Outlaw Women

The following article contains descriptions of severe abuse. I do not take the decision to publish this information lightly. The woman who shared her story want’s to denounce the system and believes that exposing this reality is the best way to ensure this abuse ends once and for all. On the other hand, I understand that this information can be emotionally unhealthy for some of our readers, so please consider this trigger warning before continuing, or consider skipping the signaled paragraph.

“if Rights were ensured to everyone, the Government would have to become something else entirely. It would have to cease to be.”

From Mirna Wabi-Sabi

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Sunday afternoon, 6 people, some of which had never met each other before, are at the beach drinking beer, playing Frescobol and talking. One of the women starts talking about how annoying it is when her neighbors blast music, and how the Law that forbids this behavior should be enough to have these people behave respectfully. A whiter tattooed woman disagrees, saying that the Law isn’t necessary in these situations and does more damage than good. She recites Anarchist slogans comfortably: “The Law does not protect people, it oppresses the vast majority, and is imposed unequally on the population. The Law is only there to protect the interests of the Elite!”. Then a young factory worker, with militant communist affiliations and a cigarette, responds by saying that some laws are important to protect the rights of workers like him.

Then Nina speaks. The more words come out, the more intense her trembling becomes, and the bigger the tears rolling down her face.

The following paragraph bears a Trigger Warning: sexual abuse.

Nina is a mother of three, but her petite young body does not show it. She was 2 months pregnant when she was arrested and raped by police officers. She gave birth in prison and witnessed the abuse of many other women. Every night they worried about who would be next. Some cases were even worse than hers, such as the woman violated with a broom handle who came back bleeding. Even after reporting the incident to the judge and being sent to the doctor for tests, her abusers remain unpunished.

“I feel dirty, like I’m garbage” she said while hugging herself. There are not enough blankets, hugs, and words like “No, they are garbage. They are filthy garbage, not you” to make this trembling go away. She knows all of their names and is not afraid to report it, even if it means putting her life at risk.

She had tuberculosis, and ate horribly: Frozen meat, spoiled food, and lack of water. Officers claimed their budget was 2 thousand Reais per inmate, and Nina affirms that there is absolutely no way this money was actually getting to them. Reporting corruption is important, but it’s also important to stress that focusing on improving the system is pointless. There is no use in asking to be protected by a system that is created and sustained by people whose interests depend on keeping women like her dehumanized and with the lowest level of self-esteem.

When her daughter was molested, she took the law into her own hands, because she knew that the judicial system is not there to protect her rights. It is there to criminalize dissent likely to undermine the Government’s ability to function. Operating outside of the law is the way to combat the injustices perpetrated by the rule of law, to undermine the government’s ability to function (in the interests of the few), and to seize control of our own lives.

There is no better way to sustain rule of law, and the government’s ability to function, than to convince poor people they don’t deserve rights, that they don’t deserve protection. That’s because if rights were ensured to everyone, the Government would have to become something else entirely. It would have to cease to be.

For example, the right wing founder of the NGO Turning Point USA said: “You really think Rosa Parks was a hero? I guess you forgot that she is famous for breaking the law.” You would think that this proud white U.S. American reveres the constitution to such an extent that he believes there is no excuse to break the law, even when for a righteous cause. That’s not the case, because even he broke the law when his NGO endorsed republican politicians and shared personal information of its members with conservative campaigners.

What is the fundamental difference between Rosa Parks breaking the law, and this generic conservative white guy breaking the law? One broke the law in an attempt to undermine the government’s ability to function, and the other broke the law to protect the government’s ability to function. Institutional racism is an indispensable tool to make government function feasible. How? Borders, economic exploitation of “Developing” non-white countries, the for-profit prison system, the unpunished liquidation of the marginalized contingent of the population, and so on. This is the distinction between crimes you can get away with, and crimes you cannot.

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The crime women are most arrested for is drug trafficking. First of all, in Brazil, the line between a user and a trafficker is determined by judges, not by quantity. They claim that otherwise dealers will use this “ceiling” to skirt the law. In practice, this is used to criminalize people who they don’t believe can afford to use without selling: a criminalization of poverty. Our previous Minister of Justice has even admitted that distinguishing between a potential criminal and an innocent citizen is done by “looking at the person’s eyes“, which basically means a wide range of potential for discrimination based on race, class and gender.

Second of all, let’s ask ourselves why trafficking drugs is illegal in the first place. Drug trafficking is considered a danger to public health, like toxic chemicals in food, cosmetics, or air and water pollution. While some industries destroy the planet and our bodies with impunity, “drug” users and low level distributors are doing time in double digits (in a judicial system that not for a moment questions what really leads to addiction).

Volkswagen can cheat on their emission tests and get away with it with a relative slap on the wrist. Why? Because their crime was an attempt to sustain the fragile capitalist economy, which is crucial in keeping the government’s engine running smoothly. A Volkswagen executive has spent less time behind bars than a protester arrested for carrying two bottles of cleaning products (Schmidt got 40 months of supervised release while Rafael Braga got a proper 5 years, and a month in solitary confinement). Drug trafficking, much like protesting, is not there to benefit the government. It is an industry that sustains the sovereignty of the community the government treats as excess contingent.

The sovereignty of the ghetto is a massive threat to the status quo- to the state. Organized crime might be big enough to negotiate with the state, but the massive numbers of people doing time are those who benefit the least from being on either side of the negotiating table.

Nina’s battered self esteem is in the best interest of the government, because were she to have the will and resources to build sovereignty, she would use it to make the system that sought to destroy her and her family obsolete. Does anyone really think that if she suggests ways for the system to improve and says “please” that anyone will comply? Expecting her to beg is only a perpetuation of the abuse. We must cheer her courage to rise and resist, and never again demand obedience.

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Mirna Wabi-Sabi

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is co-editor of Gods&Radicals, and writes about decoloniality and anti-capitalism.


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Letters from a Human Being in a Cage

Aaron was only 17 when he entered the prison system. He turned 30 last December. His release date is not until 2037.

Aaron is not the person he was 13 years go. In spite of that, Aaron has no opportunity to show that he has changed. The system, and those who maintain it, simply do not care whether or not Aaron is reformed.

What follows are Aaron’s words. Only minor editorial changes have been made for readability.


Stranded

The feeling of being stranded, As if I was abducted by aliens and woke up to a deserted island, has unfortunately somehow become my life. Scratching my head, trying to recall the answers, hopefully I can find one that would resolve my anger of my new reality.

I scream for help in all directions, until my voice dies in the raspy chord. I shoot a flare, start a fire and spin my T-shirt over my head like a helicopter. Nothing, no help, no rescue, no solution, no second half of the movie hero comeback. Is that a ship I see? As rescuers gather me together, wrap me in one of those cool space blankets, one of them turns to me and says, “We’ve been looking …” Cut short midsentence and I’m jolted back into real life from the dreamworld I prefer to attend. I’m still stranded.

I reach into my right pocket in search of hope, or is the word “help”?My heart skips a beat and the feeling of joy flutters over me. My hands send a message to my head saying it recognizes the object it beholds. A phone and a couple of watermelon flavored gum wrappers appear in my hand before me. Eyes wide as saucers as I gaze upon items as if they were treasures lost from the holy Ark.

