Aggressive in Your Pursuit of Life: PrisonsKill in Conversation with Greg Curry

photo of Greg squatting back when he had longer hair. His hands are clasped together. He is in a teal prison jump suit and squatting before a painted background of some bright blue, some dark grey rock formations, and some grass.

Little Black Train by Jacob Cohen plays in the background

Someone’s voice: The goal of #PrisonsKill is to show you how prisons are inherent death traps, how they been letting us die before Covid-19 and that will continue to be so until we let this system die.

sounds of people knocking on their windows

A child: You hear all those people knocking? (applause) You hear all those people knocking? They want to be free. They want to be free! They want to be free! No Justice, No Peace! 

Crowd: No Justice, No Peace! 

A child (yelling): Say it louder! 

Crowd: No Justice, No Peace! 

A child: Say it louder! 

Crowd: No Justice, No Peace!

A child: What’s his name? 

Crowd: Jamel Floyd [Jamel was an incarcerated person killed in MDC Brooklyn in June 2020 by corrections officers]! 

Little Black Train continues on. 

Joergen:  Hey everyone and welcome to the #PrisonsKill Podcast, my name is Joergen Ostensen and I’ll be one of the hosts and producers. This podcast is a new element of the #PrisonsKill media project that was originally envisioned by an incarcerated trans friend of ours. At this time it’s no longer safe to even say their name publicly because they are facing violent retaliation after speaking out about abuses in the federal prison system and encouraging other incarcerated people to do the same. August will mark one year since we have been allowed to speak to each other. Our intention in creating this podcast exists constantly in the presence of this person’s absence from our lives and from this work. 

We are prison abolitionists and this platform will creatively work to center the voices of currently and formerly incarcerated people. We will expose the systemic and inherent violence of the carceral state by creating space for those in its clutches to speak the truth on their own terms. Our goal is to subvert and challenge how prison is portrayed in the media, who gets to be considered a journalist and what is considered objective. In doing so we are trying to create media that can help us all  imagine a more compassionate future where everyone’s human dignity is recognized, where everyone is loved and where everyone’s voice is heard. Asatta Shakur wrote that “a wall is just a wall and nothing more at all…it can be broken down.” We see the incontrovertible truth of that statement and hope this podcast will be a fissure in the walls silencing the millions of incarcerated people in the so-called United States and around the world.  

Little Black Train stops. 

Greetings comrades and welcome to this third episode of the PrisonsKill Podcast. Today, September Ninth, is a very special day, as it marks 50 years since the Attica Rebellion. In the spirit of Attica and in the spirit of prison rebellions everywhere, we are excited to release an interview we recorded last year with our dear friend and comrade, Greg Curry. Greg, who identifies as a political prisoner, has been a continual target of repression and abuse at the hands of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction since the Lucasville Uprising of 1993. 

While many have heard of Attica, few people, even in abolitionist circles, know anything about Lucasville.  The uprising, which took place at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, is actually one of the largest prison revolts in US history, as incarcerated rebels maintained control of the facility for 11 days. The resistance came as a response to the brutal conditions of Warden Arthur Tate’s Operation Shakedown. Tate’s violent policies went as far as attempting to force incarcerated Muslims to submit to alcoholic tuberculosis tests. This violated their religious beliefs and their constitutional rights. This policy combined with other longstanding issues became the catalyst for the uprising. 

Here’s a clip from the documentary The Shadow of Lucasville, which we will link to in the show notes. 

Siddique Abdullah Hasan: This is Siddique Abdullah Hasan from Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, Ohio. I want to emphasize that prison is an unpleasant place to be, it’s harsh, not only on the prisoners, but on the prisoners’ families as well. We refer to the prison as Lucasville, but that’s not the actual name of the prison — the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility and it’s in Lucasville, Ohio. Lucasville had a very violent history. There was a long train of abusive treatment, inhumane conditions, and brutality suffered by prisoners and more often than not, a prison guard would either instigate the prison[er]-on-prison[er] violence or were the perpetrators of this violence themselves. So this was the backdrop that led up to the disturbance. 

You had a warden at the prison by the name of Arthur Tate Jr., known to the convict body simply as King Arthur. King Arthur was brought to the prison actually  just prior to offset some of the violence that was going on. He instituted Operation Shakedown, he instituted a lot of rules and regulations that was not to the liking of the prisoner as well as his staff. 

Media voice #1: There’s a report tonight of a prison riot at a maximum security prison in Southern Ohio. 

Media voice #2: Hundreds of prisoners took over part of the prison yesterday. 

Media voice #3: Easter Sunday, 450 prisoners armed only with batons, stolen from the guards reportedly took cell block L, adjacent to death row, under siege. 

Media voice #4: Injuring seven guards and taking an undetermined number of guards hostage. 

Government Official #1: There was an array of armed forces around the prison that has not been rivaled since D Day. 

Witness #1: Alarms going off. You know, the “man down” alarms that they have on their — you can hear the helicopters flying in and circling. 

