Courage our network

Writing from Jeremy

Message of Solidarity with Bhopal Survivors

Solidarity with Bhopal Survivors

Rebel greetings! I want to voice full support for the survivors of the Bhopal gas disaster in their struggle for justice against Dow, a multinational corporation that continues to do everything they can to avoid taking responsibility.

Two years ago I hacked the intelligence company Stratfor and handed over all of their private email correspondence to WikiLeaks for publishing. Amongst the revelations was proof that Dow hired Stratfor to monitor the activities of Bhopal survivor activist groups.

To add further insult to injury, Dow is now suing dozens of these activist groups for 25 million Indian rupees!

This shows how profiteering multinational corporations like Dow will abuse the courts and influence international conventions so that they can continue to attack worker conditions, fair wages and environmental regulations. The UN, of which Dow sits as a Foundation member, has turned a blind eye to this human rights disaster for 30 years.

Justice will not be found in their courts so we must bring it to them in the streets. Dow’s recent tactics of desperation shows how they are worried that these activists are succeeding in bringing attention to their crimes. We must continue to expose and confront Dow!

For more information about how you can help expose and confront Dow, visit The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, North America. For more information about how you can help the survivors of the Bhopal Disaster, please visit Bhopal Medical Appeal.

Bhopal activists and survivors stand in solidarity with Jeremy on the anniversary of the disaster. Photo courtesy of Bhopal Medical Appeal

Bhopal activists and survivors stand in solidarity with
Jeremy on the anniversary of the disaster.
Photo courtesy of Bhopal Medical Appeal

 

 

NO COMPROMISE WITH THE US SURVEILLANCE STATE!

We will never be satisfied with whatever reforms or promises are made about the NSA surveillance and counter-intelligence programs. The spies and liars in charge are clearly not capable or interested in “reining in the NSA”: so it’s up to us to expose and dismantle it entirely. Edward Snowden should be weary of any deals or offers from US officials, especially if they involve returning documents or limiting future disclosures. Instead he should fight to remain free outside the US’s sphere of influence and up the ante by releasing unredacted NSA operation manuals and full employee and contractor names and addresses so that they could be removed from power and held accountable.

NO COMPROMISE WITH THE US SURVEILLANCE STATE!

Greetings from Manchester, Kentucky!

Greetings from Manchester, Kentucky!

It has been a miserable chain of bus rides and holdovers through MDC Brooklyn, FDC Philadelphia, FCI Petersberg VA, and USP Atlanta GA, but I have finally arrived at my destination: FCI Manchester, a medium-security federal prison in Kentucky. It is good to be able to breath fresh air in the yard and get in the groove of doing this time.

Those who were upset about the lengthy sentence, rest easy knowing that it will not break me: I remain defiant as ever, and encourage others to turn that anger into action. The purpose of their politically motivated prosecutions is to try to deter and silence us, so it’s on us now to up the ante: to escalate the struggle, to create anarchy.

Thanks everybody for having my back.

YOURS FOR THE REVOLUTION,
JEREMY

Jeremy Hammond’s Sentencing Statement, 11/15/2013

Please note: We have redacted a portion [marked in red] upon the orders of Judge Preska.  While we believe the public has a right to know the redacted information therein, we refuse to publish information that could adversely affect Jeremy or his counsel.

Good morning. Thank you for this opportunity. My name is Jeremy Hammond and I’m here to be sentenced for hacking activities carried out during my involvement with Anonymous. I have been locked up at MCC for the past 20 months and have had a lot of time to think about how I would explain my actions.

Before I begin, I want to take a moment to recognize the work of the people who have supported me. I want to thank all the lawyers and others who worked on my case: Elizabeth Fink, Susan Kellman, Sarah Kunstler, Emily Kunstler, Margaret Kunstler, and Grainne O’Neill. I also want to thank the National Lawyers Guild, the Jeremy Hammond Defense Committee and Support Network, Free Anons, the Anonymous Solidarity Network, Anarchist Black Cross, and all others who have helped me by writing a letter of support, sending me letters, attending my court dates, and spreading the word about my case. I also want to shout out my brothers and sisters behind bars and those who are still out there fighting the power.

The acts of civil disobedience and direct action that I am being sentenced for today are in line with the principles of community and equality that have guided my life. I hacked into dozens of high profile corporations and government institutions, understanding very clearly that what I was doing was against the law, and that my actions could land me back in federal prison. But I felt that I had an obligation to use my skills to expose and confront injustice—and to bring the truth to light.

