The Peter Young Interview
By Claudette Vaughan
On October 28, 1997 Sheboygan County Sheriff's deputies in Wisconsin pulled over Justin Samuel and Peter Young, after fur farmers suspected they were watching their mink barns. Authorities found items that led to a six-count federal indictment against Samuel and Young 1998. The two were charged with violating the then named Animal Enterprise Protection Act with the alleged intent to coerce mink farms out of business by inflicting economic loss and damage. Justin Samuel entered into a plea bargain with authorities. Peter Young did not. Here is our interview with him.
WRITE PETER A LETTER! Remember to add the prison number when writing to Peter.
Peter Young, #10269-111
FCI Victorville Medium II.
PO Box 5700
Adelanto, CA 92301
Abolitionist: What is prison life like for you Pete?
Peter Young: There is a tremendous gap between the perceived daily life of a prisoner inside the US prison system and the reality. The mythology exists in the two extremes while the truth is somewhere in the middle. To one side is the dominant myth of prison as a daily struggle to survive: knife fights, gang rapes and race wars. And on the other: prison is merely some form of alterative housing with a big fence around it; a place where our friends bring us homemade vegan food and inmates order stereo equipment from mailorder catalogues. This latter set of falsehoods was one I did not know existed until I was arrested. Daily I receive mail from individuals asking if I can receive a copy of their band’s demo or if they can mail me a birthday cake; comical notions to someone who is incarcerated or those with even the most basic education on our nation’s prison system. It is endlessly surprising that so many could fail to deduce that an unrestricted flow of items in and out would be severely compromising to the interests of my captors. Nothing in prison is allowed from the goodness of the jailer’s heart.
The truth of prison does nothing to confirm the fantasies of either camp. Prison is a lot of grown men watching TV and playing cards. We have been fed dramatized accounts of prison for so long that the reality is not often welcomed when I tell it. The reality is that there is little sensational stuff happening in daily life inside prison. My schedule is this: Awake at 8am. In federal prison all inmates are required to work, and this work runs the full spectrum from swinging hammers for 8 hours to turning on the sprinklers once daily. My work assignment is at the latter end. I am responsible for emptying exactly 4 trash cans once daily, which I do at 8am. At 8.15am I read whatever newspapers I pulled from the trash cans or I read books until lunch at 11.15am. Currently I am reading a title on the business of freelance writing. At 12pm I write letters, a never-ending labor of love. To all those who have written and not received a response, please know that I read and re-read your letters at least 3 times. Please know that I appreciate them very much and I place them in a box which I will take to my grave. Today I will be writing to a close friend of mine in Salt Lake City. The only thing that can pull me from writing letters is receiving them, and at 5.15 I leave my cell for “mail call”. Soon after, we are called for dinner. At 6pm, I go to the library, to the typing room to work on my less personal more “business-like” correspondence, such as this interview. I also read the LA Times, attend a class on legally forming a non-profit corporation, and make photocopies. At 8pm, I returned to my cellblock and handle various affairs such as assembling my outgoing mail and making phone calls. The only variation in my evening schedule comes on a Saturday when I watch the Headbanger’s Ball program on MTV, which is valuable in providing me a trace of some connection to my previous life in the free world by seeing occasional band with members I used to see at basement shows a decade ago. At 9.45 we are locked in our cells for the night. I finish reading my mail and listen to various radio programs until mid-night.
It’s a life without spontaneity, without highs or lows, without any element of uncertainty beyond whether or not they will corrupt the rice with chicken stock that day.
It’s important to note my prison experience is heavily defined by my case being charged at the federal level rather than state. State prisons are a mixed salad of everything from purse snatchers to grafitti artists. Federal prisons sometimes house a higher class of criminal, offenders convicted of crimes that involve large sums of money (typically large volume drug offenses). While this doesn’t make for the most delightful of housemates, it does keep violent and predatory inmates to a minimum. The prison where I am housed is a medium security facility. As you move to Low to Medium Security facilities, a federal prisoner can expect to find themselves housed with some very exotic criminals, such as computer hackers and jewel smugglers. As stated, the facility where I reside is 85% drug offenders, but being a federal prison it enjoys a different convict culture than a state prison. Most specifically, less politics and less drama. I’m told maximum security federal facilities are a very different climate and should you ever see an animal liberation prisoner with the letters “USP” in their address, give a little more effort to your letter because their life is almost certainly very rough.
