Burning Spear News
“Free ‘em all!” Reparations now to all African political prisoners!
This article is an excerpt of the testimony of Mafundi Lake, an African political prisoner, from the African People’s Socialist Party World Tribunal for Reparations for Black People in the U.S. held in 1982.
It was printed in the Party’s publication “Reparations Now!” an Abbreviated Report from the International Tribunal on Reparations for Black People in the U.S., edited by Chairman Omali Yeshitela in 1983.
His testimony speaks to the “oppression of blacks in prison—Atmore/Holman, Alabama,” to further make the case of why reparations is owed to African people.
While in prison, I suffered some of the most inhumane conditions anywhere.
I have a lot of documentation that I brought with me, pictures of brothers with axe wounds in the head, pictures of brothers that were beaten, you know, just mutilated.
All these atrocities are well documented.
When the Chairman (Omali Yeshitela) asked me to come I just grabbed some stuff, so that’s why I don’t have anything in order, just kind of talking at random because I didn’t really know what type of presentation that he wanted from me.
I got here, and he told me he wanted me to talk about conditions in prison, my particular prison experiences.
But I did bring a lot of documentation that can be authenticated.
I don’t ever like to say anything that I can’t prove or that can’t be backed up.
I’ve never been accused of being a liar.
I’ve been called everything, but there are two things I’ve never been called and I’m proud of these two things, two things I’ve never been called in my life, by not even my worst enemy.
People have never called me a liar and they have never said that I was stupid.
But one of the things that I told you about when I went to prison, they locked me in a cell, wouldn’t allow me to have reading material, writing material, etc., that was the norm that was for everybody.
In fact people weren’t even reading in prison at that time; there wasn’t even a Jet magazine in prison.
All they did was fight, drugs and that type of thing, gambling and so forth.
But when I came, and I think I was representative of a new breed of prisoner that was coming in, I think maybe I was the vanguard in Alabama of another young, new breed of prisoners that came with progressive things on their mind, came cloaked in a sense of dignity and manhood that refused to compromise and out of that environment there I began to agitate for books, reading material.
That was the purpose of my being locked up and isolated from other prisoners.
They said I was a dangerous nigger because I wanted to read, so they felt somehow that my manhood was in what I read.
Another thing they thought that your manhood was in was your hair.
They used to shave all your hair off your head like this made a black person in particular less than a man.
That was the concept when you went to prison—to dehumanize you, emasculate you, cut all your hair off your head, so we had to shave our hair off our heads.
I refused to go along with that.
Out of that, and one of the things that I’ve learned and that has maintained me throughout my life, is that you teach by example.
I learned that in my prison experience.
When I was there, I think I was weighing about; I was 5’6”, weighing about 120 pounds.
There were other prisoners 6’7”, 6’8”, weighing 340 pounds.
The prison custodians used to refer to them as “niggers,” “boys,” kick ‘em, and whatever.
I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, I’m just trying to give out some lessons as how struggle evolved, and that by your example you could change the concrete reality of your existence.
When I went there, I refused to play the Uncle Tom game.
Every prisoner there had to say “yes, sir,” “no, sir."
You couldn’t say “yes, sir,” “no, sir” you had to say “yassuh, boss,” “nossuh, boss.”
Guys I had been on the street with, that were so bad rain wouldn’t fall on them, you see, if they walked on this side of the street and it was raining over here, rain wouldn’t fall on the side of the street they were on.
But then I went to prison, and found these same guys - yassuh, nossuh, beating up other prisoners, robbing and raping other prisoners for the pleasure of the prison custodians, I found all of that.
One of the things that happened out of my experience there, I never would say it, never would Uncle Tom.
I was the only prisoner at Atmore, and at that time there were 2,500 prisoners there, that wouldn’t say “yes, sir” and “no, sir” in captive.
What that did to the other prisoners, the guys that were 6’8” and 270 to 300 pounds, what that did to them, and I would be in their presence and the prison custodian would come up to them and say, “Nigger, you get over there, hey boy, get your ass over there, sit.”
He’d look at me and say, “Mafundi, would you mind such and such a thing.”
So they do look at me, and I’d look like Popeye, Ali, or whatever, and I would get all the respect.
He wouldn’t get no respect.
Them niggers got mad behind that.
They got mad behind that, and then they’d begin to refuse.
They said he could do it, just come to prison, teenager, don’t weigh 150 pounds soaking wet, and, why do we submit to this type of degradation?
Out of that thinking evolved the Inmates For Action (IFA), which I think was the most progressive and the best prison organization in the country.
I don’t know whether any of you know anything about the IFA, but the IFA evolved there in Atmore prison in 1970, 1971.
What happened was that we got fed up.
We decided to, that we had written to congressmen, we had written to preachers, we had cried to our families, we had pleaded to the basic humanity of the prison custodians, all to no avail.
So there was only one thing, no one was going to save us.
We had to save ourselves.
So we organized to that goal.
The thing that we had, our motto, was: “If one strikes a brother, we strike another.”
Out of that, if a prison guard hit a brother, the first opportunity we got, we fought him up.
If a prison guard killed a brother, at the first opportunity a prison guard was killed.
It was just that cold, and it was just that real, and that uncompromising.
So we had what I think was one of the best, most progressive and comprehensive political documents, organizations, that came out of this country here.
At that point, what the prison custodians tried to do, they moved on us.
There was an assassination attempt on me.
I still haven’t had my teeth repaired.
I was hit in the mouth with a baseball bat.
My finger here, I can’t move.
For all practical reasons I was left for dead.
At the same incident, two other prisoners tried to save my life and they were killed.
In fact, they didn’t know that I wasn’t dead until I was at the morgue and the doctor there had to pull his pocket knife on the prison custodians to keep them from finishing me off there.
The prisoners came and surrounded the hospital there and stood guard around me when I was unconscious and everything, and got word out to my family what had happened.
Out of that struggle there, we began to have educational classes.