On solidarity and prisons – words from Rob Los Ricos

Rob Los Ricos was recently released from prison after serving a seven year sentence for throwing a rock at a cop during a protest in Eugene OR. on June 18, 1999, six months before the WTO protests in Seattle. He is an anarchist writer and reviewer who has been published in Anarchy: a Journal of Desire Armed and the Earth First! Journal among others. Below are excerpts of a speech he gave at the Long Haul Infoshop on September 20, 2006.

Don’t Piss in Water

Prison was kind of a weird experience. I don’t know if anyone here is familiar with the Green Anarchist perspective, but I’ve been that way pretty much my whole life. …My anarchist ideas were more inspired by Native American social structures than…by anything I’ve read by anarchist writers. I didn’t start reading any anarchist literature until sometime in the mid eighties. I knew I was an anarchist, basically in my heart, because I’d read this book about the Comanche Indians where the anthropologist or sociologist who’d written it went out of his way to drive home the fact that this was an anarchist society. [It was] not one that had anarchism as its core principle, but in practice…it was anarchist. He just brought that up over and over again throughout the book. This guy [the author] was not an anarchist but he was fascinated by the fact that there was this functioning, thriving society completely anarchistic…

So that was where I got, first of all, a lot of respect for the way that Native American people lived. The Comanches [were] a nomadic [horse herding] tribe in the high plains near the area where I grew up, and I had a tremendous amount of respect for them as a people and the way that they were able to resist assimilation and conquest for over four hundred years. Once they got themselves some horses, they were hard to track down and even harder to beat militarily. That was basically where my anarchism came from…When I started reading anarchist stuff at first I was not too thrilled about it–so much division historically… and anyone who [practices anarchism] knows we are still divided in many ways.

[In Oregon, before going to prison]…after living my entire life just trying to get by, I was finally falling in with a group of people. We were living more according to our beliefs about not having a job or income or paying the bills month by month but more living through scavenging and squatting in the forest on some land where we had permission to be. Basically having very little contact with society in general. That was part of the problem that later arose in Eugene because we were unused to being around policemen or being in situations where I had to watch myself. So, I was totally unprepared. Prison was really bad because I wasn’t used to being indoors. I was living outdoors either on the beaches in Hawaii or the forests of southern Oregon for 3-4 years before going to prison, and I was actually kind of proud of the fact that I had to be forced to piss in water…You shouldn’t be pissing in water you can drink. Anyways, I didn’t live indoors and so the only way I was able to be forced [was to be] locked in a cage and made to live this sedentary lifestyle that I had totally rejected. I felt pretty smug about that at first.

Heart Check

As awful, as dehumanizing a place as it was, I did actually meet some really awesome people while in prison… the coolest cellmate I had by all accounts was Critter (Craig Marshall) who was my cellmate for about four months… It took Free (Jeff Luers) longer to get in (sic) and be processed by the system… because… [Critter] took the deal that was offered whereas Free wanted to take it to trial. Apparently they had a chance to discuss this and Free didn’t have a problem with that. There was a letter recently in the Earth First! Journal saying that because Critter took a deal that makes him a snitch against Free. That’s totally not the case… [the letter writer was] definitely not speaking on behalf of anyone… Critter was an exemplary convict while he was in prison and [there is] a lot of respect for both of these guys because there’s one thing that [the other prisoners] respect in prison, and that’s people that stand up for and fight for what they believe in their heart. That’s why our zine, the zine Free and I did together was called Heartcheck because in prison that’s the only way you can judge a person–by what’s in their heart and what they’re willing to stand up for and what they are willing to fight for.

