In our final interview for the June 11th International Day of Solidarity with Marius Mason & All Long-Term Anarchist Prisoners, we spoke with Cindy Crabb about anarchist eco-prisoner Marius Mason.
Marius Mason is in the middle of a 22 year sentence in federal prison for acts of property damage carried out in defense of the earth and animals, including an arson at a Michigan State University lab researching genetically-modified organisms for Monsanto. He is currently held captive in the high security Federal Medical Center Carswell, only recently being released from administrative segregation after years held there. Marius came out as transgender in 2014 and continues to advocate for trans prisoners.
In our interview, we discuss Marius’s recent release from administrative segregation, the challenges of long-term prisoner support, the gendered inequalities of prisoner solidarity work, maintaining projects through the years, the financial struggle of supporting prisoners, the importance of June 11th, and the personal and emotional challenges of prisoner support.
JUNE 11TH: Would you start be telling me about yourself and your experience with prisoner support?
CINDY CRABB: My name is Cindy Crabb. I wrote the zine Doris and I’m on Marius Mason’s support team. I started doing really basic prison support in the early ‘90s, when I basically sent my zine through to prisoners and had a little bit of correspondence with prisoners that way. And then later on I did books to prisoners in Asheville, NC. And I do it in Ohio now a little bit. First I started writing Marius when a mutual friend of ours committed suicide and I knew Marius would have one less pen pal. So I started writing him, and after a couple of years he asked me if I wanted to join his support team. So that evolved into more active prisoner support, trying to find out what wasn’t happening and what needed to happen, how to get things more organized than they were and facilitate him getting more support.
J11: Can you speak to the importance of prisoner support in anarchist practice and other liberatory struggles? Explicitly the necessity of supporting prisoners with long sentences?
C: Yeah. I think there’s a few reasons why prisoner support is real essential, especially long-term prisoner support for the anarchist project. As anarchists we often advocate for direct action, and if people get arrested for direct action it’s essential that we be there to support them. Otherwise direct action isn’t really a viable strategy, it’s more just a romanticized form of action. So in order for direct action to be sustainable, reasonable and an actual strategy we need to be able to provide for prisoners who get arrested, for their basic needs, and bigger support.
To help them have the best lives they can while they are in prison and to support their families that are outside of prison. Another reason I think that prisoner support is really essential for anarchists is as anarchists we need to prefigure a world that we want to live in, and part of that prefiguration is being able to provide for people in our community that aren’t able to provide for themselves. So if we live in a geographical community that we are connected to, we can do that through various kinds of support work of people in our communities. A lot of anarchists don’t have geographical communities that they live in or aren’t connected to the community that they live in, and prisoner support can be a good practice in learning to set aside your own sort of agenda, and learn to provide actual support and care to people that are not able to provide for themselves.
J11: Could you tell us a little bit more about Marius?
C: Marius Mason was an activist that was involved in various kinds of environmental activism and community activism since the ‘80s. He was a musician and father and believed in collective organizing and direct action. In 2009 he was sentenced to 22 years in prison for an arson that he was charged with at a Michigan State University building. The building in Michigan that was burned down was doing genetic engineering, and this was in 1999 when G.E. wasn’t really in the public conscience of Americans. The Animal Liberation, Earth Liberation, and environmental projects were more focused on logging and factory farming. In other countries G.E. was prevalent, more something that was being protested against. So say in India people were burning their GMO crops and in protest of Monsanto patenting various seeds.
The arson of the Michigan building that Marius was convicted of, it really brought a lot of media attention to genetic engineering. It really was successful in shifting the dialogue in America from G.E. being just something not really seen to Monsanto being researched, and I think even Frontline did a big expose on Monsanto after the arson. Marius was arrested in 2009 after his husband had turned state informant and gave the FBI a bunch of information about their actions. Unfortunately for Marius his case wasn’t really picked up by activist lawyers or the ACLU, who had picked up a few other cases like this that were coming down at the time. The FBI had started a campaign which later become known as the Green Scare, which targeted environment activists that were doing direct action, and giving them extreme sentences to show to the activists that these type of actions would be prosecuted to the furthest extent. The Green Scare is seen similar to the Red Scare in which the FBI often sent agents in to stir things up and then arrest people who went along with the agents.
