Editors' note: As Joe Biden and mayors across the nation advocate for police and criminal justice reform in response to the murders of Black people at the hands of police and sheriffs, talks of reform are meant to placate protestors and reassure them of good will as much as they are meant to settle fears and preserve the structural tenants of policing.
Within the remarks of police chiefs, district attorneys, and attorney generals, is an implicit—and sometimes direct—appeal for patience and time. Time to do the needed investigations. Time to set up civilian review boards. Time to create and evaluate better curriculums on racial bias. Time to ensure better training around weapons and body cams.
But what these calls for reform never address is how much time is enough—three years? Ten years, or 40?
Scalawag is sharing two letters from North Carolina prisons outlining pleas from the inside. One appeared in Break de Chains of Legalized U.$. Slavery, a publication put out in 1976 by the North Carolina Women's Prison Book Project and the Triangle Area Lesbian Feminists collective. The zine is a collection of articles, poems, and drawings done since June of 1975, when women incarcerated at the Raleigh North Carolina Correctional Correctional Center for Women first began protesting the conditions they faced. Here, Anne C. Willett details a peaceful protest that took place on June 15, 1975, in response to deplorable living conditions and the inadequate medical care sick patients were receiving while incarcerated. The women's efforts were first met with apathy and then stonewalling. They were later met with violence.
Now, over 45 years later, violence towards peaceful protesters—particularly protestors who are nonwhite—happens ubiquitously, not just in prisons. It happened last summer in cities like Minneapolis, Washington D.C., Atlanta, and Portland. It happened three summers before that in Charlottesville. Two before that in Texas and Baltimore, and one before that in Ferguson. It happened at sit-ins, to freedmen and women during Reconstruction, and to runaway slaves during slavery.
Violence isn't creeping in. Violence never left. The first letter featured here came to Scalawag just a few weeks ago from A.L. Harris, who is currently imprisoned at Pasquotank Correctional Institution in Pasquotank, North Carolina—the same county where Andrew Brown was shot and killed by police. In this letter, Harris shares with graphic detail his assault and almost murder for attempting to defend an elder from harassment. The same unified action that landed three women in solitary confinement 45 years ago also garnered the use of violence against Harris.
Those advocating for reform may again be tempted by these situations to ask for more time. Shouldn't 45 years be long enough?
See also: Welcome to Abolition Week
In the time since Break De Chains was published, conditions within the nation's prisons and jails have not improved. That same year, the death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court. Recent investigations in Louisiana, Arkansas, and North Carolina's prisons show that conditions have worsened. With many more onramps into prison due to the criminalization of poverty, drugs, homelessness and mental illness, the number of people incarcerated or detained by the state since the late '70s has ballooned.
Scalawag publishes the account of A.L. Harris in honor of survivors of state violence and in memory of the lives of those harmed and killed by police. We shares the words of Anne C. Willett in honor of the 46th anniversary of the direct action at NCCCW and for Juneteenth, in acknowledgement of the fight for abolition that must continue until every single last person is free.
Bearing witness to the realities of those who were and still are incarcerated is the first step on the abolitionist journey this week. It cannot be the last.
Release Video Footage of Pasquotank Police and Prison Brutality — A.L. Harris, 2021
Another person of color was severely beaten and tortured at Pasquotank Correctional Institution (PCI) on March 17, 2021 (a couple weeks before the Pasquotank sheriff shot and killed Andrew Brown in his car parking lot.) When prison officials at Pasquotank Correctional began to oppress an older, white inmate for sitting by his door, Anthony L. Harris, who was nearby, tried to mediate the situation and was met with aggression; but he still offered to cuff up. After being cuffed, he was severely beaten, maced, and tazed (several times); dragged through the dorm, and even stabbed by prison officials who viciously assaulted and attacked him in six different locations in the building including three elevators. They continued to beat him even after he lost consciousness.
Harris was (falsely) pronounced dead after being beaten while being choked from behind by another officer. He would lose consciousness again later during this vicious assault. They would sit him up and beat him to the ground over and over. He was also stood up and beat to the ground over and over by Sergeant Morris and other officials (one of whom attempted to cut off his thumb with a switch blade as the others attempted to break his wrist). He was forced to lie on his stomach while the Unit Manager, Mr. Adams (the only white person assumed to be present) repeatedly kicked Harris in his head and temples, where Harris had a blood clot related to the bone marrow cancer which he is still suffering. The nurse, Ms. Williams, refused to treat any injuries, even after fellow prisoners demanded Harris receive an emergency sick call. Injuries were never documented and the "Use of Force" report was never done.
