Interview with Angela Davis
QUESTION 11
INTERVIEWER:

Can you speak some about the collection of letters, Soledad Brother, and the impact that that had on the prison movement inside the prisons and for those of you who were working for prisoners?

ANGELA DAVIS:

When, ah, "Soledad Brother" was published, the collection of George Jackson's letters, ah, it was an extremely important moment for the prison movement, both inside and outside. For the first time there was an attempt to develop an analysis of the relationship between what was going on in our communities, in the streets, in the factories, in the, ah, schools, on the campus, campuses and what was happening inside the prison. Large numbers of prisoners of course, ah, could relate to what George Jackson said in his letters, the, the stories about, ah, the horrible repression that he suffered, ah, the fact that he was never able to spend time with his younger brother Jonathan outside of the manacles and chains that, that, that he wore. So that there was a very important emotional, ah, affect of his book on people, both inside prison and perhaps more importantly, outside because those of us on the outside had generally not taken the time to try to understand what the experience was. We might have, at that time, being, been fighting for the freedom of political prisoners or challenging the prison system. But George Jackson managed to do was to make that experience palpable, make it concrete so that it became something that people could relate to as human beings. There's always the tendency to push prisons to the fringes of our awareness so that we don't have to deal with what happens inside of these, ah, ah, horrifying institutions**. And there is the tendency also to look at prisoners as having deserved what, ah, they have met with there. So that, ah, the, ah, criminal is a figure in our society who has very little, ah, credibility. And what George Jackson demonstrated, ah, with his letters was that prisoners are human beings, prisoners are intelligent human beings, prisoners have families, they have feelings, ah, ah. And at the same time he laid the basis for an important political analysis which was lacking. I, ah, was very moved when I first saw the, ah, published version of the letters. I was in jail myself by that time because I had worked on the manuscript and worked with those who were involved in, in publishing it. I received a copy of the book when I was in jail in New York in the Women's House of Detention. And at that particular time the authorities, ah, banned that book from the jail population. They allowed me to read it in a library to which no other prisoners were allowed entrance at the time I was reading the book. Eventually we were able to get a clandestine copy, ah, ah, a copy which was brought in by one of the, the women officers who felt that we had the right or the other women had the right to, to read this. So the book circulated all over the corridor where I lived, all over the floor, all over the jail, as a matter of fact. And there were often, ah, ah, long discussions about, ah, ah, what George Jackson wrote about in that book.

INTERVIEWER:

Cut for a second.