Could I have achieved the same goals through legal means? I have tried everything from voting petitions to peaceful protest and have found that those in power do not want the truth to be exposed. When we speak truth to power we are ignored at best and brutally suppressed at worst. We are confronting a power structure that does not respect its own system of checks and balances, never mind the rights of it’s own citizens or the international community.

My introduction to politics was when George W. Bush stole the Presidential election in 2000, then took advantage of the waves of racism and patriotism after 9/11 to launch unprovoked imperialist wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. I took to the streets in protest naively believing our voices would be heard in Washington and we could stop the war. Instead, we were labeled as traitors, beaten, and arrested.

I have been arrested for numerous acts of civil disobedience on the streets of Chicago, but it wasn’t until 2005 that I used my computer skills to break the law in political protest. I was arrested by the FBI for hacking into the computer systems of a right-wing, pro-war group called Protest Warrior, an organization that sold racist t-shirts on their website and harassed anti-war groups. I was charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and the “intended loss” in my case was arbitrarily calculated by multiplying the 5000 credit cards in Protest Warrior’s database by $500, resulting in a total of $2.5 million.My sentencing guidelines were calculated on the basis of this “loss,” even though not a single credit card was used or distributed – by me or anyone else. I was sentenced to two years in prison.

While in prison I have seen for myself the ugly reality of how the criminal justice system destroys the lives of the millions of people held captive behind bars. The experience solidified my opposition to repressive forms of power and the importance of standing up for what you believe.

When I was released, I was eager to continue my involvement in struggles for social change. I didn’t want to go back to prison, so I focused on above-ground community organizing. But over time, I became frustrated with the limitations, of peaceful protest, seeing it as reformist and ineffective. The Obama administration continued the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, escalated the use of drones, and failed to close Guantanamo Bay.

Around this time, I was following the work of groups like Wikileaks and Anonymous. It was very inspiring to see the ideas of hactivism coming to fruition. I was particularly moved by the heroic actions of Chelsea Manning, who had exposed the atrocities committed by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. She took an enormous personal risk to leak this information – believing that the public had a right to know and hoping that her disclosures would be a positive step to end these abuses. It is heart-wrenching to hear about her cruel treatment in military lockup.

I thought long and hard about choosing this path again. I had to ask myself, if Chelsea Manning fell into the abysmal nightmare of prison fighting for the truth, could I in good conscience do any less, if I was able? I thought the best way to demonstrate solidarity was to continue the work of exposing and confronting corruption.

I was drawn to Anonymous because I believe in autonomous, decentralized direct action. At the time Anonymous was involved in operations in support of the Arab Spring uprisings, against censorship, and in defense of Wikileaks. I had a lot to contribute, including technical skills, and how to better articulate ideas and goals. It was an exciting time – the birth of a digital dissent movement, where the definitions and capabilities of hacktivism were being shaped.

I was especially interested in the work of the hackers of LulzSec who were breaking into some significant targets and becoming increasingly political. Around this time, I first started talking to Sabu, who was very open about the hacks he supposedly committed, and was encouraging hackers to unite and attack major government and corporate systems under the banner of Anti Security. But very early in my involvement, the other Lulzsec hackers were arrested, leaving me to break into systems and write press releases. Later, I would learn that Sabu had been the first one arrested, and that the entire time I was talking to him he was an FBI informant.

Anonymous was also involved in the early stages of Occupy Wall Street. I was regularly participating on the streets as part of Occupy Chicago and was very excited to see a worldwide mass movement against the injustices of capitalism and racism. In several short months, the “Occupations” came to an end, closed by police crackdowns and mass arrests of protestors who were kicked out of their own public parks. The repression of Anonymous and the Occupy Movement set the tone for Antisec in the following months – the majority of our hacks against police targets were in retaliation for the arrests of our comrades.

I targeted law enforcement systems because of the racism and inequality with which the criminal law is enforced. I targeted the manufacturers and distributors of military and police equipment who profit from weaponry used to advance U.S. political and economic interests abroad and to repress people at home. I targeted information security firms because they work in secret to protect government and corporate interests at the expense of individual rights, undermining and discrediting activists, journalists and other truth seekers, and spreading disinformation.

