Tag Archive: prison abolition

Review: Maya Schenwar’s ‘Locked Down, Locked Out’

locked

By Ani M.

Truthout editor-in-chief, Maya Schenwar was kind enough to send the Prison Books Collective a copy of her new book, Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better. The book is half journalism and half her memoir of the years her sister was alternately incarcerated and struggling with addiction. Since personal narrative is my favorite framework for gleaning new information, I claimed the book first with the promise to read quickly and beg her for more copies to send into prisons if it was any good.

At the Prison Books Collective we read a copious amount about prisons every week and very little makes it on to our social media and even less on to our website. As abolitionists, we find too many informative articles take a tone about just punishments that we reject. Or the reforms proposed in articles are ones that create new improved prisons instead of moving to abolish them. Much is written about the difficulties of transitioning people from incarceration to life on the outside; too little is written about the necessity of transforming life on the outside to eliminate incarceration.

Maya Schenwar’s Locked Down, Locked Out is a steady seduction. As she states early on, because she is white, from an intact nuclear family, well educated and prestigiously employed, people can hear the story of her sister and perceive it as a subject of inquiry, something to question: What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this? Schenwar is a likeable first person narrator with whom it’s easy for a similarly situated audience to identify as she searches for the answer to her own questions. How did her sister end up in prison more than once? Why did her family decide it was the safest places for her to be? What would be the real alternatives to that choice? (more…)

After Obama Clemencies, Activists Question Scope of Bipartisan Prison “Reform”

obama!

From Truth Out/ By Victoria Law

On July 13, President Barack Obama granted commutations to 46 people, including 13 serving life sentences, in federal prisons for nonviolent drug offenses. More than 35,000 people, or 17 percent of the federal prison population, have applied for early release since his administration announced its Clemency Project for people in federal prisons for nonviolent drug offenses in 2014.

“We’re at a moment where some good people in both parties, Republicans and Democrats, and folks across the country, are coming together around ideas to make the system work smarter, make it work better,” the president said in a Facebook video posted July 13.

Less than three weeks earlier, on June 25, 2015, Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) and Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) introduced the Safe, Accountable, Fair, Effective (SAFE) Justice Act. The bill calls for allowing sentence reductions for federal drug war prisoners, a move which could potentially affect half of the current federal prison population.

The latest in bipartisan criminal legal reforms, the act has been championed by organizations from the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union to the Koch brothers, the Police Foundation and Right on Crime. But, notes Families Against Mandatory Minimums, which also supports the act, “The bill does not repeal any federal mandatory minimum sentences or reduce drug mandatory minimum sentences across the board, but instead limits the application of federal mandatory minimum drug sentences to the highest-level offenders, as Congress originally intended.” (more…)

Seven Ways to Revolutionize Childcare and Build All-Ages Movements

Childcare at the 2009 City from Below conference in Baltimore.

Childcare at the 2009 City from Below conference in Baltimore.

From Waging Nonviolence/ By Victoria Law

Last week I was part of Queering Abolition, a panel discussion on queer and trans prison advocacy and abolition. One of my co-panelists was Susan Rosenberg, a former political prisoner who spent 16 years in prison before her sentence was commuted by outgoing President Bill Clinton. The panel was in the auditorium of the City University of New York Graduate Center. Being on the panel was exciting — not just because I was part of a dialogue around prison advocacy and abolition that centered on trans people, but also because it reminded me of how far I’d come and how much community and movement support have enabled me.

I first saw Susan Rosenberg in that same auditorium about 12 years ago. She had been released from prison the year before and was part of a day-long conference on incarceration. My daughter was not quite two years old and, like many political events — both then and now — there was no child care. The organizers told me that I was welcome to bring my child and so I did.

She had a fantastic time. My daughter, after nursing for a bit and sitting in my lap for an even shorter bit, wriggled out of my arms and explored the back rows of the auditorium. The seats were like those in the movie theater, springing up when no weight was applied. She was entranced with these seats, pulling them down and letting them flip back up with a clatter. She did this again and again, much to the amusement of the handful of 20-somethings around us. I kept one eye on her and one eye on the stage where, far below, Susan Rosenberg, Laura Whitehorn and two other important people in the prison movement talked about women and incarceration.

When the audience erupted into applause, my daughter stopped and applauded along. “Yaaaay!” she cheered, as she clapped her tiny hands together over and over.