Power-on the object that beholds endless possibilities, new meaningful connections, and open world conversations. With hope I dial this number, then that number, and the results are both the same. Not permitted. Not allowed. Cut off  and closed off to the people of the world. Restricted. The numbers to my mother are punched in as quickly as they flash in my memory. The excitement jumps through me as I hear the phone ring. The sweetest sound of my beloved mother saying “Hello”, as she answers the call. Without hesitation, I say “Hello” back, only to be cut off by a robotic recording telling my mother that this call is from a stranded person on an island, that this call is being recorded, and last but not least will be charged $8 for 30 minutes. Then with an upbeat, sweetest robotic tone, asks if she will except the call.

My stomach growls in protest over the absence of real food substance. The watermelon flavored gum scent snakes itself from the empty wrappers, twirling, dancing and swirling into my hungry nose. In that moment, I’m transported to a time much simpler and joyous. Funny how one moment a piece of wrapper is just an object of trash, and now it has become my beloved machine of time transportation. To fill my guts, I know eat handfuls of dirt and chunks of tree bark. It’s gritty and nasty, and you never “get used to it”, but what are you going to doing when there’s no other option?

I seek out the unknown items that my left pocket might possess. Surprising enough, I find a radio with a pair of earbuds. Feeling uplifted and happy at the mere possibility that this might bring a new experience into my life, or at the least an old familiar sense of normality for a bit. Cross my fingers as I flip the on switch. Static. Nothing but static flows from the only working earbud. Sadly enough, I rock the solo earbud in my ear sitting, listening to the static, as if getting reacquainted with an old friend, not daring to turn it off. Static, the wish-wash white noise has become my sanctuary of solace. It is the only real thing to me at this point.

The loneliness is the worst part. Wishing someone, from somewhere, will break through the static and just speak. Speak tales of hope, something, anything that I can hold onto, a hope in the knowledge that we are going through this together, that everything will be okay. But nothing. No rainbows or streets paved in gold. Memories of girlfriends passed attack my conscious like antibodies to a flu virus, leaving me sick with regrets of not doing more, being more. What wouldn’t I give for one more hug from Amanda, a kiss from Valaria, or an “I love you” from Kristen.

The realization that is just me now on the island comes falling down on my head, squashing my alternate reality I could cartoon anvil. I’m broke down, beat up, and wore out, destined to live out my life stranded to a place they can only ruin me. No help is coming and holding hope will only make you drown in this sea of life.

F.M.L.

Peace + Love

Aaron


The U.S. imprisons more of our citizens than any other country in the world. We have 25% of the world’s prisoners, even though we have only 5% of the world’s population. The U.S. keeps over 2.4 million people behind bars. The percentage of imprisoned U.S. citizens has increased by 500% in the last 30 years.

One of the things I learned about from Aaron was prison lockdowns. If a prisoner kills themselves–not a rare thing apparently–the prison is locked down for weeks. This is the worst time for prisoners. They have to spend 24 hours a day in their cell, and they are only allowed one shower every three days. The following was written by Aaron after one such lockdown.


They Always Ask Why

During the first minutes of being able to breathe the first breath of fresh air coming off a 16 day lockdown, some said, “We were on lockdown because they are tired of the incidents. And they want to know why?” So this intrigued me. How could I ever express something so deep on paper?

How can I express the reason why people kill themselves, OD, stab, fight, use drugs? How can I tell you we are in pain that you feel nothing but indifference towards us. It’s human as well as animal nature to relieve the pain one is feeling. A wolf will chew off its own leg to escape the pain of being confined and trapped in the snare.

How can I express in words the emotion that one feels when he tells his mother and other loved ones that they will die when the last place seeing them alive is in a prison visiting room?

What words can I use to describe the emotion of neverending loss and desertion and expanding separation from our loved ones, when this is the time we need to stay connected with them the most?

How can I express the feelings of strangers looking at you but not seeing you? Like you have become something less than human, not even worthy of eye contact. As others watch us gobble down vending machine gas station food like it is a four-star plate in shock.

How can one dictate to another the death of hopelessness of gaining a second chance? No matter how much I progress, change and accomplish set goals, I will always be judged on my past. No matter how much I change, I will never be able to change the past.

How do you put into words to explain the mixture of rage and despair when one sees a huge sign saying “Grand Opening” on the new building that is used to kill us?

How do you describe the frustration of wanting to do good, but are rarely given the opportunities. Or the anxiety that transforms into anger from dealing with psych patients and those who have yet to become conscious enough to change themselves?

My only true question that I seek to find the knowledge to understand is this: How do you justify putting another human being in a cage with no real intentions or efforts to try to help reform them, but simply left to their own devices, full of false hope, slim future prospect and told to navigate through a psych ward daily, while expecting us not to do bad?

F.M.L.

Aaron


I admit, when I first heard about Aaron, I wondered what he had done to be in prison. For some reason, this seemed like the most important question. I think I needed some justification for Aaron’s imprisonment, so I could go back to not thinking about it. I even went so far as to look up what Aaron had done. But it didn’t make me feel any better, because I couldn’t reconcile my image of the person who committed that crime with the image of Aaron which was forming in my mind as I read his words.

The more I read what Aaron wrote, the more I realized that “What did he do?” is the wrong question. The right question is “Who is he?” Who is Aaron? Not who was he 13 years ago? Who is he now? If we are going to try to justify someone being locked in a cage, shouldn’t that be the question? Not what did they do in the past? But who are they today? 


My Cage

Cages come in all different sizes. Some are big and hold tigers. Others are small and stop birds from flying. My cage is built from three concrete walls and a set of steel bars. It’s the size of someone’s small bathroom, and like all cages, it has a slot for food.

Some people say that the mind can be free while the body is locked away. Hold on while I pick up my imaginary phone and call bullshit. I believe that is just a human method and way of dealing with being trapped in a cage. Let’s face it, your mind can drift away to dreamland as much as it wants. When you blink and come back to your physical self, it’s still behind bars.

People claim there is a lower self and a higher self, a battle between good and bad on the moral scale of standards. I believe they overlooked or forgot to add the category of the animal self. I can understand why they made this mistake. One has to live a life in a cage to get it.

As a dog confined in a cage will bark fiercely when they see a person and then whimper and cry when they go out of sight, I have become that animal, for I now know what they are going through. The wide range of the emotional kaleidoscope: hell’s rage to the sadness of a broken heart, the loneliness of complete isolation to the thoughts of suicide, from the deepest despair. A pit of endless hopelessness that swallows men whole like a sinkhole, placed upon the shoulders of broken humans to bear. Human dignity stripped away and lost like smoke in the air.

Is a human being meant to be placed in the cage, locked away day upon days? Have I been downgraded and reclassed to some sort of weird animal status? Or has this cage brought the animal to the surface, with the rage I now feel? Has my cage transformed my humanity to animality, or is that a story they spin to justify the means to the action? When I flip on Animal Planet, will I see myself in caged habitat? Or will I flip on MSNBC’s”lockup” to compare another caged life with my own.

The new exhibit and slideshow. Come see the tactics to break the human. Push-Paul-Bend-Snap. Minds break and the animal self flows. Tiers upon tiers of cages filled with damaged human souls, transforming into animals as a prison industry growth. No reform for us. Just time in our cage to reflect and grow into our new animal ways.

Don’t get me wrong. Some truly belong here. But what’s good for the goose is not good for the gander. True testament from myself: time in a cage can help transform and change a life. But there is a truth of too much of something can be a bad thing. Harm comes after the help of a changed life, once self reformed and reborn into a new person. The end result is still the same: locked away and endless time in my cage.

