Letter from #J20 Anarchist Prisoner Dane Powell
From It’s Going Down:
Throughout my whole life, I’ve had a running list of worst fears that changed over the years, as many times as I have. My latest, having been the most likely to occur were fears of houseless-ness and prison. I used to have nightmares of the two where I would wake up in sweats. I’ve since been cured of them both but only by living through each.
With work inside our local communities, most, if not all, activists see people when they need solidarity the most. The houseless, the jobless, the drug addicts, the ones that have been tossed out, abused, and left for dead by our capitalistic system are the ones who we eat dinner with, laugh with, seek treatment with or aid mutually more than most others. A lot of these people have hit the preverbal bottom with unwavering abandonment from the state. The presence of these fears was only the state legitimizing itself in my subconscious mind. Facing my fear of houseless-ness was voluntary and a choice I made before leaving for Standing Rock last year. My arrest on Jan 21st was not voluntary what so ever and I would soon learn how to de-legitimize the state through control of ones own fears.
After the courts released me on January 26th, my fears were put into overdrive after five days in DC jails’ intake wing. Our culture is centered around punishment. Our TV’s highlight it, our movies romanticize it, our politicians run on it’s platform, and our judges make a mockery of it by sending youth to “Scared Straight” programs. The latter of these I had the honor of attending at the youthful age of 14. Having grown adults insinuate that they would kill you if given the chance at such a young age is a shining example of just how loving our justice system is. Occupied Turtle Islands’ obsession with punishment is unavoidable and a symptom of society’s sickness in the same way that cops are glorified and reality TV stars become president.
This fear was so crippling that it started to consume my personal life. I allowed it to consume me so much that the state had already won. I lost my closest comrade and became closed off to others. The only way I was able to de-legitimize the fear was by living through it. I hope these words find the eyes of my J20 codefendants and others who may be in similar situations. I hope through my own experiences to assist others in helping to deal with their own fears that they may be holding in with the possibility of becoming another statistic to the state. What my codefendants are facing now is real, but nothing new for those who seek a better world on the ashes of theirs. We should never seek their cages, but if we happen to find them our work will continue and we’ll become more caring, more loving, more understanding, and more reliant as we use that time to improve ourselves and the others around us.
I challenge the reader to find a revolutionary who has stood against the imperial, capitalistic, and centralized state while not finding the inside of a cell throughout their course of work. It almost seems like a right of passage in many revolutionary autobiographies. There’s a distinct reason for this; jail cells radicalize. What is radicalize but another word for educated. Not educated with their reactionary lessons but an education from our own teachers based on revolutionary thinking. They fear this education which is why the word “radicalize” has become so stigmatized.
Even those who are on the fringes of political space, know exactly what is keeping them from their loved ones and freedom when they’re locked up, the state. If one enters in prison with a support structure of radicals, that captive will be digesting Kropotkin, Bookchin, Goldman, and Proudhun in no time. Free of the excuses one gives when they have access to Netflix, YouTube, or the vast diversity of services that we have filled the void of cable TV with, these captives are drawn to their books and the ideas within them. The education gained behind bars is greater than any to be found at Ivy league colleges. Prisons have always been the colleges of the revolutionaries.
As a present day anarchist I have felt my main weakness was in my theory. I knew the basics of our theories, but I never made it a priority to improve my revolutionary theory. What I failed to realize was that a clear understanding of theory allows the revolutionary to criticize current models, including their own, instead of just being a parrot with no ideas they can call their own. Lessons learned in prison provide the revolutionary with the proper re-education to be able to hold a conversation on something as basic as whether an issue is reformist or reactionary and the reasons why. So many of us are able to walk the walk but can’t talk the talk when the time presents itself, and what does that make us but a rebel without a cause. Not being able to properly put voice to our beautiful ideal de-legitimizes our movement more than any reactionary can. As revolutionists’ we need to be as well rounded as possible to be able to bring our beautiful ideal to the masses in a way that divorces reform; with theory and action. We need to turn our weaknesses into our greatest strengths.
One thing that revolutions of the past have in common is that the common people were facing oppression from above that was unbearable. In this way, prisons are a micro-cosism consisting of those same conditions that breed revolutions and could very easily become the revolutions vanguard. Washington DC jail is 98% people of African decent. Once prisoners learned of my charges I was sought after for questions on my leftist views. I planted as many seeds as I could in that short amount of time. I left books and zines that I’m sure are still being passed around today, and for months to come. Was the BPP main recruitment not done in the prisons and jails? Like our martyr August Spies said before he was executed, “Here you will tread upon a spark, but there and there, and behind you and in front of you, and everywhere flames will blaze up.” The conditions are the tinder and we are the sparks of Spies’ blaze.
When I first got to prison in Florida the guard who was processing me in exclaimed to his co-worker, “We got our first Trump protester!” They laughed at my expense for a couple of hours but I didn’t play into their games. I was soon approached by the prisons gang task force and threatened over organizing in their prison. They said that if there was a strike they were coming for me and my time would be extended. The state knows our capacities and they’re threatened by it. Earlier this year saw one of the largest prison strikes in history. We have what it takes and the most important denominator in that equation is time.
The legitimizing factor of all oppressive centralized states is the complacency and domination over the masses through state sponsored murder, kidnapping, and extortion. The regime of occupied Turtle Island is no different. A wise man one said that when we no longer fear death, we can truly live. Once these chains of the mind are removed so too will the physical ones of the body follow. Change has always proceeded the de-ligitimization of the state. Just as in the past, occupied Turtle Islands’ regime will do the same, but we can help speed that process up.
Until the last wall is torn down, we need to use their own weapon against the regime as best we can while simultaneously dismantling the power structure it creates. While doing time we can make others and ourselves better comrades. While outside, we should remove the power the state holds over us and, while not seeking it, we should lose the fear of prison for this is the best way to delegitimize the power it holds over us. Doing so will help us attain our goal that a more just world is possible for all instead of the few.
Write to Dane Powell:
BOP Register number 82015007
Federal Correctional Institution – Low PO Box 1031
Colman, Florida 33521