Enemies of the State
Updated: Sep 7
By: Donald V. Watkins
©Copyrighted and Published on June 30, 2020
The imprisonment of those who challenge the status quo is a practice that dates back for thousands of years. The history books are filled with stories of revolutionaries and dissidents who were falsely accused of crimes against the state, tried in front of biased tribunals, convicted, and imprisoned.
The best known victims of this practice were Rosa Parks, Ralph David Abernathy, Nelson Mandela and Marcus Garvey. They were perceived “enemies of the state” and branded as “criminals”.
Prison seems to be a natural stage in the life of an effective activist for social and economic justice. Imprisonment by the old regime for one’s beliefs is a de facto recognition that these beliefs are dangerous and the person who holds them is a worthy enemy. The imprisoned activist is automatically elevated in stature and respect.
In 1963, Dr. King was labeled by the FBI as the “most dangerous Negro” in America because he was well-educated and because the masses of black Americans respected his leadership of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950’s and 60’s. When he was assassinated in 1968, 75% of white Americans disliked Dr. King. Today, he is a national hero whose memorial graces the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Local, state and federal agencies in the American South have long favored the criminal process as the primary means of neutralizing regime change and socioeconomic progress. They know that most Southern whites are predisposed to view blacks in a negative light. Since the days of the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, all a law enforcement agency had to do was declare the targeted African American a “criminal” and most of the support for his/her freedom would dissipate in the white community as well as a large segment of the fragile and afraid black community.
The best example of this truism is the “Scottsboro Boys” case in which nine black teenage boys were falsely accused of raping two white prostitutes on a freight train passing through Paint Rock, Alabama in 1931. The “Boys” were tried in Alabama courts three times and sentenced to death each time. The U.S. Supreme Court saved their lives each time. Because the “Boys” dared to defend their names and innocence, they were declared “enemies of the state”. In 1976, some 45 years after their arrests, the state of Alabama finally declared the Scottsboro Boys “innocent” of the rape charges when it issued a full and unconditional pardon of the last surviving “Boy”, Mr. Clarence Norris. I was the lawyer who won Mr. Norris’s pardon.
Today, I am imprisoned in a federal prison in Talladega, Alabama and cut off from the outside world. My world has been reduced to a small, dingy dungeon that I share with Keith Barnhart, a former Army intelligence officer. I wrote about Barnhart in my May 3, 2020 article titled, “My Journey to Hell on Earth”.
Barnhart and I are locked in this 40-year-old cell 24 hours per day. We share a toilet that must be flushed from the outside by passing guards. We are totally dependent upon guards for everything. My “home” is the top bunk-bed. I eat every meal whether I like it or not. My incoming and outgoing mail is monitored and read. I have no access to email, the Internet or the Law Library. I am barred from watching the news.
Even in the “Hole”, I still find reason for joy. Inmates I have helped since my arrival at the Talladega facility have been experiencing successful outcomes with their cases. To date, five of them have had their sentences reduced and are on their way home. Several others should win their freedom in the coming months.
Since May, I have watched numerous elderly inmates with underlying health conditions transferred to home confinement. I noticed that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons used its discretion to place Trump ally Paul Manafort on home confinement for 7 1/2 years. Like me, Manafort is 71 years old; he has underlying health conditions, as established by the BOP; and he is a member of the highest at-risk group for severe illness if he contracts the COVID virus. Yet, Manafort is at home and I am in the Hole. Therein lies the difference between an imprisoned inmate and a dissident/activist.
Regardless, I am thankful for the little things in life – bottled water, toilet paper, a plastic fork, stamps, envelopes, the ability to read and write, and an imagination that has allowed me to successfully achieve my biggest goals in life.
Meanwhile, God has placed me in prison for a purpose, and it has nothing to do with criminality. He will release me when that purpose has been served.
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