Tag Archives: human rights

A Righteous Stand

Righteous standI stand unified with the MEN of Pelican Bay in support of the strong stand they have taken to secure what Thomas Jefferson called, “inalienable rights” by the holding of mass hunger strikes.

Beginning on July 8, 2013 over 3000 MEN currently held in the California Department of Corrections refused to eat for 9 consecutive days in a effort to receive improved conditions.

The focal point of this movement is the Pelican Bay Security housing unit where MEN are tortured psychologically 23 hours a da by being confined to their cells.

You see, as a incarcerated MAN myself, I know what the public don’t care to know. Which is that prisons are harsh, hostile places designed to completely crush the souls in their charge. Places where most men and women leave out worse than when they arrived. Someone once remarked that most people misunderstand the design and constructions of prisons; they think the fences and towers are strictly to keep inmates in, while never realizing they are equally there to keep the people out. Because much of what’s done couldn’t stand up under the harsh glare of public scrutiny.

This is the sad state of Corrections within America. It’s also noted even within the same state some prison are much, much worse others. Such is the case with Pelican Bay. The first time I ever heard of Pelican Bay was when the scandal broke involving several guards who were running a gladiator school at the prison by placing rival gang members in the same cells and forcing them to fight while the guards watched and took bets.

In a place with this type of history it didn’t surprise me that conditions at the facility are so deplorable that a group of MEN have declared, ”Give me liberty or death.” According to the United States Constitution the people have the right to petition the government for redress. But when these people happen to be incarcerated MEN, the powers that be have taken an adverse position that seeks to escalate rather than deescalate the situation simply by fixing the problems.

Bureaucracy being bureaucracy, they have refused to meet any of the inmates five reasonable demands:

*  Eliminate group punishments for individual rule violations.

*  Abolish the debriefing policy

*  Comply with the 2006 recommendations of the US Commission
on Safety and Abuse in Prisons

*  Provide Adequate food

*  Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges
for indefinite SHU inmates.

The California department of corrections response to these reasonable demands and calls for human rights has been to petition the Federal Courts for permission to force-feed the 70 remaining inmates still striking in a effort to keep them from starving themselves to death. Wow! And to think this is what’s going on while most people sit around the water cooler discussing the latest occurrence on hit TV Show Scandal or Under the Dome. Men are starving themselves to death to secure their human rights while politicians debate how to stop Bashir Assad in Syria from violating the human rights of his people. The old people use to say, that’s the pot calling the kettle black. How can we concern ourselves with human rights abuses around the world without concerning our­selves with the human rights abuses right here at home. The media will show you on every station several times a day what Bashir Assad is doing to his people but want show you what your tax dollars doing to your own people. But that’s what those fences and towers are for to keep you out.

When the supposed enemy combatants held at the military base in Cuba went on hunger strikes to protest their conditions, our governments response was to petition the courts to force-feed these men. Now the same thing that was done to supposedly enemy combatants is being done to United States citizens in California – and you don’t have a problem with that, but have one with what’s going on in Syria, Egypt or elsewhere in the world. Something’s severely wrong with that.

Russian writer Feodor Dostoevsky said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

How civilized are we?

Same Old Soup

same old soupFor a brief moment try to imagine this. You are a poor Hispanic or African-American in any of the this nation’s high-crime, impoverished, predominately minority neighborhoods; Watts, South Central, 3rd Ward, Southside, Chicago, Brooklyn, New York. I’ll let you pick your own poison.

Now on top of being a poor racial minority let’s say you’re unemployed and like to hang around your neighborhood and maybe even smoke marijuana and drink alcohol to ease the pain of a constrained existence.

One day while hanging out at the local barbershop, corner store,  nightclub etc, a guy you kinda, sorta know-one of those friends of friend’s cousin’s baby-moma type of things. But this guy approaches you, it has been a while since you last saw this friend of a friend and by all appearances it looks like he’s doing well for himself. After shooting the breeze for a few, he asks you what you into, how you getting by. Since that’s all you doing is getting by, there really isn’t much to tell him. Before long he’s flashing his bankroll and telling you what he’s got going and asking if you’re interested. This is like asking a man lost in the middle of the Sahara desert in 115 degree temperatures if he would like some water. You think?