I had never even heard of Stratfor until Sabu brought it to my attention. Sabu was encouraging people to invade systems, and helping to strategize and facilitate attacks. He even provided me with vulnerabilities of targets passed on by other hackers, so it came as a great surprise when I learned that Sabu had been working with the FBI the entire time.

On December 4, 2011, Sabu was approached by another hacker who had already broken into Stratfor’s credit card database. Sabu, under the watchful eye of his government handlers, then brought the hack to Antisec by inviting this hacker to our private chatroom, where he supplied download links to the full credit card database as well as the initial vulnerability access point to Stratfor’s systems.

I spent some time researching Stratfor and reviewing the information we were given, and decided that their activities and client base made them a deserving target. I did find it ironic that Stratfor’s wealthy and powerful customer base had their credit cards used to donate to humanitarian organizations, but my main role in the attack was to retrieve Stratfor’s private email spools which is where all the dirty secrets are typically found.

It took me more than a week to gain further access into Stratfor’s internal systems, but I eventually broke into their mail server. There was so much information, we needed several servers of our own in order to transfer the emails. Sabu, who was involved with the operation at every step, offered a server, which was provided and monitored by the FBI. Over the next weeks, the emails were transferred, the credit cards were used for donations, and Stratfor’s systems were defaced and destroyed. Why the FBI would introduce us to the hacker who found the initial vulnerability and allow this hack to continue remains a mystery.

As a result of the Stratfor hack, some of the dangers of the unregulated private intelligence industry are now known. It has been revealed through Wikileaks and other journalists around the world that Stratfor maintained a worldwide network of informants that they used to engage in intrusive and possibly illegal surveillance activities on behalf of large multinational corporations.

After Stratfor, I continued to break into other targets, using a powerful “zero day exploit” allowing me administrator access to systems running the popular Plesk webhosting platform. Sabu asked me many times for access to this exploit, which I refused to give him. Without his own independent access, Sabu continued to supply me with lists of vulnerable targets. I broke into numerous websites he supplied, uploaded the stolen email accounts and databases onto Sabu’s FBI server, and handed over passwords and backdoors that enabled Sabu (and, by extension, his FBI handlers) to control these targets.

These intrusions, all of which were suggested by Sabu while cooperating with the FBI, affected thousands of domain names and consisted largely of foreign government websites, including those of XXXXXX, XXXXXX, XXXX, XXXXXX, XXXXX, XXXXXXXX, XXXXXXX and the XXXXXX XXXXXXX. In one instance, Sabu and I provided access information to hackers who went on to deface and destroy many government websites in XXXXXX. I don’t know how other information I provided to him may have been used, but I think the government’s collection and use of this data needs to be investigated.

The government celebrates my conviction and imprisonment, hoping that it will close the door on the full story. I took responsibility for my actions, by pleading guilty, but when will the government be made to answer for its crimes?

The U.S. hypes the threat of hackers in order to justify the multi billion dollar cyber security industrial complex, but it is also responsible for the same conduct it aggressively prosecutes and claims to work to prevent. The hypocrisy of “law and order” and the injustices caused by capitalism cannot be cured by institutional reform but through civil disobedience and direct action. Yes I broke the law, but I believe that sometimes laws must be broken in order to make room for change.

In the immortal word of Frederick Douglas, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

This is not to say that I do not have any regrets. I realize that I released the personal information of innocent people who had nothing to do with the operations of the institutions I targeted. I apologize for the release of data that was harmful to individuals and irrelevant to my goals. I believe in the individual right to privacy – from government surveillance, and from actors like myself, and I appreciate the irony of my own involvement in the trampling of these rights. I am committed to working to make this world a better place for all of us. I still believe in the importance of hactivism as a form of civil disobedience, but it is time for me to move on to other ways of seeking change. My time in prison has taken a toll on my family, friends, and community. I know I am needed at home. I recognize that 7 years ago I stood before a different federal judge, facing similar charges, but this does not lessen the sincerity of what I say to you today.

It has taken a lot for me to write this, to explain my actions, knowing that doing so — honestly — could cost me more years of my life in prison. I am aware that I could get as many as 10 years, but I hope that I do not, as I believe there is so much work to be done.

STAY STRONG AND KEEP STRUGGLING!

