Warner’s Suicide is a Warning to Us All
By Matthew Hart. LA-ABCF
Recently I came across a person’s name I haven’t seen in many years; a name I would rather not have come across because of what this person represents to the political prisoner support community. A name that has left me with immense shame and guilt- shame and guilt for myself, and movement that I am a part of. The person I am referring to is political prisoner, Thomas Warner.
I came across his name in the ONWARD newspaper*, still listed as a political prisoner. Unfortunately, according to information received, support for Warner is no longer needed. This is because on Monday, May 25th 1998, at about 5 p.m., while other prisoners were eating their last meal of the day, Thomas Warner slit his own throat and died. A friend found him sprawled on a blood-drenched cot, alive enough to order his friend to let him die. The friend rushed for help but the authorities allowed Thomas Warner to bleed to death.
I was made aware that something was not right with Warner in the summer of 2000, two years after his death. The Los Angeles Anarchist Black Cross sent out a mass mailing to the political prisoners on our list (of which Thomas was still listed) and the letter to Warner was returned. Returned letters are quite common with prisoner support so I sent it out another time. Once again the letter was returned but this time the word “DEAD” was written across the front of the envelope. I attempted to confirm Warner’s death with outside groups but was unable to confirm anything. All the groups I contacted never had any communicated with Warner and knew very little about him. Any attempt to reach Warner was returned. Despite no real confirmation, the facts didn¹t look promising.
I came across an article about a Thomas Warner, who had committed suicide in prison while I was searching for information about the political prisoner Thomas Warner.** I figured it couldn’t be the same person because the article was written two years prior and our community couldn’t have allowed this man to die like this. In the article, it discussed how Warner was moved outside the prison into a kind of “pre-release” status and how he was almost released. But thanks to the Ridge administration in Pennsylvania, he was denied parole was returned to inside the prison. Warner was turned down for parole time after time. His mother died. His grandmother died. Warner ached. He then turned to drugs to ease his pain but was snitched on by another inmate. This caused Warner to be refused parole again. The pain was too much for him and he ended his life.
Recently, I contacted a person related* to the article and it was confirmed that the Thomas Warner who had committed suicide was imprisoned in Huntingdon, PA. – the same prison PP Thomas Warner was at. All searches for the PP Thomas Warner on the Pennsylvania inmate locator turned up negative, which means for one reason or another he is no longer in custody.
All evidence suggests that a prisoner, who we, as a community, have vowed to support, took his own life because he was alone. The fact that he felt so alone that his response was suicide should not be lost on anyone in our community. We must ask ourselves how we could have failed to such a large degree that a man like Thomas Warner received no support from our community. Our lack of support for Thomas Warner may have been one of the many conditions that caused his death. Equally important, if not more important, our support could have been one of the very things that could have saved him from suicide. We must remember that this isn¹t the first time a political prisoner has died without any support. Kuwasi Balagoon, a New Afrikan Anarchist Political Prisoner, died on December 13 1986, with very little support from our community. With his death, many vowed never to let that happen again, but all evidence has suggested it has happened again. We must examine our behavior and attempt to figure out why our community has failed in its responsibilities.
For the last decade, not only has the sectarian divide expanded but feuds between Anarchist Black Cross organizations has caused the fabric of political prisoner aid work in the Anarchist community to weaken. “Slander over solidarity” has been the anarchist credo for sometime now. Rather than put aside differences of approach, organizations have used these differences to split and disrupt the solidarity aid community all together. Support for political prisoners has been placed on the back burner as the battle of egos prevails. This has resulted in us failing in our responsibilities to those who we have promised to support, people like Thomas Warner. Warner¹s death and our failure to even notice it, should be a wake up call to all of us in this community to stop the squabbling, slander, and infighting. We are failing in our responsibilities because we are so focused on discrediting other groups in the movement. The community would rather spend time labeling other groups as “Stalinist”, “Maoist”, or “Liberal” rather than spend the time trying to find areas to unite in. Rather than recognizing that work needs to be done in multiple areas and uniting with groups who have dedicated themselves to those areas, we use these differences to discredit each other. This has gotten us nowhere.
The attacks made against other groups will only weaken the movement we are trying to create. The result will be more prisons, more prisoners, and more prisoners forgotten and/or dead in prisons. Is this what we want? Are we willing to accept the results of what our infighting has and will cause?
This is a call to all groups to come together, put aside our differences, and began to build a movement of solidarity to the prisoners and our selves. Let our differences and unique approaches unite us in our work for the freedom of political prisoners and prisoners in general. Let us find ways of unification rather than separation. Let us build a movement that we can be proud of rather than attack and weaken the half-lifeless one we have. I beg everyone in this community to let Warner¹s death be a clear message to all of us, before this happens again.
For those groups/individuals interested in finding ways to unite the political prisoner community please contact the Los Angeles Anarchist Black Cross Federation Branch Group.
*In writing this, I realize that ONWARD was using an older ABCF PP/POW list and can’t be held responsible for Warner’s name being on the list. The ABCF has had Warner’s name taken off our list for sometime now, but many political prisoner support groups still have Warner remaining on their most recent lists. Still, this isn’t an attack on them but rather a criticism of our community in general for allowing our personalities to get in the way of our support for PP/POWs.
** The article on Thomas Warner can be found at http://www.prisoners.com/greeneye.html