Interview with Amiri Baraka

All right, if you could talk about your work in the late '60s early '70s, before '71, ah, in the, in the, in the prisons, but particularly the New York state prisons, and what kind of transformation you've seen within the Black prisons?


Well, you mean Black prisoners. There was a great, ah, spirit of, ah, comradery and solidarity in the '60s and the early '70s, and people on the outside and people in the prison, because there were so many people getting arrested in the '60s. People were locked up in demonstrations. People were locked up in various organizations, ah, organizations were always going in, talking in the prisons to the extent that they could. I remember we organized a great deal in Trenton state and Rahway, here, not to mention we were locked up in some of them, most of them. I know we were in Rikers and Sing Sing. Then there's a woman's prison over near New York by the, ah, West Side waterfront where we went in speaking. I didn't even know it existed. But we've been in prisons to speak, and I know the activists always looked at prison as one way of reaching a kind of, potentially militant brothers and sisters who were already locked up, who had been, I'm going to say disillusioned by America, or been disabused of their illusions about America. And many times we were jailed, either illegally or jailed simply based on White supremacy, and, um, we always thought of the jails as a, as a, kind of explosive, um, ah, resource for um, you know, revolutionary change. Certainly people like Malcolm X had come out of prison and, the Nation of Islam had done a great job of, you know, transforming a lot of people who had been in prison, and some people in prison, you know, had been in the Panthers and things like that. So we saw revolutionary activity as a means of transforming prisoners into revolutionaries and so the,you know, the program of going into prisons organizing and speaking.