Loved One #1: If someone were to approach me who had no knowledge of Lucasville, had no knowledge of the prison, and had no knowledge of the uprising in 1993, I would initially tell them that—

Loved One #2: —given the severity of the oppression experienced by people behind bars —

Loved One #3:— that it took them so long for there to be a riot—

Loved One #4: —that there aren’t more. 

Loved One #5: — that they’re not rioting everyday. 

Loved One #6: When you’re at a prison and you dealt with all these different abuses and conditions, that’s a kettle that begins to boil. 

Loved One #7: When you treat someone like an animal—

Loved One #8: —it makes it want to bite more. 

Loved One #5: I don’t know of any prison riot that occurred just for the sake of rioting. There were foundational issues. Whether it was a snitching system or some sort of—or if it was actually issues in terms of living conditions, that sort of thing, that led to it. 

Media Voice #5: The cells are smaller than you can possibly imagine. 

Loved One #6: It’s a closet space with enough room for a bed and a sink and a commode. 

Media Voice #6: So if you can imagine being confined with another human being, even a loving spouse, for 24 hours everyday in a small bathroom. 

Activist #1: When you take hope from people, whether they are free or locked up on the street, you’re creating a power keg and that’s what’s going on in a lot of the prisons and to have the prisons overcrowded in that way. 

Media voice #7: Kind of be like putting people in a pressure cooker.

Incarcerated Lucasville Rebel #1: From the onset of this we have tried desperately, desperately, desperately to get in contact with the news media. We have been stopped by this administration  — they think that they can confine this incident within this prison, like no other part of the world can hear this. They think they can hide everything they’ve been doing down here like they’ve been doing for years. 

This is not the case. 

Joergen: The last voice you heard was live from inside during the uprising. That incarcerated person was trying to call attention to the media’s utter failure to contextualize rebellions given the inherent violence of mundane conditions people were subjected to. The sad reality is that even 28 years later, Lucasville’s  rebels remain desperately in need of space to share their perspectives with the world. 

In the aftermath of Lucasville the state pinned the uprising on a small group of people and used the courts to railroad them. Five already incarcerated people, including Imam Sadique Hasan, whose voice you just heard, were given the death penalty. One of them, Bomani Shakur, has an execution date set for 2023. These convictions were obtained by testimony from what Greg calls “inmate co-consprirators,” who were incarcerated people offered time off sentences in exchange for false testimony. As a result, our friend, Greg, was sentenced to death by incarceration, but the state refers to his sentence as “life.” Greg’s fight for freedom and philosophy of self-defense are life-affirming and we encourage you to join Greg’s struggle for personal freedom within a broader fight for collective liberation. His address is in the show notes. 

As he explains in our interview, Lucasville became the justification for increasing repression and collective punishment, which included the construction of Ohio’s super maximum security prison that opened in 1998. Greg personally spent much of the ensuing 27 years in solitary confinement, only returning to general population earlier this year. For 14 years, he was denied physical contact with anyone.

Greg and the others the state connected to the rebellion have been subjected to extralegal violence and were often isolated even from other incarcerated people in solitary or at the supermax. This included the use of the sweat box, which was a vermin- infested cell with four metal walls, where temperatures in summer consistently exceeded triple digits. Even the toilet water verged on boiling. 

There were also many instances where Greg was assaulted by prison guards, who for decades have tried to avenge the death of the single guard that died during the rebellion, which Greg had nothing to do with. Through all of this, Greg has continued to bravely resist oppression, advocating not just for his own rights, but for freedom for all incarcerated people. In the box, Greg has had a lot of time to study, which he says is foundational to his organizing. In this interview, Greg discusses not only the repression he has experienced, but also the political ideals that underpin his resistance. Greg explains that in prison believing that all life is sacred necessitates an obligation to self defense. While the state has de-politiczied self defense in prison, calling oppressed people who stood up, like George Jackson or the Attica Brothers, criminals and terrorists, Greg explains how the motivation to defend himself and others comes from the most sincere commitment to upholding humanity, even in the most inhumane places. 

After our interview, which was recorded at the end of last year, there will be an update from Greg about Black August that my comrade Steve recorded last month. 

Dare to struggle, dare to win. Prisons Kill. 

What are some of the measures that Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections and the state government of Ohio took after the Lucasville uprising to quash the organizing that had been going on? 

Greg: Right before the riot, people—some of the prison officials—have been begging Columbus and the ODRC to build a Supermax. They rejected it because they said for the expense that is needed to build that prison the people in the ODRC didn’t feel there were enough Supermax prisoners to justify building a prison just for them, because at Lucasville they have a Supermax area that’s like 15 cells 20 cells. And those cells are never used. At the height of usage it might have been five people back there, that’s it. So they were saying where we gonna get Supermax prisoners from? when you don’t have them now? 

