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Sep 12, 16

When the Storm Comes, Don’t Run for Cover: A Noise Demo at Menard Correctional

Submitted to It’s Going Down

I am a rebellious slave on a sacred journey in search of the North Star.

–Sun-Ra (currently caged inside Menard)

On the evening of September 9th, thirteen folks convened at Menard “Correctional” Center in Chester, Illinois, along the mighty Mississippi.  This past Friday would mark our fourth noise demonstration outside MCC since the hunger strike in 2014.  MCC is a high security prison and is known to have the worst conditions in Illinois. After Tamms Correctional Center was successfully shut-down in 2013, because of its use of prolonged solitary confinement and beyond horrid conditions, many of the men were transferred to MCC.  Those men who were transferred were forced into a nine month, three-phased program to regain privileges that they did nothing to lose in the first place.  Folks who are being held hostage inside of Menard often spend 23 hours a day in solitary confinement.  If the Sun cannot illuminate their lives, then we will with our passion.

Every time that we go back to MCC for a noise demo, we are met with new obstacles put in place by the guards as an attempt to suppress our action.  In the past we could park about a couple hundred feet from the entrance in front of the prison but the last two times we have had to do this ridiculous dance of shuttling people and instruments from a parking spot nearly a mile away.  As we dropped folks and their noise-makers off, about 20 guards circled everyone, demanding that we leave or they would call the Chester Police Department and have us all arrested for trespassing on railroad property.

A little background: allegedly, all the property on Menard’s side of the road is owned by the state and across the road is railroad property.  So in theory, it’s not a public space, but over the years we have created somewhat of a “free speech zone” on the railroad property, positioned directly across from the cells. So folks on the inside are guaranteed to hear us.

Once everyone was shuttled over, we were given an ultimatum by the correctional officers: either we leave and the noise demo doesn’t happen, or we go through with the demo and the police show up.  Luckily, our trusted friend who is a Civil Rights lawyer and a lawyer for over 50 folks inside of Menard joined, and naturally became our liaison.  We decided to march onward to our “free speech zone.”  It was a pursuit against time (before the cops would show up) and there was also a magnificant storm rising up from behind the prison; what a surreal scene the lightening was!  We began playing our music and screaming at the top of our lungs, “freedom!”  We would stop every few minutes and listen to what the folks on the inside had to say.  They would scream “freedom!” back at us, while banging on the vents they yelled through.

Every time I hear a prisoner call back, it gives me insurmountable energy as I jump up-and-down, laughing and almost crying.  It sends chills down the spine; it’s always a spiritually fulfilling experience.

We yelled out other chants that we heard back in full, like “Our passion, for freedom, is stronger than their prisons!”  The prisoners also lead some of the chants, which is always divine and inspiring.  After about 20 minutes, eight or so police vehicles showed up.  As our trusted attorney spoke with the oppressors, we kept the noise rolling. In less than two minutes, we were threatened with arrest if we didn’t leave at once.  Of course, we weren’t going to stay, our mission was already done.  We were there for the warriors on the inside, we weren’t there for spectacle.  There was plenty of action from both inside and outside the walls of Menard; the noise demonstration was a success!  We walked down the road, with flashing lights parading us away from the prison, and a mighty storm that produced refreshing winds that hugged our bodies as we disappeared into the night.

We don’t know what kind of trouble the guards will bring next time we try and do a demo outside Menard but we will surely return. Solidarity is our strongest weapon and we must learn to live and breathe it, so that one day we might dance upon the ruins of prisons.

Radical love is something that nothing in our oppressor’s arsenal can take away from us.

– Sun-Ra

This was my friend’s first noise demo and here are her beautiful words:

My first noise demo has filled me with fire.

I feel myself burning, transforming, growing

sometimes I catch glimpses

of the light that we will use to end this nightmare.

What is solidified for me now is that the police are solely thugs trained to protect/maintain capitalism and the state.  At one point when I was isolated from the group, C.O.s and police officers started catcalling me. Even in my complete face mask, this group of mostly young men coded me as trans.  This made me realize just how embedded patriarchy is within the police.  Any deconstruction of patriarchy is an end to police, and to prisons. This is a simple realization, but I feel better equipped to continue this struggle.

There is something extremely powerful that happens to the relationships of people who collectively fight against the state.  I continue to feel that I have found my path in life, and it is fulfilling to walk that path with others.  Love and solidarity!

If I do not burn

If you do not burn

If we do not burn

How will darkness come to light?

-Nazim Hikmet

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