Angela Davis And Prison Abolition: How Reform Only Broadens The Demographic Of Those Affected By Imprisonment.

By: Talib Williams

​I’ve always been aware of there existing an idea that prisons, and the idea of imprisonment, should be abolished. However, I never truly grasped the “why.” 

Don’t some people “belong” in prison? 

It wasn’t until reading Angela Davis’ “Freedom Is A Constant Struggle” that I began to gain a deeper appreciation of what is behind the idea of prison abolition. She was being interviewed by Frank Barat, who pointed out the fact that most people equate crime with prison; the idea that if someone commits a crime, they deserve imprisonment as a form of punishment. 

The following is an excerpt from that interview, which opened my eyes. 
(Frank Barat): “Talking about the abolition movement, even with my kids, I’ve noticed when we’re playing, my little boy says, ‘Okay, well, if you’re bad, you’ll go to jail.’ And he’s three and a half years old. So he is thinking “bad” equals “jail.” This also applies to most people. So the idea of prison abolition must be a very hard one to advocate for. Where do you start? And how do you advocate for prison abolition versus prison reform?”

(Angela Davis): “The history of the very institution of the prison is a history of reform. Foucault points this out. Reform doesn’t come after the advent of the prison; it accompanies the birth of the prisons. In the process of creating better prisons, more people are brought under the surveillance of the correctional and law enforcement networks. The question you raise reveals the extent to which the site of the jail or prison is not only material and objective but it’s ideological and psychic as well. We internalize this notion of a place to put bad people. That’s precisely one of the reasons why we have to imagine the abolitionist movement as addressing those ideological and psychic issues as well. Not just the process of removing the material institutions or facilities.”

So what we see is that, as a society, we have been normalized to the idea that crime equals punishment. We shy away from the “why.” Why does someone commit crime? “The prison forecloses discussion about that,” Angela Davis continues. “What did the person do? Why did the person do that? If we’re thinking about someone who has committed acts of violence, why is that kind of violence possible? Why do men engage in such violent behavior against women? The very existence of the prison forecloses the kinds of discussions that we need in order to imagine the possibility of eradicating these behaviors.”

So again, we see that prison abolition isn’t about doing away with the material institution more than it is about doing away with the underlying causes behind why people commit crime to begin with. Poverty, parenting, childhood abuse, neglect, etc. Prison abolition seeks to address the underlying causes of crime, as well as what causes us to develop the underlying belief that crime equals punishment. If our immediate reaction to hearing about crime was to understand the “why,” instead of instantly resorting to lynch mob behavior, maybe our nation wouldn’t be the number one incarcerator in the world.

Reflections on Angela Davis’ ‘Freedom Is A Constant Struggle:’ MLK And The Illusion Of Achievement. 

By: Talib Williams

I’ve always found it interesting that, for a personality as peace loving and dedicated to the betterment of society as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, how is it that almost every street throughout America bearing his name, is among the worst in crime?

In her 2014 work “Freedom is a constant struggle,” Dr Angela Davis brings to our attention the following:

“no one can deny that global popular culture is saturated with references to the twentieth-century Black freedom movement. We know that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Is one of the most widely known historical figures in the world. Inside the US there are more than nine hundred streets named after Dr. King in forty states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico. But it has been suggested by geographers who have studied these naming practices that they’ve been used to deflect attention from persisting social problems – the lack of education, housing, jobs, and the use of carceral strategies to conceal the continued presence of these problems…”

In other words, the naming of these streets after such figures as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (or Cesar Chavez etc.) gives us the idea that the environment where these streets are located, are as pristine as the memories we have of these figures. However, as Dr. Davis suggests, this was done as a means to “deflect attention from persisting social problems…” Clearly these areas are among the worst. prostitution, drugs, and gun crimes are all too prevalent. 

If we are to allow these streets to bear the names of figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King, we shouldn’t allow the ideal to overshadow the reality. As we realize the reality in regards to the conditions of these environments, we should be dedicated to doing the work to actualize the ideal. 

Should Prisoners Be Treated Like Animals? 

By: Talib Williams

I saw the most disturbing thing this morning. There was a news story about a Riot that took place in a Oklahoma Federal Prison. Some reports described it as a race riot. But the story isn’t what disturbed me. What disturbed me were the comments. They began expressing concern and compassion for those incarcerated, but quickly transformed into the complete opposite. It was an accurate depiction of our indifference as a nation. The first comment actually gave me hope. I believed in our collective progress. One person wrote:

This person clearly expressed a level of informed insight. However this was immediately followed by ignorance. 

The Question is, do you believe that it is OK to treat those who are incarcerated as if they were animals, or worse?