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alv_open_rescueWhen 10 activists from Austria’s Association Against Animal Factories (“Verein gegen Tierfabriken,” or VGT) were arrested in May 2008 and charged with “suspected forming of a criminal organization in connection with direct animal right actions,” activists around the world were quick to show their support. Animal Liberation Victoria even carried out an open rescue in solidarity with the prisoners, saving 13 hens from a battery-egg operation in June. All the attention shined a spotlight on the Austrian government, which released the activists in September. Clearly, in an age when the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act can become law with hardly an objection from lawmakers, anyone might find themselves behind bars for voicing an opinion not in step with the status quo.


“It’s important for us to be vocal and active about supporting people who have been incarcerated for defending animals ― or even just speaking out in their defense ― because it relays a clear message that the people abusing animals are the real criminals, not the people trying to protect them,” says Dallas Rising, president of Support Vegans in the Prison System (Support VIPS). “Supporting political prisoners of any kind makes a difference for the individual, but especially for animal rights activists. The average animal rights prisoner has very little in common with the general prison population, so having a connection to people who share a similar value system can be very important to people who are isolated, bored and frustrated by the lack of meaningful exchange in their environment.”


Peter Young, who served two years in federal prison for liberating animals from several fur farms in 1997, believes that supporting humans in prison sends a strong message to activists that there is a safety net for them if they are caught engaging in illegal actions on behalf of non-human animals. “This peace of mind makes the work of people fighting for animals under darkness much easier,” he says. “I have also found the stories of animal rights prisoners to be powerful outreach. These stories of people breaking the law to save animals raise the bar and bring those new to the issue a sense that if other people are willing to break the law to save animals, the least they can do is be vegan.”

There are many ways to help imprisoned activists, and providing a little support to someone facing years in jail can buoy that person’s morale and nurture solidarity in the movement. I am going to focus on five main methods: writing letters, sending books, visiting, helping vegan inmates get plant-based food and providing financial support (sending money, helping with legal expenses, etc.).


The first step is knowing where inmates are, and the easiest place to find addresses for animal activists serving time is the Internet:


Writing Letters


Cards and letters are paramount to relieving an inmate’s feeling of isolation; however, all mail is opened and read by prison officials, so don’t write anything that may cause problems for the prisoner. “Depending on the prisoner, do not discuss the case or anything related to the case,” advises attorney Shannon Keith, who has represented a number of animal rights activists and campaigns, including SHAC and Sea Shepherd. “Do not discuss your feelings about whether the person is innocent or guilty.” She also says that most prisons do not accept anything other than letters and photos. “So, no stickers ― especially no animal rights stickers. No pictures depicting protests.”


Dallas cautions supporters not to take it personally if the inmate doesn’t respond. “It is not about you,” she says. “Don’t get upset if the person doesn’t write back to you, especially if they didn’t know you before going in. And even if they did know you, they may not have the mental or emotional energy to write back. Or they simply may not have the time.”


Unless you’re lucky enough to have unlimited time and resources, commit to writing just one or two inmates, and do it consistently.


Here are a few more letter-writing do’s and don’ts.



  • Write on both sides of the paper.
  • Write your address on the letter or card.
  • Number the pages of your letter.
  • Make sure the content of any photos you sent is appropriate; write the inmate’s name and prisoner ID number on the back of photos.
  • Let imprisoned activists know about animal activism going on around the world.


  • Send currency.
  • Send stamps, envelopes, blank paper or blank note cards.
  • Tape your envelope closed.
  • Include paperclips, staples or other metal objects inside your letter.
  • Send food or care packages.
  • Send photographs larger than 4”x6”. No Polaroid photos.
  • Write “legal mail” on the envelope or anything in your letter that implies you are an attorney.


“Letters to a prisoner can be like anchors or lifelines to the outside world,” says Andy Stepanian, who served two years and seven months in prison for “conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Protection Act” as part of the SHAC campaign (he was released in December 2008). “Although my mail was vetted for content, I still received bundles of letters, and every time I did I felt like I could hold my head a little higher. The letters reminded me of where I came from and what I was fighting for.” 