Still, this’ the streets so you got to keep your game face on. So you pretend to think about it for a while then say what the hell. Why not, you’re broke, unemployed with little future prospects – I mean what do you have to lose? And according to your new buddy from around the way he knows a guy who has a lick (robbery) set up. Supposedly there’s this cartel stash house with 20 to 30 kilos of cocaine plus a few hundred grand inside, but this friend of a friend’s friend needs some guys to do it. He can’t do it hisself because the people inside know him.

Wooed by the prospect of quick riches and a escape from the soul-killing poverty that has destroyed and is destroying nearly every person you know, you agree to go along. The only problem is you don’t have a gun, but your new friend waves you off, that’s no problem, and says he will hook you up with one, and since you don’t have a car he’ll even pick you up.

After a brief discussion a date and time is agreed upon and when the time comes, your new buddy who is going to help you get rich picks you up and drives you to the scene of the crime.

A few moments later you and your friend setting down the block from the alleged stash house supposedly casing it out. Eventually your friend reaches in the glove box and hands you a gun while asking you if you ready? You nod, never expecting that nod to cost you the next ten to twenty years of your life.

Before you can get out of the car large red-faced aggressive men in Dupont made Kevlar body armor welding American-made machine guns rush the car and snatch you out, “ATP”, they scream, while slamming you on the ground face first, “you’re under arrest.”

The scenario I just asked you to imagine might sound like a scene out of the latest Triple Crown urban novel, but it’s not. It’s a real life sting operation currently being conducted in these United States of America to unsuspecting potential criminals with the prospect of quick riches.

In these stings, the ATF who selects the alleged criminals to target begin the operation with a paid informant (the friend of friend flashing cash). This informer, paid snitch, legal criminal, introduces the target to an ATF agent who provides the transportation, weapons, along with the who, what, and where of the robbery. Nationwide more than 1,000 people have been duped by the federal government and subsequently incarcerated in these “stash-house” operations over the previous decade.

More likely than not this injustice would’ve continued to rob young minority men of their liberty and the general public would’ve been none the wiser, had US District judge Ruben Castillo not noticed a peculiar thing about all these cases. Of the 26 “stash-house” cases filed in the Chicago Federal courts, all of the defendants were either black or Hispanic.

Which is even more troubling when you consider how these cases begin. Unlike a normal criminal case that begins when a person breaks the law, with these cases the government selects the person, proposes the crime, and provides the means of carrying out the crime.

What they were doing was so blatant that it forces even a conservative Republican judge to conclude that the government was deliberately targeting blacks and Hispanics and to call for a full investigation.

So here it is once again in our supposedly best justice system in the world, in our post-racial no need for Affirmative Action, or voting laws society. Those entrusted with the power of life and death s well as liberty are caught red-anded breaking the laws they are sworn to uphold and targeting the most vulnerable among us .

“You tell me things have changed… and I say not enough.

You tell me justice for all… and I say all who can afford it.

But you tell me a Black man is President… and I say ride through the bedrocks of the ghetto and tell me what that has meant

No Justice…No Peace to me is evident

Upset you turn away…scream why can’t I see?

Oh but I do see that our ideals are myths

Myths propagated to make me behave…

and send me passively to my grave

Perhaps some would say even make me a slave”

While operation “stash-house” as reported in the USA Today, Friday August 2, 2013 edition might surprise some people. For most blacks and Hispanics living daily up under the heavy arm of the law, this story was nothing more than a mainstream expose of of their day to day reality.

Crooked Officer

“Oh, he got a problem with the police. No, I do not have a problem with the police. I have a problem with the police putting drugs on me that I did not have.”

— James Prince, founder of Rap-a-lot Records, on the chorus of 90’s rap song “Crooked Officer” by the Ghetto Boys

In Houston local activists are up in arms again after another Houston police officer has killed yet another unarmed citizen. This time it was Brian C. Claunch, a mentally challenged white man with one arm and one leg, confined to a wheelchair.