Some people question then what’s the point, and end up taking own life. Where is the second chance, the fruit of my labor of change? The raw truth is nobody cares and I have become that dog placed back into the cage.

F.M.L.


The prison administrators have recently changed how the prisoners receive their mail. When they receive a letter for a prisoner, the prison now copies the letter and gives the copy, not the original, to the prisoner. This might seem like an insignificant thing, but it’s not. Because they only get a photocopy, the prisoners can no longer feel the paper that their loves one’s touched, no longer trace the penstrokes their parents or their children made. They can no longer smell an old familiar smell from an aunt or grandmother’s house or the perfume sprayed on the paper by a girlfriend or a wife.  It’s just one more barrier placed between them and the rest of us.

If you would like to write a letter to Aaron, you can scan it and email to me at allergicpagan@gmail.com and I will see that it is delivered to Aaron.

My gratitude to Pete O’Day, who shared Aaron’s letters with me. Pete helps facilitate a Buddhist mediation group at a prison where he met Aaron.


John Halstead

halsteadJohn Halstead is a native of the southern Laurentian bioregion and lives in Northwest Indiana, near Chicago. He is one of the founders of 350 Indiana-Calumet, which works to organize resistance to the fossil fuel industry in the Region. John was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment”. He strives to live up to the challenge posed by the statement through his writing and activism. John has written for numerous online platforms, including Patheos, Huffington Post, PrayWithYourFeet.org, and here at Gods & Radicals. He is Editor-at-Large of HumanisticPaganism.com. John also edited the anthology, Godless Paganism: Voices of Non-Theistic Pagans. He is also a Shaper of the Earthseed community which can be found at GodisChange.org.


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A Tribute to Winnie Mandela

Winnie Mandela passed away April 2nd, 2018. Here is a note, and tribute, by the Pan-Africanist school in Brazil that was named after her.

English Translation Here

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NOTA DA REAJA

À GRANDE RAINHA AFRICANA WINNIE MANDELA, NOSSO FAROL.

 “Para alimentar a luta, tinha de me expor à violência e à brutalidade do apartheid.”
Winnie Mandela

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela representou e representará para nós da Reaja, um farol, uma importante referência a qual nos mostra caminhos para uma prática de defesa dos interesses do nossos povo em meio a um tempo de miragens tecnológicas e traições políticas do propósito da luta negra no Brasil.

Winnie Mandela, o imponente nome que daos ao nosso quilombo de libertação forjado por pretos e pretas conscientes de sua história político racial se materializa pela nossa coragem de erigir um território livre de qualquer violência a qual o povo preto sempre esteve imerso. Seguimos com nossas próprias condições, construindo teoria a partir de nossas vidas e mortes, desgraça, servidão, drogas e ignorância, mas sobretudo a partir de práticas de resistência e libertação negra.

A nossa luta política é baseada em serviços comunitários e efetivo enfrentamento ao poder que tenta a todo custo nos eliminar da face da terra e diminuir nossa humanidade, nos utilizando como capachos e serviçais de pautas e propósitos que não nos pertencem, de lutas que não garantirão nossa libertação coletiva. Winnie Mandela acende em nós todos os dias o compromisso de construirmos um projeto de libertação de nosso povo. Winnie Madikizela Mandela é nossa mais pura inspiração.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela que nos confiou seu nome e sua trajetória para imortalizarmos na história segue firme e intacta em nossas mentes, corpos pretos, braços e pernas que trabalham arduamente dia após dia, nas madrugadas ou no sol escaldante das tardes da cidade túmulo. Militantes envoltos em um sonho coletivo de resgate de nossa autonomia enquanto povo, de nossa independência política sem a tutela de brancos acadêmicos ditando o que devemos ser ou fazer, de nossa autodeterminação sem vagos momentos ociosos, de solidariedade entre nós pretos e pretas.

Nossa Escola de Formação Quilombista e Panafricanista é o núcleo mais avançado de nossa ação, junto com o Núcleo de Familiares de Vítimas do Estado, Núcleo de Familiares e Amigos de Presos e Presas, e nossas ações permanentes de solidariedade e autodefesa. Agora que a Mãe da nação africana volta a sua massa de origem, devemos honrar ainda mais sua história de vida totalmente dedicada a luta de libertação africana.

Em toda sua trajetória política Winnie Madikizela-Mandela jamais recuou de seu dever histórico de enfrentar as forças do apartheid em Soweto, onde nos anos 70 os jovens estudantes negros e negras protagonizaram o mais importante levante contra a opressão branca na África do Sul. A luta e a oposição desses estudantes baseava-se nas péssimas condições de educação, na educação de última categoria dedicada aos africanos e na violência cotidiana. Os jovens foram as ruas e enfrentaram balas com pedras, gritos e cantos tradicionais. Impulsionando e criando toda esta força, estava Winnie Mandela.

Ela é a senhora maior da 4° Internacional Garveista, da qual somos filiadas. Ela é a grande Mãe da rebelião preta em todo mundo. Seu pensamento e sua prática política tem nos animado desde becos e vielas e cadeias e favelas onde combatemos a continuidade perversa da escravização.

Aprendemos com sua luta interminável de libertação que devemos proceder honrando nossos princípios de guerra contra a supremacia branca. Ela nos ensinou que a luta é contínua e regada a muita dor e sangue de ambos os lados, de inimigos e de lutadores radicais dispostos a dar a vida pela conquista de um pedaço de terra ou a libertação de um irmão encarcerado nas catacumbas do sistema prisional ou do acalanto de uma mãe que grita pela perda de seu filho. Somos combatentes dispostas a retomar toda a glória dos tempos áureos das terras negras africanas.

Estamos formando um exército preto de mulheres e homens capazes de reconhecer na sua comunidade o espelho necessário para erguer novas estruturas e instituições com nossos métodos de luta real, com bases em ação comunitária em todos os lugares onde o nosso povo se encontra.

Seguimos atentas e atentos as armadilhas de nossos inimigos. Estamos na disposição para devastar a linha auxiliar a qualquer custo. Não negociamos nossas dores como uma mercadoria barata do período colonial, não barganhamos migalhas usando nossas dores e nossos mortos e história como meros ratos lotados em cargos de governo a espera de cadeiras vagas. Somos a rua, a cadeia, os becos, a noite. Guiamos nossa esperança através do sangue bruto derramado no barro quente sob nossos pés. Suamos como operários escultores de nossa liberdade. Sonhamos com nosso lar repleto de gente preta livre, mas acima de tudo projetamos a edificação de um império sólido cravado na rocha profunda com as insígnias eternas de “Reaja ou Será Morta, Reaja ou Será Morto”.

Salvador, abril de 2018.


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ENGLISH TRANSLATION

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NOTE FROM THE POLITICAL ORGANIZATION REACT OR DIE

TO THE GREAT AFRICAN QUEEN WINNIE MANDELA, OUR BEACON.

“To fuel the struggle, I had to expose myself to the violence and brutality of apartheid.”
Winnie Mandela

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela represented and will represent to us at Reaja (React or Die), a beacon, an important reference which shows us ways to a practice of defending the interests of our people, in a time of technological mirages and political betrayals of the purpose of the black struggle in Brazil.