Statement by Jeremy Hammond on Sabu’s Sentencing

I write this in advance of the sentence of Hector Monsegur, aka “Sabu” – a former Anonymous comrade turned FBI informant – scheduled to take place on August 23, 2013. It is widely known that Sabu was used to build cases against a number of hackers, including myself. What many do not know is that Sabu was also used by his handlers to facilitate the hacking of targets of the government’s choosing – including numerous websites belonging to foreign governments. What the United States could not accomplish legally, it used Sabu, and by extension, me and my co-defendants, to accomplish illegally. The questions that should be asked today go way beyond what an appropriate sentence for Sabu might be: Why was the United States using us to infiltrate the private networks of foreign governments? What are they doing with the information we stole? And will anyone in our government ever be held accountable for these crimes?

Statement from Jeremy Hammond, read at August 19th fundraiser

Rebel greeting!

I hope this evening finds you all in the best of health and highest of spirit. Thanks for coming out to show support for me and Barrett Brown.

I want to shout out to all my brothers and sisters locked down, here at New York Metropolitan Correctional Center, at Brooklyn MDC, at Rikers Island, in the Tombs, at Cook County Jail in Chicago, and to all those on hunger strikes in California prisons and Guantanamo Bay.

And to Bradley Manning, Barrett Brown, Julian Assange, the Tinley Park Five, the NATO Five, Jerry Koch, and my wonderful twin brother, Jason Hammond.

Also thanks to the folks who put this event together, who have attended my court dates, who have written letters and sent books, and who went to the noise demonstrations outside the jail here. Your acts of solidarity bring us all great encouragement, inspiration, and strength during these harsh times.

Comrades, we are up against a racist capitalist power structure that wages wars, destroys the environment and spies on our every move! They lock up millions of people in cages for “crimes” that corrupt governments and multi-national corporations also commit on an everyday basis and on a greater magnitude, yet we are the criminals.

They lock us up for guns and drugs when defense contractors and pharmaceutical companies are the top traffickers.
They call us thieves when it’s Wall Street 1%ers who rob us blind, exploit our labor, evict us out of our homes, and get billion dollar bailouts.

They condemn hackers and leakers when the NSA, CIA, and FBI illegally spy on everybody, and wage cyber espionage through viruses and hacking for foreign government systems.

They put signs everywhere that say “If you see something, say something” as if their extensive surveillance camera systems aren’t, they want us to become additional eyes and ears for the police against our own neighbors.

But if you point out suspicious activities of our own government, if you leak information that should be free and public anyway, then they will follow you to the ends of the Earth to put you in prison.

Even if you simply report on these leaks, they will discredit you, subpoena you for your sources, or just put you in prison on a bunch of trumped up charges like they did Barrett Brown.

They repress us, infiltrate us, entrap us, harass our families and friends, and call us criminals, terrorists, and traitors, and break their own laws to try to stop us because we work to expose the truth.

They are scared that if people know the truth, the day will come when they will have to answer for their own crimes.
But can we trust whatever “independent review panel” they put together to investigate the NSA? After all the lies and egregious illegality, do you think any of them will be charged or do time? Will we ever be satisfied with any reforms they promise?

The answer is obviously no.

Justice can never be found in their courtrooms.

Yes, we need to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, but Attorney General Eric Holder doesn’t give a damn about prison overcrowding.

The Obama administration is not interested in any such debate about “the balance of privacy and security” because they will keep spying on everyone, regardless of public opinion, until we stop them.

The time for talk is over, it’s time for collective refusal, civil disobedience, and direct action. We must support all those who risked their freedom and lives to expose and confront the power structure, and continue the struggle until we stop these wars and the prison walls come crumbling down and we can all be together again free and equal!

Yours for the revolution,
Jeremy Hammond

Statement from Jeremy Regarding His Plea

Today I pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. This was a very difficult decision. I hope this statement will explain my reasoning. I believe in the power of the truth. In keeping with that, I do not want to hide what I did or to shy away from my actions. This non-cooperating plea agreement frees me to tell the world what I did and why, without exposing any tactics or information to the government and without jeopardizing the lives and well-being of other activists on and offline.

