I am an aspiring prison abolitionist.
Being a prison abolitionist does not mean that I believe that all prisons should be destroyed.
It does mean that I believe that the fact that United States uses prisons and policing to solve problems in health care, education, and justice is itself criminal and must be abolished. It means that the way prisons are used to enforce white supremacy and anti-Blackness is a crime against humanity and must be abolished. It means that I believe we have the capacity to imagine ways that cities and communities can be rebuilt, supported, and valued in ways that promote safe and healthy lives. It means the terror that is inflicted upon Black and Brown bodies by policing as currently implemented — on graphic display across all major U.S. cities now, but so much a daily part of how Black and Brown life is lived — is a crime against humanity and must be abolished. Being a prison abolitionist means that I refuse to accept that things must be the way they are now.
I am going to share the personal anecdotes and reflections that brought me to this point, but let me first share the eloquent and to-the-point words of Ruth Wilson Gilmore that lay out the case far better than I could. Be a prison abolitionist.
When I was in grade-school, we would spend some Sunday evenings driving my grandmother to a small correctional facility for young women. She worked there a few hours a week as a counselor. She would tell stories about the young women there, most had been placed there due to petty crimes like shoplifting. Most had not completed high school. If you are a prison abolitionist, you believe that better schools should be an alternative to prison. If you are a prison abolitionist, you believe that punitive discipline in schools, and other practices that force out young Black girls and women from schools into prisons should be abolished. If you are a prison abolitionist, you believe that ready access to support systems, to the kind of counseling and encouragement that my grandmother provided should be the alternative to prisons. If you are a prison abolitionist, you believe that sex work should not be punitively criminalized. That protections for sex workers should be one alternative to prison.
It turns out that my uncle carried on his mother’s work and spent his career as counselor at a correctional facility in Georgia. Many of the Black men that he would speak to had not finished high school. His clients had deep emotional and psychological problems, addictions some, that had brought them to the prison system. If you are a prison abolitionist, you believe that the answer to the alarming incarceration of Black youth is to build better schools, not bigger prisons. You believe that access to health care is a critical step. You believe that restorative justice in the high school and in courts is a start. You believe that people who have resorted to petty crimes like check forgery deserve viable alternatives for earning a living wage, not death at the knees of police. You believe that Black youth deserve to have their souls elevated in schools, not their souls crushed. You don’t believe we need military equipment and predator drones in the hands of our police.
When I was a graduate student, Ambassador Andrew Young, one of the iconic leaders of the U.S. Civil Rights movement paid a visit to the university. He had been the second Black mayor of the city I grew up in, and was one of the people we looked up to growing up. I asked him what I could contribute as a computer scientist. Immediately he responded that educational software in the prisons was essential — there are so many young brothers in prison he said, and they don’t have access to education. I think about that often. Don’t my brothers deserve schools, not prisons? I thought to myself. If you are a prison abolitionist, then you believe that we need to build schools that can educate the Brothers, that we need to build systems that distinguish between the “crimes of desperation” and the criminals that are committing large scale voter suppression, murdering innocent runners, or trying to arrest bird watchers. If you are a prison abolitionist, then the Black and Latinx people imprisoned for attempting to sell or distribute marijuana should be freed and those dealing with addiction should have access to adequate mental and emotional support. Why do we imprison Black folk while former elected officials make millions from their involvement in marijuana growing initiatives?
We know that incarceration rates in the United States are an injustice to all
We know that Black men are “six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men”
If you are a prison abolitionist, you believe that someone shouldn’t be locked up, brutalized, and exposed to COVID-19 because they can’t afford to pay a parking ticket.
Seven of the 10 largest outbreaks in the country have been at correctional facilitiesEqual Justice Inititive
Let’s be prison abolitionists.
You can start by supporting the following organizations
- The National Bail Out Initiative
- Critical Resistance
- The Prison Activist Resource Center
- The Sentencing Project
You can start by reading
- Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California
- Angela Davis’s Are Prisons Obsolete?
- Michele Alexander’s The New Jim Crow
Just start somewhere.
Last night (6/13), there was violent police repression of a protest following the police murder of Rayshard Brooks.
It underscores the urgency of police and prison abolition.
Please donate to http://atlsolidarity.org if you have the reaources