Sending Books


Most inmates appreciate receiving books, since reading is one way to pass the time behind bars. It’s a good idea to write to the prisoner first to confirm he or she can receive books; you can also ask what kinds of books they would like to read.


Books sent to most prisons must be new and with a soft cover (paperback); hardcover books will either be refused or prison officials will tear off the covers before passing the book on to the inmate. Unfortunately, many prisons will not permit you to mail a book to an inmate yourself; instead, books must be sent either directly from the publisher or through an online retailer such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble.


Prisoners are often able to list books they would like to receive on Amazon’s Wish List section (just search the inmate’s name), or through a support group Web site.


Visiting Inmates


Each US federal prison has set up certain days and times ― visiting hours — for family and friends to visit inmates. The inmate you plan to visit should tell you what the hours are for that prison. But you can’t simply show up and expect to see an inmate.


“Most prisons require that you be accepted and on an approved list first, so before you take your trip to the prison, call to make sure you do not have to be approved first,” says Shannon. “If so, mail the prisoner and ask them to fill out a form for your visit. You will receive an approval later, and then you can visit as you please during visiting hours. When visiting, know that you are being watched and possibly recorded. Avoid discussing legally sensitive subjects. Dress appropriately.”


In the UK, visiting a convicted prisoner requires you to first have a visiting order (a “VO”); these are generally issued to inmates once a month, and he or she will mail it to you. Depending on the prisoner, visits are one to two hours, and prisoners may be allowed between two and four visitors a month. For more information on Visiting inmates in the UK, click here.


Vegan Food


If a city or county jail is denying a prisoner access to vegan meals, a few phone calls to the warden can help, says Dallas. “There’s not a lot people can do to help make sure a vegan is getting good food in a federal prison, but in a jail, phone calls matter a lot.”


Peter agrees. “Mob-action phone calls work,” he says. “You can’t overstate how concerned most jailers are with outside scrutiny. I have never had a problem with food that 100 phone calls in six hours did not fix. One jail was so concerned about the perceived threat of angry activists they sent a sheriff to the supermarket each morning, with a shopping list I wrote with my own hand.”


People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals can help with prisons. PETA’s Bruce Friedrich says it is best if the judge orders the prison to provide vegan food before the convicted vegan heads to jail. “If your judge orders it, you’re set.” Failing that, family and friends on the outside can help by contacting PETA. “PETA is always ready to work to get vegan food for anyone who is having trouble,” says Bruce.


Although prisons may not be known for their vegan fare, some have surprisingly good plant-based food options, including lentil shepherd’s pie, vegan pizza, veggie burgers and mock meats. Here is PETA’s list of the top 10 veg-friendly US prisons.


Financial Support


Prisoners must pay for envelopes, postage stamps, phone cards and other necessities. They may even have to buy their own vegan food from the prison commissary. They probably also have legal fees. All these expenses can be offset with a fundraising effort managed by friends on the outside. Some organizations, like SHAC, set these up and allow people to donate online. Moreover, they raise funds through benefit concerts, film screenings and product sales.


“Fundraising for costly legal fees is always appreciated,” says Dallas. “As a bonus, you automatically have something to write about.”


You can also support inmates by sending money directly to their commissary account. The US Bureau of Prisons has a system to maintain an inmate’s monies while he or she is incarcerated. Family, friends or other sources may deposit funds into these accounts. For details on options for depositing funds into a prisoner’s account, click here.


You might also consider money-transfer services like JPay that allow you to get funds to a prisoner the next business day.


Other Resources


Prisoner Support Groups


SVIPS – United States

Founded by Dallas Rising, Peter Young and Aaron Zellhoefer, Support Vegans in the Prison System (SVIPS) assists prisoners needing vegan food, toiletries and general support.


