Free Britney Griner – David J. Annarelli

& all political prisoners foreign & domestic

As the world continues to descend into assorted & varied madness, the word freedom is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Ukraine, clearly, but also those political dissidents such as Mr. Navalny, as of June 15 disappeared into a Russian maximum security prison, & those American citizens such as WNBA star Brittney Griner, also held in Russia. We can speak of economic freedom, always an underlying problem in the US, especially where the poor & impoverished are so after the fodder that feeds the US Prison Industrial Complex. Economic freedom, as of this moment, has begun (again?) to take on a whole new meaning where it costs $10 to drive a couple of miles, shelves are bare of food, & as other supplies & amenities slowly become scarce, expensive & more commonly both. We spent two years asking “to vaccinate or not to vaccinate” & that was a question of freedom.
Perhaps we can speak of reproductive freedom, or to be more concise, the simple freedom to choose what medical procedures to have, & when. Roe v. Wade has brought that convoluted conversation to the fore. We can, & most assuredly should, continue to talk about the 2.2 million captives held in the United States. This represented a full 25% of the entire world’s prisoner population, who are held in what is generally agreed upon, as one of the worst prison systems in the world. Approximately 40% – % that number ranges higher – of those captive are mental health sufferers being warehoused who should never have been put into a prison…Then, after we discuss the finer points of “freedom” in the world & in America, we can all gather’ round the grille at twilight, blow things up – fireworks mostly – & celebrate our so called freedom. So what is freedom?

“Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose…”
Bobby McGee, by Kris Kristopherson, sung by Janis Joplin

I’ve heard it said that if you really believe you are free, try going some place without money. Like many of our so called rights, freedom is a subjective, fleeting thing & often revealed as a misnomer. There are a great many “of this, than that” conditions applied to freedom anymore. It is for this reason, ,among several I suspect, that even in the “freest country in the world” less & less people believe themselves free. In fact, a very volatile argument about freedom is playing out, & is at the root of our domestic problems, even if we don’t want to acknowledge it. So what is freedom? How far does that freedom go? Who, or what entity dictates those definitions & the lines drawn by them? Taking an objective look at our country & the world today, it seems increasingly obvious that none of us are actually free. It looks more like an Orwellian nightmare, “slavery is freedom” scenario with every passing week. There are people, born & raised in the US, acting in a manner unbefitting the label of ‘citizen.’ & there are those who not only struggled to get there, but have struggled to stay against all odds – & derisive hatred – who are most deserving of being called citizen, & are not. All of this, conversely, under the auspices of “the American Dream.” The late great George Carlin once warned “it’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it,” & let me tell you this, being “woke” does not necessarily equate to being awake & aware. What does freedom mean to me? I’m a political prisoner, wrongfully convicted in Virginia, a state with a 20% rate of innocent/wrongful conviction (PEW Survey). It is among the highest in the US, +/- people with no mechanism to get back into courts/prove “the state” is in error. I am certain there is no need to detail the 400 year history for which Virginia is most [in]famous… I do not know what freedom really is, & I am experienced, self aware enough to say so… but I think it looks something like this:

“The political belief that there should be No government & that instead ordinary people should work together to improve society, specifically, sociopolitical theory holding that the only legitimate form of government is one under which individuals govern themselves voluntarily, free from any collective power structure enforcing compliance with social order.”
– ‘Anarchy,’ Black’s Law Dictionary, Tenth Edition

That is what freedom looks like after six years as a political prisoner. I look forward to a day when all of humanity evolves so mature a philosophy & practice as defined above. Then, we can all be free, one human family, in peace.


David Annarelli is a father, musician, activist, political prisoner & contributing writer at Prison Journalism Project. He was wrongfully convicted on false charges.

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