Book Review: "Defying the Tomb: Selected Prison Writings and Art of Kevin “Rashid” Johnson Featuring Exchanges With an Outlaw"
"Defying the Tomb is a very easy and exciting read. However, it is also the very cornerstone of the kind of political education that the masses of our people need. I will even go as far as to say that this book is this generation's Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson."
“I should begin by emphasizing that four traits are predominant in my character, traits that I believe are largely lacking within the Amerikan Left and Revolutionary Nationalist milieu, and are largely the cause of their strategic failures. These four traits are that I am an extremist, a tactical thinker, I have an uncompromising will, and I am willing to suffer and give my life for the people.”
~ Kevin “Rashid” Johnson
In whatever way that one first comes across the work of Kevin Rashid Johnson, it is in that precise moment one begins to marvel and appreciate the incredible nature and quality and beauty of this Brother’s mind. Moreover, you recognize that you are now grappling with the ideas and experiences of a very extraordinary human being. In my humble opinion, his work must be fully supported, given to as many young people, prisoners, and other so-called fringe elements as humanly possible, carefully studied and seriously applied, because what he is laying forth is that damn important!
I stumbled across the work of Kevin Rashid by accident: I was looking up the meaning of the term Comrade because I wanted to encourage others to begin adopting the use of the term. A simple google search led me to a stunning, short essay titled, “What is a Comrade and Why We Use the Term”. I quote him briefly:
“The concept of “Comrade” has a special meaning and significance in revolutionary struggle. We have often been asked to explain our use of this term, especially by our peers who are new to the struggle, instead of more familiar terms like 'brother', 'homie', 'cousin', 'dog', 'nigga', etc.
Foremost, is that we aspire to build a society based upon equality and a culture of revolutionary transformation, so we need to purge ourselves of the tendency to use terms of address that connote cliques and exclusive relationships. A comrade can be a man or a woman of any color or ethnicity, but definitely a fellow fighter in the struggle against all oppression.”
Once reading it in full, I immediately shared it to my Facebook page, but I had to learn more about the author who wrote it – and that is exactly what I did. I learned that Rashid is a political prisoner, locked behind the enemy prison for about 30 years now. He is the Minister of Defense for the New Afrikan Black Panther Party – Prison Chapter (NABPP-PC). He is an amazing artist whose artwork is even more astounding when you factor in that he is relegated to using a small ball point pen; he creates under this limitation the most vivid and detailed images of life and history that you’ll ever be privileged to see. His artwork alone serves as an indelible social and political education for the masses of our people.
I learned through his website, rashidmod.com, that he had written two books, Panther Vision and Defying the Tomb. After reading a few of his essays, especially “Amerika – Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength,” which is easily one of the best articles I’d read in a long time, I ordered Defying the Tomb first and Panther Vision immediately afterwards. When I received Defying the Tomb, the first thing which stood out was the remarkable artwork exhibited on the front cover – it presents a group of adolescents marching defiantly in full unison out of the eye of a black panther.
The book starts with a foreword written by Russell Maroon Shoatz. Maroon, a long-held POW himself, writes a passionate and detailed description of the history of Black radical resistance movements in the United States. He covers the positive elements of some movements, such as the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), African Blood Brotherhood (ABB), Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), and the Black Panther Party (BPP), while also explaining how they ideologically and politically fell short. His historical and analytical account leads to him eventually explaining why he feels encouraged by Rashid and the NABPP-PC. He even sends out a direct warning on why he feels it is important to protect the life of Comrade Rashid:
“So make no mistake about it; they’re gonna try to murder our author the first chance they get. If him and I were on the chopping block right now. They would jump over top of my old ass in order to get to him… These are young lions… they figure to wait me out… So it’s up to all of you to recognize how much we need him, and all of these unmentioned younger soldiers; comrades like him can raise us up. Put as much protection around him as you can. Our future depends on it.”