VPSG – United Kingdom

Vegan Prisoners Support Group (VPSG) helps prisoners obtain vegan food, vegan toiletries and vegan footwear. British animal rights activist Jo-Ann Brown formed the group in 1994 to aid activist Keith Mann. Since then, VPSG’s work has grown, and it has been called upon to advise on disputes between prisoners and the prison service relating to vegan diets. Though based in the UK, VPSG supports prisoners in other countries. While incarcerated in Austria last August, for example, VGT activist Elmar Völkl wrote: “The Vegan Prisoner Support Group work must have been very good, because from the first day I got vegan food (on the first day I didn’t get anything), although I didn’t ever mention the word ‘vegan’ once!”


ALFSG – United Kingdom

The Animal Liberation Front Supporters Group (ALFSG) is a legal, above-ground organization that provides financial and practical support to those who find themselves in prison as part of the movement.


Advice from Prisoners of Conscience


Peter Young gave a talk on prisoner support at last year’s Let Live conference, and it’s definitely worth checking out.


SHAC activist Lauren Gazzola believes no form of support is better than activists staying active. Lauren, now serving a four-year, four-month sentence at a federal prison in Connecticut, told Abolitionist Online: “[T]o everyone who has written, sent books, donated, or done any other form of direct support, please know that the best form of support we can receive is vicarious ― please get out and fight for the animals. Step up your efforts, no matter where you currently stand in your activism ― take one step further, inspired by the SHAC7, and make our conviction a victory for the animals.”


“It’s easy to get lost in prison,” says Andy. “Lost in solitude, despair or other negative sentiments. Letters and outside support help pull you out of that space and strengthen you, make you whole.” Andy encourages people on the outside not to be deterred if they don’t know what to write about. “What many fail to understand is that the prisoner is just eager to make contact, to hear good news about movement victories or reconnect with an old friend. If you are a stranger, don’t feel discouraged. I can speak from firsthand experience that on some of my worst days while imprisoned, it was the words of a stranger that helped me trudge through another day. Something as simple as describing a beautiful day outside may mean the world to a prisoner at that moment when they open your envelope.”

josh_balkJosh Balk is the outreach director of the Humane Society of the United States’ factory farming campaign, where he works with corporations to end their purchasing from factory farms that use the most intensive confinement devices, such as battery cages, gestation crates and veal crates. As part of HSUS’ “No Battery Eggs Campaign,” grocery stores, fast food chains, food service providers and hundreds of universities have moved away from buying and selling eggs from caged hens. Josh took time out from his busy schedule to answer a few questions regarding his activism, what brought him to the movement and how even one person can make a difference for animals.


What was your “a-ha” moment when you decided to go vegan?

I went vegan about eight years ago after watching the documentaries The Auction Block and Hope for the Hopeless. The first video is about the cruelty endured by dairy cows and other animals at livestock auctions and the second is about the battery cage-egg industry. Ironically, prior to coming to HSUS, I went on to work for Compassion Over Killing for three years, where I conducted undercover investigations, worked with Washington, DC, restaurants to add vegan items to their menu and did tons of vegan outreach to consumers. 


Could you describe the industry cruelties you saw in those two documentaries?

The Auction Block, filmed by Compassion Over Killing, is a behind-the-scenes look at several farm animal auctions where dairy cows, their calves and other animals are sold to the highest bidder, many times to factory farms and slaughterhouses. Inside the closed doors of auction houses, animals are often kicked, shocked with electric prods, dragged by their legs and beaten. I can’t imagine the confusion and fear they’re undergoing, especially the calves who only a short time earlier were taken away from their nursing mothers.

Hope for the Hopeless, another Compassion Over Killing documentary, shows what’s it’s like inside a giant egg factory farm where hundreds of thousands of hens are confined inside barren battery cages. These living, feeling beings are turned into egg-producing machines within an industrial assembly line. There’s little consideration for their welfare other than providing them water and food — the barest necessities to keep them alive for another day’s worth of production. They’re given so little space they can’t even spread their wings. It’s like forcing someone to live in an elevator with six other people for your entire life.