Next thing you know, prison riots happen and one of the first things on the table was we need to build that Supermax prison to house the worst of the worst, and then of course after an 11 day riot of such magnitude no one, no politician was willing to say “No, we just said we don’t need a Supermax prison so why would we need one now?” So the money was given, and they quickly built the prison, and when it opened there was hardly anyone there—hardly anyone who fit the criteria to be in Supermax according to ODRC. And so at some point they made the decision to just start rounding people up from different prisons. I met a guy that was up there, he had a joint in his cell overnight and he was sent there. They were finding any excuse possible to put people there. What they also did was make any and every rule violation that much more serious in order to fill that prison up and once they filled that prison up in order to hold enough people in there to again justify the existence of a Supermax prison. They were turning every one down for no reason. Just turning people down and making people do an extra 3-5 years up there and for the pettiest of—like I’m a level 4 here at Toledo and when I was a level 4 up at the Supermax just getting caught with a shaving razor in your cell was enough to get you put in the hole and make you do an extra year or two at the Supermax. Here they sell whole bags of razors so you could get 10 bags of razors at a time and you can keep them in your cell the whole time, and this is level 4 and where I was at the Supermax was level 4. So it was just that they started using the pettiest of rules to create Supermax prisoners just to keep that jail open. 

Joergen: Can you also talk about like I know a lot of people—you included—who are described by the state as the leaders of the riots have faced a lot of consequences, in addition to the building of the Supermax prisons, can you talk a little bit about some of the repression that’s gone on? 

Greg: Yeah, well for me and a few of the other guys, they’re from death row. Just while we waited, the uprising happened in ‘93 the Supermax prison didn’t open till ‘98 so we were those of us accused and or convicted of riot related charges were held in isolation at that time long term isolation or solitary confinement was called AC, that’s short for administrative control so from Lucasville to Lebanon to Mansfield, all over the state wherever they could find the space they would have us in the hole in those spaces and we’re talking without TVs and radios and all of the things you know the toys that would distract you from those situations.

We were in those kind of conditions for the next 5 years. They zeroed in on who they said was most responsible or who had leadership skills that the state couldn’t co-opt were seen as a threat and we were treated as threats and we did the longest amount of time on isolation—myself I did very close to 14 years with no contact with other people period. When I went to rec I had to go by myself. And there was no human contact for that period of time and the guys that were on death row were dealing with the same situation. They were up at the Supermax and they weren’t allowed out with anyone else while everyone else in the prison was allowed out with everyone else, so it would be two people at rec and that would not be the case for me and the guys up there at death row. So again they just used the rule book to keep their foot on our neck. 

Joergen: So isolated confinement is often considered to be torture can you talk about your experience dealing with that for decades, 15 days is considered torture by the united nations, like you just talked about 14 years. Can you describe that and talk about what it’s like to deal with that?

Greg: I’m often asked that questions in various different ways, the answer that I always feel most comfortable giving I think that’s the most informative is that I didn’t do 14 years no contact or 25 years isolation what I did was wake up that morning with a purpose and went about reaching the goals I had set for that day whether it was reading a few chapters or exercising, what have you. So each day this is what I did, this is how I Iived for those amount of years but it was in hours and minutes and days versus just one long 14 years of this and 25 years of that. And I’m pretty sure my co-defenders that’s still up there on death row would say pretty much the same. We get up each day and deal with what we can control. One day we woke up and it was 14 years and one day we woke up and it was 25 years in solitary and we always continue to grow mentally and we all worked out sometimes together, we fasted. you know so we just tried to live the things that we were learning from the books that we were reading we all just tried to live what we believed in and so all of that helped us out. 

Joergen: Yeah, and of course on top of that there was the retaliation that you spoke about, um just like personal retaliation from guards and you talked about the concept of an involuntary hunger strike. This is violence, like this is what we could call state violence that’s been directed at you ever since, and even before, the uprising, but can you talk about how you fought back against the torture and violence that’s been imposed upon you and what are some of the actions that you’ve taken that you would describe as self-defense? 

Greg: Again, as far as how we deal or how I specifically deal with the state violence against me and I woke up the next day and decided what it was I wanted to accomplish that day, so I stay focused on that. Now there have been times where the state has physically assaulted me and I’ve responded I think with much thought and much care, and so I didn’t strike out at any person or official who worked for the state, but I will strike out at those who have attacked me. And there’s been a number of cases where I’ve gotten into it with the staff and of course gotten in trouble for what I’ve done in response to them. But none of them have gotten into any trouble for what they have done to me. But I understand you know from what I’ve read in books through the many years of isolation, I understand this is how the system works. You know it’s no surprise that a state official at the lowest level or highest level could get away with doing something to me because you know I’ve educated myself enough to know that this is how the system works, so I was not surprised. So I just kept on trying to live that’s all, just trying to live to the fullest extent within this confinement that I could. 

Joergen: Could you take us through an example of an instance where you’ve  decided to engage in self-defense; what leads up to that and then what ultimately happens? 