During the past 15 months I have been relatively quiet about the specifics of my case as I worked with my lawyers to review the discovery and figure out the best legal strategy. There were numerous problems with the government’s case, including the credibility of FBI informant Hector Monsegur. However, because prosecutors stacked the charges with inflated damages figures, I was looking at a sentencing guideline range of over 30 years if I lost at trial. I have wonderful lawyers and an amazing community of people on the outside who support me. None of that changes the fact that I was likely to lose at trial. But, even if I was found not guilty at trial, the government claimed that there were eight other outstanding indictments against me from jurisdictions scattered throughout the country. If I had won this trial I would likely have been shipped across the country to face new but similar charges in a different district. The process might have repeated indefinitely. Ultimately I decided that the most practical route was to accept this plea with a maximum of a ten year sentence and immunity from prosecution in every federal court.

Now that I have pleaded guilty it is a relief to be able to say that I did work with Anonymous to hack Stratfor, among other websites. Those others included military and police equipment suppliers, private intelligence and information security firms, and law enforcement agencies. I did this because I believe people have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors. I did what I believe is right.

I have already spent 15 months in prison. For several weeks of that time I have been held in solitary confinement. I have been denied visits and phone calls with my family and friends. This plea agreement spares me, my family, and my community a repeat of this grinding process.

I would like to thank all of my friends and supporters for their amazing and ongoing gestures of solidarity. Today I am glad to shoulder the responsibility for my actions and to move one step closer to daylight.

Jeremy Hammond

Aaron Swartz and the Criminalization of Digital Dissent

The tragic death of internet freedom fighter Aaron Swartz reveals the government’s flawed “cyber security strategy” as well as its systematic corruption involving computer crime investigations, intellectual property law, and government/corporate transparency. In a society supposedly based on principles of democracy and due process, Aaron’s efforts to liberate the internet, including free distribution of JSTOR academic essays, access to public court records on PACER, stopping the passage of SOPA/PIPA, and developing the Creative Commons, make him a hero, not a criminal. It is not the “crimes” Aaron may have committed that made him a target of federal prosecution, but his ideas – elaborated in his “Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto” – that the government has found so dangerous. The United States Attorney’s aggressive prosecution, riddled with abuse and misconduct, is what led to the death of this hero. This sad and angering chapter should serve as a wake up call for all of us to acknowledge the danger inherent in our criminal justice system.

Aaron’s case is part of the recent aggressive, politically-motivated expansion of computer crime law where hackers and activists are increasingly criminalized because of alleged “cyber-terrorist” threats. The United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, whose office is prosecuting me and my co-defendants in the Lulzsec indictment, has used alarmist rhetoric such as the threat of an imminent “Pearl Harbor like cyber attack” to justify these prosecutions. At the same time the government routinely trains and deploys their own hackers to launch sophisticated cyber attacks against the infrastructure of foreign countries, such as the Stuxnet and Flame viruses, without public knowledge, oversight, declarations of war, or consent from international authorities. DARPA, US Cyber Command, the NSA, and numerous federally-contracted private corporations openly recruit hackers to develop defensive and offensive capabilities and build Orwellian digital surveillance networks, designed not to enhance national security but to advance U.S. imperialism. They even attend and speak at hacker conferences, such as DEFCON, offer to bribe hackerspaces for their research, and created the insulting “National Civic Hacker Day” – efforts which should be boycotted or confronted every step of the way.

Aaron is a hero because he refused to play along with the government’s agenda, instead he used his brilliance and passion to create a more transparent society. Through the free software movement, open publishing and file sharing, and development of cryptography and anonymity technology, digital activists have revealed the poverty of neo-liberalism and intellectual property. Aaron opposed reducing everything to a commodity to be bought or sold for a profit.

The rise in effectiveness of, and public support for, movements like Anonymous and Wikileaks has led to an expansion of computer crime investigations – most importantly enhancements to 18 U.S.C § 1030, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Over the years the CFAA has been amended five times and has gone through a number of important court rulings that have greatly expanded what the act covers concerning “accessing a protected computer without authorization.” It is now difficult to determine exactly what conduct would be considered legal. The definition of a “protected computer” has been incrementally expanded to include any government or corporate computer in or outside the U.S. “Authorization,” not explicitly defined by the CFAA, has also been expanded to be so ambiguous that any use of a website, network, or PC that is outside of the interest, agenda, or contractual obligations of a private or government entity could be criminalized. In Aaron’s case and others the government has defined violating a service’s Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), Terms of Service (TOS), or End-User License Agreement (EULA) as illegal. Every time you sign up for a service like Gmail, Hotmail, or Facebook and click the “I agree” button that follows a long contract that no one ever reads, you could be prosecuted under the CFAA if you violate any of the terms.