You’re well known in the movement for working with college campuses, getting their dining halls to buy cage-free eggs. Does that take up the bulk of your activism?

So far, more than 350 universities in the country have eliminated or reduced their use of battery eggs. While I’d love to take credit for this enormous success, most of the victories are due to the relentless and effective activists on college campuses I’ve had the pleasure to work with over the years.

That said, most of my time is spent working with major retailers, helping them move away from using the cruelest animal products and adding vegan items to their product line. Working with corporations to enact purchasing policies that help animals is one of the most effective things we can do for farm animals.


Can you explain what the Cage-Free Campus campaign is?

The Cage-Free Campus campaign is one of HSUS’ signature campaigns to help abolish battery cages. University cafeterias often use hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of eggs a year. Whether anyone likes it or not, this will be the case for the foreseeable future. The question is: Is it better that these eggs come from hens confined in cages so small they can barely move for their entire lives, or from hens living in a cage-free environment where they’re at least able to lay eggs in a nest, dust bathe, perch, flap their wings and walk? I think the answer is clear.

Of course, “cage-free” doesn’t necessarily mean “cruelty-free.” However, while cage-free hens can and do still suffer, it doesn’t mean we should ignore that the alternative for most major egg buyers, including universities, is eggs from caged hens who are given less space to live than a single sheet of paper. In other words, cafeterias aren’t likely to stop serving eggs anytime soon, but they may stop serving the cruelest types of eggs.

I think most animal advocates would agree that putting an end to battery cages would reduce an immense amount of animal suffering. It’s important not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good and force millions of hens we all know are going to be exploited to wait until a future utopia exists before they’re at least freed from the misery of battery cages. In order to so, we have to get major egg users in the country to stop buying eggs from these extreme confinement systems. 


You’ve also helped activists overseas working on the same goal. For example, Mahi Klosterhalfen has made some real progress for hens in Europe. Are you open to working with activists in other parts of the world to help them with cage-free campaigns?

Over the past few years I’ve had the honor of working with some of the best animal advocates from around the world. Mahi’s unbelievable work in Germany getting major retailers to end their sales of eggs from caged hens is a testament to his tenacious and effective activism. He’s one of the best activists the animals have; Compassion in World Farming is lucky have him run its German campaigns.

Up in Canada, Bruce Passmore has engineered a campaign that has resulted in numerous cities passing government resolutions opposing battery cages and has convinced some of the largest universities in the country to stop using battery eggs in their cafeteria.

And down in Australia, Kathleen Chapman is launching a veg commercial campaign similar to what Compassion Over Killing and Mercy For Animals have done in the U.S. This is after she got her university to be the first to switch away from battery eggs.

There’s no reason why others can’t duplicate the efforts of these dedicated individuals. I’d be more than happy to work with anyone from any part of the world on campaigns to help farm animals. Billions of animals suffer worldwide, and it’s going to take a global effort to win tangible advances for them.


What’s the best piece of activism advice you ever received?

Something I learned from many of my heroes in the animal protection movement is that I should make strategic decisions as an activist with the end goal being reducing as much animal suffering as possible. Since roughly 95 percent of animal exploitation in the U.S. goes on behind the closed doors of factory farms, I’ve made it may life’s mission to help those animals raised for food. You get the best bang for your activist buck, so to speak, by working to help farm animals.

The path I chose — corporate and university outreach ― isn’t the only way to help farm animals, but it’s the way I think I’m most effective. Others, like one of my heroes, Jon Camp from Vegan Outreach, give out tens of thousands of booklets every year to college students encouraging them to eat less meat as part of the Adopt-A-College program. Another hero of mine, Kath Rogers from Animal Protection and Rescue League, is in the midst of transforming her hometown of San Diego into the most vegan-friendly, anti-factory farming city in the country. Whatever our interest or our skill set, there’s always something each of us can do to have a major impact in the lives of farm animals. 


