Community support, connection important for those in prison5 min read
How can we support political prisoners throughout and after incarceration? The Civil Liberties Defense Center asked several political prisoners to share what they found most helpful. Today we highlight Linda Evans.
[00:00:12] Linda Evans: Hi, everyone. Really glad to be with you. I’m coming from Santa Rosa, California, which is Pomo and Coastal Miwok land. So, the first question was, ‘How did you receive support?’
[00:00:24] Well, the lawyers were tremendously important, certainly in our case. We came from, we were arrested from being underground, and most people were very afraid to have anything to do with us at first. So it was the lawyers who came forward and helped us organize ourselves to be able to put on a defense. At that point in time, I think, you know, we have continued to be challenged in building support for political prisoners. At that time, there was not very much support, so no organizations were willing to lend support to us at all. But individuals came forward and gradually helped to build that support, to get media attention, to build a defense committee that was able to help us in our trial in the Resistance Conspiracy Case in D.C.
[00:01:16] John Q: She was asked what helped her make it through.
[00:01:18] Linda Evans: Being of service. Being able to be of service to other people who were inside with me, being able to be of service, even to making the connection between those of us that were inside and invisibilized by the state with our political movements.
[00:01:35] And to try to develop some understanding in those movements on the outside of what prison meant—what does mass incarceration mean? And at that time in the late 1980s, there was just the very beginning of an understanding of how the numbers of people going to prison in this country, the racism of our system, has affected our whole society.
[00:02:00] And I know there are letter writing groups in many, many states that people can participate in as a way to just give people insight and a recognition that there are human being.
[00:02:11] John Q: An official inmate club enabled her to organize around AIDS education.
[00:02:15] Linda Evans: Being an official club, we were able to educate the other people that we were inside with and really, go to people’s tests with them, to do all kinds of peer counseling. And we actually developed a program where we were able to do have ‘Prisoners Fight AIDS’ walk-a-thons for three different years and raised money for AIDS services.
[00:02:40] We brought the AIDS quilt for the first time to a women’s prison… So that kind of service was very important to me. And unfortunately it’s something that people are robbed of increasingly now inside the federal system, for sure. And definitely inside the state systems. So I think that the ways that our attorneys and that we also on the outside can be fighting for the expansion of people’s civil rights while they are inside is just crucial.
[00:03:12] So I think that’s really important, that we stay connected with people. We continue to write to them. We visit. And we also do a lot of advocacy, both for individual cases and against conditions that are repressive inside the prison system.
[00:03:29] I’m absolutely committed to— as somebody that received an extreme sentence myself— is to drop Life Without Parole (LWOP) sentencing. In California, we have over 5,000 people locked up with LWOP sentences and we’re determined to get them all out and to eliminate that sentence.
[00:03:46] It is crucial that we eliminate the Parole Commission. It was supposed to sunset in 1992 for ‘Old Law ‘people. I was an ‘Old Law’ person since before 1987. And that there are still 200 people, including some of our political prisoners— like Leonard Peltier, Matulu Shakur, Veronza Bowers— who are still locked up under those laws and cannot get out because of the Parole Commission. So one of the things I’m continuing to work on is the elimination of the Parole Commission altogether and the release of those ‘Old Law’ prisoners.
[00:04:22] John Q: Linda Evans was introduced by Chava Shapiro.
[00:04:25] Chava Shapiro: So Linda is a former political prisoner and Weather Underground participant. She was sentenced in 1987 to 40 years in prison as a result of her political activities. While incarcerated, she organized around AIDS and HIV education and prevention, as well as just general, better medical care for the people inside the prison walls.
[00:04:46] She was a close comrade to a woman named Marilyn Buck, another political prisoner who died a free person in 2010 after being granted what the state calls ‘compassionate release,’ but wasn’t medical release. And if it was compassionate, she would have been home a lot sooner.
[00:05:02] But Linda has continued to tirelessly organize with people and alongside people who are incarcerated since her sentence was commuted by Bill Clinton. And if I was to list all of the amazing things that she’s done since then, this would, this bio would be like very, very, very long.
[00:05:19] John Q: Linda pointed out that political prisoners after often the first to see innovations in repressive sentencing.
[00:05:25] Linda Evans: Just reflecting on the fact that it seems to me, we were used and those cases were used to test out a series of prosecution and repression that were kind of unprecedented: Preventive detention—no bail was a really big deal at that time; Sedition charges, really unprecedented at that time; A terrorism enhancement in the sentencing process; Luke (O’Donovan) was banished; Eric King had a mail ban, and I think it’s still in place, you know; and (Michael) “Rattler” (Markus) was prosecuted with a severe sentence for what should have been a civil disobedience at most.
[00:06:06] It’s really important that we recognize that these political cases are being used as a testing ground. And that’s why it’s so critically important that we have had such wonderful lawyers. So I want to take a few moments to just deeply, deeply appreciate the commitment and dedication of such amazing legal support throughout the years, …determined radical defense, just like the CLDC just provided to Eric King. And where would we be without you?
[00:06:40] John Q: For more, visit CLDC.org.