Chow Hall Strike

I can’t even remember why we did this, but I think it had to do with the phone system. They were messing with the phone system in Oregon… people were complaining about it and their solution to fix it was basically to force everyone to buy phone service from some company in Texas… the whole thing [didn't] make any sense. The money that you put into it [was] non refundable even if you never successfully make a phone call… and you [had] to give them fifty dollars just to have the privilege… to make a collect phone call… [So] while people were protesting that, we decided–just to show the administration that we can do things with out their knowledge or without their consent–we decided to have a day where no one would go to the chow hall and eat. I was working in the chow hall at the time because… I had just gotten out of the hole, and you have to go work in the chow hall before you could get any other kind of job there… We organized this lunch room strike. It was just amazing because out of maybe 2200 prisoners incarcerated… only about 200 people went to the chow hall. The place didn’t fill up. Normally, they have to pace people coming in because there is only seating for 400 people, and they have to run people a tier at a time… It usually takes a couple hours to get everyone fed, but this time it took about 20 minutes because they would run an entire cell block and twelve people would come out of, say, 700. Before I went to work we were walking up and down the tier, those of us that had money on our books… making sure that… everyone knew that it was a strike, [saying] “don’t go to chow hall” and making sure that they had food… You can get a little packet of ramen for ten cents so we had stacks of them and… would toss them [to folks without their own food, saying] “eat this and if you need something later we can get you something later.”… As the meal progressed, and no one was coming to chow, the guards were getting nervous. Then the administrators that you never see–the assistant warden and the warden–came down. You never see them in the chow hall, because basically it’s not a safe place for them to be. And, the captain on duty and the lieutenants–they all came to the chow hall and were looking around because it was a sea of empty seats. They were like “There’s something going on” and it really scares them because it makes them realize that they are not in control of this place. They are just not in control. They are in control because we allow them to be; that got their attention. They were kind of scared and they talked to the shot callers–everyone knows who the shot callers on the yard are–…and asked what the deal was and basically whatever the phone system was… They went ahead and shut that down and tried something else.

Later, there was a phone strike–people were not using the phone or not being allowed to use the phone by the other inmates. Eventually they broke that down, put the place on lock down and if you didn’t like it, “too bad because that’s the way it was.”

Torture

To get to the issue of torture, there is torture in the Oregon system and… they kill inmates sometimes. That’s the Intensive Management Unit where they do all this, and the Intensive Management Unit is like the prison within a prison. The hole, which is a disciplinary segregation unit, is just a jail. Basically you’re misbehaving and they are going to put you in there, but if you are really crazy or out of control… if they think you’re a really serious threat, they’ll put you in the IMU…

[recording inaudible -- Rob explains that while he was in prison an inmate was found dead in the IMU and that the official story] …was that he had hanged himself in his cell but according to one of my friends that worked on the clean up crew–that went to clean up blood–he said that blood was all over his cell. I mean, all over that place and it looked like he’d just been beat to death because there [were] blood splatters everywhere. You could see… how it sprayed after someone had just whacked him across the head with a stick or something… It was all over… on the ceiling and everything… [Anyway] they keep [the prisoners they torture] in isolation and they pretty much do whatever they want back there. Most of the shenanigans going on at Abu Ghraib and other places abroad…are [being committed by] national guard soldiers that were prison guards before they went over there, you know. That was their… specialty as a national guard person… being a prison guard over there. I’m sure that just about everything that happens over there, they were doing also here before they went over… maybe not on the same scale as they are doing it over there… [because] over there… no one gives a shit, whereas over here, they have to be careful and not get caught.

Pulling Together

I was released finally on June 29 of this year and–what can I say–it is great to be out of prison. It is great to be visiting these different communities; seeing what’s going on place to place; and meeting a lot of people I have only had contact with by mail; being able to give hugs and seeing what’s been going on, because things got crazy there for a while and things have grown a lot since I’ve been in prison. There are a lot more anarchist-identified people, a lot of anarchist-type projects going on in every city I’ve been to so far, and I’m just more aware all the time. We have a very large movement now and we have a lot of resources. Sadly though, we are a very fragmented movement, and people don’t realize just how big we are and just how many resources we have at our disposal. We just really need to start…putting our differences aside and start working as a community because, especially in Oregon, there is a lot of shock and…numbness [from] a number of people turning state evidence. [This is people] testifying against their comrades whom they have taken actions with in the past and now are willing to send to prison [to] try to save their own ass. [We would be more effective] if we had stronger ties as a community, [if] we were a stronger movement that was more closely knit where people didn’t drift in and out of it, and people didn’t feel like they had no future in it, and people didn’t feel like only their closest friends were [trustworthy]. We really have to pull together as a movement and become a more cohesive and coherent group that can withstand pressure from the police, that can withstand arrest, and when people go to prison we can support them and help them deal with the situation they are in and get them out as healthy human beings [who] can actually come back as part of our movement again.