Can you offer any parting advice to the individual activist who doesn’t work with an organization? Are there any simple things they can do to reach out to restaurants, for example, or approach their college?

The great thing about animal activism is that one person can make a tremendous difference. One way for students to get involved ― on the individual level ― is to meet with their dining director about moving away from using eggs from caged hens and/or add vegan options to the menu. There are numerous universities that have stopped serving battery-caged eggs and added vegan options because one student brought this issue to the attention of the dining staff.

For instance, at Georgetown University, just one student met with the director of dining, and only a few weeks later the entire university ended its support for battery-cage confinement and went exclusively cage-free. The university used one and a half million eggs a year, meaning that one victory led to improving the lives of literally thousands of animals. If someone is interested in doing this type of effort at his or her university, they should feel free to contact me at  

I admit it. When I was a kid, I loved watching Westerns. But as much as I enjoyed these films and TV shows, the good guy almost always became the hero at the expense of animals: horses, cows, chickens, rabbits, fish and countless other critters were hunted, branded, ridden into the ground or suffered some other type of taming-of-the-West cruelty, all in the name of entertainment. Now I rarely watch Westerns, and if I do, I sit there with my finger on the fast-forward button, poised like a gunslinger waiting for my adversary to make the first move.


Well, if you too watch films with growing anxiety, hoping not to see a character gleefully engaging in some form of animal abuse; or you’d like to enjoy a movie in which the protagonist is vegan — hey, maybe even an animal rights activist! — and is portrayed realistically; or you simply wish that Hollywood would depict vegans and animal activists in a more sympathetic light, I’ve got good news for you.


A new motion picture production company called Green Light Flix was launched this week. The company is looking for vegetarians and vegans to join their “Producers Club,” which will help develop and produce media, such as feature films, videos, podcasts, webisodes and more, all with an animal rights or environmental angle.

“Vegetarians, animal rights activists and environmentalists have a very rare and often negative representation in cinema and television,” says Dawn Black, co-founder of Green Light Flix. “Our mission is to change that. We want to show activists in a positive light while entertaining and educating audiences.”


The projects are financed through membership dues (starting at $25 a year), which turn fans into producers and investors. Once the productions are done, limited-edition DVDs are distributed to those same members whose annual dues financed them.


“There are millions of vegetarians and vegans around the world, and many of us are insulted by being portrayed in films and TV shows as pale, 85-pound hippies that look sickly and need a murdered farm animal’s carcass and dairy products to feel better,” says Scott Cardinal, Green Light Flix co-founder and director of development. “Environmentalists and animal rights activists are usually portrayed as kooks, too.”


Activist Jodi Chemes of Florida Voices for Animals observes that although many animal rights groups produce footage of slaughterhouses and other animal cruelty, many people refuse to watch the disturbing videos. “While this information needs to be made public so people can learn the truth,” she says, “we also need positive videos showing what the world could be like without dependence on animal products. Green Light Flix will do that, and we are excited to support them.”

Green Light Flix members will help make major business decisions, including logo design, web design, film development, marketing and distribution. Members will also receive VIP perks, such as a free member T-shirt, DVDs and 25% off all products. The company says it will donate 10% of net profits to animal rescue, rights and welfare organizations selected by its members.

And you can bet that if Green Light Flix ever produces a Western, common cowboy practices like whipping horses, branding cattle and roping steers will either be absent or addressed for what they are: cruelty to animals. I won’t fast forward through that.


“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said Martin Luther King, Jr. So it’s a positive sign whenever animal advocates begin looking beyond the immediate tasks at hand and target a wider range of oppression.


Jenna Calabrese, Miranda Robbins, Steven Roggenbuck and Victor Tsou all former leafleters with Vegan Outreach — are doing just that with the formation of a new community of vegan activists called Living Opposed to Violence and Exploitation (L.O.V.E.). They are quick to point out this is neither an animal welfare group nor an animal rights group, but something new: an anti-oppression collective that opposes all the “-isms”: ableism, ageism, classism, heterosexism, racism, sexism, speciesism, etc.


