California Prisons Ban Revolution

At nine years old, police arrested me for attempting to steal something from a variety store. They took me downtown to jail until my parents came to get me. I was considered “incorrigible” by 17 years old when I was tried as an adult for armed robbery and sentenced to prison for 20 years.

I was sent to prison during the 1960s. This was a time when the world was metaphorically being turned upside down and revolution was in the air. I admired the courage and heroism of students, youth (and others) in the streets of this country demanding an end to the war in Vietnam, demanding an end to the oppression of women and demanding liberation for Blacks and other minorities.

Revolution was surging in the third world to say nothing of the Cultural Revolution in China which was having significant impact across the globe. News of these struggles reached me behind prison walls. Through reading and studying, I learned why the world was the way it was and how it could be changed. I turned my life around through learning about and getting with the revolutionary movements of the time. I got out of a life of crime and dedicated my life to radically transforming the world. Without the freedom to explore all kinds of ideas, this would not have been possible

All of this explains my response to the banning of Revolution newspaper at Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) and at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison (CVSP), both in California.

In February 2010, Revolution newspaper was banned at PBSP and CVSP. Announcing the ban, prison officials at PBSP said in essence: “…your periodical newspaper has been determined to be contraband because it promotes disruption and overthrow of the government and incites violence to do so and further, that the newspaper incites racial violence and promotes Governmental anarchy.

These allegations are but a thin fig-leaf covering the banning of Revolution. The discussion of revolution in the pages of this newspaper is well known and for decades considered protected speech according to Supreme Court rulings. And the charge that the newspaper incites racial violence would be laughable if it weren’t so serious. Revolution promotes unity among prisoners, not violence. In fact, Black prisoners request the newspaper in Spanish to reach across language barriers. Prison guards, on the other hand, often provoke racial violence. For example, gladiator fights at Corcoran prison, where guards staged fights between prisoners, including in some cases to the death, for entertainment.

Prisons today are bursting at the seams with over 2 million prisoners, most of whom are Black and Latino, and prison conditions are far worse than they were when I was incarcerated.

Ten of thousands of prisoners are confined in bare, tomb-like, windowless cells 23 hours a day for months and years. Prolonged isolation is an extreme mental abuse of prisoners and can have a devastating effect. Some prisoners are driven insane, and it is especially cruel when prisoners who are already suffering from mental illness are subjected to  such confinement. Long-term isolation and sensory deprivation violate international laws against torture.1

In this environment, Revolution newspaper is a genuine lifeline for hundreds and hundreds of prisoners across the country, their window on the world and to the possibility of a future better world. A subscriber from Pelican Bay State Prison recently wrote that he had been getting Revolution newspaper for about 8 years and can’t imagine being in this dungeon without it

Prisoners have a right to a life of the mind; they have a right to the awe and wonder of science; they have a right to atheist views and to  break the mental shackles of religion; they have a right to understand why there are so many Black and Latinos imprisoned; they have a right to reject misogyny and porn which is so prevalent in prison; they have a right to explore radical, revolutionary and communist  solutions to the plight of the people and of the planet itself; and they have a right to transform themselves into emancipators of humanity. All of this is what prisoners are learning through the pages of Revolution newspaper…and what prison officials are attempting to suppress through the ban.

The ban on Revolution cannot stand. A major political and legal battle is currently being mounted against it. All those who  value the right of prisoners to have a life of the mind and to freedom of speech should join the effort to put an end to the ban at Pelican Bay, Chuckawalla (and other prisons), including by signing a statement demanding the ban be overturned. This statement, along with letters from prisoners and official correspondence about the ban from prison officials and the ACLU (S. Cal). are available at the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund website.

  1. Brave Resistance at Pelican Bay SHU: Prison Hunger Strike Against Supermax Torture.” Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution). Issue 1176, November 24, 2002.

    Gawande, Atul. “Hellhole. The United States holds tens of thousands of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. Is this torture?” The New Yorker. March 30, 2009.

    Grassian, Stuart, MD. “Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement.” Statement submitted September 1993 in Madrid v. Gomez.

    Haney, Craig. “Mental Health Issues in Long-Term Solitary and ‘Supermax’ Confinement.” Crime and Delinquency, 2003.

    Isaacs, Carolyn and Matthew Lowen. “Buried Alive: Solitary Confinement in Arizona’s Prisons and Jails.” American Friends Service Committee-Arizona (May 2007).

    Johnson, Kevin. “Inmate Suicides Linked to Solitary.” USA Today. January 11, 2007

    Magnani, Laura. “Buried Alive: Long-term Isolation in California’s Youth and Adult Prisons.” American Friends Service Committee-Oakland (May 2008)

    Marx, Gary. “Tamms: Illinois’ Highest-Security Prison a Study in Isolation.” Los Angeles Times. February 28, 2009.

    Torture: America’s Brutal Prisons.” BBC Channel 4 program originally aired March 2, 2005. Accessed at

    “Torture by Isolation: America’s Supermax Dungeons,” Revolution, November 15, 2209, Issue # 183, available online. []

Clyde Young served time in juvenile facilities as a pre-teen. His transformation from a life of crime to a revolutionary communist, while serving a 20-year prison sentence for armed robbery, is discussed in an interview in The Bandana Republic: A Literary Anthology by Gang Members & Their Affiliates (Soft Skull Press, 2008). Read other articles by Clyde.