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S.g.c. Pres. Lee Gill Prison To U-m: "dealing With The System"

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The following interview is with Lee GilI, President of the Student Government Council at the University of Michigan. Spending his first two years at U-M on a study release program from Milan, he would go to school during the day, come back to prison, be strip-searched, and study at night. He's now a U-M graduate and enrolled in grad school. He's been in charge of Minority Affairs for SGQ created Council for Black Concerns, been instrumental in creating the African-American Lounge in South Quad, and recently called for a tuition strike during his address to incoming freshpeople much to the extreme chagrin of U-M administrators.

Sun: SGC has endorsed the tuition strike to oppose the tuition hike at the University of Michigan. If you get a large percentage of students to hold back a tuition payment, where is that movement going to go and how is it going to affect the Regents?

Lee: Well, Vice-President Adam Smith, in his own words, said that if 10,000 withhold their tuition payments it would cripple the University, I think that's an adequate statement on his part. I'm sure he knows what it takes to run this place. During the time that this tuition was withheld, I would like to see a negotiating team sit down with the University and the University would ante up exactly all of its budgetary information; including where the money goes, where the new tuition increase is going, and so on. And that should not only be done for me and Student Government but also done on a massive level for the entire student body, if Robben Fleming has to call a public forum himself at Hill Auditorium or whatever, to make a massive number of students know what the straight deal is on their money. That's the first thing.

The second thing is there are a lot of other issues that are beginning to be added to this, the BAM goals is one of those issues, not just the issue of the tuition hike. Another issue is the fact of increasing student aid. Another is salary disclosure. Another issue is teaching fellows, who met and endorsed the strike. Teaching fellows are being put in a very difficult position in terms of this residency problem. A number of them who have been classified as in-state residents are now going to be classified as out-of-state residents. They'll have to pay more money. So their issue is going to be added to this. And we're trying to add the whole minority problem. Chicanos, Native Americans, women, anybody who has got a problem. We're trying to put it into some kind of consistent form, some kind of planning strategy, so that when we sit down and talk to these people, instead of just talking about the tuition thing, where they can say, "We'll handle that." while we got them over the barrel, let's deal with everything.

SUN: The issue is student control of the University.

Lee: That's right. Totally. That's the number one issue. The thing that bothers me. as I said earlier, is the whole decision-making process. which is one reason that I think that anybody in college. University, high school, or whatever, if they talk about trying to control the educational process they have to begin to gain entrance into the decision making process.

We're trying to attack this from two levels. We've joined up with MHESA, which is the Michigan Higher Education Student Association, a conglomerate of all student governments throughout the state of Michigan toward a petition drive of gaining 300,000 signatures by June of next year to get on the ballot the fact that students can be regents and trustees at their universities and colleges. That will give us entrance into the decision-making process. We have some long-range goals and we have some short-range goals. That's our long-range goal. We want to be there sometime next year. I even see that broadening out further.

Let's talk for a moment about the community. I think once we can get three or four students on the Board of Regents to where they can begin to represent student wishes, and at the same time, represent Michigan taxpayers and the Ann Arbor community, then we can begin to push the fact that there needs to be community representation on the Board of Regents. How in the hell can you have a university, a big business institution that sits right in the middle of Washtenaw County in the middle of Ann Arbor, and everything it does ultimately affects Washtenaw County and Ann Arbor, and you don't have anybody on this board from Washtenaw County or Ann Arbor! They're from Southfield, Lansing, Stockbridge. and Grosse Pointe. They don't care what happens in Ann Arbor. They don't care about the slum lords. You talk about low-cost housing. They don't have any low-cost housing in Southfield, so they can't even relate to that.

SUN: Why did you decide to run for SGC President?

LEE: Whenever someone starts aspiring to any office, right away there's always this thing that they're on a power trip, or that they want to run everything and control everything. In my mind, for black people, I would hope that some of us do get on a power trip. We need some power. That's the first thing. So I don't have any problem with people who attack me on that level, but to me, this thing has never been a power trip.  In fact, if anything, it's probably done more harm to me in certain ways than it has good in that I took a lot of shit getting in here. I had people raking me from left and right, and the Ann Arbor Police coming down on me, and people bringing all kinds of false charges like I ran into Village Corners and stole a wine bottle - all this kind of stuff. You see, it was almost a general feeling that Lee Gill was gonna run for President of the student body, and right away as momentum began to build about Lee being the prime candidate and Lee's probably going to win, all these things started happening to try to tear me down and to tear down my credibility and everything I'd been trying to do - signs going up in South Quad. "Be careful your RD wil] try to rip you off," (I was a resident director in South Quad.) Leaflets began to come out of nowhere. A lot of the other candidates from the right-wing would go around to the dormitories campaigning. They'd ask, "Who are you going to vote for?" The students would say "We're going to vote for the Student Rights Party." "Well no. no. don't do that. Did you know Lee was in prison? Or that Lee's up for stealing from Village Corners'.

