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In New Prison Memoir, “Disabled Vegan” Rails Unabashedly Against Injustice

Jan Smitowicz

Before he was incarcerated, Jan Smitowicz believed he’d “end up in prison someday because of my radical earth and animal liberation politics,” he tells us in his memoir, Rebel Hell: Disabled Vegan Goes to Prison. “I just figured it’d be for a truly worthwhile crime. Like freeing caged mink at a fur farm … But here I am, stuck with this vile shitsack-stupid reality. I made my choices. Now I must deal with the fallout.” 

The choice that landed Smitowicz behind bars for two years involved trying to transport 53 pounds of marijuana from California to New York. It was a choice informed by “disability and financial desperation that made me feel I had little choice, and it was a great opportunity to escape being unhirable and broke,” he said during a recent conversation. Smitowicz didn’t reach his destination. Instead, he was routed into The System, where, at first, he feared being disconnected from his values. 

“They turn you into one conglomerate mass by stripping away your identity,” he said, they being the people who run The System.

He didn’t lose his identity, after all. Instead, Smitowicz drew inspiration from who he is.

“Prison is a … microcosm of the world at large, in a million different ways,” he said. 

In the minimum-security facility at which he did most of his time, Smitowicz said, most people, nonviolent drug offenders, primarily, “didn’t give a shit about social issues.” 

“I think long prison sentences lend themselves to, and sort of facilitate, the establishment of political awareness and a consciousness of social issues,” he said. “Short timers,” on the other hand, don’t have “years and years and years to sit around and think about things.” 

The reality is that each and every one of us, in what he calls the “free world” and behind bars, does. And Smitowicz has thought at great length about the suffering of our species and others.

Not surprisingly, he lost 20 pounds during his first month in prison — at county jail and at Stateville Correctional Center — surviving on “white bread, small amounts of fruits and vegetables, and sometimes a bit of beans or plain noodles.” When he arrived at Jacksonville Correctional Center, where he served the majority of his sentence, he had access to a commissary from which he purchased rice, beans, and noodles to cook in his cell. 

Surviving, wherever he was locked up, was the key. A longtime vegan and animal liberationist, and a champion of human and environmental rights, Smitowicz has a lot to say about our society. Inside, he “led by example,” whereas on the outside, he said, “I’m much more likely to go out of my way to bring it up and engage people in discussing animals, animal rights, and animals as property. 

“Being disabled,” he said, talking about his severely injured knees and the debilitating chronic pain he endures, along with depression and anxiety, which can be equally crippling, “I had to protect myself. I can’t advocate for animals or do anything for them if I’m dead. Anything that makes your time harder hardens you. And if I’d tried to openly advocate and confront people about carnism it would’ve just made my life a living hell. And I don’t know if I would’ve been able to survive it. So, at some point there is an element of survival where you have to say, OK, I’m vegan, everybody knows it, but that’s for the most part as far as it should go, here, now, in these circumstances, with being who I am, with my disability and everything, depression and all that.

“I talked to everyone who expressed any kind of remote interest in reasoning or asked me questions, or people who I knew would be receptive. I talked about it all the time with people like that,” he said. “I always talked to people if they asked me about it, I just didn’t bring it up and talk about it if they weren’t interested. I just led by example.”

Eventually, thanks to the “ace card” that is religion, Smitowicz received vegan meals from the prison’s kitchen. 

“I told the chaplain I’m Seventh-day Adventist, and so he let me get on the vegan tray list,” he explained. “Aside from that, my ethics were completely irrelevant to anybody in power,” just as they were to many of his fellow inmates. 

Smitowicz wrote about 25 percent of the first draft of Rebel Hell in prison — about 300 hand-written pages — before the experience became “too depressing to live and write about at the same time.” Still, during his time in prison, he was extraordinarily productive. “I wrote a 1,600-page hand-written animal-liberation epic,” he said. It’s a project that’s since been “reimagined as the first two volumes of a series of animal-liberation novels.” He’s calling the series The Liberators.

Producing that many pages “was amazing,” he said, “given the paltry amount of medication I was getting. I cannot imagine how much I could have written (with) even half the meds I’m on now.” By contrast, he was anything but productive toward the end of his sentence. “When they took me off all my meds, the last three or four months, I didn’t write a page,” aside from a one-page poem, he said.

