All Prisoners are Political Prisoners

The last time Rattler called from Sandstone prison, I had just returned from the first action here in Fargo to commemorate the brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many other Black people killed by police. As a political prisoner from the Water Protector Movement at Standing Rock, Rattler spoke of the historic connections between violence against Black people, Indigenous people like himself, and all people of color.

On that day, there was about to be another connection.

Reacting to the historic uprisings on city streets across the U.S., the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) was about to declare a national lockdown of all federal prisons. This meant no phone calls, no emails, no movement beyond the 7X8 ft. cells, not even any time outdoors, where Indigenous people traditionally pray. Even Rattler’s attorney was told that his contact with her would be limited during the national lockdown.

Let me be clear: The BOP cited movements for Black liberation as a justification for further denial of civil rights of all people in prisons, including Indigenous people who are members of sovereign nations, being held in prisons by an occupying government.

What’s more, this police state was declared during the COVID-19 pandemic, when even US Congress, through the CARES Act, had called on the BOP to release large numbers of people – not trap them inside.

Would you join me in signing this petition to call on the Bureau of Prisons to address the public health crisis in federal prisons and decarcerate Rattler and other prisoners who have minimal time remaining on their sentences?

The first time I visited Rattler at Sandstone, I saw him as unique; he was not just a prisoner, but a political prisoner, sentenced for being an Indigenous person protecting Indigenous lands through Indigenous means. Then I began to spend some time inside the double barbed-wire fencing, layers of locked doors, and impenetrable walls.

On various visits, Rattler spoke about how the system maximizes racial tensions among Indigenous, Black, and White prisoners for the sake of social control. “That way, we fight each other instead of fighting back,” he said – adding, “Me, I talk to everyone.”

As I learned how others had gotten there, how prison added new traumas to preexisting traumas, how loved ones always struggled at home – I began to see all prisoners as political prisoners. All people in prison are held in a police state. The recent national lockdown only makes it clear.

Please sign this petition to release those with minimal time remaining and those with serious medical conditions with high COVID-19 risk – and improve conditions for those left behind.

Read more in a recent article from The Progressive.

This effort is just a beginning. Until we abolish the police state and achieve true justice, let’s begin here.

In gratitude and solidarity,

Rev. Karen Van Fossan