Winnie Mandela, the imposing name we give to our quilombo of liberation, forged by blacks conscious of their racial-political history, is materialized by our courage to build a territory free of any violence, which black people have always been immersed in. We continue with our own conditions, building theory from our lives and deaths, disgrace, servitude, drugs and ignorance, but especially from practices of resistance and black liberation.

Our political struggle is based on communitarian services and effective confrontation with the power that tries at all costs to eliminate us from the face of the earth, and to diminish our humanity, using us as mats and servants of interests and agendas that are not ours, of struggles that will not guarantee our collective liberation. Winnie Mandela shines a light every day at the commitment to build a project of liberation of our people. Winnie Madikizela Mandela is our purest inspiration.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who entrusted us with her name and her journey, is immortalized in history and follows steadily and intact in our minds, black bodies, arms and legs that work hard day after day till dawn, at the scorching sun of the tomb town afternoons. Militants enveloped in a collective dream of rescuing our autonomy as people, of our political independence, without the tutelage of white academics dictating what we should be or do, of our self-determination without vague idle moments, of solidarity between us black people.

Our Quilombist and Panafricanist Training School is the most advanced nucleus of our action, together with the Nucleus of Relatives of Victims of the State, Nucleus of Family and Friends of Prisoners (ASFAP-Bahia), and our permanent actions of solidarity and self-defense. Now that the Mother of the African nation returns to her place of origin, we must honor even more her life story, which was so completely dedicated to the African liberation struggle.

Throughout her political career, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela never backed down from her historic duty to confront the forces of apartheid in Soweto, where in the 1970s young black students staged the most important uprising against white oppression in South Africa. The opposition of these students was based on the poor conditions of education, the last-category education dedicated to Africans, and daily violence. The youth went to the streets and faced bullets with rocks, shouts, and traditional songs. Boosting and creating all this force was Winnie Mandela.

She is the senior lady of the 4th Garveyst International, of which we are affiliated. She is the great Mother of black rebellion in the whole world. Her thinking and her political practice has animated us from alleys and favelas, prisons and chains, where we fight the perverse continuity of enslavement.

We learn from her endless struggle for liberation that we must proceed by honoring our principles of war against white supremacy. She taught us that the struggle is continuous and watered with much pain and blood on both sides, from enemies and radical fighters willing to give their lives for the conquest of a piece of land, or the release of an imprisoned brother in the catacombs of the prison system, or the lullaby of a mother screaming over the loss of her child. We are fighters ready to take back all the glory of the golden times of the black African lands.

We are forming a black army of women and men capable of recognizing in their community the mirror necessary to erect new structures and institutions with our methods of true fight, grounded in community action wherever our people find themselves.

We remain attentive to the traps of our enemies. We are willing to devastate aid-routes at any cost. We do not trade our pains as cheap merchandise from the colonial period, we do not bargain for crumbs using our pains, and our dead, and history, as mere rats crowded into government offices waiting for vacant seats. We are the street, the chain, the alleys, the night. We guide our hope through the raw blood spilled in the hot clay under our feet. We sweat like working sculptors of our freedom. We dream of our home full of free black people, but most of all, we project the building of a solid empire embedded in the deep rock with the eternal insignia of “React or Die”.

Salvador, Brazil – April 2018.


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Note on Violations of Prisoners’ Rights

Fighting “against the genocide of black people, and its derivations, such as the prison enterprise which drives forward the process of African enslavement; outstanding in memory, history and in the bodies of black people in Brazil.”

From the political organization React or Die

English Translation Here

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Nota da ASFAP/BA sobre as recentes violações aos direitos dos presos.

Governo e agentes penitenciários devem resolver suas questões sem penalizar prisioneiras, prisioneiros e seus familiares.

“Art. 10. A assistência ao preso e ao internado é dever do Estado, objetivando prevenir o crime e orientar o retorno à convivência em sociedade.”

“Art. 12. A assistência material ao preso e ao internado consistirá no fornecimento de alimentação, vestuário e instalações higiênicas.”

“Art. 13. O estabelecimento disporá de instalações e serviços que atendam aos presos nas suas necessidades pessoais, além de locais destinados à venda de produtos e objetos permitidos e não fornecidos pela Administração.”

(Lei de Execução Penal, Lei 7.210/1984)

A Associação de Familiares e Amigos de Presos e Presas do Estado da Bahia (ASFAP/BA) atua desde 2006 no interior do sistema prisional baiano, amparando e apoiando prisioneiros, egressos e seus familiares. A ASFAP/BA é um núcleo avançado de lutas da Reaja Organização política e tem como objetivo lutar contra o genocídio do povo negro e suas derivações, a exemplo do empreendimento carcerário que tem como grande impulsionador o processo de escravização africana, marcante na memória, história e nos corpos de negros e negras no Brasil.

Este documento tem o objetivo de chamar a atenção de militantes do movimento negro e pan-africanistas, ativistas de direitos humanos, instituições de defesa de direitos humanos e demais cidadãos e cidadãs para o grave quadro de violação aos direitos das pessoas privadas de liberdade que vem ocorrendo no estado da Bahia.

Passado o Fórum Social Mundial com toda pirotecnia de intermináveis debates e até reprodução em 3D de uma cela de cadeia, apresentamos o drama real que precisa de uma ação prática para que os prisioneiros e as prisioneiras e os seus familiares não sofram violências e violações atualmente tão criticadas por instituições e mentes democráticas diante da prisão de uma personalidade muito conhecida no Brasil.

Mais uma vez, o Governo do estado da Bahia através de sua Secretaria de Administração Penitenciária, a SEAP, em desacordo trabalhista com o sindicato dos agentes penitenciários impõem uma série de limitações as pessoas presas e seus familiares. Vemos nitidamente , que além da pena estabelecida a cada uma das pessoas que se encontram presas, pratica-se a dupla punição e desvio de pena quando da negação de direitos garantidos pela Lei de Execução Penal, a LEP. Para além das restrições do que os parentes podem ou não levar para os detentos, permanecem e se agravam violações aos direitos dos apenados, incluindo-se aí abusos cometidos durante as visitas.

A Associação de Familiares e Amigos de Prisioneiros e Prisioneiras do Estado da Bahia, analisando a situação das unidades prisionais da Bahia, tem forte convicção que os poderes de Estado não cumprem suas responsabilidades previstas na LEP e ignoram também o documento da Organização das Nações Unidas (ONU) que trata das prisões e estabelece as Regras Mínimas para o Tratamento de Reclusos, da qual o Brasil é signatário. No item 20 do documento está expresso que a “administração deve fornecer a cada recluso, em horas determinadas, alimentação de valor nutritivo adequado à saúde e à robustez física, de qualidade e bem preparada e servida”. E ressalta que “todos os reclusos devem ter a possibilidade de se prover com água potável sempre que necessário”.

A qualidade da alimentação – constata-se inclusive comida em decomposição, além de carnes servidas cruas – é uma reclamação comum e permanente nas manifestações de parentes, tanto de unidades prisionais da capital, como do interior.

A possibilidade dos familiares prepararem e levarem refeições para seus entes queridos durante os dias de visita deve ser encarado como uma concessão estatal que ajuda a ressocialização do apenado, já que essa ressocialização como preconizado por lei é dever do Estado e da sociedade, sendo a família parte fundamental desse vínculo, além de levar em conta os hábitos culturais, das quais a alimentação é parte.

