Anarchist Black Cross Interview in 98 with 'Experimental' a Portugese zine.



1 What is the ABC?

The Anarchist Black Cross (ABC) is a network of anarchist prisoner support groups which are active in providing practical solidarity with anarchist/class struggle prisoners. There are ABC groups and networks in many countries around the world. In the U.K. we focus on support working class people imprisoned for trying to survive and people wrongly imprisoned. We support and publicise prisoners resisting and organising on the inside. We try to work through letters, visits, financial help (where possible), as well as demonstrations, campaigns and spreading news about prisoners, the reality of prisons and the class system which created them. In all of what we do, we try to create links in and out of prisons. Ultimately we are working towards the creation of a revolutionary working class movement that will sweep away this capitalist system and it's prisons. Through working together, we believe that working class people could build a real classless society. People working together without exploitation, bosses or leaders, for a world community based on cooperation, not profit.

2 We know that sometimes it's frustrating because the system is really hard. What makes you keep on fighting and helping the prisoners? Are there any personal rewards?

The system we are fighting against can sometimes seem very strong, with all it's resources like police, courts, prisons and media which constantly work against our aims. You have to remember though that behind this system there are individual people and none of them or their organisations is invincible or fearless. We may not have much power as individuals and small groups but when we share our resources and work together we can focus our work to force these officials to make changes. We can make a lot of improvements to the situation of prisoners we support in this way. Being able to make small changes encourages and gives people the confidence and resolve to fight for bigger changes. Solidarity is a two way thing, the determination and fighting spirit of the prisoners themselves gives us inspiration and likewise prisoners don't feel so isolated and vulnerable when they have outside support. We also feel that anarchists have a collective responsibility to help comrades in prison. We can learn from the experience of prisoners and help them to continue their participation in the struggle. We think this solidarity strengthens our movement and weakens the state's efforts to isolate active comrades by putting them in prisons. Maybe the personal rewards for supporting prisoners are not so obvious especially since the work usually involves giving rather than taking but then it depends on what you value as 'rewarding'. Creating and being part of a culture where we help and support each other, develop trust and strong friendships to us is a better environment for personal development than in a society based on ruthless competition and mistrust. It's also worth remembering that one day it could be any of us in prison, are we prepared for this? Do we know what to expect? Would we be able to cope in prison? Are there people who will support us? There is a lot of ignorance about prison/prisoners. Some people fear the police and prison so much that they don't get involved in fighting against injustice, others get involved with actions (especially illegal ones) without giving serious consideration to the consequences if they are caught. It's useful to have a proper understanding about how the police and prisons work so that you feel confident about any political activities you might get involved with and can do your best to stay out of prison. Apart from direct experience (which we don't advise) prisoners are the best people to ask about prisons. So we also learn and develop ourselves from this work.

3 We distribute here the list you make of International Prisoners. Sometimes people ask us for it and ask us what to say to a prisoner when it's the first time they write. Try to advise these people. What's the best way.

We understand that people may feel a little unsure about what to write to a prisoner for the first time. For this reason we produced a leaflet 'Writing to Prisoners' which you can use as a guide (write to us for this). What you write will probably depend on why you are writing to the prisoner and who they are. In a first letter (or postcard) you could keep the letter to the point and fairly short as a kind of introduction. Say who you are and if it's relevant what group you're involved with. It's also usually best to be honest about your politics, that way the prisoner can decide if they want to keep in contact with you or not. Say where you heard about them (ABC prisoners list or a zine etc) and maybe what you know about their situation and what you think about it. Don't be afraid to talk a bit about your life. Prison life is very boring so prisoners will usually be very happy to receive your letter and it might even be the most interesting part of their day. Remember as well that your letter to a prisoner may be read by a prison guard before it reaches the prisoner so use your sense and don't write about anything you think will get the prisoner in trouble with the guards or get you (or anyone else) in trouble with the police. If you are offering support to a prisoner it is best to be realistic. You could ask them what kind of support they need or suggest some things you could do to help. Maybe you have some ideas, resources or talents that could be useful. For someone in prison serving a long sentence you may be a like a ray of hope so it's important to keep that hope alive but not to create illusions about about what you can achieve.