So, in a lot of ways, aspiring for this position took me down the lonesome path in a negative way as opposed to a positive way, but I guess the main thing that was in my mind from Jump Street was that I felt I could really make a difference with the knowledge I gained from dealing with systems. When I was in Milan (now they've changed Milan basically to a youth correctional institution) it was a Federal Correctional Institute and they were offering a whole different trip and my thing there was to take care of business. I would be running that institution from the inmate's point of view. We got more programs and different kinds of visitation policies. In fact. a lot of the programs that I initiated at Milan are still on now. The program that I wrote a proposal for - a study release program is what I got out on - that program is still going on at Milan. Some 80 guys have since come out on a study release or work release program from Milan institution.

I learned from that system and at the same time learned from being on the streets how to deal with this system, how to deal with this man who ultimately wants to oppress you anyway. And I felt that I had the expertise and the knowledge, not from reading in a book. In fact, I coined a new term that I got to throw out on you It's called "textbook radicals." Most of the radicals and most of the Leftist people will be rapping and all that. They're what I call textbook radicals. It's all up there. If you take the textbook out of their hand and throw it up in the air, they'll lose their place. They couldn't rap no more so I consider them textbook radicals. I had a whole lot of those kinds of people attacking me. What the hell, I paid my dues, you understand me, they kicked me in the ass all my life and here you come from Grosse Pointe. All of a sudden you read a book and you're going to tell me about what I'm supposed to do.

Getting back to running for President of SGC, I felt, after looking around this place, after seeing the low credibility student government had, after seeing the benign apathy that the student body was involved in. after seeing people like Bill Jacobs who I think was just politically naive about anything except his own personal "I learned from the prison system and from being on the streets how to deal with this system that ultimately wants to oppress you." could take care of business, and I know I could do something better than what they did." I really felt like I could change some things.

 SUN: What are some programs you'd like to see initiated?

LEE: I'm much more fortunate, I think than any other president in the last few years in that Council is basically in my favor. Between the Students Rights Party and the Integrity Party which used to be a thing of mine, we basically control Council. The only real conservative two on Council really aren't that conservative, they're from CLAMP and they generally go the way we go, and so we now have a council that is constituted in such a way that it can move towards some kind of action as opposed to that circus that they used to have last year. Council is now basically different people - Roger Mason, black; Tara Fujimoto, Asian; Sandy Green from Student Rights Party; Marcia Fisher from Student Rights Party; Louis Lessen from Integrity; Ken Newbert from Integrity; and then you've got Margaret Miller who's an independent.

Now, in terms of goals, in general, we put our emphasis on serving the students in every way. Under the Minority Affairs division now I have a Vice President of Minority Affairs and then I have a Director of Chicano Affairs, a Director of Native American Affairs, a Director of Black Affairs, a Director of Women's Affairs, and a Director of Asian Affairs. Those directors are responsible for going out to their constituencies, running supportive programs, and creating and implementing their programs, helping in every way they possibly can, using SGC's resources. In the course of this year, they're also going to develop four or five programs of a third world nature designed to bring them politically together, to begin to understand the strength they have when working collectively as opposed to working as individuals.

Secondly, SGC has had what we call a Bail Bond Committee. This year we've had approximately 40,000 bail bond cards printed up that we're going to distribute at the end of this month. The bail bond card will say "SGC Bail Bond" and it will have the name of our attorney on it and the name of the Legal Aid Office. If students have any kind of legal hassle or any legal difficulty, if they get put in jail, whatever comes down, they can cal! these numbers any time. night or day. In our compiled code it says students only, but in the past, SGC, in terms of its rules and regulations, has broadened those rules and regulations to the community. For example, the crater dig-ins, SGC bailed out a lot of the people. SGC has broadened that to bail out community people and we're going to continue to do that. That's another service.

The SGC Meat Co-op which is going to start at the end of this year, will buy meat in massive amounts at a reduction and then bring it back and take orders for it, therefore being able to pass along to the students a savings on meat. Anybody that goes to the supermarket knows what that meat hassle is.