Rebel Hell, in many ways, is the story of the power of The System, one that all-but ignored his disability.

“Are you alive? Are you about to die? If you’re not about to die, don’t fucking say a word. That was the general attitude” most staff members held, he said.

Still, “in there, it was an issue of survival. I had to write. I had to be productive. I had to find a way. The circumstances facilitated — birthed — a huge outpouring of writing, as did zero real responsibility and just all the time in the world to pass, and wanting so badly to escape, and that being one of the ways.”

While much of his time in prison was spent working on The Liberators, Smitowicz was (obviously) able to complete Rebel Hell upon his release. Much of the narrative is a well-reasoned condemnation of oppression of all forms. And that condemnation comes in various forms, including footnotes, statistics, graphics and other visual aids, and references to and quotes and data from numerous scholarly and scientific resources – all that delivered with equal measures of seriousness and snark.

To wit: “It’s almost as if … as unbelievable as it may [though it shouldn’t] seem, it’s almost as if the War on Drugs is used primarily as a weapon to target and incarcerate people of color!” — that from a chapter in Rebel Hell in which Smitowicz points out that “a black person in the state of Illinois is nearly TEN TIMES MORE LIKELY to be imprisoned than their white counterparts” and cites several sources in declaring that “America is a Prison Nation. Plain & simple.”

Inside, Smitowicz mostly stayed out of trouble — he certainly didn’t go looking for it — and concentrated on the things that would get him through: reading, writing, music, and the wildlife who call the “prison ecosystem” home. 

Smitowicz recently described the Prison Industrial Complex as “the bureaucrazy in its perfect form, at its apotheosis, at its most efficient and vicious, and somehow at the same time, utterly apathetic.”

His memoir is an intense read, full of dark truth and entertaining literary idiosyncrasies. It’s part witness account and part call to arms. It’s frightening and it’s hilarious, the work of someone who takes his values and his craft seriously. 

As I wrote in a review that I posted to Amazon and Goodreads, “Rebel Hell is maddening. It’s also full of snarky personality and unabashed spirit. It will piss you off anew and find you rooting for all those who challenge the injustices that are carried out against members of our species and others. And it will call you to join the fight.”

Learn more and purchase Rebel Hell: Disabled Vegan Goes to Prison.

LancasterOnline and the Normalization of Human Arrogance

Photo by Craig Lewis/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

It would be easy to make fun of LNP’s asinine headline “No hunting-related shooting deaths were recorded in Pennsylvania in 2016” were it not such a depressing reflection of our largely indifferent society.

In the article to which that thoughtless headline is attached, Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans is quoted as saying “hunting is safer than it’s ever been.” Tell that to the animals who are mercilessly gunned down by bloodlust-full thugs in the name of sport. Burhans and his loathsome ilk insist, of course, that they’re conservationists. To wit: The shamelessly arrogant mission of the PGC is “to manage Pennsylvania’s wild birds, wild mammals, and their habitats for current and future generations.” 

As I’ve pointed out many times, “wildlife management” is an insulting and sickening euphemism for “sanctioned slaughter.” The PGC and wildlife agencies in other states cater to the most violent among us while claiming altruism as their constituents’ primary motivation. The truth is that killing, for these agencies, is a business. And there remain plenty of knuckle-dragging serial killers who continue to spend a few dollars each year to visit brutal deaths on other species.

According to language on its website, LancasterOnline — the LNP’s Web presence — “has a monthly readership of over one million” (poor grammar not at all excused). That readership would be better served by the truth. And the truth is that the only species that needs to be “managed” is ours.

Media Once Again Ignores Real Victims

Photo by Scott Bauer/USDA

Late last month, three humans were injured by a bull at a livestock auction in County Clare, Ireland. Not surprisingly, and once again, media reports ignored the real victims. What follows is an open letter to Pat Flynn, who wrote about the above-mentioned incident for The Irish Times. 

Hi Pat,

I’m writing with what you in the press call a “news tip.” It’s a horrifying and atrocious story with countless victims, each and every one of whom was and is born to suffer a short, tortured life and a brutal end. 

There’s a company called Clare Marts, at the intersection of Greed and Indifference, in County Clare. It’s where the doomed are further insulted on their way to the killing floor. Your headline — and the gist of your piece — could be something like “Countless victims traded in Co Clare atrocity.” 