Greg: Well one of the incidents that happened before the Supermax opened, when I was being held in the hole in one of the prisons here in Ohio, everybody in this isolation unit was from the riot and so the staff there had an animosity because we were guys convicted for tearing up and destroying a prison and some for holding guards hostage and so the guards there tried to take it upon themselves to chastise us and treat us different than anyone else in a similar situation across the state of Ohio would be getting treated. I spoke up about it I talked to the other prisoners about it I said “Hey man, trying to get them to see that we were being treated different because we were from the riot that anyone else in isolation was being treated,” and so the guys there were telling me that “Well we’ve tried before you came to this prison we tried, we was trying.”  I said, “Well you haven’t tried hard enough.” So I started speaking up about it and the unit staff called me in and said “Hey, you ain’t changing nothing around here. Y’all have nothing coming but what we give you, that’s it. You’re not gonna come here and create no problems here.” 

And so I said, “Well it’s certain things that people in isolation all over the state of Ohio get while they’re in isolation.”And most of those things are just basic things like you know some store items and some other privileges that is assigned to isolation prisoners. It’s not like I was asking for something special for us cause we were in a special situation. It was that  I was asking for the same as anyone else in a similar situation. And because I had been in two other similar isolation units I knew that these items were permissible in this situation, only for the rioters that were being held at Lebanon Correctional was not receiving them. And so I convinced a few guys to join me in flooding the range several times a day to get the administrators attention and other things. I was just convincing them that this was something we should do.

Eventually, all of the fingers pointed at me as the guy who’s getting everyone riled up and having these protests and stuff. And so they started not sending, when I wrote a letter they would just throw it away or they would put it in their desk and forget to mail it out for me. They started to taking my rec, my one hour a day out of the cell, my rec they started taking it from me. But all along I was saying to them, listen man “I haven’t done anything to y’all,” and I’m talking about these low-level cops, they were just there making a living but they were taking this personally, and I was trying to explain to them “Listen man this is not personal to y’all why are y’all retaliating for what I do to get my just do, which is the bare minimum but y’all are taking it personal and it’s not about y’all.” And so they were like “yeah yeah whatever whatever.” So they started doing more. They started taking things out of my cell, my personal property out of my cell, they started refusing to feed me, letting me take showers or giving me rec. 

At the height of their retaliation against me, they put me in a sweat box in the middle of summer and there was no ventilation in this room, and they put me there for the whole summer. And so I was having to just survive just fight to breathe and so when I would come out of that cell, I would start fighting back in any way possible whether that was slapping some of them or eventually I took a stick from one of them, their nightstick, and having to go upside the other one’s head with it to say “Hey, I’m not just gonna lay here and die, I’m not gonna let y’all kill me this way. So, if I gotta die—now this is my philosophy, this is how I was strongly feeling, if I needed to die for this cause at [the] very least I needed them—the cops, the administration, the system, to feel some of that pain . Let them see and to know that I’m not going quietly. I’m gonna do what I can and so y’all just doing what y’all want to with me.

Joergen: It’s been said that mainstream narratives of colonialism and police violence invert reality by making it seem as if resistance to oppression, like what you were just talking about, is an unprovoked attack, in this case against a correctional officer. This then justifies “self-defense” in terms of violent repression from the state. Do you think that’s going on here? How have the state and mainstream media portrayed you and the other comrades involved in the uprising? 

Greg: When they first asked for the money for the Supermax they said riot guys would be the first to go there, so right from the beginning they painted all of us convicted of any riot related charges as the worst of the worst that they had to just bury away at the Supermax with no privileges with the bare minimum of everything. And that’s the intent of the Supermax at the time. So me and the guys on death row were told we would be there for a long, long time and we were there for a long, long time. They’re still there, I just got away from there—less than two years ago I got away from there. 

And so yes, they put this stigma on us, no one in the state was able to say “Well, we need to review who these people are now.” Whether that’s yearly, monthly, every 5 years, or every 10 years, something. No one came to that point where they would say, “Hey man, we need to release these guys, we can’t just keep them in Supermax.” Supermax prisons are not built for lifetime sentences. 

As I said earlier they would start using the rulebook to create situations where they would say here we can justify us being there so long. one of the incidents that I had at the Supermax, it was time for me to leave there. I went up for my review. They had turned me down and the cops went to my cell and stole all of my property out of there, so I was like “Wait a minute. Y’all not letting me leave this place and now you want to steal my stuff from me? You’re doing a lot tome here and you’re treating me different than you treat any other prisoner in Ohio.” 

And that remains true to the day, from the time I had to do 14 years with no contact with other prisoners even though everybody else in the prison—except for the guys on death row—were allowed contact with other prisoners no matter what they did. And so it was incidents like that that let me see that yeah I am being treated different, because pre-riot I didn’t have a whole bunch of tickets, I had no violence on my records and so all of a sudden this riot happened and then, their portrayal of me is that I’m this violent monster and that’s just not the case, I’m not, but I fought them on when I believed we were right on whether there’s some issue about our property or privileges or even our rights. I fought with them and had no problem putting my face on that struggle or that move because I believed in it. 

Joergen: Something that seems very clear to me is that everything you’ve done to defend yourself or you’ve done to advocate for your rights or to bring justice or to be treated the way that other prisoners are treated has been described as violent by the state, but the state never does admit that anything that it does to you is violent. Can you tell me what it’s like to live in that condition? 