The next two sections of Defying the Tomb serve as brief, yet impactful and powerful, autobiographical accounts of both Kevin Rashid Johnson and his comrade, Outlaw. Both these brothers have a story to tell – and shit if they don’t tell it! I was completely blown away and moved by the sheer rawness and honesty of their shared testimonies of social poverty and human misery, racial oppression, class exploitation, and their individual responses to them. They both paint a stark reality of life inside the Black internal colony. They both share incredible accounts showcasing, very clearly, the difference in their approaches and how they ultimately responded to these oppressive structures prior to having a political education and after acquiring one. When these two brothers were incredibly young and on the street, they unconsciously participated in the ruthless and cutthroat underground economy functioning in their own community. Obviously, without being able to fully recognize, early on, the contradictions inherent within the capitalist system and how violence, competition, and exploitation are fundamental components and attributes of it, they attempted to master the game they were forced to play.
The game is beautifully described here by Comrade Outlaw:
“Frantz Fanon, in his classic work The Wretched of the Earth, described how a colonized people, (in this case the urban Amerikan colonies, otherwise referred to as the 'hood', the 'projects', and the 'ghettos'), come to exist under a sort of 'pecking order' where 'the only law is that of the knife,' brought on by competition for scarce resources that find their way into the resource-lacking colonies. Every drug sale is the object of relentless competition, and I vividly remember scrambling to 'hustle' my product to prospective buyers with several of my equally-pressed peers right in step with me.”
Rashid, prior to being captured by the pigs, resorted to force as a legitimate means of achieving his goals. Ironically, even within his earlier pursuits, Rashid was infatuated more with the organization and solidarity between his brothers than with acquiring profits. He writes,
“So, I focused on driving the pigs and any competition out. Ironically, I was never really concerned with profits; I was more concerned with unity within the clique and developing community affinity.”
This is to showcase there was a revolutionary already present, although tucked away and lying dormant inside the character of Rashid.
After the fast-paced and riveting introductory narratives, which give an incredible background into what social, political, and historical forces inevitably lead them to prison, the book shifts to a spellbinding collection of prison exchanges (letters) between the two comrades. Enmeshed between the pages of the correspondences is Kevin Rashid’s artwork. It produces a wonderful combination, displayed throughout the rest of the book, between art and ideology. There are 77 prison letters, each letter seemingly better than the previous ones; I was enthralled. I could not put the book down and never wanted to. When I did, it was just that I had other things to do like eating and sleeping. The political and organizational gems these brothers were dropping were fascinating, and the lengths and risks in which they had to take in order to attain a revolutionary political education inside the belly of the beast was utterly amazing and ingenious.
These brothers were wrestling with the writings and teachings of Sun Tzu, Mao Tse-Tung, Machiavelli, Marx and Engels, Stalin, Lenin, Fanon, George Jackson, Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton, Hubert Harrison, and Marcus Garvey. They were studying and discussing and building on the principles of class struggle, guerilla warfare, revolutionary nationalism, internationalism, pan-Africanism, etc. They were dealing with fundamental human concepts such as philosophy, religion, economics, poetry, world history, African history, war, even Hip-Hop. Rashid functioned and willfully served as Outlaw’s mentor – and what a mentorship and apprenticeship that Comrade Outlaw received! Without a willing student, though, a teacher can only be so effective. Outlaw was not only a willing student, he was a dynamic student. Much like Comrade Rashid, he was an extremely fast learner and equally as dedicated to the most important aspect of learning, application.
Defying the Tomb is a very easy and exciting read. However, it is also the very cornerstone of the kind of political education that the masses of our people need. I will even go as far as to say that this book is this generation's Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson. It is thus no surprise that when you read Kevin Rashid, you immediately feel the connection and spirit of Comrade George Jackson: Implacable will. Fearless. Brilliant. Human. African.
Long live Comrade George Jackson!
Free Kevin Rashid Johnson!
Support Defying the Tomb! Read it! Study it! Share it!
All Power to the People!