Abolitionist: How does it feel to be one of the few activists not rolling over and helping the authorities with their enquiries?
Peter Young: Soon after my arrest the prosecution approached my attorney and offered a plea bargain. I was facing 4 felony “disruption of interstate commerce” charges which, if convicted on, would have realistically brought 10 to 20 years, and no less than 8. I was offered a deal of 3 years in exchange for full disclosure of my friends and affiliates in the 8-½ years since my indictment. They wanted to know where I had been and the names of those who I had been with. Two months later we were successful at having my felony charges dismissed by highlighting the flawed legal theory behind them. I was then facing a minimum of two years. We were re-appoached with the same request, this time in exchange for a one year sentence which would have seen me out of prison in several months. I requested of my lawyer that he bring me no further offers that involved giving names to any law enforcement agency.
These plea offers powerfully illustrate the federal government’s agenda: I was not even asked to implicate anyone in any crime, merely to prove names (the type of person with whom I associated being deemed somehow significant). At no point have I had anything to do with the FBI. Anyone reading this with whom I may have crossed paths for one minute or called a best friend for years can live confident that my silence is non-negotiable. Every day I will serve after March 10 2006 (the release date offered in the plea offer) I serve for them. How does it feel to remain unbroken? It feels like an extra year to finish every book on my list. I don’t know what else to say.
Abolitionist: Is it worse to have been caught and arrested or worse to have your fellow friend and activist Justin Samuel enter into a plea agreement with the US Attorney Office?
Peter Young: It is a special kind of degenerate who throws a friend into the flames to save himself 2 ½ years in prison (this is the gap between Samuels maximum sentence given his clean record and the time he received for collaborating). And it’s an even rarer breed that invents facts and events to appease his captors. A gentleman with whom I shared a friendship during my stay at a facility in Chicago had spent time with Justin. They had both been in the same building during a previous sentence. He remembered only a young man who spent much of his time sobbing and consequently being taunted by other inmates. The image of a person who breaks down when he’s 4 months to the door accurately captures the kind of person we speak of here. It is a small sense of justice that forevermore whenever a potential employer or love interest Google’s his name, the first 10,000 hits will spell out his integrity in no uncertain terms. Prison is so small a price to pay to drive a demon out of the cave he hides in and into the light of public scrutiny.
Abolitionist: How is an animal liberationist treated by fellow inmates and the authorities in prison Peter?
Peter Young: In prison, having a politically charged exotic case is helpful with inmates and a liability with staff. Today outside the library, a man I had only spoken with on one or two occasions approached and said “Mr Young! The mink man. You may not see it but a lot of people here respect you and what you did.” There is a certain respect afforded to “standing up for what you believe” in prison even if that belief is not shared by other inmates. I was also told recently by an inmate whose family owns a slaughterhouse and who considers himself very much “right wing” that although he didn’t share my views in the slightest, he considered me a better person than most of the people here because “at least I stand for something.” Such comments are very common.
Other factors contribute to the unique experience of the animal liberation/political prisoner. It can’t go unmentioned that a certain level of credibility is given to a person who is seen receiving an above average volume of mail. This is a huge asset in prison. And because 95% of the inmates in medium security federal prisons are in for drugs, gun possession, or illegal border crossing, a person serving time for liberating animals from a farm is an immediate conversation piece, which smooths the transition into a new social sphere immeasurably. I have been dubbed by other inmates as the “fur bandit”.
As for staff, I give them something to talk about. Offering a little spice to the lives of otherwise desperate and miserable human beings is charitable work I am happy to perform. I should be receiving community service credit.
Abolitionist: What are your thoughts on the SHAC6 case?
