Monday, February 25, 2008
Gabriel ConcepciÃ³n, a.k.a. Jose Cruz and best known as Blaze, was a founding member of the Allied Resistance Network and has written a number of essays on prison issues and his political ideologies. He works for a delivery company and lives in the Bronx, where he grew up.
Blaze, 39, was convicted in 1993 of drug dealing after being picked up on a neighborhood sweep. He was convicted three years later, while in prison, of assault and conspiracy to murder in a mass indictment of Latin Kings leaders following the prison murder of the head of the New York chapter of the gang. He was released one year ago on parole after serving 13 1/2 years.
He denies committing the crimes and considers himself a political prisoner. He is active in radical leftist politics and is still a member of the Latin Kings. He says he works to steer the gang away from crime and toward its revolutionary political roots.
How did the Allied Resistance Network get started?
I was in Leavenworth doing federal time. My case was a Latin Kings case, the Almighty Latin Kings and Queens Nation. I've always been a little bit political. I've always studied hard in all the different styles of revolution, all the different lines of thought. The communist line of thought, the anarchist line of thought, socialism and nationalism. I read a bunch of everything just to see where everyone's take is, and even though there are a bunch of different lines of thought, one thing is obvious, that there is something wrong and something needs to be done. I join with all kinds of forces. It doesn't matter if their line of thought is a little bit different than mine. It's really important nowadays, because the revolutionary vanguards are divided amongst themselves because of their differences in ideas and approach. They allow that to become an obstacle, and that weakens the revolution.
What happened is that I ended up finding myself in communication with David Strano, who's out of the anarchist camp. I was writing a brother by the name of White Bear, Oso Blanco. He's out of New Mexico. He was over there in Leavenworth with me. He's a Native American. The brother introduced me to Dave Strano through the mail. He gave me his address and said, "Yo, why don't you write these people? They're down to earth." So I wrote Dave, and I started sending him some of my political essays. From there, we grew attached. He liked a lot of the stuff that I was writing, and I was feeling his energy as well. I thought he was sincere in working with the prisoners. That was the strongest bond, right there, and that was what made everything happen.
I had a lot of connections on the inside, prisoners that I would write to, from all over the country. We started to do the Allied Resistance Network. From there it was all uphill. It's never easy to have a newsletter, because one of the things that the capitalists have over us is that they have the money. We don't. They can put thousands of dollars, millions of dollars, in their works, and we're scraping pennies to make something happen. At first, the newsletter was supposed to come out every month, but then we ended up going back to every other month or every three months because the funds weren't there. And the operation was getting only bigger.
Q & A with Blaze
What have you done in the year since you were released from prison?
As soon as I got out, I went to Chicago, where they had the Latin American Solidarity Conference. That's where I met up for the first time with Dave and them of Kansas. It was beautiful, because we'd always talked on the phone or by letter, and even saw pictures of each other, but we'd never met in person.
From there, I went to the National Conference on Organized Resistance in Washington, D.C. I also went to the anti-war march in Manhattan and Free the Puerto Rican Political Prisoners in the Bronx. I started going to events almost every week. I went to the courts to support these old Black Panthers that got locked up for crimes that were allegedly committed by them some 30 years ago. It's something that I think is important that people start to get involved with the struggle, with all kinds of causes.
How did the Allied Resistance Network spread within prison?
The work that Dave and them do is probably the most important. They get the most props, because they do all the footwork. They put it together. They raise the money by selling vegetables-they have this big vegetable garden that they would sell vegetables out of. They would scrape up money. Their money that they worked for all week, they would put it into that. Of course, as prisoners, most of us couldn't come up with no money.
What I did was, I created the base. I had hundreds of prisoners that I already was in contact with, so I started telling them all, "Listen, let's work with this newsletter. Let's all start submitting essays and poetry and our thoughts, our complaints about the prison-industrial complex and the brutality of the guards and whatnot." And it just flew.
Brothers started writing to Dave from all over the country, and since they knew I was a stand-up guy, they started to take part in it. It became something that they even considered their own. A lot of these brothers inside, they feel more energetic when they see that it's actually something of their own.
What is the point of the network?
It has a dual purpose. One thing I noticed from the newsletter is that when prisoners see their stuff in writing, it motivates them to continue writing. It's not like the regular media. What do they call it, the fourth branch of government? It's not like that. I've done interviews with mainstream media, and they'll just change my words around, make me look like a criminal.
With Allied Resistance, you have these brothers giving poetry, and their essays and their thoughts, and it stays just the same way they sent it in. They feel encouraged, they feel motivated, and thus the struggle has gained another comrade.