If you want your letter to reach the prisoner always write your name and address on the letter. You can usually use a PO Box if you have access to one. Remember that most prisoners don't have much money so you could offer to send them a self addressed envelope or IRC's. Prison rules vary when it comes to what is allowed to be sent into the prison. If you want to send other items to the prisoner (like stamps, music tapes, reading material etc) always ask them first if they would like these things and if so how do you send them. If you don't get a reply from a prisoner it could be that your letter didn't get to them, they've been moved to another prison or they just don't have enough stamps to write back. We try to keep our prisoners list updated so contact us if you have any problems.

4 Do you have many people supporting the ABC?

We get support in many different ways from people all over the world. Anarchist and other groups and zines print, help distribute and translate our information, people write to and materially support prisoners and respond to our calls for solidarity/ support our campaigns, write letters of protest to officials, make donations to prisoner support campaigns and legal defence funds, do benefits like gigs, tapes and records, come to our demonstrations, buy our merchandise and publications. Sometimes people are inspired enough to start their own ABC groups. There are however many prisoners that we try to support (some of them anarchists) who receive no other help from the outside so our work at the moment is limited through lack of people actively involved and resources. We also get some welcome encouragement and support from prisoners visitors and families when we distribute our bulletin outside prisons.

5 Do you support only anarchist prisoners or others?

We primarily support anarchists/revolutionaries but also other working class people who have been locked-up for individual and collective resistance to the rich and their capitalist system (strikers, protesters, anti-fascists etc). We support people 'framed-up' by the police and prisoners efforts to organise and resist the system from the inside. We also support people imprisoned for self defence, such as black people resisting racists and women who fight back against violent partners. We work with and support campaigns organised by prisoners families and friends.

6 Why do you fight the prison system?

We see prisons as an important part of the class system and vital to the survival of capitalism and the preservation of the ruling class/rich. We live in a world where 5% of the population own 85% of the wealth. These are the real criminals. In our millions we work in their factories, die in their wars and have to buy back the goods we produce from their shops to survive. Sure some prisoners are a danger to our communities but most are in prison for economic/property related crimes. The majority are working class people just like us. Prison destroys our families. It divides and alienates people. Locking people up affects many so badly that they commit suicide or turn to drugs to stop the pain. Neglect, lack of medical attention, reasonable food or habitable conditions and brutal guards kills many more. Building more prisons does not affect the level of crime. Those who do get out of prison are often mentally scarred or turn back to crime as the only way they can survive. Prison is held over our heads as a threat to stop us from taking action against the injustice in our lives. We support prisoners efforts to hold onto their humanity by fighting against the prison system and it's brutality and repression.

7 Give us your opinion about alternatives to prisons, we know that these exist.

Well we don't have all the answers and we're not some kind of experts either but it seems clear to us that when social conditions and poverty get worse and communities are destroyed then crime increases. In many ways the rich like to see our communities ridden with crime because it keeps us down. The more we live in fear of one another the less we can unite and the more we rely on the state and their police, social workers and other middle-class professionals to sort out our problems. We think that when talking about alternatives to prison what we are really looking for are ways we can directly deal with and control crime which affects us as working class people rather than what our rulers define as 'criminal'. Prisons and a general policy of punishment clearly fail at changing anti social behaviour. We think that to be in a position where we can deal with crime we need to start by strengthening our communities and building a sense of collective responsibility so that crime is dealt with by the people who are affected by it. Learning how we can rely on each other breaks down isolation and fear. We can find practical ways to make our streets safer, develop programmes to work with 'offenders' to change their pattern of anti social behaviour, learn how to deal with the causes of crime, drug addiction, rape and domestic violence etc. We are not so naive that we think that antisocial crime will just disappear overnight, there are people who may refuse to change so we need to also create organisations concerned with community defence to deal with such people. The state sees such initiatives as a threat to it's monopoly on power because they are outside it's control and more effective than the police. The more we become empowered by solving our own problems the less we feel that the state is of use to us.

8 This space is just for you, tell us what you want, advertise etc.

Thank you for allowing us this space in your zine. We invite prisoners, their families, friends and anyone interested in our activities to get in touch and get involved. Portuguese readers may be interested to know that there is an organisation in Portugal doing similar work to the ABC. Please contact: CAP (Colectivo Apoio A Presos/as) -CCL, Apartado 40, 2801 Almada codex, Portugal. If any readers would like more information about the ABC, our current campaigns or a copy of our merchandise/info. catalogue then please send an IRC to:  PO Box 381, Huddersfield, HD1 3XX, U.K.