Greg: I think unbeknownst to myself the day I went to isolation back in—unbeknownst to me my buddies my friends were stealing these books like Ihad never read before, but they were all books to open your mind, some was political some was social some was like different ways to do guerrilla warfare but all of this reading opened my mind up to what my life would be like moving forward so when the state refused to feed me or refused to remove me from a sweat box that never was supposed to be being used in the first place according to their own rules or when they held me back at the Supermax while everyone else—

has moved on from the Supermax. I was prepared for it. I just didn’t know at the time that I was reading these books, that this was the purpose in reading them. I just read them because basically they were the only books available in the beginning. And I was so thankful for that. But as my mind was awakened, then I became ready — and I was already exercising my body and everything, so now my mind and my body was working as one to deal with whatever the state — or anyone else — threw my way. And that I believe that is what saved me the most because it was no surprise when they were doing things to me. And so since I wasn’t surprised, I almost expected it and was prepared for it.

Joergen: And what are some of the books that you read? Do you remember any that stick out in particular?

Greg: One of the the first I read was The Soledad Brothers, Miseducation of the Negro, 100 Years of Lynching, and just on and on and on. The Art of War, Mastering the Art of War, As a Man Thinketh, just so many books. Those kept me occupied and growing, that helped prepare me for the tactics of the state, what method they would use to attack, but to understand that I was fighting against them and because I refused to allow them to own my mind that I would become a target for them and I was trying to explain to you earlier, when the Supermax opened, I was treated like the five guys that were on death row from the riot. The only problem was that I was not on death row. They were. 

And so, out of the 600 people — when they filled the prison up, it was 600 people there — and there are five of us being treated absolutely different than anyone else in the prison and four of them are on death row, so I continue to look at that and point it out to any of the civil rights organization that help file suits on the supermax about the overall in general [condition] of the prisoners there, but I’m in a class by myself. 

I’m being treated like I am on death row, but I am not on death row. I’m being told that I am here to stay, like these guys on death row are being told, while everyone else, even convicted of riot-related, had already left the supermax to go to lower-level prisons and some of them came back and left again. I was not surprised about this, but I continued to point it out that I am being treated different[ly]. 

And then when the state decided “[For] these long-term guys, we have to do something different to ease this pain and this pressure we have from under [us].” So they stop[ped] calling me a long-termer when they issued out privileges for people that were long-termers. So basically, my first five, seven years at the Supremax was just dead time, just wasted, because now I’m not on death row, I’m just a prisoner at a supermax, except I continue to be non-contact for another seven years while everyone is out there contact [at] rec with each other. 

So the treatment stayed that way. When I came here, when I finally got the lawyers to argue on my behalf and I got them to file a complaint with ODRC, they could no longer justify holding me up there. So they sent me here. Immediately, upon sending me here, it seems and appear[s] to me that they said, “Keep your foot on this guy’s neck. We can’t do it at the Supermax, but you can put him in the hole here as much as you want.” It serves the purpose of the state, to keep this guy in lockup. So I’ve been here about two years and I’m on my second lockup, so you know, these things have happened all along the way since ‘93, but not pre-’93, so that’s why when I wrote my zine about these incidents, I wrote that in there. 

I was not seen as a violent person or a political person pre-’93 and then since ‘93, I’m all of the worst categories of mankind that you can think of. 

Joergen: I want to ask you a question about the death penalty because in the documentary about the Lucasville uprising, someone talks about how there is only one crime in Ohio that is a capital crime, and that’s premeditated murder. But the death penalty itself is perhaps one of the most heinous examples of premeditated killing of a human being. Can you talk about — your comrades are on death row, you are being treated like you’re on death row even if you’re not, it’s not really a secret to say that the state has a plot to kill you. Can you sort of talk about that condition and what it made you feel like as a human being?

Greg: I have a lot of compassion for my co-defendants up there on death row, but I think being that this is a life-and-death situation for all of us, I think it’s better, because the people on death row are, by law, assigned attorneys from the beginning of the death penalty case all the way to its conclusion — they are guaranteed attorneys. So in that aspect, it’s better if you’re fighting for your life to be on death row. Especially,  when you believe you can win the case. 

But, yeah, if you are receiving one life bid or more, you’re absolutely scheduled to die by the state and I dislike all all of the distractions the state has learned to provide us to make it comfortable to get through solitary confinement.I would say I’m an advocate for a harsher isolation period with a shorter amount of stay in isolation, if that makes sense. It seems to me that what the state has decided to do is provide us with all kind of distractions, so if that’s commissary, Jpay players and all kind of games you can buy on there, all kind of music you can listen to on there, TVs in our cells and all of that. Now the average stay in isolation is, like, five times longer than it was before, pre-all of these toys and trinkets that we are allowed to purchase. And I think that the guys on death row would say as much too, they get more done when they have nothing in the cell and they are totally focused on their freedom and their rights within the prison. With that said, my one co-defendant’s execution date is coming up here in I believe it’s 2023, so that’s a short period of time left, and I’m sure he’s having to wake up and look at that date and as it grows bigger and larger in his life. I don’t know which one is better, to be doing life without parole or be going to the death penalty. I think they both end in death, so I can’t tell, I can’t see how anybody can argue one against the other. I should say, “I can’t see how anyone can argue that one is the desired or acceptable goal over the other.”