Also, it educates people all around about what's going on in the prisons. What are the thoughts and the views of the prisoner? Right now, a lot of people think that prisoners are the worst of the worst. But it's like someone else said, we've all committed crimes, it's just that these are the ones that got caught. The ones who in society are most oppressed. The ones that have nothing to lose but their chains, and they're realizing that.
A lot of people are reading now of the Allied Resistance. I've gotten letters from people saying, "Man, this is a great newsletter. I want to take part in it." I remember some of the prisoners that I would pass the newsletter to, they would be like, "I'm going to send in $5, or $3, to Kansas." Just the fact that they would send in $3 is a big thing, because it's hard to send $3 from prison.
How easy was it for the newsletter to spread?
There's no problem with it being accepted. Most prisoners love it. They'll read it, they'll devour it, they'll use it as a study material for when they hold little classes. I used to hold revolutionary classes with those newsletters. I would pass them around to people and tell them, "Let's talk about this article right here." Everybody would read the article, and then we would have this big discussion about the article, the pros and the cons and the possibilities of that working, whatever it was that the person was writing about. It's a good thing. Plus, it also opened the eyes of a lot of prisoners about things that are happening in other joints.
The only thing that becomes an obstacle, as always, is the administration. The police. They take the newsletter, and they'll say things like, "These people are trying to communicate with other prisoners in other joints, and that's a security threat, and they're passing code words." That's not true, but that's how they do it. That's how the administration always works. In a lot of joints right now, a lot of prisoners are not receiving the newsletter because the administration is labeling it a threat.
You look at the newspapers like the (New York) Daily News, you'll see more acts of crime and more anti-government stuff than anything else. You'll see the cops beating down people and shooting innocent people in the streets, and Al-Qaeda doing this, that and the third, an attack on another country by this military machine. And they don't say nothing. But when they get our newsletter, and our newsletter's talking about unfair treatment in prisons, now all of a sudden it becomes a threat, and they say that that newsletter cannot get in because it's encouraging violence. It's just a contradiction.
I think this whole country is one of contradictions. I'm very fond of wearing glasses. I have this set of glasses I always wear. I wear it everywhere. The only thing is that they don't have the lenses. People always say, "Man, why are you always wearing these glasses without the lenses?" That's just my way of saying that everything that you see in me ain't what it appears to be. That's what this government is, a lot of lies. They'll say this land is the land of the free, but we have more prisoners than any other country in the world. They'll say this land has freedom of speech, but as soon as you say something they don't like, they attack you.
Look at what they did to Ward Churchill. Ward Churchill was a tenured professor at the University of Colorado. He wrote this essay called "Some People Push Back." What he was referring to was the World Trade Center, and how it happened was because a lot of Americans are allowing this government to do things to other people, so when these other people push back, whose fault it is. It's the people's fault in this country, because they're not stopping their own country from doing stuff that annoys people. He ended up getting attacked for this, for using his right to free speech.
The Allied Resistance newsletter, you've got all these prisoners writing about things, and it's real. It's real stuff, it's raw material, what you're getting there. They really don't edit a lot of the material. They'll take out stuff that probably will stop it from getting into the prisons, stuff that the prisoner doesn't realize will cause a security breech, but for the most part, the stuff is raw. The prisoner says what he says, and it gets printed. And most people that read those newsletters, they love it.
Prison seems to have a way of radicalizing people, and some of the radical forces, like the Aryan Brotherhood, are malicious.
You ended up touching on a couple of different things. As far as radicalizing a person, yes, prison does that. But it depends on that person's state of mind, because some people don't want to be radicalized. They don't want to change. They actually feel good being the way they are. I always say it's a shameful type of person that goes into prison, does 10, 20, 30 years, and comes out as the same individual he was when he entered. He did not grow, he did not learn, he did not change some of his bad habits, he didn't do no self-criticism. When that person comes back out, it's just pitiful. Some people even come out in a worse condition. They weren't taking drugs when they were out in the free world, and they go to prison-they start taking drugs. They start drinking. All that stuff is present there.
It does help radicalize a lot of individuals who are willing to open up. Malcolm X is one of them. Malcolm X went inside prison and he became a genius in the revolutionary struggle. Same thing with George Jackson. These brothers, they might have been a little bit radical on the street. Like me, I was a little bit radical on the street. But prison is where I actually had time to sit and read and study and think and contemplate, and put a lot of my ideas into practice. It has that effect.
