Your Good Vibes Are Needed:
Freedom Fighter Marilyn Buck Fights
for Her Life Before August Release
By Mariann Wizard / The Rag Blog / May 12, 2010
AUSTIN, Texas — As I write this, a member of the original Rag family needs our help, and, unprecedented in her tumultuous life, has asked for it. To me, if we ever had a true obligation to respond to such a plea; if our honor as self-proclaimed radicals ever depended on it, this is the one. But then again, Marilyn Buck (http://ragauthorspage.blogspot.com/2007/12/marilyn-buck.html) is a sister of my heart.
We’ve been friends since 1966, a world ago. A political prisoner since 1985, she was a fugitive for eight years before that, living a life with which I had no contact. Since her recapture, our friendship has been expressed in all too few visits, many letters, phone calls, books shared, and poems critiqued. But before that, there were her fabulous boots, Students for a Democratic Society, my husband George Vizard, our well-meant matchmaking, George’s death, GI organizing, hippie dancing, every visit I ever made to San Francisco, and unconditional love.
For all its state-imposed limits, Marilyn is one of my closest and dearest friends, one of those, for me, of whom The Who sang, “You can count ’em on your one hand.” I mention this only to let you know up front that mine is not an unbiased report. But don’t get me wrong — ours is not an exclusive friendship; on the contrary, there are hundreds of people around the world who love her as much as I do. She has earned every bit of their affection.
Not a few of our letters and phone calls concern political matters; Marilyn is a prodigious reader and organizer, and seldom misses a bet to connect people with causes that will interest them, or resources that will help forward a progressive — she would say “anti-imperialist” — vision. She has been a valued adviser to the Board of Directors of Youth Emergency Service, Inc. /The Phogg Phoundation for the Pursuit of Happiness (www.phoggphoundation.info) for years, bringing worthwhile non-profit organizations to our attention, always addressing the most relevant issues of the day.
Marilyn’s Episcopal minister father, Louis Buck, was legendary in Austin civil rights circles when I first got involved, as a college freshman, in 1965. I heard of Dr. Buck, and met him once or twice, before I ever met her. Marilyn had an upper-middle-class private school education, but crosses had been burned on the family lawn north of the University of Texas campus. Her father’s church defrocked him, and he became a veterinarian to support his family.
Early on Marilyn saw that racism was wrong, that she needed to oppose it, and that the establishment could not be counted upon to do the right thing. Ironically, her Dad sent her to college at the University of California at Berkeley to keep her away from the crazy radicals (SDS and others) at UT Austin. Smart as a whip and curious about everything, the innocent young lady who went to “Berzerkeley” soon discovered psychedelics, rock music, and “high society”.
Despite the protection the elder Bucks attempted to provide their cherished daughter, on the college campuses of 1965, there was no hiding place for anyone with a minimal curiosity about national and world affairs. But it was when she returned to Austin in 1966 that we “crazy radicals” met her. She and I, and George, became fast friends. We were fascinated with her West Coast sophistication; she with our close-knit radical community. It was in Austin that she joined SDS, worked on the original Rag, and met a national SDS organizer on his way out of town. She went with him.
In Chicago, she worked in the SDS National Office and edited New Left Notes, the group’s national news organ, then returned by herself to the Bay Area, with a sharply-honed anti-imperialist outlook.
There she worked with Third World Newsreel — this was back when video cameras weighed 30-plus pounds and needed two people to operate, running in tandem through the tear gas-choked streets, taping demonstrations as the San Francisco Tac Squad closed in! — and soon met and became friends with members of Bay Area Black liberation groups.
Now, if you really don’t know who this woman is, that’s still no reason for me to duplicate the “About Marilyn” link at Friends of Marilyn Buck (http://marilynbuck.com/about.html). There is a lot more to Marilyn’s story of activism, self-sacrifice, and achievement, but it is her story to tell, and she’s not yet able to tell it; perhaps not yet able to entirely see it. She is held in the belly of the beast.
