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In fond memory of Mark Harrison

While a lot of folks were hanging out in 'hip' places in the early 1970's, Mark Harrison was a friend of the Amish and pastor of a small church in Alaska. He built a log cabin in the wilderness, and began to raise a family.

Later he would publish a small magazine in Northern California with his soulmate Tina Cummings, and memory of rural life would tug at him often enough to push them our way. Mark chose Colville, Washington, sight unseen, because there were no freeways and lots of mountains from the look of the map he spread out in front of him one day.

Another magazine, The North Colombia Monthly, was founded by Mark and Tina, operated for five years until the couple sold it and began devoting more time to the November Coalition and other pursuits in life.

In northeastern Washington, Mark Harrison's regular column in the Monthly, News Not Fit to Print, was progressive social commentary that made him a local icon. Nora certainly thought so when she met him, and easily persuaded him to write about drug war injustice.

He began with us as a volunteer in 1997, writing for his magazine and letting us reprint his articles. He'd take bundles of our newspapers and deliver them to public places in three counties and Canada. By 1999, Mark wrote prisoners' profiles, dug into some investigative assignments, and contributed to nearly every issue of The Razor Wire.

Mark's final project for us, Stamp Out Ignorance with November Coalition's Letter Writing Guide, is available here (PDF format).

Mark was a dear and peaceful man, our Coalition 'Pastor,' and we cherish our memories of time spent with him. He passed on from this life on Friday, December 5th, 2003, and will be missed by all of us.

Remembrances and condolences may be sent in care of Tina Cummings, 1496-P Highway 20 East, Colville, WA 99114.

Remembering a friendship shared

Nora Callahan, December 11, 2003

Everyone knows a person from his or her own perspective. Sharing memories of Mark's life, brings me to my perspectives. I wish that I could be with friends, to share my memory personally, but Mark understands my absence, was fascinated with my compulsions. My husband and colleague, Chuck Armsurby and I, are in Seattle meeting with state organizers, many of whom met Mark at a national drug law reform conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the spring of 2000. Mark's political influence extended far beyond northeastern Washington. I'm not sure if most people in Colville know how far it extended.

Mark and I shared the same background of Jesus filled years, for about the same amount of time, and during the same time. Our paths not crossing directly, till we'd both started seeing the world in which we lived, a lot differently, and after we thought about things unseen a lot differently, too. This shared background however, enabled him to interpret a particularly odd set of ideas I might present, or way of thinking about a situation. It made for understanding, and great comedy, too.

Mark was a light in this sometimes dim and scary world. He brought his magic to our busy office, at times for weekly sessions where we'd mull over news, or an organizational dilemma. Mark, and Tina's expertise was often and best expressed in their work on behalf of what are literally -- millions of people. Millions of people throughout the country benefited from Mark's life and work -- amazing don't you think?

Our times together? An especially memorable one went like this:

"Oh good, Chuck. Mark just pulled up. He always shows up at the right time."

Mark made right and good times, of lots of hard work.

"Sit down Mark, we have a big one here."

He stood up straight and stiff, marched to a chair and wide eyed, he sat down, got his briefcase open, got comfortable.

"Okay, I'm ready," he says.

"IPS wants me to answer a question, and they are going to put it in a book."

"A book?" Mark said, relaxing, ready to hear more. "What is the question you are going to answer?"

"We, Mark. Get it? I can't answer a question like this."

"The question?"

"What should people know to continue the global struggle for human rights successfully into the future?"

"Is that all they want to know?" Mark asked flatly. No expression on his face, for at least a few seconds.

Then he laughed, and laughed more. He laughed hysterically - really, for a long, long time.

I'm sure because such an important question had come our way. And it was an important question. Probably far too important for the three 'country folk' about to answer it. And he knew that we would answer it.

Laughter fed on more laughter, because it was, as the hysterics suggested, absurd that we were going to answer such a question.