Then there's another class of individuals. They're like the lumpenproleteriat. They want to stay as criminals. They want to continue selling drugs. They're just thinking of ways of, when they come home, how they're going to become the next Tony Montana. That's another dangerous force that, in prisons, the revolutionary has to deal with, because they become part of the problem. They're agents of confusion. They're used to oppress or even hurt the revolutionary.
Here's an example. One time I went on a hunger strike. I was with a lot of my Latin King brothers in the hole, and I was going on a hunger strike because the police were being very abusive. They were denying us our property, and it was freezing in those cells. We didn't have none of our personal property, none of our papers and pens and addresses, sneakers and socks and shirts. None of the stuff that we had to stay warm and to live with for a little foodstuffs. They wouldn't give it to us. And by law, within three days of being in solitary confinement they're supposed to bring you your property, at least that stuff you can have-legal work and other paperwork-but they weren't doing it. So I went on a hunger strike. None of the other brothers went on a hunger strike. They were afraid, because if they go on a hunger strike, then the police will retaliate and they'll get in more trouble.
You're stuck between a rock and a hard place. But me, I'm always going hard. If I'm going to go hard, I go hard all the way. I don't give up. So I went on a hunger strike and eventually, after three days, the police separated me from my Latin King brothers, and they sent me to a different tier. And they went back to my brothers and told my brothers that I requested to be separated from them, which made my brothers think, "Wow, Blaze separated himself from us. Something must be wrong. He must be snitching or something." It created a lot of confusion, and it turned them against me momentarily.
Those are the tricks that the government plays. They turn your peers against you, especially with those brothers in prison who do not understand the revolutionary struggle. It happens out here too, in the free world. It happened during the Black Panther era and during the Young Lords era. The government actually had a program that was just for infiltrating groups and creating confusion and mistrust amongst each other. The program was called COINTELPRO, which is an acronym for Counter Intelligence Program. They end up infiltrating groups or using other individuals to create all kinds of confusion. That's one of our biggest worries.
Then you've got, let's say, the Aryan Brotherhood, a piece of what you just asked. You've got all kinds of different ideologies. You've got even religious prisoners. They're another one that's hopeless because they're so religious, they feel like, "Well, I'm going to leave it all in God's hands." We can't leave it all in God's hands. If you believe in God, that's why God created us. To do what we've got to do to survive. The slave didn't become free by leaving it in God's hands. The slave, he actually had to fight for his freedom. If we would've decided as slaves to leave it in God's hands, we would still be slaves today.
There comes a time when you have to fight. You actually have to bleed and shed blood. Nothing is won easily. If you're going to grow crops, you have to actually plow the ground. You have a lot of individuals in prison that don't understand the struggle, and when you try to tell them about it, they think it's a joke and won't hear it.
What are you fighting for?
It's a truth that revolution is not a single act. It's a process. As a revolutionary, I know that right now I can't do nothing that's going to change the way things are immediately. What I can do is educate and agitate. By that, I mean that I'm reaching out to a bunch of other individuals who are from the street, and I try to educate them in what it means to be free, in what it means to fight for true freedom. I educate them in all the different styles of revolution that occur and, hopefully, they end up teaching someone else. "Each one teach one." What happens is that I bear good fruit, I plant the seeds.
I've actually created a lot of brothers whose minds are radical. I feel very good about that. I can safely say that I have at least 20 brothers that are very radical, and before I started talking to them, they weren't. They were into the streets, they were drug dealers and whatnot. But I reached out to them and I made a difference. I reach out to a lot of youngsters too. I try to keep hem out of prison. I try to keep them out of antisocial behavior, like selling drugs, gang-banging, beating up people. My aim is to reach out to a lot of the youth, especially those involved with the Latin Kings, and try to get them back into the struggle.
The Latin Kings was created for a revolutionary purpose. They were created for the people in the '60s when that was the freedom era, the fight the power era. In the '70s, they ended up losing focus of their true reason and purpose and they ended up going into this street mentality, click mentality. I'm taking it back to the beginning. I end up teaching a lot of brothers about the struggle and holding classes. I even go sometimes to meet their parents and to tell their parents what I can do to help their kids. I do the big brother thing a lot.
What I mean by agitate is going to a lot of protests and functions. Last week, I went to a school protest, where we're trying to get more funds for intermediate school, junior high school, because that's where the biggest dropout rate is coming from. Instead of focusing on that, they're taking funds from the intermediate schools, and you've got maybe three kids reading from the same history book. They're sharing books instead of all of them getting them books. In the city, it's really bad in these schools. So we're protesting that.