Then one of the new things we've developed around here is the SGC complaint board. Every week this board of administrators and experienced students will meet. If the student has any problem, maybe with his or her dormitory contracts or maybe with the Administrative Board of LSA, or maybe they made a mistake on his or her accounting form, or anything - they can call a particular number and get in contact with this complaint board, give it to us and we'll write it up, and the Complaint Board will take it up at their next meeting and they can do something. So students will begin to feel that they have somewhere they can go, they can tell these people what the problem is and they can help.

SUN: This makes people feel that there s a reason to have a student government.

LEE: That's right. and that's very important. You see, that's politics. They're what I call high visibility programs. You've got to have those because people have got to feel that there's a reason for them having a government, the reason that they're paying their dollar or their 75¢. Up until now, this government - but not just this government, governments in the last few years throughout this country - have not offered their constituency a reason for their existence, and that's the reason for the apathy.

Another thing that we've moved to do and came out really well is that right before school started, we sponsored a student organization workshop in which we pooled together all-campus influencing organizations. WCBN, PIRGIM, SGC, UAC, and the Daily were invited. Unfortunately, the Daily didn't show up because of their "editorial freedom." But the idea was, and what really happened which really turned out good, was that these organizations for the first time had begun to talk to each other, had begun to find out what resources they had in common, what resources this group had as opposed to what this group had over here, so now we have developed a kind of informal board that will meet once a month. So we can begin to use our resources collectively in some kind of unified effort as opposed to me doing my thing and somebody else doing theirs.

Also what we've developed on SGC is two new areas. We have an Academic Affairs Office. SGC has been criticized in the past for not being that much concerned about academies. Now we have a person who does nothing more than look into the school and college governments, talk to the people there, and find out how can SGC play a supportive role, what can we do to help them. etc. etc. Then at the same time we have a community affairs vice president who is in the process now of putting together some kind of informal committee of community groups to be able to sit down and see how we can take University resources and channel them into the community.

I think that with a more unified front things can be accomplished. It is important for us to be ready, if an ad hoc group if a grassroots group were to develop, for us to take a back-up position, a supportive position. I think that they have in mind the go-ahead signal. It is very important for you to realize that your strength is in the grassroots, it's not up here with thirteen people. That is why the SAC, the Student Action Committee, formed for the tuition thing, I think it is very important for them to take action and to move and what have you, and we will play a supportive role.

SUN: What do you think about the charge that students are apathetic?

LEE: I don't believe that students are apathetic, I merely think that they've changed their agenda. I think what happens quite often is that we who find ourselves in these leadership positions, we get into believing what these folks say. We begin to believe that shit when they say students are apathetic. We have begun to condition ourselves to believe we are weak and powerless. If you can imagine what happened to Pavlov's dog within a couple of hours when he began salivating all over that meat, imagine what's happened to us as students when all we've heard for the last four or five years is the student movement is dead.

SUN: Maybe the student movement has just smartened up.

LEE: Yeah. Instead of me gettin' my head busted in some demonstration if I'm smart enough and shrewd enough to create something different I can go around behind the man's back. He'll be waiting there with his club but I'll be behind. We must begin to realize the strength within our numbers. On this campus alone there's approximately forty-some thousand students. In the state of Michigan alone there are approximately three hundred and fifty thousand students. That's not only street power or demonstration power, that's political power. I got a letter from his Honor the Mayor last week saying he didn't think that the things I was doing and saying were helping student-community relations. I started to write him a letter saying it was never my intent to increase or develop any student-community relations in terms of his community. But I will meet with him next Thursday and we going to get into some things 'cause them cats are coming from down there, you know like Krasny who's running around like a Nazi.

He tried to run some things on me like checking out who I was. A friend of mine who knew me out of the prison said that some state trooper called him and wanted to find out about me. One thing they're doing now too is that they've hired this professional from a police association and they're paying him I don't know how much money to run a consultant study on problems of security around the university. It's ironic the kind of thing they're spending money for, but it's not ironic when you know their priorities.

SUN: The police seem to be concentrating on patrolling on campus.

LEE: Stephenson mentioned in his letter that I had said there were armed police going through the dormitories. He says I'm wrong in saying that. But I've seen a lot of police walking through the dorms, you know, supposedly looking for something and everything on some kind of official business and they just walk in through the hallway. It's a bad situation. I want to confront that whole thing of the university allowing the Ann Arbor Police on our campus.

SUN: Tell us about your background.

