State violence thrives in the dark. This is why the state secrets privilege is so abused, it’s why the Obama administration has viciously persecuted whistleblowers, and it’s why states benefit from a media climate where their legitimacy is assumed and radical ideas aren’t heard. So today I want to highlight some people both inside and outside prisons who are shining light on the prison state.
In Alabama, prisoners are filming each other on smuggled cell phones to tell their stories and express grievances about human rights abuses in Alabama prisons. These videos are then posted on a YouTube channel affiliated with the Free Alabama Movement. As Bay Area Intifada explains, “the prisoners speak of deplorable conditions, slave labor, prisons being a continuation of slavery and many candid stories from their lives inside and outside the cement walls of Alabama’s prisons.” The very nature of the prisoners’ non-violent disobedience tells us something about Alabama prisons. The communication mechanism they use to engage in political speech, the cell phone, is prohibited by prison officials. Only by disobeying the prison’s institutional rules can the truth about prisons be revealed. Prisons are designed to suppress communication, dissent, and the accountability that might result from openness. The Free Alabama Movement deserves the support of all who care about freedom and justice, and I’ll continue posting on their story in the coming weeks.
Outside of prison walls, I’ve been seeing prison abolitionist ideas in various media sources. Anarchist journalist Charles Davis published an excellent article at Vice that discusses prison abolition and interviews Isaac Ontiveros of Critical Resistance. The interview covers a lot of important questions about prison abolition, including what to do about violent criminals, what tactics to use right now, and the risks of reform. Critical Resistance is one of the most significant prison abolitionist groups in the world today, and it’s always excellent to see their work highlighted at a popular website like Vice.
My friend Cory Massimo also recently published a guest post at The Stag Blog offering a libertarian case for prison abolition. He argues for a system based purely on restitution rather than punishment, and contends that prisons are the wrong response even to those who have violated the rights of others. I’m glad to see prison abolitionist ideas gaining traction in libertarian circles, and I hope they will continue to gain traction.
Shining light on the prison state doesn’t just mean talking about prisons themselves. Prisons are closely related to a variety of other political issues. For example, the prison industrial complex includes immigration detention centers th tat lock up migrants for deportation. Issues like border militarization should thus be core issues for those of us concerned about the prison industrial complex. Lucy Steigerwald has a great new column at AntiWar.com called “The War at Home,” which examines how issues like immigration restrictions, policing, prisons, and surveillance interact with militarism and the warfare state. Her first column, released this week, deals with border militarization. Border militarization tramples civil liberties while lining the pockets of both war profiteers and prison profiteers. I’m glad to see the issue being addressed at AntiWar.com.
The way borders operate as part of militarism, empire, capitalism, and the prison-industrial complex is also explored in Harsha Walia’s book Undoing Border Imperialism, which I recently started reading. The book develops a theoretical framework for seeing immigration restrictions not just as a domestic policy decision, but as a structural feature of empire. Moreover, the book discusses the tactics used by a network of anti-colonial and anti-state migrant justice organizations called No One Is Illegal, which operates throughout Canada. I haven’t finished reading the book yet, but so far it’s excellent and I highly recommend it.
Today’s a good day to mention border imperialism and the framework of criminalization that sustains it, because a major act of civil disobedience against the state’s borders happened today. Over 100 families attempted border crossings today at the Otay Mesa point of entry, demanding asylum so they could reunite with their families. These sorts of actions highlight the way the state’s borders, imposed through conquest and enforced through militarized violence, break apart the families, communities, and other peaceful forms of voluntary association that build a truly robust society.
These are just a few examples of the ongoing action, thought, and media happening lately to challenge the prison-industrial complex, the empire, and other mutually reinforcing systems of state violence. Let’s keep up these fights for freedom, until the state’s violence ends.