Do you consider yourself a Maoist revolutionary?
A lot of people have different opinions about Mao. A lot of people feel that Mao was a brutal dictator, killed so-called millions of people. I think that the word that killed the most people was capitalism. And religion. If you look all the way back, you're going to see that a lot of the wars-World War I and II-they're all capitalist wars. Yes, I'm a Maoist. I believe that Mao took the revolution a step further. He went into China and trained the peasants and the people how to fight the government and take power, because at that time there was a Chinese government that was running with the imperialist powers. He didn't really last long, but he made great leaps in China. After 1976, China turned into a capitalist state. They call themselves communists, but they live under capitalist ideologies.
I want to clarify that I follow a lot of revolutionaries, regardless of what thought they follow. The anarchists, like Kropotkin-that's another thinker that I think is a genius. Then you've got socialists and whatnot. I think that they all have an idea, and they've just got to learn how to work together. That's where the problem is. A lot of these revolutionaries refuse to work together because they feel like the other one is up to no good.
What are your thoughts on gangs and what's your involvement with the Latin Kings?
I'm still involved with the Latin Kings real big. I try hard to take them toward the direction that they're supposed to go, which is the revolutionary struggle. A lot of these organizations, a.k.a. gangs, they get together for a purpose, and a lot of that is energy. Unused energy. Untapped resources that the people got to learn how to use. When they killed Rodney King, the ones who set it off in the country in 1992, the Watts riots and all that, were the people in the street.
When a revolutionary situation occurs, the ones who are going to set it off and are going to be the standing army are the people in the street. In the Revolutionary War for this country, when they pushed the yoke of England off their backs, who was it that fought? It was the common people. When Mao set it off against his country, who'd he use to take over the country? The common people. These kids in the street are an army. They're a standing army.
What's missing is the leaders. Right now, they're doing all kinds of crazy stuff because wherever the head goes, the body follows. A lot of these organizations, or gangs, or whatever you want to call them, have heads that aren't going in the right direction. They're taking these kids in a deformed path that is self-destructive. They end up hurting themselves more than anything else.
Imagine if all these gangs had revolutionary leaders. This country wouldn't allow it. They would actually set up every revolutionary leader. I feel that maybe one day I'm going to get set up by this government, or killed, because I'm doing what I wish most street leaders would do: reach out to these youths and teach them how to become a standing army.
What's your side of the story of why you went to prison? And tell us about the organizing you did at Rikers Island jail in New York, and the additional charges you faced.
I was actually going to buy a gallon of milk for my mother and I had just finished working, delivering bread. It was like 10 in the morning, and the police ran up on my neighborhood. I was standing in front of the building, talking to some of the kids from the neighborhood. We were all congregated, and they did a drug sweep. They took everybody that was out in front of the building, and they ended up giving me a sales that I didn't do.
It was in Rikers Island that I started protesting the inhumane conditions, the lack of medical care and the police abuse. Since I was a Latin King leader in the prisons, I used my strength to make people rebel against unjust treatment. When the Latin Kings in the street ended up getting under federal indictment, because they were being investigated for some crimes that individuals were committing, they ended up doing a sweep and taking hundreds of us and charging us all as part of this racketeering enterprise.
I ended up catching 15 more years while I was in prison. I went in for the drug sale that I didn't do, that was a two-and-a-half-to-five-year bid, and then in prison I ended up catching that other 15 years. The reason why they did it was because I was a ringleader. They ended up saying, "OK, if this guy wants to be a troublemaker, let's throw him in that federal indictment that we've got on the Kings." And it was easy for them because I was already a leader of the Kings. So I ended up catching that 15 years, and I took it. If I would've fought it, I would've been found guilty, because they had snitches lying and all kinds of stuff, and I was going to get life in prison. So I ended up copping out to a 15-year bid.
What were you convicted of in the Latin Kings sweep?
Conspiracy to murder and assault. At first they indicted me for a murder and an assault, but the murder I never committed. They were just using that as the fishing hook to bring me into the indictment. Once they dropped the murder, they only charged me with two assaults and a conspiracy to commit murder. All three charges were actually jailhouse beefs, like fighting against other prisoners.
At the same time, when I was in Rikers Island, we had drama with the police. Serious drama with the police. But we also had serious drama with other groups that were oppressive in their own nature. That's the reality of prison. You're not just fighting the police. You're fighting groups that are trying to crush you. If it's the Aryan Brotherhood, if it's the other groups that want to control the phones or the food, you've got to fight for that stuff in prison. Just to get on the phone, you've got to fight for that. People die for that phone.