(more…)

Alternatives to Incarceration: Be Careful What You Wish For

susanseredFrom Susan Sered

As awareness is growing of the financial and human costs associated with mass incarceration, we’re hearing talk from politicians on both sides of the aisle (and, believe it or not, even from the Koch Brothers) about the need for “alternatives to incarceration” (ATIs).

The term “alternatives to incarceration” takes for granted that we are talking about ways to handle criminals who otherwise would need to be incarcerated — that incarceration is a reasonable baseline against which to measure “alternatives.” In light of the over-representation of Americans of color and low-income Americans in jails and prisons, however, it’s necessary to be careful about any sort of presumption of correlation between criminality and incarceration. In fact, about a third of people locked up in the US are awaiting trial; that is, they have not been convicted of a crime. Another third are locked up because they violated the terms of probation or parole; that is; the “criminal” act was not sufficiently egregious to require imprisonment but a subsequent action – often simply not showing up for a meeting with a parole or probation officer, or failing to keep up restitution payments or money owed in court fees – was the reason for incarceration. And 97% of federal and state criminal prosecutions are resolved by plea bargain – often accepted by defendants out of fear that if they don’t accept the deal they will be locked up even longer — rather than by trial.

Given these numbers, it’s easier to make a case for abolition than for “alternatives to incarceration.” But that is not the direction in which public discourse seems to be moving. To the contrary, the increasingly popular sentiment goes something like this: A whole lot of people sitting in jails and prisons are mentally ill; they are drug users who need treatment more than they need punishment. Echoing this sentiment, Los Angeles County – the US county with the largest number of incarcerated people – recently approved a $1.9 billion proposal to tear down Men’s Central Jail and construct a 4,885-bed “Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility”. And while “treatment” certainly sounds beneficial, the content of that treatment has yet to be spelled out.

(more…)

Imagine a World Without Prisons: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Superheroes, and Prison Abolition

octaviaFrom The Abolitionist / By Walidah Imarisha

“And then the orcs stage an uprising and seize the means of production, since they are not only the soldiers, they are also the exploited labor of Middle Earth. If they rise up, Mordor grinds to a halt!”

This unlikely strategy came out of a workshop called “Imaginative Fiction and Social Change,” at the Allied Media Conference, an annual gathering in Detroit of radical activists, artists and media makers. The facilitator (and Octavia’s Brood contributor), Morrigan Phillips, broke participants into small groups and each one got a fictional land: Oz, the Death Star, Hogwarts, Springfield (of Simpsons fame). Participants then analyzed the conflict and came up with direct action tactics to move their cause for justice forward.

“A successful direct action is like creating a good fantasy story. It’s like a quest,” Phillips said excitedly in the introduction. “There is a conflict, compelling characters, a good plan, build up, twists and turns, adversity, the climax, and then the win where everyone goes home satisfied. If you do it right.”

As Phillips demonstrated, many of the lessons to be taken from science fiction (or speculative fiction/fantasy/horror/take your pick) are incredibly useful when building community-based systems of accountability and abolishing the prison system. (more…)

Police “Reforms” You Should Always Oppose…

1-caution-police-stateFrom US Prison Culture

I read today that President Obama has offered some measures for ‘reforming’ the police.

Here is a simple guide for evaluating any suggested ‘reforms’ of U.S. policing in this historical moment.

1. Are the proposed reforms allocating more money to the police? If yes, then you should oppose them.
2. Are the proposed reforms advocating for MORE police and policing (under euphemistic terms like community policing run out of regular police districts)? If yes, then you should oppose them.
3. Are the proposed reforms primarily technology-focused? If yes, then you should oppose them because:
a. It means more money to the police.
b. Said technology is more likely to be turned against the public than it is to be used against cops.
c. Police violence won’t end through technological advances (no matter what someone is selling you).
4. Are the proposed ‘reforms’ focused on individual dialogues with individual cops? And will these ‘dialogues’ be funded with tax dollars? I am never against dialogue. It’s good to talk with people. These conversations, however, should not be funded by tax payer money. That money is better spent elsewhere. Additionally, violence is endemic to U.S. policing itself. There are some nice individual people who work in police departments. I’ve met some of them. But individual dialogue projects reinforce the “bad apples” theory of oppressive policing. This is not a problem of individually terrible officers rather it is a problem of a corrupt and oppressive policing system built on controlling & managing the marginalized while protecting property.

What ‘reforms’ should you support (in the interim) then? (more…)

Against Carceral Feminism

“Prison Blueprints.” Remeike Forbes / Jacobin

From Jacobin / By Victoria Law

Relying on state violence to curb domestic violence only ends up harming the most marginalized women.

