Last Friday was an exciting day for me as a prison abolitionist. On Friday afternoon, I listened to an absolutely stellar discussion with Reina Gossett and Dean Spade of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project on prison abolition. The highlights were too numerous to discuss them all here, but I’ll mention a few.
One really excellent point Dean Spade made essentially concerned a knowledge problem that impacts attempts at broad prison policy reform. Spade has worked as an attorney for many prisoners, particularly queer and transgender prisoners, and he pointed out that for many of them the particular prison conditions that would make their stay more survivable varied substantially. This means that seeking top down prison reforms is not likely to benefit the human rights of all oppressed and brutalized prisoners, and that therefore we should advocate for the needs expressed by individual prisoners while also seeking to abolish the system that cages and brutalizes them. At another point in the discussion Reina Gossett mentioned the important work that a group called Creative Interventions does as one example of how we intervene to stop violence without the state. The full discussion, as well as four great videos with Gossett and Spade that preceded it, is available here. I highly recommend watching the entire thing.
Towards the end of the conversation, Dean mentioned some resources for those who want to learn more about prison abolition. He recommended Angela Davis’s excellent book Are Prisons Obsolete, as well as Towards Transformative Justice [pdf], which was developed by activists with the group Generation Five. He also mentioned the organizations Black and Pink, the Audre Lorde Project and their Safe OUTside the System Collective, FIERCE, No One Is Illegal, and the Young Women’s Empowerment Project, all of which do work around prison abolition.
So that was Friday afternoon for me. On Friday evening I attended a presentation by Amanda Lickers, a Haudenosaunee woman who has been active in fighting against corporations that attempt to engage in fossil fuel extraction on indigenous land. Her website, Reclaim Turtle Island, documents the indigenous movements that are resisting this ongoing land theft and colonialism. Amanda has worked with submedia.tv to produce a variety of videos on these grassroots movements and the police repression directed against them. She is also a prison abolitionist who has done some excellent prisoner support work, and throughout her talk she made many important points that should be relevant to prison abolitionists. For example, the colonialist roots of many governments’ policing and prison systems. She showed footage documenting the Royal Colonial Mounted Police’s brutal attack on indigenous activists who were protecting their land from companies seeking to engage in fracking. She further noted that the RCMP is an institution founded to repress natives and secure colonial outposts. She also pointed out that the Canadian state’s laws criminalizing sex workers, some of which were recently struck down in court, were rooted in the Indian Act. These moralist assaults on bodily autonomy and free association are rooted in colonialism. Moreover, Amanda pointed us to the cases of multiple indigenous activists who have been held in Canadian prisons, often in solitary confinement, for standing against land theft. This belies the common claims that prisons are necessary to protect us from theft. To the contrary, they often are used to repress those who seek to defend their lands from theft by powerful corporations and governments. This post at Reclaim Turtle Island provides one example of political prisoners being abused by the Canadian state for defending their land. Reclaim Turtle Island is currently doing a fundraiser on Indiegogo to support their ongoing work against colonialist land theft by extractive industries.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the great news we had this week about Hank Magee. Police violently raided Magee’s home on suspicion that he was growing marijuana. Understandably, Hank Magee defended his home, and in the process a police officer was killed. Prosecutors attempted to charge Magee with capital murder, but last week a grand jury refused to indict. While Hank Magee still faces marijuana charges, he is free from the state’s cages for now. He’s with his family. My friend Jesse Fruhwirth reported on this story at his excellent blog Utah 4Ps. Radley Balko has a blog up on the case at the Washington Post. And Jonathan Carp wrote up an op-ed related to the case here at the Center for a Stateless Society.
I’m overjoyed that Hank’s free from prison walls. And I’m even happier to know that so many great people are acting to abolish the prison state itself.