L.O.V.E. opposes animal exploitation, not because the animals are suffering or based on any theory of rights, but because it is wrong to use any being without their free consent; therefore, L.O.V.E. seeks the liberation of human and non-human animals alike. Part of their principle is to run L.O.V.E. completely with volunteers and an operating budget of $0. 


I asked Jenna to give me more details about this new endeavor.


What inspired you to create this community?

A really potent combination of being inspired by individual essays and articles we had been reading Unpacking the Knapsack, The Vegan Ideal, Vegans of Color and being disappointed by the actions and attitudes of many of the mainstream animal advocacy organizations led us to create a community where veganism was viewed as a response to speciesism and all forms of oppression. Many of us are human rights activists in addition to being vegan and animal rights activists, and it’s surprising and sad how rarely it is that those communities cross paths or work together, when all forms of oppression clearly stem from the same system of power and hierarchy that keeps all of these groups marginalized. We wanted L.O.V.E. to serve as a resource for writings on the topic, a guide to people looking to expand or enhance their vegan activism and a safe haven for people who agree with these ideas and want to connect with others like them.


So L.O.V.E. is not comprised of any groups?

Right now, L.O.V.E. is a collective of individuals, not groups. We had been pretty disenchanted with a majority of the animal advocacy organizations currently in operation, and we really wanted L.O.V.E. to be something different. There are other organizations which share in L.O.V.E.’s values, though, and if they wanted to be a part of the collective, they would be welcome to join. Anyone individual or group can do so by visiting and signing up for the website and mailing list. We are happy to have you on board.


How does L.O.V.E. differ from other organizations?

Until now, animal advocacy organizations have mostly fallen into one of two categories: animal welfare and animal rights. Animal welfare groups are concerned with the treatment of animals, often based on the idea of reducing suffering, and do not challenge the notion that animals exist for human use. Animal rights groups challenge the use of animals, using a technical idea of “rights.” This is made more confusing because “animal rights” has become a general term to mean any work in animal advocacy.


We have found both approaches animal welfare and animal rights lacking. Animal welfare groups understandably try to better the lives of oppressed animals, but do so with an understanding and approach that does not challenge or weaken the system that causes the animals to suffer in the first place. By working on the effects rather than the cause, animal welfare groups are caught in an endless cycle of campaigning against one abuse, celebrating a victory, then campaigning against another abuse. So long as the system of exploitation exists, the abuses will never end and old abuses will be replaced with new ones.


Animal rights groups, on the other hand, do not bring an understanding of power and privilege to the situation and therefore may inadvertently perpetuate the oppression of others. For example, some animal rights groups champion the rights of only certain animals, expanding the membership of privilege, leaving large classes of animals those groups deemed less important in the lower class subject to our exploitation.


These might seem like nit-picky, abstract points, but they’re not. In practical terms, the animal welfare approach has led to a near disappearance of the word “vegan” from public education efforts. Worse, we have seen the largest animal welfare group in the country promoting the consumption of cage-free eggs to their members in a fundraising letter. For a flavor of the problems of the animal rights approach, please see Animal Rights and the Humane Treatment Principle.


How are you using the Internet to manage L.O.V.E.?

L.O.V.E. primarily exists at the webspace at our members live in wildly different geographical locations and cannot practically work together anywhere but on the Internet. We are hoping to encourage the growth of local activist communities by connecting people through the L.O.V.E. website. There is an activist mailing list, called COMMUNITY, that will allow people to discuss their experiences and events, as well as a blog on which people can discuss current events, articles and news and questions they may have about veganism and anti-oppression activism which, if you don’t have anyone in ”real life” with whom you can discuss these things, could turn out to be a very useful tool. We’re also launching a Vegan Buddies Project to help connect vegans with other vegans in their areas. They can hopefully strengthen one another’s commitment to a vegan life while engaging in local activism to bring about even more change in the world.

