(Black August) Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson

“The very first time, it was like dying. Just to exist at all in the cage calls for some heavy psychic readjustments.”

Its been a long time…I shouldn’t left you…without…okay, I’m done! I’m sorry I couldn’t resist. Welcome back, sorry it’s been so long since I’ve done a blog. I hadn’t really read anything as of late that I wanted to blog about. Thanks to Black August, I’m taking the time to go back and review previous reads (specifically freedom fighters and political prisoners to commemorate the month). Hence this blog.

Soledad Brother was written by George Jackson, author, revolutionary, co-founder of the Black Guerilla Family and Field Marshall of the Black Panther Party.

If you are new to my blogs they are not book reviews but rather impressions. Here you’ll find my signature set up, excerpts from Soledad Brother and what each quote made me think or how it made me feel. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoy.

p. 16

“I met Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Engels, and Mao when I entered prison and they redeemed me. For the first four years I studied nothing but economics and military ideas.”

George Jackson became politicized during his time in prison. As such it became his goal to transform the minds of his fellow imprisoned brethren from a criminal mentality to a revolutionary mentality.

It would be to the benefit of our community to transform our minds from an American individualistic consciousness to a black collective consciousness.

p. 19

“The attitude of the staff toward the convicts is both defensive and hostile. Until the convict gives in completely it will continue to be so. By giving in, I mean prostrating oneself at their feet. Only then does their attitude alter itself to one of paternalistic condescension.”

Parallels between slavery and prison: “breaking” prisoners and paternalism.

“The same things week after week. One is confined to his cell 23 and 1/2 hours a day.”

What can be expected to become of people who are subjected to this kind of treatment?

p. 24

“…have you ever considered what type of man is capable of handling absolute power. I mean how many would not abuse it? Is there any way of isolating or classifying generally who can be trusted with a gun and absolute discretion as to who he will kill?”

There must be checks and balances.

p. 25

“What can we say of these asylums since none of the inmates are ever cured. Since in every instance they are sent out of the prison more damaged physically and mentally than when they entered.”

What is the true result of imprisoning people? Who do they become on average after they leave?

What’s our rate of recidivism?

Full report is included below for further info.
Included here to provide a basis for comparison for our prison system. Compare what you see here (and who you see here) to the experience of George Jackson.

I could never betray my kind. Love of self and kind is the first law of nature…

p. 42

“…but she failed me bitterly in matters of the mind and spirit. My education she put in the hands of the arch-foes of my kind. This is betrayal of the worst kind, because of this I’ve had to learn everything I now know on my own by trial and error. I have almost arrived but look at the cost. I would not be in prison now if she hadn’t been reading life through those rose colored glasses of hers, or if you would have had time and wisdom to tell me of my enemies, and how to get the things I needed without falling into their traps.”

How much are we to blame for what happens to our children?

How much do their schools prep and condition our children to be imprisoned?

How much do their schools condition our children to see themselves as less than?

Sending “black” children to “black” schools.

Schools that teach our true history and plight in America.

Our children deserve to experience a learning environment that shows them how to think rather than how to regurgitate. They should be given many ideas and scopes to view their world and explain phenomena.

Our children deserve an educational system that accepts them, that accepts their hair, that breaks cycles (colorism, violence, sexism, dehumanization).

Schools that include meditation, healthy food, well paid and well educated teachers, combining the best elements of every society under one roof, field trips, discussion, a symbiotic and reciprocal teacher-student relationship, restorative justice.

We need to create our own institutions until the greater society is ready and willing to supply with the things our children need.

Information about the Black Panther Party’s Community School (which included meditation, healthy food, and many other elements I mentioned above) from Ericka Huggins, Black Panther Party leader and former political prisoner.

p. 43

“Their abstract theories, developed over centuries of long usage, concerning economics and sociology take the form that they do because they suffer under the mistaken belief that a man can secure himself in this insecure world best by ownership of great personal, private wealth. They attempt to impose their theories on the world for obvious reasons of self-gain. Their philosophy concerning government and economics has an underlying tone of selfishness, possessiveness, and greediness because their character is made up of these things. They can’t see the merit in socialism and communism because they do not possess the qualities of rational thought, generosity, and magnanimity necessary to be part of the human race, part of a social order, part of a system.”

To understand the value of communism or socialism we must be able to think rationally, we must be generous.

How well have black people fared trying to assimilate into an individualistic capitalist society?

Can there be a society within a society?

…for those who get shut out and left behind. Can we create a system of cooperative living where everyone has what they need?

p. 51

“The answer is found in the fact that we lost control of the circumstances surrounding our lives. We were alienated from our sources, isolated, and remolded to fit in certain forms, to fill a specific purpose.”

What are you willing to surrender to exist in their world?

You can save yourself or you can save your people.

“How long will we be forced to live this life, where every meal is an accomplishment, where every movie or pair of shoes is a fulfillment, where circumstance never allows our children to develop past a mental age of sixteen. I’ve been patient, but where I’m concerned patience has its limits. Take it too far, and it’s cowardice.”

p. 62

“It is difficult, very difficult to get any facts concerning our history and our way of life. The lies, half-truths, and propaganda have won total sway over facts. We have no knowledge of our heritage. Our economic status has reduced our minds to a state of complete oblivion. The young black who comes out of college or the university is as ignorant and unlearned as the white laborer. For all practical purposes he is worse off than when he went in, for he has learned only the attitudes and ways of the snake, and a few well worded lies.”

What does it mean to be educated? Who has the power to define and shape education?

p. 174

“There are three historical factors that have produced the present state of chaos on the family level of our black society. First, the family unit has been destroyed during chattel slavery. Men had the sense of family responsibility trained out of them…”

I’ve been grappling lately with this idea of where personal responsibility meets historical circumstance.

In this case, where does the possible programming of family responsibility among black men and women meet our present individual responsibility. I understand the original source of the problem (slavery) but how does that weigh on “knowing better/knowing what’s right and what’s wrong.”

“You had better give him something good in the way of purpose, identity, and method. It should be taken for granted that he is getting nothing along this line in school; these things are being trained out…so that he will be a good negro, an individual, a nonperson, an intellectual dependent.”

Thanks for reading. If you’d had the opportunity to read Soledad Brother by George Jackson let me know in the comments. If not, let me know if you’re adding it to your reading list! Also, check out Day of The Gun, a television special about George Jackson below.

Happy Black August!

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