So Marius didn’t have an ACLU or activist lawyer step forward to represent his case probably because they thought it was a losing case, because his husband had turned state’s evidence. So he had just a defender that he had hired actually. He took a plea deal, he pled guilty under the assumption that he would get a reduced sentence, but instead he got an excessive sentence. Which was I think was 20 years, with a 2 years terrorism enhancement. He was then placed in a prison in Minnesota, and about a month later was moved to the high security administrative unit in Texas – Carswell.
The administrative unit he was in for over 7 years, and it severely limited his ability to communicate with the outside world. The small unit he was housed in was mostly people with extreme behavioral problems or mental health problems. Since he’s been in prison he’s refused to cut off ties with his friends and community on the outside. And he’s also started a couple of campaigns, one of which was the January 22nd International Day of Action and Solidarity with Trans Prisoners. He’s also been writing poetry and teaching guitar inside the prison. And he took up painting: he’s been doing painting of animals, mostly of ones at the threat of extinction. And he’s also been doing a trans heroes series of paintings.
J11: Could you briefly talk about him transitioning publicly: when that happened and how that worked?
C: While he was in prison in 2013 Marius came out to his friends and family as transgender. He now identifies as a man and spent over two years fighting for the right to receive medically indicated care, and he finally got approved for hormone treatment. So he was the first federal prisoner to receive hormone treatment which will hopefully pave the way for prisoners to be able to receive hormones. He is current fighting for the right for surgical care for gender transition.
J11: So you mentioned that Marius was recently released to general population after years in the administrative unit. How did that come about and what does it mean for him?
C: We are still trying to figure out how that came about and what it means. We are still trying to figure exactly what unit he’s in. He was moved out of the admin unit. The administrative unit – and it’s stated on the website – is there for behavioral problems. And that there are people in there that receive a list of goals that if they meet they get moved out. And Marius of course has never gotten anything like that. His lawyer has been writing them a lot trying to get them to abide by their own standards and hasn’t gotten any response. And then, I think because Marius gets mail and he’s in the public eye a little bit – he’s not forgotten – that there is a better chance for him to get moved out than some of the other prisoners who are in there who don’t have communities of support. But it seems kind of random that he was moved out and we’re not totally sure why. We’re not totally sure quite honestly. He’s not quite in general population, I think he’s in a little bit of a smaller wing. Which might be actually better then general, or at least a better transition spot than general.
It’s hard to tell what’s going on, so I don’t want to get it all confused. I don’t want people to get confused by there being multiple reports of what’s going on. But whatever it is, it’s way better than him being in the admin unit. He’s able to go outside. He wrote us that he finally was able to see the sky and the clouds after years and years of not being able to see them. That he can touch the trees in the yard and feel the wind. Those things he will never be able to take for granted again. That it just means so much that he can go outside. And in this new unit he has more contact with other prisoners, and more groups and activities. So he should be good. I mean, it would be better if he was free, but it’s good that he’s not in that unit anymore.
J11: You also mentioned that Marius has been advocating for himself as a trans prisoner and other trans prisoners. One of the ways he’s done that is initiating January 22nd as the Day of Solidarity and Action with Trans Prisoners. Can you talk about that initiative a little bit?
C: Yeah, he started that. He was communicating with someone I believe in Australia about starting this day of action and solidarity with trans prisoners. He wanted to help expand the support he was getting to bring support to the larger population of trans prisoners, and connect the anarchist struggle with the trans prisoners struggle.
J11: When we discuss prisoner support, we think primarily of things like letter writing and fundraising and such. And often the reality is that people are taken from their children, their elderly parents, and companion animals. Marius in particular has a few cats that he left in the care of a comrade. What can we do to strengthen the support for the families and dependents of our prisoners?