A restrição da entrada de alimentos associada as várias queixas quanto a qualidade das refeições fornecidas pelas unidades prisionais, o não fornecimento de água potável, a restrição a saída para atendimentos médico, odontológico, realização de exames e procedimentos, a opressão praticada por agentes penitenciários contra os familiares, articulado pelo sindicato que de forma justa busca do governo a ampliação de seus quadros e condições adequadas de trabalho, torna presas e presos o lado mais fraco da corda nesta luta por direitos. Isto não deveria ser feito retirando os direitos das pessoas presas e apostando no sofrimento de prisioneiros e na humilhação de familiares, mas numa mesa de negociação trabalhista com o próprio governador. Tudo isso, juntando-se as péssimas condições das prisões – celas superlotadas, unidades com limitações estruturais, falta de fornecimento regular de material de higiene e farda, falta de dentista e outros profissionais, falta de medicações, entrada de guarnição militar fortemente armada com brucutus e cachorros treinados para a abertura e fechamento de unidades prisionais, disparando balas de borracha contra os internos, além de spray de pimenta em celas já fechadas, entre outros – gera um ambiente explosivo fundamental para um projeto em curso de militarização ou privatização do sistema. O governo anuncia agora a militarização da educação em todo Estado, essa militarização já existe no sistema prisional sob o silêncio das instituições que deveriam zelar pelas instituições democráticas. Se ninguém se manifesta, nós falaremos e chamaremos a atenção para ver se a luta dos oprimidos terá tantos recursos como a prisão de quem dispõem de milhões em recursos para advogados defenderem seus interesses.

Em audiência pública organizada pela ASFAP-BA no mês de maio de 2016 familiares já pontuavam problemas com alimentação que agora se repetem. Diziam:

“Se antes essa situação era amenizada com mantimentos levados pela família em dias de visita, agora nem isso. A gente podia levar arroz, óleo, outras coisas que matavam a fome de nossos maridos e filhos. Desde o final de março, só deixam entrar três pacotes de biscoito por semana, uma garrafa de suco, ou refrigerante, uma carteira de cigarros por dia de visita, dois rolos de papel higiênico a cada duas semanas, lençol estampado (não há explicação do motivo de não aceitação de roupas de cama lisas), sabonete (desde que não sejam branco e amarelo – restrição igualmente sem explicação plausível) e duas garrafas de água”.

É importante frisar que esse quadro veio se agravando de 2016 para cá. O que agrava o quadro de violação a direitos básicos de prisioneiros.

Repete-se em 2018 as mesmas denúncias formuladas em 2016, com agravos de desrespeito, violência psicológica contra familiares, uso desproporcional da força policial e uma tática violenta dos agentes penitenciários de criar uma suposta operação de legalidade para disfarçar uma ação calculada de pressão contra prisioneiros e seus familiares, chamando a atenção do governo para seus interesses trabalhistas.

“Na revista, jogam fora nossa comida, ou nos obrigam a colocar num saco plástico, tudo misturado. Nos tratam como bichos e mesmo o que entra, não é suficiente para o almoço com nossos maridos e filhos”.

“Como eu vou comer e deixar ele (preso) com fome, ainda mais sabendo de toda a situação lá dentro?”

A preocupação dos familiares e de defensores de direitos humanos é com a saúde dos detentos, que recebem uma refeição contaminada.

Igualmente preocupante é o armazenamento de água da torneira em baldes – usada para banho e consumo. Como faltam água e luz com frequência nas unidades, os presos guardam água em recipientes abertos, favorecendo, inclusive a proliferação de mosquitos do Aedes Aegypti. Interessante ressaltar que dos 417 municípios da Bahia, apenas um (Mucugê) ainda não tinha registrado casos de dengue, chikungunya ou zika em 2016. Além disso, mais da metade das prisões baianas (no total 22) são antigas, têm mais de 10 anos de construção. A estrutura precária, a infestação de ratos e baratas, como relatado por familiares e a falta de higienização de caixas d’água só aumentam o risco de epidemias.

A saúde dos detentos é motivo de grave preocupação. Detentos com tuberculose e outras doenças infecciosas dividem cela com outros, ampliando o risco de contaminação. Demoram para receber atendimento adequado e quando são atendidos nem sempre tem as medicações que são prescritas. Os familiares tem que se desdobrar para comprar os remédios que garantam o tratamento dos presos. Muitos quando chegam ao atendimento tem que ser internados em hospitais em estado grave.

“O atendimento é precário. Antes, a gente podia levar remédio. Agora, até paracetamol tem que ter receita. Se alguém passar mal na sexta-feira, não levam para atendimento porque é dia de visita. Já vi presos vomitando sangue, outros urinando sangue, agentes carregando um detento que estava passando mal num carrinho de mão e também um outro morrer após uma convulsão no pátio”, relatou outra mulher.

Segundo ela, pelo menos dois cadeirantes estavam nesse presídio e dependiam dos companheiros de cela para tudo, como sair da cama e tomar banho, pegar as refeições. As direções das unidades, sem nenhuma base legal, também proibiram a entrada de adoçantes e outros alimentos para pessoas com diabetes e enfermidades similares. Para dificultar o ingresso desses produtos importantes para os portadores de doenças crônicas, só com receita médica, embora não exista nenhuma determinação no Brasil que exija receituário para venda de adoçantes em farmácias ou supermercados, por exemplo.

Um familiar de cadeirante relata que tem sido proibido de levar remédios e dietas, mesmo tendo relatório médico dispondo o contrário.

Há muito tempo a ASFAP/BA vem denunciando a precariedade no atendimento a saúde e nada muda, não existe uma base razoável de atendimento a saúde dentro dos princípios do SUS ou das diretrizes e protocolos do Plano Nacional de Saúde do Sistema Penitenciário.

Assim, estamos iniciando uma jornada de lutas por justiça e pelos direitos básicos de nossos familiares encarcerados e nossos próprios direitos violados uma vez que não somos criminosas e nem sentenciadas. As penas de nossos cônjuges e familiares não podem nos alcançar, estamos exercendo um direito de lutar pelos interesses de sujeitos cuja voz não tem sido ouvida e que vem enfrentando toda sorte de violações aos seus direitos.

Exigimos das instâncias do governo que tratam dos direitos humanos e da administração prisional que mais uma vez nos receba para tratarmos de assunto de nosso total interesse.

Solicitamos a Secretaria Estadual de Administração Penitenciária e Ressocialização, a Excelentíssima Juíza da Vara de Execução Penal, a Defensoria Pública, a Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil e a Superintendência de Direitos Humanos uma reunião conosco, familiares de presas e presos, para abrir este processo de escuta e participação que é princípio do governo do Estado da Bahia e estabeleçamos um diálogo.

Solicitamos aos movimentos sociais, acadêmicos, personalidades das redes sociais e organizações de direitos humanos solidariedade a uma luta justa que travamos.

Salvador, Abril de 2018.


ASFAP- BA/ Reaja Organização Política

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ENGLISH TRANSLATION

penitenciaria_almiro

Note from ASFAP-Bahia on recent violations of prisoners’ rights.

Government and penitentiary agents should resolve their issues without penalizing prisoners and their families.

“Article 10. Assistance to the inmate and the internee is the duty of the State, with the purpose of preventing crime and guiding the return to coexistence in society.”

“Article 12. Physical assistance to the inmate and the internee shall consist of the provision of food, clothing and hygienic facilities.”

