskier action. And if folks see that if they take a risk, or even if they just participate, you know we’re seeing so many people go down for just participating, that if there is some kind of support for them in the instance that they do face state repression or get hit with prison time. If they see that that support is already in place, and they will have a community who will back them up and be there with them as they go through the state repression, that deepens the trust you can build with each other, it makes our movements stronger. It ultimately has to be the basis for any kind of revolutionary movement moving forward. Mutual aid, taking care of our own: those are such tenets of anarchism, and that inevitably has to include supporting political prisoners.
J11: Can you tell us more about Eric and any other prisoners that you support?
Y: Eric is an anarchist political prisoner who is serving a ten year sentence after an attempted firebombing of a Congressperson’s office in Kansas City, as a show of solidarity with the Ferguson Uprising. His stance against the state has been no secret, all you have to do is just read his sentencing statement for that. And he’s under constant surveillance and threats because of it. The focus lately seems to be his poetry and stopping him from being able to use it to reach folks. Eric is currently teaching yoga and poetry, he is super into space, science, dystopian fiction, and always reading radical lit. He’s a recent Harry Potter fan, and loves magic, and is skilled at the art of rebellion through annoyance currently. As far as who I write, I also write Nicole Kissane, I write Krow, I recently started getting letters from Bill Dunne, which are pretty amazing, I’ve really enjoyed them. Recently I’ve found myself communicating more and more with different social prisoners that I support as well.
X: For me, in addition to doing support work for Eric, like I mentioned earlier, I focus mostly on New York state political prisoners like David Gilbert, Jalil Muntaqim, and Robert Seth Hayes. And then I’m also in touch with some other people like Nicole Kissane as well, and I’ve loved getting to know her so far.
J11: So you mentioned that Eric has faced retaliation for some of his writings and for his outspoken stances, including restrictions on his communication. Can you tell us a little more about this, and about Eric’s situation now that some of those communication restrictions have been lifted?
Y: Yeah, absolutely. From the get go, when Eric was placed in the federal system, Eric was placed under SIS restriction. SIS stands for “Special Intelligence Services,” it’s pretty much the BOP’s security team. Every piece of mail has to be personally approved by an SIS officer that goes out or that Eric receives. At one point they upped his restrictions so much that mail had to go through somebody in DC, who had to read everything before it went in to Eric, or out. He was constantly being pulled in and bullied for any reason they saw fit, even if he typed an exaggerated number into an e-mail, they had pulled him in to interrogate him so they could “discover” what the code was that he was writing. This has actually happened more than once. Every week they would threaten him, they would tell him, “we will take you from your family, and we will send you to CMU so fast your head would spin.”
And when Eric was brought up on disciplinary charges, they seemingly attempted to limit communications so that he was not able to gain support to help fight the allegations. He was prohibited from visits, from making phone calls, or even e-mailing anyone. And the mail going in and out took about a week to process. It limited communication in a very dramatic way. This tactic became apparent, even more so when we found a lawyer for him. They contacted the prison wanting to have a legal call with Eric, and the BOP immediately held a disciplinary hearing that was not on the books before that could happen, on the day that they don’t even hold disciplinary hearings. The BOP is not dumb, they know where the strength in communication is, and that becomes a super effective reason for them to limit communication. As of right now, Eric is still being monitored by SIS, but so far he hasn’t been constantly called in to the office at FCI Florence. He seems to also be getting all of his mail and e-mails, and he’s finally getting visits again.
J11: I think it was around the same time that Eric was dealing with those disciplinary charges that he was transferred to Florence. Can you speak to the implications of that move?
Y: Absolutely. In the Bureau of Prisons in the federal system there’s a point system, as many other prison systems have, in which it determines the security level of the prison that the prisoner’s going to be held at. When Eric was initially placed, he was in a low-security prison, FCI Englewood. He was one point away from being sent to a medium prison. When he was brought up on disciplinary charges, a write-up that he received was supposed to be for three points, however somehow they awarded him nine points for that. So after transferring into a medium, he’s now finding himself two points away from being placed in the USP, which is the next security level up. This weighs heavily on him every day as he watches the sunrise over the ADX in the morning, knowing that there’s a threat to send him there. The ADX is a Supermax, it is pretty much District 13 from the Hunger Games over there, and just every time he walks outside seeing it is pretty heavy.