I see the piece, if you’ll indulge me, Pat, as a story about the unimaginable fear and suffering that’s endured by an endless procession of individuals who desperately need your help. Tell your readers, Pat, about the flesh trade that’s flourishing there and everywhere that our species dominates. 

It wouldn’t be untrue to write something like “Clare Marts auctions babies and adults, all of whom will soon face the knife,” or “at Clare Marts, stolen lives are currency and death is the common denominator.” You get the idea, Pat. The point is, nothing’s going to stop this atrocity until the people with access to the truth make some powerful word-music that motivates the masses to stop the goddamned madness. Dig? 

With great urgency,
David Brensilver 

I sent the above to several editors at The Irish Times and to

Related commentaries:
Doomed Cows (Don’t) Escape Killing Floor
The Dairy Industry’s “Udder Truth” is Utter Nonsense


Doomed Cows (Don’t) Escape Killing Floor

Photo by Scott Bauer/USDA

Having seen a few Facebook posts today about cows escaping from a St. Louis-area slaughterhouse, I asked myself how many news stories I’d have to look at before coming across a stupid and thoughtless headline. 

One, as it turned out.

I typed “cows St. Louis” into a Google News search and clicked on the first story, whose headline, “Steak-out: Police try to corral cattle after escape from north St. Louis slaughterhouse,” loudly betrays the callous indifference that each year dooms billions of animals before they’re ever born.

Like countless animals before them, the cows who likely found nothing but fear and confusion on the streets of St Louis were born to have their throats cut so humans can “enjoy” a juicy burger or a nice steak. Shortly after escaping, they were captured and returned to the killing floor.  

I’m guessing that the newsperson who wrote the St. Louis Post-Dispatch headline hasn’t given much thought to the suffering that our species inflicts on others.

It’s not hard to not eat them. What’s hard is getting people to recognize them in the first place.  

This commentary was sent to St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Christine Byers and photojournalist David Carson in the hope that they’ll someday tell the stories of the victims who’re marched onto the killing floor and brutally slaughtered.

Related commentary: The Dairy Industry’s “Udder Truth” is Utter Nonsense 

Alligator Executed After Encounter with Florida Woman

Photo by Djngsf

Photo by Djngsf

Animals almost always lose. It’s the maddening reality that motivated me to launch this blog in the first place. The latest example of humankind’s arrogant expectation that other species play by our absurd rules involves a Florida woman who nearly lost one of her hands to an alligator when she reached into the water to retrieve a soda can. Not surprisingly, the alligator was executed.

From The Guardian: “Tammy Sapp, a spokeswoman for the (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission), said that alligator bite incidents were rare in Florida but that the wildlife commission worked to keep visitors to the Everglades safe and to remove alligators believed to pose a threat to people, pets or property.”

You’ll remember that in June six alligators were executed after a toddler was pulled into Seven Seas Lagoon at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. The people who were reportedly in the habit of feeding alligators in the area are in part responsible for all seven of those deaths.

In addition to executing “nuisance” alligators—the commission’s Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program was responsible for the deaths of 7,513 animals in 2015—the commission organizes an annual alligator-hunting season as part of its “management” program.

“Wildlife management,” of course, is a sickening and insulting euphemism for sanctioned slaughter.

Make no mistake, Florida’s War on Alligators, which includes the state’s disgusting alligator-farming industry, is a year-round atrocity.

Unwittingly, the woman who reached into the water to retrieve a soda can created yet another opportunity for the state’s death squads to hunt down and kill an alligator.

The right response would have been to do nothing at all, to leave that animal and all the others alone to live their lives free from fear and harm. But killing is big business in Florida, as it is elsewhere. And it will continue as long as the majority remains indifferent.

Florida’s alligator-hunting season begins on Aug. 15. Send an email to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Chairman Brian Yablonski ( and give him a piece of your mind. 

Portrait of an Animal-Rights-Focused Play

I've been working on an animal-rights-focused play. Here's what that work looks like from my perspective.

I’ve been working on an animal-rights-focused play. Here’s what that work looks like from my perspective.

One Murderer Kills Another’s Would-Be Victim

Photo by Roger Green

Photo by Roger Green

A greedy murderer in northeastern England is whining that one of her would-be victims was mortally wounded by a sadistic interloper. According to The Press, “Joe Beckett, who farms near Marton, discovered one of her sheep with gunshots [sic] wounds early on Tuesday morning. … Its injuries were so severe it had to be euthanised.”