C: I think there is so much that needs to be done to support prisoners across the board. Individual prisoners and prisoners in general. You know, before I joined Marius’s support team I thought probably that he was getting all the support that he needed. I would see his name around and would hear people talk about him. So I was really shocked when I joined his support team, that his basic needs weren’t being met. There wasn’t enough fundraising and the amount of letters he was getting was getting less and less as the years went by. So I think there is always that need for the basic stuff that we think is being taken care of, it probably isn’t being taken care of.
With that being said, there is a number of good organizations that are trying to help support in this larger way that you’re talking about. Like what do we do, how do we help prisoners who have kids who are left behind? And aging parents. I don’t anyone who works specifically with aging parents, but I know the Rosenberg Fund for Children has helped fly kids out to visit their parents in prisons, political prisoners. And there is the Jericho movement which does a lot of support for political prisoners and their families. Project Fang is a new fund that just started up that helps fly people out to visit prisoners. I think in the larger picture when I’m just focused on meeting the basic needs, I’m trying to figure out why there isn’t more support, it’s harder to think about the bigger picture. But I think what would help is if people realize that the basic needs of prisoners, of long-term anarchist prisoners weren’t being met. If they figured out how much time they could put into it, whether it be an hour a week, or two hours a month, or whatever kind of timeframe.
If people really sat down and thought, I need to figure out how to make something happen in a realistic way, and this is a realistic amount of time I can put forward into it, and look at their strengths and look at what they are able to offer. Are they artists? Are they web designers? Can they organize fundraisers? Do they have some in with veterinarians? Can they do childcare? What are their strengths, what do they have to offer? And then think about, is there something in their region, is there a group in their region that’s already doing prisoner support? They can offer their services there. I am an anarchist and I think that anarchist prisoners need our support, but there are also a lot of prisoners that need our support. So you know, if there is a local organization that’s working against ICE and immigration detention – or there was this cool thing on Mother’s Day where people were raising money to get mothers out who just needed bail. You know, like what’s going on locally, or if they don’t have a local area where anything is happening, what can they contribute virtually? I know with Marius we always have a need for fundraising, and art, and just getting the word out. Everything, you know?
J11: That transitions to the next question, which is what are some of the challenges that we have in supporting prisoners? And what could we collectively be doing better?
C: I think the challenges are that it gets tiring, it gets tiring to ask people for money, and writing prisoners can be depressing. And these are two things that we need to constantly be doing. I don’t have a ton of experience beyond Marius’s case, and it could be different with other cases, but I’ve seen this sort of gendered delegation of tasks that I’ve seen in other anarchist movements happening in prisoner support – where more women are doing the daily tasks of care that don’t have as much glory to it, and more men are taking the more glorious media-type roles, which is depressing.
I think there is something really humbling about writing prisoners, and being connected in that way, trying to find, especially, anarchist prisoners where you can’t necessarily write about what you’re doing politically because it probably won’t get through. And where you actually have to think about what else in your life matters, and what else they might need to hear. Most prisoners live in real sensory-deprivation environments. That getting letters, or art, or contacts should involve the senses is really important, and more important than hearing about the political thing that you’re thinking about, you know? And I think for a lot of anarchists, staying in the theoretical, this is what I think politically realm, is their favored place to be rather than going to a place of, what else do I have to offer someone, you know?
So anyway, I think that more people need to be willing to do the daily tasks of care and let go of their egos a little bit, and be like, yeah I might not have anything that will impress Marius to say in a letter, so I’m just going to write about what I did on the walk I went on with my dog. Honestly, he loves the letters of this is the walk I went on with my dog, and most prisoners I’ve written love those letters. They start to forget what it’s like to be in the world, and remembering what it’s like to just exist in the world is really helpful. So, letting go of the ego, and just being willing to do the daily stuff is really important.