The sheer number of everyday computer users who could be considered criminals under these broad and ambiguous definitions enables the politically motivated prosecution of anyone who voices dissent. The CFAA should be found unconstitutional under the void-for-vagueness doctrine of the due process clause. Instead, Congress proposed bills last year which would double the statutory maximum sentences and introduce mandatory minimum sentences, similar to the excessive sentences imposed in drug cases which have been widely opposed by many federal and state judges.

The “Operation Payback” case in San Jose, California is another miscarriage of justice where 16 suspected Anonymous members (including a 16 year old boy) allegedly participated in a denial-of-service action against PayPal in protest of it’s financial blockade of Wikileaks. Denial-of-service does not “exceed authorized access,” as it is virtually indistinguishable from standard web requests. It is more akin to an electronic sit-in protest, overloading the website’s servers making it incapable of serving legitimate traffic, than a criminal act involving stolen private information or destruction of servers. PayPal’s website was only slow or unavailable for a matter of hours, yet these digital activists face prison time of more that 10 years, $250,000 in fines, and felony convictions because the government wants to criminalize this form of internet protest and send a warning to would be Wikileaks supporters.

Another recent case is that of Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer, who last November was convicted under the CFAA. Andrew discovered that AT&T was publishing customer names and email addresses on it’s public-facing website, without password protection, encryption, or firewalls. Instead of acknowledging their own mistake in violating customer privacy, AT&T sought prison time for Andrew. Andrew has defended his actions saying, “We have not only a right as Americans to analyze things that corporations publish and make publicly accessible but perhaps a moral obligation to tell people about it.”

I am currently facing multiple computer hacking conspiracy charges due to my alleged involvement with Anonymous, LulzSec, and AntiSec, groups which have targeted and exposed corruption in government institutions and corporations such as Stratfor, The Arizona Department of Public Safety, and HB Gary Federal. My potential sentence is dramatically increased because the Patriot Act expanded the CFAA’s definition of “loss.” This allowed Stratfor to claim over 5 million dollars in damages, including the exorbitant cost of hiring outside credit protection agencies and “infosec” corporations, purchasing new servers, 1.6 million dollars in “lost potential revenue” for the time their website was down, and even the cost of a 1.3 million dollar settlement for a class action lawsuit filed against them. Coupled with use of “sophisticated means” and “affecting critical infrastructure” sentence enhancements, if convicted at trial I am facing a sentence of 30-years-to-life.

Dirty trial tactics and lengthy sentences are not anomalies but are part of a fundamentally flawed and corrupt two-tiered system of “justice” which seeks to reap profits from the mass incarceration of millions, especially people of color and the impoverished. The use of informants who cooperate in exchange for lighter sentences is not just utilized in the repressive prosecutions of protest movements and manufactured “terrorist” Islamophobic witch-hunts, but also in most drug cases, where defendants face some of the harshest sentences in the world.

For Aaron Swartz, himself facing 13 felony CFAA charges, it is likely that it was this intense pressure from relentless and uncompromising prosecutors, who, while being aware of Aaron’s psychological fragility, continued to demand prison time, that led to his untimely death.

Due to widespread public outrage, there is talk of congressional investigations into the CFAA. But since the same Congress had proposed increased penalties not even one year ago, any efforts at reform are unlikely to be more than symbolic. What is needed is not reform but total transformation; not amendments but abolition. Aaron is a hero to me because he did not wait for those in power to realize his vision and change their game, he sought to change the game himself, and he did so without fear of being labeled a criminal and imprisoned by a backwards system of justice.

We the people demand free and equal access to information and technology. We demand transparency and accountability from governments and big corporations, and privacy for the masses from invasive surveillance networks.

The government will never be forgiven. Aaron Swartz will never be forgotten.

A Prisoner’s Experience at MCC During Hurricane Sandy

This describes Jeremy’s experience in prison as the New York area was hit by Superstorm Sandy. Sandy caused an estimated $32 billion in damages in New York state, with $19 billion in New York City alone. 

While NYC urged residents to evacuate the city in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy, those of us imprisoned at the Metropolitan Correctional Center were going nowhere. Without announcing any plans or preparations, they locked every floor down and we were left to weather the storm not knowing what was going to go down.