Peter Young: Two of the six are activists I crossed paths with via Northwest animal rights circles a decade ago, giving the case a personal touch for me. Our movement is now seeing the most striking example of what most of us have known for some time: The US government will never let the Constitution get in the way of a good trophy case. Everyone that felt secure within their very safe and legal campaigns can now begin to feel uncomfortable. And the discomfort, I think, is a little overdue. The last of us that had yet to open their eyes have had them pried open by the SHAC 6 case. They’re coming for the webmasters now and all those who criticized and fell all over each other to distance themselves from the SAHC campaign may now find themselves next. “Free speech” was the last line in the sand holding back the complete criminalisation of our movement, and that line has been breached in the most profound way we’ve seen. Rod Coronado has since been charged with describing the construction of a device he used to halt the vicious work of an animal research lab – another crime of syllables which might have brought him 20 years. This type of prosecution is flagrant. It denies us even the courtesy of a little smokescreen, the pleasantry of at least pretending the Constitution applies to us. I’m taking note of this crucial milemaker and swallowing it’s lesson: When they stop feeling like they must hide their agenda, it’s time to put on the seatbelts because it’s going to get rough. When they stop feigning respect for our last line of defense – the Constitution – the game no longer has any rules. There are those who will collapse in defeat and there will be those who will soberly examine the situation as it stands and ask how they can work around it. It’s important to remember that these people coming for us are strategists. They know that by imprisoning the SHAC6 is only 5% of the victory. The rest is paid in full when the immobalising effect places the rest of us in a prison of a different kind: one of fear. Their much larger victory comes when we are unwilling to fill the shoes of those imprisoned. Our oppressors don’t have to kill us when we lay down and die.
Abolitionist: Like many humans who are trying to break free from confinement and deplorable maltreatment in life, the animal rights movement was formed to help our brothers and sisters from out of their cages that our species have subjected them to. What are your views on this? And why don’t the fur farmers take the hint and just get out of the business?
Peter Young: It is the simplest of concepts that much of the public and all of our institutional opposition will never understand: Our only motive is to deliver animals from confinement. Our only drive is the curse of empathy. There is nothing “in it for us”, no hidden agenda. Our movement exists to alleviate suffering. The animal liberation movement is analogous to all human based liberation movements, as should be clear. Yet too frequently, this point is not grasped. At my sentencing, Judge Crocker, in his statement to me, prior to handing down my sentence said: “I don’t believe your crime had anything to do with animals. Not for a second.” In this instance, this was the outburst of an insane man – an inability to see the lifting of a latch to save an animal as an act of conscience is the dysfunction of a disturbed person. Yet when lives are saved in less direct ways, the connection between our actions and their compassionate motives are more easily lost. This is the unfortunate side effect of a movement and its tactics which are ahead of its time. I never fail to remind those who question our motives that no one does these things for fun. No one stands outside a research lab to call attention to the horrors within for pleasure. No one works undercover in a slaughterhouse for the thrill of it. No one risks their freedom to remove rabbits from a vivisection breeder at 3am for leisure. And no one goes to prison because they enjoy it.
The fur farmers and the meat packers of this world don’t take the hint and get out of the business because clearly we are not using the right kind or quantity of hints. Some hints require a photocopier and others require a flashlight and a thick pair of gloves. What’s important is that we all offer the hints that our hearts tell us are best. But remember: not all hints are created equal.
Abolitionist: How can we help you Peter?
Peter Young: By first asking a different question: Who needs more help than Peter Young?” One human in a cage endures nothing of the horror of the 10 billion animals in theirs. You can help us all by making them your focus. You can help by keeping your eye on the ball. And if at the end of the day there are a few crumbs for food and legal expenses: www.supportpeter.com www.myspace.com/supportpeter .
Abolitionist: Many animal liberationists are angry over your imprisonment and have, in support of you, performed many liberations and actions since your incarceration (such as mink and fox farm releases). What would you like to say to them if they are reading this?
Peter Young: The fact that you are expressing support through your communiqués is the highest of honours. If only every person who sent a book instead expressed support in this same way. You work from humanities highest plane, doing its most righteous work and righting its most horrific wrongs. On behalf of every creature that will close its eyes tonight in a cage – including this one – accept our highest regards. And now, return to duty.