“Article 13. The establishment shall have facilities and services that meet the prisoners in their personal needs, as well as places destined to the sale of products and objects permitted and not provided by the Administration.”

(Criminal Enforcement Law, Law 7,210 / 1984)

The Association of Relatives and Friends of Prisoners of the State of Bahia (ASFAP-Bahia) has been working inside the Bahia State prison system since 2006, protecting and supporting prisoners, detainees and their families. The ASFAP-Bahia is an advanced nucleus of the Political Organization Reaja ou Será Morta (React or Die) and aims to fight against the genocide of black people, and its derivations, such as the prison enterprise which drives forward the process of African enslavement; outstanding in memory, history and in the bodies of black people in Brazil.

This document aims to bring to the attention of black and pan-Africanist activists, human rights activists, human rights institutions and other citizens, the serious violation of the rights of persons deprived of their liberty in the state of Bahia [1].

After the Fórum Social Mundial (World Social Forum) with all the pyrotechnics of endless debates and even a 3D reproduction of a jail cell, we present the real drama that requires practical action so that prisoners and their families do not suffer from the violence and violations currently criticized by institutions and democratic minds in sight of the arrest of a very well-known personality in Brazil [2].

Once again, the Government of the State of Bahia, through its Secretariat of Penitentiary Administration, SEAP, in a labor dispute with the union of prison agents, impose a series of limitations on prisoners and their families. We clearly see that in addition to the punishment established for each one of the people who are imprisoned, the double punishment and deviation of sentence is practiced when denying the rights guaranteed by the Penal Execution Law, the LEP. In addition to the restrictions of what relatives may or may not bring to the detainees, violations of the rights of the prisoners remain, including abuses committed during visits.

The Association of Relatives and Friends of Prisoners of the State of Bahia, in analyzing the situation of the prison units in Bahia, is strongly convinced that State powers do not fulfill their responsibilities under the LEP and also ignore the United Nations document (UN) which deals with prisons and establishes the Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, to which Brazil is a signatory. Section 20 of the document states that “management shall provide each prisoner, at specified times, with nutritional value adequate to health and physical strength, of quality, and well prepared and served”. It emphasizes that “all prisoners should be able to provide themselves with clean water whenever necessary.”

The quality of food – including rotten food, as well as raw meat served – is a common and permanent complaint in the demonstrations of relatives at prison units in the capital and in the inland of the State.

The possibility for family members to prepare and take meals to their loved ones during the visiting days should be considered a state concession that helps the re-socialization of the confined person, since this re-socialization is put forward by law as a duty of the State and of society, the family being a fundamental part of this bond, in addition to taking into account the cultural habits which food is a part of.

The restriction of food intake associated with the various complaints regarding the quality of meals provided by the prison units; the non-provision of drinking water; the restriction of exits for medical and dental examinations and procedures; the oppression practiced by penitentiary agents against the family members, as articulated by the union that in a fair search for the government to expand their cadres and ensure adequate working conditions; makes prisoners the weaker side of the fight in this struggle for rights. This should not be done by withdrawing the rights of prisoners, betting on the suffering of prisoners, and the humiliation of family members, but instead at a negotiating table with the governor himself.

All this, together with the poor conditions of the prisons – overcrowded cells; units with structural limitations; lack of regular supply of hygiene materials and uniforms; lack of dentists and other professionals; lack of medications; entrance of heavily armed military force with brutality and trained dogs for the opening and closing of prison units; firing rubber bullets at inmates, and pepper spray in closed cells; among others things – create a fundamentally explosive environment as an ongoing project of militarization or privatization of the system. The government now announces the militarization of education in every state, this militarization already exists in the prison system under the silence of the institutions that should care for democratic institutions. If nobody speaks up, we will speak and call attention to see if the struggle of the oppressed will have as many resources as the arrest of those who have millions in resources for lawyers to defend their interests.

In a public hearing organized by ASFAP-Bahia in May 2016, family members already reported problems with food that are now repeating themselves. They said:

“If before this situation was mitigated with food brought by the family on visiting days, now we don’t even have that. We could carry rice, oil, other things that would satisfy the hunger of our husbands and children. Since the end of March, only three packets of biscuits per week, a bottle of juice, or soda, a pack of cigarettes per day of visit, two rolls of toilet paper every two weeks, printed sheets (there is no explanation for why not accept plain bed linen), soap (provided they are not white and yellow – a restriction also without plausible explanation) and two bottles of water.”

It is important to emphasize that this situation has worsened from 2016 to now, which aggravates the framework of violation of basic prisoners’ rights.

The same denunciations made in 2016 are repeated in 2018, about disrespect, psychological violence against family members, disproportionate use of the police force and violent tactics by prison agents to create a supposed legality operation to disguise a calculated action of pressure against prisoners and their families, drawing government attention to their labor interests.

“In the search, they throw away our food, or we are forced to put it in a plastic bag, everything mixed together. They treat us like animals and even what comes in is not enough for lunch with our husbands and children.”

“How am I going to eat and leave him (stuck) hungry, especially knowing of the whole situation in there?”

The concern of family members and human rights defenders is with the health of detainees who receive a contaminated meal.

Equally troubling is the storage of tap water in buckets – used for bathing and drinking. As water and light are often lacking in the units, prisoners store water in open containers, favoring the proliferation of Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes. It’s interesting to note that of the 417 municipalities in Bahia, only one (Mucugê) had not yet registered cases of dengue, chikungunya or zika in 2016. In addition, more than half of prisons in Bahia (22 in all) are old: built more than 10 years ago. The precarious structure, infestation of rats and cockroaches, as reported by relatives, and the lack of sanitation of water boxes only increase the risk of epidemics.

The health of detainees is a matter of grave concern. Detainees with tuberculosis and other infectious diseases share cells with others, increasing the risk of contamination. They receive delayed adequate care and when they are attended to they do not always have the medications that must be prescribed. Relatives have to work together to buy the medicines that will guarantee the treatment of prisoners. Many people who arrive at the hospital are admitted in serious condition.

“The service is precarious. Before, we could take medicine. Even paracetamol (aspirin) has to have a prescription. If someone gets sick on Friday, they do not take them to customer service because it is visiting day. I have seen prisoners vomiting blood, others urinating blood, officers carrying a detainee who was completely sick in a wheelbarrow and also another dying after a seizure in the yard.”

(As reports another woman.)

According to her, at least two wheelchair users were in this prison and depended on their cellmates for everything, such as getting out of bed and taking a shower, to eat their meals. The directions of the units, without any legal basis, also prohibited the entry of sweeteners and other foods for people with diabetes and similar diseases. Making things even more difficult, the entry of these important products for those with chronic diseases requires a prescription, although there is no requirement in Brazil for prescription for the sale of sweeteners in pharmacies or supermarkets, for example.

A family member of a wheelchair user reports that he has been banned from taking medicines and diets, even though he has a medical report stating otherwise.

The ASFAP-Bahia has long denounced the precariousness of health care and nothing changes, there is no reasonable basis for health care within the principles of SUS (Medicare) or the guidelines and protocols of the National Health Plan of the Penitentiary System.

Thus, we are starting a journey of justice struggles and the basic rights of our incarcerated family members, and our own violated rights since we are neither criminals nor sentenced. The sentences of our spouses and relatives can not reach us, we are exercising a right to fight for the interests of subjects whose voice has not been heard and who have been facing all kinds of violations of their rights.