Like most of the lower east side, MCC lost power, heat and water. Naturally, some folks grew panicked and restless and used this opportunity to vent built-up frustrations: people screamed and shouted, banged on doors, and threw junk out into the dayroom, but it did not get too rowdy. Understaffed, the backup guards stayed in their offices and did not make any announcements. Eventually, the emergency generators came on to provide minimal lighting, cold water returned so we would not die of thirst, and the night died down uneventfully.

The next morning the “goon squad” rushed in armed, with a variety of weapons including beanbag guns, pepper spray bullet guns, and teargas. They stormed each tier, angrily cursing us out while taking away the TVs, microwaves and board games. No one complained or raised any objection, even as we were told we would be locked down for a week, but the guards picked out three random prisoners – including me – cuffed us, threatened to use the pepper spray on us “for fun,” and took us to the box.

A sign sits above the entrance to 9 South – “MCC Special Housing Unit – No guns just guts. Est. 1975.”

As any of the untold hundreds of thousands of prisoners who have experienced solitary confinement knows, the box is a dehumanizing, sadistic form of abuse, wisely and correctly recognized as torture by a growing number of countries, except the United States. Imagine living in a bathroom, only for a whole week. Our toilets wouldn’t flush. Eventually a guard gave me two books out of my property – a Spanish-English dictionary and, in an ironic coincidence, Zeitoun, which is about a Syrian man in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina who ends up being wrongfully arrested and abused by police.

The three of us were only in the box for a week and not given any disciplinary tickets. We were kicked back to our unit to find them still locked down and not doing much better than we were. Cold meals, toilets not flushing, no hot water, no showers, no heat, no microwaves, no roof recreation, no law library, no TVs, no boardgames, no mail, no visits, no phone calls or any way to contact friends and family to see how they were affected by the storm and let them know how we were doing. Everyone’s court dates were postponed, including several people who were being sentenced and expecting “time served.” Eventually the phones starting working, but predictably fights broke out over the long lines, so we were locked down again. Days later, they let us back out, but for only limited periods of time, still no TVs or board games. We were told “you have to learn to crawl before you can walk.”

We then learned the next week MCC was being visited by inspectors, including the director of the BOP. Every so often prison officials must scramble to look presentable and pick up to code to assure inspectors we are living humanely. Of course they use unpaid prison labor to clean this place up – and now they use the missing TVs and boardgames as leverage to assure our obedience. Obviously there is an inherent “fuck the police” mentality amongst most convicts, but there is also no shortage of suck-ups and snitches, who would gladly help the guards convince inspectors we are being treated fairly, in exchange for slightly longer leashes and larger cages. They have volunteers work all night until 3AM for days, but no amount of buffing floors and repainting walls can cover up the ugly, dehumanizing reality of mass incarceration.

The day the inspectors arrive, the officials and counselors are all dressed up and, although they remain bossy and inconsiderate as ever reminding us to clean up, you could tell they are are slightly worried, as even they have masters higher up in the food chain they must serve. They whisper amongst themselves, “When they come try to steer them away from tier 11.” And just like the inspections six months ago, they tell us to have people pretend to use each of the six showers so the inspectors will be unable to examine them. And since both the prison officials and the inspectors do not live here, they will not experience the rat and cockroach infestations that only come out at night. Obviously, we are never given an opportunity to address our grievances with the inspectors, and there is an expectation of retaliation if one attempts to do so.

As it turns out, the inspectors never visit our unit – all our work for nothing. Days later, still no TVs or boardgames. The one washing machine, broken weeks before the storm hit, has still not been fixed, but at least hot water has returned so we can do our laundry by hand. Life here has more or less returned to “normal” – as normal as locking up millions of people can be.

In the end MCC was not the hit by Hurricane Sandy any worse that other folks on the east coast. The BOP had just one more opportunity to demonstrate their disrespect and lack of concern for our well-being. As the climate continues to change due to capitalism’s rampant destruction of the environment, we can expect more frequent and devastating natural disasters on the way. Like New Orleans, New Yorkers are experiencing that often the most effective relief does not come from the City, police, or FEMA, but from grassroots community groups (such as Occupy Sandy,) working together in solidarity with those most affected (especially those who cannot afford expensive professional cleanup services). Very frightening to consider what would happen to us prisoners – already disenfranchised, silenced, marginalized, and forgotten – in the event of a more devastating natural disaster.

There’s a universal consensus here – “they’d probably leave us to die.”