“A Message to No New Jails NYC.”
In September, New York city prison abolitionists organized the coalition known as No New Jails NYC. One of the group’s goals is to promote a vision of a different kind of future, one where incarceration is wiped from the American landscape, according to an article written by freelance journalist Emily Nonko.
The article goes on to report that No New Jails advocates admit they themselves have no plan to close New York’s jails. But they see promise in alternatives to incarceration that could lead to a jail free New York. All that is well and good, but I can’t help but wonder why No New Jails have made no mention of those of us still languishing behind prison walls.
Prison abolitionists seem to talk a good one. They seem to spend a lot of time going to public cameras to chant “No new jails.” But what about working on efforts to reduce causes of crime, like socioeeconomic inequality, and to reduce prison recidivism by supporting programs that help prisoners to truly change and better themselves and to successfully transition back into society?
I haven’t heard one plan, program, initiative, or movement by prison abolitionists to address these two few sources of mass incarceration: crime and recidivism. The way I see it—and I’m just a lowly prisoner—the best way to abolish prisons and to end mass incarceration is to empower the people the system feeds on. Where are prison abolitionists at when I’m locked in a battle right now, by myself, behind prison walls to build a movement that will reduce crime and lower prison recidivism.
You want to see an American landscape without prisons or mass incarceration? Then you should spend less time protesting and disrupting public hearings and organize around supporting prisoners like me and my UFD organization—which are instrumental in positively organizing, motivating, inspiring, educating, and mentoring young prisoners and steering them away from gangs, drugs, and violence.
You should organize around supporting programs like the Brownsville in Violence Out which is credited with stopping violence in the neighborhoods it operates within. A true prison abolition movement should focus more on grassroots efforts to reduce crime, to lower prison recidivism, and to empower disadvantaged communities socioeconomically.
Prominent New York city prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba says, “Prison abolition is grounded in the belief that white supremacy is maintained and reproduced through criminal punishment.” That is so very true, but where prison abolitionists go wrong is to attack criminal justice reform. However ineffective criminal justice reform is in addressing mass incarceration—and I’ll be the first to tell you: it doesn’t do much—we do more to end mass incarceration and to abolish prisons supporting such reforms, while also working to empower people who are the victims of white supremacy.
This is why I’m fighting so hard for UFD. UFD is a neutral self-improvement fraternity, devoted to the socioeconomic empowerment of Black and disadvantaged people regardless of race, color, or creed. White supremacy is perpetuated and reinforced by socioeconomic inequality. Prisons and mass incarceration are merely byproducts of this. So, the fight that we’re in to abolish prisons and to end mass incarceration, can’t be successfully waged protesting or disrupting public hearings.
We need to organize disadvantaged people socioeconomically, working to help them take control over their social and economic lives. By doing so, we keep more and more people out of prison, depriving the prison system of its most essential resource. UFD does this by promoting neutral self-improvement and by promoting ujamaa and our conscious money philosophy. Prison abolitionists can learn a thing or two by listening to those of us most affected by mass incarceration.
I applaud your efforts though. I really do, but your time, energy, focus, and resources would be better spent helping movements like UFD. You want to abolish prison? Help keep people out of them. End socioeconomic inequality in America, and you end mass incarceration.
This is Dontie S. Mitchell, better known as Mfalme Sikivu, reporting to you from Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock, New York. Follow me @FreeDontieMitchell on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Send me an email or video-gram through Jpay.com with your questions or comments. I love to hear from and struggle with you. Thank you for listening and God bless.
(Sound of a cell door closing.) These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.