We demand from the government action that deals with human rights and the prison administration to once again receive us to deal with matters of our complete interest.

We request the State Secretariat for Penitentiary Administration and Re-socialization, the Honorable Judge of the Criminal Execution Court, the Public Defender’s Office, the Brazilian Bar Association, and the Human Rights Superintendency a meeting with us, relatives of prisoners, to open this process of listening and participation that is the principle of the government of the State of Bahia and to establish a dialogue.

We call on social movements, academics, social network personalities and human rights organizations to stand up for a fair fight.

Salvador, Brazil – April 2018.


[1] Bahia:

was the first point of contact the Portuguese had with what became the Brazilian colony. Its capital, Salvador, was Brazil’s first capital. It’s now the city with the most African descendants outside of Africa (an estimated 80% of the population). Though difficult to cite precisely, Salvador’s port was one to receive the most enslaved Africans (Rio de Janeiro being second). Only in the second half of the 1700’s, almost one million Africans came to Brazil, half of which came to Salvador (the others to Rio and other parts of the coast). Of the almost 5 million total enslaved Africans that came to Brazil during the nearly 500 years of Colonialism, Salvador is undoubtedly the city most affected by this horrific event in history, a legacy and a reality that is still very much alive today.

The Northeast region in Brazil and the rural areas of Bahia are also known for severe droughts that lead to crippling poverty in the agricultural community and mass migration. Because of this, people from there suffer classist discrimination in the Southeast region of Brazil (Rio/São Paulo) when they go south looking for new opportunities. This drought is believed to be a result of an ecosystem destabilization caused by the deforestation of the Amazon forest (in the North of the country).

Bahia is incredibly culturally relevant to Brazil, as the birthplace of much of the cultural and spiritual practices that defines Brazilian identity today. It represents a large portion of the Brazilian population although it’s overshadowed by the Southeast due to their western influence and appeal (which is a blatant example of Imperialistic forces in the country).

[2] Lula:

A presidential candidate, Lula, that is certain to win if he runs for office this year, is to be arrested just before he gets a chance to be on the ballot. To many Brazilians this is representative of the failure of the Democratic system and evidence of a coup. To make matters worse, right-wing politicians and generals are publicly stating that if Lula somehow runs from behind bars there will be no choice but to issue military intervention.


ASFAP-Bahia / Reaja Organização Política (React or Die)

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To Make the Voice of the Criminal Audible

Jean Genet’s text “The Criminal Child,” previously unavailable in English, was translated and published in December 2015. An anonymous commentary on the text, included as an afterword within the same pamphlet, reads “The Criminal Child” as an intricately coded set of instructions for magical initiation and ordeal.

“The Criminal Child” was originally written in 1948 as a speech to be read on a radio show in order to address reforms to France’s youth prisons that had been proposed at the time. It was rejected and never read on the air. When Genet published the censored text the following year, he wrote in his introduction, “I would have liked to make the voice of the criminal audible. Not his plaint; rather his song of glory.” 1

Genet, who had spent two and a half years as a teenager imprisoned in France’s notorious Mettray penal colony (punctuated by a brief but glorious escape), clearly intended to prove himself the exception to Nietzsche’s observations that “the criminal is often enough not equal to his deed: he extenuates and maligns it,” and that “the advocates of a criminal are seldom artists enough to turn the beautiful terribleness of the deed to the advantage of the doer.” 2

Though perhaps expected to be supportive of prison reforms due to his own past experience, Genet instead recalled that he and his fellow delinquents took pride in the harshness of their treatment, and were ashamed to admit to light sentences: “It’s with a sort of shame that the child confesses that they have just acquitted him or that they have condemned him to a light sentence. He wishes for rigor. He demands it.” 3  From my own teenage years, I can corroborate this worldview.

Of course, Genet never claimed that all incarcerated youth share this adversarial attitude. As an adult and a well-respected writer, he (re)visited a youth prison where the director pointed out to him a “scout team he formed to reward the most docile children.” Scathingly, Genet wrote that these were not the “chosen” of whom he spoke:

Looking at those twelve kids, it was clear that none of them was chosen, elected, so as to take on some audacious expedition, even an entirely imaginary one. But I knew that in the interior of the Penitentiary, in spite of the educators, there existed groups, gangs really, where the bond, what made them stick together, was friendship, audacity, ruse, insolence, a taste for laziness, an air about the forehead at once somber and joyful—this taste for adventure against the rules of the Good.5

For this latter category of youth, Genet argued that imprisonment is an ordeal: “Their demand is that the ordeal be terrible—so as, perhaps, to exhaust an impatient need for heroism.” 6 The youth prison is imagined to be a “corner of the world from which you don’t come back.” 7 And this premonition conceals an underlying, occult truth: “In fact, you didn’t come back. When you came back, you were someone else. You had come across a blazing fire.” 8

His Unique Magical System

“Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,’ ” the exegetical essay published alongside Genet’s text, treats Genet as a sorcerer: “Here Genet details some of the workings of his own internal cosmology, the rites and methods of his unique magical system.” 9

Genet’s system of “criminal rites” offers initiation “not into an order, but into an adventure;” nonetheless, like any initiatory system, it is “ineffable to the uninitiated, but shared between himself and other youthful offenders.” 10

The author(s) of “Notes” fill five pages with their distillation of Genet’s occultism. I cannot quote them in their entirety here, so I must pour these words through yet another alembic:

The youth prison is Genet’s fountain of memory, but each of us has our own clandestine world into which we were initiated as youth. It was there in those spaces that we learned magic as a force of liberation, self-creation, and world-building. Though our childhoods are gone, we can access that space again in remembrance and invocation.11

This space is what Genet called “the nocturnal part of man, which you cannot explore, which you cannot enter unless you are armed, unless you are coated, embalmed, unless you are covered with all the ornaments of language.” 12 Genet’s “ritual work prepares the initiate to enter this nocturnal space.” 13

Drawing heavily upon Genet’s novel Miracle of the Rose, “Notes” observes that this “nocturnal heaven” is populated “with spirits, demons, deities, ancestors, and figures from his past with blue eagles carved across their chests, youths who stand ‘the way Mercury is depicted.‘” 14 You know the look.

Mercury_Barcelona
Mercury, Barcelona. Photo Credit: Ed Uthman, Flickr.

And how does one arm oneself to enter this “nocturnal heaven?” The same prison director who introduced Genet to the “scout team” of “the most docile children” also showed him a collection of improvised knives, but patronizingly confided in Genet that he didn’t really believe in the need to confiscate the knives: they were made of tin, and therefore harmless.

In his mind, Genet could only laugh at the jailer’s obliviousness—confiscating the knives was indeed pointless, but they were far from harmless, and would only be replaced by more dangerous weapons:

Did he not know that, the more it deviates from its practical destination, the more the object is transformed, becoming a symbol? […] What is the point of taking it from him? The child will choose another object to signify murder, something apparently more benign, and if someone doesn’t take that as well, he’ll keep in himself, preciously, the more precise image of the weapon.15

Armed with symbols, the initiate must “pay attention to signs and signs and sigils carved and painted onto walls—M.A.V. (Mort aux vaches), B.A.A.D.M. (Bonjour aux amis du malheur)—and read these as you’d read inscriptions on the walls of an ancient temple.” 16 “Notes” instructs the initiate to build a temple within as well: “Build your inner temple here and consecrate it to ‘amorous passion.’ In this temple you can now face your ordeal.”17

Small_Red_Rose
Public Domain. Wikimedia.