And you still associate with the Latin Kings, after that?
I was real honest with my parole officer. I told him, "I'm a Latin King. If you don't like that I'm a Latin King, you can lock me back up. I'm going to continue talking to other people who are ex-prisoners." I'm not afraid to go back to prison. I got used to it. It's like a vacation. I go into prison and what am I going to do? I'm going to read and write more. And I need to read and write more. Right now I'm so busy living life, working and running around, that I don't have time have time to read and write no more. Maybe I could use another couple of months vacation.
But I told the parole officer, "Listen, one thing that I am not going to do is commit crimes. I'm not going to be walking with weapons. I'm not going to be beating up people. I'm not going to be selling drugs. So you don't have to worry." Their concern is, "But you're still going to be breaking your conditions of parole because you're still going to be communicating with prisoners and ex-prisoners and you're not supposed to."
But my thing is, I want to help people. That's why we have the Allied Resistance Network. If a kid comes to me and says, "Hey Blaze, I want to stay around you because I know you're going to keep me out of prison, you're going to keep me out of trouble," what am I going to tell him? I can't hang out with you because my parole will be violated? No. I'm going to say, "That's cool. Stay around with me. Let's go to this political rally. Let's go to that study group."
What has the last year been like adjusting to the outside?
One of the things that I've really noticed is that this country is even more of a police state than it was before. You've got signs all over the walls in the train stations, recordings over the speakers saying, "If you see something strange, go to the authorities," and you can get rewards for telling on somebody who's carrying a gun. Everywhere you turn, cameras and groups of police by the fives and the sixes.
I got nervous, I'll tell you. When I first got out, I walked into a train station and there's four police at a table going through people's backpacks. And this is regular. It reminds me of Nazi Germany, passing through checkpoints. I panicked when I saw that. I tried to stay away from it. I was worried that they were going to stop me and grab my bag, and then look at my wallet and see my prison ID. You see my prison ID, now I've got drama.
You missed the post-9/11 changes.
I went to my old neighborhood and I saw all these cameras on the buildings facing the street. It's like Big Brother. That's what we're living right now. 1984. The 9/11 situation is something we need to think about, because it gave feed to what these people always wanted to do anyway. This government has always wanted to clamp down on its citizens, but they needed a reason. 9/11 was that reason. And it's only getting worse. It's not getting better.
Why should people listen to a convict?
I think that people should read a lot of the stuff that prisoners write, because you get to see what it's really like. It's not "Oz." I run into a lot of people going in for bogus stuff. Sure, in prison there are a lot of criminals too, but it's like 5 percent. A lot of the crimes being committed today are economic crimes. It's not murder and violence. It's just economic crimes, selling drugs and whatnot, because that's the black market people have to work one way or another.
The human species is a creature of survival. They're going to survive one way or another. We were hunter-gatherers back in the day. We used to have the environment that allowed us to hunt and gather to survive. Now you can't hunt and gather. That doesn't exist no more. So if you don't got a job, what are you supposed to do? Just lay down and die? Starve to death? And you're never going to have enough jobs in the capitalist system, because it's all about capitalizing on the wealth. They're not distributing the wealth equally.
We need help to get this Allied Resistance newsletter even bigger and sent to more places. I'm working right now on trying to get a branch for New York to do something and help them, which is not easy. A lot of people on the street don't know too much about about the prison-industrial complex, and they really don't care. A lot of people are just stuck in their own lives.
Is there anything else you'd like to say?
Remember I told you that I got arrested when I was going to go buy some milk for my mom? When I came home, the first thing I did was go to the grocery store and got that gallon of milk for my mother, that gallon of milk that it took me so long to come back with. I went upstairs to my mother's house and I knocked on her door. As soon as she opened the door I was like, "Here, Mom. I'm sorry I took so long, but it's a jungle out there, right?" She didn't find that funny. She was crying tears and she hugged me, and she was like, "You'd better stay out of trouble. You're not going to hang out with them Kings no more. You're not going to do nothing no more, right? You're going to stay home and work."
I told her, "Ma, you see why I brought this milk? Because I don't like to leave any job unfinished. I like to finish what I start. This is why I'm bringing you that milk, because I started to get you that milk and I didn't bring it. To answer your question, right now I'm going to finish what I started." She asked if I was going to stop hanging out with certain individuals. You know, I've got a job to do, and my job is to reach out to the masses. Those that want to learn about the struggle, I'm there for them. I think that everyone has to do their part.