Prison Radio
Dontie Mitchell

A smarter approach to prison abolition. In my last commentary I reported on this new coalition of prison abolitionists called No New Jails NYC. They advocate a vision where incarceration is wiped from the American landscape. I wholeheartedly agree with this vision, but I differ in the approach.

No New Jails advocates are reported as saying they have no plan to close New York’s jails. Well, UFD and I do. What are the two main justifications for prison? The first is crime, and the second is recidivism. There- these are byproducts of white supremacy and classism as reflected in who ends up in prison and who ends up back in prison: poor people and people of color. As I’ve stated in my last commentary, white supremacy is perpetuated and reinforced by socioeconomic inequalities. So too is classism. Therefore, the best way to get jails and prisons closed down is to keep poor people and people of color out of them.

The question was posed to me: what is UFD pushing for concretely? The answer to that is the social economic empowerment of black and disadvantaged people, regardless of race, color, or creed. America is an advanced capitalist country where wealth is being concentrated more and more in the hands of a few. This trend does not seem to be slowing up. Crime results mostly in communities lacking economic resources. 10 percent of the population controls 60, 70 percent of the wealth in the country, and the institution of racism is still very much alive and well, then poor communities of color are going to feel the brunt. Without essential economic resources, poor communities of color can not afford to implement the social programs or create the jobs that keeps crime at bay.

Instead of investing public funds into the creation of jobs and social programs in poor communities of color, it has become economically expedient for public funds to be spent on more policing and to build more prisons. Protesting against the police state and the prison-industrial complex isn’t going to change the economic reality of poor communities of color, which fuels the colonial criminal mentality that the police state and the prison industrial complex feeds on.

UFD takes a different approach. We aim to create a pathway to financial success and prosperity for those who are generally kept out of and left behind by the capitalist system. And by pulling together our knowledge, efforts, resources, and contacts, we can seek to compete as an economic block for the fair distribution of wealth. In prison, I use UFD to positively organize, motivate, inspire, educate, and mentor young prisoners and to steer them away from gangs, drugs and violence. For every young prisoner I save from the colonial criminal mentality, is one less justification for prison. For every UFD member who gets released from prison and doesn’t come back is one more nail in the coffin of the prison industrial complex.

UFD is a different kind of revolutionary animal. One fueled, not by rhetoric and rage, but one that will change the American political, social, and economic landscape by growing people and helping them to realize the individual and collective power to change and better themselves and our world. This is a smarter approach to prison abolition.

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 videogram through with your questions or comments. I would love to hear from you 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.