J11: Could you talk about the International Day of Solidarity with Eric King, which is being called for the first time this year, for June 28th?
X: Yeah, we are celebrating the first ever International Day of Solidarity with Eric on June 28th, and it will be the one year anniversary, if you want to call it that, of his sentencing. So we decided it would be a good way to build a community of support around him and his case internationally. He’s been receiving a bunch of mail from international folks over the last year. Having this day to focus on we’re hoping will create a base of support that can be there for him throughout the course of his sentence, since he will be in for another six years. We’ve seen him go through things: fighting for the vegan food, or medical check-ups, or mail issues when he was at Leavenworth. And then going through the disciplinary hearing and that sudden transfer this January and February. And, you know, through those things we’ve reached out to the greater community to call and e-mail the prisons, advocate for him. So things definitely come up, and they definitely don’t want to make it easy for him in there, or really anyone on the inside.
So building that broader community of support and channeling it into the annual support day we think will be very effective in maintaining this base to call on when he needs more support. We’re encouraging folks to set up events in their cities or towns, whether it’s a fundraiser, a punk show, a poetry reading, or simply just handing out his support flyers. Anything to get the word out about his case, and just spread the word about him, and get people writing him and whatever else. And just to mention if folks do organize events, they can e-mail the information to us, and we can try and promote them. We’d also love to see whatever posters or fliers folks come up with, and however else people are choosing to bring attention to that day. And, can you remind me of the support e-mail?
Y: Yeah, it is erickingsupportcrew [at] riseup [dot] net.
J11: Can you speak to how the strengths or failings of prisoner solidarity have personally affected Eric? And also you all as people with close relationships with people in prison?
Y: Yeah, having direct support has made an amazing difference in Eric’s life. I’ve watched him going from living for the first six months in prison having to pick small amounts of the vegan offerings on the regular tray, and seeing him extremely malnourished, to now, seeing him walk in the chow hall and check them on every single item he’s being fed that isn’t vegan. And really advocating for himself in so many other ways. Having folks stand up and support him more than a few times with the prison has given him confidence. Letters, calls, all of that really brought him to this place where he can feel safe and confident, knowing that if he’s picked up and isolated and brought somewhere, that folks are going to figure out what’s happening, and fight for him even when his communication’s limited, so even when he can’t let us know. That is something at one point he did not initially feel, and the fear and terror that was involved was so immense. The way that I see it is: it’s constant little battles that we wage in effort to stop the state from stealing parts of folks that we love. And that support really destroys the state’s hold on prisoners. Having solid support can tear down the efforts made by the BOP to isolate and play out all their little psy-op tactics.
J11: What are some of the challenges that y’all have experienced in doing prisoner support work? And what do you think we could collectively be doing better?
Y: I think probably one of the biggest hurdles is prison tactics, the ever evolving and constantly growing pressure that’s being put on radicals in prison. It was stated in Eric’s last disciplinary hearing that the BOP is going after incarcerated radicals from every group. The most recent tactic we’re seeing play out is placing the prisoner in a vulnerable position right on the cusp of a security change, or a move to a higher security prison, and then attempting to isolate them from their support system. In Englewood, Eric was told that if they discovered anyone fighting for him on the outside, that they would remove that individual or group’s ability to communicate with him. In addition, the constant harassment by SIS, making that prisoner feel vulnerable makes them therefore less likely to continue to be strong and be political.
X: Yeah, I would add to that, and I definitely agree with everything you just said. For me personally, some of the hurdles in supporting prisoners is that it is very emotionally taxing and it is just so much administrative work. With someone like Eric it is a little brighter because he’s serving a ten year sentence, he will get out in 2023. It feels like fucking forever away right now, but he has an out date and will be out, compared to some other people like former Black Panthers who are going up for parole every two years, and just getting denied. But even still, to support someone inside who is serving six more years and to just know he’s going through all this every single day, or that he’s constantly getting brought up on charges, or he’s having to fight for food every single day. Being part of a support crew, or a friend, it’s just so emotionally intense to be a part of it.