Erik Marcus over at has posted a great blog entry on Thanksgiving. Featuring tgrobinrmouthwatering recipes from vegan cookbook author Robin Robertson, this Thanksgiving menu is sure to please everyone from the die-hard vegan activist to the ardent carnivore (you know, that one grumpy uncle who’s always saying vegans only eat lettuce and tree bark).


Robin’s recipes include:


Cream of Pumpkin Soup with Curried Pecans
Roasted Wheatmeat with Oyster Mushroom and “Sausage” Stuffing
Stuffed Winter Squash (optional main dish)
Brown Gravy
Roasted Sweet Potato Sticks
Garlic Smashers
Green Bean Casserole
Cranberry Relish
Ginger-Dusted Pumpkin Cheezecake


Man, I love Thanksgiving. At least the eating-vegan-goodies part.


Also, don’t forget to spend some time with turkeys at your local sanctuary this month!





In 1997, Peter Young and another activist raided six fur farms in the U.S., releasing an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 mink and 100 fox. Soon after the sixth raid, a farmer in Wisconsin notified police that a suspicious car was driving past a mink ranch. Alerted by an FBI report regarding recent animal liberations on fur farms, police stopped Peter and the other activist, who refused to consent to a search of the vehicle. The car was impounded while authorities waited on a search warrant. When the car was finally searched, police discovered incriminating evidence, including addresses of fur farms with notations indicating their size, fence structure, parking availability and proximity to nearby homes. By then, Peter and the other activist were gone.


Peter was wanted by the FBI for seven and a half years before being arrested in California in 2005. He faced a total of 82 years in prison. Peter’s lawyer got the felony portion of his indictment dismissed, and he was sentenced to two years in federal prison. In court, a defiant Peter Young said that his only regret was not doing more damage. He was released from prison on February 1, 2007.


Peter, you are best known in the activist community for liberating minks and foxes from fur farms in South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin. How have those events changed your life?

They brought me to some of our culture’s darkest corners, from hellish animal sheds to dim jail cells. From those experiences and others I have learned animal liberation is more effectively taken than asked for. I learned determined individuals can accomplish in one night what a million protests can never achieve.


So do you think there is any place in the movement for protesting and other types of campaigns?

I’m more fluid in my position on tactics than could be assumed. This is a result-oriented movement, and ultimately we must stand behind that which brings results. I am for protesting when it works, and am against it when it merely provides us the illusion of changes. Being “active” is worse than nothing when it gives us the illusion of being effective. And when protesting works, as has been the case with certain weak-link targets like foie gras restaurants, then it is absolutely to be celebrated as a tactic. Such is the case with distributing Why Vegan pamphlets: approximately 2% of people who read the pamphlet change their diet. When we are distributing millions of Why Vegan leaflets, this is huge. I will say for every protest-victory, I assess the time-costs and inevitably consider we could have avoided months of protest and hundreds of people-hours with one well-calculated act of economic sabotage. We have selective vision in regards to our victories. The last and largest foie gras restaurant in Salt Lake City, which had been protested for months, stopped selling foie gras after anonymous individuals shut down their gas main during a busy Saturday night, and later took out several large glass windows. That was all it took. We should fight smarter, not harder.


What can you say about the support you got from the movement while serving your sentence?

I received more letters than I could answer, more books than I could read, and more visits than I could accept. Asking people to take risks for animals while not being there to support them if arrested is like sending someone down the Colorado River without a life raft. While the urgency of what’s happening in farms and labs will always incite many to act outside the law, these actions will increase in correlation with the quality of the support offered to those who are caught. It is invaluable for those working in darkness to deliver animals from cages to know if they are arrested, they will be taken care of. For those who support prisoners, this is the true return on their investment: You allow those who have not been caught to do their work.


How do other inmates and prison guards treat animal activists in jail?

Having a case such as mine was an asset with prisoners and guards, and a liability with prison staff higher up the chain. With prisoners, I was given a significant amount of respect for being looked at as someone who “stood up for his beliefs.” That non-human animals were the beneficiary of this stand was irrelevant — it was the willingness to put talk into action which is respected in convict culture. This translated into many privileges and alliances which allowed my prison time to pass with little friction.