If you know anything about the Houston Police Department, or anywhere else in the country for that matter, then you already know that the police had the same old, tired, scripted, illogical, common sense defying story: “Officer felt threatened and in fear of his life as wall as the life of his partner, and as a result used deadly force to protect himself and partner. We regret the unfortunate loss of life.”

What got the “folks” pissed off is how in the hell could any able-bodied, armed, supposedly trained police officer feel threatened to the point that he was in fear of his life by mentally disabled man with one leg and arm confined to a wheelchair holding a pen.

Tragic as it was, Mr. Claunch’s death was only the tip of a much bigger iceberg. The Malcolm X Grassroots Organization (mxgm.org) released a new report that chronicled police shootings of citizens from January 1, 2012 — June 30, 2012 and found that every 36 hours a black person is murdered by the police in the United States.

According to the report, out of the 120 people killed during this period, 55 percent of them were unarmed at the time that they were killed by police.

Keep in mind that this study only covered a six month period. What’s going on? Have the police declared open season on blacks? Is killing citizens the new form of interactive target practice?

James Prince had a problem with the police planting drugs on him. I have a problem with police officer appointing themselves judge, jury and executioner and killing unarmed people and you should too.

Stolen Lives

One Million black men 

Not marching in D-C

Brought together by force,

legal farce

Victims of a common fate

Residents of America’s penal


Whitewashed plantations,

littered across the nation

No longer confined to the


Descendants of slaves

Confined to the big house

One million stolen lives


Reprinted from ”A Windowless Room” by Kenneth West, Trafford Press

My Birthday Wish

Hi, I am Aiyana Jones. I like playing with my brothers, going to school, jumping rope and helping my grandmother clean around the house. Like a lot of kids, I got me some BIG DREAMS for when I grow up. I want to be a doctor, lawyer or maybe the first black female President of the United States.

Too bad I won’t get the chance because on May 16, 2010 while I was asleep on my grandmother’s couch, a bad man, who was a police officer, decided it was time for me to die and shot me in the head with a 9 mm.

Some people say the police officer was showing out for the A&E Next 48 TV crew that was tagging along with the police. I don’t know. I do know that I didn’t want to die and that I miss my family and friends very, very much, especially my granny. And that bad police man who killed me is still walking around with a gun, I hope he don’t kill another little girl.

I’m too young to know what justice is, although I hear people talking a lot about it, saying things like “Justice for Aiyana Jones”. But I hear others saying there is “NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE, NOT IF YOU’RE BLACK AND POOR”. I don’t know, maybe it’s true. But it don’t seem right. What do you think?

Every day from my Father’s lap, I look through the clouds to see if there is such a thing as justice for a poor, black little girl shot in the head by the people who were supposed to be protecting me and my family.

Oh by the way, I would’ve been 10 this year, but if you ask me what I want for my birthday, I’ll tell you, this thing ya’ll call justice.

Lend your support to the Justice for Aiyana Jones campaign at justice4aiyana@hotmail.com

Click on http://sfbayview.com/2011/justice-for-aiyana-jones-now/ to read story originally published in VOD on JAJC aerial protest commemorating the first anniversary of cop murder of Aiyana Jones.

Slave Labor


Thirteen years ago, in October of 1999, I arrived in the penitentiary, 19 years old and scared shitless. Being my first rodeo as the old cons like to say, I was completely unprepared (if preparation is even possible) for the culture shock I was thrust into.

As the bus pulled up to the prison, it was like the land that time forgot. Picture a large cluster of orange brick buildings four stories high with small planes of glass that were almost completely broken out. My first thought was, “welcome to hell.” And I wouldn’t have been surprised if instead of the guard that met the bus, it would’ve been a small red demonic figure with a pitch fork.

With 4,500 men living in double occupancy misery, 1,400 of them serving life sentences, the Coffield unit in East Texas, once labeled the most violent prison in Texas, was ground zero. Hell on earth .