“Notes” recalls the eponymous flowers of Miracle of the Rose—in which Harcamone, convicted of murdering a prison guard, transformed “his chains into a garland of roses, one of which Genet clipped and concealed”—and further explicates the term “ordeal” by quoting Raven Kaldera:

Take the rose into your hands, and squeeze the thorns until your hands bleed, even as you smell the scent of Aphrodite. When you can understand why there is no contradiction there, the first step of the path will be open to you.18

To Insult the Insulters

If mysteries can only be understood through experience, why write of them at all? Genet’s primary objective, of course, was to speak directly to the initiated:

This whole time I haven’t been speaking to the educators, but to the guilty […] I ask them to never be embarrassed by what they do, to keep intact inside themselves the revolt that has made them so beautiful. There are no remedies, I hope, for heroism.” 19

Once his speech was censored from the radio, he despaired of reaching his target audience, but decided to publish anyway: “I speak in the void and in the darkness; but even if it were just for myself, I would still want to insult the insulters.” 20 

For the uninitiated, Genet’s counsel is as harsh as it sounds: “Refuse all pity to the kids who don’t want any.” 21 He is explicitly and unapologetically hostile to mainstream society: “Let a poet, who is also an enemy, speak to you as a poet, and as an enemy.” 22 Even Edmund White, Genet’s biographer, found his “poetry” in “The Criminal Child” difficult to translate: “since for Genet crime itself is beautiful, he supports the cruelty of the unreformed prison system because it turns youngsters into hardened criminals.” 23 But that’s not quite right:

“Supports”White’s word—doesn’t quite fit here. Genet is explicitly in his enmity toward this society, its prisons surely included. He sees the prison as an obstacle to be overcome in a path of criminal becoming, a path of individuation.

This is the folly of trying to read him as “the political Genet.” To say that Genet supports (or doesn’t) any given state policy enmeshes his words in a political mode unbefitting the text at hand. Genet neither supports the prison nor desires to reform it. He seeks to escape it […] 24

Flammarion

Blinded by Their Brilliance

In Miracle of the Rose, Genet compared religion to prison, but his comparison was based upon the possibility that the bounded space of the finite (as opposed to the infinite) can lead to a “minute” exploration of the heart:

Abhorring the infinite, religions imprison us in a universe as limited as the universe of prison–but as unlimited, for our hope in it lights up perspectives just as sudden, reveals gardens just as fresh, characters just as monstrous, deserts, fountains; and our more ardent love, drawing greater richness from the heart, projects them on the thick walls; and this heart is sometimes explored so minutely that a secret chamber is breached an allows a ray to slip through, to alight on the door of a cell and to show God.25

Similarly, Genet wrote that prisoners “sentenced to death for life” (i.e. those serving life imprisonment) become hardened and brilliant in their captivity:

Living in so restricted a universe, they thus had the boldness to live in it as passionately as they lived in your world of freedom, and as a result of being contained in a narrower frame their lives became so intense, so hard, that anyone–journalists, wardens, inspectors–who so much as glanced at them was blinded by their brilliance.26

One recalls, of course, that Zeus’s name is etymologically derived from Proto-Indo-European *dewos, meaning “god,” is cognate with Latin deus and Sanskrit deva, and ultimately comes from the root *dyeu- meaning “to gleam, to shine.” The “deities” are “the shining ones.” And so the “shining ones” among the living are touched by gods as well.

Indeed, Genet canonized the prisoners he wrote of as saints:

The audacity to live (and to live with all one’s might) within that world whose only outlet is death has the beauty of the great maledictions, for it is worthy of what was done in the course of all the ages by the Mankind that had been expelled from Heaven. And this, in effect, is saintliness, which is to live according to Heaven, in spite of God.27

Genet hated Sartre’s biography of him (Saint Genet) and said of it, “In all my books I strip myself, but at the same time I disguise myself with words, choices, attitudes, magic. Sartre stripped me without mercy. He wrote about me in the present tense.” The “words, choices, attitudes, magic” that Genet spoke of are surely the same “ornaments of language” required to explore the “nocturnal part of man.” Sartre stripped Genet of his magic, perhaps because he was afraid of being blinded by it. We honor him for it.

The Ekklesía Antínoou honors Jean Genet as a Sanctus, especially on his birthday (December 19) and the date of his death (April 15). Similarly, Brennos Agrocunos has declared David Bowie to be “Saint Bowie, Patron Saint of Enchanted Misfits.” And at the shrine of Jesús Malverde (the unofficial “Santo de los Narcos”) in Culiacán, Sinaloa, women who have never met Joaquín Guzmán Loera (A.K.A. El Chapo, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel and two-time prison escapee) pray fervently on his behalf: “I ask God to take care of him wherever he is, to take care of his sons, his wife.”

In “The Criminal Child,” Genet expressed the ethic of veneration in simple but elegant terms:

I don’t know of any other criterion for the beauty of an act, an object, or an entity, than the song it arouses in me, which I translate into words so as to communicate it to you: this is lyricism. If my song is lovely, if it has upset you, will you dare say that he who inspired it is vile?

You can say that there have always been words charged with expressing the haughtiest attitudes, and that I would have recourse to them so that the least appears haughty. But I can respond that my emotion calls for precisely these words and that they come naturally to serve it.28

Genet also castigated mainstream French society for its hypocrisy: “Your literature, your fine arts, your after-dinner entertainment all celebrate crime. The talent of your poets has glorified the criminal who, in life, you hate. So deal with the fact that, for our part, we despise your poets and your artists.” 29

JeanGenet-1983
Jean Genet, 1983. Photo Credit: International Progress Organization.

TV shows and films portray outlaws as protagonists, but “those who were their more or less exact models suffered for real. […] You know nothing of heroism in its true nature, in the flesh, how it suffers in the same everyday way that you do. True greatness brushes past you. You ignore it, and prefer a fake.”30

This article was originally published at The Wild Hunt.

Endnotes

  1. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” v.
  2. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Chapter 4, Aphorisms 109 and 110.
  3. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 3.
  4. Ibid., 11.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., 4.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,’” 37.
  10. Ibid., 37-39.
  11. Ibid., 41-42.
  12. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 12.
  13. “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,’” 46.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 10-11.
  16. “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,’” 40. “Mort aux vaches” is translated as “death to cops,” “Bonjour aux amis de malheur” as “Greetings to friends of misfortune.”
  17. Ibid., 42.
  18. Raven Kaldera, qtd. in “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,’” 43-44.
  19. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 14-15.
  20. Ibid., 25.
  21. Ibid., 16.
  22. Ibid.
  23. “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,’” 45.
  24. Ibid. Emphasis added.
  25. Jean Genet, Miracle of the Rose, 43.
  26. Ibid., 42-43.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 13.
  29. Ibid., 20.
  30. Ibid., 21-22.

Heathen Chinese

is the son of Chinese immigrants and is a diasporic Chinese polytheist living in the San Francisco Bay Area (stolen Ohlone land). He practices ancestor veneration and worships (among others) the warrior god Guan Di, who has had a presence in California since the mid-1800s.

 


An essay by Heathen Chinese is featured in A Beautiful Resistance: The Fire Is Here.  Get it here!