He was later emergency-transported to Polk Correctional Institution for HCON (High Security Control); where Captain Sanders took pictures of the injuries. The injuries included, but were not restricted to: a gash above the right eyebrow, right eye blacked and swollen shut, left eye blacked/bruised and swollen, two splits in bleeding lip, two knocked-out teeth, lumps all over his face and head including a dent in his skull, a large chunk of flesh missing from his left shoulder (from being dragged), cut across his thumb, deep cuts into his wrists from cuffs, swollen arms and wrists which caused internal damage… These are only some of the visible injuries documented. Today, Captain Johnson decries the injuries in his grievance response!
The Pasquotank officials have once again withheld the video footage of the incident and have recently edited the video to show and reflect what they want to show, just as they did with the 20-second video the sheriff allowed Andrew Brown's family to see in court.
The world deserves to see the truth of our captivity, our unjust system of executioners. The violence in here is not just Black and white. The brutality of prison falls across, along, and in-between all racial fault-lines.
DPS officials who work transportation refer to themselves as the chain-gang (a term used in reference to prisoners) and gangbangers are what they are. They bang on somebody every day and night, more than any other local gang. The ability to oppress because you have your buddies with you doesn't make you a man, and it's not the example we want to set for future generations. It has only led to growing underground organizations to counter and protect communities from the Organizations that are supposed to protect and serve.
The same sheriffs who gunned down Andrew Brown work in the Pasquotank Department of Corrections, the county jail, and use the same policies and procedures to torture and kill people like you, me, Mr. Brown, and George Floyd in their custody.
To those of you who stand up for justice and suffer a fate similar to Harris's: don't let that deter your spirit. You did what was right and that's all that matters. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. We must keep pushing courts in North Carolina and worldwide to make videos of police shootings or any "Use of Force" in or out of police custody public.
To write to Anthony Harris, send mail to:
Anthony L. Harris #0957565
P.O. Box 2500
Butner, N.C. 27509
In Our Peaceful Struggle — Anne C. Willett, 1976
How much longer must the residents (prisoners) of Women's Correctional Center be held slaves of the state without any hope of release to freedom? We live in a capitalistic world wherein only the strong survive. For those of us who refuse to be stripped of our individuality, and who are bizarre and articulate enough to express ourselves overtly, we are labeled subversives, militants, and trouble makers. In reality, however, we are the people who care about ourselves and our sisters and brothers. This then is what is needed in prisons all over the world: keepers who are qualified and who genuinely care about the welfare of the kept.
The women now confined at the NC Correctional Center for women manifested their plight and struggle for justice for all by protesting on the front lawn right inside the prison fence on the evening of June 15, 1975. This protest was spontaneous on our part, contrary to many opinions. It had not been pre-planned or pre-arranged. Unless a person has been confined and subjected to the cruel environment in which we live, it would be difficult for them to comprehend our reason for wanting to be recognized as human beings and not as animals in a cage.
Incarcerated people still need the support and visibility of the press.
The ludicrous aspect of the whole situation is that none of the staff at the Center asked that we go to our dorms at the usual 8:00 p.m. lock-in time. A sergeant on duty finally asked what our problem was and we stated that he could not handle it; we preferred to see the Governor. By this time news reporters, along with a group, Action for Forgotten Women, had arrived at the fence. Both of the above had no previous knowledge of the demonstration; they had been contacted at approximately 5:30 p.m. by us to request their support.
Our acting Superintendent, Morris Kea, called from Charlotte to let us know he had heard about the protest and he was leaving then to return to Raleigh. Lt. Dickens and Capt. Moreland, Heads of Custody, made no appearance on the ground. What made them so afraid of the people who they heretofore had rushed to put in punitive segregation? The answer is the strength of a united people protesting for our human given and constitutional l rights.