After pushing the very real fear of assault or bodily injury out of my mind as best as possible, I refocused my energy on dealing with the general gruffness and callousness of the guards along with the cold hard stares of the inmates.

Apart from the new arrival ritual which consisted of eyes probing you for any signs of weakness that could be exploited, the only thing they wanted to know was, “where you from?” and “who you run with?” Meaning were you in a gang.

My answer to the first question was, “Houston” and to the second, “I’m solo.” After this brief exchange, the conversations ended and the waiting began – waiting to see what type of dude you were and how you carried yourself.

Almost at once I began to learn the universal convict rules: mind your own business, do your own time, don’t accept things from people you don’t know, on the tier never look in another man’s cell, if someone challenges you for whatever reason, no matter how trivial, you have to rise to the occasion regardless of the consequences, don’t pop off at the mouth if you can’t or won’t back it up. Prison is a completely different world unlike anywhere out in society, so who you were out in society isn’t worth a Ramen noodle soup, the guards have absolute power and their word is the gospel – if they say you did it, then you did it, even if you didn’t, so piss them off or make enemies with them at your own risk, and so forth.

These were the rules I learned about doing time, but I also learned that many if not all prisons in the South – Texas, Louisiana, Georgia etc. – still operate under a slavery type of system and mentality. Evident by the many inmates here in Texas who still refer to correctional officers as “Bosses”. Another glaring example of this slave mentality is the field labor system found in Southern prisons.

Field labor consist of work crews of 40 to 75 inmates who go out into the surrounding countryside (you already know prisons are always out in the middle of nowhere to keep these houses of horror out of public view) with hoes and shovels to work the land. These field squads are supervised by two or more armed officers called “Cowboys”, who sit on horseback armed with pistols and shotguns. The men in these field squads line up in a straight line shoulder to shoulder and work in tandem in a process called ”four-stepping”.

Which consist of hitting a hoe on the bare ground four times then stepping forward and repeating the process. This is done while two inmates one called lead row, and the other tail row chant in cadence, “one, two, three, four, step”. Inmates in the hoe squads as they are called often clear a football sized field or more a day using this process.

The field squad was my first job in the penitentiary and it was the most ridiculous, outrageous, and degrading set-up I’ve ever witnessed. I found it hard to believe that in the 21st century, in the richest, supposedly most humane country in the civilized world, a system harkening back to the pre-civil war slavery days was being allowed to exist.

In the 14 years of my unjust detention, I’ve witnessed one hardship and constitutional violation after another, from mental health patients left untreated until they eventually hurt themselves or someone else, to healthy guys dying because they couldn’t get adequate medical care for minor illnesses. Staff assaults and the inevitable cover-ups, all the way to incarcerated men who begin to act and live like the animals that society says so many of us are, after having their rights and dignity trampled underfoot one too many times.

Although my personal journey through this house of horrors is far from over, as I continue to fight my unjust conviction, I often sit and wonder how I’ve made it? How I’ve been able to earn my GED, 3 college degrees and write 10 books, blog (KennethWest.org), stay out of Administrative Seg, prevent from getting hurt or being forced to hurt someone else to protect myself, or from picking up and new charge and compiling my misery.

While these may be meager accomplishments by some measures, if you had been the places I’ve been within this penal institution, or witnessed the things I’ve witnessed, then I’m sure you would agree with me when I say, “but for the grace of God, there I go.”

The Breaking Point


When 23 year old Mohamed Merah went on his bloody Jihadist rampage in the French city of Toulouse that left seven people senselessly dead, three of them children, I wondered if this was how he felt? As if his legitimate grievances and the grievances of his people were continuing to go unheard. Before dying in a hail of gun fire at the hands of French special forces soldiers the young terrorist told a negotiator, ”you kill my brothers, now I’m killing you.”

While it’s probably impossible to pinpoint the exact motives for his attacks, righteous indignation, hatred of French society, or just youthful frustration – I can tell you exactly what is driving the protest that have erupted all across the country in the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing in Sanford, Florida by 28 year old George Zimmerman the trigger happy neighborhood watch captain.