“As farmers we fully appreciate that most of our animals are bred to supply the food chain, however this was a totally unnecessary murder,” Beckett was quoted as saying, complaining that “shooting her in the neck and leaving her to die a slow painful death” has the farmer “absolutely furious at this barbaric act of animal cruelty.”

Beckett is suggesting, in other words, that as long as there’s money to be made, bringing animals into the world to cut their throats is both necessary and humane. That last word you might recognize from odious meat-industry propaganda, which, of course, targets the nonthinking and indifferent.

Among those, we can count the reporters and editors at The Press, who don’t see the sickening irony of covering an unexpected murder on an already bloodstained killing floor, and also the law-enforcement officers who’re hoping to bring to justice the individual who visited brutal violence on the sheep who was supposed to be brutally slaughtered by Beckett. Meanwhile, more victims are being born into stolen lives, to exist as pieces of property until it’s time to face the knife.

Rich Square, North Carolina, Where Heroes are Monsters

Photo by Ken Thomas

Photo by Ken Thomas

“Saving lives through slaughter,” the slogan I attached in 2013 to the Holley Fire Department, in Orleans County, New York, will also work for the fire department in Rich Square, North Carolina. On Saturday, April 9, Neanderthals from that company will host a fundraising event in which participating savages kill turkeys for the chance to win $500. Last year, according to The News & Observer, “about 150” savages entered the killing contest. The fire department raised $5,250, at $35 per murderer.

“A $35 entry includes a Friday night steak dinner that is cooked by the firefighters and features raffles and a rules presentation,” The News & Observer report tells us.

In other words, the violent thugs who pay to participate in the fundraising massacre will stuff their faces with the flesh of brutally slaughtered animals before brutally slaughtering other animals, all in the name of saving lives.

In 2013, representatives from Friends of Animals offered to raise money for the Holley Fire Department if officials there would call off their annual competitive slaughter, “Squirrel Slam,” which offers competitors a chance to win guns and cash. Not surprisingly, those officials declined the promise of blood-free cash, preferring to destroy as many lives as possible, all in the name of saving others.

The Holley Fire Department raised $6,000 in 2015, thanks to 600 murderers paying $10 apiece to unleash brutal violence on others. 

To raise the $5,250 it did last year, the Rich Square Volunteer Fire Department could ask each member of the community for about $6. Department members could organize a fundraising event in which no one gets killed. But it’s not about the money. It’s about the killing. And the loathsome degenerates who organize and participate in the annual massacre in Rich Square don’t want anyone from the surrounding civilization telling them how to live their lives while they’re enjoying taking others’–all in the name of saving a lucky few.

Like they are in Holley, the heroes in Rich Square are monsters.

Call Rich Square Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jonathan Morris at (252) 539-2933 and give him a piece of your mind. 

Ask your state legislators to support or introduce legislation that would outlaw wildlife-killing contests, and support the efforts of organizations like Friends of Animals and the Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting to bring an end to such savagery.

Related commentaries:
Holley “Squirrel Slam” is a Neanderthal Custom of Evangelical Barbarism
“Squirrel Slam”: The Holleycaust Continues

Make Bear Hunters Fight Other Terrorists

Photo by Terry Spivey

Photo by Terry Spivey

What follows is on open letter to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Gov. Christie,

On Tuesday, you once again voiced support for your bloodstained state’s annual bear hunt, declaring on Eric Scott’s WKXW (New Jersey 101.5) show Ask the Governor that “bears are everywhere” and “this is a really bad problem.”

Not surprisingly, you echoed the bogus and insulting claim that the state-sanctioned slaughter is “based on science” and gave your henchman, state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin, a pat on the back, saying he’s “done a great job administering it.”

At the beginning of this week, more than 8,000 bloodlust-full subhumans had secured permits to slaughter bears in your state. That’s more than twice the number of bears than are estimated to make their homes in New Jersey.

The DEP hopes to oversee the slaughter of some 700 bears this year — about 20 percent of the population. Reducing New Jersey’s human population by the same percentage, it’s worth pointing out, would mean killing approximately 1.8 million people.

But that’s entirely different, you would say with great bluster. We need to protect humans from the dangerous beasts who dare to wander out of our nightmares and onto our streets.