J11: Can you speak to the way that the strengths and failings of prisoner support have affected Marius personally?
C: We try to shelter Marius a little bit from the financial situation, so that part hasn’t really affected him personally. There’s some things that he needs that don’t happen which affect him. It’s surprising to me that, you know, he’s vegan and those meals in federal prison are not very vegan-friendly, and as a vegan he has some serious health problems because the food was not sufficient to meet his nutritional needs. So we’ve sent out some calls for people to see if anyone’s willing to spearhead advocacy projects for federal prisons to have better vegan options, and there’s been no response. And I know we don’t have very good outreach, but it’s like, come on people! This is something very real, and I know there’s a ton of really active vegans out there and this would be a good project, and this is really affecting Marius’ health in a severe way.
So there’s that, and then the less and less mail that he’s been receiving in the last few years has been pretty disheartening to him, and creates more disconnection with the world. He’s so understanding that people just don’t write letters anymore, that that’s just not the way people communicate anymore. He understands that and everything. But the letters are a super lifeline, and a way to connect him with what it’s like to be in the world, and honestly to keep sane. So I think people doing that more, that’s been a big one. And then, fundraising. His cat got sick, and we tried to do a separate fundraiser for the cat so it wouldn’t come from his general fund. It wasn’t very successful. I don’t know. We didn’t tell him about the cat fundraiser, and lack of funds from it, but I think it affects him. Not the financial stuff because he doesn’t know about it, but the other stuff.
J11: Can you see any ways that June 11th can contribute to addressing some of these shortcomings? And what are your hopes for June 11th this year?
C: I’m grateful for June 11th, I think without June 11th, Marius’ case would have lost its visibility. And June 11th is so essential for keeping his case and other long-term anarchist prisoners’ cases visible. I think the vision of what it is now, a lot of different local groups doing events that speak to what’s happening in their communities, and that also draw attention to long-term anarchist prisoners – I think a larger vision could include a little more of a toolbox to help new activists to figure out ways to really get more involved in the anarchist movement and supporting anarchist prisoners. And could make more connections to other prisoner movements, just to bridge some of those gaps or at least show solidarity. I think it’s doing a good job.
Sometimes I think it’s kinda funny, but as anarchists we’re not immune to the capitalist grow-or-die mentality. And sometimes I think that with our projects we think, what can we do next? Like, how can we up the ante? Sometimes, just keeping a project alive is sufficient. Of course I want to see everything grow just as much as anybody else does, but I also think that maintaining things takes a ton of work, and that making things be a constant in for people to get politicized around is a really huge aspect.
J11: Are there any struggles or moments in the recent past that have inspired you?
C: Yeah, Black Lives Matter of course. And some really cool work that, I can’t remember if they were DREAMers or young people who had some kind of legal status in the United States, but did this thing where they got arrested on purpose into ICE holding centers and did some underground reporting and organized things on the inside. Which was really brave and really amazing. There’s a ton of immigrants’ rights stuff that’s really powerful right now, really blowing my mind. And the prison strike of course was, and continues to be, really inspiring and exciting.
J11: Are there any other projects you’re involved with or have interest in that you’d like to talk about?
C: I’m involved in the January 22nd Day of Action in Solidarity for Trans Prisoners, which I think is really exciting. I don’t think it’s really fulfilled its potential yet, in terms of its organizational structure. But I think just getting off the ground that there’s a ton of interest in it, and it’s a really beautiful way to broaden the picture of what we’re doing, and what we’re able to do as anarchists and as queers. We definitely need more help organizing it, but it’s also taken off in local autonomous groups, and sometimes that’s just as good as or better than a more organized form. I think the Trans Prisoner Day of Action and Solidarity has really taken off internationally, which is cool. And I know I’ve seen this critique before, and I think it’s a good critique, that as people in the United States we need to do more work being tuned in and supportive of anarchist and trans prisoners in other countries. So I personally am going to work on that a little bit more over the next couple of years.