Cherie Williams, a thirty-five-year-old African-American woman in the Bronx, just wanted to protect herself from her abusive boyfriend. So she called the cops. But although New York requires police to make an arrest when responding to domestic violence calls, the officers did not leave their car. When Williams demanded their badge numbers, the police handcuffed her, drove her to a deserted parking lot, and beat her, breaking her nose, spleen, and jaw. They then left her on the ground.

“They told me if they saw me on the street, that they would kill me,” Williams later testified.

The year was 1999. It was a half-decade after the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which deployed more police and introduced more punitive sentencing in an attempt to reduce domestic violence. Many of the feminists who had lobbied for the passage of VAWA remained silent about Williams and countless other women whose 911 calls resulted in more violence. Often white, well-heeled feminists, their legislative accomplishment did little to stem violence against less affluent, more marginalized women like Williams.

This carceral variant of feminism continues to be the predominant form. While its adherents would likely reject the descriptor, carceral feminism describes an approach that sees increased policing, prosecution, and imprisonment as the primary solution to violence against women.

This stance does not acknowledge that police are often purveyors of violence and that prisons are always sites of violence. Carceral feminism ignores the ways in which race, class, gender identity, and immigration status leave certain women more vulnerable to violence and that greater criminalization often places these same women at risk of state violence. (more…)

Final Straw: Tranzmission Prison Project presents on LGBTQQIA realities in prison

cropped-unicorn-jumpingFrom The Final Straw

Streaming at AshevilleFM through May 25 2014, then podcasting later at radio4all.net and airing on KOWA-LPFM in Olympia, WA, KWTF in Bodega Bay, CA, KXCF in Marshall, CA, and WCRS-LP Columbus Community Radio 98.3 and 102.1 FM

This week’s episode features a presentation by members of Tranzmission Prison Project, an Asheville-based group. TPP is described on their tumblr as “Prison abolitionists against Queer & Trans* incarceration “. This is a recording of group members presenting their LGBTQQIA Prisoner Realities workshop recently at Warren Wilson College.

Trigger warning: This episode discusses sexual assault, solitary confinement and other torturous punishments.

For more info on this project, check out:
http://tranzmissionprisonproject.tumblr.com/
http://tranzmissionprisonproject.yolasite.com/

What if the LGBTQ movement fought for prison abolition rather than same-sex marriage?

Ryan Conrad, co-founder of the Against Equality collective, with his new book, Queer Revolution, Not Mere Inclusion.

Ryan Conrad, co-founder of the Against Equality collective, with his new book, Queer Revolution, Not Mere Inclusion.

By Isabelle Nastasia

How did the movement get here? What if lesbians oppose war? What if gay men don’t want to expand the prison system? What if marriage doesn’t address poverty? These are some of the questions raised by the Against Equality collective in its new book Queer Revolution, Not Mere Inclusion published this year by AK Press.

The Against Equality collective is an archival project created by five queer and trans activists and writers. First and foremost, their new book is an anthology of critiques of the issues that have come to define gay and lesbian politics over the past 20 years. But it also proposes alternative paths for the movement, putting forth both prison abolition and transformative justice as distinctly queer political projects.

Isabelle Nastasia recently sat down with Ryan Conrad, co-founder of the Against Equality collective, in the East Village to discuss the book and the politics behind his own work. (more…)

Ben Turk on Insurgent Theatre & Prison Abolition

InsurgentTheatre_Know_Your_Enemy_600From The Final Straw

This week’s episode is a conversation with Ben Turk. Ben’s a co-founder of Insurgent Theatre, the decade-old theater troop that has presented a number of original and refurbished theater workshops and performances around the country. Topics of IT’s works have ranged from discussions around Militancy framed through Homer’s Odyssey to Administrative Segregation to a Terrorists Fairytale.

Insurgent Theatre’s current play is called “Know Your Enemy.” The play is a one-person presentation based around a community liaison cop with a liberal heart of gold. As the play goes on, the cop begins to question whether he can actually do his job and help the community. A psychological study into the head of the “good cop” and community/cop relations, it also serves as a history of policing in the United States (ala “Our Enemies in Blue” by Kristian Williams) and a discussion of safer practices when interacting with cops (a sort of Know Your Rights presentation).
http://insurgenttheatre.org/acab/acab.html

“Know Your Enemy” is touring with the second film by D Jones in the “The Great Incarcerator” series. That film, “The Shadow of Lucasville” includes some eye opening just came out and a preview can be found online at: (more…)