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Legalizing Oppression

By       Message Chris Hedges     Permalink
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"You're always on the cusp of doing the wrong thing, or getting in trouble for something," she said. "I wrote a letter for a woman, and in order to make a copy I emailed it to Ralph." She went on: "It was basically asking a judge to stay any decision because they were going to take all of her pension as payment for what she had done. And she wanted to get this letter in right away. So I emailed it to [Ralph] and for that I lost, I think, about three months of commissary, and email."

She said, "It's almost impossible to organize prisoners in this day and age to stand up, to become a unit, to say no to certain things."

"I found it virtually impossible to convince the women at Carswell that they should not be always thinking that what happened to them was personal," she said. "They should be looking at political answers, that where they ended up was not because of some personal lack or weakness but because the political system has designated them to be there as one of the kick-arounds, as one of the not-for-consumption."

"Why do you think that is?" I asked.

"I think ... television has a lot to do with it," she said. "There's a certain idealized life. People that are in trouble get there because they have done it to themselves." She said that many of the women incarcerated with her lacked self-esteem.

"The women I've left behind" are "the one real shadow on my tremendous joy at being home," she said. "I can no longer even communicate with [them] because the conditions of my probation are that I may not associate with any felons. So I can't even write to dear Mara, what happened with your case? Someone who got 20 years because she sold some heroin and then a guy died a week later, and they used that murder to enhance her sentence, completely contrary to everything we ever learned."

One of the saddest moments in prison, she said, was mail call. The names of those who had letters would be read. Some women "waited for their name to be called and it never happened." Those who did not get mail or visits, she said, "become more and more institutionalized."

"The world of the prison is the only world; the outside world does not exist for them anymore," she said.

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"I'm not waiting for the working class to make the revolution," she said. "I think that's a day long gone by. That might have happened in the '30s. It didn't. We have to look at a new way, some new force."

She said that although she is disbarred she will continue to be a catalyst for change. She quoted Rosa Luxemburg, who said that radicals should at once alleviate human misery and do political work. Stewart said she will continue to fight for the some 150 political prisoners, mostly African-Americans, who have been in prison for decades because they belonged to radical groups such as the Black Panthers or the Black Liberation Army.

"My other goal is not to turn my back on the women in prison," she said.

She stressed the importance of community.

"The most important thing is don't let yourself get isolated," she said. "Don't feel that you're the only one in the room that thinks this way and you must be crazy or something, and they're going to get you because you're the only one. Find the other people who think like you. They're out there. There are people out there. There are groups. There's everyone from the raging grannies right up to the very serious lefties, but there's somebody out there, make sure you're not all alone. That's the worst part of what we face these days. As long as you're with other people you have a fighting chance, and you can organize more people."

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"This is a pretty loveless world we live in," she concluded. "We have lots of romantic love. We have lots of 'Sex and the City.' But real love, love that is the kind that saves people, and makes the world better, and makes you go to bed with a smile on your face, that love is lacking greatly. You have to search for that."

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Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

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