Joergen: Yeah, and that’s why people refer to life without parole as a sentence of death by incarceration.

Greg: Yeah, yeah, and who would agree to that? Death is death is death.

Joergen: So I’ve heard you say before that you have an obligation to act in self-defense in these moments where your life has been threatened. Can you explain what that means?

Greg: It would be ridiculous for nonviolent people or strategically-thinking people could say to a female who is being sexually assaulted that she shouldn’t fight back, that she shouldn’t scratch that person’s face and scream and holler, she should just what? Lay there and accept the sexual assault? I can’t imagine anyone suggesting that to a female. I don’t know how it has became acceptable for some other comrades and allies for abolishing prisons or abolishing this that or the other, to say that you should be nonviolent at all times. When violence comes to your doorstep, you have to make a decision to do something. 

— automated break —

If you want to debate “what is the proper proportion of violence you should have in defense of yourself,” that would be fair. But again: what are you going to say to the female who is being sexually assaulted? Should she scratch the guy on his shoulder but not his face? If there is a hammer laying right there close by her, should she pick that hammer up and hit him? And where should she hit him, and how many times should she hit him? Now, these are discussions that seem they should never be happening, but yet so many people that’s of the non-violent movement would say that “no, you shouldn’t use violence in those situations.” And I just think that’s not fair. I don’t see it as fair to say such a thing.

Joergen: Can you talk about what the logic is behind defending yourself? What is the guiding principle behind that?

Greg: I will say this, I believe that I was assigned this life, with this body. And I am the steward of this life, of this mass of humanity right here, I am responsible for. And to a larger extent, we all are responsible for each other. When the state or other bad actors decide to bring violence to you, I believe that part of protecting this mass of humanity is: you must use what force is necessary to stop the violence. 

— warning that one minute is left in the call —

So if you can maybe push a person away from you, maybe that’s all that’s necessary. I don’t think that we should lose our humanity in the struggle for human rights. That’s not what I am saying. But I am saying that if the system puts its knee on your neck as they did with George Floyd, or any of the other deaths that are highlighted at the hands of police. At some point, those people are responsible for protecting their individual humanity, and should be able to use the force necessary to repel that force of violence that’s coming at you. I don’t think you should become the aggressor, but I think you should be aggressive in your pursuit of life.

— Call ends, time ran out —

— Second call begins —

Joergen: Do you want to finish your answer?

Greg: As I said, I don’t think you should lose your humanity in the effort to gain humanity, or in the effort to gain some of your freedoms, some of your liberties — I don’t think you should lose yourself in that process. But, I do really really believe that the system and white supremacy has decided to go to war with anyone Other, the Others in the world, whatever that may be. The prisoners, the lesbians and gay people, the brown and Black people, the foreigners. Whatever it is that the system is going after, they are going after it with all options on the table, and I think you are at a disadvantage when you say “I’m not going to use this method or this method or this method.” 

As I continue to say, because I like that people — I think when you’re making a point and when you’re right, or when you’re telling the truth, that that truth should hold up all across the table. In any circumstances, when you’re telling the truth, it should show no matter what. It should be no ands, if, what’s-a-but attached to the truth. So when I say that if a female is being sexually assaulted, is it okay to scratch the guy’s eyeballs out? If you say “yeah,” you’re saying to me that’s your truth. Then, your truth should also mean that when that officer had his knee on George Floyd’s neck, that George Floyd should have been able to grab his gun and shoot him — and shoot him — and shoot him, shoot or whatever. For guys in prison, when these officers run in our cells to do different things to us, people should understand that mountain of violence we use to just live, just to survive, that’s all.

Joergen: It feels like part of the undercurrent here, like the underlying principle of this, is that your life is sacred or, you know, beautiful in its own way, and that’s part of why, you know, your life and the life of every person, right?

Greg: Well, as I was saying about the truth, how it should be able to hold up no matter the circumstances or situations. What you just said, my life individually is beautiful, as is everybody else’s. So, this is the interconnectivity between all of these struggles — for your rights. So, if you’re gay or lesbian, you have a right to live your fullest or completest life. If you’re Black or Brown or if you marry interracially, whatever the situation is, we should be able to live our fullest and completest life, and there are forces out there that violently work against that. And again, I’m not advocating for violence, but I’m advocating for you to be able to defend yourself in order to survive. 

Each of us —and I’ve come to that conclusion in my life— so I do that. I don’t go around trying to take the cop’s wallet from them and if they don’t give it to me, I punch them in the face — I’m not doing anything like that. All of my situations in this prison have been the officers that have come and done something to me, and I couldn’t get redress from the system that they set up for me to get redress from, so now I’m left to the point where “Ok, so what do I do about this? How do I stop them from continuously doing this?” You know, the options are not pretty — they’re not always the best option, but in that moment they are the options that are available. 

