Reflections on Prison and the Needs of Our Movement
from No Compromise Issue 13
 

By Rod Coronado

On March 8, 1999, after exactly 42 months in prison, I traded in my institution khaki's for street clothes and walked out the iron doors of the Federal Correctional Institution in Tucson, Arizona. It was surreal. After confinement within the very same area for more than three years, one gets used to the surroundings. But I was ready to go.

It had been four-and-one-half years since my capture after nearly three years on the run for what was essentially a five-year tour of duty with the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). I had joined the ALF, not only because I was disenchanted and frustrated with the level of government apathy towards animal abuse, but more so because deep down in my heart I knew it was wrong for humans to cruelly dominate and domesticate the natural world for its own selfish luxury.

Yes, I can explain my involvement in illegal direct action in a political and moral context, but when it comes down to it, I joined the ALF because it's the only army that fights for the militarily under-represented animal nations. And while I do not consider the ALF to be a military, due to our avowed refusal to take up arms, for lack of an organized human resistance that will do so on behalf of the animal world, it is the closest thing to an army that the animals have.

While in prison, as I lay in my bunk every night, I would think of my role in this battle, in this world, and I would feel alone, but not lonely, because I knew there were thousands out there who supported the ALF's struggle to end the wars against the animal people. I took solace in knowing that though I personally was imprisoned, many other courageous warriors rose in my absence.

On the day of my sentencing, as I stood before the chosen authority of the United States government, I listened as I was chastised by the judge not just for my "criminal behavior," but also for my steadfast unwillingness to give the names of my trusted and beloved fellow warriors who together helped me wage war on the fur farm industry. He told me it was vital that a strong message be sent to others who might be encouraged to follow the same path as I and deemed his 57-month sentence to be an effective enough deterrent. It wasn't.

As I began my first month of imprisonment in summer 1995, news reached me that a fur farm had been raided. All during the early stages of Operation Bite Back, which my comrades and I had begun, we had quietly prayed that our example would somehow lead to others taking up the banner of fur animal liberation and striking out against this, the oldest North American animal exploitation industry.

We knew our campaign could not last long. We were but one small cell up against an entire industry, and with each strike, our pursuers narrowed their hunt for us. Eventually that hunt led to my capture, and though I was relieved that others escaped the net, I feared that the federal repression that accompanied Operation Bite Back would intimidate others away from following our path.

After all, it's hard to convince comfortable members of American society to sacrifice their privilege to wage a private campaign against an industry with the full backing of local, state and federal governments. But with that first raid in 1995, I became inspired.

I told myself that if others were brave enough to continue to carry out ALF raids, then I could surely endure a few years in prison. I remembered all of those mink, foxes, bobcats and lynx, who had stared back at me through the wire of their own cages in prisons where the only hope for escape would come from people like you and me.

My hope began to blossom as the raids on fur farms increased, until finally I was left with the realization that the prayers of my own ragtag band of ALF warriors had been answered. Doing time was made so much easier when news would arrive of the latest attack on the fur farm industry, and it became a very tolerable role for me to play in the struggle as I read about fur farms and retailers going out of business due in large part to ALF raids.

I knew that others had been drawn into the struggle because of a similar love and respect for our animal relations and I can only guess that, as the ALF's raids increased, so too would their individual members' sense of empowerment. As animal rights activists-not just ALF activists-we are increasingly faced with an overwhelming sense of disempowerment.

The rare victory, whether legal or illegal, is almost always overshadowed with the latest news of increased or new forms of animal abuse. Too often we fall victim to hatred for the human race and cynicism, only to end up as horrible examples to others of what awareness and enlightenment to the suffering of others should bring.

After many years of trying to avoid the quicksand of this kind of depression, I've come to the conclusion that there is only one way out of it: uncompromising direct action motivated by great love straight from the heart.

Prison is the government's way of trying to keep us from following our hearts. It's the dominator's way of appealing to our selfish rather than unselfish nature. It's the power structure's way of saying that, if we demand the freedom of others, we will be denied our own. Yet never have I felt as much freedom as I did as an ALF activist-the kind of freedom the government doesn't want us to experience, freedom where one truly discovers the boundless limits of the human spirit where we can come closest to sharing the very wildness of those unconquered animal nations for whom we fight.

Unfortunately, the price of such freedom can be very high, and as federal and state repression against the ALF increases, we must prepare if our struggle is to survive it. We must not only continue to support the ALF's just cause, but we must do all we can to ensure that it continues unabated. That means supporting animal liberation prisoners and supporting those presently engaged in animal liberation activities. We often cite the Underground Railroad as analogous to our own struggle; now it's time to learn from it.

The Underground Railroad was only as effective as its individual "conductors" were responsible. Those members ushering runaway slaves to sanctuary were but one small part of the Railroad. More important to the success of their campaign were the people who provided safe houses for both slaves and conductors leading them to freedom. Without a place to sleep, eat or lie low, freedom would have been unattainable. The well-established family unable to fight slavery in the field could instead provide the necessary resources to insure that others could.

Now it's time for us to do the same. Those of us in the aboveground animal liberation struggle need to do everything we can for our and the animals' warriors on the front lines. We need to contribute to the legal defense of people like Adam Troy Pease and Jacob Kennison, and we need to provide needed resources to those we know are legitimately engaged in ALF activities. We need to prepare ourselves for the kind of repression now being faced by the ALF Press Office for doing nothing more than getting the truth out there.

We cannot be intimidated from supporting animal liberation; we must be adequately prepared for the consequences of believing in it. Now it's my turn to once again find my place in this struggle. To those brave warriors of the ALF who gave me the inspiration and hope I needed to endure prison, I thank you with all of my heart. You have my deepest respect and admiration, and rather than just say thank you, I promise to be there for you when you and the animals need me most.

If the price of freedom is more imprisonment simply for speaking in your defense, then I'm ready to pay. To the rest of the animal liberation movement, thank you all for the letters and prayers you sent my way. Without them, the days would have surely been longer.

Now I need to ask you to replace your individual support during my imprisonment with support for the other animal liberation prisoners like Adam and Jacob and for Kevin and Katie at the Press Office,who need not only our prayers, but our financial support, too. Dig deep, comrades, because the survival of many others depends on their ability to defeat state attempts to silence the ALF.

Lastly, I'd like to thank the ALF cell responsible for the University of Minnesota raid. Thank you for reminding us that lab raids are still possible. I can only agree that now it is up to us!