LEE: Sometimes I wonder where I came from exactly. I was born in a place called South Bend, Indiana, which is approximately 90 miles this side of Chicago, and my family lived in between South Bend and Chicago. Finally I got out of high school, which was by luck because I didn't learn anything, and I'd never studied, the teachers passed me on what they called "condition." "Condition" meant that if I didn't do well in higher grades they were going to return me, but they never returned me, you see, because I was so bad. I used to fight the teachers, and this whole kind of stuff, so they never returned me. So finally I graduated, and I received a track scholarship to Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana, and I went down there for one year. But the community I grew up in on the South Side of Chicago was on Sixty-Third and Calumet, and I think at the time that was definitely controlled by gangs: the Disciples, the Vice Lords, the Cobras, and the largest, the Blackstone Rangers, which at that time I was involved in.

Well, I went away to college, but I still kept ties at home you know. The fellows would drive down on the weekend and we'd run around Terre Haute and terrorize people and if you've ever been in Terre Haute, it's where the Indiana division of the Ku Klux Klan started, you understand, it's a bad place down there. So finally after doin' nothing for the first whole year of college - I think in my first year of school my GPA was about .00000. I was undefeated in track though, so you know they passed me.

So I came back home to the community at the end of summer, and I got off onto a whole different trip. The ghetto where I came up there was nothin' to do, nothin'. So you know, me and my partners just sittin' around, so we said, "Damn, you know, let's do somethin'," so we jumped in a car and we gonna go somewhere, so we just pick up a car, hot-wire it, we knew how to do that 'cause we done it time and time again. So we hot-wired a car and drove it across a state line and then I wasn't hip to the fact that if you drive across a mythical line that said "state line" it is a federal offense. punishable with up to five years imprisonment, or five thousand dollars. So this is a brand new late model car, and the state troopers see these cats about 16 years old driving this late model big car, and you know. "Black dudes?" And so they pulled us over. "Where's your license, where's your registration."

My partners got some time, and you know I ain't never been no fool, and when my turn came. I said. "Damn, I can't do no time," so I ran. And I ran for a period of almost two and one-half years, and you see when you're running, that was another good time in my life because it taught me a lot. When you're running, you meet a lot of other people running, and then it was like all that I'd learned in the ghetto, see you got to live, you've got to survive, so you start hustling. You name it and I've probably done it, but it was a good lesson for me in that it taught me the street. You see there's like a third world going on underneath the surface that most people never even begin to realize is going on and that taught me something. When I was finally caught they put this massive amount of bond up against me, and I stayed out on bond for approximately another year and a half before the case came up to trial, and I really thought  "I'm going to get probation." I really thought I'd get probation cause I didn't think I was supposed to be locked up. But anyway the jury looked at it differently, and they sent me to do three years at Milan Federal Correctional Institution.

SUN: How did you manage to avoid the transfers that are usually meted out to activists in prison?

LEE: I didn't manage to completely stay away from that, like for a while one time they put me in the hole for about forty-two days because they said I was a troublemaker. But that label followed me around everywhere I went. I was a troublemaker, I mean you know. you organize on the streets but you don't organize in prison. The group that I had initially organized went on a work stoppage and they got me out of the hole. The warden in Milan at that time was a cat who was on his way up. and he wanted to go up. I was able to explain to the warden how if he initiated these new programs around Milan. etc., etc.. it was going to put him on the map, and now he's somewhere in Washington in some $60,000 a year post. He got a lot of' attention behind the study release program, positive programs, you see, rehabilitation, you understand. Bull shit. Milan is a long way, an awful long way from where it ought to be, but they've changed administrations now. I understand this new cat is in a dead-end job, so he don't give a damn, he's just running a tyranny kind of thing. A lot of brothers have been transferred and some organizers have been transferred to Terre Haute. They can break you, you know. When I was first there they used to have what they would call the thump. They used to back you into a corner and about twenty dudes would line up and you had to fight each one of them.

SUN: Guards?

LEE: No, these were prisoners, and if you didn't fare well, then you were either a potential dumpy, which is what there they consider a homosexual, or they always gonna take your goods, your cigarettes. you know. everything. I've seen brutal things that happened there, and the guards was off into their dog trips, you know. They just loved to think that they had power. Half of them graduated out of third grade. This is big-time, you know, getting four hundred dollars a month with a gun and a club, telling these men what to do. And they're still there and they pick up the paper and I'm here - Lee Gill, you know, and they resent it. In fact, the captain bet one of the guards out there, bet him twenty-five dollars that I would come back within a year. Well, he got to pay up twenty-five dollars. David Fenton and Linda Ross

"Instead of me getting my head busted in some demonstration, If I'm smart enough and shrewd I can go around behind the man's back."