“Prison Abolition Versus Prison Reform.”
I recently was asked if I support the abolition of prisons or am I an advocate just for prison reform. My response was pretty unorthodox for a prisoner serving an unjust prison sentence: I argued that prison abolition presupposes that evil will not exist in a more just society.
Allow me to explain. Before we can even speak about prison abolition, we must first understand the underlying basis of the current prison-industrial complex. It is classist and racist, meaning prisons are filled mostly with poor people and the majority of them are people of color. Before we can talk about prison abolition, we first must address the deeply rooted classism and racism upon which American society is built. The fact is rich white men are as likely to go to prison as a cow flying. It’s possible if you put a cow in a plane, but not likely, or else Donald Trump would be in an orange jumpsuit by now.
Ideally, I’m an advocate of prison abolition. Any rational, compassionate person couldn’t possibly agree to caging another human being in a cell like an animal. But we live in the real world. Someone wrote to me that they believe there are more effective, just, and victim-centered ways to deal with harm. And they mentioned transformative justice, which I assume is similar to the idea of restorative justice. But how do we square this with people who commit mass shootings? How about the Sandy Hook shooter who killed innocent children? How about suicide bombers who would target innocent people?
Now, I have been incarcerated over half of my life and I didn’t hurt, harm, or injure anyone. But I can’t say in good conscience that society, even a just society, doesn’t have a right to exact retribution. Again, ideally, it would be great if our society could be so compassionate and rational that we rise above negative emotions, but we are not robots. Forgiveness is worthy aspiring to, but the safety and security in society must be a priority over forgiving people who kill and exploit innocents. This includes corrupt cops and prison guards who maim or murder people who can’t defend or protect themselves against their guns and authority.
Should I not expect that prison guards, who sadistically stomp on me or jump on me, should not be punished? Prison abolition is a lofty goal I support, but I’m practical. We have to first create a more equitable society, which itself is a lofty goal, requiring much struggle. But to win the war, we must pick our battles in a strategic manner that takes us closer to achieve our overall objectives. Prison abolition is putting the heart- the cart before the horse.
When we have made very little progress towards creating a more equitable society. Strategic prison reforms are more practical and much better than ineffectual efforts to abolish prisons, which can only be theoretical exercises of wishful thinking. You know what’s practical? Fighting to get me out of prison. If people truly believe in abolishing prisons, start with fighting to get people out of prison who don’t belong there and exposing the everyday abuses and mistreatment of prisoners and exposing how current prison management is wasteful and corrupt. Theoretical arguments about prison abolition does me no good when prison guards are stomping my head in.
This is Dontie S. Mitchell, better known as Mfalme Sikivu, reporting to you from Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock, New York. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @FreeDontieMitchell. Also, you can now send emails or video-grams to me via Jpay.com to share with me your questions or thoughts. I would like to hear from you. Thank you for listening.
(Sound of a cell door closing.) These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.