April 1, 2015
Posted on Feb 9, 2014
By Chris Hedges
In her own trial the government presented audio recordings of her meetings with Abdel Rahman in the prison in Rochester, Minn. The taping of her conversations, which before the federal Patriot Act would have violated attorney-client privilege, is now legal.
She said of the 9/11 attacks, “We’ve never explored why. Why does this happen? Why, what compelled 21 young men to give up their lives to do this thing? No, we’ve never, we don’t want to look at that. We don’t want to know why.”
“We continue the facade that we are fair,” she said, “that we have this Constitution we respect, and we can rely on, and that we can embrace. You can’t do that, that’s my constitutional rights, etc. When really they’re [our constitutional rights] a puff of smoke. They don’t really exist.”
I asked her what she had learned from being incarcerated.
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“I don’t think I ever appreciated the unrelenting stress” of being in prison, she said. “That you’re always waiting for something to come down. That there’s such arbitrary authority. Guard A says, ‘Go down those stairs, use the stairs.’ Guard B says, ‘You can’t use the stairs, you’re not permitted on the stairs.’ And you say, ‘But Guard A just said. ...’ ‘I don’t care what he said, this is my rule!’ That kind of arbitrary thing, you’re always guessing. What does this guy, what does this woman, want me to do? Where am I? Where is this? And that’s 24/7.”
“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.
“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.”
“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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