And again, I talk about this interconnectivity of different struggles. Way back, when Europeans went to Africa and took people off of their land, their homeland, and put them on boats to go somewhere — that they had no idea where they were going! — but they knew that these people were being really really violent to them right now, just off the shores of Africa. And the untold story of a lot of these slave ships and how slaves — or how people that are being enslaved ended up down in the hull of the ship is because whenever they were above board, they jumped over. They were jumping over, to their death! They seen the sharks out there following the ships, they were jumping over to their death rather than to go with these wicked people any further in chains on this ship! Now, that’s violence. That is violence, when a person think that “I gotta jump in this water and let a shark kill me or let the cold of the water kill me,” and yet they made that choice and 

— automated reminder that the call is recorded —

that’s a violent choice, my friend. And if some nonviolent person is going to try to convince me, that those people shouldn’t have took that action, they should have just stayed on the ship and went into this violent form of oppression called slavery, I don’t think that’s a conversation I would participate in very long. 

Joergen: So I want to ask you about the concept of prison abolition, like, the idea of having a world where no one is treated the way you’re being treated right now. Is that connected to this idea that everyone has human dignity? I really think that you are living prison abolition when you’re fighting back. To me at least, I interpret it this way: When you fight back against a guard who’s trying to kill you or hurt you, or whatever, that’s prison abolition. Prison abolition is a world where that doesn’t happen. And in order for that to happen in the individual circumstance of your life, you had to do those things, and can you talk about that a little bit?

Greg: There’s a connection between abolition, of course, and other struggles for human rights. But I just think that if we sit around and have paralysis by analysis, then I don’t think we’ll ever get there. I think abolition requires action, and again, I’m not advocating for violence as the action, no I’m not doing that. But I’m saying that the “theory of” is not going to get us the result — so while we are fighting for all prison doors to be opened and people absorbed back into their community, and the community working together to fix the ills that would have before sent you to prison or the death chair. That community is a beautiful place, but it’s a theory right now. It’s a theory. So I don’t know how often you hear people say “well, it’s not time right now” or “we’ll work on that in the future ” or “be patient,” and the people on the inside, the people with the foot on their neck, is the people paying for this now. So, there’s actions to be taken now to move abolition further along, and it’s not just sitting around a table drinking coffee together and saying all the really good things, and quoting slogans and everything. It’s action that’s needed to be done, because people are dying everyday. Some of your life is being sucked out of you in these prisons. 

Little Black Train by Jacob Cohen plays in the background

Steve: Hi, this is Steve. I recorded an update with Greg in August 2021. He speaks on Black August and its legacy today. He details how consciousness can be difficult to build inside with the proliferation of small luxuries. He stresses the importance of political education and reaching out to folks inside. He gives ways to get in contact with him. His mailing address and relevant links will be in the show notes as well. 

Prisons Kill. 

Steve: So greg, we’re releasing this episode in the month of August, or as some would call it Black August, what does Black August and this legacy and tradition mean to you? 

Greg: Well, I think most people look back and think of George Jackson and Jonathan Jackson and everything that was going on then and I think that’s a good place to start, it’s a good foundation to move forward with, but I think [like] protest in the street has had to evolve over time, so does our efforts during Black August, so yeah, in years past, the work stoppage to hold a picket line was the thing and I became aware that people were not working— or at least in the Ohio prison system, I think each prison system also has its own issues and do things a little different. In Ohio, people are not working because they have to. People are working to put themselves in the position to control the flow of certain products or vital goods or contraband or be in position to just see their friends when they come through a certain area, like recreation or the chow hall or library or something. 

People are doing these jobs for personal needs, not because it’s a demand by the prison staff, although it still, in the end, helps the prison function. I just believe that Black August has to be seen through the eyes of each state individually, but collectively working for a goal. I think more education and more awareness to what prison and being locked up is taking away from us— the separation of family, the isolation of our bodies from life, and what it does to the economy within our own families by so-called breadwinner being taken out of that community and household, what it does to that community—I think those issues have to be part of the Black August movement moving forward. 

As well as we had these big events about George Floyd’s death a year or so ago and yet, in most states, nothing has changed in terms of defunding the cops. Everyone held their hats on Joe Biden winning as president and as of yet, he has not signed any bill controlling the cops on the streets and what their behavior toward us. In fact, there’s been a number of murders since he has been president by cops. And Joe Biden was the author of the 1994 crime bill, no one’s talking about that. That crime bill still exists today. The tough tactics that police are using in our communities, many of them spring from that very bill that gave them the green light to be tougher on urban people. There’s things like that that Black August has to be inclusive of and not just sit in awe of the great George Jackson and his little brother, Jonathan Jackson, and the people of the era, including Angela Davis and so many others, too many to really even name. 