About 12:00 midnight, Mr. W.L. Kautzky, Assistant Director of Prisons, came on the grounds. After listening to our grievances, he made no attempt at negotiation either, but tried to shift the blame onto us and Mr. Kea. We refused to accept the responsibility because letters had been written to Governor Holshouser, Mr. David L. Jones, Mr. Ralph Edwards and Mr. Kautzky, informing them of the existing conditions and requesting that someone come to the Center to discuss the matters with Mr. Kea and us. Important and relevant to this is the fact that Mr. Kautzky had come to the institution about two months previous to resolve some custody and medical problems which had provoked our peaceful protest. Therefore, he was already cognizant of some of our problems.
Living conditions and access to adequate medical care have not improved in 45 years.
While Mr. Kautzky was in our midst no one touched him or became violent with him. Neither was he aware that we had observed the guards coming into the institution. We accomplished nothing but listening to him throw around the usual stereotypic prison official language.
Upon Mr. Kea's arrival on the grounds, the prisoners ran to him. We stated our grievances to him and he asked that we return to our dorms, stating that he and Mr. Kautzky would meet with us early Sunday morning. It is a group decision that we remain outside. Mr. Kea came once again to request that we go into the auditorium where we could stay together. Although it was never mentioned, we chose to remain outside because we knew what would happen if they succeeded in breaking our unity. We had been living with promises for too long and now we wanted some solid, tangible answers.
Mr. Kea was one Black man standing alone in a white bureaucracy. Yes, he had been given a title as Manager of Institutions, and yet, he was given no authority with the title. Had he been given the chance, Mr. Kea would have made the necessary changes which might have prevented the protest.
Most of us went peacefully to sleep awaiting the so-called "negotiators" to meet with us the next morning. At about 4:45 a.m. Monday morning we heard footsteps and we saw Mr. Kautzky and Mr. Kea coming to the circle we had made with the benches. Mr. Kautzky asked that we peacefully go to the auditorium, and that if we refused he would order the guards to move in. None of us moved, and the guards came at us with riot sticks. Some went on their own, others were carried by the guards. The First blow was struck by the guard to a prisoner while on the front lawn. Others were carried by the guard to a prisoner while on the front lawn. Others were carried by the guards and thrown in the auditorium on top of one another. Those of us who were already locked-in the gym found mop handles, brooms and concrete blocks. Yes, we fought our way out because the state had first used violence on us. Mr. Kautzky, who states that he doesn't like being a loser, ordered the guards off the grounds when we had broken out of the auditorium. He appeared to be frightened and at a complete loss to know what to do.
After the damage had been done, Mr. Edwards made his grand and great appearance. From the very beginning of his purported negotiations he was evasive, could make no decision on his own, and would not even enter the Administration building without being surrounded by guards. We held our agreement, but Mr. Edwards was definitely playing games. The same incident occurred Thursday evening after he had tried to sell us a "package of promises and lies." When he called the guards Thursday evening, we went to our dorms but found them locked. It was at this time that the guards surrounded us and once again, violence erupted. Despite what Mr. Edwards told the news media, prisoners were beaten and stomped, tear gas was used and we were escorted to buses by guards equipped with guns. They never saw it because Gene Anderson, Ralph Edwards, and Walter Kautzky did not come to the grounds to observe what was actually happening.
We, the active ones, are now in Morganton in maximum security because the cowardly oppressors (the ex T.V. and refrigerator repairman and the ex newspaper reporter) cannot deal with our intelligence. It is important for all prisoners of W.C.C. to take heed and lend their support. The Department of Corrections' door is now open for the public to enter. The Correctional Center will never return to what the bureaucrats term "normal." Although the newly appointed Superintendent, Louis Powell, is going back 200 years to try to get the Center functionally "normal," they will no longer capitalize on our incarceration because we will not become slaves again.
They had a nice playground before this, and we were the toys. However, they can no longer move the toys so that they win all the time. Keep us locked-in 24 hours a day, keep threatening us with sticks and tear gas, and keep thinking we will crawl to them, albeit, they will be the losers because from now on the toys will not move as they want them to. We have strong minds, deep determination and we will remain united in our struggle for justice.
More from abolition week:
Illustrations for this piece are by E.L. Tedana. Active with A.B.O. Comix since 2017, they plan on working with A.B.O. Comix once released as well. They have been incarcerated for 20 years and are currently seeking post conviction relief. E.L. is eligible for parole in 2 years.
Artwork for Scalawag's Abolition Week 2021 is provided by A.B.O. Comix, a small press and advocacy collective that works in solidarity with currently/formerly incarcerated LGBTQ people to amplify their voices and publish their creative endeavors.