This weekend was HUGE. I went to a conference about women in prison. Friday night there was a little arts showcase. We showed up right before it started, and the small room the event was held in was already full… So we ended up watching a video-cast-thing of it live in the next room. It was pretty cool, first there was a group of four people reciting stories of people from the inside, and statistics, and writing stuff on a big sheet of paper behind them until by the end of their piece the sheet was full of undecipherable globs of numbers and phrases. It was pretty good, it didn’t present too much that was new to me since I’ve been learning more and more about the prison system is meeeeeessed up lately. The next series of pieces were by an collaborative called Blackout, and most of their stuff was tiiiiight. Very inspiring, and passionate. The event closed with a “newspaper puppet theatre” show. My partner and I ended up leaving halfway through that, cause it felt like they were totally cartooning the whole issue… If those are the types of things that help reach out and connect with uppity white people, more power to them (although I’m not sure the conference would have been their best audience for that…). We just felt really, really uncomfortable with how they were portraying people in prison, and how the system effects people.
The following day was when the actual conference took place. They started with a panel discussion presenting and framing the problem of the Prison Industial Complex, followed by a series of workshops over lunch, concluding with another panel discussion where different people involved in prison abolition work talked about the work their doing, and how to start thinking about our own work and whatnot.
One of the things that stuck out for me most was what Alex Lee of the Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project said. In a nutshell, in order to rid a world of prisons, you have to work to create a world that doesn’t handle justice in terms of isolation and punishment. They talked a lot about how “prisons” manifest themselves in our relationships with our families, loved ones, nature, and how isolating or punishing ANYONE who does wrong, we’re recreating the problem that prisons bring about. So like, if you withhold love from your partner cause your upset, or if you send your kid to their room, these are the same forms of punishment that prisons pose, and they don’t actually solve a thing.
They also talked about how no one will see the complete elimination of the prison system in our lifetime. Most bigger social issues that are closely associated to class, race, gender, we should absolutely work to try to eliminate, but at the same time understand that we’re all part of a bigger, more long-term force to eliminate these systems. There’s an organization called Generation Five that’s working to try to end the sexual abuse of children withing five generations. That’s adopting the mentality they were talking about.
Some of the organizations that were representing do things like provide access to services outside the prison system to inmates, like legal and health services; provide protection for survivors of sexual assault or rape within the prison system (by other inmates, or prison security); helping people who have been in prison obtain college degrees; support education and legal enhancement of people with criminal convictions.
There’s an organization called the Harm-free Zone which helps train communities to resolve conflicts so they can try to exist without the need of police, the court system, or prisons. They try to create a community of people around the way they would like to live, not the way the government would like them to live.
There’s definitely a lot of good stuff happening, and I left the conference with a better idea of what anti-prison work should look like. But I was hoping to leave the conference with a much firmer idea of what little-old me can do. I’ve got a bunch of ideas, but most of them have to do with providing support for people already in prison. But what can I do to make sure they don’t get there in the first place??
What I’m reading right now:
no more prisons, by willaim upski wimsatt–Ironically, the only chapter in this book that’s actually about prisons in the first chapter. It’s a good chapter, don’t get me wrong. I had my dad read it, and he was pretty shocked to learn about all messed up things about the whole system. But it’s the rest of the book that kicks you in the ass and says “now, go DO SOMETHING about it! Oh, and here’s how.” It’s a great book for people who wanna learn more about how to go ahead and start your own organization doing SOMETHING. Whether it’s something like maahaul or an organization to oppose local and state policy that harms the lives of a particular social minority. It talks about ways to connect with people who might be able to fund your project, ways to keep a mentality to always learn more about what you’re interested in. That part I really connected with, cause the ways he talks about is exactly how me and all my peers studying hindustani or carnatic music are doing it: go out, find a mentor, ask him or her to teach you, and spend as much time learning as possible. That’s how my guru in Michigan learned to be an amazing musician from Vilayat Khan; that’s how i’m doing it; that’s how MCs and breakers learn their stuff. There aren’t universities teaching this stuff, there aren’t any degrees. If you wanna learn something, just go ahead and learn it. There’s no reason why we all shouldn’t have an organization doing SOMETHING, and this book is a great start to give you ideas on how, and motivate the hell out of you.