Steve: I definitely agree with you and I thought your reflections are [sic — were] great. I wonder— I guess you gave us some prescriptions as to what we should do and where our reflections and actions during Black August should go, is there anything else you would want to speak on about Black August? 

Greg: Most of the last 25 years I’ve spent in some form of solitary or some limited form or total solitary, so what I’ve noticed is that a lot of the work, a lot of the people willing to fight for resistance are in solitary confinement. They are the people that are in lockup and so, in a strange way, the more a person feels his oppression, the more he’s forced to feel it and deal with it and with dealing with it, I mean actually coming up with an actionable plan to counter it and so those guys have the most fight in them and it seems that out here in population, the fight is very limited, if any at all. It’s hard to have a really good conversation with someone about conscious issues.

And I’m not even go as far to say [that] they are conscious in solitary, but I’m going to say that the resistance, the people willing to resist, and I guess that’s because you have very little movement, you have less privileges so people feel that they have less to lose and I’ve said before that prison system has done a good job of taking advantage of these so-called privileges, by making prison really luxurious and comfortable that people are less willing to lose those luxuries and so the people in population tend to ignore issues, real issues, even if they make a small complaint amongst each other about them so it gets frustrating. You try to share information with them, you try to share revolutionary thoughts and magazines and books with them and they’re not willing to hear it. That’s the most frustrating thing I’ve noticed about population and so I don’t know how we can keep Black August alive with just a core group of guys spread out all over the country, when we’re really fighting for the issues that mean so much to everyone inside the prison, but everyone outside the prison system that are connected to us in one way— through family or through relationships of whatever kind— but that’s not to say that I believe that Black August is dead, I just believe that we need to make Black August a moving, living document or ideology that can touch people as they grow up inside these prisons. 

Steve: That’s a great way to say and that’s a great place to end it, too. Is there anything else [that] you want to talk about before I stop recording?  

Greg: I just would like to say that you can learn— the people listening to this can learn more about me through Facebook or or— so you can learn about my case, the issues in my case, the real court documents that you can see the injustice right there on those court documents and why I’m fighting so hard and why so many people out there are fighting so hard for me and to those people that have been sticking with me and helping me through some tough times and situations, I just ask for your continued patience and continue power and resistance for not just me, but for the ideal of a free and just society for everybody and a space in this world where there is no prisons at all. 

And freedom first. Without it, we can’t get nowhere, we can’t love completely, we can’t do anything completely without freedom. We must have freedom first. 

Little Black Train by Jacob Cohen plays in the background

Joergen: That was our conversation with Greg Curry, one of many US held political prisoners who need to come home. ​​​​This episode of the PrisonsKill Podcast was produced and recorded on occupied Kick a Poo, Anishinaabe, Lakota and Lenape land. Music for this episode was created by our comrade Jacob Cohen. Please check out our previous episodes if this is your first time tuning in. Our last episode featured Troy Hendrix, who is locked up in so called New York, where he has spent the last 15 years in solitary confinement. Before that we spoke to Sean Swain and his partner Lauren. Sean, who is an anarchist and jailhouse journalist had his parole denied last month and could spend at least five more years in prison.

In closing we would like to remember the Attica prison uprising, which happened 50 years ago on 9/9/1971. We view the uprising as a brave act to live differently, a symbol of revolutionary humanism. As we remember the bravery of the Attica Brothers, we recognize that similar attempts to be free are not just part of the history of the prison abolition movement, but its present and future as well. Perilous Chronicle reports that in the first 90 days of the pandemic there were 119 prison rebellions all around the so-called United States. Similar resistance is taking place all around the globe. Just earlier this week, six Palestinian militants escaped the Gilboa Prison near the West Bank,  freeing themselves from Israeli oppression. The spirit of Attica and Lucasville is not dead, but very much alive.   I’m Joergen Ostensen, PrisonsKill. 

Attica Rebel #1 [from 1974 Attica Documentary]: They’ll say, “You’re here now, you’re in Attica. We are the bosses. You do what we tell you [to]. If we tell you to walk, you walk. If we tell you to eat, you eat. If we tell you to sleep, you sleep. If we tell you not to talk, you don’t talk.” They don’t look at us like human beings. Meanwhile, they are the ones that are the animals. 

Attica Rebel #2: It [conditions]  you as like a vegetable, because you’re not able to think anymore because you’re told what to do and how often to do it. I don’t think any sane person can tolerate it.  I don’t care who you are. 

Attica Rebel #3: We’re looking for humane treatment — that’s all —  humane treatment. We are given a bath once a week, very briefly, once a week. These things—  you’re taking away the bare necessities, things that a man needs to feel like he’s a human being. These are taken away, you don’t have ‘em. 

Attica Rebel #3: I don’t know, I try not to be bitter dealing with these people, but everything they do is designed to destroy you, dehumanize you, make you a complete nothing. 

Attica Rebel #4: Let the people in the world — let us know what you feel about this. We want to hear from you. We want some support from y’all. 

Attica Rebel #5: If we cannot live as people, then we will at least try to die like men.

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