Friday, March 7, 2014

My First Visit with Chuck Africa

We knew going into this that Chuck would be energetic and fun, but we were way more impressed than imaginable! When we walked through the gate and into the room, Chuck was there to greet us, and we wasted no time getting to know each other. Right off the start, Chuck floods the room with his excitement and aspiration. In no time at all, you'll find yourself sharing stories and laughing.

His brothers explain that back in the day, he was one of the best boxers (if not the best) in the state. There used to be more athletic programs in the PA DOC, boxing being a popular one, but the vast majority of all kinds of programing have been cut seemingly to save money. One of Chuck's signature boxing characteristics was that he would simply not stop punching. It was his persistence, stamina and energy that often led him to prevail in a match. Chuck maintained his boxing skills in prison until the program shut down, but Chuck is still a fighter. All of the MOVE men would participate in boxing, as it was also something they did prior to going to prison. It was a good way for them to stay healthy and see each other at occasional competitions. “Phil always had nice straight punches,” and “Delbert was the master of knock out hits,” Chuck recalls. Boxing, requires discipline, both physically and mentally, and sometimes simple patience. He loves it!

Chuck doesn't just fight in the ring, but injustice wherever it manifests. His resistance to unfair practices within prison has put him in “the hole” several times. He is a human being and a part of life, and will not tolerate not being treated like one. He maintains a good relationship not only with his unit manager but with many other prisoners. He enjoys being a positive influence on the younger prisoners who express interest in learning and studying. He helps by lending advice on how not to recidivate once released.

A while ago in a solitary dungeon in which Move men were housed, they met political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz. Conditions in the dungeon were extremely brutal. Prisoners were thrown down the stairs in hand cuffs. Prisoner-on-prisoner race violence was organized or at least condoned by guards, even to the point of antagonizing suicide. Chuck says Maroon is a very good organizer, and it was him that got the torture stop. Chuck was deeply inspired and learned a lot from him. Maroon spent so much time in the dungeon and continued to study and learn and be a positive role model throughout this time and despite his torturous confinement. We're all strongly encouraged to read Maroon's book, Maroon the Implacable, if we haven't already.

The MOVE men were housed at SCI Camp Hill when the prison riot took place. In the aftermath, many prisoners were temporarily transferred to Federal prisons in California. This is where Chuck met another inspirational comrade, Dr. Mutulu Shakur. They were able to run and work out in the yard together occasionally, discussing political beliefs as they did so. During this time, an interest in Eastern medicine developed. Chuck is still very much interested in learning more about health and how the body works. While access to nutritious food is very limited in prison, Chuck maintains a healthy vegetarian diet to the best of his ability.  He looks forward to being free to maintain an even healthier diet when he is released from prison. He is aware that many advances have been made in vegan food choices and he is interested in exploring them.

Chuck used to love going to NYC. It was a different feeling for him, in a city where much more were wanting change and revolution. Communities were active, and movement felt present. He remembers people discussing politics on the street corners in Harlem. The passion in NYC was enough that he never wanted to leave. It wasn't until he received word that his brothers and sisters at MOVE headquarters were in need that he returned to Philly. Compared to NYC, Chuck feels that Philadelphia is not as progressive, and either apathetic to the struggle, or about gang-banging. This brought us to the topic of Hip Hop music. Chuck says he is unsatisfied and disheartened by Rap/Hip Hop. This is because every time he gets to listen to it, the content is sexist and homophobic. If it wasn't for this, he said he'd probably enjoy it, but as for what he's heard so far, he's unimpressed. He asked if there were any good rappers out there, who aren't sexist or homophobic. When we answered “yes,” we were asked to send him some more info on them.

His interest in women's rights and feminist theory also came up.  While those who correspond with him know this as an interest of his, it is not widely known. He is interested in studying and advancing knowledge of theoretical and material contributions women have made to various movements. It is for this reason that he is concerned that little is widely known about the individual Move women who are imprisoned. He encourages us to get to know them individually and thinks that media on these amazing women would be a welcome change. He is interested in reading books by women in various radical movements, and he is interested in hearing the political ideas of people in various movements including the radical feminist movement today.

He follows the cases of newer political prisoners, prisoners of war and facets of political repression. He is interested in everything that is happening with Wikileaks and the case of Chelsea Manning. He empathizes with how difficult it must be for a trans woman to be housed in a male prison. Along these lines, Chuck is interested about the different ways to share information including wikipedia, blogging and microblogging.

Chuck also appreciates poetry. He enjoys rhythmic sentence structure and creative plays of words. He is also an excellent poet himself, and smoothly writes about prison life and the instinctual demand for uprise. Featured Chuck titles include "The University of Prison" and "Masks of Anarchy." As a supporter, take some time to send him a rhyme, and he will joyfully do the same!

It was truly difficult to say goodbye after the 7-hour visit on both days. It was such a privilege to spend those hours with Chuck and we look forward to seeing him again. Let's organize to support parole for this caring and brilliant man who is so deserving of it.  All of the prison officials at SCI Retreat recommended Chuck for parole. There is no doubt that he would be a valuable and productive member of society upon his release. Chuck's next parole hearing is in November 2014, so stay tuned on how to support him in the months leading up to the hearing.

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