Humbled, we discussed it. And we talked long and hard about this important question for a global human's rights movement. We talked about words that go into books, lasting forever, so we had to choose them carefully. We had to say it in one paragraph - something all three of us don't do well, but liked working with words.

At one point, I said, "Hold it, hold it!" and manned the keyboard.

I read aloud, we edited it quickly. The magic of a good team.

We miss the magic that was Mark Harrison's way, to take people from frantic, to finished, to profound -- in about two hours.

The question we answered that day? What should people know to continue the global struggle for human rights, successfully into the future?

"Love and honor all people who suffer under repression. Know one's deeper motives for doing this work, and continue to study history from diverse views. Be prepared for sacrifice of old ways of thinking and doing, and stay flexible ideologically. Identify white superiority as a dynamic feature of racist repression driving foreign and domestic policy. Act as if there will be no tomorrow, as if humanity hangs in the balance, and be scrupulously honest and scientific in consideration of developing new support for the human rights movement. Wherever you may live, be involved in your government."

Page 120, the last words in the book entitled Light Among Shadows. Attributed to me, they were words that a team managed to express, on behalf of a national organization.

We feel honored to have served some of humanity with Mark Harrison. There is a hole in our hearts, that only hope for the future can fill -- and Mark shared that with all of us in his words, his life and his friendship.

Chuck and I, Tom and all of the November Coalition will hold this dear man's memory close to our hearts.

Excerpts from an article published in The Razor Wire, November, December 2000

Drug War Christmas

By Mark Harrison, November Coalition contributing writer

It's that time of year again. Sleigh bells ringing, chestnuts roasting on an open fire and all that, but sadly, not all the children are singing. Hundreds of thousands of drug war orphans are deprived of having their mothers and fathers home for the holidays this year. The grinch stealing their Christmas is the prison-industrial complex consuming non-violent drug law violators at an unprecedented rate in an insatiable hunger for raw material, the live bodies of imprisoned workers.

Drug warriors repeatedly place profits over people, political careers over real leadership, prisons over prevention, and, we're reminded during this normally bright and cheery time of year -- drug war spoils over the plight of its consequential prisoners and their dependent children, young and grown alike.

Now, thirty years later and with nearly 500,000 non-violent drug offenders behind bars, and over 2 million people in prison overall, the prison-industrial complex has become self-perpetuating, a government-supported employment program, a spending spree, and those who make the laws may have the most to lose when the system slows down. Politicians receive millions in campaign contributions from companies that make billions from the booming prison industry.

Corrections Corporation of America is the largest privatized prison firm in the country (others are Cornell, Wackenhut, e.g.), and bids competitively for entire state penal contracts to house and control prisoners. Since its founding in 1984, CCA has expanded unabated to 75 facilities in 21 states. According to The Tennesseean newspaper, CCA is the largest political contributor in that state, dropping $100,000 to State legislators for political contributors in anticipation of landing a state-wide penal contract.

Prison-ware is also big business. Festive trade shows for the industry display sundry products from the $3.75 Tranzport Hood -- "the fast, easy way to protect you and your fellow officers from the uncomfortable feeling of being spit on." There's also the $2,290 restraint chair, where at least 11 US prisoners have died from suffocation and countless others tortured. So far, efforts to ban or restrict the use of the chair have been thwarted, though Amnesty International has called for an "urgent national inquiry." Meanwhile, sales are brisk, and though manufacturers decline to publicize the exact amount of chairs sold, they number in the thousands.

Tough-on-crime rhetoric that suggests "criminals" deserve what they get may sound fair and just to the uninformed citizen, but looking behind rhetoric about stopping crime, and following the money trail, the drug war is easily seen to be about greed, power and ill-guided intentions. While stockholders paid by the prison-industrial complex will undoubtedly enjoy lavish Christmases with their families, they will be doing so at the expense of drug war prisoners and their children 'celebrating' Christmas apart for another year, perhaps years to come if we don't end this cash cow drug war.

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