After a 1973 arrest for buying two boxes of ammunition under a false name, she was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison. The real accusation was that a middle-class, educated white woman had acted as quartermaster for the Black Liberation Army, an off-shoot of the Black Panther Party. She was charged and convicted for the same reason that UC professor and Communist Angela Davis had been arrested: she helped arm Black people to defend themselves against racist police and white supremacist attacks.
After four years at Alderson Federal Women’s Prison, where she was such a model prisoner that she worked in the prison pharmacy, and after being denied parole for, I think, the third time, she was given a furlough to consult with her lawyers. She didn’t come back.
During the next few years Marilyn allegedly participated in the prison escape of BLA leader Assata Shakur and a bank robbery to assist the New Afrikan independence movement, and, with other white anti-imperialists, was complicit in a smoke-bombing of the U.S. Capitol, to protest our invasion of Grenada and the bombing of Lebanon by U.S. warships. After her capture in 1985, she and three women co-defendants took a plea to secure the release of another, a physician whose non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma had recurred in prison. She received a total sentence of 80 years.
Immediately after sentencing, she was taken to a new, maximum security total lock-down federal women’s prison at Marianna, FL. Eventually, legal appeals by her and other political prisoners at Marianna, and at a similar facility in Lexington, KY, forced closure of both prisons as embodying cruel and unusual punishment.
Marilyn embodies the old-school principle, “Don’t mourn, organize!” Ever since her first arrest, she has steadfastly resisted diverting “movement resources” to her defense or benefit. In her interactions, she directs attention away from her personal inconveniences as a high-security prisoner (she is considered a “terrorist” by the government) to social and political issues, or at least to the personal lives of her friends and correspondents, with whom she unfailingly empathizes even when pointing out that one is being ridiculous. Her character is like the finest steel; it resists corrosion, shakes off the grime of daily use, and shines. Her level-headedness alone is enough to make her a valued friend!
Despite her selflessness, an active support group has grown up with members all over the world, centered in San Francisco, across the Bay from Dublin Federal Correctional Center, where Marilyn was sent after Marianna FCI was closed. Repeated attempts to gain parole have been slapped down through the years, and even her most optimistic supporters feared that she could expect no quarter from the minions of the State. The once-privileged daughter of the white middle class has been upheld throughout her captivity by a multicultural, multi-gendered group of working class supporters, poets, former prisoners, prison reform activists and others, enabled to buy postage stamps, pre-paid phone minutes, paper and pens, and kept in books and periodicals (she’s a daily reader of the New York Times), allowing her to stay in contact with friends and kindred spirits, and with a changing world.
During those years, Marilyn has became an accomplished, highly-acclaimed poet and translator; developed a significant artistic talent as a sculptor; organized prisoners to raise funds for AIDS education through a pledge walk-a-thon; and taught untold hundreds of other women how to read, how to think things through, and how to survive and even transcend their sentences. She has mentored and inspired scores of poets inside and outside the walls.
Both of her parents passed away during her incarceration, and she could neither see them before their deaths nor attend their funeral services. There have been other serious personal hardships, but that was, I think, the most difficult to bear. Even the shock of the 9-11 terrorist attacks in 2000, when Marilyn – along with scores of other prisoners around the country in many facilities, completely uninvolved in the attacks – was suddenly removed from her cell and placed in total solitary confinement, without access even to her attorneys for many days, didn’t really compare with not being able to mourn her parents.
All along, her principled conduct has brought many new friends and supporters along with the old. She had a steady stream of visitors at Dublin FCI, including 60s radical icons and the now-grown children of friends and former neighbors. She corresponds with poets and artists around the world. Thirty or more poets participated in making Wild Poppies (2004, Freedom Archives, www.freedomarchives.org), a CD of her poems, including South Africa’s laureate of liberation, Dennis Brutus, and Amiri Baraka (formerly known as LeRoi Jones), who introduces the compilation.
Finally, a year ago, it looked as if the sun would shine for her once more. A new hearing brought a positive decision: she would be released on parole in August, 2010! Supporters in the Bay Area began to raise funds for her expected transition to circumscribed freedom.