What your state’s annual bear massacre proves is that bears and other species are in desperate need of protection from violent thugs and the greedy opportunists, like you, who bend over for them.

How many humans in your state have been killed by bears? One. Since Monday, 366 bears have been murdered in New Jersey. Congratulations, you’re more than halfway to your desired body count for the year.

Morality, of course, can’t be measured in numbers. Your ridiculous claim that the bear hunt is a science-based necessity betrays the astonishing arrogance with which monstrous people like you operate.

If there is a problem, it’s man’s callous disregard for other species. For you, this is about power, just as it is for the knuckle-dragging, lead-filled-phallus-carrying sadists who right now are searching the New Jersey woods for potential victims.

All the bears want — and what they absolutely deserve — is to be left alone to live their lives free from fear and harm. And you deny them that to cater to the bloodthirsty desires of murderous psychopaths.

Why not send the 8,200 bear-hunt-permit-holding Neanderthals overseas to tangle with ISIS? Let one group of barbarians hunt the other. The world would be a much better place without any of them.

The above was sent to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin, and WKXW’s (New Jersey 101.5) vice president of news and digital operations, Eric Scott.

The Dairy Industry’s “Udder Truth” is Utter Nonsense

While no one’s life is adversely affected by what’s depicted or not depicted on Starbucks’ cups, countless lives are destroyed so that the indifferent masses can add milk to coffee.

Starbucks is just one company whose bottom lines can be measured in stolen lives.

The dairy industry, needless to say, works very hard to portray the victims as willing — even enthusiastic — participants in their own brutal exploitation.

A recently produced video series unimaginatively and insultingly called “The Udder Truth” is a prime example of the propaganda the industry disseminates to make consumers feel good about supporting cruelty.

In the video embedded above, Annie Link, the owner of Dairy Discovery, which offers tours of the Alto, Michigan-based Swiss Lane Dairy Farms, makes the following statements.

“We do everything we can to make sure these cows are comfortable, well cared for. The better care we take of them, the better they’re going to perform for us.”

 “The more relaxed that a cow is, the more comfortable they are, the more milk they’re going to give. We have a great partnership with these cows.”

“The cows actually like to get milked. I mean, they can’t wait for their turn to go in and get milked.”

The “Udder Truth” video series was produced by Dairy Management Inc., an organization that exists “to help increase sales and demand for dairy products.” Dairy Management Inc. is funded by farmers through a federally mandated assessment (a so-called “checkoff” program), administered by the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board — whose members are appointed by the U.S. secretary of agriculture — and overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In addition to the video series, the “Udder Truth” propaganda campaign, which is presented by the Dairy Management Inc.-maintained website, involves a partnership with The Onion and the satirical news site’s spin-off,, each of which has created industry-sponsored content.

The truth, obviously, is nowhere to be found in any part of this shameful marketing campaign. The unavoidable truth is that cruelty is the very foundation of the dairy industry. Calves are taken from their mothers as soon as they’re born so that their mothers’ milk can be sold for human consumption. Most male calves are destined for dinner plates, while female calves are raised to be repeatedly impregnated and used as milk machines until they are “spent” and can no longer produce, at which point they, too, are turned into food for indifferent humans.

Just ask Annie Link.

In an email response to a handful of questions I asked her during a brief telephone conversation, Link explained that 2044 calves will have been born at Swiss Lane Farms in 2015, that “all heifers are raised here and will be our future herd,” and that “we raise the bull calves that we have enough barn space for (on average 40/month) and sell them to local beef farmers as feeder calves (about 350-500 lbs.). We have a few that we raise and use as bulls for breeding. Other bull calves are sold to a beef farmer or sold at the local livestock auction.”

Cows who leave Swiss Lane Dairy Farms are sold to other dairy farms or to beef producers.

How often a cow is impregnated at Swiss Lane Dairy Farms is determined on an individual basis, Link said, explaining that “they are bred when they are in heat. Their cycle is 21 days but we do not breed them until 70 days after they have a calf and will not breed them again if they are not pregnant after five breedings. On average the cows are having a calf every 13.5 months.”

Not a single cow who is born into the living hell that is the dairy industry has any choice at all. Each is bred into a stolen life that will end with a knife across the throat.

We, on the other hand, can choose to protest on their behalf.