Trayvon who was 17 years old and unarmed when he was gunned down insides of a gated community was killed for being black in a nice neighborhood which in the eyes of George Zimmerman automatically made him suspect.

In America we have DWB (Driving While Black).

Which will get you stopped and possibly ticketed on GP (General Principle).

WWB (Walking while Black).

Which will get you Id’ed and frisked.

And plain old BB (Being Black).

Which in Trayvon’s case got him a bullet in the chest.

Same thing with Emmet Till, Rodney King, Sean Bell.

But as the protest that have rocked this nation from one side to the other following Trayvon’s senseless killing attest.

Black people have reached a breaking point.

We are tired of being murdered by police.

Tired of being murdered by the George Zimmerman’s and Joe Horns of the world.

And tired of being gun down senselessly by each other. Enough is enough.

Like Mohamed Merah in France, the African-American community has reached a breaking point. A point were the pain of doing nothing is far greater than the pain associated with change, meaningful change.

The abolitionist and ex-slave Fredrick Douglass said, “Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of injustice and wrong that will be imposed on them.”

For too long that’s what the black community has been guilty of quietly submitting. Quietly submitting to our sisters and brothers being railroaded by the criminal justice system on trumped up charges, the same justice system that allowed George Zimmerman to walk away after killing a unarmed defenseless black teenager. We quietly submit to the constant assault and killing of black men young and old at the hand of the police. Quietly submit to one form of injustice after another.

Until now, finally the community has reached a breaking point. A point to where all 13.5 million of our voices young and old are saying a COLLECTIVE NO MORE.



Martin Luther King said, “an injustice against one is an injustice against all.”

Which makes us all Trayvon Martin.

A Gordon Spirit

The man in this 1863 picture is an escaped slave from the Mississippi Delta, named Gordon, whom I like to think of as a distant relative. Even if the connection we share isn’t of the molecular one composed of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon combined in the double helix better known as DNA that CSI NY has so many of us assuming we are familiar with, even if we failed high-school chemistry.

However, the connection that me and Prince Gordon share is a soulish one as we’ve both been victimized in the country of our Birth .

When you see the flesh of Gordon’s back cut open into a thousand pieces, what’s the first thing that jumps into your mind?

One person may wonder aloud, “what did he do to possibly deserve such vicious, inhumane treatment?” While another would protest vehemently that there was no offense that a man could commit that would warrant such treatment. Another person might bemoan the injustice of the entire American slave system and its aftermath that declared some men as masters and the others as beast of burden with absolutely no say so over their lives based solely on the color of their skin. Each would have a hold on a small fiber of the truth.

When I encountered the portrait of Gordon eight years ago, I was immediately drawn to the regal grace and kingliness of the man. And I saw the welts on his back representing not a source of shame but pride. A crown of splendid glory carved into his flesh as majestic as any that was ever worn by the Kings and Queens of Europe. For Gordon’s crown is emblematic of his quest to be a man, in a unjust soul-crushing system that refused to acknowledge him as such.

The more I studied the photo, the more mesmerized I became with who this man was and what he had endured in the name of manhood. It was then that I realized me and Gordon were kindred spirits and that the scars on his back represented the wounds of my very own soul.

Like a ghost from beyond the grave Gordon’s spirit was a light onto my feet. Showing me the way. The way of all those who refuse to turn back, lay down, let up, shut up, or give up come what may even the hated twin foes of bodily injury and death.

In essence, Gordon was telling me and all the world that yes, he was beaten, but he was UNBROKEN. That his head was bloodied, but UNBOWED.

From the seeds of Gordon’s courage came the inspiration for my publishing company UNBROKEN UNBOWED PRESS, with Gordon as the company’s figure head for his life represents the highest aspirations that UNBROKEN UNBOWED PRESS seeks to embody.

A publishing company for all the kindred souls who refuse to take no for an answer, who refuse to turn back in the face of adversity – for the outcast, social lepers, misfits, convicts, and all the men and women which a Gordon Spirit who retain their dignity, pride, hope, courage and grace even in the face of unimaginable hardships and adversity. UNBROKEN UNBOWED PRESS is for them and all the Gordons of the world.


