× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.
Notes From the Unrepenitentiary: Transcending Hell
By Marilyn Buck
Nuh Albert Washington was a friend, brother and comrade to me and many others. He died this Spring. He was a Black Panther, a Muslim and a soldier of the revolutionary Black Liberation Army. He was a political prisoner, a hostage of the U.S. government's war against the Black Liberation movement. For 29 years.
Nuh was isolated from all other BLA prisoners; they were all held separated from each other. Those were torturous years of deliberate dehumanization. However, Brother Nuh didn't just survive, he maintained his integrity as well as his vision of liberation and justice. And he grew, like a sturdy oak tree; his growth fortified those prisoners on the ground with him.
His roots spread beneath and through the walls to other political prisoners as well as comrades, family and friends beyond the dungeons in the world.
Nuh was a man of wisdom and exquisite spirit. Witness Spiderman:
I have never been bitten by a radioactive spider
So I cannot climb walls
Or defeat a bunch of bad guys at once
But like Spiderman I have a sense of humor
Yet I'd give up some of this humor
To be able just for a few hours
To climb walls and bend bars
So as to leave this place without humor
And laugh at their wonder of
how did he do that?
And Nuh did do that, grow in hell?
For all prisoners, whether we face a lot of time or only a "few years," this is a serious fundamental question. It is an agonizing one for most of us, much of the time. How to do it? How to maintain? How to grow and resist dehumanization? How many of us verbalize - to ourselves, or to each other - such a question? How often do we stop to examine the state of our spirits? After all, prison is a constant gauntlet we must run throughout the howling, beating circumstances of our sentenced days. We are stripped bare, our hearts are kicked and punched. If we aren't vigilant our hearts become scarred, tough like a punching bag - resilient but strawfilled (or in 2000 is that plastic foam filled?). We throw up shields-defensive walls that seal shut our tombs.
Nuh resisted cruelty and callousness. He took inventory, explored the reaches of liberation from within, as well as the responsibilities of liberation without. I think he became softer in those 29 years, not harder.
Like many other male prisoners, he missed women. But he didn't just miss us as overblown objects of desire and 15 minute dreams, or as objects to do a man's bidding, but rather as human beings who had much to offer from our own intelligence, creativity and wit. Nuh even took up Women's Studies to understand more clearly women's oppression and its relation to the liberation of all humanity. He was preparing to leave prison without a desperate need or "right" to own, abuse, or misuse women; although what other right would be left for him as a Black man, a worker and a prisoner? He knew that when one is himself oppressed, defiled and brutalized, one might believe he can gain control over self by exerting control over others - women, children, other oppressed peoples, classes or groups. He listened to his sisters and women friends who wrote him, who were his comrades. He learned about our need for equality and justice, as well as about our suspicions and observations that we women have not fared well in most societies in the world. Not even in some of those that won wars of liberation in which women "held up half the sky" as teachers, workers, mothers and combatants. Women too were tortured and killed by the colonizers and dictators for being part of those liberation struggles; but some nations have forced women back to the servants' quarters and/or "diminished capacity" status or "protective custody."
Nuh was well prepared to leave prison a full human being, despite the scars of his 29 year torture. He died too soon. Too many prisoners die too soon, many having given up, without having explored seriously the possibilities of living. No one really wants to die in prison, separated, isolated. To die in prison is a nightmare for most of us, even when our waking daymares might make us want to escape into the oblivion of death.
If one looks into living, even if it's in a subversive corner of his or her heart, hidden from the keepers, one can grow, become a tree. Any prisoner can burst through the concrete of our constricted existence. I know, I'm fortunate to know many who do. The decision about our humanity rests upon ourselves, not in the system's dictates and pronouncements about our bestiality, depravity and inhumanity.
Nuh died well, a loving, warm human being. His transcendence absolves neither the U.S. government nor its prison minions. His passing thunders the lack of justice in Amerikkka. We as prisoners must become advocates of justice for ourselves and all others who suffer the consequences of oppression and exploitation. What else should we be doing with all this time?
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login