Marilyn has made every effort to stay connected, despite her isolation behind razor wire and the censor’s hand. She had never, ever talked about what she would do when, or if, she was released; when you’re doing an 80-year sentence, you do it, as they say, “one day at a time”. Suddenly she was full of questions: “What kind of computer should I get at first, a laptop or a desk top?” (She’s never been in cyberspace; most prison inmates can’t go online. I told her to get a smart phone for the first 6 months; see if she even needs a computer!) She wasn’t convinced that digital cameras are as good as film; and said she might find work in a photography studio… I held my tongue. She was coming out; nothing else mattered. Whatever changes that had occurred but hadn’t occurred to her, she would roll with ’em.
Then in December, right around her 62nd birthday, she was diagnosed with a rare form of uterine cancer, a sarcoma, dangerous as a rattlesnake, potentially lethal. Another friend sent me a clinical description of the disease; I can’t bear to read it all the way through; it hurts. She had symptoms for months before diagnostic tests were made. The quality of health care, especially for women, in prison is not, shall we say, exemplary! But she kept her “health issues” vague and low-key with most supporters, including, to my chagrin, me; not wanting any “fuss” over herself; not wanting to worry her friends. Penny Schoner, a mutual friend and staunch supporter, reminds me gently, “This is a woman who wakes up every morning thinking about the plight of women in Afghanistan or Palestine, not about herself.”
Marilyn had surgery in the Bay Area, pretty quickly once a diagnosis was made, and should have started chemotherapy six weeks later, when the surgical wounds had healed. But at Carswell Federal Medical Center in Ft. Worth, where thousands of seriously ill federal prisoners are treated, the tests performed when she was finally admitted in mid-March (do the math!) revealed new tumors and growths outside the original cancer site.
Now at last, the chemo has started, and she is full of hope. She has so much pent-up energy, dreams, desires, abilities, concerns, and life to live! Her experiences in America’s prison gulags have illuminated a hundred worthwhile projects and pressing needs to which she wants to contribute, as well as a whole new world of experiences that so far she has been denied.
So why, now, with parole already scheduled and this serious illness, is she still imprisoned at all? She’s been locked up longer than almost every other 60s political prisoner. Former Chicago Panther Party member and Houston’s celebrated “Mayor of Da 5th Ward”, folk artist Robert al-Walee, says, “If Marilyn was a Black woman, she would be free by now; there would have been a public outcry for her release.” Lee compares Buck to famed abolitionist leader John Brown, demonized in the American historical record. Whites who stand steadfastly against racism and discrimination become “race traitors”, and the slander of “terror” drives away liberal support
Assata Shakur, who has lived in exile in Havana, Cuba, for many years, agrees. She wrote, “When I think of Marilyn as a preacher’s daughter, I think of her as someone who wrestled with the moral problems of our times, and who was not afraid to take principled positions around those issues. Marilyn had a choice. She could have remained silent, she could have reaped the benefits of white-skin privilege. But instead she chose the path of righteousness… she has defended the have-nots, the powerless, and as a woman she has struggled for the liberation of all women… the only reason that she remains incarcerated is because of her political activism… She needs and deserves the support of all those who are committed to freedom and the abolition of pain and suffering on this earth. She deserves to be supported, she deserves to be respected and she deserves to be free.”
Austin candyman (smile!) Robert King (http://www.kingsfreelines.com), a former prisoner and Panther activist at Louisiana’s notorious Angola Prison, where his two comrades, Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox (www.Angola3.org) remain imprisoned, expressing his wishes for Buck’s recovery, remarked on her “indomitable spirit”. He says, “Marilyn’s self-directed commitment shows her evolution towards the ideal of the revolutionary ‘New Wo/Man’ of whom George Jackson spoke. This is what enables her to weather the storms of life. She has given so much, and has asked for nothing. She has kept the faith and continues to fight the good fight.”
Kathleen Cleaver, professor of law at both Yale and Emory Universities and a veteran of both the Black Panther Party and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), had this to say: “Marilyn has always been stalwart and devoted in her dedication to the liberation of Black and all oppressed peoples. Unlike some, she never withdrew from that struggle.”