With senior staff in the Bureau of Prisons, the political nature of my case brought them to mark me as a security threat. This manifested in countless ways, including jail/prison security-level placement that was not in sync with the relative seriousness of my “offenses,” increased mail screening, stretches in solitary, and more. In recent weeks there has been a development in this realm, as we’ve seen several green scare and SHAC prisoners moved to maximum-security prisons. This is an unsettling trend and frightening evidence of the lunacy of those in power: running a website or destroying property is a more egregious crime than murder or kidnapping — crimes committed by those I shared a medium-security prison with.


Overall, I found being imprisoned for animal liberation activity was more of a benefit than a detriment, while being a little of both. It helped with prisoners and hurt me with prison staff.


What was the impact of your raids on the fur industry?

At least two of the six farms had to close. Final damage estimates were over $250,000. Approximately 2,000 animals were never recaptured, and farmers were forevermore kept up at night wondering if tonight was the night their farm would be raided — or, more importantly, wondering if they might be better off growing soybeans. The number of mink farms today is almost half of what it was when I was indicted, and I trust many fur farmers have asked themselves this question and made the right decision as a direct effect of ALF raids.


Did prison change your opinion of direct action in any way?

I never had any illusions about the consequences for direct action. I accepted the possibility of prison and, when weighed against the potential benefits and relative small chance of being caught, I made a decision. And I stand by my stance that it was the right decision. As long as direct action works, potential consequences will be irrelevant to those who answer to a higher law.


Other activists who have been jailed for their activism have told me they now focus on above-ground tactics because sitting in jail does not help animals. What’s your take on that position?

It’s a false dichotomy. In 20 years of ALF activity and over one thousand actions, only a small handful of people have ever been arrested. And of those, only a very few have served actual prison time. The number of people caught is statistically infinitesimal. It is not a “direct action equals prison versus above-ground activism equals freedom” equation. This has become more apparent as we see increased cases of people who thought they were working within the law, yet were still sent to prison — such as the SHAC defendants or those arrested in Austria. At this point, being effective is a crime, not transgressing the letter of the law.


The bigger point is that direct action versus other activism is a totally artificial division. It is all a manifestation of the same impulse, the same ethic.


Most who have been arrested, myself included, made easily avoidable mistakes which can be learned from. We must be honest about the fact that one has a statistically insignificant chance of getting arrested for direct action.


You mentioned the Austrian activists who were arrested. Governments around the world are using intimidation to suppress animal activism. What effect do you think the arrests of activists like Martin Balluch and others will have on the movement?

It will be met with both cowering weakness and galvanization. I’ve watched many people take a quit exit from activism after the smallest trace of repression — receiving an FBI visit, for example — and these high-profile arrests will filter out many weak links in our movement. My best hope for such people is that they will continue to be active in outreach efforts less likely to attract FBI attention.


On the other side, they are playing with fire when they arrest activists who work above ground and within the law. The only message that is sent to those who are in this for life is: You’re going to prison either way; it’s best to work in the dark of night where the risks are greatly reduced.


What other forms of activism do you feel are effective?

Vegan outreach in all its forms. Absolutely one of the best things you can do for animals.


Speaking of veganism, does an animal activist have to be vegan?

Veganism is too often viewed as a symbolic boycott when it is more accurately framed as something that has a direct effect on the lives of animals today. I’m not vegan to withhold money from animal abusers; I’m vegan because I’m sparing animals suffering in the here and now.


If you’re not vegan, you’re making clear that doing even the bare minimum to help animals is beneath your will. Veganism is not just another tool in the toolbox. It is the bare minimum.


You’re an inspiration to many activists. Who are your heroes in the movement?

We are best to keep an eye on our results and not those of others. I have no heroes and would encourage others to drop theirs. Don’t look up to your heroes, become them.


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