And just that the work is a little monotonous. I mean… I love writing people and supporting people in that way, but to do the calling or emailing and dealing with talking to prison officials who don’t want to talk to you, and hate you and hate that anyone has any support at all on the outside, doing those kind of monotonous things. People just want these kind of bigger and sexier things for prisoner support, like getting people out or doing these bigger things, but really prisoner support is a lot of these monotonous day-in and day-out things. Being there for people, and doing the small things that need to be done to make sure that they are protected, and that they’re not getting totally messed with when they’re serving their time.
J11: Do y’all see any ways that June 11th could contribute to addressing some of these challenges? And what are your hopes for June 11th this year?
Y: We need to be ever-evolving. Something that I’ve been thinking about more and more is sharing our experiences with each other, what we’ve learned, things that were successful, things that were not so successful. These things are not just happening to one prisoner, as more and more political prisoners are arrested and sentenced from various uprisings around the country, they are scrambling to attempt to develop a system to deal with radicals in prison. As a community I don’t believe that we are communicating enough about this, things like the current attempt made in the North-Central region of the BOP where they are sneaking language in to every plea deal that limits the prisoners ability to ever file a freedom of information request about the investigation or prosecution of their cases, or even allowing a third-party to do so. This includes support folks, journalists, or anybody. This means that this info can stay hidden until the prisoner is no longer alive. This has not really been seen before and can really remove a major radical weapon from our arsenal.
We can learn so much from ourselves and others, and it’s super crucial that we get better at sharing that knowledge. As far as hopes for June 11th this year, especially in this political climate where it seems like there is somebody constantly getting sentenced with long sentences, watching it grow from last year is what I hope to see every year for June 11th.
J11: What are your broader hopes and visions for June 11th in the years to come, and also prisoner solidarity more generally?
X: I think as the years roll on and as Eric serves the rest of his sentence, we hope that June 11th will continue to grow and organize as it has been, and maintain this cross-movement community of support for the folks who are a part of it. And I know as a collective we’re super happy that Eric is one of the people recognized for June 11th and just in general how this day of solidarity has evolved to bring such direct material support for these folks and really shed a light on and act as a tangible source for support for these long term eco and anarcho-prisoners. And especially, as we see more people go down in this political climate, I hope that June 11th can continue to grow and gain more and more substance from the outside internationally, and just continue to be the space for the people who are a part of it.
J11: Are there any struggles or moments in the recent past that have been inspiring to you all?
X: Personally, I was really, really inspired by the NODAPL struggle. The tenacity of the Lakota people and their allies, the water protectors, protecting water and land in these omnipresent oil wars, against literally the scumbag slumlords of this earth. I found that to be unbelievably inspiring. The water protectors endured such intense repression and violence from the police, and of course the harsh weather as things got cold in North Dakota. Just maintaining their camps and their strength throughout, I was so impressed and inspired by that.
Y: I agree that watching that all play out was super inspiring. What isn’t really inspiring right now? [laughs] Watching Chelsea and Oscar come home was amazing. I woke up that morning and saw that Chelsea had already been released, and I started crying. And then that big celebration for Oscar, I could watch folks walk out of prison doorways all day long. It is personally a reminder as to why we do this work, and the end goal of tearing that shit down and dismantling this entire system.
J11: Are there any other projects that you’re involved with or have interest in that you’d like to talk about?
X: Yeah, I would like to mention briefly that former Black Panther and political prisoner Jalil Muntaqim is currently doing these bi-weekly – he calls them twitter-storms, but they’re also like days for calling and writing to Governor Cuomo. He’s trying to get him to grant him clemency. So every other Wednesday there’s this directed action towards the governor. So for info on calling, tweeting, you can go to freejalil.com. Also I just want to shed light on this project New York City Anarchist Black Cross is doing called Project FANG, which is basically a travel fund for Earth and Animal Liberation prisoners. It’s funded fully by a sponsor, so it’s not like it needs donations or anything, but definitely check it out, it’s really awesome. We’re brainstorming ways of how we can expand the project to potentially provide travel funds for folks from other movements. And you can find out more at nycabc.wordpress.com.
Y: I just have this fantasy that I keep thinking about, of setting up some sort of political prisoner book club. That’s been a really amazing part of communication, reading books together and talking about them. It’s been a really big escape for us, and I think it would be the most awesome thing in the world.
X: Yeah, that would be so amazing.