Akwasi Evans, publisher and editor of Austin’s NOKOA: The Observer, is another long-time admirer. He says, “Marilyn Buck is a truly courageous woman who sacrificed her liberty in the struggle for the liberation of all of America’s oppressed. She has paid a great price for her crimes against capitalist exploitation and ought to be released from prison now so she can fight her cancer in freedom instead of incarceration!”
Marilyn’s support has always been strong in the Black community, and among “minorities” in general. But some of us, her white sisters and brothers, have let her slip from mindfulness. She dared to support with deeds what we only said we supported: the right of Black people to defend themselves by any means necessary.
As for her experiences underground, after her 1977 escape from prison, these are of great relevance today. SDS and other Left organizations were crumbling then, under the combined assault of the State and our own lack of credible analysis. Marilyn has had a long time to meditate on the belief, held then by some, that armed revolution was imminent, and on the duties of the revolutionary. Reading her letters, poems, and essays over all these years, I’ve seen her extraordinary evolution, witnessed the maturation of an articulate, disciplined, ethical mind.
In her 1999 Master’s thesis in Fine Arts (she’s earned undergraduate and graduate degrees by correspondence while incarcerated), she wrote, “The artist creates the concept and framework for a different cultural paradigm. Political speeches, leaflets and pamphlets that exhort and condemn the old oppressive order rarely do that. Without the imagination, there is little daring to confront the old.”
We need her out here in the world; need her insight, her experience, and her creative imagination.
And at last, she has asked for a little help.
Here’s what we can all do right now:
1. JOIN Marilyn in meditation for a few minutes every morning at 7 a.m. Texas time. Visualize her healthy, healed, happy, and free. If you can’t wake up that early, do this meditation any time. Do it, if you have to, in your sleep.
• While you’re at it, ask your church, synagogue, or meditation center to put her on their prayer list, and send her a copy of the bulletin (address in next paragraph) so she knows she’s getting those good vibes!
2. SEND a get-well card or brief note to: Marilyn Buck 00482-285, FMC Carswell, PO Box 27137, Ft. Worth, TX 76127. Besides correspondence, the ONLY things she can receive are:
• money orders made out in her name (for small purchases in the prison commissary),
• photos of yourself and your family, newspaper or magazine clippings (but NOT entire periodicals), and
• some paperback books, preferably new.
If you write, don’t be miffed if she doesn’t reply; she is receiving a lot of mail and, d’oh, doesn’t have her usual energy! In a brief recent phone conversation, she said that she is being “upheld” by the love and support people are showing through such messages and her morning meditation. In a strange, horrid place, isolated, uprooted from familiar routines and friends of many, sick and in pain, she said “thank you”, and “please keep writing.”
[Yes, when you write to a prison inmate, even one who is in the hospital, your mail is censored. But sending a get-well card is unlikely to get you put on the Do-Not Fly list, not all by itself anyway!]
3. MONEY was already needed for Marilyn’s secure transition to unemployed freedom. Now, that need has increased, to insure ongoing monitoring of her health, possible follow-up treatments, and access to the healthy foods and supplements she’s been denied in the pen (a circumstance, in addition to the generally unhealthful condition of living in confinement, that no doubt contributed to her illness).
SEND a check or money order in any amount to: Friends of Marilyn Buck, % Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (www.prisonerswithchildren.org), 1540 Market St. – Ste. 490, San Francisco CA 94102, or contribute specifically to her welfare through their website. (If you’re in Austin, a benefit for her is tentatively planned here for June 25, and you’ll be asked to cough up deeply at that time!)
• VOLUNTEER for the anticipated Austin benefit. E-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. WATCH the Rag Blog and Austin’s other progressive media for updates!
5. And THINK of something else useful we can do; the goddamned injustice of this, as if pain and illness were ever justified, has me open to all kinds of suggestions! Thanks, C.G., for the “Alleged Un-crossing Candle”!
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