If you are anyone you knows has a Gordon Spirit check us out at http://www.wix.com/unbrokenunbowedpress/home as well as Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Unbroken-Unbowed-Press/365012860183016

Harris County Justice

If you’ve read, “Railroaded In Harris County” by Dell Robinson, you already know a good deal about Harris County’s unique brand of Justice. Just as I do myself, being a casualty of this convict-at-all-cost, truth-be-damned conviction machine.

A December 9, Houston Chronicle article about LaDondrell Montgomery let me know just how widespread this problem is. And that, like it happened to me in 1998, it was still happening unabated today. Despite all the high-profile exonerations, million dollar lawsuits, innocent commissions, and public pronouncements by district attorney’s and elected officials, essentially nothing had changed – young, poor black men were still being railroaded in Harris County as a result of faulty eyewitness testimony, unethical detectives, overzealous prosecutors, and inadequate incompetent defense attorneys.

Thirty-six year old LaDondrell Montgomery was just the latest example in a long line. Arrested for a 2009 aggravated robbery and identified by eye-witnesses as the robber, he stood trial in front of a Harris County jury, was found guilty and subsequently sentenced to life in prison.

The district attorney, who had just added another notch to his stellar conviction record, shook the jurors’ hands and thanked them one by one for performing their sacred duty. While Mr. Montgomery, who had already had several previous run-ins with the law, was led away to begin serving a long lengthy prison sentence, one that wouldn’t allow him to even be considered for parole until he was 66 years old in 2040.

A silent hip hip-hooray could be heard from the small but resolute, “get tough:on crime” crowd, who were fond of saying “you do the crime, you do the time.”

Curiously, their manifesto never mentioned anything about when you don’t do the crime, yet still wind up with the time?

It turned out that was the case with Mr. Montgomery. While the ”eye witnesses” were on the stand testifying in painstaking detail about his actions on the night of the robbery, actions that took place while he was already in jail for another charge.

When judge Mark Kent Ellis learned about this ironclad alibi, he hit the roof, “it boggles the mind that neither side knew about this during the trial. Both sides in this case were spectacularly incompetent.”

Fortunately for Mr. Montgomery, this information was brought to light as it led to his conviction being overturned and dismissed.

But none of that changes the fact that he was accused. Tried, convicted and ultimately sentenced to life. L-I-F-E IN P-R-I-S-O-N

For this to happen exactly how many people had to fail in our “just”, unfaultable justice system. A system where we are taught that only the guilty are arrested, tried, and convicted.

First, the police officers and detectives failed in arresting the wrong man.

Next up was the prosecutor, who is supposed to be a advocate of justice.

Then the criminal defense attorney, who couldn’t even succeed in defending a innocent man.

The eye-witnesses who positively identified the wrong man even though they said they were 100 percent certain it was him while on the witness stand.

The twelve law abiding supposedly reasonable-minded, average citizens of Harris County who were chosen to hear the alleged “facts” of the case and to then render a decision.

Collectively they represent the criminal justice system and they all failed, each and every one of them. And as a result a innocent man was sentenced to life in prison.

While you think about that, ask yourself what would’ve been the outcome if Mr. Montgomery had been at home with his wife and 2 year old daughter on the night of the robbery, instead of the Harris County jail an alibi so air-tight that even a creative prosecutor couldn’t refute it?

Had he been at home with his family instead of in jail, the prosecutor would’ve convinced the jury with superior oratory skills coupled with righteous indignation that his wife was simply lying to protect her husband and the jury would’ve believed him.

And LaDondrell Montgomery would’ve been another innocent man in Texas prison with a life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit and nobody would’ve cared. After all he was indicted by a grand jury and tried by a jury of his peers. They had to have had some evidence or he never would’ve been indicted, or convicted at trial, right?


I’m a proof of it, as so is LaDondrell Montgomery.

Montesquieu said, “There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.”