What the Fourth of July Means to Prisoners
By Lacino Hamilton
"What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals...more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy--a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour."
Between one and two this afternoon I was awakened by two prisoner gym workers, they asked if I was signing up for any of the Fourth of July activities scheduled this weekend, and the "special meal" Tuesday, that isn't all that special (i.e., corn on the cob and a baked potato to accompany the usual $0.67 meal). I instantly thought about the above Independence Day address Frederick Douglas gave on the Fourth of July, 1852. It brought me back to the need for prisoners, modern day slaves, to rethink their historic purpose and mission. What is there for prisoners to celebrate on that day?
It is clear that prisons are the antithesis of democracy and freedom. Prisons in the United States have long been an extreme reflection of the American economic and social system itself: racism, the stark difference between rich and poor, surplus populations, surveillance and control, endless reforms that substantially change nothing.
Every program that we get is used against us. The right to go to school, to go to religious services, to have visitors, to use the phone, "special" meals, watch television. They all end up being weapons of punishment. None of the programs are ours. Everything is treated as a privilege that can be taken away from us. The result is insecurity, a frustration that gradually reduces us to reactionaries, at best.
Prisoners must become critical thinkers, critical in our actions. We must refuse to accept traditional roles and stereotypes; become new men, new women; become awakened politically; begin making connections between our personal ordeal and the social structure; and turn to collective action--protest, organization, resistance, the creation of our own culture, our own literature, the building of links with people on the outside--the basis for breaking through the long isolation from the community and finding support there.
I don't think I'd have made it this far without the support I receive, and for that, I thank you. It shouldn't be much longer, my attorneys are into the final stages before we file and request a new trial. Soon I'll be in position to prove all my predictions about the future with actions, of the love inspired variety.
June 30, 2017