More than a memoir, Lumpen: The Autobiography of Ed Mead takes the reader on a tour of America’s underbelly. From Iowa to Compton to Venice Beach to Fairbanks, Alaska, Mead introduces you to poor America just trying to get by—and barely making it. When a thirteen-year-old Mead ends up in the Utah State Industrial School, a prison for boys, it is the first step in a story of oppression and revolt that will ultimately lead to the foundation of the George Jackson Brigade, a Seattle-based urban guerrilla group, and to Mead’s re-incarceration as a fully engaged revolutionary, well-placed and prepared to take on both his captors and the predators amongst his fellow prisoners.
Through his work organizing against conditions in solitary confinement, and then with queer prisoners in the legendary Men Against Sexism, followed by his exile from Washington to the dungeons at Marion, Brushy Mountain, and Florence, Ed Mead’s practice stands as a rebuke to the inhumanity and indifference which surround the world’s largest prison system.
As the late Black Liberation Army soldier Safiya Bukhari observed, “we must at least write our history and point out the truth of what we did—the good, the bad, and the ugly.” Ed Mead has done that here, recounting his life’s story with unflinching honesty, providing a model of personal integrity and revolutionary creativity and determination for us all.
About the Author
Ed died on November 6, 2023. The following is from a statement produced by loved ones:
On November 6, 2023, lifelong abolitionist, writer, fighter, and former political prisoner Ed Mead joined the ancestors. Ed died at home, on his 82nd birthday, after almost a decade of battling late stage lung cancer. Born in 1941, in Santa Monica, California, to Ramona (Ona) Irene Mead and Edward Leo Mead, Ed was the second oldest of six siblings.
Ed Mead did not live a conventional life. As his lifelong friend and comrade, Mark Cook, is fond of saying, Ed spent his life “kicking ass for the working class.” After spending much of his youth in reform “schools” and detention centers along the Pacific coast, Ed became politicized in prison in the 1960s. He was a founding member of the George Jackson Brigade, a revolutionary guerilla underground organization based in the Pacific Northwest in the mid-to-late 1970s. Ed spent 35 years of his life in prisons, 18 of which were for his political actions as a member of the George Jackson Brigade.
A brief bio for an essay Ed wrote in the 2024 Certain Days: Freedom for Political Prisoners calendar reads, “I was once a young man doing life on the installment plan, well on my way to becoming just another crime statistic. Then something changed, I became rights conscious. I no longer identified as a criminal, instead I came to identify as a prisoner rights activist. With the passage of time and a lot of effort, I morphed again; I became class conscious—I became a communist. These changes were not sudden, they involved years of struggle and difficult study. The one thread throughout the years of change was political struggle on the inside and studying the writings of early revolutionaries. This is the path for those of you who will no longer accept the things you cannot change and are instead changing the things you cannot accept.”
While in prison for his part in armed struggle, Ed helped to form Men Against Sexism (MAS) at Walla Walla State Penitentiary in Washington. With other comrades, Ed helped to put an end to prisoner-on-prisoner sexual assault and other forms of abuse at Walla Walla. He also helped to form the Committee to Safeguard Prisoners’ Rights at Arizona State Prison. He was a seasoned jailhouse lawyer and a committed organizer within the prison walls. While imprisoned, Ed was a prodigious journalist. He co-founded and wrote for the Red Dragon in the 1970s, The Abolitionist in the 1980s (different from the contemporary newspaper of that name), and Prison Legal News, which still exists and is the longest running newspaper produced by and for current and former prisoners in the United States.
Once released from prison in 1993, Ed worked tirelessly with revolutionary organizations and prisoner support groups, including but not limited to the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee, the Attica Brothers Legal Defense Committee, the Seattle chapter of the National Jericho Movement, All of Us or None, and the National Lawyers Guild. Ed created the Free Mark Cook Organizing Committee and worked relentlessly to free his comrade Mark Cook, who was finally released in 2000. He also founded Prison Art, a nonprofit website that provided a platform for prisoners to sell their crafts and artwork. And he continued to write about prison conditions and prisoner resistance. He wrote for California Prison Focus, founded The Rock to support California prisoners on hunger strike, co-created the prison newsletter The Kite, and Prison Covid newsletter to track the pandemic in prison in 2020–2021. Ed believed changing prisons will come from the prisoners themselves. This belief motivated his work on publications featuring prisoner journalism and communications.
In 2016, Mead donated his papers to the University of Washington Libraries to be accessed by researchers, students, activists, and others. The collection, which forms the basis of something now called the Washington Prison History Project, includes several prisoner-run newsletters and lawsuits that Mead participated in. It also included the programming code for the Warden Game, a computer game Ed designed in prison in the mid-1980s after the Washington Department of Corrections introduced computers on a limited capacity in prisons. (A playable version of the game, based on Ed’s original code, is on the WPHP site.) Ed was later able to use the computer skills he taught himself inside to gain employment as a technical engineer for several different agencies.
Ed published the zine The Theory and Practice of Armed Struggle in the Northwest: A Historical Analysis (Kersplebedeb, 2007), and the book Lumpen: The Autobiography of Ed Mead (Kersplebedeb, 2015). Some of his organizing in Washington prisons is also captured in the books Concrete Mama: Prison Profiles from Walla Walla (originally published by University of Missouri Press, 1981), Guerrilla USA: The George Jackson Brigade and the Anticapitalist Underground of the 1970s (University of California Press, 2010), and Creating a Movement with Teeth: A Documentary History of the George Jackson Brigade (PM Press, 2010), as well as in dozens of talks and interviews he conducted over the years. He can be seen in the film The Gentleman Bank Robber: The Story of Butch Lesbian Freedom Fighter rita bo brown (2017). Along with Mark Cook, Ed also has an interview in the forthcoming book Rattling the Cages: Oral Histories of North American Political Prisoners (AK Press, due out in December 2023).
In the Postscript to Lumpen, Ed wrote, “Let me tell you what my mama told me. She said the Earth should be a better place to live as a result of you having passed through. It took me a long while to internalize that message, although I do think the world is a slightly better place as a result of my having been here.”
We agree with Ed—the world is a better place because of his lifetime of struggle and sacrifice. Ed Mead Presente!
From Ed Mead's support team.
Questions and comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
What People Are Saying
"Lumpen is a must-read for any radical that is serious about understanding how prisoners can struggle on the inside. Ed Mead mixes his personal story and political development in a compelling narrative. His time imprisoned makes mine look like a total picnic but its his rigorous interrogation of his own politics and practice that most impressed me. I could not put this book down!" Daniel McGowan, former political prisoner
"Lumpen is a page-turning retelling of Ed Mead's life, from his early days growing up on the frontier of Alaska, to the frontiers of prisoner organizing from inside and later outside prison. The everydayness of his descriptions of how the George Jackson Brigade came to be, to the simple necessity to form Men Against Sexism while behind bars, reminds us that everyday justice can lead us to extraordinary places. In a mostly ahistorical queer left, this book is a must read!" Ryan Conrad, editor of Against Equality: Queer Revolution, Not Mere Inclusion
"There are many who talk the talk. Ed Mead is one who actually walked the walk. In fact, he's never stopped walking it, an example of commitment and integrity from which there's much to be learned. His autobiography should be read by everyone serious about the struggle for liberation." Ward Churchill