Dawud Lee on Struggles Inside and Outside

Letter from Dawud on August 10, 2014

Interview #3

What does successful inside/outside collaboration look like to you? What the features or qualities that mark its success or effectiveness? Are there any particular examples of such collaborations that rise to the top in your mind?

Successful inside/outside organizing for me means that conscious people on the outside begin to see and understand the value of the conscious people on the inside. We’ve spent many years working and studying so we can contribute in a positive manner to the struggle for freedom. We know that most of these prisoners are going to someday return to our community, so we want them to return as assets, rather than destructive agents. Outside organizations have more influence than you realize, and with your help we can help transform the currently criminal mentality of the majority of our youth in these prisons, into an activist mentality. The same goes for prison administrations, they treat us differently when they know that we’re represented by committed outside groups and organizations. We can use that credibility to address many issues. Credibility goes a long way with both the prisoners and the administrations we must deal with. Then we can also pull families together to serve as a united force.

In your last set of responses you remark how impossible it is to change people or to help them change if they do not want to do so? What, to your mind, makes people want to change? What are the conditions – whether emotional, material, or political – that create that receptivity and possibility?

There is no one answer to this question because different people respond to different approaches. One thing that is important is for people to learn to have self respect. With true self respect you learn the value and important of respecting other people. Respect for self and others is essential if we’re to accomplish anything at all. Self respect usually means that a person will have a healthy self esteem, which is vital because without a healthy self esteem people are susceptible to various types of negative influences. Also when people see that you do not respect yourself, they tend to treat you differently. They usually will not have the sort of respect for you as they would for the person who does have self respect. Also, it is important for that person who is willing to grow to begin a serious study regiment. Understanding historical and political issues can only come from study.

You mention in your answers how stressful the incarceration of a family member can be for his or her loved ones on the outside. This is a reality that the general public all too often gives little or no thought to. If you’re comfortable doing so, could you explain or elaborate (as you would to a relatively uniformed public) the nature of that stress and its impacts.

Well, if you have a family member on the outside who loves you, in many ways they’re imprisoned too. First, the constant worrying about you! The expense of trying to come and see you. The high telephone bills that are connected to speaking with you over the telephone. The money they send to assist you. These are added stresses to their lives. If you have children, they usually are charged with the responsibility of taking care of them, which is another financial burden. Children are forced to grow up without their parents, so they’re caught up in this cycle of insanity. Not to mention what your presence might mean to your family – you take that presence out of the mix and you can create chaos in many homes.

What effects do you hope making your own story known will have?

I want people to hear my story and understand that I am a human being who deserves an opportunity to live a whole life. I’ve made many mistakes in life, but I did not kill the person I’ve been convicted of killing. Also I want young people to learn from the sort of mistakes I’ve made in my life. Furthermore, I want people to see that transformation is very possible; if you want to do something better with your life, you can!

What other issues do you see Life Without Parole sentencing connected to and how?

Life without parole is definitely a death sentence and I’ve been saying this for about 16 years now. It is finally beginning to be understood in this light. It is good for DA’s and politicians as they dupe the public into believing that they’re safer because of these sentences. They are essentially red herrings used to divert their attention away from the real issues like the lack of jobs, housing, social programs, education, and caring representation from their government.

Reflecting upon your answer to the question immediately preceding this one, what unexpected victories or momentum might we gain elsewhere by winning an end to LWOP?

If we’re able to have the many well-developed lifers who are serving life sentences released, they can serve the community in many beneficial ways. The knowledge and experiences will assist with many of the youth issues in our communities. Moreover, the reconnections of family members will benefit everyone in the community. Just giving people a sense of hope is positive. Additionally, you show people what can be accomplished with coalition building and networking.

In several of your responses, you point to the relationships that exist between the present neoliberal government, multi-national corporations, and class power dynamics. Would you elaborate upon the connections you see between those various forces/entities?

Transnational corporations cannot operate without the assistance of powerful governments like the United States. Their global exploitation could not happen without the protection of military force. The same concept is in operation on a domestic level because without police and prisons, how do you control the people who oppose corporate domination and exploitation. Not to even mention all the government contracts and kickbacks which go to corporations. Some call it corporate welfare. I call it robbing the people! This government/corporate monopoly makes it possible to channel the vast majority of public resources into the hands of a small minority of corporate owners and managers while we suffer! The result is a lack of education, removal  of jobs, the construction of more prisons, more police, and more military weapons to protect their booty. The murder of innocent people on foreign and domestic soil, etc.

Finally, what do you think has caused the current conditions of mass imprisonment, why has the broader public allowed it to happen, and who has benefited from it?

There is definitely a racist element to the mass imprisonment buildup in the country, and there are class issues as well. However, the racism is at the top of the list because the main targets for this buildup have been Black men. Poor African-American men have been the main victims of the massive prison buildup in the United States. For many years, the Black community has been trapped in a cycle of insanity because innocent people do not want to alienate the police, but they also do not necessarily trust them. Black people want to eliminate crime, but how do you tell jobless, underdeveloped, mis-educated people to stop committing crimes? What else do they know? Other communities have not been affected by this problem to the same degree as the Black community, so the interest in dealing with this problem was not at the top of their list of issues. Most people also get the majority of their information regarding crime from mainstream media sources so they have absolutely no idea about what is really going on. Government officials, police departments, corporations who sell us products, and the people who staff the prisons all benefit greatly from our pain.